November 5, 2008

In This Issue

– Robertson Training Systems Updates
– Nutrition Tip
– Exclusive Interview with internet icon Steve Shafley
– Latest Articles and Blog Posts

Robertson Training Systems Updates

Friday is the last day to get the early-bird discount on the 2009 Australian Seminar Series!

Follow the link below to register.  I look forward to meeting many of you in February!

Centrality Home Page

New article up!

I had a new article go up at yesterday; you can find it by following the link below:

Developing Divine Delts

Diet and Nutrition Tip

Detail your dietary habits

When my wife or I asks a new client how their diet is, invariably they will tell you “not bad.”

Now I don’t want to be rude or condescending, but if your diet really wasn’t “that bad” and you work out “a couple times a week” you probably wouldn’t be coming to see us!

To get a really good idea of how well you’re eating, take a three day diet history and write down EVERYTHING you eat.  And even more importantly, be specific! There’s a big difference between one normal size chicken breasts and three servings of chicken fried chicken.  As well, there’s a big difference between one handful of nuts and five.  The more specific and detailed you are, the better.

It generally helps to do a three day diet history where at least one day you record is a weekend day.  This will give you a much better idea of what you’re really taking in on a daily basis, and should shed some light on how hard you need to work to get your diet in order once and for all!

Exclusive Interview: Steve Shafley

MR:  Steve, you’ve been an Internet icon for years now.  Please take a moment and introduce yourself to my readers.

SS:  I’m sure more than one of your newsletter readers are going to open up this newsletter and just recoil in disgust and unsubscribe.  Sorry about that, Mike.  Anyway, my name is Steve Shafley, and I am probably best known for being the co-owner of the Power and Bulk weight training community along with my good friend Bob Lipinski, and a general rabble-rouser, shit-stirrer, and hater-of-self-proclaimed-internet-lifting-gurus.  At one point, I liked to give a lot people a lot of shit, which included that fabulous internet pastime of trolling assorted forums, but that got old, like it always does, and now I just give people shit under my own name (which has led to the FBI and the Livingston County Police Department, which is Ann Arbor, MI, being called on me).  I figure if I’m going to say it, then it should be obvious where it’s coming from.

The P&B is one of the most venerable lifting communities online, having seen it’s first incarnation in 2000 or early 2001, and the core members and us owners have basically grown it organically into a community of people who just like to lift.  One of the foundations of the P&B is “compete”.  It doesn’t matter if you’re any good, show up, compete, and set some marks to improve next time.  And if you don’t, we don’t care, come out and have a beer with the competitors.

MR:  One of my goals with upcoming newsletters is to feature some in-the-trenches guys.  You have a unique background with regards to lifting and sports; could you fill us in a bit?

SS:  I did the usual sports in high school.  Played football, wrestled, and ran track.  I wasn’t bad, but wasn’t good enough to compete in college.  After I started college, I saw a flyer for the local rugby club and then met another player in the college rec. center gym, and just took off.

I played rugby for over ten years, having a good time every step of the way, and racking up a few injuries (broken nose, dinged up knee, dinged up shoulders).  I wasn’t a bad rugby player, and was invited to New Zealand to hone my skills, an opportunity I didn’t take, and I regret.  What rugby did for me though, was to get me interested in strength and conditioning, and I really started to cut my teeth on effective strength training during this time period.  It’s my opinion that effective S&C can make an athlete whom was an ‘also-ran’ into a contender.

After rugby was when the internet really started to take off, and I’d gotten pulled into doing some powerlifting meets and dabbling in strongman.  My friend Bob Lipinski started holding grip competitions and I regularly compete in those for the coveted title of “Michigan’s Weakest Hands”.  I’ve competed in one Olympic lifting meet, and, finally, completed the circuit last year when I took up the Highland Games.

The Highland Games is what I currently compete in, and I’m a mediocre “B” thrower.  What’s on the horizon is some of the kettlebell lifting stuff.  Kettlebell sport was initially abhorrent to me, but like some kind of viral infection, my interest grew until I’m pretty certain I will step on the platform at some time with it.

From lightest to heaviest I’ve gone from 170 lbs as a 19 year old rugby player to close to 300 lbs as a bulked up strongman type at 5’11”.  I’m now heading back down and am sitting at around 250 and slowly losing weight.  I’m coming up on 40, and my priorities are more about feeling good and being able to do things, rather than walking around big.

I’ve dabbled in a lot, and mastered little.  It’s a bit sad to admit that.

MR:  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with “dabbling.”  Along those same lines, I know you’ve trained with Dan John in the past.  Who are some of the people who have influenced you along the way?

SS:  The first institution to have a major influence upon my training aside from muscle mags and Robert Kennedy’s bodybuilding books was a company called “Health for Life”.  HFL put out courses like “Legendary Abs”, “Maximum Calves”, and “Total Neck and Traps”.  They also were some of the innovators in bringing prehab and rehab to the bodybuilding market with their “7 Minute Rotator Cuff Solution”.

