PR Friday

PR Friday: Post your training updates and PR’s to the comments.

Weekly Recap: Thanksgiving Results, Accountability Check, Shoulder Health – Part 2, The Purpose of a Program.

Congratulations to criedthefox for winning his second “funniest video award” for the Thanksgiving Weight Gain Challenge. I’ll be contacting the winners for their addresses and shirt preferences.

This is why we love Misha:

The Purpose of a Program

A few guys were recently asking questions about linear progressions in the comments. The discussion even got so specific guys were saying, “I like the Greyskull LP better than Starting Strength.” I find this distinction trivial, because 100% adherence to a program is not necessarily a good thing. The “cookie cutter approach” would state that a given program should be implemented with everyone or with a person in a specific group (i.e. a “novice”). Being a cookie cutter trainee and blindly following a program may not be optimal.

Perhaps internet readers are pressured into adhering to a specific program. Maybe it represents a devotion to the person who created the program. For example, Mark Rippetoe had to shout, “Do the fucking program,” because there were former bodybuilders, CrossFitters, or non-lifters who would try to add or change too much to the Starting Strength linear progression that it no longer was a simple strength progression with barbell movements. That “do the program” message was probably necessary around 2008 and 2009 because it was irritating to see people not making progress and asking why, or maybe even doing something that was no longer ‘Starting Strength’ and still calling it by that name.

My perception is that lack of adherence to a program doesn’t happen much anymore. Perhaps Rip influenced that by convincing people to just do Starting Strength like it’s listed, but CrossFit had to have helped too. CrossFit started as a, “Just do whatever workout shows up on this home page,” kind of thing. As many of us in the CF community realized that strength training needed to play a predominant role to increase performance or be better at CrossFit, various gyms started programming their own stuff. These gyms became popular and other people “followed their programming”. Let’s ignore the fact that a good program is tailored to an individual, so programming for an entire gym — or thousands of people — is not specific and inherently not optimal. The result is that hard training folks have gotten in the habit of “following” programs.

But programming is not intelligently putting exercises in a weekly schedule. Programs featured online usually have a goal — aiming for strength, power, and conditioning — but without the context of the population it remains a schedule on a calendar. Sure, some guys can put some Olympic lifting, some strength training, and not-retarded looking conditioning workouts and get results — many things can work. But true programming is what works optimally for the person doing it. 

I get comments, messages, and e-mails from CrossFitters asking, “What is the 70’s Big program? I can’t seem to find it.” There isn’t a 70’s Big program. I may have what I call a “strength and conditioning” program or The Texas Method (and advanced), but there is not a single program that people come to this site to do. Why? Because I actually program. I take into account the person’s current state of adaptation (which includes their body type, age, nutrition, recovery, injuries, current or past programs, etc.) along with what they need and want (i.e. goals). From there I devise a plan for someone to accomplish those goals.

There are existing programs that work well for a type of person. For example, linear progressions work with ‘novices’, Texas Method stuff works with ‘intermediates’, 5/3/1 works with ‘intermediates’ or ‘advanced lifters’ who want or need to avoid volume. Factor in the desire or need to do conditioning and it can complicate the application of these programs.

But this isn’t about my ability or difference in programming. It’s not about what coach or program is good or bad. It’s about the type of program you select and how you implement it. Instead of thinking of “doing a program”, think about “using a program”. Programs are not indentured servitude where the user cannot tweak it for their goals; a program is an outline, a tool, to use to accomplish your goals. 

Let’s assume a person who decides to use the Starting Strength program. Unless you are in your late teens or early twenties, it’s likely that squatting 3 times a week in a linear progression (i.e. increasing the weight every session) will be too much work. Does that mean you have to “switch programs” to something like the Greyskull LP? No. Just stop fucking squatting 3 times a week. And if you want to deadlift on Wednesday and squat Monday and Friday, does that make it the Greyskull LP. No, it’s just arranged similarly.

Use programs as a template or foundation for structuring your training. Pay attention to the good and bad in a program, or more specifically what is helpful or not to you. For example, if you are weak on the bench and press and you are making progress from alternating them each training session, then you don’t need to drop them for weighted dips or push-press. But eventually just alternating the bench and press won’t be enough to continue progress. Another example is that the stock Starting Strength template would have you deadlifting every other session. If you’ve never lifted before and are weak, then this will be fine for 8 weeks or so. But eventually the frequency will need to drop to deadlifting once a week.

If I were structuring a generic novice’s training, their program would modify every 4 to 8 weeks to accommodate their progression. Since I’m not programming for all of you individually, you need to understand that you are allowed to make tweaks — it’s your program after all. Just don’t be stupid with your changes, and, as I stress in the Texas Method e-books, just make one small change at a time in a program instead of of revamping it entirely.

