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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.

 

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

 

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

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

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

Ab Wheel

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

Can’t play video? Click here: Ab Wheel

Recommended Sets: 3-5

Recommended Reps: 8-12

Notes:

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

Planks

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

 

Recommended Sets: 3-5

Recommended Reps: 1 min

Note:

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

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

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

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

3 Exercises for a Better Butt

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

 

Barbell Glute Bridges

How:

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

Sets/Reps:

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

Note:

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


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

 

Cable Kickbacks

How

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

Sets/Reps:

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

Note:

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


Can’t play video? Click here: Cable Kicks

 

Reach Thru’s

How

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

Sets/Reps:

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

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

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


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

 

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

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.

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!