How to Kill Plateaus: Specialization Part II

We scratched the surface on specialization last time, breaking down the difference between developmental and specialized phases of training. It’s an important concept to get down if you want to actually have a handle on your training but, unfortunately, is misunderstood by many competitive hopefuls. 

Specialization means high development in one skill. You can’t specialize in everything so there’s an implication of priority; i.e. you specialize in one thing at the expense of others.

Example time. 

The World’s Strongest Man contest started in the 1970s as a television exhibition on ABC. The appeal of it was to take  a group of the strongest men in the world from a variety of different backgrounds: bodybuilding, powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, track and field, football, wrestling and so on) and expose them to a variety of tests to see who actually was the strongest. It’s an interesting premise that hinged on the athletes not knowing what was coming next. This was ‘every-day strength’. 

As recently as 2012, the heaviest atlas stone at World’s Strongest Man was 405. That’s in contrast to the world record stone (630lbs) set by Tom Stoltman in 2020.

However, the sport of strong man has since evolved to something far from what the original creators intended. Today, strongman athletes are not coming out cold in trying to wing it with unfamiliar events using whatever physical qualities they happened to develop by doing something else entirely. To be competitive in today’s field you have to be practiced and peaked with the same deliberate precision of any powerlifter or weightlifter (lest you give up the margins to another competitor who was). That means you have to be specialized.

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How to Kill Plateaus: Specialization Part I

Variety is a huge component of any strength program. You can’t progress long-term unless you are continuously trying to make changes for how much work you’re doing, what type of work you’re doing and how hard you’re doing it. The earliest advice anybody gives when they’re brand new to the gym is that at some point they’re going to have to switch it up. For those who have long-term performance-based goals it’s imperative that you understand what that actually means.

We know the diminished returns eventually sets in, meaning the same type of training stops yielding results. So we have to make changes to avoid that. But we also know that training, if broken into different chunks, can potentiate or improve the training effect from one block into the next. So we can make changes to build off what we did in the block before.

That’s a powerful 1-2 punch in training; giving yourself a break from the same old thing so that your body might start adapting again to a new stimulus while also arranging that stimulus in a way that points to a dedicated contest performance. No matter how different the programs appear (concurrent periodization like Westside, linear periodization like the Juggernaut method,  forever program LPS like 531 or starting strength), virtually all competitive strength programs work by exploiting this in one way or another. 

You just have to know what to look for to see it.

 If you have a primary goal that you’re training for, whether it’s running a marathon, acing a math test or training for a powerlifting meet, the total successful performance can be broken into smaller constituent parts. This is true for everything. 

This is a broad conceptualization of what a full meet prep looks like, with broad skills being trained first and specialized ones coming closer to the test date.

Success in test-taking, for instance,may benefit from focusing on smaller bit, like reading comprehension, attention span, understanding of the subject or your ability to utilize mnemonic tools. Think of these smaller qualities as the base of a successful performance plan.

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Posture in the Deadlift: Movement Efficiency and Injury Prevention

I’ve written a lot over the years on the topic of posture in the deadlift and Lord knows that there is a heap of blog posts and Youtube video out there as well. Not surprisingly, there’s quite a bit of controversy on the subject. Discussion ranges from what is most optimal for moving the most weight to what is more likely to get you injured to what just looks better (we are all so vain).

My insight is from the perspecitve of someone who has spent years struggling to iron out his deadlift, enduring pain, injury and setbacks and taking plenty of notes from others in the process. I’ve had a decade’s worth of stagnation, including minor aches and pains to major events that kept me out of the gym for weeks on end. For what should have been my most formative years, my pull was much like a truck stuck in the mud and getting it out took a level of planning and attention that, frankly, few have to engage in.

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BASE STRENGTH: 1 Year Anniversary

I self-published my first book, Base Strength, at the end of 2020. I’ve since put out two follow ups (Peak Strength and Superior Deadlift) and plan on putting out many more so long as there still exists an audience to read them.

It’s a weird thing, concluding a year on a productive note. I mean, December brings talks of reflection and resolution, making it a reliable piece of my annual angst-filled productivity cycle. The year starts with hope of big things to come and that leads to ambition in the size and scope of life projects. Obstacles predictably manifest and plans get scrapped (or forgotten) and the inevitable result is a long wait for January so that I can resolve to have a new year free of the same stagnation, frustration and disillusionment that concluded all the others.

