Barbell Shrugged - Talking Training w/ CrossFit Games Athletes, Strength Coaches & More

this week on barbell shrugged we’re going old school. It’s just me, Mike and Doug talking training. We sort of geek-out on the topic of strength progressions. It’s a discussion that you need to hear if you want to become strong.

“What program do you guys think I should do? No matter what I try, I can’t gain muscle. I’m lifting 6 days a week, but still, my lifts are going nowhere!”

It happens all the time.

This week marks the 148th episode of Barbell Shrugged. That’s a lot, but I can promise you that I’ve been asked this same programming question at least 150 times this year.

The cycle repeats. People get very excited and motivated early on when it comes to training. I know the habits because I have been there before. You use three different colors of dry erase marker to graffiti the training goals across your whiteboard. Also, we cannot forget the name-brand gear, the crispy clean weightlifting shoes, or the finest lululemmon board shorts that money can buy. It all seems important enough, right?

All of that stuff is great, I guess, right up until you go window shopping for the actual training program. That’s how it usually goes, right? You click around on the internet, or ask around at your box, “What program are you guys doing right now?”

You end up doing whatever seems cool and exciting at the time. Forget reason, evidence and personal experience, this is more random chance silliness. How could you be surprised with a random or negligible training result?

You cannot.

You have a certain amount of years to pursue the development of your training career.

It’s like any other career path you would take. It comes in phases. For a few years you pay your dues and put in your work. Before long you’ll do well, but you always have to be learning and hustling to build your skills and keep your edge. That process doesn’t ever stop, not if you want to keep making progress throughout the progressively harder years ahead. You will climb and climb, with clear markers of progress all along the way. But then one day you’ll know things are getting a little too hard. You won’t be able to keep up that relentless edge. Retirement or a brand new challenge become what you need most.

Do you know what program hoping really is? It’s quitting a job 3-6 months in because the retirement benefits aren’t coming fast enough. Or, how about this? Would you ever consider working 2-3 jobs at a time? Probably not, but have you ever done more than one training program at once? Right, this sort of mixing and matching can be done with some experience, but you have to be really careful.

Most athletes are reckless in practice.

What everyone needs to understand is that strength is the result of intense, persistent and cumulative effort. Your $30 eBook or weekend long training seminar is worth little more than a pamphlet at the local job fair. You’ve still got to commit to something and do some real focused work if you want a real reward.

Strength is rooted in the fundamentals. Before you think about switching programs, make sure you’re sleeping 8-9 hours a night. Eat more real food. Make sure you utilize basic recovery methods, including sauna and message. It really does make all the difference. And when it comes to training, just try being there for a while at first.

Find a gym that has some strong members…And then be there, 4-5 times a week, every week for a year or so. You’ll always have a better understanding of training if you do that first. You can search for the secret sauce later on.

When you are ready to pick a training program, start with your needs and nothing else. What do you what to get really good at? What must improve? That will take the focus of your programming, along with a series of very similar assistance movements that will bring up your lifting skills quickly. It’s only then that the brand of progression becomes a critical thing.

To get really strong, you have to add weight to the barbell. At first you will do it weekly, or just about every time you come to the gym. Be patient, 5 pounds a week adds up. This is simple and linear, but you’ll be a lot stronger than you are now with zero fuss. It’s an amazing way to train. To skip this phase is foolish. If you do that, you’ll never reach your full potential. 

The only time you ever mess around with your progression is when the progress train stops. In that case, you rest for a while, eat some fattening food, and you come back at it. If you ever find yourself failing and failing again, then you know you’ve graduated. You now need to consider spreading out the loading to every other week, two weeks, etc. These styles of programs look more like undulating waves if you graph them out. The most ideal, in my view, is when you ramp up your work to a tough record attempt on week 3, then unload. That works so well it’s silly.

I would only recommend one other approach. It’s something I arrived at in my powerlifting training after years and years of trial and error. My wave was still 4 weeks. I still went for my really heavy record attempts on week 3. The last week was devoted to unloading work and recovery.

The difference is that week 1 was my second heaviest week, with target loads around 95% of my best. I then used my second week to restore speed to the barbell, explode through t 70-85% weights. That left me feeling explosive and bulletproof for my record attempts on week 3.

Those are just a few ideas. In truth, there are endless ways you could progress your strength work. I think you’d be wise to get yourself two books in the beginning, “Starting Strength” and “Practical Programming.” Both are authored by Mark Rippetoe.

You need those books. Learn all you can starting now, the rest will sort out. Just keep your barbells heavy.


Chris Moore

Direct download: bs148itunes.mp3
Category:CrossFit -- posted at: 12:59am PST

This 52-yr-old man strapped a 93 pound fridge on his back and traveled across the UK.  He's about to do it again in the United States.  You won't believe why.

