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CNS Fatigue

The term CNS fatigue is often used interchangeably with other words where overtraining, fatigue, or something more general might be more accurate. Everyone who gets tired these days thinks their central nervous system is fried, and many have never stressed the CNS a day in their lives.

The nervous system can certainly burn out; this is fairly well-established in science. The chemistry of the nervous system can get depleted, the ability to create strong and fast impulses for the muscles decreases, timing and coordination suffer, force production suffers and progress grinds to a halt.

The exercises that really bang on the CNS—demand a lot of nervous impulse—are not squats or bench presses, but are exercises done with focused effort and straining, done reactively with speed, and those that are complex and have a high skill component.

Throwing a medicine ball for distance is pretty CNS-intensive. Kettlebell snatches, despite the light weights when compared with barbell snatches, are CNS-intensive. Gironda-style 8×8 training with the squat is horribly hard, but the CNS isn’t the main sufferer there.

The ratio of testosterone to cortisol coming from the adrenals is considered a reliable measure of overtraining. But what would the adrenals have to do specifically with CNS fatigue?

No one knows exactly what causes nervous system fatigue. People sometimes use the term CNS fatigue as a brainy sounding synonym for overtrained, but the two aren’t exactly the same.

The gist of it is fatigue has a nervous system component. In momentary fatigue, like at the end of a set, the nervous system tires and the muscles can’t keep adequately firing to continue the effort at peak level. In fatigue over days and weeks, the nervous system can’t recover its full capabilities between workouts.

Both the peripheral and central nervous system are involved, but CNS fatigue affects the whole system. You can’t train your nervous system on a split routine because you only have one brain.

When You Have A Shoulder Injury

A shoulder injury effects movement action from the top down. No body movement is normal when a shoulder injury is present, including walking or running.

There are many ways to injure your shoulders, even if you’re strong, maybe even especially if you’re strong.

It takes more than the four muscles of the rotator cuff to develop a strong and stable shoulder. You can’t simply conclude your rotator cuff is weak because your shoulder’s injured. Some rotator cuff problems may be inevitable, but many or perhaps most can be prevented. If you can correct your shoulder function to relieve an impingement, you can save yourself an awful lot of trouble.

Very few people with shoulder pain need surgery, and most people respond quickly to a good therapy plan. First things first—don’t do anything to make it worse! If it hurts, don’t do it.

Second thing second, have it looked at by a professional. An athletic trainer, physical therapist, doctor or chiropractor are the first people to see.

If you are without health insurance, go to the best chiropractor you can find, hopefully one who treats athletes and doesn’t focus the whole practice on back injuries. If you get a sales pitch about coming in three times a week for the next four years before your shoulder has been examined thoroughly, you haven’t found a good chiropractor.

Some states allow direct access to physical therapists these days, and if that’s the case in your state, a physical therapist will often be the best option.

A PT or chiropractor will take a fraction of the time and money involved in getting in with an orthopod, getting examined and going through the medical process. Of course, if surgery is necessary, the PT or chiro is going to refer you to an orthopod, but if you don’t push and make it worse, you can often bypass that step. Mild shoulder injuries are very common and heal up well if you do some smart therapy before things get worse.

First off, when in pain, going to a good doctor is always the best thing; a good one is pure gold. But insurance and proximity aside, getting to a good one can be difficult. There are many orthopods who never see a shoulder they wouldn’t operate on. Many doctors, although incredibly expert in their specialties, are not all that expert with conservative or therapeutic measures.

Very often, conservative measures are not pursued. And to be frank, the conservative measures are such a pain and patients often don’t follow through, it’s never going to be the business that surgery is. Many doctors make a token effort at trying conservative treatment first, and few will turn over every stone before resorting to surgery. The fault for this is spread wide, and includes the docs who like to do surgery, medical setups and insurance, and us for not doing what needs to be done when we get medical advice we don’t care for.

The consensus among good chiropractors and PTs who treat athletes is that common shoulder problems respond really well to conservative, therapeutic measures. And some of these clinicians are getting those results with very basic resting, stretching and strengthening treatments.

Don’t wait until you can’t move or pain is waking you up at night. One doctor told us if your shoulder wakes you up at night, you better quit lifting entirely until you have addressed the problem. You’re in the danger zone.

Shoulder Impingement

Acromion Types

If you’ve had long-lasting problems on both sides, it’s pretty likely you have a sharper shape in your acromion, that bone in the shoulder joint. If this is true, it makes you more susceptible to the rubbing pain of impingement. We all have some impingement, but those with sharper shaped acromions have higher tendency toward pain or even tears from it, and these people should be attentive to avoid impingement-causing exercises.

Type 1 is the most open of acromion types; type 2 is slightly closed; type 3 is the most closed, what physical therapists call beaked. The beaked acromion is a problem because the beak of the bone sort of saws at the rotator cuff tendon when the space in the joint is compromised. This is a potential problem for everyone, but it’s worse when the bone is longer and pointier than average.


If the shoulder is making a pop at the same spot in each rep of an exercise, it’s usually impingement—connective tissue is rubbing the wrong way, sliding over a bump of bone or some other abrasion on the connective tissue. The tendon is pulled tight as it slides over bone and makes a strumming sound as it goes over a corner or nub in the bone. The abrasion will wear away at the tendon and can cause injury over time.

This is not a good thing to work through. If it hurts, stop doing it. If it clicks, stop doing it. Get the shoulder looked at by a medical professional. There’s an excellent chance physical therapy alone will eliminate the impingement. If you can do it before the soft tissue is damaged, you may be none the worse for the wear.

