Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Shoulders

My Brilliant Friends,
The bench press is a complex exercise. It is critical that you learn the correct shoulder placement to use the full potential of your anatomy for this movement.
Spine alignment
First things first, stand up straight and get in the ready position for the squat. Butt tight, feet spreading the floor, and pillar torso. This aligns your spine. See here for details.
Screw in your Arms and Shoulders
Hello again, torque.
Put your arms out in front of you. Turn your palms up, and keep turning out until you reach the max outward rotation of your arms. This gets your shoulders in external rotation, meaning your shoulder blades are squeezed back and down.
Keeping your shoulders locked and back muscles tight as fuck, make fists and turn your palms back down. Your upper arms should stay in the same position, externally rotated. Look how my elbows do not turn down.
This simulates what your shoulder blades should be doing during the entire bench press movement. Make fists and see if you can pull the imaginary bar in to your chest without loosening up your shoulder blades. Difficult?
Now try this. As you push out, rotate your fists so that palms face up. As you pull in, rotate them face down. This allows you to feel what your elbows should be doing. When using the bar, your hands will be gripping the bar and obviously face down the whole time. You should be applying the outward twist as you push the bar up, to maintain torque. This is the same in the pushup.
Above, I have my shoulders in correct placement. On the right, I demonstrate incorrect position, with the shoulders pulled out to the front. This is a common cause of grief and despair on the bench.
Squeeze Shoulder Blades
As you pull in and push back out, focus on keeping your shoulder blades squeezed tight. Your shoulders should not be moving back and forth at your sides. They should be locked back and in, at the back of your shoulder capsules. The only things moving are your arms.
Pecs Taut
In conjunction with a pinched upper back and locked shoulder blades, your pecs should be pulled taut across your chest.This maintains muscle tension both on the down and up movement in your chest. As you push out and pull in with your arms, notice how squeezing your shoulder blades back pulls your pecs taut through both movements.
White-knuckle Grip
When applying these cues, make the white-knuckle grip a constant throughout. It helps to keep the back tight and shoulders locked back.

Hope you enjoyed the flowers on my wall.

Next I’ll talk about how to get yourself on the bench and apply these cues while on your back.

To powerful living,

Ankle Mobility

What’s up brilliant friends!
A lot of the grief I experience in obtaining proper squat position is from my limited ankle mobility. My feet turn out in order for me to get to proper depth in my squat.
At first I thought this was something I could look past, and eventually fix through gradual repetition with my feet pointed more and more forward. But I eventually realized that it’s going to take a lot more attention than that.
So, of course, this is now my obsession.
There’s a set of instructional videos made by JagRoop on YouTube that hit gold for me recently. Here’s the one for ankles I just watched: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2eDhjxq1G4&feature=em-subs_digest
Lowering down into the squat properly, with feet forward, knees out, and back flat, requires mobility in all key areas:
  1. Shoulders
  2. Spine and ribs
  3. Hips
  4. Knees
  5. Ankles
  6. Feet
This is why the squat is the greatest diagnostic movement for us humans, and the greatest exercise for strength and performance.
By being able to squat properly, we can demonstrate that we have ample mobility and strength to perform normal, daily movements, and of course athletic movements.
It’s rare to have good mobility. The irony is that the more you have been involved with sports and body building, the more likely it is that you lack sufficient mobility.
I’ve been able to lift a lot of weight compared to the average Joe. However, it’s time for me to get serious about the long game. I’m going to focus on mobility and proper positioning, scrapping the heavy weight for now until I can just get into the right positions.
Squatting 400 lbs. by age 30 would be great, and I want to go beyond that at age 40, 50, and 60 without blowing out my knees.
I’m several weeks into my second Madcow session, but I’m going to drop it to pursue this new endeavor. I promise myself I will surpass my strongest self when it is time.
I encourage you, whether you consider yourself a beginner, intermediate, or advanced in strength, to gain mobility before stacking on any more weight. Start with the ankles.
To powerful living.

