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By: Josh Bryant

Whether you are a card-carrying member of the Tea Party or you start your days off with Marx’s Communist Manifesto, you cannot deny the success of the former Soviet Sports Machine!

Next time you find yourself at the Coney Island Side Show, head down Surf Ave to Brighton Beach.  Not only will you get the best Borscht this side of St. Petersburg, you can still meet old time Soviet holdouts that will confirm the message in today’s newsletter.

USSR Success

Many folks attribute the success of the former USSR to advanced methods of physical, tactical, and technical preparation; others play it off as drug concoctions.

There is one factor that is completely ignored!

The psychology of Soviet Athletes.


Avksenty Tcezarevich Puni (1898–1986) is considered by many to be the founding father of Soviet Sports Psychology.  Puni’s work helped athletes psychologically prepare for competition and perform at their best when it counted!

Puni broke down psychological preparation into a general component and a specific component.  General psychological preparation included developing goal directness, determination, courage, persistence, self-initiative, patriotism and the learning of self regulation.

Sport-specific training works from general to specific; a general base is needed before more sport specific things can be done, like physical training.

Mind/Body Link

Too often we try and compartmentalize the mind and body as operating separately.  The YMCA has it right, “sound mind, body and spirit.”  All are interrelated and work together.

Dr. Fred Hatfield says, “You cannot shoot a cannon out of a canoe.”  Puni coached athletes starting with general psychological preparation then moved to specific.  Under Puni’s tutelage, athletes built a psychological base and once the foundation was built, they narrowed into more sport specific psychological preparation techniques.

Football, golf and marathon running all require an athlete to be mentally prepared but not in the exact same mindset.  A linebacker on 4th down of a goal line stand has a different mindset than a professional golfer shooting a putt in a major tournament.

Puni was after one thingan optimal performance state!  Your best performance has to be in a competition or a game.  Puni referred to this term ‘boevaya gotovnost’ or the readiness to fight.

‘boevaya gotovnost’-Originated with these 5 decrees

1)   Sensible Self-Confidence-Having realistic self-confidence to perform game time. Believe in yourself and your training plan!  A 2009 study published in The Perceptual Motor Skills Journal showed that athletes believing in their competition training plans are far more likely to be successful in their given sport.

2)   Uncompromising Effort and the Willingness to Compete to the Very End of the Competition– Adversity, majority of the time, produces cowardice. If your athletic goals aspire no higher than winning a game of beer pong at the local fraternity house, don’t stress on this one.  If you want to be the best at what you do, repetition is the mother skill.  Human beings are creatures of habit; when things get tough in sport or life, see them through and do your best. Do not form the habit of being a quitter or a coward.

3) Optimal Emotional Arousal-Jack Nicklaus stated many times that he believes golf is 90% mental preparation and only 10% skill. He prepares for tournaments by visualizing problem putts and mentally rehearsing each drive.  When Jack gets on the course, he is just going through the motions. Jack has rehearsed himself playing over and over and has a calm, cool approach. This is the right amount of emotional arousal for his golf game.   An inside linebacker needs to be aggressive but not to the point of reckless abandon; this would result in excessive penalties, over pursuing the football, missed reads and premature fatigue!  Instead, controlled rage is the name of the game; linebackers must be mobile, agile and hostile.  Different sports require different levels of arousal.

4) High Tolerance for Stress and Distraction– You, as an athlete, cannot focus on external factors; focus on the task at hand.  Think back to your best performances. Many times it was like you were in a different zone, almost semi conscious; if you have experienced this, you were falling in line with how elite athletes report to feel after extraordinary performances. Whether it is MMA, boxing, or any combat sport, fighters frequently express a lack of event consciousness when knocking out an opponent.   This is the same for the basketball player that has a chance to win the game by making both free throws with opposing fans screaming. Think, how many football games are dependent on whether a kicker comes through in the clutch?

