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Archive for May, 2010

Retirement

While I usually write about strength and sport training topics, today I’m going to venture off a bit and address a topic that I believe is very important to my fellow trainers. I’ve been lucky enough to have met many personal trainers in the past year at local and top levels. During conversation, I’m always surprised to find that most of them don’t have any sort of retirement plan. I must confess, currently I don’t either, but it’s something that’s always on my mind.

As a former high school mathematics teacher, this topic is of great concern to me. When you work a government job, it’s not just about the money you make during your years working, it’s also about the money you make when you retire.

Example 1 – Firefighter

A chief of a local fire department started working 32 years ago as a firefighter. His starting salary was $20,000 per year. Over the years he rose through the ranks from firefighter to captain, captain to battalion chief, and battalion chief to chief. He currently makes $150,000 per year. His average salary over the 32 years is $70,000 per year. During his career, he made $2.24 million dollars.

Since he worked for 32 years, his pension is 80% of his base salary averaged out over his last three years of work. FYI, if you put in 20 years you get 50% and 75% for putting in 30 years; it rises as more years of service are reached and tops out at 80%. Many individuals in the fire service will work a ton of overtime during their last three years to boost their pensions.

Let’s say that this particular chief started out as a firefighter at age 23, retired at age 55, and lives until he’s 85. During his 30 years of retirement, he makes $120,000 per year in pension. This equates to $3.6 million dollars. So he made $2.24 million while working and $3.6 million while retired for a total of $5.84 million. Of course, I’m ignoring what Uncle Sam takes out but you get the point.

He made 61% more money from his pension than he did from his years of service.

Now, there’s more to retirement than just pensions. There’s social security, savings accounts, 401(k)’s and 403(b)’s, IRA’s and Roth IRA’s, stocks, bonds, CD’s, employer matching programs, etc.

Why is this important for trainers?

We are responsible for our own retirement. Most of us aren’t paying into social security and won’t have a pension.

Example 2 – Typical Personal Trainer

Let’s say a personal trainer makes $60,000 per year. His earnings fluctuate slightly over the years but stay relatively constant. He spend money carelessly, parties relentlessly, and doesn’t save anything. He needs to keep working until he dies in order to continue providing for himself. At sixty years of age he suddenly realizes that nobody wants to hire an old-ass trainer and nobody wants to listen to what was popular back in the 1980’s. This trainer started at age 25 and worked until he was 60 and made $2.1 million over the course of his career…a far cry from the $5.84 million earned by the individual in the fire service.

Even worse, now he’s living in a van down by the river, he has old balls, and nobody wants to talk to him. His desperate attempt at a motivational speaking gig is ill-fated and he ends up succumbing to a drug addiction.

Example 3 – Smart Personal Trainer

Another personal trainer also starts at age 25, works til he’s 60, and makes an average of $60,000 per year (we could speculate that he keeps on learning, attends seminars, networks, and keeps earning more money over the years but that’s not the point). He only spends $36,000 per year and saves the rest. He puts some into savings, a lot into an IRA, and a little into the stock market. Since he was so fit and responsible, he was able to find himself a beautiful wife who also worked and earned income. At age 60, they’ve paid off their mortgage, saved enough to be able to retire, and can spend their days kicking back on the hammock while sipping on coronas.

Bottom line – the best time to start thinking about your retirement is NOW!

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Last week T-Nation published the final article of my Inside the Muscles series. This series is the first of its kind; it charted the EMG activity of a bunch of different exercises on various muscles and parts of muscles. Last week’s article was titled Best Ab Exercises. In case you haven’t read the series, here are the links:

Inside the Muscles

Best Shoulder and Traps Exercises
Best Chest and Triceps Exercises
Best Back and Biceps Exercises
Best Leg, Glute, and Calf Exercises
Best Ab Exercises

Since EMG measures the nervous system’s intent to fire the muscles, which theoretically should be directly related to muscular tension, it’s very important to perform exercises that work the muscles best. Quite often the exercises that work the muscles best are big, basic exercises like squats (quads), deadlifts, (hamstrings), and chin ups (lats). However, through the use of EMG we find that certain muscles require more innovative exercises like hip thrusts (glutes) and weighted planks (abs) to maximally target the muscles. Sometimes we need to ignore EMG and just focus on sound Biomechanics; some lifts may be very beneficial in teaching coordination and core-control even though their levels of EMG activity may not be very impressive. In this article I’d like to show you my favorite abdominal/core exercises.

Human Loaded Front Plank

Although not included in my recent article, last year I conducted an EMG experiment with an extensive variety of ab exercises and found that the ultimate ab and oblique exercise was the weighted front plank. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m not a fan of high-rep training. I have nothing against high-reppers, I just hate feeling the burn. To me, heavy singles are the cat’s pajamas. Much of my innovative approach to training stems from the fact that I can’t stand doing sets of 10 reps or more or performing sustained isometrics for longer than 20 seconds. Because of this hatred, I often create ways to make exercises more challenging. I did this with the hip thrust, which is just a glute bridge with extra weight and extra range of motion, and I did this with the plank by adding weight in the form of another human being directly over the low back.

Yes, that’s Madonna playing in the background. Deal with it! This should go without saying, but it is critical that one uses proper form and begins at the simplest variation before attempting this exercise. Proper form involves controlling the lumbar spine and preventing the low back from being pulled downward into extension (arching). Start off with a basic front plank, and once you master it begin adding weight gradually in the form of plates. You’ll need a partner to put plates onto your back. When a couple of 45 lb plates is no longer challenging for you, it’s time to move up to a human being.

In the video above I perform a 23-second isohold with my 220 lb training-partner named Rob on my back. I could probably work my way up to a minute within a month or so if I really wanted to but I guess it’s just not that important to me at this time as I feel that my core is “strong enough.”

Band Anti-Rotary Hold

I sometimes have to laugh at our industry. We often just “do what we’re told” without putting any thought into the matter. Brilliant physical therapist John Pallof created the “Pallof press” or “anti-extension press” many years ago. Why is it that we can hold a front plank (anti-extension) or side plank (anti-lateral flexion) for extended time but we aren’t allowed to do the same isometric-style with anti-rotation training?

I prefer the band or cable anti-rotary hold to the Pallof press. I believe it works the muscles much harder since they can’t rest! Start off with the Pallof press, but when you master it move onto the band anti-rotary hold and don’t be afraid to move out really far when using bands. If you’re a strong guy like me you can move way out and challenge your core very hard with this movement. It may not appear like it, but this exercise is absolutely brutal! It makes people want to puke it’s so hard.

Negative Standing Ab-Wheel Rollout

Start off with the basic front plank. When that gets easy, move onto the stability ball rollout or TRX fallout. As soon as that gets easy, move onto the ab wheel rollout from the knees. And when that gets easy, it’s time to give the negative standing ab-wheel rollout a try. I’m not strong enough to perform a concentric repetition from the standing position but I can get an excellent eccentric repetition in without allowing my lumbar spine to enter into extension.

