Winners quit.
They quit because they know training smarter is WAY better than training harder.

It takes nothing to beat somebody down with a workout.
When training, the art of program design is in developing a workout that brings the trainee far enough to force an adaptation (a change for the better) while stopping shy of creating bad movement patterns and compensatory “cheating.” When you train, you’re body is learning. Teach it bad movement, and it will remember.

Every workout should be designed to train a specific skill (with a specific group of muscles). When you design a workout only to kick someone’s butt, you have taken the specificity out of the workout and allowed “free reign” for any form of faulty recruitment pattern(using the wrong muscle to do something it wasn’t designed to do). This is a bad way to train. You are training your body to default to the same bad pattern later.

Most of the time, “digging deep” to get those last few exhausted and sloppy reps are doing nothing but hurting you. If those reps are not performed with precision, with full awareness of the movement taking place, then you are just burning a few extra calories while putting your body at an injury risk.

When you lose motor control of your body, the set is over. Flailing around to finish a set isn’t training, it’s uncontrolled random movement. So please, quit. Winners quit. Smart trainees quit.

Train HARD. Train to your threshold of CONTROLLED movement, and understand that “training” means more than beating your body into an injury prone, faulty moving machine.

Matt Pirtle MA CSCS


Take a Step Back…..And THINK About it.

Want to learn more about strength training? Look to the Russians for the answer! From strength training and kettlebells, to powerlifting, to olympic lifting, Russia and other notable Eastern European countries have long been ahead of the curve.
While America took a decidedly aerobic shift in their fitness emphasis in the 80’s, these countries continued to hammer out some of the best strength research, and improved technique followed.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Russian system is the emphasis on mental imagery before performing a lift. Imagining which muscles fire, in what order, with a certain speed helps the athlete actually perform the lift with better precision. This does require a base knowledge of functional anatomy, but taking the time to acquire this knowledge pays off in improvement in exercise technique.
They actually took this concept a step further and had their athletes DRAW precisely, on paper, what happens step by step with a given lift. The more connection, mentally, the athlete has to a movement, the better adherence the body will have to completing that lift correctly.
I’m considering adopting this strategy with all of my clients, for movements as simple as a chest fly, to complicated movements like the clean and jerk. Don’t forget your number 2’s, class is now in session…..


That’s not……Right


If you’re going to put that much work into a training program, make sure you understand the “why?” and “how?”

If you have a training program that includes a hypertrophy and a power phase in it, do you know what that really means? Do you know the mechanisms that are at work to get you to these goals?
How about strength? Most people, even those who have been training for decades, don’t really know what this term means, or the appropriate way to train for it.
I see trainers, even highly respected trainers in the industry, give programs with bad information (systematically using terminology and application of concepts incorrectly).
For the scope of this article, I will focus on three basic program design concepts: hypertrophy, strength, and power.

HYPERTROPHY is a program design phase that focuses on muscle fiber size increase as the main goal. AKA getting bigger muscles. A successful hypertrophy programs seeks to do ONE thing; create a hormonal environment in the body conducive to gaining size (increased testosterone and growth hormone primarily). There are specific workout variables that must be followed to do this efficiently. First, take less rest in between sets (45 seconds). Rep range should be to failure at 10-12. Isolating muscle groups and performing up to 12 sets per muscle group using supersets and compound sets are optimal for this. Following these variables manipulates your body’s hormonal environment to a place where muscle size gain is optimized. Bench pressing for 5 reps followed by a lengthy rest for recovery won’t do this. Neither will plyometrics or other low reps, high rest training protocols.

POWER is a widely misunderstood term. Power by definition refers to the RATE of force development, AKA SPEED. Power is not effectively trained with heavy lifts to muscular failure. Power is best trained with a weight equivalent to about 50% of your one rep maximum. The resistance is lighter to facilitate SPEED. Training power requires explosive movement, with relatively lighter loads, with about 2 minutes rest in between sets. A power set is over when the weight begins moving slower than it did on the first rep, not when you simply can’t lift it anymore. This term is often used interchangeably with strength,which is something completely different.

