Training the Core in the Sagittal Plane Part II: Performance

Welcome back for Part II of our Training the Core in the Sagittal Plane series. If you missed Part I, be sure to go give it a quick read. The info in that will really help you better understand the material we’re going over today, and improve your ability to think critically about training the “core.”

The Training Process

While being able to riddle off some anatomy is great, it doesn’t mean anything if you can’t relate it back to training and get people a training effect.

Like all things, the training process can be broken down into three major steps:

  • Learn/Teach
  • Train
  • Integrate

This process is something everyone has experienced before, and learning to ride a bike provides a great visual for understanding the separate steps. You start off (at least most people do) with training wheels because you need to give your brain an opportunity to learn (an extra bonus provided by training wheels is that they decrease threat, but that’s a topic for another time). Eventually, as you log more and more hours, the training wheels come off and you get to start experiencing the real thing.

But you still aren’t crushing it yet. It’s not like the training wheels come off and you immediately hop into full fledged down hill racing, or start launching yourself off ramps in the backyard. You still have to practice and train.

After playing around with the real thing for a while, and again acquiring very important hours of exposure for the brain to learn, you start stepping it up and doing some of the sexier things you see on TV.

This is all part of the process, and whenever you’re attempting to learn a new physical skill you and/or your athletes will have to go through it as well.

Now…let’s relate this all back to the core.

Step 1: Learn

Before you can get to what most people would consider the sexy part of training (deadlifting, jumping and doing other such things), you must first give yourself and/or your athletes the chance to learn. In other words, you need to give the brain access to experiences and outcomes so it can begin adapting.

For example, in Part I I briefly touched on what we’re looking for when it comes to core control and strength: the ability to keep your ribs down and pelvis underneath you.

So, go ahead and do that….

Chances are you can’t (unless you’ve been coached through it before) because you don’t know what it feels like. The position is very foreign, and you’re attempting to find it without a map.

Thus, we need to give you a map. We need to figure out where you are so we can properly teach you how to get there, and one of the best places to start is with breathing.

Yes…breathing, and in particular learning to exhale because if you can truly exhale then you’re very close to regaining control over the sagittal plane. In other words, exhaling gives you abs. I’m going to repeat that one more time just so we both know how important it is: exhaling gives you abs.

And it gives you abs because while your internal obliques, external obliques, and transverse abdominis are pushing air out (aka they’re exhalers), they are also bringing your ribs down and pelvis underneath you (sound familiar?). If that doesn’t make sense, look back at the pictures in Part I and envision what happens as those muscles shorten.

Here’s the issue though: most people are terrible exhalers and need some help learning how to exhale again.

Enter our friend the balloon.

*I’d like to pause here for a second to briefly touch on


(The Postural Restoration Institute) because the balloon and everything else we’re talking about today draws heavily on their principles. If you aren’t familiar with PRI, then please go take a course. I can’t recommend it enough, and I’m not going to be going down that rabbit hole today for a handful reasons. The most important of which being that I’m not qualified to do so. It’s a monster of a rabbit hole and I’m going to let smarter people than me teach about it.

The balloon is a wonderful teaching tool because it provides resistance as you exhale, in turn forcing you to actually use your abs to get air out. You may laugh, but I’ve seen plenty of people (athletes I may add) who honestly can’t blow up a balloon.

So…here’s a quick tutorial on how to blow up a balloon:

And here are a few great exercise options to get you started (you can realistically implement the balloon into any exercise we’re going over today to help make sure you are appropriately exhaling):

  1. All Four Belly Lift and progressions

While the all four belly lift may seem like its over shooting a little on the flexion piece of the equation, you have to remember that I’m assuming we’re dealing with someone who has lost the sagittal plane. In other words, I’m assuming we have a bilaterally extended individual who has no idea how to flex and breath, so I need to re-establish that first before addressing other needs.

Also, let’s think through what’s happening from an anatomy standpoint. In particular, let’s revisit our good friend the serratus and appreciate how the reach in this exercise is helping to draw your rib backs, thus allowing you to better use your abs.

In review: serratus + obliques + transverse abdomins = winning.

  1. 3 Month Breathing with Band Pulldown

Remember how we’re attempting to give people a map? Well think of the All Four Belly lift as a system reset (in other words teaching them how to flex and breath), which then gives you the opportunity to create a new map with an exercise like 3 Month Breathing with Band Pulldown.

For starters, it gives the person a reference center: the ground. Which in all honesty is one of your best friends as a coach. It makes your life way easier when you can get someone on his or her back (with gravity on their side I might add) and cue him or her to “crush a bug” or “velcro their low back to floor” because they’ll be able to feel that. In addition, it gives you a target for your ribs: “as you exhale here I want you to think about drawing your ribs down to the floor.” In essence, whenever you can make things simple…do it.

Now, a key feature of this exercise, like all other exercises, is how it’s performed. The low back needs to be pinned to the floor, and the ribs need to come down and stay down (to a degree) on the inhale. In other words, your low back shouldn’t pop off the floor when you go to take a breath in because that defeats the purpose of doing the exercise. I want to see if you can get in a good position with some added tension from the band and breath without breaking down.

It’s absolutely essential that the athlete learns what this feels like, and is able to find it on his or her own, because this is the foundation for everything else you’ll be doing.

Step 2: Train

Once the new map has started to take hold, it’s time to up the ante a little and add some more definition to the map. If you ever played Age of Empires, think of it like at the beginning of the game when the whole map is black except for where your few little settlers are.

As you played the game and explored you uncovered more and more of the map, and the black area slowly gave way. The same thing is happening here: you’ve done some of the early exploration work, and now it’s time to set off and uncover more of the map.

Thus, let’s stress the system a little more. Let’s put you and/or your athletes in positions that’ll challenge their ability to hold the rock solid position you taught them earlier.

  1. Leg Lowering with Band Pulldown

Yeah, this should look really familiar. All we’ve basically done is take the 3 month breathing with band pulldown exercise from above, and make it more dynamic by seeing if you can move your leg without falling apart.

Let’s think on a deeper level though and focus on a big muscle we talked about last time: the rectus femoris. What’s happening to that muscle as you’re going from hip flexion to hip extension? It’s lengthening right. And as that muscle is lengthening what is it doing? It’s attempting to yank your pelvis forward, and make your low back come off the ground. In order to prevent that from happening what better be working? Your abs! Those sexy obliques and transverse abdominis better be opposing that quad, or else you’re going to lose the tug of war.

This, in essence, is exactly what you’re looking to do when training the “core”: how many different ways can you pit someone’s “abs” against muscles like a quad or a lat.

3 Month KB Pullover

I explained pretty much everything in the video, so yeah…not gonna waste your time and repeat myself.

While there are probably 50-100 exercises that could fit into this section, hopefully these two exercises give you a good idea for how to start thinking about “core” training: opposition. It doesn’t matter that you can do crunches. What matters is that you have abs capable of opposing big muscles like your lats and quads. Ultimately, if you understand anatomy then you should have a field day coming up with ways to challenge this.

*challenge homework assignment: think your way through a split squat.

Step 3: Integrate

At the end of the day, the goal is to be bigger, faster, stronger and better conditioned than everyone else. Period. Unfortunately, however, people often mistake what I’ve gone over thus far as being “too low level” or “not intense enough” to reach that end goal. But I couldn’t disagree more. If you aren’t adequately addressing Step 1 and 2 in this process, then you one, aren’t doing your job, and two, are merely setting up your athletes for failure down the road. You’ve gotta build the pyramid from the bottom up.

Now that that short rant is out of the way, let’s talk about integrating because this is what we live for right? I mean who gets excited about lying on the floor and breathing? I know I don’t (I actually hate it). I’d much rather turn on some loud music, hangout with my bros, and throw weight around for an hour.

And assuming you’ve done your homework in Step 1 and Step 2, it gives you the ability to do so because now we can start talking about deadlifting. In other words, movements like the deadlift represent your highest level of “core” performance. It’s where are the boring, shitty work you do on the side gets to shine. Just think through any major, compound, complex movement and you’ll see a beautiful sequence of events that all stems from your basic ability to control the sagittal plane.

And let me make something perfectly clear: this is the goal. The goal isn’t to lay on the ground and breathe. That is merely a tool so that we can get you on your feet, integrate, and turn you into a monster. So PLEASE, do not forget this step. Performing a high quality deadlift is core training. Performing a high quality squat is core training. And so on and so forth.

Closing Thoughts

While there are many exercises that we could have gone over today, I chose to focus just on a few them because I care more about you understanding the principles behind why we do them as opposed to just listing off exercises. Thus, if you feel lost or don’t understand anything we’ve gone over today, please post your questions in the comments below.

Also, I’d like to go over one last tidbit of info before I sign off for the day, and that’s failure. Generally speaking, when someone is performing these exercises I look for them to fail 2 out of every 10 reps because this tells me that I have found something that’s adequately challenging. In other words, if someone can crush something for 10 reps and every rep is literally perfect, then you should probably find a way to progress the exercise or else they won’t get better. Small amounts of failure tell me that I’m imposing enough stress to get an adaptation.

