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

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

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

Ab Wheel

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

Can’t play video? Click here: Ab Wheel

Recommended Sets: 3-5

Recommended Reps: 8-12

Notes:

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

Planks

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

 

Recommended Sets: 3-5

Recommended Reps: 1 min

Note:

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

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

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

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

Build a Stronger, Thicker Back

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

Deadlift

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

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


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

Suggested Sets 3-5

Suggested Reps 3-5

T-Bar Row

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


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

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

Suggested Sets 4-6

Suggested Reps 8-12

Croc Row

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


Can’t play video? Click here: Croc Row

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

Suggested Sets 4-6

Suggested Reps 8-15

Barbell Shrug

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

Suggested Sets 4-6

Suggested Reps 8-12

Pull Ups

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

 

Articles:

Pull-Up Progressions

My Experience with a Pull-Up Program

 

Suggested Sets w/weight 4-6

Suggested Reps w/weight 3-5

Suggested Sets w/out weight 5-8

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

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

Why Women Should Lift Weights

From the title, you can infer what I will discuss in this article but what you may not realize is that this may very well turn out to be one of the most important articles I ever write on this site. I get asked all the time what is my favorite team to work with. Most assume its football with me being a former football player and the reputation for football player’s love of the weight room. Although my answer can vary depending on the time of year, and personality of the teams, most are shocked when I tell them how much I enjoy the girl teams. As a strength and conditioning coach that works with every sport at one of the biggest high schools in the state and also a personal trainer and online coach, I have the opportunity to work with literally hundreds of females. Women, no matter whether they are training for sport or just to be fit, are a lot of fun to work with. A big reason I love working with females is that whether it’s a shy high school sophomore who has little to no confidence in the weight room or a mom working out for the first time in years, the look on their face when they achieve something they might not be naturally comfortable doing is priceless.

The Misconception

Working with women often comes with obstacles that are not present with men. Of course, this is not true for all women but in my experiences it is a topic that needs to be addressed. A big part of the population has a misconception about weight lifting and its effect on women. Again, not all women but a large number are afraid that lifting weights will make them bulky and masculine looking. I get told “I don’t want to look like you” or “I don’t want to look like a guy” more frequently than I would like to recount. In my experience, most women view cardio or aerobic type classes as the type of training they need to achieve their ideal physique. They split it right down the middle, if you’re a male, you lift weights and if you’re a female you do cardio. In fact, a study in 2014 showed that of the millions of women that belonged to commercial gyms less than one-third picked up a dumbbell. I attribute this to both a lack of readily available information and misinformation thanks to social media and the internet.

Go Hard. It’s Okay. I Promise

Another misconception that I battle on a weekly basis is that resistance training is actually okay for women as long as it is light and low intensity. I can only assume this is why there are classes for women that include dancing with five and three pound dumbbells. Luckily, I did my homework and found another study that was done with college aged females. The study proved over a significant time period that a high resistance weight training program increased lean body mass, decreased fat percentages, and showed no change in body weight. It literally says at the end of the study that the results showed no masculinizing effects meaning they did not start looking like dudes.

We Aren’t the Same

Life isn’t always fair. Not everyone is created with the same genetics, skills, etc. In this case, for women who are afraid of bulking up with resistance training this is a good thing! Because women literally cannot gain muscle the same way a male can. I have told this to some women and it’s like they don’t hear me. It is a scientific fact that women cannot gain muscle like men can because women have significantly lower natural testosterone and significantly higher levels of estrogen. “But, you see those women on line that look like dudes, I don’t want to gain muscle like that.” Notice I said natural testosterone. Those women with insane amounts of muscle mass are not natural. Period.

