Thursday, February 26, 2015

The battle of obesity acceptance

I don't think there is any denying that we are in a paradigm shift as a society.  Here in America, anyways.

I can't get through most days anymore without seeing an article as to why it is, I should find obese women incredibly attractive.  One of those "you are all beautiful" type memes that is littered with various body types and shapes, from skinny to very obese with some woman packing a gut so enormous it would rival that of the most ardent of beer drinking red necks.

Yes, I get told that I have to look at that and find it beautiful.  Otherwise, I'm fat shaming.  And fat shaming is just as awful as being a racist, homophobe, or Nazi/terrorist sympathizer.

The difference between all of those things and obesity are, is that no one tells us we must accept racism, homophobes, and terrorist sympathizers as being something "beautiful."

"But Paul, that's the most ridiculous comparison I've ever seen."

Maybe.  But they all actually have something in common.

They are all choices.

Whether socially, physically, or ideologically they are all choices.

Is it not a choice to wake up and go to the gym?  Or eat six meals a day?  Sure.  Just choices.

Is it also not a choice to put back a large stuffed crust pizza five nights of the week?  I think so.

Yet there is this massive push by the media, and through social media by obese people and "obese sympathizers", that we both must accept that there is such a thing as "healthy at all sizes" and that "all sizes are beautiful."

There are issues with both of these agendas that bring forth bigger problems that some people don't want to admit.

Healthy at all sizes - 

This particular gem has been floating around for a while.

That you can have optimum health regardless of how much fat you are currently carrying.  That and, there are different "shapes and sizes" and that some men and women are just naturally fatter than others.

The latter, I believe, is true.  That some people are more inclined genetically to be leaner, more muscular, carry more bodyfat than others.  The degree to which that manifests itself however, largely depends on your lifestyle.  They become more prominent based on your dietary habits and activity levels.

So while genetics will ultimately determine the degree of what you have to work with, your own habits will determine the where you end up.

The push for a "healthy at all sizes" is nothing more than a social agenda to enable fat bodies to continue down their health declining path and feel good about it.

If anyone should be "shamed", it should be the people who keep pushing these agendas and ignore every relevant piece of medical data that shows, this really just is not possible.

University College London researchers tracked the health of 2,521 men and women between the ages of 39 and 62. They measured each participant’s body mass index (a calculation based on height and weight), cholesterol, blood pressure, fasting blood sugar and insulin resistance, and ranked them as either healthy or unhealthy and obese or non-obese.

About one-third of the obese people had no risk factors for chronic disease at the beginning of the study, and were ranked as healthy obese.

But over time, this group began to develop risk factors for chronic disease. After 10 years about 40 percent had become unhealthy obese, and by the 20-year mark 51 percent had fallen into the unhealthy category, the study found.

Healthy non-obese people also slipped into poor health over time, but at a slower rate. After two decades, 22 percent had become unhealthy but were still trim, and about 10 percent more had become either healthy or unhealthy obese.

Only 11 percent of the people who started out as healthy obese lost weight and become healthy and non-obese, the researchers found.

This study suggests that obese people will eventually develop risk factors such as high blood sugar and bad cholesterol that lead to chronic illness and death, Bell and Freeman said.

Oooooh, death.

That sounds serious.

Even more.......

The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, included 3,086 people who were part of the Framingham Heart Study, with an average age of 50. Researchers followed the study participants for as many as seven years, where they took note of their heart disease and cancer statuses. They also used CT scans to analyze where in the bodies fat was accumulating.

At the end of the follow-up period, 71 people died, 90 people had a cardiovascular event and 141 people developed cancer. After taking into account other risk factors and obesity, researchers found an association between carrying fat in the abdomen and having higher risks of cancer and cardiovascular events.

This isn't the first time heart risks have been linked with belly fat. HealthDay reported on a study, published in the same journal earlier this year, showing that for heart patients of a normal weight, the risk of early death goes up if they have belly fat -- and their odds of survival are in fact worse than people who are obese, but who carry their fat elsewhere in their bodies.

So no, there's really no such thing as "healthy at all sizes".

If you are obese, even if your blood work shows up as being fine and dandy right now, it won't show that eventually.  The chance of you staying obese and living a long and productive life are slim and none.  Those are your options.  Slim, and none for being healthy if you are overweight.

So there's just no way around this.  If you're obese, you're headed for a world of shit in regards to your health.  You cannot be "healthy at any size".

The real root of the problem - inactivity

For years now I've read where people talked about things like fast food as being the root of our obesity problem.  Everything from gluten to high fat to high carb has been blamed as the root cause for people getting fatter.

But is that really the issue?

It doesn't look like it.

The American Journal of Medicine reported that over a 20 year span, that activity in the average person has declined while the average caloric intake hasn't changed that much.

You want some eye popping numbers?

Back in 1994 19% of women said they engaged in no physical activity.  Fast forward to 2010, and it's a whopping 51%.  For men in that same time span it was 11% to 43%.

Basically, most people have just become lazy mother fuckers.

The study looked at the escalation of obesity in terms of both exercise and caloric intake. While investigators did not examine what types of foods were consumed, they did observe that total daily calorie, fat, carbohydrate, and protein consumption have not changed significantly over the last 20 years, yet the obesity rate among Americans is continuing to rise.

I will repeat that.  It's not food consumption.  It's inactivity.  People don't walk their dog anymore, or play outside with their kids.  Which is another major problem all together.  People don't play with their kids because they are lazy, get fatter, then have less energy to play with their kids, then the kids get "baby sat" by the television or internet, and exercise less as well.  Then they too get fatter.  

I don't need a study to know that my kids don't have much activity time at school as I did growing up.  We had recess three times a day, where we played kick ball, swang on the monkey bars, and just "moved" in general.  Now, because of academic pressure, kids have less time doing those things, more homework (which means less time to play outside when they get home), and are fatter than kids were 20 years ago as well.  Which means more than likely, this obesity trend is going to continue, and worsen.

The future looks bright!

Smoke Shaming, anorexia, and the economy - 

Many years ago, they used to have these commercials on TV where they shamed the living fuck out of tobacco companies.  It talked about the most awful shit relating to smoking you can imagine.  Some grandmother that had black lungs, and had withered away into nothingness and couldn't get around without a wheelchair because her lungs were going to collapse any minute.  And it was all the fault of tobacco companies for making cigs highly addictive.

We had no problem shaming the tobacco industry, and no problem shaming smokers.  We banned that shit from airports, airplanes, restaurants, and now treat smokers like lepers.

"If you're going to smoke, you have to go outside.  And you can only smoke in the designated smoking area.  We don't want your second hand smoke getting on anyone that doesn't smoke."  

Can you imagine if upon getting a job, a fat person was told "well we're going to hire you, but uh, you're a fatty.  So you'll sit on the fifth floor with the rest of the fatties.  Because being fat is unacceptable, and other people find it disgusting."

I thought smoking was a choice?

But so is being inactive, and getting fat.  But now, we have this thing called "fat shaming" where, if you tell someone they are overweight, or speak out loud that morbidly obese people look disgusting, you get tarred and feathered, socially speaking.

This has undoubtedly been the driving force behind the "big is beautiful" movement.  It has played a major role in enabling it.

"This is another terrible parallel to draw.  Smoking stinks the place up.  Someone being fat doesn't affect your life in one bit."

Well, I don't have to smell their fatness, no.  But it does affect my life, and businesses.

Evidence on the considerable costs of obesity to individuals and society is rich. At the individual level, obesity is associated with health care costs that average about 40 percent above those for normal weight individuals. Overall, obesity-related direct and indirect economic costs exceed $100 billion annually, and the number is expected to grow. Despite these sobering statistics, the full effects of obesity trends since the 1980s are not yet fully apparent because health problems caused by weight gain take time to appear.

Given the significant financial burden imposed by obesity, employers have a stake in reducing obesity in the workforce. Obese workers miss more days of work and cost employers more in medical and disability claims as well as workers compensation claims. As a result, an average firm with 1,000 employees faces $285,000 per year in extra costs associated with obesity.

If this is beautiful....

Lastly, I find it terribly hypocritical that, we have no problem shaming the fuck out of women who are anorexic.  Often reading about them, "feed her a fucking cheeseburger." or something of that nature, but then get ridiculed for saying ANYTHING negative about fat people.  Or let's just be honest here about all of this, obese WOMEN.  No one gets up in arms about a dude being fat, but we are constantly told that fat women are "just as beautiful too."

