Category: Strength Training

Bulky from Weights?

This is a recurring topic where women express concern in regards to getting all swole and bulky from lifting weights. Let’s see if I can put some of these concerns to rest for you as I am a strong proponent of women getting into strength training. There are many benefits for you to gain by strength training such as the obvious with a more toned body, but more importantly you will gain not only physical strength, you will get stronger mentally, you will become more confident in your abilities with all of lifes endeavors.

Another important aspect is resistance training how it is good for increasing the strength of your bones. Ladies, chances are pretty good that if you live long enough, you may become afflicted with osteoporosis. Strength training with a proper diet will help to prevent this or at least mitigate the severity. The human skeletal system reaches peak bone mass by the age of 30 years old. Even though our bodies have quit growing in stature, our bones are still building in mass. After we turn 30, whether we are male or female, it is imperative that we protect our skeletal system by strengthening it through resistance training and ensuring we consume sufficient quantities of Vitamin D and calcium. When there is low amounts of calcium in our blood, hormones and Vitamin D call on the inner trabecular bone matter which is akin to a lacy network of calcium crystals that are almost sponge like in appearance, to release calcium into the blood for use in the rest of the body. Over time, this lacy network becomes less dense and fragile as calcium is depleted. Since our bone mass is at peak level at 30 years old, think of this like money in an account where you need to protect the account and not make any withdrawals unless you absolutely have to.

Next, as a female of any age or physical condition, your body does not produce testosterone which will promote building huge mucle mass. If you bulk from lifting it will never be accidental and will definitely be on purpose through a tremendous amount of work and muscle building supplements of either legal or illegal types, such as steroids. Truth be told, most men do not bulk up easy with lean muscle mass either. Most men who get bulked fairly rapidly actually are carrying more body fat than they might realize or want to admit.

Everyone, male or female has a genetic potential, or rather a limit of how much lean muscle mass they can naturally put onto their bodies by 100% natural means. That potential is all in the size of your bone structure. The bigger your structure, the more muscle you can pack on through, again, very hard work. For instance an accurate way to calculate your maximum biceps size, excluding fat is through a simple measurement. Measure your wrist and then add 10 inches to that measurement. Male or female, this will give you a pretty accurate expectation of how big you can grow your biceps through lean muscle growth. You measure at your wrist because that is the part of your body where you have the least muscle and fat to indicate your bone structure. If your biceps gets bigger than this potential, it is either because of body fat which we hope you are losing, or drugs.

If you do not want to bulk, you also need to know the variable aspects of different lifting methods. Light weight, high reps as opposed to heavier weights low repetitions. Ladies, if you are concerned about bulking, the last thing you want to do is to lift with light weight and high reps even though this is likely to be your first instinct to try. In the short term you might like the toned look you are getting, especially while cutting body fat. But, in the long term, light weight high reps will give you some of the bulk you may not desire. This is because when you do those high repetitions you are promoting sarcoplasmic hypertrophy which does gets you all “swole”. High rep sets pump your muscles full of blood which causes microscopic tears of the muscle tissue. This action causes your muscles to retain sarcoplasmic fluid which results in bulk over time. The good thing, if this is not desirable, the swole will disappear with the dissipation of the sarcoplasmic fluid. Remember too, it takes on average 4 to 5 years of serious weight training to reach your genetic potential, if even then. It will not happen over night. You never know, but during that time you might decide you like being more muscular.

My personal choice in weight training is power lifting where I use higher weights and less reps in order to achieve maximum strength over aesthetics. With this style of lifting you can get huge as I did. I was 250 lbs at my heaviest and strongest. I only stand 5′ 7″. But, the thing is, I was intentionally eating 6000 calories a day to fuel my lifting, and I was also carrying too much body fat despite the amount of training I was doing each day. I was lifting competitively and ate like a horse to fuel my workouts. The other reason I ate a ton of food to drive maximum strength is because I was a Correctional Officer in a pretty hard core prison. Which is really not a environment for small weak people. The inmates will eat you up if you appear weak. Now that I am no longer in that environment, I have taken off 70 pounds and still lift pretty heavy weights for my body weight and age. I still do heavy weights at low reps and in no way am I any way bulky.

Ladies, if you want to strength train, I highly recommend you do compound lifts where you work multiple muscle groups with each lift and begin at light weights, lighter than you feel necessary, in order to master the movements and form. There is no call to be intimidated by barbell training and I assure you, you are not going to look like a male bodybuilder.

