Supplements: No-Nonsense Top Picks

Combined with hard training and smart nutrition; supplements can play a role in your muscle and strength building success. However, the amount of hype, talk and (mis)information that we see online and hear in the gym about supplements is not in proportion to how much of a role they truly play. Supplements are not “game changers” in any sense, they are no more than a small piece of a much broader puzzle. Nonetheless, small or not every piece is worth doing right.

Much like nutrition and training, there is no “one size fits all” approach to supplementation This list are my go-to’s for my specific goals and situation, however at minimum at least half of these will feature in nearly all of my clients supplement protocols.

Intra or Post Workout:

Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin.  is a carbohydrate that combines being easily and readily absorbed by the body  while still providing a gradual sustained release of energy without a spike in blood glucose or insulin levels, no ‘sugar crash’.

Whey Isolate. is a purer form of whey than the more common whey concentrate. Quality whey isolates tend to agree with my skin and stomach more so than cheaper proteins, as they will for most people. I use 1-2 scoops of whey intra or post workout, and as part of a whole-food blended smoothie later in the day.

EAA’s. Essential Amino Acids. I sip these intra-workout to reduce muscle breakdown and support the muscle recovery process as I’m training. Research shows that EAA’s are more effective at turning on muscle protein synthesis (the foundation of muscle building) than BCAA’s.

Creatine. One of the most researched supplements out there and so is backed by a huge body of scientific evidence proving it’s uses for strength and power but now even increasingly showing promise for cognition/brain function. Safe, legal, effective. Best used during training periods where strength gain is a main priority.

Mental and Physical Health:

Ashwagandha. This is a medicinal herb known to promote calmness. There is also some research suggesting it can cause mild increases in both strength and testosterone. Calm, strong, high testosterone. I’ll take all three.

Collagen. A component of joint cartilage its supplementation has been shown to reduce inflammation and improve joint health. I introduced collagen to my supplement regimen as part the rehabilitation process for my quad tendon rupture.

Vitamin D3. With the sun being our main source of vitamin D, most people don’t get enough of this power-house essential vitamin through natural daylight, I being no exception. Vitamin D supplementation has been shown to improve; cognition or brain power, immune and bone health, testosterone production and libido as well as insulin sensitivity. Adequate vitamin D also decreases the risk of of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and multiple sclerosis. This Vitamin is not to be neglected and is especially important throughout the winter months as our exposure to daylight is at its lowest.

Omega 3. Supplementing with Omega 3 has a host of scientifically backed health outcomes including; reduced symptoms of depression and improved brain function, acts as a natural anti-inflammatory, and creates a reduction in triglycerides which in turn improves heart health and plays a role in body fat oxidation or ‘fat burning’. Omega 3 is one supplement that just about everyone can benefit from. More than just a ‘one a day’ capsule; a dose of 4-6g daily is recommended to see the most benefit.

Multivitamin. Honestly, I’m not even convinced you can fit that much bioavailable/useable micronutrients into a single pill. But 10/10 for the placebo affect.

Curcumin. Not only is his medicinal plant extract anti-inflammatory but it also increases cancer fighting anti oxidants, decreases symptoms of depression and anxiety, and plays a role in reducing LDL-cholesterol, blood glucose and blood pressure. I have been using curcumin as an ingredient in cooking and smoothies for many years, however I started to supplement with it specifically when I ruptured my quad tendon for it’s anti-inflammatory properties.

Gut and Digestive Health:

Glutamine. An amino acid that plays an important role in gut health, which is why I use it. As a side note, scientific evidence is lacking for glutamine being useful to build muscle outside of severe burn and trauma victims and is not recommended for this purpose.

Digestive enzymes. Digestive and gut health is essential for optimal function of body and mind. In a muscle building context, only the food you digest can be put to use towards new muscle. It is a good idea to support this process by consuming digestive enzymes especially during periods where food intake is on the higher end.

Unsure about what supplements may be right for you?
Feel free to reach out for free, unbiased advice.

To learn more about the research behind specific supplements I recommend :

For results and date on independent testing of supplement brands quality and purity I recommend:


Low Carbohydrate Diets

Low Carb Diets:
Pros, cons and possible applications for fat loss, muscle gain and strength development.

Fat Loss:
If you compare a low carbohydrate diet to a medium carbohydrate diet, fat loss will be the same for most people when total calories consumed are matched.
However, strictly limiting carbohydrate intake may be a viable and effective option for individuals that do not want to count calories or adhere to a rigid diet. Simply limiting carbohydrates whilst consuming mainly protein and fat rich foods (as well as green vegetables) for most people will result in a caloric deficit, whilst still allowing them to stick to a diet that provides them with sufficient protein and fat intake. There is also research that states that low carbohydrate diets help to manage and suppress hunger, though this is dependant on the individuals response.
With that said, in my opinion the vast majority of people seeking fat loss will be best served by adhering to a sustainable diet, for most people a zero to low carb diet just isn’t sustainable.