To Get HOOGE You Have to Eat

“But I don’t want to get muscular, I just want to get tone.” Just slap me please. When someone says they want to tone up what they are really saying is that they want to gain muscle and lose fat. Also, gaining the amount of muscle mass some women are afraid of gaining does not happen overnight or even within a few months. It not only takes a lot of time and hard work to gain a significant amount of muscle but also a surplus in calories. If you aren’t eating more calories than you are expending you will not gain muscle. So for women who resistance train a few days a week and eat healthy but not in excess, you have nothing to worry about in terms of too much muscle mass. It happens all the time, someone will ask me details about my training, they comment on how much time and work I put into the gym, food, etc. to gain the amount of muscle I have, then turn around and are afraid they will gain too much muscle in a week lifting for thirty minutes. I don’t let it upset me too much because one of my favorite lines is “They don’t know what they don’t know.”

More Serious Matter

Although, I have discussed the importance of weight training for helping women achieve their ideal physique, there is a far more beneficial reason women should resistance train especially for the long term. Resistance training strengthens bone. It strengthens the bone density which in turn can fight off osteoporosis which is a medical condition in which the bones become brittle and fragile from loss of tissue. Although both men and women are vulnerable to osteoporosis women are more prone to suffer from it especially postmenopausal. Age-related sarcopenia or muscle loss is also a concern for women. A significant loss of muscle mass as a woman ages can make everyday activities more difficult and can eventually lead to falls, which brings us back to the dangers of osteoporosis and broken bones.
As always, thanks for reading and be sure to support the site by subscribing with your email.

References:
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10671315.1974.10615291
http://jandonline.org/article/s0002-8223(98)00094-7/abstract
http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/33/3/190.short
http://www.acsm.org/public-information/articles/2016/10/07/strength-training-for-women
https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-s/strenght-training-builds-more-than-muscles
https://www/nwacc.edu/c/document_library/get_file?uuid+1269b4e5-c398-4e1e-a07e-6700bbceb9a9&groupd=216833&filename=4%20Advantages%200f%20weight%20training%20for%20women%20by%20julie%20%20gabbard-1.pdf

Different Versions of the Triceps Pushdown

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

Variation #1

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

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

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

Variation #2


Can’t play video? Click here: Variation 2

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

Variation #3


Can’t play video? Click here: Variation 3

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

Variation #4


Can’t play video? Click here: Variation 4

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

 

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

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

 

3 Exercises for a Better Butt

I am praying that based off this title alone I don’t lose a couple hundred men subscribers. Sorry guys, have to give the women what they want also. Although I know the majority of people that will be interested in reading this article will be women, men too can benefit from these exercises. Yes, the three exercises that we will talk about today are great for building a better gluteus maximus. However, there are some benefits other than just having a better looking butt. First off, women are not necessarily the only ones that should be concerned about building their gluteus maximus. Men, especially if you are competing in bodybuilding or aesthetics, also need to develop a body that is complete. Second, a couple of the exercises covered in this article are great for developing strength in the gluteus maximus and also the hamstrings that will help in the squat and other lifts. Now back to the women, if your butt routine does not include these three exercises or some close variation you have a huge gap in your programming.

 

Barbell Glute Bridges

How:

  • Use a bar and a bar pad to cushion the pressure of the weight on your pelvic area.
  • Either have a partner place the bar on your hips if the weight is light enough or roll the bar up your legs yourself into the starting position across the front of your hips.
  • Your upper back/shoulders should be resting on the edge of a bench. Be as comfortable as possible.
  • The bar should be across the front of your hips.
  • Have your legs bent to about 90 degrees and feet flat on the floor.
  • Hold onto the bar with both hands
  • Start with your hips low. As low as possible. If you feel pressure on your lower back do not go quite as low.
  • Begin the upward thrusting movement by pushing thru your heels. You should never be on your toes.
  • Go until your hips are locked out at the top.
  • Lower your hips again. Still being careful of your lower back.
  • Repeat

Sets/Reps:

  • The sets and reps can very on this exercise depending on why you are doing it.
  • If you are focusing on the contraction and trying to get a “pump” in your glutes then use lighter weight and high volume. (i.e. 4 sets x 12-20 reps)
  • My advice would be to try and go heavier on this exercise because the barbell allows you to add heavier weight than most other butt exercises you are going to try so take advantage of that. (i.e. 4 sets x 8-12 reps)

Note:

  • No matter your goals you want to execute a full range of motion but how long you hold at the top of the movement is goal dependent.
  • If moving as much weight as possible is the goal you are not going to fully squeeze or contract your glutes at the top of the movement.
  • However, if the contraction or “pump” is the goal then you are going to pause and hold for a moment at the top of the movement focusing on squeezing or flexing your glutes.


