Friday, December 28, 2012

The Horror of the Same Old Thing


The Screwtape Letters is an amazing short book of fiction by C.S. Lewis, consisting of letters of advice from a devil, the "affectionate uncle Screwtape", to his devil-in-training nephew who is struggling to corrupt a young Christian man. The letters are intended to be a Christian cautionary tale, but they can be interpreted as life lessons applicable to all faiths and fields.
Understand that, in these letters, the devil Screwtape is using the words "Enemy" and "He" to refer to God.
The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart - an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship. The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change. And since they need change, the Enemy (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them, just as He has made eating pleasurable. But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence...
Image of Uncle Screwtape from website of illustrator David M Cornish
The use of Fashions in thought is to distract the attention of men from their real dangers. We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under. Thus we make it fashionable to expose the dangers of enthusiasm at the very moment when they are all really becoming worldly and lukewarm; a century later, when we are really making them all Bryonic and drunk with emotion, the fashionable outcry is directed against the dangers of mere 'understanding'. Cruel ages are put on their guard against Sentimentality, feckless and idle ones against Puritanism; and whenever all men are really hastening to be slaves or tyrants we make Liberalism the prime bogey.
But the greatest triumph of all is to elevate this horror of the Same Old Thing into a philosophy so that nonsense in the intellect may reinforce corruption of the will... The Enemy loves platitudes. Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions; is it righteous? is it prudent? is it possible? Now if we can keep men asking 'Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that History is going? they will neglect the relevant questions. And the questions they do ask are, of course, unanswerable; for they do not know the future, and what the future will be depends very largely on just those choices which they now invoke the future to help them to make.
...Once they knew that some changes were for the better, and others for the worse, and others again indifferent. We have largely removed this knowledge. For the descriptive adjective 'unchanged' we have substituted the emotional adjective 'stagnant'. We have trained them to think of the Future as a promised land which favoured heroes attain - not as a something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is,
                                                                                                    Your affectionate uncle
                                                                                                     SCREWTAPE    
- From The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

This passage raises questions that we in the strength and fitness industry should take seriously...
 In training and the strength and fitness industries, what are the "real dangers"? 
What are the fashionable outcries against the vices of which we are in the least danger? 
What are the "relevant questions" we are ignoring? What unanswerable questions do we ask instead? 
Are we too quick to rule something 'unchanged' as 'stagnant'?
We need both meaningful consistency and thoughtful change to thrive. Many popular programs fail at one or both of these. Consistent effort is important, but consistently pounding oneself into a wall is not. Thoughtful change (often subtle) can propel us to new heights, but random, prolonged chaos can turn us into a shivering mess.

Is the consistency of your training driven by "Fashion"? Is the change in your training driven by the "Horror of the Same Old Thing"?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Woodcutter

Mastery by Robert Greene

It’s like chopping down a huge tree of immense girth. You won’t accomplish it with one swing of your axe. If you keep chopping away at it, though, and do not let up, eventually, whether it wants to or not, it will suddenly topple down. … But if the woodcutter stopped after one or two strokes of his axe to ask the third son of Mr. Chang, “Why doesn’t this tree fall?” And after three or four more strokes stopped again to ask the fourth son of Mr. Li “Why doesn’t this tree fall?” he would never succeed in felling the tree. It is no different for someone who is practicing the Way. 
Zen Master Hakuin (From "Mastery" by Robert Green, p. 91)
How much progress would the woodcutter make if, after every chop, ...

  - the woodcutter decided that his axe was the problem and what he needed was a new axe?
  - the woodcutter decided that this tree was too hard and what he needed was a new tree?
  - the woodcutter decided that his technique was off and what he needed were chopping lessons?
  - the woodcutter decided that his chop volume, intensity, or density needed adjustment?
  - the woodcutter decided that he needed to tweet about his chop quality?

Does this not remind you of the well-intentioned, but overly-distracted and under-performing wannabe fitness model? Sometimes you gotta just keep plugging away.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Intervention - The Book


The Five Principles (from Intervention by Dan John) 
1. Strength training for lean body mass and joint mobility work trumps everything else.
2. Fundamental human movements are fundamental.
3. Standards and gaps must be constantly assessed.
4. The notion of park bench and bus bench workouts must be applied together throughout the training lifetime.
5. Constantly strive for mastery and grace.
In 2011, I did a review of Dan John's Intervention DVD - it is my all-time favorite strength and conditioning DVD. When I found out that Dan John and Laree Draper were coming out with a book version, I was very excited and it does NOT disappoint. The book covers the content of the DVD and then some.
Many of the topics and concepts are things you might have read or heard from Dan John before, such as "free will", the quadrants, loaded carries, Litvinov, segments from Mass Made Simple, etc., but he's synthesized it all into a very dense, very readable, and very enjoyable book. AND, there is plenty of new material to mull over again and again.
At $25, it is a steal. Is it for you? YES! Sooner or later, you'll realize you need a training intervention. Trust me, sooner is better!

