Home Posts tagged "Bench Press"

3 More Reasons We Don’t Have Our Baseball Players Bench Press

Today's guest article comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach Tony Bonvechio. Tony is also one of the contributors to the new Cressey Sports Performance Innovations resource, which is on sale for $50 off through this Sunday at midnight. Enjoy! -EC 

I wouldn’t break the Internet if I told you that we don’t use the barbell bench press to train baseball players at Cressey Sports Performance.

As a powerlifter, I love the bench press. It’s a solid choice for general fitness folks, too. But by now, it’s widely accepted in the baseball world that the reward of getting really strong on the bench press is outweighed by the risk the exercise poses to the shoulders and elbows. And if you dig a little deeper, there’s some more specific reasoning why the bench press doesn’t show up in most programs at CSP.

1. It Exacerbates Negative Adaptations to Throwing

When you throw a baseball for a living, it’s likely that a handful of things will happen, including:

• Increased glenohumeral external rotation
• Decreased glenohumeral internal rotation
• Decreased elbow extension

So basically, you get a shoulder that’s loose in the front and tight in the back, along with an elbow that doesn’t straighten all the way. But what happens at the torso and lower body?

• Decreased scapular upward rotation
• Decreased soft tissue quality (lats, rotator cuff, pec major and minor, among others)
• Abnormal spinal curvature (i.e. lumber and/or thoracic hyperextension)
• Decreased hip rotation (most often loss of hip internal rotation)

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Now we have scaps and hips that don’t move well, gritty tissue surrounding the shoulder, and a spine that’s stuck in extension. This paints a grim picture and it’s not as bad as it sounds, but what does bench pressing do to help this situation?

The answer? Nothing. In fact, it feeds into many of these dysfunctions.

Coach someone into a proper bench press setup and what do you get? Global spinal extension, scapular retraction and depression, humeral motion WITHOUT scap motion, and heavy loads placed on the pecs, delts, lats and triceps. The stresses are eerily similar to throwing, albeit at slower speeds and heavier loads.

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We spend a lot of time each offseason trying to restore movement quality in our baseball players, which means staying away from many of these gross extension patterns and exercises that lock the scaps in place. You can’t justify strength gains at the expense of movement quality. As Gray Cook says, don’t build strength on top of dysfunction.

2. It’s Not Speed- or Plane-Specific

In order for a movement to transfer to sport, it needs to have some degree of specificity. We have to look at the plane in which the movement occurs (sagittal, frontal or transverse) and where the movement falls on the force-velocity curve.

Granted, simply getting stronger has direct transfer to sport without being specific. Otherwise, strength coaches wouldn’t have jobs. However, research shows us that power development is highly plane-specific and that traditional sagittal plane power exercises (jumps, sprints, cleans, snatches, etc.) have limited transfer to throwing a baseball. We've seen plenty of pitchers with sub-20-inch verticals and 90-mile-per-hour fastballs to back this up. Research from Lehman et al. (2012) backed this up as well.

Rather, frontal and transverse plane movements like Heidens and med ball throws work better. So building a fast, crisp bench press might make a football player incredibly powerful, but it won’t transfer much to baseball.

Also, bench pressing is simply too slow to have much transfer. If you look at the force-velocity curve (also known as the strength-speed continuum), throwing a baseball is all the way at the velocity end. It’s a light load moved incredibly fast. Benching is on the other end: a heavy load moved slowly.

High-load, low-speed lifting might benefit some athletes who have spent their entire training career on the pure velocity end (i.e. the travel team athlete who plays all year and never lifts weights), but we can still “fill in” this gap with push-ups and dumbbell bench pressing. And while we can train our athletes to develop force quickly and move heavy weights with ballistic intent, it’s too far removed from baseball to have much of an impact, especially for athletes who are already pretty strong.

3. It’s Not Very Self-Limiting

In my experience as a lifter and coach, I’d wager that most of the poor decisions in the gym occur on or near the bench press. People are much more likely to overestimate their strength capabilities while benching than they are squatting, deadlifting or lunging. If health and performance are our two top priorities, we need to pick exercises that don’t unleash our athletes’ inner meathead.

An incorrectly performed bench press can put an athlete in some lousy positions. Elbows flared, body squirming with hundreds of pounds hovering over their throat; that’s the LAST place I want my athletes. Sure, any heavy exercise can be risky, but a missed rep on a push-up or landmine press has less potential for disaster. Even the dumbbell bench press requires a light enough load to get into the starting position, making it a more self-limiting choice.

If you coach multiple athletes at once, you won’t see every rep of every set. As hard as you might try, it’s impossible to see everything in a high school or college weight room. That said, picking exercises that are self-limiting while still effective makes for a safer training environment. For our athletes at CSP, that means more push-ups and landmine presses than barbell bench variations.

Conclusion

The exclusion of the bench press in our baseball programs goes beyond “it’s dangerous for your shoulders.” Even if coached and performed perfectly, our athletes won’t get as much transfer from it as they would from other pressing exercises.

If you DO bench press and use it with your athletes, you won’t want to miss our newest product: Cressey Sports Performance Innovations. It’s a collection of 11 webinars from the staff members at CSP with tons of great fitness and business content, including my presentation, “10 Things I’ve Learned About the Bench Press.”

CSP Innovations is on sale for $50 off until Sunday at midnight, so click here to grab your copy now!

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About the Author

Tony Bonvechio (@BonvecStrength) is a strength and conditioning coach at the Hudson, MA location of Cressey Sports Performance. More of his writing can be found on www.BonvecStrength.com.
 