Muscle and Strength Development:
Typical muscle and strength building workouts will rely heavily on glycogen (the bodies form of stored carbohydrate). Compared to fat, carbohydrates are a much more efficient and preferred source of fuel, part of the reason for this is that glycogen is stored in the muscles and so is readily available to supply energy. Whereas fat must go through a longer conversion process before it can be used as fuel. In fact, it has been shown that glycogen stores can be depleted by as much as 30-40% locally (within the specific muscles used) after a hard weight training workout.
Most people that are prioritising muscle or strength development should not go below 1-2g of carbohydrates per kg of bodyweight to ensure that these stores are replenished adequately.

However, low carbohydrate diets may be a viable option for strength athletes in certain circumstances including:
-During a peaking phase for weightlifting or powerlifting where the reps performed will be less than 3 and overall session volume (total sets and reps) is low, ATP, rather than glycogen will be the main fuel source used. During this phase a reduction in carbohydrates generally will not have a significant impact on performance, and the glycogen depletion alone will reduce bodyweight by several kilos which may be the goal for some athletes during this phase.

-If when gaining muscle minimising body fat gain is important, low carbohydrate intake may be an effective strategy on days off from training where the need for carbohydrates will be hugely reduced.

Personal Experience:
I trialled an extremely low carbohydrate diet for 10 weeks. During that time I experienced:
-Rapid fat loss, without significant loss of strength or muscle for the first 6 weeks. After which point fat loss decreased and my physique generally deteriorated.
-Reduction in mood. This is generally in line with research, as reduction in mood is common on low carbohydrate dieting. However, some individuals report increased mental clarity and concentration.

As with most things training and nutrition there will always be individual differences and outliers, but for the vast majority of people I do not think that low carbohydrate diets are optimal.

10+ Years. 10+ Mistakes.

“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes”- Oscar Wilde

I started weight training back in 2005, in that time I’ve gained a lot of experience; trying new programs and training styles, new supplements, different approaches to nutrition and worked under the guidance of various coaches all of whom had their own unique perspectives.

I’ve learned a huge amount in that time and made decent progress, but I made numerous mistakes along the way as well. If I could go back and educate a younger me I would jump at the chance as I wasted a lot of time (and sometimes money) confused, ignorant and uneducated as to what I should and shouldn’t focus on, on the path to my goals. It’s too late for me, but hopefully you the reader won’t make the same mistakes I did having read this article.

1. Over Reliance on Supplements
For the first 2-3 years of training I did not use any traditional muscle building supplements whatsoever. As I got more into bodybuilding and began reading the ‘muscle magazines’ I started to believe the hype (and quite frankly B.S.) surrounding the merits of sports supplements. In an effort to get bigger and stronger I tried pre workouts, intra workouts, post workout shakes, meal replacements shakes, you name it I bought it and used it. I felt bloated, I had less money, my skin was in poor health and I didn’t gain 600% more muscle like the ad claimed.
I have since abandoned nearly all dietary supplements except whey protein and omega 3 fish oils.

Take home tip: Real, solid food should be your main source of nutrition. Save the money you were going to spend on supplements for food.

2. ‘Training Blind’
I did not use a training a diary until approximately 7 years into my weight training. Once I did, I quickly realised I had been missing out big time. Without a diary, you are essentially ‘training blind’, with no method of looking back at what you did the previous week(s), and thus no objective method of measuring and tracking strength increases.

Take home tip: The €2 you will spend on a notebook will be one of the best investments you will make if you use it correctly.

3. Not Bringing ‘Kaizen’ To Each Session
Closely related to not using a training diary, I did not place enough emphasis on getting stronger, or simply aiming to always lift more than I did the previous week and greatly underestimated the importance of progressively overloading (increasing the weight or total reps done) on all exercises for all muscle groups. This is paramount to long term success.

Take home tip: Employ the Kaizen philosophy and aim to continuously get a little bit better each session

4. Never Deloading
Taking an active recovery or “deload” week is something I now do typically after every 3 weeks of training. No athlete trains at 100% intensity year-round, and training for muscle or strength building should be no different. Taking a deload week and cutting down on the volume (amount of sets, reps or exercises) and intensity (weight in this case) during an intense block of training will have a “1 step back, 2 steps forward” effect on your progress when implemented appropriately.

Take home tip: Give yourself a break from heavy lifting every now and then. You will progress faster long term.

5. Not Striving To Perfect Technique
It’s just lifting weights, moving the bar from A to B, right? Not quite. I didn’t give optimal technique enough thought or respect in my early years. Those days are gone and I have been learning and refining my technique on some of the “big lifts” for the past number of years. In the past year I’ve made refinements to my technique on overhead press, deadlift, and bench press. Last year my squat received a full overhaul. Technique refinement should be a never-ending process. The more efficiently you can lift, the more weight you will ultimately be able to handle, equating to more muscle and of course strength.

Take home tip: Lifting efficiently = more strength and more muscle.

6. Avoiding “Bad Foods”
No, this is not a paragraph where I tell you to stuff your face with junk food! Rather, this refers to very early in my training career where I would choose not eating at all rather than eating for example a sandwich made with white bread, or a processed food deep fried in oil. Are these the ideal or optimal foods to eat for muscle gain? No, but it sure beats the hunger pangs and will do your body better than eating no food at all as I often did when caught without “optimal” foods.

Take home tip: If you’re trying to gain muscle choose so called “bad” foods over no food at all.

