Category Archives: body training
The cool thing about the strength-training world is that there are seemingly endless exercise and programming possibilities. Unfortunately, this can also be its downfall. Having so much information and unlimited options is useless if you can’t translate and apply it appropriately.
If you persevere and succeed, typically you’ll develop your own training philosophy. And once you’ve developed your own philosophy, you’ll become tied to it and will fight to defend your position.
You become hardheaded – I fall into this category, as does anyone whose spent a lot of time training and helping others. It’s hard to watch people fall for the same stuff that many of us have fallen for, and have the advice land on deaf ears.
But that doesn’t mean a stubborn person can’t expand their horizons without sacrificing their personal training philosophy. Presented below are several training “rocks” – ideas and exercises that have become standards in the training world, along with some variations that might just open up your eyes to something different.
Do This: Dumbbell Row, Not That: Barbell Row
First, let’s all agree that the barbell row is an awesome exercise. It’s long been revered in powerlifting and bodybuilding circles as a great back developer. It’s been used by the greatest powerlifter of all time (Ed Coan), and a variation of the barbell row was a favorite of one of the greatest bodybuilders ever (Dorian Yates and his famed Yates row).
Dorian Yates’ back is the centerpiece of his insane, freaky physique, and the Yates row is one of the things he credits. Ed Coan’s accomplishments in the powerlifting world have been well documented and if you’ve ever seen Ed in person, you know he’s one of the thickest people to ever set foot in a weight room. And his 900-pound deadlift, to me, is the single-most impressive deadlift feat.
Now that I’ve satisfied all the barbell row zealots, the exercise does have its drawbacks. This is especially true for a lifter that’s made significant progress in the squat and deadlift.
The barbell row is extremely taxing to the lower back, and when coupled with heavy workouts of squatting and pulling, can be detrimental to one’s overall training goals.
The squat and deadlift already put a tremendous strain on the lower back and the last thing a person needs is to have a fatigued lower back when attempting big weights in these two movements.
Enter the dumbbell row – this movement has received a huge kick in the PR department due to Matt Krocazleski and the Kroc row. The dumbbell row offers all the benefits of the barbell row plus a few additional perks like:
- You can use more weight in the dumbbell row.
- It’s much easier on the lower back.
- It’s great for developing grip strength, an important component in all sports.
- It’s great for upper back/lat development that can be transferred to the deadlift and the bench press.
Even if you’re not a believer or user of the Krow row, sets of 6-15 reps of the dumbbell row, done with or without straps (I recommend having personal records for straps/no straps), can do wonders for your back development and strength.
Do This: Trap Bar Deadlift, Not That: Straight Bar Deadlift
Unlike the dumbbell row/barbell row, these two lifts aren’t interchangeable. If you’re a competitive powerlifter, the trap bar can be used as an accessory exercise but not necessarily as a main movement.
But if you’re not a competitive powerlifter and need a good change of pace from pulling with a straight bar, the trap bar deadlift is a great option.
I liken this movement to a non-competitive lifter going between the hang clean and full clean (or power clean). While not the same thing, it offers a great change of pace, yet still maintains the integrity of the movement.
The trap bar is also a great way to increase quad strength, and it takes a bit of stress off the lower back as the handles keep the center of gravity closely aligned with the hips. For strength coaches that battle with sport coaches about the safety of the deadlift in their programs, the trap bar is a great compromise.
Let’s face it, chasing the Big Three (squat, bench press, deadlift) can get tiresome, and having an acceptable substitution that can be used for several months might be just what you need to keep the competitive fires burning.
Finally, the trap bar allows you to pick something heavy off the ground and there’s nothing more awesome than that.
Don’t be so stubborn in your vision to leave this lift out of your training because it isn’t a competitive lift – expand your vision a bit without sacrificing your principles.
Do This: Dynamic Effort with 70-80%, Not That: Dynamic Effort with 50%
A couple years ago, I went through my training logs and calculated my box squat percentages based on my box squat max. When bands were used, I calculated (as best I could) the amount of bar weight/band weight at the bottom of the movement (while on the box).
The results surprised me then but not now – the average percentage used was 77%. These were weights done on “dynamic day” and didn’t count the heralded circa-max phase.
After reading, thinking, and talking to other lifters (take a look at the translated Russian texts and the book Supertraining), dynamic training is almost always heavier than 50% (50% being a load that’s much too light to elicit a training response).
If you want to effectively use dynamic training in your programming, here’s a simple 12-week template:
- Weeks 1-6: Dynamic Work done with the high end of Prilipin’s table Max Effort done with the low end of Prilipin’s table.
- Weeks 7-12: Dynamic Work done with the low end of Prilipin’s table; Max Effort done with the high end of Prilipin’s table.
Now this is a very, very simplified overview, but if programmed correctly (i.e., done with your training level in mind, training goals, recovery protocols and your commitment to such protocols, and the ability to auto-regulate without abandoning the principles of your training), this can be very effective.
Whatever template you choose to apply these to, remember that the weight on dynamic day must be heavy enough to apply proper force and light enough to still move fast.
Do This: Hurdle Jumps, Not That: Box Jumps
Just about anyone can do a box jump. As far as jumping exercises go, the box jump is pretty low stress and relatively easy on the body and knees. Even for lower level lifters and athletes (and regular gym goers), if the box jump is used properly (i.e., not as a conditioning tool) they’re extremely effective and relatively safe.
Hurdle jumps, or rather, hurdle bounding is another story. This isn’t to be used by everyone. Bounding over a set of 5-10 hurdles with minimal ground contact is incredibly stressful to the body and requires a quickness and coordination not everyone can achieve.
But they’re extremely effective in developing explosive power. You don’t gather your body and “rest” between hurdles – you jump like a jackrabbit over them.
Here’s a video I found on YouTube that shows someone jumping over hurdles:
I used hurdle jumps for my entire high school career and they’re a great way to develop speed and power when combined with box jumps, squats, and sprints.
Like any new exercise, start with a low volume and work up slowly. All of the throwers in high school, trained by Darren Llewellyn, lived on squats, cleans, and jumps. All of us could bound over 10 low hurdles with ease, with half of us being able to jump over 10 high hurdles without a problem.
This is highly recommended for those that are in competitive sports who are looking for an edge in speed and power. This is not recommend for the out of shape former athlete looking to recapture lost glory.
Do This: Prowler Walk, Not That: Prowler Sprint
Over the past year, I’ve been asked many questions about training for an older lifter – how to minimize the stress on an aging body while fighting with a younger mind.
In short: “My body is breaking down, but I still want to kick ass!”
There are a number of easy things to do concerning lifting: minimize volume work with the main lifts, increase volume of easier assistant lifts, and increase knowledge/use of recovery methods.
But when it comes to conditioning work, it’s hard to stomach the use of a treadmill or elliptical trainer. There’s something about these machines that sap the Testosterone from a lifter that’s spent so many years shunning these machines.
I still believe that a simple walk outside is one of the best things a person can do. Physically, it’s great for the heart, lungs, and lower back. Mentally, it can help clear your mind, and if you live near a great park or trail, gives you some relaxing time to yourself.
