Iron Philosophy: A Lion Does Not Loose Sleep Over the Opinion of Sheep

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As lifters we have all been in this situation. You are loading up the bar with the weight you’ve carefully programmed to hit for the day. Out of the corner of your eye you catch someone looking. They don’t stare for long but in that moment you know they’ve sized you up and made an opinion of you. In your head you are thinking “I know I can do more, they’ve never seen me go heavy”.

So begins the struggle:

Do you load up the bar with more weight and give in to someone else’s opinion of you? Or stick to the plan that you have set for yourself and ignore them?

Option A:

You’ve chosen to load up the weight fueled by the thought of proving them wrong and showing them up. You just went heavy the other day and you know it’s probably not a good idea but you are going to do it anyway. Bar is loaded; you set up, get ready, struggle, aaand FAIL.

Like a fool you now have to clean up after yourself and leave the gym disappointed. Not only that but you have now messed up your programming and will most likely need to rest accordingly. All for what? To prove a stranger wrong? Did it make you a better lifter? Did it satisfy your ego? What of the next time a stranger sizes you down again? Do you go heavy every single day at the cost of your progress just to impress everyone around you?

Option B:

You choose to put on the weight you have programmed for the day and you ignore that person. You realize that you are at the gym for your own self-improvement and that the opinions of others don’t matter. You are confident in your own abilities and you know what they are; you don’t need to prove anything to anyone else. By sticking to the plan you know that you are seeing the picture in the long term and that this will help you get much stronger in the future. The bar is loaded; you set up, get ready, destroy it, and SUCCEED.

The difference between the two decisions can make or break you as a lifter. The first option leaves you with the chance to boost your ego but hinder your long term progress. The second option puts your ego to the side but lets you progress beyond those short term results.

Moral of the Story: A true lion knows he can kill anything he wants and he doesn’t need to go around wasting his energy for the sheep to know. Be confident in your abilities and remember this is about you. The day you care more about what others think will be the day you lead yourself to failure. Don’t do that to yourself.

Powerlifting Footwear

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Appropriate footwear in the squat and deadlift may seem like a small detail but it can make the difference in your long term performance. The footwear for each should reflect the movements that are to be performed in order to be able to produce the best results.


Common Mistake, Running Shoes


The common mistake that I note in a lot of casual lifters is that they mistake the running shoe for an appropriate shoe to wear during strength training. While you may be able to get away with this when performing certain exercises, these are not the best for squatting or deadlift in.


In the squat they often offer to much room to wiggle the foot from side to side allows room for the ankle to roll with heavy loads. This “wiggle” room will also lack overall stability to be able to drive out properly. In the running shoe there will also often be too much cushion for shock absorbance. While this is great for running, in squatting this won’t allow you to transfer energy through the shoe properly and take power away from your strength.


In the deadlift, the shoes provide too much height relative to being close to the floor. They will often also include heels which can put you in a further deficit and also pitch you forward. The deadlift should never be pitched forward but should instead allow room to be able to pull back properly.


Squatting Footwear


Personally I squat in Olympic Shoes and while I think they are great, I’m not going to advise dropping some big money on some because the ones worth buying are usually quite expensive. Instead I’ll suggest starting off with ditching the running shoes and investing in a more solid shoe.


Commonly used footwear includes the all time classic “Converse Chuck Taylor” shoe. They provide a great deal of stability on the floor and ankle support. They are also relatively cheap. They don’t however have a heel which can be a problem for some who have ankle mobility issues (this is where Olympic shoes supplement working the problem).


Other shoes of choice include the “Vibrum” variation shoe although they may seem silly to some. However, they do get the job done and I used them long ago for a small period. Can’t say anything terribly bad about them.


Deadlifting Footwear


Once again the most commonly shoe used for deadlifting is the “Converse Chuck Taylor” shoe. Great support, flat and close to the ground without a heel that would pitch forward or give a big deficit. I still use mine to deadlift in instead of my Olympic shoes which I use for squatting.

An option I’ve seen with other professional lifters is the use of deadlift slippers. These are very thin foot coverings that bring you even closer to the ground. Haven’t tried them yet but I hear they are great.


