Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Overrated Image Of 6-Pack Abs

I can't even count the number of times I have seen this scenario play out at the gym: A skinny male or female with absolutely no muscle tone to speak of is sitting in the corner on some strange contraption that resembles a catapult or with their feet on a giant ball doing quarter crunches,  "blasting their core" and "toning their 6-pack". Never mind the fact that "they don't have an ice chest to put it in" (quoting Rippetoe).

The typical female.
The typical male.

For these individuals, the pinnacle of fitness and strength is of course, the well defined 6-pack. They are not hard to identify in the gym, they are usually the people who will come up to you in the middle of a 5x3 push jerk or heavy snatch session, tap you on your shoulder and ask what muscles you are working (insert facepalm here). Usually seen in groups lacking any sort of direction, they typically have one ring leader that wears fancy black gloves doing 25 pound bicep curls. The rest simply stand around, do a couple of crunches or hang from the pullup bar for ten seconds, then go up to the mirror and look at their stomach. They have gotten it so engrained in their heads that they need a 6-pack that they don't even bother starting with compound movements as a base for their programming.

The pinnacle of American fitness.

I am not implying that it is not important to have a strong midsection. A strong core is vital for all lifts and to help the spine in a strong position. What I am saying is that you don't need to stress about being <8% body fat when there are SO MANY more things that both beginners and professionals need to work on when it comes to strength training.

You especially don't need to worry about having a chiseled 6-pack to impress the opposite sex (someone once told me that girls like 6-packs, women like a manly man). Do you really want to be with someone that flexes their stomach at every mirror they pass and is more worried about adding a little body fat to their stomach than your relationship? I didn't think so.

Studies have been conducted that show that women don't want to date or marry someone who has a chiseled midsection (link here) and numerous studies have shown that the majority of men prefer women with some meat on their bones, not super low levels of body fat and extremely defined features that must feel like hugging a large piece of plywood.

This is a huge reason both males and females are afraid of putting on size and adding strength. You see lots of glittering pale pansies ( I am talking to you twilight fans) in the media, that have a couple of abdominal muscles, with no real size anywhere else, it just looks uneven and incredibly weak.
I would rather hang with this guy, keep your glitter.
 Women think that if they do things like compound movements (squats, deadlifts, presses) that they will put on all kinds of mass and look like the guy pictured above, when in reality that's not a possibility.

The heavy lifters from ""
Women then unknowingly subjugate themselves by staying weak, by sticking to things like quarter crunches and core blasting exercises. Instead, they could increase strength, power, and their attitudes about themselves if they just stopped reading things like Cosmo that has an anorexic female on the cover and started squatting and deadlifting more.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Myths Of The Bench Press

Photo from ""
 This article is continuing the theme of last weeks post concerning squatting and some of the myths relating to it.
We will investigate the misconceptions and misguided advice often given for the Bench Press. A Bench Press in a gym is as common as a wart on a toad. I have been to gyms with no power racks or chin bars or platforms but I have never seen a gym without a flat bench. It has become the primary upper body exercise of most individuals who lift weights and it has plenty of merit in being that when it is performed correctly. How many times have you asked or been asked, when talking about lifting, “how much do you Bench?” The difficulty with discussing the Bench Press is that there is an abundance of thoughts and beliefs on or about Bench Pressing that just aren’t right. The fact that so many people practice the lift allows for a lot of variations and interpretations. Unfortunately, many of these variations are biomechanically incorrect and can be hazardous to your shoulder health. So lets look at some of the misconceptions about this lift and try to shed some light on how to correct this information. Hopefully, I will get you started on a more righteous path of Bench Pressing

Myth # 1. The Bench Press is a pec developer.
Well this is only half a myth since it does develop the pecs. However, the efficiency of how the lift is performed can limit the pecs involvement (McLaughlin, 1984). The exercise is often demonstrated in magazines and training tapes with lifters lowering the bar with the upper arms at 90º angles (a T position) away from the sides of the body. This style of benching places most of the stress on the shoulder joint. How many folks do you know with a shoulder injury from benching? The lowering of the bar in this fashion places greater rotational forces (torque) on the shoulder. Over time this pattern of movement can create havoc on the shoulder specifically in the rotator cuff muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres Minor and subscapularis). To really use the pecs to their fullest, I suggest keeping the elbows closer (less than 90º) to the body on both the descent and ascent of the lift. A simple demonstration is for you to raise your arm straight out to the side so that it is parallel to the floor. Now try to flex your pec without bringing your arm across your body. Its not easy is it? But if you think about it this is the same position that is advocated for benching. Now lower the arm to 45º from parallel and flex the pec in the same manner. Bit of a difference, huh? By keeping the elbows in versus out our arms are less externally rotated and the distance between the muscles points of origin and insertion are at a more optimal range allowing the pecs to be more functional.
This position also allows the triceps to play a bigger role in your bench as well. The triceps primary role is to extend the forearm. When you bench and your arms hit the 90º position the triceps can no longer extend the forearm because your hands are stuck on the bar. The only way the triceps can work in this position is to slide the hands outward. By placing the elbows in a less than 90º angle the triceps can work more effectively through a larger range of motion since the upper arms aren’t at 90º. So how do you get the arms at less than 90º. Lets look at myth # 2.

