28 March 2011

Of Stones and Strength Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Zercher

For those of you unfamiliar with this pamphlet-sized book, I can hardly recommend it enough:
Of Stones and Strength, By Steve Jeck and Peter Martin.  It's not really a training manual, and it's barely long enough to be considered a proper book.  What it is, however, is a reminder that all of the gym lifting in the world isn't going to provide enough awesome to counter-balance the pathetic waste that most of us call our modern lives.  Why?  Because we're not busy with picking up any random heavy shit we might see in the course of a day of plowing a field, because there's no right of passage into manhood in Western civilization, and because we're decidedly, sadly, in and incontrovertibly not Basques.
It gets no more metal than this.  Someone's definitely wailing on a fucking guitar in the background.

Stay with me, fuckers,  I shall elucidate my points.  First, a bit about the book.  It is essentially a display of the world's manhood stones, in particular those of Scotland.  Steve Jeck, the co-author of the book, discovered these stones while competing as a pro Highland Games athlete in Scotland, and went on a quest to lift them all.  He brought along with him a guy named Peter Martin, a historian of Scottish manhood stones and one of the main reasons I found the book so inspiring.  Why, might you ask, was this historian the catalyst for my inspiration?  Because the book is chock-full of pics of a 61 year old back in slacks and dress shoes picking up 300+ lb stones in a muddy field with a back so rounded it looks like he's trying to form the perfect arch with his back.  Frankly, when you see a bunch of pictures of an old man picking up rocks the size of your torso, it makes you rethink every decision you've made in your life, and you realize that you've been fucking up if you cannot be out there outlifting that fucker like it's your job.  Back to that bit in a second.
The book outlines a number of stones throughout the world that men lifted to show other men that they were indeed big swinging dicks.  Stones like the Dinnie Stones, so named because a strongman named Donald Dinnie picked up them both (one weighs 435 and the other 340) and walked across a bridge and back with one in each hand.  Back in the day, if you wanted to be a part of a crew of warriors, no matter where you lived in the world, there would have been a stone lifting test involved- these are the kinds of stones Jeck and Martin lift throughout that book, and the kind of stones you'd probably like to lift as a matter of course.
Which, oddly, brings me to my third point- we're not Basques.  This sucks for a wide variety of reasons ranging from their awesome, alien-inspired and possibly only related to that of the Ainu halfway around the world language, the fact that they're all nobility in Spain because their land was just about the only place in Spain not conquered by the Moors, and the fact that they have constant festivals wherein they compete against one another in wrestling, wood chopping, stone lifting, and a variety of other awesome shit.  Their stone-lifting competitions, however, are in my opinion the coolest bit in the book.  Jeck describes a legendary competition between a stone mason and an accountant, both weighing between 200 and 220 lbs, in which they competed to shoulder a rectangular stone for reps, taking turns in 7 minute rounds.  The stones, by the way, weighed over 300 lbs apiece, and the mason won with 22 reps in 21 minutes... which is fucking insane.  This is what the Basques do on the weekend, though, which makes them far more awesome than we are.
So, having contemplated what I'd just read early on a Saturday morning, it occurred to me that not only do I lack access to stones for lifting, I lack the ability to store a stone if I had one made or simply found one and took it home.  I have the misfortune to currently live in a filing cabinet for the not-poor, and thus lack the necessary personal storage space in which I'd have to store such an object, and my gym is currently unfriendly to the idea of storing a big rock for me.  Thus, I was faced with a bit of a quandary.
There is no reason for this pic, other than all of the awesome contained therein.

Then, however, I recalled an exercise that would offer a not-horrible substitute for stone lifting, get me out of my comfort zone in the gym, and possibly offer me an opportunity to discover a new favorite exercise...
and this is how I learned to stop worrying about how much it sucks and just love the fuck out of Zercher lifts.  Amusingly, Zerchers aren't mentioned in Of Stones and Strength.  In fact, few exercises are mentioned, the workout program's ridiculously basic, and that page and a half of the book is pretty much the least interesting portion of it.  Nevertheless, it occurred to me that that "cradle" one uses for the bar is not too unlike that you use in stone lifting.  Given that I've no access to stone for the time being, the Zercher lift would be a good way to approximate stone lifting in the gym, so maybe when I find myself hanging out with a badass Scottish sextogenarian I don't find myself embarrassed by my inability to emulate his random overdressed feats of strength.
For those of you with little to no background in what a Zercher is, it can take many disparate forms.  The original Zercher lift was invented by a strongman named Ed Zercher, who while well-known in the strength community is tremendously hard to research online.  In any event, the guy was an old-school Steve Justa, except strong, and lifted in what has been described more than once as a junkyard in his basement.  He was a big fan of doing barbell leg presses, and due to his lack of a squat rack (though why he couldn't fashion one out of junk I'll never know) would deadlift the barbell, place it on top of his thighs, and then scoop his arms underneath the bar and continue the lift until he was at full lockout.  Horrible as that sounds, it's pretty analogous to stone lifting, especially when one uses Bob Peoples' deadlifting technique.
Peoples pulled 728 at 178 with a double overheand grip and a completely rounded back in 1946.

