Category

The following are labeled with the Category you have selected.

Category Archive Training for Athletes

Principles Over Methods

When I first entered the strength and conditioning field I wanted to learn as much as I could as fast as I could. I read articles detailing specific exercises, I read books about programming, I did it all. I learned a great deal through reading, and talking with people that were already successful in this field. However, it seemed as I learned and discovered new things the same question kept creeping into my head. “Why?” For me, it wasn’t good enough to learn new things and simply apply them. I needed to know why I was doing a certain exercise or why I was writing a program a certain way. I believe wanting to know “Why” came to me naturally because for me, if I didn’t know why I was doing something then how could I possibly adjust it or improve upon it? I understood very early on that knowing the “Why” would make it easier for me to think on my own instead of constantly relying on books or mentors. I needed to have my own set of beliefs or rules that I could base all of my decisions from.

For me, I had great mentors at the university I worked for as an intern and then a graduate assistant. They taught me the importance of principles over methods. The first time I heard that line, “Principles over Methods”, it was like a ginormous light bulb went off in my head and I was like “Yes, that’s the answer to the question that’s been nagging at me!” I needed to develop my own set of principles to live off of. By having principles every decision that I would be faced with was made very simple, it either fell under my principles and I used it or it didn’t and I ignored it.

In a field with an abundance of information and unique ways of thinking this simplicity was like a breath of fresh air. This simplicity also allowed me to have the confidence in my decisions and gave me a “Why” for everything I did or do. This is a big complaint I have with the strength and conditioning field. It seems a large portion of people are worried about methods or the “How” of something instead of having any principles or “Whys”. I find this ironic because if you have principles then the methods or “How’s” comes to you organically. I feel that most people fall in love with the “How’s” of something because they are afraid of missing out on something. I can see how this can easily happen. You discover a new exercise, or method of doing something and you feel that it can be beneficial your program. However, without having any principles to live by eventually you are throwing every shiny new method into your program and not having a very clear understanding of exactly “Why” you are doing what you are doing.

I’ll admit, at times it takes a great deal of self-discipline to say no to something and stick by your principles. For those of you that read my article Why my High School Athletes Don’t Do Olympic Lifts you know that I don’t have my high school athletes perform Olympic lifts. Does this mean I dislike the O-lifts? No. Does this mean I don’t see the benefits that they offer? No. Neither of those are true. The O-lifts can be a great tool for athletic performance and if you use them in your program then great. However, they do not fall under my movement based principles and therefore I do not use them, it really is that simple. Other exercises that isolate a certain muscle group such as GHR’s are great exercises but again, they do not fall under my principles so I do not use them.  

I did not write this article to say that your beliefs should line up with mine. I wanted to write this article to give some people a direction that may be struggling with the abundance of information and ways of thinking in this field. If you are one of those people that are always grabbing at the newest method or shiny new toy then ask yourself “Why?” Why are you adding that exercise? I also hope that is article encourages you to have the self-confidence to develop your own principles that you can live by. Following are the principles I follow. Again, these are my principles and in no way am I saying yours have to match mine.

My Principles

 

  • 8 Movements that I use
    • Push/Press (Vertical and Horizontal
    • Pull (Vertical and Horizontal)
    • Squat
    • Hinge
    • Carry
    • Crawl
    • Roll
    • Hang
  • Perform a variation of each movement EVERY workout.
  • Perform as many different variations for each movement as possible.
  • For every bilateral movement done in the week perform a unilateral movement in the same plane.
  • Every exercise should be done in a full range.

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

Stop Counting Reps and Sets

Even at an early age I was an analytical person. I needed to know specifics about why I was doing something and what the expected outcome would be. I guess being this way meant that the opposite was also true, because I hated flying by the seat of my pants. I hated not having a plan and could never understand how people could just go by feel, especially when trying to accomplish a goal. So when I began weight training at the high school in the summer before my freshmen year and the coach gave us our workout sheet to record everything we did I was in nerd heaven. We recorded our sets, reps, and the weight we used. Being the nerd that I am, I made notes in the margins about technique, how the weight felt, etc. I loved seeing my improvement from week to week even if it was in small amounts. Luckily for me loving this process is probably the biggest reason I quickly became one of the strongest athletes on the team, even keeping up with kids a couple years older than me. When trying to become stronger, keeping to a strict number of sets and reps and methodically increasing the weight will work wonders. I guess what I am trying to say is that when wanting to get stronger it is always wise to have a plan.

