DANGER – Exercise Variation Lurking Ahead

Millions of people have sprinted into my DM’s inquiring about exercise variation. So, today, I’d like to broach this topic and discuss why I believe many “experts” out there hide behind it. There are many of these experts in the fitness industry, so this blog post is going to be imperative. Western civilization’s current health status is a rather gnarly indictment of these authority figures. We’re a generation of fat men and women raised by experts. I’m wondering if another expert is really the answer we need.


My first gripe is titular and it has to do with the common notion of exercise variation in the gym. My Dear Reader may be guilty of switching up his exercises frequently to confuse the muscles, but if he isn’t certified as a personal trainer or holding a bachelors in exercise science, kinesiology, etc., then he has an excellent excuse. The trainers who do have these credentials bear the responsibility of knowing what the hell they’re talking about.

An Aside

Strength equals the production of force against an external resistance (i.e. how hard one can push on stuff). Strength is the basis of the homo sapiens’ existence. We’re not particularly strong in the scope of the entire animal kingdom, but every movement we make and every step we take (I’ll be watching you) is commensurate with the amount of force we can produce. Lifting up my cup of coffee doesn’t seem to be a submaximal effort for an immeasurably powerful, virile young man such as myself, but, imagine an inactive 92-year old woman lifting up her cup of coffee. Her arm might be shaking because it’s much closer to a maximal effort lift, as hard as that is to believe.

A better example: I’m helping a friend move. We want to transport his 150 lb couch. I bend over like I’m deadlifting and get in the best position I possibly can, placing the part of the couch I’m grabbing as close to the middle of my feet as possible with my spine in extension, creating a tight thorax that resembles a tree trunk. One has to make ideal positions out of suboptimal variables, such as moving an oddly shaped object like a couch. Barbells are much easier to position oneself around. Now, here’s the question. How do we know, out of the two men available, who will be better at moving stuff? Me, obviously. But, why? If my maximal effort deadlift is 405 lb, then we can look at 75 lb as about 18.5% of my absolute strength, the most force I can produce in one movement. My friend’s deadlift is approximately 200 lb, which leaves his half of the couch, 75 lb, as 37.5% of his maximal capabilities.

My friend has to work twice as hard to do the exact same work that I am doing. Strength is the basis of our physical reality whether we like it or not.

Aside Over – Where Were We, Muscle Confusion?

This Muscle Confusion is a commonly perpetuated trope that infected the Hive Mind of health experts some time ago, probably in the 80’s when everybody was stepping on six-inch boxes and wearing bright colors. I say trope, which is metaphorical usage of a term or expression, but it’s often used quite literally. As if there is a brain inside the musculature of an exerciser.

Muscle Confusion is the belief that if one does the same exercise for too long (anywhere from two to eight, ten, twelve, sixteen weeks straight, they can’t figure out the exact duration because they’re dumb), they will stagnate and progress will come to a jarring halt. This, as I said before, is dumb. It has always been dumb and it will always be dumb.

A Hypothetical Case Study

An example of a good way to confuse the muscles: let’s take Friedrich, a 42-year old dad who is a Scorpio, likes biking, and has never been laid. He hires Immanuel, a 39-year old CPT who says he’s been doing this for 21 years and looks great. An expert, one might say. Immanuel has Friedrich performing back squats (high-bar, obviously) followed up by leg curls and leg extensions for the first four weeks, one time per week on “leg day”. All of these exercises are done for three sets of eight repetitions with fairly “light” weights so he can focus on proper technique. In this case, proper technique is likely to mean “Freddy, put the bar on your traps, sit down and stand back up. Keep your eyes up. Breathe in while squatting down, breathe out while standing up. Perfect. You’ve now mastered technique.”

For about three straight days following his first workout, Friedrich is absurdly sore and is hardly able to move upon waking. It takes him three minutes to stand up from his desk when the clock strikes five. He needs to manually lower himself down to the toilet or to grab a beer from the bottom of the refrigerator. The second time Friedrich executes this workout Immanuel might add 5 lb to the bar if technique is spectacular, but either way, he is rendered much less sore than he was following the first week’s leg day. He can still move, but his legs are “tight” and somewhat tender to the touch. He gets over it in about 48 hours. Workout three leaves him even less sore and he feels fine after about 36 hours. After Leg Day number four in week four of the program, with weights about 15 lb heavier than they were three weeks ago, he feels almost no soreness at all.