Myth #2. Lower the bar to the nipples or slightly below.
Why the nipples, is it because it’s the only landmark that people with no muscle could think of? Bringing the bar to this landmark will give you that T arm angle. When the bar comes to the chest the forearms need to be almost vertical to the floor for the most effective force development (McLaughlin, 1984). The landmark that I prefer to use is the xiphoid process, the little piece of cartilage that extends off your sternum (breast bone) at the top of your abs. For most individuals lowering the bar to this region will keep the elbows in and ensure that the forearms are in a vertical position. This area is typically the highest part of your torso when you are on the bench. This helps to reduce the range of motion that the arms must travel in turn reducing shoulder torque. Initially you will feel a little awkward and weak but stay with this for about 4-6 weeks and you will see the results.

Myth # 3. Keeping your feet on the bench protects the back and develops better pressing power.
After exhausting several databases I found no research on back injuries and the bench press. They can occur so lets look at why they might and how you can avoid them without placing your feet on the bench. Injuries can occur to the lower back area when a lifter starts to raise the bar and simultaneously lifts his butt off the bench. This raising of the butt also raises the ribcage creating a decline like bench position. It is in this position you can hyperextend the low back and possibly injure yourself. This type of injury is not the result of benching; it is the result of benching wrong.
Fitness experts advocate the maintenance of a neutral arch in the back on squats and other standing exercises, but how come they never mention this when they are instructing lying exercises. Besides them typically being *****s, they must assume that lying is a safe position regardless of the exercise. Just like all other exercises you need to have a proper posture on the bench. Place both feet flat on the floor about shoulder width apart. The feet can be either directly under your knees or slightly out in front of them. When you lie back flex your glutes and hams, you will notice that you will feel yourself pushing down through your feet when you do this. Tighten the low back as well and hold the neutral posture of the spine, think about getting your butt and shoulders close to each other. You will also want to pull the shoulder blades together and keep the upper back tight as well. Finally, keep the head on the bench. Lifting the head has been shown to decrease pressing power (Berger, 1991). Your feet are flat on the floor and your shoulders and butt are on the bench with a small arch under your low back. The bottom of your rib cage should be elevated. Now try to lift your butt off the bench. If you can, move your feet away from your knees until the butt stays on the bench. Once you are in a position where you can’t lift the butt you have injury proofed the lift. By maintaining this posture we eliminate the opportunity for the low back to hyperextend.

Keeping the feet up can actually limit your power since the ability to balance and stabilize the torso on the bench is compromised. I have found that when athletes keep their feet on the floor and maintain the proper posture the weight actually feels lighter to them. I don’t know if this is a reflex mechanism of pushing with the feet or if the whole body tension increases the excitability of the nervous or muscular systems involved in the benching motion. In any case keep the feet on the floor and maintain your posture.

Myth # 4. Wide grip works the outer pec and narrow grip the inner pec.
The typical belief is that the wider the hands the more you will hit the outer pec and the narrower grip will hit the inner pec. Well there is a major problem here. The Pectoralis Major has two portions a lower, the sternocostal head and an upper, the clavicular head. There are no inner and outer pecs anatomically speaking. Let me define a narrow and wide grip. In two separate studies, researchers determined narrow grip as the distance between your acromion processes (slide your hand down your trap and the bony bump you hit is the acromion). They then applied this measurement to the hand spacing (distance between index fingers) on the bar. Wide grip was two times the narrow grip distance. Both groups of researchers found that grips that were 1.65 to 2 times their narrow grip were the most effective strength wise. The way you can determine your grip is to measure the distance between your acromion processes. Now measure the distance between your index fingers when you bench. Divide the bench distance by the acromion distance and if your number is between 1.65 and 2.00 you are in an optimal position (Clemons, J. & Aaron, C, 1997; Wagner, et. al, 1992). In the research, the activation of the upper and lower portions of the pec muscle are affected by different hand spacing. In one study it was found that the wider grip placed more stress on the sternocostal head than the narrow grip. The narrow grip seemed to activate the clavicular head more effectively then a wide grip. The narrow grip also activated the triceps more than the wide (Barnett, Kippers & Turner, 1995).

Myth #5. Incline BP works the upper pec and Decline BP works the lower pec better than flat bench.
This would be true if you compared the Decline BP to Incline BP but the research has actually shown that decline and flat stimulate the sternocostal head in similar fashions (Barnett, Kippers & Turner, 1995). Glass and Armstrong (1997) reported that the Decline BP activated the muscle in the clavicular head as effectively as the Incline BP. Now that I have cleared that up, why can you Decline more then you BP? Well it probably has to do with your technique on the BP. Think about your bar placement when you decline. Is it lower then the flat? Think back to myths #2 and #3. The technical recommendations I provided in those areas will raise the rib cage up similar to the decline position. This reduces the distance that you have to lower and press the bar.

Next week, We will discuss myths concerning the deadlift and its variations. Thanks for reading!