I know people still want some grit in their conditioning and that’s where Prowler walking comes in. Walking with the Prowler achieves three things:
- Provides the necessary “hard” conditioning that lifters crave.
- Is much less stressful on the knees and ankles than sprinting with the Prowler.
- Gives the lower body some extra strength work without too much stress on the back (in other words, the Prowler can be used as a leg exercise).
The same basic tenets and workouts of Prowler sprinting applies to walking, so no need to change things up from what’s already been prescribed several times.
If any of these exercises or training ideas is applicable to your training and jive with your goals, then give them a shot – even if they might butt heads with your well-worn philosophy.
Remember, remaining stagnant and stubborn is easy, but it takes a better man to expand their horizons (and lifts) with methods that may be contrary to their beliefs.
The only person you’re hurting is yourself, as a new personal record easily remedies a bruised ego.
Some of my best gains in the gym have come during my busiest and most stressful times.
I distinctly remember hitting two big personal bests on the front squat and trap bar deadlift during finals week of my junior year of college. I had low expectations going in because for the three weeks prior, I’d been forced to pare down my program to the bare minimum because I was holed up reading and writing papers.
I’d gone from training 4-5 days a week to three. Workouts went from two hours down to 30-35 minutes tops, including warm-ups. There was no accessory work. No hitting the muscles from all angles. Just a few concentrated hard and heavy sets on the basics.
I wasn’t sleeping much, or eating particularly well, and I wasn’t obsessing at all about my workouts. In fact, except for the half-hour I spent in the gym, I wasn’t thinking about lifting at all.
I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how I’d managed to get stronger. Then the same thing happened again during midterms of my senior year, and that’s when it dawned on me.
I was getting stronger because I wasn’t obsessing about my workouts. I’d been spending too much time over-thinking and over-prioritizing the minutia.
Lifting is tricky because it’s not that time consuming. It’s not like video games or chess where you can do it all day every day because you’ll quickly burn out. That leaves a lot of time unaccounted for to think about lifting – and that can be dangerous.
The more you think and the more you read, the more you start to mind-screw yourself and start worrying about the little things that don’t really matter.
To that end, here’s a template based around the premise of getting back to the basics. I’d recommend it for the following audiences:
- Those who’ve been sputtering with excessively complex programs and need to get out of their own heads.
- Those who are super busy and don’t have much time to devote to the gym.
- Those coming off a high volume training phase that need to get stronger while giving the body a little break.
It doesn’t have to be something you follow for a full 8-10 weeks, but it certainly could be if you wanted to. I’ve had success using it for 2-3 week spurts when particularly swamped with work, or during times when I feel like I’ve lost sight of the bigger picture and need to refocus my training.
The beauty of the program lies in its simplicity. Don’t get it twisted though; this is not a de-load and it’s not meant to be easy. I call it the Power of Three.
The program consists of three workouts: A, B, and C. Try to spread them out over the course of the week with at least one day off in between. It doesn’t matter if your workouts fall on the same days each week; just get them done.
Each workout will consist of three main exercises, one from each of the following categories: lower body, pull, and push.
The actual exercises should be different for each of the three workouts, but the categories stay the same throughout. That means you need to pick three lower body exercises, three pulling exercises, and three pushing exercises.
For each exercise category there will be a heavy day, a medium day, and a light day. So if you do heavy lower body one day, the next workout would be medium, then light, etc.
This way, you hit all the major muscle groups three times a week – giving you the benefit of increased frequency – yet you’re modulating the intensity to avoid crushing yourself.
The weekly split looks like this:
Medium Lower Body
Light Lower Body
The ideal reps per set will vary slightly depending on which exercises you choose, but in general:
Medium = 6-9 reps
Light = 10-15 reps
The heavy exercise of the day will be done for six sets while the medium and light exercise each get three.
To save time, the entire workout will be performed as paired sets. I say “paired sets” rather than “supersets” because for many, a superset implies moving between exercises with no rest.
The primary goal here is strength, so I want you to rest – but I realize you’re also busy and don’t have time to sit around the gym.
With paired sets, you move back and forth between two different exercises, but you’ll take as long as needed in between each set to fully recover.
The first three sets of the heavy exercise will be paired with three sets of the medium exercise, while the last three heavy sets will be paired with the light exercise.
Confused? Here’s how it breaks down for Workout A as an example:
|A1||Heavy Lower Body||3||3-6|
|B1||Heavy Lower Body (A1 continued)||3||3-6|
- For lower body, include at least one knee dominant (squat, lunge) and one hip dominant pattern (deadlift, hip thruster, etc.). In addition, include at least one bilateral and one unilateral exercise.
- For your pulling work, include at least one vertical pull (chin-up, pulldown) and one horizontal pull (row).
- For your push exercise, incorporate at least one vertical push (overhead press variation) and one horizontal push (bench press variation). Also, make one of your three selections a bodyweight movement (push-up, dip, etc.).
Picking the Right Exercises
I’ve provided you with some loose guidelines for exercises, but I’ve deliberately left most of the work up to you. Here’s why:
There are no “best” exercises for everyone. We’re all built differently, have a different injury history, and have access to different equipment, all of which play a role in determining which exercises are optimal.
You need a certain degree of autonomy. The best program is one that garners enthusiasm. If I give you a bunch of exercises that you hate, you’re less likely to bust your balls – and without full-unbridled effort it just won’t work, no matter how good the program looks on paper.
You should learn the principles of exercise selection. Being spoon fed a program won’t benefit you long term. Those who prefer having everything laid out for them usually hop to the next new program in a week or two.
If you learn how to choose your own exercises effectively, however, you’ll be able to take that and apply it to whatever program you decide on, both now and in the future. If you only get one thing from this article, I hope it’s this.
Pick exercises based on your needs, not wants. Put another way, pick exercises that improve your weaknesses, not just ones you like doing. It’s natural to like what you’re best at, but you’ll always be limited by your weaknesses. If you are really only as strong as your weakest link, then if you avoid what you suck at, you’ll always suck. Don’t suck.
That means if your posterior is comparatively weaker than your quads, you might want to pick two hip dominant movements for your lower body exercises and only one squatting or lunging variation.
Or if you have noticeable size and/or strength discrepancies between limbs, you may want to include more unilateral work. If you’re especially bad at chin-ups, do more chin-ups. You get the idea.
Try to choose exercises that best match the intended rep range. Certain exercises are best suited to lower reps, while others tend to jive better in higher rep ranges.
Generally, your heavy exercises are best done with barbells while your moderate and light exercises may be better suited for dumbbells, kettlebells, rings, bodyweight, etc.
The one exception is your pulling work. I’m not a fan of low-rep barbell rows because form often deteriorates into something resembling a monkey humping a football. For your heavy pull, I’d rather have you do weighted chin-ups or dumbbell rows and save barbell rows or other rowing variations for moderate and light work.
Pick exercise pairings with the least amount of overlap possible. This is especially important when pairing a lower body exercise and a pull. For example, if you’re deadlifting, avoid pairing it with rowing variations like barbell and T-bar rows that are also lower back intensive.
Also avoid pairing exercises that are highly grip-intensive, though this can be tricky when using deadlifting variations or single-leg work with heavy dumbbells. In those cases, you may need to use straps.
