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Training vs Exercising

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

Exercising

What is Considered Exercising?

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

Who Should Exercise?

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

Pros of Exercising

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

Cons of Exercising

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

Training

What is Considered Training?

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

Side note:

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

Who Should Train?

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

Pros of Training

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

Cons of Training

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

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

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.

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

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.

Pull-Up Progression

Intro

Last week’s article stressed the importance of pull-ups and the need to do them correctly. Hopefully the details of my success with a pull-up program motivated you to consider doing pull-ups more often. If so, you are going to want to try out the following tips to ensure you make progress with your pull-ups. In the following paragraphs, I will cover how to do a correct pull-up followed by helpful exercises to progress pull-ups.

A Correct Pull-Up

As I stated in last week’s article, a correct pull-up starts with straight arms in an elbow “locked” out position and ends with your chin above the bar. Anything other than this is not a complete pull-up. There is really nothing else to say about this except to do it. Every rep!

Swinging back and forth and kicking of the legs should not be part of a strict pull-up. Here are a few things you can to do stop:

  • Straighten your legs and have them side by side
  • Point your toes towards the ground
  • Squeeze your glutes
  • Lock down your core and ribcage
  • Pull through your elbows

These points are easy to follow. However, that last point may be hard to comprehend for some people. Pulling through your elbows should feel like you are pulling your elbows straight to the ground. This is helpful because if it feels like your elbows are moving in a straight path towards the ground the rest of your body will follow. Read on for exercises that can help progress your    pull-ups.

Inverted Rows

Inverted rows may be a step down from pull-ups, but they are certainly not easy. It is a bodyweight exercise that is great to add to your workout program, especially beginners. The great thing about inverted rows are that they allow people to experience pulling their bodyweight before they can do a pull-up. It is also a horizontal bodyweight pull which combines nicely with the vertical bodyweight pull that a pull-up offers. In my experience, inverted rows help improve pull ups because it helps people become accustomed to pulling their own bodyweight, strengthens the upper and mid back, and improves grip strength. All of which are major factors in completing a pull-up.

How to do them:

  • Start with the bar at a height that when hanging from it your body is parallel to the floor.
  • Place hands in an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder width, although this can vary. (Bench press grip for those of you that bench.)
  • Start with your legs bent and feet flat on the ground.
  • Bridge your hips so that your stomach is flat across and your core is tight.
  • Pull yourself up so that the bar touches the middle of your chest and not your collarbone or throat area.
  • Squeeze shoulder blades together.
  • Return to the starting position by lowering yourself until your elbows are once again locked out.

 Video Here:  IMG_0825

Notes:

  • If you find that these are too difficult simply raise the bar to increase the angle but be sure to maintain the rigidness of your body.
  • If you find these easy with your legs bent and body parallel to the floor straighten out your legs so that your heels are on the ground.

Hangs

Hangs are just as they sound. You simply hang from a pull-up bar, rings, etc. The reason hangs make this list on how to progress your pull-ups is grip strength. As mentioned in the inverted row paragraph, grip strength is a big factor in the ability to do a pull-up. Your upper back and lats may be strong enough to pull your bodyweight but if your grip is too weak to hold your bodyweight you won’t be able to hang long enough to do many reps. To progress with hangs you can simply hang for longer and longer periods of time. You can also start by doing a dead hang where your arms are stretched out like in the starting position of a pull-up or you can try and hold your chin above the bar for as long as you can. Either way will challenge your grip, eventually strengthening it, allowing you to better be able to pull your own weight. It should also be noted that hangs are a great way to get a full upper body stretch. They feel awesome!

Negatives or Eccentric Pull-Ups

The negative or eccentric portion of a lift is occurs when the muscles is lengthening. It is the opposite of a contraction, when the muscle shortens. It is usually the part of the lift when the weight, or in this case, your body is lowering back to the starting position. Training the negative portion of a lift can be a very successful way of strengthening the lift as a whole. However, because the muscles are lengthening, this is the portion of the lift where the most muscle fibers are tearing, which can cause soreness the following day. Negative or eccentric pull-ups are a great way to improve pull-ups. In my experience, I have had much more success at improving people’s pull-ups through negative reps then I have using assisted pull-ups with a band or machine.

 Video Here: IMG_0828

How to do them:

  • You need to start at the top, with your chin above the bar. So either jump up so your chin is above the bar, or use a bench or box to stand on so you can start high enough.
  • Slowly lower yourself until your elbows are in the locked out positon.
  • Return to the starting position using same method used in step 1.
  • Progress by lowering yourself slower and slower.

Do Them Often

I want to end this article by giving my last piece of advice regarding pull-ups. To get good at pull-ups you have to do pull-ups. I know, groundbreaking stuff. This goes for anything in the gym. So many times I hear people say that their goal is this or that and then they do something to achieve that goal one time a week. It may work but it will take a long, long time. There is no rule stating that you can only do pull-ups on back day. Do them a few times a week if you are serious about getting better at them. Refer back to last week’s article and the program at the end. I was doing pull-ups 4-5 days a week and it worked! So go ahead and give these tips a try. As always, thanks for reading and be sure to share this article and comment on any topics you would like to learn about in the future.

Consistency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pendlay Row

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Zercher

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

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

Instructions

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

The Strict Press

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

 

Instructions

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

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

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

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

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

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

6.         Return to the starting position.

 

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

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