Me…attempting to squat 275 lbs.

So, some of you may have seen my post from last week where I tested my maxes on squat and bench… as you can see they went pretty well.  The week before I maxed out, I de-loaded, and then in the days leading up to maxing out I just did some light lifting.  After maxing, my good friend and Coach Mike Robertson sent me an email basically saying, “OK…you have the next 10 days to do whatever you want in the gym.  Your new program will start after that.  Remember to have fun, but also remember that fun is FUN, fun isn’t STUPID!”  Hmmm…what ever could he have meant by that?

Umm… well… uhh… ahem… doo-dee-doo… lah-tee-dah…:::whistles and looks around innocently:::

So maybe, just maybe I have a slight reputation for doing really ridiclous stuff occasionally.  Like, I dunno… taking a Beyond the Whiteboard Challenge (a CrossFit website) and seeing how many times I can deadlift 155 lbs in 2 minutes causing my glutes and hamstrings to seize for a solid 25 minutes afterwards? (answer: 54 reps.  Beating every CF female in the world who entered the contest! ;-D)  

Or maybe taking a Survival of the Fittest challenge and seeing how many times I can front squat my body weight of 170 lbs? (answer: 18, and I used a Safety Bar backwards cuz I’m a cheater).  

Or possibly he was referring to taking Bret Contreras up on his Sexy Challenge, killing myself to beat THE Jen Sinkler’s total so I could be reigning QUEEN of the Sexy Challenge only to have her crazy-ass do it AGAIN a few days later just to come back and beat ME (she is one BAAAAAAAAD chick.  If you didn’t know, now you know!)  

And it was worth it because I front squatted my body weight again, and beat myself by 8 reps for a crazy 26 reps.  Yes, I was only using 165 this time instead of 170 (per Bret’s instructions of rounding down to the near 5 lbs) but I was pumped either way.

(Side note:  notice that every time I completed one of these things it was a “challenge.”  Apparently the way to get me to act like an idiot is to make it a contest with the prize nothing other than bragging rights).

I can just see it now…”Hey Molly… wanna see who can eat more live taranchulas?  The winner gets to tell everyone they’re more awesome than the loser!  Alright Molly you go first…!”

So yeah… maybe now you’re starting to get an idea of what Mike thinks I might do something ridiculous when I have free reign to program my own training.  So what did I decide to do this time?  Another nutty CrossFit challenge?  A ridiculous 1,000 pushup contest?  Or maybe I tried to cage fight a giraffe? (I would totally win by the way…)

Nope… you’re all wrong.  I decided to take the biggest challenge of all, a challenge from myself… to reign in my crazy ways and spend this week getting back to the basics.  

Yes, you read that correctly.  

I am taking this week in the gym to do exercises similar to what appeared in some of my beginner programs from Mike.  So that means Goblet Squats to Box, Half Kneeling Cable Rows and Presses, Tall Kneeling Lat Pulldowns, Prone Row to External Rotation…and all kinds of other ‘exciting stuff.’  And I tell you what… it’s kicking my butt!  

Those exercises that I just listed may not look like much, but when done correctly, they can absolutely annihilate you… and we are only doing 2 sets of 12 reps!  (Another good example of this is when I helped out with the mobility station at the EliteFTS Learn to Train Seminar last fall.  Out of all 5 stations: squat, bench, deadlift, strongman, and mobility, all the guys and gals complained that the mobility station was the hardest! ;-D). The reason I am doing this is 3-fold:

1.  We can all benefit from constantly refining our basic movement patterns.  Tony Gentilcore even wrote about this recently and you can read about it here.  

Basically, as we become intermediate and advanced lifters, we sometimes neglect the really basic stuff that allowed us to get to an intermediate or advanced level in the first place.  It’s kind of like when my brilliant friends have a hard time helping their 7th grader with Algebra.  It’s not that my friends can’t do it, it’s just that they are a little rusty and need a little reminder and a little tune-up and they are good to go.  Same thing with these movements patterns.  I needed to be reminded to:

               – Get tall through my ribcage not my lumbar spine, while keeping my ribcage down (yes, sounds weird and it’s hard!)

               – Stay tight in my anterior core, obliques and glutes to help stabilize my body when my limbs are moving every which way

               – What it felt like to get my chest “out” without hyper-extending my lumbar spine

And boy was it exhausting!

