Some of our coaches just can't seem to stop talking. They're like those super-annoying kids we all knew back in elementary school; you know, the one's who were always the first to raise their hands when the teacher asked, "Who would like to tell us what they did for their summer vacation?"
(Not surprisingly, that's usually one of the reasons they became interested in weight training at a young age: they got tired of their classmates stuffing them into lockers.)
But while some of our coaches sleep with supermodels and have an open invitation to kick it with Kanye in Chi-town, others are more like the strong-and-silent type. They don't talk much, avoid message boards, and prefer to let their clients' results do the talking. T NATION's newest contributor, Erick Minor of Dynamic Barbell Club in Fort Worth, Texas, is that kind of coach.
Erick Minor doesn't make a lot of waves with his trash-talking skills, but often it's the still waters that run deep. Let's see what happens when we challenge him to try to tell us something that we don't know.
T-Nation: Your biography lists "steroid-free bodybuilding" as one of your specialties. What modifications must a natural trainee make to ensure that they are progressing at or near their natural limits?
Erick Minor: Success in bodybuilding is a combination of training, nutrition, genetics, and consistency. There are plenty of guys on drugs who've never won a show, simply because they are lacking in those fundamental areas.
I find that guys who don't make progress drug-free tend to resort to steroid use sooner than many successful bodybuilders did. What people often don't realize is that many of the top pros were also fantastic drug-free competitors before they took that next step. To me, this speaks to the importance of good genetics, work ethic, and consistency.
For example, Ronnie Coleman and Kai Greene, two of the biggest IFBB pros to ever compete, were successful drug-free bodybuilders early in their careers. Ronnie Coleman won the drug-tested IFBB World Championships to become a pro and competed at about 225lbs at the time. Later in his career he would hit the stage at an incredible 280+ lbs. When Kai Greene won the NPC Team Universe to earn a pro card, he competed at about 215-220lbs. Now his off-season weight is over 300lbs.
These guys are incredibly gifted genetically and built impressive physiques through hard work, consistency, and determination. So when the time came to take that next step, the solid foundation they had built naturally allowed them to explode in just a few short years. But if you're a novice and already on drugs? I'm sorry, but there is no magic stack that will allow you to add an extra 60lbs of muscle.
I competed in bodybuilding when I lived in California. I always competed drug free, even in non-tested shows, and I was able to beat my share of guys who were using at the time. I think the big reason I was able to do that is a lot of the guys who were using tended to rely on the drugs.
So if they didn't place as well or hit a plateau, the first thing they'd look at are the drugs they were taking, as opposed to the foundational aspects like training, nutrition, and rest.
If you want to be a successful drug-free bodybuilder, you need to train no less than 4 days a week and ideally 5 days a week using split routines. You simply will not develop the kind of mass it takes to win shows training less frequently.
Sometimes guys get confused when they read about how a certain athlete lifts weights 2-3 times a week and maintains significant muscle mass, but what they don't realize is the amount of physical activity they are already performing within their given sport.
But the biggest thing for naturals is consistency. Consistently training hard, getting 8 hours of sleep a night, being in bed before 10, high protein, solid meals, consistent post workout nutrition. Do that consistently day in, day out for months at a time and you'll be amazed at what you can accomplish naturally. I call it being ritualistic. All the top natural guys are like that.
I used to work as a trainer at a 24 Hour Fitness in Arlington,Texas. One of the most muscular guys who trained there was this Army recruiter. He was maybe 5'6'' or so but weighed around 220 or 230; solid as a rock and I'm fairly certain he was natural. But he was always there training, 6 days a week; month after month and never missed a workout. Good days, bad days, busy days, whatever, he was there like clockwork. Ritualistic.
I like to say that genetics will determine your placing in bodybuilding shows, but it's consistency that will determine your progress.
T-Nation: What fitness information out there that's generally accepted as fact is flat out wrong (and drives you nuts)?
Erick: Believing that you must do low-intensity cardio exercise to lose fat and improve heart health. I get that all the time from new clients who walk into my facility and see that I don't have any cardio equipment, and it's just plain silly.
