Strength Goals: Don’t Be Afraid to Abandon Them

Throughout my lifting career I’ve given much thought to the concept of strength-related genetic limits. I believe that it’s very important to strive for continued strength gains, even if training for solely aesthetics. However, it’s incredibly important to use good form, be realistic, and pay attention to biofeedback. I’ll expound upon each of these.

Use Good Form

Around five years ago there was this jackass that used to post on various Bodybuilding forums. He went by the name Diesel Weasel, and his form was probably the most atrocious of all time. Here are a few of his best lifts:

 Zercher Sumo Deadlift

Parallel Squat

Deadlift, Bent Over Row, Curl

You may be wondering what the hell happened to this guy? How did his form get so bad?  I’ve seen this happen to many lifters over the years. Their form starts off great when they learn the lifts, but every six months or so their form gets markedly worse. Range of motion shortens and joints buckle, but the weight increases persist. Within two years of learning how to lift, form has deteriorated so badly that there’s no longer any semblance of good form on any exercise in the lifter’s arsenal.

Why it Happens

Many novices get spoiled during their first six months of lifting. They reap their beginner gains and think that these rapid strength gains are the norm. They get accustomed to going up 5 to 10 lbs per week on their big lifts, and they’re too stubborn to stop increasing loads each week when form starts suffering.

These lifters learn that the human body is pretty resilient, and the body’s ligaments can become very strong. In the case of the “lifter” above, he has trained his body to become very good at:

1. Relying on his spinal ligaments for passive force contribution

2. Using his erector spinae as prime movers rather than stabilizers

3. Shortening the ROM at the hip and knee joints at the expense of increasing the ROM at the spine

While the fact that he has trained his body to deal with these loads is actually quite intriguing from a biomechanical standpoint, I find it comical that even this guy’s bent over row and curl form is piss-poor as evidenced in video number three. I suspect that if you trained with this guy you’d see that even if he performed exercises like lying l-flies and YTML’s, he’d use too much weight and heave the weight around with horrendous form. In fact you can go to this Youtube page and see all kinds of awful videos…the clean & front squat and snatch videos are equally as hideous.

It is quite apparent from his physique that he’s not working his muscles much or they’d undergo some hypertrophy.

I’m all for getting strong, but not at the expense of form breakdown to this degree. On maximum lifts the most your form should break down is 10%. Any more than that and you’re skating on thin ice. Maxing out with good form is already risky; you don’t need to make it riskier. This weasel’s form is breaking down more like 100%, which is ten times the amount I recommend!

Kinematic Deadlift Analysis of Weasel vs. Neghar

To further illustrate what I alluded to earlier, I figure that pictures would do a better job of explaining what I’m talking about regarding form. I’m only including pictures of maximum lifts, as it’s easy to use good form with 135 lbs like most people do on their Youtube videos. Maxing is a different story. Here’s my friend Neghar “Poetry in Motion” Fonooni performing a 240 lb deadlift.

Here are some pictures of the knee, hip, and spine angles taken right after the bar leaves the ground for Weasel and Neghar. These angles help determine which muscles and which structures are creating force to perform the lift.

Notice:

1. Neghar’s more acute knee angle

2. Neghar’s acute hip angle vs. Weasel’s obtuse hip angle

3. Neghar’s neutral spine vs. Weasel’s rounded spine, and

4. Neghar’s badass socks (you have to wait for the lockout to see this so watch the video)

Which lifter’s style appears more athletic? Which lifter’s hip joints get trained through more ROM? Which lifter’s spine is being trained for stability? The answer to all of these is Neghar!

Be Realistic

We all vary considerable in terms of strength-related genetics. Anthropometry and bony levers and tendon insertion points are critical pieces of the strength puzzle. The ability to gain physiological cross-sectional area (a type of measurement that’s more related to force production than regular cross-sectional area because it takes into consideration the pennation angle of the fibers) is vital as well, as is the ability to increase connective tissue strength for increased force transmission. These factors are very reliant on genetics, and while sound training principles can take us very far, there’s only so far we can go.

Here’s another way of looking at it. I know of three different “experts” in the strength training world who aspire to deadlift 600 lbs. The first is Tony Gentilcore, the second is Matt Perryman, and the third is some jerk named Bret Contreras. And despite the fact that we’ve all publicly announced (see links) our goals, we’re all still waiting to achieve the elusive feat. Though Tony is the closest of the three of us, he had a very unfair advantage with his buddy pumping him up and throwing air strikes, which has been shown in the literature to add 20 lbs to your max.

What gives?

I’m sure that if each of us decided to pack on 30 lbs in the next 6 weeks we’d achieve the 600 lb deadlift, but our physiques would go to complete crap. Getting strong is easy, but getting strong while staying lean is a different story, especially if you’re natural and don’t use any performance-enhancing substances.

Are there some secret exercises that we’re not doing or some secret program that would take us to the promise-land? Perhaps so, but the three of us have been around the block. We’ve tried all types of systems and exercises. While it’s important to not give up on your goals, it’s also important to be realistic and not try to force anything.

Every time I’ve gotten close to a 600 lb deadlift, I ended up hurting myself  or something comes up that causes me to lose strength. The same can be said for Tony and Matt I believe. What happens is that we get really close, and all of a sudden we suffer an erector strain or the like, or we get busy and our strength diminishes, or even worse (in my case) we tear a biceps tendon.

When you approach your “genetic limit,” training becomes much more dangerous and it becomes more difficult to maintain this maximum strength. In theory we’d all keep getting stronger year in, year out, but this is not always the case. Some years certain lifts go up while other stagnate, and the following year it may flip flop. Strength gains often work in mysterious ways.

Pay Attention to Biofeedback

Every time I’ve hurt myself, I’m able to look back and realize that I should have known better. Though hindsight is always 20/20, I’ve learned very much from my injuries over the years; enough to know that your body dishes out warning signs, and you’d be very wise to get in-tune with your body’s red flagging systems. If your low back is feeling dodgy, don’t squat or deadlift. Instead, do some Bulgarian split squats or high step ups and some hip thrusts, back extensions, or reverse hypers. You can always train around injuries and live to lift another week. If your adductors feel like they’re going to tear, do some narrow stance, high box squats and rack pulls. If your knees are a bit achy do some Anderson Zercher squats and good mornings. And don’t be obsessed with the weight!

As long as you keep your core stable then you’re not going to hurt yourself. You can be extra strict on good mornings and Zerchers and get an amazing workout.

What About Athletes?

When I train athletes, I try to let the chips fall where they may in terms of strength development. Some guys can build up to a 600 lb squat, deadlift, or hip thrust without compromising their explosive power. Some never make it to 400 lbs on anything. As long as form stays solid and you’re not focusing on maximal strength at the expense of other qualities such as explosive and reactive strength, then all is well. However, if you have a particular goal in mind and you try to force strength upon an athlete, you’re stumbling onto a slippery slope.

Of course in athletic training periodization is used quite often. There are times when you focus more on max strength than others. But right now I’m talking about the majority of training focus.

Sure you can utilize certain powerlifting techniques to build their max strength and you can skew their programming to allow this strength development to occur, but the athlete will probably not get better at their sport, will likely suffer in terms of rate of force development, and will be much more likely to experience a training-related injury. I’m big on maximal strength for athletes, but only in proper context of a well-rounded program, which includes proper attention to explosive lifts, plyos, sprints, agility work, ballistics, towing, and mobility work.

Conclusion

While I’m far from a sissy and I wouldn’t want any lifters to cop-out and use the “genetic-limit” excuse when they have plenty of room in the tank for continued strength gains, you need to have a proper outlook. Do not let your form break down more than 10% on maximum lifts, don’t make ridiculous goals that aren’t within realistic reach, and listen to your body’s inherent signalling system and adjust accordingly. And if you notice that you’ve hurt yourself three times in trying to reach a particular strength-related goal, don’t be afraid to walk away from the goal. Find happiness in healthy, pain-free lifting and make sure your lifting looks athletic.

Deal With it, You’re Probably Not the Next Bolton

126 thoughts on “Strength Goals: Don’t Be Afraid to Abandon Them

  1. Anthony Mychal

    Fits in well with that recent post on T-Nation. This is a great article though. Buddy Morris told me once that some people just can’t handle the weights like others can, and when we try to fit everyone into the same peg, injuries blossom. Boy, do I miss his nuggets of wisdom.

    Either way, excellent stuff here Bret. I can feel the mentality shift in you. I bet your injury has something to do with it too. Been there.

    Hope you’re healing is going well.

    Best-

    Anthony

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Thank you Anthony. I appreciate the comment and agree with Buddy Morris. This statement is very true and the more people you’ve trained, the better you understand it. Cheers! -Bret

      Reply
  2. Luke

    Great post Bret! I have been reading your blog for a few months now and I just wanted to thank you for taking time week after week to give us valuable and thought-provoking information. As a Kinesiology student and personal trainer I respect your opinion and hope you continue to share your thoughts and fitness wisdom with us!

    Reply
  3. Robbie Bourke

    All I can say to those first three videos is WTF!!!!

    That guy is a few sandwiches short of a pinic!!!!

    Hope you are keeping well down there you mad bastard!

    RB

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Great to hear from you Robbie! I am keeping well here; I hope you’re keeping well in your neck of the woods my friend. -Bret

      Reply
  4. alex

    Like you have pointed “…shortening the ROM at the hip and knee joints at the expense of increasing the ROM at the spine…”, I also think that this may be the number 1 reason for not achieving muscolar gains in the quads, hams, glutes and calves. Like every good bodybuilder knows, weigth is important, but if you want a muscle to grow, you must learn to “talk” to it, otherwise it’s all wasted.

    Reply
  5. Kashka

    Damn, that’s some strong lower back on the weasel. I have never seen anybody train on the pavement, but he took a step beyond and training on the freaking road.

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Haha! He has taken it “one step further” in many ways. Imagine what the ongoing drivers think as they’re witnessing his feats!

      Reply
  6. Juliet

    Man, I’m not sure what I would do if I saw someone training like ‘the weasel’ in my gym. How can anyone watch that and let it continue? It would be so hard NOT to say something.

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      I thought about the same thing! I have a rule that I stick to…I don’t offer unsolicited advice. But it’s really hard to just watch something like that and not say anything.

      Reply
        1. Joanne

          I’m a bit disappointed here (sorry!) In an attempt not to be that way, are you saying that if you were a member of a gym and someone was showing bad form that you wouldn’t say anything? That I can understand as it tends to make some folks get cranky. Some would probably appreciate it but telling the difference is hard! :)

          However, if it’s your own facility (Brett, you had your own place, right?) then I hope that it’s a different story..would you say something in that situation?