Barbell Suitcase Isometric Hold

The barbell suitcase hold is the ultimate anti-lateral flexion exercise. It’s also a great grip exercise once you get really strong. If you’re not very strong, you can just use a dumbbell. But once you outgrow the dumbbells, you must move on to a barbell. I’ve used 185 lbs for this movement in the past.

Weighted Dead Bugs

Dead bugs are an awesome exercise, just like planks side planks, glute bridges, and bird dogs. However, all of these exercises have one inherent flaw; they’re too easy for advanced individuals. The remedy for this is simple. Once you master bodyweight add resistance in the form of ankle weights and dumbbells. In this video I’m using 10-lb ankle weights and 10-lb dumbbells. Don’t allow the lumbar spine to extend or flex.

Cable Chops and Lifts

Chops and lifts are kickass exercises that integrate a ton of muscle and help the entire body to become more coordinated. They work large, global muscles while realy challenging core muscles such as the glute medius, upper glute maximus, adductors, multifidi, external obliques, and internal obliques.

Here is a quote from Gray Cook, the physical therapist/strength coach who really brought these movements to the forefront of the strength training industry:

Chopping and lifting can be used as corrective exercise, core conditioning, or generalized strengthening. Many use the chop and lift as a complete upper body program while others use it to complement the big pushing and pulling lifts. The moves are often hard to classify because they incorporate pushing and pulling. There is much more going on in a chop or lift than pushing and pulling though. Chopping and lifting is based on PNF patterns that are spiral and diagonal. When two hands are involved together in the same direction crossing the mid-line of the body in a downward or upward movement, it is called a chop or lift. -Gray Cook

There are many different ways to perform chops and lifts. Technically chops and lifts only include upward and downward diagonal patterns, but I feel like the pure rotational variations in the transverse plane have tremendous merit even though they aren’t multi-planar or true “chops and lifts.” Similarly, you’re supposed to chop to the bottom knee or rear leg and lift to the upward knee or front leg (if using a half-kneeling or staggered inline stance), but rules were always made to be broken. Here are some ways to tinker with the exercises:

Stance

1. Tall Kneeling (On Both Knees)
2. Half Kneeling Front Leg Inside (On One Knee)
3. Half Kneeling Front Leg Outside (On One Knee)
4. Parallel Stance (Both Feet Parallel With Another in an Athletic Stance)
5. Inline Stance Front Leg Inside (One Leg in Front of the Other)
6. Inline Stance Front Leg Outside (One Leg in Front of the Other)
7. Single Leg (I Don’t Like this Option)

Movement Angle

1. High to Low (Chop)
2. Low to High (Lift)
3. Straight Across (Rotation Press)

Stance Orientation

1. Facing Perpendicular to the Cable
2. Facing at a 45 Degree Angle Away from the Cable
3. Facing the Cable Column
4. Facing Away from the Cable Column

Handles/Implements

1. Dual Rope Handles (Rope Folded in Half)
2. Long Rope Handle
3. Core Bar attached to Cable (Nick Tumminello’s ingenious invention – seriously, check it out!)
4. Cook Bar attached to Cable (Gray Cook’s bar)
5. JC Bands (Juan Carlos Santana’s Bands)
6. Gray Cook Bands
7. Plate Loaded Core Bar (I like the cable version better for chops & lifts)
8. Medicine Balls (I like the dynamic method where you throw the ball, not where you hold onto it throughout the movements)
9. Towel (Looped Through Caribiner)

Rep Styles

1. Sequential Pull then Press Straight Out Without Crossing Midline of Body
2. Sequential Pull then Press While Crossing Midline of Body
3. Flowing Movement (My Favorite)

As you may know I used to teach high school mathematics. The way you figure out the number of total combinations possible is to multiply the number of combinations in each category together. So 7 x 3 x 4 x 9 x 3 = 2,268 different combinations of chop & lift movements!

Side Rant

Another thing I often find humorous in our industry is how ever trainer/coach who uploads Youtube videos demonstrates exercise form with super-light weight while looking like a robot. While I realize that this is often necessary to teach beginners proper form so they don’t screw it up, strong people tend to use more weight and be less “robot-looking” with their form once they figure out the movement and learn where to move and where to stay tight. For this reason, I uploaded the following three videos to show how I perform chop and lift movements with substantial weight. As I said before, I like lifting heavy. I often hear how chops and lifts are “precision-movements” that shouldn’t be loaded up heavy. I don’t tend to listen to this advice, as I load everything up heavy! My form is not nearly as strict as what you often see online but I’m using a lot of resistance and still controlling the weight. I prefer to perform the exercises this way as opposed to going really light and staying super-strict. Quid pro quo; everyone has their own preference.

Half Kneeling Cable Chop

Half Kneeling Cable Lift

Parallel Stance Cable Rotation

If you perform this workout, you might find yourself looking just like John Romaniello!

Hope you enjoyed the article!

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I’ve been to plenty of fitness seminars (five in the past year) and I must say that the annual JP Fitness Summit is a one-in-a-kind event! It’s unlike any other seminar you’ll attend. For those who don’t know, “JP” stand for Jean-Paul Francoeur, the personal trainer who started the JP Fitness forums many years ago. I believe they started their annual summits in 2003. Next year’s event will be held in May in Kansas City so I recommend that you start saving up now as you don’t want to miss out!

Basically, it’s a whole weekend filled with activities from Thursday to Sunday. The entire time you’re surrounded by summit attendees and presenters. I had an absolute blast. I got to meet a bunch of great people, most of whom regularly post on the JP Fitness Forum. And, I got to meet an awesome line-up of presenters including Lou Schuler, Alan Aragon, Ryan Zielonka, and Nick Tumminello (and me but I already met myself years ago). I can tell you first-hand that it’s not very often you get to basically spend a weekend with guys who write for Men’s Health, T-Nation, Men’s Fitness, StrengthCoach, Elitefts, and Wannabebig and present at major conferences.

On Thursday night, people went into the downtown area where they ate, grabbed a few drinks, and hung out. On Friday people met for lunch and later on for dinner. Saturday was the presentation. Lou presented first and his presentation was entitled, “The Hero With a Thousand Repetitions.” Alan presented second and his presentation was entitled, “Pissing on the Myths.” Ryan spoke third and his presentation was entitled “Fitness Excess: A Cautionary Tale.” Then we all went to lunch together. When we came back, Nick gave his “Self-Myofascial Release” presentation, which was followed by my “Load Vector Training” presentation. Next Nick gave a hands-on demonstration which was followed by a hands-on demonstration of my own.

