Even seemingly rational and educated people seem to throw common sense out the window when they step into the weight room. So, I started a fun little series of crappy drawings called “Stickman Biomechanics” on Facebook explaining basic biomechanics and to give people some pause before they “just do it, Brah.”
Today I bring you 2 super common exercises that I see in most gyms on a regular basis. Both of these are perfect examples of mimicking motion without regard to what is actually happening.
Some basics of resistance training that need to be understood:
OK. Now look at an anatomy chart and notice which muscles are responsible for moving the “lever” at each “fulcrum”.
Please, baby Jesus, tell me this makes sense.
OK. Now, you should also notice that each “fulcrum” or joint has a preferred motion. For example: your elbow likes to flex and extend your arm. It does not like to move perpendicular to that movement. That’s called a lateral condyle fracture, and that will ruin your day. So, it goes without saying, that you should not load a joint in a way that forces it outside of its range of motion.
OK, now for the muscle stuff. In order to work a particular muscle, you need to apply force in such a way that the muscle MUST respond to control the joint you are applying force to. Look at the pectorals. You do a dumbbell chest press on your back because this allows the force to be applied to the joint in such a way that the pectorals (ignoring secondary muscles) is responsible for controlling that movement (because gravity wants to bring the weight to the floor). You can mimic the same motion standing, but the force is now applied primarily to the deltoids, rather than the pecs (once again…gravity).
The cool thing about gravity is that it is always applying force downward.
The cool thing about free cables is that they are always applying force in the direction of the cable.
This means that it is crucial that you adjust the cable to correspond with how you want to apply force to the joint (and surrounding muscle). A lot of people ignore the force and just make the movement.
Note the examples below.
In a cable fly, if you have the cable adjusted at an upward angle, but you are moving your arms parallel to the floor with the intent of working your pecs, you are applying force at the wrong angle (this is why you see people leaning forward in a fly to change the angle of the joint in correspondence with the force-although most people don’t realize why they are doing it).
In a cable shoulder press, the same rules apply. Pay attention to the force angle and what muscles are actually being used to control that force. To do this correctly (assuming you want to work the deltoids), the line of force would need to be almost directly straight down.
Stickman is sad because:
a) the force is creating torque in an unnatural way against the joint and that shit hurts
b) stickman can’t feel the muscle working the way he would like
c) he will never get jacked and swolt
BONUS: Cable flyes can be AWESOME for pec development if used correctly. It’s super easy to change the direction of force by just stepping forward or backing up more. Remember, the cable is the direction of force, so it makes it easy to see.
Remember, friends, your body is a machine and physics applies to its movement just like any other machine.
“Shallow men believe in luck or in circumstance. Strong men believe in cause and effect.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Have you ever known someone with “bad luck”? I mean, real shit luck. The kind of person that can find the one dog turd in a park with his shoe? The kind of person that always gets gypped of the prize in the cereal box? The kind of person that never gets the promotion, can’t pay the bills, gets sick all the time, family won’t talk to them, has asshole kids, etc. This person’s perception becomes one of two things:
1) “There’s no point in trying, I just have shitty luck,” which causes the person to never start.
2) “I will try, but nothing is ever going to happen,” which causes the person to never finish.
In the immortal words of BJJ legend Kurt Osiander: “You fucked up a long time ago.”
In most cases, the way a person views his “luck” is a matter of perception. For a really fascinating read on this, check this study out: THE LUCK FACTOR. The summary of which is that there really is no such thing as “luck”. At least not as most people believe. Much of the good and bad luck we encounter is a result of our thoughts and behavior. Most importantly…sometimes shit just happens.
“Good luck” and “bad luck” are just ways to define the results (consequences) of our efforts. In everything you do, results correlate directly with hard work…or being lazy…both still yield a result.
Yes, but did you get a RESULT from your effort? Just because it wasn’t the result you wanted, doesn’t mean it is negative. Did you learn something? Most likely. Was it helpful to you or someone else? Probably.
REMEMBER THIS: Every single huge success story also includes colossal failures. WAY more failures than success. If those people viewed those failures as “bad luck” they would have dismissed the lesson learned. They would never have continued on to greatness. Those people took those “failures” and learned…changed…adapted…grew.
This is true for every goal: lose weight, get stronger, make more money, quit smoking, and any other New Year’s Resolution cliche.
Are you offensive or defensive?
Pro active or reactionary?
Positive or negative?