          I’ve been wishing for a decent privately-run place in the hope that there would be some knowledge and passion floating around the place but you’re saving it for the web! :)

          Reply
          1. Bret Post author

            Joanne, hell yeah I’d say something!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

            If it’s my own facility I’m very strict, and I (and my trainers) teach the lifts and place the client at appropriate spots on the regression-progression continuum. I always told my trainers that the best trainers are the ones who insist upon excellent form and are always communicating with their clients when they train and giving feedback.

  7. Sean Hyson

    This is really smart, Bret. Not what we want to hear of course, but true. And we all need to refresh ourselves on what good form is from time to time. In the middle of a program, it often becomes more about lifting the weight for me than lifting it perfectly, especially when things are going well.

    I could watch videos of Neghar all day :-)

    As for Weasel, who the hell trains in the street??

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Great to hear from you Sean! I agree on all fronts. When your program calls for a certain load to be lifted it’s hard to think about form when your primary concern is achieving the desired number of reps. And watching Neghar lift is truly a thing of beauty. As for Weasel, what’s wrong with the driveway? Take care, Bret

      Reply
  8. Jason

    Hey Bret I enjoy your blog and articles so I sincerely thank you first before I continue on. I agree with the message that your form deviation should be minimized on maximal attempts and lifting in general should look athletic. I do feel though the “genetic limits” argument though is a cop out. I get the fact that you’ve injured yourself three times attempting to bust a PR but maybe you should take that as a sign that it’s not the PR that’s the problem, it’s your approach and you’re not ready. It means you probably having holes in your strength and physical development elsewhere. Yes it has to be shelved for awhile but that has nothing to do with potential, it means you’re not treating your whole body with the same dedication and respect. Just gathering from the numbers you’ve posted in previous posts and articles your squat and bench are very disproportional to your pull especially considering your weight and training history. This would at a glance indicate you’re probably well built to pull(anatomically) and probably pulling beyond what you’re physical development is suppose to be capable of. Your training focus is most likely imbalanced based on your needs. There is almost always glaring signs before you seriously injure yourself, but usually those should be interpreted in a more deductive manner, as in what is causing my breakdown. The best lifters in the world have coaches, it’s not that they don’t know how to lift by now it’s mostly because we can’t see beyond our own bias no matter how experienced or educated we feel we are. Food for thought. Thanks again.

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Jason, this is a very thought provoking post and I commend you for writing it. I want to state up front that I am not giving up on my goal to deadlift 600 lbs! In fact, I’m still very motivated. However, if you’ve coached a ton of people then you know that some people just breakdown while others don’t. I think it has a lot to do with genetic levels of various collagens (21 types), elastin, fibrin, etc. within connective tissue. There needs to be more research in this area. In the area of intervertebral disk research, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence showing the role of genetics in disk degeneration.

      You are right in that my bench and squat aren’t very good, but I’ve spent much more time and attention to improving them as I have the deadlift. I’ve tried everything, but I have lousy genetics for them. First of all, my pecs are very strong, as are my triceps, quads, and glutes (under isolation). The reason why I’m not very good at the lifts is due to both poor bone lengths and ratios, as well as tendon insertion points (I believe). I’m not worried about this as I have good levels of muscularity in those groups, I can throw very hard punches and strikes, I’m pretty good at sports, and I’m good at certain gym lifts. These same lousy leverages are indeed what also make me naturally predispositioned to being a good deadlifter, hip thruster, chinner, and rower.

      I can assure you that my programming is not imbalanced at all. If you’ve trained many people you realize that some people will never squat or bench 4 plates per side no matter how hard they try based on their structure. And my injury from deadlifting was due to idiotic programming during the week of my injury and not respecting how much stress I was placing on the biceps tendon.

      On the one hand, I see your point about our own “biases” and that many would do better by having a coach. On the other hand, I think good lifters know their bodies better than anyone and would not benefit from having a new coach. They would, however, benefit greatly from having a second set of eyes (or third of fourth for that matter), as in the case of Westside Barbell Club. Dave Tate wrote about this in a recent TNation article.

      To provide an example, I know of folks who do better when they lean forward significantly in a squat. When they think “chest up” they actually can’t lift as much. It doesn’t matter how much time they dedicate toward keeping the chest up, they’ll never be as strong this way as they are with a big lean. This is due to their structure. Mel Siff actually spoke of this and it’s something that I’ve witnessed on plenty of occasions. In fact, there are powerlifters who have squatted over 1,000 lbs who broke the rules and practically did “squat mornings.”

      For this reason, I always say that you need to first learn the rules, and then you need to learn how the rules don’t apply.

      Good comment though! I’d probably assume the same thing if I were in your situation but trust me when I say that I’m always working hard on my squat and bench, and that I prioritize them in terms of placement in scheduling during the week and during the workouts. Cheers! Bret

      Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Neal, Are you talking about doing blind-folded lifts as mentioned in Supertraining by Mel Siff? I’m not a fan. Too risky IMO, and I just don’t see the transfer. What do you think?

      Reply
      1. Neal W.

        No, I’m talking about doing lifts with a rounded back or other imperfections in form. Since we aren’t always performing movements in sports with perfect alignments, imperfection training is supposed to help prevent injury by giving the body some exposure to exerting force in these “bad positions.” Of course, I’ve never heard anyone who advocates this saying we should take it to the extremes that this guy is has.

        Reply
        1. Bret Post author

          Okay, I see. I actually believe that there is some merit to this claim, though I personally wouldn’t be the coach who engages in this type of risk. For example, in sports movements aren’t always symmetrical, but that doesn’t mean I’ll have a guy squat with 20 more pounds on one side than the other. The beauty of weight training is that you can control the variables which reduces the likelihood of injury. Now, if I was training a strongman competitor, then of course we’d do round back lifts as this is part of the sport. But in this scenario I’d educate the lifter about where the rounding is coming from and try to avoid end-range lumbar flexion like the plague.

          Reply
  9. Derrick Blanton

    Nice post, Bret. A couple of questions on the bicep tear: Do you know if the tendon was already weakened, or frayed, or was this a one-shot acute blowout?

    If you had stopped the DL sets the minute you felt that warning sign, do you believe that you would have been okay to continue pulling mixed grip the next session, or was it just a time bomb waiting to blow?

    Hope you make a complete recovery and pull 600. Hook grip, I guess.

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Hey Derrick – one shot. I didn’t feel a warning sign, it just happened. But the set prior to the incident I did a static hold at the top of my dl for about 12 seconds with 540 lbs. Was building up my grip strength and it was working very well until the incident occurred! -BC

      Reply
  10. Karlzbad

    Granted, I’ve only been reading your ramblings, I mean posts, for about a year, but this is by far one of your best! I love it!

    Tony’s and Neghar “Poetry in Motion”’s (lol) forms are AMAZING. I had to walk away from a 215 DL tonight after two failed attempts and I was bummin about it for a minute for sure.

    PS – Air strikes do add 20lbs to your max, Tony had an unfair advantage. Go team Bret.

    Reply
  11. Marianne

    Neghar totally ROCKS!! Weasel the Weasel does not :(

    Great post Bret. I guess sometimes the problem is that when we are hell bent on reaching a stength goal, we focus ONLY on that number. Not speaking about you necessarily.

    Although I haven’t half the experience that you have, I have learned that sometimes it’s good to shelf a goal for a while, rather than abandon it. What I have found is after you come back to try again, (for me I took months off conventional DLs and turned to KBs) you surprise yourself with better form (be it better ROM, awareness, fresh expectations or mindset) and therefore, better lifting.

    Also by shelving a goal, it gives you time to work on other things and maybe, down the road, that goal will not matter so much. For the time you have the goal you reach a level that, in the grand scheme of things, might actually make you happy. To know this, you need perspective.

    Finally, it is worth considering that maybe in some strange way we choose goals we know we will never reach. This is not a ploy by our mind to cause failure, but rather to keep us motivated and sometimes, to keep us grounded. The mind plays a massive role in how we train and how we see ourselves. Afterall any dream or goal we own, comes from within.

    Weasel clearly feels he has something to prove (most likely only to himself) and maybe his lack of awareness is caused by his goals or self-perception being a little clouded :-/ Same goes for that other dude you posted on FB … totally delusional! But, for all we know, his parents, friends, “trainers” have encouaged this crazy behaviour and fed his misperception of his strength – reinforcing his bad form by only praising his numbers!

    Much like we see the hopes dashed in X-Factor or Idol when people are finally told the truth that they suck after years of being told by family and friends they could sing and they could really “be someone”. They are devastated because their goal has become the source of their self-worth and happiness.

    Shelving a goal can be the healthiest thing to do. If you are in shape, healthy and happy and, you will be that way for a long time, then who REALLY cares about the numbers, as long as you can enjoy the journey of trying. (of course this doesn’t apply for competitive lifters).

    Anyway, enough rambling from me … great read Bret

    Cheers

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Thanks Marianne! Interesting thoughts. Totally agree about shelving the goal and revisiting it after bringing up other qualities and strengths. As for choosing unattainable goals…I’ve never thought about that. Thanks! -Bret

      Reply
      1. Marianne

        Not meaning that your goal is unattainable, I just think it’s interesting why we choose the goals we do and the meanings they hold for us :)

        Reply
  12. Jay

    Hi Bret, Great post as usual.

    Kind of timely, I was looking through Mike Boyle’s Joint by Joint DVD, he talked about getting rid of back squats for his athletes, replacing them with Bulgarian Split squats. What do you think of that idea, I respect him as a coach, and kind of understand where he is coming from. When you reach max, risk and bad form increases, lumbar flexion occurs. And he says you low back is the first to give way, so doesn’t fully train the legs. But then again you can’t deny Louie Simmons ways of getting strong, wouldn’t he say to just get your abs and back stronger with assisted exercises.

    Thanks Bret,

    Jay

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      This debate has been going on for decades! Vince Gironda and others were “hating” on squats long ago. We’ve heard many theories…they’re bad for your knees, they’re bad for your back, they lead to imbalanced quad and glute development, etc., yet they’re still one of the most popular exercises for good reason – they work!

      Anytime an exercise is very effective you’ll have people who don’t like it, for often the same reasons that make them risky are what make them very effective. I could write an entire blogpost about this topic, and I’ve often said that you need to look through a coach’s lens to try to understand things.

      Boyle is a strength coach with a large facility that has a rather large athlete:coach ratio. This is a very different scenario than a washed-up meathead training clients one-on-one out of his garage gym haha! Even when I owned my training studio we’d have at most 12 clients at the same time (which was rare…it was usually more like 6 clients) with 3 trainers supervising so we would always watch the squats carefully. The set ended as soon as form started to break down, and we’d never increase the load to the point of too much form breakdown.

      For this reason I’ve found squats to be pretty safe, in addition to being extremely effective (possibly the most effective exercise in existence). I do like hearing different arguments though, but one could argue against squats, deads, bench press, chins, military press, dips, bent over rows, and power cleans (in fact, I could present a great argument why you shouldn’t do any of these…which I wouldn’t actually agree with), which are the pillars upon which strength & conditioning was built!

