Do What Strong People Do

Most of us in the pursuit of getting stronger and harder to kill often need guidance from those who have walked the walk and taken themselves to new levels of awesome. I think it’s important to see what they do and observe the common trends among those who consistently make progress and how they go about getting stronger. Before you come at me with an argument like “Herschel Walker simply did a ton of pushups and situps and benched over a trillion his first time in the weight room,” notice I said common trends. Herschel Walker is not common.

Lift Heavy, But Use a Full ROM

I’m sure you saw this coming. Lift heavy to get strong, duh. I hate to be Captain Obvious but it’s definitely worth emphasizing. You need to give your body a reason to adapt. Doing a light set of leg extensions would result in your body responding with a yawn, while a stimulus like a heavy 5 rep deadlift would receive a physiological response that’s more like “whoa, I gotta do something about this,” followed by anabolism.

With that said, lifting heavy is important, but not at the expense of cutting your range of motion down. Please don’t convince yourself that the benefits of a 405 quarter-squat outweighs those of a 225 squat to depth, because it doesn’t. Before we get into another “quarter-squat bashing” rant, know that this applies for any lift. Whether it be a pull-up, bench press, step-back lunge, or glute-ham raise, the goal should be to become strong through the entire range of motion (especially the hardest portion).

Practice Technique

Being able to demonstrate controlled basic movements properly with your bodyweight demonstrates strength, and being able to demonstrate that same movement under load demonstrates more strength. Yes, there are those that put up huge numbers with atrocious form, but I’m convinced that this raw brute strength approach can only get you so far. Without a dedicated focus on improving technique, you leave a ton of poundage to be desired on the bar. If you watch some of the strongest athletes at the top of their game, you’ll notice that their technique is impeccable. Watch the best Olympic weightlifters, powerlifters, sprinters, jumpers, and even strongman competitors. Have you ever seen the top guys in a keg toss event? Impressively fluid hip hinging technique.

Keep the Mission in Mind When You Lift

This was a big eye opener for me. When you get to the gym, your main focus should be set on accomplishing one or maybe two primary lifts. If you look down at your workout log and see that you’re scheduled for a heavy 3 rep deadlift plus some assistance work, don’t start worrying about the specific weight you’re going to be using for your DB Bulgarian split squats or the optimal set and rep scheme you should use for your hamstring curls. The heavy deadlift should be your primary focus, and you should put everything you have into hitting that main movement hard and clean. After hitting the main movement get some extra work in, but don’t overstress the assistance work.  I've been guilty way too many times of overthinking the small stuff to the point where my big lifts suffered.

Milk a Ton of Volume Out of Your Warm-ups

Don’t rush your warm-ups! Warm-up sets leading into your work sets are a great place to increase the volume on your lifts. Did you know many elite level powerlifters still do their first warm-up set with the bar? Next time that you throw 135 on the bar for your first warm-up, really think about what makes you overqualified to use an empty barbell...

Anyways let’s go back to the volume thing. Here we’ll compare two lifters working up to a work set of 250x3:

Lifter A 135x5 185x5 225x1 250x3 Total Load Volume: 2,575lbs

Lifter B Bar x10 95x5 135x5 185x3 205x3 225x1 250x3 Total Load Volume: 3,745lbs (Win)

The extra volume will result in increased total work accomplished by Lifter B, but will also give the lifter the opportunity to practice the technique for more than double the reps as Lifter A.

Don’t Fail

You wouldn’t want to fail an exam would you? When you’re lifting to increase your strength, it is not to your benefit to miss a weight. You’ll probably just make a lot of noise (especially if you bail on a squat), increase your chance of getting injured, and crush your confidence. Sure there are times when strength should be tested (1% of your time spent in the weight room), but when you're working on building strength (99% of your time spent in the weight room), you’d be better off using weights you know you can handle and using compensatory acceleration to move it FAST. That way you know you’re getting the most out of the load on the bar even if you underestimated it. If you overestimated it, however, getting stapled by a barbell isn’t going to make you any stronger or better-looking.


Those super strong athletes aren't super strong because they train, but because they recover from their training. Eat a ton of good food, drink plenty of water, get as much sleep as you can and make sure your program is well thought-out so you're significantly stronger next year than you are now.

10 Reasons You Should Swing Heavy Bells

So, I forgot to post on Wednesday. Sorry folks! To make up for it, I present this: As the title states: Swing. Big. Bells.

Me and Natasha, just swinging around.

