Do Good Work


I came across a sad situation the other day.  Sad enough that it made me pause for a moment and consider the events that led to it.

My collection of Kettlebells had a layer of dust on them, and I realized that I hadn’t trained with them in quite some time.  This meant that entire loading strategies, physical benefits and technical challenges went untrained.

For a guy that trains in a Conjugate method, this is tantamount to leaving money unattended.  It’s even worse when you consider that the owner of said dusty bells has received education from both Dragon Door AND StrongFirst.

Two thoughts quickly formed: (1) There were reasons why kettlebells fell out of my training life. (2) There are reasons why they’ve come back.

Taking action on the latter, I’ve begun a short cycle of daily Kettlebell training, much like I would assign to a beginner but with greater potential for variation.

“DGW-30”  (Do good work-30 days)                                                                                                               

10 Swings,5 Squats,5 Presses 

It’s very simple and almost too easy looking. 

The primary goal is to Do Good Work everyday for 30 days, and to do each technique perfectly.  I believe that is the difference between “Do Good Work” and “Do The Work.”

The secondary goal is to develop each technique so that it would pass muster at an RKC/StrongFirst certification with a test sized bell.  Believe me when I say the passable technical standards of these organizations are not easy.

The load can be waved daily and technique variation can be changed whenever I feel the need. Currently I am training the standard versions of each technique as that is both the logical starting point, and supportive of the secondary goal.

For those that get bored easily…

Swing: Two-Hand Swing, One-Hand Swing,Hand-to-Hand Swings or Double Bell Swings. They can be done with a Deadstop, an overdriven eccentric phase or continuous swing, or in the case of double bells, with unequal loads per hand.

Squat: Goblet position, single bell offset, double bells in rack, double bells overhead, single or double bottoms up or with two different bell sizes.  I can pause the bottom position or alter how fast I squat in either direction.

Press: Single, Double, See-saw Presses,Single or Double press off the squat. I can also add accommodating resistance with a band or chain to increase starting or lockout strength and change the press position (standing,kneeling, sitting etc)

Thats over 25 variations off the top of my head, which provides months of possibilities. That said, to earn a variation one must possess the standard movement skill with both competence and control, or what I call “Good Work.”



Everything for Nothing.

I briefly considered coming out of retirement the other day.

I was contacted by an interested party that were highly motivated towards a goal, which based on the provided stats and timeframe was not unrealistic.

The party had done a considerable amount of research to narrow the field of potential hires.  They were specific on their list of non-negotiable minimum levels of experience and qualifications.

They requested I provide a recent photo of myself, which thankfully I didn’t do as you can’t be too careful these days. This was my first warning order that something odd could go down.


TRUTH TIME: Yes, I would have sent this as my pic.

Their requirements exceeded most jobs opportunities I’ve come across. They actually seemed more industry informed than a number of hiring managers I’ve met.


Minimum of 5yrs experience in 1-1 or 1-2 training with supporting documentation.

Certified and in good standing with one of three named credentialing agencies.

Specialization in sports training with supporting documentation, NSCA CSCS preferred, but EXOS or NASM PES were deemed acceptable.

“Nice to have,but not super essential” RYT200 Yoga or Mobility/Stretching education, Kettlebell certification.

Nothing outright unreasonable, but it does tilt to the side of over-qualification.  The CSCS/Sports training background in particular as the goal didn’t absolutely require that level of trainer education.

Although not explicitly stated, I can reasonably speculate that they also wanted a trainer to “look the part.”  I base my speculation on the fact they asked for a recent photograph.


About 15 minutes into the conversation is when things soured.

“You seem nearly ideal for us…but you’re expensive. We’re looking for someone a fifth your fee.” 

Mind you, the individual requires a trainer with 5yrs minimum experience, holds one of three selected certifications (none of which are inexpensive and all have relatively high failure rates), a preference to those with four-year degrees (NSCA CSCS requires a degree to sit for the examination) or a named alternatives,additional specialized education in multiple areas AND had to “look the part.”

Based on their set of minimums, I equaled or exceeded all the non-negotiables and fill  the “nice to haves.”  I have no idea if I “look the part”, but I haven’t broken any mirrors lately.

Quite frankly, the odds of finding a trainer that legitimately meets most, or all the non-negotiables and charges roughly the equivalent of dinner for three at McDonalds would be astronomically low.

I simply said that I’m not as ideal as they thought, and recommended they try their luck at Planet Fitness.  The person won’t have to go far to find less for less.

Squats and Sticks.

“I think everything works for about six weeks”  Dan John


(Credit: GMB)

For the past few weeks I’ve assigned myself a deep squat challenge. Every morning following direct work on my feet, I sit in the deep squat position for a predetermined amount of time. Every Monday I add 30 seconds to the timer. When the time the expires I proceed with my morning mobility routine and address whatever I feel needs attention. Some mornings require more work than others, but there are never any aches, pains or massive inabilities to attain certain positions.

Over the course of a training week I invest my time towards strength adaptations in maximum,explosive and repetitive displays of strength.  The squat challenge requires stillness, and controlling myself in a range not typically trained.

The endpoint will be holding the deep squat for 10 minutes. I’m taking the slow road and am just over half-way there. My loaded squat form has noticeably improved and my hips have a slightly wider range than they did before. I believe this type of work will help extend my training years and save me from some of the pains and aches mature lifter often face.

The internet is filled with various fitness challenges, and like anything else found on the internet somethings will be better than others, at least on an individual basis.

The ever-famous claim is usually “this challenges your body in a completely different way.” That’s a big claim, and a dose of skepticism is a good thing to have before one decides to jump (or squat) into things.

First you must realize that nearly anything could be a completely new challenge to your body if you are coming from a sedentary background. Even comically bad exercise routines will lead to challenges and adaptations for an amount of time.

Does the challenge lead to an adaptation you want? Breakdancing can be incredibly challenging, but do you want to improve at breakdancing or improve strength,mobility, reduce bodyfat levels or improve general health?

Is the challenge greater, or markedly different than what you’re already doing? If you are sedentary the answer is easy, if you’re already active then some considerations need be applied.


The last thing I was told “would challenge my body in a completely different way “(in just 6 weeks!) was essentially an air drumming class.  It might be fun and you’d likely get sweaty doing it, but the 1/4lb/.113kg sticks won’t turn anyone into the next John Bonham or Ms. Olympia.

Take an objective look at the challenge, is it being advertised as something that can change your physique, health or athletic performance markers, or is it about fun and getting sweaty?  The former is training, while the latter is fun.  While I will agree that fun is a good thing, which do you suppose offers better long-term transfer of benefits to physique,health markers and athletic performances, a ‘fitness drumming’ class or quality time spent with a barbell?



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.