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Category Archive Strength

Training vs Exercising

Are you exercising or training? If you believe those mean the same thing you are not alone, but yet, you are mistaken. This is something that I feel needs addressed more often and people need to be aware of the differences between the two. Exercising is not training and training is not exercising. They are two separate things that most people try to interchange. It is important to realize the differences between the two so that you can decide which path best fits your goals. Before I delve into the differences let me first say that I don’t believe one is better than the other. Whichever one you choose should be based off of your individual goals. Yes, I have my preference but I’ll leave it at that.

Exercising

What is Considered Exercising?

Exercising or “working out” is the category most of the population falls under. The goal of exercising is simply to create a feeling of working out. You exercise for the immediate feedback you get during and immediately following the workout. The sweat, the heavy breathing, the complete exhaustion that follows the workout IS the goal of exercising. There doesn’t need to be any planning involved. One workout does not need to compliment another and because of this no real adaptation is taking place. Your exercise classes, boot-camp style workouts, CrossFit WODS, would fall under this category.

Who Should Exercise?

If you are wondering if simply exercising is what is best for you I hope this section helps clarify some things. Exercising is best for you if you are looking to just get some sort of activity in and relieve some stress during your busy life. Sedentary individuals who have been out of the game for a lengthy period or a person with a desk job looking to get some movement in their life would be examples of someone who are perfect candidates for exercising. Individuals that fall under the exercising heading don’t really have a specific goal other than to get their heart rate up and work up a sweat. Again, absolutely nothing wrong with that and is obviously far better than doing nothing.

Pros of Exercising

The major benefits of exercising versus training is the time and convenience factors. Exercising involves very little to no planning. You simply just have to get to the gym, or wherever you are working out, and do what produces the desired results (i.e. sweating, elevated heart rate, etc.) and then move on with your daily life. The simple act of moving that is involved in exercise is another major benefit. Although exercising involves minimal, if any planning, and no real adaptation towards a specific goal, the movement involved is a major plus in an ever more sedentary world.

Cons of Exercising

If you don’t have any specific goals then there really aren’t any cons to exercising. If you use it as a stress reliever, or to achieve a certain feeling then it will definitely help. The only con that arises with exercising is if you do have a specific goal in which case you are going to want to read on.

Training

What is Considered Training?

Training is quite the opposite of exercising or simply working out. Training involves working towards a very specific goal. That is the major difference between training and exercise. As stated above the goal of exercise is the workout but in training you are working towards a goal. This is a very important distinction between the two. In training you do not care about the “feeling” you have during your workout because that is not the goal. In training, depending on what it is that you are working on, you may not even sweat or be exhausted at the end of the session. At the end of a session your body may not even send back any feedback that you exerted yourself and that’s okay. In training, you are trying to force your body to create some type of specific adaptation to the demands you place on it. As stated above, this is missing from simply exercising. This attempt to create a specific adaptation is why in training the next workout session must build upon the previous one. There needs to be a built in plan to work towards the specific goal that doesn’t need to be there when just exercising.

Side note:

The things stated above is the major complaint most strength and conditioning specialists have with CrossFit. The theory behind CrossFit is “to be ready for anything” and a randomness to most workouts that they call Workout of the Day or a WOD. There is absolutely nothing wrong with liking CrossFit but the randomness of the workouts makes it exercise and not training and that is not up for debate, its simply fact. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t participate in CrossFit and still add in elements of training and I believe that’s what the best CrossFit gyms do. However, whenever randomness and a lack of planning is involved in the sessions that makes it exercise and not training.

Who Should Train?

Individuals with very specific goals should train. These could be individuals training for a marathon, or powerlifting meet, amongst other things. I want to make clear though that you don’t need to enter an actual competition to train like you are. If you have personal goals to bench a certain weight or to run a mile in a certain amount of time you are going to need to train for it with a very specific plan.

