In this podcast, I interview Mark Rippetoe and we talk about the failings of CrossFit, what’s wrong with much of today’s exercise science, natural strength potentials, and more…
Mike Matthews: Hey, this is Mike Matthews from muscleforlife.com. Welcome to the podcast. Thanks for stopping by and listening.
In this episode I’m going to be interviewing Mark Rippetoe. If you’ve been in the weightlifting game for any period of time, you’ve probably heard of Mark, or at least heard of his best‑selling book and a very popular weightlifting program “Starting Strength”, which is a book that I have recommended from the beginning.
It was probably the first book that really made the point of heavy compound weightlifting is the real key as a natural weightlifter, broke down the proper form for me on the big lifts like the squat, deadlift, bench pressing, military press.
I’m sure there’s probably millions of people by now have used “Starting Strength” successfully. It’s a great program, great book, I definitely recommend you check it out. Mark, he’s written other books as well, he has several bestselling books, and probably is one of the most respected strength coaches around these days.
I was pretty excited to have Mark on the show. He’s also just a cool guy. I apologize on the lower quality of the audio, I was using a new program to record the Skype call, and it was working fine when I was testing it with a friend of mine, but for some reason the call with Mark got a little bit scratchy, so I’m not exactly sure why but I’m just going to go back to what I was using before I guess.
With that said, let’s get to the interview.
Mike: All right, hey Mark, thanks a lot for coming on the podcast, I appreciate it.
Mark Rippetoe: Thanks for having me Mike, always a pleasure.
Mike: I’m excited, I’m a big fan of your work, I’ve been recommending your work, especially “Starting Strength” of course from the beginning, and there was one of the first actual good workout programs that I was introduced to that emphasized heavy compound lifting. It’s one of those ah‑ha moments, because I came from, when I first started weightlifting, I did the same.
I went and bought some body building magazines, I was 17 and I just wanted to impress girls.
Mark: I think we all started off like that.
Mike: Yeah [laughs] , I think that’s just a rite of passage. I go and buy the magazine and I do the shitty program and then do all the isolation stuff. It took me, I think seven years, I stuck with it just because I came to enjoy the other benefits. My body was OK, but I also, there are a lot of the benefits of exercise, so it became a healthy thing to do.
But it was about seven years until I finally learned that if as a natural weightlifter, if you are not emphasizing heavy compound lifting, you are just not going to get far basically.
Mark: You picked it up faster than I did. I took me quite a bit longer than seven years to figure that out.
Mark: I’m just being [inaudible 03:14] . I’ll tell you the process by which I generated all these theories and things that we put in books, is running a commercial gym and not really knowing any other way to do it, but teaching everybody how to squat, bench press and deadlift and power clean.
After you operate your gym in that way for about 20 years, teaching everybody that walks through the door, the basic compound exercises, you accumulate quite a data set.
I had machines in the gym, I had everything I needed at my disposal to accumulate quite a bit of empirical data. Most people don’t understand that empirical data is not always generated by an academic peer reviewed study. Empirical data is numbers.
Mike: It’s observation.
Mark: It’s facts and observations, a set of observed facts. This is the process by which I observed all these facts. Eventually just leads to a logical conclusion and that’s where we are with the books.
Mike: What I immediately think of is, when I first started actually. For those first whatever years, I wasn’t particularly trying. I didn’t realize that I could have a much better physique and be much stronger and be in much better shape for whatever reason. It was me and my friends and we’d go to the gym and no one was on steroids, so I wasn’t really exposed to that. We just went and did our thing.
But after six or seven years or so, I started noticing, when I was, “I want to actually do more with my body, but I need to get educated.” I knew that I didn’t know really much, and a simple observation was a lot of the guys who had the types of bodies that I liked. I don’t want to look like a massive bodybuilder, but have some muscle, be lean, be strong, they all tended to train in that way.
There were a lot of heavy weightlifting, a lot of squatting, a lot of deadlifting, a lot of military pressing, bench pressing, a lot of stuff I wasn’t doing. Even that alone where that was one of my early observations, those guys are all big and strong and look good and they all tend to train in this way, I should probably look into that.
Mark: It’s a look that is typical of strength athletes, not bodybuilders. Bodybuilding is all about high parts or feeding size.
Mike: And drugs, let’s face it.
Mark: Sure, it’s a part of the equation, and you are a fool if you don’t recognize that fact. But it’s over and above the drugs, because there a lot of strength athletes who take drugs too.
Mike: That’s true.
Mark: But the big myth that results is from heavy strength training is a completely different one than the big fluffy bodybuilder look that wins the Olympia every year. I’m not a great big fan of big giant pecks, and I like a gimmick physique over a Dorian Yates physique. I think most people would prefer that way.
Mike: Yeah, the vast of majority of guys I talk with, they want to look…
Mark: The majority of guys that I’ve trained are strength athletes and the look that you are talking about is the look that you get from getting your squat up to 550, get your dead lift up to 600, in the beginner chapter 3 to 50, get your press up to 200.
Mark: At a body weight of over 200 pounds, that’s what we are talking about. That’s the emphasis on the type of training that we do. I’m not a coach of building power lifters. I don’t know anything at all about body building. I’m an Olympic weightlifting coach, although the Olympic weightlifting community is reluctant to admit that.
I have been around a very long time, and I have learned over the course of 38 years in the gym business, that essentially you and I are in the same business. We are dealing with entry level people. How do we start people out, in the direction of their goal, most effectively? Once a guy I’ve been training five years, he has accumulated enough wisdom and intelligence about what he wants to do to make his own decisions about it, but that’s not what I do.
