Why You’re A Stupid Lifter

You Don’t Use Planned Deload Weeks

One thing that I have figured out through trial and error is that deload weeks are crucial for staying healthy in the weight room. I have also found that when I take deload weeks on a regular basis I enjoy training a little more. To be simplistic, as much fun as it is to hammer away day after day, week after week, month after month, your body needs a break every once in a while. Be smart and take a week to pull things back a bit.

As far as how often you should take a deload week is hard. I find taking a week every 6-8 weeks works best for me. Maybe every 12 weeks works for you or maybe every 4 weeks would work best. I would, however, not recommend taking a week and doing nothing at all. I have found that still going to the gym and performing the same type workout with much lighter weights works best. If you typically bench 225 for 3 sets of 5, drop the weight to 150-175 for 3 sets of 5 reps and move on.

Bilateral and Unilateral Lifting Patterns

This is something that I have been playing around with for the last year or so. Before the last year I would train bilaterally almost 100% of the time, especially when it comes to lower body. Since then I have messed around with making sure that I train movement patterns both bilaterally and unilaterally.

For example, I currently train lower body twice a week. On day one I may squat, RDL, front split squat, and swiss ball leg curl. On day two I may goblet squat, rear foot elevated split squat, glut-ham raise, and single leg RDL. Two knee dominant movements a session and two hip hinges a session. One bilateral movement and one unilateral movement in each one of those sessions – simply but it seems to be effective.

You Don’t Change Rest Periods

Everyone talks about changing the volume and intensity of exercise to ‘keep the body guessing’. As much as I think the thought of ‘keeping the body guessing’ is a load of crap and training hard and heavy with the proven movements will lead to long-term growth and development, I do feel changing up rest periods is useful.

Far too often I see people who have no idea how long they rest between sets and exercises. Time yourself, I bet it is a LOT longer than you may think. Start timing yourself. Go with one minute rest periods for a couple of weeks, then go to two-minute rest periods. Keep changing things up and force your energy systems to adapt.

You Overlook Mobility and Stability Work

As boring as it is, and trust me I find it as boring as you do, performing both mobility and stability work is crucial to staying healthy in the long run.

A few weeks back I had the chance to listen to University of Wisconsin Strength & Conditioning Coach Jim Snider speak at MBSC and thought his take on mobility and stability was simply yet smart – start your ankles and work your way up the body doing mobility work – once you reach the top, come back down the body doing stability and activation work. It’s simply, but a smart way to approach mobility and stability.

You Don’t Address Weaknesses

You need to create balance across your body or you are going to find yourself becoming more and more prone to injuries. The days of benching Monday, Wednesday and Friday and never even thinking about your posterior chain is over. The days of only using the squat rack for curls are over. You need to address your weaknesses and create structural balance across your entire body. Come 20-25 years from now your body will be happy you have created balance.

Training Isn’t Enjoyable

Unless you are an athlete or you compete in some type of competition (powerlifting, marathons, cycling, ect.) you should make your training fun and enjoyable. For example, if you are the type of person that hates benching, then don’t bench. There are other ways to train the bench movement pattern – adjust accordingly. At the end of the day there are more than one way to skin a cat – find what you like best and throw away the things that you don’t like – just make sure you are still creating a balanced training program!

Simple Program Design: Lower Body

Not too long ago I posted a simple template to create an effective upper body program. Since we all know we have more than just our upper body (unless your one of the “bros” at most commercial gyms that only benches and curls) I figured it would only be right to do the same for the lower body. This post is very similar to the upper body post – the way you train the upper body and the lower body shouldn’t be all that different.

The first issue to look at when trying to design a lower body strength training program is the movements that you are training. The keep things simple, there are essentially only two lower body movement patterns you need to focus on; knee dominant and hip dominant. But to take things a step further, I feel that though it is still the same movement pattern, single leg exercises could/should have their own classification. Therefore I am going to go with the premise that there are four lower body movement patterns that we need to focus on; bilateral knee dominant, bilateral hip dominant, single leg knee dominant, and single leg hip dominant.

