big girls - big weights

Sorry ladies, but I have to say it. You're plain weak. The far majority of you are, anyway. Hear me out, though. You still got the eye of the tiger, fighter, dancing through the fire.

I'm calling you out regarding physical strength; the ability to accelerate mass. And sure, some would tell you there's more to life than generating a lot of force...But seriously - many of you want to be faster or jump higher or go further. Most of you want to look good and function well. None of you want physical activity to hurt.

Some of you know that strength is important. But the Pilates, the yoga, the Zumba, the machine-based training, the toning circuits, and the spinning are not cutting it. I'm not saying these things are inherently bad or worthless. What I am most definitely saying is that these inadequately transfer to functional strength that makes a difference when you go to run, jump, cut, lift, and carry things. The years have showed me that it's next to impossible to become functionally strong with these alone.

I see the evidence every day, women who claim to be strong but they're not. We're not talking about hundreds of pounds on a barbell. Most cannot control a basic squat or lunge or jump without their knees buckling inward. They cannot lift 10 pounds off the ground or perform a high step up without their lower back bowing or hips jutting sideways. Most cannot do even one solid push-up with their shoulders in proper position and without their core crumbling, much less a chin-up.

The great news, ladies, is that physical strength is a state of mind! I caught Maggie dead lifting (close to) her bodyweight in the basement last week. Then I asked her a question.

Maggie has never heard that she needs to stay toned. In her mind, pink two pound dumbbells are for babies - her two year-old sister. And she's right. I hope that some day, if she cares, she understands that muscle toning is a myth, that having muscle tone first requires having muscle. Maggie hasn't been told that weight training will make her legs look big. I hope she really doesn't care about the size of her legs.

Maggie hasn't yet heard that heavy lifting is for nose tackles and shot putters. She already understands that heavy is relative. I hope she doesn't experience the alternative that many women and men learn the hard way; the cycle of eating less and less to maintain a caloric deficit and in the mean time feeling and looking utterly deflated. 

Ladies, there's no reason why you cannot be strong. Getting strong is not rocket science. It doesn't demand enormous chunks of time.You can (and should) keep with the activities that you enjoy. Big girls have much to gain by adding some focused strength training to the weekly routine.

And I grieve the day Maggie learns that you don't work out in your jammies. 


risking play

It's the same old Tuesday routine where I finish work, maybe run an errand, come home and relax for a delicate few minutes. I make two cups of coffee because I'm always tired in the mid afternoon, it's the most underrated legal sports performance supplement, and I'm going to need it. Some usually spills on my shirt as I catch up on light housework.

I descend to the basement, make ready for a day of strength training. Some fashion their man-cave with a surround sound entertainment system as the centerpiece. My centerpiece is a barbell.

The warm-up process involves a lot of jaw exercise (talking) with those joining me in the days adventure. Then the music blares. There will be struggle and strain and physical pain, usually not the injurious variety.

This 37-year old husband and father and employee lifts weights only twice per week. But when that time comes, I do it like life depends on it. This is not the standard 3 sets of 10 while watching Oprah. You concentrate and take it seriously when you're unsure if you'll collapse in a heap or complete the lift. The work is definitely not always fun.

This is my play.

I've never entered into weight lifting or cross training competitions and don't plan to. I simply love the challenge, manipulating the variables, and the process of improvement. I'm inspired by seeing others achieve a feat they simply could not have pulled off 3 or 6 months ago. I like how the weight training makes me feel and look. I love being able to perform atypical life tasks with minimal effort.

It does not matter if it's a pile of iron weights in the basement, a seniors bowling league, or chess club. What many of us are after in playing sports is a fulfillment that goes beyond having fun. And to enjoy that type of fulfillment, at some point along the way, we envision the hard work as simple fun.

The level of play is irrelevant, so long as there's an appropriate physical or mental challenge within a community of participants. Neither is age a primary concern. As a physical therapist, many times I've witnessed the great deal of good that comes when individuals view themselves as athletes, with their personal fitness as a game of achievement. These people are mentally sharp and physically resilient.

I wish that athletes who do throw their hat in the ring would remember that we play for fun and fitness. If you think most men are not full of words and drama, go ahead and watch a recreational basketball game. What a shame when we pretend that failure is not an option, when we forget that to seriously try is to risk failure. Without that risk, the sports we play are really not all that fun.

My friend who coaches baseball often repeats to his charges, "you cannot guarantee the outcome, but you can guarantee the effort." I LOVE the humility in this as much as what it demands. I think there is something intrinsically good and true and even God pleasing about that statement, and it applies to athletes in all walks of life.