We teach people how to do the squat, how to correctly perform the squat. We teach people how to coach that from the perspective of why do we do it that way, not this is the way we apply to it, no.
We want everything explained, we want answers to the question why. I think this is what sets our program apart from everybody else’s. If we can’t answer why, then we haven’t thought about it enough.
Mike: Your book, “Starting Strength,” that was the beginning for me on proper, that’s where I learned to squat, that’s where I learned to dead lift, that’s where I learned to press, and I’ve stuck to those, the principals in your book for as ever since.
It’s been close to five years now or so that I’ve been actually, I’ve been training properly, and the changes in my body have been, I expected something but I didn’t expect as much change as I saw. If I only would have known from the beginning [laughs] .
Mark: We hear that a lot. The important thing about answering the question why, is that it might yield a different answer than you think. It might mean that you’ve been doing something wrong, but if you’ve never stopped to answer why, then maybe you could be doing it better if you thought about it a little bit more. That’s what we are trying to do.
We’ve tried to apply this type of first origins argument analysis to everything we do. Why do we do the squat the way we do? Because it satisfies our criteria for effective exercise. It’s not immediately apparent why you should look at the floor when you squat. That’s not immediately apparent because most people don’t coach you that way.
But when we demonstrate to you that it actually works better, it’s hard to refuse, it really is.
Mike: I agree.
Mark: A lot of people don’t agree with that, but we have found over the years that it just works better. The way we teach it that just works better. We’ve changed several things up, because I’m not afraid to ask why and can I do this better. If I can do it better, why don’t I? I like to think it sets us apart.
Mike: Speaking of doing things better, let’s talk about CrossFit for a second [laughs] .
Mike: I obviously, I get asked about it a fair amount. I wrote an article on it that has gotten a lot of traffic and a lot of mixed comments and whatever. I’m not a fan of CrossFit, I know that you are not. But I wanted to get your take on what do you think are the downsides. Let’s be fair, what the pros and cons of CrossFit?
Mark: I’ve got a fairly large amount of attention from the article I wrote about that for T‑Nation a while back. Let me first say, that CrossFit has been a positive for this industry. You’d be hard pressed to say that it’s all bad. It’s not all bad.
Mike: I agree.
Mark: It’s highly dependent upon the guys at the gym that you happen to be in. If you’re in the right gym and the people renting the gym are experienced, and you are in situation where you are going to be subjected to a pretty productive strength program. At least you’re going to be exposed to barbell training. Barbell training is extremely important as we know.
The problem starts with the primary philosophy of CrossFit, which nowadays is not being called random. They want to call it constant variation instead of random. For some reason random isn’t good and constant variation is good.
Mike: It’s hard to mark it random. “Oh yeah, we follow random training.”
Mark: Constant variation, see that can be very intellectual. It can be very difficult for stupid people like me to understand, obviously over my head. Constant variation is the thing that is the problem and the thing that makes you popular. CrossFit is not boring.
Mike: Yes. I get that a lot. People that like it. It’s one of the things. You’re inside of the group and everybody is doing the thing together.
Mark: Sure. People are social animals. People like to associate themselves with groups. If you’re going to be associated with the group that not only is all doing the same workout in your rhythm right there, today at 5.30 at your work and a group of people all over the world that are also doing the same thing, that’s pretty social in group kind of stuff. It works pretty well.
Mike: People rabidly defend it.
Mark: It works because for most of these people this is their first exposure to hard exercise, the kind of exercise that you must do, if it’s going to be productive. Anything works at first. You had never done anything. The inability to distinguish that effect from the actual perpetual of the program long term, most people are going to think that CrossFit works pretty well, until they get hurt.
The buzz nowadays is for CrossFit defenders. There’s no evidence.
Mike: I just saw a study recently that actually showed a higher injury rate than even the Olympic Weightlifting. Olympic Weightlifting is dangerous.
Mark: I don’t agree, Mike. Olympic Weightlifting, even as a competitive sport, is not that dangerous.
Mike: I guess I can’t say it’s dangerous. You have a higher chance of getting hurt doing Olympic lifting than you’d be just doing a regular barbell training type program, right?
Mark: Sure. I’ll tell you exactly why that is in just a second. To say now that everybody is doing CrossFit the same way, there’s no evidence. One of the reasons there’s no evidence is because if CrossFit affiliate won’t submit the data, then of course there’s no evidence. If they won’t co‑operate, then there’s not going to be any evidence.
Mike: Of course.
Mark: We don’t evidence from CrossFit affiliates. All we need to do is ask the doctors, the orthopedic surgeons and the physical therapists who have been treating these injuries, what’s the latest and greatest thing that increased their businesses?
That would be the way to do the study. Don’t involve CrossFit. Ask thousands of physical therapy clinics across the United States, if they’ve seen an update in CrossFit related injuries.
Mike: At least half of the people.
Mark: All have been written on your report. They’ve all got the data. That’s where you get the data. CrossFit is not going to tell you.
The question would be, why is CrossFit prone to produce injuries? The answer for that is quite simple, but it’s going to require some background vocabulary words. Let’s start with, what the term exercise means?
We’ve never had a serious argument about this, because once you think about it, it’s really obvious. When you say the term exercise, I’m going to go exercise today, I’m going to get some exercise. Not an exercise like the squat. Exercise‑the activity.
