Archive for Brian Dick

Strength Research – Fenugreek

Strength Research – Weekly Update


Over the next few weeks, I’m going to experiment with writing about interesting strength-related studies I’ve found online. I will try to summarize them the best that I can, but please remember that before taking action on any of these findings, it’s important that you do supplementary research yourself and ask your doctor their thoughts regarding the safety and efficacy of the subject matter I’m discussing. I’m neither doctor nor scientist, but I love learning new things and sharing what I find with others. What you do with this information is on you — Mr. & Mrs. Readers!

FENUGREEK (Fenugreek supplementation appears that it may have the ability to improve strength) Two such studies supporting this are listed below:

1. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2010, 7:34 — “The effects of a commercially available botanical supplement on strength, body composition, power output, and hormonal profiles in resistance-trained males by: C. Poole, B. Bushey, C. Foster, B. Campbell, D. Willoughby, R. Kreider, L. Taylor, C. Wilber –

That’s a long freaking experiment title with a long list of authors, but it’s interesting nonetheless. It effectively concludes that 500mg of the Fenugreek extract used in the study had a significant impact on upper- and lower- body strength, and improved body composition when compared to the placebo group. One of the strength metrics considered for comparison was the leg press one rep max (1RM). Fenugreek supplementation does show an impressive improvement in leg press 1RM vs. placebo (84.6 kg vs. 48 kg) but it’s important to note that these figures were provided with a +/-…The +/- range is large enough that the fenugreek and the placebo group do have some instances of overlap (i.e., the strength gains were the same or worse than the placebo group in some instances). With this in mind, this still appears to be a very impressive gap in average strength gains (fenugreek vs. not using fenugreek). (Note: This is my summary — do your own research too!)

2. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine — “Effects of Combined Creatine Plus Fenugreek Extract vs. Creatine Plus Carbohydrate Supplementation on Resistance Training Adaptations by: L. Taylor, C. Poole, E. Pena, M. Lewing, R. Kreider, C. Foster, C. Wilborn

Hey I remember some of those names! Looks like some folks from the first study just couldn’t get enough fenugreek! The other’uns are over it! This study seems pretty interesting too. It compares creatine plus dextrose vs. creatine plus fenugreek supplementation for weight resistance trained individuals. It basically shows that both supplementation methods improve strength gain, but from what I can see, the dextrose is slightly more effective. The study shows creatine can be pretty badass in improving strength gains, and that can be improved even more if you take it with small amounts of dextrose. Fenugreek works too, but just not quite as well — this I suppose could be important for those on a low carb diet, etc. (Note: This is my summary — do your own research too!)

I also did some additional research on the side effects of Fenugreek on WebMD, which you should definitely check out before taking it!

During this research I found other interesting things about the plant:
1. Fenugreek is going to make you smell like maple syrup…probably…The smell usually shows up in your urine or your armpits!
2. Fenugreek is used a flavoring agent in imitation maple syrup, some drinks and foods, and some TOBACCO!
3. Fenugreek grows predominantly in the Middle East and India. Another name for the plant is Greek Hay

Want to buy some? Amazon sells it, and it’s actually pretty cheap — but remember, do your own research and check with your doctor before you put anything into your system! I’m a dude who runs a blog, and likes finding out cool stuff from doing research…I’m not a doctor or a scientist.

What Eddie Hall’s Deadlift Record Equals in Everyday Items

This July (2015) in Leed’s England, Eddie Hall broke his own deadlift record of 462 kilograms, by lifting 463 kilos! You can watch the incredible feat here:

What does this crazy pull mean in different everyday life??

Record Breaking Deadlift: unit
463 kilograms
1,021 pounds
73 stone
What this means in everyday items: unit
119 gallons of milk
2,722 hockey pucks
20,130 alkaline AA battery
81,658 U.S. quarters
2,692 iPhone 6 plus
3,107 MLB baseballs
10,081 golf balls
2,144 Big Macs
23 # of 45lb weight plates
1.4 Harley Davidson Heritage Softail

Is Lack of Grip Strength Lowering Your Functional Strength?

