By Jordan Feigenbaum MS, Starting Strength Staff, CSCS, USAW CC, HFS
In general, articles on the Internet tend to come in three different flavors: a) chock full of useful information and analysis from a scientific viewpoint by a subject matter expert (self proclaimed or not), b) entertainment-based musings, or c) a blatant hatchet job written for the sole purpose of denigrating someone who’s well known in order to get your readership up. The article we’ll be discussing today falls into the latter category and both the author and publisher over at Juggernaut knew full well what they were doing. In response, I’ll appropriately be combing through this illiterate ignoramus’s article for the entire Internet to see in order to show just how bad it really is, why JTS should have higher standards for publishing, and how to present a counter analysis to another person’s viewpoint.
At this time, Mr. Mash has not responded to my email requesting his agreement to let the article be posted on StartingStrength.com for everyone to view. Additionally, I added if he’d like to discuss the article on the Internet or at our annual Starting Strength Coaches Conference he’s welcome to do so. We’re sincerely hoping Mr. Mash will regale us with his elite analysis of barbell training.
Since I do not own the article I cannot post it here in its entirety, but one of the joys of the Internet is the ability to see deleted pages through cache and I will link to a screenshot of the now-defunct page often as we take this journey through ad-hominem attacks, misinformation, and illogical arguments.
After a lot of self promotion and assertion that Mr. Mash is, indeed, a subject matter expert in the strength and conditioning world we arrive here:
“This long introduction is to explain why I cannot tolerate bogus information. My life is spent informing and helping people, so when I see someone giving out advice that is not only wrong but dangerous, it makes me furious.”
Just to be clear, we’re looking for why the subsequently argued viewpoints are safer and more correct.
“Mark Rippetoe is one such guy. Until recently I had never heard of Coach Rippetoe even though he is a self-proclaimed power-lifter and strength coach. “
So if you’ve competed in the sport of powerlifting at 40+ meets and been a gym-owner and coach for 35 years I think it’s safe to assume you’re not just a “self-proclaimed” powerlifter (1 word Mr. Mash, you elite typist you) or coach, rather actually are.
Also interesting that you say you’ve never heard of him until recently, yet you say in a comment (pic below) that “His book “Starting Strength is awesome.” Interesting.
“His popularity surged from Crossfit HQ between the years 2006-2009 teaching basic barbell movements. (HQ really needs to be careful who they choose to represent their brand, but that is a topic for another article).
Below is a video of the way the Coach Rippetoe teaches the squat:
And here is a video that is correctly how to teach a squat:
In video 1 you have Rippetoe coaching a novice how to fix their hip drive, depth issues, and other technique issues as they present themselves throughout warm up sets with a lifter in REAL-TIME. There was no staging for this, as it was not a demo on squat technique nor was it a video on “how to teach the squat”, rather it was merely a “how to fix the hip-drive” during the execution of the low bar back squat. If we go through Mr. Mash’s video, we can get some real “pearls” of information:
At 0:18 Mr. Mash says this is how “true champions” squat, although I think Dan Green, Kirk Karwowski, Ed Coan, and Andrey Malanachiev would disagree with this depiction since none of them do the high bar back squat like Mash would insinuate.
From 0:31- 1:10 Mr. Mash insinuates that you “lead with your chest” out of the bottom, although I’m sure he understands that this is merely a cue for a lifter and not what is happening biomechanically, i.e. it is the hamstrings and gluteal muscles that are starting to extend the hip while the quadriceps muscles are extending the knee anteriorly to start the concentric portion of the squat. He continues to say that “you put yourself in a better biomechanical position”, though he does not say compared to what nor does he propose a mechanism or rationalization for how this occurs. We can assume that he means a better biomechanical position compared to a low bar back squat, but then we need Mr. Mash to tell us just exactly what he means, i.e. what joints are now in a more advantageous position for the relevant muscles crossing them to fire, how does this lead to increased loading (to get stronger) than the low bar back squat, and how does this lead to a better training effect. Then he continues to say that “If you’re doing the Olympic lifts, the snatch and the clean and jerk, you always want to keep a vertical spine and you only want to have a horizontal back angle during the pull.” Let’s take a look at Dolega’s would-be WR snatch (in training) and note the back angle change out of the recovery.
Let’s pause a second here. While it is increasingly important to keep a vertical torso when recovering from a clean so as not to let the barbell deviate too far forward of the midfoot, which would create an unnecessary moment arm between the weight and the lifter’s center of mass, this is definitively not the case for the recovery from the snatch. When you watch really heavy snatches being recovered from. Notice that we just saw “hip drive” and thus, a more horizontal back angle in a snatch recovery from a “true champion”. Could this be because it’s the most effective way to drive up (extend the hips) out of the bottom in the concentric portion of the squat? Notice also that I’m defining any ambiguity in my terminology so that people can fully understand my argument and position on the matter. Mr. Mash does not do this.
At 1:15, Mr. Mash starts to “teach” the low bar squat. Mr. Mash then cues his lifter to go “back, back, back, back”, to which the lifter properly ignores so his knees can travel forward enough to optimize tension on the quadriceps in addition to engaging the posterior chain to a high degree. Then Mr. Mash cues the lifter to come up out of the bottom and incorrectly states that “See, you lift your chest first” after his lifter actually used his hips to come out of the bottom, which will happen 100% of the time in a heavy squat that’s to depth regardless of what your “guru” tells you.
At 1:45 Mr. Mash says “If you bring your chest first it brings you to almost lock out anyway.” However, what we actually see in video analysis of lifters is that the bar speed craters when the chest gets lifted on the way up when the muscles of the hips (gluteal group, hamstrings, adductors, etc.) could still be actively contributing to hip extension. Lifting the chest or as Louie puts it “shove your hips forward out of the bottom slacks the hamstrings and causes force production to drop. I have seen many reps missed this way and this “phenomenon” has been corroborated by other coaches who know how to analyze a lift. For a rather dramatic example, see Scott Cartright’s Squat where he tries to “lift the chest and shoves his hips forward out of the bottom” (but he actually drives his hips upward) vs. Andrey Malanachiev’s squat. Which one is to better depth? Which one had better bar speed?
