Monday, April 30, 2012

The 4 B's

Basic Barbell movements Build Beasts.

Yup, it's another post about simplicity. Why? Because it has recently became very obvious and very important to me. It has affected my training, and the way that I train my clients. It does't have to be so difficult. People took something that was super easy, and went and fucked it all to hell. Do you know what old-timey gyms looked like? You walked in, and there was a bunch of dumbbells and barbells on the ground. There may have been some climbing ropes and some gymnastics equipment. Possibly even a tumbling mat. That's about it.

See? Did you think I was lying? You never believe me!

Yup, as the saying goes "there's no school like the old school". The "classic" mantra holds true for the things that are most awesome: hip hop, cars and training. Give me some A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy, Dre and Cube. While you're at it, I'll take a 1968 Hurst Oldsmobile 442 (red with black racing stripes) and a 1969 Lincoln Continental, with the suicide doors (black).

Bodybuilders? We're talking classic all the way, too. Seriously, who actually wants to look like Jay Cutler or Ronnie Coleman? Nobody! That shit is gross, son! Now who wants to look like Arnold or Steve Reeves? Just about any guy in the gym.

Those guys are classics. They look absolutely nothing like the freak-show guys that step on stage at professional bodybuilding shows nowadays. Complete opposites. 

What the hell is my point? It's that the best training principles, methods and tools were all developed at the advent of the iron game. The oldest movements? Cleans, snatches, deadlifts, squats, presses, rows and the gymnastics related bodyweight movements. The exercises that, today, get the best results? Yup, it's the same ones. Cable machines, selectorized equipment and dumbbells are all useful tools, but they all came after the best pieces of equipment we have: barbells and kettlebells. 

I've believed this for a long time, but my recent personal experience has really solidified my thoughts. For several reasons, my training partner and I have pared our training down to a few basic compound movements. Front squats, RDL's, Push Presses, chin-ups and pull-ups have been really making up the meat and potatoes of our programming for about two months. The results? With some good eating, I gained several pounds of (mostly) muscle mass with almost no change in my body fat percentage.

(Note: while barbell lifts should make up the foundation of your training, you can't neglect the efficacy of cables and dumbbells to help address your weak points and structural deficits.)

Want more proof? Take a look at one of the greatest athletes competing in the strength sports today; Dmitry Klokov. The guy is a Savage of the highest order.

As an Olympic weightlifter from Russia, Klokov spends his time working with a barbell, and that's about it. His training consists of the stuff named above: cleans, jerks, snatches, deadlifts, squats and presses. That's about it. Not too shabby for a dude who doesn't have a bi's and tri's day, huh?

The take home message is this: don't major in the minors. Do your barbell lifts, and do them heavy and often. Eat lots of whole real foods. Be a savage, and reap the benefits. Lift something heavy. I'll leave you with some Klokov inspiration.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Something Fun.

Well, it's Spring time here in Boston, which means Summer is right around the corner. In just a few short weeks, you'll be encountering situations that involve less clothing than you've been used to for the last several months.

You've been lifting weights and eating well all Winter, right? Hopefully, that is true. But if you're like me, you hate doing conditioning work inside of the gym. Treadmills, bikes and rowing ergs just don't appeal to me. I like being outside running hills, doing sprints and pushing sleds; that is the stuff that is fun for me. If you can get yourself outside to do some of that good conditioning work (assuming you're still eating well) you can start to peel away that last bit of Winter fat and get your ab-game right for the Summer.

What it is: The Medicine Ball Throw and Chase. In this video, I'm using an 8 pound MB. The weight can vary, but be aware that a heavier ball just won't get thrown as far as a lighter one. This is a conditioning exercise, not a power exercise, so use a lighter ball than you think you should be. I'm doing a reverse overhead throw, but you can use whatever variation you'd like. Chest pass, rotational throw, shot-put, etc etc. Do them all, if you want!