...then this is too.

So let's get this out of the way.  If it's not beautiful for a woman to be 76 pounds because her anorexic lifestyle makes her look like that way, then it's not fucking beautiful for a woman to be 100 pounds over her ideal weight.  Beauty is not really in the eye of the beholder.  There's a reason why some women are models, and make millions for their beauty, and why I'd rather be a power bottom for Colin Farrell than accept that I had to find morbidly obese women attractive.  

I don't care if you hate me for that.  If you do, maybe you're fat.  And need to take a long look in a really wide mirror.  

Both anorexia and obesity are the manifestations of an unhealthy lifestyle.  If it's perfectly ok to say "feed that anorexic girl a cheeseburger!" then it should be perfect ok to say "take the cheeseburger away from fatty!"  

You can't have it both ways.

Weight training and getting "too bulky" to the rescue - 

Luckily, there is a "cure".

It's muscle mass.  And someone acquires that via weight training.

Muscle mass in people who don't train, tends to decrease in age.  Because this lowers their basal metabolic rate, and as shown caloric intake doesn't tend to change, fat storage climbs.

In men, testosterone levels tend to drop and estrogen levels tend to rise.  This also plays a role in storing more fat, and of course, leads to the health problems mentioned above.

That's right kids, steroids, in proper doses, are actually good for you.  Especially if you're an older male who wakes up each day to find the wood a little less stiff, and the gut a little more prominent.

Obtaining muscle mass comes via the way of an activity called "weight training".  So of course, this kills two birds with one stone.  Unfortunately, I think there were even less people signing up for the gym than usual this year.  At least, that's how it looked to me after the first of the year when the gym is usually flooded with noobies.  The data above supports my own observation in that every year that goes by, people are being less and less active.

Conclusion - 

Despite more education and information, obesity rates continue to rise and activity rates continue to fall.

Until there is a major incentive for people to lose weight, this will probably continue.  There won't be a major reason for people to lose weight until the workforce puts policies in place that reward people for not being obese, and punishes their employees for missing so much time from work from obesity related problems.

There won't be a change until the school systems realize that our kids need more play time, and less time spent on school work.  A healthy body is a healthy mind.  There needs to be a better balance there.

Also, stop letting fat people ride those motorcarts in stores.  That's for old handicapped people.  Not your fat ass.  You need to walk more, and sit less.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

All opinions are not equal

I don't know or associate with anyone working at a high level that is anti-science in regards to training, lifting, nutrition, etc.

Most of the people I know or talk to, are both pro-experience AND pro-science. For the last article I wrote, I think I read over 30 studies in order to consolidate the information within them. Yet apparently, I'm anti-science and anti-intelligence. Go figure.

The problem is, and has been for a while, there are INDEED a lot of lifters who do spend too much time reading pubmed shit, and less time being their own "scientist" by performing "experiments" in the weight room.

John Meadows has trained hundreds of clients and made them better using peri-workout nutrition. Yet according to all of the "scientific evidence" it makes no difference. That nutrient timing is irrelevant. So who has the answer? Well, I will go with a guy that trains hundreds of professionals and makes them better over a study that looked at 12 people doing leg extensions. You can go with the science in this case if you feel like that decision makes you smarter.

A person with great experience is called an expert, while a person with great education, is not always immediately regarded as an expert in his or her field. Yet apparently, all "data" or information is equally valuable.

Uh, no. That's fucking idiotic.

In military operations this would be like saying the knowledge of a private would be just as valuable as that of the knowledge of a four star general. Because you know, all information is valuable. But the source of the information is paramount in regards to importance.

The reason a private is a private is because he hasn't been in the military long enough to acquire the experience and knowledge that is needed to be an expert, and to lead. You know what privates get told? "Shut the fuck up, learn, and do your job."

Now most high ranking officers do have both education AND experience. And that is why they are in a position to lead. Because the information they have acquired is valuable through both parameters. In other words it takes BOTH experience and educational knowledge for your information to be valuable.

Yet the outcry from guys that aren't strong, and aren't developed, who do spend too much time reading pubmed, studies, and scientific articles is that their opinion or the information they know is just as valuable as that of someone who has both knowledge AND experience. No. It's not. I'm sorry that reality doesn't work that way. All opinions do not carry equal value because some opinions are far more informed than others. If all opinions and knowledge or abilities were to be deemed equal then there would be no such thing as a hierarchy anywhere in the world, in any facet.

So yes, it does matter WHERE and WHO the data or information comes from, because the value of it can only be as great as the depth of experience and knowledge from which it comes.

Lastly, collecting knowledge is indeed a great thing. But only if it is applicable to making you better. As I noted before, there are plenty of lifters who gained more knowledge, and got worse, because what they learned wasn't applicable to them, what they needed to do, and what was best for them. So once again, the difference in the novice and the expert, is that the expert is also an expert because he or she knows what applies to them, and what doesn't. The novice doesn't have enough experience to discern between the two.

Now this doesn't mean that the guy who bench presses a house has more knowledge than the guy who bench presses less. There are lots of strong guys that don't have knowledge. In contrast there are lots of guys weaker than them that have more knowledge and experience. But the guy that is a "private" in regards to bench pressing does in fact need to "shut up and just train more". Regardless of whether people like this or not, demonstrational abilities to carry weight and merit. It doesn't mean it's a direct reflection of knowledge, but if I had to pick between learning from a guy that could bench 600 and a guy that could bench 285, this is an easy choice. Whether you agree with me on that is no concern of mine. 285 pound benchers are a dime a dozen. 600 pound benchers probably had to learn a few things, even if they were already blessed with natural abilities.

Everyone wants to be a special snowflake. But not all knowledge or opinions carry equal weight. That is not my opinion, but something reflected throughout all of the fucking world. There is a reason why a company only has one CEO, why there are only so many four star generals in the military, and why there are only so many guys that are pro bodybuilders or gold medalists.

I'll finish this tl;dr piece with a quote from Skip Hill, who wrote an amazing article already addressing this very topic (I guess Skip is anti-science/anti-intelligence)....

"You can argue your knowledge, but arguing experience is pretty cut and dry. You either have it or you don’t. You can rarely, in five years, experience what someone has experienced in twenty or thirty years. You may have yourself convinced that you can, but this is incredibly rare. So if you have knowledge, I can understand and respect that. In return, it would be great if you could understand and respect the experience of people who have been around much longer than you have. I have been very vocal about my respect for those who have done it longer than I have or have done it long before I did. They deserve that from me."

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Overtraining - Is it real?

What's old becomes new again. Especially in training and nutrition.

There's the old "you can't overtrain, only under sleep and eat" bullshit making the rounds again.   This mantra is not new. It's been around for a long time.

It's a mantra celebrated by the phony "hardcore" crowd

If overtraining, or under-recovering wasn't a real "thing" then you could train balls out for hours on end everyday, and you'd simply make progress. You'd never get weaker, or have shitty workouts or feel fatigued.

But as we all know, this just isn't the case.

Now I'm not saying that feeling tired for one day is indicative of overtraining or under-recovery.  What I am saying is, if OT/UR is real, then there should be symptoms that manifest themselves in regards to that physical state.

In order to understand what said symptoms might look like, we would first need to define OT/UR in simple terms.

Overtraining, stated simply, would be a decline in performance or expected performance, due to fatigue.  

That's it.  That's all.  Well, sort of.

The second part would be to understand all of the components that play a role in creating productive training sessions, how they get tapped out during that time, and how they recover or get replenished so the athlete gets out of "fatigue debt".

Preface - 

I have to preface this long blog post with the fact that there could easily been tons more information involved, however what I want to do here is establish whether or not overtraining exists, and if it does, how we identify it and recovery from it.  It's not meant to be an exhaustive piece that covers every single facet of what I will touch base on.  I've read about 50 articles and studies this week to put this together, and I would prefer the reader grasp the "basics" of all the components.

I want to lay this out in layman's terms so that almost anyone could read it, and understand the processes, theories, and concepts behind overtraining.  There's nothing more annoying to me than these "science lifting" guys who try to appear smarter than they are by writing overly complex articles.  The more someone understands about something, the simpler they can usually explain it.

The CNS debate - 

I've covered this topic about a zillion times, and I still read on the net where people talk about "CNS burnout" or "CNS fatigue" from training.

The thought process is a few.

