Monthly Archives: January 2013

THE BIG 5 – The Final Saga Push-up/Bench part II

Happy New Year everybody.  I can already see that the new year equals a new me campaign has started for many as the gym I work out at “The Matrix” (no relation to the movie) is getting more and more crowded by the day.  On an even more awesome note, I will be in sunny Jamaica next week, relaxing and getting off the stress of the school year.

Also a very special thank you to Frank Duffy for being the poster boy of this blog.

In my last post, we talked all about the bench press, and as usual I ranted on for a while and left no room for the push-up.  The push-up is one of my favorite exercises, and is one that is butchered very often everywhere I turn.  People’s backs sag, or shoulders round, heads fly fowrard and for some reason, everyone forgets what full range of motion is.  But after this post, hopefully I won’t feel the need to bleach my eyes when I go home after seeing all the horrific techniques that I come across in the gym.

Let us begin with the setup;

  • I like to begin this exercise in a quadruped position, that is on your hands and knees.
  • From here, we are going to pull the ribs down, and pull the scapula onto the ribcage.  (Try thinking of pulling your shoulder blades down towards your hips.  And remember DO NOT squeeze your shoulder blades together, but pull your arm pits towards your hips).
  • Then extend both legs out one by one, and as you do squeeze your but cheeks as hard as you can.

image

Once set up, your body should be in a straight line, looking much like the plank we covered way back when in my earlier post on core strength.  Once setup, we can get to the niddy griddy of the push-up.
image

TECHNIQUE

  1. Set-up as stated above.
  2. Use your scapula to pull yourself down to the ground.  You do not just want to drop here.  You want to keep stiff throughout your entire body, and physically row yourself to the ground. 
  3. Once you get about a fists distance from the floor explode back up to the starting position.  Meaning that at the top the ribs are still down, and scapula are on the ribcage.
  4. Repeat

Now that we all know how to do a push-up lets talk its benefits.

STABILIZATION – One of my favorite advantages to the push-up is not the fact that it helps develop the upper body, but that it helps with scapula stability, anterior core strength and to some degree help teach proper hip and knee extension.

What is the benefit to improved stabilization, well for one, it will help you lift heavier weights in almost all of your other lifts.  Improved stability gives you a better base to push or pull from, so in returns all your major lifts like bench, dead-lift and squats get better.

INCREASED MUSCLE MASS – The push-up develops the chest, triceps, shoulders on top of those stabilizer muscles.  This will help give both men and women that added tone and definition that every person in this world strives for.

VERSATILITY – The great thing about push-ups is there are so many variations of push-ups that you can never get bored of them.  And they should almost always be in your program regardless the goal.  If its strength you can always add resistance to yourself, if your body weight is too light.  If the goal is endurance you can just do max reps and try to do as many as possible in a time frame or in a set range.  You can manipulate the foot position to help make it harder or easier.

Seems a lot more complicated now doesn’t it.  Some people with some coaching can have great push-ups, some other people just don’t have the strength.  So what can we do if we lack strength?

THE PUSH-UP PROGRAM

If you struggle to do push-ups, the first stage would be to do elevated push-ups.

The first thing you really need is good back strength and stability.  Set your focus on many scap push-ups as well as horizontal rowing.  Lots of TRX rows, bent over rows, one arm rows etc…  The stronger and more stable we are from the back the better our base for pushing becomes.

The second thing you need is good anterior core strength, so lots of planks, dead-bugs, roll outs etc…  If you are unfamiliar with any of these, or all of these refer to my core strength blog here.

Now you can work on all these things along with your push-up strength all at the same time.

Go to a smith machine, set the bar at the appropriate height that will allow for good technique, but also challenges you strength wise.  The elevation decreases the amount of stabilization required to perform the lift, so it will make it easier.  As you get stronger at a particular height, make sure you decrease the height so you can continually challenge yourself and get stronger.