From about 1:50-2:00 Mr. Mash is almost incomprehensible as he talks in sentence fragments and does not really make a clear point except for telling us to watch a 2 year old squat because, children and that you shouldn’t lead up with the hips first then the chest, rather it should be one motion. Ironically, THIS IS HOW WE TEACH THE SQUAT AT ALL OUR SEMINARS, which we’ve been doing for years. Strange.
Then it’s time for some Johnnie Candito action, just for good measure because
“Here is another coach agreeing with me”
The focus for the video, as we find out at 0:16 is “Proper hip drive in the squat”. Notice that Candito uses Mark Rippetoe’s name in his video title so that he can get more views because, ya know, Rip actually has a pretty decent following and all. Mr. Candito has unfortunately disabled comments for this video as he was getting called out left and right for all of his misgivings, which we’ll address in order:
At 0:45 Mr. Candito posits that “Mark Rippetoe teaches the hip drive as driving back the hips” out of the bottom of the squat. He continues,
“Here is the problem that is not using your hips at all. What is really happening is knee extension.”
So first things first, we do not teach the hip drive as “driving back the hips” or moving the hips posteriorly out of the bottom of the squat and if Mr. Candito would have read the book by the person he’s trying to use to get views, he’d know this. Additionally, even if someone did move the hips backwards significantly out of the bottom of the squat on their way up, it is virtually impossible to move the hips and the rest of the attached lower limb posteriorly without also moving the damn things upwards, i.e. hip extension during the concentric portion of the squat. Knee extension in absence of hip extension from the bottom of the squat with any significant load is impossible, as the lifter would simply knock themselves over on their ass from the knee extension creating a moment arm between the barbell and the middle of the foot (with the barbell being behind the middle of the foot).
From 0:54-1:10 Mr. Candito regales us with how he likes to teach the squat. He wants you to
initiate the squat by flexing the knee, then actively using your hip flexors on the way down to pull yourself into the bottom of the squat.
During the whole time of course, you should be actively flexing your glutes to “gradually sink back into the squat”. While I’m not sure what in the actual hell “gradually sink back into the squat” means, the preceding anatomy and biomechanics is complete and utter gibberish stemming from ignorance on the relevant topic. The hip flexors do not actively contract in order to flex the hip during the eccentric portion of the squat, just as the lats don’t actively contract in order to bring the bar back down from the press (overhead for the uninitiated). Gravity does a fine job at bringing things down and the only thing these muscles that are shortening do is relax in order to allow the movement to proceed. The only accurate thing mentioned here is the “flexing” of the glutes, as this eccentric braking resists “dive-bombing” the descent and getting out of position.
Next, Mr. Candito continues
“but this is not just simply bending forward, there is a difference between leaning forward and actually using your hip flexors and extensors.”
It’s hard to discern just what exactly Johnny is talking about, but this is nonsense. You lean forward, i.e. your back angle becomes more horizontal relative to the floor, during any variation of squat as the hips and the knees flex. How horizontal your back becomes is dependent on the bar position and segment length of the individual lifter. In the high bar position, the back angle will be more vertical compared to the low bar squat. If we consider the low bar back squat in an individual with a long torso, i.e. a long segment length between the SI joint and the barbell, he or she will have a more vertical torso than a person with a short torso. In any event, none of these squats will have occurred by the “hip flexors actively pulling the lifter downwards”, rather gravity will do that just fine. Similarly, the barbell will stay directly vertical to the middle of the foot and the intervening body segments, i.e. the torso and the femur, will accommodate any number of various configurations to make sure this happens. So what’s the take home? Forward lean is a function of segment length and bar position, the hip flexors don’t pull you down, and Johnny Candito should make less YouTube videos in his school library.
Next (at 1:22), it’s video time with Mr. Candito as he attempts to show us correct utilization of the hips. Mr. Candito says
“By using my hips properly I’m able to sit back, be explosive, while keeping my chest up.”
When watching his video, you can see that Mr. Candito has chosen to use a high bar variation of the squat, which is interesting because he’s claiming to want to show us how to drive the hips properly and hip drive is suboptimal in this variation due to slacking of the hamstrings relative to the low bar version. You’ll also notice, if you click through the video demonstration of his rep, that his hips do indeed move back as they start to go up out of the bottom. He actually writes “notice the knees are stagnate out of the bottom” when they are a) extending and b) moving posteriorly out of the hole. His chest also falls as he drives his hips because he didn’t keep his back locked in place well enough. So in effect, he’s doing exactly the opposite of all the things he told you that you shouldn’t do. Some of which are a misunderstanding of both the Starting Strength model of the squat and some are just form faults.
At 1:52, Mr. Candito says
“You might have noticed that my hips do not thrust forward immediately out of the hole. This is because your quads inevitably will be active throughout the entire movement. So mentally you need to counteract by thrusting the hips forward to remain in a neutral position.”
Typical gibberish. None of this makes sense except for the quads are active throughout the entire movement, which is correct in that they eccentrically lengthen during the descent and they concentrically shorten during the ascent.
At 2:29, Mr. Candito shows a clip of Rip coaching the low bar back squat (LBBS) to a novice lifter, which is the same video Mr. Mash referenced in the beginning of the article. Does the lifter shift his hips posteriorly out of the bottom in this video? Yes he does, as this was done when trying to coach a novice lifter who was not previously using the stretch-shortening cycle during his squat. Sometimes when you coach people, you have to get them to exaggerate the new behavior you’re wanting them to do in order to get the correction you want. This is not what we teach at the Starting Strength Seminars or in the book. We want the hips to drive straight up out of the bottom, as any other movement anterior or posterior is less efficient. Mr. Candito has not read the book, asked a question on the forum, or come to a seminar where he would learn he is mistaken. Rather, he is just running his mouth on the Internet because he can. Then we get a clip of Johnny squatting 500 about an inch high with really terrible hip drive. The hip drive is lost because he is high and he’s not thinking “hips up”.
