Unfortunately, I have found that many professionals in the sports performance industry separate themselves far too distantly from the last word in most of their titles: COACH.

While JTS has become a forum largely filled with information on strength sports and the close approximations, I do not consider myself a lifter or an athlete. I am, and will always be, a coach.  While you may not find yourself in a similar role, I do believe you will find the following information pertinent to your role as a contributing member of society. There is a shortage of quality leaders, and I challenge you to think about how you might apply the following to your day-to-day relationships.

Greg Robins is a competitive lifter, but a coach first and foremost.

Lastly, I find this information timely given that JTS will soon welcome their inaugural class of interns.

Recently, we hired a terrific individual to coach at our facility. Oddly enough, I found myself writing a letter of recommendation for this person a few weeks prior.  Our coaching staff made it a point to sway our facility owners to hire this individual, even though at the time we probably didn’t need another coach on the floor.  I would like to begin this article with a glimpse into this letter. The character traits described must be present before any talk of effective coaching habits can ensue.

I have changed the audience to be more general.

I am fortunate that my role at Cressey Sports Performance has allowed me to mentor over 70 interns in three years; people whom I view to be the potential leaders of the strength and conditioning world in years to come. This, coupled with my nearly 10 years of experience in the industry, and five years in a military leadership role, has given me a unique perspective in assessing the quality of both an individual at a personal, as well as professional, level. It speaks highly that upon requesting my recommendation I didn’t even have to bat an eye before willingly agreeing to give him my highest accolades. Here’s why.

Having had the experience of working in both the college sector and private sector of performance enhancement, I know that the right person for this position must be: a talented coach, eager student, and quality person.

A talented coach is a great mind, a great teacher, and a willing subject.

A coach must first be an excellent teacher. It is fair to say that the greatest amount of knowledge is rather useless if it cannot be applied effectively to the athlete. The quality in which the exercise is carried out is far more important than the quality of the plan or program laid out. The best can supply both an intelligent plan and the means in which to carry it out correctly; this is a rare combination.

A quality coach has a vast amount of his or her own ‘in the gym’ experience. I cannot stress enough how important this is to the success of a program, and to a coach in this industry. Too often I see coaches who do not walk the walk. Hiring anyone short of someone who has put his or her own time in learning first hand how to move, and perform better, is a grave mistake. One can coach and teach because they continually apply lessons learned for themselves first. Helping people learn anything is about knowing how to create context. If you as a coach can create context, that alone makes you a stand-out candidate.

I’ve already commented on this in depth here at JTS, but it bears repeating: Great coaches operate with a growth mindset. This is crucial to being successful in rapidly changing, and improving industry. You must be a student of strength and conditioning, willing to go the extra mile to better your understanding of human performance. The college and professional sector in particular is inundated with coaches who do not challenge the status quo, both within the system they are in, and in the field itself. No program should want to hire a follower; they should want leaders. Leaders put in the time to learn, and to find solutions for how to make a system better. Coaches are leaders.

More than anything a true coach is a quality person. They are genuine, honest, and driven. I ultimately evaluate our interns not on my perception of their character, but our athlete’s perspective. A coach approaches each athlete with a smile, and personable tone, genuinely engaging them with interest and warmth.

The qualities described above lay the foundation for being a coach. These items must be addressed first, and in many cases they cannot be taught. Rather, they are a question of an individual’s motivation, make-up, and concern for improving the performance and lives of the athletes they are fortunate enough to work with. Below, I would like to discuss a few habits of exceptional coaches. These habits can be learned, through application and continual practice.


Setting expectations for your athletes is the crucial first step in being a coach. Without expectations, one has no framework for what is expected of them. As a coach, you cannot effectively evaluate an athlete’s performance or character without a two-way understanding of these expectations.

What is the athlete’s role on the team, what is considered appropriate behavior, attitude, time commitment, attire, and so on? Moreover, what can the athlete expect in terms of work load, communication between coaches and players, and last but not least – opportunities?

As an example, I will clearly lay out expectations for each client or athlete that begins at our facility. “You can expect this, and I expect this in return.”

Without laying down your expectations, you can only blame yourself for any action, or lack of action, you deem inappropriate.


The notion of creating your team or facility’s identity is largely dependent on point number one. If you have some experience in athletics, you know the power of a unified identity. Sure, a unified team is intimidating, but the real value is deeper than that.

For starters, athletes who identify with the team have bought into the system. At that point, meeting expectations is not a task – it’s something they want to do, and it’s something they believe in.  That is powerful beyond measure. When each member of the team has embraced the identity of the team as a whole, each member feels that they have a place, a role, and can instantly step in to fill the spot of someone else. This makes a team deeper, promotes healthy competition, and makes it easy to acclimate new athletes.

You can look to athletic examples like the New England Patriot’s recent dynasty (yes, I’m biased), or to clear fitness examples like CrossFit. Athletes identify with the team, the organization, the facility, and the expectations of the coaching staff are not only met but also continually exceeded.



Too many choices cause confusion. The examples are practically endless, and especially pertinent to fitness-related topics. For example, if you want someone to improve their nutrition, give them fewer options. Simply telling someone to eat real food is ambiguous. Instead, tell them to choose from a small selection of options, and as they build better habits, expand the selection.

The same can be said for advising athletes. If you want them to make better choices off the field, or outside the gym, don’t advise them to make smart decisions. Literally outline what you want them to do with very little room for interpretation. When outlining a training session, be specific.

As a coach, influencing decision-making helps give athlete’s some ownership of the process while simultaneously helping to shape the path from A to B.


There is an age-old analogy to what coaching should be like. Fellow CSP coach Miguel Aragoncillo recently reminded me of it. Think of each athlete as a flower. If you plant a flower, you don’t tell the flower how to grow. Instead, you nurture the flower; give it water, sunlight, soil, and let it grow.

Coaching should involve challenging your athletes to discover their potential. You will not be as successful in molding athletes by dictating their every move. Instead, as mentioned to this point, lay out expectations, put them in a nurturing environment (identity), influence their choices, and let them figure it out. Expectations give them a clear goal. Forming an identity sets the environment. Influencing choices helps clear up the directions. From that point, it’s your job to let them walk the path.


As coaches, it is our duty to support the athletes we coach. Indeed, there will be times we need to push, or demonstrate “tough love.” But in the end, athletes should feel comfortable knowing that you are 100% behind them. As a coach you do not need to, nor is it productive to, appear untouchable to your athletes.

Ideally, your athletes should feel no fear in coming to you for advice and input.

Furthermore, as a coach, it is your job to set up an adequate support system on various levels. Your opinion leaders should be those who are willing to help new members. You should have a network of other individuals you can rely on to take care of your athlete’s needs: positional coaches, specialists, doctors, etc.

The larger you can layer support, the stronger the team or facility’s sense of community grows, and the more people it reaches.

I value my role as a coach so much more than I value any of the other hats I may wear making a living in the sports performance or fitness industry. The opportunity to be a coach should not be taken lightly. Your actions, decisions, and opinions can make a tremendous difference in the lives of the people you work with. I try to remind myself of this everyday I go to work, and I take pride in meeting both my responsibilities and the expectations of my athletes.



As we strive to be more active, healthy and mobile, the hips are put under a large amount of stress.  With the increase in functional training, more emphasis is being placed on squatting, lunging, deadlifting and Olympic lifting. Functional exercises are essential in any training program, but for these exercises to be performed correctly, the hips must be able to transfer force from the ground and through the spine. When there is a minor deviation in hip movement, increased friction can occur inside of the joint leading to soreness. Many times after a training session we are experiencing appropriate muscle soreness, which is excellent and needed for increased strength gains. Post exercises soreness should be isolated to muscular tissue in the posterior or lateral hip. If you are experiencing anterior/lateral hip or groin pain the following article should benefit you greatly. Femoral Acetabular Impingement or FAI is becoming a more common pathology identified in the active population due to advancements in diagnostic imaging and clinical assessment. My goal for this article is to educate the reader on the anatomy of the hip, what is FAI, what causes FAI, symptoms of FAI, how to self assess if you are at risk for FAI, and lastly how to address any issues you may be experiencing through a series of corrective exercises.


Before we go any further, it is important to review the anatomy of the hip to ensure we are all speaking the same language as we move into the causes of FAI. The hip joint is a ball and socket joint consisting of the head of the femur (ball) and the acetabulum (socket). Below are two images of hip boney anatomy. In the figure to the left, we can clearly view the head of the femur and the acetabulum, which are surrounded by various ligaments and joint capsule to encompass the “hip joint”.

Screenshot 2015-03-23 12.34.40

The hip joint is a very complicated joint from a ligament and muscle standpoint secondary to multiple connections from the trunk, shoulder, hip and thigh musculature. For the sake of the topic of this article, we will not dive into all of the ligaments and muscles of the joint, but I would like to point of some key structures which play an important role in this pathology.

