failure training technical proficiency pic

If you push to failure before mastering the lift, you’ll look like this guy [image from flickr - crossfitpaleodietfitnessclasses]

I just read a great article by Charles Staley that adds a whole new dimension to evaluating your experience level with lifting weights.  I’ve written in the past about how to rank yourself from Newbie to Pro but his take is refreshing and simple.

The context here is about how close to failure you should go when weight lifting.  And tellingly, it depends on the lift in question.  If you are mechanically proficient at a lift, the closer you can get to muscular failure and still be safe.  If you are unstable as you fatigue or as you take on heavy loads, you really shouldn’t push to failure.  For isolation movements (single joint exercises), it’s pretty safe to push.  But I strongly recommend the vast majority of your routine revolve around the compound, multi-joint movements.

Now, he mixes “fatigue” with “max weight” in his article, and Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: ,

Here’s a quick summary of the benefits of Lifting Complexes. If you missed part 1 or part 2, check them out.  And yes, I realize I’ve listed way more than 10…

reasons-to-do-complexes pic

Here are some great reasons to do Complexes [image from flickr_kevin_graves]

Top Ten Reasons To Do Complexes:

  1. They burn a lot of calories
  2. They are short and quick
  3. There are many variations
  4. Very little equipment needed
  5. Easy setup
  6. You can do them every day, even on days you lift or run
  7. Go light and they can be your warmup
  8. They ingrain the core lifting movements
  9. Dan John says to do them
  10. Good prep work before joining a crossfit gym
  11. They tend to burn fat while preserving muscle
  12. No strength loss
  13. Newbies will actually get stronger (but most people won’t)
  14. Your kids will think you’re pretty bad-ass
  15. They are fun
  16. There are endless options
  17. There are endless progressions
  18. Easy to regress (i.e. make it easier for newbies)
  19. Great for recovery; if you can’t lift heavy b/c of injury
  20. Full body workout
  21. They actually have a built-in warm-up because the weight is light; it doesn’t start feeling heavy until the second or third rounds
  22. If you design them right, the full ROM will carry over into increased ROM in life and in your main lifting routine
  23. ????  Other reasons you have?


complexes for fat loss image

No, I can’t promise you’ll have his physique if you use Complexes. Sorry. [image from]

Now that you have the basic idea of complexes [free article], you can create your own pretty easily unless you’ve got the creativity of a pebble. Over time, you’ll find that you settle on a few different ones as your go-to complexes. Personally, the ones I do that I like the best come from Dan John so I appreciate him sharing them over the years.

The “complex” is nothing new. But there are tons of articles being written recently about them. I suspect the Crossfit craze has something to do with this, since Crossfitters love the barbell and like doing high-rep work. But Complexes are not the same as the WOD (workout-of-the-day) that you do at Crossfit gyms and they aren’t intended for super-high reps like some WODs. So don’t confuse them.

Some basic things you’ll want to shoot for:

1)      Make them full body; that’s the best bang for your buck and ensures the most metabolic challenge.

2)      Try to minimize taxing the same muscles in back-to-back movements. For example, don’t do RDLs right after good mornings. But it’s impossible to avoid Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: ,

results from barbell complexes

Barbell complexes are great for burning fat while preserving muscle [image]

In business, you need to run away from “get rich quick” schemes. Similarly, nearly all the promises in the fitness world fall short. Some are useless. Some are damaging. Many work, but they take WAY longer than promised before you get results (at least for most people).

You may have heard about “complexes” – catchy name, but it’s really not a particularly new concept. The principles are rooted in good old track-and-field training. Do a reasonable amount of work in short, intense bursts, using full-body movements that involve some amount of explosive force. And don’t overtrain.

Reps, implements, rest periods, etc. all can vary. But again, nothing new here. So why are they popular “again”? Because they actually work pretty much as advertised. Read the rest of this entry »


What is your favorite exercise?  Add your comment below…

For years I’ve just been taking my wedding ring off when I lift.  I don’t want it scratched up by the bar.  Given that this (lifting) is something I want to do the rest of my life, and this (my ring) is something I want to last till death, that seemed like the only solution.

lifters ring wrapper, ring guard

Cover/wrap your ring instead of removing it when lifting?

But it’s a pain to take it off.

Sometimes, usually when it’s hot and humid, it takes a lot of soap and elbow grease to get it off.  Leaves my knuckle a little raw.

And then there’s the fear of losing it.  I have a decent home gym so most days it’s not an issue around loss, but whenever I travel or go to a commercial gym, I leave it in my hotel room or my car.  Easy to forget, right?  Not to mention my wife doesn’t like me out and about without my wedding ring.