1. Glute strength- Do you want a strong butt? Of course you do, that's why you read this site. Swings are fantastic glute builders. The glutes are the most powerful hip extensors so it makes sense to perform exercises that force the glutes to extend the hips... hmmm, sounds like swings huh? The powerful snap of the swing carries over into other lifts such as the deadlift and squat. The glutes also play in vital role in sprinting and jumping. So if you want to be the Athlete-Of-Steel, you needs buns of steel. Swing it baby!

Gotta build the wheels if you want speed!

2. Upper back strength- During the swing, the upper back is essentially holding an isometric contraction to maintain the "chest up" postion throughout the swing. The lats are working hard to keep the bell close to the body (so it doesn't go flying away and pull you with it). The rhomboids and the teres major and minor are doing their duty of keeping the shoulder blades down and back and keeping the humerus in it's socket (kinda important). Guess what? Chin/Pull ups require those muscles too.

All my ButtKamp Ladies are swingers (the G-Rated kind, not the other kind) and ALL my ButtKamp Ladies' have improved in the pull up/chin up. We now have 2 women who are able to do a body weight chin up...(Suzanne, above, is one. The day after this, she nailed it!) pretty awesome! Personally, I've noticed an marked difference in my pull up strength, both my 1-rep max (weight on my waist) and my total rep max (how many I can do) have increased. With all the work the lats and upper back do in the swing, I don't think it's a cowinky-dink. Once again, the upper back strength also carries over to the big girl/boy lifts: squats and deads. Try performing either with a weak upper back and you'll find yourself stapled by the weight.

3. Injury prevention/rehab for lower backs- I professed my love and belief in swings for back rehab on Wednesday. The nature of swings, strengthening glutes, upper back, the spinal erectors, and core muscles, perfectly align with the needs of most back-pain sufferers. Most of us have, weak glutes, upper backs, cores, and spinal erectors. I know mine were (thus part of the reason I have injuries). While I can't claim that swings will heal any injury, they can at least prevent further injury (or injury if there isn't one present) and build up the muscles that protect the injury.

4. Grip strength- When your forced to grip a heavy weight while it's moving, you're going to build up some pretty strong hand and forearm muscles. One of my weak links in the deadlift (and pull ups) was my grip. I found this out pretty quickly once I started doing high rep, heavy swings. My forearms were on fire and my grip often gave out before the rest of me did. If you like picking up heavy things and walking around, swings will help build up an iron grip so you can pick up heavier things and walk around even more.

Keep on walkin'...

5. Cardiovascular and muscular endurance- Don't like running? Me neither. I do love to swing though. Swinging is excellent for building up cardiovascular endurance and muscular endurance (the ability for muscles to produce sub-max force over an extended period of time). Don't believe me? Try this: do a ladder of 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. Take a breath for every swing you do. How do you feel? Oh wait, I can't hear your over you pounding heart and labored breathing...

I see too many people talk while using this...

6. Core strength and function- During the swing, the midsection must remain tight not only to protect the spine, but also to transfer the force of the glute contractions into the bell to swing it. The core has to also be able to relax slightly so you can breathe throughout the workout (pretty important piece of exercise, that breathing. Generally, you inhale on the way down, brace on the way up, and breathe out forcefully at the apex of the swing.) and immediately brace for the next cycle of contraction as the bell swings forward. For those with back pain, sometimes the core muscles aren't firing in the right order. Swings help retrain the muscles in this sense.

7. Joint-Friendly conditioning- As mentioned, swings are pretty safe for those with back injuries (most of the time anyway). They're a perfect conditioning tool for those with cranky knees, ankles, and shoulders (mostly). They're also good introductory training for deconditioned individuals as they're scalable to individual strength and fitness levels. Unlike running, which essentially is thousands of one-legged hops, swings have very little negative joint impact (the elbows can take a beating if the upper back isn't doing it's job though so be prudent!) so it's less likely that you'll sustain an injury and want to quit exercising.


8. Leanness- This is more anecdotal than factual, but swinging promotes leanness better than any other form of conditioning I've run across (outside of regular sprint sessions, which can take their toll on the system physically as they're pretty stressful). Coach Dan John has spoken of the power of the swing to help athletes/trainees maintain a lower body fat percentage and I've noticed in myself as well. It's not going to be the magic bullet, but for those who train hard and eat pretty well, the addition of swings can help pull the body fat down a bit without too much stress to your system.

9. Overall strength- Swings involve the whole body, in case you couldn't tell from the above points. If you want to increase your strength, add some of these in and you'll be amazed at the carry over into the rest of your workouts/activities.

