Compress, rest, move as much as possible without agitating, and let the healing happen on its own instead.
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?
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.
If you’re just joining this newsletter, welcome. This newsletter is here to bring you unusual yet effective techniques to learn powerlifting. You can find the first newsletter about learning the squat in the archives above. I suggest you go over the mental imagery and cues in that one first before proceeding with the tips in this letter. Practice them and become comfortable with them.
Torque: The Core of all Human Movement
Let’s get deeper on the squat, now that we’ve covered the basics. Continue to practice sets of five squats, body weight, and deepen your understanding of the importance of Torque. For those of you who did not pass physics, torque is rotational force. Squeeze a towel dry and you are creating torque by twisting it.
Every human movement and power output is generated by torque. Our bodies, our skeletal systems, are designed to create force by rotation. This is true for walking, where our back foot propels us through inward rotation of the hip, translating frictional force from the ground up through the abdomen to the shoulders.
It’s true for a simple bicep curl, where our wrist, elbow, and shoulder all pull against each other in rotational motions to bring up an object that is gripped in our hands. Gripping things is also a work of torque, where each finger joint is pulling with rotational force against the next finger joint, and the bones of the hand pull in rotationally against the muscles that lead to the forearms, to secure an object within our grasp.
To understand that torque defines all human movement will give you a better mastery of your body mechanics. The squat is no different as a combination of several systems of torque.
Feet Spread the Floor: Revisiting the Starting Stance with Torque
The well-established starting stance of the squat (see first post for more details) begins with flexing your butt, which creates outward rotational force on your thighs. Your femurs rotating outward place torque on your shins, and this creates torque on your ankles. When your ankles are being pulled outward, your feet, pointed forward, are creating torque against the ground by rotating outwards as well. They are not actually moving outwards, but the force created from your hips allows you to grip the ground through your feet.
This is why thinking of “feet spreading the floor” gives you a good cue to create that rotational force as you prepare to squat.
Creating “the Pillar” out of your abdomen, or taking in a breath to your belly and tightening the abs against it, allows the force from the ground to travel through your torso to the bar or weight without getting lost in bending or twisting motions. If your torso is soft, or extending, or otherwise not rigid through the squat, you will lose the torque created at the ground along the path through your body to the weight on your upper back.
So, before loading weight or a heavy bar for squats, familiarize yourself with performing the exercise with a rigid Pillar of a torso. This is where mobility of the hips, knees, and ankles is essential for allowing your torso to remain upright and solid through the movement. Limitations on joint mobility will tempt you to compromise your torso stability in an effort to get lower in the squat. We’ll talk more about mobility in a bit.
Knees Out: Torque Preservation Throughout the Squat
“Knees out” is also a mental cue that encourages preservation of torque through the squat. As you pull yourself down into the hole, and up out of it, keeping your knees pulled outward maintains torque and a stable transfer of power from the ground through your body.
You absolutely must not allow your knees to buckle in. This is the most important rule for the knees in the squat and all other strength building exercises. The structure of your ligaments keeping your knee together can be replicated by crossing your middle finger over your index finger. Do this with your right hand. Now grab this structure with your left hand, and twist your right hand out, or to the right. This is similar to your right knee pulling out to the right during the squatting motion.
You’ll notice that your twisted fingers, representing the ACL and PCL in your knee, tighten up and become stronger when rotated out to the side. Now, as you maintain your hold with your left hand, twist your right hand the other way, inwards to the left. You’ll notice that your fingers untwist from each other, much in the same way that your knee ligaments become unstable and lose torque.
When you’re squatting, with or without weight, getting up from the ground or the chair or out of the car, you’re using torque to do so. Depending on how your knee is positioned, you are either creating stability in the knee or you are exposing it to an unstable position. Under weight, it is crucial that you maintain “knees out” for the most stable mechanics.
Pulling Down, and Butt Back vs. Hamstrings Back: Getting Deeper on the Squat
“Pulling down” is the best way to think of the descent on the squat. Rather than letting yourself down, or dropping as free weight, thinking of “pulling down” on yourself helps to keep yourself in a stable, torque-locked state.
If you are finding it hard to pull down near the top or the beginning of the squat motion, think of “sitting back into a low chair” or “bending down to pick up a corgi running towards you”. The backwards pull from this imagery may allow for release downwards.
Do you find it hard to pull down near the bottom or the hole, or notice from video of yourself that you are “butt winking”? By butt wink I mean that right at the bottom of the squat, your lower back curves and your butt tucks in. This is a very unstable position of the spine and breaks the solid pillar that you are trying to maintain.
Remedy by thinking of “hamstrings back” rather than butt back. Shoving your butt back too far at the beginning of the squat can tilt your hips too far forward, and prevent your femurs from fully rotating out towards the bottom of the squat. That forces your pelvis to tilt back down, to allow your femurs to rotate out and your body to lower into the hole. Thus, your pillar is broken.
You need your hips at a constant angle, keeping that pocket of motion open for your thighs. This also may require some mobility work. For now, practice the squat as far down as you can go, without compromising your pillar. Think “hamstrings back” and “pull down”.
Practice the Bar Position
At this point, if you feel comfortable with the mechanics of the squat, you can practice gripping and holding the bar during the squat with a light wooden pole or broomstick (remove the broom part if you can).
Even if you are intermediate or advanced on the squat, it is always good to know your mechanics at body weight. Can you get down to the correct position? Are you able to create torque without weight on your back?
Grip the pole at just outside shoulder width. Pull the pole up above your head, arms straight. Get into the stable starting stance, and once you’ve created the pillar, bring the pole down behind your head.
Let the pole rest just below your cervical vertebrae, the pointy neck bone at the top of your spine. With your arms flexed in a bent position, you will create a muscular “shelf” between the rear shoulder muscles and the trapezius muscles just above them. Keep the pole snug in this groove.
Flex your shoulder blades tight, back and down. Grip hard on the pole. Tighten your Pillar, feel the torque as your feet spread the floor. You are in the ready stance with a bar, now.