That's about it for today though.  Hope you enjoyed the article and post any questions/thoughts you have below.

about the author


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 Twitterand Instagram for the latest happenings.

Training the Core in the Sagittal Plane Part I: Anatomy and Function

The core…

What a popular buzzword.

If you’ve read any fitness related article on the Internet over the past 2-3 years you’ve probably heard it.

But what is the core?

What is it supposed to do?

How do you train it?

Where should you start?

Where should you go?

What exercises actually work and what exercises are just fluff (I’m talking to you six pack shortcut peeps)?

In this two part series we’re going to be talking about all the above and a little more with respect to the core and the sagittal plane. In particular, I’d like to outline and give you a game plan for how to appropriately tackle stage 1 of either your own or your athletes program.

And to be perfectly clear, when I say stage 1 I’m referring to the sagittal plane and being able to control flexion and extension. This is absolutely essential because if you can’t control the sagittal plane, then you will never be able to control the frontal and transverse planes as well.

Thus, this two part series you are embarking on is going to focus solely on the core and how it relates to controlling the sagittal plane (when you hear sagittal plane just think flexion and extension).

Unfortunately, we can’t have this conversation if we aren’t on the same page when it comes to anatomy, so Part I of this series (aka what you’re reading right now) will be devoted to talking about anatomy and the basic “job” of the core, while Part II will focus on the training and application side of things.

I know…anatomy isn’t sexy, can be a little wordy, and is often downright boring, but knowing it will make you a better athlete and coach. To help make this a little more interesting, and in hopes that you’ll actually read this, we’re going to be relating it all back to Batman because who doesn’t love Batman.

*side note: the Batman v. Superman move is coming out March 25th and should probably be on your calendar if it isn’t already.

Thus, let’s get started with what in the world the “core” is actually supposed to do.

What’s the Job of the Core

Understanding this concept is essential to tying together the rest of the 2 part series.

To quote Shirley Sahrmann:

“The most important aspect of abdominal muscle performance is obtaining the control that is necessary to (1) appropriately stabilize the spine, (2) maintain optimal alignment and movement relationships between the pelvis and the spine, and (3) prevent excessive stress and compensatory motions of the pelvis during movements of the extremities.”[i]

To summarize that and put it in plain English (and add a little flavor): the job of your core is to stabilize/maintain optimal position of your pelvis and ribs so that your arms and legs can function the way we want them to. And it does this by getting your ribs “down” (rib internal rotation) and your pelvis “underneath” you (posterior tilt is a popular word for this but there are things happening in all three planes of motion).

Let me clarify really quickly that you don’t want to take the “rib down” and “pelvis underneath you” cues too far. That can be just as bad. I’m merely making the assumption that you’re going to be patterned, that you’re going to have a rib flare, and that you’re going to have a pelvis that has a tendency to roll forward into anterior tilt because I haven’t seen a single person in over 2 years who doesn’t present this way. Thus, bringing your ribs back down and pelvis back underneath you is merely getting them where we want them to be. Then you have to learn to maintain it, but that’s more the focus of Part II.

Here’s a quick video to help put this into perspective for you (and it will also serve as a great lead in to Part II of this series where we focus on performance):

To review: the job of your core is to stabilize and maintain pelvic and thoracic position to allow your arms and legs to do what we want.

Some Anatomy

In order to adequately understand what we are trying to accomplish when we train “the core,” you’ve gotta know a little anatomy.

Of primary concern, for this article at least, are the following muscles:

  • -Rectus abdominis
  • -Internal obliques
  • -External obliques
  • -Transverse abdominis
  • -Lats
  • -Rectus femoris and TFL
  • -Serratus anterior

Let’s go ahead and address each of those accordingly

Rectus Abdominis (aka the six pack muscle)

*Couldn’t think of a good Batman reference for this. If you can, let me know.


Who doesn’t love a good six-pack? As far as aesthetics go, it’s probably one of the most sought after traits and that’s totally fine. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to look like you just stepped out of a superhero movie.

When we’re talking about functionality and overall performance, however, the rectus abdominis equates to little more than a show muscle. And here’s why: it’s attachment sites suck when it comes to creating leverage.

As you can see in the above image, there’s a very tiny attachment site down on the pubic crest coupled with another small (and by small I’m talking surface area) attachment on both the xiphoid process and some costal cartilage.

In essence, this means the rectus abdominis has minimal capacity to truly impact the position of your pelvis and your ribs, which is of vital importance when you think back to what we need the core to do.

Internal Oblique, External Oblique, and Transverse Abdominis (aka Batman)


Take a second and compare the images above to the image of the rectus abdominis. Notice any differences?

I sure hope you do. The internal oblique, external oblique and transverse abdominis are HUGE. Just look at the difference in attachment sites, and try and get an appreciation for how effective these three muscles are at controlling/impacting the position of your pelvis and your ribs (in turn giving your arms and legs a chance to work).

In other words, these three muscles are your Batman: here to fight evil and bring justice to your anatomical system.

Lats (aka Bane)


Oh the lats. A much loved and sought after muscle by many, but like Bane they are very large and wield an incredible power (a power that was actually great enough to successfully break Batman’s back if you’re up on your Batman knowledge)

Let’s start with the pure size and magnitude of a single lat by looking at its attachment sites:

  • -Spinous processes of the lower six thoracic and all five lumbar vertebrae
  • -Posterior aspect of the ilium
  • -The lower three ribs
  • -Inferior angle of the scapula in some people
  • -Intertubercular groove on the anterior aspect of the humerus.

So yeah…this thing is big.

Now to the function as described by any anatomy textbook ever:

  • -Internally rotate the humerus
  • -Shoulder extension
  • -Shoulder adduction

That’s a nice list but it’s missing a MAJOR piece of the puzzle that I think you’re smart enough to figure out.

So, take a look at the picture below, and imagine what’ll happen if you take both lats and shorten them at the same time.


It’ll produce something like this:


Notice how the back of the body is being closed off and the front of the body appears to be opening…this is called bilateral extension. It creates a position where your ribs pop up and out in the front, and your pelvis rolls forward into anterior tilt (a good visual for a pelvis rolling forward is to think of dumping water out of the front of a bucket).

This, my friend, is why the lats are like Bane: when unopposed they have the ability to completely dominate and wreak havoc upon your system.

*Remember, your goal is ribs down and hips underneath…this is doing the opposite

Rectus Femoris and TFL (aka The Joker)


The Joker represents another arch nemesis that Batman must face routinely to bring balance and peace to Gotham. The Joker, however, is not easily defeated. He is cunning, creative, and always finds ways to disturb the peace…much like your rectus femoris and TFL.

Of particular interest is their ability to pull either innominate into anterior tilt. You can visualize this by thinking of either muscle like a string that’s attached to the front of the pelvis that you’re pulling down on.

Similar to the lats, this is pulling the pelvis into a position we don’t want.

Serratus Anterior (aka Robin)


When Batman is in trouble he can often rely on Robin to provide some much needed help and assistance.  Luckily for you, you have a serratus anterior to help your big guns above (obliques and transverse abdominis) get your ribs into a better position by pulling the ribs "back and down."

To help visualize this take a look at the picture above, and imagine what happens if you shorten that muscle in both directions.  The scapula is being pulled towards the ribs, but the ribs are also being pulled back towards the scapula.  Thus, if you see someone with a prominent rib flare, you should probably start thinking about how you can put Robin in a position to help Batman, but that's what we'll be talking about in Part II so let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Closing Thoughts

While your head may be spinning from the anatomy, I'd like to ask you to sit on it for a few days and think about the relationship between all of those muscles.

Go back through the pictures and try to visualize what happens when a particular muscle shortens/contracts.  What's happening to the pelvis?  What's happening to the ribs?

As soon as your comfortable doing that, try taking it a step further by thinking your way through how they impact each other (the video at the beginning of the post can help with this as well).

Understanding these relationships will go a long way in helping you transition nicely to Part II of our discussion next week.

I also think it's important to go ahead and address the fact that in this series we're going to be looking at one small piece of a very large puzzle.  And in order to do that I'm going to have to make some generalizations, and I'm going to have to talk about things in isolation that are truly meant to be looked at as a whole.  For example, nowhere in this two part series am I going to be talking about hamstrings, but when you look at the big picture hamstrings are really, really important.  And the same thing can be said for just about any muscle because the human body is such a beautiful, connected and complex system.

Now, I'm not saying that the information being presented to you is worthless because it isn't.  I wouldn't have taken the time to write it if I thought it was.  I'm merely telling you this so that you don't lose site of the forest while we take some time to focus on a few individual trees.

Always think big picture, and always think about how everything connects.

The core is important, but like I said:  it's only one small piece of a very big puzzle.

about the author


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 Twitterand Instagram for the latest happenings.

[i] Sahrmann, Shirley. “Abdominal Muscles.” Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes. St. Louis: Mosby, 2002. 69.

