From reading my emails you’d think that I’m “only” and “all” about
getting as strong as possible all the time.
Well, that’s true to a certain extent.
But sometimes “getting stronger” requires you to think outside
the box and do something completely different than what you
think you ought to be doing.
Case in point:
In late 2010, about 3 months into my wife’s first pregnancy with
our son, I reached my breaking point.
I’d been doing Original Strength work and trying to get back into
Olympic lifting again. Training was going well until September
when I traveled 2 weekends in a row.
The second weekend, my left hip locked down and I tweaked
After spending the entire weekend trying to get out of pain
and putting on a brave face, I decided that I was being just plain
I wasn’t going to end up being one of those guys who hurts himself
so badly chasing his own personal glory (that no one else really
cares about) who ends up so injured he can’t enjoy life.
Furthermore, I decided that I wasn’t going to rob my son of his
childhood by having physical limitations and not being able to play
with him the way he wanted to play –
You know, roughhousing, running and playing “chase,” throwing
various balls back and forth to each other, and so on.
So I quit.
I stopped doing everything I knew and looked for a solution to my
I needed to be able to regain my health, lose my excess body fat,
heal my joints, and put on some muscle that I had lost over the
No more barbell lifting – especially the Olympic lifts.
No more double KB lifting.
No more KB lifting period.
I had poisoned my body with all the “hinge” and “extension” work and
it needed to do something different.
I needed completely different stimuli to grow.
So I looked over the research and back over my previous 20+ years of
training and saw a pattern emerge. In fact, it was more than a pattern.
What emerged was a cycle.
And it wasn’t just guesswork, it was supported by science.
I immediately set to work implementing the cycle in my own training.
Closing in on 42 years old I can say definitively that I’m in close to
the best shape – strength, conditioning, and body fat levels combined
(instead of isolating them out) that I have been in almost 20 years.
So What About This “Scienc-y” 4-Stage Cycle?
What is this thing?
Well first, here’s what this is not:
– Not a “cure all” or “quick fix” or “magic pill” to get help you overcome
the effects of years of personal neglect
– Not the same old boring kettlebell training programs that you can
download on the interwebz for free
– Not “MetCon” or “strength-only” KB training
– Not boring or repetitive workouts that you’ve already done before but
have failed to see there results you want
Ok, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way-
STAGE 1: FIX YOUR MOVEMENT ISSUES, ACHES & PAINS
This has got to be the least sexy, least enjoyable, least appealing
of all training goals.
Pain sucks. Training to get out of pain sucks even more.
Because often times to the uninitiated it’s a game of trial and error –
more often than not “error.”
It’s just downright no fun.
Sitting on lacrosse balls to find trigger points to improve tissue
Doing isolated joint mobility work…
Then doing isolated silly looking (and boring) corrective exercise drills
designed to activate such and such a muscle…
I’ve been there and done that.
And when it doesn’t work as advertised, then you’re likely to stop doing
it and jumping back into your workouts without the proper preparation.
Let’s just admit this right now:
When there’s something you want to do, but can’t do, it can be downright
Sure, you can do an alternative – “move what you can, where you can” but
that gets old after awhile when where you’re moving seems to take you
further away from where you want to be.
Ever happen to you?
It has to me.
Sounds like I need to plug “Original Strength” here and I most certainly
should but I’m not going to. (Oops! Looks like I just did!) But this is just
conceptual – something you need to get ahold of – wrap your head around.
Here’s the thing:
Movement dysfunctions and pain alter your natural movement.
And that makes you move less efficiently – in a bad way.
Not “less efficient” in a “hardstyle swing” sort of way.
You stop using muscles that are designed to move you – called “prime
movers” (which use a lot of energy) and default to using muscles called
“stabilizers” and “neutralizers,” which are smaller muscles designed to
stabilize your joints while they move.
This is where your trigger points and tight muscles come from.
And if you don’t have pain yet, many times this is where the pain comes
For example, you hurt your back 20 years ago and although you did
your rehab, it’s never felt quite “right.”
As a result, you have chronically tight hip flexors, which always seem
to tighten back up after you’ve been sitting all day at work. And yeah,
sometimes your lower back feels stiff – almost like you don’t dare bend
over and touch your toes for fear that something bad might happen.
Or you have that chronically tight IT Band and that pain in your right
knee. And gosh-darn-it, no matter how much your foam roll that thing
and stretch your hip flexors, it just tightens right back up.
That’s most likely because you’re lacking reflexive core stability –
The ability for your deep abdominal muscles to subconsiously and
automatically contract in anticipation to movement, before movement,
to stabilize your spine, to allow you to produce the force necessary to
do whatever it is you want to do.
