Category Archives: stretching tips

Stretching Doesn’t Work

The Contreras Files IV: 15 Practical TipsI spend most of my day working with sedentary office workers who toil in cubicle mines for an average of 8-12 hours a day. Not surprisingly, most arrive at my door with the mobility of a clam, which makes training them to do even simple things like hip hinges, squats, and other staples of a training program a challenging endeavor.
However, static stretching alone is not the answer. In fact, it barely provides any benefit at all.
No matter how much time a client spends stretching, they typically see only transient improvements in flexibility and negligible improvement in motor control when performing any movement using that new range of motion.
As a result, I’ve dropped almost all static stretching from my programs in favor of some more advanced mobility methods I’ll discuss here.

Banana Hammock Splits

Let’s start with the basics. “Mobility” means increasing the usable range of motion at a joint or joints in the hope that this increased range of motion allows for performance benefits and injury prevention.
This new range of motion should stick, or at least be something you can get back relatively quickly, as the only limiting factor should be the joint structure itself.
Everyone should theoretically be able to do the splits. The hip joint can get to 170 degrees of flexion, and in some angles outside of the saggital plane it can get to more than 200 degrees flexion. It can also extend to between 40-60 degrees, which adds up to way more than the necessary 180 degrees to do a split.
This leaves soft tissue restrictions as the reason most people can’t tea bag the floor. Sure, some have structural issues with the shape of their hip joints, but that can’t be something that could account for the entire population.
Flex Wheeler used to hit the splits on stage, carb depleted and dehydrated while packing more muscle than 95% of the population, proving the concept of being “muscle bound” to be complete and utter horse shit.

Why “Stretching” Won’t Make you Stretchy

The common thought process regarding static stretching is to hold an elongated position for 20-30 seconds to create additional length within a muscle to allow for a greater range of motion.
This is good in theory, but in practice it doesn’t seem to happen. If stretching is supposed to increase range of motion, why do people keep stretching while remaining chronically “tight”?
A better question would be why is that muscle or tissues so tight that they require stretching in the first place? Muscles are stupid creatures and they only do what they’re told to do. The nervous system calls the shots and if it says contract, the muscle contracts.
If the brain tells a muscle “get tight,” it’s for a reason, usually to produce movement (eccentric or concentric action), provide stability, or to protect joints during novel movements or ranges of motion.
The muscles of the hips are getting tight to try to provide some level of stability for another area of the body that doesn’t have it, so you can move efficiently and without pain.
This means that simply stretching a muscle without figuring out why it’s tight will just result in it getting tight again.
Below is a video to show the thought process in action with a live assessment and corrective strategy. Watch what happens with her left hip internal rotation:

She didn’t have to move her hip through any kind of range of motion to gain that new mobility, so we know stretching wasn’t going to be the answer.
Some people claim that static stretching helps increase the length of the muscle, which is almost as possible as me caring about Kim Kardashian or not being glued to the TV when the movie, Blood Sport,is playing.
If you grab a rope and pull it, it gets longer for as long as the tension is applied, but then when you let it go it returns to its normal length. That is unless you start ripping fibers and causing some irreparable damage.
Gymnasts and dancers have crazy mobility for life because they tend to go through deformational changes as children to help them get deeper stretches and more range of motion through alterations to their femoral head and neck, hip capsule, and almost every other joint where freaky mobility is necessary for their sport.
Static stretching a muscle is the same. Sure, it changes length for a little while, but returns quickly. There’s no way stretching will add sarcomeres in series – which would actually increase the length of the muscle – without long sustained holds of about 20-30 minutes, as shown by some studies.
Additionally, static stretching reduces your ability to produce muscular force, meaning you’re less likely to push massive weights and catch the attention of someone who may want to see you naked. Who would want to limit themselves like that?

What Else Could You Do?