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

Shifting In and Out of Patterns: A Discussion on Extension, Neutrality and Performance

I’m a conventional deadlifter, but I’m a short guy. I’d probably be better off pulling with a sumo style. I’ve tried sumo a couple of times, but they were pretty frustrating experiences. I definitely couldn’t pull as much sumo as I could from a conventional approach the first time. I guess I probably just need to work on it. I certainly wouldn’t enter a meet and try to use sumo for the first time ever under those conditions. Something bad might happen. Every year during spring training you hear about pitchers trying out new pitches to add to their repertoire. These pitchers don’t just decide to add a new pitch in the middle of the season, because they know they have to practice it and work out the bugs before trying to mix it in during games that count. In the world of Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) practitioners there is often times discussion regarding whether it is a good idea to pull athlete’s out of their pattern because this might make them run slower, throw with less velocity, or not be able to jump as high. My personal thought on this matter is that perhaps these quantifiable drop offs are the result of the athlete not having practice performing this skill from the new position that they are performing them from. Perhaps with more practice and the acquisition of training volume in this new position, the athlete would be able to reach the same quantifiable expressions of the sport movement, but do so with a biomechanical approach that would be better for longevity related matters.

Extension Patterns

Stress, behaviors, exercise, and specific sports movements are associated with driving people into extension/inhalation oriented positions. Extension strategies are used to power up for strength and power movements in competition and training. If movements are practiced in an extension oriented position, then that position becomes the dominant response strategy that you go with when you need to perform that exercise under competitive or high stakes conditions. Extension strategies, which are associated with anterior pelvic tilt, lordosis, and elevation and external rotation of ribs may limit a number of joint movement capabilities, such as humeral and femoral rotation because of bony positions, or result in compensatory strategies to achieve required necessary motion for sports movements.

While there is nothing necessarily wrong with extension positions, problems may begin to occur when people exist in extension during times of rest, and when they are unable to get out of an extension oriented position in general. Excessive extension seems to be related to unnecessary levels of muscle tone, which may increase internal resistance to joint movements. Discussing all of the pitfalls of excessive extension and resting extension positions is beyond the scope of this document. The overall concept that this document is aimed at addressing is the idea that extension is a part of sports, and a strategy that many athletes may over utilize. Chronic pain syndromes may become a part of an athlete’s life if they are unable to prevent excessive extension during the performance of their sports movements, and if they exist in that position during rest/utilize this strategy during activities of daily living.

Extension and Performance

Regardless of the downside of utilization and reliance on excessive extension, tremendous displays of strength, power, and athleticism through extension is a common occurrence in sports. Exercise adaptations that take place with repeated sports movement performance in extension will result in hypertrophy and force production of the tissues used to power those movements. These adaptations will make these extension driven sports movements even more powerful. These adaptations are very specific to the tissues used in an extension position, and adaptations will not present themselves to the muscles that would be utilized in a more flexed position. Therefore, the musculature that would be recruited and utilized in a more flexed position would essentially be untrained.

Perhaps the reason why sprinters run slightly slower following an intervention that makes them neutral is because they haven’t trained the tissues that they’re recruiting to power that movement under those circumstances. Claiming that making sprinters neutral is a bad idea for their sport may be a short sighted statement. Perhaps an individual with impressive quantifiable expressions of force production who witnesses acute reductions in those expressions after achieving neutrality simply needs to train that movement under the conditions of neutrality. New muscles will have an opportunity to power joint actions if someone achieves neutrality after not being able to reach that position previously. These muscles need to be strengthened and then integrated into more complex athletic movements. If proper joint actions can be utilized for sporting movements with the appropriate prime mover and stabilization strategies of muscles and then optimal quantifiable expressions can be reached, this would appear to be the best practice approach to training and competition. Coaches simply should not expect equal quantifiable expression of new positional and muscular strategies to that of older strategies to be instantaneous.

The quantifiable comparison of an extension strategy to a neutral strategy is not necessarily a fair one if neutrality has been recently achieved. If we as a community want to evaluate whether neutrality is a detriment to the quantifiable expression of an athletic movement, we need to properly train the musculature that would be recruited under neutral conditions in the performance of a sport movement for an appropriate amount of time to allow it to experience the positive effects of training adaptations. Appreciating the differences between acute and chronic physiological expressions is an important consideration on this topic, and one that needs further evaluation before any definitive statement can be made.

Fitting the Mold

In the world of sports performance, it seems that there are criteria levels of fitness that must be met as a requisite to be successful at high level sports. Football receivers will be unable to play in the NFL if they run a 4.9 in their 40 regardless of their sport specific skill. In regards to movement capabilities, there is also likely a similar phenomenon. It is highly likely that each sport, and each position inside each sport possesses a specific range of motion profile that would be a requisite for the ability to execute sport specific biomechanics associated with optimal performance of sporting actions. Once the athlete possesses the appropriate levels of joint movement variability, there is probably little additional benefit from going greatly above and beyond that level.

If the athlete is capable of quantifiably reaching a movement range of motion standard and is able to recruit the appropriate muscles in the right sequence, the athlete will likely be able to realize best case mechanics and will be doing everything in their power from a biomechanics standpoint to prolong their playing career. All this being said, the stress of training and competing, as well as the aging process will likely alter the gross range of motion capabilities or alter the sequencing and/or synchrony of muscular action utilized in the active performance of dynamic tasks over the course of the athlete’s playing career.

If the athlete has been trained with an understanding of proximal neutrality, and what sorts of positions and muscular strategies are associated with being able to stay within a criteria motion standard and synchronization pattern that allows for the expression of proper biomechanics, the athlete will potentially extend their playing career and be able to realize more great performances per playing season.

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

Arousal Theory and Strength Sports: How to Harness Nuclear Energy

At the elite level, a large difference in performance between the three medalists on the podium is not typical. We see this across various individual strength sports such as weightlifting, sprinting, and gymnastics. One percent could be the difference between missing and breaking a world record. In weightlifting, both lifts are very explosive with neither one taking more than a few seconds to complete, and optimum power output must be produced. There is often only 2.5 kg separating the lifters in the top 5 spots, meaning the smallest variation in performance can be the difference between securing a medal and failing to place. Sports, which have very little variability between the top athletes who place, express a need for training modalities that can push performance just by a slight increase.

Overworking vs. Underworking

Because numbers can easily measure weight training progress, athletes have a tendency to pursue testing methods often. The aggressive consciousness, which weightlifters seem to possess, is a rivalry against oneself, and often leads to overtraining. Athletes typically have a competitive personality, which makes them assume overworking is better than underworking.


The theoretical goal is to design a training program that will provide stress, but not continue to the point of distress. Little room for error can be left when peaking and every competitive advantage should be used for a successful performance. These factors can be measured and maintained by monitoring mood and excessive arousal while helping avoid the negative effects of over-reaching, which can lead to over-training.

A stressor is anything that may knock the body out of balance (a.k.a. homeostasis).

*for more on homeostasis and stress read here.

The stress response is what your body does to re-establish the balance. Your body’s physiological response mechanisms are beautifully adapted for overcoming short-term physical traumas. When we turn on the same physiological responses that are provoked chronically with heightened arousal, it then becomes disastrous. Fitness and fatigue cannot exist independently and often the demands of competitive athletes do not match according to the current level of not only physiological functioning, but psychological. Almost all athletes are overworked in some capacity, and although we all want to embrace ‘the grind’, constant excitement will cripple our success for long-term athletic development.

When to Turn It On

Many of us fail to differentiate between activating a stress-response out of necessity and for the sake of it. We become accustomed to turning our anticipatory defenses into an uproar of unnecessary activation. If you constantly mobilize energy at the cost of energy storage, you will never create a reserve for when it counts the most (aka competition). Excessive arousal may seem necessary, but more often than not is hindering performance as opposed to aiding in a successful attempt.


Arousal and Threat

Arousal is a combination of physiological and psychological activity theorized to fall along a continuum from a completely relaxed state to intense state of excitement (Moran, 2004). Arousal is suppressed and activated by the parasympathetic and sympathetic branches of the Autonomic Nervous System. The sympathetic nervous system prepares our body for when energy expenditure is needed. During arousal our body needs to pay attention to the task at hand, so it neglects other systems such as immune and digestion that are deemed lower priority at that moment. For example, let’s say you’re roaming the Serengeti and a lion pops up ready to eat you. In that exact moment, what is most important to your body:

  1. - Digesting the food you just ate
  2. - Defending against a disease that may harm you tomorrow
  3. - Getting an erection
  4. - Running away to ensure survival

While 1-3 are indeed important, they do nothing to help you run away from the lion and must be “ignored” for the time being.

Yerkes & Dodsen (1908) developed the inverted-U theory in an attempt to explain the affiliation between arousal and performance. The relationship is curvilinear, specifically stating performance is lowest when arousal is very high or very low, and optimal at a moderate level (Singer et al., 2001). In Weightlifting, an athlete must presumably lift the most weight possible during an optimum level of arousal, however, either hyperarousal or diminished arousal may lessen performance (Jensen, 2009).

Although heightened arousal can impair the performance of some motor tasks, the relation between a stressor and the change in arousal varies markedly across individuals. It is also important to note that there are always exceptions to the case, but the vast majority of people happen to perform better with moderate levels of arousal. What is considered a eu-stress for one individual may in fact be a dis-stress for another.


