Old Man Strength



Old Man Strength.  A physical quality that entails unforeseen strength of an individual, including unexpected techniques based off of life experience, and the ability to conquer others based on having more age age than them.  (Source: Urban Dictionary, definition 4)

I have friends of similar age or younger that are suffering from the effects of time and a general lack of self-care.  I know others age 45 and up that continue to strength train,and in some cases still compete at a high-level.  Most experience some degree of physical discomfort due to past training injuries,but a few have managed to keep this in check and lead highly mobile and relatively pain-free lives. I believe the latter represents an optimized state.

I put this situation along the continuum of Older-Untrained/Detrained, Older-Trained and Older-Optimized Training.

How does one work towards optimizing themselves as they age?

Improvement. It is possible to improve even from disadvantaged starting points. You are never to old to start.

Recovery. Our ability to recover reduces faster than our ability to increase physical abilities. All the good stuff from training happens after you leave the gym.


Realities. Impressive? Yes.  Does he appear fit? Yes. Could I do it? I’m not sure and don’t have the equipment to test it. Is this something I would have a beginner do? No. Did this person take time to build himself to this level of ability? I can safely speculate that he did.  What is the benefit of the exercise? I don’t know, anything I could offer would be a guess. I see value in regressions of this exercise as well as progressions past standard planks and push-ups.

First things first, does the individual have the necessary joint integrity,isometric force generating capabilities and tissue tolerance to even be put into a plank position? If yes, how long can it be maintained?

Exercise Selection and Management.  An exercises level of difficulty is based on the client defined abilities and the selection of any particular exercise starts with a few questions, For whom? For what purpose?(1) What is being managed, and how is it being measured?  I personally go with exercises that represent the greatest level of challenge the individual can control and successfully recover from.

Balance.  Life takes place in all planes of movement. It pays to train in all three planes and not to overtrain a singular movement pattern. I’ve seen enough firsthand evidence of this among older distance runners, martial artists and powerlifters to convince me of such.

(1) From The Science of Sports Training (Kurz), The simplest division of exercises are exercises that are directly applicable to the need, exercises that may not be directly applicable, but still prepare for it and exercises that reduce the potential for injury or overtraining, or aid in the recovery process



Indecent Proposal

I was recently offered money to take another persons online personal trainer exam. I didn’t accept the offer, and wouldn’t at three times the amount.  The thought that by saying no, the door has opened for someone else to say yes did occur to me, but that isn’t my concern.

It’s difficult to say this doesn’t bother me, and I’m irked that I was the first person they considered for the job (or so I’m told.)

The individual failed their first attempt exam, and in their words “none of it makes any sense.”  While the textbook is quite large and test questions thorough, it doesn’t have a reputation as being highly difficult with a high failure rate and testing conditions are generous.  Candidates are allowed two free attempts,re-tests beyond that are relatively inexpensive.  The test is untimed, open book and can be taken from the comfort of home. The material covered in the textbook itself is good. and the certification is widely accepted.

The person failed to answer my verbal questions on anatomy,exercise progressions, programming principles and client administration.  I discovered the person has rushed through the course, and they are “trying to get this $hit behind them”  (and presumably the letters behind their name.)

I was told that after they get through the exam they would go back and actually study the material. Personal experience tells me this most likely won’t happen.


I offered to tutor them, and to help actually learn the material. They would be starting at Chapter 1, Day 1. They would learn to think and apply the material on their own. My counter-offer was promptly turned down.

IMG_0576.JPG (Credit: Westside Barbell)

I believe some people become overly focused on passing exams or in adding letters after their name.  I can partially understand this thinking, but simply rote-memorizing material leads to failure when that supposed qualification is actually tested. My advice is to stop focusing on simply passing the test, and instead focus on absorbing the education and experience along the way.

Barely passing (or even scoring 100%) on an exam will not make you a successful trainer (whatever your definition of success happens to be,just that you were successful in passing the test.

Not knowing, or being unable to apply what your certification says you should know makes it a fancy, but ultimately meaningless piece of paper. Failure doesn’t automatically mean you are forever banished to the suck zone as a trainer either, it simply means you were unprepared to meet a challenge.

Learn all that you can during the process so that you can be the best trainer possible. I further advise to take the material to the gym and try figuring things out under live conditions. This is why better trainers never graduate.

