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Category Archive Strength

Consistency

By now, I hope that I have written enough of these articles to convey my passion for this field. I can discuss different training philosophies for days, go over cues for teaching techniques with anyone, and I’m a nerd when it comes to programming. I absolutely love the tangible part of training,. Equally interesting to me are the intangibles of training. The things that aren’t always evident from across the gym. I think that my love for the intangible aspects of training can be traced back to my athletic career where I believed from an early age that I could gain a competitive advantage by mastering the intangibles.

This has carried over to my own training experiences, where I firmly believe that what has helped me the most are taking the intangible parts of training seriously. When talking about intangibles there are different aspects that all fall under one larger idea; mindset. I believe that mindset is the single biggest factor that sets people apart that are after the same goal. Regardless if that mindset is deemed positive or negative there are different traits that arise from it. A few of those traits are consistency, or lack thereof, resiliency, intensity, and accountability to name a few. I plan on writing articles on these different traits but I will start with one that I believe has helped me the most; consistency.

I find it interesting that people ask me all the time what I eat, or what program I am doing. I get asked, “how much do you bench?” almost weekly. But no one has ever asked me what is the one greatest thing that I attribute to my success in training. If they did, my answer would be a boring one, consistency. I’m sure people would expect me to go into detail about a complex training program and talking about an extreme diet that I am currently trying. I doubt that anyone would expect my answer to be a single word.

I don’t believe I was genetically gifted or predestined to be good at training. I was a decent athlete growing up, by no means anything to brag about, and am more athletic now than at any point in my life thanks to training. What sets me apart from people struggling to see improvement in the gym is consistency. I do what I am supposed to do more often than most people. Yes, I read and I experiment and I talk to my mentors. Yes, some programs and techniques work better than others and it is important to learn them. But you can gain all the knowledge you want and if you don’t apply it consistently you will never reach your full potential. This is why consistency is a trait of mindset. You must possess a certain mindset to realize the importance of consistency. When I wake up in the morning I know I am training that day. I don’t even think about what if this or that happens. I’ll get those outside factors taken care of without letting it affect my training. I think the reason consistency comes so easy to me is because of my, Why.

Yes, let’s not forget the first question I asked of you all. I know my Why, it may change from time to time, but I always have a clear understanding of why I am doing what I am doing. By knowing my Why I have a reason for consistently going to the gym, for consistently eating the way I do. Without having a Why, a purpose, failing to be consistent is an easy thing to do. Where I see most people fail in the gym is when adversity hits them. I guess this can be life in general. It is easy to be consistent when everything is going great. I see it all the time. People are consistent when their schedule works out and no outside stress is affecting their training. They have no nagging injuries that make certain exercises impossible to do. Everything is running smoothly so of course they look forward to going to the gym and to eating right. However, as soon as something goes wrong, as soon as an injury pops up, or a new responsibility takes away some of their free time, things begin to unravel. It doesn’t even have to be that extreme. It can be as simple as they aren’t seeing results as fast as they first did and they become frustrated. It’s difficult to be consistent when it’s not as fun, when you aren’t seeing the results. But that is exactly the time you must keep consistent because it always comes back around and you will start seeing improvement again, your injuries will heal, and your schedule will lighten or you will simply get better at time management. Knowing your Why will help you possess a mindset that will allow you to push through these adversities. It will be that driving force that keeps you consistent.

As always, thanks for reading and make sure to subscribe to this site and share this article. Also, comment if you like this style of topic choice. Thanks!

Its a Kettlebell, Not CrossFit

It’s a Kettlebell

One of the most underutilized tools in training is the kettlebell. I love using kettlebells in my own training, and it and the barbell are my favorite tools to use with my clients. Over the last decade or so kettlebells have become synonymous with CrossFit. Few things get under my skin as bad as when I show someone a kettlebell and their response is, “oh, CrossFit.” The kettlebell has been around since the 1700s and CrossFit has been around since the year 2000.

Many people see the kettlebell as something CrossFit uses and nothing else. People do not realize the benefits the kettlebell offers to people no matter their reason for training. I use kettlebells when training athletes, people rehabbing injuries, and the general population just looking to get healthier. I hope that this article will shed some light on the benefits of kettlebells and why people with all types of goals should consider adding kettlebell training to their regimen.

