Category Archive: blog

  1. Hip Flexor Stretching the RIGHT way: Loosen Tight Low Backs and improve Posture

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    Today I want to talk to you about the best way to perform a hip flexor stretch for people that love to pick things up and put them down.  My method is called the “True Hip Flexor Stretch w/ Core Activation and Deep Breathing.”

    “But Matt… Stretching? Seriously?”

    I understand most of you don’t like to stretch.

    Remember, strength is a skill. This stretch will help you acquire key strength skills so that you will stay on the Gain train to Swoleville…  Or just look and feel good. Yep.  It will do that, too.

    With the “True Hip Flexor Stretch w/ Core Activation and Deep Breathing” you will accomplish the following.

    1.  You will stretch your hip flexors with precision.
    2. You will find and reinforce neutral posture.
    3.  You will practice deep breathing and core bracing.
    4.  You will feel your glutes and abs turn on.

     

    The combination of these four things will improve gym performance and durability by teaching you how to move better and reduce low back stress.

    Here are the common reasons why you lifters might need this stretch:

    1.  You are living in extension with ribs flared and pelvis dropped forward. We call this position excessive “Anterior Pelvic Tilt” or APT for short.

    Over Extended HQ

     

    1.  When you lift in this extended posture, you cannot brace your core optimally.  You will overuse your hip flexors, quads and low back. These muscles get tight. They might ache.  Repeated movements with hyperextended posture can lead to more serious low back issues over time.Overextended HQ with Arrows, labels
    2. Your two most important muscle groups for lifting longevity, abs and glutes, are not able to perform their share of the work when you lift in ext.
    3. You have trouble getting your hips fully extended.  And I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your stomach looks bigger as a result.
      Close Up on Hip Extension
    4.  Your breathing style can be described as chest breathing. Your breaths are shallow, and your chest rises with each breath.

    Does this sound like you?

    The most ergonomic way to lift weights and reduce reliance on your low back is with neutral posture.

    Neutral HQ

    With neutral posture, you can better utilize deep breathing and better bracing techniques that will allow you to use your glutes and abs more. This neutral posture can be learned and reinforced through stretching the hip flexor the RIGHT way.

    What to Do:

    Set up in a 90/90, ½ Kneeling position on a pad on the floor with one knee directly under your hip.

    Place a full-length Foam Roller vertically in front of you at arm’s length and drive it into the floor with locked arms. Bingo. Abs are turned on.   Holding onto a PVC pipe or any other stationary object will do for this part of the drill.

    Now for the subtle part.  Posteriorly tilt your pelvis by flexing your trailing leg’s glute as hard as you can. Glute Activation, baby!  Your belly button should come closer to your chest. Your ribs will be locked down, stacked over the pelvis.  Your “belt buckle” should rise, pointing directly forward.  You should feel a distinct stretch in the front of your hip. You have become Neutral Posture.

    Lastly, take 5-8 deep diaphragmatic breaths, activating your entire core musculature, front, sides, and back.  Let this posture cement itself into muscle memory.  This is the posture you want to live, die, and breathe in.  This bracing strategy is your most important strength skill if you ever want to lift heavy weights.  Switch sides and repeat.

    To progress this stretch, you can incline your entire body forward 1-2 inches and pull the grounded knee forward, utilizing friction to increase the stretch.  The knee should not actually move, but you can pull as hard as you can to put extra tension on the system.  Make sure to keep that postural alignment you fought so hard to achieve.

    What Not to Do:

    Usually people with tight hip flexors perform an old school stretch that looks like this:

    FullSizeRender (14)

     

    Don’t do this!  The problem is this version does not actually stretch tight hip flexors well. Instead, it stretches out your ligaments that comprise the hip capsule and encourages sub-optimal posture.


    When To perform the “True Hip Flexor Stretch w/ Core Activation and Deep Breathing”:

     

    1.  Anytime you will actually do it. Some is always better than none.

    2.  During warm-up. 5-8 breaths per side.  This is my preferred method.

    3.  In between sets.  Bench or squats, it doesn’t matter.  I especially like to superset this with an exercise that relies on full hip extension for correct performance.  Ex. Hip thrusts or Glute-Ham raises.

    4.  As a cool down.


    How to tell if you need it:

    Your body will give you clues.  If your low back or hip flexors always feel tight and ache, you need this stretch.  Better bracing may be one piece of the puzzle.

    You can perform a self-assessment. Based on the problems described and the pictures I provided in this post, look in the mirror.  Stand sideways. Are you living in extension?

    If you are unsure, ask any chiropractor, physical therapist or qualified personal trainer, including yours truly.  They’ll be able to help you out.

