Below is a guest blog by Derrick Blanton. Derrick has written a couple of guest blogs for me. He doesn’t have a blog – he’s just a passionate lifter and avid learner. I got a big kick out of this one!
10 Valuable Things I’ve Learned From the Strength and Conditioning Industry
By Derrick Blanton
This is not the list. We are going to do the list last. Cool? This is another list.
1. Profit motive.
2. Mainstream media disinterest and laziness.
3. Intellectual hubris, and follow the leader.
4. Generalization trumping individual variation.
Consider this my four part answer to the question that I will now present. Why is there such wide ranging discrepancy on almost every single issue in health and fitness? From diet, to exercise technique, to protocol, to footwear, to you name it. It’s bizarre.
We live in an era of unprecedented information. How do we know what is real, what is not real? Or what is real for some, and not real for others? Where does the information come from?
When somebody says, “the knee coming over the toe on a squat is dangerous”, where did that idea come from? From a study back in the ‘70’s? How was that study constructed? Can we extrapolate from the sample to the entire human race? Did a major media outlet print the study findings, and then somebody well respected ran with it, passed it along to a wider group, and from there it filtered down to the mass populace?
Where did this idea come from, and why do large segments of the training world believe it to be true?
Is it true?
Once upon a time, before the internet, a large portion of strength training wisdom was of the bro-scientific, word of mouth variety. (OK, that hasn’t really changed that much.) It spawned from football coaches, the trainer at the local fitness center, and of course, muscle magazines.
When good information is hard to come by, there is an aura of mystery, of fantasy, that goes along with it. For example, I’m old enough to remember when Met-RX first came out. It was not available in stores, and was talked about in hushed whispers, like it was Dianabol, or something. We didn’t know. It was edgy. And this was just a protein powder!
(Btw, is protein bad for the kidneys? Can the body only process 30-grams at a time? Where did these ideas come from? Where did we get the idea that fat was bad, and 11-servings of carbs a day was good? Why did this change? Where did the ‘80’s nutritional pyramid come from? From the government subsidizing the corn industry? Did the scientists just lie their asses off? Why is coffee and/or caffeine vilified when there are numerous studies scientifically supporting multiple benefits? Does anyone but me think about this shit?)
Then along came the internet, and good information became plentiful, accessible, and clear. Or did it? I’m honestly not sure. For every myth exploded, (pullovers can’t open up the ribcage), there are others lining up to take its place, (gain 27-lbs. of muscle in a month using this new special supplement.)
Listen, I’m freaked out by the way people remain gullible, as well as just confused, in the internet age. In one way, the internet has opened up the flow of information, and made us question reality, question the mainstream media, (more on that in a minute). In another way, now we just mistrust the new information sources.
How can anyone fall for a Nigerian lottery scam in today’s information age? How can anyone be “catfished”? How can anyone honestly believe that a legal supplement is going to eclipse the gains that a full cycle of anabolic steroids is going to deliver? What has happened to critical thinking?
Not to mention that reality has a way of being a lot more nuanced than we would like it to be.
“Actionable Intelligence” and the Hip Thrust
Informational overload and confusion reflect back to strength and fitness. I’m going to use a term that the intelligence community uses: “actionable intelligence”. Do we have enough quality information to act on a situation? Pretend that we are all strength training agents looking for information that will cause us to change the way we do things.
Some of the sharpest fitness minds in the world were cautious to incorporate barbell hip thrusts into their protocols, after being exposed to the exercise by an enthusiastic BC, who ambushed the strength coaching community in 2009.
The barbell hip thrust, and the larger reasoning behind it, is a good example of someone approaching an issue, in this case, glute training, from a different paradigm. Prior to 2009, I have no idea what % of strength trainers performed this move, but I suspect that it was exceedingly low. My guess is probably less than 1%. A former schoolteacher from AZ takes a lifetime of obsessive thought, couples it with research, and now the HT is a commonly accepted, and performed movement.
Now, Bret came on pretty strong. Some may have felt that he was “too big for his britches”, or “cocky”, and upsetting the apple cart. I didn’t care about any of that. All I cared about was whether the information made good intuitive sense to me. Was it actionable? It overlapped with the cognitive processes that I use when I consider how to solve a problem. More importantly, most importantly, I tried the exercise.
n=1, sometimes. Much like I instantly knew the “Pendlay Row” was a winner, I knew straightaway that the barbell hip thrust was a winner. After one set. I was more concerned with the efficacy of the glute training information presented than with social niceties.
So it didn’t take me too long to process and act on the intelligence that was presented to me. Fair enough if others don’t see it that way. Many are training million dollar athletes, and need to be sure that the ideas are bulletproof. Their threshold of actionable intelligence may be far higher than mine.
Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding. Reality wins out. The idea, the logic, the reality of its effectiveness, finally became too powerful to ignore.
Take the same logic and look at supplement sales. Why is protein powder the dominant supplement sold? Why is creatine still consistently one of the top sold supplements? Whatever happened to “beta-alanine”? Or tribulus? Hype and marketing only go so far, before critical thinking sets in, before reality rears its head.