      Reply
  13. rob

    Great advice, I’m probably pretty close to my genetic limit on some lifts and have slowed things way down … when I was younger I would almost certainly have pressed too hard and injured myself.

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      I was not aware of this! How would anyone know…we never knew his real name? I appreciate the link. I’ll post this link on an upcoming blog. Good to see he’s persisted, cleaned up his form a bit, and developed some muscles to help buffer the loads. This is very telling!

      Reply
        1. Bret Post author

          I see your point Steve, but hear me out. On one forum he wrote about how he had to back off because he kept injuring himself. I just found this interview and he talks about cleaning up his form. And though his form is still not ideal, he keeps the bending moment on his spine within it’s tolerable limits which allows him to keep training week in, week out. Had he not cleaned up his form, he would not have lasted. Hence my point. Agree?

          Reply
          1. Steve

            I think that’s a fair way to put it. I certainly advocate “good form” on all lifts, which includes pulling with a neutral spine, etc. But I think on the other end of the spectrum I see a lot of people who are afraid to push themselves, who will constantly deload as soon as things start to get grindy in the name of “perfect form.” I think that we can look at Diesel Weasel’s old videos and point out how ugly they are and learn a lot about how not to lift, but in the context of his overall lifting career I think we can also learn something from him about the value of intensity and consistency.

  14. Naomi

    Thank you for this article, Brett. I see a lot of really horrible form in the gym and I just fail to see the point. I’ve backed off to only doing stiff legged deadlifts simply because I kept injuring my back. What’s the point of that? In the end, I no longer see a need to keep going up and up on weight in the big lifts if I can feel them working the target area and I’m continuing to get results. Now, I’m more inclined to increase weight because I “have to”, rather than because I “want to”.

    Reply
  15. Echo

    Holy hell, the street Weasel! I haven’t run across any of his horrific lifts in a while. My, my, my, if he only had a brain…

    Well written article, Bret, and such an important aspect to ‘goal’ lifting. Wish someone had told me this 10 years ago when I kept tearing the same muscle. Had to learn that painful lesson twice before it dawned on me to change my approach and table that would-be goal for a while. Pain is a helluva teacher but I’d rather take your sage advice – I hope others do as well.

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Thank you Echo. Pain is a helluva teacher but we’re still pretty good at ignoring it :) I hope this post helps some people out as well. Take care.

      Reply
  16. Rosamaria

    Hey Bret,

    I have a question thats about something else, but im struggling with it ,so i hope its ok.
    Im trying to develop more musscle mass (54 kilo and 160 cm and fat rate is 20,4 procent )and im training very disiplined and basically i think my workout is ok.
    Now i have heard that in order to grow u also have to eat enough protein per day ( now honestly im not trying to become a bodybuilder but just trying to grow my ass and my hips (with hips i mean medium and minimum glute)).So this trainer that i know ,who comes across very professional ,told me that its kind of rubbisch to start eating like 2 or 3 grammes protein per kilo.Because i dont need so much and he told me that its a false fact.According to him u dont need that much to grow.He told me that basically 55 grams of protein a day will be enough to grow musscle mass for me.

    Is this true or what is your opinion about this, because i value it very much and im very doubtfull because u read so many different things on the internet, it kind of confusses me.

    Ps : i hope my english was correct because im actually from Holland.

    greetings from Amsterdam

    Rosa

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Rosa, the answer depends on how much you weigh, how many grams of carbs and fat you’re taking in, the quality of the protein you’re takin in, and how much energy you’re expending. I agree that most sources overestimate how much protein you need but 55 grams might be a bit low depending on your situation.

      Reply
      1. Rosamaria

        Hey bret, thank you so much for answering that quickly..

        So ok.. i understand that it depends on many factors.. Do u maybe have a general tip for me how to calculate how many proteins at least to take in daily or some other advice that i can use in knowing how many proteins?

        Anyway thank you for the effort..!

        Greetings

        Rosa

        Reply
        1. Bret Post author

          For those looking to build muscle, my man Alan Aragon recommends between 1.4-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. If you weight 120 lbs, this equates to 54.4 kgs, which comes to 76.2-92.5 grams of protein/day. Hope that helps!

          Reply
  17. Steve

    Great article. We all need reminders not to chase the numbers, certainly at the expense of injuries. Equally valid is recognising that we can still train when injured. Recognising what we “can do” is the attitude we need to live and breath by and pass on to our clients. I believe this is very healing to the mental trauma that no doubt all sports and fitness participants and trainers go through when they get injured.

    Reply
  18. chrysta

    Hey Bret! Ive been such a fan for awhile but Ive never posted until now…This article I thought was so helpful and really explained good form lifting from bad form lifting.

    Im a new lifter (Looking to see what maxes I can hit!) and I am in my newbie gains stage. So like you said, I can put on 5-10lbs to my lifts each week all the while I concentrate on learning proper form. It was really good to know that while Im trying to make small goals and reach them to learn to back off a bit IF my form isnt what it should be. I have some big goals for the future but Im giving myself some time to let my body adjust and grow.

    Watching videos of that guy really made me cringe. From the looks of it, Im surprised he hasnt hurt himself yet. eeccck!

    Thanks so much for such a great article! Really helpful!

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Chrysta, I’d like to comment about something you said. Going up 5-10 lbs each week comes to 260-520 lbs in just one year. It won’t happen! For advanced guys, going up 5 lbs per month is tough, and you have to pick your times to peak. So don’t be obsessed with the load increase as some weeks you’ll go up and some weeks you won’t. Focus on good form and proper intensity and the strength gains will come in time.

      Reply
      1. chrysta

        Thanks so much! that is good to know…Im waiting for the time that I will peak (which Im sure I’ll start to go down soon) But I’ll keep at it, if anything I just really enjoy doing it.

        Reply
  19. Tyler

    I don’t agree with the part about how you shouldn’t set “unrealistic” goals. In my experience the mind is a big factor in how hard or easy something is going to be. I don’t have any research to back this up but I’ve noticed it consistently in my personal life.

    For example, if I decide before trying to do pullups that I’m going to get 15, by the 14th pullup I’ll be grinding and the 15th will be an all out effort. If I go in with the mindset of as many pullups as possible, it seems like the point of grinding and fatigue come in later. I just made this example up but it seems to be pretty consistent for me in my fitness endeavors when I have a rep/weight goal.

    Basically, I feel that if I go in with an attitude of “I don’t know what I’m capable of, I’m going to push myself as far as I can” I perform better than if I try to hit some arbitrary goal. I know for a fact that when I was trying to “finally” bench 225 it was more of a mental block than anything else because the first workout I was able to hit that weight I did it for 10 singles. The next week I benched 240. For the longest time I was unable to get past the idea of two plates on the bar and breaking the mental barrier was all it took to progress.

    I could be wrong as everyone is different, but after consistently getting hurt trying to reach a specific goal I would imagine it’s a pretty huge mental block. This could be exactly what’s making it so hard as I find there’s no room for nagging doubt when hitting PR’s.

    In summary, I believe people’s performance is adjusted to their goals and talking about physical limits, genetics, and realistic goals is setting people to fall short of their true potential.

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Tyler, I should have further explained myself in my post. What really irks me is when people who never lift weights say something stupid like, “it’s all in the head,” or, “it’s all mental.”

      Really? It doesn’t have anything to do with physiological cross-sectional area of the muscle? Intermuscular coordination? Neural drive? I guess all the researchers are wrong.

      I realize that psychological motivation (being psyched-up) plays a big role but only so much. My mom can’t get all worked up and deadlift 600 lbs. It will never happen.

      Similarly, a tall ectomorph probably isn’t going to set the world’s bench press record either. Sure there are exceptions to rules, but I think that people need to be realistic about their body type, proportions, and genetics in general (fiber type proportions, etc.).

      I wasn’t implying that we shouldn’t set goals, that we shouldn’t set lofty goals, or that we shouldn’t push it hard when we train or engage in some form breakdown in order to reach a max.

      Thanks for the post!

      Reply
  20. Derek

    Bret,
    Just wanted to tell you how awesome you are. I unfortunately yet fortunately found your site a couple months back and by now have read every article at least twice. The unfortunate part I live in Scottsdale so when i found out you lived here yet don’t anymore i was pretty bummed. Suffice to say i thoroughly enjoy reading your writings Its been cool getting to pick your brain a bit even if it is virtually. I assume all is going well with your endeavors and hope to meet and possibly train with you some day!
    – Derek

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Damn Derek! That’s too bad. I may be back around Christmas/New Year’s time so hit me up then. Thanks for the kind words!

      Reply
  21. sajdklsajlasdjskld

    OP is a faggot.

    Diesel Weasel hit 550 in a meet with good form. He can lift more than the skinny fat author with the fatcep in the header pic.

    OP, what can you deadlift? Got any videos? Can you DL more than DW or are you another shit talking pussy?

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Dang, you’re an angry little elf, aren’t you? I suspect that this is Diesel Weasel himself posting, but I’ll humor you and give you the benefit of the doubt.

      Diesel’s 550 lb deadlift form is far from good form. Good form means an arched back throughout the lift. I’m a fellow round-backer but I’m under no illusion that my form is good. It is definitely better than Diesel’s, however. He cannot lift more than the author, though he is much stronger pound for pound at least at the three powerlifts. Here’s me doing 545 but I have a vid doing 565 somewhere.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLObqWRfLDI

      I’m not so intimidated by powerlifting numbers though. When I was doing MMA/BJJ training there was not much correlation between weightroom strength and sparring performance. I did have to laugh at the fatcep comment. I’ve never heard that one before LOL.

      I noticed that you entered in a fake email address and didn’t post your name. Not trying to be rude, but sounds to me like you’re the pussy.

      Reply
  22. Ariel

    Haha, I see the Weasel has a fan club, Brett! You better watch out, those rodents can be vicious!

    This post is absolutely awesome; thank you for writing it. It can be so easy for me to get absolutely caught up in the numbers and discount a workout that left me exhausted as “bad” because I didn’t lift at least something heavier than last time. I really appreciate your perspective.

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Haha! We all get caught up in the numbers Ariel. That’s what makes us succeed, but we tend to go overboard. It’s like a double-edged sword that we have to learn to tame over time.