Beginner Hacks for Deadlift Bar Loading

Brilliant friends,

Eighty percent of my time at the gym is spent loading and unloading weights on the bar, making sure the right weights are available, and making sure the bar is loaded correctly. This is to ensure that the 20% of the time I actually spend lifting weight or getting limber is as effective as can be.

The reason I’m writing this post is so that you can get a better idea of the necessities for starting to train strength. Plan ahead, scope out your gym when you do something new, and commit to doing the work. You will earn the benefits from your sweat.

Here are four ways to minimize waste of time and energy on deadlift bar loading:

Starting deadlift bar height

With 45 lb. plates

I recommend following the 5×5 progression powerlifting if you are beginning your barbell strength training for the first time, or returning to it. The deadlift will always be at the end of your strength training session. Because it is one of the more powerful lifts, you will benefit from going into it already warmed up from your other lifts.

When you are lifting 135 lb. for the deadlift, you can start with that weight. I would recommend a warmup if you are feeling stiff or cold, with 25 lb. plates on each side. With 45 lb. plates loaded on each side, the bar is at mid-shin level for most people. You won’t need to make any adjustments for the height of the bar when you start with 45 lb. plates. This is the official starting height for the deadlift in powerlifting competitions.

With 25 or 10 lb. plates

But what if you’re a beginner, when you’re not lifting at least 45 lb. on each side? Like 25 lb.? or 10 lb.? Or just the bar? Good question.

For deadlift training, you want to keep things as consistent as possible. That includes bar height. Even if you’re using smaller or no plates, practice with the bar at the standard height.

To find where this should approximately be, stand a 45 lb. plate up next to your legs. Observe where the hole in the center of the plate measures up to your shins. Use this area on your shins as reference for bar height.

If the largest weights on the bar are 10 or 25 lb., you can use 10 lb. or 25 lb. plates underneath the weight to bring it up closer to standard height:

Deadlift Bar 25 lb. Set Up

Barbell height with no weights

If you are using the bar alone, find a squat rack with pins on the sides. Adjust the pins so that when the bar is resting on them, it is at mid-shin level. This will be pretty close to the ground.

If you do not have pin holes low enough, or no squat rack available, use the largest plates you can find – 45 lb. bumper plates should do the trick. Or you can always stack smaller plates to get to the right height. It should only take two or three 25 lb. plates on each side.

I know this can be a major hassle. It’s especially hard in the beginning because everything is new, you may be embarrassed about lifting small weight, and it might be tiring to just set everything up. However, you’ve got to do what is necessary to train correctly.

Do not take short cuts just because you can’t find an easy way to do things. The struggles are all part of the learning process. Just think, at least you’re doing this when you have light weights to train. As you progress, you’ll be more skilled at this, and the hard work will have paid off when you can allot your energy to form and technique on heavy lifts.

Loading the empty bar

When you start your deadlift session you will have an empty bar. It might be racked on a power frame, or stacked with other barbells. Once you get it onto the deadlift platform or training area, you’ll need to load plates onto it. It can be tricky, because the bar will want to roll, the plates can be heavy and hard to deal with at first, and you’re going to be bent over doing all this. You’ll save a lot of energy once you learn to do it effectively.

With a power rack or stand

Before loading weight onto the bar, rack the bar at mid-thigh level. Only do this if you have a rungs that face outside of the rack, so that you can easily unrack the bar once it’s loaded and place it on the ground for your deadlifts. For most squat rack frames, you won’t be able to do deadlifts inside. Just be sure you will be able to easily lift the bar and place it on the ground where you can deadlift.

This beats having to load the empty bar while it’s on the ground, which is a bit more difficult. It’s also better than having to unrack a heavy bar from too high up. Mid-thigh is ideal, or wherever your hands hang by your sides.

With barbell on the ground

  1. Gather the weights you are about to load, near the ends of the bar.
  2. Stand the largest weight plate you’re using up right next to the barbell. Hold it up with one hand. Pick up the end of the barbell with your free hand and insert it through the plate’s hole. It’s easier if you slant the plate away from the barbell. This lets you insert the bar at a slightly lower height. Anchor the plate down and feed the bar to it, instead of vice versa.
  3. Load the largest plate onto each side first and then add additional weight. A level bar is easier to load than an angled one.

