Archive for February, 2013

These are two very interesting articles which I looked at this week.

This is a really cool article which demonstrates some positives and negatives about CrossFit as displayed in a controlled study. Coach Greg Glassman has been very negative about sports science in the past, which is one of the reasons why CrossFit has alienated some individuals in the fitness industry. The bottom line is, to know whether or not a system of exercise is effective, measurable and repeatable results must be produced. This article is the first attempt I have seen (no doubt similar studies have been done) at trying to objectively assess what CrossFit does in regards to fitness.

I think it was mobility guru Kelly Starrett who suggested that localized stretching is to movement as practice is to the game. If you are a hero in practice but can’t produce in the game, to heck with you. Who cares if you can touch your forehead to your knee in a hurdlers stretch if you can’t ass-to-grass squat? Okay, granted, some sports that type of mobility is important (gymnastics, etc.), but for most athletes, mobility is a means to the end of proper movement and injury prevention. For example, I’m guessing most football players are only concerned about having enough mobility to squat properly and make sure they don’t get injured.

We all understand that isolation movements are far less important (and I’m making a generalization here) to athletes than compound movements. This is because your body goes not typically use muscles in isolation. In an athletic setting, it’s very unlikely you will use your biceps without also using your lats, upper back, etc. Similarly, it’s very unlikely that you will require extremely hamstring mobility in an athletic situation without similar requirements in the hip. Instead of spending your time stretching all your muscles individually, think about what this article suggests. Use lifting and natural movements to help with mobility! #allgo


I’m going to start this post with what I’m sure will be a very polarizing statement: in regards to nutrition and exercise, whenever humans try to improve on what nature has created, we generally screw things up. Nothing makes me shake my head more than the thought of a person who is trying to drop body fat by doing a workout full of lateral raises (a ‘gym’ movement which hardly resembles anything we do in real life) and going home to eat pasta topped with low fat alfredo sauce composed of ingredients which would baffle most people without a science degree. Long story short, nature is smarter than us.

In this post, I will be taking issue with most modern running shoes and orthotics. Does your current running shoe look like this?

running shoe

If so, read on my friend…

Up until a few years ago, before the popularization of Nike Frees and Vibrams, what was the main selling point of most running shoes? I think it’s fair to say padding and support. When shopping for runners, we were all interested in having our feet supported by air pockets and foam to cushion our heels while we ran, and strong arch support to encourage ‘proper’ foot mechanics. Soooo, why do we need padding on our feet exactly? Because we don’t want to injure our foot of course.


Human beings were designed to stand upright. To move from place to place, we walk or run. Our feet were designed to keep us balanced during these activities. Let me reiterate that. Our feet are designed to help us walk and run. Does it really make sense, given how our feet are designed by nature, that they need to be protected by a bunch of padding? The answer is no.

If I don’t wear padding running shoes, aren’t I going to get a stress fracture in my foot? The answer is yes, if you continue to run in minimalist shoes the way you ran in the padded disasters which you call your old running shoes. The padding in most modern running shoes encourages us to heel strike when we run. Heel striking is hard on the knees, hips, and lower back, but it’s an easy habit to fall into when you’re tired. Simply put, proper running technique does not involve heel striking. It’s just plain wrong to run that way. The foot and the rest of the lower body aren’t designed to run that way. If you heel strike with padded runners, you’ll probably get hurt. If you heel strike with minimalist shoes, you’ll definitely get hurt. If you are going to switch to a minimalist shoe to run in, you have to learn how to run by striking with your midfoot. I’m not going to go into complicated gait recommendations here, but an easy way to start transitioning from heel striking to midfoot striking is to think about running quietly, or running on a flat surface much the same way you would run up a hill.

If you have been wearing padded runners for a while, don’t try to run 10k the first day you slap on your new pair of Vibrams. Your feet are likely extremely weak, and will be unable to handle the new demands. Yes, you will have to get used to sore feet as you develop the muscles in that area. Sore feet do not necessarily mean that there is a problem. After all, you get sore after doing heavy squats because you’re demanding a lot of your body. When your feet are not used to working to stabilize themselves properly, they will get sore. When they get strong enough to work properly, they will stop getting sore.

