Category Archives: Mike Robertson

Deadlifts: Which Type is Best For You?

Deadlifts: Which Type is Best For You?
Which type of deadlift is best?
Trap bar? Conventional? Sumo?
I get this question almost daily. And like most training questions, the best answer typically is, “it depends.”
But when that won’t suffice, here are my follow-up questions:

Once you start answering those questions, we can start to figure out which type of deadlift is best for you.

The Big Assumption(s)

I’m going to make two big assumptions:

  1. When discussing the trap bar deadlift, we’ll focus on how most people perform it: high handles, hips down, more dorsiflexion, and a more upright torso.
  2. When discussing the conventional deadlift, we’ll focus on how most people perform it: hips high, minimal dorsiflexion, and a much more bent-over torso.

I’ve seen people trap bar deadlift with no dorsiflexion, a vertical tibia, and using all glutes and hams, and I’ve seen people who start their conventional deadlift with their thighs parallel to the ground.
Looking at all the possible variations would be ridiculous, so we have to use a few generalizations to get everyone on the same page.

Mobility Needs

Deadlifts: Which Type is Best For You?
Experienced powerlifters aside, I want lifters to deadlift with a neutral spine or flat back. One of the biggest issues we see when deadlifting is that many lifters don’t have adequate mobility to deadlift safely and effectively because they can’t get into an initial neutral spine posture.
For this reason, coupled with the fact that very few people can hip hinge and load their hamstrings effectively, we start most clients off with a Romanian deadlift.
From there, the trap bar deadlift is an ideal progression. The high handles minimize mobility demands while still allowing the lifter to learn the deadlifting pattern within their functional range.
This makes sense – high handled trap bar deadlifts are almost like a rack pull. But what comes next, sumo or conventional?
The sumo deadlift is easier for most lifters to learn. This may not be how they end up handling the most weight, but many will have an easier time getting into position on a sumo deadlift than a conventional one. The major limiting factor here will be .
A big component of this is also . To get into a flat back position on a conventional deadlift, you not only need a tremendous amount of hip mobility, but also hamstring strength. If your hamstrings aren’t strong, chances are you’ll turtle up and start from a horrible low back position.

Less Mobility Mobility Demands
Trap Bar Sumo Conventional

Anterior or Posterior Chain

I hate the question, 
Which is why I typically answer with something like, 
When most people trap bar deadlift, it’s like a reverse squat. There’s a lot of dorsiflexion at the ankles and the spine is very upright, and as a result they get considerable quad and anterior chain development.
The conventional deadlift is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Most have a tendency to shove their hips way back, incline their torso to a much greater degree, and start with their hips much farther back from the bar.
The end result is a tremendous exercise for building the entire backside of the body (glutes, hamstrings, and spinal erectors).
The sumo deadlift really is a hybrid between the two. Your hips start closer to the bar (especially if you think about pushing your knees out to get to the bar, versus pushing your hips back), and you’re also much more upright.
In the end, the sumo gives you this weird blend of quad, glutes, hamstring, some lower back, and even some adductors.

Anterior Chain Posterior Chain
Trap Bar Sumo Conventional

Stress on the Spine

Deadlifts: Which Type is Best For You?

Another quote likely disregarded by T Nation readers for years. While we’re busy paying our dues and getting bigger, leaner, or stronger, these people are reading trusted fitness resources like MSN and Yahoo to keep them firmly entrenched on the treadmill to mediocrity.
Still, there’s definitely a risk/reward trade off when it comes to deadlifting – but if there was no risk and all reward, everyone would be peacocking around with Inflated Lat Syndrome and a 500-pound pull to back it up.
Let’s get one thing straight: Your lumbar vertebrae are pretty friggin’ huge and are meant to deal with compressive forces. Compression is just like it sounds – when your vertebrae and discs are pushed closer together vertically, that’s compression.
And anything you do will result in some compression. Simply tensing your abs and lower back muscles will result in compression, not just loading your spine vertically (as in a squat).
The key distinction here is load. The more load you have, the more compressive forces on your spine.
Let me be clear:  There are positions that are far more worrisome to me than compression.
Shear force is where many get into trouble. Shear forces occur whenever the torso is inclined to a high degree. As we bend over (or hip hinge), our vertebrae have a tendency to drift or slide forward on one another.
Unfortunately, most people don’t tolerate shear forces very well. One of the biggest reasons is they simply don’t have a good strategy to deal with it – they have no anterior core, no glutes, and no hamstrings, so their only strategy is to arch the low back as hard as possible.
In doing so, they combine compression  shear, thereby grinding their spine into a fine powder. It’s about this time that I hand them my business card and tell them to call me when the time is right.
The more upright we are, the less shear we have to deal with. This is why someone predisposed to back pain can often get away with front squats yet back squats causes them pain or discomfort.
Regarding the deadlift, these lifters will probably do better with either a trap bar or sumo style lift, at least in the short-term, to reduce shear forces.

Less Shear Force More Shear Force
Trap Bar Sumo Conventional

Deadlifts for Reps?

I hate performing deadlifts for reps.
There’s really no two ways around it – anything over three reps of deadlifts feels like torture, or at the very least, cardio.
In fact, I modified  on the deadlift day, switching it to 3-2-1, because I thought I might die on the 5’s day – even when using quite a bit below my 1-RM.
Somewhere in Texas, Jim is laughing his ass off and thinking I’m just barely NOV.
If working with a fat loss or physique-focused client, higher-rep sets of deadlifts are something to consider. But I wouldn’t be a very good “corrective” or “rehab” guy if I got my clients injured a lot, and I know doing higher-rep sets of deadlifts is like playing with fire.
For that reason alone, I do my best to keep clients out of precarious positions. On sumo and conventional deads, I rarely (if ever) prescribe more than five reps per set.
But on a trap bar deadlift, though, I’ll often go as high as 10-15 reps in a set, especially if the end goal is fat loss.
I’m just a lot more comfortable as a coach with the upright posture and less technical nature of the trap bar, which allows for more wiggle room.
Feel free to make your own decisions here, but I firmly believe this is the way to go.

