Posted on

Shoulder Health: Mobility vs. Stability

You Care Too Much About Shoulder Mobility and Not Enough About Stability

 

“Mobility.” It’s one of everybody’s current favorite fitness buzzwords, right up there with “functional.” Don’t even get me started on that word. Look anywhere in the heath and fitness blogosphere and you’re bound to find articles, products, and videos to improve your mobility. Hell, I’ve even written about it myself. For the most part, this focus on reaching increased ranges of motion and improving movement quality has been a good thing. Athletes who can adequately move through more ranges of motion generally seem to have lower rates of injury and perform better in the long term. However, like most things humans are involved in, we have taken the whole “mobility” thing too far. Color me shocked. With various movements reserved for emaciated and highly skilled yogis, overcomplicated warmup protocols, and torture devices designed smashing and bruising already inflamed muscles, we have placed mobility on a pedestal that most athletes not only can’t achieve, but often injure themselves doing so.

 

What in Kazmaier’s name is “mobility” anyways? That’s a good question. For the purposes of this discussion, I will define mobility as “the ability to comfortably reach the required range of motion to accomplish a task.” However, in the realm of biomechanics, there isn’t a unifying definition. Ask 20 different “experts” (and I use that term very loosely) in the field and maybe if you’re lucky, two of them will have the same answer. Since physical therapists and exercise physiologists can’t agree on what mobility is, how can any good data be gathered on what kind and how much of it is important? Truthfully, it can’t. The amount of mobility required for a specific movement is going to be dependent on the individual lever lengths, muscle origins and insertions, and joint anatomy of the individual athlete. Not to mention the fact that there isn’t necessarily a direct correlation between increased levels of mobility and sport performance! Provided one can achieve the necessary positioning required for their sport, is any range of motion further than that truly beneficial?

 

As is the answer to most questions about sports science and medicine, it depends. In this case, it depends on one thing: STABILITY. If one is unstable in any position, they are at greater risk of injury, regardless of how long they spent foam rolling that day (which may not even have any actual benefit, but that is a discussion for another time). Take, for example, the softball pitcher. She has tremendous mobility of the shoulder and elbow and can achieve all the positions required by her sport, but still blows out her elbow out and needs Tommy John’s surgery. What exercises are primarily performed during her rehabilitation protocol? Those that stabilize the elbow joint. Does the improved shoulder mobility of a quarterback over a lineman prevent him from dislocating his shoulder when he gets slammed on the ground? Not likely. These athletes have prioritized mobility over stability, as is required by the demands of their respective sports, but it has left them vulnerable. And vulnerable, unstable joints are not something we want as strength athletes. Even for your run of the mill office worker, stabilization exercises have been shown to reduce shoulder pain, and they don’t put their shoulders through nearly the beating that we do!

 

To achieve stability, we must first define it. Fortunately, the biomechanics literature actually does this, defining stability as “the ability to resist perturbation.” Get your minds out of the gutter and focus. This means that if a joint is stable, it can resist outside forces that compromise its integrity. Does this sound like something you might want when picking up heavy stuff? You’re damn right it does. Now I know you’ve got your fancy shoulder mobility routine that allows you to twist your arms behind you like a pretzel while standing on your head or some such nonsense, but can those same shoulders support a heavy barbell overhead, especially when you get out of position? GOOD LUCK. You’ve spent so much time trying to get into unnecessary positions that you have mixed up your priorities and are unable to perform what you’re actually training for. Don’t worry; I’ve got you. It’s time to get solid in those positions you’ve worked so hard to achieve.

 

Since I discussed trunk stabilization at length in Part I , we are going to focus on my favorite (or least favorite? I can’t decide) joint in Part II: the shoulder. We’ll skip the anatomy lesson for today, since I’ve written about shoulder and thoracic anatomy in the past, and just focus on the meat and potatoes of improving your shoulder stability. This is an issue I have worked through personally after having shoulder surgery last year. My labrum was torn in two places along with my supraspinatus, so needless to say, both my mobility and stability were compromised. Lucky for me, my range of motion came back rather quickly during my post-operative physical therapy. However, the pain just wouldn’t go away, and I just didn’t feel comfortable with weight overhead, regardless of how strong I felt and how solid my orthopedic surgeon kept telling me the shoulder was. The basic musculoskeletal literature wasn’t much help, so I started doing some outside reading and contacting providers more well-versed in shoulder rehab than I was at the time. It turned out my scapular kinematics (the movement of the scapula across the ribs in support of the shoulder) were totally out of whack and my shoulder joint was very unstable, despite the fresh hardware  inside of it. It wasn’t until I focused directly on scapular and shoulder stabilization movements that I became pain-free and started putting bigger weights over my head.

 

Let’s start with the scapula.  The movement of this bone across the ribs and as a part of the shoulder joint is extremely important for both mobility and stability of the shoulder. I won’t delve into the nitty gritty of its functional anatomy and biomechanics, but it attaches to the clavicle, the humerus, and the axial skeleton, essentially serving as the anchor for one’s upper extremity. When this moves improperly or is easily fatigued (poor scapular kinematics a.k.a scapular dyskinesia), it compromises the integrity of the entire shoulder joint. In fact, it can actually decrease rotator cuff strength, meaning that even if your cuff muscles are strong, scapular dyskinesia can result in an unstable shoulder. All the banded external rotations (which I still recommend for rotator cuff strength) in the world won’t save you if you are unable to stabilize your scapula. Since it is likely that your anterior and lateral deltoids, pecs, lats, and traps are already plenty developed, I won’t tell you how to strengthen those. They can help stabilize the scapula, but without the smaller stabilizers, they can actually worsen your scapular kinematics.

 

Looks like I do have to get into a little anatomy and biomechanics. You don’t like it? Too bad. Go get hurt and have a weak press. Anyways, the smaller muscles of scapular stabilization are designed to prevent scapular winging and scapular malposition, also known as SICK scapula syndrome (SICK stands for Scapular malposition, Inferior medial border prominence, Coracoid pain and malposition, and dysKinesis of scapular movement). You can see in these images that these are clearly not good positions to support heavy weights. The primary muscles implicated in these pathologies are the rhomboids, levator scapulae, serratus anterior, and to some degree the infraspinatus, lower trapezius, and posterior head of the deltoid. As a strength athlete, unless you’ve had a nerve injury, there’s no excuse for these muscles to be underdeveloped. Lucky for you, they aren’t overly complicated to strengthen and hypertrophy. But first, a disclaimer: if you have a shoulder that dislocates or feels significantly unstable, please get it evaluated by a medical professional prior to performing these exercises. You may be doing more harm than good if your joint is already in bad shape.