Excerpts taken from "

Monday, June 27, 2011

Summiting Mount Rainier

I spent this last weekend attempting to summit Mount Rainier and let me just say that this year was definitely the most difficult trip yet. Crossfit definitely doesn't prepare you for something like this, unless you do a WOD that looks something like this: 8 hours of 30 inch box jumps with a 45 pound weight vest while wearing boots and having the sun destroy your skin, 3-2-1 GO!

The hike to base camp is always the hardest, and the weather was terrible, you couldn't see more than 50 feet in any direction and everything was white. The only thing you can do is walk UP.
Pretty much how the weather looked the whole way up.
The only nice about the fog is that you aren't able to see how much farther you have to base camp. On previous trips I usually keep my head down and walk 50 paces then take a breath and see how much further I have to go, but I wasn't able to do that this time.

Along with the blanket of fog, it was also snowing pretty consistently from the west, which added to the joy of the first days climb. By the time I arrived to base camp my beard was covered in ice and frozen to my face. I looked a little something like this:

Its a little tight across the chest!
I was met at base camp by my dad (who, by the way is a total freaking badass when it comes to anything) who went up a day earlier to set up the tent and carve a wall into the ice to protect us from the wind chill--which, if I remember correctly, brought the temperature to about -25 degrees Fahrenheit during the night.

The remainder of the day is spent in a tiny tent with my older brother and my dad while reading a book, eating peanut m&ms, or just generally feeling crappy and exhausted. The sun doesn't set until really late at base camp, but it passes over the rocks so it is blocked from view at about 7. It gets cold really quickly and bed time occurs between 6 and 7pm. "Sleeping" on the mountain is more of a dream than an actual reality. Between the noise of other climbing teams waking up at 11:30pm to start the ascend to the top, the fact that you are sleeping on snow, and the process of acclimation, you are lucky to get 4 or 5 hours of sleep.

Unfortunately the next morning, I woke up to realize that i didn't put on enough sunscreen the day before and my face was covered with blisters that were oozing clear liquid and even the insides of my nostrils were burned. It didn't keep me from working on my tan though!

10 minutes on my front, 10 minutes on my back.
On the hike to the top, we realized that a 22 year old was walking across the ice bridge across the crevasse and the bridge collapsed, plunging him 30 feet down and breaking his ankle. Luckily, he called upon Odin and was able to climb out using his ice-axe and was picked up by a helicopter about 5 hours later. This accident prevented all further climbs to the top until a new route was found. During this time my dad told me about an accident that occurred 2 weeks earlier where a man was suffering from hypothermia on the way down, and his friends left him in a sleeping bag on top of a rock face while they went to get help. When the rescue team returned, all they found was his sleeping bag and his clothes. They also found claw marks in the snow going off the edge of a 2000 foot drop, his body still hasn't been found. Apparently when you suffer from hypothermia all the blood is taken away from your limbs to protect your organs, but towards the end all the blood is instantly released back in your limbs, which makes the victim feel as though they are on fire from the inside.
This Avalanche occurred right next to the camp on Saturday.
After returning to base camp we debated whether or not we wanted to stay another night. We decided that it would be too dangerous if there wasn't a new route open,and our heads weren't really in it anymore. Plus there was a whirlwind storm on the top of the mountain. We  packed up the whole campsite in about 45 minutes and got down to the car in about 2 1/2 hours--crazy considering it takes at least 7 hours to hike up!

Here are a few photos taken on the way down:
Rainier ninja.

The beach is THAT way.


This sums up the whole trip.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Myths Of The Squat

Anatoly Pisarenko showing great form during a warm-up.

The squat is probably one of the most maligned exercises. Dating back to the early sixties it had its critics. Dr. Karl Klein (1961) from Texas had come out and stated that the squat caused a loosening of the knee ligaments and that this condition actually made this exercise a hazard. Other researchers have speculated over the hazards of the exercise. This type of research makes up a small percentage of the research on this exercise but still the negativism about the exercise still exists. Since the sixties numerous studies have been done on the squat and have shown it not to be dangerous when performed correctly. The problem with lifting is like anything else, when it's done properly you will be fine. When it's done improperly you're looking for trouble. Let examine some of the more common myths.

Myth # 1. Squatting is bad for your knees.

Dr. Klein's can take the credit for launching this one. Studies carried out over the past twenty years have rejected Klein's findings. In a study that looked at the effects that full squats and half squats had on knee stability showed no change, over eight different tests for stability, when compared to a control group. To determine the long-term effects the same researchers looked at the knees of competitive powerlifters and weightlifters and found that powerlifters and weightlifters had tighter knee joints than the controls (Chandler & Stone, 1991). Another study found that the involvement of the hamstring in full squats plays a role in helping protect the anterior cruciate ligament (Manariello, Backus & Parker, 1994). In a less scientific approach, the late John Grimek (1963) pointed out, in Strength and Health, that if squatting were bad for your knees we would have a lot of people walking around with bad knees since we perform a squat every time we sit down and stand up. When done properly the exercise actually helps develop the muscles utilized in stabilizing the knee. So how is a squat done properly, I will make it a little more clear in Myth #2.