That if you do a movement too often, or too much, that you will "burn out" your CNS and your performance in that movement will decline.  You hear this a lot in relation to deadlifts especially.  Someone deadlifts 650, then a few weeks later can't get 550 off the floor.

"Bruh, your CNS is burned out."

The advice given here is usually to change movements, or to stop deadlifting as often, or as heavy.

Here is the thing.  If your CNS was "burned out" then you'd have more problems than pulling a big deadlift.

So are they right, or wrong?  And how is this actually related to overtraining?  Is overtraining just a state of mind, or is it an actual physiological process?

Order of fuels used in training - 

The first step in all of this is understanding the preferred fuels by the body for anaerobic training.  You know, lifting weights, sprinting, etc.  This will all make sense later, so bear with me.

Despite how many times you've read some piece of shit article on the net that tells you fat is the preferred source of fuel, that's completely wrong in every way imaginable to make as a blanket statement.

The fuel of choice to be used by the body for muscular contraction is determined by the kind of activity and the length of duration.

The body will exhaust fuels in a specific order to meet exercise demands.  The LAST fuel it will use for energy, is fat.  By "last" I mean when exercise duration is long enough that all of the "quick" fuels used are exhausted and fat is tapped into for energy.

I'm literally not going to entertain the argument of "well if someone is doing ketogenic, then..." blah blah blah.

I will tell you why.  Because the number of high performance athletes, strength athletes, etc using ketogenic diets are basically zero.  People who are using keto diets are almost always doing so for fat burning alone, and not athletic performance.

Also, since this is about overtraining related to strength training, we will deal with those fuels, and those fuels only.

During a weight training session, the fuels you will tap into will generally be the following -

  • ATP-Phosphocreatine - This is tapped into very quickly, but also is used up very quickly.  Think low reps with very heavy weight.  ATP-PC is recovered when you rest between sets.
  • Glycogen - Once ATP-PC is exhausted, our body uses glycolysis to break down glycogen in order to form more ATP.  Think medium to high reps with medium weight.
So to clear this up, if ATP-PC reserves are low, and glycogen reserves are low, then performance in the weight room is going to be severely impaired.  As you train, you deplete these fuels, thus the ability to generate very strong muscular contractions decrease.  

Anyone who has trained while dieting in a low carbohydrate state, probably knows that feeling of still being very strong on the first 3-4 reps (ATP), then quickly seeing their ability to "rep" that weight decline very quickly (glycogen).  

From an overall standpoint, a long and intensive training session will deplete the bodies reserves of both ATP and glycogen.  

There has been debate lately on whether or not things like pre-peri-post workout nutrition are of much valued importance, and a lot of the studies have shown that the difference related to muscle protein synthesis isn't significantly different.  My good friend and bodybuilding diva John Meadows has argued against this via his own anecdotal evidence with hundreds of clients.  There is a caveat that John sticks to in regards to when it makes a difference.  And that is, when the trainee is training in a very high intensity fashion, with a lot of volume.  

Essentially, if you're just going through the motions or getting in very average workouts, then it's possible that pre-peri-post workout nutrient timing may not be of utmost importance.  But if you are training balls out, very hard, using a lot of weight, sets, reps, etc then it may play a much bigger role in recovery.  

This study looked at athletes that were training multiple times a day, and the difference in performance where the group either had placebo, or had carbohydrates.....

For athletes completing multiple high-intensity strength training sessions per day, maintenance of muscle glycogen stores is critical. In a study by Haff et al. (1999), six resistance-trained men ingested a 250 gram carbohydrate supplement or placebo during a morning training session, rested for 4 hours, and then performed a second session consisting of multiple sets of light-intensity squats (55% 1RM) to exhaustion. During the second training session, the number of sets and repetitions performed were markedly higher with the carbohydrate consumption, and subjects were able to exercise for 30 minutes longer. The authors concluded that athletes engaging in multiple exercise sessions per day (ranging from mild to high intensity) will receive a performance advantage with carbohydrate ingestion via maintenance of intramuscular glycogen stores, due to greater glycogen resynthesis during recovery. In addition, the carbohydrate supplementation not only increased workout performance, it markedly increased workout duration.

So if you're not training very hard, or for very long, it's quite possible that all of the nutrient timing "voodoo" really isn't going to make that much of a difference.  But if you are in fact training very hard, for long periods at a time, it almost assuredly is going to make a difference in your performance and recovery.

So one can easily see why it is important to refuel these reserves after bouts of very intense training sessions.  These fuels are what essentially power us through those awesome workouts and help us to hit PR's, move bigger weights, and provide the stimulus for growth.  

So we've established the need and importance for being properly fueled for kick ass training sessions.  Simply being stocked up on ATP-PC and glycogen are the only factors involved in making sure our training sessions are going to be highly productive.  Right?

Well yes, and no.  

Tryptophan, serotonin, BCAA's, and dopamine - 

Understanding the role serotonin, tryptophan, BCAA's, and dopamine play a role in overtraining and training performance is quite essential.

Tryptophan is the precursor for serotonin.
Serotonin is the neurotransmitter in the body that regulates arousal, behavior, sleep, and mood. 

Dopamine is your "excitement" neurotransmitter.  High dopamine levels are what motivate us, push up towards reaching goals, and seek rewards.  

So here is the theory - 

When training goes on for prolonged periods, in high intensity fashion, serotonin levels rise and performance is diminished.  

Dopamine levels drop during this time.

When serotonin levels rise too quickly it is then that we see the decline in performance.  How do serotonin levels rise too quickly so that this happens?


When tryptophan is allowed to flood the brain then serotonin forms in rapid fashion.  The thought process here is that because BCAA's and tryptophan use the same receptors, that this can be offset by making sure that blood BCAA levels remain high.  


BCAA levels low = tryptophan doesn't have to compete for receptors = fast increase in serotonin formation = declined athletic performance.

Now before some jackass shows up to say "studies have shown that BCAA's make no difference" they are sort of technically "correct."  However even in studies they acknowledge that the theories still appear to hold merit and there is still data showing it probably does play a factor....

However, it is difficult to distinguish between the effects of CHO on the brain and those on the muscles themselves, and most studies involving BCAA show no performance benefits. It appears that important relations exist between brain 5-HT and central fatigue. Good theoretical rationale and data exist to support a beneficial role of CHO and BCAA on brain 5-HT and central fatigue, but the strength of evidence is presently weak.

This is where I point out how limited that studies can be in helping us to understand everything.  If they use BCAA's to show an increase in performance, and none is found, then people suddenly say "BCAA's show no ability to increase performance."  However that sort of study may be missing the mark.  It could be that over a longer period that BCAA's stave off overtraining, and that this process has just not been observed yet.  All of the other theories involved appear to have enough evidence that this theory appears to hold water.  It just hasn't been tested thoroughly yet.   

The Coolidge Effect - 

While I was researching all this nonsense, the first thing I thought of was the "Coolidge effect."

In experiments with rats it has been observed that after vigorous copulation with a new partner, male rats soon completely ignore this partner, but when a new female is introduced, they immediately are revitalized - at least sufficiently to become sexually active once more. This can be repeated again and again until the male rat is completely exhausted.

This phenomenon has been called the “Coolidge Effect” after an American president. On a visit to a farm his wife had been shown a rooster who could copulate with his hens all day-long day after day. She liked that idea and asked the farmer to let the president know about this. After hearing it, President Coolidge thought for a moment and asked: ”Does he do that with the same hen?” “No, Sir” answered the farmer. “Please tell that to Mrs. Coolidge” said the president.

Not only has the Coolidge effect been observed in all tested male animals, but also in females. Female rodents for instance flirt more and present themselves more attractively when observed by new males than in the presence of males with whom they had already sex.

Another experiment indicates that the cause of this effect may be a rush of dopamine. When rats were taught to pull a lever to stimulate their own reward center, they would forgo eating and copulating, and just continue to stimulate themselves until they were totally exhausted.

The dopamine system is obviously designed to produce genetic variety by inducing us to mate with as many different partners as possible.

Now how in the hell does this apply to overtraining and lifting weights?  

I will hypothesize here a bit, so give me some room.  

Most things "new" in our life carry a higher level of dopamine associated with them.  

New job
New car
New toys when you were a kid (or adult, not judging)
New romances 
And training programs, or exercise selections.  

If you've ever been on a diet where you ate the same foods day in and day out, you probably reached a point where you said "I just can't stomach another fucking bite of chicken."