Each presentation was awesome! I was really surprised as there were really no boring ones. I would go so far as to say that I learned as much from this seminar as I have from any other I’ve attended. Not only that, but interspersed within the presentations you’re likely to hear an f-bomb or two as well as an inside joke (that’s what she said). Like I said; truly one of its kind.

Following the seminar we went to a nice steak house for dinner and then to a bar for some drinks. Some of us may or may not have had a little too much to drink. Seriously, this night was so much fun. I would have never thought that I would have gotten a chance to party with a bunch of industry big-wigs. Alan, Nick, and Lou are hilarious! Ryan and Nick’s girlfriend Allie are such nice, intriguing people. The attendees and folks who put the summit together were kind, funny, and awesome people as well.

This is definitely an event that more people should try to attend. I’m already excited for next year! It’s all about great people and good memories.

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Lately there’s been a lot of activity going on in my brain so I thought it would be a good time to write an article to express my many thoughts. Often I have a good idea that doesn’t warrant its own article so from time to time I’ll just lump a bunch of thoughts together into a “Random Thoughts” article. Although the topics in this article are all over the place, I believe it will be extremely beneficial for any coach or trainer to read this entire article carefully and view all of the videos. Most strength coaches have some personal training clients and most personal trainers train some athletes so we all need to have a good understanding of strength, power, speed, conditioning, fundamental movement, fat loss, nutrition, hypertrophy, corrective exercise, and sport-specific training. Some of the stuff I discuss in this blogpost isn’t being discussed anywhere else, while some of the stuff I stole from other writers in the field, so please enjoy.

1. Does The 10,000 Hour Rule Guarantee Success?

Mike Mahler wrote an excellent article last week that got me thinking. He quoted Geoff Colvin from Colvin’s book entitled Talent is Overrated and discussed his thoughts on the matter.

Extensive research in a wide variety of fields shows that many people not only fail to become outstandingly good at what they do, no matter how many years they spend doing it, they frequently don’t even get any better than they were when they started.

-Geoff Colvin: Talent is Overrated

This led me to consider the whole “10,000 Hour Rule” discussed in Malcom Gladwell’s book entitled Outliers. Gladwell believes that success depends largely upon simply practicing a skill over and over until 10,000 hours of experience is reached. This may give some people false hope. Time and experience doesn’t guarantee success. Due to talent, intelligence, and plain old luck, some individuals will rise to the top quickly in any field they choose whereas others will plateau at a certain level above which they’ll never rise. If you look at the movers and shakers in Strength & Conditioning, you’ll realize they’re all very smart and talented.

Cases in point; Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson. I considered these guys experts when they hadn’t yet reached puberty. All kidding aside, we owe a great deal of gratitude to Eric and Mike because they got a lot of us old meatheads to start thinking about mobility and activation because they spoke the language of “Meathead.” I can remember wanting to say to them, “Take your stupid ankle, hip, and t-spine mobility drills, and take your sissy glute activation drills and stick them up your rear-end!” All I wanted to do was squat, bench, and deadlift as heavy as possible. I certainly didn’t want to think about the efficacy of my warm-ups. But these guys were deceptively strong and they knew what they were talking about, so we listened. Eric and Mike are intelligent, talented individuals who squirmed their way into “Expertville” prior to meeting the 10,000 hour quota. Not only that, they dramatically impacted the fitness world with their articles on T-Nation.

On a side note, I’m glad I listened to Eric and Mike. From doing simple SMR, flexibility, mobility, and activation drills over the years during my warm-ups I’ve stayed very healthy. I get injured far more seldom than others who have similar lifting goals. As a matter of fact, I rarely ever suffer even minor injuries despite training heavy week in, week out. I just did a Functional Movement Screen and got 2’s and 3’s on every test – something that few muscle-bound guys like me could do.

On another side note, although I’ve put in far more time than 10,000 hours in this field, it’s not just my experience that is causing me to rise in popularity; it’s largely due to my intelligence. At the risk of sounding cocky, my mind explores areas that other writers’ don’t. That’s why many lifters, trainers, and coaches enjoy reading my stuff; I think of things that they don’t and therefore help them be better at what they do.

Conversely, there are plenty of individuals in the fitness field who will never make it to the top simply because they aren’t smart enough, they aren’t talented enough, or they just don’t have good luck. Read Mike Boyle’s article entitled ” My Top Coaching Influences ” and you’ll realize how valuable of a role luck plays in achieving success.

Last, success is very dependent on personality as well. Recently I’ve spent some time learning from Gray Cook, Mike Boyle, Alwyn Cosgrove, Todd Durkin, and Lee Burton. These guys are all class-acts who are extremely passionate about their methods yet still respectful of others. There are a lot of very intelligent individuals in the fitness field who will never go very far simply because they are too critical and too negative. We’re all out there helping people get into better shape and improving the lives of our clients and athletes. Most of us are all good people deep down. Furthermore, there are many different paths that can lead to success. There isn’t only one right way out there. Two coaches can have entirely different methods and deliver similar results in terms of athleticism. I’m all in favor of debate, but it is possible to disagree with someone respectfully and get your point across without sounding hateful and bitter. If you want to be successful in this field, take a lesson from the leaders and keep it positive.

2. Do various lifts transfer better toward certain aspects and phases of movement than others? For example, let’s consider the sprint cycle during maximum speed sprinting. ***This is very important since sprinting speed is the most coveted quality in athletics for good reason – it matters!

I’ll expound upon this topic in a future article but it appears that different lifts are required to optimally strengthen the muscles in all the ranges of a sprint cycle during maximum speed sprinting. In any given movement you want optimal strength and power throughout the entire range of motion. Although speed is highly dependent on timing patterns and contraction/relaxation sequences, you need good mobility, strength, and power in the hips or you won’t be winning any races or setting any records.

In Mel Siff’s masterpiece entitled Supertraining, he debunked the popular, yet erroneous view that the same muscles are dominant throughout the full range of movement. Different ranges of movement rely on different muscles and varying proportions of muscles.

For example, during hip flexion, lying ankle weight hip flexion may strengthen the muscles better in the stretched position, whereas standing ankle weight hip flexion may strengthen the muscles better in the flexed position. Employing one method without the other may yield suboptimal results in hip flexion strength, flexibility, and stability.

During hip extension, squats and lunges may strengthen the hip extensors better when the thigh is flexed forward but deadlifts and even more so hip thrusts may strengthen the extensors better when the thigh approaches neutral and moves rearward into hip hyperextension. Remember that the ground contact phase consists of two phases; eccentric braking and concentric propulsion. Research shows that the forces at this range are so great that the extending hip will actually be pulled into flexion and lose its rearward velocity for a brief moment. Do you really want an athlete’s hips to be weak at this range of motion? I’ve trained athletes who were great squatters but stunk at hip thrusts. By bringing up their hip thrust their end-range hip extension strength increased and so did their sprinting speed.