Here’s a sample workout. This should give you an idea of the framework of the program, but feel free to plug in different exercises as you see fit.
|B2||Inverted row (weighted if necessary)||3||10-15|
|A1||Chin-up (weighted if necessary)||3||3-6|
|A2||Alternating overhead dumbbell press (neutral grip)||3||6-9|
All sets listed are working sets only. Start off with a few warm up sets for your heavy and medium exercises before the first pairing. Before you start the second pairing, you may need to do one or two warm-up sets for your light exercise too, but since your body is already warmed up and the weight is light, you won’t need much.
For each exercise, ramp up to a top set where you reach technical failure – the point where you can no longer complete another rep with good form. No sloppy reps, but push yourself.
Only the last set of each exercise should reach technical failure, but all work sets should still be relatively challenging. Start with about 75% of the weight you plan to use for your final set and ramp up from there.
For all unilateral work, rest 45-60 seconds between limbs. If you’re pushing yourself like you should be, you’ll need every last bit of it.
If you have some extra time and want to tack on some core and/or arm work, that’s cool, just don’t go overboard. It’s not required.
Keep a logbook and try to increase each week. Your first choice should always be to increase the weight. However, if you fall short of the given rep range one week, maintain the weight and try to increase the reps back into the rep range, at which point you’ll increase the weight the next time.
Don’t make this overly complicated. There’s no need for calculators or complex equations.
Your success (or lack thereof) with this template will hinge on two things: wise exercise selection, and brutal effort. I hope I’ve given you an idea of how to pick the best exercises to suit your needs. The effort part has to come from you.
Remember, there’s a reason that the big and strong dudes are labeled “meatheads” and skinny guys are called “geeks.” It doesn’t take a whole lot of brainpower and fancy programming to get strong. What it does take is persistence, a tenacious work ethic, time, and a brass set of balls.
Get er’ done!
I have a box in my storage room that contains all my training journals. Besides sets and reps, I toss in what’s going on in my life. Often, I find long essays about the future, lists about “what works,” and funny little tidbits about my life that I would’ve quickly forgotten had I not wrote them down.
It hit me when I picked up this box the other day that I’ve been recording workouts since 1971, five years after first picking up a weight. That’s forty years! I started to think about the lessons I’ve learned and, before I knew it, I had a list of forty lessons that I had to learn the hard way.
It makes me smile to see my attempt at neat handwriting in my first journal entries. The bench press workout was 85 x 8/8/4. I noted, “I was supposed to do six on the second set but it was too easy.” In the summer before my freshman year, I benched 100 pounds; my sophomore year, I benched 200 pounds; and I got 300 during my junior year in track season. I would write what I benched as a senior weighing 162 pounds, but you wouldn’t believe it.
I have a few notes about my coach’s son who came to our weight room one afternoon to see if I was “really as strong as my dad said I was.” I told him I’d already lifted and he said something that questioned my lifts. So, I put a low 300-pound lift on the bar and it went up so fast that he told me to stop. “I believe you…wow, I believe you.”
The value of a journal is seeing the progress (and the regress) of your training and training philosophy. I believe a thorough review of your old journals is probably as good as a training session.
Lesson 2: Eat like a man
This article pulled together some wonderful disconnected links that had spun in my brain for a few years. Yes, low carb is good, but carbs are not evil. For the strength enthusiast, or someone who wants to just be powerful, this article gives the template. The carb-depletion workout fit perfectly with a weekly volume day. The carb-up fit perfectly with life!
Now, you can agree or disagree with the diet, but all the athletes I had use this template found that their ability to train longer and harder was enhanced naturally by this simple eating program. And, as the author notes, people fear you in the supermarket!
You may not need to ever squat heavy, and you may also discover that there are some better tools for you (for you, read that carefully) like Bulgarian split squats or pistols, but mastery of the squat is worth every second you spend on it.
In past articles, like this, I’ve given you a template to follow. However, I still feel that the message has NOT been delivered. You must master this basic movement. Spend years on it if you have to, as I did, but learn to do this.
Yes, these are “books,” but the depth and insights will astound you.
Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.” It still stuns me and scares me. The diet advice is unsupported by research.
T. H. White’s “The Once and Future King.” The first part is “The Sword in the Stone” and the book changed my life.
Frank Herbert’s “Dune.” The book is a science fiction legend, but the respect for education, in all its forms, makes it worth reading.
I would also tell you to read all of Harry Potter. Any book that introduces a character in the first chapter that’s so crucial to the whole story, yet won’t be seen again until the third book, and a question from the very beginning that isn’t answered until literally the end, deserves one’s time and energy.
There are others, of course, but the idea is that at times big goals and big stories also include epic tragedy and overcoming failure.
When I first made waves as a writer, I was usually quoted for insisting we go outside and train. It’s still great advice. I think that carrying equipment outside and working out in a communal gathering is the single best way to train. As a discus thrower, bringing my kettlebell to the field to do a few movements “now and again” was a game changer in helping me improve my throws. Grab some food and drink and a training tool and go outside and have some fun lifting.
I wrote on this a few years ago here . It’s very simple.
The Southwood Program is to be performed three days a week in the gym:
Although I learned this while Nixon was President and nobody traded with China, it still holds fast as a great training program. You don’t miss a single bodypart, it’s simple to learn, and a bit rigorous to do. It also demands that you clean and military press which we’ll get back to later.
If there’s a skill that’s overlooked it’s the ability to nap when necessary. If my athletes struggle with getting or staying asleep, we’re going to have issues down the line. Training oneself to relax is the first step. I recommend squeezing a muscle tight, then breathing out and releasing it. This helps enable falling effortlessly asleep literally any time, anywhere.
Sleep is the best recovery tool I know, but the skill of sound sleeping is often overlooked. Although I recommend ZMA®, Z-12TM, and eyeshades and earplugs to just about every audience I speak to, I still say that one also needs to practice relaxing. There are many CDs, DVDs and downloads that walk you through this skill and I can’t comment on them all, but it’s worth your time to practice this underrated skill.
I learned this from Pavel. It’s a “truism.” My all-time best number of pull-ups was 14 when getting ready for my senior year of high school football. I know this because of my journal (see Lesson One!). As I grew larger, I let myself slide all the way down to four reps. I also noted my shoulders hurt.
Taking Pavel’s advice, I started doing one or two pull ups throughout my training workouts. When two became ridiculously easy, I moved to three and soon four. I am now back to nine pull-ups and “miraculously” my shoulder health is back to being fine.
One surprising point about pull-ups is that they’re also a wonderful abdominal exercise. I don’t know why that is, but it will be evident the day after a long pull-up workout.
I love pictures of the old time strongmen with the huge kettlebells and fixed bars. When I first started training, gyms had fixed barbells in a rack, so you could grab a 75-pound barbell or a 105 pounder, just like the dumbbell rack today.
There’s some beauty in this. Originally, all I had was a 53-pound kettlebell and a 70 pounder. So, when I trained, I had two options. The “lack of options” made me dig down harder for certain movements. A few years ago, I noted that most of us should toss out the bulk of our weightlifting plates and just use 45s and 25s. One would have thought I’d blasphemed! I got negative feedback for weeks from that.