Compact and clamp

Once all weight is placed on the bar, before inserting the clamp, tighten the plates up. Stand at one end of the barbell facing in toward the center. Grab the end of the bar with one hand, keeping the arm straight. Place the other hand on the bar right up against the plates. Using good form, deadlift the bar slightly off the ground with the straight arm, and with the other hand push the plates in tight against the collar.

Or, stand just inside the weights of one side of the bar, with feet on either side of the bar. Facing outward, reach down to grab the plates around the sides near the bottom. Do a slight deadlift while pulling the weights in against the collar, compacting them. Compact the weights one side at a time, readjusting the clamp as you go. This will keep each side secure while you adjust the other end.

Changing weight between sets

If you’re using a squat rack and pins for your deadlifts, you can simply keep the bar on the pins and change the weights from there. Only use pins before you have 45 lb. plates on the bar. Once you have the 45 lb. plates, you can rest the bar on the ground.

When the bar is resting on the ground or on top of stacked plates, you can keep the bar down there and change weights one side at a time. Keep things efficient:


Before you begin your session, make sure you have easy access to all plates that are needed. You can stack weights on the nearest weight rack. Do this before you start your warmups. You don’t want to go hunting for plates midway through your sets.


Calculate weights before you get to the gym

How many 45’s, how many 25’s, how many 10’s, etc. Don’t try to do math while you’re panting from your last set. Write down all weights for all sets and reps before you get to the gym. Waste no time in between sets figuring this out.


Always use clamps

Never let your plates loosen up during your sets, which will happen without clamps when the weight repeatedly touches the ground and lifts off. It will screw up your training. Keep good clamps close to you before you start warming up with the bar.


Compact the plates

Same as loading the empty bar. Compact the plates together against the collar and clamp securely.


Replacing the heaviest plate

When your largest plates on the bar need to be replaced by the next weight up, you will need to unload all the weight before adding the larger plates. Do this one side at a time. For example, if you are taking off the 25 lb. plates to put on 45 lb. plates, do one side first. The plates on the other side will anchor the bar while you unload and load the other side. If you unload both sides, it will be difficult with the bar loose and rolling around. Remember, we’re talking about a deadlift session when the bar is on the ground. For squats with the bar on the rack, this will be a little different.


Adding a second or third 45 lb. plate

If you already have a 45 lb. plate, it may be difficult to load another one because the bar height is the same. You may be pushing the weight on as it rubs against the floor. Roll the weights of the side you are loading onto a 2.5 lb. plate, and this will give you room to easily slide on the 45 lb. plate.

Unloading weights and racking the bar when you’re done

  • Leave the bar on the ground while unloading, until the last plate on each side remains.
  • Use good deadlift form when sliding the weights off the bar. Stand on one end of the barbell, facing the weights. Reach down and grab the plate on either side, slightly toward the bottom. Lift and slide out, toward you. If you need to, carefully step backward until you have the weight free of the bar. Deadlift the weight up, walk it over to the weight stand, and store it away.
  • Rack all weights, starting with the smaller ones first. Don’t know why but this makes clean up easier.
  • With the last plate remaining on each side, deadlift the bar up, walk it forward to the rack and rack it at mid thigh level. Remove remaining plates.
  • If you do not have a reasonable height at which to rack the bar, leave it on the ground, and remove the plate from one side first.
    • For the last plate remaining, if it’s a 45 lb. plate you can just lift the empty end of the bar until it’s vertical, and pull the bar out of the plate when it’s flat on the ground.
    • If it’s a lighter plate, grab the end of the bar that has the weight, lift it up slightly as you remove the weight with your other hand. Use good form here too.
    • Picking up the empty barbell from the ground involves bending over pretty low. This requires good mobility. Try to do this without rounding your back.

Above all else, you want to maintain good form while loading and unloading weights. Your gym may not have ideal equipment, racks, rack heights, or weight increments. Think ahead and do the most sensible things, in the most effective order possible. Prepare before you step inside the gym. You’ll save time and energy for the lifts.

