Squatting for Hybrid Athletes, Functional Fitness Trainees, and CrossFitters

I will go on the operating assumption anyone reading this blog has heard of CrossFit. The term is pervasive in today’s fitness culture and has even begun to be used in general popular culture. In addition to CrossFit, there is another term that has worked its way into the collective fitness consciousness and that is functional fitness. Finally, hybrid athlete is now being bandied about in the fitness world. What all of these terms have in common is they reference a level of fitness that goes beyond the training specialization focus of the previous several decades.

CrossFitters, those who train for functional fitness, and hybrid athletes all become more physically fit across a broad spectrum. CrossFit in particular addresses virtually all of the components of physical fitness: strength, strength endurance, endurance, and skill. A high level CrossFitter is going to be above average at virtually any form of physical fitness.

One thing that each of these forms of varied training have in common is they include movements which are hard on the knees. All of them include some form of running, most of them jumping, and most of them some form of strength training.

The human body is a wonderful machine, but overuse injuries can and do occur and the knees are no exception. Strength training is a key to overall fitness and performance enhancement, but strength training for anyone other than a competitive weightlifter or powerlifter should be used as a means to enhance performance in their sport of choice. Unfortunately, that is NOT what occurs at most boxes and gyms, even at the highest levels. One need only watch training videos posted by strength coaches, box owners, and others to include Division 1 and professional athletes. Poor form is the order of the day, and that is nothing short of a recipe for disaster for the athlete(s) in question.
If you CrossFit, train for functional fitness, or are a hybrid athlete the majority of your lower body strength training should consist primarily of properly performed box squats. The reason for this is simple, box squats train all of the musculature of the traditional back squat, but they reduce the forces directed to the knees. It should be clear, but in case not, reduced knee stress when strength training makes injury on the field of play during execution of the athlete’s sport less likely. It also makes injury in the gym less likely. In short, it does exactly what strength training should do for an athlete by increasing the force production potential of the involved musculature without increasing the chance of injury.

I know, you CrossFitters are thinking this blog does not pertain to you because the box squat differs too much from Olympic style squats. You are concerned your Olympic movements will suffer if you heed my advice. In truth, you DO need to practice Olympic style front and back squats, but not in the manner you think. What you want to do is incorporate the actual Olympic lifts in order to build skill for those movements, but use box squats to increase the force production capacity of the involved musculature. The increased strength production capacity in your lower back, quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes from box squats will then translate into bigger Olympic lifts once you master the skill of the movements. All the while you will be reducing stress to your knee joints and increasing your chances of remaining injury free which is a key to athletic progression.

Watch the video below of Laura Phelps demonstrating both perfect, and improper box squat form. This video was from a Westside Powerlifting Certification class for CrossFitters. Your author is narrating.

Poor box squat form is almost as bad as poor free squat form. Whether you are a coach or an athlete, learn to box squat like Laura. Make box squat variations (different bars if you have them, and different box heights) with perfect technique the primary source of your squatting volume for strength training and you will reap the benefits of enhanced athletic performance and reduced injury rates.

Sequence Your Training for Optimal Results

Sequence Your Training for Optimal Results

by Chris Mason

With the recent massive increase in the popularity of training multiple fitness components simultaneously (CrossFit being the driving force of this movement) the topic of exercise sequencing for optimal results has become particularly poignant.

CF gals

Physical fitness and performance are comprised of many different specific attributes. For example, strength has many forms all of which contribute to the body’s ability to move through space. Strength can be viewed as a spectrum ranging from starting strength (the ability to produce maximal force in the first 30 milliseconds of movement), to explosive strength (the ability to very quickly, albeit not quite as quickly as starting strength, generate a high degree of force), to maximal strength (the ability to volitionally produce the highest force possible). Muscular endurance, the ability to produce relatively low levels of force for prolonged periods, also has a strata with things like speed endurance and strength endurance.


Each attribute above and more must be trained in order to excel physically across a broad spectrum of performance markers. In short, you must get good at a lot of stuff to be a well-rounded athlete. The decathlete has historically best exemplified the all-around athlete, but the best of the best CrossFitters now equally well personify one.
As training time is limited for most athletes those that seek to be all-around machines must organize their training to permit optimized adaptation to all physical traits which are being worked. If all, or multiple attributes are to be trained in a single session the order should be as follows:

1) Technique or skill work
2) Speed work
3) Strength work
3) Endurance work of all forms with speed endurance work being done first to be followed by lower intensity prolonged exercise

Following the order prescribed above will allow for maximized results within the confines of training multiple attributes in a single session. A similar order should be followed when training will target multiple attributes via individual sessions over the course of several days. Care must be taken in those situations to permit recovery of the nervous system after endurance work prior to the next skill, speed, and or strength session. Either a day or two of rest or active rest are recommended.

A Special Note about the Nervous System and Performance

Technique or skill work for athletics are generally understood to be essentially wholly a function of the nervous system. What is perhaps less generally well known is that strength and speed work are also almost exclusively the domain of the nervous system. They may be less known in the scientific sense, but we can all empirically appreciate it as each of us have tried, at one point or another, to perform a high intensity activity when already fatigued from a lower intensity effort and know the sense of a lack of coordination and explosiveness which are manifest at such times.

The Why

In a simplified nutshell, lower intensity prolonged activities exert a negative effect on the nervous system in the short and mid-term. They reduce coordination, increase reaction time, and increase the chance of injury when higher intensity activities succeed them prior to complete recovery.
There is a paucity of scientific explanation for the specific causes of this central nervous system fatigue (central fatigue). One generally agreed upon factor is an increase of serotonin (5-HT) in the brain. This is thought to occur due to an increase in brain levels of free tryptophan (f-TRP) which is an amino acid precursor for 5-HT production.

During prolonged exercise f-TRP transport across the blood brain barrier increases due to two main causes. One has to do with tryptophan and albumin. Tryptophan (TRP) binds to albumin in the blood. During endurance exercise, blood borne fatty acid levels increase. Fatty acids displace TRP from binding to albumin thus increasing f-TRP.
The other main cause relates to branched chain amino acids (BCAA). F-TRP (i.e. unbound TRP) competes with the BCAA for transport to the brain thus a decrease in circulating BCAA will result is more f-TRP being able to pass to the brain. Prolonged exercise decreases circulating BCAA as the skeletal muscles take them up and oxidize them for energy.

A Wrap

While the science as to the specific physiologic cause(s) of central fatigue is scant, there is no lack of scientific and empirical evidence verifying the existence of central fatigue as a result of prolonged endurance exercise. There is also no lack of scientific and empirical data verifying the proper sequencing of exercise for specific adaptations. Take care to properly sequence your training and you will permit the best results possible.

Chris Mason

Chris Mason is the owner of AtLarge Nutrition, LLC and an accomplished author in the fitness genre. He has written for numerous websites and magazines to include The CrossFit Journal and Iron Man Magazine.

CrossFit Legend Chris Spealler Q&A 2nd Installment

CF snatch

Question: Chris, how do you alter your training immediately following a competition?

The competition that you have just completed and the time of year largely dictate the recovery process afterwards. By the way, and to digress from the question for a moment, if you are serious about being competitive in CrossFit it’s a good idea to do some local or larger regional competitions. What that does is give you a chance to “test” your plan for tapering, warm-ups at the competition, meals between workouts, and so on.

For the local/regional competitions your rest/recovery time can be as short as a day, and no more than two. You should be able to quickly get back to your training cycle that will allow you to progress for your main competition. If you are feeling run down it’s a good idea to initially get back to the gym with lower intensity and loading in your workouts. Examples of this might be something that provides built-in rest like and EMOM (every minute on the minute). This can also be great to work on some simple skill development or longer cardio respiratory endurance days since they are by nature of lower intensity.

Following the main competition of the year I typically recommend a week or two off from the gym. Personally, I am usually back in the gym within 5-7 days, but with similar principles mentioned above. Even if you placed well in the competition, coming off of the intense pre-competition cycle can often lead to a let-down. In such scenarios it is best to give yourself the time you need to recharge your batteries. Do some fun physical activities which are not stressful. If a couple of weeks have gone by and you are not yet physically hungry to be back in the gym take another day or two and it could lead to a better week or month of training.

CF gals
Question: What do you recommend to get someone up to Rx as quickly as possible? Is it better to use Rx weights sooner and try to build from there, or scale and then work on strength independently?

This is a great question and exposes what many people fall victim to when starting out CrossFit. First of all, CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program, not just a conditioning program. With well varied programming you will find a variety of loadings, rep schemes, and movements throughout a week that will help increase strength for most beginner to intermediate athletes.

CrossFit has 4 models that help support our definition of fitness: “work capacity across broad time and modal domains”. One of those models is The 10 General Physical Skills. This list was developed by Bruce Evans and Jim Crawley, track coaches in Texas and is as follows:

1. Cardio Respiratory Endurance
2. Stamina
3. Strength
4. Flexibility
5. Speed
6. Power
7. Coordination
8. Accuracy
9. Agility
10. Balance

Our belief is that he or she who is most fit will be best balanced across ALL 10 of these General Physical Skills. If we have excess capacity in one area it usually means we lack in another. Many people make the mistake of assuming that one of these is more important than the other. This would be true for a specialist such as a power lifter, or marathon runner, but for a generalist that is looking to have GPP (general physical preparedness) none is more important than the other.

It’s easy to think that we need to increase our strength to do workouts Rx’d, which may be the case, but the same could be said about coordination, ctamina, flexibility, or any one of the 10 GPS.

Doing a workout Rx’d is a huge achievement for many and should be celebrated. Having said that we still want to maintain the intended stimulus of the workout the majority of the time. Take the following workout for example:

3 Rounds

Run 400 meters
21 Pull-ups
7 Front Squats (225/155)

If you don’t have a baseline to start with regarding how long this should take an athlete think of a Regional level CrossFit competitor, or even the “fire breather” in the gym. The workout listed above for a Regional Level athlete should take anywhere from 7-10 min.

-Run 400: roughly 1:30/round
-21 Pull-Ups: roughly 45 sec/round
-7 Front Squats: roughly 45 sec/round

Each round taking approximately 3 min

These times allow for transition, chalking your hands, breaks between the bars, etc. Some athletes will be able to do it faster, some a bit slower, but the intention behind the workout is for power output. That means that the athlete should be able to move through the workout with a strong pace. Below would be two different athletes that although capable of doing the workout as rx’d, would be missing the stimulus.

Athlete 1:

This athlete may lack strength and have difficulty with the front squat. They may be able to get them done, but the rep scheme for the front squat is singles or doubles with long breaks between reps from the start to complete the set of 7.

The run and pull ups may not be the issue at all for this athlete since they suit his strengths, but if the front squat weight holds him back so much that the workout now takes him 15 min, we have lost the intention of the workout.

Athlete 2:

On the opposite end of the spectrum this athlete may have no issue at all with the front squat but the combination of the run and pull ups slows them down. Their cardio respiratory endurance for the run which is now taking 2:30-3 min, and stamina on the pull ups which forces them to do sets of 5 and less with long breaks to get to 21 holds them back from getting through the workout quickly. If this causes them to finish the workout in 15 min we have lost the intention of the workout.

The majority of the time the workout should be scaled to allow for a similar time domain and power output to be reached. Athlete number 1 should scale down the weight on the front squat to something where they can get at least the first round in consecutive reps. Athlete number 2 may scale down the distance on the run to 200 meters, or the pull up repetitions to 15/round, and if needed, scale both of them.

From the examples above you can see that strength may not be the glaring weakness. And if it is, well varied CrossFit programming including one strictly heavy day/week will increase the athletes strength over time. If our stamina or CRE is the limiting factor the same could be said. Well varied CrossFit programming providing a variety of rep schemes, loadings, and distances will increase this athletes capacity in these areas.

On occasion it is ok and recommended that you give your athletes a chance to perform workouts as Rx’d without worrying about the time. It will give them a victory, and baseline to work from for improving their fitness. Most of the time, in most situations, and most scenarios the workouts should be scaled down appropriately, first with load, then reps or distance, and lastly the movement, in order to maintain the stimulus intended.

