Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Top mistakes I see young and novice lifters doing

Biggest mistakes I see that most young guys are doing - 

1.  Too many movements that lead to pain later on - Skull crushers, terrible technique on bench press, never doing rotator cuff work.

2.  Not doing a pulling movement for every pushing movement they do - Equalize the workload here.  If you're doing 50 reps of total volume for pushing, you should be doing 50 reps of pulling as well.  

3.  Too many similar pressing movements - Flat bench, incline, decline, then db bench press.  Pick one or two per training session.  Not 5.  

4.  Not enough single limb work, especially for the lower body - You don't often see young dudes doing lunges or split squats.  I guess they think those are things women should do.  Not at all.  A big factor in overuse is that people tend to favor one side in their squatting movements and "lean" more to it than they realize.  This can often lead to knee and IT band problems.  1 legged work will help to keep you balanced and also let you know which side is lacking.  

5.  Wearing a belt too much - If you wear a belt, throw it on for your heaviest sets of squats and deadlifts.  You don't need it for fucking side laterals or curls.

6.  Testing too much and not training enough - Maxing out every god damn week.  If you want to max out, do so every 6 weeks or so.  This way you can assess how productive a training cycle was.  I don't care who you see on youtube doing this shit each week.  Maxing out all the time is highly unproductive for 99.999% of lifters.  TRAIN.  Don't test.  

7.  Too many isolation movements - I see guys at the gym that are 165 pounds doing 4 kinds of curls, leg extensions, and cable crossovers and very little if any time in the squat rack, or doing heavy rows.  Do you want to "sculpt" a pebble or a giant slab of rock?   

8.  Too many "bro" and forced reps - Terminate a set with a rep left in the tank.  If you're going to take a set to failure, then terminate the set at the point where your partner or spotter has to help you just a little to complete the last rep.  I swear every week I see guys doing a set of 10 where they were able to a whopping 3 reps on their own before ol boy starting helping.  That and all the half repping "constant tension" bullshit I see.  In case you're not aware, full range reps stimulate more muscle fiber than half reps.  

9.  Going "too" heavy - Bouncing the weight off the chest in benching, doing half squats because you know you'd get buried in the hold, doing shrugs where you just nod your head back and forth.  All bullshit.  Go heavy enough so that you stimulate growth and strength gains in an efficient rep range, and with proper technique.  If you have to resort to cheating reps out in a way that sets you up for injury then you didn't check your ego at the door.

10.  Bouncing around from routine to routine - This is actually not just a young guy problem, but lots of guys problems.  Pick a program based in sound training principles for your level of experience, and stick with it.  Not for two weeks, not for a month, but for a LONG TIME.  6 months, 12 months, 18 months.  A long time.  It takes a long time to get strong, and a long time to become efficient at the big movements.  It's hard to get good at something when you keep changing shit every few weeks.  Pick something and milk it until there's nothing left.  Being a chronic routine changer is the best way to accomplish nothing.

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Why success evades some and finds others

In our youth many of us aspire to greatness in a sport or athletic endeavor we find a passion about.  We practice and compete and do all the things related to that sport for many years on end, in hopes of "making it big".  For the great majority of us, unfortunately, we never make it to that next level of competition.  There is a myriad of reasons for that.  Some of which are outside of our control, and some of which are not.

What eventually separates the "haves" from the "has beens" and the good from the great are an extensive list, and there is rarely a single factor you can narrow it down to.  There is usually a combination of factors that keeps an athlete from reaching the pinnacle in his chosen sport.  

Three things that are completely out of your control in regards to success -

Genetics - Regardless of what people tell you, genetics are the biggest equalizer in regards to champions.  This isn't a "poor mouth" speech either.  Some people are simply not born with the required genetics to excel in certain areas.  To my knowledge, no dwarf has ever dunked a basketball, much less played in the NBA.  In the history of track and field, only one Caucasian male has ever run the 100 meter in under 10 seconds.  That was Christopher Lemaitre, back in 2010.  And he barely did it, at 9.98.  Regardless of work ethic, drug use, or knowledge, genetics will be the biggest determining factor in how far you can go in athletics.  