Best Choice Worst Choice
Trap Bar Conventional & Sumo


Deadlifts: Which Type is Best For You?
We can talk about joint stresses, mobility needs, anterior versus posterior chain and what not, but at the end of the day, what really matters is how awesome you look deadlifting.
For the record, I pull sumo. I do this partly because it’s the way I was taught, and partly because it feels the most natural to me.
I also realize that some people call this “cheater style,” and it’s not as awesome as hoisting a monster deadlift conventional style. I’m okay with that – my best pull is 545 and was done at a bodyweight of 180.6, getting me into that exclusive 3x/body weight club.
However, one of my pet peeves now is people’s obsession with the trap bar. Here’s my two cents on the matter.
I only use the trap bar if:

  • The client doesn’t care how much they deadlift.
  • The client is an athlete and I deem the risk: reward to be too great to use other styles.
  • They don’t currently have the mobility to sumo or conventional deadlift with a neutral spine.
  • Their primary goal is fat loss.

If your goal is to be big and strong, learn how to sumo or conventional deadlift with good technique.
Because honestly, anyone who lifts heavy stuff doesn’t care how much you trap bar deadlift. (Insert smiley-face.)

Lame Totally Awesome
Trap Bar Sumo Conventional

A great question, and I’m pretty sure there’s no great answer.
I know a lot of super strong guys that pull conventional in meets but pull sumo in the off-season, claiming it brings up their weak points.
In fact, I just had this discussion a few weeks back with Jeremy Hartmann, a 220-pound lifter who has pulled 788 in competition. He pulls conventional in meets but does a lot of sumo pulling in the gym.

For instance, if you typically pull conventional with the hips starting high, you’re used to smoking weights off the floor and struggling at lockout.
In contrast, someone who pulls sumo with a lower hips position is used to struggling with weights off the floor, but anything that breaks the floor is getting locked out.
In this case, it’s not so much that they’re using an alternate style, .
Mike Tuscherer once told me that you pick your poison when deadlifting. Either you get your ass down, chest up, and struggle off the floor, or you round over to get the bar rolling off the floor and struggle at the top.
If it comes down to specificity, you’re going to see a high transfer between trap bar and sumo deadilfts, or between sumo deadlifts and conventional deadlifts.
The differences between the trap bar and conventional deadlift are a little bit too big to see massive carryover, but nobody said it couldn’t work for you.

And I’m Out

Deadlifts: Which Type is Best For You?
There’s no shortage of deadlifting articles at T Nation, and for good reason – the deadlift is many a strong guy’s favorite lift. I think even the most diehard deadlift fan will appreciate this concise breakdown on the similarities and differences between the trap bar, sumo, and conventional deadlifts.
The question is, will they agree? Good or bad, I await your comments in the LiveSpill.

5 Simple Tips for Bigger Tugs

5 Simple Tips for Bigger Tugs

I remember the first time I deadlifted “heavy.”
Granted, I’d pulled what I thought was heavy before, but I’m talking about my first legit grinding, eyeball-popping, “I’m glad I didn’t wear those white shorts Grandma got me for Christmas” kind of a pull.
It was October of 2000, and I was gearing up for my first powerlifting meet. It was also the first semester in my Masters program, so we had to train at six in the morning. Needless to say, this isn’t the optimal time for neurally demanding lifting!
Powerlifting seemed like a great fit since I was no longer active in any organized sports and I needed an outlet for my competitive juices. Although I had no clue what I was getting into, I knew I wanted to get stronger and learn more about lifting technique.
On this particular day, the goal was to determine what a good opening weight would be in our meet. I’d done a set of five at either 275 or 285, so I figured 335 would come up lightning fast.
It didn’t. Sure, I grinded it out, but “easy” wasn’t the word that first came to mind.
I learned a powerful lesson that day: deadlifting heavy is hard friggin’ work. It separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls, and the serious lifters from the cable curl kids.
If you’re serious about your training and your physique, then the deadlift is an animal you need to tame. This article will help you do just that.
Here are five tips to help you take your pull to all-new levels.

1. Get Your Lats Tight!

Possibly the most common mistake I see when deadlifts get heavy is the bar drifting away from the body.
Many lifters assume that a deadlift is just picking the bar straight up, but this isn’t effective! As you pile on the plates, you need to think about and so that your weight shifts backward slightly.
If you find your lats are too weak, start performing some heavy upper back work, specifically vertical pulls (chinning/pulling) and horizontal pulls (rowing). Doing so will not only improve your pulls but also increase the thickness of your back, and probably bump up your bench press to boot.
This tip alone is worth the price of admission. Keeping the bar in tight helps ensure every pull is smooth and efficient.

2. Get Your Hips Down

Lifters often miss deadlifts because their lift is 100% lower back dominated.
We walk a fine line here. You don’t want the hips down too low – this isn’t a squat – but if there’s virtually no knee bend and the lift looks like two distinct motions (hips shoot up, lower back finishes), you need to get your hips down more.
The best deadlifters in the world make it look smooth. Their torso angle starts in a certain position and they get enough leg drive to keep their hips underneath them. It’s much easier to finish the weight this way than if you’re totally hunched over and reliant on your lower back.
The down side? Your weights are going to go down, at least for the time being.
However, in the long run, getting your hips down will not only give you more leg drive, it will also keep your back healthier. This is a true win-win.