On Monday, when Immanuel has Friedrich doing “chest and arms” because the body is not a system of levers that function best as pieces moving the whole and is actually split up into muscle groups that work independently of each other, Friedrich tells Immanuel that he wasn’t sore at all after the last workout. “It wasn’t that bad, pretty easy,” he says to Immanuel. That triggers an alarm in Immanuel’s little noggin, alerting him to the fact that he needs to modify Friedrich’s program. If it’s not hard anymore, whatever that may mean, his body knows what to expect from the next workout. On Thursday night, before Leg Day strikes again, Friedrich’s hamstrings are giggling and joking with his quads about what a joke tomorrow is going to be. His glutes already have all the answers to the test written on their palms because his adductors stole Immanuel’s copy of the finished test last week.

When Friedrich gets to the gym on Friday for Leg Day, his hamstrings, glutes, quads, adductors, abductors, and calves are despondent over the news that they’re going to be doing Leg Press for three sets of ten reps, walking Lunges for three sets of 45 seconds, and Single-Leg Deadlifts while holding a dumbbell for eight reps with each leg superset with 25 Standing Calf Raises immediately after. Every muscle group is mad at the adductors because the answers to the test are obviously moot now, but it’s clearly not their fault. The others just want somebody to blame.

I hope it’s obvious how silly this belief is after I anthropomorphized Friedrich’s muscles. Immanuel holds a belief that the sorer a client gets the harder and better the workout was. This is, as my Dear Reader has undoubtedly realized, dumb. Extreme soreness usually has one and/or two major drivers.


A triad of (1) hydrogen ions (i.e. acidity in the muscles as a byproduct of glycolysis), (2) lactate, and (3) ATP being depleted and broken down into ADP. Moreover, it only seems to occur when all three of those are present. Perhaps it’s merely a result of more time under tension, but a heavy amount of eccentric loading during a workout seems to trip the trigger as well. Eccentric muscle contractions occur when the main muscle group(s) being utilized are lengthening while the resistance is being applied. It’s believed that this occurs because when muscles contract, myofilaments in the sarcomere (see below) called myosin cock their heads forward and drag themselves along the length of the myofilament actin to shorten the muscle. When a muscle is being lengthened while under an external resistance, think a dumbbell pulling the lifter’s hand back down to the ground in a biceps curl exercise, these actin and myosin heads are dragged apart. This makes the lifter sore, but the inflammation may or may not be the reason. In fact, it’s believed the inflammation is the rescue party for the damage of the tissues at work. However, and this is important, we’re not tearing the muscles. A muscle belly tear is an injury, not an inevitable byproduct of every training session. What we are experiencing is simply mechanical stress, sometimes referred to as “microtrauma”, and it happens all the time.


Some of my Dear Readers may be adept in the realm of Anatomy & Exercise Physiology and it’s possible they are upset with me about a minor detail above. I would like to issue a proclamation in response to their sniveling: I don’t care. If my Dear Reader’s brain is poorly wired and he or she finds themselves interested in the sarcomere drivel above, watch this.


I see the second cause of soreness as, quite simply, a disruption to homeostasis from a particularly novel movement or bout of exercise. If a cyclist is conditioned to riding two miles every day but decides on some random Saturday that she’d like to go for a 50-mile trek, she will be thoroughly trashed for the next couple of days despite the minimal eccentric loading in cycling. Most of it coming from the triad: hydrogen ion buildup, lactate, ATP depletion. Another example would be a lifter who’s gone through Starting Strength’s Novice Linear Progression, six-plus months of post-novice training, and lifts weights regularly, but decides to attend the “Murph” CrossFit workout with a friend. “I’ll be fine,” he says, “I squat all the time.” This workout would have several novel elements (i.e. the two mile-runs, short to non-existent rest intervals, calisthenics, etc.) and would be a massive increase in training volume (i.e. sets*repititions) to which he is not accustomed. My Dear Reader can read all about this and so much more at Pain Science dot com.

We’re going to come back to the Curious Case of Friedrich Button later. In case my sarcasm was lost in the translation from my brain to the keyboard, onto WordPress, and into your brain, the body is a system of levers that function as dependent chunks that make up a whole, not individual muscles that work in a vacuum.