I try to teach basic principles through this website, but you can learn a lot about programming by reading the Texas Method books or FIT (which is basically a manual on programming strength and conditioning). I honestly feel that reading both Practical Programming and FIT creates an excellent foundation on how to program (and not just because I authored one and know the authors of the other).

It’s hard to wade through bullshit online, but try and take advice from people that not only have success with their programming, but regularly teach and challenge your knowledge of it. Develop a working understanding of physiology and how it adapts to training stress. Consider the stress/adaptation relationship when looking at your own programming. And for gods’ sakes, don’t feel like you’re trapped in a program.


Shoulder Health – Part 2

In “Shoulder Health – Part 1” I reviewed the musculature surrounding the shoulder and body posture. Posture is important because it dictates shoulder mechanics, specifically  internal and external rotation.

IR=internal rotation and ER=external rotation

Shoulder rotation is easy to decipher: if the anterior aspect (front) of the humerus (upper arm bone) rotates medial (towards the middle of the body), that is internal rotation. If the anterior aspect rotates laterally (away from the middle of the body), then that is external rotation. This holds true regardless if the elbow is flexed or extended, or if the shoulder is flexed, extended, abducted, etc. For example, put your arms overhead. Turn the front of your biceps (which sit on the anterior aspect of the humerus) towards your ears; this is internal rotation. Now turn them back and to the outside, and this is external rotation. Coincidentally this external shoulder rotation while in flexion is what the training community refers to as the “overhead position” — which is the position in which a person can bear a load safely (i.e. with good mechanics).

But it’s important to understand why external rotation facilitates a good overhead position and is the basis for shoulder stability in all shoulder movement. There are several reasons that are intimately related: shoulder positioning, muscular involvement, and force distribution (or mechanics).

Shoulder Positioning

Simply put, external rotation keeps “the shoulder” back and down whereas internal rotation moves it forward. “The shoulder” is actually the articulation of the humerus into the glenoid fossa; this junction is collectively called the “glenohumeral joint”. This bony articulation will be the focal point when we observe if the shoulder is “back” or “forward”. Keep in mind that the glenoid is a part of the scapula, or shoulder blade, and scapular movement (up, down, in, or out) can influence shoulder position.

External rotation on the left, internal rotation on the right. Note the change in position of the glenohumeral joint. (I took the flannel off for clarity)

In the above picture, the shoulder is in neutral position (relative to anatomical position), and the elbow is flexed. But you can see this same glenohumeral movement even in extension or flexion (i.e. if your arms are overhead for shoulder flexion, you can see the glenohumeral joint move if you completely internally rotate compared to where they were in complete external rotation).

Click to see a larger image in more detail

This forward transition in internal rotation completely changes how the shoulder receives and distributes force (which we’ll talk about in the next two sections). But it also has an effect on thoracic spine positioning. The scapula is primarily held in place by the trapezius muscles and the rhomboids (see image right). So if internal rotation occurs, it pulls the scapula laterally to pull on those muscles that anchor the scapula. The result is that if the shoulder is in severe internal rotation, the thoracic spine cannot achieve quality extension. 


This is easily seen in poor front squat or clean mechanics in CrossFit or Olympic Weightlifting. When the trainee flares their elbows out to the side (internally rotates the shoulders), their chest inevitably falls to round the upper back and usually also causes the lumbar spine to round (which may be directly caused by the thoracic spine or caused by the hip impingement from not shoving the knees out to externally rotate the hip). This severely inhibits good front squat mechanics and results in the trainee not training their musculature properly (it doesn’t work the upper back muscles, it shifts the center of mass forward, puts most of the weight and force application into the knees, and removes the gluteals and even the hamstring involvement, and undoubtedly contributes to “The CrossFit Quads“). The cure for this is to cue the elbows “up and in”. “Up” means shoulder flexion and “in” means external rotation in the front rack. This cue should be distributed en masse to all CF facilities.

Hard to find a good example, but flared elbows means internal rotation means flexed thoracic spine means ineffective exercise.


Glenohumeral positioning has an effect on thoracic extension. Furthermore, having limited mobility in the shoulder is compensated by the thoracic spine. Let’s assume a person that has a poor overhead position. They cannot achieve full shoulder flexion (straight up and down) much less do it with external rotation. Their straight arm is five degrees forward of vertical (example). In order to put the bar “overhead”, they will compensate by hyper extending their thoracic/lumbar junction by 5 degrees (see image right). This is bad for several reasons: 1) places undue stress on the thoracic/lumbar junction or the lumbar/sacral junction; 2) it caters to existing shoulder or hip immobility and makes it worse; 3) it does not allow the trunk muscles to properly stabilize or develop properly which 4) results in a lack of progress and strength development in the press and 5) probably leads to some sort of injury or irritation, whether it be in the shoulders or cervical/thoracic/lumbar spine.

