18 April 2011

Find a Way Forward

Everyone hits a snag when lifting, be it a plateau, injury, or simply stagnation. In my estimation, the vast majority of lifters simply quit when they hit the wall, while another significant portion of the populace continues to press forward in a completely identical manner to what got them mired in the mud in the first place. Anyone who's ever gotten stuck in mud or snow knows that spinning your wheels rarely gets you out of the shit you're in- instead, you have to try something different to get you out. For whatever reason, that analogy never occurs to half the people in the gym, as they're so wedded to the program that once worked for them they refuse to deviate therefrom come hell or high water. You also have, of course, the kids who jump from program to program like they're a middle school girl with a new favorite song every 60 fucking seconds. Either way, both groups end up whining like fucking bitches when they cannot make progress, and lash out at anyone who does as having cheated in some manner, rather than reexamining the bullshit they did to get them stuck and finding another way forward.
Ironically, the face one makes when Max Hardcore gets a chick to ram her fist up your ass and the face one makes when hearing Rebecca Black's "Friday" are exactly the same.

Clearly, the latter group is fucking retarded, and hardly bear mention, much less an in-depth investigation of the nonsense they employ in the gym- blame the entirely fantastical affliction ADD, MTV, or whatever bogeyman you want, but there's no getting around the fact that some people simply suck balls, no matter how fucking hard you try to blame their behavior on some external and ultimately bullshit excuse. The former group, however, generally seems to suffer from loss aversion. On its face, having a sensibility that amounts to a fear of losses might seem eminently reasonable, as few people want to lose at anything they do. The phenomenon of "loss aversion" however, is actually a fear-based emotional response to external stimulus, in which people overreact to perceived losses. People tend to "sacrifice a little bit to avoid a potential loss" (Brafman 18), and in doing so limit the shit out of their own potential due to their irrational fear of failure. For this reason, people will often stick to programs that worked for them in the past, in spite of the fact that they're making little or no progress. A similar phenomenon is referred to as "chasing the loss", which focused on avoiding losses rather than maximizing gains. You'll find evidence of this phenomenon all over the internet, which is lousy with idiots who proselytize cookie-cutter programs and decry any and all deviation therefrom, claiming that everyone should do the same mediocre bullshit because of it's purported universal success... however minuscule, mediocre, or otherwise generally unimpressive. They completely ignore the fact that those who always are the ones to grab the brass ring took a lot of risk doing so, and rarely (if ever) took the "tried and true" route to accolades and immortality. (Brafman 28)

Dirt Diva- Living proof that you probably want to take the road less traveled... at least to the stop before Crazy Town.

Clearly, I'm not into the tried and true, but I know for a fucking fact I don't always have all the answers, either. Last year, after 3 months of 10+ workouts a week, at least 4 of which consisted of squatting, I found that I looked awesome and kicked fucking ass at squatting, but hit a gigantic wall at full speed, face-first, and kept on pushing for a while. I developed a pretty impressive knot in the IT band in my right leg, and found that continuing to squat with the protocols I had been using merely exacerbated the problem. Thus, I essentially became a modern day Sisyphus, pushing a big assed rock up a hill with my face, one legged, and yelling the entire time about what bullshit it was that my body had the audacity to defy me in a quest so idiotic that even the cast members of Jersey Shore would take pause at its display.
Zombies or robots? Fuck that. These are the harbingers of the apocalypse.

I began doing a ton of research into methods for eliminating that knot (and I'm sad to report I found jack shit), but in my research happened upon two studies that showed that:
  1. quick descent on the squat increases the rate of musculoskeletal loading, so athletes should descend quickly to maximize their rate of descent, and
  2. following a strength exercise immediately with a power exercise increases test levels drastically, so training strength exercises followed by power exercises appears to be the most effective way to increase strength and power.
This intrigued me, because I had not been training full range-of-motion lifts, and had only been working power lifts, rather than strength. In case you're unaware, sports scientists have broken down types of strength into different categories. Vladimir Zatsiorsky, for instance, breaks down strength into three types (Science and Practice 147):

