fitness

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 T-Nation.com 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 www.LanceGoyke.com.

The Biggest Mistake I Made as an Athlete and How You Can Avoid It

To say I’ve made mistakes as both an athlete and a coach would be an understatement. Hell…I’d even feel comfortable handing someone my track record and telling them it’s a pretty good blue print on “how not to do things.”

While the list is long, and continues to growly weekly, today I’d like to just focus on the biggest mistake myself and my coaches made in my athletic development journey throughout middle school, high school and college.

Notice I say my coaches and myself because this is a two way street. Growing up you do as you’re told, but at the same time I was pretty stubborn and often did my own thing, so yeah, I’m also to blame.

Before we get to the number one biggest mistake being made in training facilities around the world, however, I’d like to give you a little backstory.

The Backstory

I first found the weight room when I was in 6th grade, and have been in love ever since.

In fact, I can still remember reading an SI for Kids magazine when I was like 9 that talked about The Rock and how us kids had to wait for this beautiful thing called testosterone to kick in before we could be as jacked as him.

Granted, they didn’t use that exact language, but it’s a good synopsis.

Anyways, I found the weight room in 6th grade and have been training ever since. My ultimate goal was to play baseball professionally, and I knew the weight room would play a large part in that journey.

As opposed to boring you with the details, let’s skip to the good stuff.

My time in the weight room “paid off.” I trained my as off and became a very good athlete because of it (well….that and genetics). For example, by my sophomore year in college I had a 33” vertical, ran a 6.6 sixty, deadlifted just shy of 500 lbs, squatted 405, cleaned 305, benched 335, could do a lot of pull ups and all that other jazz. Needless to say I was happy with these numbers. Especially since I had to balance them with a roughly 100 game competitive season.

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In essence, I was a very good athlete on paper and had numbers to back it up….that is until I realized I was a big Trojan Horse.

The Trojan Horse

*I really hope you know the legend of the Trojan Horse, or else my analogy is going to make no sense.

Myself, and athletes all over the world, made the mistake of building ourselves into real life Trojan Horses.

On the outside we looked beautiful, and people would be in awe of what we could do, but on the inside we held a dirty secret.

And that dirty secret is the Inverted Performance Pyramid.

In other words, we were ticking time bombs (just killing the analogies today). We had a lot of performance stacked on top of dysfunction, and it was only a matter of time until the whole thing came crumbling down…and did it.

I attained my first real, non-fluke injury my Sophomore year of college, and from there it didn’t get any better. I had stress fractures in my back, pulled quads, and all sorts of things that just kept popping up.

Granted, injury is a part of athletics. If you truly push the envelope you are at risk of getting injured. But there’s a difference between being chronically injured and coming down with the occasional fluke injury.

I fell in the chronically injured category, and thus spent the majority of my collegiate career injured (remember when I said I was good on paper?).

Want to know the best part? It followed me after college. I can honestly say that the past 3 months is the first time I’ve truly trained unhindered since my early days in college (all because I followed a program similar to what you’ll find at the end of this article).

The first time I’ve been able to really be aggressive, throw weight around, and not be in pain or dealing with a nagging back issue.

If you’ve never been injured, then hats off. I truly envy you. But there are many people out there, maybe even you, who fall in the same boat I did. You work your ass off, you do everything you’re told, and for some reason it just can’t all come together. For every step forward you end up taking at least one step back, and you fall into a viscous cycle of

Train-->Make Progress-->Hit Setback-->Train-->Make Progress-->Hit Setback

Almost like you’re trying to walk up a mountain and continuously slide back down.

Where I Had It Wrong

Where had I gone wrong? Where I had fallen off the tracks along the way?

Because in my mind, and my coaches, I had been doing everything right.

It’s not like I was spending time on machines. I was doing squats, deadlifts, cleans, lunges, dumbbell work, kettlebell work and all this other “functional” stuff that was supposed to make me a “bulletproof athlete.”

While the list of “things I did wrong” is rather long, I’d like to bring your focus back to the inverted pyramid because that’s where it all starts.