Screenshot 2015-03-23 12.34.49

Iliopsoas AKA “hip flexor”:  this muscle attaches from the lumbar spine to the femur (thigh bone) and acts to flex the hip. When this muscle is overly tight, it can cause excessive anterior tilt in the pelvis and lead to abnormal alignment of the hip joint. Picture of muscle seen in with arrow in image to the left.

Gluteals: there are 3 gluteal muscles that attach from the back of the ilium (hip bone) to the femur, which combine to extend/abduct the hip. When these muscles are weak, it can lead to poor knee control during squatting and lunging. Poor knee control can lead to poor mechanics, which encourage hip impingement.

Deep hip external rotators: this muscle group consists of many small muscles that attach from the sacrum (tailbone) to the femur, and act to externally rotate the femur. When these muscles are weak, the knees have a tendency to cave-in (valgus) during a squatting motion.

Screenshot 2015-03-23 12.35.13

The causes of FAI are currently not completely understood, though it is hypothesized that faulty mechanics during daily activities and squatting can cause excessive compression between the neck/head of the femur and the rim of the acetabulum leading to impingement. When excessive contact between these two structures occur, bone growth can form, which leads to a CAM or Pincer type deformity shown below. A CAM lesion is an abnormal formation of bone growth on the neck/head of the femur, which leads to increased contact between the femur and acetabulum causing a pinch when the hip goes into flexion/adduction/internal rotation. A Pincer lesion is an abnormal formation of bone growth on the outer rim of the acetabulum, which also leads to increased contact between these two structures. While CAM lesions are more common in males, and Pincer lesions more common in females some studies suggest 86% of symptomatic people experience a combination of both deformities.

In an attempt to understand what faulty mechanics might possibly cause CAM and Pincer deformities, many studies have identified excessive hip flexion/adduction/internal rotation as the culprit.  The image on the left demonstrates a view of how a lesion may appear while the image on the right dictates the classification for each lesion.

Screenshot 2015-03-23 12.36.55


Symptoms of FAI can vary and for the sake of this article, we will address anterior hip FAI opposed to posterior hip FAI when discussing possible symptoms.  Many individuals who have been diagnosed with FAI have the below complaints:

  • Pain in the upper groin area or from front to lateral hip
  • Deep ache that commonly cannot be palpated
  • Insidious onset
  • Pain with activity (deep squatting or lunging)
  • Difficulty sitting
  • When severe, pain with putting on shoes/socks

It is important to note that though you may be experiencing one or two of these symptoms, you still may not have pathology. Many time symptoms of FAI can be confused and misdiagnosed as a hip flexor or groin strains.  If one side feels different than the other, caution must be taken when training into positions of deep squatting, lunging, twisting and higher impact plyometrics without consulting a physical therapist or orthopedic specialist.


In this section we will go over some self assessment techniques to help you determine if your are experiencing symptoms that may be associated with FAI, though these movements are in no way a substitute for a professional clinical examination from an orthopedic specialist, physical therapist, or surgeon. There is a limit to ones ability to perform self-assessment, and an orthopedic specialist will use a variety of special tests and diagnostic testing to ensure an accurate diagnosis.

Screenshot 2015-03-23 12.37.06

Squat test: stand with your feet hip width apart (narrow stance), toes pointing forward and arms overhead. Keep your elbows locked overhead, toes pointing straight forward and your back as neutral as possible, squat down as deep as you comfortably can go. This test is positive if you feel a pinch in the anterior/medial groin. *This is more of a clinical assessment, not a test that has been validated in the research.

Hip flexion test: Lye on your back with both legs straight. Pull one knee to your chest without letting your knee rotate to the outside. Note how high you can flex one hip compared to the other. Test is positive if you feel a pinch in the anterior/medial groin or there is a significant difference in range of motion between the two sides.

*This is a self-assessment of your hip flexion range of motion. Many times hip flexion range of motion is poor with individuals who are experiencing hip FAI. This is more of a clinical assessment, not a test that has been validated in the research.

Screenshot 2015-03-23 12.37.12

FABERS test: Lye on your back with both legs straight. Bring one foot to the opposite knee and let your knee drop to the ground. Note the difference from side to side. Test is positive if there is a significant difference in flexibility from side to side or there is a pinch pain in the medial groin region.

Screenshot 2015-03-23 12.37.16
Thomas Test: Lye off the edge of a table, rock back holding both knees into your chest. Keep your back flat against the table at all times, grab one knee while you let the other knee fall to the ground. Repeat for the opposite leg. Test is positive for iliopsoas (hip flexor) tightness if your thigh does not go flat onto the table, positive for quad tightness if your knee cannot bend >80deg at the bottom of the movement.

*If these tests are positive, it does not mean that you have pathology. These tests will simply identify movements, which cause impingement in the hip. To get an accurate diagnosis of your pain, an orthopedic specialist or surgeon should be consulted.


While no one likes to change what they are doing in their normally daily routine, research has been shown to significantly decrease FAI hip pain with simply changing daily habits that may be contributing to continued irritation. Below is a list of activity modifications that should be performed if you are experiencing above stated signs and symptoms:

  • Sitting: sit with hips in external rotation as opposed to knees together
  • Eliminate sitting with legs crossed
  • Side sleepers: sleep with pillow between your ankles and knees. Avoid excessive hip flexion while sleeping.
  • Sumo squat opposed to squatting with a narrow stance
  • Avoid biking as this causes excessive hip flexion

These activities should be modified until symptoms are completely reduced. Once symptoms are eliminated, caution should be taken when returning to normal activities.


Stretching and regaining normal range of motion and flexibility is extremely important when addressing deficits related to FAI. I would caution from “over stretching” the hip as this can cause irritation within the joint. Extreme caution must be considered when performing below stretches. Stretching for hip FAI includes the use of an elastic band, as the elastic band will help create slight traction in the joint; therefore, decreasing the risk of impingement and increasing the stretch of the tissue being addressed. Stretching performed prior to a training session should be dynamic and be held no longer than 5 seconds, while stretching post training should be held for duration of 20-60 seconds based on age (longer holds for increased age). All stretches should be performed for 2-3 sets for optimal flexibility gains.

  • Kneeling hip flexor
  • Prone quad
  • Quadruped adductor
  • Quadruped glute
  • Supine hip flexion


Hip flexion

Adductor (left) and hip flexion


While not all of these stretches will need to be performed daily, areas of tightness are going to need to be addressed to make significant gains. If the Thomas test above was positive, more attention is needed to the quads and hip flexor.

If the hip flexion assessment listed above was significantly different than the non-involved side, pay more attention to the hip flexion stretch. The glute and adductor stretch are great for preparing the hip for the sumo squat position listed below. If any soreness or pain is felt with stretching, be sure to immediately stop that given stretch. Do not try to push through any discomfort with these stretches, and contact your local physical therapist or orthopedic specialist if you are experiencing negative results with the above listed stretches.


Corrective exercises are just that, corrective. These exercises are not huge strengthening exercises, especially in the beginning phases as proper muscle activation needs to be achieved before advancing to more functional positions. These exercises are broken up into 3 phases and are intended to ensure proper muscle activation in phase 1, increased difficulty in phase 2, and muscle hardening in phase 3. All of the exercises listed below or intended to decrease the tendency for the hip to obtain the position of flexion/adduction/internal rotation, which we now understand from research are the compromising positions of hip FAI. Each phase has a purpose and should not be skipped or overlooked. An individual can move on to the next phase when the appropriate sets and reps are met with minimal fatigue, perfect form, appropriate muscle activation, and no pain with any exercise. *For exercises not pictured below, a quick google search will do the trick. Pictured below are the less commonly understood exercises.

PHASE 1 (3x20reps)

  • Sidelying clam
  • Sidelying hip abduction
  • Donkey kick
  • Bridge

Hip abduction



Screenshot 2015-03-23 12.38.10


Screenshot 2015-03-23 12.38.20



PHASE 2 (3x15reps)


  • Standing band clams
  • Band walks
  • Single leg RDL
  • Sumo squat w/band around knees
  • Bridge on ball
  • Glute/ham raises


Band walk

Glute/ham raise

Standing clams


Bridge on ball

 PHASE 3 (3×8-10reps)


  • Single leg squat (increasing depth)
  • Split squat w/band
  • Single leg RDL w/band (same band position as split squat)
  • Sumo squat w/weight
  • Single leg bridge on ball
  • Glute/ham raises (add weight)


Screenshot 2015-03-23 13.18.57
Incorporating these exercises into your daily routine is going to be a huge part of being successful in addressing hip FAI. If performed correctly, these phases can be progressed through in 1-2 week blocks. Once you have completed the final phase, incorporate as many phase 3 lifts as you can into your normal training routine. Review your training with your strength coach to come up with the best possible program. I would also encourage performing phase 1 exercises (1 set) prior to heavy squatting days to ensure your hips are properly activated prior to loading. Stretching can be continued throughout life as staying mobile in your hips will allow for full movement and continued strength gains throughout your training.