I'm not saying you should use genetics as an excuse not to become the very best you can be.  Far from it.  The fact is, lots of guys hang in there long enough to see their hard work pay off in the way of success, while some guys squander away elite level genetics because they don't have the "choice" factors to become champions.  However at the end of the day, the guy with great genetics for his given sport is going to have a huge advantage over the guy that got the short end of the "Twins" stick.  

Zach Thomas

Intelligence and instincts - One of my favorite NFL players from back in the day was middle linebacker for the Miami Dolphins, Zach Thomas.  Zach had none of the measurables that you would look for in a middle linebacker.  He was probably 5'10" with his cleats on, and weighed all of 220-230 pounds.  His 40 time wasn't some blistering 4.3 or 4.4 and he wasn't benching 450 either.  What Zach did have was an incredible amount of game intelligence and awareness that was almost unmatched (Ray Lewis was probably on par with him in that area, and Ray was "pretty good").  When the ball was snapped Zach's first step to the ball or in coverage was amazing.  His instincts and awareness as to where he needed to be was uncanny, and a big reason why he amassed more tackles than any other linebacker currently in the hall of fame (an unofficial stat) and made the pro bowl 7 times and the all-pro list 5 times.  

One thing I've often believed is that most "greats" have an awareness  an instincts about certain things that the non-greats do not.  Even in training, I have often felt that a lot of greats find their way very early due to instincts.  They instinctively understand what works and what does not work for them very quickly.  For a lot of guys, it takes longer because of trial and error.  Some of us have to "try shit out" and determine over time if it has merit or not.  Finding your way early is a huge advantage in reaching elite status.  On top of that, some athletes are simply more intelligent than others.  They grasp, process, and retain information better than others and can apply it in a more efficient manner to their sport or activity.  Now to be clear, instincts and intelligence aren't the same.  Knowing that you should do something doesn't always mean you know WHY you are doing something.  There may be an overlapping between these two factors but there is definitely a degree of separation.  When an athlete has a high degree of both, it gives him a huge advantage over the athlete that does not.

Injuries - Many a athletes career is cut short due to injury.  The body only has so many big hits it can absorb.  It only has so many big squats or bench presses in it before something "goes" and either ends or severely inhibits that athlete's ability to perform at a high level.  The joints only have so many "repetitions" in them before wear and tear becomes a limiting factor.  



In MMA it has always appeared to me that once a guy receives a "lights out" type of shot, then he tends to get "lights out" more often after that.  Chuck Liddell had 23 professional fights before Quinton Jackson knocked him out cold.  Chuck had never been knocked out cold like that in those previous 23 fights.  After that fight he got his lights turned off several more times before he finally retired.  

Longevity is such a huge part of what generally makes someone great.  There are too many factors to say why some people can and can't survive the rigors of training and sports for a long time.  Some guys are just flat out unlucky.  And some guys can just withstand a beating longer than others.  Regardless of those things, being able to perform at a high level for a long period is an incredibly difficult thing to do.  At some point, we all decline.  It's the rate which that decline happens that plays such a huge role in greatness.  

Three things that are completely within your control in regards to success - 

Work ethic/Effort/Passion - I knew of a guy that was a division I football player and an NFL prospect.  He played defensive tackle for one of the best programs in the nation at the time.  He was slated by most experts and scouts to be a 4th or 5th round pick.  He ended up going undrafted and played with a buddy of mine in a semi-pro league down in west Texas.  My friend told me there were games where he was literally unblockable.  That he would throw two guys aside like rag dolls and take over entire games.  He also told me that he had games where he'd get his ass handed to him like some pop warner scrub that had wandered onto the wrong playing field.  The reason?  He was lazy.  A consistent effort was lacking, to say the least.  Which was also the reason why he ultimately wasn't drafted.  Scouts questioned his work ethic.

In college, lots of guys can get by on athletic ability alone.  At the amateur level, if you are incredibly gifted, you can get away with lots of things because you're just so much better than everyone else genetically.  

Once you guys get to the pros, EVERYONE is as athletic and gifted, if not more so.  If a substantial work ethic is never cultivated then the ability to excel at the next level will be greatly prohibited.  For those that do not cultivate such a work ethic, they generally fall into that spectrum of guys that washed out after just a few years.  