If you were to build a pyramid, how would you do it? You would of course start with the foundation and make it as big as possible because that gives you the most room for upward growth. Granted, I’m not an expert in pyramid building, but I’ve never seen one that has a smaller base than a peak.

Well when we’re developing athletes, or ourselves for that matter, you have to approach the matter in the same way. You have to lay yourself the most monster foundation possible to both prevent injury and allow for peak performance to occur.

This is what myself and my coaches failed to do. We chose to go after the top of the pyramid from the get go, which is where you’ll find all the sexier elements of performance: things like max strength, power, strength speed, speed strength and sport specific skill/fitness.

Where we should have started, and hopefully you agree, is with the base of the pyramid. At the base of the pyramid is where you’ll find the foundational elements of performance: movement quality, energy system capacity, autonomic balance, and strength, just to name a few.

Without these elements in place, you’re asking for trouble. It may not happen today, but at some point it will catch up to you.

What To Do?

While I’d love to sit here (in Starbucks I might add) and continue espousing on how to build a monster foundation for performance, I’d be wasting my time because Coach Lance Goyke just came out with such a product.

And it’s FANTASTIC.

I had the pleasure of giving it a read last weekend, and needless to say it’s spot on. In it he goes over the 6 pillars of performance and how you must adequately handle each of them to give yourself the opportunity to reach your full potential.

Oh, and it includes a full 16 week training program so you don’t even have to worry about the implementation side of things. You just show up to the gym, pull out your phone, see what day you’re on, and go to work.

But what if this isn’t for me?

I’ll go ahead and stop you right there. This program is for everyone. And that’s hard to say seeing as I’m obsessed with assessing people and writing individualized programs. But somehow Lance managed to craft this thing so that it can help anyone.

If you’re in pain, it can help with that. If you’re new to training, it’s the perfect program to start with. If you’re already a high level athlete, this is the perfect program to hit during a de-load. And obviously this is the perfect program for anyone looking to build themselves a foundation that allows them to train with no limits.

Anyways, be sure to go check that out (p.s. he’s been awesome enough to offer a large chunk of it to you for free):

about the author

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James Cerbie is just a life long athlete and meathead coming to terms with the fact that he’s also an enormous nerd.  Be sure to follow him on Twitter and Instagram for the latest happenings.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

Kingdom

Phylum

Class

Order

Family

Genus

Species

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

Variability

Capacity

Power

Training Means

General

General-Specific

Specific

Training Methods

Submaximal Effort Method

Repeated Effort Method

Maximal Effort Method

Dynamic Effort Method

Fitness Patterns

Locomotion

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

Progressions

Regressions

Lateralizations

Work to Rest Ratios

Work output drop offs

Biomarkers values (HR)

Arbitrarily decided sets and reps

Restoration and Recovery

Nutrition

Therapeutics

Pharmacology

Sleep

Periodization

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

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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

SQUEEZE: 5 Tips and Challenges to Build Preposterous Amounts of Grip Strength

P.S. Make sure you read to the end to get in on the competition for some free swag.

My whole life I’ve never been a really big person. Well at least not in my eyes. Even on paper I'm not that big at 6’ tall weighing between 200 and 230 lbs. There are dinosaur-sized humans out there, but somehow I can keep up (for the most part) when it comes to lifting weight.

How do I do this?

Well for starters, I work my ass off. I played sports (football, basketball, and lacrosse) my whole life, and was fortunate enough to have a personal trainer at the age of 13. I started training the summer before my freshman year of high school, and weighed in at a whopping 125 lbs.

Since then I haven’t missed a step, and continue to push the envelope on a day-to-day basis.

But there’s also the power of my environment--I’ve been blessed to train alongside people who help me grow both mentally and physically every day.

What I’d like to return though is the power of effort because everything I’ve ever done has been with 100% effort, and if you’re hoping to tap into preposterous amounts of grip strength, you’ll have to as well.

One of the many adaptions I have made through training hard and often is having crazy strong grip strength. I was gifted with pretty big hands, but grip strength is something that comes with effort and high volume tension, and can be attained by anyone who is willing to SQUEEEZE.

Think effort not size

Everybody wants Popeye sized forearms. We all know, for the most part, that high reps and high volume will cause muscle hypertrophy (increase in muscle size). But is the answer to muscular strength simply to make the muscle bigger? The answer is no.

When we set out to get stronger grip strength, lets not focus so much on size. Same concept with regards to olympic weightlifters: they don’t set out to get giant quads, but as a result of endless repetitions on full cleans and front squat comes giant quads.

With the size of olympic weightlifters quads, one would think they must have done tons of leg pressing and leg extensions. Same idea can be applied to someone with huge forearms: you may think they did lots of forearm curls to enlarge the belly of the forearm (flexors), but that’s likely not the case.

You;re probably sitting there wondering what exercise is the equivalent of a clean for grip strength, and the answer is tension.

Squeeze all day long

There is no one exercise, or even a combination of exercises, that I consider the BEST when it comes to grip strength. Tension and effort are king, as always.

As a strength and conditioning coach, I have the upper hand because I’m constantly moving weights around all day. And when I’m not coaching, I’m lifting myself, which is obviously working on my grip strength.

So how do you squeeze all day long if you aren’t in my position?

Make the best out of what you are working with. Hopefully you have a hands on and active job that can be turned into a workout. If you have a desk job, try squeezing a stress ball or a portable hand gripper. Sounds stupid, but grip strength needs to be worked on constantly for it to improve.

You wont progress either if you just absolutely crush your grip once or twice a week to the point where you’re sore and cant work hard the next day. Consistency is the key, and increasing intrinsic finger strength is crucial because they consist mostly of type I fibers.

These small slow twitch muscles need to be worked day after day, and unlike large type II muscles that are used in explosive compound movements, these type I fibers are smaller and used to stabilize. This is why there is such thing as “old man strength”--Type I fibers get stronger with time and volume.

Take the hard way out

Take simple daily activities and turn them into the extreme. For example, taking in all of the groceries in one trip. Sounds ridiculous and classic, but I have had many max effort grocery carries in my time.

This is no joke. Carrying groceries across campus and up three flights of stairs was not a rare occurrence while in college. Sure I could have called a friend or pulled in front of the dorm to bring the groceries in, but I never take the easy way out.

Other little examples of how you can push yourself to the next level and force adaptation include:

- Carrying your gym or laundry bag with one hand (as opposed to flinging it over your shoulder)

- Carry weights in the gym with one hand and make sure you alternate hands

- Or just use both hands and carry a lot of weight (i.e. grab 2 or 3 plates at a time instead of one at a time)

- Carrying a laundry or trash basket, squeeze extra hard and engage your core.

- Pumping gas, squeeze the handle extra hard

- Use a screw driver instead of a drill when you can

- Cleaning a pan over the sink instead of in the sink

Each of these may seem minuscule, but trust me, they add up. When carrying things, make sure to have no space in between your hand and the object. Focus on a symmetrical squeeze and use your weak hand more often.

Also, don’t be afraid to engage your core even if it’s with something as simple as brushing your teeth. A lot of people claim that their grip is their weak point, however, I notice that their “weak grip” is actually just a weak core. When the core isn’t strong enough, people start to rely on other muscles to do the work. This energy leak trickles directly down to your hands and makes the weight or task at hand impossible.

My Favorite Grip Strength Exercises: (thumbs wrapped, and squeeze)

1.  Anything with an axle (fat bar): cleans, deadlifts, rows, presses etc.

2.  Deadlifts (straps or no straps, both crush grip)

3.  Hex bar deadlifts with a slow eccentric

4.  RDL’S (specifically single arm single leg because it increases time under tension)

5.  Farmers or suitcase carries

6.  Ropes (the thicker the better)

7.  PVC or Pipe Roller (extensors and flexors)

8.  Plate pinches

Ultimate Grip Strength Challenges

1.  Max Double Overhand Dead Lift- Use a barbell, hex bar, or axel bar, and no straps or suits allowed.

2.  Plate Pinch for Max Time- Hold two steel ten pound plates in each hand, making sure the flat sides are facing out and your fingers aren’t in the holes. Hold until you drop. If you can do this for longer than 90 seconds, then add a third ten pound plate. If you are feeling like a daddy, then use 25’s. Chalk allowed, no tacky.

3.  PVC or Pipe Roller for Reps- Just to be clear, this exercise entails a PVC or metal pipe that has a 5lb plate attached to it by string. The string should be about 4 feet long so that when you hold the pipe out in front of you the plate goes all the way down to the floor. With straight arms that’s are at chest level, begin to twist the pipe so that the string wraps around the pipe. If you twist your hands towards you then you will be working your extensors, or the top of your forearms. If you twist your hands away from you, you will be working your flexors (the belly of the forearm). Either way, make sure you lower the weight slowly and controlled when going back down. Roll and unroll the rope as many times as you can before your arms give out. No drops allowed.

4.  Max Pull Ups on a Rag or Rope- hold on for dear life while doing neutral grip pull ups on a rag or a rope. Drape the rag or rope over any pull up bar to make pull-ups harder than ever.

5.  Carry for Max Distance- ( hex bar/frame, dumbbells, farmers handles, groceries).  Carry any of these implements for as far as you can without dropping. Measure out a set distance such as 25 or 50 feet and walk back and forth until your grip gives out.

Closing Thoughts

These are all exercises that I have done, and still do very often. Acquiring grip strength is an everlasting battle. As the rest of my body gets stronger, my hands and forearms better be able to keep up. I want to be the best dead lifter in the world one day, and without monster grip there is no chance. Grip strength is universal and necessary for everybody. Whether you want to be the best in the world at something, or you just want to be able to open a jar of pickles at the age of 90, go squeeeeze some shit. Actually, squeeze everything. Just be careful, you may start to break stuff by accident.

What I'd like to do before you leave though is challenge you to a little competition.  In fact, I want to challenge you to the Carry for Max Distance competition.  So here's what we'll do:  Whomever can film themselves carrying 90lbs dumbbells the greatest distance without dropping will win some free Rebel Performance swag (pictured below)

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All you have to do is video yourself, post it to facebook and/or twitter, and then tag us in the post.  We'll review all the entries, decide who legit beast moded everyone else, and then send a free shirt to the champ.  Are you up for the challenge?  I sure hope so.

P.S.  The competition ends Sunday the 18th at Midnight.

about the author

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Zach Hadge is a World Champion strongman, Super Mario Bro extraordinaire, and overall monster in both training and life. He’s here to show you the doors, to tell you when its time to grease the hinges, pick the lock, find a new door, or just bust the door down completely. The only other thing he asks for in return is effort.  Follow Zach on Instagram (@hadge_brothers) for all the latest happenings.

What's the Big Deal with Fitness and Why You Should Want More

The growth of Crossfit, Bootcamps and other GPP (general physical preparedness) programs have truly erupted onto the scene over the past 5 years.  Crossfit, or the sport of fitness, serves as a great example.  It started as a simple website back in 2001 with no affiliates, and now can be seen on ESPN and has thousands upon thousands of affiliates scattered across the world.  This fast paced growth merits a deeper look at what fitness truly is, whether or not you need it, and if you should want more.

What Makes Up Fitness

For starters, let's take a look at several of my favorite attempts to define fitness (these are the first definitions listed by the way):

www.dictionary.reference.com:  "health"

oxforddictionaries.com:  "the condition of being physically fit and healthy"

www.merriam-webster.com:  "the quality or state of being fit"

Hopefully you find those as comedic as I do, and want a better answer.

When attempting to define fitness, you must first determine the separate pieces that form the whole.  An easy way to think of this is to consider what grouping of general physical skills added together most adequately forms fitness.  Mel Siff goes into great depth on this subject in Supertraining, but to keep things simple we'll turn to the Crossfit Training Guide because it's user friendly and provides a well rounded list.  There are more technical lists out there, but this will get the job done.

Before I go any further, I need to clarify that I'm neither endorsing nor telling you to do Crossfit.  That's a topic for another day.