How to do it: Get a medicine ball. Throw it. Chase it and catch it. Throw it again. Rest and repeat. Not too hard, right?

This is, really, a pretty easy way to get in some conditioning. It's not super hard, so you could do it several times a week. Since it's not super hard, you can do it post-workout and you won't be doing yourself any damage in terms of recovery. Conversely, doing hill sprints is pretty tough and will often times make me want to puke (in a good way). I don't currently have access to a Prowler, so this is a great lighter type of conditioning work. It also has the added power component to it; as I'm launching that ball, I'm in a triple-extension position throwing a sub-max weight as far as I can. Boom - power development.

Go give it a shot, and let me know how it goes!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Keepin' it Simple.

In the last several months I've gone through a lot of changes in my life. I eat differently, I interact differently and I take a different approach to almost every aspect of my life. I've simplified a lot of the things that I do, and as a result I've decreased the amount of stress that I have. One of the most recent changes I made was to my training life; I simplified things and I've been seeing some great results.

The big training change that was made was to start doing Charles Poliquin's Advanced German Volume Training Program (Advanced GVT). This is a template aimed at increasing functional hypertrophy and overall strength. The program is designed to take out all the bells and whistles of training. We have rotating workouts, and each training day is comprised of 2 exercises. For example, incline press/barbell row; front squat/RDL; chin-ups/dips. These are not our only workouts, but I don't need to delve into our whole program. Over several weeks we progress from 10x5, to 10x4, 10x3 and then back to 10x5 and repeat the cycle. Each new rep scheme comes with an increase of weight as well. That's it. Add to this some hill sprints for conditioning, and we are doing a program that would make even Jim Wendler and Dan John (the King's of simplicity) happy. 

So, what is this doing? The high volume of heavy compound movements is certainly getting me stronger, and certainly adding muscle. As of yesterday I weighed in at 207 pounds and 13% body fat. This is a gain of about 7 pounds over the last month or month and a half. Pretty good results, I'd say.

My diet is pretty simple nowadays, too. I'm still doing Intermittent Fasting and I'm really enjoying it. I find it has actually reduced a lot of my stress regarding food, especially in the morning. I'm not concerned about prepping, packing or taking food with me everywhere I go. I make sure I have my first meal for when I break my fast, but that's it. My results thus far? A gain of several pounds, with no increase in body fat. Again, something that I consider a success.

So, what are my meals like? Amazing. At noon, when I break fast, I eat protein and fat. Usually something like 6-8 eggs and some bacon or chicken sausage. Today will be 6 hardboiled eggs and some cheese. Right after my workout I have protein, carbs and fat; often it is chicken, rice and guacamole. I repeat the same macronutrient profile of that meal for my next 2 meals. Nothing too special about that, right? Oh; the thing I forgot to mention. The half gallon of whole milk that I drink every day. That's right. It accounts for an extra 1200 calories, 60 grams of protein and 60 grams of fat. I am finding this extremely beneficial because there are some days where I just find it impossible to get in the required number of calories to sustain growth.

Yup, that's right. I eat bacon and eggs several times per week. I eat beef and guacamole with rice and whole fat cheese almost every day. I drink half a gallon of whole milk every single day. The result? Lean muscle gain with barely any additional adipose tissue. (Note: If you're one of my clients reading this, and you think I'm talking to you, you're probably right.) I'd love to really get the point across that eating real whole foods, and not processed "diet" stuff is really the key to obtaining the body composition goals that you desire. I know it's a strange concept to get behind, but it's the truth. 

Well, that's all for today. Go lift something heavy, and eat something that used to have a face.

Be good, peoples!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A letter to my younger self.

The other day Jim Wendler had an article posted by the same name. What'd I think of it? It was pure genius. I've read things similar to this before, but Wendler's really hit home with me. So much so that I decided to straight out take the idea! Ask me how I feel about that.

