Building The Perfect Back Squat

Building an enviable back squat is hard work.

I’ve set myself the challenge of squatting 200kg. Nothing huge or fancy, but a target. While progress has been steady, I’ve been dissatisfied with my form.  When the bar gets heavy, I would excuse you if you thought I was doing good mornings.

The medical term is Goodmorningitis, and it’s s become an epidemic. But you won’t read about it. The authorities are keeping Goodmorningitis on the low-down – to stop panic enveloping the strength world.

I stumbled upon an article by Yasha Kahn, with good fortune.

Kahn explores the disease and offers remedies too. The author suggests the main thing that causes Goodmorningitis is an imbalance. An over-use of strong back muscles due to weak leg muscles, to be specific. But this is not the case for everyone with this unfortunate condition.


Goodmorningitis can be driven by faulty movement patterns. I have watched many people with chunky, muscular and strong thighs succumb to this disease.

If strength is not the concern, the issue lies in leg muscle recruitment. If the quads don’t work through the entire range of the squat it leads to a change in posture. The change favours the lower back muscles, to provide an extra kick, as the body’s sole aim is to get the weight up.


Fortunately, Goodmorningitis isn’t fatal.

Below are a few cures. Share them, I beg you if I don’t make it…

Front squats

Front squats are the turmeric of the strength world. With so many benefits you’d be a fool not to front squat.

In the case of curing Goodmorningitis, the front squat:

  • Forces you to stay upright
  • Demands more from the quads by moving the centre of mass toward the toes
  • Limits your ability to fault into a good morning as the barbell will fall forward from the shoulders


Keeping these cues in mind can keep your squat form on track:

  • Open the hips – Not the knees. Think about ‘opening up’ from the pelvis
  • Vertical bar path – Visualise the bar travelling in a straight line. This unrealistic but keeping it in mind will stop you from pitching forward
  • Control the descent – Too fast and you lose shape. Too slow and you can’t spring out of the hole. Find a middle ground between the two. A good descent forms the launchpad of the back squat

Sweat on poor form

Be critical of your form. Don’t let a good morningesque squat infiltrate your sets. If you begin to notice your body tilting forward or any other classic sign or symptom of you-know-what – stop immediately.

Continuing to squat when your form is dodgy reinforces a poor movement pattern. Then, it becomes harder to override. Instead, take a longer rest between sets and retry your previous effort. If you’re still not proud of your technique, drop the load until your form is pristine.


Let’s stop Goodmorningitis before it spreads any further. Read Yasha Kahn’s article for help too.

Godspeed my friends.


Dangerous Exercises

Are there bad exercises?

The shoulder press and barbell row, among others, have a reputation for being bad boy exercises. Perform them at your peril.

Why do some exercises get branded as ‘bad’? Much of the time it’s because:

  • They are technique-oriented. If there isn’t a focus on form, something could go wrong.
  • The lifter can get away with lifting a lot – poorly – to satisfy their ego.

The scapegoat

The deadlift is the posterboy for ‘dangerous’ exercises.

The name doesn’t help.

It looks like a simple exercise. Pick a weight off the floor and place it down. But the deadlift is more intricate. One of its challenges is to engage the whole body rather than heaving with the lower back.

Correct breathing is another. The spine stays neutral and safe when there is tension in the abdomen. But without it, the back rounds.

Also, ego tends to take control and form flies out of the window.

The fix

Become a stickler for form

At the end of a deadlift session, and the next day, ask yourself, where do I feel sore?

It’s OK for the lower back to feel a little tight. But the glutes, lats and hamstrings are the workhorses of the deadlift. They should feel fatigued.

If this isn’t the case and your lower back is on fire, lessen the load. Improve your form before adding more plates.

Train infrequently

The deadlift is demanding on the central nervous system. It calls on many muscles under a lot of load.

Therefore, rest is important.

Rest intervals between sets should be 3 minutes to allow your body to recover. Also, train once a week to start with. Let your body get used to the movement. Frequency can increase over time.

High-frequency training is a good idea to groove technique. But the deadlift is the exception to the rule.