While many people think foam rolling is a method of stretching, it’s not. The length of the muscle or tissue isn’t undergoing any kind of length change, but rather a neural down-regulation that reduces resting tone in prime movers, meaning you can move more easily and with a better chance of having balanced tension around the joint.
It’s a testament to how resetting the neural tone of a tissue can help increase range of motion faster than simply stretching.
But again, un-gluing a chronically tight area without restoring stability to the tissues it’s trying to help stabilize will only result in it getting tight again.
Chronic IT band pain? Look at how your hips and feet are moving, how your knees are positioned during your squats, and also your lateral core stability on that side.
Start off by gripping the floor and trying to form an arch in your foot whenever you have it in contact with the ground. You should be thinking of using your heel and the ball of your foot to shorten your sock without curling your toes.
From there, drive the knees out when squatting and deadlifting, so you keep the knees vertical over the feet instead of letting it cave in a valgus stress.
Foam rolling should be the first step to regaining lost mobility, specifically for the hips, typically occupying the first 5 minutes or so of any training session. Go super slow through all the tight spots, slow enough to make glaciers say, “Slow down!”
Traction is another form of mobility that can be applied to anyone and is a very effective form of mobilization to help un-glue sticky joints. I picked up a version of a dynamic traction movement with a thick elastic band from Kelly Starrett.
This involves having the band up high on the thigh, close to the hip joint, and rocking side to side. The elastic is pulling the hip joint slightly apart, while the action of the rocking helps to get the muscles working around the hip while in the new joint position.

(Just watch out so you don’t get your junk caught in the action.)
This can help reduce the resting tension of the muscles around the joint as it reduces the compressive signaling in the muscles supporting the joint.
An additional benefit is that the mild compression on the adductor muscles of the inner thigh can help increase activation and provide a better chance of total joint stability rather than simply addressing hamstrings and glutes.
The adductor magnus also causes a degree of hip extension, so spend some time on that as well when you’re trying to build your posterior chain.
Traction has commonly been used in therapeutic settings to provide a decreased stimulus to overactive muscles and receptors, and encourages an increase of fluid delivery into the joint spaces. Decompression tables for disc injuries are a common method of traction.
In passive settings it’s effective, but again doesn’t address the muscular stabilization component mentioned earlier. Having the dynamic rocking as shown here helps clean this up nicely.
Active mobility comes into play with the newly unlocked joints and tissues. The role of active mobility is to train the body to use the range of motion in the most effective way possible so that the likelihood of maintaining this new range is higher than simply rolling in to the gym at peak hour, squatting heavy, high fiving everyone in the gym and then going home.
The major directions that tend to be lacking in hip mobility are full hip flexion (bringing the knee to the chest), abduction (legs wide apart), external rotation (crossing an ankle over your knee), and even hip extension.
When doing any active mobility, it’s best to try to get all the movements down as fast as possible while focusing on getting the movement to come from the hip and not from the lumbar spine.
Focus on keeping the spine tense and the core active while sinking deep into the stretches, hold each for a single breath per rep, and continue on to the next one.

Putting it all Together

So to outline a plan of attack to get your hips going in the right direction:

  1. Foam rolling: Super slow, hips, IT band and adductors – 5-10 minutes
  2. Traction: Super slow and concentrated – 2 sets x 15 reps
  3. Active Mobility: Core tense and focus on breathing – 2 x 8-12 reps each side

The total time needed to get the hips singing a happy tune should only be about 15 minutes. If this 15 minutes means the difference between squatting deep into the hole and developing a bigger and better squat, or getting your hips back in a deadlift without having your low back flex to compensate, you’ll have a greater chance of pulling big numbers and not getting injured.
I should also say that having more hip mobility opens up more possibilities for exercises you can do, which will help reduce boredom and monotony in the gym. It can also increase the number of, ahem, positions you can get into outside of the gym.
You’re welcome.


Winchester et al (2009). A single 30-s stretch is sufficient to inhibit maximal voluntary strength. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. Vol 80 (2) pp. 257-261.
Liebenson C: Rehabilitation of the Spine Ð A Practitioners Manual. 2nd edition Williams and Wilkins. 2006.

A New Take on 5 Things

A New Take on 5 Things
Every successful career has hiccups along the way. Making mistakes and learning from them are the bricks and mortar of a long and productive career.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve stolen points from the best of ’em to advance my own training knowledge. In doing so, there were principles and exercises that I readily accepted as gospel and would defend from the tallest tree.
This is how it is. Disagree? Well, you’re just misinformed.
But times change. New research is performed, new information becomes available, and it only makes sense that methodologies would evolve. That is, unless you’d rather stay “right” than admit you were wrong.

