Success with Heavy Light Medium

Lets start this off by saying that HLM is not a novice program. No matter how strong you think you are, if you have never ran through a simple linear progression on the basic barbell lifts, you will get stronger much quicker by doing that than anything you will read in this article.

 

The goal here is to explain what we do with certain people when they finish up a novice LP. A Heavy-Light-Medium (HLM) program provides a pretty good early-intermediate way to design weekly increases. Not all of our members use this template, but it can be very useful if used appropriately. It’s a basic framework that can be applied to athletes, older folks, and everyone in-between.


THE BASICS

Our first foray into HLM began with Bill Starr’s Strongest Shall Survive. In it, Starr gives a very good description of what and why he did as a strength & conditioning coach. The basics are that he had his team do ascending sets of 5 with little rest on the power clean, squat, and bench press. If you read the book, he explains the limitations he was facing and how that influenced exercise selection and programming.

SSS

 

The average person at our gym, however, does not face these same limitations. So we were able to run with the program a bit and apply it a bit differently.

 

 

 


“ASCENDING 5’s”

 

This is the basic program we began with, and one that a lot of our people have had success with. For the novice coming off an LP, it provides a nice boost in volume without being quite as grueling as, say, the Texas Method.

 

The “Ascending 5’s” part comes from the rep scheme of each lift. We do sets of five at 60%, 70%, 80%, 90% and 100%. The first four sets are done with little to no rest. Whatever it takes for you to change the plates. Before the last heavy set, that person does their normal 4-5 minute rest. This allows a lot of volume to be done quickly, which is perfect for anybody on a time crunch. I remember reading that Starr had some of his Baltimore Colts players go through their light day in 15-20 minutes.

 

A sample squat workout looks like this:

185×5

215×5

245×5

275×5

^All done without much rest

Rest 5 minutes, then hit 305×5.

 

The weekly layout looks like this:

Monday – Heavy

Squat – 100%

Bench – 100%

Deadlift – 100%

 

Wednesday – Light

Squat – 80% (base your %’s off 80% of whatever you did Monday)

Press – 100%

Deadlift – 80%

 

Friday – Medium

Squat – 90%

Bench – 90%

Deadlift – 90%

 

Now if you’re just coming off a novice LP, your first thought is probably “sweet mother of deadlift volume!” It’s a lot, especially coming off a program that does one or two sets of five per week. This is why for some people we go to the next section, in which we take some pulling volume away.


ASCENDING 5’S WITH TONED-DOWN VOLUME

 

Nothing changes too much. We just swap out some of the pulling from the floor to decrease deadlift frequency and volume. We still keep the heavy day, but put in other pulls that are inherently lighter.

 

Monday – Heavy

Squat – 100%

Bench – 100%

Deadlift – 100%

 

Wednesday – Light

kelleypullup

 

Squat – 80% (base your %’s off 80% of whatever you did Monday)

Press – 100%

Chins

 

Friday – Medium

Squat – 90%

Bench – 90%

Deadlift – 80% (or any other lighter variation that may work on weaknesses, such as a paused DL)


“ASCENDING 5’S” FOR ATHLETES

 

Early-intermediate athletes need to get stronger while doing the Olympic lifts. So we take some of the pulling volume and put it in as cleans and snatches. For most of our athletes we replace the light day squat with front squats.

Some of our athletes Jerk, while others don’t. It’s simply a matter of prioritizing time in the gym. If the athlete is going to struggle with it, I would rather save time and energy by doing something more productive. The only exception is if the athlete is going away to a S&C program that will have them perform the jerk. In which case we teach them now, so they don’t have the chance to learn incorrectly at school (which saves us lots of time the next year when we have to fix everything).

We add in conditioning on the light and medium days, making sure not to program something that’s going to mess up their lifts. Things like sled pushes, assault bike sprints, sled drags, and carries that don’t create a whole lot of DOMS.

Kerri Prowler

 

Monday – Heavy

Squat – 100%

Bench – 100%

Deadlift – 100%

 

Wednesday – Light

Front Squat – 3×3 or 5×3

Press – 100%

Snatch – singles or doubles

Conditioning

 

Friday – Medium

Squat – 90%

Bench – 90%

Power Clean – singles, doubles, or triples

Conditioning


“RUNNING OUT” ASCENDING 5’S

 

Eventually you won’t be able to add 5 pounds to your lift each week, and you have to get somewhat fancy. You can eek out a few more weeks/months of progress on this program by changing the top set of each lift while keeping the first four sets the same. For instance, if you are stuck on a 225×5 squat, your first week might look like:

135×5, 155×5, 185×5, 205×5, 230x3x2.

By hitting 230 for two triples, you essentially keep volume the same while still pushing the weight up a bit. We have had people cycle through the following rep schemes for a few months, spending one week on each before starting over at the top of the list.

1×5

2×3

3×2

5×1

Once you run through this a couple times, it’s time to move on to a different program.


FOR IN-SEASON ATHLETES

 

While multiple sets of 5 are optimal for most lifters, it can beat up some athletes when they are in-season (or if their season lasts year-round). A lot of our athletes seemingly have a weekend tournament every weekend throughout the year and they need to be somewhat fresh to perform each weekend. This setup provides a nice stimulus at the beginning of the week, while the lower reps on Friday have them not feeling so beat-up from volume. This isn’t HLM weight-wise because your triples on Friday will be heavier than your 5’s on Monday, but the overall volume is lower than Monday’s workout . So the week’s stress still follows a HLM template.

Julie Bench

We’ve found this program to be really good for younger athletes (12-14 years old) who burn through an LP real quick. It gives them enough exposure to everything without being completely random, and is simple enough that their brains can understand it.

 

Monday – Heavy

Squat – 1×5, then back off 5% for 2-4 more sets

Bench – 1×5, then back off 5% for 2-4 more sets

Deadlift – 1×5, then maybe a back-off set or two

 

Wednesday – Light

Front Squat – 3×3

Press – 1×5 or 1×3, then back off 5% for 2-4 more sets

Snatch – Work up to a few heavy singles

 

Friday – Medium

Squat – 1×3, then back off 5% for 1-2 more sets

Close-grip Bench – 1×3, then back off 5% for 1-2 more sets

Clean+Jerk – Work up to a few heavy singles


WITH MORE OLYMPIC LIFTING

Kids Oly

We have a few kids at the gym who play team sports but also enjoy the Olympic lifts. A few of them competed in a developmental weightlifting meet recently, so we simply took their normal program and added a little more exposure to the snatch and clean+jerk. They still got stronger while practicing the Olympic lifts more. Win-Win.

 

Monday – Heavy

Squat – 1×5, then back off 5% for 2-4 more sets

Bench – 1×5, then back off 5% for 2-4 more sets

Deadlift – 1×5, then maybe a back-off set or two

 

Wednesday – Light

Snatch – Find a heavy single

Clean + Jerk – 5-10 singles at 80% of last heavy day

Front Squat – 3×3

Press – 1×5 or 1×3, then back off 5% for 2-4 more sets

 

 

Friday – Medium

Clean+Jerk – Find a heavy single

Snatch – 5-10 singles at 80% of last heavy day

Squat – 1×3, then back off 5% for 1-2 more sets

Bench – 1×3, then back off 5% for 1-2 more sets


FOR OLDER FOLKS

 

We take the same template but change it up to reduce squatting frequency. Because squatting and pulling in the same day can be a bit much, we move deadlift to the light squat day. When 5’s beat the person up too much, we drop to 3’s to keep pushing intensity while backing off in volume. The prowler day immediately after Heavy day helps loosen things up a bit while still adding in some leg volume.

Colyer Squat

 

Monday – Heavy

Squat – 1×5, then back off 5% for 1-2 more sets

Bench – 1×3 or  1×5, then back off 5% for 2-4 more sets

 

Tuesday – Light

Chins or rows – 3 sets

Prowler

 

Friday – Medium

Squat – 70-80% of Wednesday’s weight for a few sets of 5

Press – 1×3 or 1×5, then back off 5% for 2-4 more sets

Deadlift – 1×3 or 1×5, then back off 5% for one set


HLM WITH DROP SETS FOR VOLUME

 

We take the same template as the “Ascending 5’s”, and apply it to a one-heavy-set-with-backoffs program. Some people we feel aren’t suited to doing a bunch of sets of 5. Others are really bad at math and would mess percentages up all the time. Either way, the main thing that changes the weekly stress here is exercise selection. We pick exercises that are inherently lighter and stick with a rep scheme for a few weeks before changing to a new one. 6/4/2 is one rep-cycle that seems to work well for most people.