Author Chris Spealler
Author Chris Spealler
Chris Spealler is a multi top 10 finisher at the CrossFit Games and one of the sport’s legends. He currently works for CrossFit HQ and owns his own facility (CrossFit Park City) in Utah. Chris’ amazing strength endurance, endurance, and work ethic always made him a fan favorite.

Being Real – an interview with f=ma, Invain and Behemoth

In July, I wrote an article for Wannabebig called “Get Real.” The article was a discussion of my views on the flaws of the bodybuilding media (magazines and Internet) and how those perceptions may act as a disservice to those at the grassroots level who are trying to find their way in lifting.

My contention was that the average person gets bombarded with the exploits of the elite at such a level that “spectacular becomes commonplace”. In such a world, the accomplishments of the average dedicated gym-goer just don’t seem to stack up. This can be a pretty disconcerting, sometimes debilitating, and, at the very least, demotivating thing for many of us.

To be honest, it was something of a rant…and I applaud Daniel and Chris for allowing me to share a view that not enough people have had an opportunity to see elsewhere.

In the discussion thread of the article, chevelle2291 made the recommendation that we follow up with some real world examples of people from our own community who have made impressive yet realistic accomplishments in the gym.

These are real world gym warriors who might serve as better role models for us than the Kai Greenes, Chuck Vogelpohls, and Ronnie Colemans of the world. Not that each of those men have not overcome obstacles and displayed some admirable traits, but they have genetic advantages that put them out of the league of 99.85% of us.

We did not have to look far or hard to find forum members Behemoth, F=MA, and Invain — all have very impressive, natural physiques, and we can learn things from each of them that may help us in our training. Let’s dig into their melons a bit and see what positive examples we can draw…


Twenty-eight year old Tim M. is well known as f=ma to regulars of the WBB forums. No, he is not a fan of Sir Isaac Newton or necessarily even Fig Newtons, but rather he is an appreciator of the end result of Newton’s Second Law of Motion. By increasing his lean mass and ability to accelerate, Tim intends to be a force acting upon his own life. I like it, and consider the screen-name to be the ultimate proactive statement for a lifter (but maybe I’m over-thinking things).

With seven years of casual lifting under his belt, he locked things down and got serious about his lifting only a year and a half ago. Tim does not compete in bodybuilding or powerlifting. Like most of us, he just wants to improve for his own reasons. As Tim says, “My top accomplishment is my physique from this summer.  I had never dieted so successfully before.”

The first lesson from Tim is probably the one needed by most lifters: get started, get serious, and just make it happen. Thousands of lifters (and I have been guilty of this) seem to be in eternal prep, never committing to the ultimate program they want to be on. Nike’s famous logo (you know it) has endured because it resonates with so many people and is integral to any level of success.

His diet involved alternating bulking and cutting phases, going from 185 pounds to 230 and then down to a lean 172. “I didn’t count calories but I counted quantities,” Tim says. “I would have four ounces of rice and eight ounces of chicken twice a day with twelve ounces or so of lean meat for dinner with veggies. Once I started to taper off, the need for refinement emerged.  At that point, I became scientifically precise, with low dietary fat of around 35 grams, carbs at about 220 grams, and protein at about 240 grams.”

In his drop from 230 pounds down to 172, his waist measurement plummeted from around 37 inches to a svelte 31 inches.  He estimates that his bodyfat went from roughly eighteen percent to around seven percent at the conclusion of the diet. Best of all, Tim felt considerably stronger and leaner at 172 than at his initial 185 bodyweight, a clear sign of overall diet success!

Tim (f=ma) – in his own words: ‘A fat 230lbs’

Tim (f=ma) sporting an impressive, lean physique

Tim is an accountant who works a daunting schedule of ten- and eleven-hour workdays. “To get around this, I am up by 4:15AM on lifting days to prep my pre-workout food,” he says.  “I’m in the gym no later than 5:15.  I usually wrap it up by 7:00 at the absolute latest.  I come home, prep my food for the day, and go grind out another day at work.”

His recent training has involved alternating two different training styles. “I’ve most recently bulked on Madcow 5×5 and dieted using 5/3/1,” Tim says, feeling 5/3/1 to be a very effective and muscle-sparing program.  “I did Madcow 5×5 for about sixteen weeks and 5/3/1 for the subsequent sixteen weeks while dieting.”

Currently, on Madcow 5×5, Tim squats three times a week, benches twice, and deadlifts and shoulder presses once, “with some miscellaneous training work here and there.” For those not familiar with the program, it involves a focus on a limited number of basic exercises (listed above) for moderate sets and reps. “I train around strength gains since they are easy to measure.”

Tim is a scientist when it comes to nutrition and has fine-tuned things to his specific needs: “I use extreme levels of structure in food prep and consumption.” The basics though, involve moderate protein, high carbs, and low fat.

Tim’s final comments: “Within the past year, I’ve learned that your planned accomplishments will be met to the extent that the diet matches the goals.  If you have a conflict of interests, expect to be disappointed.  As far as attitude, staying positive isn’t always possible… but persevere as best as possible.”

F=ma regularly maintains a training journal on the Wannabebig Forums, you can check it out here – my journal pt. 2

Tim (f=ma) in the smallest locker room known to man


Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote, “You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water. Don’t let yourself indulge in vain wishes.” What does this have to do with our next subject? Well, it includes the phrase “in vain” which mirrors his WBB screen-name, but even more so, it speaks to the purpose-driven nature of Nick (Invain) Sattelberg’s lifting life. He is not afraid to wade into the deep water and set a course towards his gym objectives.

That course has not been without corrections, however. At only twenty-two years old, Nick has been training steadily for nearly five years. “My focus was on powerlifting and just getting bigger in general for the first three or four years,” Nick says. “I planned on competing and trained with the powerlifting team at the University of Michigan (where he is a biochem major), but I never did make it to a real PL meet. This past year, my focus has been on bodybuilding, although I still train heavy and still plan on competing in powerlifting.” His best lifts include a 370 bench press, 550 deadlift, and 470 squat (all raw), so his future lifting platform success has a great head start.

Nick trains four to five days a week, focusing on one major bodypart each day and using a power bodybuilding style. “I go very heavy with low reps on my core movements (dead, bench, squat) and fill in some volume with accessory work,” he says. “I’ve been training relatively the same way for the past three years.”

For example, he may do:

  • Monday: Back and biceps
  • Tuesday: Chest and triceps
  • Thursday: Legs
  • Friday: Shoulders

While he differs from the pure powerlifters in that his split is based on bodyparts rather than functional movements, Nick does not feel driven to exercise excessive variety.“I don’t do a million different lifts each session like you see some guys doing. I always start with my heaviest core lift first — bench, deadlift/rack pull, squat, military/push press.”

“I do some form of bench every week, but I only deadlift once every couple weeks because my lower back always takes forever to recover. I usually rotate between rack pulls and deadlifts from various heights. On leg days, I almost always squat, with a heavy, Olympic-style narrow stance. Depending on how I’m feeling, I may hit my hams after I squat. If not, I hit them on my back day. Like I said, I like to keep it simple. Some days I literally only do a couple of lifts, such as squats and calf raises on leg day. The key for me is getting in my heavy lifts before anything else.”

When it comes to nutrition, Nick follows a carb-cycling protocol, which consists of a targeted ketogenic diet with one big refeed a week. “Any days I’m not lifting, I eat almost zero grams of carbs,” he says. “On days that I lift, I try to eat one meal with carbs maybe an hour before I lift.”

“I was going five to six days straight with no carbs followed by a refeed on the weekends, but I’ve found the leaner I get, the faster I feel depleted, and a hundred or so grams of carbs before my workouts now makes a difference.” Nick plans his refeeds for one of the weekend days, with a goal of swallowing down maximal carbs, but he makes sure to limit fat intake at this time.

Nick (Invain) showing what is possible if you work hard and dedicate yourself

Nick Sattelberg’s parting advice to other lifters: “The most important thing to remember is that in this sport, it literally is the tortoise that always wins. It takes years to build a good physique; you can’t expect to win competitions after only lifting weights for six months. Bodybuilding is a lifestyle and it demands consistency, but it should also be fun. Don’t compare yourself to others, whether it is your physique or certain lifts. If you are hardworking and dedicated, you will make progress.” Follow his advice and you will not struggle in vain in your pursuit of bodybuilding success.

Invain regularly maintains a training journal on the Wannabebig Forums, you can check it out here – Invain wants to be heyoooge….

Nick (Invain) has some cobra like lats!


In the Jewish Book of Enoch, the Behemoth is the primordial monster of the land, while the Leviathan rules the seas, and the lesser-known Ziz reigns in the skies. In the WBB forums, Rory Parker is known as Behemoth because he rules the gym.

But Rory was not born a behemoth. “I got into lifting at around age twelve, but it was far from pretty,” he recalls. “We had an old Weider weight bench in our garage, and I would sometimes bench press every day of the week, not knowing any better.”

When he was around fifteen, he joined the WBB forums and started educating himself. “I began to realize how badly I had been spinning my wheels. I started training my legs, back, and other neglected areas very seriously at this time. I also learned about bulking and cutting, and while I wasn’t fat (5’8” and maybe 150 pounds at around 14-15% bodyfat), I chose to cut first. To this day, that was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. A lot of lifters get gung-ho to bulk up, not realizing the difficultly of losing the fat that comes with it if you’re not blessed with a great genetics.” Realizing that he is a natural endomorph, this was a crucial determinant for Rory.

Rory stands out due to his determination and work ethic. “My life is bodybuilding,” he says, “Ninety percent of my thoughts relate to the subject.” He puts in eight hours or more a day of serious labor working for his uncle’s residential construction company, so if you think you are tired from you office job, then you just don’t want it as bad as Rory. “I was so worn out after work that getting to the gym, much less getting in a good workout, was very difficult. Over time, I adapted to it and I think that this has been, in part, responsible for my ability to increase my workload over the years, as well as teaching me what hard work really is.”

“You’re too tired to give it your all on leg day, huh?” Rory asks. “Try carrying eighty-pound bundles of shingles up a forty-foot ladder in the dead of summer for eight hours and then hitting the gym for seventeen sets of squats, or maybe some walking lunges with dumbbells equaling your bodyweight for forty to fifty steps. Do that a couple of times and you’ll realize just how far the body can be pushed.” In his quest to become behemoth, Rory believes that flirting with and entering into the overtraining zone is necessary in order to increase work capacity — an assertion I strongly agree with and an area which others neglect to understand. He goes on to say, “Learning how to tap into your superhuman mindset is paramount to acquiring the superhuman physique nature may not have necessarily intended you to have.”

A fierce individual, Rory prefers to design his own training program on the fly. “I go into the gym with an outline of a workout and that’s it. If I have more energy than last week because I had a light day at work, you had better damn well believe I’m going to do some extra sets. However, despite the free spirit in the gym, my lifting is still focused on most of the same aspects that make any lifting quality lifting program successful.” Strength progression (particularly in the major movements) is the most important indicator of progress to him, even though his primary goal is building mass. “Don’t get me wrong,” he adds. “I use a lot of isolation volume, but just like Invain, I always train my big core movements (squat, presses, rows etc) first and strive to progress on them regardless of what my isolation lifts are doing.”

Rory (Behemoth) has a physique many would envy

His training split (which has been recently adjusted) consists of:

  • Monday – off
  • Tuesday – back
  • Wednesday – chest and abs
  • Thursday – off
  • Friday – legs
  • Saturday – calves and biceps
  • Sunday – shoulders and triceps

“I had been working quads and hamstrings separately with two pretty demanding leg days a week, but during my last cutting season, this really wore on my knees and tendons,” he says. “Right now, the focus is getting them 100% healthy and then bringing up my posterior chain to exactly where I want it to be, which may very well mean separating the quads and hamstring workouts again.”

As he constantly learns from his body and tweaks his program as necessary, Rory is preparing to enter an off-season phase. In his past, he has immersed himself in serious bulking, leaving him with more bodyfat than necessary. “I’m making big efforts to make my transition into my offseason less dramatic than it has been in previous years.”