You want squat and lunge movements to strengthen initial hip extension range of motion, deadlift movements for mid-range hip extension, and hip thrusts, barbell glute bridges, pendulum quadruped hip extensions, reverse hypers, and back extensions for terminal range hip extension. Power movements such as jumping lunges add power to initial range hip extension ROM, jump squats and power cleans add power to the mid range, and sled sprints add power to end-range.

Furthermore, at ground contact, glute ham raises and Russian leg curls may be beneficial for eccentric braking and strengthening the dual functions of the hamstrings as well as the calves at this critical juncture. Perhaps half-squats would be an excellent choice to increase leg-stiffness and minimize energy leaks in relation to vertical forces at ground contact. So would all of the various forms of plyometrics.

Of course, sprint work is where you take the newly strengthened and more neurally activated muscles and ranges of motion and assimilate and coordinate them into your motor patterns. Yes, I just used the word AND four times in one sentence. I never claimed to be Lou Schuler!

While it’s important to get strong at the big basics, it’s also important to understand biomechanics, provide sound variety, and master the art and science of program design. It is possible to incorporate various squat/lunge, deadlift, straight leg hip extension, bent leg hip extension, and hip ext/knee flexion movements as well as Oly lifts, jump squats, plyos, and sprint work into a training system if you really know what you’re doing.

This kind of thinking was in line with what Russian scientists from many decades ago talked about but unfortunately from my experience American coaches don’t have a good understanding of these kinds of concepts. It’s not rocket science either; it’s common sense. If you lift weights and pay attention while training you get a feel for which regions of accentuated stress the various muscles and ranges of motion receive. Here is an illustration from Yuri Verkhoshansky’s book entitled Special Strength Training. I highly recommend this book! I will write an entire blog about this topic in the future and expound about what I’ve briefly discussed in this article.

3. We like to train core stability in a variety of directions and environments. For example, core stability can be categorized as static or dynamic. Depending on the load vector, it can also be classified as anti-extension, anti-lateral flexion, anti-rotation, and anti-flexion for the lumbar spine. We want to be able to control the lumbar spine in any direction. Are back extensions and reverse hypers the ultimate dynamic anti-flexion core stability exercises?

For lumbar anti-extension training we’ve got planks, bodysaws, dead bugs, fallouts, and rollouts. For lumbar anti-lateral flexion training we’ve got side planks and suitcase carries. For lumbar anti-rotation training we’ve got Pallof presses, soft-rolls, hard-rolls, chops, lifts, and landmines. For lumbar anti-flexion training we have slow, controlled, properly performed reverse hypers and back extensions, as well as bird dogs. This last category is actually simultaneous lumbar anti-flexion and anti-extension training because weak individuals will try to flex and hyperextend their lumbar spine to let their erectors perform the movements rather than the glutes and hamstrings. More accurately, they try to make their erectors prime movers and their glutes and hamstrings stabilizers, whereas proper form has the erectors as stabilizers and the glutes and hamstrings as prime movers.

If your athletes or clients can’t demonstrate what’s being done in the two videos below then you’ve got a problem that will surface when squatting, deadlifting, or engaging in high velocity sports.

4. Is the chin up the ultimate dynamic anti-extension core stability exercise?

When I conducted my EMG studies, I was shocked to find that the bodyweight chin up led to the highest levels of lower rectus abdominis activation. It surpassed every ab exercise imaginable – even ab wheel rollouts and hanging leg raises. I wrote a T-Nation article that should be published soon that further discusses the matter and includes a chart listing the core activation of a variety of core exercises. Is it indeed possible that the chin up is the ultimate lumbar anti-extension core stability exercise if you do it correctly?

Notice in the video below; most individuals perform the chin up like the first two examples; they hyperextend their low back or flex their hips for momentum and improved center of gravity. In the third example, the spine is kept relatively neutral. Couple this with muscular legs and you’ve got a very challenging dynamic core exercise on your hands! Bottom line – keep the core in neutral when you do chin ups to make it an effective core stability exercise.

5. Is the superman exercise a valuable tool?

I’ve found that the superman is a very valuable training tool for one purpose; to teach individuals what bad hip hyperextension feels like. This is the only time I ever allow the superman to be performed. I often have people do it and then I say to them, “Feel how your low back is overarching and your lumbar muscles are performing all the work? Whenever I have you do an exercise such as back extensions, deadlifts, or good mornings, I never want you to feel this sensation. I want the movement coming from the hips and the glutes and hamstrings performing most of the work.”

I’ll often show them how to hyperextend their hips (which is natural as the hips can hyperextend 10 degrees with bent legs and 20 degrees with straight legs which we do whenever we walk) by seeing if they can demonstrate the second example in the video shown below. It’s difficult but you raise your hips by squeezing the glutes as hard as possible.

6. Is there really just one way to do an exercise?

As trainers and coaches we need to recognize that there is more than one way to skin a cat. People are always in search of “proper form” but proper form depends highly on the individual’s anthropometry as well as the goal of the lifter. In the video below I demonstrate four ways to perform squats, deadlifts, and bench press; the safest way, the strongest way, the way that stresses a muscle the most, and the most sport-specific way.

7. In program design, should we be performing 4 sets of unilateral (single arm or single leg) exercises?

Let’s consider a Bulgarian split squat (Mike Boyle calls it a rear-foot elevated split squat or RFESS). If you perform a set correctly, your entire body is working hard. The quads, glutes, and hams of the front leg are working hard, the hip flexors of the rear leg are working hard, and the upper body and core muscles are stabilizing the load. It’s a full body exercise! In fact, my EMG research shows that the static lunge and Bulgarian squat work the hip flexor muscles on the rear leg harder than any other hip flexor exercises!

Now let’s consider a one-arm row. The lat, rhomboid, mid trap, rear delt, biceps, brachialis, and forearm of the working side are firing like crazy. The triceps, front delt, and pecs of the non-working side are firing to stabilize the load. You’ve got an external oblique on one side firing and an internal oblique on another side firing to stabilize the torso. Again, this is a full body exercise.

So working one side is really it’s own set. Working two sides is two sets. If we perform 4 sets we’re really performing 8 total sets which is a ton of volume. If you use a proper load these exercises get you extremely winded plus they can induce a ton of soreness, which is why I often prescribe just 2 sets of Bulgarian split squats and one arm rows.

8. In program design, should we skew the volume of horizontal pulling for optimum shoulder health as well as hip dominant exercise for optimum low back health?

