Myocardial Oxygen Consumption in Fitness

Oxidative training has made its way back around to being everyone’s darling in the fitness industry. It seems like everyone and their mother is doing cardiac capacity blocks. I’ve been hearing a lot of people use real physiology terms to explain what sorts of goals they’re working to achieve and that makes me incredibly happy. People are looking for capillary density, mitochondrial biogenesis, eccentric cardiac hypertrophy, heart rate recovery capacity through parasympathetic means, improved lactate clearance, etc etc. There are a few areas where I think our attention will be brought to going forward regarding optimal development of aerobic capabilities of the organism, and one of those things is myocardial oxygen consumption (MVO2). MVO2 is a measurement of the aerobic activity specifically at the cardiac muscle tissue. Typically we estimate what the MVO2 is by measuring the rate pressure product (RPP), and inferring that number towards MVO2 scores. Based on this, what we will really be talking about in this article is RPP, and how to go after this variable in training.


The RPP is the product of the systolic blood pressure and the heart rate (RPP = SBP x HR). RPP is typically referred to as the work of the heart, but in truth it is actually a power number, because of the fact that HR is a time dependent variable. Power is mathematically represented as Force x Distance/Time. With RPP as a power variable, the force is accounted for by the systolic blood pressure, the distance is the ejection of the blood out of the ventricle into the systemic circulation, and the time is one minute (that is the unit of time that HR is measured in). Because time is considered standard, most scientists throw it out in discussion, and simply refer to the concept as a work variable.

The key component that distinguishes RPP from other cardiac related variables is blood pressure. Most aerobic exercise variants that people participate in are rhythmic in nature and minimize the blood pressure response. During activities such as jogging, the autonomic response will be to constrict vessels in the gut via sympathetic output to visceral regions and to open blood vessels in the periphery through the actions of the catecholamines. By dilating peripheral vessels, this combined autonomic effect will actually reduce total peripheral resistance (TPR), and minimize the systolic blood pressure that the heart has to overcome to eject blood to the system. With minimal changes in systolic blood pressure with jogging as the activity, RPP measures will be modest.

When strength training is the activity, the RPP response will be a very different one as compared to jogging. If someone is performing high load, low repetition compound exercise, the skeletal muscle will be contracting forcefully. The high levels of tension taking place in the muscle tissue will mechanically compress the blood vessels perfusing and draining the working tissues. This compression of the blood vessels will prevent blood from flowing, and ultimate create a stopcock like effect in the vasculature that reflects pressure backwards all the way to the heart. The end result of this vascular activity is an immense increase in systolic blood pressure. Typical strength training designs feature large amounts of rest between sets, and as a result, the majority of time is not spent with elevated heart rates approaching what would be associated with an aerobic conditioning training session. When examining RPP responses, jogging and strength training both have limitations for bringing the variable to its highest levels for trainability.

When comparing end diastolic volume of ventricles and overall mass of hearts between different kinds of athletes, some interesting things begin to emerge. A normal untrained individual from the general population (reference person) has a heart that is slightly more than 200 grams and holds approximately 100 mL of blood at the end of diastole in the ventricle. Elite marathoners will typically possess hearts that are approximately 300 grams and hold approximately 180 mL of blood. Elite wrestlers will typically show heart measures of approximately 315 grams and be able to hold about 110 mL of blood.

These examples are commonly given when discussing eccentric vs concentric cardiac hypertrophy with the runner being the eccentric example. What is often not discussed are the athletes who seem to have the best of both worlds, such as elite cyclists. Cyclists will show cardiac measures bordering on the level of the wrestler for mass and the marathoner for volume. The reason that cyclists have such high measures for both mass and volume is because their heart rates are elevated for extended periods of time and their thigh muscles are constantly pushing against relatively high resistance while peddling through terrain such as mountains, which creates high systolic blood pressure responses. In essence, the cyclist has the best case scenario heart because they are the example of consistently high RPP in training.

With popular sports in North America, such as football, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, and hockey, there is reason to believe that a heart that has been trained to deal with high RPP could be a definite advantage. These sports often deal with athletes using propulsive lower body muscles at high intensities that would lead to contractile behavior that would occlude vessels and reflect significant pressure back to the heart. Football, lacrosse, and hockey in particular will also involve physical contact and elements of grappling with opponents that will elevate blood pressure due to the tensile activity of muscles under such conditions.

If we fail to prepare the athlete for such conditions in training, the system will be ill prepared to deal with these demands in competition. Athletes who are unaccustomed to high RPP situations will probably demonstrate high levels of anxiety under those conditions. The most difficult physiological activity the heart has to perform is isovolumic contraction. When you put people into experiences where they are performing powerful cardiac isovolumic contractions at a high heart rate they tend to go into terrible psychological situations leading to meltdown.

“When the mind is strongly excited, we might expect that it would instantly affect in a direct manner the heart; and this is universally acknowledged…when the heart is affected it reacts on the brain; and the state of the brain again reacts through the pneuma-gastric (vagus) nerve on the heart; so that under any excitement there will be much mutual action and reaction between these, the two most important organs of the body.” This is a quote from Charles Darwin in his book, “Emotions in Man and Animals”, written in 1872.

Steven Porges takes this notion much further in his book, “The Polyvagal Theory” and also explains how the muscles of facial expression play their own role in HR responses and emotional experience. My contention is that sport involves components of extreme exertion that lead to high RPP values. When the work of the heart reaches incredibly high levels, the psychology of the athlete begins to go haywire, and the athlete will display facial expressions demonstrating extreme discomfort and loss of feelings of control. These are the moments where disastrous plays occur in the most important competitions. If the athlete has lots of experience with physical training in high RPP conditions, and has trained their mind to not overreact to the feelings associated with this state, they may be able to maintain their composure during contests where they enter this physiological state.

There are several approaches to creating training conditions that feature high RPP settings. High intensity continuous training is a great modality for eliciting high RPP aerobic settings. Step ups with a weighted vest certainly elevate blood pressure and place the athlete into aerobic HR zones for extended times, as does high incline treadmill walking with a weight vest. The other modality that I view as a tremendous avenue into this sphere of training is circuit resistance training.


My personal favorite circuit for driving high RPP levels with resistance training is the 30/30 circuit. This circuit is well known to anyone who has purchased my book, MASS, because it is Phase 1 of the overall program. The 30/30 is a brutal workout that takes exactly 31 minutes to complete. You choose 10 exercises, and you complete 3 rounds of 15 repetitions at each exercise using 30 second work and 30 second rest ratios. The goal is to complete 450 total reps with the highest combined load between all the exercises. I’m going to list out my personal favorite 10 exercise combo as well as the heaviest weights I’ve ever been able to complete all 450 reps with.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to be able to track my HR during this protocol many times, and it usually averages somewhere around 145 beats per minute (BPM) for the 31 minutes, with a peak HR of about 165 BPM towards the end. The protocol will take you to some very interesting mental places, but the specific repetition goal and satisfaction of completing it at the end makes it incredibly motivating and fun compared to most other methods of training.

I believe there is an incredibly dopaminergic component to this design, as many get addicted to this method of training and feel like regular training just doesn’t do it for them after this approach. This protocol seems to improve a host of variables in those who have engaged in it, including strength, muscular endurance, and aerobic performance. In my mind, the main reason is because it is training the work of the heart and improving myocardial oxygen consumption. This is probably a variable that many people have ignored and not trained, either because they were unaware of it/that it was important, or because it is an absolutely miserable variable to train. Without further ado, here is my personal best 30/30 with my favorite combination of exercises.

  1. 1. Trap bar dead (245 pounds)
  2. 2. Seated overhead dumbbell press (40s)
  3. 3. Lat pull-down (60)
  4. 4. Safety Squat (175 pounds)
  5. 5. Barbell Bench (155 pounds)
  6. 6. Bent Over DB Row (55s)
  7. 7. Inclind DB Bench (50s)
  8. 8. Backwards Lunge off 3” Box Left Leg (30s)
  9. 9. Backwards Lunge off 3” Box Right Leg (30s)
  10. 10. Seated Cable Row (60)

Training with high RPP values year round is probably not ideal for most athletes, because it is a very stressful approach. Systematically placing training that drives RPP into the athlete’s system can work very successfully as a peaking approach prior to important competitions (so long as the athlete is already familiarized with this approach). This approach may also be extremely valuable for modifying body composition in athletes, where you’re looking to decrease body fat while preserving or increasing lean body mass due to the likely dramatic hormonal responses to such work. As with most programming concepts, you need to try things out, think critically about the specifics of the circumstances of the athletes that you are coaching, and do your best to individualize and customize. It is my belief most people will see dramatic improvements in fitness rapidly with high RPP training, because it is likely a novel stimulus, primarily because it is so miserable that few have willingly put themselves through it.

about the author


pat davidson

-Director of Training Methodology and Continuing Education at Peak Performance, NYC.

-Assistant Professor at Brooklyn College, 2009-2011

-Assistant Professor, Springfield College 2011-2014

-Head Coach Springfield College Team Ironsports 2011-2013

-175 pound Strongman competitor. Two time qualifier for world championships at Arnold Classic

-Renaissance Meat Head

What Makes or Breaks an Exercise Program

No one can argue that those who see the most results from training have one thing in common. Consistency.