7. Staying Up Late At Night
We all know we should sleep 8 or so hours per night. What’s often overlooked or not specified about this piece of otherwise good advice is when those hours should take place. Sleeping 3am to 11am will have much less of a rejuvenating effect than sleeping 11pm to 7am. For too long I ignored my bodies circadian rhythm (sometimes due to work commitments, more often due to bad habits) and felt the ill effects of doing so. During periods where I had an erratic sleeping schedule, or a healthy set schedule my training sessions nearly always reflected this for better or for worse.

Take home tip: Sleep better, perform better.

8. Being a Monday to Friday Lifter
One of the major contributing factors that took my progress to the next level was getting my proverbial shit together in terms of nutrition, sleep and lifestyle on days I was not training. Like many people, I used to train exclusively midweek and consume a diet on these days that was conducive to my goals. However, once the weekend rolled around I would eat very infrequently (and quite often the wrong foods), stay up late and generally come off the proverbial wagon for two days.

Take home tip: The weekend still counts!

9. Not Setting Goals

Setting specific goals has been extremely beneficial to me over the past number of years. My goals in my early years were often “get bigger and stronger” which is great, but having clearly defined short, medium and long-term measurable goals as I now do helps to keep motivation high and brings a new element of personal challenge to my training. I have picked lifts and aimed to hit X number of reps with X amount of weight, picked bodyweight targets to hit, and of course goals within competitive powerlifting.

Take home tip: Set a goal, it doesn’t have to be conventional, but it should be measurable!

10. Not Employing A Coach
Seeking the advice of a good coach early in my training career would have perhaps eliminated my previous nine mistakes and set me on the right path from day one. Unfortunately, however great coaches were not always so numerous and accessible before the growth of both the strength & conditioning industry, and the internet. With that said, coaches are not just for beginners, in the past four years I have paid an equal number of individuals for their time, experience and expertise. In line with the Kaizen philosophy, I will continue to learn from coaches I respect that have walked the path ahead of me, or indeed are walking it with me but have their own philosophies and experience to share.

Take home tip: Having a coach can be invaluable to your progress.

Well, there you have it! In no particular order, the top 10 mistakes I made on the path to where I am today. I will no doubt continue to make mistakes, however as long as I can learn, and subsequently pass on my knowledge then I will have no regrets.

6 Tips For Healthy Night Shifts

It is well established that working night shifts can increase the risk of developing many health issues. These include but are not limited to; increased risk of heart disease, increased risk of various cancers, type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal issues and increased stress levels which may result in negative mental health effects.
With that said, I’ve worked nights shifts myself in the past, and I understand sometimes “you gotta do what you gotta do” to pay the bills and keep food on the table.
So, let’s not dwell on the doom and gloom side of night shifts and instead look to what we can do to minimise these effects and keep you as happy and healthy as possible when working nights.


1.Prepare Healthy Meals in Bulk:

Being awake for just one night (now multiply that times 3-7 for a shift worker) has been shown to negatively impact blood sugar levels which can often lead to cravings for junk food. To avoid these temptations set aside time before starting a block of night shifts to prepare healthy meals in bulk. In my experience having healthy meals prepared greatly reduces the chances of turning to junk food.
Night shift work has also been shown to negatively affect insulin sensitivity; in simple terms this means your body will have a harder time processing those sugary foods and will be more likely to store body fat as a result. This further emphasises the need to eat healthy when working nights.


2. Supplement Wisely:
There are natural, healthy supplements out there that can improve your health and sleep quality when you’re working nights.
Here are my top 3 recommendations:

Melatonin is a hormone that’s secreted by the brain in the late evening to prepare the body and mind for sleep. Melatonin release is dictated by your bodies circadian rhythm, meaning that melatonin will get released in the evenings regardless if you’re on your drive to work for what will be a busy shift or at home preparing to get into bed!
Melatonin release beyond 4-6am is minimal, for this reason it is recommended to take a melatonin supplement before going to sleep after a night shift.

ZMA is one of my favourite natural supplements. It contains a blend of Zinc, Magnesium and Vitamin B6, this combination when consumed prior to bed is used to achieve a deeper level of sleep.

Vitamin D this vitamin could warrant its own article. Vitamin D is essential for muscle function, healthy bones, and reduction of inflammation. Vitamin D is found in very few foods, and our main source of it comes from natural sunlight. When working nights, it is imperative to use a Vitamin D supplement to avoid becoming deficient.


3. Sleep in complete darkness:
When sleeping during the day it is essential to “recreate” night as best as possible. Ensure your bedroom is as dark as possible. If you don’t have a black out blind, invest in one immediately and in the mean-time, covering your window in tin-foil is a quick and cheap alternative!
Also, ensure that any light or noise emitting electrical devices are turned off or out of the room.


4. Limit Phone Use:
There’s no point creating a dark room, only to get into bed and begin blasting light into your eyes when browsing social media. Stay off your phone when in bed. Avoid phone and screen use prior to bed if possible. If not, at least use a blue light filter (most phones now have these built in, if your doesn’t there are downloadable apps with these on them). This will minimise the amount of light you are exposed to, and the strain on your eyes as a result.


5. Avoid caffeine:
Relax, I don’t mean no caffeine whatsoever and I understand it’s often exactly what’s needed to get through a shift. However, where possible try to avoid caffeine in the final hours of your shift.
Caffeine consumption increases cortisol levels; a stress hormone. Working nights also increases cortisol levels. The last thing you want in the hours prior to sleep is to willingly send your cortisol level any higher than necessary.