Consider exercise, fitness, and the mainstream media. In my quest for real world “actionable intelligence”, the mainstream media (MSM) continues to this day to be a hugely disappointing resource. The MSM covers most elements of human health with a measure of professionalism and detail, but when it comes to strength and fitness, it is shockingly, inexcusably bad.
Sound a little harsh? Go to the LA Times fitness and health section and check out quality articles like this, which highlights just one of their many brilliant featured exercises, (and by brilliant, I mean absolutely fucking useless):
Try not to toss your computer across the room as you learn how “with or without light hand weights” you can “sculpt and tone your triceps” with “supine tricep extensions”.
You read that right, savvy LA Times fitness reader! Unloaded skull crushers will sculpt and tone the back of your arms! Who knew that you could lay down and extend your elbows against AIR, and make meaningful adaptations to your physique?
Breaking news! Waving your elbow in the air tones and sculpts them! It must be true. This is a major media outlet, not a ridiculous infomercial for the Shake Weight! For crying out loud, people, this is journalism? How much research went into making, or checking these claims?!! Why would you cover an exercise and it’s effects any differently than you would cover any other news story?!!
(My guest blog just started and I’m already a raving lunatic. But yeah, there’s a lot of nonsense getting tossed around out there.)
OK, so let’s move along. Naturally you would assume that the strength specific media might be a better avenue for accurate, quality information. And it is. It is.
For the most part.
I try to learn from everybody, from the top strength coaches, to the high school kid at the gym, to the powerlifting champ at the supplement store. I have a grown son who now works in the fitness industry, and I learn from him all the time. But I also have a finely calibrated bullshit detector that is always switched on. Yours should be, too. Be humble, be teachable, but be skeptical and inquisitive as well.
You will soon discover a few things.
The fitness industry has a profit motive! (I know, this is shocking.) Don’t get it twisted, though. I have no problem with shelling out my hard earned coin for a fair and useful product. I donated liberally to Joe Weider’s magazine empire, and I learned a ton, even while sifting through mounds of crapola. And I have certainly poured plenty of money into gym memberships, supplements, and home fitness equipment.
However, just be cognizant that this fitness industry profit motive has a pervasive way of infiltrating and derailing the narrative train of rigorously factual, useful fitness information. The brilliant Ian King elucidates this very clearly, as only Ian King can:
In this regard, the fitness game is not particularly different than any other capitalistic enterprise. Simply, buyer beware.
But leaving that aside. It’s not just profit motive, or mainstream media disinterest, that can make the search for actionable intelligence difficult. It is also the unavoidable, good faith, honest difficulty of trying to unlock the mysteries of the human body; to capture and describe what works for some, what works for none, and what works for all. Throw in intellectual turf wars and the huge spectrum of individual deviations, and the water starts to get very, very muddy.
There are fitness chains. Personal trainers. Physical therapists. Chiropractors.
There is strength coaching. Strength coaching organizations. Strength coaching organization certifications!
There is the Functional Movement Screen. Functional Movement Screen certifications! Follow up more specific functional movement screen certifications! (Bret’s note – I’m FMS certified and I feel it has good value)
There is Crossfit. Crossfit certifications!
There are kettlebells. Kettlebell certifications!
(Note that it is apparently super important to certify stuff. Evidently, this is the best way to see who’s smart, and who has their head up their ass. Either that, or it’s a way to keep the cash flowing. The jury’s out.)
“Will you stop rambling incoherently, and get to the list?!”
Right! The list. I feel like it is my civic duty to give back to this community, which has been an enormous guiding force in my life. Sharing is caring. So without further adieu, and in no particular order, here are 10 valuable things that I’ve “learned” over the years as a consumer of the S&C industry product:
1. Squats are the “King of Exercises”! (and as such, are dangerous, and should be put to “death”.) Uhhh…come again? Squats will build the whole leg and core faster and more effectively than any other single move. They are also so dangerous for your lower back that they should be put to “death”. They should be replaced immediately with single leg variations. Some may suggest that heavy single leg loading is equally troublesome for your lower back. Slap them across the face, if necessary.
Thanks to the bilateral deficit, you will develop bionic legs that are far stronger than your protected lower back will ever be. (“I will slap you again!”) Your new unilaterally trained “super wheels” can each now independently exert as much force as your lumbar spine can transmit! Just be sure to never exert the force of both of these bionic legs simultaneously, as this may overwhelm your low back. You wouldn’t want to put a NASCAR engine in your smart car, would you? That could go wrong!
Squats are dangerous for the knee as well. As such, the knee should never come over the toe. Plus you should never squat deep. Unless, of course you want to develop the glutes and VMO. But why would you want to do that?
If you insist on doing this dangerous exercise, then you should look up at the ceiling. The body follows where you are looking so look up. And by look up, I mean keep a neutral neck, and look down. And I guess it’s alright to squat deep since the most shear force on the knee is just above parallel. Getting an update… it’s OK if the knee comes over the toe, so disregard that one, too. Good!
