Is anything more useless than the “form check”?

I’m not sure who thought it would be a good idea to post videos of squats and deadlifts on the internet to get a “form check”. This almost always turns out to be the blind leading the blind, and even when it isn’t, has anyone actually made their form “better” by reading a list of generic form cues? What does “better” even mean? Do people even have a benchmark in mind when they ask for advice, or are they just giving in to their own neuroses?

“Better form” is the leprechaun of internet fitness communities. Want a better squat? Get under the bar and practice it until you can handle over double body weight. Better pull? Pick the thing up. Figure out how your body wants to move under load. It can move just fine without “expert” biomechanical advice. Doing the thing and paying attention to what happens is more valuable than any internet checklists.

The Limits In Your Head (CNS Fatigue)

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“The CNS recovers in 12-24 hours after a workout”. What does that even mean? What’s recovering? What got tired in the first place? Nobody talking about the trendy subject of “CNS fatigue” ever seems to know, and being skeptical as I am of the outrageous-sounding, my suspicion is that the shroud of mystery is hiding voodoo — or just plain old ignorance. We already know that “fitness people” typically have a grasp of biology somewhat less than what you’d expect from a middle-school science education, which lets them speak of “toxins” hiding away in your body, or with a belief that genes “evolve for” certain types of foods found only in organic supermarkets.

Unfortunately even many who come through exercise science programs come out thinking of the human body as a Mr. Potatohead, just a bunch of pieces that happen to stick together and do stuff. Biology is not a rigid machine obeying a clear set of formal rules. Think storm. Think global economy. Complex, nonlinear, exponential.

Central fatigue is nevertheless a real and observable phenomenon, and I was recently pointed at an article, The Race Against Time, which neatly sums up how it applies to sport.

Keep on reading &rarrow;The Limits In Your Head (CNS Fatigue)

Dispel the Dogma and Find the Gems

A few days ago, my buddy Bret Contreras wrote up a summary of John Broz’s training methods over on T-Nation. I’ve been following Broz and his athletes closely for the last year and a half, and he’s never failed to impress. Whether you agree with his methods or not, you can’t argue with his results.

My own experimentation with daily training started when Broz’s comments convinced me to give it a good try. Over the years, I’ve always found that I respond better to more training, but less “intensity” in each session. By intensity I don’t mean weight on the bar as a percentage of maximum. I mean effort. I mean exhaustion. Typical wisdom says you need to throw all your energy into your workouts and leave yourself crawling out of the gym.

Keep on reading &rarrow;Dispel the Dogma and Find the Gems

I Am Not a Geared Powerlifter [Context Matters]

A few years ago, I posted a squat video on Youtube. Not the best source of intelligent commentary on good days, several comments stuck out to me. These users, with the best of intentions I’m sure, gave me what I can best describe as “internet powerlifter squat advice”, which I found confusing. I’m not a … Keep on reading &rarrow;

The Value of Restraint in Training Weights [Strength Progressions]

We like fast progress. All of us do. I like it. When poundages aren’t going up on the regular, I start second guessing. I wonder where I’m screwing it up. I need that regular feedback. I know it doesn’t work that way. I know in the sense that I’m aware of the facts. As we realize now, knowing is only part of the issue.

I know that muscle tissue can only synthesize so fast and there are limits to how much can be added on a given body without chemical intervention. I know that neural factors adapt on an asymptotal curve, increasing strength rapidly before leveling off in a new plateau as neurons rewire themselves. I know these things, and yet, it’s the psychological rush, the hit of mesolimbic pleasure-reward, of hitting new levels and new PRs that motivates most of us.

Without that quick feedback of success, the signpost on the road to tell us we’re heading in the right direction, it’s easy to start second guessing. Once that happens, you’ve lost.

Keep on reading &rarrow;The Value of Restraint in Training Weights [Strength Progressions]

Pain Isn’t A Virtue [Muscle & Strength Gains]

In biology, it’s rare to find an instance where more is always better. Biological systems respond in dose-response relationships. More is better — to a point. Once you get past that ideal range, more is worse. You can visualize this as an inverted U-shaped graph, with the ideal range falling into a nice hump between … Keep on reading &rarrow;

Zen and the Art of Squatting, Part II

Back in part I (read that first so you aren’t lost), I talked about the unconscious nature of motor learning and skill training, and mentioned how the brain rewires itself in response to outside changes, which include exercise. Now I want to discuss what this means for fitness goals.

We’re taught to fear overtraining from day one. We know, since we’re told so often, that if we train too much, we’ll basically die. A whole culture has developed around how to plan and apply training programs so that we avoid doing too much while trying to scratch out some kind of progress. I know it, as I was part of that culture.

Recent experiences have had me rethinking that viewpoint, to the degree that I’m no longer sure what’s a genuinely physical limit, what’s a psychological roadblock, and what’s just a good idea, limitations aside. ‘Overtraining’ has moved out of my vernacular — and this has happened because I stopped caring about the consequences.

Keep on reading &rarrow;Zen and the Art of Squatting, Part II

Zen and the Art of Squatting, Part I

I’m not exactly sure where to start this post, because it’s a departure from the straight-up, I did this at the gym kind of thing I normally talk about. I’ll start with a little background.

I have a wide range of nerdly interests outside of weight training. I’ve mentioned that my approach to strength and physical culture came out of my earlier geekiness, but what I don’t talk about often is that my interest in the science of biology doesn’t stop with exercise and nutrition. I don’t want to go into a lot of the personal-philosophy details, mainly because they aren’t very relevant and more importantly, they’re kinda out there, and I don’t want to bog the place down with my wider thoughts.

For now, let it suffice to say that I’m big on neuroscience, how neuro-bio-chemistry relates to psychology, and how both of those relate to physical stress — the universal response to an organism being bothered by its surroundings.

Keep on reading &rarrow;Zen and the Art of Squatting, Part I