I hope the above information has helped open your eyes to an increasing common pathology that has been surfacing in the Olympic lifting and Cross Fit community. As previously discussed, if you are experiencing pain with the above listed stretches or exercises, please stop them immediately. If you continue to experience hip pain you should schedule an appointment with your local physical therapist or orthopedic specialist to undergo a thorough evaluation of your condition.  Hip pain can arise from many different pathologies, and hip FAI should be considered if there is continued anterior hip pinching felt with daily activities or after training Please feel free to contact me with any further questions or concerns you may have.

If you have found the above information helpful, you can also view my Ebook “Body Mechanic” through the Juggernaut online store. Link with description of content is listed below.


If you’ve been following Ryan Brown and I at Darkside Strength, you know that we like to use the “ground up” approach – building safe and proficient movement patterns through the use of developmental positions.  These positions are in reference to the methods in which baby humans learn to explore movement. Yes, infants are basically made of rubber and their hip joints look more like shoulder joints, that possess ridiculous mobility.  However, those little guys learn to control that mobility by putting in months of work and progressing from position to position – supine/prone, sidelying, quadruped, half/tall kneeling; until they have developed the necessary stability to stand, squat, walk, run, jump, etc.

As adults, it’s beneficial to revisit these positions to hone and refine our movement -especially since today’s more sedentary lifestyle seems to cause some loss of mobility and reflexive motor control.

The half kneeling position is a fantastic tool to improve these attributes.  By lowering the center of mass (compared to standing), the athlete can practice moving through the hips and shoulders with less compensation and unnecessary motion through the pelvis and lumbar spine – which is common and more difficult to overcome in a standing position.

If you’re not utilizing it at some point in your warm-up, training, or rehab – perhaps you should be.  Here are some more reasons why:

Reason #1:  Trunk Stability

To echo the message of smart people such as Gray Cook, Charlie Weingroff , and Mike Robertson who have really made this stuff mainstream, we need proximal stability to have distal mobility.  In other words, we need relative stability through the trunk to make full use of the range of motion available in joints such as the hips and shoulders.  In other other words, a reflexive core that activates at the correct time and with the appropriate intensity is the prerequisite to having arms and legs that perform well.  It doesn’t matter how much force you can generate with your extremities if your trunk is not in the position to oppose and transmit that force; and it doesn’t matter how rigid you can make your core if the intensity of the contraction is not appropriate or is not timed properly, based on the specific movement demand.

Enter half kneeling.

The base of support is fixed at hip width or more narrow.  Narrowing the base can further increase the demand on trunk musculature, and requires the athlete to stabilize reflexively with intrinsic musculature throughout the body – as opposed to simply widening their base of support and “hanging on their joints and ligaments” In addition, balance overcorrections will lead to you falling on your butt.  Holding your breath will exacerbate this.   There is nowhere to hide.  You need reflexive, well-timed contractions from head to toe as well as breath control, in order to remain stable.  This is a theme that carries over to all athletic endeavors.

Here’s a video of a proper half kneeling position along with a simple trunk and balance exercise.

You can practice with 1-2 sets of 30-second holds.  Once the position is dialed in, there are countless drills to progressively challenge the trunk while achieving dynamic movement through the extremities.  Here are some common, yet effective ones.

Pallof  Press

This drill requires reflexive stabilization of the inner core and hip stabilizers to oppose movement in the trunk, and transmit force to the arms.

Team JTS Answers: How to Bounce Back From a Miss

No one goes 6 for 6 or 9 for 9 in every meet.  A missed lift, especially on a first or second attempt, is a potential turning point for you in the meet.  Do you have the mental strength to bounce back, crush the lift, and still put together a good total?  Or is that the moment when all the hard work you put in comes crumbling down?
Third attempt misses (especially when aiming for PRs) can be even more daunting or empowering.  They set the tone for your next training cycle.  Do they make you doubt yourself, or light a fire that inspires you to push yourself harder in your next training cycle to make up for it?
Here’s how some of Juggernaut’s top competitors dealt with key missed lifts:

Colin Burns

Coming back after a close miss can be one of the hardest things in weightlifting, but only if you let it. On my second attempt at the Arnold, I pulled a new American record, put it overhead, and stood up. A little wiggle in my shoulder caused it to shift backwards, I saw a white light, and I dropped it. One white light, two red lights. No lift. Even with the down signal, it is still left up to the lifter to make sure the weight is under control and motionless before put down. One judge felt I stopped for a moment, the other two didn’t. That’s on me. You can’t leave it up to the judges.

The meet wasn’t a success, but getting back in the game isn’t just about training again. You look back, and you learn. A close miss can be powerful fuel. It was right there! The lift was as good as done, so you know what that means? It’s there. The capability is there. Use this knowledge to your advantage. Chalk it up as a win and know you are good for more. This can fuel your training into your next meet where you put it on the platform and make everyone forget about the time you missed because you have overshadowed that with an undisputed make. It’s a game in your own mind over which you have total control.


Ariel Stephens

Make a lift. Miss a lift. Either should not change the way you approach your next lift. Obviously, making a lift gives you a boost in confidence and motivates you to make your next attempt. What happens when you miss a lift? Do you get mad and parade around the gym or competition hall like a banshee? Do you feel sorry for yourself and beat yourself down mentally? If either of these sounds like you, then consider a new perspective.

At the 2015 Arnold Weightlifting Championships, I was in the running to make the 2015 Pan Am Game Team. I opened with a near max attempt clean and jerk (115kg). I needed a 122kg clean and jerk to seal my spot on the team at that point in the competition. My coaches and I decided to go for it. Before this moment, my best clean was 123kg and my best jerk was 118kg. However, these were not the thoughts that were going through my mind. All I could think about was that I was capable of making this lift and that I owed it to my hard work in and out of the gym to make this lift. So, jumping 7 kg for my second attempt didn’t go well. I didn’t even rack the clean. Instantly, I knew that I lost my low back off the floor and pulled too slow. I didn’t freak out or tell myself that it was impossible. I kept calm, knowing that most people were thinking that I had made too big of a jump. I composed myself, took a deep breath, and told my coaches that I knew I could make the lift.

As I walked out for my third attempt and heard the whole crowd cheering for me, I smiled. I smiled because I was proud of how far I’ve come. I smiled because of the support I had. I smiled because I was confident. I smiled because I knew I had missed lifts a million times before, only to come back and make them. I smiled because I knew I was going to make this lift. On my third attempt, I easily cleaned the weight, locked the jerk out overhead and barely lost it in front, resulting in 3 red lights. Of course I was disappointed that I didn’t make this lift, but in this moment, I understood that this was only the beginning of much more.

Next time you miss a lift and are upset, belittled, or frustrated, know that none of those feelings are going to help you move onto your next attempt. Every attempt is separate from the last. Whether it’s a routine training session or the biggest competition of the year, believe in the work you’ve been doing and have confidence in every step you take toward the bar.”


Chad Wesley Smith

Of course I didn’t want to miss or plan to miss, but it happens and it doesn’t shake me. If you have a missed lift, you need to step back and analyze why. Was it a technical problem? Did you not eat well that day? Did you not sleep well the night before? Were you not smart in your weight selection, aka you aren’t that strong yet? It is one thing to look at these things and treat them as excuses – don’t do that. You need to be honest with yourself and figure out why you missed and then create a plan to fix that problem.

During my last two meet training cycles, I missed my two heaviest training squats, missing 815/835 in training before making 937 in the meet and missing 875/930 in training before making 959 in the meet. Also, in both of those meets, I missed my second attempt squats before coming back and making them on my third attempts for PRs. When you miss a lift, you can panic, scrap your plan, and go into a tailspin, or you can compose yourself, correct your flaws, and come back and smash it the next time.”

Dmitry Klokov

When to Eat Delicious Food and When to Avoid It

When to Eat Delicious Food and When to Avoid It

Knowledge is power. No matter how seemingly overused this statement is, it still retains its validity. Knowing more makes nearly every realm of practice more effective. Knowing more about recovery can let you heal faster. Knowing more about strength training can make you stronger. But more knowledge doesn’t only make you more effective, it can make most any process easier than it otherwise is. In strength and physique sports, the promise of easier accomplishments has an interestingly mixed reception. While most people will be happy to integrate strategies into their approach that make the process easier, some will insist on keeping hard things hard. This latter view rests largely on the idea that training and dieting for sport should be as much mental training as it is physical and that the difficulty of the task is not something to be avoided but rather embraced.