Can’t play video? Click here: Barbell Glute Bridges

 

Cable Kickbacks

How

  • Using the lowest possible setting on the cable machine attach a cable attachment to one of your ankles.
  • Take a step or two back from the machine to create some tension on the cable.
  • Hold on to the cable pulley with both hands.
  • Depending on how tall you are the amount of lean to your upper body will differ but it always feels better to me when I have more of a lean. But then again I am taller than most people.
  • Have your feet parallel and close to each other.
  • Begin the movement by bending your knee slightly.
  • Kick your leg as straight back as possible keeping your knee slightly bent.
  • Continue to kickback and up until you feel the squeeze go from your glutes into your lower back and stop.
  • Find the height that you feel the greatest squeeze in your glute.
  • Return to the starting position keeping your knee slightly bent throughout.
  • Repeat.

Sets/Reps:

  • Because this exercise is not a strength builder you are going to want to use higher reps and focus on the contraction at the top of the movement.
  • 4 sets x 15-25 reps

Note:

  • You can also perform this exercises by using an exercise band by wrapping it around a post and your ankle.


Can’t play video? Click here: Cable Kicks

 

Reach Thru’s

How

  • Attach a D-handle to the lowest possible setting on a cable machine.
  • Face away from the cable pulley.
  • Reach down in between your legs to grab the handle with both hands.
  • Holding the handle walk out away from the pulley creating tension on the cable.
  • Pull it up and between your legs so that you are standing tall with the handle at your groin.
  • Begin the movement by hinging (i.e. shifting your weight back onto your heels) letting the handle go back between your legs.
  • When you hinge you should think about your hips going straight back and your knees being slightly bent being sure not to lock them out.
  • As you let the handle go back between your legs you should feel a good stretch in your hamstrings.
  • When you feel you maxed out the stretch in your hamstrings begin returning to the starting position by simply standing up from the hinge position.
  • You are not pulling the cable with your hands. They are simply holding the handle as you hinge and return to the starting position.
  • Be sure to push thru your heels as you are standing up and squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement.
  • Repeat.

Sets/Reps:

  • This exercise can be done with a couple different goals in mind.
  • It is a useful exercise to warm up your glutes and hamstrings for squats and/or deadlifts.
  • If done for this reason execute just enough reps to get those areas warmed up.

(i.e. 3 sets x 15-20 reps)

  • If executing this exercise for the purpose of specifically training your hamstrings and glutes then you are going to want to do higher volume (i.e. 4 sets x 15-25 reps).


Can’t play video? Click here: Reach Thru’s

 

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

3 Exercises to Improve Bench Press Lockout

In all the years that I have been weight training I can count on one hand the amount of people I have come across in the weight room that wasn’t trying to get a bigger bench press. This is not counting the hamsters running on the elliptical for an hour at a time. Everybody, and I mean everybody, wants a bigger bench press and if you are the one person that doesn’t well then just keep quiet because you are weird anyways. I will always say that the best way to get good at something is to simply do it and do it often. If you want a bigger bench press then you must bench and bench often. However, there are ways to be creative and work on specific parts of the lift. Training specific parts of a lift is a form of weak point training and is how powerlifters train for competitions. Side note, you do not need to be a powerlifter training for a competition to use these techniques. Instead of looking at the bench press as one single lift we break it down into one lift that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. There are exercises and techniques to target each of these different parts of the lift and in this article I want to focus on the “end” of the lift which we refer to as the top or lockout portion. This is a common part of the lift to get stuck on, myself included. In the bench press the lockout portion of the lift involves a good bit of triceps so these three exercises I am about to discuss will also improve your triceps strength and size. These three exercises are very similar with some slight differences that make each unique but effective at helping you improve the lockout portion of your bench and thus a bigger bench overall.

