Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Being A Purist Won't Make You Stronger

I would like to preface this article by stating that I don't like to write out long rants that often, unless I am repeatedly bombarded by a topic that just won't seem to go away. Today, that topic is going to be related to "purists" in strength sports.

Webster's Dictionary defines a purist as "a person who has very strong ideas about what is correct or acceptable and who usually opposes changes to traditional methods and practices." Thank you Webster, I could not have come up with a better definition of a purist myself. A purist is easy to spot, whether it is online, or in person: picture someone with their arms crossed, a sour look on their face, and are usually whispering little drops of inadequacy to whomever is lucky enough to stand next to them in the gym or at a competition. 

In strength sports, a purist is usually someone who can be found deriding the accomplishments of others, mainly due to training gear the other person uses, a stance that they or comfortable with, and sometimes, even the use of chalk (I can't make this stuff up). In the mind of a purist, no lift is considered acceptable unless it is completed under the personal rules of the purist. For example, I recently posted a video of Pat Mendes squatting 800lbs using an Olympic-style squat, no spotters, no belt, and he walked it out of the rack. 

Now, I personally think this is one of the most impressive squats of all time, the speed and depth of it combined with the weight makes it a squat that will not be easily accomplished by anyone else. And like clockwork, the purists had to come out of the woodwork to point out that it wasn't really a "raw" squat because he is wearing rehband knee sleeves. Did you notice that I wrote SLEEVES and not WRAPS? That's right, he used knee sleeves, which add a whopping infinitesimal amount of weight to a lift, especially in the 800lb range. I wish we all had 3-D printers, so I could send over a blueprint of my open palm to this purist so he could slap himself with it.

The problem with a purist's mentality, in my opinion, is that they like to claim that they are "the most raw" of all lifters as an excuse for them not being able to lift as much weight. This is also why they need to constantly make more and more new federations in Powerlifting, to accommodate their idea of "real lifting", instead of just lifting in the multitude of federations that are already in existence.

Powerlifting is not alone with it's prevalence of purists, however, they are present in Crossfit, Olympic Weightlifting, and even Strongman, though not as much in the latter. In Crossfit, as we have discussed in previous articles, their idea of purity is a nasty leftover from this idea of "functional training", "training like a caveman", etc... (Don't even get me started on the Primal crowd). Unfortunately, there are so many inconsistencies with their thinking that they can't even be taken seriously. Yes, we were all in fact born naked, with no clothes on our bodies, no wrist wraps, and no lifting shoes on our feet. Does this mean that this is how we should approach a lifting sport? No! It is a SPORT, there are tools you utilize in sports if you want to be a winner. Would you expect a football player to play four rounds of football with no cleats on, because it is more "Primal"? Not unless you want him to make an ass out of himself. If you participate in a sport that has parameters of what is allowed and what is not allowed, you better do every possible thing that is allowed in the sport if you want to win.

There are some folks who like to post videos of athletes training out in the dirt, using makeshift equipment from rocks, or other random farm equipment and say "see! You don't need fancy equipment to work out." Yes that's true, but there is a marked difference between training to win, and working out. When was the last time you saw someone who throws around boulders in a cornfield while wearing Vibrams as their main mode of training win anything noteworthy?

Constantly using the logical fallacy of Appeal to Antiquity, some lifters like to talk about how lifters "these days" have forgotten all the strength secrets of the old guys, and we need to get back to that, away from all of our fancy machines and tools. Guess what: How many numbers from the old days can even compare to the numbers that people put up now? With or without steroids, there is no comparison. People stopped training with the old ways for a reason: The newer ways gave them better results and made them stronger! The reason people mostly gave up using kettlebells is because a barbell and dumbbells are superior in almost every way. Yes, there are some random things you can do with a kettlebell to build hip strength, but a kettlebell was a cheaply made and easily mass-produced piece of equipment that was abandoned as soon as better equipment came along. There is a reason for that.

