Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Look to those who struggle to find strength

If there is one thing I detest greatly on the internet in regards to talking about or sharing training ideas, it's the insinuation that because someone is stronger than you, that they know more than you.

For example....

"Well obviously it works for him because he can lift X amount and you can't." 

"Let's see you do it then."

These are the common calling cards of the unintelligent, and non-critical thinkers of the internet lifting work.

Being strong doesn't mean you have the ability to teach other people how to get strong, or even understand the most optimal way to do so.

It doesn't mean you know how to teach technique.  It doesn't mean you necessarily know a whole lot about training.  Like, how to program, or do much of anything besides move a heavily loaded barbell.  Essentially all the latter means is that you have great parents for moving heavy shit.  Which is awesome, however, that's ALL it means.

I mean, I've always been confused as to why people used Bob People's deadlifting routines or philosophies to study how to build a big deadlift.

"Well Bob pulled 725 at 180.  He obviously knows something."

He might.  Or he might have monkey arms that means he's perfectly leveraged for pulling........

It's very likely that Bob isn't going to have a lot of insight to offer someone who has t-rex arms, and has to pull in a totally different fashion to get better at deadlifting.  Bob had an all time best in the bench of 300 pounds.  Whoop-tee fucking shit.  I know high school kids that could out bench him at a similar weight.  So Bob didn't pull in such a spectacular fashion because he discovered some secret deadlift training.  He pulled so well because he was flat out built for it.  So studying Bob Peoples deadlift training is an exercise in futility if you aren't built like him.

Vince Anello was once asked what made his deadlift go up the most.  His reply?  "Everything."

Notice any similarities between he and the pic above?

At least Vince could bench....

I've been around plenty of very strong guys that really don't know shit about how to train, or how to program.  They were strong in spite of what they did.  They would have gotten stronger doing almost anything.  Their efforts and training methodologies were not something to be modeled after, or copied by people who unfortunately, didn't get to play in the deep end of the "strength of body" gene pool.  In fact, many of them couldn't spell "methodologies", much less understand the need for it.

This still doesn't stop nut swingers from proclaiming that if their hero does something a certain way, that it is responsible for making them strong, and that no one can criticize it.  I wrote before, no one should be above criticism and no idol is infallible.  

"Well these three guys are world champions/record holders...so they know what they are talking about."

There are plenty of athletes in every sport that excel at the highest of levels, and yet could never ever teach anyone else how to get better.  This is a fact.  Yet I always see someones accomplishments propped up as a reason that their ideas or teachings or way of training surely has merit.  And sometimes yes, it does.  And sometimes, no it doesn't.

Barry Sanders was one of the greatest, if not THE greatest running back of all time.  Yet Barry couldn't teach one single person in the entire world how to run, juke, and have vision like he did.  Despite the fact that he was a marvel, he couldn't teach what he could do.  It'd be a virtual impossibility.  This doesn't mean Barry had nothing to offer.  However there are without question, much better people (called professional coaches) to learn from, than Barry Sanders, in regards to learning how to play the running back position.

Someone has to be able to show that there is transferable application of their knowledge in order for their lifting ability to have merit in the "coaching" department.  In other words, just because a guy squats 800 pounds doesn't mean he knows how to teach people how to squat properly, or tell you what is wrong with your squat.  Nor does it mean the methods he used to get to an 800 pound squat will apply to you, if he was in fact built with great squatting leverages, and you are not.

Powerlifting, bodybuilding, and strength sports in general are going to offer very unique paths for anyone who ends up desiring to get involved in any of them.

Everyone will ultimately have their own unique journey and have to learn in their own way what does, and what does not apply to them getting better.

Now on the flip side, and this is not to be overlooked, you can't use weak people to make a point either.  I don't even know where you would start with that.

So what to look at?

I think a better place to start, is to look at people who took a long time to work up to an appreciable level in a lift they struggled with.

For example, when I spoke with Kirk Karwoski, I asked him way more about his deadlift training than his squatting.  Kirk was made to squat.  What's he gonna tell me?  But he was NOT built to pull big.  Yet he pulled 777 in competition, and over 800 for reps in the gym.  Kirk had tiny rat claws for hands.  So his grip was a big issue.  To rectify this, he did "Kirk Shrugs" where he did shrugs without straps, and pulled the bar up to about the belly button area.  So there was a bend in the arms.

"Put my traps on me" he told me.  "and helped my grip a ton."