 

Now, I told that story so I could tell this story. As told above, I began weight training as a means to be a better football player. My number one goal was to become stronger and remained my goal until my playing days were over. However, my love for bodybuilding continued to grow as I got older. In the off-season’s I would play around with certain exercises and bodybuilding techniques to see if I could get a specific body part to grow or look better. This experimenting worked and I grew bigger and more developed aesthetically. What I also did was carry over my analytical brain to my bodybuilding training. I kept notebooks upon notebooks of sets, reps, and weights used. I used the same exercises for weeks and even months, afraid to stray off script and ruin any progression I had created. This worked, to an extent. However, I eventually began hitting walls and plateaus, not seeing the improvement in muscle size or shape I was accustomed to. This frustrated me because I was doing everything I was supposed to be doing, or so I thought. I realized something needed to change so my nerd side took over and I began to research and read all the bodybuilding content I could get my hands on. What I realized was that what needed to change was my way of thinking. I had to pretty much do the exact opposite of what I had done when I was training for strength. Bodybuilding is more about feel and less about staying on script. This was an enormous challenge mentally for me. I hated the thought of just going by how I felt and not having a concrete plan. I needed to make a conscience effort to change my way of thinking and it worked! This is what I did:

Changes I Made
  • I stopped counting my reps, instead went to failure more often.
  • I stopped counting all my sets, if a certain exercise felt really good that day I kept doing more and more sets.
  • I stopped writing down my accessory exercises.
  • If an exercise didn’t feel good on a certain day I scratched it and moved on.
  • I switched up the exercises I did more often. Sometimes every workout.
  • I payed more attention to how my muscle felt during the exercise.

 

Now, I don’t want to confuse you. Weight training is about progressive overload. No matter your goals your body needs a reason to change or it simply won’t. You must consistently challenge your body’s limits in order to induce change. There are times to have a concrete plan and record absolutely everything you do. There are also times where you must go by feel and listen to what your body is telling you. In order to help you differentiate when the right time to do either one is I have made a list for each circumstance.

When to Record Weights, Reps, Sets, Etc.
  • When strength is the goal.
  • When you are following a specific program in order to achieve a certain goal.
  • When your goal is a tangible aspect such as a maximal weight or reps performed.
When Not to Record Weights, Reps, Sets, Etc.
  • When training for size and or shape.
  • When executing accessory type exercises.
  • When an exercise feels really good. (Just keep going through sets)
  • When an exercise feels “off”. (Scratch it and move on)

Again, this is just what worked for me. You may find that other tactics work for you but I hope that this gives you some idea of how different ways of thinking can lead to differing results.

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

5 Quick Reminders of Why- For Strength and Conditioning Coaches

Strength and Conditioning is a tough Profession. Long hours, lots of education and not always fair compensation. We put up with a lot of stuff. However, in the end we know it is all worth it. That is why we continue to grow and do what we do.

 

5 Whys of what we are contributing to our athletes of the next generation are:

TEAMBUILDING

We do it to foster an environment that shows kids that they can do something bigger than themselves; that with the help of others they can be more.

 

IMPROVED ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE

We do it to build our athletes into the best they can be both physically and mentally.

 

DISCIPLINE/CONSISTENCY

We do it to build “buy in” to the idea that there will be NO cutting corners in the path to success.

 

ACCOUNTABILITY

We do it so they understand it’s okay to call each other out in a respectful way. This can be done to build understanding and acknowledgement that it’s for the betterment of themselves, their team and their future.

 

ENJOYMENT/FUN

We do it so kids can have fun while getting productive work in.
– The old saying of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, rings true here.

These Whys always bring a smile to my face when I look back at them. When you are having thoughts on why do we do it, look above. These reminders help me every day to put things back in perspective, that I am helping to create something bigger than myself. That my athletes are awesome and will go out and be more. Thanks for reading.

 

Ryan Leibreich MS, ATC, CSCS, USAW-1
Director of Strength and Conditioning
Pro Performance RX
ryan@properformancerx.com

Why My High School Athletes Don’t Do Olympic Lifts

In my three years as a high school strength and conditioning coach the hundreds to thousands of athletes that have gone through my program have done exactly zero Olympic lifts. That’s right, zero power cleans, zero jerks, and zero snatches. I know this will be shocking to most strength coaches but I simply don’t see the need for them at this level. Before I go any further, let me make sure it is well known, I do not hate the Olympic lifts nor do I deny their effectiveness at building explosive strength, in fact, the opposite is true. I am simply stating that I do not see the need for the Olympic lifts in my program at the high school level. Your athletes and setting might be different and Olympic lifts might be beneficial. I can only speak about my setting and here are a few reasons my athletes do not do the Olympic lifts.

Time (I Get the Most Bang for My Buck)

Time, or the lack thereof, is always a factor in everything you choose to do at the high school level. I have written articles, such as Three Things College Didn’t Teach Me on how high school athletes juggle multiple sports, jobs, school work, and extra-curricular activities all on top of weight training. This leads to inconsistency and a crunch on time. That makes it near impossible to teach the technique dominated movements of the Olympic lifts to a group of 20-30 athletes. Instead, I choose to run my high school program similar to that of a university setting. The sessions are fifty minutes long with one team after another. I guarantee that my athletes get more done in fifty minutes than 90% of the high school programs get done in two hours. How is that possible? Because I make sure that we are getting the most bang for our buck. I cover the absolute necessities. These necessities will be covered in the following sections. It is also no coincidence that these necessities should also be the building blocks of anyone wanting to be strong in the Olympic lifts. So no, I do not deem the time it takes to teach, become proficient, and then strong in the Olympic lifts more important than what the next two sections will cover. You have to remember that when you say yes to something you are saying no to something else.

