Category Archives: Squats

19 Squat & Deadlift Variations


11/07/13

Squat-and-deadlift-variations

Here’s what you need to know…

• Variety is good for both strength and hypertrophy and it helps prevent overuse injuries.
• Every body is unique, and the best form for a lifter is the one that best suits his unique anthropometry and injury history.
• Contrary to popular belief, there’s no standardized perfect form, only what form is best suited for your body and goals.

Strength training gurus love to say there’s only one way to perform a lift, and that all other techniques and variations are either wrong or ineffective. Such a philosophy is shortsighted, and this article will show how intelligent variation can build a bigger, stronger, bulletproof body.
First, every body is unique, and the best form for a lifter is the one that best suits his or her unique limb lengths, body segment proportions, tendon attachment points, muscularity, and injury history.
Second, the form that a lifter uses is heavily predicated on his or her overall goals. These goals might include hypertrophy, in which case it’s possible to accentuate tension on a particular muscle; strength, in which case it’s possible to perform a lift in a manner that maximizes leverages; or transference, in which case it’s possible to execute an exercise in a manner that best transfers to another lift or sporting action.
And third, all lifters should purposely perform lifts in a variety of ways in order to build well-rounded and maximal strength.
Stubbornly sticking to a particular form or variation that isn’t right for you, no matter how popular it is, will eventually lead to injury. It’s akin to forcing a square peg through a round hole.


Top Athletes Vary in Exercise Form

All my powerlifting and strongman friends look markedly different when they squat, deadlift, and bench. Hell, take a look at the various powerlifting world record holders, strongman champions, top Olympic weightlifters, and even the best bodybuilders on the planet – you’ll see that their techniques with the big lifts vary markedly.
They’ve all taken the time to figure out the style of each lift that caused the least pain and injury, maximized their leverages and performance, and/or allowed them to best reach their particular goals. What’s hilarious is that many of these top strength and physique athletes “break the rules” according to various experts, making it difficult to find merit with any hard rules in lifting mechanics.
The top lifters have also taken the time to figure out their favorite exercise variations. The top bodybuilder might prefer rack pulls over full-range deadlifts because they’re safer on his low back, but still might hammer his entire posterior chain.
The top powerlifter might perform low bar squats and sumo deadlifts in competition, but prefers high bar squats and conventional deadlifts in training until a month out before the meet since they better build his lifts.
The strongman might tell you that he gave up low bar squatting years ago to preserve his shoulder health, but that he still front squats every week. Lastly, the top Olympic lifter may prefer the Romanian deadlift and high-bar full squat as assistance lifts, whereas the top powerlifter might prefer the deficit deadlift and high box squat. You get the picture.


Useful Barbell Variations of Squats and Deadlifts

I realize most don’t have access to specialty bars, so I only included traditional barbell variations. However, there are dozens of incredible variations that use the rackable cambered bar, safety squat bar, or Dead-Squat™ Bar, to name a few.


Deep Back Squats: High Bar Versus Low Bar

Though the difference might appear subtle, the high-bar squat exhibits less forward trunk lean and therefore places more stress on the quads. Conversely, the low-bar back squat increases trunk lean and places more stress on the hips.
Strong quads are critical for proper squat performance, as are strong hips. You should incorporate both types of squats into your training arsenal.

High-Bar Back Squat

title

Low-Bar Back Squat

title

High-Bar Versus Low-Bar Parallel Squats

With sufficient training experience, most lifters will find that they’re stronger with squats when they use a low-bar placement and take a wide stance. However, there are lifters who discover that they’re indeed stronger with high-bar squats.
Usually, high-bar squats are performed with a moderate stance as opposed to a very wide stance. Again, the high-bar squat emphasizes the quads, whereas the low-bar squat will emphasize the hips. Both variations are great for squat training.

High-Bar Moderate Width Parallel Squat

title

Low-Bar Wide Stance Parallel Squat

title

Front Squats: Wide Versus Narrow Stance

Most of the time, when you see someone performing front squats they’re using a narrow stance. But there’s no reason why you can’t perform front squats with a wider stance. Again, both should be used in your training regimen.

Narrow Stance Front Squats

title

Wide Stance Front Squats

title

Box Squats: Low Box/High Bar Versus High Box/Low Bar

Most lifters are familiar with high box/low bar squats where they sit back and keep vertical tibias, thereby maximizing stress on the posterior chain. However, it’s also a good idea to perform low box/high bar squats from time to time. This variation places considerable stress on the quads and is quite useful depending on the purpose.

High Box/Low Bar Squat

title

Low Box/High Bar Squat

title

ZercherSquats: Hip Emphasis Versus Quad Emphasis

Most lifters only employ one style of Zercher squats but it’s a good idea to occasionally perform two different styles. To stress the hips, take a wider stance, keep the shins vertical and sit back more, descending to parallel. To stress the quads, use a moderate stance, keep the torso more upright, sit down, and descend below parallel.

Hip-Dominant Zercher Squat

title

Quad-Dominant Zercher Squat

title

Deadlift: Conventional Versus Sumo

You should perform both conventional and sumo deadlifts from time to time. They build each other, especially if you have a huge strength discrepancy between the two variations.

Conventional Deadlift

title

Sumo Ddeadlift

title

Block or Rack Pulls: Conventional Versus Sumo

The same logic applies to block or rack pulls. You can and should use a conventional and sumo stance throughout your training year.

Conventional Block Pull

title

Sumo Block Pull

title

Sumo Deadlifts: Quad Versus Hip Dominant

When you pull sumo, there’s a sweet spot for trunk angle and joint ROM that enables you to hoist the heaviest loads. That said, sometimes it’s a good idea to use lighter loads and practice your sumo deadlifts using a quad-emphasis or a hip-emphasis. With the quad-dominant style, sink deeper and keep a more upright trunk. With the hip-dominant style, raise the hips and use a greater trunk lean.

Quad-Dominant Sumo Deadlift

title

Hip Dominant Sumo Deadlift

title

Deficit Deadlifts: Clean Grip Versus Snatch Grip

When pulling from a deficit, you should employ a traditional grip width as well as a snatch grip width. The snatch grip deficit deadlift increases joint ROM and is a brutal yet useful variation.

Deficit Deadlift

title

Snatch Grip Deficit Deadlift

title

Hack Lift

The hack lift is a nifty way to build quad strength in a deadlift. Just place the bar behind the back and try to mimic your typical deadlift form. This variation stresses the knees and should be used only occasionally. The lockout can be tricky, but most lifters can learn to perform the movement correctly with practice.

Hack Lift

title

The Spice of Training Variety is good for both strength and hypertrophy and it helps prevent overuse injuries. Through tremendous effort and experimentation, accomplished lifters determine optimal positioning and technique for their bodies as well as figure out the movements that transfer best to their particular goals.
The takeaway point is that the best do what works best for them, not what some guru tells them to do. Contrary to popular belief, there’s no standardized perfect form, only what form is best suited for your body and goals.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat… or squat or deadlift a weight.

Squats for Those Who Can’t Squat

10/11/13

Squats-for-those-who-cant-squat

Here’s what you need to know…

• Squats may be the king of exercises, but many lifters can’t perform them safely or effectively.
• You don’t need to squat ass-to-grass.
• Switching to front squats, controlling stance and depth, and sticking to moderate rep ranges are just some on the ways to improve the safety and efficacy of squats.

Squats are one of my absolute favorite exercises. Unfortunately, as much as I love squats, my knees and back don’t. If I’m not careful they can really do a number on me. I could nix squats altogether in favor of more single-leg work, but squats are too valuable to ditch entirely, plus I just enjoy doing them.
If you have a similar love-hate relationship with squats, here are some ways to make the lift more user-friendly.


1. Switch to Front Squats

Most lifters who train for general strength and physique goals are better off doing front squats than back squats. For starters, it’s easier to squat to an appropriate depth with front squats than back squats, so more people can do it well.
Moreover, front squats are a lot easier on the body. You’re forced to keep a more upright posture and there’s a built-in safety mechanism that prohibits you from breaking form too much – you’ll dump the bar before it’s able to get too ugly. You’re also using less weight, and any time you can get a comparable training effect with lighter loads, you’re doing your body a favor in the long run.
Lastly, front squats do a better job of targeting the quads, which is why most people squat to begin with. Unless you have a good “squatters build” (i.e., short and stocky), back squats generally end up looking like a good morning and in turn target the posterior chain to a greater degree.
The biggest knock with front squats is that it can be difficult at first to hold the bar, especially if you don’t have the flexibility to use a clean grip. If that’s the case, try using straps or the cross-arm grip and you should be all set.


2. Shoot for About Parallel

Front SquatAim to squat to parallel or maybe slightly below. For most lifters this means you need to squat deeper because most people squat abysmally high. Quarter squats are just an ego exercise; they allow you to handle more weight than you deserve to be lifting. Any time you mix ego and heavy-ass weights, bad things happen.
Some bodybuilders argue that quarter squats are better for targeting the quads, but usually that’s their way of trying to justify squatting high because they don’t have the mobility to squat deep. There’s research supporting the idea that full squats are better than partial squats for leg development, and if you need empiric evidence, just watch footage of guys sporting the hugest quads on the planet squat – Ronnie Coleman, Tom Platz, Olympic lifters, etc. They all get down there.
That said, there’s such a thing as “too low,” especially for those with lower back and knee issues. It’s cool on the internet to preach rock bottom or ass-to-grass squats, but going to that extreme range can be problematic for those with prior knee issues. The last few inches from parallel to rock bottom is where the pelvis tucks under for most lifters, putting the lower back at risk.
I used to squat rock bottom, so I’m not just some guy bashing something I can’t do. I’ve recently switched to at or just below parallel for my heavy work and my joints feel much better for it.
You’re also not giving up much from a muscle-building and performance standpoint by going to just under parallel as opposed to rock bottom. Of course, this is largely a moot point since most people fall in the high squatting camp, but it’s worth mentioning for the few “ass to ankles” squatters out there.


3. Control the Eccentric

When people talk about squats and knee pain, it’s usually the knees coming over the toes. I’m not too concerned with the knees coming over the toes – provided it’s not excessive – but I’m a lot more concerned with dive-bombing the eccentric and bouncing out of the bottom. One study showed that bouncing increases shear force on the knee by 33%, which jibes with my experience.
For folks with knee issues, I highly recommend controlling the eccentric portion of the squat rather than dive bombing to prevent bouncing. You don’t necessarily have to pause in the bottom position, but I suggest it. This will also ensure that you’re relying on the muscles to lift the weight rather than using momentum.


4. Get Wider

Some people advocate a really wide stance squat where you break at the hips and push your butt back while trying to keep the shins as vertical as possible. This will indeed take stress off the knees, but it’ll also puts more stress on the lower back, and it also makes for a shitty quad stimulus.
Others advocate a really close stance squat with an upright torso to smoke the quads and take stress off the lower back, but this forces you into a knee-break squat where the knees shoot forward excessively. I’m not worried if the knees come out over the toes to some extent, but a pure knee break squat is a bad idea for long-term knee health.
Instead, I recommend taking a moderate stance just outside shoulder-width and breaking from both the hips and knees at the same time. This will allow for a good torso position and still smoke the quads without putting quite so much stress on the knees. Personally, just moving my stance out a few inches has made a world of difference for my knees.