Dear Young Me,

You've got a helluva journey ahead of you, Bro. Be prepared. I wish I could tell you differently, but your life isn't without its twists, turns, ups and downs. You'll have good times and bad times, and you'll be stronger for it. I can't give you all the secrets, but hopefully I can streamline a few things.

Try just a bit harder in High School, please. Just a bit. You're much smarter than you give yourself credit for, but you're being Goddamn lazy and you know it. You get by pretty well with your awful study habits, but you could definitely do better. Oh, and don't take AP Physics. Trust me. It's a clusterfuck for you.

All those people that rag on you for being the Chinese kid? Let it roll off your back. Most of them end up being pretty fat.

I won't give away too much information, but Dad is going to have a talk with you on your way to move in to UMass Amherst. You think he is ridiculous, but it's the best advice anyone could give you. You should think much harder about what he has to say. Think long and hard about what you want from your education. You'll travel a twisty path to figure out what you love and it will take you some time, but when you figure it out you'll be happier than ever, I promise.

You'll first discover lifting when you're about 14-15. Keep knocking out the bench and curls on the back porch, because why not? But when you come across your first squat rack in Mike Delgado's garage, take the time to learn how to use it. It's a really good thing, and you'll be happy you did it. You like sprinting, you're also not too awful at it. Keep it up, sprint all you want. If you stick to the script of: bench, squat, deadlifts, sprints you'll be in pretty good shape for anything that comes your way. Find an opportunity to learn how to do the Olympic lifts, clean and press and the snatch. It's a lot of fun, and your athleticism will benefit greatly from it. Oh, and eat more! Life is too short to be small and weak.

Girls will come and girls will go in your life. They are all beautiful and they are all necessary for the evolution of You. Learn to take them less seriously, though, and you'll feel a lot better. Love is a beautiful thing, but don't get so wrapped up in it. You'll save yourself a lot of pain that way. I can't give you all the info regarding this stuff, because a lot of what you go through will help make you into who you are. Just keep calm and try not to give a damn.

Here's a shitty fact of life: people are gonna hate. They will hate for a lot of reasons, which may be out of your control. In high school, you're going to get shit from people just because you are different. These people are small-minded and ignorant, so fuck 'em. Later in life you'll come across people that are going to press negative energy on you for various reasons. Some people will be uncomfortable by your dedication to your passion; they don't understand why you would want to eat the way you eat, or train the way you train. It's not you they don't understand, it's your passion for something. Most people, you'll find, go through life without being passionate about anything. They just exist, going through the motions day after day. Please remember that these are people that you can't necessarily change; a lot of them just are who they are.

Negative energy will come at you from all angles, so be aware of it and don't get caught up in it. Girls, friends, co-workers, it's all over the place. People won't get you and will want you to change; don't. Keep being you, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind.

It'll take you a while, but you'll find out what you were meant to do in life. You have a particular gift for teaching people, that's why you wanted to be a teacher for so long. Thankfully, Mom talked you out of that. You'll merge the things you love, teaching and exercise. Know what? You're going to be pretty friggin' good at it, too. Your knack for being able to sympathize and empathize with people will pay off, and you'll be able to get your message across to a wide variety of people. You're going to love this industry, having clients stop you and say "Thanks, I can't put into words how much you've helped me, but thanks" will be some of the most rewarding experiences of your life. Truly.

You're going to be just fine, man. Things won't always turn out the way you want them to turn out, but that doesn't mean it turns out poorly. Just differently. Always remember that the less you care, the happier you'll be.

Take care, and don't forget to lift something heavy.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Guess what? Nobody cares.

One of the main reasons that I hear as to why someone doesn't want to go into a weight room or start an exercise program is because they are embarrassed. They think that people are going to crack jokes or make fun of them because they aren't fit or strong.

Well, this guy will get made fun of.
You know what, though? If you're in the weight room working hard and trying to get better, then no one gives a damn what you're doing. Seriously. No one that matters, at least. If someone is in the weight room trying to get better themselves, then they have no time to worry about what you're doing. You can do whatever you want; what you eat doesn't make me shit. The people in the gym who do have time to make fun of you? That just means they aren't working hard enough themselves. They are also probably weak (mind and body).