Movement (Can You Tie Your Shoes First?)

This heading was only meant to be half-way funny. The other half is a serious question. If an athlete cannot move his or her own body effectively and efficiently they will not only suffer in the weight room, but they will certainly suffer in their sport. My job is to help them be as effective at their sport as possible, not be weight room heroes. When you see the word movement I know most of you will immediately associate it with technique. Proper technique is obviously important in the weight room and it does involve movement. However, I am not just discussing technique alone, I am also talking about learning to move the human body efficiently and effectively with and without the stress of a load. Can you tie your shoes first is a legitimate question. If an athlete cannot reach the ground or even their toes from a standing position how do you expect them to safely pick weight up off the ground? If they tip over doing body weight squats how can you possibly ask them to put weight on their back? These are just a couple common examples associated with two of the “big” lifts (i.e. deadlifts and squats). There are many other examples, some that have nothing to do with a big compound lift in the weight room but rather a natural human movement that should be fairly easy to execute but so often my athletes find very difficult, at least at first. Learning to move efficiently and effectively will not only improve athletic performance but will do so while also decreasing the risk of injury by eliminating imbalances and dysfunctions within the system. In my programs crawling, rolling, hanging, and carrying weight is just as important as the big compound lifts. Combine the compound lifts with these other movement exercises, throw in some needed corrective exercises and you got yourself a program with very few holes.

Strength (Squat, Deadlift, OH Press, Bench)

After learning to move efficiently and effectively my main focus is to have my athletes build raw strength. I do this by making the compound movements the center of my program. The compound movements are the squat, deadlift, overhead press, and bench press. Yes, these movements still involve technique aspects and not everyone is going to be proficient at them right away. But they are much easier to teach and thus allow the athletes become stronger faster. Not to mention, even if your goal was to include the Olympic lifts, your athletes should be strong in the basic compound lifts first.

Even if I wanted to take the time to teach the Olympic lifts and was successful at doing so, what’s the benefit if the athlete doesn’t have the raw strength to move sufficient weight in the Olympic lifts to justify the time spent teaching them? I would much rather utilize our precious time to allow them to become strong and powerful at the basic compound lifts.

There You Have It

I know there will be a good number of well-respected strength coaches that disagree with the idea of avoiding the Olympic lifts at the high school level. In my opinion, what it comes down to is knowing your environment and ultimately your athletes. If you have had success with the Olympic lifts don’t stop. But if you are spending an enormous amount of time that you don’t have trying to teach these very difficult exercises just because they are “tradition” you may want to rethink things. If you are interested in any of my techniques and methods for improving movement such as correctives etc. be sure to contact me as I am always happy to help.

 

As always, thanks for reading and be sure to subscribe with your email to support this site.

What is Intensity?

Growing up playing sports, then eventually progressing to weight training, I’ve heard the word intensity a lot in my twenty-five years on earth. Coaches would scream across the field that “you have to do this with intensity.” Strength coaches in high school and college would proudly say “that guy is intense” referring to the guy slapping his chest and yelling before attempting a lift.

For me at least, it was one of those things I just got used to hearing and really didn’t give it much thought growing up. However, as I got older and started taking athletics and weight training more seriously, more and more people would refer to me as intense. At first, it surprised and confused me. I was never the guy screaming and jumping up and down on the field or that guy slapping his chest in the weight room.

I began to question, “what made other people perceive me as intense?” Teammates, and after my playing days were over, other people in the gym would often say I looked mad while in the gym. I started asking myself, “Well what is intensity exactly?” I eventually concluded that what others were labeling as intense I referred to as focused.

It dumbfounded me that the way I acted in the gym was so different from the ordinary that it caused other people to take notice. I often thought to myself “How am I supposed to act?” Why does being focused make people around me think something is wrong? After being made aware that I acted in a way that was different than most others in a gym I began to pay more attention to the other people in the gym. I wanted to see what was so different in the way I acted compared to them. It was obvious from the get-go. I was in the gym for a purpose, most others are in the gym to say there were at the gym. That is a huge difference and the reason I am committed to my motto, “Training With a Why.”

I train with intensity because I have a purpose. I am in the gym to get results and better myself in more ways than you can see. Sure, there are people at the gym I consider friends, but if I wanted to hang with friends and BS for two hours I would have done it outside the gym. Now that people know I am a trainer my workouts are constantly being interrupted by people asking me training advice, which is fine, I love helping those people, just don’t be that guy that asks how to get bigger biceps then goes and talks to his friend while doing a set of curls. I know some may roll their eyes, doubting that focus, or intensity as we are calling it in this article, makes that big of a difference, and I have zero doubt you are the same people seeing little to no results in the gym.