3. Strengthen Those Hamstrings!

5 Simple Tips for Bigger Tugs

There’s no way you’re going to pull a ridiculously heavy weight if your hamstrings resemble over-stretched dental floss. The question is, what kind of hamstring assistance work is going to drive up your deadlift to newfound heights?
If you miss at the top, you’re probably weak in the hip extensor function of the hamstrings. To bring this up, focus on big-bang assistance lifts like good mornings, Romanian deadlifts, safety bar good mornings, and the like.
If you miss in the bottom, focus on developing the knee flexor function of the hamstrings. Start with ball leg curls to develop the pattern of maintaining hip extension while simultaneously flexing the knee, but eventually glute-ham raises should be a big part of your program. There’s simply so substitute for them.

4. Mix it Up

Specificity is critical if you want to move maximal weights in any lift.
For instance, if you want to squat a lot, you need to squat a lot. If you want to bench a lot, you need to bench a lot.
In other words, you need to practice how you play!
The deadlift is a slightly different animal. Even if you never have aspirations of lifting in powerlifting gear, employing chains and/or bands into your training can pay dividends and help you set some PR’s along the way.
When using chains or bands, you’ve got two options:
  • Lifting against the bands or chains
  • Lifting with the bands.
I’m sure some of you are wondering, “I’ve never used these before. How can I work them into my training?”
I’ve found two types of mesocycles with bands and chains to be effective:
The first option is a two-week rotation. This is a good choice if you’re already an experienced deadlifter, or if you need to rotate your exercises a bit more frequently.
In this case, pick one exercise and use it for two weeks. It looks something like this:

Exercise: Deadlifts against bands

In this variation you’ll simply swap exercises every two weeks. So for two weeks you’ll perform deadlifts against bands, and then the next two-week cycle you’ll pull against chains, or with bands, etc.
The key with this option is to not max out every other week. It will be tempting, but I suggest only going for a legitimate PR every 2-3 months.
For those less experienced with bands/chains or who need a bit more time to “learn” an exercise, here’s a better option. We’ll stick with our example of deadlifting against bands.
Using this method you’ll simply rotate from month-to-month, or mesocycle to mesocycle.
Your months might look like this:
Finish month #4 with a taper, and then test your pull. Chances are if your technique is on point and you’ve picked good assistance exercises, you’re going to set a serious PR!

5. Don’t be Afraid to Grind!

5 Simple Tips for Bigger Tugs

One of my biggest pet peeves is when new or young lifters fail to stick with a lift.
Look, there are times when you need to know when to bail. If the bar gets out in front of you, you’re horribly rounded over, or the weight is just too damn heavy, fine.
But what irritates me to no end is when someone hits the sticking point, holds the weight there for .23 seconds, and then drops the weight.
Look, if deadlifting heavy were easy, everyone would do it. Instead, you’ve got to learn how to grind.
Want to know what a grinder really looks like? Here’s my training partner Lil’ Stevie. He’ll teach ya how to grind!
This weight was just too much. Sometimes it happens. But he can walk away from that attempt knowing he gave it everything he had, and next time around, that weight will be his.
Hopefully you can say the same thing.


In no way was this list meant to be all-inclusive – I could probably come up with another 10, 15, even 25 tips to improve your deadlift without breaking a sweat. But these five are my all-time favorite tricks for adding pounds to your pull today!
Take a moment to review these tips and see where your tugging game may be lacking. Then, leave your own favorite deadlifting tip in the “Comments” section below. I look forward to seeing what’s worked for you!


The Truth About Single-Leg Training

The Truth About Single-Leg Training
BY Mike Robertson

Single-leg training is all the rage in the fitness industry. It seems as though everyone is touting its unilateral praises.
The worst of the worst are the clowns who act like they’ve been on the singe-leg bandwagon since Jimmy Carter carried his own golf clubs. They boast and brag about how long it’s been since they or their athletes have done a bilateral exercise like somehow it’s a testament to their skill as coaches.
Let’s get biases out of the way up front. I like single-leg training. I think it can benefit athletes and lifters of all shapes and sizes.
Baseball player? Yep.
Distance runner? Sure.
Elite-level powerlifter? Absolutely. I even created the Single-Leg Solution DVD and manual to explain all the ins and outs of single-leg training. So I’m hardly a single-leg hater.
Instead, let’s focus on the biggest reason that single-leg training can help you achieve your goals, whether they’re strength or physique focused.
It all comes down to stability.

Squats or Leg Presses?

The Truth About Single-Leg Training
How many reading this can squat more than you can leg press?
Even if you can squat 600 pounds for breakfast, I’ll bet you can lie down on any leg press machine in the world and probably move several hundred pounds more than that.
The reason is stability, and lots of it.
In a free squat exercise (front, back, basically anything other than a Smith machine), your body is required to develop a tremendous amount of internal stability.
Your hips are trying to control your knees so they don’t cave in. Your core and torso are working tremendously hard to keep your chest up and your back flat. You’re using a ton of muscle just to stabilize and support the weight, let alone move it up and down!
In contrast, on a leg press you have a ton of built-in, external stability.
You have a built-in core, as your entire lower back is supported. You don’t even need to use your torso as much because it’s not supporting the weight to the same degree as you would in a squat.
The sled also minimizes hip and knee stability, as all you have to do is hop in and push the weight up and down.
So this is a great lesson in stability – the more external stability you have, the more prime mover activation you can achieve.