Pros of Training

The pros of training is that with a carefully thought out plan, consistent effort and discipline, and patience the specific goals you set for yourself are attainable. With training, you will create a desired adaptation that will help you achieve those goals you set.

Cons of Training

The cons of training, which aren’t really cons if you are serious about your goals, are the time and effort it takes to put together the plan. Training takes much more thinking and planning than exercise. You must have a plan that is carefully thought out and also adaptable to the certain obstacles that you will face during the process. However, the most challenging part of training is more mental than physical. It requires discipline, consistency, and most important of all; patience. Without these traits it will be very difficult to achieve your goals and will make the process take that much longer to complete.

Another con that could take place when compared to exercise is the lack of immediate feedback at times. This will harder for some people more than others. If you have never really trained for a specific goal and are a regular participant in exercise this could be a shock to the system. At certain points in training, you may not even sweat or be exhausted at the end of a workout. Again, this feeling of “working out:” is not the goal in training and thus is not a requirement for a successful session. This will be hard for some people to accept.

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10 Versions of the Push-Up

The motivation to write this article comes from a driving force to remind people that often times in life the simple answer is the correct answer. Unfortunately, what seems to happen more often yet, is over complication of simple matters. In the fitness world, novices or the uneducated are guilty of this most of the time. In my opinion this happens for two reasons. One, it just seems too simple to be true and thus something more complicated must be the answer. Two, people just want to feel or look smarter for coming up with a complicated equation to solve a simple solution. These two reasons, even though they are wrong, are the only reasons I can think of for the lack of popularity surrounding the push-up in strength training.

If you are a frequent visitor of this blog you know my thoughts on the importance using the barbell lifts to build strength no matter your goals. However, a close second is body weight exercises and for the purpose of this article specifically the push-up. The push-up has been around since the beginning of time yet most people brush it off when it is referred to as one of best exercises to build upper body strength. I can only assume that this is because most people perceive it as boring and too simple to be so effective. In reality, it still is and always will be, one of the most effective ways of building not only upper body strength but also shoulder stability and health. For these reasons, it is one of the best accessory lifts you can choose to build a bigger bench press or overhead press yet I rarely ever see anyone doing pushups in the commercial gyms I visit. This can also be because pushups are generally very difficult for the untrained individual. Now, I have never not done an exercise because I deemed it boring. Heck I’d watch paint dry if I thought it would give me a bigger bench press. However, I am also not naïve to the fact that some may find the push up boring and I also respect the push-up enough to know that it can be very difficult for some people. So in the following sections I have provided how I teach my clients to progress the push-up and also different variations of the push-up you can try with all being effective in their own way.

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How to Break Through Plateaus

It’s inevitable. You will hit a wall or plateau of sorts on your major lifts. Yes, you can cruise along for a relatively long time adding small amounts of weight each time you perform a lift. The more of a novice you are the longer this period will continue. Enjoy it and take full advantage of “beginner gains”. However, as you become more experienced and your training age increases the jumps in weight will become smaller and smaller until you hit a plateau and your increases start to flat line. At this point, an inexperienced lifter will become frustrated. He or she will continue to try the same weight over and over again until they eke out a rep even if it takes another number of weeks. On the other hand, an experienced lifter will know that this is just part of the game and will strategize and create a game plan of sorts to move past this plateau. In the following sections I have provided some of those strategies along with a few tips for less experienced lifters. Also, note that the major lifts are the bench press, deadlift, squat, and overhead press.

 

Beginners

  • Note: “Beginners” refers to anyone that is relatively inexperienced with the “big” lifts and also inexperienced with following a structured program. You can be a “beginner” even if you have been working out for years.
  • Stick to the 3-5 rule. Perform some combination of 3-5 sets with 3-5 reps.
  • Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength program is perfect for this. 5 sets of 5 increasing the weight each week.
  • Start light. Give yourself time to “grease the groove” and become proficient with the technique of the major lifts. Starting light also allows for more improvement for a longer period of time.
  • Small increases in weight. You don’t need to “max” out each week. Increasing the upper body lifts by 5 pounds each week and the lower body lifts by 10 pounds per week is more than enough, if you start light. Increases smaller than this might be even more beneficial.

