Friday, March 28, 2008


I'm saddened by what's going on over at StrongLifts. Mehdi, the author, is changing the entire forum over to paid membership. The hundreds of people who contributed to make that forum a great place for lifters, especially beginners, to go for information, help and support are now being shut out of the community they've created.

I understand that Mehdi needs to make a little cash to pay for hosting, etc. and that he eventually wants to make a living from the site. Many readers suggested adding advertisements, a donation button or a "premium" section of the website as alternatives to closing off the message board community in this way, but Mehdi summarily dismissed all of these ideas. By doing so, he's choosing short-term cash flow over the long-term growth of his site and over the interests of his customers.

I'm further disappointed by today's post on the StrongLifts blog. In it, he calls everyone who voiced their dissatisfaction with his decision "crabs":

The Crabs story.

The thing about AFCs are that they’re a bunch of crabs in a barrel. Just as one starts to lift himself out of the barrel, the other crabs will grab him and pull him back in.

AFCs are Average Frustrated Chumps. Guys who don’t get the girls and whine about it. If this sounds familiar, don’t worry it’s curable.

The people he's calling "crabs" are people who, for the most part, voiced their concern that this move would damage the viability of the blog as both a place for people to learn about strength training and as a profitable business venture for Mehdi. I'm included in this group. I'm shocked and disappointed that Mehdi chose to respond like this to expressions of genuine concern from people who really want StrongLifts to succeed.

It boils down to this: Mehdi's actions tell me that his number 1 priority is making money from his blog. Spreading good information about strength training, helping people learn and creating a supportive community are obviously second-tier goals for him.

For this reason, I am removing StrongLifts from my blogroll and will no longer be linking to any of his posts. He could care less, since I probably get something like a whopping 7 readers a month, but I'm not comfortable with promoting the site of someone who is comfortable making a move like this.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Iron Zen

I'm not a very spiritual person. It's not that I don't believe we humans have a spiritual side -- it's just that I don't think about it that much. But sometimes I do.

I've heard meditation described as entering a state in which the ego is dissolved. The line between you and the world dissolves and you feel the energy of the universe flow through you.

I don't meditate, but I get that feeling sometimes, too. I get it through lifting. When you've pushed your body to its absolute limit on an especially heavy lift, or on the last rep of a particularly tough set, sometimes you push so hard that all you can see is a mass of color, and all you can hear is a high-pitched whine.

Your feet feel like roots, planted into the earth, immobile. Your body feels simultaneously like it's dissolving into the world around it and like it's permanent, immobile, legs and back and shoulders forever locked in support of the weight on the bar.

That feeling -- the complete unconsciousness of anything but the energy flowing from the world through you and into the bar, and the way that flow of energy negates your normal sense of yourself as a being independent of and distinguishable from the universe around you -- is, as the kids say these days, freakin' sweet.

I'm sure that the more scientific among us would (accurately) describe this feeling as nothing more than a brief period of semi-consciousness caused by momentarily interrupted blood flow to the brain due to extreme exertion. But those people are just killjoys. I call it iron zen.

It's why I love deadlifts and power cleans. For some reason, the heavy movements from the floor produce the intensity necessary to get this feeling much more often than squats or presses. I think that presses just aren't strong enough movements to produce the intensity necessary to reach iron zen, and I'm not yet proficient enough at squats -- during heavy squats I'm usually focusing too hard on keeping my form to give the all-out effort necessary for iron zen.

But however you reach it, it's a great feeling, it's a sign of a damn good training session (excuse my French), and it's a perfectly valid excuse for we non-spiritual folk to take a minute to think about the connection between mind and matter.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

"I'm doing arms"

It happened to me today. I was in the one and only squat rack at the gym (squatting, of course), when a 30-something guy in a sleveless t-shirt came up to me between sets.

"How many sets do you have left?"


"You mean you have 3 sets left to go?"

Yeah, you can work in if you'd like.

"Nah, thanks, I'm doing arms."

As he wandered off in search of a more bicep-friendly environment, I was left shaking my head. Besides the fact that this guy wanted to do bicep curls in the squat rack (don't get me started), the phrase "I'm doing arms" just annoys the dickens out of me.

Training only your arms is pointless. In the real world, your arms never work in isolation. Training movement patterns, not body parts, is the way to get stronger.

Instead of "arms," train pulls: pullups, chinups, rows. Instead of "chest," train pushes: bench press, overhead press, pushups, dips. Instead of "legs," train... well... legs, but use functional compound exercises: squats, deadlifts, cleans.

The phrase "I'm doing arms" aggrivates me because it reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of this basic concept of strength training. To get strong, you must move heavy things in a way that closely mimics the movements you'd use to move heavy things in real-life scenarios outside of the gym.

Maybe I should be more understanding. Maybe I should try to offer a tidbit of friendly advice next time this happens. Or maybe I'm just a crotchety old man in training. But at least I'll be a crotchety old man capable of physically throwing those young bicep-curling whippersnappers off of my lawn instead of meekly shaking my cane at them.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


I've been bad about blogging lately. But, fortunately, I've been good about working out. So all is not lost.

Also, reading over some posts, I think I need to change my "voice" on this blog. I'm coming off as if I'm trying to be an expert or an authority here, which I'm not. I'm a guy who loves lifting and wants to write about stuff I learn or find interesting while doing it. So I'll stick to that.

Anyhoozle, Nick at Beyond Strong recently posted a couple of videos of interviews with strongmen Andrus Murumets and Zydrunas Savickas. The interviews are great.

One thing I found to be interesting was Andrus' statement that he trained his grip by hanging from a thick bar for as long as he could. This seems brilliantly simple. Grip is one place where static strength and muscular endurance is hugely useful, and this is a simple, straight-forward way to develop that.

So I decided to implement it at the gym today. Since I train at a typical commercial gym, there are no fat bars in the gym. In fact, there's only one true pull-up bar. But I improvised a thicker bar by taking the neck pad that some folks (who I like to call "pansies") use for squats and put it over the pull-up bar.

I think it worked very well. I did sets of hanging for about 45 seconds, and my forearms were definitely working hard. The pad makes the exercise harder by increasing the diameter of the bar, and I think the fact that the pad is soft and can spin around the bar if you end up inadvertently twisting adds to the difficulty, as well. The best part was that it gave people another reason to give me those "what the hell?" looks I have come to know and love.

Grip strength is useful for everything from deadlifts to pullups to holding grocery bags and, if you're male, the all-important handshake intimidation ritual. It's also something to which I've never really devoted enough attention to, so I'll be doing these hangs and some gripper work a couple of times a week.