Perseverance - Even the most physically gifted of athletes are going to find plateaus and roadblocks on their journey.  Just because someone is gifted or great at something physically, doesn't always mean they are gifted in the mental aspect of perseverance.  How people decide to respond to adversity is a huge factor in attaining greatness.  For people who find success early and often, it can actually be a far bigger blow to those who have to scratch and claw for everything they get.  

Can you imagine being the star running back from pop warner, to junior high, to high school, then to a huge division I college where you dominate, only to be relegated to kick off teams and sit behind two guys in the pros?  For some guys this can be far too crushing to take, and it changes their attitude and behavior in a way that is detrimental to continued success.  Handling adversity properly is a huge advantage in finding ultimate success.  You can allow adversity to make you better, or bitter.  If the latter manifests itself in the athletes behavior, then it's possible a downfall will come shortly after.  

Even for the guys with great work ethics, they too will encounter plateaus and roadblocks.  The ability to dig deep and never quit has to shine during these times, or it's possible discouragement may set in.  If that becomes bigger than the desire to succeed, then the athlete can find himself feeling as if his efforts are now in vain, and his efforts and passion may wane.  

External factors/Life Choices - The prison system and life in general is filled with people who "coulda been" great, or potentially great, but made life choices that altered that path to greatness.  It's hard to display physical greatness when you're doing a life sentence, or lost your scholarship because of domestic violence or got busted for selling drugs, or pissed hot.  Hardships can also play a huge rule.  Lots of people leave their athletic dreams behind because they need to go home to take care of sick relatives or find other similar hard times upon them.  Some people also end up with too many extenuating circumstances to continue chasing their dream.  Kids are born, families are raised, and priorities are changed.  After 9/11 Pat Tillman made the decision to leave playing in the NFL to serve his country.  Some people don't realize their greatness in athletics, strength, or physique development because life alters their path via the choices they make about it.  

There is no right or wrong in this one.  It's what we make of what life presents us with.  It's simply all about the choices we make, and the consequences or ramifications of those choices.  

Conclusion - 

There is a reason why certain world records stand for decades on end.  It's generally because the athlete that set those records had a combination of all the rights, and usually none or very few of the wrongs.  There's a reason there's only one Usain Bolt, one Muhammad Ali, one Jerry Rice.  Those people tend to have a supreme percentage of all the "rights" that make up champions, and very little, if any, of the wrongs that take away from becoming one.  

Some people experience greatness for a long time, and some only have a fleeting moment of it.  Fortunately, many of the things that it takes to become a champion are within your own power.  Unfortunately, many things are not.  This shouldn't dissuade you from pursuing greatness.  After all there is also something known as personal greatness as well.  If you empty yourself out into something, and know that you poured everything you had into fulfilling your potential in every way, then what you are left with is the greatest version of yourself that you could have ever imagined.  That is what we should all aspire to achieve in both life, and athletics.    

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The path you take, and the consequences of it all.

Mike Matarazzo died this past week.  For those that haven't been in the iron game or paid attention to physical culture for very long, Mike was an IFBB pro bodybuilder that was very popular in the 1990's and 2000's.

Mike was forced into retirement after 2004 because of triple bypass surgery.  He was 39 years old at the time.

In 2007 Mike suffered a heart attack.

Mike passed away awaiting a heart transplant.  He was 48 years old.  No one in Mike's family had a history of heart problems, apparently.

Mike's own words about it all.....

"Oh, god, where do I begin? I'd have to say that everything that led to my heart problem began the minute I started getting serious about competitive bodybuilding. In order to get bigger, I'd eat five, six, seven pounds of red meat a day, no vegetables. And I'd stay away from fruits because of their sugar.  

Worst were the chemicals. I have so many memories of being alone in a hotel room the week, five days or two days before a contest, and doing unspeakable things to my body—steroids, growth hormones, diuretics—anything and everything that we as bodybuilders do to achieve a certain look.It has affected my whole life, so to all those guys who are on an eternal quest to have 21" arms and 20" calves, and who are so vain about their never-say-die attitude, I say, "Change your attitude." Worry about keeping that body of yours as healthy as possible, because it's going to have to last you not just through your next contest or to the end of your bodybuilding contract, but for a long time. And a long time for a human being is nothing. It goes by real quick, even quicker when your health is gone and you have nothing to stand live for."

