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Duality – Finding Balance in Training

There is a common idea throughout many mythologies, ideologies or philosophies that all things have an opposite. Dark and light. Heaven and Hell. Sound and silence. As lifters, we too can apply this idea of duality to our training. In fact, we must. We must strive for balance. This concept spreads throughout training and it’s many different facets; programming, mindset, and recovery being the most glaring.

Programming

This balance must be applied to the macro and the micro of programming. Everything from cycle to cycle, to exercise selection to keep balance throughout the body.

When training hard and pushing your progress to new levels, you need to be aware of both sides of the coin. Assuming your recovery measures are on point, as discussed in a previous article, you will be able to push your training for weeks on end. Perhaps even months, but eventually your body will have had enough. This is where the “Recovery Cycle” or “Deload Week” comes in. These cycles are nothing more than a short time at lower volumes, intensities or both to allow your body to recover and adapt from the hard training you’ve done. It’s a nice idea to think you could redline your training for 10 years without backing off a little, and some internet gurus love to make motivational montages and talk about training in this manner, but it’s simply not feasible for most. Tendons, ligaments and other connective tissues take a long time to recover from the barrage of training many of us throw at them and giving them some much needed time off can be extremely beneficial in the long run. These cycles don’t have to be boring either. They are a great time to focus on things like technique, bar speed, mobility or conditioning/work capacity to be ready for the cycles to follow.

In terms of exercise selection, we need to be aware of balance throughout the body, as muscular imbalances are one of the biggest factors in injuries throughout a trainee’s career. The most obvious is the over-done “skipped leg day” we see posted all over social media in an attempt to relate to people who actually train. I’d rather touch on the subtler imbalances we see in trainees. The most common being the dreaded “Douche-bag” shoulders. These are the result of far too many pressing exercises and not nearly enough back work. This can lead to all sorts of shoulder issues down the line, which can spread to issues throughout the body due to compensation. It will also result in a weak lifter. There is a common saying among the strongest men in the world:

“I’ve seen men with big arms, big legs and big chests who were weak, but never have I seen a weak man with a big back.”

Most people have already started digging this hole, as it’s hard to see your back in the mirror, so they don’t train it much. I’d say you want to aim for twice as many reps of rowing variations, specifically, than pressing variations. Most of us do not row as heavy as we bench, so we must make up for it in total volume.

This also applies to the hips, knees, elbows etc. I highly suggest novice trainees become familiar with antagonizing muscle groups so they can be sure to train them in symmetry to keep healthy joints and a strong structure.

Mindset

Pre-workouts, stimulants, and caffeine in general have become very popular as of late. The reason is simple: It’s fun as hell. But as discussed before, there are two sides to every coin. Tremendous amounts of caffeine drain your body of resources when used chronically, and will leave you tired, uninspired and lethargic. However, I’m not here to tell you to stop using these things, I’m here to say you should use them intelligently. This doesn’t just apply to caffeine but any sort of tool you may use to “psyche up.” Eventually these things will stop working for you and you’ll be caught with your pants down searching for the new thing to focus you again. I personally think there is something to be said for being able to get focused without any help – I believe that every trainee should be able to put themselves into that state on demand, and that these tools, be it caffeine, music, nose tork etc should be reserved for specific lifts or specific cycles to otherwise amplify the intensity, or simply have a bit of fun with it. On the macro-scale this idea stems back to the recovery cycle idea, as it can be a time to get “off” the stimulants, relearn to focus naturally and get your mind straight for the upcoming cycles. In the micro-scale we have the training session. Learning to relax between sets can be very beneficial for some, while others prefer to be revved to 11 the entire session, but that tends to be much harder on the nervous system in my experience and being able to relax between sets, and then ramp back up for your set has been a much better approach for the long haul in my experience.

Let’s face it; nobody reading this article is going to be a world record holder, NHL star, or Olympic Gold Medalist next year, but 5 years? 10 years? If you set up your training properly, train and recover with intensity and plan intelligently, who knows where you may find yourself.

 

Grind. Evolve. Thrive.

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Recovery

RECOVERY

Progress in the weight room requires three things:

1.     Training

2.     Recovery

3.     Consistency

Each one requires the other. It doesn’t matter how hard you train if you don’t recover. It doesn’t matter how well you recover if you don’t train. And it doesn’t matter how consistent you are if you’re consistently shit. Everyone loves #1; that’s the fun part. But if you want to keep having fun, the other two need to be addressed.

Consistency is simple: Just keep doing the things that work and don’t stop. It may not be easy, but it is definitely simple. So for this article, we will address recovery.

What Really Matters?

Recovery can be broken down into a very hazy percentage analysis. I’d venture to guess somewhere in the 80-90% range of your total recovery ability comes from two things; eating and sleeping. The other 10-20% comes from the flashy shit, like rolling on butt-plugs or putting yourself in extreme temperatures for a while. This is the stuff some people really get off on, and all the power to you if you do, but there are plenty of big strong people who’ve never touched a foam roller, but not one of them eats like a mouse. Now, I’m not saying that stuff isn’t useful, but we need to remember where the bulk of our recovery ability comes from.

Diet

When people see the word diet, most immediately assume it is a temporary attempt to lose weight, when in fact by definition it is simply what you habitually shove in your face-hole. So we must look at it as a habit, not a temporary measure. Now, I’m not going to sit here and go over the minutia of diet, there are a million resources to find that sort of thing out and I’m no where close to qualified. I’m here to remind you, the novice trainee, that eating matters. A lot. You need lots of high quality food if you want to get stronger.

Think of it this way:

Every pound of muscle, bone, or sinew you develop has to come from somewhere, so if you want to look like Bill Kazmaier did, you’re going to need to eat a lot.

