Sunday, February 9, 2014

Underrated and overrated concepts in strength training - Part 1 - The overrated

I fully expect this post to be met with critical outrage and disdain.  Most of the stuff that I write usually is, so I expect this to be no different.  So be it.

I am very aware that it's possible that some of the things I think are overrated or underrated in regards to strength training may fly in the face of many people and their opinions.  As you can imagine, zero shits will be taken or given.

With that said, I'm going to outline some practices I see in strength training that I think are overrated or underrated and give my reasons why I believe so.

When I say "overrated" this DOES NOT mean they have zero merit.  It's my opinion that these things are not critical factors in bettering yourself as a strength athlete.


Mobility work -

"Mobility" has been a big buzz word in the strength community for quite some time now.  Anytime I read or hear about some guy needing to fix something in training without fail I will eventually read that he can't do something because of his lack of mobility.

Perhaps.  And perhaps not.

For example, I read where lots of guys complain that they can't do press behind the neck because it hurts their vagina....errr, I mean shoulders.  Is this because the press behind the neck is bad for your shoulders?  Probably not.  It's probably due to the fact that you've not maintained a decent level of flexibility in order to perform this movement without pain.  In other words, it's not the movement that is the issue, it was your avoidance of doing these kinds of movements that eventually made it so that you couldn't perform them without pain or aggravation.

"But Paul, you're contradicting yourself now!"

Hang the fuck on.  Give me a minute.

So what happens next is, instead of just starting light and doing the movement, guys and gals spend an inordinate amount of time working on "mobility" so they can do a movement.

When the better question to ask is, why aren't you just doing the movement?

"Because I have pain when I do!  You're not listening!"

I heard you the first time.  So I will ask again in a different way...

"Why aren't you just doing the movement?"

It reminds me of when I used to write that weak point training was bullshit, and people would get mad and shout from the rooftops that weak point training did indeed have merit, and that "just getting stronger" was NOT the proper answer.  Well, when I look at the best guys in the world I generally see them just "trying to get stronger" and not fucking around all day trying to figure out weak points.  I've gotten significantly stronger in the last 18-24 months without ever worrying about a single weak point.  You know, using the movements.

Don't think Fred Hatfield was doing "mobility" back in the day

Likewise, if you're having trouble with pain in certain movements or ranges of motion, you should ask yourself a couple of questions before you immediately think you need to fix it via a bunch of mobility work.

1.  Do I have an injury that is causing me to be immobile?
2.  Am I just not strong enough to maintain a position?

If you have an injury that won't allow you to perform a particular movement, rehab it.  That may mean mobility work to get range of motion back for plain ol everyday life.

If you are just not strong enough to maintain a position, then you simply need to get stronger.

You see, I've worked with a lot of athletes that thought mobility was the answer.  Nevermind that some had all the flexibility in the world, and some were even what would fit into the realm of hypermobility.  I'm talking people that could bend their arms into a pretzel behind their back and stick their foot sideways into their taint.

Yet, they couldn't hold specific positions without strain or struggle.

In these cases, it wasn't a lack of mobility.  It was simple not being strong enough to stabilize in a certain positions.

I did yoga a few times, and my flexibility was fine.  It was holding some of those god damn positions that I found hard.  In other words, I wasn't strong enough in certain positions to hold them for very long.

When I was in the infancy stages of my training life, I couldn't squat deep without turning the movement into a back alley abortion.

Did I stretch my hamstrings?  No.

Did I stretch my quads and hip flexors and do all kinds of mobility work?  No.

Shit, at that time, I was in martial arts multiple times a week and could do the full splits and place my palms flat on the floor.  But you know what I couldn't do?  A good looking squat.

So you know what I did?  I put a couple of 2.5 pound plates under my heels and squatted like that, until I was "mobile" enough to squat without them.  Presto.

I used the MOVEMENT to get mobile for the movement.  I know, it's a fucking alien concept to use the actual movement you suck at to improve on it, but I swear to Jesus on a cracker it does work.

I'm not saying that mobility work has zero merit.  I just think at this point there are too many people that think mobility is some kind of big key ingredient in getting stronger, and that's just not the case.      

Partials movements -

When I was doing doggcrapp training one of the staple movements in my dawgshit arsenal was the rack pull.  Especially the "above the knee" version.  In this version, you pull the bar about as far as a guys dick that is suffering from micro-penis.  Which is, not very far (long?).