For those of you who lift in running shoes, I want you to consider this little thought experiment. Imagine driving your car through a forest. Bumpy ride sure, but probably not too bad with all the modern shock technology that cars have these days. Imagine driving the same road in a car without shocks. Not the most pleasant of rides. Shocks help to absorb some of the force from the bumpy ride so that we can remain relatively comfortable when we drive. Padded running shoes are like shocks for your feet. As discussed earlier, the padding in running shoes is designed to absorb some of the force of our heels striking when we run. When you are at the bottom of a squat, and you start to drive you feet hard into the ground to begin your ascent, what do you think happens when you are wearing running shoes? The force which you are trying to generate is at least partially dispersed. Not good! When you are squatting heavy, you want to be able to use as much force as possible!

Padded running shoes alienate our feet from the surface of the ground with which they were built to connect. Yes, that sounds like I’ve been to one too many hippie prayer circles, but it’s true. When we throw a bunch of padding under our feet, they become weak and lazy, and it becomes more difficult for us to generate force.

About four months after making the switch over to minimalist shoes, I tried running in my old padded runners just to see. It felt like I was running through sand! So unnatural. It was a crazy feeling!

Some of you may be asking, will my orthotics fit in minimalist shoes? Probably not. But why exactly do you need orthotics. Oh, you have flat feet? Same here. Let me ask you this. How strong do you think your ankles would be if after an ankle sprain you just kept using your crutches for the rest of your life? Not very. In many (certainly not all) cases, orthotics are a band-aid solution for dealing with foot problems. Instead of using hard plastic to hold up your weak foot, perhaps you should think about strengthening your weak foot!

There are lots of great barefoot-style shoes which you can pick up. Nike, Adidas, and other popular shoe companies are coming out with minimalist runners. Vibram 5 finger shoes are getting extremely popular, especially within the CrossFit community. Personally, I do my Olympic lifting and squatting in Adidas Adipower Olympic lifting shoes, and my upper body lifting, conditioning, and running in a pair of Converse all-stars (which do the job fine and can be found in stores for around 65$ Canadian).


I can’t stress this final point enough. You cannot just switch from padded runners and think your job is done! You have to work to correct years of poor foot mechanics in locomotive activities and strength up those weak muscles! Failure to do so will more than likely result in, if you’re lucky, a minor foot, knee, or ankle injury.

If this post was totally mind-blowing for you and you want some more information, “Born To Run” by Christopher McDougall gets a little more into the science of why modern running shoes suck. So, throw your padded runners in the garbage, slap on some Converse all-stars, and start using your feet the way they were designed to be used. #allgo

Today’s Conditioning

Posted: February 25, 2013 in Programming
Tags: , ,

Simple, but effective. I was definitely dry-heaving for the first time in a while after this one.

4 rounds, 45 second breaks between each round

Each round is: 2 minutes hard running, 3 minutes of as many cycles as possible of (8 box jumps, 8 inverted rows, 8 push-ups)

Complete all rounds, rest as needed, and then finish off with 3 sets of 12 face pulls.

This is a good one if you have an MMA fight coming up which is 3×5 min rounds. The extra round and the shorter rest breaks of this workout will really hammer you.

The movements are all body weight, which may sound light. The point of this conditioning workout is to push as hard and fast as you can. Even though you are not displacing a substantial load, if you are pushing the pace, it should be extremely demanding. If you are really set on loading the movements, use a 20 lb weight vest for the workout.


Burpees are one of my favourite conditioning tools. They can challenge anyone, no matter what shape they are in. They are a great bodyweight movement with a relatively low risk of injury even when form breaks down due to fatigue. They can even be loaded using a weight vest, and there are countless variations.

I just want to be clear, when I say burpee, I mean “chest to floor” burpee. No straight arms, no partial push-ups.

This conditioning workout is a great one to challenge your aerobic energy system. Because of the nature of the movements, muscular fatigue should not slow you down.

