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All Things Strength


Report from the Big Seminar Part I: Lecture Notes

On October 27 2007, I attended the Big Seminar at Total Performance Sports in Everett, MA. Featured speakers Alwyn Cosgrove, CJ Murphy, Jim Wendler and Jason Ferruggia were joined by surprise guest Dave Tate. This was my second visit to TPS; I had attended a seminar there in June 2007* and enjoyed it enough to start budgeting for a return visit almost immediately.
Atheists don’t go to spiritual retreats. When you go to a seminar like this one, you already know at least some of the information that will be presented. What you get is some new information, new ways to look at old information, connections you hadn’t previously considered, and a boost to your motivation. Particularly if, like me, you no longer have a serious gym or training partners available to you where you live.
It was a cold and rainy day, perfect for spending the day indoors. TPS has added some beautiful lifting platforms since my last visit. There were chairs set up in the center of the room along with an easel and a brand new white-board. An unobtrusive video crew was filming. I found a good spot by the pillar and started scribbling. When I was done I had over 2000 words of notes. The following are my scribbles** from each presentation as well as my thoughts (in parentheses). If you don’t want to read through 2000 words, here’s the short version:
Dave Tate: “Program with your head; lift with your balls.
Alwyn Cosgrove: “Thank you for coming.”

The long version:
Alwin Cosgrove: Assessment
“Usual rules: I’ll offend you; I pretty much don’t give a fuck if I offend you.”
– Assess constantly and give feedback on every set: “If you’re not assessing you’re just guessing”.
– AC drew a bone on the whiteboard and indicated the joint space around it, showing where tension occurs when you do different things. For example, in fighting, applying an arm bar involves applying extension force to the elbow past the point that it extends.
– Any push needs to be balanced. If you are pushing 200lbs, pull 200lbs. If you can’t do the same load, do an extra set.
– AC drew the Leaning Tower of Pisa on the white-board to illustrate the importance of posture. Posture allows you to observe the body in a zero resistance condition.
– Most clients aside from Date Tate will be looking for some sort of fat loss. That includes athletes. Athletic Performance in AZ estimates that 75% of the athletes that come to them need to lose fat.
– Most people have sedentary lifestyles: they sit all day, the hip flexors get short, glutes get weak, upper back gets weak, so most clients will need to work the posterior chain.
“Most people are too weak too fat too tight”.
– The body is like a 3D bicycle wheel, the spokes are the muscles, the rim is bone. You need three things to make a good wheel: material, mechanic and a plan.
– AC had a guy from the audience do a body weight squat. (Hey, pick me, I’m the fat woman, I’m the lucrative target market.) The guy had a bit of a forward lean. Then AC had him lie on his back and bring up his legs to the squat position. Lo and behold, the guy could do a perfect squat lying on the floor. So why can’t he do the same thing standing up? Core weakness.
“Anything that’s not there at rest is an imbalance”
– There are two types of assessment: structural and performance.
– If you have a car you need to align the wheels before you go somewhere.
– Another demo: AC had a guy hold his arm out to the side, then pushed down on his arm, which the guy resisted. Then he had the guy stand with one leg on a board and repeated the exercise. It’s suddenly very easy to push his arm down. The imbalance affects his ability to resist. “The body doesn’t give a shit about deltoid hypertrophy; it wants to save the spine.”
– You need to look at how your clients do simple things. How is their push up? Do they have to move their leg sideways when they step over a bench? How’s their range of motion? At his facility they use Gray Cook‘s Functional Movement Screen.
– Stability and mobility: the joints alternate: ankle mobility, knee stability, hip mobility, lower back stability , upper back mobility, shoulder stability.
– The key areas are the hip and shoulder. Most shoulder injuries have a hip connection on the opposite side.
– Assessment will help you find out what someone needs. But in reality, everyone needs hard work.
– Why would you put a sedentary client on a treadmill and have her walk a mile? Walking a mile is 1500 reps. Who should be doing 1500 reps of anything? Design a body weight corrective exercise program instead.
– Assess the roadblocks that prevent your clients from reaching their goals. Doesn’t matter how hard you push the gas pedal if you haven’t released the parking brake; you need to release the brakes before you can start driving.
– Weight loss matters because losing weight reduces the pressure on your joints. A 10lb loss removes 40lbs of pressure on your joints.
CJ Murphy: Non Traditional Strength Training
– I think people expected that non-traditional methods of strength training meant tire flipping and sled dragging, but as Murph put it, “What pays the bills is not strongman training, it’s Mr & Mrs Jones.”
– Big muscles burn more calories than small muscles, so a big exercise, loaded appropriately, is more useful than a small exercise.
– Train movements, not exercises. Movements can be summarized as follows: Two types of presses, supine and overhead. Two types of pulling movements: pulldowns and rows. Hip flexion e.g. squat, step up, arched-back good mornings and extension e.g. back raises, pull-throughs, keystone deadlifts.
– Don’t forget torso work – Murph hates saying “core”. The most neglected type of torso work is rotation. There’s also stability work: planks and holds.
– Shear and compression: compression=gravity, it’s not necessarily bad. Shear is a twist or turn to the join. Sitting down and lifting weights maximizes shearing, so do your exercises standing up.
– Murph does not agree with behind the neck movements. There are better, safer alternatives.
– Most equipment is not designed by people who lift weights. (Wish I had a dollar for every time I thought this while in the gym.) Your clients should have fun and a sense of accomplishment. Accomplishment also makes for excellent marketing:
“Female clients tell everyone when they do the 1st chinup.” -Alwyn Cosgrove
– Murph gave a number of different templates, then talked about rep selection. The key is maintaining perfect form. If an experienced person’s form breaks down at 7-8 reps why would you give a beginner 3×10? Instead, do a lot of sets with just a few reps. Like a PL’er doing singles, work on their form, stop them on the 2nd or 3rd rep. 2-3 reps doesn’t mean high weight and doesn’t mean dynamic work.
– TPS uses a circuit training called PHA: Peripheral Heart Action (at first I thought he said peripheral hot action. It’s all about the Boston accent). This consisting of an upper body exercise followed by a lower body exercise with no rest, using the most weight you can do with perfect form. It’s intense, so it doesn’t work for that long, 2-3 weeks at most.
Jim Wendler: Hard Work
– When the opening line is “You don’t learn anything sitting at a fucking seminar,” you know you’re in for a fun session. The topic of this session was supposed to be “Hard Work”, but it morphed into a JW Q&A because it’s difficult to talk about something that is as natural to the presenters as breathing. (I see this in my students all the time: those students who have a strong work ethic have a hard time comprehending the folks around them that do not.)
– It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you do it with good form. The top guys in the WPO all train differently. The strongest people in the world have three things in common, they squat bench and deadlift, they have the right attitude, and they train hard for a long period of time
– Kettlebell swings are just expensive pull-throughs.
– Sets and reps don’t really matter. You spend too much time writing programs out.
– Doesn’t matter how many days you train as long as you train consistently.
– DTI#1 (Dave Tate interjection #1): Information doesn’t triple, it just gets regurgitated. George Hackenschmidt was doing hack squats in 1909. This shit has not changed. People need to squat press and pull.
– If you want to get from here to Chicago, just start driving, you’ll get there. Most people are paralyzed by the amount of information they have.
Jim Wendler: “[When] I read something I can tell this guy’s full of shit. You know why?”
Alwyn Cosgrove: “He doesn’t have any traps?”

