Monday, February 25, 2013

Saturday Training

This past Saturday we had yet another great day of training. I'm starting to notice a trend here. We get a good group together and get after it hard, and good things happen. Success breeds success. 

We had a much smaller group this week than last week, but the atmosphere was no different.

I managed to tie my PR snatch (from the week before) of 195 pounds. The frustrating thing is that whenever I snatch, I hit a sticking point. At either 175 or 185, it will take me several reps to get through it. A few weeks ago it took me 5 tries to hit 175, and then I hit two singles at 185 without missing. After that, I hit 175 without a problem and missed 185 a few times before getting 195. This past session saw me struggle at both 175 and 185 but hit 195 on my first try. I tried 200 again this week, and managed to knock myself on the skull with it again. That's a habit that I don't want to get into.

Justin finally nailed a 235 clean and jerk; something he's been chasing and working for for quite a while now. It was a hell of a lift; one that he had to chase about 10 feet across the gym floor. 

Dan also nailed a lift that he's been working his balls off for; a 250 pound snatch. This was a 100% Dan Atkinson lift; he sat in the hole for about 5 seconds to gain his stability before standing up with it. 

Post-lift celebrations were very much in the Justin and Dan style of things. Watch and enjoy! 

Now go out and lift your own heavy shit!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A New Deadlift Cue

There are a literal shit-ton of articles and posts written every week on deadlifting and the tips to make you better at it. The guys writing these articles are (more often than not) better at deadlifting than I am, so you should take their advice. Whatever they're doing, I'm trying to do too, so read some of those articles because I'm not going to reiterate that stuff.

Now, for full disclosure, my best deadlift ever is 465 (and it's going up). Some people will want to know this because they will think that just because I haven't pulled more than they have that they can't learn anything from me. Well, if you think that, you're a cheesedick.

I orginally came up with this cue just a few months ago when helping my friend Drew work on his deadlift setup. He's a big strong guy who's pulled 525 and whom I've seen bench 365. Drew's old setup included him getting the bar over his shoelaces and right up against his shins; just like coaches write about all the time. The problem is that his back didn't look too great; it certainly wasn't awful, it could just stand to be better. He would start his pull with a slightly flexed spine, and then it'd get a little worse as the lift progressed. He also would perform a classic "stripper deadlift" where his hips shot up much faster relative to his chest. Here's a pic of his old deadlift setup:

And now here's his setup with the tweak (we are working on packing the neck):

What's so different? His knees are over the bar/through his elbows. I've yet to hear this cue from anywhere else, but it's certainly been working for me to help clean up deadlift issues.

For starters, it helped Drew get his  back into a better position. It also got his shoulders above the bar rather than out in front of them. This also helped him get his hips down a little which provides him with better quad drive off of the floor; he's far from being in a squatting position, however. Pushing your knees through your elbows also gets your hips closer to the bar, improving the leverage.  Keep in mind that you don't want to push your knees so far forward that they get in front of your toes and create a positive shin angle. Because of his body type/mobility, Drew needed to start setting the bar up further away on his feet (over his toes). However, when he got his hands on the bar, it was once again touching his shins. Boom, great bar path.

I wanted to see if this was something that was specific to Drew, or if it was applicable by a larger number of people. Turns out, a lot of great deadlifters do this same thing with their knees (whether they know it or not). Here's the proof:

Eric Cressey:

And his 650 pound pull at 165 pounds (I think):

Tony Gentilcore:

Todd Bumgardner (615 deadlift):

Jim Wendler:

Chad Wesley Smith:

Misha Koklayev:

Konstantin Konstantinovs (939 pound pull with no belt):

Benedikt Magnusson (world record 1,015 pound pull):

Andy Bolton:

So you don't have to take my word for it, but I think these pictures say more than I could. There is a ton more evidence of guys who pull huge weights getting their knees through their elbows at the start of the lift, but I wanted to include people who were recognizable. Just like anything else, I'll make no claim that this is 100% effective. Everyone has different body types and pulling styles, so maybe it won't work for you but it is very much worth a shot.

I've been working this cue through my mind when pulling for the last several weeks, and I've hit several PR's. I've also been using it with clients and friends with great efficacy. Give it a shot with yourself or with a client and let me know how it feels.