STRENGTH is basically moving mass from point A to point B independent of how fast this happens. Strength training is training the neuromuscular system to use the muscle you ALREADY HAVE to produce force more efficiently. This is accomplished by making better “connections” to motor units in the muscle. Firing more of them at a faster rate produces more force. Force production is the goal of strength training. You can get stronger without gaining an ounce of muscle, and this often happens. Think of the first month you ever lifted weights. All of your lifts jump up FAST. This didn’t happen because you put on 20 pounds of new muscle. It happened because you began using the muscle you already had more effectively. Strength training is best accomplished with a rep range of 3-5, a rest period of 2-3 minutes (to recover neurally as well as physically) using a load that can be lifted with good form to failure for those 3-5 reps.

You should always know the “why” behind a workout program. Understanding this will help you manage your expectations and keep you on track to achieving your fitness goal. Embarking on a fitness program with the intent of adding muscle size with a strength and power program will leave you frustrated and definitely underperforming.

If you have a trainer, ask tons of questions. The more you understand the mechanisms of how a certain program design works, the greater the connection and investment you have to seeing results.

Never take things for face value. If you’re going to put forth the tremendous effort to achieve a fitness goal, make certain that the path you are taking is the most effective one.

Matt Pirtle MA CSCS

THIS is How You Activate Your Core

When attempting to activate your core, the BRACE is far more effective than the HOLLOW. Bracing is the act of stiffening all three levels of the core simultaneously to create a 360 degree stabilization of the torso. Hollowing is an attempt to isolate a single muscle of the core (transverse abdominus), giving the exerciser a flexion response and very little overall stability. Think of a circus tent with a single pole in the middle (your spine). The guy wires that are attached to the pole at the corners and then to the ground give a buttressing effect that leaves the pole (your spine) stable. This is what happens when you brace. The muscles of the core work as a unit, giving equal amounts of support from all angles, resulting in superior stability.

Matt Pirtle MA CSCS

How “Functional” is Your Workout, Really?


When attempting to determine how “functional” your fitness routine is, start by asking yourself:

How much time do I spend sitting down or lying on my back when exercising?

What percentage of my workout is spent using machines?

How much time do I spend training in one plane of motion, typically this is the Sagittal plane (squats,deadlifts,cleans,presses,most pulls, curls etc etc…)

Function is the ability to see results in the gym transfer to real-life movement. If you’re doing too much of any of the things listed above, the functionality of your workout is limited.

Matt Pirtle MA CSCS

When Learning to Tread Water, Don”t Dive Headfirst Into the Ocean

When I write an article or give advice to clients, I do it it based on my 12 years experience as a professional in the fitness industry. I rely on this experience and the education (which is constantly being updated) to fuel the subject I am addressing. I do not re-open old textbooks or paraphrase others in the industry.

The point here is, at a certain point you rely on experience and intuition because you”ve seen what has worked (and what hasn”t) many, many times.

While my education has and continues to be a solid base for my programming and fitness philosophy, my experience and practical application of this knowledge has taught me volumes more.

One of the things I have learned to be true in my time in the fitness world is that “baby” steps is truly the way to go when making an eventual lifestyle change toward healthy living.

I tend to cringe (a lot) when I hear advice given out to completely change ingrained habits overnight in the name of health and fitness.

Hearing a constant barrage of ultimatums asserting that someone”s current lifestyle is atrocious and is killing them swiftly, and the only remedy is a steady diet of broccoli makes me shake my head and laugh.

Yes, change is good, and may in fact save a persons life.  A sudden 180 is not an effective way to make that change. It doesn”t work for 95% of us.

I have found that small changes add up. Over time, the cumulative effect can lead to the lifestyle change that can change a persons life.

Pushing someone to the edge of cliff and forcing them to jump off without a parachute is bad advice. I”ve seen it happen, and I”ve seen the failure that follows.

If you”re wanting to drop some weight, start by tracking or journaling EXACTLY what you eat. Being aware of what you”re doing is an eye opening first step in changing your diet. You can make changes based on this awareness.