Pin Press

The pin press is a great exercise for training to maintain tightness in the upper back, especially at the bottom of the lift, something that most lifters struggle with. It also trains explosiveness out of the “hole” or bottom portion of the lift because you are pressing from a dead-stop. However, as stated in the intro, the greatest advantage that I find with the pin press is the benefits of improving the lockout portion of the bench press. By shortening the range of motion of the lift, the pin press allows you to handle heavier weight and overload your shoulders and triceps. This will improve both your shoulder and triceps size and strength which will in turn strengthen your lockout. What separates the pin press from the floor press is that your entire body is still included in the pin press, legs included, something that the floor press does not include in the lift.


Can’t play video? Click here: Pin Press

In the video you will notice that the pins are placed right above my chest. I like placing the pins directly above my chest, not too high above, so that I can also practice staying tight at the bottom of the lift.

Floor Press

The floor press is unique because it takes away the bench. You set the pins at the very bottom of the rack and lay flat on the floor. Usually it puts you in a tough spot to un-rack the weight yourself so you may need a liftoff. Your legs are also lying flat on the floor, this will completely take your legs out of the equation. By taking your legs out of the lift even more emphasis is placed on your triceps. This is the reason this lift is effective at increasing triceps strength and size.


Can’t play video? Click here: Floor Press

In the video I am pausing at the bottom of every rep. The length of the pause can very but I highly recommend pausing to train explosiveness out of the bottom of the lift.

Board Press

The board press is a great exercise for training every possible sticking point of the bench press. You can use a one board press, a two board, three board, and a four board press for training different sticking points throughout the bench press. For the purpose of training the lockout phase of the bench press a three-board press is usually the go-to exercise. This obliviously shortens the range of motion so that you can handle heavier weight. The tough part of this lift is that you usually need two buddies to help you out. One holding the board on your chest and the other to give you a spot. You want to make sure that you keep a normal bar path when executing a board press. Do not change anything you normally do in your conventional bench press.


Can’t play video? Click here: Board Press

There are two ways you can use the board press. One way is like how I did it in the above video, bring the bar into the boards and think about squeezing the bar down into the boards, like you are trying to crack the board. This is a great way to train to squeeze your back, maintaining tightness throughout the lift. The other way is to barely touch the board before pressing it back up. This is effective at training to maintain control throughout the lift.

 

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

3 Exercises for Bicep Peak

What is the first image you get when you think of a muscular arm? For most people, the king of all aesthetic features is the bicep peak. It is the round, ball looking part of the muscle that sticks up from the rest. Like many muscles, the bicep peak is easier to achieve for some than others. A beginner might think that all bicep exercises are created equal, but they would be wrong. Yes, any type of curl will hit the entire bicep, but, again like all the muscle groups, there are exercises that are better than others for hitting a certain part of the muscle. You hit different parts of your arms by changing the angle of the exercise. This can be done either by changing your hand position or elbow position.

SEE Arms! (Part 1 of 2) OR Arms! (Part 2 of 2)

First things first, no matter what exercise you’re executing you want to be curling into your body and have the pinky side of your hand turning outwards. (See this in the videos below) Unfortunately, I’m in the group that has to work extra hard at developing the peak of the bicep and following are three exercises that have helped me see improvement.

Concentration Curls

The concentration curl is a classic. It can be done a couple different ways:

Standing w/ Dumbbell or Cable Machine

**Note: For the sake of keeping the wording simple I used a dumbbell in the instructions
but this exercise can be executed the same way utilizing a cable machine.