5. Squat to a Box or Pins

Box SquatThe primary reason for squatting to a box or the pins in a safety rack is to serve as a depth gauge. For high squatters, it forces you to go all the way down. For ass-to-grass squatters, it stops you from going too low. Squatting to a box or pins also encourages you to control the eccentric so you aren’t bouncing your ass off the box or bouncing the bar off the pins.
Whether you use a box or pins is largely a matter of personal preference and what you have available. Both work well, but remember that if you’re using a box, you’re just using it as a depth gauge, not rocking back onto the box like you would for a powerlifting-type box squat.


6. Use Chains

Chains are typically thought of as a powerlifting tool to help overload the lockout, but they’re also a great way to take some stress off the lower back and knees in the bottom position while still allowing you to move big weights.


7. Stick to Moderate Reps

Those with joint issues will do best spending the majority of their training time in the 6-12 rep range. Going much below that is flirting with danger, and doing super high reps can often lead to some gnarly form breakdown.
The good news is that 6-12 range is great for hypertrophy, so it’s not like you’re resigning yourself to a lifetime of being a skinny little bitch. Getting strong in moderate rep ranges is the best way to get jacked.


8. Squat at the End of the Workout

Squatting at the end of the workout ensures you’re sufficiently warmed up, and it also means you’ll have to lighten the load, which takes stress off the joints and makes it easier to maintain good form.
Most of the time with heavy front squats, the limiting factor is how much weight you can hold, not how much weight your legs can handle. With heavy back squats, the lower back is often the limiting factor, not the legs. If you pre-exhaust the legs prior to squatting, the legs become the limiting factor, which is what you want.


The Ultimate User-Friendly Squat?

Putting it altogether, my favorite user-friendly squat variation is the chain front squat to a box.
As a reference point, I’m using a 12-inch box, which puts me right around parallel. Taller lifters may be able to get away with using a slightly higher box, but don’t get carried away and start rationalizing that your 18-inch box puts you at parallel, because unless your name is Shaq or Dwight Howard, it probably doesn’t.
If you’re gym doesn’t have low enough boxes, you can also do chain front squats to the pins, like so:
The key here is to control the eccentric to avoid bouncing the bar off the pins, so think about resting it on the pins as quietly as possible.
Of course, if you don’t have chains, you can also just use straight weight. In that case I like to bump the rep range up a bit because I find my knees tolerate it better.
Now contrast that to how I used to squat with a closer stance while going all the way down. I no longer advocate that most squat this deep, especially if you have knee issues. If you turn the volume up on your computer and listen closely, you can actually hear my knees cracking!
I’m no doctor, but common sense tells me that can’t be good long term, even if it doesn’t cause pain in the short term.


Closing Thoughts

You don’t necessarily have to apply all the tips here. For example, if you prefer back squats to front squats, that’s fine. Same goes if you prefer free squats to squatting to a box or pins. Putting some of these tips into practice though will definitely help your squatting in the long run.


Works Cited

Ariel, B.G. Biomechanical analysis of the knee joint during deep knee bends with heavy loads. In: Biomechanics IV, R. Nelson and C. Morehouse (Eds.). Baltimore: University Park Press, 1974, pp. 44-52.

Top 10 Exercises to Achieve an Athletic Build



An athletic build is desired by many, it is similar to that of a bodybuilder but they are not the same. While a bodybuilder is built for size and strength an athletes body is built for power, speed, quickness, explosiveness and agility. Typically the body of a bodybuilder is more bulky, sometimes VERY bulky. The body of an an athlete is usually more slight. Then there is a grey area where some athletes look like bodybuilders. If you want an athletic build you need to train like an athlete does. These are the top 10 exercises athletes do to give you an athletic build.

1) Power Cleans

Power cleans and other types of cleans are a mainstay in most athletic programs. Cleans are a total body exercise that use  your quads, calves, hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, deltoids, traps, and forearms, as well as the core muscles that come into play to stabilize your spine throughout the movement. Cleans develop power and explosiveness essential to an athlete. If an athlete could only do one exercise this would probably be it and if you can only do one exercise to achieve an athletic build this should be it as well.
power clean athletic build

2) Squats

Squats are the king of the lower body exercises. Any athlete who needs power in his lower body is doing squats. Don’t be one of those people with a built upper body and chicken legs. Squats  target a number of different muscle groups all over the body: the core muscles including the abdominals and lower back, the glutes, and the thigh muscles. Hit the squats hard and hit them often.
Squats for athletic build

3) Bench Press

If the squats are king of the lower body the bench press is the king of the upper body. Athletes that need upper body power use this as a mainstay of their training. The bench works the chest, shoulders, triceps, and even the abs are used to help generate power and stability. Whether you do it with a barbell or dumbbells the bench press is a must.
Bench press for athletic build

4) Sprints

Sprints are another biggie in an athletes training, athletes not only want power and explosiveness but as the old saying goes “speed kills!”  Speed can be a huge asset to to many athletes, whether it is going deep on a  passing route, a fast break in basketball, or stealing second base in baseball, having speed is essential. Not only does sprinting build speed but doing sprints in interval training will burn fat like crazy which we talked about in this article. If you haven’t noticed pretty much all sprinters have athletic build.
Athletic buildsprinter athletic build

5) Core Training

Athletes need to have a strong core and I am sure you are looking to have a six pack with your athletic build so you will need to do core training. Hanging leg raises, planks (both front and side) and crunches will get your core tight and strong.
Athletic build

6) Chin ups

Chin ups are common exercise for many athletes as part of their training to improve pulling movements, they will also help you get that nice  V-shape we all love.
chin up athletic exercisechin up crossfit athletic

7) Shoulder Press

Strong shoulders are a must in many sports for pushing movements. Shoulder presses not only work the deltoids but the triceps, lats and traps as well,  they are also a must for an athletic build.
Shoulder Press

8) Rows

Rows build strength for pulling movements useful in wrestling, football and other sports. They work primarily the lats and traps as well as the biceps and shoulders. Doing rows add thickness to the back muscles.
athlete barbell row

9) Close Grip Bench Press

The close grip bench is used for athletes to strengthen pushing movements, unlike the bench press the close grip bench press focuses on the triceps as the primary muscle rather than the chest.
Close Grip Bench Athlete Build

10) Lunges

Lunges are widely used to build strength in the quads, glutes and hips. They will also help you get a nice round butt we all like.
walking lunge athletic build

Honorable mention- Plyometrics

Plyometrics are very popular with athletes to build explosiveness, quickness and agility. They involve many different jumps and other movements. The most common type of plyometrics you see a conventional gym is usually box jumps. Use caution when doing these as they can lead to injury if you are not in good shape or do them incorrectly.

box jump plyos athletic
There you have the top 10 exercises you need to get you an athletic body. Notice all the exercises on the list are compound movements that use multiple muscles at the same time.  Athletes generally do not do isolated movements like bicep curls or calf raises as part of their every day training, you can feel free to mix in movements like that if you desire however.
Ryan Douglas

4 Stronger Squat Exercises

 

5 Knocks to the Weightlifting HeadI’m not an incredible squatter. On a spectrum of squatting proficiency, I’d fall somewhere at the far end of average, just before the transition into good.
However, lest you’re wondering if there’s even any point in reading this article, consider that I used to be a horrible squatter. For an extended portion of my training history, my squats looked more like good mornings bullied into knee flexion.
The problems never change – we all have variations of the same issues – but how we respond to a given solution is hugely variable. To practice variability and to solve training problems, we require an oversized tool box. I’m talking about one of those sumbitches that sits in the back of a jacked up diesel.
That’s the goal for this article – building your squat assistance toolbox so it rivals the Sears and Roebuck special. To do that though, we have to know what problems we’re dealing with, as well as objectively examine your deficiencies.
Before we go on, one more note: sometimes the best exercise to improve your squat is the squat, whichever variation you happen to fancy. While having a creative approach is at times necessary and certainly more fun, make sure that you’re building tension in the right places and squatting well before you worry about fixing problems.
These solutions are to be used in concert with great, submaximal squatting. They won’t fix anything unless you’re training yourself to squat well.
Let’s first identify the problems, though. After that, I’ll introduce specific tools you can use to fix them.

Identifying the Problems

5 Knocks to the Weightlifting Head

Eccentric Strength

It’s disconcerting how often eccentric strength is disregarded while squatting. Everyone seems to forget that we have to sit down with the weight before we stand up with it.
Unless you’ve become the ultimate master of reciprocal inhibition and turned yourself into super-elastic-bounce-man, some strength and tension during descent will serve you well. You need to learn to pull into the bottom position – it’s a precursor to bottoms up strength.
Here’s how to know if you’re doing it well enough:

  • You feel tension across the front of your hips and in your abs as you descend.
  • Your spine stays neutral with a relatively upright torso. (I know powerlifters lean a bit.)
  • There’s no butt tuck at parallel. (Sure, this could be the place where we suggest an amazing corrective exercise to fix your anterior core instability, but it can be much simpler than that.)

If you’ve mastered these three criteria, you’re light years ahead of most. But if you’ve failed on any of the above, you’re doing it wrong.

Bottoms up Strength

I know what you’re thinking. “Bottoms up” strength sounds like beer muscles, but for our current purpose let’s skip the barley and hops and talk about strength out of the squatting hole.
Bottoms-up strength has several prerequisites. Is there air in the belly? Tension in the feet and hands? Are the lats tight? Strength out of the hole has a lot more to do with stability than anything else, provided you’ve chosen an appropriate load.
If you’re loose at the bottom – feet aren’t screwed in, shoulders aren’t torqued, and air is non-existent – then your strength out of the hole is piss poor. Like eccentric strength – which, by the way, prepares us for bottoms up strength – the fix is simple.

Full-Body Tension

Irradiation, super stiffness, and co-contraction are analogous. The only difference is which coach’s mouth, or pen, that those words came from. And it’s important for all big lifts.
The first two problems I’ve mentioned cover irradiation for specific parts of the squatting task – the down and the bottom reversal. We’d be a yard short of a touchdown, though, if we didn’t talk about full body tension throughout the squat.
The differential diagnosis is the same as in the first two examples – are you tight on the way down and tight at the bottom? Yes? Good for you, but we have to carry that tension through to the finish. We need to make sure you’re tight in all phases.

Posterior Chain Involvement

Most lifters are inundated with developing their quads while squatting and forget how important the glutes and hamstrings are, but without good use of the posterior chain the hips are disproportionately loaded – quad development plays second fiddle to knee and low-back pain.
Every squat, be it front, box, side, or in the wilderness during a bowel-exiting endeavor, should begin with the hips travelling back in a hinge. If they don’t, you’re once again doing it wrong, and you may well end up with funky smelling feet.
For some folks this is a technique flaw, quickly remedied with instruction and coaching cues, but many times a forward jetting of the knees is indicative of lackluster posterior chain strength. In that case, it’s time to load the glutes and hams while educating the hips on the finer points of posterior movement.

