As I become more involved with strength and speed training with baseball players it is increasingly obvious that the 60-yard dash is a bad metric to use to test “true baseball speed.” I put true baseball speed in quotes because once we step back and evaluate the sport we will realize the unique aspects of the sport that define what good speed truly is. That’s the thing here. Each sport has different components that help us find ways to effectively train speed in the most efficient manner possible. So, in order to attack this topic effectively I will first break down the two phases of a sprint (acceleration and top speed), the nature of the 60-yard dash, sports specific speed to baseball (that is, what actually happens in a game) and lastly my suggestion for a better test for linear baseball speed.
The Two Phases of A Sprint
Let’s cut to the chase here. Essentially, a linear sprint is made up of two phases.
The Nature of The 60-Yard Dash
Now that we understand the phases of the sprint we can begin to discuss what is present during the 60-yard dash. Essentially, only twenty-five percent of the 60-yard dash is spent on acceleration (15 out of 60 yards). This means that 75% (45 of 60 yards) is spent in the top speed phase. Keep this in mind as we move forward.
Baseball Sport Specific Speed
This is the part of the article where I dissect the involvement of linear speed in the game of baseball. For ease of understanding here I will break this down in three phases: home to first after contact, base running and lastly defensively (particularly in outfielders).
My Suggestion For A New Test For Baseball Speed
As you can guess, my suggestion for the test of linear baseball speed would be the 20-yard dash. In my opinion the 20-yard is more effective due to the fact that more of baseball is spent in acceleration than top speed. Gauging a baseball player’s speed with a test that is mostly spent in top speed when they mostly play the sport in acceleration is inaccurate.
In the next installment of our supplemental and accessory exercise series I give some insight into my favorite posterior chain activating accessory exercises that can contribute into improvements with the hinge movement pattern.
Main Areas Involved In The Hinge/Deadlift
The posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, external rotators etc.) is the main mover of the hinge movement pattern. Thus, it is important to implement accessory exercises into your program that target these muscles. While supplemental exercises for the hinge almost always include the movement itself, the accessory exercises do not have to. Thus, I included the straight leg deadlift (or RDL) in my favorite supplemental exercises, but none of my accessories will be performed with the same pattern or in the same plane of motion as an actual deadlift.
There are a couple reasons why I love hip thrusts. First and foremost they are great because they can be done with multiple types of equipment and as a result can be a staple in any program. Bands, dumbbells, barbells, medicine balls and plates can all be used to perform hip thrusts. The second reason I love them is because they allow you to get a great feel for finishing your hinge. Essentially, cuing a squeezing of the glutes at the top of a hip thrust not only provides hypertrophic benefits, but also can teach athletes and lifters to drive their hinge all the way through with their glutes instead of hyperextending at their lumber spine.
Glute Hamstring Raises
I enjoy glute hamstring raises because they are essentially fool proof in terms of requiring posterior chain activation. Basically, in order to be able to do them you need to fully contract your hamstrings and glutes. Other accessory exercises may require a mastery of the movement in order to fully engage the posterior chain, but glute hamstring raises do not. Furthermore, glute hamstring raises also can be utilized to rid of lumbar hyperextension throughout the completion of a hinge.
In the next phase of our accessory and supplemental exercise series I will dive into accessory exercises for each movement and what muscle groups are responsible for each of the fundamental movement patterns. In terms of your programming, you will now be learning about the next piece following our fundamental movement and the supplemental exercise you have just completed.
Main Areas Involved In The Bench Press
Aside from the chest, there three areas that play a pivotal role in the bench press and your ability to target these areas effectively can help you build your bench and all pushing movements. Essentially, you should target your triceps (main muscle used during the latter 1/3 of the range of motion in a bench press), upper back (crucial for stabilizing and drive off the bench during a press) and shoulders. The following are some of my favorite exercises to build each of these areas.
Always remember that our goal with accessory exercises is to build muscle mass that will directly translate into building strength with our main movement patterns. The bigger a muscle is the more potential it has to be strong!
In my opinion, the lunge is one of the most misunderstood movement patterns in terms of programming regression based exercises that will help a client or athlete develop the necessary strength to complete the movement. As a result, we often see lunges performed in a painfully awkward manner that is not only bad for the person performing it, but also bad for the reputation of the trainer responsible. However, once you break down the lunge and understand the needed components to perform them with good form, it is pretty easy to master this last movement pattern in our supplemental and accessory exercise series.
Key Components of The Lunge
To start, there are two main components to performing a lunge, and much like any of the other movement patterns you must be able to have complete control and strength throughout the entire range of motion. So, in my opinion, the first component is to improve your general leg strength and mobility outside of the range of motion before you move into the two exercises I recommend. Also, it is imperative to improve core strength (think stabilization and not doing 1,000 crunches). Exercises such as farmer’s walks, planks, suitcase carries etc. are great for developing core strength, which will support your extremities while they are in motion.
Two Best Exercises To Perfect The Lunge
Now as I have mentioned in previous articles, focusing on eccentrics and isometrics are imperative to building strength in a particular range of motion. I will not beat a dead horse here, so check out my last article on the pulling movement pattern to get a breakdown on how to utilize isometrics and eccentrics. With that being said, the rear leg elevated squat (also known as the Bulgarian split squat) and a split squat are the best regression exercises to build the lunge because they eliminate the extra movement and simply focus on the concentric and eccentric portions of the lunge. Think of it this way. These movements remove the step involved in a lunge and as a result are a great regression to the movement itself. Once control is gained with these two exercises you can begin to move towards the lunge.
This completes the supplemental exercise portion of our supplemental and accessory exercise series. Be on the lookout next week as we move towards accessory exercises to improve each of the fundamental movement patterns.
In article five of our supplemental and accessory exercise series we discuss the pull. While the other articles thus far in this series have focused on particular exercises to improve a specific movement pattern, this article will talk more about strategies to implore in order to perfect the pull-up. With my experience it is fairly easy to master rowing movements (both unilateral and bilateral i.e. dumbbell and barbell rowing), but not many people are aware of how to take someone who can do zero pull-ups, and build them into being able to do a pull-up with perfect form. So, the remainder of this article will discuss several ways to manipulate the movement in order to become stronger throughout the range of motion, and then I will give you my favorite exercise to use as a precursor to “graduating” to pull-ups.
The Magic That Is Eccentrics and Isometrics
To start, I will clear up what both eccentrics and isometrics are to any first time readers. In extremely basic terms, the eccentric portion of the range of motion is the “negative,” or lowering of the movement, and isometric refers to any hold or pause throughout the range of motion. Essentially, we are strongest eccentrically, which is why performing movements eccentrically that we are not strong enough for to perform a full range of motion with is a great way to build muscle and control with a movement. Isometrics are also a great way to improve dynamic motor control (stability throughout a full range of motion) and increase time under tension (time the muscle is contracted), which can lead to muscle growth.