Being consistent isn’t easy.  Life happens; you get busy, you get bored, you get tired, and you get hurt.

You take some time off, hit the refresh button, and, because your last training plan didn’t work out, it’s on to the next program.

Working as a personal trainer, I end up meeting a lot of people when they’re somewhere in the middle of the list above.

Whether you know it or not there are many variables in your exercise programs and your lifestyle that can either set you up for long-term success or quietly de-rail you. Identifying these variables early on will allow you to better examine a training program before you begin, and put you in a position to allow yourself to be consistent and see the results you want.

  • Gradual Increase in Volume

Gradually increasing the volume of your training program over the course of weeks and months sounds simple, but it’s often missed by many gym goers. Using the minimal effective dose will keep you healthy and allow you to progress a program all the way to your end goal. Many soft-tissue injuries are the result of a drastic increase in training volume.  Perhaps this is most obvious when you look at the number of Achilles, groin, and hamstring injuries that occur at the beginning of NFL camps, or injuries to those going from the couch to Crossfit.  A program that steadily increases work capacity and tissue resiliency over time will greatly reduce your risk of injuries due to fatigue and set your body up to be able to handle workouts of greater volume and intensity later on.

Look for whether or not your exercise program has a gradual increase in volume as you progress each week and month. If you’re new to the gym this may mean you start by performing only 12 total sets in week one and 20 total sets by week four. Powerlifting programs like 5/3/1 and The Juggernaut Method also do a good job of managing volume and intensity to help you build specific work capacity in the bench, squat, and deadlift. Group training should accommodate those of different fitness levels and allow some wiggle room for some to perform more work than others in any given class.

  • Movement Quality

Appropriate volume is only part of the equation for ensuring a fitness program is going to last. The quality of your movement is what dictates whether or not you develop great hamstrings and glutes or giant calves and back erectors. This is where hiring a coach can be of great value. An educated movement-centric coach will be able to identify if you can:

  • Centrate your joints and move in and out of all three planes of motion without compensation
  • Execute proper motor patterns while keeping your joints in advantageous positions
  • Find, feel, and use the correct muscles during exercises

Keeping your joints healthy and applying stress to the correct muscles will help to improve your durability by reducing your risk of overuse,“wear and tear” injuries, and burnout.  It can be hard to objectively measure how well you move. Finding a coach or physical therapist that can assess you and create a plan that teaches you to move better is always a smart place to begin a new training program.

Consider the below situation.

Dan Shoulder Flexion
Dan Shoulder Flexion

Poor active shoulder flexion. Anterior rib flare, forward head, tight lats. Landmine variations would be a smarter exercise instead of overhead pressing.

Mike Shoulder Flexion
Mike Shoulder Flexion

Full ROM during active shoulder flexion. Overhead pressing would be more warranted for this client.

  • Variability of Movements/Implements/Load/Tempo

Variability in a fitness program will keep you healthy and prevent workouts from getting stale and boring.

Learn how to move in all three planes and master fundamental movement patterns and the list of exercises you will be able to safely perform becomes bountiful. Throughout the course of a workout, or a week of training your program, should include some form of squatting and hinging, pushing and pulling, abdominal work, and loaded carries. Do things on two legs and one leg and with two arms and one arm.

When applying external loads to movements, use different implements and choose different ways to hold them.  This will allow you to alter the movement in a manner that will help you train the correct muscles in better positions.

For example, let’s use a squat.  You could load it with a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, two dumbbells, two kettlebells, a sandbag, or a medicine ball.

You could do a front squat, a back squat, a goblet squat, a zercher squat, a potato sack squat, an offset kettlebell squat, or an offset sandbag squat; the list could go on and on. Knowing where you should start on the progression-regression list will help make the movement safer and more effective and varying the implements will challenge the movement in a slightly different manner and help prevent boredom in your exercise program.

Varying the external load in a training program is also key to getting stronger and staying healthy while doing so. This is why many sub-max training programs that accumulate volume are so successful. Decreasing volume and increasing intensity during the course of several weeks and months is much more suitable for long term strength gains than trying to push to a new 1RM each week in the gym.

Another variable that can be manipulated in an exercise program is the tempo at which the movement is performed. Being specific with the tempo of a lift is often neglected even though it has a huge influence on what adaptations are had from the exercise.

If you’ve been performing goblet squats for the past few months with a 2010 tempo, they’ve become boring and easy for you. Now take the same weight and change your tempo to 3030.  Add feeling grounded through both feet, pushing your heels through the floor, and focusing on keeping constant tension on your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and abs I can guarantee that your easy goblet squat has become much more challenging.

Varying the tempo of lifts could result in a squat hypertrophying your slow twitch fibers or cause you to increase your rate of force production. Both are important and both are needed. Choosing the right time to apply both and using both throughout the course of a training program can make performing the same old lifts much less monotonous.

  • Adaptability/Flexibility

Things come up in life.

You have to work late.

Your kids get sick.

Traffic is worse than usual.

And now you either can’t make it to they gym or have limited time. A great fitness program is structured, but also can be flexible. On these days it is helpful to have a few workouts that are lower intensity, take less time to complete, or can be done at home.

Cardiac output and bodyweight circuits are two awesome ways to still get workouts in even when life comes up.

  • Premium Placed On Recovery

You may be able to get away with it for a short period of time, but in the end if your recovery efforts don’t meet or exceed the efforts put forth in your training you’ll likely be battling with fatigue and injury.

A good training program emphasizes the other 23 hours of your day.  Knowing what you can do to help promote your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) and tissue recovery is invaluable.

Go through the checklist below and I’m sure you can do better in at least one and if not several of the categories.

  • - Sleep Quality & Quantity- Do you have a good sleeping environment? Are you getting enough hours of sleep?
  • - Nutrition- Quality & Quantity- Are you eating quality foods that promote low levels of inflammation? Are you eating enough calories to support your training?
  • - Respiration- Are you hyper-inflated? Can you fully exhale your air to help shift yourself to a more parasympathetic state?
  • - Tissue Quality- Do you get regular massages, acupuncture, or perform regular self-myofascial release?
  • - Active Recovery Sessions- Do you use active recovery sessions when you’re feeling tired or sore?
  • Mindset and Environment

You’re now making progress.

You’re moving well and gradually increasing how much you’re doing each workout.  

Your sleep is awesome, your nutrition is locked in, and you’re finally taking care of your body by prioritizing recovery.

Even with all of these important physical factors in check it can still be difficult to stick with an exercise program. If this is the case you need to reflect on your mindset and training environment.

Create short and long-term goals. Write them down somewhere next to why you’re training for these goals. A strong WHY, concrete GOALS, and internal MOTIVATION are powerful for sticking with exercise.

Your training environment also needs to be supportive of everything above. Behind the good music, sweat, and banging of weights needs to be a community of like-minded people who can push and motivate you as you work towards your goals.

Wrapping It Up

I know a lot of people who have reached their goals with different training programs. There are a lot of great programs out there that work, but not everything works forever.

I promise that if you use this article as guide you’ll become an informed and confident consumer. You’ll be able to sift through a lot of BS that is currently in the fitness industry and find a program that will set you up for consistency and success.

About the Author


Mike Sirani is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and Licensed Massage Therapist.  He earned a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Applied Exercise Science, with a concentration in Sports Performance, from Springfield College, and a license in massage therapy from Cortiva Institute in Watertown, MA.  During his time at Springfield, Mike was a member of the baseball team, and completed a highly sought after six-month internship at Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA.

Mike’s multi-disciplinary background and strong evidence-based decision-making form the basis of his training programs.  Through a laid-back, yet no-nonsense approach, his workouts are designed to improve individual’s fundamental movement patterns through a blend of soft-tissue modalities and concentrated strength training.

He has worked with a wide variety of performance clients ranging from middle school to professional athletes, as well as fitness clients, looking to get back into shape.  Mike specializes in helping clients and athletes learn to train around injury and transition from post-rehab to performance.  If you're interested in training with Mike, he can be found at Pure Performance Training in Needham, Massachusetts.

Know-Think-Guess: The 70/20/10 Rule of Programming

Good programming is a balancing act worthy of a Game of Thrones episode: on one side sit the foundational movements–pushes, pulls, hinges, squats, and carries–while on the other sit the latest and greatest in cutting-edge research-velocity based training, blood flow restriction, PRI, post-activation potentiation and more. Stuck neatly in the middle is the modern-day coach, like Jon Snow caught between the white walkers and the mortal threats from the seven kingdoms. How much credence should be given to the up and coming methods? Is it really worth abandoning tried-and-true approaches? Today's article is an attempt to help answer that question, providing some guidance for just how to navigate the relatively narrow space between these two worlds. It's a strategy I've been able to use to help me be both innovative and effective, allowing me to use some of the more exciting things I've come across while not abandoning some of the staples of strength and conditioning. In fact, aside from the principles of specificity and periodization, this one idea has done more to inform my programming choices than anything else I've come across.


The idea at the heart of today's conversation is borrowed from Stuart McMillan, one of the industry's preeminent sprint and speed coaches. He mentioned something he called the 70/20/10 rule in passing, and while I can't remember anything else from that article, this one has stuck with me. Put as simply as possible, 70% of his programming is made of up things he knows, 20% is comprised of things he thinks, and the remaining 10% is left to things he guesses.

