Things I’ve Read Recently, and Have Semi-Coherent Thoughts On, Volume 2

24 Apr

4 Things I’ve Stolen From CrossFit by Dan Trink

I agree with the author on, well, basically everything.  In particular I’ve greatly enjoyed adding some gymnastics stuff into my workouts.  Handstand pushups and muscleups are a hell of a lot of fun, plus I get to look like a bad ass.

Ask Well: More Repetitions vs. More Weight? by Gretchen Reynolds

This short little blog post pissed me off.  While I’m not really in a position to critique the science, I will say that if you only lift at 30% of your 1RM, your 1RM will plateau very quickly, and I will bet you every dollar in my bank account that your muscular growth will plateau as well.  However, if you lift heavier, your 1RM will increase, and your higher rep work will continue to stimulate hypertrophy well beyond a 6-8 week study.

The Science of Six Packs by Brent Rose 

I don’t think gawker media is the best place for one to receive the majority of your fitness advice, but they’ve nailed it once again.  Every time I see an overweight trainee doing dozens upon dozens of crunches in some futile quest for visible abs I die a little inside.  At the rep range that the vast, overwhelming, majority of people perform abdominal exercises all they are accomplishing is dumping some lactic acid into their muscles, and burning a negligible amount of calories.  If you want visible abs you have to 1) perform heavy ab exercises that will leave you convulsing after 30-60 seconds, and 2) lower your bodyfat to a fairly extreme degree.

Fitness Playgrounds Grow as Machines Go by Courtney Rubin

Not that I really expected in depth fitness information from the NYT Fashion & Style section, but one thing in this article is a perfect example of something that bugs me.  It’s become common to refer to isolation machines as being “bodybuilding” exercises.  They’re not, they are exercises that are popular among uninformed lifters.  Real bodybuilders, at least the ones not on drugs, don’t do leg extensions, they do fucking squats.  They aren’t doing endless sets of tricep extensions, they’re doing fucking bench presses.  Mother. Fuckers.


Current Training Plan – Squat Like a Motherfucker Edition

23 Apr

Last week was a deload week, which ended up working out perfectly, because I live in Boston, and it was a really shitty week for obvious reasons.  I’m not really going to get into my feelings on the situation, since I’m simply not talented enough as a writer to do it justice, except to say that it was painful, stressful, and I’m really glad it’s over.

I’m in the first week of a new program, that will hopefully last another 4-6 weeks before I’m beat up enough to require a deload week.  My schedule still isn’t back to normal after last week, so I’m doing things a bit out of order at the moment.  It’ll start for real this Saturday.  The plan is to do a push/legs/pull/legs split, over a 6-day training week.   This means three leg days a week, and either one or two days a week of push/pull.  The schedule will remain the same as what I detailed in a previous post, in short, long marathon workouts Saturday and Sunday, and shorter doubles Monday-Thursday.  The push and pull days will also be fairly similar.  5 sets each of 2 large compound exercises, and then some accessory work, followed by TGUs.  Nothing too controversial, basically a maintenance plan for the upper body.  However, the focus of this cycle are the leg days, so I’ll go into them in more detail.


This is going to be the epic marathon leg day.  The workout will look like this:

10 sets of squats in the 6-10 rep range.

5 sets of sumo deadlifts in the 3-9 rep range.

~10 sets of accessory leg work, such as GHRs, calf raises, barbell hip thrusts, etc.

3 sets of TGUs with assorted implements

Squats are obviously the focus of this workout, the deadlifts are just to add in a little extra heavy resistance before moving to accessories.  I did a variation on this yesterday, since I was able to take a very long lunch, and it pretty much killed me.  Luckily this is the point of this workout.  Take advantage of the rest day to really go all out on the volume, and then eat enough to facilitate recovery.  Next challenge, doing this hungover.


This will usually be a split workout, biggest downside of having a 40-hour a week desk job is not being able to go to the gym for multi-hour workouts whenever I want.