Live powerfully,


The Brilliant Beast Blog by email

Copyright © Steve Ko 2017. All rights reserved.

Don’t Ice Injuries or Swelling

Compress, rest, move as much as possible without agitating, and let the healing happen on its own instead.

Brilliant Friends,

I picked up a lot of good input during my friend’s bachelor trip last weekend. We dudes spent some time in our packed little hotel room doing MWOD’s and various torture techniques to get ourselves more mobile.

An unintended result of this was the surfacing of common problems we all experience. Particularly, I think many guys and gals suffer from pain of old injuries, bad habits of the postmodern life including diet and physical restrictions, and just bad information.

Chronic pain is something we sort of push down into our subconscious, not talking about it or directly trying to get rid of it, once we’ve determined that it’s pointless.

We all know that when you get a sprain, bruise, or other injury, the best treatment is RICE: rest, ice, compress, elevate. Right?
No! As Kelly Starrett points out here (http://www.mobilitywod.com/2012/08/people-weve-got-to-stop-icing-we-were-wrong-sooo-wrong/), the component of icing an injury or swelling is faulty. To make a long story short, here are the basic points to note:
  • Ice delays healing
  • Inflammation of injuries occurs to speed up delivery of healing blood and lymph components to the site – this is one type of inflammation that you actually want to have
  • Icing swollen tissue can cause tissue death if prolonged
  • Use ice sparingly for injuries only for pain management
  • Same goes for pills used to treat pain by minimizing inflammation – corticosteroids, ibuprofen, etc. do more harm that healing.
What to do instead?
  • Stop the training if you’re injured. Get out of the gym.
  • Wrap up the injured location with a bandage or long sock or stocking
  • Or use compression pants or socks (I have not tried this but have heard multiple people say it works, including Kelly Starrett)
  • Without agitating the injury, keep blood flowing and stay mobile with as much movement as possible.


  • Collagen (building blocks of tendons and ligaments, which make up your joints)
  • Vitamin C (allows you to utilize collagen in tissue formation)
  • Vitamin D3 (moderates inflammation)
  • Cinnamon for reducing inflammation (if it gets really bad)

I realize not icing may be hard to swallow. It was a horse pill for me, at first. It works, though.

If you want more reason to throw icing out of your toolkit, read this one-pager (http://drmirkin.com/fitness/why-ice-delays-recovery.html) from the very man himself, Gabe Mirkin. He is the author of the 1978 book titled Sportsmedicine Book, the classic that dictated icing for injuries. He humbly acknowledges that newer research shows that icing to reduce injury delays healing, and suggests not to ice. Instead, do the things mentioned above.

To powerful living!