Okay, So Why Vary?

Coaching the main barbell lifts (squat, deadlift, press, bench, power clean, snatch, and clean & jerk) is difficult. There is a staggering amount of nuance involved in coaching these movements and it would be easier to avoid them at all costs. However, virtuous men such as myself and Marcus Aurelius would argue that it’s imperative to seek out that which is not easy. If the road one currently traverses were to diverge in a yellow wood… Anyway, just about any ignoramus can learn how to teach the leg press or the pec deck machine.

Aside, Please Commence

What is really going on throughout this nebulous term “adaptation”? Why does Friedrich become used to the exercises Immanuel prescribes? Accommodation. Zatsiorsky and Kraemer purport that accommodation is the response of a biological object to a constant stimulus decreasing over time. This is an inevitable truism of training, but the question is how do we overcome this hurdle? If this didn’t exist, we could run a mile every day and try for a marathon in a couple of months. After a certain interval of time, can be minutes, hours, days, weeks, even months, a human will cease to see a constant stimulus as a legitimately stressful overload event (i.e. a stimulus that will decrease performance until recovery and the ensuing adaptation occurs).

Imagine running a mile after a layoff of little activity for six months. It’s quite sluggish and grueling. Then, two days later, the runner performs another mile. This time feeling much smoother. This happens a couple more times until, let’s say, on the fifth mile-run it feels almost easy. The runner wakes up the following morning feeling that he or she could do a mile today without any trouble. This is accommodation rearing its ugly head. We don’t like accommodation because it forces us to titrate the prescription of training in such a way to constitute a new overload event.

This is when we come to the fork in the road. We can either decide to increase training load/stimulus (i.e. intensity or volume, a whole separate discussion, but at least one of the two) or substitute a new exercise, something that is novel to the body.

Thank You, Aside

My dystopic view of the fitness industry is these mouth-breathers who wear s’medium-sized shirts at globo-gyms buy into exercise variation strategically in order to complicate their programs and constantly critique the form of ever-changing exercise prescription. This way the trainer holds an Expert Aura without teaching his or her clientele the truly important movements that do, in fact, need a steady stream of critique while making themselves indispensable because of the sheer brainpower needed to program with such complexity. Brainpower is akin to horsepower and talking to a trainer at LA Fitness is remarkably similar to watching a Dodge Demon pull off the line.

If a trainer has a near-infinite database of exercises from which they can pull, the lifter will always be kept on their toes. As soon as the trainer deems the lifter competent at particular exercise, it can be replaced by a new movement that is minorly novel and hard so that the trainer can reestablish their mark of authority.

lunge and reach for a knife

Now That’s What I Call Functional, Vol. 19

Take the above lunge for example. How long would it take a person of average intelligence and athletic capabilities to perform this movement? Furthermore, how long can the dumbbell being used be replaced by a heavier dumbbell in the next workout? The answer for both is not long. But, the trainer can critique the way she twists her feet, her hip rotation, the knee placement for either leg at any point in the movement, where her arms reach and aiming the dumbbell, how to engage the core throughout the exercise, etc. All of this while pushing the Important Question to the back of the skull where it can be left to collect dust: why? Then, shortly after this movement loses its novelty and looks easier, a new movement is subbed in. Perhaps the next gif could be used.


I’m not enjoying this.

What Is Hard?

Fitness in the Year of our Lord, two-thousand and eighteen, seems to be all about what is superficially hard. Take a spin down the “fitness” section of Instagram/YouTube and you’ll find a bunch of women with grade-A rumps performing the most ridiculous stunt they could possibly conjure up that week dubbed over with a muddled techno remix of a pop song. None of them will admit that the reason they have 2.2 million followers is that their parents are hot and they’ve recently decided to eat enough food to grow where women always grow.  Here are three examples – SuzieB, Whitney Simmons, and Nikki Blacketter – for research purposes. This is the offspring of a long lineage of hair-brained ideas that stem from the belief that adding a bunch of little twists and turns to make an exercise more complicated is better than doing the seminal exercise.