Myth #2 When you perform the squat just bend your knees and go down.
If you bend the knees first, it limits the hip's freedom of movement. All the force is felt in the knees, and you will find yourself in a very awkward position on the balls of your feet. When performed properly the squat should start by gliding the hips backwards before the knees break. This is done while keeping the torso upright and is not simply a lean forward (Chandler, Wilson & Stone, 1989). It should be similar to sitting in a chair especially a low chair. This posterior movement actually helps you get the weight over the arch of your foot. Having the weight on the toes or heel of the foot will affect muscle function and balance. This weight positioning becomes even more crucial when you reach the bottom of the squat. As the top of the thigh reaches a parallel to the floor position or below it is now time to come up. If the weight is forward on the toes, there is a tendency for the hips to rise up faster than the shoulders, leaving you in a potentially poor leverage position. This situation is when the squat becomes a good morning exercise. The opposite result of having the weight in the heel will leave you stuck at the bottom position or on your backside due to the balance problem.

Myth # 3. Squatting is bad for your back.
If you are using your back dynamically, as in the good morning position mentioned above, you are going to make this myth come true. Letting the low back get into a flexed position (improper technique) can create injury (Davies, 1980). The low back muscles, which include the erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, multifidus, intertransversarii, interspinales and rotatores, are all postural muscles. Their primary responsibility is to keep us vertical during standing, seated and other upright activities. When we start using the low back muscles to lift up loads dynamically, we are placing them in a job that they are not designed. Its like going to the dentist for the flu shot. While I would trust the dentist with the flu shot, I don't want him doing open-heart surgery on me. With training they can function dynamically to accommodate heavier loads but it will usually be the weak link in the chain. The low back muscles are much more effective when they are used to maintain the upright posture during squat activity (McLaughlin, Lardner & Dillman, 1978). This position can be created raising your rib cage. This position is the same as standing at attention for a drill sergeant. The low back musculature should serve to maintain the rigidity of the torso so that the force from the legs can be applied directly to the weight. The raising of the rib cage should occur immediately before you descend with the weight.

Myth # 4. Squat with your toes pointed straight ahead.
This seems to make sense because we walk with our toes forward, but there are few similarities between walking and squatting. I have seen a small number of individuals that can squat with their toes pointed forward (less than 5 %). Most individuals have to point or flare the toes outward in a five of one o'clock or ten of two o'clock position. The flaring actually helps orient the head of the femur in the pelvis's socket type joint. A simple experiment to determine the need to flare is to hang from bar and let your feet dangle. Do the toes point straight or out slightly? Another way to test this is to squat with the toes straight ahead. If your hips feel like they are binding as you approach parallel, simply flare the toes out while in that position and you will suddenly get the appropriate depth. This foot positioning has no negative effect on the function of the muscles used in the squat (Boyden,et al, 2000; Signorile, et al, 1995; Escamilla, et al, 2001)

Myth #5 Squats are for the quads!
If any of you have squatted in earnest, you know that not only do your quads get sore but also your glutes, adductors and hamstrings. The only way to isolate the quads in the squat would be to do them on your toes and even then the glutes will be involved. The hamstrings play the role of helping to maintain the upright posture as well as keeping the shin from moving forward during the squat. The hams and glutes also play a role in extending the thigh while the quads are extending the knees. In looking specifically at the hamstrings, they tend to be more active in the ascent phase and it has been suggested that the length of the hamstrings during the squat changes minimally (Escamiila, et al, 1997; Wilk, et al, 1996). The often forgotten adductors also play a role in stabilizing the leg and also in the role of thigh extensor. This myth can get complicated when individuals discuss the width of stance in the squat stating that wide (outside of shoulder width) will affect the muscles differently than a narrow stance (inside shoulder width). It has been shown that in narrow stance squats the gastrocnemius, one of the calf muscles, is more active when compared to wide stance squats. However, no other muscle differences have been found (McCaw & Melrose 1999; Tesch, 1993). The width of your stance should be determined by your comfort with the stance and your ability to get to parallel. If you can't reach parallel with a narrow stance then widen your feet. Another simple rule to follow is if you have long legs and a short torso you will typically need to squat with a wide stance while the opposite of short legs and long torso can use a narrower stance. This will decrease the amount of lean required for the long legged, short torso lifter. The short legged, long torso squatter can be narrower since he need less lean to keep the bar over his foot.

Myth #6 In squats the bar placement doesn't matter
Bar placement does matter and it can enhance your ability in the lift if you have the right placement. Bar placement when in tune with your stance, can make all the difference in the world with your squat performance. The two typical placements are high bar where the bar sits on top of the traps below your 7th cervical vertebrae and low bar where the bar is placed across the posterior deltoid or on top of the scapula. In either case create a solid foundation, for the bar to sit on, by lifting the elbows posteriorly toward the ceiling. Some guidelines I suggest if you are that long legged, short torso person is to squat with the bar in a high bar position. This will lessen the degree of forward lean you will have to achieve to keep the bar over your foot during the squat. For the long torso, short leg person the low bar position is advantageous because it will allow you to stand more upright and will reduce the work done by the low back. In Sweden a study was conducted using weight lifters (high bar) and powerlifters (low bar). In this study the high bar squatters tended to distribute the load more evenly across the knee and hip while the low bar lifters put more load in the hips joint. The low bar lifters handled the heaviest weight in the study but showed lower force values at the knee joint than the high bar squatters. When they looked at the hams and quads involvement they found that the low bar squatters had more activity in both sets of muscles than the high bar squatters and that the low bar squatters had more hamstring activity than the high bar (Wretenberg, et al, 1996). One note about this study was that there was no selection of bar position based on limb and torso lengths. If this had been considered I feel there would have been fewer significant differences between the two groups

