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Out of the Frying Pan & Into the Fire: A Pro’s Story of Injury and Triumph

So here I am in my immaculately clean (that’s a lie) apartment in northern Okayama Prefecture, somewhere in rural Japan between Osaka and Hiroshima. During one of the best parts of my day, my morning shower, I was pondering over the many injuries I’ve been rewarded with since I first began my quest at age 14 of becoming super muscular and strong. I’m still fighting a quad pop I had last year as well as getting my erectors into peak condition after a back strain almost 3 years ago. I still can’t believe it’s been that long but when you’re training like crazy and are riding wave after wave of personal records in a great groove, it can be horrible when you’re totally thrown off the tracks and are forced to rest for a long time. Regaining that lost momentum can be really difficult, physically and mentally. In this article I will go over all the notable injuries I’ve had since I began lifting, what caused them, and how I fixed them.

dan harrison japan

Dan Harrison

I had been going like a speeding Shinkansen (the bullet train in Japan, its top speed is around 200 mph) making inhuman gains in my squat and deadlift, as well as some pretty great upper body gains. From late 2009 until the beginning of 2011 I had gained over 150 lbs on my squat and deadlift, 60-70 on my bench, finally won my professional card in Strongman, rocked a 925 deadlift in the gym, nailed some national powerlifting records, and placed 7th at my very first pro show, Odd Haugen’s Strongman Challenge at the Los Angeles Fitexpo. A few months after that it all came crashing down. Just now in 2014 am I back to where I was in strength and am building up for a powerful comeback that will take me right to the top in 2015. Hitting a solid 4th place at the Fitexpo in 2013 was a huge confidence booster as well. I’m 32 years old now but some of the best at World’s Strongest Man are in their mid and even late 40s so I know I have a VERY long path of destruction and war ahead of me. Life is all about pushing ahead toward your awesome goals and fighting through setbacks. When you take a swing at the world, it will take a few good swings back at you and some of them will knock your teeth out. We all know that a coward dies 1,000 deaths so until your clock truly runs out, you’re still in the game. Got it?

The 90s

I’ve had some pretty awesome experiences in the Iron Game. I’ve met almost all of my heroes, worked out with the strongest men in the world, had a real inside look into the worlds of Bodybuilding, Powerlifting, Strongman, and Armwrestling, and countless other really amazing things. When I was in high school my grandparents used to drive me to Muscle Beach to go workout at the weight pit and then take me to Gold’s Gym Venice to workout some more. This was the mid 90s, almost all of the best bodybuilders of that era were in there training so I got a chance to meet and talk to a lot of them. My favorite was Chris Cormier, he was the coolest guy ever! Meeting Flex Wheeler in his prime was cool too, his training partner at the time, Rico, scared the hell out of me. I came up asking to get an autograph and he was like “WHAT DO YOU WANT KID!!!?!?! Ha ha ha just kidding, hey Flex, this kid wants to meet ya!” It was totally awesome.

Another gigantic guy I was talking to there (no idea who he was) told me “you’re only 15 and you have a real good frame, ONE DAY YOU’RE GONNA BE A HOUSE!!!” As a high schooler I would get all jacked out of my mind on Ultimate Orange and go squat and deadlift at 6am sometimes. I used Tom Platz’s program “Big Beyond Belief” and got some really good gains out of it. California Muscle Culture in the 90s was still very alive.

Dan Harrison girls

A 17 Year Old in the Trash Can

Back to injuries… my first actual injury was a pec strain from bench pressing. The bench press is probably one of the most dangerous exercises as well as the most widely performed around the world. Even with perfect performance the pecs are in a very vulnerable position and can be strained or worse at any time.

It’s always a roll of the dice with the pecs while training the bench press even with great warmup and sensible training. Even the best professionals who do all they can to lift safely have massive pec injuries and constant stingers there! So anyway, I was 16 years old and feeling really strong (feeling strong, not actually strong. Big difference!) I was attempting a 245 bench press. It felt amazingly light at liftoff but as it came down I felt a strain across both pecs and the bar free fell the rest of the way down. I’m sure my spotter caught it or else I would have had a big problem! For years after that any time my pecs became slightly overworked it would feel as if it was going to tear or something! Sharp pain! This bothered me on and off for TEN YEARS. At this point in my lifting I had done a 405×6 deep squat with a belt and some ace wraps and a 455×6 (touch and go) floor deadlift. Right when I turned 17 I began to have a lot of knee pain, got a back strain from deadlifting heavy every week for years on end, a pretty bad shoulder strain from doing behind the neck presses (an already horrible exercise) with way too much weight and horrific form, a strain in my right wrist from God knows what, and elbow pain. I decided to just take a full month off the gym, stop behind the neck pressing, and be smarter about lifting; this worked really well and soon enough I was back to 100%.

Japan and the United States " people power " showdown !Tanigawa master vs Dan -Harrison

Tanigawa master vs Dan -Harrison

Amateur Strongman, Dumb and Dumber

During the 9 years I’ve been involved in Strongman competitions the one area that has taken the most damage is my back! This is to be expected, Strongman is about picking up really, really heavy stuff!!! The back has to support the whole body under these insane loads so when it gets hurt, it can be pretty bad. The first back strain was during training for my first show which had an 18” deadlift. This is an event where a barbell is supported on 2 blocks so instead of picking it up from the floor, the bar begins (for most people) a few inches below the knee so for almost everyone, a much heavier weight can be used and we all know that the heavier the weight is, the cooler it is! The rough thing about this type of deadlift is that almost all of the strain is RIGHT on the low back at the beginning of the pull!! In training I overdid it and despite my erectors burning with exhaustion I kept pulling singles until POP. Oh man, what a moron! What have I done… had a small pop in the low back that wasn’t awful, but very annoying for months and months until a very good chiropractor yanked on my leg and POP, something released in my back and the pain was gone.

I had a minor strain somewhere in my pec/trapezius area after doing some strapped farmers walk holds with 450 per hand (if you’re asking why I did that, check the title of this section). It was bothering me for many weeks until my trainer’s wife told me to stop drinking all soda. Evidently high amounts of sugar can really increase inflammation especially when you’re hurt, and can prevent muscles from really relaxing and healing. I quit soda and the pain was gone for good  in less than a week.