      Reply
  23. Swede

    Bret,
    I have read a few of your articles over the years and you seem to be an intelligent and knowledgeable professional. For this reason I’d like you to explain the following excerpt:

    ” When I train athletes, I try to let the chips fall where they may in terms of strength development. Some guys can build up to a 600 lb squat, deadlift, or hip thrust —-without compromising their explosive power. —- Some never make it to 400 lbs on anything. As long as form stays solid and you’re not focusing on —-maximal strength at the expense of other qualities such as explosive and reactive strength—-, then all is well. ”

    At what point, would you say, does maximal strength compromise explosive power? Could you also explain how maximal strength can be achieved at the expense of explosive and reactive strength? Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Swede, I should write a separate blogpost for this. I’ll give you an example as I ran into this mistake with a client last year. He (and I must confess I too) really desired a 500 lb deadlift, and he was stuck at around 455. I tapered on the plyos and agility work and eliminated explosive lifts in order to focus more on max strength. He ended up attaining the 500 lb deadlift and we were both thrilled. Unfortunately his pitching velocity did not increase from the previous season. We made adjustments and focused on explosive lifts, plyos, and ballistics, with only one day of heavy strength work (but deads were only done with 85% so still somewhat explosive) and his velocity increased back to normal. In order to get him to achieve the 500 lb deadlift, I utilized a sumo stance (which was better for him), and I was having him do rack pulls, hip thrusts, and back extensions (all very heavy). I even had him going heavy four days per week; squats and deads two days and reverse lunges, hip thrusts, and back ext the other two days. These methods were amazing for his max strength, but they didn’t transfer over to his power.

      Since there are many adaptations caused by heavy strength training, for example changes in pennation angle, if you focus more on max strength and scale down the attention you give to other qualities such as plyos and Oly variations, you may gain some limit strength at the expense of losing some RFD and reactive strength. Obviously it depends on the individual, the training history, etc.. We made adjustments though and learned from the experience. His maximal strength is superior and through he still goes heavy, we pay more attention to explosive work.

      You can have all sorts of fancy theories and formulas (I’m big on this haha), but at the end of the day you have to see if what you’re doing is working and make adjustments accordingly. Sometimes you can go overboard with max strength development.

      Reply
      1. Swede

        I appreciate you taking the time to give such a thorough explanation of what you meant. It’s sounds to me, based on what you’ve described (and please try not to get offended by this, it’s an observation), that it was in fact the METHOD you used in training for absolute strength, combined with the fact that you abandoned explosive lifts which is more likely to have been the culprit for lack of improvement in pitching performance than an increase in absolute strength. An increase in absolute strength would likely have yielded improved performance. It also makes sense to mention that he switched stances to achieve that PR. If, as you say, it is a better set-up for him, it is likely to be the true reason for the larger number. I’ve had athlete’s pull 50lb PR’s after a one day clinic of form correction and verbal cues. These PR’s are not the result of an increase in absolute strength.
        With that all said, the point that I am making here I would think to be an obvious one: absolute strength is not the enemy. Absolute strength and explosive power should go hand-in-hand. As strength increases, so does explosive power. The two are inextricably linked, as you know. So when I first read that it kind of threw me off, but I can see how you were applying it to a specific experience so I understand what you mean I think.

        Reply
        1. Bret Post author

          Exactly Swede. They are inextricably linked and absolute strength is definitely not the enemy! Strength lays the foundation for nearly every fitness quality.

          But I would say that when you have an athlete that you’ve trained for quite some time and they’ve gotten freakish strength, the law of diminishing returns applies and you need to watch your programming to make sure you don’t burn him out. In other words, there’s a certain number, and this number depends on the particular athlete and exercise, and once it’s reached the focus shouldn’t be on progressive overload but instead on explosive reps with precision. For example, if a tennis player reaches a 405 lb squat, you probably would be better served by having him do explosive sets in the 1-3 rep range with 315-365 rather than keep making him do 385+ and/or having him try to increase his max to 435. This is hard to determine and won’t happen right away, but it is a dilemma for talented strength coaches who are good at delivering results. This is a concern that many coaches never have to deal with though because they’re not that good at developing strong athletes.

          Reply
          1. Swede

            While it seem we employ different methods of strength training for our athletes, we can certainly agree on the reasoning above. Cheers.

  24. eric

    As far as deadlift form goes, would you agree that most people have no business deadlifting all the way from the floor and should be pulling off of a platform of some kind? that most people’s hip mobility and strength doesn’t allow them to get all the way to the floor without their back rounding and their knees moving too far forward? i think gray cook said that your shins should be perpendicular from the floor when you begin the deadlift and if they’re not, the bar needs to be high enough that your shins are verticalso your weight can stay in your heel and midfoot. what else other than shin angle and spinal posture are the key indicators of good form on a deadlift?

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      I would not agree, Eric. I’m not sure what percentage of folks lack sufficient hip flexion mobility (or lumbopelvic stability depending on the dysfunction) to perform proper deadlift technique, but I would definitely not say “most people” as in a majority (ie: over 50%). Maybe 1/3 beginner males, and 1/6 beginner females, and 1/6 intermediate males and 1/12 intermediate females. I’m just throwing out numbers based on my experience as a trainer. In this situation I still have them deadlift, but they start with rack pulls or high trap bar deads (or RDL’s). I should say that usually I can get away with this…there is the occasional client that just needs to learn how to hip hinge properly in which case I use the wall/sit back technique to get them to move their hips posteriorly and touch the wall. The shins definitely don’t need to be perpendicular to the ground when you initiate the deadlift, as there is usually slight ankle dorsiflexion (but not very much). I’m specifically refering to conventional style here.

      For good deadlift form, watch Mark Rippetoe’s videos. You want the bar centered over the midfoot and under the scapulae, so the shoulders are in front of the bar. You want the bar to skim the legs as it comes up, and the back to stay arched. The knees extend first and then the hips. At the start of the lift, the hips are in between the knees and shoulders but the hips are still high (much more so than a squat) to take advantage of hamstring strength. If a mirror was in front of you, you could read your shirt in the mirror, though you don’t want to look straight ahead (you want to look down…and even better you want to pack your neck). Squeeze glutes hard to lockout. The reverse of the movement (eccentric phase) should mirror the concentric phase…which means you RDL the weight down by sitting back first, and once the bar passes the knees you then flex the knees, and the bar skims the thighs on the way down while the back remains arched. Push through the whole foot (you can cue push through the heels but you really use the whole foot).

      Reply
  25. Jason Nunn

    Brett,

    I’ve read and like most of the stuff you put out, but I have a few issues with this post. First, you state in the comments area that you tend to not say anything to people when you see them lift with bad form. Then, why would you call them out on your blog and call them a jackass? Seems a bit unprofessional to me. If you see someone doing something incorrectly, ask if they’d like a pointer or two. If they don’t, then it’s not your problem. But, to throw stones from miles away on the internet, when you wouldn’t help them in person? Really?

    Second, for most people, the genetics excuse is just a cop out. Not progressing on your lifts means that either you aren’t trying hard enough or your program isn’t working. Most people aren’t willing to do what it takes to reach they’re true genetic potential.

    Cheers

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Jason, Diesel Weasel is a jackass. Or at least he was a jackass. Hopefully he’s grown up and matured. The crap he used to say in forums was absurd. He was incredibly immature and rubbed everyone the wrong way. Got kicked off of forums, etc. He had everyone in the world trying to help him with his form but he knew better than everyone. Finally he listened to people and his lifts went up and he probably quit hurting himself. Seriously, if you read some threads from various forums from back in the day you’d agree with me; he was a serious prick.

      As for the genetics argument, I couldn’t disagree more. Read this article I wrote.
      http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/most_recent/the_truth_about_bodybuilding_genetics

      It applies to strength and hypertrophy. Some just don’t build strength like others, and it has a lot to do with satellite cell system efficiency (both fusion and replenishing of the pool). A brand new study came out showing that micro-RNA’s are critical for hypertrophy and are inherited. New research is shedding light on this topic big-time. Furthermore, some people break down and get hurt more easily than others. Their connective tissue doesn’t adapt like others and keep getting stronger. Perhaps it’s the ratio of collagens, elastin, etc., but it’s highly genetic as well.

      I agree that most people train like sissies and will therefore never approach their genetic potential but there are others who have to train very smart in order to reach their potential because they get injured very easily. By playing it safe, the see better results because they don’t have to deal with nagging pain or injuries and can hit the gym week in and week out, not to mention they enjoy training more.

      That said, I appreciate you coming on here and speaking your mind. Cheers! -Bret

      Reply
      1. Jason Nunn

        I’m aware of his actions on some of the boards. I belong to them to. I just think that by engaging people like him in that way brings you down to their level. When obviously, you aren’t.

        I found your article very interesting and would love to see the actual studies. I’d question how they controlled the variables in the subjects. Like, were they all on the same nutrition program? Were they all the same chonological and/or training age? I question this because, like you, I’ve never had a client not increase muscle mass and get stronger. I’m sure genetics play a huge roll in the level of success the lifter will see. Obviously, not everyone is going to hit world record numbers. I just feel like that excuse gets thrown around way too much. That’s all.

        Thanks for taking the time to respond and keep up all the good research!

        Reply
        1. Bret Post author

          Jason, I have the studies and there are definitely issues with them (many of them involved solely arm training where they’d come in twice per week or so and do a biceps and triceps workout). They didn’t tinker around with program design variables, perform exercises for the entire body, etc. The reason why I was very glad I did the research for that article is because I’ve always been pretty intolerant of those who label themselves “hardgainers” and those who seem to make excuses. That article helped me be a little more compassionate to those individuals and give them the benefit of the doubt (whereas before I would have assumed they weren’t training hard enough, eating enough, performing the right exercises, etc.). But still, I’ve never had a client that didn’t see good results so the training plays a big role as well (as you can attest to from your experience as well). Anyway, we need to push people hard and be excellent motivators but still be compassionate to those who aren’t seeing the best results as it may not be their fault (and we tend to accuse them of not eating right, sleeping right, etc. because we know that the training is good). It might just be their lousy genetics! -Bret

          Reply
  26. April

    After reading some of your replies to comments, I am very interested in this whole idea of “finding when the rules don’t apply” thing. I finally videod myself training after experiencing slight low back pain.. As my form looked ok to me, I noticed that my hips (and butt) seem to “dip” or drop when I squat . After watching yours and others videos on squat form I didn’t notice this drop (curving under) of the butt. My intention has been to get a full rom but in my attempts I am wondering if I have put too much strain on my low back (my stance is wide enough for a good hole..my back is tight and straight in the squat… And I’ve been squatting high bar). Should I place it low bar? Should I squat more upright? Should squat just at parralel and then full squat separately? Whatever it is I would love to fix it so that I can progress. Not to mention, I have found it difficult to really activate my quads and glutes like I know they should. Thanks in advance

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      April, this topic could be its own blogpost. The pelvis will tuck at the bottom of a squat (the pelvis tilts posteriorly and the lumbar spine flexes) with most people. Ideally you’d want this to not happen, but I’d guess that 75% of people do it if they do a full squat. It usually has to do with tight hip flexors from that position and insufficient lumbar erector activation. Many Olympic weightlifters do this and somehow avoid injury throughout their careers. I visited a prominent spinal biomechanist and he informed me that once you drop into the deep position you’re quite protected when the spine rounds. That said, it depends where the rounding happens. If it’s very low, it’s not that bad. If you’re pelvis starts to tuck and your low back starts to round before your thighs hit parallel, that’s a huge problem. In that case you’d really need to develop sufficient hip mobility and stability (and possibly ankle dorsiflexion mobility and even erector strength and t-spine extension mobility) before you start loading up the squat. Hope that helps! -Bret

      Reply
  27. Sarah Walls

    Awesome post. Unless our athletes are doing a max test we will shut down the lift immediately if we see form breakdown. We usually try and put the videos up on our website so people can see what proper form looks like.