The wrap-up

If you find yourself weighing up the risks and rewards of an exercise, ask:

  • Am I confident? If you’re not, pick a simpler variation. Start with the goblet squat if the back squat fills you with angst.
  • Am I feeling muscle soreness in the right areas? If the answer is no, take a look at your form. Get an expert to assess and help with any adjustments. Regularly filming yourself is another way to gauge progress and keep tabs on your technique.

Of the conventional lifts, some are more challenging than others. But none are inherently dangerous. Be selective with your exercise selection. Especially if you lack confidence or are working around an injury.

Fear around exercises can be circumvented by focusing on form and recognising the influence of your ego.

Do you think any exercises are dangerous? If so, which ones? Let’s discuss below.

The One-Arm Push-Up

The One-Arm Push-Up (OAPU), to me, was something out of bodyweight training folklore. An impressive movement limited to the very strong.

Though, finding myself without a goal, little equipment to work with and some inspiration from Rocky, I gave it a shot.

The plan

Four weeks was the time-frame to achieve 5 OAPU’s per side. I worked for three days and had every fourth day off. I saw the movement as a skill. The more frequently trained, the better. I lowered the volume because of the high frequency.

Day 1 –

  • Diamond push-ups: 3 sets x 8 repetitions
  • Inverted rows: 3 x 8
  • Hollow body hold: 3 x 30s

Day 2 –

  • Biased push-ups: 3 x 6
  • Inverted rows: 3 x 8
  • Hollow body hold: 3 x 30s

Day 3 –

  • Elevated eccentric push-ups: 3 x 5
  • Inverted rows: 3 x 8
  • Hollow body hold: 3 x 30s

Day 4 –

  • Rest

The inverted row and hollow body hold were included for shoulder balance and core strengthening. The OAPU is an upper body dominant movement. But it still needs core stability to be done well.

Image result for rocky one arm push-up


I kicked things off with a test. I couldn’t do the movement from the floor – unless free-falling onto my face counts – though I was able to complete the push-up in an elevated position, with my hand on a chair.

Using a combination of resources (see below) and intuition, I attacked the push-up, progressing as often as I could. Once I was comfortable with diamond push-ups I raised one hand onto a block to bias one side. I began doing elevated eccentric push-ups with a 3-second decent through half-range. As I improved, I worked up to 5 seconds through the full range at ground level.

As for the biased push-up, I experimented with variations. I found most benefit with having one hand on an elevated surface to reduce its contribution to the movement.

I re-tested at the half-way mark and was able to do a OAPU from an elevated surface. The height was about half of the chair I used when doing the initial testing. I progressed the row and hold. I widened my grip for the row and increased the hold to 45-seconds.

Key points

  • When working on single-arm variations, keep the working arm and elbow tucked into your side to get the lats involved. There should be no gap between your upper arm and ribcage.
  • Focus on whole body tightness. Maintain a hollow body posture throughout. It’s much easier to move a single unit then several different parts.
  • Allow the hips and feet to pivot with the movement. Your upper body should be perpendicular to the floor not parallel.

Common mistake

You don’t need to be able to do a mountain of regular push-ups (RPU) before working on the one-arm variation. If you can do twelve RPU’s, that’s enough.

Moving forward

I achieved my goal with one day to spare. I consolidated the movement over the next few weeks. I reduced the rep range to 3 x 3 OAPU’s and focussed on good form.

For now, the OAPU is on maintenance. I’m not boldly pursuing progression and I’m happy with small improvements. Narrowing the width of my feet (the narrower the stance, the harder the movement), for instance

Progressing the OAPU

The most challenging iteration is with feet together, like in a RPU. You can also elevate the feet, add weight or progress to plyometric variations.

If you would like help with doing your first OAPU, get in touch. Or, if you have any tips, strategies or questions, please leave them in the comments section below.


Does Bodybuilding Build Resiliency?

Bodybuilding is the pursuit of a muscular, lean and well-balanced physique.

While it may seem like a sport rooted in aesthetics, bodybuilding training has additional benefits which are often forgotten.