But on page 19 of their training guide they list the following as the 10 general physical skills that make up fitness:

  1. 1. Cardiovascular/Respiratory Endurance
  2. 2. Stamina
  3. 3. Strength
  4. 4. Flexibility
  5. 5. Power
  6. 6. Speed
  7. 7. Coordination
  8. 8. Agility
  9. 9. Balance
  10. 10. Accuracy

If we think long and hard we may be able to come up with one or two items to add to the list, but top to bottom it's pretty solid.  We can say with a fair amount of confidence that an individual displaying adequate ability in each of these categories is physically fit.

A Definition And Why It's Important

Knowing the components, let's consider an adequate definition.  I'm personally a huge fan of Tadeusz Starzynski's and Henryk Sozanski's definition of physical fitness in Explosive Power and Jumping Ability For All Sports:  "Physical fitness is movement potential that determines an athlete's readiness for solving tasks (1)."  This makes perfect sense and immediately answers the question of whether or not you should care about fitness or GPP.

If we slightly re-word the definition it may become clearer:  your overall fitness level determines how suited you are at solving different athletic tasks.

Think of fitness as a toolbox.  The greater your fitness level, or the better you are at the 10 general physical skills from above, the more tools you have in your toolbox.  The more tools you have in your toolbox, the more prepared you are to solve various tasks.

Likewise, if you focus on only one of the above general physical skills, say cardiovascular endurance, then you turn into a one trick pony with limited ability to perform any other task.  BUT...that's not necessarily bad depending on your goals.  If you want to be an elite distance runner, you HAVE TO SPECIALIZE, or else you'll never be able to compete at the highest level.

And the same goes for powerlifters, olympic lifters, and every other sport on the face of the earth--in order to be truly great at something, some form of specialization must occur.

We're going to talk more about that in a minute though, so let's come back to why fitness (what I prefer to call GPP) is important in the first place:  it builds a foundation for continued success.

The Pyramid Approach

pyramid.jpg

Think of your training life as the above pyramid.  Fitness or GPP goes on the bottom and must be broad, or else the pyramid will be built upon a faulty structure.

It's your chance to build a movement foundation by playing and performing a large variety of tasks, so that you're brain has a chance to learn.

This is opening up an entirely different can of worms, but it's a travesty the number of kids now who start playing one sport and one sport only from the time their 8 years old.

Where's the variability?  Where's there chance for them to learn how to move?  It's no wonder injury rates are through the rough in youth sports these days because kids are skipping the foundational stage and going straight for high level performance.

Sorry, but you're 8 year old kid will get way more out of participating in multiple sports, and engaging in unstructured play.

The base of the pyramid is also where you build up work capacity.  Think of it this way:  you want to have a large gas tank that can refill itself rapidly so you can train hard, recover, and push the envelope more often.

To review:  your overall fitness level dictates your propensity for long term success and performance.  The people who skip this step entirely usually see some moderate gains in performance on the front end, but typically get injured or fail to see continued progress because they have a faulty pyramid.

You Want More

Over time, however, it's natural to specialize in certain tasks over others.  People will naturally gravitate towards tasks they perform well or enjoy doing.  It's at this point in time people begin to move up the pyramid.  They take whatever the end goal is and put it at the top.

The rest of the pyramid will be filled with whatever specialized tasks are important and necessary to move up the levels of the pyramid.

For example, say somebody wants to be a competitive olympic weightlifter.  The clean and jerk, and snatch will fill the top spot because that's the final goal, and the other levels of the pyramid will be filled with more specialized traits like absolute strength and strength speed.

Although specialization is necessary to truly become exceptional at something, you must first build a base that gives you an adequate chance to succeed.  You can't skip over levels when building the pyramid.  You have to be methodical and fitness/GPP is the first step.

But herein lies the problem:  fitness may make you good at a lot of things, but in order to be truly exceptional you have to specialize.  Tradeoffs have to be made between certain fitness qualities because physiologic adaptations are incredibly specific.

This is why you train a football player different than a soccer player, and a baseball player different than a basketball player.  There's just no such thing as an "athlete" program that will prepare you for any and everything.