The next back strain was in late 2006, a couple months before Amateur Nationals. During the summer of 2006 I was making awesome progress in my squat. I went from 550×3 with belt and wraps to 640×1 in just knee sleeves, no belt! It also took my front squat from 405 to 475. I did my first 405 front squat at Gold’s Venice. I failed it the first time but Lou Ferrigno was there, he gave me some pointers about keeping my elbows higher and boom, got it on the second try!

dan harrison flexing

I had a 4 week rotation in lower body work:

Week 1: Squats to a max single or triple, raise the pins in the rack, add 50 lbs and do one full range negative rep, raise the pins even higher and do a second negative with another 50 lbs on the bar, then maybe one down set with 500 for a few reps.

Week 2: Barbell step-ups to a 12” box, a few sets, 5-10 reps per leg.

Week 3: Same formula as week 1 except with front squats

Week 4: Same as week 2.

This was working amazingly until I had the bright idea of trading out the step ups for max rack deadlift lockouts! Wow, was that stupid! The box step ups were amazing because they provided extra leg work WITHOUT beating up the erectors. Heavy squats can do a serious number on the back muscles as well, and the relief provided from the step ups was perfect. When I traded them out in favor of deadlift lockouts, it was a recipe for disaster. This lasted about a month before my back went out, and that lasted many months before I was back in shape. It was bothering me so much I went ahead and dropped the cash for a Westside Reverse Hyper, which turned out to be one of the greatest investments I ever made. With some rest, smart training, and a lot of rep work on the reverse hyper, I was back in action and ready to lift anything.

dan harrison group

Inferno

The next back injury was in 2008. I had had a couple small pops again in my low back leading up to this; the first was leaning back super far to press out a very heavy viking press. The other was the same pop there that happened bouncing out of the hole with a 575 squat. Do you see the connection between free squats and injuries?? The death blow was a 2 day strongman training weekend at Odd’s, a few guys flew in to train so we were all going ballistic. The morning of day 2 I jumped on the reverse hyper and started going full range of motion pretty explosively. What a great idea that was, full range stretching and ripping up one of the most sensitive muscle groups on the whole body! Something went out and I could barely stand up, I couldn’t train that day and ended up spending most of that Sunday in bed. This was the beginning of 6 months of HELL. Have you ever had sciatica? It’s awesome, it’s like your whole leg is on fire from your low back all the way down to your feet. Can’t sleep, can’t sit, can’t DEADLIFT for sure. I ate on the floor for weeks and even had to take a couple weeks off work it got so bad. Funny thing was, I could squat fine and do some strongman events but if I tried to lift even a light atlas stone it was suicide.
I needed to ice my whole leg at night so I could fall asleep. The amount of ibuprofen I took during those months was just wrong. Thankfully I never reached out to prescription painkillers at that time because I would have became an addict for sure. Now and then I’d have a couple of them, become a space cadet for a while and forget about my leg but those drugs don’t heal you at all. My incredible chiropractor ended up giving me a bunch of free sessions digging out tons of huge knots all down my leg. Man, it was horrible! He would actually schedule me during times when nobody else was in the office because I’d be screaming! It was some real medieval style torment but it worked and after a while it all released and I was OK.

The Great Fall

As I addressed at the beginning of this article, I was making incredible progress on my Strongman and Powerlifting journey when a bad back strain in April 2011 took me down.
I had competed in the LA Fitexpo and placed 7th, then 4 weeks later did a powerlifting meet and did a raw 860 squat right after moving to Texas, and then did an extremely heavy 2 day strongman show in Las Vegas 3 weeks after that.

I really should have taken a couple weeks off training BARE MINIMUM after all of that, but nope. One of the things that I did in training in between the Fitexpo and the Powerlifting meet was an 875 deadlift with no belt! Around that time I was still proud of the 855 beltless deadlift I had done a few months prior until an amateur strongman put up a video of him also hitting 855. This pissed me off incredibly so in a determined rage I went in an did 875, because screw him. From floor to lockout it was almost 12 seconds but it felt like it took an hour. I was so crippled after that but who cares, I WON. Right? So after all of that stuff all done in early 2011, I went right back to training and was doing max box squats with 400-500 lbs of band tension, BELTLESS. This was so stupid! I was alternating weekly between low bar back squat and Safety Squat Bar, which puts a huge strain in the mid/upper erectors. During about the 4th week of this nonsense I got a massive strain all across my mid erectors. After that, deadlifting even 315 was impossible. I knew I was in deep trouble because I had a pro show in Philadelphia coming up a month later which was fully paid for by the promoter so I didn’t want to let him down. I talked to the man, Louie Simmons, on the phone and he had me doing a lot of sled dragging and reverse hypers during that month which helped a lot. I still had back problems at the show and couldn’t even do the opening deadlift of 700-something but I did the rest of the events great and finished okay in the show.

dan harrison

A month later I moved back to California (after my 6 month Texas adventure) but my back wasn’t really getting any better so I decided to really commit to taking 6-7 weeks off any real lower body work to become the leg extension and leg curl world champion. This was a difficult time in my life because I had returned to California from Texas with an injured back, a broken heart, and barely enough gas money to make it home. It was the beginning of a two year period where I had to take stock of my life and rebuild myself in every way. I was such a mess but thankfully my old boss was glad to give me my old job back and my family let me stay with them for the time being. I worked night shift so it was fun sometimes to get all jacked up on Green Apple NoXplode and go to the 24 hour gym at 3am. It was difficult for my parents having me living in Texas, it would seem as though it would be much harder having me in Japan now but they seem fine! I think they’re just glad I’m finding my way in the world and really taking control of my destiny. They get a kick out of watching me do crazy stuff around here and traveling around to different countries whenever I want. Moving to another continent into a different culture was a huge risk but like anything in life, no guts no glory. I had a lot of signs that it was meant to be, so I didn’t worry too badly.

During that time back in California I slowly worked my way back into squats and deadlifts and after a few months was super strong again. My deadlift has taken the longest to get back but part of that was because I changed my training so much. In the past I had always done box squats in training but I switched to doing free squats only, which was a huge disaster. My knees were always killing me, my back was chronically tired, and my deadlift completely disappeared. It got so bad that at one point I failed a 675 below the knee rack pull. Pretty upsetting to a 900+ deadlifter. I went back to box squats and more of my old style training and the back got big and strong again!