Less Stability More Stability
More Stabilizer Activity Less Stabilizer Activity
Less Prime Mover Activation More Prime Mover Activation

In contrast, the less external stability you have, or the more unstable you are, the more stabilizer activity you elicit as your body is just trying to keep you upright.

Bilateral or Unilateral?

Now, let’s take this example and apply it to bilateral versus unilateral lifts.
Stability demands are obviously in play in a squat, which we’ve discussed. But in any lift, you have what’s called a base of support (BOS). A general definition for BOS is the area underneath and between both feet.
Think about multi-ply powerlifting for a moment. These guys are masters of efficiency and gear use. How do they squat?
They go extra wide, not only to maximize the gear use, but to give them a tremendous base of support. This is important if you want to handle maximal weights because a wider BOS means more stability and more stability means more prime mover activation.
Now, let’s take that wide base of support and move it in; and not just a little like a narrow squat, but a step further into a split-stance position like a lunge.
Notice that your base of support just got a hell of a lot smaller?

Small BOS Large BOS
Single-Leg Exercise Split-Stance Exercise Traditional Squat Powerlifting Squat

And that’s just a split-stance exercise! Think about how small your BOS is when you perform true single-leg work like single-leg RDL’s, step-ups, or single-leg squats?
As you can see, it’s a tradeoff. The more stable you are, the more prime mover activation you get, and the less stable you are, the more stabilizer activation you get.
Which leads me to my main point for this entire article:

I’m not talking about using baby weights. What I’m saying is that if you’re doing single-leg work with a ton of weight, falling all over the place, and making yourself look like an idiot, you need to check your ego at the door and do it right.
You wouldn’t put one plate on each side of the leg press to get more stabilizer activity. If you did, you’d be using the wrong tool for the wrong job. If you’re going to leg press, the goal is to go heavy and build some steel wheels.

You don’t have to use 10-pound dumbbells, but you just might, if that’s what it takes to stay stable and build some internal stability.

The Powerlifting Example

The Truth About Single-Leg Training
I’ve been lucky in that over the past year I’ve done a lot of work with the guys over at Elite. Needless to say, these are some of the strongest humans in the world (if you can consider anyone who squats a grand a human) and it’s an honor to work with them.
When I evaluate many of them, it’s crazy. Obviously they’re big and stiff, which allows them to move a ton of weight, but these guys are incredibly “stuck” in their gear. Even when they don’t have gear on, it looks like they have gear on.
Their hips are abducted and externally rotated, their hip internal rotation is shot, and due to all their time in a wide-stance and in gear, their hip stability is really bad.
This is a difficult idea for some to get their head around. How can a guy that big be unstable?
Just because you’re strong doesn’t mean you’re inherently stable, especially if you’re getting much of your stability from supportive gear and manipulating biomechanics.
One of the first things I do with these guys is to get them on a regular soft-tissue and mobility routine, just to get them some basic movement capacity. And if they’re in the off-season, I absolutely get them doing some single-leg work, even if it’s only one or two exercises per week.
The results speak for themselves. These guys often report feeling “healthier” and having fewer aches and pains while also hitting PR’s in their following meet.
I didn’t do anything to improve their strength, like write up a circa max or block periodization program for their squat. Instead, I gave them more internal stability, so that when they go wide and throw the gear back on, their prime movers can engage even harder than before.
It’s like taking a Ferrari and giving it the ultimate tune-up. A super powerful sports car just got even more awesome!

Are split-squats and single-leg work better?
Shouldn’t we just be squatting heavy?
Can I do leg presses instead of squats?
It’s like asking which is better between a hammer, a wrench, and a screwdriver. They’re all important, and each one has value in certain situations. All it really comes down to is your needs and goals. The more external stability you have, the more prime mover activation you can get.
Want to know why some bodybuilders spend so much time on machines? Because they don’t give a rat’s ass about being functional. It’s about building a muscular physique. And machine-based training is a surefire way to build your prime movers to a high degree.
Powerlifters, Olympic lifters, and athletes squat because they get a strong carryover to their sports. There’s no better way to get strong than heavy squats and deadlifts.
Single-leg work absolutely plays a role as well. I don’t think you’re going to become a monster by focusing solely on your step-up and split-squat for the next 10 years, but you can definitely improve your stability and performance by incorporating them into your program.
I’m over debating which one is “superior.” I really don’t care. You’re free to do and train however you want. If something helps you achieve your goals, good for you. The goal (at least for me and my athletes) is simple: To be able to train hard and stay healthy, for as long as possible.

And I’m Out

My hope is after reading this mini-rant/diatribe that you have a better understanding of how single-leg training can improve your physique and performance.
In the end, the goal is to maximize stability so when you go back to the heavy bilateral stuff, you’re going heavier than before and achieving new PR’s. It may not be the Holy Grail of training technique, but intelligent use of single-leg work can absolutely take your strength and physique to the next level.
Good luck, and please post your comments, be they positive or negative, in the LiveSpill!Wikio

Long Live the Overhead Press

Long Live the Overhead Press

Long Live the Overhead Press

Overhead pressing should be a staple in almost everyone’s workouts. Unfortunately, some people can’t overhead press pain-free, period.
I know I’m going to catch some flack. “But Mike, back in the day guys overhead pressed all the time and never had shoulder issues. What gives?”
I hate to break it to you, but a lot has happened since then.
Computers. Gaming. More driving. And a much more sedentary lifestyle. These things have greatly affected our ability to not only overhead press, but often to just reach overhead!
Look, I think overhead pressing is awesome. I’d rejoice in a world where everyone could do it safely and effectively, building the kind of superhero deltoids that any pro-level bodybuilder would be proud to sport.
But for many that’s not the case. If you’re serious about training, and not just getting strong but staying healthy and doing it for a long time, you need to be qualified to overhead press.