If you want to stay injury free, I recommend that you stray from the norm and move away from the notion that opposing movement patterns should be balanced in programming. Instead, I recommend that you perform twice the volume of horizontal pulling than horizontal pushing, as well as twice the amount of hip dominant exercise as quad dominant exercise. There are a ton of great rowing movements (one arm rows, chest supported rows, elbows out chest supported rows, face pulls, inverted rows, standing cable rows, seated rows, etc.) many of which can all be performed with supinated, neutral, or pronated grips. Don’t be afraid to perform two different rowing movements in a single upper body or full-body workout. Conversely, I don’t believe it’s necessary to perform an overhead pressing movement or a vertical pulling movement in every single upper body or full body workout.

Along these same lines, I believe that each lower body or full body workout should include both a more straight-leg, hamstring dominant hip exercise or hip extension/knee flexion exercise (deadlift, good morning, glute ham raise, slideboard leg curl, gliding leg curl, back extension, reverse hyper, Russian leg curl) in addition to a bent-leg, glute dominant hip exercise (hip thrust, barbell glute bridge, pull-through, pendulum quadruped hip extension, bottom-up single leg hip thrust).

This skewed programming will go a long way in bullet-proofing the shoulders and low back.

9. For max strength, do bodyweight exercises, kettlebell exercises, and TRX exercises cut it? Do single leg RDL’s cut it? Single leg hip thrusts? Pistols? Planks?

Of course one must master bodyweight exercises before adding load. But after that, should we move onto different movements?

I’m more of a strength guy. Many of my colleagues keep me in check by programming simple bodyweight movements like push ups and inverted rows. When I do push ups or inverted rows, I usually wear a weighted vest or stack plates on top of me. I hate high reps and am always trying to figure out a way to make an exercise harder so I don’t have to do so many reps to get a good workout. How do you think I thought of barbell glute bridges and hip thrusts? When I do chin ups and dips, I add weight via a hip belt. I even place weight on my low back when I perform planks.

In recent years we’ve seen a “back to the basics” movement as well as a surge in popularity of kettlebells and TRX systems.

For sport-specific training where the first rule is to do no harm, I believe that these bodyweight, kettlebell, and TRX exercises are extremely valuable.

However, if you are like me and your goals are to get stronger at the powerlifts (squat, bench press, deadlift), then these movements just don’t cut it. For these reasons, I like the one arm row and chest supported row over the inverted row. I like the deadlift over the single leg RDL. I like hip thrusts over single leg hip thrusts. I like the Bulgarian squat over the pistol. I like increased stability, I like dumbbells, and I love barbells!

10. Classic books

I believe that not enough lifters truly appreciate our roots in strength training. I try to learn about what the greats from back in the day used to talk about. Much of my thought-process was shaped by the following classic books. Granted, most of them aren’t from too far back, but these books paved the way for different schools of thought. If you haven’t read them yet, you should.

-Only the Strongest Shall Survive – Bill Starr
-Brawn – Stuart McRobert
-Beyond Brawn – Stuart McRobert
-Super Squats – Randall Strossen
-Dinosaur Training – Brooks Kubik
-Keys to Progress – John McKallum
-The Steel Tip Newsletter – Dr. Ken

11. Glute Bridge Isoholds

I just performed these for the first time the other day. Although I wouldn’t recommend these in certain situations, I believe they have great value in many sport-specific circumstances. The glutes and hamstrings stay extremely activated during the entire static hold.

12. Front Squat Harness

The front squat harness is the best tool available for ensuring an upright torso. The bar placement out in front of the chest actually makes this exercise a hybrid front squat/Zercher squat movement. Awesome core and quad exercise!

13. Hip Thrusts Transfer to RDL’s and Dimel Deadlifts

I haven’t performed RDL’s or Dimel deadlifts in ages, but the other day I decided to throw them at the end of my workout. This was after performing heavy squats, sumo deadlifts, and Bulgarian squats. I cranked out 20 reps in around 30 seconds and felt that I could have gotten 30 reps if I really wanted. I got stronger at these from hip thrusts and barbell glute bridges. I’m just popping my hips forward by squeezing my glutes as hard as possible.

*Please ignore the “She’s a Maniac” song in the background. It’s my sister’s CD. I promise.

Dimel deadlifts are usually performed with 30-40% of one’s 1RM. In this case I’m using a higher percentage of 1RM plus I’m not arching my low back as much as possible as arching the low back and anteriorly rotating the pelvis puts more emphasis on the hams and less on the glutes. I’m trying to use as much glute as possible on this lift. I’d call it an RDL but I think the Dimel deadlift is a better description since the pace is pretty rapid.

14. Glute Ham Raises Don’t Work Much Glute!

Think about it; all your glutes are doing is stabilizing the torso. Even if you perform the glute ham raise by first performing a back extension and swinging through into a glute ham raise, it still isn’t that tough for the glutes. My EMG experiments show that a bodyweight glute ham raise activates the gluteus maximus with a mean of 14% MVC and a peak of 44% of MVC. Contrast this to a barbell plus band resisted hip thrust, which yields 119% and 235%, respectively!

Don’t get me wrong, the glute ham raise is an awesome hamstring exercise that you should be doing from time to time. However, if you want to hit your glutes, do pull throughs, bottoms-up single leg hip thrusts, barbell glute bridges, hip thrusts, or pendulum quadruped hip extensions. Or even give band hip rotations a try. Below is the pendulum quadruped hip extension.

15. Single Leg Training for Sprinting Speed

My buddy Rob Williams who I recently met at a seminar got me thinking about this topic. He noticed that although the 40 yard dash times at the NFL combine this year were very impressive, the players ran with a ton of lateral (side-to-side) movement. He wondered if the culprit is heavy bilateral lifts with wider stances. Think about it; is all an athlete ever performed was powerlifting-style squats, sumo deadlifts, and hip thrusts with a wider stance, it might encourage more hip abduction and lateral movement when running. Could these athletes be faster if their sprint mechanics was better and more linear? I think so. This plays a case for narrower stance bilateral lifts and especially single leg training since there is no hip abduction or external rotation during these movements.

16. Hip Range of Motion Needs to be Considered

Think about a forward lunge vs. a walking lunge. In the videos below, notice the range of motion in which the hip is under extensive loading. Tons of loading out in front, but not so much at all near terminal hip extension. However, the walking lunge does appear to have a little more stress on the hips than the forward lunge due to the fact that the lifter is moving forward in addition to upward. This introduces a little bit of anteroposterior movement in addition to axial loading. The forward lunge would place more stress on the knee joint and would be better suited for deceleration and backpedaling speed, whereas the walking lunge would be better suited for acceleration.

In a study done by researchers at the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska found that the recumbent bike activated 1/4 the gluteus maximus muscle as walking. Think hip range of motion under load for the glutes. My research showed that a leg press with 700 lbs activated 9% mean and 26% peak glute activation in reference to MVC. Again, compare that to a barbell plus band resisted hip thrust, which yields 119% and 235%, respectively! It’s all about hip range of motion under load.