Theoretically, your dopamine association level with said food has plummeted and there is pretty much zero zest or excitement in regards to eating that food anymore or being on said diet.  

Because we see this across such a wide spectrum of things in our life, I have no doubt that we can and do see it in regards to training as well.  

When you start a new training program, enthusiasm is usually high.  You have fun, are motivated, and make progress very well (usually).  There is both a physical adaptation process that occurs with new training and new movements, and then a mental one as well.  But the "mental" one of course, is tied into how your body is responding to it physically.

In this article for Poliquin I talked about that very process......

The two processes we deal with here are both the physical adaptation to a new training program, and then of course the fatigue brought on later after that adaptation is complete.  However, missing from that article is what I am covering here.  And that is, the levels of dopamine and serotonin in the body in regards to training stress and how they relate to fatigue debt.

So when a new program is started, dopamine levels would be high, serotonin levels would be healthy, and in a best case scenario, things like BCAA, ATP-PC, and glycogen would be in good shape.  This would mean the environment for productive training would be in place and thus occur.  

The difference in overtraining and overreaching - 

I see a lot of videos now where guys talk about how they "overtrain" on purpose.  Or that they aren't scared of overtraining, and that people who talk about overtraining are pussies.

Then of course I never see them squatting or deadlifting big weights.  They are always doing a lot of curling and benching.  If they do squat, it's some god awful half squat where they clearly don't go hard in the paint.  But they proceed to do 50 sets of chest and 90 sets of arm work, and tell everyone they aren't scared of overtraining.  Well, what warriors you are.  Doing bench and curl all day.


Then of course there are people who think that you can overtrain very easily and they train infrequently, don't train very hard, and feel the need to take a week off every third week for fear of "overtraining".

Like most things, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Overtraining is really something, from all appearances, that happens over a longer period of time.  Where training depletes energy and fuel reserves too often and too intensely, that the recovery of these things can't happen fast enough to keep up with the demands of training.  This isn't something that is going to happen in a week, or possibly even a few weeks.  It certainly isn't going to happen in a single training session where guys espouse "we overtrain chest."  I don't even know what the fuck that even means.

Overreaching however, is sort of the precursor to overtraining, and is something that can be a useful tool in order to peak for performance.  It is something that has been used for decades and does in fact, work very well.

Overreaching is the process needed for something called supercompensation.

This is achieved by training very hard in an already adaptive state and intentionally inducing fatigue. After a planned rest period, the body responds by holding a temporary peak in performance.

We see this in athletic events across pretty much every spectrum.  Distance running, powerlifting, swimming, whatever.  Over a periodized cycle you train using some form of higher degree of intensity more often, or with more repeated efforts, so that you find yourself on the cusp of performance declining.  Instead of pushing training further over that cliff, you then rest to recover, and a greater degree of performance can be achieved after this rest.  That higher degree of performance of course is limited in time, so planning all of this out for a competition all depends on the qualification of the athlete, and what they are capable of.

For example, an elite level strength athlete will need more recovery time than a novice or less qualified one.  A guy that squats 700+ will probably need a longer recovery time before competition than one who squats 315.

The difference in overreaching and overtraining is that in overreaching, it is part of a process that includes recovery to reach a state of supercompensation.  So don't confuse the two.

Localized Recovery and other stressors (life) - 

It's important to note that overtraining is a systematic condition and not a localized one.  So much so in fact, that in spite that I read eleventy billion articles and studies on this, it's still not completely understood in every facet.

Localized recovery is more related to microtrauma at the cellular level.  This is a much faster recovery than a systematic one.  In fact, you can often recover faster in an area that is incredibly sore by simply training the same area the day following an intensive training session.  So overtraining isn't really something that applies to a bodypart.  Like the idiots who say "we overtrain chest" keep espousing.

Because overtraining is related to serotonin and dopamine levels, and those things are related to training stress, you can't exclude stress in general.  That means life stress as well.

I recently talked to a friend who was going through a very rough period in his personal life and had a god awful training cycle in preparation for his competition.

In fact, life stress and training stress can and do often cause someone to exhibit similar symptoms....

the athlete feels sick, and there are several indicator signs and symptoms, such as: anorexia, loss of body weight, sudoresis, headache, lack of energy, increase in the basal heart rate and in the blood pressure, irritability, insomnia, inappetence, difficulty to concentrate, arrhythmia, increase in the acute response to the catecholamines, adrenaline, and noradrenaline, etc.. It is a prolonged response to the stress that precedes the exhaustion.

The above symptoms could just as easily been seen in someone who does not train, but is dealing with a tremendous amount of life and personal stress over a long period of time.  

So I don't feel as though I am reaching when I say that when life stress is high, and gym stress is high, they will overlap each other.  The symptoms that manifest from this combined stress, especially if they happen over a longer period of time, would indeed induce a state of "overtraining".  

So it's important to realize that if training is suffering during a period that life is very difficult, then adjusting both somehow is probably needed.  The athlete also may need to realize that until life stress subsides, then performance may be inhibited regardless of how many modifications they make to training.

How to combat OT/UR and get out of it - 

Now that I've written the longest article in the history of man, I'd like to start shortening it up so that one could understand how to potentially avoid overtraining, and if they find themselves in such a state, understand how to get out of it.

1.  Periodize Training - The training year should include phases of training.  I see lots of powerlifters who try to train heavy year round, even hitting PR's weeks before competition, then fail to understand why they can't perform at their best during competition.  Training should be periodized throughout the year so that one can work on building their "base".  There is absolutely no need to train heavy all the time, and anyone that tells you that is selling you a bag of bullshit.  Training heavy has its place, but so do long periods of training submaximally, with varying degrees of volume and frequency, and focusing on things outside of the competition lifts.  There should be periods of hypertrophy prioritization, periods of technique perfecting, and periods of competition preparation.  For bodybuilders, periods of focusing on improving different areas of the body, while maintaining strong points.

2.  Supplement with creatine - This sounds so cliche but the fact is, creatine really does work, and it's been studies fairly extensively at this point.  Yes, there are creatine "non-responders" but generally those are underdeveloped athletes who don't have enough muscle to store more creatine, thus the desired effect is not seen.  In other worlds, if you're a novice, you probably don't have to worry about it because you're too weak to induce a state of overtraining and you don't have enough muscle to worry about using creatine in the first fucking place.  You're that buck-55 pound runt I see in GNC loading up on supplements that doesn't need all of that shit.  Eat food, and give it a few years.  Like, five of them.

3.  Control life stress as best as possible - I covered this already.  But you need to understand that if life stress is very high, that training stress may need to be lowered for a while until your situation improves.  Now there are some people who thrive in the gym when life sucks, but I can't account for every different type of individual.  I'm saying if you are the kind of person who sees their training go into the shitter when life stress is high, then deal with the one type of stress that you have complete control over.  And that is your efforts in the gym.  It may mean lowering intensities for a while and just getting some basic work in.

4.  Overtraining takes a long time to set in - Overtraining isn't something that occurs in a week, or even two.  It generally takes months of "overreaching" without rest, before it becomes problematic.  If performance has been in a declining state for a long time, then you may need an extended rest or deload to see yourself climb back out of it.  The good thing is, you will probably see a marked increase in performance after this if you go about resting, and then resuming training in a proper fashion after the break.

5.  Replenish glycogen stores adequately post training - As noted before, if you aren't training hard, then pre-peri-post workout protocols may not be something that makes a very big difference in your training.  However if you are busting ass for longer than usual training sessions in the gym, they are probably going to make a significant difference regardless of what some study reported on guys that did 3 sets of leg extensions.

Conclusion - 

This is an almost 5000 word article, and I could have been even more exhaustive about it than this.  However I got tired, and essentially ended up reading a lot of the same data over and over again.

Overtraining appears to be a very real thing.  However it is not something that should be feared if one is taking proper steps to avoid it.  Not only that, it appears to be a more chronic condition, and not something related to "CNS burnout".

To tie in an earlier point about "CNS burnout", that appears to tie in more with the exhaustion of the fuels needed to perform at an expected level.  This is why you may have four or five very productive training sessions, then suddenly have a sharp decline in performance for a singular training session.

Don't confuse being overtrained with simply being fuel depleted.  One happens over the period of a longer period of time (overtraining) and the other one on a much shorter time scale.