Direct download: bs147.mp3
Category:CrossFit -- posted at: 5:04am PST

146- How Community Supported Agriculture Will Save Our Lives w/ Farmer Joe Pimentel

Pittsfield, Vermont is a small town of just about 400 people. You don’t notice much when you first pass through, apart from the beauty and unspoiled quality of the place. It’s a perfect spot for mountain hikes and star-gazing. The town itself is just a two-lane road dotted with farm houses and picture perfect Inn’s, hugged tight on either side by lush green mountains. 

One of the only stops is The Spartan General Store (at least that’s my unofficial name for the place). There's a small gift shop and grocery inside, but this is mostly a refueling spot. Breakfast plates come piled high with giant farm fresh eggs and thick slices of local bacon. Tall glasses of fresh pressed green juice act as the perfect recovery tonic for legs left for dead by 5 a.m. obstacle course climbs. 

By now you know this is no average town. This is the home of Spartan Race. The punishing early morning burpee sessions and mountain runs come courtesy of Joe De Sena, the highly driven founder and leader of the Spartan movement. The lovely eggs and green juice are made possible by the daily grind and passion of Joe Pumentei, or Farmer Joe as we know him. 

He is just the sort of guy you need to feed a growing Spartan army. He’s also having an amazing impact on local towns all over through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). 

A farmer's job might not seem very impactful at first, but like most things it’s not what you do it’s how you do it. When it comes to farming, Joe brings a bright Boston edge. He and his wife were lured to Pittsfield by that other Joe and his Spartan crew. It was a chance to run their very own farm, according to their rules, and up to their very high standards. It’s clear that Sweet Georgia P’s is an amazing place. 

The food is great, but that’s not the only reason for Joe’s impact. It’s got much more to do with that edge. He’s up at dawn with his family every day. He drives endless miles to spread his CSA and product to every town in his 200 square mile territory. And most importantly, he never turns down an opportunity to bark loudly about the big problem here - Most people don’t know what real food is, and it’s slowly killing them. 

“Real” is a funny word in this context. Judging by the regulations that Joe is subject to, you would think he was harboring toxic waste, but no, in this case it’s just milk. Raw goat’s milk to be specific. Joe’s milk is alive. It’s teeming with all sorts of cultures and enzymes. The protein is super-duper high quality. The fat is full and rich, just what your nervous system needs. You’d be hard pressed to find a higher quality recovery and muscle building beverage. But the legal reality is that Joe must keep a warning sign posted prominently on his Sweet Georgia P’s property. 

“WARNING! Unpasteurized, raw milk can be hazardous to your health.” In just that one paragraph there were three references to baby or fetal damage/death, not unlike cigarette package warnings. Sneak that stuff over state lines and you’d be committing a felony, despite the fact that raw milk has been found to be a low risk food. The same thing goes for many local farmers and all they produce. Getting real food to market now-a-day’s is all uphill. It requires the fight. You could use some edge. 

Maybe that’s the right mindset. Most people know that they should be eating better quality food, especially when it comes to vegetables and common animal products. But that’s not always the decision that gets made. So, why not try a new motive? Why not call this a fight?

There’s a mighty industrial machine out there pumping out bleached milk, flavorless veggies, runny eggs from sick chickens, the list of sins is long. The machine is fed by our dollars. It exists precisely because our decisions haven’t been the best. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take action now. We have to start putting our money where it matters most - Back into real food. 

To those who would say local organic food is too expensive, Joe’s bright edge bites back, “Have you priced out cancer lately? It’s not cheap.” People need to understand the value of real food. They need to learn. They need access to great farm fresh products, so Joe’s work continues. He keeps up his grind and passion every day. He continues making his impact. 

If you want to improve the health of your communities, support local farmers and CSA programs when you are able. Seek them out. No, a few farmers will not make much of a difference. But if a few hook-up every few hundred miles or so they can build a supply network that really could make cheap, super nutritious food readily available to more people. That kind of movement could make a real difference in public health. 

Demand better quality in your food. Put your money where it matters most. The value will come right back to you in the form of better health and improved performance, just see for yourself. 

Joe, I had a blast. Keep up the good fight.


Chris Moore

Direct download: bs146.mp3
Category:CrossFit -- posted at: 8:59pm PST

On this week’s show, we take on a fresh new topic, at least for us - Running. That’s right, heel striking, to Pose or not to Pose, the importance of strength training for endurance athletes, we get into a little bit of everything. 

As you might guess, heavy barbells are no less beneficial to road warriors, even ultra-marathon wacko’s! 

