Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Stupid Shit I Did So You Don't Have To

My career as a fitness professional has been short by most standards thus far. I've been working with general population clients and athletes alike for going on 6 years, which isn't really very much time. In this short time I've learned a lot through classes, seminars, simply discussing random shit with other coaches to see if it's dumb or not. Just like everything else in my life, I also had to learn a lot of things the hard way and eat some crow along with it. I thought it'd be interesting to run through some of the stupider things I have done or thought of along the way.

For what it's worth this will be relating exclusively to the dumb shit I've done as a lifter/coach. Even though I'm sure my Dad would be interested in reading it, there's not enough words in the dictionary for all the dumb shit I've done as a human being (lol@ the time I slept through a sociology test at UMass Amherst because I didn't go to class enough to know there was a test).

When I Thought Olympic Weightlifting Was Useless
Even though I know compete and train (mostly) as a weightlifter, there was once a time when I thought it was dumb shit. My thinking was "I can deadlift so much more than I can clean, so why would I want to do a submax lift? I'm all about Da GainZ, bro." I had zero concept of power development and technique and thought max weight was the answer to every question. Fast forward to the first time I did an overhead squat during Show and Go and had to use 75 pounds and thought "this is dumb, I can front squat way more than this". Double fast forward to when we finally decided to start learning weightlifting and (of course) thought we knew every-fucking-thing and wasted 8 months of training slamming the bar off of our hips and maxing out weekly (don't do this, get a damn coach).

When I Made A Ton of Blanket Statements
I was the fucking King of Blanket Statements back in the day. "You do CrossFit? LoL all CrossFit will kill you." "You don't squat ATG? Well, you're a bad person." "If you don't eat at least 6 eggs for breakfast you're a turd." Well, these aren't exactly verbatim quotes from me, but they all sound like something Young Mike would've said at some point. I was pretty very dogmatic in quite a few of my views, and wasn't afraid to tell anybody what my opinion was regarding a subject. I have learned now that the answer, as always, lies somewhere in the middle. No, not all CrossFit gyms are bad, a lot of them are really quite good. No, not everyone needs to squat ATG, shit not everyone needs to even squat to parallel. You don't need to eat 6 eggs, but it's awesome if you do. I don't feel bad about my previous views on things, because it's good that I believed so strongly in something...but was able to change my point of view on it.

When I Thought Bodybuilding Was Lame
Well, the sport of Bodybuilding (to me) is still lame. I just can't get down with the idea of training to get on stage and let someone else decide if your body is good enough or not. Just seems like a big ball of body issues to me.

But I used to think that bodybuilding exercises were dumb and useless. There was no need for biceps curls; that's what chin-ups were for. Lateral raises were a waste of time, just do more deadlifts. High rep DB presses weren't doing you any good, just use heavier DBs for 8 reps. I didn't see the value in increasing the cross-sectional size of a muscle if it didn't have a direct impact on strength/power. Then I learned how bodybuilding exercises could work to help prevent injuries, as well as acting like a recovery day workout to move blood all around the body and flush out all the crap you build up from training. Now I'm on that Swole Patrol.

When I Did A Diet Completely Devoid of Fat And Carbs For 11 Days
I went into this knowing it was going to be dumb as fuck, but I needed to try it anyway. Four of us undertook this adventure together and it was 50x more miserable than I thought it would be. Basically nothing but lean protein for 11 days...and fucking mustard and Mountain Dew Zero and oodles of salsa. Things I learned from this:
- I will yell at people in line at Trader Joe's
- Fat is really important for certain things. Dan and Luis know what I'm talking about.
- When you scramble egg whites they have the consistency and flavor of whale boogers.
- No amount of salsa will make whale boogers appetizing.
- Don't do this fucking diet. For serious.

When I Thought I'd Learn Everything I Needed In Exercise Science Classes

Hopefully you guys can learn from some of these mistakes. Don't forget to keep an open mind and keep learning on your own though. Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


This past weekend my bosses and I drove the 3 hours down to Columbus, Ohio to attend the NSCA Ohio State Clinic being held at The Ohio State University.

First off, OSU was fucking amazing. Schools don't look like this back in Massachusetts. It was easily twice the size of the biggest campus we have (UMass Amherst?) and it was an absolutely gorgeous campus.

The conference was hosted by Mark Watts from EliteFTS and featured a fantastic lineup including names like Dan John, Cal Dietz, Bryan Mann and Meg Stone and was attended by about 150 people from all over the state (it's a big damn state).

