Training


Were The Old-Time Strongmen Really Stronger?

In my article Is the Deadlift an Anything Goes Lift?, I brought up old time strength training culture, I wanted to make it clear that I was using it as an illustration of how the lifts came about, and not as a suggestion that we should emulate the way they trained.

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Happy Thoughts and A Barbell

I don't know if you've noticed, but in strength training, there seems to be two opposite groups along the emotional barometer.

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Why Don't My Workouts Become Any Easier?

This is a question I am surprised I've never mentioned, since it is asked so frequently. I decided to look around for answers to this question by personal trainers, and I must say I was disgusted at the results.

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If You Don't Use Too Much Weight and Have Perfect Lifting Form, You'll Never Get Hurt

I'm currently reading a novel where the main character needs to put on muscle. Well, at least he thinks he needs to put on muscle. The author is confused. The character really needs to get as strong as possible as quickly as possible, which isn't necessarily the same thing at all. I won't tell you what book this is since you don't need to know just how much of a geek I am. OK, you forced me, it's sort of a time travel book about a guy who needs to fight an incoming wave of inter-dimensional monsters. See, I told you…

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My Trainer Makes Fun of Me on Social Media - Should I Find a New Trainer?

It is as simple as this: Clients expect a certain amount of confidentiality and professionalism when they hire a personal trainer. Most will assume that a fitness trainer will not make their personal business a source of water-cooler gossip, and certainly, they will not expect to be made fun of on social media posts. In fact, some people go so far as to have personal trainers sign confidentiality agreements. With so many trainers not having a clue about professional behavior, and being quite immature, this may be quite necessary, at times.

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Why Is Strength Training Obsessed With Failure?

There is an entire series of posts, here at the GUS Blog, that are centered on failure. However, they are not about failing, but about how failure seems to be built in to so many methods and theories of strength training. The strength training culture often seems to place more emphasis on failure than success. You may wonder why I would go to the trouble of placing primary focus on it myself, to the extent of writing a bunch of articles around it. Well, you are going to fail, but failing should not be built into your training! Success should be built into it.

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From FitNitChick: Overview of Muscle Fatigue Versus DOMS Versus Strain

A trainer named Tamara Grand has a blog called fitnitchick and today I commented on her nice overview of muscle fatigue versus muscle soreness (DOMs) versus muscle strain. A lot of people new to strength training or resistance training might have a hard time knowing what kind of discomfort is "good" and what means they have gone too far or even hurt themselves. In fact, I know many people have this question because I've been asked many times.

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Can't Do More Than 1 X 5 for Deadlifts?

The subject of today's blog post is an old pet peeve of mine. Of course it is about deadlifts. That shouldn't be a big surprise. Specifically it is about the amount of deadlifts you can do, or, as some would have it, that you should be allowed to do. I've already been complaining a lot about the idea that nobody except competitors "should" ever lift max weights. I think you know why I put the word should in quotes: Because it speaks of values. What you can do is much different than what you should do. Should overlay's a set of values on what you do. You CAN do many things that perhaps you should not do, according to this set of values. On the other hand, some people's values should be kept to themselves. The prevailing opinions about how many deadlifts you can do per week, or per day have everything to do with values!

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Are Muscle Rubs Useful For Pre-Workout?

Recommended: Cramer Atomic Balm Muscle Rub - Medium Warmth for Warmups.

I got on the topic of using muscle rubs for pre-workout on our Facebook page a while ago, dropping a few tips here and there. Some exercisers, and especially lifters, may think that it's not okay to occasionally use a muscle rub to help with aches and pains before a workout, or to help deal with stubborn joints. It is. You just have to use your best judgment and not try to use muscle rubs to cover up the pain of an acute injury so that you can work through it at the wrong intensity and volume. A pre-workout muscle rub is great for a stubborn joint that needs a little help now and again, but it should never be used to work around an active injury. I thought in this article I'd go over some basics of how muscle rubs work.

How Muscle Rubs Work

Most commercial muscle rub preparations contain methyl salicylate or trolamine salicylate as their primary active ingredient. Their chemical names are methyl o-hydroxybenzoate and 2-hydroxybenzoic acid, respectively.1 Salicylates are the plant chemicals from which aspirin, a COX inhibitor, is made. Although willow bark is the most famous source of salcylate, since the first aspirin, or acetylsalicylic acid, was made from it, the methyl salicylates in muscle rubs come from wintergreen or birch bark, which gives the rubs their characteristic minty smell. The oils of these trees contain concentrations of salicylates so high that if you drank it you would basically experience an aspirin overdose…or something very much like one.