Generally speaking, certain sports require distinctive arousal levels

Fine motor control requires less arousal while motor tasks, which require strength or ballistic movements, require higher levels of arousal (Noteboom, Barnholt & Enoka, (2001). Ultimately, many variables play a role in creating a successful athlete, and to appropriately accommodate those variables an individualized program must be administered. For example, not everyone will respond to a certain stimulus of physical training the same way, just like how everyone will respond to stress management in slightly different ways

New athletes often make an assumption that psyching up or creating a high level of arousal is imperative to optimally complete a heavy lift. While higher arousal helps strength, compromised coordination and technique may occur, especially if technique is still being learned. The common mistake a lifter will face is overdoing it or using techniques at the wrong moments in training. A beginner is less groomed and so the motions of their sport are not as habitual in those who have ample amounts of experience. Typically a beginner will do better with low levels of arousal because performance is based on utilization of relevant cues and narrowing of attention as arousal increases. Too many cues, or an excess of arousal, can cause the lifter to heighten his or her state of sensory sensitivity to a state of hyper vigilance. When we approach a lift with excessive arousal we can trigger inappropriate responses such as excessive physical strain associated with somatic anxiety.

Once a lifter becomes accustomed to the motor patterns of their sport, then they will be able to determine their optimal zone of functioning within the arousal continuum.

New athletes get a pass because they don’t know any better. For those of you who are familiar with training and are constantly in the weight room screaming about your next lift to come, you are wasting your time and giving us all headaches. You’ve also caused a substantial amount damage, which now must be dealt with somehow.  You simply can’t train like this as often as you’d like. Threat Matrix Theory (Visser & Davies, 2010) explains how any number of multiple outputs may form from a stress response. We do not only encounter a single variable altered during this process. Determining which part of the fatigue was caused by the training itself, and what was caused by the emotional stress of an elevated arousal state is the hard part.

A stressor may be as simple as anticipation before a competitive situation, which at first may appear as psychological, but as it manifests becomes physiological as well (Jensen, 2009). Such a response can lead to a failed lift or technical failure resulting in injury, or improper recovery causing you to peak or fatigue earlier than you should be when competition time comes (Lee, 1990). Competitive weightlifters understand competitions provide incentive for hard training. A successful meet involves more than being stronger compared to competitors of the same weight class. In addition to physical training, psychological aspects such as mood and vigor will play an important role in an athlete’s performance as well.

Don’t train harder, train smarter.

Profile of Mood States Questionnaire (POMS) is a standard validated psychological test formulated by McNair et al. (1971) which requires you to indicate for each word or statement how you have been feeling in the past week.


Athletes scoring below norms on scales of tension, depression, confusion, anger, and fatigue, and above norms on vigor, are said to possess a ‘positive profile’ that graphically depicts an iceberg. Monitoring of mood states may offer potential methods of mitigating loads, whether that be psychological or physical.

Serious athletes will push their bodies hard enough, often riding that fine line between wellness and illness. Simply tracking how you feel related to qualitative variables, which mirror excess stress, can be of use to athletes and coaches. You can do this by writing it in your training log (if you don’t have one yet, what are you waiting for?). Remember, stress comes in all shapes and sizes and we deal with it enough, so why add more to training than necessary?

Optimizing performance is contingent upon proper stress regulation and will differ between training and competition environment. Coaches are often attempting to increase the likelihood of success within an athlete’s performance and will make most of the decisions for an athlete, but for those who do not have this advantage should educate themselves. In accordance with proper programming, mental skills training to control or alter arousal levels may be of interest. Beginning to use skills during practice will have a carry-over effect in competition, and is valuable in both situations. Utilizing such skills will not likely benefit the day of competition if not practiced.

Learn how to create a balance with combinations of relaxation and intensity. These are two things that don’t seem to go together when you first think about it. Managing arousal levels is key in not only competitive situations, but during training as well. If you experience every lift in a working set during training as a max effort lift you will pay the price. Being able to harness nuclear energy is the name of the game. Conserve it for a time when it is most necessary. To understand the stress response, fundamental knowledge not only of physiology but of psychology as well, must be possessed.

about the author


Dani Tocci is an eccentric individual whose primary goal is to cultivate a positive growth mindset with everyone she works with on both a sport consulting level and with training. Having a not so typical background with degrees in art and philosophy gives her an edge on her thought process. Dani is a competitive olympic weightlifter and has had the pleasure of working with national level athletes.  Follow her on Instagram (@d_tocc) for all the happenings.

Advanced Modalities to Increase Weekly Training Volume

Below you'll find a recent interview I did on energy systems, autonomics, and how to increase training frequency...enjoy: 

about the author

Andrew Triana “The Leucine Frog” is a promising young coach who has an intense passion for his clients success and writing. It is evident in his work that he is relentless in his pursuit of excellence. At 20 years old Andrew has produced National champions, World champions, Pro strongmen, and has helped many others reach their goals.  Follow him on Twitter (@AndrewTriana) and Instagram (@andtriana).

MASS: Are You Ready to Enter the Beast

In case you we're unaware, Dr. Pat Davidson just released his first Ebook this week MASS.  While I'd love to sit here and tell you about how it's THE PREMIERE muscle building program available right now, or how it's forged monsters out of mere men, I'd rather share with you the first several pages of the book for FREE. In those few pages I think you'll get a feel for just how special this program is.  Enjoy:

Just a heads up that MASS is only on sale through Sunday night.

Foreword by Jim Ferris

In the fitness industry, mentioning to colleagues the legendary name “Pat Davidson” gets you two responses. The first is a smile ear-to-ear. The second is usually a story not unlike one you may hear about Scotland’s infamous William Wallace. While Pat is not a 7-foot tall giant like the storied “Braveheart,” he does have a neck thicker than most peoples’ thighs (which is, I imagine, to hold that valuable cranium of his in place). Some who have attended his workouts or lectures will even argue that they have seen fireballs in his eyes. As for the “lightning bolts coming from his arse”—well I guess some things we can just leave to the imagination.

Over the many years that I have known Pat, I have come to respect him as one of the smartest, most creative, and most sought-out coaches around. There is a quote I often recite to my interns and and to coaches whom I mentor, “There is a difference between acting like a pro, and being a pro.” I assure you that when it comes to Pat Davidson there is no acting, nonsense, or BS. He is a true pro’s pro. He is a man with whom everyone in the industry should have a conversation if they are fortunate to have an opportunity to do so.

A few months back I was getting bored with my training routine and wanted to start something new. I needed something fresh. I needed something that would put the edge back into my weekly training sessions. I knew exactly who could conjure up the type of madness I required. I asked Pat for a program. He asked me “Why?” to which I responded that, “I want to know what goes on in that sick, twisted, BRILLIANT brain of yours.” Laughing, he told me that he had something brewing in the lab and would be happy to let me give it a go. All I can write here about Pat’s programs are that they will test you physically, mentally, psychologically, and emotionally each and every time you do them. You will win some days; you will lose some days. The program that follows here will give you the opportunity to push your limits and see what your body and mind can accomplish.

Each of us is a bit of a storyteller with our own tales and experiences that we love passing on to people. Please keep this in mind as you push through and eventually complete this program’s 64 sessions, because this program will certainly give you an epic story to tell. Finally, when you conquer this program and are standing at the top of the “training mountain,” remember that “the top” is small for a reason: not everyone can or will get there. Right now you are probably wondering, “Is this program really such a challenge?” and that I’m just psyching you out. Well, maybe I am—that is for you to find out.

[Click Here to Buy MASS Now]

Introduction 1 by Ethan Grossman

The year is 1985. You have just witnessed first-hand your best friend and training partner brutally beaten to death by a cold Soviet robot of a man. Your wife, the mother of your child, pleads with you to stay home, settle down and enjoy the life you’ve cultivated. Still, you know in your heart it wasn’t his fight and that you could’ve stopped his death. With thoughts racing through your mind, you get in your Lamborghini for a cool drive around the city. There’s no easy way out.

It’s time for you to make a decision. You realize that in order to defeat the beast you must become one. Are YOU ready to become the beast? If so, there’s no time to wait for conditions to be perfect. You don’t need a 10 out of 10. If you score in favor of Russia over LA, then it’s time to give up your soft, comfy existence, strap up your boots and grow out your beard. It’s going to be a cold, hard winter.