If you’ve never worked out your forearms until they’ve ached and felt like over-inflated footballs, you may not be as functionally strong as you think. A weak grip puts you at a disadvantage during lifts such as deadlifts and pull ups and many sporting activities, particularly grappling arts (wrestling, judo, catch, bjj, etc.) It can also negatively impact your performance in everyday activities like yard work, etc.

If you have a weak grip, luckily you can fix it! Below is a list of a few grip focused exercises that will dramatically improve your grip strength.

1. Towel Hangs – easy enough to set up, but very difficult to preform (in a good way). Drape two towels over a pull up bar and gather together in bundles shoulder width apart. Grab one towel in each hand and lift your legs off the ground. Hang until your grip fails. Perform three sets to failure. For added difficulty work on your abs simultaneously by performing leg raises

2. Farmer Carries – grab two weights about the same weight as you would for shrugs. Grip the weights as tightly as you can with the weights hanging at your side and walk around in a circle until you can’t hold on any longer. Do 3-5 reps to failure.

3. Plate Clasps – similar to farmers carries, but no walking. Grab two Olympic plates and let hang at sides by holding onto the plate ridges with your fingertips. Pretend like you’re holding onto the plates like you’re a rock climber. 3-5 reps failure

4. Behind the back forearms – hold a straight bar behind your back with your palms facing behind you (both thumbs will be facing each other). Allow the bar to roll out of your palm grip and along your fingers until you are gripping the bar with your last knuckle grip. Roll the bar back up into your palms with your fingers, then once fully into the palms contract your grip fully, pulling your wrists up as close to ninety degrees as possible (or as far as comfort allows). That is one rep. Repeat this motion 20-25 reps for three sets. Then massage out your inevitably aching forearms.

5. Seated inverted forearms – this is the reverse motion as the behind the back forearm, but you far less weight and it’s in front of your body. Pick a weight that’s at LEAST half of what you preform on the behind the back forearms movement. Grab your barbell and sit on a flat bench. With the bar in your hands, palms facing down, rest your forearms on your knees while raising your calves by making a tip toe motion. The weight in this position will be hanging draped 6-8 inches away from your shins. While gripping onto your bar, roll the bar back to you until the backs of your palms are facing you (almost like revving a motorcycle). Then in a controlled motion return the weight to the hanging position. This is one rep. Do 20-25 reps for three sets.

I don’t recommend, nor do I think you could meaningfully perform all of these lifts on the same day. Work these slowly into your workout scheme and watch your grip strength improve dramatically.

Types of Deadlifts

The deadlift is a tremendous source of functional strength with its compound movement and translation to real world functionality. Performing deadlifts safely and with heavy weights will help you increase both strength and balance. All of this is fairly common sensical, but did you know there are a large number of deadlift variations:

1. Traditional/Conventional – probably the version you’re thinking of when you think of deadlifts, hence the name. Feet shoulder width apart, hands grasped palms facing you (regular) or one palm facing towards you and one away (s-grip). Ass and hips sunk to roughly knee level and the bar just inches from your shins. Rocking slightly back onto your heels to drive directly upward to full extension with shoulders set back.

2. Sumo – same deadlift motion except with your feet set roughly 2x shoulder width, feet pointed out at 45 degrees or so. Drop hips down to just above knee level, rock back onto heels and explode upward to full extension and shoulders set back.

3. Stiff legged/Bulgarian – knees bent slightly and hips set back, you reach down to the bar by bending at your waist (as opposed to dropping your level with your knees.) Your feet should be just outside of shoulder width. With back straight and head up, the bar is lift off the ground with the strength of your hamstrings, glutes, and more of your back than any of the other deadlift types. Be extremely careful with this and all deadlift types as your putting your body under tremendous load/stress. Do less weight with Bulgarian, as your back is activated more, and at a compromised position. Also prepare for your hamstrings to be extremely sore the day after your do Bulgarians.