Break a Leg

I’ve always been big on barbell lunges since 2009, they helped correct some lower body imbalances that brought up my power like crazy as well as almost immediately release all of the residual back pain I was experiencing from the 2008 injury. I could barely do 155 for a few reps at the beginning but after a few months I was working out with 300-400 lbs for reps. After a certain point I didn’t believe they helped because I was able to lunge over 550 for reps but I didn’t see any real increase in my squat or deadlift anymore. The problem was, I didn’t really pay attention to that because lunging giant weights was endlessly entertaining to me, as well as the rest of the gym as they watched in horror half expecting a colossal catastrophic event which they were rewarded with now and then. Inspired by my previous success with squat negatives, I had used heavy lunge negatives from time to time which really did bring up my lunging power. The problem is that I never know when to stop with anything I do. I had the bright idea of doing a lunge negative on each leg with 635. Left leg went great. Did my right leg and felt a decent strain across the side of my leg, which was probably my IT band. This was 2 years ago and I am still struggling with this leg issue. Later that year I was free squatting and something popped in my right leg on the way up with 675. Hurt pretty bad and my leg got pretty stiff.

This was 6 weeks before the 2013 Fitexpo which was a VERY important show!!!! One of the events was a 550 lb front squat for reps, so I was pretty freaked out. I went back to light front squats a week later with about 300 lbs and my R leg wrapped tight, and it felt okay. I kept that leg wrapped up in a knee wrap around the thigh and gradually worked back up to some pretty heavy squats before the show. Seemed to work its way out of my system and I ended up with 3 easy reps with the 550 front squat at the show before I accidentally dumped it forward. Dangit! Winner had 5 so I still had great points. No leg problems in the show, won the tire flip, placed real high in everything else except the Yoke! Usually a great event for me but I had both legs wrapped up tight to protect the quad which made my legs sort of stiff which in turn made walking with 915 and then 1075 very awkward.

dan harrison armwrestling

It popped again a couple months later in the gym during an 800 squat but that healed pretty quickly. This was the fourth week in a row of  free squatting heavy in the gym, I was squatting in just belt and knee sleeves but by week 3 my knees and quads felt pretty horrible. Ignoring that I decided to just go in on week 4 with wraps and add 100 lbs to the bar, because I’m really stupid. Pop! A couple months later It popped again HORRIBLY during a 585 front squat in the gym, and that one was the really bad one. Couldn’t walk for a couple weeks, leg turned black, had to pull out of an important show I had 2 weeks later as well as the whole year ahead of me, so I was trying to keep up heavy training so my whole year wasn’t ruined.

I was experiencing some real depression over that one because it was so crippling as well as becoming a real threat to my future in the sport I love. Thankfully I had some good doctors, my chiropractor, and a couple acupuncturists do their best work and put me back together. They also fixed the pec tear I earned at my first Armwrestling tournament around that same time. I mean who does that while armwrestling?? It turned black! This Chinese acupuncturist rubbed FIRE on the pec and stuck all these pins all over me. He also did some deep tissue work and it healed super quick.

Before a show in Russia a couple months later I had the amazing idea to hit some 500 lb lunges and to my astonishment, the quad popped again. People have been asking me all my life, “What’s wrong with you?” I’ve never had a good answer for that. Thankfully that one healed fast and everything went great in Russia. Our team ended up only winning 3 out of 7 events so we didn’t win the overall title but whatever, the trip was one of the most amazing things ever. Drinking Russian energy drinks all day during the show (undoubtedly amphetamine-laced) assured maximum performance as well as zero sleep that night. I was up at 4:30am with Andrew Palmer armwrestling and having one of the strangest discussions ever. Escape from the minus world!

Resurrection

I have the rest of 2014 to train before the 2015 Fitexpo in Los Angeles, California and this is the perfect amount of time to prepare for the most successful year of my Strongman career. I have a great track record of finishing well there (7th and 4th) against an international field so I know what I need to  do. Doing very well there can also get me an invite to more big international shows so I am coming in with the biggest battle axe possible. I’m in the middle of rural Japan and another English teacher who loves heavy lifting ended up moving right down the street! I now have a GREAT training partner! I had forgotten how much that helps; it has been a huge positive development for my training and my life in general. It can be difficult when zero people speak English in your whole city but him and I are kicking ass and showing people around here what high testosterone men are supposed to look like. In just over a month training with me he’s already got huge slabs of muscle all over and has gained about 5kg. We train early in the morning because otherwise we get mobbed by Japanese dudes and training turns into a photo shoot. I don’t mind getting mobbed when I’m out in some big Japanese city but during training I don’t like screwing around. This one guy never shuts up too, but he usually goes in the afternoons along with most of the chatty ones.

Final Words

No more free squats probably ever again, I am done with those as well as bench pressing. I’m done competing in Powerlifting so I have all the more energy to focus on heavy overhead pressing and deadlifts without all the chronic injuries related to benching and heavy free squats. I’m only 32 but I’ve been lifting heavy weights for 18 years, it takes a toll. Instead of bench pressing I have opted for weighted dips which I believe are both safer and more effective. My legs look awesome right now and I haven’t been squatting regularly, just deadlift variations. I might add in some pause front squats just for extra explosiveness and strength support for Strongman. Heavy deadlifts and push presses do work the quads better than anyone gives them credit for. If an exercise is causing you problems again and again and the risk to reward ratio is not good, dump it. Not worth it. In Armwrestling there is a somewhat risky move called a Shoulder Roll which can help finish a match with tricep power but can potentially put the arm in a super dangerous breaking position. And when I say breaking position, I mean your arm can basically break off the bone and your life is over for the next year. I’m going to stay away from that move as much as I can, not worth it. If all I did was Armwrestling I would take more risks like that but I can’t afford to have a major arm injury since I’m also a pro strongman and am training for the biggest show.

Strongman hurts and so does Powerlifting and Armwrestling. Yes there are other athletes in these sports who have had much more horrific injuries than I; broken bones, completely torn muscles and tendons requiring major surgery, hernias, knee blowouts, internal organ damage, heart attacks and worse. These sports are not for chickens! All I can really bear witness to is what I’ve experienced. Every injury is sort of unique so what works for one person may not work for another but there are some general similarities we can all acknowledge. Listen to your body, avoid too much sugar, don’t do behind the neck anything, bench press with great caution, pause squats are amazing and much safer than free squats, pay attention to back pain, and always do a really full warmup especially for your back!!!!!

