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."


"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


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


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.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Developing pull-ups for novice trainers

By Gillian Ward

Days per week – 2

What you will need:
·       A pull-up bar
·       A step stool (if necessary)
·       Various resistance bands
o   Rogue Fitness Resistance Bands

This program will yield the best results when executed in tandem with a barbell based strength training program. While pull-ups are a demonstration of upper body strength, they are not a complete strength training program.  Barbell training will lay the necessary foundation for upper body strengthening.

Pull-ups are a skill and are therefore developed and improved upon by practice.   We get better at pull-ups by doing pull-ups.  Pull-ups will never be fully developed by the use of heavy lat pull-downs.

This program is designed to be a 2x per week program and should be given priority in a workout if the primary goal of the trainee is to achieve pull-ups.  When the goal has been achieved, the pull-ups should move to the end of the workout after strength training.  The pull-ups should be done on the same day as the strength training to allow for maximum recovery.

We recommend practicing both supinated and pronated grips.  A supinated grip will be easier for most untrained novices.  Additionally, the placement of thumbs around the bar is safer and engages more muscle.

Trainees should stand high enough to grab the bar rather than jump for it to ensure proper hand placement as well as reduce the risk of unnecessary skin tears.

Grip placement:

·       Grip placement in the case of pull-ups (pronated grip) should slightly wider than shoulder width.  This will maximize the range of motion and muscle mass used.  If you stand naturally and place your arms overhead, that is the width of the grip that you should take.

·       A chin-up (supinated grip) should be slightly narrower.  A wider hand position will feel uncomfortable on the wrists and forearms.

Day 1 - Volume Day + Assistance Work

A trainee new to pull-ups needs to become accustomed to time under tension (ie: the amount of time spent hanging on the bar required to do a set of pull-ups).   The hands must adapt to the stress.  This will also improve grip strength and endurance.

Week 1 – 3 x 6

·       The trainee should perform 3 sets of 6 pull-ups with bands calibrated to enough tension that all of the reps should be completed to full range of motion.  Band “help” should be adjusted by using several mini-bands if necessary so that adding or removing bands will enable the trainee to make small calibrations.  The completion of the reps should be challenging but not impossible.
·       Rest 3 minutes between sets.
Week 2 – 3 x 8
·       Progress to 3 sets of 8 reps with the same band tension as the previous week.
Week 3 – 3 x 10
·       Progress to 3 sets of 8 reps with the same band tension as the previous week.
Week 4 – Max Effort
·       Trainee should complete 2 sets of max repetition with the band tension used in the first three weeks.
·       Rest 3 minutes between sets.
Week 5 – 3 x 6
·       Reduce band tension and complete 3 sets of 6
Week 6 – 3 x 8
·       Complete 3 sets of 8 with the same band tension as the previous week
Week 7 – 3 x 6
·       Reduce band tension and complete 3 sets of 6
Week 8 – Max Effort
·       Do two sets of max repetitions with the band tension from the previous week.
·       Rest 3 minutes between sets.

Pull-ups in this phase will precede barbell work in training order.  After the barbell work is completed for the day the trainee should complete the following assistance exercises:

  3 sets of 10-15 push-ups
  3 sets of 10 barbell or dumbbell rows
  2-3 sets of 10 biceps curls

The direct upper body resistance work with a hypertrophy rep scheme will help build the necessary muscle as well as reduce the incidence of tendonitis.  Additionally, bodyweight exercises complement each other.  Learning to engage the musculature of the trunk will prevail through all bodyweight exercises and there will be transference from one to the other.

Day 2 – Intensity Day

This day is best accomplished with the use of a partner.  The limitation is that the help from a partner is impossible to quantify.

A partner should help the trainee accomplish a full pull-up by spotting the concentric phase (there are several techniques, see below).  The trainee will complete the negative/eccentric phase without the partner’s help.  It is important that rep speed mimic that of a normal repetition.  The trainee should not drop from the bar nor perform a super slow repetition.  Both of these lead to potential injury and are not as effective as maintaining normal cadence.

The trainee should strive to accomplish 2 to 4 reps at a time depending on the ability to hold on to the bar and the skill of the spotter.  The spotter is there to give the minimum help necessary to complete the full range of motion.

Increase the total number of reps completed each week.  The quantity in each set is not as relevant as that has already been addressed in the training completed on Day 1.