I soon found out that bodybuilding, per se, wasn’t quite what I wanted to do for S&C purposes for rugby, and one of the other players who lifted gave me a copy of Bill Starr’s “The Strongest Shall Survive”.  It was very different in those days with no easy source of information like we have today…Starr’s book was, and still is, and excellent introduction. After that, I started reading Charles Poliquin’s articles in MuscleMedia2000, and the whole thing just kind of sprouted from there.  I do have a soft spot in my heart of Leo Costa, Jr.’s OTC company, since I made tremendous gains off of his “Big Beyond Belief” template.

Somewhere around 1998 I got on The Strength List, which was an email list of mostly powerlifters.  In 1999 I met Dan John online at a message board called “Old School Strength Training”, which was very popular then.  I have been influenced a lot by Dan John, both his philosophies of training and of life.  While I was powerlifting, I trained using a Westside Barbell Template, and I still read Louie Simmon’s materials as I come across them.

I hate mentioning it because it seems a bit silly to me nowadays, with all the FERN AND BUNNY talk, but Brooks Kubik’s Dinosaur Training was another one of those resources that fundamentally changed how I look at training.  While I’ve gotten away from much of that stuff, the principle of smart, hard work on the basics is really still at the core of my philosophy of effective training.

Lately, I’ve considered Steve Cotter and Ken Blackburn of the IKFF (International Kettlebell and Fitness Federation) both friends and mentors.  They’ve taken me back towards my athletic roots, and re-ignited an interest in movement skills and in redeveloping some of the mobility and fitness I’ve neglected along the way, which also should help my Highland throwing.  To reiterate what I said in the answer of an earlier question, I want to be able to do things, by which I mean I want to enjoy a broad range of activities with my family and friends, from lifting to canoeing, from hiking in the mountains, from turning a heavy caber to bodysurfing the waves of Lake Michigan.  I just hate to call it “functional”.

Like my good friend Lyle McDonald, I am information junky.  I read a tremendous amount of material on training, from books to blogs to ad copy.  I tend to confine my active participation to a few specific internet communities, though I will occasionally post in places where people are surprised to see me.  In my random regurgitation of thoughts, I’m sure I’ve forgotten more than a few people.  For example, Mike, I didn’t mention you or your buddy Eric Cressey or even Bill Hartmann, although I do try to keep up on those materials as well.  Lyle remains my go-to man for nutrition.

I’ve gotten to the point where if I don’t know something, I know who to ask about it, and I will, because I’d rather be playing fetch outside with the kids and dogs than looking up the intricacies of mTOR or the Futile Cycle.

MR:  Let’s switch gears and talk training a bit.  One of the lesser known strength sports is the Highland Games; what got you into that?

SS:  I’d been leaning that way for a long time, but I just needed a kick in the ass.  Many of the people I know best online are Highland Gamers, and successful ones.  In the summer of 2007, another local thrower started games in the area, and one of my lifting buddies basically bullied me into doing it, and I found I enjoyed it immensely.  So, now I have kilt, will travel.  Incidentally, that same buddy who bullied me into it just kicked my ass at a local hybrid throwing/strongman contest.  Nice job, Misterriddle!

MR:  For those who are unfamiliar with Highland Games, what are the primary differences between that, and say, a typical strongman event?

SS:  Throwing events are the purest expression of explosive power and skill, in my opinion even more pure than Olympic lifting.  It’s a single effort attempt and fast, with a load you can move very quickly.  In the Highland Games, a variety of implements are thrown.  There are the weights for distance, 28 lb and 56 lbs, there are two sizes of Scottish hammers, the 16 lb and the 22lb, there is a weight for height, the 56 lb, the caber, which is the log flipping that epitomizes the Highland games, both and Open stone and a Braemar stone throw (Open is any style, Braemar is without any movement of the feet), and the sheaf, which is a straw bag thrown over a standard using a pitchfork.  Not all events are contested at every games.  Contrast that to the heavy strength endurance that is needed for most of today’s strongman events (the farmers walk, Conan’s wheel, the Viking press, the log press for repetitions).  Many athletes do compete in both types of contests.  Overall, I think throwing is easier on the body.

MR:  However, it seems as though you’ve recently switched gears 180 degrees!  One of your latest training videos shows you performing the new RKC rep test.  Did you do any specific training to get ready for that?

SS: I have acquired a bit of a perverse fascination with kettlebell lifting, and it’s comprised most of my training over the past year.  This is the style of kettlebell lifting promoted by the American Kettlebell Club and the Honored Master of Sport Valery Fedorenko, and by the IKFF organization.  The bad thing about this is that without explosive and heavy barbell work, I have gotten weaker and less explosive systemically.

