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 (more…)

Continue reading about Technical Proficiency and Failure Training – How To Know When It’s Safe To Push To Failure

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?

Continue reading about How To Protect Your Ring While Lifting

Can you possibly lose fat or even gain muscle while on vacation?  Absolutely.  It’s not easy of course.  You are on vacation after all, so you probably want to indulge and eat and relax. Here are some tips to actually lose fat and/or gain muscle and STILL have a fun indulgent vacation.

fat loss muscle gain on vacation

You can lose fat and/or gain muscle even while on vacation

Let’s say you are taking a one week or two week holiday.  You can do a lot of damage to your body in 14 days of eating junk, drinking, and laying around the beach.  Don’t let that be you!  You can be the person who comes back from vacation not just well rested and rejuvenated but also in better shape!  An important step is to plan ahead – waiting until you are on vacation is too late.  So good for you for reading this article now.

These are notes partially to myself (I’m on vacation as I write this).  And as with many of the approaches I take, I need to thank Tom Venuto and his Burn The Fat ebook.

1. Find A Gym – Chances are, there is a gym near your vacation spot.  Search before you leave, find out if they have a power rack or squat rack.  (Yes, you’ll still do the Big Seven as your primary lifts).  Find one with day passes.

2.  Time Your Workouts around the “indulgent” meal.  You’ve heard me (and countless others) talk about how important it is to feed your muscle within that 1 to 2 hour block around your workout.  You need protein and carbs to start the repair process.  Many people advocate eating most of your calories for the day around this window (shake before, shake during, big meal afterwards).  Well, if you are on vacation and you love big, crazy breakfasts, then workout in the morning before you indulge.  If instead you are going to go hog-wild over dinner, then workout beforehand.

3. Count Calories – Calories do still count.  There’s no magic here – if you eat more than your body uses then you will gain fat.  I believe it’s more complicated than just counting calories (hormones play a huge role) but for some people, the logical process of counting calories let’s them eat crazy for a meal, then dial it back the rest of the day.  Which brings me to… (more…)

Continue reading about 14 Ways To Lose Fat And/Or Gain Muscle On Vacation

We’ve been talking recently about how periodicity in your lifting program – systematic alternations in the intensity and volume over time – can improve your results.  And we honed in on undulating periodicity as an advanced technique.

But what about runners?

Periodicity Is Not The Same As Progression

I previously wrote about how to incorporate progression into your cardio.  But progression and periodicity are not synonyms.  You can progress each week (for example, adding a 1/4 mile to each run, each week or improving your time a little bit each week) but that’s not periodized running.

A fake example “linear periodization” of running would be doing 4 weeks at a 12 min pace, then 4 weeks at a 10 minute pace, then 4 weeks at an 8 minute pace.

But runners know that linear periodization just doesn’t work. (So don’t follow the silly example of linear periodization!)

I realize that most of the people reading this site are much more focused on lifting than on running, as am I, but running still makes up a good part of conditioning and fat loss training for many of you.  So let me explain.

Runners Use Undulating Periodicity

Well, truth be told, runners figured out the value of undulating periodicity long before lifters/strength coaches.   But runners don’t call it “undulating periodicity”.

Take a look over at and you’ll see countless training plans (in prep for 10k, half marathons, etc.) all of which vary the intensity throughout the week but showing progression over time.

Here’s an example week (more…)

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Those of you who have been reading for the past couple of months have heard about the Spartan.  Cameron did his Super Spartan in Carolina in early summer and I did the 12-miler Beast with some friends in Vermont last weekend.

spartan beast results

The Vermont Spartan Beast (photo from nuvision)

This article will have 3 sections:

  1. Summary/Highlights
  2. Lessons Learned
  3. Details of the Experience, with Photos


This was a 12-mile race, but like nothing I’ve ever done.  It was almost entirely hills (and I don’t mean normal hills, I mean straight up Killington ski mountain not using a trail but using a narrow woods path).  And it had 26 obstacles, described below.

I did this with 3 friends, and about 1/4 of the way in we split into twos.  We later found out that the leading two stayed just barely ahead right up until the 3rd to final obstacle, so we all finished in a little over 5 hours.

That’s right.  Over five hours.

The elite men winners did it in about 3 hours.  I think, in retrospect, if we trained a little more appropriate for the terrain, and pushed ourselves, we could have done it in 4 hours.  But 3 hours seems insanely fast.