With the next blog in this series, I'll throw up a couple of vids showing you some Zercher permutations, explain Bob Peoples' deadlifting technique, and hook you guys up with more titties.  The chick, by the way, is ultra hot Pole Eva Wywal.
Go pick up something heavy.  She'll be lifting her tits.

15 March 2011

If You're In This World To Live Up To Others' Expectations, Expect To Fucking Suck

Generally, I have about as much faith in psychotherapy as I do in a higher power who will heed my every whim and bestow upon me every little thing for which I wish.  That is to say, less than none.  There's one guy, however, who caught my attention based on the fact that his entire theory of therapy revolved around taking personal responsibility for shit- basically, he was all about having people man the fuck up and wreck shit themselves, rather than asking for permission from others and allowing them to limit your growth as a person.  The guy, Fritz Perls, is quoted as having said “I am not in this world to live up to other people's expectations, nor do I feel that the world must live up to mine”, which is both fairly poignant and important in a modern era wherein nearly everyone on Earth constantly seeks approval from others on their dumbass social networking sites.  Few places is that shit more horrifying and disgusting than weightlifting-related sites, where there's sundry threads all devoted to asking what reasonable expectations a person might have given a bunch of retarded caveats and personal body measurements.  If you've ever penned one of those threads, you should punch yourself in the fucking face.  I've sort of posted about this phenomenon before, but I thought I'd revisit this issue for a couple of reasons.  They are:
  1. people often have hyper-inflated and ridiculous expectations of what they can expect physique- and performance-wise, and seem to want everything right fucking now
  2. people seem to think that a random person on the internet could accurately gauge the potential of a perfect stranger over the internet
  3. people seem to have no fucking idea what to expect when they enter the gym on any given day
As such, I've decided to come to the rescue and save you from your baser, sadder, more needy motivations and put you on a path on which you at least stand on your own two feet and lean on other people, if you don't just fucking stand up like a goddamned man with your hands on your hips and your legs spread in the universal stance of "I dominate shit and will melt your face off Charlie Sheen style if you fuck with me."  And ladies, this applies to you as well- being a woman's not really an excuse to be needy, and it's simple enough to out-man most of the eunuchs you'll find on the street anyway.
On a side note, standing like this actually tricks your brain into making you feel more powerful.  You should do it all the fucking time, as the master of your domain.  Studies even show that standing with your hands on your hips and legs spread (a dominance/power pose) increases testosterone by about 19 per cent and decreases cortisol by about 25 per cent. If you stand like a little bitch with your arms and legs all intertwined like some sort of ridiculous contortionist / human pretzel, you can actually decrease testosterone by 10 per cent and increase cortisol by 17 per cent.  As such, you should try to stand like a fucking superhero whenever possible.(Carney)
 But I digress.  I shall start at the end, as that's how I respond to emails and read magazines, and it occasionally confuses people, which I enjoy immensely.  Additionally, it's the thing I really wanted to address with this post- what to expect when you enter the gym.  
You should not expect this.

My answer, for once, is purely based upon my own experience, and has no basis in science.  As such, you should take it for what it's worth- it's a benchmark/suggestion/anecdote, not the answer to all of one's questions and the meaning of life.  In any event, I've found that when training 6+ times a week (moderately heavy to very heavy sessions), one quarter to one third of those sessions will probably not be stellar.  I'd say they'd suck, but my "suck" workouts generally exceed in duration and poundage any three workouts I see other people doing, but they're those with which I feel generally disaffected, and wish could have gone better.  This is not something I expect, however- I never look at my week and think, "well, I can blow off this fucking workout because I've already had three awesome workouts in a row."  Rather, it's just something that happens as a matter of course.  The more session I add, the more the 1/4-1/3 rule seems to apply, but it's never a constant thing.  It could boil down to two weeks of setting the gym on fire and tearing shit apart, and then one during which I seem to be suffering from general malaise, or couple of months of awesome followed by one of a lackadaisical attitude.  Again, it's never something for which I plan, but something I accept as the cost of doing business.
Not even Stan Efferding's on the top of his game 365 days a year.

