Tag Archives: sports performance

Do You Really Need to Deload?

Deload week is one of those concepts that’s engrained into our heads as a way to force feed a recovery period into our training.

You’ll see it in a lot of prominent strength and muscle building routines, and while deloading does work, I will also tell you that the traditional deload is a complete waste of time.

Let me elaborate.

Traditional deloading typically looks like this:

  1. A planned week of rest (or light activity) following 3 weeks of intense training.
  2. Intensities ranging from 40-60% of your 1 rep max (RM) for the entire deload week.
  3. Lots of bodyweight training.
  4. Mobility and tissue work.

diagram-21Check out the training cycle above.

The traditional deload falls into the “recovery” phase. It is followed by the “supercompensation” phase, which I call the “rebound” phase where your body rebounds to come back from fatigue with a heightened level of performance.

The problem with the traditional deload doesn’t lie in its premise or concept as it relates to recovery. The guidelines for a deload are effective and have a time and place; but the problem lies in that it fails to take into account the specific needs and performance variances of the individual.

So Do You Really Need to Deload Every Four Weeks?

Of course not.

I’ve personally had intense training cycles last for upwards of 6-8 weeks before I saw any dip in performance. If I would have taken a prescribed deload week, I would have lost a week of heightened performance and gains.

Let me put it to you another way. One week of deload for every four weeks of training equates to 13 weeks off from training per year. That’s not a recipe for success.

Maybe there comes a point when you need to take a week off. That is up to you. For me, and most people I know/train, those times are few and far between. In fact, I usually feel worse after a week off and have to play catch up from taking the extra rest time.

With that being said, there are better ways to deload.

A Better Way to Deload

A much better way to approach your deload is through a concept called cybernetic periodization, a term coined by sports scientist Mel Siff.

Cybernetic periodization is essentially programming your deload days according to how the weights feel that certain day. Doing it this way allows you to account for the daily variances in your training as opposed to putting blanket guidelines on yourself.

For example, I had a girl come into the Primal Strength Gym about a month ago. We were talking and she was expressing disappointment that it was deload day.

As she was warming up, she realized that the weights felt light and her body was primed to perform. A prescribed arbitrary deload was not optimal for her progress that day. Instead of a deload, she kept pushing the weights higher and higher.

The result? She set a 10lb deadlift personal record.

Never sacrifice training performance and momentum for prescribed deload days. Ride the highs for as long as you can take them.

(Note: There is a difference between riding the highs and not being honest with the feedback your body is giving you (the key to using cybernetic periodization). Ignoring negative feedback from your body is a pathway to crashing and injury.)

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So with the concept of cybernetic periodization in mind, here are two ways to deload:

#1: Autoregulatory Deload

In non-scientific terms, I call this the “play it by ear” deload. This deload is simple in concept, but it may take an advanced lifter to recognize when to apply it.

Essentially, you have no prescribed deload days. As with any program, your training volume and intensity will cycle but there are absolutely no planned deload days (not to be confused with days off in the training program).

Instead, you deload based solely on how your body feels on that given day. This takes honest self assessment and heightened body awareness but in my opinion, this is the best deload strategy you can use.

How do you put this into practice?

  • Weights feel light and your body says it’s time for Hulk Smash?
    • Push yourself to the extreme and aim for some PRs.
  • Weights feel moderate and you have good energy?
    • Push yourself above par but no need to max out.
  • Weights feel sort of heavy and energy levels are so-so?
    • Follow the program and meet your expectations, but don’t push yourself too hard. Technique above intensity.
  • Weights feel like immovable lead and you feel like shit?
    • Deload to 40-60% of your 1RM and back off the volume.
    • Walk away after a thorough warm-up and self assessment. Give it a honest shot (some of my best days have actually come after starting sluggishly), but take the day off from the bar if need be and get some solid stretching and foam rolling in.

#2: Max Effort Deload

This one is similar to the “play it by ear” deload but it has a prescribed rest period while still utilizing cybernetic periodization.

Basically, you will plan to have two consecutive deload days within a 4-8 week training window (around week 6 is most common). They are not scheduled but you will base the deload days on how you feel in a given day.

As soon as you hit a “feel like shit” day that I mentioned earlier, your two day deload starts. In this two day window you will:

  1. Drop the intensity of your max effort barbell lifts to 40-60% of your 1RM
  2. Or drop the max effort barbell lifts entirely and focus solely on accessory work.

After those two days, you can ramp your training back up and start progressing as normal.

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Wrapping Up

  • A deload is effective and will work, but in a traditional sense, it is not optimal or necessary for training progress
  • Deload needs to be based on individual needs and feelings, not prescribed programming
  • Cybernetic periodization should be the main factor in deload programming
  • There are two optimal ways to deload
    • Autoregulatory Deload
    • Max Effort Deload
  • Deload programming requires honest self assessment and being in tune with your body
  • DO NOT sacrifice performance and training momentum because a program says you have to deload

All the best Primal Nation,

— Tank

Perception is Not Reality: Lifting Fact Versus Fiction

As a strength coach, I do a lot of reading, not only in published articles and blog posts, but especially the comments sections.