…And here is where EVERYONE fucks it up…

You may be sitting there thinking “Yeah, damn I need to eat more. I’ll start smashing food and get my calories way up.”

Wrong.

You can’t just hike your calories up out of nowhere and expect your body to know what to do with them. You need to build the metabolism to use those nutrients. So start by adding a little bit each week, consistently over a long period of time. This will allow your body to adapt and become more efficient.

Gee, that sounds familiar.

The next question is always the same:

“What should I eat?”

First and foremost – EAT FOOD. I know that sounds silly, but with such a rampant supplement market, we have thousands of people whose diets are a steady stream of protein shakes, BCAA powders, creatine and Nitrous Donkey Punch Formula-15. You need real, whole, nutrient dense foods and more water than you think. Foods like beef, fish, nuts, vegetables, and eggs. Milk is also great as long as you’re looking to get bigger. Liquid calories go in a lot quicker than solid ones.

There is always a silly debate going on over the internet around “clean food” vs “If it fits your macros.” And I get the debate; without it, many internet salesmen/women wouldn’t have anything to talk about, and people want a reason to eat junk food. But c’mon… we all know the answer to this. Eating healthier foods is always better than eating junk foods. There’s definitely a place for junkier foods, especially if you’re trying to get bigger – but healthy foods would still be better if you could stomach them. So as an aside: Learn to cook. Every human being should be capable of feeding themselves. Stop being a burden on those around you.

Sleep

This is simple really; get lots of sleep if you are dedicated to getting bigger or stronger. The younger you are the less sleep you can get away with, but more is still better. No secrets or fancy tricks here. Try to get 7-8 hours of high quality sleep every night. I work a night job, so I therefore have to sleep during the day, and if there is construction or other excess noise outside, it directly affects my training the next day, so I know this is important.

This isn’t rocket appliances people, but it needs to be stated, especially for those who are new to the game. Recovery makes up a gigantic piece of the puzzle in the strength world, and when you can get your recovery dialed in consistently for long periods of time you will see the best progress by far. No supplement or toy compares to a hearty meal and a good sleep. Get consistent with the mundane and see the extraordinary progress to be had.

 

Grind. Evolve. Thrive. 

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Using Boosts

When building up to top work sets or a max for the day, would it be smarter to make the lift start easy and become hard? Or, would it be smarter to start the lift normal and it become easier?

Something rarely talked about is the ability to apply boosts at certain warm up attempts to elicit more speed or power. For example, in the Squat; from the empty bar up to 185lbs, I may not even have my shoes tied up. At 225lbs I will tie my shoes and feel more secure and confident under the bar. At 315lbs I would add some knee sleeves and some chalk to my hands for the first time in the session. The bar would feel secure in my grip and my bounce out of the hole would start to seem more dynamic and engaged. At 365lbs I would add my wrist wraps and take a final beltless warm up. It is slightly heavy and by doing it beltless I need to concentrate much more, yet the wrist pain is relieved that I had up until this point. At 405lbs I throw my belt on not at full strength but a couple notches out. Even a couple notches from full I get a massive boost in speed as my body spends way less energy on stabilizing and more on the actual squat. At 455lbs I add another notch to my belt now one away from full, and add my knee wraps with little tension. Again, just by adding that new belt notch, walking out feels like a breeze, I am so stable unracking that the weight feels like nothing on my back. Now I am stable and confident and take a big breath and drop quick into the hole with the nice surprise of my knee wraps giving me the jump of a lifetime, the weight almost popping off of my shoulders. Now I would head to my final warm up around 500lbs. I want this weight to be the best one yet, the most confident going into a max attempt. I go full belt, absolutely as tight as possible on my knee wraps and put a song on I like. Unracking the bar feels heavy obviously, but with that added final belt notch I am slightly more stable than the last which makes my walkout more confident than the rep before. With the knee wraps as tight as they can go I know I will need some speed on the way down to give them enough force to get a good rebound. I take a big breath and drop and pop out of the hole, little to no struggle going into the top set of the day, fully confident as every rep so far had felt good for some reason or another, adding one thing in at a time to give me either more confidence, more speed, more stability or even the music putting me in a better mental state.

Now, the key to finding your boost stages is to use your brain and not to let the ego get in the way. If you have a notion in your head that you want to save your belt until 300lbs yet your last rep was slightly out of position, not as quick as you wanted or your back tweaked slightly, your going to want to add it in when you need it, not when you think you want it. The difference being, your not going to get a boost if you save something too long, your actually going to have a warm up rep with more struggle than you want, which in turn makes you less confident and scared for the next rep. You can not have a set plan when to add things in because you think it would be cool to do beltless this or shoeless that, you must have a rough idea, and then let it be a fluid thing that can change when certain things occur. Using boosts improperly will have a negative effect on your session which cannot happen in a sport where the bars only goal is to break you any chance it gets, finding some instability or technique error to screw you on.

Plan of action:

Each major lift will have its own priorities. For the squat, adding in more stability and bounce are key. You never want to have an unconfident walk out so be weary of when to add belt and how much to add. You also never want to have a slow reversal out of the hole when warming up, so be sure to dial down how to warm up properly for yourself. Think about having knee sleeves folded down at knee level giving a little compression to the patellar tendon than roll them normal onto the knee when you need extra bounce. Knee wraps can be wrapped tighter and tighter so only use so much at first to not have a super speedy first set with them, but when you go up and you already had them as tight as you can go, you will not gain any more bounce.

For bench, major breakdown will occur when the body is unstable moving on the bench as well as the wrists folding back. Think about warming up light with feet on the bench to get the upper body ready without over stretching your back into an arch when you don't need it yet. When some weight is added put your feet down but not full arch. At about the same time each person will have a weight that gets real. Add in the wrist wraps and full arch and you will have more tension and more speed when you need it. Once your in full arch you can add more leg drive as you build up and a belt if you need more intra-abdominal pressure.

