Thinking Too Much Is A Bad Thing

Too much education can be a bad thing, too.

Books, courses, gadgets, trainers, coaches.  We can invest our time and money in many different things.  But investment is not a substitute for action.  I’ve been guilty of that many times in my life.  Spending money feels like a sacrifice and can be painful.  But the real pain is in the execution.  It can be easy to confuse the two.  You don’t make progress by thinking.  You make it by doing.

Jim Rohn said that its easy to get motivated to lift 200 lbs until you get to the gym.

You are losing when you fool yourself into believing that you’re making progress because your are laying out your time and money learning things instead of actually trying things.

So here’s the challenge:

Don’t read another book, don’t watch another video, don’t listen to another podcast, don’t sign up for another course, don’t go to another seminar, don’t buy another tool or gadget….

….until you try and apply something….

….from the last book, video, podcast, course, seminar tool or gadget.


Five Reasons To Try TUL

Time under lift (TUL), sometimes called time under tension (TUT) is an alternative to the standard sets and reps method of training.  Instead of a set of ten reps, get yourself a stop watch and keep the weight moving for between 45 and 60 seconds.

Here’s five reasons why you should try it:

  1. No one cares how much weight you lift.  “How much do you bench?”.  That’s a common question among trainees.  But its meaningless.  No one is interested in the answer.  Don’t believe me?  Think of five people you know from your gym and tell me how much they bench.  Unless you are a competitive powerlifter I’ll bet that you have trouble answering this question for one person, let alone five.  The only person trainees are interested in is themselves.  That’s not a bad thing, its the way it should be.
  2. Permission to be strict.  If you drop the idea that you have to lift five more pound or one more rep than you did last week, you are less likely to let your form slip.  TUL has you chasing a feeling in your muscles, not an arbitrary target.  The powerlifters might argue but I am not talking about the powerlifters.  I’m talking to the guys who want to look good and stay in shape.
  3. The point of failure.  This goes back to the point about strict exercise form from the last point.  Do you want to train to failure?  I do, at least some of the time.  Failure gets hard to define when form degrades.  However, when the bar stops moving no matter how hard you push it, and you try to push it for the final five or ten seconds of a TUL set, failure has been reached.
  4. Injuries. Injuries suck.  No question about it.  Accidents happen and there is no way to avoid 100% of all training related problems but when you maintain strict form for a limited period of time you are less likely to wind up on the shelf due to a pull, a strain, or a tear.  Strict form also reduces the wear on your joints.  Ever see someone bounce out of the bottom of a heavy squat?  I have and my knees hurt just watching that guy.
  5. Mix it up.  Maybe you don’t want to switch to TUL permanently.  But why not try it?  Changing things up from time to time keeps it fresh, keeps the motivation high and keeps your body guessing.




photo credit: Stopwatch via photopin (license)

Twice now in the past seven days…

…I’ve read an article touting the benefits of increased workload.

I have nothing against more work, but both authors mentioned the same idea in support of the call for more reps, sets, or workouts.  The idea is that overtraining is a difficult state to achieve for all but the most gifted of athletes.

I don’t know if that is true or not, but I think it misses the point.  The point should be, why should you do more when you don’t have to?  That might sound like the statement of a lazy person or someone who does not like to train hard.

But that aint me!

The law of diminishing returns states that in all productive processes, adding more of one factor of production, while holding all others constant (“ceteris paribus“), will at some point yield lower incremental per-unit returns.  The law of diminishing returns does not imply that adding more of a factor will decrease the total production, a condition known as negative returns, though in fact this is common.

Source – Wikipedia

I want to make progress.  I’ve spent the last thirty years chasing it.  I’ve gone through the extremes of six days per week double-split training and once per Mike Mentzer HIT style training.  The difference between the two has been more about what’s been accomplished outside the gym than inside.

More work beyond what’s necessary is counterproductive on some level.  If it doesn’t result in the damaging “overtrained” state, it takes time away from other things we all need to do.  Family, friends and work.

And write blog posts that two or three people might actually read.

Thanks for being one of them

photo credit: 27 push-ups later via photopin (license)

Do You Keep A Food Diary?

Keeping a training diary is easy.  Anyone who takes their workouts seriously does that.  Keeping a food diary is hard.  You eat four, five, even six times a day, every day and only train a few times a week.  Food diaries take true dedication.

Fortunately, there are shortcuts to make the process easier to handle.