If I were given the power to change how trainer exams were administered, there would be a battery that included online, proctored and live demonstration of skill and coaching ability.  I would want to see the persons work and hear/read answers given in their own words.  With few exceptions, I would go so far as to fail answers recited verbatim from a textbook.

Tribes and Vibes

The Gym is my laboratory. It is a place built to stress things, and create the abilities to withstand, recover and adapt. In this place, things that are wrong can be put right. 

This is my opinion, of course.

However, it is a EARNED opinion, vested with the authority of time under load, pain, failures and successes. With my mind, I consider the great questions posed by Iron and Effort. With my chosen weapons I find self truths, and from this bench I rule.

Needless to say, I’m not a fan of stupid sh-t in the lab.    

 Partially adapted from Daredevil issue 22, volume 5, Marvel Comics

For a long time I believed I was decent at tuning things out. I train without headphones and keep good training records and track of time. It turns out that I might have given myself too much credit.  I have a hard time training in gyms without a particular vibe.  Even though I’m cognizant of the fact that people putting in serious efforts can be found in commercial gyms, the vibe of the average one repels me. This might be a case of what I will term “Reverse Planet Fitness effect.”

That said, I can manage things decently if I have good training partners.

Fact: Silly stuff happens in non-commercial gyms as well.  It appears less frequently likely due to the fact that the membership is significantly lower.

The majority of my training is in a gym largely occupied by Olympic lifters. Despite the differences in our chosen iron sports, the Oly lifters take care to constantly improve their technique in the Snatch, Clean and Jerk and related lifts.  Only recently have I started talking to other tribe members.

My partnered training occurs a commercial gym cross-town with a small group of competitive powerlifters. I wouldn’t be going there if not for the people I train with, and I’m not the one who travels the furthest to be there.


In fairness, this particular gym has a lower crowd size than the typical globo-gyms and I’ve never had a problem securing the bench press on a Monday evening.  This in my opinion is both a good thing, and a rarity.

Perhaps my vibe attracted my tribe, just like a gyms vibe attracts or repels me.

The Training of You.

As much as I personally love to Bench Press, not everyone I coach does it, at least with a barbell.)  For those that I do teach the Bench Press, I divide them into two broad categories: (1) Competitive lifters and (2) Non-Competitive lifters.  This creates new rules and expectations.  Then there is the matter of how I teach it. People learn differently, and I want to use the method(s) best suited to the individual in front of me.

Not everyone I teach Deadlifts a barbell off the floor, although all hinge to some degree or another.

Not everyone will have a Barbell placed on their back, or put one overhead.

Certain criterion have to be met before I decide if any exercise is a good idea or not. This is an on-going process, and one of the reasons why every session,exercise and repetition serves as an assessment.

“A.I Mulchin’s (1978) analysis of body dimensions revealed the great disparity between a lifter’s maximum and minimum anthropometric indices in all weight classes.  Within the confine of one weight class, one can find athletes of unequal height and and in another, athletes who are of the same height, but have difference leg,arm and torso lengths, width of shoulders and bodyweight.

…..  The data shows that the taller the weightlifter of any body type, the greater relative length of the torso and the shorter relative length of the extremities.  With respect to this, athletes who are of different body structure have different technique parameters in the different periods of the classic exercises.”  

Managing the Training of Weightlifts, N.P. Laputin and V.G. Oleshko

Digest version: Not everyone lifts the same. The technique may appear quite similar, but there will always be individual differences in each person, even among the highly skilled. Not only that, but not everyone responds to the same exercise the same way. I believe that athletes of higher skill are more consistent, and better compensators.


Personal Trainers. Please contact me it you’re going to tell me that all your clients exercises are performed exactly the same way. I would love to know how you accomplish this feat.

A quick glance at these hips indicates that the previous owners squatted differently.  This doesn’t include the other involved parts of a squat.  Femur length for example, plays a big role in a squats external view.  What are the odds of getting clients with identical joint structures?

Not only that, but if such marked external individual differences were noted among top Russian athletes in a given sport and weight class, how can I believe there would not be such differences in non-athletes?

FACT: You cannot make the assumption that high performers, or even people that “look fit” (whatever that means) are showing up with high performing joint structures.


Two ladies of the same height (and likely same weight class) Left Lady: Longer Torso, Shorter Femurs.  Right Lady: Shorter Torso, Longer Femurs.  Do you think some of their exercises will differ in appearance?  (Credit: Bret Contreras)

I propose that dedicated personal trainers take an objective-driven way of thinking instead of memorizing the broad strokes of an exercise.