Strength

Kettlebells are great way to build strength. With kettlebells, you can become stronger in the squat, pressing, and hinging movements in a variety of ways. This variation allows you to test movements in a way that is hard to do with other tools, including barbells. By testing these movements in different ways, you can find weak points that could be holding you back from making strength gains. For example, you can perform the squat by holding a kettlebell in a goblet position (as pictured below), a single rack position, and a double rack position. Each of these offer different benefits that help improve your squat overall. The same can be said for presses by pressing kettlebells overhead in a strict, push press, or bottoms up position as pictured below.

Lastly, two great exercises for the hip hinge using kettlebells are the deadlift and the swing. Using a kettlebell for the deadlift can be a strength exercise for novice lifters or for rehabbing injuries and is also a great way to teach the hip hinge in a safe manner. The kettlebell swing is a dynamic exercise that offers a lot of different benefits such as flexibility, power, and conditioning. You will read more about the swing in the following paragraphs. What is important to remember is that you can do these movements with very heavy kettlebells. This will obviously make you stronger directly but it will also carry over to heavier barbell lifts. Training with kettlebells enables you to use heavy weight unilaterally, meaning one arm at a time, and this will help with any strength imbalances that may be holding you back.

 

Pictured above is the Goblet Squat (Left) and the Bottoms up Position (Right)

Conditioning

I hate conditioning. It’s no secret to those close to me that I don’t do a lot, if any, conditioning in the traditional sense. You probably won’t see me out jogging around town anytime soon. However, as much as it pains me to say it, I know conditioning is a necessary evil. I try my best to avoid it as much as possible, at least traditional conditioning anyhow. So, I find different ways to implement conditioning into my training. Kettlebells are one of my favorite ways to do this. The previously mentioned kettlebell swings will get you huffing and puffing like few exercises can. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and do twenty-five of them in a row. Then after you catch your breath come back and tell me that didn’t get your heart rate up.

Carries are also a great conditioning tool. I could have put carries in the strength section also. This exercises is exactly how it sounds. You carry heavy weight for either distance or time. This will challenge you in more way than one. Heavy carries will build grip strength, build a bigger upper back, and keep your shoulders healthy, but you may be surprised how out of breath you are when you finally set the weight down. I’d much rather go for a walk carrying kettlebells then go for a run around my neighborhood. In fact, to this day the most humbling feat I’ve ever attempted was carrying two heavy kettlebells through town and back. It took roughly an hour to complete and I was surprised and embarrassed about how exhausted and out of breath I was. Now, before you go telling everyone you know that I said all you have to do is swing and carry a kettlebell and you will be able to run a marathon, conditioning in this section referrers to general conditioning. If you want to be able to run a 5k, you still must go out and run.

Flexibility

The flexibility you can gain from training with kettlebells is probably my favorite reason for using them. The way the kettlebell fits around your hand and rests against your arm in what is called the rack position (as pictured below) allows for freedom of movement that you can’t get with a dumbbell. The kettlebell becomes an extension of your arm, it becomes a part of your body, allowing for natural movement to occur. This freedom of movement that a kettlebell allows is why it is a great tool for improving flexibility. You can move naturally and improve flexibility while performing “strength” movements. For example, by holding the kettlebell in the rack position and pressing it overhead, your shoulder can move freely and naturally as the weight travels overhead. At the top of the movement you can focus on placing your extended arm over your head utilizing its full range of motion instead of the arm being too far forward and sacrificing the end range of movement which is commonly seen. The previously mentioned goblet squat is also a great example as it is an easier and safer way to teach the squat than with the bar. It allows you to practice achieving great depth in the squat, gaining flexibility in your hips. Also, there are many corrective type exercises that are great for rehabbing or preventing injuries. There will be an article coming soon on how to use kettlebells for injury prevention.

Pictured above is the Rack Position

Not CrossFit

The strength, conditioning, and flexibility benefits of kettlebells are priceless. All three are a great reason to include kettlebells into your programs. This article didn’t even go into detail about the corrective exercise benefits or the teaching benefits of kettlebells. Rehab or injury prevention for any type of person could have also been a section in this article and will be an article in the future. I touched a little on the teaching benefits of kettlebells when discussing the deadlift and squat and it really is a great tool for teaching the basic movements in a safe manner. I hope that this article shed some light on the benefits of kettlebells and maybe next time you see one you won’t automatically think CrossFit! Please subscribe to this site and share this article so that I can continue to reach more people.

Minor Things, Bigger Impact

Is It Minor?

