19 February 2013

Self Assessments- Retarded In The Workplace, But CROOSH In The Gym

Those boots lack straps- luckily, she's got one in her hand.

For anyone who's been a longtime fan of this blog, you're fully aware of my belief in bootstrapping for any and all lifters, no matter how neophytic.  The reason for this is because I am unaware of the existence of any human being who has amounted to anything worth talking about from just having followed orders, be it in the gym, 
on the battlefield, or in the workplace.  Free thought and the desire to individualize one's actions and persona should be held as dearly to you as your girlfriend hold her pocket rocket or rabbit- you should be screaming and foaming at the mouth while raining down blows on anyone who would have the audacity to strip them from you.

This is what half of Reddit and all of Bodybuilding.com looks like.

It occurs to me, however, that many people suffer from analysis paralysis and that they are more or less reduced to a 2003 Christopher Reeve when they enter the gym, as they've had programming crammed down their throats like they're an 18 year old coke head in an interracial porn every time they have watched television or read a magazine about lifting- commercials and ads constantly exhort you to avoid "wasting your time" in the gym and to adopt whatever program is in vogue to do so.  Here's a newsflash- the only way you're wasting your time in the gym is if you're not exerting yourself.  Any workout at all done with the requisite effort is far superior to what most assholes do- print out a program and then phone in all of their workouts, as they've not actually considered the whys and wherefores of the program.  

Before you call bullshit and claim you know people who try hard and achieve no results, I will tell you unequivocally that

  1. that's not possible, and 
  2. even a shitty workout regime done enthusiastically over time will yield heaps more benefits than a "great" program, simply because the lifter in the shitty program will, if they stick with it, eventually develop the ability to program for themselves. At some point, they'll have tried everything under the sun, they'll certainly know what won't work, and they'll likely have a lot of insight into what does work.  Additionally, they'll know what their repetition/set sweet spot is (I'll cover this later), which is invaluable knowledge.  Thus, their time has not been wasted- it's been wholly consumed with research, rather than development.

Frankly, I don't give a shit what metaphor helps you- whether it's Jesus and the "teach a man to fish" story or Baron Munchhausen pulling himself out of a swamp by his own hair, you should be figuring shit out for yourself in the gym.  Again, however, the ugly problems rears its head like the singer Seal crawling out of an open sewer that most people aren't sure how to go about self-assessment, much less self-determination.  While the latter is going to have to wait for a week when I have nothing to do but write, self-assessment should be pretty easy for any of you with an ounce of introspective ability.  As such, I will teach you how to assess your own form and modify it by using myself as an example.

The Squat

My squat, clearly, is hardly a weak point, though that is no reason not to tweak it.  Over the last couple of years, that lift was increased pretty dramatically for me, due in part to new training methods and in part to modifying my form.  My form went through two different assessments in four years as I strove to make gains and to work through pain issues.  The first time, I noticed some pain in my right knee occasionally when squatting.  That being a rather major sign that something is amiss, I started playing with the width of my feet and the angle of my feet to try to alleviate that pain.  I did not, repeat DID NOT, consult with any internet message board for tips- comments about back rounding and "butt wink" are NEVER useful.  I did, however, check through Pubmed and a couple of powerlifting books to see if I could find any clues there.  Both resources were useless, but I quickly found that spreading my stance wider and pointing my toes forward alleviated the pain and allowed me to sit back far further than I'd ever done before.  I knew from doing lockouts that I had far more power when I dropped the bar lower on my back and spread out my feet, so I started using the exact form I used on lockouts for my full squat.  That took some getting used to, as my hips continually sent me messages that they were going to beat my ass like my name was Rihanna for making them stretch so hard, but the change in stance paid off.