1. My Revised Take on Cardio

My one-track mind nearly eliminated the possibility of using conventional “cardio” for fat loss. I sided with the many coaches who argued that slow-go cardio was a potential muscle-waster, not to mention woefully inefficient at burning calories.
Though there is some science to support this position, I realize now that there’s a big fat exception to this:.
Steady state cardio – especially the fasted version – can be a great tool for intermediate and advanced trainees that carry a significant amount of muscle mass.
People generally support interval training as it will have a greater affect on the metabolism, primarily because it promotes two things:

  • Oxygen debt
  • Utilization of fast-twitch muscle fibers

But if you’re carrying a lot of muscle, chances are you’ve lifted, pushed, and pulled a lot of heavy things to get there. That means your fast twitch fibers have been thoroughly exercised – since they’re the strongest fibers available – so it won’t be the end of the world if you add in a bit of steady state cardio during fat loss phases.
Bodybuilders are perfect examples. While some high-intensity cardio has made it’s way into their fat loss programs, isolation splits combined with a good, clean diet, and fasted and/or post workout cardio still dominate the scene. This improves thermogenesis – heat production within the body – that helps burn fat.
While anaerobic training is what makes athletes like sprinters and running backs get so lean and muscular, most of us are just regular exercise enthusiasts, not pro athletes, meaning we can’t expect to train – or look – like Adrian Peterson.
But we can lift weights and train our strength and anaerobic capacity. Once we’re big and strong, as long as we don’t go overboard, we can use steady state cardio to achieve some solid fat loss.

2. The GHR – A Little-Known Knee Killer?

Don’t worry, I’m not about to completely outlaw such a great exercise. But here’s what I’ve found.
I’ve had several clients complain of knee discomfort during or after a workout that involved a variation of the glute-ham raise (GHR), most often the eccentric GHR.
At first, I didn’t think that this exercise was the culprit, but a couple of sit-downs with a practitioner-buddy of mine had me thinking it might be something to use on a case-by-case basis.
Some say the GHR is a “closed chain” movement since the feet don’t move anywhere during the movement, but here’s the catch. Just like a seated leg extension, a GHR makes only one set of muscles act on the knee joint during the movement (hamstrings). There isn’t a co-contraction of muscles on both sides of the joint.
This can produce the same amount of shear from the opposing side, and therefore pull on the corresponding ligaments that attach to the tibia away from the femur.
With an actual GHR machine, it’s normally not that bad. But when we go into variations like the makeshift eccentric GHR, the shear is intensified since the entire weight of the body is resting on the tibia, inaddition to the hamstrings’ contraction pulling it even further. That means a lot of stress on your PCL.
Still, some are more resilient to shearing forces than others. We all know guys who’ve been doing leg extensions and other open-chain movements for years with zero joint problems, while others get shooting pains if they so much as look at a leg extension machine.
The moral of the story? If you’re using the eccentric GHR in your training, be cautious of its effects. Hopefully you don’t fall into the contraindicated group.

3. “Functional Training” Revisited

A New Take on 5 Things
The more I looked into it, the more variety I found in trainers’ definition of the term “functional.”
Sure, we have the basic exercises that have carryover into typical day-to-day situations like squatting, deadlifting, and standing pressing. But do we avoid biceps curls, hamstring curls, or bench presses because they seemingly don’t carry over to our daily grind?
Fact is, functional training can take on whatever description we want it to. A hamstring curl action has very little “real life” application, but one of the functions of the hamstrings is to flex the knee, and hamstring curls recreate this movement.
I advocate the big bang movements as much as the next guy. If our muscles aren’t performing their prime actions the way they should, then the number one exercise choices should always be those that enhance those prime actions.
However, I’ll humbly add that most T Nation readers seek strength and hypertrophy. What if we want bigger arms, and we’ve already spent the last three months overhead pulling, farmers’ walking, and close-grip pressing our way to oblivion?
Do we continue to avoid biceps curls because they’re “isolation” movements despite the stimulation for the biceps they provide? Do we still steadfastly avoid skull crushers or pressdowns, even though our horseshoes better resemble shoelaces?
Focus on the must-do’s first, keeping your muscular and skeletal health in check, but sometimes building up your body means training like a bodybuilder. In certain cases, that means isolating right down to the muscle.