6. Adjust Your Exercise:
When working nights, your recovery ability is going to be compromised. Regularly performing extremely intense exercise sessions prior to a night shift will result in beating yourself into the ground and ultimately lead to injury and compromised results. Where possible, aim to time your hardest sessions during your time off, or day shifts. This doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t train “hard” when doing nights (as I said, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do) this simply means save the hardest sessions for times when recovery will not be compromised.

How to quickly and effectively heal muscle tears.

We’ve all heard of the standard “RICE” method for treating injuries; Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. But what if complete rest is not the answer for all injuries? For muscle-belly tears, there is an old school, tried and tested “in the trenches” method to safely and effectively speed up the rehabilitation process of minor muscle strains and tears.

It was invented by Bill Starr, a pioneer of strength and power development during the 1960s and a true legend of Strength & Conditioning who popularised many effective training methods that were only scientifically validated years later. However, his rehab protocol will likely never be scientifically validated as it goes against conventional injury rehabilitation methods and would be a difficult study to carry out. Nevertheless it has proved effective time and time again.

It involves returning to low intensity activity as soon as the acute injury phase passes, and the initial bleeding and swelling begins to subside. This usually takes between 2-4 days. At that point the lifter will then resume training with an empty barbell (or sufficiently light weight) for 3-4 sets for between of 25-50 reps. Great emphasis is placed on perfect technique, and using a slow comfortable tempo (lifting speed).
The goal of these sets is to promote healing by increasing blood flow to the muscle and stretching it under gentle load and tension using light weights.
Stretching and working the muscle in this way promotes healing of individual muscle fibres that can contract as normal. As opposed to conventional methods that let the muscle rest completely where it will lay down a layer of scar tissue over the injury. Scar tissue cannot contract or stretch, and so this greatly increases the chance of re-tearing the muscle in the same place once normal training resumes.
The real magic of this protocol will be felt when the injury actually begins to feel BETTER as you lift and the sets progress.

I was (un)fortunate enough to experience this first hand. I was bench pressing 170kg, when on my 3rd rep I felt a definite “pop” in my left pec, thankfully I was able to press it up and finish the rep (I was training alone) I knew instantly I had sustained a pec tear, I also knew after some poking and prodding that the tear was in the centre or “belly” of the muscle (as opposed to a tendon) and so it would be possible to rehab using the Starr method.

Here is how I implemented the Starr method, and a typical example of how to do it yourself.

Day 1: Empty barbell (20kg) 3×20
Day 2: 22.5kg 3×20
Day 3: 25kg 5×20 (here I felt comfortable enough to increase my number of sets)
Day 4: 27.5kg 5×20
Day 5: 30kg 5×20

I gradually worked up to 40kg using this method, when the pain began to get worse during my set, and so I reduced the weight again and used higher reps (50) and gradually began increasing weight and lowering reps again until I was at 80kg x 10

After week 1 on the advice of my physiotherapist I also began gentle daily dynamic stretching of the muscle after my light barbell work.

After 2 weeks, I began using a slingshot twice per week which I found very useful to preserve strength and the CNS’s ability to handle heavier loads, whilst still almost completely deloading the pec at the bottom of the movement (For context I was unable to touch my chest with 80kg when wearing a slingshot)

I continued light and cautious bench press training for 5 weeks before returning to weights above 100kg. 7 weeks after my initial pec tear I bench pressed a lifetime PR of 200kg in competition, pain free!

This method can be successfully implemented with most muscle tears however there are some rules:
1. Wait 2-4 days after the initial injury before starting.
2. Start LIGHT, the pain should feel BETTER as you progress during your session, NEVER WORSE! If the pain increases, STOP!
3. This method will only work to help promote healing of mild muscle tears, it absolutely will not work in the case of a tendon or ligament tears, nor will it help joint pain.
4. During the first 2 weeks, do not do any heavy, or high intensity training of any sort, regardless of whether it hurts your injured area or not. This is to not excessively stress the body and to promote recovery and healing.

Note: I am not a medical professional nor has this rehab method been scientifically or medically validated. Use solely at your own risk and always seek professional medical help when dealing with pain and injury.

Nutrition For Pain Free Joints

There isn’t a lifter on the planet that won’t run in to joint pain at some point. It can hinder your progress physically not to mention get you down mentally when you are limited in your training by pain rather than a lack of strength.
Joint pain in lifters is most commonly caused by tendonitis. ‘Itis’ in medical terms refers to inflammation, so in this case we are specifically referring to inflammation of the tendons.

Thankfully, there are some super simple nutritional interventions that you can use to lower inflammation, helping you to feel better, move better, keep your joints healthy and ultimately lift more weight.

Here are my top recommendations:

Turmeric + black pepper. This duo make for a powerful anti-inflammatory combination. Turmeric has long been known to have a host of health benefits, curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory and when combined with black pepper the bio-availability (your body’s ability to digest and utilise a substance) increases dramatically, studies have shown by up to 2000%.
Piperine in black pepper can also trigger the protein ‘TRPV1’ in the body. This triggering has been shown to reduce pain.