Back in my early days of lifting, I’d wear gloves because I didn’t want my hands to get rough.  Sheesh.  Hard to remember how lame I was.  Now I take my callouses as pride.  And clearly gloves stink for grip. Plus you look like a fool if you are wearing gloves.  So gloves are out.

So what is the solution?

I’ve been messing around with various ideas and think I’ve stumbled on something that might be a really good solution.  I don’t have a name for it yet, but essentially it’s just a ring protector for when you lift weights (or other similar activity).  Here’s a picture:

lifter ring protector

A simple device to protect your ring while lifting

I’ve been using it for several sessions and it has a ton of advantages:

  • easy to put on
  • stays on, no adjusting during session at all
  • doesn’t slip around or anything
  • comfortable, barely notice it’s on
  • zero negative impact on lifts; even pulls
  • I’ve used chalk with no problems
  • I’ve even washed my hands and it just stays on
  • easy to take off (which is surprising, since it stays on so well)
  • no degradation – after many hours of lifting, the piece looks like when I first made it; no wear and tear

I think I might be onto something here but I need others to test it.

lifters_ring_protector (1) lifters_ring_guard

So here’s a “first mover” offer.  I’ve made a bunch more and I’m going to send a free one to the first people who email me.

Email me at “darrin” then put that funny @ symbol and then “”  (sorry to be so laborious but I hate getting spam).  Subscribers only.  Once the ones I’ve made are gone, then I’ll have to figure out something else.

For US folks, these are small and light so I can just put them in an envelope to mail.  If you are not in the US, then we’ll have to work out shipping costs.

But here’s the condition:  you must give me detailed written feedback after you’ve used them.  I want to hear the good and the bad.  Before I even consider mass producing these I need to get honest feedback.  I’m pretty sure you are going to love it as much as I do, but if not then tell me.

So, send me your name and mailing address to the above email address.  And include your finger size.  I’m talking about “fatness” of your fingers.  This isn’t going to be exact, but heavyweights would probably be XL, a large male with thick fingers is probably L, most lean men are probably M (that’s me) and heavier females are probably also an M, and most females or males with really thin fingers would be S.


I’m all out of the first batch but if you leave a comment below, and I get enough comments, I’ll make another batch and send some out.  Please chime in here on what you currently do.  How do you protect your ring while you are lifting?  Do you just take it off?

There are many old-school techniques for pushing yourself harder when seeking hypertrophy (muscle growth).  Arnold’s Encyclopedia, even if dated, does a great job highlighting various methods – drop sets, assisted reps, rest/pause, etc.  I’ve written about many of these here, here and here (and probably many more past articles).  But it seems common knowledge that you just can’t do drop sets all the time – you’ll burn out.  John Meadows does a great job explaining a fairly simple technique to periodize these methods – you can start following it immediately:     .

Intensity image from t-nation

I’m trying very hard to avoid processed wheat (though not worried about being gluten free) and I recently wrote about a great no-wheat bread recipe.  But what about pizza?  Pizza (plus bacon and protein oatmeal) is one of my favorite foods so I went in search of a wheat-free pizza crust.  After reading several, I tried this one (link below). Result: easy, great texture, excellent appearance, but kinda bland in taste. Secret tip in this recipe is the use of parchment paper: .

Women get such awful fitness advice. I have no idea why, but for decades women’s “return on exercise” (meaning, the benefits they get from the amount of time they put into it) has been low. The keys to what mistakes women make – and what do to about it are in this great article from the Poliquin Group. I’ve shared this with my family (all female except me) though they’ve heard me say all this before. You should share it too:

Any topics you want to hear more about?

Sincerely, Darrin

Suddenly butter isn’t bad for you anymore. I don’t know how it started but for the past 20 years or so butter was evil and margarine was good; now it’s reversed. Given the process involved in creating butter (pretty basic) and how long butter has been around (very long), I’m siding with the traditional view that butter is good and margarine is evil. Read for yourself this nice summary by Dr. Mercola:  .

There are countless rep schemes lifters can use to get results.  While I think the optimal range varies based on a TON of factors (including your goals, your current fitness level, your joint health, your age, your eating habits, your other non-lifting exercises, etc. and let’s not forget genetics), I think Christian does a great job categorizing these:  .

Do you have tight hamstrings? There’s a really good chance it’s because of weak glutes. I can tell you from personal experience that when I started properly training glutes, most of my hamstring tightness dissipated (including less cramping when running). This great article by Chad Waterbury (on Brett’s site) highlights that there are simple ways to train glutes very frequently. The link on that site is Brett’s affiliate link – prefer to use my affiliate link, just email me and I’ll get it to you.  .

Enjoy!  Darrin