Client Q&A #1: Bars, Belts, & Bodyweight

Last night, I was having an email exchange with one of my online coaching clients (Troy), and on top of a brief review of his numbers for the week, we also went over some general questions he had in regards to his training.  

At the conclusion of our conversation, I asked if it would be okay if I used our discussion as the basis for an email or article for my subscribers.  I felt that his questions, were likely not just unique to Troy.   I figured if he had these questions, then some of you do to.  

Question #1:  I have a cheap bar from a sporting goods store?  Is it okay to keep using this bar or do I need to get a newer better bar?  

My Answer:  Cheap barbells work fine up to a certain amount of weight.  It has been my experience that using weights under about 315 is fine on cheap barbells.  Beyond that, it’s just a matter of time before they bend.  And they will eventually bend.  I have a whole gym full of “beater bars” which are basically cheap bars I acquired when I first opened the gym and didn’t have much in the way of a budget.  As my revenues increased one of the first things I did was acquire some decent barbells that wouldn’t bend.  The “beater bars” are kept in a corner and for the most part all they do is accumulate cobwebs, but on occasion, someone pulls one out for a set of curls or something if all the good bars and racks are taken.  Other than that, we don’t use them for anything important.  

One of the first bars I ever purchased was from Academy and I loved that bar because I always felt so strong when I used it.  Turns out the bar weighed only 37 pounds!!!!   And yes, it was supposed to be 45 lbs.  This is very common for 45 lb plates to be off by a little bit, but bars are generally milled with better precision.  So if you do have a cheap bar, weigh it.  

I have one Texas Power Bar in the gym that has a slight bow in it.  This barbell is reserved for Rack Pulls only.  This is the only bar in the gym I allow to be used for Rack Pulls.  Heavy Rack Pulls will beat up your barbells, so be careful about using your best barbells for these.  

My favorite barbell in the gym right now is the B&R bar.  My female clients love the knurling on the B&R bar.  It is smooth yet doesn’t slip.  Especially new Texas Power Bars (of which I have several) have knurling like a cheese grater.  Especially for Deadlift sets of 5+ reps, they can really chew up the hands of a new client.  I generally keep my Texas Power Bars in the Racks for Squats, Presses, and Bench Presses.  For Deadlifts and Olympic lifts we usually use the B&R bars or the York Barbells.  The old split sleeve York barbells are also excellent all purpose bars.  If I was going to just have one bar in the gym though – it would be the B&R bar.  

Client Question #2 – I don’t usually wear a belt for my warm up sets, only for the work sets.  Is this a good strategy?  

No.  I always always always put on the belt for AT LEAST the last warm up set prior to the work sets.  The belt alters the mechanics of the movement, even if only very marginally.  It also alters the feel of the movement.  You need to get accustomed to this prior to your heaviest work sets so that you are not distracted, surprised, or otherwise thrown off by the variance.  

The final warm up set (or sets) are not really for the purpose of “warming up” anyways.  By the time you get to the final warm up set you should already be warm – muscles loose, blood circulating, synovial fluid released, etc, etc.  The final sets are for priming your nervous system for the feel and mechanics of the heavier loads to come.  It’s essentially practice.  And you need to practice how you are going to play.  

If you only put the belt on for your work sets, you are going to be thrown off a little bit by it’s presence.  Get used to the feel of the belt on that final heavy warm up set.  

If you prefer to do your early warm up sets without a belt, that is fine.  If I were to Squat up to a single at 500, I’d warm up like this:  Bar x 10,  135 x 5,  225 x 3,  315 x 1,  365 x 1,  405 x 1,  455 x 1,  500 x 1.  I’d put my belt on at 405 most likely.  

Question #3:  I’m still trying to figure out the best body weight for my goals?  How did you decide that 205 lbs was the right body weight for you?  And, do you use any other metrics besides the scale to keep track of things?  

Starting with the latter part of the question first – no.  I don’t use anything other than the scale and the mirror to monitor my body composition.  This is simply a personal choice.  I’m not a huge “numbers” guy that feels the need to track all kinds of metrics.  I understand that some people are polar opposites and want to track EVERYTHING.  Weight and mirror give me the information that I need.  If I was going to track anything else, it would be a simple waist measurement across the navel.  This is something I will do on rare occasions, but is not a number that I track with regularity.  If you are on a mission to GAIN weight however, this is not a bad number to track.  This can give you some indicators of where the weight gain is coming from so you know you aren’t packing it onto the wrong places.  

Back to the first part of the question…….your ultimate goal weight is 100% an individual decision based on a myriad of factors.  All I can do is walk you through my own thought process, but I cannot set your goals for you.  Each of us have a unique set of goals – some loftier than others – and a certain level of discomfort we are willing to tolerate to reach those goals.  