My recommendation:
Season your meat lightly with both
Add a half teaspoon to a protein shake or smoothie

Fish Oil. High in omega 3, which helps to lower inflammation and counteract the damage of the excess of omega 6 fatty acids most of us eat too much of. It is also high in EPA/DHA which has been scientifically proven to help relieve the pain and symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis.

My recommendation:
1-3g taken daily with meals

Green Vegetables. Not specifically one food, but a family of foods that provide a host of benefits.
Green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, kale, and green beans are loaded with antioxidants like vitamins A, C and K, which protect cells from free-radicals which are known to cause inflammation and attack joints.Broccoli also contains sulforaphane. Research shows some evidence that sulforaphane blocks the inflammatory process, might slow cartilage damage and even prevent rheumatoid arthritis.

My recommendation:
At least 2 palm size servings daily

Mixed berries. Extremely high in anti-oxidants, which we now know fight the free radicals that cause inflammation, berries are particularly high in anti-oxidant known as flavonoids which have been scientifically proven to protect cells against damage caused by inflammation in adults.

My recommendation:
1 large handful daily blended in a protein smoothie

Bench Press: Correct Technique and Common Mistakes

“How much ya bench?” Let’s face it, we’ve all been asked, and we all want to be able to reply with some decent numbers! It’s the unofficial test of manliness! People say nothing satisfies them more than the primitive feeling of a heavy deadlift, I disagree, to me there’s nothing more satisfying than quite literally pushing a weight off your chest with your fists clenched tight and your teeth grinding together knowing that if you don’t make the lift and the bar comes back down you’re, well, fucked (I can’t be the only one that trains alone?!) Many people struggle with it, I love it and hopefully after reading this you’ll see an increase in your bench press performance and learn to love it too! I’m going to start at the bar and work my way down the body right to the toes, here goes:

Bar height:
First things first, the bar should be set at such a height where your arms are almost (but not quite) locked out when you reach up and grip the bar, you should never have the bar set so low that you end up having to do a half a bench press just to get the bar off the rack and into position, likewise you shouldn’t have to reach excessively up to it either. 

Gripping the bar:
Grip width is a highly individualised and can come down to personal preference in bench pressing. There is no ‘one size fits all’ perfect grip width  as it depends on the person’s anatomy, structure, and technique. Those that use a bigger arch tend to have a wider grip and those who have a more flat back tend to be narrower. An easy way to find a grip to start with is to get on the floor and get into your ideal press up position, your body will almost always instinctively put your hands/arms into the most anatomically advantageous (strongest) position, so take note of that position and then recreate it under the bar.
Your thumbs need to be wrapped firmly around the bar. I recommend using a thumbless or ‘suicide’ grip, it’s dangerous and provides no additional benefit. Besides, placing the thumbs around the bar will keep it more secure, maximise recruitment of the pec and shoulder muscles and stop you from dropping the bar and potentially dying, win/win.

Wrists Positioning:
Wrists needs be firm so as to place your forearm directly under the bar. From where the bar sits in your hand it should be an almost straight line through your forearm and down to your elbow. Think if a plum line was hanging from the bar, the line should run almost alongside your forearm, not behind it.


If you have difficulty maintaining this position (which I’ve noticed particularly in females) and you find your wrists “flopping” or falling back (so that your palms are pointing to the ceiling), then you may need to strengthen your forearm flexor muscles with wrist curls (not sexy, boring, won’t make a good Instagram video but it should be effective!)

Side note: Invest in a good set of wrist wraps, longevity is key in powerlifting and these will help to keep your wrists stable during your heavy sets, I personally use Titan signature gold 24” and have nothing but good things to say about them.

Elbows Positioning:
ypically I have found if technique was taught by gym instructors or gym rats the lifter will have excessive flaring of the elbows, which puts the pec muscles in a dangerous position at the bottom of the lift. Conversely some lifters will have excessive tucking due to watching big equipped bench presses on YouTube or misunderstanding the cue to tuck your elbows in. There is a happy middle ground for elbow positioning as seen in the photos:

Many lifters find the mental cue to “bend the bar” helpful in achieving this position.

Shoulder positioning
houlder/scapula position is in my experience the most common technique mistake in lifters, quite often even in advanced lifters. The anterior deltoids (front of shoulder) should be behind your chest at all times during the movement, focus on retracting your scapula (pulling your shoulders back and squeezing your shoulder blades together) hard before you take the bar out, and maintain this position throughout the movement. This is crucial to maximize stability. Keeping the shoulders retracted as you press minimises the distance the bar has to move also.

If you’ve been taught to bench press by anyone other than a competitive powerlifter then you’ve likely been taught to lie on the bench with your back flat. As powerlifters or anyone interested in maximising the amount of weight they can move, we should aim to make the most of our leverages and shorten the range of motion within reason. This can be achieved by utilizing a back arch. Only your glutes (butt) and upper back should be in contact with the bench, your lower back should be arched with your belly pushed up. At the least, somebody should be able to slide their hand between your lower back and the bench with ease. There are different ways to set up an arch and again it comes down to personal preference how you want to get into the arch position.

It is important to note that this IS a safe position for the back and spine for healthy lifters as there are no significant compressive forces being applied to or through the spine in this position when lying on a bench.

