Showing Up Is Half The Battle

Anyone reading this probably has a few fitness goals that they want to achieve. Whether the goal is to get stronger on a certain lift, drop those last 10lbs before summer, or even train to compete in a 5k, we all have some type of goal.

Once we have established a goal most of us come up with a plan to help us reach that goal. Maybe we spend more time focusing on a certain lift we want to being up and back off some other lifts, adjust our diet a little bit to drop those final 10lbs, or we construct a running schedule that will continually ramp up until the week of the 5k.

This seems to be the point where many of us fail. We’ve established our goals and constructed a plan to carry out those goals and yet we still don’t seem to miss out on the joy of actually reaching and accomplishing our goals.  Why – because showing up is half the battle. No matter how worthwhile the goal is and how perfect the plan is to reaching that goal, you’ll never reach that goal if you don’t show up.

So many people have everything set and in place yet fail to show up on consistent basis. If you want to get stronger on a particular lift and skip out on training that lift chances are you won’t be making any gains. Constructed that perfect diet yet come home and sitting down for a half hour with your friends Ben & Jerry – doubt you drop much fat. If you planned on running 4 times a week to train for that 5k and skip out on two sessions a week you’ve missed out on 50% of your chances of getting better and reach your goals.

The point is this; showing up is half the battle. In the words of Mike Boyle, “You have to be working if you want things to happen.”

Things to Read to Get You Over the Hump 2/22

Here’s a few good reads from the last week to keep you busy while trying to get through another productive day at work:

How to Tell If Your Trainer Knows What They’re Doing by Molly Galbraith 

As Molly says in the first paragraph, its hard to tell the difference between a great trainer and someone who has no clue what they are doing — and for someone not involved in the fitness industry its typical that they wouldn’t know the difference. Take a quick look at Molly’s article and think long and hard on whether or not your trainer is worth the time and money or if its time to seek some help elsewhere.

Intermittent Fasting 201 by John Romaniello

As I said in a previous post, I don’t practice intermittent fasting but I know many people do. Since so many people are into intermittent fasting I figured it would be good to throw out an article by someone who knows a lot more about intermittent fasting, John Romaniello. Intermittent fasting isn’t for me, but if you think its something for you then give it a try.

Linear Speed Progression by Kevin Carr

Great read on increasing linear speed by Kevin Carr. With the NFL Combine coming up and everyone fired up to watch these freaks run the 40, Kevin reveals some of the ways the NFL Combine athletes are trained to increase linear speed at Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning.

Simple Nutrition Recommendations by Brandon Rearick

The title says it all. A straight forward look to how to approach nutrition. Forget about counting calories, this diet and that diet because 99% of the time it doesn’t work. implement most of these strategies into your daily approach to nutrition and I would almost guarantee you’ll see some positive results.



The Front Squat

Anyone serious about getting stronger, fitness or flat out moving well understands the importance of training the squat. The squat is a great movement that shouldn’t just be for athletes or bodybuilders, but a movement that everyone should be performing when they enter the gym. 

“If it’s important, do it every day.” – Dan John

When it comes to training the movement there are a few different variations that I like. The traditional back squat, goblet squat, split squat, rear foot elevated split squat are all good in my book – but I do have a favorite, the front squat.

Simply put, the front squat is variation that has the barbell resting across the front of your shoulders as opposed to behind the neck in the traditional back squat. This bar position has some pros and cons to being racked across the front of your shoulders. First off, with the bar resting across your shoulders you are forced to squat in a more upright position, keeping your chest up and back flat or else you will drop the bar on the floor. But on the other hand, because you are forced to stand a little taller throughout the entire movement you will be forced to use a little less weight with the front squat than you would with the back squat.

Front Squat vs. Back Squat Position

Setting up for the front squat is very similar to the back squat. Your feet should be roughly shoulder width apart, maybe slightly wider with your toes pointed out slightly. You should step up and under the bar, chest high with your lats as tight as possible. The bar should be resting between your throat and your clavicle – a position you will become more and more accustomed to the more you front squat (it takes a little time to find your ‘sweet spot’).  Your hands should be open against the bar helping to assist in holding the weight in place, though your shoulders should be doing the majority of the work in keep the bar in the appropriate position. Finally, keeping your elbows as high as possible throughout the entire movement.

The execution of the front squat is very straight forward. Once you have the bar in the appropriate position, sit back by pushing your hips (butt) back – think sitting in a chair. Continue to lower the weight, under control, until you have reached parallel with your thighs – anything above parallel does not count as a real squat (unless you’re at Gold’s Gym grunting with a bunch of ego lifting bodybuilders and/or teenage boys). Finally, make sure you are focusing on pushing your knees out while performing the squat. Any ‘knee knocking’ is proof that you should focus on some glute activation exercises and take some weight off the bar.