My progression went something like this:

  1. Knees hurt
  2. Angle feet out more- knees hurt more
  3. Angle feet in more- knees hurt less
  4. Check sources to confirm this makes sense (as it runs contrary to everything I'd read in training manuals and magazines about foot angle on squat)
  5. Note that I am strongest on lockouts with a very wide stance and lower bar placement.
  6. Widen stance.  Lift more difficult because of bar position (too high), which shifted my weight forward.  I didn't notice the weight shift from videoing my lift, I noticed it because the lift was harder and I felt my weight shift on my toes... you know, because I was paying attention.
  7. Lower bar.  Retry.
  8. Lower bar more.  Retry.
  9. Find sweet spot on my back where the bar won't slip off.
  10. Pound the shit out of my new form and bask in the glow of continual gains on my squat.
Later, I started suffering from debilitating bicep knotting and pain, which kept me from squatting because every time I did, I found that my arms hurt for days afterwards.  I ended up spending hundreds of dollars on massages and spent innumerable hours using a Theracane to grind out knots in my biceps and brachialis like I was a housewife in the middle ages trying to make gruel, and I got the knots out... but my form brought them back.  Knowing that the loading on my arms had to be wrong, I started moving my hands around on the bar, eventually settling on an ultra-wide thumbless grip.  This took weeks to figure out, but the process resulted in me debunking yet another myth about "proper form", as I was under the impression that a thumbless grip would reduce the bones in my wrist to pain-filled fairy dust.  Had I asked the online community, that is likely what they would have told me as well- as I've mentioned before, large groups of like-minded people despise individuality.  In interdependent communities like online message boards, people will turn against you if you're perceived as different. "People who departed from the norm could be dangerous to the whole community- whether they were rich or very poor.  Either way, there was a tendency to seek the center and to resent people who were misfits"(Brafman 124).  As such, seeking advice from those communities will yield nothing but the same tired bullshit you see time and time again on those sites- finding useful, unique advice on most message boards about as uncommon as a Fulbright scholar in a Special Education class.  There's some shit you're going to have to figure out for yourself, no matter how aggravating and interminable the process seems.  It's not always going to be a laborious process, however.  To wit, here's my recent discovery about deadlifting.

The Deadlift
Though I'm hardly as good a deadlifter as I am a squatter (Ed Coan's records appear safe, for the time being), I'm hardly worthless at it.  I would credit high volume back work and a healthy serving of hate with my 670 pull at 181, as my form ranges from hideous to apoplexy-inducing in good pullers.  I rarely pull in the gym due to the fact that it reduces my ability to squat as heavily and as often as I'd like, so I've found a number of exercises that keep my deadlift reasonably good without putting undue strain on my upper and midback.  The problem I developed, however, is that the supplementary exercise I do are done with my head down- most notably, the Pendlay row.  As such, I have trained myself to pull from the floor with my head down, which makes my round-backed, stiff-legged pull even more horrifying to behold.  I hadn't known this, however, until I decided to tinker with it.

Since I had walking pneumonia, I've had worse than normal tightness in my upper back, caused by hours of blood-filled spittle coughing and vomiting.  Thus, squatting and pulling have been extremely painful, and always result in upper back cramping that only be described as crippling.    Pulling hasn't always resulted in the upper back cramping I normally get, even without the pneumonia, so I decided to figure out what the fuck was up with my back.  I started pulling in front of a mirror with 135, and my back cramped up, as it is want to do.  I then recaqlled that Benni Magnusson dips his hips right before he pulls.  As we have a similar style, I decided to try that, only to have my kneecap threaten me with violent explosive departure.  From that, I could ascertain something was amiss.  I then looked up, into the mirror, as I dropped my hips to pull, and the bar came up as if it was being levitated by mystical bisexual nymphs from the planet Vivid.  A chorus of angels sang a breakdown.  I might have cum a little.  And thus, my deadlift was fixed.  

 It really is that easy- you simply have to identify where and when you're failing, then examine what's happening when you fail and tinker with the movement until it flows.  Up next, I'll detail some common flaws with the squat and deadlift and the insanely easy fixes for them, and probably issue yet another harangue about thinking for yourself and the fact that you should not take advice from anonymous idiots.  That will likely be next week, as I have some records to break in the meantime.

RUM is streaming online here, in case you guys want to watch me terrorize the 165 lb weightclass on Sunday.

Brafman, Ori and Rom Brafman.  Sway: The Irresistable Pull of Irrational Behavior.  Doubletree: New York, 2008.


  1. I've never analyzed why I never ask on any forum for advice on form/programming... without realizing it, this entry is why. I do read quite a bit just to see what people are saying/take things into consideration - no one knows everything (not implying that you think you do).