Leg Drive:
ou should be utilizing your whole body to create tightness and move the weight, including your legs. As you’re setting up, you should put your feet flat on the ground and slightly behind your knees, or further back with heels elevated, but never legs/feet out in front. Some powerlifting federations require feet to be flat which will limit how far back you will be able to put them so bare that in mind when you’re practicing, practice the technique that will be required of you in competition if you plan on competing.


Once your feet are set you should be focusing on driving your legs into the ground and as a result flexing quads and glutes. Maintain this level of tightness until it comes to pressing the bar at which point you’ll aim to “kick” the legs down in to the ground and forward (legs should not actually move!) similar to a leg extension exercise this is what is known as “leg drive” in the bench press.

Remember, the strongest position to bench press in is the correct way. So, when it gets hard and you have to grind, DO NOT kick out your legs or wiggle your butt or anything else, this will only lead to losing tightness and possibly injuring yourself, and of course would not pass in a powerlifting competition either. Stay tight and maintain position at all times.

Bar Speed:
The bar should be moved as fast as possible during both phases of the lift.
People transitioning from a bodybuilding background will also likely be in the habit of performing more slow and controlled eccentrics (side note: this is a good idea for maximal hypertrophy stimulation and I do recommend using slower eccentrics for assistance work or where hypertrophy is the goal) For competitive powerlifting purposes or where lifting as much weight as possible is the goal, take the bar down to your chest as fast as you safely can.  Strong emphasis on ‘you’ and ‘safely’ , people will vary in how fast they can take the bar down, so as said, take it down as fast as YOU can and don’t worry about if someone else is faster/slower. Speed work will help develop the confidence and motor control to improve this.

Likewise for the concentric or ‘up’ phase you should always aim to drive the bar as hard and as fast as possible, even on your warm up sets. This will help you get in the habit of always moving the bar with maximum force and contracting your muscles as hard and as fast as possible which is obviously what we want for our heavy sets or 1 rep max attempts.

I’ve tried to be as comprehensive as I can here as regards technique if you put all steps together it should help to improve your bench press, as said there is no one perfect technique however there is simply some right and wrong ways of doing things and that’s what I’ve aimed to address here!

If you have any further questions or would like help with any aspect of your training please do not hesitate to contact me.

Pat Curran
Kaizen Strength Owner & Head Coach

The best exercises for healthy , pain free shoulders and how I cured my shoulder bursitis

If you are not interested in my experience with shoulder bursitis and want to skip straight to finding out how I cured it, go ahead and scroll down to “How I treated it”, I won’t judge you, much.

If you are; heres a timeline of events documenting how I went through various health care professionals and misdiagnosis’ to eventually getting a correct diagnosis, and then learning all about my condition and implementing my own rehabilitation program.

Late September 2015 Initial Onset: My program had me bench pressing twice per week and I also began learning Olympic lifting, doing lot of overhead movements. I started to experience very bad shoulder pain when pressing and raising my arm. I took two weeks off of all pressing movements hoping some rest was all it would require, as so often that is the case with injuries.

Mid November Physiotherapist #1: Still no improvement and by this point I could not bench press an empty bar without pain. Went to a physiotherapist for the first time. Was misdiagnosed with infraspinatus tear and given exercises to do. Commenced rehab program for infraspinatus.

Early January 2016 Physiotherapist #2: Still no improvement whatsoever with shoulder issue despite diligently doing all rehab exercises prescribed for a number of weeks. No pressing done since September. Went to physio #2. Was misdiagnosed with long head triceps tear, which was apparently giving referred pain to shoulder. Commenced rehab for tricep.

Mid-February Onset of Severe Impingement: By this time my shoulder had deteriorated severely. Not surprising considering I had spent the previous 6 weeks rehabbing a phantom tricep injury and doing no shoulder strengthening work. I developed a fairly severe impingement to the point where I couldn’t raise my arm.
As seen in this video:

Late February Doctor #1: Attended GP whom indicated I had torn supraspinatus and whom suspected I needed surgery, (he himself had had the same issue and procedure performed previously) he referred me for an ultrasound scan to confirm.

Late March Ultrasound Scan : Ultrasound scan returned indicating no tear, but did pick up some fluid and swelling on bicep tendon.

Early April Physiotherapist #3: Attended physio #3 and was again diagnosed with supraspinatus tear that required surgery regardless of ultrasound. He recommended I get MRI as he suspected this would confirm his diagnosis.

Early May Doctor #2: Presented to another GP in order to get a referral for an MRI.

Mid May MRI Scan : Returned to the doctor to be told I had:
Partially torn supraspinatus
Partially torn subscapularis
Shoulder impingement / shoulder bursitis
Bicep tendinitis

The doctor told me my supraspinatus required surgery (the third health professional to say so) and referred me to an orthopaedic surgeon whom specialises in shoulders to carry out said procedure

At this time I still could not raise my arm and was still suffering with severe impingement and quite a lot of pain.

July 9th Orthopaedic Shoulder Specialist: I walked into the surgeons practice, determined I was not leaving without scheduling this surgery that 3 healthcare professionals had told me I needed. Today was going to be the day where the wheels were set in motion to finally get my shoulder on the road to full health. And indeed it was, but not in the way I had expected. The surgeon was not at all phased or concerned by my MRI scan results or pain/impingement. She calmly and blankly told me “you have shoulder bursitis”. After explaining briefly to me about the condition she recommended and scheduled a cortisone injection into the shoulder in 4 weeks; to reduce swelling, and this was her only suggested method of treatment.