              As I am warming up or resting between sets I often study my surroundings. Even as intense as I train, I still find it difficult to turn off my coaching senses. I watch people perform exercises and judge their technique. This is helpful because it is always possible to find people doing things differently, whether it be a technique, exercise selection, or something else. So often I want to pull people aside and educate them on proper form or technique. I have been doing this for so long now sometimes I must remind myself that there are things that come as second nature to me, but some people may have never thought of before. This article will cover both, things that people haven’t thought of before, and things they might have undervalued or overlooked. The title, “Minor Things” speaks to how people may know some of these tips , but do not realize the importance of them. I, and any experienced lifter, knows the benefit of taking the minor things seriously.

Warming Up

            Warming up is something that everyone knows should be done but almost no one does it or does it properly. I’m not talking about the stretches that probably entered your mind when you saw the heading. You certainly won’t find me in the gym stretching for fifteen or twenty minutes. I never stretch in the conventional static stretching sense. I think most of the general population is starting to realize that static stretching (i.e. toe touches, hamstring stretches, etc.) is not the best option when warming up. Foam rolling is one of the best choices you can make both before and after a workout. Besides foam rolling to relieve some soreness and/or tightness, when I talk about warming up in this section I am talking about warming up an exercise, particularly a strength exercise.

            It drives me nuts when people walk into the gym, rack weight on a bench, and begin their sets. I understand people have limited time and they want to get their workout complete. But my opinion is, you pay for a membership and drive to the gym, why you can’t take the three to five minutes to warm up properly? Exercises that take some technique to perform, talking about barbell exercises, should be warmed up properly to see the greatest results. I always stress to my clients to start the exercise by performing a warm up set with the empty bar. This is not only to warm up your body but also to review technique and feel it out on that day. The empty bar set and about two to three warm up sets with gradually increasing weight is usually sufficient. I guarantee that if you don’t normally warm up in this manner but go and try it after reading this article, you will feel stronger throughout your sets.

Rest Periods

            Rest periods is something that is enormously underrated. Paying attention to your rest in-between sets takes discipline. Use the stopwatch on your phone or pay attention to the clock in the gym. I guarantee that if you have never timed your rest periods then you really have no clue how long you are taking between sets. It happens to the best of us. You start daydreaming, or talking to your lifting buddy and five minutes pass without you performing a single rep. When you finally do finish a set, you walk over to the water fountain, see another friend, and talk for another five minutes. Next thing you know, twenty minutes has passed and you’ve only completed three or four sets. It is less likely, but it can happen the other way also. Your lifting by yourself, dying to get the workout over with and you rush every set. At the end you wonder why you weren’t as strong as you were the other day. Paying attention to your rest between sets will dramatically change the type of workout you do and how you feel during it.

            When your goal is strength and you are lifting heavy weight, you need to make sure you are as rested as possible. Resting for two to three minutes between sets will ensure that your strength has returned before trying the next set. When you are trying to build endurance, you want the rest to be shorter; no more than a minute and half. If you are performing exercises that isolate a muscle or muscle group, bodybuilding type exercises, the goal should to keep the “pump” in that specific area. Shorter rest ensures that the blood, which gives that “pump” feeling, will stay in that muscle, and give you the feeling you are looking for. Rest periods of no longer than a minute and half is sufficient with closer to a minute being ideal.  

Exercise Order

            The third and final tip this article will cover is exercise order. Exercise order is something that most people don’t understand the importance of. The order of your exercises is important because it can affect the value you get from each exercise. Exercises in which the focus is on strength or explosiveness should be at the beginning of your routine. You want to be as fresh as possible for these exercises. This is also true for exercises that are a bit more technical. This shouldn’t be a problem, as most exercises that are technical in nature are strength or explosive movements. Combine this with the correct rest periods and you should be as strong as possible for each set.

Following the strength exercises, you want to next perform exercises that are still compound exercises, or exercises that challenge stability. These could be dumbbell exercises, exercises that involve you standing, etc. From there you want to perform exercises that focus more on a single muscle or muscle group and where stability is not an issue. These are your typical bodybuilding style exercises. This can be easier, seated dumbbell exercises, machine exercises, etc. The main takeaway is to go from heavier, more challenging exercises to exercises that are less challenging.  

Just Takes Some Effort

          Now that you have some ammo on how to attack an efficient training routine the next step is the easiest. Putting this new-found knowledge to use isn’t hard to do but it does take effort and discipline. Warming up can get boring, counting your rest periods can seem like a hassle and thinking about the order of your exercises does take time before you begin your workout. However, these techniques are a small cost for a much larger increase in workout efficiency. Take the time to put them to use and I guarantee it changes the entire dynamic of your workout for the better. If you liked this article be sure to take the couple of seconds it takes to subscribe to this site. Also, comment on what types of articles you would like to see in the future. As always, thanks for reading!