And.....

"I know it was the drugs that caused this to happen to me and I don’t give a shit what anyone says. All these gurus and self-proclaimed steroid experts that try to downplay the risks are just talking out of their ass. They have no idea what will happen to people. Nobody in my family ever had heart problems. It was the steroids I took for years. Anytime you put a powerful artificial drug in your body you are taking a chance. Most guys think nothing bad will ever happen to them. But you watch – you will be seeing more and more serious heart problems and worse once these guys hit forty."

In 2002, Don Youngblood won the Masters Mr. Olympia.  In 2005, Don died of a massive heart attack at 51 years of age.  

From an interview with Don....

When I asked Don to describe his off-season eating he summed it up with one word - "Nauseating... because I have to eat so much. I eat about 500 grams of protein a day mostly from beef, chicken, eggs and protein powder." He also drinks a lot of American Bodybuilding beverages. As for carbohydrates, Don staggers his carb intake in the off-season. He generally consumes between 400-500 grams of carbs a day but about twice a week allows himself "big carbs" to make sure he doesn't get depleted. "I try to take in as much fat as I want in the off-season," says Don. His top nutrition priority is consuming his protein each day.

Also, in tried and true "old school" fashion, Don believes in bulking-up in the off-season. "Typically, my weight will climb to 290," he says. "This year I plan to push that to 300 pounds."



Art Atwood was an IFBB pro who weighed in come contest time, at around 275 pounds, give or take a few diuretics.  Which means he was well over 300 pounds in the offseason.  

Art died of a massive heart attack in 2011.  He was 37 years old.  His autopsy showed that he had actually suffered a minor heart attack a month before, unknowingly.  

Curtis Leffler was a top level amateur bodybuilder who also competed in strongman.  Curtis was 270+ pounds in contest condition and had veins on veins.  He was also a constant shade of purple and was often dubbed "Barney" because of it.

He died of a massive heart attack at the age of 36 while preparing for a show.  His favorite quote apparently was "life is too short to be small."  How ironic.  

Matt Duvall was an IFBB pro bodybuilder.  Died of a heart attack at 40.

Greg Kovacs was a pro bodybuilder we often weighed in excess of 400 pounds in the offseason, and died of a heart attack at 44.  

I could go on and on, but I hope you're getting the point.  

The counterpoints I've already read.  And to be honest, they make me laugh.  

People will lie to themselves and other people in order to justify their stance or rationalize their beliefs.  Some may say "look at the number of deaths in relation to how many bodybuilders there were."  

This might be true.  However I don't know of any other sport outside of say, professional wrestling, where guys are dropping of heart attacks in their 30's and 40's like this.  Not only that, but the number of deaths related to these same issues are probably unknown.  We tend to only hear about it when it was a well known bodybuilder.  I have no idea how many amateur competitors have died because of similar reasons.  

"But those guys were all over 300 pounds."  

True.  But there are lots of obese people walking (riding in carts?) around in their 50's and even 60's.  Heart conditions?  Maybe....probably.  But I don't see people who are JUST obese dropping all over in their 30's and 40's either.  

PED use is common in just about every sport.  In fact, in cycling PED abuse might be just as bad as bodybuilding.  But those guys are 150 pounds.  They aren't trying to push the limits in regards to muscle mass that bodybuilders, powerlifters, and strongmen are.  

Recreational drugs?  Sure.  Some of these guys obviously did that too.  However lots of pro bodybuilders don't do the party lifestyle thing that suffer the same consequences and heart complications.  

One of my favorite principles to apply to a situation is Ocaam's razor.  That is, the simplest answer is most often the correct one.  And the simplest answer here is, guys abusing PED's and pushing their body to extreme limits has consequences like you know, heart failure.  