    And if you know you have trouble breathing and bracing correctly during your big movements, like anything else, it takes practice.  Perform this stretch.  Breathe and brace, baby.  Do not be afraid to regress to deep breathing while lying on your back. As this strength skill becomes second nature, you will be able to progressively breathe and brace during more advanced movements.  The end goal for the lifting enthusiast is to brace properly with squats, deadlifts, shoulder presses, and more.


    Don’t dwell on the results of your assessment.  Do take action.

    Based on a meta-analysis of APT research by Chris Beardsley, 6-13 degrees of APT is normal and is hard to change.

    While you may always have APT, what I’m talking about in this article is reducing APT while lifting weights, which CAN be done.  You CAN build awareness of posture.  You CAN brace with a strategy that maintains neutral posture. This effort WILL improve movement and make lifting more ergonomical so you can get stronger and hit personal records for years to come.  My clients accomplish this every day.  I’ve taken 5 clients out of low back pain in the past 6 months just by improving their lifting posture and bracing strategy.

    Share this video with a fellow lifter if it helped you out.  Pregnant women will love this stretch, too.

    And reach out if you have any questions at [email protected]

  2. Holiday Eating Guide. Eating Like a Fiend, While Staying Lean and Mean.

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    AHHHHHHH!   It’s that time of year again.  Stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pies, and about a million other tasty treats that threaten to derail your diet progress.

    I get it! You work hard in the gym and have changed your habits to see some serious progress on your physique.  The holiday temptations can set you back and make you feel bad about yourself.

    I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be this way. You should enjoy your times with family and friends without stressing about your food choices. And Love yourself.  Always.  Don’t beat yourself up.

    Occasionally indulging or overindulging, in your favorite foods can be done guilt free and is necessary for a healthy relationship with food.  In the following paragraphs, I will tell you how you can strategically eat like a fiend while staying lean and mean… or hopefully just Lean.

    First some background information:

    Fact:  It takes 3500 pounds of extra calories to gain a pound of fat.  That’s 3500 extra calories on top of your daily maintenance level of caloric intake.  It’s hard to gain significant fat over the holiday season unless you eat high-calorie dishes every chance you get and just say “screw it,” ignoring hunger cues.

    Fact:  To make up for the heavy calorie meals of the holidays, you can eat less at other meals.   You can learn to compensate.  Example:  If your caloric maintenance level is 2400 calories, you have many feeding options that will allow you to stay at the same weight.  You can eat three meals like this:  800 + 800 + 800 = 2400.   Or you can eat three meals like this:  400 + 400 + 1600 = 2400.  The net effect is the same. Your body fat level will stay the same.

    Fact:  No matter how many calories you eat over the holidays, it is normal to gain five or more pounds of water weight.  This doesn’t matter.  It’s water weight.  Holiday foods are notoriously salty, sugary, and loaded with carbs that will make you retain water.  So if you weigh yourself the morning before feasting and boozing has begun and weigh yourself the day after heavy feasting, do not throw your hands up in despair.  Dieting and healthy eating is a long-term plan.  Gaining water weight has no negative effect on your long-term progress.  A few days of normalized eating patterns will return it to pre-feast levels.

    Fact:  Nobody wants to be around someone that is miserable from dieting.  You likely are seeing friends and family that you do not get to see often.  Why risk not being your 100% best by suffering through meals?  It just doesn’t make sense unless you have a great reason to keep the diet going.

    In light of this, what should the game plan be for most people?

    -Enjoy your festive meals with your family.  Pig out if you desire.  It’s the holidays.  That’s part of the fun. Remember, gaining a significant amount of fat in a short time is hard.

    -When you eat a non-festive meal, try and eat less to limit excess calories. My strategy is to cut out most of my carbs and some fats in all of my meals except for the big ones.

    -Keep protein high.  Protein releases satiating chemicals in the body that will make you feel full. You will be less likely to overeat when protein consumption is elevated.

    -Eat fewer meals.  During the holiday season and whenever I go home, I cut back from four meals per day to three.  Sometimes I lose weight from this.

    -Limit mindless eating of treats like cookies during the day, unless refraining puts you in a bad mood. If you can’t resist these treats, try and take something else out of the equation.  It’s compensation.  I eat less cookies and treats throughout the day, because I personally do not crave sugar.  If you have been eating clean for any amount of time, you will probably crave sweets less than your cookie monster nephew.

    -Keep training hard when you can.  Gyms are all over the world in every town. You should not need to lose more than a workout or two around the holidays.  When you are at the gym, get extra work in if you know you will miss a workout or two.

    With these strategies, you can fully enjoy your holidays while minimizing the damage of your binge eating fun.  Long term food restriction isn’t healthy nor is it necessary.  Now go forth and spread your holiday cheer.