I do this for a number of reasons, the most important being education. Part of that education is being in tune with the fitness market and where people are going wrong, which helps me better educate you and shield you from all of the bullshit.

If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that bro scientists, self-anointed “experts”, and gimmick pushers have completely polluted a lot of people’s perceptions and cemented their minds with false realities. Once this happens, it’s really difficult to change someone’s mind because a perception from a “trusted source” quickly becomes unwavering “truth”.

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Let me be the first to tell you, perception is not reality.

Don’t believe everything you hear. Challenge perception and seek truth through personal experience.

With that being said, let me give you some truths I’ve learned through blood, sweat, and tears in the iron game. Time to play a little game of perception versus reality.

(There are a lot of embedded links in this post that explain some concepts in detail; be sure to check them out if you need more explanation.)

Perception: Do not train muscle groups more than once a week.
Reality: Of all the training parameters (rest times, intensity, exercise selection, volume, etc.)  I’ve played with over the years, training frequency has BY FAR been the most important to making gains. A recent personal example: Over the past 6 weeks, I’ve squatted, deadlifted, benched, and overhead pressed twice a week. Results? I’ve gained 20 pounds and added upwards of 20 pounds to some of my maxes.

Perception: Training for over an hour will wreck your hormones and make you catabolic.
Reality: If you want to get good at something, do you just practice for an hour? Didn’t think so. If you peruse my website, you will see me perpetuate this perception, but mostly that was a way of me trying to get people to eliminate too much time between sets and get people to focus. The reality is that you can train for several hours at a time (and will have to if you are making a lot of strength lifts that require more recovery time between sets) and be just fine.

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Perception: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
Reality: Depends on your goals. If you are trying to maximize fat loss, it’s not. Our hormonal cycles actually promote fat burning in the morning, so eating breakfast completely halts that. (If you’re trying to gain weight, just eat more later in the day.)

Perception: Eating carbs at night will make you fat.
Reality: Eating carbs all day and eclipsing your daily totals will make you fat. I eat the majority of my carbs at night (but stay within my daily allotment) and maintain 10%-12% bodyfat without a lot of high-intensity cardio.

Perception: Steady state cardio (jogging for example) is the best way to burn fat.
Reality: While your body does burn a higher percentage of fat at lower intensities (50% of calories from fat) versus higher intensities (35% of calories from fat), at higher intensities you burn far more calories overall, ultimately leading to more fat calories (in a much shorter amount of time).

For example, if I walk on the treadmill for an hour and burn 250 calories, I may have burned about 125 calories from fat.  But let’s say I train Primal style and run several sets of hill sprints, followed by a high intensity finisher.  In about 20 minutes, I could burn 500-600 calories, with 210 calories from fat.  One-third of the time and far more fat burn…

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Perception
: You need to do a ton of cardio and ab work to get a six-pack.
Reality: Abs are made in the kitchen. Want to drop a few pounds? Eat below your maintenance levels. You can sit on your ass all day and lose weight by just cutting a few hundred calories off your daily intake. Use a few high-intensity cardio sessions a week to augment weight lifting and a muscle building diet.

Perception: After 4 weeks of intense training, you need a de-load week.
Reality: Your body will tell you when you need a de-load week, and that could not be for a couple of months. I’ve personally had hardcore training cycles last more than 2 months, making gains the whole time, before my performance dipped and I had to de-load.

Perception: You can’t train for hypertrophy and strength at the same time.
Reality: Yes you can. Training Primal style, we do it all the time. Supplement strength lifts with higher rep accessory work and you will make gains in both.

Perception: Body part splits are the most effective for building muscle.
Reality: Body part splits are great for making newbie gains, but are not as effective as full body or upper-lower split training. Remember what I said about frequency above? Training with a body part split completely eliminates that advantage. Don’t do it…train with an upper-lower split instead.

Perception: Females who lift weights will get huge.
Reality: Women lack the testosterone production to get big naturally. Want to get “toned”? What you are really saying is you want to lose body fat and gain muscle mass. How do you do that? Lift heavy weights.

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Per
ception: Bodyweight training is not effective at building muscle and strength.
Reality: Bodyweight training is very effective if you know how to program it. This means learning the progressions and not sticking with standard variations. Check this out: Top 10 Bodyweight Exercises.

Perception: Muscle isolation is key to hypertrophy.
Reality: If your training volume for each muscle group is on point, isolation is not all that important. My arms are one of the most developed muscles on my body, and I don’t do any direct bicep work, but I work them indirectly all the time through row variations, pull-ups, and pressing. Remember what I said about frequency?

Perception: You need a ton of volume to gain muscle.
Reality: I’ve put on plenty of muscle doing sets of 6. The key is to lift heavy enough weights with an appropriate portion of volume. This means lifting heavy weights (70-85% of your one rep max) for sets of 6-8 for muscle gain.  Lifting weights less than 70% of your 1-rep max (1RM) will not produce a significant training effect.