Or maybe you have a wonky shoulder that hurts when you press
but you keep pressing.
The pain cycle is eventually going to stop you cold as you body
protects you from yourself – that is – from injuring yourself more.
The Pain Cycle
Here’s what happens when you experience pain while working
out – swinging, snatching, get-upping, etc…
Pain: A signal that something is [potentially] wrong.
Inflammation: Your immune system goes to work to restore the
injury. The problem is when the injury isn’t restored and the pain
Anti-inflammatory hormones, such as cortisol remain unnaturally
and chronically elevated interfering with the body’s normal processes,
like digestion and sleep.
Altered Movement (Compensation): Because you can’t move the
way you normally do, so you start using those stabilizers and
neutralizers as prime movers, like I described before.
So you may get out of pain, but you’ve created a nice compensation
that needs to be taken care of.
For example, you hurt your shoulder snatching, and once the pain
is gone, you start snatching again. However, you don’t quite have
the range of motion you used to have, so now you find yourself
either looking down at the floor at the top of the snatch, or sticking
your butt out, hyperextending your lower back.
Eventually, both those strategies will hurt you: The first will probably
hurt your neck, and the second your lower back.
Increased Muscle Tension: This comes from those muscle compensations
and movement dysfunctions. This is why you keep sitting on your foam
roller and although you get the knots to go away before you work out,
they come back the next day.
Or they seem to move.
Regardless, they just never seem to disappear.
Decreased Performance: This seems like a no-brainer. If you hang
out in this pain cycle long enough, your performance just suffers.
For example, the day I tore my labrum in my right hip back in
January of 2005, I had just done 16 sets of 1 rep with 308lb on
the barbell Power Clean.
As many times as I tried to stage a comeback, I never got back
to that level, no matter how hard I tried. I ALWAYS was stopped at/by
various stages in this pain cycle.
(Coincidentally, my bodyweight and lean body mass have never made
it back to those levels either.)
Increased Stress/ Anxiety: With pain and loss of function come increased
stress levels. Often times the fear of the unknown – how long getting
out of pain/ movement dysfunction – causes anxiety, which in turn creates
None of this is good.
Cortisol levels become chronically elevated, chewing up hard-earned
muscle and interfering with carbohydrate metabolism and insulin
What that means is that you can, and more likely than not, will lose
muscle and get fat.
It happened to me.
The day I tore my right labrum I was 230 pounds and about 10-12%
One year later, in January 2006, I had dropped to 220 pounds and was
sitting around 15% body fat. Maybe more.
Conservatively I had 201 pounds of lean mass on me and almost 28
pounds of body fat. One year later I had 187 pounds of lean mass on
me – I had lost almost 15 pounds of muscle. Worse yet, I had gained
at least 5 pounds of fat.
Today, as I write this, almost a decade later, I’m at a whopping 205
pounds and around 10% body fat. And although I’m moving great and
hitting some good numbers at this bodyweight, I haven’t reached
that absolute strength level I had back then.
Depression: It’s very easy to become myopic and overly introspective
when things don’t go your way, especially if working out is one of your
Worse yet, with that depression often comes its ally, self-sabotage.
You know, that little voice that says, “Well, you’re not working out
and your back hurts, you deserve those cookies…”
And before you know it, you’re not only not working out the same
way you used to, you’ve “magically” put on a few extra pounds (or
The “Take Away”
So what does all this mean?
What should you do now?
First things first:
If you don’t get ahold of this idea of fixing your movement dysfunctions
and getting out of pain, you will NEVER achieve your goals.
You will literally be sabotaging your own efforts, no matter how hard
you try and try and try again.
Take a good look at your progress, or in many cases, your lack of
Analyze your body.
Have a “bum knee” or “tricky lower back” or “nagging shoulder” you’ve
been pushing through or ignoring?
Ignorance isn’t bliss. And the truth will eventually (if not immediately)
set you free.
Realize that if you don’t fix your movement dysfunctions and/or get
out of pain, the harder and longer you work out, the more you’re
sabotaging your own progress.
You’ve already seen that in the Pain Cycle through the increase
in stress hormones like cortisol and its negative effects – primarily
muscle wasting and increased fat deposits.
Now you just have to own it.
Trust me, I’ve lived this cycle. You don’t want to.
It’s about as fun as banging your head against the wall.
You know the best part about banging your head against the wall?
Think about it.
WHAT’S THE NEXT STEP IN THE CYCLE?
This email is already long enough.
I’ll send you Step 2 tomorrow.
In the meantime you might try guessing what it is.
You might be tempted to think it’s “fat loss” based on the fat gained
from riding the Pain Cycle and/or living in Movement Dysfunction/
You’ll just have to wait til tomorrow to find out.