The Remedies

Eccentric Strength: Squat Pull-downs

This drill teaches you to access the eccentric squat strength you already have. That’s right, Chill Rob G, you have the power. It’s good, however, to pull against tension before learning to pull down with weight on your shoulders.
Sink the band deep into the armpits, stay tall, and use the abs and hip flexors to pull into the bottom position. Did you notice how during the first two reps I still display the blasphemous butt tuck, but by the third rep it’s gone? It’ll take a few reps and someone else’s eyes to get you on the right track.
Also, keep in mind that I’m starting the tension by creating torque at my hips. I accomplished this task of major minutia by “screwing” my feet into the ground. Do this on every squat set and drill.
After you master the band in the armpits version of the squat pull down, use an unloaded bar with a reverse bands set up. To quote Coach Michael Ranfone, “It’s easier to pull with the right patterning and sequence.” This drill transitions nicely from the initial pull down lesson into the loaded bar pull down.

Josh, the guy in the video, moves seamlessly, but don’t be fooled – this drill takes mammoth lat tension and a colossal pull from the hip flexors and abs.

Bottoms Up Strength: Squat with Chains

It’s simple. Learning to stay tight in the bottom position requires a stimulus that forces you to stay tight. Send your appreciation to CaptainObvious.com.
Sometimes, however, it’s the obvious that catches us off guard, like when you’re looking for your hat and it’s on your head. There’s little difference between absent minded hat placement and what we need for bottom position squat tension. The obvious cues the light bulb.
Why the chains? Well, I dare you to squat loosely to the bottom position and stay there with minimal tension. You’ll get rag dolled, brah. The real test, however, comes when owning the bottom position transitions into ascension. You best have your air low and strong, your feet must be torqued, and those elbows better be worked under the bar.
To start, take ten percent of your bar weight and replace it with chain weight. As an example, if your squat sets are planned at 275 pounds, cut the weight to 245 and add 30 pounds of chains.
You’ll find that you’ll quickly be able to up the percentage of chain and decrease bar weight, but if you’ve never squatted with chains before, it’s best to be a tad conservative until you squash the learning curve.
Here’s a quick tutorial on how to set up chains to squat:

Full-Body Tension: Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Squats

Sure, the chains are going to train you to keep tight under load, but we can fine tune that tension by adding another stimulus. Besides, just because the chains work for me doesn’t mean they’ll work for you. Remember the tool box.
One of the first things that novice and mediocre squatters dismiss is upper-body tension. It starts in the grip. I haven’t found anything that challenges the grip while squatting more than holding a kettlebell upside down, as shown in the video below:

A strong grip on the kettlebell will transfer up the arms, into the shoulders, and end up in the torso. Combine that with a strong torque of the feet and properly placed air and you’ve built impressive full-body tension.

Posterior Chain Involvement: Good Mornings

To squat well your posterior chain must be strong. Deadlifts, glute-ham raises, and Romanian deadlifts must have seats reserved at your training table.
However, something magical happens when the hips have to move with a bar on the shoulders. I’ll even humbly posit that the good morning has greater carry-over to the squat than it does the deadlift, mainly because it teaches bar placement and a tight upper-back with good posterior hip movement. This all takes place as the posterior chain adapts and becomes a monster – a pillar that a humungous squat rests upon.
A good morning, however, is not a quarter squat. The knees unlock and the hips travel back – that’s it. There’s no butt drop.
Here’s a quick clue that you’re doing it right – your hamstrings scream the whole time. As you sit back and your chest lowers, your hamstrings should continually build tension until you reach end range.

Great! Now When Do We Use Them?

5 Knocks to the Weightlifting HeadA big toolbox with a lot of tools that we don’t know how to use is, well, useless. Variation for variations sake is great for bored children and for info-marketers theorizing about neuromuscular confusion. Our tools, however, are applicable. Here’s how to use the four stronger squat exercises.
Squat Pull-downs: These are great for pre-squat warm-up as a gentle reminder for intermediate and seasoned squatters. Contrast them with your warm-up sets, hitting 5-8 reps if you’re using the single band variation and 3-5 reps if you’ve chosen the bar variation.
New squatters can implement these in a general prep circuit along with beginner squat variations such as goblet squats or dumbbell sumo squats. The same rep schemes apply, but new squatters beware the lat and back strength necessary for the bar pull-down.
Squat with Chains: It isn’t rocket surgery – remove some bar weight and replace it with chain weight. Sure, there are specific training waves during which lifters use chains to prepare for competition and boost their acceleration, but we aren’t worried about that.
If you’ve diagnosed yourself with poor bottom and transition squat tension, put some chains on the bar for a few weeks and then check yourself with straight bar weight. If you’ve done them right you’ll have remedied your deficiency.
Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Squats: The first prerequisite is a set of kettlebells. They don’t have to be heavy as this exercise is humbling. (The athlete in the video is using two 35-pound bells.)
Liken it to the senior girl that “showed you the ropes” during your sophomore year. You learned, your toolbox grew, and you realized that studying internet videos was no trade for real-world experience.
Be sure to squeeze the kettlebell like crazy while gripping the handle at the proximal bend. Bottoms-up kettlebell squats are a great warm-up exercise and fit nicely into a de-load plan. Since they’re high-tension low-load, they also keep the nervous system ramped up during off-day recovery work.
Good Mornings: If you’ve realized that a severe posterior chain deficit is killing your squats, back off using squats as a main exercise and replace them with good mornings. You’ll keep the upper-back and lat tension specific while teaching the hips to travel posteriorly. All the while, you’ll be building a monster.
At this point, you’ll also want to keep your posterior chain assistance work heavy, but be sure to keep a squat variation in the mix. My favorite combo is a ton of posterior chain work with front squats as an assistance exercise. When you return to sitting down with a bar on your back the pendulum will balance nicely and you’ll have built a solid, strong squat.

Conclusion

5 Knocks to the Weightlifting HeadIf you want size, strength, and improved athletic performance, you must be able to squat well. If you’re like I was five years ago, you have work to do. Throw these tools in your tool box and get to the grind.

Dumbbells For Massive Legs

Dumbbells For Massive Legs
Exercise, including resistance training, acts as a stress on the body. We’re accustomed to thinking of stress as a negative, but when it comes to training, stress applied in the correct doses is a good thing – because stress is the trigger that causes physiological adaptation to occur.
For example, apply the correct amount of aerobic stress to the body and it will adapt by becoming more aerobically fit. Similarly, apply the correct level of stress using resistance training, and the body reacts by increasing muscle size and strength. Thus, when it comes to training, stress applied in the correct doses produces positive results.
However, one of the challenges for lifters is that the body adapts quickly. The trick, then, is to manipulate the stress of exercise often enough to keep the adaptation rate at an optimal level while avoiding becoming over trained.
While there are a number of variables (e.g., rest times, sets and reps, training speed, training intensity) you can manipulate to keep the stress of resistance training elevated, one of the most significant variables to manipulate is exercise selection.
By providing exercise variation each workout, and then adjusting the specific exercises performed every 4-6 weeks, the body will continually be faced with an elevated level of training stress.
For the lower body there are the typical barbell lower body exercises (squats, deadlifts, and straight leg deadlifts) that can be performed along with various exercise machines (leg press, hack squat, leg extensions, etc.).
However, one variation that isn’t often considered is performing lower body training with dumbbells. I’ve been using dumbbell lower body exercises to supplement the barbell lower body exercises we perform with my collegiate athletes with great success for a number of years now.
Some of you might be thinking that it will be impossible to overload the musculature of the lower body using dumbbells, but I guarantee that if you perform these exercises with strict technique and high intensity, you’ll be fully aware of your training the next day.

Training with dumbbells also provides some specific advantages:

Variety. 
Safety. 
Novelty. 
Even when performing an exercise that requires the barbell to be held in the hands, such as a straight leg deadlift (SLDL), the load placement still differs because the barbell is held in front of the legs, in contrast to performing SLDL’s with dumbbells where the dumbbells are held to the sides of the legs.
When the load placement differs the muscle recruitment pattern, by necessity, also changes. This variation in muscle recruitment helps keep both the stress of exercise and thus the rate of adaption elevated.
The following are some of my favorite dumbbell variations of the classic lower body barbell exercises. In terms of programming, use the same training protocol on dumbbell days as barbell days.
For example, if in a hypertrophy training cycle, do these dumbbell lower body exercises for 4 sets of 8-12 repetitions with 60 seconds of rest between sets. If in a strength cycle, perform 5 sets of 3-6 repetitions with 2 minutes rest between sets.
To assist you, exercise technique instructions are provided as well as common mistakes to avoid. Video demonstrations are also included, so that you can see the exercises performed correctly.

Dumbbell Squats

Instructions

  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
  • Hold the dumbbells along the sides of the body.
  • Assume a shoulder-width stance.
  • Arch the back, keep the head up.
  • Maintaining an arched-back position, initiate the movement by sitting back at the hips.
  • Continue to sit back until a parallel thigh position has been achieved. The center of the hip joint should be at the same height as the center of the knee joint.
  • The heels should be down. The knees can drift slightly forward of the toes, be kept in line directly above the toes, or be lined up slightly behind the toes, depending upon what’s most comfortable to the athlete.
  • Leading with the head (as opposed to lifting the hips first) return to the starting position. The back should remain arched and the head should be up.

Common Errors

  • Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
  • Not achieving a parallel thigh position at the bottom of the movement.
  • Initiating the movement with the knee joint moving forward rather than initiating the movement with the hip sitting back. Often this can result in the heel lifting off the ground because of incorrect position.
  • Lowering the weight too quickly rather than controlling the movement during the descent.

Dumbbell One-Legged Squats

Instructions

  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
  • Hold the dumbbells along the sides of the body.
  • Assume a shoulder-width stance.
  • Arch the back, keep the head up.
  • Reach back with the left leg and place the left foot on a bench or plyometric box that’s approximately knee height.
  • The right foot should be placed far enough forward of the bench that you are now in a lunge position.
  • Maintaining an arched-back position, initiate the movement by sitting back at the hips.
  • Continue to sit back until a parallel thigh position has been achieved. The center of the hip joint should be at the same height as the center of the knee joint.
  • The heels should be down. The knees can drift slightly forward of the toes, be kept in line directly above the toes, or be lined up slightly behind the toes, depending upon what is most comfortable to the athlete.
  • Leading with the head (as opposed to lifting the hips first) return to the starting position. The back should remain arched and the head should be up.

Common Errors

  • Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
  • Not achieving a parallel thigh position at the bottom of the movement. This is especially common when performing a one-leg squat so emphasize correct depth.
  • Initiating the movement with the knee joint moving forward rather than initiating the movement with the hip sitting back. Often this results in the heel lifting off the ground because of incorrect position.
  • Lowering the weight too quickly rather than controlling the movement during the descent.

Dumbbell Front Squats

Instructions

  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
  • Place the dumbbells front to back on the shoulders, with the back end of the dumbbells resting on the shoulders. The hands should continue to grasp the dumbbells, with the elbows held high so that the dumbbells are level rather than the front end being lower than the back end.
  • Assume a shoulder-width stance.
  • Arch the back, keep the head up.
  • Maintaining an arched back position, initiate the movement by sitting back at the hips.
  • Continue to sit back until a parallel thigh position has been achieved. The center of the hip joint should be at the same height as the center of the knee joint.
  • The heels should be down. The knees can drift slightly forward of the toes, be kept in line directly above the toes, or be lined up slightly behind the toes, depending upon what is most comfortable to the athlete.
  • Leading with the head (as opposed to lifting the hips first), return to the starting position. The back should remain arched and the head should be up.