There are many ways to achieve this, but I am partial to easy stuff that anyone can do with some basic equipment. I’ll first detail some introductory movements before going into more complex and integrated stabilization strategies. Band pull-aparts are one of my favorite movements for developing the rhomboids and levator scapulae, and there are videos all over YouTube on how to perform them properly. They also hit the posterior deltoids to a reasonable degree. I have three major pointers for that exercise, however. One: be sure to let your scapulae fully protract forward and fully retract backwards during the movement. Partial reps aren’t helping anybody. Two: focus on pulling with your mid back; don’t rely on your lats, arms or traps for the movement. Think of drawing your scapulae down and towards your ribs when you pull. And three: do TONS of reps. Light weights and high reps are what will hypertrophy these muscles and make them  resistant to fatigue. I never do pull-aparts for sets of less than 20, and it’s usually more than that. You can use the same band and the same principles for face pulls on top of the pull-aparts. These will hit the traps, lats, and posterior deltoids to a greater degree than pull-aparts, but that’s okay. All of these muscles will need to work in concert for you to be successful.

 

Another easy exercise that assists in the development of scapular stabilization is the “scap push-up,” which focuses primarily on serratus anterior. To perform these, get into a push-up position, and while maintaining a tight core and completely extended elbows, try to push yourself away from the floor using just your shoulders. This is done by protracting your scapulae. Hold that position for 1-2 seconds, then retract your scapulae to return to your starting position. This does not need to be performed with added weight, but you should feel a solid contraction for at least 10 reps.  Accompanying the scap push-up is the “scap pull-up.” Perform this exercise hanging from a pull-up bar with arms completely extended overhead. Without bending your elbows, pull your body towards the bar by retracting your scapulae together and down towards your feet. Hold this contraction for 1-2 seconds, then return to your starting position of a dead hang; repeat 10 times. This also has the added benefit of stretching the lats and improving your grip strength.

 

It is appropriate to perform these movements every training session, but not required. They should definitely be worked in at least three times per week, though. Once you have developed strength and endurance in these exercises (at least 3 sets of each without breaking technique), we can move on to more advanced and integrated shoulder stability movements. If you have injuries elsewhere in your body, those may be affected by these movements, so use them carefully and accordingly. As always, safety comes first.

 

I’ll admit that I stole this next exercise from Chris Duffin (who you should definitely be paying attention to as any variety of strength athlete), but that only makes my recommendation for it even stronger. Using the same light band you had for the pull-aparts and face pulls, wrap it around a power rack or something else sturdy, then put your hands through the loop. Take a few steps away from the rack and extend your arms over your head. Now, this may be limited by inadequate shoulder mobility, so do the best you can at the start and work to improve that alongside your stability. It’s almost like both of those things are important! Make sure your scapulae are pulled back and down in a good position, and squat. Pause for a second at the bottom of each rep and try to keep your torso as upright as possible. In addition to stabilizing the shoulder girdle, these squats will help to open up the hips, shoulders, and thoracic spine. If you’re feeling extra spicy, put a short band or hip circle around your knees to really wake up your glutes as well. 2-4 sets of 15-20 reps before most training sessions is a good range to work with here.

 

Now we can move on to loaded shoulder stabilization movements. Unlike the prior movements, these can be a little challenging to learn and explain, so watching some videos can be helpful. The loaded movements also take a little more recovery, so they should not be performed every day. The first three can be used a progression, so scale them as needed when using them yourself or introducing them to your athletes. I really like kettlebells for these movements, but if you only have access to dumbbells, that’s okay too.

 

We will begin with a modified version of the kettlebell armbar. This version adds in protraction and retraction of the scapula in addition to the movement of the armbar and progresses from easier to more difficult positions. While laying supine with your knees and hips flexed and your spine in neutral (think of pushing your lower back into the floor), grab a light kettlebell and extend your arm upwards as if you were performing a floor press. Take a good diaphragmatic breath to stabilize your trunk, and protract your scapula, pushing the kettlebell away from your body (much like you did in the scap pushups). Hold this position for a one-count prior to returning to the starting position. Perform 10 reps per arm, 3 times per week. Once this has become an easy and comfortable movement, you can move onto the next progression, which is performed lying somewhat on your side with your knees and hips flexed in the same fashion as the first movement (think of a slightly less flexed fetal position. Perform 10 reps per side, 3 times per week yet again. Once this is easy, roll completely onto one side, extend the bottom leg, and bring the other leg across (think of how you would get your lower back to pop via the stretch we all learned in PE class). This is the more traditional KB armbar position for those of you familiar with the movement. The same rep scheme should be used for this. If none of that made sense, here’s a good video of a traditional kettlebell armbar, from which you can extrapolate the movements described above. Each of these positions is more difficult than the last, so start conservatively with the weight used. It’s not worth getting cocky and hurting yourself during pre-hab. That’s just dumb.

Once you’ve become comfortable with the armbars, we can transition to a more integrated movement: the Turkish get-up (or TGU). The stabilization principles are the same here, as we focus on the setting of the scapula prior to initiating movement. I won’t go through a complete explanation of how to perform a proper TGU here as there are plenty of places online with certified kettlebell coaches teaching the movement. I’d recommend trying to have someone teach you them in person, however, as the TGU can be a challenging movement to perform properly. When performed properly, though, it really improves movement quality, mobility, and stability of most of your body’s joints, chief among them the shoulder and the trunk. Moves like the TGU are also important from a medical perspective, as falls are such a major contributor to morbidity and mortality in the elderly. Every person, athlete or not, needs to have a good relationship with the ground and know how to pick him or herself off of it. We can probably tweak that to use it as an analogy for life too, but I’ll leave the motivational memes to somebody else. In any case, start conservative with the weight on TGUs too, because they are an incredibly humbling exercise if you have not performed them before. 2-3 sets of 5 reps per side twice per week is a good place to start.

 

Kettlebell windmills are the movement I would suggest next. They aren’t necessarily more challenging to learn than TGUs, but they can require a little more stability in the shoulder and I’d argue that the positions are easier to get into after you’ve done some TGUs. Start with a light kettlebell over your head and your feet roughly shoulder width apart. Your off arm should be out to your side, and while keeping tight scapulae and a solid core (don’t forget your diaphragmatic breathing), rotate your body down and away from the kettlebell while it remains over your head. Shift your hips to the side of the KB and keep your knees straight (but not locked), touching your off hand to the ground. Then, bring yourself back to the starting position using your obliques. The name of the movement is appropriate; think of moving yourself like the arms of a windmill (sort of). Here’s a video in case that didn’t make sense. 2-4 sets of 5-10 reps is what I’d say you should shoot for.

 

One important thing to remember when performing all of these loaded exercises: DO NOT TAKE YOUR EYES OFF THE WEIGHT AT ANY TIME! You will not be the first or last person to lose your balance with the weight and smack yourself in the face. The goal here is to prevent injury, not cause it. This is especially important when you have developed enough grip strength and stability to perform these movements with a bottoms-up KB, which is a great goal to have. Bottoms-up kettlebell training improves shoulder stability even further by providing a significant increase in rotator cuff activation from standard training. If you’ve ever tried to perform a reasonably heavy bottoms-up KB press, this shouldn’t be a surprise.

