Monthly Archives: November 2011

Grand Prix Debriefing

The first thing someone asked me when I returned from the Grand Prix was “How did it go?”. After a few seconds of thought, I replied that we had given away $10,000 to the lifters, even the very last session started exactly on time, and who the money went to wasn’t decided till the last few lifts. What more is there to say?

Well, actually there are a few things, which I will cover now. In the womens competition Berube and Mangold looked like favorites for 1st and 2nd, with Zimmerman in position to challenge if either one of them had a bad day. Leathers, Taylor, Greenburg and Farmer looked in the running for the 4th and 5th spots. Farmer established a 180 and change sinclair with her second attempt clean and jerk early in the A session which looked like it might hang on for 5th or even 4th place. Greenburg bested this by half a sinclair point on her second attempt, and Farmer tried to come back and take the lead with her 3rd attempt but was not successful. At this point Greenburg looked like she had a good chance of hanging on to 5th place and finishing in the money. Heavier lifters Taylor and Leathers made things interesting, with Leathers only making two attempts at the snatch and Taylor making 3 good attempts and ending with a 76kg snatch that was an 8kg competition PR. At this point, I would have guessed the order of 4th 5th and 6th to be Taylor, Leathers, and Greenburg, in that order, with everyone moving up a place if one of the top 3 faltered. Taylor came out and beat Greenburg’s sinclair with her opener clean and jerk, assuring her of at least 5th place, as did Leathers. This put Greenburg in 6th place out of the money unless someone bombed. Taylor made 2 clean and jerks ending in 90, for a huge competition PR before Leathers showed why she was an Olympion, going 3 for 3 on the clean and jerk ending with a solid 95 and finishing ahead of Taylor on sinclair. Zimmerman made 3 lifts, but would have only needed her openers to land solidly in 3rd place. Berube put 4 attempts together to take a big lead with a sinclair of 245 and change, then sat and waited to see if she walked home with $2000 or $1200. Mangold used her second attempt clean and jerk to add a 137 to her 109 snatch for a total of 246, and a sinclair of the same. So, $2000 for Mangold, $1200 for Berube, $800 for Zimmerman, $600 for Leathers, and $400 for Taylor. And, a very exciting sesssion for the audience!

The A session for the men was the last session. The top 3 were obviously North, Bruce, and Williams. They looked VERY even coming in, with no one really in a position to challenge them for the top 3 spots without anything extraordinary happening. Cerbus, Cornell, Moorman, Earnst and Bourgeois all looked in it for 4th and 5th places. Cerbus and Bourgeois clean and jerked first, and Cerbus added a 156 to his 134 snatch to put up a sinclair that looked like it might be in the money at 367 and change. Bourgeois put up a 157 but only added it to a 124 snatch for a sinclair of 352 and change that looked pretty iffy for the top 5. Williams put up a 127 snatch going 3 for 3, and did the same 3 for 3 performance in the clean and jerk ending with an unofficial American record 164. This gave him a 388 and change sinclair off of a 291 total weighing within the 69kg class. Ernst tried a 172 Kilo clean and jerk to put him ahead of Bourgeois and give him hope of $$ at the end and failed, then Cornell tried a 173kg attempt to do the same thing and succeeded. Bruce and North both opened at 175 very solidly, Bruce moving to 180 for his second and North moving to 182 again both successfully. Bruce moved to 184kg and also made this to topple Williams on sinclair by 1 point. Spencer opened at 185kg very solidly to get himself on the board before North tried 190 to go into the lead ahead of both Williams and Bruce. He failed, leaving him in 3rd place. Moorman made a solid 192 opener before taking a shot at the Junior American record with an attempt at 204kg, which he shouldered but could not complete. So, final results were Bruce $2000, Williams $1200, North $800, Cerbus $600, and Cornell $400.

So there it is folks. Can’t wait for the next one!