I got pretty good at these.  Even doing a triple with 765 on them.  I'd wedge my legs under the bar, and sort of do a hand and thigh lift to get that thing up (that's what she said!).  I was very impressed with myself.  That is until I went back to pulling from the floor (where I am still unimpressive to myself or anyone else).

You want to know how much carryover this had on my deadlift from the floor?

None.  Zero.  Zip.  Nothing.  Nada.

You know how many people that I know that pull big from the floor that credit partial deadlifts as their key to really improving their deadlift?

Same.  None.

Looks cool.  Isn't.  

There are quite a few reasons why partial movements don't work in terms of carrying over to the full range version.

Generally, when you do a partial deadlift or squat your body just isn't in the same position as it is at that same point when you do the full range version.

For example, there was no way I could/would wedge my legs under the bar like I was doing in the rack pull, when I did a deadlift from the floor.  I'm positive the rest of my levers were not in the same position either.  Rack pulls will generally get you a sweet rack pull.  But they won't do much for your regular pull, especially if the ROM is too damn short.

"But what about block pulls, Paul?  Didn't you use those for a while?"

Yes, I did.  With pretty good success too.  However the difference there is, I was generally in the same position I was in with my regular pull.  And second, I found block pulls to be harder in some ways than regular pulls.  They felt more "dead" to me.  Let me also add that when I did block pulls, it was off of a 4" block, which was about mid-shin (not even as high as the below the knee version).  So while it was a "partial" movement, it was very minor in distinction.

Doing a partial movement with eleventy billion pounds isn't going to translate very well to the full range version of that movement because the weak link is always going to be from the bottom.  And guess what?  You're not training that.  So you may get very good at short movements and move a ton of weight in a short ROM, but the limiting factor with the full range version is always going to be how strong/weak you are in the most disadvantaged part of the movement.

And while I've never been a big proponent of Westside methods for raw guys, I do think that Louie was right when he said (if he said this), that any movement that let's you move more than 10% of your max in the full range version isn't going to carryover.  Without using science or witchcraft to prove said statement, I think that's a good barometer to use when determining if a partial movement can carryover to the full ROM version.  So if you're deadlifting 650 but are rack pulling 900, it's not working.

"But what if the only reason he's pulling 650 is because of the 900 pound rack pulls?

Well what if your aunt had balls?  Then she'd be your uncle.

But your best bet is to stay away from partials and just do the god damn full range lift.

Foam rolling -

My conclusion about foam rolling, and why people think it's so great has eventually boiled down to this.

"God damn, that foam/PVC/Iron Maiden torture device really hurts when I use it.  It must be working!"

Maybe it's more than that, I don't know.  But I did foam rolling religiously for a long time.  I'm not sure what it fixed.  My conclusion is that it fixed, well, nothing.

Yes it hurt my IT bands when I rolled on it.  That didn't help me squat better, or pull better though.  It didn't help fix my IT band pain.  It didn't do much of anything in the way of making me a better strength athlete really.  Looking back there's nothing I can pinpoint that I can say it really did to make me "better".

I read or hear of guys now that spend like half an hour rolling around on some foam or pipe before they can even squat.  Without sounding like a dick (anytime you say that, you're about to sound like a dick by the way) all that makes me want to say to them is, "Just fucking quit.  Do paint by numbers or something".

Maybe rolling around on some pipe or piece of foam does make you feel better.  Just like it makes your Pug or Basset Hound feel better about himself when he rolls around in some other dogs pile of shit.  But does that make him a better dog?  He can't say, so we don't know.

Rolling in shit fixed his touight IT bhands

What I do know is, I don't foam roll anymore and I don't miss it.  I'm stronger now than I've ever been, and never do it.  So perhaps foam rolling isn't quite as important as it gets built up to be.  I'm not sure, but I don't think that Kaz or Coan or any real strength legends rolled around on shit to get better.  If they did, they kept it a secret.  If it was kept a secret, it's probably because they didn't want people to see them putting a semi phallic shaped item all over their body while grimacing like they were about to blow their load.

Bands -

Decades ago, guys relied on barbell rows and heavy pushdowns to build all the supportive muscles that did work in the big lifts.  Eventually, bands were created to add "accommodating resistance" to the barbell, and not long after that, guys stopped doing heavy barbell rows and cable pushdowns.  They just grabbed a band, and did some pull aparts and "band pushdowns".

Gross (and yes I've done these and I was disgusted with myself).

If anyone thinks that "resistance is resistance" when it comes to bands, then let's do some heavy ass barbell rows and then do some "band rows" and see if there is any comparison.  There's not.