Nor is this something that causes me to rethink my training frequency.  I think this is simply a function of the cyclical nature of humanity, and the natural ebb and flow of things.  You're not a machine, and you should not expect your body to behave as one.  If you lived in a universe where you could control every single factor affecting your athletic performance, you might have a shot at preventing this ebb and flow in microcycles, but you wouldn't on a macro scale- everyone has their slumps.
Speaking of which, I've found that nearly every year I have a slight backslide.  Over the course of my decade and a half of training I've definitely strung together multiple years of advancements, but everyone gets bogged down in the trenches every now and again, and everyone has to give ground from time to time.  Over time, you'll find that weight training is VERY analogous to WWI- at the outset, you'll make a badass, hardline drive for Paris, but after a year, you're measuring your progress in scant inches.  That's just how shit works, and there's fuckall you can do about it.  As such, be glad for your inches and keep pushing forward.
Again, don't expect this.

But "what should I expect?", you might be asking.  WHO FUCKING CARES?  If you know you should expect a certain amount, you'll stop once you hit that amount, or slack off.  If you failed to reach the prescribed numbers, you'd probably bitch and quit lifting anyway.  As such, asking strangers on the internet about your personal potential is fucking stupid to the point of offensiveness.  Don't fucking do it.  Ever.  They've no way to accurately assess what your potential is, especially given the fact that they've never met you, never will meet you, and have no way of checking the veracity of any of the claims you've made about your height/weight/prs, etc.  Even if there were a way for someone to semi-accurately predict "how much weight you could gain in a year" or "how much your bench could go up in a year", it would still be an artificial limitation on your progress, which will ultimately lead to your failure.(Van Fleet 59)  Push your limits.  Take chances.  Stretch yourself.  Learn.  Grow as a person.  Stop relying on others to tell you what you can do, who you are, and what you can be, and find out for your fucking self.
You're doing it wrong.

Finally, abandon the thought that you can have everything you want right fucking now.  You've heard for years that our society is obsessed with instant gratification, and people laugh this off while they bitch about how they can't have what they want instantaneously.  This is made worse by the fat fucks getting gastric bypass and people getting implants all over their bodies and shooting synthol.  Spend five to ten years breaking your ass inside out in the gym and at the dinner table.  If you still suck then, you can start bitching, but do it quietly, off the internet, and know that at the end of the day, the fault likely lies with you.  There's always something more you can do in furtherance of your goals...
so go fucking do it.  Just don't expect any miracles, unless you happen to know a purportedly magical Jewish carpenter or something.

Carney DR, Cuddy AJ, Yap AJ.  Power posing: brief nonverbal displays affect neuroendocrine levels and risk tolerance.  Psychol Sci. 2010 Oct 1;21(10):1363-8. Epub 2010 Sep 20.
Van Fleet, James K. Hidden Power:  How to Unleash the Power of Your Subconscious Mind.  1987.

10 March 2011

Ask the Asshole #9- Your Obsession With Lower Backs Is Weird

It's been a while since I posted one of these, and I thought you guys might like a break from all of the talk about running.  The next installment in that series is written, but I wanted to break it up because this blog isn't all about running, if you hadn't noticed.  In any event, I've gotten a bunch of questions about deadlifting and its effect on the lower back, in addition to a few others from which I thought you guys might benefit, so enjoy.

Q: "I just wanted to know what you thought of all those articles about how deadlifts can hurt your lower back in the long run. I can't believe this after reading your blog, but do you think there is any truth in the fact that deadlifts fuck up your back?"

Interesting question that will have a fairly qualified answer.  Do I think I could ever fuck up my lower back deadlifting?  Not a fucking chance in hell.  Of all of the injuries I might one day suffer, lower back problems are about as likely as me wearing short shorts and those godawful Crossfit socks.   The reason for this is that I train insanely heavy constantly, and I never, ever wear a belt.  This means that my lower back has strengthened itself to accommodate the poundages I lift, and has grown even stronger with the ultra-heavy partials I do.  I could take a gunshot from a small caliber firearm in the spinal erectors and walk away laughing.
With an ass like that, I could forgive the socks.  I think.