When the internal rotators are tight or the external rotators are weak, the shoulder gets pulled into the impingement position. The internal rotators are the pectorals, the lats and the subscapularis—these usually need stretching. The external rotators, which generally need strengthening, are the infraspinatis, teres minor and the supraspinatis. Many times, just working hard on rows to the sternum will help ease an impingement. It can’t hurt to try just working your rows hard.

Some of the things that will open up the joint and keep the bone off the tendon:

  • stretching the pecs, lats and traps
  • strengthening the external rotators, lower traps and serratus
  • mobilizing the thoracic spine

Another complication leading to impingement is scapulae that don’t move properly in concert with the arms. Strengthening the serratus and lower traps provides a base for healthy movement, but we also need to learn to move the right way, which may take some doing if the bad habits are ingrained. Impingement happens when the bones are out of the proper positions during movement. That is what impingement is, soft tissue pinched between the bones. If the bones were moving well, they wouldn’t pinch the soft tissue.

The suprapsinatus muscle passes through a little slot between the bones. If you have weaknesses, tightnesses or imbalances in the shoulder, the bones get pulled into a position where they ding the supraspinatis. That is impingement.

When the thoracic spine is not mobile—when it’s stiff and unable to extend—the shoulders again get pulled into a bad position. There are deep muscles in the upper back that extend the thoracic spine. Rolling on a foam roller is a good first step to get the area moving.

Impingement happens when the bones are out of their proper positions during movement.  In many cases the soft tissue damage is of the tendons at the insertion of the rotator cuff muscles.

What most people need to do to avoid impingement: Strengthen what’s weak, stretch what’s tight, re-learn how to move the arm, and avoid hazards.

Benching: A Major Cause of Shoulder Problems

Shoulder Joint Stabilization

There is some confusion between the idea of the role of stabilizers an airplane and a stabilizer for a joint. The stabilizer muscles for the shoulder joint, for example, are not designed to keep a barbell from wobbling. That is more a function of balance, kinesthetics and proprioception.

The stabilizers are the muscles that help hold the joint together. The glenohumeral shoulder joint is the most mobile, and the least stable joint in the body. The structure of the ball and socket joint isn’t what you might picture; it’s more like a golf ball resting on a tee. The connective tissue of the shoulder joint is aided by the muscles that surround the joint to achieve stability.

Now for the gym rats we get to the important issue: When doing a bench press, the muscles of the rotator cuff must work very hard to hold the joint together as if to keep the golf ball on the tee… and it’s working under duress.

A Big Cause of Shoulder Problems

The supraspinatus is often what takes the beating when shoulder function is off in any way. However, just doing an exercise for the supraspanitus would be missing the point, and possibly exacerbating a tear. The cause of a shoulder problem could be any combination of—

Tight wrists
Tight pecs
Tight lats
Tight traps
Excessive kyphosis
Weak lower traps
Tight rhomboids
Weak serratus
Weak external rotators
Tight subscapularis
Tight scalenes

… or, just doing exercises that put the joint in an impingement position. For example, upright rows basically chop and saw away at the tendon in the top position.

An unbalanced shoulder will be an unhealthy shoulder before long, and that will hold you back in any sport, bodybuilding, powerlifting… everything.

Reducing Tightness

For the whole imbalance issue, stretching the pecs is fully half the answer. Tightness in the pecs will hold back your efforts to strengthen the upper back.

Foam rolling the upper back will help loosen up the thoracic spine.

Developing the muscles that extend the upper spine will help, too. Do a good amount of overhead work, and work hard on your horizontal rows. Not all types of rowing will help; you want to do it as a whole-back exercise, not a lat exercise. This doesn’t mean cheat your rows, quite the contrary. The best thing you can do is probably strict barbell rows. Pendlay-style rows are especially good and emphasize the extension of the upper back.

The overhead position is going to be really rough on the joint if you don’t let the shoulder blade move forward as the serratus contracts, which creates some space for the tendon when as the arm rises. This is going to be bad if a lack of thoracic extension has you hunched forward.

Movement Sequencing

Physical therapists refer to scapulo-humeral rhythm, which is the coordinated movement of the shoulder blade and arm, an important part of healthy shoulder function. It helps ensure the joint space isn’t closed at certain points in the range of motion; that is, it prevents impingement, which we’ll talk about next week.

In a natural athlete with no issues or problems, it’s something that just happens, nothing to think about it. If an injury or imbalance has corrupted that pattern, or you’ve worked a movement that undoes that pattern, it’s going to take some re-learning to restore it.

Bench pressing is one of the things that really turns that pattern off, especially if you do a lot of benching and not much overhead work, or maybe push-ups or general athletics or even physical labor that keeps the pattern alive.

In bench pressing your shoulder blades are squashed against a bench and they aren’t going to move much whatever you do. You can bench more if you immobilize the shoulder blades, but the idea there isn’t to make your shoulder healthy, it’s to bench more.

As you can see, bench pressing is an example of how we take a powerful exercise too far, and over time it causes systemic problems in how we move. There are other examples of sequencing that we’ll discuss later, but it’s hard to beat the image of immobile shoulder blades when benching.

The lesson this week is simple: Limit bench pressing, as much as you love it, or at the very least, offset the bench work with horizontal rows (basically the opposite of the bench), and overhead pressing. Next, let’s cover shoulder impingements.

Basic Shoulder Health

When looking at shoulders in terms of joint mobility and stability, we need to split up the idea of the shoulder girdle, because the scapula requires stability, while the glenohumeral joint requires mobility.

When there’s tightness in key areas, the shoulders give up stability to provide adequate movement in your hands, arms and thorax. Without stability in the shoulders, you’re on a sure path to injury, so until you’re flexible a body segment away from the shoulder joints, your efforts to stay sound and get strong will only get you so far. To help assure basic shoulder function, stretch the wrists, pecs, lats and subscapularis until you have at least adequate flexibility, and plan on doing a few basic stretches for life.