Lucky or unlucky?
YOU ARE ALL OF THOSE!. You have to be. You are human. You CAN’T be purely “offensive” without being naive, you can’t be purely “pro-active” without ignoring possibilities, you can’t be “positive” all the time without sounding insincere, and you can’t be “lucky” all the time because shit happens.
It is your PERCEPTION of these realities that determine whether you are living your life or being a victim of life. Don’t be life’s whipping boy.
“If you own your luck, you make it your bitch” –Me
OH SHIT, I’M OLD!
Yea, it happens to the best of us. One day you crawl out of bed, your body cracking and groaning, do the slow shuffle into the bathroom and catch a glimpse of…your dad (or mom) in the mirror.
Like an 80’s movie montage your life flashes before your eyes. Where did my body go? Where did my dreams go? How did this happen? Why did this happen? Why is God angry at me? I already covered some of this here: 3 Things That Pussified You After 30
But guess what? Your freak-out is the first step to getting your shit back together.
Think a minute about how you progressed as a human being. For most of us it was a steady motion of moving forward, fucking up, learning, moving forward again. This starts when we are infants learning to walk. It gets more complicated as time goes on: athletics, academics, dating, working, marriage, parenting….then….you get complacent. You quit moving forward, to avoid having to fuck up, to avoid having to learn, to avoid having to move forward. Whether you do it intentionally or unconsciously, it happens. Learn more here: 3 Reasons You Fail & How to Fix It
So you’re done freaking out…now what?
1) Make a list
Choose 5 things you want to change. These can be vague and general: “travel more,” “look better,” “read more,” etc. You really just want to identify some general changes. Do this without creating caveats. A lot of people will think of excuses why they CAN’T do something at almost the same time they think of what they want to do. This is probably what got you stuck in this mess in the first place.
2) Get specific
Break down your general list. If you want to travel, pick one place you really want to go. If you want to look better, pick a body fat percentage, or a clothing item to fit into. You get the point. Once again….no excuses. Just write it down.
Don’t list it by what is feasible. List it by what would make you happiest. STOP MAKING EXCUSES! You’re allowed to be selfish about this. These are YOUR goals and it’s YOUR happiness. One thing (especially women) tend to do is worry about taking care of everyone else’s needs. This is stupid. The greatest thing you can do is set an example of how to live a life of meaning. So do it.
4) Do it…Do it
Guess which one of these on your list you are going to start with? Good guess. Now comes the hard part; You actually have to do something. Monetary restrictions holds back a lot of dreams. I get this. However, I bet you spend money on stupid shit. Do you spend $5.00 a day on your stupid Grande Frappucino Mustachio Carmello Vanilla coffee with extra smug on top? Stop it. BOOM! I just saved you over $1500 a year to put toward your goal. I also probably just solved your dad-bod/mom-bod problem too.
5) Don’t be a stereotype
Yea, mid-life crises have some negative manifestations: cheating on your wife with the check-out girl at Bed, Bath, & Beyond, buying a motorcycle, getting glute implants, etc. are not cool. These are manifestations of a deeper hatred for your shitty life. Honestly though, if number one on your list is: “get glute implants,” maybe you and I should part ways. Oh, and stay the hell out of Bed, Bath, & Beyond!
I’m not going to pretend that I succeed at everything I do; That’s ridiculous. However, I keep getting reminded that I might be doing things right: My job makes me happy. I have a hot wife. My son is not an asshole. I vacation to fun places. I’m in the best shape of my life. And I get to train jiu-jitsu with some of the coolest guys on the planet.
So, I may not be the richest or the most powerful guy on the planet, but I might know a thing or two about success (and consequently failure). So here are some of my observations on why other people can’t seem to get their shit together (and some ideas on how to deal with it).
1) You Fear Success This is very real. Have you found yourself on the verge of success, then things start going wrong? You get easily agitated, you start making dumb decisions, you procrastinate on decisions that lead to success, “other people” are trying to sabotage you. Does this seem to happen over and over again? We are taught that fear is negative, so we tend to ignore it. Then it manifests itself in stupid ways. Then we fail. This is failure loop and you might be in one right now.
2) Your Goal is Wrong Your failure may be irrelevant. You might be choosing the wrong goal. I see this a lot as a personal trainer. People choose goals that are divergent from what they ACTUALLY want. Do you want to lose weight or do you want to feel great in a bikini? Sometimes those are 2 different paths.
