Sign Up For The Newsletter!

Things I learned in 2009

First off, Happy New Year! Hope everyone’s enjoyed the holiday season. It’s been a busy couple months for me as I’ve moved into a new apartment (although I still practically live at the gym, training my clients), and then I was swallowed up by the holidays.

One thing that was announced this past month was a new Beast Skills seminar in Northern New Jersey at CrossFit Ignite. It is now SOLD OUT. Want more advanced notice of the seminars? Check out my Facebook page where you will hear about them first. I’ve got a ton more coming in 2010, all along the east coast.


Back to the matter at hand, it’s the first of the year and I wanted to review my training to see what I’ve really learned in 2009. Any sort of training should, by definition, show progress. And while heavier numbers and harder skills equal progress, it’s equally important that we get smarter in our training. We learn more about ourselves and how to continue to improve.

So here’s a short list of “a-ha” moments from the past 365 days –


1. Established programs are great . . . to a point.

One of the most common questions I get is “what should I do?” (or more directly “can you write me a program!??!?”). This is almost impossible to clearly answer, as everyone has different goals and different circumstances (different experience levels, age, and imbalances). I’ve always responded with general advice on multi-joint exercises and heavy weights. I’d like to amend my question with “find a program that fits your goals – generally either strength building, muscle building, or fat loss – and follow it for at least a month.”

Now I can hear the laments “but I’m working toward a one arm chin-up/front lever/handstand push-up, isn’t this different?” Yes and no. Yes, you’ll need to eventually work on more specific exercises to practice the skill (as I’ve outlined in my tutorials), but for many beginners, just following a basic strength training program will increase your pressing/pulling strength and help the skill in question.

Where to find a quality program? I’d trust just about anything on T-Muscle (formally known as T-nation). There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, do a search for your goals.


Established programs aren’t just for beginners, of course. The intermediate and advanced trainees can benefit greatly by exploring new training protocols, learn from time-tested routines, and sometimes it’s nice not to have to think about planning, but just follow what someone else tells you (a huge reason people hire personal trainers!)


Now before we all start following everyone else, any established program has the immediate limitation that it wasn’t written specifically for you. As I mentioned, we’re all unique in our circumstances and any program will probably need some adjusting. And as you mature in your training, you’ll discover what you “need” in your training. Training then begins to take on a more instinctual nature as we modify our routines. Do you think I followed a specific program for getting a one arm chin-up? No! I worked on improving the basics (weighted chin-ups) and then adjusted and figured things out as I went.

Even training programs written by extremely knowledgeable, extremely accomplished people can fall short. I’ve followed training routines that work great in some areas, but fall short for me in other areas.

Whether you’re following an established program, going on instinct, or a mix of the two, there are two things I’ve found most important –

Have a clear goal

Have a clear way to measure your progress

Having a clear goal focuses your training and what exercises you use, sets and reps, and such. Having a clear way to measure your progress shows you what is working and what is not.

Well, this first lesson ended up being a bit more complex than I anticipated!



2. Grip training is still really important.

To paraphase a quote in the book Dinosaur Training, “There has never been a strong man with weak hands.”

I always feel better and stronger in my training when I’m including specialized grip work. Head over to the Gripboard and the Diesel Crew for everything you need to know.

side note #1, lifting straps aren’t the enemy I once thought they were. I don’t use them for all my exercises and sets, but if I’m doing some deadlift variation and my grip is giving out, then I’ve started using straps for the last set. If you use them for all the sets though, you have a weak grip!

a 45 lb hub lift – December 2009

side note #2 – maybe lifting belts aren’t too bad either. Check this post from 70s big. I disagree that belts should be used so early in one’s training career. Most beginners don’t need to add the additional variable of the belt. And you can still get really strong without one. I’ll be picking one up this year and seeing how it goes.

a beltless 455 lb deadlift at 161 lbs – March 2009

side note #3 – The Titan’s Telegraph Key is awesome.