  • Grab a dumbbell, holding the handle closer to the pinky side of your hand. (See picture
    below)
  • With a dumbbell in one hand bend over and let the arm holding the dumbbell hang directly in front of your knee. Don’t let your elbow rest against your knee but have it hang directly in front.
  • Have your opposite arm rest on your opposite knee.
  • Shift your weight so that majority of your body weight is on the foot that is on same side as dumbbell.
  • Curl the dumbbell towards the midline of your body and in while turning your pinky out.
  • Weight is not the priority in this exercise. So be sure to use a weight that is challenging but one that allows you do get a full contraction at the top of the movement.
  • Try using both a dumbbell and the cable machine. I switch back and forth between the two.
  • Recommended rep range: 12-20

Dumbbell Grip

Proper dumbbell grip.


Can’t play video? Click here: Seated Concentration Curls

Can’t play video? Click here: Standing Concentration Curls
 
 
Dumbbell Spider Curls

The spider curl can be done a few different ways and is a great exercise for building overall bicep mass as well. However, I’ve found it harder to target peak using anything other than dumbbells. Dumbbells allow you the freedome to turn your wrist outwards getting that extra contraction in your bicep.

  • Grab a dumbbell in each hand, holding the handles closer to the pinky side of your hands. (See picture above)
  • Lay face down on an incline bench. The degree of incline can vary. Try different ones and see which angle feels best for you.
  • Let your arms hang and start the movement by holding the dumbbells in a neutral grip. (See video below)
  • Start the curl from a dead hang, don’t swing or use momentum to start the movement.
  • Curl the dumbbells up and towards the mid line of your body while turning your pinkies out.
  • If you do it right the back end of the dumbbells should almost be touching each other while the front ends are as apart as they can be. (See video below)
  • Weight is not the priority in this exercise. So be sure to use a weight that is challenging but one that allows you do get a full contraction at the top of the movement.
  • Recommended rep range: 12-20

Can’t play video? Click here: DB Spider Curls
 
EZ-Bar Drag Curl

This is the only exercise of the three that you aren’t going to use dumbbells thus making it the hardest of the three to execute correctly. By using the EZ-Bar with this exercise you obviously cannot physically turn your wrists outwards but I want you to act like you can.

  • Grab an EZ-Bar with a narrow grip.
  • Start with the bar against your stomach. (This will mean that you are starting with your arms already slightly bent)
  • Flare your elbows.
  • As you begin the movement think about curling it into your body and turning your pinkies outwards. (Again I know you physically can’t do this but act like you can)
  • Be sure the bar come all the way back down so that it leaves your stomach. This is a short range of motion.
  • Weight is not the priority in this exercise. So be sure to use a weight that is challenging but one allows you do a get a full contraction at the top of the movement.
  • Recommended rep range: 12-20

Can’t play video? Click here: EZ-Bar Drag Curls
 

These three exercises have helped me improve my bicep peak and I hope that you also find them useful. Be sure to let me know what you think of them. As always, thanks for reading and be sure to support the site by subscribing with your email. Thanks!

Weak Point Training

Weak point training is something that a moderate to advanced lifter pays attention to, or should pay attention to. A beginner shouldn’t, at least at the very beginning. The reason a newbie shouldn’t be worrying about weak point training is that everything is a weak point. I can’t tell you how many times someone has come up to me in the gym and has asked me how to develop a very specific area of a body part or muscle group, yet they look like this is their first time in the gym. This is when I like to respond with one of my favorite lines, “Build the house first bro, worry about the paint later.”

A person who is new to the gym and wants to get bigger, stronger, or whatever should worry about getting good at the big compound movements like the squat, bench, and deadlift. They should learn and try as many accessory lifts as possible and don’t stress about developing a specific muscle until significant mass and strength is built. Then you can start to be aware of what body parts or muscle groups are falling behind and take action to make your weak points your new strong points. Weak point training is not only for bodybuilding or aesthetics, but for strength. The following are tips on how to train weak points to improve both aesthetics and strength.