– Train like a bodybuilder. The most important thing is symmetry. Bodybuilders are still stronger than 99% of the people out there.
– You can’t be quad dominant if you have no fucking quads. If your shit’s not hanging over your knees…
– Responding to a question about training deconditioned kids for football: bodyweight squats, empty bar squats, sled dragging, wall sits, leg press. Teach them how to land when they step off a box. When Jim coached kids for football Day I was SQ, B, D, Day 2 was SQ, OHP and assistance. Train them to coach each other.
– “I don’t care how old you are: you’ve got to be able to kick ass”
– DTI #2: “If you’re trying to get in with a group of really strong guys, they don’t need spotters, they don’t need motivators, they don’t need training partners, they need another pair of eyes.”
– Training correlates with personality type. If you’re mathematical & by-the-book you’ll be fine with Sheiko.
– You need to train to failure sometimes because you need to know where failure is.
– DC stands for Dog Crap, as in the expression “DC training”.
– This is not for the general population. This is for people who fucking care about getting stronger.
– One-legged squats are a good way to get kids to stretch without actually stretching.
– At this point I think both Dave Tate and Jim Wendler were starting to lose patience with the quality of questions they were getting:
Q: When’s a beginner not a beginner?
A: When you stop asking questions like that.
Q: How do you know that you’ve made it?
A: When you’ve stopped going to seminars.
– 99% of people don’t need to deload. The best thing to deload in volume, not in intensity.
– “Remember they brought you in because the last guy sucked.” -Alwyn Cosgrove responding to a question about starting a new job.
– GPP for anyone except a strength athlete is weight training.
– Jim Wendler often discusses music on his training log, so I asked which five cds he’d buy with $100. He suggested the following: Dopesmoker by Sleep, Take as Needed for Pain by EHG, Our Problem by Iron Monkey, Master of Reality by Black Sabbath and Reign in Blood by Slayer.

Jason Ferruggia: Small Group Training
– This presentation dealt with the business side of training, specifically, why it makes more sense to train small groups rather than individuals.
– Private training is boring and it sucks. While only 3% of gym goers do personal training, 55% of them do group exercise classes.
– It is easier to get three people to pay $30 per hour than one person to pay $90 per hour.
– It is easier to get three kids to pay $30 per hour than adults. Adults you can train 3-4 in a group, kids you can train 6-12 in a group.
– Don’t vary rates by clients.
– Set a ridiculously high price for 1 on 1 training or don’t offer it at all.
– It’s your job to match people with other people.
– Target the people you relate to best: don’t take on a client you don’t relate to
– Your job is to coach and teach, not motivate.
– You have to present a certain look & attitude, so dress appropriately.
– Use the word semi-private or just “training. Offer no other option.
Alwyn Cosgrove: “Is there anything that’s done one on one nowadays? Chemotherapy maybe; no, it’s done in groups. Psychiatry, that’s one on one.
Dave Tate: “Sex?
Alwyn Cosgrove: “You need two, Dave.

– If you work from 8am to 11pm training small groups you can see 70 people a day (this is where the hard work part comes in).
– Bill for everything you write. The client is getting a plan and the coach’s time. Both of these have value.
– Track client renewals: know what level (percentage) of renewals you need to be successful.
– You need an online presence. Dave Tate noted that when EFS recently added team members they looked at websites and blogs to make the first cut.
– Protein is overrated:
Jason Ferruggia: “Jim squatted 1000lbs eating 50g a day.”
Alwyn Cosgrove: “Imagine if it was 55g.”

At this point we broke for lunch as people went looking for 55g of protein. When we returned we split into four groups for hands-on training with each of the presenters, but that’s another report entirely.
* If you want to know more about the June 2007 seminar, I blogged it here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
** I was writing as fast as I could. If you were there and you see any errors or critical omissions, please let me know.

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