bosu ball squat

Let’s get fit, baby

This looks to be a high-bar squat done on an exercise ball in an awesome skyscraper gym. The place looks sick, ill, dope. Whatever the preferred vernacular is during my Dear Reader’s reading. My first question, how did he get on the ball with 135 lb? Secondly, how will he get off? This exercise is a logistical nightmare. I do have to admit that it’s a solid squat considering the scenario to which he’s surrendered himself. It’s amazing he’s not dead. Well, he might be, who knows. If my Dear Reader would like to see a compilation of the dumbest, riskiest exercises to date, watch this video of Terron Beckham, cousin of NFL receiver Odell Beckham Jr. I know, I too wish that Terron Beckham got far enough into the NFL to be forced to take the Wonderlic. I’m guessing he’d get between 10 and 15. Lamar Jackson recently scored a 13 and Vince Young pulled off a whopping 6. Check the database.

Anyway, what we have here is the King of All Lifts being tarnished and corroded by a trainer who should be put out to pasture. The squat is hard. Nobody who has spent a couple of years improving their squat would argue against that point. However, it’s not terribly difficult to learn 95% of “perfect” form quickly and add some weight to the bar every time one performs the exercise for several consecutive weeks. After that, proper programming presents itself to ensure steady progress for several more years. Making the squat harder (i.e. more complicated) is unnecessary in the presence of intelligent programming and isn’t a legitimate criterion on which we should base training. In the above hypothetical case study, I made the assumption that Immanuel would change Friedrich’s program once the squats became easy. There’s a lot of reasons he might do this.

  1. Neither Immanuel nor Friedrich understands the cause of soreness or why it’s not a valid indicator of a productive training session.
  2. If Friedrich becomes bored with doing the same exercises too many weeks in a row, he might quit and force Immanuel to get a second job.
  3. Immanuel prefers to prescribe exercise, a bundle of activity done to make somebody feel as if they did something productive today, over training, a methodic routine designed to create a desired adaptation over several weeks, months, or years. It’s probable Immanuel doesn’t know there is a difference.
  4. Now that squats aren’t making his legs sore, we need to confuse the muscles by swapping his current routine for different exercises and repetition schemes. Some stuff he’s not used to.
  5. I’m sick of thinking like this. Moving on.

Incompetence or Pure, Unmitigated Evil?

At heart, I am a pessimist. As I stated earlier, my view of the fitness industry is quite dystopic. However, we’re not supposed to attribute to malice what can be attributed to incompetence. It’s likely the most logical explanation as well. I don’t know my Dear Reader’s experience with trainers at globo-gyms, but not many of them are doing this part time until they finish their theoretical physics dissertation. Then again, neither am I.

I think it’s fair to say that when the fork in the road is reached by Joe Pecdeck at Gold’s Gym in Biloxi, Mississippi, the path of exercise variation is chosen because it’s less nuanced, easier to program, easier to teach, and easier to critique. Also, and I think is an important detail we shouldn’t miss, it’s what everybody is doing, so obviously it’s correct. I don’t think there’s a mythical George Soros-style figure out there paying trainers across the country to sabotage the industry and transform training into random exercise. But, if it there were a character out there, I might call him Greg Glassman.

Let’s discuss the road most traveled.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My

Muscle Confusers

Muscle Confusers are golden retrievers who like to change exercises frequently so the body doesn’t adapt to training. This is peculiar because I thought adaptation was the paramount point of strength training. If the body has accommodated to what we are doing, we need to modify the stimuli so that we are asking for an adaptation beyond the previous one. This is true, but adaptation is not bad in and of itself. After adaptation, we are stronger than we were before. That’s good. The next time we slightly increase the dose of the stimulus and then we’ll adapt to that, and so on. 

This process is difficult, nay, impossible to do if you are a Muscle Confuser. I invoke my Dear Reader’s opinion: of A and B, which workout is a bigger stimulus?

A. High-Bar Squat – 135x8x3, Leg Extensions – 100x12x3, Leg Curls – 80x12x3, Calf Raises 120x15x3

B. Leg Press – 155x8x3, Bulgarian Dumbbell Split Squat – 40x8x3, Romanian Deadlift 95x10x3, Wall Sits – 3 sets of 45 seconds

How do we gauge progress in this case? We could look at volume (i.e. sets*reps), tonnage (i.e. resistance*sets*reps), work (i.e. force*distance), or we could look at average intensities (i.e. the percentage of our one-rep max) across the lifts, but what would those mean if we are comparing apples to oranges? Every exercise is a different motor pattern with different leverages, muscle recruitment, and different tools being used as resistance. There’s no tangible way to compare these two sessions and it renders each to the realm of exercise.

trainer chaz

Sup, I’m Chaz. I think I’m looking at the camera but not entirely sure, and I’m a Muscle Confuser. Nice to meet me.