Now you should have a good understanding that internal rotation and/or lack of shoulder mobility can influence the positioning of the glenohumeral joint, but also the spine when lifting.

Muscular Involvement

Look at the image of the posterior shoulder anatomy again. Review the video from part one. We already know that the shoulder is the articulation of the humerus with the scapula. We know that rotation of the shoulder can alter the positioning of this joint. and we also know that since the scapula sits on the back of the rib cage, most of the musculature holding it in place is on the posterior side. There are some muscles that attach on the anterior aspect of the shoulder, but most of the important muscles are posterior. Also keep in mind that there is not a lot of structural stability in this joint — the muscles that attach around the glenoid and the head of the humerus hold everything in place. When you make a fist, your have some tissue surrounding a lot of bones. Your shoulder is pretty much two bones touching with a lot of muscles wrapped around it.

I point the anatomy out, because how these muscles are used matters. Previously mentioned muscles like the traps or rhomboids will effect scapular positioning, but the health of the shoulder joint lies with what people call “the rotator cuff” muscles: the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis. Other muscles like the teres major and lattisimus dorso play vital roles in shoulder mechanics.

The point isn’t to learn all of these muscles, but to the general role that shoulder musculature plays, especially regarding lifting. Some muscles externally rotate while others internally rotate. We already know that external shoulder rotation is efficient and desirable, but the muscle action supports this.

Without good coaching, a trainee will perform a press, bench press, or push-up however they can. They’ll utilize existing musculature to try and get the job done. But internally rotating the shoulders leaves out a lot of musculature, and thus stability in the shoulder. By externally rotating, all of the muscles that externally rotate will contract and all of the muscles that internally rotate will lengthen with tension. This last part is important, because in a well excecuted bench press the internal rotators will be taut and help stabilize the joint. In the same way that the hamstrings lengthen with tension during a squat, the internal rotators will be stretched, yet apply lots of tension to play their role in holding the shoulder in place.

On top of this added stability, the proper external rotation in this bench press also allows the distribution of force into other muscles (like the pecs and triceps) without exposing an area or structure to undue injurious stress. In other words, by using external rotation in pressing and pulling movements, more musculature is being used properly, which helps a trainee get stronger. This is also why people who internally rotate (and flare their elbows) will eventually experience pain or injuries. For example, conventional powerlifting lore says that pressing overhead is bad for the shoulders — and they are right! If you press overhead with crappy mechanics, you should expect to destroy your shoulders.

Force Distribution

I use the term “force distribution” to refer to what muscles are being utilized in a given movement. By lifting with quality shoulder positioning and mechanics, the muscles around the shoulder work in symphony to apply force. Proper technique yields comprehensive muscular action and development. I use the phrase “even force distribution” to mean that one muscle or muscle grouping is not solely relied on to complete a movement, and instead it is distributed evenly across all of the muscles that are supposed to be used.

For example, above I critiqued the poor CrossFit girl’s front squat technique (she needs lifting shoes too). By flaring her elbows on her front rack she drops her chest to a) round her upper back and b) drop the bar forward on her shoulders. When the bar shifts forward, it moves her overall center of mass forward, and then her knees and quads receive the brunt of the responsibility to stand up with the weight. In a quality clean or front squat, the load will stay centered to allow all of the muscles of the thighs and hips to apply force. In this case all of the gluteals, the hamstrings, and her lateral quadriceps are not contributing to the movement. Whether she’s doing the front squat for strength or conditioning, her coach is letting her not train her musculature as efficiently as she could. A crime, really.

Back to shoulder anatomy. If internal rotation occurs on pressing movements, then force is unevenly distributed. Specifically, the acromioclavicular joint (where the tip of the shoulder meets the clavicle) receives a lot of stress. This is also the same region as the proximal biceps tendon and the insertion of the supraspinatus. This means that these two tendons (biceps and supraspinatus) are often irritated, strained, and later frayed or torn when bad mechanics are used chronically.

In order to have even distribution across the shoulder muscles we must have good shoulder positioning, and this is done by using proper external rotation with respect to the exercise being performed. Good position allows for the proper muscles to act not only in the way they evolved to act, but in symphony with each other (this is an important point that is the reason that compound, multi-joint exercises are optimal for strength training and rehab). Since the positioning and musculature are correct, the force application is evenly distributed so that the muscles do their job, keep the joint safe, and get stronger.