When looking for a muscle rub, as opposed to a pain relief cream, ointment, or liniment, the first thing to look at is the percentage of salicylate in the ingredients. Do not get anything that says extra-strength to use for a pre-workout rub. Pain relief products, such as Icy Hot Extra Strength Cream, Bayer Muscle and Joint Pain Relief Cream, Ben Gay Extra Strength Cream, and various others can contain up to 30% methyl salicylate along with some camphor, menthol, and sometimes other herbals. For a muscle rub, as opposed to a joint pain reliever, you want a little less salicylate. The primary reason for this is you do not want to mask pain to the point of working an injury because you've dulled the pain too much. If you have a choice between a concentrated salicylate formula and a rub that contains only camphor, menthol, and other ingredients, go for the latter, as this "basic" rub will still work pretty well for pre-workout, without going too far.

Camphor and menthol primarily work as counter-irritants. A counter-irritant is something that, when rubbed into the skin, causes local skin irritation (slight), local vasodilation, and a feeling of warmth. All of this actually serves to mask any feeling of pain. However, the warmth and vasodialation is what we are looking for, since it increases blood flow to the area, helping us to get our cranky "cold" joints ready for action. However, a little normal soreness can also be ameliorated safely. Realize that this mode of pain relief is different than the mode of action of topical NSAIDS (such as diclofenac), which work by inhibiting clyclooxygenase enzymes that cause inflammatory responses.

Topical salicylate does actually permeate the skin like topical NSAIDS do, down to 3 to 4mm. As you might have guessed, there is also a direct anti-inflammatory action since they are hydrolyzed to salicylic acid, but the exact mechanism of this action is not clear. The following are some examples of products containing around 30% salicylate:

  • Icy Hot Extra Strength Cream (30%)
  • Bayer Muscle and Joint Pain Relief Cream (30%)
  • Muscle Rub Extra Strength Cream (30%)
  • Tiger Balm Liniment (28%)

Now, this does not mean you must use a pre-workout rub that does not contain salicylate, only less of it. Stronger formulas are way too irritating to be used prior to workout. You want a little help warming up, you don't want reddened skin and a deep burning irritation. A product such as Tiger Balm Muscle Rub, which contains 15% methyl salicylate along with camphor and menthol will work well. Now, cropping up more and more in muscle and joint rubs is something you'll want to avoid for pre-workout: Oleoresin Capsicum. Capsicum is the stuff that makes chile peppers hot and it is also a great topical pain reliever. Yes, it burns, but once the burn fades, so does pain. But you don't want that burn during a workout. Look at the ingredients and make sure it does not say capsicum…don't don't be afraid of it for actual topical pain relief, as long as you have no known allergy or sensitivity.


You may be wondering about various other herb ingredients you see in the ingredients of various products. Some of these are other counter-irritants and some, such as arnica, are pretty much label dressing, having very little evidence of efficacy for anything. The primary counter-irritants I've discussed here are the only things you can be sure what they do.

The other thing, of course, is the base. Don't go exclusively on whether the product is a cream, ointment, or liniment. Ointments are usually up to 80% oil, so you can do well to avoid them, but a cream, which usually also contains oils, may sometimes only contain hard waxes, which are technically based on fatty acids but which will not leave you feeling as greasy as an ointment full of oils.

Liniments are liquids, close to a lotion. They will likely contain some oil and alcohol. Liniments are great if you are treating very large areas, but they are not very convenient for a pre-workout rub, unless you like splashing liquid all over the place.

Some Quick Tips for Pre-Workout Muscle Rubs

1. Although we call them "muscle rubs" think of them as joint rubs. You don't need to use a muscle rub to relieve mild DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), as lightly working the affected area with moderate repetitions will usually take care of mild DOMS before a training session (don't try to stretch out the soreness, it doesn't work as well and will likely sap your strength).

2. Don't try to rub out the pain of a strained muscle or sprained joint so you can abuse it! Aching joints and soreness sometimes can be expected, especially as we grow older. Usually we can find the source of the pain and do much to relieve it by changing out habits, etc. But sometimes you just have "stubborn joint days" or joints that need a little extra loving care, especially with pre-injured joints, which can tend to plague you for years to come.

