Monday, April 28, 2014


So last week I was doing some of my normal weekly reading, and one of Tony's posts really hit home with me about something. 

Tony talks about how he's changed his view on things over the years that he's been training and coaching, but how he still leans towards doing things the certain way that they see fit at CP. He has grown and matured to the point where he understands why/how certain things can be applicable for certain people, but doesn't necessarily feel the need to use those things in his training on a routine basis.

This got me thinking...being biased as a strength coach is actually a really good thing. There are a hundred and one different ways to train someone in todays fitness landscape. Bodybuilding, strength, crossfit, yoga, zumba, P90x, circuit training, strongman, functional training, weightlifting, the list goes on and on.

With all of these training options nowadays, it is very easy to get confused and overwhelmed. It's not uncommon to see a trainer in a commercial gym who's business card says that they have a training certification, and certs for TRX/Boxing/Pilates/Kegels/Jazzercise/Bosu/Shake Weight. A trainer like this sort of falls under the old adage of "if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything".

It's correct to say that everyone can be useful and appropriate at some point for some client. Who knows, maybe someday you come across a client who is only motivated to work with a shake weight; it's your job to help them get results with that (however little those results might be). This is where being biased about something is actually a good thing.

You see, the coach or trainer that you're working with should ideally be educated about these things. I myself have been training for 6 years, while going to school and studying exercise and health science. I've gone to a number of seminars and read countless articles, papers and books on all topics relating to strength and conditioning. All of this formal and informal education has lead to me to do this thing called "thinking for myself". I train and program the way that I do because my education has taught me that it's the best. I think it's the best way to get someone happy, healthy, fit and strong. I don't think that any of the other numerous ways of getting "results" are wrong necessarily, I just don't think they are the best. I look at as many things as I can with a mind that is half open and half closed; I know that the way that I train is what I consider the best, but maybe sometimes other things can be applicable and folded into my own system. You can't ever count something out completely until you know everything there is to know about it.

If you can get results with your clients training some other way, then that is all that really matters. But, to me, a trainer who tells you that every style or program is great just doesn't know anything. That is a trainer who is struggling to make a sale and just wants you to be happy. A trainer or coach that is worth going to will have a particular style and they will make you understand why it's the best. Just a little food for thought.

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

Friday, April 25, 2014

Weightlifting Combos: Why, Who, When and How

Weightlifting combos are nothing new, they've been around for a very long time in the Olympic weightlifting world, but came to prominence recently in light of one extremely savage combo done by The Man himself.

Not for nothing, but that's 455 pounds.

First off, what's the difference between a "complex" and a "combo". As I know the terms, a complex is a series of exercises down sequentially for a given number of reps. Example: deadlift, hang power clean, push press, front squat, RDL, bent over row for 8 reps each. These are done for speed and generally for a metabolic conditioning effect; the reps are also too high to allow you to work on technique. A combo is several exercises done sequentially for a prescribed number of reps...sound familiar? The example here would be: clean pull, power clean, 2 push press, 1 jerk, with the purpose being to work on a particular weakness during a lift. I suppose its a small difference, but this is how I define the differences when I talk to someone about it.

I think the big difference is, indeed, in the purpose of the prescription. A weightlifting combo should be used to over-emphasize one aspect of the lift (snatch or clean and jerk) while under-emphasizing another aspect. It also allows you to get in more volume in that lift, with a specific weight and specific positions for a specific training effect.

Lets use the Klokov Complex from above as our example. Clean pull + clean + paused front squat + push press + paused jerk. In one of his american seminars someone asked Dmitry why he did so many deadlifts and presses and he said that it was because those are his weakness. This gives us some insight into the design of this complex. Since he wants to work on pulls, he gets in two of them (the pull and the clean). Since 205 is a "light" front squat for him (he did a 5-second paused front squat with 250kg) he adds in a slight pause to increase the difficulty. He challenges himself with a heavy push press, and since it's a relatively light jerk for him, he adds the pause during the jerk which also reinforces his jerk dip position. This combo is very specifically designed to address his weak points and reinforce some important positions.

Combo's are appropriate for any level of lifter, but the combo itself must be appropriate for that persons ability level. Taking a lifter who's been training for 5 months and throwing the Klokov complex at them is probably a poor idea. If their front squat position is poor, that will be a shitshow. Re-racking a bar from the overhead position is a skill that takes a while to learn and a paused jerk would result in a missed lift.