Myth #7 Squats will make your butt big
This will happen if you have the big butt gene. If your family has large rumps, then yes, it's a good chance that you have one already and squatting may enhance it. However, if you don't have this physical characteristic and no one in your family displays it, the likelihood of you getting a big butt from squatting is slim. In the case of having the big butt gene, squatting does not have to be eradicated from your program. Focus more on strength development by keeping the reps lower (5 and under) regardless of weight used. From my experience higher reps can put on the size when supported nutritionally. Alternatives like the front squat can also be used.

Myth #8 Squat slow
Actually the way to squat is with controlled speed. The control relates to your ability to maintain correct posture during the entire movement. McLaughlin (1989) suggests that more experienced squatters lower their squat at speeds under 2 miles per hour or 2 feet, 10 inches per second. He recommends that 1 mph is better and that would be around 1.5 feet per second. So if you are about 6 feet tall, a full squat could have the bar traveling around 3 feet in distance. You would want to lower the bar down to parallel in a range of one to two seconds. I am more of a 1 second fan, but I feel that that speed plays a big role in athletic development. On the ascent you should move the bar as fast as you can with control. Your ability to maintain posture will always determine your speed.

Now that the uncertainty has been laid to rest lets get after squatting like Milo did with that calf. Keep in mind what we covered. The squat when performed correctly is not hazardous to the knees or back and won't give you a big butt unless you already have one. When you do squat make sure you determine the proper foot placement, stance and bar placement before going under the bar. When the bar is in it proper position, elevate the elbows, lift the chest up and glide back putting the weight in the arch. Take the bar down in 1-2 seconds in a controlled manner maintaining the posture of the torso. Once you hit parallel or below explode back up maintaining your posture and balance until you finish the rep. The squat is a great exercise for the legs and in the words of my lifting coach Phil Pelura "you are only as strong as your legs". 

Excerpts taken from ""
To read the original article, please visit this link

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Benefits And Proper Use Of Weightlifting Belts

 A weightlifting belt is a commonly misunderstood piece of equipment, especially to beginners, and people new to crossfit. If i had a nickel for every time I saw someone using a belt incorrectly or giving out bad advice concerning a belt, well lets just say i could buy a couple grilled stuff burritos from Taco Bell with that nickel collection. ATTENTION: if you are deadlifting 135 pounds with a perfect sphere of a rounded back, bending your arms and looking sideways in the mirror, a weightlifting belt is the least of your problems at this point.  Dave Kirschen from "" outlines the basics of weightlifting belts and how they need to be properly inserted into your programming.

 Here’s the deal on belts…

I tend to think of a belt as a performance enhancer rather than protection. If you are lifting correctly, your midsection should be strong enough to support itself through the vast majority of tasks you put it through. You may be limited in how much weight you can lift, but you are not in any significant danger of injury without it. The belt really comes into play when you need the extra support to get after heavy weights.
Most people assume that a lifting belt supports your back. The truth is that a good belt is designed to increase intra-abdominal pressure, which stabilizes your entire midsection. This is why the design of your belt is very important. The typical gym belts that are skinny up front and wide in the back do not cover enough abdominal surface area to provide the support you need. For lifts that challenge core strength like the squat and deadlift, you need a belt that is wide all the way around and will support your abdominals and obliques.

Types of Belts

There are three basic designs of powerlifting belt. They are the prong, lever and ratchet. I prefer and recommend the prong design because it is far less expensive and cumbersome than the ratchet and more flexible than the lever (If you need to adjust the size of a lever belt, you need to disassemble it with a screwdriver). Powerlifting belts come in two basic thicknesses, 10mm and 13mm. The 13mm is tougher, but the 10mm needs less break-in to feel comfortable. Get a single prong rather than a double prong because it’s easier to tighten.
For tips on breaking-in your new belt, check this out: Virgin Belt Users.
While you can easily use this belt for every lift, there are also special belts for specific purposes. For deadlifting, you can get a thinner belt with no buckle like the Spud Inc Deadlift Belt. The thinner design makes it easier to get down to the bar. Some lifters will wear a standard powerbelt backwards so the buckle does not get in the way. Most just wear it the same.
For bench, you can use a narrower belt, like the Spud Inc. Bench Belt. A narrow belt holds your bench shirt in place (if you use one) without interfering with your ability to arch. Personally I just use my normal belt because I feel it gives me more support.

How to Wear it

The belt should fit around the small of your back, with the buckle covering your lower abdominals. It should be worn fairly low, but should not get jammed in the crease of your hip when squatting or deadlifting. Because you’ll be expanding your abs into the belt during the lift, you’ll want to wear it one notch looser than all the way tight.