The second issue we need to look at is what exercises fall into what movement category. Here are basic exercises that fall into each category – there are obviously more movements, these are just some basics that everyone knows;

Knee Dominant – Bilateral

  • Squat
  • Front Squat
  • Goblet Squat

Knee Dominant – Single Leg

  • Split Squat
  • Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat
  • Lunge
  • Single Leg Squat

Hip Dominant – Bilateral

  • Good Morning
  • RDL
  • Deadlift
  • Trap Bar Deadlift
  • Glut-Ham Raise –> VIDEO

Hip Dominant – Single Leg

  • Single Leg RDL
  • Single Leg Swiss Ball Curl
  • Single Leg Hip Bridge –> VIDEO
  • Single Leg Slide Board Curl

The stay with the trend of the article and keep thing simple, I would recommend picking one exercise from each grouping. From there keep your sets and reps simple as well. 3 sets of 6-8 reps or 3 sets of 8-10 reps is simple yet effective. Here’s a sample program so that you can see it actually written out;

Squat – 3 x 6-8

Lunge – 3 x 8-10

RDL – 3 x 6-8

Single Leg Swiss Ball Curl – 3 x 8-10

AND/OR

Front Squat – 3 x 6-8

Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat – 3 x 8-10

Trap Bar Deadlift – 3 x 6-8

Single Leg RDL – 3 x 8-10

There you have it, a simple lower body training program. I would recommend training your lower body twice a week by putting together 2 different training programs and switching off each time you hit the gym. After 4-6 weeks, change things up a bit and continue moving forward.

Simple Program Design: Upper Body

One are that most people have a hard time understanding is program design even though for most people it shouldn’t be rocket science. If you’re anything like me that means you over think things way too much. Because of that I thought it would be a good idea to give you a quick, yet basic, upper body training program.

The first issue to look at when trying to design an upper body strength training program is the movements that you are training. The keep things simple, there are four upper body movement patterns you need to focus on; vertical pressing, horizontal pressing, vertical pulling, and horizontal pulling.

The second issue we need to look at is what exercises fall into what movement category. Here are basic exercises that fall into each category – there are obviously more movements, these are just some basics that everyone knows;

Vertical Pressing

  • Standing Military Press
  • ½ Kneeling Dumbbell Military Press –> Video
  • Incline Barbell Press
  • Incline Dumbbell Press

Horizontal Pressing

  • Bench Press
  • Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Push Up

Vertical Pulling

  • Chin Up
  • Pull Up
  • Neutral Grip Chin Up
  • Pulldown Variations

Horizontal Pulling

  • Dumbbell Row
  • Barbell Row
  • TRX Row –> Video
  • Seated Row

The stay with the trend of the article and keep thing simple, I would recommend picking one exercise from each grouping. From there keep your sets and reps simple as well. 3 sets of 6-8 reps or 3 sets of 8-10 reps is simple yet effective. Here’s a sample program so that you can see it actually written out;

Bench Press – 3 x 6-8

½ Kneeling Dumbbell Military Press – 3 x 8-10

Chin Up – 3 x 6-8

TRX Row – 3 x 8-10

AND/OR

Standing Military Press – 3 x 6-8

Push Up – 3 x 8-10

Dumbbell Row – 3 x 6-8

Pulldown – 3 x 8-10

There you have it, a simple upper body training program. I would recommend training your upper body once, preferably twice a week by putting together 2 different training programs and switching off each time you hit the gym. After 4-6 weeks, change things up a bit and continue moving forward.

My Issues With CrossFit

Unless you are living under a rock you have heard of CrossFit or seen a commercial on television advertising it. ESPN is now airing the CrossFit Games and Reebok has joined forces with CrossFit as their major sponsor. Jump in your car and drive around for a few minutes and you’ll probably pass a couple CrossFit gyms. And I am sure that we all have a couple friends that spend their week nights doing CrossFit at their local outfit. CrossFit is everywhere.

The problem is CrossFit isn’t for everyone, nor is it for most. With the lack of physical fitness in the United States (close to 65% of people are overweight or obese) I find it hard to actually tell be to stay away from a gym. I am all for people getting into a gym and working out and will usually go with the philosophy that ‘something is better than nothing’ when people ask for advice on exercise. CrossFit is a different beast.