My first thought was to wonder where that particular breakdown had come from. I'm the first to acknowledge when someone's smarter than me, and I'll happily be deferring to Stu for years to come, but I wanted to understand the 70/20/10 on my own terms.

70%–The Minimum Adaptable Load

Minimum Adaptable Load (a concept previously covered on this site) is the point at which the applied stimulus or stress is sufficient to cause an adaptation or change in the athlete. The stimulus applied can vary, from the weight on the bar and how many times its lifted on one end of the spectrum to sprint distances, times, and rest intervals on the other. Adaptation is simply the goal of that particular training cycle; hypertrophy, maximum power output, body composition or the like. Minimum Adaptable Load is important for one very basic reason: change doesn’t happen during the session; change happens when we recover from the session.

The exact threshold for Minimum Adaptable Load changes from athlete to athlete, and even within athletes as their training age, their nutrition, or even their lifestyle changes and it can be tough to hit a moving target. While this presents a challenge, a good coach or trainer should be able to adjust training stressors appropriately for their athletes and clients. By devoting 70% of the session’s volume to the strategies we know to be effective, we are likely to meet the threshold needed for adaptation while not exceeding it by so much that we don’t have room for additional strategies.

Consider a strength athlete; with goals of improving their ability to squat, press, pull, lift, carry, and potentially throw the greatest amount of weight possible, what would constitute their 70%? Depending on the specifics of their sport and what season they were in, my programming would likely include big, heavy compound movements loaded from 85% up to 100% of 1RM. In short, they’d spend more time squatting, carrying, pressing, pulling and lifting than they would curling, sprinting, jumping, or walking. While those movements could very well have a place in their programming, they don’t offer the greatest ROI for the athlete, and I’m reserving this 70% for my heavy artillery.

Once I’ve chosen my movements and loading schemes, it’s time to consider overall volume in the context of the larger program. Again, I’m only allowing 70% of my session for these movements, so depending on total volume, I may pull a movement out, drop a set or two, or break the workload up differently to allow me to focus on what I think is most important without overtaxing the athlete.

20%–A Good Bet

With 70% of an athlete's time and energy accounted for, it makes sense to give the bulk of the remainder to something we're confident in, but hasn't stood the test of time. Too little investment here and we're unlikely to see enough influence (or lack thereof) to inform our future programming choices, too much and there's nothing left for the real cutting-edge work.

Continuing the example of our strength athlete, plyometric work (either on its own or for potential post-activation potentiation effects) are one possible choice. Since true explosive power and speed aren't are primary goals, we don't need to devote the same number of reps or contacts we might for a pure throwing or jumping athlete, but a few sets and reps or our most transferable movement patterns make sense. In this case a squat jump (loaded or unloaded, with or without counter movement), a broad jump, and maybe a hinge or rotationally-driven throw could be helpful.

10%–Room to Play

I look at this final piece of the puzzle as playtime... a crazy idea I had, something a single study hinted at, an intuition that an athlete might benefit from something. I'm not ready to devote much of an athlete's training or recovery to something that may be half-baked at best, but as long as I'm confident I'm not doing any harm, this gives me a chance to insert an extra little "kick". It may not work, but again, as long as it's safe, we can probably consider it GPP (General Physical Preparedness) at worst, right?

Maybe strength athlete benefits from working with unstable loads, using something akin to an earthquake or bamboo bar, or possibly moving a barbell with an uneven or hanging load. The instability certainly won't hurt him in his training (provided it doesn’t detract from his primary training modalities), and has some potential carryover to his specific sport and goals, from injury prevention to improved neuromuscular communication.

Putting it to Work

A few days after first running across this concept, I sat down to rework some of my own programming. Knowing I was hoping to put a little more muscle on, and feeling a little bored at the prospect of another body-part split filled with sets of 6-12, I decided to put this idea to the test.

I began with the basics, as I knew they'd work, and wrote a workout that followed some solid principles; progressive overload, moderate weights and rest periods etc. In anticipation of adding to this foundation, I left the volume a little lower than I knew I could handle, allowing for the think and the guess. From there I chose two methods, one I'd seen solid research on, and one I just wanted to play with, and filled in the rest of the volume.

Specifically, I chose to include some traditional explosive plyometric work (as both a Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP) element and to directly target fast-twitch fibers) as well as something called Velocity Based Training (VBT). I'd seen some interesting research on VBT using only 35% of 1RM for cluster sets of 5-6, and wanted to give it a go.

I thought the plyometric work would help, and so gave it a good focus, particularly on lower body days, emphasizing either vertical (quad-dominant) or horizontal (glute and hamstring focus) patterns depending on the days movement patterns. This made up the 20%.

I hoped the VBT protocols would work, but wasn't ready to let it overrun my program. I added a set or two at the beginning of days that didn't include plyometric training. If I was pressing, I'd follow VBT protocols with a machine-based press in the hope that I'd target fast-twitch fibers, spark some hypertrophy, and perhaps even see a carryover through the rest of the workout.

Determining Volume

At this point at least a few of you have your hands up, waiting impatiently for the teacher to call on you. Let's get to you guys now:

"How do you determine volume? Is it sets and reps, time, or what?”


In short, use your best judgement in choosing a method to measure volume and determine your 70/20/10 workload. For a Hypertrophy cycle (typically a volume-driven cycle) I might use sets and reps. For a power/speed athlete I might use time or RPE. Ultimately volume will likely play a role, but there's room to interpret "workload" here in a way that matches the stresses of the training cycle.


If we’re going to introduce new methods into our programming, then ultimately we’d like some sense of their effectiveness; at some point in the misty past most of what we take for granted as known was merely thought or guessed. It’s tricky to separate one aspect of a program from another, and if we were to follow stricter scientific methodology, we’d likely only introduce one variable at a time for testing. Still, there are a few benchmarks I’ve looked for in deciding whether an idea had merit or not.

  1. 1)    The athlete or client progressed within the specific mode being employed. If we add plyometric work to improve max strength, did the athlete jump higher or farther?
  2. 2)    Assuming you have some sort of expectation for the athlete’s progress (i.e. last off-season they gained 5 pounds of lean mass in 20 weeks), did this program exceed those expectations?
  3. 3)    Did the athlete and I look forward to this section of their programming? It’s a little subjective, but on some level I think we have a sense of what’s paying dividends, and in the absence of other evidence, it’s at least worth recognizing.
  4. 4)    Were there any other unexpected benefits observed during the training block? Case-in-point, while I was experimenting with VBT protocols for some of my upper body pushing movements, I found that my bench press felt a little more explosive through the sticking point. I hadn’t done anything else to directly target that adaptation, and so it’s conceivable that there was some impact from the explosive, lighter weight work I was doing at the time.

The Hidden Benefit

As clients and athletes finished their own cycles, I started applying the lens of 70/20/10 to the work they were being given. I love some of the work coming out of the PRI world, but I'm not ready to abandon the foundation of a program in favor of these drills. Adding one or two movements a week? That felt about right, and forced me to choose the best drill for the athlete. Similarly, PAP has some good research behind it, and I have some athletes with goals that I think can be helped by its inclusion, but I'm not ready to pull too much volume away from their main lifts. Could I give 20% of a session over to it? Absolutely, and again, I'm forced to prioritize the application of a technique.

Limiting yourself to the 70/20/10 framework offers a self-editing process of sorts, forcing the coach to whittle away at their programming until it's lean and mean. Instead of including five or six lower body patterns in a given workout, maybe I'm limited to four. Inherently I'll choose the four that are most effective. The basics will likely become even more basic as you search out the movements that give you and your athletes the biggest payout.

What Now?

For those of you who enjoy your highlighters, you'll love this part: grab a program you've written  (hard-copy) and mark that sucker up. Highlight your basics, the 70% built around things you know will drive the right adaptation. Find your next tier of movements, the ones you think help the athlete, and highlight those as well. Finally, highlight the movements you've included based on some good solid guesswork as to how they may help.

Step back and look at what you've got. How much time is being devoted to each avenue of attack? How many sets and reps, how much mental energy? If something seems out of line, tweak it a bit, and as you continue to move forward, take some notes and keep track of what you find. After all, there's no substitute for lessons learned through experience.

about the author

Jesse McMeekin has been toiling away in a weight room for more than 20 years. A former competitive lacrosse and football player, as well as drug-free bodybuilder, Jesse currently works with world-class athletes, paramilitary members, weekend warriors, desk-bound CEOs, and a variety of other clientele and athletes. Jesse holds multiple certifications including the CSCS, USAW L1 SPC, Pn1, and FMSC. Wearing a number of hats, Jesse runs his own website (, trains clients privately and through Equinox, and is an Equinox EFTI Master Instructor. He currently lives in Westchester County with his beautiful wife and their dog.

