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Since I’ve introduced myself at Iron Serpent’s 101 page, let me explain few other things more in-depth… but first, my “official” bio would be something like this:

My name is Milos and I’m a recreational strength athlete and strength coaching enthusiast. My main profession is Digital Marketing Strategy and WordPress Development, a fully remote worker by trade and most importantly – a happily married father.

I’ve started strength training about 6+ years ago as a 45% body fat (if not more), 326lbs 6”6’ tall office worker ready to shed some fat, look better and be stronger. In the process, I learned a lot, most importantly that I loved teaching and coaching other people while getting stronger myself during the whole process.

First and foremost, I’d like to point out that this website is something like my personal notebook, meaning that all content which I’ve written here is something that I use myself and add to my regular workouts – the “practice what you preach” sentence is something that I utterly believe in.

As you probably know, there is a lot of fitness articles all over the web – as well as personal blogs of countless coaches like myself and who are much more experienced than me.

I am highly aware of this and with that said let me tell you that I do not intend to write about something that I have no practical (or coaching) experience in – to additionally clarify this statement, everything new that I learn about is firstly fully tested out in practice on me and my workout routine, after which I learn to understand the movement more theoretically, how to implement coaching cues, test out those cues on the athletes who I coach and only then after all that I’m comfortable to write about in an article.

Learning the things in the wrong way i.e. vaguely researching a topic and not trying it out on myself is not something I do or something that I promote.

One more thing – please do take everything online (including this website) with a grain of salt, use common sense when trying out new exercises or programs, be patient and give them room to grow (in terms of results) and keep your technique on point. That is what I “preach” personally and that is one of the things which I keep in mind when writing routines, drills, and programs here.

Why the “Iron Serpent” name?

I’m no fan of snakes – and although I do have a friend who has a large collection of them at his apartment (which is cool, but not for me), this wasn’t my inspiration when creating the Iron Serpent brand name. Actually… I got inspired while reading the script of “Conan The Barbarian” (I’m a huge movie aficionado) and its topic of the Riddle of Steel which I somehow related to the Olympic bar and the notions which ones need to go through in order to become a better version of oneself.

Flesh grows weak. Steel becomes brittle. But the will is indomitable.
source

Seeing the snakes of the cult of Thulsa Doom, I combined “iron” with the serpent and that’s how this brand was born. I know, it’s nothing too much with a deep meaning, but I accepted it pretty well 🙂

My Transformation and My Binge Eating “disorder”

I was always an overweight kid in school – and besides my out-school activities like working at my grandfather’s farm I still ate a lot and that kept me in a good and fluffy shape 🙂

During high school, I started long-distance recreational biking (I would bike on the highway to the neighboring city every day which is around 12 miles) – so about 24 miles in total every day including weekends. Then, twice a month I’d meet with few similar-minded friends and we would bike to another city (Novi Sad) for 65 miles.

High school years…

This “biking” phase continued when I graduated from high school and started working – I would go to my work, eat a can of tuna and a piece of toast, then bike for an hour or two, then go home and eat 2 eggs followed by a bag of chips. This way of nutrition, combined with my outdoor activities led to the popular skinny-fat physique which is essentially a body composition of very small amount of muscle while still retaining fat on hips (love-handles) and chest (man boobs).

When the number of my work hours increased, I’ve slowly stopped my biking activities since I started working 12+ hours a day. By then I also lost my mother to cancer and I’ve got depressed and socially inactive which also lead to binge eating.

So here’s how that would work… at my work I’d eat a bagel or two than during lunch I’d eat a hamburger. During the evening all hell broke loose and I’d stuff myself with a variety of junk foods like chips, hamburgers, fried fries… and naturally, this also continued during the weekend.

All of this lead to a healthy weight of over 310lbs…while still having no muscle at all (well, a small amount of it). Life was pretty bad at that point, I couldn’t sleep at all and I would drink a lot during the weekend.

My stick-like figure after the Atkins diet…

So, one day I got a job offer for a local factory, and long story short – I didn’t get back to biking but I did start one of the popular diets “Atkins”. During that diet, I virtually didn’t do anything physically demanding apart from going to my job – and I lost over 55 lbs with it (both muscle and fat but we’ll get to that later).

When I lost that weight, naturally I felt better but I was extremely weak – I couldn’t do a single pushup or any kind of a basic bodyweight exercise.

After few years, I was working from home and guess what – I ballooned back to 325lbs! Noticing a pattern by now?