Inverted Bodyweight Rows
Now that we have covered eccentrics and isometrics I want to discuss my favorite exercise to use before you progress to working on the pull-up bar. The inverted bodyweight row is a pull-up done from the barbell, which is suspended on the squat rack pins in the bench press position. You hang from the bar and perform a pull-up up to the bar. Not only can you implement eccentric and isometric work with this movement but also you can raise and lower the bar to place you at a higher angle (easier) or a lower angle (more challenging). I love starting beginners at a high angle with these and progressing through the movement and slowly lowering the angle while introducing longer eccentric and isometric holds. Once you show proficiency in this movement you can proceed to working from the pull-up bar.
In part four of our supplemental and accessory exercise series I discuss the squat, what you should be looking for with your supplemental squat work, and my two absolute favorite supplemental exercises to perfect your squat form and build your posterior chain.
Goals With The Squat
I just want to address a couple things right away before we move on. I have seen some posts recently about posterior loading with squats and the notion that refraining from your “knees passing your toes” is a myth. The idea is that if you squat deep enough your knees will need to pass (or at least align with) your toes or else you will not be able to maintained a properly aligned and neutral spine. While I do feel that you can maintain a properly aligned spine if you have enough mobility, stability and motor control throughout the range of motion, I won’t even get into that. However, what I am going to say is that for athletes and average gym goers it is not necessary to go drastically below parallel in your squat. I have all of my athletes squat to a box at parallel or just below and we see great results.
With that being said if we properly load our posterior chain when we squat (think about your hips leading the movement instead of your knees), we will reap great benefits for our glutes, hamstrings and hips. Furthermore, I have noticed that my athletes and clients are much more likely to create proper torque and external rotation when focusing on engaging their posterior chain. From this information we can gather that our goals with the squat are to properly load the posterior chain. So, what does that tell us? Well, let us take a step back here. As I mentioned in article one of this series the goal of a supplemental exercise is to build strength and proficiency with a fundamental movement pattern (exercise should be in the same plane of motion and also incorporate many characteristics of the fundamental movement). Keep this in mind as I delve into my two favorite supplemental squat exercises that will help build mobility, stability and dynamic motor control throughout the full range of motion, and will also help develop unilateral lower body strength and build muscle.
The Goblet Squat
The goblet squat is my absolute favorite exercise to perfect squat form. I have taken athletes who have never even squatted (front or back squats) prior to training with me, and perfected their form in only five to six weeks with just the goblet squat. For one, holding a dumbbell in goblet style (perched just under your chin), forces posterior loading. Holding the load anteriorly (in front of you) forces you to “sit back” as the weight would fully pull you forward if you do not load properly. Secondly, a lightened load allows you to focus on form entirely. For beginners I will have them squat with a mini band around their knees (while also barefoot) to help them feel the floor beneath them (the true creation of torque) and “drive their knees out” to ensure proper external rotation. Lastly, I like to utilize eccentrics and isometrics with the goblet squat in order to develop dynamic motor control within the entire squat range of motion. Slow eccentrics (think of a five second lowering to the box) can not only build proficiency throughout the entire range of motion (slow eccentrics are one of the best ways to build muscle and strength with a movement), but they can also build muscle mass via increased time under tension (time a muscle spends in contraction), which are great goals to have in mind for beginners or even some advanced athletes and lifters. Isometrics (think pauses throughout any point of the range of motion) are another great tool to develop motor control and stability with the movement and also can assist in increasing time under tension.
As I mentioned earlier, building unilateral leg strength is equally important as a supplement to the squat. Split squats allow us to target each leg individually, but still maintain the same movement pattern. Unilateral work has a multitude of benefits for athletes (in terms of success in building speed, agility and other areas), but for now we will just focus on using them to rid of muscle imbalances with each side and how that can help build proficiency with the squat. While split squats can be performed with dumbbells, I do like to use them with a rack position barbell load (front squat position) or back squat load (depends on what type of squat my athlete is performing on a consistent basis. This allows them to build comfort with the bar while also building unilateral leg strength throughout the range of motion. Applying the same eccentric and isometric principles that I mentioned with the goblet squat can go a long way with these as well.
For a more advanced goblet squat variation, perform the exercise with two dumbbells each loaded in the rack position. This is a great variation for those who primarily use front squats instead of back squats. Aside from the usual benefits of the goblet squat, these will help develop more proficiency in the rack position and also help strengthen the wrists for barbell front squats.
In today's installment of the supplemental and accessory exercise series, I discuss the hinge pattern and my favorite exercise to use early on as a regression to teach the hinge, in addition to my two favorite exercises used to build the barbell deadlift.
Using The Kettle Bell Swing To Teach Proper Hinging
Teaching a proper hinging of the hips while keeping the spine neutral can be very easy, but often times it is made to be much harder than it actually has to be. Once a proper hinge progression is taught (I may discuss this in a future article), the kettle bell swing is one of my favorite exercises to use in order to help rehearse the pattern, as it is very repeatable and simplified. In addition, using the kettle bell swing can ensure that you are not placing tremendous amounts of stress on your spine if your form is not fully cleaned up and mastered. Basically, the downward momentum of the kettle bell during the eccentric portion of the range of motion forces the hips to hinge into proper position. I also like the kettle bell swing because in order to achieve a full lockout with your arms and drive the kettle bell to the top you will need to finish your hinge (think a driving forward of the hips and a tensing of the glutes as you get to the top and lock your knees). When using a heavier kettle bell your arms may not be enough to drive it up alone, and this can really require you to make sure that you are properly finishing off your hinge. For beginners and lifters or athletes who are trying to build strength with this range of motion I would recommend using repetition ranges in the 8-12 range. This will help pack on added muscle mass in the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings and hips), which will allow strength potential to be much higher when moving on to a traditional deadlift.
Two Best Exercises To Build The Hinge and Deadlift (Romanian Deadlift and Rack Pulls)
As I said early on in this blog series, our goal with supplemental exercises is to build muscle and strength with exercises that involve the same muscle groups utilized with primary movements, but is also performed in the same movement pattern. Thus, supplemental exercises to build the deadlift should incorporate a hinge and only a slight alteration from a tradition full range deadlift. For example, the two exercises I am about to discuss differ from the deadlift in a few minor areas, which I will explain.
The first fundamental movement covered in our supplemental and accessory exercise series will be the push, which is most commonly associated with the bench press and push-up. So, as part of our supplemental exercise recommendations the following exercises will be focused on perfecting push form, and also building the barbell bench press. Remember, supplemental exercises are performed with the same movement pattern as the movement you are trying to improve.
The Best Way To Perfect Your Push-up and Pressing Form (The Barbell Push-up)
The number one supplemental exercise to improve the push-up or press is the barbell push-up. The barbell push-up allows us to work with eccentrics and perfect push form due to the fact that we can alter our angle (higher angle is far easier) and progress as we improve our form and strength. Also, we can focus purely on eccentrics to improve. Basically, the strength curve shows we are stronger eccentrically (downward portion of the range of motion), so those who cannot perform regular push-ups properly can simply lower to the bar with good form, and then reset and perform more reps in that manner. I generally do not advise to “push-up” off the bar until proper form can be executed.
