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Back Squat Tips & Tricks YouTube Video

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Squat Progression

If you’re one of those guys who skips leg day, you’ll probably be tempted to skip this article because this is definitely not an article “bros” will be interested in reading. However, if you have been trying to talk yourself into training the lower half of your body than this article is certainly worth a read.

Squats are an important exercise for fairly obvious reasons. Squats are a compound lift, meaning that when performing a squat multiple joints are being used. I like to describe compound lifts as getting the most bang for your buck. You will be able to train with the most load (weight) using compound lifts which in turn recruits the most muscle fibers. Being that multiple joints are being used you will also be using different muscle groups during the exercise thus getting the most bang for your buck.

Our legs possess our largest and strongest muscles in our bodies. By neglecting the lower half of your body in training you are leaving an abundance of genetic potential on the table. Yes, when you are training legs your legs will get bigger and stronger, duh, but what people don’t realize is that by training your legs you are also stimulating a ton of biological processes in your body such as a rise in natural human growth hormone levels that affect not just your lower body but your entire musculoskeletal system.

Besides the importance of squatting to avoid looking disproportionate and reaping the benefits of biological processes, it is also important to maintain natural human movement patterns. The squat should be a movement that everyone can do with ease. Note that I did not say every human should be able to back squat four-hundred pounds but yes, every human being should be able to simply squat. Sounds easy on paper but modern lifestyle has made it nearly impossible to come across two people in a row with good squat form. If everyone could squat and did it often enough we wouldn’t see everyday people with tight hips, hamstrings, or lower back pain. Also, squats are not bad for your knees, period.

I am sure people avoid training legs for a number of reasons and even more people avoid squatting because it is difficult for them and they don’t know how to do it. Also, if you are one of those people that say they train legs but they don’t squat well you may need to reevaluate your decision making immediately. Take note that I did not say one thing about back squatting or front squatting in the above sentences. Those are obviously great exercises but there are other ways to squat with weight and that can help you progress to those exercises if you so choose to.

Below I lay out how to find your squat stance followed by a progression of three exercises that I have my clients do in order to learn the squat and progress with weight. You can use these exercises as both a progression and main squatting exercise in your program.

Finding Your Squat Stance
  1. Stand with your feet about shoulder width. I say about because everyone is a little bit different and I want you to be comfortable but shoulder width is a good starting point.
  2. Have your toes pointed slightly outwards. About a 45 degree angle. Nothing crazy.
  3. When you squat, you should drive your knees outwards. Wherever your toes go your knees must follow. Knee valgus (knees coming inwards) is worst thing ever so drive those knees out. This should also make the squat much easier because it opens up your hips.
  4. Squat full range. All the way down. See the picture below. Never squat high. It will get easier the more you do it. Don’t let the wright determine how low you go. Go lighter if need be.


Notice the wrinkle in his shorts at the hip joint. In correct depth the hip joint should be lower than the patella (knee cap).

Landmine Squat


Can’t play video? Click here: Landmine Squat

I start the squat progression with the landmine squat. I have found that this is a good early progression of the squat because it takes away some balance and proprioceptive (body awareness) out of the equation. This allows you to focus on your stance, knee drive outwards, and correct depth. You still have to focus on keeping good posture (shoulders back, upper back tight, “big” chest) but from a technique aspect this squat is relatively simple. Also, be sure that you tuck your elbows so that they fit in between your knees.

Goblet Squat


Can’t play video? Click here: Goblet Squat

Even though the video shows the goblet squat being done with a dumbbell I prefer using a kettlebell. However, both work just fine. The goblet squat can be done in conjunction with the landmine squat or can fall second in the progression. The goblet squat has all the benefits of the landmine squat while also adding in the balance and proprioception that will be needed in any free weight squat going forward. As you become stronger you will learn that one of the toughest things about the goblet squat is holding the weight. Also, because the weight is in front of you it is important to maintain a rigid and tight back not letting the weight pull you forward. As always, make sure to hit full depth and just like the landmine squat your elbows should fit right in between your knees at the bottom of the squat. You can ensure this happens by correctly driving your knees outwards and simply tucking your elbows inwards.

Zercher


Can’t play video? Click here: Zercher

The zercher is the only barbell squat I have in this progression. Some may not see this as a necessary step but I have found it very useful. I like using the zercher as a progression because it allows the athletes to use heavier weight while also not overly worrying about technique like racking the bar in the back and front squats. With the weight in front the zercher also easily teaches how to create abdominal pressure and stay tight. Yes, the racking of the bar in the crease of the elbows is uncomfortable. To counter this I usually use a pad of some sort. I have made pads out of pool noodles that work great. I have also had people wear long sleeve shirts or hoodies to add some cushion. However, feel free to have the bar rest on bare skin as this does provide the most secure feeling. The zercher is also safer for people who are inexperienced handling heavier loads. If you get stuck and have to bail out of a weight you simply drop the weight onto the ground.