3. Use rubs for pre-workout over a small area only. The rubs tend to cause heat, irritation, and sweating. Use too much and you'll be hot, irritated and sweaty! Put a small amount of rub on the problem joint or area and rub it in thoroughly. Remember the act of massaging in the rub does as much good as the rub itself.

4. Never, EVER, wrap a joint that you've applied muscle rub to. This will cause a burning sensation and can severely irritate the skin. If you make this mistake, you won't make it twice and you will remove the wrap quickly, I'll bet. There are some muscle rubs that claim to be okay to wrap over, but in my experience it's still very uncomfortable.

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What Is Strength Training?

Strength training is actually simpler than you thought. The majority of basic articles on strength training do not bother to define strength training at all. When it is defined, the word "strength" is used in the explanation. The most typical type of definition looks something like this: "Strength training is using resistance to build your physical (or muscular) strength."

Usually, however, explanations focus on the benefits of strength training: Strength training builds muscle, decreases injury risk, makes bones stronger, etc.

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If You are Not Going to Compete, The Only Reason to Strength Train is For Fitness and Health: Stop Saying That!

I am going to have an aneurysm. There is a little vein in my forehead that is just pulsing. It's getting bigger and bigger and I'm afraid its getting ready to pop. Why? Because yet again I read someone saying that unless you plan to compete, your goal in strength training should not be to get stronger or to achieve a big lift. It infuriates me. Plain and simple. I am sick of hearing it and sick of reading it. It's bullshit. Stop saying it.

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Train Smart; Not Hard - Does Intelligence Mean Less Effort is Required?

Train Smart; Not Hard. This is one of those aphorisms I'm not sure about. It sounds good, doesn't it? On one hand, I've said it myself in regards to strength training. When I said it, I had a fairly specific idea of what I meant. I meant to say that you should ignore the macho caveman bullshit that is such a part of messages about strength training, where people say things like "Just shut up and lift heavy. Work hard. Beast mode!" I meant that you should THINK, PLAN, ASSESS, and, you know, just generally behave like you have something between your ears. Don't live up to the meathead view of strength training. It really does take some smarts to get very, very strong.

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'Gym Rescue' Reminded Me Of Fitness BS I Hate

So, I watched a few minutes of the first episode of the new show Gym Rescue, where Randy Couture and Frank Shamrock try to rescue a floundering gym. It is pretty much the same premise of Bar Rescue, which makes sense because it is a spinoff of that show, airing on Spike TV. I would have done better to have a drink while watching it.

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What Can the Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) Tell Us About Strength Training?

Critical thinking, like "evidence based training" is all the rage these days. That's great, if it was anything more than a couple of buzz-words. However, it seems that people in the fitness industry want to talk about good thinking, rather than do it. It's hard work. It's never-ending. It's kind of like deadlifts. There are those who do them, and there are those who shout "Booyah, arrrgh, deadlifts, BEASTMODE! Hardcore!" One of my main reasons for not believing that critical thinking is really something the fitness industry, at large, cares about, is that too many of its members do it selectively. In other words, they think about things they have a negative reaction to, and criticize those things, but when something happens to coincide with their general views, the thinking stops, even if it doesn't represent a credible "scientific" stance. One of these instances is anecdotal evidence, and "this works for me" prescriptions given by individual trainees, or better yet, celebrities who strength train or stay fit for movies, or what have you.

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Is Exercise Subjective? The Personal Training Industry and Demand Creation

Of the following items, which do you feel you absolutely need: Food, water, clothing, shelter, microwave oven, cell phone, and personal training? A bit of a daft question, perhaps. We know, as humans, that our absolute necessities of survival do not include microwave ovens, cell phones, and personal training. We can say that we must have food, water, clothing, and shelter. We might also include healthcare and education in that list. Other things, no matter how much we love them, are luxuries. However, what we don't always realize is that before the microwave oven was invented, there was no demand for it. And for years, when our rotary phone was attached to the kitchen wall and we had to stretch the coiled cord of the handset over to the broom closet so our parents wouldn't hear our private conversation, there was no demand for cell phones. So, just because a product or service is useful and even though it changes our lives, the demand for these things does not exist until they arrive on the scene. But, often, it takes more than usefulness to create demand for a product.

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