(There is a lot more to this and I’m admittedly oversimplifying the issue. Check out my “How To Series” for me details about which body parts respond well to higher volumes, etc.)

Perception:  Circuits/intervals are great for building muscle.
Reality: Depends on a number of factors, but the key here is lifting heavy enough weights for those circuits, which means keeping your volume on the lower side. Sets of more than 12 (per exercise), because they have to be done with relatively low weight (less than 70% of your 1RM), really only train endurance.

Several recent studies have exposed this perception recently.  A university study on the popular “Bodypump” class showed participants made no changes to their body composition (no fat loss and no muscle gain) over a 12-week period. Another American Council on Exercise (ACE) study showed P90X participants burned a lot of calories (similar to joggers actually) but had no muscle gain.

The old adage here is to train to your goals. If your main goal is to burn calories, increase endurance, and increase metabolic function/fat loss, circuits are certainly a good option. But if your main goal is to gain muscle, circuits should only be supplemental (short duration/high-intensity finishers) to traditional strength training. If you want to gain muscle, you have to get under the (heavy) bar. Period.

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— Tank

The Importance of a Dynamic Warm Up

My first few years in the gym I would be so cranked up on pre-workout and oozing testosterone that I could walk into the weight room and start cranking out sets with authority. No warm up, no stretching, just my dumb “meatheadness” and bulldog mentality.

Fast forward to today and I don’t touch a weight without a fairly thorough dynamic warm up. Part of that is I’m 32 now and can’t meathead my way through workouts anymore, but more importantly I’m a much smarter lifter than I was in high-school and my 20’s.

I was costing myself a ton of gains by not getting my body properly fired up before training. There are two main reasons for this:

  1. Your muscles are not warm and elastic when you first start lifting, which hinders performance and mobility
  2. It takes a while for your central nervous system (CNS) to fire properly and activate your motor neurons at peak performance

Translation is that you don’t perform optimally until partially through your workout, meaning the first exercises (which are usually the most important) you are hitting are probably getting neglected or not performed to their maximum potential.

I came across this from a recent study on warm ups. Note the difference between jump performance when no warm up was performed versus a general and dynamic warm up was completed. In this case, “general” means aerobic activity (light jogging, jump rope, etc.). If you want the full study, you can find it under this title: Effect of Various Warm-Up Protocols on Jump Performance in College Football Players, by Pagaduan, Pojskić, Užičanin and Babajic, in Journal of Human Kinetics, 2012.

I’ll take another example from a very recent experience of mine. I had been experiencing pain in my lower back after squats and deadlifts. I diagnosed the problem as underactive glutes. So the other day when I was scheduled to squat, I expanded my dynamic warm up to target my glutes and get them firing in full force before I started squatting.

The result?

I had one of the best squat days I’ve had in a while and finished the training session pain free.

You can probably take an example out of your own training if you don’t do a dynamic warm up. Think about your performance in the first exercise you do and compare that to some of the things you do 20-30 minutes into your training. I bet you are much more focused, your muscles have stopped being sluggish and are firing on all cylinders, and you are cranking out sets much more efficiently than your first couple of the day.

Do not jeopardize your gains or perform sets sub-optimally because you don’t want to take the time to properly warm up. Every set matters…

Not to mention the injury risk you pose to yourself by going full Hulk smash the first 5 minutes you enter the gym…

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There are two components to a proper dynamic warm up.

#1: Foam Rolling

Foam rolling is a must before a training session to break up inflamed tissue, promote blood flow, and boost performance.

I usually hit my quads, hamstrings, glutes, IT band, adductors, and any trouble spots in my upper body.

You only need to foam roll for a few minutes. I don’t advise rolling a certain area for more than “10 rolls” because too much foam rolling can actually irritate muscle tissue rather than benefit it.

#2: Dynamic Stretching

I don’t really advocate static stretching in a warm up until after I hit some more dynamic movements. Forcing cold muscles to stretch for long durations of time when they aren’t elastic isn’t optimal.

Dynamic stretches that I promote include bodyweight squats and lunges, squat jumps and other jump variations (broad jumps and small box jumps are good options), skipping, jogging, and animal walks (bear crawls and partner walks are awesome). RDL’s with only the bar are great to hit your hamstrings as well.

I also do a series of resistance band stretches (overhand and underhand pull-aparts, and disclocators).

band pull apart
Dynamic stretching is an easy, low-impact way to get your CNS firing, warm up your muscles, and tune up your mobility prior to lifting.

** Now only after I have done some dynamic stretching, I will incorporate some static stretching into the mix, specifically to target my hips and glutes. **

Sample Primal Warm-Up

This entire dynamic warm up should only take about 10-15 minutes to complete.