Mid July Commenced Self Prescribed Rehab: I returned home and began learning as much as I could about shoulder bursitis. What causes it, exercises and stretches to treat it. I wrote down and made a small ‘library’ of all the exercises (about 24 in total) and began doing 4-5 of them 7 days per week for about 20 sets total per day. After my first session I felt a very, very, ever so slight improvement. This was hugely encouraging after suffering with pain that hadn’t improved for almost 11 months. By week 3 my shoulder was almost pain free and moving smoothly again, my impingement had been resolved by relatively simple exercises in just 3 weeks, having suffered with a lot of pain and lack of movement for almost 10 months and having seen numerous health professionals.

Mid August Corticosteroid: Despite being almost asymptomatic, after considerable thought, I decided to still proceed with the corticosteroid shot. I figured it would be the final nail in the coffin and reduce any remaining inflammation in the joint and help me heal up even further.

1st September: Gradually re-introduced bench pressing to my training program

29th October: Hit an all time personal best competition bench press of 180kg

What is Shoulder Bursitis?
In medical terms the suffix ‘itis’ refers to inflammation. As the name suggests, shoulder bursitis is simply inflammation of the bursa in the shoulder. The bursa is essentially a fluid filled sac found between muscles, tendons and bones within the joint that helps to cushion the area. The main bursa in the shoulder is the sub acromion bursa, found between the top of the humerus (upper arm bone) and the acromion (top of the shoulder blade)

What causes it?
Normally the tendons and bursa will slide effortlessly within this space between the bones however if the space becomes too narrow due to; postural issues, muscular imbalances or injuries to the surrounding tendons it will result in the bursa getting ‘pinched’ or impinged when moving through certain ranges or planes of motion. Each time the bursa gets pinched the inflammation becomes slightly worse, and gradually over time this condition can lead to “frozen shoulder” where movement at the shoulder is severely restricted.

Signs and symptoms?
The most obvious and common signs and symptoms of shoulder bursitis is quite simply pain in the shoulder however, in particular:
-Gradual onset of your shoulder symptoms over weeks or months.
-Pain when lifting overhead or lifting your arm overhead to reach something
-Pain made worse by sleeping on the affected shoulder
-Pain felt between 60-90 degrees of arm moving up and outwards (as in video)

How I treated it?
The primary goals of rehabilitation from shoulder bursitis should be:
-Activation and strengthening of the muscles of the upper back/scapula
-Strengthening of the external rotators
-Avoiding any and all movements that contribute to pain
-Cutting out, or at the very least reducing the amount of volume/exercises performed for    the internal rotators; pecs, lats, front delts etc.

Listed below are my go-to exercises that through trial and error I have found to be the most effective to relieve pain and improve posture, and that I still do weekly to keep my shoulders healthy.
All exercises should be performed for 3-4 sets of 10-20 repetitions.



Cable No Money:

-Can be performed with band or cable.-Set band/cable to elbow height

-Squeeze shoulder blades together
-Keep elbow close to body
-Rotate arm outwards
-Return under control
NOTE: These are often performed standing up with a dumbbell, this is a waste of time and does not work the intended muscles to any appreciable extent. If you are using a dumbbell; lie on your side on the floor.

External Rotation:
-Can be performed with band or cable.
-Set band/cable to shoulder height
-Squeeze shoulder blades together
-Rotate arm outwards
-Return under control

Face Pulls:
-Can be performed with band or cable
-Set band/cable just above shoulder height
-Pull arms back so that hands are in line with ears
-Squeeze shoulder blades together and hold for   2-3 seconds
-Return under control

Prone Posture Press:
-Lie face down on the floor
-Use a wooden dowel, or handle from a sweeping brush etc
-Start behind the neck as shown
-Press out slowly (for a count of 6)
-Ensure to keep elbows away from the floor by squeezing the shoulder blades together
-Return slowly (for a count of 6)

Posture Planks:
-Assume the plank position
-Lower yourself slowly closer to the floor for a count of 6
-Raise yourself back to starting position for a count of 6

Cable Retraction:
Set cable at head height or above
Start with shoulders being ‘pulled forward’ by the weight
Pull the cable closer by squeezing the shoulder blades together
Hold for a count of 3
Return to start position
Note: Think about putting your shoulder blades ‘in your back pocket’ squeeze them back and also downwards

Sleeper Stretch:
-Lower the arm slowly using the opposite hand
-Only lower to the point where you feel a stretch
-Hold for 30 seconds, repeat x3

Disclaimer: I am not a health care professional, in this blog I merely demonstrate the exercises that worked for me with my specific injury. If you are experiencing pain, see a suitably qualified professional.

My 10 year journey to opening Kaizen Strength

Thanks for taking the time to check out my blog.
In my first post I am simply going to tell you about myself, my background and how I came to start this blog and be where I am today.

