Category Archives: Weight training

For results, do something that requires effort

I get into a lot of conversations at the gym about various things, fitness goals being the most popular. One thing I hear ad nauseum is this:

“I need to switch it up”.

Automatically, I ask, “why?”

And likewise automatically, the person will respond, “to shock the system. I have plateaued and my routine isn’t as effective anymore”. Many conversations turn out this way.

A similar remark will be something like, “I don’t understand why I am not seeing results. I’m doing everything right”.

Without getting into further mundane details about this person’s history, I simply ask what they’re doing and make some slight suggestions to help out, which they don’t end up taking seriously anyway.

Here’s a news flash. In order to change, you should do something that requires a bit more effort than what you’re currently doing and you should do it often. It’s not the routine, it’s the level of effort. Consistency may be there, sure, with your 2-hour long gym sessions, but the effort is almost non-existent. Talk is cheap, action speaks. After hearing and seeing what routines people are on, I just want to face palm.

All the time I see people, especially women, doing laterals with 2.5 pounds. This will probably work if they’re a 50 pound 11-year old girl, but if they’re a grown woman looking to build shoulders, they need a better plan. What’s worse, they have no clue how to progress. It just breaks my heart.

So imagine the kind of looks I get when I suggest people to do something that pushes them out of their comfort zone on most days. It’s like they’re speaking to an alien.

If you want to become better at something, you must put effort into it and you must do it consistently. No one who got anything worth writing home about achieved it without a high degree of effort and consistency. Even Donald Trump, who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, had to fight to keep a top spot. Even Floyd Mayweather, one of the greatest, and richest, boxers of all time, had to fight tooth and nail to harness success.

Now I am no champion. I was not born with great genetics nor was I blessed to have a family who supported athletic endeavors. I was just some average Asian kid who happened to join the military, discovered fitness and nutrition, and decided to help people become healthier and more fit. This is in stark contrast to many fitness professionals who actually do have an athletic background. See, I have something to relate to most people looking to get into better shape: I was once-out-shape and just wanted to be in-shape. This isn’t a story about how I used to be an athlete and fell out of my ways. It is a story about how I was never an athlete and wanted to feel more comfortable in my own clothes. I had massive self-confidence issues. But I didn’t get to where I was by making excuses and partaking in activities that didn’t line up with my goals. I put in the work.

Even now, despite working nearly 90 hours a week, I make time to train. Even though I go to work at 8 and don’t come home until 11 during the weekdays and work 6-8 hours on the weekends, I still make time to train. It’s about doing things that matter (unfortunately, I don’t have enough time to update this blog as much as I’d like). If I find a 30-minute gap between clients, guess what I do? You guessed it, even if you didn’t try. I train. I do some blitz sessions where I would pick a handful of exercises to attack my whole body and a couple of cardio exercises and go to town for those 30-minutes.

But that’s just me. I place my fitness at a higher priority than most people, who prefer to go out and drink and party on weeknights. Nothing against them at all, but that’s them–they do what they do. However, if you’re one of these people yet make excuses as to why you’re not in as good as shape as you want to be, shame on you. This is partly why I get aggravated talking to people about fitness and nutrition: they want to know how to get in shape, but what I say goes in one hear and out the other. Whatevz, yo.

If you can’t do push-ups or pull-ups, yet want to be able to do them one day, what do you think you need to do? You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure this one out. Problem is that people act like the answer is so elusive. Practice them or easier variations, and drill the living sh*t out of themDon’t say you want to do something but take no steps toward realizing them.

Many times when my clients feel their progress is slowing, they need to make one change first. Put in a bit more effort to what they’re currently doing. I am proud to say that some of my clients are very strong for only being general fitness folks, but as soon as they add in some more purposeful exercise throughout the day, they see better results.

Here’s my message to you:

Stop making lame excuses.

Start doing something that requires effort, that pushes you out of your comfort zone.

Do those things that push you out of your comfort zone consistently, on most days of the week.

Take blitz sessions as an example. As often as possible throughout the day, do some purposeful exercise. If you’re a desk jockey, take 3 extra minutes on your bathroom (or smoke) break and get out of that sedentary funk. Move around a bit. Here’s what I do on a daily basis:

10 second chest stretch in a doorway
10 high-knee marches each leg
12 bodyweight squats
10 push-ups
10 split squats
10 mountain climbers
30 second side plank each side
30 second jumping jacks

I do this routine in my dress shirt, trousers, and dress shoes and it takes me about 3 minutes. For those 3-minutes, I am out of my comfort zone, which is the chair situated in front of a piece of crap Dell. Then I go to the bathroom to re-adjust my clothes. Not surprisingly, I feel amazing afterward and my productivity sky-rockets.