For the deadlift, its just you and the bar. The only real boost you will gain is from the belt. You must systematically add it in a couple belt loops away and build up so each rep is more confident than the last. This is definitely not the lift to wait too long. A rough deadlift warm up can do terrible things to your confidence going up. Make sure you have a number in your head which you always know is safe to do beltless and then at that time decide if you can do another or not. This may be around 55-65%, any given day no matter how your feeling, you should be able to walk up and smoke this weight beltless. Once you have this sure fire number in your head you can then prolong using the belt or if its not feeling the best add in basically full belt right away for the rest of the session. Right around this time as well, you could think about adding in wrist wraps, nice and tight and well below the wrist. This will compress the forearm tendons giving you a slight grip strength gain on the bar. Once the deadlift has all its physical boosts added in you can only add in mental boosts. This would be your favourite song as loud as can be, friends and lifting partners cheering and motivating. Ammonia inhalants also help a ton at big weights to take away all thoughts in your brain and light your nervous system up in order to have nothing going in your body but thinking about the rep that is about to take place.

In the end, everyone will have their own routine and their own method. But applying boosts correctly can have a major benefit on your training sessions and your overall performance in max out and competition settings.

 

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Get Your Priorities Straight

Very few people have all the time in the world to train. Most have an hour or two a few days a week at most, so we want to get as much out of our time as possible. Now, the primary focus for most in the gym should be to get stronger – I’m not saying that’s the only thing you should be concerned with, but by default that’s generally why we’re here and what you should be focused on for reasons beyond the scope of this article. So let’s look at a few common errors when it comes to rationing our time in the gym:

1. The Over-Warm-Up

So if we’re going to use our hour of training wisely, the majority should be focused on heavy effective training, correct? So why do so many people spend 30-40 minutes warming up, doing 15-20 different mobility exercises? I get it if you’re an old beat up veteran lifter. But those people aren’t reading this. The people reading this haven’t developed a laundry list of injuries from squatting tons and tons of weight over the last couple decades, so they don’t need more than 10 minutes of work to get warm and moving properly. Fact is, most of those vet’s will tell you the reason they have to do so much mobility work now, is because they never did any in the first place. Anyone remember the old saying “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?” Notice the measurement: “An ounce of prevention...” If you do have mobility restrictions you need to work on, work on them at home between sessions, the gym is for getting stronger -that will benefit you the most by default. Doing too much mobility work before a session tends to have a relaxing effect on the body, which is exactly the opposite of what we want before training – we want the body primed. So do enough to get your shit straight, but don’t over-do it. The best way I’ve found is to do a few movement drills similar to the main movement for the day, before you start it (i.e. Light Goblet squats, Split-leg Squats and Band Good Mornings before squatting), and then do a mobility exercise for tight joints and restricted ranges of motion between warm-up sets so you get active feedback. This is definitely a very primitive way of warming up, but not everything needs to be designed by NASA; sometimes a couple rocks and a stick work just fine.

2. Focusing on the Wrong Exercises

In the world of Strength, the Barbell is King. There is no way around this fact. I don’t care how many people you see throwing around Kettlebells, swinging clubs or doing some fancy shit on the rings. Nothing works better than a barbell for developing real strength throughout the entire body. It is incrementally loadable, and can be used to load basic movement archetypes to continually stress the body in a progressive manner to create adaptation. So, that being said, we need to focus on Barbell movements.  Simple. So why do people spend most of their time with Dumbbells, Kettlebells, Cables, Machines or “Unconventional” equipment? Well, probably because it looked cool, they’re missing the point, or a combination of the two. Now if you’re not interested in getting strong, and you just want to exercise and have a fun workout when you go into the gym, that’s fine – do whatever you want. But if you want to get stronger and faster, and you want to do it efficiently, you’d better be spending most of your time on big compound barbell movements. They make up the meat, potatoes and veggies of your training. The dumbbell work, cable work, and isolation movements are akin to the sauce and seasonings. Invest your training time wisely and get a better return.

3. Too Many Horses

Everyone wants to be strong as a powerlifter, run a marathon and look like a bodybuilder. I won’t say that’s entirely impossible, because Alex Viada did it, but as a general rule: It’s not going to happen. I’d say he’s probably an exception. So trying to get better in all those areas at once is like trying to ride three horses in different directions. Focus on one for a few months (or years – training is not a sprint), then move to the next, then the next, and then repeat the cycle. But don’t try to cover every wall in your shit at once. Have some intention and attack a specific goal for a specific amount of time and then move on once you’ve achieved it. This will build a rounded athlete over time, and stacking your training in this way can have a synergistic effect if you plan it properly. Being stronger and carrying more muscle mass will help you get leaner faster, being lean will help you increase your conditioning, and increasing your conditioning means you’ll be able to recover from more work in the weight room when you attempt to get bigger and stronger again. Repeat this process for 10-20 years and I’m sure you’ll be happy with where you’re at.

Always remember that time is your most precious commodity as it is the only commodity that you can never replenish, so invest it wisely if you wish to achieve your goals and live a fulfilling life. Critical thinking seems to be out of vogue as of late, so hopefully we can bring it back to light and get people headed in the right direction: Forward.

 

Grind. Evolve. Thrive.