The rest of the video is Mr. Candito stammering over his misinterpretation of the mechanics involved in the squat, what is actually happening anatomically and biomechanically, and in general, making himself look foolish. The hips do not go forward-optimally out of the bottom of the squat. Rather they go up via hip extension. If you look at heavy squats (including Cartwright who is trying to go “hips forward” out of the bottom) they will ALL come out of the bottom with a hip drive upwards. If you consciously cue “hips forward” after the initial hip drive, the bar speed slows markedly and this can be seen in video analysis of lifters who do this. On the other hand, if you “stay in your hips” (as in you do not exaggerate lifting the chest) all the way up the bar speed is better indicating increased force production and better mechanics.
Anyway, let’s move back to Mr. Mash now. He continues with:
“The problem with Rippetoe’s approach is that he is considering the hamstrings only, which is becoming a big problem in sports medicine in America.”
How in the world could one reasonably come to this conclusion when Rip spends pages talking about why we choose the stance we do in the squat, deadlift and powerclean, i.e. for more external rotator and adductor musculature to be used. Also, how are hamstrings only becoming a big problem in sports medicine in America? A quick review of relevant medical literature sources came up empty for “Subject matter expert only considers the hamstrings.” Maybe my search criteria was wrong or maybe Mr. Mash hasn’t yet defined his argument to anything intelligible. Here’s hoping he gets it together in a few paragraphs. Then, this useless nugget comes in:
“In contrast, Gray Cook, the best Physical Therapist, is changing all of that. Gray teaches movement and how muscles work synergistically. “
Synergy in the musculoskeletal system can be defined as the interaction of multiple muscles together to produce an effect greater than the sum of their individual effects. An example would be to use the low bar back squat with proper hip drive so you can use your hamstrings to a greater degree, whose force production will be added to the force created by the glutes, adductors, etc. Wow, this sounds almost exactly like what we teach at our seminars and what is written in the book that Travis claims is “awesome.”
Mr. Mash continues to provide us with other gems in his article:
“If you want to know how to squat properly, look at a two year old. They sit their butts between their ankles, maintain a vertical back, and they will not lift the butt or hips first.”
This is what’s classically known as an informal fallacy in that the structure of the argument is fine, but the conclusion is bogus. Is Mr. Mash really contending that the most optimal way to squat is the way in which a 2 year old squats? What does he consider optimal? We contend that the most optimal squat is the one that results in training the most amount of muscle mass, uses the most effective range of motion, and results in the highest force production and can subsequently be loaded the heaviest. Mr. Mash’s assertion that the way a 2 year old squats, which he defines as having the “butt between their ankles with a vertical back” results in decreased muscle mass usage, as at this depth the hamstrings are slacked to a much greater degree and cannot contribute to hip extension as effectively and thus, do not receive as potent a training effect. Moreover, because this style of squatting, i.e. ATG “2 year old style”, would undoubtedly lead to less weight on the bar, less force production can be trained and less strength-which is a general adaptation that can apply widely- will be accrued. The counter argument that is sometimes made to this when we go down this rabbit hole is why not use quarter squats then, as you can load them far heavier than a to-depth squat of any variety. We cannot forget about our first criteria for the most optimal form of each exercise, which is to train the most amount of muscle mass possible. A quarter, half, or other partial exercises result in decreased training of the hamstrings and glutes, which has been routinely demonstrated in published scientific literature.
So, Mr. Mash’s initial argument is bogus to begin with and just when you think it couldn’t get any worse:
“Not to mention we all learned in intro level Geometry that two levers are better than one, and Rippetoe teaches to shift all loads onto the hip lever. “
How exactly are two levers better than one and how did Mr. Mash come to the conclusion that Rip and Co. teaches the squat in such a way that “shifts all the loads onto the hip lever”?* If Mr. Mash had read the book, Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training 3rd Edition, he would realize that his statements have no basis in reality. We properly define the levers as they apply to the trunk and lower limb as follows:
-The “trunk” lever- The horizontal distance between the barbell and the hip joint.
-The proximal femur lever- The horizontal distance between where the barbell bisects the femur and the hip joint
-The distal femur lever- The horizontal distance between where the barbell bisects the femur and the knee joint.
All these levers are defined and described in great detail in the book and Mr. Mash is incorrectly coming to the conclusion that because Rip talks about hip drive that he wants no distal femur lever arm and a maximal proximal femur lever. In actuality, these values are pretty much set in stone depending on the length of your femur, trunk, and where you place the bar. The argument that we make is that in the low bar back squat, the proximal femur lever is longer than it would be in the high bar back squat because IT IS. We further argue that we desire this long-er lever arm because the hip joint has more available musculature and soft tissue surrounding it so that it can both absorb the higher force values AND create more force during the concentric portion of the squat. In sum, we seek a long proximal femur lever by choosing the low bar back squat so that more of the stress is absorbed by the hips, which can create more force anyway. We do not actively seek the elimination of the distal femur lever and this does not occur in the version of the squat we teach anyway even with people of weird limb lengths.
In a high bar back squat, the proximal femur lever gets shorter (less force on the hips) and the distal femur lever gets longer (more force on the knees). Since there is a reduced moment arm acting about the proximal femur lever, the muscles acting on the hip cannot generate as much force and less weight is lifted. Concomitantly, the high bar squat also produces increased forces and shear on the knee, which may or may not be a training consideration to make when programming for your stable of lifters.
As for your silly assertion that “two levers are better than one”:
Archimedes said :“Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough, and I shall move the world”, which refers to one lever. He’s probably a “rookie” too, right?
*Bonus points if you think Mr. Mash could correctly define the hip lever.
Next, Mr. Mash attempts to gain credibility by listing high level powerlifters who “know that the technique that Coach Rippetoe teaches is the very technique that we all avoid.” Let’s see who he lists:
“I have watched videos of all the great squatters in history: Ed Coan, Steve Goggins, Dan Green, Chad Wesley Smith, Shane Hammons, and Kirk Karwoski. “
Besides misspelling Shane Hamman’s name, does Mr. Mash realize that all of these lifters use the low bar back squat with hip drive? You know, the exact same technique that Rippetoe coaches and writes about? Does he know that Shane Hamman (fixed that one for ya’ rookie), Kirk Karwoski, and Ed Coan all have interviews on the Starting Strength site- seemingly lending credibility to idea that they agree with the technique advocated on the site.* Rip has even stated publicly that Dan Green’s squat is right in line with the hip drive he teaches, even if it’s not consciously done:
“No one ever said they were consciously thinking about driving their hips up. I’m sure that most of them are not. But they’re doing it anyway, because that’s how you get out of the bottom, and the longer you stay in the hip drive the more powerful the squat. My point is that they should be thinking about it, and that when you do you squat more efficiently. “
*This is me providing an informal fallacy of sorts, though it might actually be true as I haven’t asked them yet.