It’s Nutrition, Not Rocket Science

What’s the Secret?

What should I eat to lose weight? What should I eat to gain muscle? What do you eat daily? These are all questions that I get asked frequently. In this information saturated age, it can be almost impossible to know what to believe and what to ignore. A person can drive themselves crazy trying to interpret all the different information. There is new information almost daily. New fads come and go and everyone is looking for the next best thing. I’m going to be as blunt as I can be because I truly believe that what most people need to hear is the truth, even if they’ve heard it a million times. What has helped me in my professional and personal life regarding fitness is to keep things simple. I do this by having principles. When someone has principles that they follow it makes decision making that much easier. Something either falls under your principles and you take it in or it doesn’t fall in line and you toss it aside. I will talk about my principles regarding training in another article as this article is about how to make nutrition simple.

It’s a Lifestyle Change

First, let me begin by saying there is no magic food or recipe. There is no quick fix. Please read that first line again. Read it as many times as you need to because I know some of you may have brushed over it without fully taking it in. I am not going to give you tips in this article that will give you a six pack tomorrow, or next week, or the week after that. None of this information is groundbreaking, but it does work, with time and dedication. The mistake most people make is that they set themselves up for failure from the beginning. They expect, hope, and pray that something will work right away. They want results now. When those results don’t come as quickly as they would like, they get frustrated and give up. Most of the time, these are people looking to lose weight for a wedding or reunion coming up in a few weeks or months. From my experiences, looking at things in the short term rarely works. Instead, I try my best to guide my clients into a lifestyle change. Looking at things long term, or as lifestyle change, puts things in a much more realistic view. For most people, it is unrealistic to give up entire groups of food, or even a macronutrient like carbohydrates for example. That way of thinking is usually not sustainable and we want this to last. Instead, make things simple.

Unless you are training to compete in a competition, keeping things simple works! If you want to lose weight, eat less. Don’t go from making bad choices all day every day and try to cut everything out cold turkey. Cut back on things in small steps. Are you drinking soda or tea every day? Start by drinking it five days a week for a few weeks and then four and so on and so on. You might be able to last a few days or even weeks making extreme changes to your diet, but it likely won’t last. Thinking of it as a lifestyle change will also ease some of the stress from your life. It allows you to have that cheat meal after a long day at work, or to reward yourself after a good workout. Gaining weight is the same way. I know it is harder for some people to gain weight than others. But I hear all the time “I’m eating so much and I can’t gain weight.” My response is always the same, “well if you aren’t gaining weight you have to eat more,” and then they usually look at me like I just said the dumbest thing they’ve ever heard. No, it’s not dumb. It’s the truth. Just because something is simple and you think it should be complicated doesn’t make it wrong. I know this because I have lived it. I gained seventy pounds in college after not being able to gain weight in high school but it didn’t happen until I told myself that no matter what, I was going to gain weight. I made the lifestyle change, and then I did it.

What to Eat?

Now to the part I know most of you were waiting for. What should you eat? Well, no matter your goals, this paragraph is for you. This information should be followed by anyone looking to eat healthier, lose weight, or even gain muscle. This will help with all those goals. A great rule of thumb is to ask yourself two questions. Was what your about to eat at one time living? Did it grow either out of the ground or from a tree? If your food falls under either of these categories then we as humans, were meant to eat it for one reason or another. Remember, it was put here on Earth for a purpose. If your food doesn’t fall under these categories, then it is processed and probably not the best thing to be eating. If it was living at one time or grew, then it is what we call a whole food and whole foods are ideal. Like I said, not groundbreaking stuff.

The reason whole foods are good is because they are nutrient dense. This means they have many beneficial nutrients compared to calories. This is important because hunger is caused by the need for nutrients. So, one can infer that if you are eating food packed with a lot of nutrients you won’t be hungry as much. Someone can also infer that if their muscles need nutrients to grow then this is probably a good plan to follow. If you are trying to be careful about your weight, make sure you are eating when you are hungry and avoid eating because of boredom. Nutrient dense food will help with binge eating because of the full feeling it will give you.  Meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit sounds boring but there are many more options then might pop in your head at first. Explore new foods, fruits, and new recipes. Again, it takes time and effort but if you are truly serious about your fitness this is necessary.