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Drain all Resources. Exhaust all Options

With all the internet gurus and know-it-alls in the fitness industry, it's hard to separate fact from fiction. Something that goes without saying even five years ago when I started getting stronger to fifty years ago when strength sports in the 60s exploded, is that you should always listen to those of higher power. Now I don't mean those that have transcended to a god like state (or do I?..) but those individuals that are just flat out better than you. In reality, in the strength world, any girl or guy who lifts more than you is better than you. In bodybuilding, as well, any girl or guy who is more muscular or leaner than you, is in fact winning at the game you say you want to be on top in. In no way am I saying they are smarter than you, that they are a better coach than the one you have or are more experienced than you, but yes indeedy, they are better than you at this stage in your journey.

What this all means is that they have something, one thing or even everything you need to know in order to take your game to the next level. They are a RESOURCE for you! Something they've done is an OPTION that you need to consider. If a boxer wanted to start a career in MMA and decided to go in with his blinders on to the entirety of all fighting styles, he will get his skull smashed in. If instead, he considers talking to James the Ripper, a black belt in Tae Kwan Do, or Black Bean John an elite Jiu Jitsu master, or Big Rob a master in Kung Fu, (all real characters from the gym) than he will surely have a better chance at winning his fight. They are better than him, so he takes each word they speak like gospel and applies it one way or another to his training.

What this comes down to in your own training is about draining all your resources and exhausting all your options. Trust those that are better than you even if it pains you to lower your guard down. Step one: shut the fuck up and listen. Step two: tell your ego to jump in front of a train. Again, if they are stronger, they are better, so listen quietly.

Now!

In draining resources from those of higher power, you are guaranteed to be annoyed sometimes as you may actually be smarter or know more than them about said topic. Focus on asking, and not preaching. When talking with someone with a higher deadlift than you, regardless of how dumb their setup is, how ridiculous their hand placement is in relation to their stance, or how irregular their breathing is, do not preach what you know to help them because you may miss out on what you NEED to know. Wait until they've drained themselves and sure enough they will say something completely different about how they tighten their lats that you had no idea about, which may be a missing piece in your puzzle. Respect those of higher power, they are obviously doing something or everything different, and its working for them.

With regards to exhausting all options. You never know until you try. I've done deadlifting every day. I've done cycles with zero warm up and I mean zero and go right to my top set of the day to see if I can engage with full power every rep. I have peaked for meets with the opposite of a rest/taper and gone hard as fuck to see what happens. Until you've tried everything, you've tried nothing. Most of the time when you ask those of higher power what they do, they will usually say the obvious, train hard, don't miss accessory work and eat eat eat. In this case they are right so just keep plugging away at your training for months because that is tried and true. On the other hand, if he or she say they do 200 reps with the empty bar and then start their build up to work sets that should set off some alarm bells as a different option than what you do to try. If someone says they do max effort once every three weeks and you go every week, hmm, maybe give it a try. If these individuals are truly stronger or better than you, they must be doing something right so take what they say literally as an option in your next microcycle and place it into action. You're not getting terribly strong doing what your doing if there are individuals who are stronger, so might as well exhaust all your options and take a chance which could be your one breakthrough. Hey! If it worked for them it could work for you. Might as well try and figure it out before you dismiss it as false. 

In the end, no one knows everything, but everyone knows something. Find out what those who are better are doing to better yourself, instead of wondering why they're beating you. As well, don't be the annoying person asking a thousand questions, try starting off with a satirical yet fully implied question: "Hey! How'd you get so strong?" 

 

Brody Arndt

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The other side of training

THE OTHER SIDE OF TRAINING

By Alex Ayliffe

In 1996, Chuck Palahniuk authored his most famous novel to date; Fight Club, and in 1999, it took to the screens and had a powerful impact on millions of disenfranchised and frustrated men and women. It professed ideas of minimalism, character and critical thinking through the main character Tyler Durden. There are many fantastic quotes and lessons throughout the story, but I would like to focus on one of them for the purposes of this article:

“How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”

When we put ourselves in uncomfortable situations our natural tendency is to seek comfort. However, you’ll hear it again and again from anyone who’s every accomplished anything:

“Become comfortable being uncomfortable”

This is a baseline requirement for becoming a strong person. Fast forward to a heavy squat set; a struggle against a heartless piece of iron that doesn’t care if your day has been good or bad, whether or not you’re paying attention or if you’re prepared or not. It will always react with the same emotionless intensity and seek it’s home on the floor.

There is nothing comfortable about cramming yourself under a heavy barbell, sitting down and standing up with it while it tries to crush you. Learning to be comfortable in this situation takes time, and develops massive mental strength. Because it never gets easier. As you get stronger, the weights get heavier, and each set gets scarier. This forces you to continually test yourself and your resolve under the pressure of the weights while simultaneously strengthening your body. You see what you’re made of every time you train – it’s a consistent and effective form of introspection that most never expose themselves too. However, those that do will see massive improvements in their lives across the board. Success and confidence in the weight room bleeds into all aspects of your life.

This isn’t to say you will never fail. How could it develop anything of worth if it wasn’t for failure as well as success? That dichotomy is the essence of growth. I’ve seen it and experienced it myself many times. Failure. Giving up in the middle of a set. Allowing the iron to beat you at it’s game. But a funny thing happens moments after you give up and rack the bar, and it lasts for days until you get your chance at redemption. It lights a fire in your bones that says “I refuse to fail again.” When someone develops that chip on their shoulder, it affects their entire life. They stop listening to their own excuses and start achieving things.

Most don’t fail often in the weight room – that would be a sign of poor effort, programming or coaching. But failure is inevitable in any endeavour, and failure in the weight room does a fantastic job of humbling you and reminding you that you don’t need to listen to your own bullshit. It’s a reality check that keeps you on the path of strength in all aspects of your life. The Barbell can instill an iron will in you, or it can defeat you and toss you back to your hole of victimhood and self-pity. It doesn’t care and it never will. Luckily, you get to make that decision.