To end, we still don't know anywhere near as much as we would like to know about all of these things.  There are so many physiological factors and individual differences that we can only continue to theorize and observe various outcomes at this point, so that we can understand this issue better.

In the meantime, it certainly won't hurt to adhere to the recommendations above to keep training productivity at a high.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

LRB in the Dominican Republic

Back in October of 2014, I travelled up to Montreal to hang out and learn from my mentor, Charles Poliquin.  Charles and I have become close friends over the past year and it was a no brainer for me to make the trek up to Canada, aye, to finally meet him and hang out for 8 days.

Charles had a dude that was travelling with him for the Klokov/Poliquin tour named Juan Carlos, whom I met the first morning I finally met Charles.

I still laugh at meeting Juan, because upon initially meeting, he was very stoic, and intense.  Saying few words, and scowling most of the time.  Jolly, he was not.  Juan was from the Dominican Republic and talked like, well, Scarface.  When he did speak, I mean.  He sounded like Scarface.

At breakfast that morning Juan asked me, "you do seminars?"


"Ho-kay.  You come to Dominican Republic and do one."


That was it.  That was how this all got settled.  Twelve words.

Seems legit.

Over the next four days however, Juan loosened up dramatically and as it turns out, he's actually very funny and like most of the Dominican people as I would find out, very personable.

Before he departed from Montreal he told me he was going to be in touch with me to get things set up for me to come out.  At first I was supposed to make the trek out right before Christmas, but the holidays made it too difficult to get everything together.  So we ended up settling for February.

Juan wanted me to cover strength training, of course, and do a three day workshop going over the principles of strength training, the squat, the bench, and deadlifting.  You know, the usual shit.

I covered my arrival day in this blog post, so I will go over my time there, what I covered, and some misc stuff that made the trip pretty damn amazing.

Day 1 - Teaching 

First off I have to talk about Juan's place, Workout Gym.  It's in a mall, and is a really, really nice place.  I also have to talk about the type of people that train there.  It's mainly a bodybuilding gym.  So most of the guys there are into training to get bigger, which is fine, but I would be selling them on training for strength, and why that was important as well.

For lifters that are into bodybuilding, it's not always obvious as to why getting stronger is so important.  At the very core of what they know, lifting 405 for 10 reps is better than lifting 405 for 6 reps, but translating getting strong maximally on the big 3 would take some selling.

And speaking of translating, did I mention that none of the people attending spoke English?  Or let me say, most of them didn't, and the ones that did spoke very little of it.

This threw me for a loop on my first day, as I would be working with a translator, and to say it made day 1 more stressful than usual would be quite the understatement.

But back to the gym for a moment.

Juan has a really awesome place.  He has dumbbells that go up to 150+ pounds, but the catch here is, they are ALL thick handle dumbbells.  All of them.

The knurling on them is quite fierce.  And let's just say the knurling on the 150 pound thick handle dumbbells is not very worn.  I'm telling you this, picking up 100+ pound thick bar dumbbells is not the same AT ALL as picking up regular handled dumbbells.  It makes getting them into position for anything far more difficult.

Day 1 I covered concepts like everyday maxes, percentage based programming, rate of perceived exertion, compensatory acceleration, specific adaptation to imposed demands, and other basic principles of strength training.

As I lectured I was often interrupted (by this one particular guy more often than not) and through his Spanish I could make out the word "hypertrophy" over and over again.  Basically, the gist of it was, how does any of this pertain to muscle growth?

To repeat, this is a gym mostly consisting of guys that do bodybuilding or men's physique competition.  So to them, I'm basically speaking a foreign language.  So technically, I was speaking two languages they didn't understand.

I knew it was of utmost importance that I get their "buy in" to what I was trying to talk to them about.  After all, if the people you are speaking to don't understand how what you are saying can apply to them, they will lose interest and not give a shit.

After lunch I came back and more or less sat down and explained to them why it was important, even for bodybuilders, to get stronger.  I asked them did they think I was bigger when I was moving 315 for 12 reps, or when I was moving 315 for 21 reps?  Of course they understood this.  I then explained that to move a weight for more reps, it needed to become a smaller percentage of their 1 rep max.

This has been something I have written and talked about since day 1.  Strength cycles build on hypertrophy cycles.  Then, a productive hypertrophy cycle will lead to better strength cycles.  They both build on each other, and over time create a bigger and stronger lifter.

This helped with their buy in.

That afternoon we went over squatting.  A lot of them had been squatting with a lot of knee forward action, not hinging at the hips (try explain the word "hinge" in Spanish in regards to squatting).  Most of them did not understand how to get tight enough in the back (lots of elbow FORWARD action), and what to look at to know if the glutes were engaged properly.  Again, because it's mostly bodybuilding, they saw the squat as a movement to build the quads, rather than understanding how to distribute the load as much as possible across the lower body.  So they squatted in a very "bodybuilder" way.

This took a lot of correcting.

By the end of day 1 I was pretty fucking exhausted.  Two more days to go.

Day 2 - 

Because of how things went on day 1, I decided to change things up on day 2.  I would teach bench in the morning and then deadlifting after lunch.

For benching we went over bar path, wrist and elbow alignment, and of course, how to setup on the bench with enough tension and tightness, and how to facilitate leg drive.

Teaching leg drive is always interesting because some people get it right out of the gate, and some people don't seem to grasp it at all.  No matter how many different ways I teach it, or how many different mental cues I offer up, some people just can't "feel" what they are supposed to be doing.  Strangely enough, women seem to get leg drive faster than most guys.  I have no idea why, but in every seminar I've ever done this has been the case.

That afternoon we went over deadlifting.  I explained that the deadlift really wasn't a "pull", but more of a push, then a pull to finish at lockout.  I often say that the deadlift is the easiest lift to teach, but the hardest to "feel".  Getting the motion down of pushing the bar off the floor via your legs is something people do struggle with.  But once they get it, their deadlift starts flying.

I always tell people if your lower back gets sore from pulling, then you are "pulling" the entire movement.  It means the low back is what you are using to break inertia from the floor.  This is bad.

Once again, some people get this right away, and other struggle with it.  However it is, in my opinion, the single most key component to getting your deadlift to move if it has been stuck.  Once you learn how to do this, then the key from there is simply developing more leg strength to improve your strength/speed off the floor.

One thing I often like to do when I teach is actually let guys deadlift for the day.  It breaks up the monotony of just learning technique and gets the juices flowing to end the day on a fun note.

I haven't pulled since November.  Which was my meet.  I've done stiff legged deadlifts every other week or so, but no conventional deadlifts.  For fun I worked up to a super easy triple at 585 for the day, and another guy at the gym wanted to give it a go.  Video below.  Sorry for having it filmed on a potato.

Day 3 - 

By day 3 I had found my groove in regards to the language barrier.  It also seemed as if people brushed up on their English over the past two days because people were asking me questions in English or nodded at shit I said.  Maybe they were just humoring my by doing that, but they legit seemed to understand what I was saying more often now than before.

Last day I covered combining all the programming and how to lay it out in a training split, some rehab and prehab stuff, and then for fun we finished with 100 rep barbell curls.  As usual, I like to pit the women against the men because the men don't get that women are usually better at these because they tend to have more endurance fibers (regardless of what a "study" says I've seen this time after time).

I went against Rocio, who is in her 50's, but jacked as fuck.  I knocked out the first 100 really fast, then thought she was well behind me so I ended up pausing for a bit, not realizing she just kept going.  I finished at 148....she did 160.  God dammit.

Closing and misc. fun stuff -

I can't say enough about Juan, his staff, his trainers and all the people that attended and the Dominican people in general.  They are loving and big hearted people who have a sense of hospitality that is unparalleled to anywhere I've been.  I am slated to return in June and am incredibly excited to get back, with more Spanish in tow, to do more teaching to the people there.

Now for some FUN stuff!

  • Traffic is fucking crazy.  I mean crazy.  Juan told me when I got there "if you can drive here, you can drive anywhere in the world."  And I believe it.  One night as we were sitting at a red light, a car raced around us, into the other lane, then made a right turn into oncoming traffic.  No one noticed.  There are no real speed limits, and people don't stop at stop signs.  It's pretty "ok" to drink and drive, and motorcycles drive at breakneck speeds right on the sidewalk.  So yeah, it's crazy.  The best I heard it described was by a guy that picked me up one morning.  He said "you know, if a red light goes out, traffic does not stop.  It keeps going.  There is no slow down.  That's because everyday out here.......we fight."   I laughed so hard at that.  
  • The food was amazing.  What was interesting is that most of the food you get out, is very healthy.  I mean, outside of the fried plantains.  But it's generally roasted chicken, lots of rice everywhere, and beans.  I also ate steak a lot, and all of it was amazing as hell.  We went to this one place that also served this baked coconut pie thing for dessert and I could have eaten about 100 of those every evening.  

