Category Archives: Mike Robertson
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:
- 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.
- 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.
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 groin flexibility.
A big component of this is also hamstring strength. 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|
Anterior or Posterior Chain
I hate the question, “Which type of deadlift is best?”
Which is why I typically answer with something like, “Best for what purpose?”
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|
Stress on the Spine
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: When it comes to people in back pain, the last thing I’m worried about is compressive force. 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 with 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|
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 Jim Wendler’s 5-3-1 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|
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.)
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, but training for the specific areas where they’re weak that’s most important.
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
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.
1. Get Your Lats Tight!
2. Get Your Hips Down
3. Strengthen Those Hamstrings!
4. Mix it Up
- Lifting against the bands or chains
- Lifting with the bands.
Exercise: Deadlifts against bands
Week 2: Work up to 90 or 95% for one single. No big psych-up or extra arousal here – save the ammonia snorting routine for another day. Use a belt if you typically use one.
Week 2: Moderate technique work. Work up to 75 or 80%, then perform 3-5 singles.
Week 3: Bordering on Max Effort. Work up to 90 or 95% for one single. No psych up or extra arousal. Belt-up if needed.
Week 4: Deload.
Month #2: Deadlifts against chains
Month #3: Deadlifts against bands
Month #4: Deadlifts with bands
5. Don’t be Afraid to Grind!
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?
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
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
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.
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:
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
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
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. Activation is fine, but at some point you need to cement that activation with actual strength.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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 EliteFTS.com.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.