  • Foam Roll
  • Band Pull-Apart Circuit (10 each movement)
  • Walking lunges: 10/side
  • Bodyweight Squats: 10
  • Skipping: 10/side
  • Standing broad jump: 8
  • Single-leg broad jump: 6/leg
  • Jump squats: 10

After the foam rolling, you could do several rounds of the other exercises to get your body primed for some heavy lifting. The dynamic warm up should be up-tempo with little to no rest in between exercises and rounds.

— Tank

Is There Such Thing as a Perfect Training Program? Applying the 25% Rule

In my previous post, I talked about the four most important components to building a training program.

To recap, those components are:

  1. Your Goals
  2. Volume-Intensity Relationship
  3. Training Frequency
  4. Exercise Selection

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I finished that post remarking that there is no such thing as a perfect program and that all training programs are flawed to a certain degree. While a program might yield results for a period of time, inherently our bodies adapt and our progress stalls. This is where the 25% rule comes into play.

Athletes and lifters have a tendency to entirely scrap a program when their progress stalls, rather than taking a sensible step back to examine the current state of their training and identifying what to manipulate. In other words, 75% of what you’re doing may be adequate, but you need to tweak 25% of it to induce gains.

The key as a lifter is to identify that 25%, make an adjustment, and keep everything else the same. This will keep you from program hopping, which is one of the worst mistakes you can make in your training.

Your Goals

If your goals are the thing you decide to tweak, it is important to know you don’t need to change your overall goals.

Maybe your goal is to add 50 pounds to your squat and you’ve been unsuccessful. You don’t need to change that goal, but you should add in some mini-goals that will help you achieve the big one. Maybe you have weak hamstrings and glutes that are hindering your squat, so your immediate goals should be to strengthen those while keeping your overall squat goal the same.

Volume-Intensity Relationship

This is fairly straightforward to manipulate. Maybe you need more or less volume, more or less intensity, or more or less of both. This variable is also very goal dependent.

Training Frequency

Again, easy to manipulate. You either train more or your train less. If you need to train more, maybe you consider multiple small workouts a day instead of one marathon session. There are lots of options to tweak this variable.

Exercise Selection

This can take some specialization and a good diagnosis of your lack of progress. This will also be largely goal dependent variable.

If you are trying to gain mass in certain parts of your body, or strengthen certain parts of your body to improve some of your big compound lifts, you may need to perform more isolation movements. On the other end of the spectrum, if you are trying to become more explosive, you may need to do more compound lifts and plyometrics.

Closing Thoughts…

Most of the time, sweeping changes to your training program are not necessary to make the gains you are seeking.

Keep the adjustments subtle and apply the 25% rule. Manipulate one of the four critical training components at a time and continually monitor your progress. You will make far more progress using this approach than making major changes each training cycle.

Keep on keepin’ on…

— Tank

Building Lifting Programs: 4 Vital Characteristics

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll notice I don’t put a ton of lifting programs up on my site.

That will probably change in the near future but for now there are many reasons that I don’t. The overarching reason is because I pride myself on educating lifters so they can think for themselves, not just follow a program blindly. The fitness community is inundated with thousands of lifting programs that people can follow, but ask the average user to develop their own program and describe the inner workings of their training and they likely can’t.

“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime”

I’d much rather teach you how to do your own programming so you can sustain yourself over a lifetime, rather than trying to find the next greatest thing after the end of an 8-week cycle.

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So in designing your own lifting program, what are the major factors that you need to develop it around?

#1: Your Goals

Far too often when I talk to someone about lifting, they don’t have a clear definition of what their end game is. When embarking in lifting programs, you need to train to both your short-term and long-term goals.

Do you want to add on mass? Or do you want to gain total body strength? Maybe your goal is lift specific and you want to add 25 pounds to your bench press?

You need to have your end game in mind. If you want to add mass, doing programs meant for powerlifters may not add a lot of hypertrophy, and inversely, if you want to get stronger, high-volume bodybuilding style programs probably won’t get you there.

All of your training must be done with intention.

Never Change The Goal
#2: Volume-Intensity Relationship

To induce a training effect you have to stimulate your body with enough volume under heavy enough loads.

Training to your goals will take care of a lot of this dynamic. Strength seekers will favor less volume with more intensity and the mass seeker will probably favor more volume with lighter intensities.

Knowing the relationship between volume and intensity is paramount and may take some manipulating to make the gains you are looking for. Throughout the course of your training life, you will come across periods where your body needs more volume to induce growth, whereas other times you may need to add weight to the bar to boost your gains. Unfortunately there is no magic recipe for this. This comes down to your knowledge as a lifter, understanding what your body is telling you, and your ability to manipulate your programming to what your body needs.

For some general guidelines on volume and intensity check these out:

How to Add More Volume To Your Training

Crank Up the Intensity

What Rep Range Should You Use to Gain Mass?

#3: Training Frequency

This is how often you train, and more specifically, how often you are stimulating your various muscle groups.

Depending on how you break-down your training sessions, your training frequency may vary but typically you should be training at least 3 or 4 days a week.