Wastes of Time in the Gym

Like many people, in the past I have dicked around with weight training without the understanding that there was a tremendous amount of knowledge that I did not know that I did not know. Hell, none of it really seems to be rocket science, what could there possibly be about picking up and setting down heavy weights which is not obvious. Pick up the weight, and set it down numerous times until you know you are going to be sore the next day, right? This is wrong on many levels yet far too many people assume weight training is really just that basic. Hell, if that dumbass meathead jock can get big and strong, surely I can too.

In my years of experience training under the iron, there are a few things I have learned. Most people who fail at weight training, those who begin really hard and then fade away when their process becomes a grind, do so because of their lack of knowledge, their complete lack of understanding anything about progressive overload, nutrition and rest. You can get away for a short period of time jacking around with different lifts and no set programming where there is measurable progress, and actually get stronger than you were the day you began. Yet, those newbie gains will not last long if you do not understand programming in the realm of strength training. In full transparency, I am included in this group of people who did not have the slightest clue. I have learned many lessons with the iron the hard way until the day I decided several years ago that I was going to be truly serious about my training. I knew that if I were to be serious about making gains under the barbell, I had better recognize that I was actually ignorant of the best approach. And this was despite many years of experience in military physical fitness programs. I had no clue and what I needed was to begin studying those who were noted professionals in strength training. I would no longer listen to my fellow gym rats or believe everything I read in the muscle magazines where you are almost always guaranteed 20 pounds of muscle growth if only you do their programs to the letter, by the way, this never happens for anyone. I did my due diligence in searching out professionals I could learn from and soon found Coach Mark Rippetoe, owner of Wichita Falls Athletic Club, and who is one of the leading powerlifting coaches in the USA. Through Coach Rippetoe I learned about programming, physiology and the important role of rest and nutrition for serious lifters. I also study many other coaches such as Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell, Glen Pendlay, Steve Shaw, Jeff Cavalier and others including Bill Starr. The good thing about each of these coaches is in that they all still use old school methods for increasing the strength of their trainees. Always remember that no matter the bright shiny new machines in your gym, the best laid programs for building muscle and strength all go back to the old school ways of progressive overload in a linear progression.

I had a muse to write an article on wastes of time in the gym and as always, when researching to ensure I am correct in what I write, I came across this article by Coach Rippetoe and felt I would share his words to others. The article was similar to my muse, but Coach lays it out better than I can.

Coach Mark Rippetoe

Time is money. Money is scarce these days, everywhere but DC. You want to be stronger, so you go to the gym. The best use of your time there is the simple progressive barbell training program we have discussed before, one that drives an upward strength adaptation with a programmed increase in load over a full range of motion using as much of your muscle mass as possible. This approach allows you to lift a gradually increasing amount of weight, thus making you stronger. Stronger means only one thing: you can apply more force with your muscles. The process of getting stronger improves the capacity of every aspect of your physical existence. So, getting stronger in the gym is the best reason to go there.

But it is incredibly easy to waste precious time once you’re inside. Here are the top three:

Stretching

Long regarded as the first thing you should always do inside the gym, stretching – for most people, and by “most” I mean you, probably – is not only unnecessary, it may be counterproductive.

What a way to start an essay, eh? The most fashionable aspect of modern fitness is the newly-rechristened “mobility.” Same thing as “flexibility,” except that it sounds more Californian. And here I go again, pooping on the most popular thing in the gym. It is a part of every trendy approach to fitness in existence, from CrossFit and “functional training” to Pilates and yoga. In fact, Pilates and yoga are mobility/flexibility/stretching, and that’s about all.

It has been assumed by almost everybody for the past 40 years that every workout should begin with the physical preparation known as “stretching.” Stretching is an attempt to increase the range of motion (ROM) around a joint, like the knee, hip, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or around a group of joints like the spinal column. The common method is to force the joint into a position of tolerable discomfort and hold it there for a while, thus hopefully increasing the ROM.

More recent approaches to increased flexibility have used techniques that affect the muscles themselves, which actually control the ROM around the joints. Massage, Active Release Therapy, “foam rolling,” and other techniques applied to the muscle bellies themselves are much more effective for increasing a tight ROM than stretching. The Hip Bone’s Connected to the … Thigh Bone, the Thigh Bone’s Connected to the … Knee Bone, etc. So stretching is really all about the muscles anyway. Every operating room professional knows the truth here: perfect “mobility” is obtained only under general anesthesia.