A strong lifter knows that everybody starts someplace. We were all once beginners, we all once squatted like shit, and we all once thought that the preacher curl was the most important piece of equipment in the gym. There is a learning curve to strength and conditioning; you can't be expected to walk into the gym and know everything on day 1. You can be expected to work hard and ask questions, though. 

The people who will get made fun of? Those who think their shit don't stink. The people who have asked the right questions, and had access to the right information and still do stupid things. If you've read 30 articles that espouse the benefits of the deadlift and squat, and all the trainers at your gym are big strong guys who squat and pull, then why would you still insist on doing a bastardized version of a half-kneeling kettlebell clean? If you ask for advice from 6 different people that you trust, and they all answer you the same way, maybe that is advice you should consider. 

The other person who will get made fun of? The guy who think he's a monster. The guy who thinks shrugging 225 makes him a beast. The guy who thinks dumping 50 pound dumbbells off his chest makes him a badass. The guy who grunts and groans his way through a set of triceps kickbacks so that everybody in the gym will see how savage he is. Those guys are clowns, there's no need for them in the weight room. You know what you can say to those guys?

If you're in the gym and you are genuinely working hard and trying to get better, no one cares how strong or fit you are. You'll always be respected for your effort, and more often than not someone will eventually approach you to ask if you need help with anything.

On a lighter note, I just went and enjoyed a fantastic brunch at a great local restaurant (Zaftigs) with some friends visiting from NY. Me being me, I ordered some corned beef hash and 6 over-easy eggs for my meal. Pretty standard meal for me; I've been known to go as high as 8 eggs in a sitting. Really not particularly impressive egg numbers, in actuality. Yet, she had to double check with me that it was the correct number of eggs. I ate, and really enjoyed my meal (the food there is amazing). When the (cute) waitress came back to clear our plates she said "Wow, you really ate them all. The kitchen had to double check with me to make sure you wanted 6 eggs." She was either extremely impressed (and interested in me) or completely and totally disgusted. I'll just assume she thought I was hot. Really, though; is it that strange to see someone order 6 eggs??

Well, thanks for reading this week. Go to the gym and work hard. Leave some sweat on the floor and some blood on the barbell. Ask questions, learn. You'll continue to get better and see the results you want to see.  Have a great Easter weekend! Go lift something heavy!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What's the point?

This is something I hear all the time, relating to exercise and specifically weight training. What's the point in being able to deadlift 500 pounds? What's the point in being able to bench 315? I'm not a powerlifter!

Why bother being strong? Why bother being able to run 5 miles? Why bother having extra money in your bank account? Why bother filling the gas tank in your car all the way?

Strength is an important part of being a human. It allows you to do your normal activities with more ease and less strain. Is being able to squat 225 good? Sure is. Why, then, does it not make sense that being able to squat 315 is better, and 405 is even better than that? It's not functional, you say. Ok, I'll grant that maybe the actual movement of squatting with a bar on your back isn't something you do during your activities of daily living, but I'd argue to to the death that you use those muscle and that pattern dozens of times a day in some fashion. Strength is something that is good to have some reserves of. Reserves are always a good thing. Why else do we slave away at work to make extra money that some of us will never even use? Why don't billionaires stop when they have the money they need? Welp, I guess 20 million is enough, I guess I'll just go ahead and stop  now.

Regardless of your physical activity of choice, being stronger will help make you better at it. Maybe running is your thing. Do you mean to tell me that your times won't get better when your legs get stronger? My brother-in-law enjoys doing CrossFit, and is considering purchasing a home gym set-up for his garage. I mentioned that the one he was looking at only came with about 300 lbs worth of weights, and suggested he may need more. He asked why, and when I mentioned getting stronger his response was "to what end?"

