Big Bench Tip #4 – Non-Bench Training

You all will love today’s tip. It results in larger ego muscles, a huge upper body, and most importantly, when these results cause people to ask ‘how much do you bench’, you actually can say ‘a lot’ (I don’t , however, recommend using that exact reply to customs agents…or other law enforcement agencies, they generally aren’t amused…so I’ve heard).

I call this the non-bench training to train your bench.

I generally don’t follow workouts you find in the literature. I don’t believe in one size fits all workouts, and feel a lot of them are posted to sell magazines or web site views. I also generally don’t believe in ‘workouts’. Notable exceptions are some of the proven strength training program templates you find out there and, of course, BWOW. That painfully long introduction is to say this isn’t going to be a workout plan. It is meant to tell you what to train to build a bigger bench.

Pectorals do not build a big bench. Your pectorals are simply one piece of the puzzle. A powerful bencher has learned how to turn their entire body into a bench pressing machine. Your pecs help you drive the bar off the chest, but they do not do it alone. If you do not have a powerful back, your press off the chest will be weak. Did I mention that if you do not have a powerful back, your press off the chest WILL be weak? A powerful back gives you stability at the chest. Working jointly with your biceps, it allows you to control the bar as you bring the bar to your chest. Pressing with a strong back is like pressing off a granite slab, it helps you thrust the bar explosively off your chest. A strong back is also responsible for a huge upper body, and the classic v-taper.

Strong pectorals do not help you with a strong lock out. Your pecs can help you press the bar, but as we discussed in Big Bench Tip #1, finishing the bench is about locking your elbows, not pressing the bar up. A strong lockout is created with powerful triceps. What is the sticking point in your bench? It’s the point where your pecs begin to weaken, and your triceps must begin to take over the lift. Your triceps play a major role in half of your bench press. They also play a major role in over half of your arm size…

How do you put this knowledge into action? A good training program balances upper body pushing with upper body pulling. You should have as many pulling sets in your weekly program as you do pressing sets. Given it is a smaller muscle group, your triceps don’t (necessarily) warrant as many weekly sets as pushing or pulling, but they do warrant more than the finishing isolation exercise on chest day (and they really should never be insulted with tricep kickbacks). Include at least 3-4 sets of a compound lift for the triceps, and then finish them off with the isolation exercises.

Including the right non-bench bench press training in your program will build an impressive bench press as well as an attention getting, balanced upper body build.


Big Bench Tip #1 – Tight Shoulder Blades

This tip is quite honestly the easiest way there is to add weight to your bench. It’s a relatively simple technique tweak, and doesn’t require any increase in strength (although a BWOW circuit will help considerably).

Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you bench.

How can squeezing my shoulder blades together increase your bench press?

Whenever I’m helping someone new with the bench press, the first thing I watch is the shoulders. Most untrained benchers don’t pay attention to their shoulders as they bench.  They simply press the bar up haphazardly. Their shoulders remain loose throughout the lift and they often raise them off the bench with each rep. Even those who keep their shoulders on the bench for the easy reps begin lifting them as they tire to push the bar up.

Squeezing your shoulder blades together tightly keeps your shoulders on the bench and reduces the range of motion of the press. If a movement does not add to the power of your lift, or does not make you bigger or stronger it should be eliminated. The thing to realize is that the bench press is complete when your elbows lock, it does not matter how high you press the bar. Lifting your shoulders off the bench to raise the bar higher is wasted motion. It wastes energy and distracts you from completing the lift. Instead of pressing the bar up, concentrate on locking your elbows. This prevents you from lifting your shoulders and helps you engage your triceps decisively to finish the lift.

 

How do you maintain tight shoulders throughout your bench?

Plant your shoulders on the bench. Find your hand and foot position, and drive your CHEST UP. Once you have your lifting position on the bench, squeeze your shoulder blades together and continue squeezing them throughout the full lift. Imagine you are trying to pinch a quarter between your shoulder blades, squeeze it and don’t let it go until your set is complete. As you lock your bench out, concentrate on locking your elbows, don’t press the bar up.

Practice this technique from your first warm-up to your heaviest set. Done correctly, it can add weight to the bar in your next bench session.


Big Bench Tip #2 – Chest Up

A few years back I was reffing a powerlifting meet, and a kid benching got crushed by his second attempt. He was going to pass on his 3d attempt, I wouldn’t let him. I made him put in his attempt, and gave him these CHEST UP tips, and he killed it on his third.