The assumption is always that your current ROM needs to be increased. Here are some Facts, cheerfully provided without citations, so that you can look them up if you want to:

1. Hypermobility is a medical condition – a “Pathology,” in fact – that often involves defects in the proteins that form the ligaments, the connective tissues that connect the bones to each other at the joints. The problem with being too flexible is that it results in unstable joints, which can assume positions they are not anatomically designed to occupy. A subsequently injured joint is not healthy: it is injured. This is not good. And here you are, trying to become hypermobile.

2. Tendons and ligaments do not “stretch out.”You cannot make them longer, and it would not improve their function if you could. Their function is to transmit force, like a chain or a cable; in the case of tendons, which connect muscles to bones, the force of muscular contraction is transmitted to the bone it’s attached to, thus moving the bone. Tendons are indeed elastic, in that a sudden dynamic load causes a very small temporary change in length and a subsequent rebound, seen typically in the Achilles tendon complex. But during normal muscle contraction, if the tendon changed its length not all of the force would move the bone – some would be lost as the tendon stretched. Just like a short piece of chain, a tendon pulls the bone with all the force of the contracting muscle because it does not stretch during the contraction.

Ligaments behave likewise. They anchor the joint as it moves, so that the bones which articulate at the joint change their relationship only with respect to their angle. This allows the joint to serve as a fulcrum in a system of levers. When ligaments move enough to allow the joint to change from its normal inter-articular arrangement, it is said to be “dislocated.” You’ve heard of that, right? When tendons and ligaments are stretched excessively, they rupture.

Most importantly, you cannot change the length of either a tendon or a ligament with stretching of any type, massage of any type, or therapy of any type. And why would you want to? Tendons and ligaments are force transmission components. They are very verytough, and they cannot be permanently lengthened by non-invasive means. The only connective tissues that you can affect with stretching are the fascias, the thin “silverskin” that covers the muscle bellies. If they become a problem, usually caused by tiny scars called “adhesions” that form between them and their underlying muscle or between adjacent fascias, they can be stretched with the previously-mentioned forms of therapy.

3. Since neither ligaments or tendons are designed to stretch, an increase in flexibility primarily involves the muscles that control the position of the skeletal components they operate. Sometimes, but not that often, the muscles behave in a way that requires you to teach them to lengthen more readily. And the best way to do this is with the aforementioned Full Range of Motion Barbell Exercise. Since full ROM is, by definition, all you need to do, anything beyond that is either a simple waste of time, or a counterproductive waste of time.

4. Stretching does nothing to a.) prevent soreness, b.) alleviate soreness, c.) or improve strength or any other measure of fitness. In fact, the vast majority of the studies done on stretching not only support this summary, but also indicate that stretching prior to either training or performance produces a significant decrease in power production. That’s right: tighter muscles can contract harder and faster, and this has an obvious application in performance athletics.

The upshot is this: if you are already flexible (okay, “mobile”) enough to operate efficiently within the ROM of your required training and performance movements, you are flexible enough (your “mobility” is sufficient). And you don’t need to stretch. If you want to, go ahead and enjoy yourself, but you are not using your time wisely.

Warmup

After you stretch, you’re supposed to “warm up,” right? Warmup is an important part of the preparation for a workout, if its function is properly understood and its role in the process is correctly facilitated. But for most people, unless it’s cold – and I mean cold, where the temperature is low where you’re training – your warmup is probably excessive, and you’re wasting time doing it.

The pre-workout warmup serves two purposes. First, it prepares the tissues for the work. “Warm” is a specific term: it refers to the temperature of something, a measure of the thermal energy in a system. In this case, it’s you. If it’s cold where you’re training, then you’re probably cold too, and you will need to devote enough time to some general movement to elevate the temperature of the tissues – the muscles and joints you’re going to use in the workout. A stationary bike, rower, treadmill, or a short run around the building or the block can do the trick.

This is not always necessary, because sometimes you’re already warm. If your workout is being done in August in North Texas in an un-air-conditioned building, or anywhere in Houston ten months of the year (it is effectively impossible to air-condition a building in Houston), you’re already warm. If you’re already warm, this aspect of the warmup has been conveniently taken care of already.

