Wednesday, September 17, 2014

5 components every training method should include - From Strength Sensei

With a myriad of training methodologies out there, the decision to settle on one can be more confusing than trying to figure out how they came up with combining skiing and target shooting as an Olympic sport.

Nevertheless, at some point you either did or will have to undertake the cumbersome process of narrowing down a sound methodology to base your training around.  That, or you'll just wing it and hope that something good happens.  But hope is not a strategy for success, so let's say for the sake of argument that you do need to find a training methodology.

What are the components that make up a sound methodology in regards to strength training?

1.  A plan for progression - 

The end goal for strength athletes is more weight on the bar.  Its that simple.  A sound training method should set you up for cycles based around the manipulation of volume, intensity, super-compensation, and fatigue management (recovery).

This could mean some form of periodization, or progression (single, double, etc) based around the parameters in training, i.e. adding reps over X number of weeks, adding weight and reps over X number of weeks, etc.

Without a plan for progression the lifter is left to essentially "wing it" week in and week out.  Some people do enjoy this, however I've always felt that it's best to have some sort of plan or map for your training cycles in order to gauge progress.  If you are a fan of winging it and prefer an RPE (rate of perceived exertion) type of plan then you still have to plan on turning your 9 RPE sets into 7 RPE sets.  Without a plan, you're just a vessel sailing adrift in the ocean.

2.  Creates strength and muscular balance - 

This is the antithesis of a "bro routine", where you bench and curl 3 days a week, and have leg day once a month and do some quarter range of motion leg presses.

Whether you're a powerlifter, strongman, bodybuilder, or crossfitter it behooves you to shore up weak links in your musculature to avoid both injury and stagnation.  If a method has you doing 100 reps of total work in your pushing movements over a week, then at minimum you should be doing 100 reps of pulling movements to balance that out.  Lower body work should be getting as much or possibly more attention than upperbody work.

The squat, deadlift, and bench press will get you pretty far all by themselves, but often times the cause for a stagnation in a lift is in fact a secondary or tertiary mover in one of those lifts is too weak to continue progressing.  Weak rotator cuffs will often hold back a stagnant bench press.  Weak rhomboids can be the cause with locking out a deadlift.

It's hard to determine exactly where a lifter may be weak without observing their performance in other movements that place greater emphasis in certain musculature.

For example, someone may be a great squatter but actually have weak quads in comparison to their adductors, glutes, and hips.  They may not know it until they try to perform a movement like hack squats, which puts more direct emphasis on the quads, and see how weak they are.

A training methodology, especially for advanced lifters, should be well rounded enough to take these kinds of things into consideration and have a place in the training plan for making sure balance is accounted for.

3.  A plan for stagnation or lack of progress - 

Whether it be a built in deload, teaching you when to deload, or simply outlining what the macrocycle will be to account for different priorities, accounting for fatigue management and stagnation is a must.  You can't train in a highly intensive manner for months and months on end without a break, or a change in training stimulus (see this article for more on accumulating fatigue  Eventually you will plateau because of fatigue debt, or a lack of new stimulus introduction.

As outlined in the article above, after 4-6 weeks the body does a fine job of adapting to whatever training stress you have been applying to it.  At that point stimulus lessens, and fatigue builds.  A sound training methodology will account for these periods and allow for or suggest a change in training stimulus.

Also, there should be times when priorities are changed.  A strength athlete who has maxed out leverages at a certain bodyweight will need to concentrate on simply getting bigger for a while.  The bodybuilder who can't seem to get any bigger will benefit from focusing on strength for a while, so that when he or she resumes hypertrophy work, they will be able to move more weight for more repetitions.  That means new growth.

4.  Emphasis on big compound movements - 

This should go without saying but, I still have to say it.  Any sound training method will have the base built around performing lots of barbell and dumbbell work.  Unless the trainee is injured and cannot perform those movements because of restrictions, the core of work should be done with barbells and dumbbells.  This doesn't mean that some machines or gadgets don't have a place in a training methodology, but if the bulk of the routine is based around those kinds of things then results will be less optimal than if it is based around free weights.

Remember, the body works in synergy, and developing the stabilizing muscles can only happen if you are required to balance the weight.  Machines and cables balance the weight for you, thus taking a lot of the smaller stabilizing muscles out of play.

The bulk of any good strength or mass training routine shoulder be things like squats, front squats, barbell presses of various kinds, barbell, and dumbbell rowing.