Strengthen the rotator cuff and the muscles that control the scapulae using a wide variety of exercises. If the exercises you’re using aren’t having the desired results, try others. Work as hard on upper back and shoulder stabilizer strength as you do on pecs and biceps.

Input from the Serratus

A winging scapula, that flaring of the shoulder blade that’s supposed to be flat against the back of the rib cage, is caused by a weak serratus, or a habitually lazy one. The serratus muscle pulls and rotates the shoulder blade downward, and when it isn’t working right, the edge of the shoulder blade drifts up and flares out. Regular work on the serratus is imperative.

There are many misconceptions among weight trainers about what works the serratus. For example, the pullover, which has long been considered part-serratus exercise, doesn’t work the serratus much, if at all. You can contract your serratus while doing pullovers, but that isn’t really the motion that works it. On the contrary, the basic movement that really develops the serratus is the overhead press, preferably standing.

Bench pressing can contribute to a dysfunctional serratus. Normally when you push in the horizontal plane, the serratus and the pecs, delts and triceps work together. The shoulder girdle is extended forward along with the arm. When lying on a bench, things go awry. The shoulder blade is squashed against the bench under the combined weight of the body and the bar, and it can’t move freely. Additionally, the ‘goal’ of the bench is to lock out the arms, not to get the bar as high as possible, meaning the serratus isn’t used to extend the shoulder girdle.

To further illustrate this, the serratus is sometimes called the boxer’s muscle, as it gets very well developed by boxing. Boxing requires a natural, full extension of the arm and shoulder girdle in concert for maximum reach and power.

To get the serratus back in gear, an isolation exercise is often the first step. The best one is probably shrugs done on an incline bench, or done standing with the bar overhead. If you have a problem on one side, it makes sense to do it with two dumbbells or kettlebells, or one hand at a time.

Another good exercise is called the push-up plus, or scap push-up. This is like a regular push-up, but you push past the plank position so the top of your back goes as high as possible. Try a regular push-up and then try a push-up plus, and you’ll feel the difference between a press and a full extension of the shoulder. Get into a push-up position and, keeping your elbows locked, push the back of your shoulders up as high as possible for reps. It’s like a shrug; the only motion is in the shoulder girdle. This is an excellent introductory corrective exercise for scapular stability.

When your serratus is functional, the overhead press is probably adequate to keep it strong and healthy.

Next week we’ll talk more about shoulder joint stabilization.

The Shoulders


In bodybuilding, shoulders mean deltoids, but that’s not the case in sports nor when thinking of  healthy joint stabilization. The shoulder is an extremely complex joint. It is by design the most mobile and least stable joint in the body. Very small changes can change the mechanical function and can cause problems.

The muscles that stabilize and support the joint are primarily the rotator cuff muscles and the scapular stabilizers, the rhomboids, traps and serratus. Let’s talk a little about these elements of what’s commonly called the shoulder girdle, but what’s more like a yoke that includes the clavicles that attach at the sternum, the glenohumeral joint, which is the ball-and-socket shoulder joint, and the scapulae, otherwise known as the shoulder blades.

The Rotator Cuff

The introduction most gym trainees get about shoulder health are instructions to do internal and external tubing exercises for the rotator cuff. Strengthening the rotator cuff muscles is often a good idea, but by no means is it a guarantee of optimal shoulder mechanics. You’ll never have proper shoulder mechanics with a weak rotator cuff—rotator cuff work is necessary, but it’s not sufficient.

Often you’ll see the rotator cuff referred to as tendons, but don’t rule out a rotator cuff muscle as the root cause of a problem. In fact, most of the damage that gets done by the bones fraying the tendon is originally because of a muscle problem.

Regarding the rotator cuff, the current thinking in physical therapy involves several steps to get back to good function. The first steps involve healing the individual muscles, restoring strength and range of motion, and getting them to neurologically fire well. The little isolation exercises do this, and physical therapy is where we learned those tubing exercises.

The next step is to relearn the motor patterns that cause these muscles work in concert with the whole body. Compound exercises are good, and exercises that make extra demands on stabilization may help a lot.

How Rotator Cuff Structures Get Injured

The rotator cuff muscles get beat up for two reasons. First, they’re little muscles with a big job, and second, they’re in a position where the joint will literally grind them up if the shoulder isn’t functioning properly. This grinding is called impingement. If you hear a click or pop every time you hit a certain point in a movement, it might be impingement and you’re wise to address it because over time that little abrasion can cause big trouble.

Strong rotator cuff muscles will be better able to do their jobs without getting injured from the strain, and will help keep the shoulder moving properly. But strong external rotators alone do not insure healthy shoulder movement.

If you’re not flexible in the pectorals, you’re going to have trouble. And the muscles that control the scapulae have to be sufficiently strong—meaning the rhomboids, mid and lower traps and serratus. And finally, even if everything is strong and sufficiently loose, if your coordinating motor patterns aren’t sequencing well, you still might have trouble.

First, consider this: If your rotator cuff is injured, you may need to wait before you strengthen it. See a doctor;  make sure there’s nothing torn that needs repair. You may get sent to a physical therapist if passive movement is in order.

How We Strengthen the Rotator Cuff

Ultimately, most people will have to do direct work to maintain adequate strength in the stabilizers. For one thing, if you aren’t doing elbows-out rows, you might not be hitting the rotator cuff much. Even if you are, there’s an excellent chance the big prime movers will get ahead of the stabilizers and wind up doing more than their share of the work, leaving the rotator cuff muscles lacking. The odds that all four of the rotator cuff muscles will be strengthened enough to adequately support the shoulder just by doing row are  small.