  • You can't get a bad cup of coffee anywhere.  I mean no matter where you go, the coffee is the best coffee you will have.  Ever.  I was amazed at no matter what the place looked like, or how "poor" it seemed, the coffee was just spectacular.  Everytime.  
  • One day while we were eating at the "Chicken Plaza" a preacher came in and started preaching.  Loudly.  After a long and enthusiastic sermon, he then asked for money to help build his new church.  To which the group protested, more or less at this.  I grabbed it on video.  

  • My second to last day there, I actually got to go to the beach.  Juan drove me out and I ate fresh Lobster, shrimp, salmon, octopus, calamari, and oysters right there by the Ocean.  This was the ultimate day of decompression and when I come back I intend to spend a few days here relaxing.  
  • Coming back was awful.  It took hours and hours to get my ticket, get through immigration and customs, and then board.  Then I had to do it all over again in Atlanta.  I think I showed my passport, literally, 9 times in two stops.  My cab ride to the airport was also interesting.  Every indicator light in the cabbies dash was lit up.  The speedometer did not work.  At all.  And apparently neither did the gas gauge because it looked like the car was on empty.  So basically, I have no idea how the driver would know if something in the car was fucking up, until it was too late.  The AC did not work, and of course, the window would barely roll down.  It was 90 outside, so by the time I got to the airport, I looked like I had been cutting weight all night for a meet weight in. 
I have so many people I'd like to thank but I'm sure I will miss someone.  Thanks to Charles for introducing me to Juan.  Thanks to Juan for having me out, and spoiling me (he arranged for me to have a massage while there as well), having me into his home to meet his family and eat at their table with them.  Thanks to Alicia, Guillermo (who also translated and drove me around as needed, thank you sir!), Rocio, Natalia, and so many others who made my trip amazing and unforgettable.  I hope to see you all soon!

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

5 ways to make sure you fail

Goal setting is probably the most important, yet least perfected aspect in the training paradigm.  People talk about goals all the time.  People dream about goals daily.  Then people talk about goals that they dream about daily.

Then of course, many times, they are still talking and dreaming about those same goals in a year, and the year after that.

Some people do eventually find their way to dream land because they are so determined to make shit happen that eventually, it does.  I do believe very strongly in telling yourself in a consistent basis that you are capable of doing something extraordinary.  I mean, if you don't believe you can, you won't.  The factor of self belief is paramount in regards to seeing your goals come to fruition.  Because no matter how much someone else tells you that you are able, and capable, until YOU believe it, you will constantly come up short.

So what are some of the things that the defeatist does to self sabotage his or her goals?

1.  Tell everyone - 

As I said, self belief is of utmost importance if you want your goals to manifest themselves from your effort.  However, at some point you have to shut the fuck up telling everyone about all the shit you're going to do, and you know...actually DO IT.

Check it.......

In 1933, W. Mahler found that if a person announced the solution to a problem, and was acknowledged by others, it was now in the brain as a "social reality", even if the solution hadn't actually been achieved.

NYU psychology professor Peter Gollwitzer has been studying this since his 1982 book "Symbolic Self-Completion" - and recently published results of new tests in a research article, "When Intentions Go Public: Does Social Reality Widen the Intention-Behavior Gap?"

Four different tests of 63 people found that those who kept their intentions private were more likely to achieve them than those who made them public and were acknowledged by others.

Once you've told people of your intentions, it gives you a "premature sense of completeness."

You have "identity symbols" in your brain that make your self-image. Since both actions and talk create symbols in your brain, talking satisfies the brain enough that it "neglects the pursuit of further symbols."

This runs counter to what we've been told before, in that, if you tell people your goals you're more likely to see them through.  Basically, as an accountability factor.  It sounds good in theory, but in reality, we all know more people that made new years resolutions and talked that whole "new year, new me" shit, and then February 1st rolled around and their motto was "new year, new.....ahhhh fuck it.  Same me."

Change is hard.  It's harder when you tell everyone just how awesome you're going to be in a few months.  I get it.  It feels good to talk about your goals, and that's the problem.  As studies have shown, that "feel good" feeling we have from doing so often short circuits our own efforts to actually see things through.

If you have goals, shut up about them, and just get it done.

2.  Not being specific enough - 

This is another big one.

"I want to lose weight."

"I want to get stronger."

"I want to get jacked."

None of these things are clearly defined enough to set a REAL GOAL.

You want to lose weight?  How much?  What is the time frame?  What will your diet look like in that time?  Do you have time to do cardio?

You want to get stronger?  On what lift?  In what time frame?  What will your training program look like to accomplish this?

You want to get jacked?  What in the hell does that mean to you?  Bigger arms?  How much bigger?  How much weight do you need to gain?  If you're fat right now, are you aware that you will need to get lean FIRST, to really get jacked?  Otherwise, you're just fatter.....

When you set a goal, ask yourself is there a follow up question you can ask about that goal, that helps to more clearly define it.  And keep asking questions like this, until you run out of questions.

The more questions you ask yourself, the more answers you can supply.  And the more answers you can supply, means more than likely, the more correct answers you can supply.

There are two factors that play a very important part here.

1.  Asking yourself the right questions
2.  Giving yourself the right answers

If you make a blanket statement like "I want to lose weight", then ask "can I eat doughnuts while I do this?" that's a fucked up question.  So one of the possible answers to that question is "yes".  Make sure when you ask questions that they don't leave room for improper or incorrect answers.

3. Refusing to get/accept/seek professional advice - 

Without a doubt, almost anything you set out to achieve has been achieved by others before you.  And they usually have advice or knowledge that can make achieving your goals easier.  So how come so many people fail to seek out others who can help?

Generally speaking; pride.

As Marcellus Wallace said, "Pride only hurts, it never helps."

There is nothing wrong with accepting help or advice from others if it helps you see your goals and aspirations come to fruition.  If someone came to you, seeking advice on how to achieve something you had done, would you look down on them for doing so?  Probably not.  Unless you're an asshole.

Most people are more than happy to help others find their way to a goal they themselves have achieved.  Because of association, they will often understand how much it means to you, and will gladly open up their vault of wisdom on how they made this happen.

Just make sure that if you do decide to seek advice or help, that you do so from the right people.  Because the net is saturated with "wisdom", you can easily find yourself getting bad advice from people in spite of the fact that they accomplished something you desire as well.

For example, there are tons of online trainers now.  But I don't know how many of them are really qualified to give advice, regardless of what they have accomplished.  Would you take financial advice from a guy that is a day trader, but has no real bank roll to show for his exploits?

On the flip side, would you take financial advice from a guy with 100 million dollars who simply inherited it?

So be wise in choosing who you do decide to accept or get advice from.

4.  Set unrealistic goals - 

This one has become all too prevalent in powerlifting lately, but it's not new to any sport or endeavor.

Some guy deadlifts 700 for the first time, and proclaims he's "on the road to 800."

Some guy wins his first major national show in bodybuilding and he starts talking about winning the Mr.  Olympia.

I hate that fucking motto "shoot for the stars, because even if you fail you will land on the moon."

Hey jackass, how about just getting on the Space Shuttle first?  Seems like that's a good start.

I'm all for self belief.  In fact, it is a major component in conquering goals and getting past roadblocks.  However you need to throw in a dash of basic realism when you decide to set goals as well.

This means setting a realistic goal and a realistic timeframe to accomplish those things.  Most goals consist of small steps in order to get to the top of the proverbial mountain.  If all you focus on is the top of the mountain, and not the small foothold in front of you, then you can slip, and fall, and have to start all over again.  Metaphorically speaking.

Lots of people become so overzealous in their goal setting that they end up incurring setbacks that ultimately challenge their confidence cause them to rearrange their plans all together.

If you desire to set a long term goal, then do so with all of the short term and medium term goals that have to fall in order for the long term goal to happen.

