New Developments: Changing Exercises & Squat/Deadlift Reading


The New Workout

A couple of posts ago I outlined my new strength program which I adapted from a Mike Mahler program. I stayed with those exercises for six weeks. Now I’m rotating most of those exercises out for new exercises that are as Pavel Tsatsouline says, the “same but different.” This means that the new exercises should look like and require similar movement patterns as the previous exercises.  Here are my changes:

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I’m still doing barbell cleans but now each week I’m either doing cleans 2x/week and barbell snatches 1x/week or vice versa. I’m trying to learn to snatch the barbell and I’m pretty new to it. I’m still doing Renegade Rows and I’m trying to find time to do Turkish Get-ups 2x/week instead of just once. The TGU is very difficult so I figure I need to work on it more. (If you’re not good at something, you don’t like doing it and it’s real hard–then you should probably do a lot of it.)  Similarly, I’m keeping the kettlebell windmills.

I plan to stay with this new scheme for four weeks and change it up again. I’ve also added weighted 45 degree back extensions 1x/week. I believe this plus the good morning will help my deadlift and squat numbers go up.

Why have I rotated the exercises? I’ll let powerlifting expert Louie Simmons of the Westside Barbell Club explain:

“Science has proven that training at a 90% or above for 3 weeks will cause physical and mental fatigue. With the Westside conjugate method we switch a core barbell exercise each week to avoid accommodation. “

Further, from a mental viewpoint, changing exercises keeps things interesting.  I like doing new things.  There are a ton of useful exercises out there.  By cycling the exercises I get to stimulate the mind.

(BTW, Louie also says they at Westside “live on the good morning.” Seems that it’s essential for improving the squat and deadlift. Thus I’ll likely do some version of it for a long time to come.)

My sets & reps scheme is a variation  on the Windler 5-3-1 protocol.  It looks like this:

Week 1: 3 sets x 5 reps.  I work up to a 5RM and do three sets

Week 2: 3 sets x 3 reps done in similar to the 3×5

Week 3: 5 reps – 3 reps – 1 rep

Week 4: Back off.  I may skip lifting altogether or do something alone the lines of 1×10 reps at 50% of my 1 RM.  The point is to take it easy and RECOVER.

Westside Barbell Squat & Deadlift Manual

Speaking of Louie Simmons and Westside, I recently got the Westside Barbell Squat & Deadlift Manual. There’s a wealth of fantastic info in there from literally the strongest group of people on the planet. (I look forward to reading the Westside Barbell Book of Methods and the Bench Press Manual as well.)

Most interestingly, I learned that those guys change their main exercises every week–but they very rarely do the standard issue competition powerlifts: the squat, bench press, and deadlift.  They do variations on those exercises: box squats, board bench presses, good mornings and a billion other variations on the competition lifts.  They use bands and chains to vary the nature of the resistance on the bar.  Different bars are used and different speeds are used when lifting.  Why? It goes to the concept Louie mentioned up above.  All these variables are changed in order to prevent accommodation. If you’ve accommodated to the exercise then you’ve essentially gotten used to it and progress will slow.


New Strength Program: Kettlebells & Barbells


Out of necessity, I greatly reduced my strength training as I was preparing for the marathon. As the stress of running went up, the stress of lifting had to go down. It was a bit tough to give up the weights, but it had to be done. Now I’m back to lifting and I’m loving it. It’s definitely refreshing to let the pendulum swing from the endurance end of the spectrum back to the strength & power end.  My main goals are to see my numbers go up in the clean, press, deadlift, and squat.

I’m a big fan of both kettlebells and barbells. They’re quite different implements but both are very enjoyable to use. Used correctly, both tools can make you big, strong, and powerful. My current workout comes from RKC Mike Mahler and it’s called the Kettlebell and Barbell Solution for Size and Strength Part II. (Part I can be found here.  I had to choose one.  I picked Part II.) It’s a 4x/week workout with two days on/one day off/two days on/two days off.  I like the workout 1) because I get to lift most days of the week and 2) because I get to use kettlebells and barbells in all workouts.