5 sets of sumo deadlifts in the 3-6 rep range

5 sets of front bulgarian split squats in the 5-7(per leg) rep range

Couple sets of skater squats until I have to go back to the office


5 sets of overhead skater squats at ~12 reps

5 sets of GHRs

5 sets of calf raises

3 sets of TGUs

This is a deadlift focused day.  When training those I prefer to go with slightly lower reps, and relatively higher weight than with squats.  At some point I will come up with a more well thought out reason for this than, “because it feels better”.  I plan on a post highlighting overhead skater squats as soon as I get my form cleaned up to the point where the video won’t be totally embarrassing.


This will be another split workout.  I plan to be much looser with this one.  I fully expect my legs to be really beat up at this point, and I want to be fully recovered by the following Sunday workout.


5 sets of front bulgarian split squats in the 5-7(per leg) rep range

5 sets of a deadlift variation


5 sets of overhead skater squats at ~12 reps

5 sets of GHRs

5 sets of calf raises

3 sets of TGUs

I expect to be doing mostly trap bar deadlifts in the lunch session.  Really this workout is about squeezing the last bit of recoverable volume possible out of my legs before my off day.

I did a similar split to this last summer, and added ~80lbs to my squat in something like 6 weeks.  If I get anywhere close to that this go around I will be super psyched.



Exercise of the Week(ish) – Front Bulgarian Split Squats

17 Apr

Ever since my show, and the diet aggravated hip injury that refuses to go away completely, I’ve started to utilize single leg movements into my training more often.  Bulgarian split squats have quickly become one of my favorite exercises, and I’ve spent a bit of time trying different ways of performing them to find a variation that I consistently enjoy.  This past week I decided to try loading the exercise like a traditional front squat, and BOOM, exercise infatuation.

side note: I hate the music at my gym

A couple of tips if you want to try these out.  I’m a big advocate of using lifting straps to do front squats(Check this out if you have questions on how that’s done), and for this I think it’s even more important.  Like most single-leg exercises, these are a bit unstable, and the straps can give you a more solid grip on the bar.  Second, pay careful attention to your foot positioning.  With the bar out front looking down at the ground is difficult, and consequently it’s pretty hard to get your feet in the right place when you switch legs.  You’ll notice that I had to reset my feet after my first rep on my second leg.  This isn’t an uncommon issue, and discovering a reliable way to orient yourself mid-set will help keep that to a minimum.

Three Things I Like About Front Bulgarian Split Squats

  1. Vertical back angle.  Bulgarian split squats are normally performed with a nearly vertical back angle, and the front bar position emphasizes that even more.  This takes stress off my lower back, which means I can do more and heavier deadlifts without fatigue issues.
  2. These torch my quads.  The combination of a vertical back angle and a high degree of knee flexion is great for emphasizing quad recruitment, and mine definitely need the work.
  3. They don’t require extremely heavy loading to be hard.  Anyone who routinely puts several hundred pounds across their backs or in their hands will tell you how exhausting it is, and conserving energy on quad allows me to…. wait for it…. do more and heavier deadlifts.

How and Why I Became a Bodybuilder

9 Apr

I didn’t start lifting weights until my senior year of high school.  The gym where we went was fairly small, and like many newbie trainees I spent way too much time on the nautilus machines.  Despite the fact that I had little to no idea what I was doing, I loved it.  Even a little bit of newbie gains, combined with a growth spurt, finally made me physically comparable to my older classmates.  I cannot stress hard enough how big of a deal this was to me.  After spending my entire high school career taking classes with kids who had the advantage of two additional years of growing, finally looking like everyone else was life changing.  I kept lifting through my first abortive stint at college, but I still lacked the knowledge and motivation to accomplish much.

When I started at UVM I got serious about lifting for the first time.  I had big, complicated, 5 and 7 day splits, 19 different bicep curl variations, strong opinions on wrist curls, and in retrospect, absolutely no fucking clue what I was doing.  Luckily for me the combination of  a 19  year-old metabolism, a summer job that featured sledgehammers in a starring role, and an abundance of enthusiasm can provide significant results even in the absence of a minimally intelligent training plan or a diet that came anywhere close to  healthy.  At one point I lifted every day for 6 straight months, and through some miracle avoided serious injury.  That’s not to say I didn’t learn anything of value during this time.  I learned how to lift when I was tired or simply didn’t want to be at the gym. I learned to tell the difference between the pain from fatigue and the pain that signaled an oncoming injury.  But most importantly I learned how much better I felt when I was working out consistently.