 

Monday – Heavy

Squat – 1×6, then drop 5% for 2-3 more sets

Bench – 1×6, then drop 5% for 2-3 more sets

Deadlift – 1×6, then drop 5% for 2-3 more sets

 

Wednesday – Light

Squat – 80% (base your %’s off 80% of whatever you did Monday)

Press – 1×6, then drop 5% for 2-3 more sets

Chins or Rows

 

Friday – Medium

Pause Squat – 1×6, then drop 5% for 2-3 more sets

Pause Bench – 1×6, then drop 5% for 2-3 more sets

Pause DL (or any other DL assistance that lowers the weight on the bar) – 1×6, then drop 5% for 2-3 more sets


WRAPPING IT UP

 

There are thousands of different ways to set up a program like this. These are just a few that we have had success with. The most important aspect of every single person that has had success on these programs is that they showed up every day, worked hard, and watched their nutrition. Without attendance and effort in the gym and at home, it doesn’t matter what special program you’re doing.

 

Are You Strong Enough To Run?

This article is especially relevant due to some extremely nice weather we’ve been having here in Maryland lately. It is from our coach Steve Barker and originally appeared on his blog last year at www.barkertraining.com.

 

It’s getting nice out, which means everyone will be (and should be) getting outside more to move around after a long winter of staying indoors, binge eating oreos and checking to see what’s new on Netflix. The first thing everyone thinks to do once it gets nice out is to go for a run, and when the weather here in Maryland got over 60 degrees the first day, the sidewalks and streets were flooded with ipod-wearing runners hitting the pavement for the first time in a long time.  But what happened to those first timers? The streets haven’t been that busy since. Where have they all gone?

I have a few ideas.

With most people, as the weather fluctuates through early spring from warm to cold and back again, so does their motivation and commitment to get out and run.  And trust me, I don’t like running in warm or cold, so I’m not judging.  Here’s what I would bet happened to more than a few people though; overwhelming soreness and perhaps minor injury.  After spending all of winter indoors, motivation (and perhaps self loathing) hits an all-time high and our would-be spring time runner wants to go for three miles to begin to shed that hibernation weight. Everything goes great, the three miles was hard for our runner, but they got it done and now feel accomplished, endorphins are high, they check themselves in the mirror while getting into the shower after the run and they think “HELL YEAH”.  Until the next day. Shins are sore, knees hurt, feet feel funky.  “Oh yes, this is why I don’t run” the spring runner thinks. But what the hell happened?

Likely, the mileage for most nice-weather-only runners, who haven’t done anything all winter, is too much, too soon. (Think stress-recovery-adaptation)  The stress of a three mile run on someone who hasn’t ran in a while, and is perhaps a few pounds heavier since the last time they ran, is too much and the body tells you so by making literally everything hurt. There is a chance for redemption though, and that is training for STRENGTH year round, then adding your runs when you want.

The best “fitness” thing you can do is strength train. Period. Strength is an attribute of fitness that effects all others in some form or fashion, even endurance. Many hardcore runners will argue that training for strength will not effect performance on long runs, saying it will make them bulky, slow, and have them put on a few pounds (mostly gainz).  And some of those points I am unable to argue, since the science shows that training for strength gains and endurance gains at the same time may leave you inadequate at both. However, I would argue that taking time to prioritize strength and properly structure that strength training program while running would increase performance during long runs and increase, by leaps and bounds, a runner’s durability. Besides, unless you are a world class runner, putting on a few pounds of muscle will help you in other ways, such as feeling better, looking better, lasting longer in old age.  If you are a world class runner, than you probably already have a structured strength training program.

Staying healthy should be a priority during anyone’s training program, runners included. Take into account the ground reaction force during running, meaning the force that your body absorbs each time your foot strikes the ground (which is multiple times the amount of your bodyweight). Your body takes a hell of a beating while “pounding” the pavement on a long run.  The body needs to be able to repeat the task of running for many minutes and many miles, and over a long run, the ability to maintain good running form gets harder, so now ground reaction forces take a bigger toll, and faulty running mechanics lends itself to shit just generally hurting.  This is where many runner’s complaints of knees and hips and back and feet and ankles hurting come from.

In comes training for strength.

Strength training increases your ability to handle these forces.  Squatting, pressing, and pulling uses every muscle in the human body and the adaptations from these exercises include creating thicker muscles and tendons and bone, from head to toe. This means the body is able to handle more force, thus keeping you healthier while you run. Now, with your newly found strength, you are able to hold a proper running posture for a longer period of time.  Stronger leg musculature means less injury since your muscles are more durable and more PREPARED to handle big time forces. And those same stronger muscles can propel you forward quicker because they’re capable of putting more force into the ground.

Simple solution – prioritize strength for at least a period of time during the year, run when the weather is nice or if you want to run a big time race, but always strength train. Squat, press, pull. Your knees and hips and back and feet and race times will thank you. Your body will thank you by not being hurt.  Being strong enough to handle logging the vigorous miles should be a priority.

February Member Spotlight – Linda Kephart

lindasqOur second monthly spotlight in 2017 goes to Linda Kephart.  Linda has been a steady member of the 6am for a many years.  Day after day, week after week Linda can be found starting her day under a heavy barbell.  It’s safe to say she is an inspiration to the entire gym- coaches included.

Linda was a tough person to convince that more is not always better.  That first year she would train in the morning and run/bike/swim for many miles in the evening.  In her mind training with a barbell with smart short conditioning could not be enough to reach her fitness goals.  As progress became more difficult due to limited recovery we finally convinced her to trust the programming and scale back her time spent on the road.  She hasn’t looked back.

As a masters athlete her strength numbers would be admired by 20 year old college athletes.  The best part?  In her 60s she is stronger this year than she was last year.  After training with a barbell for years she is still getting stronger.  She deadlifts 2x her bodyweight, squats 1.5x her body weight, and presses .75x her body weight.  Absolutely impressive numbers for any for any age.  Add this to the fact she competed in a 5k without ANY running preparation and finished 4th in her age group of 40 other runners.

Linda is the type of athlete every coach wishes to coach.  She trusts the process and plan we give her.  She is consistent, showing up to put in the work day after day, week after week.  She establishes goals and works as hard as possible to reach them.  This county was lucky to have her leading and mentoring the Physical Education program for many years.  I know my children will benefit from her time spent teaching in Carroll County for many years to come.

Linda has competed in a few powerlifting competitions over the years.  Last fall she competed and won the Best Female Masters Lifter in the country at the Starting Strength Fall Classic.  This spring she will attend the Starting Strength Seminar to further expand her 40 years of knowledge in the fitness field.  Always learning and always improving.  Congrats Linda!

Please share a little about yourself. Profession, family, age, background…

I spent 26 years in public education as a physical education teacher followed by 14 years as the county lindapressPhysical Education Supervisor.  Most rewarding has been as mom to 2 beautiful and talented daughters, and now 2 grandsons!  Currently I am an adjunct professor at McDaniel College in the exercise science department.  I don’t know what 63 is supposed to feel like, but I feel pretty good.

What was your exercise history before WSC? 

Growing up I competed in swimming and gymnastics then switched to field hockey and lacrosse in college.  After college, I ran most every day and lifted on machines.  As a physical educator, I always felt it was important to be a fitness role model for my students.  Running was a convenient workout after school so it was 3-5 miles a day for many years. Fitness has been and continues to be an important part of my daily routine.

How did you find out about WSC and what was the catalyst to get you to contact us and come in your first day?

I was looking for some additional challenges in my fitness routine beyond what I was doing on my own: run, bike, lift.  I had heard good things about the program and coaches at WSC so decided to try it.  Since training at WSC for the past 4 years, I run less, bike more efficiently, and am much stronger! 

