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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)

Best Upper Chest Routine YouTube Video

Check out our latest YouTube video “Best Upper Chest Routine”.

Thanks for viewing and make sure to our website for more blogs and information and subscribe to our YouTube Channel for additional videos: Training With a “Why?”

 

 

3 Exercises to Improve Bench Press Lockout

In all the years that I have been weight training I can count on one hand the amount of people I have come across in the weight room that wasn’t trying to get a bigger bench press. This is not counting the hamsters running on the elliptical for an hour at a time. Everybody, and I mean everybody, wants a bigger bench press and if you are the one person that doesn’t well then just keep quiet because you are weird anyways. I will always say that the best way to get good at something is to simply do it and do it often. If you want a bigger bench press then you must bench and bench often. However, there are ways to be creative and work on specific parts of the lift. Training specific parts of a lift is a form of weak point training and is how powerlifters train for competitions. Side note, you do not need to be a powerlifter training for a competition to use these techniques. Instead of looking at the bench press as one single lift we break it down into one lift that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. There are exercises and techniques to target each of these different parts of the lift and in this article I want to focus on the “end” of the lift which we refer to as the top or lockout portion. This is a common part of the lift to get stuck on, myself included. In the bench press the lockout portion of the lift involves a good bit of triceps so these three exercises I am about to discuss will also improve your triceps strength and size. These three exercises are very similar with some slight differences that make each unique but effective at helping you improve the lockout portion of your bench and thus a bigger bench overall.

Pin Press

The pin press is a great exercise for training to maintain tightness in the upper back, especially at the bottom of the lift, something that most lifters struggle with. It also trains explosiveness out of the “hole” or bottom portion of the lift because you are pressing from a dead-stop. However, as stated in the intro, the greatest advantage that I find with the pin press is the benefits of improving the lockout portion of the bench press. By shortening the range of motion of the lift, the pin press allows you to handle heavier weight and overload your shoulders and triceps. This will improve both your shoulder and triceps size and strength which will in turn strengthen your lockout. What separates the pin press from the floor press is that your entire body is still included in the pin press, legs included, something that the floor press does not include in the lift.


Can’t play video? Click here: Pin Press

In the video you will notice that the pins are placed right above my chest. I like placing the pins directly above my chest, not too high above, so that I can also practice staying tight at the bottom of the lift.

Floor Press

The floor press is unique because it takes away the bench. You set the pins at the very bottom of the rack and lay flat on the floor. Usually it puts you in a tough spot to un-rack the weight yourself so you may need a liftoff. Your legs are also lying flat on the floor, this will completely take your legs out of the equation. By taking your legs out of the lift even more emphasis is placed on your triceps. This is the reason this lift is effective at increasing triceps strength and size.


Can’t play video? Click here: Floor Press

In the video I am pausing at the bottom of every rep. The length of the pause can very but I highly recommend pausing to train explosiveness out of the bottom of the lift.

Board Press

The board press is a great exercise for training every possible sticking point of the bench press. You can use a one board press, a two board, three board, and a four board press for training different sticking points throughout the bench press. For the purpose of training the lockout phase of the bench press a three-board press is usually the go-to exercise. This obliviously shortens the range of motion so that you can handle heavier weight. The tough part of this lift is that you usually need two buddies to help you out. One holding the board on your chest and the other to give you a spot. You want to make sure that you keep a normal bar path when executing a board press. Do not change anything you normally do in your conventional bench press.


Can’t play video? Click here: Board Press

There are two ways you can use the board press. One way is like how I did it in the above video, bring the bar into the boards and think about squeezing the bar down into the boards, like you are trying to crack the board. This is a great way to train to squeeze your back, maintaining tightness throughout the lift. The other way is to barely touch the board before pressing it back up. This is effective at training to maintain control throughout the lift.

 

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

5 Quick Reminders of Why- For Strength and Conditioning Coaches

Strength and Conditioning is a tough Profession. Long hours, lots of education and not always fair compensation. We put up with a lot of stuff. However, in the end we know it is all worth it. That is why we continue to grow and do what we do.

 

5 Whys of what we are contributing to our athletes of the next generation are:

TEAMBUILDING

We do it to foster an environment that shows kids that they can do something bigger than themselves; that with the help of others they can be more.

 

IMPROVED ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE

We do it to build our athletes into the best they can be both physically and mentally.

 

DISCIPLINE/CONSISTENCY

We do it to build “buy in” to the idea that there will be NO cutting corners in the path to success.

 

ACCOUNTABILITY

We do it so they understand it’s okay to call each other out in a respectful way. This can be done to build understanding and acknowledgement that it’s for the betterment of themselves, their team and their future.

 

ENJOYMENT/FUN

We do it so kids can have fun while getting productive work in.
– The old saying of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, rings true here.

These Whys always bring a smile to my face when I look back at them. When you are having thoughts on why do we do it, look above. These reminders help me every day to put things back in perspective, that I am helping to create something bigger than myself. That my athletes are awesome and will go out and be more. Thanks for reading.

 

Ryan Leibreich MS, ATC, CSCS, USAW-1
Director of Strength and Conditioning
Pro Performance RX
ryan@properformancerx.com

What is Intensity?

Growing up playing sports, then eventually progressing to weight training, I’ve heard the word intensity a lot in my twenty-five years on earth. Coaches would scream across the field that “you have to do this with intensity.” Strength coaches in high school and college would proudly say “that guy is intense” referring to the guy slapping his chest and yelling before attempting a lift.

For me at least, it was one of those things I just got used to hearing and really didn’t give it much thought growing up. However, as I got older and started taking athletics and weight training more seriously, more and more people would refer to me as intense. At first, it surprised and confused me. I was never the guy screaming and jumping up and down on the field or that guy slapping his chest in the weight room.

I began to question, “what made other people perceive me as intense?” Teammates, and after my playing days were over, other people in the gym would often say I looked mad while in the gym. I started asking myself, “Well what is intensity exactly?” I eventually concluded that what others were labeling as intense I referred to as focused.

It dumbfounded me that the way I acted in the gym was so different from the ordinary that it caused other people to take notice. I often thought to myself “How am I supposed to act?” Why does being focused make people around me think something is wrong? After being made aware that I acted in a way that was different than most others in a gym I began to pay more attention to the other people in the gym. I wanted to see what was so different in the way I acted compared to them. It was obvious from the get-go. I was in the gym for a purpose, most others are in the gym to say there were at the gym. That is a huge difference and the reason I am committed to my motto, “Training With a Why.”

I train with intensity because I have a purpose. I am in the gym to get results and better myself in more ways than you can see. Sure, there are people at the gym I consider friends, but if I wanted to hang with friends and BS for two hours I would have done it outside the gym. Now that people know I am a trainer my workouts are constantly being interrupted by people asking me training advice, which is fine, I love helping those people, just don’t be that guy that asks how to get bigger biceps then goes and talks to his friend while doing a set of curls. I know some may roll their eyes, doubting that focus, or intensity as we are calling it in this article, makes that big of a difference, and I have zero doubt you are the same people seeing little to no results in the gym.

This lack of intensity is also why those same people seeing zero results in the gym seem to be there for three hours. PSA, if you are in the gym for three hours “working out” you are not intense, you need a psychiatrist. A lack of intensity or focus in the gym means that you aren’t paying attention to details that create change. In training, there are so many little things that can take you to the next level and you miss out on just about all of them if your mind or mouth is off wondering around. So, to answer the question to the title of this article, I believe that intensity is synonymous with focus. A singular focus on the task at hand will always yield the best results.

I’m sorry if this article upset the people that thought intensity in the weight room meant bathing in chalk, loading three plates on the bench, screaming and bobbing your head, and then having your spotter upright row it off your chest before racking it and high fiving each other.  My hope in writing this article is that some of you will reevaluate why you are at the gym, and refocus your thoughts and actions while in the gym to reach those goals. Find your “Why” and keep it close.

As always, thanks for reading and please comment if you like these kind of topics.

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!

How to Deadlift (Conventional)

First, Respect It

It’s hard to describe, the feeling that runs through my body when I hear someone describe an exercise as dangerous. The weight room is not unlike many situations in life. If you do something carelessly or incorrectly the chances of you becoming injured increase substantially. However, if you use common sense, remain focused, and are aware of certain things, those chances of becoming injured decrease by a large margin. There are no dangerous exercises. Sure, there are exercises that come with more risk if done improperly compared to other exercises, but I don’t believe they should be tagged with the word dangerous. The deadlift is usually the exercise most commonly associated with this “dangerous” stereotype. The squat is a close second but that will come in a later article. Yes, if you deadlift improperly and without care you are probably going to injure yourself, most likely not seriously, but enough to make you think it’s the exercise that is the problem and not you. Well friend, I’m here to tell you it’s not the exercise, it’s you. It’s you and the person trying to teach you the exercise that watched a few deadlift videos on YouTube that is the problem. Lifting heavy weight off the ground is no joke, it’s a grown man, or grown woman, lift. It needs to be respected. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a local gym and have seen someone attempting to do a set of deadlifts. They are texting on their phone, walk up to the bar, joking around with their buddies, talking to them, sometimes even laughing all the while grabbing the bar to pick it up, they complete a few painful looking reps, set it back down and walk away saying their back hurts. Respect the deadlift enough to learn how to do it properly and the “dangerous” stereotype will soon be a thing of the past. Here is how to perform a correct conventional deadlift.

The Setup

  1. With the bar on the ground, walk up to it leaving an inch or two between your shins and the bar.
  2. Your feet should be in your power stance. (See notes section below)
  3. “Hinge” down o the bar by shifting your weight on to your heels and pushing your butt back until your shins make contact with the bar. (See notes section for comments on knee placement.)
  4. Maintain a flat back and a “big” chest. (Create a “big” chest by puffing your chest out. Picture the guys that want to act tough walking through high school hallways.)
  5. Grab the bar about an inch outside of your shins. You don’t want your thumbs touching your shins.
  6. Your eyes should be about 6-8 feet in front of you on the ground and remain there the entire time. This keeps your chin and thus your head in a neutral position.

Tips:

  • Your power stance is where you feel you can create the most power from. A good way to find this is to take one step and act like you are going to do a vertical jump. After bringing the second foot forward, as in a jumping movement, look down at your feet and this is going to be your power stance.
  • By “hinging” down to the bar your knees should be “soft” or slightly bent. Definitely not in a locked put position and not as bent as in a squat.
  • I highly advise using the double overhand position when first learning how to deadlift. When you become sufficient with the technique go ahead and try the over-under grip which allows you to lift more weight.

The double overhand Grip

The over-under Grip

Breaking the Bar

When you are in the correct position the last thing I advise you to do is to take a deep breath in at the same time you “break” the bar. Breaking the bar reinforces that your back is engaged, especially your lats, and that your grip is as strong as possible. It also takes the remaining slack out of the bar. Taking the slack out of the bar is important because like our own bodies, the more slack that is involved in the lift the more energy we need to move it. So before moving the weight we want our own body and also the bar to be as tight as possible.

  1. When attempting to “break” the bar, think about bending the bar around your shins.
  2. It may also help to think about holding a stick out in front of you and snapping it in half. (Be sure to watch video below)
  3. You should instantly feel your lats engage and your lifting buddy should visibly see your lats and upper back tighten.
  4. Depending on the type of bar you are using, you may be able to hear and definitely feel the slack leave the bar. It will most likely make a clicking sound when the slack leaves.

Video Here: Breaking The Bar

Stand Up and Lockout

  1. When pulling the weight off the ground be careful not pull or jerk the weight up using your arms.
  2. Think of your arms as just ropes holding the bar as you stand upright.
  3. Instead of jerking the weight up with your arms think about standing up by driving with your legs.
  4. You should feel leg drive, which simply means you feel as though you are pressing the floor with your feet.
  5. Be sure to keep the bar tight to your shins and thighs as you stand up.
  6. You should be standing completely upright in the lockout position.
  7. Your glutes should be tight and your hips “driven” forward.
  8. Be sure not to arch your lower back. Your hips are driven forward but everything from the waist up is in a neutral upright position.

Tips:

  • When returning the bar to the ground simply reverse the process by shifting your weight onto your heels and pushing your butt back.
  • Be sure to maintain the structured back and big chest on the way down.
  • Keep the bar tight to your legs on the way down as well.
  • Your eyes should remain in the same spot on the way down.

Reap the Benefits

There is a definite separation in the gym between those people that deadlift properly and those that do it wrong or not at all. Like I said, it is a grown man or grown woman lift. It isn’t easy by any means but it is worth learning. Once you become stronger in the deadlift you will notice that you feel stronger overall and a good chance even more athletic. Also, you will actually experience less low back pain throughout your daily life because of the improved strength. So, learn it, perfect it, and reap the benefits of the deadlift.

As always, thanks for reading and please let me know if you liked this type of instructional article and be sure to subscribe to the site to stay up to date on future articles.

Check out the video below that puts everything together.

Video Here: Deadlift

Three Things College Didn’t Teach Me

My Experience

I invested a lot of time and money earning my bachelors in exercise science and masters in sports performance. Upon completing my education I was fortunate enough to immediately begin working with collegiate athletes in the weight room. I was confident in my knowledge of rep schemes, rest periods, anaerobic versus aerobic training, and things of the like. However, I soon learned that my education was just beginning. College books did a good job of covering the tangibles aspects of life, and exercise science classes did a good job of covering practical application of those tangible aspects; that is if the world was a perfect place.

I learned that life as a strength coach doesn’t always run as smoothly as it did in books and classes. In books there was always enough space to carry out the tasks, coaches always had enough equipment for the entire team, and the workouts could progress as planned because there was never any mention of people missing workouts for a variety of reasons. As I transitioned into the strength and conditioning coach for an entire high school athletic department, these unexpected problems only increased. Over two years later I still face these challenges but feel much more confident in overcoming these obstacles and want to share this article for any other coaches, both experienced and beginners, that may be facing similar problems.

Space and Equipment

Space is something that a coach always struggles with. Unless you are at working at major university space is something that every coach fights every day. A strength coach is no different. When writing down sample workouts in school you never had to account for space. The assignment was to write out the best workout plan that you could using the science and knowledge that we had. Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works in real life. When I am sitting down to write programs I visualize our weight room in my head. I visualize the layout of the room, the flow of the room, how the athletes will move from station to station. More often than not I have to compromise and write a program that might not be number one on my wish list but a program that makes sense with the space that we have. The number one priority is the athlete’s safety and when space is limited that becomes a major focal point. You have to choose safety over everything else.

Depending on your resources available, equipment may be as much of a challenge as space on the list of problems you will face. While writing programs you have to be aware of the amount of equipment that you have. It may look good on paper, but if in reality you have a line of athletes waiting to use that piece of equipment then you may have to rethink the order of your exercises. I don’t use many different tools in my training. Mostly I utilize power racks and bars, as well as kettlebells, rings, and medicine balls. When I was first starting out I remember thinking that this workout looks awesome and couldn’t wait to see it in action. Then I proceeded to watch as athletes had to stand around and wait for certain equipment while another piece of equipment went unused. Over two years later, this is still a problem and some of it is just unavoidable. However,  I use circuit training towards the end of the workout or whenever I want to use certain equipment or exercises that would be simply impossible to do alone. I will say that when using circuit training it is important to visualize the flow of the room to ensure that enough space is available to perform the exercises safely.

Inconsistency

Inconsistency of athletes showing up to the weight room is almost a non-factor in college. In high school, it is a major problem that a strength coach must deal with. This isn’t because the athletes are skipping or that you have a badly run program, but high school students play other sports and may not have an off-season. They are also involved in clubs, or have jobs along with a million other reasons for not always being able to show up. This is a frustrating problem for a high school strength coach because there isn’t much you can do about it. I may be two months into our off-season football weightlifting program and four new kids decide that they want to try out for the team. It is my job to find a way to integrate them into the program in a safe manner.

For technical exercises, I start them off with kettlebells. So for example, I may have the new kid’s pound away with goblet squats and kettlebell deadlifts while the others are using the bar. It is also important to encourage new students to utilize open gym time to perfect technique and to be available during their busy schedules.

I run my high school programs similar to a college style where I have one hour time slots one after the other for teams to train so scheduling an open hour wasn’t as easy as it sounds. One thing that helps is that I work with every team in the school so if a multi-sport athlete is in-season for one sport he or she is at least in the weight room with me during the season and won’t be entirely de-trained when they start their next sport. There is no easy answer to this problem. You have to do the best you can to integrate the athletes that aren’t able to consistently attend in a safe manner.

Make It Enjoyable

Lastly, I want to talk about the atmosphere of the high school weight room. Creating a positive atmosphere was never covered in my five years of school. It is definitely something I’ve learned on the job and something that I think is undervalued by some coaches. The weight room should be enjoyable. That’s doesn’t mean you have to make it a recess or take out things the athletes dislike and replace them with exercises that they do. But if the athletes are dreading coming into the weight room that is a major problem. I have found that teams that enjoy the weight room will work harder than teams that don’t. I know, such a shock. But yes, I love the weight room and training. Yes, most football players love the weight room. But I work with every sport in the high school. I don’t have to be a genius to realize that the weight room isn’t the long distance runner’s favorite place. Or that the freshmen girls’ volleyball team may be intimidated by the weight room. Find ways to make it enjoyable, be creative. I create games and competitions that make it seem less like weight training. I pay attention to the attitude of the teams and I’ll be a little more creative with the teams I suspect don’t really want to be there. Crack a joke to the freshmen, let them know that even though they are there to do work they can still have an enjoyable time.

As always, thanks for reading and be sure to subscribe to the site and comment if you liked this type of article.

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.

Minor Things, Bigger Impact

Is It Minor?

              As I am warming up or resting between sets I often study my surroundings. Even as intense as I train, I still find it difficult to turn off my coaching senses. I watch people perform exercises and judge their technique. This is helpful because it is always possible to find people doing things differently, whether it be a technique, exercise selection, or something else. So often I want to pull people aside and educate them on proper form or technique. I have been doing this for so long now sometimes I must remind myself that there are things that come as second nature to me, but some people may have never thought of before. This article will cover both, things that people haven’t thought of before, and things they might have undervalued or overlooked. The title, “Minor Things” speaks to how people may know some of these tips , but do not realize the importance of them. I, and any experienced lifter, knows the benefit of taking the minor things seriously.

Warming Up

            Warming up is something that everyone knows should be done but almost no one does it or does it properly. I’m not talking about the stretches that probably entered your mind when you saw the heading. You certainly won’t find me in the gym stretching for fifteen or twenty minutes. I never stretch in the conventional static stretching sense. I think most of the general population is starting to realize that static stretching (i.e. toe touches, hamstring stretches, etc.) is not the best option when warming up. Foam rolling is one of the best choices you can make both before and after a workout. Besides foam rolling to relieve some soreness and/or tightness, when I talk about warming up in this section I am talking about warming up an exercise, particularly a strength exercise.

            It drives me nuts when people walk into the gym, rack weight on a bench, and begin their sets. I understand people have limited time and they want to get their workout complete. But my opinion is, you pay for a membership and drive to the gym, why you can’t take the three to five minutes to warm up properly? Exercises that take some technique to perform, talking about barbell exercises, should be warmed up properly to see the greatest results. I always stress to my clients to start the exercise by performing a warm up set with the empty bar. This is not only to warm up your body but also to review technique and feel it out on that day. The empty bar set and about two to three warm up sets with gradually increasing weight is usually sufficient. I guarantee that if you don’t normally warm up in this manner but go and try it after reading this article, you will feel stronger throughout your sets.

Rest Periods

            Rest periods is something that is enormously underrated. Paying attention to your rest in-between sets takes discipline. Use the stopwatch on your phone or pay attention to the clock in the gym. I guarantee that if you have never timed your rest periods then you really have no clue how long you are taking between sets. It happens to the best of us. You start daydreaming, or talking to your lifting buddy and five minutes pass without you performing a single rep. When you finally do finish a set, you walk over to the water fountain, see another friend, and talk for another five minutes. Next thing you know, twenty minutes has passed and you’ve only completed three or four sets. It is less likely, but it can happen the other way also. Your lifting by yourself, dying to get the workout over with and you rush every set. At the end you wonder why you weren’t as strong as you were the other day. Paying attention to your rest between sets will dramatically change the type of workout you do and how you feel during it.

            When your goal is strength and you are lifting heavy weight, you need to make sure you are as rested as possible. Resting for two to three minutes between sets will ensure that your strength has returned before trying the next set. When you are trying to build endurance, you want the rest to be shorter; no more than a minute and half. If you are performing exercises that isolate a muscle or muscle group, bodybuilding type exercises, the goal should to keep the “pump” in that specific area. Shorter rest ensures that the blood, which gives that “pump” feeling, will stay in that muscle, and give you the feeling you are looking for. Rest periods of no longer than a minute and half is sufficient with closer to a minute being ideal.  

Exercise Order

            The third and final tip this article will cover is exercise order. Exercise order is something that most people don’t understand the importance of. The order of your exercises is important because it can affect the value you get from each exercise. Exercises in which the focus is on strength or explosiveness should be at the beginning of your routine. You want to be as fresh as possible for these exercises. This is also true for exercises that are a bit more technical. This shouldn’t be a problem, as most exercises that are technical in nature are strength or explosive movements. Combine this with the correct rest periods and you should be as strong as possible for each set.

Following the strength exercises, you want to next perform exercises that are still compound exercises, or exercises that challenge stability. These could be dumbbell exercises, exercises that involve you standing, etc. From there you want to perform exercises that focus more on a single muscle or muscle group and where stability is not an issue. These are your typical bodybuilding style exercises. This can be easier, seated dumbbell exercises, machine exercises, etc. The main takeaway is to go from heavier, more challenging exercises to exercises that are less challenging.  

Just Takes Some Effort

          Now that you have some ammo on how to attack an efficient training routine the next step is the easiest. Putting this new-found knowledge to use isn’t hard to do but it does take effort and discipline. Warming up can get boring, counting your rest periods can seem like a hassle and thinking about the order of your exercises does take time before you begin your workout. However, these techniques are a small cost for a much larger increase in workout efficiency. Take the time to put them to use and I guarantee it changes the entire dynamic of your workout for the better. If you liked this article be sure to take the couple of seconds it takes to subscribe to this site. Also, comment on what types of articles you would like to see in the future. As always, thanks for reading!