Four to five weeks into training, the trainee will be able to do part of the concentric phase on their own.  The spotter will be most active on the initial “elbow” break portion of the pull as well as the last few inches of clearing the bar.  The spotter should allow the trainee to complete the middle of the range as unassisted as possible.

If there is no partner, the trainee can self-assist with the use of a jump to help propel the chin over the bar, followed by a regular speed negative.  As the trainee gets stronger the jump should become less significant.

Week 1 – 8 total repetitions assisted
Week 2 – 10 total repetitions assisted
Week 3 – 12 total repetitions assisted
Week 4 – 14 total repetitions assisted
Week 5 – 16 total repetition assisted
Week 6 – 18 total repetitions assisted
Week 7 – 20 total repetitions assisted
Week 8 – 3 sets of max reps unassisted (this might be 3 singles)

Spotting techniques:

The most efficient spotting technique is to have the trainee hang with knees bent, cross-legged and have the spotter cradle and assist from the ankles. The spotter may want to allow the trainee to prop the feet on his/her knee and have the trainee push off as needed. It is imperative that the spotter keeps his eyes on the grip of the trainee. If the trainee appears to be losing grip the spotter must release the legs for a safe dismount.

Also efficient but far more personal are hands placed on the mid back with thumbs vertically aligned to the sides of the spine and fingers fanned out outward and upward. Pressure should be exerted through the palms vice squeezing with the fingertips. This requires the spotter to work more than the prior method but allows for more minor calibrations.

If no spotter is available, trainee can spot themselves by placing a box or chair high enough that they can prop their feet on it and push off as needed.  This can also be done in a power rack or smith machine by setting the bar low enough that the trainee can bend their knees and push off from the floor.

Exercises that can be done at the beginning of each session:

  Straight Arm Bar Hangs. Hang from the bar for :15 to :20 to develop grip strength. Do this 2x (once with each grip)
  “Elbow Breaks” – practice initiating a pull-up by hanging from the bar and engaging the lats and biceps causing the elbows to bend 10 to 15 degrees. Complete 5 total repetitions. *Some trainees will not be able to do this for a few weeks. This drill brings awareness to the work of the abdominals in a pull-up.
  “Monkey Bars” – hang from the bar and move hands side to side, “walking” across the bar.
  Switch Grips – hang from the bar and alternate switching each hand between pronated and supinated.  When this becomes easier, incorporate this switch grip into the monkey bar walks.

“Pass and Attempt” – During the acquirement phase of pull-ups I recommend that trainees mount a bar each time they pass it for the day and attempt one single pull-up even if nothing happens. Soon it will. Anything goes on these attempts – jumping, kicking, swinging, chicken neck pecking are all okay. These are easy to clean up after.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