Each workout has one or two of the big lifts (squat, bench press, overhead press, deadlift) as the focus with other supplemental lifts included such as pull-ups, renegade rows, bent barbell rows, kettlebell swings and snatches, and core exercises such as the Turkish get-up, hanging leg raises, and windmills. I’ve modified the workout slightly to include barbell cleans, barbell presses, a one-arm dumbbell press, and pistol squats. Ballistic exercises like the kettlebell snatch and swings come at the front of the workout. The ballistic exercises help fire up the nervous system. The big-bang exercises come next, followed by pulling exercises, core exercises, and a finishing metabolic exercises that gets the heart rate up. I plan to cycle various exercises in and out over the course of several four-week blocks.

The scheme

The volume/intensity scheme is a version of Wendler’s 5-3-1 program. In essence, it looks like this: Each workout is centered around one core lift: squat, bench press, deadlift, and standing shoulder press. Each training cycle lasts four weeks, with these set-rep goals for each major lift:

Week 1: 3 x 5
Week2: 3×3
Week 3: 1×5, 1×3, 1×1
Week 4: deload

Then you start the next cycle, using heavier weights on the core lifts. Again, the Mahler program is a variation of this, and I’ve modified it further. Here’s my version:


  • Double kettlebell swing: 5×5
  • Barbell deadlift: 2×5, 3×3, 6×1
  • Barbell overhead press: 3×5, 3×3, 5-3-1
  • Kettlebell Renegade Row: 3×6+ I’ll add weight once I get 10 reps on each side.
  • Kettlebell swings: 3×15, one- and/or two-arm swings. I’ve also used the rower.


  • One-arm kettlebell snatch: 2-3×5-10 each side
  • Barbell cleans: 3×3, 5×2, 6×1
  • Pull-ups: 3×5. I’ll add weight once I get eight reps on the final set. (I’m bad at pull-ups. The cost of being tall….)
  • Bench Press: as per the 5-3-1 program
  • Kettlebell windmill: 3×5
  • Kettlebell front squat: 3×8+ I’m keeping this somewhat light.
  • Kettlebell swings 3×15 or farmer’s walks.

Wednesday: Off


  • Double kettlebell snatch: 3-5×5
  • Barbell hang clean: 3×3, 5×2
  • Back squat: as per the 5-3-1 program
  • One-arm dumbbell press: as per the 5-3-1 program. I clean the dumbbell from the ground and then press all my reps.
  • Barbell bent-over row: as per the 5-3-1 program, except I don’t do a 1-rep max in the 3rd week.
  • Hanging leg raise: 3×5. Mahler’s workout calls for 3×10 but I’m not up to 10 reps yet.
  • One-arm kettlebell swings, rower or farmer’s walks


  • Double kettlebell swings: 5×5
  • Barbell cleans: lighter than Thursday
  • Barbell floor press: as per the 5-3-1 program
  • Weighted pull-ups: 3×3
  • Kettlebell Turkish get-up: 3×3. These are really tough at this point in the workout.
  • Pistol squats: 3×3, 2 or 1 depending how I’m feeling.
  • Kettlebell swings: I’m often smoked by this point so I may only do 1×10 or I may go as high as 3×15-20

Saturday/Sunday: Off


I’m on my third week of the program. I’ve made good progress. I think that since I was away from lifting for several weeks I have a lot of room to move forward. Plus, I’m eating more and I’ve recently started taking creatine which I haven’t used in a while. All of this should contribute to some decent increases in size and strength.

During the workouts I keep a mind to staying within my limitations.  I don’t need to push to the red line during these workouts.  I’ve written here and here about the risks of going too hard too often.  I intend to work hard but I’ll stop well before the failure point.

I intend to cycle exercises in and out as this program moves along.  I’m not sure when I’ll change them out though. Since I’m hitting most of these exercises only once per week that should mean I’ll be able to stick with them for a while.  I know I need to change exercises when I start to plateau on a particular exercise.  Likely substitutions are as follows:

  • Barbell snatch for barbell clean
  • Front squat for back squat
  • Good morning for deadlift
  • Weighted dips for bench press and floor press
  • Push press for barbell press

Depending on how things go and how I’m feeling, I may focus more closely on the deadlift.  I still want to pull 500 lbs. some day.  Maybe that day is sooner than I know.

Book Review: Easy Strength


If you’re reading this blog then you probably have some interest in getting strong(er).  Since you’re interested in this laudable endeavor, you should know the names Pavel Tsatsouline (just Pavel will do) and Dan John.  Further, you should be aware of their newest book Easy Strength.  The book is targeted at athletes (which really is everyone to some degree) and coaches.  The gist of book is how to get stronger with the least effort.  The idea is to spend the minimum amount of time getting stronger so that the athlete has plenty of time and energy to practice his or her sport.