Nutrition

Most of us have heard the saying “Eat big to get big.” Please be aware that this is not just a catchy line. This is the most effective way of gaining size. Without eating and eating a lot you will not gain the size most of us are after. Again, this is another question I get asked often “well how much should I eat to get bigger?” I’m good at what I do. But I don’t know if anyone is so good that they can simply look at you and give you the exact calories and ratio of macronutrients you need to gain two inches on your arms. Yet, I get the feeling that is exactly the answer people expect when they ask me how much they should eat. Instead, I ask them a question in return, “Have you gotten bigger and stronger eating what you are currently eating?” When they says no I simply reply “Eat more.” Yes, it’s that simple.

Train it More Often

Yes, yet another obvious solution. When you want to improve a lacking muscle or body part simply train it more often. I know exactly what most of you will say. “But won’t training a muscle too often lead to overtraining?” Enter shocked face emoji here. I always laugh to myself because it seems the people that are overly panicked about overtraining and the dangers that come with it are the same people that are bound to end up on one of those gym fails videos on the internet for attempting some idiotic exercise they saw on YouTube. Is overtraining bad? Yes. Is it dangerous? Yes. Will doing arms two or three times a weak lead to overtraining? No. Also, if you follow the first tip and eat enough plus get enough sleep it is much harder to over-train than people think.

Hit Different Angles/Exercises

By attacking the targeted muscle from different angles you will ensure that every muscle fiber in that specific muscle is being stimulated causing it to grow. This can be done by changing the angles of the exercise being done. For example, change your body angle from standing upright to leaning forward and downwards while doing standing cable fly’s to hit your chest in a different way. Another example would be to do dumbbell chest fly’s lying on an inclined bench to hit the upper chest instead of lying on a flat bench that hits more of the entire chest.

You can also change angles by changing the exercise completely. For example, A dumbbell hammer curl across your body is going to hit your bicep in a different way than a preacher curl will. The combination of different curls will not only help improve your bicep size but it will also help add aesthetically pleasing shape to the bicep. This is true for any and every muscle group. Trying different exercises can also help improve strength on an exercise where strength is lacking.

Lower the Weight

Targeting a specific muscle or muscle group is more challenging than one might think. Everyone has muscle groups that are more dominant than others. Those muscles will grow the fastest, will always be able to get a pump easily, and thus are usually the muscles you love training the most.

These dominant muscle groups want to take over and do all of the work which can lead to problems when you are targeting a different muscle group that is nearby. For example, my shoulders have always been more dominant than my chest. It was always super easy for me to get a pump and feel the contraction in my shoulders and they became my favorite body part to train. It wasn’t until recently, maybe a little over a year ago, I noticed my chest size lagging. This made sense because every time I tried to isolate my chest I had a hard time taking my shoulders out of the equation.

My solution to this was to lighten the weight on my accessory chest exercises such as fly’s, dips, chest press machines, etc. and really concentrate on my chest doing the work instead of my shoulders. When you go as heavy as you can the dominant muscle group will always take over and with heavy weight it’s difficult to slow things down and concentrate on a specific muscle group.

So, my advice to you is that when working on a muscle group or body part that is difficult for you to feel, lighten the weight on the exercises, slow it down, and really concentrate on making that muscle do the work. Remember, lightening the weight to isolate a lagging body part is purely a bodybuilding technique and not a strength technique.

Attack It

When you have a weak point you need to attack it. It needs to be a top priority until it is no longer a weak point. When you have built it into a strength move on to the next thing that is lagging behind. Bringing weak points up into strengths will make your entire physique look better and likewise bringing a lift up that is falling behind in strength compared to other lifts will make everything else stronger as well.

As always, thanks for reading and be sure to subscribe to help support the site.

