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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.


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.