I’m not so sure that Mr. Mash’s assertion that the following is true at all:
“All great squatters know that the technique that Coach Rippetoe teaches is the very technique that we all avoid. “
Seems to me like they all use it whether they know it or not. A really poorly written article always needs some chest thumping and ad hominem attacks to keep readers interested and Mr. Mash did not disappoint:
“ I know all of these people, and I have talked squat with the best in the business. I have squatted 805lbs raw, 900lbs single ply, and 970lbs multi-ply and all at 220lbs.”
“ The position that he [Rippetoe] preaches is what we all call the “point of no return”, or where we are about to get crushed. At first I couldn’t believe that a power-lifter would preach this form, until I looked up his best numbers: Coach Rippetoe only squatted 611 lbs in a single ply squat suit at 220lbs. Rippetoe just doesn’t know any better. Rookie.”
Travis is a strong dude, no doubt about it. But how is it that having a better squat entitles someone to a better mechanical analysis, which is very cerebral in nature? While I’ll agree that a coach should have a good background in training him or herself, the degree to which these two coaches (Mash and Rippetoe) differ are not due to different “squat mechanics”. Rather the difference seen here, which is often under appreciated in people coaching high level athletes, is that some people are just very blessed in their ability to respond to a training stimulus. I could of course, opine about how Rip’s 611 was in a single ply squat suit from the 80’s which would pass for a singlet in comparison to modern-era equipment, but that’s not the point of showcasing how silly Mr. Mash’s belief is here.
He’s trying to make the case that because he “knows all of these people” and “has squatted 805 raw, 900lbs single ply”, etc. that his evaluation of the mechanics in the musculoskeletal system are better than someone else’s. I’d posit that a person with a PhD in kinesiology or biomechanics could easily analyze the barbell lifts and come up with a very sound analysis even if they have never trained. When you take a good chunk of training and coaching and put that on top of a knowledge base involving physics and human anatomy well, the analysis goes a lot smoother and additional insights will be made even if you never squatted 900. And let’s be real for a split second, while the gap between 611 and 900 is certainly vast, we’re still talking about the top 0.5% of human strength here, which is to say it really doesn’t matter if you squat 300lbs more provided you have actually trained your squat in the first place.
Let’s gear up for a couple more illogical arguments:
“I would like to coach Rippetoe myself, I could teach him how to have a decent squat.
You don’t have to have an elite squat to teach, but if you are going to be the self-proclaimed guru of the squat, then you need to be legit at least, not a rookie. (HQ should have checked him out first.) “
Let’s have a long hard look at this second sentence, shall we? Mr. Mash seems to contradict his earlier sentiments where he denigrated Rip’s 611 squat with the intent to assert himself as the subject matter expert, but then he turns around and says you don’t have to have an elite squat to teach- as long as you’re legit. So, I’m not sure exactly what “legit” is being defined as other than the fact that it’s not necessarily “elite”. I also don’t know how you can call a guy who has been doing this for 35+ years a “rookie”, but that seems to be his go to insult. Let’s see what other useful analysis Mr. Mash can provide:
“Even more infuriating is that this rookie is charging $600 per person to teach them how to squat incorrectly. Hey Crossfit community, stop giving your money to a phony rookie. “
If you’re going to try to bash someone, at least do it correctly. We’re currently charging 795-895 per slot at the seminar. See, if you only charge $125 like Mash does for his Learn to Lift Seminars you just know the info is bogus, right?* CrossFit charges $1000 a head for their weekend seminar where you don’t learn any technical analysis of the lifts, legitimate nutrition or programming information. On the other hand, you do get to see lots of Lululemon and do snatches with a PVC pipe so maybe that’s the real draw.
*Another illogical fallacy. Just keeping you guys awake here. Don’t worry we’re almost through so you can repost this 🙂
Moving along, Mash goes on to say:
“I know a lot of people are going to be upset about the harshness of this article, but this has to be said. If you are going to a seminar, watch some videos of professionals performing the movements. Then if the person teaching the seminar is teaching something completely opposite, leave the room immediately. World record holders and world champions lift weights a certain way for a reason: because it is the best way. There are a lot of seminars out there with great information, so do your research.”
“Here are three questions to consider about the presenters:
What is their background?
What is their education?
Who have they coached?”
Here’s why 1 and 2 are good criteria, but 3 is not really helpful. 1 and 2 tell you how much legwork the coach/presenters have done and what kind of population they’re familiar with and who/what they cater to. Number 3 doesn’t help you because the people that get coached and perform at the highest levels often do well in spite of what they do. In other words, their coach is likely taking credit for their athlete’s awesome achievements even though the coach didn’t really do anything besides keep the athlete healthy. This happens all the time at the college and pro level, so it’s no surprise Mr. Mash feels this way. World record holders lift weights certain ways because they can, not because it’s optimal. There are great pitchers in the MLB who throw side arm, but no one would argue that this is the best way to throw a baseball.
And now, Mr. Mash wants a good ol’ fashioned high bar vs low bar argument:
“If your goal is to improve in Olympic weightlifting or athletic performance, the high bar back squat is best for maximal depth and range of motion. If your goal is maximal weight in powerlifting, then low bar is better for a center of gravity advantage.”
First you’d have to consider why an Olympic lifter is squatting in the first place, right? Hopefully the answer is to “get stronger” and the reason they use the back squat in addition to the front squat is because you can get stronger, faster, with the back squat as it can be loaded heavier than the front squat. The front squat is specific to the clean recovery whereas the back squat is not specific to the clean or the snatch (when high bar mechanics are used). So if we’re trying to use a squat variation that allows for the most efficient increase in strength we should use the LBBS for the following reasons:
-It uses more muscle mass than the HBBS or FS, as the hamstrings and muscles of the back get more training effect, which makes them stronger.