More than likely, your "6 week plan" is more than like a 12 or 24 week plan.  And your 6 month plan is more than likely a year long or 18 month plan.  There's nothing wrong with taking longer to assure a greater amount of success.  More times than that, this will give you a far better chance of achieving a goal, with fewer setbacks, than if you set unrealistic goals with unrealistic timeframes.  This is a very hard concept to grasp for people who either have enormous egos or don't understand that, as you get closer to the pinnacle of the mountain, the harder the climb becomes.

Anything worth achieving is worth doing correctly.  And sometimes correctly means it will take longer than you actually wish it did.  Learn to be ok with that.

5.  Excuses 

This is sort of the grandaddy of failure.  It generally encompasses all the above points as to why we usually fail.

Now I've written before, there is a difference between reasons, and excuses.

If you were late to work because you stayed out partying the night before, and kept hitting snooze on the alarm clock, that's an excuse.

If you were late to work because you got a flat tire on the way there, that's a reason.

Sometimes differentiating between reasons and excuses can be hard.  So let's make this clear.

A reason is something that impacts your life that you have no control over.

An excuse is something that impacts your life that you did have control over.

If you perform poorly because you had the flu, that's a reason.  If you got injured while performing that's a reason.

If you didn't take your training, diet, recovery, etc seriously during preparation and show up shitty, that's an excuse.  The key point here, really, is to just be honest with yourself.

Sometimes people use reasons when the fact is, they are just excuses.  For example, I rarely read where a guy says of missing an attempt in a meet "I just wasn't strong enough."

"I blew my wad on my previous attempt."

"Platform was wobbly."

"Misgrooved it."

Maybe some of these things are true, and maybe it's just as simple as, you weren't strong enough for that lift.

But reasons and excuses play a role in every facet of our life.  If something goes unaccomplished because of things you couldn't control, then you regroup, and take a run at it again.  If something goes unaccomplished because of your poor efforts and undisciplined actions, then you need to take a long look in the mirror and ask yourself just how important your goals really are.

One of the things I often ask people in regards to what they say they want to accomplish is, "what are you willing to give up in order to make this happen?"

This often puts people in a position where they are forced to reassess what's really important to them, and what matters most.  I know from working with some people that sacrificing their health, isn't worth winning a trophy over.  And there's nothing wrong with that.  For others, they are fine with it.  I don't know that there is any right or wrong here, because everyone gets to decide what is important to them, and it is their life to live.  So regardless of either of those things, you have to decide what you will be willing to give up to find yourself at the top of your own personal mountain.  Just remember, that everything in life that gives you something, will take something away.  Decide what it is you're will to lose in order to gain something, and if it's really worth it.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Cluster training for strength

The past year or more, I've had an enormous amount of success with clients using the principles from Base Building to in regards to strength building.  Sub-maximal training with speed, minimizing work to mostly the big three, performing a lot of volume, and not grinding out weights week after week.

Over the past 6+ months, I also started incorporating cluster training for many of them, in order to break up the boredom, and introduce a new type of loading pattern.

Cluster training is simply waving the intensity up while waving the reps downward at the same time.  Then repeating this pattern in a volume sequence, like "3-2-1" repeated 3 or 4 times, with the weights increasing in intensity each set.

There are a few reasons I like this type of training.  But the reason I like it the most is because the lifter often sees neural efficiency in effect.  Each cluster will feel slightly different, and more times than not the second or third cluster will be the one where the last set in the cluster feels the most explosive.

This has often been, to me, one of the draw backs to tradition rep/set loading pattern schemes.  You "warm up" then do a top set for X amount of reps, or close to failure.  I have proven over and over again that using an "over warm-up", i.e. warming up past the target intensity range then coming back to it, is far more advantageous than the former method.

For example

Traditional  pyramid warm up -
135 x 10
225 x 5
275 x 4
315 x 3
365 x 2
405 x 5 or doing AMAP

Over warm up -
135 x 10
225 x 5
275 x 4
315 x 3
365 x 2
405 x 1
455 x 1
405 x reps or volume sequence

With cluster training the lifter gets an over warm up, then goes back up the ladder and repeats.  Like so....

Cluster (with total warm up) -
135 x 10
225 x 5
275 x 4

First Cluster -
315 x 3
365 x 2
405 x 1

Second Cluster -
315 x 3
365 x 2
405 x 1

Third Cluster -
315 x 3
365 x 2
405 x 1

To be clear here, I don't like the same type of cluster training for each of the three big lifts.  I feel like each one responds a bit better to different types of clusters.

Squat cluster -

The squat, to me, is the most straight forward of the three.  I like a very basic cluster with the squat, as the one described above.

1 set of 3
1 set of 2
1 single


Setting up the cluster based on percentages is pretty easy.  Of course, you need to start with your EDM (every day max) and then base it off of that.

If your EDM = 405

Week 1 - 3 clusters
65% x 3
70% x 2
75% x 1

Week 2 - 4 clusters at the same intensity

Week 3 - 5 clusters at the same intensity

Week 4 - 3 clusters
75% x 3
80% x 2
85% x 1

Week 5 - 4 clusters at the same intensity

Week 6 - 5 clusters at the same intensity

Week 7 - 3 clusters
85% x 3
90% x 2
95% x 1

Week 8 - 4 clusters at the same intensity
Week 9 - deload
Week 10 - test new EDM

Bench Cluster -

When benching I like to do things a bit differently.  I feel like bench responds very well to higher intensities, reps, and to sets very close to failure.  So I structure it this way...

Week 1 -
75% x 5
80% x 3
85% x 1

Repeat two more times.  On the last cluster, do AMAP on the last set (the single).

So it would look like so...

First cluster -
75% x 5
80% x 3
85% x 1

Second Cluster -
75% x 5
80% x 3
85% x 1

Third Cluster -
75% x 5
80% x 3
85% x AMAP

What I like to do with bench, is set a rep PR goal for the third cluster before increasing the weight.  You can literally just keep the percentages the same, and increase the EDM when the rep goal is met.  That goal is generally 4 or more reps compared to what you got in week 1.

Deadlift clusters - 

With deadlifting I like to keep the speed high throughout the entire cycle, but ramp up the intensity a little bit faster over the course of the weeks.  I also don't like to add volume, but subtract it as the intensity rises.  The reason I do this is because I have always found that the deadlift takes more than it gives back, in regards to a return on work investment.  In other words, the more volume, frequency, and intensity you put in on the deadlift, the less it tends to move (or even regresses).

For example...

Week 1 - 3 total clusters
60% x 3
65% x 2
70% x 1

Week 2 - 3 total clusters
65% x 3
70% x 2
75% x 1

Week 3 - 3 total clusters
70% x 3
75% x 2
80% x 1

Week 4 - 3 total clusters
75% x 3
80% x 2
85% x 1

Week 5 - 2 total clusters
80% x 3
85% x 2
90% x 1

Week 6 - 2 total clusters
85% x 3
90% x 2
95% x 1

Week 7 - deload
Week 8 - test new EDM

Recommendations - 

As you can see, the cycle for each is a little different in length.  This is for a reason.  Most cookie cutter programs have you approaching the lifts in the same fashion for the same length of time.  I have found that each of the three tend to respond differently over time, and with different loads and intensities.  Now, this can't be avoided come meet/competition time.  As you have to just deal with it.  But if it's the offseason and you want to specialize in a lift for a while, it's a good idea to pick which lift you want to do that in, and then use clustering for that lift only.  Approach the other two with Base Building model I or II.

The other thing I like, as mentioned before, is that certain clusters are going to feel faster and better.  This should also give you some clue as to how much "warm up" you need to really get the body working efficiently for moving bigger numbers.  This could be a great asset come warm up room time in competition, or just for gym testing.


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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Day in the DR

In the Dominican Republic this weekend to teach for three days.

I had to get up at 4 a.m. because my flight was out at 5:55 a.m.  It snowed the night before so the drive took longer than usual, and when I got to the airport it looked as if the airlines were giving out $100 bills for free it was so packed.  I thought with it being so early that it wouldn't be crowded but I thought wrong.

I was literally the last person to get on my departing flight and almost missed it.  Then, we had to wait around because something was fucked up, and I had a very short layover in Atlanta.  So I then became worried that I would miss my flight from Atlanta to Santo Domingo.

I literally had to sprint through the entire Atlanta airport to make it on time and once again I was the last person on my flight.