I stand by it. Yes, it’s a jump to go from 185 to 225. It means you have to own 185 and you’d better be ready for the load at 225. It’s also how we trained in college as the small plates were all broken and the football team stole all the 35s to stick on their machines (I won’t comment).
So, my first group of recruits when I began coaching learned to lift with 95, 135, and 185 pounds in the snatch and clean. They mastered the loads quickly because, well, we had no other options!
At nearly every talk I give, I note the importance of dental floss. Flossing is really good for you and it seems like it makes a difference in heart health. It takes about a minute to do it, too. But I get emails from guys who tell me, “I’ll do anything to get to X, Y or Z.” When I ask them first to floss twice a day, I get a return email that says something like “that is a problem as…” Listen, if you don’t have the discipline to floss twice a day, good luck with the Velocity Diet.
I do all the weird stuff. I use a Neti Pot for my sinuses, and I no longer take allergy medicine, so it “works.” I use a tongue scraper every morning, and learned that some foods really do make mucus, and I always supplement with fiber. Now, I don’t go so far as to do some of the higher-end stuff like colonics, but that’s not a judgment on my part.
I think that taking a little time each day to “cleanse” is worth it to your overall health. To me, it’s like eating vegetables and fruit. It’s got to be good for you at some level. And, let’s be honest, it’s pretty easy to do.
When I first began throwing the discus as a 118-pound tower of terror, I won a lot of meets. No matter what, the kids at the other school would tell me, “If (insert name of fat kid) would’ve been here, he would’ve beaten you.” I used to believe that crap.
Whenever I win something, especially now in the Internet age, I always find out later that “somebody else” would’ve won it if, of course, they’d just shown up. Folks, it’s a truism that should be stuck to your bathroom mirror. “Show Up!”
I’ve fond memories of helping a friend off the floor as he was dieting down for an amateur bodybuilding contest and he was doing depleting workouts. He was in a brain fog for probably three weeks. Of course, on the dais under the lights, he looked magnificent and won “easily.”
The dude showed up. If you’re gunna gunna, you have to show up to prove it. “Gunna gunna” was a phrase my mom used for people who were “gunna do this and gunna do that.” It’s like graduating from high school or college. I swear to you, if you just show up, you’re gunna gunna do just fine.
One of my favorite books is Steve Ilg’s “Total Body Transformation.” Published in 2004, the book has amazing insights into human performance and reflects on Ilg’s courageous victory over a terrifying back injury. In the book, Ilg looks at a quote made about Mark Allen that he had become the World’s Greatest Athlete by winning a series of triathlons. Ilg came up with an interesting contest to see who actually was the world’s fittest human.
Ilg’s contest included basic gymnastic movements, weightlifting maxes, and yoga moves. My favorite section was the third day’s endurance event, a mountain bike race to an uphill finish. His genius is realizing that downhill is where the injuries happen, so why not test the athletes’ fitness as safely as possible?
I’ve had a lot of injuries that have caused me to spend a lot of time in hospital beds. One thing I’ve learned is that it is “almost” okay to get injured in competition, but it’s insane to get hurt in preparation. Stopping several reps short of failure or injury may not sound courageous on paper, but coming back to train tomorrow is more important than an additional “junk” rep.
I love the word “glib.” Usually, it means nonchalant (that has to be a French word; we need to find a way to say this glibly), but it also means “lacking depth and substance.” Now, most of my ex-girlfriends say that about me, but I digress.
I’ve always taken about six weeks a year to assess, reassess, and deal with my weaknesses. It’s always around the same few issues:
My hamstrings are too tight.
I need to work on X, Y, or Z.
So, how does one usually address these issues? Most people usually address weaknesses while also doing literally everything else. So, what happens in a typical six-week assessment program is we continue doing everything we did before and hope the weaknesses vanish magically. Without Harry Potter, that isn’t going to happen.
In the last decade I’ve discovered that weaknesses demand full concentration. As I’ve argued before, if you want to really address fat loss, do the Velocity Diet. Oh sure, there are other fine options, but do the V-Diet once and then decide how “grueling” Atkins or Ornish or the Zone are in terms of sacrifice.
Weaknesses need to be given full attention. If you have flexibility issues holding you back, then you need some kind of challenge. In the past I’ve recommended the Bikram Yoga 30-Day Challenge (you promise to go to the 90 minute sessions every day for thirty days) and I still can’t think of a better way to address the issue.
Weaknesses need to be attacked with depth. I charge you to examine every possibility in your search for ridding yourself of this issue. I’ve had people squat five days a week to address poor squatting technique and do 1,000 full turns a month to deal with discus throwing issues. If you have a clear weakness, total focus with every tool and weapon you can muster has to be the plan.
Don’t be glib.
Neither is it treadmilling, or whatever machine you think of right now. Conditioning is more than that. I gave some insights in this article, but few people were interested in trying out the tumbling. This little workout is the finest “finisher” I know and you only have to do it once.
Five right shoulder rolls
Five left shoulder rolls
Three cartwheels followed by three cartwheels to the other side
One set of bear crawls (about ten meters)
Sprint to waste basket
I think the intensity of conditioning trumps the duration most of the time. I have more to say on this later, but most people don’t train hard enough to get in and get out.
That said, I also think most under-appreciate hiking, biking, and long, easy treks along the beaches and meadows of this fine planet. As noted earlier, go outside and breathe real air.
Recently, I wrote a series of articles on the five basic human movements.
Now, you can certainly add vertical and horizontal and rotational and many other things to this list, but if you’re skipping one of the basic five human movements, your training isn’t optimal.
You’re probably missing loaded carries and squats. The one lesson I’ve learned over and over is most people ignore these two things. So, start doing farmer walks, waiter walks, suitcase walk, sleds, and pushing cars a few days a week and master the basics of squatting.
You won’t believe the progress you’ll make!
I still love the Atkins Diet. I keep some correspondences from 1999 from a group of women who lost 100 pounds each doing the Atkins Diet and a little weightlifting. I probably learned more from them than I ever learned from those with a bunch of initials after their names.
Here was the genius behind Atkins, in case you missed it. Dr. Atkins notes in his book that to become obese, you did something “unbalanced.” To get yourself back to sleek, lithe, firm and fantastic, you honestly can’t do a balanced approach. Finding balance at 100 pounds over-fat will keep you there. He recommended an “unbalanced” approach to get back to your target.
I’ve used this contrarian thinking process ever since I read this. In coaching the throws, I teach athletes with bad habits to throw with the “other” hand, do things backwards, try throwing with the 56-pound weight, and a variety of things that I’d consider “unbalanced.” Now, if I’m working with a raw beginner, obviously I’d pattern and model the best technique possible, but with someone with ingrained bad habits, I look for ways to completely rework the system.
If you’ve been training for four years and never really squatted, I’d recommend you squat five days a week for two years. Crazy? Yes! But that’s exactly what Dick Notmeyer had me do, and not only did I add forty pounds of lean body mass in four months, I also mastered the movement.
This “theme” seems to be a reoccurring lesson in my career.