Top Two Supplemental Exercises To Improve Your Barbell Bench Press (Board Press and Pause Repetitions/Thick Bar Work)
These two exercises will help with your not only your lockout but also your ability to get the weight off your chest. The first exercise is a board press in which you limit the range of motion to the top half or third of the press and work on your triceps and shoulder strength while perfecting the lockout. Many athletes and lifters struggle getting the bar to full lockout, and performing the board press for either hypertrophy purposes or even strength can go a long way. The next exercise or supplemental variation I like to incorporate is thick bar work with a pause on the chest. I have used these together for tremendous success in my own training and with my athletes. Thick bar work (fat gripz are the cheapest way to go about this), can stimulate the nervous system and improve handling of the bar (while also strengthening grip and wrists). In addition, a pause on the chest can limit momentum and strictly focus on the ability to drive the bar off the chest in the early portion of the range of motion.
Repetition Ranges for Supplemental Exercises
For athletes or lifters who need to or can afford to gain weight, supplemental exercises can be used to gain muscle mass (12-15 reps). For athletes who need to maintain or even lose weight they can be performed for max strength and in the 1-5 repetition range.
Building Your Program With Supplemental and Accessory ExerciseS (Week 1 of An 11 Week Series)
In terms of programming, one of the main components of building an ideal program comes from a sound and consistent template. Over the next 11 weeks I will be breaking down two tremendously important aspects of a training program, which are supplemental and accessory lifts. Basically, there are five fundamental movement patterns that are almost always involved in our training.
They are as follows:
Each of these movements can be improved upon via supplemental and accessory lifts. Essentially, supplemental lifts are of the same type of pattern as the primary movement pattern and help build that movement pattern directly. Think of it in the sense of a training family tree. The fundamental movement patterns are the ancestors of the family. Each movement pattern then branches off into supplemental exercises, and from those supplemental exercises come a multitude of accessory exercises. Accessories are more specific and target particular muscle groups to strengthen the supplemental and then back up to the fundamental movements.
Breaking Down an Effective Training Program
Now that I have shed some light on supplemental and accessory exercises, I would like to briefly detail a skeleton or template of these exercises and how they should be utilized for performance benefits. You will see that this is a fairly simple concept and it can be used and repeated for all of the fundamental movement patterns. In addition, having a template allows us to collect a database of exercises for each category and as a result we can keep our training fresh by utilizing different variations for similar effects.
The template breaks down as follows:
What To Expect Moving Forward
Over the next ten weeks I will write separate articles for my favorite supplemental exercises for each of the fundamental movement patterns. Once I am through with that, I will do the same with accessories. That is a total of 10 articles, two pertaining to each movement pattern. At the conclusion of this comprehensive breakdown you will be able to use this template I provided and utilize my favorite exercises.
I am here for one reason and one reason only. This article has been inspired by the countless time my athletes have asked me if we are “going to do ladders.” This would usually be followed up by a fifteen minute rant where I would rattle off multiple reasons why ladders are the worst thing you can do for speed training. Essentially, mentioning ladders in the same breath as speed training and agility is the biggest crime in athletic performance training today. It is an epidemic. Go on social media and you’ll see a pro athlete posting a video of their lightening “quick feet,” and their coach proclaiming how much faster they have gotten. Do yourself a favor and read this and pass it on. It will explain why I do not have ladders in my gym and might add a few more years onto my life, as I will be less likely to have an aneurism from people asking me why I do not like speed ladders!
Sports Are Not Linear
We can start here right off the bat. Sports are not pre-determined. Meaning, an outfielder in baseball is never going to take the exact same route to a ball as they did the play before, and a football running back is never going to maneuver in the exact same manner to evade a defender. The list can go on and on, but you get the point. This is where my first problem occurs. Ladder and pre-determined cone drills aimed to improve agility are formulaic and repetitive. If anything, an athlete is simply becoming more proficient in a practiced and rehearsed pattern than they are becoming more agile. Agility is the ability to react visually and cognitively to stimuli and adjust as quickly as possible. A running back sees a linebacker cut across the field to tackle him and he cuts back (agility), a shortstop processes that a ball has been hit to his left and there is a runner on third so he must act in a certain manner (cognitive reaction and agility). Again, the list could go on and on. In what way does a rehearsed ladder or cone pattern do anything to prepare an athlete for visual, audible or cognitive reactions? Hint, they do not!
Small Choppy Steps Are Detrimental To Linear Speed
My next point is fairly cut and dry as well. I see numerous coaches with a video of an athlete performing a “speed” ladder routine and proclaiming they are working on increasing their speed. Let us take a quick second here and explain some fundamental running principles. We are faster (this may be a reality check to some of you), when we take longer and less strides to get from point A to point B. If you don’t believe me here is some hard data. Aside from the fact that I have a particular athlete (who cut off .2 seconds from his 60 yard dash time in four months), who’s direct speed increases coincided with reducing his strides to cover the first 10-yards of his sprint (from 7 strides to just over 5.5), I will share some cold hard facts from the best sprinter this world has ever seen. That’s right, Usain freakin’ Bolt. Remember in the 2012 Olympics when he was absolutely obliterating the competition and shattering records with his shoes untied? You do? Great. Guess what? THE MAN RAN 4.5 LESS STRIDES THAN EVERY OTHER COMPETITOR. So, while you have your small hurdles and ladders and can brag about how “lightening fast,” you or your athletes feet are, you are not improving linear speed!
What Is Agility and How Do We Actually Improve It?
As I mentioned earlier, one half of the equation in terms of agility is being adept and well equipped to react to visual and cognitive stimuli. The other half of the equation is eccentric strength (ability to slow down and stop), and starting strength (think coming out of the hole in a squat). Consider this. That same running back we discussed hits the hole hard to the left, and then has to juke right to evade a linebacker. The stronger he is eccentrically the faster he can slow down and stop, and then redirect (starting strength) into the other direction. That is agility! Ladders and coaching “quick feet,” through these ladders accomplishes nothing. Cone drills only cover half of this equation. They practice and improve “starting and stopping” ability but do nothing to account for the non-linear nature of sports.
How To Improve Agility:
Acceptable Uses For Ladder Training
There are some acceptable uses for ladders. I sometimes will make use of them for a warm-up or even use them for conditioning. The bottom line is that they do not improve linear speed nor do they work on agility. If you want to argue that they can work on footwork for certain sports (for example a wide receiver in football) where certain quick and choppy steps are rehearsed, then fine. However, I tend to leave those things to the actual coaches and stick to improving aspects of sports performance that coincide with strength training.
The When? Why? And How? Of Static Stretches and Breaking Down The Fear of Implementing Them Pre-Training.