The 26 obstacles involved variations of the following:

  • fire jumps
  • barbed wire crawls
  • wall climbs
  • hills
  • mud pits
  • balance walks
  • horizontal rope lines
  • sandbag carries
  • sled pulls
  • swimming
  • oh, and did I mention hills, some of which were so steep that we were on all fours, grabbing roots and branches to keep from falling backwards?

If you failed any of the obstacles, you had to do 30 burpees.  I’m proud to say that I was successful on all obstacles except one:  the spear throw.  I was SO frustrated when I missed that (you only get one chance).

Some people were clearly not ready for this, as evidenced by (more…)

Continue reading about The Vermont Spartan Beast – Summary and Lessons Learned

There’s a good reason rock climbers use chalk:  improved grip.

Chalk - grip - weight lifting
Chalk improves grip

Of course, chalk isn’t just good for climbers.  Lifting heavy requires substantial grip tenacity.  Especially in the summer, with humidity high.

I’ve been working my my grip strength for many months now, usually once a week doing plate pinches, towel hangs, etc. at the end of a workout.

But I had never tried chalk.

(That is, aside from 20 yrs ago and a friend sneaked some chalk into the university gym.  That was back when I thought a good routine had “arms days” and no, using chalk to better grip the handles on the leg extension machine is not what I am talking about today!)

Most commercial/franchised gyms don’t allow chalk, and even though I workout in my home gym, I never thought it was necessary.  For deadlifts, the hardest grip lift that I regularly do, I simply moved the mixed grip (one hand pronated, the other supinated).

But I recently bought a chalk ball – it’s like a sock stuffed with chalk and that really reduces the mess.

Holy cow – what a major improvement.

Seriously, I am now deadlifting with a standard grip (both hands supinated) weights that I previously could only do with a mixed grip.  Just by using chalk.  (Of course, a max deadlift requires more than a strong grip, so it’s not like I added 100 pounds to the dead overnight.)

And for power-movements (e.g. cleans, high pulls, etc.) the chalk is like a miracle.

Then there are lifts where you grip the bar where there is no knurling – like a sumo-stance rack pull.  These are nearly impossible without chalk.  I did add about 50 pounds overnight to that lift just by using chalk.

I can say without hesitation, now that I’ve gotten more experience, that chalk is far superior to using wrist straps (see my cautious recommendations on straps here).

How To Add Chalk To Your Lifting

Here are 5 Guidelines for adding chalk: (more…)

Continue reading about Gotta Love The Chalk – 5 Tips For Using Chalk When Weightlifting


It’s been a while since I’ve thrown open the floor and done a good Q&A session.  Some of you long time subscribers might remember that we sometimes did these via podcast/mp3 but let’s keep this simple.  In the comments section below, ask me ANY fitness related question.  Completely open.  I will then do two things:

a) I will answer every single one personally (or, if it is an area I don’t know about, I will get the answer from one of my expert colleagues)

b) For the 3 best questions (my opinion), I will give those people a FREE copy of one of my ebooks or lifting routines

So, ask away!  I’m guessing I’ll post the answers in about a week or so, depending on volume.  I want at least 25 questions ok? (more…)

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Cameron’s Spartan Experience…

Cameron did the Spartan in The Carolina’s the weekend of June 25th.  Here is his first-hand account…

The race was intended to be approx. 8 miles with 15 obstacles.  The fastest times were intended to be around 80 minutes.  It ended up being (after adding the turns) about 10 miles and 19 obstacles (+/- 1, depending on how you count); the fastest time was 106 minutes; only about 1 mile of it total was straight pathway, and about only about 2 miles was flat.  It was so difficult that they added a an extra water station.  This is my account and perspective on the race, and the events leading up to it…

Cameron (left) and Rudy (right) right before the Spartan Race

Friday afternoon was a drive to our hotel.  About 5 miles from Columbia, SC.  It took us about 3 hours with a food stop to arrive at the hotel from Greensboro, NC.  Honestly, I really didn’t want to do this race.  If you haven’t been following the WFN forums then you don’t know, but the only reason I did this race was because a co-worker of mine (further known as “Rudy”) asked me to and wanted some support.  At this point, my goal was just to finish.  Previously, the furthest I had ever run in my life was a 5k, about 9 years ago.  I was dreading going.  However, in the hotel room I said, and I quote myself, “It’s amazing how little I care about running this dumb event, but, watch tomorrow when I get to the course and I get all competitive and try and kill myself to beat everyone else.”, which ended up being pretty much true.