No Progressions and Regressions

One of my major beefs with CrossFit is the fact that there are neither progressions nor regressions for their “coaches” to follow. For some reason CrossFit expects everyone that walks through their doors to be proficient in all the lifts. Unfortunately, it can take even the best athletes’ years to master some of the Olympic lifts yet the average 300lb de-conditioned Joe Smith is expected to perform the lifts day one. Which leads me to my next point…

Performing Olympic Lifts While Exhausted

CrossFit utilizes Olympic lifts in many of their WOD’s (Workout of the Day) and rightfully so. Olympic lifts are great for developing explosive power as well as some impressive muscular development. However, any reputable strength coach will tell you that Olympic lifts need to be performed at the beginning of the workout because they are so physically demanding. Having someone perform an Olympic lift in the middle of a grueling workout or after anything that is physically demanding is just plain stupid. While were on Olympic lifts…

Performing Olympic Lifts at High Reps

Because the Olympic lifts are so physically demanding it makes little sense to perform the lifts at a high repetition. In fact, it’s dangerous. Bad form with Olympic lifts is a recipe for disaster. As strength coaches we have to keep in mind that athletes get paid millions of dollars to play their sports – they make their money off their bodies and athletic abilities. Because of that, #1 goal of any strength & conditioning program should be to keep the athlete as healthy as possible both in-season and off-season. As Mike Boyle, strength coach for the Boston Red Sox said, “Getting hurt training to not get hurt is as is stupid as is sounds.” But, I guess that’s why very few, if any, professional athletes use CrossFit.

Lack of Screening

This issue is closely tied with my issue with no progressions and regressions. Simply put, not everyone should be allowed to perform all types of exercises because of physical issues and/or limitations. Many major colleges and universities, private strength & conditioning facilities like Athletes Performance and Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning, as well as some personal trainers as using a screening process for their athletes or clients. The most well known and used screen is the Functional Movement Screen created by Gray Cook and Lee Burton.

Taken directly from the FMS website, the FMS is essentially a “ranking and grading system that documents movement patterns that are key to normal function. By screening these patterns, the FMS readily identifies functional limitations and asymmetries.” After going through the screen, strength coaches can identify issues a certain athlete may have. Essentially, the FMS doesn’t tell the strength coach what to do with an athlete, it tells them what not to do and where a certain athlete needs to focus on corrective exercises.

CrossFit does nothing along these lines. Clients and athletes that go into a CrossFit don’t correct any issues that they have or go through any type of screening process. Unfortunately this leads to an increased risk of injury, something that no one is looking for.

Coaches that Are Unqualified

This may be one of the scariest aspects of CrossFit. Your local CrossFit “coaches” attend an eight hour one day seminar to learn the methods of the CrossFit program. These “coaches” are then free to go and work at any of the CrossFit gyms. I am the first one to admit that there are plenty of good CrossFit “coaches” out there, but the majority of coaches aren’t all that great – and to be fair, no one would learn enough in an 8 hour long course to be qualified to work with people in the situations that CrossFit “coaches” are asked to.

Lack of Focus

Ever seen what a typical CrossFit workout is like? You see it all; sprinting, Olympic lifting, kettlebells, strongman, ropes, gymnastics and various other aspects of training. Sounds pretty, how can you go wrong touching on a little bit of everything? The problem is that the principle of specificity tells you that if you aim to excel at everything you will not reach the highest levels at anything. You need to focus on a specific aspect of fitness as opposed to all aspects. Choice to focus on improving conditioning, getting stronger or getting leaner, not all of them at once. As the old say goes, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” Charles Poliquin added in an interview with T-Nation, “If you try to do everything in your workout, you get nothing. CrossFit is different, and maybe even fun for some people, but it’s not very effective. No athlete has ever gotten good training like that.”

I wouldn’t be shocked if CrossFit is a fade that comes and goes within the next 3-5 years. In the meantime I would be lying if I didn’t agree that CrossFit is going very strong right now. People just need to realize that the actual CrossFit workout is probably something that you would be better off staying away from. It is not the best and only training system that you need to reach your fitness goals as many CrossFit members and coaches would like you to believe. Unfortunately there are nearly as many people developing injuries at their local CrossFit as there are people make great changes to their physiques. In my own personal opinion, most people would be better off finding a great personal trainer or strength coach to help you reach your goals instead of joining your local CrossFit.

If you don’t believe me, HERE is a great article on the CrossFit controversy.