There is an ongoing debate in the world of strength training regarding static stretching and when and how it should be implemented into programming. I am going to keep this short and sweet, but at the same time I would like to dispel any fear athletes and gym goers have about static stretching in their warm-ups. Here are two common warnings about the negative “side-effects,” of static stretches and their adverse impact on performance:
Here is the thing though, these two notions are absolutely true and I do not disagree with them whatsoever! Now I know you may be reading this and you are probably thinking to yourself “Why on Earth is this guy agreeing with these things when he already stated the purpose of the article is to rid me of fear of static stretching?” You know what, you are right? I agree with these facts, but I strongly disagree with the fact that you cannot static stretch before you train, and here is the reason why! Basically, what these trainers are failing to shed light on is the fact that static stretching is only advised against pre-training if it is not appropriately utilized! Let me explain.
Why They Are Ok
Please go back and check out my recent article on how to conduct a proper warm-up (http://www.challengerstrength.com/blog/how-to-properly-warm-up-athletes-meatheads-and-everyone-in-between). If you notice, I have a strategic warm-up scheme (in order of when each should be executed I might add), and at the top of the list is foam rolling (also known as SMR or self-myofascial release) and static stretching. Now, why would I do this if I were going to sit here and claim to be an educated and knowledgeable trainer and coach? If everyone out there claims they are bad for you then they must be. Wrong! As long as you follow specific guidelines following static stretching you will be perfectly fine, and actually benefit from the static stretching. Simply put, if static stretches are followed up with activation exercises, movement pattern rehearsal and central nervous system activation (I have also written another article on my three favorite CNS activating exercises) (http://www.challengerstrength.com/blog/three-favorite-nervous-system-activating-exercises), they are fine! You will not have to worry about lowering the responsiveness of your central nervous system and relaxing your muscles if you work towards igniting them anyway! Also, you can work out any problem areas you may have, improve your short-term range of motion and promote much more effective movement with your compound lifts
When They Are Ok
Obviously I just spend a paragraph explaining that they are ok before a training session, but I will also clarify that they are equally (or even more important) post-training. Static stretching post training is a great way to down regulate the nervous system. Basically, we can use SMR, stretching and breathing drills in order to cue our body into a mode of recovery. Not only that, but longer holds in the 20-30 second range have shown to promote long-term improvements in ranges of motion.
How To Static Stretch
As a general rule of thumb, I keep pre-training static stretching as limited to 4-5 “problem areas,” an athlete or client may have. If they are tight in the hips or lower body, they will have 4-5 go-to stretches they will utilize before we begin our actual warm-up. In terms of post-training stretching, I am a firm believer that a full body (1-2 different stretches per area) routine can have a multitude of benefits for whatever your goals may be.
Hello everyone! Welcome to article number thirty-two (thirty-freakin’-two!) in the Challenger Strength Blog Series. Yes, I am just as shocked as you are that my initial blogging effort has transformed into such a consistent and weekly publication. Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because as the weeks go by it is increasingly hard to find unique and fresh topics to write about. However, my creativity has prevailed thus far so have no fear. What I will say though is if you have any topics you would like to see covered please drop a comment on our website, Instagram or Facebook. In addition to this, I will continue checking out various Instagram stories and find inspirations from the unfortunately stupid things I see on a day-by-day basis.
One thing I have seen a lot lately that is becoming an issue is improper shrug technique and ideology. Basically, many people have the wrong idea of what they should be doing when they shrug. They treat a barbell shrug like it is an Olympic lift. Hands all chalked up, belt on nice and tight, 200 plates on each side of the bar, and then they shrug and they look like they are receiving an exorcism in one of the conjuring movies. I am here to tell you to remove your ego from the equation and learn to shrug properly and effectively.
Goals of Shrugging
I have said this countless times before and I will say it again. IF YOUR GOAL FOR A BODY PART IS TO INCREASE MUSCLE SIZE THEN REPS AND FORM ARE KING. Now, after you imagine me screaming that at you, please stop attempting shrugs with hundreds of pounds on the bar. We are aiming for reps of 12-15 with a great emphasis on the contraction of the muscle and the time under tension (time a muscle is contracted for each repetition and set). Shrugging insane amounts of weight and jumping while you barely move your shoulders accomplishes nothing. No one cares that you can hold a bar with 495 pounds on it and that it sounds really loud when you throw it down after a set. Your traps will continue to stay the same size and the only thing that will receive growth is your ego! In my entire lifting life (unless using an assisted machine at the gym) I have never loaded more than 275 pounds on a barbell when I shrug. It is extremely pointless.
This section will be short as I only have one comment. Basically, once you have the weight adjusted properly your last focus should be form. I see countless people circularly shrug their shoulders. That is, they internally rotate, roll them back around and then repeat the motion. I mentioned time under tension previously and you can give it a try for yourself. You have no tension placed on your traps when you are rotated internally or when you roll back around. Instead, take your shoulders to your ears, pause and then return straight back down. This is a huge mistake that is so commonly made and adversely effects gains to the traps.
Last week I talked about some general tips to use in order to grow a strong and big upper back. I also gave you some of my favorite exercises for the upper back and how to develop it. This got me to thinking and I realized that not many people know how much of a role the upper back plays in pressing movements (Bench press, military press etc.). Many people neglect the involvement of the scapulae (shoulder blades) in their chest workouts and pressing exercises, and fail to see how much they can develop this aspect of their body if they simply focused on a few key details. This would provide a multitude of benefits for athletes as their upper back plays a huge role in their health and performance. For rotational athletes (hockey, lacrosse, baseball), the upper back plays a huge roll in not only their swing or shot (think lacrosse and hockey), but it can also limit shoulder injuries if trained effectively. A strong upper back can help improve posture and limit the internal rotation of the shoulder (internal rotation can lead to labrum injuries due to the compression and force constantly placed on the acromioclavicular (AC) joint). So not only can we contribute to an aesthetically pleasing upper back by making some adjustments in our pressing, but we can also limit injury and contribute to increases in performance for athletes! So, here is a quick breakdown of how to promote external rotation and my favorite exercise variations to do so!
In my opinion the best analogy to use to explain external rotation of the shoulders would be to have someone imagine that their arms are outstretched and fully extended with their hands on a wall. On that wall is a big sheet of paper, and your goal is to tear the paper down the middle without moving your hands. How exactly do we do that? Well, think as if you are trying to “screw” your hands into the wall, only without moving your hands outwards. External rotation is created when we drive our right hand clockwise and our left hand counterclockwise. If we do this without actually moving our hands then we create torque, and that imaginary paper is now torn! The shoulder is a ball and socket joint, meaning that the humeral head rotates about inside the cup like socket of the shoulder blade.
Now I know you are all saying “Great Gerry please explain how this applies to my training.” Well, basically many of us perform presses without external rotation, which not only leaves us susceptible to injury, but also does not allow us to develop the upper back and shoulder blades to the best of their ability. This is due to a number of factors, which include hand and grip positioning and the side effects of performing presses on a bench. Basically, when our back is on a bench the bench itself does not allow for full scapula activation and retraction, which can limit external rotation and use of the upper back. Experienced lifters know how to properly activate the upper back and can get around this, but many others struggle. Lastly, bilateral movements (presses with two hands), can negate the need to isolate each individual shoulder blade due to the fact that using both hands does not require as much stabilization as unilateral movements. With that being said, here are a few variations that makes use of these fundamental principles.