Common Errors

  • Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise. Focusing on keeping the elbows high will help eliminate this problem.
  • Not achieving a parallel thigh position at the bottom of the movement.
  • Initiating the movement with the knee joint moving forward rather than initiating the movement with the hip sitting back. Often this results in the heel lifting off the ground because of incorrect position.
  • Lowering the weight too quickly rather than controlling the movement during the descent.

Dumbbell One-Legged Front Squats

Instructions

  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
  • Place the dumbbells front to back on the shoulders, with the back end of the dumbbells resting on the shoulders. The hands should continue to grasp the dumbbells, with the elbows held high so that the dumbbells are level rather than the front end being lower than the back end.
  • Assume a shoulder-width stance.
  • Arch the back, keep the head up.
  • Reach back with the left leg and place the left foot on a bench or plyometric box that’s approximately knee height.
  • The right foot should be placed far enough forward of the bench that you’re now in a lunge position.
  • Maintaining an arched-back position, initiate the movement by sitting back at the hips.
  • Continue to sit back until a parallel thigh position has been achieved. The center of the hip joint should be at the same height as the center of the knee joint.
  • The heels should be down. The knees can drift slightly forward of the toes, be kept in line directly above the toes, or be lined up slightly behind the toes, depending upon what is most comfortable to the athlete.
  • Leading with the head (as opposed to lifting the hips first) return to the starting position. The back should remain arched and the head should be up.

Common Errors

  • Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
  • Not achieving a parallel thigh position at the bottom of the movement. This is especially common when performing a one-leg squat so emphasize correct depth.
  • Initiating the movement with the knee joint moving forward rather than initiating the movement with the hip sitting back. Often times this can result in the heel lifting off the ground because of incorrect position.
  • Lowering the weight too quickly rather than controlling the movement during the descent.

Dumbbell Lateral Squats

Instructions

  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
  • Assume a stance that’s substantially wider than shoulder-width.
  • Hold the dumbbells at arm’s length in a line directly under the shoulders.
  • Keeping the left leg straight squat back and to the right.
  • Lower the hips through a full comfortable range of motion.
  • The right knee can drift slightly forward of the right foot, be kept in line directly above the right foot, or be lined up slightly behind the right foot, depending upon what’s most comfortable to the athlete.
  • The back should remain arched and the head should stay up through performance of the exercise.
  • Return to the starting position and then repeat in the opposite direction until the desired number of repetitions has been completed.

Common Errors

  • Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
  • Not lowering the hips through the full comfortable range of motion.
  • Allowing the knee of the leg that’s supposed to remain straight to bend.Ê For example, when lowering to the right the right knee should bend but the left knee should remain fully extended.

Dumbbell Lunges

Instructions

  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
  • Assume a shoulder-width stance.
  • Keeping the left leg stationary, step out directly forward through an exaggerated range of motion with the right leg.
  • At the forward position the right knee should be over or slightly forward of the right foot, the left leg should be bent with the left knee just off the floor, and the back should be arched with the head up.
  • Return to the starting position with the right leg and repeat the movement with the left leg.
  • Make sure to return to the starting position in one aggressive step; don’t take more than one step to return to the starting position.

Common Errors

  • Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
  • Not taking a full stride length step as you move to the forward position.
  • Allowing the knee of the rear leg to touch the ground.
  • Taking more than one step to return to the starting position.

Dumbbell Side Lunges

Instructions

  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
  • Assume a shoulder-width stance.
  • Keeping the left leg fully extended take a long direct lateral step to the right.
  • Once you plant your right foot, shift the hips back so you achieve a full comfortable depth and range of motion.
  • Keep the back arched and the head up during performance of the exercise.
  • Return to a shoulder-width stance with one aggressive step.

Common Errors

  • Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
  • Allowing the knee of the “post” leg to bend rather than keeping it fully extended.
  • Taking an incomplete recovery step so that a shoulder-width stance isn’t achieved before initiating the next lateral step.

Dumbbell Arch Lunges

Instructions

  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
  • Assume a shoulder-width stance.
  • Imagine an arch in front of you, each point of the arch is a stride’s length away from you.
  • Divide the arch up into sections based on the number of repetitions you have to perform.
  • The first repetition will be to the bottom right corner of the arch, the last repetition will be to the bottom left corner of the arch.
  • Each step is a gradual progression across the arch, starting at the right corner and ending at the left corner.
  • Keeping the left leg fully extended take a long, direct lateral step to the bottom right corner of the arch.
  • Once you plant your right foot, shift the hips back so you achieve a full comfortable depth and range of motion.
  • Keep the back arched and the head up during performance of the exercise.
  • Return to a shoulder-width stance with one aggressive step.
  • The next step will be a gradual progression towards the opposite side of the arch.
  • Continue until all the repetitions have been completed and you’ve progressed from one corner of the arch to the opposite corner.

Common Errors

  • Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
  • Not returning to a shoulder-width stance before initiating the next step.
  • Not progressing in sequence from one corner of the arch to the opposite corner with each step.
  • No steps should be directly forward to the center of the arch. Every step should involve an angled step.
  • Every lunge across the arch should involve a full range of motion.

Dumbbell Hockey Lunges

Instructions

  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
  • Assume a shoulder-width stance.
  • Keeping the left leg stationary, step out at an angle that places the foot 18″-24″ wider than shoulder width (depending upon leg length) through an exaggerated range of motion with the right leg.
  • At the forward position the right knee should be over or slightly forward of the right foot, the left leg should be bent with the left knee just off the floor, and the back should be arched with the head up.
  • Return to the starting position with the right leg and repeat the movement with the left leg, taking that same 18″-24″ wider than shoulder-width step with the left leg.
  • Make sure to return to the starting position in one aggressive step; don’t take more than one step to return to the starting position.

Common Errors

  • Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
  • Not taking a full stride length step as you move to the forward position.
  • Making the lateral step too narrow rather than achieving the desired width.
  • Allowing the knee of the rear leg to touch the ground.
  • Taking more than one step to return to the starting position.

Dumbbell Reverse Lunges

Instructions

  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
  • Assume a shoulder-width stance.
  • Keeping the left leg stationary, step out directly backwards through an exaggerated range of motion with the right leg.
  • At the back position the left knee should be over or slightly forward of the left foot, the right leg should be bent with the right knee just off the floor, and the back should be arched with the head up.
  • Return to the starting position with the right leg and repeat the movement with the left leg.
  • Make sure to return to the starting position in one aggressive step; don’t take more than one step to return to the starting position.

Common Errors

  • Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
  • Not taking a full stride length step as you move to the backward position.
  • Allowing the knee of the rear leg to touch the ground.
  • Taking more than one step to return to the starting position.

Dumbbell Pivot Lunges

Instructions

  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
  • Assume a shoulder-width stance.
  • Pivot on the right foot, twist the body to the right, and lunge in a direction toward the back and to the right of the starting position.
  • At the end position the left knee should be over or slightly forward of the left foot, the right leg should be bent with the right knee just off the floor, and the back should be arched with the head up.
  • Return to a shoulder-width stance with one aggressive step.
  • Repeat in the opposite direction.
  • Foot placement can vary during performance of the exercise – there isn’t one correct foot placement so the angle during the pivot can be varied each repetition.

Common Errors

  • Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
  • Not taking a full stride length step as you move to the pivot position.
  • Allowing the knee of the rear leg to touch the ground.
  • Taking more than one step to return to the starting position.

Dumbbell Straight Leg Deadlifts

Instructions

  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with the arms fully extended.
  • Assume a shoulder width stance.
  • Lock and then slightly unlock the knees; maintain this slightly unlocked position during performance of the exercise.
  • Arch the back, lift the head, and maintain this position during performance of the exercise.
  • Keeping the knees slightly unlocked and the back arched, pivot at the hips and slide the dumbbells down the lateral portion of the legs through a full comfortable range of motion.
  • Return to the starting position maintaining the position at the knees and back.

Common Errors

  • Allowing the back to round rather than maintaining an arched-back position during performance of the exercise.
  • Allowing the knees to flex beyond the slightly unlocked position during performance of the exercise.
  • Allowing the dumbbells to drift forward during the lowering portion of the exercise rather than keeping them on the lateral portion of the legs.
  • Performing the movement through an incomplete range of motion.

Wrap Up

Dumbbells For Massive Legs
Squats are still the “king of exercises” and you can’t beat deadlifts for building brute strength, but even the most stripped down lifter needs a little variety from time to time.
For some lower body variations that are both challenging and build serious size and strength, take a look beyond the barbell. Take some (or all) of these dumbbell variations out for a test drive and stay ahead of your body’s adaptation curve

Heavy Lessons

by Charles Staley – 6/04/2012

Heavy Lessons

Those who know me from my seminars or my writings know that I’m a huge proponent of the Olympic lifts.

Sure, I’ve written about the power lifts, and have coached several powerlifters, but I’ve never competed in the discipline – until this past April 1st, that is. This article is a summary of my experience, and what I learned from it.

Just to set the stage, back in August of last year, I re-injured my left elbow trying to improve my jerk technique. I had (for unknown reasons) developed some calcification in that elbow, which had gradually reduced both my full flexion and extension in that joint.

So I found myself at a crossroads – I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to clean and jerk again, and at the same time had grown disappointed by my limited progress in the “O lifts” in recent months.

I needed a change, a new challenge.

In September, my friend and client Gene Lawrence (a world champion powerlifter in the master’s division) told me about an upcoming raw powerlifting meet: the 100% Raw! Federation’s Southwest Regional Championships in Prescott Arizona, which would be held on April 1st, 2012.

I had about six months to prepare, and the competition was only a few hours away from my home, so after some deliberation I decided to enter.

Before I share some of the important lessons I learned from training for and competing in my first powerlifting meet, I’d first like to tell you why it took me so long to finally “pull the trigger” on this adventure.

I had (and still have) an enormous amount of passion for the sport of weightlifting. I worried that dividing my attentions would hamper my efforts in that sport. Nothing could be further from the truth, as I’ll share with you shortly.

I felt I wasn’t strong enough to avoid complete embarrassment in the powerlifting world. Although I’d deadlifted 500 pounds a few years earlier, my lifetime best squat was about 365 pounds. Furthermore, while I had done a sloppy “touch and go” 300-pound bench press in my mid-thirties, at age 52, I hadn’t done any form of bench press in years due to shoulder issues. In fact, on the day I sent in my entry form, I probably wasn’t capable of a legal (paused) 200-pound bench.

I wasn’t sure I was capable of performing “legal lifts” in powerlifting. First, after several serious knee surgeries, I have very limited flexion in my right knee. I knew I could squat “close” to parallel, but different federations have different depth requirements, and I wasn’t certain that I could train at or compete with proper depth in the squat.

Second, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to bench press intensely and consistently enough to prepare for competition due to the aforementioned shoulder problems. In the past, any time I got more than 5-6 workouts into a bench press program, my shoulder would flare up and eventually stop me in my tracks.

Initial Training Approach: Linear Progression
Heavy Lessons

After a short layoff from my usual training in weightlifting, I started my preparation on Wednesday, September 28, 2011 – almost 6 months to the day from the competition. (I started documenting my training right here at T Nation on October 31st, for those of you who might like to reference my training journal).