Understanding the Underlying Purpose of the Energy Systems

The most important thing for detectives trying to solve a case is to understand the motive of potential suspects. Training the energy systems of an athlete is one of the most important jobs of the strength and conditioning professional. To solve this case, you must understand the motive force behind why the energy systems are present in the body. I’m going to say the same thing a bunch of times in a row in the following sentences because I need to kick the absolute hell out of this dead horse to reinforce the point I’m going to try to make with the gravity it deserves. The purpose of the energy systems is to deal with the outcome of the hydrolysis reaction of ATP. Stated in another way, the purpose of the energy systems is to rephosphorylate ATP and to deal with the threat of hydrogen and heat that cellular and mechanical work imposes upon the organism. Stated in another way, the purpose of the energy systems is to allow you to perform sufficient levels of ATP hydrolysis to power your organism’s need to engage in behaviors in specific environmental circumstances. If you do not understand this underlying purpose and the ways in which this plays out in the body, then you do not truly understand energy system training. We all have our pet peeves. One of mine is that I can’t stand it when people say that energy systems create energy. Another one is any time I hear anyone say anything about lactic acid. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Energy is transferred from one state to another inside the body. Lactic acid does not exist inside the human body. Lactic acid never has existed inside the human body. Lactic acid never will exist inside the human body. These statements may sound like condescending, semantical remarks made by an exercise science nerd; however, I do not think they are, and I think that failing to address these concerns will continue to lead to erroneous thought processes in trying to develop energy system training. I think these pet peeve concepts of mine are related to the two biggest missing links in our field’s current view of developing the energy systems, which are both fundamentally tied with failure to appreciate the two-tiered purpose of the energy systems.

Threat Deterrence

We probably all know about the concept of ATP being the energy currency of the body. The ability to restock your supply of ATP is one of the two purposes of the energy systems. This is the most commonly discussed factor in regards to the science of energy systems, and I will surely address this here, but first I would like to discuss the second energy system purpose, which is threat deterrence.

Hydrogen is the most abundant material in the universe, with approximately 80% of the known universe being made up by hydrogen. Movement of hydrogen is what drives the universe. When viewing the internal universe of the human, hydrogen is both the driver of life and something that can kill you quickly if left unchecked. Entropy is the direction of the universe. The universe is expanding and the energy found within the universe is headed more and more towards a chaotic state. Heat is the expression of entropy most prominently displayed by life forms. Try living as a mammal without heating yourself. Hydrogen load and heat load are perhaps the two most fundamental things that the human body has to manage. If not kept within a careful window of appropriate levels, you will surely die. We have a variety of measures and systems that we use to regulate hydrogen and heat, and the energy systems are a powerful one when it comes to the hydrogen threat.

There is no lactic acid inside your body, therefore it is not a threat. Lactate production is an outlet for dealing with an acid threat, and is therefore not a threat (it’s a strategy). Hydrogen is real, and very present inside your body. Hydrogen is a threat, and hydrogen must be accounted for. Where does this hydrogen come from though? Hydrogen is a bi-product of the hydrolysis of ATP. Every time I do anything inside my body, I need to power that action via the hydrolysis of ATP. The potential energy that will power my bodily actions is found in the bonds between the phosphates making up the ATP molecule. I must break these bonds to release energy from a bound/potential state to make it available as free energy to perform work. The body uses a hydrolysis reaction to break these bonds. Hydrolysis reactions are those that require water to be present. When ATP combines with water in the presence of the enzyme ATPase, the bond between the second and third phosphate is broken, and stored energy is released. The reaction looks like this:

ATP + H2O (in the presence of ATPase) → ADP + P + Free energy + Hydrogen + Heat

We did this to gain the release of free energy. Free energy release is the purpose of the hydrolysis of ATP. The energy systems are in the body to deal with the outcomes of the hydrolysis of ATP.

Three Strategies


The energy systems put ATP back together again after it is broken down. We have three strategies of putting ATP back together again, a phosphagenic one, a glycolytic one, and an oxidative one. The phosphagenic and glycolytic strategies are the most primitive, and took place in cellular life forms prior to the evolutionary step of mitochondria creating a mutually symbiotic relationship with cellular organisms by moving into the cells of other creatures. The phosphagenic energy system can rephosphorylate a singular ATP through its one enzymatic step, but it cannot do anything to reduce hydrogen or heat levels inside the body. Here is the primary reaction used by the phosphagen system:

ADP + CP (in the presence of Creatine Phosphate) à ATP + Creatine

The phosphagenic energy system has low cost associated with it, since it does not cost any ATP to run the system. This lack of cost cannot be said about the glycolytic system.


The glycolytic energy system has the ability to rephosphorylate 4 ATP (you receive a net of 2 ATP, because you have to spend 2 ATP to power the glycolytic machinery) through 10 enzymatic steps. Glycolysis can also directly take two hydrogen ions out of circulation. To view the ATP rephosphorylation and hydrogen reduction capacity of glycolysis, the following image is helpful (note that the hydrogen is reduced at step 6, where NAD combines with a hydrogen).


The non-oxidative energy systems pale in comparison to the ability of the oxidative energy system to rephosphorylate ATP and reduce the hydrogen threat inside the body. One of the interesting things about the oxidative system is that it actually powers itself through the motion of hydrogen.


The oxidative energy system utilizes the Krebs Cycle and the Electron Transport Chain (ETC) to rephosphorylate ATP and to reduce the hydrogen threat inside the body. Very little ATP rephosphorylation takes place within the Krebs Cycle; however, the products of the Krebs cycle power the ATP rephosphorylation machinery of the ETC. The primary product of the Krebs Cycle that powers the ETC to rephosphorylate ATP is NADH and FADH2. Every NADH that enters the ETC allows the ETC to rephosphorylate 3 ATP, and every FADH2 allows the ETC to rephosphorylate 2 ATP. The Krebs Cycle churns out 8 NADH and 2 FADH2 molecules every time carbohydrates are the substrate being utilized to power the energy systems (note fats have the potential for many more NADH and FADH2 molecules). The following diagram depicts the NADH and FADH2 synthesizing steps of the Krebs Cycle (note that the Krebs Cycle spins twice when carbohydrate is the substrate):


It is fair to say that when it comes to the power of the oxidative energy system, the ability to shuttle NAD/NADH back and forth between the Krebs Cycle and the ETC is the show. If you have a super powered ability to load hydrogen onto NAD (which converts it into NADH), move NADH to the ETC, unload the hydrogen from NADH at the ETC (which converts it into NAD), and then return that NAD to Krebs to repeat the procedure, you will have a monster aerobic system. It is probably also fair to say that NADH is the show inside the show, and the thing that nobody is talking about. Finally, it is tremendously fair to say that the purpose of the Krebs Cycle is not to rephosphorylate ATP directly, but to power the reduction reaction that results in NADH, which powers the ETC.

Electron Transport Chain

The ETC is the engine that is the big bang in the rephosphorylation of ATP. The ETC is also the best strategy for reducing (both literally and figuratively if you appreciate redox humor) the hydrogen threat. The ETC is a multi-enzymatic intra-mitochondrial machine that has the potential to rephosphorylate 28 ATP from the products of the Krebs Cycle when carbohydrate is used as the substrate (8 NADH at 3 ATP per molecule, and 2 FADH2 at 2 ATP per molecule). One of the first enzymes present in the ETC is one called NADH dehydrogenase. The purpose of a dehydrogenase enzyme is to remove a hydrogen ion from a molecule. NADH dehydrogenase cleaves the hydrogen away from NADH, which oxidizes the molecule and returns it to its state as NAD. When NADH is oxidized, the hydrogen ion is then shuttled outward from the inner mitochondrial membrane. To help understand this process, see the following picture:


In examining this picture, let’s start at the left. You see NADH being converted to NAD. This is taking place due to the activity of NADH dehydrogenase. You see the hydrogen ion being sent upwards into the space between the inner and outer mitochondrial membranes. Let’s skip over the activity in the middle of the graph to simplify this process. The hydrogen ion that was removed from NADH moves from the left to the right of the picture until it reaches the final enzyme on the right hand side. The most rightward enzyme is ATP synthase. As you can see in the picture, hydrogen moves downward through ATP synthase. The kinetic energy of hydrogen moving through the ATP synthase enzyme is what powers the enzyme to rephosphorylate ATP. ATP synthase is the location where all of the ATP rephosphorylation takes place inside the ETC. From an ATP rephosphorylation standpoint, let’s say that ATP synthase is the show. While giving the credit to ATP synthase for the product that we’re looking for, let’s not forget that it is hydrogen that powers this enzyme’s activity. As I said before, in the internal universe of the human, it is hydrogen that drives life.

While hydrogen drives life inside the human, unchecked, overabundant hydrogen will also kill you very quickly. The hydrogen that powered ATP synthase must be accounted for once it has given this enzyme its motive force for ATP rephosphorylation purposes. Have you ever wondered why the oxidative energy system is named as such? The answer is simple. Oxygen must be present for the system to run. The location of oxygen in this process is inside the inner mitochondrial matrix, specifically right below ATP synthase. When the hydrogen passes through the ATP synthase enzyme, oxygen is sitting there ready to receive it. If I combine two hydrogen with an oxygen, I get water. Synthesizing water is the most effective and least harmful strategy that organisms have adopted for dealing with the potential threat of hydrogen. When your body is able to power its behaviors via an electron transport strategy, the organism is operating in the least costly, most highly efficient manner possible, with the least amount of threat presented. When oxygen supply inside the mitochondria is not sufficient to deal with the amount of hydrogen present inside the mitochondria, or the shuttling of NAD/NADH to and from the Krebs Cycle/ETC is not robust enough or fast enough to move hydrogen through the oxidative pathways, the body is forced to go to a checkdown option and deal with hydrogen another way. This other way is via the creation of lactate.