Have a great day, and go lift some heavy shit!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Downside to Savagery

I often write blogs about how awesome it is to train your ass off and be a savage. You get to always have clothes covered in chalk, you get to lift big metal objects and eat a ton of eggs. But, there's some downsides to this lifestyle that few people know about.

First off, the aforementioned eggs. Not only do you eat a ton of eggs but you will eat a ton of everything else you can get your hands on. A heavy squat, deadlift or Oly workout will leave you searching for anything that used to be alive to eat. The Hunger is insatiable. This can get pretty costly.

It's even more costly if you try to maintain a high quality for the foods you eat. When regular beef isn't enough and you try eating grass-fed beef, bison, venison or any of the other "exotic" meats, the cost per pound shoots through the roof. Organic fruits, veggies and eggs are also more expensive. When eating a ton of clean food, it's not uncommon to spend $100+ for just a few days of food. It's certainly much cheaper to eat Doritos and McDonalds all the time, but then you end up looking like this.

After all that lifting and eating, a new problem will arise: none of your goddamn clothes will fit. Your shoulders will get wider, your chest will get bigger and your back will get broader. This means not a single dress shirt you own will fit you the right way. When you go to buy a new one, they will fit like a bed sheet. Get a good tailor and hold them close to you.

Similarly, say goodbye to jeans. None of the current ones you own will fit. Your quads/hammies and ass will make it impossible to wear anything other than sweatpants most of the time. (I literally split a pair of suit pants a few months back trying them on in the store). Your girlfriend will probably even complain to her friends that you don't wear "real clothes" anymore and make you go shopping for jeans with her. Hint: most brands don't make jeans to fit people with "deadlift-ass". If and when you find a pair of jeans that fit, buy 13 pairs of them.

Speaking of clothes, get ready to do a shit-ton of laundry. Between your work clothes and regular clothes I'm sure you do a lot of laundry anyway. Now add in all the extra shorts, compression shorts, t-shirts and socks that you'll be wearing and do the math. If I wanted to, I could do laundry 2-3 times a week sometimes. There's no shortage of clothes sitting in my dirty laundry pile.

The last thing is the soreness. You will be tired/sore almost 100% of the time. When you walk down stairs you will have a strange waddle. When you get up off of chair, you will do it slowly. When it's time to get out of bed, it will look awkward as shit. The one time every day that you WILL NOT be moving like old people screw (slow and ugly) is when you walk into the gym. A good warm-up and some knee sleeves and you'll be ready to put the bar on your back.

Actually, I lied. These things I mentioned are all awesome. They are really all benefits to living the lifestyle of a Savage. Fuck your grocery bill. Fuck your pants and fuck your laundry. Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Saturday Training Day

I'm writing this post while bathing in the chalk scented afterglow of a glorious day of training. A crew of 10 people lifted together at CrossFit Resilience and not a single fuck was given. PR's were being handed out like candy on Halloween and girth was being gained by all who attended.

This day was special for several reasons. One of the big ones is that we were joined by two people who are pretty new to weight training, and they grabbed the proverbial bull by the nutsack and crushed their lifts. My friend Kevin pulled 235 (I think) for a deadlift PR and my friend Jarrod's girlfriend Catherine absolutely smoked 190 for a deadlift PR.

Anyone who discounts the effect that atmosphere has on training success is an absolute fool. The energy in the gym today was out of this world and every person benefitted from it. The music was loud, the chalk was copious and weights were being lifted fast. Having a room full of people who are all actively trying to better themselves is the absolute best way to train. Three people even stopped mid-lift to eat a PB&J; calories=PRs!  If you currently train by yourself, I would highly suggest that you start working on finding a group of like minded individuals to lift with.

So, here is a breakdown of the lifts for the day:
Kelsi - Set deadlift PR's at 235, 245, 250 and 255...her old PR was 225 a week ago. Crazy.
Luis - Tied his snatch PR at 165 and smoked his deadlift PR of 475 with 480 and then an easy 500. Congrats, hermanito!
Drew - Tied his old deadlift PR of 505 and then crushed 525.
Willy - Tied his lifetime deadlift of 315 and then made a huge jump to 350 and barely missed it.
Justin - Having never been successful with a muscle-up before, hit 5 in a row.
Catherine - The aforementioned 190 (she might've pulled heavier, too!)
Kevin - The aforementioned 235.
Me - Snatched 195 (previous PR was 190) and pulled 465 (previous PR was 445).