My initial training approach involved bench pressing and squatting on Mondays and Fridays, and deadlifts every other Wednesday, using a simple “linear progression” approach popularized by Mark Rippetoe here for the bench and squat. I’d work up to a challenging set of 5 on day one, and then 3×5 (with slightly less weight) on the second weekly workout, starting off with very light loads.

On deadlifts, I worked up to a single work set of 5 reps per session (again starting very light). I planned a progression of 5 pounds/session for the bench and squat, and 10 pounds/session on pulls.

Here’s what my initial training week looked like:

Monday
Power Clean
Squat 1×5
Bench Press 3×5

Wednesday
Snatch variant
Deadlifts
Chin-Ups

Friday
Power Clean
Squat 3×5
Bench Press 1×5
Dumbbell Curl

Notes

For squat and bench, I paired a 1×5 lift with a 3×5 lift, rather than doing 3×5 for both lifts on the same day. This was for the purpose of evenly distributing workloads.

I haven’t listed loading parameters for the Olympic lifts, chins, and curls. That’s because I purposely made these decisions intuitively, based on what felt good at the moment. If I felt great on a particular day, I’d try for something big. If not, I didn’t stress about it.

I allowed for occasional variety when it came to the non-competition lifts. The Big 3 lifts, however, were set in stone. I think that training programs should have a “compulsory” as well as an “optional” category, meaning that you should be able to discern between tasks that are central to your goal versus drills that are less critical to your core mission. Therefore, you’ll see that I eventually dropped curls, skipped chins, and so on. Great programs are characterized by a “flexible structure.”

While it may seem excessive to squat twice a week while deadlifting during the same week, keep in mind that volume on Mondays and Wednesdays was fairly low (1×5 for each).

Some readers may notice the complete lack of a general/dynamic warm-up, foam rolling, stretching, and so forth. Personally, I’ve never experienced much benefit in any of these activities, and decided to finally listen to my inner voice on these issues. That said, if you feel you benefit from any of them, certainly use them.

My plan was to run this progression until I hit a wall (which I knew was inevitable), and then devise a new strategy when that happened.

For quick reference, my first 1×5 workouts featured the following loads:

Bench press: 170 x5
Squat: 225 x5
Deadlift: 340 x5

That should give a sense of how light I started off, although these opening workouts weren’t especially easy. I was both embarrassed and nervous on the bench press in particular, given my shoulder history.

That said, I had no pain on those initial workouts, nor did I experience any significant pain or injury during this six-month training period. The only injury I suffered was a moderately-tweaked low back on a 185-pound squat early in the cycle, and a period of 3-4 weeks where I was experiencing moderate left pec discomfort on bench presses. That’s it.

Never before have I experienced a pain/injury-free six months of training, and I sure wasn’t expecting it to occur at age 52.

Reaching A Plateau On Linear Progression

Heavy Lessons

Right around mid-February, I could sense that my linear progression honeymoon period was coming to an end. It was taking all I had to continue making my 5-10 pound jumps, and an additional concern was that April 1st was coming up fast, and 5’s seemed a bit non-specific for hitting big singles in competition.

I had benched 225 x 4 (missed the planned 5th rep) squatted 300 x 5, and pulled 363 x 5, but by this time my discipline had already eroded. I was already “experimenting” (or “pussing out” to be more forthright) by either taking heavy singles, or sometimes going more than 5 reps. Basically I was just sick of 5’s. I needed a new approach before I started losing my discipline altogether.

Enter Chad Waterbury

I’ve known and respected Chad Waterbury for years and asked him if he’d help my with “last minute” peaking strategies. Chad looked at my training journal and told me that in his discussions with people like Franco Columbo and Pavel Tsatsouline, he’d developed a strong affection for a “Medium – Heavy – Medium – Maximum” type of progression.

Medium days were 3 x 3, heavy days were 3 x 2, and maximum days were mock competitions essentially, a chance to evaluate your progress. In terms of progression, each type of workout, when repeated, should be done with slightly more weight.

I immediately implemented Chad’s suggestions, and after about 10 days could feel a renewal, physically and psychologically. My numbers started moving dramatically – before I knew it I was hitting 380 on the squat, 465 on the deadlift, and 255 on the bench, and I felt less drained at the same time. I was peaking. Things were coming together.

In my last month of training, I managed to chalk up a 403 squat, a 255 bench, and a 475 deadlift (see the videos below). I simply wanted to hit these numbers (or slightly more if possible) during official competition, when the pressure was on, without getting hurt. I felt ready go, but I had a lot of unknowns ahead of me…

So How’d I Do?

In terms of expectations, I only had a few:

I really wanted a 400 squat and a 500 deadlift, and I didn’t want to get hurt in the process. I had no idea what to expect on the bench. But I felt I had to be ready for anything, given that this was my first experience in the sport, and also considering that the warm-up room was scantily equipped and crowded.

I had to be prepared for a rushed and/or incomplete warm-up. I had to be ready for the possibility that my squats might not be deep enough, or that I might not be prepared for the various technical rules I’d face on the bench, including the pause, keeping the feet motionless, and so on. I’d trained for all of this, but you never know exactly what you’re up against until it actually happens.

Here’s an event-by event breakdown of my meet:

Squat

My last warm-up was with 315, which I had to take from a very low position due to the much shorter guys who were sharing the rack with me. Nonetheless, it felt fine and I was confident overall.

I opened with 340, which felt about as heavy as I expected, and much to my relief I got three white lights – my depth was legal.

My second attempt was with 369, and now that I knew my depth would pass muster, I felt energized and confident. I probably could’ve hit it for a triple if I’d needed to. Three whites.

I went to the administrators’ table and asked for 402, one pound less than my PR in training, but I didn’t want to get greedy. I would’ve been super happy to hit 400, but had I tried, say, 415 and missed, I’d be in a bad mood for the rest of the meet.

402 was heavy and slow. I struggled out of the hole, and waited for what felt like an eternity for the head judge to signal me back to the rack. I think my spotters and I got the bar back on the stands about a second before I nearly passed out from pressurizing against that load. Three whites! I was off to a great start – 3 for 3, no red lights.

You can see my 402 attempt below:

Bench Press

My last warm-up backstage was with 205, and it felt uneventful. My first attempt was 225 pounds – a weight I’d hit for 4 reps in training. I smoked it easily for three whites.

Second attempt: 245. This went up okay, but not as well as I’d expected. Somehow my placement on the bench was off – I reasoned that

I needed to be closer to the uprights for my final attempt. Due to the difficulty of this attempt, and also because I was 5 for 5 at this point, I asked for 253 for my final attempt – 2 pounds less than my training PR.

As I positioned myself on the bench, I remembered the positioning error I wanted to correct, and moved a bit closer to the uprights. Two fifty three went up with ease – the adjustment paid off better than I’d anticipated. On the bench, I again went 3 for 3, and no red lights. My only small regret is that I was probably good for 260, which would’ve been a new PR. That’s what the next meet is for I guess.

You can see my 253 attempt below:

Deadlift

Heavy Lessons

By this point in the day I was pretty wiped out, and my low back and hamstrings were toasted from the heavy squats. One of the unknowns I knew I’d be facing today was that I’d never maxed out my squat and deadlift on the same day.

There was a war going on in my head: a struggle between wanting to play it safe and hit 500, and the desire to get a new PR, say 510 or so. At this point I’d gone 6 for 6 with no red lights, so I decided to commit to a “perfect meet” – going 9 for 9, no red lights, and at least meeting (if not exceeding) training PR’s.

My last warm-up in back was with 405. It was clear that I could’ve hit at least 5 reps with that, so I felt ready for my 440 opener. After I set that down, I was warned by the head judge to lower the bar with more control, which took me by surprise, but nonetheless, I earned three whites for my effort, and asked for 469 for my second attempt, which I handled successfully. The trick of course, is to optimally bridge the gap between my second attempt and my goal for my final lift, which was 501.

Walking out to that 501-pound barbell, I had confidence that I’d already hit that weight before in the past, but also felt pressure that until this point I’d been running a perfect meet. To say that I was determined to make this lift would be a gross understatement.

Internally, I’d worked myself into such a frenzy of effort that I honestly don’t remember feeling the bar in my hands. As I began pulling, I felt relief that I at least got the weight moving upward, but it felt significantly heavier than I expected. I kept pulling, however, knowing that my deadlifts usually move faster than what it feels like.

As the bar passed my knees, I thought, “Okay, I’m home free now,” but my improved leverage was offset by the mounting fatigue. The pull was a grind from start to finish. Finally, I locked it out, and remembering my earlier admonition from the head judge, did my best to lower the bar under maximum control. Hands on knees, I looked back at the scoreboard – three whites! A perfect meet!

In summary, the only change I would’ve made would’ve been to take a heavier final bench attempt, but as the old saying goes, hindsight is 20-20. I felt I’d performed a perfect meet, but what I learned from the experience was far more valuable than winning my first powerlfting meet (oh, did I forget to mention that detail?).

Lessons Learned

Injury Avoidance: I had virtually no pain during this 6-month training cycle, despite performing nearly every “challenging” lift in the book (squats, deadlifts, bench presses, two Olympic lifts, rows, and chins) hard and often. There are three plausible explanations for my injury-free experience.

First, I started well below my abilities. Second, I progressed very gradually – only 5-10 pounds per session. Third, I didn’t do any “junk” work, which limited my overall wear and tear.

I didn’t do accessory single-joint lifts, nor did I perform “advanced” techniques like eccentrics, plyometrics, chains/bands, partials, or forced reps. I simply did super-basic exercises using tried-and true programming principles, and I did it consistently and progressively.

I never took a single ibuprofen, never iced anything, and I never missed a single workout or failed to hit my numbers because of pain or injury. In short, my training was remarkably low-tech and the only thing exciting about it was that I got bigger, stronger, faster, and leaner; and I did it without injuring myself in the process.

A note about bench pressing: I noted that my traditional experiences with all forms of bench pressing were characterized by shoulder pain and injury. I can attribute my sudden good fortune to only one thing: since September 28th, all of my benches have been done with a pause, as is required in competition.

I believe this pause helps mitigate the high tensions that occur when the shoulder is at its weakest position (when the bar touches the chest). If you’re having issues with your shoulders when you press, put your ego aside and implement the pause – it took me until age 52 to figure that out, so consider this a head start!

Body Composition: Body comp has never been my strong suit. When my focus was primarily on the Olympic lifts, things like squats, presses, and pulls received only cursory attention – by the time I got to squats, I often had nothing left in the tank.

But by putting my primary focus on “big” multi-joint movements done for higher volumes and longer time-under-tensions than what I was used to, lo and behold, I actually started developing a physique. And while I’ve never particularly cared much about aesthetics, I have to admit it’s fun to at least look like I spend time in the gym.

Improved Olympic Lifts: Perhaps the most pleasant outcome occurred as I gradually started reintroducing power snatches and clean and jerks into my prep. Not only did I discover that I could still perform a workable clean and jerk despite my elbow issues, but in late April – after just five sessions and not having performed a single C&J for more than 6 months – I reached 95% of my best C&J ever, despite weighing significantly less and having not practiced that lift in months. I also reached 98% of my best snatch, after only a handful of sessions on that lift as well.