  2. Fucking sweet! Oddly I've been worrying about this problem for a while (I train alone 90% of the time), and it seems my ham fisted "oh fuck it ill try it like this and see what happens" approach might be the way to go after all. I guess, like any skill, the more you do self assess the better you get at it and the quicker you can diagnose problems?

    1. It's catch as catch can. I'll give you guys some common issues to look for. the rest is just trial and error.

    2. Sounds good, and greatly appreciated. The main issue I have is knowing I am getting deep enough. Piece of piss on warm ups, but as the weight goes up it gets harder as I naturally rise. So far I'm videoing the heavy ones and hoping I can learn to feel my way... Just doesn't seem much point in trying to tweak the minor bits if the squats too high and wouldn't count.

    3. This might help you Dave, not sure if you're following this. I haven't tried it yet but my buddy has one.


  3. Preach it brother. Of course you'll probably just get people asking you to tell them what sort of non-program they should use.

    Just curious, have you had to drastically cut your calories in training to stay lean enough to be within shooting distance of 165? Or did the cancer-aids or whatever take care of that for you? Seems like that's really fucking light for you.

    1. It's pretty horrible. I'm hungry all of the time. I cut at least 1000 calories a day out of my diet, which puts me about 15 lbs over weight in the morning at this point.

    2. Hamburger diet?
      Have you been able to train as frequent as always?

  4. Jamie, do you keep a training log? I'm just currious because lots of people keep banging on about planning and goals and all that stuff. I just see all of that as anouther distraction from lifting, i prefer to just go by feel and let the speed of the bar and whether im getting stronger tell me where i'm at.

    What's your thoughts on this?

    1. I've blogged on that before. http://chaosandpain.blogspot.com/2010/12/get-your-fucking-head-right-part-four.html

      I don't keep a training log. It's a pointless exercise. If you're too stupid to remember your weights on a given exercise, you probably ought to check yourself into a home for waterheads and be done with it- you certainly shouldn't be exercising unsupervised.

    2. Haha, my thoughts exactly. Just more excuses for mental masturbation.

  5. Good post Mr Lewis. It always baffles me when i try to fathom when and why this incessant adoration of preset routines and programming came into existence. In some regards i can understand it's applicability to powerlifting, but even then i find the whole process of mapping and calculating workouts abhorrent and woefully tedious. Don't even get me started on the endless supply of 'check my form' videos that are apparently in vogue. Fucking absurdity.

  6. Dude, major props on the Baron Munchausen reference. The Terry Gilliam adaptation is hilariously bizarre.

    The notion that you can alter your form and workouts to adapt to injuries and extraneous circumstances is something that's lost on a lot of people. I ride downhill mtn bikes and played rugby in college, so I'm constantly having to work around injuries. Having both shoulders reconstructed fucking sucks, but I still figured out how to lift again after it was all said and done.

  7. Hey jamie if i remember correctly the exercises you feel that contributed to your deadlift was the bent over rows, shrugs, high pulls, and pull ups right?

    1. Those are the ones I use now- I deadlifted multiple times a week for years before that.

  8. Hey Jamie,

    Have you ever thought about doing a post or series on coaches you think are worth listening to? John Broz, for example, always comes to mind when I read your stuff.

    Thanks for all the info,


  9. Great post as usual jamie. Love reading your 'straight to the point' posts.
    Since I've been reading your blog and prescribing myself a dose of man the fuck up on a daily basis and taking all the info about over training, never pushing out reps, never doing the same body part 2 days in a row, blah blah and blah and sticking then up the arse....... Guess what?? I've made progress.

    Keeping it simple. Squats, bench, overhead press. Weighted pull-ups, deads, dips and cable crunches. All in the 3 reps range but with an intention of putting more weight on or 1 extra rep.
    And holy fucking Harry potter magic, I'm starting to feeling strong as an ox with a hard on.

    I tweaked my bench press using these methods and no more shoulder pain.

    By the way. I'm going to add your blog on my blog as top blogs to read for guys soon. I'll send you a link when done.

    Ps- what's your thoughts on CT fletcher ??

  10. Mate. Summed it up perfectly. You have a new follower.

  11. I bet you can't guess what muscle in your body is the muscle that gets rid of joint and back pains, anxiety and excessive fat.

    If this "secret" most powerful primal muscle is healthy, we are healthy.