Rome Was Not Built In a Day

In the past 15 years or so I have had a lot of high school football players talk to me about getting bigger and/or stronger. These are often guys that any strength coach would love to work with. Kids who are already big, strong, fast, and have the genetic talent to get much, much bigger and stronger with the application of a good training plan. They are also usually motivated and I know they will work hard.

The most typical situation is a kid who started as a Junior and got some attention. Often the kid has been told by a coach or his father that with another 20-30lbs or muscle on him, he would be playing in college on a scholarship. And so, at some point between his Junior season and the summer prior to his senior year, he decides to get serious about weight training, hit the gym hard and try to lock in that college scholarship.

There is one unfortunate fact here. My friends, Rome was not built in a day. While a person can easily make solid progress in the 2-3 months that these fooball players have given themselves to “get stronger”, you can’t do in 2 months what you should have had 6 or more years to do.

Preparation to do your best in any sport as a young adult should begin at the age of 5 or 6 years old. When I was young I did not have a computer, or any electronic games. And our TV was black and white with 2 channels. The ability to watch kids shows was limited to Saturday morning cartoons. In these things I was quite normal, although we were much later than most of my friends to convert to color television. We also did not have air conditioning in our home till I was in high school. This set of conditioned meant that we played outside a LOT. We built forts, raced our BMX bikes and jumped ramps with them. We played various games and got into fights. I remember once when I was 9 or 10, we all decided to dig as big a hole as we could at the edge of the wheat field that seperated my parents small farm from the town. Five or 6 of us dug for a whole weekend on that hole, got it deep enough so that we could all get in it and stand up with our heads below ground level. We had dreams of covering it first with boards, then with dirt on the boards to camouflage it and have a secret entrance and making it our secret fort, but my dad found out what we were doing and made us fill it all back in because he was afraid it would fall in on one of us and bury us.

I don’t see kids playing like this much anymore. I know I would never catch my 10 year old son digging for hours, or even days out in the back yard for the pure fun of making a huge hole. Inside, he has air conditioning, his own laptop, an X-box and Nickelodeon on the TV blasting out shows aimed at his age group 24 hours a day. Digging and sweating outside all day would be punishment for him, not fun.

The unfortunate fact is that the lack of an active childhood with lots of physical play hurts the ultimate athletic development of many kids. And yes, the effect lasts beyond childhood. If you grew up in a rural area, weren’t the “farm kids” the ones who more often than not excelled in gym class and on the athletic field? Oh and don’t even get me started on the differences between gym class as you remember it if you are over 35, and what passes for gym class today in many cases.

How do you replace what many of us experienced as children with our own children today? My friend and Crossfit box owner Don mcCauley tells me that the Crossfit Kids program is excellent. Promoting the participation in various sports is also great. Between the age of 4 and 10, my son did martial arts, wrestling, soccer, boxing, and weightlifting. I didn’t make him do anything he didn’t want to do other than he always be participating in at least one sport, year round. It is also important to make exercise at home the norm from a young age. Walks to the park and spending some time climbing on the climbing walls was normal for William, as was a short session of kettlebells before bedtime. This was actually fun for us, as if he used an 8kb KB and I used a 24kg KB we were actually quite competitive with each other with how many snatches we could complete in 5 or 10 minutes. And oh how William loved to beat dad.

Can doing these things make up for hours of physical play every day? Probably not. But it’s better than TV or video games while laying on the couch.

If plenty of GPP is just what the doctor ordered during the grade school years, what’s next? Strength. 12 or 13 years of age is a great time to start a good, year round strength training program. If you start at this age, you can already have great technique firmly ingrained, and the body toughened enough that when the age is reached that will allow serious strength gains (14 or 15 for most) you do not have to waste time teaching technique or adapting to a workload. One who travels this path will have been able to reach a pretty high percentage of their ultimate strength potential by age 18, or by that senior year in football. I would propose that if this path were followed by most, 400lb cleans among high school football players would be fairly common.

But more importantly, if this type of thing were more common, I would not have had to tell as many kids, or their parents, that Rome was not built in a day.