An even more remarkable surprise was that, for years, both snatches and jerks have been problematic on my shoulders, particularly my left shoulder. Remarkably, I found that suddenly, I’m performing very heavy snatches and jerks completely pain free.

This was one of the most gratifying things I’ve experienced in my entire training career. I attribute this to the 6-month break away from these lifts that allowed my old shoulder injuries to heal, but I also believe that bench pressing contributed to my overall shoulder integrity. Furthermore, I became much stronger as a whole, which certainly contributed to my shoulder health and integrity.

Prologue: What I’m Up To Now…

Heavy Lessons

My current goal is to be ready to do either a powerlifting meet or a weightlifting meet at short notice, any time of the year, while continuing to improve my body comp and staying injury-free at the same time. In other words, I want to be a bit more well-rounded as I get older, and I’m having a lot of fun getting stronger in my 50’s without nursing injuries in the process.

The take-home lesson is, there’s lots for all of us to learn, even if we’re well-known experts who’ve been training for decades. I humbly hope that this story has inspired you to reach out and seek new challenges for yourself – no matter how good you are, no matter how much you may know, no matter how old you are, there are new heights for all of us to reach.

The Contreras Files: Volume I

Volume I

glute exercises

To say I’m a workaholic is like saying Tiger Woods has commitment issues. Through all the lifting, training, reading, and researching that I do, I’m constantly being exposed to and coming up with new ideas.
This column will introduce T Nation readers to just some of what I happen to stumble upon every day, in no particular order of importance. The typical lifter, athlete, personal trainer, strength coach, or physical therapist is bound to find something useful in this article.

1. Low Load Glute Activation is Legit

One thing I love about T Nation is that often the best coaches in the world are years ahead of the research. You might remember Mike Robertson and Eric Cressey writing about glute activation as early as 2004. I can remember thinking, “Why in the hell would I do some silly Jane Fonda exercises?”
When other top coaches including Mark Verstegen, Mike Boyle, and Martin Rooney started recommending glute activation, I could no longer ignore their advice. I got down on the floor and got my bridge, clam, and bird dog on and immediately recognized the potential in these simple movement patterns.
And thus began a love affair unparalleled by any other. Some guys have pictures of their girlfriend on their nightstand. Me? A picture of some glutes with a bouquet of roses stuck in-between the cheeks.
Kidding. But I do keep my eyes and ears open for new glute research. Case in point:
Australian researchers recently put 22 professional Australian Football League (AFL) players through three different warm-up protocols:

  • Standing on a whole body vibration platform for 45 seconds at 30 Hz.
  • A 5-7 minute, 7-glute exercise routine consisting of glute bridges, side lying clams, quadruped hip extensions, side lying hip abductions, prone single leg hip extensions, fire hydrants, and stability ball wall squats.
  • A control group.

The researchers found that during a countermovement jump, the whole body vibration group fared 2.4% group, while the glute activation group outperformed the control group in peak power by 4.2%, along with outperforming the whole body vibration group by 6.6% (Buttifant et al. 2011.).
glute exercises
My conclusion is that you’d be wise to include some low load glute activation work in your warm-ups. Remember, the purpose of glute activation isn’t to “rep-out” or “max-out,” but to groove proper motor patterns and focus on getting the glutes working efficiently. Ten high-quality repetitions of each exercise is all you need.

2. Cue the Glutes!

glute exercises

Speaking of glute activation, Cara Lewis and Shirley Sahrmann tested the gluteal activation of a prone hip extension exercise (Lewis and Sahrmann 2009). They showed that compared to no cueing, simply uttering the phrase, “Use your glutes to lift your leg while keeping your hamstrings relaxed,” resulted in over double the gluteus maximus activation and caused the gluteus maximus to fire quicker in hip extension.
Based on my experience as a trainer, most beginners suck at using their glutes.

3. Lifters vs. Weaklings – Lumbopelvic Rhythm

glute exercises

After a couple of months of training with me, my clients always tell me that their backs feel stronger and better than ever. Is it due to increased hip mobility, or is it core stability? Maybe it’s just increased glute strength? Perhaps it’s due to improved fundamental movement patterns? Or is it a case of all of the above?
In his book Low Back Disorders, Stu McGill discusses the mythical lumbopelvic rhythm pattern explained in textbooks – supposedly the first 60° of bending is accomplished by flexing the lumbar spine while the remaining flexion takes place at the hips (McGill page 74). While most individuals bend with a blend of spinal, pelvic, and hip motion, weightlifters possess unique movement patterns at the hip. Stu states that:

Of course, Olympic weightlifters are better at hip hinging than normal individuals, but the importance of this information is that the movement patterns developed in the weight room transfer over to everyday life.
Here’s my man Tony Gentilcore demonstrating proper hip hinge patterning with a dowel.

4. Powerlifters vs. Olympic Weightlifters – Hip and Knee Moments During Squatting Tasks

Swedish researchers measured the hip and knee moments of six powerlifters and eight Olympic weightlifters during parallel and deep squats (Wretenberg et al. 1996). The results were intriguing: during deep squats powerlifters exhibited 41% higher hip extension moments and 37% less knee extension moments compared to weighlifters, and during parallel squats the powerlifters exhibited 43% higher hip extension moments and 42% less knee extension moments than weightlifters.
This study shows that during squatting tasks, powerlifters use a low-bar position, sit back more, and use their powerful hips to a greater degree than weightlifters, whereas weightlifters use a high-bar position, stay more upright, and use their powerful knee joints to a greater degree than powerlifters.
Maximum sports performance requires strong hips and knees

5. Bench Press and Lateral Forces on the Bar

Wonder why the bench press elicits more triceps activity than a dumbbell bench press? A new study out of Penn State showed that the lateral forces exerted on the bar equaled roughly 25% of the vertical forces (Duffey and Challis 2011).
Ten men and eight women were tested in the bench press and the total vertical forces totaled on average 187 pounds of force whereas the lateral forces applied to the bar totaled on average 53 pounds of force. With these proportions, a 600-pound bench presser would be exerting around 150 pounds of outward pressure on the bar throughout the movement.
If you’ve listened to Dave Tate over the years and learned to use your triceps while benching, chances are your lateral forces are even higher than 25% of the vertical forces.
This extra work is simply a byproduct of the prime mover’s maximal contractions against the barbell – which isn’t possible with the dumbbell bench press as the dumbbells would split apart and result in a failed lift.

6. Elite Fitness Glute Ham Raise

glute exercises

I’ve traveled the world and performed glute ham raises with over twenty different glute ham developers. In a nutshell, 99% of glute ham developers suck. Instead of feeling smooth, the lift usually feels awkward and unproductive.
That is, . If you’ve never performed a glute ham raise off of an Elifefts model, then you can’t possibly imagine the exercise’s effectiveness, as chances are the one you’re using pales in comparison.
Sometimes I wonder if equipment manufacturers even work out or understand biomechanics. Big props to Elitefts for spending the necessary time getting the design right.

7. Crunch Like This

Research out of Stanford University from 1979 showed that a sit-up exhibited 38 degrees of lumbar flexion, but a crunch where only the scapulae are lifted off the ground exhibited only 3 degrees of lumbar flexion (Halpern and Bleck 1979).
Given that the lumbar spine has between 40-73 degrees of ROM in males and 40-68 degrees of ROM in females (Troke et al. 2005), I think it’s safe to say that this type of crunch remains in the neutral zone for the lumbar spine.
If you limit the lumbar ROM and use a controlled tempo, it makes the exercise much more challenging and you’ll no longer be able to bust out hundreds of repetitions.
Control the tempo and accentuate the negative portion of the exercise. I discuss this further in the video below:

To prevent hyperkyphotic postural adaptations in the thoracic spine, make sure you perform thoracic mobility drills and include plenty of exercises to strengthen the erectors.
For example, some mobility drills include thoracic extensions off a foam roller and quadruped thoracic extension and rotation, while some strength training exercises include squats, deadlifts, bent over rows, and farmer’s walks.

8. Four to Six Weeks to Harden Up

glute exercises

When I was 18 years old, I was in the gym quarter-squatting 275 pounds with a pad around the bar. A giant behemoth of a man walked up behind me and told me to back down to 135 and squat down deep to the floor like a real man and quit using the pussy pad. Thankfully I took his advice and never looked back.
I can remember using the bar pad because squatting freakin’ hurt my back. The pressure was overwhelming. After ditching the bar pad, it took around four weeks to stop hurting.
When I started front squatting, the same scenario occurred – it hurt. But I stuck with it and a month later I could no longer feel any pain. Zercher squats took a bit longer to quit hurting – around six weeks – as did hook grip deadlifts. Just recently I started hip thrusting without a bar pad and it hurt like hell. I’ve been doing this for a month and it no longer hurts.
Just remember, what seems like torture today in a month will feel like a hot oil massage from a pair of busty Asian masseuses. I kid you not.

9. Resistance Training vs. Stretching for Flexibility Gains

Many long-term lifters have noticed that they don’t have to stretch much to maintain their flexibility. Fact is, many of us have noted superior flexibility gains from weight training compared to stretching.
In the past few years, several studies have emerged showing that resistance training increases flexibility (Monteiro et al. 2008; Santos et al. 2010). This isn’t surprising, but some have shown (Aquino et al. 2010, Simao et al. 2010; Morton et al. 2011; Nelson and Bandy 2004).
I’m a fan of doing all sorts of things for improved mobility and soft tissue functioning such as foam rolling and static stretching. But know that full range of motion resistance training is one of the best things you can do to increase and maintain mobility.
Just make sure your programs are well-designed, as structural balance is critical for postural and functional adaptations. To add icing on the cake, make sure you foam roll, stretch, and perform mobility and activation drills.

10. Broz Mentality – The “Shoot Your Family” Scenario

glute exercises

I’m a big John Broz fan. When I met him at his Las Vegas facility he said something that really hit home. He told me to envision someone capturing my family and informing me that they were going to shoot all of them unless I put a hundred pounds on my squat in one month. Then he asked me how often I would squat if this actually happened, and followed up with this gem: “Something tells me you’d squat more than twice per week.”
I like to think of this scenario for a variety of purposes in strength and conditioning. What if you had to put an inch on your arms in one month without gaining any weight? Something tells me you’d perform some curls and triceps extensions. What if you needed your abs to be the strongest they ever were? Something tells me you’d perform dynamic spinal movements and not just core stability exercises.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed my ramblings and perhaps picked up something useful you can use in your own training.
In summary:

  • Activate the glutes
  • Learn to sit back and hinge properly at the hips
  • Learn to use the triceps properly for maximum bench press performance
  • Buy an Elitefts glute ham developer if you want a real GHD
  • Limit your lumbar ROM when you crunch
  • Know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for dealing with pain from barbell pressure on new movements as they only take a month or so to get accustomed to
  • Perform full ROM resistance training for maximum flexibility
  • Pick a new goal each month and attack it with purpose.

See you next month!