Step 1 – Establish a consistent diet.  I understand if you deviate on the weekends, but during your workweek it makes sense to keep your diet consistent from day to day.  Eat similar foods, if not the exact same foods and quantities every day.  If you do that you don’t have to track five days, you only have to track one.  It makes the whole process so much easier.

Step 2 – Write it down.  I don’t recommend going straight to the app or the spreadsheet.  I like notebooks. Keep a notebook with you and write it down.  Write down what you eat, the approximate portions.   You don’t need a food scale.  Just take a guess.  Also keep track of the times that you eat during the day.  Charting the timing of your calories can mean as much as the calorie and protein counts.

Step 3 – Put the calories and macros in Excel.  I said don’t go straight to the spreadsheet.  I didn’t say to avoid it entirely.

After you have a few days or even a week of your eating written down, its time to put it in a spreadsheet.  I like columns for grams of protein, carbs and fat as well as calories.  Have your spreadsheet subtotal each meal.  As long as you follow step 1 above and stay consistent, you don’t have to write up each and every day. You only have to know the breakdown of your “base” diet.  Slight fluctuations from day to day are not important as long as you are holding steady in general.

Step 4 – Weigh yourself.  Do it weekly.  Do it at the same time of day.  Write it down.  After a few weeks you will be able to get an idea of how the scale is moving.  Week to week numbers are not so important.  Its the trend over months that gives you feedback.

Step 5 – Adjust.  If you followed the above four steps, you can tell if you are eating too much, too little, or just the right amount.  Ideally, you will figure out how much you need to maintain.  After that you can fine tune.

Fine tuning is a skill.  Don’t overreact to the changes on the scale.  Up or down a few hundred calories is enough.

Taking an Extra Day

Another great thing about 20 rep squats is that it leaves little doubt about when you are ready to get back to training.

Overtraining is one of the worse things you can do.  Mike Mentzer said that it was not only detrimental to your training, but could lead to serious illness.

Forget the illness part, we can leave it at this:

Overtraining = Cycle Over.

That means no more progress and the only way to restart is to shut down and start over.  No one wants that.

20 rep squats is painful.  Its painful at the time of the movement and its painful for  a few days after.  If it still hurts, don’t train.  As I write this post I am recovering from yesterday’s squat session.  No doubt about it, I am not ready for another session.  I don’t have one scheduled for another two days, but if it turns into three or four, so be it.

Don’t short circuit your cycle and cheat yourself out of hard earned progress.




Who knew there was controversy over pullovers?

I’ve been following the Super Squats program.  20 reps of squats followed by pullovers.  If you do a Google search on pullovers you find articles talking about the shoulder problems that can result.

Super Squats uses light pullovers, so no problem there.

The other thing you find when you read the articles are differing opinions about the effectiveness.  Some say its primarily a back exercise, some say primarily chest, some say serratus.

Some say it does nothing.

The old-timers said that it stretched your rib cage.  A bigger rib cage = bigger chest.  It just creates more surface area for your muscle to cover.

I am not a scientist so I wouldn’t know how to prove it one way or another.  However, I do believe in the old-time methods.  Those guys built muscle in the days before steroids.

This is what I do:

  • Finish the last squat.
  • Immediately lie perpendicular on a bench with your head off one side, your shoulder blades on the bench and your butt lower than your torso.
  • Take a 25 lb plate and extend your arms out from your chest (bench press style).
  • Take two or three deep breaths, holding the last one.
  • While keeping your elbows as straight as possible (I am not a stickler on this point), lower the weight back over the top of your head.
  • Take one gulp of air just prior to, and another at the point where the weight is fully extended behind your head.  I am trying to fill my lungs with air.
  • Exhale and bring it back to the starting position.
  • Repeat 19 times.

Why a plate instead of a dumbbell?  I don’t like my hands so close together when doing pullovers.  A 25 lb plate is the right distance for me.

Some people prefer a barbell or EZ curl bar, but I find these can sometimes be a bit difficult to control if it tips to one side or another.  You can control a plate.

I might feel differently if I were doing this as a strength movement with heavy weights.  For that type of movement a plate would be impractical.  It only really works for light pullovers.

There is an alternative version of the breathing pullover.  Stand up and grab something sturdy with both hands.  It has to be something at or just above your eye level.  Stand far enough away so that you have to bend forward slightly at the waist and extend your arms in order to grab it.  The breathing is the same as above, but you are pulling down instead of moving a weight back and forth.