5.  Your buy in - 

If I had a dollar for every time I've written this, I'd have at least $147 dollars.  I can't emphasize it enough.  Even if a training method meets all of the components listed above, you still have to buy in to the method.  That means, it has to resonate with you, and make you feel like it is something you can stick with, and progress intelligently on.  A big reason why even unbalanced training methods can work for some people is simply because its what they want to do, and are excited about it.  This is a huge part of finding success in training.

If you hate a training plan, no matter how logical and sound it is your own person effort applied to it will be sub-par.

Find am overall sound training method that resonates with you as an athlete, bodybuilder, or lifter and then results will be phenomenal.

Conclusion - 

I could probably list off 50 things that a good training method will implement or account for, however sticking with these five is a great place to start.  Too many ideas all at once will only create confusion.  Look for a training method that includes these components so that your bases are covered, and progress is consistent.

Want to know more about Paul Carter’s methodology? Get his excellent book Base Building over at or visit his Facebook Page

Monday, September 15, 2014

Stress control

It's inevitable that so long as you're still breathing and actually living life, that stress is going to be a part of it.  There's a saying that goes "life's a bitch, and then you die."

I don't buy that entirely, as life isn't ALWAYS a bitch but it has some bitchassness moments.

Stress is unavoidable sometimes.  And for those who still adhere to a great diet, and exercise, and say their prayers and take their vitamins, the results of stress can eventually be fatal.

Stress indeed, can kill you.

Yeah there's the people that get trapped under vending machines, get eaten by apex predators, get killed in car wrecks, get machete hacked in third world countries, get set on fire, kill themselves (wait, that's probably stress related), get bitten in the femoral artery by beavers and bleed out in minutes, get bitten by snakes, get ran over by various machinery, have pool tables fall on them from five stories up, drown in their own vomit, get shot to death, get beheaded by ISIS, are eaten by piranha's, burst into flames from spontaneous combustion,  die from dehydration....and starvation, get blown up in their meth lab, are bludgeoned to death, get stomped to death by elephants, do that thing where they try to masturbate while hanging themselves and fuck it all up, etc.

Anyway, lots of ways to die obviously.

But for most of us, stress can indeed play a large part in how we go.

Stress and how we react to it, and create it - 

We all know that one person who doesn't seem to get bent out of shape or stressed out about much of anything.

We also know that person who seems to stress over every single minute thing in their life.  That OCD maniac who can't handle you folding up a road map improperly.

Some people let things slide right off of them and have no trouble letting go rather easily.  Others have more trouble with doing so.

Most of this seems to be genetic.  Some people are more naturally laid back, and other people are uncontrollable maniacs.

The mayo clinic tells us this is what happens when we get stressed the fuck out....

Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain's use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.

Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation and fear.
For the most part, how we react to stress is is driven both from a genetic standpoint, and from an association and experience standpoint.  Stress is also self induced at times based on how we decide to handle a situation.

We can't help the genetic part.  Some of us are going to stress a bit more or less over situations than others.  However the degree to which we decide to stress is entirely up to us.

I used to get very irritable when I had to wait in long lines, or when traffic sucked, or when I felt like I was being terribly inconvenienced by "life".  This kind of stress, is self induced.

Over the last many months I have tried to make a more conscious effort to not let those things irritate me, and ruin my day.

For example....

The other day I was driving through a strip mall and the traffic was incredibly congested.  A new Ikea store had opened near by and people were parking all over to get to it.  This guy in a van was trying to get out of the parking lot and ends up pulling out way too far on the road instead of just waiting for an opening in traffic.  I hold my hands up like "what are you doing?" and he proceeds to flip me off.

Every part of me, in that split moment, wanted to slam on my brakes and get out of the car and put the fear of God in that guy.  And I've done that before.  After all, he disrespected me right?

Nah, not really.  He doesn't know me.  I could only be as disrespected by getting flipped off as I wanted to allow.  He didn't spit in my face, or insult my kids.  He flipped me off.  You know, common traffic sign language for "you suck" or "I don't agree with you right now."

I took a deep breath and told myself "its not worth ruining part of your day over."  Maybe that guy had a really shitty day, and maybe he's been stuck there for a long time and hasn't developed the reasoning I'm talking about here.  To just say "hey, it's traffic, I'll get out at some point."  So instead of making my day worse, and his day worse, I let it slide.  Did it take some work?  Yes.  But in a few minutes I was fine and didn't give a shit.

I made a conscious choice not to create a stressful situation in my life simply by "letting go".  He flipped me off.  Big fucking deal.