 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend overhead carries as an excellent method of improving shoulder and scapular stability. You can perform these with pretty much any implement you like, from kettlebells to dumbbells to logs to stones to sandbags to barbells to your significant other, for all I care. Each one is going to have a different feel and activate your muscles in a slightly different way. These carries can be extremely taxing on your trunk stabilizers and legs as well, so just be careful when performing them. My favorite among the overhead carry variations is the yoke. The way it swings and the sheer size and awkwardness of the implement makes it a challenge even with relatively light weights. Like any of the aforementioned movements, be sure to set your scapulae beforehand and keep them tight throughout.

 

That brings me to my final point. You can actually improve your overhead stability on your regular training movements without even adding any of this stuff in (you should still work on it, though). It all starts with your setup. By pulling your scapulae slightly down and together during setup, you set yourself with a good base to press, snatch, or overhead squat from. This will also get you in more thoracic extension, make external rotation of the shoulders easier and more comfortable, and open up your chest a bit. Couple this with squeezing the living hell out of the bar, which helps to activate your rotator cuff complex and improves neuromuscular coordination, and you’ve just increased your stability significantly without even performing any fancy new exercises. Add in proper diaphragmatic breathing, and you’re ready to toss some weight into the sky.

I hope this has been helpful to all you mobility freaks out there. None of this is to say that mobility exercises to achieve adequate and proper ranges of motion for your sport is bad. In fact, that is a wonderful idea. An immobile joint isn’t terribly useful either. Just don’t sacrifice your stability for mobility, especially in the shoulder. It can be pretty fragile, so protect it! Now get out there, improve your overhead stabilization, and set some scap-tacular PR’s! Stay strong and healthy!

 

P.S. Honorable mention integrated core/trunk stability movement (with coordination work as well) is the bear crawl. Try it both forwards and backwards with a short band around your wrists. This can be a conditioning killer as well, especially if you drag a sled or add a weighted vest. You can even reach back during your crawl and do 1 arm sled pulls. Play around with it and have some “functional” fun!

DISCLAIMER: None of this article is intended to be taken as medical advice. If you have any questions or health concerns, please contact your primary care physician. Always consult a physician before starting any diet or exercise program. These statements have been made by a private citizen and do not reflect the views or policies of the United States Navy.

Seth Larsen, DO (aka “Dr. Meathead”) is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine and resident physician in family medicine with an area of focus in musculoskeletal and sports medicine. He is also a former NCAA football player who now competes as a nationally-qualified lightweight (<200lb) strongman, elite-level deadlifter, and amateur highland games athlete. In addition to his residency, he is currently in the process of applying for a fellowship in primary care sports medicine and completing his CSCS. He runs www.drmeathead.com, an educational website promoting the integration of all aspects of modern medicine with performance nutrition and strength & conditioning.

 

REFERENCES:

Posted on

The Potential Benefits of Creatine Monohydrate

I recently started a cycle of creatine to see if it would affect my lifts in a positive way. I also hosted a CF total last weekend and added 55 pounds since the total in June. I would attribute the added poundage to the increased focus I have put on linear progression squat training, increased mobility and recovery time–not the creatine (since I started the cycle only 2 days prior). However, I know that creatine will eventually aid me in increasing my lifts, so I have decided to delve a little deeper into the subject and shed some light on the history of creatine and dispels some of the myths that surround it.

Overview

“Creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid (protein building block) that’s found in meat and fish, and also made by the human body in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas. It is converted into creatine phosphate or phosphocreatine and stored in the muscles, where it is used for energy. During high-intensity, short-duration exercise, such as lifting weights or sprinting, phosphocreatine is converted into ATP, a major source of energy within the human body.”

History of creatine

Reasearchers have known since the early 20th century that creatine could be harnessed as an energy source by skeletal muscles. In 1912, Dr. Otto Folin and Dr. Willey Glover Denis, researchers from Harvard University, found proof that an intake of creatine could drastically boost the creatine content of the muscle. Later in the 1920’s, scientists used this information to further research the benefits of creatine. They discovered that by ingesting creatine in above average amounts, the intramuscular stores of creatine could be increased. They then discovered creatine phosphate and concluded that creatine is a key player in the metabolism of skeletal muscle. Creatine is naturally formed in all vertebrates.

This means that creatine is about as natural as fish oil–something for the Paleo disciples to think about before accusing creatine of being an unfair sports enhancer. After all, how “natural” is it to take the health benefits of a fish and put it in a pill or bottle of liquid and find it at your neighborhood Costco?

Not very.

The potential benefits of adding creatine to your programming

Since roughly 1992, creatine has been used by athletes in a variety of sports programs. For the sake of time, I am going to stick to the benefits that it can often to those involved in weightlifting.

Although not every single clinical study has agreed, most test conducted on animals and humans have shown that ingesting creatine improves lean muscle mass and strength during high intensity, short-duration exercises, such as weightlifting. This is why creatine does not really offer benefits to those involved in long-duration exercise, like marathons or triathlons.

Going along with the average American mindset that more is better, there is a myth that the more creatine you take, the better. According to scientists at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, Male athletes excreted 46% of the creatine they ingested. In another study, scientists confirmed that lower doses of creatine are more effective (the general rule is that 5 grams of creatine a day is all you need).

There is another prevalent myth that creatine harms the kidneys and liver. Unless you have a pre-existing medical condition, creatine should not damage your kidneys or liver. As usual, most of the BS you hear is attributed to your local news station that hears anecdotal reports and portrays it as news. Studies have shown that after 12 weeks, athletes who consumed 10 grams of creatine per day did not suffer any negative consequences in their kidneys or liver.

The time of day does not really matter when it comes to consuming your daily regimen of creatine. Even though we do get some creatine in our daily diet, most of the creatine present in food is destroyed when we cook it. The average creatine intake for a non-vegetarian/vegan is about 1 gram.

A creatine “loading phase” is suggested when first starting a cycle. The loading phase is typically 5 grams of creatine taken 4 times a day on an empty stomach for 5 days. After the 5 days, backing the dosage to 5 grams a day typically delivers the best results.

In closing, a cycle of creatine may be beneficial to you and your lifts. The strength gains you make while taking creatine should continue even after you stop the cycle. If you have a pre-existing medical condition, see a doctor first to make sure that creatine is really in your best interests. For just about everyone else, creatine is a pretty harmless substance that is found in all vertebrates, and is NOT a form of steroids, no matter what FOX news tells you. The athletes who will benefit most from creatine use are those involved in sports that require high intensity bursts of strength and power. Endurance athletes will benefit very little, if at all.