Hagrid-like strength in a little body

10. Self-Defense- If swings help build up the glutes and hamstrings, which are the primary movers and shakers of sprinting, should you be attacked by zombies or some other terrifying creature, you'll be able to scamper away pretty darn fast. Or, if you're brave, just swing your bell at them and let go. 60+ pounds to the face will mess any body up. Pretty sure Kathy could take down any foe.

If those didn't convince you then, well, I have no words.

10 Things I'd like to Share from 2012

As I opened my computer this morning, it didn't take long to realize I had a list of non sequiturs running around my brain. As 2012 is drawing to a close, why not allow them to run around on paper, forming a random thoughts post. Here are 10 things I either remembered, learned, or simply felt like sharing from the past year: 1. Taking the time to teach an athlete to "sit into the hip" during the foundational phases of jump training in the frontal and transverse planes will do wonders for their athletic development, as they progress onward to more "advanced" stages of change-of-direction training and force transfer outside of the sagittal plane.

Notice how in the video above, I use a "soft knee" during each landing and and push my hips back to decelerate. This displays the proper utilization of the glutes and other active restraints of the hip to create "tri-planar"  stability: eccentrially controlling flexion, internal rotation, and adduction of the femur upon each ground contact.

However, the video below shows how you'll typically see people perform lateral hurdle (or cone) hops. Note how I rely much more heavily on the passive supports of my body - namely, ligaments, menisci, and other joint structures - to decelerate each landing.

Many athletes will land with a "double step," or even fall over, when learning how to decelerate correctly for the first time. Investing ample time in mastering this entry-level progression will pay huge dividends later on within the realm of injury risk reduction, change-of-direction speed, and rotational power on the field.

2. I love coffee, and, as a result, one of the best parts of my day (other than a good poop) is preparing and enjoying a quality brew early in the morning. Either that, or visiting my favorite local coffee shop, Caffe Amouri, where I settle down to do computer work alongside my faithful squire, Aragorn.

caffe amouri aragorn
caffe amouri aragorn

The best decision I made this past year to enhance the morning experience of home-brewing coffee was to purchase a Clever Dripper to prepare my morning elixir. Some of you may recognize it as the "pour over" or "hand pour" method.

With it, you receive all the benefits of a french press - full extraction of the flavors and sugars of the bean - but without the "mud" that typically resides at the bottom of a the mug. The Clever Dripper also WAY easier to clean than a french press.

clever dripper sapt
clever dripper sapt

I highly recommend it for you coffee-lovers in the crowd.

3. Here's an important classification I like to use for differentiating between main lifts in and accessory lifts in program design: Any main movement can also used as an accessory movement, but not all accessory movements can necessarily be a main movement.

SAPT bench press chains
SAPT bench press chains

It may sound simple and borderline obvious, but it bears repeating for those that are unsure of how to set up their programs.

4. The wrong and right way to hip hinge during a squat. Be careful of overemphasizing the familiar "hips back" cue too much when either squatting yourself or teaching someone else how to squat, especially if an anterior-loaded squat pattern like a goblet squat or barbell front squat is being performed.

If you push your butt back too much at the start, then your body has nowhere to go but forward on the way down in order to find its center of gravity with respect to the bar position. I think it goes without saying that this is unfavorable, with regards to both safety and that whole getting stronger thing.

See the video above for a brief demonstration of what I'm referring to. The first two reps show what happens when you overdo the hip hinge at the start, and the third and fourth rep show how to properly push your hips back as you descend to the bottom.

5. I read through the Harry Potter series this year (yes, admittedly it was fantastic), and jotted down some memorable lines as I went along. Here are a few of them:

- "Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike." ~ Dumbledore

- "If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals" ~Sirius Black

- "It does not do to dwell on dreams, and forget to live." ~ Dumbledore

6. Speaking of literature, I'm currently reading A Game of Thrones, and it is spectacular, to say the least. The author, George R.R. Martin, does a phenomenal job of reeling you into the story relatively quickly, and the world he creates is a different than most fantasy stories in that he veers away from the typical character archetypes (few are totally good or wholly evil, you don't have the classic hero who overcomes impossible odds and is immune to corruption, etc.) and he breaks many of the "rules" of stereotypical fantasy.

Hint: Don't read it if you're afraid of your favorite and/or likeable characters to die.

Not to mention, Martin is an absolute master of metaphors, description, and overall wordplay. Read it, and thank me later.