10 reasons your squat might be stuck

  • You aren't squatting enough - Whether that be through sets or frequency, the squat LIKES both.  A lot of guys who struggle with the squat don't squat with enough volume or enough frequency.  For guys that really suck at squatting, getting in two squat sessions a week can be a cure for this.  When you do go in for those sessions, keep the intensity (percentage of 1 rep max), in a range where a good deal of volume can be done without destroying yourself.  5-10 sets of 5-8 reps at 60-70% of your EDM is a great place to start.  If you're on the stronger end of things start at 60%.  If you're more of a novice or intermediate lifter, then 70% tends to work.  
  • Your quads are weak - For years multi-lifting told guys that quads weren't needed in squatting.  Well, that's true if if you're in a suit in knee wraps and the strength curve has been changed by equipment.  If you're not using those things, then you need quads.  And you need them badly.  To build up your quads your routine should include lots of high bar squats, front squats, hack squats, and leg presses.  Yes, leg presses.  High rep leg pressing and hack squatting are great movements for bringing the quads up to par if they are weak.  If your front squats and hack squats are weak then you're probably quad deficient.  
  • You're not stabilizing correctly - If you're wearing a belt, then you need to learn that the belt isn't there to protect your back.  It's there to help create intra abdominal pressure.  And to do this properly you need to learn to push out against the belt.  If the belt is too tight, you won't be able to this as effectively.  If you squat without a belt then you need to learn how to push down into the abdominal region towards the pelvis to create this stabilization.   
  • Your cues are wrong - I've read all sorts of cues in regards to coming out of the hole in squats for years and I am often left baffled by them.  "Drive your head back into the bar".  Huh?  "Lead with the chest."  What?  Listen, the HIPS and LEGS are what get you out of the hole in squats.  Your upperbody is there to basically hold the bar tight and statically.  You should be driving with your hips and legs, not thinking about moving your torso.  Mental cues DO matter.  Thinking about what your upperbody is doing during a squat is like thinking about what your calves are doing during a bench press.  So long as you are tight (as described above), then your thought process should be centered about the part of your body that is doing the primary work in the squat.  And that would be your lower body.  
  • You're not sitting back efficiently - The first motion in the squat should be at the hips, and then the knees just a split second after.  The problem is, a lot of guys don't know how much sit back they need.  You need to think about the path of the bar in relation to your sit back.  If you sit back too far, then the bar travels very far forward, and moves away from the center of your body.  If that happens then you lose the "power path" the bar should be in.  
  • The weight isn't on your heels - This plays in with the previous part.  If the bar is in a good path in relation to your leverages then you should feel the weight on your heels.  That is where you should be driving from as well.  If you find yourself getting the weight on your toes (you've probably felt this a few times) then it means the bar moved too far forward of the power path, and you've lost efficient leverages over the bar.  Make sure your sit back is on point, and that the weight stays in your heels.
  • You're trying to be something you're not - At every seminar I do I find people doing high bar squats that are leveraged better for low bar squatting, and vice versa.  Yes, everyone can do both, but you're probably a bit more efficient at one than the other.  Stop trying to force yourself to be something you aren't and figure out which one puts you in a stronger position more naturally.  
  • You aren't spreading the load over your lower body effectively - This means you're not bringing in all of the areas of the lower body that need to be involved in the squat.  If you're getting too much butt wink because you're not stabilized through the core, then the glutes get removed from the movement.  If you're not pushing out properly with the knees, then the glute medius and abductors don't get to play with everyone else.  
  • You're maxing out too much - This is that dead horse I have to beat so much.  I've seen so many guys over the past year that just try and max out each week on squats rather than actually TRAIN the squat.  Every week I see the same guys doing a max single, and it's either something they have already done, or less than that.  Boost your three, five, and eight rep maxes for a long time.  Quit trying to be a youtube champion and actually go into the gym to TRAIN....not test.
  • Your technique sucks - This is basically a simply way to describe all the other aspects related to technique above.  Once you dial all of those things in, and your technique is crisp and efficient then the next step is to do what I just said....TRAIN the squat.  

Monday, August 11, 2014

A woman's guide to her first powerlifting meet – Part 1

by Gillian Ward

Making the decision to compete

I am frequently asked about the right time to enter a woman in her first meet. There is no right answer to this and is highly dependent on the personality and expectations of the individual. I strongly believe that having a concrete goal to focus on provides motivation, increases adherence and yields personal reward including a boost in self-confidence. Some women are comfortable competing very early on in their lifting careers. They want to step out there and see what they can do much like a recreational runner entering a local 5K. It's more about getting out there and following through with a goal then the actual numbers. The meet is also a fabulous place to show off strength, skill and hard work to friends and family. As a full time strength coach, I encourage my young novice female lifters to enter a meet within their first 3 to 6 months of training. I find that it maintains focus and excitement. On the other hand, I often wait longer to put my older female clients in meets. Not to generalize but it has been my experience that the older women are less comfortable putting themselves out there in a competitive setting with an audience. There are always exceptions. Additionally, many lifters will never compete. I never push anyone that does not want to. If I believe that they would enjoy it I ask them to come to one meet as a spectator and then another as a volunteer before signing up to compete. Initially women seem to be less concerned with the numbers that they put up or how they stack up to the rest of the competition as compared to men. Most women that are new to the sport just want to not look silly or be embarrassed the first time. This changes as a female lifter matures in her career.

When is the right time to choose a meet?

A novice lifter can prep in as little as 8 weeks for a meet. The further along a woman is in her training the further in advance a meet should be planned for. This is due to rate of adaptation and gains. A new lifter can PR lifts from training session to training session. An advanced lifter such as myself peaks three or less times a years as gains have slowed down. My recommendation for a first time lifter is to choose a meet 8-12 weeks in advance. This is a period of time that most people can wrap their heads around when it comes to sticking to a goal. It is also a chunk of time that you can look at on a calendar and see what obstacles are in the way. For a beginner, I have her look at the calendar as we select a meet and let her know that she must commit to hitting a minimum of 80% of the workouts in the weeks leading up to the meet. Basically, if it's a 10-week prep and she is traveling or absent for one reason or another for more than 2 weeks of it the timing is poor. Please bear in mind that I am speaking about a novice lifter. It would be unacceptable for a high level advanced lifter to have training interruption of that nature.