Establish the bar position. Your wrists may not be mobile enough today to get into a full gripped, just outside shoulder width, bar position. If so, move your hands out a little further, and try bringing the pole down into position. Hold it there, allow your joints to loosen up and adjust, and progressively work on moving your hands to just outside shoulder width.
None of the three-finger grip nonsense that is going around, or the gripping the ends of the bar, or the plates. Having correct bar grip and position is critical to stability and joint health down the road.
I used to think meditation was for religious people, or Buddhist monks. I first tried it in high school though and noticed some very real benefits to sitting, breathing, and focused mind exercising.
More than just “clearing” the mind, it’s a practice of setting yourself back to zero. Equilibrium.
Meditation helps me to take root in myself and come from a place of solid foundation. I’m aware of myself, who I am, why I think and feel what I do in specific situations, and how I react to cues. Knowing this through quiet breathing and awareness of the things that live in my mind allows me to let it go and just be myself.
During my first powerlifting meet, breathing and awareness helped me to stay calm and focused. More than the amount of weight I was attempting, the newness of everything, the nervousness of being there for the first time, and being in front of the judges and spectators could have been an overwhelming wave of stimuli. I warmed up a bit and went to my car to turn on the emWave2, for some breathing, calming down, and focusing. This substantially leveled me out and positioned me to utilize all my skill and strength that I had built up during training. I successfully achieved my goals for squat and deadlift. Bench press wasn’t a great concern, but I did hit a PR as well.
Some short and long term benefits of meditation that I experience:
Self awareness. Seeing where thoughts come from, identifying fears.
Letting things go that are necessary baggage
Reduces effects of lack of sleep
Focus and concentration improve
Ability to be clear minded in the middle of stressful situations
increases oxygen to the brain and rest of body
Pure joy and bursts of laughter, if you get deep enough long enough
Helps relationships, from increased self-understanding
Mind healing. You become aware of traumas, sources of stress, and become empowered to work through them.
For powerlifting, it’s invaluable. Anything that requires a high level of performance can benefit from focused breathing and mental equilibrium.
At the 2014 California State Championships in Irvine, I pulled my first “official” deadlift of 391 lb. Watch me take a deep breath in and out before grabbing the bar, in front of the judges and everyone.
I didn’t really know if that was gonna come across as weird, but I wanted to give it a try because it’s something I do at the gym before challenging sets. Most often, at the peak of our performance demands, the challenge isn’t in our musculoskeletal capabilities, but in our minds’ ability to allow that power to be released in full.
On my hardest training days, when I had trouble getting myself to put on my shoes and get out the door, it was a battle of my mind. I didn’t want to face the heavy weight on the bar, for fear of failing, fear of getting injured, fear of being weak. I dragged myself many times to the gym when I did not want to go. And when I got there, most of those days I performed better than ever once I tucked my head under the bar and lifted it off the rack. The key was to jump through the fear, grip the bar, and do what I knew I could do.
Tim Ferriss encouraged me through his book, The 4-Hour Workweek, to “feel the fear and do it anyways.” He challenges his readers to identify the worst case scenario, the thing we feel most afraid of, and when we do that, we realize it’s not so bad after all.
To do this, especially in the moments of paralyzation from our greatest fears, it helps to have trained yourself to go the route of courage. I’m more able to face challenges now if I am meditating regularly and identifying my weaknesses, my kryptonites, and simply knowing that they exist. I recognize my weaknesses in real time because I know them. I practice pausing before I react, focus on the problem at hand, and harness my resources and skills to effectively address the problem.
When the problem is a heavy weight in front of me, and fear of getting crushed by it, getting injured, or embarrassed, it’s in the mind that I first address all of this. I take a moment away from the bar, close my eyes, and take a deep breath or two or three. I concentrate on the breath going out, revel in my brain’s love of oxygen, and come back to my core self. I become me again, let go of the thoughts and nagging possibilities, and when I’m clear and strong, I open my eyes and step up to the bar.
Only then can I grip the bar, suck in air, and crush it.
Note: the links to the EmWave2, which is a heart-rate variability device used to aid in meditation, and the book The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, are affiliate links with Amazon.com. I get a percentage of their sale if you use the link to make a purchase. I only share things that have made a significant impact on my life in this blog. Hope you check them out and enjoy!
My breakthrough in strength was unexpected after football in high school and rugby in my college years. I didn’t expect to get much stronger than my prime sporting days in my early twenties.
At the peak of my strength, I hit a maximum squat of 315 lb. for three reps. This was 1.85x my body weight. At age 24 I knew I was pretty strong for my size, but I measured myself mostly by what I looked like. I kept lifting heavy weights with flawed mechanics, enough to repeatedly agitate old sports injuries. I didn’t know what to do after reaching plateaus, so if I couldn’t hit a weight that I had lifted previously I would try it again next time until I either got a muscle or tendon tweaked, or until I just got tired of trying.
My workouts became oscillating cycles of programming, with no measurable progress. I rarely allowed myself to recover. I didn’t really believe in recovery. I thought that if I took a break in my workouts I would get skinny and weak, which actually was true back then. Eventually I realized I was getting nowhere. Although I looked ripped, I was miserable with pain, fatigue, and lack of purpose.
In the spring of 2012 I got busy finding answers to these problems. I’m going to talk here about how progression strength training completely changed my outlook on exercise and solved many of the problems that came from the aimless upkeep of workouts and body building programs.
Progression Strength Training
After years and years of intense physical training on the field and in the gym, my top squat was 315lb. for three reps. After just 36 weeks of progression strength training, though, I squatted 340lb. for 3 sets of 5 reps. How is that possible? I used a 5×5 method described by Mehdi Hadim at Stronglifts.com. It is a powerlifting program specifically geared for gaining strength, and I produced enormous results from it using three key tenets: form, consistency, and progression.