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Different Versions of the Dumbbell Bench Press

If I had to guess I would say that the barbell bench press is the very first exercise that most people learn when starting to train with weights. It also doesn’t take long for a beginner to realize how awesome the bench press is and for the question “How much do you bench bro?” to become a regular part of their life.  As it turns out however, if you continue your weight training career past the first couple months of benching every day, you discover that there are a number of other exercises that are just as awesome. However, even as you mature as an athlete, bodybuilder, or powerlifter, yes I’m leaving out CrossFit, the bench press will most likely always hold a special place in your heart. It deserves a special place in our heart because the barbell bench press is or should be one of the major lifts of your program no matter your goals. Like I’ve already discussed in an earlier article (View the Article here: “Become Strong”) the barbell is the most efficient and effective way to build strength and mass and using the barbell bench press as a major lift will yield great results. Now, I talked about the barbell bench press to lay the foundation for what this article is really about; dumbbell bench variations and why they are important.

As I just pointed out, the barbell is the most efficient way to build strength and mass simply because it can be done with the most weight thus the barbell bench press and not dumbbell bench variations should be considered the “major lift” in your program. This is a problem I see with a lot of people in the gym, they misuse the dumbbell bench as a “major” lift and never quite see the strength and mass gains they would with the barbell bench press. This of course is disregarding injury or other outside circumstances. However, the dumbbell bench and its variations are very important accessory work. Dumbbell bench variations are a great tool to work on unilateral strength, stabilization of the shoulder girdle, and strength at different angles among other things. As with most exercises, it’s cool to see how much you can press on the dumbbell bench every once in a while, but by the very definition of accessory work you should stay with high sets and reps when it comes to the dumbbell bench variations and leave the max effort attempts for the barbell bench press. Following are a few different variations of the dumbbell bench press. You should try all of these at some point and switch back and forth between them pretty regularly. These can be done directly after your barbell bench work, on a completely different day, or during a de-load week.

Note: These videos were all filmed using a flat bench but can also be done using an incline bench.

 

Conventional Dumbbell Bench


Can’t play video? Click here: Conventional Dumbbell Bench

 
Alternating Dumbbell Bench


Can’t play video? Click here: Alternating Dumbbell Bench

 
Unilateral Dumbbell Bench


Can’t play video? Click here: Unilateral Dumbbell Bench

 
Neutral Grip Dumbbell Bench


Can’t play video? Click here: Neutral GripDumbbell Bench

 
Reverse Grip Dumbbell Bench


Can’t play video? Click here: Reverse Grip Bench

 

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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!

 

Become Strong

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Recently I asked people to tell me their “Why?” Why do they go to the gym every day? What are they hoping to get from it? One of the most common responses to this question is to get bigger and stronger. Whether you’re an athlete training for a sport, a bodybuilder preparing for a contest or show, or someone simply looking to improve your strength, this post is for you.

Most people don’t like to hear this because it is not a new, sexy thing, but the best and most efficient way of getting stronger is basic barbell lifts. Yes, that’s right, the same barbell lifts that have been around forever are still the best way to build strength. That is the reason they have been around forever.
When people come up to me in the gym and ask how to get stronger or how to get a bigger the first question I ask them is if they are doing the standard barbell lifts like benching, squatting, deadlifting or an overhead press. If not, I immediately tell them to add these four lifts into their program for the next month or so and they will already notice they have gotten stronger.

Yes, there are other great ways to get bigger and stronger but if you are looking for the most bang for your buck, lift a barbell. The barbell is the most efficient way of getting stronger simply because you can lift the most weight with it. The lifts are also compound movements. A compound movement is a movement that involves more than one joint, thus involving more muscles. For example, a squat involves the hip, knee and ankle joints. By involving all these joints, multiple muscle groups including the hamstrings, quadriceps, adductors, spinal erectors, etc. are being used to perform the squat. When someone does an exercise like a leg curl or leg extension they are working around one joint (i.e. the knee in this example) and isolating only one muscle group. I used the squat in this example, but this is true for the other barbell lifts as well.
After explaining the importance of needing the barbell lifts to get strong, a common follow-up question I’m asked is, “how heavy to go?” Heavy is five reps or fewer. I never go over 5 reps if I am doing strength work on the barbell lifts. Strength programs are going to have some version of three to five sets of three to five reps. It is important to perform your strength exercises while you are at your strongest and freshest state. So do the barbell lifts first. A great example that I grew up on is doing a heavy bench first on chest day, a heavy squat first on leg day, etc. Perform the sets at or near full recovery so take between two and three minute rest between sets. This is a common mistake I see so pay attention to your rest periods and don’t rush it! I write all of this with caution because you should be competent with the technique aspect before trying heavy weight.
I won’t delve into the technique aspect of the barbell lifts because each lift will be its own individual article. Those articles will be coming soon so stay tuned!

One of my favorite quotes comes from 8x Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman, in which he says “Everyone wants to be strong, but don’t nobody want to lift heavy-ass weights.” To get strong you have to lift heavy. At times, it really is that simple. So I challenge you that if you have the technique down to go and lift heavy and don’t be afraid to feel the strain of heavy weight, learn to love it, because that is how you will become strong.

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.