If I’ve mentioned something you don’t currently have, don’t feel obligated to go out and buy it but it will help if you are looking for that extra push forward. I’m not well versed in Olympic Shoes but the ones I use are the Nike Romaleos II for anyone wondering.


-Surge To New Levels

The Importance of Upper Back Tightness in the Squat

By ensuring that you keep a tight upper back in the squat you will be in a better position to come down into the hole and come up with both speed and strength. This should allow you to be able to put more weight on the bar as you are less likely to be in a compromised position.

Many people don’t realize this but this is the most common mistake and it’s easy to overlook as all the attention is usually focused on the lower body. However the way you start is the way you finish and if your base is awful to begin with, there isn’t much room to go from there.

So why is it so important? Well, in not keeping your upper back tight during the squat you are doing a number of things that will work against you. For one the bar may not stay in proper position and either roll back or roll forth which can put you out of groove and make it that much harder to get back up. For example, if it rolls forward you may find yourself in a good morning position than a squat

Also, you are making it harder to be able to keep the chest up which in turn makes it harder to drive the neck into the bar and it makes it difficult to stay in a proper upright position with the hips under the bar. At the worst it can slip off your back together and cause risk of injury to yourself or others.

Upon identifying the problem it’s easy to want to just clench the upper back tighter and call it a day but there is more to it than that:

First identify whether you are a high bar or low bar squatter. From here you will need to practice placing the bar in the EXACT spot that gives you consistent results. Learn to dig your upper back into the bar on that spot and from there you can go ahead and grip the bar. Gripping the bar shouldn’t be easy; you should be gripping it with all your strength. From here you will find you can better squeeze the shoulder blades together and then dig the bar in and readjust. After this point it’s always important not to forget to stop squeezing which is easy after a few sets. Notably keeping the elbows tucked and forward will help as well as it is a factor in why the upper back becomes loose after a few sets.

This of course takes practice and the routine depends from person to person but ultimately you should find your own protocol, master it, and repeat it for consistent results

-Surge to New Levels

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Avoiding the Good Morning Squat

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Sometimes a squat can turn into a good morning movement if there are weaknesses or if technique isn’t solid but it will always lead to the possibility of injury and usually a failed rep. By consciously putting more emphasis on driving your hips forward, you will stand a better chance at avoiding this mistake.

For the longest my squat resembled a good morning more than it did a proper squat. My butt would come up first out of the hole and my chest would cave forward leaving me in a terribly straining position with the bar far in front of my line of path.

That is until I was told by an old teammate of Ed Coan that the key in the squat was the use of the hips. To paraphrase, he said something along the lines of “the hips are your power house”. That got me thinking and so I began to emphasize driving the hips forward out of the hole.

By driving the hips forward you allow yourself to properly take advantage of the power that the hips can generate. Not only that but you have less of a chance to let your ass come up first when you are focusing on thrusting forward instead.

Now while that helped, it couldn’t be complete without a tight upper back. By keeping a tight upper back I found that I was better able to keep my chest up. This coupled with driving the hips forward out of the hole really allowed my upper body to come up in unison in a way that better resembled a proper squat.

Although I believe most of the time it isn’t the case, a weak lower back can also be the primary problem to a good morning style squat. A weak lower back can be strengthened through a variety of accessory movements like hyper extensions to name a big one. Deadlifting will also do wonders for the lower back and erectors. 

All in all, if there are any points you should derive from this they are:

Make sure to drive the hips forward out of the hole

Avoid coming up with your ass first from the hole

Ensure your upper back is tight to keep your chest up

Emphasize the combination to rise in unison and avoid a good morning

By learning to use your hips in the squat you will also find that it will lead to better engagement in other movements like the deadlift as well.

-Surge to New Levels

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The Bar is Loaded: Success Under Pressure

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Standing before a loaded barbell you have two options: either you lift the weight or you do not. A do or die situation, it doesn’t make it any less stressful that you only have once chance to do it. Otherwise if you miss it you may find yourself waiting a long time before getting the opportunity again.

This can be intimidating no matter your level of experience. To have to feel like your hard work can only be determined by the performance of one day. With this pressure some of us crack and fail while others thrive and succeed. So what makes the difference?