Belt Technique

In order to take advantage of your belt, it’s important to use the valsalva maneuver. This means taking a big gulp of air into your belly, than trying to exhale forcefully with a closed glottis (throat). The pressure should push your belly into the belt and increase the pressure around your midsection. This action should also force your lower back into an arch. Again, it’s really important to push your abs out to get the pressure, not tighten the belt as much as possible.
When to use it.
You shouldn’t wear your belt for every exercise because you still want to allow your back and abdominal muscles to function normally. For heavy special exercises, I’d work up without it, than put it on when you need it. For technical lifts like squatting and speed squatting, I would get it earlier because filling the belt up is an important technical cue that you need to practice.
Don’t wear it for assistance work, it shouldn’t be necessary.
If you wear your belt while doing curls, make sure that you’re wearing color coordinated fingerless gloves. Straps are optional for this.

To read the original article, please visit this link

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Comparison Of Protein Sources.

As I have made abundantly clear by now, I love protein. It is my favorite macronutrient followed by fat, with carbohydrates bringing up the rear. This is probably because we have things like essential amino acids, and essentials fats which are required in order to digest and absorb different foods. We don't have essential carbohydrates, that is why they are in last place. I think carbohydrates are great if you want to gain weight, which is why high carb diets, along with high protein and fat, are useful for hard gainers.

But I digress, back to protein sources.

There are many different sources of protein available on the market, and based on things like protein to fat ratio, availability, price, taste and versatility in the kitchen, nothing beats the king of meats:
Grass fed, wild and pastured red meats.
Keep in mind that this only remains the king as long as it is wild game or pastured meats. If you think that buying the managers special out of the corner of the refrigerated section of your local grocer will still count as being a good source of quality protein, you sir, are mistaken.

Surgeon Generals warning: This can give you diarrhea.

Try to avoid any meat that is sold as a bargain, especially when the expiration date is a day or two away. This is the meat equivalent of a Mcdonald's hamburger meat and has probably been treated with yummy chemicals like ammonia to help it keep its color longer. My favorite kind of red meat is from animals like elk, deer, moose, and wild boar. Most of the time these are extremely hard to come by, so in the mean time, I will get my meat from Bill The Butcher and hopefully hunt my own deer or elk this fall.


Protein powders.
Protein powders are handy if you are in a rush after a workout and you don't have time to eat some real food. I always try to stick to eating real food after a workout. Protein powders don't have a very high satiety level. That being said, I do find myself in the occasional rush where I need some protein powder.

There are three major types of protein powders: Whey, soy, and hemp.

Whey- The most widely available protein powder, whey protein powder is derived from cow's milk and is a by product of the cheese-making process. Whey contains higher protein content per serving than soy and hemp, about 50% protein per serving. If you combine both casein and whey protein, this can be useful after a workout as the whey will be absorbed quickly. While the casein will be digested and absorbed more slowly, it can help with metabolism and satiety issues.

Soy-  Soy protein is derived from soybeans and it is only of the only types of plant-based foods that are a complete protein source--meaning they contain all of the essential amino acids the human body needs but can't produce. Soy is a good choice for someone who is either vegan or vegetarian. Soy protein has a lower biological value than whey, which means how efficiently your body can use a protein source. Soy has a rating of 76, whey has a score of 100. There have also been some studies that indicate the estrogen in soybeans can have an undesirable effects on the breasts of males. Not all of the studies have been conclusive though.

Hemp- Hemp protein, like soy protein is one of few plant-based foods that is a complete protein source. Hemp is another good protein choice for vegans or vegetarians. It is also high in omega-3 fatty acids, beneficial for its anti-inflammation properties. Hemp protein is relatively high in cost compared to other protein powders, and tends to taste just like a plant. It also has a biological value of 70-85%.

On to the next topic!

 According to Mr. Man-bear-pig Ron Swanson, "fish is basically a vegetable".

Are you calling him a liar?

Fish is an excellent source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. My favorites are tuna, wild salmon, and freshwater trout. There are a few reasons why I don't eat fish very often, though. One of them is the fact that farm-raised fish sucks, They are fed crappy feed, they escape from their cages and ruin everything for the wild fish, and just like grass-fed vs. grain-fed beef, their EPA levels drop considerably. Another reason I don't eat fish often is because the world's oceans are basically drained of fish, which sucks for numerous reasons. So unless you eat fish that you raise yourself, you are on a double edged sword.

I don't always eat fish. But when I do, I go big
Contrary to popular belief, chicken can have a ton of flavor on its own, provided it is a pastured chicken that eats things it was designed to eat, like bugs. The life of a caged chicken basically sucks and looks something like this: 
They really need to speak to their union rep.

Their life consists of no sunlight, having their beaks cut off, not being able to walk around and living in their own filth. This doesn't translate to a very good quality protein source for you. All of the stress of that chickens life is just pumping through its blood and putting that sickness in its muscles. The meat is pale and sloppy looking. Compare that to a pastured chicken and you tell me which you would rather have as a protein source.

Ideal chicken living conditions.

Again, this blog post is just outlining the ideal protein sources, buying grass fed, wild caught, and pastured meats can be very expensive so you will need to pick and choose your sources, like I do.