17. Arching the Low Back and Anteriorly Rotating the Pelvis Increases Hamstring Activation and Decreases Glute Activation

I alluded to this earlier, but the glutes like to posteriorly rotate the pelvis. When you overarch and anteriorly rotate the pelvis, you put more tension on the hamstrings and less on the glutes since you aren’t letting them “do their thing.” This is why studies always show increased glute activity in a deadlift over an RDL. Several studies confirm this in addition to my EMG studies. My recommendation; arch but don’t overarch, don’t rotate the pelvis, and squeeze the glutes hard throughout hip extension movements.

18. Integrative-Isolated Continuum

There’s no doubt about it, standing ground based barbell and dumbbell exercises are the bee’s knees! You’ve got total body integration with lots of prime mover activity with transfer all the way from the hands through the core, past the feet, and down into the ground.

Standing technical exercises are at the far end of the “integrative” continuum and include exercises such as cleans, snatches, split jerks, Turkish get ups, overhead squats, and even sled pushes (though not a barbell lift).

Next to this are standing “not-so-technical” lifts such as squats, front squats, deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, good mornings, barbell lunges, power cleans, power snatches, push presses, barbell bent over rows, barbell shrugs, and barbell curls. Non-barbell exercises such as kettlebell swings, cable chops and lifts, and even standing cable or JC Band presses, rows fit into this category as well.

Then you’ve got seated, supine, prone, kneeling, supported, quadruped, and upper body closed-chain movements that work a lot of muscle. These include incline presses, bench presses, seated military presses, chest supported rows, inverted rows, chins, dips, push ups, hip thrusts, glute ham raises, back extensions, reverse hypers, planks, and side planks.

Finally, at the far end of the “isolative” continuum you have seated or lying isolation movements like flies, leg extensions, leg curls, seated calf raises, preacher curls, cable kickbacks, and crunches.

I’ve heard some people say that hip thrusts aren’t very functional since they aren’t performed while standing. Well, in the hip thrust you still have transfer through the feet, you’ve got even more total hip extensor (over 20 total muscles) mean and peak activity than any standing exercise, but more importantly, you’re training the sprint vector (anteroposterior loading) pattern, which you can’t do with a barbell from a standing position. Even so, if you are a strength coach and this is your philosophy (standing exercises only/anti-hip thrust), then I better not see you doing bench presses, incline presses, chest supported rows, glute ham raises, Russian leg curls, chin ups, dips, inverted rows, push ups, planks, side planks, or ab wheel rollouts, since none of them are performed from a standing position. That would make you a hypocrite!

It is obviously my belief that standing exercises should comprise a huge part of a strength coach’s program, and supine/prone exercises as well as closed-chain body leverage exercises offer excellent supplementation to balance out the standing exercises and create a comprehensive, well-rounded routine. Think directional load vectors, not just kinetic chain type, body positions, ranges of motion, number of limbs, and type of resistance. Better yet, just use common sense when you work out and figure out which exercises are best for various purposes.

19. This is a Great Exercise that Gives You an Excuse to Isolate Your Pecs

If any exercise has the ability to target the inner chest, it’s this! Plus, it’s an unbelievable rotary stability exercise. In other words, it works the hell out of the core while it hammers the pec.

20. Squats and Deadlifts are Not Interchangeable!

I hear people all the time say that squats and deadlifts are interchangeable. In fact, even King Louie Simmons mentions this as he likes the box squat which has more of a “sit back” action and involves more posterior chain.

Some say that the deadlift is a squat with the bar moved out in front of the body. Depending on anthropometry, some individuals may feel that the squat and deadlift are similar in biomechanics, but for others the lifts are worlds apart. It also depends on the type of squat and deadlift. Obviously a full front squat with an upright torso looks nothing like a Romanian deadlift with a full hip hinge.

Consider the taller lifter with long everything. He will deadlift with high hips and use mostly posterior chain to conduct the movement. However, when he squats he will use more quad and less hamstring even if he has considerable forward lean.

I get what these folks are saying, as it’s important to consider the effects of muscular contribution from moving around position of the load while squatting and deadlifting, as each position is unique. You’ve got neutral position (hex bar), behind the back position (hack lift), low bar (squat), high bar (squat), manta ray (squat), safety squat bar (squat), racked (front squat), cambered bar (squat), Zercher (squat), snatch-grip (deadlift), clean grip (deadlift), and sumo grip (sumo deadlift).

21. Elvis Was the King!

If you ever doubted how awesome Elvis was please watch this six minute Suspicious Mind video from 1970 in its entirety. Things get interesting 2:30 into the video, and at 4:30 they get even more interesting. He busts out a Cossack squat with excellent mobility and stability and demonstrates great hip thrusting prowess throughout the video! At 3:45 he practically makes a girl faint.

22. Being Tall Has its Advantages

At a height of 6’4″ tall, every time I wash my clothes I have to stretch out my shirts length-wise before I put them in the drier or they’ll end up looking like half-shirts. In order to prevent my shirts from shrinking in length, I simply grab a hold of the top and bottom of the shirts when they’re wet and pull them apart in four different places. This serves as an awesome lat, rear delt, and scapular retractor exercise. Consider that I may have 20 shirts, at 4 pull-aparts per shirt that adds up to 80 reps of activation work for my upper back. Okay, maybe this random thought was a stretch (no pun intended).

23. Best Tools for the Job – Soft-Tissue Quality

I recently bought the tiger tail and am very happy with my purchase. If you are a trainer or lifter and you want to deliver the best possible Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) therapy possible, then you can’t just have a foam roller. The foam roller is the best tool for rolling out the back and possibly the ITB band. The tiger tail is the best tool for the tibialis anterior, calves, and quads. If you have a partner they can use the tiger tail on your forearms, arms, and lats. The lacrosse ball is the best tool for the arch of the foot, the upper glutes, in between the shoulder blades, and the upper pecs.

If you really care about SMR then you need to have all three tools. Of course, a skilled LMT on hand 24/7 would be even better but unless you’re a multi-millionaire this is just wishful thinking.

24. I Don’t Have a Lisp

In my Youtube videos it sounds like I have a lisp. I don’t. Something’s quirky with my digital camera. If you ever get to meet me, you’ll see that I speak like a semi-normal human being.

25. JP Fitness Forum

Tomorrow I’m leaving to Kansas City to speak at the 2010 JPFitness Summit. The presenters are yours truly, Nick Tumminello, Alan Aragon, Lou Schuler, and Ryan Zielonka. I’ll be giving a presentation on Load Vector Training which I believe is pretty awesome. I’m looking forward to meeting a bunch of great people and having a good time. Nick may be the most creative right-brained thinker in Strength & Conditioning, Lou has edited more fitness books than Moses. Okay Moses probably didn’t edit many books but I suspect that they’re the same age. Ba da ching! :) And Alan and Ryan are some of the smartest guys in the Nutrition world. In short, it’s going to be a great event!