 

Strategies for More Advanced Lifters

Use Percentages

 

  • Once you have experience with the major lifts and your technique is at least proficient I highly recommend the use of percentages in your program. Are there programs that don’t utilize percentages all the time? Sure, I previously mentioned the Starting Strength program which I love and which also does not use percentages. However, the use of percentages will allow you to have a long term plan and goal.
  • The use of percentages ensures that you are continuing along a path that is sustainable for a longer period of time and it also gives you a clear picture of how much you are improving.
  • Two of my favorite programs that utilize percentages are Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program and Chad Wesley Smith’s Juggernaut program.

 

Same but Different

  • This strategy is probably the most difficult to follow especially if you have an inflated ego which I’m sure is not the case with most young lifters right?
  • It’s tough to follow through with this strategy because it calls for completely ignoring the lift you are trying to improve on for a period of time and doing something a little different instead.
  • It’s called same but different because in this strategy you will ignore the lift you are trying to improve upon and perform a similar exercise instead. For example, instead of performing the flat bench press you will instead program around the incline bench press. Or instead of programming the back squat you perform the front squat for a period of time.
  • This works for two major reasons. One, your mind and body gets a rest from the exercise you have been desperately been trying to improve for a period of time. In my opinion, the mental rest is just as beneficial as the physical one. Two, by working on the same movement just in a slightly different way you are actually working on a portion of the lift that may be lacking and holding you back on your “main” exercise.
  • You don’t necessarily have to do the same but different exercise for an entire training cycle but for a substantial amount of time maybe a month or 6 weeks would suffice.

I have personally done and seen this strategy work wonders in a relatively short period of time.

 

Train Weak Points

  • This is not for beginners because everything is a weak point for you. So do everything and do it often. Do not overthink this part of your programming.
  • Training Weak points will always be a necessary part of your programming.
  • The toughest thing for some people will be realizing what there weak points are. If you are one of the many people unsure what there weak points are try this; think about the accessory exercises, movements, and/or body parts that are your least favorite to execute. Those are most likely your weak points. People avoid doing what they don’t enjoy and most become a weak point.
  • If still unsure what your weak points are sit down and evaluate your program. What is missing or what haven’t you done in a while. Take note of the accessory lifts you are doing when your numbers are increasing but also take note of what you avoided when you hit your plateau.
  • You can also ask other people. Ask your lifting buddy who sees you perform the lift, ask a more experienced lifter for advice, etc.

 

Rest Days

  • Yes, rest days are important and I know it may strange coming from me, heck it feels weird typing this out. However, rest days are very important if you want to gain maximal strength.
  • This article was written to give you advice on increasing maximal strength in your major lifts when you hit a plateau. We weren’t discussing bodybuilding or any other type of training.
  • Your body needs to be as fully recovered as possible when strength is the goal.
  • If you do something the day before that is going to negatively affect your main lift the next day that is counterproductive to what we discussed in this article today.

 

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Core (Abs): How it Works and 3 Exercises to Effectively Train It

I fully expect that there will be two kinds of people that stumble upon this article. The first group will click on this article because the words core and ab are just too alluring to pass up. The second group will click on this article out of complete disbelief that I wrote an article dealing with abs or core. While it is true that I do very few sit-ups and crunches and by few I mean absolutely zero, I do train my core in ways that are more effective than doing a thousand crunches a day. Let me start off by saying that it is encouraging to learn that more and more people are understanding that sit-ups and crunches may not be the ideal way to target the abs. For those of you that have heard that there are more effective ways but are unsure as to the reasons why let me try and briefly explain.