Most anything from Pavel or Dan is worth reading and understanding.  Easy Strength is no exception.  The book is more than just a bunch of different workouts.  Four quadrants are examined in which an athlete might find him or herself during a career.

Quadrant I sees the athlete (often a kid) introduced to all sorts of games, exercises and movements.  This quadrant is an inch deep and a mile wide.  An athlete in Quadrant II may play a specific sport which requires a mix of strength, speed, mobility, endurance, etc.  Think basketball, football, soccer, wrestling…  An athlete in this quadrant must work on all these qualities and thus can’t be the best at any one quality.  The athlete must live with compromises.  Quadrant III is where most of us live.  We’ve narrowed our focus to a few things but we’re not world champs.  Quadrant IV is for pinpoint specialization.  Here you’ll find weightlifters, sprinters, elite distance athletes, etc.  These athletes have a very narrow focus and thus have very narrow training needs and requirements.  The authors refer back to these quadrants throughout the book, and give considerations for the training needs of each of these athletes.

A quick word on the word “stronger.”  It doesn’t necessarily equate to “bigger.”  Many athletes (and everyone else on earth) need strength but not lots of muscle mass.  Easy Strength takes this into account.  Meanwhile some readers do want more muscle mass.  This issue is also discussed in the book.

Oh, and the book is also chock-full of all kinds of workout programs and reasons to use them.  A continual theme throughout the book is “less-is-more,” and the workouts reflect this idea.  The problem is there are so many interesting workouts that like me, you may find yourself wanting to do “this one and that one and that one and that one too!”  Pavel and Dan would tell you to pick one and stick to it.  Get all you can out of it then move to another workout.  Don’t blend this one with that one.  So I picked one.  It’s the 40-Day Workout.  The workout is similar to the Power to the People deadlift workout.  For a very thorough description of this workout read Dan John’s blog post called Even Easier Strength.  Here’s the basic rundown:

Pick five exercises: a press, a pull, a hinge (deadlift, kettlebell swing, Romanian deadlift), a squat, a loaded carry, possibly an ab movement.  (A pull and a hinge may be combined as in a deadlift for instance).

Do these exercises five days a week.  Do about 10 reps per exercise.  That may come in sets of 2×5 reps, 5×2 reps, 3×3 reps, six singles or other combinations that come out to about 10 reps.  Work hard–but not very hard.  These workouts are practice, not a red-line suffer-fest.  The workouts should feel fairly easy.  You should feel strong at the end of your workout, not flattened and half-dead.  Don’t max out on reps or weight but rather nudge the weight up gradually as you move through the 40 days.

I’ve taken about a month off from lifting.  My goal is to get stronger generally and a little more muscular.  My workout looks like this:

Warm-up: Z-Health mobility work, core activation, jump rope, kettlebell swings, body weight lunges/squats, med-ball throws or some combination of these.

Main lifts:

  1. Front squat
  2. Barbell overhead press supersetted with face-pulls, batwings and some band pull-aparts
  3. Deadlift
  4. 1-arm farmer walk
  5. strict leg lifts
    (Technically there are more than five exercises here, but the additional shoulder exercises are supplemental exercises, not heavy main lifts.)

To get a little bit of a cardio boost I go through the work as fast as I can–but not too fast.  I rest as needed but I’m pretty much lifting as quickly as I can load and unload the plates.  I’ll take more rest as the weights get heavier.

I’m really enjoying this workout.  I get to lift every day.  I don’t kill myself doing it and it’s fun to add a little weight each time.  Plus it’s simple.  I don’t have to mind too many variables.  A couple of my clients are playing with this workout as well.

Easy Strength is a great read.  It’s fairly profound in its message with extremely valuable information from the most experienced strength coaches in the world and reasonably easy to understand.  If you’re even semi-serious about getting stronger–as any human should be–you need this book.


Stuff to Read: Weightlifiting vs. Powerlifting, Hormones & Weight Loss


Powerlifting vs. Weightlifting

To a lot of people the terms “weightlifting” and “powerlifting” may sound synonymous.  I assure you they are quite different activities.  Both sports require the lifting of barbells with lots of weight attached, but the similarities stop there.  (As an example, we can start with the highly ironic term “powerlifting.”  In fact, powerlifting features almost no power whatsoever.  Weightlifting on the other hand features lots of power. You had no idea did you?)  For a very thorough and informative look at the two different activities–and to figure out which best enhances athletic performance–check out this article from titled Weightlifting vs. Powerlifting: Which is Right for You?

Hormones and the Difficulty of Weight Loss

Losing weight and keeping it off is typically a very difficult task for a lot of people.  The idea that it’s simply an issue of willpower is simply false nonsense.  (Look here, here, here, here and here for previous posts on the issue.)  Now there’s another study and another article to add to the pile of knowledge on obesity and weight loss.  Why Dieters Can’t Keep the Weight Off is an article from Time Magazine that discusses recently published research from the New England Journal of Medicine.  It goes into the issue of various hormones that essentially tell us we’re hungry.  The levels of these hormones rise in people who are losing weight.  Further, these same hormones tend to stay elevated post weight loss.  The practical effect is that weight loss is difficult to achieve and maintain.  It’s definitely not just an issue of willpower.  Read the article for more detail.

My Workouts These Days


I’ve got strength goals and I’ve got endurance goals.  Right now I’m leaning toward the endurance goals.  I want to race the Run the Rocks 5k in October (my first race in two years).  I’ve also been mountain biking a lot and it’s been an enormous amount of fun.  Because of this I need to pull back on my lifting.

Overall, I’ll be doing less strength training and more endurance training.  I recognize that if I increase exercise stress in one direction, I’ll have to decrease it in another direction.  Otherwise I’ll very likely get injured and burnt out. What will this look like?

First, I’m going from lifting three days per week to only two per week. This will permit me to perform a higher volume of endurance work and I’ll be able to recover adequately. Next, I’ll change my goals. Previously I was working on strength and power.  Now, I’ll work on strength and strength-endurance.  My focus will be on the squat.  One workout I’ll do a 3×5 (possibly progressing to a 3×3) routine to increase my strength and the next workout I’ll do a 20-rep set for strength-endurance.  I still want to maintain my technique in the barbell clean, so that lift will remain in my workout, but at a reduced intensity and volume from before.  Sadly, I will eliminate my beloved deadlift for a while.  Finally, as an all over strengthener and a tremendous trunk exercise, the Turkish Get-Up will stay in my workouts every time.

Shifting Gears from Strength to Endurance Work: Part I


Springtime in Denver means it’s time to bicycle.  So now I’ve shifted my focus from heavy strength and power work to endurance work.  (I never did hit 500 lbs. on the deadlift.  I did however pull 435 lbs. for two reps.  I’m content with that.)  Endurance activity and strength/power work lie at two opposite ends of the exercise/movement/exertion continuum.  From what I’ve read and in my own personally experience, it’s very difficult if not impossible to develop a high-end level of strength while also training for an endurance event like the Sunrise Century (which I’ll be doing in June.)  Simply put, trying to maximize one area of performance means the other will suffer.  If you try to maximize all areas then you won’t reach your potential in any one.

Terminology: Endurance, Strength, Power

I’ll define some terms.  Endurance work is something like long distance cycling, running, or cross-country skiing.  These are long-duration activities executed well below the participants’ maximal abilities.

Maximal strength work is often a slow moving, short duration type of thing. If you attempt to lift a maximum weight you won’t be moving it very quickly. Heavy deadlifting, bench pressing and squatting typically move slowly. These activities can only be sustained for a very brief amount of time–several seconds at most–before the muscles fatigue significantly.

Power sports require a combination of strength and speed. Think of a shot putter, long jumper or an Olympic weight lifter. These athletes must move a fairly heavy object very quickly. Maximal power may be expressed in two seconds or less.  Power sports and endurance sports occupy the furthest opposite ends of the exercise spectrum.

So what happens if we decide to mix endurance work, strength work and power work together?

Endurance Work May Inhibit Strength Abilities

The National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA) offers a document titled Concurrent Strength and Endurance Training for Strength/Power Athletes.  Here we have evidence that suggests mixed results for combined strength and endurance work.  Several studies suggest that endurance work impedes strength gains.  Other studies show no interference.

Confusion and questions come up when we start to dissect the studies.  The article states:

“Differences between these studies may have been due to differences in the length of the studies, experience level of the subjects, and the training protocols utilized. For example, studies differed with respect to the specific exercises performed, whether strength and endurance training were performed on the same or different days per week, the sequence of training modes (strength before endurance or endurance before strength).”

We don’t have a definite answer to this question.

In my personal experience I run into difficulty if I ride/run a lot while also lifting a lot.  I become too sore and stiff from one activity to perform well at the other.  So I have to reduce one type of stress as I increase the other. Further, I find that riding my bike up mountains quite sufficiently addresses my strength needs. (Now we’re starting to get into the SAID Principle or Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands.  Then we start to ask whether strength developed in the gym has any effect on strength expressed on a bike…)

In subsequent posts I’ll examine the effects of endurance work on power performance.  Then we’ll drive the other way up this street and ask the question, “To what degree does strength and power work affect endurance performance?”



Bench Press Instruction continued


The previous post consisted of the first three videos of a seven-part series on the bench press.  Here are the final four videos.  It’s pretty detailed stuff that you might find quite useful.  It all comes from the powerlifters at EliteFTS.

Key points to remember are:

  1. The bench press is a total body lift, not just an upper body lift.
  2. Keep the shoulder blades pinched back and pressed into the bench.
  3. Keep a tight arch in the low back.
  4. Keep the legs and glutes tight while pressing the feet firmly into the ground.
  5. Hold the breath during the upward push.
  6. Think of pulling the bar apart, or think of pulling the wrists apart.
  7. Keep the entire body tight and tense the whole time you’re under the bar.  Don’t relax.

Bench Press Instruction


Recently I posted an instructional series on the squat (here, and here).  It came from the very knowledgeable and very strong lads at  The next in this series called So You Think You Can Bench.  It’s a seven-part series.  I’m posting the first three here.

You may not be a powerlifter looking for a massive bench press but much of the discussion is very useful. The bench press is a total body lift, not just an upper body lift.  The whole body should be tight: legs, glutes and abs included. There should be a tight arch in the low back. (Dave Tate suggests in this video that you should actually be quite uncomfortable while you benching due to this excessively arched posture. I’m not sure we should spend much if any of our time being terribly uncomfortable.  But the overall idea of tightness and tension is spot on.) The shoulder blades should be pulled back and pressed tightly into the bench. You should think of pulling the bar apart sort of like pulling apart a piece of chewing gum. Watch and learn.

New Personal Record on the Deadlift: 425 lbs.


I’m a big fan of the deadlift.  For some reason I’m fascinated by plucking very heavy objects off of the earth.  I my goal is 500 lbs. I’m hoping to hit it in the not-too-distant future.  My prior PR on the deadlift was 420 lbs.  Today, despite dealing with the remnants of a cold, I pulled 425 lbs. — AND THAT MAKES ME HAPPY!  It’s a good way to start the weekend.  That’s it.  Nothing of much importance to add.

Basic Barbell Training


My newly (re) discovered enthusiasm for barbell lifting has led me to start a new class at the gym called Basic Barbell Training.  As the name suggests it’s a class based around traditional, tried-and-true barbell lifts:  squats, presses, the deadlift, the clean and variations of these lifts.

Getting stronger is the goal.

photo by Jon Tunnell

To start the process, I’m holding several free seminars in order to generate interest in small group barbell training at the Cherry Creek Athletic Club where I work.  Ideally I’d like groups of no more than three people.  The class would meet two or three times per week, depending on how often people can attend.  We’ll progress from simply learning the lifts, to upping our poundage and getting stronger, to developing power.  This type of general strength and power development will benefit anyone from endurance athletes to golfers to anyone looking to improve daily physical function.

Seminar content will include footwear, posture, breathing and tension. We’ll cover two basic exercises in the seminar, the goblet squat and the overhead press.  Both are bare-bones exercises that require minimal equipment.  No racks or benches required.

Though the air/goblet squat doesn’t involve a barbell, it is an essential movement in learning how to squat and deadlift.  The overhead press is a fantastic total-body exercise that translates to real life.  Though only the arms are moving, the entire body must work at stability and balance.

Anyone may attend the seminars whether you’re a Cherry Creek member or not.  Dates, times and location are as follows:

Dates & Times:

  • Saturday, January 22, 11AM
  • Monday, January 24, 6PM


Cherry Creek Athletic Club
500 South Cherry Street
Denver, Colorado 80246

Both members and non-members may attend.  For more information, please contact me at or by calling 720.587.7038.