What meet to choose?

Some people are very partial to federation. The things that I like to look at for a novice are entry costs, size of the meet, proximity to the home/gym and comfort of the venue and warm-up area. I am the SPF state chair of North Carolina and hold four powerlifting meets a year at my gym so this one is a no brainer for my athletes. If I were in a different position, I would enter my athletes in the smallest, closest, least expensive meets. I look for a low intimidation factor and a meet that will be over in a half a day. There are many highs and lows in a powerlifting meet and the long days are physically and mentally exhausting. I understand that in addition to novice lifters I am dealing with novice spectators that are unaware of the "joys" of a powerlifting meet. Anyone that has ever sat through (or smelled) a powerlifting meet understands this.

Of note is that I only train raw lifters and have no experience with gear. Most federations have both geared and raw divisions. I encourage all first time lifters, both male and female to compete raw first and make decisions about geared lifting much further down the line.

Programming for the meet

This article is not about a specific meet prep program. Most lifters entering their first meet have a coach that handles that. If not, feel free to contact Paul or myself. We would be happy to set you up with online programming. A few things though should be consistent with all approaches. There should be an attainable goal in mind and the training should be directed towards achieving that goal. Training priority during a meet peaking cycle should be the main lifts – squat, bench, deadlift. Accessory lifts and exercises will be included but not at the expense of performance on the main lifts. Expect to do at a meet what you do at the gym. Every so often someone will hit a huge PR in competition but for the most part a gym PR and a meet PR are relatively close. For some people with performance anxiety gym lifts will exceed meet lifts.

Here is the interesting part for most women – your 5 reps max, 3 rep max and 1 rep max are all relatively close percentage wise. This is where we differ from men. The short explanation for this is our lack of testosterone. Women have a smaller amount of muscle mass and less ability to maximally recruit our muscle fibers because of hormonal differences. The opposite is also true, women do not display strength as well as men but often have greater muscular endurance due to less muscle fiber fatigue. It's usually a female in the gym that can hold a plank or a wall squat for the longest period of time. Also, have you ever noticed that a set of 20 of anything does not wreck a woman the way it does a man?

Male coaches need to be aware of these differences to ensure success and to make proper attempt selections for the meet. For example, if a woman is able to squat 225 for a challenging set of 5, I would guestimate her max around 240. It would not be shocking though if she failed at 235, especially early on in her training. I would predict a male to hit roughly 255 if his 5RM was 225 (unless he has not hit puberty and thus would present more similar to a female).

Attempt selection for women needs to keep the above fact in mind. I make much smaller percentage jumps for women between attempts than I do men. If I wanted to coach a female to hit a 135lb bench on her last attempt I would likely have her open at 125lbs, take her second attempt at 130lbs and go for 135lbs on the last. This is very different than what I would do with a man as a man would be fatigued if all of his attempts were so close to his max.

Training for the meet

In the weeks leading up to the meet the meet environment needs to be created. This means lifting with commands and on a clock. If you do not know the commands, read the rule book of the federation that you will be competing in. I cannot stress this enough – each federation has slight differences in the rules. It is devastating to miss a lift for failure to understand the commands. I lost my very first squat at my first USAPL meet for not waiting for the squat command to begin the lift. I had no idea why I got red lighted.

I usually have my lifters practice with commands during the final three weeks. We also monitor rest between attempts to recreate the rotation of a flight of lifters. It is at this time that I break out the specialty meet equipment – competitions bars, competition bench, monolift (if the fed uses one). I reserve this equipment for meet prep only. Most lifters do not have the luxury of training with these specialty pieces and will touch them for the first time at a meet when they check in and get rack heights. Because I have it, I use it. You can always move to North Carolina and come train with us :)

I also encourage lifters to wear their competition attire at least once in the gym for a workout. Sometimes this helps women feel less self conscious about being in a singlet on meet day. This allows us to see if we will run into any problems such as a slippery singlet under the bar or on the bench.

All federations that I know of require that a singlet be worn. Most require a T-shirt underneath for the squat and bench to prevent skin from contacting the equipment. Most require some sort of shoe be worn for all lifts and that the shins are covered on the deadlift.