What are your current personal bests for all the lifts?

Squat – 205 lbs.

Bench Press – 115 lbs.

Dead Lift – 250 lbs.

Press – 90 lbs.

What is your favorite lift and why?

Squat:  Progress has continued at a steady pace.

How long after starting at WSC before you noticed a difference?

Within the first few weeks progress was noticeable.  Documenting daily lifts and WODS enables me to set goals, note progress, adjust training as needed.  All under the guidance of very knowledgeable coaches.

How has strength training impacted your daily life? What is the greatest impact?

Strength training is how I start every day at 6 AM.  Is it strange that most evenings I mentally load the bar for what I have to lift the next morning!  In addition to getting stronger and feeling more empowered, the WSC atmosphere encourages friendship and comradery. Friendship provides emotional strength.  For that, I am very thankful.

How is strength training different than what you did before for exercise?

There is a plan when strength training with a qualified strength coach.  The plan includes both short and long term goals.  Complete the lifts, document progress, and adjust the weight next session. 

lindadlWhat would you say to someone who is unsure about starting a barbell strength training program? How would you convince a friend to get started training?

Anyone at any age can benefit from strength training.  Once the myths of getting too bulky are debunked, the implementation of linear progression training provides safe, strength progress.  As the physical education supervisor, I was able to provide continuous professional development for all our high school and middle school PE teachers with Beau and Angie Bryant, Starting Strength coaches and owners of WSC.  All our high school weight rooms have been redesigned for barbell strength training.  We have more high school girls taking weight training than ever before.  Some of their comments include:  “I feel better about myself”, “I am stronger”, “I am more self-confident”. 

The Ritual of Barbell Training

From the Beau Bryant archives:

 

I stood in a weight room the other day watching about 40 kids squat, press and deadlift. It was one of those rare occasions I wasn’t yelling something at a kid, “shove your knees out”, “chest up!”, “elbows in front of the bar!” All you could hear were the weights clanging, bumpers dropping, and yells from fellow lifters encouraging their training partner. I’m not sure why I wasn’t yelling at a kid but it was pretty nice for about 10 minutes – just thinking and watching. As a strength coach in a crowded gym we don’t get much of that. So, in this rare opportunity I began thinking. Why do some kids excel in the weight room and some do not? Why do some kids gain 20 pounds of muscle, take their squat from 135 pounds to 400 pounds in 7 months, and become technicians of the lifts. Why do some of the others with access to the same program, the same advice, the same bar, the same steel, only gain a few pounds, take their squat from 115 pounds to 185 pounds, and just never make any more progress? This is what I was thinking about in the rare quiet of my own head in that noisy basement weight room.
I understand all the reasons we know so well. We all know them. Consistency, dedication, proper eating, proper recovery, genetics, mental attitude, and all the other things required to gain strength, size and power on a strength program. We know all these things are critical and we hammer them at every power athlete. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t talk to a kid about food, rest, recovery, focus, and consistency. There still seemed to be something else as I stood and watched these kids. What were the best performers doing in this crowd that made them different? Why did they look different as I stood and watched that day? Then it hit me. It hit me so hard that I could see it in every weight room I had coached in, including my own gym. The successful, the strong, approach the weight room and training in a very deliberate and focused manner. In the words of one of the best coaches in barbell sport, Marty Gallagher “one obvious difference between the athletically ordained and the athletically ordinary is the elite have an (innate?) ability to center and focus the mind on the athletic task at hand, whereas the civilian, the normal person, attacks weight training with the same approximate level of mental commitment they would muster for watering the lawn or brushing their teeth.” This was the difference.
Read that quote again. Let it sink in. It’s important to understand that although you are not trying to set a world squat record you are trying to get as strong as possible to improve your quality of life. Stronger now means stronger later. We only have so much time here, today, to get strong. We are all busy. We all have a million other obligations. Most of us make it to the gym 3 days a week or so for about an hour each. If I can do something simple that requires no extra time on my part and actually make my workouts more efficient why would I not do so? If I can reduce the likelihood of stalling on a lift simply because I have done everything right and make 100% use of that time I made it to the gym, why would I not do so? Whether you are a weightlifter or a powerlifter your task (the actual lift) takes as little as a second to tops about 3-4 seconds. If you have done everything right leading up to that 1-4 seconds you will not miss that lift.
As I stood there I noticed the kids making the most progress walked in every day and approached the same squat rack. Set their gear down in the same place. Adjusted the bar on the rack the same way they did 2 days earlier. As they stepped into the squat rack every movement was the same as the set before it. They placed their left hand on the rack, then their right, they stepped under the bar the same, carefully placed the bar in the exact same spot on their back. They took the same steps out of the rack. Their first warm-up set looked like their 3rd work set. They had ritualized everything they did from the time they walked in to train. If something threw off their ritual (their normal squat rack was occupied) you could physically see their discomfort. It upset them visibly.

 
The kids that made the most progress had what seemed to be an instinctual ability to ritualize what they did in the weight room. I as the coach didn’t teach it. They just seemed to do it; like all the best lifters I have coached. As I thought about it I realized I knew which kids were going to make the most progress by the end of the first week with a new group. It had nothing to do with how well they squatted on day one, it had nothing to do with what they looked like physically, it didn’t have much to do with genetics, it had everything to do with those that had the innate ability to ritualize the lift. You could see it developing by day two and by day three the ones that were going to do it had already started doing it.
So the next question I logically asked myself was can you teach someone how to do this? Can you teach someone to ritualize what you teach them during that first squat session? Can they begin to ritualize those first 10 cues you teach them about the squat and repeat the sequence two days later? Over time as they become more and more proficient at the movement will they continue to do it and add new steps to that process that have a positive impact on the lift? I think the answer to these questions is yes, many can (clearly many will never learn or apply this process) if you begin the process during the first coaching session.
Most of you reading this are not coaches so I will spare you the process I have used to get those without the innate ability to ritualize a barbell movement to begin doing so from day one. This article is for you the lifter who may approach the bar with the same focus you would any mundane task that needs little attention. This article is to get you thinking. All of you are familiar with the process of ritualizing something in your life. You all do it whether you think about it or not. Think hard about something you do regularly that if you get out of sequence it gets you get off track and gets the task harder. I know for me grocery shopping is a task I have ritualized. I will walk into the store with my list and attack it the same way every time. Veggie section, meats, milk for the kids, back in the other direction to hit the few things I need in the middle isles. When the process happens it’s smooth, I’m in and out in no time. The only thing I fear is the dreaded text from my wife while in the meat section asking to add ketchup to the list. If I do not turn and get the ketchup as soon as I get the text I will likely forget it. If I turn and get it I will mess my sequence up (my grocery store ritual) and I will forget something else. I will spend 10 minutes stumbling around an aisle I do not even need to be down all because I got out of sequence. I know you have something, just think about it. You already know how to do this.
The next step is to apply it to your training. Begin to ritualize how you squat, press, and pull. Place the same hand on the bar first in the same spot every time you squat. Place the bar in the exact same position on your back every time. Walk out of the rack and place your left foot in position then your right. If you do this you will never have your hands placed in the wrong position on the bar. You will never place the bar in the wrong position on your back. You will never miss a squat because you took too wide a stance. This is the start of the process. As you continue to ritualize you will add your own cues or steps to the process. You will begin to see all your lifts looking exactly the same. The first set to the last will look the same. Remember, when you do everything correctly you cannot do it wrong. Once you have set the lift up correctly you can’t miss it.
Check out one of the greats, Kirk Karwoski training his deadlift. Look at the first warm-up to the last. I think it is safe to say Kirk ritualized his lifts. The only difference between set one and the last is plates added to the bar. Kirk had the ability to treat his 60% warm-up the exact same way he treated a max attempt. In his mind the 60% lift might as well have been 900 pounds. He had the same mental focus and the same ritual.
Remember, when you do everything right you cannot screw up.