Dumbbell Piston Press
I have most of my rotational athletes perform presses with dumbbells due to the fact that they require more focused stabilization of the scapulae then barbell presses. However, an even better way to guarantee shoulder blade activation and external rotation is to perform dumbbell presses in a piston like manner. That is, perform each press individually (one side at a time) so that the athlete or lifter has to pay attention to activating the upper back and externally rotating at the shoulder in order to properly stabilize the weight.
The barbell push-up not only is a great tool to use in order to teach the art of pressing, but also it eliminates the use of the bench (as I mentioned), which can teach an athlete how to cue and activate the upper back. Since we are performing presses without the support of the bench we can fully retract the shoulder blades with each repetition and learn how to activate the upper back. This is a simple movement for advanced athletes, so I will usually implement slower movements, isometric holds and even increase the load (with chains) in order to progress the movement and make it more challenging.
Bottoms-Up Kettle Bell Presses
This last variation is the most advanced and ties in all the principles I have previously mentioned. Firstly, holding the kettle bells in a bottoms-up position makes external rotation a necessity, and is why I love this variation. If you do not properly externally rotate it is almost impossible to stabilize the kettle bell. In addition, we are once again removing the bench from the equation and requiring true activation of the upper back and retraction (pinching) of the shoulder blades. Lastly, if you really want to advance this variation and take it to the next level you can perform the presses unilaterally (one hand at a time), and tie in the same principles you would be when performing the dumbbell bench press in a piston manner!
Having a muscular and strong upper back has a multitude of benefits. Strong upper backs can help avoid shoulder injuries, which often arise due to an overemphasis on pressing movements. In addition, a strong upper back will give way to performance benefits as well. For example, the scapulae, rhomboids (no this isn’t geometry) and trapezius muscles will help improve the bench press and also help maintain neutral position with the spine in the deadlift. Also, for my female followers out there if you have ever envied the woman who can rock a backless dress (going slightly out of my area of expertise here but bear with me), you’ll want to stick around and check this article out and see some tips and exercises that will help build a strong upper back!
I am going to stick with the theme of cardio for this week and address something that I feel a lot of people fail to realize. We have all heard it before. The main excuse people use for why they don’t do cardio is that it is boring and monotonous. What I am about to share with you may not be ground breaking by any means, but I am still so amazed that more people do not realize it!
My quick tip for this week is to add variety to your cardio! I get it. People want structure while also experiencing new and challenging things. So, you can have a goal for the number of minutes of cardio you would like to do each session and make sure you either reach or exceed that number. Here is where my advice comes in. Don’t feel like you need to be stuck on the treadmill or bike everyday! Mix it up. I keep placing emphasis on shorter bouts of higher intensity interval training, and there are so many options to use for that type of training. As long as you are working hard for 20-30 seconds and then supplementing that with rest intervals you can do anything!
Have Fun with it!
We have seen it everywhere. From gimmicky DVD’s and training systems that instruct you to pound out countless numbers of crunches, to personal trainers who break their clients back with repeated bouts of sit-ups. Have no fear. I am here to breakdown how our core actually works and how you can use this information to effectively train it.
Overview Of The Core
Let's break it down this way. The deep/local stabilizers or breathing muscles (pelvic floor, diaphragm, transverse abdominis and multifidis) are not only involved in deep, 360 degree and proper breathing, but also are responsible for bracing and stabilizing the spine. The global stabilizers (obliques, add/abductors etc) resist rotation under loads and the global movers (lats, glutes, etc.) are specifically for joint movement while bracing the spine.
With that being said, we know that we can essentially target the core with simple bracing exercises and then progress to more advanced exercises in which the core braces and stabilizes the spine while the extremities are in motion. Instead of continuously flexing and extending your spine (and adding undue stress to it I might add) and performing hundreds and hundreds of mind numbing crunches, look to find exercises that call on a proper bracing of the spine under minimal loads of tension and then also implement variations where your joints are in motion. After all, the true function of the core is to provide stabilization while your extremities are in motion so why not train it in that manner!
Two Simple Bracing Exercises
As I said, exercises that require true bracing of the deep breathing muscles can go a long way in developing a powerful and strong core. Abdominal rollouts and planks are some basic examples, but here are two of my favorite variations for understanding and developing proper bracing and spine stabilization.
Essentially, this is a more advanced plank where you simply alternate between bouts of high tension (this is where you literally squeeze and activate every muscle group in your body while holding the plank) and regular planks. Try and perform a minute where you alternate every five seconds.
Plank Pot Stirs
Place your elbows on a physio ball and get into a regular plank position. Brace your spine while stirring your arms clockwise and counter clockwise. I usually perform 15 in each direction for every set.
My Favorite Advanced Bracing Exercise
The loaded carry, or farmer’s walk, is one of my favorites and most used core exercises in both my programming and the programming I draw up for my athletes. Essentially, you walk with heavy loads in each hand and this is the bracing while your extremities are moving that I have been talking about. This also really works on your grip and forearm strength. It is truly one of the best ways to develop a strong and powerful core!
My Thoughts on 1 Minute Cardio
Last week I discussed a way to save time and implement your cardio into your weight training. Not only does this help burn fat and retain muscle effectively, but it is an efficient alternative to keep cardio and fat burning methods in your training routine. With this being said, some people either want to separate their cardio from their weight training and still find a way to perform it in the most efficient way possible, or they refuse to do any cardio whatsoever because they are under the impression that it is only effective as a means of burning fat if they perform long steady bouts and burn the most calories possible.
Recently I was listening to a podcast from legendary New Jersey strength coach Joe DeFranco. As an aside, I would highly recommend listening to it (the show is called “The Industrial Strength Show”), as it is jam packed with great content for any person interested in fitness, strength training or nutrition. Anyway, anyone who knows me well knows how much stock I put into what comes from Joe, and how much of what I have learned has come from him. Thus, when I heard him mention that he had been trying this new “1-minute” cardio training, my hesitance in believing its effectiveness slowly began to wane. After this experience I did some more research and I actually tried it today on my assault bike, and here is what I came away with. Spoiler alert: I am a huge fan. Also, I want to preface this by saying I am in no way a physician, and I do not recommend this for someone who has done no physical activity whatsoever for a significant amount of time. Be smart, and make sure you are healthy enough to engage in this type of intense activity. Work your way up if you need to. Now that I got that disclaimer out of the way here we go!
How It Works
Here is a no nonsense and easy to understand breakdown of the cardio. While the actual max intensity bouts only last for 1 minute, the workout itself is a total of 10 minutes. Let me first say this. If you are reading this and are still convincing yourself that you “do not have time for this,” you clearly just make way too many excuses. Even the busiest people in the world can spare 10 minutes out of their day. Anyway, I digress. Here is the breakdown:
1 minute Cardio
Why It Works
I am not going to copy and paste 50 quotes into this and confuse everyone. I am going to try and break this down from what I have read and understand so it is simple and you can follow along. Essentially, the belief is that the duration of cardio can be reduced as the intensity of the working bouts increases. So, while you may need 45 minutes of slow walking to generate a fat burning effect, you may only need 15-20 minutes of cardio with intervals at 75% and even less once you are performing your bouts at a maximal level. You essentially want to create mitochondria (the power house of the body’s cells that burn up fat and sugar) and you will accomplish the same amount of mitochondria creation in short maximum intensity bouts as you will in longer lower intensity bouts. In other words, there are many ways to skin a cat, or you can accomplish things by different means! Why not accomplish something in 10 minutes instead of taking 45! It seems like an easy choice to me!