The first reason people succeed is because they have resilience. The ability to adapt to stress and return to an optimal state of being after being bombarded by feelings of fear and doubt. It is one thing to experience the emotions and it is another to listen to them. Successful people acknowledge they exist but they replace them with positive ones or ignore them altogether. Either way, they are able to take control of their own outcomes by fighting back.

Secondly, they acknowledge a do or die situation as an opportunity to fight rather than take flight. As opposed to going through the motions to get the lift over with they instead choose to give it their all. They realize that if they are going to be faced with a challenge then they better be ready to leave it all on the platform. After all, would you rather give everything you got for 1-2 minutes or spend the next hundreds of hours in regret?

Lastly they are not afraid to fail. Successful people realize that failure is a reality and that sometimes things are outside of their control. Because of that they know that no matter if they fail, it can never be indicative of their value as a person. Instead it is something that happens but can be changed for the future. The only real option is to do their best and let things happen without stressing anymore than they need to.

While this is directed towards powerlifting, I’d like to point out out that any of these things can be adapted to life in general. So with that: resolve, fight, and never fear.

-Surge to New Levels

Hand Grip Width and Style in the Conventional Deadlift 

I’m surprised at the amount of beginner and intermediate lifters who are sabotaging themselves by not gripping the bar correctly. By gripping the bar just right outside of the thighs and using a mixed grip you will be able to effectively gain more tightness which will make you stronger.

Recently had someone ask me to help them on their deadlift form and they were very enthusiastic so I decided to let them jump in with me. When they went set up I noted that they were gripping farther out from their thighs than they needed to. Upon seeing this, I corrected this person to bring it in closer right outside of the thighs where it had enough room to clear. Needless to say he felt much stronger by bringing in his grip width and noted that their lock out felt much stronger.

There are a few reasons behind why such a small thing as changing the grip width can make a difference. For one you are better able to bring the shoulders back and keep them tight behind the bar. Recently did a write up on that concept under the “Deadlift” section. Secondly, the same tightness will also allow for a better lock out at the top by allowing the lifter to contract harder and finish the movement stronger. Lastly it also helps puts you in a better hinge position. In grabbing it out too far you are forced into more of a squat position which is NOT the way to squat. (Also did a write up on this Squat VS Hinge).

While on the subject I thought I’d also touch upon mixed grip in the deadlift. It’s simple concept most of us understand but for the few that don’t yet, listen closely. Mixed grip will help you a TON more in actually being able to hold the bar. If you are currently using double overhand you are making it harder on yourself.

With the double overhand the bar will often by default want to roll backwards and your grip strength needs to be strong enough to hold it in position otherwise it will drop. With the mixed grip however the bar will be caught on both sides as it starts to roll; one hand over, and one hand under will cover your basis and stop it from rolling front or back. This will help you feel stronger.

Simple enough tips but worthwhile if you don’t employ them yet. The little things can make all the difference.

-Surge to New Levels

If you have ever failed at anything in life regardless of whether it is related to the gym or not, this is for you

Iron Philosophy: Failure Is a State of Mind

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Over the years I’ve come to realize that failure isn’t necessarily a reality but instead a state of mind. In other words, “no one is truly defeated until they accept it as truth”. Because of this I’ve found that failure only exists if we make it so. It just depends on our perspective on whether we see “failure” as a dead end or a stepping stone.

“Failure” in terms of not being able to complete something that we set out to do is bound to happen to in life.  That is just the reality of things but true failure in terms of admitting defeat is an option that we can reserve to withhold. We may not be able to stop things from going our way, but we can sure choose the way in which we approach it.

Left to its own accord the mind will always initially resort to its weakest state if let be. After failure it will become vulnerable to thoughts of self doubt and insecurity. Yet much like the body during a max effort lift we have two options in dealing with this:

  1. Allow the body/mind to resort to its most comfortable yet weakest position and end up failing
  1. Fight against the weakness and refocus to stay in the strongest optimal position to succeed

If we choose the first option, “failure” can break us like a disease and stifle us from ever being able to move forward, just like a weight can crush us if we don’t fight against it and give in to gravity.

If we choose the second option, we can continue to keep a fighting attitude and refuse ourselves to be crushed by the imaginary weight that is called life.