I normally don't pay too much attention to purists, until they start crossing the boundaries and creeping into my camp. If people choose to lift without wrist wraps, belts, knee sleeves or wraps, that is fine with me. Most (not all) of the time, the folks who like to pretend that they are "training" by lifting this way are usually just gym-goers that compete in nothing, so why should they need to use training gear? The problem is, the rest of us want to win and we are using tools that we are permitted to use. You can pretend to "train for yourself" all you like, but if you were training for yourself, you wouldn't need to spend so much time nitpicking the training methods of others. In fact, if you are truly training for yourself, you wouldn't need to put your lifting videos, photos, and training thoughts online at all! That is specifically done so others can read it.

Wowee that was quite a rant. I think I have said all I need to say with this one, so in closing, please remember that just because someone is training differently than you, you aren't more "pure" than they are, just because you make up your own rules or federations that say so. If you TRULY want to become as strong as you can possibly become, you will use all the necessary tools at your disposal to get the job done. History isn't going to remember the person that squatted the most amount of weight in a small-town gym while wearing no belt, no shoes, no sleeves, and most importantly, NO MUSIC! Because we wouldn't want music to be a crutch, now would we?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How To Build The Best Training Environment

Article written by Matt Mills
There are a lot of reasons you may not be making progress in the gym.  Some of the common reasons are: you flat out aren’t working hard enough, lack of proper nutrition, lack of sleep, you don’t keep a training journal, you do the same things over and over, just to name a few.  If a lack of programming is your problem then do yourself a favor, and pick up the AJAX Method to take your training to the next level.  But what about your training environment?  I would say this is one of the most overlooked aspects of making progress in the gym.   The training environment is everything from where you train, who you train with, and even what music you are listening to.  Building the right training environment is crucial to your training success, and finding the right training partners is most important yet the most difficult.

If you are a follower of LBEB then I’m guessing you like to make a little noise when you train, drop weights, grunt on a heavy lift, etc.  Unfortunately there are few commercial gyms that allow this anymore.  Your first line of business is to find a gym that suits your needs.  I don’t care how far the drive is either.  We are all busy and training should be a top priority for you so if you have to drive an extra 15 minutes to the big boy and girl gym then that is what you have to do.  You’re not going to be hitting deadlift PRs at a gym that doesn’t even allow you to use chalk.  I know you will miss the free pizza and tootsie rolls, but your results are more important.  For those of you in the Strong(wo)man and Powerlifting community, I highly suggest you check out Kalle Beck’s Strongman gym locator:  You want to find a gym that is based on results, not on looks.  If I were to be looking for a new gym to train in, I would stay far away from the ones that have endless cardio and if they have TVs, then forget it.  Give me the dusty old gym with equipment that hasn’t been updated since the 70’s, and I’ll be at home.  You need a gym with no distractions, and definitely not a “health club” that is really just a social scene.  At my facility I don’t allow my members to use their cell phones.  Cell phones will only be a constant distraction, and I’m sorry, you’re not that important, you can go without your phone for one hour.  

If you are a gym owner then building the right training environment is even more important for your gym’s success.  You will have to start by not allowing the negative people in.  I know this will be difficult as you will be losing money, but I promise it will only hurt your business in the long run.  You will save yourself endless frustrations, and your other members will thank you.  You want to build a positive, motivating atmosphere, and this will be impossible to do with toxic people.  Not only will these people drain the energy out of your training, it will also reflect badly on your business.  If you own a gym like mine, or a Crossfit gym, then your business is built on referrals.  Getting referrals from your members will only come from getting them results.  In my 14 years of being a coach and trainer, I can tell you that you will not get results out of whiners, and excuse makers.  “The path to nowhere is paved with excuses” is something I remind my members of everyday.  Trust me, I have tried my hardest over and over only to waste my time an energy that would have been better spent on my positive hard workers.  