Chest Up

Keep your chest up throughout your bench, from the moment you unrack, until you lock out each repetition. Keeping your chest up does a number of things for your bench:

  1. It reduces the range of motion you’re lifting. As a powerlifter, a shorter range of motion increases the amount of weight you can lift. That being said, for most lifters keeping your chest up limits your range of motion to a useful range of motion. In other words, you could move the bar farther, but the additional motion is not effectively building power or mass.
  2. It increases the stability of your bench. Driving your chest up and keeping it there throughout your repetitions significantly increases the stability of your upper body. When done right (and in conjunction with my other Big Bench Tips), your entire upper body will be tight, you will control the weight to your chest, the bar touches your chest without sinking in, and drives explosively off your chest.
  3. Keeping your chest up expands the area over which your pecs stretch as the bar comes down. This can increase the power of the stretch reflex*, helping you drive the bar more powerfully off your chest. As a muscle stretches out, it has a reflex in which it tries to contract. You can take advantage of this stretch reflex by driving the bar up powerfully in conjunction with your pectoral and triceps muscles attempting to contract involuntarily giving you more explosive drive off your chest. If you let your chest collapse, you lose some of this energy with your chest sinking as you attempt to drive the bar up.

Driving your chest up and expanding the area over which your pectoral muscles must stretch can increase the power of the contraction, increasing the drive off your chest (this is purely my own observation, but check it out).

What does keep your chest up mean?

I’ve covered a bit of why you want to keep your chest up. Now how exactly do you do it?

  1. Chalk your shoulders and plant them firmly on the bench. This will help keep your shoulders from sliding as you drive your chest up.
  2. Plant your feet firmly on the floor. Drive through the balls of your feet and push your hips towards your shoulders. This will result in an arch in your lower back. Maintain this pressure and arch throughout the lift.
  3. Take a huge breath of air before you start bringing the bar down and hold it – don’t breath in as the bar is coming down, this will prevent you from filling your lungs completely. Hold the air in your lungs until the bar passes your sticking point on the way back up, and exhale through lockout.


Keeping your chest up, a simple technique you can use to add pounds to your bench press even without increasing your upper body strength.


Squatting with Bands – Building Explosive Power

Why use resistance bands with your squats?

Accommodating resistance with bands or chains can help you make considerable strength gains. As you complete the concentric portion of your lift (come back up), your leverage improves making the lift easier. Your body’s mechanically advantage allows you to handle more weight at the top of the lift than you can in the hole. Both chains and bands increase in resistance as you near the top where you hit the stronger region of your lift. Although chains add a considerable cool factor – they look cool, they sound cool, and they are just all around cool – band tension increases at a considerably faster rate as you pass the sticking point and approach lockout. Chains increase in weight linearly as more chain is lifted from the floor.

 

Bands add a great deal of instability to the bar. Controlling the weight takes considerably more effort than walking out a regular squat bar. The effort required to control the weight forces you to strengthen your stabilizing muscles and will help develop greater core stability.

Who should do banded squats?

The more appropriate question is who should not do banded squats? Banded lifts are not for beginners. You should have a solid strength foundation, good control of the weight throughout the full range of motion, and sound technique before attempting banded squats. If you don’t have great technique and control, adding the instability created by the bands can increase your probability of injury. Until you have mastered them, stick with the basic lifts.

Banded squats, a quick walkthrough

  • Setting up your bands:
    • Best case, you have a squat rack with pegs built for bands. You can adjust the amount of tension created by the bands by adjusting the length of the bands you use in the setup.

  • If you don’t have band pegs on your squat rack, using dumbbells is an easy way to set up your bands, although adjusting the band length used in the setup isn’t quite as simple. A couple pointers for using dumbbells: make sure the weight of your dumbbells is greater than the tension the bands create at the top of the lift; set a small weight plate in front of and behind the dumbbells to keep them from rolling.

  • Squat Setup:Setting up for the squat is much like setting up for a normal squat with two major differences.
    • As soon as the bar comes out of the rack, the bands are going to pull you backwards. Instead of unracking with both feet directly under the bar, start with one foot slightly back so you can brace yourself and keep the bands from pulling you back (see video) below.

 

  • It is critical to set up so the bar is directly in line with the point the bands are anchored. If you set up ahead of or behind the anchor point, the bands will pull you forward or back, out of your groove. A trick I just picked up is to draw a chalk line on the floor aligned with your band anchor to help you position yourself correctly.

Follow the steps for a proper squat setup. Because of the instability created by bands, a solid setup is even more important when squatting with them.

  • Squatting with bands
    • The eccentric portion for banded squats is technically no different than a normal squat. It’s even more important with bands to remain very tight to prevent the bands from pulling you out of the proper bar path. If you do find the bands pulling you out of the proper path, check to make sure that you are aligned with the anchor points.
    • As the graphic above indicates, the band tension will be low at the bottom end of the squat, and will increase rapidly. It’s important to drive explosively out of the hole and build enough momentum to help you move past the sticking point and lock your squat out as band tension increases.
    • As you get to your sticking point, the bar may slow, and come to a near stop. Keep driving with all your power to overcome the tension – this will train you to grind through the tough lifts.

Whether you’re an equipped or raw lifter, whether you compete or just like being big, bad and strong, used correctly resistance bands can help you build new levels of strength.

Note: Gauging the tension added by bands is not an exact science. EliteFTS has, however, provided band calibrations you can use as a reference point.


Deadlift Mechanics: The Setup Position

A good deadlift, as with all over big lifts, starts with a good setup. There is more to the deadlift than grabbing the bar and standing up. Here are a few quick pointers to effectively find your setup position.