The point is that we have the option to make failure a state of imagined “reality” in which we can’t escape from or we can make failure a state of mind in which we can decide to change at our own accord. Ultimately the final decision is our own as difficult as it may be sometimes to actually go through with it.

-Surge To New Levels

Deadlift: The Dreaded Bar Drift

This write up will benefit the beginning lifter, more specifically the one that is just learning how to deadlift. The bar drift is something that can make executing the lift much more difficult than necessary. By eliminating the bar drift you will find that you are in better groove and can properly pull “up and back” as you should be in the deadlift.

The bar drift is something that I have come to refer to as the bar being far too in front of the lifter. This can be seen straight away on the set up. The lifter is too far away from the bar when standing and on the initial pull there is a large gap between the shins and the barbell. This ends up putting the barbell out of groove and not taking advantage of the hinge motion and the drive it produces. Moreover, if the lift is completed it is often done by sheer back strength but often will result.

While I mentioned that this can be seen in the set up with the bar being too far away from the lifter when standing, it’s also important to note that one can still do this but then fix it right before the pull. In fact, larger lifters will often stand with an inch or two away from the bar because they lack the room to be able to stand so close to the bar and still manage to come sit back into position. Leaner lifters may get away with standing closer but there may often be a slight gap between the barbell.

So how do you fix it? Well experiment with standing closer to the bar and know that on your set up when you are right about to pull that bar should be snug against your shins. The barbell should in fact never leave your shins and if you imagine pulling up and back this will help in keeping that barbell tracing the shins up the leg properly.

For people who are not used to doing this it may cause some cuts and bruises on the shins. Even for experienced individuals it will often still cause superficial injury but you can prevent this by wearing long socks. I wouldn’t suggest pants, especially if they are saggy because they will often catch and slow down the bar.

 -Surge to New Levels


Surge New Levels: Squat PR’s 488 and 508 at 179 BW

Huge milestone. Hit my first 5 plate squat and also hit 2 PR’s in one single session. 2 weeks out from my next competition. Couldn’t have done it without my awesome teammates.

By ensuring that you take responsibility over your recovery methods outside of the gym, you will see more results when you come back into the gym. These recovery strategies will help you recover for optimal performance and injury prevention.

Personally the biggest recovery methods that I have used with success (excluding sleep and proper nutrition) are the following:

Foam rolling, stretching and mobility work, contrast showers, supplementation with fish oil and ibuprofen, and icy hot variations. Together these will all help ensure that you stay healthy, especially when running intense bouts of training sessions.

Foam Rolling

To begin with foam rolling is something that you should absolutely be doing if you aren’t already doing so. Foam rolling will allow your muscles to return to their proper length-tension relationships after the stress of training. This can allow you not only be more flexible and limber enough to perform better and avoid injury, but it can also help increase blood flow which is important for recovery.

Stretching and Mobility Work

You can’t go wrong with variations of stretching and mobility work. Personally I’d suggest sticking more to dynamic stretching and mobility work before training to ensure optimal performance but after training feel free to do all of the static stretching you desire. Add some dynamic or mobility work to go along with it if you feel you need the extra blood flow and help in addition with foam rolling to return muscles to their proper length-tension relationships.

Contrast Showers

Most people aren’t familiar with contrast showers but it is something they should be since it is so easy to implement since all you need is a shower. The process involves using hot and cold shower intervals in order to cause the blood vessels to contract and expand allowing for increased recovery and great relief if you need it right away.

Fish Oil/Ibuprofen

Fish oil and ibuprofen are INCREDIBLE because of their anti-inflammatory properties. By supplementing with the two it can save you a lot of inflammation that builds up cortisol and makes it harder to recover. Of course one should note the dangers of over dosage in both before taking too much of each.

Icy Hot Variations

Icy hot can provide instant relief just as much as contrast showers in the case that you feel extremely sore or you have pulled a muscle. Using these products as muscle relaxer, it will allow you to feel instant relief and take some of the pain away from really tough training days.

As mentioned before these are my personal methods so feel free to pick and choose as you wish but when I ran my first training cycle of Smolov, a Russian Program demanding high frequency and high volume squatting, these strategies sure saved me from injury and kept me feeling strong.