But if you do decide to “do everything at once” for a while, there may be benefits at the other end of the wormhole.
By the time I was a senior at Utah State University, I’d lifted at least three days a week, usually five to eight, for seven and a half years. I played football, soccer, wrestled, and competed at a fairly high level as an Olympic lifter. Oh, and I was a Division One thrower gathering points as a discus thrower, hammer thrower, and shot putter.
In January of my senior year, I hit the wall. I was sick of lifting and just couldn’t keep up trying to do everything.
This “plan” worked perfectly. After all those years of training half the year as a thrower and the other half as an athlete in another sport AND keeping an enormous load in the weight room, I backed off everything.
I never went over 385 that winter and spring in the squat. I did clean and snatch, but always within reason. I didn’t play in pick up games or intramurals or, honestly, anything. I went to school, lifted a little, and threw a little. I ended up with what Coach Ralph Maughan called “the greatest season in the history of USU throwing,” which, at the time, was quite a big deal.
The lesson? Well, after doing seven years of “everything,” backing off to just one thing propelled me to a level of success that simply shocked me with the ease I attained it.
Less is more. This is a fundamental truism in the strength arts. But you first have to really put a lot of “more” in. Like Earl Nightingale used to say about the fireplace, many people walk up to the fireplace and say “give me heat.” The right way to do it is to get some paper, some kindling, some logs, and light a match. Then you get some heat.
You have to explore and learn and try many things to be able later to whittle them all down into a simple package. I can show you some short cuts and so can all the other authors here, but you need to put the time and effort into the “more” before you can master the “less.”
My friend, Pavel Tsatsouline, handed me this great two-day a week training program. I shared it with a young, busy guy who told me it was too easy. I knew he was lying, so I tweaked it for him. Here’s the “King of Less Training Programs”:
|Day One||Day Two|
|Bench press||Bench press|
That’s it. It’s the minimalist’s minimal workout. Now, let’s look at my tweaks:
- Only 45 and 25-pound plates!
- No less than ten reps on every set of bench and squat until the last set.
- No less than five reps on every deadlift.
So, the bench press workout was sets of ten, add weight, until the last set where you grind out as many as possible.
A bench example from 1993 when I did this same basic program:
225 x 10
315 x 10
365 x “as many”
For the squat, the last set should be around bodyweight, usually 185 or 225, and you go for at least 30 reps.
In the deadlift, keep grinding out those sets of five. Over time, feel free to slide this down to three reps, then two reps.
On paper, this looks so easy!
Whenever I talk with someone who has been around gyms for a long time, usually this story comes up:
The interesting thing is the experienced guy probably got more out of the exchange than the neophyte. When you try to teach someone something you know, you begin to pick up those subtle points that you may have forgotten or, perhaps more common, you may know but never knew you knew it! Teaching someone to squat might make you rethink how you move the whole system down and not just bend the knees.
Oh, sure, you can lose your mind helping someone learn the basics of weight training, but for most the time spent teaching others is like finding a vein of pure gold.
I’ve been there. I read those massive ads for Nautilus in Scholastic Coach and Athletic Journal and thought, for sure, that this was the ticket to success. Plyometrics had me leaping off tall buildings with a single bound and limping up flights of stairs. Don’t even get me started with the stupid things I’ve tried.
Most of “it” is crap. From the magic supplements, like B-15 (better than 14!) to the promises of this huckster or that guru, I’ve rarely discovered much beyond the basics that works.
I remember fasting for 14 hours before a workout and doing set after set after set of compound leg exercises and consuming a whiff of some exotic herbs to enhance my growth hormone. It enhanced someone else’s wallet.
If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
I love the overhead press. It’s the consummate badass exercise. There’s a lot of testicular fortitude involved in loading weight on a bar, stepping back from the rack and pressing it overhead without so much as a dip in the hips or using the legs.
In a perfect world, everyone would overhead press. Grandma would hoist barbells while she baked pies, and setting a pressing PR would be an excused absence from school.
Oh, what a wonderful world it would be.
However, there are two factions at opposite ends of the overhead-pressing continuum. One says that overhead pressing is an unhealthy exercise for everyone. Those on the opposite side say that everyone should overhead press.
The reality is not everyone is ready to overhead press. Here are some telltale signs that indicate whether the overhead press is a good movement for you.
- Does your thoracic spine extend properly?
- Are you setup for impingement and/or scapular instability?
- Are you able to brace your core tightly and lock your rib cage?
Thoracic spine mobility is important for health in the majority of human movements, but in the overhead press its importance is compounded. If the t-spine isn’t extending properly during the overhead press, it will be difficult to fully flex the shoulders, resulting in the weight increasing the amount of lumbar extension during the lift, not to mention putting unwanted stress on the cervical spine.
The transfer of force will be altered, with the weight ending up in front of the head rather than overhead, and the lumbar spine taking the brunt of the extension needed to move the weight vertically. That range of motion has to come from somewhere and if the upper-back isn’t doing a whole lot of moving, the parts at each end of the chain will suffer.
There are two simple screens that you can do to determine if there’s sufficient extension in the thoracic spine for overhead pressing to be a fit in your program.
Option number one is to do a scapular wall slide. If you can keep your forearms, upper-back, and head against the wall throughout the movement without the arch in your lower-back increasing or your butt moving off the wall, you have enough extension in your thoracic spine to press overhead. If not, you probably have some anterior shoulder issues and lat tightness, and you also need more extension out of your t-spine.
Here’s a video of someone with sufficient t-spine extension through the wall slide.
And here’s yours truly butchering the wall slide.
Next is a simple shoulder flexion test, made popular by Eric Cressey, Mike Robertson, and Bill Hartman. Stand erect with your hands at your side and in the neutral position. From there, keep your elbows extended and raise your arms by flexing your shoulders. Have a partner watch from the side while you flex your shoulders until your arms are parallel with your ears.
Your partner should be watching for whether you can align your arms with your ears, if your rib cage sticks out more as your arms go up, and if the arch in the lower-back increases as your arms are raised. If you can’t get your arms parallel with your ears, or if your lower-back arches as your arms go up, your t-spine isn’t extending well enough. (Cressey, Hartman, & Robertson, 2009)
Here’s a solid example of the shoulder flexion test.
And a not-so-solid example.
Both these tests giving you trouble? You need to get your thoracic spine extending properly and make sure the lats have good extensibility.
The typical thoracic mobility drills and lat stretches apply. When it comes to t-spine mobility you have the quadruped extension rotations, extensions on a foam roller, and side-lying windmills. Lat stretches with a jump stretch band and the old squat rack post and lean-away also work, but there’s a great drill that hits thoracic extension and lat extensibility at the same time.
Tony Gentilcore took the time to teach me the bench thoracic extension mobilization while visiting Cressey Performance. If you’ve never tried them, you’ll feel the lat stretch and extension in your t-spine immediately.
Here’s a video of Tony Gentilcore doing the bench thoracic extension mobilization.
Continually monitor your progress by repeating the two thoracic extension tests discussed earlier (scapular wall slide and shoulder flexion test) while you include more thoracic mobility drills into your program. As you start gaining sufficient t-spine mobility you can start working overhead pressing back into your program.