If you are going to use a belt, wraps, sleeves or even a new pre workout stimulant – practice with it at this time. There should be nothing new added on meet day. In the second part of this article I will discuss selecting and purchasing a singlet in detail as well as the specifics of meet day planning (nutrition, packing your bag, to do list, warm-ups, etc)

Should I cut weight?

A first time competitor should not cut weight. It is an unnecessary variable. All first time lifters should weigh in at their natural bodyweight with proper nutrition and hydration. Weight cutting should be reserved for competitive lifters seeking to set records or meet qualification standards for higher level competition. The goal of a powerlifter at a meet should be to set PRs and put up the highest total possible. It is not “The Biggest Loser” weekly weigh ins. If strength is sacrificed by a novice to cut a few pounds than an error in judgment was made.

A weight cut is a temporary state. It should not be confused with weight loss. A weight cut is a manipulation of water and sodium not fat loss. If a lifter is overweight or overfat and wants to shed bodyfat, long term nutrition needs to be addressed and weight loss should happen in a healthy manner of 1 to 2lbs per week.

If the female lifter is competitive and a weight cut is appropriate it needs to remain within reason. My rule of thumb is never to attempt to cut more than 5% of your bodyweight. This means that if I wanted to compete in the 132lb class I should not attempt it unless I weight 139lbs or less going into the cut. I believe that health and performance are both compromised with more drastic cuts. Also, the smaller a person is the harder it is to cut a few pounds. Taking 5lbs off of a 200lb male is nothing, taking it off of a 110lb female is nearly impossible. The more muscle that you have, the more weight that you are able to cut through fluid manipulation. Women have a host of hormonal variables at play that make weight cutting unpredictable and difficult.

Stay tuned for part 2. If you have a singlet brand or cut that you really like post a link in comments or on the FB page. I will be making suggestions of where to buy singlet’s based on price range and body type. Maybe it’s silly but us ladies want to look good out there.

Also, if you have any meet day recipes for snacks that you like during competition please share them as well.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Protein timing DOES matter

Oh hey look, a study that backs up all the anecdotal evidence many of us have stated for a while.



Friday, August 8, 2014

Training - Pressing in the rape cave

Bodyweight - 261

Db Bench Press -
20's x 50, 40
60's x 15, 10, 8
100's x 8, 8

Took a while to get warm.  The elbows were not feeling delightful today.

Yet still.....

140's x 15, 10
100's x 30, 20, 17

Flat Flye - 60's x 12,12,10

Notes - Really surprised that I got 15 with the 140's today because my elbows were really creaky and energy wasn't great.  Looking to bang these out for 20 in the next couple of months.  Relentless prep isn't too far off so I don't have a lot of time to get that done.

Gillian Ward - 3 weeks out from North American's - Lower Body Training

Morning Bodyweight of 132lbs

10 AM

Overhead Squat technique practice up to 175lbs 3x5
Snatch Practice

4 rounds of hell from the video: (video of last set)

5 135lb Overhead Squats
1 95lb Split snatch
8 95lb Walking lunges
10 single leg squats
1 95lb split snatch
8 95lb walking lunges
10 135lb back squats

Rest 5 minutes

Squat 135 10x10, one minute rest between sets

2 sets of leg extensions to failure

Later today I will do 1 hour of steady state aerobic work (4PM) and then 20 minutes of jump rope this evening (7PM)

This is the final stretch of contest prep and I've been advised to bring down my size so I have shifted gears away from my base work which is heavy barbell training of the main lifts and weighted bodyweight exercise. My movement choices do not change - only my load, volume and rest intervals.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Gillian Ward joins LRB!

Last week I did a piece about how women should train differently than men for strength and muscle.

One of the ladies that collaborated with me on said piece was Gillian Ward.  After exchanging thoughts and ideas about that article, I started thinking that Gillian might be an awesome addition to LRB and had tossed around the idea about approaching her with coming on board.  So I was blown away and practically pissed my pants when she told me that if I asked her to come on board, she would.

Gillian is a ridiculously gifted and elite level athlete.  I say athlete because Gillian prides herself on being functionally strong (I know everyone hates that term, but that's exactly what she aspires to), and follows the philosophy of allowing her "function to create her form."

If you didn't catch the article from last week, here are Gillian's best lifts:

Best Competition Lifts (148lb class, raw)
285 Bench
465 deadlift
400 squat

Rep Prs
225 bench for 17 reps
Bodyweight bench for 33 reps
Deadlift 315x 20 reps (at BW of 140, overhand, belt less)

Overhead Press (strict)

Max strict Pull-ups (recent)

Max weighted chin
135lbs added

To add to all of this, Gillian doesn't even do Crossfit anymore, but for shits and grins posted a Fran time last week of 2:50.  To make that even more ridiculous, she hasn't even practiced that thing in over 4 years.  This should tell you that, at the end of the day, it really is all about strength.  