So as I said, I got my weight back to 325lbs and that’s when I started going to the gym – I finally couldn’t take it anymore and I couldn’t stand what I was seeing every time I looked at the mirror. I knew that my body wasn’t designed to carry all that excess weight, and I knew that I should feel much stronger and energetic rather than strolling slowly away through my apartment or slowly walk when I was outside. It just didn’t feel right.

325lbs of body weight, before I started training

I started following the popular beginner’s bodybuilding split like everybody else was doing, and that’s how my love for “iron sports” started.

One constant thing which was bugging me while I performed my 3×8 of 75 lbs squats was:

  • Why is the bar so heavy?
  • Why I’m struggling so much to get the weight up?

I’m deadly serious – squatting 75 lbs (at around 280 lbs of body weight) felt immensely hard and overall very heavy. I hated squats, I hated bench presses (85 lbs 3×8) but what I liked a lot was that I could lift 180lbs off the floor very easily and that felt natural to me.

Once I learned about the deadlift and its mechanics, I stumbled upon a book called “Starting Strength” and that was when I started strength training.

After just a few months I had around 260lbs on my back and was squatting it for five sets of fihve (thanks mr. Rippetoe) – and it felt great and it felt really, really good. I was delighted that I could squat that much weight (which is a hilarious weight especially for the regular high school athletes nowadays), and I couldn’t believe that I was struggling with 75 lbs just a few months ago.

So I pushed forward, made some great progress, and started on new routines and different nutritional plans. In the process, I learned that I could analyze form errors when my friends were training, but most importantly I learned which coaching cues to add and how each athlete reacts differently to each standard coaching advice or a cue to fix a form on a compound movement.

During that time I also had to pleasure to meet few experienced strength coaches online, and I continued growing my personal library of lifting books.

All of this brings me to another topic which I’d like to talk about, and those are injuries. Let’s go to the next chapter…

Injuries and Rehabilitation

When I got my “beginner” lifting numbers and started lifting weights which were quite heavy for my body, constant aches and pains were a normal thing to me and I’ve always thought that was just part of the whole lifting game (well, it is but not at that level).

While my deadlift was going on great and was getting close to 500 lbs my aches in my hip and tailbone got much stronger and painful, but all of that was sorted out by a handful of Ibuprofen pills in the morning (and few of them in the evening so I could sleep).

One day, 490 lbs in my lifting log book was scheduled and I started my workout the usual way (light squats 2×5 and deadlift PR 2×3 if I recall correctly). Thanks to painkillers, my hips felt great and I started warming up for my deadlift.

490 lbs was loaded, I hook gripped it and lift it once. Strange… hard and painful tightness in my left hip started… nevermind, two reps more to go! I hook gripped it again, started lifting it – and just when the bar passed my knees I heard a large “POP!” sound in my left hip and I dropped the bar while screaming in pain.

I forgot to mention that this happened in my home gym – one of my former landlords rented out a large space to me which was just next to our house.

Having said that, I somehow dragged myself to my house, my wife helped me get on the bed and again I got a handful of painkillers and managed to get some sleep after an hour once the pills started working.

I woke up with a large bruise on my left hip and even worse pain – I definitely knew that I screwed something over badly so a doctor plus an MRI was in order.

Long story short, I was lucky that I haven’t affected my hip socket – but the actual result was that I partially tore my gluteus medius which also created trochanteric bursitis (inflammation of a small muscle just at the hip joint).

Obviously, my doctor told me to take it easy and stop lifting weights (pretty much forever), so I did – and it turned out that wasn’t a good idea (for myself). So, I stopped lifting immediately and rested while taking a walk or two during each day. However, the pain started worsening and my whole posterior chain was constantly in some kind of pain every day.

One day I couldn’t take it anymore so I decided on two things:

  • I’ll stop taking painkillers
  • I’ll get back to training

And so I did. I took an empty Olympic bar and started squatting, overhead pressing and doing Romanian deadlifts – and all that while clenching my teeth in agony… then I added kettlebell swings, kettlebell sumo deadlifts, and anything with light weights I could think of.

Day by day my pain was there, but after few months of doing those light workouts – my pain was down from 90% to about 40%. And I’ve kept my promise of not taking any painkillers.

Now regarding all of this let me warn you first in case you’ve experienced a similar injury or any other injury – this is my personal experience and this is not a medical advice as pointed out in the Iron Serpent Medical Disclaimer. Please do not try to replicate what I’ve done and listen to the things which your doctor said.

