Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Sledgehammer Approach

I have no issues with hard training sessions. Hard sessions have their place and are not without value. Personally I find some of the well-regarded ACSM and NASM recommendations to be overly cautious in approach. The lure of hard training attracts some people and some trainers are a better fit to lead it than others.  Hard can be conducted smartly, or can be hard simply to be hard.

That said, the definition of “hard training” is subject to personal interpretation and hard is not synonymous with good.


What I consider “hard” might be less than someones warm up, or my warm-up could possibly be beyond the capacity of another person. Methodology counts as well, saying that all training is equally legitimate simply because all can be hard work is like saying aspirin and arsenic are equally good for you because they both come in pill form and can be easily swallowed.

The details matter.

The minimum details that one should concern themselves:
Who is the client?
Where are they starting from?
What is the goal?

The answers leads to the fourth question, What is the safest (most appropriate) and most efficient path to get this client from where they are,to where they want to be?


I feel deep disdain when I read posts by trainers proudly stating they “trashed a client” or “left them in a pool of sweat trembling”  As if that somehow suggests the session was particularly great and helpful in the longterm.

These comments are not always coming from CrossFit, Power Lifting, Hardstyle Kettlebell, Basic Barbell or Strongman coaches even though these types of training can be incredibly demanding. Fact is people from all sorts of starting points get into these methods and training can be conducted safely under the eyes and brains of a smart coach.

These comments are not coming from coaches preparing people for demanding tests, occupations or sports such Special Operations or Tactical program selection or training athletes in combat and collision sports. It is in this coaches interest to keep the client healthy as one bad session could spell the end towards a goal.

No, these are statements made by garden variety Group Exercise Instructors and Personal Trainers. These people are supposed to be helping deconditioned and medically cleared people get in better shape through group or individualized programs.

It takes zero skill to use exercise as a sledgehammer on another human being, especially if fatigue is the sessions defining goal. What is being improved is the clients ability to endure getting trashed and lay in sweat.IMG_6795

Going back to the fourth question “use a Sledgehammer” is rarely if ever the correct response. Making something harder is relatively easy, Making something better is another thing entirely.

Group Fitness falls under three general types.
The class is pre-set to a specific routine. Everyone does the same work,although volume and technique will differ according to fitness level. Instructor quality will vary, but the material is essentially the same.

The class is pre-set, however scaling (regressing,progressing or substituting exercises) is allowed and directed as required based on the participants skill level.

The groupex leader forms their own program. This can range from well-planned to made up on the spot. The same range found in Personal Training but applied to a group of people simultaneously.

Personal Training varies considerably more but going off the extremes of things…
Each program and exercise is individually client defined. It is tracked and adjusted as required in order to reach a specific adaptation or goal. A partial or total session rewrite could occur depending on the client on a given day or even mid-session.

One program for all clients that day (aka Cookie Cutter workouts)  or worse, one program from every client regardless of variables or goals. No tracking of data.

“But my clients ARE losing weight!”

I believe you, they probably are and will continue  as long as they are consistent…until they adapt to taking physical beatings. Meanwhile, their joints, which were possibly already compromised are only getting worse along with a host of other possible issues.

I’ve seen firsthand how the sledgehammer line of thinking can create a twisted game of trainer one upsmanship. Training is after all being also something of a competitive and image driven business.

This results in the client paying the physical price, and the trainer, if not sued for their actions render themselves irrelevant within a few years.  Really, who wants to be known as the trainer that “trashes people and leaves them laying in a pool of sweat” being their only quality?


Ask the Old School Bro

Today’s blog is a collection of reader questions.



Dear Mr.TheBro
My boyfriend was laid off from his job on his day off. All he does all day is sit around binge watching Netflix and playing video games.

I know his confidence is down, but I’m not his mother! What can I do?—Perplexed in Pomona

Dear Perplexed, My immediate thoughts suggest your boyfriend is a classic DYEL (Do you even lift?) If he wasn’t a DYEL he would man up,get his ass in gear and find a new job to support his loved ones and would be spending time at the gym instead. Speculation on my part, he probably lost his job due to being a NUB (non-useful body.)