If not, the question becomes, how long do I need to spend getting warm? The answer is, probably not as long as you think. Most people can spend 2-3 minutes on a rower or stationary bike and get warm enough to train. If you’re spending 20 minutes doing any repetitive movement before you get under the bar, you’re spending about 2 minutes warming up and 18 minutes wasting time, as well as energy that could be more productively used to lift weights and get stronger. Strength training and conditioning are two completely separate activities, and they must be kept separate if either is to improve effectively.

The second function of warmup is to prepare the movement pattern you are about to perform. Barbell training is movement pattern training – it is not about the constituent muscle groups that cause the movement to occur, it is about the movement pattern itself. When we squat, we don’t “do quads,” we just squat, and quads get done, along with everything else below the bar on the shoulders. The emphasis in the squat is the correct execution of the movement pattern with an increasingly heavy weight, and this requires that the movement pattern be practiced before it is loaded to a heavier-than-the-last-workout weight.

Warmup is this practice, and it is obviously best done as the weight increases. Start with the empty bar, do a few sets with it, add weight gradually, doing fewer reps as you approach your new heavier weight, taking as much time as you need between sets to rest from the previous set, and you have effectively prepared the movement pattern. You have prepared the muscles – they are now “warmer” – as well as the nervous system that controls the muscles, for the movement you are about to execute with the new heavier weight.

Most importantly, the preparation has incorporated everything it needs to include for an effective execution of the work to be done without getting fatigued. The purpose of warmup is to prepare, and it is valuable because it gets you ready to improve. But the warmup itself does not produce improvement. If it also produces fatigue, then its purpose has been compromised. If the warmup is excessive, you are not only wasting time, you are subtracting from your work capacity.

Failure to Progress

Throughout my career in the fitness industry, I have heard the following phrase repeated ad infinitum, ad nauseum: “I think I’ll just stop here at 90 pounds until it gets easier, and then go up.” This excuse – and that’s precisely what it is, a lame-ass excuse to not do something perceived as harder – has wasted more time after stretching and warmup than any other single lame-ass excuse ever uttered in the gym.

People: 90 will be easy when 135 is hard, and not before then. The way you get from 90 to 135 is to do 95, 100, 105, 110, 115, 120, 125, 130, and 135, adding 5 pounds per workout. The process of going from 90 to 135 is training, and staying at 90 is not training. It is merely fooling around in the gym. You have to understand that if you cannot make yourself load 95 next time and move it in the required manner, you are not going to get stronger. And if you don’t get stronger than 90, 90 won’t ever be easier. Ever. Why would it be? How would it get that way? Why should it?

Stronger is simple: stronger means you’re moving heavier weight. When your training has taken you to 135, 90 will be perceived as easy, and this process requires that you gradually make the adaptation occur. Five pounds is pretty gradual, but in your particular circumstances 1 or 2 pounds might be necessary. Whatever the increments you find necessary, they must be added on a regular basis, and for 99% of you this means every single workout. If you don’t go up, you won’t get stronger. And on a strength program, if you’re not getting stronger you’re wasting time.

So, let’s stop being less-than-productive and learn to embrace efficiency and brevity. If you don’t need to stretch, don’t stretch. It doesn’t accomplish anything and it wastes time. If you don’t need to get warmer than you already are, just do the part of the warmup that actually accomplishes something – the part that you were going to do anyway, under the bar, the part that makes the heavier weight you’re using today possible. The heavier weight is the part you want anyway, the aspect of the workout that makes it training, and all the stretching and warmup in the whole entire Universe cannot accomplish what that 5 extra pounds can do over time.

A version of this article appeared in PJ Media October 30, 2014.

“Strengthened”

We have all heard of Grace. It is the room to fail. In a recent conversation about failing a rep in lifting, we discussed the fact that an unplanned fail, one that just occurs because you give it your best effort and still can’t quite pull it out, still makes us stronger. We have been pushed to our limit and our spirit and body has been strengthened. Don’t give up on yourself when, not if, you fail. Get up. Do it again. Get stronger and repeat. That’s the way it’s done. Nobody is always successful. Never plan to fail but when you do, just know that you used strength in that fail, right up to the last moment. You grew some. Don’t quit. You are a chosen vessel and your best will be very good. Be strengthened in your spirit and body today. Don’t ever give up. There are great things just ahead. ;-*

Iron Maiden (part II) Evolution

Photo by Logan Weaver on Unsplash

The changes that the Iron has brought to me are expansive. I’m not sure that words can easily convey this transformation but since this is my medium of expression right now, I will try.