I believe that a systems based approach, where you view the external along with considering the internal actions of a given movement on a individual basis to be a better way of looking at things and how you pursue exercise selections and progressions.

We tend to focus on the external factors, and we can very good it as it can be easier to measure.  I’m not taking away from its importance, but our job as fitness professionals is to bring up the external and internal capabilities of the athlete.



DOMS, or Actually Dying?

Askhole. A person who constantly asks for your advice, yet ALWAYS does the complete opposite of what you told them to do. (Source: Urban Dictionary)

We all know at least one Askhole, and they are exceptionally common in my profession.

A guy I know recently took up weight training. Although he is completely new to training, he refuses to hire a trainer (even for a consult) and is getting all his training advice online.  I stopped giving him any help due to his being a complete askhole.

Not long ago I received this message: “Bro, how can I tell if my pectoral is torn?” To say that this triggered some alarms would be an understatement.

While I’m supportive of people getting in the gym and trying things on their own. I also recommend obtaining the assistance of professionals when needed. I have more than 100 professional contacts just for this sort of situation. My recent adventures with this gentleman indicates the first scenario isn’t going in a good direction, and that the second scenario needs to happen.

After an examination by his Dr, my suspicion proved true.  He experienced a strong case of Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and it was nearly a week (1) before he could painlessly put his own shirt on.

He’s lucky, things could have been much worse.(2)

After some interrogation, I found that this wasn’t his first experience with severe DOMS. On DAY ONE he performed an uncounted number of curl variations (basically all the curls) and couldn’t straighten his arms for several days afterward (basically he turned himself into a T-Rex.)

Remember, this is a person that hasn’t adapted to training. He also happens to be nearly the same age as myself and sits on the other end of the fitness continuum.


I know these types of images are supposed to be “motivational”, but I honestly question the sanity of any trainer posting this sort of material.

Some amount of discomfort in training can be expected,especially with beginners. That said, there is a point of diminishing returns. Being ungodly sore after exercise is not some badge of honor or proof that a workout was good. If anything, it indicates the workout was beyond your capacity and tolerances. It would be like laying out in the sun until blisters appear and calling it a “good tan.”

Excessive DOMS interferes with recovery, which is actually where the benefits of your training occur.  Pre-supposing you can make it back to the gym, your session performance could be lowered due to the soreness on more than one level.

Excessive soreness can also affect the training of seemingly unrelated body parts.  For example, the gentleman’s massively sore chest prevented his ability to put a barbell on his back for squats, get in and out of the leg press or curl dumbbells. Even the Elliptical was out of the question.

Recommendations: Start sensibly. Every Gym God started with an empty bar and built themselves up over time.  For the older guys getting back in the gym, my mantra “I’m only as good as my next workout” applies.  Your actions can decide if that workout takes place this week or after months of physical therapy.


(1) A perspective on training and recovery balance from a Masters Class competitive lifter. My training is divided over four days, two days are designated as a type of maximum effort, where I work towards the heaviest lift I can control that day.  The other two days are set at lower percentages (between 70-85% of my maximum.)  I rarely train to failure, and if I do I keep it to 1-2 exercises that involve small muscle groups, usually this type of work is done at 20-30% of what I’m capable.

24hrs after my training I do either small workouts (something I can do in 30min or so) or a form of active or passive recovery (mobility work,massage,ligament/tendon training etc)

It’s rare for me to be anything beyond mildly sore. I like leaving like the gym with a win and knowing I had another 5-10lbs or extra reps left in me.  On the platform I like knowing I gave it all I had that day.

The above is not what a beginners training looks like.

(2) On the severe end of things, Rhabdomyolysis is a condition in which damaged skeletal muscle tissue breaks down rapidly. Breakdown products of damaged muscle cells are released into the bloodstream. Some of these, such as the protein myoglobin, are harmful to the kidneys and may lead to kidney failure. (Source: PubMed)

Although Rhabdomyolysis requires a medical diagnosis, if you’re peeing something the color of Coca Cola it would be best to get to the ER.



The Way of the Bookcase.


“Once you understand the way broadly, you can see it in all things.”  

Miyamoto Musashi, Book of Rings (1643)

For years I’ve kept my textbooks on the floor along a wall.  Last week I decided it was time for a change and purchased a nice iron bookcase.  I soon realized my collection fit too perfectly, there is no room left for even a slender book.

