The Basics, Part 4 – Why we do certain set or rep schemes

[This is a series of posts I wrote for novice lifters I coach, but the information here applies to everyone. If you want to start at the beginning, go to Part 1: Recovering From Workouts  and then read Part 2: Why Resting Between Sets Is Important  and Part 3: Exercise Choice-Dave]

As we learned earlier, our bodies respond specifically to the demands imposed upon them. So squatting makes us better at squatting (and more generally gives us more strength we can bring to bear for any similar movement or exertion, such as coming off the line in a football game, “shooting” an opponents legs in wrestling, etc.), benching makes us better benchers, and so forth. Continue reading

The Basics, Part 3 – Why We Do Certain Exercises And Not Others

[This is a series of posts I wrote for novice lifters I coach, but the information here applies to everyone. If you want to start at the beginning, go to Part 1: Recovering From Workouts  and then read Part 2: Why Resting Between Sets Is Important  -Dave]

I’ll start here by saying that full-body movements are the best things we can do as our major exercises. They are the best because they involve the greatest number of muscle groups, and that means we can get stronger with fewer exercises. They also mimic the ways we are likely to need our strength in the real world. So, we squat instead of leg pressing, as the former involves the legs, hips, back, and even arms, while the latter is mosly just the thighs and (to a lesser extent) calves. Continue reading

The Basics, Part 2 – Why Resting Between Sets Is Important

[This is a series of posts I wrote for novice lifters I coach, but the information here applies to everyone. If you want to start at the beginning, go to Part 1: Recovering From Workouts   -Dave]


First off, go read the Energy Systems And You article. It gives you most of the information you’ll need. Go on, go. I’ll wait here.

OK, you’re back. Now that you’ve read that article, you understand that your muscles can only store a finite amount of energy in the form of Adenosine Triphosphate/Creatine Phosphate, and that physical activity depletes that energy. You also understand that replenishing these ATP/CP stores does not happen instantaneously. It takes time. Continue reading

The Basics, Part 1: Recovering From Workouts

“You don’t get stronger from lifting weights. You get stronger from recovering from lifting weights.” – quote attributed variously to a lot of folks (it’s true no matter who said it)

Recovery is doge’s best friend. And yours.

Lifting weights, and all exercise (or indeed movement of any kind) places a demand on the body, and over time the body will respond in a very particular way to the kinds of demands imposed upon it. This principle was first articulated by biologist Hans Selye in the early and mid twentieth century. He called the phenomenon General Adaptation Syndrome. Continue reading

Vintage Strong Lifter Spotlight: Kevin

[Dave’s note: Kevin has been too modest below. His injury would have caused most people to give up even trying to walk without a cane ever again, much less train. His mental, emotional, and physical fortitude are beyond compare, and I’m glad he’s my friend, and a Vintage Strong athlete.]

In late July 2012 I found myself in a nursing home, immobilized from the hip to the ankle. I had just had both of my quadriceps tendons re-attached after tearing them in a fall. As I spent the next ten weeks lying in a bed or sitting in a wheelchair with my legs sticking straight out in front of me, I had to come to grips with what my future would hold. The orthopedist told me that I would never have full motion in my knees again; most likely, if I regained 90 degrees of flexion it would be a monumental achievement. He told me that I was done with any sort of lifting other than upper body lifts. Continue reading

Lifting for Sports – When Good Enough is Good Enough

The only role for an S&C coach with regards to their players is to make them better athletes and players. While the definition of ‘better’ might vary by athlete and sport, generally it means to give them the ability to be more successful. Making an overly weak athlete stronger or a slow athlete faster might not end up with them having a more impactful career, but it certainly raises their ceiling of success. When programming or coaching, being able to justify every decision with “will this make them better at their sport?” is a useful idea. However, not only should the S&C coach be mindful of that principle, they must also keep in mind the concept of efficiency and diminishing returns.


Suppose you’re coaching a group of quarterbacks for a collegiate football team. The position group lifts three times a week, for two hours a session. Their strength/power information and position on the depth chart is below.


Quarterback Power Cl. 1RM Back Squat 1RM Depth Chart Size
A 275 405 starter 6’4”/225
B 315 465 backup 6’2/235
C 205 315 bench 6’6”/190


Player B is the strongest, then A, then C. However, A is the starter. Player A and B are approximately the same size. What jumps out though, is that Player C is significantly weaker and lighter than the other two players. Therefore, it stands to reason that more of Player C’s time should be spent on improving their physical metrics. Generally speaking, adding 15% to Player C’s power clean and squat maxes will not only be easier than doing the same for A and B, but it will also make a bigger difference in their overall physical ability.