Not my MRI, but it looked quite similar (notice the leaking on the last disc) image source

Getting back to the story, after a 1 year has passed I’ve started doing strength training again and getting back to my old lifting numbers. But, guess what? I still was sitting 10+ hours a day which took a toll on my spine without my knowledge. I wasn’t aware of this until a set of only 315 lbs squats immediately strained something in my lower back so I had to repeat my “rehab” all over again. The MRI results were clear – herniated discs at L5/S1 and bulging L3/L4.

Without boring you with the whole rehab story all over again, let me mention this – lifting heavy weights was just the tip of the iceberg. In most of the cases, small micro-injuries slowly lead to large injuries like a herniated disc – our spine is not made of glass and it can take quite a beating… but there’s a limit to it and boy did I experience it 🙂

Also, my experiences with injuries were one of the main reasons I’ve written my free Mobility Routine so hopefully you won’t repeat the same mistakes which I’ve done.

Have I also mentioned that I’ve felt multiple strains (for 3+ weeks) which include rotator cuff and ACL strains as well? But let’s not talk about that now…

Strength Progression

As you’ve probably guessed by now, I started off with an extremely weak and untrained body while still being well over 300lbs in body weight.

Squatting 225 lbs for a set of five was something which I could only imagine – and when I squatted 405 lbs for a triple I knew that my body was definitely changed – maybe not that much in its looks but more in its overall strength.

With the injuries which I had, I’m not able to progress day-by-day constantly with all compound lifts – it’s either on a weekly basis for larger compounds (Squats), bi-weekly basis for presses (bench press, overhead press), and monthly basis on heavy deadlifts (which I scarcely utilize… although my back feels better after them, I tend to forget my form and just lift weight off the floor quickly which can result in curved lower back).

As I’ve rehabbed my herniated discs to the point that I can sleep and go through my day without painkillers, if I squat 3 times a week on 5×5 or 3×5 scheme (with modified percentages) – and sit around the whole day due to my work – my SI joint and lower back “locks up” completely leaving me in a great deal of pain – I can’t squat to tie my shoes or get out of my car without clenching my teeth in pain. So with that in mind, I usually pick one priority goal – which is fat loss at the moment – and second goal which is getting up my squat to its old numbers.

My all-time personal records are not something to boast about, especially since any 20-year old college guy (or girl) can do them after few months of progress:

Squat: 435lbs (197.5kg) for 8×3 (belt, knee sleeves)
Bench Press: 260lbs (117kg) for 1×5
Deadlift: 485lbs (220kg) for 1×5 (hook grip, conventional stance)

Standing ab-wheel for 5×3 (i had to mention this but I do feel proud since I’ve trained A LOT to do a single repetition while weighing 270lbs…)

My presses were never impressive but I’ve enjoyed my deadlifts a lot. My bench press and overhead presses were weak mostly due to my stubbornness of not working on hypertrophy for triceps, not variating bench press variations like close grip bench press, paused (2 or 3-count), and other things.

My Approach to Strength and Conditioning

Conditioning…

This brings me to the next topic and that is routine programming. Please note that this is just my personal way of doing things – for the people which I’ve coached, my recommended approach was completing a basic barbell routine with an emphasis on linear progression and getting constantly stronger, not getting into percentages of 3 rep maxes and adding 10+ different assistance lifts for a single training session.

I also wrote custom “drill” routines to fix up multiple postural issues during the compound lifts as well as writing customized routines which were focused on bringing a single compound lift on a monthly basis (instead of getting all compound numbers at once).

Anyway, back to the topic – auto-regulation. There are many ways of auto-regulation like undulated and others (for experienced lifters), but what I was referring to is a core, utterly basic way of auto-regulation. I implement it in the following way:

  • Focus on bringing one compound lift on a weekly basis
  • Add volume on secondary compounds
  • Go for heavy triples, doubles, and singles after I complete the main work set for the compound
  • Add 2 or 3 GPP days during rest days which convert into active recovery days

As you can see, the point is usually on how do you feel at the moment during your training session instead of going by the book and the numbers which are written for that day. Again, I’m not saying that you should replicate this especially if you’re just starting out.

Additionally, this does not mean that if I’m “feeling weak” that I won’t complete my scheduled work set. On the contrary – what I would do is that I’d either add more heavy triples after that work set, or add volume or paused variation immediately.