There are two ways to go. One is to periodically test the rotator cuff for strength, making sure adequate strength and range of motion is there in all the various positions. Then do exercises to bring up the weak points as necessary. The other is to just do some rotator cuff work. Since we’re talking about 10 minutes a week, just doing a bit of it is easy enough.

Rotator cuff strength is normally tested by seeing how much weight can be handled in direct rotator cuff exercises. Ideally, rather than look at that number in a vacuum, it would be compared to strength in compound upper-body exercises, which we’ll cover in another segment.

The rotator cuff external rotation exercises are just a small part of keeping a healthy shoulder, and are not the be-all answer you might expect as you see your gym mates grabbing the tubing to warm up before every training session.

Next: Basic Shoulder Health

Dave Draper Furniture

Dave Draper Gun Cabinet

People often ask about Dave’s furniture building days, and if we have any pictures of what he built.

Well, turns out we did. Here, have a look:
Dave Draper Furniture Gallery

The Pendlay Barbell Row

The dangerous point in the exercise is the turnaround point at the bottom. If you start every row from at-rest on the floor (aka Pendlay Rows, named for strength coach Glenn Pendlay) and drop them rather than lower them, they are pretty mild on the low back. This style is called row pulls, and with them bumper plates are helpful.

Here are two variations of the Pendlay row—

  • One, arch and extend your upper back; this might take some experimenting to figure out, but it makes a big difference.


  • Two, pull dynamically from a dead stop on the floor, kind of like a clean, not ripping it off the floor, but accelerating. Pull hard into the chest, then let the weight drop at a free fall, using no eccentric effort in the lowering of the weight. This is mainly to spare the low back. This style lends itself to low reps and heavy weights.

Pendlay-style barbell rows teach the whole back to work in concert. The lats act not only on the arm; they also stabilize the spine. The motion of the scapulae is synchronized with the movement of the arm, an important motor pattern to reinforce for shoulder health. It’s another example where the ground-based, closed-chain, natural movement wins every time. It restores mobility to the thoracic spine.

Squeeze at the midpoint means to really pull the bar hard into your chest at the top of the barbell row. Don’t just sit back let momentum carry it from the midpoint to graze you at the top, keep pulling!

Do bentover rows totally strict, bent over so the torso is parallel to the floor, knees unlocked, keeping everything still but the arms, back perfectly flat, weight on the heels. You have to have a surprising degree of hamstring flexibility to do them flat-backed. It will help to warm up and stretch the hamstrings good before you begin.

If you’re too tight for good form, develop the necessary flexibility before working this exercise.

Barbell Rowing Form

Form is extremely important with barbell rows. The most important form point is to keep a flat lower back. This will require quite a bit of flexibility in the hamstrings, and good core strength and stability in the bentover position. You must develop these prerequisites before attempting barbell rows… or T-bar rows, or seated pulley rows.

There are a lot of don’ts with barbell rows.

  • Don’t try to modify your form so the exercise will emphasize lat development. It will develop the lats without any fiddling.
  • Don’t emulate the form some of the monsters use in photo shoots for bodybuilding magazines. You’ll typically see these guys with five hundred pounds, barely bent over, with very little range of motion. Stick to the truly bentover form.
  • Don’t use too narrow of a grip. Use a fairly wide grip, keep your trunk pretty much parallel to the ground, and pull the bar to the lower chest.
  • Don’t use too much thrust. With heavy weights, a little thrust might be okay.
  • Don’t cut the rep range short. Start each rep with the bar resting on the ground, with acceleration, and emphasizing arching your upper back.

The number one thing to consider in bentover barbell rows is putting the bar down between reps. This is much like resetting between reps of the deadlift, but has even more of a back-sparing effect.

The physics are simple: The weight on the bar is the force required to move it when it is sitting still on the floor. Once it starts moving, it is a different story. When doing rows the usual way, the forces involved are highest at the bottom, at the turnaround point. The force required to stop the downward motion of the weight and reverse it is much more than the weight on the bar. This is exactly why the needle on a scale goes well past your weight when you first step on the scale. This is also the most vulnerable position for the lumbar spine. It is mainly an eccentric action, where our muscle soreness comes from,  that has to brake the fall of the weight.

By letting the bar rest on the floor, you are letting the downward momentum of the weight dissipate into the floor, sparing the low back. You don’t have to drop the weight in a free fall to get the benefit. You also have a second to re-set the core, which is a big help.

Beyond that, the spinal motion is to have no motion in the lumbar spine, but some flexion and extension of the thoracic spine. In the bottom position, you can let the upper back round over some; in the top position, you actively extend and arch the thoracic spine. In this respect, Glenn Pendlay was ahead of the crowd on the idea of lumbar stability and thoracic mobility.

There is a lot to be aware of here. First you’re picking it off the floor and paying attention to the weight and how it’s transferred through the back and legs and feet, to the floor; then you’re paying attention to the shoulder blades and thoracic spine. This is a lot of attention.

The height of the bar is important. Bumpers, which are 17 inches in diameter,  will work fine. Don’t jerk it off the ground; that’s not necessary. Just keep pulling harder and harder, so the bar accelerates.

Do bentover rows totally strict, bent over so the torso is parallel to the floor, knees unlocked, keeping everything still but the arms, back perfectly flat, weight on the heels. You need a surprising degree of hamstring flexibility to do them flat-backed. It will help to warm up and stretch the hamstrings well before you begin. If you’re too tight for good form, develop the necessary flexibility before working that exercise.

The underhand grip for the bentover barbell row will probably force you to keep your elbows tucked in close. This will lead to more lat work and less middle and upper back work. If you rely on rowing more for upper back work, do them more Draper-style, overhand, wider grip, elbows out a bit. If you’re hoping rows will keep your shoulders healthy, you probably want the Draper method.