While I can’t do justice here in debating the merits of making or keeping sport preparation intentionally difficult, I think that most of us can at least agree that strategies to maximize the ease of training and dieting can be very useful. This is true especially if they are applied in such a way as to allow the process to become more effective because it is now easier to accomplish. For example, having a gym three minutes away from your home definitely makes getting there easier than if it’s an hour away. But that proximity means you’re going to be hitting more cardio sessions, possibly splitting up your workout into multiple sessions per day to raise average intensity, and be able to train more days than otherwise, all of which benefit your results, not just the ease of use. In much the same way, something quite simple with the fancy name of the “Food Palatability-Reward Hypothesis (FPRH)” can make your dieting for body composition not just easier, but that much more effective.

Sorry if you're currently dieting

What is the Food Palatability-Reward Hypothesis?

Here’s some very deep and thorough science on the FPRH.

The practical definitions of the link above can be summed up as the following:

– Foods range on a spectrum of palatability. Some taste crappy, some taste OK, and some taste amazing.
– Foods that are more palatable tend to be those you want to eat more of.
– Not only do people tend to want to eat more of the most palatable foods, these foods also generate cravings more often than less palatable foods.
– Highly palatable foods generate cravings especially in a hypocaloric dieting state.
– Highly palatable foods are more prone to being those foods that are overeaten to generate a hypercaloric state.

What makes foods more palatable? Well, personal preference certainly weighs in, but on average, some common factors most people include:

– Foods well-seasoned with spices and herbs.
– Foods with the right amount of salt (not too much, not too little), though this usually means on the high end of salt consumption for most people.
– Sweet foods which are high in sugar or sugar substitutes, even artificial ones.
– Foods that have a pleasant texture and mouth feel, often correlating strongly with foods that are high in fat.
– Very savory foods (really a combination of mostly fat and salt content in addition to mouthfeel and texture, some additives like MSG can enhance this sensation).

The big implication of the FPRH is that tasty foods are much easier to eat in excess and much harder to eat in small quantities. On the opposite end of the palatability spectrum, foods that taste plain, boring, or downright bad (while being safe to consume and not be spoiled or past due) are tolerated much better in smaller quantities, and can in fact have almost no effect on food cravings whatsoever even in a hypocaloric state. These implications can be applied to enhance the processes of massing (putting on muscle and fat at the same time) and cutting (dropping fat while attempting to retain muscle) to make them not only easier, but more effective.

FPRH When Massing

The typical mass phase should usually be run for about 3 months and be programmed for an average gain of 1lb or so per week, with up to 2lbs per week of gains for those weighing much more than 200lbs. This duration and rate give both the adequate time and stimulus for appreciable muscle gains. Fat gains are unavoidable, but can be dealt with later during a cutting phase without much risk to muscle loss in most cases.

Eating a hypercaloric diet (more calories consumed than burned) is by definition a prerequisite for all of massing, but for two reasons, this process becomes much harder in practice the longer a mass phase progresses. First of all, your metabolism speeds up with time in a mass phase, both because you keep weighing more and need to feed that much more tissue and because prolonged periods of hypercaloric dieting speed up thyroid activity and boost the metabolism. Many a reader will no doubt recall massing phases during which the only activity required to get a sweat going was the eating of a meal! The second reason that massing can get quite tough towards the end is that prolonged exposure to a hypercaloric diet usually results in an appetite decrease. Yes, willpower can overrun much of this effect, but it’s not all fun and games when you’ve got two chicken breasts, a bowl of rice, and four tablespoons of peanut butter staring you down and you already feel like throwing up before the first bite.

Late in massing so far seems to be quite a bind. Your metabolism is the highest ever, you need to eat the most ever, and you’re the least hungry you can remember. I remember times massing during my early twenties when I would legitimately FORGET how it felt to be hungry. All the while, the bodybuilding magazines keep pushing the same bland food. Chicken, broccoli, rice, olive oil, etc. It’s a tough road to travel! So tough, that some lifters will cut their mass phase short even during times of great progress simply because they can’t stand to stuff themselves any more.

Luckily, the FPRH is here to help. We already know that calories and macros are by far the most important ingredients to the success of a diet, and that with proper timing, the only real question is of food composition. Where you get your protein, carbs, and fats is only responsible for maybe 5% of the variation in outcome from a diet, with supplements rounding out another 5% (more info on that HERE). This means that if you choose to eat DELICIOUS food (perhaps even just some of the time, not all of the time) during your mass phase, your results will barely be affected, so long as your calories, macros, and timing are in order…  even if that food has poor composition (junk food, for example). But it turns out that tasty food doesn’t usually even have to have to be junk! There are plenty of cookbooks and suggestions on how to make absolutely amazing-tasting food that’s right in line with the best standards of food composition. Using seasonings, salt, and proper preparation strategies can make food taste absolutely great, so the days of bland baked chicken and broccoli can be left behind. By jacking up food palatability, you can much more easily get in the calories and macros you need and even look forward to doing so, resulting in more goals achieved and more muscle added, period. Great tasting food helping with muscle gains? Tough to argue.

Here are some tips on enhancing food palatability on your mass phase:

– Use herbs and spices to season your food.
– Cut meats up or buy ground meats for easier eating with less chewing.
– Use plenty of salt if you’re not salt sensitive and have good blood pressure. This is most of the fitness community, by the way.
– Learn how to cook, or pay someone who does to help you.
– Eat out on occasion. Gaining mass while eating out is super easy and fun – just make sure it fits your macros, and you’re golden.
– Try some of these foods: low fat chips, sauces and gravies, frozen yogurt.
– Stick to foods that have low volumes after cooking. 80g of carbs from seasoned rice can fit into your hands. 80g of carbs from oatmeal can only fit in an NBA player’s hands and takes seemingly an hour to eat.
– Up the variety. Use couscous, pasta, potatoes, make whole grain bread sandwiches. Add mushrooms and onions and garlic to foods. Don’t just eat brown rice and lean turkey… there will be plenty of time for that on the cutting phase!

Especially towards the end of your massing phase, integrating the advice above can make food taste great and make you wanna eat it. This can lead to the weight and muscle gain you desire while also allowing you to enjoy life. When you’re ready to cut down, things will change.

One last glimpse of yummy food before we talk about cutting.

FPRH When Cutting

Cutting phases designed to spare muscle can usually be implemented for around 3 months and be paced to drop 1-2lbs of weight per week, with most of that (if not all) being fat if hard training and intelligent dieting principles are applied. When you start dieting, dropping weight is easy. Your metabolism is high, and cravings are few and far between. And hey, you’re still eating tons of food. But as the cut progresses, things get tougher. The chronic hypocaloric environment slows down your metabolism, leading to the need to eat less and less food to keep the same loss rates coming. All the while, hunger is creeping up and food cravings are becoming more frequent, especially for tasty food items that were your best friends at the end of your last massing phase.

The good news is that the flipside of massing recommendations apply. By eating boring, bland, simple, and downright unappetizing foods, cravings can be reduced significantly. The interesting thing about high palatability foods is that if they are consumed on a hypocaloric diet, they often lead to more cravings in the individual that just ate them, not fewer. For example, you’d normally have two cheeseburgers and be stuffed and happy, cravings no more. But two cheeseburgers simply don’t fit into your macros deep into a cut, especially not with any remotely sensible considerations for timing (eating only two cheeseburgers and then drinking casein shakes the rest of the day is not something we’ll seriously consider). You eat the one cheeseburger, and now your cravings are even worse. If only you had another cheeseburger! For many people toward the end of their cutting diets, staying mostly or wholly away from highly palatable foods can put them into a state of low cravings, as there’s just nothing in their food environment to trigger any. Not only do bland and unpleasing foods work well here, but voluminous foods as well. Nothing makes you wanna NOT eat like chewing down a dry chicken breast with plain oatmeal and a load of broccoli. That meal can take so long to eat, you don’t even look forward to eating anymore, which is exactly where you wanna be at the tail end of a cut (certainly much better than having constant food fantasies and wild cravings).

Some tips on reducing palatability:

– Avoid using herbs and spices. Use salt (you need it for physiological function), but that’s about it.
– Eat tough meats that you have to chew up, avoid ground meats that can be eaten quickly and easily.
– Put your super culinary skills on hold and try to make food that doesn’t taste great on purpose. When you think about it, that’s actually a kind of skill itself!
– Deep into the cut, don’t eat out. Restaurants make it their mission to provide you with the tastiest possible foods. Even the smells are tough to deal with and can cause massive cravings.
– Try some of these foods: celery, broccoli (uncooked), oatmeal (unflavored), dry chicken breast, canned tuna, egg whites, fat free unflavored Greek yogurt, fat free cottage cheese, unseasoned tilapia. YUCK.
– Stick to foods that have high volumes after cooking. Sweet potatoes, oatmeal, brown rice, etc…  many typical bodybuilding foods.
– Keep the variety, but keep each option boring. Only in your most dire moments will you be excited about the switch from broccoli, oatmeal, and chicken to kale, brown rice, and dry fish.
– Drink plenty of water and eat lots of high fiber foods. The combination expands your gut and makes you feel fuller longer.
– Fruits can be a great carb source because of how many you have to slog through to get your macros in. 100g of carbs from mashed potatoes is gone in 10 minutes and can leave you craving more. 100g of carbs from apples takes seemingly forever to eat.
– Look up foods high on the satiety index. Eat more of those to fill you macros.