I personally think that doing all of these supportive movements with bands happened simply because of convenience.   Not necessity.

It's a lot easier to grab a band and do some pullaparts than it is to load up a barbell and do bent rows.  It's easier to do some band pushdowns where you don't even have to brace your abs to do them, than to do some actual heavy tricep pushdowns.

The issue there should be staring you in the face.  Convenience is generally the enemy of progress, and improvement.  Loading up a barbell or bracing against a stack of weights is not very convenient.  Even when you're just sticking a pin in a hole (because THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID!).

Even worse, was the inclusion of "reverse band" movements by raw guys.

Say what?

So you're going to make the part of the movement that you should be working hardest on, EASIER?

"But it let's me lift more weight.  And that overloads my CNS!"

Please throw yourself down the nearest well if that was your thought.

You can get as strong as you will ever possibly be without ever doing a "banded" anything.  I literally no reason to ever do a reverse band anything.

Training "routines" -

I enjoy writing routines.  My own, other peoples (at times).  Like art in a museum or some famous landmark, I don't even mind looking at one now and then.

The issue is, most guys think there is magic in a "routine".  Like "if I do shoulders on this day, then arms on that day, and legs on the other day....shit, I'll be swole as a muh fucka."

Routines are just that.  Routines.  There is no routine out there that will bestow an inordinate level of muscle on you simply because the "split" is magical.  There's not.

I know because I used to fret over my "routines" like a mother over her sick infant when I was younger.  I believed that if I could just find that perfect, once in a lifetime routine that I could stick to for 17 years, that I too would look like Dorian Yates.

But it never happened.  I never found that magical routine that had been coated with muscle pixie dust.  The "perfect" routine that balanced sets and reps and days off and days on.  Eventually, I realized that the magic lied in the consistency of training, and repeated effort.  Things like not squatting the day after heavy deadlifts seemed to work themselves out on their own.  That is, I knew I couldn't squat with a low back that was more trashed than Keith Richards in the 1970's.  So my "routine" worked itself out for me.

I see this same issue with a lot of guys that believed as I once did.  I even have guys send me their routines and ask me "what do you think?"

day 1 - chest
day 2 - legs
day 3 - arms

What do I think?  I think you've not arrived yet.  I think you have yet to figure out that these things are of little relevance without a bigger picture in regards to training.  I think that you have to figure out, just as I did, that some experimentation will eventually give you enough experience to know what your own routine should look like to meet your goals.  I think that you probably don't know yet that following some other guys routine will not net you the muscle or strength he is currently in possession of.  That how he is training now, if he's advanced, is not how he was training 3, 5, 10 years ago.  There have been changes made as he has needed them.  And if you hang in there, you'll realize this, and learn how to make your own changes to fit your own needs.

Next week, some underrated concepts (in my opinion) for strength training.


  1. " But does that make him a better dog? "

    If the look on my dog's face is any indication, he damn well believes it does.

  2. I agree whole heartedly with your thoughts on mobility work. I have to question your thoughts on partial movements. Not so much the wrack pull as the block pulls. If I cant pull 500 off the floor wouldn't a good training method be to put that up on 6 inch blocks and pull there. progressively dropping the block height until eventually getting down to the floor with it. Wouldn't that be a good way to carry over to the full ROM using a partial movement?

  3. "(...) literally no reason to ever do a reverse band anything."
    There is one reason - use it as a warm-up for the proper sets when you feel like it's a -10% day.
    Adding reverse bands make a 315lbs as light as 220 and serve the same purpose, but feel as heavy as a 315lb. It works wonders on the weak minded and/or mentaly tired person.
    I do a quick triple, then move on to my sets of 4x5-8 225 for the day and it just springs up on it's own.
    Ofcourse, it's a placebo effect, but it's basicly adding more work, that lets me do better on the stuff I'd normally do. What's not to like?

  4. Agree completely, especially the mobility stuff. After years of watching kelly starrets 12 minute videos for 20 seconds of info (until I found underground mobility wod), I gave it up and just started doing really full range movements and dropping the weight for stuff like behind neck MP until i was ready to add weight pain free. Also made sure my routine was balanced e.g.bench and military presses balanced with rows and chins, and voila-pain free and stronger. Also almost peed myself laughing about your foam rolling comment 'probably because they didn't want people to see them putting a semi phallic shaped item all over their body while grimacing like they were about to blow their load.'