For the average weekend warrior fuckface who sits on padded machines fucking around for a half hour in the gym a couple of times a week?  He's damn near guaranteed to fuck his back up completely.  The reason for this is that he's a terrible decision maker and has a job that involves sitting.  Likewise for the chicks with office jobs who go to the gym and run on the treadmill all day long.  There's a reason why both of those populations are stoop-shoulders and bereft off asses- they have shitty posture when sitting and standing, which overstretches their lower backs and tightens their hip flexors, and they sit all fucking day long.  They take the elevator up a couple of flights of stairs instead of walking up them like anyone with a modicum of fucking pride or interest in maintaining a body anyone on Earth wants to see naked.  That shit drives me directly up the fucking wall and makes me want to line those fat fucks up against said wall and hose them down with a bit of lead, and then put them through a wood chipper so as to make their corpses easier for wild pigs to eat.  Anyway, they then exacerbate this condition by going to the gym for more sitting, and then doing cardio on a machine that pulls their feet back for them, taking their posterior chain out of the equation, tightening their hip flexors further, and exponentially increasing the chances of a lower back catastrophe.  To make matters even worse, it's always those fucking retards who spend 30 minutes a day doing abs, as though exercising that bodypart will turn them into modern-day Dumbledores who can magically melt off their beer gut with some fantastical incantation and make them look like Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie.  They'll hurt themselves deadlifting, on the off-chance they ever try to, because they're fucking retarded.
Therefore, your question's pretty much akin to asking "Hey, I've read a lot of articles that say that blind people will turn themselves into a fucking street pizza if they ride motorcycles.  What do you think about riding motorcycles?"  I think any blind person dumb enough to try to pilot a motorcycle deserves to die, and I'll laugh my fucking ass off when weekend warriors in the gym hurt themselves deadlifting.  Does that answer your question?  In essence- if you are awesome, you will not hurt your lower back, as being awesome confers invulnerability to lower back issues.  If you suck at life and have given up on appearing human anyway, you're guaranteed to hurt your lower back deadlifting and deserve to be mocked as you roll by on your Rascal thereafter.

Q: "You round your back while deadlifting!  I heard that this causes paralysis/AIDS/ebola/ugliness/or possibly infertility.  Why would you do this?"

First, see the above answer.  Second, round back lifting is actually pretty natural, and most big pullers round their backs on maximum efforts anyways.  Benni and Bolton both round their backs, for instance.  Should you aim to have a round back?  Probably not.  Generally speaking, you should arch your back to put yourself in a more mechanically advantageous position whenever possible, and because there's no reason to actively taunt fate.
Brooks Kubik, however, has a different take.  In Dinosaur Training, for instance, he had the following to say about lifting with a round back:
backlifting with a barbell. It is this type of lifting that truly develops a strong back...” Jesse's insight is a keen one. To prove its validity, all you have to do is spend a couple of months using heavy sandbags and heavy barrels as a regular part of your heavy training. You will find that the bags and barrels substantially increase your back strength, with a resulting carry-over to all conventional barbell movements and all athletic endeavors. If you are an athlete - particularly a wrestler or football player - round back lifting will build your back in exactly the manner it needs to be developed to battle a human opponent on the mat or on the playing field.  (Kubik, 99)
Thus, according to Brooks, you quite literally cannot get super-strong without lifting with a round back.  I will give him this- it's fucking impossible to pick up oddly shaped objects with a flat back, and all stone lifters have huge backs and lift rounded ever fucking time.  Food for thought.

Q: "How did your back feel while you were deadlifting in competition? Does the pain come up right away? What kind of rehab have you done for it by the way? When you do squats, do you ever feel similar back pain/cramping?"

A: First, to clarify, I have no lower back issues.  The cramping to which this question refers occurs in my upper back, and is (insofar as I can tell) due to my penchant for using my upper back and traps on everything I do in the gym.  I had no cramping in the competition at all.  Cramping usually occurs for me due to lack of massage and a lot of near-max singles on deadlifts.  As for rehab, I covered it in this blog, but I essentially took a shitload of hot baths (as I had no access to a hot tub) and ground out all of my knots with a Theracane.  It was ridiculously painful, but it helped a lot.  I'd basically just sit on the couch and watch a movie while using the theracane the entire time.  It'd leave me bruised, but it got the knots out.

I never feel the cramping on back squats, but I will on front squats if I do them the day after deadlifting.  To my knowledge, this problem is fairly unique to me, but it's possible that others on Earth might have that happen from time to time.  Mine started occurring because I spent the better part of a year doing a once a week workout of deadlifts to max, rack deads to max, suitcase deads to max, and two finger deads to max, followed by shrugs, and did this until I was quite literally crippled.  It was fucking stupid.  Fun, but stupid.