It must be noted that while low palatability foods are great at suppressing short-term cravings, they might not work so well in the long term. Very restrictive diets might cause rebounds in the long run, so might best be avoided for sustainable eating. Luckily, cutting phases are by definition short-term endeavors, and using low palatability foods especially during their tail ends might be helpful. That last part is important: Eat tasty (or at least normal) foods through as much of your cutting phase as you can. When your cravings start to really push you, that’s the best time to reduce palatability for the remainder of the diet. If you like to plan far in advance, just reduce palatability with each several weeks of cutting. It can be brutal to go through with, but it sure beats crazy cravings.

The use of the FPRH allows you to be hungrier when you need it and less hungry when you need that. Some people are totally fine with a bit of tasty food and it actually eases their cravings even in a hypocaloric diet. Some people are not as swayed by taste in either direction and can both pound food when needed and not be swayed much by cravings. Especially if dieting is not yet extreme and cravings not crazy, palatability may not matter much for some people. However, if that’s not you, then you might want to give these tips a shot on your next massing or cutting phases!

Straps and touch n go deadlifts? Do it

A case for straps and touch n go deadlifts
I’m very observant of things I see, I try to analyze and figure out why when i see something I don’t understand. One thing that’s always been preached by powerlifters is to avoid straps on deadlift. The common thought is that you’re only as good as your grip, which is true. But does that mean straps and tng reps can’t be used for good, too? Here’s my theory
From observation we see many big pullers using straps and touch n go reps like Chris Hickson, George Leeman, Luigi Fagiani and of course Pete Rubish. They probably all pull ALOT more than you and they use straps often, must just be genetics, right? Shut up
Here some of the advantages
1) muscular overload- we have always been taught to overload with more weight and while loading up and moving with 105% of your max, so is loading up 85% and getting 3 reps more than you can without straps and dead stops. Normally a person can get 5 reps with an 85% load… Imagine the muscular stimulus from 85%x8
2) Prevention of injuries- lets face it, most of us have the mobility of a steel pipe. When we use a staggered or over under style grip, most are going to start pulling crooked once exhaustion sets in. This is going to create imbalances that could potentially create problems down the road.
3) Tension- The least understood concept in heavy lifting with new trainers is intramuscular tension. Touch n go deadlifts require a slower eccentric phase and slower eccentrics call for more tension to allow you to hold form and prevent injuries. I find this to be a good stepping stone and eye opener for people that haven’t developed the ability or learned how to create tension at the start of the movement.
While I’ve argued the good, there is also bad, you do need to do most of your heavy single, triples and maybe even fives without straps to build and secure your grip. You’ll also need to pull your heavy work without as the biomechanics are slightly changed if you’re normally a mixed grip puller.
Anyways, try some of this stuff and see how it works for you.

The 1 Rep Max is Dead

Here’s what you need to know…

  1. You don’t have to work up to a one rep max to get the full benefit of the maximum effort method.
  2. Gains made within the 90 to 100% range will lead to an increase in your 1RM, even if you aren’t working up to a true max every workout.
  3. Training is not testing. Displaying strength is not always the same as building it.
  4. Using a 2-3RM allows for better recovery, safer training, more frequent sessions, and better muscle gains than 1RMs.
  5. Powerlifters, especially geared ones, of course have to practice more with 1RMs, but even they would build more strength using 2-3RMs in training.

The Truth About The 1RM

CT Deadlift

My favorite number of reps to do per set is one.

I’m a strong advocate of the maximum effort method, and ramping up to a 1RM has always been a significant part of programs. So this may surprise you:

Ramping to a 1RM is not the best way to do maximum effort work.

It works really well for 4 to 6 weeks, but after that you tend to show signs of stagnation and even regression. For that reason I’ve changed the way I do maximum effort for myself and my athletes.

For most of us, there’s no need to do 1RMs. A 2RM or 3RM actually works better for building strength. Here’s why.

Defining Maximum Effort Work

Max Effort

Most people associate the maximum effort method with two things:

  1. Working up to the maximum amount you can lift for one repetition (1RM) on a basic movement
  2. Westside Barbell

Well, most people are wrong!

It’s true that the Westside Barbell system uses a variant of the maximum effort method every week, along with the dynamic effort method and the repetition method. But most people really only think about the max effort method when they think of Westside.

But the maximum effort method had been around for much longer than that. Before Westside, powerlifters would „max out“ only at the end of their training cycle.

People also believe, wrongfully, that the max effort method is all about working up to a maximum lift for one rep. Not true.

Zatsiorsky explains that the maximum effort method consists of lifting loads that are in the 90-100% range. You don’t have to work up to a maximum for a single rep to do max effort.

In Russian weightlifting literature, an important measure is the number of lifts at or above 90% of maximum, not the number of maximal lifts.

How Maximum Effort Works


The nervous system decides how the muscles will produce force to overcome a resistance. It can increase force production via four mechanisms:

1. Recruitment of muscle fibers: The more muscle fibers are recruited when doing an action the more force you can produce. And the more fast-twitch those recruited fibers are, the higher the force output.

So the first way to produce a stronger muscle contraction is to become efficient at recruiting more muscle fibers, and becoming especially efficient at turning on the most powerful fast-twitch fibers.

2. Rate coding/firing rate: Your body has a limited capacity to recruit muscle fibers. The way to increase force production once it becomes hard to recruit more muscle fibers is to increase the firing rate of the recruited fibers.

Every time a muscle fiber „fires“ it produces force. So the faster it can fire, or the more twitches it can do per unit of time, the more force the muscle will produce.

Past the beginner stage, improving rate coding/firing rate is the main way the body adapts to producing more force.

3. Intramuscular coordination/muscle fiber synchronization: This means having the recruited muscle fibers fire in the most advantageous pattern to execute the movement.

It doesn’t always mean firing everything at once. Sometimes the best recruitment pattern is asynchronous. In fact, in the slow-speed strength movements (deadlift, squat, bench press, military press) it almost always is.

4. Intermuscular coordination: This refers to how the body uses the various muscles involved in the movement. For example, the antagonists must relax at the right time to allow the agonists/prime movers to do their job, but not so early that you lose stabilization.

If the antagonists don’t relax enough you’ll be fighting your own body, on top of fighting the weight. If they relax too much you might lack stability, get injured, or not have a strong foundation from which to push off.

The last two elements are done through frequent practice of the movement. The more often you practice a lift under a significant load, the better your intra and intermuscular coordination will be.

Related:  Russian Strength-Skill

Rate coding/firing rate and muscle fiber recruitment are the elements improved the most via the max effort method. And in intermediate and advanced athletes, gains come almost exclusively through rate coding.

The Power of Rate Coding

Heavy Barbell

Rate coding is the same for weights in the 90-100% range. It isn’t superior with weights of 97-100%.

As long as you’re training in the 90-100% range you’ll get the proper neurological adaptations. So it becomes a matter of what load and set/rep scheme will allow you to do the most work without any drawbacks while staying in that 90-100% zone.

To develop strength, weights of 90 to 100% have a similar effect. In fact, weights of 90-95% of your maximum done for sets of 2 or 3 reps are likely superior to doing all-out max sets of 1 rep.

Maxing out on a 1RM is useful for powerlifters because they need to learn to perform at an optimal level for a single shot. You’ll likely notice that during a set of 2-3 reps, the second rep is often better than the first one. So being able to perform on the first rep is a skill that powerlifters must develop.

But for most of us, working up to a 2 or 3RM when doing a max effort will be more effective. In fact, even for powerlifters, working up to a 2RM during their max effort day would build more strength than working up to a 1RM. Maxing out on a 1RM should only be done about 20% of the time.

Heresy you say? Hear me out!

The Mindset for Success

A 2-3RM is also better than a 1RM for max effort because it puts you in a better mindset for success.

Attempting a set of 2 or 3 reps implies that you’ll succeed on the first rep. So right off the bat you know that the set will have some degree of success. It’s just a matter of how much success.

This will make you more confident when approaching the lift. As any seasoned lifter knows, confidence in the face of a max effort can make a huge difference in the success of a set.

Why is the second rep often more solid than the first one? This is due to both a potentiation/activation effect and also because the first rep gets you in a better groove.

If you’re shooting for a 1RM there will come a point where you have some doubt about being able to lift the weight. This can wreck havoc on your confidence and ultimately on your performance.

