In this episode, I talk about how to ease into the squat, and what to do with your feet, your knees, and your butt. If this is your first time ever, it’s a good quick intro to squatting. Even if you’ve just been out of practice for a while, or if you’re a hardcore weight lifter, take a second to look at your squat technique.
It takes just a few things for you to maximize your output, strengthen your knees, and use your back correctly with the squat. My priority is to help you do this ultimate human movement the right way. Train with these few simple mental cues and build your squat to enhance your life.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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