Dan Harrison

Get Smart or GTFO: Essentials for Smart Training

I just read a small article written by amateur strongman Ryan Burgess recently on LIFT.net. He was giving beginners advice on what not to do when getting into the sport of Strongman.

He counted five things he himself was guilty of doing at the beginning, and told people that’s not the way to go. One thing in particular stood out for me.

Many lifters are guilty of this, novice and seasoned. The “go heavy or go home” mentality seems to be the only way a lot of lifters think you should train. To me it’s certainly one way, but definitely not the best way. You’re not training to test your strength, you’re training to build your strength, and the best way to do that is not always trying to lift as much weight as you possibly can. For me, the saying should go more like “get smart or GTFO” because training smart can get you to the top of Goal Mountain a lot faster, and safer .

When I say train smart I mean: plan what you are training for, have some sort of time frame for your goals, eat good food and make sure nothing is missing in nutrition, give yourself enough time to recover between training days and use your time in the gym to the fullest.

pall dumbbell

1. Plan What You Are Training For

Don’t train powerlifting for two weeks, and then decide you want to be a bodybuilder start doing cardio, and then figure “crossfit sounds like fun”. This is all a waste of time and energy. Say to yourself “what do I want to accomplish next”. Then put the time, blood, sweat, and thought into it, and you will achieve your goal! Then move on to the next.

2. Setting a Time Frame For Your Goals

Setting a time frame is not planning to add 20 Lb to your deadlift in five days, it’s improving as much as you possibly can over the next 16 weeks for instance.

3. Eat Good Food and Make Sure Nothing is Missing in Nutrition

Think about what you eat. Know the fuel you’re putting in your body. Don’t be the guy who only eats pizza and ice cream, and says he’s bulking. Everybody knows that guy is a moron. The rule of thumb says to calculate the amount of protein you need; 1 Gram of protein per 1 Lb of bodyweight. Try to be somewhere in the proximity of that. Oh, and if you are bulking, eat more of good food, don’t switch to fat-ass food and call it bulking.

4. Give Yourself Enough Time to Recover Between Training Days

If you train for powerlifting, then I usually recommend the 2-3 times a week training routine. Just make sure you don’t train too often. Kill yourself on each training day, but give your body enough time to rebuild the muscle you break down. You can’t train bench press every day and expect good results. Don’t be afraid of resting, you need it.

5. Use Your Time in the Gym to the Fullest

Using your time in the gym can be tricky because often you know everyone around you, and call most of them friends. Be aware of the time you need in between sets so you’re not wasting it. Go ahead, chat with your friends, but keep your mind on the matter, and don’t lose focus.

I hope this helps someone gain strength through knowledge. Keep getting stronger, and keep getting smarter. And all you beginners … ASK! There are thousands of guys more than happy to answer all of your stupid questions because we remember when we didn’t know and had to ask the older, more experienced guys.

Be great.

Páll Logason 793 Lb/360 Kg Deadlift

Páll Logason 793 Lb/360 Kg Deadlift

My Top 5 Mistakes as an Amateur Strongman

Quick Intro

Before I get anywhere with this article, I need to offer one disclaimer: I wasn’t born a great athlete- far from it, to be completely honest. My dad has been a construction worker my entire life and my mom comes from a family of farmers, so while I may have a little “real world” strength coursing through my veins, I was the first person from the Burgess gene pool to truly try to apply it to a sport. What I do have is an insatiable desire to push my genetics to their limit, and the willingness to bust my ass in the process.

After topping out my football career as an alright offensive lineman at Colorado State University, it was only a matter of time before I found another avenue to push and challenge myself. So after spending a few years “dabbling” in Jiu-Jitsu, MMA, and seeing just how much of my football playing weight I could lose, I returned to my first love: lifting. A life-changing meeting with one of my former college strength coaches and a chance network of solid competitive Strongmen and women right in the city I lived steered me towards my first Strongman competition in October of 2010, and I have since competed in four more strongman contests and three powerlifting meets. My results haven’t been anything spectacular, but I HAVE progressively improved, learning many valuable lessons along the way. Having learned these lessons, there are some things I would go back and do-over, but because I’ve yet to figure out that whole time travel thing hopefully a few of you that are in the early stages of competing in Strongman, or thinking about getting started can learn from my mistakes.

5.) Getting caught up in “being” a strongman

I’m a Physical Preparation Coach by trade, and given my background I work a TON with football athletes and teams. A few years back one of the teams I was coaching was struggling, and I remember speaking with them about the difference between enjoying the sport of football and enjoying being a football player. I felt some of the kids on the team enjoyed “being” a football player more than actually playing the sport. Looking back on the start of my competitive Strongman journey, I can honestly say I was guilty of the same thing. I liked the implements, the perceived attitude, being different from the “norm”, and to be completely truthful, the attention. After toiling away in anonymity as an offensive lineman my entire football career, it felt cool to finally have people paying attention to me. This is NOT a winning mindset! Strength athletics is a brutally humbling world, and thankfully I got humbled real quick. Zach Gallmann, a high level competitive Strongman in Ohio, said it best in something he posted earlier this year: this sport will take more from you than you’ll ever get, so you have to accept that to progress. I didn’t really start going anywhere until I let go of the “trappings” associated with the sport and focused on the process.

Lesson Learned: Seek the Battle, not the Glory.