Before doing any of these lifts ensure you’ve been trained effectively by a trained fitness professional. Also ensure that your body is warm and stretched. A deadlift is going to affect your whole body if done right. Therefore your whole body will need to be prepared for the lift. Go extremely light until you get your form perfect. No sense in rushing this — the deadlift is so effective, once you get it right, your body will respond with strength gains when it’s ready to handle it.

Already an experienced dead lifter? Want to know your one rep max estimate without undergoing the injury risk that comes along with maxing? Check out our deadlift max calculator on the site.

Or if you have an android device, check out our one rep max app (it works for all of the big three: squat, deadlift, and bench)

Excel Weight Tracker

Recording your weight goals and tracking your progress, are two major factors in achieving these goals. Tracking promotes a sense of accountability, and helps to illuminate trends in your gains and losses. As such, I am attaching an excel weight tracker that I’ve created in order to help you meet your goals — Excel Weight Tracker

Track Weight In Excel






In the screenshot above, you’ll see the only 4 inputs you’ll need to know to create your own weight tracker. I’ve protected the entire sheet (with the exception of these four cells (and your daily weight input cells)) to help avoid folks messing up the equations. If you feel comfortable in excel or want to make your own modifications, simply go to the “Review” tab and click “Unprotect Sheet”. There is no password, just clicking the button should make the entire file editable.

After filling in these 4 inputs, you’ll notice the spreadsheet will automatically change. It will display the dates until your goal deadline, and it will show a steady decrease in your current weight to the goal weight. Next to these projected weights, you’ll find a column for you to input your actual daily weights. At this point, your daily tracking should be fairly straight forward…see below:

Weight Tracker After Inputs











(the chart continues past this screenshot — this simply depicts the changes that occur to the document after filling in the first 4 inputs)

Once you’ve recorded a couple weeks or two worth of daily weights, you may want to see your progress in a chart form. In order to do this:

  1. Go to the “Review Tab”
  2. Click “Unprotect Sheet”
  3. Highlight all data from B6:D6 down to where the date column stops showing dates.
  4. Go to “Insert” Tab
  5. Click “Line” chart icon (pick the first one down in the dropdown)

Once completed it should (hopefully) look something like this.
Weight Tracker Chart









Now you can graphically see how awesome you’re progressing in meeting your goals. Good luck! Hope this helps!

To download the original template use this link: Weight Tracker


Your 1RM – Use it to Build Your Workout

One Rep Maxes (1RM) are critical pieces of information about yourself that can be used to craft future workouts and record your progress. Typical workouts that have 1RM’s  tied to them are bench, deadlift, and squat. These three lifts are also at times called the “big three.” Some powerlifters (or a lot of times braggadocios highschool football players) will add these three 1RM’s together in order to create an easier comparison among peers.

To determine your one-rep max, a standard route is to get one or two lifting partners together and progressively stack more weight onto the bar until you fail completing one rep. There are a number of problems with this method. First, you have to ensure you have a great lifting partner(s) that you can trust — you’ll (hopefully) be lifting a LOT of weight. Good lifting partners are hard to find, particularly when you’re lifting for fitness, as opposed to lifting for athletics (aka, with a team). Secondly, performing a 1RM is extremely taxing on the body. You expose yourself to tremendous injury risk (football players frequently tear pec muscles or quads in the off season when their team is maxing out — this has caused a number of teams to abandon the practice all together.) Also, you will need to give your body extra time to rest after putting it under uncommon levels of exertion. If you multiply this practice by 3x (bench, squat, deadlift) you’re eating into several weeks of available workout time — that is if you’re being smart/safe. Finally, performing the one rep max in small step up increments may fatigue you to the point of artificially deflating your one rep max. While this may ding your ego, it’s way better than the more common outcome… injury.

Luckily there are a number of strength researchers that have come up with formulas to help determine your 1RM without having to expose yourself to injury-inducing amounts of weight. These formulas use weights that you preform regularly at a given rep count. With these two numbers, a reasonable estimate of your max can be calculated. These same formulas can be used for all the of the big three — bench, squat, deadlift — using the same methodology.

With this data you can craft future workouts, such as pyramid workouts, gas outs (high rep workouts) etc.