Asking people to leave your gym is not easy to do, and will take some time to get used to.  I will simply take that person aside, and tell them that my style of training is not for them.  Most of the time people will appreciate your honesty.  Look for people that will only add more positive energy to your facility.  If they don’t bring anything to the table, then they can’t train with my crew.  There is an old saying in business that goes “you must put the right people on the bus”, meaning you need the right people in the right places.  You can use this as your model for the employees your hire, but I like to think of it as getting the right members in your gym.  With a positive training atmosphere and good coaching, your training business with only thrive.  You overall want to train at a gym where you are the weakest one as this means you will have the most room to grow.  The sad thing is that many people that ask me for advice like being a big fish in a little pond.  Trust me no real lifter is impressed that you can leg press the most at Planet Fitness.  You need to get out of your comfort zone, because that is how you will make real gains.

As I said before, finding the right training partners will be your most difficult task.  If you have been training for as long as I have then I’m guessing you have gone through dozens of them.  First you want a training partner that actually shows up when it’s time to train.  If you haven’t read Matt Falk’s article on lifting etiquette check it out here:  A good training partner is someone that will push you when you need it, but is also someone that will tell you to back off when you are about to do something stupid. A training partner should be someone that is somewhat on your own level.  I have had people ask to train with me many times that were beginners and this would only be a recipe for disaster for them.  First it will only slow your own training down, and second they will most likely get hurt by trying to keep up.  The beauty of training with someone of similar strength is that you will be most likely be stronger at different things.  I recently had this conversation with two members of my gym that started training together.  One of them is stronger at the barbell lifts so he pushes his partner to do more here.  The other is stronger on the events so he pushes his partner to do more here.  Personally my training partners and I like to do a lot of shit talking the day before a heavy day of training.  We are all competitors, and we are just as competitive in a competition as we are in training.  Nothing gets me more excited for a big squat day then having one of my friends tell me how he is going to do more than me.  Now let me state that this is all in good fun and when it comes down to training we are all business, and want each other to succeed.  This goes back to having negative people in your life.  Having a training partner like this will only hold your progress back, so get rid of them.  

If you train alone, as I know many of you do, then you better be keeping a training journal.  For years of my training I never recorded anything.  The only lifts I could remember were my PRs on the big 3 so whenever I couldn’t beat my previous max I felt like I was going nowhere.  Once I started recording my training I was able to hit a PR nearly every time I trained.  Just because you can’t hit a big number on your squat for that day, then maybe you will be able to hit one more rep, or 5lbs more on your accessory work.  Either way you are still getting stronger, and slow progress is still progress.  I have a few members of my gym that have great home gyms but still like to train at my facility just to be around like-minded individuals.  When you are having a bad day and feeling tired, there is no way you can’t get excited to train when you have a whole team behind you pushing you to do more. 
If you want to build a gym that attracts the hardest working people around, then you better compete.  Not only will you promote your facility through competing, you will also make great connections and lifelong friends along the way.  I can easily say at least 25% of the members of my gym have come to me because of my competitions.  Whether it is from my team competing, or from holding competitions at my gym it will draw new members.   

With competing, you also need to create a competitive atmosphere.  This is something Crossfit has done a great job with.  Nothing motivates people more than putting them in a group atmosphere where everyone has to push each other to be better.  This is a huge reason to have a record board.  Everyone wants to see their name at the top, and will push themselves harder to do so.  Since I started a record board at my gym I am amazed at the progress people have made.  We have had battles back in forth for the top spot many times, and these people never thought they would have been able to accomplish these things without that motivation. 
Drop a comment below or on the LBEB Facebook page and let us know what you think builds a great training environment.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bouncing Is For Lowriders, Not Deadlifts

Article written by Seth Larsen
            Strength athletics are a dangerous pursuit.  There is no denying this.  We subject ourselves to things that the average person would consider insane and most medical practitioners would say are severely detrimental to our health.  I consider that half of the fun, but there's no reason to be an idiot about it.  One of the steps on the path out of the realm of idiocy is this: stop bouncing your deadlifts! That's right, I'm joining in with the trolls on this one.  I'm not about to go around to each of your videos and critique them, but I am happy to say that bouncing your deadlifts off the floor is both stupid and dangerous.  Yes, it helps you hit more reps for time and makes you look more bad ass when your non-lifter friends watch your videos, but to those of us in the know, you look like less like a bad ass and more like a jack ass when you do it.