Not his gym, I wish it was.
Well, if you want to be achieve better times/scores during the WOD's, getting stronger will certainly help. Let's say the WOD calls for 225 pound deadlifts. It'll be much easier to get through if your max deadlift is 450 rather than if it's 275. If you can get through more rounds of the workout, you'll have had a better workout. Right? Right.

Need another reason to get strong? It's a challenge. It's something to strive for, to fight and plan for. You don't gain any strength by just showing up at the gym, you need to put the work in. Getting strong provides you with a daily challenge that you just don't get from other aspects of your life. You can show up to work and coast and still make your yearly salary. You can go home to your girlfriend and just exist, and she will still love you. You can even go hang out with the same guys every week and watch football all day without ever scratching the surface of each other.

It's not true in the gym. People go to the gym with the expectation of "getting better" (whatever "better" means to you). Better happens in stages. Every time you get better, it's time to try and achieve that next stage. It's not easy, but nothing worth having ever is.

Be awesome today. Go lift something heavy!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

My to-do list.

Every once in a while I like to write a post about things that I need to do a better job of. Some things are mundane, and some things are really important. Either way, they all add up to stuff that will help me be better.

1) Drink more water!! I know, I'm an ass. One of my New Years resolutions was to drink more water, and I failed miserably at it. I go through bouts where I do a great job of drinking water, and then other times where I realize that I haven't had water in, like, 2 days. Whoops. I know that I'm robbing myself of physical and mental potential by being constantly under-hydrated, so it's time to stop being a dick and just drink the right amount of water. It's go time.

2) Drink more green tea. The health benefits of green tea have been researched and validated numerous times. I spend so much of my time drinking coffee that I leave little/no time to drink tea. I'm going to make an effort to drink at least one cup of green tea per day. This is an example of a small change that can pay big dividends down the road somewhere.

3) Read more research. I do a great job of reading blogs everyday. I'm constantly exposed to new information through the eyes of other strength coaches. As a result, I'm presented with their bias on the information at hand. I need to do a better job of reading information on my own and developing my own opinion. With that being said, I need to read more stuff (in general) that is outside of my "comfort" zone. I should spend more time reading stuff about nutrition and business management, and less about exercise prescription and program design.

4) Figure out what the hell is wrong with my elbow! It's been well over a month now that my elbow has been bugging me. I thought I had it all figured out, but it's been a chronic pain. At end range of motion (both flexion and extension) it's pretty uncomfortable. It's not an unbearable pain, just annoying. If one of my clients came to me and told me that their elbow felt like this, I would tell them to go see somebody and they would probably have to take some time off from the gym. Knowing that this will probably be the answer, I have instead chosen to completely ignore that advice and try to fix it myself with some massage and mobility work. Thus far, it hasn't been amazing. I know I need to get it checked out, but I really don't want to take any time off from lifting. I'm not stupid, but I never said I wasn't an idiot.

5) Relax!! I find myself getting wound up pretty tight about things happening in my life. This is one of my downfalls, sometimes I just care too much. I need to remind myself more often that there is a short list of things in this life that really matter; especially right now. Family, school and my career are my priorities right now (yes, I'm including my own training in the "career" category). Everything else can take a backseat until the other shit is all straightened out. I'm going to keep reminding myself that everything happens for a reason.

This is my homework for the next few weeks/months. How about you? What do you need to do better? Figure it out, and do it. Go lift something heavy!

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Supreme Strength Seminar

This past weekend I had the pleasure of heading to Long Island to Gaglione Strength and Conditioning for a seminar with some of my buddies. Road trip!!