Lactate is created when pyruvate binds to two hydrogen ions. Pyruvate is the product of glycolysis. To see pyruvate, let’s revisit our glycolysis diagram.


When it comes to glycolysis, things can be summarized into the following statement: one glucose enters, two pyruvates leave. There is no aerobic or anaerobic glycolysis. There is only glycolysis where a glucose comes and two pyruvate leave through ten enzymatic steps. The fate of pyruvate is what determines whether we operate with an oxidative or non-oxidative strategy. The hydrogen load inside the cell determines the fate of pyruvate. If the Krebs/ETC processes can handle the hydrogen load, things run smoothly. If Krebs and ETC are unable to handle the hydrogen coming from a specific rate of ATP hydrolysis, then we must call on the backup system, which is the synthesis of lactate. Lactate equals pyruvate plus two hydrogen. It is as simple as that. View the following image to appreciate this concept:


In viewing the above image, focus on the bottom. Pyruvate is on the left, lactate is on the right. Look at the molecular makeup of the two substances. The only difference between pyruvate and lactate is that a singular bond attaches one hydrogen ion on the left side of the structure, and another hydrogen is bound to oxygen on the right side of the structure. Lactate is a fantastic method of removing two hydrogen ions from existing in a free state. The purpose of the lactate system is to act as an alternative strategy for dealing with hydrogen load during times of extreme behaviors. Lactate is your checkdown receiver on a hot read.

Closing Thoughts

As the great Mike Cantrell likes to say at PRI courses, it’s cool that the aspirin works, but it’s cooler to know how it works. It’s cool to know that the program design approaches of Joel Jameison work. It’s cooler to know what’s happening inside the system that drives the reasons behind why they work. If you do not know why things work, you do not have a good BS detector. You will fall for stupid training concepts and you will be a garbage strength coach. If you want to be a beast in the majority of American sports, you need quality energy system development coached in the proper sequence of development. This may not be the fastest road to success, but it will be the road to the highest success with the least amount of detrimental stress put on your organism’s homeostatic control systems. We live in an age of information and accountability. If you are stupid, you are easily replaceable. Be an intellectual savage who does not accept ordinary, mundane, or low level things in your life. As you were.

about the author


pat davidson

-Director of Training Methodology and Continuing Education at Peak Performance, NYC.

-Assistant Professor at Brooklyn College, 2009-2011

-Assistant Professor, Springfield College 2011-2014

-Head Coach Springfield College Team Ironsports 2011-2013

-175 pound Strongman competitor. Two time qualifier for world championships at Arnold Classic

-Renaissance Meat Head

Fight Conditioning: How to Build an Engine that Won't Gas Out

The easiest way to lose a fight is to gas out. When this fatigue sets in, not only are your muscles weaker, but you also make poor decisions because of it. This is why proper conditioning is absolutely essential.

But how do you do it? If you know a little bit of physiology, it’s actually not that difficult to understand.

A fighter of mine recently competed in a tournament, so I’m going to use his case study to illustrate how someone like him would want to prepare for a fight.



First, I had him send me a bunch of pictures and videos to get an idea of his muscle balance/imbalance.

After that, I had him perform multiple conditioning tests.

From this assessment, I can come up with a rough outline for what he needs to work on.

Here are my notes on his assessment (we’ll define these abbreviated terms soon):

  • - Extended posture; obvious need for deep abdominal muscles
  • - Not in pain
  • - HRR to 130 BPM took 1m50s (biggest weakness)
  • - RHR ~58 BPM (not great)
  • - AT = 172 BPM, almost went one mile in 6 minutes (not bad)
  • - Fight rounds are 6 minutes with a minimum of 6 minutes between rounds
  • - Fights are only one round
  • - Has a good training foundation

If you’re unsure on how to do conditioning tests, read this.

We had 11 weeks from when I started with him to the day of his fight.


Since his fight prep will start 8 weeks out, we have these two weeks to build a stronger foundation (which is always important).

The focus will be on max strength and local muscular endurance using the strength-aerobic method on one day with two different exercises. The strength-aerobic method consists of heavy weight, low rep sets followed by low weight, constant tension sets. This method trains the contractility of the fast-twitch muscles to make him strong, then the size of the slow-twitch muscle fibers to make him more resistant to fatigue while maintaining work output..

We also incorporated some explosive repeats to develop his HRR, which, as you recall, was his biggest weakness in the conditioning tests.

Heart Rate Recovery (HRR) - a measure of the ability for the recovery systems to turn on after a bout of intense activity

Here is how we organized his explosive repeats

  • - 10s:50s (work:rest) x 6-7 rounds
  • - Then a general strength exercise
  • - 10s:40s (work:rest) x 6-7 rounds
  • - This gradual decrease of the rest period is to develop aerobic power

Aerobic Power - how quickly the aerobic system is able to turn on and produce energy

The aerobic system can produce the most energy over a long period of time, but it takes a while to get going. Developing aerobic power is essential for any fighter.

We also used some HICT for fast-twitch muscle endurance (so he can still be fast in later rounds).

High Intensity Continuous Training (HICT) - a training method for making the strong fast-twitch muscle fibers more resistant to fatigue

And we used COD for left ventricle eccentric hypertrophy (so his heart can beat more efficiently).

Cardiac Output Development (COD) - a training method for increasing the efficiency of the heart.

The following image is a graph of his heart rate during COD.



This was a taper week to get ready for a grueling training camp, so his training volume was low here.


The focus of these weeks was on local muscular endurance.

We used HRI to develop aerobic power.

High Resistance Intervals (HRI) - a training method similar to the explosive repeats we talked about earlier, but the recovery time of each set is based on HRR instead of a fixed time interval.

He had a general strength and movement day.

We also ramped up the difficulty of the explosive repeats:

  • - 15-20s:50s (work:rest) x 8-10
  • - Split squats
  • - 15-20s:40s (work:rest) x 8-10 (made the intervals slightly more difficult than before)

The longer work periods just place a little bit more stress on him, making it even more necessary that his heart rate turn on.


The focus of these weeks was on cardiac power.

Cardiac Power - the contractility of the heart; how hard it can work.

To make his heart contract harder, I had him do MMA drills for CPI (increased sport specificity)

Cardiac Power Intervals (CPI) - a training method for developing contractility of the heart muscle.

This is how I had him do CPIs:

  • - 60s-120s work
  • - Recover HR to 130 BPM
  • - 10 rounds

The following image is a graph of his heart rate during CPIs.


He also did the strength-aerobic method from earlier to hold onto his max strength and the hypertrophy of his slow-twitch muscle fibers.

Lastly, we introduced some threshold training.

Threshold Training - a training method for raising the anaerobic threshold, allowing for more work to be done at his maximum sustainable level of intensity

His initial tests showed me that his estimated AT was 172 BPM.

Anaerobic Threshold (AT) - the point at which the work being done becomes too much to maintain; where the energy demanded surpasses the energy produced

For his threshold training, he just needs to keep his heart rate around at 172 +/- 5 BPM for as long as I prescribe. We started off 4m:3m x 3 rounds, and progressed to 6m:6m x 3-5 rounds, making the intervals just like the worst-case scenario for his tournament (his rounds are 6 minutes long and he will have no less than 6 minutes between fights).

The following image is a graph of his heart rate during threshold training.


Constant Monitoring


In an email exchange, he sent me the above picture and told me that he noticed it takes him 40-45 seconds to rev his heart rate from 130 to about 165 BPM.

What this tells me is that he’s super efficient, but could use some increased contractility of his heart muscle. This made me decide to keep in his CPIs and make that a focus of his training camp for as long as possible.


The focus of these two weeks is fight specificity.

Basically, everything needs to resemble the fight so that his body is acclimated. As I mentioned above, we decided to continue CPIs.

We also continued threshold training.

  • - 6m:6m (work:rest) x 3 for worst-case scenarios, or
  • - 6m:10m (work:rest) x 4 for better-case scenarios

The reason we didn’t stick to only the 6m:6m intervals is because I wanted him to be able to develop higher intensity during the 6m work period if he was given a long rest time between rounds. The hope was that he would be able to spar at these intervals. If not, I asked him to do drilling on whatever skills needed practice instead.


The focus of these weeks is rest. This is also known as a taper.

Start taper on 7/10.

Fight is on 7/18.

Intensity and volume both come way down during the taper so that he can recover from the intense 7 weeks he just had.

On one day, I gave him a COD exercise circuit to get some active recovery.

He was allowed 3 easy mat days.

I instructed him to recover as hard as he’d been training (e.g. diet, sleep, compression leg sleeves, acai bowl by the pool).


He went in to the gym on Friday, did his warm up, then left.

On Saturday, his instructions were simply to go whoop ass.

To measure his recovery, we monitored his RHR.

Resting Heart Rate (RHR) - how fast your heart beats first thing in the morning; can be collected and used to monitor recovery

I had him start tracking his RHR a few weeks before the competition. Your heart rate will usually be lowest in the morning because you haven’t been moving, then it will rise and fall throughout the day.

The following graph shows his recovery (as measured by his RHR) over the last few weeks.