On a final note, my wife and I constructed an epic sacrifice to the burrito gods. The total ingredients are 1 pound of ground ostrich, 1/2 cup of sour cream, 2 avocados, salsa, 12 ounces refried beans, 2 tomatoes, 1/2 cup cheese, 1/2 cup olives, 1/2 cup rice, 3 ounces chicken. All wrapped in 6 tortilla shells. it was glorious, and it was eaten in 30 minutes. I think I have the greatest metabolism ever.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Epic Mac n' Cheese Pie With Bacon Topped Lattice

I had the good fortune of feasting on this last night, and tastes roughly 300% better than it looks. It is a combination of two recipes, I am posting both versions, and I modified it a little bit. You may want to modify it too, so you can feel a little better about yourself for using olive oil instead of vegetable oil.

Recipe 1( this will be the mac n' cheese filling for the pie)

Baked Mac-n-Cheese
  • 8 ounces penne pasta
  • 2 cups Beecher’s Cheese Sauce (below)
  • 1 ounce Cheddar, grated
  • 1 ounce Gruyere cheese, grated
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil or butter an 8-inch dish. Cook the penne 2 minutes less than the package directions. You want the noodles not quite done because they will finish cooking in the sauce in the oven. Rinse the pasta with cold water and set aside.
Combine cooked pasta and Flagship Sauce in a medium bowl and mix carefully but thoroughly. Scrape the pasta into a prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the top with the cheeses, then the chile powder. Bake uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes, until the top has a nice golden crust. Let sit for a few minutes before serving.
If you decide to make this as a main and double the amounts, use a 9×13 inch baking pan and increase the time to 30 to 35 minutes.
Beecher’s Flagship Cheese Sauce (makes 4 cups)
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 14 ounces semi-hard cheese, grated (I used Beecher’s Flagship Cheddar)
  • 2 ounces grated semi-soft cheese (I used Gorgonzola)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chile powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour. Continue to whisk and cook for 2 minutes. You just made a roux, a substance used for thickening sauces!
Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly. Cook until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Now you turned the roux into a bechamel.
Remove from the heat. Add the cheese, salt, chile powder and garlic powder. Stir until the cheese is melted and all the ingredients are incorporated, about 3 minutes. If the cheese isn’t melting completely you can put the pan on low heat.
Recipe from

Recipe 2 (I modified this one.)

Epic Mac'n'cheese Bacon Pie
makes one 9" deep pie or 10" regular pie

for pastry:
2 cups flour
1/4 tspn salt
6 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
2/3 cup butter, cold and cut into cubes
1 Tbspn tabasco sauce
5 Tbspn ice water

1. Combine the flour and salt in a bowl.
2. Using a pastry cutter, cut in the grated cheddar cheese and cold butter into the flour until the size of small peas.
3. Gradually add the tabasco sauce and the ice water one tablespoon at a time until, when you press the dough between your fingers, it holds together. Do not overmix!
4. Wrap the dough in parchment paper or plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.
5. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
6. Remove the dough from the refrigerator roll it out, about 1/8" thick. Place the dough into the pie plate and crimp the edge. Using a fork, pierce the bottom of the crust several times.
7. If the dough has become soft from rolling, place the prepared pie plate in the freezer for about 5-10 minutes.
9. Line the inside of the pie crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dry beans.
10. Bake for 15-17 minutes, then remove from oven. Remove the beans and parchment paper and line the edge of the pie crust with foil. Return to the oven for 5-7 more minutes until the crust is golden. Remove. Keep the oven on.

for filling and topping:

11. Spread a layer of mac'n'cheese at the bottom of the pie.
12. Create a lattice top with bacon, making sure to cut the bacon strips long, since they will shrink in the oven.
13. Return to the 425 degree oven for about 8-10 minutes until the bacon is cooked. Remove.
14. Serve with hot sauce and maple syrup.

My pie looks a little different that the recipe pictures because i used thick hickory bacon instead of thin bacon. Because that's just how we roll.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

3 Tips For Adding Pounds To Your Press

The strict press and its variations (the push press and push jerk) are a great group of movements that will increase shoulder flexibility, upper body strength, coordination and raise your overall explosive power output.

 Video from Crossfit Inc. that shows the variation in press movements

As you can tell from the video, each press movement increases in explosive power, which in turn can add as much as 30% more weight to each movement if executed correctly. 

The problem many have with presses is of course incorrect form . This blog post will attempt to address the 3 quickest fixes that should add some big numbers to your presses. Everyone loves a PR!

1) Squeeze your butt.

You need to pucker up, buttercup. If you squeeze your butt, you will keep your midline stable and prevent that ugly rainbow rainbow that we all know we need to avoid but sometimes do anyway. The rainbow arch looks a little something like this: 
Epic Failure.

By flexing your butt, you will also keep you hip open and take some of the strain of pressing off of your lower back. If you have ever felt a twinge of pain on your lower back when you near you 1RM, you know what I am talking about. 

2) Suck your ribs down.

Sucking your ribs down will help to decrease the overall distance that the bar has to travel to overhead lockout. This basically means that you need to squeeze your abdominal muscles and contract your stomach while still keeping a big chest. This also goes hand in hand with flexing your butt. If they are both done simultaneously, you will decrease the travel distance of the bar and midline stability. Taking a big breath and holding it, then flexing your abs, is an effective way of accomplishing this.