Any exercise that makes the heart pump more blood is beneficial for general health; it doesn't have to be a bike or a treadmill.
Even in contest prep situations you don't need traditional "cardio." I always competed without traditional cardio and I know many other guys who've done so as well. When I train a fitness competitor who is kind of neurotic about cardio I will have them do some, but just so they're not worrying about not doing it.
Basically, it shuts them up and eases their anxiety. But in terms of contributing to the overall effectiveness of their fat loss plan, it's minimal. Of course, if you're dealing with a guy on anabolics, the rules change as they have the benefit of artificially elevated nitrogen levels. They can get positive results from a lot of cardio without risking muscle loss. But for naturals, I just don't see it as necessary or effective.
Fat loss is best achieved through diet and resistance training, with a perhaps a bit of energy system work like sprints, sled work, and Farmer's walks thrown in. It's the intensity of effort that contributes to leanness.
T-Nation: What basic strong man exercises could someone easily add to their routine tomorrow to increase strength-endurance and GPP?
Erick: Sled dragging is by far the most useful tool for GPP. With my sprinters and cyclists, I will do entire workouts with nothing more than a sled. We have a 100ft by 15 ft pad behind my facility that's our designated strongman area.
But for the average Joe just looking to reap the rewards of an increased work capacity, my two favorites would be sled dragging and the Prowler. The Prowler is probably one of the hardest conditioning tools that you can hit. It's the body positioning that kills you: having your hands extended overhead as you push seems to put extra stress on the respiratory system.
And although I use them a lot with sprinters, I really like farmer's walks for normal guys as well. Along with increasing GPP, farmer's walks build up the muscles of the foot and lower leg within the gait cycle, and are also great for grip strength.
T-Nation: What mistakes are 99% of the clients who hire you making?
Erick: Diet wise, the biggest mistake I see in the general public is not eating enough protein, and not eating at regular intervals.
Training wise, most guys when they start up with me aren't using enough variety in their exercises. It's always the same lifts, with the same grip/foot position, etc. Even a variation as minor as switching from a pronated to semi-supinated grip changes the recruitment pattern significantly, which can help prevent overuse injuries from developing and foster long-term growth.
Another peeve of mine is the whole "don't do isolation exercises, just do compound lifts" recommendation. People need to understand that the body is an incredibly adaptive organism, and will challenge other muscles to compensate for a weakness to complete a task. So those guys who say a few good sets of chin-ups will fatigue the biceps, that's simply not true, and especially not if there is already a strength imbalance. When a weakness exists, a compound bilateral exercise is never the best way to correct it.
Mentally, another mistake a client can make is not taking responsibility for their own success.
I see myself in the same light as a teacher: good students will make great progress with a good teacher, poor students will remain poor students no matter how good the teacher. If the trainee is not fully committed to learning and making tough changes, they rarely make the kind of progress that they hired me for in the first place.
T-Nation: Speaking as a trainer and therapist, what should we all quit doing?
Erick: Where do I start?
First, we should stop all the rule-based thinking like: "high reps are only for endurance athletes"; "athletes should not do single-joint exercises"; and "bodybuilding is only for cosmetic purposes."
Or, the myth that "static stretching before exercise is bad"; that's not true, if you're stretching the antagonist of the muscle being trained. I've even heard other coaches say that if a coach has you do direct arm exercises you should get a new coach because "he doesn't know what he's doing." When people repeat stuff like this, it pisses me off.
Here's another: stop repeating things that you have no experience with. Trying to argue on a training issue that you have only read about but never experienced doesn't help anyone.
We should stop seeking advice from people who don't compete or who don't train or coach for a living. Credentials in this field mean very little if you don't have practical experience.
When I was the head trainer for an upscale fitness center, I would interview 3-4 personal trainers a month. Some of them had Masters Degrees and I even interviewed one guy with a PhD. The main quality I looked for in a trainer was communication skills. If you can't get your point across, it doesn't matter how much you know.
You can't learn how to teach by passing a test; you must get in front of someone you don't know and teach them how to do something. Guys who write books for a living but have never trained anyone or competed will often miss a lot of details that the coaches and trainers who actually work with clients will notice. I can read an article and tell right away if the author actually trains people.
