Within the last couple weeks, Mike Boyle had a short video put on the interwebz to promote his upcoming product. If you have any interest in fitness, you have most likely seen it already — specifically the one about not using conventional squats anymore.

Since I’m an opinionated young man of 23 years, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the stance taken in the video instead of just embedding the video on my own blog as a means to generate traffic. (the link is above though)

If you’ve been following my blog since before my recent summer blogging hiatus, you might remember some of my posts where I’d discuss my history of back pain and squatting, so I will get it out of the way now and say that because of my personal training experiences I’ve agreed with much of Mike’s stance on conventional squatting more than many people I’ve talked to about the issue.

That said, I’m also currently squatting and will keep them in the next phase of my training which begins next week. Herein lies one big point I see with this squat/don’t squat debate. I’m not my athletes/general pop clients. I don’t mean it to sound as though I’ve got some special body genetics or three nipples, but to illustrate that different people have different goals and this affects exercise selection. For instance, I am willing to take more risk with my own body than an athlete trying to get an athletic scholarship because if I get hurt in training, my dreams aren’t potentially unattainable.

The thing I keep coming back to with exercise selection is does it work – if so, is there something that works even better? When dealing with clients this means I’m not just looking at whether an exercise will get results, but also the amount of risk associated with the exercise (which as you might guess can vary). Some ways this can vary is how comfortable I am with someone’s technique or has their core strength improved to a level I am comfortable with.

In another conversation I had, it was mentioned that not squatting is arguably as blasphemous an idea in my profession as one can get. Yes tradition can teach us a lot, but at the same time, it doesn’t mean that the best ways to do soemthing have already been thought of. Its possible that the best way has already been figured out, but its also possible that it hasn’t, which isn’t something we will know as a fact until the profession is dead or humans no longer exist.  A third option is that maybe its just a semi-conscious desire of mine to come up with an original idea to contribute to the field of strength & conditioning, but it is because I am always looking to find how I can provide a better service and results to my clients.

I will close this by saying that I don’t know who is right — the squat camp or the don’t squat camp, and frankly it doesn’t much matter to me. This reminds me of an article I read about a month ago ranting about how those who subscribe to the functional training camp aren’t training athletes right (this coming from a trainer of the muscle training camp). All I could think about after I read the article was why I wasted my time reading it! Trainers in both camps get great results in the athletes they train, so does someone really need to be right and another wrong? I would worry more about the trainer who can’t justify their programming decisions.

But like I said, I am relatively new to these political matters, so all I’m hoping to offer is a fresh and probably somewhat naive look at this issue which has been getting a lot of airtime among trainers and fitness professionals.


I was training my Dad yesterday at the “gym” in his condo which is essentially a walk-in closet with a few dumbells, an adjustable bench (thank god!), a lat pulldown, a treadmill and elliptical, and some other minor pieces of equipment. Needless to say, it isn’t perfect by any means both in terms of space and available equipment, but it has enough of the bare essentials for a good workout to be possible.

This was also something I encountered during the early portion of my job working in Vaughan at the beginning of the summer. As we were opening up the facility, we didn’t have all the equipment I could possibly want, but there was enough that I could provide training results to our initial clients. Sometimes this required more creativity than others with respect to modifying exercises, but all in all it proved to be a valuable learning experience for me. The important thing isn’t what equipment you have access to or don’t have access to, its all in how you use it.

Expanding on this, I think where I was really able to improve in this area was when I had to train groups under two conditions: 1) either young pre-adolescent children and/or 2) training off-site. The former because I didn’t want to use anything that was too advanced for the young athletes (and frankly, they don’t require advanced things), and the latter because there was only so much equipment I could fit in my car. In the end these experiences helped me become a better coach and improved my ability to think on my feet.

Squat day went awesome today!! Nothing heavy but the weights are creeping back up as well as I’m re-grooving my form which is a difficult feeling to describe so I’ll simply say that its pure awesomeness!! I still have a twinge in my right hip flexor from the bulgarian split squat EQIs a couple weeks ago, but lesson learned: don’t load so aggressively since its primarily a type of stretching protocol. As such, I’ve had to make some tweaks to my program so that a) I’m not aggravating the situation and b) so that I don’t have to take any training time off. If you’re so interested to know the tweaks I’ve made, they’d be removing the EQIs completely and not pushing my loading as aggressively on my split squats and reverse lunges.

Anyways, one thing I’ve noticed since I’ve been back in the gym is that my squat pattern is improving in quality. Looking back, I don’t remember the last time I could squat to femur parallel without having my hips tuck under actually which is kind of sad since I’m only 23. Since I’ve started this program, I’ve made it a point to attack this issue by adding the toe touch squat to each day’s warm-up (upper body days included). That said, I do find it hard to believe that doing a set of 8 toe touch squats four times a week is enough to correct the issue.  Perhaps it has been all the dynamic warmup exercises I have demo’d on a daily basis since late April — either way, it has been a pleasant surprise as this has been an issue that has really been difficult for me to clear up in the past.

PS – You might think I’m over-thinking this a little much, and I may actually agree with you…maybe…

Updates and Rotator Cuffs

October 20, 2009

First all, yesterday’s lower body lift went great! A) I’m starting to see my strength move back up to where it was at the beginning of the summer and B) It was deadlift day so nuff said! Heavy rows today?!…Is it Christmas?!

