goal setting

Remember Why You're Here

The other day, one of our baseball guys was deadlifting and, upon finishing his second work set, turns to me and asks if he can put another ten pounds on the bar. Given that his form was less-than-impeccable, I gave him a simple "No." In fact, I wanted him to take it down ten to twenty pounds, as it was his lumbar spine that was buckling (I wouldn't have been as concerned if it was something like failing to keep his neck packed or forgetting to finish the movement with his glutes). He immediately became exceedingly frustrated and started rambling about how he felt like he wasn't as strong as he thought he should be, and that he ought to move UP, not down, for his next deadlift set, how he felt it had been too long since he improved in his squat and deadlift, yadda yadda yadda.

I asked him: "Well, how have you been playing on the baseball field?"

He replies: "I've hit more home runs, my 60-yard dash time improved, and my movement, positioning, and throwing from home plate has become way better as compared to last year." (note: he's a catcher)

I then reminded him that he had averaged only one training session every 7-10 days over the past six months at SAPT (due to in-season baseball and then traveling the country playing on various club/select teams), so he was not only fortunate to have maintained his strength levels in the weight room but also - and more importantly - his markers of sport performance had IMPROVED.

I concluded with: "Don't you think this is a pretty darn good indicator that we have accomplished what you came to SAPT for in the first place?"

Our goal with him was not to put up huge lifting numbers, but to help him become a better baseball player. Does squatting, deadlifting, performing single-leg work, and movement training help us get there? Absolutely, but there's a point where we can't force bad form just for the sake of hitting a weightlifting PR that day. Not to mention, we each get only one spine. Yes, just one. It's not worth destroying it over a 10-lb deadlift personal best.

Now, this athlete is pretty accomplished (committed to a Division 1 program and was one of only two players in the entire Northern Va region to be named to the Nationals roster for the Area Code Games), so I couldn't blame him for wanting to succeed in every endeavor he put himself into. But it reminded me of something I heard from Jim Wendler when he was talking about strength training the football team under him:

"We're chasing wins, not numbers."

So simple and profound. So often we get caught up in the minutia that we forget what our primary goal was in the first place. We can't see the forest for the trees, so to speak.


Don't forget to keep the primary goal, the goal.

- If your goal is sport performance, remember that it's not the end goal to have a gigantic bench press or squat. - If your goal is fat loss, why are you obsessed about your strength levels not being what they used to be? - If your goal is maximal strength development, should you really be performing three to four conditioning sessions a week so that, heaven forbid, your "work capacity" slightly diminishes?

Heck, I remember during the Fall of 2009 I was following a program specifically designed to improve my squat, bench, and deadlift numbers. Yet, I was also performing these insane conditioning sessions multiple days per week (see video below), and wondering why my numbers were stalling!

Note: Yes, if I could go back in time, I'd give myself a quick scissor kick to the face.

My mentality in 2009 reminded me of a football player we're currently working with. He's about 170lbs soaking wet, and has been musing that he can't seem to put on any weight. But when we give him some very practical suggestions on adding some size he responds with, "Well, I also want to keep myself looking good, too."

(Dude, don't worry, your six-pack isn't going to go anywhere if you pack on some size in order to open up a can on the football field).

It's tempting to chase multiple qualities at one time, but I've found that the body responds better to sticking to ONE goal at a time, as opposed to trying tackle everything at once. In other words, it would be better for you attack fat loss, HARD, for one to two months, and then go back to your standard strength-oriented program afterward than it would for you to try and accomplish both (fat loss and setting lifting PRs) at the exact same time.

So, to conclude, remember why you're in the gym in the first place. The big picture, so to speak; and allow that to dictate your choices. Don't miss the forest for the trees.

Forward Thinking


As many of you know, Steve Jobs (CEO and co-founder of Apple) passed away earlier this week. While I'm not going to pretend that I closely followed his career or that I know more about him than any of the local magazines or newspapers can tell you, I will say it's obvious he was a brilliant inventor, played a major role in expediting our plunge into the digital age, revolutionized the music industry, and was overall Head Ninja in the technology sector. And, although I've never been too "big" on most graduation speeches (I honestly don't remember a thing from mine) Jobs's commencement speech to the Stanford graduates of 2005 was pretty incredible. I think anyone, college-aged or not, can learn something from it and apply it to their life:

Here are a few other Jobs quotes I stumbled across through a quick Google search:

“You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”

“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” (taken from the speech in the video)

It's clear that, judging from his products and quotes, Jobs was a very forward-thinking person. Regardless of your views on Apple products or on Jobs as a person, there's no denying that he accomplished what he set out to do by always thinking multiple steps ahead. He was light years ahead of society when it came to technology, and a possessed a creative force that most of us would only dream of. And, as a result, put a ding in the digital universe, just as he said he wanted to do.

Anyway, this got me thinking: those with forward thinking mindsets in the training realm are always the most successful.

