About Dave Nix

I run a powerlifting club in Houston, Texas. The athletes I coach come from all walks of life, and have found success in the gym and on the platform. As a Masters (over age 40) powerlifter, I've competed and placed at USAPL Raw Nationals, as well as winning and placing in numerous local Texas meets. Follow me on Twitter as @Coach_Dave_VS.

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

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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)

sleep-doge
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

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.

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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.

er-rack_01
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!

Compatible Goals

I’ve learned over time that I don’t have to have the same goals as other people in my sport.

I mean, that’s not strictly true;  all powerlifters want to set personal records (PRs). But after that, some folks choose to focus on breaking state/regional records, or winning at a national (or international) meet, while others may focus more on breaking a gym record, learning to coach their friends, or something else.

Likewise, you don’t have to share a goal with your training partner(s) (if you have them). However, your goals and the goals of the folks you train with should be *compatible*, so you aren’t inadvertently working against each other! One person being a powerlifter while the other is a long distance runner will make it hard to train together. 

Legendary strongman Mark Felix and Olympic marathoner Paula Radcliffe don’t have many training goals in common!

Heck, even powerlifters, strongmen, Olympic lifters, and bodybuilders train differently enough that you might have a hard time meeting everyone’s needs in one session.

So take a minute examine your goals, as well as the goals of your training partners and/or people you train. Are they working towards the same general end? If so, that’s awesome. If not, you may need to re-evaluate some or all of the goals each of you has. Strategies for dealing with this goal disconnect might include:

  • Finding the common lifts each of you use, and moving those to the start of your training session so you can do them together, before each going off to do their own thing. This works best with the big lifts (e.g., squats) used by all strength sports; it’ll be harder to do if one of you needs to bench and the other needs to snatch
  • If you don’t have any “big lifts” in common, look to see if there are days where you can “focus” on one training partner over another. This may mean more days, or more time, in the gym, but it’ll also mean you get to not train alone, which many athletes find preferable.

Get those goals aligned, and support each other in your quest for gains!

Building Your Personal Library of Mobility Work

Each of us has our own individual challenges with respect to joint mobility. We have joints where our range of motion is impinged either due to muscle tightness or (in very rare cases) due to bone spurs or other skeletal issues. We have joints where old injuries have gifted us with scar tissue and fused bone, and that in turn further restricts our mobility.

back_pain

For some reason doing an image search for back pain turns up a jillion variations on this pic.

The good news is that, save for cases where muscles are completely unattached and bones are permanently fused together (e.g., from surgery where this was done intentionally), most of these items can be addressed with consistent, diligent, and careful effort. What we need is a library of mobility work that meets our individual needs.

I’ll say this right now: I’m not always as super-diligent as I should be about mobility work. But I’m getting better about that. For me, the cost of not doing mobility work has proven itself time and time again to vastly outweigh the small, temporary convenience I enjoy by skipping it. In other words, not doing my mobility work always ends up costing me in terms of missed training days and/or missed gains.

missed gainz

Don’t be a dunce. Do your mobility. Keep the gainz rollin’.

Sometimes, it can help to visit a physical therapist, or a massage therapist, or the like. Generally, though, these visits are most useful when they can give you several things to do to work on weak spots yourself. And make no mistake, getting a massage, or a trip to the chiropractor, etc. are all great, but none of them are a substitute for the work you have to do yourself, every day, to keep yourself healthy and injury-free.

Over time, I have developed a collection of mobility and warm-up exercises that work well for me. For example, I know that:

  • Pain in my outer hips and thighs is usually due to my hip muscular/skeletal structure compensating for tightness in my hip flexors. To fix this, I do the couch stretch.
  • Pain in my lower back and pelvic joints (lumbar spine, sacroiliac joint, etc.) is generally either my hip flexors (see above) or because my hamstrings are tight. For hamstring mobility I just do the old-school lying hamstring stretch with a towel or yoga strap.
  • Pain in my shoulders generally means I’ve got issues with scapular mobility. This means I need to work on freeing those up via myofascial release (with a lacrosse ball or soft ball) and also do some stretching and dynamic movement to improve my scapular range of motion.

 

Bretzel-1.0

If you want to kill multiple birds with one stone (and if you are feeling brave), consider a compound stretch. I suggest the Brettzel.

I’ve got a lot more of this sort of thing in my library, and I swap various things in and out depending on what’s going on with my body at a given time. But the point is, I have a solid selection of things I do to address the problems I have right now, the problems I have had before, and the problems I will have again if I neglect my mobility.

Doing these things regularly (every day), very deliberately (i.e., not just slamming through them half-assed so that you can say you did it), and with care (not trying to stretch yourself so hard that you get injured/re-injured, but also not taking it so easy that you don’t make a difference) will not only improve your joint range of motion, but will also mean you get injured (and re-injured) less often.

Each of you has issues with mobility that are particular to you. Figure out what your specific problems are, start building your own library of mobility work, and get after it!

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Roller skates optional.

 

 

Work through a checklist in the gym

Every time I go into the gym, I have a list of things I think about and do. The list isn’t long, and some of the items on it are subjective in nature, but those often are the most important items to assess. Inevitably, taking shortcuts on this stuff is where failure creeps into my program. Ignoring my mobility usually leads to injury, for example. Continue reading