Form: start from zero
I listened to Mehdi, scrapped my old ways, and implemented better habits of technique. I learned to back squat at parallel, knees out, and back straight. I recorded video of myself from the side and back to ensure I was nailing down form. I thought I knew how to squat properly until I actually taped myself and watched. It took several days of practice for me to get myself in the correct positions with a broomstick. I did this at home, barefoot without weights.
You must ingrain form starting with very light or no weights in order to prepare for the immense challenges that will come. It is my belief that the only way to do this is to practice until you can do the movements correctly without thinking. When you are at the peak of your abilities, every ounce of mind strength will be needed just to pack your gym bag and get yourself in front of the loaded bar. At this point, it will be too late to think about each body part and mechanism. You won’t have the mental capacity to overcome your fear under the bar. You must do the hard stuff and master form early so that on your heaviest sets ever, every watt of brain power is spent on telling yourself you can do it. This is absolutely crucial to progress.
Start with the end in mind and commit yourself to mastering form.
Consistency: do what is effective over and over
There are just five powerlifting movements. The Squat, Deadlift, Overhead Press (OHP), Bench Press, and Pendlay Row. Kelly Starrett would define these as “Category One” movements in his book, Becoming a Supple Leopard. It means there is no disconnection of tension throughout the movement. You pick up the weight in a static starting position and do the movement without any tosses or sudden position changes. They are simple exercises and do not require complicated speed and timing.
They are each done for 5×5, meaning five sets of five repetitions. The squat is done every session, and all five exercises are grouped into two sessions:
Day A: Squat, Bench, Row
Day B: Squat, OHP, Deadlift
I used no other exercises in trying to build strength. No accessory lifts, no machines, no pushups or pullups. Just these five. I did utilize mobility techniques and warm ups for almost every session, but there was no need for the bells and whistles.
Three days a week with two days of rest between each week. As the weight becomes intermediate and then advanced, the periods of rest will lengthen and a “week” will be more than seven days long. This is why I use the term “cycle” instead of “week”, because it often took me longer than a seven day stretch to complete three sessions. It took me a while to accept that there’s nothing wrong with that.
Cycle One: A, B, A
Cycle Two: B, A, B
And so forth, until you reach plateaus and move on to the next training program.
I am only giving you my specific experience with the program here. See Stronglifts 5×5 for more details on the program, and scroll to the bottom for a helpful spreadsheet that maps out a plan for you.
Progression: beauty and monstrosity
The weight you lift on each exercise is increased by 5lb. every session. So the squat progression, if started at 45lb. (an unloaded barbell) would look like:
Day 1: 45lb.
Day 2: 50lb.
Day 3: 55lb.
Skip ahead to Week 4
Day 1: 90lb.
Day 2: 95lb.
Day 3: 100lb.
The weight quickly increases. This is the beauty and the monstrosity of progression. I suggest you start at a much lower weight than you normally lift. If you can conquer your ego, start with the bar, a kettle bell, or just your body weight. It is crucial that you lift with only the best form and that you are ready for the immense challenges down the road. Plus you are going to get your ass kicked much sooner if you start too heavy.
This is the progression that I went through:
Start Date 3/19/12
Week 1 Day 1: 95lb.
Week 3 Day 2: 135lb.
Week 8 Day 1: 200lb.
Week 14 Day 1: 285lb.
Week 15 Day 1: 300lb.
I’m not going to lie, things got scary quick. Remember this is at 5×5. I was glad I had prepared myself with decent form at the beginning, so that all I had to deal with was my scared little mind. Start with the end in mind and prepare yourself well for that end.
De-loading: the magic of progression
Each of the five exercises will challenge you at different rates. I started my squat at 95lb. (because I couldn’t get past my ego) and progressed to 315lb. at week 16 before hitting a plateau. This means that I was not able to squat 315lb. for five sets of five reps on my first try. Below are my actual repetitions:
(315lb.) Week 16, Day One: 5, 4, 4, 4, 4
(315lb.) Week 16, Day Two: 5, 5, 4, 5, 4
(315lb.) Week 16, Day Three: 4, 3, 4, 4, 2
My mind crapped out by that third session, and I could not go any further. That was okay. This, too, is the beauty of progression. When you reach a plateau, or a stalling point, in your progression, you “de-load” the weight for that specific exercise.
The standard de-load is 20%. From 315lb. I de-loaded to 285lb. on my next session.
(285 lb.) Week 17 Day One: 5, 5, 5, 5, 5
The next time I hit the same weight would have been at least a couple of weeks later, after some recovery. This is not just physical recovery, but more importantly, mental recovery. At the highest level of training, my mind started to discourage me from doing something that it perceived as dangerous. De-loading helped to reset my reference point, letting me “start over” and feel some confidence with easier sessions.
When I reached that same training weight the second time, it felt easier and more doable. I succeeded in completing all the sets. I surpassed my first plateau, and I knew I was significantly stronger. I continued with the training sessions until I reached my next plateau. This came much sooner than the first one, since I was pushing the envelope now.
I started the 5×5 program on March 19, 2012 with a 95lb. squat. I progressed to a 320lb. squat in 26 weeks and reached three plateaus. At that point I lowered the number of sets to three instead of five. 3×5 is the next step after 5×5 that is suggested by Stronglifts, and it helped to continue my strength improvement. On November 17, 2012 I completed three sets of five reps at 340 lb.
(340 lb.) Week 35, Day Two 11/15/12: 5, 3, 4
(340 lb.) Week 35, Day Three 11/17/12: 5, 5, 5
(342.5 lb.) Week 36, Day One (Date not recorded): 4, 4, 4
Obviously, I already had a low to intermediate level of strength which allowed me to get pretty far before my first plateau. However, this program ingrained form and provided a consistent mechanism through which I reached a higher level of strength. I wasn’t just doing a one-rep max of 320lb. I was doing five sets of five reps at 320lb.
I can’t tell you how far you will go on the 5×5 program. But I do know that it can bring you deep into your potential for strength. Progression strength training will challenge you in a way that other programs won’t. It is an effective starting point for building strength beyond your belief.