Muscle Confusers have taken the brunt of the ridicule in this blog, but you’ll see that the following trainer types resemble the MC’s in many ways. I believe MC’s are the entrance-level trainer and therefore the most common. However, they are all quite similar and my Dear Reader will notice this fact quite easily.

Movement Quakers

Movement Quakers are a fun group of guys being dudes who are required by law to have a ponytail. These men are all about finding peace in a strange amalgamation of yoga, gymnastics, and whatever kids do on playgrounds. I’d join this cult if it got me jacked like Ido Portal, but notice how exactly zero of the others in his videos are muscular like him. There’s also this guy, Tom Mountjoy, who seems to always be having a mental breakdown deep inside a forest. The real damage he’s doing is the paragraphs underneath his Instagram videos. They are Rupi Kaur-level garbage.

rupi kaur nonsense

This is beautiful

Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 11.25.24 AM

Also beautiful

“The poet presents his thoughts festively, on the carriage of rhythm: usually because they could not walk.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, Thoughts in a poem

My major beef with the MQ’s is in the same vein as the MC’s. These alchemists use a weird elixir of gymnastics, calisthenics, yoga, and dancing to promote movement. So, let’s say my Dear Male Reader begins his Movement Journey with push-ups. If he works himself up to 20 reps, where does he go? The difference between doing what he can do now, 20 consecutive reps, and ~30 consecutive reps is inconsequential. The results of such a jump are negligible and, unless he absolutely loves doing pushups for 30 minutes straight, there is no point in performing a bigger number. The next step is probably some sort of inverted push-up with feet against a wall. A lot more difficult and will take time to master. What happens when one can perform a bundle of handstand push-ups?

I believe it’s quite arbitrary how the Movement Quaker’s could gauge daily, weekly, or monthly progress objectively in that quest for handstand push-ups. Furthermore, I don’t think any of them pretend to track progress, they are moving for movement’s sake. Certainly better than not moving, I will readily admit. Moreover, if we zoom out a bit, we can notice that all of us, whether we are powerlifters, weightlifters, gymnasts, Muscle Confusers, or Movement Quakers, are arbitrarily moving through space until we crumble under entropy’s unceasing flow toward chaos, then order, and then chaos and back again. I guess we’re all polishing the brass on the Titanic. If they prefer flopping around instead of lifting weights, good on them, I guess. I’d prefer to press a barbell overhead because I can track it and it’s more efficient. I like numbers and they ease my autistic need to quantify everything I do. Moreover, highlighting progress with numbers is an effective way to keep one’s job.

Functional Proselytizers

Functional Proselytizers like to make exercises look similar to the sport for which an athlete is training or similar to “real-world scenarios”. We came to this air-conditioned room with metal objects and machines and wore these sweat-wicking clothes to pretend we’re… Where? In a garden? On the court? On the field? On Mars? In the Matrix?

the architect

I am the Architect. I created the Half-Squat.

Functional Proselytizers wear two masks. One is worn by the trainer who prescribed the exercise ball squat from above. The thought process behind that exercise, if there is one, is that the more difficult it is for Johnny Squatter to balance while he’s performing this exercise, the harder his “stabilizer” muscles are working to keep him in a good position. Therefore, he will be better equipped to handle whatever the real-word or sport throws his way. Notice the continued reliance on a subjective scale of hardness to quantify exercise.

Stabilizer muscles are often core-related or the “little” muscles; hip external rotators, QL, rotator cuff, all of that balderdash. I wish to see 315 lb on my Dear Reader’s back, watch him walk it out of the rack, squat down to depth, and stand up. If he tries to tell me his core wasn’t working in that exercise, I’m going to strike him with a tire iron. I think it would be better for all of us if FP’s would do away with this asinine notion.