Row 500 meters, 20 burpees
5 rounds for time

There are no rest breaks in this conditioning session. If you have a fight coming up, consider taking a break after each round to better mimic the time parameters of your competition. This will allow you to go slightly harder each round than completing all rounds with no breaks would.

If you have a 3×5 minute MMA fight coming up, the workout could be amended to look like this.

Row 250 meters, 15 burpees (using 20 lb weight vest), row 250 meters, 15 burpees (using 20 lb weight vest), 45 seconds rest
4 rounds for time

Once the burpee/row circuit is done, rest as needed and then finish off with 3 rounds of a remedial circuit: 15 rear delt flies, 12 band pull-aparts, 12 lying dumbbell external rotations with 40 degrees abduction

Good luck! #allgo


There was a period of about 6 months (anyone who grapples I’m sure has had this at some point) where I had either broken or dislocated toes on each foot constantly. Because I could barely handle toe extension when doing bodyweight lunges (loading was out of the question) I stopped doing lunges and split squats. In retrospect I could have done Bulgarian split squats or pistols. To be honest, if there is one area of my training which I tend to slack on it’s single leg work. I hate it, because I’m not good at it. Hence, I took the opportunity to ignore this part of my training. This week I had a couple of reminders about the importance of single leg work.

First, I hit a PR I have been working towards for a while. 250# power clean. The next day I was working with another trainer on the gym floor, and noticed that I am still unable to do a bodyweight pistol. This is a pretty ridiculous and embarrassing imbalance.

Secondly, I was talking to an Olympic lifter buddy of mine this week. He has taken the entire month off bilateral squat work to only do unilateral stuff. His Olympic lifts, to my surprise, have gone up this month. He recommended a ‘front loaded, front-foot-elevated split squat’ to me the other day. I couldn’t find a video of it, but here’s a video of a front loaded Bulgarian split squat, another great unilateral leg exercise.

Single leg work is great for balance and injury prevention. It obviously has a ton of application to sport, and, as evidenced by my Olympic lifter buddy, it can improve your Olympic lifts and squats. Generally I’m pretty proud to say I work my tail off in the gym and have a pretty balanced program, but this is one area where I really need to get serious about improving. Join me? #allgo

Wrote up a program today which I thought some of you might enjoy. It is a one month program for a beginner-intermediate lifter. The purpose of the program is functional hypertrophy, meaning that provided proper nutrition and a reduction of conditioning work, you will put on some size and strength. The reason I suggest that this is appropriate for a beginner to intermediate lifter is that there are some challenging movements (like front squats and Turkish get-ups), but I have also opted to include clean pulls and snatch-grip deadlifts rather than snatches or cleans (the latter two being more complex).

The rep range is not super low, but low enough that I would not suggest doing this program unless you have done many of the movements before. If you are unfamiliar with these movements and you try to load them, you may injure yourself.

The program is 4 days/week. Ideally I would recommend training Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday. Make sure to minimize other activities so that you have lots of time to recover. As well, eat lots of good food, drink lots of water, and get 8 hours of sleep per night.

During your workouts, your rest breaks between sets should be as long as you feel you need. This is not a fat loss program, so when in doubt, take a longer break. Aim for around 3 mins for the heavy compounds.

The program is designed in the following way. Week 1 is high volume, week 2 medium volume, week 3 very high volume, week 4 active recovery. Do NOT add or take away sets.

In terms of the notation used blow, 4S X 4R means 4 sets of 4 reps. If an exercise is just proceeded by a letter (ie. A), do all sets of that exercise before moving on to the next one. If an exercise is proceeded by a letter and number (ie C1), alternate each set with the corresponding exercise (ie C2).

I have included reference videos at the end for some of the lesser known exercises.