Friday, December 21, 2012

First and Second Things


First and Second Things
The woman who makes a dog the centre of her life loses, in the end, not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping. The man who makes alcohol his chief good loses not only his job but his palate and all power of enjoying the earlier (and pleasurable) levels of intoxication. It is a glorious thing to feel for a moment or two that the whole meaning of the universe is summed up in one woman – glorious so long as other duties and pleasures keep tearing you away from her. But clear the decks and so arrange your life (it is sometimes feasible) that you will have nothing to do but contemplate her, and what happens? Of course this law has been discovered before, but it will stand re-discovery. It may be stated as follows: every preference of a small good to a great, or a partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice was made. 
Apparently the world is made that way… You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first. From which it would follow that the question, “What things are first?” is of concern not only to philosophers but to everyone. 
- C.S. Lewis (from "Readings for Meditation and Reflection")


C.S. Lewis, in this excerpt, is talking about putting your spiritual life first, but it applies to all things. Without a solid foundation, elaborate trellises will be precarious at best. Without an adequate reserve of strength and fitness qualities, overly specialized training will only go so far.

If you find yourself lost, begin by re-tackling the question "What things are first?" and proceed from there.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Last Chance For a Skwat! T-Shirt in 2012


There's still time! I still have some Skwat! t-shirts in sizes Youth-Medium, Adult-Small, Adult-Large, Adult-XLarge. The shirts will be $25 each, shipping included. Send me an email at boris_york@yahoo.com if you're interested. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

"DFL"

Back in the day, I was a pretty fair swimmer and ended up going to a large D1 university with a strong swimming program. I knew going in that it wasn't going to be easy - I had no desire to be a big fish in a small pond. I wanted to swim with and against some of the best in the country and the world. It was no cake-walk and, in my first year, there were meets that the freshman would joke "Dude, just don't be DFL!". "DFL", for us, meant "Dead. F---ing. Last."

The shift from dreams of glory, to fears of failure and embarrassment, back to the middle of the pack, and then to dream of glory once again was a great experience. I needed it. Later in life, when I had injuries, and when I became serious about coaching, and when I became a parent, those lessons in empathy, humility and perseverance were invaluable.

When you're learning the ropes, those first competitive experiences can potentially be a springboard for further success, or demotivate an athlete entirely before they've even begun to express their latent potential. DFL can be a lot easier to take if you have successful experiences already banked to cushion the blow.


Recently, my son was DFL in his very first bouldering competition. I was concerned that the placing would hurt his interest in climbing but, two months later, he wanted to enter another bouldering competition. He worked through his "problems", using all of his available time, never getting flustered. I was proud of his effort and he was ecstatic about his 8th place (out of 10) finish. We later laughed when it looked like 9th and 10th places went to entries that never showed up, but there's a valuable lesson there too!! DFL is infinitely better than never even throwing your hat into the ring. You have to show up!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Holiday Shopping Guide for 2012

It's crunch-time for holiday and Christmas shopping! If you've run out of ideas for the weight-lifting maniac in your life, or you're just looking for something special for yourself, here's a short list of things I think you might like. If you're wondering what else I've listed over the years, I've included links to previous suggestions.

$5 - 24" Nylon Runners
I reviewed these back in August and use them (instead of chain and clips) to link weights for pulls, drags, and grip work. They come in handy often.

$4-$10 Movement Lectures
Laree and Dave Draper of bodybuilding fame and davedraper.com, have put together an amazing collection of audio programs recorded by the finest minds in fitness and strength and conditioning today. Just about every topic in the field from assessment and rehabilitation to the business of personal training. There's even an audio program about squatting! Most lectures are in the $5 range and 30-60 minutes long. Sometimes it's nice to have these playing in the car during a long commute, or when you're taking the dog for a walk.