Again, one of the main reasons which I’m doing this is maintaining my injury levels (not regressing and not getting re-injured constantly) – and doing all that while also losing fat in the process and bringing my weights up on at least one compound. Hook gripping 530 lbs in the above-the-knee rack pull is also a fun way to initiate nostalgia for my deadlift PRs 🙂

Thoughts on Discipline Versus Motivation

I do my training with “take no prisoners” approach – I go the gym, do my work and go home. Simple as that. I don’t carry my cell phone with me, I don’t check Instagram during rest between my work sets, and don’t indulge in 20-minute chat breaks with my friends at the gym.

My trusty power rack

I visualize each workout which I’m doing next and that’s what I’m focusing on – nothing else. If I start answering questions regarding technique flaws which a friend asked me about at the gym, I’ll forget what I was doing – actually, why am I going to do the next work set and how.

I’m not saying that I’m some jackass who doesn’t talk to anybody and then proceeded to yell, grunt and scream to show the “intensity” of his workouts – I’m not going to the gym to prove that I’m better than anyone else, but to face my own fears and constantly improve myself by lifting the bigger weight which I’ve done the day before.

The result of that approach is usually a completely soaked t-shirt, my dizzying looks since I was destroyed by a work set of heavy squats, deadlifts or rack pulls, and that’s pretty much it. I get to answer few quick questions from the people which I’ve coached occasionally at the gym (rarely happens since I ignore it for the reasons stated above), get some more water, and then continue to the next work set.

Having said all of that, it brings me to the Motivation versus Discipline topic, and here’s what I believe on this:

If you need to spend 2 hours watching multiple youtube videos to motivate yourself to go to the workout, I don’t really see the point of doing that workout at all if you need that much time to get yourself to go to the gym and complete a training session. Hey – if that works for you then, by all means, do it, but I think that it’s not a good long-term plan for your lifestyle.

I see training as just a small part of my whole day. Like going to the store to buy some milk, meat (and ice cream), going to the gym is pretty much the same thing for me – I go, complete my workout and carry on with my other responsibilities – and that’s it. No searching and purchasing new songs for my mp3 player, no searching youtube playlists for few hours to “get in the zone”, no motivational t-shirts with large words like “super saying” – you get the point.

Again, I’m in no way telling you this to show you that I’m better than you or anybody else – i just believe that if you have a sustainable routine which you can follow on a long-term basis, without mentally preparing yourself just to go and do it (unless it’s your first day at the gym), and without affecting your other day-to-day activities – I believe that’s much healthier and stressful day of doing things rather than spending all your precious gray cells on doing another routine (motivational videos) just so you’ll be able to do your main routine (training).

Personal Take on Nutrition

Who doesn’t love pancakes?!

I like to micromanage my workouts – actually I need to do that in order to not reinjure myself all over again and sleep on the floor filled with a handful of painkillers – and yes, it’s all the part of the lifting game but lifting weights is not my job nor I am a competitor by any means.

What I noticed when testing out popular diets were… a cheat day or even a “binge” day. “Allow yourself a binge day!” they usually say at those programs. Well here’s the cold, hard truth about those – you’ll just switch yourself from one eating disorder to another one. Trust me, I went through all of that.

My take on my personal nutrition is a whole different game – and yes, I’ve tried micromanaging my nutrition as well. This doesn’t mean tracking my calories and some ballpark daily protein intake (i do that on a regular basis).

By micromanaging I mean tracking each gram of fat, protection, and carbohydrate while also measuring practically everything which I eat or drink every day – including a glass of water or a piece of chewing gum (yes I’ve seen people track that as well).

I’ve tried doing those things the “bodybuilder” way and I felt completely miserable – what I found out was that I was not in a control of my healthy lifestyle, but it was the other way around – my lifestyle was completely controlling me. All my mental and physical energy was spent on either tracking every gram of my nutrition or doing my workouts (and tracking those as well).

On the other side, going by the “feel” on how do I eat didn’t worked for me as well – since a few years ago I was really overweight, my stomach still could handle large intake of food so if I would to stop my calorie tracking and just lift, I’d eat well over 5000-6000 calories every day without breaking a sweat.

So what I’ve done was find the middle ground in all of that, allowing me to steadily lose fat in the long term without starving myself or getting stressed out if I had a beer or a steak during the weekend.