Neutral Spine - your first step to health and awesomeness

[This is the first installment by trainer and my assistant David Drinks]

Knowing how to move with a neutral spine should be a top priority from the standpoint of both injury prevention and performance enhancement. Current estimates are that 95 percent of the population will have at least one serious episode of spinal pain in their lives. This may seem high. But one look at most physical activity habits and routines (or lack thereof) makes it quite believable.

Neutral spine simply refers to the vertebrae maintaining their designed position. Most people think of this as a “flat back” but in reality the spine is not supposed to be flat. Instead, it has a naturally curved structure, which allows it to effectively distribute the shear and rotational stress and handle compressive load. The spine is most resilient when it is at or near this neutral posture.

People often refer to neutral spine in the context of sitting or standing posture. While this is indeed important, it becomes even more important during movement and astronomically more important during loaded movement (as in lifting or carrying objects or resistance training).
To begin learning neutral spine during movement, a primary consideration is core control. This involves more than the abdominal muscles. In reality, the entire torso (including the muscles of the back and hips) makes up a person’s core.  In order to control the spine dynamically, the core muscles must be able to fire at the appropriate time, and with sufficient force (strong enough) to do so.
Knowing this makes one realize that ab exercises which repeatedly flex the spine (crunches, sit-ups, etc.) are not the best choices for core control. Many of us would do well to shelf all the crunches for a while and spend more time working on anti-flexion, anti-extension, and anti-rotation exercises.
Once we learn to achieve and maintain the spine in neutral position by way of proper core exercises, then we can move on to loaded training. Needless to say, you can’t safely dead lift or squat a significant amount of weight without being able to achieve and maintain the spine in neutral position. Gaining this ability is a great achievement. Gradually increasing the repetitions, loading, and range of motion effectively strengthens the core muscles and protects the spine rather than endanger them.
Don’t spend your time pushing 300 pounds on the leg extension machine then go home and injure your back picking a pencil off the floor. Even if your personal goals have nothing to do with a monster squat or dead lift, it is important for everyone to train basic movement patterns while keeping the spine in neutral. Training should be more than a means to look good, improve cholesterol, or burn calories. Functional core training achieves all of this while preparing the body for everyday life activities without putting the spine at risk.
I hope this overview helps you understand why it is essential to achieve and maintain the neutral spine position. Whether you are an elite athlete or you work at a desk all day, achieving and maintaining a neutral spine is one of the best uses of your exercise time.


The Squat Song Score

Lifting heavy resistance for high repetitions is one of the most challenging and effective ways to becoming an exceptional human being. We're not talking about lifting the most you can for one rep. Meat heads and belly bumpers can do that. Neither are we talking about circuit cardio disguised as weight training.

We're talking about something that even the most hard core power athletes cannot handle but once per week. Something that the typical fitness enthusiast will consider, try once or twice, and never return to. Just thinking about 20-rep squats makes you dizzy in the stomach.

This is not mere exercise. This is an event.

The weekly pilgrimage for Bonny Lane Club is 20-Rep Squats. The prescribed resistance is oh, only 2.5 pounds more than what nearly crushed you last week. Rep number 1 is a plummet into the unknown. Reps 13 to 19 are a walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  It's just you and the iron. You need something, anything to help pull you through.

[A short entry that better describes 20-Rep Squats: 20 Rep Squats are not for everyone ]

You're going to need a Squat Song.

This can't be just any song. Although individual taste comes into play, there are many common qualities. Attempting a description of what makes a good squat song is like trying to pin down beauty. It defies scientific empiricism. But the next time you're staring down a set of 20 rep squats or some other miserabletastic feat of total body grit, what you can do is tabulate a Squat Song Score.

Would this make a good Squat Song?

Squat Song Score =

The song begins with a military march or mysterious feel to it +4
[You are literally going to battle and the outcome is unknown.]

The song is something you could listen to at work -4
[Unless you happen to be squatting at work.]

The song is heavy on base or dub-step type reverb +2
[Heavy pitch --> heavy weights.]

The song is something you would listen to in the presence of your mom -2
[You were forged of iron by a thick forearmed, soot browed medieval mason who lives in a volcano.]

The song is a bit unreasonable considering your mostly disciplined and peaceful lifestyle. +2
[Unreasonable feats call for unreasonable noises.]

The song involves loud singing or possibly even yelling +2
[This is not the time for Jack Johnson.]