Truth be told I was most excited to hear Dan John speak (I even shook his hand!); I've been reading and digesting his writing since I first become interested in getting strong and I base a large portion of my training philosophy on his teachings (the other part of my philosophy is Cressey Performance stuff). Dan presented on his 5 basic human movements and why they are important; stuff that I've read about 100 times, but it was great to actually hear him talk about it in person. He also talked about the utilization of standards and "gaps" to round out a training program for a team. Basically, if your strength standard for your team is "205 front squat, 205 clean, 275 squat" and you have one kid who squats 465, cleans 315 and front squats 330 then that is great; you have a stud athlete and he probably performs really well on the field. But, if you also have 10 kids who squat 165, clean 115 and front squat 120, then your TEAM isn't goin to be as good as it could be. If you "lift the bottom" of the team and get them stronger, rather than getting that one stud up to a 500 pound squat, then your whole unit will perform better.

Cal Dietz (University of Minnesota) was the other guy I was really looking forward to hearing speak. His system, Triphasic Training, has taken the strength and conditioning world by storm in the last two years and with good reason. Cal has an abundance of national titles and championships and various other awesome accolades under his belt. I wanted to hear Cal speak to get "sold" on the Triphasic system. I've read the book and I understand the premise of the system and why it works, but I really don't understand how I'm able to apply it to athletes that I work with. Even hearing Cal talk about it, it sounds like a pretty advanced program that is best applied to advanced/elite athletes. However, he made it seem as if it also wouldn't be as effective with a guy who'd been a pro for 10 years since his body has made so many adaptations that he'd be better off with some block periodization that was explicitly focused on one training effect.

I'm sold on Triphasic, I am. I understand that it's a fantastic system that utilizes some pretty nifty tricks to train the body to accept and adapt to more stress. But for a high school aged (or even a young college athlete) I don't think that it's a more effective way of training someone than the way I've been doing it. If your athlete is only able to squat 225, then he probably needs to get stronger so that he is able to produce more force (horsepower is useless without more torque). I hope to God that I someday get an athlete advanced enough to apply Triphasic to their program.

It was a very cool event and made me realize a few important things:

  1. I need my back to bigger in a fucking hurry. #bodyimageissues
  2. Everyone who's stronger than me (read: a lot of people) have hands that are as thick as a porterhouse steak
  3. I'm on the right track with my training philosophy.
  4. I've still got a ton of shit to learn.
Going to conferences are a great thing only if you're able to decipher what is useful to you and what isn't. Not everything that is presented is applicable or necessary for you and your athletes. If you start throwing all of these principles into your training programs willy-nilly then you're going to just end up with the proverbial "shit soup". 

Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Training or Displaying?

When it comes to strength and athleticism there are two things you can do with your ability: you can train it or you can display it. They are separated by a thin grey line, but the path you choose will largely influence your outcome.

What you're seeing in the image above is an overhead pistol squat while balancing on a kettlebell. This is a fucking ridiculously difficult exercise that requires an absurd level of proprioception, stability, mobility and every other quality that makes an athlete amazing. This athlete is displaying an astounding level of athleticism, but I don't consider this a training exercise. Here's why.

A training exercise is an exercise that you can do consistently, in a "controlled" environment (any environment involving your body and dynamic movements is inherently turbulent) that you can consistently improve upon and progressively overload in order to reap more benefits for your desired outcome.

Training exercises are uncomfortable and tedious and arduous and only meatheads find them "fun". But they make you better for when you want to actually display your ability. If you're not careful, though, training exercises can become displays in and of themselves. If you take a simple exercise like a deadlift or a box jump and start performing it exclusively to your maximum capability, then you've started to showcase your ability rather than train it.

People fall into this trap all the time; I know I have. Putting on a display is fun! Rather than taking the time to load an exercise incrementally and get better at it, I spent several months where I would just go max out on the lift once a week (snatch and deadlift). I increased the weights on both exercises, but it wasn't that I got better at them, it's that I took enough attempts that the percentages were on my side. If I tried snatching 200 pounds enough times, I was bound to get it eventually.

Kelsi trained incrementally for her marathon and displayed her ability when the time was right. Going to the gym every day and maxing out your clean, bench and 40-yard dash isn't going to do much more than crush your CNS and leave you flaccid and weak.