For all intents and purposes, Player B is “strong enough” – they can and should continue to train for increased strength and power, but not to the point that the focus on strength becomes a detriment to training other sport specific processes. We know that the more advanced a lifter is, the more time and effort it takes to make progress, and adding that 15% of strength to Player B might take an extra 40 hours compared to the same percentage for Player C.


As a strength coach, it might be exciting to see a player squat 500, but it is more *important* that the player be able to spend those extra 40 hours it would take expressly trying to increase their squat and devote it to film study, passing drills, footwork, or other sport specific drills with more transfer to onfield success. For example, the below chart shows an approximation of the division of time and energy (out of a total of ten) that each QB should focus on.


Quarterback Time on Strength Time on Skill
A 3 7
B 1 9
C 5 5


Ego lifting is a very real thing, and so is ego coaching. Your athletes aren’t weightlifters or powerlifters (unless they are – in which case, you shouldn’t be reading this) and they need to maximize their on-field success, not just demonstrate how good you are at getting them strong.


However, this does not always apply across all sports and positions. If you had a group of three fullbacks, a decidedly less skill based position than QB, the ratios of time spent on skill vs. strength would be altered, and it would probably be a good idea to get them all squatting and cleaning as much as humanly possible.


Not only does the idea of allocating time and effort resources apply to strength, it also applies to technique. I am not advocating for poor, dangerous, or lazy technique, but I am advocating that there is a significant time and effort hurdle to getting your athletes to clean like Pyrros Dimas instead of just a garden variety decent clean. Lets look at the below two pictures for comparison. This is a squat + pause-squat complex at around 65%, and the images are at the bottom positions of the squat.
Player_L Player_R

The athlete on the left (L) in the black shirt is squatting 110kg at ~75kg bodyweight and the athlete on the right (R) in the white shirt is squatting 90kg at ~80g bodyweight. Player L is slightly above parallel and Player R is slightly below parallel. If I was training weightlifters, crossfitters, or powerlifters, this would be an issue for Player L. There is no question in my mind that a deeper, fuller range of motion would be more optimal (LINK), but in this case, Player L was a major contributor on field, already one of the strongest players on the team, and a senior. While we worked on some hip and ankle ROM exercises, I elected to mostly allow him to continue squatting as is, with the goal of 5 minutes before every lift devoted to increasing his depth.


It is important to note that this athlete never had any sort of lower body injury that would make me suspicious that his inability to break parallel was causative or indicative of injury risk. However, if Player L came to me in the first week of their career as a freshman squatting slightly high with light weight, I would make it a point of emphasis to teach them to get lower – understanding that this would give them a long term technique fix, allowing for greater improvement and a higher strength ceiling. I would do this even at a detriment to their immediate strength gains, knowing they had 3.5 more years to build upon their strength. This work would be substantively longer in duration than the 5 minutes a day I prescribed to Player L.


In summary – make sure that you understand that your only goal as a S&C Coach is to make the athlete better at their sport, even if that means dialing back how much you push the athlete to get stronger or to improve their technique. Usually, there comes a point where good enough is good enough, and any additional time needed to improve the athlete’s lifting abilities would be better suited to improving their sport specific skills.

Squat by Southwest IV – A Success!

Wow. Just…wow.

I have struggled with writing this all week, because I really don’t know what to say after the conclusion of South By SouthWest IV – Squats IV Stephen. I am absolutely overwhelmed by the graciousness of everyone who contributed, and with the positive mindset of our lifting brethren. Let me just say, I thought the meet went exceedingly well, and most importantly, we raised over SEVEN THOUSAND DOLLARS for our brother Stephen. 7 grand! That’s a helluva thing.


Huge thanks to Noel for the awesome graphics for the event! Pictures from

We ended up with over 30 lifters in 3 flights – by far the biggest Squat By yet. People came from all over the state to compete and/or watch, and generous folks donated services and goods from all over the country for our silent auction. We split the lifters into 4 divisions, with trophies, prizes, and medals for the top two in each division.

The winners! (Pics from

The winners with Stephen!

We had four of HPG’s strongest squatters engage in a “front squatathon,” and every single one of these bad boys hit at least a 200 kilogram (440+ pound) front squat! That’s extremely impressive. What’s even more impressive is that they went on to spot and load for the men’s heavyweight division later in the night! Thanks, Ben, Coy, Keith, and Gerry. I can’t wait to see you guys hit 500lbs.

The open women’s group was a ton of fun to watch. We had everyone from absolute novices to very advanced lifters, and everyone was cheering for each other. They got us off to a great start, and HPG Olympic lifter Jennifer Chu won with her ass-to-grass squats that left absolutely no doubt about her hitting depth! Ashley Pardo crushed a 300lb squat but narrowly missed her depth call, and finished in a close second place.