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Great to hear Sarah. Over time good coaches get a really good idea as to where the line is drawn between acceptable and unacceptable, and the 10% rule is a good rule of thumb.

      Reply
  28. April

    This post brings up a lot of relavent points in the world of my training latley and I have some questions.
    I finally decided to video myself doing various excersizes included in my normal routine, recently, after I had noticed a straining-type pain in my low back (even when it was relaxed). For some time now, I have been stalling on my back squat, and have felt unable to consturctively progress. As I watched the video of my squats, it was hard to really tell if the form was wrong… it looked ok to me. (Tight/straight back, wide stance for a nice hole…) But I did notice that my butt/hips noticibly dip down (like almost with in inward curve) right at the bottom of the squat before I come up… then I unloaded my weight and watched myself with only a barbell and I did the same thing. I even did this with my bodyeight squats, unless i REALLLY thought about not doing it (I think it’s like muscle memory at this point to do that?) Either way, I don’t know if this is a huge problem, I just know that these squats of mine have not been providing me much progress or results, not to mention I do believe they cause a great deal of low back strain… I can just see the low back trying to push my butt out of its “drop”…is that true? I also haven’t been benefiting from good quad/glute activation… more like just pressure.. like the weight of the world on my torso… that leaves me with a strained feeling later? Are you able to guess what is the problem? …Is there some cause of “exceptions to the rules” that I’m dealing with where I should lean more forward? I have a short torso if that helps…oh, and I typically do my squats in the high bar position. Thanks in advance.

    Reply
    1. April

      ahh so sorry that i left two comments! :) i thought the other one didnt go through and so i re-wrote… my apologies !

      Reply
    2. Bret Post author

      It’s okay that you left two comments April, this one was a bit more specific. If you can control it, as you mentioned when you really concentrate, then you’re probably okay. You just need to drop the load and focus on using perfect form and keeping the chest up and the low back tight so it doesn’t allow rounding. But if you can’t do this, just work on your hip flexors and hip mobility until you can reach proper depth with no rounding. In the meantime, you can do wide stance high box squats to parallel and your spine won’t round so you’ll likely experience no pain. If that still causes pain, then there’s no reason why you have to squat. You can do quad dominant single leg work and be just fine. The high bar position is fine and more preferred by women in general.

      Reply
      1. April

        Haha good. Well I appreciate your feedback and am planning doing the next right thing! I’m very aware of the hip mobility and un-tight hip flexor importance. Particalurly your recommendation on doing box squats was helpful! I never understood what they were good for so have never thought I needed them. Today I used them and was reallllly aware of maintaing a tight “line” down my whole back without letting those hips drop down (because there was a box) and I believe this let me be so much more able to let my core stabalize me, my glutes and hips to drive up, and my quads (and hams) to help push! I could just feel the effectiveness difference! and it was low-back strain free. Sheesh, form can be so important.. especially when combined with different peoples’ anatomy! Thanks a ton for your help

        Reply
        1. April

          Brett- I have another question! ;) I notice that when I make my stance even wider than I was, it is easier for my to control the low back and hips and prevent them from dropping like a suggestive night dancer like previously… hah. Yet it still takes a great deal of muscle control (if not more)! My question would be to ask if this sounds alright or does it change the biomechanics of the squat… like should I just learn it well with normal-width of stance or should I take advantage of the more wide stance approach. I believe that my legs are quite a bit longer in porportion to my torso. This would lead me to think that maybe an even more wide stance is ok for me? True? appreciate your efforts in helping

          Reply
  29. Angela

    Bret,
    that was a freakin awesome post! I train at a Navy gym (even though I’m Army) and 90% of the time I am the only female in the area. 90% of the time I’m also the only one doing anything functional, safe, or effective with good form in the gym. They’re mostly bros, trying to do crossfit, with the most awful form I’ve ever seen. If I see another 300 bench with feet in the air or deadlift with a rounded back…I’m just waiting for spines to snap.

    I WISH I could give these guys a clue, show them your blog and smack them around a little bit. Till I earn bragging rights (I think my piddly 135 lb. deadlift needs more meat before I’m taken seriously by some….even though I’ve been there for 4 years) I think I’ll have to settle for giving these guys thoroughly exasperated looks as they drop the barbell into the squat rack after curling with it….like I did to the guy yesterday. He had 45′s on there, and I guarantee you he was not only using his biceps to curl. Did I mention there’s only ONE squat rack in the gym? Sigh…

    In any case, keep the great information and inspirational videos coming. Neghar is my HERO!!!!

    Angela

    P.S. any suggestions for doing hip thrusts when you can’t use 45 lb. plates? I can’t figure how to get the bar over my legs. I’m only 5’3″ and if I use boxes, won’t my ROM be too short?

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Angela, I’ve seen some Crossfit facilities that seem to be very safe and use good form, whereas others are indeed atrocious. I guess it depends on the facility owners and coaches and the culture that they establish. It’s a shame that more don’t rise up like some of them have. I will definitely keep the good stuff coming!

      As for barbell glute bridges and hip thrusts, I thought Crossfit facilities had bumper plates. If so, then the plates are the same size, so 10 kg plates would be the same size as 20 kg plates, etc. If not, then you have a couple of options. First, you can have someone hand it to you, but that requires a spotter. Second, you can drape chains over your hips (each chain I had back home weighed 42 lbs). Third, you could use a sandbag (but I’m not sure if this can be done comfortably for everyone). Fourth, you can just hammer away at single leg work until you’re strong enough to use 135 lbs.

      I know of one person who would set up one side of the barbell onto a box, then get under the bar and get into position on the hip thrust, and finally take the bar off the side so it ended up right in his lap. This sounded very complicated to me!

      Best of luck!

      Reply
  30. Rob

    Bret

    Fantastic blog post man. Really nailed it.

    I had many warning signs before a lot of my injuries, always trying to lift heavier (because more than likely read it in a magazine), is not a great option. Sooner or later injuries will occur from this and then things just go downhill.

    Great blog post man, thank you again.

    Rob
    www,RobKingFitness.com

    Reply
  31. Another View

    Bret,

    Max Mirsch (“Diesel Weasel”) gave an interview you should read http://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/interview-with-max-misch-the-diesel-weasel.html

    In it he indicates humility

    “I started posting videos toward the end of 2004 and became infamous during 2005 and 2006 (around the same time as my foray into strongman) for my horrible deadlift technique of extreme hitching and ramping the barbell. I rationalized to myself and others that this type of lifting wasn’t bad because I was a competitive strongman and not a powerlifter, so the spasmodic lifting is fine because you only need to finish the lift in strongman, regardless of any hitching/ramping. During this time, the late Jesse Marunde (2nd place @ World’s Strongest Man 2005) approached me online. We met in person on two occasions and he gave me some sound advice regarding strongman and strength training in general.

    After going through a period of 2-3 years of lifting weights with atrocious form and being the laughing stock of the online fitness/strength community, I finally decided to prove everyone wrong by drastically improving my lifting form enough to be able to compete in a sanctioned powerlifting meet.”

    Max has since pulled 535 in a meet in the 165 class. I sure you would concede this is an excellent lift by any measure, and clearly rivals or in fact exceeds your own goals.

    Max was not a strength and conditioning coach or personal trainer at the time of posting those videos, and in fact started training seriously only that year, having focused on a two year enlistment with service in Iraq) prior to this time.

    It is disappointing that in this blog calling out/humiliating a stranger seems to have been used for the purposes of a simple point, as by all reports and your conduct online you seem a great guy.

    It is very difficult to admit mistakes, adjust and succeed to the extent that Max has with regard to lifting. Judging from the interview linked Max only draws resolve from vitriol directed his way, as he notes that this along with the mermory of a long term friend and partner training partner who died in Iraq, as well as the courage of his girlfriend in her fight with cancer are great motivation.

    It saddens me that this blog post went the way it did. Other posts have been outstanding, the interview with Carlo Buzzichelli being one example. I hope very much to see more content of that ilk in the future.

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      I appreciate your concern. Here are some thoughts:

      1. I didn’t even plan out this blogpost, I was just reading some research and an idea popped into my brain and I started typing. Four hours later it blossomed into a blog full of videos and pictures.
      2. I wanted to use examples of crappy form, and I immediately thought of the Weasel.
      3. I never thought to follow his career and I didn’t even know how I’d read up on him as he didn’t use his real name back then, so I didn’t know he was a decent powerlifter these days, nor did I know that he’s done some strongman events too. For that, my hat goes off to him. Had I known this the blog would have been much different; I would have credited him for his improvements and accomplishments.
      4. You have to realize, for many of us who knew of his forum posts back in the day, he came across as an extremely arrogant prick who would post videos of his form (on strength forums bear in mind) and ask for advice and then scoff at all the responses. Obviously people can change and it seems like he has matured but bear in mind this was the only impression I had to go by. I could link a bunch of different threads showing his arrogance but just trust me when I say his attitude was lousy. His will has always been impressive and most people including me respect him for that.
      5. This post obviously rubbed some folks the wrong way. Perhaps I shouldn’t have called him names as that’s not professional, but I never claimed to be the most professional person in the world. Judging by the response of this post (it’s one of the most popular posts I’ve ever written), many people liked it. That doesn’t mean I do things solely for popularity points, but just shows that what some people like rubs others the wrong way.
      6. Your points are well taken and I’ll keep them in mind for future posts, but from time to time I may rub people the wrong way as I’m an opinionated and passionate guy myself. Hopefully you can give me the benefit of the doubt.
      7. Glad you liked Carlo’s interview. I have a lot of readers who just want basic information and other readers who are more advanced who like material such as Carlo’s interview. I try to please all ends of the spectrum but it’s not easy! Interviews like Carlo’s are very fun so I definitely want to keep doing them from time to time.

      Thanks, Bret

      Reply
        1. Axel

          Max, I don’t judge you on how you were and do admire how you’ve progressed, but it saddens me to see that you refer to Bret’s blog as “fuel to the fire.” In my opinion, you seem better than that. I’ve been there before, and I can definitely say that the fuel shouldn’t come from a negative place. Forget about proving people wrong. It seems a little needy that your potential success at a meet comes because someone bothered you, and not because you wanted it deep down inside (which I’m sure you did). Don’t lift because you’re looking for validation from anybody. Do it for yourself. Let it come from you and only you, not because someone seemed to object to your abilities.