January Member Spotlight – Mary Brunst

We will kick 2017 off with a monthly member spotlight.  We have a gym full of amazing people who have done great things and it’s time to introduce everyone to them.  We understand the misconceptions of strength training or the fear many people have to get started.  Our hope is to introduce you to people just like you who have changed their life with a barbell.  To show you that everyone starts somewhere and where that place is doesn’t matter.  The only thing that matters is that you begin.

Finding a monthly person to spotlight will be easy.  Picking just one each month will be difficult.  We have been dong this in Westminster since 2010 and the number of people who have changed their life with a barbell is long.  We could do this weekly and still not get to everyone this year.  With that in mind someone had to be the first and Mary Brunst immediately came to mind.

Mary is a local photographer who started training with us last spring.  (See here for an awesome photo of Mary on her website)  I vividly remember her first day.  She was about as nervous as a person could be and I knew it took all her courage to walk in the door that morning.  We immediately got her to work learning how to squat, press and deadlift.  There’s a lot to learn on those first few weeks and that first hour goes by quickly.  When we finished up I wasn’t sure if Mary would be back for her second session.  Thankfully she showed up and she hasn’t looked back.

Mary spent the next week or so learning the basic barbell lifts.  All our new members begin the Starting Strength program to establish a foundation of strength.  We keep things pretty simple and focus on mastering the squat, press, deadlift, bench press and eventually the power clean.  We start light and add weight each session.  Once confidence builds in the proficiency of these lifts we will begin to talk about nutrition.  Our nutrition program starts simple and becomes more complex as needed.  We taught Mary the importance of establishing a caloric deficit to lose weight.  That foods are not inherently “good” or “bad” but simply made up of proteins, carbs, and fats.  We established a caloric load and helped her as she learned how many macronutrients were in the foods she ate.  She slowly began to hit daily caloric goals and eventually macronutrient goals.

By March her lifts were slowly going up and she began tracking her nutrition closely.  In addition to her barbell training she added one or two days a week of conditioning.  Conditioning consisted of work on the prowler for short intervals.  Her program has been largely unchanged since her start.  She still strength trains three times a week, conditions at the gym if she has time and gets outside for a hike or walk on the weekends.

How effective has it been?  Her hard work and consistency has her down over 32 pounds and 10 inches off her waist.  She hits the gym with a smile and is the first person to introduce herself and offer words of encouragement to a new member.  She has done what many won’t.  She has learned the difference between training and exercise.  She has learned the basics of nutrition and has learned how to apply it to reach her goals.  She has established a training program and a nutrition plan she can live with for the rest of her life.  Our coaches at WSC have done their job.  We educated and delivered the tools of success and watched Mary succeed on her own with her own hard work.  She now understands more about the world of strength and conditioning, weight loss and strength gain than most coaches.  She will be able to apply these principles for the rest of her life and we are proud of her.

Please share with us a little about your background?

merypressI almost feel like I should start off this blog interview like a confessional – “Hi, I’m Mary and a year ago I was a total gym newbie,” or “Hi, my name is Mary and I was terrified to walk into Westminster Strength & Conditioning that first day,” or better yet “Hi, I’m Mary Brunst and WSC has changed my life for the better this past year.” All of those statements are true, but to give you some background let me share with you a little about myself. I work as a self-employed, professional photographer; I’m 28, not married, and do not have any children. I’m blessed that I truly love my job and I’m so grateful for the opportunities that it has provided me; however, working 60 to 80-hour work weeks to get my business off the ground has given me little time for much else these past 6 years. That is not at all a complaint, but rather a reality. You know that saying about some people working 80 hours a week to avoid working 40? That’s true for me. To say that it has been a constant hustle seems like a bit of an understatement at times. So while I have a job that I love, last year at this time, my work life and personal life were way out of balance. My personal life and health were at an all-time low.

I’ve always been someone who has struggled with my weight. Over the past 6 years my weight has dramatically fluctuated due to a crazy work schedule and a lot of inactive hours in front of a computer screen. I have tried what feels like every diet around in efforts to fend off the weight gain – including Ideal Protein, the HCG diet, and Whole30, to just name a few. After all of the yoyoing back and forth I got really, really tired of it all. A year ago I was 50+ pounds overweight, so frustrated, and frankly unhappy.

Enter Westminster Strength & Conditioning. I have friends who do CrossFit and a cousin who is really into powerlifting. After hearing about their experiences, both were something that I had wanted to try but put off for several years. Working 60 to 80-hours a week and hearing people say “you don’t find the time, you make the time to workout,” (I’ll be honest with you) my thoughts were always responding with “yeah, that’s nice, but THERE IS NO TIME to make. A girl has to sleep and I’m already running myself into the ground.” I eventually reached a point where I knew something had to change. I was in my mid-to-late-twenties, unhappy, unhealthy, and questioning what I was really doing with my life. I also knew that I didn’t want to wake up at 50 regretting that I never made my health a priority. The current pace I was keeping was unsustainable and I knew it. There were no easy answers, the same amount of work still had to get done, I wasn’t at a place where I could hire anyone to help, and I wasn’t at all confident that taking an hour to an hour-and-a-half out of my work day would be do-able. I know how crazy that sounds and how much I sound like an insane workaholic…. however, that was my frame of mind at the time. It’s not that I wanted to be working 10-14 hour days but that’s what my present reality was and there were no easy answers for how to change it. Give up a dream that I had poured blood, sweat, and tears into? Scale back the work and pray that I somehow would make enough money to make the ends meet? I know it seems crazy, we’re only talking about a few hours a week here, but at the time I was stretched really thin with very little margin in my life. I read a quote on Instagram around that time that said something along the lines of: “you are your business’s biggest asset, when are you going to start treating yourself like it?”, and it really struck a cord with me. I decided that I needed to carve out the time for my health. Instead of having all of my questions answered of how I was going to gain time and margin in my life, I decided to just jump in and take it one day at a time. So here I am almost a year later and I won’t lie to you, finding the time to spend at the gym is not easy or convenient, but the benefits far, far, outweigh the cost. Not only has my physical health greatly improved, but also my mental health because of it. Now that hour, to an hour and a half, has become less of a sacrifice and so much more of a blessing.

What was your exercise history before WSC?  

I played soccer through high school but that is the extent of my athleticism. In recent years, if there was a workout routine in my life it looked like running a mile or so three times a week. I tried a 24-hour gym and held a membership for a year, however, I rarely went because I had no idea how to use any of the equipment other than the treadmill…. and I preferred to run outside so that was a waste!

How did you find out about WSC and what was the catalyst to get you to contact us and come in your first day?

I’ve known about WSC for awhile but never had the courage to actually come. Once I decided that I maryDLneeded to change my health, and my life, I researched all of the gyms in the area and kept coming back to WSC. I knew WSC had a great reputation and I knew that I needed to go to a place that would train and educate me. With my schedule I didn’t have the time or energy to be self-taught, I also didn’t want to spin my wheels and pick up bad habits for lack of knowing better. I saw on Facebook that my friend Lindsay Archer went to WSC so I contacted her to see if I could tag along with her sometime. To my dismay, Lindsay responded immediately with “yeah! How about this week?” …. and in my mind, I was like “uhhhh no time to mentally prepare and work up my courage, so guess it’s just time to jump in.” To say that I was out of my comfort zone is an understatement. However, walking through the door I couldn’t have been met with more kindness and patience by owner Beau Bryant and the other gym members. Looking back it’s almost laughable. For all of you other gym newbies out there, I can tell you from personal experience that it is so much less scary than it seems in the beginning!

What are your current personal bests for all the lifts?  

Back squat: 205, Press: 85, Bench Press: 105, Deadlift: 230

What is your favorite lift and why?

My favorite lift is the deadlift and I think that is because I’m half afraid of it! As silly as it sounds, because the deadlift is so challenging for me I feel the most successful after a good set, and that feeling of success makes it my favorite…. even if the relationship is a little bit of both love and hate!

How long after starting at WSC before you noticed a difference?

The first week at WSC I was too nervous to remember anything other than my awkwardness, but definitely by the 3rd or 4th week of going I was confident that this was going to provide the life-change that I had been needing and wanting. I started noticing the biggest difference when I started the nutrition program.

