20 Rep Squats – The Exercise Where… 

Blog 42 – 20 Rep Squats – The Exercise Where… 

… everything is awful, and the total reps don’t matter. (Am I supposed to put quotes around that with parenthetical inserts to appropriately reference Who’s Line Is It Anyway?, or did I just imply the appropriate reference by asking? Hopefully, their lawyers aren’t reading this or, if they are, can appreciate the attempt.) 

Anyway, back to the blog. I’ve talked previously about how little prescribed reps actually matter (All of you who are new to my blogs and opinions, don’t jump down my throat yet.) and what we are really searching for is a stimulus that drives adaption in our bodies. Reps just happen to be the easiest way to communicate that intended stimulus. This also means that the number of reps MUST be an over prescription because if we prescribed too few reps then we aren’t driving said adaptions. And with varying levels in ability, experience, body types, et al. in every class, that prescription must be an over prescription for all levels. (for those Smarty Pants out there asking smugly, “What about a 1-rep max?” This also applies there. Think about it this way: some times we hit it and sometimes we don’t but we go through the process to drive adaption regardless of a completed rep. 

If this is true (and it is) then as we expand the total number of reps to say, I don’t know … 20, reps become less and less important because there will be more variation to where each member in a given class/group arrives at the appropriate stimulus. Some may get there at 12, some at 15, some at 19. Remember the goal is over stimulation to drive adaption. If we get to 20 and think to ourselves that you could have gone heavier, then you DEFINITELY should have. I will also acknowledge that it is hard to come to class and interpret the numbers on the board – frankly, that’s the coaches’ job – but as always I will continue to give you permission to take control of how your body feels. 

This, then, begs the question “what should a “20 rep squat” feel like?” Well here are a couple checkpoints that may be helpful:

  • *unracks weight* “WOOO! 20 Reps! Here we go.”
  • *a few reps in* “20?! Shit, I could do 40! This feels great!”
  • *a few more reps in* “Uh oh.”
  • *loses control of breathe* “WTF, Nigel?!”
  • *time slows down … legs start to feel like Jell-O* “How in the world am I going to finish?”
  • *after a few more reps* “I got this. 1 at a time. Just breathe.”
  • *finishes a few more reps* “That was awful. I can’t wait ‘til next week!”

If you hit all of those phases and get to 17 reps, you have ABSOLUTEY done the prescribed work. Remember, the goal in training is to test the boundaries of what you are capable NOT to repeat safe patterns. It shouldn’t (and can’t) be about utilizing a loading just to say we accomplished the rep scheme. That will never drive the adaptions we think it will. 

And believe me, Nigel knows that as well or better than anyone. He’s not giving you a gold star for total reps. He’s giving you a gold star for effort. 


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Blog 41 – Dr. Jekyll and Mx. Hyde

Blog 41 – Dr. Jekyll and Mx. Hyde

With Halloween just around the corner, I thought it would be pertinent to write about all things Goblins and Ghouls.

Though I am personally not one to dress up for this particular holiday, there are times when I find donning a new outfit or persona highly beneficial. And since this is PDX Strength’s blog, one such example of this is in the gym.

It shouldn’t come as much surprise to anyone that’s taken a class from me that I (the coach) am a huge fan of failure. BUT what may or may not come as a surprise is that I (the person) fear failure as much as any one else. Let’s face it any number of things can send little goosebumps (or, as I recently learned, some people may know them as goosepimples — seriously if you call them goosepimples we need to have a conversation…) running all over your body as the little devil/goblin/ghoul/grim reaper/troll in your ear reminds you of the impending doom that’s just an attempt away. 1 rep maxes? SCARY. New gymnastics skills? SPOOKY. High box jumps. FREAKY AF (not to mention sometimes the gym version of Hollywood gore).

There are many tricks that one can use to overcome this little devil. Positive self-talk, a little lifting routine, a hearty smack from your lifting partner… You’ve seen (or tried) all of these in some way shape or form, and all can be employed at different times to your benefit. But that’s not really the thing we’re talking about. No, the thing we’re talking about is approaching the bar as a different person (or being, depending on what you’re in to) and finding your Mx. Hyde. Need extra strength? Be a superhero (but “no capes,” as Edna Mode says). Need to jump out of the gym? A spaceship. Need to swing from the rings like you never have before? An orangutan. 