 A small pet peeve of mine has to do with the grip people will use with the front squat. I feel everyone should learn how to front squat with the clean grip instead of the cross armed grip. One reason I like the clean grip a little better is because it is easier to keep your elbows high while performing the lift. People tend to let their elbows drop a little more with the cross armed grip. Furthermore, people should learn to be comfortable with the clean grip as it carries over to many Olympic lifts like the power clean and hang clean amongst others.

Clean Grip vs. Cross Armed Grip

In closing it should be noted that it takes a little time to get used to the front squat. The bar position can be very uncomfortable when you first start and it takes a little time to get used to. It took me close to a month to get really comfortable with the position of the bar but now it is actually a more comfortable position for me than the back squat position.

Goal Setting

“There is no achievement without goals” Robert J. McKaine

Why do people fail to reach their goals? We all seem to have something that we want to work on, whether it is to lose a couple pounds and get in better shape, impress your boss so you can get that big promotion, or make better decisions with your finances. We truly want to do better and be better, yet at the end of the day we seem to fall into old habits and make little or no progress. Here are a few simple tricks to staying on track and actually accomplishing some of those goals.

Be Specific

This is the most obvious bit of advice but it may also be the most important. When you set yourself a goal, be as specific as possible. “I want to lose 10lbs” is a much better goal than “I want to get into better shape.” Having a specific goal and knowing exactly what you want to achieve will help keep you motivated until you get there.

Make the Goal Difficult

There is no point in setting a goal that is very hard to achieve. If you are in school or you think back to the days that you were in school, getting an A in a class was a worthwhile goal. However, getting an A in that class that everyone takes because it is a known fact that it is an easy A is much less satisfying than getting an A in a class that everyone struggles with. Make the goal difficult as long as it is still realistic.

Stay Positive Yet Realistic

Positive thinking is always a good thing, especially when it comes to reaching your goals. Being positive can be very motivating and help you stay on track when you may be faced with some type of temptation. However, you have to understand that it is going to be difficult to reach your goal. Any goal worth achieving is going to take ample effort, careful planning, and require your time and persistence. Thinking everything is going to be easy is only kidding yourself and setting you up for failure at some point down the road.

Think Why and What

According to Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson in her book Succeed, goals can be thought of in relatively abstract, why-am-I-doing-this terms or in more concrete what-am-I-actually-doing terms. As Halvorson says, “think about your goals in why terms when you want to get energized, stay motivated, or avoid temptation (i.e. if your goal was to drop 10lbs). Think about your goals in what terms when you are dealing with something particularly difficult, unfamiliar, or anything that takes a long time to learn (i.e. if your goal was to learn a new language).”

Think Success and Obstacles

Think about a specific goal you have and one of the wonderful things that will happen when you reach that goal. Next, think about all the various obstacles that are going to be standing in your way of reaching your goal. Again, think about another wonderful thing that will happen, and then another obstacle. Do it again. After going through this process what do you think your chances for success are? Great? Not so great? By knowing what stands in your way you have a better understanding on how likely you are to actually achieve your goal and how committed you are going to need to be. If your goal is to drop 10lbs in the next month but you are going on a week long Caribbean cruise in three weeks you may not be setting yourself up for success. By doing this you can pick and choose which goals you are most likely to achieve at this point in your life and put yourself in a better position to succeed.

Hopefully some of these simple and helpful tricks will help you stay on track with your goals so that you can finally accomplish some great and important things in 2012.

Things to Read to Get You Over the Hump 2/15

Here’s a few good reads from the last week to keep you busy while trying to get through another productive day at work:

6 Tips From 6 Coaches by Ben Bruno 

I thought this was a great read from Ben Bruno. Here Ben gets insight from 5 different strength coaches and adds his own thoughts on certain things that they all have done to improve on their training throughout the last year. Without a doubt you’ll be able to find a couple tidbits to add into your own training program.

Exercises Saved by the Dumpster by Mike Boyle

Interesting take by Mike Boyle on certain exercises that at one point he had thrown in the dumpster but has come back to after re-thinking some things. Again, there are probably some exercises that you have either never seen before or have seen before and don’t understand the rationale behind them (get ups, loaded carries) that you could add into your program to enhance it even more.

Q&A: Be Like Mike…Robertson? by Mike Robertson

This is the type of article that I wished I had read/seen a couple years ago. Anyone looking to get into the strength & conditioning field, and I don’t know why you wouldn’t, its the best job in the world if you ask me, then this is a must read. Good stuff as usual by Mike.