The seminar was hosted by John Gaglione and Todd Bumgardner, to help promote their upcoming program going by the same name (Supreme Strength). I was really looking forward to meeting these two guys and getting tips and tricks from them, and then we arrived and found out there were more special guests. Mike Ranfone made the trip from Connecticut and, one of the most well-known names in strength and conditioning, Jim "Smitty" Smith was there too. Having those four coaches available to talk to was worth its weight in gold. They are the kinds of "celebrities" that we have in this crazy little world of Strength and Conditioning. The seminar started off with some really great tips on warm-ups, utilizing some techniques that I've never tried. We broke apart into groups and went over the 4 big lifts: squat, deadlift, bench and press. This was great, because I got to get some tips from the coaches at all 4 stations. Smitty managed to find me at each station and give me some really good information. I was most excited to have those guys watch me deadlift, I find their tips really useful. We ended the day with a Q&A session where they did a great job of answering every question asked of them.

When I read an article or attend a seminar, my goal is to take away one really good tip or trick. The tip I took this weekend was about bracing. I thought that I knew how to get tight for a lift, but I was wrong. Breathe in through the nose, fill up your low belly, push out through your obliques, squeeze your lats, "melt the bar with your hands". These all combined to help me feel tighter than ever before when performing a lift. These are cues that I am certainly going to bring back to my clients.

One of the things that made me feel really good after this seminar was the amount of information that they provided that I was already familiar with. They provided some tips and tricks that I use with clients already. They talked about some programming considerations that I already employ. There wasn't even any glaring deficiencies in my lifts that needed correcting. I left this seminar feeling pretty confident in the amount of knowledge that I already have (obviously I know that there is still SO much more to learn).

Post-seminar we went to eat at a pizza place around the corner (Italian food in Long Island? Who knew?) Getting to sit, eat and shoot the shit with these guys was awesome. It was really worthwhile to hang out with them and talk shop a little bit. The best part of the whole weekend, though, was Friday night. We arrived at Gags place just before 6 p.m. and walked into the end of a wrestling practice (his gym is part of a wrestling school). We walked in and Gags and Smitty were just hanging out. My buddy Dan has been to Gaglione's place for a seminar before, which allowed us to get invited in for a quick training session. Twenty minutes after getting out of the car, I was in a group training with Gags, Smitty and Brad Martin (another DieselCrew member). I got to roll out my upper back a little and do some t-spine extensions and then I was under the bar warming up with 135 for speed benches. No big deal, right? We got a few sets in, worked up to 155 or so, and then Smitty threw some bands on the bar. I'm not sure how many sets we did, but we worked around the group doing triples until Smitty said we were done.

We then moved on to some pullup ladders. We were lifting in the EliteFTS collegiate racks (love them) so we got to use the neutral grips (great for my elbow). There was 5 of us lifting together, so we went through one at a time. Single, double, triple...up to 5. Then we switched the stimulus. First up were regular pullups, then some L-sits, then some band resisted. Finishing up with a max-effort iso-hold against the bands. Smitty went and got the TRX out, and we did some rows and face pulls. Next up? Fat grip TRX face pulls. Then? Feet elevated Band resisted Fat Gripz TRX rows. No big deal.

The other group of guys that were training at the same time as us finished up almost simultaneously. Someone pulled out a KB and started a little pissing contest. Bottoms-up press with the heaviest KB was the Man Challenge of the night, and people started throwing their hats in the ring. Smitty, of course, won the challenge by doing a bottoms-up clean and press with the approximately 90 pound bell. Really really cool to see. We finished up and people started leaving and doing other stuff. Before I realized it, we were getting a private lesson from Smitty on the RKC swing. Ho. Lee. Shit. No big deal, right? Just some private coaching being handed to us by one of the most well-known and highly respected guys in the industry. That 90 minute training session was worth the entire trip by itself. Getting to share a barbell with guys like that is really an honor.

All in all, it was a great trip to Long Island. I learned some stuff and made some great connections in the industry. Attending seminars is something that I know that I need to do more of, but it's an expensive proposition for me. I'm going to continue taking the opportunity to get to every seminar that I can afford, in an effort to meet the right people and learn the right things.

Thanks for reading! Go lift some heavy shit!