Squat Every Day by Matt Perryman – A Book Review

Matt Perryman’s Squat Every Day, isn’t a typical training book.

There are no sample workouts as one has come to expect from strength and fitness-related resources.

This doesn’t take away from the book, but in fact strengthens it’s overall messages including the value to high frequency training, the overtraining fallacy, the perception of fatigue and the need to treat the body as organic and volatile, rather than rigid and robotic.

If you’re after a practical guide on how to commence squat every day training, implementation strategies are sprinkled throughout the text. By the end of the book, although a 12-week program wasn’t explicity presented, I walked away with an understanding of how to experiment with high frequency squatting.

High frequency training – What is it good for?

One notion Matt regularly makes reference to is the value of high frequency squatting. That is, squatting multiple times a week, from 5 to 14 times a week for those Bulgarian’s out there!

What benefits can this training yield?

  • Reduces the psychological wind-up – The experience of knowing you have to squat heavy is draining. The physical action, sure, but also consider the lead-up where the mind wanders to what it has to do later in the day. Perryman suggests that, by squatting heavy on the regular, the action becomes nonchalant, like brushing your teeth. Maybe not quite, but you get the point!
  • Practice, practice, practice – The snatch and clean & jerk are considered ‘skills’, why why don’t we think the same way about squatting, or any lift for that matter? Perryman argues that squatting proficiency comes from practice, but the practice has to be relevant. Squatting 60kg is completely different to squatting 160kg. The body moves differently. This is why squatting ‘light’ for higher reps may not be as effective as regularly squatting a heavier load as it’s not reminiscent of the same pattern.
  • Train the nervous system, not the muscles – Muscles size correlates with strength, though how do you explain the likes of Richard Hawthorne, who can haul considerable ass at a light weight? Neurological adaptation is a larger driver of strength gains than muscular changes.

The influence of Arnold

Overtraining is another big point of discussion in Squat Every Day. Perryman uses historical references to pinpoint changes in training styles and regards Arnold Schwarzenegger’s rise as the key driver of modern training methods.

Old-school bodybuilding was based on high-volume training. A body part, say the legs, would be assaulted once a week, then allowed a week or more to recover, due to the DOMS which resulted.

This training style is muscle-centric, where muscular recovery is central to progression. Since the ’70’s, Schwarzenegger’s style has influenced nearly all forms of resistance training, which is not necessarily a good thing, particularly if strength the goal.

If you look back before this era, strongmen and bodybuilder’s trained very similarly, with an emphasis on regular heavy lifting. Though this was overshadowed by the Arnold and Co.

Is fatigue an emotive state?

Physical activity and fatigue go hand in hand. When you’re feeling tired or a little overworked, maybe it’s time for a rest to allow the body to recover.

Or maybe not.

Perryman argues that our own mental estimations, i.e. how we think we should feel, play a huge role in how we do feel and therefore perform. If we think we should feel fatigued towards the end of a training cycle we will feel fatigued.

By the same thought, what if we changed our perception of fatigue. Can we talk ourselves out of feeling tired and beat down?

Perryman says this introspection needs to be finely balanced. Ask yourself, is this fatigue response warranted or is my brain being cautious? There is no doubt overtraining exists. When we’re near this point, we need to pay attention and back-off. Though, most of the time, Perryman believes, this is not the case.

Motivation, for example, trumps fatigue. Powerlifting competitions provide a good example of this. Take the final deadlift which is the ninth recorded lift of the day. Up to that point, the lifter has produced 8 near maximal lifts plus countless warm-ups. Though, after a slap on the back coupled with a raucous crowd, the lifter’s able to pull her heaviest load of the day (in some cases).

Also, think back to times where you’ve trained feeling pretty sloppy and beat up only to finish your session having knocked out a PR.

Physiologically, the fatigue markers don’t line up either. Studies have shown that, despite stress markers indicating fatigue, performance doesn’t necessarily drop off.

Perryman has forced me to rethink fatigue, and in particular the strength of our thoughts on how we feel.