And, while I've heard good things about the HBO series, it still doesn't count. Sorry. However, that still doesn't mean this picture is not awesome:

7. One of the most rewarding parts of my job, by far, is helping people to train around injuries. It's extremely humbling to have the opportunity to help countless individuals - be they just coming out of surgery or simply dealing with a "tweaked" ankle or knee - continue to get stronger despite an injury they recently received.

Below is a video of Conrad, a 64-year-old who recently underwent not his first, but SECOND, total knee replacement surgery within the past year. Instead of wallowing in misery over the fact he couldn't do lower body training for a while, he barged through the doors of SAPT, with a battering ram, asking us to prepare him for a powerlifting meet. Keep in mind this was just weeks after his total knee replacement.

We put him on a bench-specialization program, and the end result was him hitting a bench PR in an official meet.

He serves as such a great example to those - way younger than 64 years of age, mind you - who make excuses as to why they seemingly can't take time to care for their bodies.

8. The Hobbit was an excellent film. I honestly don't see how Peter Jackson, or anyone for that matter, could have possibly done a better job with it. Yeah, people are upset he's splitting it up into three parts, but to me that just shows how Jackson pays attention to detail, and wants to ensure they leave no stone unturned during the film. It also means we still have two more excellent experiences in the theater to look forward to around Christmastime.


I didn't want to read any of the reviews before I saw it, so I looked at them a couple days after seeing the movie. Upon reading just a few of them, it confirmed my notion that the opinions of movie critics are worthless and overrated.

9. When you set up for the basic plank (and its variations), choosing to go from the "bottom up" vs. the "top down" actually has significant impact on how much iliopsoas is recruited. Considering that heavy recruitment of the iliopsoas is generally unfavorable in core stability exercises, try setting up from the bottom up rather than the top down.

Plank SAPT
Plank SAPT

10. An admittedly strange and ungrounded pet peeve of mine is when people use the words "jealous" and "envy" interchangeably in conversation. They don't mean the same thing! 

To clear the air: Envy generally implies a sense of covetousness or a desire for something that someone else has. Jealousy, on the other hand, relates to a sense of resentment due to rivalry or the fear of being replaced.

I readily admit I don't have grounds from which to stand upon this sense of annoyance, as I am far from a grammar expert myself, and I make grammatical errors all.the.time. but for whatever reason I can't get this one out of my head.

Note: If you enjoyed this list format, feel free to check out this post or this post that I wrote in 2011. 

Common Exercise Corrections: Lower Back Pain in Deadlifting and Squatting

I hope everyone fared hurricane Sandy safely! We"re so thankful that worst of it bypassed the DC area!! Thoughts and prayers go out to those in NY and NJ which seemed to have brunt of Sandy"s fury poured out upon them!

Secondly, a GINORMOUS congratulations to the following SAPT ladies who made the all-district volleyball teams:

1st team- Caitlyn, Eliza and Hannah

2nd team - Kenzie

Honorable mention- Clare, Maggie and Carina

Congratulations ladies!! All your hard work in here paid off!

Anyway, onward and upward. As stated in my previous corrections post, it"s usually not the exercise that"s causing pain, it"s the execution.

Today"s topic: Lower back pain/irritation during a squat or deadlift.

From the outside eye, everything looks great: Lower back is tight and has a slight arch, the upper back is stiff, the hips are moving back like they should... but there"s a niggling pain in the lower back. What gives?

This is a perfect example. Kerry looks pretty good for the most part, but she had a little bit of a pain in her lower back as she pulled. (thankfully she told me. Lesson to trainees: coaches, though we are Jedis, we can"t always tell if you"re having a pain. Speak up!) As was the case with Kerry, more often that not, the athlete isn"t bracing the abs or is not using the glutes as much as (s)he needed.


- "Brace your abs like Now we’re back to college student credit cards based systems, pretty much the world over. you"re about to get punched" is a standard cue I tell athletes. We incorporate bracing drills, to learn proper bracing technique, but this cue will work in a pinch if the athlete hasn"t mastered bracing yet.

- "Start squeezing your glutes/cracking the walnut BEFORE you pull off the ground." (alternately, in a squat, I tell the athlete to "spread the floor with their feet" on the way down and the way up) This cue usually makes the athlete more aware of their glutes and helps them think about using them more. By activating the glutes BEFORE the pull, it acts like a primer button for a lawn mower, it gets the engine ready to work! When they glutes are doing their job well then there"s much less strain on the lower back musculature.

Again, there isn"t much visually that changed between the first and the second video, but Kerry didn"t have pain and the pull looked much more solid and confident.

So, if you have a nagging pain, brace and crack the walnut! 9 times out of 10 that will clear it all up!

