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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.

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10 Versions of the Push-Up

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

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

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How to Break Through Plateaus

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

 

Beginners

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

 

Strategies for More Advanced Lifters

Use Percentages

 

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

 

Same but Different

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

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

 

Train Weak Points

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

 

Rest Days

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

 

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

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

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

Ab Wheel

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

Can’t play video? Click here: Ab Wheel

Recommended Sets: 3-5

Recommended Reps: 8-12

Notes:

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

Planks

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

 

Recommended Sets: 3-5

Recommended Reps: 1 min

Note:

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

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

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

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Implementing a Movement Based Program

One reason I love training athletes is the entirety of the training. When training athletes, there is more to it than putting as much weight as possible on the bar. I am passionate about making sure my programs have as few holes as possible, making it as complete as it can be. Yes, when training athletes getting stronger is obviously an enormous goal, but along with that an effective program should cover many different facets of training.

One of those “holes” that I take pride in covering is restoring natural human movement to my athletes. Yes, as a high school strength and conditioning coach I work specifically with high school athletes by restoring natural human movement patterns, which should be a part of every athletes program no matter their age or skill level. You may ask “If these movements come natural then why must we train them?” The answer is a simple, “If you don’t use it you lose it.”

Even great athletes find most of the natural movements surprisingly difficult at first because they likely haven’t done it in years. Exercises that they are more accustomed to, such as bench pressing and box squatting, will no doubt make them strong as hell, and if that is their sole purpose then great. However, athletes are in the weight room as a way to help them reach their full potential as an athlete on the field, court, etc. Getting strong in lifts like the bench press or box squat is certainly important but those are simply a means to an end and not their sole purpose.

Why is restoring these movement patterns important?

Think of the natural movement patterns in terms of nutrition. Without having any formal education or background in nutrition, most people generally know what is good to eat and what isn’t. I would hope most people can look at an apple and a doughnut and choose which one is better for them. Moving naturally is good “nutrition” for the human body. After all, it is natural for a reason. By restoring movement patterns that should come natural to us we can ensure that the foundation we are building on is as safe and efficient as it can be.

Natural movement creates a healthy foundation for athletes and is important because not everything athletes do is naturally healthy for their bodies. There is nothing natural about running into another human being for three hours a night on a football field or throwing thousands of baseballs on a baseball diamond. These movements are a lot like the doughnuts. They are fun to do but not too healthy for our bodies going forward. An athlete’s life being the way that it is with the doughnuts being necessary we need to make sure we are countering those doughnuts as much as possible by taking in as many apples as possible. Moving naturally would be the apple in this scenario.  

This is where my job as strength and conditioning coach comes in. I include as many natural movements or “apples” in my programming as possible. The idea is to use these natural movements to create a solid foundation on which the athletes can build upon with strength training and other forms of sports performance. Otherwise, if we jump straight into strength training and speed and agility work, along with other aspects of training without building a solid foundation of movement we are simply adding to the problem and bringing more “doughnuts” to the table.

How do I implement a movement based program?
  • Implement natural human movements into the program.
    • Crawling
    • Hanging
    • Rolling
  • Full range or it simply does not count. For example, when we perform pull-ups they are full hang strict pull ups, when we squat we always go full depth.
  • Perform conventional exercises on an unstable surface (I.e. gymnastic rings)
    • Push-ups
    • Inverted rows
    • Pull-ups
  • Include all the planes of movement each workout.
    • Horizontal Press/Vertical Pull
  • Implement unilateral (one side at a time) exercises for every bilateral (both sides at time) exercise we do.

Injuries are bound to happen in sports, its part of the game. What I can say though through my three years as a strength coach at the high school level and a couple more at the collegiate level is that by restoring natural movement patterns I have not only seen a decrease in soft tissue, non-contact injuries, and overuse injuries, but I have also seen improvement in the ways my athletes move in the weight room. Who would have thought that by improving an athlete’s body weight squat and goblet squat their back squat would improve? I just had to throw some sarcasm in their somewhere didn’t I?

Here is a list of natural human movement patterns and examples of how we do them in my program no matter what sport I am training.

Crawling
  • Bear crawl forwards
  • Bear crawl backwards
  • Crab crawl forwards
  • Crab crawl backwards
Benefits:
  • Shoulder stability (Compression)
  • Hip mobility
  • Coordination
  • Movement of synovial fluid
Bear Crawl


Can’t play video? Click here: Bear Crawl

Crab Crawl


Can’t play video? Click here: Crab Crawl
Hanging
  • Dead hangs
  • Knees to elbows (On rings)
  • Flips (On rings)
Benefits:
  • Grip strength
  • Shoulder strength
  • Decompression of axial skeleton
  • Upper body stretch
Knees to Elbows


Can’t play video? Click here: Knee to Elbows

Flips


Can’t play video? Click here: Flips
Rolling
  • Shoulder rolls
  • Front rolls
  • Hollow throws
Benefits:
  • Body awareness
  • Mobility
  • Learning how to fall
Shoulder Rolls