Mike: I’m going to go move my body around.
Mark: I’m going to go move my body around, and I’m going to do it specifically for the effect it produces in my body today. I’m going to go move my body around because I want to get hot and sweaty and feel like I accomplished something in terms of physical activity. I want to burn some calories. I want to burn some fat. I want to get sweaty and tired. I want to breathe hard. I want to help my heart rate and all sort of shit.
When I do say that I’m doing exercise in the criterion for each one of those workouts is that I do something today, that made me feel productive. In other words, my subjective judgment about today’s workout is how that workout made me felt today.
Training, on the other hand, is a process by which people accomplish an objective goal in terms of physical performance. Since physical performances are dependent on a specific nature of the performance, in other words…
Mike: What are you training for?
Mark: A person training for a marathon is not training with the same process with a person training for powerlifting, because the physical adaptations are different and they’re specific to the competition that you are training for.
The training is the process by which you accomplish your goal through time. In that context, each workout is important that it is a component of the process. We don’t care about how we feel today because that is not the point. The point is what we didn’t do and the competition that we are training for.
Mike: How that applies to the average person? After not competing, but there’s distinction. You see a lot of people going to the gym to exercise. It’s random motion. It seems like they just wander from machine to machine and doing whatever.
Mike: Yeah, exactly. Versus training where you are working within a structured program that has you performing certain types of exercises, but you want to add x pounds to your squats this year.
Mark: Progression at some level is the point of training, whether it’s endurance progression or strength progression. Progression is the hallmark of the training process.
Now, it’s obvious that these two vocabulary words are legitimate descriptions of human behavior.
Performance is what we train for. Now what is a performance? A performance is the thing you do at the end of the training cycle, when it counts. You’re in the marathon, you’re at the meet. Hell, it may be just a PR test, if you haven’t got the gumption to sign up for the meet, you just want to see what you’re squat, press, and deadlift are in three weeks on a Saturday, that’s the performance. You’re going to perform, and you’re going to see how much you can do.
Now, when you decide you are going to perform, the performance itself becomes the objective. If the performance is the objective, and not health or fitness or whatever, then we’re subjecting ourselves to a different set of criteria about how hard we are going to push today. A performance is when we see what we can do. Typically, we have trained for that.
Think about Crossfit. The workout of the day, today, is Isabel, which is 30 reps of snatch at 60 kilos [inaudible 20:58] . If everybody’s doing Isabel today, the fastest time is the one that quote, “wins”. Or, the fastest time is a PR.
When is the last time we snatched? Have we prepared for this performance? If the answer is, “No”, but if we are still willing to push ourselves in the absence of that training, and the absence of preparation for the performance for a performance‑level physical expression of our ability that day, then it’s not surprising that we have now turned what should be a workout into a performance situation in which the motivation is there sufficient to get you hurt.
Mike: Yes. It wouldn’t be a big deal if…
Mark: …if today is the performance. Performances are when you see what you can do, and you’re willing to accept the risk of injury.
If you have not prepared yourself for the performance, than you increase the risk of the injury because the preparation did not take place. This is what is fundamentally flawed with the Crossfit paradigm.
Mike: It probably wouldn’t be such an issue if our performance was who can do the most curls with 15 pounds. Then we would be OK.
Mark: It would just [inaudible 22:34] our biceps.
If we take the example of a performance level effort and we repeat that several times a week, we are doing essentially what is the antithesis of training.
The high‑eccentric component of this type of activity produces system wide soreness. System wide chronic soreness might as well be a disease process. It is not productive. It is not good to be bone‑deep sore all the time. That’s not good for you.
That’s not the normal active physical expression of the human condition.
Mike: Ironically, this is a question I get fairly often, that I actually wrote an article on it that I always link people to. Muscle soreness, just too few listeners don’t know it’s not associated with muscle growth necessarily. Just because if you go do a bunch of downhill running, your legs are going to get sore, but it doesn’t mean that you’re building leg muscle by doing a bunch of downhill running obviously.
I rarely get sore.
Mark: Soreness is only indicative of a high level of X‑centric work to which you have not adapted. That’s all that means. X‑centric work to which you have not adapted. It does not indicate “good” it merely indicates a lack of adaptation.
Training is predicated on stress, recovery, adaptation. That’s the process. If you’re constantly sore, then by definition you are not adapting.
Someone in training for a power lifting meet is not typically sore all the time. There’s X‑centric components to all these movements that we do, but you adapt to that amount of X‑centric work, you adapt to the negatives that you do in training, and you’re not bone‑deep sore all the time.
Mike: I’m not very sore. I get still get sore in my legs from the squatting and deadlifting, but I don’t even notice it unless I go to massage my leg I’m like, “Oh, I feel that”. Otherwise I don’t really notice it.
Mark: It’s certainly not the objective for which you’re training. It is a side‑effect of the process of getting stronger, but it’s not the objective itself.
There are a lot of Crossfit people, and this is not all of them of course, there are a lot of Crossfit that wear soreness, chronic soreness as a badge of honor. Hands torn all to shit, calluses torn off their hands. That’s a badge of honor. No people, it’s not. It’s a badge of stupidity.
It means you’re not training productively. It may mean you’re performing all the time, it may mean you’re exercising at a very, very high intense level, but it’s not training and it’s not productive and chronic soreness is not good for you.
Mike: It’s going to lead to some sort of injury. If the person in that state, if they haven’t gotten hurt yet, they’re going to get hurt. I hear from these people all the time.
