Archive for the ‘Survival’ Category

Dear little buddy,

Posted: 20160916 in Mason, Rant., Survival

I’m trying to write you more often. It’s already been three months, and I don’t know where the time has gone. Last time I wrote, I promised myself I’d be better about writing. With work and trying to get the house ready to sell, I’m a busy man. In actuality, my mind is much, much busier than my body. Right now, I’m laying in bed unable to go to sleep. The brightness of my phone is giving away my position. Your mother could wake up at any second and nag me about still being awake so late.

Watching you grow up is so incredible, little man. I can’t believe the things you say and do. Your mother and I can’t stop taking pictures and videos. You get very upset, and then very happy, and then very sad sometimes in a short period of time. I was a kid like you once. Then, I was a teenager, and then I started dating your mom. We got married eventually, and now we have you. Nowhere in that timeline was there any kid training. I didn’t read any books on parenting. I didn’t sit through lectures or take classes on what to do. Nobody told me when to spank you and when to not. You don’t listen at all unless I raise my voice and then it brings you to tears. You run crying to mommy like I did more than yell – like I scared you or hurt your feelings. Then, I can’t bring myself to raise my voice for a while. It’s tough sometimes, but only because you have so much energy. I’m 32, your mother is 29, and we are exhausted.

I just want you to know how much we love you. We’ve already made some mistakes. You’re only two years old, but we’re doing the best we can. I know you’ll look back on these one day. I don’t know how old you’ll be. I may hide them from you until you have kids or until we have a rough spot. I just want to say now, to two-year-old you, that you’re my entire life. I may be too old and disgruntled to tell you that when you’re a senior in high school. But I’m saying it now on the record, and I hope you see it.

It’s no secret that my father and I don’t speak. I feel like I don’t know him. That’s why it’s not difficult for me to make the decision to avoid him. I don’t go to my parent’s store. I don’t go to my parent’s house. I don’t go to my grandparent’s house if I know he’s going to be there. I can see how it could be sad and depressing to others, but I don’t feel sad or depressed because he’s like a stranger to me. That’s the sad part. My father is a stranger to me. That’s why I created this blog. I’ll do whatever it takes to keep from becoming my father, and I’ll do whatever it takes to keep you from having to grow up like I did. Sometimes I just want to break down and relieve all my stress but I can’t. I don’t know how – I wish I could catch a break. My mind races all night and day, and I have no outlet. It never stops, there is always something stressful going on.

Sometimes, I get the feeling that I have no fucking idea what I’m doing. Like my job and my side business is just a sham, and I’m doing everything wrong. When I mess up bad, I get super defensive, angry, I make counter accusations. I don’t take criticism well – either constructive or not. It’s just a knee jerk reaction. It’s because I grew up a fuckin loser. Like I’m sure my dad did too. It’s a defense mechanism.

I try to realize what I’m doing and saying. I try to be self aware. I try to realize how people are reacting. I always try to look at things objectively. Whether it’s about me, my ideas, my business or someone else, I try to take a step back and visualize how it’s seen by other people. I feel like that’s the key to a lot in life. It’s working on my timing, tact, tone and phrasing. I’ve read a lot of books on the subject, but they’re terrible at explaining it. It’s an out of body experience really. My father is terrible about being rude to strangers. That’s one of the reasons why I think he’s a piece of shit.

One time, I was at Wendy’s with my dad. It was just him and I. I ordered, and then he ordered. He hates cheese. He said, “A number one with no cheese.” Except he didn’t say it like you just read it. We were having a regular conversation with the girl with normal voices, and then he sounded like a fuckin pyscho saying “no cheese” so slow and loud while directing an orchestra with his pointer finger. And that’s not half of it. His burger arrived with cheese on it. He obviously knew they were too stupid to understand English and hand gestures so he checked his sandwich before he even walked away from the counter – in front of the lady. And when he saw the cheese, he lost what little patience he was born with. “I said no cheese on my burger!” Except he didn’t say it like you just read it. You’d have to meet 40-year-old Dad to get the full effect. In his mind, he just went out of his way to do these stupid poor people’s job for them, and they still messed it up because they’re too stupid to read. It was embarrassing.

It was just the little everyday interactions like that. Does he know how rude he’s being? If yes – he’s being rude on purpose therefore he’s a jerk on a high horse. If no – he’s a crazy old man that has zero self awareness. It wasn’t just a stressful day for him. It happened all the time in different situations. It happened on good days. He just thought he was better than everyone else. That’s probably the reason why he thought rules and laws didn’t apply to him. I mean, that’s why I had so many speeding tickets growing up. I didn’t think the rules applied to me at all. I just went wild, and I had to learn everything in life the hard way. Now, I’m trying to not learn things the hard way.

Your mother just yelled at me for “waking her up” somehow. It’s late. I’ll stop rambling. I love you.

Dad

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My dearest son Mason,

After my last post, I started thinking about how broke I used to be, and how much better our future looks because I have a better job. It also got me thinking about all the terrible financial decisions I’ve made in my life. However, it’s not what you think. Saying that I’ve made terrible financial decisions makes it seem like I was sitting at a desk and trying to decide where to put my money. I wasn’t sitting at a desk. I wasn’t making large, risky decisions. I wasn’t making decisions at all. I was eating fast food everyday. I was buying t-shirts off the internet. I was spending money I knew I’d never get back out of a piece of crap Suburban. Let me explain.