          Peace,
          Axel

          Reply
  32. Rob Panariello

    Bret,

    My two cents on some “topics” of this post and specifically in regard to the Performance Training of Athletes…

    1. We as S&C coaches are utilizing weight lifting to enhance the physical qualities of strength. power, and speed in an attempt to enhance athleticism; we are not trying to make weightlifters of our athletes. I am also of the opinion that there are strength levels that do suffice depending upon the individual athlete, sport of participation, position of participation, etc… Does an offensive lineman have to squat 800 pounds? Does a baseball player who swings a 31.5 ounce bat and throws a 5.5 ounce baseball, who will rarely come into contact with another individual unless a collision occurs going for a ball, sliding into a base, etc…. have to deadlift 500 pounds? Often coaches get so caught up into “the numbers”, and unless the athlete is a Powerlifter or Olympic Weightlifter, were the sport IS THE NUMBERS; we may lose sight of what we are trying to accomplish. Strength is certainly an important component, the necessary foundation, for sports performance, but in my opinion power, and more specifically, speed is the payday. Linemen make contact; defensive backs have collisions, would you rather be hit by a 300-pound lineman taking 2 steps or a 190-pound defensive back running at full speed lay on one you? We as coaches can’t sacrifice speed for strength.

    I remember one day when I was working with Hall of Fame Strength Coach Johnny Parker at Giants Stadium and at the time we had a rookie running back that weighed 178 pounds and squatted 427 “in the hole”. Present with us was a former Soviet Weightlifter and Coach who we studied with named Gregorio Goldstein. When we asked Coach Goldstein how to get this athlete stronger he replied “You don’t have to get him stronger, you have to get him faster”. This comment has always stayed with me.

    2. In my opinion (and experience) most injuries occur due to excessive exercise volume. Excessive exercise volume + heavy weight + poor technique = eventual disaster. If you look at the research of sports injuries that occur per 100 hours of participation, you will find the number of injuries that occur due to working with weights is at a very low rate:

    Sport Injury per 100 participation hours

    Soccer 6.20
    Track and Field 0.57
    Football 0.10
    Gymnastics 0.044
    Basketball 0.03
    Weight Training 0.0035
    Powerlifting 0.0027
    Weightlifting (OL) 0.0017
    Volleyball 0.0013
    Tennis 0.001

    Unless an athlete presents with a specific pathology and/or the program design is so horrific, they very rarely will injure themselves lifting something heavy. They usually either make the lift or miss it. Athletes usually injure themselves performing too much exercise volume. The injury usually occurs over time (often developing unknown to the athlete themselves) and then finally resulting in a significant breakdown during a specific attempt. Adding poor exercise technique with heavy weight and one will really have problems. If you review your posted videos of Max, though he did not have “optimal” form so to speak, did he hurt himself? It appeared that he was fine at the completion of his lifts. However, keep that same lifting form with such heavy loads over time and then visit him when he’s 50 years old. I know many a “heavy lifter” who had poor technique (ego apparently replaced technique) with various pathologies and joint replacements. I also know some heavy lifting athletes who had excellent lifting technique, are the same age as these other lifters, and are just fine.

    3. When it comes to athleticism, genetics certainly plays a big role. In my opinion world-class athletes are “genetically gifted” with various anatomical, neurological, and physiological “uniqueness”. Aren’t some athlete’s predominately slow twitch vs. fast twitch muscle fibers and vice versa? Isn’t this true for various strength characteristics as well? For example I am of the opinion that elastic strength can certainly be improve with training, however it can only be developed to certain levels with training. The high levels of elastic strength demonstrated by world class “speed and power” type athlete’s world are based on genetics.

    There are also differences between “biological age” vs. “training age”. Does a 21-year-old weightlifter have 21 years of weightlifting experience? Experience under the bar plays a role and the least experienced lifter has the greatest window of opportunity. That said, there are limitations based on the biological age at the initiation of training. However, regardless of the age of the initiation of training, these individuals will still have a “ceiling” of strength development based on a multiple of factors including genetics. If the development of strength was “limitless” then why is it necessary for many strength athletes to turn to “substances” for continued strength gains and success? Why do they not achieve continued “optimal” gains in strength “naturally”? I remember what a strength coach once told me many years ago, “You can supe up a Chevy but it’ll never be a stock Rolls Royce”. Genetics certainly plays a role in athletic performance.

    During my time studying in the in the Soviet Union we were instructed on the issue of the percent of physical quality (potential) for the strength and speed development of the athletes sports career (life). The percentage of physical quality development, based on the age (development) of the athlete is as follows:

    Age Percent of Development

    12-16 57.5%
    17-20 36.6%
    20-22 9.6%

    So for example, if an individual did nothing, was not physically active i.e. did not work out, did not play a sport, etc… until the age of 17, then there is a chance they would miss out on up to 57.5% of the athletic potential that this same individual may have had if they had participated in some training/athletic activity earlier in life. However, this still does not mean this individual would have been “world class” if they had stated training earlier.

    With regard to the Performance Training of athletes (not the athletes of Powerlifting or Olympic lifting) I do believe that strength is a critical and necessary quality. Specific levels of strength are necessary to be achieved for the athlete to be successful. However, let’s not focus too much on “numbers” and remember that there are a multiple of factors that result in the development of “optimal athleticism” resulting in the best possible athlete to placed on the field of play.

    Sorry for so long a post. Just my opinion

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Thanks for posting Rob! I am always very grateful to hear your views and I’m always very mindful of your considerable expertise. I’ll reply to each of your comments:

      1) Totally agree with comment number one. The problem is that there’s a happy medium. Some coaches are scared of a 400 lb squat or 500 lb deadlift. If you train football players, you need to become comfortable with this. If form is good, then there’s no reason to be afraid of it. But once a lifter starts approaching 2.5X bodyweight on a squat or 3X bodyweight on a deadlift, the coach should start considering moving to more explosive variations. For example, the deadlift pattern could be replaced with a mid-thigh clean pull (a recent study showed that this variation surpassed the power clean and hang power clean in both peak vertical force production and rate of force development) or explosive pulls against bands with something like 60% total tension down low and 85% total tension up top.

      2) Completely agree. The athlete who trains that way will inevitably find themselves with at the very least tremendous disc degeneration and likely much worse. While tissue can adapt and become stronger, there’s only so much the body can withstand, and the trauma accumulates over time.

      3) Totally agree again. Lately I’ve been wondering whether these genetic gifts in elastic strength have more to due with neural influences (potentiating vs. inhibiting reflexes) or structural influences (tissue elasticity and force transmission) and confess to not knowing the answer. That said, we can obviously modify it to some degree. In terms of program design, think of it like this. Let’s say you have 100 balls per athlete. As the coach, you can choose to put those balls into certain bins. One bin might be maximal strength, another might be high load speed strength, another low load speed strength, another reactive strength, another RFD, and another skill work. Then you have to consider the various vectors. Each athlete has natural talents and strengths, as well as particular weaknesses, and the coach needs to determine how many balls to place into each bin. A young, weaker running back might need 50 balls placed into the max strength bin, whereas a strong, experienced running back may only need 10 balls placed into that bin.

      I’ve learned from past mistakes not to get caught up in the numbers game. Thanks again Rob!

      Reply
  33. Rob Panariello

    Bret,

    I certainly understand your thoughts re: statement number 1. All I’m stating (my opinion) is that the athlete only has to be strong enough in regard to their specific sport or “task” so to speak and then the emphasis of training changes to power/speed development. I think we both agree on that point. However, the required strength levels are different for each and every situation i.e. not all athletes have to squat 2.5 times their body weight or deadlift 3 times their body weight for athletic performance success. Football is very different than basketball which is very different than gymnastics, etc…. What matters is the athletes overall performance.

    The baseball example I gave in my previous post are the requirements (31.5 ounce bat, 5.5 ounce baseball) of a major league shortstop that I presently train. Presently he is in a “contract year” and is one of the hottest baseball players in regard to baseball performance specifically at this time. He leads the major leagues in several categories.

    He is a very “explosive” athlete naturally, and his game is dependent upon speed.
    Last off-season specifically in regard to the squat exercise, he never squatted more than 275 pounds for multiple sets of 5. That was the strength base specifically required for him (in the specific period of time we had together) necessary to enhance his physical qualities for both speed and change of direction. With this squat performance his strength based was adequate FOR HIM to both participate and resist the high stresses of speed training, which, specifically for this athlete, was our priority. As an example, with this squat “strength base” he could single leg bound for greater than 30 yards (as 90 feet is the distance to first base) and could perform a standing triple jump of greater than 32 feet. Why did I have to load him any heavier in his squat at this time? Now with that said we will move him to +/- 315 pounds for sets of 5 next year but chances are I will not ever be loading him with 2.5 times his body weight in the squat as that certainly is not necessary FOR HIM. Now a football player, or a different baseball athlete may likely be a different story.

    There may be some S&C coaches reading this post who may find it humorous that a pro athlete only squats 275 for multiple sets of 5, but will these same individuals still be laughing when this athlete signs for +/-$140 million dollars at the conclusion of this baseball season? He certainly has a good chance to get this type of money in his next contract. My point, it comes down to the requirements and needs of the athlete, resulting in optimal performance, not just the “numbers”.

    As far as your comments on the clean pull, in my opinion it comes down to (once again) the needs of the athlete. I have no problem with the athlete performing pulls, however, the starting bar position will be determined by the needs of the athlete. Does the athlete need improvement starting strength, acceleration, or reactive strength (SSC)? All of these require different bar positions at the initiation of the exercise performance.

    In regard to your statement on the utilization of rubber bands, I am not an advocate of the utilization of rubber bands when performing high speed/power training exercises with the use of a barbell/weight. The rubber band around the bar may affect the pathway of the bar resulting in poorer lifting mechanics/technique (one concern of this post, i.e. the Max videos) and perhaps what may be more of a concern to many, is that the rubber bands will serve as a deceleration mechanism on the bar as the band is stretched. Aren’t we as coaches incorporating these power/speed type of exercises in our program design to enhance acceleration/speed of the bar during the exercise performance by our athletes?

    Just my thoughts. I hope that all is well

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Great points Rob! If I had time I’d expound upon your thoughts in a separate blogpost and state that there really are no rules set in stone in S&C. If you’ve trained enough people, you’ll know that getting some athletes to squat 275 x 5 is a big accomplishment for individuals from many types of sports. Exercise selection, load, and volume is determined based on consideration of a myriad of factors including injury history, sport, position, weak links, and goals. Since strength (and muscle force requirements) varies considerably from one individual to the next based on skeletal structure and tendon attachment points, two guys may be producing the same muscle force in a particular muscle but one guy may be lifting 50% more weight due to his structure.

      I’m glad you pointed out that many coaches would laugh at the 275 x 5. You’re right, and many of these coaches don’t have extensive experience with multiple sports or with high-caliber athletes. When you have a multiple million dollar contract on the line it really makes you consider your programming. This shouldn’t be the case, as even the novices deserve the same amount of consideration, but it’s the hard truth.