An Anatomy Primer

Let’s quickly discuss the pertinent anatomy involved. Effective overhead movement begins and ends with the thoracic spine. Quite simply, if you’re in an excessively kyphotic or “slouched” shoulder position, there’s no way you’re going to safely press overhead.
When the thoracic spine is excessively kyphotic, it places the scapulae in a poor position. Instead of being tucked down and back a bit, it’s forced to ride up higher on the ribcage. This forward drawn position also narrows the subacromial space, which will force you to impinge sooner.
(Granted, there’s some degree of “impingement” any time you press overhead. The real issue is when your mechanics are off and this impingement becomes excessive, problematic, or causes pain.)
Finally, by being excessively kyphotic you lose the ability to fully flex the shoulder.

Long Live the Overhead Press

Try this right now.

  • Slump forward while sitting at your computer.
  • Reach up as high overhead as you can. Note how high you get.
  • Now, sit up as straight as you can and repeat the test.

Chances are your shoulder range of motion improved dramatically. You just learned how important the thoracic spine is!
Quality overhead movement goes further than just the t-spine. You also need quality upward rotation of the scapulae. The upper traps, lower traps, and serratus anterior all play a role in promoting upward rotation.
Finally, a strong rotator cuff will help depress the humeral head and position it appropriately in the glenoid fossa.
To summarize, you need three things to overhead press well:

  • Adequate thoracic spine extension.
  • Adequate upward rotation of the scapulae.
  • A strong and stable rotator cuff.

There are three types of acromions, and they’re roughly distributed between thirds of the population. In other words, 1/3 of you have a Type 1, another 1/3 have a Type 2, and the final 1/3 have a Type 3.
Check out the picture below:

Long Live the Overhead Press

I’m a huge believer in mechanics. You can’t “fix” your anatomy, but you can absolutely take an active role in improving your movement. Some people may not be the most genetically blessed to overhead press safely and effectively, but you’ll never really know unless you take the necessary time to fix your mechanics.
That said, let’s look at some things you can implement in your program immediately to qualify yourself to overhead press.

Moving and Shaking with the T-Spine

Long Live the Overhead Press

The t-spine is a driver to the rest of the upper body. If your t-spine is out of whack or in poor alignment, it throws off everything else down the kinetic chain.
Poor t-spine extension may not necessarily manifest itself in shoulder issues, either. I’ve seen many people with crappy t-spine mobility compensate by excessively arching and compressing the hell out of their lower back. Either way, your lack of t-spine motion will cost you.
Best case? Your performance suffers. Worst case? You end up seriously injured.
To get the t-spine in better alignment, I like a multi-pronged approach.

  • Behavior modification.
  • Specific mobility drills.
  • Skewed programming.

Let’s examine each.
Behavior modification is easy. If you sit all day long, you need to improve the position in which you sit. Sounds simple, right?
When you read that, did you just adjust your posture? Did you sit up a bit taller?
I’m assuming you did, and that’s fine. What we need is a subtle cue that you can use throughout the day to get tons of these little “corrections.”
While paying the new kid in accounting 10 bucks a day to jab you with a cattle prod every time he sees you slumping at your desk may be effective, it likely isn’t practical, so I have a more tech-savvy approach.
I’m assuming you have a cellphone with a timer on it. If not, go to any department store and pick up a cheap kitchen timer. Whenever you’re working at a desk, driving your car, gaming, etc., set the timer for 15 minutes. When the timer goes off, check your posture and if it ain’t kosher, fix it.
Once you’ve done that, start the timer up again and repeat this process throughout the day. So if you work a standard eight-hour shift, and you correct your posture four times every hour, that’s 32 postural corrections every workday!
Does this excite anyone else or is it just me?
In all seriousness, this is a simple but critical step. If you want to improve your t-spine posture, get serious about fixing it throughout the day.
Next, mobility drills are key. You need a blend of thoracic spine extension, and thoracic spine rotation.
For extension, there’s nothing better than working to wrap your upper back over a foam roller pre-workout. It’s like what I predict a date with Lindsay Lohan will be in 2013, cheap, easy, and effective.

Once you have more extension, it’s time to get more rotation. Concerning the t-spine, extension is the key that unlocks rotation. If you can’t extend, you sure as heck won’t be able to rotate well!
One of my favorite drills to unlock t-spine rotation is the quadruped extension-rotation.
Start off in the quadruped position and place the fingertips of one hand behind your head. From here, take your elbow down towards the opposite side knee, and then reverse the motion and “open up” towards the ceiling. I find that using the head and eyes as a driver really helps with the motion.

You can use these movements pre-workout as well as before bed, or within a “mini-mobility” circuit that you perform on off days.

Scapular Upward Rotation

Long Live the Overhead Press

Once the t-spine is in proper alignment, we need the upward rotators to be on point so they can help “drive” the scapulae into the correct position.
As mentioned, the upper traps, lower traps, and serratus anterior all play a role in upward rotation. It’s very rare to find a truly “weak” upper trap, so let’s focus on the other two muscle groups.
The lower traps are not only involved in upward rotation of the scapulae, but in scapular depression (think about tucking your shoulder blades into your back pockets).
Similarly, push-ups not only upwardly rotate the scapulae, but protract them (think about gliding them around your rib cage towards the front of your body).
What you often see in gyms are guys and gals trying in vain to “activate” these muscles.
Fortunately, there are non-sissy options for developing both the lower traps and serratus, and they’re exercises you may already be incorporating into your routine. The key, however, is doing them with precision and focusing on the little things that most trainees gloss over.
For the lower traps, I’ve found nothing better than chin-up and pull-up variations. However, most people take that term “chin-up” too literally. I almost prefer the term “chest-up” as your goal should be to get your chest/collarbone to the bar.
As you’re approaching the midpoint (top) of each repetition, think about keeping your chest out and pulling the shoulder blades down into your back pocket.