  5. Great read. Looking forward to Part II

  6. Paul, can you share what helped fix your IT band pain? I am having some issues with that on one side and it messed with what I had planned for my last meet. I still had a good time, but didn't make the numbers I had planned for myself and was disappointed.

  7. Great read, laughed in real life on the bit on foam roalling.

  8. Good Article. Not trying to bash products or anything of that sort, but would the slingshot used for bench be akin to reverse bands? I was arguing with a buddy of mine that I did not see the merit of a slingshot over getting stronger using simple paused work. For the raw lifter at least.

  9. Only thing foam rolling does something for me is when my back is tight. It just makes me feel better. Can't really say it ever helped my lifting.

  10. I liked this article. However, I am just amazed at the amount of flak you get over on outlaws. Apparently, you have to be the absolute strongest person on earth to have an opinion that matters.

    Hope that crap doesn't get you down, there are tons that enjoy what you write!

    1. Dan Green could write this article and people there would still bitch. I've learned having world record lifts don't even mean you're opinion is free of criticism. Dan wrote that "anti" Westside article and people were pissed off at him, saying he was wrong, etc.

      I also find it strange that I've seen some of those guys training and they say they are stronger than me. Strange indeed.

  11. Mobility/foam rolling probably aren't overrated -- just overcomplicated.

    Mobility: Find a position you have trouble getting into, or some kind of ROM that you have difficulty going fully through. Now, find a way using some kind of support to get into that position and move around in it. Add bands to create resistance when you're a little more proficient.

    "Foam" rolling: I think Jamie said it best in a post a long time ago, "Just grab a PVC pipe and roll those knots fucking out". ANYTHING that can roll will work.

    Mobility work can also be a great tool to learn how to feel your muscles work and how to move your body correctly (no body English). It just becomes stupid when it's overcomplicated and people spend 30 minutes masturbating while laying on a foam mat.

    1. So what you're saying is, when people spend 30 minutes doing it to get ready for lifting it's overrated in THAT way. Thanks.

    2. Overrated?? I guess it depends on the mind of the trainee. If it takes them 30 minutes maybe it's because they are overrating the usefulness, maybe they are just lost on what to do, maybe they are just being lazy.

      What I'm saying is that practice besides the lifts (mobility) can still be beneficial to somebody's lifts and general ability. That kind of work shouldn't be completely disregarded and can be used while still doing all your lifts normally.

      Missed the "it doesn't have zero merit" line! I guess you weren't really attacking mobility work itself so much as people's approach to it -- which is usually the problem, as it is with many other things that can be useful in moderation.

  12. This article is awesome in so many ways and it makes me think of mistakes I have made

    Couldnt squat and thought I needed mobility work ->really needed to use submax weights and get some good volume in WITH MY SQUAT

    Did rack pulls and board presses...notta ->did deficit pulls, pulls from the floor and heavy dumbell presses or inclines and what do you know, I got stronger and bigger

    Bands-> now use these to asphyxiate myself for doing board presses

    Routines do matter but people put all their belief in routines->INSTEAD beleive in yourself, train consistently

  13. Hey Paul, I know you don't do decline benches but what do you think of them as a movement, specifically for chest development? I know some guys including Dorian Yates favored them over flat benches for chest.

  14. Although I like to do stretches and such from time to time, I've also found the greatest improvements in mobility and movement to come from working on the movements themselves. Especially when the right weight is involved. To get the clean grip working, I wedged myself into a lot of front squats. Getting used to behind the neck pressing meant a lot of behind the neck pressing until my shoulder joints felt comfortable. Etc. Right now I'm having similar trouble on the receiving of the snatch, where the muscles around the shoulder blades feel a little tight and weak. All the shoulder stretches and assistance movements I've done before starting this haven't prepared me for it. Doing more snatches, and emphasizing some time in that weaker range, is what seems to be helping.

    Though, never having done competitive sports as a teenager, I never had any big injuries that would have kept me from ever achieving these positions with enough practice. Take that as you will.

  15. Good read. I would extent it to include pretty much everything that isn't "picking up heavy things." The internet spoils us. Every time a notable power lifter or body builder or fighter or whatever releases the tiniest morsel of information about their training, it catches on like wild fire and all of a sudden you have a dozen variations of the Mike Tyson routine. All Tyson did was work. That's it. Same with all the greats. The tiny little tweaks here and there are just fluff; things to keep it interesting; experiments; curiosity. None of those minute details define the end result. It's all about the work.

  16. I noticed the same thing about partial deadlifts, but it improved my posture and it's adding mass to my back so why not? Plus it's fun =P