  • maximal strength (grinding strength, like that in powerlifting)
  • speed strength (explosive strength, like in Olympic weightlifting or plyometrics)
  • strength endurance (repetitive cyclic shit like rowing)
Conversely, Yuri Verkhoshansky and Mel Siff separate strength into five distinct groups (Supertraining 151):
  • Isometric strength (static holds)
  • Quasi-Isometric strength (low velocity, powerlifting style)
  • Strength-Speed (more explosive, but still low velocity)
  • Speed-Strength (explosive at intermediate velocity)
  • Explosive strength (explosive at high velocity)
For me, pre-exhaustion always=leg extensions... and you know how I feel about leg extensions.

Though I had never really considered any of this, I knew it, as I'd read it in Science and Practice of Strength Training a couple of years ago. I'm not sure what's more sad- how far behind the East we are in sport science, or the fact that I'd completely discarded this bit of knowledge. I'd chalked that shit up to the "pre-exhaustion" bullshit bodybuilders always carry on about, and have always considered to be a giant pile of horseshit. Besides, I figured, I'd just kicked a decent amount of ass at that powerlifting meet, I had no need for anything but quasi-isometric and isometric/maximal strength.

In my conceit/loss aversion delusions, I ignored Zatsiorsky's recommendations for structuring one's workouts with this priority:
  1. Main sport exercises
  2. Dynamic before slow exercises
  3. Larger groups before smaller
This, of course, makes perfect sense, and I'd ignored it due to a fear that if I stopped what I was doing, I'd backslide and lose the progress I'd made. Luckily, I got to the point by January that full squats or ultra-heavy partials were completely out of the question. Thus, I was forced to make a change, and I did.
My leg, saying to me: "Oklahoma kid. That's me. I'm the Oklahoma kid. You fuckin' varmint! Dance. Dance. YAHOO, YA MOTHERFUCKER!"

In an effort to work on my flexibility and hopefully stretch out my IT band (which ended up working), I started doing rock bottom jump squats. Initially, I just focused on doing sets of 5 with 135, in an effort to get a good stretch and really explode out of the bottom. On days where my leg wasn't acting like Joe Pesci in every fucking scene of Goodfellas, I followed that with a few sets of partial front or back squats. The number of sets varied based up on feel, but usually went along the lines of 3x5x135, 3x3x225. I didn't actually get back to a 315 jump squat until early March, but given the amount of shit my IT band was giving me, I felt pretty good with my progress.
"Soviet studies show that utilization of explosive lifts prior to maximal efforts increase the likelihood of Jamie Koeppe spontaneously materializing in the vicinity of a lifter by 64.7%" (Verkhoshansky 864)

In the next installment- how I changed my mindset, more science behind how this works, the workouts I did to take my 5RM on jump squats up 50 lbs and get my 1RM on them up to 375. Here's a teaser trailer for the vid, and the next actual blog will be the conclusion to the running series (finally).

...and yes, that is a Zombie Jesus tshirt. 

Siff, Mel, and Yuri Verkhoshansky. Supertraining.


  1. Jamie, why do you - usually - squat partial depth? To overload the quads more than they'd be at a lower depth?

  2. thanks for another great read. I learn so much here. :D

  3. "following a strength exercise immediately with a power exercise increases test levels drastically, so training strength exercises followed by power exercises appears to be the most effective way to increase strength and power."

    You should browse the latest article at Tnation : http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/most_recent/6_weeks_to_superhero_how_i_build_muscle_and_strip_off_fat_fast

    Its less a big pile of crap as usual so you could find some interesting ideas.

    The guy in the article explains how a program based on progressive max strenght to speed exercises lead to great progress.

    Personally I prefer doing only max strenght exercises, easier to know if youre doing better or not (weight on the bar), as opposed to complexes where you have to check your fatigue levels, but you can always mix them to your taste.