When you’re poor, every little decision has a big impact on your monthly budget. When I say poor, I mean making minimum wage. Let’s say that you are making $10 every hour and you work 40 hours per work. That’s $400 a week and $1600 every month. Trust me, I know this analogy pretty well. By the time you pay for a car payment and insurance, rent and food and gas, you’ve basically got nothing left. By the time 30 days in a month go by, you’ve spent many nights going to the movies, buying food at restaurants or buying clothes. So if you find yourself with $200 left over at the end of the month, you make the quick decision to spend $50 of it because its been about a month since you’ve bought something for yourself. That’s essentially the worst financial decision you can make in that situation. You’re savings account is $200, and you’re spending 25% of your savings.

It’s hard to explain how hard it is to save money when you’re broke. No matter how much money I made from the time I was 16 to 26, I stayed broke. Not to mention, I lied to myself constantly. When I got paid on Friday, I’d figure out how much money I needed to last me until my next paycheck. That’s how I rationalized spending $20 at the movies on Friday night. Then Saturday night, I’d go out to dinner or do some other activity and spend $20 more. Then two weeks would go by, and I’d be down to $50 left. I’d get paid again, and that’s how I lived for 10 years. I always thought I would be working, and I’d always get a paycheck. I never even attempted to save money. I was such an idiot.

Things got worse. As my friends spent money, I spent money I didn’t have. I got a credit card, and then I maxed it out. Then I called and got the limit raised. Then I maxed it out again. I made minimum payments on that credit card for a decade. Financially speaking, there isn’t anything more shameful or pitiful. How stupid and absentminded could I be? Now that I’m 32, I’m not shameless or prideful. I can admit that I’m still paying that credit card, and others, off. It’s terrible. I’ve increased my income more than three-fold. I’m making tons of money at my new job, and it is great. You know what I’m doing with the majority of my paychecks? Paying off more than $15,000 in credit card debt.

No matter how big my paycheck gets, it all disappears. Eventually, I’ll catch up with my debt, and I can start saving money. However, for the time being, I’m working 65 hours a week and spending nights away from you and your mom just so I can transfer most of my paycheck into a black hole. Instead of having $15,000 in my savings account to do magical things with, I have no money in my checking or savings and my balance on my credit cards is getting smaller. It’s extremely anticlimactic and depressing. You should avoid it at all cost. Basically, I’m trying to make this blog post as anticlimactic and depressing as possible so you’ll come to realize how anticlimactic and depressing it is paying off credit card debt. Let this be your first warning. Avoid it at all costs. Don’t open a credit card for emergencies. That’s ignorant. Your first step should be to hoard $1,000 as an emergency fund. Don’t buy things on credit cards because you think you’ll get cash back or frequent flyer miles. That’s possible to do, but it comes much later. That’s not something to get into immediately. It takes discipline and cash.

Your second step should fly right by. The second step is to snowball your debt. Seeing that you don’t have any debt yet, it should be really easy to fly right by this step. However, for the sake of other readers out there, let’s say that there is some debt. Maybe it is some credit card debt or student loans. The debt snowball is accomplished like this. You pay off the smallest credit card with the highest interest rate first. If there is a $2500 card, a $5000 card and a $10,000 student loan – pay off the $2500 card first, then the $5000 card and then the student loan.

The third step is to grow your emergency fund to 6-months of living expenses. Back in 2009 and 2010, I was collecting unemployment. I got laid off, and times were rough. I had no emergency fund, and I continued to live my life on credit cards. If you are single or married or have a kid or don’t, you need money to pay your bills. If your monthly bills are $1000, you need $6000 in reserves, etc.

These first three steps are crucial. It’ll be the difference between being broke when you’re trying to get married or buy a house and actually having money to spend on the most important things in your life.

That’s enough for now. I just saw that I started this post a long time ago and never published it. I’m really going to try harder to post more often.

Love,

Dad

November 22nd, 2015

Dear Mason,

Holy crap, time flies. Thanksgiving is in a few days. You’re getting so big! You make your mother and me so happy! You are definitely hard to keep up with, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I hope you have enjoy reading these blog posts. Writing them helps me clear my head. It helps me stay on the right path and relieve stress at the same time. I probably won’t be so stressed if I’d write more often. 

A lot has happened since my last post. I don’t see how’s it’s possibly been since early March, but the date doesn’t lie. I applied for a couple of jobs that I thought were promising around that time. I was working at Minco for $12 an hour at the time. As much as I liked working there, I couldn’t support this family on that. However, I was very grateful for the job. I learned a lot about cars and trucks. I’ll have those skills to help me with my hobbies for the rest of my life. This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for that job. It saved me twice – before and after the indoor shooting range. Let me tell you a story about the importance of endurance. 

When I got back from Iraq in 2008, I didn’t have much direction in life. However, that wasn’t anything new. I was basically an idiot. I bought a CTS-V with my deployment money. I rented a house. I starting working part-time at Precision Motorsports and collecting the G.I. Bill. It wasn’t long before I was broke again. Because I didn’t plan for my future at all, I fell on hard times. Again. 