Get the 5×5 spreadsheet from Stronglifts.com here. It’s free and this is not an affiliate link. I just want to you try it and find results that you did not think possible. Let me know in the comments section if you have any questions or if you want to share your own results from using 5×5 training!
I want to share some clips and details of my training this past Friday. I’m on my second run of a training program called Madcow, which you can read about here.
Training looked like this for me on day 2 of cycle 6:
Day Two: 5 repetitions each set
Squat 142, 177, 212, 212 – completed
Overhead Press (OHP) 84, 101, 117, 134 – completed only three reps
Deadlift 208, 249, 291, 332 – completed
Next session will look like this:
Day Three: 4×5, 1×3, 1×8 six sets
Squat 5x(142, 177, 212, 248), 3x 290, 8x 212
Bench 5x(91, 113, 136, 158), 3x 185, 8x 136
Row 5x(72, 89, 107, 125), 3x 147, 8x 107
The bolded numbers are the work sets, and the rest are warm up and warm down sets.
More on Day Two
Day Two is a fun session with OHP and Deadlifts. These two exercises only occur once per cycle, so each time I do them I’m trying to hit a new max. On Day Two, the squat is a lighter session with no maximum to hit.
Squat and Warm Ups
Since squats are light on Day Two, there’s not too much stress. However, I use this down time to focus on form and mobility. A few points about my squats on this session:
Hip mobility – I always start with this exercise on both sides of the hips to expand mobility and get my hips rotating outward after all that sitting at work.
Warm up sets are key to powerful lifting without injury. There’s no way I can load maximum weight and squat it first thing. I start with an empty bar and work my way up. The Madcow program has the warm up built into it, with progressively heavier weights until the work set.
Proper depth means that the hip joint goes below the knee joint. Period.
You can see that my rib cage is slightly opening up as I go down. This is caused by a couple factors: stiff knees and ankles, and tight hips. I had a two week break since my last session, and was sitting a lot at work. Killed my mobility! To compensate for stiff knees and ankles, my torso extended in order for me to get into the “hole”, or the bottom of the squat. Not good. Supple ankles and knees allow for more outward movement of the knees, allowing the torso to remain upright and straight as it moves down into the hole. Homework for me.
Tight hips also contributed to my torso bending. Hip tightness impedes the natural outward rotation of the upper legs as you pull yourself down into the hole. In addition to the knees and ankels, outward rotation of your thighs allows your abdomen and torso to descend upright and aligned, without bending and losing tension.
I’ve been working on keeping my torso a rock solid pillar throughout the squat, to stabilize my spine and allow more effective power transfer from my legs and hips. Any bending in the torso absorbs power and steals it away from upward push. It also puts my back at risk of injury. So I’ve got to work on keeping my legs supple because by the next session, I’m going to have trouble hitting my next 3-rep set if I can’t keep a rock solid torso!
Overhead Press (OHP)
OHP adds some fun to the mix, because it requires a bit more finesse. I have been focusing on keeping my torso solid throughout this lift as well, and it gets tricky for a different reason from the squat. I noticed that when the weight got heavy my ribcage would lift, to allow my pecs to engage the weight.
Keeping my ribcage down
minimizes pectoral involvement
requires greater mobility of the shoulders, and
allows for an even distribution of deltoid engagement front to back.
The OHP requires some animal strength, but more focus and attention. I couldn’t muster the mental focus needed to hit all five reps. Next time!
I try to put out 400% effort on the deadlift, at the end of the session. You can see me taking a pause the top before my last set, and I’m actually taking in a breath before I lower into the last pull. Why do I do this? First of all, I’m spent and needed a pause. It’s better to rest at the top of the deadlift, rather than at the bottom, even though it’s counterintuitive. When you’re standing, you have skeletal support. In the lowered position, you’re flexing just to be there.
But more importantly, I’m getting air into my torso while standing, where there’s not as much pressure, instead of at the bottom, where it’s too late to try to create abdominal pressure. It’s a trick that comes in handy for heavy multi-rep sets, especially when you’re tired and need to rest for a second.
At the top of my last pull, I hold the bar for a count of ten (fast count this time, I was spent!) to increase grip strength. It’s a great opportunity, with no other exercises to follow, to train the grip. If you can hold it for longer, go for it.
Some relative max weights to come in my next session. I say relative because I’ve lifted more weight than the ones I’m going to do next session, but for this iteration of Madcow it’s the most yet.
Thanks for reading, hope you do something with this. Love to hear your thoughts below.
If you have reached a couple plateaus on a basic 5×5 strength training program, move on to Madcow.
Mehdi Hadim of Stronglifts 5×5 advises using this program after the basic 5×5 program, and I agree. It’s a bit more advanced than an integral progression, and the jumps in weight from cycle to cycle are larger. So in other words, you’re increasing each week by percentages, rather than by specific weight increments like 2.5 or 5 lb. Some basic tenets of the program are:
Exercises start light and progress to a heavy work set.
Most sets consist of five repetitions.
Three training sessions in a cycle, with squats on every session.
The last session, or Day Three, of each cycle presents a 3-rep max on the squat, bench, and row. This max becomes the next work set for Day One of the new cycle.
Do the basic 5×5 first, then move on to Madcow. Don’t skip the basics, if you’re not squatting at least 200 lb. with form.
The program looks like this for me on cycle 6:
Day One: 5×5 each set
Squat 142, 177, 212, 248, 283
Bench 91, 113, 136, 158, 181
Pendlay Row 72, 89, 107, 125, 143
Day Two: 4×5 each set
Squat 142, 177, 212, 212
Overhead Press (OHP) 84, 101, 117, 134
Deadlift 208, 249, 291, 332
Day Three: 4×5, 1×3, 1×8 six sets
Squat 5x(142, 177, 212, 248), 3x 290, 8x 212
Bench 5x(91, 113, 136, 158), 3x 185, 8x 136
Row 5x(72, 89, 107, 125), 3x 147, 8x 107
Cycle 7, Day One: 5×5 each set
Squat 145, 181, 218, 254, 290
Bench 93, 116, 139, 162, 185
Pendlay Row 74, 92, 110, 129, 147
Click here to see the spreadsheet. You can plug in your own numbers and get weeks of programming laid out for you.