Swing the Bat

One of the best baseball players ever was Babe Ruth. I would not guess I am gonna get a lot of argument there. He hit a lot of home runs. He also struck out a lot. Christmas morning did not happen every time he toed the plate. Yet, he kept swinging. And from the little I know about the Babe, he didn’t let strikeouts hurt his confidence at all. He kept swinging.

In my 40+ years on planet earth, I have observed a few things and maybe even learned a thing or two. Or maybe not, but I am going with the idea that I have. Everyone fails. Everyone. I have failed so many times that listing them all here would be pointless. If I thought about all the times, I would no doubt just consider myself a failure and quit. My one redeeming quality is that I have kept swinging.

The Olympic lifter I most admire, Donny Shankle, has had is share of failures, bad meets, and years with no progress. Yet he is heading to Paris for the world championships tomorrow, in probably the best shape of his life. And he is mighty close to making the Olympic team for 2012. Why? Cause he kept swinging. And, eventually he is gonna hit it out of the park. But the ball ain’t gonna clear the fence if you don’t swing.

Most people who succeed in a spectacular way have one thing in common. A history of failure. Often failure of the sort that would make the average guy stop swinging. But they didn’t, and eventually they hit the home run.

My friends, when things don’t go your way, just keep swinging the bat. Work, relationships, and training. Swing your bat. Just show up and do your absolute best.


If there is one Universal Truth in the fitness industry, it is that every untrained person who walks into a gym for whatever reason, be it to lose weight, get more fit and healthy, or to make their butt look better in a bikini, would be best served by gaining some basic muscle and strength before concentrating on anything else. Muscle makes losing fat easier. Muscle and strength not only makes you more fit and healthy, it makes every other training modality used in the pursuit of fitness more effective. And muscle makes your butt look better.

Unfortunately, how to correctly begin down the road to getting stronger and building a bit of muscle has become more complicated than it needs to be. Why? Well, partly because of a large group of idiots (experts?) giving out advice who have no business doing so. Partly because there are many “gurus” who point to their particular proprietary method as the best way or even the ONLY way to be successful. Of course every guru has a different program. But it doesn’t have to be hard or complicated, and, you don’t need to buy in to one particular cookie cutter program. There are, however, a few simple guideposts that every beginner should be familiar with. Guideposts that will allow you to benefit from the experience of thousands upon thousands who have walked the path before you. Just like in hiking, as a novice it is prudent and safe to stay close to the well marked trail. Although the challenge and excitement of blazing your own trail is satisfying to the experienced mountaineer or strength athlete, it isn’t appropriate on your first hike, or your first month in the gym. The following are general recommendations that will serve the beginner well when choosing a strength program, or planning their own.

Training 3 times per week with whole body workouts is a good place to start for a beginner. Staying relatively close to this will serve most people well. Training 2 times per week with whole body workouts has worked for many people, and if you cant do 3 times is a viable option. Maybe not ideal, but viable. While whole body workouts are a proven method, a simple split that still allows big, multi-joint exercises also works. For instance, doing squatting and pressing exercises on Monday and Thursday and doing pulling and rowing exercises on Tuesday and Friday is a schedule that will work. With either a 2 day a week whole body workout, or a 4 day split routing, you might not be waking downs the middle of the trail, but you are close enough to see it, and won’t be getting into any trouble. However, if you decide on a 6 day routine with chest on Monday, biceps and hamstrings on Tuesday, shoulders on Wednesday, etc, you are 20 miles off the trail with no food or water, your compass doesn’t work and you have lost your map. And it’s starting to snow.

