Supersquats is a book that Ironmind put out some time ago and was one of my formative influences for setting standards for what hard work is.
The title was eye catching enough for a 17 year old looking to find the fastest route of the world stage: Supersquats: How to Gain 30lbs of Muscle in 6 Weeks. My bullshit barometer was already finely tuned at that age, but Ironmind as a company carried more credibility than your typical newsstand muscle rag. Randall Strossen always emphasized simplicity in his products and publications, to the point that the company sold whey flavored whey protein (no artificial flavoring).
Many of the books published by his company were written by or about some of the early legends of lifting, guys and gals who gained world renown in an era that predated the saturation of corporate sales copy in the fitness industry. Ironmind also held Olympic lifting in the highest regard, offering training videos from Olympic training halls and photo prints of some of the most iconic lifts in the sport.
So how could a company that rooted itself in so much of the ‘good stuff’ offer up a book with such a seemingly phony sensationalist title? For 20 bucks + s&h I had to find out. After waiting for several weeks (these were pre-Prime days), the book came and I got to work.
Programming for strength is a relatively simple task on paper; you take a a few proven exercises, work them in some logical fashion throughout the week and implement some pattern of progression. Easy peasy.
While that simple prescription is obvious in most programs you might pick apart, starting from scratch is anything but simple. It isn’t until you have to justify every step you take in constructing a strength program that you realize how many variables need to be addressed and how ill-equipped you are to address them.
You might get stuck in selecting between two exercises you really want to try. Should you pick one over the other? Implement them both on the same day? Different days? Should they be done with similar reps and effort or should that vary? Are all of these decisions arbitrary and you’ve been staring at your notebook for 2 hours over nothing?
The deadlift has achieved status in the world of strength and lifting that few other movements have. It’s a feat that is tested in multiple strength sports, including powerlifting and Strongman. It’s role as a main developmental movement put it front and center in the training programs of just about everyone, from bodybuilders and Oly lifters to linebackers and track athletes. It was one of the earliest feats in lifting culture and it’s simplicity and accessibility has since made it a unifying test of strength across all fields.
The fact that it is utilized by everyone also creates a lot of controversy over what a ‘real’ deadlift is. Everyone will pull in a slightly different fashion and will judge strength around those specific standards. Bodybuilders always use straps and will generally favor touch and go work for high reps. Powerlifters abandon straps, strictly judge their technique according to their federation’s rule book while valuing feats at a single rep above anything else. Strongmen pull on a host of different implements at different heights and thresholds, often wearing suits and utilizing hitched lockouts to move the most amount of weight and they almost always pull with straps.
Last week I scheduled my first interview on this channel. I’ve been uploading videos regularly for 2 and a half years and had a consistent process of locking myself in the gym or my room and not coming out until I had something to upload. This process typically involved a few hours of walking around in circles, heavily caffeinated and talking to myself, before setting up the camera and bumbling through 90 minutes of awkward delivery. Editing out all of the “umss” and “errs” along with the wet mouth noises and fumbled words would reduce an hour down to 12 or 15 minutes of watchable video.
Sergey Smolov was a Russian Master of Sport, active as a coach through the 70s and 80s. He developed a program for boosting the squat of Olympic lifters in an extraordinarily short period of time. The Smolov program, which is now Infamous and lifting circles, used an insane amount of frequency and a very aggressive linear progression approach to shock even the most seasoned lifters into experiencing growth that they previously thought was not possible.
Author and kettlebell aficionado Pavel Tsatsouline made the West aware of the Smolov squat program in the early 2000s. The appeal of leveraging ‘Soviet secrets’ to put 100 lbs or more on your squat In as little as 13 weeks was too tempting a possibility for recreational lifters to pass up. What happened after that was a veritable Gold Rush of Gains; numerous lifters fell victim to shiny object syndrome and opted to test their mettle against the radical squat program.
In the last video, I covered 5 pretty common reasons that newer and lower-level lifters hit a brick wall too early. For those who don’t show up to the gym consistently, don’t put in a lot of effort or hop from goal to goal too quickly, consistent progress is surely not going to be in the cards. For those who have been around a little bit longer and got strong by figuring out that hard work and consistent effort is essential, continued progress is going to come down to more subtle factors relating to programming.
Any topic that involves the word ‘standard’ is pretty near and dear to my heart. Strength sports are very consumer-driven; the athlete is not the product like they are in the NFL or MLB but rather they’re the customer. They are they ones paying the entry fee, being sold the equipment and being marketed to by the sponsors. Don’t be mistaken; if you are the one leaving the event with less cash in your pocket, you are the consumer. And we happen to live in the era where the customer is always right.
*Apologies for the quality: this video was made before I discovered my Yeti mic and whiteboard cleaner.
I’ve done a lot of program reviews and will probably dedicate time to more in the future. My goal with these reviews isn’t to give them a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, as if I can place each program on a linear scale of how magically they work to slap pounds on the bar and inches on your arms. The reviews are mainly to deconstruct the patterns of progression so that you can see what qualities are required for an effective program. Once you are aware of those qualities, it’s helpful to see which of those are shared among all programs and which qualities are completely arbitrary.
There’s a sense among the general population that a minimum amount of equipment is required to get stronger or increase performance. For all of the reasons that people procrastinate when it comes to getting to their workouts, not having enough time, equipment or resources ranks at the top of the list. I’ve always had a certain fascination with people that were able to make improvements in disadvantaged scenarios and prison inmates are perfect example of that.
Let me start by responding to the two points that made up half of the almost 1,000 comments on this YouTube video; 1.) the prisoners aren’t really that jacked to begin with and it’s just a myth and 2.) because steroids. Yes the average prison inmate is probably not that much stronger than anyone you would find at any gym anywhere else but every correctional officer can will recall one or two inmates that they had dealt with who were much larger, much stronger and much more fit than even the ‘strong guys’ in the general population. My main interest is on them, how they managed to accomplish that with, what anybody would agree, is a minimum amount of equipment and nutrition. As to the steroid comment, of course steroids are a factor as are any other drug or contraband substance that finds its way into prisons. But steroid use is ubiquitous in general gym culture and is certainly not more prevalent inside prison than it is outside.
I mentioned in the video and I’ll repeat it here; Josh Bryant has made a successful brand (Jailhouse Strong) off of this very phenomenon. An educated man who mentored under Dr. Squat, Fred Hatfield, Josh does an excellent job of marrying the formal science of strength training with the cultural realities around it. Simply put, strength is necessary to those who want to be useful. Being strong and conditioned can benefit you and your day-to-day life but it can also insulate you from circumstances that might otherwise pose a risk to yourself or your loved ones. For this reason, he often includes the hashtag #gasstationready which is a reminder that something as simple as gassing up your car can lead to a face-to-face encounter with someone who might wish you harm.
Plateaus come for everyone. As nice of a thought as it is that we can outsmart our body at every step of the way and keep riding the gain train all the way to the world stage, long term growth is anything but linear. Even if you aren’t trying to become the next goat, recreational lifters still have to be vigilante if they want something to show for their hours of ‘personal time’ in the garage.
I can get into the ins and outs of programming (which I will eventually) to explain why stagnation happens and what to do about it, but many early lifters have much simpler explanations as to why they can’t put more weight on the bar. These are the 5 things you need to address before you go shopping for a different coach or a new program.
Not Training Consistently
Whether you commit to a 2-day per week minimalist program or a 5 days per week bodybuilding split, growth won’t happen if the work is sporadic. Training works because an increase in environmental stresses sparks an adaptive response, the same way your skin gets calloused when it’s repeatedly worn. Once the stress is removed, things slide back down to normal.