Always train for what you want to happen one year, five years, and even ten years from now, but not necessarily for what you want to happen immediately. In the future, when you're older, do you want to be strong, healthy, and be able to play a Thanksgiving game of flag football with your kids without pulling a groin? Or able to go on a hike with your church group without becoming winded? OR, do you want to be injured, overweight, and hardly able to walk the stairs to your office without gasping for air?

You might be able to get away with it now, but sooner or later bad training and eating habits are going to catch up with you.

Some of the athletes at SAPT get very frustrated when I don't let them move up in weight because their form simply wasn't good enough. Given that they're paying me to improve their performance in a sport, my first and foremost goal is to do my absolute best to keep them injury free. And, if their form isn't as close to perfect as they can get, then sorry, but you may not be the Don Juan you think you are. Stay put right there until you can move it WELL. Can I prevent them from walking in front of a bus or getting scissor kicked to the face by Jack Bauer if they step in his way of killing terrorists? No, but I can at least do my part with what I'm given.

Some of the guys have become very impatient when I don't let them back squat. Well, you have to earn the right to back squat and say, using one of many examples, you have anterior shoulder instability, it's highly unlikely that I'll give you that exercise! Even if you can get away with it now and push through some slight discomfort, I want to play no role whatsoever in contributing to the chronic shoulder pain you may experience down the road.

Along a somewhat-similar line, it blows me a way when some of the baseball guys or volleyball girls in our area show up at SAPT 6-weeks out from the season and say, "Uh, yeah, I really want to make varsity this year so you gotta get my sprint time down and/or vertical improved."

What?! Lol. Umm, hate to break it to you but you should have gotten started, oh, I don't know, maybe last year when your previous season ended? (Don't mistake me, I'm not talking about early sport specialization here....more just the mindset of doing SOMETHING year round, even if it's going snowboard in the winter and remaining in a solid strength and conditioning program year round to keep you moving well).

Anyway, forward thinking. That's the point of all this. Think of where you want to be five years from now and then trace back the steps that are required to get you there, starting with today. Is what you're doing right NOW going to put you one step further?

Intensity: Get Some.

This post is written by the legendary Steve Reed You know what's interesting? Let's pretend I'm writing a program for two people that are nearly identical in EVERY WAY. They are of the same gender, carry the same body fat %, have the exact same metabolic rate, same poundage of lean body mass, are of the same biological and chronological age, are equivalent in neural efficiency, possess the same number of high threshold motor units, etc., you get the idea.

The program I write for both of them could be a perfect blueprint for fat loss, mass building, athletic performance enhancement, you name it. Yet, one of them will walk away, sixteen weeks later, looking and moving like a completely different person, while the other will move and look the exact same as they did when they started.

How could this be?

Well, I said that the two people are nearly equivalent. They are the same in every way, except for one key element. This critical difference is in their mindset. Namely, the former follows the plan with INTENSITY. Focus. Passion. Conviction.

The latter, however, follows the plan with the enthusiasm of a gravedigger. There's no light in their eyes as they move the weights around, and it's as if they're performing a chore for their parents before they get to what they really want to do. As Tony Gentilcore put it, their approach to squatting and deadlifting resembles a butterfly kissing a rainbow.

I was thinking about this the other day as I was observing the eclectic training mentalities I see on a weekly basis at my local commercial gym, and even sometimes at SAPT with people who walk through our doors for the first time. Especially when it comes to the accessory work (i.e. the movements after the squat/bench/deadlift portion of the session), you tend to really see a drop-off in focus.

Sometimes, when I show something like a band pullthrough, glute bridge, or face pull, it's obvious the person doesn't care too much, and/or is worried what others may think:

"Man, this looks awkward" "This movement can't really be of any importance" "I wish he'd stop giving me this stupid exercise"

Let's take the band pullthrough and the face pull. This is what it may resemble:

If you go through the motions like this, how do you expect anything to happen?

Now, take Carson, one of our student-athletes. This kid gets down to business on everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. Bulldog hip mobility drills, walking knee hugs, broad jumps, band pullaparts, assistance work, and God help you if you get in his way while he's deadlifting.

I saw him training the other day and knew I had to film a few of his exercises. See the video below, and keep in mind he is not acting. This is how he actually lifts:

I mean, look at that face!!! He's thinking about NOTHING ELSE outside the immediate task at hand. He's snapping his hips HARD on those pullthroughs, and even during the sledge leveraging he's eying that hammer like he wants to kill it.

And, is it a surprise that Carson hit a 55lb deadlift personal record in a mere 12-week cycle with us?

Of course not. I wouldn't expect anything less with mindset like his.

It's time to train with some freakin' conviction and purpose when you enter the weight room. In fact, I'd even say become BARBARIC as you approach the iron. Even with your assistance work, take it on like you mean it. Then watch the results pour in.