After I left UVM I spent three years bouncing around campaign jobs, which did not allow for an effective exercise routine, but did expose me to 3 very different gyms.

  1. A Gold’s Gym on the south side of Capitol Hill in DC.  This place was 50% skinny white guys that worked in government and showed up in suits, and 50% enormous black bodybuilders that tossed around 400lbs like it was a loaf of bread.  I didn’t fit in very well with either crowd.
  2. All American Fitness out by the airport in Burlington.  This gym would have been perfect, open 24 hours, 100lb plates, plenty of benches, and old school iron grip hex dumbells, in short all the toys I could ask for.   It had two problems, first, it was a bit of a pain in the ass to get to, and second, I appeared to be the only member not on serious doses of anabolic steroids.
  3. A Planet Fitness.  Nothing more really needs to be said, just that even in an untrained state I was the rock star at this place.

When I finally escaped the nomadic campaign life and ended up at my current job I decided I could now start going to the gym again.  This was the first time in my life where I was working a job with normal hours, had a gym within easy walking distance, and could afford the time and money commitment necessary to eat decently.  I spent most of 2010 doing the same sort of routines I used to do in college, and quickly exhausted my newbie gains.  After the 2010 elections I finally got my shit together, started treating leg day with the respect it deserves, and taught myself how to squat and deadlift correctly.  I bought a few sessions of personal training from a buddy of mine, who taught me how to perform the olympic lifts, muscleups, and TGUs which quickly became my favorite exercise.

But by the spring of 2012 I had burned through my initial set of goals.  I had pulled 500lbs, hit 100lb TGUs with an olympic bar, a dumbell and a person for the implement trifecta, and could pull off consecutive muscleups.  My favorite trainers were all leaving the gym, and due to it being a corporate box gym there weren’t many other members I could draw inspiration from, so I decided to find some way to stoke my competitive fires.  Due to a lack of other convenient gym options switching locations wasn’t an appealing option.  Powerlifting was the first thing I considered, but that would have necessitated a reduction in training volume that wouldn’t have fit with my lifestyle, and the equipment situation at my gym was less than ideal for that.  Olympic lifting was also going to be limited due to a lack of bumper plates, and my double jointed elbows are a significant contraindication for doing that competitively.  I went as far as going to the local crossfit box for an intro class, but quickly realized that working out in a large group wasn’t for me.

That left bodybuilding as the sole remaining option.  My buddy Pat had trained several female physique competitors, and he mentioned a show held every March in Vermont, aka the best place in the world.  That seemed totally doable.  We could spend the rest of 2012 putting on size, and post-election I could worry about the whole dieting, tanning, and hair removal thing.  A goal had been set, and I was officially committed to getting on stage.

Things I’ve Read Recently, and Have Semi-Coherent Thoughts On, Volume 1

5 Apr

My Problem With AutoRegulation

When I saw this headline I was prepared to hate this article.  While I think auto-regulation is a fancy word for a simple concept, it is a critical component of my training.  Turns out that the author pretty much agrees with me.  He sees the major problem with auto-regulation is that inexperienced trainees use it as an excuse to skip workouts and avoid pushing themselves in the gym.  We also agree that for more experienced trainees varying your loading protocols and exercise selection depending on how you feel during a training session can be an effective way to preserve training effectiveness while introducing variety.

The Rules of Good Nutrition(That Absolutely Everybody Agrees on)

It should come as no surprise to anybody that knows me that I spend a lot of time on nerdy blogs, reading up on sci-fi and fantasy popular culture, video games, and occasionally even hard science.  I was however shocked when one of the posts on i09 ended up containing some of the most practical and actionable nutrition advice I’d read in quite some time.  Nothing in this article is new, or surprising, but that’s in fact the point I want to make.  For anything short of a competition diet you don’t have to go nuts with what you eat.  If you cut out crappy processed food, eat sufficient and varied protein, and make sure that you’re getting enough vitamin D and Omega-3s you’ll be fine.  As with most things the 80/20 rule applies, and you can get 80% of the benefits with only 20% of the diet misery.