My Final Consensus
After doing my homework and actually trying this 1-minute cardio workout, I am definitely a fan. I would like to see how I feel long term, but it was challenging, and how I felt afterwards told me some significant things. For example, I found it to be tremendously stimulating hormonally. I was having a slow morning and my mood was not great, but after I was done I felt revitalized. In addition, I performed this before my lift, and had one of the best lifts I have had in a while. I hit a repetition PR on my bench press; with the same weight I used Saturday when I left multiple reps on the table.
Basically, if you are fit, time restricted and want to burn fat I would give it a go. The leaders in the industry love it, it is backed up by scientific evidence and if it means anything to you I tried it and liked it. I will be sure to mention how I liked it over the course of the week at the beginning of next week’s article. Cheers!
The busier I get, the more I think about ways to improve my training economy and efficiency. If we think about the actual definition of efficiency, that is, receiving the most output from the most minimal input, we can arrive to one conclusion. We must find ways to maximize our training and utilize methods that take up less time and produce more results! This is especially true when trying to use cardio as a means of fat burning. So, today I will show all of you how to capitalize on simple heart rate calculations and higher intensity interval training (with both standard cardio and actual weight lifting). Yes, I know thinking about using weight training as a primary means of fat burning is a crazy idea, but just hear me out on this one. Not only will this save you time and improve your training efficiency, but it will also help you build muscle and lose fat simultaneously (which is what we all want)! So, Here is a guide on efficient fat burning and muscle saving cardio!
Calculating Your Ideal Fat Burning Range
Here is step one, and something that is easy for anyone to calculate and apply. Basically, we all have a certain heart rate range that is ideal for fat burning. Meaning, if we keep the number of beats per minute of our heart at a certain threshold throughout our workouts we will create a fat-burning machine for not only the duration of our training, but for hours after (cardio with greater intensity and focus on elevating heart rates is proven to carry a much longer fat burning effect after completion than more slow and steady state cardio). It is quite easy to calculate your fat burning heart rate range, and you can easily track it using an apple watch or any other style of heart rate monitoring.
Here are the steps for calculation:
Calculate Max Heart Rate= 220-Age
Find the high and low ranges of your heart rate:
Standard Fat Burning Cardio
Before I get into using the above heart rates with strength training, I will briefly detail some standards for “HIIT” cardio, that is, high intensity interval training.
Some conventional HIIT Protocol:
Using Weight Training To Burn Fat
Looking to burn fat and maintain muscle, and don’t have time to add an extra 15 minutes to your training session? The solution is simple. Use your accessory exercises in an interval fashion. For example, let’s say for sake of argument you are working out your upper body. You plan on bench pressing as your primary movement and then following that up with a workout that goes as follows:
Simply perform rounds of these exercises in succession in a circuit manner. Keep your heart rate in the range you calculated and only take a rest once it goes above your upper threshold. The beauty of this is that you can keep your hypertrophy (muscle building) sets and repetitions and still burn fat. Not only that, but you are consolidating your time and improving your training economy!
Since I started my blog and then turned it into a newsletter I have continuously put out content that is geared towards bettering training performance. Whether it was mobility, form and technique or properly warming up, my goal has been to help all of you with some of the more prevalent questions and issues I see arise in this industry. However, this made me think, and I quickly realized that none of this information is useful if you are not motivated to get to the gym and train in the first place. How can you utilize my favorite lower body stretches before your workout if you do not actually work out consistently? How can my advice and guidance on bench press form be of any use if you never actually get to the gym and bench press? So, this week I give you some tools that will tie all this together and help put you in a position to really utilize all the information from my past blogs. Here are my five best ways to keep yourself motivated with your training!
Plan Your Training For The Week
Every Sunday I will sit down and plan my training schedule for the week. I use excel to help organize my exercises and will put my individual sessions together. In addition, I place a date next to each individual workout so I not only know what my schedule is, but it holds me accountable to complete them on the days I have planned. Doing this will keep you organized, and also give you a legitimate purpose when you head to the gym to train. Instead of deciding what you’re doing when you arrive and adding exercises at a whim when you get there, you will have a consistent plan that is mapped out beforehand and holds you accountable to finish all your exercises.
Another key to motivating yourself is to have goals that you can aspire to obtain. Think about it. How much more motivated would you be if you saw yourself slowly creeping towards a goal you have been working at achieving? These goals are even easier to track when we consistently follow my first tip and plan for our training every week. With that being said, here are my four recommendations when it comes to goal setting. The goals must be:
A friend or training partner will help keep you in check and make sure you do not skip sessions or coast while you train. You would be amazed at how much someone else can push you and bring out your competitive nature.
For beginners, having a routine is crucial. Those of us who are very into training can find the motivation to train anytime of day, but it is not always this simple. Having a set time each day (whether morning or night) when you know you will train everyday can help you develop habits that will eventually transform into lifestyle changes.
Keep Your Diet In Line
Your training and your diet will go hand in hand and feed off one another. If you eat poorly you will feel sluggish, not achieve your body composition goals and thus lose motivation to train. Think about it this way. These all tie together to lead to achieving your goals, and goals are the main cog in the machine that is motivation.
Last week I touched on my favorite warm-up routine for the bench press. One of the most common questions I get is related to static stretching, its role in warming up prior to a training session or athletic event and basically how to “properly” warm up. I place properly in quotations because many people are disillusioned when it comes to performing a sound and ideal warm-up. In light of this, I wanted to spend this week discussing the best way to structure and progress through your warm-ups. This template is beneficial for athletes, washed up gym goers, and anyone in between.
As a preface to the remainder of this article I would like to give a brief outline of how a warm-up should progress. Generally, I would advise for a full body foam roll prior to the beginning of every warm-up. Foam rolling can help work out and specific problem areas throughout the body. From here, I usually breakdown my warm-ups as follows:
Static Stretching/Mobility Work For Desired Areas
Plain and simple, this is the area of the warm-up where I like to either work on certain problem areas where there are mobility restrictions present, or simply target the muscles that will be used extensively during the training session. For example, if I have a group of athletes they will each have their own static stretches that target areas they specifically need work on. Otherwise, if you were to be working the lower body, for example, you could target your hamstrings, hip flexors, external rotators, quadriceps and ankles. The same can be said for the days where the upper body is your focus for your training.
As I have mentioned many times before, the core plays an extensive role in bracing the spine while your extremities are in motion. So, activating your core is extremely important if you desire to have an effective workout. Exercises such as planks, farmer’s walks variations and pallof presses are great to ignite your core and prepare it to support you throughout many different ranges of motion.