Q: "After seeing you list the push/press in your top-five lifts, and me trying them, I have since wondered why so many "professional coaches/trainers" don't put more (any?) emphasis on them."

That's a damn good question.  I assume you're referring to the behind the neck push press, which I know for a fact Olympic lifters use on a regular basis.  I'd imagine they do it to insulate themselves from a lawsuit.  I don't bother with that bullshit, however, because I'm not rich enough to sue and I'd happily cut the throat of any idiot who felt like sending me a summons.  Mariusz does them, which got me doing them, and I love them and saw my shoulders grow by leaps and bounds, so I recommend them to you people.

Q: "Practically all of the test boosters you've recommended are off the market.  What the fuck?"

Blame the government.  They've started targeting all of the supplement companies that had been making grey-market supplements and raiding them, in addition to raiding stores that sold them.  Why?  They've managed to get their limp dicks hard over the idea of stripping you of one more way to combat the the festival of estrogens they've happily prepared for you (for a bit on that, go here, and here)  Why would they do this?  Probably because having more testosterone in your body would make it far harder for you to control, due to the fact that you'd be more physically powerful, less apt to take direction, and less physically intimidated by law enforcement agents.  Yeah, yeah, make all of the comments you want about tinfoil hats- there's no other plausible explanation for removing these products from the market.  In any event, most of the shit out there was based on Balco's products, and the M-Drol clones and other awesome test boosters are now a thing of the past.
Shit worked for Barry.

Methyl Mass, which was formerly fucking amazing, is now a big bag of bullshit.  They've reformulated it to include an anti-cortisol agent and an anti-estrogen, which while better than nothing isn't worth spending any considerable amount of money.  This saddens me, as I fell in love with that stuff a couple of years ago and was looking forward to grabbing some more until I noticed the change in formula.

Someone mentioned T-Bomb-II as being the purported shit to me the other day, but a quick glance at that shows that it's nothing more than the Tribulus/Longjax stack that I recommended a while back, only with less potency.  As such, I just recommend taking 4 grams of Tribulus and any kitchen sink test supplement, and you should be good to go, at least for having sick hardons and blowing big loads.  Frankly, I've never been enamored with MHP, as they push soy to men, and this product is pretty expensive for what you get.  Given that you can get far more awesome out of less money (~$42 for T-Bomb vs ~$38 for the stack I recommended).  Girls, I've got nothing for you- I think all of the Tren knockoffs are off the market as well.

Q: "I can't figure out why my lifts are stalling.  My diet's perfect and I'm killing it in the gym.  The only thing is, I don't think I'm getting as much sleep as I should.  What do you think?"

I've blogged at some length about the importance of sleep, but for some reason, you guys think it's optional.  It's not.  Sleep is one of the keystones of training success, and you'll ignore it at your ultimate fucking peril. According to Rob Faigin, "sleep is particularly important to athletes and others engaged in physical training because it helps stave-off overtraining syndrome, marked by elevated cortisol levels.  The same volume of exercise that will produce and overtrained state in a sleep-deprived athlete might not in a well-rested athlete.  Athlete or not, adequate nighttime sleep is vital to optimizing hormone levels."(Faigin, 200)  Paul Chek agrees completely, and states that the body's physical repair occurs, no matter what time you go to sleep, between 10PM and 2AM, due to your body's natural circadian rhythms and the affect of daylight.  As such, if you go to bed at 12AM, you've already missed 2 hours of physical repair.(Chek 203)  That's fucking retarded if your goal is to gain muscle.  From everything I've read, the average person (i.e. completely detrained sack of dogshit) requires 7-8 hours of sleep, while people in the paleolithic slept considerably more.  If you're training hard, wouldn't you think you'd tend toward the paleolithic requirement than the Doritos eater?  I thought so.  Fuck Edison and get the fuck off your Facebook.  Sleep more and you'll lift more, guaranteed.
There might not be any reason to post this pic, but there's no reason not to, either.

Q: "When are you going to post more vids?"

Soon.  Very soon.  I generally dislike bringing a camera to the gym, which I realize runs counter to the trend of putting every single one of a person's workouts online for no particular reason, but I've got a couple of new exercises to show you guys and a Gorillapod to test out.

Facebook less.  Lift more.  That is all.

Chek, Paul.  How To Eat, Move, And Be Healthy.  2004.
Faigin, Rob.  Natural Hormonal Enhancement.  2000.