$25 - One 25lb Standard Weight Plate(s)
I know what you're thinking, "Standard plates... Whaa...?" Buy a slick plate like the one pictured and carry it back to your car pinch gripping it one handed - you'll understand it then. No, it's not going to turn you into a grip champion like Adam Glass, but some work with it and I'm betting you'll have a newfound appreciation for grip strength feats. Try it with farmers walks, passes around the waist, and plate curls (but don't overdo it).
If you find the 25lb plate to be too much, buying a 10lb plate and tying weight from it (you could use the nylon runner!!!) is a great way to build yourself up to the 25. ...the 10lb plate is cheaper to boot!



$24.95 - Dan John: Intervention (book)
Of all the strength and conditioning DVDs I own, "Intervention" is the one I will probably have to replace from viewing so often. I did a DVD review and you can find it here. The content is clear, informative, and relevant to weight trainers of all goals and interests. The book covers the same material and then some in a very readable format at a price everyone can afford. I will post a more complete review soon.


$25 - SKWAT! T-Shirt
I have a small batch of shirts and if you've ever wanted one, now's the time! Sizes available are Youth Medium, Adult Small, Medium, Large, and X-Large. Shoot me an email at boris_york@yahoo.com and we'll arrange payment through PayPal.

Previous Holiday Gift Suggestions:
2011

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

I just got over, most likely, some kind of rotavirus, and am on the mend. The upside to the rotavirus is that I was weened of my caffeine addiction and appetite for junk food. We'll see how it lasts, but I'm looking forward to a restful day of gratitude with the family, and, appetite-willing, some "re-fueling".

I hope you all have peaceful time with friends and family as well.


Happy Thanksgiving everyone and Thank YOU!

- Boris

Saturday, November 17, 2012

It's Hard Work Making It Look This Hard!


I touched on the topic of falling to the ground, screaming in the fetal position in the post Walk It Out! There's more to "walking it out" after a tough set than the obvious physical reasons. 
The practice of looking pained does (in my experience and opinion) make things feel worse than they really are. And practicing it on a regular basis makes you better at becoming a crumpled, heaving mess on the floor. Not exactly what we're training for, is it?
I know what you're thinking - 'They can't help it! They've pushed themselves to their absolute limit!' I can't respond to this other than to say that, in some cultures, the crumpling-to-the-floor-thing is much more prevalent than others, even if we were to control for task-difficulty and fitness levels. I believe most people would concede this if we pointed to specific examples...
So, if it is true that they can indeed "help it", then why on earth would anyone want to do this on purpose? Because most of us come from cultures where hard-work, regardless of outcome, is praised and rewarded, and perceived light effort (aka "slacking") is punished. Conditioning (operant, not fitness) takes place early for many of us in gym class or in sports practice sessions. Observable effort and exhaustion (or at least the appearance of exhaustion) gets you an "ATTA BOY!" and in the showers early. Taken to extremes, injury can be rewarded with compassion and a lighter work load. Most athletes can remember a time when they saw their injured teammate sitting on the sidelines and thought "Damn, here I am working my arse off... he's got it easy....". Looking unruffled might get you extra "smoker" set as a reward, added (unwanted) playing time when fatigued,  - YAY!
In fact, there are really very good reasons to practice making something that's actually very difficult look like it's easy. If you believe that "perceived exertion" means anything at all (and some training templates are based on rate of perceived exhaustion scales so there is probably something to them), then it makes sense that you would want to do your very best to ingrain the habit of thinking that (and acting as if) 'it ain't no big deal.' Practicing this mind-set and reaction to strenuous physical exertion will make it easier to catch your breath and reset for further exertion if you choose to pursue them, or if they choose to pursue you... Just something to think about.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Man Who Loved Dragons

There once was a man who loved dragons. He built his house in the shape of a dragon. He made paper dragon kites and told dragon stories to children. He also loved to carve dragons. His reputation grew far and wide. Then, one day a dragon flew by, and saw the man's house in the shape of a dragon and thought it would be a good idea to visit this man who, he was sure, would be pleased to meet a real dragon. So the dragon landed and knocked on the door. When the man opened the door, he was so startled that he screamed and scared the dragon away.
- Zen parable
My students saw this parable recently and were puzzled. "What does that mean sensei?" My interpretation was that "the man who loved dragons" is a man who does not live in the present -he lives in a fantasy world. In truth, he does not love dragons, he loves the idea of dragons.
In the training industry, there are internet gurus who don't train anyone IRL (in real life), including themselves to any appreciable degree. Toiling away to create the perfect training split, dispensing advice freely and unabashedly from the safety of their keyboards rather than the sweat and tears of experience. In this way, they are much like our friend above who loves dragons but is scared of the real thing.
It's nice to dream. Plans, models, and reflections are comfortable, and they can be helpful. But, without actual dragons, isn't it all just an elaborate game of pretend?

