Monthly Archives: December 2017

Lessons from a newbie

Today I observed a guy at the gym that clearly had no idea what he was doing, and he wasn’t even a trainer!


Newbies in most gyms across the country this time of year are not a unique thing, but it isn’t something I see in a place filled with Olympic lifters, or those with the desire to learn the Olympic lifts from a highly qualified coach.

I have no problems with new people in the gym.  I’m the type of guy that offers help and free advice.  I just look like a bastard.

When a person sits on an incline bench press seat backwards and tries to figure out how to bench press, I can safely guess they’ve never used it before.  After a quick correction on my part  (You need to turn the other way) I went about my warm up.  I had no idea the guy followed me until I heard “Oh so that’s how you use that thing!”

This brings me to todays blog.

Training is defined by the needs of the individual athlete.  My answer was short.  “It’s how I use it, I am warming up for the work I’m about to do  and taking care of my shoulder joints.”   The gentleman literally followed me to every station during my session today.  I made a point of telling him that I wouldn’t recommend anything I was doing as automatically suitable for him.

My session on 12.30.17                                                                                                              Shoulder Warm Up complex: ShouldeRok swings (30 R/L) then two sets of Face Pulls (40lbs 15 reps) superset with Rope Tricep Presses (40lbs 15 reps)

Wide Grip Bench Press (70% 1RM)  I’ve started working with an AAU powerlifting coach and he suggested my using a wide grip.  Today was 10 sets of 3 with a pause at a higher position on my chest to practice his suggestion. Rest time between sets was roughly 30 secs and 15 band pull-parts were super-set.

Close Grip Bench Press (50% 1RM against Mini and Monster Mini bands attached)  5 sets of 5 for speed and tricep work. Band Bench Presses are not something I use with lifters with poor technique or beginners. The overspeed eccentric action created by the bands presents a series of challenges to overcome.  Rest time was also around 30 secs between sets.

Standing Bradford Press 3×10 with descending loads each set.  The ability to put a load behind the head is limited to a small population of people, and the need even less. This lift has a high risk to benefit ratio and not something I program longer than three weeks before switching out.  Todays heaviest loading represented only 60% of what I am capable of performing in the strict overhead press.

Seated Row 4×10-15 with Neutral Grip handle. Nothing too sexy here.

Neutral Grip Hanging Knee Raises 1×20.  Definitely nothing sexy here.

Fat Grip Hanging Knee Raises 1×20, for fun I followed the second set of Hanging Knee Raises with a set of Bodyweight Tricep Dips “one rep from failure”

Since I was being observed, I am actually glad that today didn’t involve kettlebells.

What works for you may or may not work for another person.  The gentleman could easily injure himself if he attempted to duplicate my session, even if loads were adjusted for our different strength levels and not recognizing the twenty-year age difference.



CAPACITY >>LOAD = PREVENTION  (Credit: Functional Anatomy Seminars)

Use training principles to guide you.  When it comes to training there a countless methods and tools to pull from, many claiming to be superior, or game changing.

Superior to what? Game changing compared to what? for whom? under what conditions or set of circumstances?

Too many people get overly attached, and outright emotional when it comes to specific training methods or tools.  It’s nearly religion, or in some cases part of a cult mindset.

Training principles are relatively few, and if well understood they apply broadly.

Precision.  “How can this be made better?” is a constant question in my head. This applies to my own work and the training I provide to others.  Am I coaching this/ Are they performing it to the best that we can? Is this better than before?

Progressions and Regressions, Form,Style and Technique.  While I like the handiness of exercise technique videos, I believe they should not be completely relied on. It is my opinion that once you’ve absorbed the visual information, the exercise technique,form and style need be defined by the individuals ability.

To absorb only the visual information provided by a video is to learn only the most superficial level of things.

Training exists on a continuum.  We do not all start at the same point, nor do we end at the same point.  Further, we do not share the same segmental proportions, force output capabilities, joint ranges, connective tissue tolerances,physical self-confidence,medical/injury history or the numerous other things that affect how we respond to an exercise…and thats not even mentioning goals,age or gender.



“In any story, the villain is the catalyst. The hero’s not a person who will bend the rules or show the cracks in his armor.”
Marilyn Manson

Yesterday I was able to spend an hour assisting with a persons training. I  realized how much I missed training people and am thankful for that brief opportunity.  Ironically, it happened in a large commercial gym, and I also remembered why I usually dislike those places.

Trust me when I say it didn’t take long.

A good trainer, or coach is first an educator.  Whether intentional or not,a good trainer or coach (hopefully) offers some degree of motivation.  I believe there is no significant argument over these statements.

Irritation is another matter.  It can be unintentional (your trainer sucks) or it can be intentional. In the case of the latter,the coach knows the individual athlete and when prudent aggression is needed. They’re not just being an ass to be an ass.

I prefer the first two options. I believe this was the case yesterday, and probably represents 90% of all sessions. The third option is always on the table. In fact, I’ve found a small population of personalities thrive when irritated. Control is a necessity, as just like anything else, it is easy to overdo things.


I take a Dose-Response relationship view of things and try to drive training in the optimal direction for the given day.