Sources

  1. Adhihetty PJ, Beal MF. Creatine and its potential therapeutic value for targeting cellular energy impairment in neurodegenerative diseases. Neuromolecular Med. 2008;10(4):275-90. Epub 2008 Nov 13. Review.
  2. Beck TW, Housh TJ, Johnson GO, Coburn JW, Malek MH, Cramer JT. Effects of a drink containing creatine, amino acids, and protein combined with ten weeks of resistance training on body composition, strength, and anaerobic performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2007;21(1):100-4.
  3. Benzi G. Is there a rationale for the use of creatine either as nutritional supplementation or drug administration in humans participating in a sport? Pharmacol Res. 2000;41(3):255-264.
  4. http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/creatine-000297.htm
Posted on

Be A Little Different Than The Norm

One of the most interesting things I hear people say is that they don’t have money to work out, eat right, or take good supplements. Sometimes this excuse is valid. Most of the time, it isn’t.
This excuse for younger men and women usually plays out with them saying, “Eating healthy is so expensive.” 
Women say this and then go spend $100 on a haircut, $300 on a designer bag, and $35 weekly on a “mani/pedi.” Men, on the other hand, go out and party like rock stars, spending upward of $100 each time they go out on drinks and food afterward. God forbid these details are ever pointed out to them, though, because they act like self-justifying machines. “But you don’t understand. I want to have a life.” Really? That’s your excuse? Seriously?!
My point is that it’s essential to know what your priorities are and set out to live by them. Everything else that’s non-essential is just that—non-essential. A quote from the movie Fight Club sums it up perfectly—“No fear. No distractions. The ability to let that which does not matter truly slide” (screenplay by Jim Uhls).
It’s in that moment of awareness—of being able to differentiate between what’s important and what isn’t—that separates those who succeed from those who don’t. Many people will pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to keep from feeling insignificant. They’ll drive cars that are out of their price range and pay for bags that could feed a hundred starving kids in Africa for a month, but they won’t take care of the one thing that, if done correctly, will give them the true feeling they’re looking for—their bodies.
They try to gain self-worth through things instead of earning that self-worth through actions and integrity. What they don’t understand is you don’t gain self-worth by having things but by doing meaningful work. This work can be in a career you find satisfying or it can be found in the work it takes to eat differently than others and train hard.
You don’t gain self-worth by taking the easy path that leaves you feeling empty but by taking the path that leads to a larger purpose. Sometimes, if not most of the time, that path towards a larger purpose isn’t the easier one. But that’s what allows you to know that the self-worth is real and true, not because it’s hard or different for the sake of being different but because, at the end of the day, you know you had to earn the results of your life. Although life has a way of occasionally beating all of us down, you know that you can take hold of one or two areas of it. You don’t play the victim or martyr, but instead you become the captain of your life. The expression “you get out of this life what you put in” is so true. What is also true is that in modern day society, one of the best ways to earn your self-worth is to earn your body.
Do I really need a reason to put this picture up? Its amazing.
For most of human civilization, we were made to store energy and make our bodies more efficient at movements. This is why steady state jogging can be such a waste of time when you’re trying to lose fat/weight. We get so efficient at conserving energy while jogging that the results become nil. In the past, we were naturally thinner and skinnier because we naturally ate fewer calories. There wasn’t any refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup that had us eating excessive calories without feeling full from those calories. We naturally moved more because we had to normally take part in earning the food that was eaten. Lastly, the environment was more natural. This means there weren’t any man-made chemicals that interfered with your mitochondria to burn energy or trans fats that literally disrupt fat loss.
Therefore, in modern day society (for most of us), in order to achieve a body worthy of awe, you have to earn it. The best way to gain self-worth (not self-esteem) is by doing the work with a larger purpose in mind. You’re busy creating something that others won’t do. You separate yourself from the crowd and know that you’re doing something that takes hard work, some effort, and some thinking. At the end of the day though, everyone—and I mean everyone—that I’ve ever seen earn a body worthy of awe through exercise and nutrition manipulation has that “edge.”
They feel different about working out and eating right. It isn’t something to be sloughed through but is a point of pride for them. They know that with enough effort, by continuing to utilize smarter methods, they can have control over one part of their lives that most people “can’t” or don’t—their bodies. They don’t need to brag, and they don’t listen to the naysayers. They simply allow themselves to be a little different than the norm. They eat the high protein breakfasts that keep them fuller longer and therefore eat less throughout the day. They “go out for drinks” but only have one.
They wake up a little earlier to go to the gym, or they go to the gym right after work instead of plopping down in front of the television. They strength train more and do less mindless cardio. They have their protein shakes and multi-vitamins with them during the day. They read about fitness and find small ways to get a little extra motivation. They bring healthy lunches with them to work and plan healthy snacks, so they don’t give into temptation. They spend money on things that are important to them such as supplements and equipment instead of on things based on what others think. Basically, they do the work that separates them from the norm but doesn’t ostracize them from those they care about.
Those they care about accept them and know they’re a little different than the “norm,” but it’s all good. What they don’t do is try to appease any stranger who thinks it’s good to give them nutrition advice. In other words, those who don’t matter, they let slide. Often times though, their friends will wonder why they do it. They ask things such as, “Isn’t it hard to stick to your diet or workout everyday?”
For the person who works out every day, the answer is usually “not really.” It has become a habit for them. From the outside looking in, they look a bit “different,” but to that individual, it’s a way of life.
In the end, you should do the same—allow yourself to be a little different than the ‘norm.’ Don’t let those who don’t matter discourage you or tell you what you can or can’t achieve when it comes to your body.
Excerpts taken from elitefts.com