MBSC Adult Movement Prep by Kevin Carr

This is something that most people could learn a lot from reading. This article by Kevin Carr basically gives you the exact rundown of what the staff at Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning is doing with their adult clients. I can assure you that this is exactly what is done at MBSC whether it is the morning adult groups or the evening adult groups that I have been working with at MBSC.

Basic Program Design

I get questions regarding training time and time again. Every day it seems like someone will ask me something about some new exercise they heard about or questions on how to make a certain exercise harder. I hear about all these crazy rep schemes they saw in the latest Muscle & Fitness or these crazy balance/stabilization/crap exercises that they are trying to perform on a stability ball.

Real smart...

Unfortunately, most people aren’t all that impressed with my response but unfortunately there aren’t any secret exercises or quick fixes. In my eyes, the best way to continually make progress is by sticking to the basics…boring, I know. It’s hard to find exercises that are more effective than the basic bench press, deadlift and squat, assuming of course that you are healthy enough to perform these exercises. Try to find me someone who squats over 500lbs and doesn’t have a pretty thick pair of legs or someone who deadlifts 500lbs that doesn’t have a back as wide as a barn door…I doubt you can.

I believe in order to build a solid strength training program you need to focus on the basic movement patterns. Here they are with a few exercises as examples of those movement patterns…

Explosive – Dumbbell Snatch, Hang Snatch, Hang Clean, Kettlebell Swing…

Knee Dominant – Squat, Front Squat, Goblet Squat, Split Squat, Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat…

Hip Dominant – Kettlebell Deadlift, Trap Bar Deadlift, Traditional Deadlift, RDL, Single Leg RDL (dumbbell, barbell), Good Morning, Glut-Ham Raise…

Trap Bar Deadlift

Vertical Press – Military Press, Incline Bench Press (dumbbell, barbell)…

Horizontal Press – Bench Press (dumbbell, barbell), Push Up…

Vertical Pull – Chin Up, Neutral Grip Chin Up, Pull Up, Chin Up Holds, Lat Pulldown (only if absolutely needed)…

Horizontal Pull – TRX Row, Inverted Row, Dumbbell Row, Seated Row…

TRX Rows

Anti-Rotation Core – Pallof Press, Suitcase Carry, Side Stabilization (Plank), Star Side Stabilization…

Anti-Flexion Core – Front Stabilization (Plank), Front Stabilization with a leg lift, Straight Leg Sit Up, Heartbeat Walks…

Conditioning – Bike sprints, shuttle runs, sled pushes, sled march, timed bike rides (i.e. 5 miles as fast as you can, record the time and try always beat your best time)…

When it comes to actually programming these exercises I would also keep it somewhat simple. Try not to over think things and hit most movement patterns hard and heavy and watch the changes to your strength and body composition follow. Here are a couple of options based on how many days a week you prefer to train.

2&3 Days per Week:

Explosive – 3 sets of 5

Hip Dominant – 3 sets of 6-8

Knee Dominant – 3 sets of 6-8

Horizontal Press – 2 sets of 6-8

Horizontal Pull – 3 sets of 6-8

Anti-Flexion – 2 sets

Anti-Rotation – 2 sets

Conditioning – 6-8 bike sprints

I would do this two times per week and change the exercises. For example, if you were to pick a barbell RDL for you hip dominant movement one day I would suggest picking something different like a trap bar deadlift the second day of the week and then maybe a glut-ham raise on day three.

4 Days per Week:

In a 4 day a week program I like to be a little more selective with the exercises. I like a simple Upper/Lower split with one lower body day focused on a heavy knee dominant movement and the other lower body day focusing on a heavy hip dominant movement. Upper body days I like to add a little more pulling than I have pushing to help maintain shoulder health. I usually go with a ratio of 3:2 because I have no shoulder issues but a ratio of 2:1 or even 3:1 for people with shoulder concerns would be more appropriate.  A little something like this:

Lower Body Day One (Monday):

Hang Clean – 3 x 5

Squat/Front Squat – 3 x 3-5 (heavy)

RDL – 3 x 6-8

Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat – 3 x 6-8

Glut-Ham Raise – 3 x 8-12

Anti-Flexion – 2 sets

Anti-Rotation – 2 sets

Conditioning – Sled Push or Sled March

Lower Body Day Two (Thursday):

DB Snatch – 3 x 5

Trap Bar Deadlift – 3 x 3-5 (heavy)