I had never put any kind of large mechanical piece of equipment together before but when my rack and bench came through the mail, I learned. It only took about an hour but it had to be stable so the first chance that I had, I asked the maintenance man of my leased house to tighten my rack. He did and it made it much more stable. Watching him I learned what I need to do if I need to do it again. The bench could use a little tightening. But now, it’s my job. The iron teaches independence.

In the first week I noticed an air of independence forming. I needed equipment and I was a stay-at-home mom without a personal income. I did have access to joint funds but had to explain a lot about expenditures. There was no question about whether or not I would buy what I needed, only when? I made an executive decision and bought my barbell and weights and I have never looked back. As a result of the strengthening of character, I was able to leave an abusive relationship. The Iron became my standard for everything and I desired the strength hidden deep inside those cold gray slabs of measurement.

As I began to commit my time, prioritizing began to be real in my life. I had never been very good at assigning a time value to anything, but my intense desire to have what was hidden inside the Iron, gave me new skills quickly. I simply left other things and walked into my dungeon and submitted myself to the bar. I was learning humility and respect. The Iron demands both. It can break you in a split second, literally. I had no intention of being that kind of broken, so priority took first place in my thoughts.

As my strength increased, I no longer needed the approval of the general population. All neediness that I might have had was falling away and I was becoming #formidable. I felt good. Everywhere I went my strength became apparent sooner or later. There were only two schools of thought on that subject, those who had this same swagger and those who didn’t. My personality began to change and I realized that I would never face anything any harder than rising from a deep squat. The same determination was required to overcome anything that life brings to us. In the moments that I push myself up, I think about the fact that this is as hard as it gets. I’ve had some difficult situations but the effort required to get through them was less than the effort that it takes to stand up out of the squat. I apply this way of thinking to everything and when I’m faced with “hard”, I know that there is a way up and out of that hole.

In my former job as a Receptionist, I was often asked to do the heavy jobs. To begin with people didn’t feel good about asking and then they realized that those jobs made me feel good about myself and they were quicker to ask and now, I have a very physical job. It requires strength and confidence. There is no room for error concerning my strength. I must be able to lift what I set out to lift with confidence because sometimes it is a person. I am a nurse. Quiet often, people are shocked to see how strong I am and it gives me something to talk about. I have a few folks who ask me a lot of questions and I’m more than happy to discuss David’s Way. It has not made a difference in my life, it has given me a new life. I’ll never turn back.

I walk alone at night sometimes. I wrestle a high spirited Lab mix dog. I carry large bags of dogfood. I carry a carpet steamer. I never wait for, or look for help with these jobs. I moved trees out of the road with my hands after the tornadoes. I always assume that I can do it and since most of this battle is won in the mind, I almost always do.

As I move through my days, I have a calm center where a whirlwind of chaos once ensued. I move differently. I look different. I am different. My body is much more defined. My posture is different. I have deltoids. I’ve always wanted deltoids. They make me look like I’m wearing armor and guess what…I am. It’s the confidence and the strength to live, to just go forth and conquer.

Always, always find a way to be strong. I believe that strength training for women is necessary. I believe that you can’t weight train and be a victim. Things can still happen, but your response to these potentially life altering events will most likely be very different. Always a Victor, Never a Victim. Rock on and move those mountains! :-*

Iron Maiden

I am writing about my Journey into the Iron. I will also write a second part to “Iron Maiden” that will elaborate on the multitude of changes that the Iron has wrought in my life.

I had always been drawn to the Iron. I had no idea about the vast changes it would bring but I was drawn, or maybe it was drawn to me, like light is drawn to darkness…flooding in, changing the very nature of that darkness into something totally different…Light…permeating every corner, every nook and cranny until all that remains is Light.

I had followed David for five months when I began to know that I had to fix my life. David is the happiest person that I know and he has encountered great pain and hardship. While I had my share of problems, they paled in comparison to many things that he has lived. I fiercely fought to discover the source of his strength. I knew that he was a strength trainer but little did I know, that this lifestyle was one of the sources of the qualities that I admired, and so desperately desired.