Kirk also worked his technique so that he got his massive legs and hips more involved in the pull.  So when you watch Kirk pull, you will see him go almost into a full squat, then pull from there as his hips rise.

Vince Anello, the other great deadlifter mentioned above, was actually no slouch in the bench department, as he did a gym bench of 500 raw.

What did Vince do for his bench?

Benched twice a week, did a lot of bodybuilding style work afterwards.

A guy that pulled big and benched big naturally was Brad Gillingham.  However Brad's squat was always the lift was just a little bit behind those two.  So Brad kept working and experimenting until he found a method that worked to build his squat.

He talked about the entire evolution of both his squat and pull at Dragondoor.  It's a great read, and the article is here.   Well well, that looks like sub max style training....you don't say?

I've thought since my early years, when I was into bodybuilding, that the articles on how "Vince Taylor built his arms" were completely worthless because Vince said his arms grew naturally, no matter what he did.

Well what good is that to a guy that is struggling to build arm size?

Lifting is no different.  If you're at the shit end of the stick in terms of leverages for a lift, trying to pattern your training or approach after a guy that is on the royal end is most likely going to be an exercise in futility.

One of the things I believe I've noticed as well about guys that are more suited for a lift, is that they can perform it more often, and recover faster.  My theory is that it's generally because the energy expenditure for them on said lift is less than that of someone who is not suited for it.  Their ROM is reduced, and their body performs the lift with less overall stress.  I've known guys built for pulling that have literally gone in and pulled heavy twice in a day, with no ill effects.  Everyone knows that t-rex armed bench specialist that trains the bench three times a week, and has no problems.  But for guys that aren't built like them, this can often lead to getting fucked up if they try to model their training after them.

If you're struggling with a lift, and understand that you aren't built for it very well, don't look at guys who ARE built for it.  Find guys who got strong on those lifts that struggled to do so.  They will have a hell of a lot more to offer than a guy that can just thank mom and pop for his squat/bench/pull.


  1. This is great advice, and hard to remember to follow. Any thoughts on a followup article going into more depth on some lifters who struggled in each of the big lifts?

    1. Yeah I'd like to. It's just hard to track down that info because everyone wants to know how they trained their best lifts. Which never made sense to me. Tell me how you trained the lift that you struggled with the most.

  2. Great post. Having almost the worst possible build for benching, I get this all the time.

    "Hey Adam, why don't you overload/do board presses/wear a slingshot/do speed work against bands/do dumbbells/build a sacrificial altar to the dark lords/etc to get your bench up?"

    "My bench went up 30 lbs this year through my own training methods"

    "But it would go up even more if you did those things. My buddy does them and he benches 500"

    "Your buddy benched 400 in high school, I benched 95"

  3. The kid standing behind Vince Anello is awesome.

  4. As a guy with very long arms/legs and a shorter torso, I can vouch for this. I've always been able to build up my deadlift relatively quickly and recovery quickly but have struggled for sometimes months to get 5# onto a press. "I have long arms" always has sounded like an excuse to me when rationalizing my pitiful press poundages, and it is; the idea that one should look for lifters with similar limitations to their own but persevered makes a ton of sense.

    1. Solidarity, my monkey armed brethren. I'm way prouder of my 315 bench than my 600 dead; took way more work.

    2. I'm the opposite - there was a time when my bench threatened to catch up to my deadlift. Pulled 5 plates for the first time last year (and set a 40-lb. lifetime PR) following the bastardized Gillingham program on this blog.

  5. I'm built much like Richard Hawthorne (as are, apparently, multiple prior commenters to this post), so I have really been looking into the way he trains and performs the squat and bench. I mean, I have an entire youtube playlist devoted to him. It's probably a little creepy.

  6. Finally! Some one who gets it! I have preached time and time again how every "body" is different. Perfect example is monkey arms---and t-rex arms.

    Myself....if It could be picked up from the ground and lifted to my shoulders. I had it in the bag. At 20 years old, 200lbs...I deadlifted 640lbs with 2 years of training under my belt. (beltless :-) ) My squat? Never went past 250lbs.

    Gave up deadlifting for a while since I did not have accessibility to that much weight in my garage gym and focused on squatting. 2 years later....still couldn't squat 315. And man did i bust my ass off. Did i break rep PRs? Yes. I chased sub-max volume trainiing on the squat worked up to 8 sets of 10 reps with 225. Pathetic when compared to a 640lb deadlift. Still could not squat 275....good. The partial squat---no fkin' problem. Full squats? Why don't you just cut off about 12 inches off my legs and maybe it'll help out!