-The LBBS is more specific to the competition lifts than the HBBS. The HBBS does not replicate the receiving and/or recovery positions of the clean or the snatch with respect the angle of the torso. Nor do the torso and joint angles resemble the mechanics of the first pull. The LBBS, on the other hand resembles the snatch recovery position (see the earlier Dolega video) and the angle of the torso of in the competition lifts’ first pull. If specificity is your argument for use of the HBBS in addition to the FS, well…that’s not a very good one as you can see. Yes, the HBBS is more similar to the clean recovery than the LBBS, but the FS is more specific than that and you are training your front squat if you’re an Olympic lifter, right?
-The LBBS allows more weight to be lifted in training. Since the back squat is not a competitive lift or integral portion of either the clean or snatch recovery (unlike the front squat), then the variation of the other squat used in addition to the front squat should be the one that provides the most efficient increases in strength, since, ya know…that shit is important.
-Olympic lifters tend to get overuse injuries in their knees from aggressive receiving positions in the clean, snatch and the jerk. The HBBS puts more stress on the knees, as was discussed earlier and this might be an important training/programming consideration for an athlete, unless you’re a rookie.
Pretty standard argument really. You just need to think more and type less, Mr. Mash. It’s good for you. Let’s see what else we’ve got here:
“Absolutely lift your chest first when coming out of the bottom of a squat.”
Definitely don’t do this unless you want to kill hip drive and miss the rep. Wonder why Coan, Kirk, Mike T, Hamman, et. al don’t do this?
Here is a classic example of someone who has not read the material he is attacking:
“Knees and hips should lock out at approximately the same time; the last place that you want to be is with your hips as high as your shoulders or even close to that position.
When the hips shoot up like Rippetoe teaches, all the weight is shifted to the low back and most of the time the bar pulls the lifter forward, “the point of no return”
[bolded parts added for dramatic effect]
This is not actually what Rip and Co. teaches or writes about. We teach that the hip drive should be consciously focused on in such a way that produces the maximum force production out of the bottom of the squat. This maximal force production would ideally be transferred through a rigid spine so that no power leak occurs and the hips and chest rise together at the same rate. Doing it any other way, i.e. hips up without the chest or “lead with the chest without the hips” would result in suboptimal force production and lifting mechanics.
We do not teach “hips up first”, which you would know if you would’ve read the book, come onto the forums, or done any sort of research at all before you began your intentional character assassination designed to increase you and Chad Wesley Smith’s readership. More on that later, we’ve got more bro to flame here:
“Muscles were designed to work synergistically, and in the squat the quadriceps are attempting to extend the knees while the hamstrings and glutes are extending the hips. The muscles were designed to work together at the same time, maintaining two fulcrums at the knee and hip until completion. They were never designed to work independently.”
Muscles weren’t designed to do anything besides contract. They’ll do so in isolation and they’ll do so as part of a complex movement. They’ll synergistically contract if they share a common function or movement, i.e. the glutes’ force plus the hamstrings’ force in getting out of the bottom of the squat. I’m not sure why you’re under the impression the Rippetoe teaches that muscles should work independently because again, this is not even close to what is written in the book or presented at our seminar.
And to finish, some stuff is so good that I couldn’t even make up if I tried:
“I spent last Monday night Skyping with one of the best Olympic weightlifting coaches in America (I will leave him anonymous to protect him from the fallout of this article). He agreed that this article needed to be written because this Rippetoe thing has gone way too far.
Ah, good, you talked to Glenn Pendlay who undoubtedly gave you the low down. Nevermind the personal feud between them and ignore that Glenn is an Internet troll who has been making up fake aliases and talking to himself online for years in order to bolster his own credibility.* Seems like a good place to get an unbiased opinion from in order to get all your ducks in a row for presenting your carefully thought out argument. Please read this thread to see Glenn trolling and getting caught just a few months ago.
*See, that was what an ad hominem attack looks like.
Wow, look how far we’ve come! I really didn’t want to have to write this article and in truth, I wasn’t going to because after reading the comments on the JTS site on the article it was very apparent that anyone with half a brain saw how poorly this article was written and the fallacies inherent to literally every single one of Mr. Mash’s “points.” It’s rare that you can’t find anything good in an article or video so I’ve got to hand it to Mr. Mash and Mr. Candito for doing a smash up job on their contributions.
In writing this, however, I got to thinking about how it would be possible for such an experienced lifter and coach to actually believe the nonsense he was writing. I mean, he did squat 800 raw, which clearly makes him an expert here, right? I ended up coming to the conclusion that Mr. Mash actually wrote this drivel incorrectly on purpose in order to get more traffic to the JTS site and his own website. Then I started thinking that the only reason CWS would put this up knowing that people aren’t in fact brain dead, is because he knew it would blow up over the Internet and that’s good for business. CWS ended up writing a poorly worded apology after he took the article down and then he had the balls to take the apology down after he started deleting comments criticizing the article or questioning the author. Basically they’re trying to cover the whole thing up, which is a cowardly move if I’ve ever seen one. Listen folks, when you screw up- you screw up, but you have to face the music and take your lumps as you own up to your mistakes. Time to face the music, fellas.
By Jordan Feigenbaum MS, CSCS, HFS, USAW Club Coach, Starting Strength Staff
If you haven’t seen this article yet give it a read, as it should set the tone for this blog post. Just as an aside to those who disagree with this blog post or Mark’s article, save the ad hominem attacks and please present your analysis within the context of both anecdotal evidence and scientific evidence. If you’re going to use the latter, please make sure you read the entire study and look at the data before you make claims, as it will save everyone a lot of time and you some future embarrassment if you, ya know, missed something.
At any rate, I recently got hit with this statement and was asked for a response:
Quick question for you-my friend goes to Gold’s and one of the trainers there said it is “better to do cardio before weights”. I would love to get your opinion on the matter.
So instead of calling into question the validity of a trainer’s opinion who works at a Gold’s gym, which would be an ad hominem attack that doesn’t really address this statement, I thought I’d do this in a blog post about conditioning in general. I’m saving the heavily annotated discussion of this topic for my book and thus, this will merely be a reflection of what I believe the current science says and my experience in working with people as a coach.