The Safety Factor

Bench Fail

On your way up to a 2 or 3RM set you’ll almost always (unless you plan your loads badly) be able to get that first rep in. Sometimes it might be harder than you expected but you should always be able to get it.

Now, when approaching your limit you might reach a point where you know after one rep that you won’t be able to complete the second one. You can simply rack the weight. You still had a productive set even though you only did a single.

When working up to a max it’s harder to evaluate if you can make the rep or not. When you unrack the weight you might feel like you can do it but midway through you realize you can’t. That can lead to bad form or a missed lift which could lead to injuries.

It’s easier to judge if you can get a second rep once you do rep one. How the rep felt tells you a lot about how much you have in the tank and if you can get that second one. With a set of one rep, when you approach limit levels you don’t have that „tool“ to tell you if it’s safe to attempt the lift or not.

Some people have the experience or discipline of knowing as soon as they unrack the bar if they can make it or not. These people are less likely to fail on a max set. They’ll know when it’s safer to re-rack the weight instead of trying it.

But the myriad of „lifting fails“ videos we see tells us that not everybody has mastered that skill yet!

More Practice with Near-Maximal Weights

Press Flag

Weights in the 90-100% range use similar recruitment and force production strategies. Gains made within that range will lead to an increase in your 1RM even if you aren’t working up to a true max at every session.

Training is not testing. You’re training to develop certain qualities/capacities that will make your body more effective when you finally test it.

The more practice you have with 90-100% weights, the more efficient you become at lifting maximal weights. In that regard, the body can tolerate more reps in the 90-95% range than in the 95-100% range.

Working up to a 2 or 3RM allows you to do a lot more work in the 90-100% range than if you work up to a max lift. This higher workload will lead to more stable neural adaptations than if you work up to a 1RM.

Strength isn’t just a physical capacity; it’s a skill. The more often you practice the skill of producing a maximum amount of force, the better you become at it.

If doing sets of 2-3 reps for your max effort day allows you to get 1.5 to 2 times more practice in the money zone, you’ll improve neural factors faster.

You could argue that you can simply do more sets of 1 rep. True. I reasoned that way myself for a long time. But for it to work you need to use weights in excess of 95% (otherwise just do sets of 2). And when talking about weights of 97-100%, the impact on the body is more profound than doing lifts of 90-95%.

Doing 6-10 lifts in the 90-95% range on a max effort day is fine. But doing that number of lifts with 97-100% will be too harsh on the nervous system for sustain progress.

The Psychological Component

Vasily Alexeev

Soviet lifter Vassily Alexeyev said to avoid „training on the nerve“ as much as possible. By that he means avoiding psychological stress during a session.

It doesn’t mean going easy; it means working hard but without going into a zone where you exhibit signs of marked psychological stress: a sudden spike in blood pressure, tunnel vision, heart rate almost getting out of control, needing to psych yourself up, etc.

Training on the nerve should be a form of „strength reserve“ – an extra gear that you can turn on as needed. It’s like the NOS in your performance car: it can give you a significant boost but it comes at a cost.

In training you should rarely have to psych yourself up to do a lift. Take a page from Olympic lifters. Watch videos of Russian weightlifters: they almost look asleep when they approach a bar in training, even when they equal or best the current world record (in training).

Tmax vs. Cmax

Zatsiorsky categorizes maxes as either Training Max or Competitive Max (Tmax or Cmax).

The former is the maximum amount of weight that can be lifted without any substantial stress and without heightened arousal – the need to psych up for the lift.

The Cmax (which doesn’t have to be done in a competition setting) is a max done under a significant level of arousal/psyching up and stress leading to an increase in adrenalin level.

The Cmax can be as much as 12% higher than the Tmax in advanced athletes used to performing under stressful conditions, but it’s normally around 5% higher than the Tmax in most people.

So, you can squeeze out more pounds by psyching up and getting stressed about a lift. But it comes at a price since the increase in adrenalin production can exponentially increase the negative impact of the workout.

You should thus avoid getting hyped up before a lift as much as possible, keeping that reserve for special occasions.

A 2RM doesn’t place the same psychological burden as a true 1RM. So you won’t get the same stress response but you’ll get a training effect that’s just as good, if not better.

Stimulate More Fast Twitch Fibers

Woman Bench Press

A muscle fiber that has been recruited but not fatigued hasn’t been trained. If you recruit fibers but don’t fatigue them, you still get a training effect by improving your capacity to recruit fibers, but you won’t make them grow.

When doing max effort work you’re using the anaerobic alactic energy pathway which has a limit capacity of 20 seconds. In other words, if you work at a high enough intensity to tax this system, you’ll run out of fuel in 20 seconds at the most.

Anaerobic alactic capacity begins to be taxed after 7-10 seconds of intense work. If the effort lasts less than that you aren’t creating much fatigue and thus you aren’t stimulating the fast twitch fibers to grow.

If you do sets of a single rep of max effort work, it will last at the most 4 seconds, maybe 5. But most of the time we’re talking about roughly 3 seconds. Rarely will it go into the 7-10 second range unless you go slow on purpose, which tends to diminish your capacity to lift maximal weights.

If you do sets of 2 reps the muscles will be under load for 7-10 seconds, and if you do 3 reps they’ll be under load for 11-14 seconds.

In both cases the actual fatigue/stimulation of the fast-twitch fibers will be greater, especially if you do multiple sets. The result is that you’ll stimulate actual tissue growth, not just improved muscle fiber recruitment.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Barbell and Dumbbells

I want to point something out: a lot of powerlifters who switch to the typical max effort method of doing a single rep already have a high level of muscle mass built through years of training.

For them, max effort isn’t about building more muscle. And they’re doing a high amount of auxiliary work to build muscle anyway.

But I believe in trying to make every method optimal, or as effective as it can be, as long as it doesn’t detract from its intended purpose.

To do that I ask myself: „If all I could do was this method, would I get both stronger and bigger?“ If the answer is no, then I look for a way to make it more effective without coming into conflict with the main goal of the method.

Maximum effort is about increasing strength. So ask yourself this:

  1. Will doing sets of 2 or 3 reps instead of 1 lead to more muscle growth?
  2. Will doing sets of 2 or 3 reps lead to fewer strength gains than doing sets of 1?

The answer to the first question is yes. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t build as much muscle from sets of 2-3 reps as you would with slightly higher reps (4-6) or even from typical bodybuilding work.

But you will stimulate tissue growth, improve muscle hardness, and get stronger. Whereas with sets of 1 you won’t build a lot of muscle mass, except if you do a very high amount of sets with short rest intervals.

Note that I’ve created programs based on single reps before. But they don’t use the max effort method. They use single reps done with short rest intervals with heavy, but not maximal weights. That’s not the same thing as the max effort.

Related:  More on building muscle with heavy singles

If we’re taking strictly about the max effort method – ramping up to the top weight you can lift for 1, 2 or 3 reps using fairly long rest intervals – sets of 2 and 3 reps will build more muscle than sets of 1.

As for question number two, doing sets of 2 and 3 reps instead of 1 will not build less strength. Russian Olympic lifters, and now powerlifters, do most of their work for sets of 2-3 reps. They rarely max out in training, and they’re getting plenty strong!

You get the same neurological training effect from maximal work for 2-3 reps as you do from an all-out 1RM effort, without the drawbacks. You also build more tissue. So in fact you will build more strength doing your max effort work for sets of 2 or 3 reps.

The Frequency Advantage

Back Squat

When training toward a true 1RM you should do two bouts per week. For example, Westside has one max effort day for the bench, one max effort day for the squat/deadlift.

When working toward a 2RM you can have max effort stimulation more often, 3-4 times per week. This allows you to quickly become better at that type of work. In that case, alternating ramps to 2 and 3RM would be the best option.

Charlie Francis mentioned the huge difference in neurological impact between a 95-97% sprint and a 100% sprint. The latter could have lingering effects for days if not weeks; the former is a lot easier to recover from and still leads to improvements.

The same is true with lifting weights. There’s a strain that comes from going to a true 1RM. Even if it had more benefits than going to a 2RM, the fact that it prevents you from going hard more often might still make it less effective over the long run.

Playing Devil’s Advocate

Rich Deadlift

Maxing out on sets of 1 rep is a special skill. If someone is good at doing all-out singles there can be a 7-9% difference between his 2RM and 1RM. But for most it will be a 4-5% difference.

In other words, take two athletes who have a 2RM on the bench press of 375 pounds. Athlete 1 frequently works up to a 1RM in training. Athlete 2 rarely works up to a 1RM in training.

Athlete 1 will be better at doing all-out singles. So he might max out at 405 while Athlete 2 who doesn’t practice maxing out on a single rep might only peak at 395.

Both athletes are at the same level of strength. Athlete 1 just learned to better display his strength in a true maximal effort.

That’s why if you compete in powerlifting you need to practice hitting a 1RM once in a while. This is especially important near a competition where you aren’t building strength anymore – you’re learning to display it under competitive settings.