  3. Powerlifting with PH3 –  The Summer of Strength and Swole or The Road to a 600# Deadlift

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    This is my story of training through Layne Norton’s PH3 in preparation for a powerlifting meet.  There are not many accounts on the internet of powerlifting on PH3.  And very few people know the level of tenacity it takes to complete a program like this.  I explain all the considerations I made while running PH3.  I give you an inside look at the aches and pains and the mental strain this program caused.  At the end, I take you through my meet results, as well as, visual and body composition changes.  I hope you enjoy my story.

    Feel free to skip to the Results section.

    Background Story:

    This was supposed to be the Summer of Chill.  I was going to rock climb, spend time with a special girl I had been dating, and put lifting on the back burner, for once in my life.  But at my last meet I was so disappointed with my bench press and squat and failure to hit a 600-pound deadlift, my reason for being, that I immediately started training for a new one, a reactionary decision that had gotten me injured in the past.  Even as I plotted my new program, my knees had mild intermittent pain, and my left hamstring felt strained.

    See, powerlifting is a brutal sport where athletes push their bodies to the limit.  If your movement profile is off at all, your body breaks down. It’s a sport that rewards perseverance, patience, and hard work.  And it’s a sport that most agree requires an off season.  Screw that…

    The program:  Layne Norton’s PH3.  A radically new approach to training for me.  High volume. Power hypertrophy. And focus on the Big 3: squat, bench, and deadlift.  I never thought I would survive it.
    Two days after my meet, I was back in the gym.  The program was radically different from Mike Robertson’s Online Training Program that I had been following for 15 months.  Instead of performing squat, bench, and deadlift one time per week.  I would be performing squats 3x/week, bench or bench assistance 4x/week, and deadlift 2x/week in a daily undulating periodization scheme.  This just means the program systematically varied the number of reps, sets, and load as a percentage of your 1 Rep Max (RM) you lifted throughout the week, giving your body more diverse stimulus and a break from heavy weights.  While I wasn’t going as heavy all the time (intensity), the program made up for it with brutally high volume.  Basically, this program would have me doing about 4x the volume I was used to on the powerlifts.

    I’ve been prone to overuse injuries in my elbows and knees, so PH3 just sounded like a bad idea to me.  But I was going to give it a try.  “What the hell,” I thought. “If I get injured, I just stop. And I need a change up.”

    Important Programming Considerations:

    This is how I decided to run the program:

    1.  I would perform all my squats during the first two phases of my program with a high bar technique where the bar sits high on my upper traps. Usually, my back squats were exclusively with a low bar position where the bar is situated surprise, surprise… lower on my back. I made this change for three reasons:

    • Low bar squats always beat up on the inside of my elbows. I have chronic tendonitis from poor training decisions during my CrossFit days. The high bar position takes less flexibility and puts less stress on my elbows, allowing me to lift with less pain throughout the program.
    • Quads are my weak link on squats. At the bottom of my 1 RM low bar squat, I have always fallen forward because of inadequate quad strength. High bar squats target your quads more because you train in a more upright position.
    • High bar squats take some of the stress off your low back. Since I was already deadlifting 2x/week, I knew I would be getting plenty of low back work.

     

    2.  Due to the Law of Specificity, you should train exactly how you compete, I would gradually switch to low bar squats during my last phase of training. During Week 10, I performed my heaviest squat day with low bar squats.  In Week 11, I performed my 2 heaviest squat days with low bar squats. And in my final two weeks, all 3 squat days were performed with low bar technique.

    3.  I strategically chose the weights I put in as my “1 RM” for this percentage based program. Each week, the weights you lift fluctuate as a percentage of the 1 RM you base the program on.  Layne Norton recommends using 90%-100% of your true 1RM when starting the program. The more advanced you are, and presumably the better your form is, the closer to 100% you are supposed to set your starting weights.  Due to PH3’s design, if I started too low, the weights automatically correct and get heavier. The weights adjust weekly on your Strength Day according to your performance on the last set of your main lift in the previous week’s As Many Reps as Possible (AMRAP) set.

    • For back squats, I had to test my 1RM for high bar. Remember, I rarely trained high bar squats.  To do this, I ran two weeks of PH3 Intro workouts with reduced weights to practice high bar form and on the last day, I tested my 1 RM. I hit #385 and missed 405#.  The program would be based off of 100% of my high bar 1RM.  This is light for me considering 385# is only 85.2% of my low bar 1RM (452#).  I was okay with this because I didn’t think my knees would like squatting 3x/week.
    • For bench press, something in my gut told me to go heavy. It was my weakest lift, and I had the best chance at drastically improving it.  And keep in mind, I expected to get injured and end the program early.  I was jaded… So screw it. I went with 270#, aka 98.1% of my true 1 Rep Max.
    • Lastly, deadlifts, my strongest lift.  The weights this program started me out at were very intimidating no matter what weight I picked, 90-100%.  But the deadlift was my baby.  I chose to base the program off of 550#, which was 93.4% off of my true 1 RM at the time (589#).  It was conservative, yet scary at the same time.  I cannot stress how brutal this program is.