The Masters’ division was also Wilks-based, with both men and women competing against each other. We even had a woman CURRENTLY fighting breast cancer! In the end, HPG local boys Eric Garnel and Patrick Larson went 1-2.

Masters lifters know to get to the keg as soon as the lifts are completed!

Masters lifters know to get to the keg as soon as the lifts are completed!

We had enough guys enter to split them into lightweight and heavyweight divisions. In the lightweight division, Stephen Moore requested that Noah take a bigger third attempt than planned. Naturally, Noah, with the crowd behind him, destroyed 415lb and took first, followed by Paul Nielson with a strong and successful 370lb third attempt.

The heavyweight guys went last, and they didn’t let the crowd down, with a ton of big performances. IPF World-Class lifter and all around great guy, Greg Johnson, took home big squat of the day and first place with a beautiful 600lb attempt. His buddy Scott Prosek, who normally competes in multi-ply powerlifting gear, took an easy 500lb squat for second place. Both guys traveled from the Dallas area and put up a great show!

This hug from Greg was pretty epic.

This hug from Greg was pretty epic.

I can’t even begin to thank everyone that was involved in putting this meet together, but I’ll give it a whirl.

Kathryn Alexander was the ringleader for all the fundraising, and the driving force behind the event. She did an amazing job drumming up donations and organizing all sorts of very of important details – including the shirts and the keg! Kathryn is no stranger to fundraising, and I hope you all help her out with her annual ALS fundraising efforts.

Kathryn giving a heartfelt speech to the crowd while Stephen's triceps look on...

Kathryn giving a heartfelt speech to the crowd while Stephen’s triceps look on…

The spotters and loaders worked harder than everyone, just like at every powerlifting meet. I actually called out a few folks from the audience to help, and nobody batted an eye. No powerlifting meet functions without volunteers – remember that whenever you compete.

Our Vintage Strong team came to play – Dave drove up from Houston and did basically everything – and then bought us dinner afterwards! My wife, Jess (a former SXSW Champion!), took care of all the scoring and a million little details, all while holding our 3 month old, Lily. She was assisted by our great friend Tina, and a couple dozen more friends who helped take care of the baby when needed. Theresa was an expert-level judge and didn’t even partake in cervezas until after the lifting was over – that’s commitment!

Dave and I enjoying some frosty beverages at the end of a long day!

Dave and I enjoying some frosty beverages at the end of a long day! Jess took this picture so that her massive biceps wouldn’t overshadow ours.

We had more people help with the silent auction than I know. Next time, I’ll gather up all the companies and give them a lot more credit! I had no idea this was going to be so big. Thank you.

The lifters were, to the letter, all great sports. The vast majority hit personal records, which was really cool to watch. Whether they were winning their division or just attempting their first competition, they all followed the rules and made my job as a meet director easy. The amazing crowd cheered them on loudly, and DJ Casey Cuts laid down a sweet soundtrack to the whole thing. We had standing room only, complete with people standing outside to watch!

I’d like to thank Brook, the owner of Hyde Park Gym, the best gym in Austin, and I say that with absolute confidence. Brook encouraged us to put this all together, and for helped with, well, basically everything. HPG is a family, because he has made it like that. This family most definitely includes Phil Wood’s parents, Julia and David, who donated cash to all the winners in honor of their late son, who we all miss on a regular basis.

Finally, and most importantly, thanks to Stephen Moore. He’s not a guy that’s going to talk your ear off, but he quietly leads by example. He has dealt with the loss of his foot in a way that I wouldn’t think possible by even the best, and that’s more inspiring than I know how to describe. I hope that we all recognize and appreciate the kind of positive mindset he has when we deal with whatever life throws at us.

Starting a Home Gym, Part 2

Last time we talked about the basics of a home powerlifting gym, and the importance of getting a decent bar. This time we are going to discuss racks.

Nice rack, Mr. The Rock

The Benefits of a Rack

A power rack is an extremely versatile piece of equipment. A good one will serve as a place to do squats and bench press, as well as accessory movements such as presses, pull-ups, and chin-ups. That’s a great thing about power racks for the home gym user: they save space. Sure, the rack itself is pretty big, but it serves so many purposes that you basically don’t need to buy any other major pieces of equipment (other than a bar, and some plates).

The best feature of a power rack, however, is the safety pins. As a home gym user, you may find yourself training alone. Having safety pins set to a proper height will mean you can safely get out from under a squat if you have to. Note, though, that you should never bail (dropping the bar from the shoulders onto the pins instead of setting it on the pins). Dropping the bar from a height onto the pins will bend your bar and pins, and should only be done in the direst of circumstances (like, you are having a stroke or something).