Adding two days of exercise into your week when you are used to none is a feasible (and effective) way of improving your strength and cardiovascular health almost immediately.
While on a trip last week, I saw in a Golds Gym (painted on a wall) the saying “if you can”t tie your shoes in the morning, you”re doing something right”.

“The Biggest Loser” mentality rears its ugly reality (fallacy) head again.

This is exactly the wrong advice a novice exerciser needs.

Start slow. Make changes one at a time. Keep your fitness goals in mind and know that changing your life is a process. Adopt changes at a rate that will stick and don”t be fooled by the insistent fitness “do or die” commands that are so popular today in social media.

Do it right and those changes will come. Take on too much too fast and you”re likely to be overwhelmed.

Matt Pirtle MA CSCS

Ass Kicking vs. Training Smart

When I walked out onto the weight room floor as a rookie trainer 12 years ago, there was one thing I knew I could do for sure. Kick somebody”s ass with weight training.

It wasn”t too hard. I just arbitrarily combined several compound movements together back to back with little or no rest.

My thought was if they crawled, not walked, out of the gym I did my job. I did this well and actually built a solid clientele based on this philosophy alone (sorry circa 2001 clients, I”m better now….)

This way of training was easy, the programming was a cinch, and it required very little thinking outside of picking “hard”

It also sucked and did my clients a major disservice.

The challenge today is to deliver a tough workout while being smart about exercise selection and program

I know clients like to feel beat when walking out of the gym, and I personally love the feeling of being absolutely done after a workout.

That doesn”t mean the responsibility of solid program design based on a particular goal can be ignored.

Simply making a workout hard is not enough, and it is irresponsible. This philosophy of training will lead to, at best, a development of a faulty movement pattern that will

1)eventually lead to injury

2)keep you performing below your potential.

You see, after a certain period of time in an exercise set, the intended group of muscles to be worked becomes a DIFFERENT group of muscles. As the intended muscles fatigue, other muscles are “selected” to complete the job. These muscles may not be designed for this task, but they are the only ones available to finish the set.

Over time, these “back up” muscles will wear. Again, they aren”t designed to do the job, but the exerciser continually asks them to do it. Overuse injury is inevitable (if not an acute, catastrophic injury to a tendon or muscle).

Secondly, muscles require fuel to move in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). There is a finite amount of this fuel available to a muscle, and it takes AT LEAST 30 seconds to restore. If rest time is insufficient, the muscle cannot produce force. Again, selection of a suboptimal replacement muscle is certain. “Teaching” your body to move this way hinders athletic movement and again leads to injury.  A recovery period between sets is a must, and sometimes (like when training strength or power) this rest MUST BE substantial. So please, recover between sets. (Yeah, I know you feel ready. You”re not)

Take a fitness goal like strength training. If you think you”re getting stronger by performing 50 training sets in a hour you”re wrong. The optimal rep number for strength is 3-5. The optimal rest time to lift the kind of weight needed to build strength is 2-3 minutes (you have to recover both PHYSICALLY and NEURALLY). The most you can hope for out of this kind of workout is just burning a lot of calories while wreaking havoc on your musculoskeletal system.

With this said, there are currently MANY popular training programs out there that adopt the “harder is better” ass kicking mentality. They are not well designed and will, given time, lead to an injury. Be wary of randomly designed workout programs designed only to kick your butt. They probably will, and will leave you ON your butt for days (not a good place to be if you want results from a fitness program).

If all you are looking for is being crushed after a workout, I”d be happy to strap you to a treadmill set at 10 mph and come get you in an hour. If you have specific goals you”d like to achieve in an injury free and intelligent way, find a knowledgable fitness professional who is willing to do more with you than beat you to the ground.

Matt Pirtle MA CSCS

People watching in the gym; holy bad form!

I”ve worked at a big box gym for over 6 years, and continue to work out occasionally in one.

One of the perks of time spent in a large corporate gym is people watching.
Being able to discreetly observe lifters and fitness enthusiasts in this environment offers some insights (and very often entertainment) into current fitness trends.