The other mask of the FP’s are the explosive, half-squatter types. I used to work with one and tried this dance for a while, only to become extraordinarily not strong while managing to gain crippling knee pain that rendered 135 lb too heavy. If my Dear Reader could please join me in a moment of silence out of respect for the healing powers of the correctly executed Squat.

[Extended Pause]

Thank you.

The whole point of their practice is “sport-specific” training programs. In their Hive Mind, all sports, but particularly Football, Basketball, Volleyball and other sports with repeated jumping, require half-squats of various tempos. Half-squats because they look similar to a jump, while the full squat does not. That’s the line of reasoning. Slow eccentric, explosive concentric. Fast eccentric with a fast concentric but include a pause at the bottom. Explosive all the way through. Many great athletes will be trained in this style with quite serious weights, and the gen-pop who see the video will be astonished. Strength athletes and serious lifters are usually not so flabbergasted.

This video is an example of a golden retriever with a huge vertical who pretends that he helps people become explosive. An explosive athlete is born. If training, nutrition, sleep, stress, injury-status, and the rest of the tsunami of pain that is Life is somehow ideal, an athlete might improve his or her vertical 20-25%. For what it’s worth, I’ve never seen growth like this, so I’m being generous. This means a vertical of 12 inches might reach 15 inches, and a 33-incher might reach 41. Wow, 41 inches? I know. However, and here’s the kicker, it was 33 inches before the ideal training/life conditions. That’s a great athlete becoming better. Nowhere on planet Earth has a human brought their vertical from 10 to 25 inches or 15 to 35 inches, barring some Jabba the Hut creature who managed a 10″ vertical at 300 lb and cut down to 185, then jumped 22 inches. Their vertical was 22 inches all along. These remarkable claims are made only by Internet Halfwits and charlatans selling Jump Soles and/or programs to increase one’s vertical. A guy I played ball with in college, he was 5’10” and could windmill dunk without too much difficulty at 18 years old, sells vertical programs that are identical to every other vertical program in existence. “See, it worked for me!”


If my Dear Reader is an athlete with an average/poor vertical, don’t worry about it. Get strong as hell, develop work capacity and skills to maximize genetic potential. The vertical jump might climb a bit while strength is gained, but strength will not happen by accident, especially if all weight room time is spent on attempting to increase one’s vertical. Getting strong is my Dear Reader’s best shot at becoming worth a scholarship.

This Was a PSA and a Pep Talk

If I am training a basketball player, I want to make two things distinct.

  1. Basketball is a game that we can break down into a near-infinite number of skills to practice (e.g. jump shooting, free throws, coming off screens, footwork, etc.) in order to become better at the game itself (i.e. 5-on-5 competition).
  2. Strength training is a process of loading movement with resistance to achieve an outcome of increased force production and work capacity. I’m going to say that there are four standard strength tests, perhaps a fifth for athletes. Squat, deadlift, press, and bench press. I’m still deciding on whether power cleans can be counted for athletes. They’re a great test of power, but that means the movement is also genetically capped. Anyway, strength, like basketball, is the sum of smaller pieces trained individually to make the whole better.

We keep these two areas completely separate, or we find ourselves somewhere in-between. This is known as The Great Abyss.

“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.” – Friedrich Nietzsche on throwing medicine balls

If we don’t draw a clear line in the sand, we will risk haphazardly training for basketball while gaining little strength. We do not need to make the gym represent the Real World or Sport. Strength can be trained independently of the outside world and it will be useful when we leave the gym. FP’s will not let strength be simple, and that is a problem. As a result, a Functional Proselytizer’s program for an athlete often resembles a Jackson Pollock painting, and little is more obnoxious than postmodern art.

Getting back to nature!

Occupational Activators

Occupational Activators are probably the last distinct group I can suss out. These are the academics who can recite all 650 muscles of the human body from memory but have never deadlifted in their lives. What OA’s do is recognize a “deficiency” in a muscle group or even a single muscle within a group. You’ll often hear them repeat terms such as “activation” or making a muscle “fire” or “turn on.” Some people do have trouble making muscles activate. They’re usually in wheelchairs and sometimes they look like Stephen Hawking. RIP to a real one.