General Activation (Hips, Shoulders, Glutes etc.)
Essentially, stability is the ability to maintain mobility throughout an entire range of motion. Activation exercises not only help to work on this, but they also help us progress from the static stretches we have just done to begin our warm-up. I always tell my athletes that static stretching is okay to do prior to training or games as long as you properly activate after. So, exercises that require mobility through ranges of motion for your hips, shoulders, and glutes are a great place to start.
Rehearsal of Movement Patterns
Basically, this is where we perform a basic movement that corresponds to the primary movement we are training that day. Is your session centered on the bench press? Great, perform a set of pushups to rehearse a pressing variation. Getting in some barbell squats or deadlifts? Be sure to dedicate this phase to bodyweight squats or kettle bell swings. The goal is to now use the mobility and activation we have focused on and begin to phase it into movement patterns.
Central Nervous System Activation
I have actually written a previous article on my favorite nervous system activation exercises, so go check that out if you need some guidance here. Basically, this is the last portion of our warm-up right before we begin our training or athletic event. Our goal is to engage the nervous system and have us firing on all cylinders before we begin our lift or game. A sprint, jump or throw are the most ideal.
I am going to preface this article by saying that this has been four weeks in the making. After personal experimentation with my own diet I have come to some conclusions that I am excited to share with all of you!
When people come to me for nutritional help they obviously have some common goals. Weight loss, fat loss and muscle building are amongst the most sought after goals to those into fitness. However, many people also complain about bloating as well. The common aggravation usually manifests itself in the following manger: “I eat less calories than I burn and I am eating healthier foods. Why am I still feeling bloated and retaining water?” I used to not put much thought into this issue until it affected me directly. Just like those who asked me this same bloating related question, I too was struggling with doing everything by the book diet wise, but still dealing with bloating and water retention. So, a few weeks ago I decided to find some answers. Most of my solution is contrived from common sense and knowledge. Basic principles I have lived by for years. However, the real difference maker has been understanding the relationship between sodium and potassium, and once you do it can change your dieting life forever.
The first piece of advice I will give to someone who is looking to engage in healthier eating habits is to increase their water intake. The usual recommended starting point is to drink at least half your bodyweight in grams. I am not going to get into the multitude of benefits that come with drinking water. I could do that until I’m blue in the face. However, what I will say is that a simple way to look at it is that you need to consume water to properly regulate the water in your body and adequately flush it through your system.
Now that I have addressed water intake you can begin to see where the problem may be developing. Here is some basic chemistry. Water is heavily attracted to sodium. So, while drinking all this water is great for you, if you are consuming too much sodium this dreaded bloat would take place. Here is where it gets interesting. Potassium is the antithesis of sodium, meaning that while sodium traps water molecules, potassium helps regulate them throughout the body. So, while the FDA and American Heart Association recommend the average person consume 2,300 milligrams of sodium, I have found that is equally important to try and match the number of milligrams of potassium you consume daily with your sodium intake. Potassium is harder to come by than sodium. Quality fruits and some vegetables contain large amounts of potassium, which will in turn introduce better quality foods into your diet.
In the past few weeks I have had great success with regulating my water by upping my potassium levels and bringing them closer to my sodium levels. I have also limited my sodium intake by avoiding table salt and utilizing leaner protein sources versus red meat. MyFitnessPal is a great app that can help you track your sodium and potassium.
Lastly, you can find some foods lower in sodium and higher in potassium from the Harvard School of Public Health!
Key bench press warmup exercises
Lately I have been experimenting in order to find the best combination of exercises to use for the ultimate bench press warm up. I am going to provide my usual step-by-step warm up I use prior to my bench, and I think you will find them very helpful. Basically, the idea is to mobilize the shoulders and chest with a few static stretches, activate the shoulder and upper back musculature with a couple different dynamic exercises, and then rehearse the movement pattern and excite your central nervous system. Oh, and I have also found a bicep pump to be extremely beneficial as well. But, I will explain more about that later.
As I mentioned, I begin each warm up with a brief stretch of the pectoral muscles as well as the shoulders. Many people in this field feel that static stretching limits performance and should only be used as a means for recovery. However, they are mislead and simply need to understand that static stretches are fine and actually needed as long as they are followed by dynamic activation and a heightening of the central nervous system. Mobilizing the chest and shoulders is key in allowing mobility throughout the entire range of motion.
Like I said, static stretching can be extremely helpful prior to training, but it must be followed by activation. I like to perform each of these for 1 set of 10 repetitions.
Central Nervous System Activation
I am going to provide a few of my favorite nervous system exercises, and you can use whichever one you seem to have the most success with. Perform 2-3 sets of 3-4 repetitions.
Bonus Upper Back and Bicep Pump
Not many people understand the importance of the upper back during the bench press. To create proper torque you must externally rotate your shoulders and retract (pinch) your scapulae. Activating your back properly will aid tremendously in the bench press, and is something I have utilized successfully in my own training. In addition to this, a biceps pump can also have an immediate impact on bench press performance. For example, most big time power lifters have large bellies. They take big, deep breaths and utilize their bellies as a slingshot to press off their knees and quadriceps and propel them through the bottom of their squat. Think of the biceps in the same way. Having a bicep pump can act as a slingshot to press your arms back into lock out and help your bench. With both of these exercises, look for 3 sets in the 12-15 repetition range. We want high volume to give us the necessary activation and “pump,” in both areas.
Now that you have properly mobilized, activated, and gotten a tremendous arm and upper back pump your ready for the best bench press performance of your life. Enjoy!
So, last but not least in our series regarding form and technique for the major “big three” barbell lifts is the squat. Many people hold the squat in high regard. Athletes call on squats as one of the main tools to develop lower body strength and power and bodybuilders utilize them to build massive legs. However, many people are mislead and often do not practice proper form and technique. In light of this, results are not maximized, and neither is performance. In addition, injury can occur and sometimes can be major. In order to ensure you are performing the squat in a proper manner, here are some technique considerations and cues that will help you get in the right position.
Feet Shoulder Width Apart
While comfort is also important for maximum efficiency, a stance that is too wide or too narrow can make it more difficult to generate necessary torque. We will see how this comes into play with our next cue.
Screw Feet To The Floor (Tear The Giant Piece of Paper)
As I mentioned above, torque is a necessity will all barbell lifts. With the squat, proper torque will help place your hips, knees, and back in the right position and limit unnecessary strain placed on these parts of the body. A good cue to use to help generate torque is screwing your feet into the floor (right foot clockwise and left foot counter clockwise). Another way to think about it is to imagine that the floor beneath you was a giant piece of paper. If you wanted to tear that paper down the middle without moving any parts of your body, you would accomplish this by driving your feet and screwing them into the floor.
Grip The Bar With Your Middle Finger On The Rings
This will put your hands in the proper position on the bar
Break The Bar
To create torque in the upper body, you must externally rotate your shoulders. If you were to try breaking the barbell and rotate your right hand clockwise and your left hand counter clockwise you will achieve this.