To begin, we need to talk about what the goals of a training program, in general, actually are for an individual. In other words, WHY IS A PERSON TRAINING? If there is no clear-cut goal, I’d make the semantic argument that the person is just exercising for no particular reason, which is fine too. On the other hand, if a person does have a specific goal, yet is not taking specific steps to achieve this goal then the person’s training is, by definition, suboptimal. In short, we need to clarify what is the goal of the person we’re answering this question [When should I do conditioning?] in order to provide an accurate answer. Additionally, we need to get a clearer picture of what exactly the person is doing training or exercise wise depending on their current level of commitment to their goal. As you can see, there are lots of unknowns here that we can’t possibly answer and thus, the discussion needs to shift to be more general. So what we’ll do is go over the important considerations to determine optimal conditioning timing, frequency, etc. with respect to three general goals:
- Weight Loss
Here’s the first question: How much conditioning* training is optimal? (cue explosions for dramatic affect)
* conditioning can be considered analogous to cardio (low intensity steady state-LISS, High intensity interval training (HIIT), circuits, etc.)
I’d make the argument that within the context of an individual who is following an intelligent training program that’s centered around planned progressive overload of the big lifts, e.g. the squat, bench, deadlift, press, power clean, and chin/pullup, that the optimal conditioning volume (total frequency and duration of conditioning efforts) should be the smallest amount needed to produce the desired goal. Let’s look at this from the health perspective first.
We know that training increases oxygen delivery to tissues, causes adaptations at both the tissue (macro) and cellular (micro) level, and alters hemodynamic properties (hemoglobin, blood viscosity, etc.) that all result in increased capacity to do work and sustain activity. The real question we should be asking from this perspective, however, is what sort of training most optimally reduces major negative health outcomes…ya know, like death, cancer, cardiovascular incidents, etc. Well, as it turns out the literature suggests that the stronger someone is, i.e. the more force they can produce with their muscles to move an external object, the lower the morbidity and mortality rates when compared to both sedentary populations and those who were more “aerobically developed” from doing typical conditioning/cardio training and, more interestingly perhaps, the same rates of morbidity and mortality as those who were the strongest and the most aerobically developed. As it turns out, there’s more than a nugget of truth on ol’ Rip’s adage:
“Stronger people are harder to kill than weaker people, and more useful in general”-Mark Rippetoe
Does this mean I’m saying people who are training/exercising for health purposes shouldn’t do any sort of conditioning? No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m implying that you get a pretty decent stress from weight training to drive conditioning adaptations that have an observably profound effect on clinical outcomes. If you desire additional capacity for another purpose, i.e. you want to be able to run further/faster or have more “wind” when doing a particular activity (e.g. pick-up basketball), then doing some supplemental conditioning work will be useful in achieving these goals. However, let’s not be confused with what the literature is saying about how this will affect health.
This being said, if someone is not training in an intelligently implemented manner with a focus on the only incrementally loadable, systemically stressing modality there is, e.g. barbells, then he or she will need to do more conditioning work in order to supplement the lack of actual training stimulus he or she is getting from the gym. High intensity interval training (HIIT) is the obvious choice, as the adaptations and metabolic responses to this style of conditioning tend to mirror that of resistance training, whereas low intensity steady state cardio pales in comparison (though there is a purpose for this style training that we’ll discuss alter).
HIIT causes the skeletal muscles to move to relatively high velocities and contract with high forces compared to LISS. Because the demand for energy is so high during HIIT, it is appropriately referred to as anaerobic or glycolytic training, as the rate of energy production is so high that aerobic (with oxygen) energy producing pathways can’t keep up. When done appropriately, HIIT increases basal metabolic rate (BMR) significantly over many hours post exercise (more calories burned in total), increases mitochondria biogenesis (makes new energy producing and calorie burning power plants in the cell to increase BMR chronically), increases skeletal muscle’s uptake of nutrients (instead of fat), does not cause muscle catabolism (like LISS), and results in even more pronounced cardiorespiratory conditioning adaptations in the heart, lungs, and vascular tissues. HIIT works so well, clinicians are using it in COPD, MI, and Obese patient populations instead of LISS. Just sayin’…..
In sum, I don’t think there’s a good reason to do tons of conditioning work if you’re just interested in health UNLESS you need the extra conditioning work to produce other desirable changes, e.g. performance increases or fat loss.
So, how much conditioning is optimal for increasing performance? The answer (duh), is IT DEPENDS ON YOUR SPORT. If you’re a marathoner you’re obviously going to have a higher total conditioning volume than a weightlifter. Similarly, the types of conditioning are going to be different. Marathoners need steady state “tempo” work in order to develop efficiency in running, which is more strength and strength-endurance limited than it is limited by someone’s lungs/heart. In other words, you don’t stop running because you’re out of breath, you stop running because your legs are tired. This is a strength deficit, through and through, which is ameliorated by actually training to get strong AND doing longer runs to acclimate the body to become more efficient at running and therefore require less energy. If you’re a weightlifter, the only reason you’re doing conditioning is to improve your ability to lift weights, i.e. put pounds on the bar or improve recovery enough to increase training frequency (by being better conditioned) to aid in putting weight on the bar.
So the optimal amount of conditioning for a marathoner and a weightlifter are different, but the answer is still the same as what we covered in the health section, i.e the smallest amount needed to produce the desired goal. This will, of course, be different for everyone.
I bet you already know the answer to how much conditioning is optimal for weight loss (and you’d be correct): the smallest amount needed to produce the desired goal. Basically, we want to get the most out of the least so we have somewhere to go when we get stuck. Anyone who’s ever gotten really lean knows about getting stuck, which requires manipulation of conditioning efforts (usually adding more), training, and food intake (usually small reductions in carbs and fat). Unfortunately, people get greedy with results and think MORE IS BETTER, and cut out a bunch of energy (calories) and add a bunch of conditioning. Truth is, more isn’t better; BETTER IS BETTER.
By removing a bunch of calories when it’s not needed or, equivalently, adding a bunch of conditioning when it’s not needed you miss out on getting the best return on investment (ROI) possible and are, for no reason, reducing the amount of food you’re eating and increasing the amount of activity you’re doing. What do you think the body is going to do? It’s gonna say “Screw you guys I’m going home!”