Focus

The biggest thing holding most people back from seeing these benefits is lack of focus and presence.  How often do we see people going through the motions in life, totally oblivious and unaware of the immediate world or tasks in front of them? How often do we drift from one thought to another, never to complete it and never to revisit it in a hodgepodge of disconnected thoughts and mental spasms? It’s no secret to anyone who’s paying attention that we’re blasted with distractions all day, every day. So it’s no surprise that in most cases, our Train-of-Thought tends to get derailed, fly off a cliff and dive into an ocean only to never be seen again. But one place where we can consciously exercise our ability to focus and be present is in the weight room.

My Dad always told me “Do it right. Every time.” But it wasn’t until I started training that I really caught on. For such a simple statement, it’s incredible how few people put it into practice. Every rep of every set needs to be a concentrated effort. The goal is to be at the point where you don’t need to think, and everything just happens correctly, but you can’t do that if you have shitty movement patterns and you give up easily. So until then, you need to be focused on putting your body in the right places at the right times and dominating the barbell as well as your mind. Never let them push you around. This requires you to pay attention. Be present. Focus. Whichever new-age Buddha-blogger word or phrase does it for you, I don’t care, but you need to be 100% in that moment and attack it with intensity.

These sorts of benefits don’t come from leg extensions, or barbell curls. They don’t come if you’re not paying attention and they don’t come if you don’t challenge yourself and truly put your will to the test. These are benefits few people talk about with weight training, because frankly I don’t think many people see past the superficiality of it all. They want abs, bigger biceps, and lots of Instagram likes, but never focus on the experience and lessons they can learn. They never see their animalistic nature, or learn to tap into that indomitable will that the iron can create in you. Bumbling through life will get you dick-deep into the land of mediocrity and what-ifs, so pay attention, put everything you have into the bar and see what you’re made of.

 

Grind. Evolve. Thrive.

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The Importance Of Purpose

THE IMPORTANCE OF PURPOSE

By Alex Ayliffe

 

Gyms all over the world are filled with amateur lifters each day going through the motions and seeing very little return for their investment of time and effort. I believe this is due to a lack of intention and purpose. Not in the woo-woo-new-age sense, but in the dedicated-effort-to-achieve-success sense.

The vast majority of lifters can be divided into two groups:

Do-ers

This is the majority. These are the people who just do whatever they feel like doing, or what they’ve always done. They show up, work hard (sometimes) and then they do it again the next day. But they have no semblance of a plan. I spoke a little about these guys in my last article (http://www.androidbodies.ca/blog/2016/5/24/training-like-a-pro). There is something to be said about just putting your head down and working – it’s a great work ethic to have. However, it lacks direction.

Thinkers

These are the guys who watch all the YouTube videos, read all the articles, and listen to all the interviews they can. They know every internet-coach, every mobility exercise, and every program. They think about their training constantly and how to make it better, and they actually design a plan. However, they’re constantly filling their brains with reasons it won’t work, or reasons something else is better.

The end result for both of these types of lifters tends to be the same. Their training changes every day, or week and they never follow through with a consciously developed training plan. The Do-ers simply don’t give a shit, and the Thinkers give far too many. We want to harness the great traits of these lifters, and discard the self-sabotaging ones. I believe this can be solved very simply.

Direction

If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter how you get there. Most people have an idea of what they want out of their training, but it is rarely specific. Typical answers being: “I want to get bigger/stronger/leaner.” Or some variation of those three things. Those goals are far too broad. Say we want to drive to Alaska, and all we do is get in the car and start driving, we could very well end up in Buffalo. Fuck Buffalo – I want to go to Alaska. So how do we fix this?

Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Sensitive (SMART) Goals

Goals do not need to be grandiose or unique. Too many people fall into the trap of trying to find the “perfect” goal to set. We just need a stepping stone. We want a goal that we can design a training cycle around achieving. Each cycle leads towards the bigger picture. For example, if you wanted to get strong, and your current Squat is 350lbs; we could aim for 10-20lbs on your Squat in 1-2 months and design a system to achieve that. Now you’re closer to your bigger goal, and we can continue to do that through different methods (Hypertrophy, attack weak points, speed work, develop strengths etc) to achieve the bigger goal of a 400lb Squat, then 500lbs, and then 600lbs. But this all comes back to creating a purpose for each session; no matter how minute or inconsequential it may seem.

Specific Goals Require Specific Training

Training needs to be specific to what you wish to accomplish. This is true in the broad sense, and the detailed sense. For instance, if you’re looking to put on some mass, everything you do in training should be geared towards putting on mass. The main lifts, supplemental lifts, assistance lifts, conditioning, mobility, and recovery all need to work synergistically to help achieve that goal. For example; don’t go run a 5k if you’re trying to get bigger. Spend that time eating and sleeping to recover from your voluminous training session, because that is what is required to get bigger. If you are doing something that doesn’t benefit your goal; stop doing it, or alter it to benefit your goal. I.e. Go for walks instead of doing hill sprints, to promote recovery and keep fat gain in check, rather than burn a shitload of much needed calories and wear down your legs and nervous system. Steady State, Met-cons, H.I.I.T., or whatever-the-fuck-conditioning all have their place and they can all be great but they are simply tools in our tool box. This applies to all facets of training. Don’t do Zumba to get bigger, or a no-carb diet to get stronger. You wouldn’t try to frame a house with an Auger. Use the right tools for the job.

Conviction

So now that we’ve set the Do-ers straight, it’s time to deal with the Thinkers. If the Thinkers were to embark on our road trip to Alaska, they would look up directions, and spend 3 weeks deciding which route to take, only to change their mind after the first couple exits. I have a new rule for the Thinkers: Once you start a training cycle, you are not allowed to change it until you complete it.