According to the biological law of accommodation, the response of a biological object to a given constant stimulus decreases over time. Thus, accommodation is the decrease in response of your body to a constant continued stimulus.

This is why beginner lifters need beginner programs.

In practical application, this is one reason why I have experienced lifters approach heavy lifts with as little emotion as possible.  If they continually need to psyche themselves up before an effort in training (BroScience: “Go apesh!t), they will not get the same effect in competition…when the heaviest efforts actually matter.  This is also part of the reason why I have beginners, with relatively light loads, approach their lifts with full concentration and efforts.

Personally I don’t believe the third option is available for all trainers.  If you are so fortunate as to not need it, I would consider it a good thing.  Some trainers are not cut out to be the villain, and this by itself does not take away from your skills and abilities as a professional.

Ultimately,be the trainer YOU WISH YOU HAD.  Odds are, that trainer would be someone that educates and motivates,not just someone that irritates the hell out of you.




Strength Coach

I was recently asked what the differences were between personal trainers,certified personal trainers and strength coaches. My verbal answer was fairly short, todays blog is the longer version and in completely my own opinion. (1)

A good strength coach is a teacher.

We teach our athletes how exercises are properly performed.  We understand the difference between exercise TECHNIQUE, FORM and STYLE.  Page 123 of the CPT book (or any exercise book for that matter) shows the technique. Things go far deeper than page 123.

Once the basic technique is grasped, we work with the individual to determine the form and style that works best for them.  Since no two people possess the same physical qualities, no two will share the same form.

Good coaches know this, bad coaches force everybody to lift the same way, which is either how the technique was described on page 123 of the CPT book, as visually memorized on YouTube, how the trainer has always done it or represents the limit of what the trainer presently knows.

Fact: Even the same athlete will not completely replicate the same exercise twice in a row, although they might look highly consistent from an external view. The best ones seem to be the best at compensating for this.

We understand that a good training for one person could be damaging to another.  We further understand that this applies to the softer skills. Even if age,experience and gender were matched, extroverts and introverts benefit from different approaches.

We can understand that there are no contraindicated exercises, just contraindicated individuals, and we can program exercise selections best suited to the individual based on that knowledge.

We look past the external view of the individual, and consider the internal view of things, what is happening inside the body during an exercises execution?

When needed,we can adapt and modify on the fly.

We have critical thinking skills along with an open-mind. Both are requirements to determine what works best for a given individual.

We put aside time and money for our own education, and we never graduate. We know our scope of practice, and the depths and limits of our skills and abilities.

(1) Unlike Physical Therapists (DPT/PT), Licensed Massage Therapists (LMT) and Registered Dietitians (RD), Personal Training is not a protected title.

I am aware of some internal policing done where individuals claimed particular qualifications/specializations and were outed by others that actually held the credentials.

Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) vs Personal Trainer.  A CPT has passed a certification exam from one of the numerous credentialing bodies, which on average are valid for 1-4 years and require a specified amount of continuing education credits to maintain.

A personal trainer has not taken any type of exam nor is held to maintaining an educational minimum. This difference in and of itself does not mean the trainer is bad nor does being certified mean the trainer is necessarily good. The CPT exams vary widely in terms of difficulty, with some having relatively high failure rates and others meant to be easily passed.

A Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) has met two requirements: (A) The hold a minimum of a bachelors degree (any field of study) and (B) completed the NSCA CSCS examination.  The CSCS is often considered the minimum qualification required to work with professional and collegiate athletes, however there are many well-regarded coaches without the CSCS designation doing the same.

A Strength Coach may, or may not hold a CSCS,CPT or any other credential.  There are individuals that “self-award” themselves this title, while having no experience in the matter.


On Lifting Gear

A personal trainer posted a question on lifting gear.

“What do you all think about wearing a belt and knee wraps when deadlifting?”

My answer: “They serve a purpose. Whether it’s a good idea or a bad one depends on a number of things.”  (I could have simply said “It depends”, but must have felt talkative that night.)

Bottom line upfront: A high percentage of general population clients won’t need either one of these. Although I admit a bias towards the basic barbell lifts, I will state that not everyone will have the tolerance, available ranges of motion or force output capabilities (at least initially) nor do they necessarily need to lift according to Powerlifting standards. Being honest, they don’t even have to Deadlift a barbell.

Is the clients goal to compete in powerlifting?
Yes or No.

If yes, have they competed without any gear?

Does the trainer have personal experience and education in competitive Powerlifting, and familiar with the use of gear?
Yes of No

The third question could be argued by some, but I offer that only a person that has spent time under a loaded bar themselves, especially in competition, will truly know what another person is going through in those moments.

In the case of the Deadlift, it’s both a psychological lift and one that happens to be last in a competition.

Learning to maximize performance in gear is a skill just like initially learning the lift. These are not inactive devices and require practice. Even elite total and specialist lifters practice in their gear from time to time. If the persons form is already good, which for the purpose of todays blog I will define good form as passing Powerlifting judging standards, then gear could improve it.

If the form is crap,gear will make it crappier. It isn’t a band-aid.