4.) Not getting specific with conditioning

You need to be strong to compete in Strongman, but you also need to be appropriately conditioned to display that strength. No matter what sport you’re training for, conditioning is going to be task specific. In the vast majority of strongman competitions you’ll be asked to lift, throw, carry, or load objects of varying size and resistance within a 60 to 80 second time frame. Some events are scored in favor of max reps, some are scored in favor of fastest time or furthest distance, and some are scored in favor of heaviest weight lifted. Given the unique and varying nature of events and the time constraints, competitive Strongman is considered an anaerobic-lactic activity. You want to prepare for this similar to how you’re going to have to compete. Carrying and loading medleys, heavy sled pushes and pulls, and rest/pause sets and rep-out sets are all great ways to increase muscular endurance and improve your lactic capacity, but it’s important to pick activities that transfer best to your competition. Flippin’ tires when you don’t even have to do that in your upcoming competition, or doing a whole bunch of Tabatas at the end of your lift will definitely have you feeling “worked”, but it’s not preparing you for the specific demands you’ll be facing. You also don’t want to forget aerobic capacity work. This doesn’t have to (nor should it) be hours of steady-state cardio; when interspersed with some bodyweight resistance and/or mobility work, low intensity sled dragging, prowler marching, rowing, or even going on short hikes are all great activities to do on your “off” days. This type of work will increase mitochondrial and capillary density, improving your ability to recover when competing, as well as expediting your recovery in training. Keep in mind when doing this type of work though that intensity should be moderate at best; if it feels like a kick in the balls, you’re defeating the purpose.

Lesson Learned: Move in training how you want to move in competition, and don’t underestimate the importance of active recovery work.

ryan tire

3.) Focusing too much on implements

This one may come as a surprise to some people. One of the major appeals of the sport is definitely the unique equipment. Tires, stones, logs, kegs, and other odd objects are just fun and challenging things to try to flip, carry, lift, and throw. And make no mistake about it: you definitely need to be familiar enough with the implements to understand the most effective way to accomplish whatever task is being asked of you. But the sport is called STRONGman for a reason. After finishing towards the back of the pack of a few consecutive competitions, I came to the brutal, ironic realization that the biggest thing holding me back was not my lack of technique, or conditioning, or anything else: I simply wasn’t strong enough. If you’re just using Strongman implements as a change of pace in your training, than by all means have at it. But if your goal is to cross the threshold and start competing, I highly recommend building your Squat, Deadlift, Overhead Press, and then back and grip strength through every row and pull-up variation you can think of. By stepping back and devoting the majority of my efforts into getting stronger in the traditional gym lifts, I was able to prep for my last competition on a much more solid foundation, resulting in a much better performance.

Lesson Learned: Your foundation is everything, and the stronger the better.

2.) Not training to get stronger

When I first started training for this sport, every lift was a battle. Whether event training or lifting, it was go heavy, go hard, or go home. The result of this was ok strength, poor technique, and shitty work capacity. So what do you think happened when I’d get to competition? I had ok strength, poor technique, and shitty work capacity! Definitely not the formula for success. I realized if I wanted to get any better, I had to learn how to train smarter, not harder. Success in life is measured in what you do, not how hard you tried, so I needed to really shift my attitude on how I approached training. I started studying what top athletes and lifters from generations past and today did to get strong, not necessarily what they did once they were strong. I stopped focusing on quantity on the bar and started focusing on quantity in the training session itself. I regressed my training almost to 0, rebuilding my squat from scratch and learning how to do things right as opposed to just doing them. The results have been tremendous, because since this shift I’ve been hitting lifetime PR’s while continuing to improve my work capacity and other important variables. If a washed-up college O-Lineman can find new levels of strength staring down the barrel of his 30th birthday, than there’s still hope for many of you that are reading this right now.

Lesson Learned:  Training is the means to your competitive end; be objective, plan the work, then work the plan.

ryan walk

1.) Not being fully committed

Don’t get me wrong, if you asked me back in 2011 I’d sure tell you I was committed. But to me, true commitment is when you start changing your life to reach your goals. Over the last year and a half I’ve made sweeping changes to my lifestyle, the majority of which are related to help me maximize my potential in this sport. My personal mantra right now is coach-train-recover-repeat. There’s a saying that I give to clients of mine soon after we start: change your actions, or change your expectations. If you aren’t willing to do the work, re-evaluate what you’re working towards- after all, it’s your goal. If you expect to challenge your genetic ceiling, though, act accordingly. Every champion that’s ever walked this Earth has had to sacrifice things on their road to success, and your journey and my journey will be no different.

Lesson Learned: Be willing to surrender what you are for what you can potentially be.

Top Three Reasons Your Bench Press Isn’t Helping Your Overhead Press

“How much do you lift?”, “What do you bench, bro?” In modern gyms “the lift” is bench.  Heck, most gyms have two zillion different angles and machine variations for bench all while having one curl rack (also known as a squat or power rack). The lift you rarely see, as most commercial gyms ban it, is overhead!

Overhead is exactly how it sounds, any lift that takes the implement overhead. This movement can be all shoulders and triceps or incorporate legs and more technique and speed. The most basic overhead lift is the push press (as it yields more weight while not needing tremendous technique). My own experience comes from my competitions in strongman. Most strongmen use a variation of the push press (when the knees bend and then forcefully extend and stay locked) or the push/power jerk (where the knees rebend or dip after the forceful extension). These techniques are effective on most implements and save time on moving feet together like the split jerk. They are also easier to train in a commercial gym, or home gym with limited space.

So what does bench have to do with it? From my experience in strongman I find a lot of guys (and girls, strongwomen!) use bench as a primary assistance exercise, and sometimes as a primary lift all too often. Mostly, this stems from a background in powerlifting, though not always. So what’s so bad about the bench? Nothing! Bench press, for an average person, is a great lift to rotate in for horizontal pressing strength that can also work the whole body (if properly instructed).  But for strongman athletes it may be a silent killer. Here are the top three reasons I have found why more pounds on bench does not equal more pounds on overhead (push press).

1. You are on your back, braced, and have terrible form

Now you’re probably thinking, “What do you know about bench?” But is that the question to ask? Bench press, like any lift, has a unique form for each lifter to lift maximum weights. More often than not the back is in thoracic and lumbar extension with the goal of providing a good solid base with the traps. Most of this is to create an arch to limit range of motion and lift the most weight possible. Okay, that’s great. But does lumbar extension help me on overhead? Lumbar extension may be justified in increasing the arch and weight in the bench, but it can also increase herniated discs when abdominals do not fire properly to compensate. But just as bench specialists will get mad at some noob talking about their lift, I get mad seeing overhead pressing going down the drain. So here’s why I don’t like it.

