A Day of Barbell Medicine

I had the pleasure of getting to attend a very worthy seminar yesterday, hosted by the friendly folks from the Barbell Medicine group – Dr. Jordan Feigenbaum, Leah Lutz and Big Tom Campitelli. The day was mainly a day of coaching specific stuff, technical cues and basic revision of application of key skills for the big lifts – press, bench press, squat and deadlift. It’s always nice and worthy to go to any seminar, as cliché as that may sound as they always say you’ll never know what pearls you may acquire when you merely get in the same room as another professional sharing their wisdom, perspective and knowledge – no matter how much you agree, love it, hate it or whatever. There’s always something to be learnt and embraced.

Not to say that I just tolerated my time yesterday and I was at best learning the bare minimum, this was a very enjoyable experience overall and would recommend for anyone to go to something similar if they get their chance to meet and learn from Jordan, Leah or Tom. Everyone was super friendly, encouraging and humble.. It was actually a refreshing element that most, if not all of the attendees weren’t professionals in the field of exercise prescription, i.e. no coaches, no trainers, no physio’s or anything like that. Just normal folk who were invested in learning about getting better at their craft… Which was in a way great, because it totally negated the amount of dick-swinging that can occur at these seminar type things.

I so often find that other professionals tend to “jostle” at seminars and stuff. Trying to be the big dick in the room blowing everyone away with their knowledge, skills and whatever. Yesterday was definitely not like that most of the time… It was just cool to be hanging out with the clients per se - the one’s on the other side of the fence, the average guy and girl who are keen as mustard to learn and get better. The fact this was so really mashed well with the instructor’s general approach – the appropriate contextualization of what’s actually going on.

I’m always huge on context, especially for health and exercise prescription. Everything and nothing works in this game, this is the truth… What actually works is when we (instructor and client) most accurately contextualize where we want to go, why we want to get there and what will probably work best to do it. Dogmatic approaches that toe a very binary line of absolute yes and no answers is a very slippery slope in health, exercise prescription and the like and it is generally very rife in this industry and it can often lead to newbies, learners and even coaches down a fraught path of, as the late David Foster-Wallace would put it “learning what to think, rather than how to think”.

Yes, we learnt the basic and refined execution of squat, bench, deadlift and press. And yes, the teaching followed a specific recipe of cues and the like. The dosages applied and practiced were very methodical and universal. This was like laying the general ground rules of how squat, deadlift, bench and press mostly happen, but what I loved and found affirming as it’s very much vibing within my own philosophical approach to how I am with clients and patients is that, without steering too hard into the weeds, Jordan, Leah and Tom were always keenly aware and disclaimant that as much as we’re about honing of skills, we must be very open to the malleability of what works when it comes to this stuff.

Examples of where I’m heading…

  • A rounding of the back in a deadlift is not going to kill you or make you a lesser person. By all means, pursue “ideal” technique of angles, leverages and etc, but nothing inherently catastrophic will happen if that’s not always possible.

  • Lifts can be moderated, adapted and changed to suit your best chance of getting stronger – nobody needs to be married to a single variation of a lift to “qualify” as being a successful lifter, unless you’re entering the context of competing which changes things all-together.

  • Our bodies are more robust than is often advertised and are way more resilient to “misapplication” of certain lifting or exercise “rules” than we always tend to get told. Yes, we want to try to adhere to good methods as best we can as often as possible as this general direction will tend to lead to good outcomes… But, slightly stepping outside of these “rules” generally will not change or negate anything. If you must step outside the lines a little with a client or yourself in order to reasonably find success and keep on going, then that is not a crime against humanity. Your best judgement of how far you bend the rules will determine if you’re being adaptable or just cheating yourself… But it’s up to you.

  • The highly multi-factorial element of pain and injury. Yes, when you’re pushing yourself physically, there are risks that things can go wrong and when things do go wrong, we should never just ignore this. But, more often than not, when we feel pain or get banged up in training, this is often not a sentence, your execution was probably not as much of the cause or as big a problem as you think it was and unless it was a truly catastrophic event with longer term complications, you will get back in business faster than what you may believe.

I could go on about how good it was to be at a seminar where the instructors were so readily able to be quite concurrent about the efficacy of their own methodology.. Like, to put a narrative to it…

“We’re going to learn how to do the key lifts today but just remember that within the bigger scope of things, they’re just arbitrary. There’s more than one way to skin a cat and this way is how I teach and practice and it’s what works best for me and my practice… But my way is not “the way”, there is no “right or wrong” and I am not “right or wrong” either.”

It’s rare at seminars to find the ability for such openness by the instructors to be just as discounting of their own methods as they are for them. At this point, it just becomes about seeking what’s true for this situation, this context and this individual and that can take many many forms… So to that measure, I do applaud Jordan, Leah and Tom.

Squat, deadlift, bench and press can answer many things, but it can’t answer everything… And that level of candour at a squat, deadlift, bench and press seminar was refreshing and is a hopeful sign for the industry

Signing off