The same principle, focusing on what the experts agree on, is also something I use to create my training plans.  On the topic of deadlifts smart successful people disagree on conventional vs sumo stance deadlifts, double overhand vs mixed grip, sets of 3 vs heavy singles.  However just about everybody agrees that some sort of heavy deadlift training is essential, so I do a bunch of heavy deadlifts.  Time spent obsessing over the details of your training is in large part counter-productive, common methods of training usually attain that level of popularity because they work.  So do your fucking deadlifts already.

Font Loaded Skater Squats

Ben Bruno is one of my favorite guys on the internet, and he’s a big advocate of single-leg training.  Since my hip injury bilateral leg exercises have been painful, so I’ve incorporated both bulgarian split squats and skater squats as staples of my leg days.  This post inspired me to start loading my skater squats, which was one of those awesome ideas that made one of my favorite exercises suck in a new and exciting way.  I only did them with an empty olympic bar in the front squat position, but that was enough added resistance to really beat up my quads.  I will be doing this again.

Current Training Plan – Post Show Rebuild Edition

3 Apr

Now that I’ve gotten a few weeks away from my show, and I’ve eaten and rested myself into a state where I can workout seriously again, I’ve started to put some thought into building back some strength and muscle so I can compete successfully in the fall.  For my first training cycle I decided to do my standard Push/Pull/Legs split twice through in a week, with Fridays off, and double workouts Monday-Thursday.  The first 3 workouts are strength focused, and the last 3 feature slightly lighter weights and correspondingly higher volume.

Unlike many lifters I don’t like to map out every set I plan on doing.  I prefer to go into a workout with a goal and a general idea of what I want to do, but only choose the specific exercises on my way to the gym, or even during the workout, depending on which muscles are sore, and which feel able to handle more work.  Below are rough descriptions of what each day looks like during this cycle.


As this is my strength focused push day, I generally start out with five sets of barbell benching at a 5/3/1/3/5 rep scheme.  Followed by 3 or so sets of a fly variation, then 5 sets of barbell overhead press at a 7/5/3/5/7 rep scheme.  At this point I’ll do a couple sets of abs to give my shoulders a few minutes off.  In a marathon workout like this one I’ve found that doing 30 straights sets on the same muscle groups becomes counterproductive.  For the back half of my workout I’ll do 2-3 exercises at 3-5 sets of HSPUs, ring dips, tricep extensions, or weighted dips.  I like to keep this part varied for psychological reasons as much as for training stimulus.  Then I’ll finish with TGUs, since the gym is usually a little bit emptier at this point in the day I use this as an excuse to do them with an olympic bar.


Heavy pull day!  My favorite workout of the week.  This past weekend I started out with 5 sets of pullups @+90lbs, aiming for 3-4 reps per set.  Next up was 5 sets of 1-arm dumbell rows with the 120s, which is as high as they go at my gym(gonna have to come up with a new option for these soon).  For the last major exercise I did v-bar chins @+50lbs.  This is a pretty typical selection of compound exercises for a heavy back day.  For accessory work I like to finish up with thick rope pullups, scaffold rows,  a particularly brutal TRX pullup variation, and a couple of curl variations with my Fat Gripz.  Then, as always, finish with TGUs.



As a previous post has mentioned, my hip is all kinds of fucked up.  It’s a little better today than it was last week, but still far from 100%, so heavy leg day is somewhat of a misnomer.  On leg days I tend to spend some extra time on warmup sets and stretching, so I’ll usually only get in 10 real work sets during my lunch workout.  For my heavy day I’ve been doing 5 straight sets of sumo deadlifts, and then hitting some barbell bulgarian split squats.


My night workout on leg day usually consists of 5 sets of skater squats, 5 sets of hamstring curls off the lat pulldown, and 5 sets of calf raises of some sort.  Then end with some TGUs.  I do need to figure out a way to vary my leg accessory work a bit, so any suggestions would be appreciated.  However, if you tell me to do leg extensions I’m just going to laugh at you.



Since I start with a horizontal pressing motion on my stength day, I try and start my second push workout of the week with some vertical pressing, usually a barbell overhead press.  Then I move on to some flys and some ab work, before moving on to a horizontal pressing variation.  This week that final exercise was dumbell bench, I did five sets @100/105/110/105/100 for between 7 and 12 reps.  By the end of that my shoulders were pretty much shot.