I had a great session of strength training this past weekend and I did it all barefoot. Try it! Some things to note when powerlifting barefoot:
Have fun! That’s what it’s all about.
It’s building the arches back into my flat feet. Don’t let the fact that you have flat feet keep you from trying this, if you have the same problem I do. I have noticed an improvement from just three sessions of barefoot squats.
You will realize that your feet are like specialized hands to stabilize you. Use them to grip the ground.
If it’s not a barefoot-friendly gym, try gathering the big weights close to your squat rack before taking off your shoes. Don’t want to be wandering the gym without shoes.
Minimize the number of steps back you take when unracking the bar for a squat. Doing it barefoot will make you realize how important it is to plan the position of your feet. You don’t want to overdo the backwards steps with all that weight on you. I was able to take just one step back for each foot, without hitting the rack during the squats.
Start light. Like any major change in your strength training routine, you want to build up to it, not crash into it. I have been practicing barefoot walking outside for the past six months, and have been very careful with my form when lifting barefoot. I do my mobility and warmups barefoot as well, to get my feet accustomed. So far, so good!
Have you tried this? What differences do you find, if any, between lifting barefoot and lifting with shoes. And, what shoes do you wear for lifting?
How do I know if I’m ready to train again? Recovery can be a difficult thing to measure. Rather than focus on the doing, I focus on the being. No matter how well I eat, how much sleep I get, and how hard my last training session was, I measure my recovery based on Symptoms. This is how I feel upon waking. After reading this you might think these are soft and subjective measures, and they totally are. But I trust these signs because my mind and body are connected, and I have noticed that I benefit most from training when I feel all these symptoms.
Symptoms of being recovered:
1. Waking up fresh in the morning. You open your eyes and feel
2. Heart Rate Variability is high with minimal effort.
During breathing awareness practice, or meditation, you are able to focus quickly.
If you have the EmWave or other HRV measuring tool: You are able to get to Green or high HRV relatively quickly and you are able to stay there relatively easily. Compare this to any other day’s mental performance.
You have high control of your mind, and your mind is quiet. You are excited and thinking of what you can do or accomplish as you wake up and get your day started.
You have easy control of your breath, and breathing feels good and your lungs feel strong. You can breathe deep, both in and out.
3. Joints and muscles are happy
You have good control of your body and legs feel strong under you as you get up and take your first steps.
They are willing to do the work you want them to do.
Your body may still feel a little tight or crusty from previous training, but it is quite responsive and good to go.
If I wake up and feel these symptoms, I train.
Symptoms of not being recovered:
1. Waking up stale in the morning. You open your eyes and feel
2. Heart Rate Variability is low and takes a lot of effort to raise.
Or just never gets to a high state, if you are using a device to measure it.
You have trouble taking deep breaths in and out.
You cannot get negative, repeating thoughts and emotions out of your head – even when you sit down to meditate.
You cannot focus.
3. Joints and muscles are like cement that hasn’t dried.
They feel like yesterday’s joints.
Rather than sore, you feel achy.
They don’t want to work for you.
If I wake up and have these symptoms, I know I’m not recovered. I refrain from training, even if it’s been two days, even if it’s been two weeks. I don’t care, I know that no good will come of it.
If you’re not recovered, don’t worry. Just realize that you are in a state of getting stronger or more resilient, and you just need to take more time to get there. Don’t push it. Look into meditating or deep breathing upon waking, journaling, getting some sun, and eating well. Supplements help too. Above all else, sleep until you awake fresh and feeling the positive symptoms described above.
I don’t have much time now to lift, and have been taking up to two weeks off between training sessions. That’s why I make the most of each session. I don’t go unless I know I am ready to take on the cost of growth. Nutrition helps to maintain muscle mass and strength, and allows me to go on these long stretches and still come back to train at where I left off. With late nights at work and then early mornings the following days, I refrain from training even if I had the two or three hours free. There is a biological cost to training that we must pay in order to benefit. Training while not fully recovered is like taking out a loan while already deep in debt. You just end up deeper in biological debt.
Stay wealthy. Cook while the frying pan is hot, let your body and mind tell you when that is, and do everything you can to recover.
Many have delved into the world of body building, and have experienced shortcomings from pain, exhaustion, and mental fatigue.
To the select few who realize this is not acceptable, I welcome you to join me in being strong, clear minded, and living a life of quality.
My story began with a change in the way I looked at training and exercise. I played football and rugby through high school and college, and was ripped, athletic, and fast most of my life. I had done the workouts for team sports, the men’s magazine lifting programs, and was a dedicated gym rat with a three day a week work out schedule. I looked good and was happy with that for a while, but later this didn’t satisfy me. I was tired of feeling sore, feeling aches from previous sports injuries, and not really knowing if I was any stronger than a week or month prior. I also had a hard time keeping on muscle. If I didn’t go to the gym every other day, I would see pounds of weight drop and strength decline. I tried changing sets and reps and exercise programs to keep my body guessing, as this was supposed to encourage growth. This was a lot to maintain and I had a hard time doing so.
I started looking for a training program that focused on real strength. This led me to powerlifting and a progression philosophy. I adopted a 5×5 training method from Stronglifts.com that focused on incremental strength gains, not drastic program switches. The five powerlifting exercises remained exactly the same, and only the weight increased with each and every training session. I started from the very beginning, lifting only the bar on some exercises.
I not only felt better from the decreased stress on my body, but I also saw a steady increase in my strength. Lifting lighter weights gave me the luxury of refining my form in the squat, deadlift, and other exercises. I achieved a 370 lb. squat and 391 lb. dead lift after one year of training this way, at 168 lb. body weight. However, the training wasn’t the only factor to my increased potential. Food was the other part of it. In fact, without the changes in my diet that I had serendipitously come upon shortly after starting this training, I would not have progressed to this level so quickly if at all.