Gillian also won the 2014 NPC North Carolina Championships in the women's physique division.  

But I will let Gillian tell you about herself........

I am currently a national level women's physique competitor in the NPC. My goal is to attain my IFBB pro card and step on the Olympia stage someday. Additionally I am a highly competitive, national champion powerlifter and currently hold the SPF/GPC World record in the bench press. I have achieved the second highest raw total of all time across all federations second to Taylar Stallings in the women's 148lb class. I have been one of the very few females in history to bench press twice my bodyweight raw. I mess around a little bit with Olympic weightlifting as well primarily for enjoyment and have succeeded at qualifying for the American Open and Nationals.

Formerly I competed in CrossFit and took 3rd place in the 2008 CrossFit Games.

Prior to CrossFit I spent most of my life as a competitive gymnast and track & field athlete.

In 1995 I was the United States Marine Corps National Physical Fitness Champion. This format of competition includes push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, standing broad jump and 300 yard shuttle run. During that year I also set the world record for consecutive push-ups.

My degree is in exercise science and I have been a practitioner in the field for twenty years in a variety of roles. I have advanced skills and experience with training senior populations, those with cardiovascular disease and or obesity, women, children and the severely injured. I own and operate a black iron gym in eastern North Carolina – Crystal Coast Strength & Conditioning and spend much of my days coaching strength training either privately or in small groups.

I am very passionate about the work that I do with Hope for the Warriors® - a non profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of severely injured servicemen and their families.

On November 14th 2009, I orchestrated an event called "Operation Pull For Hope" to raise funds and awareness for Hope for the Warriors®.

"Gillian raised money through sponsorship in her attempt to complete 100 Muscle Ups. Always a fan for human movement, Gillian asked donators to join her in her efforts. With participants completing Muscle Ups alongside of Gillian, "Pull for Hope" was an enormous success, Gillian completed her 100 Muscle Ups and raised over $58,000 for Hope for the Warriors®."

I continue to host four or more events at my gym a year dedicated to this cause and always have a wounded division.

Outside of work and training (my greatest love) I enjoy travel, food, writing, mindless junk television, boating, the beach and being a coffee snob. I am married to an active duty Marine and we live a simple life – one of our favorite activities is to just sit on the porch before dawn or at dusk and talk and drink coffee (or cocktails when I'm not dieting) in our rocking chairs . Recently my English bulldog Mille passed away. She was a huge part of our lives and the gym mascot.

From a recent profile of me:

What is your first and last name?
Gillian Ward (formerly Gillian Mounsey)

What is your height and weight?
5’4” Contest 135, Off season 145-150

How old are you?
36 (going to be 37 on 8/11/14)

What is your profession?

Gym owner, coach, consultant, writer, fitness model

How did you get started into lifting weights and training?

I began gymnastics at the age of two and never stopped.

I became fascinated as a very young child with pushing my body to the limits and exploring the realm of physical possibility.

As a child my dream was to take flight which came in the form of tumbling and acrobatic skills.

I also had an interest in the teachings of the ancient Greek philosophers that believed in physical fitness and a strong body.

That concept always made sense to me:

No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training…what a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable. – Socrates

Were you athletic growing up?

Extremely. I have competed in high level sports for over 30 years.

When not doing gymnastics I spent my childhood performing feats of strength and speed in the school yard, playground, beach, front lawn –pretty much anywhere that had a small amount of empty space or something to climb on or jump off of.

Do you enjoy being strong? Why?

I know nothing other than being strong but yes, I very much enjoy it. Being strong makes me feel capable and empowered. I also feel like it puts me in a position to help others if there is ever a time of need.

Do you enjoy performing/competing?

I’m laughing because it is a silly question that anyone that knows me would crack up about. I very, very much enjoy performing and competing. I often go out and people ask, “Do you compete?” The answer is yes, everyday at everything.
I’m not sure that my competitive nature is a character flaw or strength but I do know that it amuses the people close to me and I delight in that.

Why do you love lifting weights?

I love feeling strong and like a super hero. I love chasing performance goals and getting better at things. I love that it is a positive outlet for stress relief. I love that for that time in the gym that I have such focus that it is my personal meditation. I love that nobody can take it away from me.