This lack of intensity is also why those same people seeing zero results in the gym seem to be there for three hours. PSA, if you are in the gym for three hours “working out” you are not intense, you need a psychiatrist. A lack of intensity or focus in the gym means that you aren’t paying attention to details that create change. In training, there are so many little things that can take you to the next level and you miss out on just about all of them if your mind or mouth is off wondering around. So, to answer the question to the title of this article, I believe that intensity is synonymous with focus. A singular focus on the task at hand will always yield the best results.

I’m sorry if this article upset the people that thought intensity in the weight room meant bathing in chalk, loading three plates on the bench, screaming and bobbing your head, and then having your spotter upright row it off your chest before racking it and high fiving each other.  My hope in writing this article is that some of you will reevaluate why you are at the gym, and refocus your thoughts and actions while in the gym to reach those goals. Find your “Why” and keep it close.

As always, thanks for reading and please comment if you like these kind of topics.

Perfecting the Kettlebell Swing

One of my favorite kettlebell exercises is the kettlebell swing, and thanks in part to CrossFit, it is one of the most well-known uses of the kettlebell. As a trainer, there have been many occasions where a client has told me that they have done swings in the past. I always ask to do a few swings and let me observe their technique. After several swings I find myself cringing and stopping them before I watch them injure themselves. Most people do not realize the technique involved with the swing and end up tweaking their lower back. It should be no surprise that swinging a weight in the shape of a ball fast between your legs can lead to discomfort if done wrong. Fortunately for you, I’ve become efficient at teaching the swing using these three steps below.

Step 1: The Hike Pass

  1. Place the bell a foot or so in front of you.
  2. Your feet should be in your power stance. The same or similar stance to the deadlift stance.
  3. Hinge down to the bell by pushing your hips back. Being sure not to lock your knees.
  4. Ensure that your back is flat and tight when you push your hips back.
  5. Grab the bell with both hands and tilt the bell towards you.
  6. Hike the bell high and tight between your legs letting the bell go through your legs and not stopping at your groin.
  7. Return the bell to the starting position on the ground.
  8. Repeat the hike pass until you feel comfortable. (I usually have clients do a set of 5-8)

Tips:

  • Hiking the bell high and tight is a major key in the swing. You want to hike it right at your groin.
  • The bell going to low through your legs will make the swing feel awkward and will put major strain on your lower back.
  • Make sure the bell goes through your legs and doesn’t stop at your groin. So if someone was watching you from the side they would be able to see the bell behind you at the top of the hike pass.

Video Here: Hike Pass

Step 2: Feeling the Weight Shift

  1. Repeat the hike pass but do not return the bell to the starting position.
  2. Instead, let the bell float out in front of you and swing back in between your legs as in the hike pass.
  3. Be sure not to raise your chest or try to stand upwards.
  4. Let the bell swing back and forth being sure it is going high and tight between your legs every rep.
  5. As the bell swings back and forth notice your weight sift from front to back. Do not fight this feeling.
  6. As the bell goes back between your legs your weight should shift to the mid/front of your feet. As the bell swings forward out in front of you your weight should shift to the mid/back of your feet.
  7. Your back should remain flat and tight as the bell swings back and forth and again be sure not to raise your chest or try to stand up.
  8. Repeat until comfortable. (Again, I usually have clients do 5-8 reps)

Video Here: Weight Shift

Step 3: The Full Swing

  1. Repeat the hike pass.
  2. As you hike the bell feel your weight shift in your feet.
  3. As the bell comes forward thrust your hips forward and stand upright.
  4. At the top of the swing you should be completely upright.
  5. Be sure not to arch your lower back.
  6. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the swing.
  7. At the top of the swing the bell should be right at eye level.
  8. Let the bell float back down between your legs high and tight.
  9. Repeat (Except for the hike pass) for the prescribed number of repetitions.

Tips:

  • Thrust your hips forward by driving through your heels.
  • You should never feel like you are on your toes as the bell is coming upwards.
  • You should be able to see over the bell at the top of the swing.
  • Your eyes should follow the bell throughout the entire swing. Do not try to look upwards or forward and do not try to keep a “big chest” as the bell is coming back down between your legs. (This is a very common mistake)
  • Do not “baby” your hip thrust to get the bell going upwards. It should be a quick, powerful movement.
  • If your shoulders are getting tired throughout the swings you are using your arms to swing the bell instead of using your hips. Treat your arms as only ropes hanging onto the bell.

Video Here: KB Swing

Benefits

  1. Great for developing power from the hinge position.
  2. Once soreness disappears from the first few times trying this exercise you will see improved flexibility in your hamstrings.
  3. Can be done for many repetitions and used as a fun way to get your heart rate up (Trust me, do 25 of these consecutively and you will have to catch your breath afterwards)
  4. Activation of your glutes and hamstrings.

Try it Out

Have some fun implementing the kettlebell swing into your training program. Include it in different parts of your workout and see when it best fits you and your goals. Once you are efficient at the swing try all different kinds of weights to get a different feeling each time.

As always, thanks for reading and please support the site by subscribing with your email and stay up to date on future articles.