I asked his advice and he told me to get a kettlebell. I got a great one from Dick’s that would hold 50#. I downloaded an app and began swinging that bell! It worked me pretty hard. A kettlebell is a good workout, especially if you’re new to strength training. I carved out niches of time in an impossible schedule and never missed my workout. I worked hard and David advised me concerning form and intensity. I was beginning to see results when I asked David if there was anything more that I could do, maybe get a barbell? As soon as I asked, BAM! He asked if I was serious. I knew that I’d better be at this point. While he is very kind, he had told me when I first began training that I had to train hard and do my best or he wouldn’t fool with me. It’s serious business for him. He doesn’t have time to waste.

I went to Dick’s, again, and bought a 135# weight set complete with barbell. As soon as I told David, he told me that soon I would have to buy more weight. I believed him in spite of my weak 35# squat at that time.

I was doing the “Starting Strength” program three times per week. I didn’t have a squat rack yet and I was stacking totes to support my barbell. One night while I was tearing that down moving to a floor press because I didn’t have a bench either, my phone announced “Seek shelter immediately!”. Mind you that this was not a weather app. The best I can ascertain is that it was google. The local weather station that hosted my app was on television saying that there was nothing on the radar of concern. I stopped tearing down my “rack” and went upstairs from my dungeon. Everyone upstairs said that everything was okay. My phone said it again, “Seek shelter immediately!”. I hustled my son and my dogs into a makeshift storm shelter underneath the stairs in the dungeon and we huddled there in the semi-darkness as three tornadoes destroyed our house around us. We heard each hit. We heard the metal twisting off of the roof. We knew that our lives would never be the same again as we sat stunned, praying through the few minutes that seemed like a lifetime.

As soon as we were relocated to a motel from the wreckage that was once our home, I returned to ground zero to retrieve one thing, my Iron. It was all there. I loaded it into my car as a family member tried to take it to another location “for a while”. Know this. When you begin to get strong, there are people who won’t like it. You will be harder to manipulate because as the Iron changes your outside, greater changes are taking place inside your heart and mind. David had told me that this would happen but until you experience the validation of the Iron, there is no way that anyone can fully clarify this to you. You are vindicated. You are affirmed. You are made whole within yourself, knowing your strength, knowing your weaknesses and no person can alter what you know to be true. The Iron Never Lies, (Henry Rollins). The Iron has become your measure, your scale, your only resistance.

I continued my training for weeks in the motel room, again stacking totes to make a rack, floor pressing because I had no bench. When we moved into a leased house I bought a rack and a bench and set it up in the middle of my living room, yes I did! This is the focus of my life, so much more important than almost anything else because without it I will be weak and unfocused and ineffective in all other areas. It deserved center stage in my home. I gradually built that weak 35# squat to about 115# in that living room and suddenly my form began to deteriorate. My legs began to shake. I began losing depth. I was bending way too far forward.

David told me that I needed to be on a hard floor instead of the carpet in my living room so I moved into my basement, my dungeon, onto concrete. Still, I was wobbly. David reduced my weight. I was really bothered by this change in my strength and always more than willing to comply with what my trainer said. He told me to get training shoes. I did. He had told me that before but I dawdled. Things were getting better but I was still shallow. Right after I moved into this lease house, David had me to build some sawhorse supports for my squat. I had never built anything! I went to Lowe’s and had lumber cut, bought nails and went at it. The sawhorses would take the Iron if I ever had to get out from under it, to “bail”. I had to bail a couple of times. I knew that the sawhorses would take the weight but they were weakened by the times that I had to use them and David had me rebuild them so that I would feel more secure in my squat. We both believed that some of the problems that I was having were caused from a mental block caused by fear of the Iron. I had to overcome fear in the beginning and after feeling the weight of 115# hoisted on my back, pushing me into the ground, knowing that I might have to bail, I really needed to be able to trust those horses!

About that time David noticed that my feet were not angled properly during my squat. He had instructed me on how to stand but since we work by video, my feet are not always obvious. He told me to angle my feet, again. All of a sudden, the trust in my horses, the hard floor, my Niki Trainers and that beautiful angle on my feet changed everything! I quit shaking. I was regaining stability! But…during all of this I had lost my depth. David changed my program to Mad Cow and oh boy! My depth returned.

About this time, I maxed out my weight set at a 135# deadlift and had to buy more weight! The day that I bought the set, David told me that I would have to buy more weight in the not too distant future. It seemed surreal but he is always right. I never doubted him. The day that I walked into Dick’s and bought those extra plates was one of the happiest days of my life.