Friday night was a relaxing evening for the 4 of us who came on the trip.  One of the people who came along is a client of mine who had a birthday a few days ago.  We ended up going to a San Jose Mexican restaurant and getting her a birthday treat.  It was a good thing to break the tension for Rudy and myself.


Saturday morning came at about 6:00.  I was trying to stay pretty serene about the whole event.  Grabbed some eggs and toast from the Waffle House next to our hotel for a pre-race snack.  I was warming up at this point to the idea of running the race.  I decided on a new goal, to finish in less than 2 hours.  Our heat time started at 10:30am and wanted to be done by 12:30pm to see the end of the awards ceremony that started at 12:00.  I felt like it was a pretty do-able goal.  By the time I saw the race grounds and took in the atmosphere, put on my music, and changed into my race attire I was totally stoked and ready to go.

spartan 2
Rudy and Cameron waiting like good little boys for their turn to register and receive their time chips.

From here on I am going to explain the race in more detail and break it down into segments to that it was easy to follow.

Our obstacles for this event are as follows:

  • A fire pit jump after the initial hill
  • A small lake with an underwater swim under some floating barrels
  • Over, under, and through 6 different walls
  • Stump run
  • A rope wall
  • Tire carry
  • Barbed wire
  • Monkey bars
  • Cinder blocks
  • Water rope climb
  • 50m swim
  • Over water rope climb
  • Sandbag carry pt. 1
  • Cliff jump
  • Sandbag pt. 2
  • 6 mud pits
  • 2 more wall climbs
  • Another fire pit
  • Javelin throw
  • Rope wall
  • Gladiators



spartan 3

The starting line for our heat.

Spartan Race line-up

By the time we lined-up to start our heat and received a speech I had already signed the “Wall of Valor” and was done warming up.  Mentally, I was totally focused and ready to kill some distance.  Rudy and myself got a good starting spot about 5 feet from the starting line, out of a group of about 100ish people.


The Race is Off

If you were following the WFN forums (if not I recommend going to check it out here) you know that Rudy and myself were doing interval training on a 100 meter hill.  Obviously, looking at the earlier picture, there was a pretty steep hill at the start (at least 45 degrees, and that’s being conservative) followed by a fire jump.  That being said I’m glad we did it.  Even after taking my time going up the hill we were easily ahead of about 1/8th of the pack,somewhere near the top 20.  I then proceeded to run through the fire hose as it was 95 degrees outside and headed for the next obstacle, a man-made pond with a line of barrels floating for us to swim under.  I picked up some more spots here, but ended up waiting for Rudy to catch up so basically broke even.  I will inform you that I decided Friday morning that I would definitely need my music (another thing mentioned on the forums) so I came up with what I thought was a genius idea.  I put my MP3 player in a Ziploc bag in my pocket.  In retrospect it didn’t go so well…


spartan 4

My mp3 player by the time we got done with 5 water obstacles plus 1 mile+ of river treading

The bad times start

About ½ mile into the race my shoe actually split right down the middle.  I really didn’t think much off it at the time.  It made it a little harder, from a balance standpoint, but, nothing too major.  Right afterward we came across 6 walls about 6 feet high.  The first was just a simple pull-up essential.  The second wall was raised with razor wire over the top.  We crawled under a gap of about 12 inches from the ground.  The third had some tires about 3 ½ feet off the the ground in the middle to crawl through.  The last three walls were just repeats.  Again, overall the obstacle wasn’t bad.  At this point I actually started to get what I thought was a rock in my shoe.  This was rough when I had to run across small fence posts cut off to about a foot off the ground.  I had no balance and fell of and did 30 up-downs to move on.


After about a 1 ½ mile trek through the rolling trails we came to a rope wall.  It was basically a giant triangle we had to climb over.  Right afterward was the first water tent.  I quickly asked while grabbing water if they had some athletic tape so that I could tape my shoe.  The told me that they didn’t have any but would order some to show up at the next station for me.  So I moved on.


But wait, we were just warming up

About ½ mile later I realized that I was getting a blister on my foot and that it wasn’t actually a rock.  The blister had split and was hitting rocks on the ground.  The walking started about here sporadically, but I could run on the outside of my foot so I kept going most of the way.  It was about 1 mile until the next obstacle.  The next obstacle was pretty long and took about 5 minutes.  We carried good year race car tires on our shoulders down a twisty hill then back up.  The distance totaled about a ½ mile and we ended up finishing right where we started and just plopping the tire back down.

