Forever a thief... er... student.
I’m a thief. I admit it. I steal and steal and I seem to never get caught. I’m like a modern day Artful Dodger…only older, and more muscular. And I’m not British. And I can’t quite pull off the top hat.
Other than, I’m exactly like the Artful Dodger, because I be stealin’, and using what I steal to make the world more awesome. Or…maybe that makes me more like Robin Hood.
Whatever. Point is, I don’t know everything. I know a lot, but there are plenty of people who know more than me; or, at the very least, know something I don’t. And I know that.
As a result, one of the reasons I’ve managed to be so successful in this industry is the general malleability of my methodology. Certainly, I have some perspectives that are pretty static, but I am always looking to change, grow, and learn…particularly from other people.
Just about everyone has something to offer, and if you read enough stuff and talk to enough people, every now and again you’re going to say, “Huh. Yeah, that’s smart. It’s better than what I’m doing. Totally stealing it.”
Okay, okay, perhaps “stealing” is too strong a word. Well, it definitely is. On account of, you know, no one owns information. Still, it seems odd to me that people get pissed off when other coaches pick up on their ideas. Doesn’t make sense.
It’s like this:
Anyway, if you’ll forgive the mini rant, the truth is I have gotten my best ideas from a lot of influences, and being able to take something someone else thought of and mold it to my purposes has been responsible for some of my biggest successes.
This article is intended to give you some insight into that process, and show some love to the people I’ve learned from and the ways they’ve influenced me as a coach. And, to be fair, most of the coaches on this list aren’t dicks about people using their information. Moreover, every single one of these people had one idea, method, or wrinkle that got me curious, got me thinking, and got me changing.
One of the cool things you’ll notice is that small things can often make pretty big differences. So, check out the tips below, and the experts who showed me why there were awesome.
Stolen From: Eric Cressey
The Gist: I love four-day splits, because I like to train a lot. Historically, I used the old standby of training Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it turns out there’s a better way.
Cressey had an improved version: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. A small change, of course, but a helpful one. With Cressey’s split, you have more “fresh” days; by adding an extra day between the two later workouts, you allow for a bit more recovery.
The Saturday workout is almost always better than it would have been on Friday. For whatever reason, I didn’t think of this myself, because apparently nobody told me that you’re allowed to train on Saturdays. At that point, I probably still thought it was a global mandate that Monday was Chest Day, however.
The article I linked to was published in 2008, but Cressey convinced me of this some time in 2005. Still, for a while, I was hesitant to assign it to clients because I figured they wouldn’t want to train on weekends. Incorrect. People love it.
It’s almost impossible that in the 12 years I’ve known him, this is the only thing I’ve stolen from Eric. He’s one of the smartest guys I know and we all steal from him constantly. This is just the one that came to mind first.
If you train 4 days per week, try this split.
Stolen From: Ian King
The Gist: Speaking of 4-day splits, this is a good time to talk about one of the biggest changes I made to my training when I was just a young’un.
Like many young bros, I did a lot of bodybuilder-inspired split routines. Sometimes they were simple, like upper/lower, or push/pull/legs. Most of the time, they were a bit more involved, and included chest day, back day, arm day, shoulder day, leg day…
You may already be seeing the problems. Although I prided myself on not being one of those guys who skipped leg training, I was committing a pretty obvious transgression: I was minimizing my legs. And I didn’t even know it.
Here’s the thing: do you really think that your chest deserves the same amount of attention as your legs? No. It’s not even that chest is a small body part and legs are a big one, although that’s a factor. It’s that you’re aiming to train your quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves in same amount of time you spend on your chest. Not smart.
When I discovered Ian King’s work, I immediately recognized what I was doing wrong, and used King’s method to fix it. And that method was to split leg training into two distinct days, based on the types of movement involved and the muscle used.
From that moment on, I made the switch. On hip dominant leg days, I trained deadlifts, RDLs, and anything else that was more of a pull than a push, or involved the hamstrings more than the quads. Quad dominant leg days were reserved for squats, leg press, lunges, and the like.
This fit in very nicely to a 4-day split:
M: Hip-dom legs
Th: Quad-dom legs
This is pretty much the basic set up for anyone who is trying to gain both size and strength, and the one I default to in my own training.
Stolen From: Bret Contreras
The Gist: Since we’re on the topic of hip-dominant versus quad-dominant movements, let’s talk about these two exercises. In both cases, you basically, place a bar over your hips, flex your butt, and drive. Cool. And these have quickly become some of my favorite hip-dom movements.
Here’s the thing: when it comes to trying to figure out who “invented” an exercise, everything is speculation at best. When it comes to figuring out who made it popular, things are a bit easier. In the case of glute bridges and hip thrusts, we need look no further than the Glute Guy himself, Bret Contreras.
Sure, it’s possible that Bret isn’t the first trainer to ask himself, “what happens if I take this loaded barbell, rest directly against my junk, and begin air-fucking like the goddamn apocalypse is imminent?” It’s possible.
I can’t prove things one way or the other, so I’m giving all credit for these exercises to my boy Bret. What I know for sure is that he’s the one I (and the rest of the industry) stole them from. I use them in my programming, and I’ve got Big B to thank for that.
Bret, you’re a goddamn champion. Thanks to you, seems like everyone in the world’s got a better butt and stronger hips these days. Powerbottoms everywhere owe you a debt of gratitude, and I owe you a high five.
Stolen From: Ben Bruno
The Gist: Before we move on, let’s close out this discussion with some of my favorite quad-dominant stuff: deficit work.
To perform an exercise at a deficit means to position your body in a way that extends the Range of Motion. In the case of lower body work, it typically just means you’re standing on something.
Up until about two years ago, I never really thought much about doing deficit work. It’s not that I didn’t like it; it’s just that I didn’t use it. Then, I started paying attention to a young trainer named Ben Bruno. If you’re not familiar with Ben, I wrote about him here.
Anyway, here was this kid with killer quads who was doing tons of high rep sets of trap bar deadlifts from a deficit, and posting videos all over the place. Check him out beasting some here:
As you can see, it was very impressive. The more I read of Ben’s stuff, the more I liked it, so I decided to try it. After two workouts, it’s safe to say I was hooked.
From that point forward, just about all of my trap bar deadlifting (and many of my conventional deadlifting) was performed from a deficit, with me standing on a few plates. This creates much more quad emphasis, particularly the VMO. While you’ve gotta drop the weight a little bit, it’s a solid tradeoff.
Ben has since become a good friend, and I’ve come to love deficit trap bar deads so much I included them in Engineering the Alpha.
Stolen From: Jen Sinkler
The Gist: The J-dead is a deadlift variation during which you straddle the bar. It’s an old lift, and Jen certainly didn’t invent it, but she’s definitely responsible for the recent surge in popularity among the general fitness community.
The Jefferson deadlift (pictured left) is a nice variation to help address any weak spots you have, either in your legs or lower back.
I stole it from Jen and now I give it to you. I talked a bit about this here.
I once tried to steal a pair of Jen’s Lululemon pants to wear to the gym, but she guarded them jealously and I had to settle for the deadlift. Almost as good.
Stolen From: Dave Dellanave
The Gist: Test your range of motion; perform a few reps of an exercise; test again; make a few small changes to position; test again; repeat. Basically, it can help figure out the exact right stance, grip, or other set up of a given exercise. When your ROM increases, you’re on the right track.
I recently wrote an entire blog post about Biofeedback Training, specifically mentioning Dave and how he helped me, so check that out.
Stolen From: Jason Ferruggia
The Gist: When I’m not deadlifting, I’m squatting, so let’s change gears and talk about that. Basically, you include a few sets of box jumps into your warm up before doing your squat workout.
It’s pretty interesting how well it works. I’m not in the mood to write anything science-y, but I would imagine this would have to imagine that the application of some explosive training creates a little extra neurological oompf, and allows for greater overall muscle recruitment; probably of high threshold motor units.
I dunno. But, it works and seems to allow for not only more weight on the bar, but smoother sets, especially early in the workout.Thankfully, this works just as well for front squats as it does for back squats, because I really don’t like back squats.
To my knowledge, Jason hasn’t written about this. Jay is a good friend and we happen to train at the same gym, so I got to steal this one in person, which is always nice.
As a side note, a few other things I’ve learned from Jason include goatee-grooming, headbutting, and being a stone-cold badass.
Stolen From: Anthony Mychal
The Gist: This exercise is awesome for your upper chest. At least, that was Mychal’s argument when he wrote an article about it a while back. It’s turned out to be true. The single arm floor press works exceptionally well for training the clavicular head of the chesticles.
This is partially because of the set-up of the exercise: stopping the ROM when you hit the floor (rather than allowing the elbow to pass the torso) minimizes the involvement of the deltoid, so more stress is placed on the pec. If you go heavy enough, you can overload them pretty easily. The single arm works better for this than the bilateral variation, most likely because unilateral exercises recruit a greater number of HTMUs.
Anthony is a smart guy with a lot to offer. I wrote a bit more about him in this blog post, but as far as I know this is the only thing I’ve stolen from him.
Stolen From: Christian Thibaudeau
The Gist: Again, this isn’t a case of saying that Christian invented an exercise; I’m just telling you who I stole it from. The first place I learned about overhead shrugs was Thibs article The Power Look, back in 2002. They’ve been written about by everyone from Cressey to Paul Chek, but I associate them with Thibs.
Outside of being an awesome trap builder, I like the overhead shrug because it helps increase capacity for holding or carrying heavy stuff above your head. Moreover, if you’re someone who sits in scapular depression, this can be a good exercise to help bring you up to neutral.
Just don’t drop it on your head. Not that I’ve don’t that. I’m just sayin, it happened to this one guy I know. Not me.
Stolen From: Joe DeFranco
Joe D is a bad mofo who trains some of the baddest mofos around. At his gym in Jersey, he trains more pro athletes in a week than most coaches do in their entire careers. He works with a ton of football players, and is something of a Combine specialist.
However, despite the fact that Joe is known for beast-building, the dude knows a thing or two about a thing or two, including shoulder health. A few years back, he wrote an article on shoulder training for T-Nation. In it, he gave an awesome tip, which I stole, and I will now pass on to you.
Simply: do 100 band pull-aparts every day. His reasoning is simple: most of us sit all day, look down at computers or phones, and generally do everything we can to mess up posture. This creates the round-shouldered issue caused by constantly shortened pecs. I touched a bit on standing more to save posture here, but this is something you can do to be even more proactive about things.
The pull-apart, especially in high doses, not only helps strengthen the low traps, rhomboids, etc, but because you’re doing this frequently, it keeps them stimulated, helping you to pull them back. Overall, good for posture and shoulder health, and not really that intrusive—just keep a mini-band by your desk, and do a few sets of 10-20 pull-aparts throughout the day. You can increase or decrease difficulty by adjusting how far apart you hold your hands on the band.
BONUS TIP: If you want to kick it up a notch, try Joe’s 3D Band Pull-aparts here:
Stolen From: Don Alessi
The Gist: Back in 2002, I read an article on T-Nation called Meltdown Training. In it, author Don Alessi suggested that training in a way to maximize production of lactic acid would lead to increased production of Growth Hormone, and therefore increased rate of fat loss.
To do this, Alessi prescribed inverting the traditional tempo method—rather than lifting explosively and lowering more slowly, Meltdown used very slow concentrics and fast eccentrics. The reason for is that the concentric phase of a movement has a greater effect on the production of lactic acid; resultantly, it was best to accentuate the positive, so to speak.
If you’ve been following my work for a while, you know that some variation of GH/Lactic acid training has appeared in a number of my programs, from Final Phase Fat Loss all the way to Alpha. It’s a great method overall, but I’ve made a few changes. The most notable of these is that I don’t often prescribe long periods of using this exclusively.
While the original Meltdown Training was pretty decent for fat loss, it was pretty bad for everything else. As I’ve said a few times, lifting weights slowly for 6-8 weeks makes you really efficient at that… and pretty terrible at lifting weights quickly.
Put another way, if you train this way for longer than four weeks, you’ll like have to play catch-up with your strength levels when you switch to something else. Not worth it. I like to use this for 4-week blocks, or to have 1-2 days of this type of training per week (as in FPFL.)
Great method, and one I stole from Don.
(Unrelated but necessary side note: As I was Googling to pull links for this article, it came to attention that earlier this year, Mr. Alessi was arrested for allegedly spiking a young woman’s drink with GHB. I have no idea what’s currently going on with the case, but it should be obvious that such actions are reprehensible. More to the point, please know that my acknowledgement of Don’s contribution to my development as a coach is in now way an excuse for or endorsement of his actions.)
Stolen From: Charles Staley
The Gist: I’ve written about density a number of times, and I usually kick some love to Staley. His Escalating Density Method was the first exposure I had to density training, and really the first time I thought about using time as a primary training variable.
Over the years, I’ve made extreme changes and radical departures from EDT, so much so that they’re wholly my own, but Charles was still the man I stole this from many years ago. For those interested, here’s an article I wrote touching on Charles’ method, one on my method of designing density training workouts and programs, and one on using density training to maximize the benefits of cheat days.
As you can see, I spend a lot of my time actively learning as much as I possibly can from other people. This was particularly true early in my career, when I had so much more to learn, which is why some of these links are so old.
Of course, I’ve made a few contributions to the fitness industry, and every time I see one of my methods pop up on a blog, I feel a deep sense of satisfaction knowing that I’m helping another coach get better.
Stealing or not, the best coaches in the world are certainly teachers, but they remain forever students.
I think everyone on this list would agree.