This is especially remarkable when I tell you that the 46 BPM he measured on July 15th was at 2PM, not immediately upon waking. Plus, this is the lowest his heart rate has ever been, telling me that he is more prepared for this fight than ever.

[Click Here to apply to be a Team RP Athlete today]

This graph illustrates the power of a taper before a fight. Had we not allowed his body to recover from his training, he would have been fatigued going into the competition and would not have been able to perform his best.


Here’s what he had to say when I asked him how he did:

“All in all - not bad. Choked the guy in first match, lost on points in second. I showed both physically and mentally. Gas tank was for days.

“Not happy with overall results though wanted to bring home some hardware. Next time.”

The second round was actually kind of amazing. He pulled off a great move that would have scored him enough points to move on to the next round… but time expired too soon.

“There is a rule [that the] athlete needs to stabilize position for 4 seconds before getting points. What I did was 5 points move: 2 for take down + 3 for getting to side control. If I initiated scramble 5 seconds earlier - I would have stayed alive in the tournament… Shitty timing on my part. Lesson learnt though.

“Just want to say thank you for the though [sic] and work you put in in [sic] my prep. It changed many things in a positive way. The biggest tournament of the year for me is ***** [removed] in spring and I look forward to getting ready for it with you.”

[Click Here to apply to be a Team RP Athlete today]


  • - This guy is the perfect client and 100% compliant
  • - It was difficult to plan what he would do on the mat
  • - Life stress can get in the way
  • - I'm glad we had good communication because otherwise I wouldn't have known how long it took his HR to climb during CPIs
  • - As he becomes more experienced, he will do better and better
  • - I am 95% happy with his training leading up to the tournament
  • - I wish I had asked him what drills he needed to work on the mat
  • - I wish I had redone the conditioning tests after the fight

The biggest lesson that I want you to walk away with is that your conditioning alone probably won’t win you a competition, but it can certainly lose you a competition.

Don’t let that happen to you. If you need a strength and conditioning coach or any advice on your fight prep, don’t hesitate to reach out.

about the author


Lance Goyke, CSCS, is a Nerd Extraordinaire and secret admirer of lesbians everywhere whose expertise focuses on the human body. His clientele ranges from other trainers to kids to house moms to fighters to baseballers to anyone who needs to be taught how to exercise. Go invade his home base at

The Top 5 Mistakes Semi-Experienced Lifters Make that Limit their Gains

You’ve been training for a while now. You’ve noticed gains in strength, size, and body composition. So have your sex partners. But progress has come to a screeching halt. Personal records (PRs) are few and far between. Training is fun and all, but it seems to be going nowhere.

I’ve been there. Years back, I remember having read a few training articles on and thought I was the shit. Kept working out, pushing my limits, only to get hurt what seemed like every week.

Man, if I could have those days back…

Now that training other people is my career, it is my goal is to prevent you from making the same mistakes I made. Here are the five most common mistakes I see intermediate lifters make.

Mistake #1: They don’t have a structured plan

Everything you do in the gym should have a purpose. To find out what that purpose is, you first need to have an end goal in sight.

Set a goal

I used to bounce around from program to program, spinning my wheels and never making progress.

Find something you’re good at—powerlifting, strongman, intramural co-ed volleyball, whatever—and start heading down that path.

Focus on building strength instead of testing it

You’ve already realized your newbie gains. PRs will not come as easy anymore. They will be hard fought… and much more satisfying.

Your training needs to be planned over the long-term. The term we use in the fitness industry for this planning is “periodization”.

The idea is that you figure out when you’re going to compete, then you work backwards from there.

When your next competition is far away, your training should be focused on building up general qualities that transfer well to all sports, such as work capacity, aerobic power, and general strength. As you get closer to a competition, your training should become more and more specific and focused. Specificity is one of the guiding principles of smart, effective training, but spending all your time being specific with your training doesn’t give you a foundation upon which you can build. You have to do the things that you don’t like to do if you want to get better.

You have to go back to basics.

Track your progress

If you’re not making progress that you can track, then whatever you’re doing is not working.

Talk to a professional to figure out how to accomplish your goal

If you remember only one thing I say in this post, remember this: If you’re serious about your goal, you need a coach.

If you broke your leg, you would go to the doctor. Why would you not refer your training out to a professional who spends all of their time trying to get better at what they do?

Mistake #2: They never learn how to move well

Quality movement is absolutely essential for long-term gains.

Learn how to squat and bend

When squatting or bending under load (like when you’re deadlifting), keep your spine stable and load your legs by “pushing” through the floor instead of trying to pick the bar up. Avoid leading with your shoulders and arching your back.

If you need to relearn how to squat and bend, try a Kettlebell Deadlift.

Learn how to press

When pressing (like with a bench press), keep your shoulder blades stable and elbows tucked. If you don’t do this, it’s like you’re trying to shoot a cannon from a rowboat. A good exercise to try is the Dumbbell Floor Press.

Learn how to row

When rowing, always lead the movement with the shoulder blade. You should feel the muscles in your upper back working. A good exercise to try is the 3-point Dumbbell Row.

Learn how to be move on one leg

Single leg work isn’t fun, but it IS important. A good, albeit difficult exercise to try is the Single Leg Rufus Deadlift.

Do more reaching exercises

If you want to stay healthy, you’ve got to remember how to reach. This is especially important for those general phases of training we were discussing earlier.

When doing push ups, think about pushing your hands “through” the ground (all the way to China) before you finish your rep.

Mistake #3: They don’t get enough sleep

Training hard is only effective if you can recover from it. Restful sleep is essential to the recovery process.

Sleep quantity

Shoot for 7-9 hours each night.

Sleep quality

Avoid electronics before bed. Try to get on a schedule so that you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. If you have sleep apnea, go see a doctor.

*Here's a good post by our buddies over at Precision Nutrition if you want to read more about sleep.

Mistake #4: They forget about their nutrition

In addition to sleep, nutrition is also essential to your recovery. Quicker Recovery → Harder Training → More Progress.

Become conscious of what you eat and why you eat it

I like prescribing a 3-day food log. Record everything you ingest, when you ingest it, and what you were doing at the time of ingestion. This is all the info you need to determine the number one change you can make to optimize your food intake.

Fill your gas tank with premium, not crap

If you’re trying to make your body a high performance machine, you should fill it with premium fuel, not sludge.

*Further Reading:  Nutrition:  How to Pick a Plan that Fits Your Goals

Mistake #5: They do the wrong type of conditioning work

Improper conditioning is a pet peeve of mine. Coaches everywhere run their athletes into the ground, making them worse instead of better.

What are you training for?

There are three basic systems in the body that produce energy. Determine the ones that your sport uses and then train those systems.

Don’t fall into the trap of doing conditioning simply because it “feels hard”. Any coach can make you puke, but can he or she make you better?

*Further Reading:  How Do You Train For the Long Haul?  Develop an Aerobic Base

Summary of the Top 5 Mistakes Semi-Experienced Lifters Make

Mistake #1: They don’t have a structured plan

Mistake #2: They never learn how to move well

Mistake #3: They don’t get enough sleep

Mistake #4: They forget about their diet

Mistake #5: They do the wrong type of conditioning work

Don’t fall into the same traps that I and so many others have fallen into. My goal is to teach, so if you know someone who you think would benefit from this, please forward it to them.

P.S. I made a whole 16-week program that is great for these intermediate lifters who need some guidance. You can even get the ebook, presentation, and first month of the program totally free of charge.

about the author

Lance Goyke, CSCS, is a Nerd Extraordinaire and secret admirer of lesbians everywhere whose expertise focuses on the human body. His clientele ranges from other trainers to kids to house moms to fighters to baseballers to anyone who needs to be taught how to exercise. Go invade his home base at

The Cloud Atlas of Program Design

You have to figure out what you want in life. Not what you say you want, but what you actually want. I don’t really know what I want at this point. I have ambiguous thoughts about things that would be nice. These are things I might say to myself inside my own head right now, like…I’d like to be really strong…I’d like to learn a lot of powerful information in regards to being an awesome strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer, and mentor…I’d like to be financially successful and well marketed within the fitness industry…I’d like a lot of people to know who I am and to think very highly of me. Are any of these things truly tangible goals? Not really. Do I have specific actionable steps to put in place to help me reach these vague things? When I’m honest with myself, the answer is no. I’m floating in some ways. What I need is a specific goal to reach. What I need is a plan to get there.


Should I pick one thing and focus my energies on that objective if I want to ensure the greatest likelihood of reaching that goal? Most people would probably say yes, that is a wise course of action. Should I completely forget about every other element of life and blindly go down one track? Certainly not, only a fool would be that narrow minded. Is this starting to sound like the training process yet? I hope so, because life and training are very similar to one another.

When I was working as a professor in Exercise Science and I was teaching about program design, I always began the unit by saying that good program design and healthy relationships were very similar to one another.

Perhaps the worst thing that could be thrown into a burgeoning relationship is mixed messages. These are very confusing and they tend to lead to excessive stress and things going nowhere. Be clear to the other person what your intentions are if you’re actually interested in making things work long term.