But if you’re just training to become stronger, there’s no real need to make maximum effort with sets of 1 rep part of your training (not testing). And even competitive powerlifters would get better results maxing out on a 2RM more often than maxing out on 1RM.

Note: Geared vs. Raw Powerlifting

Powerlifter Squat

Geared powerlifting utilizes bench shirts, squat suits, super-tight knee wraps, humongous belts, etc. I’m not for or against geared powerlifting, but it is a different reality.

Setting up for a lift while fully suited and maintaining proper body position after a rep is very hard with full equipment on. So powerlifters who do max effort work geared up might have diminishing results from doing sets of 2 or 3 reps.

That’s one thing you must consider when designing your own program: you can’t follow the exact plan that someone uses if he isn’t lifting in the same conditions as you are.

3 Keys to a Big Raw Squat

Here’s what you need to know…

  1. Many of the pointers given to squatters are intended for those who are wearing supportive gear.
  2. There’s no need to prioritize the posterior chain when trying to bring up your squat. Squat strength depends on quad strength.
  3. To improve your squat technique, practice wall squats. To increase leg strength, practice front squats.
  4. Improve your form at the bottom of the squat by focusing on driving your upper back into the bar.

Raw or Geared?

Most of the advice you hear on the squat is written by geared lifters forgeared lifters – those who use special suits, heavy wraps, and other forms of supportive gear.

While that information has value, a lot of it would be unsuitable for a raw squat – „raw“ meaning free of gear.

Case in point: Sitting back. This is probably the most overused pointer, and it’s directed mostly at the geared lifter.

Luckily there’s some no-fail advice that raw lifters can use to improve squat performance. But first let’s go over a few things that don’t help.

Needless Advice for Raw Squatters

Good Morning

Let’s clear up some misinformation. There are two things you can disregard when trying to bring up your squat.

  1. You must prioritize the posterior chain.
  2. You must do good mornings to strengthen your posterior chain.

It’s been drilled into our heads that we need to be more posterior-chain dominant, but the truth of the matter is the squat is supposed to be a leg movement.

A lower bar position on your back will tend to make you bend over more. This is totally fine, but the intent should always be to stay as upright as possible. The more bent over you are, the more lower back and hamstrings you’ll use. But don’t forget about the quads.

Many of the top raw lifters and all-time greats prioritized quad training. The focus wasn’t on glutes, hamstrings, or lower back, but more on quads.

The quads have a ton of potential for growth. More hypertrophy will give you a higher ceiling for strength. Look at any great Russian squatter. They all have insane quad development. When you see muscle hanging off of your knees, don’t be surprised when your squat goes through the roof as well.

Out of the hole, you should always try to lead with the upper back first. Watch any world class squatter. Nearly everyone – both geared and raw – will try to lead with the upper back first out of the bottom.

As a powerlifter, it’s critical to save your lower back so you have back power left when your deadlift comes around. If you use your lower back too much when you squat you aren’t going to have much left when you deadlift whether you’re training or in meet.

Related:  The Truth About Squatting Deep

Good mornings, which are a great exercise to train the back and hamstrings, aren’t necessary for squatting world record weights.

In the past I tried doing lots of good mornings with no luck. I got really good at good mornings, but my squat went nowhere. I got to the point where my good morning was stronger than my raw squat and I was able to hit 600 for 5 with the giant cambered bar.

While my good mornings got a lot of attention, they didn’t do much for my squat total.

3 Keys to the Raw Squat

Key #1: Technique

Wall Squats

It’s damn near impossible to do a wall squat with poor technique. That’s what makes wall squats the best drill to teach you how to squat properly.

Simply face a wall and perform some body weight squats. If you lean too far forward your face will smash into the wall. If your knees come too far forward your knees will hit the wall. In both cases you won’t be able to achieve proper depth without hitting the wall. It’s a self-correcting tool.

Related:  Squat Right for Your Type

The only thing to watch out for when performing wall squats is that you don’t roll up onto the outsides of your feet to squat down.

Make sure your feet are firmly planted so that your big toe, heel and mid-foot have contact with the floor. Sit back and drive your knees out hard just enough to hit proper depth, and don’t overdo either one.

Try using wall squats in a number of ways:

For warming-up: Start with 3 sets of 5 wall squats before getting under a bar. Aside from practicing technique, it’ll warm up the hips and ankles before a heavy squat session. When my wall squats feel smooth I know I’m going to have a great squat session.

Self-training: If you’re a newer lifter, perform wall squats before you even touch a bar to ingrain the proper pattern.

Most lifters don’t learn strength like a skill. Squatting is an athletic movement just like a golf swing or a baseball throw. It requires technical precession and the wall squat is the best way to achieve this.

Assistance work: Using the wall squat for high reps is a great way to great extra work in. Try doing this with a band around the knees in order to work the hips.

You can also do these isometrically with the band to learn to constantly push out and engage the hips for an extended period of time. This will keep your knees from caving in when the weights get real heavy.

Key #2: Leg Strength

Arnold Front Squat

Most people think they fold over in a squat because their lower backs are too weak. This may be true for some, but more often than not, if your legs aren’t strong enough you’ll feel compelled to shift the load to the lower back since you can’t keep your hips under the bar.

The best exercise to help you keep your hips under the bar by building leg strength is the front squat. It’s a challenge because you can’t fold over at all. If your torso comes too far forward you’ll dump the bar. Like the wall squat, it’s a self-correcting exercise.

When you front squat, you’re going to be more upright, and your knees will come forward more than they would during a traditional back squat.

There are two main ways to front squat.

  1. The cross-arm grip is great for people with limited mobility. If your main focus is just strength this is completely fine.
  2. If you’re a competitive weightlifter then you need to learn how to properly rack the bar and utilize the clean grip. I prefer the clean grip because you can’t use your arms at all to assist you.

Since it requires a little bit more mobility, warm up before you go into your front squats. Here is a favorite I use every time to prepare my upper body for the proper rack position.

There are three reasons to make front squats a staple:

New lifters: If you’re new to squatting, the front squat should be a primary movement for your first few weeks. Use as a primary exercise and do 3-6 reps at a time. If you’re on a Westside split the front squat can also be thrown in as a max effort exercise from time to time.

As a supplemental move: Front squats are a great secondary movement to help build the squat. When done as a second move use higher reps in the 5-8 rep range for multiple sets.

For deloading or building phases: If you’re an experienced lifter coming off a meet, it’d be wise to use front squats as a deload.

Since you can’t front squat as much as you back squat, you won’t be loading the spine nearly as much. Use front squats as your main movement while your body heals up. You’ll go into your next training cycle feeling fresh and ready to go.

Key #3: Intent Out of the Hole


Lifters fail squats when their backs are comprising. This may be a result of too much forward lean or the hips shooting up too fast.

The best way to correct this is by correcting your focus. Think about driving your upper back into the bar on the way up.

A great way to practice and build strength in this position is the high-bar pause squat. The high-bar squat will allow the lifter to stay a bit more upright than a regular squat, but not quite as upright as a front squat.

Pausing in the bottom gives you a chance to find your groove and focus on the proper ascent. That way you can rise up focusing on driving back into the bar with your upper back.

Related:  Squat Mechanics: A Deep Analysis

A pause squat will help you build strength out of the hole and find your perfect bottom position.

A longer pause will help you ingrain a proper position. If you’re too far forward or too far back you aren’t going to be able to sustain that position for very long. If your technique is good, you’ll be able to sit in the hole with no problem. It will still suck, but you’ll be able to drive back up and ultimately finish the lift.

Tip: To help you stay upright and use your legs more, do these with weightlifting shoes that have a raised heel.

It gives you artificial ankle mobility since you start in a position of plantar flexion. This will allow you to let your knees drift forward more while still keeping your heels on the ground allowing for a more upright and quad dominant squat.

If you don’t have access to weightlifting shoes, performing these old school with 10 pound plates under your heels is totally fine. Just make sure you walk out carefully and keep your balance as you come back.

There are plenty of reasons to use high-bar pause squats:

As a primary exercise: Do anywhere from 3-5 reps and even singles on occasion. As you get closer to a meet using regular squats is advised.

If you need a break from the straight bar, utilize pause squats with a safety squat bar in order to give the shoulders a rest and tax the legs and the back simultaneously. The safety squat bar will teach you to use your upper back when squatting upward.

Supplemental move: Use them as a second exercise to help you build the squats. Do 1-3 second pauses, 5-8 reps for 3-5 sets.

Dynamic effort work: Use pause squats as speed work. This can be done with straight weight or with accommodating resistance.

The key here is trying to generate as much speed as possible out of the hole and driving back up with the upper back. Learning to squat powerfully from the bottom will teach you to drive through sticking points and ultimately achieve new personal bests.