It’s not too late to sign up, so go here if you want to attend the event.

That’s all. Have a Great Week! Hope you enjoyed the thorough article. Wish me luck in Kansas City!

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In Ken Blanchard’s book entitled The One Minute Manager, he recommends that you:

1. Look at your goals
2. Look at your performance, and
3. See if your behavior matches your goals

All too often people have fitness goals yet their behaviors don’t match those goals. I see guys who say they want to gain 20 lbs of muscle yet they’re doing all kinds of energy system development and conditioning work and eating like birds. I see guys who want to put 50 lbs on their squat or deadlift yet they’re doing all sorts of plyometrics, agility work, and speed-training. You can certainly be “Jack of All Trades, Master of None,” but you’re not going to reach your goals anytime soon. For the record, I have nothing against conditioning work or explosive training, but behaviors have to match goals if they are to be reached expediently. Furthermore, nobody is going to reach any goals if they can’t be consistent with their diet, sleep, and life choices. Many individuals will spend at least six hours per week getting ready, driving to the gym, working out, and driving home. If you’re going to dedicate this much time to something, you might as well see some results and reach some milestones.

Begin With the End in Mind

In his book entitled Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey recommends that we “begin with the end of mind.” All things are created twice; first in the mind, and second in the physical world. When we begin with the end in mind, we can start with a vision and work our way backward, making sure we take the necessary steps along the way.

My Plan

Here is my plan. I recommend that you lay out a similar plan and keep it simple.

Goals

1. To deadlift 600 lbs within the next three months (currently at 545)
2. To do so while losing 10 lbs (currently weigh 235, want to drop down to 225)

Behaviors

1. Be dialed in with my sleep, nutrition, and positivity
2. Keep working hard on my grip strength during special workouts via shrugs, one arm lever rows, thick bar holds, and pinch grips
3. Keep increasing my work capacity for recovery purposes via special workouts and additional restorative work
4. Bring up my core strength via ab wheel rollouts, side planks, Pallof presses, chops, lifts, and landmines
5. Keep bringing up my main lifts and assistance lifts; squat variations, deadlifts variations, quad, ham, and glute exercises
6. Limit daily carbohydrate consumption and reduce cheat meals to two per week

Conclusion

As you can see, I have clearly defined goals and my behaviors are aligned with those goals. You don’t see any distractions or contradictions either. By beginning with the end in mind, I know that in order to deadlift 600 lbs I’ll first need to be able to hold onto 600 lbs. It doesn’t matter if I have all the back and hip strength in the world if I don’t have the grip strength to perform the lift. I know that my core needs to get stronger along with my hips, legs, and upper back. I have confidence in the plan that I’ve outlined and am excited for each workout along the way. More importantly, I’ve already deadlifted 600 lbs in my mind, so I’m half-way there. Now it’s your turn. Create some goals and start working toward something! It makes training much more fun and rewarding.

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Today’s blogpost is an interview with Nia Shanks. I follow a lot of professionals in the fitness industry and it is my personal belief that Nia writes the best training programs out of any female in the industry. She knows how to get people strong, fit, and lookin’ good. I’ll let Nia introduce herself.

1. Thank you very much for conducting this interview Nia! Please introduce yourself to the readers.

I have been a trainer for six years, I graduated from the University of Louisville, I love lifting heavy stuff, and my passion is helping people achieve their body composition and performance goals by providing them with no non-sense training and nutrition information. I also enjoy playing soccer with my dog, snow boarding, rock climbing, and most things outdoors. Oh, and my star sign is Taurus.

How’s that for an introduction?

2. Which individuals in the strength training industry have had the most influence on the way you train and train others?

Wow. There are many so many people I have followed and learned from over the years. I’ll do my best to narrow it down to a handful of people, but my apologies to the individuals I leave out.

Some of the main people I have studied and learned from over the years are Mike Robertson, Tony Gentilcore, Alwyn Cosgrove, Charles Staley, Eric Cressey, Jason Ferruggia, Chad Waterbury, Dan John . . . just to name a few.

I greatly admire each of those individuals for what they have done in this field. Each person has their own unique ideas and training methodologies and I am thankful they share their knowledge so freely. No two people agree 100% on every topic when it comes to training, and I absolutely love that. Too many people get caught up in thinking that only one way is the best way. If some of the greatest minds in this field don’t agree 100%, there is nothing wrong with that. They have simply discovered what techniques they have put to use that create outstanding results.

3. You are deceptively strong. What are your best lifting achievements in the gym?

“Deceptively strong”, huh? I like that!

• Sumo Deadlift – 305 (give me a few weeks and it will be 315, guaranteed) here’s the video =>

• Chinup – 165 (120 bodyweight + 45 pound plate) here’s the video =>

• Bench Press – 150

• Squat (I’ll reluctantly share this one) – 170 The squat is definitely one of my weakest lifts, but I’m working on it.

I got all of these lifts at a bodyweight of 120 pounds. They’ll do for now, but I want more!

4. Many women initiate a workout regimen with common goal in mind; they want to look better. But women gravitate toward many different training styles…Pilates, Yoga, circuit training, low-intensity long duration cardio, strength training, etc. Which do you believe is best for physique enhancement purposes and why?

Strength training with the goal of getting stronger. I’ve seen it work every time.

This wasn’t something I believed when I first starting training the people that just wanted to lose body fat, but it is something I came to believe deeply in a few years ago.

After constantly training myself and other individuals specifically for fat loss, I decided that it was time for a change. My motivation for training started to wane, and the results were stalling when employing the usual fat loss training techniques.

That’s when I decided to stop focusing on training for fat loss all together. My main priority was getting stronger and my training program revolved around that goal.

That journey led me to building my best physique to date, and I even competed in a Southern Powerlifting Federation push/pull meet. I set the world record for my division with a deadlift of 300 and bench press of 145 at the bodyweight of 122.

Not only did my body composition change for the better, but I loved training again, and I was spending less time working out. It was a win-win situation, so I knew it was time to try things out on my clients.

It was the same thing across the board; motivation for training increased greatly and everyone was getting excellent results.

I’ve been saying it for years now and I’ll keep saying it forever: women should train heavy and get stronger. They will get the body composition changes they desire, and they’ll even gain great confidence when they see what they’re truly capable of achieving in the gym.

5. As you know, most women fear lifting heavy as they believe that it will make them too muscular. Have you found this to be the case in your experience?

Absolutely not. In fact, I have found the complete opposite to be true, as I mentioned above. Over the past few years all of my female clients have been training with the purpose of getting stronger even if their main priority is to lose body fat. This obviously means that they lifted progressively heavier weights.