But back to you, Good News,Easy Day. Get a gym membership to one of the following: A Kettlebell Gym with StrongFirst,RKC or Strength Matters qualified coaches. An old school barbells and chalk gym. Bodybuilding, Powerlifting,Basic Barbell, Olympic Lifting or StrongMan/StrongMaam training. Pick one.  A CrossFit Box with a lengthy training program designed to teach you the exercise fundamentals before you can join the group in WODs or a quality MMA gym.

Get Mobile and Strong. Soon enough you’ll be strong enough to pick up and throw his no- load safe space having sorry a$$ out the door.


Dear Brofessor, I’ve been married to a wonderful and loving wife for 15 blissful years. Lately she has wanted separate beds. We’re barely in our 40s? What’s going on? – Lonely Beast in Long Island

Dear Lonely Beast, Sounds like you’re due for a cut phase due in part to the increased mass you’ve cultivated over the winter and the natural meat sweats that accompany a dirty bulk.

There simply isn’t enough room in your bed for you, your wife and your gainz. Now is a fine time to dial the calories back creating a deficit and add some High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) into the mix. A nod goes to a basic two-week Atkins break-in period which can also help kick start things. Since all the “good stuff” from training happens during recovery phases I highly recommend dropping some Benjamin’s on a larger top quality bed.


Dear Broda, After several catastrophically bad business opportunities I have finally found the right one and it will help me earn a comfortable living while helping others in the fight against obesity.

It’s network marketing business (also known as an MLM, its not to be confused with Pyramid Scheme) and although we’ve never met I really think YOU would be a great person to join my team. Are you interested? —Business Boom in Bismarck

Dear Business, I’ll give you the business by saying F’No.

I noted your numerous failed schemes business opportunities and that you put “earn a comfortable living” before “helping others.”  To be interested in selling this product you’d have to be ignorant of dietary interventions,human biology and general nutrition.

I am not that guy. I didn’t spend this many years and the continual amount of money on education that I do to peddle supplements, or in this case the idea of getting others interested in peddling supplements. It’s well established that people who actually know their nutrition and understand how to read and interpret research tend to stay far away from MLM products. It’s pretty apparent why.

There is a reason why you don’t see major thought leader in the widespread fitness and nutrition professions lending their name to these products. It’s not that they hate money, it’s that they have no desire to kill their professional credibility.

In case it hasn’t sunk in yet, F’No.

Chris Shimana is a Las Vegas based Strength Coach,Fitness Educator and Physical Culture enthusiast. He is the online administrator of The Trainers Dojo, an international assemblage of Fitness Professionals and is the problem solving voice of reason behind “Ask the Old School Bro.” His weekly blog My Trainer Chris is seen in more countries than he can count.

On Movement Skills (Part 6)

The quality, condition, or fact of being exact and accurate.

In practical application this is putting quality before quantity. It requires physical and mental discipline and ideally a coach with the patience to say “again” endlessly and always having an eye on the small details that lead to performance improvement.

I do not expect a beginner to be perfect in one session. Everyone starts somewhere and learning curves vary greatly from person to person, or even technique to technique. Each training practice we seek to improve on the last practice. Once a gross motor pattern is established we continually hone those techniques.

It’s my opinion that too many people simply want to get through a workout, believing that they are getting something from the workout. This method does not lend itself to precision.

A person will get something as the initial changes occur internally,and over time externally as well as precise form is not a requirement for muscle growth. However this is not the safest path and you will eventually pay the penalties for this.  My advice to lifters over age 40 is “You are only as good as you next session.”

The lift set-up for example is something that many trainees and trainers take for granted. The number of times I’ve seen trainers put clients through an exercise with little to no instruction or even correction of the broad strokes amazes me.

In the barbell and kettlebell lifts a persons safety, competence and performance begins with the set-up. Foot placement, bar placement, handle position,learning what muscles to activate in which sequence,breathing pattern and body placement relative the load all come into play along with numerous other details.

In the case of the basic barbell deadlift I can come up with 12 points before the bar even leaves the floor.

Some set up details change according to the type of deadlift (Deficit,Sumo,Trap Bar,Axle etc) the tool (barbell,Sandbag,Kettlebell) or the users anthropometric proportions. The coach needs to be intimately familiar with each according to the needs of the client. As I’ve stated in previous blogs, if you change the angle,grip or tool you change the lift and you change the exercise experience. That change isn’t necessarily good for the person experiencing it.