I got a ton of video today, and there was really just too much to put up individual videos; so here's my first attempt at a montage! (Note: sadly, the video of my 465 deadlift didn't record the whole way so I don't have it. Thankfully, I'll be pulling a PR again soon!)

Hopefully this will motivate some of you to go out and get after it. Have a great day, and go lift some heavy shit!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Enjoy life.

I love health and fitness. I love it on a very personal level. I love it so much that I am making it my career to help other people learn how to become healthy and strong. I study it in school, I read about it on my own time and I put it into practice in my own life. They say that it is a bad idea to make a career out of your passion; well, in order to make a career out of strength and conditioning it HAS to be your passion. You have to live it and breathe it; it is your life. Name a successful strength coach who is fat and lazy, I dare you. And no, before you ask, fat-Dave Tate doesn't count because he had a 2,205 pound powerlifting total.

Nope, to be successful in this industry you have to believe every word that you ever tell a client. I don't suggest anything to my clients that I don't do / haven't done already myself.

With that being said, I'm more than my profession. I'm not just "Mike's-Cannonball-Delts" or "Mike's-Razor Cut-Abs". I live my life a certain way so that I am able to enjoy the other aspects of life.

I eat cleanly throughout the week so that if I go out to a dinner with Kelsi on the weekend, I don't have to be the 5th person at the table to say "Oh man, now I need to go to the gym tomorrow!" Nope; whatever calories I took in during that delicious dinner are just going to get turned into more Alpha Male.

I train consistently and with focused programming so that when a buddy asks if I want to play basketball, I can dominate. So that if friends want to go to the beach, I won't be embarrassed to take my shirt off; on the contrary, I go out of my way to find excuses to take off my shirt.

Sure, a lot of people (especially people I know) will say "Oh, but thats so strict, what fun is that? You need to enjoy life!" Well, I enjoy it. Weight training is fun to me; every day is a challenge. Eating cleanly? That is just something that needs to get done, like laundry.

You know what isn't fun? Having Type II Diabetes. Being out of breath when you play in a co-ed softball league. Being so overweight that your joints hurt just walking around. Having large bouncy moobs.

I prefer to have my fun after I've earned it. I'm more than a fitness professional. I love music. I love its ability to take you away to another place, mentally and emotionally. A favorite song can really change your mood and put you into whatever state of mind you need to be in.

Despite the fact that I eat "healthy" foods every day, I consider myself a big time foodie. Healthy food or not; I love eating. A good basket of fried clams is worth its weight in gold to me. One of my favorite restaurants in the Boston area is a place called Ten Tables. They serve simple, down-home rustic cuisine. And yes, they only have 10 tables in the restaurant.

I'm a huge dog person! My family has 3 pit bulls. I love my dog, and I try to keep her in the best shape she can be in. Yes, she eats organic dog food. Yes, I walk 2-3 miles with her almost everyday. Yes, she hates squirrels with the white hot intensity of a million suns.

No surprise here, but I love sports; both playing and watching. Being from Boston, I am a huge homer...but that is easily assumed because we are the most dominant sports city in the country.

So, sure. Fitness is my life. It's what I do, and it's what I live. But there are other aspects that make up this charming, witty not-so-classically-attractive man.

p.s. here is a hilarious blog a friend sent to me recently. I agree with the author 100%...some food's I just have to have to lead a happy existence!

I hope this helped you understand the fitness fanatic in your life a little bit! Have a great day, and go lift something heavy!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Concurrent Training

The idea of concurrent training has long been held as something that was rather difficult - if not impossible, to do. I've long agreed with this statement, but have recently been given reasons to think otherwise.

Concurrent training is the idea that you can train for two separate/non-matching goals at the same time, such as maximal strength and body composition, or in this case endurance training/maximal strength.