I tend to train like a competitive kettlebell lifter, in that I work for repetitions and time with a specific kettlebell size, focusing on going for the entire allotted time and pacing myself with only one hand switch for sets lasting 6-8 minutes, and doing a lot of training with the competitive kettlebell lifts (1 kettlebell snatch, 2 kettlebell jerk, 2 kettlebell clean and jerk) After I developed the ability to go ~4-6 minutes in the one kettlebell snatch with only one hand switch, the ability to perform the new RKC snatch test fell right in line, because you can switch hands as many times as you like.

There is a fundamental difference between the philosophy arising in the RKC program now and the way the competitive kettlebell lifters train, in that the RKC is growing into an entire “school of strength” where the kettlebell is only one component of it, and instead of lifting for maximal repetitions, they are seeking to maximize power development with the implement.

Now, despite being weaker and less explosive, the added fitness or GPP has made a lot of things that were previously difficult to do much easier.  In my case, this was a very dramatic improvement in a short period of time.  That’s the trade-off.  I’m hoping when I return to heavy lifting that the boost in work capacity carries over.

MR:  I’ll be attending the April RKC in Minneapolis myself.  Obviously, my training background lends itself to my (mediocre) powerlifting performance.  What advice would you give someone who is new to kettlebell lifting?

SS:   Patience.  Lifting heavy is instant gratification, you make the lift, or you don’t.  With the competitive style of kettlebell lifting, you’re lifting an object for 10 minutes, and you can’t put it down, and you can only change hands once during a snatch set.  It gets very uncomfortable very quickly.  Catherine Imes, one of the United State’s best women kettlebell lifters calls her blog “Getting Comfortable with Discomfort” and that pretty much says it all.  You need to be patient, work on effective and efficient technique, both in the actual lifting, but you also need to find ways to rest and regenerate in between repetitions.  This regeneration in between lifts is the specific special strength that is talked about in Eastern European literature about kettlebell lifting.  It was a big change in how I viewed my workouts.  Finding rest, especially in the two kettlebell jerk, is still very much a big issue for me.  Thinking in terms of 80 to 100 reps instead of 1 rep is about as far as it gets within a lifting sport.

MR:  Let’s talk a bit of philosophy.  If you had to summarize some of your primary thoughts on training, what would they be?

SS:   I’ve kind of come full circle and gotten away from getting too fancy.  Smart, hard work on the basic fundamental big movements with an intelligent management of volume.  Mastering a movement, both at lighter weights and when you’re pushing 90+% of your 1RM is necessary.  What’s the old saw?  1000 reps to perfect a movement?  That’s a good place to start, but 1000 reps of 135 lbs in the squat is much different than 1000 reps at 80-80% 1RM in the squat.

One thing that Dan John and I have talked about to excess is that a lifter seems to have about 3 weeks of hard lifting before he needs to back off for a week.  You might be able to push this for a while, but sooner or later you’ll break down.

I use performance as a metric for whether or not my training is working.  Am I getting better, stronger, bigger, etc?  This sounds easy, really, but the capacity any one individual has for self-deception is a bit amazing.  I remember extending a certain workout cycle for weeks, even while regressing, because I knew that the delayed transformation was coming.  Of course, I’ve also been guilty of changing things up too often.  There’s a certain level of immersion in a program that’s required to eke out all the gains possible.

In my own training, I’m trying to effectively integrate the kettlebell lifting with barbell lifting.  I’ve tried a few things, but what seems to be working best is strength work one day followed by kettlebell work the next day.  I’d like to integrate the two, but when I tried working some deadlifts with the kettlebells, there was a significant impact upon my grip which made the kettlebell work less optimal.

You shouldn’t dread your workouts unless you are peaking specifically for something and pushing into PR territory.  I really prefer to tease gains out of my workouts, not force them.  This comes back to longevity and maintaining interest.

And finally, despite training alone in my basement, if you want to exceed your expectations, you need to train with those who are better than you.  This is true for any sport or activity.

And have fun.

MR:  Okay Steve, time for the final question.  If you could do it all over again, knowing what you know today, how would you have changed your training in the past to be even bigger, stronger, leaner, etc.?

SS:  I really wish I’d had the opportunity to train under a good Olympic lifting coach when I was younger.  I think the Olympic lifts just have so much to offer developmentally to an athlete and a lifter.  After that, I should have devoted more time to basic heavy lifting.  I would have liked to have a better handle on effective conditioning when I started out playing rugby, and a more thorough understanding of prehab and rehab movements.  I also wouldn’t have let mobility and flexibility training take a back seat to lifting.

MR:  Steve, thanks for taking the time to be with my here today.  Where can my readers find out more about you and your training?

SS: The Power and Bulk can be found here:

I maintain a blog and a haphazard training log on my good friend Nick McKinless’ Beyond Strong website (Nick’s a stuntman, strongman, and gripmaster and puts very good stuff up)  From the main page, click on Shaf’s Corner on the right

If you want to watch a bald, unblinking, chubby man do assorted stuff on You Tube, my video channel is here:

I can be reached at [email protected] for correspondence or hate mail.

MR:  Sounds great Steve – thanks for your time!

Thanks for the interview Mike.  I hope someone got something out of it.

Stay Strong



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