Three months into my training, I met a buddy at the gym who just so happened to have started the same training philosophy as I had, at almost the same time. We talked about our common satisfaction with the progression training, and about putting ego aside to learn proper form at lower weights. At the end of that training session, he mentioned, almost in passing, something called BULLETPROOF® Coffee. It was coffee with grass fed butter and MCT oil blended together. This sounded strange to me, and I was instantly fascinated by the way he described the high level of focus he got from it. I went home and tried it, and never turned back.
With the first few cups of the butter coffee that I tried, I was amazed by the mental clarity and brain energy that it gave me. Plus it was delicious. It changed the game for me at my job, as an overnight shift lead at a call center. I was sharper and more resilient to fatigue than my coworkers by multiple factors. I had always been an avid coffee drinker and used coffee as a key technology for enhancing my training sessions and overall performance as a human. Naturally, I wanted to know what it would be like to do strength training after drinking some of this power fluid.
I started to drink the concoction before strength training sessions, and again I never turned back. The energy it gave me was different from that of traditional nutrition like carbs. Unlike carbs, the good fats provided me with a sustained high level of energy and mental focus. It lasted through the entire training session without any sort of energy crash. I was so focused that I could control myself better, like not drinking water between sets, breathing calmly under the bar, and paying absolute attention to form during my heaviest lifts. I was regularly in a flow state, and I tapped into the predator mode of mind and body that was only attainable with such nutrition as quality fat.
This was my intro to the world of eating good fat. I slowly added grass fed butter and MCT oil into everything I ate. This pushed carbs to the back end of my days, as I did not need it for energy in the morning. Eating more fat and learning the potential negative effects of gluten significantly reduced the amount of bread and pasta that I ate. I started to experience better and more stable mood, and more consistent body fat levels. My joint pain from previous injuries faded. I no longer had to pace my kitchen ten minutes after waking to shake off the debilitating lower back pain.
Being satiated with true nutrition freed me from cravings, mood swings, and exhaustion. Before I discovered good fats and progression training, I would work, work out, crash into exhausted sleep, and awake demon-possessed with rage, pain, and frustration. These states of misery used to be normal life for me. The people I loved hated waking me up. I believe what is stated by the research that connects wheat to inflammation, and thus joint pain and brain impairment. When I started to avoid wheat, I noticed these incredible improvements in my body and my mind. This transformed the way I looked at eating and I started to learn what foods I really did and didn’t need. I tested my diet changes against my strength training, and was surprised that even without tons of bread, expensive and gas-producing protein shakes, and pounds of chicken breast every week, I was getting stronger and clearer than ever.
With changes like these I felt the best and strongest I have ever felt in my life, and I plan on being even more so. You want just as much as I do to be clear minded and strong. You want to be the best person you can be, making the sharpest decisions and acting in accordance with your values. Intelligent and resilient people like you and me can daily engage our potential to become the brilliant beasts that we are. I welcome you to join me on this path to discovering what it means to be more fully human. I am not perfect, but I am better.
Have I told you about butter coffee? Creamy, smooth, and delicious, it gives me immense energy and focus. I first started having this concoction with breakfast, and found that it helped me in strength training. Eventually, I just had more butter with it and didn’t eat breakfast at all. I now go the entire day without any other meal, until dinner.
When I drink this concoction, I get mental clarity, sustained focus, and a predator state of mind and body that is unparalleled by energy from any other food. If I haven’t made it for you already, I’ll show you how so you can experience it for yourself.
At first, your body will need to learn to effectively absorb nutrition from fat. This takes several days to weeks for some people, especially if you are not in the habit of eating a lot of fat. Most self-described healthy eaters do not eat much fat. Keep your regular meals at first and just have this coffee with breakfast or an hour before training. You want to feel it out and do what works best for you.
Basic Butter Coffee Recipe
30-35 grams of coffee beans for two cups of single source coffee
Two tablespoons grass fed butter
One teaspoon high quality MCT oil
Boil water (or start brewing if using the basic coffee machine)
Throw the butter and MCT oil into a large blender
Brew the coffee and add it to the blender
Hold down the top of the blender lid with a dish towel and blend on high for 20 seconds
Of course to make it even better, here are things to consider:
Get The Best Ingredients
The quality of your ingredients lends to the flavor, level of energy, and creativity you will get from your cup.
Single Source Coffee for Clarity
Single source coffee beans are grown, harvested, and processed on one estate or farm. All other beans, sometimes called blends, are mixtures of beans from two or more estates. Single source beans come without the added time of storage and transportation. Coffee is vulnerable to mycotoxins, which can cause headaches and jitters. Mycotoxins are inevitable, but through good practice and minimal exposure to the environment they can be suppressed. The less time from harvest to your cup the better. I didn’t know how much of a difference this would make until I gave single source coffee a try. I noticed significantly better results. Even when I was tired, I had calm mental clarity from it, not just a jittery buzz. No crash in energy, and no headache. Now I always look for coffee that lets me be even-keeled and fierce. There are two types I drink primarily, but you can find others if you look for them.
I found a great tasting single origin coffee in a local store. I really enjoyed the flavor of this light roast. It was from Alto Mayo Estate, a single coffee farm in a mountain region of Peru. The coffee smelled amazing, roasty and smooth. I had great results from this coffee every day, feeling clear minded, focused, and strong when I drank it. If you have a quality grocery store nearby, find a single source coffee with the roast intensity that you enjoy most.
The key to finding good coffee anywhere is to verify that it says “single origin”,”single source”, or”single estate”. I don’t pay attention to the phrases Fair Trade, Shade Grown, and Certified Organic. While they do hold social value, they also warrant a higher price tag. Whatever you choose to buy, drink it and test it yourself for absolutely positive symptoms. Do not assume it’s good based on the label or the price. The whole point is to find something that allows you to accomplish greatness.
With that being said, some blends may be okay if they are from the same roaster. If you know the beans are roasted at the same facility and are blended there, they may be as good as single source. But again, try the coffee and make sure it brings you mental clarity and sustained focus.