Implementation

Has Squat Every Day piqued your interest? Here’s my take on how to implement this practice…

  1. Set a daily minimum weight – Perryman admits that it may take a week or two to develop an understanding of your minimum. The weight should be something you can do right now, with relative comfort. If you’re familiar with RPE’s, the weight would register as an 8 or 9 – heavy, but with something left in the tank. This daily minimum forms your base.
  2. Work up to your daily minimum – Each day, work up to the aforementioned minimum. You can do this by incrementally adding plates and warming-up slowly, which might be advisable when first commencing the program. Once in a regular routine, large jumps in weight become comfortable. The second method helps to reduce volume before your ‘big’ set.
  3. Reach your daily minimum then re-assess – There are three scenarios which can evolve from each session…
    1. The daily minimum is about right for the day, in which case you move to step 4 and add volume
    2. The daily minimum is a little light, in which case you can add weight or better yet try your hand at a PR, before moving on to volume training
    3. The daily minimum is too heavy which provides an opportunity to rest and deload
  4. Just add volume – Implementing back-off sets adds load which creates an adequate training stimulus. Perryman suggest taking 15-30kg off the bar. With the lighter weight, perform 3-5 sets of triples, doubles or singles while keeping the RPE at a manageable 8-9

Perryman offers thoughts on how the rest of the training sessions should flow, such as structuring in deadlifts and upper body work, though the outline above is how to squat every day in a nutshell.

Considerations

Squat Every Day is a thoughtful book offering unconventional insights into how to go about one’s training.

Perryman uses the analogy that training needs to be viewed as tending a garden. You guide and direct the cultivation process. Pluck a few weeds here, plant some new seedlings there and learn where the best spots for growth are for different shrubs. It’s a flexible approach.

He points out that modern methods apply a factory-like approach to training that is almost militant in nature. This style views the human body as a predictable computer, with programming being extremely regimented.

The body is in fact organic and ever-changing. It thrives on volatility and intuition. Remember this when you miss your next lift, or suddenly make rapid progress.

What are your thoughts on the concepts brought up in this post? Leave you comments below, I’d love to discuss!

Self-theories by Carol Dweck: Book Review

As with my previous review, you wont find Carol S. Dweck’s book, Self-theories, in the health and fitness section of the book store. Nevertheless, there are parallels which can be drawn to optimising performance.

The text is a culmination of Dweck’s many years of research on topics of motivation, personality and development. The evidence-based approach looks into how people view themselves and others through their personal belief systems. Dweck proposes that people develop beliefs that organise their world which in turn gives meaning to their experiences.

I collected the following lessons from Self-theories…

What makes a successful individual?

Dweck suggests there are certain qualities which are inherent in people who find success, whether it be academically or otherwise. The attributes include:

  • A love for learning
  • A willingness to seek challenges
  • Finding value in effort
  • Persistence in the face of obstacles

On the contrary, it’s important we’re wary of certain beliefs which are likely a hindrance, such as…

  • Over concern of how others perceive you
  • A distaste for challenge
  • Poor ability to cope with setbacks

The differential between effort is a concept stressed by Dweck. Individuals who often found success viewed effort as a ‘successful ally’, believing when effort was required it meant they were on the right path. On the other hand, less successful people identified negatively with effort and in fact thought it showed weakness.

As a consequence, individuals who look upon effort cynically, tend to avoid tasks that they feel they would struggle with, preferring to stay in their comfort zone. In the performance setting, an unwillingness to work on things that don’t come naturally will lead to weak spots, hampering progress.

Growth versus perception

Another key lesson drawn from Self-theories was the importance of what we value. Many of the examples used by Dweck demonstrate how a subgroup of the populace place most value on how others view them. At all costs, these individuals want to be perceived as clever and intelligent. Consequently, they select tasks they’re already good at, as their fear of looking silly outweighs the potential to learn and grow.

The other group, Dweck points out, approach situations by prioritising learning. They don’t mind if they make errors, understanding that its part and parcel of the mastery process.

Let’s consider this from point of view of building a resilient body. Individuals who value public perception may only incorporate exercises which they are unlikely to fail at and are already well-versed. While they may continue to get stronger, it is likely being achieved through strengthening their strengths and neglecting their weaknesses. This is a recipe for stagnation long-term.

The person who values learning above all else may outsource their programming, knowing full well they are likely to skimp on things they struggle with. As a result, they put in the hard yards with movements that feel about as natural as Usain Bolt does in the swimming pool.

Another comparison which can be drawn pertains to the impact of social media. The popularity nowadays of posting one’s progress online is overwhelming. It’s fair to say that most people publicise their best, most impressive attempts online. Is it not too farfetched to speculate that these same individuals are driven by public perception rather than growth?

Feedback and persistence

Dweck’s research on feedback demonstrates that people respond to feedback differently, and this in turn affects their persistence with a task. What she and her colleagues found was a certain subset of the population looked upon feedback with a glass half-full perspective. That is, they were still likely to be happy with their efforts for a given task and the criticism would fortify their efforts.

Another portion of the population, however, respond to feedback negatively. When criticised, these individuals curl up into their shell and shy away from the task completely.

Dweck can only speculate as to why these systems develop, whether inherent or through different modes of nurture, but it’s implications are profound. When training and someone offers you advice, how do you respond?

Malleability is the key

Self-theories taught me the importance of flexibility. Although you and I may be more predisposed to a certain belief system, with introspection to our thoughts and actions, we can change our beliefs to make stronger versions of ourselves.

Dweck’s book is not the most fluent read given the fact that its research-laden. Though, for those soon-to-be or new parents, it’s certainly worth a read. The text provides a guide of how interactions with young children foster and mould their development.

Have you read Self-theories by Carol Dweck? What did you gather?

 

Mastery by Robert Greene: A Book Review

Although not a training or fitness book per se, I found many useful pointers from Mastery by Robert Greene, which can be applied to optimising physical performance.

Greene breaks down, ‘How to become a master’, segmenting the journey into three phases – the apprenticeship, the creative-active and finally mastery.

The text is easily readable thanks to Greene’s use of master’s past and present. Historical examples include the likes of Einstein and the Wright brother’s, as well as contemporaries such as Temple Grandin.

Knowledge Acquired

Master’s are created not born

It can be easy to use the excuse that someone is genetically gifted as to why their performance exceeds your own. Greene uses the ‘genius’ label, and elaborates that genius is the result of hard work and tenacity, rather than winning the genetic lottery.

When it comes to developing strength or specific skills, like the handstand or the clean and jerk, one must remember the 10,000 hour rule. It takes the brain time to develop the neural pathways to perform movements with efficiency and prowess.

Furthermore, repetition needs to be combined with quality to achieve the desired effect, or mediocrity will result.

Quality + repetition + time = mastery

Discover your calling

Be introspective. Search for patterns. What athletes, physiques or physical feats do you envy? What is it about these attributes? What inspires you?

Long term progress is earmarked by consistency over large stretches of time. Consistency can only be achieved if there is a love of the subject matter. A passion.

If a particular area really interests you, like Olympic Weightlifting, learn all you can about it. Become a student before becoming a master.

Choose places that offer the greatest possibility for learning and progression

Create a conducive environment and be around like-minded individuals.

This could be related to your gym environment, your training partner, or even the online forums you partake in. Ensure your selection is not based solely on proximity, convenience and cost (though such factors need to be considered).

Observe those around you and learn from them (and their mistakes). Bounce ideas of one another. Support each other. Get pushed and strive to be better.

Neglect your ego

‘Leave your ego at the door’

This comes down to self-perception as well as how you believe others perceive you. Don’t think you should be at a certain skill or strength level at a certain time. Progress at your own speed.

Interestingly, progress will actually be hastened by forgetting your ego. Egotistical lifting or training will at some point lead to injury, stopping training in it’s tracks. Also, quality, is likely to be compromised.

Instead, slow and steady progress will create long term progress.

Winding up

Mastery packs in a lot of valuable nuggets and I’ve merely gleaned over a few of them. I would certainly recommend this book, particularly for those interested in self-development.

Greene covers other interesting topics, such as social intelligence, offering a fascinating insight into how working on something that might appear unrelated to mastery, is in fact a vital component.

Have you read Mastery by Robert Greene? Let me know what your thoughts are in the comments section below.

In Review: Overcoming Gravity by Steven Low

Bodyweight training has been at the forefront of my mind for the past 6 months. Having had the opportunity to experience different disciplines within this style of training I became fascinated with the ability to develop certain skills, such as the ring muscle up.

Although I continue to learn lessons during classes at Movement Co, tailoring a program to the specific skills I wish to develop appealed to me.

Scouring the internet brought Overcoming Gravity by Steven Low to my attention. This was consolidated by the good ratings and reviews received, coupled with a recommendation from Tom Merrick of Vitality and Agility.

My hope from reading this text was to gain an appreciation of the progressions within bodyweight training, as well as the practical know how of devising a personalised, strategic and progressive program.

In Summary –

Overcoming Gravity is divided into three main sections. The first of which, ‘How to construct your own workout routine’ takes a look at:

  • The fundamental principles of bodyweight training, such as the importance of understanding leverage (and how this dictates progression)
  • Goal setting
  • Ensuring structural balance
  • Developing an optimal workout hierarchy
  • Programming and advancement
  • Overtraining versus overreaching

Part two of the book deals primarily with injury management and prevention. Steven Low uses his Physical Therapy background in covering topics such as:

  • Pain versus soreness
  • Acute injury versus chronic injury
  • Evaluating injury severity
  • Programming around injury
  • Common injuries
  • Prehabilitation, such as joint preparation

The final part of the book offers reference material including:

  • Sample programming
  • Exercise progressions from basic to complex (including key things to keep in mind, as well as diagrams to represent correct form)

The final section of the book (part 3) is not something you would read through, like sections one and two. As the name suggests, it provides a useful reference point when you’re working on developing the planche, for instance, and want to know what regressive movements will help you get to your desired goal.

Key Lessons Learnt –

There are certainly some nuggets within Overcoming Gravity. My key takeaways included:

  • Programming for bodyweight training is hard! Compared to traditional weight training, progressing as a bodyweight athlete is far from linear. Leverage is a very important variable as Steven explains, and is one key component in progressing through a movement.
  • The importance of establishing balance. Low makes the point that many gymnastic movements are push dominant, which could lead to over development of certain areas of the body. He then offers useful tips to counteract this issue. For instance, goal setting should incorporate an equal number of push and pull goals. Another point is the value of working towards manna (beginning with L-sit variations).
  • Combining compression work with lower limb mobility was a tip I found to be valuable. This stresses the importance of first establishing the requisite flexibility (stretching), then working through your newly established range to improve mobility.
Criticisms –

Overcoming Gravity does has its flaws. I took issue with…

  • The constant grammatical and punctual errors. They are an annoyance, slowing down reading time and fluency. I am by no means an English snob, and completely understand if English is not Low’s first language. However, if you’re selling a product for nearly $50, you’d expect a pretty polished article. I suspect (hope) the second edition, which is nearing release, will remedy this.
  • After completing the first section of the book (creating a routine), I didn’t feel I possessed the necessary tools to create my own program. Although the author covers topics like desired reps before progressing, the lack of practical examples left me confused and frustrated as I tried to build my routine. This came as a huge disappointment. I’m sure I’ll improve my understanding upon reading through this section again, though my desire to do so is curtailed by the poor readability and verbose nature of the text as a whole.
Who Is This Book For?

Intermediate and advanced bodyweight athletes.

As a beginner, Overcoming Gravity left me wanting. The second section of the book (relating to injury prevention, management and prehabilitation) is a solid resource for novices. Though what I deemed to be the crux, i.e. programming and progression, was not easily digestible and applicable.

As I gather experience, I feel this resource will become more valuable. Though for the time being, I lack the skills and confidence to devise my own routine (hence why I have recently commenced GMB’s Integral Strength program).

I’d love to hear about your experience with Overcoming Gravity. Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.