Do the pullovers work?  Anecdotally, I say yes.

Squats and Milk and Pullovers.

It works.

Recovery – September 1, 2015

2591108804_194476beedAt the time of this writing I am three workouts into a 20 rep squat routine.  High reps wreak havok on your legs and tax recovery ability.  Add to that the intensity of the Super Squats routine and its adds up to a real challenge to get back in shape for the next workout.

This is to be expected on such a program.  The authentic version of the routine calls for three squat workouts per week.  Some trainees advocate cutting these to one.  I prefer to split the difference and go with two.

Q – How do you keep this pace and not wind up with an injury?

A – Stretching and ice.

Timing of your stretching is critical.  For best results, stretch immediately following the workout and before your muscles have cooled down.  Your window of opportunity is while you are still warm.  As a side note, stretching is recommended daily.  On non-training days, try to stretch as soon as you get out bed in the morning.

Ice is widely used by athletes.  However, this is a problem for the home trainee and the average gym rat.  You could go buy a few bags of ice and put them in the bathtub, but its not convenient.

Inconvenience = Inconsistent.

An alternative is a cold shower.  Cold showers suck!  My technique is to let the cold water run on the affected body part for sixty seconds before moving to the next body part.  That could mean five to ten minutes of cold water, depending on what your training was on that particular day.

The goal is to recover from the current workout in order to be ready for the next.  One way to measure recovery is soreness.  Don’t train again if you are still sore.  If you are sore you have not recovered.

Forget recovery, soreness can be debilitating in some cases.  Did you ever have trouble walking around the day after an intense leg workout?  This can only be seen as detrimental and should be avoided.


20 Rep Squats

I was looking through some of my old workout books and came across “Super Squats” by Randal J. Strossen.  I did this routine more than once over the years. Without a doubt, it is the most difficult system I have ever tried.

Something that bothers me about my workouts is the concept of failure.  Its always a question.  Did I push hard enough?  Did I stop too early?  These questions are very difficult to answer.  After all, unless you drop dead, what is failure?

That is one aspect of the 20 rep squat system that gets overlooked.  Failure is not the issue – overload is.  No one in their right mind would take their 10 rep max weight and do 20 reps.  If you complete the set there is no doubt that you went to the wall.

I train alone in a home gym with no partners.  No one to yell at me to get that last rep or two.  Sometimes it leaves me wondering if I’m training as hard as I should. As brutal as the 20 reps are, they leave you with no doubt that you accomplished something.

Its been many years since I gave this routine a go.  Time for another try.  What will it do for a 40-something weight lifter.  I’ll let you know.

In the mean time, here are a few good articles I found on the subject.

20 Rep Squats – a aggregation of lots of good info about the 20 rep squat routine, as well as spelling out the pain in no uncertain terms.

20-Rep Squats: The Brutal Path To Massive Gains! – a great article with an optimistic tone.  This one gives a good overview of the diet involved  and another good tip about trying not to shit yourself.  Fun, fun!

20-REP SQUAT TRAINING – the great thing about this article is that it points to a few people who experienced fantastic growth with this method.

The 20-Rep Squat Routine: Old School Strength Training – another blood and guts description of the method.  Author refers to the system as the 20 rep challenge.  I’ve never thought of it in that context.  Almost like you do it on a dare.

THE MYTH BEHIND SUPER SQUATS BY RANDALL J. STROSSEN – in the interest of fairness, give this article a read to get a negative view of the program.




Variables and What Really Matters

To bounce or not to bounce?

That’s my thought as I begin my Monday morning squat routine.  What is the correct way to do the turn around?  Pausing at the bottom of a squat seems like the death break.  A bounce feels like a cheat.

I hate cheats.

I’m not talking about collapsing into a squat.  I control the weight on the way down.  It is only in the last little bit of the negative portion of the rep where the speed picks up in anticipation of the turn around to go back up.

My next thought is that this debate is a waste of time.

Lift heavy things in good form.  That’s the point.

Don’t misunderstand.  I hate bullshit sets where guys struggle, the form goes out the window and anything that gets the weight up is good.  I believe that you need a weight that you can own.  But rep speed and the bounce / turnaround are just two of a multitude of variables that have an impact on your workouts and your progress. Few of the variables move the needle very much. Guys like me should not waste time thinking about them.

Lift Heavy

Good Form

Don’t Think Too Much