Mark: Mike, it’s indicative of something much worse than that. Chronic soreness and chronic respiratory inflammation produce systemic problems, cardiac problems. Some of you people listening to me right now, that pain your chest you get, six o’clock in the morning, that’s not good for you.
There are people listening to this right now that will know what I’m talking about.
Mike: I actually hadn’t heard that.
Mark: That is a result of chronic inflammation and a lack of recovery. Just keep that in mind.
Mike: I wrote an article recently on frequency workout. Frequency is a murky subject scientifically. A lot of these Crossfit workouts where you’re hitting muscle groups over and over and over with such high‑volume workouts. Recovery, in my opinion, is an under‑appreciated thing more in the, I wouldn’t say aesthetics world, but body‑building, trying to build a good physique.
Right now it’s trendy, these very very high, weekly volume with quite a bit of frequency. I’ll get guys emailing me, they’re training everything 2 or 3 times a week. Which is not inherently bad, but these are big long workouts 2 or 3 times a week, and they’re just getting beat into the ground.
Mark: Recovery capacity is a finite quantity. There’s only so much you can recover from.
This is why people that choose to do so take drugs. Steroids increase recovery capacity, that’s primarily how they work for the vast majority of people taking them. Recovery is finite. There are only so many things…
Mike: It’s not just like, “Oh, until your CNS settles down a little bit”. No, it needs to rebuild tissue. It takes time. It only can do it so quickly.
Mark: Anabolic processes take finite amounts of time. If you don’t eat enough, if you continually beat yourself into the ground with very light weights. Not only is the volume too high, and the X‑centric load too high, the intensity is too low to make you stronger.
Strength is force production. If force production, the amount of force being produced at any given rep, is low enough that you can do 100 reps with the thing, then it’s not a strength.
Mike: No, that’s just muscle endurance.
Mark: It’s just muscle endurance. That’s not how you get strong.
Mike: When I come across people, whether it’s online or in real life, that are doing Crossfit, I understand the reasons why, they like the group thing, but I always warn them that when you’re fatigued you lose awareness.
Let’s say you’re squatting, heavy deadlifting, and this happens to me I think it happens to everybody, it becomes harder to maintain your form. You can, but it takes a bit more. Even if I’m just doing a set of six reps, six or seven reps, 80‑85 percent of one rep max, those last couple reps I pay attention, make sure that I’m getting deep enough in my squat, or I’m not shooting my hips up on my deadlift.
When you’re trying to do as many reps as possible deadlifts, your form is going to go to shit.
Mark: That’s just part of the deal.
Mike: If you’re trying to hit these Olympic lifts, which are tricky, you need to learn them properly. The Olympic lifting is, I think you would agree, it’s harder to learn proper Olympic lifting than it is to learn a proper bench‑press for instance.
Mark: Especially if you don’t know how to teach the move. It’s much easier to teach a bench‑press than it is to teach cleaner snatch for a person that’s not very good at doing that.
Mike: You have these people that are just there to get in shape, and they’re trying to perform these Olympic lifts that they’ve been trained on improperly, and then they’re being pushed by all their friends, “Come on do it! Come on, add some more weight. Get it, get it, get it!” and then they get hurt like, “Oh, what a surprise”.
Mark: Shocking. There are structural explanations for why that occurs, that are outside the scope of a general discussion like this, but it intuitively obvious to everybody that if you are executing motion that is extremely dependent on repetitive movement pattern accuracy, then the kind of thing that practice perfects.
Here’s another vocabulary word. Practice is the way we percept a repetitive movement pattern that is extremely dependent on accuracy and precision. It cannot be approached randomly, or even with constant variation. Now can it?
Mike: I can relate. I’m picking up golf, so I can relate.
Mark: You can’t become a better golfer by playing tennis. You can’t become a better tennis player by playing racquetball, because even though it’s similar it’s not the same thing.
Something that demands a high degree of precision repetition of an accurate movement pattern requires practice specific to that skill. That’s what practice is. Practice is different than training, isn’t it?
Mike: Usually that’s going to mean breaking the whole movement down into pieces…
Mark: It sometimes does.
Mike: …lifting, that’s your world, I just mean in general…
Mark: United States people have tried to do it that way for a long, long time and it doesn’t work very well. Hang‑snatches don’t really get you good at doing a full squat‑snatch off the floor. That’s a little more technical than we need to deal with.
Practice is extremely dependent on the precise repetition of the thing you want to do. How does a pitcher learn to pitch? He doesn’t play golf, he pitches. Have you learned to play the piano, for god’s sake?
Mike: You have to learn the easy study. If you’re pitching your piano, you’re not going to try to play some Beethoven right away.
Mark: You can’t. Basics can only be learned by repeating the basics over, and over, and over. Constant repetition of the same movement pattern is how you will learn anything that requires practice.
Constant variation doesn’t do a very good job.
Mike: Exactly, and that’s where poor coaching screws people over…
Mark: Absolutely true. If you don’t have an opportunity to coach a guy through the snatch at least four times a week, he’s not going to get very good. Once you’ve learned the movement, it’s not that complicated, it’s a snatch for god’s sakes, it’s not like judo or down‑hill skiing, it’s a snatch.
It is a skill‑dependent movement, the bar most move in a certain way that you must learn to repeat with both light and heavy weights. With weights that will win the meat.
All of this stuff has to be practiced. These skill‑dependent movements must be practice over and over and over. The same way you learn how to shoot, you must run a bunch of rounds through the weapon. You have to learn how to do it, and repetitive motion is how it’s accomplished.