Cold, dark Russia:

  1. -You have worked out before but want to take your training to the next level
  2. -You want to push yourself to a higher plateau mentally
  3. -You tend to overcomplicate your own programs and end up getting nowhere
  4. -You want to strengthen your team’s bond
  5. -You consider yourself a beast inside
  6. -You sleep 7 or more hours a night
  7. -You eat for fuel
  8. -You are held back in your workouts by your conditioning
  9. -You are just returning to training
  10. -You have an acquired taste for pain


Warm, sunny LA:

  1. -You have never lifted a weight or performed a bench press, squat or deadlift
  2. -You refuse to get your heart rate up during training
  3. -You are recovering from an injury or very prone to one
  4. -You can’t commit 4 days a week
  5. -You might miss workouts when you’re too hung over
  6. -You are travelling multiple times over the next 16 weeks
  7. -You only have access to a crowded gym at peak hours or your apartment gym
  8. -You are planning to modify the routine or add additional workouts
  9. -You are an advanced lifter about to compete in a major competition
  10. -You have to switch up the workout often or you get bored


[Click Here to Buy MASS Now]

Introduction 2 by Dr. Pat Davidson

Thank you for deciding to enter the beast. If you go through with the entirety of this program you will be changed. Most of you who start will not finish. This program is not for the weak and timid. This program is for those who are tough, resilient, and committed to working hard and reaching for the stars. I did not design this program for the 99%. Only the 1% will be able to make it through this program. The 1% are the people who are willing to endure in the face of extreme difficulty. The 1% are the people who are willing to sacrifice many things to realize an eventual goal. I have no pity for you if you are not able to complete this program. If you give up, you are probably like the majority of people on this planet. If you make up the 99% of the population who will not go through this program, there is probably nothing wrong with you, but I’m probably not interested in being friends with you. I like those who are on the fringe. I like those who are different. I like those who live by their own set of values. I like those who don’t mind it when the lunatics run the asylum. If you enter the beast, you must become the beast to survive.

My name is Pat Davidson, and I have credentials that back up my ability to write a program. I have a PhD in Exercise Physiology. I have worked as a professor of Exercise Science at Brooklyn College and Springfield College. I have coached the athletes from Springfield College Team Ironsports. I have competed in Strongman and qualified and competed in two world championships at the Arnold Classic. I have competed in submission wrestling at the highest level in the North American Grappling Association. I have fought professionally in Mixed Martial Arts. I have trained for a long time. I have made weight in weight class sports for a long time. I have studied the workings of the body and lived the science to the best of my ability for a long time. I have been lurking in the shadows, learning and training, not putting my information out for public consumption for a long time. If you are an elite strength coach, you probably know who I am. If you are an elite strongman athlete, you probably know who I am. If you are a regular Joe who is a weekend warrior, or a gym bro, you probably do not know who I am. This is how I meant to keep things. Now I am changing and permitting the 99% to have a glimpse at what the 1% does. Perhaps I can unveil more members of the 1% by putting this information out there for the masses. I doubt there are many of you out there, but if you exist, I’ll know it because you’ll enter the beast, you will become the beast, and you will want to tell me and the world about it afterwards.

This program is not going to be like ones you have done before. You will do the same workout over and over again for four weeks in a row. There is no chest and bi’s day. There is no back and shoulders day. There is no leg day. Every day will be an everything day. After you complete four weeks of the same workout done four times per week, you will move on to the next phase. Each phase builds on the previous one. Do not skip phases. Do not alter the plan. Do not have your own, “good idea”. Fall in line, and accept what is given to you. This program is not built on the singular day. This program is built on the accumulation of all the days put together. You will have good days. Do not get too excited about those good days. You will have bad days. Do not let the bad days get you down. Punch your ticket on a daily basis and ride the wave. Do not think too much. Simply trust the process and do your work. Nobody cares about you except yourself, but you can be your own worst enemy by thinking too much about yourself as a special little entity. You likely suffer from terminal uniqueness. You believe that you are somehow very different than everybody else. You are more like everyone else than you are different. Others have gone through this before you. Others will go through this after you. Either you do this, or you do not do this. You make a decision, and then everything else falls in place. If you have made your decision, then I welcome you to the beast, and I am excited for your transformation into the beast. Do not be afraid of the animal that lurks in the deep recesses of your being. Let it out, and experience its primal forces. Let it breathe the fresh air, and growl at the timid who walk around you.

At this point, you may be asking, what is the outcome that I am trying to get out of this program? The outcome is a multi-faceted one. If you are a typical gym bro, and you’re only looking to put on muscle mass, this will be accomplished through this program if you eat a lot of food. If you are looking to get shredded, this will be accomplished if you eat a moderate amount of food. If you are looking to get injured, this will be accomplished if you have poor technique and do not eat enough food. If you are looking to get stronger, this will be accomplished because the training density will cause you to accumulate a tremendous amount of high quality work. If you are looking to improve your cardiorespiratory endurance, this will be accomplished because your heart rate will be elevated for significant amounts of time while you’re doing this program. This program is a shot gun blast. Whatever it hits, it destroys.

[Click Here to Buy MASS Now]

The MASS program is a combination of periodization based program design schemes of the Soviet Union, and exercises that are extremely popular in the United States. The creation of the MASS program was greatly inspired by the movie, Rocky IV. At the moment where I sit here and write this book, May 24, 2015, I am a 35 year old, American man. I was born in 1980, and if you grew up during that time like I did, you understand that there was a lot of USA vs. USSR stuff going on in our television and movie spheres. Ivan Drago was the epitome of the Soviet villain. Drago was the unstoppable giant who appeared cold and unbeatable. He killed Rocky’s best friend, Apollo Creed in the beginning of the movie, and it appeared as though he may do the same thing to Rocky at the end of the movie. Rocky needed to avenge the death of his friend, so he had to take on the monster that was Drago. The fight took place in the Soviet Union, and Rocky traveled there to train for the epic showdown. The training scenes from this movie are some of the most memorable of any of the Rocky movies. Ivan Drago was the ultimate Soviet sports system laboratory experiment. In every training scene involving Drago he was hooked up to electrodes measuring his internal information. Drago punched devices that recorded his force production. Fancy machines were used in the training of Drago, and there were constantly multiple scientists in white lab coats with clip boards surrounding him, analyzing every aspect of his physiological development. In contrast, Rocky was running outside in the snow, climbing mountains, lifting wagons, and sweating it out inside a barn with a primitive looking fire burning in the background. This was the clash of cultures, philosophies, and approaches to training.

When I was a kid in the 80’s, I was completely fascinated by this movie and it remains one of my strongest childhood memories to date. Not only that, but I was incredibly interested in all the laboratory stuff Drago was using. Every bell had a whistle, numbers on dials were always going up, and the ability to demonstrate increased power and speed was something that grabbed my interest intensely. I thought the Soviet training was the coolest thing that I had ever seen. Conversely, I just knew that what Rocky was doing was even better. Allowing the forces of nature to permeate throughout all aspects of the training process made intuitive sense. Getting outside into big, wide open space and being very primitive in the approach to developing the body resonated as the more correct approach. Drago trained rotary force production on an isokinetic machine. Rocky put a yoke for animals on his shoulders and did the same thing. Drago performed triceps extensions on a device that could quantify force. Rocky was using a multiplanar approach that looked like a triceps extension by hoisting a huge bag of rocks attached to a pully system with a rope. Drago used the barbell clean and press while Rocky was pressing a cart with his training team seated in the back end. The two athletes juxtaposed one another in every possible way, their training included.

In putting this program together I was inspired to do some blending of approaches that reflect what I’ve learned of block training coming from the Soviet sports science approach to training, and some good old fashioned American ingenuity. If I had to define block training, I would say that it is the sequential organization of training phases where each training phase has a fairly specific, objective approach. Each phase prepares you for the following one optimally, and every subsequent phase builds on that which was developed in the previous phase. A training block should identify a fitness quality that it is trying to develop, and it should be very consistent in the way it attacks the development of that quality. While training in a block, you do not want to send mixed training messages at the body. This is why you do the same workouts over and over again during the blocks. Too much variation leads you in too many different directions. Too much variation gets you nowhere from a training perspective. I need to be very precise in picking the correct exercises that will allow me to properly develop the physiological quality I am interested in. The exercises are the tools for the job. I need to first understand what the job is that I am trying to perform, and then I select the appropriate tool. I do not want to use power snatches for time in the first two blocks of this program. The power snatch is a great tool for a phase that is looking to develop strength-speed within a triple extension oriented movement pattern focus. I’m looking to change body composition with this program, pack on muscle, increase strength in a non-specific directional way, and develop the physiology of your energy systems with this program. Giving you highly technical exercises that are easily compromised in their technical performance with fatigue is a very poor idea. In my organization of the blocks for this program, I have selected an approach that will look to recruit and fatigue as many muscle fibers in the body as I possibly can tap into. I have chosen exercises that I believe are the appropriate tools for that specific job. This is my laboratory, Soviet approach to program design.

I’ve also done this program before and had many others perform it as well. Every time I do it and see other people perform it, the program just looks right. I see people working hard, getting results, and enjoying it as much as anybody could with something that is tremendously grueling. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck, it’s probably a duck. This program just looks right to me. It’s got an All-American blue collar, red meat eating, punch your ticket at work kind of vibe to it for me. You get to bench press and squat and deadlift a whole lot. There’s not a lot of fancy, high tech looking exercises in this thing. I’m an American and I like to sweat and get a testosterone rush, grunt, and feel like I did something at the end of my training session. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel here. I’m trying to organize a really hard, satisfying training experience in a way that will get you where you want to go.