Stop using the same exercises for months on end. Use a wide variety of movements. Change your grip, foot spacing, bar diameter, bench angles, etc. I know I brought this up already, but it bears repeating.
The crap that yoga zealots are pushing is irritating. I'm not a fan of yoga in general because it is based on an unrealistic and unhealthy model of hyper-mobility. I have never had anyone stretch their lower back — ever! Half of my female clients who were big yoga fans came to me with low back/SI joint pain, something yoga can't fix but will definitely exacerbate. You can't fix a problem of instability with poses and stretching.
Simulation training and excessive agility drills are useless; having athletes perform tricks that simulate a sports movement is a waste of time. Now, if you're training a group of teenagers and the goal is off-season general conditioning, that's fine. But when I read about top-level pros doing this shit, I feel sorry for them. You risk ruining sports recruitment patterns if you do loaded simulation training, and agility training does not improve skill. Practice improves skill.
As a strength coach, my job is to find any physical weakness that may hinder athletic progress and either correct it or refer to another professional who can. I consider myself the crew chief of an expensive racecar. There is a fine line between winning and crashing.
T-Nation: You spent 8 years serving your country in the United States Air Force. What did you learn from that experience that has benefited your career as a trainer?
Erick: Discipline, effort, and action determine success more than IQ and knowledge.
I spent most of my time in the military as an aircraft hydraulics systems mechanic. I remember being scared shitless doing things that could get you maimed or killed, but I did it anyway.
For example, when you worked on fighter jets, you couldn't get too close to the engines or you'd be sucked into the intake. Plus, everything on a fighter jet moves hydraulically, at about 3000 psi. Lose track of where your fingers are for one second and they're gone.
But the worst was replenishing the liquid oxygen on a plane. When you had to do that, they would set up a huge safety barrier around the plane and send you out by yourself to do the re-fueling. The only help in sight was a fire truck about 100 feet away that would show up to extinguish your corpse if there was so much as a spark.
I remember being out there all by myself and thinking, "Ya know, this is pretty damn dangerous." Fortunately, we were so well trained that accidents rarely happened.
When I got out of the military and began working full-time in the fitness industry, I thought everyone my age was just lazy. Many of my fellow employees didn't do things they were uncomfortable doing, the management was too nice, and employees came to work 5 minutes late.
This gave me a bit of an advantage because I was always willing to work harder than the average guy. Maybe I was brainwashed? Anyway, when I got out, civilian work just seemed easy, as far as the stress level goes.
T-Nation: You've competed in bodybuilding, strongman, power lifting, and clothing-optional bee keeping. Should we all look at broadening the scope of our weight training activities, even if at the end of the day the goal is just to look good naked?
Erick: A broad approach is a great way to experiment and prevent boredom. I personally believe that every strength and physique athlete should add a little strongman training to their routines. It's a completely different stimulus than traditional lifting as you're moving while you exert yourself, unlike typical gym lifts where you're relatively stationary (save for lunges and walking lunges).
Even one session a week can have benefit, so if you're someone toiling away at a Gold's Gym during the week, maybe consider dropping into a strongman gym once on the weekends (if you can find one).
I also believe that lifters should all do a lot more sprinting, both for posterior chain development and for conditioning purposes.
T-Nation: You're big on the subject of mental strength, I suspect from your interest in Eastern philosophies. What do you mean by mental strength? Are you referring to having the discipline to make good food choices and show up for workouts? Or do you mean having the guts to push past the pain barrier? Or is it something else entirely?
Erick: Your attitude determines how you respond to obstacles and setbacks. You're either a problem-solver or a problem-seeker. Problem-solvers find ways to make it happen; problem-seekers sit around analyzing why they can't get what they want or why things didn't work out. If you sit around complaining how bad things are, you won't get shit done. You need to accept your situation as reality and then move forward and/or find a solution.
The most successful people I know are the ones who react positively to a plateau or setback. If they experience an obstacle, their typical response is "What do we do know?" or "How can I overcome this______?" as opposed to, "Just my luck," or "I can't do it, I give up."
