Thursday, December 29, 2011

Back to Basics

Well, that was fun. 2 months on a hypertrophy program was eye-opening for me. I learned some things about what I like and don't like about hypertrophy work, and took away some really useful knowledge. It is something that I can see myself doing every once in a while in order to give my body a chance to rest from lifting heavy stuff and to bring up any weak points that I notice. So, now what's in store for me?

It's game time baby!! Back to lifting heavy shit!!

I'm ready to make my long awaited return to the strength training side of things. I'm talking heavy weights, low reps and lots of testosterone. Adding plates to the bar, instead of endless amounts of volume. I actually did a workout a few weeks ago that ended up being around 500 total reps! That is ridiculous!! I'm ready to get back to doing something that I really love to do!

What will that entail? I'm going to be doing Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 template. It's a training system that is based on 3-4 main lifts. You perform these lifts based on a percentage of your 1RM for each lift. Each month you gradually increase the weights. When done correctly, and with the appropriate assistance lifts, people have seen some really great strength gains off of this template. My four main lifts are going to be Front Squat, Bench press (with a pause), snatch-grip deadlift and strict military press. I chose these lifts based on how much I dislike them. They are variations that tend to be more difficult than their counterparts. Back squats are easier, bouncing the bar off your chest is easier, conventional deads are easier and push presses are way easier. Why do what's easy, though? If I get good at the things I hate, then I'll have bettered myself. Plus, I think the front squat and snatch-grip deadlift will really help my maximal jumping ability!

Today I tested my 1 rep-max on my bench press and snatch grip DL. I ended up pressing 255 on the bench and pulling 375 with the deadlift. Using the pause and the uber-wide grip on the deadlift really changes the dynamics of the lift. I ended up using straps on the max effort sets, since I don't want my grip to be the limiting factor in that lift. From here on out, I will only use straps on my last max-effort set for each deadlift day. 

Since I was smoked after those lifts, I'm going to do my military press and front squat 1RM's this coming Saturday, so that I can start the program fresh on Monday for 2012! That'll be the best way to start my year off right!

I hope you all have a great New Year! Don't forget to lift something heavy!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

30 Things

After my workout today, I jumped on Facebook and saw that Neghar Fonooni had posted THIS article. I came across this blog a little while ago, but read a different post. This one is special.

Holy shit. What an amazing list. Frankly, I couldn't have written it better myself. Unless I had thought of it and actually written it myself. A lot of the items on this list are things that I have been personally working on trying to do. A lot of people would look at this list and be overwhelmed, or think it's horse shit. It's not. Take an honest look at yourself, evaluate what's going on. Start to chip away at some of these things, I think it will make a huge difference in your life.

Some of the points that jumped out and punched me in the mouth:

Stop being idle. – Don’t think too much or you’ll create a problem that wasn’t even there in the first place.  Evaluate situations and take decisive action.  You cannot change what you refuse to confront.  Making progress involves risk.  Period!  You can’t make it to second base with your foot on first.

I have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad habit of over-thinking and over-analyzing. Getting out of my own head is one of the absolute hardest things for me to do. I know when I'm doing it, and can make myself stop, but it takes legitimate effort on my part. Being inside my own head is a dangerous place for me. This is one of the things I'm really trying to work on.

Stop worrying so much. – Worry will not strip tomorrow of its burdens, it will strip today of its joy.  One way to check if something is worth mulling over is to ask yourself this question: “Will this matter in one year’s time?  Three years?  Five years?”  If not, then it’s not worth worrying about.
For me, this goes hand in hand with the previous thought. If I could get out of my own head, I would be able to enjoy everything a lot more. For me, living in the moment is pretty hard.

Stop running from your problems. – Face them head on.  No, it won’t be easy.  There is no person in the world capable of flawlessly handling every punch thrown at them.  We aren’t supposed to be able to instantly solve problems.  That’s not how we’re made.  In fact, we’re made to get upset, sad, hurt, stumble and fall.  Because that’s the whole purpose of living – to face problems, learn, adapt, and solve them over the course of time.  This is what ultimately molds us into the person we become.
This is something that I have recently done a very good job of. I know who I am, and where I am headed. I understand that there are things that I need to address in order to get where I want to go. This particular step takes a lot of balls to do, but you will be pleasantly  happy with the results.

Stop putting your own needs on the back burner. – The most painful thing is losing yourself in the process of loving someone too much, and forgetting that you are special too.  Yes, help others; but help yourself too.  If there was ever a moment to follow your passion and do something that matters to you, that moment is now.
I love making other people happy. It makes me feel good. I also don't expect anything back. I'm comfortable playing the role of the martyr. I guess this isn't, intrinsically, a bad thing, right? It's really easy, however, for me to forget to do me. I lose myself and suddenly find that I'm doing something that might not be great for me. I'm able to follow my passion, but there are bumps along the road. Any road worth traveling, though, is going to have those bumps.