The Secret to Effective Running is Torque

Brilliant Friends,
I totally rediscovered the joy of sprinting, thanks to an old buddy of mine.
My friend had asked me the other day if I could still run at a sprint. We had been talking about mobility the past couple days so it wasn’t as random a question as it might seem.
I said, “Yeah”, but with a little hesitation. It had been a long time since I did a full on sprint, and I don’t jog at all. Jogging doesn’t help with my performance in any way except for when jogging, in my experience. So I don’t do it, even though it does give a great “high”. Sprinting, on the other hand, has always proven to be beneficial.
So I went for a testing session two days ago to see if I really could still run at a sprint. I went out with my Earthrunner sandals and gave a couple tries on the sidewalk and street. Sure enough, it felt awkward and I got some stabbing knee pain. I knew I wasn’t doing something right.
I went on a stretch of grass and took my sandals off. I took a few easy strides back and forth, feeling out my alignment between my feet, ankles, knees, hips, head, and shoulders.
Eventually I got the sweet spots and graduated to several very good sprints back and forth. No joint pain at all, just fast, quiet, agile running.
Key Elements of Effective Sprint Running
The core of the running motion is that it is a continuous series of twisting. We propel ourselves forward by cranking up the torque in our abdomen and torso, swinging our elbows in opposition to our legs.
  1. Arms are rotating torso counterclockwise, legs are rotating hips clockwise. These opposing forces create torque in the abdomen. Running Secret Torque 1
  2. Torque in abdomen is released through the left leg into the ground and propels a brilliant beast forward. Rotation begins in the opposite direction for both torso and hips.Running Secret Torque 2
  3. Arms and shoulders rotate torso clockwise, and legs rotate the hips counterclockwise. Torque is again created in the abdomen, this time in reverse. Running Secret Torque 3
  4. Full twist acting on the abs. The right foot is about to touch ground and translate force into the ground again, continuing forward locomotion of a brilliant beast. Running Secret Torque 4
It’s an ingenious product of evolution that we two-footed creatures have mastered. Here is the breakdown:
  1. Absorb and release twisting power from your abs. Run with your abs, not your legs. Running is powered by the twisting mechanism of your shoulders and arms in opposition to your legs and hips. The center of that twisting torsion is your abs. Your midsection builds up torque from that twist, then releases it into the ground when your foot touches down. The mechanism then repeats in the opposite direction.
  2. Pillar Torso. If you follow my powerlifting newsletter, yes, this is the same concept as with squatting and deadlifting. A solid, quiet torso locked down by tight abs. I found this to increase the amount of torque in my abs. The more torque, the more power you can put out with each stride.
    • Flex the lats
    • Keep your shoulder blades down and back
    • Pull back your pectorals taut, and keep your ribcage down.
  3. Fists. Keep hands gripped tight into fists. This generates radiating power up to the shoulders and into the tension of your abs. Principle of kettle bell godfather Pavel Tsastouline applied to the sprint!
  4. Minimal movement of the elbows. No wild swinging. Just enough backward pumping to generate torque through the shoulders into the torso down to the hips.
  5. Knees forward. Pull your knees forward so that you are touching the ground with your feet directly under your center of mass on every step.
  6. Springy feet. Your forefoot should touch the ground first, not your heels. If your heels touch down afterwards, usually during slower pace running, then so be it, but the initial ground contact should be with your forefoot (the balls of your feet).
  7. Head in line. Notice when your head bends down too far to look at the ground, or tilts up when you are tired. Keep it in line with your spine, straight so that you can see ahead and slightly down when you need to track the path in front.
  8. Landing foot places directly beneath your center of mass. This is the tricky one. In the third frame below, you can see my foot actually lands just in front of my center. This is something I’m going to try to improve.

Running Form Landing Foot 1 Running Form Landing Foot 2 Running Form Landing Foot 3 Running Form Landing Foot 4

Depending on how f’d your running form is, start super slow. Barefoot in good flat grass is ideal. You will be amazed at how quickly your body picks it up from there. And if anything hurts, stop, study, adjust, and retest. Don’t keep hurting yourself.
You may need to do some mobility work to straighten your torso out, get your shoulders functioning, and hips and knees loose. I recommend using techniques laid out by Kelly Starrett in his book Becoming a Supple Leopard. Test out very slow running first and then put some work in where needed.
Do you run? How? When? How often? What does it do for you? Let me know, because I’m trying to build this into my life now that I’ve rediscovered it.
Thanks Eliot for the inspiration.
To powerful living,