References

Aquino CF, Fonseca ST, Goncalves GGP, Silva PLP, Ocarino JM, Mancini MC. Stretching versus strength training in lengthened position in subjects with tight hamstring muscles: A randomized controlled trial. Manual Therapy. 15(1) 26-31, 2010.
Buttifant, D, Crow, J, Kearney, S, and Hrysomallis, C. Whole-body vibration vs. gluteal muscle activation: What are the acute eff ects on explosive power? Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 25: S14–S15, 2011.
Duffey, MJ and Challis, JH. Vertical and lateral forces applied to the bar during the bench press in novice lifters. J Strength Cond Res. 2011. 25(9): 2442–2447.
Halpern, AA and Bleck EE. Sit up exercises: an electromyography study. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 1979. 145:172-8.
Lewis CL, Sahrmann SA. Muscle activation and movement patterns during prone hip extension exercise in women. J Athl Train. 2009. 44(3): 238–248.
McGill, S.M. Low back disorders: Evidence based prevention and rehabilitation, Human Kinetics Publishers, Champaign, IL, U.S.A., 2002.
Monteiro WD, Simão R, Polito MD, Santana CA, Chaves RB, Bezerra E, Fleck SJ. Influence of strength training on adult women’s flexibility. J Strength Cond Res. 2008;22(3):672-7.
Morton SK, Whitehead JR, Brinkert RH, Caine DJ. Resistance Training vs. Static Stretching: Effects on Flexibility and Strength. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Sep 30. [Epub ahead of print]
Nelson RT, Bandy WD. Eccentric Training and Static Stretching Improve Hamstring Flexibility of High School Males. Journal of Athletic Training. 2004;39:254–258.
Santos E, Rhea MR, Simão R, Dias I, de Salles BF, Novaes J, Leite T, Blair JC, Bunker DJ. Influence of moderately intense strength training on flexibility in sedentary young women. J Strength Cond Res. 2010;24(11):3144-9.
Simão R, Lemos A, Salles B, Leite T, Oliveira É, Rhea M, Reis VM. The influence of strength, flexibility, and simultaneous training on flexibility and strength gains. J Strength Cond Res. 2011;25(5):1333-8.
Troke M, Moore AP, Maillardet FJ, Cheek E. A normative database of lumbar spine range of motion. Manual Therapy. 2005. 10:198-206.
Wretenberg P, Feng Y, Arborelius UP. High and low bar squatting techniques during weight-training. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1996. 28(2)218-24.

Wikio

>The New Science on Squatting and the TRUTH About Assessing and Teaching the Squat – Interview w/ Dr.Mark McKean � Nick Tumminello Fitness | Baltimore MD Personal Trainer | Sports Performance & Bodybuilding

>

The TRUTH About Squating – Interview with Dr. Mark McKean

Who are you and why should we listen to you?

I started my career as a physical education teacher and taught high school PE for just over 3 years extending my interest in sports coaching and performance with high school athletes. In the late 80’s I changed careers to work as a fitness instructor and strength coach. I have now worked as a PT for 23 years and strength coach for 21 years. I have owned a number of fitness related businesses including fitness centres, studios, PT businesses, and an instructor training organisation. I have since coached athletes to international level competition in 18 sports and helped some of these win both Olympic and World Championship medals in 5 sports. In 2009 I completed my PhD in sport science focusing on movement timing and coordination of the human body and the strength ratios, muscle balance, and ROM about key joints. Since then I have set up a research program at the University Sunshine Coast specifically to research practices and issues within the fitness industry so we can feed back good quality scientifically validated information to instructors and trainers.
In particular the key lower body activity I used in my research was the back squat exercise. I have since had 2 papers published in JSCR on squat movement pattern and have also finished a further 2 studies on squatting soon to be published as well. Over the last 15 years I have presented over 500 lectures and workshops both nationally in Australia and internationally on posture, strength, flexibility, and personal training. One of those in Beijing last year was where we got to meet and spend some time with our great friends in China.

When you and I met (while both presenting in Beijing China), you had mentioned your research on the Squat. Can you please give us the bullet points of your squat research studies?

The squat research really came about as a result of the workshops and lectures I was presenting and I found so much conflict between instructors and coaches regards the techniques and cues used to teach and correct the squat movement pattern. I always had the opinion instructors were over teaching the squat and not letting the individual develop their own pattern based on their own physical structure. Too many cues, too many restriction, etc just seemed to go against all normal motor development strategies. As a result the last 5 years has seen my research program do a number of studies into the squat pattern and to look more closely at how people squat and what the timing and coordination strategies are developed to perform the squat.
Some of the key findings we have found probably confirm what many experienced strength coaches and lifters already know but was not always carried over to the fitness industry.
With so many key outcomes from the research here is a brief summary of what I have found so far.

Set Up

– One of the more obvious but less expected findings was that in every case, as soon as a loaded bar was placed across the rear shoulder region prior to the commencement of the downward phase of the squat, the lumbar spine lost its normal or natural curve.
– It appears that the normal response to a loaded bar on the shoulders is for the human body to adjust its posture so as to align the changed centre of mass now including the loaded bar so that the spine is more aligned directly underneath the load. Check it out next time you train a client and watch how the person’s lumbar spine changes once the bar is taken onto the back.

Knees

– The knees must move first and must forward to a point where the hip and knee joints can then coordinate with almost perfect precision.
– This means DON’T stop the knees moving over the toes but also don’t make a fuss about whether they do or don’t, just let the knees move into a position that allows the next part of the squat to become more coordinated. Some of our subjects kept their knees above the toes but other went forward of the toes by as much as 17 cm, with the average being 6-9 cm in front of the toes. But the knees always appear to move first and initiate the squat.
– This was also evident when we looked at the angular velocity of the shank and found that the shank did not move in a smooth way through the ascent and descent but moved in way that suggests the shank and knee are used by the body to control centre of balance and adjust total body position to remain stable and coordinated. Other research has also shown that anterior tibialis also contracts first to initiate the shank moving forward and this supported by our findings also.
– Mediolateral knee alignment does not remain in a constant width aligned with toes but tends to vary its width at different stages of the descent and ascent by between 5-9 cm. Again this appears to be important trainers and coaches should not prevent people from letting knees move slightly in or out as this assists with keeping the hip and knees in a coordinated movement pattern.

Gender differences

– Men and women definitely have different strategies in squatting and the timing of when each joint and segment reaches it maximum is different in all squat variations.
– Knee angle differ the most between males and females and this appears to be influenced most by different segment lengths of the lower limbs.
– Tall women tend to alter knee angles and tall men tend to alter hip angles when squatting.
– To adjust body position men tend to alter trunk angle and women tend to alter pelvis position
– Men appear to be more inherently stiff in the lumbar spine and women tend to be looser through the lumbar spine suggesting that women who squat will benefit from a good core strengthening program.

Lumbar spine

– Even with our experienced squatters most found it hard to maintain neutral or semi-flat lumbar curve.
– Our squatters went below parallel thigh and once below this depth it appears that the lumbar spine actually reverses its curve and becomes kyphotic.
– It’s not known if this is a good practice and loads used in our study were not 1RM but its concerning and needs further investigation to study or predict how this changes loading into the lumbar spine as all current models are done with neutral or semi curved lumbar spine.

Segment lengths

– Segment lengths definitely influence the squat movement pattern with height and trunk length being two of the most influential determinants to technique.

Overall squat strategy

– From a number of studies it appears that the main movement strategy developed by the brain to allow us to squat revolves around allowing the hip and knee to move with almost perfect precision.


– Movement of the knees, lumbar and sacrum regions, and shank all occur so that hip-knee coordination occurs evenly and smoothly.

What was your most surprising finding from your squat research?

The thing that really hit home to me about the complexity of such a gross movement was the manner in which the shank angle changed so much as a means to create stability and a constant centre of mass. This has never been reported or even discussed in the literature previously but when you look at the graphs of the speed of the hip and knee and the lines are so smooth and change perfectly and then you see the shank velocity going up and down and you match this with the centre pressure of mass, it really reinforced how important it is to be stable but also how clever the human movement pattern is to allow one component to almost be responsible for controlling this stability.

What conclusions has your squat research lead you to?

Wow that’s a big question. I would suggest my research has confirmed my previously held opinion that most trainers get it wrong with respect to the knees when squatting. Too many times I hear trainers and coaches tell their athletes or clients to keep the knees behind the toes and to keep them aligned. One of the key things I would suggest to these people is to let the knees move more freely and coach your athlete or client to perfect the coordination between the hip and knee rather than isolate the coaching of good technique to specific aspects of things like ‘break from the hips first’ or ‘keep the knees behind the line of toes’. Also allow squatters to develop a pattern over time rather than over teach and over correct too early before they have developed a coordinated movement based on experience.

Is there only one way “right” way to squat?

Good question…. in my opinion there is no best way to squat if you refer to specifics such as joint angles, or feet position etc, but I do believe there are ‘ideal’ strategies to teach. These include things like I have just mentioned with letting knees move freely and aiming to achieve perfect coordination between hip and knee joint angles and time at which the maximum of these angles occur.
Also know that taller people will squat differently to shorter people and most experienced coaches will know this. In my first bear of strength coaching I did some work experience with a national basketball team and these guys just could not squat, and over time I realised why and this research for me explains why this happens.

Should men and women squat differently?

When teaching men and women to squat I still go with the overall strategy of good squatting practice, but I’m also aware that the genders will correct and adjust position differently. The big indicator for differences with genders is the knee angles and subsequent trunk position. If you keep an eye on this you will see what I mean.
The other interesting thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that women tend to achieve more perfect coordination in all squat variations of load and stance, but men tend to achieve a better level of coordination only when squatting with heavier loads. It’s as if the load tends to optimise their patterns by either; allowing muscles and fascia to be stretched by the load, or with stronger stiffer muscles the extra load provides equal tension and improves coordination. This doesn’t mean go and load up every male’s squat weight because they squat poorly to assist with coordination, but be aware that the difference between unloaded squats and loaded squats will look more different in males than in females.

What do you think are some of the biggest mistakes trainers & coaches make when teaching or assessing the squat pattern?

Over teaching or over cuing. This really comes about from the way most professionals are taught and during this process they are told how to squat rather than how to ‘teach’ people to squat. I hear professionals provide clients with as many as 6-8 teaching cues, and then wonder why the person moves so slowly and in such a disjointed manner. The poor client is so busy trying to put everything they are told into a pattern that they have to be slow and the movement looks stiff or disjointed. Typically I teach people to get into the correct start position and then discuss what the correct bottom position looks like, by either talking it through or showing them, then allow the person to practice moving between these two positions. I also allow about 8-12 reps to achieve a more consistent pattern before I step in and coach. By doing this the person knows the two ends of the movement and has to develop their own strategy to move between these points. It generally takes 8-12 reps to develop this and only after that should you try and coach for an improved pattern rather than a predetermined pattern or one size fits all approach.
Assessing the squat pattern also has issues if you come from the predetermined or 8 cues approach as you will then typically look for a set sequence of events in the squat rather than consider the overall movement and how coordinated it might be which in the end is the ultimate aim, i.e. to squat smoothly and safely. There will always be issues related to poor flexibility and poor stability or balance that you can pick up on, but to my mind I want my clients to be smooth an d efficient in the squat as it then allows me to develop loading parameters to suit their goals.

What do you currently have going on – What can we look forward to in the near future form you?