Picture from resobox.com

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Blog's 5 Years Old Today

Happy Birthday to the Squat Rx blog!

Five years, huh? It's been fun. If you've been reading the blog long, you know that there are recurring themes here - I hope they aren't too hard to see.

The things I value and aspire to, in writing, training, and life are:
* The Quest for Mastery
* Consistency
* Compassion
* Ownership
* Intention without Entitlement (i.e. goals are good, expectations are bad)

Thank you for your readership and friendship and I look forward to another five years and beyond.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Squatting Is...

CLIMBING

I've been taking my son to climb rock climbing walls for quite a while now and we finally took the plunge and joined a local youth recreational climbing team. He seems to be enjoying it and, with competent instruction, is learning technique and patience under stress - important skills for climbing and life.

I spend most of my time watching, occasionally lending a hand belaying, and wishing that I could instantly drop 40 pounds to scamper up the walls (and then gain it back again for lifting). Good times, good times. Not cheap, but good times.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sarge's Squat

This one is really, really gutsy. I can't believe I didn't include it in our "30 Days of Squat!". I apologize and hope you'll be inspired enough watching it to forgive me.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Words of Wisdom - Theodore Roosevelt

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. 
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sunday, September 30, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 30) - Staying Healthy

If there are a few rules of thumb that I've accumulated over the years, these are the ones I'd give to a younger me.

*Finding the things that count is what it's all about
When I first started squatting, a high-bar position was all I knew. I stuck with it for years. When I figured out how to hold the bar lower on my back, I instantly added a comfortable 50 pounds to my squat and then stuck with it for  years. While sticking with those positions for years forced me to really work with them and learn them, I realize now that a single-minded drive for higher and higher loads in a single measure (unless you are a powerlifter) is misguided. When I start to get achey or a-holey, it's time kick back the load and try something new.
Don't misunderstand me here; I'm NOT saying that getting strong isn't important - I'm simply saying that "strong" isn't limited to what you can do on a single metric (be that an exercise or program) and that, in Albert Einstein's words "Not everything that counts can be measured. Not everything that can be measured counts." To make things more complicated, some things count sometimes, but not always... Finding the things that count is what it's all about.

*Frequent squatting makes it easier to gauge how you are feeling from one session to the next
I don't recommend people to squat daily, but when I was doing the "Squat To A Million Pounds" drive to raise money for Tsunami victims, I went a stretch of 70-something days, squatting over 10,000 pounds everyday. In retrospect, I should have done a better job of conditioning prior, but it was a sudden thing that I felt I needed to do.
The most enlightening parts of that experience were the daily feedback I would get from "yesterday's session", and figuring out how to include a thorough and proper warm-up every time even when under time constraints.

*Unilateral work is something to try to include in the mix
There are a lot of squat variants that most traditional squatters overlook. I like Bulgarian Split Squats, but there are other options. A single kettlebell front squat, for example, while not what most people think of when they think of "unilateral", is a great way to unevenly load the squat movement - I've been able to do them even with mild back strains when I could not do barbell squats. Lunges, while certainly not an exercise I'd recommend for everyone, are about as common as a squat below parallel with three wheels at the local fitness club. Turkish Get-Ups (most techniques anyway) include a lunge in its execution, so if you're struggling to get your unilateral fix, a good dose of TGUs can do the job.



*Switch things up before they mess you up
When I was a kid, we used to say "If you 'love it', why don't you marry it?". We'd say it dripping with heavy sarcasm and the thought of it still makes me laugh. Don't be married to any one squat variant or training program - it doesn't matter how much you 'love' it. As much as I love the idea of Smolov, Smolov has not been good to me. Beginning it, and then feeling compelled to continue until it's done, or I'm done, has left me broken more than once. In this post, Three Is a Magic Number, I talked about three weeks being about as long as the body will care to really, really push it. After that, even if you are still gaining (unless you are a beginner), it's probably going to be in your best interest to change things up. The change can come in load, volume, rest intervals, movement variation, training frequency, etc. - doesn't mean you have to throw out your current program, just that you be willing and able to change it when necessary.