4. Stretching and Foam Rolling

For a long time I used this stuff as an “answer.” Today I use it as a “prescription.” In almost all cases, muscles become tight because of a deficient muscle somewhere else. Usually the tight muscle is taking on the role of a muscle that isn’t pulling its own weight. A perfect example would be a pair of tight hamstrings picking up the slack for a set of inactive glutes.
A good rule of thumb is that when a muscle appears deficient, the answer isn’t always to give that muscle more attention. Considering this, we should be able to look at our weak links to see which smaller muscles aren’t doing everything they should to contribute to a functional body.
Flexibility and ROM increases will come immediately through restoring your antagonistic balance. This can be as simple as activating dormant muscles that for a while have been compensated for by the big dogs.
The true “answer,” in my book, is mobility. One of my favorite books is Assess and Correct by Eric Cressey. It has hundreds of drills that make small muscles fire up to create or restore range of motion.
I’m not saying that stretching and foam rolling to respectively lengthen and improve tissue quality is a waste of time. I still use them, and you should, too.
My advice is to turn it into a tactical approach. Instead of prescribing stretching and rolling to any ailment under the sun, start thinking in three ways: improve tissue quality first, activate muscles second, reduce inhibitions third.
Use foam rolling for myofascial release, dynamic warm ups to add range of motion and activate dormant muscles, and then static stretching to muscles that are “blocking” proper movement patterns, such as tight hip flexors affecting pelvic position during a back squat or Romanian deadlift.

5. A Quiet Tweak to Training Volume

A New Take on 5 Things
This might be stating the obvious, but not all programs are for everyone.
Training volume should be tailored to each athlete, and failing to recognize this is what keeps some athletes from seeing continued progress.
I first experienced this as a collegiate track and field athlete. We sprint athletes would have our workouts set by the coach, though we’d train alongside the athletes from other disciplines (the jump athletes, etc). This was done for simple time management reasons, as it was the easiest way to train a bunch of athletes at the same time.
But each athlete isn’t going to respond to the same training volume the same way – especially when our “base” workouts, usually Mondays, would often look something like this:

  • Dynamic warm-ups/flexibility work
  • Drills
  • Plyometric/ballistic training – Static jumps, stairs, uphill jumps, med ball work
  • Base training workout – 300m + (2)200m + (2)150m @ 85% of max effort
  • Core training circuit or weight training circuit

Needless to say, that’s a tough workout and would leave me destroyed. I’d be so sore that it would sometimes affect the practice on Tuesday.
This example is intended to show that quality is everything where training for performance is concerned. Big, tough, and heavy workouts have their place, but if you want to get stronger, bigger, or both, you to know when your body is working at its physiological peak, and when it’s starting to go down hill.
Once that line is crossed, it’s a good idea to cut your workout short, or heavily modify its contents.
I’m sure my track coach had the best of intentions, but not everyone’s going to have the same threshold and work capacity. Some levels of DOMS don’t need to be reached, and certainly not repeatedly.
Since you’re not training with a team and can control your workout, don’t be afraid to modify your programming. It may not take longwinded workouts to make your muscles big and strong.

Don’t Worry, I Haven’t Turned Into a Pansy

The smarter I get as a trainer, the more I’m reminded that there are many methodologies, techniques, and strategies for doing things, and many ways to achieve a desired result.
However, true wisdom comes from recognizing that what might work supremely well for person A could be a disaster for person B. In reality, it’s not the exercises that are contraindicated, but the people who do them. Stay aware of that and play your game, not someone else’s.
With age comes perspective and more importantly, wisdom. A lot might change in the next five years, but I can’t see that principle going anywhere.