Lower Body (Day 1)

A) Clean Pulls
(Week 1: 4S X 3R, Week 2: 3S X 3R, Week 3: 5S X 2R, Week 4: replace with 4S X 4R broad jump)

B) Front Squats
(Week 1: 4S X 4R, Week 2: 3S X 5R, Week 3: 5S X 3R, Week 4: omit)

C1) Romanian Deadlifts
(Week 1: 3S X 8R, Week 2: 3S X 8R, Week 3: 4S X 6R, Week 4: 2S X 10R)

C2) Pistols (single leg squats)
(Week 1: 3S X 10R, Week 2: 3S X 10R, Week 3: 4S X 10R, Week 4: 2S X 10R)

D) Turkish Get-ups
(Week 1: 3S X 4R/side, Week 2: 3S X 4R/side, Week 3: 3S X 4R/side, Week 4: 2S X 4R/side)

Upper Body (Day 2)

A1) Barbell Rack Rows
(Week 1: 4S X 6R, Week 2: 4S X 5R, Week 3: 5S X 4R, Week 4: omit)

A2) Barbell Bench Press
(Week 1: 4S X 6R, Week 2: 4S X 5R, Week 3: 5S X 4R, Week 4: omit)

B1) Fat Grip (or tennis ball) Pull-Ups (or Pull-Downs)
(Week 1: 3S X 8R, Week 2: 3S X 6R, Week 3: 4S X 8R, Week 4: 2S X 10R)

B2) Single Arm Dumbbell Push Press
(Week 1: 3S X 8R, Week 2: 3S X 6R, Week 3: 4S X 8R, Week 4: replace with 2S X 10R dumbbell overhead press)

C1) TYIs
(Week 1: 3S X 12R, Week 2: 3S X 12R, Week 3: 3S X 12R, Week 4: 2S X 12R)

C2) Standing Cable External Rotation
(Week 1: 3S X 12R, Week 2: 3S X 12R, Week 3: 3S X 12R, Week 4: 2S X 12R)

Lower Body (Day 3)

A) Slightly Elevated Snatch Grip Deadlifts
(Week 1: 4S X 3R, Week 2: 3S X 3R, Week 3: 5S X 2R, Week 4: replace with 4S X 3R box jump starting from seated position)

B) Back Squats
(Week 1: 4S X 4R, Week 2: 3S X 5R, Week 3: 5S X 3R, Week 4: omit)

C1) Front Rack Reverse Lunges From Deficit
(Week 1: 3S X 8R, Week 2: 3S X 8R, Week 3: 4S X 8R, Week 4: replace with 2S X 8R walking lunge)

C2) Good Mornings
(Week 1: 3S X 8R, Week 2: 3S X 8R, Week 3: 4S X 6R, Week 4: 2S X 10R)

D) Standing Pallof Press
(Week 1: 3S X 8R/side, Week 2: 3S X 8R/side, Week 3: 3S X 8R/side, Week 4: 2S X 8R/side)

Upper Body (Day 4)

A1) Pull-Ups
(Week 1: 4S X 6R, Week 2: 4S X 5R, Week 3: 5S X 4R, Week 4: omit)

A2) Barbell Overhead Press
(Week 1: 4S X 6R, Week 2: 4S X 5R, Week 3: 5S X 4R, Week 4: omit)

B1) Neutral Grip Cable Rows
(Week 1: 3S X 8R, Week 2: 3S X 6R, Week 3: 4S X 8R, Week 4: 2S X 10R)

B2) Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
(Week 1: 3S X 8R, Week 2: 3S X 6R, Week 3: 4S X 8R, Week 4: 2S X 10R)

C1) Face Pulls
(Week 1: 3S X 12R, Week 2: 3S X 12R, Week 3: 3S X 12R, Week 4: 2S X 12R)

C2) No Moneys
(Week 1: 3S X 12R, Week 2: 3S X 12R, Week 3: 3S X 12R, Week 4: 2S X 12R)

Video References for Lesser Known Exercises

Barbell Rack Rows

Fat Grip or Tennis Ball Pull-Ups

Front Rack Reverse Lunges from Deficit
(This video demonstrates a reverse lunge from deficit. For our lunge, rack the barbell on the front of your body the same way you would for a front squat)

Box Jump Starting from Seated Position

No Moneys

Good luck! More programs to come… #allgo

How To Train Your Core

Posted: February 10, 2013 in Fitness
Tags: , , , , ,


Last post I discussed what the function of the core is, and how not to train it. Just as a quick review, the main function of the core is to stabilize. The less stable your core is, the more difficult it is to use your limbs to exert any kind of force. The core also twists, and does various extending and flexing movements. Most of all though, the core must remain stable. Here are a few exercises which are great for the core.