How has strength training impacted your daily life?  

Strength training has impacted every area of my life. I can say without a doubt that it has been the best thing that I did for myself (and my business) in 2016! It’s truly been life-changing in the best way possible. I feel more capable than I ever have. I have more energy than I’ve had in a very long time, and the back pain that was a constant during every busy summer/fall season photographing weddings is virtually gone. I feel happy and confident again, and for the first time ever I feel in control of my health. I no longer feel like my weight is this ever-changing mystery dependent on how stressful life is at the moment. Tracking my macros along with strength training has finally given me the answers that I’ve longed for and with that I’ve found a new sense of freedom.

How is strength training different than what you did before for exercise?

Before strength training my version of exercising was running or hiking. Strength training has been a million times more beneficial as well as less time intensive, which has made it so much more do-able and practical for me.
What would you say to someone who is unsure about starting a barbell strength training program?  How would you convince a friend to get started training?

MarYSQTo anyone unsure about starting a barbell strength program and wondering if it is for them, I’ve been there, I’ve had all of the same questions and doubts. Can I do this? Will I look like a bodybuilder? Will I still look feminine? Is it only for athletic types? Is it really for me? However, after almost a year I can tell you that not only can I, or anyone else, strength train but 1.) you won’t look like a bodybuilder. However, you will feel more capable than you ever have…. and that feels so good! 2.) For better or worse, will still have the body shape that God gave you, even if that shape is slimmer and more “toned” :). Yes, you will still look feminine, but you’ll be stronger and feel more confident. 3.) I’m about the farthest thing from an athlete and if someone would have told me a year ago that I would actually love barbell strength training there is no way that I would have believed them, but I do love it, and it’s way more fun than I ever imagined it would be. 4.) I honestly believe that strength training is for everyone, no matter your age, background, or weight. I know it’s scary getting started, I was terrified, but looking back almost a year later, I can’t put into words how happy I am that I made the first step to go to WSC. That I decided to just jump in and take it one day at a time, that I’m still taking it one day at a time. The knowledgeable coaches at WSC have always been there to guide and help me every step of the way. I promise you that getting started is the hardest part and I’m confident you will never regret it!

Sit-ups And Other Silly Things in 2017

It’s that time of year again.  As a gym owner I get to be subjected to hundreds of articles about fitness designed to get page clicks and advertisers paid.  The entire thing is quite maddening because the stuff pedaled will mostly be silly bullshit.  If I’m lucky I’ll even have a few people ask me about the silly shit a friend told them about “getting in shape”- then get to watch them tune me out at the point I mentions squats, deadlifts and caloric restriction to lose weight.

Luckily by the end of January things will mostly be back to normal and I will only deal with weakly silliness.  But one thing is for certain.  The first week of January millions of people will crowd the local gyms to jump on treadmills, bosu balls, ellipticals, hit the body pump class, the cable machine, and GNC for all the right supplements.

In the spirit of the time for new found fitness I have come up with a simple guide to help you navigate the gym in 2017.  A simple list of all the things you will WANT to do to “get in shape” come January 1st and all the things you SHOULD do to get strong in 2017.


What you want to do

Hit the gym 5 nights a week and do some extra cardio on the weekend.  Seriously, summer is just around the corner.

What you should do

Carve out an hour from your schedule three days a week that you WILL stick to.  Pick these three days with a rest day in between.  Monday, Wednesday and Fridays work great but the choice is yours.  Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays will work the same.  As will any number of days with at least one rest day in between.

These three days a week are all we need when we first get started.  Missing workouts make most people feel guilty.  Most of us have a pretty busy life with work and family obligations.  The thought of needing to hit the gym 6 days a week can set you up for failure before you get started.  Unless you are a 19 year old college student you will more than likely miss workouts on a schedule like this.  These missed workouts can lead to guilt and that guilt snowballs into more missed workouts.  Failed diets often work like this.  “I ate a pizza for breakfast, might as well have this cake for dinner.  Cake for dinner last night, might as well have this pie for breakfast.”  Failure leads to more failure.

Make those three days in the gym as optimal as possible.  Training optimally is one of the most important things you can do to see results.  Training optimally begins with proper exercise selection.  For 99% of you reading this this means just a few basic exercises.  The squat, press, deadlift, bench press and chin-up will cover you for the first 4 to 6 months in the gym.  No need for more.

These five exercises are optimal for a few simple reasons.  They give us the most return on our time invested in the gym because they use the most muscle mass over the greatest effective range of motion and allow us to lift the most load.

You will want to do endless curls in front of the mirror.  Don’t.  Just do chin-ups.  If we use the above criteria for the selection of our exercises it becomes pretty clear why.  What is the effective range of motion on a standing dumbbell curl?  Go ahead and stand up, pretend to do a curl.  Now compare that to hanging from a pullup bar with arms straight and pulling your chin over the bar.  See the difference?  How about muscle mass?  What muscles are being used when you curl a dumbbell?  Now compare that to the required musculature to hang from a bar and pull your chin over the bar.  See the difference?  Which one allows you to lift the most load?  How much can you curl?  60 pound dumbbell?  How much do you pull over the bar when you do a chin-up?  Your body weight?

Lastly, my own criteria- which one is harder?  Now, which one do you think you should be doing as a beginner?

We can do this all day long.  Squat and the leg extension.  Deadlift and the cable machine.

Using more muscle mass over the greatest effective range of motion handling the most load means MORE adaptation.  More adaptation means more results.  More results means you will keep at this thing longer than a few weeks.


What you want to do

Lose this gut and get a stronger “core”.  Time for endless sit-ups and planks.

What you should do

Oh the time wasted doing sit-ups and planks.  None of this works this way.  You don’t lose your gut by doing sit-ups.  You lose your gut by losing fat.  You lose fat by eating less food.  Simple.

If you need to lose fat you need to eat less calories than you burn.  You can do that a number of ways but the common theme to fat loss is caloric restriction.  The best way to do that is with a combination of eating less calories and more activity.  Guess what?  The first thing we talked about covers the more activity nicely.  Just eat less.  Track your calories for a week while eating normally.  The second week drop your calories between 200 and 500 calories a day and monitor the results.  Make adjustments only when needed.

Things can get more complicated than this but you are just starting out.  Simple works and adding complexity is not needed and only serves to overwhelm you.  Keep it simple at first and it will work.

So, no sit-ups and planks?  Why?  Because they don’t work nearly as well as the five exercises we covered earlier and sit-ups can potentially hurt your back.  If you are squatting, pressing, deadlifting and doing chin-ups- as a beginner there are absolutely no reasons to do sit-ups and planks.

The musculature of the trunk functions to provide support isometrically.  Think or them as functioningholly squat much like a corset.  They contract to increase support so your spine doesn’t do wiggly things when you lift, run or jump.  Take a look at the picture to the right.  She has 210 pounds on her back at the bottom of a squat.  Her trunk muscles are held in rigid isometric contraction to prevent her “core” from folding under the load and dropping the weight forward.  Using our criteria above (most muscle mass, longest effective range of motion, most weight used) which do you think is better for building “core” strength- a body weight plank or sit-up or this 200 pound squat?

How did her “core” get strong enough to hold over 200 pounds?  Slowly over time of course.  She started with a 75 pound squat and over several months slowly increased the load.  The body adapted.  We already learned the body adapts the quickest when we train optimally with big compound exercises.  Adaptation is results and results keep us going back.

Lastly, sit-ups just are not good for your back.  If they are suboptimal for results AND they have a potential to make cranky backs crankier, why would we do them?  I know people like them.  I know your CrossFit gym has you do them.  There was a time I had people do them.  It still doesn’t mean you should do them.

But don’t just take my word for it.  Read all about why you can cut the silly sit-up from your new program.     

Furthermore, if your back is hurting, something is usually inflamed.

If jamming the spine into a compromised position triggered the irritation, wiggling the compromised structures can increase the irritation, and thus increase the inflammation. Keeping your back rigid and internally motionless as you strengthen the muscles does not increase the irritation, and does not bother an older spine nearly as much as situps and back extensions do. Situps obviously don’t hurt everybody, but if your back hurts already, situps may be part of the problem.