Look, I do understand that many times there are external circumstances that may tempt to affect your mentality, both in and out of the weight room. And that not all of you feel very comfortable in the weight room, as it may be a fairly alien environment to you. Even if you're new to the gym and initially feel comfortable with just a few goblet squats and then getting on the treadmill, still attack it like you mean it! The faster you learn to "leave it all at the front door," the better off you'll be, and that's a promise.

The weight room has helped me through some of the most difficult times of my life. Sometimes it seems that iron seems like the only thing in the world that remains consistent to us. Two hundred pounds sitting there on the barbell is always going to be two hundred pounds.

So get in there and train like you mean it. Don't make me light some fire under those haunches!

Rely on Strategies, Not Willpower, Part 2



In Part 1, we discussed how a major key to success in fueling our bodies with good foods is to rely on strategies. A good plan of action will trump willpower, every time.

While there are many strategies one can use, I'm going to give you seven right here and now. Aren't I awesome?? Let's get right to it:

1. Hold Yourself Accountable.

If things are looking pretty dire, holding yourself accountable to someone may be exactly the kick in the pants you need. I recently wrote about this in detail HERE, so no need to elaborate much for the moment.

2. Pre-chop Your Vegetables.

Pretty self-explanatory, yet astonishingly effective. This blew my socks off when I first tried it and saw how effective it was. I don't know about you, but I find it rather annoying to cut veggies (especially those large broccoli bushes) . This being the case, it's guaranteed I'm not going to chop them when I arrive home, tired and hungry, from work at 9pm.  However, if I've already chopped them, then they're all ready to go to throw on a frying pan, into a pot, or whatever. Tossing in a generous portion of herbs and spices will make them actually taste good, too.



On a Saturday or Sunday, simply take a bit of time to chop of a ton of veggies. Onions, peppers, carrots, squash, you name it. Then you can either divide them into separate containers, or just mix them all into one. This makes it a piece of cake to intake plenty of vegetables throughout the week. A personal favorite of mine is to keep a container of sliced bell peppers (various colors), and sliced onions to throw on the frying pan in the morning for egg omelets.

3. Always Have a (Nutritious) Meal Handy.

This takes a bit of planning, but will really help those random bouts of hunger that suddenly hit you. A recent favorite of mine has been to mix chopped carrots, beans, chick peas, asparagus, brussels sprouts, and canned chicken in a big baking dish:



Douse the dish with spices (I use cumin, chili powder, and garlic powder), mix in olive oil, and then top with some honey-flavored goat cheese (*the magic maker*) and bake in the oven for thirty minutes or so. I'll then divide up the dish into a bunch of tupperware containers to use on an as-needed basis.

It tastes better than it may sound, and is going to get you much closer to fitting into those skinny jeans than a bagel will.

4. Make Smoothies.

I have at least one of these every day. Super easy to make, and you can toss virtually anything in them. Not to mention, they're a great way to satisfy a sweets craving. Take them with you to work on a car trip and you're good to go. See the video below for one of my favorite recipes. If you have a cat to help you (like I did), even better:

5. Eat a Good Breakfast.

While scientists and dietitians may debate on which meal of the day is really the most important, I'm convinced that what you eat for breakfast will set the tone for the rest of the day. Simply put: If you gobble down a quick bowl of sugary cereal on your way out the door, then you're more than likely going to crave other sugary foods and sweets throughout the remainder of the day. Conversely, if you fuel your body with some lean proteins and healthy fats, then you'll be less prone to cave in to "problem foods" later in the day.

6. Give the Inside of Your Cupboards a Makeover.

If it's in your home, you're going to eat it. Plain and simple.

As such, if you have any "kryptonite" foods (you know what I'm talking about) that you tend to binge on for comfort, throw them away. If it's not in your home, you can't eat it.

7. Plan to Break the Rules 10% of the Time.

This is a staple guideline of John Berardi's Precision Nutrition system. Oftentimes, aiming for 90% compliance will get you much further than aiming for 100% compliance. When we shoot for perfection, we tend to enter a fail-->guilt-->fail-->guilt-->fail further-->guilt cycle that spirals us down to a place worse than where we started.

Achieving 90% adherence to a good plan will still deliver outstanding results, while still allowing ourselves not to be miserable. Going out for a special dinner? Get dessert and don't feel guilty about it. Ate well throughout the week and hit some benchmarks at work? Grab a burger and beer with your buds on Friday and enjoy it.

Just keep in mind what 90% really is. If you eat six times a day (42 feedings a week), this means that 38 of those 42 feeding opportunities can't contain crap. Or, if you eat three times a day (21 meals a week) then that leaves you only two, yes two, opportunities to indulge.

Most people think that they're at 90%, when really, after doing the math, they're only at 80% or so. I remember Rachel Cosgrove saying (paraphrased) that getting from 80% to 90% is one of the toughest barriers to break, yet also the biggest difference-maker when it comes to body composition and health.

Well, there you have it. Athletes can use the above tips to ensure optimal performance on game day and speedy recovery between training sessions. Everyone else can use them to feel better and keep body composition in check. Now get to it! After all, information without action is merely entertainment.