Can’t play video? Click here: Shoulder Rolls

Hollow Throws


Can’t play video? Click here: Hollow Throws
Carrying
Press/Push
  • Vertical Presses
    • Barbell strict press
    • Barbell push press
    • Kettlebell press (unilateral)
    Horizontal Presses
    • Bench press
    • Sled push
    • Push-ups (conventional or rings)
Pull
  • Vertical Pulls
    • Pull-ups/Chin-ups
    • Rope climbs
  • Horizontal Pulls
    • Inverted rows (bar or rings)
    • Single arm inverted rows (unilateral)
    • Sled pulls
Squat
(All Full Depth)
  • Goblet Squat
  • Back Squat
  • Font Squat
  • Zercher
  • Pistol Squat (unilateral)
Hinge
  • Barbell deadlifts
  • Barbell RDL’s
  • Kettlebell Swings
  • One leg RDL’s (unilateral)

Why My High School Athletes Don’t Do Olympic Lifts

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

Time (I Get the Most Bang for My Buck)

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

Movement (Can You Tie Your Shoes First?)

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

Strength (Squat, Deadlift, OH Press, Bench)

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

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

There You Have It

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

 

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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.

My Experience With a Pull-Up Program

I am continually searching for ways to improve my training. Some things work and some things don’t. I try not to get frustrated at the things that don’t because it’s all part of the process. However, occasionally I make a decision that is a game changer. Something that exceeds my expectations and makes me wonder why I didn’t try it sooner. This is what occurred recently when I started a pull-up program. It was something I wanted to try for months but for one reason or another kept putting off. Finally, when a mentor of mine sent me a tactical training book that contained a pull-up program, I had no more excuses. I started the program that week and it has been the best training decision I’ve made in the last six months.

Yes, They Are That Important

I consider pull ups the very close step child of the barbell movements. If the barbell movements are 1a, consider pull-ups 1b. The first thing I recommend to anyone seeking advice in training is to learn the barbell movements. The hinge, squat, and pressing movements can be done with the bar using heavy weight in a variety of ways that resemble natural human movement. Even though pulls, or rows as they are commonly called, can be done using a barbell, there is not an exercise that is easier to learn and arguably more effective than a pull-up. This is why doing pull-ups and doing them often is the second thing I suggest to people seeking advice. A program that emphasizes the barbell movements along with pull-ups sets a great base for whatever your goals may be.

Although Difficult, Do Them Correctly

Pull-ups are hard. This is commonly the reason people don’t do more of them. However, this is exactly the reason you need to do them. In training, you will make the greatest improvements when you focus on the things you don’t enjoy or the things that are most difficult. In my experience, people are intimidated by the pull-up. They get discouraged from trying and failing and simply give-up and move onto something else. Or they hear people say that they can accomplish some ridiculous number of pull-ups and get more discouraged from trying to get their goal of one. Well, first off let me say this, if someone tells you that they can do twenty pull ups they are either very strong, very light, or very much a liar. I am not talking about whatever they call those things they do in CrossFit, I refuse to call them pull-ups, or the half-way reps that you see most people do in the gym. I am talking about a full, strict pull-up. Elbows locked out at the bottom, chin above the bar at the top. This type of pull-up shouldn’t be exception, it should be the rule.

Not Just a Back Exercise

The full, strict pull-up will test strength throughout your entire upper body. It’s not an isolated back exercise by any means. Besides the muscles of the back, pull-ups challenge your grip and core strength unlike many exercises. If someone can crank out 15-20 strict pull-ups they most likely have a six pack. Even though your lats get most of the attention from doing pull ups, it is easy to feel your biceps, forearms, and shoulders working. If you are fortunate enough to be able to do many of them, you are well aware of the pump you experience throughout your entire upper body.

My Experience

I want to end this article by telling you a little bit about what I experienced going through this program. The complete program was 108 days long. You had two days on and one day off of pull-ups. The program starts off by having you do eccentric or negative reps. However, since I have been doing pull-ups regularly I was able to start on day 55. Each day you would do five sets. And each day the program would have you do one more rep than you did the previous day. It would add the rep to different sets depending on what day you were on. For example, if on day 55 I did five sets of 9,8,7,6, and 5 pull ups the next day I would attempt 9,8,7,6, and 6. This goes on and on with two days on and one day off until you reach day 108.

When I started the program I was able to get between eight and ten strict pull-ups. Also, before starting the program I was doing pull-ups one day a week completing as many sets as I had to get to 50 reps. It was taking me about 8 or 9 sets to complete 50 strict pull-ups. Now that I am finished with the program I can complete somewhere between 14 and 16 strict pull ups and I completed 54 pull-ups in five sets. At a body weight of 265.