The Iron teaches compliance. The Iron teaches loyalty. It teaches diligence and dedication. It gives me a confidence that is unparalleled as I move through my days. It has been quite an adventure becoming one with the Iron and I will never go back. It is my greatest natural asset and the only standard by which I measure myself because as Henry Rollins so eloquently stated, “200# will always be 200#”. If you would like to understand the heart of power lifting, I encourage you to read this essay, “Iron and The Soul” by Henry Rollins. David had me do that a long time ago. It will teach you. ;-*

Why I Dead Lift

So far today I have consumed 27 Smart Points for 1933.4 calories, 69.5g fat, 144.3g carbs and 194.3g of protein and I am stuffed to the gills. The problem is I need 567 more calories to make 2500 which will fuel through a big dead lifting session tomorrow. Dead lifting will fucking wreck you if you are lifting heavy and for a high volume session such as I do on Sheiko No. 37 Power Lifting.

The dead lift is my favorite of all. It is the only lift you can not cheat. You can not half rep it, you can not use any other body momentum to get the lift done. Either the barbell comes off the floor or it does not. Simple as that. The dead lift can be performed by anyone without a physical limitation to keep them from doing it, yet it is not a lift for pussies. Yet you will still see some supposed lifters in the gym avoid deads at all costs.

The dead lift gives the best results for over all functional strength you can achieve. You can do barbell curls all day and not get anywhere close to the results you will get from dead lifting. Deads are going to work your entire body. Ladies, if you want a nice derriere, deads will do it for you as nothing targets the rear as good. You will get strong glutes with this particular lift which means a nice shape to your ass.

Dead lifts work your entire posterior chain from your toes to your neck. They will work your traps and make your shoulders and neck more resistant to injury. They cause your body to release a large amount of fat burning hormones and will give you a strong back and a solid and strong core. In fact, if you do deads often enough, you will never need do another sit up or crunch again. If I had my choice of only two lifts that I could do for the rest of my life, Dead Lifts and Squats would b y choice. If I had to choose one from these two, it would be deads. A dead lift is a compound lift that will effect your entire body. If you get strong at this lift, your entire body will reflect that. Where as a million curls or any other isolation exercise will only leave you with that one muscle pumped up. Which will leave you with a muscular imbalance that is not good for strength but will make you look imbalanced as well.

The Iron Never Lies

This evening I kicked my own ass at the gym with tons of squatting, the king of all exercises. Why is the Squat King? Because it stresses the entire body when you place a barbell on your back and perform a full range of motion repetition. That stress will promote muscular growth and strength through the entire body as well it will burn tons of calories during a good squatting session. Squatting is even better for your core strength than any abdominal isolation exercise such as sit ups, crunches or leg lifts.

Currently I am running Sheiko No. 37 power lifting program which concentrates on squats, bench press and dead lifts as the main focus of each session. It is a most excellent intermediate level lifters program for competitive power lifting meets. It is quite the high volume program where the weights you utilize are based on percentages of your one rep maximum for each featured lift. The percentages may seem low when you are only at fifty to seventy percent of your one rep maximum, but, the volume of each session is guaranteed to wear your ass out. If you can easily complete a full session on any phase of Sheiko training protocols, you need to raise your working max.

Tonight’s session after a good warm up was;

10 sets of squats at 230 pounds,

9 sets of bench press at 170 pounds,

5 sets of dumbbell flyes using 35 pound dumbbells

50 Push ups

7 more sets of squats at 200 pounds

30 reverse hyper extensions followed by a 2.25 mile jog on a treadmill.

For new strength trainees who have very little to no experience in the realm of weight training, I advocate basic barbell training beginning with an empty barbell and adding small amounts of weight each session. I am not a fan of using machines, but for some folks it is a good thing to get somewhat familiar with their capabilities. I am not a fan of most machine type weights because they take out the use of stabilizer muscles and do not always allow you to have a natural range of motion during each repetition.

If you want to know why most people fail at lifting weights after a short period of time, it is because most do not have any idea what they are doing when beginning a strength training regimen. I see this all the time, where people think they know what it is they want to achieve, but lack the knowledge to properly execute a solid plan to meet their goals. Usually that goal is “I want to tone”. Let me tell you something cupcake, toning is a pretty broad and meaningless term. You see the person who says “I want to tone my arms” and they proceed to do a thousand variations of a curl which does jack squat fucking nothing in the realm of being any kind of useful to your body as a whole.