2.  To see how I have improved, and where I still need improvement.  When I first started with Mike’s programs 2 1/2 years ago, I was a disaster.  I couldn’t sit in a proper half-kneeling position without falling over.  Now, I can sit in a proper half kneeling position and do all kinds of chops, rows, presses, pulldowns, and the like.  

My training partner was shocked at how far I’d come and said everything looked fantastic!  Of course, there were a few cues I needed to get in the right position (like the ones I listed above), but all in all, once I got cued, I was able to maintain that position pretty darn well.  It’s a good feeling to know that all of the hard work you’ve put in has been worth it, and it’s also great to pinpoint where you still need help.

3.  To exercise self-control.  I have said it before and I’ll say it again —  in my experience, willpower and self-control are like muscles, the more you exercise them, the stronger they become.  There was a time many years ago when my self-control/willpower was absolutely pathetic.  I was an, “I-want-it-now-don’t-wanna-wait-instant-gratification kind of person.”  

Over the last decade, I have had a lot of practice exercising self-control and I have been pleased to watch it get stronger and stronger every day.  Any opportunity where it serves my best interest to practice self-control (see: above reasons) should be taken in my opinion.

I can’t lie… I would probably rather be doing all kinds of crazy rep challenges or body weight exercise contests this week (my friend Allen Tucker calls me a “closet CrossFitter”) but I decided to do what was in my best interest instead, and take it back to the basics.  Have you ever done that?  Have you taken time off from your hard and heavy lifting to work on the fundamentals?  How did it go?  Did you improve?  Tell me about it below!  Thanks for reading!

18 Responses to Back to Basics… A Challenge from Myself…

  1. chris says:

    Since discovering some nerve damage in my lumbar spine, it was recommended I stay away from any spinal compression. Enter Ben Bruno and single leg training. I have been getting murdered by walking lunges, step-ups, RFESS, KB front squats, single leg RDLs and others. Very humbling.

    • molly says:

      Amazing isn’t it? Sorry about the nerve damage. =( Glad to hear you have found some good alternatives though!

      Ben Bruno is a beast, huh? =)

  2. Rufus says:

    Good move. As my good friend and exercise physiologist, Bill Brechue, reminds me, you always got to go back to the basics some time or times during the year. Please write another blog about how it went.

    • molly says:

      Yes! It was such a good call! Even though I performed them well I was still surprised at how challenging the exercises were to do! =)

  3. Kyra says:

    When and where would you recommend incorporating these basics in a regular routine?

    • molly says:

      Hey Kyra!

      You know, you actually have a lot of options:

      1. Incorporate 1-2 movements in each workout between other accessory movements almost as an “active recovery” of sorts to allow you to get in extra “work” without interfering with your workout. For example:

      Barbell Back Squat: 4 sets of 6 reps

      Barbell Romanian Deadlift: 3 sets of 6-8 reps

      Glute Ham Raises: 3 sets of AMRAP with good form
      paired with
      Tall Kneeling Pulldown: 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps

      Split Squats: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
      paired with
      Prone Row to External Rotation: 3 sets of 10-12 reps

      So the Tall Kneeling Pulldown and Prone Row exercise would be the “extra” movements in the workout. You could do them during your “rest” period and they shouldn’t affect your performance on the GHR’s or Split Squats, and they allow you to recover muscularly while still keeping your heart rate up between sets!

      2. You could also just throw in 1-2 movements as part of your warm-up before you train. They aren’t easy to do, but they aren’t super taxing so they shouldn’t affect your workout and they will also prepare you to do your other movements properly by reinforcing the mind-muscle connection before your workout. For example, if you did the tall kneeling pulldowns as part of your warm-up, you would be reminded of what it feels like to stay tight in your core and glutes and really drive your chest out as you pull… then when you go to do your chin-ups as a main movement, you have that ‘feeling’ fresh in your memory and it will be easier to complete a proper chin-up.

      3. You can throw them in at the end of the workout at a type of low impact conditioning circuit. Just do several exercises in a row back to back to back with minimal rest and you should be huffing and puffing if you’re doing them correctly.

      4. You can come in on an “off day” and either do them as an active recovery day or a conditioning day. Pick 4-6 exercises and do them all. If you are doing it for active recovery, you can take a little more time between sets and exercises. If you’re doing it for conditioning, you can do giant sets with less time between exercises.