He recently completed a seventeen-week carb rotation-based cutting diet. In this diet, his macronutrients were as low as 240g pro/125g carb/40g fat and as high as 220g pro/600g carb/40g fat on a refeed. “That diet was more intense than it needed to be,” he realizes upon reflection. “I should have added more food for a brief period there before trying to make my final push to sub-6%. Ultimately, I never did acquire that condition, and additionally, I think I even caused myself some hormonal stress that’s just now starting to level out.” This is not uncommon with those with a naturally extremist mindset, but Rory learns from his body and makes adjustments.

Behemoth’s closing advice? “Be smart, work HARD, and be patient! That’s the sum of the whole process.”  He emphasizes the need to constantly learn and work hard! “If you think you’re working hard, you’re probably not. If you have the slightest doubt that you may be able to work harder, then you are probably spinning your wheels. Fight that rep for ten straight seconds if you have to, but don’t be stupid. Don’t go to the gym and try to use more weight than you can, or do anything to compromise your form or safety, but fire every rep out with all the aggression you have. Then on the next set, do it harder. This is hard work.”

Behemoth regularly maintains a training journal on the Wannabebig Forums, you can check it out here – The balanced progression of an offseason bodybuilder.

Rory (Behemoth) showing off the wheels!

Wrap Up

There you go…three successful lifters that live full lives in which lifting is a very important part but not the ONLY thing they have going on. Unlike the sleep-until-noon “professional” meatheads we see in the magazines, chasing their checks from supplement sponsors and living scavenger lifestyles, each one of these men are articulate, driven athletes, working at jobs and/or going to school, making their meals, getting to the gym, and balancing relationships.

What they have achieved is realistic for many of us and should be admired by all of us. Best of all, they are a part of our community and have helped many other WBB forum members achieve similar successes. They are as real as it gets.

Written by Steve Colescott

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Being Real discussion thread.

About Steve Colescott

Known as the Guerrilla Journalist, Steve Colescott has written over a hundred published articles for many major bodybuilding publications, including Peak Training Journal, the innovative and well-respected magazine in which he served as Publishing Editor.

He is currently a staff writer for WannaBeBig.com and has been a consultant to a number of top sports nutrition companies.

With his company, Colescott Metabolic Solutions, he has transformed the physiques of scores of average businesspeople, weekend athletes and housewives beyond their wildest expectations. Steve lives in Akron, Ohio and trains at the ultra-hardcore Body Builders Gym, an Ohio musclehead landmark.

Get Real

Bodybuilding magazines — pro or con?

I find that I ask myself that question often. Do the mags serve their purchasers by providing useful info, motivating stories and inspirational photos or do they erode enthusiasm, misinform readers and develop expectations that are unrealistic?

Let examine the goals of bodybuilding magazines. First off, as in any business their goal is to turn a profit. In the muscle mag industry, that entails revenue from advertising income and/or the sales and promotion of in-house products.

The early Weider magazines promoted both Weider Nutrition products and the IFBB, which they controlled. In its heyday Muscular Development was owned and served as a marketing vessel for Twinlab, just as Muscle Media 2000 operated to promote EAS. With plenty of competition on the newsstands, they need to grab the reader’s attention and the best way to do that is to promise them their deepest wish… preferably delivered quickly with next to no effort!

Publishing moguls in the mainstream like Rupert Murdoch and William Hearst have turned over huge profits based on eschewing accuracy and journalistic integrity for raw sensationalism. Bodybuilding mags have followed that trend. Despite the formulaic regularity in which they each boldly declare themselves “the truth,” they all serve to propagate a number of dangerous myths.

Grabbing just the top twelve random bodybuilding magazines off my shelf I found the following cover blurbs:

  • Be a Friggin’ Freak! Smash Your Bench Up 100 lbs.
  • Rock Hard in Three Months
  • Fast Track to Growth
  • Strong & Ripped in 6 Weeks
  • Gain 10 lbs. of Muscle this Month!
  • You Can Look Great in Just 14 Days. Here’s How!
  • Huge Arms in 8 Weeks
  • Leaner & Stronger in a Month!
  • How I Built 23-inch Arms. Lou Ferrigno Did It — Here’s How You Can Too
  • Super-size You! 23 Pounds in 12 Weeks
  • Add Ten Pounds in 60 Days
  • 6 Weeks to Bigger Pecs and Delts

While some of these may sound possible (in the right situation), most of them seem incredibly improbable.

I doubt we can all build Ferrigno-sized arms and if any training program could make someone look great in just 14 days, then it would be an immediate international sensation and I doubt anyone in the civilized world would NOT look great.

What about the Internet? Do the online communities provide a more grounded, realistic approach to lifting? This, of course, varies. On many online bodybuilding forums it appears as if everyone on there is a self-professed genetic freak with single-digit bodyfat, powerlifting champion strength, and are just biding their time before claiming their pro cards. These sites also tend to be frequented by keyboard hit men anxious to blast newcomers rather than providing a supportive encouraging environment. With notable exceptions being in the minority, random online surfing can lead to a demoralizing experience.

Football is referred to as a game of inches, with every play being a tooth-and-nail battle for territory, driving towards a first down and eventually a touchdown. Similarly, training in the gym is a battle of ounces. Each five to ten-pound strength increase, added ounce of muscle, percent reduction in bodyfat brings us closer to our ideal. It is not a six-week solution or a three-month transformation. It is the cumulative effect of YEARS of consistent hard training and proper nutrition. It is the continued effort, the nearly imperceptible, gradual progress that brings about an impressive physique or notable lifting total.

Some Real World Examples:

Recreational Bodybuilder: Ryan

Ryan has been lifting for four years, beginning his junior year of high school and continuing on in college. A voracious reader of the bodybuilding magazines, he could recite the training programs (each bodypart) of at least a dozen top pros. Naturally skinny, he packed on about twenty pounds in his first six months training at home. While he was hesitant to declare his goals, he dreamed of winning an IFBB pro card.

Encouraged by the twenty pounds he gained, Ryan got a membership at a commercial gym and, using their equipment, was able to emulate the training of his pro role models. After three months, he noticed his interest in training starting to diminish, despite having four versions of lat pulldowns to choose from. He bought a fourth month pass at the gym but only used it twice the first week. He just was not seeing the progress that he expected and he started wondering if something was wrong with him.

After an extended layoff, he came across a small listing in the yellow pages for a fitness center one town over and went to check it out. He found a dusty cinderblock walled gym. Planning to just look at the equipment, he was called over to give the owner a spot since the place was empty and ended up working in with him. The still burning embers of his passion for bodybuilding reignited, he started a solid moderate volume no-BS program that the gym owner wrote up for him.

Ryan no longer buys the magazines or follows the top names in the IFBB. Although he made the huge twenty-pound jump in his first six months, he can credit himself with thirty-five more solid pounds in the four years he has been training. He realizes that he probably will never get on a bodybuilding stage, but people sometimes ask if he has ever competed. Most importantly he loves training and the way it makes him feel. 

Beware of following the flashy training routines by the top pros

Loser No More: Catherine

Catherine has always been heavy — not morbidly obese, but as her mother always said, “naturally big-boned.” Having never really been an athletic person, she was inspired by watching “The Biggest Loser.” Seeing average, unathletic types lose 50, 70 even 120 pounds in a ten-week period made her feel like she could make some real changes in her own body.

After three weeks of haphazard dieting and doing cardio work to the point that she felt like she was going to sleepwalk right onto a treadmill, Catherine topped out the scale without losing a single pound. She realized she needed a coach like the people on the show.

Catherine lucked out; getting a sensible trainer that was nothing like the over-the-top camera preening trainers on “The Biggest Loser.” He mapped out a basic, no frills program for her. He even pulled out a Time Magazine article that showed that the show’s Season One winner had gained back almost all of his weight (weighing in at 307), and stressed the importance of fitting a realistic program into her lifestyle, since she was looking for lasting change, not a temporary solution.

Catherine realized that even though she may not change overnight she loved the way she felt after a workout. Starting her day with exercise also made her naturally eat better. She didn’t feel the need to treat herself since life was feeling pretty good. Training became a part of her routine and she forgot about the scale… until the day came that she realized her clothes were no longer fitting right.

In three months, she had lost twenty-five pounds, although she felt stronger and could see some new muscle in her arms and shoulders. She realized she was not actually “big-boned,” that was just a euphemism for “sedentary with poor eating habits.”

Over the rest of the year she gradually lost fifteen more pounds and gained a little solid muscle. She found that she could treat herself from time to time and her new body burnt it off. She was enjoying the process and, although she did set goals for herself, they were reachable objectives based on changes she could live with without feeling like she was not able to enjoy life.

Slow and Steady: Mike

For Mike, weekend flag football was more about post-game beers and male bonding than athletic excellence. The fun and games came to a screeching stop once a bad twist of his knee sent him into physical therapy.

Not wanting to lose his ability to function, Mike dedicated himself to rehab and found that he enjoyed the process. Once he was released from therapy (or rather once insurance decided to release him), he was determined to continue lifting. With no gyms in the area, he lucked out and found a group of guys online that had pulled together to create a powerlifting gym in a rented two-car garage.

The four guys training in the morning crew were glad to have some new blood and their post-workout encouragement eased him past the intimidation of the hardcore environment. At first he mostly helped spot, load plates and learn proper form. His knee felt strong enough that he was able to pull a sled and do light squats.

Helping the guys from his crew compete in a local push/pull meet showed Mike what the competitive side of powerlifting was all about. While tightening the belt for his team-mate CJ, who was going for a record deadlift, the crowd got whipped up into a frenzy.

Struggling to lockout, CJ looked like he was going to fold when, from the back of the room, a bellowing voice screamed out. A barrel-chested mountain-man with a scraggly ZZ-Top beard and crazed eyes quickly staggered up the center aisle screaming, “DO IT! DRIVE THAT SONUVA…” It was the last bit of willpower that CJ needed and he drove his hips forward to be greeted at lockout by three white lights!

The grizzled veteran with the scraggly beard was on stage lifting CJ off his feet with a congratulatory hug, even though CJ’s record pull had just beaten his own previous effort that day. Mike saw that powerlifting is all about everyone helping one another become their best. He was instantly hooked and told his crew he wanted to compete at the next local meet.

His first goal was just to not bomb out and to get a thousand –pound total. Six years later, he is closing in on an elite ranking. More important than his totals, Mike has found a lifetime passion in lifting. His work problems seem pretty miniscule after a day that kicks off with a good box squat session. He has become a leader on the team and served as a mentor to new lifters that have joined the power garage. He doesn’t miss flag football. The team of guys he battles the iron with four to six days a week are closer to him than brothers. He considers his knee injury the best thing that has ever happened to him.

Six Keys to Keeping It Real

1. Don’t judge yourself based on the superstars of bodybuilding and powerlifting you see in the magazines (or the self-professed “uncrowned kings” professing their superhuman qualities online). If you compare yourself to others, you will always find yourself lacking.

2. While it is okay to set difficult goals for yourself, make sure they can be realistically achieved. Setting the bar too high and being overly self-critical can easily lead to burn out. If you want to choose a role model, consider someone with genetics closer to your level than Flex Wheeler, Dorian Yates or Chuck Vogelpohl. A local competitor or someone impressive at your gym might make a better choice.

Choosing Flex Wheeler as a Role Model may lead to unrealistic goals and disappointment

3. Take time to look back and appreciate the progress you have made and the things you have accomplished. Often it may seem like you have been grinding your gears but if you step away and look back over your progress from the time you started (especially for those of you that have trained consistently for years), your expanded perspective may give you reason to be very proud.

4. Be patient. Rome was not build in a day and neither was a gladiator physique. Powerlifting champion Robert Wagner once told me that the key to success in powerlifting was to stick with it long enough and minimize injuries. Given time you will build a huge total.

5. Enjoy the process. Hard work and fun do not need to be mutually exclusive things. If you don’t enjoy the gym, then maybe you should be doing something else?

6. If your genetic abilities are lower than average, you might not make it as far and it may take you longer, but you can create a better physique and what you accomplish will be more rewarding because of the effort you have put in.

Accomplishments are relative. Placing in the novice class in a small local show may mean as much to someone as winning his first Olympia meant to Jay Cutler. Getting down to eight-percent bodyfat with a nice V-taper for an island vacation may be as important to someone as getting a Muscle & Fitness magazine cover might be to someone else.

Follow these basic guidelines and over the course of your lifting career (while you may not ever build 23” Ferrigno arms), you will in time build a physique that may surprise you. Either way, I promise you that the rewards of hard training are more about the changes you make on the inside than the physique you possess or the lifting trophies that you accumulate.

Written by Steve Colescott

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Get Real discussion thread.

About Steve Colescott

Known as the Guerrilla Journalist, Steve Colescott has written over a hundred published articles for many major bodybuilding publications, including Peak Training Journal, the innovative and well-respected magazine in which he served as Publishing Editor.

He is currently a staff writer for WannaBeBig.com and has been a consultant to a number of top sports nutrition companies.

With his company, Colescott Metabolic Solutions, he has transformed the physiques of scores of average businesspeople, weekend athletes and housewives beyond their wildest expectations. Steve lives in Akron, Ohio and trains at the ultra-hardcore Body Builders Gym, an Ohio musclehead landmark.

Pecking Order

His name was Mario, but due to the stupid looking tattoo on his shoulder, I insisted on referring to him as Canario. “It’s a parrot!” he’d yell.

“I’m no ornithologist, but it looks like a canary to me. Or maybe a swallow? What are you trying to say by having a swallow tattooed on your arm?”

He would shake his head and swagger away, “When you are buying your shirts in the men’s department, you can talk.”

He had a point. I had made some gains, but I had a long way to go. There was a pecking order here, like at any hardcore gym, based on respect. Even though I had become the gym’s manager, I was only about 2/3 of the way up that ladder, which was okay by me. I had started at rock bottom and didn’t think I was ever going to escape those depths. But my story starts a bit further back.

On one of my first visits to the gym, I paid the daily guest fee and was training in the middle of the day. A likeable guy named Gelle was the only other customer in the place and the owner of the gym was taking advantage of the slow business day to get in some chest work.

The gym owner, an imposing, brooding 6’4” mix of Steve Michalik and Vince Lombardi named John, resided firmly in the top position of the pecking order. He was now a competitively retired bodybuilder, focusing more on the business of running a World Gym. Having once been over 270-pounds (and this was in the early eighties) he was one of the biggest guys in the area with the best-equipped gym in that part of the state, which naturally drew in some top competitors. In addition to size and strength, John had a rep for not taking any crap.

Halfway into my workout I heard some arguing. Some guy that looked as if he combed his hair with a greasy pork chop had stopped in and was giving Gelle a hard time about what sounded like the repayment of a loan.

Upon completion of his set, John walked over and brusquely asked the interloper if he was a member. John did not even wait for Greasy to finish shaking his head in the negative, before interjecting, “Then leave… NOW!”

A few minutes later, I heard arguing coming from the leg area. Greasy had foolishly come back inside and was poking Gelle in the chest, to emphasize his collection demand. At the same time, I heard a crash. It was the 120-pound dumbbells, tossed to the ground midway into a set of incline presses. Now John was meticulous about the upkeep of his gym and followed Joe Gold’s tenet about “Drop the weights and you get kicked out.” This was a bad development.

Greasy let out a forced cough as John’s oversized mitts descending upon him, grabbing his shirt (and probably the saggy flesh underneath) so quickly it forced the air from his lungs.

Without even slowing down, John took three to four long-gated steps toward the red emergency exit with his bug-eyed bundle. At this point, he tossed him the final twelve feet (with perfect medicine ball push form) to eject him from the premises.

Now here’s the unfortunate part. The problem with those emergency doors is that you have to firmly press the bar that spans the center in order to disengage the latch. Since he did not impact the door quite right, Greasy crumpled into a heap. In effect, he had been tossed into a metal wall.

John walked over, crouched to get the man we will now refer to as Grease-stain, picked him up as if he was a bundle of newspapers, and while backing into the exit to push the crossbar with his backside, lay his unconscious victim down outside the building as gently as a mother would lay her babe in the cradle. Although trying to mind my own business, there was a brief moment that was both comical and scary in which John’s glance met mine in the mirror. I’ll always remember the “should I have done that?” look on his face.

Looking back, that being part of my introduction, it took some serious balls to have gone back there — even more to approach him with a business deal. The three hundred dollar membership was far out of my reach at that age (I didn’t realize until later that nobody REALLY paid full price) but I wasn‘t about to let finances or the forty-minute drive stand in my way.

Consistent hard work coupled with gradual strength increases earns universal respect in gyms

My friend Vance and I had noticed that the exterior sign was peeling. Stealing a page from the team of Schwarzenegger and Columbu (they got their start in the States claiming to be experts at European Masonry), we told John that we would paint new signs for the two roadside corners of the building in exchange for a one-year membership each. We showed him examples of our “work” which consisted of a few decent looking signs we noticed on our drive home. Had he called any of them to check we would have been screwed, but I was confident I could learn how to paint a sign that would be of comparable quality to the snapshots we had shown him. I didn’t think of it as lying so much as “telling the truth in advance.”

About a week into the project, my buddy lost interest, leaving me to finish both signs on my own. John would check on my progress and be punished for it by being hit with a barrage of training and nutrition questions. I had been training at home for about two years, with very little to show for it. At 126-pounds I was a sad sight. My tolerance for exercise was so low that my hands would shake and I’d feel nauseous after just a few sets of wobbly-kneed squats with dumbbells that most guys would use for curls.

John said that he admired my work ethic, finishing the painting solo after my friend bailed on me. He was a smart guy, and in me saw something useful… a kid so hungry to improve his Don Knott’s physique that he would be the perfect candidate to assume the hard-to-keep-filled opening shift. This involved me being at the gym six days a week at 5:30, getting paid minimum wage and doing all the crap-work like dusting equipment and mopping the gym mats. I felt like I won the Lotto! (I found out later that the previous morning guy had gone to prison for first-degree murder).

Now here’s where that “bottom of the pecking order” thing came into play. This World Gym had at least a dozen competitive bodybuilders as regulars, about a dozen more were past-competitors (that might throw their hats back in the ring at any point), another dozen powerlifters, and dozens of hardcore meatheads in the ranks. In addition, on the weekends, top lifters from within a ninety-minute drive radius would come out to use the leg equipment there.

Every day was a test of humility. The regulars gave it to you daily and I could either develop a thick skin or find a profession in fast food. One day, one of the bigger guys said, “I think there may be something to this Mentzer Heavy Duty stuff. He says the longer you spend in the gym, the more likely it is that you are overtrained and you will lose muscle. Look at Steve. He’s in the gym thirty hours a week and he looks like he’s withering away” (and that was one of the nicer comments).

Being tossed in that environment was sink-or-swim. John gave me guidance and a discount on supplements. Half of my check was going towards protein and I was eating good solid food constantly. I also was following a four-day a week program that consisted of basics and an adaptation of the classic 20-rep squat protocol (see my last article, “Pros and Cons of Various Training Systems” for more on this).

A good thing happens when you get completely immersed in a goal. I started to gradually get less flack from the regulars. This was due, in part, to the big leaps forward in bodyweight (about fifteen pounds in the first three months) that gave me a physique approaching normal. Mostly though, was the fact that for a couple of months, on each and every leg day, I would at some point stagger towards that same red emergency exit that Grease-stain had been tossed into, poke my head out the door in a turtle-like stance, and forcibly evacuate the contents of my stomach. (Yes, I estimated and adjusted intake for the lost protein). I didn’t make a show of it. It would just happen, I would rinse my mouth out with a swig of water, and get immediately back to work.

The top dogs noticed. You can fake effort with grunts and clanging weights but quiet, consistent hard work coupled with gradual strength increases earns universal respect in gyms. Those that have been there understand what it takes. I still had to take some crap (that’s just part of the culture), but it was more closely equivalent to the ball busting I had handed out.

When John decided to expand his business ventures, he offered me the Manager’s slot and a little more money. I became a student of the game and continued to make progress (up to a fairly lean 205) until eventually strangers would notice that I worked out, which may not seem like much to the average hardcore lifter, but was ultimate wish fulfillment to me.

One day, a pimply-faced kid named Paul with the build of a malnourished basketball player walked in. We gave some guidance (not much). They had to earn anything beyond the basic intro workout.

“I’ve been training at home and I want to get huge he proclaimed!”

“When you are buying your shirts in the men’s department, you can talk,” I replied. “Now, let me show you the beauty of high-rep squatting…”

Written by Steve Colescott

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Pecking Order discussion thread.

About Steve Colescott

Known as the Guerrilla Journalist, Steve Colescott has written over a hundred published articles for many major bodybuilding publications, including Peak Training Journal, the innovative and well-respected magazine in which he served as Publishing Editor.

He is currently a staff writer for WannaBeBig.com and has been a consultant to a number of top sports nutrition companies.

With his company, Colescott Metabolic Solutions, he has transformed the physiques of scores of average businesspeople, weekend athletes and housewives beyond their wildest expectations. Steve lives in Akron, Ohio and trains at the ultra-hardcore Body Builders Gym, an Ohio musclehead landmark.

The Hardcore Twelve

The sports of powerlifting, bodybuilding and strongman competition seem to attract a colorful crowd. With literally millions of participants and a monthly carousel of athletes being profiled in each of the multitude of monthly muscle and strength magazines, a handful of athletes have stood out over the past three decades.

They stand out for their trailblazing lifting, their unique personalities and their dominance of the competition. All were driven by their hunger to be bigger and stronger. Most importantly, each of these iron icons stands out because of their ability to inspire us. For this reason, we call them… THE HARDCORE 12!

The Barbarians

I included David and Peter Paul not just for what they accomplished, but for the trend that they helped popularize. We’re not talking about “grunge” here (this isn’t GQ magazine you’re reading); even though their training attire of torn flannel shirts, worn T-shirts and heavy construction boots, are still commonplace in hardcore gyms throughout the world. The real trend the Barbarians popularized was not one of trendy clothing or social posturing, but one of lifestyle and attitude.

Getting bigger and stronger was their focus. The Barbarians trained for training’s sake. They didn’t build themselves up to monstrous size just to win trophies, they trained because they loved to get under dangerously heavy weights and would do whatever it took to push greater poundages. If breaking a PR meant you needed someone to pummel you in the face for a pre-set psyche-up, then punch away!

One of the earlier articles on the Barbarians related the brothers’ outcast status in their hometown in Rhode Island, training their necks on a Friday night while their friends were all out partying. David and Peter Paul didn’t even TRY to fit in. They not only let their quest for ultimate strength set them apart from society; they reveled in their outcast status.

The Barbarians never competed in bodybuilding (although many tried to goad them into it). Why lose size for a title? They never entered a power meet. Every day in the gym was a lifting contest for them. Despite never competing in either sport, they epitomized the power-bodybuilder for most of us coming up in that era.

The Barbarians knew no limits when it came to lifting. At around 250-260 pounds, they were known for loading machines to the max and then attaching additional 45s to the weight stack (or standing on the stack for added resistance). Reports of them squatting 465-pounds for twenty reps, performing reps in behind-neck-presses with excess of 315 pounds, t-bar rows with eleven 45-pound plates piled on, or barbell curls with 275-pounds were commonplace. They pushed the limits and it inspired us to attempt the same.

Defining quote: “There is no over-training; just undereating, undersleeping and lack of will.”

Memorable story: “David was trying to get psyched for a set. He charged up to Ali Malla and told him to punch him. Ali gave him an open-handed slap but David thought it didn’t hurt enough, so he asked for a second one. Ali drew back and drilled him in the face, causing him to stumble backwards. The impact was so hard that tears were running from his eyes. He smiled though because now he was ready for his set.” (from personal interview with Mike Christian)

Ed Coan

When asked exactly how to reach one’s potential in lifting, words like “consistency,” “passion” and “dedication” are often applied. When asked for the best example of these traits in action, one needs to look no further than the greatest powerlifter of our time, Ed Coan. Ed’s entire lifestyle is based around getting the most out of his workouts, recuperating from them, and pushing it further the next day.

Coan came into powerlifting with all the subtlety of a cruise missile. At the 1983 USPF Nationals, Ed Coan stunned the powerlifting world by coming second in the 181-pound class to power legend Mike Bridges while still a teenager. Since then he has dominated the sport – collecting thirteen national championships, eleven world titles and nearly sixty world records. He has totaled a mind-boggling 2463 while weighing 220 pounds. His top squat is 1038 pounds. His best competition bench press is a respectable 578, (although he has done 585 in the gym). In the deadlift, he has pulled an earth-shaking 901 pounds. While these lifts have since been beaten, Coan did them in the years before triple-ply engineered bench shirts and support gear bumped lifts by up to a hundred pounds.

Outside of being the “Michael Jordan of powerlifting,” Coan has impressed his fans by being a true champion in how he deals with others. He is an enthusiastic teacher, generously sharing his lifetime of knowledge with other lifters at all levels.

Defining quote: “I cough up a lot of bloody hockers when I squat in the 700s. Strangely enough, it’s not a problem when I am using over 800-pounds.”
(Overheard in a conversation in the gym with fellow champion Rob Wagner)

Ronnie Coleman

While no one doubted that Ronnie Coleman had great genetics when he entered the pro ranks, no one (including himself) knew he would go on to become a bodybuilding legend. His climb up the bodybuilding ranks was gradual, winning the IFBB World Championships heavyweight class in 1991 and struggling as a professional, not winning his first pro contest until 1995.

In 1998, Coleman hit his stride, winning five out of six pro shows and putting Kevin Levrone and Flex Wheeler on notice. Still, when Dorian Yate’s retirement left the Olympia title undefended, few thought Coleman would snatch the Sandow from heir-apparent Wheeler. Once the title was his, Coleman guarded it closely, pushing his physique to a monstrous 285-pounds.

While his genetics are undeniable, it is his Spartan work ethic that sets him above the competition. Some of his regular accomplishments in the gym include: barbell lunges the length of the parking lot with a 225-pound bar; 805-pound doubles in the deadlift; flat dumbbell presses with a pair of 200-pounders for twelve reps; bench presses with 495 for five reps; 855-pound squats, front squats with 585-pounds for sets of five; leg presses with 2,250 for sets of eight; bent rows with 495 for eight reps; t-bar rows with 585 for nine and alternate curls with 75-pounders for sixteen reps. He has forged every pound of muscle on his physique through intense effort.

After eight consecutive Olympia wins, training at Ronnie’s level took its toll and eventually injuries relegated him to second place at the 2006 Olympia and a fourth in 2007. His competitive spirit however makes retirement impossible and rumors of a return to competition seem likely since the intensity of his training has changed little in recent years.

Defining quote: “‘Aint nuthin’ but a peanut.”

Memorable story: Going from not making the top fifteen in the Mr. Olympia in 1992, to dominating the contest from 1998 to 2005, Ronnie Coleman has displayed the humility and perseverance that makes him respected by every bodybuilder. When he collapsed to the floor upon winning his first Olympia, every fan in the audience felt like one of their own had emerged victorious.

John DeFendis

Sustained focus is John DeFendis’ greatest trait, whether that involves three-months of ultra-strict dietary deprivation or four hours of gut-wrenching intensity in the gym. When DeFendis sets himself on a one-track targeted goal NOTHING stands in his way. All factors are ignored in his laser-like focus, whether they are personal demons, social commitments, financial considerations or natural disasters.

His tales of “Intensity or Insanity?” training with Steve Michalik are legendary. Their workouts incorporated forty to sixty sets per bodypart, with poundages that most lifters couldn’t even budge for a single set. Training sessions included a grab bag of supersets, giant sets, drop sets, vomiting, hospitalization, and unprecedented growth and muscle density. Where some have experienced that, Michalik and DeFendis both had the passion and hunger to pull it off on a daily basis. The dozens of “wannabe” training partners they left in their wake didn’t.

In the process, DeFendis built a physique that combined rugged, powerful thickness with God-given shape and pleasing lines. His muscle density is unparalleled to this day. This allowed him to step out of retirement after a long competitive hiatus to demolish all favorites in the 1988 NPC USA championships.

Ultimately, for DeFendis, bodybuilding was not about collecting trophies. It was about enduring everything it took in the gym and the sacrifices in his life to get on that stage. When DeFendis uses the word “champion,” it has a different, deeper meaning. His version of the word implies lifelong dedication and inhuman levels of sacrifice for an ideal greater than mere individual glory. It is in that day-to-day internal battle, that constant uphill Sissiphian struggle that a champion is made.

Despite redirecting his focus on a career as Florida’s top personal trainer, DeFendis still trains in his “Intensity or Insanity?” style and looks about four weeks from getting on stage year-around.

Why? Because being a champion is not just a catchphrase for him, it’s the very core of his identity.

Memorable story: DeFendis should have never asked his mentor Mr. America winner Steve Michalik, what it would take for him to win the USA Championships on their visit to Jones Beach. Michalik answered by holding his student underwater until rendered unconscious. The words of wisdom imparted later to DeFendis by his insane mentor: “When you want to win as badly as you wanted that breath of air… then come back and see me! That’s what it will take for you to be the best!”

Defining quote: “It didn’t matter to me that I was waking up at 5:00 in the morning to eat egg whites so that I could be at the gym by 6:30, and it didn’t matter that I was dragged through the last half of the workout like the gladiator in the chariot scene from the movie Ben Hur. What did matter was the fact that I was training with Mr. America and that even though he was mentally and physically beating the living shit out of me day after day, I was improving dramatically.”

Mike Francois

It’s a classic story – “boy goes to the seminary to become a priest, boy meets girl, boy leaves the seminary to become one of the greatest bodybuilding champions of all time!”

Winning a US national-level bodybuilding title is an impressive accomplishment. The fact is though, if you count each of the class winners, we get about a dozen of those a year (seven or eight of which get an IFBB pro card). Few of these make much of an impact once they enter the pro scene. Francois was a notable exception. After winning the heavyweight and overall at the 1993 NPC Nationals, he went on to win his pro debut, the Chicago Pro Show. He followed this up with victories at the San Jose Pro Show, Night of Champions and the Arnold Classic. In the process, he beat such pro heavy-hitters as Flex Wheeler, Nasser el Sonbaty, Ronnie Coleman, Vince Taylor, Kevin Levrone and Lee Labrada.

Mike Francois mixed modern physique standards with a work ethic common in earlier eras. Like lifters of old, he not only concentrated on the basic power movements but would even train at times with powerlifters. Being from Columbus, Francois trained for periods with Louie Simmons’ crew of elite lifters at Westside Barbell, earning the respect of powerlifting‘s top champions.

Being a true power-bodybuilder, Francois ushered in a return to hardcore training basics. In the gym, he would deadlift up to 800-pounds and has squatted 735 for sets of five. Powerful quads and thick spinal erectors were just a part of his overall contest-winning physique. Because of his popularity, hundreds of young lifters were introduced to heavy rack deadlifts and the power-bodybuilding training style.

Although his professional career was cut short by colitis (a chronic digestive disease), Francois has not left the bodybuilding world. He still lifts regularly, promotes the Mike Francois Classic (which is becoming one of the Midwest’s top amateur qualifiers) and has helped numerous top bodybuilders prepare for National-level competition.

Defining quote: “Within myself I have a great drive.”

Memorable story: “Every time I would leave Westside Barbell, I would drive back with my seat almost fully reclined since my back was so tight. I don’t know how I managed to avoid wrecking my car. I could barely see over the dashboard to steer but I needed to get home to eat. The training was rough but result-producing.”

Kirk Karwoski

Karwoski is powerlifting’s raging bull. Where Ed Coan focuses his intensity towards the precision execution of his lifts, “Captain Kirk” attacks the bar with the unbridled rage of a category-5 hurricane. Early lifting footage of Karwoski shows sloppy form but an ability to manhandle huge weights through a mixture of natural genetics, unbridled rage and pure strength of will.

This brute strength led to a world record 1,003 pound squat in the 275-pounds class, increasing the record a full hundred pounds! Renowned for his squat (he has done a half-ton for two reps in training), Karwoski also has deadlifted 825 and benched 585 in the gym, in the era before the “advances” in lifting gear that record holders enjoy today. As a side effect, he built a huge 275-pound (at close to 10% bodyfat) physique that would not be out of place in a physique contest.

Old powerlifters never seem to retire (unless forced by injuries) and Karwoski is no exception. After eight years off a meet platform, The Captain returned, competing raw (with no support gear, save a lifting belt) to score a 826 squat, 463 bench press and a 771 deadlift. In the process of his squat attempt, he tore the vastus internus on his right leg, which didn’t keep him from pulling his big deadlift. It remains to be seen if he will compete again.

Karwoski has also given back to the sport, mentoring numerous rising stars and coaching national teams. In addition to his encyclopedic knowledge of the sport, he is also an authority on the strip clubs in the vicinity of each national meet.

Defining quote: “Most powerlifters share some common defects. We, as a whole, for whatever reason, love to punish, beat and torture ourselves beyond the limits of mind and body.”

Other defining quote: “If you touch that bar, I’m going to kill you!” (to a spotter)
Memorable story: The off-stage exploits of Karwoski are numerous and legendary, but since the statutory limit on many of these has not run out, the fact that he has squatted five reps with 800-pounds in the gym is the most impressive.

Bill Kazmaier

Although spending time as an IPF World Champion powerlifter, professional wrestler and football player, Bill Kazmaier is best known for his three-year reign as the World’s Strongest Man. It is even speculated that the organizers decided not to invite him back for a number of years to avoid a one-man dominance. His legendary battles with Jón Páll Sigmarsson for the WSM title have made reruns of the competition still popular a decade later.

As a powerlifter, Kaz set a long-standing bench record of 661-pounds (although he reportedly benched 633 for a triple in the gym). It wasn’t until improved support gear came into play that this record was broken. In addition, he posted a 925-pound squat, a big 887-pound deadlift and a 2,425 total.

If these accomplishments were not enough, Kaz follow in the old-time strongman tradition by performing a number of exception strength feats. He inflates hot water bottle to bursting with his lungs, rips phonebooks and license plates in half, and rolls frying pans up into coils with his bare hands. He is one of a handful of men able to lift and press the Thomas Inch dumbbell, an unwieldy 172-pound dumbbell with an excessively thick 2½-inch handle, making gripping the weight a supreme challenge. In fact, standing upright with the weight (a one-handed deadlift) is a popular test of strength among elite lifters.

Not only does Kaz possess single-rep strength, he has repped-out with big poundages: barbell curls with 315 for fifteen reps, 500 pounds in the bench press for 15 reps, 17 reps in shoulder presses with 121-pound dumbbells and ten reps with 800 in the squat!

In his fifties, Kaz still possesses a lean powerful build, in close to the best (if not the biggest) condition of his life. Lean but still thickly muscled, his 23-inch guns seem to have lost little of their size. He is active as a speaker, exercise equipment distributor and product spokesman. Always a gracious and humble champion, he is revered and admired by two decades of iron athletes.

Defining quote: “Yeah, I actually think I am the strongest man who ever lived. Yes, I’ll make that statement.” (in an WSM interview)

Memorable story: So dominant was Kazmaier’s competitive nature that when entering a goldfish-eating contest with a cash prize, he swallowed an all-time record 1,000 live fish, even though that number quadrupled that of the runner-up. Kaz’s strategy? Rather than fish them out one at a time, he gulped down the fish and water together.

Tom Platz

Tom Platz brought a new level of professionalism to bodybuilding, bringing bodybuilding closer to the level of world-class athletes in mainstream sports such as baseball and tennis. As spokesman and athletes’ rep for Vince MacMahon’s short-lived WBF, Platz’s influence is still being felt, with dozens of athletes receiving endorsement contracts, a state of affairs nonexistent before the WBF.

Platz was far from being a “stuffed suit” executive though. He was, first and foremost, a hardcore “in-the-trenches” lifter. In this capacity, he increased awareness of our ability to push our limits in both training and in physique freakiness. His quads were decades ahead of their time, displaying fullness and cross-striation in areas where others didn’t even have development.
His hamstring separation is stupefying, with deep crevasses and paper-thin shrink-wrapped skin causing the tissue to stand out in bold relief.

Most impressively, the heavy-legged Platz managed to bring his upper body up to nearly the level of his legs in order to capture a controversial third-place finish in the ’81 Olympia. This was to the outrage of the audience, who acknowledged Platz as superior in physique, conditioning and presentation than both the winner and runner-up.

Platz eloquently spoke about the spiritual side of training but, rather than waxing on about “enlightenment” and achieving peace, his deep inflections were geared towards more immediately practical ends – pushing his body to brutally harsh levels of gym performance. Refraining from incense and mantras, the Golden Eagle invoked high-rep squatting as his means to transcend to another level.

His squat poundages include a single with 855 (in full-depth high-bar bodybuilding style), 635 pounds for 8-12 reps, routinely squatting 300-400 pounds for sets of 25-50 reps (with his best being 515 pounds for 30 reps) and he has even squatted 225 pounds for ten-minutes straight. Give that a try and tell me you don’t have a religious experience.

Defining quote: “When I walked out on stage I wanted to make the judges drop their pencils and say, ‘WHAT in the hell is that?!?'”

Memorable story: In the early seventies, Platz arrived in California with less than $50 in his pocket, lived in small apartment in Santa Monica with over a dozen other guys but knew he wanted to be a champion bodybuilder.

Benny Podda

Benny “the Beast of the East” Podda is the quintessential “Rocky” story applied to bodybuilding. With modest physical potential but enough heart for a battalion of warriors, he pushed his body to the very edges of its potential. In the process, he won the light-heavyweight class at the 1983 USA Championships, along with a handful of top-five placings in other national-level shows. More importantly was the army of Podda fans he attained due to his hardcore training and colorful personality.

Lacking a graceful structure or beautiful lines, Podda won shows by virtue of extreme shredded and vascular muscularity and thickness. His frame was so crowded with muscle and sinew that he resembled a muscled fireplug. At a height of 5’6 and up to 255-pounds of powerful muscle, Podda was known as a ferocious and powerful trainer. His workouts included squatting with up to 850 pounds, deadlifting 800 and 500-pound bent rows. More than just a low-rep man, Benny reveled in his ability to block the burning pain and oxygen debt that accompanies high reps as well. Hearing that Platz occasionally would perform 50-rep squat sets with 315-pounds, Benny took things a few steps further, reproducing that for FIVE sets each leg workout.

Legend has it that in his early competitive years, Podda lived in a small windowless room, his furnishings consisting of a bedroll and a stack of books. His Spartan lifestyle was a purposeful attempt to avoid distractions from his goals. So devoted was he to his goals that “The Beast” would wake up three hours before his 6:30 AM workout to perform Taoist meditation.

As intense as his training was, Podda was equally intense as a performer. It was common for members of the crowd at every one of his guest-posings to cry out “Bleed for us Benny!” to which Podda would tense and strain until his high blood pressure-aided sinuses would burst, causing a hemorrhage of blood to spurt from his nostrils. (He is currently rumored to be living as a hermit in a cave in California).

Defining quote: “Sometimes the workouts are so hard you think your eyeballs are going to pop right out of your head.”

Memorable story: Jim Manion, who owned the gym in which Podda trained (Manion’s Gym in Carnegie, PA), relayed the following story to me:

“I arrived back at the gym from doing some errands to find the front desk manager in a panic. Benny had been doing heavy seated cable rows with the full stack and three or four 45-pound plates added on. The weight was a total of 470-pounds. A couple reps into his set, the cable abruptly snapped, causing the handle to crash into Benny’s face. He split the bridge of his nose open and blood was gushing everywhere. So I told the desk guy, ‘Ferchrissakes, just drive him to the hospital then.’ He said, ‘I would, but he refuses to leave until he finishes his workout.'”

Jón Páll Sigmarsson

A charismatic showman, Iceland’s Jón Páll Sigmarsson, known as the Viking Warrior, shaped the World’s Strongest Man contest into what it is today. He dominating the sport in the eighties with four WSM overall wins (in ’84, ’86, ’88 and ‘90), and six World Muscle Power Championships (‘85-87, ‘89-91). His most impressive feat may be winning the Pure Strength challenge against the great British strongman Geoff Capes and then American legend Bill Kazmaier, winning eight out of ten events.

The Icelander was a natural in front of the camera. His aggressive proclamations and witty comments backed up his intense desire to win. Sigmarsson drew inspiration from stories of his Icelandic Viking ancestors and focused this into his drive to excel. His victory cry of “I am the Viking! I am the strongest!” would send the crowd into a frenzy.

Sigmarsson was also adept at the other iron sports, winning the Commonwealth Highland Games in Scotland (1986), the European Powerlifting Championships and even competing in Olympic lifting earlier in his career. He was also a champion bodybuilder, his lean 6’3″ 294-pound physique winning both 1984 Icelandic Bodybuilding Championships and an IFBB pro card.

Dying at only 33 years of age, we will never know how many more titles this charismatic champion would have won or the ultimate level his strength may have reached.

Defining quote: “I think you will see me switch on the crazy switch later in the competition.” (from World Strongest Man coverage)

Memorable story: Sigmarsson was known to have said, “There is no point on being alive if you cannot deadlift.” Ironically, Jón Páll Sigmarsson clinched his inclusion in The Twelve by dying in gym combat. In 1993, he suffered a massive heart attack while repping out in heavy deadlifts in his gym.

Dorian Yates

Yates was constantly pushing the envelope, both in the gym and with his physique. Nicknamed “the Shadow,” Dorian would retreat from the spotlight to his Birmingham, England-based Temple Gym and systematically recreate his already Olympia-dominating physique. Guest-posing a few months out from the Olympia at mid-300s bodyweight, competitors would declare that Yates had blown it; he would never be able to get into championship shape in time. Each time, the Shadow proved them wrong.

Yates was passionate about training, making each workout into a competition, and when Dorian competed, nothing kept him from winning. Never one to rest on his “best in the world” laurels, Yates appeared each year with dramatic muscle gains and bigger bodyparts. Some may argue his conditioning or lines may have been better in one particular year or another, but no one can competently claim that his physique did not indicate a year of ass-busting effort had taken place since his previous title defense.

This level of effort came with a price. His final Olympia appearance was severely hampered by a disfiguring triceps and lat tear. He competed with injuries, not allowing excuses to force him out of his title. After a final win, he retired on his own terms but continues to train (and intends to ALWAYS do so). Yates was in it to win, not just collect a check. He was, and is, a competitor. If he were to choose to reenter the Olympia ten years after his retirement, one would be foolish to count him out.

Defining quote: “The Americans seem to be quite complacent and laidback, especially with their training. When I go to America it seems like I never see anyone really training very hard in the gyms where, back in England, there’s more of a working-type ethic. The guys in the gym are really going for it and really training hard. They might not have the sophisticated kind of facilities they have in the States but there’s a lot more heart and a lot more guts.”

Honorable Mentions

Johnnie Fuller: “You can either train hard or you can train long.” Well, DeFendis and Michalik proved that not to be true. Fuller also fits into the sixty-sets per bodypart workout club but adds dietary strictness that would make Ghandi look like a binge-eater.

Rich Gaspari: Perhaps Gaspari did more to push his genetics than any man to ever win an IFBB pro show. On the way, he showed us that a thick, densely muscled physique could also be ripped to shreds. The Dragonslayer may have just missed snagging the Olympia crown multiple times, but his attitude and accomplishments inspired more lifters than three average Sandow-holders combined!

Louie Simmons: It may have taken him thirty years, but Louie finally joined the 900-pound squat club – and at over fifty years of age! Few things could inspire like sustained determination like that. Not only has he personally pushed himself to new levels of strength, but he epitomizes the thinking man when it comes to training. No man since Dr. John Zeigler has been responsible for helping lifters put more weight on their totals.

Jeff King: Legs like Platz and a neck that looks like a 21-inch bundle of steel cables. Although he seemed like a sure-fire future Mr. Olympia, Jeff was perhaps the freakiest bodybuilder that most people have never heard of.

Bertil Fox: I know what you’re thinking – Fox got screwed just because he pulled an O.J. Simpson. Not quite. The Brutal One made the “honorable mentions” because of his thickly muscled frame and prodigious strength. He missed The Twelve because he let himself wither down to nothing for his double-homicide trial. If Fox wants to die a hardcore legend, he should try to snap the hangman’s rope by weighing a shredded 270!

Magnus ver Magnussen: This four-time World’s Strongest Man winner also has racked up two European Powerlifting Championships with an impressive 880-pound squat, 604-pound bench press, 825-pound deadlift and three-lift total of 2233-pounds. He has continued the Icelandic tradition of strength pioneered by the great Jón Páll Sigmarsson.

Andreas Munzer: Noted as one of the most hard-training athletes, Munzer was able to go from a man known for being shredded, to a MASSIVE and shredded champ. R.I.P. brother.

Mike Mentzer: This one-time mass god didn’t seem to train in his later days due to his obsession over philosopher Ayn Rand. “Alex, give me L. Ron Hubbard to block.”

Branch Warren: Certainly the next to step into the role left open by Mike Francois and Dorian Yates, Branch eschews the beach-bod for freakish vascularity, prodigious strength, and plenty of thick and grainy mass.

Chuck Vogelpohl: What could be more hardcore than spending two decades as the de facto alpha dog at Westside Barbell? How about an 800-pound deadlift and being the first man to squat half-a-ton at 220-pounds (the first time anyone under 275 has done it).

Steve Michalik: The vomit-covered path of devastated training partners locked this guy an honorable mention spot. His unfortunate talkshow admissions that “steroids made me an A-hole” make us drop him to “honorable mention” status.

Dave Palumbo: Using his brain to push muscle mass to the next level, and being persecuted by judges all the while…

Vic Richards: Incredibly full muscle bellies and mass that was a decade ahead of its time. Vic was as huge and strong as they come but you shouldn’t talk about being better than the Olympians if the only contest you’ve ever won is the national championship in a starvation-ravaged third-world country.

Casey Viator: Imagine what it would be like to be the best-built man in the country (we all have). Now imagine achieving that goal while still a teenager. At nineteen years of age, Casey Viator was the youngest Mr. America winner ever. The clincher? All of the men on this list have experienced injuries in their quest for greatness but only Casey can proudly claim to have lost half a finger during training. Hell yeah!

Mike Miller: Mike “Rage” Miller’s tattoo (“Never demand what you cannot take by force”) says it all. He leads the Pennsylvania chapter of the Metal Militia with a 1,200 pound squat and 755-pound bench press.

Don Ross: The Ripper did everything he could to pack on mass, made fun of those that did aerobics, ate plenty of red meat and died young – sounds like he covered all his bases.

Tim Belknap: Although he earned his reputation as a world class A-hole, Belknap carried a level of mass that foreshadowed the polypharmacists that followed him.

Gary Taylor: This British World’s Strongest Man winner was huge, ungodly strong and even once had a leg crushed by a 700-pound tractor tire that flipped the wrong way during an event. To clinch things, this guy works and trains in a prison!

Written by Steve Colescott

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If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – The Hardcore Twelve discussion thread.

About Steve Colescott

Known as the Guerrilla Journalist, Steve Colescott has written over a hundred published articles for many major bodybuilding publications, including Peak Training Journal, the innovative and well-respected magazine in which he served as Publishing Editor.

He is currently a staff writer for WannaBeBig.com and has been a consultant to a number of top sports nutrition companies.

With his company, Colescott Metabolic Solutions, he has transformed the physiques of scores of average businesspeople, weekend athletes and housewives beyond their wildest expectations. Steve lives in Akron, Ohio and trains at the ultra-hardcore Body Builders Gym, an Ohio musclehead landmark.

A Day in the Life of Dave Tate


The alarm goes off signaling for me to get my ass up and moving. Today is dynamic squat day and I have to be in the gym by 8:15 to begin the session by 8:30. As I roll over I feel the tightness in my lower back and think I should just stay in bed and forget training for the day.

Plus I did not sleep well; causing me to wake up at least three times through the night with my right shoulder feeling like it is being pounded with a heavy spike. Twice I could barely move it and had to use my other hand to pull it to a comfortable position.

Fifteen minutes goes by and I am still debating in my head if I should stay in bed or go to the gym. I finally decide to get up and move to the hot tub to loosen up.

As I sit up the tightness in my back become more intense. Then as I sit on the edge of the bed I notice my neck is killing me. I must have slept wrong on it again. I try to adjust it but the muscles are too tight to get it to move where I want it. My next challenge will be standing up. The best way I have found to accomplish this is to rock back and then forward as I move into a standing position. The act of standing up builds enough pressure in my head to cause a killer headache. I try to crack my neck again with little luck.

As I make my way to the stairs I notice my calves and hamstring are sore as hell from something. What did I do to cause these muscles to be sore? My last lower body training day was last Monday. Now it’s Friday and I still am tight. But, I was not tight yesterday. Now I am thinking there is no way I will be able to squat today. With the use of the hand rails I make my way down the stairs and out to the hot tub. Still half asleep I walk out into 30 degree weather and remove the top cover and drop my ass in the tub. I know from past experience than 15 minutes will be the maximum amount of time I can spend in the tub without having ill effects on my squat session.

After five minutes my body begins to feel better. The pain is still there but I am getting some of the movement back. After another 5 minutes I finally get my neck to crack. Finally the headache disappears and I can move my head from side to side. 15 minutes passes and I make my way back inside to shower off and get ready.

While in the shower I am still telling myself the training day could not do anything good for me. I feel too damn beat up. Training could only make me feel worse. I notice the time.


I realize I better get my ass moving if I am going to make it to the gym on time. I grab my gym bag and head to the door. I do not have time to make something to eat and will have to stop on the way and pick something up. 20 minutes later I find myself at McDonald’s getting a large coffee and a few breakfast sandwiches. I am trying to figure out what I will do in the gym. I still feel drained and beat up and maybe if I just go in and do some light reverse hypers, glute hams, and ab work I will feel good enough to make it through the rest of the day.

It then hits me that I also have a ton of work to get done when I get back to the office. More work then I would be able to get down in 8 hours let alone spending the first half of the day in the gym. As I get back on the road all I can think about are all the deadlines I have to make, the work to do, the meeting I have to go to. This along with two weeks of low sales begins to stress me out to the point I think I should turn the car around and get my ass to work. I see the next exit and am convinced that I better pull off hear and turn around so I can begin my day at the office.

Then I think of the guys in the gym that may be counting on me being there. I have missed too many sessions because of work so far this year and the guilt takes over. I pass the exit and tell myself I will get in begin my training and be out of the gym by 9:15 at the latest. This will get me back to work by 10:00 if I do not shower and go straight from the gym.

The next ten minutes if filled with the tasks I can move around to a different day and time so I can still get my training session in. Ten minutes from the gym I realize I really do not want to train today and have to find some way to get motivated. I toss in an old Black Sabbath CD and turn it up as loud as I can. This begins to make me feel somewhat better but I tell myself who cares if I am only going to go light for the day.


I finally roll into Westside. I sit in my truck a few extra minutes still debating if I should leave and go to work or get out and head in the gym. I know I can’t leave, I am already here. So I open the car door and step out onto the pavement. As I step out I feel some crazy stuff in my right hip flexor and think, great! This is all I need. I grab my bag and head into the gym.

Chuck Vogelpohl, Big Tim Harold, Jim Wendler, Louie Simmons, Jeremiah Myers, JL Holdsworth, Chicken hawk, Will Ramsey and Mike Ruggeria are already there and seem to be excited to train. Right away I feel left out. I am not ready to train and do not plan on doing anything hard. My plan is to just do some light hypers, and abs. I then decided it would not hurt to do a few sets of squats as long as I keep it easy and keep the weight down. I decide to squat with Will and we will be the first to go. This way I will be able to get out of the gym by 9:00 or 9:15.


I begin to go through a series of mobility movements to help me get loosened up for the squat. After 10 minutes or so I begin to put on my squat suit and make my way to the mono-lift. It takes me a few more minutes to be able to get under the bar. My shoulder is still lacking the flexibility from the last surgery to get under t he bar without stretching first. After a few sets with the bar and 135 we are ready to go. Today we are using a straight bar without bands and chains. I have been using the SS Bar for my dynamic work for the past few months to let my back and shoulder heal up and have not tried to use a straight bar in many months.

We begin with 135 and I knock out three reps. My hips and back still feel tight so I make may way over to the 45 degree back raise to stretch out a bit more before the next set. 225 is loaded to the bar and I knock out another 2 reps. My plan is to go up to 315 and do 5 sets of 2 reps. This is not much weight and would be a good introduction back to the straight bar and most defiantly would not beat me up that much. 315 is loaded and I perform 2 easy reps. I notice that my motivation is coming back and I am fired up to finally be back under a straight bar.

Screw it! We are training today! 405 and the 495 is loaded to the bar. We knock out 2 sets of 2 reps with 495 and it wasn’t that bad. I can’t believe how strong the SS bar made my squat. I feel the aggression building and feel like ripping the bar in half. Two more sets are completed and I feel like the bar is empty. I am blasting the weights up. My form is a bit off but this is to be expected as I have not used a straight bar for the past few months.

A few corrections are suggested to me from Chuck and Louie and I begin to feel like my old self. It has been along time but I finally feel like I am getting back on par. We finish 4 more sets without much problem and I can honesty say that next to my family, it’s these kind of squat sessions are what I live for.

To use 495 for my sets three years ago when I was not beat up was a great training session. Here I am doing it today and I know my squat is nowhere close to 100%. For the last set we toss a light band on the bar and rip out 2 more reps. This was one of the best squat sessions I have had in the past three years!

I go onto sumo pulls against bands, Glute Ham Raises, Straight Leg sit ups, 45 degree back raises and Reverse Hypers. During my supplemental work I also helped run the mono lift and coach the other guys the same way they did for me. The next thing I know it is 10:30am. Screw it, so I won’t get to the office when I wanted to. There will be much time for work later, times like these last a life time. Work is over when the task is completed.


As I drive from the gym I realize that I still have a way to go to get back to where I was before but now I feel that I am back on the right path. It has been a very hard few years for my squat and dead lift training. I have a million excuses from a growing business, multiple injuries and the birth of my two sons. All and all I would not change anything but it would have been nice to avoid all the training injuries and set backs but that would not be how the world works. I used to take training sessions like this for granted because I was too focused on the outcome and did not take the time to enjoy the process.

For the rest of my drive I contemplate what adjustments I will need to make to my training to keep moving forward. I go through at least thee different training plans before decided on what the best plan of action will be. I also know this will change many more time before the next squat workout. Part of the process is learning how to adjust your training program from session to session. If you set out on a prescribed plan you will not be able to adjust for the good sessions and bad sessions. You have to work from a general template and let your training determine the rest.


I arrive back at work jacked up from my training session and find I am able to knock the work out at twice the speed I would normally be able to do. Within the next three hours I have completed what I thought would have been 8 hours worth of work. If I would have blown the session off I would never have been able to get the same amount of work done. I know this for a fact because there are many days where I decided it would be better to skip the session. The key is to know when you can press on and when you need to take it easy or skip the session. This is more an art than a science and there is now way to tell you when one is right or wrong.

This is something we all have to learn from trial and error. I am sure there have been any sessions I have missed that would have been great sessions if I had decided to train. I also know there are many sessions that I have trained when I should have taken it easy. I have the injuries to prove for these mistakes. Maybe someday I will figure this all out but until then I am sure I will make many more mistakes. I chalk this up as being part of the game.


If you are a lifter you all know what I mean about getting the call. You always have that small network of friends you keep in touch with that call you every few days or once a week to check in with you to see how your training is going. The call may be more for the caller to let you know what they have just done, but either way the call is coming. On this day I received such a call around 1:30 in the afternoon. “So how your squat workout go?” I proceed to outline the highlights of my squat session and explain that I finally feel like I am back on track and should be ready to begin training for another meet soon. I then asked how his session went. He told me he had to take the day off as his hips are bothering him. All I can think is what a sissy!

The law of training states that I have to rag him about skipping a session. So I lay it out how he is scared to lift the heavy weights and on and on. This is the funny thing about the call. You just about skipped your session but you can never tell anyone else about it. It just would not be the “strong” thing to do. You have to pretend that you are this hard core dedicated lifter that will suffer through it all to gain one more pound, while the other guy is weak and does not have the courage to press on. That is unless you are the one that took the day off. Then the wise thing to do is to not make the call, or avoid taking the call in the first place. This is why it is so hard to reach other lifters after bad meets or bad training sessions.


By this time my body begins to tighten up again and I make my way back to the hot tub to loosen enough to be able to fall asleep and with any luck make it through the night without waking up in pain. While in the tub I ask myself the same question I have been asking for years. I have asked this question thousands of times and even wrote an article about it. Why is the hell do I keep doing this? Why do I beat my body to hell? Why do I take so much time out of my day? What effects will this have on my body in the future? Will I be able to move when I am 60 years old? Will it really matter when I am on my death bed looking back?

There is the big one. Will it really matter when I am on my death bed looking back? Will what I do in one specific day at work matter when I am on my death bed? NO, Will my PR’s really matter when I look back? NO, Will how much money I make really matter at this time? NO, Will the training partners I have had over the years matter? NO, Will the final set of squats matter?

NO, The things that really matter will be the time spent with your family and friends, what you have done to make the world a better place, the positive effects you had had on the life of others and WHAT YOU LOVE TO DO!

This is what I love to do. I do this so the world will not change me.

Written by Dave Tate

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – A Day in the Life of Dave Tate discussion thread.

10 Habits of Highly Effective Fitness Freaks

Freedom Scares You – Because it means responsibilityJello Biafra


We often busy ourselves with so much erroneous shuffling-about that we forget about the true responsibility of self. ‘Freedom’ is a very large banner being waved right now, but it starts from within. Instead of a giant blanket between ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ let’s focus on the individual, and the freedom we sometimes need for and from ourselves. Socio-political ideals be damned, let’s talk about fitness.

What happens in the gym isn’t our concern right now. Let’s assume there’s PLENTY of information about the training itself, but what happens between workouts? You eat well and get some rest, right? What separates gym success from gym redundancy has as much to do with the rituals we perform away from the gym as in the squat cage, spin class or weightroom. The gym, although an important part of the fitness lifestyle, should not be the sole totem of that fitness lifestyle. We should take the gym wherever we go but not like the proverbial albatross around our necks.

The inner Hulk that we channel for the toil and sweat within gym walls can come with us when we return to our ‘normal’ lives and help conquer the obstacles that block progress in any area of life.

Rituals are focused actions and thoughts designed for obtaining a desired outcome of actualization, transcendence, or improvement of some sort. Spiritual, yes, but not as a separation of mind and body. In fact, the two need each other for optimum performance. Some would say that Ritual is the difference between ‘being’ and ‘just existing.’ Unfortunately, it’s much easier to act busy than to truly Be, because that’s real responsibility (which, as we discussed, scares us).

In Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, prophet/poet Bokonon calls beliefs and actions that suck up a great deal of our energy, but actually accomplish nothing, as Granfalloons. Granfalloons content us because they satisfy our need to seem really busy, but for all the work we look like we’re doing, they’re tasks or thoughts that actually require little effort. False rituals.

As Bokonon invites us to sing with him:
”If you wish to study a granfalloon,
just remove the skin of a toy balloon.”

That’s the difference of Obligatory Fitness and adopting a Fitness Lifestyle. By striving for a fitness lifestyle, we accept a greater appreciation, and responsibility, for increasing the quality of life. We’re not real busy trying to skin a balloon.

Getting to the gym is an overwhelming task for many. On the other hand, missing a workout is enough reason for many to drop a guilt bomb on themselves.

Perhaps beating up on yourself isn’t the best idea. It may be time to review why the rest of your day isn’t providing the increase in the quality of life that your workout does. The missed-workout-worry means that the gym has become an obligation, not a ritual.