Beginners should mostly select exercises that are multi-joint in nature, and work large parts of the body at once. Squats, front squats, bench presses, incline presses, military presses, push presses, deadlifts, power cleans, chinups, pullups, and barbell rows are all great exercises for beginners. Beginners should squat each time they train their legs. One major exercise per muscle group per workout is appropriate if you train the whole body at once, 1 or 2 exercises per muscle group is appropriate if you use a split routine. Where is the wiggle room here? Well, if you must, throwing in a couple of sets of curls for the girls isn’t gonna derail you. Fascinated by all the big plates the bro’s are throwing on that big shiny leg press? Well, if you are training legs Monday, Wednesday and Friday, then leg pressing on Wednesday isn’t gonna kill you as long as you keep squatting on Monday and Friday. But if you find that you are doing more side laterals than presses, or more leg extensions than squats, or your doing 4 exercises for your chest on Monday, then you are trapped at the bottom of a canyon with walls too steep to climb, it’s raining, and that little creek at the bottom is flowing faster and faster. And the water is rising.

Beginners are usually served best using 4-6 reps. A set of 3 or going for a max single isn’t going to kill you, nor will a set of 10. Doing a “drop set” with lighter weights and higher reps after your heavier sets is popular in some circles, and this also will not kill you, but it is also probably not gonna speed up the gains of a true beginner. But if the majority of your work isn’t within a medium rep range then you are heading in the wrong direction. Three work sets (not including warmups) for each exercise is a very good starting point for most people. As few as one set, or as many as 5 or 6 can work initially, but often one will find that a regression to the mean occurs if they start with too few or too many work sets. Start with only one and you may soon find that you have to increase the workload to keep progress going, start with 5 or 6 work sets and you might find that you soon have to decrease the workload to recover properly and keep progress going.

A proven and effective way for a beginner to progress is to start with 3 sets of 5 on an exercise, weight picked to make the last rep on the third set only slightly slower and harder than the first rep of the first set. This is lighter than the weight that COULD be done this first workout, but don’t worry, it is heavy enough to provide stimulation for growth in a rank beginner. From here, simply add 5lbs to the bar each successive time you do the exercise if it is an upper body exercise, 10lbs if it is a lower body exercise. The rate of progress can be lowered for a small female, or could be increased for a large male. But for most people, progressing slower than this means progressing slower than you were capable of, and progressing faster than this means that the initial, easy strength gains that all beginners get will stall prematurely. Wiggle room on this one? Well, you can get fancy and change the reps. One might do 3 sets of 4 with 100lbs one day, do 3 sets of 5 the next day, then 3 sets of 6 the next day. Then add 10lbs and drop back to 3 sets of 4 the next day. Or something like that. Even complicated schemes can work, something like this: Establish a maximum set of 3. Then do 2 workouts of 3 sets of 5 at a certain percentage of that set of 3, then the next workout attempt a new maximum set of 3 with 5 or 10lbs more than your old maximum.

The further you get away from the simple act of adding weight to the bar each workout, the slower the initial gains are likely to be. But the further you get away from that first month or two of training, the more appropriate it is to “complicate” or change and slow down your method of progression. If you want to know if you are at least within line of sight of the trail and heading in the right direction, as yourself two questions. Do I have a plan that includes raising the weight on the bar in each exercise in a logical and stepwise manner? Do I know, before I drive to the gym, what weight I am going to put on the bar in each exercise? If your answer to these two questions is yes, then rest easy. Even if you have gotten a ways off the beaten path, your socks are dry, your compass works, and your canteen is full. Your route might not be the fastest, but you will get to your destination. If your answer to either question is no, then i hope you kept your matches dry, cause you are probably gonna need them.

I hope these guideposts help someone out there. There are several very good and very well explained programs available over the intenet that keep you solidly in the middle of the well traveled path, and are virtually guaranteed to work. But let’s face it, we are not all just alike, physically or mentally. And some of us get almost as much enjoyment in planning our training as actually doing it, or spend almost as much time doing so! And, often planning your own training increases your ownership of what you are doing, increases your enjoyment, and makes it more likely that you will continue to train. So plan away! If you keep the guideposts presented here in sight, you are likely to get to your destination. And never find yourself halfway up a cliff wall in a thunderstorm. With no safety rope.