Now you may be reading this and saying:  "James, that's all fine and dandy, but I'm very happy with just training for overall health and fitness"... And to you I say awesome.  Whatever your goals are I encourage you to pursue them.

But I know there are many people out there, and maybe even you, who are tired of the general fitness trend.  You have specific high performance goals that you just can't seem to reach, even though you bust your ass in the gym x times a week.  And for this I blame the fitness trend.

99% of the time these people come to us with questions about why they haven't been able to reach a certain goal it's because they're trying to be "everything" all the time.  I can respect your desire to be well rounded, but you have to remember there will always be tradeoffs in training.

Are there genetic freaks out there who tend to be pretty damn good at a lot of things?  Absolutely, but I'm not throwing my programming methodology behind the top 1% of the human population.

So...what's the point of today's post?  Be specific with your goal setting, and then draw out a pyramid that'll get you there.  Start at the bottom, and then get more specific over time until you have acquired/built up the necessary skills and fitness qualities to allow you to succeed at your desired skill.

Oh, and be willing to call B.S. on the fact that everyone and their mom trains "fitness" since it's technically everything.  Ask more questions, and demand specific answers as to why you're doing what you're doing, and why you're working on what you're working on.

Now that my mini rant is complete, go have an awesome weekend.

about the author

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James Cerbie is just a life long athlete and meathead coming to terms with the fact that he’s also an enormous nerd.  Be sure to follow him on Twitter and Instagram for the latest happenings.

 

 

 

References

1. Starzynski, Tadeusz, and Henryk Sozanski, Ph.D. "What Is Fitness Preparation."

Explosive Power and Jumping Ability For All Sports

. Island Pond, VT: Stadion, 1999. 3.

Why You MUST Train Your Abs

Note from James:  This is Lance's first post for Rebel Performance, and I have to say he knocks it out of the park.  Understanding why abs are important is vital for any and everything you want to do.  Be sure to listen up and ask questions below.

about the author

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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 www.LanceGoyke.com.

header photo credit:  Muscle and Fitness

10 Must Do's To Stay Athletic

What does it mean to be an athlete? Sure, there’s getting all the girls of course.

Kidding…kidding…we all know there’s more to it than that.

So what is it?

The thrill of winning, the rush of competing, the butterflies before a game, the anticipation of a daunting challenge, the brotherhood (could be sisterhood but I’m speaking from my own experience), the pain of defeat, the constant drive towards perfection…it’s hard to say.

Being an athlete, to me at least, encompasses all of those things and more.  It’s truly a way of life, and hard to rid yourself of once you’re so called playing days are over.

Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t seem to recognize this.  Once you leave college or professional sports, you’re thrust into a world that almost looks down on being an athlete.  They’ll just tell you:  “Oh, you had your chance.  Your playing days are over.  It’s time to hang up the cleats and begin your slow decline into decrepitude.”

Whew, doesn’t that sound fun?

It truly pains me to see this happen, and I see it happen a lot—people who were once exceptional athletes who have fallen off the tracks, and are now mere shadows of what they used to be (it honestly reminds me of animals locked up in captivity, but the animal is you and captivity is being locked behind a desk all day).

Don’t get me wrong.  The chances of you being able to maintain your fitness level from college, pro’s etc. is highly unlikely.   This is merely due to the fact that it’s no longer your major commitment.  You have a job, perhaps a significant other, and a life to live.  You just don’t have 20 plus hours a week to commit to training, practice and the sorts.

BUT, that doesn’t mean you can’t stay athletic…so here are 10 must do’s if you hope to avoid turning into a desk slob.

That’s a quick snippet of a recent two part post I put together for Tony Gentilcore.  I’d highly recommend you head over and check it out:

10 Must Do's To Stay Athletic (Part 1)

10 Must Do’s to Stay Athletic (Part 2)

The Olympic Lifts: Are They For You

So the other day I found myself in a globo gym esc environment. I think it was a YMCA, but I'm not entirely sure.

Either way, while I was trying to get a lift in on the road I couldn't help but notice two fine gentlemen approximately twenty feet down to my left.