Your training frequency will also be dictated by the volume-intensity relationship as higher-volume or intensity sessions may require more time in between training sessions. Rule of thumb for Primal lifters is that you allow for 48 hours rest in between muscle groups.

#4: Exercise Selection

This is a big one for me. I’m a firm believer in recruiting more muscle to build more muscle, so I favor a lot of compound lifts. However, you must be careful when using a lot of compound movements and ensure that you are getting proper recovery and not over-training your nervous system.

This is not to say isolation movements don’t have their merits, but you just have to know when and how to use them.

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In Summary…

There are four major components of program design:

  1. Your Goals
  2. Volume-Intensity Relationship
  3. Training Frequency
  4. Exercise Selection

These are the only things you need to think about when designing a lifting program.

Any time I write a program for Primal, I am building it around these components. So as you progress in your lifting career, these are the things you need to think of in order to give yourself the proper programming to make both short and long-term gains.

As a parting thought, I want to finish by saying that there is no such thing as a perfect program. It just doesn’t exist.

Something may work for a while, but your body will adapt and your gains will stall. This doesn’t mean the program is garbage, it just means that you need to manipulate a portion of the program to reach your desired end state. This is what I call the 25% rule. To read more about the 25% rule, stay tuned for my next post…

— Tank

Will Alcohol Ruin Your Gains? Common Sense Approach to Alcohol and Lifting

To live a fulfilling life, you need to be able to have a good time and relax.

Sometimes that means putting business and training aside, and letting loose out on the town. For a lot of us, letting loose means having a few drinks, sharing some laughs, and maybe even causing a little trouble.

I know when I go out, my “good time” usually involves my friends Mr. Makers Mark and Mr. Tequila Shot.

As someone who takes the fitness game seriously, what you shouldn’t do is swear off alcohol because you are afraid it ruins your gains or makes you fat. That’s a myth, a fear tactic, plain ol’ nonsense. However you want to put it. There is no reason to think alcohol and lifting can’t co-exist.

If you want to have a few drinks , especially after working your ass off for extended periods of time, by all means do it. Reward yourself. If you stay in the grind too long, you will burn out, which in my opinion leads to far more problems than nursing a hangover every now and then.

This doesn’t mean I’m advocating being a heavy drinker, nor am I saying that you need to drink to have a good time. My intention is to just shed some light that a little bit of debauchery a few nights a month will not wreck your progress if you are associating alcohol with negative effects on your strength gains and physique.

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With this in mind, there are two things to consider when drinking that will allow you to have a few guilt-free adult beverages.

#1: Do Not Cave to Drunken Munchies

Alcohol does not make you fat, but a night of drinking does push the boundaries of self-discipline in your diet.

How many of you have hit up a night at the bar, and then crushed the fast food drive-thru or pizza place on the way home for a night cap of binge eating? I know I have.

Nailing down your diet during the day, but then finishing the night off with a 1000 calorie munchie-impulse meal will surely put add some thickness to your midsection. That’s the kind of shit that makes you fat, not a few drinks at the bar.

If you know you’re going to be hungry at the end of the night, have some stuff on hand at home to either make yourself a healthy meal or have something prepped and ready to go that will cure the munchies and feed your physique in a responsible way.

#2: Lay Off the Girly Drinks

Much like I’m a minimalist in my training, being a minimalist as a drinker is important as well.

Complex drinks that are loaded with sugary mixers have a ton of excess calories, plus they will give you one hell of a hangover…

Stick to the basics. Alcohol + Zero/Low Calorie Mixer. Vodka Soda is a good example.

Fancy cocktails should set off warning signs in your mind that say “Don’t Drink Me”.

A rule I give to a lot of people is to “Never drink your calories” and this applies perfectly to this scenario. 800 calorie margaritas on top of your daily allotment of food calories will put you way over surplus amounts, an even bigger problem if you are trying to shed weight and need to be in a deficit.

#3: What About Beer?bud light chick

There have been a lot of studies highlighting the estrogenic effects, carb amounts, and inherent weight gain from drinking beer. While there is some truth to those studies, beer is one of those vices where “everything in moderation” applies.

Having a few beers here and there won’t hurt you. What will hurt you is when you are drinking 5+ a night trying to maintain a buzz (which is why I like taking shots, but that’s beside the point). Do that several times a month and boom, you’ve added a couple of unwanted pounds to your frame.

Moral of the Story

Don’t obsess over whether or not you have a drink or two.

Like going out and having a good time? Then do it. I can guarantee you that the memories you make causing trouble with your buddies will far outweigh the pound or two you see on the scale or that you add to the bar.

Don’t make it an unhealthy habit, but don’t restrict yourself to the point that it has unwanted side effects on your personal life and relationships. I was that guy once in college when training consumed my life, and looking back on it now, I regret not going out with my buddies as much and creating even more memories than I have now. Sometimes you just need to take a step back and let yourself live a little…

— Tank

You Are Where You Train

Over my 16 years or so of lifting, I’ve trained in every sort of environment you can imagine.