Corrective Complexes: The Secret to Feelin’ Good

As a manual therapist, I often use a multi-modality approach when treating clients for soft tissue problems.
The basic treatment protocol is to address any restrictions, restore lost range of motion, and reeducate the proper activation sequences in hopes the client can return to full function as soon as possible. These modalities can include Active Release Techniques (ART), Active Isolated Stretching (AIS), positional release, myo-fascial release, etc., but the real key to ensuring soft tissue quality is frequency.
Consider how much stress and tension your body absorbs everyday from poor postural habits, adaptive shortening, repetitive tasks, etc. Now, couple that with healthy doses of squats, push presses, sprints and plyometrics. There’s just no way a weekly manual therapy session can successfully mitigate all of this to allow you to push to your next level of performance.
At our center we have therapists to help fine-tune our athletes outside their regularly scheduled treatment sessions. More importantly, we employ a very simple and effective strategy called to ensure they’re getting the most out of their warm-up periods, as well as their training sessions.
Chances are you already use foam-rolling, range of motion (ROM) and activation drills. The only problem is, you’re probably not using them in an optimal format.

Sequence Matters

Corrective Complexes
The warm-up sequence is no different from any other aspect of training: everything has a point and purpose. It’s like being told to include power cleans, lunges, and snatches in your program but having no clue where to put them to get the greatest benefit.
Corrective complexes are three pre-workout drills sequenced together to achieve maximum benefit in the shortest amount of time. This sequencing increases the effectiveness of the warm-up drills by producing a synergistic effect, not to mention the endless combination possibilities.
Corrective complexes are also simple to construct. Each of the three components should address the following:
  • Soft tissue quality
  • Mobilize and lengthen soft tissue
  • Activate the antagonist
Soft tissue quality will be addressed by implementing a foam roller, PVC pipe, or lax ball. Since excess scar tissue and adhesions can reduce ROM and strength of a muscle, we want to break down as much scar tissue as possible and induce a release so that the muscles will be more compliant to subsequent work.
After the restrictions have been reduced, the muscles will be more responsive to ROM drills. To that end, immediately following the rolling of a particular muscle or group, we take advantage of its newfound flexibility by taking it through specific mobility exercises.
The last component takes advantage of the law of reciprocal inhibition, which states that as a muscle contracts on one side of a joint, its antagonist must relax.
For example, if your hip flexors are tight/overactive, your hip extensors will not be able to fire completely. After the release and mobilization of a muscle group, all you need to do is perform a standard activation exercise or AIS drill (check out this article for more info) of its antagonist to reap the benefits of a complete muscle activation/relaxation sequence.

Sample Corrective Complexes


Pre-Work Drill Time Reps
A Lax ball plantar fascia and calf 30 sec.
B Wall ankle mobility 10 per side
C AIS calf stretch/anterior tibialis activation 10 per side


Pre-Work Drill Time Reps
A Foam roll pec major/mino 30 sec.
B Split stance shoulder mobility 10 per side
C Anterior pull-apart 12


Pre-Work Drill Time Reps
A PVC quad/hip flexor 30 sec.
B Hip flexor mobility 10 per side
C Single leg hip thrust 10 per side


Pre-Work Drill Time Reps
A Roll thoracic spine 30 sec.
B Roll lats 30 sec.
C T-spine windmills 10 per side
D Band pulldowns 12
That’s it, simple and straightforward – find a restricted muscle, roll it, mobilize it, and then activate its antagonist.
Chances are you’re already doing many of these drills, but by following the principles of corrective complexes you’ll be able to more effectively treat muscle imbalances, decrease postural distortions, and receive more benefit from your warm-ups, in less time!
Move better, look better, perform better, feel better. It all begins with how you start!


STRETCHING:The Perfect Workout Checklist

The Problem

Having the right exercises in your workout is great, but you should also be focused on priming your muscles to lift heavy weight and get bigger. You want your sets to be worth something, right?

In my gym it’s rare to see a guy go through a sufficient warm up and activation exercises before and during his workout in order to squeeze the most juice from his muscles.

