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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.

How to Bench Press

Yes, It Is Awesome

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

4 Points of Contact

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

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

Tips:

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

Hand Position

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

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

Tips:

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

Eye Position

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

Pinching the Pencil

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

Tips:

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

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

Breathing

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

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

Tips:

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

Enjoy!

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

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

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!

 

Let’s Get Started

I want this blog to be a place where people can come to for advice and knowledge in the pursuit of bettering themselves in and outside the weight room. With the help of social media, I plan to be able to interact with people who read these posts and have questions that they can ask me directly. My first challenge to you, as a reader, is to find your “Why?” Why are you in the weight room? Why is training important to you? Why
img_6047 are you currently doing the programs or exercises you are doing? These are all questions that you should ask yourself. You got the answers to these questions? Write them down, right now. The answers to these questions will lead you to the type of training you do, how often you do it, the exercises you choose, the type of food you eat, the amount of food you eat, the list goes on and on. I do not know everything. As the saying goes, the more I learn the more I realize I do not know. However, I have been doing this for a while now both personally and professionally, and I am constantly learning. I will not try and seem like I know everything. I will simply share what I do know and what works for me and the people I have trained. Training is a very personal thing. Yes, there are things that are biologically set in stone and will not change from person to person. There are, however, a good amount of variables that each person responds to differently. Things that you can expect to be covered in this blog are bodybuilding tips, strength tips, training for athletes, ways to gain mass, ways to lose fat, training for powerlifting, etc.