Similarly, benching alone is a dangerous proposition. People (usually high school age dudes benching alone in their basements or garages) die every year because they attempted a weight they couldn’t get, and ended up with the weight stuck on their chest. Slowly suffocating as a bar compresses your lungs is a crappy way to die. Don’t be a statistic. Bench with spotters. And, when possible, with safety pins. This is another place where power racks come in very handy: you can set the safety pins so that the bar doesn’t touch them when you are in your properly locked-in bench arch. Then, if you cannot make the weight, you just lower it to your chest and relax your arch, and the bar will be resting on the pins instead of choking the life out of you.

Racks come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Generally, the two that will be the most relevant to a home gym user will be the standard power rack and the competition rack.

Power Racks

Normal, run-of-the-mill power racks have four uprights, safety pins, and (usually) one or more crossbars at the top which can be used for pull-ups, chin-ups, hanging knee raises, toes to bar, or what have you. Other models include squat stands (these will be two uprights, which may or may not be connected, and which may or may not have safety pins) and space-saving models which can be folded away when not in use. In general a rack with 2″ x 2″ tubing is fine as long as you are squatting less than about 450 pounds; more than that and you’ll want to consider 3″ x  3″ tubing.
Some typical power racks. These are from Rogue Fitness. The one in the center is a squat stand, while the rack on the right attaches to a wall, in case you need to save space.

If you opt for squat stands, be sure to get a model that has safety pins. Remember, you don’t want to get under a weight and not be able to get back out!

As you can see above, most racks will come with an option for a bench. I recommend getting the bench that comes with the rack, although you can purchase a bench separately if you want to. If you do that, be sure to get one that has the same dimensions as a competition bench. A competition bench for powerlifting is 4 feet long, 16.5 inches high, and 12 inches wide. If you buy a bench from Craigslist, make sure you check it out when you go to pick it up, as there are plenty of crappy, rickety benches out there.


Competition Racks

These are the racks used in official comeptition in the International Powerlifting Federation, as well as its affiliates such as the North American Powerlifting Federation (NAPF) and USA Powerlifting (USAPL). These federations require that a squat be walked out of the rack, and these racks are made to take handle the extremely heavy weights that come with international-level competition. Competition racks are actually squat stands (two uprights) with attachment points for a bench for bench pressing. These racks also come with safeties. A competition rack will usually cost a bit more (although you may be able to find one used), and doesn’t have a crossbar for accessory work such as pull-ups. That said, lifting in this kind of rack will mean you are training on the same sort of equipment you’ll use in competitions if you compete in the IPF/NAPF/USAPL.

An ER competition rack, with the bench attached.

OK. So what brand of rack should I get?

Good brands of power racks include Rogue, Texas Strength Systems, and Elite FTS.

Rogue has all of their stuff laser-cut by a computer, so it is super neat and pretty, and fits together with amazing precision.

Texas Strength Systems racks are a bit cheaper, but not quite as slick. However, they also sell ER competition racks, which are the racks you’ll be using if you compete in the USAPL and/or IPF. Indeed, you’ll probably find yourself using an ER rack in any powerlifting federation that has you

EliteFTS is the brand I have and it is quite sturdy and has served me well for the past five or so years.

For competition racks, you can buy an official ER rack. If you wish to spend a bit less, Texas Strength Systems sells a rack that is basically the same as an ER rack, it just isn’t certified for official competition.

Any of these brands will do fora home gym, and all of them should last for the rest of your life. Make your decision will be based on price and available space, and see which brand has a model you like within those parameters.

Note: there are several DIY rack plans on the web. The ones that are intended for someone who knows how to weld are fine. The ones made of wood are scary and may fall apart and kill you after repeated use. So be careful!

That’s it for racks! Stay tuned for Part 3, where we talk about platforms, plates, and other accessories!

Eating Like a Cave Woman

Jessica and I did a strict Paleo challenge back in 2012, mostly to lose some winter chub. The results were outstanding, as I lost about 20 pounds and she dropped 6. But the other results she experienced were even more awesome, so I asked her to write this article. Still relevant today!

Last summer, a spontaneous move to Austin sparked a new social life for me. After a few months of living in a new city, eating everything in sight, and drinking more than usual, my body started to take a turn for the worse. I gained 8 pounds, felt tired all the time, and had heartburn almost every day. So, after the New Year, Jacob and I made it a priority to buckle down on a diet that would yield weight loss results, and we started exercising more. We committed to a 30 day strict Paleo diet. Continue reading