The Australian Psychologist in June 2010 showed a peer reviewed piece entitled Emotions in sport: Perceived effects on attention, concentration, and performance. This showed athletes identifying negative environmental stimuli, generally narrow on the threat/stimuli and conversely, their ability to respond to peripheral stimuli is compromised.  In other words, if you are a running back and you run scared, you will not see the whole field.  Cognitive activity will increase with anxiety and, in turn, information processing becomes extensive and is greatly slowed down.

Concentration on a perceived threat drives ones’ thoughts toward feelings and personal concerns. This encompasses working memory and will redirect your attention toward your personal concerns, leaving less attention to devote to the sporting task. The uneasy feelings associated with anxiety can also lead to a conscious effort to actively control sporting movements to ensure success. Do you think Mike Tyson threw a knockout upper cut after giving an extensive biomechanical break down in his head on how to throw the punch correctly? Of course not!!!  This will kill performance in sport.

It is hard to succeed with both hands around your neck, if you cannot master this principle, you will choke!  “Clutch players” retreat to their own inner mind, where there is no pain, no discomfort, and where only positive forces loom.

5. Self-Control-These ideas are interrelated.  You are not born a winner or a loser, you are a chooser, and you have the ability to control your actions, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Setting aside time to properly prepare your mind for athletic competition is a choice that requires discipline.

joshstrength| Three Training Modalities that Lead to Fat Loss| publish|1| 9/21/2013 2:59:56 PM|

by Joe Giandonato, MS, CSCS


As a strength and conditioning coach and personal trainer, many questions I am asked revolve around what are the most effective ways to burn fat.


The most effective way for people to  lose fat ultimately boils down to a constellation of factors, which include their training history, current fitness level, orthopedic and medical limitations, availability to train and lastly, their nutrition.


Making sure your nutrition is dialed in if you want to improve your body composition. So if you’re one of those people asking about fat loss tips with a greasy cheeseburger in one hand and a beer in the other, you’d be initially better served by cleaning up your nutrition. Throughout my decade in the industry, one of the greatest that I’ve learned in training myself and others that it’s impossible to “outtrain” a bad diet. Okay, there are some exceptions to the rule. I have worked with long distance swimmers who swam five to six hours a day, but they, along with many endurance athletes are exceptions to the norm. They could afford to be liberal with their nutrition. Being lax with nutrition doesn’t apply to the average person who might only able to commit a few hours per week to exercise.


Once your nutrition is in order, you have two options.


Option One: LISS


The first option is low intensity steady state exercise. Low intensity steady state exercise, known in fitness circles as LISS, or among clinical exercise professionals as steady state training, is classified as sustained rhythmic exercise transpiring within 60% and 80% of maximum heart rate or between 50% and 75% of your VO2 Max. Low intensity steady state exercise is generally reserved for individuals seeking improved cardiorespiratory fitness levels, when conducted at lower intensities (around 60% of HR Max and 50% of VO2 Max) endurance athletes, when conducted at greater intensities (closer to 80% of HR Max and 75% of VO2 Max).


LISS is still a very important tool as it enhances aerobic capacity, in turn improving cardiorespiratory fitness. Those with a greater degree of cardiorespiratory fitness are adept in burning fat during exercise as LISS acutely uses more fat as an energy source. Typically, those in better shape recover quicker between bouts of exertion and between training sessions. LISS helps you achieve that vaunted “aerobic base” we’ve heard coaches and trainers throw around before.


If you’re just getting back in the game after a layoff, or have some limitations associated with medical and orthopedic issues, it would be advisable to gradually improve your cardiorespiratory fitness level and aerobic capacity through LISS.


Option Two: Pick one of the Big Three


The second option is comprised of three modalities of greater intensities. Training at greater intensities will invoke a physiological response far greater than training at low intensities. This response is known as Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption, or EPOC, which is often referred to as the “after burn effect”.