The various groups of Gym Experts often bleed into each other’s realm of mastery, mostly because there is nothing terribly difficult being done in these programs and anybody can teach this hooey. OA’s are the physical therapist types who enjoy teaching people how to externally rotate their shoulder or fix their pelvic tilt. I think there is a small population of people who can actually benefit from these baby exercises. They’re usually 89-100 years old and have trouble getting off the toilet. Shoulder external rotation exercises are probably enough stress for these folks to induce an adaptation. However, with such little stress, they accommodate quickly and, even for geriatrics, these baby exercises become movement for movement’s sake. They need more stress, and to the whole, not the piece.

Any normal human being, my Dear Reader, for example, would gain nothing from these exercises. The Overhead Press, or Press, has healing powers far beyond that of the OA’s techniques. The rotator cuff is a bundle of muscles and tendons which act as stabilizing forces for the shoulder (glenohumeral) joint. One can read a book or this Wikipedia page to see further detail. The Press is the greatest test of athletic, upper-body strength ever devised. When done spectacularly, it looks like this. A byproduct of this lift is strong deltoids, upper trapezius and pectoral fibers, triceps, and all the rest of the musculature being used either as agonists or isometrically contracted groups aiding the prime movers in the exercise. The rotator cuff minutia is doing what it is designed to do, which is to keep the shoulder joint properly moving through its full range of motion. All of those little muscles and tendons are getting stronger by accident. The shoulder starts to feel better because the musculature is growing and becoming efficient with the force it can produce. This happens while we practice producing force to move a relatively heavy bar against gravity through our full range of motion. It doesn’t happen when we isolate the teres minor or supraspinatus in a weird exercise with a band or 2 lb dumbbell.

Friedrich, Darling, How Are You?

Now the question must be asked, is it bad or undesirable for Friedrich to no longer be crippled after workouts? Friedrich was a sedentary loser, now he’s on the path to strength. He has embarked on The Journey. The stimulus from the squats was not enough to kill him, so his body adapted. The process was quite slow, especially after the first leg day because three sets of eight reps, even at a relatively light weight, is a lot of stress for somebody who has zero training efficacy. But, his body is now adapting to squatting routinely and he is still adding weight to the bar.

My question to Immanuel would be, why is Critique of Pure Reason so damn long why would we modify the exercise prescription while we could instead exploit his ability to add weight to the bar every session/week? We don’t even need to address the type of squat he’s been using and all of the unnecessary accessory work Immanuel has prescribed. Programming and exercise prescription need not be perfect, we can simply pay attention to the case of progressive overload as it pertains to their situation. I’m not of the Muscle Confusion persuasion, but it seems perfectly logical to assume even an MC would want to milk every ounce of strength out of an exercise before alteration. But, I suppose it’s illogical top to bottom.

Immanuel’s tactics from above would seem to be based solely on soreness as a gauge of difficulty. We discussed soreness, and even under that scope, Immanuel isn’t programming efficiently. If he wanted to make Friedrich absurdly sore, which is apparently the gauge of progress, he’d require Fred to spend 10 seconds on the eccentric portion of the squat, or he’d have him perform 100 reps with the bar/bodyweight. There is an infinite spread of variation Immanuel could apply to the main lifts if he so desired. Another way to massively disrupt homeostasis with stress is to throw Friedrich into oncoming traffic. I would recommend exactly zero out of the last three examples of how to stress a client.

“Out of life’s school of war: what does not destroy me makes me stronger.” – Friedrich Nietzsche on dodging a moving bus

My closing statement is: how one thinks is more important than what one thinks. When programming, take the exercise at hand through the Socratic ringer. Why did we choose this exercise? What is the purpose of this exercise in this program? Did we do it last week/session? Is it truly more valuable in this instance than the seminal exercise? Who was the second gunman on the grassy knoll? Is the exercise going to make the seminal exercise stronger? Can we perform the seminal exercise instead? While my Dear Reader is at it, perhaps he or she could trouble themselves with a possibly difficult question about one of the pillars of strength training: why is the squat a seminal exercise?

“Well, that about does her, wraps her all up… I guess that’s the way the whole darned human comedy keeps perpetuatin’ itself, down through the generations, westward the wagons, across the sands of time until we– aw, look at me, I’m ramblin’ again. Well, I hope you folks enjoyed yourselves. Catch ya later on down the trail.” – The Stranger


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