3. Stretching is still really important too.

Injuries are great. Every time I get injured I learn something. After jacking up my shoulder last January, I started looking more at my shoulder mobility and chest flexibility. It sucked.

Baring any major injuries or pathologies, you should be able to perform the wall slide and a full squat. A good combination of those two tests? The overhead squat.

Pyrros lifting more weight than you can deadlift

Do everything you can to improve your shoulder and hip mobility, and a lot of problems take care of themselves. This might mean you have to actually stretch before, during, and after a workout. “But I read that stretching makes you weak?” Injuries make you weak too. And don’t do an extended stretch the moment you work a muscle, but every other time seems ok. Just like a lifting program, there’s tons of information on stretching online too. Check T-muscle again.

Remember, you can be strong and flexible. In fact, one may require the other.

John Grimek – as flexible as a yogi

4. Read and Re-read.

Reading is a great way to learn more about lifting and training (the other two ways are trying and asking!) And while we’re always looking for the newest and greatest books and methods, you can also do well to re-read books you’ve had for ages.

When we first read a book, we interpret that information based on our experience at that time. If 6 months or a year go by, then hopefully our experiences have grown in that time. If you read the same book, you may interpret the information differently. Certain points may become clear.

Don’t always look to accumulate more knowledge. Sometimes we’re better off understanding the knowledge we already have.


Need something to read? A few of the titles I’ve delved into this year (some for the 3rd or 4th time) –

Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore

The Complete Keys to Progress by John McCallum

Dinosaur Training by Brooks Kubik

The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook by Clair Davies with Amber Davies


5. No one eats enough.

Working with clients, and seeing people in gyms, and looking at my own training I’ve come to this conclusion. Yes, we have to control calories when trying to lose extra bodyfat, but for many people looking to build strength and muscle, eating more is a huge factor. And rarely anyone eats as much as they think they do.

Corollary #1 – There is no such thing as a “hardgainer”. You just need to eat more!

For some, you may have to record your food intake (just like training!) Measure what you’re putting into your body and adjust accordingly.

I’ve had people come up to me and ask about gaining muscle. The first question I ask is “what do you eat for breakfast?” If they even eat breakfast, I often get an answer of “oh, two eggs and some toast.” Two eggs?? I accidentally ingest two eggs every time I walk by the refrigerator. To give you perspective, here are the Saxon Brothers, three performing strongmen –

All possess what would be called muscular, well-built physiques (in addition to being ridiculously strong). What did they eat for breakfast? Two eggs? If you believe the stories –

    “For breakfast they ate 24 eggs and 3 pounds of smoked bacon; porridge with cream, honey, marmalade and tea with plenty of sugar. At three o’clock they had dinner: ten pounds of meat was consumed with vegetables (but not much potatoes); sweet fruits, raw or cooked, sweet cakes, salads, sweet puddings, cocoa and whipped cream and very sweet tea. Supper, after the show, they had cold meat, smoked fish, much butter, cheese and beer. Following this they had a chat and at one o’clock went to bed.”

 So do the math and that’s 8 eggs and 1 pound of bacon a piece for breakfast, along with some porridge. Now don’t get caught up in the quality of their diet, as there’s certainly better foods than tons of smoked bacon, but look at the quantity.

Following suit, I added more eggs into my morning breakfasts, along with additional protein shakes throughout the day (especially during busy times when I was at the gym), and I increased my portion sizes each meal. I’m now tipping the scales at over 180 lbs at 5’7″, and I still think I should eat more!



Well, that wraps up some important points I learned and re-learned this past year. Nothing revolutionary, but good reminders for myself. Hope you take a look through, as I’ve included a bevy of links to my favorite sites within each post. I hope too that you look back on your training year to reflect on what you’ve learned. Here’s to an even better and stronger 2010!


Jan 01, 2010 | Category: Blog | Comments: none


Leave a Reply