High Intensity Interval Training


High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, has been seemingly worshipped by mainstream fitness media for the past decade. Well, some of the writers and personal trainers have misconstrued what HIIT actually is. True HIIT, derived from a protocol developed by Japanese researcher, Dr. Izumi Tabata, entails that bouts of supramaximal output are performed for 20 seconds with 10 seconds of recovery. VO2 Maxes during Dr. Tabata’s study registered up to 170%. True HIIT is virtually impossible to achieve unless you are an elite athlete or have access to your local university’s exercise phys. lab.


For practical purposes, HIIT can be characterized as exercise performed beyond 80% of one’s max heart rate or 75% of VO2 Max.


HIIT can be performed a myriad of ways and interspersed with a continuum of rest periods. General fitness folks can start with a 1:5 work to rest ratio and gradually work their way to performing a balanced work to rest ratio of 1:1. Athletes can perform HIIT with work to rest ratios which simulate the bioenergetic demands of their sport.


HIIT Training Tips


  • For individuals seeking strength gains, HIIT should be limited to two sessions per week with each session being performed in less than 20 minutes.


  • For our general fitness folks, no more than three sessions should be performed per week, however, I will suggest that two sessions per week is generally more than enough.


  • In either case, HIIT sessions should be performed on non-consecutive days.


  • If you’re looking to save your legs, engage in activities with little to no ground reaction forces, such as performing your sessions on the recumbent bike or elliptical trainer. Alternatively, you may perform work with battle ropes, as I prescribed many of my college basketball guys who play and practice frequently throughout the year.


  • Negative work to rest ratios (i.e. 2:1 are highly catabolic) and defeat the purpose of performing HIIT.


Circuit Training


Since CrossFit arrived at the forefront of the fitness world, many gym goers have started to implement CrossFit influenced circuits within their workouts. It should be prefaced that CrossFit is actually a sport, and unless a lifter or athlete is training for it, CrossFit circuits should be avoided.


Traditionally, circuit training protocols have involved a series of resistance training exercises performed in succession with a minimal amount of rest in an effort to build muscular endurance. Mixed circuit training packs a variety of exercises, such as movements performed with barbells and dumbbells, bodyweight exercises, plyometric drills, and cardiovascular exercise to address a spectrum of fitness qualities ranging from strength to cardiorespiratory fitness.


A sample mixed training circuit would go like this:


A1) Barbell Squat x 10 reps

A2) Burpees x 10 reps

A3) Pull Ups x 10 reps

A4) Treadmill Sprint x :30


The above circuit could be repeated three or four times with each movement interpolated with rest periods up to 60 seconds between each exercise.


Mixed Circuit Training Tips


  • Exercises which require a high degree of technical proficiency should not be heavily loaded. For instance barbell exercises should be loaded with less than 25% of one’s 1RM.


  • Exercises should never be taken to failure and the number of repetitions should be deliberately kept lower to ensure good form.


  • Rest between individual exercises and circuits may be reduced to intensify the circuits, however, work to rest intervals should be kept 1:2 or greater, that is for every 30 seconds of work, you should rest for 60 seconds. Negative work to rest ratios, when the time of work being performed is greater than rest time, should be avoided as the body cannot sustain high output, high intensity work without appropriate rest.


Barbell Complexes


Barbell complexes are one of the most versatile, yet misunderstood tools within the fitness industry.

Questions often arising regarding their implementation include: the amount of load to be used, how many repetitions, how many sets, what exercises should be performed, and how frequently should they be implemented in one’s training program?


Barbell complexes are comprised of a series of different movements performed continuously with no rest with a barbell. They usually consist of Olympic lifts and their variants, compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and rows, and isolation exercises such as curls.


Barbell Complex Tips


  • For beginners who have not yet mastered each movement, barbell complexes are not appropriate. Novice lifters should seek out the instruction of a qualified coach or trainer to learn how to properly execute each lift.