Overhead you have no bench. Simple as that. To create tension and transfer power you cannot just drive your traps into a bench or try to pin the heels to the floor. And you definitely cannot tuck your lats like you do in bench on overhead (though flaring the lats to create a good rack position is a different story).  So where do you get the power and tension? Flexing every muscle up from your feet to your head allows you to stand erect with the tension needed to transfer energy from lower body to upper body. If you are constantly relying on an external support (i.e. bench or big belt) you will find ways to cheat yourself, one being lumbar extension like I talked about above.

Lumbar extension is not your friend in the overhead. In fact, the more lumbar extension the less leg drive you can get. Less efficient equals lower press. It is as simple as “you can’t fire a cannon from a canoe”. When a lifter has to rely on leaning back in the overhead they usually have anterior pelvic tilt which means that the abdominals and glutes might be weak or under recruited. (Most athletes, however, have anterior pelvic tilt with no devastating effects on performance.) Without the abdominals how can the force from the legs be transferred? Sure, leaning back puts the bar in almost an incline bench angle, and I can hear people now saying that incline bench will help overhead and it will, more so if you have less than optimal form. But we want optimal! So while benching is about an arch we want to be a straight line in the torso with a neutral lumbar spine (if possible), and then an extended thoracic spine to create a good rack position for the bar. The best way to reinforce this is go beltless and go to a form maximum at best when starting this overhaul of your press. Do not throw the belt on and incline bench it! Learn to have a stiff torso and get extension from the hips via the glutes, rather than rely on lumbar extension to compensate.

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Andrew Clayton

2. Prime movers and recruitment are all wrong

“But that guy missed his push press because he didn’t have the last few inches of lockout. He needs more tricep work…” NO, MORE LEGS! Let’s play a game, its simple really; which number is bigger 3 or 4? 4. So why do we think that the triceps (3) can do more work than the quadriceps (4)?  By no means am I saying to cut your triceps off and feed them to the dogs (or Hannibal) but I feel the priorities are off.

The one thing that brings most people, especially strongman, to bench is the overload of the triceps. I mean the most ever put overhead is less than 600 pounds (585 to be exact!) but the most raw benched is 722. All form aside it is safe to say most people will bench more than they push press, assuming they are not an Olympic lifter or just terrible at bench. But is this overload a good thing? Let’s look at it from a prime movers perspective. The strongman’s bench of choice is usually close grip (at least compared to competition powerlifter’s). In this bench press the triceps, anterior deltoids, and the lats provide most of the power behind the press. The chest is less recruited, especially if the bar is pressed in a straight line and not a J stroke (or whatever fancy name bench specialists say). It is true that the legs and glutes come into bench, as bench specialists say it’s a full body lift, but how much? I mean I just saw a video of a crazy lifter at 220 do 574 pounds…without his legs touching the ground (look up Adrian Larsen, future 600 bencher at 220). So do you really use the legs as much as shoulders and triceps? But in push press the prime movers are all different. The quadriceps and glutes give a powerful leg drive and thrust while the triceps and a little bit of the shoulders just coast the bar the rest of the way to lockout (if done properly) with the back hanging in there for support. A good push press is rarely a grinder like a max bench might be. No one fails a push press on the chest. At worse they get it up a few inches from the leg drive alone. And once the bar gets past 90 degrees at the elbows the shoulder’s job is basically done anyways. Sometimes you see people have to rely on lockout strength to “save” a push press, but more often than not the bar didn’t get high enough from the leg drive to put the triceps in their usually and optimal pressing position. Even with large reserve strength from a world class bench, not having the motor pattern to recruit legs then triceps in harmony will make an easy overhead press a nightmare.

3. Low velocity and stretch reflex

In high school I attempted to do track and field. I quit after the first meet because of the lack of coaching and it took away from my real love, just lifting weights and being strong. But in the short time I tried to educate myself on the training of throwers to attempt to be good. One thing I noticed was every bench press or overhead press was fast from throwers. I never really saw a grinder, even if that required elbows wrapped or butt coming off some on bench. Now by no means am I an expert thrower (or of anything for that matter) but there has to be some relation. Indeed, there was. The velocity of a throw needs to be fast, so fast that a perfect throw feels effortless to the legs and upper body. This is very similar to Olympic movements. You cannot grind out a split jerk and have it pass in a meet. You either commit or you don’t. Get it or not. The same should be true to the redheaded stepchild, the push press. The bar should move at a very fast velocity as if you could punch the ceiling on lighter sets. Heck, sometimes you use so much legs and arms that you have to pull the bar back down when you return to your heels! Heavy benching, however, just does not have the same velocity. While “speed is king” (Benni Magnusson) on every lift, in general, bench will be slower than a push press. You could invest in a tendo unit or do speed work on bench, but at that point you are wasting money and the body’s resources.  If you can justify getting a two grand tendo unit you better already have an Olympic weightlifting or strength coach. If you can justify wasting energy from your “cup” of the body’s responses you better be a powerlifter in the off-season choosing to use the less taxing work to maintain ability. If neither of those applies, then it looks like bench is not really your friend. Pick a movement with the same velocity (and preferably using legs). Medicine ball throws to warm up, box jumps, speed squats, and the like are good, but for goodness sake do the movement and do it fast! You get better at what you practice! Practice makes perfect!

As we know, bench press has an eccentric and concentric portion. In the eccentric portion the lifter can build tremendous tension, especially if they know how to use the lats. The push press is not as lucky, and very unique. While the dip portion of the push press is eccentric the upper body doesn’t really have an eccentric phase. The stretch reflex of the push press is created by pushing the knees out, and using the glutes and hamstrings to break the downward moving body. If the lifter only relies on the quadriceps and there stretch reflex, it is likely they will end up on their toes or with their toes caving in potentially causing jumper’s knee (patella tendonitis) or an MCL sprain (medial collateral ligament on the inside of the knee), respectively. If a lifter is only used to the stretch reflex of bench they will be lost when no tension can be built for them on push press. In strongman there are times in press away events (pressing for max reps in given time) that the lifter can continuously dip and drive in the push press, and therefore get some eccentric in the upper body, but if they can’t get stretch reflex built up in the lower half they are as good as done. Again, you could do pause or pin bench to train without the stretch reflex but that is just avoiding the problem. Use pause push press initially to teach the concentric portion of the leg drive, then take away the pause to get the lifter used to stopping and starting back up on a dime (without going too low in the dip). A good lifter should always be faster and able to lift more weight with stretch reflex, so the standard push press numbers should be higher than that of a paused push press. If not, keep working on their dip.