In December of 2008, right around the very end of the year, I got laid off. The economy was getting bad, and I started collecting unemployment. It was $275 a week. I had a hard time paying my car payment and paying my rent. I sold the CTS-V of which I paid $21,000 for $13,000. I sold a couple of my guns to pay my rent. I started working, apparently for free, at a place called Centurion Tactical. That’s another story entirely. The owner of Centurion got arrested later, and I was only there for a couple months. A few months after that, I got arrested and that ended up getting me kicked out of the Marine Corps counterintelligence “DEP” program. That’s yet another story for another day. 

So as you can probably see, 2009 was a super shitty year for me. I did have one saving grace that year. I married your mother. It was “fairy tale,” and your mother and I were very lucky to have such a nice wedding. However, that didn’t change the fact that I was unemployed and on pre-trial release. I continued to go to community college and finally graduated from that stupid place. The GI Bill and unemployment was the only thing that saved me. Without that, I have no idea what I would have done. 

In 2010, my lawyer screwed me. I was put on probation for four years and committed to 180 Sheriff work camp days. I mean, I got royally fucked. So I had to start doing that crap too. I was still talking to my dad at this point, and I came up with the idea of an indoor shooting range. I was writing a business plan for the indoor shooting range pretty much the entire year that year. While that was getting off the ground, I managed to get my first real job in years. I worked full-time for a lawn care company before I got deployed in 2007. So in 2010, I started working for Minco, and that pretty much changed my life for the better. 

I can’t explain how much fun I had at Minco. I learned so much about working on cars and trucks. I was very thankful to get that opportunity. After only about a year and a half of making $12 an hour, I made a giant mistake. I left Minco to work with my dad at the indoor range for $10 an hour. I had been working on getting the indoor shooting range up and running since mid-2009. It was now Black Friday 2011 and my first official day working at the range. It was our grand opening. It was exciting at first. Then, it started to get frustrating. 

I wouldn’t find out how much of a disaster things were until later. The tension between my father and I got worse and worse. My mother told me at one point, Dad didn’t talk to her for about two weeks. He said he felt “alienated” and everybody was against him. What a piece of shit. I walked out on everything I had done – the planning, the writing, the arguing, the designing, the future, the investment. I walked out on my own business idea and on my own father on October 27th, 2013. I haven’t talked to him since. 

Luckily, I walked right back into Minco. I didn’t plan it, but because I had worked hard there previously, the boss was happy to have me back. At this point in time, my endurance was running out. Let me explain. It’s now the end of 2013, and I’ve been completely broke since 2008. I’ve slowly sold most of my stuff. I had nothing but a motorcycle for a long period of time. I had been to jail, probation officer meetings for two years, Sheriff work camp days for two years. I was yet to graduate, but at this point in time, I didn’t see the fucking point. I was mentally ready to give up. 

The year 2014 rolls around. I was working at Minco at age 30, and I think that’s what made me spiral. Just the fact that I was 30 years old and had a kid on the way made me feel like a piece of shit for making $12 an hour. Nothing was making me happy. I’d go to the gym and work and class, and when I got in bed, I’d cry myself to sleep in my head. If it wasn’t for you, and obviously your mother, I wouldn’t be here today. Those were dark days, Mason. I didn’t know how much endurance I truly had. Nobody ever knows. The only thing you can do is keep at it. No matter how bad things seem, they could always be worse. And even if things get worse and worse for so many years that you think you just can’t take it anymore, that you just can’t go on for one more second, stick to it for one more second and prove yourself wrong. Count to ten. Get rid of everything in your mind. Start from scratch on a new plan of attack. Don’t ever give up on yourself, but more importantly, don’t ever fucking give up on the people that love and need you. That includes your future wife, your future son, your future brothers or sisters, your future adopted brothers in the Marine Corps. You may want to quit, but you can’t. Ever. 

I kept working the dead end job at Minco until July of this year. I kept going to night classes until right around the time you were born. I later graduated with a business management degree. I finally got an awesome, well paying job. It’s Thanksgiving 2015, and your mother and I, as of last paycheck, are finally sleeping good at night because we aren’t worried about money. We are far from rich, but at least we have more than $-29 in our checking account. 

Endurance is the mental and physical stamina that is measured by your ability to withstand pain, fatigue, stress, and hardship. For example, enduring pain during a conditioning march in order to improve stamina is crucial in the development of leadership.

Endurance is the mental and physical stamina that is measured by your ability to withstand pain, fatigue, stress, and hardship. It’s ironically the last of the 14 Marine Corps leadership traits. It takes more than just endurance to be a great leader, but you cannot be a great leader without great endurance. 

Love,

Dad

By IBRAHIM BARZAK and PETER ENAV

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The U.N. chief and the U.S. secretary of state headed to Cairo on Monday to try to end two weeks of Israel-Hamas fighting that has killed at least 508 Palestinians and 20 Israelis and displaced tens of thousands of Gaza residents.

The new cease-fire efforts by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry followed the deadliest day of fighting since the escalation erupted on July 8.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council expressed “serious concern” about Gaza’s rising civilian death toll and demanded an immediate end to the fighting following an emergency session.

