Tag Archives: Strength

Secrets of Strength Volume 3: Pause Reps

Sorry for the post hiatus, school has been hitting hard as I near the end of the last academic semester in my DPT program.  I am five months from graduation and couldn’t be more excited. But enough about me ~ let us get to the next edition of The Secrets of Strength!

Graduation_hats

When it comes to strength training it seems to be common practice for everyone to attempt PR’s everyday.  Week in and week out, people pile the weight on the bars and lift as heavy as they can until they plateau, form breaks or injury occurs.  I myself have fallen into this trap. As a young lad I would lift heavy every day, play sports and consistently over train.  The result was moderate strength and being injury plagued throughout high school and part of college. I have strained muscles, sprained my MCL, herniated a disc in my back, and broken bones. The list goes on and on.  As I gained knowledge in training and program design I learned that you do not need to lift over 90% of your 1RM every single session to get strong.  I am stronger now than I was when I was always lifting near maximal, and I have not had as many injuries or pain as compared to 4 or 5 years ago.  The sooner you can come to understand this, I guarantee you will not only be stronger than ever, but also be injury free.

Why to use Pause Reps to get strong and back off your 1 RM

Simple&Sinister

I have dabbled here and there with pause reps, but never fully incorporated them into my own programming.  That is about to change.  Once I finish the Simple and Sinister program by Pavel (which I will be writing about in the future), I will be adding pause reps into my program to aid in my strength goals.

The reason I want to add pause presses into my program, aside from using them to monitor my overall workout intensity, is to master my technique, assist me at key points of the exercise and use more muscle mass.

Mastery of Technique

Pausing at the bottom of a lift and maintaining tension is a self-limiting task.  If you use a weight too heavy and try pausing, your technique will break and you will not be able to complete the lift.  By pausing under moderate weight, you make sure your biomechanics are correct every time. This helps drive better technique.  Even though you will be lifting a percentage of the weight you normally lift, it will still kick your ass.

For example, I tend to struggle with the transition between the eccentric and concentric phases of my squat.  I will sometimes side bend or lean forward as I try to drive out of the hole.  Pause reps will help me with this problem and allow me to hit some PR’s.

Use of More Muscle Mass

When it comes to lifting, we have an eccentric and concentric portion of the lift.  As we complete the eccentric phase of an exercise, energy is stored.  This energy is stored in the passive structures, (i.e. the tendons and ligaments) and assist us in the concentric portion by releasing that energy (think of pulling on a rubber band and letting go).  When we pause in our lifts, we take these passive structures out of the equation.  We require the muscles to actively hold us, and produce enough force to move a weight.  This is the reason pause reps will still give you such a great workout.  Think about holding a weight in the hole of the squat for 2-5 seconds before having to explode out of it… I am cringing at the thought of it.  But no one said the process of gains is always fun!

Arnold Bench

How to use Pause Reps

Without thoroughly using pause reps, I am not going to prescribe percentages, reps or situations in which to incorporate them… at least not yet.  If the “why to use them” (the reasons why I will be using pause reps) intrigues you, I will refer you to an article on T-Nation by Christian Thibaudeau.  He goes into depth on how to use this methodology to help make you stronger.  You can check that out here.


Secrets of Strength Volume 2: Non-Traditional Feats of Strength

Cirque

When we think of strength, we generally think of it as how much weight one can move.  And as fun as it would be to deadlift a truck, or be able to bench press 3, 4, 500 lbs, there are other fun ways to display your strength. Would you expect to be able to perform sophisticated feats of strength with just your body weight, or maybe just simply standing up from the floor?  The answer is defined down below, and may surprise you!

5 Ways You Can Display Non-Traditional Impressive Feats of Strength

1. Turkish Get-up

  • The T-Get up is an ultimate test of strength, mobility and stability of the entire body.  You need to be able to stack your joints on top of each other and maintain stable joints under load, so the rest of your body can move without dropping a kettlebell, barbell or person on your head.
  • The movement involves lying down on the floor and standing up while maintaining a weight in the overhead position.
  • Begin this movement with a kettlebell.  Because the kettlebell keeps the weight external to the gripping hand, it offers unique advantages for shoulder health.

  • Progressions to impress
    • Barbell
    • Human Being

 2) Push-up

  • Most people that I see in the gym who are starting to workout with weights want to jump directly into the bench press and never want to start with the basics.  The push-up is the most under-rated exercise and is probably one that I see getting botched up the most.  Many people don’t have the core requirements, or were never taught the correct way to perform a perfect strict push-up.  But if you want to be impressive with your push-ups, an elite total of push-ups would be greater than 80 push-ups in a three minute period.
  • Doing this is not an eye-raising feat of strength.  If you want to up the ante, try progressing to the following.
    • One Arm Push-ups
    • One Arm – One Leg Push-ups

3. Iso 90/90 L Sit

  • This exercise requires not only significant core strength, but also considerable flexibility and upper body strength. The exercise requires you to hold yourself from a bar, rings, a tree, whatever you can grab a hold of; with elbows bent at 90 degrees and hips bent at 90 degrees.  I love exercises that require strength and tension to be developed throughout the body, that is what develops true strength.
  • To make this harder, go back to the original gymnastics L-Sit.  Press your hands into the floor and lift your butt and legs (they are to remain straight) off the floor).