I can hear their lamentations already...

“But I didn’t address my weak points!”

“I need to do more speed work!”

“Johnny Marketing says that snatch-grip overhead deficit rack presses with chains are the secret to developing slabs of lean muscle!”

Stop with the silliness people; when you decided on the plan it was good enough. The plan hasn’t changed just because you watched a video on Romanian Deadlifts last night. The plan will still work. Finish the plan, evaluate it, and learn through experience. If you’re still worried about your speed work or weak points or carb sensitivity or tight calves; address them in the next cycle. Chances are you’ll forget about them because they aren’t really a big deal. Have some conviction in your training.

Once you give your training a purpose, you will be amazed just how quickly you can propel yourself in the right direction and see real progress. Create a plan, train with intention and be consistent. Move forward, and create a path paved with purpose.

 

Grind. Evolve. Thrive.

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The Hitch

Hitching or ramping a deadlift to me, is essentially anytime the bar passes the knee and the knees drive forward or under or past the bar. A perfect deadlift should have the knee and hip joints getting closer to lockout the entire way through the lift, if there is an increase in knee angle as the bar passes the knee (knees come forward and increase their bend) than that is a hitch to me. What is a hitch really to me? A RED LIGHT, a NO LIFT. It is on par with the butt coming off in the bench which may happen on a hard grinder occasionally, yet so many people train their deadlift and allow the hitch every session.

Before we get into technique we will see physiologically what happens. 

As the bar comes off the floor and you push into a vertical shin position, your hamstrings move into an extreme amount of tension. The knee joint becomes less flexed as it straightens placing all the tension on the hip as it is still fully flexed. This is called loading your hips or loading your hamstrings. The tension is loaded and is available to use once the bar passes the knee for you to whip it back to lockout. Now. When the bar passes the knee and your knees come slightly forward, you essentially lose all the tension you just built in the hamstrings and now that you are not stiff legged and horizontal, you are upright and have both the knee joint and the hip joint to lockout versus just the hip joint to lockout. Now that the tension has dissipated from your hamstrings the demands need to come from some where else. This is when the quadriceps turn back on after being dormant since the push off the ground, and you get that pop of the bar or hitch or ramp which makes people believe they snapped their deadlift into the lockout position but in reality they had just hitched it. Red lights in my book.

Two joints are harder to lockout than one, so we should make the main goal to lock the knees out/back as quick as possible, which gives a rigid lower body for your glutes to fire to the maximum and drive forward to lockout. If your knees are noodley (I believe thats the technical term) and unlocked and your powerful glutes/hips try to drive forward to lockout, all that happens is you drive your knees under the bar and hitch it. So many people are closer to locking out the bar than they think but they concentrate more on their hips coming through, which only drives them into the stereotypical leaned back deadlift everyone thinks about. If you lock your knees out ASAP, once the bar gets to the knee, you essentially wedge your hips right through the bar and are nice and upright at the finish position. Also, you will usually lock your deadlift out a couple inches lower than normal, a couple inches in reality could be a ton of poundage you can gain on the bar.

Minor cues for big success. Just thinking about the lift differently can go a long way, no special exercises or training protocols, just actually thinking about certain elements that will help you hone a skill that so many wish they could achieve, a heavy ass deadlift! The biggest thing is to think about making the second goal after breaking the floor to lock out your knees. Where this goes wrong is that people will break the floor and just straighten there knee joint, not good. The end goal is still to get the bar up, so as long as your exerting force the bar must be moving up aka keep your chest and head moving up as they are attached to the bar. While your knees are locking out and your head and chest are driving tall, you will resemble the pull of a Weightlifter doing snatch or clean & jerk. Your shoulders will be slightly ahead of the bar, you will be vertical shinned, and the amount of tension in your hamstrings should be scary. Are you frightened? I hope so, because that freaky amount of tension will make you want to get out of that position as soon as possible, which is how we whip the bar back quickly for that speedy hard lockout!

Drills. Certain drills in warm up can be successful such as paused deadlifts at the knee, where in you would make sure the bar is close to the body, shins are vertical with tension in the hamstrings, and head and chest is tall ready to whip it back like a romanian deadlift. As well during warm up, you can start the bar further away from your shins on the floor, which makes your brain think about sweeping the bar back during the lift versus having it too close and going around the knee and not noticing that your shins are not going vertical. By sweeping the bar back, your brain thinks back with the whole body and your knees will end up driving back as well.

End of story, hitching is a sin and if you want to be a dead legend than you need to clean up your act or be sent to hitch hell.

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Training Like A Pro

TRAINING LIKE A PRO

By Alex Ayliffe

In Steven Pressfield’s book “The War of Art” he describes the difference between amateurs and professionals:

“When I say professional, I don’t mean doctors and lawyers, those of ‘professions.’ I mean the Professional as an ideal. The professional in contrast to the amateur. Consider the differences.

 

The amateur plays for fun.  The professional plays for keeps.

To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it’s his vocation.

The amateur plays part-time. The professional plays full-time.

The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional shows up seven days a week.”

 

Having analyzed training method after training method, principle after principle and thought process after thought process of what I would consider ‘professional’ lifters, I’ve come to notice some common themes in the average lifter’s training that run contrary to the way professionals train. Be honest with yourself and make the change if you fall into one of these traps. You have nothing to lose, and an entire world of strength to gain.

BUILD. BUILD. TEST.