This isn’t some sort of revolution or amazing discovery. This is simply doing what you’re designed to do. Moving with effort and consistency.

What kind of results are you seeking? What have you been doing? How are you coming along in your goals? As always, I value your feedback and comments. Fire away.

Should You ‘Switch It Up’?

I get this quite often. It’s probably one of the most universally used phrases in the world of fitness, especially in the world of ‘bro science’. As a personal trainer at a gym with a membership base of about 6,000, I somehow get dragged into a conversation about this almost every day by the regulars.

 

Source

‘You gotta’ switch it up’. But why? ‘So you can shock the system’. Why do you want to shock the system? ‘So you don’t plateau’. 

Then I think to myself, “have you ever reached a true plateau?”

Even veteran gym rats who have been going to the gym diligently for years spit this mantra out like it’s gospel. And since I am usually a rogue that likes to battle against conventional wisdom, I think to myself, “there’s no good reason to shock your system” and shake off the bros.

Yet, though I feel that broscience should die hard most times and not interfere with productivity, switching it up could have its merits. I say this because although I am a rogue of conventional wisdom and have been successful, or at least satisfied with what I see in myself and my clients, I am a friend of context. Especially when it comes to fitness and nutrition, I drive a hard-line towards context, having a severe bias for situation awareness.

First off…

95% of people who go to the gym or exercise regularly never experience a true plateau. This thing isn’t like a pack of bananas that is available year around at every bodega in the neighborhood. It’s something that you must try really hard to reach. In the exercise world, there is usually but one group of people who almost always reach a plateau:

People who take training much more seriously than the casual fitness buff.

I am talking about the person who goes the gym at least 3 times per week and seriously busts their ass every time they touch a weight, or the gymnast who practices two to four hours per day on the rings, or the sprinter who runs a 10-second 100 meter. But interestingly, when advanced athletes “switch up their routine”, they’re not turning their current training program upside down; they are manipulating their training variables–volume and intensity. High-level Crossfit athletes may even fit this bill.

Most people will never look this fit. But there’s no harm in trying. Source

Better yet, to compare between elite athletes and casual trainers, let’s use me as an example. I consider myself ‘intermediate’, between novice and advanced. Although I have some NY-state powerlifting records through the WNPF for my fame, I am far from being a top lifter. My best numbers in competition at 5’7″ and 148 pounds are:

Squat with belt and knee wraps: 425 pounds
Bench press: 260 pounds
Deadlift with belt: 465 pounds

In training, I have never truly established a 1-rep max–I leave that for the platform. On the other hand, I constantly assess myself using rep ranges. I regularly do these numbers:

Squat with around 2x my bodyweight without a belt or wraps for 5-8 reps
Bench press around 1.4x my bodyweight for 5-8 reps
Romanian deadlift around 2x my bodyweight without a belt for 8-10 reps
Overhead press my bodyweight for 5-8 reps
Weighted pull-ups with 70-80 extra pounds for 5 reps
Weighted dips with 80-100 extra pounds for 5 reps

Some other things I can do include running a 6 minute mile (I don’t even run), jump up a box nearly 5 feet high, and run a sub-12 second 100-meter dash.

I think they’re decent numbers, and definitely more than what the average person can do. I am not trying to set world records nor am I chasing the current ones. I just want to go to the gym, train, and look and feel good about myself, especially since I must set an example for my clients. So whenever someone asks me how often I change my routine, I tell them I usually stick with more or less the same routine for 6-8 weeks before making any significant changes. By significant changes, I usually mean swapping a couple of exercises. Instead of high bar close stance squats, I may do high bar medium stance squats.

Then the critics yelp: “but you’ll hit a plateau!”

(“That’s odd, because  you don’t even know how much my fitness level, but because I work here, I see how fit you are. And trust me, you are in no position to lecture me about training and nutrition”).

This isn’t one of those cases where a prior Olympic athlete and star coach lets himself go because of family, business, and other life commitments. This is straight up a desk-jockey warrior telling a person who lives and breathes training and nutrition what to do. I always find these conversations amusing.

Is switching up your routine valid?

To put this into perspective, I change my routine far less often than a person who can’t even squat their own bodyweight. Very often, you see people doing a totally different routine every other week in hopes of achieving a coveted, magical body. But here’s my main point: there’s no good reason why a person who is not as strong as me should be ‘switching up their routine to shock the system’ on the premise of avoiding a plateau. Escaping boredom? Maybe. But to avoid a plateau? Stick to the basics and hammer them harder than Tim Allen in Home Improvement.