As you get stronger, test your push-up strength from a kneeling position.  The technique for all this exercise is the same as above.  The only difference is we are on our knees.  So remember to make sure that we do not stick our butts in the air, and that our lower backs don’t sag.  These are the two most common mistake that I see.

Once you can do 3 sets of 10 from a kneeling position, test your push-up and see how you do.  Chances are at this point you can get 3/4 of the way down, any lower and you won’t be able to get up.

From here things get trickier.  Now its time to make sure we build a little extra strength.  We can do negatives at this point so we can work on really learning to squeeze those blades the entire way down.

To do negatives, get into your push-up position as stated above.  Once locked in row yourself to the floor slowly, taking about 5 seconds to get all the way down.  Once at the bottom, get up however you can, and repeat.  We are all stronger in the eccentric phase (down phase) then we are in the concentric phase (up phase).  So we will take advantage of this.

We also need to build chest strength in the up phase at the same time, so dumbbell presses or bench press can be a very useful exercise.  Even for you ladies.  So refer back to my post last week on the bench press.  As you get stronger with these lifts, it will make it much easier for you to push yourself up from the bottom position.

Sample Program:

Exercise

Sets

Reps

1a

Inverted Row

3

x10

1b

Smith Machine Push-ups

3

x10

1c

Plank

3

3 (10) second holds

2a

One Arm Row

3

x10 ea

2b

Side Plank

3

x10

2c

Scap-push-ups

3

x10

Exercise

Sets

Reps

1a

Push-ups from knees

3

x10

1b

Scap-push-ups

3

x10

1c

Stability Ball Rollouts

3

x10

2a

Bent Over Row

3

X8

2b

Paloff Press

3

x10

2c

Negatives

3

x6 5 sec. decent

Exercise

Sets

Reps

1a

Weighted Negatives (weight plate on your back)

3

x6

1b

Inverted Row

3

x12

1c

Dead Bug

3

x10 ea

2a

Bench Press

3

X6

2b

One Arm Row

3

x10 ea

2c

Plank

3

3 (10) sec holds

I hope that this helps those of you who want to be able to do push-ups, or want to do more push-ups.  Please leave feedback on how this post helped you!


The Big Five – The Final Saga: Push-ups/Bench

Mayan

I hope everyone has some Happy Holidays, and also are thankful that we survived the horrific end of the Mayan calendar.  Now that we all made it past the apocalypse, its time to stop letting ourselves go and get back into shape.  Again, it has been a long time since I put up a blog post, and it is time to end the saga of the “Big Five.”

THE BIG FIVE -THE BENCH PRESS.

Just about every guy in this world wants to have a bigger bench.  It is part of that XY gene every man carries.

The bench press is one of my weaker exercises, and because of this I had to work extra hard in order to push heavy weight. Through my hard work I have learned a trick or two along the way that can help take your bench to the next level.  But before we get to the tricks of the bench, we must first talk about technique.  This is the ground work to building a big bench, and many times just changing the technique can add a few pounds to your bench instantly:

heavy-bench-press

TECHNIQUE

  • Once lying on your back, place your hands on the bar slightly wider than your shoulders’ width.
  • Place your feet behind your knees, so that only your toes can touch the floor (you need this so you can drive your feet hard into the floor).
  • Squeeze your glutes hard, and try to pull your pockets apart (this will help you lock your glutes even tighter).
  • Pull your rib cage down to activate your core musculature.
  • Pack the scaps and pull the bar off the rack.

That was just for the set-up, now for the actual lift:

  • Pull the bar down to your chest as if you were doing a row.  You want to have full scapular retraction at the bottom.
  • As you are about to drive the bar back up, drive your heels to the ground (your heels should NOT touch the ground, your heels should only get closer to the floor.
  • Drive your shoulders into the bench and push hard towards the ceiling.
  • Make sure you maintain all the cues above in the set-up through-out the entire range of motion and through-out every rep completed.

Why make the bench technique so complicated?

Well for starters, force production starts from the ground up.  If you want to lift maximal weight, you must push hard through the floor to help increase force production.  The same reason we drive our shoulder blades into the bench as we push the weight up.