More Thoughts on Deadlift Slack

Brilliant Friends,
Thanks for the feedback on these posts.
Part of the fun about powerlifting is that there is room for variation, and you can find numerous hacks that really increase your performance immediately.
A good friend asked about one of my descriptive phrases for the deadlift starting position. “Zero room to move around in any direction” is a bit vague, so let me clarify.
Lets start with positioning over the bar:
  1. Middle of the feet under the bar
  2. Feet less than shoulder width apart
  3. Flex your butt, spread the floor with your feet, pillar torso, shoulder blades back and down
  4. Bend at the hips and knees, reaching down with straight arms to grab the bar with first one hand, then the other.
  5. Check that your shoulder blades are directly above the bar. Tape video of yourself to make sure, or ask a buddy.
  6. Pull up on the bar, as if your shoulder blades are doing the pulling. Tighten your whole body.
  7. Bend at the knees until your shins touch the bar. You should be fully tensed, with no slack anywhere.
    1. Arms are straight and pulling on the bar.
    2. Back is straight
    3. Butt and hamstrings are taut
    4. Feet are spreading the floor
    5. Head is neutral, eyes looking at the floor in front
In this starting position, you should be almost lifting the bar off the ground. You should not be able to twist and turn, or move side to side at all. Everything should be flexed and fully tensed. At the twitch of a muscle you should be able to start taking that weight off the ground, without any additional movement.
Once you start to pull the weight up, no part of your body should move up before the bar does.
Tape yourself and check to make sure your butt does not lift up without the bar going up at the same time. Imagine that you are leading with your shoulder blades.
Watch my most recent deadlift session. Compare the points above with my pulls.
  • Opportunity: on sets four and five, my butt starts going up first before the bar. I didn’t tighten up enough before pulling.
  • I establish starting stance before bending to grab the bar
  • I am pretty much pulling on the bar before it even goes up, and this helps me to organize a tight starting position with zero slack.
  • Using the alternating hang grip for my heaviest set. Bar is lower in my hands and fingers, rather than the palms.
  • Working on my grip strength every deadlift session. Previous sets on this session were done with overhand, chalk, then alternating grip. On the last set, I hold for a good 12-count before letting the bar down.
  • Breathing: I take a breath in at the top of each pull, so that by the time I get down to the starting position again I have a pillar torso ready to go. This is much easier than if you breathe in at the bottom, in a bent position.
Watch other deadlifts. Do they have a solid set up, and just as they pull up on the bar from the starting position, is there any excessive movement?
Next step: Tape yourself deadlifting and critique. Think about how you can improve next time and do it. Focus on zero extra movement, zero slack, and developing the most effective deadlift possible.
To powerful living,

The “Hang Grip” for Deadlifts and Barbell Rows

Brilliant Friends,
Grip strength on the deadlift is critical to increasing your pull capacity and surpassing your current limits.
On the deadlift, I use a different grip from the squat. I’m not talking about alternating versus pronated grips, which is more about which way your palms face. I am talking about where exactly the bar sits in your hands. I picked this up from Mehdi of Stronglifts.com, and you can see his article here.
There are two different placements of the bar in your hands for powerlifting. When your arm is below the bar holding it up, as in the squat, overhead press, and bench press, it’s best to have the bar deep in your palm and wedged between your thumb and forefinger. Let’s call this the “support grip” moving forward. Read about this grip type here.
When your arm is above the bar as it hangs, as in the deadlift and row, you will want to place the bar more on your fingers and the edge of your palm away from your wrist. I’ll call this the “hang grip”. I haven’t found any other names for these, but let me know if you do.
The Hang Grip
Practice before lifting weight.
  1. Stand in front of a barbell, ideally racked at mid-thigh height so you can practice easily.
  2. Place your open hand in front of the bar, touching the area between the base of your fingers and edge of your palm against the bar.
  3. Wrap your four fingers under the bar in this position.
Deadlift Hang Grip Powerlifting
Grip the bar super hard with your four fingers, and allow your thumb to pull in and clamp down over your fingers.
Deadlift Hang Grip Powerlifting 2
Why not grip the bar in the palm?
Gripping the bar higher up in the palm allows the bar to pull down on your palm and can roll open your hand during the lift. If you’ve ever done pull-ups with your whole palm on the bar, you’ve probably noticed the skin of your palm bunching up and getting in the way of your grip.
The same applies to hanging barbell lifts. Minimizing the amount of flesh between the bar and your grip maximizes your potential to keep that grip in tact through the heaviest of lifts.
It’s counterintuitive at first, that less hand on the bar is more potent of a grip. You’ll see once you try this grip that it really does help to keep the bar firm in your hands.
Build Grip Strength
The best way to increase grip strength can be done without any extra exercises or gear outside of the deadlift. This too was an idea I got from Mehdi Hadim. Love the guy.
  1. As you warm up for deadlifts, use the pronated grip, or both palms facing in to your body. Go as heavy as you can without losing grip.
  2. Once you get to a point of grip failure, use chalk with the pronated grip.
  3. If you can, do this until your last, heaviest work set.
  4. On your last set, you can use the alternating grip, which means one palm facing in, the other facing forward. Pick your strongest side to face forward. We’ll talk more about the alternating grip another time. It is a stronger hold on the bar but not necessarily the best way to pick things up from the ground.
  5. On the last repetition of your last deadlift set, complete the pull, and at the top position, hold the bar for 10 seconds (or more if you can solidly hold without losing your grip).
Start this with your next deadlift training session.