As Israeli airstrikes continued to pound Gaza, rescue workers near the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis were digging out bodies early Monday from the one-story home of the Abu Jamea family, flattened in one of the strikes overnight, said Ashraf al-Kidra, a Gaza health ministry official.

Al-Kidra said the Palestinian death toll from the two-week offensive stood at 508 as of Monday morning. More than half of those victims — 268 — were killed since an Israeli ground operation in Gaza began late Thursday.

That total included 20 bodies that were found at the site near Khan Younis, where two people were pulled alive from the rubble, Al-Kidra said.

Elsewhere in Gaza, he said, Israeli tanks opened fire on the home of the Siyam family west of Rafah in the southern part of the strip, killing 10 people, including four young children and a 9-month-old baby girl.

“Without any warning at all they began bombarding us at midnight, at 2 a.m., said Dr. Mahmoud Siyam, the head of the family. “We are not related to any military or political activities. We are civilized people (living) in this area of Gaza, what crime have we committed?”

Meanwhile, the Israeli military said it foiled a Hamas infiltration attempt on Monday through two tunnels leading from northern Gaza into southern Israel. The military said 10 infiltrators were killed after being detected and targeted by Israeli aircraft.

On Sunday, the first major ground battle in two weeks of Israel-Hamas fighting exacted a steep price, killing 65 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers and forcing thousands of terrified Palestinian civilians to flee their devastated Shijaiyah neighborhood, which Israel says is a major source for rocket fire against its civilians.

Palestinian medics tend to a boy who they said was wounded in an Israeli shelling, at a hospital, in …
Large sections of Shijaiyah were pulverized by a barrage of Israeli tank and artillery bombardments and repeated Israeli air strikes that buffeted the densely populated neighborhood for most of Sunday.

Speaking on national television shortly after the military announced the deaths of the 13 Israeli soldiers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Gaza offensive would continue “as long as necessary” to end attacks from Gaza on Israeli civilians.

Appearing with Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said that Israel expected to complete its work neutralizing the Hamas tunnels leading into Israeli territory within several days — a possible hint of a timeframe for the end of the operation.

Still, much work remains if diplomats are to succeed in brokering a sustainable cease-fire. On Sunday, Kerry said the U.S. still supports the Egyptian proposal for a halt to the hostilities that Israel accepted and Hamas rejected last week.

Hamas remains deeply suspicious of the motives of the Egyptian government, which has banned the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that Hamas closely identifies with.

The 13 Israeli soldiers who died in Shijaiyah brought the overall Israeli death toll to 20, including two civilians who died from rocket and mortar fire directed at Israeli towns and villages from different parts of Gaza.

On Sunday evening, Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri in Gaza claimed his group had captured an Israeli soldier. An announcement on Gaza TV of the soldier’s capture set off celebration in the streets of West Bank.

But there was no official confirmation of the claim in Israel. Earlier, the Israeli ambassador to the U.N., Ron Prosor, said the Hamas claim was untrue.

For Israelis, a captured soldier would be a nightmare scenario. Hamas-allied militants seized an Israeli soldier in a cross-border raid in 2006 and held him captive in Gaza until Israel traded more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, some of whom were involved in grisly killings, for his return in 2011.

From LBEB:

Progress: it is the reason why the majority of us are in the gym every week. However you measure progress, whether you want bigger lifts, bigger muscles, less bodyfat or a faster 400m split, progress is what keeps us training day in and day out. Disregard the individuals that are going to the gym to “maintain”, that is just an excuse to not work hard. But, what if everything you put into your training doesn’t amount to a hill of beans? Here are 10 things that can indicate whether or not your programming & training is being spent wisely.

1. You don’t understand the difference between difficult and useful.
Just because something is hard to do, does not mean it is useful, or will do anything to progress your lifting career. I could spend 3 months mastering a strict muscle up, but will that really help me as a Strongman? Spend your time wisely, time is finite.

2. You aren’t eating enough carbs.
If I had a nickel for every time we added carbs in to someone’s diet improved their lifts, I would have more nickels than you. Carbs are not your enemy, stagnation is. Steak and broccoli is not eating big, so for the love of progress, put a potato on the barbie.

3. You ask everyone on the internet for advice, and listen to all of it/none of it.
Either way you end this equation, you are going to lose. If you try to follow everyone’s cues and tips, you will go nowhere, because everyone on the internet has different opinions about the “right” way to do things, which may not apply to you at all. If you listen to none of it, you are wasting everyone’s time, especially yours. Pick someone’s advice that you trust, put on your blinders, and follow their orders.

4. You think a supplement will make up for calories. No supplement is going to replace the calories you need to get bigger and stronger, if it comes in a pill, it has little or no calories in it. Pills and powders don’t get you big on their own, that’s why it is called a supplement, not a replacement.

5. You want to get better at everything, and you want it to happen yesterday. Arguably, a lot of us are guilty of this. However, the line that separates those who want to be good and those who want to become good is the ability to break goals into smaller pieces, and accomplish them in segments. World records aren’t built in a day.

