A Prerequisite to Lifting Heavy Things: Stability

In my last article, I talked about the need for correct mobility in your exercises and workout. Mobility is extremely important and should always be addressed early on to ensure good positioning and a full range of motion in your lift. Mobility, however is only one part of the puzzle. There’s another aspect that the yogis don’t like to talk about and many people get confused with a BOSU ball: Stability

Mobility and Stability are the two components that provide the frame-work of movement. Mobility is the ability of a joint to move through a given range of motion, whereas stability is the ability to resist being moved. From a biomechanics stand-point they are like yin and yang, positive and negative, peanut butter and jelly. One cannot exist without the other. They are both equally important in training, however the body will always choose stability over mobility for safety and compensations.

Dr. Perry of Stop Chasing Pain is known for his saying, “stability rules the road.” What he means by that is that your body will always give up mobility in whatever joint it needs to create a stable environment if there is dysfunction(muscles not working properly). Will that cause pain and compensation patterns? Probably, but not always. If muscles aren’t working right, then they will not be able to control the motions in joints, and your body doesn’t trust that, so it will lock it down. It’s very similar to walking on ice. When you’re on the ice, you naturally stiffen up, and you consciously will keep your legs in and tight, not using big strides.

So essentially, if you lose stability, you will lose mobility somewhere else. It follows the joint by joint approach just as mobility did in my last article. This is why it doesn’t make sense to just stretch or just to weight train. When I talked about how to create proper mobility, step 4 was ACTIVATE. This is where stability is created, in the hopes that it will start to become automatic when used with movement.

The Misconceptions:

Stiffness is the Same as Stability

Many people confuse this notion of creating stability with creating stiffness. For an area to be stable, you want it to be tense/active during the appropriate movement and yet supple when not in use.

If you’re doing 50 reverse hyperextensions a day to keep your low back, “stable,” then you’re just creating stiffness by overusing the muscles and there for doing it wrong. If you want to create true stability in a particular area, then you must train that muscle/area as a stabilizer.

Stability training is done on bosus and wobble boards

Creating true stability in a joint DOES NOT need to be done on an unstable surface. It is done by creating mobility and then using a particular area as a stabilizer to hold a particular position. This is not to say that using a BOSU or wobble-board is always wrong. They do have their time and place for rehab, but that’s another topic for a blog post.

Anyway, an example of using a muscle as a stabilizer that I like is using the ½ knealing position for variations on exercises to help create some glute stability and open up the front of the hips. What about the guy doing the 50 hyperextensions? Well how about just try some simple plank variations or maybe even a kettlebell halo instead.

Maximize Each Workout: Train Like No One is Looking

Potentially - or probably - the biggest barrier keeping most people from making progress on their goals (fitness, build muscle, fat loss, strength, etc...) is their own state of mind. That feeling like "Oh, people are watching me, so I don't want to [X]..." [look like I'm trying], [fail], [struggle], [make a weird face], etc. But, all this self-limiting behavior successfully accomplishes is self-limiting progress. I've trained all over the place in a multitude of different environments and have often been seen doing off-the-beaten-path type exercises. But, even I sometimes get a little nervous about the liklihood of drawing attention to myself. When that hesitation kicks in, here are my top 3 reminders to keep my self-limiting behavior out of the way of accomplishing my goals:

1. No one is looking. Most of the time no one cares what you're up to in your daily workout and they really are not watching. Trust in this first rule.

2. Don't let your assumptions of someone else's perceptions affect your behavior. Okay, so you're doing something attention grabbing (read: weird) in your workout. Yes, you will probably catch a few eyes, so if #1 isn't working for you. Then ask yourself this: "So, someone is watching me train, why would I stop just because they're watching?" They're probably watching to learn something new. That's what I've found over the years. No one has ever approached me to tell me I'm "wrong" - rather it usually means I'll get to have a conversation with someone new about whatever it is I'm doing. They want to learn!