     

    3)  I followed Layne Norton’s recommendation to make this program all about hypertrophy and keep assistance bodybuilding specific.  I chose my exercises but generally kept his basic layout for assistance work.  This was going to be the Summer of Strength and Swole.  I would sign up for a USA Powerlifting (USAPL) meet where the weight class cut off was 93kg (204.6#), rather than the more common 198# class of other federations.  I could use the extra mass and had only weighed in at 194# when I cut weight too hard for my last meet.

    Bodybuilder, I am not, I used vastly different training techniques from what I was used too. I included Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) work and performed about 3x more isolation work than I was used to.  I trained calves, bis, and tris, like a good little bodybuilder.  I figured my joints couldn’t handle too many more intense compound exercises since the program included a shockingly high volume on the main lifts.

    4)  I skipped out on abs and core work completely.  The program had me training 5 days per week with 1.5-2 hour workouts most of the time.  I needed to cut a corner somewhere.  The question remained, would my core stay strong enough purely through lifting heavy ass weights and bracing into my belt?

    Running the Program:

    I performed 2 weeks of Intro work for 2 reasons (I like lists, I hope you do too):

    1. Layne Norton recommends that if you aren’t used to high volume programs, you should go through the first phase (4 weeks in length), while skipping the As Many Reps as Possible (AMRAP) sets to failure. Then you repeat Phase 1.  While I didn’t follow his advice verbatim, I knew I needed to transition cautiously into this program.Adapting to the volume of PH3 was going to be brutal, my knees were not 100% after peaking from my last meet, and I needed to familiarize myself with high bar squatting and establish a 1RM.  I was basically on the Anti-High Volume Program while training for my last meet.  Therefore, I performed 2 weeks of the program with reduced weights and skipped the AMRAP sets. It was a solid strategy that made my transition into PH3 successful.
    2. I had a vacation to India scheduled on September 15th, so I wanted to peak the last weekend I was in the states with a powerlifting meet. The USAPL Connecticut Last Show for Nationals meet on September 11th fit the bill perfectly.  I would officially start Phase 1 of PH3 on June 13th, exactly 13 weeks out from my meet.

     

    Phase 1:

    I started Phase 1 with an increase in volume and weight from my two intro weeks, and I felt surprisingly good.  My hamstring was still slightly strained, but it didn’t seem to be getting any worse.  My knees would occasionally hurt, but usually, it was just for a moment and they would feel better right when it was time to squat again. This was to be expected.  My body was adapting to a high volume program.  At the same time, high bar back squatting was starting to feel really good.

    Phase 2:

    The weights were getting heavier.  But early Phase 2 was when I felt my best.  My hamstring strain had mysteriously cleared up.  Occasionally, I would feel an old adductor strain rear its ugly head while squatting.  When this happened, I would just tweak my foot position or change my lifting shoes.  This approach, plus a few key warm-up moves, specifically single Leg Glute Bridges and Straight leg glute bridges, seemed to keep my body tuned up and feeling good.

    Could it be? I was surviving the program and hitting bench and deadlift PRs left and right?  Confidence was high.

    Then disaster struck! I must have begun to overreach a little bit.  My sleep had gotten worse that week.   I’m not sure if it was the program taking its toll or if it was that my girl had left the country.  I was averaging about 6 hours of sleep… the perfect storm for injury was brewing.

    Week 7, Day 45, Wednesday, July 27th.  I’m bench pressing my 5th set of 6 at 220# and I feel a crack, a pop, a click?  Regardless of what it was, my neck Instantly tightens up and I can’t turn my head very well. This isn’t good.  The pain is 6-7 out of 10 at night.  I decide I can still train, but it is very annoying and further contributing to my sleep issues.  It’s hard to get in and out of my car, and I can’t hold the phone to my ear hands-free.

    After a week, I start taking 600mg of Ibuprofen 3x a day to control the pain. After another week, I realize I need to see a physical therapist and book my first appointment.  I also see a chiropractor but decide the physical therapy was much more effective.  I found Jon Herting, owner of The Training Room of Garnet Valley off of ClinicalAthlete.com.  Jon is great at what he does.  After the first week of performing the exercises he assigned, the discomfort was 70% better.

    I’ve been speculating what the cause of this injury was.  I think it was just the result of me pushing my neck way to hard into the bench in an attempt to generate extra tension while bench pressing.  The theory goes that the more full-body tension you create, the more weight you can lift.  It’s true. But I personally will no longer perform bench press or coach others to aggressively drive their cervical spine into the bench. Your neck does not need that extra stress.