Most of us don't realize that we create the greatest amount of stress in our own life.  We decide to be stressed.  We make a choice to.

I once heard a guy say that "90% of the things we worry about never come to fruition."

I'm not sure where he got that statistical information from, but if you really stop and think about it for a moment, it at least "feels" true.

Most of the things we fret about in life don't come to pass.  Yet many of us still sit around and take up valuable time in our life worrying over if it will.

A friend of mine once sent me a flow chart for understanding when to worry.  I still look at it now and then, and it makes me laugh and keep things in perspective.

This flowchart is very logical.  But it does require us to consciously exercise our own ability to let things go.  No different than ol boy flipping me off in traffic.

"Do you have a problem?"

"Well this guy just flipped me off!"

"Is that REALLY a problem?"


"Then don't let it stress you out."

Many of the "problems" or "stresses" we have in our life, we simply create.

The consequences of stress - 

From this article, "stress kills the mind one day at a time"

participants who reported the most negative reactions to stress 10 years earlier were those with the highest incidence of depression and anxiety. In particular, participants who experienced more “bleed over” stress from day to day (in other words, stress from one day continued to fuel negative reactions on subsequent days) were most likely to suffer from depression and anxiety 10 years later.
For my Captain Obvious quote of the day, stress adds up over time, and can destroy your joy and happiness.  And eventually, your life.

The article essentially repeats what I wrote about above.

Aside from reinforcing an intuitive understanding that our reactions to stressful situations can make all the difference, this study makes a strong case for “letting go” of negativity. Everyone is going to experience negative feelings in response to tough situations at work, home or anywhere else, but letting those feelings linger day after day has long-term consequences for our minds.

How personal stress can effect our training - 

Training itself, is a type of stress.  And requires systemic and localized recovery to....errrr, recover from.

If you think of stress as one big factor, then personal stress will indeed impact training in many ways.

From webmd.........

Physical symptoms of stress include:
Low energy
Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
Aches, pains, and tense muscles
Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
Frequent colds and infections
Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
Nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear, cold or sweaty hands and feet
Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
Clenched jaw and grinding teeth

None of these things sound beneficial to optimizing training.  I do know that some people have told me they train better when life is in the shitter, because the gym is an outlet for them, and being pissed off helps.  I'm not one of them.  I tend to train best when life is going best.  And I tend to have shitty training shitty when life seems shitty.  

Regardless of that, remember to limit external gym stress by consciously acknowledging whether or not you should make a choice to let something stress you out.  The lower the stress factor in your personal life, the more "recovery" time you have to grow, and get better in the gym.

Stress association and emotional trauma - 

For those who have suffered traumatic experiences, it can require a lot more than simply making a choice to "let it go."

For those that have experienced terrible childhood trauma or have been in war, it can be far more difficult than making a mental note to "let it go."

According to the department of Veteran's affairs, an average of 22 vets take their own life each day.  That's over 2000 a year.

We deal with the things we can process in our life, and the parts we can't, get fragmented off because we don't know how.  Those are the pieces that have to be addressed for those suffering from serious  emotional trauma.  If they don't, then generally unhealthy coping mechanisms are formed.  And that's the manifestation of stress, and the inability to deal with said stress.  Things such as drug addiction, alcoholism, and other habits are commonly formed by those suffering from emotional trauma that is left untreated.

For those suffering from severe emotional trauma, professional help is needed.  And will generally be needed for the rest of their life.  It also behooves that person to surround themselves with a strong support system.  That may mean opening up to close friends and family, or finding a good support group to attend meetings with.  If you are suffering from this kind of stress, don't ignore it.  The longer it goes left untreated, the worse the manifestations will become.

For veterans, I urge them to take this seriously.  My father suffered from PTSD from Vietnam and his suffering from it caused great suffering to those around him as well.

If you are a vet, and are struggling check out this link.  If you know a vet that is struggling, or you think needs help, please direct them to this information.......

1-800-273-8255 - press 1

In the end... - 

In the end, we all end up in the same place.  How we choose to live our life is for the most part, entirely up to us.  No, we can't choose our parents, and we don't often get to control certain environments.  And life often presents us with situations that we didn't ask for, or were entirely out of our hands.  However, we do get to decide how we are going to react to those situations, and how much we decide we are going to let it effect us, and stress us.