An alteration in hip height creates a deadlift that beats up the lower back (hips too high) or creates a strange squat/hinge hybrid (hips too low.)

An alteration of hand or foot width positioning increases or decreases the vertical distance path.

Placement of the bar relative the lifters center of mass alters the lifts efficiency.

Engagement or non-engagement of the triceps and Lats completely change the exercise.

The rules of proper set-ups and working towards precision in a movement are not solely for barbell or kettlebell movements. Both machines and bodyweight exercises have user defined proper set-ups as well.

This is a detractor of some machines as many lack an adequate amount of adjustments and in some case are poorly engineered with resistance curves not in line with the exercises strength curve. There can be significant differences within a companies line of a single piece of equipment,much less manufacturer to manufacturer. The fixed path can be either a benefit or a detractor depending on the desired outcome.

A converstation I’ve had with clients holding multiple gym memberships is that with machines, unless they are using the same model they will need to re-dial a set as 50lbs on one brands chest press could feel very different than another brand chest press.

As much as I like them this is also an issue with some bodyweight exercises as getting two consecutive repetitions consistent with each other can be very difficult.

I instill a sense of precision in my students and athletes by first demonstrating the movement about to be taught.  This means anything I teach I must be both physically and academically schooled, that I have utilized the tool enough to have developed a level of physical empathy and know what a person is going through when they perform the exercise.  A common cue from me is that we are doing single reps, and we will do X number of them.  Focus only on the single rep.

When possible I relate the exercise to previously learned material and demonstrate the areas that are “same but different.”  In some cases I will break the technique into manageable chunks, such as in the Turkish Get Up or the Bench Press.

Form,precision and volume are placed before intensity. A few mistakes along the way are not always a bad thing.  Depending on the exercise, I will show how a proper vs improper exercise feels, just enough to demonstrate and not enough to demolish. On the more demanding exercises I use myself as the example as I have better control and a greater amount of strength.

I’ve always enjoyed seeing a person enjoy the feeling of a precise movement after having performed an untold number of improper movements.


On Movement Skills (Part 5)

Training variety for varieties sake and employing variety as part of an overall plan are different things. Variety for its own sake can negatively affect progress or potentially cause more harm than good.  A thoughtful coach intelligently maximizes and employs variety as part of a greater plan or possibly as situational substitute based on what the student is presenting on that given day.

Key benefits of Variety                                                                                                                     Helps prevent overuse injuries.
Introduces new training stimulus.
Reduces training monotony.
Creates a different hypertrophic effect.
Elicits a different exercise experience.
Develops strength through various means.                                                                                          Can serve as a progression/regression

Real World Example                                                                                                                     Exercise: Barbell Deadlift.

Posterior Chain development.
Improve overall strength.
Lower Back rehabilitation.
General physical preparation.
Specific physical preparation.

The deadlift (and the hinge family of movements) confer so many benefits that its inclusion in most programs can be argued.  I can teach a healthy beginner how to deadlift a barbell in a few minutes.  That said, not every beginner should start deadlifting barbells right away. The movement screen indicates if the person has the requisite range of motion,motor skills and mobility to determine if this is even a consideration. For example…

Student is intimidated by barbells.
Student has hand/grip issues.
Student has a history of low back injury .
Student is inflexible to the point they can’t touch their toes.                                                 Student didn’t show up to training at 100%

Using variations will still confer benefits while keeping the training within the students defined abilities. There is no sense in saying “Tool A is superior to Tool B” until you know what the client is trying to do and where the person is starting.

This is also why I don’t introduce unstable training in the initial phase of training unless its a lower limb rehabilitation case.  If a person has enough problems stabilizing on stable surfaces, why would I put them on a wobbly device?

Barbell Intimidation: Change the tool being deadlifted. A Sandbag or a Kettlebell are particularly valuable here and a sandbag presents no major issues if dropped. Once the client is lifting 85 or more pounds with a sandbag you could re-attempt teaching the barbell deadlift as they have enough strength to pick it up.