To view the original article, please visit this link
Posted on

Myths and Facts About Weight Loss

The best method for NOT losing fat.
Weight loss is easy. Losing fat, without a significant amount of muscle loss, is the hard part. Through this article, I will attempt to shed the light on some myths that surround fat loss and explain why the weight can easily come back on if you get lazy.
In my opinion, one of the greatest misconceptions about fat loss is that it shouldn’t be hard. You can partly blame mainstream media and actre… I mean personal trainers (like Jillian Michaels) who are constantly sending messages that fat loss can be achieved by taking a pill or spending 10 minutes with an 8 pound kettlebell. 
Furthering the myth is the media portrayal of the so-called “perfect woman” who in reality look like they would blow away in the wind. Most women get caught subconsciously believing that weight loss should be a simple thing and that they should feel ashamed for their body shape. In other words, weight loss is not easy for the majority of people, especially for those who are obese.
I would prescribe steaks and squats.
Let’s go through some of the basic facts:
1. For most individuals, losing weight will be very hard.
It’s just a fact that you will have to accept. Think about adjusting your eating habits and keeping your protein intake adequate for activity levels.
2. If you’re trying to lose weight, you’re going to be hungry sometimes.
Hunger doesn’t mean that you are going to starve and die, it just means that you are in control of your body. Don’t get me wrong though, there is a breaking point for everyone on their diet. However if you can’t move past the initial hunger pangs, don’t complain that you “cant lose weight even though you eat all the right foods”.
3. You have to work out if you’re trying to lose weight and keep it off long term.
This is where a lot of the crap gets spread around concerning fat loss. These are the kinds of people that will shell out money to join something like Weight Watcher’s without exercising at all and make sure to tell all of their friends what they did to lose the weight. For some, this is all the social proof they need to be forever confused about weight loss. “Well my friend did Weight Watchers (or the South Beach Diet, or vegetarianism, etc.) and lost weight, so it must work!”
The trick is coming back to these people a year later who are still following the same diet and regained all of the weight they lost. Why? Because contrary to popular belief, your body isn’t stupid. Your body will start to slow down thyroid hormones, adjust its metabolism to conserve energy and your leptin levels will drop, making you hungrier. It should be pretty evident that you need to modify your diet and exercise to keep the weight off.
4. When trying to lose fat, you should feel tired from working out.
This doesn’t mean that you are unable to move afterwards. However it does mean that you shouldn’t be able to do it all again 10 minutes later.
5. Just because a naturally skinny person likes a certain method of exercise, doesn’t mean its the best type of exercise.
I am constantly presented with questions from women along the lines of “Well my friend has been doing pilates or spin class and she is really skinny, shouldn’t I be doing that?” Here is my answer: Ask your friend if she has lost any actual fat or if she just thinks she looks better.
Her answer for fat loss will probably be “I don’t know”. This means no. Pilates didn’t help her get “toned” and it didn’t lengthen her muscles or build them up in any way. Getting into that aerobic pathway will led to muscle tissue breakdown as opposed to shorter, higher intensity exercises. You can easily spot the difference between a sprinter and a marathon runner:
Who looks healthier to you?
My final advice is this: if you really want to lose the fat, modify your eating plan. Start heavy strength training and stop being suckered into fat loss myths that fail every time!
Posted on

The difference between exercise and training

Look around you and take it all in. America is in a very unhealthy place, despite the fact that you constantly hear a message from health gurus and government officials telling you to “get off your butt”, “play for 60 minutes a day” and “start exercising!” 
Yet Americans continue to lead the way for the fattest country on earth.
My advice? Stop exercising! At least stop exercising in the traditional sense. More people than ever are exercising: whether its attending aerobic classes,  buying in-home exercise machines that resemble torture devices or trying new forms of cardio exercise. Yet here we are, still increasing the obesity epidemic every day.  You can go into any modern globo gym and see the same scene played out: lots of people reading or watching TV on the treadmill, talking, socializing around the weight equipment, and some doing exercises on strange machines that definitely don’t mimic proper human movement. This kind of undirected exercise isn’t doing much of anything to contribute to your fitness.
It appears to me that these people are simply going through the motions, giving exercises the same enthusiasm they give to washing dishes. This lackluster shuffle around the gym is what I would categorize as exercise. This “failure to train with a sufficient level of focus and intensity is the greatest obstacle to developing the results most profess to be seeking” (S. Phillips) 
Here is an example: Driving to the gym so you can walk on a treadmill for 20 minutes.
Case and point.
Though often used interchangeably, training and exercise are vastly different. Exercise is moving without a purpose and just going through the motions. It’s what your Grandma does as she walks around the block.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for anything that elevates a heart rate and gets you off of your butt and for some, this is all that they might be capable of at the moment. But one of the biggest differences between training and exercising is that training is not an obligation that requires great discipline; training is powered by a vision. It is something that when you go to sleep, you can’t wait to wake up the next morning to increase a PR or work on a weakness.
The few who truly mean business are easy to spot.They are usually in the corner of the gym, where most real free weight sections have been relegated to. They are walking around the gym with their head down, focused, intense with a sense of purpose. They aren’t assholes, they are just in the “zone”.
My advice? Talk to one of these people (after they are finished with their lifts) and see if they can assist you with your lifts and technique. Then get a training partner who is driven with purpose and get on a program. If you could only have one reason to make strength training part of your fitness life, try this fact on for size: It is the only way to re-shape your body. Attempting to transform a body with cardio alone is a futile gesture. Someone once said “if you’re shaped like a pear and do nothing but cardio training, you might lose some weight. But you’ll just end up looking like a smaller pear.”
If you are serious about making a physical transformation and have a real desire to make measurable change, stop wasting time exercising and starting training!
Posted on

The Overrated Image Of 6-Pack Abs

I can’t even count the number of times I have seen this scenario play out at the gym: A skinny male or female with absolutely no muscle tone to speak of is sitting in the corner on some strange contraption that resembles a catapult or with their feet on a giant ball doing quarter crunches,  “blasting their core” and “toning their 6-pack”. Never mind the fact that “they don’t have an ice chest to put it in” (quoting Rippetoe).
The typical female.
The typical male.
For these individuals, the pinnacle of fitness and strength is of course, the well defined 6-pack. They are not hard to identify in the gym, they are usually the people who will come up to you in the middle of a 5×3 push jerk or heavy snatch session, tap you on your shoulder and ask what muscles you are working (insert facepalm here). Usually seen in groups lacking any sort of direction, they typically have one ring leader that wears fancy black gloves doing 25 pound bicep curls. The rest simply stand around, do a couple of crunches or hang from the pullup bar for ten seconds, then go up to the mirror and look at their stomach. They have gotten it so engrained in their heads that they need a 6-pack that they don’t even bother starting with compound movements as a base for their programming.
The pinnacle of American fitness.
I am not implying that it is not important to have a strong midsection. A strong core is vital for all lifts and to help the spine in a strong position. What I am saying is that you don’t need to stress about being <8% body fat when there are SO MANY more things that both beginners and professionals need to work on when it comes to strength training.
You especially don’t need to worry about having a chiseled 6-pack to impress the opposite sex (someone once told me that girls like 6-packs, women like a manly man). Do you really want to be with someone that flexes their stomach at every mirror they pass and is more worried about adding a little body fat to their stomach than your relationship? I didn’t think so.
Studies have been conducted that show that women don’t want to date or marry someone who has a chiseled midsection (link here) and numerous studies have shown that the majority of men prefer women with some meat on their bones, not super low levels of body fat and extremely defined features that must feel like hugging a large piece of plywood.
This is a huge reason both males and females are afraid of putting on size and adding strength. You see lots of glittering pale pansies ( I am talking to you twilight fans) in the media, that have a couple of abdominal muscles, with no real size anywhere else, it just looks uneven and incredibly weak.
I would rather hang with this guy, keep your glitter.
 Women think that if they do things like compound movements (squats, deadlifts, presses) that they will put on all kinds of mass and look like the guy pictured above, when in reality that’s not a possibility.
The heavy lifters from “prettypowerlifting.com”
Women then unknowingly subjugate themselves by staying weak, by sticking to things like quarter crunches and core blasting exercises. Instead, they could increase strength, power, and their attitudes about themselves if they just stopped reading things like Cosmo that has an anorexic female on the cover and started squatting and deadlifting more.
Posted on

A Guide To Maximal Strength Development

Dave Tate is an all-around guru when it comes to strength training, General Physical Preparedness (GPP, and increasing the limits of human potential. 



On his website, www.elitefts.com, there is constantly an update of great information relating to strength training and powerlifting, nutrition concerning strength athletes, and various topics to help those running their own fitness facility. I routinely read his articles to learn new ways to increase my lifts and all around strength.  I pulled the following information from an article written by Dave Tate titled   “The eight keys, a complete guide to maximal strength development”” (you can view the original article here).

Coaching

A coach is a mentor, training partner, motivator, and leader. There are many other functions the coach will fill but the most important is this:
The coach should strive to make you better than he is.
A great strength coach will be one who’s lived in the trenches and has paid his dues with blood, sweat, and iron. If you want to squat 800 pounds, why would you ever listen to someone who’s never squatted 455?
Ask yourself this question and you’ll see my point. How much do you bench press? The answer doesn’t matter that much, but let’s say it’s 400 pounds. Now ask yourself, how much more did you have to learn about training to bench 400 as compared to when you pressed 200? Would you also agree that there’s much more to learn to take your bench from 400 to 500? I think so.
Now, how much more training did you have to do to go from 200 to 400? Did it come overnight? Or did you have to work hard and work smart to get there? Nobody will ever be able to convince me that no knowledge was gained in the 200 pound process!
The next question would be, could this same under-the-bar-knowledge be learned from a book? In other words, is there another way to gain this same knowledge? I don’t think so. I feel the best coaches are the ones who’ve attained both under-the-bar knowledge and book knowledge. If you had to only choose one, it would have to be the under-the-bar coach. He knows how to get you where you’re going because he’s been there.
After all, how do you know what really works if you never put it to the test? I see tons of new programs on how to get strong and the first thing I ask the author is, “Have you done it? What did it do for you?”
I could go on and on about coaches as it’s one of those topics that drives me nuts, but it would become a huge rant article. I’ll leave you instead with this short story. Years ago I came to train with Louie Simmons at Westside Barbell. He was semi-retired at the time. We had a big group of lifters but only two or three were elite and most were below average. I believe there was only one 900 pound squat. When Louie decided to make a comeback and begin training hard again, the entire gym changed and a few years later, we were all elites and had over six 900 pound squats. The rest was history.
Tell me a coach who trains isn’t a better coach! If you’re a coach, get your ass in the gym and get strong again. You owe it to yourself and your team.

Teamwork

If you train alone you’re putting limits on yourself. Training partners are critical for many reasons, including group energy, subgroup coaching, and competing. Have you ever noticed when you go into a gym all the strong guys train in their own little clique? Do you think they were always strong, or could a couple of strong guys have taken another guy under their wings to bring him up? That’s usually what happens with a team. In fact, they’re all stronger because of the team.
The energy a team can provide is enormous. We all need relationships in our lives to take things to the next level. Think back to your football or other team sport days. Remember the locker room talk before the big game? You find yourself sitting on one knee listening to the coach. As the coach speaks and the game gets closer, your energy meter is getting jacked up. Your blood is moving fast in your body and you can feel the adrenaline flowing. You’re jacked up and ready to go. You’re at maximum level!
Now what if I was to tell you there’s a way to take it one level higher, but this can’t happen when you’re alone? You’ll need others to make this work. Go back to the game. What happens after the coach finishes his speech and you stand up? You find everyone in the room is jacked up. There’s fire in everyone’s eyes and you’re taking in more energy from them. It’s almost unreal! There are high-fives, head butts, screams, rage, and extreme motivation. This happens because everyone in the room has his own level ten, but when it’s combined for one purpose and one goal the energy goes off the chart! You find yourself at a level you never thought possible. This can’t be achieved alone.
I use this as an example of group energy. I’m not telling you to go nuts with your training partners each session. I’m saying there’s energy there that can’t be found any other way! If you want to take it to the next level, find some training partners who share the same goals. You’ll be amazed.
Training partners are also a great subgroup of coaches when you’re training. When you’re bench pressing, are you pressing the bar on the right path? Are your elbows tucked? Are you sure? A training partner can do two things: point out the mistakes and provide the proper verbal queuing during the movement to make sure you don’t screw up the next one.
You’ll also notice one key thing in all lifter interviews. They always thank their training partners. Why do you think they do this? They know that without them they wouldn’t be where they are today. If you train alone, stop messing around and get a partner!

Conditioning

If you think you can excel in any sport without a base level of conditioning you’re out of your mind. The days of over-fat, bloated, can’t breathe, can’t sleep powerlifters are over!
Let me describe what I define as a powerlifter so everyone is on the same page. A powerlifter is one who competes in the squat, bench, and deadlift to arrive at the highest total. A full meet can last up to nine hours and nine max lifts will be attempted. To be able to do this, a lifter must be in great condition or he’ll pay the price come the deadlift.
Here’s where one of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen over the past few years will come into focus. You can get conditioned by adding extra workouts and GPP (General Physical Preparation) training, but I’ve seen lifters go from three workouts per week to fourteen and wonder why they can’t recover. There are many ways to get conditioned (increase work capacity and GPP), but what I suggest doing is taking a slow build-up process to condition the body to the extra work.

Strength

To be strong you must have strength. Pretty simple concept, don’t you think? So did I, but then I started getting a lot of e-mails telling me strength isn’t important for sports. So I had to go back to the drawing board and rethink this one. After many hours of deep thought I still have to say: strength is very important! A quick football example and I’ll move on to how to develop strength.
I’ve been told there’s no need for a lineman to be able to squat over 350 pounds as he’ll never have to move more than that on the field. This may be true if he had to move the 250 pound guy one time and it didn’t matter how fast he moved him. We know in the game of football that the rate of force development is very important. You don’t want people being moved slowly. We know from Mel Siff’s writings that max force in the barbell squat can be measured at around 60%. At Westside we’ve found close to the same percentage to be true.
The other thing we know is the average play will last under ten seconds and there’ll be between three and ten plays per drive. Our lineman who squats the “recommended” 350 will now be able to create max force at 210 pounds and may or may not be conditioned to do this more than one time. Too bad the guy across from him weighs 350! Who will wear who down?
Now, if the lineman could squat 600 pounds he’d create max force at 360. Does he have to actually squat 600 pounds? No! But he better be able to create max force with 350 pounds for eight to ten sets of two to three reps (around ten seconds set length) with 45 to 60 seconds rest. If not, he’s at a disadvantage.

So how do you get strong?

We use a method called the max effort method. This is lifting heavy weight for one to three reps. There are two max effort training days per week, one for the lower body (squat) and one for the upper body (bench). One max effort movement will be completed for each day. The best movements for beginners to use are listed below:

Max Effort Squat Movements

  1. Deadlifts standing on 3 inches of mats or boards for 1 rep max.
  2. Good Mornings for 3 to 5-rep max sets. When you become used to the movement, then singles should be performed.
  3. Close Stance Low Box Squats for 1 rep max . Set the box so your hip at the crease of the leg joint is three inches lower than parallel.
  4. Safety Squat Bar Squats — If you have one of these bars then start using it. It’s one of the best ways to build the muscles that squat and deadlift. The reason for this is the bar is trying to toss you forward and you have to fight to keep it in a good path. It also takes the weight off your shoulders as you don’t have to hold the bar as you would a regular squat bar. You’ll hold this bar by the front yokes. Don’t hold onto the rack and pull yourself up, either. If you don’t have one of these bars, then try to do anything you can to change the center of gravity of the movement. This can be done a number of different ways. You can use what’s called a Manta Ray that snaps onto the bar; you can do high bar squats; or you can wrap a thick towel around the bar so it’ll sit higher on the back. Each of these will all work the body differently.
  5. Pin Pulls for 1 rep max. I like to have lifters use pins below the knee at various positions for this movement. Only pick one position per day.

Max Effort Bench Movements

  1. Various Board Presses — Same as bench press except you’ll bring the bar down to a select number of 2 x 6 boards on your chest. The two board press would be two 2 x 6’s (one on top of the other). The board is usually around 12 to 16 inches in length to make it easy for a spotter to hold it in front of you. If you don’t have a spotter to hold the board, you can tuck it under your shirt, use a band, or use one of those rubber waist trimmer things to go around both you and the board.
  2. Floor Presses — Lay on the floor and perform a bench press with a one second pause at the bottom. This exercise is designed to strengthen the midpoint of the bench press. It’s also very effective in increasing triceps strength.
  3. Close-Grip Incline Presses — Use a low to steep incline with one finger on the smooth part of the bar.
  4. Pin Presses — Place a bench in a power rack and a bar on the pins. Adjust the pins (safety supports) to change the range of motion. Do these from various positions, from just off the chest to two inches below lockout.
  5. Reverse Band Press — This movement is the same as a bench press except you’ll use two large flex bands to hang the bar from the top of the power rack.

Note: Bands and/or chains can be added to any of these movements for variety and training effect.
So how many sets and reps should I do for this max effort movement?
Make sure to only do one max effort movement per session. The sets are dependent on how strong you are and how you work up. If you only bench 185 pounds, it wouldn’t be wise to start with 135, then jump to 155 for a set and then finish with 185. There’s very little volume completed this way. It’s better to use a set rep scheme as follows:

  • 2 Board Press (Max 185)
  • 45 pounds for 3 sets of 5 reps
  • 70 for 3 reps
  • 95 for 3 reps
  • 115 for 1 rep
  • 135 for 1 rep
  • 155 for 1 rep
  • 175 for 1 rep
  • 190 for 1 rep

The last one should be an all-out effort. If not, keep working up. There’s nothing wrong with missing a weight on the movement. As you can see, the volume is much higher and the work load more productive to strength gains.

Do you do the max effort movement every week?

This answer depends on what you’re doing on all the other days as well as the individual. If you’re hitting it very hard with bands on the dynamic day, then you may find you can’t hit the max effort movement every week and may have to take it easy one workout of the month. If you find you’re not recovering, then you’ll want to take it easy one of the workouts each month. When you “take it easy” (not a day off) you’ll replace the movement with higher rep work using a movement intended to train the same muscles.

How do you know if you went heavy enough?

If you have to ask this question, then you’re totally missing the boat. This movement is about straining as hard as you can. If you make the weight and have something left then you need to add more weight and go again. When using the max effort method you must strain to gain!

Speed

The speed day (dynamic effort day) is designed to make the lifter faster. If you were to do a vertical jump, would you try to jump slowly? If so, how high would you go? What would happen if you were to try and jump fast and apply more force? You’d go much higher, of course!
Training for maximal strength has to have a speed element to it or you won’t be training to the fullest potential. There are some lifters who are stronger than they are fast and others who are faster than they are strong. You have to train both elements regardless of where you fall. This way you can harness your strength and bring up your weakness.
There are two days of the week devoted to training for speed. The first is for the bench press and the second is for the squat and deadlift. There are a few different movements that can be rotated for the speed work. These include:

Speed Squats

1) Parallel Box Squats — The benefits of this exercise are numerous. It develops eccentric and concentric power by breaking the eccentric-concentric chain. Box squats are a form of overload and isolation. The box squat is the best way to teach proper form on the squat because it’s easy to sit way back while pushing your knees out.
To take the barbell out of the rack, the hands must first be evenly placed on the bar. Secure the bar on the back where it feels the most comfortable. To lift the bar out of the rack, one must push evenly with the legs, arch the back, push your abs out against the belt, and lift the chest up while driving the head back. A high chest will ensure the bar rests as far back as possible. Slide one foot back, then the other, to assume a position to squat.
Set your feet up in a wide stance position. Point your toes straight ahead or slightly outward. Also, keep your elbows pulled under the bar. When you’re ready for the descent, make sure to keep the same arched back position. Pull your shoulders together and push your abs out. To begin the descent, push your hips back first. As you sit back, push your knees out to the sides to ensure maximum hip involvement. Once you reach the box, you need to sit on it and release the hip flexors. Keep the back arched and abs pushed out while driving your knees out to the side.
To begin the ascent, push out on the belt, arch the back as much as possible, and drive the head, chest, and shoulders to the rear. If you push with the legs first, your buttocks will rise first, forcing the bar over the knees (as in a good morning) which causes stress to the lower back and knees and diminishes the power of the squat.


Recovery

As I’ve mentioned in this series already, GPP or General Physical Preparation is very important, especially for recovery. According to Yuri Verkhoshansky in The Fundamentals of Special Strength Training in Sport and as outlined in Supertraining by the late Mel Siff, there are several functions of GPP:
• To form, strengthen or restore motor skills, which play an auxiliary, facilatory role in perfecting sports ability.
• To teach abilities developed insufficiently by the given sport and to increase the general work capacity or preserve it.
• To provide active rest, promote restoration after strenuous loading, and counteract the monotony of training.
One solution to GPP is sled dragging. The use of a sled has many benefits:
• The sled is easy to use and doesn’t require a special trip to the gym.
• The sled is specific to the development of the special skills necessary for maximal strength. (And by the way, we never run with the sled.)
• Virtually every muscle can be trained with a sled. There are movements for the abdominals, shoulders, hamstrings, etc.
• The sled is a great way to induce active restoration. In many of the upper body dragging movements, the eccentric (negative) is eliminated because of the nature of the sled. This is great for recovery because the tearing down of the muscle is much less in concentric-only movements.
Instead of making this article even longer than it already is, I’ll just direct you to my Drag Your Butt Into Shape article here at T-mag, which will give you all the info you need. For a good sled, visit www.elitefts.com.

Nutrition

I’ll keep this very short and simple. Yes, nutrition is important and you shouldn’t live on junk food. I had to learn this the hard way and feel many of my past injuries are due in some part to poor nutritional habits.
I’m by no means an expert on this and don’t feel I’m any type of authority on telling you what to do or what not to do.
There are many sources for this information, most of them right here in T-mag. You should read as much as you can and come up with what you feel is the best system for you. I’m still learning about good nutrition myself, and T-mag is working with me on correcting some bad habits, most notably on increasing meal frequency, upping protein intake, and the use of supplements in general. I do use protein and Tribex from time to time, but I’ve got a long way to go.

Attitude

“Everything can be taken away from man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
—Victor E Frankl
We all have those times in life I like to call “defining moments.” These moments in time can be glorious or disastrous, but always shape the direction and path of who we become. From these moments we grow and become better or worse for it. The difference between better or worse is how the situation is perceived. If something bad happens to you, do you view it as a learning experience and move on, or do you let it tear you up? If something good happens, do you look back to ask why or write it off as luck?
What does all this have to do with strength training? It has everything to do with strength training, powerlifting, sports, and life! There are many qualities needed to succeed in the strength training game. I like to sum them all up with three very simple words: Live, Learn, and Pass On.
Live — The most important quality is to live the life you want to have, not the life you have. In other words, if you’re a bottom 100 powerlifter but want to be a top ten lifter, do you live the life of a top ten lifter or a bottom 100 lifter? Do you do the same things the top ten lifter does? Do you think the same way he does? Do you skip sessions? Are you as serious as he is? If not, then how are you ever going to get where he is?
You only go around once so you may as well make the best of your time here by living the life you really want to live! “Well, Dave, I’d like to but…” But what? Do what you gotta do! There are many people out there who live “but lives,” “I shoulda lives,” “I coulda lives,” or “if only lives.”
These people are very easy to find. They’re the ones we call critics; those who’ve become masters of the “have not” and love to spend their time telling us what we can and can’t do. They make up 90% of the people I’ve met. Avoid them! They love to pull you down. If you happen to be one, then fix it fast because it’ll affect your training and your life.
Learn — The most successful people spend their time learning from their mistakes and other people. If strength is your game then read about it, talk about it, and do everything you can to make yourself better. Talk to anyone you feel can help you. Steal from the strong and use it in your training. You can never learn too much. Your success may depend on one very small thing you could never have figured out yourself.
Pass On — Many years ago, in a dark stairway in the back of a junior high gym that smelled like sweat stained wrestling mats, was a ninth grade wrestler who’d only won one match in the last two years. This same kid wasn’t a very good athlete up to this point. He played many sports and always did okay but was never good enough to start or be a standout.
As he waited for his mother to pick him up he decided to run the stairs instead of just sitting as he’d usually do. After about five minutes he was thinking he’d had enough and would call it a day and sit down to wait for his ride. About this time, the head wrestling coach walked by and asked him what he was doing. The kid replied that he was running the stairs because he was sick of getting beat all the time. The coach then spoke one sentence that stuck in the kid’s mind for the rest of his life: “If you work hard enough you can do whatever you want to do.”
I ran the stairs for the next forty-five minutes and didn’t lose a match during the entire season. I went on to have a very successful career in sports. That one sentence taught me how to run for what I wanted and I’ve been running ever since. One kid, one sentence and a totally changed life.
Why do I do this? Why do I write these articles? Why do I spend so much time helping people for free? Why do I care so much when I know most lifters and coaches will never listen? The answer is simple. Why did my coach care so much when he knew most of his athletes would never listen? Because I listened. What would I be today if he didn’t care? I owe it to him to pass on the great gift he gave me. This is why I try so hard.
I’m sure you have the same type of story. Somewhere, some time, someone took the time to help shape your way. You owe it to them to pass on what you know. When we leave this earth, it’s not what we take with us that maters, it’s what we leave behind. There have been many people along my path and I can tell you today I’ll never forget who they were and what they did. This is the greatest success in life one can have.
Vince Lombardi once said, “I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour — his greatest fulfillment to all he holds dear — is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle, victorious.” Do you want to lie on the ground victorious or with your face in the dirt?

Summary

I went back and reread the first paragraph of the first article in this series. I realized that I’m no better than the guy who wrote the huge instructional guide for the baby crib. To tell you the truth, I just tossed the instructions, looked at the picture on the box and did it the easy way. To stay with the same concept, here’s the “picture on the box” for this series:
• One day per week, train the squat with different three-week cycles for 8 sets of 2 reps and maximal speed.
• One day per week, train the bench press with a prescribed percentage for 8 sets of 3 reps.
• One day per week, train using a special max effort movement for the squat or deadlift.
• One day per week, train using a special max effort movement for the bench press.
• Train the hamstrings hard.
• Train the abs hard.
• Train the triceps hard.
• Bring up your GPP.
• Get some good training partners.
• Find a good coach.
• Take an attitude check.
• Don’t eat crap 100% of the time.

General Program Questions

Let me guess, you’ve got a bunch of questions anyway, right? That’s okay, we’ve answered thousands dealing with this type of training. Some of the same questions keep coming up over and over so I’ll address them here.

How long should each training session last?

This really depends on how many people you train with and if you use warm-ups or not. A good general recommendation would be to try and keep the main session under 45 minutes. This doesn’t include the warm-up time. Don’t use this as a golden rule, though. Get done what you have to get done and then get out of the gym. If it takes you 60 minutes, then so be it.

What if I don’t have a reverse hyper, glute ham raise, chains or bands?

If you don’t have chains or bands then use the barbell without chains and bands! Keep in mind the lifters at Westside went without chains and bands for twenty years and still made gains! Then the chains were brought in and they got stronger. Chains were used for two years before the bands were brought it. The better question to ask would be, do you need chains and bands at this time?
If you don’t have a GHR or reverse hyper then stick with what you can do (pull-throughs, stiff leg deadlifts, Dimel deadlifts, and other lower back and hamstring work). I do feel the GHR and reverse hyper are better. The lifters at Westside live and die by these two movements and use them both at least twice a week, but this program can be followed without them.

What day should I do each session?

Most lifters will follow this basic template:
Monday — Max Effort Squat/Deadlift Day
Wednesday — Max Effort Bench Day
Friday — Dynamic Effort Squat Day
Sunday — Dynamic Effort Bench Day

What do I do if I can only get in the gym three times per week?

Then use an eight day rotation, then a seven. Here’s an example:
Monday — Max Effort Squat/Deadlift Day
Wednesday — Max Effort Bench Day
Friday — Dynamic Effort Squat Day
Monday — Dynamic Effort Bench Day
Wednesday — Repeat cycle