Some of my lifting gear. A pair of Inzer wrist wraps and a single-prong 13mm Inzer belt. Neither has ever been required in competition and both are infrequently worn in training, the belt being more commonly used.  Not shown is a pair of neoprene elbow sleeves (worn most days) and a pair of warming shorts which are worn only on high-volume squat days.

On Belts
Personal Notes: Before a belt is even brought up I have a set of qualification minimums. With the possible exception of Masters Division lifters, and presupposing the lifters form is good…

Does the female client Deadlift at least 1.5x bodyweight?
Does the male client deadlift at least 315lbs?                                                                               Does the client train single lift maximums?

If not, they likely don’t need a belt.

The belt is used to enhance a natural stabilizing abdominal contraction, not to replace it. The correct sizing and type need to be considered, as well as prong vs. double prong vs lever type, and there are pronounced differences in belts named Valeo,Harbinger or Golds and a belts named Best,Titan or Inzer, both in quality, durability and powerlifting federation legality.

On Wraps
Wearing knee wraps during deadlifts presents a few issues. The negatives that I’m aware of are (1) The lifter now has another variable to deal with while pulling, (2) The lifter will have to clear the wrap or else get caught on it. (3) Overly applied tension could cause the lifters legs to lockout too soon. (4) The technical adjustments in the pull and the preferred wrapping method will create an additional  learning curve and cost time that could have been better spent training the lift and it supplemental lifts and (5) It’s something I’ve not seen done with Deadlifts, even during 1000lb efforts

Wraps are strands of heavy elastic material wrapped tightly around the knees. They store energy during knee flexion in order to actively assist knee extension. Wrapping methods and degree of compression are personal to the lifter.

“Sleeves”, which could have been confused for wraps, are neoprene slip-ons and provide a bit of support for the knees and help keep them warm. Some add slightly to lifts while others do not. The knee sleeves that add to lifts are typically difficult to put-on and sometimes require special tricks to get the job done.


Exercise Absolutism

ab·so·lut·ism: The acceptance of or belief in absolute principles in political, philosophical, ethical, or theological matters.

A person once told me that barbell training, explosive power training and horizontal bar training were only serving as sure-fire means that I would eventually cripple myself.  The fact that the commenter looked as if they never ran into a weight was not lost on me.

Some Non-lifters will say lifters are using methods that are outdated. Outdated for what exactly is something they rarely address.

Some people who suck at using lifting straps will say that straps are cheating. If a lifting event allows straps in its rules, then I fail to see how it would be considered cheating.

People who don’t know how to use a belt (or are too fat to use one) will say belts are cheating. I own a belt and rarely use it in training.  Does the fact that I own a belt make a potential cheat?

Tall, long-legged people cry about how unfair deadlifts are, especially if they also have short arms.   Short people will complain about Atlas stone platform heights.


There is also the possibility that someone tried it, found out they weren’t good at it within five minutes and decided NOBODY should do it.

I say “in general” because there is also the group that doesn’t know what they’re looking at. Since it doesn’t look familiar to them, it MUST be wrong.

The Bench Press performed with an arched back, as seen in Powerlifting “looks wrong” to someone unfamiliar with Powerlifting technique. In some cases, the person is also unfamiliar with Bench Pressing.  In the case of Certified Trainers, the lift doesn’t look exactly like the photo/diagram of a bench press on page 123 of the CPT book.

Oddly, it seems only smaller females are at risking “blowing out their back.” The spines of larger males and females must be immune.


MINI-RANT: Don’t get me started on “the knees can’t go past the toes…ever” or “toes must always point forward” people when it comes to squats.  (Photo Credit: Starting Strength 3rd Ed)

Such absolutism. I wonder if the absolutists ever took the time and effort to read broadly on the subject they speak of, or if they only read things that supported their view. Did they ever make an effort to test things for themselves?

For example…
I like Bench Pressing. It’s in my programming twice per week (1)
I compete in a sport that has rules defining what qualifies as a passable lift.
I think I’m pretty good at teaching it, and I can remedy a number of commons lift errors and weaknesses.
Properly applied,I think it can be a decent post-rehab/prehabilitation exercise for the shoulder. (2)

That said…
The Bench Press (with a Barbell) is not for everyone, nor does it apply to all goals.
The lifts range of motion (outside the sport of Powerlifting) is defined by the individual.
“Down” and “Up” are the only two benching commands some trainers seem to know. If thats all they know then they have no business trying to make others do it.
It’s an exercises that people can easily over-do, often to their detriment.
It’s a lift with attributable deaths.

(1) One day is reserved for maximum effort working to the days heaviest single lift. It may or may not be a record. The second day is reserved for maximum speed,and is set to a load percentage based on the weeks maximum.  The lift variation changes every 1-3 weeks depending on my skill in the lift. This prevents accommodation in the lift and reduces the potential for injury. Some weeks I skip maxing altogether and strictly work on repetition efforts.  This type of programming is designed for an intermediate to advanced lifter, and not something I have beginners do.

(2)  A well coached powerlifting style of bench press requires engagement of the upper-back, shoulders and humeral positioning to stabilize and repetitively move a large load.  This isn’t where I would start someone, but it is a good progression that could fall within a client defined training continuum.