No frills high-school weight rooms, flashy expensive health clubs, corporate commercial gyms like Golds, a rock-climbing gym, and even a makeshift gym built out of one of Saddam Hussein’s old palaces when I was deployed to Iraq.

Each of these places held their own merits, and all of them had their fair share of problems as well. A lot of what you find attractive in a gym may come down to personal taste, but one thing nobody can deny is that your gym environment has a direct impact on how much you increase your performance.

I put a lot of thought into this topic recently as I opened the Primal Strength Gym. Thinking back to where I have trained in the past and what is important to develop a results-oriented training center, I’ve been able to key in on three vital issues that you should look for when seeking out a place to train.

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#1: Culture

This is by far the primary problem I see with a vast majority of the gyms I’ve come across. Most gyms, like any other business, are so focused on their bottom line (profit) that they bring in whoever is willing to pay their price, despite what baggage the prospective client brings to the gym environment.

Commercial gyms, like Golds, make a fortune off people that pay for a membership but don’t ever show up. But, on the flip side, what happens when people with poor attitudes show up and kill the gym energy with their negativity? It contaminates the environment and it will have an effect on you whether or not you even realize it.

In the gym, and your personal life, you are a product of who you surround yourself with. Surround yourself with slackers, whiners, complainers, and fearful people and you start to become one of those people. Surround yourself with hard-chargers, ass kickers, and strong, bad ass mother f’ers and you become a bad ass mother f’er. That’s just the way it goes.

At the Primal Strength Gym, I only maintain 50 membership slots, most of whom are referrals. I make sure I bring the right people in because maintaining the right kind of people and preserving the culture of the gym is paramount.

#2: Equipment

I’m going to take the opposite approach you may think on this one. Bottom line, most gyms these days have too much shit in them. Typically, when I walk into a gym, the more equipment I see, the worse the gym is.

You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to get big and strong, and too much equipment just turns into a distraction and throws people off from the basics of hardcore fundamental lifting.

The Primal Strength Gym has 3 power racks, a number of specialty bars, bands, sleds, multiple pull-up stations, heavy dumbbells, and some strongman implements like a yoke, log press, kegs, and ropes. My training revolves around the basics. Most people, with the right programming, can make tons of gains without specialized equipment and training protocols. The basics work…

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#3: Environment

In large part, culture and environment are interchangeable. The environment you create will dictate the culture you bring in and you need the right culture to maximize your gains.

Swanky health clubs and corporate box gyms simply don’t breed the intensity and grittiness that you need to train like an animal. So when you’re looking for a place to train, you need to pick a place that breeds aggressiveness and intensity, not complacency and restraint.

Primal Strength Gym has no heat or air conditioning. The radio blares death metal and gangster rap. A normal person might be intimidated walking through the door for the first time, but a little bit of fear can take you a long way. In order to be at your best you need to rise to the occasion, not shrink to normalcy.

So think about where you’ve been training. Does it fit my 3 vital characteristics? Does it fit the mold of a place that will bring out the best in you? Or are you coasting and wasting your potential?

— Tank

How Deep Should You Squat? The Squat Depth Debate

Proper squat depth is a hotly debated topic in the strength world and you’ll get a lot of different answers depending on who you ask and what their perspective is.

My answer?

It’s two-fold.

  1. In an ideal world, you’d squat to parallel or below. Deep squats are actually healthy for your knees and they engage your posterior chain far more than partial reps.
  2. In reality, most people lack the flexibility and mobility to squat below parallel with good form and without rounding their back. So in the real-world you squat as low as you can with good form, and then you work on your strength and mobility over time until you can squat deeper. Form trumps all so better to squat a little higher safely, then crush your back trying to go below parallel.

Is Squatting Below Parallel That Important?

Outside of power-lifting and some sports (that require a high-degree of mobility), squatting below parallel is not totally necessary. However, the deeper you can squat, the more benefits you will receive and I believe everyone should aim to squat deeper.

If you think about it, we are born with the ability to squat deep and we simply lose the ability to do so over time due to poor lifestyle habits and inactivity. I watch my two year old on a daily basis squat “ass to the grass”, so as adults we should be striving to regain that lost ability.

What Can You Do To Increase Your Squat Depth?

#1: Cue Yourself

Whenever I teach someone to squat properly, I’m usually amazed about how much progress they can make in the first 5 minutes of training just by me cuing them.

The top 3 cues I use are “Chest Up”, “Spread the floor”, and “Sit in the hole”.

  1. “Chest up” cues the lifter to stick out their chest and keep it high, allowing them to maintain good posture throughout the lift and focus on sitting back into proper position.
  2. “Spread the floor” cues the lifter to spread their knees apart. Legendary lifter Dan John said that squatting takes place between the knees, not over them. So “spreading the floor” allows the lifter to get in between their knees and engage their glutes and hamstrings. Otherwise, the lifter tends to make the squat quad dominant and they get out over their knees. Really bad position to be in if you want to stay healthy…
  3. When you “spread the floor” you create a void (the hole) in between you knees, which is where a parallel or deeper squat is made. By “sitting in the hole”, you naturally squat deeper and get a deep knee bend while engaging your glutes and hamstrings.