We then came up to the barbed wire, after another mile or so run of course.  I was limping pretty badly by this time.  The barbed wire was about 100 yards and was about 10 inches off the ground, give or take about 4 inches because they were varying heights.  The average time it took people to get through was probably about 5 minutes.  It took me about a 1 ½ minutes, thank you years and years of football practice and barrel rolls.  They looked at me when I finished like I was a freak of nature.  Right at the exit of the barbed wire was the second water stop.  This was about 4 miles into the race.

That’s TOTAL B.S.

I arrive and ask about the tape.  Of course, they have no idea what I was talking about.  I basically tied my shoe together and tied a torn cup to my foot.  It took about 10 minutes for me to do it though, so Rudy went on ahead, since he could still run.  Most of the trek was walking as this point.  I managed to get a jog going during a few flat places, but only added up to MAYBE ¾ of a mile throughout the rest of the race.  At this point a basically said, “Screw you Spartan Race, I’m going to finish.”


Distance at this point was pretty much a blur, but the next obstacle was a cinder block raise.  Basically some pulleys were hooked up to some cinder blocks and we had to raise and lower them with a rope.  It was a pretty big river run at this point to the next obstacle.  A good mile, easily.


The next one was a ramp into a pool of water.  At the end of the pool was a vertical, muddy, rocky wall.  The wall had 6 ropes hanging over the edge tied to a bulldozer.  We had to climb out of the water (about waist deep) to dry land.  There was no grip and sucked.  I fell once and had to redo it, but from what I heard, two tries was pretty good.  The last water station was right at the exit of this obstacle.  It was all downhill after here… my luck, not the course.


More water and hills

The next obstacle, after a good hike was a 50 meter swim, followed by climbing back over the water on a raised rope going across the water.  The swimming part was what I had an issue with.  Then, not ¼ mile afterward they handed me a 45 lb. Sandbag to throw over my shoulder.  I took the sandbag, hiked down the mountain to a giant cliff.  I set the bag down, walked up the cliff and jumped into the water.  I didn’t have too much of an issue there at least, I’ve done some small cliff jumping into rivers before off of a 45 foot rock, so their 20 foot jump was a break.  I carried myself out of the pond walked to my sandbag, and back up I went to once again, set it down right where I got the dumb thing.

The final stretch

I swear they saved the hard obstacles for the end.  Here I am, limping almost vertical up a ½ mile hill and I get up top and there is 6 mud pits.  Each mud pit had water in it and a hill at the end to climb up.  They were VERY slick, I had one good foot, and each on got taller and steeper than the previous one.  Apparently, even after all the troubles I was only 15 minutes behind Rudy.

spartan 5

The mud pits in the foreground with the hill we just climbed in the back.

At this point, I was pretty much toast, but was able to clear the last two walls with ease, in comparison to the last 6 obstacles.

spartan 6

The smaller of the 2 walls


Then afterward…


spartan 7

The 2 walls followed by the final fire jump

Then I went back down the first hill we went up at the start of the race to the Javelin throw, which I failed miserably.




The last major obstacle was a rope wall.  One attempt and done.  My calf cramped at the end and I couldn’t get it out for about 10 minutes after the race though.  I climbed the wall and pretty much willed myself and limped across the finished line.

final wall

Final Ramp

spartan 10

The Finish Line!

After checking the times I finished in 2:33:32.  Not bad considering I only had one foot essentially, a popped blister the size of a nickel, and had to walk ¾ of the race.  Not to mention that I only finished 5 minutes behind Rudy.

Finally, for all you people who want to see why this race sucked…


spartan 11

And yes, that IS my entire foot and sock coming through my shoe

In retrospect

I think it was a good experience.  I really almost hit my goal and really had the entire universe against me.  I originally said NEVER again, but honestly… maybe if it’s next year.  I figure it’ll give me time to block it all out.  A spartan sprint (3 miler) would be pretty fun though.  Rudy’s wife and my client, Christine, want to try a sprint, so we’ll see.  Overall, I was still pretty proud of my performance mentally, and NOBODY really expected me to finish by the time we found out they didn’t have any tape for me.   I’ll leave you all with these final words from my fortune cookie that I got earlier this week. “Attitude, not aptitude, determines your altitude.”




Continue reading about Cameron’s Spartan Experience