Lessons the Shirt Taught Me


Things got real weird on Friday night training with Ryan. What was scheduled to be a regular heavy bench session turned into my first time putting on a bench shirt. I have helped Ryan with his powerlifting gear many times before, but I've never really experienced first-hand how it feels to be in a squat suit or a bench shirt. Lesson #1: It's Not Comfortable

I learned very quickly that it doesn't feel too awesome being in the shirt. Getting it on was a pain, but I knew that was coming. I was used to being the guy on the other side of the shirt trying to force the shirt onto another human being, so I expected some discomfort. Luckily however, it was Ryan's old single-ply shirt and his enormous gunzzz stretched out the sleeves pretty nicely, making it a relatively smooth process to put it on. By the time we got the shirt on and got the sleeves and seams exactly where we wanted them I already wanted to take it off. It's super tight and forces you into a weird mummy-like position with your arms dangling out in front of you. You can't really do much about this situation until the shirt comes off.

I found myself rushing the rest periods between sets because I was more focused on getting the final set over with so I could take the evil thing off.

Lesson #2 I Couldn't Keep My Arch

The arched back seen in bench pressing is often demonized as being a flaw in technique or disadvantageous when trying to target the pecs. Whatever. I use an arch when benching because it helps to keep me tight on the bench, allows for better leg drive and provides better leverage overall to perform the lift. When benching "raw", I feel pretty confident about my arch, and I can keep it tight during the entirety of the lift. When benching in the shirt, however, I found myself losing my arch midway through the descending portion of the lift. This leads me to lesson #3...

Lesson #3 My Upper Back Is WEAK!

The shirt exposed my deep dark secret that my upper back is not up to par. When bench pressing in gear, the bar will not come down to your chest without a fight. You literally have to PULL the bar down while forcing yourself to maintain a proper arch. This takes some serious upper and mid back strength that I just didn't have. I could feel my arch collapsing and my once tightly packed shoulders becoming... not so tightly packed. Even when benching raw I always remember the cues to "row the bar down with the lats" and "keep the upper back tight," and I felt that I understood. The shirt let me know that what I originally thought was "tight enough" was an epic fail waiting to happen.

Although the shirt made me feel like a total n00b I walked away from the session with a lot to think about and a lot learned about my bench technique. I probably got some pretty good "overload" stimulation from the heavier weights that the shirt enabled me to use as well. Until next time, I'll just keep hammering away at heavy rows and pull-ups.

For your entertainment, here are a couple videos from the Friday night bench party.

Read This! Training Tips from a Toddler

A huge portion of my job boils down to this: teaching adolescents and adults alike how to move with the same precision and excitement that comes inborn for all of us, but that most of us lose over time. Forget about performance or a one-repetition squat maximum… I’m talking about re-teaching the basics of pushing and pulling. It sounds totally cliché, but watching my 2-year old daughter’s development across all platforms is truly a joy for me. I could, of course, talk endlessly about her cognitive development, but I’ll try to exhibit some self-control and keep this limited to the lessons we would all be well served to apply to ourselves in our physical training:

1. Focus: Last week Ryan and I picked up the kids from daycare and were walking home. As we crossed our neighborhood pool’s parking lot, Arabella suddenly shouted “FAST!” and took off running! I laughed to myself and thought how wonderful and meaningful that short exclamation was.

She wanted to run fast, got into the proper mindset, and sprinted. How simple this is! And yet, so often I have to coach athletes in the “how” of getting themselves into this same focused mindset.

2. Go through a full range of motion: Toddlers are notorious for having impeccable squatting form. Part of this is because they’re all built like power lifters (short legs, long torso, and the classic belly), but even after we lose that physique, full-ROM should be the RULE, not the EXCEPTION. You’ll be strong, stable, and have some pretty excellent mobility all around.

3. Pick-up heavy stuff: Arabella walked up to SAPT’s line of kettlebells on Sunday, grabbed a 10-pounder and carried it a few steps. It was definitely heavy for her, but she moved it a few feet and was satisfied.

4. Be athletic: Run, jump, kick, throw. Doing these things every once in a while is fun and inherently human.

5. Show enthusiasm for what you’re doing: Adults who pine all day about going to the gym at night are setting themselves up for failure. Accept that humans are meant to be active and strong. Once you do, maybe you’ll start looking forward to doing something other than being witness to your body wasting away.

The next time I squat, I’m considering yelling out “STRONG!” before the set – I may get a few looks, but I guarantee it would do me some good.