The looser you row, the harder it is going to be on the lower back. If you use a lot of hip thrust, you’re going to use more weight. The low back is involved with the hip thrust, so there’s more strain on the low back.

If you just stay more upright, with no thrust, you’re still going to use more weigh. Whether the easier angle and less momentum is cancelled out by the heavier weight, it’s hard to say. Those stooped-over rows, where your trunk is barely past 45 degrees as you pull into your stomach, are just a partial movement, and there’s not much going for them.

The hardest part of rows for the lower back is the turnaround at the bottom. If you can drop your weights rather than lowering them under control, it makes the movement much easier on the low back, yet another good reason to train somewhere with bumpers.

The Pendlay Row reduces the low back strain considerably. The hardest part for the low back is the turnaround point, where you stop lowering and start lifting. By letting it down on the floor, you deload the turnaround.

There are a lot of exercises that can strengthen your low back for rows, but arguably none is better than doing the rows with the core locked and using a weight you can handle. If you lock your core properly, keep it that way, and don’t use more weight than you can with the core locked, your back will be fine.

The way Dave does barbell rows is pretty similar to the row Glenn Pendlay teaches. You may not have seen his rowing description, so here’s a simple overview of the two Pendlay variations.

Bentover Barbell Rows

Chins develop the lats, which are the largest single muscle in the back and create the dramatic wing-like appearance. Rows develop the whole back. There are dozens of muscles on the backside.

Developing all these muscles rather than just lats is of interest to bodybuilders; it’s what separates a thick, beefy back from a broad, flat back. More importantly, developing all these muscles is crucial for athletes and for general fitness. It balances the shoulder joint in ways that chins or pulldowns do not.

The bentover row will help the shoulders by developing the upper back, especially if you don’t try to emphasize the lats. Instead, emphasize arching your upper back. There is no real ratio with the bentover row, just get as strong as possible, and make it your main pull. Not cable rows, not dumbbell rows… accept no substitutes: the barbell bentover row.

In bentover rows, your torso should be horizontal. A medium-width grip is about right for making the lats do a lot of the work. Retracting the scapulae will probably make the lats work harder, but it will do so at the expense of shoulder health over the long term.

The natural movement of the shoulder involves a rhythm of motion; the shoulder blade moves in relation to the ribcage and torso in concert with the movement of the arm. By deliberately retracting the scapulae, you’re turning off this natural rhythm and eventually you’ll train yourself out of it. This is basically what frozen shoulder is all about.

Keeping the elbows tucked into your sides with a closer grip and pulling to the abdomen makes them mostly a lat exercise. Doing them with a barbell, shoulder-width grip or wider, and pulling to the sternum and arching the upper back is a whole back exercise.

Trying to turn rows into a lat exercise and less of an overall back exercise is a big mistake. Rows can make your whole back complete. Never mind appearance, it’s important for overall strength and healthy shoulders.

Click here to learn about barbell row form.

Gray Cook on Squat Devices

There are a variety of assistive squat devices on the market, and I thought it would be interesting to get Gray Cook’s take on how each of them work. Here’s his response to my request. ~Laree


GRAY: Sure, Laree, I have some thoughts on these devices, but first, you better than most know I have to open with the following statement: We don’t load the squat without screening it first.

These devices miss a key aspect of squatting—we need to make sure there’s no dysfunction first. If a person gets a ‘1’ on the squat screen, there’s a potential for injury…with or without a squat assistance device. We have to help the person fit the squat motion before we try to make the squat motion fit the person.

Unfortunately, the individual with the ‘1’ on the squat movement pattern will disregard this information and migrate to any and all tricks and devices that make the squat feel less awkward. The thinking behind this person’s action is that more must be better—more sets, more reps, more weight.

Another thing to remember is this odd thought: Even the absence of dysfunction doesn’t mean we need perfection.

I know you’ve learned a lot about screening from our conversations, and I’ll bet your readers will benefit from it too. They can go to functionalmovement.com to learn more or to find a local certified FMS specialist.

Now then, here’s how these devices help make the squat fit the person.

Manta Ray, $44.95
The main idea behind the manta ray is to spread the weight across more surface area than the bar does alone. It also raises the bar higher off the back, higher even than a high-bar squat, which changes the weight distribution, shifting the load slightly forward toward a more upright, quad-dominant squat.

Top Squat, $199
The top squat spreads the weight similar to the manta ray, but the real purpose of this unit is simply to get the hands in front of the body, mainly for people with shoulder problems.  Because you’re attaching something to a bar, the weight again sits a little higher than a plain bar. However, when letting the handles move as designed, the bar is in a lower position during the squat. This keeps the body more upright than a low-bar powerlifting squat.

Westside Cambered Squat Bar, $380
A favorite among powerlifters, a cambered bar can be used for squatting and good mornings—some cambered bars are even used for bench pressing. The benefit of this bar in squatting is the ability to grip about a foot lower than the bar.

Safety Squat Bar, $395
The Safety Squat Bar is also mostly used by powerlifters, usually in a special power rack that has handles. The idea here is to get the hands off the bar and onto the handles, to help keep the back straight by putting pressure against the rack. This also provides a sort of self-spotting ability to self-correct during the movement—you can use your hands to help position yourself.

Buffalo Bar, $589.95
The Buffalo Bar is the modern version of the slightly bent squat bar, popular among squatters for decades. The IronMind bar is slightly heavier, slightly longer and slightly thicker than a regular Olympic bar. This makes it a favorite among bigger guys because there’s more space between the collars.

Frank Zane Leg Blaster, $650
Frank Zane’s Leg Blaster is more similar to a front squat or even Dan John’s goblet squat than a traditional back squat. This harness unit brings the load both forward and down, and  allows a hands-free or assisted squat, and would be useful for bodybuilders to isolate the quads more than the regular squat motion.