By cuing yourself, I can almost guarantee you will squat deeper from the outset.

squat depth
By “spreading the floor”, this lifter is able to “sit in the hole” and squat deeply. Notice how his abdomen and torso slide into the void (the hole) created in between his knees.

#2: Crush Assistance Work

Assistance exercises are vital to training your mobility and flexibility that will lead to a deeper squat.

Other than barbell squats, you should be hitting a few of these exercises on your lower body days:

  • Goblet Squats
  • Front Squats
  • Zercher Squats
  • Single Leg Squats
  • High-box step ups

These exercises won’t load the spine and allow you to naturally squat deeper than you would on heavy barbell back squats. My typical rep range for assistance work is 6-12, so a few sets in this rep scheme on lower body days will help you develop the mobility for a deeper squat.

#3: Isolate Your Posterior Chain

One of the few times I recommend isolation work is to bring up weaknesses. In this case, most people have weak hamstrings and glutes. This prevents them from squatting properly, and in some cases causes them knee pain.

Bringing up your posterior chain will alleviate both of these issues. Focus on glute ham raises and hip thrusts. Often times in my warm ups, I do several sets of glute ham raises, meaning I’m hitting my posterior chain directly at least 4 times a week.

Departing Caveats

  • I mentioned this before, but form trumps all. If you can’t squat parallel or below, work with the 3 strategies I outlined and you will be able to squat deeper over time.
  • Injuries, blown joints, knee pain, and other circumstances may prevent you from ever squatting below parallel. With this in mind, squat as low as you can while maintaining a neutral spine. You can still get great benefits from partial rep squats, and then crush the assistance work I outlined to augment your back squatting.

— Tank

Contrast Training To Boost Strength Gains

Contrast training is one of the most effective ways to increase your strength levels, power output, muscle mass, metabolic function for fat loss, and overall performance levels.

contrast training
Sprinting with a parachute or sled, followed by sprinting with no resistance, is a great example of contrast training.

I first read about contrast training in Yuri Verkhoshansky’s Supertraining, but I have seen it employed elsewhere for a variety of different training goals and applications.

The concept is simple. Taking an example from Verkhoshansky and something we’ve probably all done in our lives, imagine picking up a can that was half full of liquid when our mind thought it was full. Typically what happens is we move the can with much more force than we intended and make a big mess. Our nervous system was primed based on past performance and therefore muscle capability was enhanced.

Now apply this to strength training. There are two different ways I use contrasts in my training. I use contrasting movements (an explosive movement after a heavy lift) and I use contrasting tempos (lighter loads with explosive, faster tempo than normal).

Using either of these, think of the above water example. Working in explosive movements/tempos after a strength movement recruits more motor units and produces more force. The benefits are straightforward. The more muscle you recruit, the more explosive, strong, and powerful you are. Contrast training also increases the amount of work you are doing giving you a greater metabolic boost than normal training. And obviously, the more muscle you recruit, the more hypertrophy you can induce (although you may want to up your reps slightly for a hypertrophy focus).

Putting Contrast Training Into Practice

Ok, so you get the concept, but how do you actually implement it? As mentioned before, I use contrast training in two different ways.

#1 Contrasting Movements

Start with a 5-8 rep set of a heavy lift and pair it with an unloaded explosive movement with the same rep scheme. For example, a heavy set of squats followed by a set of box jumps; or a heavy set of bench followed by a set of plyo push-ups; or a heavy sled drag followed by an all-out sprint.

contrast training
Heavy squats followed by max effort box jumps will increase your strength and explosiveness.

Your unloaded contrasting movement should be done with maximal effort. Rest times in between your heavy lift and contrast movement can vary and is goal dependent. If you goal is maximal strength, rest for 3 minutes. If your goal is for increased athletic performance or fat loss, rest for 30 seconds or no rest at all. For hypertrophy, split the difference somewhere in between.

Four to five sets (of each movement) will do the trick. Use the lower end of the rep scheme for maximal strength, and the upper end for hypertrophy and fat loss. You don’t need to use contrast movements every training session, as I don’t recommend training maximally for extended periods of time, but continuously keep it as part of your training toolkit.

#2 Contrasting Tempos

For this, you are doing the same movement (bench, squat, deadlift, etc.) for three sets, but varying the tempo in which your perform it. You start with a set of slow tempo emphasizing the eccentric movement of the lift, then perform a set faster than normal, and then perform a normal one. Here is an example:

Set 1: Using a moderate weight (70-80% of your 1 rep max), you use a very slow tempo (about 5 seconds on the negative portion of the lift) and then pause near the bottom of the lift for 2-3 seconds. For squats the pause would be at roughly parallel, for bench, the bar just above your chest, etc. The idea here is that you keep full body tension. After the pause, you perform the concentric part of the lift normally. This set is done for 2-3 reps, and then you rest for 2 minutes.