3) You Don’t Actually Deserve it You might be failing because you think success is OWED to you. It’s NOT. One of my favorite quotes is, “the harder I work, the luckier I get”. Damn right.
I understand that some people get success they don’t deserve. In England they call them Royals. In America we call them Kardashians. Guess what? You ain’t a Royal OR a Kardashian.
OWN AND CONQUER YOUR FEAR Success is complicated. Failure is not. But it is still just a series of choices that leads to one or the other. Retired MMA Fighter/TV Personality Chael Sonnen has a great quote regarding this:
“They’ll tell you failure is not an option. That is ridiculous. Failure is always an option. Failure is the most readily available option at all times, but it’s a choice. You can choose to fail or you can choose to succeed.”
The first thing you have to do is acknowledge fear. Fear is not weakness. Fear can be a great motivator. Yes, success means more pressure and demands. It puts you in a place to be scrutinized and criticized.
Fuck it. Someone’s gonna succeed, it might as well be you.
Another reason people fear success is because they think it will change their identity. Yea, it probably will. Guess what? That’s the point. It’s still YOU, it’s just a YOU with a better body, or more money, a better job, or whatever your goal is.
SCREW YOUR GOAL…IT’S LAME What is it that you REALLY want. Focus more on your DREAMS. Most people’s goals are related to health or finance. This can cause them to be dictated by other people’s definition of success, which means there are no personal feelings associated with the goal. Saying “I want to lose 20 pounds” doesn’t have the same personal connection as “I want to be able to wear a swimsuit and feel comfortable and confident.” This kind of goal can have a lot more to it than just losing some weight. Once you figure out what it is that you REALLY want, you can focus on the details. Until then, you will continue to chase success and fail.
YOU HAVE TO WORK, NOT JUST SUFFER Have you really worked for it or have you just suffered as a victim for so long that you think you DESERVE it? There is a huge difference. No one OWES you shit. You either go get it or you don’t. Suffering does not equal DOING something. Suffering is something that happens TO you. So quit yer bitchin’ and go make something happen. Some things take a lot of work and a lot of time. Yes, you can fail. You can fail A LOT. But don’t treat yourself like a victim for failing. You failed because you need to learn something you haven’t learned yet. So learn the lesson, blame only yourself, and move upward.
a)You are over 30 and as much of a bad ass as you were at 25 (or whenever your peak badassness was).
b)You were never bad ass to begin with. Congratulations, you are starting with a clean slate. Skip to the second part of this post.
c)You are under the age of 30 and still full of opportunities and hard-ons.
For everyone else, male or female, you fucked up…probably.
I went to a reading by Chuck Palahniuk, the author of Fight Club, a couple weekends back. He mentioned that his characters have a central theme of “becoming what they were destined to be no matter how they started out”. Then he said something brilliant that stuck with me. I’m paraphrasing, but essentially it was something like, “Men start out following a path that they were told was correct: They go to college, they get married, they find a job, they have kids, they buy a house, they make money. But this only takes them to their 30’s. After that, you have no more path to follow, so you sit around being bored and thinking about who you were supposed to be and most likely never becoming that person”.
This got me thinking: As I get older, I see a definitive difference between the men (and women) that have chosen to accept their boring-ass lives, and the ones who continually strive to be better…to be a reinvention of themselves every 3 years. So, if you are noticing that there is a big space where your balls used to be, I’m here with your explanation (and solution).
1) YOU STOPPED COMPETING Think about it. You used to be competitive. Whether it was sports, grades, or trying to get laid, you were thinking about how to win. At some point you stopped caring about winning and started caring about “just getting by”. Oh, and watching your local sporty-ball team compete, doing a charity 5-K, or having the “best looking lawn in the neighborhood” doesn’t count as competing, you pussy.
2)YOU SETTLED FOR PHYSICAL MEDIOCRITY Call it “dad-bod” or “mom-bod”, but whether you admit it or not, you look like shit. Whether he or she admits it or not, your significant other thinks you look like shit. When did this become acceptable? If women and men quit settling for mediocrity in their mate, the demand for physical prowess would go up. Yea, this is a society problem, but the solution to all problems starts with YOU.
3)YOU STARTED HANGING OUT WITH OTHER PUSSIES Your friends are weak. They talk about “the way things used to be”. They have settled into no.1 and no.2 very comfortably. You are a product of who you hang out with.