3. The world doesn't revolve around you. At least in the realm of weight training - I can't actually speak for other areas. This is really the bottom line. Whether you like drawing attention to yourself or dread it, the world doesn't revolve around you. So, keep your eyes down and power through on taking a small step towards whatever is going to help you accomplish your next goal.

The point in training for fitness, building muscle, or strength is making progress towards personal goals and achieving things you, personally have never achieved before. Don't allow those self-limiting behaviors derail your success!

Give Me Strength!: The Process

It hurts.  The short-term effects from strength training often leads to pushing the body to places the mind may not want to go.  But, if the mind is open and willing, the body can be pushed to places it may not realize are possible.  Strength-training, like any activity, requires a detailed process, which focuses on daily progression.  Below are three tips to help your mind stay right as you get your body tight:

  1. Goal-Setting:  It’s imperative to have daily, weekly, and monthly fitness and strength goals.  These should not just be based on weight loss/gain or amount of weight lifted.  Instead, there should be deliberate practice goals, which focus on progression.  Focus on the process of improvement rather than simply end results. Examples: Daily - Commit to trying one new exercise [pick one to help you put extra emphasis on a weak area or an area you enjoy training] for each daily training session for a month; Weekly - Commit to a weekly schedule of weight training, avoid a haphazard approach... what time does your workout begin? Don't be late!; Monthly - Did you achieve your daily and weekly goals? What does the next month look like, what are you planning to accomplish on a daily level? Is it time to do a quantitative test yet?
  2. Willpower Talk:  Use committed words like “will” over words like “gotta”.  Direct attention to what you will do rather than what you gotta do.  The more you talk about will the more you will get. For example, what is your weakest area that you WILL improve to build muscle and strength? A lower body unilateral exercise, perhaps?
  3. Expectation Scorecard:  Create a scorecard for yourself to grade your mental performance during a strength-workout.  Have categories like attitude, positive self-talk, energy management, etc. so that you will grade your mental-toughness.  This will hold you accountable to maximizing performance.

A couple other things to consider: what is your pre-workout preparation? It probably involves some foam rolling and a warm-up, but are you preparing your mind to take full advantage of the soon to start training session? Are you fully focused when the first set begins?

Like most things in life, success in strength training, fitness, endurance training, fat-loss, etc. is at least 50% mental. The process of engaging in a long term progressive program also teaches excellent (mental) practices that translate into many other areas of life (discipline, goal setting, enjoyment, commitment, etc.).

How to Make Your Own Suspension Trainer

(Note: Updates to the construction process can be found on the second half of this post.) Suspension trainers are a fantastic tool to add to your quiver of training options, especially during travel. They'll never replace the barbell for quality strength training, but they can certainly supplement your routine quite well by providing a myriad options for assistance work.

I've mentioned before how I love to pack a set in my bag, be it for travel or for outdoor workouts, as they take up roughly the same amount of luggage space as a pair of socks, and open up a number of exercise possibilities. However, the primary issue that most people have with them is they cost an outrageous amount of money to purchase from the commercial suppliers.

An easy option here is to simply make your own for a fraction of the cost and have it be just as effective. You can see my homemade model below:

Back in 2009, I filmed a quick video on how to make a great suspension trainer in a matter of minutes, and it didn't take long for it to become extremely popular.

It's actually kind of funny, as I had my sister film the video in my parents' backyard during Thanksgiving. My at-the-time girlfriend (now wife), Kelsey, was GA for a weight training course out in California; she was enrolled in a post-graduate Kinesiology program at the time, and a few of the kids in her weight lifting class wanted to know how I made my own set of suspension straps, as I had got together with a couple friends earlier that Fall to figure out how to build our own. So, I haphazardly threw together a video tutorial on how to make one for her students to watch.

With large thanks to Ross Enamait (of, the video quickly went viral as he found my video and posted it on his website. You can see his post HERE, where he discusses his experience using my video to make his own, and some of the tweaks he has personally made to make it even more excellent.

If I knew how often it would be looked at (currently it has over 247,000 views), I probably would have spiced up the video a bit, maybe by wearing a Speedo or something. Who knows. Either way, I'm really glad so many people have been aided by it.