There is No Magic Formula

For those of you that clicked on this article hoping for the magic formula I am sorry to disappoint. If you do find a miracle diet that works in a few hours or a few days please let me know. I’ll be waiting. Fitness is tough, to use another cliché “If it was easy everyone would do it.” If it was easy to have a six pack or to be built like the hulk, then it wouldn’t be the thing many people strive for. But that is exactly why those things are the goal of so many, because it is something most people don’t have. You must work at changing your habits with consistency being the key. Eat what you know you’re supposed to eat and do it consistently and I promise you, you will see results.

I can write about nutrition all day long so there will sure be more articles coming soon! If you liked this article, please subscribe to this site, and leave comments on what you would like more information on. Thanks!

4 Exercises You Aren’t Doing But Should (Part 4 of 4)

The Pendlay Row

The last exercise in the four part series of “Exercises You Aren’t Doing But Should” is the pendlay row. We have covered a hinge movement with the goodmorning, a press with strict press, a squat with the zercher and now a pulling exercise with the pendlay row. The pendlay row is a pull from a dead stop. This is what makes it a strength and especially a power movement. The dead stop is also what differentiates the pendlay row from most other rows including the more conventional bent over row.

The purpose of adding the pendlay row into a program is usually to build a stronger and bigger upper back. What I personally like about the pendlay row in addition to the size and strength benefits is that it adds power to a pulling movement, something that is rare to find. To clarify, power is the ability to generate force quickly and explosively whereas the term raw strength is more commonly used when talking about moving weight without regard to how fast you move it. Most pulls, such as the barbell or dumbbell row, are continuous movements that can be done with heavy weight. However, because continuous lifts do not start and end each rep at a dead stop it is difficult to build power with those movements. Power is built with the initial pull from the ground in the pendlay row. Many serious lifters add this to their program in order to improve their deadlift.

As with all exercises, if done properly, the pendlay row has a low risk of injury. The dead stop technique ensures that your lower back is not under tension long enough to be at risk, even though you will be pulling heavy weight and your lower back is in charge of supporting your spine. Again, that is if it is done properly! As always, stress technique first when trying this exercise before you try to move heavy weight and increase size, strength and power.

Instructions
1. Place feet about shoulder width apart with the bar over the midfoot (shoelaces).
2. Hinge hips in a slightly higher position than deadlift.
3. Grip bar using a double overhand grip about 4 inches wider than should er width.
4. Set chest in the “big chest” position tightening upper back.
5. Row the bar towards the bottom of chest .
6. Return bar back to starting position allowing weight to go dead.
7. Reset and perform another rep.

The setup for the pendlay row is very similar to that of the deadlift. You want your feet to be about the same width as the deadlift, maybe slightly wider. The bar should be over your midfoot (shoelaces). Your hips will be in the hinged pattern similar to the deadlift, but slightly higher. The raised hip position in the pendlay row versus the deadlift will ensure that your knees will not get in the way of the bar when you row it towards your lower chest. Next, place your hands on the bar using the double over grip (palms facing you). Your grip width is going to be slightly wider than your grip on the deadli ft. Remember, these foot and hand placements are guidelines, so feel free to play around with them a little until you find a position that is comfortable. I always prefer comfort compared to a set-in-stone guide on things like hand and foot placement.

Once your feet, hips, and hands are in place you can now set your chest. You want your back to be structured (neutral), meaning no rounding of the spine and your chest up. If you read the zercher or goodmorning articles this “big chest” position is the same. This ensures that your upper back is tight and not relaxed. I tend to make my chest big at the same time as I take in my breath. The breathing should be the same as discussed in the previous three articles and the same in every heavy lift you’re about to attempt. Take a deep breath in, breathing into your stomach and not your chest. Once the setup is complete and your breath is held go ahead and row the bar towards the bottom of your chest, clearing your knees. Think about actually pulling the bar with your elbows, resulting with your elbows pointing towards the ceiling. It may help to think of a rope tied around your elbows and someone standing above you pulling your elbows straight up. Return the bar back to the starting position being sure to let the weight go dead and then resetting your back before attempting another rep.

The pendlay row is a strength and power exercise so I tend to keep the reps between the 5-8 range. This exercise is supposed to be heavy but if you feel like you can’t do a certain amount of weight without raising your chest and using a ton of hip momentum then you need to lower the weight and focus on rowing the weight with your upper back. If you or your lifting buddy pay attention during the lift, it is usually obvious that the weight is too heavy causing your chest to rise.

Add the pendlay row to your program and watch as you develop the wide, dense, powerful back that you’ve been trying to achieve. I hope you liked this four part series. Be sure to let me know if these kind of articles are something you want more of in the future and don’t forget to subscribe to this site to stay up to date on the many new articles coming soon! Thanks and enjoy!