Are You Setup for Impingement and Scapular Instability?
Movement at the shoulder joints is a complex operation. You could liken it to a government bureaucracy – if one guy (joint) is pissed off it can screw up the entire works. The act of pushing a barbell overhead requires effort from all the shoulder joints.
Before you start shoulder pressing we need to assess a few things:
- Excessive internal rotation at rest
- Scapular anterior tilt
- Scapular winging.
If you’ve done a considerable amount of benching throughout your training career, there’s a strong chance that at least one of these three issues is present to a certain degree. The key is to make sure that your shoulders don’t get beat down further because of them.
Internal Rotation at Rest
You need room in your glenohumeral (GH) joint to be able to vertically press and pull. Along with excessive internal rotation comes altered roll and slide mechanics within the GH joint. Impingement results from the bursa and rotator cuff tendon getting pinned beneath the acromion because the head of your humerus didn’t roll and slide properly.
If you’re excessively internally rotated at rest there isn’t going to be room for your humeral head to move within the GH joint when you try to press above your head.
An easy way to check your resting internal rotation is by using the time-proven pencil test. Hold a pencil in each hand so that most of the pencil is visible in front of your hand. Make sure that you’re relaxed and you aren’t trying to alter your normal posture in any way. Now, look down at the pencils and extend an invisible line out from each one.
In most cases, the invisible lines are going to cross at some point. But if they’d cross less than a foot to a foot and a half from your body, then you’re at a high risk for shoulder damage if you go overhead.
Scapular Anterior Tilt and Scapular Winging
Along with internal rotation, anterior tilt of the scapulae is common in lifters. It comes from tightness in the pec minor and weakness in the mid- and low-trap. It’s visible when the inferior angle of the scapula sticks out.
Anterior tilt doesn’t allow your scaps to rotate upward properly as you press overhead. Good upward rotation of the scaps while overhead pressing is necessary for healthy movement at the GH joint.
Winging of the scapulae is caused by weakness or inhibition in the serratus anterior (the muscle that holds your scaps tight to your rib cage). If the medial (closest to the spine) borders of the scapulae stick out or are prominent, you have scapular winging. This is bad when it comes to pressing overhead.
Normally, the traps, delts and serratus anterior work in a force couple to upwardly rotate the scapula as the humerus abducts and flexes at the GH joint. But if the serratus anterior, mid and low-traps are weak, upward rotation will suffer, messing with your range of motion and altering the way your shoulders move. (Neumann, 2002)
A Well-Rounded Strategy
Corrective exercise isn’t fun, but if you want to keep pushing and pulling heavy things (especially over your head), a certain amount is necessary. If you have the problems discussed above and want to keep overhead pressing, you need to take a break from it and do something preventive to keep the scalpel away.
The first step was addressing thoracic mobility. Now we have to get the serratus anterior firing, activate the mid and low-trap, and get the pec minor to relax. We also need to take care of the external rotators, as they dynamically stabilize the humeral head while the bigger muscles generate movement.
This is basic shoulder maintenance that everyone should be doing; it just so happens that problems become exacerbated with weight overhead.
Now I’ll hit you with some great drills to address the issue, followed by a sample routine that can help keep your shoulders in pressing balance. If you have specific questions shoot them on the LiveSpill.
GH Internal/External Rotation:
- Sleeper stretch with lacrosse ball
- Active pec mobilization with stick
- Lat stretch with jump stretch band
- No money drill (with or without bands)
Serratus Anterior Activation
- Forearm wall slide
- 5 count scap push-up
- Push-up plus
- Feet elevated push-ups
Mid and Lower Trap Activation
- Floor blackburns
- Band pull aparts (front, behind the neck and diagonal)
- No money drill with band
- Scapular wall slides
Here’s a sample routine.
|A||Sleeper stretch with lacrosse ball||3||5*|
|B||Active pec mobilization with stick||2||5**|
|C||Forearm wall slide||2||10|
|E||No money drill with band||2||10|
** each side
*** second hold each position
Is Your Brace Strong Enough?
One of the first things that any serious lifter should learn how to do is brace their core. I thought that I was doing a good enough job of it until Smitty (James Smith) of the Diesel Crew and Diesel Strength and Conditioning coached me up.
If your core isn’t as tight as it needs to be there’s going to be instability throughout your entire body. This can leave you with an undesirable over-extension in the lumbar spine, along with the extension issues in the t-spine. Keeping your core braced tight will not only keep you safer while lifting but will also help you push more weight.
I use four coaching cues when bracing for the overhead press: air, abs, ass, and lats.
The abs and lats steps are super important. Locking the rib cage with the abs ensures that there won’t be excessive extension in the lumbar spine. Tightening the lats helps to create a corset affect by pulling tight the thoracolumbar fascia, which will further tighten the rest of the core musculature. Of course, once you press the lats will relax a bit, but tightening them at the start helps sustain tightness through the press.
Follow those four steps and you’ll have a tightly braced core for the overhead press.
Coaching Cues for Solid Press Performance
Cue #1: Create as much tension as possible.
The goal is to create as much tension throughout your body before you lift, as more tension equals more strength. Tension starts with the hands. While I agree with other coaches that it’s advantageous to take a false grip while overhead pressing, that doesn’t mean you can’t squeeze the hell out of the bar with a full grip. You can create tension throughout the rest of your body simply by keeping everything tight and contracted.
Setting your grip wide on an overhead press isn’t necessary in most instances unless you’re training for the axel press at a strongman competition. It’s much better to keep your grip narrow (shoulder width) as it will help keep good shoulder alignment as you press.
It’s also important to get the elbows up. As discussed earlier, this helps create a lat shelf for bracing. This places the shoulders and arms in a safer, stronger pressing position.
Every press should finish with the weight directly over the head with the arms parallel to the ears. To finish in this position, the chin should be tucked and the shoulders fully flexed. “Pushing your head through” at the top of the movement can help accomplish tucking the chin and aligning the arms with the ears. It’s important to keep things simple, so one cue for two tasks makes things simpler.
Here’s a little pressing poetry in motion:
My business partner, Chris, shows us less than stellar form:
Progressing Back to the Barbell
I hope you take my advice and back off the overhead pressing with a barbell until your issues are resolved. After your hiatus, aim to get back under the bar and moving weight again with this sample progression.
|Week 1||Split Stance DB Press||4||12||Light Resistance|
|Week 2||Standing 1 Arm DB Press||3||8-10||Medium Resistance|
|Week 3||Standing 2 Arm DB Press||3||8-10||Medium Resistance|
|Week 4||Standing Barbell Press||3||8||Light Resistance|
Place this progression in your program where you’d normally barbell overhead press or as upper-body assistance work. Including other shoulder stability work such as different push-up variations during the overhead press progression is also a smart idea. Hopefully by the end your shoulders feel good and are moving well. If that’s the case, cut loose and start pressing some weight your grandma would be proud of!
Older athletes are reluctant to take it easy even though their bodies have aged – The Washington Post
Older athletes are reluctant to take it easy even though their bodies have aged
By Rebecca Leet,
Fix Your Front Squat
Why Should I Be Doing Front Squats?