You see, my girlfriend Kelsi has been running every day of 2013 thus far. So far this year she's logged about 150 miles or so and her mileage will continue to go up as she trains for some races she has coming up. She's been weight training this entire time, and we've been keeping her programming simple. She get's to choose her own exercises every day as long as she fulfills some specific movement patterns (i.e. unilateral horizontal row, uni-lateral knee dominant, etc). You would think that with this recipe she would be losing strength every day, but that's not the case.

Just yesterday she pulled a PR of 225 for two singles, and smoked them. Her strength continues to go up as she continues to run more and more.

The secret here is not in any of her programming, but in her recovery. Kelsi does a great job of getting as much sleep as her schedule will allow (she's a trainer, so her alarm often goes off at 4:30 a.m.) and eating as much as she physically can. She has discovered that PB&J's make her feel great for her runs and allow her to pack a bunch of calories into a small meal. She eats cleanly as often as possible, but when she's low on calories anything goes.

The great job she's doing eating is evident in the fact that she's only lost two pounds since she started running every day. Her caloric expenditure is huge, so I was nervous about her losing a ton of weight.

As I'm writing this, Boston is finishing up getting about 30" of snow and Kelsi just finished a three mile the blizzard. Let this be a lesson that you can do just about anything if you're willing to put in the hard work necessary.

Keep up the great work, Kels!!!

Have a great day, and go lift some heavy shit!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Strong People Are Harder To Kill

This past Friday/Saturday Boston got dumped on with about 31 inches of snow in less than 24 hours. They called the blizzard "Nemo" but it certainly wasn't that cute and adorable.

My walkway
That's the front of my house...and that's a 10 foot long path to get from the sidewalk to the street. I came home to shovel this after shoveling my car out of a space at Kelsi's apartment. There was quite a bit of shoveling to be done and it wasn't easy work. But you know what? I felt so good after all of that that I still went into the gym for a late snatch session at 7 p.m. Why?  Because my body has been prepared for all of this.

Strength will always be the most important thing that you can train. Being able to run a marathon is cool. So is being able to sprint 100 meters in 11 seconds, or having huge symmetrical muscles. It's also great when people who have perfect flexibility from Yoga or perfect posture from Pilates, but what good does any of that do anyone when the proverbial shit hits the fan?

My best deadlift is 445 pounds, which really isn't that impressive. There's a lot of people out there who can lift a lot more than I can, but today was still a day full of sub-max efforts. I use a pretty big shovel, so let's say each scoop weighs 20-25 pounds (I have no evidence to substantiate that number, but it sounds right to  me). That means that each scoop of snow I picked up was 5.6% of my maximal capability. That's peanuts.

If my strength was limited by a maximal effort of a 185 pound deadlift, then each scoop becomes 13.5% of my capability. Even further, if I could only lift 95 pounds off of the ground, then each scoop of snow becomes 26% of what I could do for a single effort. This could be why so many old people die each year from shoveling snow! That's why we lift all those heavy-ass weights!

Obviously this post was intended (slightly) in jest. But the point is still serious: the stronger you are, the easier things become during your daily life. Everything else is great and should be trained in an appropriate fashion, but when it comes down to it you need to be strong, because strong people are harder to kill than weak people, and more useful in general.

Have a great day, and go lift some heavy shit!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

What's So Special About Specialty Bars?

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to use a bar that I'd never used before; the Giant Cambered Bar. While it looks intimidating, it's pretty common if you're in the right gyms. Most commercial gyms don't have it, though, and that's unfortunate.

The GCB is a specialty bar designed to move the load away from your center of gravity. As you squat down, the weights swing forward so that they are in front of your body. This pulls your torso forward and forces you to really engage your core and lower back. Essentially, it helps to simulate a shitty squat where your lean too far forward and have to try and save it. You can also see that it allowed me to put my hands in a position different from where I would normally hold a barbell.

The use of this bar and it's obvious efficacy caused me to wonder why more gyms didn't carry specialty bars. Their use has long been relegated to gyms specializing in the Westside Method of powerlifting training. They've begun to sneak their way into private facilities specializing in training athletes and in collegiate strength and conditioning facilities. At Boston University Strength and Conditioning, we have several axle's (non-rotating fat bars), a safety squat bar and a bunch of trap bars (most people wouldn't consider a trap bar 'specialty' as much as a necessity). What use do they have in commercial gyms, though?