*Stretching, mobility, working out the kinks - whatever you call it, do it
I've realized that I have a very different working definition of what "stretching" is than many other in the strength and conditioning, and fitness fields. That's fine - I don't like arguing about jargon, buzz-words, and phraseology. Most people can agree, I think, that moving well (mechanically sound and pain-free) is very important and that's what really matters.
In my opinion, stretching, mobility work, massage, electro-stim, ice, NSAIDs, compression, bands, roller, sticks, etc. are all tools for a job, and they all have their place in the recovery and movement prep arenas. Find what works. Experiment (safely and intelligently). Beware the hucksters that tell you that any of the above are horrible, because I've tried them all and they all work very well given the right conditions.
Squat-specifically, spend time working on your shoulder, thoracic, scapular, hip, hamstring, and ankle mobility and strength - if those are feeling good and strong, you're bound to squat more smoothly and with less issues.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 29) - 60 Ways To Cook A Squat


I posted this list a while back as "55 Ways To Cook A Squat". I've added a few more this time around. While I believe that most people should not be "married" to any one variation, or any one set-rep-intensity-volume-frequency plan, the last variant listed here should not be forgotten.

Squat (high bar)
Squat (low bar)
Squat (w. Manta-Ray)
Squat (w. Top Squat)
Squat (goblet)
Squat (Jefferson)
Squat (Hack)
Squat (Zercher)
Squat (trap bar)
Squat (cambered bar)
Squat (safety squat bar)
Squat (thick bar)
Squat (w. hip belt)
Squat (front)
Squat (front + push-press/"thruster"/"long press")
Squat (overhead)
Squat (full)
Squat (half/parallel)
Squat (quarter)
Squat (walk-outs)
Squat (regular stance)
Squat (narrow stance)
Squat (wide stance)
Squat (ultra-wide stance)
Squat (staggered stance)
Squat (w. chains)
Squat (w. bands)
Squat (w. weight releasers)
Squat (box)
Squat (low box)
Squat (high box)
Squat (pause)
Squat (eccentric-only)
Squat (concentric-only)
Squat (isometric)
Squat (oscillating)
Squat (breathing)
Squat (fast tempo)
Squat (slow tempo)
Squat (varied tempo)
Squat (bodyweight)
Squat (face wall)
Squat (Hindu)
Squat (one-legged)
Squat (pistol)
Squat (Bulgarian split)
Squat (split)
Squat (lunge)
Squat (side-lunge/"Cossacks")
Squat (bearhug w. sandbag)
Squat (shouldered sandbag)
Squat (front w. kettlebells)
Squat (front w. single kettlebell)
Squat (overhead w. kettlebells)
Squat (one-arm overhead)
Squat (drop to overhead)
Squat (arms outstretched in front, a.k.a. "JV Squats" or "Zombie Squats")
Squat (timed)
Squat (reverse - w. bands, inversion boots, or partner assisted)
Squat (HEAVY)

Friday, September 28, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 28) - Shoes

I've worn a lot of different shoes over the years when squatting.

My favorite shoes are my Adidas Adistar weightlifting shoes - they were expensive but I've been wearing them for over 10 years and I expect to be able to wear them for another decade. They will need to be re-soled, but that is a pretty small expense really.
I bought a pair just like these a couple of months ago - still ugly, but more shoe-like in appearance and feel

I like squatting moderate (but not heavy) weights in Vibrams. I've had a pair for about five years now and I hated them at first, but grew to appreciate them. Recently, I found a nice pair made of leather with laces for something like $60 on clearance. Some advice with the Vibrams: Get toed socks and wear them every time you put on the Vibrams unless you want everyone to smell you coming 10 feet away. Also, when purchasing them, make absolutely sure the sizing is right and take your time acclimating to them.

For what it's worth, I've never been a big fan of Chuck Taylors or squatting barefoot though I tried to like them. Chucks just never felt comfortable and I always felt like my feet would slip inside the shoe slightly - not something you want when squatting heavy. With bare feet, I always felt "naked" and worried that sweat and/or a lack of a grippy sole would not be the best means for grounding a solid base. I realize that both have their fans and that's fine - it's just an opinion.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 27) - JumpStretch Bands


Bands are truly the cat's meow. Rarely does a week or month go by that I don't thank Westside, Louie Simmons, and Dick Hartzell for popularizing their use in the strength and conditioning field.