Even though most of my clientele want to lose body fat, we still put the focus on improving performance in the gym and getting stronger.

And just so no one says the whole “I don’t want to get bulky” complaint, people should know that none of my female clients wanted to gain a lot of muscle mass. In fact, one of my clients competed in Mrs. America competitions. She too trained hard and heavy; and she won first place in several competitions and placed Top 10 at Mrs. USA International along with doing incredibly well at other competitions.

If this woman can lift heavy and still look incredibly feminine, I’m confident the vast majority of women can, and should, do the same.

6. Why are most women unsuccessful with their goals?

Most people make up too many damn excuses, and being a trainer I have heard every single one of them. Other than that, people simply don’t want to put in the work. They would rather swallow a pill or pay hundreds of dollars a month on supplements that ‘”guarantee fantastic results”.

If people would stop buying useless supplements and put that money towards whole, natural, unprocessed foods and start training consistently, then they would be miles ahead of everyone else.

It may not sound sexy, but damnit it works every single time. Eat smart and train hard consistently and you will reach your body composition goals.

Finally, one more thing that causes women (and men) to be unsuccessful with their goals is they make things too complicated. They start crazy diets with insane restrictions and seek other advanced nutrition and workout methods that they simply are not ready for.

People need to master the basics of nutrition (eating natural food) and strength training. I wrote about this a while ago on my website which you can be found HERE.

7. Briefly explain what an effective personal trainer has to offer in terms of screening and assessment, proper progressions, program design, corrective exercise, mechanics, motivation, nutritional advice, accountability, etc.

First of all, I still think a great trainer is not someone that can be found at every gym. I’ve been to lot of gyms: small town gyms and large commercial gyms in big cities. I see the same thing at all of them: a bunch of people who call themselves “trainers” but have their clients performing dangerous and/or worthless exercises.

A knowledgeable trainer, however, will put each client through an individual screening. Some trainers and coaches may be more complex in the assessment, but at the very least the trainer should assess the client’s mobility, flexibility, posture, and search for any muscular imbalances.

I could go on and on about what makes a great trainer, but I’ll short hand it. An effective trainer will design a program based on an individual’s wants and needs. Nutritional guidance might also be provided, but hopefully it’s designed with the client’s lifestyle in mind.

My advice to people who want to hire a trainer is to screen them yourself. Just because they have a certification does not mean they know what they’re doing. Ask lots of questions and get references from people they have helped.

8. Where can my readers go if they want to start following you and reading more of your work?

They can check out my blog at www.TheFatSolutions.com. Thanks, Bret!

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Special Workouts

I’m a huge fan of Louie Simmons. Louie has positively impacted Powerlifting more than any single individual. Years ago Louie started teaching his pupils how to incorporate special workouts into their training regimens. Here are Louie’s words:

If you are to become better, you must do more work. But how? We know that a workout should last 45 minutes, 60 minutes at the most. Your energy and testosterone levels will fall off greatly after that. So common sense tells us that longer workouts are not the answer. But we must spend more time in the gym. This can be done by adding more workouts.

Purposes of Special Workouts

The purposes of special workouts are threefold; they are done for:

1. Restoration
2. Raising work capacity, and
3. Targeting weak links

Special workouts are limited to 20-30 minutes.

Weak Links

As Louie has stated over and over ad nauseum, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” Although I’ve always known that my grip is the weak link in my deadlift, I never really like training my grip during my regular strength training session. My training partner has such a strong grip he could probably hold onto a hundred pounds more than he can deadlift. A couple of weeks ago I was thinking to myself, “It must be nice to have such a strong grip.”

Then I realized that I have the power to change this weak link. I’m not just a victim of the nasty, cruel grip-gods, I can strengthen my grip. Following a regular lower body or upper body workout, my grip is weakened from all the pulling. Plus, my body is drained and my workout is already surpassing the one-hour mark, so training my grip at the end of a workout isn’t an option for me. However, I have a garage gym, which makes it very convenient to perform special workouts.

Two weeks ago I decided to start going into the garage twice per week around two hours after my normal workout to train my grip.

Five Types of Grip Exercises

For your information, (sort of a tangent but I used to be a teacher and we call this a “teachable moment”) there are five main categories of grip exercises:

1. Crushing Grip – Think deadlifts, shrugs, rows, cleans, chins, etc. Also hand grippers and gripping machines.

2. Pinch Grip - Brings the thumbs into play, think of putting two plates together and picking them up, holding them for time

3. Open Hand Grip – Hand is open, fingers aren’t clenched, sometimes only fingertips are bent, think thick bar holds, fat gripz, etc.

4. Extensor – The fingers can extend too, which is the opposite of gripping. This is often ignored and might be neglected for overall strength balance. Think of rubber bands and webbed tools that allow you to extend the fingers.

5. Wrist Strength – The wrist joint is a stabilizer for the finger joints, might be wise in some cases to strengthen in all directions, think wrist curls, wrist extensions, wrist roller, lateral lever maneuvers, etc.

My Special Workouts

Since I’m trying to bring up my deadlift via increased grip strength, I decided to focus on crushing grip exercises that would also work my upper back (to get more bang for my buck). On one day I do four sets of barbell shrugs and four sets of prone trap raises (prone trap raises aren’t a grip exercise – they’re performed to balance out the trap work; shrugs work the upper traps while prone trap raises work the lower traps). On the other day, I do four sets of one arm lever rows and four sets of static barbell fat gripz holds for time. The one arm lever rows work the grip really hard in addition to the lats, rhomboids, and mid traps. I don’t believe anyone can do too many rows (okay, obviously someone could but there are so many good rowing movements that most individuals don’t scratch the surface in terms of horizontal pulling inroads in a given week).

The Results

In two weeks my deadlift has gone up 20 lbs as I can pull with much more acceleration without feeling like I’m going to drop the weight. I feel like an idiot for not doing this long ago.

Other Types of Special Workouts

Your special workouts will be tailored to your weaknesses. Maybe your special workouts should consist of foam rolling, stretching, mobility, and activation drills. Maybe they should consist of core stabilization exercises. Maybe you need to hit your upper back and grip like me. Maybe you need to perform a few sets of glute ham raises and reverse hypers to strengthen your posterior chain. Perhaps your goals are purely physique related and you decide to alternate calf and ab exercises. What matters is that you perform these workouts in order to raise work capacity, bring weak links up to speed, and get the blood flowing to increase restoration. Remember, limit special workouts to around 20 minutes long.

Parting Words from Louie

Start with two additional workouts a week, and slowly increase to three or four. The more advanced you become, the more special work is required. Powerlifting is like any other sport; to become better, you must do more work.

The main purpose [of special workouts] is restoration and raising the weakest muscle groups up to or surpassing the stronger ones. We must learn to train scientifically. The man whose mind won’t change will also have a total that won’t change.

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