This is true scapular depression, and for many, those last 2-3 inches of getting to the bar will be incredibly difficult. If this is the case, don’t let your ego get in the way –try either a chin-up ISO, or a band-assisted chin-up to ensure you can get to that top position.

Push-ups are cut from a similar cloth. Many know about the benefits of doing push-ups, but there’s one subtle thing most miss out on.
When performing push-ups, folks rarely finish the rep. In other words, they don’t exaggerate pushing their body away from the floor. I almost hate the name “push-up plus.” I want everyone doing the “plus” at the end of their push-up, as that’s what really develops the serratus.
When performed correctly, you should feel a burn along the side of your ribcage. Many will confuse this with the lats, but it’s really the serratus doing the work.
Furthermore, don’t feel constrained to simply doing push-ups with body weight. There are many awesome push-up variations such as X-vest push-ups, band-resisted push-ups, and of course, chain push-ups. (Deep down, we all know that any time you use chains, you’re immediately more badass.)

If overhead pressing just isn’t happening for you, make these lifts a priority over the next 2-3 months. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the result.

A Strong, Stable ‘Cuff

The final component to safely pressing overhead is a strong and stable rotator cuff.
People assume far too often that if they do some internal and external rotations at the end of their workout that they’re somehow free and clear of any shoulder pain.
The rotator cuff is much more dynamic than people give it credit for. Instead of focusing on basic rotation exercises, your goal should be to get more integrated in your approach. The goal is to get your ‘cuff to naturally or reflexively turn on when it’s supposed to, so it can put the humeral head in the right position.
Rather than finding 50 more external rotation variations, try these two exercises below.

A final option is to just setup several med balls next to each other and “walk” across them using your hands. This is incredibly taxing on the rotator cuff and integrates the core to boot!

One Last Thing

I know some of you will incorporate these tools into your program and then immediately want to throw down a PR overhead press. Please don’t do this!
It’s much wiser to ease back into overhead pressing. For example, start with a single-arm, neutral grip overhead press to start. This will get your core engaged, open up that subacromial space, and get you back into pressing without killing yourself the first workout.
From there, use a two-dumbbell variation (still with a neutral grip), or even go back to a more standard grip for a month.

Once you’ve worked your way through that progression, test the waters with a barbell and see where you stand.


Long Live the Overhead Press

Although it warms my heart to see the sheer awesomeness of the overhead press finally being recognized, it unfortunately isn’t a lift that certain populations can do safely or effectively.
For those who qualify to press overhead, I wish you all the best in your efforts to fill out your sport coats. For those who don’t quite measure up, there are other methods you should explore before hoisting the heavy iron to the ceiling.
Got a question or comment? Leave them in the LiveSpill and I’ll do my best to help you out!


>Fact vs. Fiction: The Truth about Training Frequency


by Mike Robertson – 4/27/2011
Training frequency is a hotly debated topic.

Some say that if you train more often than once a fortnight, you’ll overtrain and your nervous system will explode. Others say that if you aren’t training six, eight, or even ten or more times per week, there’s no way you’re going to see progress.

For most, the best approach lies somewhere in the middle. Let’s start off with an example to help illustrate my point.

Off The Grid

A few weeks back, one of my online training clients went “off the grid,” and decided he would pull on a Monday. It wasn’t ridiculously heavy, but the work sets ended up somewhere around 80% of his 1-RM. The next day (the day he was supposed to deadlift), his workout absolutely sucked.

Other than failing to adhere to my program, what was the biggest issue here?

Here’s the first rule of training frequency: Your body is amazingly adept at recovering from whatever training load it’s used to. If you’re used to training once every five days, your body gets used to that. It likes training once every five days.

On the contrary, if you’re an elite athlete, you may train twice per day, six days per week. If you’re used to training 12 times per week, your body gets used to that as well.

Now let’s break this down a bit further.

The Frequency Question

At the end of the day, it’s not a question of how often you can train. The real question is how much training can you recover from? There are two key components to training: Stimulating the muscle/nervous system to elicit an adaptation (fat loss, muscle gain, strength gain, etc.), and being able to recover from it.

Before we talk training, let’s focus on the other side of the equation that no one wants to discuss – recovery.

Too many people assume that stress is solely relegated to what they do in the gym. In other words, they think the only stress that influences their recovery is the masochist workouts they put themselves through.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Here’s a short list of things that can positively (or negatively) influence recovery:

Training Age
Chronological Age
Quality and quantity of sleep
Hormonal status
Family stress (wife, girlfriend, children, friends, etc.)
Work-related stress
Money-related stress
Diet and nutrition
Supplementation (both of the legal and illegal variety)
As you can see, there are a ton of things that determine how well we recover from a single workout. If you’re not recovering from your training, you’re not maximizing your progress.

Common Sense Recommendations

Now that we’ve covered the topic of stress and recovery, let’s begin with a dose of common sense concerning training frequency.

Training once every seven to ten days probably isn’t going to cut it, regardless of your goals. Even strength maintenance is going to be tough when you’re training that infrequently. Unless you have the Testosterone levels of an 80-year old grandmother, or the most stressful job on the planet, chances are you can recover enough to train more frequently than this.

On the other hand, some are quick to espouse training multiple training sessions per day. They’ll cite that Olympic caliber athletes often train this way, and that you should be able to as well.