I wrote the linked short article about stretches and drills I do with bands for lower back and squat positioning. Let me know what you think: Jumpstretch Band Drills and Stretches

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 26) - Dave Tate

These articles by Dave Tate are outstanding. Some of the information may not be completely up to date with current Westside philosophy, but it is still very solid information. Take your time with them and post up a comment or two if you'd like.

Squatting From Head to Toe: Introducing the Box Squat
Squat 900 Pounds: 10 surefire ways to help you squat BIG
Squat Training Westside Barbell Style

 Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 25) - Power Unlimited

The movie, Power Unlimited is an interesting look at the world of powerlifting and its personalities. This is the first ten minutes - enjoy!

Monday, September 24, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 24) - Tom Platz

The Incomparable Leg Development of Tom Platz

In the early 90s, bodybuilder Tom Platz and powerlifter Dr. Fred Hatfield had a "squat off" - a squat contest consisting of a one-rep maximum and a 500lb squat for maximum reps. Dr. Squat (Fred Hatfield) won the max single competition, and Tom Platz (aka "The Golden Eagle") won the 500lb squat for reps with this effort:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 23) - Thoughts on High-Rep Squats

Why would anyone want to do 20 reps of barbell squats? Because, high-rep barbell back squats...

...build "wind"
I'm a big believer in people doing things they enjoy to improve general fitness. If you are a gym rat that hates traditional "cardio" options, then high-rep squats could be the answer for you. Is it sport-specific? Well, probably no, not really. Unless your sport is squatting a barbell for a lot of reps, then high-rep squats aren't what I'd call "sport-specific", but having legs and lungs that don't quit are a plus for most people and there are skaters, cyclists, and climbers that call high-rep squats "friend".

...develop mental toughness
A single high-rep session, let alone a string of them, isn't just unpleasant - it can be downright frightening! Managing the physical and mental stress of squatting a hundred kilograms or more for 20+ reps is a skill worth learning.

...develop work-capacity and focus
Maintaining proper form and grinding out another five reps when every cell of your body is telling you to re-rack the weight makes a single, double, or triple effort feel almost laughable  - "Is that it?". Now, please understand, I'm not saying that high-reps are going to improve your limit-strength - almost certainly they will NOT unless your 1-2-3 rep maxes are low to begin with. But, after a steady diet of high-reps, low-rep sets and sessions (which may be lower volume as well) will be easier to focus on and recover from.

...are a staple of many, many weight-gaining strength programs
It's pretty tough to find people that couldn't gain muscle on a high-rep squat routine. The problem is that most people either don't continue the practice beyond a single session, or they continue far beyond the point of diminishing returns. For the life of me, I don't know why anyone would WANT to continue a high-rep squat program beyond 3-5 weeks.

While I wouldn't necessarily recommend it for everyone in the gym, reps of 20 and beyond has a place in just about any competent squatter's training. It goes without saying that, unless you really have a thing for pain and potential injury, a high degree of technical competence and a short preparatory period are mandatory prerequisites to barbell squatting for long sets.

Thoughts? Comments? Personal Experiences? Please share them here, or send me an email. Look forward to hearing from you.

Friday, September 21, 2012

30 Days of Squat (Day 21) - Neoteny

Benoit Mandelbrot coined the term "fractals" to describe the kaleidoscope-like, self-similar, self-repeating geometric shapes that are visible everywhere in nature. With the squat, what are the essential components (the FRACTALS) that we see repeated in healthy, athletic movement?
In a strong and healthy squat, we see:- healthy, uninhibited extension-  solid posture- external rotation of the arms and hips- engagement of the glutes and lats- solid breathing patterns 
From Squat Talk by Boris Bachmann
Although, squatting is not always "fun", when done well, it has all the characteristics of playful movement. The squat is play... Just something to ponder...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 20) - "Sit Back"

I made the following video a while back because I kept hearing people giving the cue "sit back" to people who were squatting with a high-bar position. For most people, unless they have a relatively very short torso, this is going to make it very difficult to maintain posture (lumbar curve).

It should be obvious that, if you have an exaggerated hips-back squatting style, your upper body has to lean forward to compensate and keep the weight centered over your foot. Simple physics dictate that (unless you are on a Smith machine) you will not be able to maintain an upright upper body position without falling on your butt.