4 Exercises You Aren’t Doing But Should (Part 3 of 4)

The Zercher

            Now I know it’s rare to see someone squatting regularly in a commercial gym, so asking you to perform a different type of squat variation is probably pushing my luck. However, I’m going to do it anyway. The zercher squat is a squat variation that has been around forever and is most popular in the strong man community. Unless you are an athlete whose strength coach had you perform the zercher squat, it is not likely that you have heard of or seen this type of squat done. It makes this list because of the benefits it offers aside from increasing leg strength. A zercher squat is performed with the weight in front of the body.  It differs from a front squat in that it allows the weight to rest lower, closer to the body’s center of mass. I love front squats and they too can greatly improve many areas, but the zercher allows the weightlifter to rack the weight more easily than the front squat.  Racking the weight while performing a zercher squat may be uncomfortable for some, but can be done by everyone.  This is compared to racking during a front squat, which is nearly impossible for people with poor mobility.

The weight being racked in front of the core is a major component of this lift. A weightlifter performing a back squat is supposed to keep everything tight, structured, and full of tension. I say supposed to because many people never learn these aspects of a proper back squat. Some people may be able to get away without proper form, but until they learn to implement the tight, structured, and tension filled form, they will never reach their full potential on the back squat. You have to consciously think about creating tension in your core on a back squat. A major advantage of the zercher squat is that it eliminates any thought about tension in the abdominal cavity because it happens almost subconsciously.  Even though the focus during the lift will be on areas other than the abdominal muscles,  I can’t tell you how many times I have taught someone the zercher and then have them turn around in amazement about how much they could feel the exercise work their abdominal region. The tension created throughout the entire body and the pressure build up in the abdominal cavity is a major benefit of this lift and will positively impact you on everything else you do in the gym.

Instructions

  1. Place bar on crease of elbows (Use bar pad if needed)
  2. Put hands together with forearms pointed upwards locking the bar into place
  3. Make a “big” chest at the same time as you take a breath in
  4. Begin descent allowing your elbows to go between your knees at the bottom of movement
  5. Be sure to keep the bar pressed tightly against stomach (belly button region)
  6. Return to starting position while squeezing glutes at the top

 

The main reason people do not want to add the zercher to their programs is the rack position. I’m not going to sugar coat it, because, the truth is, it sucks. It’s uncomfortable, awkward, and for some can be painful. The bar is racked on the crease of your elbows. I always give my athletes and clients the choice of putting a pad on the bar to lessen the pressure. Some people like the pad, while others, including myself, think that the bulkiness adds to the awkwardness.  A simple fix instead of the pad is to wear long sleeve shirts or hoodies that can help ease some of the discomfort of the bar on bare skin. But this is all personal preference, and you should do whatever feels best for you.  If you choose to go with the bar to bare skin, I recommend using lifting chalk on the crease of your elbows to prevent the bar from slipping.

Now that we understand that the rack position is awful we can move on to the actual lift.  Once you have the bar on the crease of your elbows put your hands together with your forearms pointing upwards locking the bar into place. Make sure your spine is tight and structured to support the weight, similar to the back squat.  Think about puffing your chest out to create a “big chest” to help tighten your thoracic spine even more. The key to the zercher is that you want to keep the bar against your belly. Allowing the bar to float away from your stomach causes the weight of the bar to pull you forward which will add strain to your back. A good point of reference is resting the bar close to your belly button. During the lift, keep your shoulders as relaxed as possible. Avoid shrugging your shoulders as this will cause the bar to rise upwards. I make it a point to tell all my athletes and clients to keep the same stance as they would in their back squat because consistency can help with overall improvement. When you feel ready with a sturdy stance, start the descent. Your elbows should slide in between your knees at the bottom of the squat. Position your arms close enough together in the rack position and think about pushing your knees outwards as you squat, to make sure the elbows between the knees position is possible. Start the ascent and return to the starting position, squeezing your glutes at the top.

If you are brave enough to try this squat variation and dedicated enough to squat in the first place you will reap the benefits of this lift. I promise you that it will help with a number of other lifts in the gym. Be sure to check out the video below for a visual demonstration of this lift. If you do give it a try let me know what you think and also remember to subscribe to this site so that you can be notified of future posts coming soon. Thanks and enjoy the zercher!