 

 

2 Exercises to Improve Shoulder Stability

I’m not sure there is a single body part that is more frustrating than the shoulder. The shoulder joint is the most mobile joint in the human body with 120 degrees of flexion available. This mobility is useful for achieving great athletic feats but can be a detriment when the shoulder is put in a compromising position. I recommend performing the following two exercises multiple times a week to accomplish two goals, maintain and/or improve mobility in the shoulder joint and strengthen the shoulder girdle as a whole. (Side note, the turkish get-up is a staple of my program for these vary reasons but it deserves its own article coming soon.)

Arm Bar

The arm bar is an exercise that I recommend as an extended warm-up or as part of a movement prep at the beginning of a workout. But it can fit in perfectly anywhere in the workout as the coach sees fit. The arm bar accomplishes a couple of things. Depending on the athlete, it can be a useful stretch anywhere from the delts, to the lats, to the biceps, and so on. I know I personally feel it instantly in my biceps and rear delt which is not surprising as those are two trouble areas for me in terms of tightness. The second thing it is great for is causing the stabilizing muscles of the shoulder joint to fire. When done correctly as shown in the video below, the shoulder joint is the only thing stabilizing the arm to hold the kettlebell overhead.  

  1. Start lying flat on your back. Legs straight. Kettlebell resting on chest with both hands grasping handle.
  2. Press the kettlebell with both hands, taking the hand of the arm not doing the exercise (the off arm) off when the arms are fully extended. Bend the knee of the same side leg until the foot is flat on floor near glutes.
  3. The off arm starts out flat on floor extending away from torso. The off leg starts out flat and straight on floor in line with rest of body.
  4. Push off the bent leg rotating that hip towards the floor on the opposite side. Try your best to get the hip to touch and remain in contact with the floor.
  5. It’s at first okay for your same side leg to now be slightly bent flat on the floor. But when comfortable straighten it and slide it across the floor until it is parallel with your other leg (the off leg.)
  6. When you feel that your arm and kettlebell are stable slowly slide your off arm across the floor until it is overhead. Your body should now be in a straight line from off hand down to both of your feet.
  7. I usually have my athletes hold this position from anywhere between 20 and 30 seconds before switching arms.

Tips:

  • Be careful and progress the weight slowly especially when first learning the exercise.
  • When comfortable you want to make sure that the weight is challenging enough to reap the full benefits of the exercise.
  • When your off arm and leg are extended away from your body they are giving you extra stability but when you straighten both your leg and arm out so that your body is in a straight line that extra stability disappears and the exercise becomes significantly more difficult,
  • If you are coaching young athletes they my at first be nervous about feeling their shoulder stabilizing, you can usually visually see the shoulder pulsating, make sure to ensure them that this is the goal of the exercise and as long as their arm is in the locked out position they are doing it correctly.

Video Here:  Arm Bar

Bottoms-Up Press

One of my favorite kettlebell exercises is the kettlebell press overhead. It is a great unilateral exercise that allows the shoulder to move naturally and freely. A variation of the kettlebell press that I love to implement to work shoulder stability is the bottoms-up press. The bottoms-up press takes the kettlebell and turns it upside down. In this position the actual ball is on top of the handle, making balancing the bell the main objective as you press it overhead. Naturally, the weight is significantly lighter compared to the conventional kettlebell press but this exercise can be very tiring and even more frustrating.

  1. Hold the kettlebell upside down in one hand.
  2. When you have it balanced proceed to press it overhead being sure to press until your arm is in the lock out position.
  3. Return the bell to the starting position.

Tips:

  • The first thing this will test is your grip strength as simply holding the bell in the upside down position is challenging.
  • This is a great exercise for learning how to create tension throughout the entire body as you will have to be tense throughout to successfully press a challenging weight overhead.
  • It helps to make a tight fist with your opposite hand. This is something called irradiation where the tension travels to other parts of your body.
  • I usually don’t prescribe over 5 reps per set because in my opinion anything higher defeats the purpose of what this exercise should be intended for. If someone can complete more than 5 reps with a certain weight the weight is not challenging enough and the athlete does not need to create a significant amount of tension.
  • With this exercise being dependent on small muscles playing a big role increasing the weight can be a challenge even if someone can complete multiple reps at a certain weight.
  • To counter act this, if an athlete is repping out a certain wright but cannot consistently complete reps at the next weight I have them practice just holding the bell in the upside down positon for a certain amount of time (usually 20-30 seconds) and that seems to help them progress.

Video Here:  Bottoms Up Press

Prioritize It

In my opinion implementing correctives that target the shoulder girdle should be a major priority for strength and conditioning coaches. I also want to mention that I believe everyone can benefit from strengthening their shoulder girdle as a whole as it will help them progress in whatever their goals may be. These two exercises in this article should also be used by anyone with nagging shoulder injuries. Give these exercises a shot and do them consistently for a period of time and I bet that you see an improvement in a number of different aspects of your training.