I arrived in Santo Domingo, and had no cash on me, as I seldom travel with cash, but I should be smarter than that in regards to international travel.  They charge $10 for a tourist pass and you can't even get into the customs line until you buy one.  Well, my credit card wasn't working for some reason, possibly just because it's a US credit card, but none of them worked.  So I eventually just asked someone for $10 bucks and they were nice enough to loan it to me.  I tried to find them afterwards so I could pay them back but they were nowhere to be found.

Ok so, if you have never been to the DR, the people here drive like god damn crazy maniacs.  I mean, it's hard to describe in words.  No signals, people cut you off with no room in between you and the car in front of you; pedestrians cross busy interstates holding babies, and motorcycles drive against the traffic flow (yes coming right at you) on the regular.  I was laughing the whole time at just how fucking nuts it is.

I ate at 4:30, then left, and of course didn't have to time to eat again so it was 12 hours between meals.  Fortunately, Juan took me to this awesome, awesome, awesome joint and they had one of the best steaks I've ever eaten.  I then had raw red meat, and that too was delicious.  It's sliced super thin, and is actually very sweet in taste.

We headed out to Juan's gym, "Workout" (yes that's the name) and I ended up training with Juan and a client of his.  I did seated db press with the 100's for 15, two giant sets of side laterals, and 100 rep front raises.  For not eating for 12 hours, it was a pretty decent session.

Will try to throw some updates out over the weekend.  If I don't get killed in Mad Maxville.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Thoughts about life, crap, training, and stuff - What it really means to find yourself

Everyone has a story behind their origins in finding their love of lifting, fitness, etc that explains why the iron was life changing for them.

I do.  But I've written about that before, so I won't now.  Instead, I have something I want to write to the young dudes that have reached out to me the last couple of weeks that were dealing with situations in their life they felt helpless about.

I want to share something with all the young dudes that read my stuff, and convey something to them that I feel is important.

I can and have always been able to identify with the young kid that wants more than anything, to be big and strong.  I understand the need for that in his life.  It represents acceptance and affirmation that he is worth something.  To himself, to his parents, to his friends, to his girl, whatever.  At least, that's what it represented to me.

That I was worth something.  Because after years of loss and disappointment, life sometimes felt so totally out of control that I ended up with terrible anxiety from it.  But lifting, and getting bigger and stronger was something I had a certain amount of control over.  And it was something that gave me a positive investment on my return.  The more of myself that I poured into it, the more it gave back to me.

Looking down from the 40 year old mountain I sit atop now, it doesn't look meaningless to me even from up on high.  And by that I mean, with a greater degree of life experience and understanding of what is really important at this stage in my life.  And what was important to me then, is still important to me now.  And is still important to virtually everyone who sets foot on this Earth.

And it's really simple.

It's the need to just fucking feel good about who you are.

Why do you think that people talk and write about self esteem, self worth, and loving yourself so much?  Because having those intangible feelings about who we are, outweigh so many other fleeting things in life that only give temporary happiness.

And it may be that right now, as a young man, feeling strong and powerful feels like what you need more than anything else to feel good about who you are.  It was for me.  It saved me in a lot of ways.  And for some of you that are in some fucked up situations, it may be what you're clinging to as well.  And my advice to you is to hold on, and weather this storm like a god damn champion.  

Yes, building muscle is just an exterior.  But fuck if it doesn't feel good, right?   It's just an exterior, but when you're young and haven't developed the ability to emotionally fend off what is supposed to hurt and what isn't, every setback feels like shit.  Then you feel like you're dangling from the cliff you call "life", and lifting may be something you feel like is the only thing that keeps you hanging on.
I know right now, there is some young man reading this that has sat in his room and felt completely alone in his pain.  Completely detached from the world he knows, because he feels like he can't find who he is.  Who he wants to be, or what he wants to be seems evasive.  Like it's a million miles away.

Maybe his situation at home, or at school seems hopeless.  Maybe he has an estranged father, or abusive foster parent, just got his heart broken for the first time, or is in some other fucked up situation.  I don't know your pain.  It is unique to you, and has to be resolved by you when you are strong enough to do so.

Rejection, loss, the questioning of "how good am I?" or "why doesn't anyone care about me?" are questions young men end up asking themselves in their own private thoughts, but are too scared to admit to, or talk to anyone about.

So I will do it.  I'll talk about it.

I went through that.  I suffered from it.  And whether you believe it or not, all you have to do is look around at the other dudes sitting in class with you, or wherever you are, and I promise you that most of them are going through similar shit.

It's called suffering.  And it sucks.  You can succumb to the suffering and wilt from it, and let it make you angry and jaded, or you can let it help you grow into something more than you are.  To help you become a man that you can be proud of one day.

But that's entirely up to you.  I can promise you this however; most of how we deal with shit as adults can be traced back to things that happened to us when we were young.

What kind of man you want to become from it is your choice.  Do you want to be a man that can reach out to a young kid just like you someday, and be an inspiration to him with what he has made of his life, or do you want to become a cynic, or a failure?  A man that never outgrew the bitterness of those shitty years that he let tear him down into a shell of what he could have become.

All of us, even us grown ass men, struggle with these same concepts throughout life at various times.  We will question our own heart, our own desires, and our own willingness to continue suffering when it appears that no end is in sight.  And sometimes, we will take the easy way out, and make shitty decisions and choices that lead us down terrible paths.  We will say things and do things that cannot be undone, and they will haunt us for a very long time afterwards.  And when we wake up and look at the carnage we have caused in our life, we will eventually have to reconcile with the fact, all of it was due to our own choices.  And a real man, will own that.  A real man, will accept the consequences of his actions.

But back to the title of this post.......

So what does it mean to find yourself?  Because that's such an ambiguous term.  What does it mean to be happy with who you are, or to love yourself?

I once explained to someone, that I see the happiness with have in our life like a pie chart.  The slices that make up that pie chart are made up of the various things in our life.  Our job, our hobbies, our siblings, or parents, our kids, whatever.  They all get a slice within that pie chart, and we get to decide how much of our happiness we derive from those things, based on the size we give them.

Some people make their hobbies a huge part of their life happiness, and it gets a huge piece of that pie.  Some people make their significant other a huge piece of that pie, and a great deal of happiness is derived from that relationship.  It varies greatly from person to person, but overall, that pie chart is what makes up our life.  The bigger the slice something gets, the more impact it has on our personal happiness.  If succeeding at work is a huge slice, then failing at work means there is more grief in our life at that moment.

Just like if a friend or loved one is a huge slice of that pie, if we lose them for some reason, it can be devastating because that entire piece is now completely gone from our life.  And it can never truly be replaced.

Finding who you are, is about deciding what you want that pie chart to look like.  What you want to fill it up with.  And loving who you are is about deciding how much importance you are going to give each slice.  For me, as a young man, my pie chart mainly consisted of lifting, because that is what meant the most to me, and what gave me the most happiness.

It was also something I had control over.  And the bigger you make a slice that you ultimately have no control over, the greater the chance you have for having less personal happiness in your life.  This is a sad but hard reality of life.

Right now, you may feel like your pie chart is filled up with things that bring you more pain and unhappiness than joy.  When I got old enough, I had to make a choice to remove certain people from my pie chart because keeping them in it caused more unhappiness in my life than I needed.  And once I did, things got better.

You may not be in a situation to do that right now.  And that's ok.  It's just as important to remember that you don't want to become the things you hate.  Often times, young men grow up and become the father that wasn't a good one to them.  Or the husband that wasn't a good one to his mother.  And if that's what you hate, don't become that.  Be something better.  That is completely within your choice.
On the way to developing a bigger body, don't forget to develop your positive virtues as well.  With courage being the most important.  As Maya Angelou wrote.....

"Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage."

Remember this, it's not about reaching that destination you so desperately want to arrive at.  It's what you do with the time between now and then, and what you decide to fill your life up with.  Because the choices you make between now and then, are ultimately going to determine where you arrive.
So be wise about what you do with your suffering, and how you respond to it.  Your choices and reactions will shape who you are, and what you eventually become.

I also stress to anyone that has been through trauma in their life, to seek help.  Therapy isn't for people who are weak.  It's for people who don't know how to deal with the fragmented parts of their life.  The pieces that are still too painful to process.  If you don't get help, over time, they will eventually manifest themselves in some sort of destructive behavior.

To close with something very clicheish.....hang in there.

"Man cannot remake himself without suffering, for he is both the marble and the sculptor." - Alexis Carrel

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