While almost any exercise can be turned from a training exercise into a display, there are some (generally variations) that become displays inherently because so few people are legitimately able to do them. The DB Snatch is an exercise that I think carries a ton of value, but is better served as a display of power or a conditioning exercise rather than a legitimate training tool. The nuances of the exercise are so minimal that it's really just a "here you go, have at it" kind of exercise. I also don't think that being able to snatch a 150 pound dumbbell has any impact on your barbell snatch, but you also can't snatch a 150-pound dumbbell unless you're a strong fucker already.

Many core exercises also become so difficult that they aren't exactly trainable. Ross Enamait is a strength coach in CT and is one of the most legit savages in the industry. However, just a look at some of his core exercises let's you know that for 99% of the population this is a party trick rather than a training exercise you can do consistently over time.

There is nothing wrong with displaying your ability from time to time; that's why we train in the first place, right? But you need to make sure that you're training is appropriate to get increase your ability to display safely and sustainably.

I hope this made sense to everyone! Have a great day, and go lift some heavy shit!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Young Athletes in the Weight Room

In my current job I work with, almost exclusively, high school-aged athletes. The kids are either currently in high school or in the prep year between high school and college. This, obviously, creates some interesting situations in the weight room.

High school kids...especially boys...are idiots. They are more interested in talking shit to their teammates and trying to make people laugh then they are in listening to directions. Getting results with a group of athletes this age is really pretty easy; they have a very low training age, and as long as your programming doesn't really really suck then you're going to see improvements.

The issue is getting these guys involved (mentally) enough into the workout to do what they need to do (especially in a group setting). Even the most dedicated athletes at this age have a tough time focusing, especially with some of their external stressors. Applying to colleges, school work, relationships, etc. Everything that happens is the end of the damned world and it affects their performance.

One of the biggest things to contend with in this environment is the bravado that comes with lifting weights. Athletes this age don't typically know anything about exercise prescription or practices, they just wan't to get yoked. They will typically regurgitate awful information that their brothers friends uncle told them, and he (obviously) benches 600. Even when applying percentage based programming to these athletes, they will have the tendency to continue to push the weights with little regard for form or tempo. The coach programmed paused bench press with a 32X0 tempo? #YOLO I'm just going to load up an extra 20kg and bounce this shit off of my sternum a bunch of times. 

You have to be pretty diligent about riding athletes this age (really, any age) about being strict with their tempo and being honest about the way the weight feels for a unique set or rep. Damn near every time I approach an athlete and tell them to decrease the weight for the next set, I get a look back like I just told them that they were adopted and that their mom was really the Tooth Fairy. No matter how often you tell them that it is not a personal attack on their masculinity or ability, they take it as such and usually demand that they get another chance at "making it look better".

The key to avoiding this situation is letting the athletes know from Day 1 that being in the weight room is not the proverbial dick measuring contest. It shouldn't matter to them what anyone else has on the bar, and nor should it matter to anyone else what they have on the bar. Their job isn't to become an amazing weightlifter or powerlifter, but to get better at their particular sport. I also don't like setting anecdotal limits like "a girl can lift this" because 1) that's demeaning to women and 2) There are some really fucking strong girls out there who out-lift a lot of people. The particular athlete you are aiming these anecdotes at is probably not choosing to be at his current strength level and since he's in the gym with you, you have actual physical proof that he is actively trying to get stronger. Telling athletes that they have to get stronger because so-and-so lifts more than them will result in sloppy movement patterns and poor tempo executions.

One of the other big things to think about when dealing with a group of teenaged athletes is their extreme propensity for bullshit. Just the other day, I was warming up a group of 18 year old basketball players. When instructed to perform inchworms I was received with a round of grumbles and a few guys who asked if they could skip it. I inquired if they really expected me to say "oh sure, just don't do it because you don't like it" and they knew that there was no chance I would let them skip it. I made the simple suggestion to them that they just stfu and do the work; if they spent as much time doing the work they should be doing as they do complaining about it, they would be good at the exercises and they would no longer suck as much.

Keeping your athletes involved and understanding why doing each exercise/drill will help them get where they want to go is amazingly important, as is helping them to realize that they occasionally just need to shut their mouths and do what the coach says for the simple fact that they are the coach.

Be firm, be clear and encourage your young athletes if you want to help them get the most of their training and prepare them for further training down the line. Really, you don't want a poorly trained athlete moving on to college and saying "hey, I learned to lift with So and So" and having their new coaches be like "well that person must suck, because this athlete lifts like doo doo".

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