    Phase 3:

    I was now in the most intense Phase of PH3.  The Overreaching Phase.  Things got interesting.

    I was absolutely shocked my elbows could handle benching 3x/week without starting to get achy.  In the past, I always had to cut back bench volume drastically to prevent overtraining whenever the weights got heavy.  If you look at my bench press progression from all my meets from October 2013 to my last meet in May 2016 (253.5 – 270 – 275 – 253.5 – 275.6), you’ll notice terrible progress.  During most of those meets or the weeks leading up to those meets, I had a terrible tendonitis ache in my elbow that would negatively affect performance.  I always hit rep PRs preparing for the meet, but by the time the meet rolled around, I was too beat up to perform.  The Final workout of Week 12 was the first time I felt a hint of that familiar pain, just in time for my taper week. Not bad.

    Weeks 11 and 12 of the program were absolutely crushing to my soul.  Working out became a chore.  Maybe once a week I would have a glimmer of excitement to train. And I absolutely dreaded the high volume day where you perform all 3 of the big lifts. Every set was a grind. I questioned why I did this crazy sport.

    But this was by design.  I was in an Overreaching Phase.  I was exceeding my body’s ability to recover. These workouts were supposed to feel absolutely terrible.  I was taking 7 minutes of rest between sets to finish my final strength workout on squats for 6×3 @ 385.  This was a volume PR in an overreached state.  The best I had ever done with that sort of weight was 1×2 @ 415 and 2×3 @ 385, 1×3 @370.  And I still got my reps in, barely (I missed two reps of Bench Press throughout the whole program when I was pressed for time).  Sets of 2 on Deadlift at 525 almost killed me.

    Still, I really started to question the merits of the program.  Layne never once describes this program as being for powerlifting.  He says “The goal of this program is to gain a significant amount of muscle mass, but also get significantly stronger.” He does not say specifically, “this program will peak you for a powerlifting meet.”  I thought I had made a big mistake going hard all the way through Week 12.  Usually, my deload would have started 2 weeks out from my meet and my volume would have been drastically cut.  Most advanced powerlifters taper training this way.  I feared this program was just for bodybuilders or worse yet, drug users, and it wouldn’t peak me properly for the meet. Against my better judgment, I kept assistance work volume high and dropped it by about a 1/3 in week 12, and dropped it almost completely week 13.

    Over the weekend at the end of Week 12, I did something stupid, again.  For the record, stupid actions = experience.  This is how I learn the most important lessons about training.  I signed up for a memorial golf tournament that I do every year honoring my friends passing and supporting a local charity.  I almost never play golf, and the weekend before an important meet is the absolutely worst time to try new sports.  I know what you’re thinking… It’s golf.  Well, I call bullshit.  Golf puts quite a bit of stress on the elbows.  I was feeling twinges of elbow pain on my drives.   The countless aggressive asymmetrical trunk rotations made my left lower back tight the day after the tournament.  No big deal, I thought. I made up a stretch that was like a cobra stretch while laying on one side.  I stood up and suddenly I had SI joint pain on my lefts side.  Standing up fully was uncomfortable, to say the least.  Great! I really thought I might have to pull out of the meet.  Nervously, I performed my first workout of the week two days later. 4 days later, the pain had resolved.  Phew! Close call.

    The weekend of the meet, my confidence was lukewarm.

    My knees started to hurt a little, which I am used to before a meet. It’s always a troubling occurrence.  It would come and go, fortunately, come meet day, it disappeared completely.

    I had not reached very high percentages of my 1RMs in training, and during the previous 2 weeks I felt awful.  For squat, my highest working weight was 85% of my 1RM (385 for 6×3).  Bench press I worked up to 92.7% of my 1RM (255 for 5 sets of 3 and 1×4).  Ok. I was actually feeling confident for bench.  Deadlift I had struggled with 89% (525 for 6 sets of 2).  The weights still seemed relatively light on deadlift.  Again, it was a volume PR.  But this wasn’t how I thought you were supposed to train for a powerlifting meet.

    In the past, I peaked with a heavy 2×2 at 3 weeks out for back squat, bench, and deadlift.  Two weeks out, I would perform my openers for 2×1 on squat and bench, while pulling light for speed on deadlifts.  The last week, I would only perform 60% of my 1RM for back Squat and bench. That was it.

    PH3 had me lifting “heavy” even in the Taper Week before my meet.  I performed 5×3 at 74% of my back squat, 5×3 at 85% of my bench, and 3×3 at 68% of my deadlift.  But I decided to trust in the program.

    Fortunately, I did not have to cut much weight going into the meet. Reducing my carbs to mostly vegetables the week of the meet was enough to reach the 93kg weight class with 0.4kg to spare.