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6. You view training gear as non-primal/cheating. I am going to let you in on a secret: if you are reading this article while connected to the internet, you are about as far removed from a primal state as you can be, why should your training be any different? I am not afraid to venture a guess that I am stronger than my cave dwelling ancestors, because I am not afraid to use proper assistance gear when lifting. Belts, straps, chalk, and wrist wraps are your friend, if you think that is cheating, you should start walking barefoot to work and start living in the nearest redwood forest.

7. You aren’t recording your lifts. Unless you are doing bodybuilding movements, you probably don’t need to watch yourself in a mirror while lifting. However, recording your lifts and watching them after is an excellent way to study your movements and learn how to improve them next time. If you think good athletes don’t record and post their videos, you are in for a rude awakening.

8. You are afraid to compete. I can personally attest to this, because I was once afraid to compete. Sometimes failing at a competition is exactly what you need, in order to do better the next time. I have yet to work with someone who, after their first competition, did not have a fire lit under their ass to compete again ASAP.

9. You think bench/squat/deadlift is all you need to do to be a good lifter. This may be true for those first starting out, but as you progress, you will see that it is simply not true. By not adding in supplementary bodybuilding movements, your weaknesses will still be your weaknesses as you get stronger. Suns Out, Guns Out.

10. You don’t know how to detach. What if I told you that there was a whole world out there, full of people and places that have no idea about lifting, or care about it? Sometimes getting out of the “community” for a short period of time is exactly what you need to get your mind right. Familiarity breeds contempt, and all too often we get extremely familiar with our lifestyles. Take some time off and hit lifting with renewed vigor.

From Alanna Casey at LBEB

“I can’t deadlift, I have a bad back.”
“I can’t squat, I have bad knees.”
“I can’t ‘insert exercise here’, I have an ‘insert excuse here’.”

We all get injuries, we all could make excuses. Some are actually legitimate, but the majority are just that: excuses. Unfortunately, body pains are part of the world of lifting heavy things, especially back pain. But, you don’t have to accept the pain. Instead, you can do things to mitigate back pain or eliminate it all together.

I will start with the disclaimer that if you have persistent, unmanageable pain, symptoms of nerve damage (numbness/tingling), or loss of bladder control then get to a doctor ASAP. I have struggled with back pain for years. Ever since I started deadlifting/squatting over twice my body weight I have had to manage back pain, especially lower back pain. Many of my world class powerlifting/strongman friends suffer from back pain as well. Even my friends who participate in crossfit have back pain.

There are many different causes of back pain. Within the strength community the most common are muscle strains, nerve impingement, disk degeneration and muscle imbalances. My personal back pain is from muscle imbalances which led to muscle tightening in my lower right side, which led to nerve impingement. It took me about 10 doctor’s visits and 3 years to figure that out,but I finally got it! Yay. I would first recommend seeing a doctor about your particular issue but, given my issues I’d like to offer some advice on how to alleviate your pains.

1. Stretch
I hate stretching! Its sooo boring: it takes foreevver, it’s uncomfortable and most importantly, I cannot feel myself immediately getting bigger/stronger when I’m doing it. Yes, I understand stretching sucks. But it’s immeasurably important. At a minimum, I recommend stretching your shoulders, back, and hamstrings prior to any lifting workout. See the below illustration for some simple back stretches.

Stretching is important to your next PR attempt. Here’s why. Stretching will improve flexibility and increase your range of motion (especially important on squat). Stretching will lengthen tight muscles that are pulling your body away from their optimal and balances position (correct posture). Stretching also can decrease your chance on injury by preparing them for work. AND stretching after you train could possibly decrease muscle soreness by increases blood and nutrient supply to muscles which helps to clear and distribute lactic acid build up.

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2. Take note of your posture
As you are sitting at your computer at work, or driving your car, watching tv, or sitting on the bleachers cheering on your kid during her soccer game, take note of your posture. Is your spine aligned or are you slouching over? If you’re slouching, correct it. Is your head at neutral or are you constantly looking up or down? As you sit do you have equal pressure on both cheeks or are you favoring one side?

I found that I had a tendency to lean to the right when sitting. This meant that my left side was constantly getting a stretch but that my right side was tense and constricted. This contributed to my back pain. I now make a conscious effort to correct my posture, no matter where I am.

3. Use proper form on squats
Yes, I’m talking about squats NOT deadlift! A lot of people end up hurting their back while squatting (or trying to squat). Women especially seem to have this problem for some reason. I am referring to the tendency to lean forward when squatting (see figure below). Many people (myself included) make the mistake of allowing their back to fall forward on the squat. When this happens the lower back has to work 1000% harder and in a 3D plane instead of a 2D one. Some people call this “clamming.” When you squat, you want your upper body as erect as possible. When you feel yourself leaning forward, your lower back has to try and compensate to keep you from toppling forward. Essentially, you end up doing a good morning while squatting. If you can keep your back straight up and down, your lower back will not be overworked.

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But, in order to do that you must have enough flexibility in your hips and hamstrings, ESPECIALLY your hamstrings. During my last training cycle I stretched my hamstrings about 5-6 times a day for ten minutes (my doctor recommended 10 times a day but 5-6 was the best I actually did). I would also stretch my hips after each deadlift and squat session. One really good way to stretch your hips is to stand directly in front of a wall, get your legs into your squat stance, spread your arms onto the wall, parallel to the floor, and then squat. Concentrate on keeping your hips open and knees out; it’s the only way you will be successful.