Full Body Jiu Jitsu Strength Building

1.) Deadlift – you may hate this one, but the deadlift is one of the best full body exercises out there. The compound movement and the ability to perform a lot of weight in this lift enable you to build a tremendous amount of functional strength. In addition to the strength gains, you’ll also be taking on a lift that’s equally as technical as many subs/moves in jiu jitsu. Doing a correct deadlift is equally as technical and nuanced as setting up the perfect armbar. As such, make sure you do plenty of research or hire a trainer before you start racking up big weights.

2.) Razors – if you haven’t heard of this workout, think of it as a two legged hamstring curl with a Swiss fitness ball. While laying on your back have the swiss ball positioned below your upper heel/lower ankle and calves. Press down with your heels into the ball and thrust your hips to an upward facing plank position. This motion should be aided by strongly flexing your glutes. While still applying pressure downward with your heels, curl the Swiss ball with heels into your butt. Return to the starting position by performing the same motion in reverse.

3.) Kettlebell swings – While appearing simple at first glance, there are many nuances to this lift. Again, research this movement fully and/or hire a trainer before performing heavy weights. The general concept of this lift however, is to allow a kettlebell to swing between your legs and slightly behind the hamstrings as you make a hybrid seated/squatting motion. Next, and in one fluid motion, you athletically thrust your hips forward to return the kettlebell to roughly bellybutton height (with your arms maintaining full extension). Sounds fairly simple, but I see a lot of people performing this lift with extremely dangerous form. Definitely do your research before you start swinging around weights.

4.) Bent Over Rows – This workout is performed with a straight bar, and will help with maintaining a strong side-control. Use a bar with no weight to start to ensure good form before you go big on this lift — if you go heavy at all. You are essentially bending over during this lift which puts a lot of stress on the back, so I like to do high reps at low weight instead of going heavy. For this lift, you bend at the waist and drive your hips back over your heels (with slightly bent knees). With the straight bar hanging directly below your pec line, draw the weight up (with over or under hand grip) to your bellybutton or slightly above — whichever is more natural for your body type.

5.) Four Way Neck or Manual neck – If your gym has a four-way neck machine, then they’re one of the few…but it will make your life much easier — just remember to drape a towel over the machine. Something about putting your face/head in/on a machine where others have done the same doesn’t seem that sanitary to me. To do the manual version of this lift, however, simply generate the same resistance as the machine with your own hand. For example, to do the “lift” to the left, put your right ears towards your right shoulder. Reach over to the far side of your head with your right hand and pull lightly towards your right. While maintaining steady pressure with your hand, press your head towards the left until it returns just past center. Repeat for 10-15 reps in all directions.

These are five simple lifts that will certainly help your jiu jitsu game — generating functional strength from head to foot. Give them a chance by themselves, or try incorporating them into a pre-existing workout!

New One Rep Max App

FSL has finally released our mobile one rep max calculator!

The app is only available on Android devices, and you can find it here: Functional Strength Lab’s Mobile One Rep Max Calculator.

We still offer our web-based max calculators for:

(Tip: I’ve actually broken these lifts out into separate calculators, but in actuality the formulas are the same. They are based on well known one rep formulas that can be researched more in depth here.)

Don’t forget to contact us if you have any questions/suggestions:

Yoga and Functional Strength

Functional Strength from Yoga

Yoga for Functional Strength Gains

I have been interested in taking yoga classes for a long time, but with monthly gym membership fees and jiu jitsu team dues, it was very difficult for me to justify taking on another membership fee. I anticipated it helping my flexibility, an incredibly valuable for grappling (jiu jitsu), and it was an area of my game where I was very weak. My flexibility was “average” at best, and I rarely had the discipline to stretch as much as I should.

Luckily, my current gym offers free yoga classes — so I started taking a class once a week. I thought the major advantage of yoga was going to be my increased flexibility, but in fact my flexibility did not increase as dramatically as I thought it would — instead I found value in other aspects.