 

4 Exercises You Aren’t Doing But Should (Part 2 of 4)

The Strict Press

            The strict press or more commonly known as the standing military press is usually a severely underutilized exercise. Seated military presses, dumbbell presses, and push presses are more likely to be seen than the strict press in most gyms. I have no doubt that the reason for its underutilization is because it is an extremely difficult exercise and is taxing on the entire body.  Although more weight can be performed while seated or with the use of the legs, the standing strict press position, without the help of the legs, is what makes this lift so beneficial. In my opinion, this is probably the most frustrating lift that I do. It is extremely difficult to progress with weight and I find that my performance varies more on this lift than any other. The strict press is commonly considered to be only a shoulder exercise, but go ahead and perform a heavy set, and you will see that your entire body is incorporated.  This exercise creates tension throughout the entire body and learning how to better use tension will benefit you on every other lift that you perform. This is also a great way to improve balance and core strength. When you think about the act of lifting heavy weight overhead multiple times without falling over it is hard to deny that you are improving your balance. It really doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. The strict press is also a great supplemental lift for the bench press because of the use of triceps in the overhead lockout.

 

Instructions

1.         Start with the barbell in the rack  positioned at a height that is about even with your collarbone.

2.         Grip slightly wider than shoulder width while making sure your wrist and elbow joints are aligned.

3.         Un-rack the bar so that the starting point is your collarbone.

4.         Find a width between your feet that is comfortable. 

4.         Squeeze your glutes to set a good base and press the bar overhead. A major point is to keep the bar in a straight path close to your face both on   the ascent and descent.

5.         Lock out arms and push head through the “window” that the upright arms create.

6.         Return to the starting position.

 

Some aspects of the strict press will likely vary from person to person. When choosing your grip width make sure that your wrist and elbow joints are aligned.  Aligning your wrists and elbow should lead to a grip that is around shoulder width, but the exact width will vary slightly. Be sure not to allow your forearm to look as though it is leaning either inwards or outwards as this can lead to incorrectly performed reps and injury. Also, the width between your feet will likely vary. The tighter your feet are together, the easier it is to squeeze your glutes. However, a tight stance may also cause you to feel as though you do not have the secure base that a wider stance offers.  So with regards to foot width, find a happy medium that works for you.  While pressing the bar over your head, make sure to lockout your arms and push your head through the “window” that is made between your two arms and the barbell overhead.

 I make it a point to tell my athletes/clients to pause at the top instead of at the bottom. Pausing at your collarbone is a death sentence if you’re looking to rep out heavy weight. Lastly, try to breathe when the bar is locked out overhead. Take a breath in, filling your belly up with air, and hold it until the bar is back overhead. Breathing while the bar is moving will add to the instability that is already a major challenge in this lift. So go ahead and give the strict press a try. Let me know how you like it and be sure to check out the video below for a visual demonstration of this lift. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to this site so that you stay up to date on all the new articles coming soon! Thanks and enjoy!

 

4 Exercises You Aren’t Doing But Should (Part 1 of 4)

        We have all trained in commercial gyms, and I’m sure we have all probably either done or seen the same exercises done over and over again. While it is important to follow a regimen or program to maximize your progress, it is also important to continue to find ways to change it up as well.  Doing different exercises creates new stimulation necessary for your muscles to grow. No matter your goals, exposing your body to these new stimuli creates change that will benefit you as you continue to workout. Many people realize this fact but often have difficulty implementing different exercises into their routines.   For one reason or another, some exercises are more popular than others. In this four part series, I will discuss four exercises that I rarely see performed in commercial gyms, but that I feel everyone can benefit from doing.  These exercises may be used as an occasional alternative to the more popular lifts or can be done alongside the main barbell lifts in order to supplement them.  These exercises all involve the barbell and all four will help build strength, power, and stability that everyone can benefit from, no matter their goals.  After reading this series and trying these exercises out for yourself, I believe you will agree that the main reason these exercises are not often done is that they are difficult and challenging.  But I promise, if you try them, you will understand why they made this list.

The Goodmorning

            The goodmorning is a personal favorite of mine. It is a great way to train the thoracic area to stay tight and strong under tension.  Training the thoracic area can lead to benefits on numerous other lifts including squat and deadlift. I have found it most effective to perform it with higher repetitions, usually between six and ten with eight being the goal number. I perform it in this rep range because I am usually doing heavier weight with less than five repetitions on my deadlifts and squats.  The higher rep range also allows me to train my body to stay tight and structured under tension for a longer period. 