Zydrunas  Saviakas and Mike Jenkins as devil’s advocates

Two of the best pressers in strongman would probably debunk must of my points. Zydrunas boasts a 600 pound bench and uses a leaning back, incline press type technique on his world record log. So why does it work for him? One, not everyone is equal. One person’s form isn’t for everyone. Just look at squat width and toe angles, or deadlift styles. Big Z has tremendous reserve strength by his bench, and a huge squat. He also is a great strict presser. Two, he gets support from a wide waist and big bodyweight, helping leverages. So while he doesn’t get optimal leg drive from his 900 pound squat, he gets enough to take a 400+ strict press and get 486 pounds out of it. You probably can’t do that! (Disclaimer: You can’t add leg drive in like some formula; it’s the body working as one unit. Getting better on strict means nothing if you can’t control and drive up anymore weight from your dip portion).

Mike Jenkins can press too! When Mike commits to a press he actually gets great leg drive. While some of his more difficult presses show some disconnect between the leg drive and press out, Mike also has great static strength to fall back on. While “hanging the bar up there” isn’t optimal if you can press it out you can lift big weights. Funny thing is, after missing a 460 log at lockout (at the 2012 Arnold Classic which he won!) he came back and nailed it. What did he do? No, not more triceps! More LEGS! While I do not want to take away from Mike’s tremendous upper body strength, he knows how to get a good amount of leg drive in his press to be the premiere competitor to Big Z’s pressing dominance.

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Andrew Clayton

Take away points

1.       Drop bench for awhile

I am not saying forever! Try 4 weeks without bench, maybe after a powerlifting meet. If you are afraid of losing strength or chest hypertrophy just throw in some light and easy dumbbell bench, suspended pushups or band chest flyes (not all three, that’s a freaking chest workout!)

2.       Up push pressing in your program

Overtraining is a real thing and we cannot ignore it, but for goodness sakes if you want to get good at push press you might want to do it more…and with perfect execution! Use the extra energy from dropping bench to do two days a week of push pressing or overhead variations. Play with rep ranges (low rep (1-5) ranges are best), do form work, and try to see which variations give the best carryover and correct weaknesses. Whatever you do keep doing it with the intention of the whole body working to overcome the weight. Program it as a full body day, do not put it right after squats or pulls initially because then you know the rested shoulders and triceps will take over.

3.       Always be fast

When I was explaining to an athlete who trained with me I simply said, “It’s a fight”. By that I meant it’s just you, the bar, and gravity. Just like Louie says, “you cannot jump on a box slow you can also not push press effectively slow. And in a fight you never punch slow!”

4.       Hire a coach

Hiring a coach will help not only to learn a skill you don’t have, but keep you honest. A good coach won’t let you push to a max on push press unless you are using the form I described in the article, MORE LEGS! Paying someone also makes sure you listen and try to make improvements, or it was all just a waste of money.

(While I have seeked out help from coaches, I believe that the lifter himself/herself is a great asset. If you do not desire to get better then you never will. So start reading, educating, and learning whatever you can to make yourself a better lifter. Ignorance may be bliss, but it doesn’t get you super strong!)

5.       Don’t get discouraged in finding your pressing style

While I didn’t speak much to this, this is probably one of the best tips. Before I started strongman I had only really push pressed and strict pressed. A little power jerk here and there, but it wasn’t for me. So when I realized I could potentially lift more weight with a split jerk I had to almost self teach myself how to, and man was it discouraging. Between learning a new form, competing with various implements, and trying to lean out my press went nowhere fast for at least 6 months. But when I finally found a little bit of a groove, things just took off! It may suck now to not lift much on push press when you are beltless and using more legs than upper body, but just imagine doing 100 pounds more in less than 2 years! It is possible; you just have to stick with it.

Does Overtraining Exist?

Editor’s Comment: “In 2012 at the Supertraining “Meet of the Century”, I overheard some conversation going back and forth between the Lilliebridges and Vince Urbank between deadlift warm up sets on the topic of overtraining. These guys were throwing around 5, 6, and 7 plates a side without breaking a sweat. It was unbelievable. So when they spoke, I listened. Here’s what Ernie Lilliebridge Jr has to say about the topic.”

Does Overtraining Really Exist?

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people, even some top lifters, say that it’s impossible to over train your body, and that the body will accommodate and get use to the workloads and adapt. Let me first off tell you that’s total utter BS! Even if you’re enhanced, let it be from supplements or whatever the case is, yes even you to can over train. You may be able to recover faster, train harder, or more days etc… but I can assure you, you can still over train yourself, burn out, and tax your nervous system.

So, to answer the question does overtraining exist?

The simple answer is YES!

I shut people up real quick with giving them this example. If I had you max out every day and keep trying set after set to hit your max not only are you going to fail, but yes you will be over trained, never recover, and have a high risk of getting injured or damn near killing yourself. I have heard people say “your body is a machine it can handle it”. NO, your body is not a machine! If that was the case we would not need oxygen, or sleep, or food, or anything else. You are human, and the human body can only do so much. You need to have a well rounded schedule. Meaning, as much time as you put in the gym training, you must have at least double if not more than that much time for rest and recovery, and also have the food intake to match that of what you are doing. Rest is essential for your body, you must have it. Your muscles are being broken down when training, when you eat and rest that is the time they grow bigger and stronger.

More is NOT always better!

With all that being said, remember that more is NOT always better! Doing more than what is necessary (OVERTRAINING) is not only wasted time and effort, most of the time it is also counter-productive! MEANING that not only will you NOT make any gains, you will end up going BACKWARDS! Ever see “that guy” in the gym doing 100 sets of 100 reps on 100 different exercises? You know, he’s 110lbs soaking wet, and you have seen him in the gym doing this for the past five years and never get any bigger or stronger. DON’T BE ‘’THAT GUY“!! You can train hard, or you can train long, but you can’t do both! Ever see a 325 lb ripped to shreds freak run a marathon? NO! And you NEVER WILL! Or how about a 6’5” 135lb guy squat 1200lbs? Again, HELL NO!