Specialty bars have all been designed to change a particular lift in some fashion. This allows lifters to maintain a particular movement pattern (squat) while changing a specific aspect of that lift. A GCB brings the weight forward; a safety squat bar allows you to squat without holding onto the bar; a buffalo bar allows the lift to keep the same basic squat as he would with a straight bar but ease up some of the stress of having their humerus externally rotated and abducted. For a powerlifter, it means that exercises are being varied enough to prevent them from getting into a bad habit regarding their movement.

For gen pop clients, specialty bars will allow people to do movement patterns that they were previously unable to do. This is a good thing!

Obviously, the first answer is to correct the movement dysfunction that is prohibiting the from, say, bench pressing. However, a lot of gen-pop clients won't fully understand why they can't  bench press. Furthermore, unless they intend to compete in a powerlifting meet they have no reason to  be able to do a conventional bench press with a straight bar. While fixing their issues, you could easily have them benching with a multi-grip bar or a shoulder-saver bar; both of which can keep your clients shoulders in a healthy, pain-free range of motion. A fat bar, too, will help relieve some stress on the wrists while pressing.

Similarly, a trap bar can help someone with poor mobility do deadlifts with an elevated neutral grip, rather than loading someone anteriorly with their shoulder internally rotated.

The aforementioned safety squat bar is, I believe, as useful to a commercial gym as the trap bar. The big reason for this is the gawd-awful thoracic spine/shoulder mobility that the majority of the gym-going public possesses. Putting a bar on the backs of these people would be negligent and asking them to front squat would be like asking Beyonce to not be so damned bootylicious.

A safety squat bar allows people to load up their squat pattern without endangering their shoulders in any way. So, you're telling me that I can get a client stronger while keeping them as a safe as possible? I'm sold.

Why, then, aren't more bars like these available in commercial gyms? Honestly, because I think most commercial gyms aren't that concerned about strength. These bars cost extra money, and most owners/managers won't understand the need of bars like these. They are generally much more interested in increasing class attendance or getting new treadmills. You could have a multi-grip, safety squat and trap bar for $900, which is about equal to the cost of a personal training package. You could make all of your training clients better/stronger, and attract more people to train. The gym, if equipped with adequate trainers, would be able to make their money back on the bar in no time flat as well as increase profit.

These are not simply toys for meatheads, but tools for a good trainer to use to get the most significant and safe results possible for a client.

Have a great day, and when you go lift heavy shit implore the manager of your local gym to invest in their clients well-being by purchasing some specialty bars.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Saturday Training Session

My normal Saturday training session happens at CrossFit Resilience with a pretty big group of people training. We snatch until there are no more snatches to be done, and then we deadlift. This past Saturday we were unable to get out there, so I went up to Total Performance Sports in Everett with Luis and Justin to get our session in.

The day started with some snatch complexes. We worked up to 135 pounds and did a complex of snatch high pull/power snatch/overhead squat/snatch. Here's what it looked like. 

At this point, Luis and I went on to deadlift while Justin finished up with his snatches. We worked up to 425 for a few singles. Admittedly, I wasn't feeling great. My low left back (QL area) was sorta tight but I wanted to suck it up and get a few heavy pulls in. 425 isn't a babyweight for me, but it went up easily despite looking like dogshit.

That's as bad a deadlift as I will allow myself to have. Pretty shitty if you ask me. 

After this, we went into the gym (we were outside in the shed) to hit some Giant Cambered Bar squats. This is a specialty bar that I've never used before that is pretty cool. Because of the way that the weights hang, they rotate forward as you squat down. This puts the weights in front of your center of gravity, making it pull you forward which forces you to engage your core and low back quite a bit. It's a great exercise to help build your deadlift so we hit them pretty hard. I ended up working up to 300 for a single on this bar.



By the time we left, I was smoked. We went to Boston Market and crushed some meatloaf and mashed potatoes as a post-workout meal. Calories=PR's!!

I hope everyone had a great weekend and lifted some heavy shit!