One of the main goals of the sport is to pack on as much muscle as possible. Apart from altering the way a person looks it also adds to how resilient their body is both in the short and long term.

Short term

Muscular hypertrophy increases the capacity of a muscle. It becomes stronger and more durable. When confronted with a physical challenge, particularly something which is new, novel or challenging, a more muscular physique is likely to stand up to the demands and come out the other end in better shape when compared to a less muscled body.

Throw a set of twins with equal experiences, though one with a bodybuilding background and the other without, onto a deserted island, and you’ll find the Arnie wannabe better adapt to the island’s rigours.

Long term

With ageing comes a loss in lean muscle mass.

Bodybuilding training is one way to negate or at least slow the loss of muscle. Think of this style of training as a retirement fund. The muscle that you gain is added to a stockpile. When confronted with the inevitable decline, your larger muscle reserve acts as a safeguard.

Bodybuilding is far from a frivolous pursuit; it has much to offer when it comes to building a hardy and tough body.


Training Program Flexibility

Creating a training program can be enjoyable and anxiety inducing. How do you know if you’ve included everything you need?

There is no ‘best’ program. The subtle variations, like tossing up whether to include pull-ups or chin-ups, have little impact on the outcome.

Another common problem is that training schedules are too rigid. What happens when you miss a day due to illness or a family emergency? Instead of focusing on your health or that of a loved one, your mind is busy developing contingency plans.

Also, following a fixed program can create an inflexible life. Training becomes the number one priority with everything else crammed in around it. When weighing up social engagements your mind first flickers to whether it will impact your training. If it does, you muster up an excuse to free yourself from the commitment, missing an opportunity for growth outside of the gym.

Life is bigger than training and achieving goals in the weight room. The things you miss out on to stick to your routine provide opportunities to develop too.

Allow for flexibility in your training. When creating or following a program, work on the premise that things will come up and you will miss sessions. For example, have your training block be twelve to fourteen weeks in length rather than strictly twelve.

If a weekend trip comes up, go. By prioritising your training, you know what exercises and sessions can be missed without compromising progress.

It’s hard to let go of structure when you believe it’s intrinsically linked with progress. But you have to think long term. Significant progress is made in twelve years not twelve weeks. Don’t compromise your growth as a human just to get in another session at the gym.

Take a look at your training and make it pliable. It should resemble a bamboo tree, able to bend and sway, rather than a concrete pillar, prone to cracking under stress.

The Value of Rest

Exercise can be an addiction. Guilt a symptom. And though it might seem innocuous, it has its dangers.

What are the dangers of too much exercise?

Lack of recovery

  • Training puts a strain on the body and causes minor damage, like micro-tears to muscle fibres. The body compensates and grows stronger because of the stress. But inadequate rest slows this adaption meaning more work for fewer gains.

Increased injury risk

  • The body becomes vulnerable to overuse injuries if training stress accumulates.
  • Fatigue causes athletes to be susceptible to injury at the end of a match or season.

Reduced motivation

  • Training day after day is exhausting on the body and mind. At some point, motivation will dwindle.

Dietary guilt

  • Food should never be earned. A day without training doesn’t mean a drastic change of diet is called for. But sometimes guilt is felt when eating on non-training days. Remember, the body recuperates on rest days and needs all the nutrients it can get.
  • Honour hunger. Don’t cut calories and restrict.

Rest from physical activity is an important part of progressing. Also, it allows for time to be spent on other areas of life, like developing relationships or learning.

What’s your opinion on rest days? Does your mindset change? Do you feel a twinge of guilt that you should be doing something physical? Comment below.

Take Responsibility

Failing to take responsibility for our bodies is the main reason injuries linger and performances stagnate. Let’s explore this issue and outline a way to improve.

Let it be

You’ve been struck by injury. Your strategy is to rest and avoid painful movements.

This is a good approach for mild injuries. The body is a healing machine and given the right environment, it will heal on its own accord. Issues, like chronicity, arise when you the injury is more severe than you thought and that’s when you…

Push through

You’ve built momentum with your training program only to feel a niggle. Your progress slows and pain levels rise.