    That's why I do what I WANT to do! The way i do it. Because...it's my fkin; body. Period. Everybody else can kiss my ass, I will continue to get stronger and stronger.....my way. When people are asking me why I am snatching a 150lb barbell over my head and locking it out with 1-arm for a 5 minute hold...I'll say because I can.

    that's when people will be like "well, if you do snatch and overhead holds, you'll develop cannon-ball shoulders like Dustin Maynard! Who needs presses, right?!" The Uncanny son of a gun can deadlift 800lbs too and all he does is SINGLES!"

    "NO WAYYYYYYYY!! I might have to do it. He must've unlocked the secret"

  7. One thing that long limbed individuals might want to try for increased pressing/squatting/deadlifting strength is to strengthen the triceps maximally whilst gaining a little bit of mass (bench/military press) and widening the stance/strengthening lower/middle back for squats,whilst also gaining weight.Look at Janne Virtanen's training plan,if anyones got gangly limbs and has an excuse to quit,its him,yet he's won WSM and been a Powerlifting champ in Europe.

  8. I'm a high bar squatter wanting to transition to low bar.

    I don't find myself flexible enough to get in position? Do you recommend shoulder dislocations with a long PVC pipe for increasing flexibility?

  9. Great post. Actually I wasn't a huge fan of that article Mr.Efferding wrote -- and the idea behind your blog today is kind of the reason why. Showing up, putting in consistent effort, sleeping and eating...dialing in that 99% is damn important, but for those who find it a struggle to be great cracking at that 1% is also important.

    For many elite lifters it wasn't easy to get there, but they all "found a way". For anyone who wants to get strong and big, having the "I will find a way" mentality is important. I think it's interesting to hear other lifters talk about what they had to do to get the numbers they wanted and what they think contributed to it. Not just the routine itself, but the mental process which brought them there as well.

  10. Great article. Just to further support your point, Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player of all time, was a mediocre coach at best.

  11. "Bob had an all time best in the bench of 300 pounds. Whoop-tee fucking shit. I know high school kids that could out bench him at a similar weight."

    Could be wrong but wouldn't Bob have lifted that weight before the advent of the modern bench apparatus?

    1. He pulled his best dead in 1949. The "prone press" wasn't as developed then no, however Bob was never going to be a great bencher. He wasn't strong. STrength is transferable across a much broader spectrum than a single lift.

    2. Bob peoples wasn't strong? So pulling over 700lb, squating over 500, and benching 300 whilst weighing 180/5lbs holding a full time job as a farmer without the aid of steroids or supplements isn't strong??

    3. Plus, Bob wasn't so talentless as to need steroids (or 'trt', hahaha!). So you can count all his lifts as legit ;-)

    4. When did a 500 squat and 300 bench make one strong?

      Kirk Karwoski and tons of other guys had hard manual labor jobs, and they were strong. Bob was built for pulling. A 300 bench isn't strong for anyone, regardless of what they weigh. He wasn't strong. He was a great puller because of his leverages. Period.

    5. Are there any long armed lifters out there without a natural barrel chest that managed to get strong?

  12. "He wasn't strong."

    I'm a big fan of your site and I purchased 2 of your ebooks but this is extreme. Dude squatted over 500 and benched 300 with "monkey arms" and rudimentary equipment AND deadlifted to a max 4-5 times a week as a manual laborer if I remember right. I know you're a guy who demands a lot of yourself and others, has accomplished a lot, is very strong, and is constantly surrounded by powerlifting mutants but C'MON MAN.

    1. A 300 bench isn't strong regardless of what you weigh or how long your arms are.

      There are lots of guys that can squat 5 bills and bench 3 that aren't strong that are of similar weight as Bob. He was built for pulling but top to bottom he was not strong.

  13. So same thing with Lamar Gant then? What was his Bench PR 350? What a weakling!! I just don't understand the need to diminish others' accomplishments. I guess you've just redefined strong to mean "capable of elite performance in all three powerlifts relative to current lifters regardless of bodyweight, bodytype available equipment or any other context." Seems arbitrary and totally unnecessary in the context of your post/point. That's fine though it's your blog and I enjoy reading it. Not a huge point. Carry on SIr.