1.) Increased strength in compromising positions – this was by far the greatest benefit for my Jiu Jitsu game. The challenge yoga imposes on the muscles in twisting positions are completely unfamiliar in most traditional (linear) workouts. This type of muscle development is incredible for passes and exploding into side mount escapes. These are the two direct application improvements I’ve found from practicing yoga. Additionally, I’m more confident in sit outs and going for fireman-style takedowns.

2.) Balance – this is very similar to the first point, but the effects were so noticeable that I feel I need to call this out again (and in a slightly different way.) Balancing your body in odd positions in yoga is very similar to the positions people put you in during sweeps (especially when you are passing standing up.) My yoga practice allows me to prolong my ability to balance throughout a longer portion of the sweep. This buys me more time to recover my base, or even just frustrate my opponent until the give up on that particular sweep.

3.) Mental and breath control – this was a huge surprise to me. The first few times I went to yoga I was amazed at how restricted my breathing was. I am in good cardio shape, but I think the stresses of work had subconsciously kept me from taking full, relaxed breaths at rest. This carried over to Jiu Jitsu I’m sure, especially when fighting off chokes or when enduring heavy side controls. Yoga’s focus on breath control has helped increase my lung capacity as well as improved my discipline of breath. This is particularly critical during choke defenses and bottom side control. You’d be surprised how many people give up on chokes (that would probably end up fully sinking in) if you can manage the calmest rhythmic breathing possible during the beginning phases of the choke. This breath control and mental discipline has helped me immensely when in shitty positions.

If you’re even remotely interested in yoga — do it! I can tell you from experience that it’s definitely worth the time. Just remember to go in with an open mind — because the benefits you uncover may be in different areas than you originally think. But the benefits will be there nonetheless!

Strength and Fitness Hacks

New Year's strength and fitness

Fitness Hacks

Below is a short list of strength and fitness hacks to help you not only increase your fitness levels, but also to help build fitness-related habits for this upcoming year.

  1. Measure and Record. This could be as simple as maintaining a notebook with your daily weight, or as complicated as a function-filled excel spreadsheet. Regardless, recording your successes (and even failures) helps you maintain your progress for the long-term. Avoiding measuring because your weight goes up, or your lifts goes down should not be an acceptable practice. This is needed to maintain motivation, and show you where your biggest opportunities lie. Please feel free to contact me at
  2. Incorporate fitness periodically throughout your day – Not a gym rat? No problem. One of the tricks that I use is incorporating fitness into sedentary portions of my day. For example, promise yourself to complete 10-20 push-ups or sit-ups at every commercial break. Are you a gamer? Punish every loss or kill with a given number of body squats. The same can be done when watching sporting events. As a touchdown celebration, or a touchdown allowed “penalty” incorporate a certain fitness activity for your given sports-related trigger.
  3. Compete – This one may not be for everyone, but I have found my biggest motivator is always competition. If this is the same for you, find someone that is of similar fitness levels and has similar goals, and create fitness milestones which to race towards. If competition isn’t your motivator, try instead to partner with someone simply to keep you accountable to your goals.
  4. Join a league or start a physical hobby – A lot of people simply hate the idea for working out for working-out-sake. However, this excuse sometimes keeps them from doing anything physical at all. If this sounds like you, consider joining an adult sports team or finding a physically active hobby. Personally I use Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as my non-gym fitness outlet, but my friends enjoy basketball leagues, yoga, running clubs, etc. If you’re stumped for ideas…simply go to Groupon and look at their seemingly infinite number of discounted fitness group activities.
  5. Focus on one thing at a time – Trying to take on a new diet and a new fitness routine at the same time can be extremely overwhelming. I recommend focusing on only one when you first start crafting and undertaking your fitness goals. In all honesty, I would focus on diet over fitness when first starting. A poor diet will make even the most intense exercise regimen less effective. Focus on getting your diet inline, before you start taking on a fitness overhaul. This will minimize frustration, and increase the effectiveness of your future workouts. Remember, your fitness timelines are personal, and more importantly lifelong. Set yourself up for success, even if it takes a little longer than you’d like in the beginning.