4. Work your lower back muscles
Your back hurting (alone) is no reason not to train your lower back. My doctor recommended that I perform isometric (static, non-moving) back exercises, with lesser weight, as opposed to full range of motion exercises. Some great exercises for lower back are:
– Barbell row
– Standing or seated good mornings (I prefer seated)
– Back extension (great exercise to make isometric)
– Reverse glute ham raises

5. Get a good spotter
If you know that your back might be an issue, having a good spotter for heavy exercises is a must. Brief your spotter on exactly how you want him/her to assist you. Tell him what you will say if you need assistance and exactly what you expect him/her to do. I see a lot of people “spotting” on squat but, if their partner actually needed help, I’m not sure they would know how to properly assist.

If I am spotting someone on the squat, I squat directly behind and with my partner. I put my arms under their arms by their lats. If he/she needed help I would place my hands on or under his/her chest and squat the weight up using my legs. As you spot someone on the squat you want the lifter to be able to maintain form.

If you start to experience extreme discomfort in the middle of a lift, you want someone there (who is capable) to help you out to avoid injury. If you don’t have a spotter at least use a safety rack.

5. Know when you call it quits
There is a fine line between discomfort and pain. When pushing yourself in any exercise you will be uncomfortable. But, if you feel sharp pain, I recommend you stop your exercise. About once a month I will end a session early because my back is in sharp pain following an exercise. When this happens “pushing through it” will only cause greater damage. If you feel pain during any workout I suggest you stop that movement and either dramatically correct/change your form OR drastically lighten the weight OR start a cool down complete with stretching. It’s important not to let your ego get the best of you in this situation. Do what is best for YOU every day. Just because your lifting partner is doing a certain exercise or weight, doesn’t mean you have to do it. Exercise your brain as well as your muscles.

6. Deep tissue massage
I invest in a deep tissue massage about once every 4-8 weeks. If I had the funds I would do it every single week. Deep tissue massages help to release toxins from your muscles and help to prevent scar tissue from forming after muscle tears/strains. Deep tissue massage can also break up and eliminate scar tissue from previous injuries. If your deep tissue massage is an enjoyable and relaxing experience then your massage therapist isn’t doing it correctly. A true deep tissue massage will be quite painful as muscle knots are broken up. Be sure to drink lots and lots of water following a message.

7. Strengthen your core
Back pain may be caused by an imbalance between your lower back and your abdominals. Strengthening your abs will help correct this imbalance. I recommend training abs 1-2 a week, especially women.

8. Ice
I recommend icing your back for 20 minutes prior to going to sleep. Just make sure you don’t fall asleep with a bag of ice on your back and wake in a puddle! Icing will reduce inflammation and ultimately decrease your pain.

9. Osteopath vs Chiropractor
If you do all these things and still have back pain I would recommend and MRI. If the pain isn’t caused by a herniated disc, you might have a nerve pinched. In this case a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O. or DO) would be able to best help you. Unlike a chiropractor, an osteopathic physician is a doctor. I have found that osteopaths are more likely to offer a more permanent solution to pain rather than short term pain relief. My osteopath realigned my spin and corrected the nerve impingent. I had been to a chiropractor many times before and he offered a 60 second massage, 60 seconds of hip stretching, and 10 minutes of a TENS unit (electrical stimulation). That did offer me relief but it only last a day or so. When I go to the osteopath my relief lasts a month or so, big difference.

I hope this article helps you to manage your back pain. Remember, pain doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use a particular muscle group, just that some sort of correction needs to be made and attention given.

You’re welcome.

– Rob

Here’s what you need to know…
•  CrossFitters have amazingly strong backs and work their lower back every day in one way or another. Adopting this kind of strategy will make your back stronger and it will carry over to your Olympic lifts, deadlifts, and squats.

•  CrossFitters do a lot of high rep work, and this high-rep work on the big basic lifts builds a lot of muscle mass while also leading to decent strength gains.

•  Since many CrossFitters are new to serious weight training, they don’t have any mental blocks when it comes to hitting PRs and making fast progress. It’s an attitude we could all use.

I used to make fun of CrossFit. I thought it was a fad and they all used shitty form; that they couldn’t get strong or build muscle doing those workouts. Well, I was wrong. Working with a lot of CrossFit athletes made me change my mind. While I personally wouldn’t train using only WODs, I did learn a lot of things from coaching CrossFit athletes.

I work with a very diverse clientele: average Joes, athletes, bodybuilders, and CrossFitters, and I must say that next to the powerlifters I worked with, the CrossFitters were the strongest overall. Oddly enough, for a group that has a reputation for using bad form, they have probably the best form among the people I’ve trained. Serious CrossFitters are perfectionists and really work at their craft. Sure, they might have a slight technical breakdown during WODs, but most of the time their technique is very solid.