The job of your core, for the purpose of this article I will use the term core instead of abs, is the transfer of energy throughout your body. Now, this transfer of energy usually travels from the lower body up through the core to the upper body and out the limbs but it can also happen vice versa. In order for the core to efficiently transfer this energy from lower to upper or upper to lower it must remain rigid. If the core is not strong enough to maintain its rigidness throughout whatever activity is taking place energy is lost. When energy is lost strength, power and stability (balance) suffers. So when someone says that there balance is suffering because their core is weak they may be technically correct. However, the steps most people take to correct this problem are incorrect. When your core is rigid it is tight, and your spine is long or straight. That is the exact opposite of the position your spine is in when performing sit-ups or crunches and the lack of rigidness in your core during those movements is also a problem. I haven’t even brought up the back pain associated with sit-ups and/or crunches due to the flexing of the lumbar spine that occurs. So the next question might be how do we train the core to maintain its rigidness? This might surprise most of you but the answer is not more core work, or at least not entirely. Now that you know that the job of the core is the transfer of energy it may make more sense when I tell you that we strengthen the core mainly through indirect work. Meaning the core gets stronger through movements where we typically target another area of the body. This is done mainly by lifting heavy weight while standing on the ground. Squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, and carries are all impossible to do without our core doing its job. By using correct technique during these exercises we can teach our core to maintain its rigidness throughout the movement and by progressively increasing the weights our core, along with a lot of other muscles in our body, becomes stronger. Also, if you know the correct technique for those exercises I mentioned above, you probably noticed that all of those exercises are done with a straight (long) spine. Although, in my opinion, just by adding in more heavy lifts you will see a substantial increase in core strength, it isn’t bad to add in some direct core work to supplement the heavy lifts. The best exercises to train your core in the way it needs to be trained to see results in strength are some common, old fashioned exercises. Take note that in the following three exercises you will notice that the spine is straight (long) and that the exercise is emphasizing a tight, rigid core during the movement. Exactly how we need it to be in so many other activities in and out of the gym.

Ab Wheel

The ab wheel is by far my favorite core exercise. The only problem with it is that it is extremely difficult and people quickly get frustrated with it. However, like most things in the gym, it’s important to remember that it’s not going to be perfect right at the beginning. The ab wheel is a great exercise because it forces you to remain tight and rigid throughout the entire movement or you simply will not be able to execute it. You will become tight subconsciously just like you should be with many other activities. Also, like the other two exercises below, the spine remains straight and long throughout the movement.

Can’t play video? Click here: Ab Wheel

Recommended Sets: 3-5

Recommended Reps: 8-12

Notes:

  • If you find this extremely difficult and cannot return to the starting position without falling on your elbows then just focus on the first portion (rolling away from your body) until you become strong enough to complete the entire movement.
  • Do your best to go out as far as you can each time. As you become better you will be able to go out further and further. Don’t become frustrated.

Planks

Yes, good old fashioned planks are still one of the best core exercises you can do. Recently, I have changed my approach with planks slightly. There is nothing wrong with performing planks for as long as possible. However, planks can be performed without maintaining tightness throughout the entire body. Which is why sometimes it almost becomes a shoulder exercise and anyone that has done planks can probably attest to that. Instead, I have been transitioning to doing planks for less time but really driving home the point of creating tension (tightness) throughout the entire body. If done correctly a person that can easily execute a plank for maybe 2-3 minutes will be gassed after executing a plank for one minute but focusing on creating that tension by squeezing their core throughout the entire set.

 

Recommended Sets: 3-5

Recommended Reps: 1 min

Note:

  • Perform both front and side planks.
  • For side planks maybe use less time than done for the front planks
Hanging Leg Raises

Hanging leg raises are tricky because the limiting factor may not be your core but your grip. These are tough for that very reason. However, like the ab wheel, these may have to be ugly at first in order for you to eventually get better at them. Like the above two exercises your spine remains long and straight during hanging leg raises and your core is definitely tight throughout the movement. The goal is too not swing your legs but to raise and lower them in a controlled manner. You probably won’t be able to do many controlled reps at first but doing a few reps per set at first is still beneficial.