Mike: Accurate motion, or you are going to ingrain incorrect motion patterns. It might not be a big deal when you’re just using a bar, but then you start adding weight to it and it all falls apart.
Mark: Can you learn how to snatch a barbell with a piece of PVC?
Mike: I have never tried, but I wouldn’t think so. You’d need the weight of it, right?
Mark: Yeah, it’s a different deal. What constrains the movement? You have to learn how to move the barbells in a bar‑path that will generate the rack at the top of the snatch. A piece of PVC that was 55 grams is not going to allow you to reproduce the same movement pattern that is necessary to with a 100 kilos on the bar. These things are specific, they must be practiced specifically, and a 55 gram piece of PVC is not specific to Olympic weight lifting.
There’s all kinds of problems.
Mike: That’s a good summary of the matter.
Let’s shift here quickly to another subject, which is something that I’ve wondered about. Haven’t been able to find much good research on it. Whenever I talk to people like you, who have a lot of experience, it’s something that I’m always curious about.
What are your thoughts on, based on your experience, on the upper limits of strength that a person can achieve naturally? I’ve seen some good models out there for lean mass, using fat free mass index, that you can semi‑accurately tell somebody, “OK, you’re probably going to max out somewhere around here in terms of total lean mass.” I’ve kind of wondered about that. Do you think there is a ceiling?
Mark: I also think that there is a rather tenuous relationship between the amount of lean mass that a person displays at a certain height and body weight. The amount of strength that that particular phenotype can generate, because there are a bunch of variables in terms of how strong you get.
There are lots and lots and lots of variables, and it’s terribly difficult to say how strong a guy is going to be based on what he looks like.
Do you remember Mike MacDonald? There was a guy by the name of Mike MacDonald that was a powerlifter back in the late ’70s, and Mike MacDonald benched 600 at 198 with a 16 inch arm.
Mike: That’s just super‑human freak.
Mark: Yeah, it’s super‑human freak strength. You see this guy, he does not look like he can bench four, and he was an amazing specimen.
Mike: I’ve seen guys like that in the gym. Not 600, but I’ve seen guys putting up 315 where I actually thought, “I need to go over, this guy is about to kill himself”. Then they just rep it, and I’m like, “What? What did I just see”?
Mark: You can’t tell by looking is what it boils down to, because there are other considerations operating in there that you can’t see. There are obviously the hormonal [inaudible 37:55] that is such a very wildly from individual to individual.
Whether you’re taking steroids or not, some guys have more testosterone than other guys. I’m sorry, they do.
Mike: If it becomes a big enough number it can make a difference.
Mark: It certainly can. Some guys want it more, as a result will train harder. Are capable of pushing themselves harder. Some guy’s livers are better. In other words, their muscle attachments around their joints, and all these things that contribute to the effective moment force that you can generate around a joint, all that varies with the individual as well.
Mike: All stuff you can’t see.
Mark: …extremely complicated, it’s hard to investigate. Here’s another extremely important thing that will have a lot to do with a person’s ultimate ability to generate force. That is their genetic capacity for explosion, their power. A guy with a 36 inch vertical jump that walks in the gym will eventually be stronger than a guy with a 22 inch vertical jump that walks in the gym.
Guys that start off with big verticals get strong faster and get stronger than guys who are small verticals.
Mark: Let me make a caveat here. That doesn’t mean that the guy with a 22 inch vertical can’t get real, god awful strong, because he can. The guy with the big vertical has got a neuro‑muscular situation that is different than the guy with the short vertical. He’s more efficient in a neuro‑muscular sense.
Mike: I remember reading about that recently. That alone was one of the best single predictors of, I don’t remember which sport, it might have been football…just that their athletic capacity…
Mark: For any sport that requires power. Any sport that requires power. The downside of this is it’s genetically controlled.
You can’t take a guy, and there are people going to be calling you on the phone when I say this. You can’t take a guy with an 18 inch vertical jump and get him up to a 36. The only place that happens is on the Internet.
That doesn’t happen, because these types of neurological limitations are not terribly mutable we can’t train that very much. To the extent we can train it, the stronger your squat gets, the higher your vertical is going to be. That doesn’t mean that you can take a 22 and make it into a 32.
It doesn’t even usually mean that you can take a 22 and turn it into a 26. It just doesn’t vary that much.
There’s going to be these guys that, “Well I’ve got to where I can jump over a car when I couldn’t jump over a car before”. It’s not the same damn thing.
A standing vertical jump with just one counter‑drop and a reach up, like we measure on a [inaudible 41:11] . I wish it did, but it didn’t. You can find websites devoted to this bullshit.
The reason the standing vertical jump is so valuable as a test is because it can’t be manipulated with training. It is a way for us to determine who we’re talking to here. What are the genetics of this guy? Do I want to hire him based on his genetics? He’s got a 36 inch vertical, well, I’m pretty sure he didn’t get that from an 18 inch vertical so I see this guy’s got a hell of a lot of potential for the development of power and strength. I’ll hire him.
That’s one of the things that’s real critical. The question of “How strong can a guy get”…
Mike: What do you think are, I get asked these types of things that’s why I want to run it by you. What do you think are some good longer term goals that may be related to body weight that a person should be looking for in terms of pulling, pushing, squatting?
Mark: There’s the old standard. A guy weighs 200 pounds ought to be able to press 200, bench‑press 300, squat 400, and deadlift 500.