If your back hurts and you are doing situps, just try this for six weeks: Stop doing situps and back extensions. Just stop. – Mark Rippetoe


What you want to do

Jump on a treadmill for 60 painful minutes or start a couch to 5k program.

What you should do

Spend the entire hour you have in the gym each of the three days building strength.  When first starting in the gym it’s the most important and useful adaptation you can acquire. In the beginning it will do everything you are trying to do BETTER than running long slow distances.  Everything.

Strength is the foundation of all domains of fitness.  Your ability to produce ever greater force against objects in your daily environment will literally make everything you do easier.  Yes, even running.  All the tissue of your body will adapt to the ever increasing loads from the barbell.  Muscles will become bigger, tendons pulling on the bones will become thicker, bones will signal to lay down more bone mass, cartilage will adapt to handle increasing loads and the list goes on and on.

Focus all your energy and recovery on this process.  Stress the body, allow it to recover and adapt then do it again.  In less than 6 months you will have acquired the strength required to do all those other things you want to do safely and effectively.  Just get strong first.

There will be plenty of time to train your couch to 5k once you have built strength and toughened your bodies connective tissue and bones.  Save yourself all the overuse injuries and heartache with a little time investment in strength acquisition now.  Your body will thank you later.

Getting stronger with a barbell is also a far better way to lose fat and build muscle than running.  Yes, you want to build muscle to look good.  When you tell a strength coach you want to “tone up” what you are saying is, you want bigger muscles.  Bigger muscles and less fat.  By now I think you have a pretty good idea how to get bigger muscles and less fat.  So, get started.

Don’t make the same mistakes you made last year.  Get in the gym.  Occupy a squat rack.  Start light and put a little more weight on the bar every time you hit the gym.  Squat, press and pull every time you train.  Track your training.  If you need to lose weight eat a little less than you have been.  Get outside and move on your off days.  Go for a walk, a hike, a bike ride with the kids.  Make 2017 your strongest year yet.

 

 

 

Are YOUR Goals Your Gym’s Priority?

Nutrition and programming are vital to your health and fitness success.  We are all busy with family and our careers.  Finding time to spend in the gym is difficult for us all.  Training and eating optimally to reach your goals will maximize your results and ensure the time you spend in the gym is as productive as possible.

Most CrossFit gyms take a generic “one size fits all” approach to your programming and nutrition.  Group programming and general eating advice can work for some but its far from optimal for everyone. Those 3 to 5 hours you spend in the gym each week should be structured and programmed to gain the maximum amount of results in the least amount of time.  Following the same programming and nutrition advice as everyone else may not be the fastest most efficient way to reach YOUR goals.

At Westminster Strength and Conditioning, we take a different approach.  We customize programming and nutrition to reach your goals efficiently, freeing you up to spend more time doing the things you love outside the gym.

Our nutrition experience goes well beyond a weekend seminar.  We go well beyond telling you to “eat clean” or avoid carbs and sugar. WS&C Starting Strength Coach Angie Bryant not only teaches nutrition at McDaniel College she is a competitive Power Lifter and busy mother of 4 children.  If you are paying a coach or gym membership do not settle for general nutrition advice or group programming.  Make sure what you are doing is the best way to reach YOUR goals.

We can help you establish your daily/weekly caloric needs and set daily protein, carbohydrate, and fat intake to match your goals while you begin your new training program.  We keep you accountable by tracking and adjusting weekly.  WS&C Coach Mallory Sutphin can design customized meal plans with grocery lists and food prep instructions based on your weekly numbers.  She also offers weekly food delivery with delicious meals proportioned exactly to your weekly macronutrient numbers.

We work with clients all over the country.  To get started send us an email at beau82nd@gmail.com

Calorie and Macronutrient break down.

Calorie and Macronutrient break down.


We communicate with you weekly and make adjustments as needed to continuously ensure you are moving closer to your goals.

Weekly tracking and adjustments to keep you on track.

Weekly tracking and adjustments to keep you on track.


Shopping and food prep lists based off your macronutrients

Shopping and food prep lists based off your macronutrients


Individual meal planning to go with your shopping list.

Individual meal planning to go with your shopping list.

9 Things I’ve Learned While Interning/Training at a Starting Strength Gym

This holiday season, I had the great fortune of interning and training at a Starting Strength gym.  In this environment, I made several observations of what separates Westminster Strength & Conditioning (WSC):  A Starting Strength Gym from other gyms I have either been a member or trained throughout my extensive travels.

Here are the 9 things I learned while interning and training at a Starting Strength Gym:

  1. Community – it takes a village to raise a child, and a Starting Strength village will make you strong.

Where were you when Conor McGregor knocked out Jose Aldo?[1]  I know where I was:  in a room full of foreign people to me – all of whom had one thing in common, WSC.

I flew home to Maryland from California, made a quick trip to Philadelphia to witness Navy’s 14th consecutive drubbing of Army, and then immediately made my way to a UFC 194 viewing party hosted by a close friend back home in Maryland.  Initially, the invite was disclaimed with, “(The party) will be mostly people from (WSC).  That’s who I hang out with these days.”

Little did I know at the time, but the people I met that evening would be the same people I would see training at various times ranging from early morning to the evening.  This level of camaraderie is unique.  Camaraderie is regarded as a staple in the effectiveness of successful organizations – WSC is no exception.

  1. Training Logs –review an athlete’s training log and a story will unfold like reading the box score of last evening’s baseball game.

Remember those classic Mead Composition Books[2] that were mandatory in elementary school?  You know the one – the black and white covered book that was rarely utilized, and, when it was, who really wanted to ‘creatively write?’  Well, they’ve returned and at a WSC their presence is nothing short but noticed.

  1. “Hard.   Effective.” – mastery of fundamentals is a universal principle that does not require innovation – only dedication.

The ‘Novice’ Linear Progression (NLP), detailed in length in Practical Programming, is the foundation of any strength program that is scalable to any athlete of any background.  The program is best summarized in those three words:  Hard.  Simple.  Effective.

Squat.  Press.  Deadlift.  The mastery of these lifts will introduce an acquisition of strength unparalleled.  The development of strength is paramount for the crossover to all athletic modalities.  Given two athletes with equal ‘average’ genetics – the deciding factor in who wins regardless of endeavor is the one with superior strength.

What makes WSC effective at NLP is how it is implemented – through its coaching.

  1. Coaching – not every ‘coach’ or ‘trainer’ can instruct and develop, but a Starting Strength Coach can do both in spades.

A SS Certified Coach’s value to the NLP is immeasurable.  WSC currently has 5 certified SS Coaches with others in the process of being groomed simultaneously.

No matter the time of day in which you train, early/late morning, late afternoon, or evening; there is always a SS Coach available for questions, a spot, or provide sufficient yelling that ensures a quality lift.  “Poor form in the gym is caused by insufficient yelling,” is one of many quotes by Rip and seeing that quote played out in front of my eyes is a huge take away.

“Big Air.”  “Knees.”  “Stay Tight.”  Several cues that many have read or seen in a SS video; however, when these cues are yelled by a legitimate authority, they transcend the rep to higher quality – immediately.  Several times Beau would yell, and before you know it, the athlete would ‘find’ the few remaining inches required to squat below parallel.  Amazing.

  1. Battle of the Sexes – women are superior to men in the weight room.

If you were to tell me this prior to my time at WSC, I would believe you were full of sh*t, and that exact thought process is why women are superior to men in the weight room.  Grinders.  Gracious.  Gratitude.  The 3 G’s which define women who train at WSC.

Ever see an athlete discover and flourish in their pain cave?  I have.  Women have official residency in their pain cave like geriatrics have in Florida.  A level of determination as evident by witnessing several women train through injury and ailments was eye opening.  Conversely, men enter the pain cave by dramatically busting through the door and leaving as quickly as they entered.  The greatest difference – the intensity in which one arrives and the duration in which one stays.
Ego, men have plenty and will tell you they know about it, too.  Women, they have never even heard of the word or the idea.  The measurement of an individual’s ego is correlated to their ability to be coached.  From the novice to the national level power lifter, women trump men in their ability to be coached.