Grass Fed Butter: Nourish Your Soul, Body, and Mind
Grass fed cow butter is the key to creating the smooth frothiness of your concoction. It’s important that the butter is from grass fed cows. Cows that are 100% or almost completely fed on grass are healthier and happier beasts. Butter from such beasts makes me a happier beast. The ultra nutritious elements like healthy saturated fat, CLA, omega-3 fat, butyric acid, vitamin K2, vitamin E, and beta carotene are elevated in cows that eat grass only. There are two types I tried, and both are excellent.
The most reliable brand that I get from Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods is Kerrygold Unsalted Butter. It’s an awesome Irish butter that comes in one-cup bars. If you don’t have a store nearby, you can get in online. It’s a little more than the store price, but it is worth it if you can’t get it anywhere else. I get a box of 20 at a time and stock them in my freezer.
My other go-to butter is harder to find on the west coast of the U.S., but it can be found in some other countries more easily. I love Anchor Unsalted Butter from New Zealand grass fed cows.
On a recent trip to Asia I was stoked to find Anchor butter from a Jakarta store. I had never used it before, but it was surprisingly good in my coffee. The subtle flavor and smooth texture pair well with the cacao and vanilla I use.
The Best Quality MCT Oil
MCT turns the light switch on in my head. Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) are fatty acid chains of 8 and 10 carbons in length. C-8 and C-10 fats absorb through the gut into the bloodstream to the brain fast, where they can be utilized as energy in the form of ketones.
Ketones have been found in research to be more efficient brain fuel than glucose, and I feel the difference. When my brain has this fuel source, I have more clarity, better mental function, longer sustained focus, and no crash. It also brings my body into a fat-burning mode. This has been shown to help regulate body weight, and it’s certainly proven true for me. MCT oil is usually derived from coconut and palm kernel oil, and there can be a very slight coconut scent to it.
There are several different brands out there, and the quality of the MCT oil is determined by purification and processing. Purification affects the concentration of C-8 and C-10 versus other types of fat that are not MCT. Processing includes how the coconuts are stored and pressed, and where they are from.
NOTE: This fuel is intense! I recommend using the regular MCT oil first. It will help to make a smoother transition to this different energy source.
Bulletproof XCT Oil I used to have this regularly in my coffee before I tried Brain Octane oil. It has both C-8 and C-10 fatty acids. This is a good starting point if you haven’t tried MCT oil. It isn’t as intense as Brain Octane, and I think it would be the best choice for learning the effects of MCT oil on yourself before venturing into the more intense version. Flavor is slightly more coconuty than the following Viva Labs oil that I also have used. This is a very clean product that I can rely on for top performance.
I have used high quality coconut oil before in my coffee, when I ran out of MCT oil. Coconut oil will add a lot of flavor, but in my opinion it’s overbearing. Also, it is not a sufficient substitute for MCT oil. There is only a very small percentage of C-8 and C-10 fats in coconut oil, contrary to common belief. The majority of advertised “MCT” oil here is C-12, which actually does not act like the shorter chains in energy utilization.
With that being said, if this is your only source of MCT, it will still provide you with some benefits of fat-based brain energy. And I’ve talked to some friends who really love it. Plus it’s delicious for cooking chicken curry dishes. Maybe I’ll post on that later. If you’re getting all of your MCT from coconut oil, use four tbsp or more. As a flavor or C-12 supplement, use one or two tbsp.
Flavor and Creativity
These next few ingredients are what make my butter coffee taste so good, compared to ones you find here and there in shops and cafes. I add these elements every time I make my concoctions, and have had the most amazing conversations with friends, breakthroughs in strength training, and mental performance after having it.
This is my favorite hack for butter coffee. Vanilla bean has amazing flavor and also has flavonoids that enhance creativity. I add this without fail to my coffee concoction every morning.
Check out the BULLETPROOF® Upgraded Vanilla I use, which is an heirloom Madagascar vanilla bean. It has an unforgettable cherry wood fragrance and takes my mornings to the next level. I use about 1/16 of a teaspoon. Keep it sealed in the freezer for maximum flavor retention.
Second only to vanilla bean, cacao butter is another flavor and nutrient must-have for me. It’s the pure fat of cacao beans and this is what they use to make white chocolate. Cacao butter gives a rich, gourmet scent and flavor to the coffee. It has the concentrated elements of chocolate that enhance your creativity and brain power.
I add chocolate powder to my butter coffee to make it rich and dark. Good chocolate, like good coffee, has flavonoids and antioxidants that enhance brain and performance. Gauge the flavor, it can be rich and quite bitter. Start with about a teaspoon or less.
My coffee has no sweetener, but my wife likes hers a bit sweet. This stuff of nature is the perfect solution if you want to be in ketosis yet want that rich sweetness in your coffee. This will not trigger your insulin response, unlike sugar. And it tastes naturally sweet, unlike stevia.
Xyla North American Hardwood Xylitol. The best type, pictured here, is made from North American birch trees. The cheaper brands are made from Chinese GMO corn. I recommend using one to two teaspoons per cup to start. It has about the same sweetness as regular cane sugar.
Building Blocks and Fuel
These ingredients can be added as needed for the different types of activities you do on any given day. Add these one at a time and observe whether you benefit from them.
Grass Fed Collagen
Collagen is one of the building block of your tendons, skin, and hair. It is needed for repair of tissue after training, and makes your skin more vibrant when you provide yourself with enough. Unlike whey protein, which caused gas and bloating, collagen has been problem-free for my digestion. For these reasons it is great for strength training, tissue repair, and skin and hair boost.
BULLETPROOF® Upgraded Collagen Protein Super fine-grade and from grass fed cows. It’s processed with enzymes rather than heat, which prevents damage of the proteins. I generally only add collagen on the day of, and up to three days after, a training session.