    Sleep is always an issue for me leading into a meet.  It’s tough being a creature of the night, and after every meet, I swear to change my late night ways.  But that never works.  Two nights before the meet, I tossed and turned with bizarre Ambien-induced dreams.  I found out the insomniac’s pills did not work well for me and I will never take it again.  The night before the meet, I was tired but sleep came easily when I finally shut my eyes 6 hours before my alarm was set.

    Meet Day:

    I showed up early for the meet for the first time ever.  I regretted not sleeping in for that extra hour, but I felt good.  There was nothing to do but wait and distract myself by socializing with the other lifters.

    The comradery is unreal at a meet.  Every lifter has put in countless hours under the bar and they all share an understanding of what sort of commitment it takes to hit PRs and improve year after year. The energy was contagious.

    Game face time.  No more doubts.  I resolved to give my best effort and see what I could accomplish.

    Squats began. I hit my opener at 391.3# easily.  No surprise there.  Attempt 2 felt good as well. 429.9# in the books.  I thought I had a PR in me, but I was not prepared for the 12.5kg jump to 457.5#.  I was stapled at the bottom of the squat.  At least my form stayed tight.  Next meet, I needed to train at a higher percentage of my true 1RM going into the meet.

    Numbers and video:

    Attempt 1:  177.5 kg = 391.3

    Attempt 2:  195 kg = 429.9

    Attempt 3:  207.5 kg = 457.5 Failed

    Bench press time.

    This was the lift I was most confident on.  Still, I made a bad decision. I warmed up using wrist wraps, having not trained with them.  My wrists had been slightly wonky in past weeks and I felt the wrist wraps would be advantageous.  A few minutes before my first lift, I decided to abandon them.

    I smoked my first lift at 259#.  Time to go for a tiny PR at 281.1#. I hit it but the lights were red.  I failed to listen for the “start” command and descended too early.  The smart thing would have been to repeat the lift and establish an official PR in the books.  I thought I had more in the tank.  I went for a 2.5kg weight increase to 286.6#.  This was one of the most difficult, grinding bench presses I had done in competition.  I was thrilled at the 10kg PR!

    Numbers and video:

    Attempt 1:  117.5 kg = 259

    Attempt 2:  127.5 kg = 281.1 Failed

    Attempt 3:  130 kg = 286.6 PR

    On to deadlifts.  My baby.  I had wanted 600# for the last couple years.  A 600# deadlift had become my reason for being.

    Warming up, it’s really hard for me to say how I felt. The weights on deadlift always feel heavy.  I let the bar slip away from me at 495.  This was disconcerting.  But I buried these thoughts, knowing I had put in the work.

    My first attempt was 551.2#.  It flew up.  I knew this was the day to hit 600# or 600.8#, to be exact.  I was going for broke.

    The announcer called my name and rallied the crowd to support me for this momentous lift. Summoning the fury of a thousand hell hounds, I approached the bar.  The energy was electric. I sucked in as much air as my belly could take. I bent down and hook gripped the bar.  I pulled my body into position and pushed as hard as I could.  It seemed an eternity, but finally, the bar broke off the floor and I just kept thinking “keep driving.”  I locked it out, received the command, and slammed the bar down.  3 white lights!  My quest for 600# was over!  My work was done.  And my pain face will live on thhrough the internet forever.

    fullsizerender-11

    Numbers and video:

    Attempt 1:  250 kg = 551.2

    Attempt 2:  272.5kg = 600.8 PR

    Attempt 3:  N/A

    My meet Total was 597.5 kg = 1317.3#, 17# better than I had ever done before. If I had hit my 3rd attempt on back squats, I would have qualified for Nationals.

    The Results:

    I consider my 13 weeks training on PH3 to have been wildly successful.  I hit PRs on 2 out of 3 of my lifts by 5 kg each and nearly hit a squat PR. My total was a 7.5kg PR, and I finally hit my 600# deadlift.  I performed this program specifically for Powerlifting and any lifter that improves as much as I did on a 13-week program has nothing to complain about.

    But what about my muscle mass? Many lifters would perform PH3 solely for its hypertrophy benefits.
    My mass gain was fantastic.

    I took initial circumference measurements and fat caliper measurements both at the start of the program and 2.5 weeks from the end of the program when I started reducing my assistance work (11.5 weeks in).  Both measurements were in the evening before lifting for the day.

    I started at a bodyweight of 200# and finished at a bodyweight of 205# before cutting a couple pounds for the meet.

    Body Fat Calculator
    Date: 6/6/2016 8/25/2016
    Assessment Number: #2 #3
    Name: Matt Smith
    Age: 30 30
    Bodyweight: 200 205
     
    The Spots  (mm) (mm)
    Abdominal 12 13
    Triceps 8 9
    Chest 6 8
    Mid-axillary 6 8
    Subscapular 8 8
    Suprailiac 4 3
    Thigh 8 7.66
    Sum of Skinfold Test: 52 56.66
    Body Fat Percentage: 8.1 8.8
    Fat Mass: 16.2 18.0
    Lean Mass: 183.8 187.0

     

    The measurements show that as an advanced lifter I gained 3.2 pounds of muscle in 13 weeks and gained a tiny bit of fat.