The reason us “Lilliebridges” train the way we do is because we have found it to be the most beneficial way to grow and make gains, all while living our lives, having to work, and managing to get our gym time in. People always ask how the heck I make gains only training 2, some times 3 days out of the week. It’s really quite simple. On the days I’m not lifting I’m resting, eating, and letting my body recover and grow. When it’s time to train my body is fully recovered from the last workout.

Just 2 to 3 simple days of hard training is more than enough to make big gains.

I have tried all different types of training. Lifting 5 times out of the week, benching twice a week, squatting twice a week, even have done all 3 lifts twice a week. Again, they have all lead me to be over trained, make no gains, and go backwards. I have found just 2 to 3 simple days of hard training is more than enough to make big gains. Our numbers speak for themselves as you can see! Everyone has their own philosophies, we found what works best for us, and many other top lifters such as Pete Rubish, Georg Leeman, Chris Hickson, Javier Garcia, even Stan Efferding does training very very similar to us. I guarantee you that if you try it, it will work for you as well! You have to put the work and time in at the gym, but also the food, diet, and rest.

Benedikt Magnusson’s Training Leading Up to His 1015 Deadlift – Part 2

Part Two of Benedikt Magnusson’s 1015 pound Deadlift Phase

(Click for part one)

Part 2 – Musclebuilding Phase:

In this Phase I just apply bodybuilding. But after a few weeks, I might introduce a little bit of the Peak Phase into it until the final change.

I thought of explaining the Muscle building Phase and the Peaking Phase as the same era of training. But they differ so much in the body shape you achieve that I decided to explain it separately and explain better how and why they merge for some period of time. Do not worry if this is not a typical bodybuilder training cycle. Its aimed for deadlift primarily.

 

6 training days a week – APPROXIMATELY – with 1 resting day

3 training days in a row and rest a day as a cycle.

Day one:

I warm up with a squat using the same method as in the Pre-Conditioning Phase.

Hold bar. Go slowly down, then almost jump on the way up.

Body is used to NEW posture and should go automatically into the right stance. (If you do not go in the right stance and feel balanced there, warm up until you do with very light weight.)

When the movement feels sharp, fast, and energetic – Go up in 3 reps

Weight Increase examples:

100kg (220lb) x 3, 3-4 sets

140kg (308lb) x 3, 1 set

180kg (396lb) x 3, 1 set

220kg (484lb) x 3, 1 set

**NOTE!! This is early in Musclebuilding phase. Muscle mass has been spent achieving condition in Pre-Conditioning phase. SO goal weight is 260kg (572lb) for 8 reps. NEVER LOCK UP UNLESS YOU ARE TIRED!!**

**A non lockup squat like Ronnie Coleman does…**

Example: 260kg (572lb) x 8 reps with LOCK UP at rep 5 to catch breath, I breathe and do the 3 extra reps then LOWER the weight to 220kg (484lb) and do 8 CONTINUOUS REPS non lockup.

Afterward go for Leg Extensions – DO NOT COUNT REPS go by the PUMP FEELING

THE PUMP – MY THEORY! – non factual !!!!

I feel that it is taken for granted. Easy to get a “pump” – have an artifical anabolic state and grow muscle BUT I FEEL if it is NOT DONE by precise feeling you will have far more chance of injury.

What works without the artificial anabolic state will make your new musclemass much stronger. Is to never go OVER the pump.

Don’t completely erect your legs. Just pump blood into them, for strength… never struggle at it to much, just use sharp precise movements.

When you get the pain. STOP. And when I say pain… I mean that uncomfort… not the exhaustion feeling.

**Feel the pain. Control it. Know it. Be aware of it. And make it yours. Like it ! **

Then… you will all of the sudden… feel every single layer of your muscles… how the tendons are moving:

Are they dry, wet, swollen or stuffed with static energy?

Are they grown together, injured or moving freely?

Long story short… pump your quads for a few sets. 😉

I do this because on day 3 is some deadlift, and It makes your body also used to the pressure on your quads and forces your ass to strengthen.

Benni-Magnusson-3-500x374

Day two:

Build up what wasn’t recovering fast enough since my last peak, or last competition preparation. In my case this was my chest, triceps and lateral muscles.

Benchpress: 20-60-100kg (44lb, 132lb, 220lb) warmup, Maybe 120kg (264lb) for 3-8reps or so, or just get it a little pumped. Not to much yet as it is important not to round your shoulders forward.

Standing behind the neck presses: with a barbell 20-60-100kg (44lb, 132lb, 220lb) for reps – pumping.

Millitary presses: 20-60-100kg (44lb, 132lb, 220lb) pumping never over 8 reps. Increase the speed or lower the weight if you are not getting a pump at

Lateral raises: front deltoid raises, rear deltoid raises.

Serious pull downs: 5 sets increasing the weight every time.

Afterwards comes the two vital parts:

The muscle buildup for your pecs and lats,

Shortening of one of our triceps muscle fastener.

cable cross in very short quick movements not bending down put aiming at the place you will usually tear when not used to Benedikts deadlift workload. Just pump it to the strength feeling.

Straight arm pulldown: method of shortening a part of my triceps, so I dont go for the pump or strength feeling, but something I call the the shortening… I will stretch it well forward… pull back and stop there for a little bit untill I feel the muscle over contract. The same feeling as when you flex your bicep but move it to much inwards.

With this .. I am pulling my posture back, and helping reduce the daily basis of pain that comes with growing your rear deltoid. This will result in a future effortless lockup in the deadlift. It will never be a problem, and will happen so fast you wont even notice it happening.

benni

Day three: DeadLift day and back
DeadLift:

120kg (264lbs) 4 sets, 6-12 reps warmup

160kg (352lbs) 3 sets, 5 reps pumped.

200kg (440lbs) 5 reps

240kg (528lbs) 5reps.

Then down to 120kg (264lbs) again for a set of maybe 8-12reps.

Then I use the same bar and weights to do some barbell rows off a platform.

I normally do about 3-5 sets of 5 reps only, and increase the weight as I get better.

After that I do some Dumbbell rows heavy for 4-8 sets – try to build a lot of tissue on the upper back.

**Notice that I did do pulldowns the day before. And remember that they were aimed to an antagonist assistant for recovering my over forwarded shoulders.**


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