Goblet Squat – 3 x 6-8

Single Leg DB RDL – 3 x 6-8

Box/Bench Step Up – 3 x 8-12

Anti-Flexion – 2 sets

Anti-Rotation – 2 sets

Conditioning – Sled Push or Sled March

Push the sled is great conditioning and much more fun then going nowhere on the elliptical

Upper Body Day One & Two (Tuesday & Friday):

Horizontal Pull – 3 x 6-8

Horizontal Push – 3 x 6-8

Vertical Pull – 3 x 8-10

Vertical Push – 3 x 8-10

Horizontal/Vertical Pull – 3 x 8-12

Anti-Flexion – 2 sets

Anti-Rotation – 2 sets

Conditioning – Shuttle Run or 5 mile bike ride for time

Hopefully this will help people build a better strength training program. The exercises are by no means set in stone – feel free to swap in others from each category that you may like (there are plenty more movements in each category that I haven’t listed, by all means add them in). This is simply a template that most people will both stay healthy by going through all the essential human movements while staying healthy. And for all the guys that are wondering where all the direct arm work is – well honestly you don’t need it. If you can’t live without some ‘gunz’ work you can add a couple sets to the end of your upper body workouts.

Things to Read to Get You Over the Hump 2/8

Here’s a few good reads from the last week to keep you busy while trying to get through another productive day at work:

12 Reasons Your Not Losing Fat by Jason Ferruggia

I read most everything that Jason writes and agree with most everything he does — and this is no exception. Most people could shed a few pounds by adding in a couple of these ideas into their daily lives.

Steve Jobs and Coaching by Kevin Carr

I haven’t read the book but by all accounts it seems like Steve Jobs had many fault and was tough to work for but is someone that we could all learn a lot from. I am sure that no matter what you do for a living you could use some of his ideas to make you better at whatever it is that you do.

Intermittent Fasting by John Romaniello

I freely admit that I am not a big fan of intermittent fasting but it seems to be the new ‘hot’ diet and I am sure many people would like to read more about it. That being said I think there are a few upsides to intermittent fasting but I would rather see people eat 4-5 times a day and make healthy choices rather than fasting for a certain amount of time and then eating a days worth of meals in a short time period. To each their own…

10 Reasons Runners Should Include Weight Training by Charles Poliquin

I wrote something a  few weeks ago on why runners should be also strength training and Charles adds a few more reasons that I didn’t include. Either way I think the message is clear, runners should be weight training though many/most don’t.

Trap Bar Deadlift

In most every gym there is an interesting yet very often overlooked bar that is sitting in the corner. Rarely, if ever does this bar see the light of day. No one really uses it and most don’t know what they would even use it for. To most peoples surprise though, this bar is one of the best pieces of equipment in the entire gym.

The bar we are talking about is the trap bar (hex bar). The bar can be used for a couple different exercises but it is most famous for the trap bar deadlift, a form of the deadlift that I personally like better than other forms of the deadlift and a form of the deadlift I feel most trainees should be performing on a weekly basis.

The trap bar deadlift is better for most people, especially beginners. Beginner trainees have an awful time trying to get into the correct position when trying to perform a traditional straight bar deadlift. However, with the trap bar we can fix most of those issues with a couple simple coaching cues. Because the lifter can step into the trap bar we are able to keep a better upright (flat back) position with the shoulders back than we can with the traditional deadlift – all that time sitting at a computer all day has made the flat back, shoulders back position near impossible for most people with the traditional straight bar deadlift.

Another great benefit to the trap bar deadlift is the stress that is on the spine or the lack of stress compared to the straight bar deadlift. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have seen a terrible rounded back position while someone tries to deadlift with a straight bar. If your goal is to not only get stronger but also stay healthy, the trap bar is without a doubt a better option for most people.

How's that back feel?

Performing the trap bar deadlift is also great because it is relatively straight forward. The first step is to simply step inside the bar (make sure you’re in the center of the bar) with your feet approximately shoulder width apart. From there you will butt down and hips back while grabbing the handles of the trap bar.

Your shoulders should be in-line with your knees while your hips should be back and midway between the shoulders and knees. Make sure your shoulders are back and your back is flat. Finally, drive through your heels and extend your hips so that you stand straight up, squeezing your glutes at the top. A full trap bar deadlift should look something like this:

The trap bar deadlift is one of the most overlooked exercises in most gyms but is one of the best hip dominant exercises you’ll find. The movement targets a great deal of muscles, primarily the muscles of the posterior chain including the hamstrings, glutes, and entire back.

Do yourself a favor and give the trap bar deadlift a try – you won’t be disappointed with the results!