I'm not sure why this gets debated so heavily.  It's not a stretch.  I'm not breaking my arm reaching here.  Abuse of any kind will have negatives that come with it.  Alcohol, drugs, sex, adrenaline, etc.  Pushing the boundaries on anything can and usually does have severe repercussions.  Why people want to lie to themselves is beyond me.  If you abuse steroids, growth hormone, insulin, so forth and so on, then you're probably going to pay for that at some point.  With your health, and possibly your life.  

I'm not writing this in a judgmental way at all.  I want to be clear on that.  If you want to abuse anabolics and do so because your goal is to be the best bodybuilder in the world, then by all means, it is your life you are playing with.  Not anyone else's.  Do what you want.  You're the one that will be held responsible for it.  

But being willfully ignorant about it baffles me.  And from a personal perspective, I don't get it.  

Being driven to be the best at something, I get.  But carving off years of my life to be the best at something, especially something as inconsequential as lifting weights or building my physique, I don't get.  From a personal perspective, I don't have that mentality about those hobbies.  And if that means I'm sub-par because I won't delve into abuse, then so be it.  Because being better at powerlifting isn't worth it.  I want to grow old, and see my daughters get married to good men.  I want to spoil my grandchildren and sit my wrinkled ass on my front porch and be as crotchety as I please because I'm old, and cantankerous, and that god damn loud music I used to love so much drives me crazy now.  God damn rebellious teenagers!  

I have no desire to be strapped to a dialysis machine when I'm 45.  I have no desire to see if I can get a heart transplant in order to keep living when I'm only 49 years old like Mike did.  

I understand the desire to win.  I just don't understand the desire to win "at all costs".  Because "at all costs" could mean your life.  As I've written before, it's hard to kick ass from your grave.  I personally think that kicking ass means surviving for as long as possible.  Not burning the candle from both ends and succumbing to an early grave so I could have some extra trophies in my office.  In searching my soul I find nothing fulfilling in that.  If someone else does, then that is their life.  And they can do with it as they please.  I just desire a different path, want a different journey, and desire a different destination.  

My guess is, if Mike could do it all over again, he would have made different choices.  In fact, I think he says as much.....

"I would also encourage anyone out there reading this to really think hard when it comes to putting artificial things in your body to have bigger muscles. Remember that we are all mortal and we all only have a short time on this earth – so think twice before you do anything to make that time shorter. Life is precious and nothing is more important than the time you spend with your loved ones."

I couldn't agree more.





Monday, August 18, 2014

LRB weekend recaps

From Gillian - 

This past weekend (8/16/14), I made last minute decision to enter Crystal Coast Strength and Conditioning's quarterly SPF Powerlifting meet to benefit Hope For The Warriors . Four times a year we host an SPF sanctioned powerlifting meet and donate the proceeds. It is always a tremendously fun and inspirational event for the community. Our meets always feature a wounded division in addition to our normal military division and all other standard divisions.



At weigh in's I met a wounded young Marine, Dekota Frear, who sustained a combat related gunshot wound to the leg in Afghanistan last year. This was going to be his first meet coached by his friend and fellow lifter Joshua Farrell. Something about these young men struck a chord with me and I decided that I could do more to get the word out there. My goal by choosing to enter was to raise additional funds and awareness for Hope for the Warriors by asking friends and spectators to sponsor me a penny per pound lifted in my total. The mission of Hope for the Warriors® is to enhance the quality of life for post-9/11 service members, their families, and families of the fallen who have sustained physical and psychological wounds in the line of duty. Hope For The Warriors® is dedicated to restoring a sense of self, restoring the family unit, and restoring hope for our service members and our military families. I have been committed to Hope For The Warriors® since my husband introduced me to the founder of the organization in early 2009. Hope For The Warriors® was founded by military wives in 2006 as they witnessed, firsthand, the effects of the war on service members and their families. Hope For The Warriors® remains grounded in family values as the organization expands both the span of programs offered and the number of wounded, family members, and families of the fallen assisted.