Additional Thoughts

Supplementation with squat patterning on ‘off’ days will actually provide an advantage. Here we get the benefit of a rest and recovery day, with the refinement and efficiency of patterning work. All these can offer rest to a cranky shoulder and refinement to everything under the shoulder. And before we get too complicated, don’t forget Dan John’s simple goblet squat, or partner squats if you happen to have a partner like one of these guys around.


Drill 1—Work on The Pistol

Pavel Tsatsouline’s book The Naked Warrior discusses the development of a pistol or single-leg squat to demonstrate fundamental strength, balance and symmetry between the left and right sides of the body. He employs many tricks to help develop the pistol; common examples are a heel lift to move the weight forward and a box to limit depth.

I recommend doing a pistol on a hill. To begin, lie with your feet downhill. Bring your legs up—knees to chest—and quickly sit up into a pistol stance, one foot down and one foot out, and then use the momentum to stand. You will gain a heavy-day advantage over your competition because you will own more alignment, symmetry and core control.


Drill 2—Log Squat

This is not across-the-shoulders Rocky Balboa style, but instead the log is balanced on one shoulder. The feedback is amazing and the self-limiting aspect is huge. This teaches the squatter that sometimes the body is aligned in such a way that the shoulder is out of position. The drill should be done on the left and right sides. Half to two-thirds body weight is a good starting point, but don’t be afraid to go heavy.

Here, let me show you what it looks like in this clip the Exploring Functional Movement DVD, where Erwan Le Corre and I discuss unbalanced squatting.

Drill 3—Wide-Stance Deadlift

For this we use a really wide stance, with the hands shoulder-width apart, inside the knees. From the side this deadlift almost looks like a squat. Pull your shoulders back; your lats are engaged and your knees should be out—don’t let them cave in; they will if you don’t pay attention. This has all the benefits of a parallel back squat with no pressure on the shoulders. The bonus here is the traction on the shoulders has a rehab effect on the shoulder stabilizers and shoulder-girdle posture.

Thanks again for inviting me in on this discussion, Laree. See you at Perform Better Long Beach in August!







Larry Scott, RIP March 8, 2014

There is not one bodybuilder, past or present, who generated more excitement and admiration when on the posing platform than Larry Scott. He captured the crowd with his magnificent physique and magnetic charm and the fans idolized the man. Wicked Willie from the IronOnline forum describes Larry’s ability to woo the crowd in this first hand account of the Legend in action.

“I remember seeing Larry Scott guest pose at one of the Michigan contests I used to attend. Can’t remember the year or contest, but Scott…what could be said? Larry Scott was well into his comeback to the posing dais.

“The man literally had the house in the palm of his hand. He was just a bit off his Mr. Olympia form…the arms were probably 18 – 19 inches, rather than twenty. However, no one seemed to notice…the over all form was there. The hair was there (albeit starting to thin,) the signature poses were done, the famous Scott smile was there. Michigan crowds are tough crowds. Don’t show up out of shape for your guest shot…they won’t stand for it. Don’t pose and run…they’re liable to tackle you in the parking lot. Don’t give glib answers to questions or they’ll shout you down.

“Larry showed up in shape…and the crowd loved it. I can only think of one other time when so many flashbulbs were going off…and that was for Viator. Scott was very articulate and answered all questions patiently. You could have heard a pin drop…and that was unusual. He appeared to be very humble and enjoyed the adulation of the audience, thanking them several times.

“I’ve seen Oliva, Zane, Mentzer, Draper, Ross, Platz and Viator…but none captured and held the crowd like Larry Scott.”

“Humility, not arrogance is the true mark of a champion.” Larry Scott

A Vince Gironda protégé, Larry as a child was small of stature and narrow shouldered. Under the guidance of Vince Gironda, Larry transformed his body into an all time classic physique. Larry followed a strict nutrition protocol which included the famous Rheo Blair protein drink. Although not the first bodybuilder to follow a strict nutrition regimen, when Larry preached the importance of nutrition and bodybuilding, people listened. The Preacher/Scott Bench, the down the rack protocol for deltoid development, the volatile yet close relationship with trainer Vince Gironda, Clint Eastwood, Rheo Blair and Larry’s training routines…it’s all here in Alan Palmieri’s article on Larry Scott, the first Mr. America, Mr. Universe, and two-time Mr. Olympia winner. This one from IronMan is a beefy one, too.

This is the IronMan Magazine tribute to Larry.

Ready to put the burn on those abs? Check out Larry’ Scott’s Ring of Fire instructions.

“Larry never missed a workout.” ~Vince Gironda

* Here is an excerpt from Larry’s book, Loaded Guns

* This is a sweet article on Larry Scott by David Gentile

* From Dave’s book Brother Iron Sister Steel, here’s Dave’s memory of Larry’s win at the 1965 Mr. Olympia contest.

* This is a brilliant collection of photos of Larry

* Here you’ll find a Larry Scott tribute page from bodybuilder Richard Baldwin, with Larry’s magazine covers

* This is Larry’s profile on Bodybuilding.com, with some great photos

* Read Steve Cotter’s informative interview of Larry paralleling martial arts and bodybuilding with the Ring of Fire and the mind-muscle connection.

* This is Larry Scott’s wikipedia page.

* Larry died in Utah — here’s The Salt Lake City Tribune obituary

* And if you’ve got some time, here’s Larry talking about his life in bodybuilding:

Stanford, with Gray Cook & Stuart McGill


My history in the fitness field starts with powerlifting and bodybuilding beginning in 1980, and stretches through a 15-year gym ownership up until 10 years ago when the real movement learning began. If you stop for a second and imagine that, you’ll see a picture of average trainees most likely training badly — hard but badly — with few elite athletes in sight.