But you don’t give up that easy.

You won’t let a small injury like this bother you, now that you’ve built a base. You push on and the injury worsens and frustration grows until you can train no more.

Triage yourself

Ego holds us back from making clear decisions – males especially.

Taking responsibility for what we do – and don’t know – is the best way to manage our bodies. We don’t have the knowledge of a medical professional but we can educate ourselves about the basics of body function. We can learn from reputable resources, take relevant courses and listen to our bodies at every opportunity.

Once we’ve taken responsibility, knowing when we’re out of our depth is the next step. The expertise of a health professional is invaluable given their knowledge and skills. But we need to understand this is a partnership – a doctor, podiatrist or physio – can only do so much with the time they have with us. Asking questions to find out how best we can aid recovery is an important part of the process.

Take responsibility and know when to share it with an expert – that’s good body management.

How do you approach management of your body? Leave your thoughts below.

The Paradox of Play

There has been a recent uprising in approaching exercise and skill development with ‘play’ in mind. Enjoyment should form a fundamental part of physical training (or any training for that matter) as it breeds consistency and longevity.

Unfortunately, opting for a ‘play’ approach when it comes to planning your program as an adult is flawed.

Turning back the clock

Children have the ability to quickly learn skills from the piano to swinging across monkey bars like a chimpanzee. They only have to dedicate a small portion of time relative to their adult counterparts to achieve the same result. When a child masters the monkey bars, she doesn’t have the intent of doing so, but sees other kids having fun and decides that she too wants to have fun. This hedonistic approach is what fuels a child’s skill development.

What happens next is simple. After observing a fun-looking skill, the child attempts the movement, often failing many times in the process. Through continued trial and error, she eventually develops competency.

Many factors contribute to why the young learn with such ease and pace. For one, they are not frightened by failure. Also, their maturing brains have the capacity to develop motor patterns at a rate far greater than that of an adult via neural plasticity.

The power of habits

Habits are why adults can’t approach skill development with only ‘play’ in mind. Habits can be related to work, sport or lifestyle, and strengthen over time. Western civilised society fosters certain habits, such as spending long periods of time sitting, which in turn creates imbalances. The development of tight pectoral muscles, drawing the shoulders forward into a slouched posture being a prime example.

Faulty movement patterns arise too.

You see, children are not afflicted with these flaws to the same degree because they are afforded more movement variability. They are not yet shackled to a 9-5 job which requires long periods of sitting, nor do they rely on Netflix for their entertainment, lessening the load on their rump.

First with the head, then with the heart

A playful attitude towards skill development for an adult will unlikely lead to the results that a child can achieve. Although it’s crucial to keep ‘play’ in mind, it cannot be relied upon when it comes to achieving training-related goals.

This is where conditioning comes in.

Conditioning isn’t as sexy as the play aspect of training but plays the part of countering imbalances. For example, assuming your goal is to improve your weighted squat, conditioning work may focus on improving glute activation (which may be compromised thanks to sitting) through exercises like the hip thruster. Breaking old habits takes time. This is another reason why an adults progress is slowed relative to a child.

So what does this all mean?

‘First with head and then with the heart’. This is the motto with which Peekay, the main character from Bryce Courtney’s ‘The Power of One’, lives by, allowing him to achieve the goals which he has set himself.

Approach training pragmatically. Know that conditioning forms a vital part of your program and progress. At the same time, maintain a degree of exuberance. A child-like approach makes training enjoyable as well as sustainable.

What are your thoughts on ‘play’ as it applies to training? Leave a comment below.

Do Flat Feet Affect Performance?

Foot shape varies markedly, from high prominent arches to lowly pancake feet. Does foot structure impact upon how we move, or is it inconsequential like the shape of one’s nose relative to smelling ability?

A flat foot has long been regarded as detrimental to athletic performance. Impaired balance, reduced power output and increased injury risk are purported negatives of a flat-footed athlete. In World War II, the US Army turned down thousands of potential recruits for this very reason. Even today foot structure is looked upon by professional sporting scouts and military personnel as a marker of insufficiency or increased risk.