The problem is that all of this is either inhibited or not possible with crappy shoulder mobility. And that is the topic in Part 3.

Accountability Check

I haven’t posted anything on protein, water, mobility, or nutrition in a while and I feel that doing so makes you consider your habits. Have the guys been eating one gram of protein per pound of body weight plus fifty (e.g. a 200 pound male would hit a minimum of 250g of protein)? Have the gals been aiming for almost 1g per pound of body weight? Are you drinking half your body weight in ounces of water (e.g. a 200 pound male would drink 100 oz of water)? Are you doing daily mobility to improve your movement limitations or painful areas? Are you returning to a clean diet after last week’s eating extravaganza?

These are the little things that make or break your training. Any child can go into the weight room and attack the barbell, but it takes a professional to pay attention to details outside of the gym. If you’re encountering recovery problems — and aren’t using stupid amounts of volume, intensity, or frequency — then look to how well you’re adhering to the above “outside of the gym” aspects of training. If you’ve read this site for a while, you should  be thinking “duh”, but at the same time you may realize you haven’t been hitting your daily protein requirements.

Remember that recovery is not a glass of water that you can quickly fill or empty; it’s a continuum. Eating 300+ grams of protein, doing an entire hour of mobility, or over hydrating in one day might be impressive, but it amounts to precisely dick if you don’t do it regularly. You should be consistent enough so that you don’t require a cram session. It’s the same thing as lifting: if you haven’t lifted in a week, you can’t make up for lost time by squatting 20 sets of 5 in your next workout. The concept makes sense in the gym, so act the same outside of it.

If you’re sitting there wondering why you haven’t squatted 405 or pressed your body weight, it might be because you don’t take your training seriously…which is fine if you don’t want to hit your goals. Spending 5 to 10 hours of your week toiling with the iron is more than a fucking hobby; quit dicking around and get serious.  Do you want to be an imposing physical specimen who lets children do chin-ups off of your biceps after pressing a car? Then realize that these “little things” are training and get to work.

Can’t believe I actually found an example.

2012 Thanksgiving Results

Today’s post compiles the results of the annual 2012 Thanksgiving Weight Gain Challenge. Each video was pretty funny and worth watching. I’ve made a table of the winners in each category:

Most of the contenders weighed about the same, so the “Percent of Body Weight” category did not vary much from the “Absolute Gain” category. The heaviest guys were Joe Bloom and Rob Brown (start weight of 225 and 236.6 respectively). Lightest guys were criedthefox (Brian) and Daren Welsh (176.5 and 184.6 respectively). Of the 11 contenders, there was a total weight gain of 86.5 pounds.

Willey’s winning results are surprising because he started at 191 and gained 13 pounds, but his discomfort seemed sincere in his post weigh-in video. One contender can’t win both categories, so Daren Welsh will win the other (he’s second in both).

As for “funniest video”, I have narrowed it down to a few. I want to point out that I thought all of the videos were amusing, so give ’em a watch. We will choose the funniest video in this post’s comments out of the following x:

criedthefox clearly spent a lot of time on this year’s entry. He went from 176.5 to 184.5. Will he retain the title?

Zach Paulus has really come out of no where this year. Literally. In this video he said he used to weigh 135 and weighed in at 188.2, so he’s been hard at work (his second weigh-in put him at 194.6). This video is a must-watch. Don’t make fun of him.

Alphantis did two quick vids, but I laughed really fucking hard at the end of this first video. He went from 187 to 193.5.

newgetelqueso participates in the challenge from the Middle East and questions a girl on manly qualities. He went from 75.6 to 78.6kg (his response to kilos is good).

Daren Welsh’s video is very good, and he sports a nice mustache (which undoubtedly helped him win), but he can’t win another award. He went from 184.6 to 194.6 for an even 10 pound gain.

The others with comments from memory:

Rob Brown’s girlfriend brought a scale in her purse to Cracker Barrell and at the end of the video Rob presses her (she squeals with delight). Rob went from 236.6 to 241 in about 45 minutes of eating. Unfortunately I didn’t include a category for most weight gained in shortest amount of time.

Joe Bloom went from 225 to 235 and makes a porno joke with his wife.

Mike Innola went from 188.8 to 195.8 and is quite clearly drunk in the second weigh-in.

Broseph went from 192.8 to 201.6 and caught a pump prior to going on camera.

Austin went from 194.4 to 200.2 and is in the middle of his third trimester.

Well done to the contenders. We’ll see you in 2013.