Can’t play video? Click here: Hanging Leg Raises

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Build a Stronger, Thicker Back

It has been said that if you want to tell how strong someone is look at their back. There are a couple different reasons for this statement. One is that your back is the base for many different lifts or movements. For example, it probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the bench press, but a big, strong back is an important ingredient to having a strong bench. It lays a strong foundation from which to press. Not to mention having a strong back adds stability to pressing movements. Another reason the back is a good indicator of overall strength and power is that our back acts as the transmission of our body. Our back musculature carries energy (power) through our body and out our limbs. Next time you see someone pretty strong in the gym, take notice how wide and big their back is. The following are a few exercises that will help you build not only a thick back, but a strong one as well.

Deadlift

I am not going to go in detail and tell you which variation of the deadlift you should be doing because in all honesty any version is better than not doing any at all. Which is where most people currently find themselves. Look at anyone who can deadlift a lot of weight and I bet that their traps stick out like mountains. Deadlifts, get good at them and then get strong at them.

Check out my YouTube video detailing how to properly perform the conventional barbell deadlift:


Can’t play video? Click here: How to Deadlift Youtube Video

Suggested Sets 3-5

Suggested Reps 3-5

T-Bar Row

The T-Bar Row is a great exercise to build thickness through the mid back and lat muscles. If you want to build size and thickness you have to move heavy weight and the T-Bar Row provides another exercise that allows you to load up the weight.


Can’t play video? Click here: T-Bar Row

  • Be sure to shift most of your weight onto the back half of your foot to ensure that your lower back is protected.
  • Maintain a rigid, tight back by pulling your shoulders back and pushing your chest out.
  • The angle of your torso can vary. Play around with what feels comfortable for you.
  • You can use lifting straps in order to move more weight without your grip restricting you.

Suggested Sets 4-6

Suggested Reps 8-12

Croc Row

The Croc Row is an exercise that most of you probably haven’t heard before. It’s just a heavy dumbbell row. The point of this row is to move really heavy weight a bunch of times. Those of you that hate worrying about staying strict with your movements will love this exercise because it allows for a big range with little technique. This exercise was invented to build a big upper back and grip strength that will assist in the deadlift. It certainly is tough on your grip and I advise going as long as you can without using straps in order to build that grip strength and then using straps towards the end of your sets in order to raise the weight.


Can’t play video? Click here: Croc Row

  • Set a bench to the preferred height or use a rack or something else to support yourself with your off hand.
  • Start the row by letting your arm hang all the way down. Feel the stretch in your lat.
  • Row the dumbbell with speed and intensity. Act like you are trying to start a lawnmower or leaf blower. It’s a pulling movement.
  • As you reach the top of the row pull your working shoulder blade towards the other shoulder blade of the non-working arm.
  • Let the dumbbell back down until your arm is hanging completely and you feel that stretch in your lat again.
  • Obviously don’t let the dumbbell back down so fast that you hurt yourself but don’t be super strict when lowering it back down either.

Suggested Sets 4-6

Suggested Reps 8-15

Barbell Shrug

Again, to build mass and thickness you must move heavy weight and barbell shrugs are another way to achieve this. In the context of this article I wouldn’t worry about squeezing and holding at the top of the movement or controlling the movement too much. If you can do all that then you aren’t moving heavy enough weight for the purpose of this article. Use straps so that your grip doesn’t hold you back and move as much weight as possible.

Suggested Sets 4-6

Suggested Reps 8-12

Pull Ups

Yep, old fashioned pull-ups are still at the top of my list for building a big, strong back. If there are different grips you can pick from, use them all at some point in your training. Do them weighted, do them for reps, do them every different way you can. Just do them. I wrote a couple articles on how to do a correct pull-up and how to progress pull-ups. If you struggle with pull-ups check out the pull-up progression article because yes they are very difficult but don’t become frustrated with them. Get better at them. 