This has always been where my head goes when I think of the value of the Functional Movement Screen… as a tool for smart, eager-to-learn but average personal trainers working with physically average, happy-to-be-exercising adults.


And that’s why I get frustrated when all the conversation about the FMS is wrapped around injury prevention for elite athletes in sports and elite men in tactical careers. The value to all the rest of us gets left in the dust, looking unimportant.

I spent Saturday at Stanford University along with about 350 clinicians and strength coaches listening to eight hours of Gray Cook and Stuart McGill debating the use and research of the FMS. At one point, Gray said, “Once you get about 50 screens under your belt, you start to view movement differently.” Later, Stu said he thought the movement screen could be useful in teaching junior people.

Hello, personal trainers! Is this not EXACTLY who most of them are and what they need?


I want to give you another snapshot of my history that includes 10 years of chronic pain. One issue, either a symptom or a contributor and I’ll never know which, was that I never put my right heel on the floor — all the weight on the right side was on the forefoot. Someone who had a good eye for movement might have seen that, and I’m 100% positive the hurdle step screen would have caught it. I’d have been okay on the left and would have fallen over on the right.

There’s a real good chance a competent trainer using the FMS could have used the screen to create a program to fix some or most of my habitual, pain-contributing postures. This could have shaved off years of chronic pain, and later, years of directionless self-imposed corrective exercises.


There are far more personal trainers working with the general public than there are strength coaches working with elite athletes or clinicians working with rehabilitation patients. I’m pretty sure these dedicated trainers would fit nicely into Stu’s definition of junior people, and they could all benefit from learning to view movement differently. This is where I think the FMS works best, and I wish that was where more attention would go. I understand elite athletes are more interesting for researchers to work with, and certainly easier to funnel into studies, but in my opinion that’s not the most important use of the Functional Movement Screen.


Craig Liebenson (Event Promoter), Stuart McGill & Gray Cook


Here’s more on the event — because yes, we did film it.

Gray Cook: It Depends

Phillip Snell: Stanford Review

Dan John: Back from Stanford

Patrick Ward: Assessing Movement with Stuart McGill & Gray Cook

Bobby Maybee: Review from a Chiropractor

Rehab2Performance: Assessing Movement, A Contrast in Approaches & Future Directions

Kasey Esser: My Experience at the Assessing Movement Conference

Zuverman lands in Pennsylvania!

He’s listed as an ‘odd attraction’ in Roadside America, but we just know him as Zuverman, Bob Zuver’s gigantic representation of the members of Zuver’s Hall of Fame Gym. After Zuver’s closed, Zuverman made the trek to Oregon.

Just last week he added a cross-country trip to his travels, where he landed in Pennsylvania for a long stay.







Here’s the news story, direct from CBS Pittsburgh.

Dan John & Chip Conrad: Winning Combination

Dan John: A Systems Approach to Coaching & Training
Chip Conrad: How to Create a Holistic Athlete

What a winning combination!

Without intention, Dan and Chip’s lectures flow together so smoothly, you’ll think they planned this all winter. They successfully weave together Dan’s decades of experience and Chip’s study of physical culture and iron tradition, and come up with a delightful tapestry of thoughtful ideas you’ll ponder, and later use yourself and with your clients and athletes.

As always, this DVD includes a data folder that contains transcripts and audio files of both lectures, plus movementlectures.com audio lectures and excerpts from their recent books, Intervention and Lift with Your Head.

In this live-event lecture, strength coaches Dan John and Chip Conrad give us their newest ideas as they blend tradition and current thinking into substantial training results.

Dan and Chip are accomplished athletes, coaches, teachers and perhaps most importantly…thinkers. As they share what’s on their minds these days, you’ll find yourself stopping the video to ponder how to put this new material to use in your training or with your clients and athletes.

Never fear…they’ve got some ideas on that too.

Click here for more information

A Tribute to Jean Zuver

 8/27/1929-7/1/2013, Age 83
by her loving son, Bob

This is my tribute to my mother, things I should have said when she was still with us.

She was the strongest lady I knew growing up, always there for my brother and me.

And she was always there for Dad through all the years of hard work building Dad’s Dream Gym, Zuver’s. She was a huge part of Zuver’s history.

Jean was the wife of Big Bob Zuver and the mother of three sons: Rick Zuver, Robert Zuver, and from a previous marriage, Dan Casher. She was the grandmother of three, Bob Jr, Amber, and Rick’s daughter Kayley Ann, and had one great granddaughter, Catie, with another great grandchild due sometime in November.

She spent her life loving her family, her God, and her work in the fitness world, and stayed in great shape her whole life. At age 83, although she insisted she was 39 and holding, she would walk a half-mile every day to the store to buy a paper and whatever else she might need.

She loved life, reading and going out to eat with her friends from her church. Her big thrill was for my wife Jan and me to bring her to our place to visit, and for me to take her to the local casinos to play the slots. Funny, she was the luckiest person I ever knew, winning most of the time. God always blessed her that way.

She loved it when her grand kids would call or visit. She always had a smile on her face and was loved by all who met her.  I’m honored to be her son.

Even though I’m grieving deeply, I’m also smiling knowing that she passed away peacefully in her sleep and now is together with my dad and brother, and so many other great friends from the muscle world.

She is smiling down on us from her new home in the kingdom of God, and thanking all of you for being her friend.

Jan and I love you and miss you. God bless you, Mom, rest in peace.

Bob Zuver

This is something she wrote to us all in her own handwriting

She had a smile that touched our hearts.

She stayed in great shape her entire life. She could eat anything and never gain an inch of fat. Don’t we all wish we could be like that?