You also get to be witness to some atrocious form.

One of the more common “problems” I see with lifters in these facilities is substituting lumbar movement for a lack of shoulder mobility.

You can really see this in an overhead press. At some point in the lift, the shoulders cannot flex anymore so the lower back arches to “finish” the movement.  This is not only bad, but dangerous form, as the lumbar spine is not designed to be a mover (especially under a heavy load).  This form over time will produce an injury.

You can see this same faulty movement pattern in the incline chest press and wheel roll out among other exercises.

The solution?
A great start is to increase thoracic (upper back) mobility.
Besides the form issue, you can visibly see a need for this exercise if your upper back curves excessively forward. It probably does. Most people have different degrees of excessive upper back flexion (kyphosis).

Try this exercise and stay consistent with performing it (every day) and you will see a relatively quick improvement in your t-spine extension (and consequently better form on most of your lifts).


Matt Pirtle MA CSCS


You”re drinking the wrong protein shake.”

“You”re taking the wrong vitamin. “
“You”re performing your exercises all wrong. “
These voices can be overwhelming.

These voices can keep you from starting something that will change your life.

Mute these voices….for a while.

The most important part of starting a fitness program is just getting started. Simply MOVING.  The decision to move is the catalyst to something bigger.

Very often, the voices that are telling you that fitness has to be EXACTLY one way can keep a person from even starting their journey.

Just start.

Join a gym. Hire a trainer. Start walking in the park. Exercise in your living room to a DVD.

Whatever it is, just start. You can worry about refining your fitness routine later. There is definitely the OPTIMAL way to do things, but this is the last 10%. The 90% comes from just moving your body.

Don”t let the worry of doing every single thing the “right” way at first. Most people don”t know what the right way is anyway, and it can stop you from doing something great.

Matt Pirtle MA CSCS

YOU are not perfect.

YOU aren”t perfect. And neither am I.

We all have imperfections in our physique and movement patterns, and we share MANY of the same imperfections.

Chances are if you”ve been involved in an active lifestyle with any regularity, you will fall into the 90% category. This category of athletes and recreational lifters have spent some time developing their strength and skills in the gym.

With a single plane of motion dominating most exercises (SAGITTAL -front to back), the muscles that stabilize and produce movement in the other two planes of motion start to lag. This can predispose you to injury and at the very least slow your progress in the gym.


This article is assuming the GENERAL, the average problem for the 90%. It is in no way saying EVERYONE needs the exact same list of exercises.

But you probably do.

With that said, here is my list of exercises addressing the most common and shared needs.

1) The lower and middle traps oppose the neck and upper traps which are invariably tight on athletes. Strengthening these muscles will give you better posture and scapular (shoulder) stabilization.

The Prone Y is my favorite exercise to address this need

2) The gluteus maximus is a large and potentially VERY powerful muscle in the posterior chain. The problem is, for most this muscle is not hitting its potential, instead contracting out its work to the hamstrings and other synergists. If your glute max isn”t firing, you are not performing to your potential, period.

The glute bridge is my favorite exercise to target the glute max.

3) The gluteus medius is a muscle on the outside of the hip. It”s primary responsibilities are to pull the leg away from the body and externally rotate the leg. It also stabilizes the hip in all of the Sagittal  plane exercises (squat, deadlift, lunge, sprint etc). It”s important and usually weak. A great way to strengthen this muscle is the lateral band walk.

4) The anterior tibialis is the “shin” muscle. This muscle produces the opposite movement of the gastrocnemius (calf). The calf is a NOTORIOUSLY tight and shortened muscle. Strengthening this muscle allows for better ankle movement in dorsiflexion, which can stave of injuries such as ACL tears and allow for better performances in all of the Sagittal plane movements mentioned above. A quick and efficient exercise for the anterior tibialis is the ankle band pull.

This is not an exhaustive list. Nor does it apply to everyone (but for the 12 years I”ve been training clients, it has for most).

For any questions or an individual assessment, contact a corrective exercise specialist at

Matt Pirtle MA CSCS