I hang out with some bad ass people. Some of them can lift cars, some of them can knock people out, some of them can disassemble and reassemble an automobile in a weekend. You need cooler friends. Or, even better, you need to make yourself the example of badassery your friends can follow.
1) FIND YOUR “THING” Everyone has one. I know someone that does competitive flower arranging. No shit. That’s a thing. But she competes and wins awards.
If you don’t have a “thing” get one.
I’m biased because I’m a Jiu-Jitsu guy, but combat sports/martial arts, is great for beginners. The environment is generally friendly, and the opportunity to compete on a regular basis is there. It will also help you with your mediocre physique. But if your thing is chess, find a competitive chess league. There are competitions for pretty much any activity.
Note: this is not the same thing as a hobby. You need to be in a competitive environment in which you are challenging yourself. If there isn’t a chance for losing, it isn’t a competition.
2) LIFT SOME WEIGHTS, STOP EATING CRAP This seems simplified, I know. I truly believe that most of the world’s problems would be fixed if everyone lifted some heavy shit 4-5 hours a week and stayed out of the drive-thru. You need a plan though. Hire a good personal trainer that gets results with his/her clients. It’s worth the investment to learn how to get results as efficiently as possible. Remember, you will be doing this for the rest of your life. Read this for help: www.thestrongerlife.com/muscle-less-bs
3) BECOME A LEADER AND OTHERS WILL FOLLOW A magical thing happens when you start improving yourself: the people around you either do the same or disappear. Everyone has ass-anchors. These are the people that hold you back and keep you weighed down. The easiest way to ditch the ass anchors is to improve yourself. Your real friends will become apparent. The ones that keep you from your potential badassery will bond together and talk shit about you behind your back. It’s called jealousy.
I feel like things have gotten convoluted as far as what you REALLY need to do to build more muscle. Every day there is some huckster trying to tell you the NEWEST and QUICKEST way. Screw that. Here it is, plain and simple, in 8 steps.
1) Lift ALL the weights Yes, ALL the weights. Not just machines, not just free-weights, not just rubberized ones on a platform, not just your bodyweight…ALL the weights. You will not find any research that says one way is always better than another. You WILL find that variety is key to solid muscle gains and strength as well.
2) Lift ALL the rep ranges Yes, ALL of them. From 1-100. I keep most of my reps around 8-15, but I will hit a 1RM occasionally just for shits and giggles. I often program in sets of 50-100 reps as well. If you’ve never done 100 reps of squats, continuously, with 100 lbs, you’re missing out on one of life’s great moments in human survival. Using all these rep ranges also allows for using a variety of equipment, tempo, advanced strategies (supersets, drop sets, eccentric focus, etc).
3) Do A LOT of sets When Bryan Krahn was up for The Fitness Summit we hit 64 sets of arms in 45 minutes! He thinks it was only 40 because I lied to him and he uses Canadian math. We did 8 sets of 8 exercises with moderate weight in an 8-12 rep range. You know what it felt like when we were done? Like we did 64 mother-effin’ sets of arms! This is when programming your workouts becomes key. Nick Tumminello has a kick ass way of programming workouts that make them more efficient. I stole a lot of his ideas from Strength Training for Fat Loss and modified them only slightly for myself and my clients. Working out this way will also help with No. 5 on this list.
4) Eat ALL the food I mean food variety. Dudes and dudettes focus on eggs, chicken, and shakes. That’s cool, but you would have to eat a ridiculous amount of eggs, chicken, and shakes to get the calories to build quality muscle. Remember: more protein doesn’t equal more muscle. OPTIMUM protein intake is important though. Go for 2-3 GRAMS per KILOGRAM of LBM. This is obviously adjusted as your LBM increases. If you don’t know your LBM, you should. Knowing your body fat percentage and lean body mass is important for No. 5 on this list.
Equally important is food variety. You need the calories to hit your goal. Don’t know what that is? Go find someone competent (there are a handful out there) to figure it out for you. You don’t need to OVEREAT, just eat for your goal. Don’t overcomplicate this either. There are “strategies” and “systems” but if you just eat lots of quality food (and sometimes not-so-quality food), bust your ass with the weights, and you will gain muscle.
5) Don’t get too fat This kind of goes with number 4. If you are a dude, you can sit at 10% (generally six-pack worthy), if you are a dudette, you can sit around 18% and still build muscle. No need for those ridiculous bulking phases of the 90’s. After all, what’s the point of building muscle if no one can see it? If you are a fatty now, you might want to get on a cutting phase until you hit something closer to those percentages. I have not had a client yet that couldn’t maintain these percentages and add muscle at the same time.