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

How to Bench Press

Yes, It Is Awesome

Ahh the bench press. The holy grail of exercises. “How much can you bench?” is asked thousands of times a day (an educated guess) in gyms across the world. To most novice lifters, it’s the standard by which their peers judge how strong they are. Side note, experienced and mature lifters know that this is simply just one exercise and the judgment of strength is relative to what strength means to an individual or group of individuals but I digress. No matter how much emphasis you put on the bench press it’s hard to argue the exhilarating feeling of pressing some big numbers. It looks like a simple lift with not much technique, if any at all, and compared to the squat and deadlift it is a much simpler lift; however, there is technique involved that can be easily overlooked.

4 Points of Contact

There are four points of contact when bench pressing. This means that there are four places your body has to be in contact with at all times throughout the lift, not counting your hands gripping the bar, and they are:

  1. Both feet must remain in contact with the ground.
  2. Your butt must stay in contact with the bench.
  3. Your upper back and shoulders must stay in contact with the bench.
  4. Your head must stay in contact with the bench.

Tips:

  • If you are on the shorter side and it’s difficult for your feet to completely reach the ground when lying on the bench you can put plates under your feet so that they can act as the ground.
  • Bend your knees so that your feet are back towards your butt and push your knees out. This will help keep your lower body tight which is commonly overlooked.
  • Your butt and upper back must stay in contact with the bench but it is completely fine to have the arch of the lower back.

Hand Position

We are talking about the conventional bench press here and not a close-grip or some other variation so our hand placement will reflect that.

  1. Take the end of your thumb on each hand and place it right where the knurling (rough part on the bar) begins. See picture below.
  2. Straighten your thumb fully on both hands and the spot where the rest of your hand is gripping the bar is where you are going to grip it. See picture below.

Tips:

  • The end goal for the conventional bench press is for our forearms to be directly over our elbows when benching. This ensure that’s our wrist, forearm, and elbow are all aligned.
  • Start with your grip as we just discussed and then look at your wrist, forearm, and elbow to ensure that all three are aligned and if they aren’t then adjust accordingly by moving your hands either in or out.

Eye Position

Your eye position is something that is extremely underrated when discussing the techniques of bench pressing. During the bench press we want our eyes to be on a constant spot throughout the entire set. Pick a spot on the ceiling and look at the same spot during every rep. Our eyes being on the same spot throughout the set is important because it helps us ensure that the bar is traveling a consistent path from rep to rep. An inconsistent bar path is something that can destroy a person’s set even if they are physically strong enough to get one or two more reps. If you have bench pressed you have certainly had reps where you know you hit either too high or too low on your chest and ruined the momentum of the set. This was most likely caused by your eyes moving around causing the bar to move away from its correct path.

Pinching the Pencil

Pinching the pencil is something almost every weekend warrior or novice lifter doesn’t realize needs to occur. Pinching the pencil refers to the pinching of the shoulder blades as if you were trying to hold a pencil between them. By doing this you will create a base or platform to press from. This base will allow you to stay tighter and have more control of the weight throughout the set. It will also protect your shoulders by restricting the range of motion as the bar will not travel as far with your shoulders pinched compared to having your shoulder blades relaxed. See video below.

Tips:

  • If you do this correctly it will at first feel like you are not completing the rep because the bar isn’t traveling as far.
  • This takes time to perfect so make sure you practice this with light weight and make doing this consistently a priority.

Videos Here: Not Pinching the Pencil (Wrong)    Pinching the Pencil Correctly

Breathing

Breathing correctly can make or break a rep or set. The tighter you are the stronger you are. The better you breathe the tighter you can be and thus the stronger you can be. We stay tight by filling our bellies with air. This can go for any barbell lift. Think of your spine like a telephone pole. If we breathe improperly and don’t fill our bellies with air our telephone pole (our spine) can waver back and forth when under stress. However, if we fill our bellies up with air this air acts as cement poured around our telephone pole (our spine) and it is much sturdier and less likely to waver when stress is placed upon it. How we accomplish this:

  1. Breathe in, focusing on the air going to your stomach instead of your chest, at the beginning (top) of the rep.
  2. Hold this breath until you return to the starting position (top).
  3. Breathe out at the top and then breathe in again.
  4. Repeat this process for the remainder of the set.

Tips:

  • We want to try and hold our breath for the entirety of the rep but if you are nearing the end of the set and are struggling to complete a rep you can breathe out on the way up at your sticking point.
  • By breathing out while trying to force a rep this release of air will act as a kind of “turbo” to help us finish.

Enjoy!

So there they are. All the tips and hidden gems to help you take full advantage of what is most likely your most enjoyable barbell lift. My hope is that you take these tips, no matter how insignificant they may seem, seriously because they will help increase your bench. If one or more of these tips are brand new to you my advice is to practice them with lighter weight and work your way back up as anything new added to your technique will take a little time to perfect.

As always, thanks for reading and please subscribe to this site so that you stay up to date on all the new articles coming soon!