Let me know your thoughts!

To powerful living,

Steve Ko

Get Rid of Slack on the Deadlift

Brilliant Friends,

Here are a couple of thoughts on a more effective deadlift.

A common point of energy waste in the deadlift is the initial lift of the weight from the ground. That exact moment the weight comes off the ground should be the first upward movement of your body as well.

You would think this is intuitive. But if you watch deadlift videos on Instagram and Youtube, you’ll notice that a lot of people start their lift with their butts. Before the weight lifts off the ground, their hips have already moved up a few inches. You might notice this about yourself, too.

This is inefficient channeling of energy through the legs, and takes away from upward movement of the weight.

You can develop a better deadlift by minimizing this power leakage from the start. The aim is absolute tension and rigidity before the “pull” (what we call the lifting portion of the deadlift). By doing this, you will be able to maintain good form throughout the lift, keeping your back neutral, knees out, and head aligned. This will minimize and even prevent your upper back from curving forward into a slouch.

Start Position

To create the most effective output, focus on the setup. Once you grab the bar:

  • Straighten your arms
  • Push your feet into the ground
  • Pull up against the bar just short of lifting it to anchor yourself into the ground.
  • Pull back on your shoulder blades, like the wings of a jet folding in after take-off.
  • Flex your butt, think of squeezing your sphincter
  • Spread the floor with your feet (see my squat newsletter  for description)

If someone came by from any direction and pushed you, you would not be budged. No looseness in any part of your body, upward, downward, or sideways. Everything should be rock solid and ready for take off.


Your back should have a straight arrow pointing through it from top of the head through the end of your butt.


As you take hold of the bar, focus on one spot on the ground in front of you and do not look away. This helps with keeping the head in a neutral alignment with the rest of your spine.

The Pull

And here goes. I like Mehdi Hadim‘s two-part cue the best:

  1. Push the ground away from you
  2. When bar passes knees, slam your hips forward into the bar


You now stand upright with bar held at arms length.

  1. Pull in a belly breath and lock it into your lungs for abdominal pressure.
  2. Let down the weight in the exact reverse way. Start with hips moving back, keeping tension in butt, hamstrings, knees and feet.
  3. When the bar reaches your knees, allow them to start parting and bending, maintaining full tension.
  4. Do not drop the weight. It’s sloppy and rude, and it will mess up your back and everyone’s eardrums. Think Batman. Be quiet, be swift, and be gone.

I’ll send one on grip next. Try these with minimal weight first. As in, just the bar. Or a broomstick.

To powerful living,


Copyright © 2016 Steve Ko, All rights reserved.

Decision Fatigue

Brilliant Friends,

Decision-making burns resources as much as physical activity. It requires mind energy and biological fuel, sometimes as much as hiking a 14-mile trail or playing a two hour long game of football.

Tim Ferriss talks about the biological cost of each decision we make. We have a finite amount of decision making power per day, and it is essential to an effective life to allocate that resource wisely.

This probably is not the first time you’ve heard this principle, and you’ve probably dwelled upon and implemented it in your life.

So just like with physical performance, we can build up our capacity to make decisions and to make them better and better.

One tool for increasing decision making capacity is the 80/20 principle. I’ve found that certain people demand more of my resources than others, and it’s often not someone that I want to spend more of my decision making power on.

It’s important for me to triage the people, questions, concerns, and problems that I choose to engage, especially at the start of my day.