  1. Diversity – the barbell does not discriminate and is an equal opportunity employer.

Just discussed is the subtle difference between the male and female athlete; however, a matter that is universal is the diversity of athletes you will find at a SS gym.

Age.  Sex.  Ethnicity.  Athletic Background.  If you believe the barbell is not for you, I assure you there is someone training at WSC with a similar background as you.  There are many success stories at WSC and these are not success stories about the individuals who are training for national level competitions or those who represent the national team either.  These are people who want to improve their quality of life and just want to do one thing:  become stronger.

Many feel that they must be ‘in shape’ prior to training.  This is a huge, huge misbelief.  These people will spend countless hours mindlessly on the elliptical or treadmill in pursuit of fitness.  WSC has taken many individuals from the couch to the squat and have scaled the barbell and movement to the athlete’s baseline.

Everyone from the local high school athlete who is in his off season to the local college’s president was in WSC – squatting their 5s.

  1. Monthly Dues – an opportunity for results comes at a price but the dividends are unrivaled.

I received a text message inquiry from a friend, “How much does WSC cost?”  I responded with the monthly cost and the individual was immediately turned away.  Their response is that (Insert Name) Gym only costs X dollars.

Recently, NPR Planet Money released a podcast that articulates well why most gyms do not want you to show up to their gym.[3]  In one word, the relationship between the customer and gym is summarized as:  indifferent.  (Insert Name) Gym is indifferent to your results, strength, goals, and frankly, just who you are as a person.

WSC is not (Insert Name) Gym.  The monthly dues include everything aforementioned and more.  The moment you decide to afford the cost is the moment you decide to become strong.

  1. And Squat Again.  –  Friends never let friends skip squat day. Ever.

Mentioned prior in the note about NLP is the core lifts that compose SS (squat, press, and deadlift) – the King of these is the squat.  I have never been to a facility in which everything begins and ends with the squat.  New to the gym – you’re going to squat.  You will squat below parallel with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart and toes pointing out while driving out your knees.  Not only are you going to do this, you will do it for 5 reps, too.

When you are introduced to the squat, you will learn HOW to squat.  Low bar.  Looking down.  Hip Drive.[4]  The cues mentioned earlier from coaching could be done in unison with a group of athletes who are all on the same program.  There’s no secret formula, there is no exercising legs, there is only training.  This training at WSC begins and ends with the low-bar back squat.

  1. (Extreme) Ownership – Culture is reflective of leadership and WSC’s culture is reflective of the owner – Beau Bryant.

The greatest influential factor in what makes WSC a superior gym is the owner – Beau Bryant.  Beau’s fingerprint is on EVERYTHING.  Modest by his nature, Beau will disagree with everything I am writing; however, Beau has dramatically improved the quality of life of hundreds of people in the Maryland area.

His commitment to his business, but more importantly the people of WSC is easily transparent.  You’ll find him wearing a Carhartt knit hat[5] in the winter months carrying around a white coffee cup at 5am every morning at WSC.  Watching athletes and through their lifts becoming stronger people is something Beau takes great pride.  Additionally, his athletes have great pride to perform for Beau, too.  There are times rest times are extended for Beau to come watch an individual squat (myself included).

During a hectic holiday season, including the recent delivery of his fourth child (and first girl), Beau presented a nutritional seminar on a Saturday to a packed house.  Again, the owner delivered a nutritional seminar.  Not anyone else.

A recent book on leadership titled, ‘Extreme Ownership’[6] is fitting of Beau and WSC.  A quote from the book, “there are no bad teams, only bad leaders.”  WSC is an exceptional team, community, and gym due to an exceptional leader – Beau Bryant.

Thank you, WSC, for exposing me to such high quality, and remarkable people – who, at this very moment, are squatting with cues from Beau.

About the Author:  Patrick Jones is a Lieutenant in the United States Navy and is currently a student pursuing a Master’s of Science in Electrical Engineering at Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.  He is a graduate from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.  Patrick enjoys the constant pursuit of strength, fitness, and human performance.

[1] https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=krhXZ0kf

[2] http://www.officedepot.com/a/products/333760/Mead-Journal-Composition-Book-7-12/

[3] http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2014/12/30/373996649/why-we-sign-up-for-gym-memberships-but-don-t-go-to-the-gym

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yha2XAc2qu8

[5] http://www.carhartt.com/products/Acrylic-Knit-Hat-A205

[6] http://www.amazon.com/Extreme-Ownership-U-S-Navy-SEALs/dp/1250067057

Anthropometry and Deadlifts

From the Beau Bryant archives:

 

Anthropometry (Greek anthropos – “man”) and (metron – “measure”) “Measurement of Man”
In a previous life I may have spent some time working as an interrogator in Iraq. It was fun, I enjoyed it and I was pretty good at it. I often was asked to handle the more “difficult” subjects, apparently because I had a knack at getting someone to speak with me. I’m not sure that any amount of training could prepare you for it. I think success depended more on your observational skills and attention to detail than anything taught in a classroom. I spent probably 8-10 hours a day in an interrogation booth practicing and refining my skills. Amazingly enough, outside of that booth I did not practice my trade. It’s pretty tiring to stay focused on people’s verbal language, body language, behavior and tone while simultaneously listening to and formulating new questions and leading them down the road you need them on. I’m a pretty quiet person in social settings, always have been. I would much rather do more listening than talking. You learn more that way.

The world of being a strength coach and the interrogation world have more in common than one would think. I do much of the same thing minus the yelling. No, wait, I do yell. OK, minus the intimidation. My coaching style is yelling without intimidation. I observe, listen, formulate a plan and then help lead the athlete down the road toward their goal. The listening, plan formulating (programming) and helping lead the athlete down a path are pretty straight forward. You can read about programming for the next 20 years and still have more to read. Most of it works and success has been had a million different ways. I leave the programming stuff for others to write about. The one thing many coaches and even athletes miss is observation. Observation happens immediately when I begin training a new athlete. It’s the first thing I do when you walk in the door. I observe. Specifically, I observe your anthropometry. It tells me most of what I need to know about teaching you to squat, pull or press. I have even joked that I’m looking at your deformities. I’m looking at your Barney Rubble torso and legs or your Olive Oil likeness and everything in between.

An article floated around social media not long ago that got me thinking about all this anthropometry stuff. I’ll save you the details but it was an article that explained why people look differently when they squat. The “measurement of man” is such a part of what we do every day at WS&C that it didn’t occur to me why this article was being shared around the interwebz so fast. To most, it seemed like it was a totally new concept and many of these were coaches that work with athletes every day. At first I didn’t understand how people were so amazed that we all have different anthropometry and that these differences affect how the barbell lifts look. I mean, we all understand that some of us have size 13 feet and some have size 8 right? We do understand that some have long legs and some have short legs? Correct? Levis understood these concepts 150 years or so ago, so I assume that this is not ground breaking stuff to most of us in the strength field. Then it hit me. We all understand the differences in anthropometry between us, but many, including those that coach basic barbell lifts do not understand how those differences affect the barbell lifts or how to apply it to different people

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In the next few weeks after the article, I read a few more things posted on social media and even saw coaching that further confirmed my thoughts. There are a bunch of coaches and athletes who do not understand how to apply anthropometric analysis to lifts. If they did, I wouldn’t see things like “never let your knees pass your toes” in reference to squatting or “do not let your upper body lean or fall forward” also in reference to the squat. I would not hear them trying to get a lifter into a position they are simply not capable of getting into and still keeping the barbell over the middle of the foot. Not to pick on anyone here because I’m pretty sure some of these writings were not meant to be an in-depth analysis of the squat but they were informational postings, seemingly, to educate. If you read these things and tried to apply them you may be set up for failure. Your anthropometry may require you to “let your upper body lean forward” in order to follow the “do not let your knees pass your toes”.