I tend not to vary this day as much as others.  I do 5 sets of HSPUs, 5 sets of TRX dips, 5 sets of tricep extensions, move on to my TGUs, and call it a day.  The last time I went through this workout I swapped the last set of TRX dips for an all out, max effort, set of normal dips to failure.  It burned like hell but at least felt effective.




For my primary pull hypertrophy movement I like to do straight sets of pullups or chinups with a moderate amount of weight, at this point 45lbs.  I then like to go right into bodyweight rows off of the TRX scaffold, sometimes using handles to increase the ROM.  Then I bang out some sets of v-bar chins, again with a moderate amount of weight.  Just typing this out makes me realize how monotonous this is, I really need to find a way to shake this workout up.


Here I have a little bit more fun.  I like to start with some muscleups, doing a total of 20 reps using as many sets as necessary.  I then do at least one, usually two, other bodyweight pull variations.  My two favorites are thick rope pullups, and neutral grip l-sit chins.  Once I’ve done enough compound exercises to feel good about myself, I do some fat gripz curls, and then finish with TGUs.



Since the Monday lunch workout started with a hip dominant leg movement, I like to start this workout by focusing on a knee dominant movement.  For the entirety of this cycle I plan on doing the old standby, the barbell squat.  This isn’t the most exciting decision, but there’s a multitude of reasons many people consider squats to be the best exercise in the gym.  After that I like to do trap-bar deadlifts(Low handles of course) so I don’t totally neglect the hinge movement pattern.


This workout is basically a carbon copy of my monday night workout.  The sole difference being that at this point in the week I’m pretty beat up and burnt out, so the intensity is much lower.  Next training cycle I promise to be more creative with my leg accessory work.


So that’s my current training plan.  I’m in the middle of week 3, and I plan on doing 2 more weeks of this, taking a deload week to recover, then switching plans up.  Top of the list for the next training cycle is a Push/Legs/Pull/Legs split, to hit legs 3 times a week.  I’ve done it before and got great results, but it was fucking miserable.  Not that that will stop me from doing it again.

Exercise of the Week(ish) – Turkish Get Up

1 Apr

So I think I’m going to use this blog as an opportunity to highlight an exercise I really enjoy every week or so.  Sometimes I’ll include tips on performing the movement, other times I’ll just write a love letter to a particular corner of the exercise world.  This post definitely falls into the latter category.

It should surprise no one that the first exercise I’ve chosen to talk about is the turkish get up.  Not only is it my favorite exercise, but I try and perform some version of it every day that I’m in the gym.  So why do I love this bizarre looking, at least to the uninitiated, exercise?  Here’s the top 4 reasons.

  1. It’s really good for my shoulder health.  Due to swinging a sledgehammer for a couple summers in college, a history of borderline overtraining, and what might be charitably characterized as being a fucking moron, my shoulders are significantly beat up.  While at first glance get ups may look prone to causing shoulder injuries, as long as you don’t fail a rep in a really ugly way stabilizing your shoulder through the full range of motion is a great way to strengthen all the muscles of the shoulder girdle and prevent injuries during other activities.
  2. TGUs can be an extremely effective conditioning tool.  I do not enjoy traditional cardio.  I straight up hate it.  Even some sort of HIIT cardio just makes me miserable, and I don’t get the same endorphin rush I get from lifting.  However, a 12-16 rep set of TGUs leaves me equally as exhausted and out of breath as sprinting, and I feel like my muscles have actully done something significant.
  3. TGUs, when performed correctly, hit nearly every muscle in your body.  Triceps, abdominals, obliques, hips, quads, the entire shoulder girdle, none of them lie dormant, and many of them can be subjected to near-maximal loads.
  4. Performing a get up with a heavy weight, or an unwieldy implement, is impressive as all fuck.  It’s also one of the few exercises where people who are familiar with the movement still find it as impressive as those who have yet to be introduced to it.  And let’s be honest, looking impressive as all fuck comprises a minimum of 50% of why I go to the gym.  Here’s an example of what I mean when I said “unwieldy implement” up above, this is also my favorite party trick.