They knew the ‘drill’. ‘Hammer’ the basics and win. Source

I will use my 50-year old male client as an example. He has been training with me for almost two years. For the past two years, he has usually seen me once a week almost every week. So, he trains hard for one day a week. I instruct him to train hard two other days of the week by sending him a program and giving him the tools he needs. But 99% of the time, he just doesn’t go the yard since I am not there to push him. So after training with me for a bit over two years, once a week, I think he has decent numbers.

At 5’10” and 170 pounds, here are his past and current numbers:
Squat: 135 pounds, 1 set of 5 –> 200 pounds, 5 sets of 5
Bench press: 95 pounds –> 160 pounds, 5 sets of 5
RDL: 135 pounds –> 225, 3 sets of 8

Not too shabby for someone who works out less than the vast majority of people.

Unless you want to look like you don’t work out, then take your training seriously. Source

By constantly switching up your routine, you are essentially doing the first step of the General Adaptation Syndrome, a processed coined by the late Hungarian, Hans Selye. GAS is a process that consists of three stages: Alarm, Resistance, and Exhaustion. Alarm is the act of inducing stress on your body, and in this case, training. In resistance, the body will adapt to the stress. Keep going beyond the body’s capability to adapt and you will go into exhaustion. However, your body responds best to constantly being exposed to the same stimulus but at a different intensity, or difficulty. If you keep doing the same thing over and over in terms of stress, then you won’t progress at the most optimal rate.

In other words, by replacing your chest day consisting of 5 chest exercises with a chest day consisting of 5 different exercises but not adding difficulty will not help you break through any plateaus; it will only serve to keep you from being bored.

 But remember that I am a friend of context and that there are hardly any hard and fast rules in fitness, “shocking the system” being no exception.

When should you shock your system?

  • No true goals. This probably pertains to general fitness clients who have no real interest in getting stronger, leaner, and more athletic. They just go through the motions because they want to feel like they’re doing something good for their health. Through observation, I believe this line is used notoriously by people who  believe they are more advanced than they really are.
  • If your sport calls for it, then you want to shock your system. The prime example here is Crossfit. These folks are not training for anything in particular, but for everything in general. They put their bodies through as many different workouts as possible to attack every system and become a well-rounded individual. But trust me when I say this, Crossfit is not for everyone. In fact, it’s probably for far less people than general training.
  • If you’re an advanced athlete participating in a specific sport, then you want to shock the system. At this point, it’s not even called shocking, but a scientific term called ‘periodization’, a process in which an athlete will make planned changes to their training program to bring out adaptations. In short, periodization can be of different lengths, but advanced athletes will have to manipulate their training variables more often than non-advanced athletes.
  • You may have goals, but if you really have no interest in getting stronger, leaner, or more athletic, then just shock the system. This is usually for people who get ‘bored’. This isn’t a stab at people who don’t take training seriously. Not everyone can walk into the gym and enter the “BLOOD, SWEAT, AND VOMIT” crew. If you get bored and just want to exercise for the sake of sweating and getting healthier, then do something different all the time.

When shouldn’t you shock your system?

  • You have a goal. You want to get stronger, leaner, faster, more athletic. To achieve a goal, you must train with purpose and every exercise, set, and rep should have a rhyme and reason for the most part. If you want to throw in a biceps exercise to get a pump in your arms, feel free.
  • If you’re an advanced athlete participating in a specific sport, then you also want to keep training specific. Being an advanced athlete is like being a double-edged word. You must train with specificity (using exercises and techniques very closely related to your actual sport’s form) but not over-do it.
  • If you’re a novice to intermediate lifter. Seriously, knock it off with the shocking the system. You don’t need the new Workout of the Month from Shape Magazine or Men’s Health if you fall in this camp and have serious goals. You need to attack a good training program will ferocity and drive. If you don’t become better at your current workout, then you’re doing something wrong, because almost all novices will progress on any exercises, for months on end.

No unicorns waiting at the end of your “shock the system” program. Source

As long as you’re progressing on a training program, keep going. Unless you’re an advanced athlete, don’t even worry about getting into the mindset that you constantly need to shock your system. If you’re honestly bored, then do whatever the hell you want. But if you have goals, next time you think you’ve hit a true plateau, ask yourself if you put enough time and effort into your current training program.

Here’s a saying I love and live by:

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. – Bert Lance

As always, your feedback is appreciated.

Live life strong,

David

Aesthetic athletics

What does ‘fit strength’ or ‘aesthetic athletics’ mean?