            Did I hurt your feelings? Good. Maybe that will make you pay attention so you don't wind up walking around like Herbert from Family Guy in your mid-twenties.  Pop culture references aside, this is a serious issue in the age of high-rep deadlift WODs and YouTube heroes.  If you have a minute, go watch some videos of people doing the Open workout 14.3 from last month.  You will see countless deadlifts accelerated into the floor with such force that they literally fly up into the next rep due to the rebound.  I'm not talking about touch-and-go deadlifts here; I mean the bounces that were heard around the world that week.  Newsflash, guys, this is not what bumper plates were designed for!  Now I'm not going to sit here and talk about the benefits of dead-stop pulls versus touch-and-go, as many people far stronger than I am have already beaten that topic into the ground.  At this point, we should all be aware that the dead-stop has a far greater strength benefit.  It is also significantly SAFER than bouncing, which is what I'd like to address.

The importance of a stable and tight back position while deadlifting can not be overstated, but it has been discussed ad nauseam by myself and others, so I will not rehash proper positioning here.  However, it is this position that is compromised when one attempts to bounce the barbell off the ground to gain momentum for the subsequent reps.  It takes a significant amount of tightness in the upper and lower back and force from those same muscles to achieve lockout on any deadlift, but the same can not be said for the bar's path back into the ground.  Controlling the eccentric phase keeps you in the same strong position you used for the lockout.  Now I'm not saying a negative is necessary on every rep, or even that you can't set the bar down quickly. Bouncing is the key issue here.  When you actively accelerate the bar into the ground, the force shifts from your posterior chain to your anterior musculature.  This makes it difficult, if not impossible to maintain the proper curvature of your spine to prevent injury during heavy lifting.  Repetitive cyclic flexion of the lumbar spine has been shown time and again to result in injury.  Why do you think construction workers, movers, and all manner of laborers wear back braces and trusses to protect themselves?  When you attempt to bounce a deadlift, you deactivate the muscles that compose your own anatomic back brace.  These muscles are designed to resist flexion, so when you accelerate into flexion, you are taking them out of the equation.  I don't know about you, but this sounds like a pretty bad idea to me.

They must have bounced a lot of deadlifts
            Now that we've established the muscular issues with the bounce, we need to talk about the forces resulting from this accelerated impact into the floor.  Multiple studies have documented the extra force on an athlete's body when landing during plyometric exercises, and this is no different.  Gravity is responsible for this increase in force.  I'm going to get a little mathematical on you here, so I apologize in advance for that.  The equation for force is mass times acceleration, something basic physics has taught us.  When gravity is added into the equation, it multiplies that force by 9.8.  That means that gravity is taking your force of bouncing the bar and making it almost 10 times stronger.  10 times! And where do you think that force is going?  Into YOU.  These forces are rebounding from the floor, through the bar, into your muscles, joints, and bones, all of which are in a compromised position now due to your desire to get that extra rep, that faster rep.  The supportive musculature has been disengaged, throwing all that force into the joints, specifically those of the spine.  As I have discussed before, your intervertebral discs are fragile and protecting them is paramount in maintaining your long-term health as a lifter.  By bouncing, you are essentially causing a self-induced whiplash injury, which is as detrimental to your lumbar spine and its discs as it is to those of your neck.  However, it is actually worse than such an injury caused by a car crash, since in such a collision your body can actively use its supportive musculature to resist the force.  Unfortunately, that has already been shut down.

