2 Critical Program Design Tips, Identifying “Dangerous” Exercises & Knowing Your Enemy


Remember that OLD school tune with Rage Against the Machine, "Know the Enemy"?

Yep, Yep... well, with training, it's the same difference.

After training for 22 years I am still learning more and more about my body, sometimes, ya gotta learn the HARD way.


The other day I saw a video of Louie Simmons hitting rack pulls, I was inspired, and decided I too, need to do rack pulls.

Problem is, I've been injured on this exercise before, even with light weights well below my max on rack pulls. Like a knucklehead, I did them anyway, thinking I was above and beyond my past or that perhaps things have changed.

Here's what I learned.... the HARD way.

As my boy Jonny Hinds says, we're part of the knuckle head crew.

We KNOW not to do certain things but we still do them.

Sometimes, your body does not agree with a certain exercise. Same goes for athletes - do not force an athlete into a program, fit the program to match the needs of the athlete both physically and psychologically.

Squats of all types and trap bar deadlifts work plenty fine for me, and, eventually, ya just gotta cut your losses and eliminate some movements that are dangerous or prove to make you injury prone.

Special Strength Training - Timed Trap Bar Deadlifts after a Bodyweight Circuit. 

3 Rounds of 30 seconds. 

Heavy rack pulls and even light rack pulls don't get me stronger OR make my back feel good. My back feels like hell after rack pulls so I learned to drop my ego and focus on training optimally, learning what works best for me vs copying what works for others.

I do the same tailoring of training for the athletes I train. There is NO reason for everyone to train the same way. Some need more strength and muscle, others need more speed and power while others need stamina and mental toughness.

"Never Train Minimally. Never Train Maximally. Train Optimally." - Louie Simmons quoting Dr. Mel Siff / SuperTraining 

Speed deads work great for me and yes, NO deadlifting works quite well, too. It's the conjugate method and using exercises that build up my deadlift that help my deadlift. All the squats build my Deadlift. Heavy deadlifts destroy me so I most often use them as a speed exercise.

I remember when I first opened my gym, I was in there a lot, from morning until evening and late night and after a while I wanted a lil' change of scenery and some motivation. I decided to train at the gym next door as I was about to deadlift. I knew that people watching me would fire me up. I was always training alone so it was time to have a small audience.

I hadn't deadlifted for 2 months when I decided to deadlift that night. But.... I had been doing plenty of similar movements such as various squats with barbells, kettlebells, sandbags and even stones.

I was also doing lots of sled work at the end of each workout as well as 2 - 3 trips of sleds during my warm ups. My sled training volume was very high.

What happened when I went to deadlift after 2 months of NO deadlifts?

I went in and deadlifted 515 for an easy single, beating my best 500 lb deadlift. I realized then, I didn't need to deadlift to break a deadlift record, but, sometimes we fall in love with an exercise and overdo it.

Be smart and LISTEN to your body, do what it tells you to do. Right now, I am in rest & recovery mode, something I haven't done since I graduated from undergrad in fall of 1997 and finished a stressful 4 month internship. My body was wiped out as was my body. I rested and stopped training until my body told me it was time to get back in action.

The Bench Press is awesome, BUT, if it kills your shoulders even after you've worked with experts in the field to make it better, f**k it, get rid of it and do what works and what feels good for YOU.

Don't be afraid to veer from a program that you love, but may be causing you some bodily harm.

The more you train the more things change - your body begins to respond to things differently and you need to keep tweaking your program to find what does 2 critical things for you:

1) What training / exercises helps you get you stronger, bigger, faster, etc - improves overall performance?

2) What makes you feel GREAT, not just good, but GREAT? If the training bangs you up, change it up and drop out of the knucklehead club.

Stick to those 2 critical rules and your training will result in more gains, less pain and a lot more fun!

Live The Code 365


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11 Responses

  1. Totally agree with that.

    For me using heavy double kettlebells and sandbags

    packed me some good amount of muscles and strengthened my

    low back which I occassionaly tweaked when using BB.

    Some people may call me a pussy or stubborn guy just because

    i don’t use the BB so called the ‘king of weight’ but

    if it bangs me up then maybe its wise to use other alternative

    that works better.

    Anyway thanks for the good article!

    Keep rockin!!

    1. Ray – ya gotta go with what works for your body. Here and there the good ol’ barbell doesn’t fit the mold

  2. Zach,

    I have already accepted that there are just certain lifts that my body cannot tolerate well and I now avoid them. As we age I think eventually we tend to figure this out instinctively, especially from experience; injuries from aggressive lifts, bad form, etc.
    Thanks for shedding some light on this topic. The fact that we can all find our own path and continue to find ways to be strong is what really matters. Great article Zach!

    Train hard, but train smart!

  3. Brilliant idea. How many guys over 200 can do strict rows with bodyweight? The CC chin up progrressions make for a good substitute. And I don’t care what a guy benches, those press ups with feet together are TOUGH–I’ve only seen one guy do them a superhuman rugby player/power lifter with short arms (and it looked like his head was going to pop!!!)

    Plus, the handstand will keep those delts strong without presses. I’m a big “ground up” guy but I rarely press anymore…stick to BW. My shoulders don’t sound like rice crispies under milk any more…

    Great ideas here, as usual Zack!


    1. I am psyched you’re using Convict Conditioning to dial in your overhead training! That exercise is no joke

  4. “Know your enemy as you know yourself and you will never loose.”-Sun Tzu (The Art of War)
    Stones, tire, farmer’s carry, power snatch, thick bar work, Hell anything heavy, and not found in the pretty boy magazines.
    There are sooo many ways to build strength, speed and power that limiting yourself to the traditional lifts will lessen your gains.
    Sometimes to be a beast you must lift like a beast.
    “Raining Blood”-Slayer

    1. DW that is a most eloquent answer, ha ha! Loved it!

  5. Great post, Zach. I couldn’t agree more with switching up and changing routines. I’ve been following various routines from your e-books for about two years now and I’m on month four of the Beast program. I started off at 230 lbs and trust me I had some fat to shred. I’m now 212 and ran a 5k yesterday with guys who were about 30 lbs lighter than me. I’m proud to say WE all finished at 24:37 which puts our mile time average at sub 8 minute. I haven’t run distance for a year and the only running I’ve done is the occasional 100 yard sprint coupled with sandbag squats in the Beast program. Your programs work and translate well into other phyisical endurance areas. Thanks for your help!

  6. Robb Francis says:

    Zee, That’s some crazy smack goin on!!!
    You’re lookin Big n Lean Too!!!

    1. Robb this was an older video…. I feel I am in better shape now, definitely healthier

  7. Zach,

    Great post! I love hammering away at a heavy bag! I get after it and it seems like I feel new muscles in my torso every time! Very low impact on the rest of my body but the power production and metabolic affect is huge!
    I always work on convincing my coaches that Squating all year around is not the best way to increase our athletes Squat. We need lunges, step-ups, Dumbbell Squats! The variety will help strengthen weaknesses so that when we come back to Squats we have more to work with… Keep killin it!

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