Here are the three things I learned from training these hardworking individuals:

1. The secret to fast strength gains on the Olympic lifts, deadlifts, and squats is training the lower back frequently.

One thing with CrossFit athletes (even non-competitors) that is both rewarding and frustrating is they make amazingly fast progress on Olympic lifts when properly coached. Heck, many that I coached took only a few months to hit weights that took me a few years to attain while training on the Olympic lifts full time. That made me feel good about my coaching, but bad about myself. Was I a genetic moron? Heck, even one of the girls I’ve trained on the Olympic lifts reached a 190-pound snatch faster than I did!

So it got me thinking. CrossFit athletes aren’t doing tons of fulltime Olympic lifting workouts, certainly not at the frequency that would justify the super fast improvements I was seeing. Normally they’d devote one or two sessions per week to focus on the Olympic lifts, so that wasn’t it. I can’t say they were doing tons of strength work, either. To be fair, the good ones were lifting heavy fairly often, but not at the volume and/or frequency that those focusing solely on strength were using. So getting super strong wasn’t the answer either. Then it hit me: CrossFit athletes – even most recreational CrossFitters – have super strong lower backs.

Think about it, the following are pretty much part of every single WOD. They’re doing hundreds, if not thousands, of reps per week involving the lower back to some extent, either:

• Deadlifting anything from super high reps (up to 100 reps in a workout) to super heavy weights
• Doing kettlebell swings with all sorts of weights and rep ranges
• Or performing high-rep Olympic lifting (not something I’d personally do or recommend)

Not only do they do all this work for the lower back, but they tend to loosen up their form a bit during WODs. This makes them round the lower back slightly. I’m not saying that you should start doing tons of rounded-back lifting, but the fact is that deadlifting with a rounded back puts more stress on your erector spinae and – if you don’t blow a disk – it will make your lower back stronger. Heck, even Klokov does a ton of rounded-back pulling. When it comes to the Olympic lifts, a strong lower back allows you to stay in a position to make the best use of your strength when the weight gets heavy.

One CrossFitter who’s now my good friend started out doing deadlifts. He didn’t have much experience and had the worst fishing-rod deadlift form ever. I made fun of him at the time because he told me he was going to bring his 405-pound deadlift up to 535 in four months. I even wrote him an email saying why he was being unrealistic and how he was disrespecting powerlifters who work their tail off for every 10 pounds they added. Well, he actually did it, but with the most horrible form possible. Fast forward a year and that guy now has one of the best lifting forms I’ve seen and it’s because he has a super strong lower back. He’s now snatching, cleaning, deadlifting, and squatting superb weights for his size.

This really made it click for me. I “theoretically” understood the value of a strong lower back, but never really did focus on it that much. I felt that I got all the lower back stimulation I needed from doing the Olympic lifts and squats. In retrospect I now know I always had a weak lower back and it probably held me back.

I now believe that the lower back responds better to a high volume of work. If you want to build it to a level that will give you the strength to shock people, you need to work it for a high number of reps at a very high frequency. The good news is that the lower back muscles seem to have the highest trainability of all the muscles. This means they get bigger and stronger very rapidly if you focus hard on training them. I’m now devoting a good amount of time on making my lower back stronger using various rep ranges, using from 3 to 10 reps on the Romanian deadlift and other pulls; 10-12 on loaded back extensions, the back extension machine, glute-ham raises, and reverse hypers; and up to 30 on KB swings.

Applying it: Honestly I feel that with the lower back the big secret is doing it. I end every session with a lower back exercise. Depending on how fresh I am or how strong I feel, I’ll pick the movement that will work the best on that day. If I feel tired, then doing heavy triples on the Romanian deadlift might not be a good idea. And don’t dismiss something as simple as a back extension machine. The lower back doesn’t need to be trained at a high intensity to improve; just do something for your lower back every day and it will get stronger.

2. The value of high reps.

I’m a low rep guy and that won’t change. If I had to associate myself with one belief system, it would be the Bulgarian weightlifting school of thought that emphasizes always using very low reps and heavy (max or near-max) weights. However, after working with a lot of CrossFit athletes, I’ve come to appreciate the value of higher-rep training.

Yes, doing 21-15-9 on deadlifts and pull-ups sucks while you’re doing it, but I must confess that it does work. It’s easy to say that most CrossFit athletes do strength work outside of their WODs and that’s why they’re posting huge numbers, but I know a lot who get strong by only doing the WODs. They deadlift, squat, front squat, and push press (the Olympic lifts are a given) a lot more than the average commercial member who specifically trains to get bigger and stronger by doing “bodybuilding work.”

I’m not saying that high reps work better than powerlifting/low reps heavy work to get super strong, but lifting decent weights for higher reps certainly will get you stronger. And I find that relatively high reps on the big basic lifts (deadlift, squat, front squat, push press, pull-ups, and dips) will build a lot of muscle mass while also leading to decent strength gains. I’ll use my wife as an example. She never clean and jerked more than 85 pounds. After a few months of doing only CrossFit WODs, she hit 140 pounds.

What I like about the CrossFit-style high reps is that they do not define it in “sets.” If you have 21 deadlifts to do with 355 pounds, you can get those 21 reps in 2, 3 or 4 “sets” as long as you try to do them as fast as possible. That gives you a high density of work with a fairly heavy load, and that will build a lot of muscle mass. I recently started doing some thing like this myself. After my heavy work is done, I use 60% of my maximum on the lift and shoot for 20 reps. I may take one or two short breaks but the movement isn’t over until I get all 20. I noticed an increase in my rate of muscle growth from that simple addition.