Bulksupplements Pure Hydrolyzed Collagen (Bovine) Powder (1 Kilogram) This is the product I am currently using. There’s no bad flavor and the granularity is nearly the same as BULLETPROOF®, although not as fine. However! This brand is not from grass fed cows. The reason grass fed cow food is important is the fat. Since collagen isn’t fat, I’m taking a temporary risk because it’s cheaper. I’m currently rebuilding joint and muscle tissue, and haven’t noticed any signs of bad nutrition. So far so good. But I do believe that grass fed cows are fundamentally different from grain fed feedlot cows, so eventually I aim to only eat food from grass fed beeves.
Collagen does make me hungry after about four hours, which causes a slight decrease in focus. This is because protein triggers an insulin response. With protein, you will get similar, but not as drastic, effects as when you eat carbs. After strength training, this isn’t a problem, since I will eat anyways. But on normal days without training, I forgo the protein in the morning.
My wife, on the other hand, has it every morning in her butter coffee. She simply feels better and more energetic with some protein. Use at least one tablespoon.
I add a baseline dose of creatine every morning with my coffee. Without causing huge swelling of muscles, this simple nutrient has allowed me to maintain strength and muscle mass for longer periods of time between training sessions. It is one of the key supplements I use to increase longevity of strength. Creatine also boost brain function.
Now Foods creatine monohydrate This brand has been my go to for years. No side effects, suggesting it is clean and pure. Use 1 teaspoon or 5 grams daily.
METHODS TO MAKE MAGIC
I’m laying this recipe out for first time dabblers in butter coffee. The way you make your coffee will affect how it feels, tastes, and energizes. Even for more veteran practitioners, small hacks can give you a better concoction. To have delicious butter coffee it must be three things: Hot, well-brewed, and well-blended. How you set up the ingredients and the order in which you prepare it can be the difference between a floating oil slick and a creamy concoction of joy.
Prepare Water First
Start a kettle on the stove before anything else, as you will need time to prepare the other ingredients and want the water hot when you’re ready to brew. If you’re using a normal coffee maker, get it all set up with beans and start brewing. Use spring or well water for the best flavor. Water has as much flavor and texture as any other ingredient that goes into coffee. Make your coffee with tap water and you’ll taste the tap.
For the Pour Over technique, prepare about a quarter cup more water than the amount of coffee you plan to make.
As the water heats, get all your ingredients into the blender. You will need one that holds at least four cups or one liter, because the liquid will expand like crazy when you blend it. I use the KitchenAid blender, which is not the highest-end thing out there, but works just fine for this purpose:
Note: The stronger the blender, the finer the foam. You can get an incredibly smooth concoction with the VitaMix Blender.
Brew the Coffee Into the Blender
You can brew your coffee however you choose. If all you have is the classic coffee maker, just use that for now. My all time favorite method of coffee brewing is the Pour Over technique. Coffee tastes the best when I make it this way, but a close second is the French press, and honestly after that it’s just the normal coffee maker.
The Pour Over Technique
The pour over technique requires a kettle with a thin pouring spout, as well as a filter cup and filters. Here is how I brew pour over.
Boil water in the dripper kettle and turn off heat.
Grind coffee beans to slightly finer than medium granularity. Any finer and it will take forever to brew and you will get too much acid. This is how fine you want your grounds for pour over brewing:You can use an electric grinder like the one I have above or a hand grinder if you want to have more evenly ground beans. This takes a lot more time and effort though.
Fold the crimped edge of a paper filter, open up the filter, and place into the ceramic cup.
Wet the filter paper by pouring just enough hot water along the edges of the cup. This gets rid of the flavor of the paper.
Dump the ground coffee into the filter paper.
Starting from the center of the cup, slowly pour water in an outward spiral until you cover all the beans with water. The grounds will start to breathe and expand. Let the gas escape and as the grounds deflate, continue to pour in the same spiral manner until you have poured all the water. The pouring should take about 3-4 minutes total.
Brew directly into the blender to save time and keep your coffee hot. Here’s an honest picture of my set up, dirty dishes and all. I want to give you an idea of how you can brew directly into the blender. Note that with my blender in the dish rack, it allows me to brew at a more comfortable level than if the blender were up on the counter top:
Once the coffee is brewed and in your blender with the other ingredients, place the lid on securely and cover the top with a dish towel. Hold down the towel over the lid tight while you blend it on the highest setting for 20 seconds. Depending on the quality of your blender, the coffee may punish you if you don’t hold it down.
Marvel at the creaminess.
Keep the rest in a thermos and drink it through the morning.
These are my two favorite containers for coffee.
The Thermos is larger and holds a full two cups of coffee, fairly hot through the day.
The Zojirushi is smaller but keeps coffee radioactive hot the entire day.
Up the dosage on the butter and MCT oil slightly after a week or two, if you can glean the benefits without having the runs. You can always lower amounts the next time if you don’t feel as good of an effect.
Don’t change the MCT dosage drastically. Try increasing by a teaspoon each week, making sure to observe the quality of focus. You don’t want to end up dizzy or give yourself digestive issues by taking too much in the beginning.
If you’re hungrier, add more butter. Try increments of one tablespoon. Use the minimum effective dose.
That is it. Try it in the morning, about an hour before a training session, or before any task that will take a lot of brain or body power. You’ll be restless the first few times if you don’t have a world or two to save.
I had butter coffee as fuel for a 370 lb. squat and 391 lb. deadlift at my first powerlifting meet, a 5k in under 23 minutes with no training, and the LA Downtown Ketchum Stair Climb, which was a stair climb to the top of a 76-story skyscraper, in 19 minutes. These are not Olympic numbers, but I did all this without needing tons of protein or carbs immediately before or after. I hope you find that reasonable amounts of healthy fat as a source of energy puts you on a different level from just pounding protein and carbs.
Let me know in the comments if you try this and how it goes for you! If I’ve made this concoction for you before, let others know how it tasted what it felt like to drink it. I think a lot of people are curious about what butter in coffee would be like, and they will be surprised by how good it can be if done right.
I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
I am an affiliate of the BULLETPROOF® site and earn a fee from any purchase there made through my site.