The first major problem I see many intermediate lifters falling prey to is testing too often. It worked well for them as a novice because well, anything works if you’re a novice, so they keep doing it week after week and they get nowhere. If you were building a car, you wouldn’t be able to just buy the parts and drive it; you need to spend time putting it all together, testing it and troubleshooting. This is no different for lifters. We are quite literally building our structural anatomy and fine-tuning our nervous system to lift more weight. This doesn’t happen without time and work. I see far too many lifters who never build their lifts. How do we build lifts? Lots of sets, lots of reps, with consistent and intelligent increases over time. Singles every week till you miss will do nothing for you other than drag down your moral and cause your body to shit itself in one way or another. Which brings me to the next point…

PLANNING FOR PROGRESS

Far too many lifters have no plan. Some lifters don’t even have days set for certain movements. We’ve all heard the bro-squad come bumbling into the gym only to have the inevitable conversation:

Bro 1: “What are you doing today?”

Bro 2: “I was gonna do arms, but I kinda feel like doing shoulders.”

Bro 1: “Yeah, yeah, lets do shoulders. Wanna go heavy?”

Bro 2: “Nah lets pump the volume. I saw this sick giant set on Insta last night. I’ll show you.”

Bro 1: “Ight. Tight.”

What the fuck.

It seems many people miss one of the most important principles of training:

Overloading Progression

Your body adapts when it is exposed to a specific increase in stimulus over time. How long depends on how advanced or close to your genetic capacity you are. In order to expose your body to such a stimulus, there needs to be some sort of order to things. How can you tell if you’re consistently stressing your body more and more if you never do the same workout (with an increase in volume, intensity, or both) twice? For many people this is a “duh” moment, but sadly, for many it is not.

Some lifters have a plan, but there is no method of progressing from week to week, month to month, to actually apply an overload. Training has to get harder. This should be common sense, but again, doesn’t seem to be. It doesn’t need to be complicated; something as simple as adding 5lbs to sets of 3-6 reps over the course of a few months is all that is needed for most people, especially if they’ve never added weight to the bar consistently. Start light, progress slow and eat to perform. Simple. effective.

 

THE TORTOISE AND THE HARE

If we look at your training life like a giant staircase, each step representing a 5-10lb PR, what would be the most effective way to get up the stairs? Would you jump as many steps as possible each time? Probably not. You’d run out of breath, your legs would fatigue, or you’d stumble and fall down the stairs eventually – given a big enough stair case. The most effective way would be 1 or 2 stairs at a time at a consistent pace indefinitely. You’d pass the hopping trainee while he puts his shoulder back in place after falling down a few flights, and keep on cruising.

So why do people go for 40lb PR’s every month?

Anyone?

Bueller?

Bueller?

Ok. Here’s the deal; your body will only adapt so quickly. I mean, sure, maybe you’ll get some of those 30-40lb PR’s. But then what? Now you’ve subjected your body to this stimulus. Are you going to train with a training max 30-40lbs higher? Probably not the best idea for the long haul. Your training weights will go up by a hell of a lot and chances are your structural system and nervous system aren’t ready for that shit in the least bit. There’s a really good chance you’ve been training pretty damn hard to put that sort of weight on your lift, so your body is probably already beat up and now you’re going to increase the weights by that much? Recipe for injury, my friend. IF you manage to smash a huge PR, it’s probably a good idea to still only increase your training max by 5-10lbs. After all, training at those weights got you there, and it’s the progression that matters – try to juice every weight for everything it has, don’t skip steps.

But here’s a better idea; keep the giant PR’s for a couple days a year (preferably competitions if you compete) and just aim for the 5-10lb PR. These PR’s add up quickly if you’re consistent and they keep you intact. Don’t be the guy with a fucked up face and his ass in the air at the bottom of the stairs because you let your ego take over your training.

A MINDSET FOR SUCCESS

Ask any successful, veteran lifter (20+ years) and they will tell you that there are very few places for ego in training, but you have to be mentally tough and determined.

A good friend of mine once told me “Patience is a lost art, and those who never find it are doomed to wander the streets of mediocrity.” It’s no secret that training is a marathon, not a sprint, so lifters need to be patient. Never focus on big shiny numbers like 500lbs or 405; focus on 5-10lbs more and take what the day gives you. If it’s not there today, it’s not there. Live to fight another day, because if you’re doing things right, it will be there in the future.

However, this is not a license to be a pussy; you do need to have the mental fortitude and determination to grind through a set or session. These attributes need to consciously be developed over time. Becoming comfortable in the discomfort of a heavy lift is essential, and having the will to dominate a weight will keep you in the fight. You don’t need to yell and scream or froth at the mouth (though that may help), you just need to control the weight and be aggressive. If you unrack a weight with doubt, you lose.

There are many differences between the amateur and the pro, but these are the issues I see to be the most glaring. If you’re serious about lifting, make the effort to learn everything you can. With the advent of the internet, there is no excuse for piss-poor education in the world of strength and conditioning. So, whether your training is a hobby or an obsession, make the shift to approach your training the way a professional does and enjoy the process of progress.

 

Grind. Evolve. Thrive.

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Almost a rant: Industry Values

In an attempt to grow the business in different ways I have had to assess the industry and see where certain things I would like to do fit in. The online training phenomenon has reached such ridiculous proportions it doesn't even make sense anymore to a person who actually wants to help people. I was deciding on a $9.99 monthly programming subscription as a way to provide the masses with quality training proven by many success stories. In talking with another professional/friend, he stated at how much I had undervalued myself and that people would rather be dumb and pay over the top prices for something an experienced strength coach could write in 10 minutes, just so they can tell people who they're training with or how much their program costs. Just because the trainer has followers or great body doesn't mean they are worth more money. There is no new magic formula waiting to be unlocked in a training program, it has very much been realized by the best that simple is better, and hard work trumps all. There are only a finite amount of different rep schemes, sets and percentages that can be done without exceeding your Maximum Recoverable Volume (C Smith/DR M Israetel), so why are people feeling the need to jump on an expensive program that takes maximum 1 hr to write, when they could just put their head down and go to work every day on the old proven methods that the greats now in fitness use anyways.