The scaps stayed packed so the chest musculature can perform its role maximally.  If we shrug or let our shoulders round out at the top we use other muscles to assist in the lift making us weaker rather then stronger. For you guys who are naturally strong and are lifting over 315 with bad technique, imagine how much you can bench if you use good technique and follow these techniques.

One of the biggest mistakes people make in the bench press is dropping the bar to their chest. You MUST, I will repeat this: YOU MUST have tension in your back through out the entire range of motion.  Your body is like a rubber band.  Your body stores energy within it so you can use it later.  The best example of this is you can jump higher with a running start then you could from a stand still.  By pulling down you will allow greater eccentric loading on the body, so when it comes time for the concentric portion, the weight will just explode off your chest.  This may take some time to get adjusted to, but it will surely pay off in the long run if you get the movement down pack.

BENEFITS TO THE BENCH PRESS

  1. Increased Muscle Mass – Every guy wants big pecs.  It is aesthetically pleasing, and will earn you respect from all around you.  Plus it will allow you become Mr. Romeo and help you get that lady you’ve been eying.
  2. Increased Strength – Both men and women can benefit from increased strength.  The compound movement of the bench press will help increase chest strength, tricep strength, and to a small degree, back strength (mostly in a stabilizing role).
  3. Improved Athletic Performance – This is something you will hear a lot, from a lot of people.  I am not a big believer in this.  Yes, you will be stronger, but how will that really affect you on the court or field? Probably not too much.  Dead-lifts and squats will help you a lot more with that.  But I definitely think that if you have a big bench, you most likely will have pretty big numbers in all your other lifts and also, for many athletes, it is a confidence thing.  When you bench big, you feel better about yourself and from a psycho-social standpoint can help increase a players’ performance by increasing their so-called “swag” on the field.

Improving Your Bench

Once you have the technique down, it’s time to get stronger.  There are quite a few ways we can go about that.

First, and what I personally believe to be the best way, is to increase your back strength and stability. I feel that almost everybody who attempts the bench press falls flat here.  With a weak back, there is no anchor for the pecs to work through.  This will cause energy to be lost through the chain causing missed pounds off the bar.  Here are some assistance exercises that can be used to improve scapular stability and back strength:

Scapular Stability

Scap Push-ups:

This is an exercise that is botched up quite often, but when done correctly can help with shoulder problems, and can help build us the stability needed to bench.  The scap push-up helps with upward rotation of the scapula as well as helps us get the scapula to sit on the rib cage better by targeting the serratus anterior.

To do a scap push-up get into a push-up position.  Get your core really tight by driving your belly button towards your chest, squeezing your glutes and drive your toes towards your knees.  Once set up, the movement is very simple – just pull your shoulder blades towards your feet.  YOU ARE NOT TO SQUEEZE YOUR SHOULDER BLADES TOGETHER.  All you are doing is squeezing your arm pit.  Your shoulders should move down towards your feet, and not together.  And you should not move.  Your body should pretty much be in the same position as you started, just your scaps pulled lower.  Once you get a good squeeze let the arm pits go and repeat.

Back Strength

In order to increase back strength, one should work both bilaterally and unilaterally.

Inverted Row

This is one of my favorites; it is just like an upside down push-up.  You can use either a TRX or a smith machine to do these.

To do an inverted row, just set up in a TRX or smith machine; grab the bar or handles and step underneath your hands.  Your position should be the front of your body facing the ceiling.  Once here, you will row yourself to the top so that the bottom of your chest touches the bar, (or by your ribs if your using a TRX).  Make sure your elbows go out, and your shoulder blades come together.

One Arm Row

Set up on a bench with the same side leg and arm resting on the bench.  The other leg and arm are off the bench, the leg on the floor so you can push through it.  Use the free arm to grab the weight and row it to your ribs.  Making sure again the chest is out, elbows are out and you slide your scapula towards your spine.

Stay tuned for part 2 that will discuss the push-up.