Second, don’t go overboard with things. You’re going to get really excited at first. Everything is new and shiny and great. Relax a little bit. Force yourself to give a little space. Back off. Third, don’t back off so far that you’re not present at all. You’ve got to be somewhere in the middle in terms of presence. You need to find the sweet spot in the beginning between too much and nothing at all if you want things to actually go somewhere long term. Fourth, don’t switch things up just for the sake of doing something new. If something is working, stick with it. Don’t be in a rush to mess things up. Fifth, when that newness wears off, that’s when the real hard work begins.


When you’ve fallen into a comfort zone, now you have to actually go out of your way and try, or maybe mix something new in every once in a while, otherwise things become stagnant. The parallels to training are pretty clear. Just understand that this applies to a new person just starting training, or even an experienced person who’s just starting a new training block.

The concept of being well rounded is an interesting one when it comes to athletics. Overall from a physical fitness construct perspective, good programming generally develops things in the following order: variability, capacity, and power. Children and young athletes should have lots of sports variability. Children need to develop a wide range of movement patterns and motor programs before specializing later on in their athletic career.

Beginners in a strength and conditioning training environment need to learn lots of different exercises. Beginners need to do plyo’s, change of direction, Olympic lifts, basic barbell exercises, unilateral work, and they need to do different conditioning drills to develop glycolytic and oxidative systems.

Intermediate people tend to do well when capacity becomes the focus. If you have the proper biomechanics for a sports move, do a lot of that sports move and do it well if you are an intermediate who wants to move to the level of advanced.

Once you’re advanced, the primary focus should be power. Power is confusing for a lot of people as a training concept. I prefer to think of it as, “game speed” more than anything.


The order of developing variability, capacity, and power is incredibly important. You need to have enough movement variability in order to develop a specific capacity. If you don’t have enough movement variability, you likely don’t have the adequate range of motion and coordination to build specific sports movements up. Once you have sufficient work capacity within a given motor pattern family, now fine tune it and accentuate it to its highest form of expression with intensification work.

Intermediate level athletes need to maintain variability while they focus on capacity. Advanced level athletes need to maintain variability and capacity while they focus on power.

Classification is of paramount importance from an applications standpoint within the world of programmed exercise. In strength and conditioning, most coaches use the same taxonomy of loaded movement patterns, and they are familiar with the fact that a deadlift is a potential exercise within the hip dominant category, just as the bench press is an exercise within the horizontal push category. The more that we as a fitness community can develop a taxonomy for classification of exercise, the greater the likelihood that trainees will receive an appropriate dose of the appropriate training modality.

In biology, we have the following taxonomy to determine what living things are.

Life (the construct) broken down into:








Life on Earth can be very diverse, and each creature is here because it came from ancestors who were successful at surviving on this planet. Some forms of life look very bizarre and different from what you might be accustomed to. Regardless of what you think about it, that life form is here because it makes sense on some level (even if you don’t understand why).

If we are better at breaking down the specific components of a life form, then we can study it more accurately and understand it much more clearly. I don’t think fitness development is all that different from the life taxonomy. There’s a million different ways to exercise, and everything probably has a little bit of validity to it, otherwise it probably wouldn’t be here at all. Here is a sample of something that I think could work as a model.

Fitness (as the construct)

Fitness Kingdoms




Training Means




Training Methods

Submaximal Effort Method

Repeated Effort Method

Maximal Effort Method

Dynamic Effort Method

Fitness Patterns


Hip dominant

Knee dominant

Horizontal push/pull

Vertical push/pull

Core control sagittal

Core control frontal/transverse

Explosive heavy

Explosive light

Loaded carry

Exercises within Patterns




Work to Rest Ratios

Work output drop offs

Biomarkers values (HR)

Arbitrarily decided sets and reps

Restoration and Recovery






Once such a taxonomy is put into place, decision making capacities of coaches become easier when trying to figure out how to design training plans for specific athletes.

If I have a 15 year old female coming in who reports that she is a soccer player, she will be performing fitness development primarily within the scope of variability. Her training will be general in the weight room. She will utilize exercise within the frame works of the submaximal effort method. Every movement pattern will be addressed. She’ll start with a fairly low level exercise along the regression/progression continuum and we will make advances in her training by moving her up along this continuum rather than by increasing the intensity of exercise. Her work to rest ratios will be primarily based on her heart rate responses, and we will try to maximize cardiovascular and peripheral tissue oxidative adaptations during her initial training blocks. We will educate her on appropriate amounts of sleep, food, and ways which she can balance her life overall.

This would be a very different approach than that which I would take with a 25 year old male looking to win a world championship in power lifting.

I’ve never really wanted to tell people exactly what to do from a details perspective. I just like giving people big picture models to help guide them.

I recommend that you implement the exercises that you know how to coach the best and that you consistently see your clients performing well. The things that you are currently doing in your own training and with the training of your clients are probably the best case idea for you to implement at this point in time in each case, otherwise you’d probably be doing something different.

The world of exercise is very Darwinian. Diversity will always reign supreme, and that which gets results and which people like doing will stand the test of time. Coaches need to figure out what category best suits the individual that they are trying to help reach certain goals. The best coaches are the best at analyzing the athlete/client/individual and providing the right dose of the right exercise at the right time.

About the Author


pat davidson

-Director of Training Methodology and Continuing Education at Peak Performance, NYC.

-Assistant Professor at Brooklyn College, 2009-2011

-Assistant Professor, Springfield College 2011-2014

-Head Coach Springfield College Team Ironsports 2011-2013

-175 pound Strongman competitor. Two time qualifier for world championships at Arnold Classic

-Renaissance Meat Head

Holiday Circuit Training: Stay Lean and Save Time

It’s that time of the year again. That time when fitness fanatics such as you and I are declared war upon by delicious and unforgiving foods, parties at the exact same time we usually workout, and so on so forth. While the food and activities surrounding the holidays are great, you need to increase your awareness to avoid losing your hard earned gains.

In other words, you need a strategy.

So let’s put this in a situation. You get out of work at 5pm, and there’s a holiday party you have to be at by 6:30pm. Thus, you can’t spend your usual one to two hours at the gym.

By the time you get to the gym and change, it’s already 5:15pm. You have to be out of there with something accomplished by 6 to then get home, clean up, get your swag on, and get to the gathering.

This should be a no brainer, but 45 minutes is more than enough time to get an awesome workout in. You just have to turn your beast mode on and be ready to get nasty.

And no, the way to do this is not slugging on a treadmill for 30 minutes, but rather via a training methodology known as high intensity circuit training.

Circuit training is moving from one exercise to another without resting, but don't confuse this with interval training:  high intensity bouts followed by a controlled rest period repeated for x number of reps (the Tabata 20 on/10 off has become a well known example).

Although interval training is effective, today I’m talking all about circuit training, the benefits of it for fat loss and athletic performance, the physiological effect it has on your body, how to properly design a circuit training program, how to fuel up for this type of training, and the philosophy of quality over quantity.

Let me start by giving you a few reasons why you should have circuit training in your current program if you don't already.

It is time efficient:  you can get a full warm up, main workout, and cool down in in less than 45 minutes.

You operate in an anaerobic state (no oxygen available to the body) while circuit training, which can actually increase your aerobic capacity (VO2 Max), which means you can work longer and recover quicker.

*note from James:  Don't get confused here.  We've talked before on the site about how adaptations from anaerobic glycolysis directly butts heads with aerobic development, and that's still true.  What Nick is talking about, more specifically, is the contractile ability or strength of your heart.  By working near a maximal heart rate for 30-90 seconds, you can increase the force with which your heart contracts, therefore pumping out more blood with each contraction.  This is a more advanced technique, and works on a different aspect of aerobic development, but can still be utilized to squeeze out as much aerobic capacity as possible.  Ultimately, your heart rate dictates the adaptation, so it's a good idea to track it throughout your workout.

Depending on intensity and duration, you continue to burn calories for 16-48 hours after a circuit training session. This is credit to EPOC or excess post exercise oxygen consumption. More on that below!

You will see massive improvements in anaerobic conditioning, speed, power, agility, muscle hypertrophy, and most of all mental toughness.

It is a great tool to structure around your heavy lifting days to trim body fat.

It is fun, challenging, outside of the box, and you feel like you’re the hulk while you’re doing it.


The best way to explain EPOC, and how it keeps your body burning calories after your workout, is the credit card metaphor used by Anja Garcia. Since you're operating in an anaerobic state (without oxygen) while circuit training, your body is building up lactic acid and goes into an oxygen debt (just like spending money that you don’t have yet). Now, after the workout, your body has to work to replenish the oxygen debt and flush out that lactic acid.  This process takes energy, and thus burns more calories. How long it takes your body to recover is dependent on the intensity and duration of the workout.


The first thing that you should ask when designing a circuit training program is, “what am I preparing for and how do I make this program relevant to my goals?” If you are working out simply because you love to work out and stay fit, then circuit training can be a great vehicle for staying lean and you can take whatever avenue you want. But if you’re approaching it from an athletic performance stand point, you need to make your circuits relevant to the demands of your game.

I will give an example. I am a hockey player; the average hockey shift is probably about 30 seconds to a maximum of 1.5 minutes. So when I design my circuits, I want to make them similar in length and physiological demand of a hockey shift. To give you an idea, here is what a sample round might look like for me:

Treadmill sprint, 20 seconds, 12 mph.