Now, the hard part comes where it is to be decided whether or not to stoop low and raise the price for something that flies around in my brain all day anyways or to retain my stance that the hard and fast will die young and by trying to help the masses in the long run with a sustainable price is the better decision. Part of me is an idiot for thinking that I would let everyone else eat all the cake and struggle and grind to get my share, yet the thought of going against what I believe in for the quick easy buck just doesn't sit right. YES, it is dumb as shit to not follow the money train, but when your gut tells you the money train leads to the exact same place overtime that these people would reach anyways with a affordable/sustainable product, the answer is right there. So is it all about value, as in how much people are willing to pay for something, or about value, how much is received for something they paid for. In a world with instafame and nonsense 200k followings running the industry, I would have to be an idiot to think overcharging for something I can give to the world so easily, is the way to run a company.

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Desensitizing to heavy weight: the breakdown period

Do you commit yourself to the program?

When athletes start working here, some start slow and steady and ease into training, some want to keep doing things the way they have been as they are stuck in their ways.. and some come truly with their walls down, ready to do what is necessary to go beyond themselves. When I can tell the athlete fully states they will be in the gym five days a week no questions asked, I believe they have committed to the program, and we can start the breakdown period.

Desensitization

No matter where an athlete comes from or what style of training has been utilized, this phase of devoting themselves solely to my style of programming is a decision that will change the way they view training forever. The intensity (weight) is always high and the volume (reps/sets) are always extreme. I note this as the "first sunburn of the season" because the uncomfortableness of soreness coupled with an atmosphere of no excuses and training through it all leads to the inevitable "tan". The athlete has been burned so badly so quick, that once they recover, there is no way in hell additional pain and soreness will come close to that in the coming months of training. 

This first cycle is not even strength training, it is mental training. Viewing heavy weight as a partner in crime and not an adversary, working with it and not being fearful of it. Athletes walk up to the bar differently than the used to. They view the volume intensive daily programming in a sarcastic/comedic light; "6x3 at 90% and 3x12 at 60%, oh boy! that should be fun". This view of aggressive programming being regular life is what allows us to truly get down to work, and growing stronger. This is our key to success, forgetting what we have been told about programming sets/reps/volume/frequency/intensity and just conditioning the body and the mind to a higher level/demand of strength and power. This is the beginning, of Building Human Machines. 

 

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A mechanically beautiful squat or depth before dishonour

Coaching under a roof where elite athletes train, I always receive the same questions during squat, when beginners start training; "was that low enough?" or "did I hit depth?". This question really bothers me, not that they are actually concerned about their depth but that whichever gym or scene they came from had them believe that getting low was the end all be all rule of the squat. Aside from powerlifting rules or if they want to compete one day, a technically beautiful squat regardless of depth always trumps a scary looking squat to depth any day.

Its a marathon, not a sprint

We hear this line everyday, with regards to any sort of activity possible, but people don't actually believe it. I know the next competition is right around the corner, or that you can't keep posting high squats on instagram, but the reality is, you will squat to depth when you are able to. Big squats always starts with perfect mechanics, descends to the lowest depth while retaining perfect mechanics, and rises to the lockout with perfect mechanics. This seems very obvious, but everyones lowest depth isn't the same, and a gross looking squat is always one that goes too low for that person and breaks the rule of "perfect mechanics". We must always train perfectly even if it is a high squat, and outside of training work on the restrictions that prevent us from going low. Over time, creeping a millimetre deeper each training session, you will have the perfect squat you had hoped for. Rushing this always leads to a less technical squat which over time will make your numbers plateau, or worse, an injury that takes you out of the game for good.

Restrictions

The most obvious restriction is mobility. Tight hips (hip flexors, glutes,TFL,hamstrings), as well as the ankles and groin/inner thigh. With the hips, a simple protocol each morning to open up your restricted tissues will allow for more hours in the day spent retaining proper hip position. When I say morning I mean when you wake up, actually focussing on the goal at hand first thing gets your mind thinking all day about how you are doing and if you have been sitting too long or not focussing on your position. The more time you spend in good positions throughout the day makes the 1 hour every few days you train the squat much easier.

The ankles as well as the groin/inner thigh should be attacked before training as the tightness will have a different day to day emphasis on where your pelvis descends too in the squat. Something as simple as your ankles or inner hamstrings being tight on a certain day will not allow your knees to drive out which in turn sends your butt back in the squat, your chest forward and your depth high. Your hips need room to sink down, and unless your ankles and hamstrings are free then your squat is going no where quick. Find your mobility restrictions and attack them.

The other side of restrictions is mental and how you go about squatting. Firstly, you cannot be scared to go lower and you should work with weights that allow you to not think about dying and to think about what your doing. Secondly, you must be aware of what your body is doing and the positions you must be in to get lower in the squat. The main thing I see is not emphasizing the weight of the body being placed on the outside of the foot. Placing your weight to the outside edge of the foot creates the proper arch and allows for the knees to track outwards much easier. One must find a stable position with toes in or toes out that allows for the weight to be placed outwards, allowing the knees to track outward and the hips to drop down and not back. Too often beginners think about too much and look beyond the most basic cues and their weight will rest on the ball or inside of the foot which is most comfortable, but no matter how hard you try your knees will not track properly and your butt will not go low!

Final Tip

You're the only one that should care about your squat, so do it right. There is no money on the line, no accolades for who goes the lowest, and in the end the lifters who lift the most, are usually the ones who will last the longest, so put the time in while you are young in your lifting career to doing things right, and over time, you will squat low, with perfect form and it will be big-weight-baby.

 

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