  4. And I'm supposed to take up four bars while doing all those exercises? Hahahaha, my gym can barely hold 4 bars. The "6 weeks to [blah blah blah]" is bullshit as well since, clearly, 6 weeks is not the pinnacle moment for any goal in the weight room.

  5. Like you said, only the theory behind the complexes is worth reading, the rest is food for fools.

  6. Speaking of food for fools: http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/most_recent/upperback_training_for_deadlifts

    Really? I'm gonna take all my advice on deadlifts from a guy who pulls 555 at 220? Hahahaha.

    I imagine you could replace a complex with straight work sets of squats followed by jump squats for straight sets. That's what I'd do, anyways.

  7. Strongman, The Doug Hepburn Story. Tom Thurston

    The Power and the Pump. See the appendices.

  8. Niel- I actually covered that in a blog title that pretty much says it all- Because I fucking can.

  9. Jump squats = fun squats.

  10. http://gyazo.com/c6d2adadb343730130d64d6c25d21f25.png

    this guy's giving me shit about lifting at a bodyweight of 130-140.

    Hahahaha, life is fucking grand.

  11. Dray- That article was fucking horrible. Amusing that he knocked rack pulls from above the knee in the same breath as he blathered on about upper back strength.

  12. http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/most_recent/dave_vs_dog_the_throwdown

    Just read this article actually, and couldn't help but stifle a few laughs.


    This is a favorite for being balls out hilarious.

  13. @ Dray the "bulletproof.." article. reminded me of that mascot "human being" from tv show COmmunity?? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlPUdyWOCT8 heh

  14. Wait,
    Is it strength exercise then power exercise, or power exercise and then strength exercise? The order changes about halfway through the post.

  15. Example: do jump squats then partial back squats.

  16. Hey Jamie

    I just tried BTN push press few days ago, I didn't do it heavy, just 135 for 3 sets of 5, I used pretty wide grip but my shoulder still feels tight at the bottom position. But the next day my right shoulder joint started hurting, I couldn't lift my right arm to parallel. Do you think it's something I could work on or should I just go back to regular push press? thanks

  17. It's probably a range of motion issue. Make sure you warmup your shoulders decently with an unload barbell first, doing behind the neck strict presses.

  18. When I tried BTN push presses I was already doing regular push presses so tried to pull the barbell in front of me the moment I started a max attempt, and then ducked underneath to stop myself from getting brained and tried to catch it in front, which nearly ripped one wrist off my arm when I went into an impromptu upright row.

    Clearly, not my proudest moment.

  19. I'd love an answer to drpat's question: First it says: "following a strength exercise immediately with a power exercise increases test levels drastically." Then you quote Zatsiorsky saying "dynamic before slow." Since you say you're doing jump squats followed by partials, I think it's the latter, but please confirm.

  20. By now you could have found out for yourself if it was that important to you.

  21. Thanks for an awesome blog and happy eastern!
    looking forward to the cardiopost

    greetings from sweden


  22. please for the love of god no more cardio posts


  23. What can anyone possibly need to read about cardio? If you didn't learn it in phys. ed. class as a kid you don't need to know it. Cardio is by far the simplest aspect of fitness to train for. Even flexibility is rocket science by comparison.

  24. Mucking about with this idea I hit upon the old Olympic lift: the clean and press.
    A dynamic move followed immediately by a grinding move, in the same lift.
    So: how do the old olympic lifters, who did this move all the time, compare to the lifters from after when this lift was banned? Some of the old guys like Fred Lowe still hold records and have muscle development that is fairly awesome. But drugs complicate the issue. A lot.

  25. Ben and Dr Pat- They're the same. Strength=dynamic. Power= slow. This is why I defined them above, haha.

  26. 'Super' Dray said..

    "this guy's giving me shit about lifting at a bodyweight of 130-140."
    "Hahahaha, life is fucking grand."

    The annoying fucker's finding a lot to laugh about lately. I think it's about time Dray provided some photographic or video evidence of his obvious awsomeness. Or maybe he's really just some nine stone weakling schoolboy twat who likes to dream a lot...

  27. This comment has been removed by the author.