Kettlebell Deadlifts on their own are great exercises and set the stage for the swing, which confers many of the same benefits as the barbell deadlift.  Deadlifting 24kg (53lbs) would be the first major goal to achieve.  Unlike Sandbags, Kettlebells present a greater hazard if dropped, even more than the barbell does in my opinion.

Some people may never use another tool to deadlift again.  They might not need to and this is OK.

Grip Issues: The Trap Bar Farmers walk works well here. It requires a Trap Bar Deadlift and extended isometric hold. Prudent use specialized grip/arm training,grip variations and holds can also be used.  I rarely resort to using straps or lifting hooks but will include them if the situation or training warrants them.  Two Kettlebells or Dumbbells can be substituted for the Trap bar and the loads may need to be elevated for the client to be able to reach them.

Injury History: The emphasis is putting quality movement before quantity ,volume before intensity and stable before unstable. This will help develop the proper neural adaptations as well as a low level of hypertrophy.

Inflexibility: Similar to injury history, a proper warm-ups,correctives intervention and flexibility work with special attention to the hamstrings,knees,ankles,shoulders and spine. Multiple warm-up sets and a gradual increase in load. Rack Pulls (barbell) or elevated objects (Sandbag,Dumbbell/Kettlebell) can also be used.

I typically train the main pattern until the student has developed technical efficiency and confidence. Only then are variations taught.

The manner in which I personally teach the variation is by demonstrating the similarities and any warning orders that differ from previously learned material. For example, early in barbell deadlift education I teach how to safely drop the bar to get out of a bad lift. That method does not apply to Kettlebells or Dumbbells. The Sandbag on the other hand is quite safe to drop and likely wouldn’t injure anyone even if it fell directly on their feet.

Practical Coaching                                                                                                                                                           Even within a movement family variations present their unique challenges. If the challenge is changed, the exercise response and user exercise experience changes.

Thinking “I know how to do the seated dumbbell press, therefore the standing dumbbell press is no different” or “The only difference between the standing behind the neck press and standing barbell military press is where the bar goes” is incorrect.

You have to know what you are doing and whom you’re doing it to. Just as important, you need to have spent time yourself working with the variations to develop physical empathy to what the student is going through during the lift.  If you simply copied a move from YouTube without having any context or actual experience in the technique you are minimally short-changing, and at worst potentially endangering your student.

Partial Photo album of the Overhead Press family.  Just because it is a load going overhead doesn’t mean they’re exactly the same experience or require the same skill level.

On Movement Skills (Part 4)

Digest Version: Trainers must understand how, and when to progress or regress a client. Occasionally a regression may only be a single session or even a few minutes. There will be other occasions where a client will remain at a lower level for an extended period of time.

Remember, this is a client-centric art and science dealing that deals with individually defined limitations.  We get to work with what they bring us.

I train on my own. I have no problems focusing on what I’m doing and do my best to stay on point with the task at hand. What I do is specific and my training intentionally undulates intensities and loads.

I have three exercises in my current program in early stages of learning.  The Handstand, The One Arm-One Leg Plank and the Bodyweight Pistol Squat.

In the Handstand I am leaning against a wall developing my ability to hold the position and entering and exiting it safely and with control. I have the mobility/strength needed to invert myself and can perform cartwheels,pike push-ups and ring inversions.

In the One Arm-One Leg Plank I am working to own the plank position on both sides. I can do assisted OAOL Push Ups with my right hand only and decently well when assisted.

In the pistol squat (a one leg squat to a depth of 90 degrees or lower) I have some mobility and flexibility issues that need to be addressed. There are also some structural issues that I cannot change regardless of corrective exercise intervention, I have to work with what I have.

The other exercises in my program are in stages of overload by adding repetitions or increasing load regularly to improve strength or skill by improving my efficiency in the lift.

Despite my training focus, I often find myself watching other trainers do what they do. Sometimes I dig what I see, usually I don’t.

I’ve had to bite my lips too many times after seeing trainers put clients through exercises they clearly aren’t ready for, or using methods in which the trainer themselves never received any formal education.

I always want to yell “What the f-ck are you thinking?”

…or in a nicer way

“What is the reason you’re having this client perform that exercise?”

… or even nicer still

“Why have you progressed this person when a regression is needed?”