      Great comment about the positioning for the pull. In my opinion full range is best for starting strength, mid-thigh best for acceleration, and hang best for reactive. Would you agree?

      In regards to bands, I see your point. I feel that bands negatively impact bar path for squats and bench press moreso than deadlifts, but I could be wrong. I see deadlifts more as a hip hinge and less “compound” than the other lifts. In other words, there’s less knee bend so it acts mostly on the hips. For this reason, I think the bar path is more straight up and down in a deadlift, and I don’t think that the bands will negatively impact the path. In the past two years I’ve seen several different published studies that pitted traditional lifting vs. bar plus bands and the group using bands always seems to see better results in terms of strength and power gains. For this reason I’d consider using them more often than I have i the past if I were currently a strength coach.

      I’ve never thought about the decelerative component with bands, but still I respectfully disagree. I believe that with the bands we program the brain into accelerating faster because the body has to ramp up its force production throughout the lift. And you don’t seem to see many “grinders” when using bands; you either pull fast or you the load reverses back to the floor real quick. So although the bar doesn’t always accelerate, the motor program required is the same (as accelerated lifts with a constant load and constant velocity lifts with an accommodating load would both require ramped up force production throughout the range of motion). What do you think?

      Great thoughts Rob, they are much appreciated.

      Reply
  34. Rob Panariello

    Bret,

    It’s certainly fine to disagree with me or as the saying goes “agree to disagree”. I don’t take “disagreeing” personally. I have my methods and can substantiate the “why I do it”. If someone disagrees with my methodology that is certainly fine and my response is simply “then don’t do it”. It’s not personal. Now with this said, I certainly am smart enough to realize that I certainly “do not know everything” and that there is so much more for me to learn.

    In regards to your comment on the 275-pound squat and the programming in a “contract year”, I may have misinterpreted your thoughts (one reason I am not fond of e-mail), but his contract was not a concern, or as you stated in a previous post “some coaches are scared….”. Based on this specific athletes history, the amount of time we had to train, and the needs and goals of this athlete, a 275-pound squat performed for multiple sets did suffice as a strength base for the necessary progression of his training. I personally am not concerned with contracts as this athlete worked just as hard the year prior under different circumstances. At our facility we have all of our Major League and Minor League pitchers overhead press, jerk, etc… a “taboo” by many in regard to the training of throwers, but we wouldn’t change this even in a contract year. We plan and work for what is best for the athlete, period. If a “professional” of any profession is going to work in the environment of being “scared” or becomes overly concerned as “circumstances change”, in my opinion it will affect the level of their success.

    In regard to the bar starting position for the training of various strength qualities for the pull and OL’s exercises, in my discussions with Dr. Loren Chiu PhD, he has an analogy that I like very much. He describes the differences in racecars. As an example a drag racer is designed with great low-end torque. This racecar starts from a dead stop and has to accelerate rapidly. So starting strength type movements occur from a dead stop (without a preparatory movement) i.e. lifting from blocks, hang position, etc… A NASCAR is designed to have high horse power, which is similar to explosive strength. The NASCAR is already driving on the track at high speed and must then accelerate to an even higher speed. So exercises with a preparatory movement work to develop explosive strength. The initiation of an exercise from the floor requires a preparatory movement i.e. first pull to the second pull.

    Reactive strength training is typically accomplished with plyometric (shock) training, which requires the incorporation of the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC). A SSC is present in weightlifting during the pull as the second knee bend is required, as the bar must pass in front of the knees. The pull can be described as pushing the knees backwards (1st pull), shifting the knees under the bar (2nd knee bend), and extending the knees (2nd pull). A SSC occurs during this exercise sequence as well as during the transition from dip to drive during the performance of the “jerk” exercise.

    My comment re: bands was specifically in regard to their use with pulls and Olympic type lifts (perhaps you misinterpreted my e-mail:)). I was not commenting on band use with regard to strength type exercises such as the bench press, squat, and deadlift. I do utilize these types of equipment (chains, bands, etc…) in both rehab and performance training when deemed appropriate, i.e. strength movements. My concern with the use of bands during the squat exercise vs. the bench press and deadlift is the danger that may occur if the athlete has to “dump the bar”. The bands may control the path of the bar so that it may not land safely away from the athlete. Though I have used them, I also am of the opinion the bands will have some type of an affect on the bar pathway during exercise performance.

    Where I do “agree to disagree” with you is with your statement of the use of bands and programming the brain into accelerating faster as well as the motor program required. In my opinion a heavy load is a heavy load and thus the exercise movement is slow. We instruct all of our athletes, regardless of the load, to move the bar as fast as possible for every exercise rep performed. Just because the athlete wants to move a heavy bar quickly, just because they think the heavy bar is going to move quickly, doesn’t mean that the bar actually does move quickly. There is certainly a reason why a “proportion of intensity” for “explosive” exercise performance is often described as let’s say an athlete should be able to clean 80% of their squat weight. Why isn’t it 100% of their squat weight? Research will also substantiate that although intensities/loads can be heavy for enhanced power development, these loads must be lighter than those of (absolute) strength type movements or else aren’t we just performing another strength (slow) movement? I also have never read any manuscript or heard of any conversation proving this thought process re: power and speed.

    Bret, perhaps I’m misinterpreting you (e-mail again), and I’m not trying to be a jerk here as I just want to be clear on your thought process (as I previously stated I have a lot to learn), but your statement in regard to band work “…program the brain into accelerating faster because the body has to ramp up its force production throughout the lift”, isn’t this thought process similar to an earlier post by Tyler who stated “… the mind is a big factor in how hard or how easy something is going to be…” and yet you refuted his comment?

    All of your comments on this post are much appreciated.

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Rob, I’m finally smart enough to realize how damn stupid I am haha! Here are my responses:

      - That’s funny; I just read an article by WB Young titled Transfer of Strength and Power Training to Sports Performance where he used an excellent analogy with a race car in relation to cross-sectional area, intramuscular, and intermuscular coordination adaptations. I guess great minds think alike (Chu and Young).

      - The examples for starting, explosive, and reactive positions were helpful; would a hang clean offer a quicker SSC than a regular or power clean since it might encounter more rapid lengthening?

      - Your stance on using bands with Oly lifts makes perfect sense…I’m in complete agreement and I’m unaware of any successful WL’er or coach who advocates that approach. I also agree about the alterations in bar path and the danger involved in dumping the squat if bands are used.

      - My stance on bands stemmed from this article many years ago by Thibaudeau titled Rubber vs. Iron. In the article Thibs talked about deceleration and mechanical advantages associated with free weight exercises.

      - This got me thinking of the decreased neural drive that must occur near end-range of motion. Since then I’ve located two articles that support this notion.

      - The first was with the biceps curl. Basically Hay et al. 1991 found that with short duration lifts (< 2 s) very little joint torque was required to move the weight through most of the range of motion (ROM), as after the beginning of the movement the weight continued to move under its own momentum. Therefore, fast movements do not provide as much muscle tension as slow movements through most of the ROM, suggesting that faster repetitions, such as those performed with ‘explosive’ exercises may not produce optimal strength increases through a muscle’s full ROM.

      - The second was with the bench press. Elliot et al. 1989 found that using around an 80% load resulted in deceleration during the terminal 52% of the exercise’s ROM.

      - I’m not aware of any studies done on the deadlift in this regard, and the deadlift seems to be a bit harder to lockout than a squat or bench press, so deceleration may not apply as much to the DL.

      - I’m aware of the research and mantra stating that it’s the “intent to move the weight fast” that matters. I just don’t think we can do it through the end ROM’s in most lifts. The more you accelerate it in the mid-range, the more you’ll have to decelerate it at end range to spare the joints. As loads get heavier the gap probably narrows.

      - I decided to pull up some research on the topic and came up with some good abstracts that are worth sharing.

      - For the reasons mentioned above, I believe that bands are of much value to the strength coach. Yet I’m also aware that bands do not provide a complete solution, as there are still sticky points and the strength curve isn’t linear. Actually the band tension increase isn’t linear either. But at least it provides a partial solution. This study sheds light on that, as does this study by my friend Travis McMaster (I hang out with him all the time here in Auckland), which also discusses band length and tension discrepancies.

      - I also think about the force equation. If F = MA, then A = F/M. Given a constant acceleration, if mass is increasing (band tension) then force has to be increasing as well.

      - A recent study showed that concentric phase RFD in a squat was greater when using bands than when not. Here’s a study indicating that bands can provide more peak force and peak power under certain conditions.

      - I’ve always felt that free weights are better for the bottom portion of lifts, whereas bar plus bands are better for the top. This study lends support to that notion. For this reason I feel that both should be programmed periodically.

      - This study indicates that bar plus band is better than just the bar. So does this study. And this study. I’ve yet to see a study that paired free weights versus combined elastic and free weights which resulted in free weights being superior. Free weights plus bands always seems to win.

      - Back to your concerns. The point I was trying to elucidate was that bands require more RFD, so they might hardwire the brain for better motor programming in terms of explosive movement in sports. I’ve never seen a study on this. I did not intend to convey that the conscious mind is involved; I’m just speculating as to the adaptations from each type of training (I think that bands are better for teaching the body to accelerate). And I didn’t mean to refute Tyler’s comments, I was just ranting about people who say, “it’s all mental.” I actually agree with Tyler that the mind is a big factor in terms of how hard or easy something is going to be, but no matter how badly I psyche myself up you won’t see me squat 500 lbs or run a 4.2 40yd. I was referring more to immediate psyche-factors, whereas Tyler was talking more about long-term mental factors associated with goal attainment. I guess I didn’t word my response to Tyler properly and owe him an apology if I came across as a hothead. Sorry Tyler!

      Reply
  35. Rob Panariello

    Bret,

    Thanks for the articles, I’ll definitely get to them as quickly as I can. My thoughts on your comments:

    With regard to the SSC in an OL you will need a “pre-stretch” prior to any SSC enhancement of a muscle contraction, as this is true with any SSC/plyometric exercise performance. With regard to the OL’s this SSC occurs with the performance of the second knee bend and thus bar positions that do not require such movements will eliminate the incorporation of this strength quality.

    In regard to deceleration and bands, two thoughts come to mind.

    1. Bar deceleration – I do not view bar deceleration as you describe, “I don’t think we can do it through the end ROM’s in most lifts”. I don’t worry as much about end ROM’s, but there is a benefit to this that I will get to in a moment (in statement #2). Your statement “The more you accelerate it, the more you will have to decelerate it at the end range….” Isn’t this the point? We are teaching our athletes to enhance their ability to accelerate/increase speed. We want our athletes to “…the more you accelerate it….” The ability to produce greater acceleration/speed capabilities is what we are trying to achieve, no?