    Initial Body Composition Measurements
    Date: 6/6/2016 8/25/2016
    Assesment Number: #1 #2
    Name:  Matt Smith
    The Spots (cm) (cm)
    Neck Girth 38 38.5
    Shoulder Girth 124 127.5
    Chest Girth 102 108
    Upper Arm Girth 34.5 39
    Waist Girth 86 88.5
    Hip Girth 101 106.5
    Thigh Girth 62 66
    Calf Girth 39 40

     

    I improved every measure of circumference.  I was especially impressed with my 4.5 cm gain in my arms, which was mostly because I had never fully embraced my inner bro and directly trained the guns adequately.

    Here’s a less than ideal Before-After picture that looks more like something one sends to a booty call.  The location, the pose, and the setting would have ideally been consistent.  But this is what you get.

     

    before-after-ph3

    The photo on the left was from the day before my meet on May 21st, 2016.  The photo on the right was September 10th, 2016, the day before my meet after running PH3.  By the end of my program, people I had seen every day for a couple years were telling me “you’re f—ing huge!”

    Concluding Thoughts:

    Without a doubt, this program works for hypertrophy and Strength. The question is, can you survive it?

    If you choose to follow this program, make sure you are used to high volume programming and do not be afraid to scale down your weights.

    The high-frequency bench training was key to my success on bench press.  And my decision to train most of the program with high bar back squat was a necessary decision to spare my elbows.  It also might have been the reason my squat did not see improvement.  Had I not traveled for 28 days after my powerlifting meet, I would have run this program again with a higher starting weight for each lift, especially squats.  I am confident all of my lifts would have improved.

  4. Exercise of the Week #5: 1-Arm Farmer’s Walk

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    1-Arm Farmer’s Walks are an exercise I use frequently with clients at Bodysmith Performance.

    It’s effectiveness is matched by it’s functionality.  Done correctly it reinforces good posture and roasts the obliques and other core muscles.

    Dads carrying coolers, Grandmas unloading groceries, and Athletes taking an unforeseen collision to the side.  You all need to have a stable Core and 1-Arm Farmer’s Walks will bulletproof that mid-section.

  5. Exercise of the Week #4: Goblet Squats

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    In this Exercise of the Week, we take a look at Goblet Squats.

    Goblet Squats are a staple in all of my programs, especially early on.

    Once someone has mastered bodyweight squats and Front Loaded Reaching Squats, it’s time for the Goblet Squat.

    This move helps you refine your squat form while building glute, leg, and serious core strength.

    Enjoy!

  6. Exercise of the Week #3: Core-Activated Deadbugs

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    Dead bugs are an absolute essential part of any training program.

    Here is one of the variations I start a lot of clients on:

    Dead bugs are a great because in addition to strengthening your abs and obliques, they teach you to breathe and brace properly.  Just make sure you fill your belly with air using a technique called diaphragmatic breathing.

    Until next time…

  7. Progressive Overload: Methods, Application, and Pitfalls

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    Progressive Overload: Methods, Application, and Pitfalls

    No matter who you are, using good ol’ fashion Progressive Overload will give you better results. Anybody who has seen an inkling of results in the gym uses progressive overload whether they know it or not.

    The goals of this article are simple:

    1. Define Progressive Overload.

    2. Show you the various ways to implement Progressive Overload in your training for more efficient results.

    3. Cover the most common pitfalls of Progressive Overload, so that you can avoid some mistakes I have made myself.

    Definition:

    Progressive Overload is simply following progressions and doing more over time. Exceeding your previous best. Setting personal records. It is the basis of all progress in the gym.

    Methods and Application:

    Below are 8 ways to implement Progressive Overload into your exercise program for more effective results:

    1. Add weight to the bar or (insert favorite lifting implement here_____ ). You are increasing exercise intensity.

    The smaller you increase your load each workout, the longer you can progress on that exercise.

    Example:
    Workout 1: 3×10 (Read: 3 sets of 10) Lunges @ 10# dumbbell.
    Workout 2: 3×10 Lunges @ 12# dumbbell.

    2. Perform more reps. Increase workout volume. Volume is simply Sets x Reps. The more volume you do, the more you can grow, the more calories you burn, and the more muscle endurance you will have.

    Example:
    Workout 1: 4×8 Dumbbell Bench @ 40#.
    Workout 2: 4×9 Dumbell Bench @ 40#.
    Another Example:
    Workout 1: 2 x Max Push-ups => 22+ 13 = 35.
    Workout 2: 2 x Max Push-ups => 23 + 13 = 36.