Little brother Rick, my dad and mom, together again with The Lord

Mom not too long ago, winning as always

Mom’s book, Getting Your Shape in Shape

She loved the camera and was good at working with it

Lorimer Moseley on Pain

When Craig Liebenson introduced me to Lorimer Moseley as a suggestion to film his Pain lecture at Jason Tonley’s Cynergy Education event, I was pleased. But I had no clue what a gift that would turn out to be.

I’d watched Lorimer’s TED talk, and knew he was smart and funny. At the time, I didn’t know what a contribution he and his team had made toward our current understanding of pain. And I definitely didn’t know how skilled he is at teaching such a complex topic…this guy is terrific!

Much of the material in the lecture is over my head–way over–and some of you may feel the same. But at an instant before my brain was about to slide off toward something distracting, Lorimer switched to storytelling. And if I thought he was smart, that was nothing compared to how masterful he is at stories.

Lorimer packed this talk with important information…facts, research and working theories we all need to know about how pain works. And he interspersed it with great stories to help us understand and teach pain science.

I loved working on this, and you’re going to love watching it…at least twice.

Here’s the link to more information, more video clips or to buy the DVD or digital video.

Personal Training in Commercial Gyms

In the initial years of commercial gyms, gym members taught each other what they knew. New members learned from old-timers. In the 1980s, gym owners demonstrated exercises, checked form and wrote programs in the first week as members signed up, then usually the old hands stepped in to help the newbies move toward intermediate status.

Those natural processes began to shift about the time we opened the World Gym Santa Cruz in 1989. Dave’s instinct after his long history from the New Jersey YMCA through the Dungeon and Joe Gold’s original gym was to set up the gym where the staff helped the members get started, and as needed over time.


But that wasn’t exactly what the members were looking for. Individualized personalized training was gaining traction and if people could afford it, that’s what they wanted.

We didn’t have a personal training program, and didn’t know how to put one in place. We had a few friends who did training for pay, and they became our gym’s trainers. This worked for them and for the members, which is good, but in hindsight I doubt if anyone thinks it was a good business plan for the gym.

After our first weekend with Thom Plummer, that depressing trip in 1994, over the course of the next few months we fixed nearly everything on his long list. But he didn’t have a fix-it for the personal training profit center. He and the gym owners he advised were testing different pricing structures and splits, but they hadn’t settled on anything.

Two years later when we went back for a refresher, the ideas were different, but they still hadn’t solidified into something that worked more often than not.

Today he has that answer. He knows how to structure pricing plans to suit the clientele, and to financially serve the gym. And he gives the basic outline in this new lecture dvd.

Thom Plummer, Fitness Business Expert

When you combine Dave’s 55-year history haunting various gyms around the world with his unusual insight into training flow to design a bodybuilding gym, the resulting space has all the allure of a ’60s Dungeon, only clean, open and light, with everything you need, right where you need it.

Unfortunately, even in the ’90s that wasn’t enough to build a successful business. Today, as most busy adults have moved away from the bodybuilding mindset, it’s even less likely to last out the first few years.

By the time we met Thom Plummer in the fall of 1994, he’d been studying successful fitness businesses for 15 years, and we’d been struggling with a failing one for five. Thom spent that San Francisco weekend destroying everything we thought we knew about the gym business, Dave with his legitimate study of gyms but not of business, and me with my cocky whatever.

Saturday night I was crushed with depression, crying in a hotel room overlooking Fisherman’s Wharf. I instantly knew he was right, but since just about everything we’d done was wrong, I had no idea where we’d start, and how we’d have the energy for it all. Those five years had wiped us out in all the important ways. We didn’t have much of anything left.

But by the time Thom wrapped things up Sunday evening, he’d given us a step-by-step plan, along with the inspiration to get back to work on Monday. Things went better for us from that day forward; one of our gyms went on to serve people for another 18 years, and the other is still going strong.

There hasn’t been a single time in the past 20 years as people asked me a question about building a gym, when I haven’t give the emphatic instruction to get to a Thom Plummer workshop BEFORE making another move.

Click here to learn more or place an order for Thom’s new DVD

Working with Thom comes first so you don’t have to rebuild everything the way we did. It’s the wrong move to spend all your money and bursting energy on your bullheaded ideas without first finding out what will actually work. And this is what Thom has spent his life learning. That’s what he teaches.

The business of fitness has changed a lot since that milestone San Francisco weekend. Thom’s been watching successes and failures, and has been guiding gym business owners through all the changes. I’m so thrilled to have been asked to be a part of sharing some of this with you. Let Thom help you make a success of your business.

How the money part works… matters.

“Anyone can build a gym: A space and a pile of equipment, mirrors and a desk. Hello—Try our two-for-one special, this week only. Very few can build a gym business, manage it and make it flourish. Thomas Plummer can, and he will tell you how and without fail or failure.”
~Dave Draper, Mr. America, Mr. World. Mr. Universe

Click here to learn more or place an order for Thom’s new DVD


50% Off Lectures You Might Like

I’m loving the work on movementlectures.com. I love the variety, love working with new people…love the whole idea of the downloadable products site.

But I know many of the lectures won’t be of interest to a big segment of the davedraper.com readers, so I thought I’d make note of some that should be relevant. And while I’m at it, let’s make a 50% off coupon for you: Enter the word DRAPER in the coupon box at the right side of the checkout at movementlectures.com, and you’ll get your selections at half off. The coupon expires in a week, so use it before Thursday, May 17, 2013.

Take a look at these and see what you think. I’m betting thumbs up.

^^Those are clickable links^^

Each lecture page has a couple of minutes of sample sound so you can get an idea of the lecture style.

Don’t forget the half-off coupon: Enter the word DRAPER in the coupon box at the right side of the checkout at movementlectures.com, and you’ll get your selections at half off. The coupon expires in a week, so use it before Thursday, May 17, 2013.

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