I’m not going to get into a crazy, in-depth analysis of the squat here. Many people like Mark Rippetoe have already done that and if it interests you then you can order the book, Starting Strength Basic Barbell Training 3rd Ed and read it. As a Starting Strength Coach, I am required to understand this stuff beyond what is healthy for normal people and even most coaches. I guess this is partly the reason I spend a lot of time thinking about this stuff. Not to mention, our understanding of these things is why people travel a long way to have us work the kinks out of their squats, deadlifts and presses at WS&C.

What we will do is give you some practical working knowledge of how to apply your anthropometry differences and maybe that of others you are trying to help out to improve your lifts. This will also help you call bullshit when a personal trainer tells you your back is too horizontal when you deadlift. It will prevent you from coaching people into positions based on where you think their knees should be in relation to their toes and help you begin looking at diagnostic angles, body segments and bar position to understand proper positioning.

First we must understand that proper barbell technique will place the barbell directly over the middle of the foot. To keep it simple, the middle of the foot is just in front of where you would tie a bow knot on your low top shoe, or about an inch from your shin as looking down from above. Secondly, we must have a working understanding of the 3 diagnostic angles for the squat and the deadlift. They are knee angle, hip angle, and back angle. Next we have to look at the body as a series of segments. The important segments here are the trunk, thigh, and shank. The trunk is from about the base of the neck to the hip, the thigh comprises the femur, and the shank makes up the lower leg from the knee to the ankle. Lastly, we must understand that when the bar is over the middle of the foot, whether at the bottom of a squat or the start of the deadlift, ANTHROPOMETRY differences (differences in segment length) will change the diagnostic angles. For example, if I have long femurs and a long tibia (shank) but a short upper body (trunk), I will have more forward lean in the squat than someone of opposite anthropometry. Furthermore, the more you tell me to stop my torso from leaning forward, the more my knees must travel in front of my toes. Of course we can make modifications to lessen the impact such as widening the stance, but we see where this is going right? We see how coaching positions may lead us to chase our tail, right?
While comparing photos of actual femur bones turned the light bulb on for many people it really did nothing to show how these things change the actual look of the squat or the deadlift. This is what amazed me about the article. They showed that two people’s femurs looked drastically different and lots of people seemed amazed. It was as if this thought had not occurred to them before. So I’ll take it a step further.

Let’s take a look at the affect of those anthropometry differences have on an actual barbell lift so we can put this knowledge to good use. This hopefully will give you a little better understanding of how to apply this to your own training and those around you. If nothing else you can tell someone to get bent when they try to get your hips lower or higher in the deadlift.

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The above photo shows a proper deadlift set up. Not to get into the model we teach to set up a proper deadlift but there are a couple things to note. Certain aspects will be universal REGARDLESS OF ANTHROPOMETRY differences between individuals. If you notice the bar is about an inch from her shin. You will need to trust me here, I set her up for the photo and even if I didn’t Lindsay is a damn fine deadlifter and set her shins an inch from the bar anyway. The second thing you will notice is her shoulders are slightly in front of the bar. This will always be the case for a couple reasons of which I will not get into here.

I have also labeled the diagnostic angles (knee, hip and back angle). Of note is that the bar in proper position over the middle of her foot has ESTABLISHED the diagnostic angles. This is important to understand. If we tried to establish proper positioning by setting what we think are proper diagnostic angles, we very well may end up changing bar position. You can see why someone telling Lindsay that her back angle is too horizontal will end up changing her bar position if they lower the hips, correct? Remember, if we change one diagnostic angle the others will also change. Lowering her hips will cause the bar to move forward of the middle of her foot in order to close the knee angle. Action, reaction.

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So let’s try to artificially change the length of Lindsey’s femurs and see what affect this has on our diagnostic angles. The above photo shows the results of a slightly shorter femur on Lindsay. Notice if we keep the bar over middle foot and shoulders slightly in front of the bar her back angle will open (less horizontal).

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If we lengthen the femur we see the back angle close (become more horizontal).

Hopefully these three photos of the same lifter, positioned differently, gives you an idea in your mind of what differing anthropometry may have on diagnostic angles. And just to be sure I have snapped a couple photos of lifters with drastically different anthropometry and thus, their appearance in the deadlift setup changes.

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The above photo shoes someone with normal tibia length and a shorter femur with a longer back segment.

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The above photo shows longer tibia length, normal femurs and an average back segment. Of note, Ashley has some pretty good levers that make her a solid squatter and a pretty good puller.

Here is a pretty good example of a longer than normal back segment and what this does to the back angle.

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All of the above photos followed our model. The bar is an inch from each lifters shins on set up and the shoulders are slightly in front of the bar yet we see a couple distinctly different looking deadlift set ups.

So the next time you are at the gym, take a minute and observe. Observe the weirdness of people around you and see how that affects the diagnostic angles of their squat and deadlift or pulls from the floor. Look at their body segments and begin to work through what they would look like at the bottom of a squat or a deadlift. Take note of your own anthropometry and use that to gain better positioning on your own lifts.

Barbell Success

We post a bunch of content on our social media showing our members doing some pretty amazing things.  We post these things to highlight their hard work and to show others what is possible when you find great coaches who understand how to teach and implement proper barbell training.  For those who have never strength trained in our gym you only see the end result.  You only see what months or years of hard work has produced.  Only sometimes do we give you the back story of how and when the person started training with us.  Even then you don’t get to see what that first day looked like.  You don’t get to see the person who walked in the door 6 months ago- weak, 30 pounds overweight, and lacking confidence.

In an effort to provide a little more of the back story we have decided to expand on some of the awesome stuff we put up on Instagram and Facebook with the hope it will inspire more of you to find a Starting Strength Coach or gym in your area and get started.  Maybe if we highlight enough of our awesome members success more of you will find a person you relate to and gain the confidence you need to walk in the door and pick up a barbell.

Jessica is one of those cool stories I think a lot of people can relate to and a great example of the type of person we help every day.

I started coming to Westminster Strength and Conditioning because of my sister.  Shejess wanted me to try it out with her.  I had no idea what to expect.  We had gone to 24 hour “do it yourself” gyms before and neither of us had any idea what we were doing so it didn’t last for either of us.  At WS&C Beau explained the Starting Strength method they use and how they are different from most gyms.  It all made sense to the practical nurse in me and I started to realize just how far I had let myself go after my first child.  I was twenty pounds heavier than pre-pregnancy and my daughter was five months old.  For the first time in my life I felt weak.”

Jessica’s first couple weeks with us were spent learning to squat, press, deadlift, and bench press.  We started with a weight she was comfortable with and as she became more proficient the weight on the bar was slowly increased.  For the first time in her life she was training.  Each session in the gym had a clear goal and she could see progress every time she walked in the door.  At 24 hour “do it yourself” gyms she had exercised.  Now she was training.

After the first couple weeks we began to talk about the importance of nutrition with Jessica.  Most women who come to see us are not eating enough protein and its one of the first dietary adjustments we make.  We looked at Jessica’s diet and established a goal of increasing her daily protein.  Making small adjustments over time work better than trying to make drastic dietary changes and getting overwhelmed.

jess2“WS&C showed me how to be successful and I feel better than I ever thought I would.  The coaches helped me every session and I didn’t worry about feeling stupid or not knowing how to work a machine.  They helped me focus on more important priorities like nutrition to become stronger rather than just focusing on losing body fat.  I learned that when I made the nutritional changes they recommended not only did my body composition change (I am two pounds less than my pre-pregnancy weight) but I was also stronger and feeling better physically than I ever had.  I am now stronger and more capable than I have ever been and it feels amazing.”

 

If you are trying to lose weight, focus on the things that matter.  Gaining muscle and making small dietary adjustments are how you should concentrate your efforts.  Stop thinking you need to run or do “cardio” to lose fat.  Find a coach who can teach you the basic barbell lifts and prioritize your time spent in the gym to getting stronger.  Ensure you are eating sufficient amounts of protein to gain strength and support training.  Keep caloric intake at levels that support losing pounds on the scale or inches.  Remember, when you start training the scale only tells a small part of the story.

If you have tried to lose weight or get stronger in the past and it didn’t work it may be time to find a coach.  A good coach can save you time and effort by optimizing the time you spent in the gym and eliminating the mistakes.  Find a Starting Strength Gym or coach in your area and get started.