If you are going to squat with the hips back and (consequently) a lot of upper body lean, then lowering the barbell on the torso will be a much more advantageous position for almost everyone (mobility permitting).



So, what if I CAN'T handle a low-bar position? The options, as I see them, are to develop a more upright (sit-down) position which may necessitate more hip and hamstring mobility work, or continue to sit back and strengthen the crap out of your posterior chain to compensate for the position of weakened leverage.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 19) - Deadlift Stud, Squatting Dud

Almost every time someone asks me how to bring up his squat, he's surprised when I suggest he isn't squatting often enough. If squatting is a skill that has not been developed, practice is what is needed. Every training session does not have to be a high-intensity, high-volume Smolov hell, but more frequent sessions with greater focus on technique and tension can't hurt. 
For most beginner and intermediate lifters, it is a truism that squat training will help their deadlift numbers. The converse of this is not true, however; most people will NOT experience a commensurate rise in their squat numbers as their deadlift improves. I'm not saying anyone should slack in their deadlift training, but you have to work your weaknesses harder than your strengths if you want your weaknesses to become strengths. 
If you are doing both the squat and deadlift in the same session, do your squats first. If you are doing both squat and deadlift work during the week, make sure squats come early in the week and before deadliest. Prioritize your squat by doing squats and assistance exercises and drills early in the week. I call this 'front-loading' your work week; by putting your 'money sets' in early and getting them over with, you avoid the tendency to slack off as the week marches on.
- From Deadlift Stud, Squatting Dud by Boris Bachmann

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 18) - Paul Carter

Squatting is your man making exercise.
When my squat is in the shitter, without fail, the rest of my training usually is too.
If my squat is kicking ass, the rest of my training is too. Even if it's not, it feels like it is. You know why? Because my squat is. 
From: The Lifter Series - I Will Squat at Paul Carter's site, Lift-Run-Bang

Monday, September 17, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 17) - Supportive Equipment

I made the following two videos about the use of supportive equipment when squatting about five years ago. I think that, except for editing and video/sound quality issues, and the considerable lengthiness, they were done well.
When wearing a suit, especially for a low-bar sit-back style, it is easier to slip into a relaxed posture when squatting below parallel because, by doing so, you stretch the suit less. The problem, of course, is that by doing so, you are taking strain off the suit and very likely putting it square onto your lumbar and knees.
The biggest nugget of the video is this (and I don't remember if I stated it exactly this way or not): When it comes to supportive equipment, THE PATH OF MOST RESISTANCE IS THE PATH OF MOST ASSISTANCE. It should be hard (and painful) as all get out to lower into a deep and technically sound squat with tight fitting equipment - if it isn't hard, it isn't doing much for you.



Sunday, September 16, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 16) - Timed Squats

While I'm sure the timed squats had a positive influence on our aerobic conditioning, the unexpected plus from doing the routine was the way it affected our mental states. Prior to embarking on this program, we always took five or more minutes between our heavy sets. Timed squats taught us that we didn't need much rest. ...that understanding of what the body can withstand under dire stress gave us a tremendous boost of confidence on the lifting platform. If we got rushed between attempts, it no longer mattered. It also helped us move through our regular sessions at a much faster pace, which enabled us to do more work in less time. 
From Time To Squat by Bill Starr

A few years ago, I was training for a birthday goal of squatting 225 pounds x my age. As was the case with me frequently back then, I ended up hurting myself before the attempt because I couldn't back off even when I knew I had already done more than enough. Anywho, in preparation for the high-rep challenge, I tried a lot of things, including this timed squat session which was quite demanding.


This year, I'll be working toward a similar goal - bodyweight x my age. With my bodyweight being pretty low these days, it shouldn't be too bad, but I'm not getting any younger and anything much beyond 5 reps is "high reps" for me.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 15) - Easier Doesn't Work