Stance

  • Feet should be hip width apart. Line up the outside of your feet with the outside of your hips. Your legs should be perpendicular to the floor.
  • Grip the bar just outside your hip width. If possible your arms should also be perpendicular to the floor. If you have relatively wide hips, your arms may angle out slightly.

Setup Position

When you drop into the setup position to begin your pull, here are a few markers you can use to find that good starting position for a strong pull.

  • Your shins should remain perpendicular to the floor. As you rock back into the starting position, rotation should be around your knees, bringing your hips down and your head and chest up.
  • Your shoulder blades should be directly over the bar. Keeping upward tension on the bar and your arms straight as your rock back, continue rocking back until your shoulder blades rotate back over the bar.
  • Keep your back straight and flat. You can do this by taking a deep breath into your lungs, tightening your core, and squeezing your shoulder blades tightly downward – try and tuck them into your back pockets.

Setup Hints:

Don’t waste time thinking about your setup. Once you get your grip on the bar immediately take your breath, tighten your back, and rock back into the starting position. As soon as you are in the starting position immediately begin your pull.

 


Back Workout of the Week – Winter 2013 Week 8

Week 8: Week 8 finishes off the program with a devastating amount of volume.

Training Goals:

  • Weight is moderate, volume is very high.
  • Pull-up strength is tested, let’s see if you’ve improved.

Week 8: Strength Building

Warm-ups: Warm up your upper body with some shoulder pre-hab work.

  • Shoulder Internal and External Rotation
  • Sets/Reps: 3 x 15 with a moderately light weight, your shoulders should still be burning when you’re done
  • Alternate right shoulder then left, internal then external for each set

Pull-ups: Week 8 let’s test your pull-up strength – how many pull-ups can you do without assistance

  • Use double overhand, wide grip
  • If you cannot get any pull-ups on your own, you can use assistance – use the same amount of assistance you used week 1:
    • Assisted pull-up station
    • Resistance bands, set up for reverse resistance
    • Use the minimum assistance required to get at least 3 reps
    • Perform 3 sets to failure

If you want to continue or accelerate your pull-up progress, consider doing your pull-ups more frequently each week, at the beginning of a workout.

Barbell Rows – 30 second incremental sets:

  • Get a good drink of water before you start these sets, you won’t be unstrapping from the bar until you’re done!
  • If you need, warm up to your 10 Rep Max (10RM) weight; you don’t want to be aggressive with the weight selection for today’s workout, we want to maximize the reps you can complete
  • Weight: Use your 10RM
  • Sets/Reps: Reps are incremental every set, and are timed; it’s easiest if you have someone timing the reps for you
    • You will perform your sets every 30 seconds:
      • Start your sets every 30 seconds – 0:00, 0:30, 1:00, 1:30
      • Notice that you do not get 30 seconds of rest for each set; 30 seconds includes your set and your reps
      • It works best to have your timer call out when you have 5 seconds to start so you can unrack the weight and be ready to go
      • When you rerack the weight, don’t unstrap your hands, you won’t have time to strap back up
    • Your reps are incremental
      • Set 1 you perform 1 rep; set 2 you perform 2 reps, continue to increment with each set
      • Keep going until you cannot complete all of your reps in the 30 seconds
  • Rest: The longer your set takes, the less rest you have
    • If your set takes 5 seconds to complete (likely your first 5 sets or so), you will have 25 seconds of rest, if your set takes 20 seconds to complete, you will have 10 seconds of rest.
  • Equipment: Use wrist straps, you will need them. If you do these right, your grip will be smoked even using straps.

Dumbbell Rows, Unsupported, Drop Set:

  • Weight: You will use 2 dumbbells:
    • First Dumbbell: Use your 10RM
    • Second Dumbbell: Use a dumbbell about 20% less than the first (if your 10RM is 150lbs your second dumbbell should be about 120lbs; if your 10RM is 30lbs, your second dumbbell is 25lbs…and you likely haven’t been doing BWOW for very long).
  • Sets/Reps:
    • 3 sets
    • Complete as many reps as you can with the first dumbbell, drop it and immediately continue with the second dumbbell
    • Repeat with your other arm for 1 set
  • Rest: Rest until you are recovered between sets (3-5 minutes), no rest between one arm and the other within a set
  • Equipment: Use wrist straps for this exercise, again, you will need it.

Standing Hammer Curl/Lat Pull-down Superset: Pre-exhaust your biceps, then perform your lat pull-downs to force your upper back to perform the majority of the work

  • Weight:
    • Hammer Curls: Use your 10RM
    • Lat Pull-downs: Use your 10RM
  • Sets/Reps:
    • 3 sets of 10 reps with both hammer curls an lat pull-downs
    • Start with the hammer curls
    • Complete lat pull-downs after your curls
  • Rest: Keep rest relatively short, 1-2 minutes
    • No rest between lat pull-downs and hammer curls
    • Short rest between hammer curls and cable rows, 1-2 minutes
    • Keep your technique strict. Limit your use of upper body momentum for both the curls and lat pull-downs.

Cable Rows:

  • Weight: Use your 20RM
  • Sets/Reps: 3 sets x 20 reps
  • Rest: Keep rest relatively short between sets, 1-2 minutes

Standing Barbell Curls: You may add standing barbell curls if your biceps aren’t smoked by now

  • Weight:
    • Set 1: Use your 10RM
    • Set 2: Bump the weight up slightly from set 1
    • Set 3: Bump the weight up again from set 2
  • Sets/Reps: Complete 3 sets to failure; try to complete at least 10 reps on all sets
  • Rest: Keep rest relatively short, 1-2 minutes

Assessment:

Ok, I’ll be honest. The intent of this workout is to completely smoke your upper body. Your back and biceps should be totally exhausted when you’re done, and your conditioning should be taxed as well. Enjoy!

Workout Plan: 2013 Winter – BWOW Week 8 v1 – Web

BWOW Plans for this cycle:

 

 



Back Workout of the Week – Winter 2013 Week 7

Week 7: Week 7 focuses on lifting more weight and building strength.

Training Goals:

  • Weight is kept high, volume is moderately high.
  • Pull-up strength is addressed by performing pull-ups prior to rowing exercises, and performing pull-ups with added weight.

Week 7: Strength Building

Warm-ups: Warm up your upper body with some shoulder pre-hab work.

  • Face Pulls
  • Sets/Reps: 3 x 15 with a moderately light weight

Pull-ups: We’re working on increasing pull-up strength, so we start your back workout with pull-ups, all sets will be with added weight if possible.

  • Add weight to your sets, such as:
    • Weight belt to hang weight plates
    • Hold a dumbbell between your ankles
    • Use a weight vest
    • If you cannot get at least 3 reps without added weight, don’t add weight
  • If you cannot get at least 3 pull-ups on your own, use assistance
    • Assisted pull-up station
    • Resistance bands, set up for reverse resistance
    • Use the minimum assistance required to get at least 3 reps
    • Use double overhand, wide grip
  • Perform 4 sets to failure
    • On your last 2 sets, perform a drop set: complete as many reps as possible with added weight, then drop the weight and continue to failure again

Barbell Rows:

  • You should be somewhat warm after pull-ups, but if you need a couple of warm-up sets to get to your working weight, take them
  • Weight: Try to increase the weight slightly from last week
    • Set 1: Use your 10 Rep Max (10RM)
    • Set 2-4: Use your 5RM
    • Set 5: Drop Set – 1RM, 3RM, 5RM, 10RM
      • Set up your weight without collars for quick weight changes; use two training partners to change the weights for you.
      • Start with your 1RM, and row to failure.
      • Rack the bar and have your partners change the weight to your 3RM, and continue rowing without rest. Don’t take your hands off the bar or unwrap them if you are using wrist straps. Row to failure.
      • Rack the bar and change to your 5RM and row to failure.
      • Rack the bar and change to your 10RM and row to failure.
      • Weights don’t have to be strict selections; select weights you can easily change quickly.
  • Sets/Reps:
    • Set 1: 10 reps
    • Sets 2-3: 5 reps
    • Set 4: As many reps as possible; use some cheat technique to get additional reps
    • Set 5: Until you (nearly) regret googling BWOW, and your back and biceps are burning.
  • Rest: Take enough rest for your muscles to be fully recovered, except during your drop set (3-5 minutes)
  • Equipment: Use wrist straps if necessary

Dumbbell Rows, Supported:

  • Weight: Use your 10RM, try and bump the weight up slightly over your previous 10RM

Note: If your gym does not have heavy enough dumbbells for the massive back strength, a common problem for BWOWers, particularly if you lift in a commercial box, you can wrap a chain around your wrist to add additional weight to your dumbbell rows.

  • Sets/Reps:
    • Set 1: 10 reps
    • Set 2-3: Row to failure, try and beat 10 reps
  • Rest: Rest until you are recovered between sets (3-5 minutes), no rest between one arm and the other within a set
  • Equipment: Use wrist straps for this exercise

Lat Pull-downs:

  • Weight: Set up 1 plate above your 10RM on the lat pull-down machine
  • Sets/Reps: 3 sets to failure, try and get at least 10 reps without cheating with upper body momentum
  • Rest: Keep rest relatively short, 1-2 minutes
  • Keep your technique strict. Concentrate on initiating the pull-down with your lats, minimize your use of upper body momentum.

Standing Hammer Curl/Cable Row Superset: Pre-exhaust your biceps, and perform high rep cable rows to engage more of your back muscles in the rows (rhomboids and lower/mid traps):

  • Weight:
    • Hammer Curls: Use your 10RM
    • Cable Rows: Use your 20RM
  • Sets/Reps: 3 supersets
    • Hammer Curls: 3 sets of 10 reps
    • Cable Rows: 3 sets of 20 reps
    • Start with hammer curls
    • Complete cable rows after your hammer curls
  • Rest:
    • No rest between cable rows and hammer curls
    • Short rest between hammer curls and cable rows, 1-2 minutes
    • Complete your curls with proper form, and minimal use of upper body momentum to curl the weight. Concentrate on initiating your row with your lats and squeezing your shoulder blades tightly at the end.

Standing Barbell Curls:

  • Weight:
    • Set 1: Use your 10RM
    • Set 2: Bump the weight up slightly from set 1
    • Set 3: Bump the weight up again from set 2
  • Sets/Reps: Complete 3 sets to failure; try to complete at least 10 reps on all sets
  • Rest: Keep rest relatively short, 1-2 minutes

Assessment:

  • Overall volume this week remains close to that used the preceding weeks. Weight should increase somewhat, and work both your back and biceps very well.

Workout Plan:  2013 Winter – BWOW Week 7 v1 – Web

BWOW plans for this cycle:

 

 


Proper Lift Setup – Tight is Right

The problem: Many strength trainers spend hours, maybe weeks, researching the perfect workout or trying out the latest lifting fad. More experienced lifters focus their effort honing in the technique for their squat, deadlift and bench press. Far too many, however, miss one of the most fundamental aspects to lifting big weights – perfecting the setup.

The solution: Neglecting your setup is a huge mistake. A proper setup leads to stronger lifts. The setup is the one point in the lift you have the time (and your wits) to enable you to do everything perfectly every single time. To set up correctly your entire body needs to be tight before the bar even comes out of the rack or off the floor.

How does a tight setup aid your lift?

  • Efficiency: An improper setup leaves you expending more energy than necessary before even starting to lift.
  • Stability: A tight set up allows you to control the weight easily, giving you greater stability with which to start your lift.
  • The Weight Feels Light: Setting up tightly gives you a mechanical advantage. The weight feels much lighter coming out of the rack, or off the floor. Although it doesn’t matter how heavy it feels, the lighter the weight feels, the more confidently you will attack your lifts.

Squat Setup: The idea for this article came up while watching one of my lifters setting up to squat. Before unracking the weight she dropped down slightly, and then slammed up into the bar. Extra movements like this do not help with the lift and by doing so she loosened up before lifting the bar.

Keeping your body tight allows you to transfer all of your power from your legs doing the work directly to the bar on your shoulders and eliminates energy leaks. Done right, the bar feels lighter and moves more easily, wastes less energy, and mentally prepares you for your lift.

  • Hand Position: Bringing your hands in closer to your shoulders on the bar increases the tightness of your upper back. Bring them in as closely as your flexibility allows, while still enabling you to drive your elbows forward under the bar as you lift the weight.
  • Bar Position: Bring the bar down from on top of your traps (high bar position) to the shelf between the base of your traps and your delts.
  • Tight Back: Once you have your grip on the bar, and have positioned the bar on your back, squeeze your shoulder blades together to contract your lats and tighten your upper back.
  • Big Air: Take a large breath of air into your lungs, and tighten your core. This will create intra-abdominal pressure, providing stability to your spine.


What is Big Air?

When I get under the bar very very tightly it feels like my body is a loaded spring. Let it go and it drives the bar up easily out of the rack, even with a loaded down bar. For more tips on your squat setup, read ‘A Perfect Setup Leads to a Bigger Squat’.


Setting up your squat

Bench Press Setup: You’ve seen a lot of guys do it, hell I used to this before I knew what I was doing: before unracking the weight, he pulls his body up off the bench and as his shoulders come back down onto the bench he unracks the weight. This is probably the worst thing you can do to prepare for your bench press. Before unracking the weight you want to have your body in the perfect position and completely tight. There is no way to properly set up with a moving target!

  • Shoulder Position: Place your shoulders on the bench and squeeze your shoulder blades together tightly. Think about trying to squeeze a quarter between your shoulder blades and holding it there throughout your full set.
  • Leg Drive: Place your feet under your knees with your toes pointed slightly outward. Push through the balls of your feet driving your hips towards your shoulders. This will push your lower back into a slight arch, and it will tighten your entire body from your toes through your traps. Maintain your leg drive throughout all reps in your set.

Note: If you have lower back issues, consult your doctor before benching with an ‘arch’.

  • Lock Your Elbows: Squeeze the bar tightly, and try to lock your elbows before unracking the bar. You want to be able to bring the bar straight out over your chest, instead of lifting the bar up then bringing it out. This works best when you have a bench with adjustable height. With the perfect rack height you can nearly lock your elbows before coming out of the rack. Your spotter should have to just bump the bar up slightly, then help you guide the weight straight out, at which point you’re already locked out and ready to begin your first repetition.

Deadlift Setup: Deadlift setups are the trickiest. I watch deadlifters squat down to the bar loosening their entire upper body, and then jerk up as hard as they can to pull their new PR. Let’s look at this approach – loose upper back, heavy weight, jerking the bar with all their strength. Let’s say you’re going to tow your friend’s car out of the ditch with your Chevy. Do you connect the chains between the vehicles leaving 30’ of slack, then floor it getting your truck up to speed before the chain tightens and jerks the bumper off your friend’s car? My first thought is usually ‘well they won’t be wasting space in my gym too long’.

A proper deadlift starts with a tight upper body and a smooth, strong, steady pull:

  • Big Air: Take a deep breath into your lungs and tighten your core. This will create intra-abdominal pressure which stabilizes your spine. This is best done before you drop your hips down into the starting position. Once you drop your hips you will be unable to pack your lungs full of air.
  • Tight Back: Squeeze your shoulder blades together tightening your back. As opposed to your bench press technique, where you try and pinch a quarter between them, try and tuck your shoulder blades down into your back pockets. This will reduce the shortening effect on your arms while still allowing you to tighten your upper back (shorter arms equals a longer range of motion).
  • Pull the Slack out of the Bar: Pull upward on the bar before starting your deadlift eliminating any slack between you and the bar. You should have a smooth, strong pull when you start your deadlift, and not jerk the bar upwards.
  • Don’t Squat to the Bar: Rock back bringing your hips down and your head and chest up. Keep your back tight and upward tension on the bar as you rock back, dropping your hips to the starting position. Don’t squat down to the bar letting your knees drift forward over the bar and loosening your back and arms.

A tight setup on the deadlift allows you to transfer all of your pulling power directly from your legs to the bar. It allows you to turn your upper body into a solid lever, minimizing energy leaks as you begin your pull.

I probably frustrate many of my lifters. When squatting I’ll make them rerack and start over several times before they even take their first repetition, but the setup is that important. A proper setup can easily be the difference between a missed lift and a new personal record.



Back Workout of the Week – Winter 2013 Week 6

Week 6: Week 6 increases the weight to be lifted, and maintains a relatively high volume of heavy sets.

Training Goals:

  • Weight is increased and volume remains moderately high. This should be a challenging week.
  • Pull-up strength is addressed by performing pull-ups prior to rowing exercises, and performing pull-ups with added weight.

Week 6: Strength Building/Hypertrophy

Warm-ups: Warm up your upper body with some shoulder pre-hab work

Pull-ups: We’re working on increasing pull-up strength, so we start your back workout with pull-ups, and use added weight where possible.

  • Add weight to your first two sets, such as:
    • Weight belt to hang weight plates
    • Hold a dumbbell between your ankles
    • Use a weight vest
    • If you cannot get at least 3 reps with added weight, don’t add weight
  • For remaining sets, if you cannot get at least 5 pull-ups on your own, use assistance
    • Assisted pull-up station
    • Resistance bands, set up for reverse resistance
    • Use the minimum assistance required to get at least 5 reps
  • If you can get 10 reps or more on your own, add weight to your subsequent sets as well
  • Use double overhand, wide grip
  • Perform 4 sets to failure

Barbell Rows:

  • You should be somewhat warm after pull-ups, but if you need a couple of warm-up sets to get to your working weight, take them
  • Weight:
    • Set 1: Use your 10 Rep Max (10RM)
    • Set 2-3: Use your 5RM
    • Set 4: Use your 3RM
    • Set 5: Drop Set – 1RM, 3RM, 5RM, 10RM
      • Set up your weight without collars for quick weight changes; use two training partners to change the weights for you.
      • Start with your 1RM, and row to failure.
      • Rack the bar and have your partners change the weight to your 3RM, and continue rowing without rest. Don’t take your hands off the bar or unwrap them if you are using wrist straps. Row to failure.
      • Rack the bar and change to your 5RM and row to failure.
      • Rack the bar and change to your 10RM and row to failure.
      • Weights don’t have to be strict selections; select weights you can easily change quickly.
  • Sets/Reps:
    • Set 1: 10 reps
    • Sets 2-3: 5 reps
    • Set 4: 3 reps
    • Set 5: Until you feel like puking, and your back and biceps are burning.
  • Rest: Take enough rest for your muscles to be fully recovered, except during your drop set (3-5 minutes)
  • Equipment: Use wrist straps if necessary

Dumbbell Rows, Unsupported:

  • Weight:
    • Set 1: Use your 15RM
    • Set 2: Use your 10RM
    • Set 3: Use your 5RM
    • Try and push the weight slightly above your previous RMs
    • Note: If your gym does not have heavy enough dumbbells for the massive back strength you’ve built in the last 5 weeks, you can wrap a chain around your wrist to add additional weight to your dumbbell rows
  • Sets/Reps:
    • Set 1: 15 reps
    • Set 2: 10 reps
    • Set 3: 6 reps
  • Rest: Rest until you are recovered between sets (3-5 minutes), no rest between one arm and the other within a set
  • Equipment: Use wrist straps for this exercise

Lat Pull-downs:

  • Weight: Use your 10RM
  • Sets/Reps: 3 sets x 10 reps
  • Rest: Keep rest relatively short, 1-2 minutes
  • Keep your technique strict. Concentrate on initiating the pull-down with your lats, minimize your use of upper body momentum to cheat.

Standing Barbell Curl/Cable Row Superset: Pre-exhaust your biceps, and perform high rep cable rows to engage more of your back muscles in the rows (rhomboids and lower/mid traps):

  • Weight:
    • Barbell Curls: Use your 10RM
    • Cable Rows: Use your 20RM
  • Sets/Reps: 3 supersets
    • Barbell Curls: 3 sets of 10 reps
    • Cable Rows: 3 sets of 20 reps
    • Start with barbell curls
    • Complete cable rows after your barbell curls
  • Rest:
    • No rest between cable rows and barbell curls
    • Short rest between barbell curls and cable rows, 1-2 minutes
  • Complete your curls with proper form, and minimal use of upper body momentum to curl the weight. Concentrate on initiating your row with your lats and squeezing your shoulder blades tightly at the end.

Assessment:

  • The weight this week should be challenging, and the volume should leave your back and biceps completely spent. Try and push the weight up above your previous maxes, without sacrificing technique.

Workout Plan: 2013 Winter – BWOW Week 6 v1 – Web

 



Overcoming Weaknesses in Your Deadlift

The problem: After early success and rapid gains on your deadlift, you’ve hit a plateau and progress has stalled. Your regular personal records (PRs) have slowed or stopped.

The solution: Identify and overcome the weak link in your deadlift power – being able to lock out 500lbs doesn’t do you a bit of good if you can’t break it from the floor. As I have previously done with the Bench Press here I tear your deadlift down into the potential problem areas and recommend approaches to overcome them. It is possible that these strategies may overlap.

Training Maturity: To effectively eliminate weakness in your deadlift, you should be at a relatively mature level as a lifter. Before you start working on your deadlift weaknesses:

  1. Perfect your deadlift technique. You will have the greatest gains, and slightest chance of hurting yourself if you first focus on deadlifting properly. The deadlift is one of the most effective exercises on the books, but performed incorrectly it can have the greatest potential for injury.
  2. Build a solid foundation of strength. Before correcting weaknesses, develop the sufficient level of pulling strength. Work on your fundamental deadlift strength until you are at least an intermediate level on the deadlift with proper technique. You can find a good Strength Standards for Deadlift at http://www.exrx.net/Testing/WeightLifting/DeadliftStandards.html.


Deadlift Demonstration

The two common deadlift weak points:

Now that your technique is fundamentally sound, and you have a solid strength base, let’s look at where your weak points may lie and how to improve them.

  1. Weak off the floor
  2. Difficulty locking out

Weak off the Floor:

Breaking the bar slowly off the floor does not necessarily indicate significant weakness. However, more explosive power off the floor inevitably leads to bigger pulls.

Key Technique Points: To improve your power off the floor, perfect your setup technique.

    • Don’t waste time setting up. Once your hands are on the bar you should be dropping your hips to the starting position then pulling without hesitation. I see far too many people pause at the bottom thinking about the lift before pulling (far too many = almost all). Nothing good can happen here:
      • By thinking about the pull you are talking yourself out of it.
      • You cannot fully fill your lungs with air with you core compressed at the bottom of the lift.
    • Fill your lungs fully with air before dropping into the starting position. Big air in your lungs will provide intra-abdominal pressure protecting your spine, and giving you great stability.


Demonstration of Big Air

  • Tighten your upper back. Squeeze your shoulder blades tightly and drive them downward. Think about tucking them down into your back pockets.
  • There is no stretch reflex in your first deadlift repetition. Work on creating a stretch reflex by dropping your hips quickly into the starting position, and immediately pulling explosively back up.
  • Don’t squat to the bar (characterized by your knees coming forward as you drop your hips down), this leaves you loose at the bottom. Grab the bar and rock back bringing your hips down and your chest up. This allows you to stay tight and keep upward tension on the bar as you set up for the pull.
  • Drive your hips forward hard to engage you quads in the initial pull off the floor.

Strength Improvements and Training: Improving your strength in certain areas can help you build more power off the floor.

  • Quad strength: If you’ve properly built a solid foundation of strength this is likely not your primary issue but it bears mentioning. If your quads are weak initiating the pull off the floor may be more difficult.
  • Stretch reflex: Train every rep without the advantage of the stretch reflex; start every rep in training from a dead stop. I use a technique I call the 3 count setup.
  • Deficit deadlifts: Training your deadlifts from a low platform, or standing on 1 or 2 plates, can help you build low end power.
  • Pause deadlifts with a low pause: Pause deadlifts with a low end pause can help build low end power in your deadlift.
  • Pause squats and box squats: Building low end strength in your squats with pause and box squats can carry over to power off the floor in your deadlift.

Explosive Training: Improving the explosiveness in your lower body will help you to condition your body and central nervous system to engage all of your muscle fibers at once giving you a powerful initial pull. Concentrate on an explosive pull off the floor without ‘snatching’ or jerking the weight by pulling all the slack out between you and the bar and maintaining upward tension on the bar until you begin the pull.