Stop berating yourself for old mistakes. – We may love the wrong person and cry about the wrong things, but no matter how things go wrong, one thing is for sure, mistakes help us find the person and things that are right for us.  We all make mistakes, have struggles, and even regret things in our past.  But you are not your mistakes, you are not your struggles, and you are here NOW with the power to shape your day and your future.  Every single thing that has ever happened in your life is preparing you for a moment that is yet to come.
This last one is a big one. What's done is done. You can't un-do it. We've all done and said stupid things that we wish that we hadn't. Things that we wouldn't do again if we had the opportunity. Stop beating yourself up over it. If the opportunity arises again, show that you learned from your mistake. Just move forward.

Hopefully you can find something to take away from this post. Take a look at the list, what jumps out at you? What seems important for your own life?

Figure it out. Then go lift something heavy!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Progress Report

So, it's been a full month since I started this hypertrophy program. Today we started phase 2, and as such I thought it'd be a good time for an update!

So far, I'm happy with my gains. The scale tells me I've put on about 5 pounds of bodyweight, and the calipers tell me that I gained about 1% body fat; up to 13.6%. Shoulders, upper back and chest all appear to be a little bit fuller. I wasn't expecting a miracle within one month, so I'm not disappointed with anything.

Strength levels, interestingly, have not waned TOO much. I was expecting to lose a lot more total strength, and that has yet to happen. Maybe because it has only been a month? After another month or two of this, I will probably be looking forward to lifting some heavy shit, but for now this is a LOT of fun!

That's all for today. Go lift something heavy!

Thursday, December 8, 2011


In the last week I've had two people provide me with some blog material. In a strange coincidence, they are extremely related and extremely disturbing.

The first topic was sent to me by my friend Brita early in the week. She came across this website, Pinterest, and found the fitness board to be a bit fishy. She is a recent convert to the Tao of Lifting, and immediately recognized this message board as a place promoting the idea of being skinny for the sake of being skinny. The majority of the topics "pinned" to this board suggest that you should be skinny for the stares/jealousy, being skinny to look like "her", as well as providing fitness information suggesting "toning" of arms and butt. There are very few, if any, references to the fact that toning is a myth, and that lifting heavy shit is the fastest and most effective way to the body that you want. All in all, I think this site sends a poor message. It's just regurgitating the fitness propaganda that Oxygen, Self and Shape have been pushing out for years. I'd love to see this site using some more relevant information. However, I understand the "motivational"aspect of the board, and for some people, bad exercise is better than no exercise. I would never send anybody I know to this site for fitness information, but at least the messages tend to stay motivational and positive. 

Fitness: Doing it right.
Then, last night during a session, one of my clients tipped me off to something called "thinspiration". He came across it somehow on tumblr and found it unsettling enough to mention it while we were working out. He said it consisted mostly of pictures of really skinny women, and motivational phrases attached to them. There were lots of "diet tricks" that told you to drink lots of water to feel full. I came home, checked it and was SHOCKED at what I found.

I immediately noticed something wasn't right. Phrases such as "do it for the thigh gap", "so that you can be light enough for someone to pick you up." Diet plans suggesting you partition out 3 apples to make up 6 small meals for the day. Pictures, to make you envious, of a woman's back with no shirt, and very visible shoulder blades.

I couldn't help but think about eating disorders. How this seemed to be an unhealthy obsession with being skinny and frail. I noticed the phrase "pro-ana" several times, and had absolutely no idea what it meant. A quick searched revealed that it stood for "pro-anorexia". Many of these sites were celebrating anorexia as a "lifestyle choice" rather than an illness. Several sites seem to be a non-judgemental place for people to discuss their illness, but it seems that those are the exception and not the rule.

Without realizing it, I've created a little bubble for myself. I'm so wrapped up in the strength and conditioning world, that I lost sight of the grand "fitness" picture. I somehow managed to forget that these illnesses still exist. This sort of stuff should be a serious wake up call to the industry, to start being really strict about the types of information that gets put out there. We need to start celebrating the women in the industry that are sending out positive messages about being fit, strong and beautiful.

Nia Shanks
Leigh Peele
Jen Comas Keck
Neghar Foonooni

Please, go lift something heavy. Be happy and be healthy.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Get your mind right

Whether you think you can, or think you can't... you're right. 

Please, stop and think about that saying for a second. What does it mean to you? For the context of this blog, I will address it in the context of weight training. However, I really think it applies to many aspects of life. (Weird that weight training has so many carryovers to regular life.)

Let's say your 1 rep max deadlift is 315 pounds. Thats a serious weight for you. Today is the day that you are going to try and stick a new 1RM. Your training partners load up 340 for you...a 25 pound PR. No joke. The music is loud. The atmosphere is good. Your partners are cheering you on. What's going through your head? If you're not thinking "I'm going to fucking dominate this weight, and it's going to go up like a feather" then you already missed the lift.

If you think you can do it, you're gonna succeed. Let self-doubt creep in your mind for a second, and you're toast. That bar isn't going to make it past your knees.

It's a really good way to learn how important being self-confident is. Is it really possible that the power of thought is that strong that it can be the deciding factor in whether or not you make that lift? You bet your sweet ass it is.

Being strong isn't just a physical thing. You need to be mentally strong in the weight room. Everything sucks while you're doing it, but the benefits will pay off.

Now, PLEASE, go lift something heavy!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

You worked out! Now what?

You just had a training session with your favorite half-Chinese trainer. You foam rolled, did trap-bar deadlifts, lunges, pullups, pushups and Pallof presses. Time to go home, put your feet up, and click on the newest episode of The Real Housewives of Somebody Kill Me Please, right?

Well, if that is your post-workout routine, you are missing out on a little thing that we, in the industry, call "recovery". 

Every time you work out, you cause damage to your muscles. You create tiny tears in the muscle fibers that, when healed, come back bigger and stronger. Your body will naturally take care of this recovery process, but there are ways to optimize it, allowing you to come back to the weight room faster and stronger than before. 

1) For the love of God, EAT!! - Post workout is one of the best times of day to have a big, calorically dense meal. You may think you are "un-doing" your work in the weight room, but in reality you are feeding your body what it needs to re-build itself into a stronger machine. For a while after your workout, your body continues to run at a higher metabolic rate (EPOC), consuming food during this time period means that it's all getting sucked up and put to work where it needs to be used: muscles. Try and eat between 30-60 minutes after you're done training. (This is one of the reasons you see "meatheads" carrying shakers of protein powder to the gym, instant nutrition). Protein provides the necessary ingredients to rebuild your muscles, and carbs will replenish the glycogen (energy) stores you just depleted with that workout. Have a meal with a good lean-protein source, some good carbs (rice, quinoa, sweet potato) and loads of green leafy veggies!

2) Drink Water - This is something that I am guilty of not doing enough of. I find that I will drink plenty of water when I am working out and when I am training people...and that's it. I just don't remember to drink water during the rest of the day. Water is found in active tissues in the body (for our purposes, muscles). The water in your muscle tissues helps conduct the processes that produce muscular contractions (electrolytes, nerve impulses, blah blah). You should be sweating during your workout, so drinking water afterwards is simply replenishing the supplies you just lost. Coffee, tea, iced tea and Gatorade don't count!

3) Get off the computer and go to bed!! - Also, something that I am occasionally guilty of. I tend to do a lot of my homework later at night, and can easily find myself limiting the amount of sleep I can get. Sleepytime is when your body is able to perform the majority of it's recovery processes. You have nothing else going on metabolically, so your body can devote as much energy as possible to rebuilding and restoring everything. The amount of sleep everybody need's on a nightly basis varies, but the more the better; especially if you are training hard. And, no, catching up on the weekend doesn't count. You can't "make up" sleep in one or two nights. 

4) Massages are a good great thing! - Soft tissue work is extremely important for the hard-training individual. All those hard sessions will leave your body beat up a little, with adhesions in some key areas. Foam rolling? That's soft tissue work. It's great that you do it every time you lift, but in the end it really isn't enough. Deep tissue, Graston Technique and ART are all things that should be considered by folks who train hard. Your upper back, hips and shoulders are all places that can be helped a LOT by some good soft tissue work. Limited by funds? Get your significant other to massage your back for you. Single? Work out a deal with a massage buddy. You rub my back, I rub your back. Boom. 

5) Stay Active - Even when DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) sets in, you need to keep moving. If you just had a huge squat session, and your bum and quads are really sore and tight, it's probably not the best time to go do another heavy leg session. But its a great time to walk, do some light bodyweight lunges or bodyweight squats. Don't allow the tightness to creep in, or the adhesions to take hold. Keep moving! It might be a little uncomfortable, but I bet it won't be any more uncomfortable than the squat session that you got you here!

Keep it moving!
These are just some easy tips to help you recover from a hard training session. Of course, there are some sessions that are just going to leave you beat to hell regardless of what you do for recovery. We call these "great days". Go lift some heavy shit, and then give these a shot!