      Hope this is helpful!

  4. Kyra says:

    Ps. I also have a hard time sitting still too. After my bikini competition I was supposed to just do yoga for a week and I couldn’t help myself. I was back to lifting and sprinting in 5 days.

  5. Dave says:


    The basics are what gets us where we are. When we forget them, everything else goes away. For that reason, we have a back to basics week, once a month at my gym. It sometimes sucks, because we all want to do the fun stuff, But it is necessary to maintain safe, effective training.

    Good for you to realize this and go back to your roots. Now, can you help me with algebra?

    • molly says:

      Totally agree! I did this is a major way when I went back and started with Mike Robertson 2 1/2 years ago, but it’s always nice to have a reminder. No matter how “advanced” you feel… you can always benefit from the basics. I love that you do that monthly at your gym! I have no doubt that your clients are better for it!

  6. You aren’t as crazy as me, though, Molly, deadlifting heavily as I recall like 78 times in 2 or 3 days (by ‘heavy,’ I mean > 200-lbs, some of them off the 4″ cheat blocks, though) –I’d have to look at my logs to get exact figures, but suffice it to say that what you and Nia do, I do and make it look like it’s on steroids (bad pun, best I can do to crack a funny & still be drug-free!)

    In fact, Deb (who owns the Deb’s Gym here in Lakeland, which is right between Tampa & Orlando, Fla.) -and other gym peeps & hommies -oft make fun of me for “deadlifting every day,” but once I reduced the weights I was lifting most secession, the more frequent deadlifting was probably what helped me pull 350-lbs off the 4″ elevated blocks for a recent PR.

    PS: Since I am prompted to list my website, I will add that the health section linked here lists the websites of many of my friends and also has some of my own anti-cancer research. — and is non-profit. (Read: ‘FREE’)

    😀 vbg = “Very Big Grin” 🙂

    I’M Flash Gordon, and I approve this message! (Vote FLASH!)

    • Gordon Watts says:

      (“seeing how many times I can deadlift 155 lbs in 2 minutes causing my glutes and hamstrings to seize for a solid 25 minutes afterwards?”)

      ARGH!! I feel stupid for forgetting a common cause of this muscle seizure & suggesting a remedy. (Sorry! LOL) Of course, you probably over-extended yourself, but when you get a Charlie Horse or have a muscle seize up, it’s sometimes a lack of electrolytes.

      My guess, Molly, is that you blew through your calcium and potassium reserves when you went “full throttle.”

      Voltage-dependent calcium channels are key mediators in fast signal transduction in your nerves, I am pretty sure –and Calcium DEFINITELY plays a role in regulatory activity of voltage-gated calcium channels are smooth and striated muscle contraction (such as the heart: You actually need quite a bit of calcium to swiftly saturate the troponin molecules and trigger contraction in striated muscles!) As well I think in fast twitch muscles, since at least one type of muscle contraction is initiated by the calcium-activated phosphorylation, and possibly more than just the smooth muscles.

      Potassium and sodium regulate uptake and retention of liquids in the body.

      So, experientially, I know that right before a recent PR attempt in the 4″ elevated block deadlift, I downed a lot of Calcium citrate, Magnesium oxide, potassium, and sodium, as well as vitamin-C and Glutamine & various B-vitamins (and some aspirin too, to ward of inflammatory actions).

      It worked: The 350-lbs elevated off the box like it was a feather, and for reference, I’m almost as tall as you, with (probably) a similar reach, but weighing in at only 119 to 120 lbs. So, I infer electrolytes can be beneficial in extreme exertion efforts.

  7. Totally badass post (and not because you referenced me, which is equally as badass). I see more and more people struggling with this whole “going back to the basics” concept. Worse still, many newbies skip the basics altogether. But going back to me for a moment (it’s all about ME), I’ve recently HAD to go back to doing the basics and it’s humbling to say the least. As you noted, sometimes, as we get more advanced, we often forget what helped us get to that point in the first place.

    Brilliant observation and something I wish more people grasped.

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  13. Tyler Jones says:

    Hey, good job with the whole write-up. I really like it.
    I just want to ask you as for how would one implement this in one’s daily life?

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