 

Articles:

Pull-Up Progressions

My Experience with a Pull-Up Program

 

Suggested Sets w/weight 4-6

Suggested Reps w/weight 3-5

Suggested Sets w/out weight 5-8

Suggested Reps w/out weight AMAP (As Many As Possible)

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Squat Progression

If you’re one of those guys who skips leg day, you’ll probably be tempted to skip this article because this is definitely not an article “bros” will be interested in reading. However, if you have been trying to talk yourself into training the lower half of your body than this article is certainly worth a read.

Squats are an important exercise for fairly obvious reasons. Squats are a compound lift, meaning that when performing a squat multiple joints are being used. I like to describe compound lifts as getting the most bang for your buck. You will be able to train with the most load (weight) using compound lifts which in turn recruits the most muscle fibers. Being that multiple joints are being used you will also be using different muscle groups during the exercise thus getting the most bang for your buck.

Our legs possess our largest and strongest muscles in our bodies. By neglecting the lower half of your body in training you are leaving an abundance of genetic potential on the table. Yes, when you are training legs your legs will get bigger and stronger, duh, but what people don’t realize is that by training your legs you are also stimulating a ton of biological processes in your body such as a rise in natural human growth hormone levels that affect not just your lower body but your entire musculoskeletal system.

Besides the importance of squatting to avoid looking disproportionate and reaping the benefits of biological processes, it is also important to maintain natural human movement patterns. The squat should be a movement that everyone can do with ease. Note that I did not say every human should be able to back squat four-hundred pounds but yes, every human being should be able to simply squat. Sounds easy on paper but modern lifestyle has made it nearly impossible to come across two people in a row with good squat form. If everyone could squat and did it often enough we wouldn’t see everyday people with tight hips, hamstrings, or lower back pain. Also, squats are not bad for your knees, period.

I am sure people avoid training legs for a number of reasons and even more people avoid squatting because it is difficult for them and they don’t know how to do it. Also, if you are one of those people that say they train legs but they don’t squat well you may need to reevaluate your decision making immediately. Take note that I did not say one thing about back squatting or front squatting in the above sentences. Those are obviously great exercises but there are other ways to squat with weight and that can help you progress to those exercises if you so choose to.

Below I lay out how to find your squat stance followed by a progression of three exercises that I have my clients do in order to learn the squat and progress with weight. You can use these exercises as both a progression and main squatting exercise in your program.

Finding Your Squat Stance
  1. Stand with your feet about shoulder width. I say about because everyone is a little bit different and I want you to be comfortable but shoulder width is a good starting point.
  2. Have your toes pointed slightly outwards. About a 45 degree angle. Nothing crazy.
  3. When you squat, you should drive your knees outwards. Wherever your toes go your knees must follow. Knee valgus (knees coming inwards) is worst thing ever so drive those knees out. This should also make the squat much easier because it opens up your hips.
  4. Squat full range. All the way down. See the picture below. Never squat high. It will get easier the more you do it. Don’t let the wright determine how low you go. Go lighter if need be.


Notice the wrinkle in his shorts at the hip joint. In correct depth the hip joint should be lower than the patella (knee cap).

Landmine Squat


Can’t play video? Click here: Landmine Squat

I start the squat progression with the landmine squat. I have found that this is a good early progression of the squat because it takes away some balance and proprioceptive (body awareness) out of the equation. This allows you to focus on your stance, knee drive outwards, and correct depth. You still have to focus on keeping good posture (shoulders back, upper back tight, “big” chest) but from a technique aspect this squat is relatively simple. Also, be sure that you tuck your elbows so that they fit in between your knees.