I was 14 in 2004 when my Dad shouted up the stairs to me “Pat….Pat…do you want a pair of dumbells?” After several attempts to hear him correctly I went to the top of the stairs, he repeated again, “do you want a pair of dumbells, I am clearing out some old stuff and I am going to throw them out?” ok so this time I was sure I had heard him correctly, no wonder I didn’t understand though as I replied, “what are dumbells?” he motioned with his arms doing some bicep curls “you know, weights?”
I couldn’t believe it. Truth be told, despite not knowing what they were called I had wanted a set of “dumbells” for quite some time but being a shy skinny kid I was too embarrassed to go about getting some or tell my parents. Up to this point, I had been ‘working out’ doing press ups, sit ups, and cycling in an effort to put on some muscle and simply go from being skinny to not AS skinny!

I took the dumbells out to my garage immediately and used sand paper to remove all the rust that had accumulated on them from 30+ years of not being used and being stored god knows where as I had never seen them before in my 14 years at home.
From the garage it was straight to my bedroom where I began doing what any young male does when he picks up weights…. Bicep curling!! I can’t remember how many reps I got the first time but it was about 10 at the lightest combination of weights. What I can tell you is over the coming months I worked up to doing  600 reps of dumbbell curls per night, every night, in sets of 50-100 with the heaviest I could make the dumbells. No, you haven’t stumbled onto Rich Piana’s blog nor is that a typo. In a naïve and futile attempt to ‘get big’ I literally became obsessed with curls!! Not having any books or guidance on exercise and living in rural Ireland before broadband and the explosion of the internet I just did the limited amount of exercises my mind could think of curls, press ups, and sit ups for a couple of months solid!
Overtime I began reading more on the internet and speaking to other guys in high school that were into working out. I began adding in exercises such as shoulder presses and lunges and various others. I would go to the local gym on occasion also. I “graduated” to a home weight bench, barbell and pull up bar and began eating in a way conducive to building muscle


August 2005.

I moved house in late 2005 which saw me within walking distance to the local gym.
It was here that in late February 2006 I saw a poster for a local bodybuilding competition.  I asked the guy behind the desk about it and what it was all about.
-“Do you think I could enter it? “
-“It depends, what are your legs like?” came the reply.
Let’s just say it was a good thing that I had previously began implementing exercises for legs as soon as I had learned how!
A couple of days later he gave me some old VHS tapes of the Mr Olympia competition. I took them home and watched them. I returned to the gym feeling disheartened and that I was naïve for thinking I could ever compete at that sport, those guys were huge!
The guy explained to me that those were pros, the best of the best and that at the junior category of the local competition I wouldn’t be out of my depth.
I gave it some further thought and decided to go for it. I got a structured 4 day workout program from my buddy that worked at the gym, I came up with my own nutrition plan and got stuck in for 8 weeks.
I placed second and had a blast. And so I was bitten by the bug and became immersed in the bodybuilding lifestyle and the futile pursuit of physical perfection. That summer I trained and dieted my heart out and I placed first (ahead of the guy I previously placed behind!) at my next competition which was the national championships 2006.


Posing with IFBB Pro Bill Wilmore after winning my first National title in 2006

I graduated from high school in 2007 and went on to study a certificate in Fitness and Health


Winning my second National title in 2009

for one year.
I continued training and competed twice more in 2009, winning both shows and scooping another national title.
Despite my previous course I never worked formally in the fitness industry in my early 20’s, instead I worked in the security industry.
Somewhere along the line I began to re-evaluate my life and gradually started to lose my passion for competitive bodybuilding and became generally disillusioned with it.
I flirted with the idea of competing in powerlifting for a long time and eventually took the plunge in March 2014 after training for 6 months for it. I achieved my goal of hitting a 600kg total. And so, I had found a new outlet to express my competitive desires whilst still being able to focus solely on my true passion of weight training. Since then I have continue to improve and compete; setting national records, winning national titles and successfully  representing Ireland at international level also.


Deadlifting at the GPC European Championships where I placed third.

Acknowledging the fact that strength and nutrition are my passions and that my skills were in demand without ever advertising or seeking clients coupled with the fact that a life working security was not something I ever aspired to; in September 2014 (just before I turned 25) I started college at Limerick Institute of Technology studying a BSc honours degree in Strength and Conditioning.
Turns out I wasn’t too shabby at the whole academic thing and achieved one of the highest results overall in first year. As a result I was selected along with two other students to take part in an academic exchange with Canadore College, North Bay, Ontario.


Presenting lecturer and renowned weightlifting coach Larry Sheppard with a hurley at the end of our time in North Bay.

This was a life changing experience for me and developed me in many ways; I met new friends whom I consider friends for life, I began coaching strength training twice per week at a local high school as well as helping to form and coach the athletes of a local para powerlifting club.
During this time I also became a certified NCCP Olympic weightlifting coach as well as completing my Precision Nutrition course, thus becoming a certified sports and exercise nutritionist.
I returned to L.I.T. in September 2016 to finish my degree, I began coaching the powerlifting team on campus also.
In November 2016 I began the process of opening Kaizen Strength, researching the best equipment to buy before finally making the investment! After many long days and nights of work, the gym was officially openend on January 3rd 2017 and it continues to go from strength to strength (pun intended) weekly.
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog, I hope you found it interesting and that it gave you more insight into how Kaizen Strength became the number 1 name for strength and muscle development in the South East!

Pat Curran
The Kaizen Coach