[Click Here to Buy MASS Now]

I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I’ve enjoyed putting it together and living the program and thoughts that are conveyed within these pages. If you’ve watched Rocky IV, I hope you enjoy the titles to the chapters, and the way a lot of the famous movie quotes keep coming back to you in the text. I hope you appreciate the fact that I’m mixing in humor and exaggeration in the writing that is in the spirit of the Rocky IV movie. If you haven’t seen Rocky IV, go watch it, because I think it will make your experience with this program better. Don’t be afraid to play the soundtrack from the movie every time you train. As you enter this book, I’d like to welcome you with one thought regarding the outcomes of your training journey into MASS…if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change.

about the author


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 Twitterand Instagram for the latest happenings.

What Causes Muscles to Grow Part II: The Science Edition

To truly be able to understand topics, we need to be able to see the forest through the trees, but we also have to stare at some bark. The big picture in regards to muscle growth says that we have to stress the body with mechanical loading, create some heat, and feel an acid load during training, and then we have to recover effectively in the aftermath. The small details of muscle hypertrophy can be quite confusing, and modern researchers are far from understanding all of the intricacies of the pathways associated with growth and breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue. Despite the long road ahead for anabolism based researchers in elucidating all of the pathways associated with what it takes to pack on muscle tissue, there are some things that we can point to with some certainty as being extremely important factors involved with the cellular and molecular regulation of muscle mass.

The Rate Limiting Factor

Discovering the rate limiting factor of complex inter and intracellular physiological pathways is a critical component that researchers are always interested in discovering. The rate limiting factor is the thing that typically determines whether progress continues or halts in any endeavor. Suppose I own a shoe factory, and I have a few employees who have assigned roles. Tom puts the lace holes into the leather of the shoes, Mary puts the laces in the shoes, and Jimmy puts the rubber soles on the bottom. My team simply is not making as many shoes per hour as I would like. Is it the team, or is there a rate limiting factor. I put up cameras in the factory to see what’s going on. When I analyze the film from the assembly line, I see that Mary is not cutting it. Tom is pumping out shoes with lace holes, but Mary seems more interested in checking her cell phone than diligently lacing up the shoes. The shoes are piling up into Tom’s work station. Tom simply stops doing his thing, because the log jam is happening one step ahead of him. There’s no need for Tom to keep doing his job. I have a talk with Mary, and she agrees to not use her phone at work. Suddenly the production of shoes leaving the factory increases markedly. I figured out what the rate limiting factor was and I used an intervention strategy that mitigated that component from decreasing productivity.

When discussing muscle growth, we see that it is governed by the interaction between protein synthesis and protein degradation. If synthesis exceeds the rate of degradation, then we have a net increase in protein fibers that accumulate in muscle tissue, aka, we gain muscle mass. When discussing responses to resistance training, we see that it’s a process based more on increasing protein synthesis rather than greatly diminishing degradation; whereas, responses to endurance training are more based on limiting degradation. Therefore, when examining what people who lift weights are interested in, we have to discuss the factors associated with protein synthesis.

Photo Credit:  Pearson Education
Photo Credit: Pearson Education

Protein synthesis is the manufacturing of new proteins inside of a muscle cell. The two phases of protein synthesis are transcription and translation. Transcription is the act of copying the instructions from the DNA on how to build a new protein in the form of messenger RNA (mRNA). Translation is the process by which the ribosome assembles a protein based on the instructions coming from the mRNA that travels from the nucleus to the cytosolic region where the ribosome resides. The question of greatest import is, which of the two components of protein synthesis is the rate limiting factor? The answer is that translation seems to be the lynch pin in the operation.

Diving deeper into the translational process, can we identify what is the rate limiting factor within this puzzle? The answer is that the scientific community is not there yet, and it seems as though there are many possible pathways that can be utilized in this process, but one that seems to be of critical interest is that which is called, the mTOR dependent pathway. The other critical factor is how much ribosomal biogenesis is taking place. Essentially protein synthesis is dependent upon ribosomal efficiency, which is driven to a large part by the ability to activate mTOR, and ribosomal capacity, which is related to the overall content of the number of ribosome complexes present inside a muscle cell. If we can maximize ribosomal efficiency and content, we should have the best case scenario for building muscle mass.

Readers of this article are encouraged to explore this topic within the peer reviewed articles associated with this topic. This article certainly will not present to you the full scope of what is happening in this convoluted and extremely involved logistical beehive of translational steps. Instead, the author would like to present to you key concepts that are associated with the major theoretical phenomenon involved in what governs the translational machinery’s activities.

Transcription is a nuclear based phenomenon. The instructions for assembling all of the proteins that the body is made of are coded for in the DNA. We need to copy the code before we can begin the building process. The copy of the code is mRNA, and the process of transcription is the act of creating the mRNA strand. The first thing that we need to do is to unwind the DNA double helix to get the necessary structures into the proper place to copy the appropriate code. A signal to activate transcription (STAT) is sent to the nucleus to begin the process. Transcription can be increased by influences from steroid hormones or peptide hormones. Steroid hormones such as, testosterone move directly through the sarcolemma and bind to the androgen receptor which is located on or near the nuclear envelope. Once the steroid hormone binds to the androgen receptor, the hormone/receptor complex then migrates into the DNA and starts the transcription process.

Peptide hormones bind to the sarcolemma and activate a secondary messenger cascade driven by janus kinase (JAK) enzymes. JAK phosphorylation activity causes the release of STAT, which migrates to the DNA. STAT signals for DNA helicase to begin unwinding the double helix. DNA helicase travels along the length of the helix, unwinding it as it goes. Riding on the tail of DNA helicase is RNA polymerase, which is copying the code from the DNA inscribed instructional palate. mRNA begins forming from the back end of RNA polymerase. Once RNA polymerase has copied all of the necessary components of the DNA to construct the appropriate mRNA segment, mRNA breaks away from RNA polymerase and migrates through the nuclear pores into the cytosol. mRNA then travels to a ribosome where it is situated between the two segments of a ribosome (almost like mRNA is the meat that goes in between the two buns of a burger).

Now that mRNA has reached the ribosome, we can see the translational process in action. Translation is based on the ribosome instructing transfer RNA (tRNA) to collect appropriate amino acids from the cytosol to bring back to the ribosome for construction of the appropriate protein. tRNA brings amino acids back to the ribosome, which are assembled in the proper triplicate orders to create the desired protein product. The act of getting translation to start seems to be the critical matter in this entire process, and there are multiple options that the body can utilize to try to pull off this building procedure. The most discussed method of initiating translation is the mTOR dependent pathway. There are two separate mTOR complexes, mTORC1 and mTORC2. mTORC1 is regarded as the critical component, and seems to be a potentially powerful rate limiting factor in protein synthesis. When mTORC1 is activated, it seems as though translation takes place and muscles continue to grow, so being familiar with factors which can activate mTORC1 is of critical importance.

There are many steps that take place at the ribosome involving various proteins and enzymes that must be initiated to begin the actual process of translation. The enzymes involved in this process are kinase enzymes. Kinase enzymes participate in phosphorylation based actions. Phosphorylation essentially refers to any time that a phosphate is passed from one enzyme to another…much the same way that a bucket brigade works to put out a fire. If a phosphate continues to be passed in an appropriate manner from one enzymatic reaction to another, the resulting reaction will take place. mTORC1 seems to be a big player in whether the phosphorylation cascade will continue on the route towards achieving the translation phenomenon at the ribosome. The kinase enzyme, p70s6k must be activated to begin translation. If we can get p70s6k to go through a phosphorylation reaction, then translation will take place. p70s6k is an mTOR dependent step though. So what we see is that mTOR is the show. How then do we ensure that mTOR participates in this process?

Photo Credit:  Nature
Photo Credit: Nature

mTor activation appears to be dependent on a few cellular mechanisms. Leucine availability in the ribosomal region of the cytosol appears to be a powerful player, as does the state of protein kinase B (Akt). Akt is an enzymatic step that takes place prior to reaching mTOR in the pre-translational cascade system. Excessive oxidative stress appears to be a factor that will inhibit Akt and prevent mTOR from being activated, thus shutting the process down. The actions of anabolic peptide hormones, such as IGF and GH appear to be players in opening intercellular portals that admit leucine into the ribosomal region of the cytosol. Therefore, it seems that if we can create an internal environment where we have chronic states of low oxidative stress and high levels of circulating anabolic peptide hormones, we provide the appropriate setting for mTOR to be activated and muscle growth from a ribosomal efficiency standpoint to be maximized.

Achieving optimal states of circulating anabolic hormones is associated with good, hard training sessions that are not excessive in duration (not much longer than 1 hour maximally). Having low oxidative stress seems to be associated with not having prolonged glucocorticoid responses during resting states of the body. The presence of appropriate content of circulating amino acids, namely leucine is also of critical importance. This is where the merger of proper training and sound nutrition coalesces.

When discussing ribosomal content, it seems as though beta-catenin levels are critically important for driving an increase in ribosomal biogenesis. Beta-catenin/c-Myc signaling is independent of the mTOR pathway. This is still as yet an area in the literature that is not strongly understood, but identifying factors associated with this type of activity seems to be crucial.