-Surge to New Levels


Surge New Levels: Bench PR 315X1 at 178

Tuesday I failed 315 but I couldn’t settle with that. Yes it may have been stupid to go back in only two days later but when you want something you have to just go get it. Don’t be afraid to “break” your programming if you know it is there. Just do it.

I used to feel guilty but ever since listening to Mark Bell in the Powerlifting Mentality video, I know better:

“He says I’m an idiot because I’m ignoring pain, ignoring elbow pain, and ignoring fatigue, and ignoring the central nervous system, and I’m not listening to my body, and I’m gonna end up in a wheelchair with a nurse pushing me around.

Well, guess what, my friend. We are all heading there. We will all die. We will all be in a lot of pain. It’s all comin’ our way. It’s inevitable. It’s part of life, but in the meantime, you might as well be a f**kin’ savage, and live your life the way you want to live, And you might as well put your best effort, and your best foot forward, and train like a motherf**ker.”


Sergio Luna 165 JR Powerlifter - Bench PR 325X1

New bench PR by 10 pounds. On the road to continue turning a huge weakness into something somewhat competitive. Long way from my personal failures with 275 in February.


WUAP Nationals - 165 JR Raw W/ Wraps 1367 Total 

Highlights of by far the best performance I have ever had even though I was dealing with a muscle strain towards the end. This is technically my first elite total and puts me at about 15th nationwide.

I absolutely could not have done this without my teammates and supportive girlfriend. Jackie Rodriguez is the best woman any man can ask for.She deals with me on a daily basis and even though we get frustrated with each other I know she’s the best thing that has ever happened in my life.

Huge thank you to Eric Lilliebridge for the programming that led me to hit an absolute peak performance. Tom Kallas, Jeramey Lowry, and Chris Hickson really helped motivate me and push me throughout this whole journey. Ernie Lilliebridge JR, Ernie Lilliebridge Sr., Jon Jursich, and Derek Kendall really tied everything together in training and in the platform to make sure I performed at the top of my potential.

Also thank you to to Stephen Parkhurst for putting on a great meet. Definitely one of the most strict ones I’ve been in but it was a great learning experience.

Juggernaut Training System Manuals

I always make it a point to be able to share as many resources as possible to be able to ensure the success of my clients. Last year Juggernaut Training Systems released the following manuals with tons of information. Sharing it with you all in one single place so that you may use it as a reference to your own training as well. More specifically, I believe this will most benefit those just starting by giving them a good stepping stone for future instruction. Enjoy and remember,

“Training is about long term learning, not day to day workouts”

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“As a lifter, would you rather have a new belt or pair of straps?”

As many of you know, I’ve been building up Surge to New Levels for some time now. As a result, I’ve been approached to be able to offer a free give away. 

As a way to say thank you for keeping up with me and showing me support, I’ll be giving away your choice of a belt or pair of straps!

To be considered you must be following this blog and must reblog with your answer. After 3 people will be randomly selected by next Wednesday as winners.

Personally I’m getting myself a pair of straps as I’m loyal to Inzer in regards to belts, but the option is all up to you!

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Sergio Luna 165 JR Powerlifter - Bench PR 335X1

I know I just benched Monday and hit a 325 PR but I knew I had more in me. 335 today moved up just as easy if not better. Difficult to tell where I’m truly at but I will take it for now. Looking forward to squatting Saturday.


Surge New Levels: Paused Bench PR 295 at 178

From earlier this week, this weight had crushed me before so many times


Surge New Levels: Squat 465X1 at 175lbs PR

Smoked a 465 squat for a 10lb PR. I’ve got more in the tank but I ended on a good note to keep building up for the meet. Couldn’t have done it without my awesome teammates. Seriously. 


Surge New Levels Deadlift 440X5 at 169

Official first day on Eric’s 12 week program for UPA Iron Battle on the Mississippi that I’ll be running alongside my teammate Mike. 

A bit hard on myself today because I don’t feel as confident going conventional than sumo but everyone tells me I look much better and consistent this way.

Misloaded the weight on accident (445 to 440) but overall I’m happy since I don’t even feel fatigued. I will however be sore from all the accessory work I did after.