4. Human Flag

  • This is probably my favorite one on the list.  This exercise crushes your entire lateral chain and requires you to build super-hero type strength that will gather crowds and applause from all. This kills your lats and obliques, and requires a lot of tension to hold.  The trick is in the pull/pull of the arms to generate enough force to allow the core to hold you up.

5. Levers

  • This is another gymnastic exercise that requires some serious core strength while turning heads when performed.  You can do these on monkey bars, tree branches, pull-up bars, rings, anything you can get your hands on.
  • The two types of levers I will be discussing here are the Front and Back levers.
    • Front Levers
      • This is an exercise that crushes your anterior core.  The arms, lats, delts, pecs and core all have to work synergistically to hold yourself in a straight line.
    • Back Levers
      • The easier of the two levers and the one that should be learned first.  The back lever attacks the posterior chain including the back, glutes, hamstrings, biceps and core.

  • If you want to learn more about training levers and other bodyweight feats, check out Al Kavado’s article here.

The aforementioned list are some fun exercises that will not only make you look more bad-ass, but will also make you stronger in your traditional strength training lifts: the dead-lift, squat, bench and overhead press.


Secrets of Strength Volume 1: Tips to a Bigger Deadlift

heavy-deadliftWhen it comes to dead lifting there are a few common mistakes that many people make.  By fixing these mistakes, you can instantly add weight to the bar and continue to get stronger while maintaining healthy joints.

1) Breathing – When it comes to life, breathing is essential.  When it comes to deadlifting… breathing is essential.  The ability to take a deep breath that fills your stomach and not your chest is vital to protecting your lower back in the deadlift.  If you need more information on breathing refer to this blog post here.

This breath causes an increase in intra-abdominal pressure, which in turn builds tension (tip 3) and keeps the spine from moving during the lift.  You can imagine that this pressure built is similar to the effects of a weight belt; it helps to support your lower back.  Why not just wear a weight belt? Because it does the work for your body and the core will never get stronger.  If you are going super heavy, 2x your body weight or more, you can add a weight belt, but you still need to have proper breathing.  If you are lifting anything less than that, you should not use a weight belt, let your core learn to protect your spine, it’s not like you can wear a weight belt every day can you?
Diaphragmatic Breathing2) Lats – The lats are the biggest players in the deadlift.  It is what connects your lower body and your upper body during the movement and keeps your back from folding like a cheap tent.  If you learn how to keep your lats tight, you will be able to increase your tension (tip #3) and lift more weight safely.  This adds to your core strength and again protects the spine.  The ability for your core to fire better, and for you to build tension is key for the success at deadlifts.

3) Tension – Here is where everyone goes wrong.  Someone can learn to breath perfect, set his or her lats tight, but when the start the deadlift, all that tension is lost.  Most commonly you see people do “the dip”.  This is where the person sets up, and brings their body closer to the floor before trying to ascend with the weight.  THIS IS AN INSTANT FAIL.  You will never be able to pull big weights that way. The second you drop all your tension is lost and you instantly become weaker.

The fix? Once you build your tension, maintain it and continue to push your feet through the floor.  Newton’s laws will take over from there.  “For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction.” Meaning if you push hard through the floor with your feet, you will eventually go up with that weight if you can produce enough force.

Want to learn more about the secrets of strength? Check out ironlionperformance.com.  Browse around, leave some comments, and sign up for their newsletter.  Upon doing so you will receive a great video on planks called the Secrets of Strength.

Questions, comments or concerns? I’d love to hear them! Leave a comment below!


Best Exercise You Ought to be Doing – The Kettlebell Pullover

2015 is here, and there are a lot of new faces in the gym.  “Resolution-ers” are filing in, jumping on the treadmill and banging out countless reps of sit-ups in hopes that this is the year they reach their goals.  If you have read my Core Training 101 post, you would already know that sit-ups are not the most effective way to strengthen your core. Nor will they help you get that six-pack you so desire.

Crunches

Enter the best core exercise in, well, ever.  The Kettlebell Pullover.  This is an exercise that I introduce to every client. I believe that it sets the foundation for strength and efficient movement.

Why you should use it-

  • Challenges The Core
    • When done correctly this exercise is taxing.  It looks easy at a glance, but when you maintain a posterior pelvic tilt and a rib pull, you will feel this like, “whoa!”  This is the type of exercise that the better you get, the harder it becomes.  If it is not difficult, you are not doing it correctly.
  • Teaches Proper Breath Patterning for Abdominal Support
    • Proper breathing is very important for your lower back and core.  And breathing properly helps maintain tightness and makes you stronger by increasing intra-abdominal pressure.  It is like wearing a weight belt without having to wear one.
    • This will ensure that you wont end up like those poor saps who wear a weight belt while walking around the gym or for arm curls.  Save those the weight belts for when you really need them to keep you from looking like a fool.Weight belt no no
  • Reinforces Technique at the Top of Squat and Deadlift
    • During the set up for the squat or deadlift, it is a common habit for people to hang out in an anterior pelvic tilt.  This puts increased stress on the lower back.  This exercise will help you build tension and find a better neutral position.  This will carry over to the top of your lifts and take excessive force off your spine.
  • Trains the deep core musculature – multifidus, transverse abdominus and obliques.
    • These muscles are very important for back health.  Studies have shown that those with recurring back pain have weak multifidi.  So this exercise can save your back!