Final Tips and Recap

Female Back Squats

  1. Don’t overthink the cues and advice used by geared lifters if your goal is raw strength and size.
  2. Good mornings are fine but aren’t necessary for a huge squat.
  3. Sitting back and driving the knees out hard are great cues but don’t exaggerate either one.
  4. Focus on screwing your feet in the ground and spreading your groin apart as you sit between your feet.
  5. Use the wall squat to ingrain proper squat technique.
  6. Use front squats to build leg strength and to practice staying upright.
  7. Perform pause-squats to build strength out the bottom, find your groove, and practice driving your upper back into the bar.

The 5 Best Exercises Ever

Here’s what you need to know…

  1. Loaded carries strengthen the entire body while punching increases agility and explosiveness. Both have been necessary tools throughout history.
  2. Rope climbing and pulling hit the upper body and recruit the core and legs.
  3. Lift just about anything from the ground to overhead. The heavier and more awkward the better.
  4. Heavy sled pushes nail the legs and increase metabolic conditioning. They’re a concentric-only movement which is easy on the joints.

The Standards

Stone Lifting

In order to make this list, an exercise had to fit three criteria.

First, the exercise had to be one conceivably done thousands of years ago. While Socrates taught physical culture and that „no man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training,“ they likely didn’t have access to heart rate monitors, pec decks, or adjustable barbells.

Second, the exercise has to be one where multiple cultures around the world, independent of each other and throughout generations, have been found to do the same exercise.

Third, it has to be a movement where, if a room full of strength coaches were shown it, at least 50% of them would say it was good, less than 20% would say it causes crippling injury, 15% would say only wussies did those, and at least 10% would actually be able to do it themselves.

Here are five movements that fit those criteria.

1. Loaded Carries

Loaded Carries

Carry two large buckets full of crushed stone up a hill and tell me you didn’t get a massive workout. Now do it for the next 8 hours. Your rest period is the time it takes to walk back down the hill and get the next two buckets full of stone.

Do this for a couple of months without a break and you’ll have a new understanding of exercise. If you ever want to get in serious shape and make a few bucks along the way, become a bricklayer’s or mason’s assistant.

Loaded carries are an exercise that can be used to train the entire body, including grip strength, shoulder stability, core strength, resisted breathing, balance and gait, and conditioning, of course.

Related:  More on loaded carries

Loaded carries can involve any implement, but the more awkward the better. While dumbbells and barbells are definitely easier to work with in a gym setting, things like sandbags, buckets of water, sand and rocks, or even another person can up the ante.

Furthermore, if the loading isn’t uniform, meaning one side is heavier than the other or the weight is constantly shifting around, you can take your carry game to the next level.

To do these, use a weight that’s considered relatively heavy by most mortal men, stand tall like a proud warrior, and walk until you can’t feel anything anymore. The next time, add weight and try to beat your distance.

2. Punching


In military service, hand-to-hand combat was a staple, and given the popularity of sports like boxing and MMA today, it’s a worthy addition to the list. There’s something visceral about throwing a punch, and even more visceral about connecting.

While not everyone may want to step into the ring or octagon, they can still train with punching movements using heavy bags or speed bags, or even through vigorous shadow boxing. Train like you intend to have to fight for your life.

As the old Spartan saying goes, „Come back with your shield or on it.“

A fighter would likely tell you that a great punch originates in the legs and hips. However, many great coaches will take it one step further and tell you that punch strength comes from the glutes.

Get your punching-side leg ground solidly into the floor so you can generate force through knee extension and hip external rotation and extension. This can make the difference between throwing a punch that just annoys a 12 year old and a knockout punch that can win the championship.

If you have a heavy bag, work on getting strong connections with your wrist locked in neutral and your knuckles flush to the bag. Take one punch at a time and work on getting the drive to come from the hips and legs, finishing with the arms.

If you have a speed bag, work on connecting with the bag and maintaining a solid tempo without failing too badly. This is skill based, so don’t sweat it too much if you don’t have the eye-hand coordination down yet.

If you have nothing to punch, shadow boxing is an option. Throw punches as if you were trying to connect with an invisible object. Try to extend your arm and pull back with speed and control.

If you don’t want to punch anything, just do as many pushups as possible. By yourself. In your basement. With the lights off.

3. Rope Climbing and Pulling

Rope Climb

It’s tough to build pulling strength unless you’re actually pulling. It’s one of the great self-regulating activities. Either you climb the rope or you don’t. Either you pull the rope towards you and whatever else it’s attached to or you don’t.

Rope climbing is a fantastic upper body exercise that involves a lot of core strength and leg involvement. Of course, some people can climb without using their legs, and I hate them for that.

Related:  More on the rope climbing

There’s a ton of grip strength, shoulder strength, back strength, and core strength involved. There’s also a lot of technique involved in rope climbing, which means you’re likely going to have to start slow and build up.

Start with either a sliding rope pulldown, a hanging pull-up on a stationary rope, or just doing chin-ups with mixed grips.

Rope Pull

Rope pulling can produce a lot of similar benefits, with the added fun of being rooted into the ground and producing power through the legs and core.

Remember the good old days of tug of war in PE where you’d put the big kid at the back as an anchor, and then everyone would wind up pulling, sliding, falling over, and looking stupid?

The guys on the winning team won because they stayed on their feet and kept pulling while the losers lost their footing and wound up in the mud.

Successful rope pulling is as much about balance as anything related to strength.

Instead of standing upright, you’ll have to lean back in the direction you’re pulling. Your hips will have to be about 18-24 inches behind your feet, and the lower you can get your butt to the floor the better, especially if it’s a heavier load.

When pulling, use a hand over hand approach with a short range of motion to try to keep the movement coming from the upper body. If you want to use a longer ROM, you’d do best by setting your hands and turning it into a hip and leg driven movement, kind of like a horizontal deadlift.

Sleds are amazing tools for rope pulls, as they can easily be loaded up. Use a length of rope as long as possible. Get aggressive with the pulls and work on speed. If the loading is massive, unleash hell on the entire world attached to that rope.

4. Lift From the Floor to Overhead

Overhead Lift

This is one that has classically been used as a showpiece for feats of strength.

Long before The Mountain dominated Icelandic log walks and the Red Viper’s skull, guys like George Hackenschmidt, Louie Cyr, and Eugene Sandow popularized the art of strength by lifting very large and awkward weights over their heads.

Ancient Greek soldiers would do similar things with large rocks. Versions of kettlebells were used by ancient Shaolin warriors (called Shi-Suo Gong, the art of the stone padlock) many millennia before Russians adopted them.

At the turn of the 19th century, Thomas Inch would routinely press the dumbbell bearing his name, a 2.38inch diameter-handled 172-pound monster of a weight, with one hand. And who can forget Ultimate Warrior pressing Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania VI?

Depending on the load lifted and whether using one hand or two, the movement will usually begin with a modified deadlift. If it’s possible to clean the weight to your shoulders in one go, do it. However, in the case of something like an atlas stone lift or continental lift, you may have to lock onto the weight with your chest and roll it up your thighs.

From there, the press can be either a strict press or jerk press, depending on whether leg drive is available or not. Some competition lifts indicate no leg movement, such as the classic Olympic press that was included in competitions until 1972.

But when the load becomes significant enough, leg drive will become necessary.

Any object could conceivably be used for ground to overhead lifts, but again the more awkward the better. Heavy sandbags, large rocks, loaded or half-full kegs, or for the more commercially driven, a tough kettlebell or two will do.

Rocking out a clean & jerk or atlas stone lift are also strong variations of this movement.

5. Heavy Standing Push

Prowler Push

A heavy standing push is one of those fundamental movements used to get stuff from one place to another when it was heavier or bulkier than what could be carried.

Today’s common gym version consists of a sled push, but if you don’t have a sled you could arrange to push a car around a parking lot as long as a buddy was steering and the car was in neutral.

Heavy Ass Sled Pushes (HASP) are a staple of a lot of elite coaching programs in various sports and activities, and for good reason. The concentric-only resisted phase of the movement is easier on the joints than loaded eccentric movements.

Related:  More on the value of the sled push

The reciprocal unilateral movement is also very replicative of most sporting activities, and the total body tension under resisted breathing is awesome for developing cardiovascular sustainability and work output under duress. Plus they’re badass as hell.

The walking push mechanics are quite simple. You could take a linear approach where your hands, shoulders, and hips are aligned with each other (essentially holding an overhead position while bent forward).

Try to avoid letting the foot come ahead of the vertical axis of the hips to reduce the pressure on the low back, and work on getting full extension with each stride coming from the hips and knees.

Or you could lean into it with your torso at a 30 or 40 degree angle from the ground.

If using a commercial space, pushing on turf or carpet will be massively easier than trying to push a sled on rubberized flooring. Concrete or asphalt works well for outdoor work.

For added points, try to push an object up a gradual incline like you’re building the pyramids.