Another method you can use is density strength work. Use 70-80% of 1RM on the bar and try to get to 30 total reps in as little time as possible. It might take you 6-8 sets to get there, but that’s fine. Just try to rest as little as possible: 5 reps, rest 10 seconds, 5 reps, rest 10 seconds, etc.

Applying it: After you’ve done your heavy work for your main movement of the day, challenge yourself to do 20 reps with 60% of your maximum on that same lift. If you can get all 20 without resting, go with 65 or 70% next time! You can also use density work, getting 30 total reps at 70-80% of your max in as little time as possible.

3. No respect for the weight.
One thing I noticed with many CrossFit athletes and even among recreational CrossFit participants is that they don’t have the same respect for the weight as powerlifters, Olympic lifters, or bodybuilders do. And I’m not referring to throwing down the bar after each set or rep (even though such a thing has been know to happen in most CrossFit boxes). No, I’m talking about the fact that they don’t seem to realize how hard a certain weight should be.

I’ll go back to my friend who was deadlifting 405 pounds who set a goal to deadlift 535 in four months. He didn’t seem to realize that a 135-pound increase on a lift in four months was insane, but he did it! And I’m seeing this all over the place. Fairly low-level CrossFitters saying, “Man, I really need to get my clean up to 315 pounds,” when they are struggling with 205, and then achieving it in a few months. Back when I started Olympic lifting, three plates was a big weight and my progress got stuck because I was setting myself up negatively by believing that a certain weight was out of my range.

That’s the weird thing with CrossFit. In powerlifting we look at the big guns deadlifting and squatting 900-1000 pounds and think, “These guys are inhuman; I’ll never get there.” In CrossFit they look at the guys who qualify for the games that have cleans of 315-375 pounds and think, “Man, I need to get there, quick.”

It reminds me of when my bench press had been stuck at 275 for a few years. I couldn’t get past that point no matter what I tried. I was training at a college gym where bench-pressing 225 would get you labeled as a steroid user, so 315 seemed like a physical impossibility to me, a lift done only by mythical beasts that are hiding in a cave somewhere.

And then I moved to that cave. I started training at a little hardcore gym in the basement of a church. The manager was a former Canadian record holder in the clean & jerk and his son was a strongman competitor. All the powerlifters and strongmen in the city trained there. There were at least 10 guys bench pressing 405 and a few had gotten over 500 pounds raw. It wasn’t exactly Westside, but compared to my previous gym it was a slap in the face. Within a few weeks I was up to 315 and it wasn’t that long until I could hit 365 and then 405 came within less than a year. Seeing all these guys doing those big lifts removed my mental block. It’s the same with CrossFit. You see so many competitive CrossFitters hitting 345-380 pound cleans and 265-285 pound snatches that 300-315 and 225-235 becomes ordinary (even low) and thus seems “easy” to reach. The funny thing is that because of that perception, they really do become much easier to reach.

I also think that a lot of people get into CrossFit without a big lifting background. Most of them were people who played sports first and maybe did some lifting here and there, so they don’t have the same relationship with the weights that us ironheads have. They don’t have the same perception of what is heavy and what should be a normal progression. An experienced lifter will say something like, “Gaining 50 pounds on a lift in a year is really good progress once you get past the beginner stage.” Oh the other hand, a beginner CrossFitter will think, “Man I really gotta’ get to those Rx weights soon or I’ll look like a loser.” (Note: The Rx weight is the load prescribed in a WOD. If you have to do 50 deadlifts with 225 pounds the Rx weight is 225). A competitive CrossFitter will think, “Froning is snatching 300 and cleaning 380. I have to get to at least 245 and 335 in a few months.”

And really, in all those cases they normally get what they think they can get. The same thing happened with me and my high pulls. Tim Patterson challenged me to go from 275 to 400 in 3 weeks. At the time my goal was 315 in 3 months, so he kinda’ changed my plans. And I got it because he got my mind in the right place.

Another example occurred when I went to train at Dave Tate’s compound. At the time my lifetime best bench press was 420, but my best at the time was 405 and I had missed 425 three times in the past month. When training at the compound I’d just follow one of the guys, not knowing how much weight we were using (we were using an odd fat bar and I had no idea of its weight). When I was done I asked Dave how much was on the bar, he answered, “445 pounds.” Twenty-five pounds over my lifetime best!

Applying it: It’s much harder to teach you how to apply a mental strategy than a training strategy. I do have one good recommendation, though. If you want to get strong, the best thing you could possibly do is move to a gym where super strong guys train. I cannot overstate the effect that training among these guys will have on your progress.

Learn From Everyone
I believe that CrossFit athletes still have a ways to go to maximize their performance. However, I also believe there’s a lot we can learn from them and the three elements I presented merely scratch the surface. I always believed that everybody who trains hard has something to teach others and that we shouldn’t be painting ourselves in a corner by refusing to learn from other groups of people just because it’s fashionable to make fun of them.

I couldn’t agree with this guy any more. This is a 100% honest, non-biased assessment of the CrossFit. I really need to start reading more by this guy.

– Rob