Newbies in general fuck up with this whole toning thing where they begin trying to do lifts that isolate specific muscles in a body building style while having no understanding about the strength and muscular imbalances they are causing to themselves. If all you are doing is a bunch of curls to tone your arms, you are going to end up with arms looking about as good as a soup sandwich,as the biceps is only one third of your muscle mass on your upper arm while the triceps comprises two thirds of the actual mass. If you want a toned arm, you need to be working both areas. But, still as a newbie, this is not a good approach to toning or getting stronger. And, why would anyone want their arms to be the only body part toned while neglecting the rest of their body except for maybe their legs. It makes no sense to me.

I’m going to get real here, if you want to tone your body with strength training and you have no clue on the best way to do it, do not try your hand at trying to do body building routines which you have no true working knowledge. As a new strength trainee who wants a better looking body you need to learn how to squat, dead lift, bench press, over head press and bent over barbell rows only. And you need to learn these lifts and only do each lift in three sets of five repetitions after two warm up sets. Begin with an empty barbell and add weight in five pound increments each time you lift which should only be three and no more than four sessions per week. You have to understand that more important than adding weight at first when the barbell may feel too light, your first focus needs to be on learning proper form with each specific movement.

This approach to lifting for a new trainee is the smartest approach you can take and for the newbie is far superior to any body building program. If you are currently doing random body building lifts, you are wasting your time and efforts. Even if you are seeing a few positive results at first, you will likely not have any longevity with that newfound success. Know also, that all good body building programs need to have those core lifts I gave above as an integral part of each and every session.

Back to the five lifts I said you need to learn and do, here is why; These lifts are compound lifts that target multiple muscle groups at the same time. If you squat every session, bench and row on one and dead lift and over head press on the next, you are working your entire body. This kind of lifting will give your body a well toned and balanced appearance where as if you do not understand isolation lifts used n body building, you will end up with muscular and strength imbalances which can actually be harmful down the road. You do not want a pulling muscle to be significantly stronger than a pulling muscle on the same body part. This can cause injury. These lifts should be separated into a A and B session. A session would be squats, bench press and bent over rows. B session would be squats, dead lift and over head press. Simply repeat each session one after the other three days a week. IE. week one is A,BA, week two is B,A,B. Three sets of five reps after two warm up sets. In full transparency this is a method advocated by Coach Mark Rippetoe, owner of Wichita Falls Athletic Club and not one of my own creations. I advocate this program as it is the best I have ever encountered. It is the Starting Strength method. You can read more about this on StartingStrength.com.

Another superior aspect of this style of lifting is it will raise your heart rate and is also a good source of cardiovascular conditioning. It will burn more of your body fat than random body building exercises which will give you not only a toned look, but will also make you look as strong as you can expect to become.

For readers of Connect social media, some of you may see some guys who do massive amounts of body building stuff who look really fit and strong. These folks have found something that works for them quite well, but you need to know what you are doing before trying to emulate them. It’s not just about strength and muscular imbalances, you also need to know to make the most effective use of your time in the gym. You can make good gains for a while in your newbie phase of lifting, but after time you will stall and burn out. For these routines to do you justice, you have to be willing and able to put in the hours of lifting to target all of your muscles. Compound lifts target the same muscles at once and is a more efficient use of your valuable time. The next thing you have to understand is that for the absolute majority of lifters, proper rest and nutrition are equally important to a lifting program as the actual weight lifting. Let one of these areas suffer and you will stall out quickly. You will also have to be more strict with your dieting as if you do not want to lift for more than about an hour, you are not going to burn as much fat doing isolation lifts as opposed to doing compound lifts. The last thing is a lot of ladies will always say they want to tone and not bulk. If you follow some of the folks doing body building routines and try to emulate what they do, know that you are going to bulk a lot more with sets of ten to twelve reps more than you are going to with sets of five repetitions. High reps sets drive sarcoplasmic hypertrophy which is what gives you bulk, where as sets of five repetitions drive myofibrillar hypertrophy which is what gives you strength without getting bulky. Of course, ladies do not really need to worry much about bulk as your bodies do not produce testosterone at levels which would cause you to get huge.

Lastly, if you are interested in strength training as a newbie in order to tone your body, none of this is rocket science. However, it requires an intelligent and well thought out plan for you to have success and not stall out and fail early on. If you think that you can just copy what someone else is doing, you could find yourself trying to copy an experienced lifter who has built a far great level of stamina than you currently have. You also could find yourself following a blooming idiot who has found a level of success despite him or herself.