From my experience, most guys fall into two warm-up categories:

The “Jog on the Treadmill” Guy

Sure, doing some kind of physical activity is good for elevating your heart rate and increasing overall body temperature, but what this guy doesn’t understand is that his seemingly innocuous warm-up is really just getting his body accustomed to producing force in one direction. And if your program has you doing a variety of exercises that require different movement patterns (which it should) you’ll be unprepared to get the most out of those exercises.

The “Warm-up Set” Guy

This is the guy who’ll start his workout cold, walk up to the bar, and do a set with 30 percent of his one-rep max to “get warm.” How sad. This completely rules out whether or not certain muscles are being inhibited due to tightness, or if other muscles are being compensated for due to lack of stability at load-bearing joints.

With both of these examples, better results would come from asking one question: what muscles you are trying to work during the training session? From there it’s simply a matter of getting them warm, ready, and stimulated. (Insert your own sex joke here.)

But before we talk muscle, let’s quickly start with the foundation: your joints.

Preparing for the Perfect Workout

The “Big 6” static stretches

The first thing we want to focus on is increasing the range of motion at as many joints as possible, preferably all the muscles you plan on training and the surrounding muscles. So if it were “chest day” you’d stretch your chest, triceps, and shoulders. If you were doing a total-body workout you’d stretch everything.

It’s been argued that static stretching lowers the muscle’s neurological involvement and essentially weakens them. That may be true if you static stretch and then jump right into hardcore lifting, but we’re going to make sure that before you begin your first set your nervous system is amped and ready.

You only need to do one set of each stretch, but make sure to hold it for 30 seconds before moving on.

— Get into a lunge position with your knee on the floor and hold on to your rear foot. Be sure to stay tall, and if possible, reach for the ceiling with the same arm as the leg being stretched. This will open up the iliopsoas group.

— While standing, put your heel on a bench. Make sure your knee is as straight as possible. Hold your pelvis with your hands and stand tall. Now simply tilt your pelvis forward until you feel a deep tweak along the hamstrings belly. It won’t take much. Avoid rounding the lumbar spine.

— Face a wall, and place one palm (reaching with a straight arm) against the wall at eye level or slightly above. Begin slowly moving the entire body away from the wall, while maintaining full contact with your palm. When you feel a good stretch through the chest, deepen the stretch by a) depressing your shoulder and b) rotating your elbow towards the floor.

— Hold any support beam (the ones on a universal cable system work well) with a palms-out grip. In other words, make sure your arm is internally rotated so your palm faces away from the body. Bend forward with a flat back while holding the beam and “fall away” from it. Let your weight fall into your seat, so your body is only being held by the hand holding the beam. Make sure to unlock your shoulder. This is an instance where we don’t want to activate the lower traps. Push your chest as close to the ground as possible and hold.

— Hold a light dumbbell in your left hand. Let it hang straight down by your side as you take your other hand and place it on the rear left side of your head. Gently pull your head downward and to the right. Depress your left shoulder at the same time to feel a deep stretch through the upper traps. Make sure not to tense the arm holding the dumbbell. Repeat on the other side.

— Sit on the floor as though you were about to sit cross-legged the way kids do, but put one leg straight back. Lean with a straight back over your knee.

Mobility and dynamic exercises.

Now that the muscles are loose, your joints still need a bit more work. To further maximize the ranges of motion it’d be smart to go through a few mobility drills to release more synovial fluid and lubricate each joint, especially the hips and shoulders since they are responsible for more degrees of movement.

Key exercises to focus on are forward leg swings, side leg swings, and arm circles.

Remember to gradually increase the range of motion and speed with each rep, and focus on fully relaxing the muscles involved. The mobility drills actually have a twofold benefit, since they will also dynamically stretch the muscles surrounding the joint.

The Perfect Workout — Getting Down to Business

Most guys are lucky to complete three or four sets that are, as Dave Tate says, “worth a shit.” The other sets simply go to waste. Don’t believe me? Well, how many times during an average workout do you feel that your muscle fibers were completely active and your tempo and breathing were perfect? How often do you focus on maximal contraction?

Despite what you may tell yourself, the reality is technique becomes compromised without a watchful eye, strength decreases, and muscles may get tight or deactivate themselves.

Here’s how to get the best out of every set.