They looked to be in their mid 20's, and were probably working professionals or grad students at one of the nearby colleges.

What grabbed my attention you ask?

Well...let's just say they were trying to do power cleans, and doing so quite unsuccessfully.  It looked like they were reverse curling and humping the bar into submission, as opposed to performing the beauty that is a power clean.

All kidding aside, I'm not one to sit hear and bash other people.  I hate that.  My hat goes off to both of them for at least making it into the gym and working hard.  For all I know, they just wrapped up a 10 hour day at the office and the fact they made it in to train is awesome.

But...as I watched them lift all I thought to myself was:

"Man.  These guys could be getting so much more out of their training right now."

Which got me thinking about the olympic lifts, and how popular they've become over the past several years.  You used to hardly see anyone performing olympic lifts outside of high school, college and professional weight rooms, but now they seem to be just about everywhere.

Not only that, they've become a pretty divisive issue:  some coaches swear by them, while others are moving in the opposite direction.

As I pondered this more and more I finally decided to sit down and write a post on the subject, so here we go.

The Lifts

Let' quickly take a look at a few different olympic lifting variations, just so we're all on the same page going forward.

The Clean and Jerk

The Power Clean

The Snatch

The Power Snatch

There are many variations to the olympic lifts, but these are some of the most popular and make it relatively easy to understand the other ones.  Other notable variations I did not include are the hang clean, hang snatch, hang power clean and hang power snatch.  These are performed the same way as the above videos, except the lift does not start from the floor.  Take a look at this hang clean video and you'll know what I mean:

Positives

When you perform the olympic lifts with proper technique, you can derive a lot of benefit from them.  In fact, one could easily make the argument that they get you the most bang for your buck.  For example, they:

Teach you to generate/put force into the ground

Are great for power development in the sagittal plane

Teach kinesthetic awareness

Can cause hypertrophy

Create positive neural adaptation by increasing intra-muscular and inter-muscular coordination

*if you don't know what intra or intermuscular coordination are, then checkout this free webinar.

Train functional stability through the core

Help maintain and possibly increase range of motion

While that's an impressive list, there are some downsides to the olympic lifts as well.

Negatives

Technicality

For starters, these lifts are highly technical, and while technicality alone shouldn't be a deterrent, it raises a significant issue:  time.

If you read anything written by the Chinese or the Russians concerning the development of their lifters, you'll know their athletes do thousands of reps with a wooden dowel before ever touching a weight.  As a coach, I have to question if I have enough time to both teach the lifts, and get a training effect out of them.

For example, am I getting a young kid who I'll have under my wing for an extended period of time, or am I getting a professional athlete who has 12 weeks to prepare for camp?

High Movement Demand

The olympic lifts put a premium on moving well.  In order to perform a legit clean and jerk, and a legit snatch, you better be able to move like a boss.

In my experiences thus far, I just haven't met many people who walk in day one with the capacity to perform these lifts.  Not only do they lack the necessary amounts of "range," they also don't know how to move.  Things that seem simple, like a hip hinge and a squat, often need some serious work.

So...it's a timing issue again:  how long will it take to improve range of motion, how long will it take to train basic movement patterns, how long will it take to get technique down etc etc.

I Can Get the Same Benefits With Other Options

For as great as the olympic lifts are, I know I can get the same benefits from an athletic standpoint using far less technical movements and exercises.  I can squat, deadlift, jump, throw, and sprint, among other things, to get after the same list of benefits from above.

So it raises the question:  do I need to spend a lot of time with these exercises, when I can plug in other options that are simpler, possibly safer, and just as effective?

Questions to Ask Yourself

Ultimately, it's impossible for me to sit hear and tell you whether or not you should be performing olympic lifts.  I know nothing about you, and the answer to that question varies from person to person.

What I can give you though are some questions you can ask yourself to help guide you to the right decision.

What's my skill level?

This is really combining two questions:

1.  How well do I move?

2.  Can I perform the lifts with good technique?

If you're good on both, then you just need to worry about whether or not the olympic lifts are specific to the demands of your sport.  If you aren't good on both, then you really have to consider the next two questions.