Goblet Squat


Can’t play video? Click here: Goblet Squat

Even though the video shows the goblet squat being done with a dumbbell I prefer using a kettlebell. However, both work just fine. The goblet squat can be done in conjunction with the landmine squat or can fall second in the progression. The goblet squat has all the benefits of the landmine squat while also adding in the balance and proprioception that will be needed in any free weight squat going forward. As you become stronger you will learn that one of the toughest things about the goblet squat is holding the weight. Also, because the weight is in front of you it is important to maintain a rigid and tight back not letting the weight pull you forward. As always, make sure to hit full depth and just like the landmine squat your elbows should fit right in between your knees at the bottom of the squat. You can ensure this happens by correctly driving your knees outwards and simply tucking your elbows inwards.

Zercher


Can’t play video? Click here: Zercher

The zercher is the only barbell squat I have in this progression. Some may not see this as a necessary step but I have found it very useful. I like using the zercher as a progression because it allows the athletes to use heavier weight while also not overly worrying about technique like racking the bar in the back and front squats. With the weight in front the zercher also easily teaches how to create abdominal pressure and stay tight. Yes, the racking of the bar in the crease of the elbows is uncomfortable. To counter this I usually use a pad of some sort. I have made pads out of pool noodles that work great. I have also had people wear long sleeve shirts or hoodies to add some cushion. However, feel free to have the bar rest on bare skin as this does provide the most secure feeling. The zercher is also safer for people who are inexperienced handling heavier loads. If you get stuck and have to bail out of a weight you simply drop the weight onto the ground.

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KILLER Tricep Routine YouTube Video

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How to AVOID Cardio YouTube Video

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Different Versions of the Dumbbell Bench Press

If I had to guess I would say that the barbell bench press is the very first exercise that most people learn when starting to train with weights. It also doesn’t take long for a beginner to realize how awesome the bench press is and for the question “How much do you bench bro?” to become a regular part of their life.  As it turns out however, if you continue your weight training career past the first couple months of benching every day, you discover that there are a number of other exercises that are just as awesome. However, even as you mature as an athlete, bodybuilder, or powerlifter, yes I’m leaving out CrossFit, the bench press will most likely always hold a special place in your heart. It deserves a special place in our heart because the barbell bench press is or should be one of the major lifts of your program no matter your goals. Like I’ve already discussed in an earlier article (View the Article here: “Become Strong”) the barbell is the most efficient and effective way to build strength and mass and using the barbell bench press as a major lift will yield great results. Now, I talked about the barbell bench press to lay the foundation for what this article is really about; dumbbell bench variations and why they are important.

As I just pointed out, the barbell is the most efficient way to build strength and mass simply because it can be done with the most weight thus the barbell bench press and not dumbbell bench variations should be considered the “major lift” in your program. This is a problem I see with a lot of people in the gym, they misuse the dumbbell bench as a “major” lift and never quite see the strength and mass gains they would with the barbell bench press. This of course is disregarding injury or other outside circumstances. However, the dumbbell bench and its variations are very important accessory work. Dumbbell bench variations are a great tool to work on unilateral strength, stabilization of the shoulder girdle, and strength at different angles among other things. As with most exercises, it’s cool to see how much you can press on the dumbbell bench every once in a while, but by the very definition of accessory work you should stay with high sets and reps when it comes to the dumbbell bench variations and leave the max effort attempts for the barbell bench press. Following are a few different variations of the dumbbell bench press. You should try all of these at some point and switch back and forth between them pretty regularly. These can be done directly after your barbell bench work, on a completely different day, or during a de-load week.

Note: These videos were all filmed using a flat bench but can also be done using an incline bench.