  • For intermediate and advanced trainees, barbell complexes should be performed with a weight that the trainee can curl a loaded barbell for 8 to 12 strict repetitions. Though this load may seem light, it should be noted that barbell complexes are not meant to develop maximal strength, instead they get the body warmed up for the heavier lifts that lie ahead in one’s training session.


  • For warm‐ups, each movement should be performed as a precursor to the lifts that are to be done during the training session and performed between 3 to 6 repetitions throughout a handful of sets. For trainees who have perfected each movement, higher set‐repetition schemes and reduced rest periods can be implemented for conditioning purposes.


Sample complexes could include:


The Bear – Clean, Press, Place Bar on Back, Squat, Behind the Neck Press

Olyplex – RDL, Clean Pull from the Hang Position, Clean from the Hang Position

Grip and Vanity Finisher – Performed with a fat bar, or with Fat Gripz – Shrug to Reverse Curl to Press, finishing complex set with a static hold.

By: Josh Bryant

Perception is reality. So, when preparing the mind for a tennis match, powerlifting meet, football game or bare knuckle fisticuffs, we need to prepare the mind realistically.

It takes more than just discussion of a task at hand. The more vivid the preparation, the more successful it is. That means integrating all five senses; not just what you see but even what you hear, smell, taste and touch.

When you get to the situation, there will be no surprises. You will be ready. Here are some tips to develop your killer instinct:

-Remove distractions. Whether they are internal like thinking unproductive thoughts, focusing on irrelevant cues or anything that compromises your mental sharpness, end it!  Before the big game or match, stay away from the competitor that is babbling; his nervous energy won’t allow him to shut up. His personal hell doesn’t need a partner.  


-Believe in yourself. Be confident. Believe in your training. A study in the 2009 Journal of Perceptual Motor Skills showed that athletes believing in their training plans had more success than athletes that did not.  Believe to achieve. Remember, you are not creating a false sense of belief. Only train a certain way if you believe in it. Go into battle fully prepared. Belief with proper preparation = synergy.



-Operate in your effective zone not your comfort zone.  It is all too often you hear people say I have always done blah blah blah. It is crazy to think that they wonder why they have reached a total plateau in their progress. The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect different results.  If you are not making progress you need to change something. If you are real comfortable, you are probably not real successful.


-Know your own strengths and weaknesses. Know your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. If you are a boxer and every time your opponent throws a jab he brings his hand down to his waist level, throw an overhand right and he will be lights out. Know your weaknesses. If you are a big bruiser fullback, there is no reason to juke a much smaller linebacker- run him over. An out of shape powerlifter may have to go a little bigger on his second attempt deadlift because he may run out of gas for his third. Keep your strengths your strengths and work to bring up your weaknesses. Know yourself, know your opponent.


Look for more tips to come on developing your killer instinct!

by: Bryant Barrett Having a strong grip is an advantage in any strength sport, stronger hands equal bigger lifts.  A lot of misconceptions come with grip training; the need for specialized equipment, large amounts of time, limited number of exercises, etc. Grip training is one of the most overlooked aspects of strength training and can hinder the athlete in max effort lifts. Here are simple and effective exercises to train grip without specialized equipment.

Plate Pinching involves placing two or more plates together so that the outside plates are facing smooth-sides-out, and then lifting them in a Pinch Grip. Doing the single hand plate pinch start with two 10lb plates for time and add another 10lb plate for progression or move up with two 25lb plates for time.  A pinch grip feat of strength is pinching two 45lb plates. Plate pinching can also be done with two hands and a staple event in a grip contest.

Hex Dumbbell holds is another style of pinch grip exercises. To perform a hex dumbbell hold place the dumbbells on the floor vertically and pick them up by the head and hold. Start with 15-20lb dumbbell holds for time and for progression increase the weight of the dumbbell.

Another way to train your grip is thick bar lifting. Many lifters these days have access to axle bars ; If not, you can turn any bar into an axle with “fat gripz.”  Any exercise done with a barbell can be done with an axle.

by Joe Giandonato, MS, CSCS