Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Changing Lives & Thanks

I've mentioned this kind of thing before - when clients say thank you.

On Joe DeFranco's latest podcast, Science vs. Experience, he talks about why he does what he does - changing lives.

You can hear this particular bit starting at 37:30. (Warning, brief profanity about 10 minutes into it.)

He gets a bit choked up about it. If you've ever wondered why Joe talks more about the pro athletes he's helped than the kids he's helped transform, well, that's probably partly why. It's easy to get emotional about changing the course of a kid's life.

I've experienced this to a much lesser degree - not nearly as many people. But even with one, it's both fulfilling and humbling.

Fulfilling because yes, I'm in it to change people's lives. I'm in it not to get you that last 1% of performance but to get you that first 50% of zero to capable. It's incredibly rewarding to get someone from "I can't" to "I can and will." It's equally fulfilling to do this with an adult - giving back what was lost or never had - as a child or teen - giving them to tools to make their life that much better going forward.

It's also humbling because at one point I was that zero. I couldn't do a proper pushup, or a pullup. I was out of shape. I was easily winded beyond the explanation of asthma. I was lacking in physical self-confidence and it bled into other areas. I made a big change on my own - maybe the largest change on my own - but then enlisted trainers to help me move further along into being the best me I can be. It's humbling to think I have the capability to show someone how to do this.

After all, it's not me. It's not us, as trainers. We just provide the knowledge, the tools, and the setting. The trainees provide the work and provide the results. We set the table and hand over the ingredients but they cook and enjoy the meal.

So I get why Joe gets choked up, here. I have problems taking compliments and thanks. I tend to look at things at can't do with great awe and things I can with a total lack of awe. But it's so rewarding to see someone change and be part of the help that let them do it.

It's what I'm in the industry to do.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Quick Tip: Ways to Progress

Here is a quick list of ways to progress at exercises:

- add weight.

- add sets.

- add reps (per set or total rep count).

- decrease rest time.

- increase the duration of a rep (by increasing the concentric, eccentric, or isometric portions).

- extended the range of motion (deepen a squat,step-up to a higher box, deadlift from a deficit, etc. - works better with lower body generally).

- do 1 1/2 reps.

- use unstable resistance (press barbells with suspended weights).

Anything I'm missing? Add it in the comments!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Cardio fitness helps depression

This is old news within the training world, but it's good that it's getting more traction in the wider press:

Cardio fitness can help save men with depression

Pretty much, positive physical activity helps your mental state, and vice-versa.

Monday, May 15, 2017

How to Answer Your Trainer's Questions - Warning, Trainer Humor

So you want to know the way to answer all of your trainer's questions in exactly the right way to shut down further discussion, that painful diet talk, and going up in weight on reps (or keeping the weight where it is?)? Here is your cheat sheet! Have this handy for when you want to wriggle out of tough questions designed to actually increase your results.

Trainer questions are in Italics, answers in quotes.

What did you have for breakfast?

"Some lean protein - leftover chicken breast I prepared on Sunday - some steamed mixed vegetables, some steel-cut oats, and a glass of water."

No fats?

"Just my fish oil and a few slivered almonds."

How much food?

"I try to keep it to 20% of my calories per day since I'm eating five times a day."

How did that weight feel?


Could you go up?

(If you want to) "Yes, no problem."
(If you don't) "I think I should stick with that another set because it caught up to me at the end of the set."

How many more reps did you have in the tank?
Could you have done more reps?

"One or two."

Have you been doing your cardio at home?

"Yes, and I'm parking further from the door at work and taking the stairs, too."

Have you been stretching?


Have you been sneaking in extra biceps curls and doing (name crazy workout) on days when you're supposed to rest?

"No, I've been prioritizing recovery."

How are you feeling today?

"Good. I'm ready to go."

And the kicker:

Are you going to make it all three sessions next week?

"Without a doubt."

Cancel by text, it'll save time for both of you.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Quick Tip: Respect but don't fear the weights

If there is one thing I try to teach lifters, especially younger lifters, it's this:

Respect the weight, but don't fear the weight.

You can't be casual with weights. You should handle even the empty bar like it's a sizeable percentage of your best one-rep lift. Treat it with respect. Set up correctly, grip it correctly, brace correctly. It's better to brace your abs, squeeze your grip, and lift an empty bar with your best technique and have it be too light then to get hurt taking it casually.

Young kids really have a hard time with this, which is the main reason I'm reluctant to have them handle weights - they'll throw them around, pick up heavy weights and try to shove them overhead but lack control, do 10 reps 10 different ways, etc. They just don't have the appropriate respect for the weight and what I can do for and too them. Teaching them that it's not a toy is the first step.