It doesn’t actually matter what you pick here. It matters that you have a moment to yourself in which the little angel (or other existential being that suits you) on the other shoulder beats the shit out of the doubt that’s entered your mind. And you go berserker or, to circle back to the title, all Mx. Hyde on whatever task is in front of you.

Be careful though. The more time you spend as whatever mystical super being fits your alter ego, the more it over takes you. Then the only thing to fear is what you might become.


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Blog 40 – FORTY! 

Blog 40 – FORTY! 

I probably start every 10 blogs out by stating, “when I started writing these, I didn’t think I would make it to X blogs.” And yet here we are again! FORTY!

Since this is clearly a special occasion, a blog-iversary if you will, I’ll save you from another blog about Fall Goals (but seriously talk to your coach, check out the goal pole, etc.), and instead I’ll go back to one of my favorite dead horses – REST, BABY!!!!!

If you were fortunate enough to check the website on Tuesday or show up for Group Strength on Wednesday, you may have had a mini freak out/fit of rage/any other “WTF, Nigel?” meme-worthy reaction at the thought of squatting for 20 reps (It’s going to be ok). But before I get back on my soapbox of rest, let’s take a minute to reflect on all of the things that the return to programmed strength cycle signifies:

  • Normalcy/regularity
  • Some sort of guarantee (albeit not exactly in our control) that we will be in the gym, lifting heavy shit for the foreseeable future – a special thank you should again be passed out to every member at the gym for doing our best to keep the community safe no matter how sweaty our masks get
  • FUCKING GAINZ – After all, “thick thighs saves lives…” according to Lizzo

For those of you who have allowed me to assault your eyes and brains with my words in previous blogs, you could end your reading here. You know what I’m going to say. We all work out plenty, and don’t recovery enough. And the only thing that tells you that you need to “work harder” is a bullshit fitness industry that continues to cycle and appropriate language around wellness to continue hold a false control over our bodies in order to prioritize the monetary growth of an industry over actual health and wellness.

Now, if you’ve made it this far in the blog, I’m going to validate my claims (without much fact-checking or research of my own) by quoting a doctor. “Which (or “witch” because ‘tis the season) doctor?” Dr. Paul Cooley, of course. 

If you were perhaps on Instagram, and also follow St Johns Physical Therapy (@stjohnspt), you may have also found it apropos that on the same day that Nigel decides that it’s a good day to thrash our legs, Paul also decides to post his on soapbox (pyramid, really) about all things recovery. (Some may say it’s coincidence, others – namely, just me – would say that the universe works in mysterious ways.)

That quote I mentioned earlier, subsequently forgot, and then remembered again after my tangential paragraph above was, “Whether training hard or suffering an injury, all tissues have their own timeline to recover, and the simple things matter the most.” Those simple things were then at the foundation of his pyramid soapbox and started with Mother Nature and Father Time, Nutrition and Hydration, Active Recovery and Sleep, and Passive Recovery. Gimmicks, Fads, and Quackery (or, to lean in to my artistic license to interpret – Bullshit) were at the top, depicting a minimized role in things that actually matter. 

In summation, Nigel has set us on a quest for thick thighs. Paul tells us that the only path that will get us there is to recover properly. Both are topic experts in their own right. And I’m writing this blog to acknowledge that all of us are continuously influenced to follow unfounded bullshit in the name of health. 

The bottom line being – If you want the most of this impending cycle, you also have to grant yourself permission to recover appropriately. 


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More on Goals

Blog 39 – More on Goals…  

So not to beat a dead horse, but we are ramping up our fall activities with all things gym. That includes defining and understanding our own personal goals. This is now my 3rd blog in 4 weeks on the topic, and I’m going to re-stress how personal I believe your goals should be. I (and every coach at PDX Strength) do not get to dictate what is best for you or the path that you should go down. But while we can do the best we can, sometimes failing and learning like everyone else, we are all influenced in some way by the system or culture of fitness. While we have all benefitted from the socialization of exercise, we have also been harmed in some form by what Ilya Parker, founder of Decolonizing Fitness*, calls “toxic fitness culture.” 

Here is a working definition from Parker in his blog “What is Toxic Fitness Culture?:” 

…Social characteristics, language and habits that promote/reinforce ableism, fatphobia, racism, classism, elitism, body shaming/policing, LGBTQIA+ hatred under the guise of fitness and wellness.