The next day I returned to the store and ordered a second bookcase. There are simply too many things I don’t know, and every book,course,seminar,training session and conversation with colleagues continues to prove this to me.

I believe every trainer should form their own training philosophy. I further believe that trainers should base things in science and the fundamental principles of training.  One must continually educate themselves in both matters, gaining an understanding of one helps make the other easier to understand.

I was reading a local personal trainers bio recently (because I do stuff like that) and came across this line;  “His philosophy is to never do the same workout twice, so you can continue to confuse the body.”

I found this comment interesting. Interesting enough to pull some textbooks from my bookcase and do a little reading.

I’m not sure what “continue to confuse the body” means, but I speculate he isn’t talking about the biological law of accommodation. Perhaps he loads a barbell for back squats, gets the client under the bar, has them prepare to un-rack it and then run over to the seated chest press machine to fool the body into thinking it was legs day and build some massive chesticles.

While I believe that straying from the days plan can be called for, doing random things for the sake of randomness suggests that things are not being managed and that the individual is not getting better at any one thing.

I know the body responds to the demands placed upon it. I know that the nervous system can be easily fooled, but it gets smart pretty quick. I know that biomechanical efficiency makes a given exercise at a given resistance easier to perform, and that biomechanical inefficiency could result in injury.

“I think everything works for about six weeks.”

Dan John

With beginner clients, I believe they require beginner programs. I look for the hardest things they can do well, and with control. They tend require less stimulus as all stimulus is new to them. Their programs are typically fairly linear in nature, which means they take time to develop skill in a given movement pattern before progressing to a more sophisticated version.

More advanced and qualified athletes can benefit from variety in their training, and in the case of extroverts it could be the preferred approach.  The better the athlete, the better they are at compensating for things.  This means I can have greater flexibility in their programming as their bodies have been adapted to training in various ranges and directions.  It still doesn’t mean that I change their training every session.



Succesful Personal Trainers

“Don’t nobody know nothing? What up with this?”   Nino Brown, New Jack City

I recently read a question on a personal trainers board that despite a 6k membership has gone unanswered.

“What are the common characteristics of successful fitness professionals?”

I contacted the original poster asking them if I could use the question for this weeks blog.  My question was not verbally acknowledged, but I did get one of these…


Despite a love of comics, I prefer words over pics.

There are a ton of potential answers to the question. How is success being defined? I ask because some people will read past “characteristic” and focus on “successful.”

Characteristic. A feature or quality belonging typically to a person, place, or thing and serving to identify it.

Can success be tied to an annual income? Is it having a good work/life balance? Is it having a sustained business model? Is it based on the results consistently obtained in clients? Is it daily happiness in ones work?  Is it the number of social media followers one has? Is it not looking like a DYEL?  Is it simply remaining employed for greater than the average drop-off points?

People have used all of these to validate success, and I’m certain there are plenty of other measuring sticks. I’ve met trainers that meet nearly all the above, yet are actually poor trainers. I also know some exceptional trainers that only meet a few of the above criterion.


Below are some of the common characteristics of the best trainers I know based purely on my opinion.

They are largely humble about their accomplishments. They don’t speak down to those with less prestigious educational pedigrees, less enviable physiques, smaller social circles or lower income.


They enjoy teaching,but will not suffer fools gladly.

They are scholar-warriors. They continually advance their knowledge and abilities both in depth and breadth. They consistently study and can separate sources of information. They question what they read.

They have no problems saying “I don’t know” (or admit having limited knowledge on a subject) but often know someone that does. They can admit when they were wrong on a subject.

They are comfortable holding conflicting thoughts in their head. They are open to hearing/reading material that opposes their line of thinking, not just the material that supports their way of seeing things.


“To give a person an opinion one must first judge well whether that person is of the disposition to receive it or not”  The Hagakure.

They know their opinion will not be shared by all, no matter how well articulated or the strength of supporting evidence. We live in a world with a Flat Earth society and trainers that have only read one book.

They let principles guide their practice, not fads.

They realize it’s not the tool, but what you do with the tool that counts.

They can explain complex things simply.  They do not talk like they swallowed a Latin dictionary, unless they need to.

They don’t get their clients hurt.

They don’t bring anecdotes to a science fight.  If they DO bring anecdotes, they state such and do not attempt to pass it off as facts.