Look, two things are happening here.
Thing 1: With calorie restriction, which is needed to lose weight, your metabolism slows down.
Thing 2: If your conditioning is mostly LISS, your metabolism slows down, i.e. you become more efficient at creating energy (no, this is not good). The current thinking on this mechanism has to do with reduced expression of uncoupling proteins in the mitochondria, which normally make the mitochondrial less efficient at creating energy (ATP).
So, imagine all the typical cardio bunnies starving themselves and doing hours of cardio on the elliptical; low intensity mind you because how are you supposed to read Elle magazine when you’re doing HIIT? Their metabolisms are slowing down from both ends and then boom, a big blowout weekend (or week) and what happens? Lots of fat deposition because their metabolisms are so depressed it’s the only thing that can happen. Yes Virginia, their BMR will increase transiently due to the “refeed” of a hypercaloric couple of days, but lots of adipose tissue will also get stored.
So, in short….how much conditioning should you do? The smallest amount needed to produce the desired goal.
The next question is rather obvious, what is the purpose of conditioning?
From a health perspective, there’s really not a lot of purpose for pure conditioning modalities unless it’s either facilitating another related (e.g. fat loss) or unrelated goal (e.g. more conditioning for sport) OR the person isn’t training and therefore needs something to supplement them.
From a performance standpoint, the purpose of conditioning is to drive the adaptations specific to that sport. Returning to the marathoner vs. weightlifter, the marathoner is obviously going to spend more time doing steady state stuff and their interval work will have different work to rest ratios (1:1-1:3 will be the bulk of it) versus the weightlifter not doing hardly any steady state stuff and sticking to interval work with 1:5-1:20 work to rest ratios. The only exception to the “drive the adaptations specific to that sport” mantra is if the sport is a weight class sport and thus the conditioning’s purpose may also include fat loss/weight manipulation
From a weight loss perspective, the purpose of conditioning is fat loss pure and simple. HIIT trumps LISS in this regard, as even though a longer LISS session certainly burns more calories during the activity, the HIIT burns more calories in total than the LISS by increasing resting metabolism over the course of hours-days post workout. People will say “Well you burn a higher percentage of fat doing LISS than HIIT”, which is true. On the other hand, I don’t really care about the percentage of fat I burn, I care about the total number of fat I burn, which is much greater in HIIT since the total energy expenditure is much higher. Kind of a dumb argument if you ask me.
The final question, which is the original motivation for even writing this things is: When should you optimally do conditioning?
Now, there’s really no reason to discuss the health perspective on this since the only reason to do conditioning for health is in order to increase performance or improve fat loss so we’ll stick with those.
Performance-wise, this all depends what kind of athlete you are. If you’re in a sport that’s conditioning focused then there will likely be plenty of times you’re going to be doing conditioning only during practice or programmed sessions. I could make the argument that if there are skills you need to practice that these should be incorporated first before the conditioning work, as it is highly fatiguing and might interfere with practicing optimal technique of the skill. This is the same for strength/power training, i.e. it should come first for virtually any athlete who’s going to train multiple modalities in the same day even if he or she is going to split them up into multiple training sessions in the course of the day (i.e. 2 or 3-a days). Will doing a heavy squat session first or in the AM negatively impact the ability to do a long tempo run second or in the PM? Of course, duh. However, the squat session is going to have less of an effect on the run as the run would have on the squat. Moreover, the runner is going to get a more useful stimulus from the squats than the run provided the context we’re discussing is the off season or GPP/accumulation phases. On the other hand, I could make the argument that during more specific training phases or in-season cycles, the runner should run first and then do a lighter, more attenuated squat session later to try and preserve strength during the season. Applying this same rationale to a weightlifter and the answer becomes crystal clear, conditioning comes after the weights 100% of the time with respect to developing performance.
When talking optimal conditioning timing concerning weight loss, the answer is really even clearer in my opinion. Optimally, you’d do conditioning (HIIT mostly) on your OFF days, i.e. days you’re not training with weights. See, resistance training provides a super potent stimulus to the body to increase metabolism, burn calories for hours post workout, partition nutrients favorably, and otherwise adapt to the stress imparted upon it. Adding conditioning workouts to a resistance training session, therefore, is not optimal in that you’re already getting a big time stimulus from training anyway and there’s MORE benefit to be had by doing it on your off days where you where previously receiving no stimulus (or a waning stimulus from the previous day’s training). Remember, the goal here is to signal as much possible increase in BMR, favorable nutrient partitioning, and net calorie burn as possible.
Understandably, many people do not have a flexible enough schedule to do this and so the crux of the matter becomes this: Should I do cardio before or after weights? Answer (you probably already know this): AFTER!!!!
Resistance training provides a more potent stimulus than conditioning, period. Why? Because resistance training is heavier, has longer ranges of motion, and overall imparts more stress on the human organism (or at least it should). If you did conditioning before training, you’re fatiguing motor units, depleting the muscles of energy, and overall reducing possible intensity, volume, etc. that could possible be attained in the session as a whole. Now, weight training first will certainly attenuate the amount of intensity or effort a person can put into conditioning but this is not as severe as the opposite since, ya know, conditioning is easier than burying a heavy squat.
My stock recommendation for those who have to get in and out of the gym in an hour and can’t train more than 3-4x a week is as follows: Spend 45 minutes doing progressively heavier barbell training and 15 minutes doing HIIT everytime. Period.
By Jordan Feigenbaum MS, Starting Strength Staff, CSCS, HFS, USAW Club Coach
1) Not reading the book
Seriously, most people who are doing “Starting Strength Novice Progression” have never even read the book. They got the “routine”, replete with rows in place of power cleans, of the Internet and are 100% unprepared for what this program requires. Further, because they have not read the book and thus, are lacking in understanding the rationale- the WHY- behind the program, they do a bunch of inappropriate things as seen in the other 9 items below. Bompa, Issurin, and Zatsiorisky all agree that explaining to an athlete the “why” behind the “what” is important for compliance. If you want to do Starting Strength Novice Progression, you need to read the book. Period.