The Technique

  • Start Position
    • Start lying on your back, with hips and knees bent at 90 degrees.
    • Grab kettlebell, medicine ball or dumbbell with arms extended over the chest
    • In this position, you will have a slight arch in your lower back.
  • The Movement
    • Flatten your lower back and sternum into the ground.  (Place an increased emphasis on your sternum and ribs)
    • Once flat, take a deep breath into your belly.
    • Reach your arms back as far as you can without any part of your lower back coming off the floor.
    • Once you reach the point in which your back wants to lift up, pull your ribs and spine harder into the ground and bring arms back to starting position.
  • Progressions
    • Make this exercise harder by
      • Lying on a foam roller
      • Putting your feet on the floor
      • Extend one leg outwards

If you can master this exercise, you will get the most out all your other core exercises. You will move better and have improved muscle activation and technique, not to mention a stronger, injury free back.


Did You Reach Your Goals?

HappyNewYear2015

In January, I wrote a post talking about goal setting in which I shared my goals with you. So now its 2015, time to reflect back and see how we did!
I’ve had some pretty good success in 2014 with my fitness goals, and I hope all of you have too.  I feel most of my success came from putting myself out there and making myself accountable.  I have constantly challenged myself in front of my family, friends, peers and the internet. This put added pressure on me to keep pushing forward and to get as much out of both my nutrition and exercise as possible
Exercise January ’14 Numbers January 2014 Goals Current Numbers December 2015 Goals
Body Weight 163 lbs 175 lbs 184 lbs 185 lbs
Front Squat 195 lbs 225 lbs 205 lbs 245 lbs
Deadlift 275 lbs 315 lbs 350 lbs 400 lbs
Military Press 115 lbs 135 lbs 135 lbs 155 lbs
Turkish Get-up 88 lbs 100 lbs 96 lbs 100 lbs
Bench Press 205 lbs 225 lbs 225 lbs 250 lbs
My big 2015 goal is to have a 1,000 pounds total – meaning that if you add up all my weights lifted between my squat, deadlift and bench they would total 1,000 lbs.  Currently I am a little over 800 pounds: my squat is 245 pounds, deadlift is 350 and my bench 225.  Let’s see how close I can get by December.
Did any of you reach your goals in 2014? What are your goals for 2015?  Comment below and let me know!

Are You a Half Rep-per

I have seen all sorts of people in the gym and in hilariously ridiculous youtube videos of half rep-pers.  They load way too much weight on the bar, move it through a quarter of the range of motion, rack the weight and pound their chest.  While these people are in a cult all of their own, this is not the half rep-per I am talking about.

BadForm

The half rep-per I am talking about is most likely you.  Now, don’t get offended, you have yet to hear what I have to say yet!  But this is the single most common mistake I see in the gym day in and day out.  And it is what I refer to as half rep-ping, in its most literal sense.

What I am alluding to is a very important missing aspect of any resistance training program.  What is that, you ask!?  It is the eccentric aspect of any lift out there.

bench_press_eccentric

An eccentric contraction is a movement that causes a muscle to elongate, or is defined as the muscles insertion moving further away from the origin.  For example, when doing a bicep curl, the eccentric part of the exercise is bringing your arm back down to your side. As the forearm is moving away from the joint, the biceps muscle is getting longer.

So I know you’re wondering, well there is no way I don’t lower my arm to my side, because if I didn’t I couldn’t do my next rep.  And you’re also wondering how not doing an eccentric movement is only half the rep.  Well my friend, sit down and keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times, because it’s going to be a wild ride.

What I mean by not doing the eccentric part of the exercise, is we never control that down phase.  When doing the bench press, people drop the bar until it bounces off their chest, and then they press the weight up.  In the squat, people fall into the hole and then try to grind back up to the top.  This is not necessarily wrong, but you are not getting the most out of your exercise.  This causes you to be weaker, and have less muscle.  We do this because the body likes to do things the easiest way possible.  And controlling the eccentric part of any lift takes much more energy than it does to drop the bar onto your chest, bounce it, and press it back up.

Next time you do any exercise: a lunge, squat, bench press, overhead press, pull-up, you name it – focus on controlling the weight down by squeezing the antagonistic muscles, then do the concentric phase. For exampleif doing an overhead press, press the weight overhead and as you bring the weight back down to your shoulders, squeeze your lats and pull the bar down as if you were doing a pull-up. Once the weight comes down to the shoulders,reverse the movement and bring it back over head.

You will be amazed at how much more muscle you activate doing this.  And as you progress, you will be stronger than ever.  You will start to build more muscle, have healthier joints and leave less weight on the ground.

P.S ladies, this still applies to you.  It will help you be stronger and more toned.  You will get a lot more out of your workouts and your body will thank me later.


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.