How to Deadlift (Conventional)

First, Respect It

It’s hard to describe, the feeling that runs through my body when I hear someone describe an exercise as dangerous. The weight room is not unlike many situations in life. If you do something carelessly or incorrectly the chances of you becoming injured increase substantially. However, if you use common sense, remain focused, and are aware of certain things, those chances of becoming injured decrease by a large margin. There are no dangerous exercises. Sure, there are exercises that come with more risk if done improperly compared to other exercises, but I don’t believe they should be tagged with the word dangerous. The deadlift is usually the exercise most commonly associated with this “dangerous” stereotype. The squat is a close second but that will come in a later article. Yes, if you deadlift improperly and without care you are probably going to injure yourself, most likely not seriously, but enough to make you think it’s the exercise that is the problem and not you. Well friend, I’m here to tell you it’s not the exercise, it’s you. It’s you and the person trying to teach you the exercise that watched a few deadlift videos on YouTube that is the problem. Lifting heavy weight off the ground is no joke, it’s a grown man, or grown woman, lift. It needs to be respected. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a local gym and have seen someone attempting to do a set of deadlifts. They are texting on their phone, walk up to the bar, joking around with their buddies, talking to them, sometimes even laughing all the while grabbing the bar to pick it up, they complete a few painful looking reps, set it back down and walk away saying their back hurts. Respect the deadlift enough to learn how to do it properly and the “dangerous” stereotype will soon be a thing of the past. Here is how to perform a correct conventional deadlift.

The Setup

  1. With the bar on the ground, walk up to it leaving an inch or two between your shins and the bar.
  2. Your feet should be in your power stance. (See notes section below)
  3. “Hinge” down o the bar by shifting your weight on to your heels and pushing your butt back until your shins make contact with the bar. (See notes section for comments on knee placement.)
  4. Maintain a flat back and a “big” chest. (Create a “big” chest by puffing your chest out. Picture the guys that want to act tough walking through high school hallways.)
  5. Grab the bar about an inch outside of your shins. You don’t want your thumbs touching your shins.
  6. Your eyes should be about 6-8 feet in front of you on the ground and remain there the entire time. This keeps your chin and thus your head in a neutral position.

Tips:

  • Your power stance is where you feel you can create the most power from. A good way to find this is to take one step and act like you are going to do a vertical jump. After bringing the second foot forward, as in a jumping movement, look down at your feet and this is going to be your power stance.
  • By “hinging” down to the bar your knees should be “soft” or slightly bent. Definitely not in a locked put position and not as bent as in a squat.
  • I highly advise using the double overhand position when first learning how to deadlift. When you become sufficient with the technique go ahead and try the over-under grip which allows you to lift more weight.

The double overhand Grip

The over-under Grip

Breaking the Bar

When you are in the correct position the last thing I advise you to do is to take a deep breath in at the same time you “break” the bar. Breaking the bar reinforces that your back is engaged, especially your lats, and that your grip is as strong as possible. It also takes the remaining slack out of the bar. Taking the slack out of the bar is important because like our own bodies, the more slack that is involved in the lift the more energy we need to move it. So before moving the weight we want our own body and also the bar to be as tight as possible.

  1. When attempting to “break” the bar, think about bending the bar around your shins.
  2. It may also help to think about holding a stick out in front of you and snapping it in half. (Be sure to watch video below)
  3. You should instantly feel your lats engage and your lifting buddy should visibly see your lats and upper back tighten.
  4. Depending on the type of bar you are using, you may be able to hear and definitely feel the slack leave the bar. It will most likely make a clicking sound when the slack leaves.

Video Here: Breaking The Bar

Stand Up and Lockout

  1. When pulling the weight off the ground be careful not pull or jerk the weight up using your arms.
  2. Think of your arms as just ropes holding the bar as you stand upright.
  3. Instead of jerking the weight up with your arms think about standing up by driving with your legs.
  4. You should feel leg drive, which simply means you feel as though you are pressing the floor with your feet.
  5. Be sure to keep the bar tight to your shins and thighs as you stand up.
  6. You should be standing completely upright in the lockout position.
  7. Your glutes should be tight and your hips “driven” forward.
  8. Be sure not to arch your lower back. Your hips are driven forward but everything from the waist up is in a neutral upright position.

Tips:

  • When returning the bar to the ground simply reverse the process by shifting your weight onto your heels and pushing your butt back.
  • Be sure to maintain the structured back and big chest on the way down.
  • Keep the bar tight to your legs on the way down as well.
  • Your eyes should remain in the same spot on the way down.

Reap the Benefits

There is a definite separation in the gym between those people that deadlift properly and those that do it wrong or not at all. Like I said, it is a grown man or grown woman lift. It isn’t easy by any means but it is worth learning. Once you become stronger in the deadlift you will notice that you feel stronger overall and a good chance even more athletic. Also, you will actually experience less low back pain throughout your daily life because of the improved strength. So, learn it, perfect it, and reap the benefits of the deadlift.