2) Starting too heavy.
This is usually a result of a failure to read the book, however there are still some people that will start too heavy because the heavier you start the faster you’ll get strong, right? Wrong. What we’re aiming to do is use the smallest effective dose to stimulate the maximum potential response. In lifting terms, we want you starting with a weight that begins to challenge your ability. This can be gauged, roughly, by when the speed of the bar slows down or the technique suffers slightly. If the former happens, then you’ve just done a set of 5 reps that is heavy enough to drive the adaptations we want, i.e. strength, neuromuscular coordination, hypertrophy, etc. If the latter happens, however, we need to back the weight down just a tad in order to preserve proper form (see below).
3) Having poor technique.
This mostly stems from people not doing Step 1, i.e. reading the book, OR not watching all the videos, reading all the articles, etc. on the site, YouTube channel, or various other mediums. Bottom line is, if you’re technique is not good you’re going to see less than optimal results through any training program, period. When compounded by the fact that this program aims to get you as strong as possible in the shortest amount of time, things start to escalate quickly. It would behoove any person to see a Starting Strength Coach within their first week of training just to hammer this all out. If that’s not possible, post a form check on the Q/A the coaches so graciously run.
4) Eating like a bird.
I was thinking about putting this as number one, but alas, I thought the other things were actually more important and, specifically, doing number 1 would take care of this number. Look, if you’re a 16-23 year old male and <165 lbs, you need to gain a significant amount of body weight, like yesterday, in order to be facilitate the fastest rate of strength and muscle size acquisition. This is done through food, like LOTS of it. I’ve already written extensively about this topic in this article, so I suggest checking that out. Look, here’s the simple fact:
You have one chance in your life to put on muscle at an almost unnatural rate. This moment in time also coincides with the ability to gain a tremendous amount of strength, if you’ll only eat to facilitate this process. For 3 months forget about your abs so you can build the ice chest to put the 6-pack in.
The older, heavier, or more female you get away from this “ideal Starting Strength candidate” the less extra food you need to drive these processes. Again, see the article linked above “To Be a Beast” for more discussion on this topic.
5) Not resting long enough between sets.
After 3 minutes, approximately 80% of your muscle’s ATP has been replenished, at 5 minutes, approximately 95% is back in the game, and at 8 minutes ~ 100% is there. Don’t try to hit PR’s, which happen everyday on this program, with 80% of your muscles’ energy available.
6) Adding in too much bullshit.
Remember that we’re using the minimum effective dose to get the maximum response here. Adding in a bunch of extra stuff dilutes the “effective dose” AND spreads the body’s available resources for adaptation to the “dose” too thin for optimal results for a novice trainee. Of course, as you become more “trained” and thus, can tolerate more volume, frequency, and intensity, you’ll be able to add more exercises, sets, reps, etc.
If, on the other hand, you add too much tomfoolery TOO SOON in your training career, you run a very serious risk of attenuating (diminishing) your adaptive responses to training, thus blunting your progress.
The take home, keep it simple Santa (K.I.S.S.- I don’t like calling people stupid, normally). The big five, squat, bench press, press, deadlift, powerclean plus chins, curls, and back extensions will work beautifully for your dedicated novice progression. Read the book to see implementation, or this excellent article on Fitocracy by Michael Wolf.
7) Resetting a million times.
Sometimes you just have to call a spade a spade and realize it’s time to move on. Whether it’s due to not enough food, not enough recovery, or poor technique, etc. you just need to either get some help or move on. If you’re not progressing every training session, you’re no longer on the Novice Progression anyway, so don’t be married to it if it’s not working for you (and you’re doing all the necessary things to make it work).
That being said, having a training program that revolves around the big 5 and some HIIT (if necessary) is the best base template you could hope for, with rep ranges, total volume, and frequency all reflecting an individual’s needs and goals. Put simply, you could do a lot worse than to keep resetting over and over again, but do you really want to stay weak? Figure out the limiting reagent and nip it in the bud. Grow. Progress. Profit.
8) Missing workouts (and not adjusting accordingly).
Simple enough, right? If you miss a workout on this program you are, by default, failing to provide a stimulus for your body to adapt to. This adaptation response is what is used to drive the next training day’s progress. Thus, if you miss a day you shouldn’t be expecting to “go up” in weight the next training day, although in the beginning this is more feasible. Moreover, novices tend to de-train more quickly than advanced trainees, as they’ve had less cumulative exposure to the lifts, progression, etc. and thus, it’s not unusual to see some of these detraining or deconditioning effects if a person misses a workout.
So, what do you do if you miss a workout? Simply repeat the last workout you did and start from there. If you miss a series of workouts and are a true novice, you’ll just start all over again. I really shouldn’t have to say this, but how about just not missing workouts?
9) Reading too much bullshit.
Bro 1: “Hey man, did you see that new exercise on MonsterMuscleGainer.com today?”
Bro 2: “Nah, bro. What was it?”
Bro 1: “It’s like this weird lunge thing with kettlebells. All the Russians used to use it and that’s why their legs are so jacked. I heard Klokov invented it!”
Bro 2: “Dude, this is awesome. We don’t have to do squats today then. Let’s do like 40 minutes of mobility, to make sure we activate all our muscles during training, then do Klokov lunges with kettlebells.”
Bro 1: “Yea, squats are so old-school. MonsterMuscleGainer.com said these were better for hypertrophy anyway. I don’t care about being strong, I just want to LOOK strong.”
Sadly, this sort of crap happens everyday in gyms (CrossFit and black-iron gyms are not exempt from this either) across the country. People mistake “new” or “proprietary” with “better” and try to reinvent the wheel. Look boys and girls, barbells are the most efficient way to load the human musculoskeletal system and stress the body. Because it’s the most efficient* way to stress the body, it’s the most efficient at causing the body to adapt and these adaptations are more robust than any other silly shit your “guru” is pushing.
*ef·fi·cien·cy: noun, plural ef·fi·cien·cies.
10) Being a p*ssy.
Any program that’s designed to add weight to the bar 3x a week is going to be hard, make no bones about it. If you want it to be easy or, more commonly, easier week to week you need an attitude check.
“It never get’s easier, you just go faster”- Greg LeMond
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