 

I compete in powerlifting. Not surprisingly, many common folks believe powerlifters are fat, slow, have terrible conditioning, but possess great strength. To a varying degree, this is true. What more, in the past, it was probably even more true. Granted, the greatest powerlifters of all time (Coan, Captain Kirk, Dan Austin, Kuc) had great conditioning. After all, powerlifting competitions can last anywhere from 6-12 hours depending on how many are competing. The problem with the sport was the leverages mattered. Meaning, if you were a lard with a big ass gut, your bench had a shorter range of motion than a leaner person. Some of these tub-o-fats were successful, but most weren’t. But now, even lower caliber powerlifters are becoming better powerlifters because they are focusing on their conditioning more. Yet, you will still see behemoth powerlifters whose bellies are bigger than their bellow.

 

Capt Kirk, before Photoshop was conceived. Courtesy of T-Nation

 

Louis Simmons, founder and owner of Westside Barbell and probably the greatest multi-ply powerlifting coach of all time, is a huge proponent of proper conditioning for his athletes. He believes that conditioning not only improves strength, but also improves recovery because it assists in working neglected muscle groups during powerlifting specific training. I agree. How can I not? This fellow has churned out more 1,000 pound squatters than any other person in history.

 

Though I do not compete geared (single and multi-ply), conditioning strategies are one and the same with raw competitors. And to tell you the truth, I feel that everyone should work on their conditioning. If you have a protruding gut and have a hard time walking up a couple flight of stairs, my finger is pointed at you. If your goal is to be healthy and strong (which it should be), then you want to condition and strengthen at the same time. Certainly, this is relative. If you are an elite powerlifter, then you will need to focus on your actual sport more than conditioning. Likewise, if you are a novice lifter looking to just get into shape, you can get away with conditioning and strength training and see results.

 

In future posts, I will also talk about how you can improve fat-loss results while also improving your conditioning. Don’t expect miracles, though, and don’t expect to become stronger with just conditioning compared to dedicated strength training.

 

My Three P’s: Performance. Progressive. Preventative.

 

Asides from actual state of lifting, you should LOOK like you lift, or at the very least, exercise. All too many times, you have people brag about how they did this or that in the gym yet have nothing on their bodies to show for it. How does someone slave away at the cardio machines and not see any changes? Simple. Their bodies are used to it. Look to perform. 

 

Yet another caveat arises. How do you want to perform? But because my target audience of this blog are those who wish to get healthier, stronger, leaner, and more muscular, I will be talking about gaining muscle, losing fat, and being a general athletic bad ass.

 

Don’t ask how old Mark is. Source

 

 

And this guy. Think he performs? Source.

 

Performance is the name of the game. In order to see results, you MUST perform well. In anything you want to see results in, you MUST perform well. Then, after performing well, you must perform even better than well. But what does performing well mean? Every person has a different definition for each term in fitness and sometimes it drives me nuts. Note, I don’t get upset necessarily, just have an impulse to face palm. Performing well in my book means that you can run, lift, jump, and sprawl on demand and execute activities of daily living (ADL) with the least amount of hassle. In extreme words, you should be in shape enough to fight in a war tomorrow if you got drafted yesterday. Performing well also extends beyond physical capabilities. Are you MENTALLY prepared to perform? Can you handle daily tasks thrown at you that require the use of your brain? Are you challenging your mind with various tasks or are you living a mundane life? Can you shrug off a noisy and ignorant boss who uses people as tools and discards them when they are no longer useful?

 

Progressive is the second name of the game, because in order to perform well, you must progress from not performing well. But here’s the thing, you can perform without progressing beyond a certain point which is a disincentive for betterment . Look at all the people in 30-person, 1-hour group exercise classes. They look and perform the same day-in and day-out. Some have nice bodies, most don’t. Many of them can perform ADLs, so in this regard, they can perform. But put them into a situation where they have to call forth physical and mental fortitude. Many of them will crumble underneath the weight of the task. EVERY single HEALTHY person should be able to squat with an appreciable external weight (half of their bodyweight), do a single chin-up, jump up a 2-foot box, sprint, crawl, and do a few push-ups. These same people who are doing 1-hour of push-ups can’t do a single GOOD push-up if their lives depended on it. These people need to get with the program and progress.

 

Most group exercise classes suck. Source

 

Preventative. “Let food by thy medicine and medicine by thy food”, said the famous Hippocrates. Prevention is the third point on my P-triangle. To prevent is to prevent injuries, prevent disease, and prevent weakness from emerging. Of course, you can’t prevent any of these with absolute certainty, but the key here is to reduce the risk. Lifting reduces the risk of injuries, diseases, and both physical and mental weakness. Eating well does the same. Not surprisingly, certain foods increase the risk of injury. I will delve into this more in the future, but some foods cause inflammation which then increase the risk of injury.

 

Does having the ability to lift heavy things make you more confident? Does it improve your physical and mental conditioning? Do you see lifting a certain amount of weight a goal or would you rather be stuck lifting 2# pink dumbbells in a group exercise class?

 

Drop a line.

 

SBL,

David