This argument is seriously flawed. First off, Olympic caliber athletes are 100% committed to their sport. They don’t have jobs and usually have structured their lives to have minimal stress outside of training.

They’ve also taken years, if not decades, to increase their work capacity to a point where they can train multiple times per day. Even for some of the elite guys that may be reading this, chances are you can get more than sufficient gains sticking with a more manageable split.

For most, hitting the weights between two and four times per week is probably more than enough to reach your goals. But before I give you my specific recommendations, let’s examine how some extreme examples can work.

Practical Examples of Training Frequency

Bubba loves HIT, and thinks it’s the only way to go for size gains. Sergei says that Sheiko is what really took his squat through the roof.

While I respect everyone’s opinion, I also understand that in most cases N=1. Everyone assumes that if it works for them, it should work for everyone. The old saying definitely rings true: “Everything works – but nothing works forever!”

Lower frequency training methods (such as HIT) can work, especially if someone has pushed their recovery envelope in the weeks/months leading up to its introduction.

Imagine this, you’ve just come off the hardest training cycle of your life. You pushed every rep of every set, and you’re absolutely gassed. You trained four days per week and no session was half-assed.

This could be a time where your body needs that extra recovery. Some of the biggest proponents of HIT-style training were bodybuilders who were notorious for killing themselves in the gym six days per week.

Is it any wonder why HIT worked for them? They pushed and pushed, so when they finally took extra time to back off, their gains went through the roof!

On the other hand, high frequency programs can elicit serious progress as well. Look at guys that use the introductory Sheiko programs, the Smolov squat routine, or attempt some of the Bulgarian weightlifting programs.

These programs offer a unique blend of volume, intensity, and perhaps most importantly, work on the specific lifts (motor learning). After all if you squat two, three, or even four times per week, chances are you’ll get pretty darn good at squatting!

IF they can survive, the results they get are astounding. But that’s a big if. The Bulgarian system is known for its meat-grinding effects; throw in a couple thousand lifters, and the ones that survive the training programs comprise their Olympic team!

Again, the key is figuring out what will work best for you. What training frequency is best given your goals, your recovery abilities, etc.? Once we’ve determined your goals, we can determine how many times per week is probably best to maximize your performance.

How Your Goals Influence Your Training Frequency

Goal #1 – Building size

Building mass may be the program that allows you to train the least frequently. Unfortunately, these need to be seriously kick-ass sessions while you’re in the gym!

For example, in his new book Mass Made Simple, Dan John would have you train one day and then take two days off before training again. However, he also dishes out complexes and high rep squats, so these workouts are far from a walk in the park!

John McCallum, in his book Keys to Progress, cites three days per week as the optimal training frequency if your goal is to pack on size. At most, I wouldn’t recommend more than three times per week.

If you’re training twice per week, you need two total-body workouts. If you’re training three days per week, you choose either total or split-body workouts.

Goal #2 – Strength gain

Strength gain may be the goal with the most variability. Some programs have you squatting four times per week, while others may only have you squat once per week.

For most trainees who are serious about getting stronger, three to four workouts per week is probably ideal. If you’re training four days, an upper-lower split with two workouts apiece is a great start.

If you’re training three times per week, you could probably get away with total body workouts, but you’re likely better served with an upper-lower split.

Goal #3 – Shedding body fat

Body fat reduction is on the opposite end of the training spectrum from mass gain. If your goal is to gain mass, you want to minimize calorie expenditure outside of training and focus your efforts on building those gunz.


On the contrary, if your goal is to shed body fat, you want to burn as many calories as possible. Duh!

For fat loss clients, I often recommend a minimum of three workouts per week. However, depending on the client, their schedule, and their recovery capacity, that could be bumped up to six training sessions per week.

Three sessions would include strength training and some form of higher intensity cardio, while they could do longer duration/lower intensity cardio on their off days for both recovery and additional calorie burning purposes.

Here’s a handy summary:

Training Goal Training Frequency Type of Routine
Mass gain 2x / week
3x / week Total Body
Total or Upper / Lower Split
Strength gain 3x / week
4x / week Total or Upper / Lower Split
Upper / Lower Split
Fat Loss 3-6x / week Total / Cardio on off Days

My Philosophy on Training

My philosophy on training for strength and size is simple. I want to do as little as possible to continue making gains. If anything, I’d rather under train than over train.

This goes hand-in-hand with another key priority: I always focus on quality of training and movement. For fat loss, clients often need a total lifestyle overhaul. I like to get them doing something, anything, as often as their schedule will afford.

I’d love to have them come in and strength train 3x/week, but I’d love it even more if they’d take a walk on their off days, or ride the Airdyne bike.

When they move more frequently, not only are they more in tune with their bodies, but they tend to “get it” much faster.

Losing weight and/or body fat isn’t a goal that’s achieved overnight; it’s something that takes hard work and dedication. Perhaps most importantly, it requires a shift to a more healthy lifestyle overall.


Before I encourage you to post your questions on the LiveSpill, I know someone is going to say I still haven’t told you the exact frequency you need to follow.

Nope, I sure haven’t. Like everything in training, you need to figure out what works best for you and your body. I can’t tell you exactly what to do, because I don’t know you.


21st Century Core Training

Complete Core Training Getting Bigger and Better From Your Center

The best exercises don’t have to be “new” to be effective. I think we can all agree that big, basic exercises like squats, deads, and pull-ups should be the cornerstone of any program. One of the great things about these exercises is the fact that they work to integrate the body into a functional whole, and higher-end core training should be no different.

Compound exercises are more useful than crunches.