Westside is the best side.

3) Drive your head through the window.

If you watch any of the big Olympic boys doing clean & jerks, you will notice how quickly they drive their head through the window. 

This adds the benefit of getting the bar over your midline quickly while negating the chances of the bar traveling away from your chest rather than straight up. It will also help to have high elbows so the bar is directly under your chin. Finally, after flexing your butt and sucking down your ribs, lean your head back and push the bar straight up rather than away from you and them up. This will also prevent that rainbow arch we discussed earlier. 

It is important to remember not to drastically extend the neck because you may injure yourself, rather just focus on getting your head under the bar.

Try working on these 3 tips and see if you start setting some new PRs on your presses!

On side note, I had some amazing venison burgers that I picked up from Stewarts Meat Market in Yelm. It was about a 75 minute drive, but it was completely worth it. I made sure to stock up on a lot of exotic meat, its my thing.
Wiping out bambi's family tree one branch at a time.

I also took more than 2 minutes off of my KELLY time today for a PR of 22:58. Not bad considering I have gained more than 25 pounds since I last did this WOD. Hopefully I hold that second place spot on the leaderboard!


Monday, June 13, 2011

What To Do When You Reach A Plateau.

In the world of strength training, sooner or later everyone reaches a plateau. For many athletes, it can be a source of huge frustration. They think back to the first couple months of lifting and every week they would be 5,10 or 20 pounds to all of their lifts, which slowly tapers down to a 10 lb increase a month, then to a 5 pound PR every 5 weeks and finally culminates in a halt of progress on all lifts.

There can be many causes for this halt of progression. I will try to outline a few of the most prevalent causes.

1) You are not mixing it up enough.

One of the most common causes for a plateau is the simple error of failing to working in accessory exercises to compliment your main lifts. For example a lifter wants to increase his deadlift to 500 pounds, his current deadlift is  250. Every week he works on his deadlift, doing 5x5 every week, building up his weight 5 or 10 pounds at a time. As he nears 425, he notices that he has halted progress and has stalled at 425 pounds. He cannot understand why, his deadlift form is perfect and he trains it religiously every week. The reason he thinks he should be great at deadlift is the same reason he has plateaued on deadlift, he failed to do accessory exercises to work the weaknesses on his deadlift.  

Your lifts will only be as strong as the weakest muscle that is used. You will begin to reach a point of diminishing returns if you only use the main lift movement to increase the main lift movement. If you have weak hamstrings and a strong back, of course you will get stronger hamstrings from deadlifting, but they will still be weaker relative to your back. You need to to movements that will increase the strength of your hamstrings to properly do their share during the deadlifting instead of having you back over compensate. 

A few great examples of accessory exercises would be the Romanian deadlift, the sumo deadlift, and heavy weighted pullups. 

Nicu Vlad demonstrating the original Romanian deadlift.
Also try rack pulls and band deadlifts. If you throw these various exercises into your routine, your deadlift should break through that plateau no problem.

2) You are not getting enough rest. 

I know I am definitely guilty of this one sometimes. It is pretty simple: If you do not let your muscles rest and repair themselves, you will not be operating anywhere near 100%. It is fine to lift when you are not at 100%, but do not try to PR a 1RM on those days, save those days for speed work or dynamic exercises. I know how hard it can be to follow this mantra though, especially on days when you hit a PR and think "Damn I just smashed that previous record I had, tomorrow I will destroy today's record!" 

It is difficult to not feel this way because at this moment, you feel like you could beat anything that crossed your path. Try to refrain from setting a PR two days in a row, give it at least a week. That way the next time you try to hit a PR you really can blow it out of the water, instead of blowing out a joint that you stressed to failure the day before.
Try to protect these things called muscle and bone from injury or overuse.

3) Take a look at your diet.

This topic is last but certainly not least. If you know me at all, you know that I love food, I love everything about it. I love eating until I am stuffed and comatose and then coming back 30 minutes later for another helping because I am hungry again. I do this also because I know that with the stress that I put on my body, I need to make sure that it has everything it needs, if not a little more, to be ready for the next day. Look at this example of a morning workout followed by a meal eaten afterwards:

Bench Press 5x3
Backsquat 7x3
Deadlift 5x2
row 5000m
1 apple
1 bowl of rice krispies with 1 cup almond milk

If that is what your workouts and meals look like, well I'm really sorry but we are going to have to see other people. It's not me, it's you. 
The breakfast of candy asses.

Not only will eating like this not get you what you want, it will probably have the opposite effect. You can not expect to move mountains if you eat the breakfast of a toddler. You basically need more of everything. Ask yourself how much you need to eat, and then just say "more". You need more good fats to provide calories, and to provide testosterone. You need more carbs to replace spent glycogen stores and provide you with energy; and it will go without saying that you need more protein, to both provide satiety and repair and build up the muscles that you destroyed a little stronger than before.

If you try to work on these three simple things, breaking past that plateau should be no problem for you. Just remember to mix it up, get adequate rest, and eat like your life depends upon it! (Because it does.)