 

Conventional Dumbbell Bench


Can’t play video? Click here: Conventional Dumbbell Bench

 
Alternating Dumbbell Bench


Can’t play video? Click here: Alternating Dumbbell Bench

 
Unilateral Dumbbell Bench


Can’t play video? Click here: Unilateral Dumbbell Bench

 
Neutral Grip Dumbbell Bench


Can’t play video? Click here: Neutral GripDumbbell Bench

 
Reverse Grip Dumbbell Bench


Can’t play video? Click here: Reverse Grip Bench

 

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Different Versions of the Triceps Pushdown

Bodybuilding style training is fun. Not only for the results that it produces but because of the variety it allows. Whereas other forms of training require some sort of strict progression in order to progress, bodybuilding not only allows for variation, it is a requirement for success. In order to accomplish their dream physique, bodybuilders not only have to worry about the size of their muscles but equally important is the shape and symmetry of their muscle groups. They accomplish this by attacking the same muscle group from different angles throughout their routine. This is where the variety kicks in. This is a big reason why I enjoy bodybuilding style training, you can do the same exercise over and over again with a slightly different twist each time. Changing the angle of the exercise ensures that you are creating a new stimulation of the muscle fibers which in turns creates well-rounded size and shape. Changing angles can be done a few different ways such as changing your grip, the handle being used, and also your body position. Although different angles can and should be used for every exercise and muscle group I have chosen to discuss the triceps muscle in this article and specifically different ways to execute the triceps pushdown, an exercise that most people are familiar with. P.S. I chose to just number the variations because well, who really has names for each of these?

Variation #1

Can’t play video? Click here: Variation 1 video 1

Can’t play video? Click here: Variation 1 video 2

This variation using two different handles is probably the most common of the ones I will discuss. This is also the more conventional push-down. Meaning elbows tucked to the side, pivoting just at the elbow, squeezing at the bottom, controlled movement on the way up. Neither handle is better than the other. Remember, we want to use as many different handles as possible and if you’re lucky enough to be at a gym that has different kinds of handles try them all at this conventional angle.

Variation #2


Can’t play video? Click here: Variation 2

This variation is unilateral which allows you to focus on one arm at a time. As seen in the above video, no handle is needed as you simply grab the cable. In this variation you are going across your body and then down. I use my opposite hand to stabilize my working arm by placing it in my arm-pit allowing my working arm to rest on it.

Variation #3


Can’t play video? Click here: Variation 3

This variation is unique because the position of your palm will change. Instead of your palm facing the floor like in most pushdown variations in this one your palm will be facing up. You can think of it as simply a reverse grip. Other than the grip, this variation is very closely related to the “conventional” pushdown shown in the first variation. You can pin your elbow to your side and press straight down towards the floor. By changing your grip you will stimulate the triceps in a different way. As with most of these variations you can also change the angle by changing your own body position by standing a different way. Depending how you stand your elbow may not be pinned to your side but as long as you can control the movement you are fine. There have been many professional bodybuilders that have said they have found great success by standing and executing an exercise in the same way they pose on stage. Bottom line, don’t be afraid to try almost anything to create a different stimulus, and if it feels good then you have found success.

Variation #4


Can’t play video? Click here: Variation 4

This variation can be tough to master at first. It is different than the previous ones because you are going to stand a short distance from the cable machine and you are also not in the upright position. Watching the above video will be most helpful for you to understand how to stand but it may help you to think of the position you are in if you have ever done kneeling cable crunches. The position of your torso is very similar except you are standing. You will need to use a rope handle for the exercise. This is a great exercise to target the hard to reach long head of your triceps, the part that runs up towards your armpit. By developing this part of your triceps you will start to create that separation of your delt and triceps that everyone loves. At the top of the movement you should feel an awesome stretch in your triceps, and if you don’t then try and reposition yourself until you do.

 

These are four variations of the triceps pushdown that I like to use quite frequently in my routines. With these four variations you are hitting the triceps in almost every way possible in a pushdown exercise. The great thing about bodybuilding style training is that there are no rules so be sure to constantly look for and experiment new ways to do old things. If it feels good then you are not wrong.

As always, thanks for reading and be sure to support the site by subscribing with your email.