            Don't take what I've said here the wrong way; like I said, touch-and-go deadlifts are not going to kill you or put you in a wheelchair.  When you are deadlifting for time, feel free to continue to use that method.  I can't argue that it isn't going to be faster than resetting on every rep.  But do yourself a favor and stay tight, touching the bar to the floor instead of bouncing it.  Unless you'd like to increase the chances of playing with your children and grandchildren from a wheelchair or repeatedly going under the knife to fix what's left of your spine.  Stay strong and healthy, my friends.


1.      Chiu, L, Schilling, B, Fry, A, Weiss, L. “Measurement of Resistance Exercise Force Expression.” Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 2004.  Vol 20, 204-212.

2.      Sandhu, J. “Low Back Pain and Concept of Segmental Stabilisation.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2010. Vol 44(Suppl I), i1-i82.

3.      Hoops, H, Zhou, B-H, Solomonow, M, Patel, V. “Short rest between cyclic flexion periods is a risk factor for lumbar disorder.” Clinical Biomechanics, 2007. Vol 22, 745-757.

4.      Fast, A, Sosner, J, Begeman, P, Thomas, MA, Chiu, T. “Lumbar spinal strains associated with whiplash injury: A cadaveric study.” American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 2002. Vol 81, 645-650.

5.      Solomonow, M. “Neuromuscular manifestations of viscoelastic tissue degradation following high and low risk repetitive lumbar flexion.” Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, 2012. Vol 22, 155-175.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Training The Farmer's Walk

Article written by Matt Mills

The farmers walk is one staple of my programming that I never take out.  If you want to get bigger, leaner, and more athletic, then the farmers walk is the answer.  If you are a strongman competitor, the farmers walk is absolutely essential to your training. If you are not a competitor of any kind, the farmers walk is about as functional as it gets, and should be performed by anyone.  No, I’m not talking about squatting on a bosu ball because that’s considered “functional” for some reason beyond me.  I’m talking about an exercise that we all do single day.  Any time you carry a weight you are performing a farmers walk to some degree, hence where the name came from.  One of the most rewarding things as a strength coach is when I have a member of my gym come to me all excited telling me how they were able to carry all of their groceries in at the same time.  If you ever need help, moving be sure to ask the guy or girl that has a good farmers walk!

If you are a powerlifter, or just someone looking to get their deadlift up (and who isn’t?!) you want to carry some heavy weight in your hands.  One of the biggest benefits of doing farmers is the increased grip strength.  Whenever I see someone miss a deadlift because of their grip I can’t help but cringe.  Having a strong grip is essential to living a healthy life, and ladies, I know you don’t like asking your guy to open that jar up.  For those of you interested in more fat loss, the farmers walk is a perfect finisher.  Literally every muscle in your body must work to either stabilize, or move the weight efficiently.  The more muscle groups you work, the greater the metabolic effect is burning calories.  One of my favorite benefits of the farmers walk is the amount of work your traps get.  Whenever you see someone with some big traps and neck, you know they have put some work into the gym.  In fact the farmers walk is my favorite builder for the traps, and is the first exercise I suggest when someone asks for advice.  

The core is taxed heavily here, and is one of the best ways to get strong abdominals without doing any direct work.  For you competitors that have a weakness on the farmers walk, and it is not your grip, then it is your core.  A great way to fix this is with suitcase carries.  Simply take one farmers handle, and load it up to a fairly light weight of about 50%-60% of your max and carry it for a given distance.  I generally stick with 50-100 feet.  Make sure you stay as tall as possible, and do not slouch to the side you are carrying the load.  You will feel your obliques of your opposite side screaming by the end.  Suitcase carries are also another great way to increase your deadlift, as strong obliques are essential to a big pull.  Another great way to build your core strength is to carry uneven loads.  Load one weight up to 75% of your max and the other to 50%.  The challenge to stay upright will be extremely difficult. Improve on your core strength with these variations and watch your farmers go through the roof.