Ah, to be self-employed.

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Work Getting in the Way of Training?

First Rule….

KEEP IT SIMPLE. If you are short on time, effort or focus, the one constant you can plan on is inconsistency. Usually a frustrating feature of a life crammed to the brim with obligations and distractions, inconsistency usually leads people to live in ‘reactive’ mode, where they write down their best laid plans and wait for things to go wrong. Something as simple as following a workout schedule feels like juggling fine china.

Just know that inconsistency can be your friend if you know how to accommodate it.

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Review of 5th Set for Powerlifting: I um.. I didn’t uh… what?


Corey ‘Swede’ Burns’ is well known in the annals of internet strength culture, having been a regular on various EliteFTS platforms and voted 2016 “Coach of the Year” (though, while mentioned in all of his bios, I can’t find the details about it anywhere).

5th Set is Swede’s strength program e-book that follows in the steps of 5/3/1, Juggernaut and the Cube Method. Like those predecessors, the book outlines it’s unique prescription for organizing the squat, bench and deadlift along with giving a concrete progression pattern for advancing weight and work over time.

And there’s some other stuff.

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Linear, Waved AND Concurrent? Review of Brandon Lilly’s “Cube Method”

Scroll down to the bottom to see how it scores in my 7-point ranking system!


Cube Method was Brandon Lilly’s answer to 5/3/1 and Juggernaut, two e-book programs that experienced wild popularity right around 2010. At the time, Lilly was a top-ranked powerlifter and had experienced a substantial amount of popularity as the sport began to take off. He had experience as an equipped lifter, having trained at Westside Barbell, and eventually crossed over into raw lifting, where he hit a best total of 2237 in wraps.

His e-book is consistent with the type of products being sold at the time; it is a compact ‘information product’ that outlines a singular approach to training and fills up the rest of the pages with broad recommendations for exercise selection, technique and equipment. Clocking in at 12,500 words (a little over 20 pages worth of content), the publication uses images, charts and creative formatting to stretch to 73 pages.

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Review of Brian Carroll’s “10/20/Life” – The Most Comprehensive Powerlifting Book

Scroll down to the bottom to see how it scores in my 7-point ranking system.


Brian Carroll was officially the first person to squat over 1300lbs (1306lbs) and did so after a long battle with low-back injuries and chronic pain. He is a world-class powerlifter, a career coach and a fixture in the general powerlifting community, as is evident by the forward written by industry greats Dave Tate and Steve Goggins.

It’s no surprise that, in putting pen to paper, Brian created something that would get widespread attention and acclaim. It’s not that he’s been around the block or is a successful lifter (there are world record holders I wouldn’t trust to coach Pee Wee Football), it’s that he checks a lot of the boxes needed to establish real authority and he knows he does.

In his own introduction, he offers Dave Tate’s 6 point list of questions to help the layperson determine whether or not a potential coach is actually full of shit.

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Training is big investment.

It takes time out of your week, requires physical effort and mental energy and leaves you weak and depleted for days after each session.

There’s no doubt that the rewards are worth the sacrifice, as long term adaptations to strength training can improve everything from bone density and muscle mass to quality of life and a general sense of well-being (and let’s not forget about performance in your chosen sport).

The point is that your efforts should be optimized. Strength takes years to build and the difference between consistent yearly progress and stagnation that lasts many cycles around the sun will depend largely on how you plan your training.

That is where periodization comes in.


Getting Strong Without Gaining Weight – 8 Vital Rules

Physical strength and muscular size are two variables that are inextricably linked; after all, it is muscle tissue that produces force and the more of it you have, the more force can be produced. For decades, this was reflected in physical culture. Bodybuilders, powerlifters and even olympic weightlifters often trained in similar spaces and would routinely borrow from each others training books.

Old-school bodybuilders could be seen doing some iteration of power cleans and push presses, since the physical benefits were obvious in the physiques of elite Oly lifters. Powerlifters would often incorporate bodybuilding protocols to develop size in the off season and to encourage physical symmetry that would make their lifts more efficient. It was obvious to bodybuilders that strength would allow for more volume, which meant more size, just as it was obvious to strength athletes that more muscular size would always lead to more weight lifted.

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