Rumi wrote:
“Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground”

What we DO, not what we can’t do, or what workouts we miss. There are hundreds of ways to incorporate ritual into our lives, and if we’re obsessed with only one, say going to the gym as our only expression of fitness, then it lacks ritual and has become a burden. Fitness as an obligation never works. Rumi’s quatran could be written for the fitness fanatic as “there are hundreds of ways to appreciate the movement and function of the body.”

Ten Habits Outside the Gym

The repeated mantra among websites, magazines and gym science is:

  • Train Hard
  • Rest Hard
  • Eat Well

So this gym stuff is supposed to be good for me, huh? Like a magic drug, all this sweating and moving will eliminate a lifetime of image woes and internal scripts, right? Exercise is a celebration and appreciation of movement, not a dreaded but required key to happiness. Exercise is the love of the body, the intended purpose of the body, not an obligation to it. How we fuel our bodies is also an appreciation for it’s abilities, not just a reward for the taste buds, or worse yet, an emotional outburst of guilty pleasures. So…

One: Eat Like You Mean It

Two: Questions as below:

  • Can your health/performance/workouts benefit from increasing the quality of your eating habits?
  • Are you willing to take the steps necessary to eat better?

Working on nutrition is an obvious way to prove to your body that you’re serious, but the lack of proper nutrition and body fueling is also the most obvious symptom of a weaker mental game. Diet has become a bad word, thanks to infomercial overload and snake-oil propaganda, but the real reason we fear it is because it means two things that scare the swoosh off our Nikes: Organization and Will Power. It’s that scary responsibility again.

Most folks are pretty well versed in the basics: junk food=bad, veggies=good, don’t forget the protein. But how we apply our information is the oft forgotten step. The main website I write for, Dolfzine.com, and many others like it, have a bounty of information regarding what our machines require for optimum performance, fat loss or other aspects of increased fitness (just read Rosemary Vernon’s excellent series on nutrition).

The next step would be to believe in the importance of cultivating a productive eating lifestyle, and then apply the changes necessary. These changes, any Ritual of Change, should not be like defeating a frightening Habit Ogre in one mighty blow. Once again organization is the key to success. Every journey starts with a single step. Bronwyn Schweigerdt speaks of change in her book, The UnDiet.

Everyone who has ever attempted to change bad habits knows that “baby steps” are essential. Little by little, those incremental changes add up, and the goal is finally reached. In contrast, going “cold turkey” is not only traumatic and painful, but often downright impossible. Common knowledge, right? Wrong. At least that is when we’re talking about eating. Although we’ve made progress in changing many harmful behaviors, when it comes to diet, Americans are still in “cold turkey” mode.

The initial vigor, and subsequent failure, of the cold truly route substantiates the common granfalloon of “at least I tried.” How easy is it to duck a lifetime of responsibility by “at least trying” in such a way as to be doomed from the start? Two dangerous outcomes from the “at least I tried,” full-throttle attempts are

  1. The (often inevitable) failure also affirms (and in a twisted way, comforts) a self-esteem already plagued with doubt and unhealthy internal dialogue.
  2. The failure becomes unconsciously accepted, expected and anticipated as another excuse to give up future attempts, or worse yet, gives license to continue the bad behavior as a comfort for the failure.

Now ask yourself those two questions above. If #2 meant slow, easy steps that only required a little patience, organization and responsibility rather than a doom-ladened jump into the fire, would it be a bit more appealing?

Two: Rest and Reconnect

Another subject that seems ubiquitous in training articles and books is the dire need for proper restoration. While the muscles, tendons, joints and central nervous system enjoy a well deserved break, our brains need this time to learn to relax again. Allow yourself to enjoy your body in a state of rest as much as you hopefully enjoy the art of movement and challenge. Living life between workouts with the metaphorical stick you-know-where does not constitute rest. Anger, aggression, spite or any sort of emotional venom is the antithesis to rest. The gym can be a fine place to release these demons, but use the exorcism wisely. Leave the gym a calmer person. Resting often implies sleep. Excellent. Sleep perchance to dream. This isn’t a vindication for a late night in front of a TV, though. Rest refers to quality, and many studies have been done on the discontentment that TV can create in someone.

One tool that an athlete taught me many years ago was to take the process of visualization out of the gym and delve into the mind during times of rest. He meditated on the muscles and tissues themselves. He ‘saw’ the muscles busy with repair and growth, becoming stronger. He pictured himself within the muscles, watching the process happen. He knew the importance of giving them time to repair and he enjoyed becoming an actual observer of the process. This technique works like a charm when combined with the good ol’ classic relaxation technique of massage. Nothing like quality tissue manipulation the let go of stress.

Three: Be Active

Active? What about that whole ‘relaxation’ thing? That was by no means an invitation to avoid the rest of your life. Nor does relaxation have to mean a complete lack of motion, movement, thought or action. Since fitness is a perpetual celebration and appreciation of movement, continue the parade when away from the gym by dancing, hiking, playing music, even writing. Do you always feel in a rush? That’s not relaxing, is it? Organize your time wisely to not only feel relaxed but to include stairs instead of elevators, walking a couple blocks instead of parking as close as you can, maybe even eschewing the car entirely for a nice skate or ride to work. Later in the day, walk to the park, write a couple paragraphs, and then walk home.

Why do we keep talking about writing? Writing is fitness for the brain. Writing can have the intensity of the workout and the accomplishment of completion similar to the last rep of your last set. The cathartic properties are similar with the brutal challenges of exercise and the outcome of the increase of the quality of life can be the same.

Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones, wrote:

“Push yourself beyond when you think you are done with what you have to say. Go a little further. Sometimes when you think you are done, it is just the edge of the beginning, probably that’s why we decide we’re done. It’s getting too scary. We are touching down onto something real. It is beyond the point when you think you are done that often something strong comes out.”

Sounds like an intense workout, doesn’t it? This same approach applied to exercise can yield amazing results. In a previous article titled Routine vs. Ritual, I wrote:

“Fitness, then, is beyond physical. When our bodies, which house the ethereal essentials as well as the solid vitals, transcend the menial task of just holding everything together, in other words, when your body is fully alive, only then does the wall between flesh and spirit lower. Intensity, the quasi-tangible prerequisite for accomplishment, helps bridge the gap between body and soul. When we are pushed to the limits – intense pain, intense pleasure, intense terror, intense joy – concrete “goods” and “bads” fall on their foundations. Inner strength, sense of being, the obvious times when the spirit steps in to run the show, usually can be traced to a sensational intensity. We push our limits – physical, sexual, artistic, sensational – with a primal, subconscious desire to accomplish the incorporation of the spirit.”

Writing, therefore can be an essential component to fitness. It works along the same principles of challenges and rewards.

If there is any place where you should use stairs and not an escalator – it’s here!

Four: Productive Inner Dialog

Words effect change. Constant reminders of ‘I’m too fat’ or ‘why can’t I

__” reinforce the body’s belief, or disbelief, in itself. A body will manifest itself according to how it is perceived internally. This is a vicious circle. Many external and internal factors affect our own inner perception of ourselves, which will eventually manifest itself externally.
What words do you use to describe yourself? Is your inner dialog often a negative critique of yourself? Do you find words like ‘can’t’ or ‘won’t’ in your communications with yourself?

To create a noncritical, nonjudgmental self-talk, list all the self-negative comments you have with regard to your level of play. Then proceed to change them to their opposite. For example, change

  • “I don’t have enough talent” to “I have an abundance of talent.”
  • “I don’t deserve to be here.” to ” I deserve to be here.”
  • “I’m not good enough” to “I’m more than good enough.”

Thinking Body, Dancing Mind – by Chungliang Al Huang and Jerry Lynch

Affirm within yourself the worth you have and your ability to create and succeed. Every word you say in contrary to your worth will perpetuate itself into a negative belief. State want you want as an affirmation, as an event that has already happened. “I want to lose 10 pounds” will be heard better by the universe and yourself stated as “I’m 10 pounds lighter” or if you want to incorporate the spirit further, “my weight is optimum for my performance, ability and happiness!”

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Speak your latent conviction and it shall be universal sense.”

Five: Productive External Support

Simply put, do you have positive feedback from those close to you? One common trait found among many people is that we surround ourselves with similar kin. We always feel more vindicated sharing ideas with like minded folks. It makes perfect sense. Some would say we even attract those people into our circles, maybe unconsciously. The caveat is if your clan happens to all share negative self images, or if hidden insecurity brings out sarcasm instead of support, or ridicule instead of praise, or, sometimes worse, complete apathy, progress through that quagmire maybe brutally slow.

Many fitness fanatics sing the praises of a workout partner. A good workout partner is someone who is fully supportive outside the gym as well as during your workout. Funny enough, that could be the definition of a good friend, family member or loved one as well.

Six: Workout Memories

The Tao Te Ching reminds us:
“Those who cultivate Power
Identify with Power.
Those who cultivate failure
Identify with failure.

Did you kick butt on your deadlift today? Was your cardio-kickboxing class particularly refreshing and inspiring? Well then reflect on them. Enjoy your workouts all day long. Why should the intensity and fulfillment of overcoming challenges be limited to your workout? Be proud of your workout.

Seven: Look and Touch

What’s the king of all reasons why people workout? What attribute does every infomercial, print ad and ‘fitness’ magazine cater too? The desire to look better. Despite that not being a true ‘fitness’ goal (see Ritual vs. Routine), at least it gets folks to the gym.

So if we can celebrate movement in the gym, then our non-exercising time should reflect and rejoice in what we are capable of and increase our self image through a sense of pride. Look in the mirror and see how the body moves. Remember the accomplishments that body achieves every time you exercise. Your body – you – is alive with possibilities. See that when looking in the mirror, when obsessing on the size and shape of body parts, when the potential to not love yourself is greatest. Go ahead, flex in the mirror. Enjoy it.

Too bad we instantly revert to kindergarten giggles when the subject of touch is brought up. Any recommendations for self-touch would be read as a license for something less than innocent, but there are plenty of other websites and books willing to deal with those issues. Meanwhile, get to know what your muscles feel like. Feel movement. Touch a muscle while it moves. Understand more about how movement occurs.

Eight: Read and Learn

Remember the thrill of reading about the dinosaurs, learning the names and actions of all the cool species, and then going to the museum and seeing them in person (sort of)? What about the impassioned banter amongst sports fans about stats, players, odds and last night’s game? Education creates passion and feeds the intimacy between knowledge and action. This works well with the body and all of it’s amazing possibilities.

Nine: Play Nice With Others

The previously quoted Jello Biafra, lead singer of the highly politically/socially satirical band, The Dead Kennedy’s, went on to answer the question “but what can just one of us do?”

We can start by not lying so much
And treating other people like dirt.
It’s so easy not to base our lives on how much we can scam,
And you know it feels good to get that monkey off your back.(1)

This Habit description was originally a long and tedious diatribe on the importance of being non-judgmental, kinder to others, and not letting the psychological mess that competition can promote take away our deeper reasons for the challenges we attack, blah, blah, blah. Thanks to Jello again for keeping things simple. Treat people well.

Ten: Be Nice to Yourself

This Habit could also be titled “Laugh.” Finding a truly fit person usually finds someone who can see the silliness in it, who can appreciate the humor in fitness and in life. Let’s face it, a room full of sweating, bouncing people jumping over a little step is pretty funny. What about the humor in lifting something really heavy, only to put it back down, and then do it again? Or the irony of Spinning. Aggressive stationary biking? C’mon, that’s funny.

Laughter is a direct result of happiness, and there’s no way to be nicer to yourself then being happy.

Don’t you owe it to yourself to treat yourself with love and respect? It’s not that hard, just don’t busy yourself with granfallons that don’t serve your true needs. Self judgment is as dangerous as judgment of others. Set realistic goals and give yourself a lifetime to achieve them. In fitness, the journey should be the fun part, so let’s not make it such an obligation. Laugh a little. Enjoy the ride. Grumpy people aren’t healthy, it’s that simple (and grumpy people in the gym are real killjoys).

I take my silliness far too seriously
To be bothered by your silly seriousness.

Written By Chip Conrad

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – 10 Habits of Highly Effective Fitness Freaks discussion thread.