The empirical process is reductionist in nature. We continue to break things down into smaller and smaller constituent parts as we attempt to deduce what the rate limiting factor of an operational procedure is. When it comes to hypertrophy, it seems as though there are multiple options. When faced with consistently applied mechanical stress, the body will find a way to make a compensatory change. The compensation is hypertrophy. The robustness of an organism on this planet is driven by the plasticity of that lifeform. Lifeforms need options and contingency plans to be able to survive in face of threatening situations. Hypertrophy is the response to mechanical threat. While variability is a critical component, it does seem that the mTOR dependent pathway towards ribosomal efficiency and the beta-catenin pathway for ribosomal biogenesis are the primary drivers of the two ways in which we maximize translational activity, which is the rate limiting factor of protein synthesis.

If I am thinking in a personal and reflective manner on the ways in which I would attempt to maximize the mTOR dependent pathway of translation, I would go with the following approaches based on my understanding of the science and my, “in the trenches” experience as a strength athlete.

  1. 1.  I need to have a decent amount of oxidative fitness. If I’m going to maintain chronically low oxidative stress, it really helps if I have a fairly high number of mitochondria. Oxidative stress in local muscle tissue is often times the product of being unable to inhibit tissue neurologically, and having that tissue exist in non-oxidative conditions for excessive periods of time. Increasing the mitochondrial content of a muscle improves the ability of that muscle to go into an inhibitory state. Also, having a better aerobic system will allow me to exist under more of a parasympathetic condition as my resting heart rate will be lower.
  2. 2.  I would not perform excessive amounts of high intensity cardiorespiratory exercise that is of long duration. Plasma leucine levels seem to be highly linked to whether or not sufficient leucine can be transmitted into the ribosomal region of the cytosol. Aerobic exercise that is of high intensity and long duration is associated with decreasing plasma leucine levels to the point where it is below a threshold point that allows mTOR to be inhibited by an insufficient intr-ribosomal leucine content. I would perform aerobic exercise that is of moderate intensity for moderate amounts of time. 140-160 HR for 30 minutes to an hour maximally 2 to 3 times per week maximally.
  3. 3.  I would manage my insulin levels well. Chronically high insulin levels are associated with existing in an inflamed state. This inflammatory state, which comes from downstream effects of insulin (such as increased interleukin-6 and reactive protein C) cause oxidative stress, which would reduce the activity of protein kinase B. This reduction in the activity of protein kinase B would be problematic for the m-TORC1 pathway.
  4. 4.  I would try to get plenty of sleep. Growth hormone is critically important for the translational machinery. The actions of GH at the plasma membrane when it binds to its receptor involve a secondary messenger cascade that ultimately activates the JAK/STAT pathway for transcription related matters, but also opens a portal that admits leucine into the ribosomal region of the cytosol (facilitating the activity of mTOR)
  5. 5.  I would train hard. Most importantly, I need to have significant amounts of mechanical loading, which seem to be the primary signaling method for activating the transcription and translational machinery through what appears to be some kind of structural protein, piezoelectric flow communication phenomenon that transmits messages from extra-cellular, sarcolemmal, and intercellular strain related forces to the nucleus and the ribosomal regions.
  6. 6.  I would try to eat quality carbohydrates and proteins and perhaps supplement with amino acids in the peri-workout time period. IGF-1 is a potent driver of facilitating the mTOR dependent pathway. IGF-1 also creates myogenic activity in the basement membrane of muscle cells, which causes proliferation and differentiation of satellite cells. These satellite cells will ultimately turn into new nuclei inside that cell, which will become new sites for transcription. IGF-1 levels in the circulation are intimately connected with the state of the amino-acid pool. Low levels of amino-acids in the circulation and within cells will reduce the IGF-1 responses that an individual can have.
  7. 7.  I would find relaxation methods that work for me so that I can calm down and recuperate between training sessions. The energetics of protein synthesis and the recovery process in general is an autonomics driven phenomenon. If I can’t relax and have fun, then I can’t enter quality parasympathetic states. Parasympathetic activity is associated with anabolism. Staying sympathetic, constantly on, and being under stress too often will kill gains. Relax with friends and have fun.

Good training combined with appropriate nutrition and allowing for recovery are the hallmarks of successful mass building programs over the years. The science is beginning to explain why these approaches worked. Maybe by understanding what’s going on a little bit more clearly you will be more highly motivated to hit all the details in the mass building process required to maximize gains. If you are interested in following a good program to maximize muscle growth, I recommend picking up a copy of the e-book, MASS. That book is my best attempt to organize a plan that jives with my understanding of the science that I laid out for you in this article. Good luck to you in your pursuit of gains, my friend. As you were.

Be sure to pick up a copy of Pat's newly released ebook MASS today.  It's only available for one week, and who knows when it'll be available again.

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 Causes Muscles to Grow

There are a million articles and programs offering up the next secret (aka, gimmick/fad/farce) method for packing on tons of muscle. Rather than give you some, “top secret” approach or quick tip that will have you spinning your wheels in the gym, I’d rather explain to you the overall concept of what has to happen for you to add muscle mass to your frame. As an overall concept, what I would like to get across to you in this article is that the human body doesn’t want to put on muscle mass.You have to make a conscious decision to do something that is incredibly uncomfortable and jarring to your organism so that you give your body no other choice but to pack on more muscle so that it can defend itself from the same stressor if it is encountered again. Gaining muscle mass is hard work that never ends. Following the application of significant stress to your body, you need to recover. The recovery period is where you add new proteins to your muscles so that they become bigger and stronger. As un-sexy and not new as it sounds, if you want to gain muscle mass, you’re going to have to work very hard in the gym and live a healthy lifestyle outside of it featuring appropriate sleep, nutrition, and hydration. If you understand the big picture and why things have to be done a certain way, perhaps you will be more willing to actually do it.

The Captain and The Ship

Think of a ship out on the open ocean. The ship encounters a storm. Driving winds and rain wreak havoc on the deck while the hull is getting pounded by enormous waves. The ship survives this storm, but it took on significant damage. The captain of the ship looks around in the aftermath and sees a broken mast, holes in the sidewall, and a few steady leaks. If he wants to keep sailing in these waters he’s clearly going to have to make some repairs and perhaps revamp this boat.

He analyzes the damage of the ship and sees which areas were most impacted by the storm. He reinforces those areas. He puts up a thicker, sturdier mast, makes the sidewalls denser, and shores up the leaks with a stronger adhesive material. The ship goes back out on the ocean, and another storm comes along almost exactly like the first one. The ship survives this storm with only minimal damage. All the areas that the captain focused on for repairs held up pretty well.

Photo Credit:  Todd Kumpf
Photo Credit: Todd Kumpf

The next day he and his crew patch the ship up a little bit and it’s ready for the open ocean again. This time a completely different storm is encountered. Freak snow comes out of nowhere, icy seawater sloshes over the sides of the boat, and chunks of debris come flying through the air, shredding the ship. The crew and the vessel make it, but this time the damage is completely different compared to the first storm. It was as if nothing the crew had done in their repairs following the first storm had prepared them for this last squall. The captain orders the crew to go back to work the next day. They focus on the areas that were most heavily damaged in this last disaster and rebuild those sections with more robust material.

Do you think the captain and crew of our imaginary ship want to spend their days laboring to rebuild their ship? Of course not. All they want to do is to continue to sail so that they can do their jobs so they can put food on the table. They would never put in the effort to work on the ship unless it was very clear that the ship was unfit for use and that it needed to be strengthened to handle similar difficult demands again in the future.

Do you think they’re going to fix and rebuild parts of the ship that were unharmed from the storm? Of course not. You focus your attention on the areas that need help. Can you fix every part of the ship all at once? Probably not, you have a limitation to the size of your crew, and they can only work so hard for so long. You also do not have unlimited amounts of wood, tools, and other assorted pieces to be able to repair everything all at once. Ultimately, you have to decide what kind of storm you want your boat to be ready to handle. You simply can’t have it all. You also can’t permanently live in the storm. If you’re going to be fixing your boat, you should probably do it when it’s sunny and you’re safely docked.

Your body is the boat. The captain is your brain. The crew is your immune and endocrine systems working to trigger the appropriate cellular repair steps. The wood and the tools that you use for repairs is the food you eat, the water you drink, and the sleep that you acquire. You have to figure out what kind of storm is the appropriate kind in order to trigger the appropriate repair process that will build you a new body that is more muscular than it was before. Obviously running a marathon is an absolutely ungodly storm that you could encounter, but the repair mechanisms that would take place after wouldn’t be geared towards adding muscle to your frame. The storm has to be highly specific. The raw material also has to be of very high quality that you use to repair yourself after the fact. Do you want to be going into your next storm on a boat made of rotting wood, or do you want only the finest, most outstanding construction material possible for your vessel?

The Perfect Storm

What is the perfect storm for creating the optimal stimulus for growing muscle? It primarily comes down to three variables. It seems as though the combination of mechanical load, heat, and acidity is the right environment for optimizing muscle growth.