Unrack and Perform Lat Pull Down
Imagine performing a lat pull down with the bar to properly engage your lats and ensure that your elbows are in and remain under the bar
Let Your Hips Lead First
The bar is on your back, you have taken it off the rack, and you’re ready to squat. It is imperative that you load most of the weight onto your hips, glutes and posterior chain instead of your knees. A good way to cue this and make sure your knees to not move forward and take on undue stress is to cue the hips to move first. The first part to move will take on most of the load, and continuing to sit back and drive back with your hips will make sure that your knees to not cast forward.
Chest Out and Drive The Bar Straight Up
These cues are critical to promote proper posture throughout the lift and make sure that your upper body does not fall forward as you return the weight from the bottom of the squat. Driving your chest out and returning in a straight line exactly from where you came will help keep your upper body in the proper position.
This week I break down the proper step-by-step form and cues to help you perform a safe and much more effective bench-press. One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give is to not focus on or coach more than 2-3 cues at once. This will be overwhelming and hinder the actual bench press. Instead, find the biggest areas and flaws that need work, and aim to be more attentive to them. Lastly, this is a breakdown of a more conventional bench-press. One I would teach to athletes and general clientele. I do not consider myself an expert on powerlifting bench press style (while I also do not admonish this style in anyway whatsoever), and prefer to teach my athlete’s and clients a more standard technique that does not over emphasize an unnatural arch.
Firstly, the most important thing I want to emphasize is that your feet must remain planted throughout the lift. The biggest mistake I see with the bench-press is the tendency to have “dancing feet,” especially once there is any sort of struggle to complete a repetition.
Feet Slightly Behind Knees
This is one of the key proponents of creating a tight and natural arch in your lower back. Keeping your feet behind your knees will create a tightness and rigidity and help create a power source for your bench from your lower body.
Heel Planted/Driving Into The Ground
As I have mentioned in previous articles regarding deadlift form, creating torque is essential for all major barbell lifts. Keeping your heels planted can allow you to properly drive your knees out and “screw” your feet into the ground and create torque throughout your lower body.
Unless there are major discrepancies between someone’s grip and more “conventional” positioning I will let an athlete grip the bar in a manner in which they are comfortable.
Eyes Slightly Behind Bar
To ensure a proper bar path and a lack of disturbances from hitting the hooks on the power rack, it is imperative to make sure your eyes are slightly behind the bar when you lie down on the bench.
Bend The Bar
Much like proper positioning of the feet can help create torque throughout the lower body, cuing the hands to “break the bar” can lead to proper external rotation of the shoulders and essential torque creation in the upper body. Much like how screwing your feet into the floor calls on a clockwise rotation of the right foot and counter clockwise rotation of the left foot (which will lead to external hip rotation and torque), breaking the bar will lead to this same essential movement in the arms and shoulders.
Glutes and Lats
This will help create the natural arch I mentioned earlier.
Pinch and Bring Down Shoulder Blades
Again, this will help create external shoulder rotation and the necessary stability provided by proper torque generation.
Perform a Lat Pull Down With The Bar
Essentially this is a way to cue proper lat engagement. If you have ever done a lat pull down before you know that your lats lead the movement and are the primary mover. Pulling the bar in the same manner you would during a pull down will help drive your lats into the bench and provide much needed added stability.
Drive Chest Up To Meet The Bar
This can slightly shorten the range of motion and also aide in creating torque
Triceps To Lats/Elbows Straight Forward
Cuing to keep the triceps close to the lats or driving the elbows forward will ensure that the shoulders remain in a position that will not hurt or damage them.
Feet Through Floor
As I mentioned before, maintaining your foot positioning and contact with the floor is essential. This is also a good way to ensure you continue to drive and finish throughout the latter portions of the lift.
Drive Head and Back Through Bench
This will also help preach unconscious (basically these final cues will help finish off the lift and reach the point where the final drive is second nature) drive throughout the last stages of the bench. This will also help maintain stability.
Hello everyone! Hope you all had a great holiday weekend. Before I get started I just want to remind all of you that if you have any questions you would like answered please just send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. This week’s question comes from Joey Mascolo from right outside Washington D.C.
I was wondering if you could give me some bodyweight exercises to do for those times when you cannot get to the gym. Maybe you could share your favorite exercise for each body part. Any help at all would be extremely appreciated.
So, this week I will give my top bodyweight exercise for each body part. Now, you can also purchase a resistance band (Rogue has a great and affordable selection), and add an additional challenge to some of these exercises. Simply adding a resistance band to your repertoire or luggage is all you need to complete some of these exercises. Go check out my favorite bodyweight exercises and remember to send your questions to email@example.com with the subject "Newsletter Q&A"
Talk to you again in 2017 (Next Thursday) and have a happy and healthy New Year!
This is an easy one. The pushup is not only one of my favorite bodyweight movements, but also a staple in my programming as they are essential in developing proper pressing form. The pushup is one of the key foundational movements, and this is why it would have to be my favorite exercise. In addition, the pushup itself is incredibly versatile as an exercise. You can change your level of elevation (lift your feet up on a chair, push up off a chair etc.), change your positioning (narrow, standard or wide) and basically create a multitude of benefits for your body with just one exercise. This is a no brainer!
Biceps (Banded Bicep Curls)
This one is a bit harder as you will need either a band or something simple like a hand towel to complete them. Obviously, you can do banded curls and just step on the band with your foot and do a standard curl, or you can even get a hand towel if you have a partner and have them pull on the opposite end of the towel for resistance. Either is acceptable and way too cheap to not consider.
Side Note: Fellas, if you’re looking to impress the ladies on the beach this summer keep a band in your travel bag. You can always catch a quick bicep pump, but just make sure no one is looking! :)
Standard dips are my definite go to here. Find a chair, and go to work. However, like I mentioned with biceps you can have a partner or friend help you use a towel and mimic overhead triceps extensions.
Shoulders (Band Pull Aparts/Hip Thrusts)
If you took my advice and purchased a band (just do it, they’re cheap) then band pull aparts are a must for your upper back/rear deltoids. But, just incase you didn’t, give superman’s a try. They’ll also simultaneously work your glutes.
Find a doorway and do some pull-ups. It’s as simple as that!
Hamstrings/Glutes (Banded Stiff Leg Deadlift/Hip Thrusts)
Again, use your band and do some banded Stiff Leg Deadlifts. Or, hit the floor and hammer out some hip thrusts. Make sure you get a good pinch with your glutes and you will be good to go.
Quads (Bodyweight Squats)
Bodyweight Squats are definitely one of my favorites. If you want to make them more quad dominant, just squat down to a chair, really sit back and load your hips, and then drive straight up from the chair, which will really call on your quads. This is important. Driving out from the chair is not only wrong, but will not target your quads in the same fashion.
Calves (Calf Raises)
This one is easy. Calf raises, after calf raises after calf raises.
Look below to find photo explanations of some of the more intricate exercises!
Gerry DeFilippo: ISSA CPT- CPPS, AAPS. Founder/Owner: Challenger Strength.