Mark Rippetoe's writing is absolutely fantastic. In my opinion, the book Starting Strength is a must-have for all coaches and trainers who do basic barbell exercises. "Rip" has a way with words that is clear, entertaining, and informative.
Squatting high is easier, but easier doesn't work. You actually know this already, even if you keep the secret buried down below your brain stem. Easier has never worked, and you figured this out in about the fifth grade, provided you weren't in some remedial program mandated by your state. 
When you memorized all your multiplication tables, arithmetic was a lot easier, wasn't it? When you diagrammed all your sentences, the next semester's writing assignments were easier, right? When you actually did all your homework, the test was easier. That type of easier does work. 
Squats below parallel are your homework. The result of doing them is that you get stronger on all the other exercises, even the pressing movements, because squats make your whole body stronger - if you do them correctly. I know it's harder that way, and one of the ways you know it's wrong to do them high is that everybody else does them high. When was the last time that thing everybody else was doing turned out to be the right thing to do? 
Deep squats done with a weight that's a little heavier each time you train affect your body in a way that no other exercise can. And believe me when I say that "other methods" have been tried. They just don't work. And it's not that they don't work as well, they don't work at all. 
From When It Comes To Squats, Easier Doesn't Work by Mark Rippetoe

Photobucket 

Friday, September 14, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 14) - SUPER SQUATS

You'll hear a lot of foolishness on the internet about high-rep squats. Most of it is along the lines of "OH, That high-rep squatting stuff is for the birds! No one trains that way anymore - it's just old-school macho B.S.!", or the opposite of that "High-rep squats are the only way to display your manhood!" Errrr, okay... 
Look, if someone tells you that high-rep squatting might not be the only way to make good muscle gains in a relatively short amount of time AND they have a more moderate and intelligent plan for doing so, then they are probably worth a listen. If on the other hand, their first reaction is over the top, claiming that the only thing high-rep squats are good for are injuries or overtraining, then you need to get away from them - they have no idea what they are talking about.
There are legitimate criticisms of high-rep squats, but "not working" (as far as muscle growth is concerned) is NOT one of them. 

From: Super Squats: How to gain 30 pounds of muscle in 6 weeks by Randall J. Strossen, Ph.D.
The Abbreviated Program 
If you have problems gaining weight on the basic program, try this: 
Bench Press           2 x 12
Parallel Squat        1 x 20
Rader chest pull     1 x 20
Bent over rowing   2 x 15 
This program has worked some absolute miracles on people whose bodies defied development on countless other exercise programs, and these three exercises - the bench press, squat, and bent-over rowing - are Peary Rader's precise recommendation for "great results, both in the legs and the upper body" (Rader, 1964, p. 25). Just remember to work absolutely as hard as you possibly can on these exercises: Fight for every last rep and try to add weight to the benches and rows every workout, exactly as in the squats. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT (Day 13) - The Ugly

I think there is probably a place for the Smith machine in some people's training, but this video would not be an example of proper usage. It looks like a school weight room. I wonder if anyone was sued...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 12) - The Bad

Be willing and able to dump the weight if you aren't going to squat in a power rack. Please. Videos like this scare me.

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 11) - The Good

Powerlifting purists would balk at the depth, judging by hip-crease to top of the knee standard, but there's not a soul who could question the ease of these squats.

Monday, September 10, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 10) - Michael Boyle

Mike Boyle came under fire a couple of years ago because of his strong language speaking out against the cult of back squatting. I wrote about it a bit in this post, The Death of The Conventional Squat? While I don't completely agree and dislike hyperbole, I respect coaches that are thoughtful and not afraid to speak their minds even when their opinions won't win them any internet popularity contests...

Those in the hard-core crowd love to bang square pegs into round holes, one size fits all. If the squat is a great exercise, it must be great for every athlete in every situation. I was one of those guys for years, forcing my basketball players to squat, and searching endlessly for ways to help them learn the right technique.
Then I figured something out: There's a limiting factor in squatting we call segmental proportion. Athletes with long femurs relative to the length of the torso will be lousy squatters. These guys were always forwards or centers, six-feet-five or taller.
But it's not just about height - some tall basketball players are actually very good squatters.
The problem is an athlete with these proportions needs an extreme forward lean when squatting, making it look like he's doing a good morning. This athlete will generally be frustrated  with the inability to do the exercise correctly, and may even suffer back pain.
Eventually I could identify these athletes before we got anywhere near the squat rack. Basketball players with exceptionally long femurs always look short sitting down. I remember sitting next to a player and realizing that despite the fact he was eight inches taller than me, we were eye-to-eye when seated in chairs.
My advice to fellow coaches: If an athlete is built proportionately and can squat with good form, go for it. If the athlete is all legs, be careful: You're looking at a square peg... 
To offset leverage, try these options:
  • For strength, use front squats, belt squats, single-leg squats with the rear foot elevated (Bulgarian split squats) or trap bar deadlifts.
  • For power, try Olympic lifts from the hang position above the knees, along with Vertimax jumps.