- Increase depth achieved
- Improve core strength
- Activate glutes
Why You Suck At Front Squats
Your Abs Aren’t Strong Enough
Ab wheel rollouts OR Blast Strap fallouts
Suitcase deadlift OR Paloff press
Your Elbows Won’t Stay High Enough
Seated dumbbell external rotation
You Can’t Stand Tall
- PNF intercostal stretch
- Foam roller extensions
- Trap – 3 raises
Getting a Grip
- Keep the toes pointed slightly outwards, and make sure knees track in the direction the toes point
- Keep the chest up proud
- Elbows high at all times
- Hinge from the hips, and let the glutes fire to come back up
- Press through the full foot, keeping the heel on the ground
- Breathe deep on the eccentric, and hold full of air at the bottom to increase intra-abdominal pressure
- Don’t panic – the legs have loads of fight – or – flight in them. You’ll get out of the hole!
Lifters Who Should Be All Over Front Squats
Getting Out of The “Embarrassing” Category
Front squat workout
|B||Ab wheel rollout||12|
|–||Foam roller extensions||*|
|F||Trap-3 raises||12 per arm|
|–||PNF intercostal stretch|
|H||DB external rotations||12 per arm|
† see video below – be sure not to allow the feet to do anything but hang straight down to get full stimulation of the abdominals. It should look like you’re trying to pull yourself to horizontal.
‡ at a 3010 tempo
Squatting to Oblivion!
5 Superior Single Leg Exercises
Spitting in Church
- Train with increased intensity using big compound lifts.
- Lose the fat. Less fat, less estrogen. ‘Nuff said.
- Get ample rest in between training. Overtraining will also lower your Testosterone, so get more quality sleep.
- Eat more protein and don’t forget the fish oil. That stuff is almost as popular today as a rowing one-footed plank on a Swiss ball.
- Cut back on the alcohol, no matter how many red wine studies you’ve read. Up the water instead.
- Make man boobs a mortal sin instead of a funny joke or reason not to wear white Under Armor to the gym.
Perform the following deadlift workout once a week:
- Load a barbell with 60% of your deadlift 1RM and set a timer for 12 minutes.
- Perform as many single reps as possible in 12 minutes, shooting for a minimum of 20 reps.
- Each rep should be performed with maximal speed from the floor.
- Release the bar completely between reps; rest until you’re ready, and repeat.
- Once 12 minutes are up, retrieve that lung you expelled around minute 9 and record your score.
- If you weigh 200 pounds, set up 275 pounds on a flat bench press, 275 pounds on a deadlifting bar, and place a 75-pound dumbbell by the dip and chin up station.
- Hit the bench for as many reps as possible. Rest 30 seconds.
- Do the same thing with deadlifts, weighted dips, and weighted chins, and record your total number of reps for each.
- Rest five minutes and repeat for 1-2 more sets.Not only will you hit all the big muscles, you’ll get a great workout in less time – with a cardiovascular benefit, too!
Make Your Plank A Pushup Instead
Get Your Sprint On
The Fall of T
Castration in the Gym?
Kettlebells vs. Dumbbells
Bands vs. Chin-ups
Glute-Ham Raise vs. 45-Degree Back Extension
Prowler Pushes vs. Suicides
Lateral Raises vs. Shoulder Pressing
Pushdowns vs. Dips
Planks vs. Spinal Flexion
Step-ups and Split Squats vs. Squats and Deadlifts
Active Warm-Up vs. Static Stretching
80/20. Not 20/80.
I was skimming the T Nation forums the other day when I stumbled on this question:
Well, you can probably guess what happened next. The poor bastard was derided for the question and his general lack of knowledge, and ultimately told to take his ball and go dribble somewhere else.
I couldn’t help but feel a little bad for the guy. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a very insightful question, but at least he was trying.
According to his logic, dribbling is basically straightening the arm, and since a triceps extension is straightening the arm, well, you could see where he was going – although he was clearly missing a big part of the equation.
This guy needed a way of “classifying” movements, and I suspect you might need a way, too. The benefit of this isn’t merely semantics; once you can correctly classify a movement, you can then apply the proper training methodology to improve it.
I’ve divided a list of activities that many of us perform regularly into four basic types of movements. Granted, when you try generalize specific activities into broad categories there will inevitably be some overlap, but you’ll see that the majority of movements fit nicely into one of the four categories – especially those activities that we often actively strive to improve.
Once the types of movements are identified, we’ll discuss the best methodologies to improve them.
The Four Movements
1. Low Speed, Light Resistance – In this category, the participant is generating a low level of external force, which means the limb moves relatively slowly and that a low amount of force is being used to move a light resistance (or no resistance).
The prior example of a person dribbling a basketball is a low speed, light resistance activity. Other abilities include drawing, painting, typing, billiards, darts, shuffleboard, dribbling a soccer ball, shooting a basketball, juggling, putting a golf ball, and curling (not the cool kind involving the biceps, the other kind that Canadians play when they can’t get enough guys together to play hockey) also fall under this category.
2. High Speed, Light Resistance – In this category, the participant is generating a high level of external force, meaning the limb and the object both move rapidly. However, the object being moved is relatively light.
This type of activity is common to many different sports, though rarely seen in the gym. Examples of this would be pitching a baseball, swinging a baseball bat, punching something, kicking something, swinging any sort of racquet, and driving a golf ball off a tee. I’d also include sprinting in this category, particularly after the initial acceleration takes place. Sprinting involves moving your entire body – which is much heavier than some of the other resistances given – but once moving, the level of resistance provided by the body is relatively low, at least in comparison to a heavy squat or dragging a heavy sled.
3. Low Speed, Heavy Resistance – In this category, the participant is exerting effort against a heavy external resistance (heavy meaning difficult for that individual). Because the object being moved is heavy, the object’s speed is relatively slow.
This type of activity is most common in the gym. Examples of this would be lifting heavy weights, pushing a car, playing tug-of-war, wrestling someone (once you’re engaged against them), an offensive lineman attempting to drive their opponent off the line of scrimmage, arm wrestling, dragging a weighted sled, pushing the Prowler, picking up a heavy object, and resisting a heavy object’s movement (negatives).
4. High Speed, Heavy Resistance – In this category, the participant is exerting effort against a heavy external resistance, however the participant is generating enough force so that the object still moves rapidly.
The best example of this type of activity is Olympic weight lifting. Other examples would be slamming an opponent on the ground, running into and tackling someone, and putting the shot. I’m also going to include jumping and most real plyometric exercises in this category (although doing a chest press with a 4-pound medicine ball doesn’t count).
How to Improve these Activities
1. Low Speed, Light Resistance
The primary component that determines proficiency in these movements is simply one’s skill level at that activity.
I love lifting weights as much as the next meathead and resistance training does many things, but it rarely improves high-skill activities all by itself. I’m not a better painter or billiards player because I lift weights; however, that’s not to say that exercise has zero benefit to these activities.
First, you must practice, practice, and practice those activities if you wish to get better at them. If you do that AND include a basic exercise regimen, you may find that your ability in these activities is improved, although slightly (likely due to improved muscular control and increased endurance).