I always tell my clients that my job is not to set your goals for you, but instead provide you a clear path towards whatever goals you have set for yourself.  I will step in on the occasion that I feel someone’s goals are radically out of reach and can say with a good deal of certainty that a particular goal is unattainable.  I feel in those situations that my experience obliges me to step in with a dose of reality.  

First and foremost people must understand that if you are actively working to keep your weight down, when it wants to go up, you are leaving strength gains on the table.  That isn’t necessarily a right or wrong decision – it just is.  Heavier is stronger and that is just a fact.  As long as you are aware of this, then we can move on.  

For me, my goals in losing 40 lbs and dropping down to 205 lbs were based on a set of priorities that had nothing to do with strength gains!  Obviously losing 40 lbs in 12 weeks is not a good strategy for strength.  But, my goals were broader than that.  For me it was about improving my physical energy and mental vitality.  At 230-240 lbs I simply didn’t feel good.  Physically, I ached a lot and moved slow.  Mentally I was tired and not sharp.  

It is absolutely amazing what happens to your body when the weight comes off.  Physically, I feel better.  I don’t ache and I move better.   I’m not nearly as tired at the end of a long day.  Mentally, I am more energetic, more creative, and overall more positive.  

My most important roles in life are as a husband, a father of 3, a business owner, and a coach.  My role as a lifter is in about 5th or 6th place right now.  That doesn’t mean I am not still passionate about my lifting!!!!  I am, but I also recognize that priorities change with age and my health is more important than hitting certain numbers.  

My feelings also need to be put into context:  I am not weak.  Don’t get me wrong – I don’t pretend to be anything special as a lifter.  But on a given day I can Squat between 500-525, Deadlift 550-575,  Bench around 385, and have Pressed 280.  In terms of health or overall physical fitness getting stronger probably isn’t going to help me that much.  I’m pretty much strong enough to do whatever I want to do except for maybe compete at the highest levels of Power Lifting.   If I weighed 175 and could only bench 225….then my feelings on the strength vs weight gain debate would probably be much different.  

Bottom line….you need to evaluate for yourself how far away you are from whatever numerical goals you want to hit in the gym.  Then you need to weigh those goals against other priorities in your life and see how they stack up.  Be honest with yourself!!!   Do NOT base your answers on what other people tell you your goals SHOULD be.  Fuck that.  You be in charge of you.  

If you want to join the 400/500/600 club then you need to quit tape measuring your waist every day and get busy eating and lifting.    

If you are sick and tired of hauling around 40 lbs of junk weight then quit stuffing your face with Ho-Ho’s.  

Lastly, I will add that your body weight goals will also reflect the level of discipline you want to live with in terms of diet.  I for one, am enjoying the hell out of being back onto a regimented eating plan.  I feel like the discipline and structure of the diet is carrying over into other areas of my life as well.  However, I am letting loose a little on the weekend.  I fucking love food.  And it isn’t realistic for me to say that I’m never going to eat a bowl of ice cream again, or drink a beer, or go to a great Mexican restaurant. 

So right now, I am strict on my diet Sunday through Friday night.  Friday night and Saturday I let up and eat what I want.  If I have an itch I scratch it.  This keeps me sane and doesn’t wreck the discipline of the other days of the week.  Keeping to this schedule has me sitting comfortably around 205 which is my target weight so it works for me.  

If I eliminated the cheat weekends and did a little extra cardio, I could probably drop down to 185-195 and be really really lean , but for me that would defeat the purpose. Conversely, loosening up on the diet even more during the week, would shoot my body weight up higher than what I want right now.  In other words – I have found the right balance for me.  

You’ll have to do some work to find the right balance for you.  

As always – if you need a hand, I’m here to help.  


If your goals are seemingly out of reach, I can help – let me design a Custom Program for you.  

Or you can join my Online Coaching Group and follow my monthly templates, and receive individualized instruction via our private Facebook group and weekly Skype messaging chats.  






5 Responses to Client Q&A #1: Bars, Belts, & Bodyweight

  1. Thomas says:

    A unique perspective on bodyweight… It’s good to see your honest opinion on the merits and disadvantages of being heavier. The sluggish/achey thing was very interesting

    Please keep these articles coming

  2. Thomas says:

    And thank you!

  3. Andy Baker says:

    Sure thing Thomas. I’m glad you enjoyed the articles. I’ll try to stay regular with these if everyone finds them helpful. Thanks for reading.

  4. Troy says:

    This is exactly how Andy is! Thanks for keeping it real Andy. I couldn’t be happier with the HLM program design and the simple but very effective diet plan that lets me relax it on Friday nights and Saturday with the wife and children. I Feel awesome and strong as my numbers continue to go up!

  5. Mike says:

    Great q and a Andy! Really enjoyed the weight thing. I have been struggling with achs and sleep apnea and such and finally made a decision to forget about big numbers for a bit and lose some of this junk weight. Very motivating thanks!

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