"The leadership of the organization remains in the dedicated hands of military family members. Together, our board of directors, staff, and volunteers work tirelessly to serve those who have sacrificed so much. The integrity of our organization is paramount and therefore our representatives are as honorable and noble as our mission and the people we serve." - H4W




I competed in the women's raw 132lb push/pull division. This was my first meet ever competing as a 132lb class as I normally compete in the 148lb class. For those of you following along I am currently lass than two weeks out from the IFBB North Americans where I will be competing in the women's physique division. I am currently in a state of severe pre-contest caloric deprivation and not training like a powerlifter getting ready for max effort lifts. I decided that it didn't matter. What mattered was the reason for doing it. My actual performance, while still important to me, was not the priority. I chose to not compete full power because I had squatted and had a difficult lower body training session the previous afternoon. I decided that the risk of injury was not worth it. My actual weight the morning of the meet was 129lbs. My normal powerlifting bodyweight is around 150lbs.




My meet goal was to set a new SPF World Record in the 132lb class, bench press a minimum of 2x my body weight and deadlift at least 3x my bodyweight. I accomplished the goal of breaking the SPF World Records for the bench, deadlift and push-pull total but fell slightly short on my numbers. I only took two bench attempts with 250lbs being my second attempt. I passed on the third as the risk of injury seemed high as I was unprepared for the type of stimulus in my weakened state.


Bench Video


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKCSjJvGW5c


On the deadlift I opened with an easy 365 lbs which under normal circumstances would be my next to last warm-up. I made the decision to take 405lbs next which is ordinarily my last warm-up set. I missed this attempt as I just didn't have it. This was very humbling. In my crazy mind I assumed that despite a 20lb loss of bodweight, 12-15 hours of aerobic work in addition to my lifting per week and the home stretch of a pre-contest diet that I could still lift what I would well fed and rested at 150lbs. Lesson learned - the same rules that apply to everyone else apply to me too. I had a bad feeling when I went to put my belt on and I had shrunk 3 belt holes since that last time wearing it. Had I been able to step outside of my ego, I should have called for 390lbs on the second attempt. This would have been a 3x bodyweight pull and met the goal. I got greedy. I'm human.

Deadlift Video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_LkXzMzATk




All in all the meet was a tremendous success. We had lots of PRs and records set and some people accomplished things they never thought possible. If you would like to make a donation to Hope for the Warriors® you can click here http://www.hopeforthewarriors.org/category/240163/donate-now

From Paul - 

This past weekend I was privileged enough to be asked to have my own booth at the Quad City Strength strength expo in Davenport, Iowa.  A first year event that would feature some notable names such as Capt. Kirk Karwoski, Worlds Strongest Man Brian Shaw, IFBB pro Fred Smalls, and Odd Haugen.



I've known Kirk through the net and over the phone for a while now, but unfortunately we've never had the pleasure to meet.  One of the biggest reasons I agreed to drive up was to hang with Kirk.  When I made the transition into powerlifting Kirk was the guy I really looked up to the most.  His intensity and his drive was very inspiring to me.  Not to mention he was jacked and yoked to hell.  All things I could identify with.

So when I found out Kirk would be there, I knew I would be in for making this trip.  

Lucky for me, Brian Shaw, 2X world's strongest man was there as well.  And let me tell you, he's literally the largest human being I've ever met.  I've been around Derek Kendall on several occasions and I can tell you this...Brian makes Derek look like a small child.  And that's no disrespect to Derek at all.  Brian's arms are as big as Derek's legs.  And Derek has legs like people.  

I also had the pleasure of hanging with Fred Smalls, who was incredibly nice and we spent much of the afternoon and evening chatting about a myriad of subjects.  Fred is in prep for the Mr. Olympia so he had packed all of his food with him.  And was so strict that he came to dinner with us and brought his food with him.  I've said for a long time that bodybuilders have a dedication powerlifters know nothing about.

Hanging with Kirk was a laugh a minute.  I can't repeat all the shit he said and stories he told but let me tell you, if you ever get to know the man personally he'll keep you in stitches.



The expo itself consisted of a powerlifting meet, a strongman contest, some crossfit stuff, and mas wrestling.

Mas wrestling is actually really cool to watch.  Rather than try to explain it, I will just attach a video so you get the idea.


Had a great time meeting everyone and hanging out with guys I have a ton of respect and admiration from.  I hope this thing continues to grow and that next year it can be even bigger.