We recently got a chance to chat with Nate Helming in between talks at the National Endurance Sports Summit in Princeton, New Jersey. Nate coaches out of San Francisco Crossfit, right alongside some of the best coaches on the fitness scene today. That list includes Kelly Starrett, Diane Fu, and Carl Paoli. He also shares his expertise on The Run Experience, a cool online training resource for runners. 

Maybe the guy’s just a little unassuming at first, but before our conversation I had no idea he was so skilled and polished as a coach and thinker. More to the point, his talks and running workshops at the Summit were interesting, well-paced and high-value for the audience. You have to take note of folk’s like this when you meet them, because that kind of pace and polish doesn't come cheap. These are skills you have to earn the hard way, over many years and endless repetitions. 

Nate’s central thesis is that a strong runner is a better runner, which is, of course, right up our alley. But it’s not a straight forward idea, at least not as much as you would guess. If asked, Nate will tell you that he doesn’t exactly know what it means to “run strong.” He just knows that more runners have to start acknowledging the health and performance benefits of heavy barbell training. You cannot push strength so hard that it becomes a competing training focus that’s clear. But you have to train with the intent of lifting more and more weight. You have to squat, pull, and push because it’s inherent functional. It teaches you just how you should produce force…quickly, efficiently. That translates to reduced injury risk and improved performance out on the road. 

Right, so that much is clear. If you want to improve your running, make sure you are constantly working on your mechanics under progressively heavy barbells. But the line is hard to draw. How much strength is enough? Well, it’s hard to say. There is a line, but something tell’s me that Nate has only begun experimenting with his methods. He will continue to surprise I’m sure as more of his data ripens, and he accumulates more coaching experience. 

So much for runners making their way towards the barbell, but what about the other way around? What do/should strength, and power athletes learn from the running world. Which of Nate’s methods might apply to you? Again, it’s hard to say. 

He does have one clear bit of advice for the strong amongst us who want to improve their running skills. “Be patient. Have some respect.” Anyone who has suffered for a decade or more in pursuit of barbell glory know’s that the skill of strength takes years and years to cultivate. 

Your body must be built up over time to serve that function. Think of endless little waves of construction work, new bundles of muscle proteins piled high and turned over constantly, year after year. Consider your adapted structure, your fascia and skeleton. Be in awe of what your fine-tuned and lightening quick, nervous system can do. The same is true of amazing runners and their earned form and adaptations. You don't know the work that's been put in. 

Consider optimal pose, the adapted foot and endless bands and chains of road forged connective tissue. These legs are likely slow and of the slow-twitch variety, but never kid yourself. To run at the highest levels is to suffer, immensely, daily. Don’t underestimate that strength. And more importantly still, don’t underestimate the benefits that would come to you if you would only work on your running, modestly at first and with respect. 

I must say, none of this is news to me. Nate is preaching to the choir. I've learned an endurance lesson before. 

Some twelve years ago I made my first visit to Columbus, Ohio to train with Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell. I had no business making the trip. At the time, I only had about $200 bucks in my checking account, just enough to pay for a week’s rent at the shittiest local motel you ever saw. But that was fine by me. One, there was a Waffle House located conveniently between my slum and the gym. The waffles and egg’s were cheap, the coffee and syrup, plentiful. But that was just my problem. I was a complete fat ass! 

I don’t mind saying so. I had built a life around this culture. “To be as strong as possible, do what is necessary. Grind you bones, stuff your face!” By the time, I made it to Westside I was over 350 pounds in bodyweight. Louie told me exactly what Nate would say today, had I been in similar form. 

We didn’t talk about advanced programming ideas, not at the start at least. And no, we didn’t talk about the latest tricks Louie was working on with his chain and band resistance methods. It was none of that. Louie’s first and best advice for me was to get in shape.

“Hey listen, dude. You know, lifting heavy weights is just like fighting…Am I right? You wouldn’t dare jump in the ring with a known killer, would you? No, not now! You gotta get in shape first! You gotta suffer for a while. There are a lot of repetitions that need to take place before you earn the right to fight the champ. So that’s you. You want to lift record weights? You gotta get yourself in proper shape first.”

Starting from that day forward I made hard sled dragging and sprinting a key component of my training, and it certainly paid off. The more time I spent conditioning myself, the stronger and more explosive I became. Even though, I was lifting maximum loads all the time for the better part of twelve years, I never wore down. I never had a serious injury. I owe that to Louie’s advice. I just wish I would have taken it earlier! 

Nate, I won't be experimenting with powerlifting and running anytime soon, but maybe we can hook up soon and share some training ideas. Who know's, maybe there's a runner inside me still.


Chris Moore

Direct download: bs145.mp3
Category:CrossFit -- posted at: 11:00pm PST

144- 61 Years of Training and STILL Learning w/ Dr. Fred Bisci
Direct download: bs144.mp3
Category:CrossFit -- posted at: 11:00pm PST