The research in this area seems to indicate that multiple sets (3-5) of approximately 10 repetition maximum (RM) load using multi-joint compound exercises (squatting, bench pressing, deadlifting, pull-ups) with short rest (approximately 60 seconds) is optimal for increasing muscle mass. Go ahead and try doing 5 sets of 10 (with a weight where you couldn’t get 11) in the squat with 60 seconds rest in between. You’re going to be hot, acidic, and your muscles will be dead. You just hit the perfect storm.

Your brain will register this event and trigger all of the cascade responses driven through the hormonal and immune systems associated with repair and growth of skeletal muscle that you can muster up as an organism. You could do this kind of workout over and over again for a pretty substantial period of time and continue to get great gains for a while. The problem with that exact workout is that it’s pretty boring at a certain point, and even if you were the most diligent person, who cares nothing about routine and boredom, at a certain point, your body would adapt to this, and you’d stop making any headway. You need to vary things up a little bit to keep yourself engaged, and to force the organism to have to adapt to a salient threat. The thing is, you don’t want to vary things up so much that it’s a completely different kind of storm. If the storm is wrong, then the repairs will be to create a different kind of ship. If the challenge to the body isn’t appropriate, it might strip material away rather than add on.

Closing Thoughts

To finish off this article, you need to understand the following things about the storm and the repair process. Feeling a fairly heavy weight, feeling hot, and feeling an acidic burn are the three threats that drive the muscle building train.

When it comes to driving adaptation, you need to scare your body…so threaten it the best you possibly can. Sets between 6 and 15 reps are probably the most appropriate for hypertrophy, with sets of 10 being most optimal. Rest periods need to be kept short to create the truly significant heat and acid load response. If you’re using the same exercise over and over, look to stay within 60 to 90 seconds of rest. If you’re setting up a circuit, you’ve got a little more leeway, and you can make the rest periods shorter.


Work really hard, but when you’re done, make sure you recover appropriately. Earlier I talked about fixing the boat in sunny skies and calm seas. Here’s my recommendation for sunny skies and calm seas in life. Most importantly, have a good relationship with family and friends. Spend time with other people. Social engagement will trigger the parts of your brain associated with relaxation, regeneration, and recovery (specifically the nucleus ambiguous component of the parasympathetic nervous system located in the medulla). Second, if you’re going to do recovery exercise, do easy cardio. Try to get outdoors to soak up some vitamin D. You don’t want to try to create a whole new storm environment to fix your ship in. Light cardiovascular exercise increases circulation (gets the repair pieces to the tissues), and increases the amount of mitochondria in your body. Mitochondria are the location where you utilize oxidative rephosphorylation of ATP. If you’re using your oxidative energy system, it allows the muscle tissue to relax in that location. Being able to relax and hit the off switch is critical when it comes to repair and growth.

When it’s time to be in the storm, make it the perfect storm. The storm should be hell. See what you’re capable of surviving. Load the bar up pretty heavy. See what you’ve got. Push through those last couple of reps. Keep your rest short…feel like you’re going to die. When the storm is over, shut it down. Relax. Enjoy other people that you really like. Eat, drink, and be merry. Do a little recovery work between storms. Make sure you don’t have to recover from your recovery work. I wish you well young sailor. Hopefully your vessel is sound and your captain is wise. Keep sailing, I’ll see you in Gainsville if you stay the course.

If you're into this whole muscle thing, then be sure to checkout Pat's new e-book MASS.  It gives you 66 pages of awesome info coupled with a 16 week training program designed to build muscle.

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

Coming Up With a Long Term Plan: The Proper Lens to Look Through for Your Macrocycle

A major issue amongst the novice and intermediate athletes of the strength community today is their vision. The amount of emails and questions I get regarding how to get ready for X in 4 weeks completely out weighs the questions I get regarding long term progress. I of course answer with the best advice and help I can give, but I always try to point them in the direction of long term preparation. I do this for two reasons:

1.  It gives the best results

2.  It highlights those who are exceptionally motivated

The people who are looking down the line for success will always beat the ones looking for an easy way out. I truly believe everyone has the ability to reach their goals, but the proper motivation and guidance are needed.

The Long Term Plan

This is where devising a macro cycle comes into play. A macrocycle is essentially a long term block periodization plan that leads an athlete to an ultimate goal. This goal is typically a competition or a milestone that has high levels of emotional attachment. This means the macrocycle is your treasure map to striking gold. If you know anything about gold miners, you know they don’t just mindlessly hack away at the same spot hoping for something to magically change.

This is the major flaw in the training programs of many athletes.

If someone decides to compete in a strongman show 20 weeks out, the worst thing they can do is begin hitting the competition events right away. They are hacking away at the same thing hoping for improvements in performance to come. Specificity is an incredibly important portion of a training program, however, if it begins to over take its purpose it can certainly inhibit you. The reason sport specific training can elicit a peak is because for a short period of time the sport specific traits are exposed to higher volumes and given more emphasis while under residual fatigue. This causes the body to super-compensate the recovery/neural aspects of the stimulus (i.e. the sport specific training). This is your ace card and your final progression. If you play that card too early, then you're going to miss out on a lot of potential for improvement and eventually have to settle or fold.

So what is supposed to fill the rest of your macrocycle? It is most effective to reverse engineer it when looking at your own training. I will take you through how I am viewing an upcoming goal of mine through a long term lens. Beginning around 28 weeks out, this is the first major step in my longer term plans. There is no standard number of weeks when planning a macrocycle, however, I would recommend a minimum of 15 weeks to allow you to flow well.

Start: 06/01

Compete: 11/14

Goal: bulk up to 198 and total over 1460

First 5 weeks:

-Kcal set 3100 weekly, maintain BW of 188

-Increase muscle mass and work capacity

Weeks 6-10 (in this phase currently)

-Kcal drop to 2800-2600, increase body comp

-Increase movement quality and muscle mass

Weeks 11-16

-Kcal increase until BW reaches 190-192

-Begin implementing SPP and developing alactic capacity

Weeks 17-22

-Kcal increase to maintain 193-195

-Bulk of sport specific volume handled

Weeks 23-28

-Cycling of Kcal throughout week to maintain 195

-Peaking phase begins

Now this is a very rough and vague outline for where my training and nutrition will go. My longer term goal is to compete in the 231 class in strongman, meaning I will be bulking long term. Hence the cut of bf % and kcal because it's easier to maintain body composition while gaining weight than to improve it. To aid in this goal I am currently doing a John Meadows program 7 days a week, then I will transition into a phase were I develop efficient patterns in the bench, squat, and deadlift while returning to the alactic energy system. Finally, from week 17 on I will be focusing on building strength and preparing for the meet.

Important Considerations

The goal of this was to show you the changes and transitions training must go through in order to properly prepare you to reach a goal. When creating an effective long term plan you must objectively look at yourself. What are your weaknesses? What will be your limiting factor in performance? What is your long term vision? It is uncommon that you are creating the last major macrocycle, this only happens once or twice in a life time. Most macrocycles are only means to further progress yourself using other goals as a medium.

The most important variables are the energy system the sport utilizes, the strength demands of the sport, the movement demands of the sport, favorable anthropometrics, and the conditions the sport will be performed in.

These are by no means the only ones, but these can generally be applied to all sports.

So you're at block one...how do you start? I recommend looking at the most successful participants in your sport and break down their performance and learn about them. You should have a clear indication of the direction you want to go with the program based on the research you have done before hand. Since you are working backwards it should be easy to periodize everything. The beginning portion of your program should be set to fixing weaknesses and creating a rock solid foundation. It should then progress to focusing on building important attributes for the sport. Finally, the program should be heavy in sport specific volume that translates best to your goals.

Think about how treasure maps work in movies:  the trip begins nice, but as you get closer and closer to the treasure you have to evade more dangers until you finally reach the end and are glad its all over.

Step 1: Pick 1-2 goals that you will be programming toward

Step 2: Pick the qualities and attributes you would like to improve to reach the goals

Step 3: Do the calendar math on how many total weeks you will have

Step 4: Pool together the movements you will be using

Step 5: Establish the method you would like to peak with and its attributes

Step 6: Begin reverse engineering the program back to week 1

Step 7: Sit on it, and review the program multiple times before you begin

Closing Thoughts

I may be beating a dead horse with this, but when it comes to planning out the macrocycle reverse engineering is most effective. You have a clear cut end goal with the traits you want to peak.  You then take one step back and start asking yourself questions:  what type of training protocol would allow you to peak for this? And so on and so forth.

Long term progress is not a linear track. This is where too much specificity can hurt you. If you spend more time developing your aerobic GPP you have a greater ability to handle general volume, which will allow you to handle more specific work, which will allow you to handle even greater amounts of specificity and so on. Do not allow yourself to view this process linearly, it is very much cyclic in nature. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid of long term commitment. Don’t be afraid of any bumps in the road. Don’t be afraid of the success you may reach.

about the author

Andrew Triana “The Leucine Frog” is a promising young coach who has an intense passion for his clients success and writing. It is evident in his work that he is relentless in his pursuit of excellence. At 20 years old Andrew has produced National champions, World champions, Pro strongmen, and has helped many others reach their goals.  Follow him on Twitter (@AndrewTriana) and Instagram (@andtriana).