6) Rest A lot of people fuck this up. We live in a society of energy drinks and stress. Program rest times into your life. Not just from your workouts, but life. I know…you’re like, Ethan, but…blah blah family blah blah work… SHUT UP! You watch too much tv! Shut it off and chill out with your own thoughts for a few hours instead. Take a walk. Commune with nature. Do some yoga. Whatever hippie shit calms your mind. In the end your pituitary gland, your muscles, and your brain will thank you.
7) Be patient Building muscle takes a long time. It is contrary to what your body wants to do. Muscle requires more energy, which requires more calories, which requires more hunting and gathering. It is against nature. Be patient!
Don’t focus too much on “6 week programs”. At most, unless you are on the Mexican muscle juice or brand new to lifting, you will get about 1 pound of muscle in 6 weeks….at best. Your first years lifting will be the years of your greatest gains. Take advantage of this. After 3 years, it slows down considerably. This is not a bad thing. If I continued to gain the same as I did my first year, I would be over 700 lbs. My grocery budget couldn’t handle it.
You know when people talk about working out as a “lifestyle change”. That’s not bullshit. If you are serious about it, you need to become workout guy or girl for the rest of your life. Does this mean balls-out every day? No. This means putting in the time though. I have been lifting for 26 years…the majority of my life. I am 41 years old and in better shape than most 18 year olds. But that’s the lifestyle I chose…to care about not being a fat weak slob. I want the other parents at my son’s school functions to stare. I want his friends to ask me if I can lift a truck.
8) Repeat for the rest of your life Consistency is key. Period. Done.
“It wasn’t until my late twenties that I learned that by working out I had given myself a great gift. I learned that nothing good comes without work and a certain amount of pain. When I finish a set that leaves me shaking, I know more about myself. When something gets bad, I know it can’t be as bad as that workout.”
Damn right, Hank.
For 26 years I have been around the iron (and 1 year the shitty brown Weider plastic). I have been in smelly gyms with steroid addled freaks, clean gyms with high-end clientele, hot warehouses with only a handful of dumbbells, air-conditioned high-tech sports clubs, and every variation in-between. I have learned the lessons that the gym can teach us about life.
Below are 5 that seem to have a commonality among other iron initiated people. No particular order on these.
1) Failure is temporary(and necessary) Think about how many times you’ve “failed” in the gym. What do you next time? You try again…one more rep…5 more pounds. Then you succeed. Then you fail again. Then you try again. Sound familiar? You read it in every successful person’s biography.
2) Be confident but humble There is a very large difference between confidence and arrogance. You CAN’T be arrogant with 500 lbs. You will learn a lesson in pain you won’t soon forget. You CAN believe in yourself and in your abilities. Everyday challenges are overcome by the confident, by the person that can believe they have the gifts, the training, the environment to succeed. Arrogant people think they have the right to succeed, that it is OWED to them. Arrogant people get punched in the nose.
3) Some days just suck Guess what? Today might suck. Today might suck in every possible way. You know what else? It probably won’t suck as bad tomorrow. Some times you just aren’t feeling it. You don’t always have to be “on”. It’s ok. You don’t beat yourself up over it.
4) Results correlate directly with effort The philosopher Seneca said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”. Yea, pretty much…unless it’s a lottery winner. They’re just lucky pricks.
In the weight room, no one ever says, “Dude got lucky and squatted 650″. You succeed because you put in the work.
5) Don’t be a dick More politely: Don’t judge others. Everyone has their own path. Maybe YOUR goals are completely different from someone else’s. Maybe someone totally digs being a barista. Don’t get pissed at them if they don’t want to be a CEO. Maybe someone is cool just running on the treadmill. Don’t hate because they aren’t under the squat bar twice a week. You don’t know most people’s situation or goals. Just let them do them. You do you.*
*I have to add a caveat on this one. I am a trainer and an educator. I feel like I have a responsibility to help others find a better way to reach their goals. Some people do weird crap in the gym because they just don’t know a better way. In this instance, I feel like it is my responsibility to intervene. If you have a special skill or experience, it is ok to help someone struggling. But you still can’t be a dick about it.
Thanks to everyone on Facebook that sent me their personal “lessons.” I was not really surprised that most of them correlated. Those that know, know.