Things I noticed:

  • Grip got stronger, then worse (from fatigue), and ended stronger then I started.
  • The pump I got from doing that many strict pull-ups was insane, felt like I was training arms.
  • Lats got wider.
  • Forearms got bigger.
  • Abs were more sore than ever before doing pull-ups.
  • Form got better.

I’ve attached the pull-up program to the bottom of this page.

Stay Tuned

This article was a PSA for the need to do pull-ups. Stay tuned for next week’s article where I will go into detail about how to do a correct pull-up and how to progress pull-ups. Anyone from someone who has never done a pull-up, to someone who thinks he can do twenty is going to want to read and try out the tips in next week’s article. As always, thanks for reading and please share and comment on any topics you may be interested in the future.

 

This program comes from the book Built to Endure, Training the Tactical Athlete by Mike Prevost. I highly recommend it to anyone looking into programs for bodyweight exercises.

Sports Performance Training: Don’t Outsmart Yourself

“What are you doing in the gym today? Arms? Shoulders? Chest? You’re not doing legs, right?”  “No, I did legs last month.”

 That is usually the exchange that goes on between two gym buddies when discussing their upcoming workout. Focusing on one or even two muscle groups a day is a great way to achieve mass and an aesthetic look while also giving you a great pump. These are your typical bodybuilding style workouts. As an athlete, however, the training needs to be different to fit different needs. I’ve had the opportunity to work with hundreds of young athletes over the past few years and it can be challenging at times to explain to them why they don’t train in this classic bodybuilding style. Most athletes, especially when they are young, start working out because their older brother or friends are doing it. They learn quickly that bench press and curls look and feel awesome. They soon realize that girls dig arms, and no one cares about training legs. They view every exercise in terms of what singular muscle it is focusing on and sometimes breaking that muscle down into an even smaller portion (i.e. upper chest.)

When training for athletic performance you can’t look at the body in terms of muscles or even individual body parts.  Instead, think about everything being interconnected.  I like to think of the human body as a big computer; a complex system where seemingly unrelated parts have an effect on how well each other performs. An athletic feat is rarely the result of a single muscle or body part and the training should represent this. Instead of thinking in terms of training a certain muscle, start thinking about training a movement.

The four basic movements are a press/push, a pull, a squat, and a hinge. You’ll find that these are not only the movements of training but these four movements comprise the movements athletes use most often to perform. These are compound movements meaning to perform each of them correctly you will use more than one joint. This coincides with athletic performance in which you use multiple joints at the same time. Because compound movements use multiple joints and therefore multiple muscle groups, you can move the most weight with these exercises. The best way to move those large amounts of weights is with a barbell. As I discussed in one of my previous articles, “Become Strong,” the barbell is simply the best tool to increase strength. The four barbell exercises that best represent the basic movements are the bench press, strict press, squat and deadlift.  Bent over row variations and pull ups are the most common exercises representing the pulling movement.

These compound movements with a barbell have benefits besides increased strength that cannot always be seen with an untrained eye. One of the major benefits is increased neuromuscular coordination. Neuromuscular coordination is how our nervous system coordinates with our muscles and is one of the biggest contributors to athletic success. Other benefits include improved balance, core strength, power, speed and so on and so forth. I will write separate articles for each of these benefits, but for now, this article will simply bring awareness to the fact that the body is a system and that system works as one unit in athletic performance.

A good example of the difference between the typical bodybuilding style workouts and training for athletic performance would be to compare dumbbell raises and the strict press. If you are unfamiliar with the strict press, check out part two of the four part series “Exercises You Aren’t Doing but Should” on this site. Okay yes, you will get a great pump in your shoulders doing dumbbell raises and if done regularly you will start to develop boulders for shoulders. No doubt a great exercise for building an aesthetic look. However, this exercise isolates only the deltoid muscle (isolation being the goal of bodybuilding). On the other hand when performing a standing strict press the body acts as a system. Anyone who has ever done this exercise feels this right away. The tight glutes set a base for pressing the weight; the spinal erectors and core muscles brace the back and transfer energy from the lower body to the upper body; the deltoids and upper chest help initiate movement of the barbell and the triceps help lock the barbell out over head. All of this occurring while neuromuscular connections are making sure you don’t fall over. With one exercise you just became stronger and improved neuromuscular efficiency, core strength, balance, and transfer of energy. All of which will improve athletic performance.

I hope that this article shed a light on why athletes need to train a certain way. Yes, I know that it sounds basic of me to tell athletes to lift heavy weight with a barbell, but if you have read any of my previous articles you know that I believe the simplest ways are the best ways. I too can come up with five different balance exercises that will look cool and make me sound really smart and I could distract you with new and shiny pieces of equipment that wobble and are brightly colored. Or, I can save you a bunch of time and energy and have you pick a heavy barbell off the ground and press it over your head. Did you fall over? No? Good, you can thank me for your improved athletic performance later. Please subscribe to this site and share this article so that I can reach more readers who may be interested in these topics. Thanks!