Set 2: This set is done with lighter weight (60-70%) but done explosively. You control the eccentric portion, but explode from the bottom applying as much force as you can. This set is for 3-5 reps, and then rest for 60 seconds.

Set 3: This set is done with the heaviest weight (80-85%) using normal tempo (2 seconds down, no pause, 2 seconds up). This set is for 4-6 reps and then you rest 3 minutes.

You perform this series of sets (all 3) 2-3 times, giving you a total of 6-9 sets.

After your last set, try to end your training with the tempo that is most conducive to your goals. For example, if you are a strength athlete always end your training with the heaviest set. If you’re a an athlete and are trying to develop explosiveness, then add in an extra set of set #2 at the end of the series. For hypertrophy, end the series with an extra set of #1.

contrast training
This is perfect position for pausing at the bottom of the squat.

Training Smarter, Not Harder

Use contrast training to help boost your performance, but know how to tailor them to your goals based on the recommendations I gave above. These are easy to integrate into any strength training program, so use them to your advantage and break through your plateaus. But as with anything else, do not overuse them to the point that they lose their effectiveness.

— Tank

Training Finishers for Fat Loss and Muscle Gain

Want to boost fat loss, improve your conditioning, build some extra muscle, and increase your mental toughness, all in less than 20 minutes?

Adding training finishers to the end of your workouts is an extremely effective way to do all of the above.

Most of the time Primal finishers take the form of either high-intensity cardio, a hard hitting bodyweight circuit, or a strength movement with a conditioning component built around improving mental toughness.

Since finishers are meant to be high-intensity, you only need to do them a few times a week and are not meant to be done after every training session. Doing finishers too often will jeopardize your recovery times and strain your central nervous system (CNS), and if you are working your ass off during the main components of your training sessions, they just aren’t necessary all of the time. Keep your finishers to 20 minutes in duration or less.

battle rope finishers

High-Intensity Cardio Finishers

Primal conditioning philosophy centers around high-intensity cardio and using finishers in this fashion is a perfect opportunity to burn some extra fat. High-intensity cardio burns more fat calories in a shorter period of time than steady state cardio like jogging or the stair climber, and it will have a long lasting metabolic effect, boosting fat loss for up to 24 hours after you have left the gym.

Here are some examples of high-intensity cardio finishers:

  1. Battle Rope Finisher: 3-4 rounds of battle rope for intervals of 30 seconds to 90 seconds or more. Non-stop movement of the ropes switching between rope slams (single and double arm variations), rope jumping jacks, and shoulder rotations. Rest 1-2 minutes between rounds.
  2. Hill Sprints: This is the most classic and effective fat burning cardio you can do. 5 – 10 sprints with 1-2 minutes rest in between rounds will do the trick. Your rest period includes time spent walking back down the hill.
  3. Sled and Prowler Work: Weighted sled pulls and sprints, and loaded prowler pushes make for brutal conditioning finishers. Pulls/pushes for 50 feet or more with short breaks in between movements work best.

Bodyweight Circuits

Bodyweight circuits are one of my favorite finishers to not only boost fat loss, but also build muscle and throw in some extra volume to my training sessions. You can do circuits with light resistance as well, but if you worked hard enough during the core of your training session it probably isn’t necessary. Bodyweight yields a good training effect while minimizing wear and tear on your body that increases recovery times. Using a circuit that recruits the entire body will boost the effectiveness of the finisher.

An example would be:

1a) Pushups x 10
1b) Recline Rows x 10
1c) Jump Squats x 10

Perform each exercise consecutively without rest in between. Completing all 3 constitutes one round. Rest 30 seconds to 2 minutes after each round. Perform 3-5 rounds.

Strength and Mental Toughness Finishers

These are my favorite finishers to use. I like leaving the gym knowing I gave it everything I had and really testing yourself at the end of a training session is a sure-fire way to end on a high note. The strength component of this finisher should involve heavy weight but with a movement that has little risk for technical error or injury. With this in mind, I often turn to heavy farmers carries or carrying odd objects like kegs, sandbags, or stones.

You will get a strength, muscle building, conditioning, and mental toughness training effect with this kind of finisher. I also like combining this type of finisher with high-intensity cardio as a form of contrast training.

A couple examples of this type of finisher would look like:

  1. Kettlebell farmers carries for 150 feet.
  2. Heavy object carries for 150 feet in a variety of positions (zercher, shouldered, cleaned, overhead). Keep in mind risk for technical error and increasing the difficulty with different positions since you are already fatigued from your entire training session.
  3. Farmers carries for 50 – 150 feet followed immediately by a hill sprint.

farmers carry finishers

Wrapping Up

  • Finishers are a great way to boost fat loss, improve conditioning, increase muscle mass, and build mental toughness.
  • The best finishers can be high-intensity cardio, bodyweight circuits, and strength and mental toughness movements.
  • Do not perform finishers after every training session because they can jeopardize your recovery times and increase CNS fatigue.

— Tank