Life is indeed a bitch sometimes.  There's no getting around that.  We do get to decide however, the extent we are going to bitch about it, and act like a bitch about it.  That's entirely up to us.  Or we can say getting flipped off by a dude in a minivan really isn't a big deal in the grand scheme in life, and simple be on our way.

Its your choice.

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Smash weights....hurt feelings close out sale

Doing a close out sale on the "Smash Weights...Hurt Feelings" tanks and tees.  Go grab one!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"Worthless" movements

I asked a question on the LRB facebook page what everyone thought a "dumb" exercise was.

I gave my response to some of the ones listed.  Here it is.......

First off, I think a movement is only "worthless" based on a few things.

1. If you don't know WHY you're doing it. Doing it because "I saw some jacked/strong dude doing it" is not a reason.

That's really it. So that's not a "few" that's one.

Any movement can be useful, IF you know why you are doing it, i.e. have a specific reason. In other words, to rehab something, bring up a weak bodypart, or to help another movement. That's what all movements really do.

Now this doesn't mean that every movement is "good". There can be movements that would help you more than the one you are doing, even if you know why you are doing it.

So here is my opinion on some of the answers given.

1. Smith machine squats - Bodybuilders have used these for years to bring up weak quads. Dorian Yates stuck with barbell squats for years, and found they never did anything for his quad development. John Meadows also likes smith machine squats for the same reason. If you get your feet out in front of you, you can actually use this movement to really target the quads very effectively. Remember guys, not everyone in the gym is trying to become a youtube champion on squats, deadlifts, and benches. There's a whole other group of people out there that lift weights that compete in you know....bodybuilding.

2. Tricep kickbacks - If you have wrecked elbows you can use these pain free. The drawback with them, as I've mentioned before, is that there is only tension in the very last part of the movement. Nevertheless, if you have great bad elbows, these can at least be an option for tricep work.

3. Throwing punches in the cable crossover machine - Yes, pretty stupid. Punching power actually comes from the torque in your hips. Not from your arms.

4. Weighted side bends holding weight on both sides - Uh yeah, pretty stupid. The whole point is to strengthen the obliques. When you hold weight in both hands, one hand is counteracting the weight in the other hand. So basically, you're not really doing anything.

5. Decline bench - It's just a press. Incline, decline, flat, etc can all be used as pressing alternatives. It's possible that someone can decline bench without pec or shoulder pain if it was sustained in another pressing movement. So it may be an option in that regard. I actually feel more pec contraction in decline pressing, however I don't use it because.....well, I don't.

6. Skull crushers - Will def wreck your elbows over time. I bought into the whole "won't happen to me" thing for a long time. Happened to me too.

7. Leg Press on the smith machine - Can't really get into this or make a case for it. If you don't have a leg press and want to leg press, find a gym with a leg press.

8. Lying cable curls - The only case I can make for this is variety.

9. Rotator cuff exercises - These are great. Everyone should do cuff work.

10. Accommodating resistance for RAW lifters - I know a lot of raw guys do use accommodating resistance but I personally don't see a need for it. Especially bands or reverse band work. In raw lifting, the strength curve is hard at the bottom, and easier at the top. When you add bands you're not making the bottom harder. I can see chains being used more effectively for raw guys. But not bands.

11. Calf machines - Definitely useful for the bodybuilder. If you want to make them "work better", hold the stretch position at the bottom for 5 seconds, and THEN come up. Talk to me after. That's how I built my calves into cows.

12. Dumbbell flyes - Very good movement if used properly. It makes the pec actually perform its primary motion. Which is to bring the humerus across the chest.

13. The good girl bad girl machine at the gym, for inner and outer thighs - Very good machines if used properly. I used the good girl machine to rehab a torn adductor, and stayed with it long enough so that I stopped straining my adductor. The bad girl machine is great at teaching people how to fire their glute medius. It's a similar motion that you perform descending into a squat. For people with knee cave, it means they aren't pushing out and getting the glutes involved enough.

14. Sissy squats - Great at recruiting the VMO. Can be hard on some peoples knees, but if you are lacking in the VMO they will put some teardrop muscle on you quickly. Hard as fuck too.

15. Heavy good mornings - Horrible and stupid. Great way to fuck up your back. And I've never seen a good morning as part of a powerlifting meet or strongman comp. Light good mornings done with an emphasis on stretching the glutes and hams are fantastic. Heavy good morning where there is too much of a hip drop and knee bend are fairly dumb. Just my opinion.

16. Sumo Deadlift High Pulls - Dumb.

17. Kipping pullups - Beyond dumb.