2. You should arch your lower back hard when you pick something up off the floor. This will keep your lumbar spine from rounding dangerously. If it happens to crush a few facet joints, well that’s just the cost of doing business. Better yet, just brace your abs like you are about to take a punch. Turn the spine into a plank. But don’t hold your breath, because that creates too much blood pressure. Actually, yes go ahead and hold your breath. But make sure to suck the abdominal wall IN to activate your TVA. Rather, breathe in and push your abs OUT into your belt. Come to think of it, just connect your ribcage to your pelvis, and be done with it.
While we’re at it, make sure to keep your scapulae retracted. Your mid-traps and rhomboids should easily be able to support your 1RM DL max load in a contracted state. You can groove this technique by using your 1RM DL load while you performing lying scapular shrugs. I know a good doc that can reattach your rhomboids.
3. While we are on the subject of shoulders: They should be down and back for every exercise. This includes climbing a rope, traversing the monkey bars during your next Tough Mudder, and reaching into your cupboard. This stabilizes and protects them. Wait, hold up. Stop the presses. They do need to upwardly rotate? Ummm, OK…this is a little awkward. How about when rotating them upwards, you just kind of move them “down and around” the ribcage. They should then magically rotate upwards somehow, but absolutely, positively, do NOT use your upper traps to effect this dubious movement!
4. Which leads us directly into this important point: The upper traps are too dominant, and should never be trained to be strong. These are bad muscles, and they must be silenced, diminished, neutered. Upper trap dominance is rampant, and represents a real threat to your taters. If someone suggests that it is actually the pec minor that presents the real dominance issue, simply slap them across the face...twice. They will thank you later when they are further indoctrinated. God screwed the pooch when he even gave us upper traps. Dangerous, bad muscles. Do NOT shrug your shoulders upwards if you value your shoulder health.
5. Training sessions should never last longer than one hour. More than this will destroy your hormonal profile, and render you useless and overtrained.
6. Do not hollow your glutes. What does this mean? This means don’t use them! Contracting your glutes creates a visible divot on the side of the hip, much like using your bicep creates a pesky bulge in your upper arm. This divot provoking glute contraction will result in FAI syndrome. I suppose if you can figure out a way to use your glutes in a “stealth-like” fashion, by contracting them without aforementioned divot, then this may be OK. Don’t be a “glute gripper”, or hang out with those who are. And for the love of God, what did I just say about activating your upper traps?
7. Back to shoulders: Training the external rotators of your shoulder will increase your bench press by 100-lbs. ‘Nuff said.
8. Rethinking things a bit, training the external rotators may be a bit overrated. The real key to shoulder health is scapular stability. And by stability, I mean, scapular mobility. Besides, training the external rotators can actually exacerbate your impingement problems if the scap is not set properly.
Also, your subscapularis, the lone RC internal rotator, doesn’t need to be directly trained. This is because the powerful pecs and lats are already rotating the humerus inwards. Except that the subscap plays a crucial role in keeping the humeral head safely wedged in the shoulder capsule, resisting the anterior glide that the pecs and lats can create.
Ah, heck, just pack them down nice and tight. Got it? Should solve everything.
9. Stretching is bullshit, and accomplishes nothing. Oh sure, you feel better, and you can achieve better ranges of motion. You kid yourself that you are making positive adaptations. But rest assured, research confirms that you are NOT. So please, stop bullshitting yourself, and stop stretching. Pay no attention to the fake evidence of your senses, or that man behind the curtain.
10. Make sure you eat 6-meals a day. Or more. Make it 8. Get up in the middle of the night and down a protein shake. Or two. Actually, just attach yourself to a feed bag, or mobile IV drip. This is how vital it is to continually stabilize your blood sugar. No fluctuations, or you will instantly go into starvation mode and start cannibalizing muscle!
This strategy is highly effective for bulking and cutting. Do not get caught without food on your person at all times. Except that this may cause your pancreas to go nuts pumping out the insulin all day. So instead, let’s go with 3-meals and a snack. But remember that your body can only absorb 30-grams of protein at time, and you need to get in a gram per pound of bodyweight, so that plan won’t work. What to do, what to do? Ahh, fuck it, one big meal a day. It’s controlled fasting, get with it! Where have you been anyway? That protein absorption thing is a myth.
Also, remember to get your 11-servings of grain and carbs in daily. No fats! Make that trace amounts of fats. But supplement with healthy fats like fish oil. What I meant to say was no saturated fats. Saturated fats help you build testosterone, what I meant was no trans-fats. And be aware that you can only eat that many carbs with an insulin enhancing supplement.
Now, if only some enterprising supplement company would come up with a product like that, we could all get busy making some real gains up in here! (But only if we are using the appropriately complicated protocol with special exercise variations and special exercise equipment.)
“Wrap it up, D!”
I gotta say, I think I’ve made a real difference here today. Probably made a few friends, too. I really need to look into this social media thing, and see if I got some “likes”. Anyone else out there care to rant a bit, add to my list of accumulated “knowledge”? Let’s hear it. Unburden yourself.
Meanwhile, I’ll be over here NOT working my upper traps. Honest.