The song is loud and there is yelling right away -2
[You don't want to be floored right out of the gait. Maintain your composure. It's a long way to 20.]

There is a drop right around 90 seconds +5
[That's a critical point in the set when the deepest, dark reps are about to go down.]

There is motivational or angsty lyrics +3
[This is no walk in the park. This is no time for Louis Armstrong.]

The lyrics are weird or overly vulgar and get in the way of the sound -5
[This leaves out a lot of Muse, System of a Down, Tribe Called Quest and otherwise fitting songs.]

Here are a few classics from BLC

Bleeding Out, with a score of 8

Sail, Awolnation SS of 13

Seven Nation Army, White Stripes SS of 12

Fist Full of Silence, Glitch Mob with a SS of 6

Family System, Chevelle with a SS of 15

Lights, Ellie Goulden SS of 6

Do you have any criteria for the SSS? How do your favorites score?


Fitness Fail - three ways to train hard and remain average

Clients and acquaintances ask what they can do to get leaner, faster, and stronger. While many things work well for a while, nothing works indefinitely. The trick to creating noticeable and lasting improvement lies in finding what works well for you over a long term.

On the other hand, here are three great ways train like a beast but remain the same.

1. Make training all about calories

The quickest and easiest way to manipulate calorie balance is not with exercise, but with what you take in. Calories do matter and exercise is critical to health and fitness for many reasons. But the short-term calorie burn is not one of them. Unless you're an advanced endurance athlete, the calories you burn during formal exercise are fairly negligible in the grand scheme of things.

Specific, performance based goals are far more useful than appearance related goals, even if your primary reason for training is to gain or lose weight. Don't exercise to lose 15 pounds or burn X amount of calories per week. Work towards something great. Target a goal that will take you a while and in the mean time forges you into a different person physically and mentally.

Run 5K in less than 20 minutes. Squat your body weight for 20 continuous reps. Hit 5 full unassisted pullups. Let your body weight take care of itself because appearance cannot help but to reflect what you can do. And when you move better, you feel better, which makes it far easier to be active in the Grand Gym (that is, the rest of life).

2. Train primarily for mental health

Physical exercise offers a myriad of known benefits to our psychological health. But I often notice that people who feel the need to exercise nearly every day suffer physical stagnancy or injury. Pushing yourself hard and often may be satisfying to the brain but it's not ideal for the body. There needs to be a work/rest rhythm to adapt well and return stronger.

If you do moderate intensity exercise and/or exercise primarily for mental health - that's fine. But if you want to truly test and raise your physical limits, you must train with intensity and then tell the brain to lay off for a while.

3. Forget that less is more

Really. You can improve by going crazy (ahem, Insanity) with a thousand different exercise variations performed daily. But trust me - for one reason or another, that won't last. Structure is good. Learn just a few of the big movements well, work them hard, rest, and work them hard again.

Everyone assumes that the more fit you are, the more you should train, when in fact it's the opposite. Beginners stand to benefit from more frequent training because they are unable to tax their system as much as intermediate and more advance athletes. The more advanced the athlete, the less frequent training needs to be.

There seems to be a nice rhythm to hitting a specific movement or activity twice per week. If you want to be really fast, sprint and jump twice per week and get some fairly intense dead lifts and/or squats in twice per week.

[I maintain that if you can squat, dead lift, row, pull-up, and press well relative to your size and particular interest, you will have potential to be great in pretty much any sport or skill set to which you apply yourself. But that's another writing...]

You don't have to spend 12 hours per week at the gym. Try about one fourth of that. Two to three training days per week works well IF you're willing to work intelligently at weight training and religiously make those days happen over a long term.


I've worked with a handful of young athletes for nearly 5 months. Five months - and we're just getting started! We don't change things up every other week. We don't do many epic fall-flat-on-your-face combined strength and endurance workouts.  Yet each of them are on the verge of pulling off superhuman feats. We're talking faster sprints, double body weight dead lifts, and repping out chin-ups with 20 or 50 extra pounds tied to their waist.

Define something you want to achieve and stay the course. Focus and pay attention to how you feel, look, and perform. Pretty soon your 315 pound dead lifts feel like 225 use to. Then 405 feels like 315. Then 500 feels like 405. And then one day you're dead lifting 500 pounds for 10 reps.

Sorry for the grainy video, but here's 500 X 10:

There are at least one hundred additional ways to work hard and spin your wheels. If any come to mind, please do share.