    As far as “deceleration” from higher bar speeds I do believe that the body has various neurological protective mechanisms i.e. GTO’s, etc that will assist to prohibit injury/protect an athlete who is lifting weights at high speed (review the my previous post of OL incidence of injury per 100 hours of participation). When an athlete increases their running speed don’t the have to decelerate from a higher speed? When an athlete increases their vertical jump, don’t they have to land (decelerate) from a higher speed (the effect of gravity)? When an athlete improves their ability to start and accelerate i.e. 10 to 20 yard/meter sprints, do they not have to decelerate from these improved velocities as well? So if an athlete trains to increase bar velocity, aren’t they at the same time, through the specific training over time, also training the deceleration abilities of the body/joints to eventually stop that high-speed bar without injury? Remember Bret, when we train to increase speed; we are also training to enhance deceleration abilities, as these physical qualities go hand in hand. In my opinion an athlete will be wary/will refuse to have a limb or their body travel at a velocity that they fear they does not have the ability to safely stop.

    Your statement of the concentric phase squat with bands vs. no bands is comparing a slow exercise to a slow exercise. What is the RFP of the band squat to the OL? That, in my opinion is the question at hand. In review of the literature the power production of a back squat i.e. 1.5 horsepower (1100 watts) vs. the power production of an Olympic lift i.e. 7.5 horsepower (5500 watts) (Garhammer), demonstrate that there is no comparison i.e. power production, RFP, etc…between the exercises.

    We also have a piece of equipment at our facility call a “Velocity Cage” that eliminates the ‘deceleration effect” of high-speed exercise performance. Instead of me explaining this piece of equipment you can see it at the website velocitycage.com. To my knowledge our facility is one of only 4 or 5 of that have this piece of equipment in the country.

    2. Eccentrics – You mentioned the term “deceleration” and to me “deceleration = eccentric muscle contractions”. I am of the opinion that I view the training of deceleration/eccentrics differently than many trainers and S&C coaches when it comes to the “on the field” performance of the athlete. In my experience, most conversations describe eccentrics as a muscle lengthening, heavy, slow moving performed weighted exercise negative. This is surely one method to build absolute strength, but this method also has its disadvantages i.e. slow movement, muscle soreness, etc…

    To understand the way I view “deceleration/eccentrics” a review of the force velocity curve would be helpful.

    In review of the force velocity curve specifically for muscle eccentrics, the greatest amount of tension a muscle produces eccentrically is not only when the muscle lengthens under tension, but it is necessary for this muscle lengthening to occur at HIGH VELOCITY. In sport “eccentrics” or essentially “deceleration” occurs at high speeds, i.e. deceleration prior to cutting, deceleration when landing from a jump, the shoulder during the deceleration phase of pitching, etc…

    If this is how an athlete utilizes “deceleration/eccentrics” in athletic competition, shouldn’t the athlete’s training be of the same principle/philosophy? Hence, this is my philosophy of “eccentrics” and specifically the way I train this component of strength.

    So to conclude, no, Bret, I do not worry about joint injury or in fact, any injury during bar decelerations from high speeds because high speed is our goal and our athletes are prepared for them.

    Reply
    1. Rob Panariello

      Sorry Bret, I left out that I would appreciate your thoughts.

      I also reread te last statement and it could be taken that the statement is said with an “attitude”. My apologies as that certainly was not how it was ment when written (man I am really not fond of e-mail).

      Reply
      1. Bret Post author

        No need to apologize Rob, I will always give you the benefit of the doubt as your reputation precedes you. Here are my thoughts:

        1. I agree that teaching acceleration is of paramount importance, but if you’re always accelerating from say 110 degrees of hip flexion to 45 degrees of hip flexion and then decelerating from 45 degrees of hip flexion to neutral position, then I believe you’re leaving some room on the table for improved adaptations from the strength training program. Most sport actions are more predicated on the latter half of the hip flexion/extension ROM and the ground contact phase in running is associated with slight hip flexion into slight hip hyperextension. This is one of the few drawbacks of many barbell exercises in my opinion.

        2. Sure, you could just argue that we do enough stuff to “explode” through that ROM, such as Oly lifts, jump squats, plyos, and sprints, which could override the negative (my viewpoint) aspects of the barbell lifts.

        3. However, I still think it’s wise to incorporate phases (maybe 1/3 of the training weeks) where you utilize band or chain resistance in order to increase peak power at end ranges. Sure it’s slow force but I still believe that it matters, especially when considering the surmounting evidence in the literature.

        4. I agree that deceleration is extremely important. However, I’d like to say two things about that. First, so is explosion, and some sports such as football and rugby have you driving through people. This is slow force that requires acceleration. For this aspect I believe that utilizing accommodating resistance is wise.

        5. And second, deceleration is very important but not during the concentric phase of the lift. For example, if you’re performing an explosive squat and you bounce up out of the hole only to have to put on the brakes 40% into the hip extension ROM, and the last 60% of the hip extension ROM is spent decelerating, then this is not an optimal strategy in my opinion. It’s great for bottom range strength and power, but not top range strength and power.

        6. Deceleration during eccentric training is paramount, and I intend to write an article on this topic. My professor John Cronin has actually taught me four primary methods of eccentric training which all involve different strategies (plyos being one of them). So you’re preaching to the choir on that point. Obviously sport actions require tremendous eccentric strength and power and the best results are seen when incorporating a variety of eccentric/decelerative strategies, but decelerating during the concentric portion of the lift due to improvements mechanical efficiency is not one of those strategies in my opinion.

        7. Great point about the Garhammer data. Duly noted.

        8. I believe that through maximal acceleration barbell training, you do indeed incur maximum deceleration barbell training, for example if you squat a submaximal load as fast as possible you’ll catch air and then have much higher eccentric forces upon catching the landing. In a maximum acclerative deadlift you’d actually do a jump shrug at the end and then absorb the landing. But these aren’t the safest options, and I believe that bands provide a safe alternative in this regard. That said, most individuals don’t accelerate all the way through the range so you get acceleration to mid-range followed by deceleration to end-range.

        9. Okay, I just went to velocitycage.com and checked it out. This is exactly what I’ve been talking about. This solves the concentric problem involved in many traditional barbell lifts because you don’t have to decelerate. So if you purchased one of these, then you and I must be on the same page in this regard. Perhaps we’re just confusing what the other is saying.

        Ironically my friend Travis (the one I mentioned earlier) told me about the velocity cage a couple of months ago and this intrigued me. That’s awesome that you have one of these, and I especially love the fact that it tells you the power production right then and there. I would love to have one of these if I owned a facility. The only drawback of this is that you don’t get the eccentric benefits of catching the load, which is a huge component to strength training imposed adaptations. Of course, you could make up for this elsewhere and perform specific eccentric exercises (and of course plyos as mentioned previously).

        10. I agree with what you’ve written about deceleration, except for one caveat. To declerate the bar in an eccentric lift you have to increase the tension on the muscles, whereas to decelerate the bar in a concentric lift you just have to ease up on muscular tension and allow gravity to take its effects. I don’t worry about injury from plyos or sprints either as long as their mechanics are good and you’ve prescribed an ideal amount of volume.

        My buddy Jurdan is contantly reminding me that the hammies can and do get injured due to a combination of factors including but not limited to hip flexibility/ROM, hip extension strength, knee flexion strength, glute activation, lumbopelvic stability, psoas length, neural issues, fatigue, mechanics, and anatomy differences.

        I have enjoyed this conversation and look forward to your response, but something tells me that we’re on the same page but we’ve been misinterpreting each other. Of course I don’t feel that bands are absolutely necessary to achieve amazing results…nothing really is in S&C, as there are so many good options. But I would use them in my programming if I were a pro strength coach.

        Reply
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  37. Rob Panariello

    Bret,

    Thanks for your understanding. Just to be clear we utilize the velocity cage for (a) an additional testing/review of an athletes power output, (b) teach the athlete the “sensation” of maximum acceleration without the concern of deceleration so that this may “carry over” to incorporate maximum acceleration attempts with other weighted exercise performances, and (c) is a piece of equipment that we utilize as an “adjunct” exercise (at least at this time). At this time the “cage” is not utilized as one of our “core/main” exercises for our athletes with re: to program design.

    Many coaches may be similar in their training philosophies, methodology, and approaches (which will reinforce what a coach believes); however, there is also an advantage for having a difference of opinion in the training of athletes, as isn’t this one way that we learn from each other? Professionals in any field can certainly “agree to disagree” and just need to remember that it’s not personal.

    I agree that in a lot of ways both you and I are very similar in many of our thought processes and I am also confident that we also utilize different training methodologies as well. There is no “right or wrong” here; coaches generally continue to instill philosophies and methods that have been successful for them over time. With that said I admit that I personally do have a bias for the presence of both scientific evidence and the “intangible” of coaching experience (at any level), as a coach is also required to teach, with regard to the training of athletes.

    I too have enjoyed our “conversation” even though it occurred over e-mail :). I look forward to the day where we may finally meet in person and perhaps discuss training over a beer (I’ll buy).

    I hope that you are well and wish you continued success in the future.

    Rob

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      That’s great to know regarding how you use the velocity cage. I completely agree with your view on differing philosophies, methodologies, etc. and am very happy to be surrounded by bright and experienced coaches such as yourself. I will one day take you up on your offer to buy me a beer, as long as you let me buy the second :). Take care, Bret

      Reply
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  39. JIm

    Very cool article.

    It made me think, even more than listening to Dean Somerset. I have always cycled, ever since age 4 or so. My legs, even after a hip replacement, are in phenomenal shape. My upper body, while strong for kyphosis, is pretty lean. It has always been hard to bulk up in that area no matter what exercises I do.

    Seeing this article on genetics was interesting. Even though certain conditions may not be genetic, a change in the neutral spine position, genetic or not, will have the same amount of impact as if it were a genetic!

    Also, it is hillarious to think that Neghar is probably lifting more than the weasel… and looking a far sight better doing it too.

    Reply
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  41. Traindom

    I’ve never thought of this before. I’ve always been stuck in the five reps mentality. Strength? Five reps. Hypertrophy? Try five reps. I don’t want to believe it, but I’m going on a bad road. Day by day I’m getting worn out by the 3 x 5 in weighted dips and chins.

    Considering I want to work on hypertrophy, would you think it advisable to use 3 x 10 in my workouts? I thought the more weight on the bar (or dip belt), the better my aesthetics. Of course I’d be employing progressive overload, but not to the same extent as before (five to ten pounds increases a week).

    Thanks for the article. It really spoke to me! The title was just an epiphany for me.

    Reply
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  47. Kieran

    This is a great article. I’m new to lifting and have been obsessed with “newb gains.” But it’s actually brought to light a hip problem that I was unaware of. I’ve been doing single leg work pain free but can’t shake the thought of me losing out by not squatting!

    I’ve also started to get some anterior shoulder pain; I think my upper body volume was a little high. Any tips working around shoulder pain whilst still doing upper body stuff?

    Thanks

    Reply
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