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

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.

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.


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.



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!


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

Energy Systems and You – A Guide For Athletes

Hellooooo athletes!

Yes, you. You are an athlete. Some of you already have one or more athletic endeavors that you enjoy. Others of you may just have not found (or chosen) your activity yet. That’s how I like to think of every person: an athlete, at least in potentia. So many of us are told that we aren’t athletic, and that we can’t be athletic. Society, friends, authority figures, media – there are lots of people and institutions that try to act as gatekeepers of who gets to be called an athlete. Well, I don’t care. As far as I am concerned, you and I are athletes. Continue reading

You Gotta Be SMART

I get pulled into a lot of conversations with people who want to achieve a fitness goal but find themselves overwhelmed about where to start. As a result, they generally haven’t made much progress. There are several reasons why starting on your fitness goals can be hard. 

The first issue I see a lot (in myself, as well as the athletes I coach, and people who ask me for advice) is that they had only a vague notion about what they wanted to do: “get in shape,” “lose weight,” and so on. While this is a great starting point, it doesn’t leave you with much in the way of what to do next. Continue reading