Mike: Those are all one reps right?
Mark: Yeah. That’s not a tremendous achievement except that nowadays a 200 pound body weight press for a guy is a pretty damn good press.
Mike: Yeah, that’s good, that’s hard.
Mark: If I was going to say that I’d probably say 175 pound press, 275 bench, 400 squat, 500 deadlift. A 200 is a good starting point. It’s a good starting point.
That’s not indicative of a strength specialty, because a 500 pound dead lift is just not that hard. I can do that right now and I’m 58. I basically train to hang, I’m not trying to get stronger, I’m just hanging on. I can pull 500.
If you can’t pull 500 you need to get to where you can, unless you weigh 110 pounds, in which case you’re a female or a little short guy or something like that.
All things being equal, a guy by 5’9 or 5’10 ought to weigh 200 pounds. He ought to be able to press 175, he ought to be able to bench three, or 275, he ought to be able to squat four, four‑and‑a‑quarter, four‑fifty, and be able to deadlift five, five‑and‑a‑quarter. Just ought to be able to do that, because that’s not hard to do.
Mike: To qualify that, it takes some time. It’s not…
Mark: This is going to take you a year and a half. It seems average genetic [inaudible 44:14] it’s going to take you a year, year and a half, but it shouldn’t take any longer than that. It really shouldn’t.
Mike: Depending on how you train, of course.
Mark: The numbers don’t represent a specialization in strength, they just represent strength. A guy ought to be that strong.
What can that same guy do at that same body weight? At some point you reach the end of the capacity of the muscle mass that you’ve got right to increase the amounts of force. At which point you have to grow. Which means your body weight has to go up.
What would represent a strength specialization body weight with an athletic amount of body fat at 5’9? I think you’d have to say 245.
Mike: 245 pounds?
Mike: At 5’9, that’s a…
Mark: You get a guy as strong as he can get at 5’9.
Mike: That’s a big boy [laughs] .
Mark: Yeah, but Ed Coan competed at 242 and [inaudible 45:21] 5’5.
There are outliers. How much would a six foot tall guy weigh if he’s real, real strong. I’m not talking about a competitive lifter, but a guy that’s real strong, is an athlete at six foot.
Mike: Depends on body fat, right? Somewhere around…
Mark: At an athletic body fat of 15 percent, what would he do?
Mike: I would say 200 to 215, 210, somewhere around there.
Mark: Oh, I’d say 250. I’d say 250, Mike. I think you need to start upwardly adjusting your body mass estimations because a six foot tall guy that has trained for four or give years for strength is going to weigh 250. Yeah, he is. If he doesn’t weigh 250, then he hadn’t packed his potential.
Mike: I wish I knew more guys like this, I just don’t. My gym is full of goobers [laughs] .
Mark: You’ve got to be around a bunch of strength training people, pushing their strength numbers. Strength numbers require a heavier body weight, because at some point the muscle has to grow. Bigger muscles weigh more than smaller muscles.
A guy at 6 foot, and that’s not a particularly tall guy, at 250 is not a particularly high body weight. You take a big, strong athlete that’s 6 foot, 6’5, 6’6, he’s 300 pounds. [inaudible 46:59] guys in the NFL. Look at them, even lean they’re 300 pounds.
Mike: Yeah, they’re monsters.
Mark: 275 they’re just monsters, they’re not like we are. You take a guy that’s 5’8, my height, I competed at 220, and I was probably caring 12 percent body fat at the time, and I tell you as a fact, I was not heavy enough to be standing there at 5’8 as a power lifter.
That’s the biggest mistake that I made in my training, was to not take my body weight on up to 242 or even more. Look at the Nationals, go to the Nationals, and how tall are the guys in the 181? They’re 5’4, 5’5.
Mike: They’re huge.
Mark: They’re huge. They’re not fat people.
Mike: My body weight’s always been strangely low. I’m about 6’2, right now I probably weigh about 188. I’m pretty lean though, about 7 percent, 7.5, whatever.
Mark: If I’d had you to train, Mike, my friend, our first goal would be to get you to 200 pounds and that would take me about 2 weeks.
I would tell you to quit worrying about your body fat, and let’s go ahead and get strong. I’m sure you’re an Adonis with abs, flowing with golden locks, that sort of shit. I’m telling you, if you want to get strong a guy at your height is going to have to gain a bunch of weight.
Mike: Yes. You’re totally right. I like being lean. In my world, I do have to show that I walk the walk.
Mark: It just depends on what a guy wants out of his training. This is the way I’ve always looked at it. If I look in pants and a long sleeve shirt, can I tell that you train? At 6 foot 180, 6’2 180, I can’t.
Mike: You could. You’d be surprised. My weight is deceptive.
Mark: At 6’2 275 there wouldn’t be any question.
Mark: A guy with 6’2, 275, 40 inch waist.
Mike: You say nothing, you just shake my hand.
Mark: You didn’t look like you train, my friend. You’re going to look like you train.
Mike: You shake that guy’s hand.
Mike: Let’s move on quickly to the last thing I want to touch on here. It was a few months ago, I want to say May‑ish, I read an article of yours on T‑Nation about some of the problems with exercise science. I really liked it because I run into it here and there where people come to me ‑‑ I totally welcome people to argue with things I say.
I’m open to, “Hey, share more information” I don’t pretend like I know everything. Where people come to me, that haven’t really achieved much in the way of building strength or building muscle, but they have a big fat [inaudible 50:20] account.