For example, if you play a billiards tournament but find you can’t focus or get tired by the fourth game, it’s possible that exercise may improve that ability. The more out of shape you are, the more likely exercise could have a slight positive effect.
To be clear, an exercise program alone will not develop sufficient skill for one to become proficient at low speed, light resistance activities. You don’t need to be strong or fit to draw, dribble a basketball, play billiards, or throw darts at a high level; instead, you need to devote significant time to practicing those activities. Our basketball player example simply needed to spend more time practicing dribbling and not worry about training his triceps.
2. High Speed, Light Resistance
The primary physical component that determines proficiency in these activities is speed (technically speed-strength), however, that speed must be combined with a very high level of skill as well.
Exercise will help this category of movements more than the previous category. Speed is powered by muscle, so muscles that are well trained are more likely to generate a higher rate of speed.
However, don’t make the mistake of interpreting “well trained” as just being strong. Remember, the principle of specificity holds true, so just striving to increase one’s 1RM isn’t going to cut it. InSupertraining, Mel Siff presents a fairly straightforward plan for improving speed, suggesting that an athlete training properly can increase his or her speed by up to 150%.
First, the athlete should get into shape. If the athlete is a novice weight trainer, almost any form of basic training will be appropriate and should yield results. I’ve improved many a client’s golf drive by 20 yards or more by simply having them exercise with weights, without doing any sort of “golf specific” fitness activity. The good news is that almost any program will do, the bad news is that after about three months or so those gains will likely peter out.
Here, we turn to Siff’s advice; he suggests that to improve maximal speed against light loads, one should use the following guidelines:
Unfortunately, Siff doesn’t give specific set and rep suggestions, but he does suggest that the training mimic the demands of the activity as best as possible. This would mean if you’re training for a knockout punch or to hit a homerun, you’d use few consecutive reps (1-3), but most likely would perform many sets.
If you were training to put together a flurry of punches or to sprint faster, then you’d use higher reps (roughly 5-15) and fewer total sets.
If your activity requires high speed while fatigued, then training when fatigued can be useful, otherwise generally train speed-strength when relatively fresh.
Of course, you’re trying to train the muscles involved in the activity of choice, but please don’t try to precisely mimic the sporting activity you’re attempting to improve. This will likely alter the neural pattern and may well decrease performance in that activity, even if your performance in the gym increases.
In other words, don’t be that guy who hooks his golf club up to a 40-pound kettlebell and then swings it with everything he’s got, all while standing on a Bosu ball. Not only will you look dumb, it’s actually making you a worse golfer.
A Quick Jab of Common Sense
I should point out something about strength and the power of unloaded movements, so let’s use punching as a specific example.
As a powerlifter, as much as it pains me to say, there’s generally no correlation between maximal strength as represented by one’s 1RM in the gym and unloaded power generation (punching power).
No correlation doesn’t mean a negative correlation (which would mean a high bench press indicates poor punching strength), it just means there’s no correlation; you can’t predict punching strength based on bench press strength. A 400 pound bench presser might have awesome punching power, but that person could also have poor punching power – there simply isn’t a connection between the two.
While that might be a slightly bitter pill for the weight training community to swallow, it should line up with what we see in real life. The strongest punches are delivered by boxers, MMA fighters, and classic martial arts practitioners – people who punch for a living – not bodybuilders, powerlifters, or guys that boast about using every bow on their wife’s Bowflex machine.
3. Low Speed, Heavy Resistance
In these activities strength is king, and they’re the most improved by resistance training. Of course, there’s much debate as to what exactly is the “best” type of resistance program to increase this ability, but everybody agrees it involves resistance training.
Be it a Westside program, Sheiko, Smolov, Starting Strength, HIT, a classic bodybuilding split, 5/3/1, you name it; the main goals of these programs are to increase strength that can be expressed by moving heavy objects. Powerlifting and most strongman events are tests of this ability.
The textbook answer to improve strength is to train with a heavy weight (60% of the 1RM or better, often using 85%+), use low reps (1-6 reps), take relatively long breaks in between sets (2-5 minutes to allow reasonable recovery), and to perform a reasonable volume of work (2-6 work sets per exercise).
A simple search of TNation’s archives will yield a wealth of training information on this subject, just remember that in this type of movement it’s all about getting strong and then applying that strength with good technique.
4. High Speed, Heavy Resistance
The primary physical component here is power. To express power, the activity must be performed rapidly – you can’t demonstrate power slowly.
Strength is a key part of power, particularly when using heavier loads. If you’re weak, you can only lift so much. If you can’t deadlift 315 lbs., you obviously can’t clean 315 lbs., and in general larger muscles are able to generate higher levels of force.
But it’s not all about muscle and pure strength. Strength can be expressed slowly. Watch a powerlifter perform a true 1RM on the bench press and you’ll likely see the bar slowly creep up. Chances are you could stop the movement of the bar with just one hand if you wanted to really piss a lifter off.
Now watch a heavy clean or jerk. The bar moves fast. With high-speed exercises, you must teach your body to explode into the resistance; in technical terms you’re trying to recruit all of your motor units at once to work for you (explosive strength). The difference in strength and power is often a matter of milliseconds, but those milliseconds are important.
With most power exercises, the lifter has .2 seconds or less to generate power, whereas strength exercises can last up to a second or more. If most of a lifter’s strength comes at the latter end of that curve, say .8 seconds and beyond, then a significant amount of their strength will be left untapped in power-related activities. The lifter won’t have .8 seconds to express their strength against a clean or against the ground when jumping, so that extra strength will not be of much use in those examples.
As with strength training, there is considerable debate as to how to best train to improve power. Most experts believe that the lifter should lift rapidly on the majority of exercises. Technique is very important in high speed, high resistance exercises and a large emphasis should be placed on learning and maintaining proper technique.
Generally, if you want to improve your power we should turn to the most powerful athletes, namely Olympic lifters, and see how they train. The textbook answer is to use a moderately heavy weight (70-90% 1RM, taking a little bit off to improve speed), low reps (1-5 reps per set, often just 1-3), a reasonable number of sets per exercise (3-5 work sets per exercise, sometimes up to 10 sets), and incorporate a reasonable amount of rest time in between sets to facilitate recovery (2-5 minutes).
For the most part, compound exercises that incorporate as many muscles/joints as possible should be used, and these exercises should be able to be performed rapidly. Examples include the snatch, clean, jerk, push press, high pulls, and power shrugs, with reasonable assistance work including the squat, front squat, overhead squat, deadlift, and standing press. High speed, high resistance activities require a combination of power, skill, speed, strength, and often flexibility to execute well.
Wrap It Up
I make no claim that this article is groundbreaking or even terribly original, but regardless, this information is imperative to making gains in your chosen activity – not to mention, it could save you or those you work with tremendous time and effort in the gym.
Exercise is hard, and who wants to toil away for months or even years building abilities that have negligible carryover to the activity we’re trying to improve?
Arm yourself with this knowledge and hit the gym with confidence that the results will show themselves in your chosen activity. Or, you could just climb aboard a Bosu ball and start swinging that golf club attached to a kettlebell. It’s up to you.