The evidence suggests flat-footedness is not a disadvantage. A study conducted in 2009  compared 11-15 year olds after dividing them into four categories based on their foot composition. The participants performed a battery of tests looking at speed, coordination, balance and force production. The results demonstrated no significant differences between the groups.

Further strengthening the notion that flat feet do not effect performance are examples of  athletes who have succeeded at the highest level. Said Aouita, the Moroccan track and field athlete won gold at the 1984 Olympics in the 5000m. Also, soccer stars of past and present, David Beckham and Lionel Messi, are believed to have flat feet.

The question beckons – would these athletes have reached higher heights had they not been burdened with flat feet? Did they succeed in spite of their foot structure?

Ideally, more evidence needs to be gathered in a controlled environment to answer this question. At present the research is limited. Future studies focusing on different age groups as well as injury risk, would be useful for budding athletes and recruiters searching for ideal candidates.

Regardless of an individuals foot make-up, training the foot should form part of every training regime, from recreational to professional level. We train every other area of the body, why neglect the humble foot which plays a fundamental role in transferring force and balance?

Adding to this, feet are constrained in shoes for a good portion of the day. The restrictive nature of these casts is incomparable to any other body part, thus the need to mobilise the foot is amplified.

The web is full of resources to develop a more active foot. You can find examples here and here. What are your thoughts on the flat foot?

How To Build a Skill

Developing skills efficiently can be summarised by:

  1. Setting a skill-related goal
  2. Creating an appropriate program
  3. Training
  4. Gathering feedback
  5. Training with criticisms in mind
  6. Repeating step 3 to 5 until the goal has been achieved

Set a goal

Self-development books and coaches have diluted the importance of goal setting. Regardless, it remains an important part of the skill development process.

A goal needs to be specific and the number of goals kept to a minimum. An inverse relationship exists between the number of goals set and the likelihood of success. The greater the number the lesser the chance of the desired result.

Sample – Perform a 30 second free standing handstand.

Devise a program

Ask yourself, do you have the knowledge to create a targeted program and have you had success with self-programming in the past?

Even if you answered the above questions with a robust ‘yes’, oftentimes finding an expert to provide you with a program is the best option. Their unbiased approach means they are unlikely to skimp on the drills you might leave out due to indifference. Furthermore, ideally they have mastered the skill you’re looking to develop and have a road map to get there.


The cornerstones of an optimal training protocol are consistency, mindfulness, quality-centred and progression. Keeping these four factors in mind, while enjoying the process, to create a conducive training environment.

Gather feedback

Be critical of your efforts. When performing a movement, ask yourself – how does this feel? What went wrong with that last rep? What went right?

In addition to internal feedback, film yourself and collect objective data.

While self-feedback is valuable and will account for the majority of feedback received, asking others for their assessment is important too. If possible, ask a wide number of sources from experts who can pick apart your form and provide constructive ways to improve it, to the layman who can provide an unbiased perspective.


Return to training and work on the areas requiring attention. Include specific drills if necessary.

Rinse and repeat

Continue to train, collect feedback and make adjustments until you reach your goal. The process is simple but far from easy. A lack of consistent feedback is a common stumbling block. Without this cog, its analogous to sailing a ship without paying heed to the compass. You’ll make it to land eventually, though it’s unlikely to be your target destination!

Matt Perryman used the example of treating the body as a garden, making small tweaks and adjustments based on what you feel. The same parallels can be drawn to skill development.

You start with a vacant plot of land with an idea of how you want your future garden to look (setting a goal).

Next, the landscaper creates a blueprint (creating an appropriate program).

Then you begin to work the land – sowing seeds, removing weeds and rotten tree trunks (training).

As you progress, you take stock of the garden and make comparisons to your blueprint. You ask others for their opinions too (gather feedback).

With feedback in mind, you make tweaks to the garden, continuing to move towards completion (training with criticisms in mind).

After a period of time with consistent application and patience, your dream garden comes to fruition (skill developed).

What are your thoughts on the process outlined above? Are any steps missing? Leave your thoughts below.