Supersets, Drop Sets, and Forced Reps Oh My

We are all guilty of it. It being the routine we fall in at the gym. This can be a routine of multiple things including the same exercises, reps, sets, exercise order, etc. Everyone has their favorite way of doing things because it worked, at first. Routines are necessary in training, it’s how programs are built. An effective training regimen should follow some type of routine or plan. Each workout should build off the previous one. Dramatically changing things up every few weeks does not give your body time to experience and adjust to the stress training places on it. However, it is important to understand how muscle strength and growth takes place. Weight training is a stressor on the body, it literally tears the muscle fibers causing those fibers to grow back bigger and stronger. Those fibers grow back bigger and stronger so that the body can handle the stress that is placed upon it, in this case the weights being lifted. Well, if the body feels that the stress placed upon it is not significant enough to stimulate change it simply won’t change, in our case grow bigger and stronger. This is why people make beginner gains, where everything the body is experiencing is new and thus it needs to grow. After a period of time the body is strong and big enough to handle that stress and doesn’t need to change anymore. This is where you have to be aware and again start putting new stress on your body. These following methods are a great way to put different stress on your muscles and can be done with almost every type of exercise and body part.

Supersets

Supersets are probably the most common of the methods I will discuss in this article. Supersets combine two exercises back to back with no rest in between. This is purely a bodybuilding technique and is a great way to keep the blood in the muscle instead of resting for an extended period of time. This is also a great technique to use if you are short on time. They can be done a couple different ways.

  • Antagonist and Agonist Supersets (A true superset)

o   Works opposing muscle groups (i.e. chest and back, biceps and triceps, etc.)

  • Compound sets

o   Works same muscle with both exercises (hammer curls and preacher curls, etc.)

o   When executing compound sets it is usually a good idea to start with the harder exercise.

o   I like to pick two exercises that hit the same muscle but from two different angles.

Drop Sets

Drop sets are used so that you can continue the set even after you reach muscular fatigue. This is a great technique to ensure that every last muscle fiber of the area being worked is stimulated which is what we want and need to induce change. There are two different ways you can perform drop sets.

  • Conventional Drop Set

o   You lighten the weight once you reach muscular fatigue in order to continue the set.

o   This is usually performed on the last set of the exercise. For example, on your last set of dumbbell lateral raises you complete 15 reps, you immediately drop weight in order to complete another 12 reps. If you choose you can even go further and do a second drop set of about 10 reps.

o   You can also do drop sets after each set of the exercise you are doing instead of just the last one but be prepared to be exhausted afterwards.

  • Mechanical Drop Set

o   You change your hand placement from most difficult to less difficult in order to continue the set.

o   An example of this that I love to do is with EZ bar curls. Start with a wider grip because it’s the harder grip. Execute the set until you can’t get another rep. Then immediately change your hand placement to the easier inside grip and continue the set.

Forced Reps

Forced reps are probably the least common and most difficult to do of these three methods. If you train with a workout buddy they are easier to add into your program than if you lift by yourself. The reason being is that you need a spotter to help you. As with drop sets, forced reps allow us to continue the set once we hit muscular fatigue. The difference is that you don’t have to lighten the weight with forced reps since your buddy is physically helping you move the weight. An example of this would be if you put 185 pounds on the bench press and pressed it 6 times by yourself and another 4 times with your spotter helping you press the weight up to finish the set. Note: this is not the same thing as walking into the gym like a hard ass and constantly putting weight on the bar that is 50 pounds too much and having your spotter save your life over and over again. I caution that these are another great way to stimulate every muscle fiber in the area being used but this is also the method that I would use less often than the previous two mentioned. The reason I say that is because of two reasons; one, they are very taxing on the body and two, I worry that people will start using them too often. The goal should still be for you to physically get stronger and use heavier and heavier weights instead of your buddy constantly lifting the weight for you. But like the previous mentioned methods this is a great technique to change things up.

Experiment

All three of these methods work to create a stimulus for change. If you are continuously doing conventional sets and have seen your progress slow or stop I highly suggest adding one of all of these methods in your routine. Try at least one a workout. Keep at it for a few weeks, step back and evaluate the results and then try something else if you need to. What I like about suggesting these methods to people that have never tried something like this before is that it forces them to go hard, maybe harder than there used to and forces them to experience what muscular fatigue actually feels like. Be sure to let me know how these work for you!

As always thanks for reading and be sure to subscribe to the site to stay up to date on all the new articles coming soon.

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!