Toxic fitness culture relies on two distinct groups to be situated on opposite ends of the fitness spectrum. One group consists of the able bodied, thin/toned, (edit: conventionally) attractive, young, cisgender, heterosexual people who are assumed to be the gatekeepers of what it means to engage appropriately in & embody fitness.

The other group consists of folks who carry marginalized identities that drastically remove their bodily agency limiting them from accessing fitness in ways that meet their needs and feel supportive to them.

Toxic fitness culture is rooted in white supremacist ideals regarding health, ability, size, gender, age and beauty. Toxic fitness culture and diet culture are intertwined, with both placing blame on an individual for the ways their body shows up in this world….

From a different blog by Parker, “Some Example of Toxic Fitness Culture:”

  • The promotion of fitness the sole purpose of weight loss.
  • The belief that fit has a look.
  • Personal trainers unwilling or unable to modify exercises that support your unique body.
  • The belief that you’re not working hard enough if you haven’t achieved thinness.
  • Personal trainers who aren’t registered dietitians giving diet advice.
  • Personal trainers who don’t believe you when you need to stop and encourage you to push through pain.
  • The belief that beating your body up makes for a good workout.
  • Only being seen as an “expert” because you are in a smaller body.
  • Having a limited view of what fitness is.
  • Believing working out is more important than listening to what your body needs.
  • The belief that your body has to get smaller/toned when you engage in fitness and if it doesn’t you’re doing something wrong.
  • Being coerced or shamed into working out.
  • Thinking diet and exercise is the only way to take care of ourselves.
  • Cultivating fitness spaces that AREN’T accessible or affirming to a diverse group of bodies.
  • Making fitness overly complicated to show authority or expertise.
  • Personal Training Certifications that don’t offer education on working with body diverse populations…

So, why do we need to be aware of this, especially when defining our goals? Because it is easy to fall into cycles of self harm in the name of fitness, exercise, and all things wellness. We may feel compelled to move towards a specific goal, and even argue with ourselves that we would never fall under a spell to such influences. But, again, if our goals are not deeply personal, we will NEVER achieve the outcome we think is on the other side. So, again, I’ll ask you – what are YOUR goals?

– D

*More information about Ilya Parker and Decolonizing Fitness can be found at https://decolonizingfitness.com/, on the Decolonizing Fitness Podcast (https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/decolonizing-fitness?refid=stpr – also available on iTunes, Spotify, and SoundCloud) or other recent podcasts such as https://foodpsych.libsyn.com/244-fighting-racism-misogyny-and-transphobia-in-fitness-culture-and-the-world-at-large-with-ilya-parker-of-decolonizing-fitness or 

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Fall Schedule

Blog 38 – Fall Schedule – Thanks!  

Well, we’re mostly through the first week of the new schedule. We’ve moved indoors for the foreseeable future due to many factors – most notably the weather – AND we’ve added a number of new classes to accommodate the limited class size. Fear not for those still enjoying the zoom classes, those are still available and recordings have been posted on the website and social meeds. 

This real purpose of this blog is to be a shout out and thank you to our members. You’ve done a great job finding a new routine, staying connected with us, and generally making the most out of a really funky situation. I want to also give a special shout out to the folks that have come in to the gym this week. 

Logistically, the coaches are trying to come up with plans of action that keep you safe and follow the recommended guidelines of indoor activity, but the best plans don’t always come to fruition. We never know how the flow of class will interact with or disrupt our intentions. And for any folks that cam to Nigel’s little “welcome to conditioning indoors with masks” burpee and rowing WOD, you have a really good understanding of what GSC classes will look (and feel) like throughout the fall. 

For those of you that have yet to come in yet, I would encourage you to do so if you’re wondering about how it all plays out – even if that means you just come for a visit or just to pop your head in to check it out. I, for one, have been skeptical about how all of this will go down; trying to be relatively cautious through the whole thing with my own health conditions to consider. I do feel more comfortable after seeing how committed our membership as a whole have been to maintaining the order of the gym. I shouldn’t be surprised that all of our members have been very gracious; helping clean their equipment, keeping their own distance from other members, and generally working towards making us, as a community, safer.  It hasn’t gone unnoticed, and it’s very much appreciated. 

I know that I’ve made a large “everyone is happy” claim here, and I’m aware that that isn’t likely the case. So we always want to leave the line open for feedback here too. Please let us know about all things new schedule, cleanliness, protocols, etc. 

Happy October! 


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