           The higher rep range is what I found to be best for my personal goals.  Depending on your own individual goals and the reason for trying this exercise, the desired rep range can vary greatly. If you haven’t done this exercise in the past, start by practicing with an unloaded bar and then proceed with extremely light weight. While performing this exercise, the bar path does not remain centered and travels from the midfoot to the front of the foot.  This is rarely an intended movement while performing a barbell lift.  The path of the barbell is what  makes this such a beneficial exercise, since it exposes your body to the new stimulation discussed previously.  Remember, it is crucial to do the exercise with proper form and weight due to the fact the unfamiliar motion can cause problems in your back if done incorrectly. However, do not let that risk scare you away, because once you have the proper form down, the benefits the goodmorning provides significantly outweigh any risks.

 

Instructions  

  1. Rack the bar on your back as if you were performing a back squat.
  2. While standing with the bar on your back, breath in while thinking about creating a “big” chest. You should feel your upper back tighten.
  3. Begin descent by pushing your hips back behind you.
  4. Avoid locking your knees but pay attention not to bend your knees as you would during a squat.
  5. Continue descent until structure begins to weaken.
  6. Return along same path to starting position.

 

         Really focus on holding the big chest and tight upper back as that is going to be the key to performing this exercise efficiently and safely.  When beginning the descent, picture a rope tied to the back of your belt and someone standing directly behind you, pulling your hips back as your chest descends. You will begin to feel a nice stretch on your hamstrings. If standing in front of a mirror, avoid trying to watch yourself and focus your eyes outwards and slightly down in front of you. This eye position keeps your head in a neutral position.  The range of motion will differ from person to person but I usually go until I feel I’m about to lose structure  and then I return to the starting position. When returning to the starting position squeeze your glutes and try desperately to hold your breath until you complete the rep.  Breathing while performing a rep can cause your muscles to relax possibly putting you into a compromising situation.

Be sure to check out the video below for a visual instruction.

New Article on the blog. 4 Exercises You Aren't Doing But Should Part 1 of 4 Billmarnich.com #trainingwithawhy

A video posted by Bill Marnich (@billmarnich) on

Become Strong

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Recently I asked people to tell me their “Why?” Why do they go to the gym every day? What are they hoping to get from it? One of the most common responses to this question is to get bigger and stronger. Whether you’re an athlete training for a sport, a bodybuilder preparing for a contest or show, or someone simply looking to improve your strength, this post is for you.

Most people don’t like to hear this because it is not a new, sexy thing, but the best and most efficient way of getting stronger is basic barbell lifts. Yes, that’s right, the same barbell lifts that have been around forever are still the best way to build strength. That is the reason they have been around forever.
When people come up to me in the gym and ask how to get stronger or how to get a bigger the first question I ask them is if they are doing the standard barbell lifts like benching, squatting, deadlifting or an overhead press. If not, I immediately tell them to add these four lifts into their program for the next month or so and they will already notice they have gotten stronger.

Yes, there are other great ways to get bigger and stronger but if you are looking for the most bang for your buck, lift a barbell. The barbell is the most efficient way of getting stronger simply because you can lift the most weight with it. The lifts are also compound movements. A compound movement is a movement that involves more than one joint, thus involving more muscles. For example, a squat involves the hip, knee and ankle joints. By involving all these joints, multiple muscle groups including the hamstrings, quadriceps, adductors, spinal erectors, etc. are being used to perform the squat. When someone does an exercise like a leg curl or leg extension they are working around one joint (i.e. the knee in this example) and isolating only one muscle group. I used the squat in this example, but this is true for the other barbell lifts as well.
After explaining the importance of needing the barbell lifts to get strong, a common follow-up question I’m asked is, “how heavy to go?” Heavy is five reps or fewer. I never go over 5 reps if I am doing strength work on the barbell lifts. Strength programs are going to have some version of three to five sets of three to five reps. It is important to perform your strength exercises while you are at your strongest and freshest state. So do the barbell lifts first. A great example that I grew up on is doing a heavy bench first on chest day, a heavy squat first on leg day, etc. Perform the sets at or near full recovery so take between two and three minute rest between sets. This is a common mistake I see so pay attention to your rest periods and don’t rush it! I write all of this with caution because you should be competent with the technique aspect before trying heavy weight.
I won’t delve into the technique aspect of the barbell lifts because each lift will be its own individual article. Those articles will be coming soon so stay tuned!

One of my favorite quotes comes from 8x Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman, in which he says “Everyone wants to be strong, but don’t nobody want to lift heavy-ass weights.” To get strong you have to lift heavy. At times, it really is that simple. So I challenge you that if you have the technique down to go and lift heavy and don’t be afraid to feel the strain of heavy weight, learn to love it, because that is how you will become strong.