Anyway, I realized I've never shared it here on SAPTstrength, so I thought it may be handy for some of you reading that want one in your equipment stash but don't want to spend the money buying it from a commercial supplier.

Here it is, in all of it's low-quality and wildlife-sounds-in-the-background glory:

A Few (Updated) Notes on Equipment and the Construction Process:

1) I now use straps with metal buckles, as they provide a much greater break strength. I personally purchased mine at REI, but Ross gave the great option of purchasing them over at as they deliver them to many parts of the world and you can easily adjust the length of the strap you want to purchase.

2) I no longer use ropes for the footstraps, but I use part of the actual utility strap to make the footloops; Ross had detailed this idea here. These are much more comfortable than rope for the feet, and also don't untie nearly as easily.

3) The video for how to tie the bowline knot can be found here: How to tie a Bowline Knot

4) Currently, my video has 792 "Likes" versus 11 "Dislikes." Evidently, eleven people in the world are incompetent when it comes to tying knots.

5) Be sure you sand down the edges of the PVC pipe, and/or place duct tape (or some sort of protective coating) over the edges as they (the PVC piping) will wear down the utility straps over time. You can kind of see how I did this in the picture below:

6) Ross has since added a few updates and suggestions on his website, which I think are brilliant and extremely helpful, HERE. He provides some other options for easy-to-make handles, on top of showing the difference between a single vs. double attachment model.

7) In case you don't know who Ross is, shame on you. Here's a fairly recent training compilation of his:


Hope the above tutorial was helpful!

Women, the “Gym,” and Other Overheard Topics

Yesterday I had a meeting at Starbucks. I got there about an hour early to relax, think, and knock out a bit of work. I quickly was aware of two young women sitting at a table near mine who were home from college and spending time catching up with one another. Being “quickly aware” is my nice way of saying they were talking pretty loud and somehow interjecting “…like…” into every sentence. I tried my best to focus and ignore the chatter, but soon some things outside of the ordinary started popping through the filter:

  1. “…we broke up because he was psychologically abusive…”
  2. “…it’s [the gym] is like my refuge. Everyone knows that’s MY time…”
  3. “…I’ve lost like 20lbs since freshmen year… I was so obsessed with everything I ate…”
  4. “I have an app that’s like my best friend – it lets you put EVERYTHING in it… food, cardio…”

It was such a bizarre set of things to hear from two complete strangers. From the outside these girls looked like they had everything together. The typical trendy clothes, out of place (for December) tan, attractive, enjoying college, etc.… you get the idea. But, I found it pretty disturbing that they were dealing with non-typical issues like abuse, eating disorders, and generally struggling to figure out who they are as adults.

Eventually my meeting started and I forgot about the girls. Although they were still there talking after my 90-min meeting ended. I’m not sure what I feel about this, or even why I’m writing about this, but I guess I just always think it’s such a shame that so many women go through these types of struggles. I’m glad the pair enjoys training so much and have identified it as critical time for themselves. Time and time again addressing your health and fitness via strength and cardiovascular training gives amazing amounts of confidence to men and women of all ages.

Well, the whole issue of confidence reminded me of the “The Top 10 Reasons Heavy Weights Don’t Bulk Up the Female Athlete” that I helped out with when I was down at VCU:

  1. Women do not have nearly as much testosterone as men. In fact, according to Bill Kreamer in Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, women have about 15 to 20 times less testosterone than men. Testosterone is the reason men are men and women are women. After men hit puberty, they grow facial hair, their voice deepens, and they develop muscle mass. Because men have more testosterone, they are much more equipped to gain muscle. Because women do not have very much testosterone in their bodies, they will never be able to get as big as men.
  1. The perception that women will bulk up when they begin a strength training program comes from the chemically-altered women on the covers of bodybuilding magazines. These “grocery stand models” are most likely pumped full of some extra juice. This is why they look like men. If you take the missing link that separates men from women and add it back in, what do you have? A man!
  1. For women, toning is what happens when the muscle is developed through training.  This is essentially bodybuilding without testosterone. Since the testosterone is not present in sufficient amounts, the muscle will develop, but it won’t gain a large amount of mass.  The “toned” appearance comes from removing the fat that is covering a well-developed muscle.
  1. Muscle bulk comes from a high volume of work. The repetition range that most women would prefer to do (8–20 reps) promotes hypertrophy (muscle growth). For example, a bodybuilding program will have three exercises per body part. For the chest, they will do flat bench for three sets of 12, incline for three sets of 12, and decline bench for three sets of 12. This adds up to 108 total repetitions. A program geared towards strength will have one exercise for the chest—flat bench for six sets of three with progressively heavier weight. This equals 18 total repetitions. High volume (108 reps) causes considerable muscle damage, which in turn, results in hypertrophy. The considerably lower volume (18 reps) will build more strength and cause minimal bulking.
  1. Heavy weights will promote strength not size. This has been proven time and time again. When lifting weights over 85 percent, the primary stress imposed upon the body is placed on the nervous system, not on the muscles. Therefore, strength will improve by a neurological effect while not increasing the size of the muscles. And, according to Zatsiorsky and Kreamer in Science and Practice of Strength Training, women need to train with heavy weights not only to strengthen the muscles but also to cause positive adaptations in the bones and connective tissues.

6. Bulking up is not an overnight process. Many women think they will start lifting   weights, wake up one morning, and say “Holy sh__! I’m huge!” This doesn’t happen.   The men that you see who have more muscle than the average person have worked hard for a long time (years) to get that way. If you bulk up overnight, contact us because we want to do what you’re doing.

7. What the personal trainer is prescribing is not working. Many female athletes come into a new program and say they want to do body weight step-ups, body weight lunges,   and leg extensions because it’s what their personal trainer back home had them do. However, many of these girls need to look in a mirror and have a reality check because   their trainer’s so-called magical toning exercises are not working. Trainers will hand out easy workouts and tell people they work because they know that if they make the program too hard the client will complain. And, if the client is complaining, there’s a   good chance the trainer might lose that client (a client to a trainer equals money).

8. Bulking up is calorie dependant. This means if you eat more than you are burning, you will gain weight. If you eat less than you are burning, you will lose weight. Unfortunately, most female athletes perceive any weight gain as “bulking up” and do not give attention to the fact that they are simply getting fatter. As Todd Hamer, a strength and conditioning coach at George Mason University said, “Squats don’t bulk you up. It’s the ten beers a night that bulk you up.” This cannot be emphasized enough.

If you’re a female athlete and training with heavy weights (or not), you need to watch   what you eat. Let’s be real—the main concern that female athletes have when coming to   their coach about gaining weight is not their performance but aesthetics. If you choose to ignore this fact as a coach, you will lose your athletes!

9. The freshman 15 is not caused by strength training. It is physiologically impossible to gain 15 lbs of muscle in only a few weeks unless you are on performance enhancing   drugs. Yes the freshman 15 can come on in only a few weeks. This becomes more   complex when an athlete comes to a new school, starts a new training program, and also   has a considerable change in her diet (i.e. only eating one or two times per day in addition   to adding 6–8 beers per evening for 2–4 evenings per week). They gain fat weight, get   slower, and then blame the strength program. Of course, strength training being the   underlying cause is the only reasonable answer for weight gain. The fact that two meals per day has slowed the athlete’s metabolism down to almost zero and then the multiple beers added on top of that couldn’t have anything to do with weight must be the   lifting.

10.  Most of the so-called experts are only experts on how to sound like they know what they are talking about. The people who “educate” female athletes on training and   nutrition have no idea what they’re talking about. Let’s face it—how many people do you know who claim to “know a thing or two about lifting and nutrition?” Now, how many   people do you know who actually know what they’re talking about, have lived the life,   dieted down to make a weight class requirement, or got on stage at single digit body fat?   Invariably, these so-called experts are also the people who blame their gut on poor genetics.

Okay, okay... I know I've posted and re-posted this thing more than once in the past... but, it's important to keep passing this type of information along.