  • Speed Deadlift: Include speed, or dynamic, work in your training program with some type of deadlift variety. The weight should be light enough so that you can drive the bar up explosively while maintaining perfect deadlift form. Condition yourself to start your pull off the floor with 100% of your muscle mass regardless of the actual weight you are pulling. For example if you are deadlifting 50% of your 1 rep max (1RM) the bar should move twice as fast as when you pull your 1RM.
  • Vertical Jumping: Vertical jumping varieties can help you generate the instantaneous explosive power you need to initiate a heavy pull. Jumping higher requires more power, so your goal over time is to increase the height of your vertical jumps. Some effective jumping exercises include:
    • Box Jumps
    • Depth Jumps
    • Box Squat Jumps
  • Accommodated Resistance: Using bands and chains in your deadlift training can help you build more power off the floor. Since the weight is lighter at the floor, you should concentrate on starting the pull off the floor with as much speed as possible, using this momentum to complete the lift as the weight increases.

Locking out at the top:

Let’s start with the proper definition of a deadlift lockout: standing fully upright, chest up and shoulders back, hips and knees fully extended (locked out). A strong lockout requires a strong posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, and lower back), and powerful grip.

Key Technique Points: Lockout technique in the deadlift requires you to be able to keep your chest up and drive your hips forward once the bar passes your knees.

  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together tightly and keep your head and chest up.
  • Engage your glutes at the end of the pull to lock your hips and knees out to finish the pull powerfully.
  • Grip: Once your grip begins to slip, your body will tendency to stop pulling even if you had the strength to complete the lift. Here are a couple of techniques to improve your grip on the bar.
      • Alternating over/under grip: Over-Under Grip: Grip the bar with one hand pronated (overhand) and one hand supinated (underhand). Which hand you use is your preference, but generally speaking it’s more effective gripping with your dominant hand pronated. Using the over-under grip prevents the bar from rolling out of your grip.
      • Hook grip: Grip the bar with both hands pronated. Instead of wrapping your thumbs around the bar, lie them along the bar and wrap your fingers around your thumbs. This is a very effective grip, locking the bar in and preventing it from rolling or slipping out of your grip, but it can be exceptionally painful.


    Hook Grip Demonstration

    • Chalk: Be generous with the chalk, its usefulness cannot be underestimated. Every surface of your hand that touches the bar should be coated with chalk (and preferably only the surfaces of your hand, not the bench, the floor, the mirror…). Once you’ve chalked your hand nothing touches your hands except the bar! If your gym does not allow chalk, try liquid chalk.
    • Gloves: The bar slides relatively easily across the surface of your pretty gloves. It does not slide easily across the surface of a well chalked hand (without taking chalk, skin and calluses along with it).
    • Wrist straps: No

Strength Improvements and Training: The muscles in your posterior chain are the primary movers to lock out your deadlift. With proper training you’ll find your deadlift actually accelerating once the bar crosses your knees.

  • Posterior Chain: The posterior chain is greatly overlooked aspect of your training plan – yes, yourtraining plan. Your glutes and hamstrings should get just as much attention as your pecs and your quads (they don’t, do they?). My rule of thumb for glute and ham training volume is 8-12 sets per week depending, of course, on where I’m at in my training cycle. The most effective posterior chain lifts I’ve found are:


You don’t need a GHR bench to incorporate this effective exercise

  • Hip thrusters
  • Pull-throughs
  • Grip Strength: Have you ever shaken a great deadlifter’s hand? Chances are they crushed your mortal hand. If you want a strong deadlift, you need a strong grip.
    • Deadlifts: Use double overhand grip as you warm up until you cannot hold the bar any longer. Then use alternating grip without chalk until you absolutely need the chalk.
    • Farmer walks: In addition to some great conditioning, farmers walks can do wonders for building your grip.
    • Wrist straps: No

There are other implements aimed at helping you build your grip strength, but my preference is grabbing a bar and holding on to it as you work through your training.

  • Upper Back Strength: Although your upper back is not actively involved in the pull, statically it needs to be strong enough to support the weight. As with your posterior chain, your back should get as much attention as your pecs in your weekly training plan. I also like to balance my training volume in the frontal or vertical plane (ie pull-ups) with volume in the sagittal or horizontal plane (ie barbell rows).
    • Pull-ups: If you can complete more than 5-7 pull-ups, do them weighted.
    • Lat Pull-downs: One of the few machines regularly in my training plan.
    • Barbell rows
    • Dumbbell rows

For more on back training, check out my Back Workout of the Week.

  • Lockout specific strength: You may want to include lifts in your program that directly train your lockout strength:
  • Accommodated Resistance: Using bands and chains in your deadlift training can help you overload your deadlift lockout. Since the weight is lighter at the floor, you can lift weights that are heavier at lockout than you would normally be capable of.
  • Rest: You will find that deadlifts work your entire body. You, therefore, use your entire body when deadlifting. If you are not allowing yourself sufficient recovery, and not promoting proper recovery (ie rest, diet, supplementation), your deadlift strength will suffer. If you find yourself struggling with a rep weight, back off, recover, and come back stronger.

Take action: Assess where you have the greatest potential for improvement. Rework your training program with a strategy to eliminate weak links in your pulls, and get your deadlift progress back on track.