What is progression?
Progression is a training principle that co-exists with Overload and Specificity. Progression can defined as the logical sophistication of a movement or exercise from simple to sophisticated.

Neither simple or sophisticated is synonymous with “easy.”  There are probably around 10-12 (or possibly more) coaching points in the Deadlift before the bar leaves the floor and the high-end Kettlebell certifications spend a near half-day on the swing.  A higher level coach can simplify the coaching process, but they can adjust on the fly to address a client need on the spot.

In language we begin by learning the Alphabet. Usually in small chunks until all letters are learned in the proper sequence.   A,B,C,D….

After memorizing the Alphabet learning how to spell simple words and ones name can be formed.

Words can now be linked to form a sentence.
My dog is big.

Simple sentences form paragraphs. Paragraphs become stories.

Simple words can be replaced with sophisticated words.

Exercise progression follows a similar pattern. The initial screen and individual training history helps determine where the individual starts on the progression scale.



Who are you training, and where are they starting from? A medically cleared 46yo obese sedentary client with no training history with the inability to squat or touch his toes and limited shoulder mobility is not the same as a 46yo obese active athlete that can squat,touch his toes and has full shoulder range of motion.

They’re both 46 year old obese guys, that ends the similarities. They have totally different start points.

Why are you doing what you’re doing, and is this the best choice for this client? Too many trainers seem to skip past the early stages when it would be the best course of action. Sometimes the client wants this, as everyone seems to want to flip tires and hit them with sledgehammers and the trainer is giving to the clients wants.

Realize the clients WANTS vs their NEEDS.  I am OK with giving the client 10% of what they WANT because if I don’t give them 10% somebody else will give them 100%, and that might not be the best course.  As the client improves on the 90% they NEED, the get to have more of what they WANT.

It can get ugly, real quickly. A particularly scary example of progression too soon was when I witnessed a trainer have a petite beginner older lady perform overhead squats with a 20kg/45lb barbell.  Although pure speculation on my part, I can confidently say this lady didn’t request to learn Olympic lifting skills and I know for a fact the trainer had no background in the O Lifts.


The Overhead Squat is not a simple movement.

The overhead squat is a particularly sophisticated movement and in my opinion is one of the tougher bilateral barbell squat variations.  The mobility,stability,strength,speed and power needs alone are high and the technique is practiced using lighter loads. I’ve actually removed the overhead squat assessment test as I’ve found most general clients lack the skill to perform it.

The lady had terrible squat mechanics, low limit strength relative her age/size and lacked the abdominal strength and shoulder mobility needed to perform the task even with a lighter weight.

Short answer: She was too tight,weak and new to be attempting this movement. Realistically she would have been on the simple words end of the Alphabet.

There’s still the question of “why would you have this client perform this exercise?”
Load=Too Heavy
Specificity=She’s not an Olympic lifter,StrongMaam or CrossFit athlete.
Progression=She couldn’t squat or press well, why would her do both at the same time? My thoughts are the trainer was either showing off or completely ignorant of what she should be doing. Possibly both.

Not everyone of my clients started barbell squatting right away. Where the students education starts, and the tool I use depends on what they initially bring me. My lower regressions include assisted partial squats to earn a 90 degree depth minimum and using the least amount of assistance possible.
Sit to Stand,Stand to Sit.
Rocks (From Original Strength)                                                                                                                       I may use all of these or only one. It’s client defined.  There are degrees of sophistication found even within these “ABC moves.”

This progresses to Bodyweight Squats, Sandbag,Kettlebell Goblet or Dumbbell Squats.
My Sandbag is set at 25lbs and my big bag “Vic” weighs 85lbs, capable of bulking up to 120lbs. With Kettlebells I can go as low as 10lbs, but normally start at 18lbs.

In some cases this might be as far I go with some people. I can always change training variables to produce overload…plus nobody that I’m aware of ever got hurt doing Goblet Squats.

Growing in sophistication is the Barbell front squat. Back squat position is taught according to the client defined needs. It could be high/low bar position or involve the safety of buffalo bars instead of the standard bar.  Overtime I’ve found that once a particular movement skill is learned and properly ingrained the learning curve for a similar but different movement is shortened.