Anything else we should know about you?

I could go on and on forever but I won’t. I’ll say only this- I don’t take myself too seriously and I do things as long as they bring me joy and do not harm the people close to me. If something stops being fun and rewarding, I move on. Some accuse me of being all over the place and not sticking to one thing. This is my journey and I don’t care what they think.

Here are a few links to recent newspaper and magazine articles that I was featured in:




More information about me can be found on my website at

My youtube channel is:
GillianWard (training videos can be found here)

Some of my writing has been published at:

My business websites are:

Friday, August 1, 2014

Some thoughts on improving Crossfit

I'm sure the title of this will raise some eyebrows, and possibly roll some eyes.

You can't even whisper the word Crossfit these days without making someone angrier than the Hulk or causing diamond cutter nipples on some chick that's been in a "box" for all of two weeks.

Crossfit doesn't tend to illicit a middle ground in regards to reactions from people.  It's either venom or valentines.  And the fact is, there's reasons for both responses.

For starters, Crossfit is big business now.

Yes, there's your obvious quote of the week from this blog post.  Reebok just made Rich Froning one of their highest paid athletes.  On par with the likes of NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL athletes.

Think about that for a minute the next time you talk about how no one can make money in powerlifting.  In the next 10 years, barring some unforeseen meltdown, Crossfit will be a billion dollar business.  Perhaps in less time than that.

Anytime something garners that kind of recognition, as quickly as Crossfit has, it's not going to be a polished product.  And that's where a lot of the criticism comes from.  Essentially, that there are too many stupid things being done in CF boxes, and even at the Crossfit games.

To be fair, this shouldn't be surprising.

There are over 10,000 Crossfit affiliated gyms in the world.

Ten thousand.

Can you name right off the top of your head, 10....TEN awesome Olympic lifting coaches, then TEN awesome powerlifting coaches, then TEN awesome conditioning coaches, etc so forth and so on?

Maybe.  Maybe not.

Yet in virtually ever CF box the following is "practiced".....

Strongman events
Bodyweight movements
Distance movements (running, rowing, etc)
Kettlebell work

That's a LOT of shit to cover.  And one of the primary complaints from the strength community is that CF isn't specialized enough.  Well, if CF is going to be about doing a LOT of shit, then regardless of how much it chaps the ass of the CF community, then the rest of us have to expect them to be "ok" at a LOT of shit.  Not masterful at it.  People that do Olympic lifting only practice and practice and practice and practice.  Multiple times a day, if they are Olympic level athletes, on just perfecting TWO movements.

Really good powerlifters spend years and years and years perfecting their technique on three movements that, at the heart of it all, aren't OVERLY technical (sorry brothers, they really aren't).  Yet it can take a long time to really develop your squat, bench press, and deadlift.

So our expectations shouldn't be that Crossfit peeps are going to be as technically proficient as people that specialize in just a few things.  That's not the scope of what they do, so it shouldn't be expected.  Perhaps some of them do excel in some areas, then not so much in others.  Then when we see the "others" shit they do that looks atrocious, well that's when the pitchforks and mob part come out to set some boxes on fire then tar and feather the CF peeps and coaches for allowing such ugly looking shit to be carried on.

So the complaint that CFers don't specialize really isn't a legitimate complaint because, well....they never said they did.  Or were going to.  They want to do a lot of different shit.  So, we shouldn't expect specialization out of people who openly admit they aren't specializing.  Doesn't seem very fair.

Now that I have the anti-Crossfit people pissed off, let me assure you, I have complaints too.

First off, as I already posted about, the deadlift that got passed at the games was so atrocious it's been shared across the internet eleventy billion times due to the horrific nature of it.  It was a turd blossom of a deadlift the likes of which I've never seen.  And some of the comments defending it were astounding to me.

"She hung in there, and got the lift.  It was her job to get the bar from point A to point B, and she did that."

When I read shit like that, it's hard for me to believe that the person that wrote it was really the fastest swimmer out of the millions of sperm shot out of daddy's sex cannon.  I get that CF people want to defend their brand.  But call a fucking turd a god damn turd when you see it.  It's when CF people DEFEND shit like that, that other people tend to get incensed.

A sport won't and will never improve if the people involved in it cannot be critical of it as well.  That's a fact.
Just because something is allowed in a sport, doesn't mean it should be, or always will be.  Sports and athletics tend to evolve over time based on the invention of materials, and the competitors involved in said sports and athletics.