A more appropriate clean and jerk combo for a beginner (with a poor bar path on their clean and a lot of missed jerks) would be something along these lines: 2 clean pulls, above the knee hang clean, front squat, jerk, behind the neck jerk. This combo would give the lifter 2 pulls to the waist where they can focus on positions. Then the hang clean would allow the lifter to focus on keeping their shoulders in front of the bar without having to worry about clearing their knees. The added front squat is because, well, front squats are awesome. The front/back jerks allow the lifter to get two jerks in without having to re-rack the bar onto their clavicle, and the second jerk is the easier variation when they are already smoked.

There are very few wrong times to use combos, in my eyes. They are very useful for building hypertrophy and work capacity at the beginning of a phase, just after a competition. They are useful for working on positions in the middle of your training cycle when you're still ironing out the kinks, so to speak. I would not, I think, use them pre-competition. That's when you should be focusing on getting comfortable handling the weights you need for your competition. They would be, however, useful during a deload week since combo's are, by nature, a lower intensity exercise.

I use combos' pretty regularly in my training/programming. Let me outline a couple of my favorite combos and why I apply them.

1 Snatch Pull + 1 Hang Snatch below the knee + 1 hang snatch above the knee
- I use this combo because one of my big issues is clearing my knees in the snatch. The pull to my knees is pretty good, but once I get to my knees shitty stuff starts to happen. This let's me work on various aspects of the first and second pulls in sequence, and I can feel where I'm messing up.

2 Hang Power Snatch + 1 Hang Snatch
- I do these above the knee; I'm really bad at hang snatches. I get my hips way back and shoulders over the bar instead of out in front; this makes me bang the bar off my hips and gives me a shitty bar path. I am able to use a lighter weight and focus on my positions and really pulling the shit out of the bar. The last full snatch lets me use that long pull I just developed and really dive under the bar without any "weightlifters disease".

2 Power Clean + 1 Jerk
- I clean more than I jerk, so I tailor my combos to reflect that usually; this is the exception. I power clean less than I full clean, so this combo allows me to work on staying over the bar and pulling hard on a lighter weight. The jerk still takes "thought" for me to do, and I can focus on getting a really solid dip out of it, rather than bench pressing it.

Clean + Push Press + Jerk
- I actually really like this combo for myself. Performing a push press before the jerk forces me to drive with my legs and (hopefully) keep my heels down. I go to my toes too early during my jerk (just like everything else) so doing my push press without lifting my heels reinforces that motor pattern.

1 Clean + 1 Jerk + 1 BTN Jerk
- I apply this combo to myself to get the feeling of higher percentages. My jerk is a shithole, so doing a jerk double with a high percentage is doomed to failure or shitty technique (same thing, right?). I skirt this issue by doing my first jerk and then dropping the bar onto my back, where I can do a BTN (behind the neck) jerk. This second jerk feels "easier"and let's me get in a second rep with that heavy weight.

As I said before, there's nothing magic about simply performing combos. You need to do the right ones at the right times in order for them to be successful. Practice doesn't make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect. Start making up some of your own, focusing on your weak points and see what happens...and don't forget to track your progress!

Let me know what you're trying and how it works for you. Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Twenty Six Point Two

This past Monday I got to witness one of the more special events I've been able to see. I got to see my girlfriend Kelsi run the 118th Boston Marathon.

This was special for a few reasons; the most unfortunate of which is what happened last year when a couple of assholes turned the city of Boston into an episode of CSI for a week. We all know what happened, so I won't delve into that anymore than I needed to.

The coolest reason that this was a special event was because of how fucking hard Kelsi worked for this. I always knew that she was a hard worker, but that took on a whole new meaning when she started her marathon training about 4 months ago. She was running a ton of miles in the middle of winter in a place that isn't exactly friendly to running 20 miles outside (it snowed on Sunday during her long run for like 6 weeks straight). She will be modest and tell you that her training isn't anything different than that of all distance runners, but I'm not there to watch all the other distance runners bust their ass for a race.