Anyways, last Saturday was my last day at SST…three years after I first started interning there (wow thats a while ago). And in telling our clients that I was leaving, I was reminded how nice and supportive people are, so I am extremely appreciative of that and will miss training them a ton!

That said, I am now onto the next chapter of my life, and like any optimist, Man, I’m excited!! No doubt, I will share my exploits on here for your viewing/reading pleasure.

As for today’s training info to contemplate, I’ve been re-thinking progression on rotator cuff exercises and to a certain degree the low trap/scapular (shoulder blade) stabilizer muscle training too. Do we just need to worry about starting with bodyweight resistance?

What’s making me consider this? When the athletes I’ve been training are too concerned with going heavier with these movements, they invariably would not feel the exercise where I wanted them to. So instead of feeling a muscle tighten behind their armpit, they’d feel it somewhere in their shoulder (dependent on the exercise). In response I would often re-demo the exercise while giving them the technique cues over again or trying new ones. What happened was I would be the one feeling the exercise working during my demo (with no weights) while they may or may not have when they tried it again. Now, I’m also aware that weight used is not the only possible reason why they were not feeling the movement where I wanted them to. Further to this point, I actually think rotator cuff exercises are one of the more abstract exercises to teach in that it isn’t about your arm moving a weight from point A to point B. Its about shoulder rotation, and everything from the elbow down (forearm and weight)  merely gets to go along for the ride. Unfortunately the former becomes the default plan of execution because the weight is in the hand, and based on our earliest exposures to strength training, we are taught to “lift the weight”.

So as you can see, I’ve gone back to the drawing board and now its going to be back to my laboratory and gym (what I really mean is “gym” and “clients”…)

Something I’ve learned from Pat at our gym is to always try new things, because just reading or thinking something does proove whether it’ll work or not with a specific group of clients. It isn’t that I’m scared of trying new things or scared of change, its just that Pat pushes these boundaries considerably more than I do which is something I admire and learn from.

Of course there is one main criterion for the exercises moving from the planning phase to the testing phase which is: does it impose an inherent danger to our clients? (Obviously the answer needs to be “no”)

From there we move to testing it out on ouselves which I find fun because I’m learning a new exercise but also about how the body works…weird, I know…

Anyways, the unfortunate thing about testing involving us two is that its a very small sample size as well as testing it once doesn’t give us the ability to really assess the exercise’s effectiveness since we aren’t considering possible progression in terms of the exercise performance. So pretty much I end up saying that if the exercise isn’t dangerous, let’s try it out with our clients. This is where the real fun begins as we can find out what technique cues need to be stressed with athletes of different skill levels/training age, where do athetes feel the movement (is it different from where we felt it, does this mean the exercise is too advanced, etc), how difficult/time consuming is it to teach, do our athletes see the purpose of the exercise (after explanation if they choose to ask of course), does it work better than other exercises we’ve used for the same purpose, etc.

Depending on whether the exercise is tested in the warm-up or during the main strength training portion of the training session, we can see some patterns in these areas after a certain time period and then evaluate the usefulness of the exercise for inclusion in the program. A sort of graduation for the exercise if you will.

I really believe that coaching adds an individual’s flare and personality to what I do because training is textbook; its just applying scientific principles. Coaching adds that extra degree though — how do you keep motivating a client to keep pushing in a workout? How do you get a client to understand what you had to go to university for and (usually) multiple certifications?

The longer I am in this line of work, the more I believe that coaching is that X-factor — and something I want to be the best at simply because it will equate to greater success for both my clients and I.

I learned this lesson during my first personal training certification evaluation over 3 years ago: at the end of the eval, the evaluator (the head trainer of the YMCA I was taking the course at) talked to me about how I explained the conditioning part to the “client” (him). He said that I should speak in simple terms because most clients don’t know the science  part of what we do — and they don’t need to. 3 yrs later, when I’m coaching an athlete or adult client, I still think about this every time I instruct an exercise, give a client feedback on form, or talk about nutrition!

This doesn’t mean I won’t talk about the science behind why they are doing a particular exercise a certain way, just that I won’t unless they ask me. I love the KISS principle: for those that don’t know, KISS = Keep it Simple, Stupid.  Its the same quality I admire in good teachers and mentors: the ability to make complex concepts sound simple.

Also it was Thanksgiving up here in Canada this past weekend, so I hope all my fellow Canuck readers had a good one!

Unfortunately this has been one area of my lfie which I have been having a difficulty getting under control since I left university in April. Ultimately that has meant that all those gains I wrote about from last December to April when I left school are now lost and I have to start back almost at the beginning  with my tail between my legs.

Finally some good news though as I managed to get in a full 4-day workout week in, so I will again be posting about my progress from time to time as a means of a) keeping myself accountable as well as to keep you all updated on how I continue to use my body as my own personal lab experiment.

For those that are interested to know, I am using the program layout which Mike Robertson discussed in his latest article on T-Muscle >> Check out the article to see what I’m up to (I know you’re dying to!! :) ) I’ve made my own substitutions for some of the exercises but the program set-up and sets/reps are all the same.

I’ll be following Mike’s template for the next 7 weeks, and then moving on to a more focused strength/power-type program.