But at the same time you can't be afraid of the weight. If you've ever seen a lifter unrack a heavy barbell for a bench press, or set up for a squat, and lower the weight s-l-o-w-l-y and carefully and then struggle to come back up, you know what I mean. If you've seen someone who's set for an easy pullup hang for ten seconds then try to wiggle up, yet can lower themselves under control over 30 seconds, you've seen it too. If you let that weight - the numbers, the feel, whatever - get on top of you, you'll struggle to lift it.

If you give it just the right amount of respect, you'll be fine. I've seen kids get pinned under a weight, re-rack it and try again five minutes later, and knock off five easy reps. You have to treat that weight like it's heavy when it's light, and the heavy weights just the same way you'd treat the light ones.

I personally struggle with this with deadlifts. I feel like if things go badly, I'm going to bow under the weight and get hurt. Ironically, it's probably the safest lift for me because if things go badly I can just let go. And if it's too heavy, it just won't budge. I should be more nervous under a back or front squat, or lowering a too-heavy bench press. I'm not. I know the power rack has me safe from real harm, and I just don't have that concern that I bring to heavy deadlifts.

It's a hurdle that can move as the weights come up - you might fear 135 as a beginner but then fear 225 or 315 as a more experienced lifter. The trick is to acknowledge that, trust your process, and use every light rep as practice for the heavy ones. Respect, not fear.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Making people feel successful

I liked this article over at Elite FTS:

What I Learned from Arnold Schwarzenegger

It's a very specific lesson about making people feel successful.

"When was the last time you acted super-impressed by someone you knew wasn't on your level? And if you passed on the opportunity to, why?"

I try to do this often. Not for motivation, but because people's achievements are a big deal. I pulled 335 the other day. I watched one of my friends pull over 335 on his first day ever of trap bar deadlifting, and did it for a set of five. Does this mean my achievement isn't worth being impressed by? Not worth cheering over?


It's worth celebrating other people's successes. This is especially true if you're in a

In the arena of competitive physical sports, people often dump on what you do because someone else has done it harder, better. But I also come from the world of teaching. You can't shrug off a kid reading a difficult word for the first time, or spelling it, or following a hard reading passage, or any of that just because others before him or her have done it. If they're achieving something that is difficult for them, and they're winning at something that's a stretch for them, it's worth celebrating.

You can't celebrate something you all know didn't take any work.

"Marquise de Merteuil: One does not applaud the tenor for clearing his throat."

It just won't work. Praise me for pulling 295 and I'll just shrug. I've pulled 295 over and over. Praise someone who something that's easy and you diminish the value of praise. You can't manufacture the feeling of success, but you can feed it. That feeling leads to doing more of what got you to success.

I recently had a teenager front squat his bodyweight for a double, then come back a week later and squat 1 and then 30 pounds over that each for a solid single. I made sure to praise him for it - that's hard work, and it's a big achievement. I made a big of it because it is one.

A first pullup. The first time you use the 45 pound plates. Your best effort that leads to something good. Those things are successes, and if you can highlight them in other people when the occur you can reinforce the behavior that got them there.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Peter's Trap Bar DL PR

I hit a trap bar deadlift PR yesterday.

That's 335 at 185 pounds of body weight. It shattered my previous PR by 20 pounds and matched my all-time best straight-bar DL. I felt like I had a lot of poundage left in me, but I hit a very solid PR and just cut it there. I can get more later.

Previously I pulled 315 at 180 pounds back in January. That matched my all-time PR pulled almost 8 years before. I pulled 315 on 4/3, and it was tough. I failed, needed to back off, and put on a belt, and then work my way back up to 315 and had nothing left in the tank.

Today it was just easy. I pulled:

5 x 155
2 x 205
2 x 245
1 x 295
1 x 315

Then I briefly failed on 335. I got set and started to pull and it broke the floor, but I realized I'd taken a too-wide stance and that forced me to roll forward onto my toes. I just stopped right there. I took less than a minute to re-set and pulled the rep in the video:

1 x 335 (with belt)

Pushing up the bar, and making Mike Guadango change record board listing:

335 isn't a very heavy deadlift for many people. For me, it's a significant PR and it shows me how far I've come.

I've got an eye on eventually pulled 365 at 182.5 pounds or less body weight - a double body weight deadlift.

I'd list credits of the people I need to thank for but the list would be too long. At the very least I need to mention three: John for getting me to pull 315 and 335 back in the day so I knew it was there in me now, Tom for constantly telling me to get after it and get it, and Mike for bringing me from trouble walking right to pulling a PR with room to spare.
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