Dumbbell bent over row, 8ea arm

20 pushups

All three moves are done straight through without resting then you repeat. If you rest between sets (every time you do all three through) is dependent on what you’re preparing for, what adaptation you're looking to get, and what level of conditioning you’re at. For a Crossfit athlete or martial artist, I would say absolutely no rest between sets because of the high volume/endurance nature of what they do.  Again, all of this will be dictated by where the athlete currently is, and where he or she wants to go.

For example, if you're an MMA or Crossift athlete with a resting heart rate in the 70's, then a circuit training session would look drastically different for you than someone who has a heart rate in the 50's.  You first need to acquire some aerobic capacity before you tackle anything else.  Thus, your circuits would be at a lower intensity, with a heart rate between 120-150 BPM.

Another example is hockey, aka my game, where we rest between shifts.  Thus, I might take a short rest between sets.   A great way to gauge if you’re ready to get into your next set is to monitor your heart rate.  In particular, you're looking for your heart rate to drop back down to 120 BPM because it signifies full recovery.

Again, once you've identified where you are, and what adaptations need to take place to get you where you want to be, your circuit training sessions will be driven by your heart rate.

Let me translate that sample round I gave you, and make it into a template for you to use when you’re designing your program:

1A. Metabolic move

Sprint, agility ladder, fast pace ropes, prowler pushes, mountain climbers, jumping jacks, medicine ball slams, something that gets you moving and shoots up your heart rate. Usually like to do this move for time. 15-30 seconds.

1B. Opposing muscle group to 1A

If you did a sprint in 1A, move to an upperbody/core move such as a push-up, shoulder press, russian twist, or front bridge plank. The reps or time frame you do here is dependent on the move. For a general prescription, it should take about 25-30seconds. Also, keep in mind that your heart rate is going to be high from 1A, so keep the loads lower here.

1C. Opposing muscle group to 1B

A simple example would be if you did a bicep curl in 1B, you do a tricep pushdown in 1C. The reps or time frame you do here is dependent on the move. For a general prescription, it should take about 25-30seconds.

The combination of all three moves equals a round. Do each round 2-3 times straight through. Have at least 3 rounds for every time you do a circuit training session.

Disclaimer: The example moves and exercise prescriptions I have given here are for a general consensus not speaking to any one individual. Adjust according to your own fitness levels and abilities.


If you stay within the template I just gave you, your circuit rounds can last anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes. Given the intensity of these circuits and the fact you'll be working hard for 30-90 seconds, your body will be physiologically operating in what is called Anaerobic Glycolysis.

*note from James:  this depends on the structure of the circuit, but for the type of circuit Nick is prescribing you will spend the majority of your time in a "Lactic state."  But note that it's important to acquire a near maximal heart rate in order to improve the contractile strength of the heart.  You don't just want to slosh around above your anaerobic threshold, unless the demands of your sport etc. require it.

Glycolysis is the breakdown of stored glycogen/glucose (carbohydrates) in the muscle to produce ATP (our body’s primary energy source) when no oxygen is available.

To put that in more simple terms, carbs are crucial for this type of work. So do your best to get in quality, denser carbohydrates throughout the day and/or around your workout.  This will help not only ensure that you have enough energy for your workout, but it will also aid in recovery.

One more nutritional thought I want to share with you comes from my own trial and error, and it's on the subject of meal timing. I have found that these workouts are best when you feel light. Keep your big meals at least 4 hours from these workouts. You can have a small snack like a piece of fruit or a Cliff bar one hour out.


When discussing circuit training, the idea of quality over quantity has to be covered. Circuit training is not throwing a random osh kosh of exercises together, doing them sloppy, and lying on the ground from exhaustion by the end of the workout. When you are looking at that template I gave and trying to pick your exercises, always ask yourself:

“Why? How does this fit in conjunction with the other exercises and is this going to make me better?”

Yes, you want to feel like you got in an awesome workout, but more importantly it needs to fit in with your overall goals.  But the idea of throwing moves together just to be exhausted needs to abolished. Do not work to be tired; work to perform!

About the Author

Nick Mancini is a young up and comer in the fitness industry. Since age 18, Nick has been a certified trainer under the National Strength and Conditioning Association. His mission as a coach is too not only help his clients loose fat and gain muscle, but to inspire and empower his people to pursue higher ground in life.  He is currently working on a project to offer his services online called Faith Fire Fight.  Nick studies at The College of New Jersey majoring in exercise sciences and plays for their hockey team.

We're Having a Holiday Giveaway!

Here at Rebel Performance we tend to be rather obsessed with human performance (and superheroes).

While we don't expect you to be as obsessive about this stuff as we are, we know you care because you're here right now--reading this in the hopes of finding actionable information you can use to get better.


Which is one of the best parts about what we do:  we get to help people on a daily basis find answers to questions that help them live their dream life.  Those questions often include things like:

How do I get bigger?

How do I get stronger?

How do I look like a superhero?

How do I build a conditioning base specific to the needs and demands of                      ?

How much volume do I need to get                        adaptation?

What about Intensity?  How do I balance that with the demands of volume?

How does adaptation happen?

What about behavior change?  How do I change my behavior, or the behavior of those around me, to live better lives?

What are the effects of stress on the entire system?  What does a stress response look like?  Will stress outside of training impact the adaptation reserves someone has to work with?

While these represent an incredibly small fraction of questions we encounter on a daily basis, we want to give you answers to all of them.

So we put our heads together and came up with 4 resources that we view as absolutely essential in your journey for optimized human performance:

1.  Science and Practice of Strength Training:  pretty much everything you need to know about strength training

2.  Ultimate MMA Conditioning:  the best conditioning book on the market

3.  Switch:  How to Make Change When Change is Hard:  your guide to behavior change

4.  Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers:  this will be the most important book you read all year

I'm sure you're wondering how this whole thing works, so let me give you a quick rundown:

First, you need to click the big bold letters below to go to the giveaway page.


Second, you need to enter your email address.

Third, confirm you've actually entered the giveaway by clicking the confirmation link we send you via email.

Fourth, you'll get a lucky url that's specific just to you, and you need/want to share this link because for every person who signs up through your link you get your name thrown in the hat 3 more times.

And that's it.  Just enter your email address, share your lucky url, and then sit back and wait for the winner to be announced on January 5th.

Happy holidays, and best of luck!

Minus the Fanfare: Blend Methodologies for Well Rounded Performance

You want to be strong, but you're not into the whole knee wrap, smelling salts, arched back powerlifting thing. You want to be big, but you're not into the whole protein powder, hulking out, fake tan bodybuilding thing. You want to be fit, but you're not into the whole kipping, Reebok Nano, 150 wall balls for time CrossFit thing. You want a little bit of everything – minus the fanfare. And you can have it. Simply by adopting the best aspects of each of the aforementioned methodologies (and ditching the superfluous shenanigans), you can create a custom training plan for increased strength, size, and stamina all your own. Here's how:

For strength, look to powerlifting. Make the basic barbell lifts (or variations thereof) the foundation of your training program. After a thorough dynamic warm-up, begin each workout with some type of squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, pull-up, or row.


Over the course of the training week, perform each of these major lifts at least once. Go heavy (4-6 reps), focusing on lifting the weight as explosively as possible while maintaining perfect form, and take plenty of rest between sets. Utilize progressive overload by adding weight, reps, or sets each and every week.


After you've done your strength work, shift your attention to muscle building. For this, borrow from bodybuilding. Incorporate both multi- and single-joint movements, sticking to the 8-12 rep range (though higher rep sets can certainly be employed, as well). Count "one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand" during the lowering, or eccentric, phase of every rep. Rest incompletely between sets.

For extra time under tension, work similar movements back-to-back with the following templates:

  • Compound set: multi-joint to multi-joint or single-joint to single-joint (ex: push-ups to dips)
  • Pre-exhaust set: single-joint to multi-joint (ex: bicep curls to lat pull-downs)
  • Post-exhaust set: multi-joint to single-joint (ex: walking lunges to physioball leg curls)

Once you've gotten a solid pump, conclude each workout with some high-intensity circuit training. Race the clock and attempt to beat your own previous best performance, but never substitute speed for movement quality.


Here are a few of my favorite bodyweight circuits:

For time: 25 reps each of inverted rows, push-ups, bodyweight squats, and straight leg sit-ups (all 25 reps, broken up as needed, must be completed before transitioning to the next exercise)

For 10 minutes: As many rounds as possible of 10 inverted rows, 10 push-ups, and 10 bodyweight squats

21-15-9: burpees and inverted rows (21 burpees, 21 inverted rows, 15 burpees, etc.)

There you have it. No need to get caught up in the frivolity of any one style of training in particular when you can have the best of all of them at once. With an intelligent fusion of powerlifting, bodybuilding, and circuit training, incredible gains in strength, size, and stamina are all yours for the taking.

And if, for whatever reason, your gains or enthusiasm ever begin to wane, there are always elements of gymnastics, Olympic lifting, and strongman to add to the mix. But those are topics for another day.

about the author


Travis Pollen is an NPTI certified personal trainer and American record-holding Paralympic swimmer. He is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in Biomechanics and Movement Science at the University of Delaware. He maintains a fitness blog and posts videos of his “feats of strength” on his website, Be sure to like him on Facebook at