I would say for most competitors, grip is the biggest weak point on the farmers walk, and its what the event really tests in a contest.  For those of you who are against straps, this is the reason why they are allowed in strongman on the deadlift most of the time.  Strongmen arguably have the best grip in the world, and it is tested heavily on events like this.  Put farmer walks in a contest with a husafel, keg, sandbag carry, stones and your grip will be fried by the end.  If you are looking to hit farmers as hard as possible, look into getting a pair of lifting straps and use them on your deads and heavy rows.  I do have to make a statement about one thing in your training that I get asked about quite a bit, and have even read in another article.  NEVER USE STRAPS ON A FARMERS WALK…EVER!!! 

When grip is your main weak point, you have a couple ways to make it your strength.  First, use a pair of fat grips to make the farmers handles much thicker.  You will have to drop the weight down quite a bit but once your grip increases from the thicker handles, the normal farmers will feel like tooth picks.  Another option that I love to do on my final set of heavy farmers is to hold them once you finish your carry.  Squeeze the handles are hard as possible and for as long as you can.  Just make sure you save this for your last set because otherwise your grip will be shot for you other sets.

In a strongman competition, you will most likely run into a farmers event that will have a turn involved.  Turning with farmer handles is incredible hard, and will tax your grip immensely.  There are a couple tricks to help you master the turn.  A common mistake I see are competitors trying to make a complete stop at the turning point, staying in place while slowly turning around, and then trying to pick up speed again.  Stopping is only going to slow you down, and make you have to hold onto the handles even longer then you should have to.  Instead of making this mistake, take a wider turn and keep your feet moving, so you don’t lose any speed.   

You will have to slow down slightly to keep the farmers under control, but you will make the turn much faster, and be able to pick up momentum once you make the full 180 degrees.  The most important part here is when you start to come around from the turn, you must not let the farmers handles continue to turn.   Turning with the handles at a heavy load is extremely difficult to control, and without controlling them they will continue to turn you until you lose your grip.  Right before you feel the handles start to turn you, push back against them hard in the opposite direction.  When you turn against the handles it will actually keep them straight in line, and allow you to continue to the finish line in a straight shot.  Finally while turning do your best to keep the plates in contact with one another.  Once the plates stagger the turn will even be more difficult as the load will be unbalanced.

Here are a couple quick tips that make a huge difference on the farmers walk:
Grip the handles not in the middle but just a hair back from the center.  Your grip mainly comes from your index, middle finger, and thumb.  I grip the farmers in the middle then move them back just a half inch.  Once you start moving with the weight the handles will dip slightly making you move the weight faster from the momentum.

Dig your hand into the handle for your grip.  You should curl your wrist in as deep as possible.  Once you pick it up your wrist will straighten.  This will pinch your hands more but your grip will be better, which is more important than your sensitive hands.

Use a staggered stance when the weight is light enough.  This is a little trick that will save you a second or two on your time.  If you start in a staggered stance you can take a step right away as you pick the weight up.  I line the toes of my back foot up with the heel of my front foot. 
Take short choppy steps, do not try to take long strides as this will make the handles swing more, making them much harder to control.  

Programming Options
I like to make my training more difficult then it will be for an upcoming contest.  If this is possible for you always train an event slightly heavier then what you will be doing in a contest.  For example, for the Arnold Classic I recently competed in I had to carry 345lbs in each hand for 75 feet.  Leading up to the contest I trained only for 100 feet starting at a lighter load of 280lbs.  By the final heavy week of training my heaviest carry was 365lbs in each hand for 100 feet.  If you are not able to go slightly heavier, then work at the heaviest load you are able to for the given distance of the contest.  Once you have reached a heavy max drop the weight down to about 65% and perform multiple sets of speed runs with short rest periods of 60-90 seconds.  As always, find what your weak point is on the farmers as I have outlined above and make it your strength!