How much time do I have?

As I discussed above, time is really important.  How much time do you have before you need to be ready for x?  And can you afford to devote any of that time to learning a new lift?

Are there other ways to reach the same end goal?

This one is pretty self explanatory, but once you have an end goal you need to determine the fastest, safest, most efficient way to get there.

What does my sport demand?

Do you need to throw a baseball or do you need to play football?  Do you need to compete in olympic lifting?  Do you want to compete in Crossfit?  Do you need to play soccer?

All of these situations are different, and before making a decision you need to consider what each athlete needs to be successful.

Closing Thoughts

The olympic lifts have been around for a long time, and watching someone who's good at them is like looking at a beautiful piece of artwork.  The timing, the flow, the strength, the power...it's really a sexy thing when you break it down.

For as beautiful as a well executed lift can be though, a poorly executed lift is just as ugly.  It's like watching a really bad train wreck in slow motion.

So, what I want you to do is ask more questions.  Go out of your way to clear yourself to perform these lifts as opposed to just doing them.

Because at the end of the day the olympic lifts aren't inherently good or bad, they are what they are until you put them in a specific context.

Header Photo Credit

Making Progress: 5 Variables That Are Holding You Back

When you first begin to train, you'll find progress everywhere you look. Hell, I honestly think some high school kids can waltz into a weight room and just think about lifting and get stronger because they've never done anything.

With time, however, progress becomes harder and harder to come by.

What used to work eventually stops working (also known as the law of diminishing returns), and you find yourself stuck in the abysmal land of stagnation.

This is a shitty place to be, and makes training a miserable experience.  I mean who wants to bust their ass in the gym if they aren't going to get any better?

Hopefully you never have to experience this wonderful phenomenon, but if you do here are 5 variables that may be holding you back.

You Don't Have A Plan

If you don't have a plan you're lost, and making constant progress will be nearly impossible.  Although showing up and doing whatever comes to mind may work in the beginning, it will not work for long.

Action Item:  There are too many variables for you to just wing it and expect to keep making progress.  If you want continued success, then start coming up with a plan or pay somebody else to do it for you.

You Aren't Focused

Like everything else in life, in order to make real progress you have to be 100% focused.  Just going through the motions will not bring about improvement.  Geoff Colvin, in his book Talent Is Overated:  What Really Seperates World Class Performers from Everybody Else, stresses this point by emphasizing intense deliberate practice.  In other words, you need to bring an incredibly intense focus to whatever it is you're doing.

Action Item:  When you start your workout, the cell phone needs to go away, the chit chatting needs to stop, and you need to avoid being distracted by the smoking hot girl or guy on the other side of the gym.  If those things are important to you, show up two hours early to mess around.  Every bit of your focus needs to be devoted to whatever you are working on that day.  When it's time to work, it's time to work.

You Don't Get Enough Sleep

I cannot stress how important good sleep is.  Without opening up an enormous topic, just know that poor sleep leads to a host of problems like reduced insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, reduced testosterone, and increased exposure to cortisol.

Action Item:  Checkout this article by Ryan Andrews to learn a little more about sleep.

You're Nutrition Isn't Up to Par

I hope this doesn't come as a surprise to you, but in order to make gains in strength, power, speed, endurance etc. then you have to have a solid nutrition base.  Nutrition provides the fuel for you're body to run on and the tools to repair/build up muscle.  If you come up short here, you will come up short just about everywhere.

Action Item:  checkout our free ebook Winning the Nutrition Battleand we'll show you how to build meals based on your body type and goals.

You Don't Work On What You Suck At

I'd be willing to bet that you don't work on what you suck at.  Who can blame you though.  Working on something you suck at isn't fun by any stretch of the imagination.  Unfortunately, if you want to see consistent progress then you have to.  Think of it this way:  a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and you are no different.

Action Item:  Find someone you can trust to give you an honest evaluation of what you need to work on, and be willing to put your ego aside during this process.

[Bonus Item] You Feel Like This On A Constant Basis

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Action Item:  Um...quit doing drugs?