    1. Lamar Gant was 123 pounds. Not 185ish like Peoples was. Please.

      Lamar Gant benched 352 and had a 600+ squat. He was no 1 hit wonder like Peoples. Peoples was a great deadlifter. And that's it. He was average in the squat, at best, and a shit presser. Gant was the fucking man. Peoples couldn't hold his sandwich.

      Bob Peoples was a puller ONLY. He was not strong. Strength transcends more than one area. I get that some people get a severe hard on for the old timers however the same standard applies.

      If a guy is pulling 800 and can only bench 350, he's not strong. Strength is being well rounded.

    2. Hmmm I need to look up Gant's Bench routines....

    3. Lamar Gant's 350 bench was a triple bodyweight bench. Let's try to keep things in some sort of perspective.

      As an aside, the PLing claims of the oldtimers need to be taken with a pinch of salt, especially in the squat. PLing wasn't a sport with established rules until the late '60s. Bob Peoples and guys like Paul Anderson did their non-competition lifts as entertainment for the crowd. So apart from his awesome deadlift, which was weighed by an official, Peoples' other lifts were not necessarily confirmed, and they certainly were not a "1500+ total" as they were allegedly done at different times.

    4. "put things in perspective"

      Paul said "A 300 bench isn't strong regardless of what you weigh . . . " So I just wondered if he thought the same way about Lamar Gant. THen you referred to Mr. Gant's weight to illustrate that he is strong. Hmmm . . .

      Thank you for your responses Paul I really don't mean to nitpick and thanks again for all the info you put out for free.

      Out of curiosity, would you consider Eric Spoto "not strong" as well since, I think I recently read in an interview, he only benches and doesn't squat or deadlift?

    5. So you think that someone can be labeled as "strong" because of one lift. I just want to get this right before I answer. Someone can be STRONG because they are great at one thing. Right?

    6. Well, it occurs to me while thinking about your responses that maybe "strong" is just relative. To me those men are strong (probably because they are definitely much STRONGER than I am) but to you they're not and that is fine and makes a lot of sense. To me you're strong and maybe to others you're not. Maybe Koklyaev considers you "not strong" because you cannot squat 800, deadlift 800 and bench 500. I'm completely making that up but would hypothetical Koklyaev be wrong?

      But getting to your question, yes I do. Why wouldn't someone be strong based on one thing? Also, your focus on 3 lifts seems arbitrary. Why just 3 why not 5? Maybe your position should be someone isn't "strong" unless they're capable of elite lifts in 5 different lifts; Squat, dead, bench, CJ, SN. In fact, what if someone is the world record holder in the Clean and Jerk but has never benched in his life? Is he "not strong"? Or does that not count because the CJ is itself made up of several lifts?

      It's semantics but it seems to me you've redefined the term "strong" to mean capable of elite performance in more than one thing/lift or capable of elite performance in all three powerlifts. I'm not sure that's necessary but again it's not a huge point at all and I don't mean to nitpick. Thank you for responding to my questions in this post thus far.

    7. Because to me, being "strong" means you are strong across a spectrum. Not through one discipline. If you're built to pull, like Peoples was, or bench, like Spotto is, and you can do that REALLY well, but nothing else, that isn't strong to me.

      In a vacuum, they are "strong" at that one thing. However my definition of strong simply means your strength is well rounded. Not singular based on extreme leverages.

      And yes, strong is being capable of ELITE performances in more than one thing. That's why powerlifting has three lifts, and strongman has many. It's also why powerlifting has a "total" and why some guys, despite their internet fame, don't have a very good total despite pulling well over 725 pounds. That's because they aren't STRONG. They are just great pullers. And being a great puller alone doesn't not qualify one as being strong.

    8. Thank you for your response. I understand your perspective and where you're coming from.

  14. Well I wouldn't mind a 1500lb raw total at 185ish bodyweight. Not everyone cares about the 3 powerlifts anyway. I couldnt care less what Bob squated or pressed. Any man that can pull 700+lbs with nothing but a cheap leather lifting belt is strong as far as I'm concerned. And by your standards of what strong is Paul,I'm guessing the majority of people that read your blog would be classed as weak.

    1. You shouldn't care what he pulled. That was the point. What he pulled offers nothing to learn from because he was a natural puller. Whatever he did made his deadlift better.

      It's like this is lost on some many because they want to argue that Peoples was strong. Strong is NOT ONE THING. It's many things. Which is why powrlifting has three lifts and strongman has many events.