Before we get into it, I have to admit I’m among the most boring persons known to man, and I don’t claim to have invented any of the exercises in this program. If someone else created it or brought it to my attention, I’m going to give credit where credit is due.
Below are several of the core exercises we’ve been using at the IFAST facility. You might have seen one or two before, but there are also some variations that you probably haven’t seen or tried before… and that’s where the real fun begins!

Split-Stance Cable Push

Let’s start off with an “easier” exercise. To perform the split-stance cable push, set up in a cable crossover machine with a D-handle, and position the cable just below hip height.
Grab the handle with your right hand, and face away from the weight stack with your left leg in front. Before you start pushing, think about a few quick cues — these are imperative in allsplit-stance variations:

Before you even move, you should have a nice stretch in your right hip flexors. If not, re-set and try again.

From this position, all you’re going to do is perform an open-chain pressing movement. Don’t allow your body to rotate, and work to keep your stomach and butt tight throughout the movement.

Split-Stance Cable Pull

The split-stance cable pull is obviously the opposite of the cable push, but this time, you’ll be facing towards the weight stack. The same cues apply — stay tight, stay tall, and get that trailing leg’s glute tight.

Like any pulling exercise, think about pulling through your elbow and squeezing your shoulder blade back at the midpoint.

Split-Stance Cable Chop

This and the following exercise (the cable lift) are exercises I picked up from Gray Cook. If you have a long lever bar, like the one in the video, that’s ideal. If not, just use a rope attachment until you can get one.
To perform the cable chop, you want the knee closest to the weight stack up (you’ll see what I mean when you watch the video clip). The leg furthest from the weight stack will be your trailing leg. Grab the bar with an overhand grip, going as wide as possible. From there, think about “pulling” the bar across your body.
Once you run out of room, stabilize your pulling hand and “press” with the arm/hand closest to the stack. Allow the working hand to come back to the body, and then return to the starting position.

You’ll often see people wavering quite a bit while doing this exercise; if you can’t stabilize yourself, you’re using too much weight! This one definitely isn’t an ego booster.
Also, make sure to keep your hands wide. You’ll probably have a tendency to slide your hands closer to each other as the set goes on, to shorten the lever arm, but that’ll only turn you into a wuss who had to cheat the technique just to use more weight. Don’t be that guy.

Split-Stance Cable Lift

The split-stance cable lift is the cable chop’s evil twin. It tends to be more difficult and much harder to stabilize, so you’ll have to decrease the weights accordingly. To set up, you want the leg closest to the stack to be your trailing leg, while the leg furthest from the stack will be your “up” leg. The quick learners will notice that this is the opposite of the cable chop.

The actual performance of the lift is quite similar to the chop. Think about “pulling” the bar up and across the body, and then “pressing” away. Control the movement back to the body, and then again back to the starting position.

Blast Strap Fallout Isometric

Blast strap fallouts are similar to your typical ab wheel, but the increased instability makes for a torturous “ab” workout. Add in the fact that this is an isometric exercise, and you’ve got a real ass-kicker.
Start with a pair of blast straps in a push-up position. My feet are on a box, but you can also keep your feet on the floor. From the starting position, simply allow your arms to drift out in front of you to a point just before you increase the arch in your lower back.
Hold this extended position for time (15 seconds is a good start), and then return to the starting position. No blast straps? You can get them online at

Blast Strap Fallout Flutters

When you’re a real beast and the fallout iso’s don’t cut it anymore, give this twisted variation a shot. This is compliments of Dan New, a mixed martial arts fighter and IFAST client.

It’s identical to a blast strap fallout, but instead of holding that stretched position, think about “fluttering” your arms in front of you in alternating fashion. You can also mix-up the pattern by moving your hands in circles or even out to the side. Again, we typically do this for a set time, instead of repetitions.

Band-Resisted Jackknife

Many of you are probably familiar with the jackknife on a Swiss ball. But Swiss balls remind us of endless crunches and a general lack of results, so I was luckily introduced  to this version.
Attach a resistance band to the top of a power rack and have a partner pull the band down so you can get your feet in. With your stomach tight, pull with your knees until they’re around hip height.

If you haven’t done weighted ab training in a while, this is virtually guaranteed to make you sore the next day. Enjoy.

Tall Kneeling Pallof Press Isometric

Chances are, you’ve heard of the traditional Pallof press. The exercise is named after John Pallof, an extremely bright physical therapist who let’s Eric Cressey hang out with him.
Now, you know me, and I love my stabilization exercises, so I’ve converted the original Pallof press into two different stabilization exercises. The first is the tall kneeling Pallof press isometric.
Once again, you’re going to attach a D-handle to a cable crossover, just below hip height. Face perpendicular to the stack and kneel down. In this kneeling position, think about getting your stomach tight and activating your glutes, because again, staying tight and tall is key.

Once you’re set, grab the handle with both hands and extend it to arms length straight ahead. I prefer the isometric version to the dynamic version, because it reallychallenges rotary stability.

Split-Stance Pallof Press Isometric

The final exercise we’ll be describing is another variation of the Pallof press. The set up is virtually identical, but instead of going with a tall kneeling stance, you’re using a split-stance. The leg closest to the cable stack will be your trailing leg, with your opposite hip/leg set in front of you.

You could perform it dynamically, but again, I prefer holding an isometric for time. Remember to stay tall, and keep the stomach and glute tight throughout.

Stronger Core, Stronger Everything Else

Now you’ve got some kick-ass exercises that will not only destroy your core, but also improve your body’s ability to work as a functional, seamless unit. Try some of them next time you hit the gym and you won’t be sorry. Well, maybe the day after training you’ll be sorry, but further down the road, you’ll be thankful.

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