To do this, I have to be sharp with the responses I use to address people. If I determine that someone is bringing up a problem I choose not the address in the moment, I let them know that we’ll return to that later. The hard part is how to do that without making them feel bad, but sometimes I can’t worry about that.

To follow the 80/20 principle, I choose to spend 80% of my decision making energy on the 20% of problems that will make the most impact for my company, life, and well-being.

Having a set of premade decisions for common problems helps to conserve resources. For low-cost or low-level decisions, pick a route and stick to it every time you are confronted with the same or similar problem. This saves you the time, energy and attention it would have taken to weigh all the options every time. And you become more consistent.

For mid-level decisions, where the cost of a mistake is significant but not debilitating, it often comes down to a simple choice. Both sides, both possibilities, both forks in the road could be good options, and it simply comes down to the one you choose. For these problems, practice going with your gut feeling.

Trust your intuition, feel out the right one, and make the call. Don’t second guess yourself. Don’t waste resources.

For the high-level, high cost, irreversible decisions, put all your time, effort, and attention into making the right choice. Sometimes it will never reveal itself to you as the correct decision, but you can conclude that it was the best possible thing to do.

And that’s what matters at the end of the day.

Let me know your thoughts.

To powerful living,


Click below to hear Tim Ferriss’ podcast on How to Avoid Decision Fatigue


Wikipedia article on Decision Fatigue http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decision_fatigue#cite_note-NYT_mag_story-1

A BULLETPROOF® article on Decision Fatigue caused by poor nutrition and how it traps people in poverty https://www.bulletproofexec.com/why-eating-saps-your-willpower/

How to Grip the Barbell for Squats

Brilliant Friends,
So the principles of the body weight squat can be used for the barbell squat. Only progress to the barbell once you have become quite comfortable with the body weight squat, holding a pole or broomstick on your back.
Bar Grip
For the squat, you will want to grip the bar right into the groove of your palm and at the base of your thumb.
Start with your palm over the bar, and thumb under.

Press the groove between your thumb and palm against the bar. Wrap your thumb down under the bar, and then wrap your palm and fingers down over the bar. Secure your thumb over the rest of your fingers.

Here’s what it looks like from below:
1. Grab the bar first
  • Stand in front of the bar, which should be racked at mid-chest height.
  • Grip the bar white-knuckle tight with both hands just outside of shoulder width, at extended arms length.
  • Pavel Tsatsouline, the father of the kettle bell, emphasizes that a tight grip radiates strength to the rest of the connecting muscles.
  • Move your head forward and tuck it down under the bar and, bending at your elbows, bring your head forward on the other side while pushing the back of your shoulders snugly up against the bar. As your arms bend and your shoulder blades tighten up, you will feel a sweet spot on your upper back where your muscles will scrunch up and act as a shelf for the bar.
  • Do not move the hands or loosen your grip on the bar as you get under it. This may take some mobility work on your shoulders and pecs to be able to do. It should be very snug.
  • The bar should be below the cervical vertebra, or that pointy neck bone just above your shoulder blades, but high enough that you can support it without bending too far forward when standing. Use your legs to drive yourself against the bar and position it tightly against your upper back.
2. Unracking the bar
  • Take in a breath and tighten your abs, ribcage down. Bend at the knees to swing down and position yourself directly under the bar with a straight torso in the ready position. Place feet shoulder width apart under the bar, and lift the bar off the rack by straightening your legs and squeezing your butt.
  • Step back from the rack, one step back for each foot, making sure you are approximately parallel to the rack.
3. Rack the bar
  • After completing your set, return to the starting stance.
  • Take one step forward at a time, screw feet into ground, touch the bar against rack, lower yourself down with the quiet torso until the bar rests on the rack.
To summarize the Squat Barbell Grip:
  1. Secure your grip on the bar before getting under it.
  2. Unrack: Duck under, squeeze shoulder blades, tuck the bar against upper back, breath in and create the torso pillar, stand up and step back.
  3. Rack: step forward, screw feet, pull down until bar rests on rack.
Let me know if you have trouble doing this, or if you do it differently.
To powerful living.