    3. Do more sets. Again, you are increasing volume.

    Example:
    Workout 1: 4×5 Deadlift @225#.
    Workout 2: 5×5 Deadlift @ 225#.

    4. Take less rest between sets. Increase workout density and improve muscular endurance. More work in less time builds better fitness. This is the goal behind CrossFit. And it works when applied systematically.

    Example:
    Workout 1: Perform 3x 10 Pull-ups, 20 Yoga Push-ups, Rest 75 seconds between circuits.
    Workout 2: Pull-ups 3×10, 20 Yoga Push-ups, Rest 70 seconds between circuits.

    5. Perform more work in the same time. Another way to increase workout density.

    Example:
    Workout 1: With a running clock, perform 5 Tricep Dips on the minute for 8 minutes.
    Workout 2: With a running clock, perform 6 Tricep Dips on the minute for 8 minutes.

    6. Perform a more advanced version of the same exercise.

    Example:
    Workout 1: Standard Plank 3x 45 seconds
    Workout 2: progress to the TRX Plank 3×45 seconds.

    7. Increase Range of Motion. Increase the amount of work performed.

    Example:
    Workout 1: Box Squat to a 15” Box for 5×5 @ 315#.
    Workout 2: Box Squat to a 14” Box for 5×5 @ 315#.

    8. Last, but certainly not least, Perform the same exercise for the same load and volume with better form. This improves exercise efficiency and muscle recruitment.
    Example:
    Workout 1: 3×5 Barbell Squats @ 185#. Form fell apart on a couple reps.
    Workout 2: Repeat 3×5 Barbell Squats @ 185# with perfect form.

    Progressive Overload Pitfalls:

    1. As you add weight, the exercise form tends to change.

    What to do about it? Standardize your exercise form. Prioritize form improvements over other methods of progressive overload. Be strict with yourself and don’t allow bad form. If your form changes, you are not making progress and are working different muscles than when your form was perfect.

    2. Lifting Tempo changes.

    What to do about it?  In addition to standardizing technique, standardize your tempo. The rep speed should remain constant workout to workout. The rep speed determines the time under tension of a given muscle. Time under tension is the amount of time the muscle is working against resistance in a given set. Failure to consider lifting tempo can derail your progress, particularly if you are focusing on higher rep work (5-25 reps) and hypertrophy is your goal.

    For example, consider these two lifters:

    Lifter 1:
    Workout 1: Barbell Curls – 3×10 @ 65#, performed in 60 seconds for each set.
    Workout 2: Barbell Curls – 3×10 @ 70#, performed in 37 seconds for each set.
    Or
    Lifter 2
    Workout 1: Barbell Curls – 3×10 @ 65#, performed in 60 seconds for each set.
    Workout 2: Barbell Curls – 3×10 @ 70#, performed in 60 seconds for each set.

    While both lifters increased their weights, Lifter 2 made his muscles work harder and will experience greater muscle growth. Lifter 1 may have had a harder workout in Workout 1 because his time under tension was longer than in Workout 2. Be like Lifter 2.
    3. Trying to follow a Progression too long.

    What to do about it? Once progress comes to a screeching halt, don’t despair. Realize the longer you lift, the slower you will progress. Otherwise, everyone would be Hercules! It’s time to change the game plan to break the plateau.
    You can reset the effort to a workout from a few workouts before, and build back up with more volume. Or change movements for a slightly new stimulus and set new records. Eventually you should return to your old workouts or exercises to beat those records.

    Conclusion:
    I hope this article gives you new insights in how to make progress in the gym. Skilled manipulation of the various types of progressions discussed in this article will help you avoid plateaus and let you make gains for years to come. Feel free to each out to me if you have any questions.

  8. 5 Reasons you Must do Push-ups

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    5 Reasons you MUST do Push-ups:

    1. Push-ups make you a bad-ass and better at life. I’m talking full range, chest to deck push-ups. You probably suck at them, so there is lot’s of room for improvement. A push-up is one of my favorite assessment tools to identify deficiencies.

    2. Done properly, it is one of the best exercises around for shoulder health. The shoulder gets to move naturally and you work your Serratus Anterior, a muscle that is often weak and responsible for upper body dysfunction.  Push away from the ground at the top of your push-ups.

    3. It’s an efficient full body exercise that works your abs, chest, shoulders, arms, abs, back, and even legs. If you are in a time crunch, you best do your push-ups.

    4. Ninjas can do push-ups. Like hundreds.

    5. Push-ups are infinitely scalable, so you will never get bored. Add weight, use unstable services, alter hand position, add bands and chains. It’s the ultimate calisthenic strength exercise with unlimited options.