As always, thanks for reading and please let me know if you liked this type of instructional article and be sure to subscribe to the site to stay up to date on future articles.

Check out the video below that puts everything together.

Video Here: Deadlift

Three Things College Didn’t Teach Me

My Experience

I invested a lot of time and money earning my bachelors in exercise science and masters in sports performance. Upon completing my education I was fortunate enough to immediately begin working with collegiate athletes in the weight room. I was confident in my knowledge of rep schemes, rest periods, anaerobic versus aerobic training, and things of the like. However, I soon learned that my education was just beginning. College books did a good job of covering the tangibles aspects of life, and exercise science classes did a good job of covering practical application of those tangible aspects; that is if the world was a perfect place.

I learned that life as a strength coach doesn’t always run as smoothly as it did in books and classes. In books there was always enough space to carry out the tasks, coaches always had enough equipment for the entire team, and the workouts could progress as planned because there was never any mention of people missing workouts for a variety of reasons. As I transitioned into the strength and conditioning coach for an entire high school athletic department, these unexpected problems only increased. Over two years later I still face these challenges but feel much more confident in overcoming these obstacles and want to share this article for any other coaches, both experienced and beginners, that may be facing similar problems.

Space and Equipment

Space is something that a coach always struggles with. Unless you are at working at major university space is something that every coach fights every day. A strength coach is no different. When writing down sample workouts in school you never had to account for space. The assignment was to write out the best workout plan that you could using the science and knowledge that we had. Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works in real life. When I am sitting down to write programs I visualize our weight room in my head. I visualize the layout of the room, the flow of the room, how the athletes will move from station to station. More often than not I have to compromise and write a program that might not be number one on my wish list but a program that makes sense with the space that we have. The number one priority is the athlete’s safety and when space is limited that becomes a major focal point. You have to choose safety over everything else.

Depending on your resources available, equipment may be as much of a challenge as space on the list of problems you will face. While writing programs you have to be aware of the amount of equipment that you have. It may look good on paper, but if in reality you have a line of athletes waiting to use that piece of equipment then you may have to rethink the order of your exercises. I don’t use many different tools in my training. Mostly I utilize power racks and bars, as well as kettlebells, rings, and medicine balls. When I was first starting out I remember thinking that this workout looks awesome and couldn’t wait to see it in action. Then I proceeded to watch as athletes had to stand around and wait for certain equipment while another piece of equipment went unused. Over two years later, this is still a problem and some of it is just unavoidable. However,  I use circuit training towards the end of the workout or whenever I want to use certain equipment or exercises that would be simply impossible to do alone. I will say that when using circuit training it is important to visualize the flow of the room to ensure that enough space is available to perform the exercises safely.

Inconsistency

Inconsistency of athletes showing up to the weight room is almost a non-factor in college. In high school, it is a major problem that a strength coach must deal with. This isn’t because the athletes are skipping or that you have a badly run program, but high school students play other sports and may not have an off-season. They are also involved in clubs, or have jobs along with a million other reasons for not always being able to show up. This is a frustrating problem for a high school strength coach because there isn’t much you can do about it. I may be two months into our off-season football weightlifting program and four new kids decide that they want to try out for the team. It is my job to find a way to integrate them into the program in a safe manner.

For technical exercises, I start them off with kettlebells. So for example, I may have the new kid’s pound away with goblet squats and kettlebell deadlifts while the others are using the bar. It is also important to encourage new students to utilize open gym time to perfect technique and to be available during their busy schedules.

I run my high school programs similar to a college style where I have one hour time slots one after the other for teams to train so scheduling an open hour wasn’t as easy as it sounds. One thing that helps is that I work with every team in the school so if a multi-sport athlete is in-season for one sport he or she is at least in the weight room with me during the season and won’t be entirely de-trained when they start their next sport. There is no easy answer to this problem. You have to do the best you can to integrate the athletes that aren’t able to consistently attend in a safe manner.

Make It Enjoyable

Lastly, I want to talk about the atmosphere of the high school weight room. Creating a positive atmosphere was never covered in my five years of school. It is definitely something I’ve learned on the job and something that I think is undervalued by some coaches. The weight room should be enjoyable. That’s doesn’t mean you have to make it a recess or take out things the athletes dislike and replace them with exercises that they do. But if the athletes are dreading coming into the weight room that is a major problem. I have found that teams that enjoy the weight room will work harder than teams that don’t. I know, such a shock. But yes, I love the weight room and training. Yes, most football players love the weight room. But I work with every sport in the high school. I don’t have to be a genius to realize that the weight room isn’t the long distance runner’s favorite place. Or that the freshmen girls’ volleyball team may be intimidated by the weight room. Find ways to make it enjoyable, be creative. I create games and competitions that make it seem less like weight training. I pay attention to the attitude of the teams and I’ll be a little more creative with the teams I suspect don’t really want to be there. Crack a joke to the freshmen, let them know that even though they are there to do work they can still have an enjoyable time.

As always, thanks for reading and be sure to subscribe to the site and comment if you liked this type of article.