I did this by still tracking my basic calorie intake with MyFitnessPal (see my resources page) and making sure that I get my daily protein in – but not getting stressed out if I didn’t meet a daily quota of a specific number of grams of protein.

During the weekend I take my family to lunch at a restaurant or on Sunday we have a picnic or go swimming in a lake – and yet I do not stress out when during all of that I have a piece of cake for the dessert or something similar.

The single thing which I left important is:

  • knowing my TDEE
  • knowing how much calories I take on a daily basis.

This leaves me to easily adjust my daily calorie intake if I over-ate during the weekend or if I need to get my calories up to continue progressing on my compound movements.

Still, this lifestyle has its drawbacks – I still do have a belly and love handles (no washboard abs here, sorry) – but I’ve recently managed to bring my body fat from 35% to 27% in few weeks while still weighing 265lbs at 6’6” height. I’ll continue doing that slow recomposing process until I’ve hit around 15% body fat, then I’ll think about my next steps.

Coaching Recreational and Competitive Athletes

During my strength and lifting journey, I was lucky to meet several experienced powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting coaches, as well as few local strongman competitors. During this process, I’ve managed to get online with some of them, work together on improving the routines of the people they’ve coached while I was learning things myself about the basics of routine programming and implementing coaching cues.

In a nutshell, my first “coaching” experience was to stay silent in the corner and watch the big experienced guys coach others and getting the understanding of why they do things the way they’ve done 🙂

Few things from my personal library

When I coached the first time (for real this time), I learned that by recommending the fixes which I’ve done on myself greatly improved the technique on the athlete’s lifts who I was coaching. However, this way was the wrong mainly because all bodies are different and that I couldn’t recommend a coaching cue or a fix just because it fixed my own technique if that makes sense.

Slowly but steadily I developed a basic “coaching eye” meaning that I could identify the technical issues of an athletes compound movement (squat, deadlift, bench press, power clean, overhead press) and quickly implement two coaching cues (one priority, one alternative) who can immediately fix those technical issues.

Then I would recommend assistance exercises and mobility drills which improved the athletes compound movements after just a few weeks.

With all this, I found out that this has become a passion of mine and with that, i’ve started coaching in-person some friends who were competing as well as working in private online strength & conditioning teams coaching competitive athletes in various sports.

Again I must repeat that this is a hobby of mine and not a priority profession (although I’d love to get certified as a Starting Strenght coach one day) – I enjoy my job pretty much but coaching others is something that I also enjoy a lot. With that said, I do not provide personal coaching online, however, I do plan to release a monthly coaching Q&A group which I’d attend with others (especially total beginners and remote IT workers).

Some of the Nutrition Programs and Diets Which I’ve Tested Out

  • Atkins diet
  • Low carb diet
  • Carb cycling diet
  • Leangains
  • Intermittent fasting
  • Renegade diet
  • The classic bodybuilding diet
  • Excessive calorie restriction (i.e. losing both fat and muscle)
  • Excessive calorie surplus (i.e gaining lots of fat and some amounts of muscle)
  • Lyle McDonald’s fat loss diet

Bodybuilding and Strength Training Programs Which I’ve Tested Out

  • 3-day Bodybuilding Split (chest/biceps, shoulders/triceps, legs/back)
  • Bill Starr’s 5×5
  • Greyskull LP
  • Starting Strength
  • Starting strength Advanced Novice
  • Stronglifts
  • Madcow
  • Texas Method
  • 5/3/1 by Jim Wendler (multiple variations)
  • Greg Nuckols Bench Press 2x week beginner
  • Greg Nuckols Bench Press 3x week high intensity
  • The original Conjugate method template
  • Squat every day by Matt Perryman
  • Ed Coan’s Deadlift routine
  • Various custom-made routines focusing on Deadlifts and Overhead Presses
  • Various bodyweight at-home routines

Closing Thoughts

I hope that you’ve learned something from my experiences and hopefully you won’t repeat the same mistakes which I’ve done and which led to my injuries. I know that this page is quite long and honestly I didn’t know why I was writing it at first – after all, i’m not an “online celebrity” or some competitor who squatted 1000 pounds raw, or an Olympic coach with 20 years of experience – or something even remotely similar.

I just decided to log my experiences in a single page to use it as a personal reminder of where I was and where am I heading – and hopefully in the whole process you as a reader will learn a thing or two based on the things which I was experimenting with my own body and my lifestyle.

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