They will come to me using studies like poker chips, where they’ll see my study that I cited for this one thing where I was talking about the importance of heavy‑weight lifting, and they’re going to raise me three poker chip studies ‑‑ you know what I mean?
Mark: I see your two studies, and raise you three.
Mike: Yeah, raise you three that says that if I do 30 rep workouts every day I’m going to get bigger and stronger. OK, well why don’t you do that first?
I liked your article, I thought it’s relevant because it would be great for the listeners to hear your views on some of the issues that are out there with exercise science and why we can’t just take papers as dogma and say, “Well this study said this and that’s it” or even worse, read the abstract and be like, “Oh, OK, I understand that now”.
Mark: You can’t read the abstract. An abstract is an excellent way to lie about your study.
Mark: It’s like this, Mike. In the absence of controlled peer‑review studies about any phenomenon, what do you have to rely on in order to understand it? In the absence of literature, quote un‑quote, what do you have to rely on for an understanding of that material?
Mike: Other people’s experiences.
Mark: That has to lay on is a logical analysis of the things that you do know. What do I know, having been in this business for 38 years? I know a lot of stuff.
How much of it have I written down? In this particular instance, quite a bit. I haven’t done any peer‑reviewed studies on anything, because I don’t need to.
Here’s an example. This is probably the best way to illustrate the whole point you’re trying to make and I know we’re short on time.
Back in 2009, a study was published in the journal Strength conditioning Research. The NSCA’s quote “science” un‑quote, journal. The study dealt with the ability to generate a one‑rep max on the bench‑press.
The problem was, I’m not making this up, this is in the literature, so if you’re running an evidence‑based practice, and you can base your practice on this evidence.
What was the difference in 1RM strength while laying down on the bench or laying down balanced on a Swiss ball?
Mike: I may have actually seen this paper.
Mark: This is the paper that made me decide, “You know what, I’ve got to drop my membership in this organization. I can’t have my name associated with these people.”
The study published that the conclusion drawn was, there’s not any difference in one rep max if you’re balanced on the ball and if you’re lying on the bench.
I don’t need to see a study to know where I can generate the most force in the bench press on a stable or unstable surface. I don’t need to see this study to know that no one has ever bench pressed 600 pounds…
Mike: On a Bosu ball.
Mark: On a Bosu ball. The fact that the review committee accepted this paper for a publication, and reviewed it and said, “Yeah, we are probably good,” tells you quite a bit about both the people that wrote the study and the people that reviewed the study, doesn’t it?
Mark: It tells you that they are not operating from the same standpoint of a logical analysis, in the absence of the data that I have. Now let’s just assume for a minute that the data was useful, which it wasn’t, it was like there were like 11 people in the study or something like that. That the strongest guy in the study benched 250 or something like this.
[inaudible 54:49] , then the ship was all over the place and if you do an analysis, if you just look at the data of the [inaudible 54:53]. That heavy, somebody just ignored that. What kind of an idiot would fail to ask the question, have there ever been under a 300 pound bench press himself?
Mike: [laughs] Yeah, what’s the point?
Mark: These people are not operating from a position of sufficient experience, to even know what they don’t know.
Mike: What needs to be, what the actual good questions are.
Mark: What are the good questions? That isn’t one of them.
Mark: OK, that’s not one of the good questions, that’s not where we spend our money and our time. But if you all you need is a publication credit for your Master’s degree, well hey, what the hell. If these idiots decided they’d publish it in the journal, well what the hell?
The problem with that is, is that now that thing’s in the literature. If some clown operating a personal training practice, doesn’t see that there’s a problem and with this data, with this conclusion, with even asking this question.
How are you going to get somebody strong if you base your assumptions about how to do it on med? That’s the problem I’ve got with exercise science right now, all in a nutshell right there.
Mike: Like I said, I run into it where I try to be very evidence based in my research, but I don’t discount the value of anecdotal evidence that’s out there.
Mark: But you can’t, in a lot of cases that’s all you’ve got.
Mike: Especially like you say, there are a lot of good questions that haven’t been asked and we don’t have good peer reviewed studies to answer those questions.
Mark: Here’s the assumption that they make that people are not particularly sophisticated in terms of understanding science. There are several different kinds of data. Data generated by a peer reviewed study is one type of data, but it’s not the only valuable data. The data that I have accumulated over 38 years of experience, unlike you, probably you ignore that as your Peril.
There are some stuff I know that the peer reviewed study [laughs] study obviously don’t.
Mark: It’s not only one kind of data.
Mike: I agree and I think that it’s a good sign that if I come across somebody new in this space whatever and I want to check out their work, it’s a good sign if they are referencing the literature. Of course you can’t take the citations, you just have to add [inaudible 57:49] to look for yourself.
I think it’s good that we see a lot of that out there. But what I think where it goes too far, is we have these PubMed warriors that they haven’t actually really accomplished anything with a lot of this theory that they have. Without the experience, you can find studies that would conclude just about anything.
You could actually just do everything wrong and have it all backed up by scientific research and get nowhere.
Mark: Absolutely. But let me clarify a point. I am not saying that scientific research, peer reviewed studies, conducted like the kinds that get published in peer review journals, is of no value that is not what I’m saying at all. That’s absolutely not what I’m saying.
What I’m saying is that just because it has been peer reviewed and published in a journal, it doesn’t mean that it is either valuable or even correct. You have to know how to evaluate this stuff that you can’t get out of exercise science school with your Bachelor’s degree, and accept that all of this research is like Jesus gave it to us.