Prime your nervous system.

After doing static stretching and dynamic flexibility, your muscles are ready to actually do something. It’s time to establish a connection between your nervous system and your muscle fibers.

As you know by now, you need to hit the high-threshold motor units. One of the most effective ways to do this is by taking a movement pattern you plan on doing that day and doing a ballistic variation of the same movement.

Gonna bench press? Do some plyometric push-ups. Gonna squat? Do some weighted squat jumps. You can read an article about ballistic training for muscle here.

The point is not to fatigue the muscles, but to stimulate them. For this reason the reps and sets should stay quite low. I usually recommend three sets of five reps without a lot of rest.

Doing these ballistic moves before our loaded sets means that we’ll have more fast twitch muscle fibers involved in the lift for a greater portion of the set, which will contribute to more force production, and ultimately, more hypertrophy potential. This puts a couple of “warm-up sets” to the crypt any day of the week.

Static stretch the antagonist.

Stretch during the workout? I gotta be kidding you, right?

The truth is, dulling the nervous involvement of the antagonistic muscle (the muscle not currently working) can make the working muscle take on more responsibility in the lift, leading to more strength and motor-unit recruitment.

In virtually any compound movement for the legs, for example, the quads are going to get involved. If you’re squatting for quad and glute development it means your quads are probably going to get in the way of developing your posterior chain if you let them dominate the lift. Even with what appears to be correct technique, tight quads and subsequently tight hips can lead to poor rear-side development and wasted sets of work.

A quick way to reverse that effect and make sure you’re hitting your glutes hard is to hold a static quad or hip flexor stretch for 30 seconds on each side in between your sets of squats. This will weaken their neurological involvement. Since the quads have now been mildly deactivated, the glutes and hamstrings will step in to bear the load the quads are now giving up. The result? A bootylicious squat.

Want to get stronger on your pulling exercise? Do some scapular activation.

I’ve found that when it comes to the muscle tissue of the shoulder retractors and depressors, brief isometric holds of about five to ten seconds where you’re really focusing on stimulating every last fiber in that muscle can help you get more out of your next set.

For example, the lats are responsible for internally rotating and adducting (pulling inward) your upper arm. So take your arm and do just that. Rotate your straight arm inwards so that your palm faces away from the body, pull the arm back and towards the midline simultaneously. Hold for five to ten seconds and really try to feel the squeeze through your entire lat. Immediately follow this with your set of lat pull-downs or chins.

How about a pressing exercise? More scapular activations!

Doing light sets of back exercises before a pressing exercise will aid your pressing movements since it adds stability to the entire shoulder capsule, which is needed so that the rotator cuff doesn’t undergo undue stress.

The added tightness in the upper back muscles help keep the scapulae in a mildly retracted position, so that you’ll last longer in your bench press without your shoulders coming up off the bench.

Before your chest or shoulder exercise, do a light set of seated cable rows for 15-20 reps. Use roughly 30 percent of your 1RM. Another good exercise is the bent-over reverse fly with dumbbells, but make sure to use a supine grip (palms face away from the body).


A solid training program isn’t just a bunch of exercises thrown together with random sets and reps. Priming your muscles with warm-up techniques beforeand during your workout will not only help prevent injury but will activate all your muscle fibers, unlock your tightest areas, and make you stronger from set to set. That means better workouts, better muscle growth, and a better body for you.

The Perfect Workout Checklist

Quad and hip stretch

The Perfect Workout Checklist

Lat stretch

The Perfect Workout Checklist

Upper trap stretch

The Perfect Workout Checklist

Glute stretch

The Perfect Workout Checklist

Hamstring stretch

The Perfect Workout Checklist

Chest stretch

The Perfect Workout Checklist

Hold for five to ten seconds and really try to feel the squeeze through your entire lat. Immediately follow this with your set of lat pull-downs or chins.

About Lee Boyce

Lee Boyce is a former university level sprinter and CPTN certified Elite Trainer for Extreme Fitness in Toronto, Ontario. He currently works with a variety clients for sport specific training, power, and strength. He has helped many amateur athletes work for high performance in their sport, in and out of season. You can contact Lee

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