Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Training Log: Overload bench and Deadlifts

Overload Bench Press 8-23

Slingshot felt great, but I rolled my wrist unracking at my drop-off sets. Decided to call it a day then so I didn't hurt anything. I think I'm going to buy wrist-wraps. Played with some DB wrist curls, reverse wrist curls, and other motions to do a bit of grip/wrist work afterwards. Wrist felt fine in following days so I think it helped. 

Bench Press45121
Slingshot Bench Press27551
Grip work10153
Seated Cable Row9083

Deadlift 8-22

Hit a great 495, then backed off for a bunch of speed-doubles at 405#. Felt fantastic. I'm really, really liking paused deadlifts as a warm-up. They definitely help to dial things in. Messed with deficit deadlifts a little bit, but still figuring out the best way to do them in my gym. Arm still acting up, so continuing rehab for vertical pulling.

Lat Pulldown 55503
Band Pull-Apart15152
Seated Machine Fly90103

Friday, August 22, 2014

Research: Teres Major

Had a touch of soreness performing chin-ups this week, so I'm giving them a rest.  I figure this is a good opportunity as any to take a look at a less well-known muscle of the body. The Teres Major assist the Lats in pulling. Actually, chin-ups are pretty complex and interesting in and of themselves:

From Wikipedia, 

Chin-ups, like most pull-ups, target the latissimus dorsi muscle as a shoulder extensor, scapular downward rotator and scapular depressor, in bringing the spine to the humerus. This is assisted by elbow flexors (brachialis, brachioradialis, biceps brachii) which bring the humerus to the forearm. Chin-ups unlike pull ups also highly target the biceps.That is one of the main differences between pull ups and chin ups.

The lat's functions are also assisted, both by shoulder extensors (teres major, posterior deltoid, infraspinatus, teres minor), scapular downward rotators (rhomboids, levator scapulae), and scapular depressors (lower trapezius and pectoralis muscles).

Pulling higher with a narrow grip puts the focus on extension rather than adduction of the shoulder.

If one leans back at the top of the movement, the focus is shifted somewhat towards scapular retraction and hyperextension.

Muscle Location

The Teres Major has an origin in the lower 1/3 of the Scapula, and inserts at the  Intertubercular goove (between the greater and lesser tubercles) of the humerus. 

In other words, it goes from your shoulder blade to just below the top of your upper arm. 

Muscle Function

The teres major is a medial rotator and adductor of the humerus and assists the latissimus dorsi in drawing the previously raised humerus downward and backward (extension, but not hyper extension). It also helps stabilize the humeral head in the glenoid cavity. (wikipedia)

To adduct is an anatomical motion term, meaning to pull towards the center of your body. When we hear about adductors it commonly refers to the hip adductors, your inner thigh muscles that pull the leg back towards your center line. 

If I read this correctly, the main functions are to assist in rotation and adduction, while also helping the lats to pull the arm back downward. The same motion you're making in a chin-up, which means I'm probably on the right track!


A lot of pulling exercises pretty directly work the teres major. Things like:

  • Barbell Pullovers
  • Bent Over Row
  • Cable Internal Shoulder Rotations (Seated or Standing)
  • Dumbbell Internal Shoulder Rotations (Lying)
  • Lat Pull Downs
  • Machine Internal Shoulder Rotations
  • Pull Ups and Chin Ups

Isolating it is a bit harder. According to a thread on bodybuilding.com:
On page 112 of 'strength training workout II' Frederic delavier gives a great teres major isolation exercise, which I do as a to failure 100 rep warm up once a week.

In the book are pictures with 2 options: one with and without an adjustable vertical pulley.

#1) set the adjustable one arm pulley at mid height to your elbow height, when your arm is flat along your body. Face 90 degrees away from the pulley. Do not face the pulley. With the arm nearest the pulley, Rotate your arm out at 90 degrees to grab the weight while the elbow is touching your body side. Then pull the weight with your hand going to where your elbow was at your side and let the elbow go out to the side, kind of how superman stands with fists into sides and elbows out. Hold 2 seconds then release slow. Elbow back to the side of your body. That's one rep.
Another idea, off the exrx.net forums:
Using light resistance on a pulley, 4-10KG(each hand) Stand between 2 high pulleys holding them in each hand, palms down elbows straight, optionally you can start with a 45degree angle and bring the weight towards you and hold for a couple of seconds. 

Starting at 90 degrees involves the lats more for the 1st part of the exercise. 

Make sure you are adducting in the coronal plane (directly to your side) the more forward your arms are the more the pecs are involves. 
You will find it incredibly hard to adduct at the last part of the exercise when your hand is an inch or so away from your body, I believe this is when the Coracobrachialis takes over and if you wish to isolate that then use minimal resistance, a good idea is to squeeze against a pillow.


Re/prehab/Soft Tissue Work

Training Log 8-20-2014: Fatgrip bench

If you look up at the top, I changed the birds to juggling clubs. Just one of those little things that makes me smile.


Anyhoo, bench went alright . Hit rep PRs on 205 and 245, but couldn't keep them up for remaining sets. Next week I'm hoping they should be sustained. Skipped chin-ups this week. I think I've been doing too many and have a touch of bicep tendinitis, or possibly something up with my Teres Major. Truth be told, I'm not sure what's up, just that I have a stark soreness when pulling my body up vertically, located in the upper inside of my upper arm. Instead of chinups I did a lot of face-pulls and rehab lat pulldown work.

With my accessory work this week I've been really concentrating on the mind-muscle connection. Trying to approach it from a body-building perspective, to hit those muscles harder. Things like holding contractions at the top, isolating muscles in the movement, etc... I'm making an effort to really pay attention during my support/accessory work time.

Also, I strapped a weight-plate to my body to start loading my backbends. That felt awesome.

Bench Press, w/ Fat Gripz4510214,395
Lat Pulldown702528,000
Calf Raise36515421,900
Seated Leg-Curl1351234,860
Cable Facepull501242,400
Hanging Leg Raise0122

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Assembling a juggling practice

I've been blogging a lot about weight training lately, not so much about circus. Since I've got back from IJA this year I have been working towards assembling a regular, structured, jugging practice. Here's what I'm working with so far:

  • Warm-up. Stick balancing on chin. 15 min. Working towards balancing the stick for the entire 15 min, but when I get to 3-5 min at a time I'll be in good shape. Currently at around 30-45s.
  • 4 Ball warm-up.
    • Run several sets of fountains, at least 100 catches each.
    • Reverse fountains and columns.
    • Transitions between fountain, reverse, and columns. Generally 20 catches of each before moving on.
  • 4 Ball practice
  • 5 Ball
    • Pick one feature to focus on:
      • Consistent Height
        • Keep all throws the same height
        • Special focus on RH, as it tosses a little lower
      • Minimum Height
        • Keep all throws above a minimum height
        • At least an extended arm's length above head
        • The higher the better, but maintain accuracy
      • Elbows Tucked In
        • No "Frankenstein-ing"
        • Don't let one hand toss forward/backward
      • Consistent Width
        • Throws land inside/near shoulders
      • No "wax-on/"wax off"
        • Arms go up and down more than in circles
    • Work towards maximal runs with minimal foot movement
    • Some days I'll run pyramids: 10 x 10 catches, 10 x 12 catches, 10 x 14 catches, etc. 
  • Play time!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Things I'm Reading This Week

DIY Self-Myofascial Release

A lot of people have heard of using a foam-roller or lacrosse ball to do soft-tissue work on your own. This article talks about techniques using only your hands. An interesting take-away:
A general programming method I learned from a mentor of mine is the need for a 1:1 ratio between training and recovery. More specifically, with each compound movement pattern or emphasis that causes mechanical, metabolic or tensional stress to the tissues involved, a focused recovery session working on those active tissues is not only recommended, it's an absolute necessity for the long term health and functionality of those tissues.

Bear Crawls v. Crab Walks

Keep in mind that Cressey is a baseball trainer; a lot of what he speaks of is with an eye towards throwing ability. That being said, when he speaks about shoulder health -- especially as a circus performer -- I listen!
I dislike crab walks. As the humerus (upper arm) is "hyperextended" behind the body, the head of the humerus (ball) glides forward relative to the glenoid fossa (shoulder socket). This puts a lot of stress on the anterior capsule, biceps tendon, and nerve structures that pass along the front of the shoulder. And, it makes the rotator cuff work overtime from a mechanically disadvantageous position.

(NFSW!) BMFE: Henry Milo Steinborn

Chaos and Pain is a fantastic blog, not just for fitness information but for his history articles as well. I rarely see other blogs take the time to go back in strength-sport history. And few do it with as much style and humor as Jamie. Generally speaking, Chaos and Pain is always going to be not safe for work - porn/gore/language/etc. 

Steinborn was the inventor of the "Steinborn Squat". Lifting without a power-rack or squat-stand, he would upend the barbell, tuck underneath it, then squat from the bottom up. I've tried it before and it's definitely as crazy as it sounds. 

9 Tips for Dedicated Lifters

Dan John lays down some knowledge. There's nothing like hearing the common-sense no-nonsense decades of experience Dan John has. I like his ideas about high-rep squats. 

10 Reasons Your Squat Might Be Stuck

Speaking of squats, Paul Carter wrote up this nice little piece on getting your lift to move. Boiled down:

  • Not Squatting Enough
  • Weak Quads
  • Weak Stabilizing 
  • Bad Cues
  • Maxing too much

Bar-less training for Front/Back Levers

I don't really train the gymnastic skills all that often. It's a matter of priorities for me. First and foremost are powerlifting and juggling. Still, I keep an eye on all the information I can, and these guys know their stuff when it comes to skill work. Great article and some interesting ideas!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Research: The Barbell Hack Squat

Whenever I want to play with or learn a new lift, I usually hit up the internet for some research on it first. Now, of course, nothing beats a hands-on training coach. That second set of eyes and experience can identify problems you don't even know you're having.

I'm working on learning the Barbell Hack Squat. The hack squat is essentially a deadlift with the weight placed behind you rather than in front of you. This allows your quadriceps (top of your thighs) to be the primary driver of the movement, as well as takes the load off the lower back. In a standard deadlift, with the bar in front of you, you need to move your hips forward to lift the barbell. This creates torque on the lower back. In a hack squat, the bar starts under your lower back, so it's able to move straight up and down without any shearing or rotational forces. Which means it should be a fantastic supplemental exercise, especially if your back is tired or being rehabbed. Also, they'd be a great quad developer if you're in a gym that doesn't have a squat rack.

As for me, I'm interested in them for a few reasons:

  1. Squat accessory movement to build quad strength
  2. More exercises to work my grip strength
  3. An accessory movement without loading the back, which means less worry about technique/fatigue 
  4. They're pretty unique, look cool, and are an old-time strongman lift. 
  5. I'm attracted to movements using dumbbells/barbells over machines when possible

The lift itself was first popularized by Georg Karl Julius Hackenschmidt. That's where the Hack in Hack squat comes from. Hackenschmidt was a strongman and wrestler whose finishing move was the bear hug. Basically he's Zangief. At the age of 18 he could put up 200lbs overhead with one hand. Among his other strength feats were holding 100lbs dumbbells straight out at arms length, deadlifting over 600lbs with one hand, and one arm-snatched 197lbs. The man was a beast.

Anyhoo, the first place I head towards is ExRx.net. Exrx is an amazing resource for exercises. You can look up a muscle group and see all the standardized exercises that work it. Here's what they have to say about the barbell hack squat:

  • Target
    • Quadriceps
  • Synergists
    • Gluteus Maximus
    • Adductor Magnus
    • Soleus
  • Dynamic Stabilizers
    • Hamstrings
    • Gastrocnemius
  • Stabilizers
    • Erector Spinae
    • Trapezius, Middle
    • Levator Scapulae
    • Trapezius, Upper
    • Antagonist Stabilizers
    • Rectus Abdominis
    • Obliques



Position barbell just behind legs. With feet flat on floor, squat down and grasp barbell from behind with overhand grip.


Lift bar by extending hips and knees to full extension. Squat down by bending hips back while allowing knees to bend forward, keeping back straight and knees pointed same direction as feet. Descend until thighs are close to parallel to floor and bar is behind lower leg. Repeat.


Throughout lift, keep hips low, shoulders high, arms and back straight. Knees should point same direction as feet throughout movement. See flawed demonstration showing depth of hack squat that is NOT sufficient and knees are NOT pointed same angle as feet. Individuals with short arm to torso ratio or protracted shoulder posture, may find this exercise very difficult to perform. 

The stuff on the left can be a little complicated. Roughly translated, it means:
  • Primary drivers of the lift are your quadriceps, 
  • While being assisted by your booty, inner thighs, and calves. 
  • Calves and hammies operate to help stabilize the lift as it moves. 
  • Your back and abs stabilize the lift through stiffness. 
This information is enough for the basics of the lift. At this point I'll usually try out the movement. Then I'll look up what other people are saying about it. 
Charles Polquin writes this about it:
Make sure your feet are on a slant board, and that your torso remains erect throughout the whole range of motion... ...  Any load above 40 kg in this lift is starting to be good IF you keep your torso erect.
So it's important to him to keep the torso very upright. A slant board or weight plates under the heels will aid ankle mobility to allow a more upright torso. If I understand this correctly, keeping the torso straight up and down will ensure that the quadriceps are the true drivers of the movement.

The Polquin Group has these cues:
Walk forward until your heels rest on the board. Initiate the squatting motion by allowing your knees to travel as far forward as possible, without allowing your glutes to move back. Keep a slight arch in the lower back. Once your knees have gone as far forward as possible, lower your hips to the bottom position of the squat. Be sure to keep your back upright by pushing the bottom of your sternum up. Don’t allow the shoulders to round forward, and be certain your hips are under your shoulders in the bottom position.
Once again, emphasis on upright back. One nice cue here is to "push the bottom of your sternum up". The main problems I was having yesterday were the barbell scraping my calves (not necessarily a problem) and a little bit of "wiggling" on the way up, as I try to move the bar past my legs. At the gym, one trainer suggested I try a wider grip, which seemed to help.

Several people online are saying one key is to focus on moving the hips forward. This, combined with the "sternum up" cue, should ensure the work is done by the legs and not the back.

Gazzara, on the Animal Pak forums, has this to say:
If the bar hits the back of your legs, you are bending forward too much. I started doing hack squats to force myself into better form for the regular deadlift. You have to keep your ass down and your shoulders back to get the bar past your hams.

Steve Reeves (aka Hercules) used a custom-made belt to do the hack squat. Notably here is that he is also placing his heels on a board as he squats.
Hack Squats performed the Reeves way were unique compared to how others were doing them. When Steve was training at the old York Barbell Club in his bid for the 1950 Mr. Universe he used part of the old Milo hip lifting wooden platform plus a fabricated cold rolled steel T-Bar. The hip lifting platform had a hole in the middle of it and the “T” end of the bar extended through the hole. Plates were loaded or anchored on the bottom part of the “T” bar underneath the platform. While standing atop the platform Reeves would squat down with his hands behind his back and take a strong knuckles forward grip on the “T” (holding it tightly against the underside of his buttocks) and then would straighten his legs up to almost near lock-out but not quite. Once in the up position he would lower himself and repeat the movement for about fifteen reps. Doing the reps in non-lockout fashion would keep tension on his thighs the entire time.   -- Dave Draper forums.


  • Why?
    • Compound movement that focuses on Quads
    • Avoids lower back stress
    • Squat variation for support work
  • How
    • Barbell behind legs
    • Grip shoulder width apart
    • Keep torso vertical
    • Drive into heels and stand up
    • Lower bar, rinse, repeat.
  • Cues
    • Keep the chest up by pushing your sternum up
    • Move hips forward
    • Let the bar drag past legs
    • Weight should be strongly in the heels
      • Consider elevating heels through oly-shoes/ weight plates/wedge
      • Consider using barbell rack if flexibility doesn't allow full ROM
    • If having difficulty getting past butt, you're leaning too far foward. 

Further Reading

Training Log 8-18-14: Squatty squat squat.

Hit a rep-PR of 375# x 5, felt really good. 415# felt solid and locked-in as well. Then my groove got thrown off; I was shooting for 405# x 2 or 3 when someone started to come next to the squat rack as I was lifting. That distracted me enough to lean a bit too far forward and fail my second rep. After that it just didn't feel on-target to squat.

Decided to try out hack-squats instead. I love these, they're really really fun. Like a backwards deadlift. I'm still learning these, no technique or training to speak of. Instead I just "gripped it and ripped it". The trainer at the gym had a few tips for hand placement so that I didn't wiggle so much on standing up. They'll take some getting used to, but they are definitely staying in the rotation. I think I'm going to swap these out for paused-bottom squats.

My first workout was around 6pm. Four hours later I was on my way home from Alison's and decided to stop at the gym. Juggled for 45 min, then squatted once more. This second session actually felt fantastic. Perhaps because I had already "decided" that my training was finished for the day, or maybe it was because I knew that I wasn't going to go above 375#. Either way, the squats felt super calm and dialed in. Double-sessions are definitely something to consider for the future. We'll see how I feel recovering this week!

I found this ultra-accurate graph somewhere on the intarwebs

Session 1
Exercise Weight Reps Sets
Low-Bar Squats 45 10 1
135 5 1
225 5 1
315 5 1
375 5 1
415 1 1
405 1 2
Hack Squat 135 5 1
225 5 1
315 1 4
315 2 1
315 3 2
Leg Press 405 12 4
EZ-Bar Curl 65 15 2
25 30 2
Session 2
Exercise Weight Reps Sets
Low-Bar Squats 45 10 1
135 5 1
225 5 1
315 5 1
375 3 3
Cable Face Pull 50 12 1
57.5 12 2
Hyperextension BW 50 1

Monday, August 18, 2014

Road to Relentless: Programming the Deadlift.

The Deadlift. You pick something up and put it down. Looking back, I don't think I truly grasped the deadlift until I digested that idea. All you're doing is picking something up and putting it down. I mean, all the lifts have tips and tricks, cues and techniques. And the deadlift is no exception. But at the same time, it's a pretty simple concept. Pick something up and put it down.

Think about that for a second. What do you want the weight to do? Move up. How is the best way to do that? Move it in as straight a line as possible. Since childhood we've all been taught "use your legs, not your back" to pick things up. How would you pick up a big box? Squat down. Grab the box. Lean back and stand straight up. Why would the deadlift be any different? When I grasped this, I started leaning back a little, pulling the slack out of the bar, and standing straight up. My deadlift started feeling and moving phenomenally.

One key to this, I've found, is the paused deadlift. Essentially you're going to stop the deadlift somewhere between mid-shin and just below the knee. Keep the tension in your body (back and core maintain their tightness) and wait for a moment. Then stand up.

I first heard about these at the Dan Green seminar. I love the idea of using them in your warm-up to really hone in on your technique. If you're too far out of alignment, your lower back is going to feel all whack-a-doodle. That's a technical term. When you pull into proper alignment, suddenly it doesn't feel so bad to pause for a few moments. That technique carries over into the big weights.

In my experience, the deadlift is the extreme on the volume/intensity scale. Whereas the bench press can use a ton (literally, heh) of volume, and the squat lies somewhere in the middle, the deadlift requires less volume in order to recover from session to session. I think this is because the deadlift truly is a whole-body lift. It's a fantastic builder of leg, back, and arm strength. Not only are you driving heavy weights with your legs, like you do with the squat, but you're gripping the weight instead of letting it rest on you. Takes a whole lot more to actually hold something than to stabilize it.

Some of those 5x5 programs show this too: most of them will give you programming like 3 x 5 or 5 x 5 for the bench/row/squat, but when it comes to deadlift it's almost inevitably 1x5 or 3x5. Less volume because it takes quite the toll on your body.

A typical deadlift session for me looks something like this:
Warm-up using full plates. Keep the weight under 8 reps, generally speaking. As I find with squats, it never hurts to get some glute-activation in your warm-up as well. One-legged bridges are fantastic for this:

When you hit your working weight, hit hit hard for singles, doubles, or triples. I find singles and doubles to be especially fun. With singles you can approach your true max, resting enough between lifts. Using doubles, you'll have to back off a little, but try to pull them as hard and as fast as you can. Use sets to get the volume in, not reps. Take plenty of time to recover.

I'll typically try to get a few back-off sets at a lower weight in as well, but these are non-essential depending on time/how I'm feeling that day. As long as I'm pulling heavy singles/doubles, I'm happy for that day. For the past month or so I've been pulling singles; it's probably time to start swapping them out for doubles. 
Ideally that will probably look something like this:

There's an old adage that your body won't lift what it can't hold. For the deadlift this means that your grip will always be the limiting factor. Some people like to use straps, but I've never liked the way they felt. A bit of chalk never hurts though. To help me with my grip strength I've been using Fat Gripz on my standard bench day and with my rowing during overload day. This seems to be carrying over nicely into my deadlift but it's too early to tell. 

Generally speaking, the little muscles recover faster than the big ones. Which means you can hit them harder and more often. Grip work several times a week compared to big-muscle work once or twice. That sort of thing. The mainstays that I've always heard of for grip training are:

  • Fat bar work (rows/presses)
  • Pull-ups (esp. with weight)
  • Towel hangs (throw a towel over a pull-up bar and hang for time)
  • Plate pinches (pinch one/more weight plates in your hand, for time)
  • Farmers Walks (walk as far as you can with something as heavy)
  • Pausing and holding the top of the deadlift
As I mentioned before, I'll be putting farmers walks into the rotation soon. The rest, with the exception of plate pinches, I already do. Aerial is fantastic for working out the grip, as anyone who has worked on straight fabrics can tell you. 


Your Recover and You: how to gauge how you feel

Recovery is kind of a subjective thing. There's so much that goes into your day to day life, exercise and well being that it can be hard -- if not impossible -- to say something like "I'm 90% recovered from the last workout session". I mean, it would be fantastic if we were able to quantify something like that. That way we can gauge the next workout session, tailoring it to better fit our bodies. But it's not that easy for us.  

There's something fancy that I've been reading about called heart rate variability training. Essentially it's using your hear rate throughout different points in the day as a metric to see how well you're recovering. With the prevalence of heart rate monitors, fitness bands, and smart phone apps these days, it's a fantastic way to examine your training.

A slightly easier method is to examine how your grip feels. Squeeze your hands. Hang on to something. Does it feel weak today? Or can you crush coal into diamonds? It's not perfect, but your grip can be a fantastic indication of whether or not you're recovered from the last workout. If it's feeling really weak today, back off a little bit. If not, go for it! It's another tool in that self-examined lifting tool-box. 
I've also been thinking that I should implement some hamstring-specific work as well as more leg-based grip work. To that end I've been looking towards the hack squat for general lower body accessory work as well as stiff-leg deadlifts to hit those hammies. What I wouldn't give for a reverse-hyperextension machine. This segues well into my next series of articles, which I think will be about support/accessory work and general program layout/design. 

Training Logs 8-14-14, 8-15-14: Overload Bench and Deadlift.

Busy weekend! Drove to Cleveland and back Friday night, taught class and had two shows Saturday, then taught class on Sunday. Alison and I had a date-ternoon/night Sunday evening. Made a big 'ol salad, bottle of wine, went for a walk. Fantastic and relaxing; just what recovery calls for sometimes!

Overload Bench Press

Massive PR on the 315# Slingshot bench. Asked a fella in the gym to help spot, which is something I rarely do. I think it's important to know how to use/get used to/trust the safety system in a gym so that when you are forced to lift alone you can do it safely. That being said, 315# is a lot of weight and a spot can definitely help take the edge off. You have to be careful sometimes, when you ask for a spot; some people get a little too ready to help you. When I have someone spot I make sure to tell them "only help out if it drops down". If I'm gonna grind out a rep I'm gonna grind the heck out of that rep! Most significantly, he helped me out with the lift-off of the bench; when that happened the bench felt fantastic. Waaaay easier to setup when you don't have to do the initial lift-off. Wrists were feeling a bit touchy after benching, so I left dips and back bends out. 

Bench Press45121
Slingshot Bench Press27551
Fat Gripz DB Row50102
DB Row80103


Not much to say about this session. It felt pretty darn good; Just deadlifted as I was going to be hitting the road an hour or so later for a 3 hour drive to Cleveland. Sometimes, when you're time limited, you just boil it down to the essentials. I think that I could have gone for some more back-off sets, but I started being well... gassy when I deadlifted. Grip felt great this session. Lower back felt awesome and totally not sore the rest of the weekend. I've been using the 135/185 sets as paused deadlifts, where you stop the bar just below your shins. Learned about this at Dan Green's seminar and I think they've really been helping to dial in my form.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Training Log 8-12-14: Bench + Chins + Lots of Accessories.

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Total volume on my bench press dropped last week to 9735#; this week it's back up to 13175#, which is almost as much as before I upped the weight. I think another week or two at 205# / 245# then I'll bump up to 225# / 265#. I'm considering adding an AMAP (as many as possible) set to the end of my benching sets... only thing I have against it is my shoulders might not like it. We'll see.

Weighted Chins are increasing nicely as well. Since I'm in no rush, I'm taking the simple + slow route and only adding 2.5# a week. Added in DB shrugs because I want to really emphasize my upper back in support/accessory work. It won't hurt to do some variation of upper back exercise every time I work out. I figure 4 days of workout a week means I can hit all planes of movement (vertical pull up/down, horizontal pull in).

Probably should have done the DB Shrugs with Fat Gripz, but I only just thought of that now. I'd like to start adding weight-vest walks, farmers walks, and Turkish getups into my workouts soon. Turkish Getups and Farmers might go well as a "finisher". Never done much farmers walks in my gym as they're a little awkward, but the benefits make sense for me to figure out a good method.

As I build my strength base and work-capacity, I've been looking at the total volume lifted more and more. I'm not sure, but I think it's helpful when I'm doing a double-progression to compare the workout volume. It's harder to tell if you're increasing each workout when you're mixing up sets/reps and weights. All this could mean nothing, but at least it's another metric to look at. Plus when I write it all out it kind of makes me feel like a bad-ass.

Exercise Weight Reps Sets Volume
Bench Press, w/ Fat Gripz 45 10 2 13,175
135 8 1
175 5 1
205 7 1
245 3 4
205 6 4
205 5 1
Chin-up BW 8 1 1,800
Weighted Chin-up 15 5 2 10,140
15 4 2
17.5 4 6
Calf Raise 355 15 4 20,100
Hip Adduction Machine 140 100 1 14,000
Dumbbell Shrug 45 20 1 5,460
60 16 1
75 16 3
Hanging Leg Raise 15 10 3 450
Backbends BW 8 4 N/A

Almost forgot to put a picture of a baby elephant in.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Training Log 8-11-2014: Skwatz!

Working on getting back into two-a-days. Accessory work and conditioning in the mornings, heavy lifting and stretching in the afternoon. Support work is the opposite of heavy work; Today I squatted so I did upper body support work. Wasn't feeling extended reps today at 405; probably because I only had a bowl of chili for lunch and a few apples. Decided to up the intensity and not worry about rep-ranges today.

After seeing Ido Portal's post about hanging over the weekend, I decided I'll play with adding in hangs and bent-arm hangs to my workouts at the end. Just messing around with them today. Whenever I start playing with a new movement I'm careful not to overdo it. I like to test out various weights/times/rep ranges. Friday saw this with cable face pulls. That way, next time around, I can make an informed decision as to what would be challenging. Plus I have a bit more familiarity with the movement itself.

Low-Bar Squats45102
High Bar Paused Squat24052
Leg Press385124
Rope Push-Down52.5204
Ez-Bar Curl45402
Ez-Bar Curl25501
Band Pull-Apart15123
Bent Arm Static HoldBW15s2

The Road to Relentless - Recovery

Here's the lay of the land: you do not get stronger in the gym. You get stronger recovering FROM the gym. It's called supercompensation, and it works like this:
Charts make everything better. Cribbed from Wikipedia
Your body is an adaptation machine; it reacts to the stresses it encounters. Bones, for example, will get thicker and stronger in the direction of stress placed upon it. That's why CSI types can identify whether a person was an athlete or nerd just by looking at the bones. Muscles work the same way. When you train you tear apart your muscles. When the body sees this, it overcompensates in anticipation of the next time you train. A more full model of super compensation might look like this:

This basic mechanism leads us to a few conclusions
  • Recovery is important. If you train and train and train and train and train, with no time to recover, you'll never make it back on the rebound of the curve
  • Timing is important too. Train again before you're fully recovered and you can affect your gainz.
  • To continually gain in strength and/or hypertrophy (muscle size) you MUST use a progressive overload in your training. Essentially: if you always DO the same thing, you'll always GET the same thing.


If you always do the same thing, you'll always get the same thing.

There is, I think, a difference between exercising and training. Neither one is necessarily better than the other, it just depends on goals. Or on having goals for that matter. Exercising is a fantastic and important key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. But that's just it, it's basically maintenance. If you go into the gym, day in and day out, doing the same exact thing, don't wonder why you're not making any progress. If you have a goal in sight, you need to train

Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking on exercise. Thirty minutes a day, they say, is all you need to have a healthy life. But if you head into the gym with a goal in mind -- weight loss, get stronger, get faster, get more flexible, etc. -- you must continually work towards changing and improving your workouts. You change your body by forcing it to adapt, by creating new challenges for it and, when you complete these challenges, moving on towards another set.
That's why you see so many trainers online talk about the importance of having goals. When you decide to bench 315, or squat your bodyweight, or have the splits, you have something in sight to work towards. With a goal you'll find yourself trying better and harder each and every workout.

The flip side to this is that if you are set on training, you need to be critical of your training. I've stressed the importance of having a log before; here's another reason why. If you've been training the same way for months and months and years on end and not seeing progress, why are you continuing to do that program? If you always do the same thing, you'll always get the same thing.

I mean, that's the whole point of getting fit, right? Everyone's body is different. Fitness is a process of self-examination, experimentation, and realization.
Just like any muscle, we can exercise and train recovery.  It's true, you could do nothing and recover just fine. For some of us this, a day off is all that's needed. In my experience there are several aspects to recovery, and each is worth examining to see what best fits our lives.

  • Sleep
  • Diet
  • Stress
  • Active Recovery Methods


From now on I will try to put pictures of baby elephants in every posting. 

Possibly the most obvious, but we grow when we sleep. A good night's sleep is essential to getting stronger. It will affect all aspects of our lives. I would highly recommend getting at least six, if not eight hours of sleep a night if you are serious about training. Your mileage will vary, of course, but I guarantee it will become harder and harder to train and make gains if you are lacking in the sleep department. 

As far as such things go, I can recommend two supplementations and one computer program to help with sleep. ZMA is a vitamin supplement: zinc, magnesium, and B6. Next to vitamin D, Magnesium is often cited as the most deficient vitamin in our diets. In addition to correcting a magnesium deficit, some studies show that users of ZMA attain deeper levels of REM sleep. 

The other supplement I would recommend is occasional use of Melatonin. Melatonin a hormone that helps to regulate our sleep cycles. Light supresses our bodies natural synthesis of melatonin; some suggest supplementing to help regulate abnormal sleep cycles. Anecdotally, I try to only use it occasionally when I need an extra-restful night's sleep. While I haven't seen any evidence that the body can become dependent on external sources of melatonin, (In fact, to quote Examine.com, "Taking melatonin is not associated with negative feedback (when taking supplementation causes your body to produce less of a hormone). It is also not addictive, and is not toxic."). Still, I'd rather not rely on it if I can adjust my environment instead.

Finally, I suggest everyone check out f.lux. The program will adjust the color temperature of your monitor to match your surroundings. The AMA's council on science and public health made this recommendation:
"Recognizes that exposure to excessive light at night, including extended use of various electronic media, can disrupt sleep or exacerbate sleep disorders, especially in children and adolescents. This effect can be minimized by using dim red lighting in the nighttime bedroom environment."
By default, your screen is really quite cool. As the daylight fades, f.lux will cause the colors to become warmer, easing strain on eyes on and helping to minimize disruption to your sleep cycle. It's really quite neat, and available for almost every platform, including phones.


Not much to be said here that isn't common sense. How are you going to grow and get stronger without fueling your body properly? There's all sorts of diet advice out there, but what it really boils down to is, to paraphrase Michael Pollan, "eat real food, not too much, mostly plants". Cook your own food. Don't gorge on processed stuff (though it's OK to have a treat). Eat a variety of food. Somewhere a long time ago I read a bit about nutrition regarding processed foods that I absolutely loved: "would your grandmother, or great grandmother, recognize it at the grocery store? If not, you might want to reconsider your purchase". 

Of course, it will affect your recovery if you are eating at a deficit to lose weight.. It's not impossible to gain strength when cutting weight, just harder for most people. It's way easier to not eat 100 calories than to burn it off. The best programs, in my experience, don't try to substitute exercise for poor nutrition. That's just a road that leads to rationalizing "cheat meals" left and right.

Look, I'm not saying eat a strict, "clean" diet 100% of the time. Because what is a clean diet? It really doesn't matter what you eat, so long as you are hitting your caloric goals, and getting your nutrients through a variety of food sources. I'm a strong believer that snack food is OK in moderation... when you care to be moderate about it. Decide what your priorities are and change your program to suit them. If it's too much stress to train hard, work hard,and eat 100% then don't worry about one of those. Maybe it's more important to train 100% and eat 85%. But, then again, this may all be a way for me to rationalize my chocolate addiction. 

Muscle is made out of protein; it just makes sense that protein is important to building muscle. I often see two urban legends when it comes to protein: either it's that your body can't digest more than 30g at a time (what? I guess the Inuit are not human then.) or you need to eat massive amounts of protein to build muscle. The reality, like most things, is somewhere in between. You probably need to eat more than the average person would think, but less than a body builder will tell you. Paul Carter at Lift-Run-Bang has a fantastic article about how much protein you really need. (tl;dr: ~1g protein per lbs of bodyweight is fine). 

To optimize diet for recovery, eat plenty of food (but not too much if you're trying to loose weight). Make sure it's real food, has a lot of plants, and a good portion of protein. 


Training and exercise are, by definition, a stress upon your body. You can have physical stress, and you can have mental/emotional stress. The mental side, while much less tangible, will still affect your body in a measurable and appreciable manner. All forms of stress cause your body to release stress hormones. While these systems have a purpose in our body, prolonged forms of stress will affect us negatively. Checkout the wikipedia page, it has waaaaay more on the subject than I ever could write.

Suffice to say, we want to minimize the stresses (internal and external) upon ourselves so that our bodies can use their natural recovery systems to rebuild our muscles instead of dealing with stress. It's pretty straight forward. Which means get good sleep, eat good food, and work towards living a happy life. In the end, all recovery techniques come down to managing stress. 

Active Recovery

We don't have to sit around doing nothing. There are many things we can do to optimize our recovery. Getting the blood flowing and cycling through our body helps to flush our systems. Active Recovery helps manage both the mental and physical sides of recovery. Some techniques might include
  • Walking
  • Yoga
  • Light Exercise in a similar manner
  • Massage. 
  • Bathing
  • Meditation
  • Sports/physical play
As I understand it, here's the basics of how this works. When you exercise, your are tearing apart your muscles, building up lactic acid, and any number of other things that cause your body to need to clean itself up before/as it rebuilds. Getting your blood a-flowin' causes this "scrubbing" process to speed up. Makes sense; you're pumping much more stuff through the system. Additionally, it means more oxygen and more nutrients to the muscles you just broke, which'll help repair them. 

Some things, like your spine and other joints, need movement to get their nutrients. Somewhere in the mid 20's, for example, our inter vertebral discs stop replenishing themselves with nutrients, instead acting more like sponges. Movement in many directions "wring" them out, causing them to reabsorb with fresh fluid, and fresh nutrients. Plus it feels good man. 

Too long, didn't read; what does all this mean for our training?

  • Low intensity exercise will help scrub our systems of the stuff we broke down in training
  • Exercises in a similar manner can help us to hone in on technique
  • Low intensity exercise can also help keep things interesting so we don't get bored with our program.
  • Movement in all directions of all kinds helps keep our bodies healthy and "young"
  • Destressing our heads is equally as important as destressing our bodies
Cool-downs can be a great place to implement recovery. Add in a walk or yoga to stretch things out and get your systems circulating. If you can afford it, I highly recommend devoting at least one day a week strictly to recovery. If, like me, you spend 15-30 min at the end of a workout with a light yoga session, implement an hour+ of yoga one day a week. Throw in a massage or foam-rolling while you're at it. 

Try some light movements from whatever your prior day's exercises were. I.e. if you squatted on Monday, on Tuesday or Wednesday do some sets of goblet squats or body weight squats. The idea here is that it's both low technique and low intensity. I believe I mentioned "patterning" exercises in a previous article. Movements that you don't have to think about, you can just do. Those are great here. Machine exercises are also fantastic. Throw in a few light-weight high-rep sets of leg extensions or what have you. Get the blood flowing through specific joints as well as your whole body. 

This, by way of pre-hab, is why I love 50-100 rep sets, and why you'll see me doing a lot of this kind of rep/sets with curls. It gets the blood flowing through the muscles and across the joints. Try picking up an empty ez-bar and doing one ultra-high rep set of curls. You'll feel an insane pump in your biceps. That's all the blood you're moving into your muscles. Nutrients and oxygen. That's the name of the game. 

Be sure to play. Destress your head too. Whether it's yoga, or meditation, or sports, or running around with your dog. Some days I'll spend time in the stretching area doing what I call "movement play". It's like dancing, but you're making even more of a fool of yourself. Take all the yoga poses you've ever seen, the capoeira, the ninja movies, the parkour youtube vids and mess with it. Do a pushup, spin over into a reverse-table. Kick your leg behind you into a lunge. Twist and turn into a cossack squat. Looks silly, but somehow it's quite satisfying. Remember that it's all meaningless unless we stop enjoy it. Enjoy the benefits of your hard work, the increased strength, balance, and power. Go out to a playground and swing across the monkey bars. Have fun with your training as well as your recovery. Balance things out!

Dan John says it better than I ever could: balance the work, rest, play and pray.

Training Log 8-8-2014: Overload Bench

Overload bench press day. Really they're upper body days, but I'm categorizing by the major lifts as I work towards the meet. Warm-up with a normal bench press, then add the slingshot. From what I've heard, a 5 rep max with the slingshot is about equivalent to a 1 rep max without. It'll take a bit to get there without help, but I'm pretty excited to be working with 315#. Just having it in my hands is helpful, knowing my wrists won't snap off and I won't drop it on my face.

I think that my grip is a major limiting factor in my deadlift, so I'm trying to incorporate fat gripz into a lot more of my workout. It's easy for me to row 75#-100# DB, but holding onto 50# with the fat gripz was a major challenge.

Threw in some cable-face pulls for a bit of extra shoulder/upper back work. There can never bee too much upper back work. Back work in general, for that matter. Adding in backbends has really helped my shoulders to loosen up. This weekend my upper back and shoulders felt phenomenal. Backbends start off a bit stiff for me, but by the 8th or 10th rep everything has opened up and they start to feel really really good.

Bench Press45101
Slingshot Bench Press27551
Fat Gripz DB Row50103
DB Row7582
Cable Face Pull3581

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Training Log 8-6-2014 - Bench Press + Chins

Workout felt much better yesterday. Finally getting a good night's sleep. Upped the weights 20lbs, so I'm dropping back to 5 x 5 and 3 x 3. Looks like it takes me about a month to up my reps/weight, which feels like a nice progression. I'll be curious to see how the bench press slingshot I bought plays into this. Thursdays will be over-load day. I hit a 315# bench using the slingshot last week, so I'll keep up that intensity this month. Plus it really seems to be helping my bench form.

I made a chart so I can look at what's been happening. I've been steadily increasing the volume + reps while maintaining intensity (max weight). It'll be cool to see this chart after 3-4 months of steady progress
I'm digging the weighted chin-ups as well. around 15# they're starting to get to a struggle after the 10th set or so. It'll be great when I'm doing 10 sets of 5 at 25-50#s.

My right arm in the bicep/shoulder area felt really tight/sore, so I spent some extra time stretching and messing with band-dislocations to loosen it up. Didn't affect my bench press so much as chin-ups, and I definitely felt it later that day teaching Aerial. Seems better today, just a bit sore; I'll have to keep an eye on it. It's possible it's all a bit sore from the 66rep set of curls, or maybe I've been juggling an excessive amount.

Exercise Weight Reps Sets
Bench Press, with Fat Gripz 45 10 1
135 8 1
175 5 1
205 5 1
245 3 3
205 5 4
Chin-up BW 5 2
Weighted Chin-up 15 4 10
Backbends BW 64

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Training Log: 8-5-2014 - Squats!

Definitely a "punching the clock" kind of workout. Felt like a struggle to get anything done. On the plus side, I'm consistently hitting 4-6 reps on my 405 squat. Time to start upping the game on my dropped-back work. I feel as though I'm recovering better from the increased volume things are progressing pretty nicely.

Exercise Weight Reps Sets
Low-Bar Squats 45 10 1
135 5 1
225 5 1
315 5 1
405 1 2
405 3 1
365 3 4
High Bar Paused Squat 235 5 2
Leg Press 365 12 4
Hyperextensions BW 66 1
Ez-Bar Curl 25 75 1

The Road to Relentless - Cooling Down

On a whole, I don't have as many thoughts about the cool down as the warm-up. Time permitting, I try to get some yoga in. I talked about this a bit in my article on warming up, but I think that the proper time to increase flexibility is after you've worked out. Stretching before the workout has the goal of putting you at tip-top shape. After the workout you're trying to surpass your shape. Basically, the cool down is, in my mind, time for stretching and time to begin recovery. After all, you don't build muscle in the gym. You build it recovering from the gym.

There are a few reasons I love finishing out my workouts with yoga. Even if it's only 15 minutes of it.

  • You've already torn your body apart, and it is most definitely warm, so the time for long stretching is at hand. Lengthen the muscles after they've done the work needed. 
  • Stretching will help you to relax any tension you've created through lifting. Anecdotally, I get waaaaay less muscle cramps if I keep up yoga after lifting regularly. 
  • Somewhere around the age of 23-26 your spinal discs stop replenishing themselves on their own. They need you to wring them out like a sponge in order to flush fluid through them. By working our spines through the entire range of motion we decompress them from our lifting and ensure a long, healthy relationship with our spine.
  • The movements of yoga help pump blood through the entire body. Sounds a little bro-sciency, I know, but keeping up moving will help you to recover more than falling over in a lump. Whether its going for a walk or doing some yoga. They call it Active Recovery in the biz. 
  • It's calming for the mind as well. Ain't nothing like a corpse pose after a heavy workout. Plus, if you work out at night, it's a great way to transition towards sleepy-time. 

Here are the basic yoga routines I'll use. On any given day I'll mix and match, or just make things up. Poses in italics denote you should do the pose on both sides of the body. I try to hold each pose for around 5 breaths. Depending on what's going on that day I may repeat portions of the sequences.

Some of these poses, especially the hip ones (bound angle, pigeon, etc.), I'll do in a more yin-style. That is, holding them for 3-5 minutes.



Full Body

Shoulder Rolls
Crescent Moon
Wall Dog
Straight Arm Wall Stretch
Bent Arm Wall Stretch
Standing Plow
Deep Squat w/ Internal Shoulder Rotation
½ Forward Bend
Full Forward Bend
Grounded Lunge
Down Dog
Grounded Lunge (opp. side)
Lying Twist
Seated Twist
½ Straddle
Full Straddle
Seated Fwd Bend
Twisted Seated Fwd Bend
Ankle to knee Pose
Crescent Moon
Warrior I > Warrior II > Triangle
Bound Eagle
Standing 1 leg foot hold
Drinking Bird (Warrior III)
Dancer's Pose
Down Dog
Child’s Pose
Lying knee to chest
Lying twist
Half Straddle
Full Straddle
Seated Fwd Bend
Other than yoga, I might consider getting a walk in, but on a whole, I don't really feel that cool-downs are nearly as necessary as warm-ups. I have to reiterate though, THAT'S JUST ME. If you're doing something and it works, keep it up! There's so much variation in the world - genetics, diet, stress, environment, etc. that no one is going to get the same results as someone else.

Alternatively, I say just drink some water, get a protein shake, sit down for 10-15 minutes, then be on your way!