I have a client that was released from his team at the end of spring training. Instead of sitting around waiting for something to happen, he called the manager of his previous team and talked his way into a minor league contract. He's now a major league starter with a batting average of .295.
Working with someone with a poor attitude is far more difficult than working with someone with terrible genetics.
I was introduced to Eastern philosophy while attending massage school in Napa, California. Since then, I have read several books from various philosophers including Alan Watts, Ayn Rand, and Lao Tzu. I'm also a fan of Leonardo da Vinci and Robert Greene, the author of "The 48 Laws of Power". I try to incorporate some of the ideas I've learned into both my practice and my life.
T-Nation: You're pretty opinionated on the subject of functional training, as are the T NATION readers. On the one side we have bodybuilders, who scoff at the very concept of functional training, saying that it's a made up term thrown around by guys who can't get big or strong.
On the other side we have the functional guys, who imply that bodybuilders might be big, but God help them if they ever need to climb stairs, tie their shoes or operate an iPhone. As an athletic trainer, bodybuilder, and therapist, where do you side?
Erick: "Functional training" is a useless term. Any exercise that can increase strength, hypertrophy, or endurance as well as improve joint integrity and balance is "functional." If an exercise doesn't violate the laws of joint mechanics and its limits, it's a functional exercise. Just because you're exercising on one-leg, looking like a dumb ass, doesn't make an exercise any more useful.
The problem with bodybuilders having big muscles and poor athleticism is mainly due to their poor exercise selection. Many high-level bodybuilders focus on drugs and nutrition yet rarely change their exercises.
If you spend most of your time training on the same shitty selectorized equipment, you will not fully develop your muscles or fluid movement patterns that are necessary for real athleticism. If more bodybuilders were to use a greater number of free weight and strongman exercises and minimize the use of path-guided machines, they would develop big muscles and be able to demonstrate usable strength.
The only machines I use regularly are the hamstrings leg curl, glute-ham raise, and the reverse hyperextension; everything else is dumbbells, barbells, strongman, and cables equipment.
Of course, some really big dude may scoff and say, "Why should I change up my exercises when I just want to be big and what I'm doing is obviously working for me?" The answer is to stay healthy and to avoid the overuse injuries that come from years of blasting away in the same movement pattern.
As I mentioned earlier, a little variation is almost not noticeable, but it changes the recruitment pattern and changes the stress on the joint. So I'm not saying you'll necessarily get bigger, but you'll be healthier.
Just look at Dorian Yates. He was one of the most intelligent bodybuilders that ever lived, but even he had some serious injury challenges because he liked to use the exact same lifts. But even a few slight modifications may have prevented some of his injuries and extended his career.
But to get back to the question at hand: functional is a useless term. If an exercise is bad, it's a bad exercise.
T-Nation: And finally, this is the most important question of all. The franchise question, if you will. Tell me something I don't know?
Erick: Everyone has some type of muscular imbalance, and if long-term, pain-free training is the goal, these imbalances MUST be addressed.
I do an assessment with every new client, regardless of athletic background, and what I look for is symmetry. I might get them to do a push up while watching the movement of their scapula. If one of them doesn't move, I'll address that, perhaps with one-arm DB rows or something. I have never trained anyone, including professional athletes, that didn't have some type of muscular imbalance that required some type of corrective exercise.
Even good exercises can cause dysfunction and pain if your body is compensating for a weakness. You could have the best-designed routine ever, but if you have faulty recruitment patterns you can cause more problems than if you followed a Nautilus circuit.
If there's an exercise or movement that causes you considerable pain or discomfort, get an assessment and get it fixed. It might sound more hardcore to just snort a few Ibuprofen and work through it, but pain is your body's way of asking politely for your attention. Ignore it and push through and the polite asking will usually change to non-stop nagging.
Muscle tightness can be another sign of weakness. Some coaches recommend not training a tight muscle because it will get tighter; not true. A muscle can be short and weak, or short and strong. The body will only give you the range of motion that the nervous system can control.
Finally, there's evidence building that muscle cramps are caused by neural and muscular fatigue as opposed to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. The fact that heat accelerates neural and muscular fatigue may be a reason that cramping occurs during warm weather.