Larger Movements

1) Front squat. I ended the last post by stating that front squats are one of the best core exercises you can do, and I stick by that. The demand on your rectus abdominis muscles is huge, especially if you are doing these sans weightbelt, which I recommend if you are looking to reap the core training benefits of this lift. If you can ass-to-grass front squat your own bodyweight for reps, chances are core strength isn’t an issue for you.

2) Good morning. A lot of people avoid this exercise because it is ‘dangerous’. It’s only dangerous if you do it wrong. If done correctly, good mornings are a great hamstring exercise which also put a large demand on the erector muscles as well as the rectus abdominis.

3) Turkish get-up. This is a great exercise which requires core stability in a variety of awkward positions. Keep in mind you have to have healthy shoulders with good mobility to perform this properly. You can do this with a dumbbell, barbell, kettlebell, or, as is demonstrated in this video, a human being.

Rotation and Anti-Rotation

This is my favourite type of core work to do. It has so much application to grappling.

4) Taking a baseball bat to a heavybag. I picked up this little number from a boxing gym I train at. Take a heavybag which is not mounted, wedge it standing upright in the corner of a boxing ring (or some other stable place), and just crush it as hard as you can with a baseball bat. It goes your body used to that explosive rotation needed for judo throws, certain throwing sports, punching, etc. If you don’t have access to this equipment, you can always do a horizontal wood chop.

5) Pallof Press. This is my single favourite core exercise ever. When done properly, it is a killer. Great for injury prevention and building strong obliques.


6) Dragon flag. This exercise is great for the rectus abdominis, and also helps to strength the erector muscles of the back to prevent lumbar over-extension. Some of you may remember these from Rocky 4 (which, by the way, has one of the best training montages in a movie ever). If this variation is too difficult for you, try this. Lie on a bench with a slight incline. Raise your legs so that they are perpendicular to your body while keeping your glutes on the bench. When your legs are raised completely, drive your hips upwards towards the ceiling. Credit to Eric Cressey for this regressed variation.

Anti-Lateral Flexion

Anti-lateral flexion movements generally involve some kind of asymmetrical loading. My favourite option is the…

7) Shovel deadlift. Much like the pallof press, the loading which occurs in this exercise demands so much stability in the core. You may be shocked at how little weight you can do in this exercise starting off.

DO NOT be lazy and do shovel deadlifts like this. Any actual lateral flexion of the spine in this exercise can result in injury. Check your ego at the door and pick a weight that will allow you to do the exercise properly.

If the shovel deadlift is a little bit too advanced for you, here is a pretty decent logical progression involving anti-lateral flexion movements.

Asymmetrically loaded farmer’s walk -> Waiter’s walk -> Suitcase deadlift -> Shovel deadlift

Closing Thoughts


One thing that I have noticed personally, and with clients and other athletes, is that core exercises which focus on stability don’t give you the burning feeling of a crunch. You may not wake up the next morning after doing shovel deadlifts and have trouble laughing for the next three days like you might if you did 1000 crunches the day before. Trust me: these exercises will build a much stronger and more stable core than any of the exercises which I suggested not doing in my last post.

Lastly, don’t go crazy with core training. If you are an athlete who is squatting, Olympic lifting, doing strongman stuff for conditioning, etc., you probably have a pretty strong core. You don’t need to spend a ton of time every week isolating your core with a ton of different exercises, because it is working in all of the exercises you are (or should) be doing. Remember what I said about front squats? If your core is indeed a weak point, hit it hard. But, for the most part, you will likely not need to devote a ton of time to it. Now go forth and find a human to do a turkish get-up with. #allgo