Sunday, November 29, 2015

Dungeons and Dragons and Deadlifts

I was a nerd. I admit it. I would rather read a novel about wizards and fell beasts than some sort of brilliant and witty commentary on modern society. When swords are crossed, I'm there. Game of Thrones is better than Downton Abbey, no matter how intriguing the whispering and folding of the servants. When I was a kid, I played a game called Dungeons and Dragons, in which players create characters and pretend to be wizards, thieves, clerics, and fighters. I always played a fighter, preferring to bash down doors and confront the enemy. The direct approach was best, I thought. But what does this have to do with barbell training?

Each character had attribute scores that ran from 3 to 18 (the values from three rolls of a 6-sided die). Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Constitution, Dexterity, and Charisma each had scores, the higher the better. Take Strength: as a fighter, I needed to be able to hit things hard with axes, swords, and clubs. The higher strength gave you bonuses, making the orcs easier to hit, and making the weapon do substantially more damage. I always wanted a higher strength, and would love it when we found potions or tomes to increase it. Such mighty artifacts were rare. You were generally stuck with the strength you rolled when the character was created.

Nerd confession: I remember Gary Gygax writing somewhere that an 18 Strength meant a military press of 180lbs. When I got to 180lbs on the press, I celebrated having an 18 in D&D strength.

But what if you could improve your strength? What if you could add substantially to your strength and gain all the bonuses to your dice rolls? What if there was an artifact somewhere in the dungeon that could do this, not just once, but for a long period of time? There is: The +9 Barbell of Strength!

I have a number of trainees who have doubled their strength, usually within two months of starting. They may have started with strength 3 or 4 (former marathon runners--elves, probably), but now they are up to D&D Strength 7 or 8, which is a big improvement. Should they encounter orcs, they will be much better prepared. Thus are the effects of the magical Barbell of Strength.

Except that it's not magic. It's also not rare. Barbells are common, not that expensive, and can easily more than double your strength. It only seems like magic.

Get in touch with my guild-hall--er, with Schudt Strength Training, or go to to find a coach near you, and you too can level up!

Don't you wish you'd leveled up?

Don't you wish you'd leveled up?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

You want to be a novice


Starting Strength is a systematic approach to barbell training. The methods in it are not particularly original, since lifters have used the basic barbell lifts for years, although the explanations of the lifts are unparallelled in their accuracy and reliance on physics. The teaching progressions for the lifts are works of genius. Mark Rippetoe has become a public figure of sorts, and thus is caricatured, but if you’ve ever watched him coach, he’s brilliant. Get The Book to read more. In my opinion, however, one of the greatest contributions Rip has made is to distinguish between Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced trainees.

Take a look at the cover of Practical Programming:

Practical Programming

The graph shows the increasing strength, the rate of adaptation, and the program complexity. As a novice, your rate of adaptation is very high, and you can get stronger very quickly. As a result, you can put more weight on the bar every time you go to the gym. Let me put it more strongly: Every time you go the gym, you must put more weight on the bar.

Novices make many mistakes, the most common being that they don’t add any weight. If you don’t ask your body to adapt, it won’t. The next most common mistake is quitting their linear progression too soon. Eventually the weights get heavy, and it gets hard to squat 3x5 three times a week. It takes determination, and builds character. But building character sucks, and people tend to like easy things. They read about a fancy intermediate program that some famous lifter uses, and they get tempted. “I’m an intermediate now, and I should do program X, which is scientific and awesome, (and which allows me not to squat 3x5 three times a week).”

Resist this temptation! Novices get stronger every session. Intermediates get stronger every week. Advanced lifters get stronger every year. You want to be a novice. Being an intermediate/advanced lifter sucks. On the plus side, you’ll be really strong, but on the minus side, PRs will be few and far between. Cling to your novice gains as long as you can. Eat well, sleep, and follow the novice progression through the advanced novice stage until it stalls hard. Then, and only then, you may choose an intermediate program.

Perhaps Rip should have chosen different terms. Instead of Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced, he could have chosen Happy, Grumpy, and Desperate. Stay a happy lifter!

One more point: Novice does not refer to your strength. You can be a very strong novice. I know of lifters that have finished their squat linear progressions close to 500lbs. I have coached a lifter who is still doing a novice progression on squats, and he’s at 480x5x3. You may not get this strong as a novice, but you might. Wouldn’t it be great?