We're not still running around in fucking leather helmets in the NFL.  And pro teams aren't running the wish-bone as a base offense anymore either.  Things change.  And for good reason.  It's because people involved in those sports realize the need for change, and adapt to what will make the sport better.  If something sucks, either the sport changes, or it dies.  Even if it's just for entertainment, either it evolves, or no one wants to see that shit anymore.

I mean, we could only take so many years of American Gladiators before we finally go "alright fuck, that's enough of dudes in american flag yoga pants and chicks overdosing on primobolan.  What's on ESPN?"

So what, in my opinion - that won't be seen or counted by anyone with any say in the Crossfit community - could CF change in order to make it better?  Or less criticized at least....

  • No more kipping pullups - This is probably the biggest complaint I hear about from people who don't do CF.  And I have to agree.  Kipping pullups are a fucking eye sore to watch.  It's like watching a fish get Rodney King'd on a chin up bar.  It's just....atrocious.  It can't be defended.  The pull up/chin up is a GREAT movement to demonstrate upperbody strength.  After all, you're pulling your body....errr, up.  Seems simple, doesn't it?  Well in CF, they did away with the strength aspect of it by allowing people to essentially kick their body up through the air, and do ZERO pull-ups.  Not only that, like most of the things I'm going to suggest, getting rid of the kipping would make judging easier.  I mean, I see shit counted after a CFer has done 30 or 40 kipping pull ups that don't look like what they were doing when they started the set.  Hanging chins, where you go from full arm extension, to your chin over the bar, without kipping, should replace kipping fish ups...chin-ups, I mean.  
  • No hitcing or ramping on deadlifts - Not after that shit I saw last weekend.  Yes, I know that strongmen are allowed to hitch and ramp.  But CFers aren't strongmen.  And no, they aren't powerlifters either.  However as NOTED, they don't specialize either.  Since they don't, it makes doing hitched and ramped deadlifts far more dangerous for the athletes.  A deadlift without hitching or ramping once again also makes it easier for the judges to make correct calls.  No hitching or ramping, you have to lock it out, your feet can't move out of position once the lift is started.  Just keep it simple for both the athlete, and the judges.
  • No high rep Olympic lifting - When Olympic lifting comes around at the Olympics, the athletes do a max lift in the snatch, and clean and jerk.  Seems simple enough.  But the fact is, the Oly lifts are highly technical.  And when you start asking an athlete to perform them in a high rep manner, then the technique portion goes out the window, and now you're inviting bad shit to happen.  Just have em do a max single in the snatch, clean, power clean, clean and jerk, whatever.  Not who can do a zillion reps in that shit.  
  • Leave the endurance or rep events to movements that are more suited to it - Rope climbing  for example, is fine.  You climb up a rope.  Really simple.  So are box jumps.  You jump up on a box.  Yeah I know, lots of people have torn their achilles doing those but it's impossible to eliminate all danger from every sport.  Unless it just gets really out of control, you're going to have accept some risks.  My point is, if there are going to be endurance or repetition events, there are movements to lend themselves to be more "athlete friendly" in that regard.  Most all bodyweight movements do very well with that.  Once you impose a load onto a movement, then the ball game changes.  It changes a LOT when it's a highly skilled movement that is loaded, and then you ask the athlete to do maximum repetitions with it.  I mean, you can't compare doing barbell curls for max reps with doing max rep snatches.  One is highly technical, and one is not.  If it's a highly technical movement, keep it out of that "rep work" event.  
  • If the demo team can't do it, the athletes shouldn't be doing it either - I saw this on a video, and heard about a few other instances of it.  Essentially, if a member of the "demo team" can't perform what the athletes are going to be asked to do, either get "better" demo team people, or reduce the "load" or "effort" required to complete the task.  It doesn't make sense to me that someone on a team that is supposed to demonstrate for the crowd, can't do so.  I don't understand how that doesn't raise more eyebrows!  "Look, here's our demo team.  Bobby, show the crowd what the competitors will have to do for this next event!"  - Bobby fails - "Wellllll, that really sucks.  Athletes....get ready!"  There should be some change there in some regard.
I realize there will be all sorts of fucking comments, and since this post won't ever be seen by anyone in the Crossfit community that will take it seriously, don't expect your lashing out about it to be taken seriously either.  After all, I am writing about Crossfit after midnight on a Friday night.