After the squat research we have now moved onto looking at the shoulder press exercise. Again, more from industry feedback and behaviours, the behind the shoulder press exercise has received a lot of bad press even being banned by some industry leaders, but when I went looking for research to support why this exercise was so bad, I found nothing.
We recently completed data collection and have been crunching the data and running the stats. Our aim is firstly to compare the passive ROM about the shoulder girdle with the active ROM required to perform both in front and behind the head shoulder press. We have also collected data on the behaviour of the lumbar and thoracic spine, as well as scapula during both variations, and we also decided to use 3RM loads and 8RM loads to see if load altered this pattern. We are currently writing up the results and looking to submit this for publication within the next month or so.
I’ve always wanted to do something similar for chin-ups so perhaps that will be the next project. But we’ve also got a lot of other research going on…
– The ability of PT’s to become health educators and fight obesity by testing their nutritional knowledge
– Comparing constant interval training in elderly
– Using the WiiFit as a training tool for elderly
– Quantifying the value of group fitness classes to a variety of health measures
Once we get these done I’m happy to pass on our findings as well. Perhaps Nick you can even become part of our research board and help suggest ideas that require research that we can work on together.
Cheers and thanks for the chance to answer some questions on our research and specifically the squat.
Mark McKean PhD CSCS

Here A few of my personal favorite take-home quotes from Mark’s interview:

– “When teaching men and women to squat I still go with the overall strategy of good squatting practice, but I’m also aware that the genders will correct and adjust position differently”
– “The other interesting thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that women tend to achieve more perfect coordination in all squat variations of load and stance, but men tend to achieve a better level of coordination only when squatting with heavier loads”
– “Too many times I hear trainers and coaches tell their athletes or clients to keep the knees behind the toes and to keep them aligned. One of the key things I would suggest to these people is to let the knees move more freely and coach your athlete or client to perfect the coordination between the hip and knee rather than isolate the coaching of good technique to specific aspects of things like ‘break from the hips first’ or ‘keep the knees behind the line of toes’. Also allow squatters to develop a pattern over time rather than over teach and over correct too early before they have developed a coordinated movement based on experience.”

I HIGHLY Recommend You to Go Back and Read this interview AGAIN!

You know how we do things here at NickTumminello.com – We always bring you nothing but the best information and consistently exceed your expectations. Mark’s interview above is certainly no exception!
Since Mark’s interview is so jam-packed with so much usable information on teaching the squat exercise and assessing the squat pattern. I suggest reading this interview a few times over in order to ensure you’ve gotten every last thing you could out of it.

Contact Mark McKean

Be sure to check out Mark’s website, his blog, and his published research & reviews.
You can also friend him on Facebook here.

Two Kinds of Squats You’re Not Doing

by Lee Boyce
So, you’ve been experimenting with your leg workouts by changing your rep schemes here and there and varying your exercise selection. Good to hear.
The good news? You’ve seen some results.
The bad news? You’ve seen some results.
They could be even better. You’ve done enough barbell front squats, box squats, and back squats to last you until 2020, and hell, you’ve even thrown the highly recommended split stance work into the mix.
But your results have plateaued because you can’t challenge your legs with more time under tension through a greater range of motion. Soft tissue work and foam rolling can go a long way, but you’re still barely breaking parallel in your squats without feeling your lower back start to curve.
Of course, knowing you’d frenetically log on to TMUSCLE to seek a remedy, I came prepared. Here are two exercises that you’ve probably forgotten about, but can fix you up right quick.

Solution 1: The Overhead Squat

Overhead squats are a phenomenal tool for correcting the imbalances that lie among the hips, glutes, and lower back.
They have a threefold benefit. First, the overhead position of the bar makes much of the stability work go to the core, most predominately the lower back. Since the bar is held overhead, for most lifters, it will severely limit the depth achieved in the reps, and rounding of the lumbar spine will happen earlier in the rep.
Having this weakness exposed can tell you just how much stiffening/strengthening the lower back may need, and on the other side of the body, it’ll tell you how much blockage your tight hip flexors have over your hamstrings and glutes, limiting their flexibility.

The Execution

To perform the overhead squat, hold a barbell overhead with your arms the same width as you’d keep them in your standard bench press. In other words, if you were to bend your elbows so that your upper arms were parallel to the floor, they’d make a 90-degree angle at the elbow joint. With the bar overhead, make sure the elbows are locked out. The last thing you want to happen is for the bar to collapse downwards as the body descends in the rep.
With the arms locked out, it’s important to make sure that you stabilize your shoulder capsule. The best way to do this is to simply apply outward tension on the barbell while it’s overhead. In other words, with tension outwards, try to pull the bar apart with your hands and maintain this isometric force throughout your entire set. Doing so will activate the mid traps and provide tightness and stability between your scapulae, putting you in a safer position to bear the load over your spine.
Attempt to follow the same body mechanics as you would in a back squat, initiating the movement from the hips being drawn back first, and make sure the bar stays over the ankles. Don’t let it fall too far forward or backward. Press through the heel and middle of the foot, and be sure to squeeze the glutes on the way up.

Overcoming the Obstacles

The overhead squat is a lift that definitely can’t be gone into cold. A proper warm-up and stretching of all major muscle groups is necessary, with emphasis towards the entire hip girdle and shoulder girdle, including the pecs.
This exercise above all provides great reason to make friends with a foam roller. So, give it a kiss, and then roll the crap out of your quads, hips, glute medius, tensor fascia latae (TFL), and lats.
As I noted above, one of the major demands the overhead squat has is that of requiring good shoulder health. If you’ve got that, the arms will have the range of motion behind the neck necessary for the bottom portion of the lift. The shoulder is responsible for circumduction, or a circular rotation, and no other joint in the body has as many degrees of potential movement.
It should be your aim to have your arms remain perpendicular to the ground through the squat, with no problem to the shoulder capsule. In other words, the bar should remain above the ankles at all times. If you find it difficult to achieve this position and the bar keeps falling forward, focus on more scapular stability work, paired with stretching of the pec muscles.
Doing shoulder “dislocates” with a standard five-foot cut of PVC piping (or broomstick, if it’s long enough) is also a great way to develop range of motion. Don’t worry, they’re not as scary as they sound. You can find PVC piping at your local hardware store, and a five-foot cut is dirt-cheap. For a couple of bucks, you can’t go wrong.
To do these, hold the PVC pipe at arm’s length on both ends with an overhand grip and simply rotate your straight arms all the way overhead and behind the back. Don’t bend your elbows. Your finish position should be with the bar behind you, with straight arms, resting on your butt. From there, rotate your straight arms back to their starting position the same way.
If your first position is easy, move your hands two-finger widths inwards and repeat. Do two to three reps in each direction, continuously moving inwards until you can no longer complete a rep without bending your elbows to compensate.

In Case You Forgot…

To sum up, key points to remember about the overhead squat:

Remember not to go into overhead squatting with the intent to lift 315. You’ll be humbled quickly. Keep in mind that it’s a tool to get a healthy hip girdle, so focus on achieving greater and greater range of motion with the correct technique in the lift. Make noticeable progress this way before increasing the weight lifted.

Solution 2: The Zercher Squat

Ed Zercher, a strongman from the 1930s, created one of my personal favorite lifts, the Zercher squat.
The Zercher squat is simple to execute and its major benefit is the lack of compressional force on the spine due to the fact that the bar isn’t axially loaded. Combine this with the fact that the bar is still loaded on the front of the body, and it makes for a safe, deep squat — meaning tons of posterior chain activation.
A man’s lift. ‘Nuff said.

The Execution

The Zercher squat is performed by setting up a bar in the power rack or squat cage at about waist level. At this point, you step in close and position the bar in the crook of your arms. Make sure the elbows are about shoulder width apart and your knuckles face the ceiling. Step back and stand tall, keeping the bar right in tight against your body.
As usual, the mechanics of the actual squat from the hip don’t differ. Initiate the movement by bringing the hips back, and make sure that through the descent the knuckles stay pointed at the roof.
With your feet wider than shoulder width apart, maintain an arch in your lower back, and keep in mind that the further away you bring your elbows from your body as you descend, the more torque you’ll place on your lower back (and the more abdominal activity you’ll stimulate).
At the bottom position, your elbows should be in contact with your thighs, with your fists still pointing at the roof. Drive up by squeezing the glutes and pressing through the heels.
If you’re a taller lifter like me, you likely understand just how much more work any squat, let alone a Zercher squat, takes because of our lever lengths. At 6’3″, I’ll be the first to say that it’s a long way down to parallel, let alone below. With the Zercher, you’ll be able to get to a much deeper hip flexion than you would in a standard back squat, and maintain a more upright torso position, meaning more time under tension through your set, and more glute and hamstring activity due to your depth.
Note: It would also be a good idea to foam roll the hips and TFL for this exercise, and be sure to point the toes out 20 to 30 degrees when performing the lift. This will open up the hip flexors and prevent them from cutting your hamstrings’ range of motion short.

Don’t Worry, There’s a Sample Workout

This thing wouldn’t be complete without a sample workout to show just where and when the hell to try out these lifts. So, without further adieu…

Sample Leg Workout

Warm-up: dynamic mobility drills, static stretch, foam rolling
A) Overhead Squat 3 x 12
After a feel set with the empty bar, perform working sets with 40-50% of barbell shoulder press one-rep max. Remember to focus on quality of performance rather than weight lifted. Rest two minutes between sets. Static stretch quads and hips between sets.
B) Bulgarian Split Squat (with added range of motion) 4 x 10 per leg with light dumbbells
This exercise is the same as the standard Bulgarian split squat, but the front leg is also slightly elevated by a low step platform. This can allow the rear knee to still travel all the way to the floor and give the hips an even greater range of motion to travel through. If you don’t have the hip flexor mobility to do this exercise, simply drop the front foot to the floor and perform a standard Bulgarian split squat. Rest two minutes between sets.
C) Zercher Squats 4 x 10
Perform with 50 to 60% of deadlift one-rep max. Rest two minutes between sets.
D) Eccentric Glute Hamstring Raise 3 x 5
Lower body to the floor as slowly as possible, with no change in angle to the hip joint. When you reach the floor, assume push up position and assist your body up to the starting point.
Adding a split stance exercise between the two squat exercises will help to open the hip flexors again, and create mobility at the joint capsule. It also works to diffuse any load placed upon the lower back, which is especially beneficial when following an overhead squat.
As you can see based on the percentages, this is by no means a bulking or size program. Its purpose is to increase the performance of your lifts within your size program. Taking a six-week stint to try this bad boy out to substitute your normal leg workouts can and will only lead to positive results when it’s time to lift big again. You may be surprised at how sore you’ll get, especially after the first week or two. And hey, you just might even put on some size having activated a greater percentage of your sleeping posterior chain muscle fibers again.

Summary

Taking the time to focus on mobility and flexibility of the lower body’s joints and musculature will pay off. To hit 100% of a working muscle’s fibers is a bodybuilder’s goal in his workouts, so it’s beneficial to check your ego at the door, and fess up to the imbalances that you may have been shying away from acknowledging for the last little while.
Sometimes less is more, and I’ll be the first to bitchsmack any meatheads tryin’ to diss.

Two Kinds of Squats You're Not DoingThe overhead squat
Two Kinds of Squats You're Not Doing

Shoulder “dislocates” for increased shoulder mobility.

The Zercher squat.

The Bulgarian split squat.

The Eccenctric glute hamstring raise.
Two Kinds of Squats You're Not DoingEd Zercher, clearly crazy enough to come up with the Zercher squat.

© 1998 — 2010 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Wikio

%d bloggers like this: