Doublethink. The acceptance of or mental capacity to accept contrary opinions or beliefs at the same time, especially as a result of political indoctrination.
As the personal training industry continues to grow, the education and tools marketed to trainers naturally increases.  On the educational front I’ve noted two distinct paths emerge over the years. Visualize them as two highways, one thats very wide and one thats narrower.


Wide Highway. Easy courses designed to be passed easily even by those without formal education or practical experience in the topic. Courses that have apps designed to feed you the questions and answers, which could potentially lead to passing an exam via rote memorization. Courses with low entry or exit requirements.

Narrow Highway. Difficult courses designed to be academically and/or physically challenging the student.  There might be apps that can help in certain areas, but they cannot be considered stand-alone study aids. Courses with high entry or exit requirements.

My recent thoughts and opinions on trainer education led me to a 1984 moment of Doublethink.  The internet, and some of the credentialing bodies have exercise databases that demonstrate the technique of a given exercise. While I like the idea of having such a database, I also have my reservations.

My Positives

They can be used by people on either the wide or narrow highways.

They are handy as basic references or refreshers. I’ll admit to using one myself  at times, but they are never the only source I check.

They quickly provide the broad strokes of a given exercise. Some databases go into greater depth than others, and if properly used one could gain a decent degree of academic information on a exercise.

                                                                                                                                                            FACT: Exercise descriptions are the first thing I look at when reviewing Certified Personal Training texts or online databases. Typically, I am looking at how much information was left out.

My Reservations

The handiness could create a false sense of knowledge.  The trainer might not try the technique on themselves, or consider when individuals are contraindicated towards it.

Exercise technique, or more specifically what we have named a particular movement pattern is the simplest part. There is also the matters of individual form and style. A trainer might consider the online representation as all that there is to a particular exercise, and not take the person doing the lifting into consideration.


This is what one trainer credentialing agency considers to be proper deadlift form.  I see about 5-10 minutes of work to correct the young ladies form…assuming she should be pulling from the floor in the first place. 

BroScience: Deadlifting with octagonal plates sucks.

The example can be flawed. I do not consider myself an expert on Kettlebells, but I know form flaws when I see them…and based purely on watching trainers on gym floors I can state theres a lot more going wrong than going right. For all I know the trainer was mimicking a bad example…or they were guessing their way through things with incomplete information.  Neither is a good thing.





Questioning Authorities

“The enemy of truth is blind acceptance”  Matthew Arnold

Blind Acceptance. Confident or unquestioning belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing. Strong or unshakeable belief in something, esp without proof or evidence.

Just because I disagree with someone doesn’t automatically mean I dislike them. Just because I like someone doesn’t automatically mean I will always agree with them.

Just because I dislike someone doesn’t automatically mean I cannot learn something from them.

Just because a person is famous, or has fancy letters before/after their name doesn’t mean they are always right.

Trainers: Want a nearly free way of improving your knowledge on a training topic?  Take note of the greatest claims made in the book (including your CPT textbook) or video you are watching and then look at what current research has to say on the topic.

Last night I watched a video from a reputable organization which stated multiple times that “knees cannot go past the toes in the squat.” This myth continues to be perpetuated by trainers and the presenter never stated why this was considered a hazard.  This ran counter to information I’ve gained from  other reputable sources.

I later noted it was produced in 2014. A 2018 video from the same organization made no mention of forward knee restriction in the squat. While they were operating with outdated information back in 2014, they have made good on updating themselves. (1,2)

A recent check of a Performance Specialist textbook ( an outdated edition) showed a number of issues in Olympic lifting.  If this was the information that one started with and they never pursued more in-depth instruction they could potentially injure clients. The parent company has updated the text, however I do not know if this matter was addressed or not…and I honestly don’t feel like giving them anymore of my money.

It’s OK to question things, and I wish more people did. Just don’t fall prey to confirmation bias and look at the counter evidence as well.




The “Jack” Sessions

I’m presently battling an upper-chest cold that has caused me to  miss three training sessions.  I’ve found myself going out of my skull and felt I HAD to train, as it feels like I’m getting smaller by the day.

The training below flies in the face of better recommendations.  Precision Nutrition has complied a handy infographic for some things you can do while sick.


When the germaphobes hear me coming.

I knew I  wouldn’t be able to make through a typical session, but thankfully Jim Wendler came to the rescue with the  “I’m not doing Jack $#!T” session.  This meant I would do the main lift, and nothing else. (I.E. No supplemental or accessory lifts)

Wednesday: Standing Barbell Press to max single for the day.  Overhead pressing is exhausting work under the best of circumstances, but I’ve found I recover better from maximum singles work than I do from sub-max triples.

I hit my target weight and decided to attempt another lift with increased load.  I cannot claim ownership of the second, however I now know that the lift is well within my reach.

Friday: Barbell Back Squats 12×2 75% 1RM.  The adjustment made today was increasing the rest time by 30 seconds, which was probably closer to 60 seconds given how slow I am in my set-ups.

Since the load was sub-max, I used the opportunity to pay attention to technical concerns.

Sets 1-3: Focus on the hip-knee break timing,

Sets 4-9: Focus on the eccentric (lowering into the squat)  and reversal phase (getting back up)

Sets 10-12: Focus on bringing the hands slightly closer to the body. My shoulders weren’t warm enough to address it during the first bloc but they were perfectly ready for the last few sets. This indicates the need for more shoulder mobility work, my hypertrophy work for the shoulder girdle covers my bases.

I noted that my first repetition was consistently my best, but all reps would have passed judging standards.  12×2 allowed me to get in 12 first rep quality movements, and 24 passable reps as opposed to a 5×5 scheme which would have allowed only 5 first quality reps and would have required longer rest periods.




A 135lb limit?

” There is no reason why anybody has to squat with a barbell on their back.”

“There is no reason why anybody has to lift more than 135lbs (61kgs)”

These were the opinions of a trainer I once engaged. Needless to say, the specified loading limit piqued my interest.  I wanted to know how she came to view 135lbs as the absolute ceiling. My inner Jekyll and Hyde showed up.


(Jekyll) Before getting into online arguments, I try finding what can be agreed upon, or where the other individual might have experiences and good points that run counter to my own.

(Hyde) BroScience suggests 135lbs is her limit, therefore the natural limit for anyone else. Furthermore she is not versed in barbell training and possibly got stapled under 140lbs. God forbid she gets a client to become stronger than she has limited herself. This is a case of a trainer producing DYEL (Do you even lift?) clients.

The Barbell Back Squat: What I can agree with: The barbell back squat isn’t for everyone.  Whether it an option or not depends on who is front of you, what they are capable of and their goals. Squatting itself is a fundamental movement.

It’s one of three competitive powerlifts and a staple in strength training.  If you’re a Powerlifter, its part of the sport and you are subject to rules of lifting form. If you’re an Olympic lifter or Strongman athlete it is a builder exercise.

I advise iron sport athletes to rotate the types of squats they perform in order to prevent accommodation, reduce injury potential, prevent boredom and strengthen weak ranges. I have applied the same training principle to non-iron sport lifters that were past the novice stage of training.

The squat can be loaded from multiple points, with some being easier on the spine and others quite difficult with lower loads. I personally believe the basic bodyweight squat is a good place to start, but I’m not sure if she only considered 135lbs of  external loading as the limit, and not people that weigh over 135lbs.

Clockwise from the top left (Red Shirt) Belt Squat, Double Kettlebell Squat, Split Squat, Front Squat and Zercher Squat.  Variations exist within each of these lift.

The 135 limit: What I can agree with. Lighter weights can be used for strength and power gains and some exercises necessitate light loads. The Kettlebell, dumbbells,cable machines, bands and sandbags are tools that can provide exceptional challenges below 135lbs. For some people might this may be all thats needed, and there are ways of making “light feel heavy.”

What I can’t agree on is the specific number applied equally to everything, everyone and every goal. For some, the infinite loading potential of barbells is the most efficient and effective path to strength development. Once again, it depends on who, and for what purposes.

I have a female liter that can easily get under a bar and squat 135lbs (roughly her bodyweight) for multiple repetitions without a warm-up on any given day. To intentionally limit her to 135lbs would be a disservice on my part, and she has routinely squatted and deadlifted well in excess of that number with zero lifting related injuries.

SIDE NOTE: I played around with the thought of what could be accomplished with a single bar loaded to a fixed 135lbs and a rack.  I found I could actually get a good amount of variety out of it, but would have to get inventive quick as the load presents no challenge in my conventional bench press, deadlift in current training methods.

I might try this out for a few weeks outside of competition.


Her 135lb ceiling presents several problems. For example, the carriage weight of the Leg Press machines varies per maker, and even between models from the same manufacturer. A heavy duty model capable of holding 4 digit loads (something typically equipped with the or more collars) will have a carriage that likely exceeds 135lbs by itself.

The last unit I used had a listed carriage weight of 110lbs/50kg. With the machines fixed 45 degree angle, I am only moving about 71% of it (78lbs).  Is she limiting me to only loading enough to create 135?.

In the end, I don’t believe she was willing to see my side of things. I’m actually ok with this as at least I know she won’t be occupying the squat rack anytime soon.


Reasonable Goals

“The goal is to keep the goal the goal”

Dan John

Last October I set my goals for 2018 in education and training. Last month I completed all but one of them, or which I’m simply awaiting the results. Although there were multiple courses, I managed to keep the goal the goal each time.

“One way to keep momentum going is to have constantly greater goals” 

Michael Korda

Seeing as I completed most things ahead of schedule, I’ve had to come up with some new 2018 goals.  Academically speaking, I have enough to keep me busy for some time, so the drive is now towards the physical. (1)

Specifically, my goals in powerlifting are to best my last competition numbers (in competition) and develop new skills in bodyweight training.

I’ve found that when drafting non-academic goals my best results came from setting relatively easy and achievable mini-goals, with an eye on the grand goal.  There have been times where I might have set the mini-goal too low, but I don’t see that as a negative.  If anything, it helps drive the process in a positive direction.

“Chris, how fast can you get this gut off me?”

“I don’t know, how long did it take to get there?”

Yes, this was an actual conversation from 2013…and the gut prominent

Applying the same concept to another person is different matter, as many people are looking for the fastest results and the path of least of resistance.  In several personal training textbooks the SMART goal setting method is covered, and I think its as solid of a start as anything else.  The devil is in the adherence.


Using my previously mentioned Powerlifting goal as an example…

SPECIFIC (Realistic): I know what my last record was, and the date and conditions under it was achieved.  I know the minimum load that must be added in order to achieve that goal and the date of the next competition.

SPECIFIC (Grand): I know what percentage over my last record I want to hit.

MEANINGFUL (Realistic and Grand):  Sometimes this is defined as MEASURABLE. I think that either word works, and I actually use both. Meaningful serves as a validation of my training process that leads to exceeding my former best efforts. S+M=A fuel source.  Measurable means that something can be Managed.

ACTION ORIENTED:  Since I know the next competition date,and the targeted realistic/grand goals, I can work backwards on the calendar with the realization that progress isnt linear, and that life can sometimes get in the way.  I know that I must train my competition lifts with a certain amount of frequency and intensity and that I typically peak within three weeks. (2)

“I need one more pull-up today than I did two days ago.  It needs to be a clean rep or it doesn’t count.  I just need that one, I’ve been here before and I’m stronger today than I was 48hrs ago.  I’m here for a reason.”

Actual self-talk while standing under the pull-up bar.(3)

REALISTIC:Achieveable or unachievable differs between people, and I believe this is where the creation of smaller goals that lead in the direction of the grand goal is a good thing.  Some people will set their mini-goals too high, they will either learn from that experience or stop moving forward.

TIMELY: This can be a challenge with others (or even with yourself) and may require some calibration in order to make things realistic. I tend to view deadlines as deadlines, not as target dates. I will actually lower a goal or not even take it on if I think I cannot complete the task in the assigned time. That said, I have no issues with hiring professionals to assist or consult with if needed.  I’d like to think I have enough social credit that many issues are resolvable within reach of my speed dial.

(1) I also have some loose goals listed for 2019 and 2020.  Being able to think and plan years in advance was a great lesson learned while serving in the military.

(2) Experience has shown me that qualified lighter class lifters (<200lb/<90kg) and some masters lifters peak faster than their heavyweight/super heavyweight peers.  If I were to go up or down a weight class my peaking time might differ slightly.

(3) I didn’t get one more pull-up, I got three more, and equalled a previous PR. I’m now one rep away from beating that, so the goal has been re-adjusted for an even higher number (SPECIFIC AND REASONABLE) by next week, which happens to be the day this bar is rotated back into the program (TIMELY.)  Not all my goals are number/repetition based, some are simply to move better in a given range or a skill based. I personally don’t believe that hanging 100% of ones training on a certain number (on the bar, or on the scale for that matter) is a good thing.

Training Stalls

The Biological Law of Accommodation: The response of a biological object to a given constant stimulus decreases over time. The decrease in response of your body to a constant continued stimulus.


pre_311 copy

The Incline Lever Row is considered a general back exercise and my performance has stalled. I use both sets of handles with equal load and volume and cannot, with continued good form, go any heavier than current. What’s worse is that performance numbers appear to be trending downwards. (1)

I have already altered the lifts tempo from explosive, to rhythmic to mechanical with isometric pausea and changed grip patterns to the most challenging positions.

In my personal programming, undulating producing the best results (for me). My lat muscles noticeably thickened  and widened over the past few weeks and I believe the combination of high volume/frequency paired with relatively short density (-60 sec rest between sets) led to improvements in form. I hope that the exercise transfers improvement to my bench press speed.

I have several options.

A) Change the exercise.  Considering the loading potential and effect of the exercise, it might require two exercises to replace it. Since I bench twice weekly, I can split the exercises per session.

B) Continue going the way I’m going and train instinctively, hope for the best.

C) Use lifting straps to overload the exercise. While my stalling is not a case of grip failure, the straps will aid in allowing me to pull more than I can without them.

With respect the law of accommodation I believe that option A is the better choice, and I can rotate option C in a few weeks.  A change in angle from 45 degrees to other positions (roughly past 30 and 60 degrees respectively) will create a new of stresses.  Even a 45 degree pull with entirely different handles or lifting posture would elicit a different response, but it would still be within a range to which I’ve accommodated.

This is fine N=1 stuff, but how does the average Joe/Jane know when to tweak their program?

The “Are you still making progress?” chart  (Credit: Greg Nucklos) 

Yes: Don’t change anything

No: How do you feel?

Good:  Train harder

I’m feeling worn out/fatigued

Outside the Gym? 

Good: Lower Volume

Needs Work: Focus here                                                                                                              (Look at Food/Sleep/Water/Other recovery methods/Life Stress)

(1) The 45 Lever Row isn’t my only pull exercise.  I also perform Face Pulls (Warm Up before squat/bench press) Lat-Pull Downs, Seated Rows and Pull-ups. The key point is that I pull in multiple directions weekly.  On a per session basis, my pulls outnumber my push exercises at least 2-1.

Seven things your gym doesn’t want you to know.

This weeks blog primarily focuses on the high-volume/low monthly price gym model, but many of the points also apply equally to costly gyms and independent contract trainers.

I have personally witnessed each one of these events.

1. Your personal trainer may not be qualified…in anything.  It is entirely possible that your trainer holds no education or certification whatsoever, and may have zero experience training anyone other than themselves.  They may not have any training in CPR/AED or basic first aid.

Potential Clients: Ask the trainer or their fitness manager to show you the trainers certification and proof of current CPR/AED.  Trainer certifications are valid for periods between 1-4 years (varies per agency) before they need to be renewed.  This needs to happen BEFORE any training service has been rendered.    

Trainers: Having a photo of your certification and CPR/AED qualification on your phone is an easy way of having ready proof.

2. Sexiness can mean more than Ability.  I will preface this by saying that a trainers exterior does not serve as a full indicator of their ability, and as a mean looking bastard.

I have personally seen people hired as trainers purely due to their looks.  Those looks in turn were leveraged as a sales tactic. If a young lady was potentially interested in training, a handsome well-built male was assigned.  If a male was interested in training, an attractive lady was often brought out.  If a male or female was tentative about hiring a trainer, they would bring out a rather unimposing looking trainer, especially if the interested party was older.

Purely from observation the attractive trainers may be preferentially assigned clients simply to keep them on the staff and on the gym floor. Whether or not they were actually any good, or remotely qualified for the job was irrelevant.

3. Gyms don’t want you being there, but they do want your monthly dues.  The IDEAL person is someone that never shows up. Thats free-money, and has been the ideal for quite some time.

4. They will go to great lengths to get you to sign the dotted line. I’ve been called numerous times by gyms I’ve visited, and every call seems to have a special limited time offer attached. There seems to be no end to the psychological tricks used to sell a gym membership. The selling party always seems interested in the gym that I actually hold a membership. My speculation is that they are trying to determine if I go to a direct competitor or not. If I did, they would magically be able to match or beat the deal.

FACT: Many (not all) of the sales staff have zero knowledge of training.

5. Cancelling a contract can be exceedingly difficult, especially when compared to how easy it is for them to take your monthly payments.


6. Most gyms don’t clean surfaces or equipment nearly as much as they claim.  You are your best janitor in these cases by wiping equipment surfaces before/after use and covering any cuts or scrapes.  In highly populated gyms I suggest wearing long sleeves and pants no matter how badly you want to blast your guns to the admiring public.


This local gym didn’t seem to sure how to balance the layout of the functional training area (note the BOSU on the far left) and the cardio equipment, so they surrounded the functional area with cardio equipment.

7. Decor and Layout are meant for an effect.  Typically there will be images of exceptionally fit people on the walls (aka genetic lottery winners with possible photoshoppery) and lots of cardio equipment, or some form of functional training area at the front of the gym. The barbells and dumbbells will almost always be in the rear.

A training gym, much less a hardcore lifters gym will be the opposite.

Why?  The images are there to sell you a dream and the cardio equipment isn’t nearly as intimidating as the barbells.  I believe the functional training areas are out of response to the growth and name recognition of CrossFit.  My degree in bastardology leads me to suspect that the functional training areas can also hide a trainers inability to teach and train core lifts.