Mike: It’s the end, it’s written in stone and it’s never going to change, it’s just the way it works.
Mark: But that’s an excellent way to avoid having to think about stuff yourself, and that’s never acceptable.
Mike: A good example of that is just the importance of heavy weightlifting, where you can find quite a bit of research that supports that position. You can find quite a bit of research that says, “Hey, do a bunch of high rep stuff, it does and it’s all the same. You are going to build muscle or you are going to build strength.”
Mark: Light weight for high rep is the same as heavy weights for low rep.
Mike: You can find…
Mark: Now what kind of a moron would conclude that? The physics of it is combined, but nonetheless, that’s in the literature.
Mike: I know it’s out there, you’ll build the same strength, you’ll build the same muscle, especially with muscle growth, that’s where it’s a lot. I run into quite a few natural weightlifters that were doing the high rep stuff for a while, stuck and then they switched to more emphasis on the heavier and especially on compound and low and behold, their muscles are growing larger than they had ever been.
They are so surprised because traditional hypertrophy is supposed to be 10 to 12 reps, and that’s one of those things where, where is the actual evidence of that? How did the even come about?
Mark: It came about from bad research done on leg extensions, and extrapolated over to actual human behavior, it doesn’t work.
Mike: Especially extrapolated over into, you are looking at a single set of leg extensions, you wear a couple of weeks of leg extensions whatever, well that doesn’t necessarily mean that that is better than squatting heavy over two years.
Mark: It doesn’t mean anything, is the critical thing here. That kind of research doesn’t mean anything. and furthermore, all of the research that it indicates, that high rep, that 8 to 12 reps with a minute, five to six reps with one minute between them.
Mike: The standard.
Mark: The standard recommendation for hypertrophy is irrelevant to someone who is not already deadlifting 550. The way to get big, the way to hypertrophy your muscle, until you reach a certain point, which will vary with anyone, is to get those muscles strong. How do we get muscles strong? With sets of five.
Sets of five therefore are the best way to hypertrophy, unless you are already real big. See, nobody wants to hear that, but that is in fact the case. The guy with a 200 pound deadlift is not as big through the muscles that do the deadlift as the guy with a 500 pound deadlift. What’s the best way to get the deadlift from 200 to 500?
Mark: Sets of five.
Mike: Lift heavy ass weight.
Mark: Sets of five. Lift heavy weights for sets of five. That’s how it’s done, so that’s the way to hypertrophy.
Mike: That’s what I preach in my book, because stronger that’s what it’s all about, is four to six rep, heavy, heavy progress overtime.
Mark: All the way, it’s the way it’s done, it’s the way it’s always been done.
Mike: Then for more advanced weightlifters where with a higher rep where you actually can move weight, and I think that’s what you are referring to, where you have enough strength to actually move real weight for 10 reps, not pushing the bar.
Mark: Exactly. A guy with a 200 pound deadlift can’t do the same reps of 10 set of 10 that a guy with a 500 pound deadlift can do. Therefore the stress applied is not the same experience.
Mike: Exactly, well that’s great. There’s so many I’d love to pick to your brain. I know we were already planning on a second podcast which I’m excited to get into with you. But just so that in case the listeners don’t know, where can they find you and your work?
I recommend your work on my website. Unless you can find his books, you can find, “Starting Strength,” at my website. But what’s your world?
Mark: We are at startingstrength.com, and all of my stuff is there. In fact this audio interview will be linked from startingstrength.com, video interviews, audio interviews, all of my articles written for both my website and outside media, are linked to startingstrength.com.
We have more forums for discussion there than I could count. Some of them are extremely high quality, some of them showcase the drags of humanity.
Mike: It’s called the Internet.
Mark: Yeah, it’s called the Internet.
Mark: We have represented some of the Internet, I’m afraid. But we have fun, we have intelligent conversations about all kinds of things there. In addition to articles about weightlifting and bodybuilding and powerlifting history, written by authors like Bill Starr, Marty Gallagher, Ken Linsner. Doctor Ken Linsner, premiers with us tomorrow in an article.
Tomorrow being Wednesday, the whatever the hell it is in September, for those of you listening to this.
Mike: …September. Today’s the 9th so tomorrow’s the 10th.
Mark: September 10th Ken Linsner goes up on our website and his perspectives are always interesting. He’s a staple in the Iron Game literature for the past 45 years, and we’re proud to feature him on the website as well as writing by our Coaches, by the Starting Strength Coach community and videos and all kinds of stuff. It’s a big website…
Mike: Yeah, it’s a great resource.
Mark: Startingstrenght.com, it’s where I’m at.
Mike: Awesome. It’s a great resource. Definitely a site I recommend that everybody check out and frequent regularly to get good, no‑bullshit advice.
Thanks again for taking the time, Mark, and…
Mark: It was a pleasure, Mike. I enjoyed it.
Mike: …I’m excited for the follow‑up.
Mark: We’ll do it again.
Mike: Hey, it’s Mike again. Hope you liked the podcast. If you did, go ahead and subscribe. I put out new episodes every week or two where I talk about all kinds of things related to health and fitness and general wellness. Also, head over to my website at www.muscleforlife.com where you’ll find not only past episodes of the podcast but you’ll also find a bunch of different articles that I’ve written.
I release a new one almost every day, actually. I release four to six articles a week. You can also find my books and everything else that I’m involved in over at muscleforlife.com. Thanks again. Bye.