Training for all sports is tough; I've considered training for weightlifting to be some of the most arduous training that I've ever done. It's repetitive and painful and frustrating and just brutal at some points; but it doesn't hold a candle to what I saw Kels go through. Aches and pains and zero programmed days off while running 70-75 miles a week. I used to think that doing 6 or 7 sets of 3 clean and jerk was brutal; it's nothing compared to having to run 13 miles between classes and then find some time to study.

All of her hard work paid off, though. She ran a 16 minute PR and broke the 3-hour mark which was her ultimate goal. She ran 2:59.06 and said it was the hardest race she's ever run. The hills in Newton were worse than she'd thought and she wasn't sure if she'd make it at some points. But she loved it and was thrilled with how she did. The whole event was amazing for her, and she had a great time doing it. The signs, the crowds, the whole spectacle of the event was worth it.

I know that she now feels a little bit weird; she'd trained so hard for this race that she's got that "lost" sense that athletes tend to feel when their event/season is over. I know that once her training starts up again in a week that she'll fall right back into stride (pun not intended, but totally intended) and get ready to smoke her next race. To her coach and teammates, I personally want to thank you for helping her so much during this race prep; I know she couldn't have done it without you all.

Kels, I'm proud of you babe. You did an amazing job.

While running a marathon is pretty much the last thing I personally ever want to do, we can all certainly learn a lesson (or 8) about how to work hard to achieve a goal. Anything that you're doing that is "so hard" could always be worse. Work as hard as you can, and the results will be worth it.

Damn, I look Swole.
Have a great day, and go lift some heavy shit!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

4 Tips For Completing A Training Program

So you've taken the plunge and decided to actually participate in a strength and conditioning program. Maybe you contacted a professional like me or Tony to start getting awesome with a personal touch (don't make it creepy). You could've searched around and purchased Show and Go, High Performance Handbook, 5/3/1, The Juggernaut Method or The Cube Method. You could've even gone to T-Nation or *shudder* and found one of their pre-fab programs. (What I'm trying to say is that you have a lot of options, there's no excuse for following a non-program program.)

Now that you've got your shiny new program in hand, you'd think that it would be a simple matter of following directions, but people often like to make simple stuff hard. I've written a lot of programs for people that I wasn't physically training and as such have come up with a few tips to help you make your experience easy and successful. Listen up!

1) Follow the fucking directions. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it's not unfortunately. I used to program for a guy that came to my gym, and one day I walked into the weight room and say him pulling 335 pounds for a single...and his previous max was 315. I asked what exactly in the blue fuck he was doing since I'd not programmed in any max attempts. He told me that he "felt good deadlifting the other day and was pissed about missing this weight the first time (when he maxed pre-program) so he wanted to try it today after benching". Yup, he'd already pulled once that week and decided to max out post upper body workout because YOLO.

Don't ad-lib on your program unless you absolutely have to. Don't change front squats to back squats because you don't like front squats. If your program uses percentages, don't add extra pounds because you feel like it. If it's a 3 times per week program, do your lifts 3 times per week. Whatever you're thinking about changing, just don't. It was written that way for a reason. If you have a legitimate issue, then talk to your coach/trainer about it before you go changing it.

2) Ask questions! If your coach isn't a bum, then he/she will be more than willing and able to answer questions about the program they wrote for you. If you got a pre-fab program (5/3/1 or Show and Go) then ask a trusted fitness professional for their opinion. I've had people go through a full month of programing doing the wrong variation of an exercise because they thought it was something it wasn't. Don't be that person. The only stupid question is the one you don't ask.

3) Track your progress. There are many ways for you, the athlete, to track your progress when performing a program. One of the simplest and most effective ways is progress pics: take a picture of yourself in a bathing suit at the start of the program and continue to do so every 4-6 weeks and again at the end of the program. It will allow you and your coach to both see the progress in a very clear cut way.

The next best way to track your progress is by keeping a workout journal. Track how you're feeling, the weights your using (if they aren't prescribed), what you're eating and how you're sleeping. Give your coach this feedback and they can use it to develop your next month of programming.

4) Work hard. Pretty simple, really. When provided with the proper instructions you should be able to just put your head down and go. Do the work that's put in front of you and give it everything you have. Training is pretty simple, you get back exactly what you put into it.

That's it for today; follow these tips next time you start a training program and I guarantee it will be a  much better experience for you. If you have any questions or want to start your own personalized program shoot me an email at and I'll get you going.

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