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The Best of 2016: Strength and Conditioning Features

I really enjoying creating features with multiple installments because it really allows me to dig deep into a topic that interests both me and my readers. It’s like writing a short book, with each post being a different chapter. That said, here were a few of my favorite features from 2016 at EricCressey.com: 

1. Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training

I really enjoyed writing this series, as I can always build on current events. This year, I drew inspiration from everything from off-season baseball preparations, to the Olympics, to new books and DVDs I'd covered. There's an article for every month:    

Installment 15
Installment 16
Installment 17
Installment 18
Installment 19
Installment 20
Installment 21
Installment 22
Installment 23
Installment 24
Installment 25

2. Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective

This coaching series has appeal for fitness professionals, rehabilitation specialists, and exercise enthusiasts alike.

Installment 14
Bench Press Technique Edition

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3. Random Thoughts on Long-Term Fitness Industry Success 

While most of my writing folks on the training side of things, I do like to delve into the business side of fitness, too. These posts include various pieces of wisdom for those who make their living in the fitness industry.

Installment 1
Installment 2
Installment 3
Installment 4

The Best of 2016 series is almost complete, but stayed tuned for a few more highlights!

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Strength Strategies – Installment 3

I figured it'd be a good time to add another installment to this series, as today is the last day of the sale on Greg Robins and my resource, The Specialization Success Guide. Through midnight tonight (Sunday), you can save 40% by entering the coupon code ROBINS at checkout HERE.

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Here are six strategies to help you in your strength pursuits:

1. Be a beltless badass.

My wife has a very good deadlift for someone who's never competed in powerlifting; she's pulled close to 300 pounds, which is about 2.5 times her body weight. What's most impressive to me, though, is that even when she gets up to 95-100% of her best deadlift, her form never breaks down. This has a lot to do with consistent coaching early on, and the right pace to progressions over the ten years I've known her.

That said, I also think that it has a ton to do with never wearing a lifting belt. Seriously, she has never put on one. Likewise, I have athletes who have been with us for close to a decade who have never worn one, either. I'm a big believer:

[bctt tweet="Optimal long-term technique and strength success is built on a beltless foundation."]

Interesting, on this point, I reached out to Cressey Sports Performance coach Tony Bonvechio, who coaches our women's powerlifting team. He said that most of his novice lifters will gain about 20% on their squat and deadlifts by wearing a belt.

Conversely, Tony himself gets about 9%, and I'm slightly less than that (6-7%). I reached out to some very accomplished lifters, and after crunching the numbers between raw and belted PRs, none of them were over 10% difference.

To this end, I think a big training goal should be to reduce the "Belt Deficit." Training beltless is a great way to make sure that "ugly strength" doesn't outpace technique in beginning lifters, and it can also be a hugely helpful training initiative for more advanced lifters who may have become too reliant on this implement.

2. Don't be afraid to gain some weight.

Make no mistake about it; you can improve strength without gaining weight. It can, however, be like trying to demolish a 30-story building with an ice pick instead of dynamite. 

I've had some success as lightweight (165-181-pound class) lifter, but this can be misleading because there have been multiple times in my lifting career when I've pushed calories to make strength gains come faster. In the fall of 2003, for instance, I went from 158 up to 191, and then cut back to a leaner 165. In the summer of 2006, I got up to 202, then back down to the mid 180s. These weight jumps made me much more comfortable supporting heavy weights in the squat and bench press, as a little body weight goes a long way on these lifts.

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3. Learn to evaluate progress in different ways.

Traditionally, powerlifters have only cared about evaluating progress with the "Big 3" lifts. Unfortunately, those aren't going to improve in every single training session. To some degree, the Westside system of powerlifting works around this by rotating "Max Effort" exercises - but even with rotating exercises, it's still an approach that relies on testing maximal strength on a very regular basis. Occasionally, it'll lead to disappointments even over the course of very successful training cycles.

For this reason, we always encourage individuals to find different ways to monitor progress. Tracking bar speed can be great, whether you have technology to actually do it, or you're just subjectively rating how fast you're lifting. A lower rating of perceived exertion (RPE) at a given weight would also indicate progress.

Volume based measures are also useful. Hitting a few more reps with the same weight during your assistance work is invaluable; those reps add up over the course of a longer training cycle. Also, making a training session more dense (more work in the same or less amount of time) can yield great outcomes.

Looking for more strength strategies or - better yet - programs to take the guesswork out of things for you? Check out The Specialization Success Guide, a resource for those specifically focused on improving the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Through the end of the day today, you can enter the coupon code ROBINS to save 40% off the normal price.

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The “Power Couple” Sale

This weekend is going to be a fun one for the Cressey Sports Performance family, as long-time staff member Greg Robins marries his wonderful fiancée, Taryn. When you combine Greg's 685-pound deadlift with Taryn's 320-pound deadlift, you quickly realize that a 1,000-pound combined pull makes them the very definition of a "power couple."

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Greg was also my co-creator The Specialization Success Guide, so it seemed like a perfect week to have a Power Couple Sale (because weddings are all about cheesy hashtags and taglines). This 100% digital product is a great resource for those looking to specifically improve the squat, bench press, or deadlift. Just enter the coupon code ROBINS (all CAPS) to receive a 40% discount at checkout at the following link:


http://www.BuildingTheBig3.com

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This sale ends Sunday, October 16 at midnight. Again, that coupon code is ROBINS. Congratulations, Greg and Taryn!

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Optimizing the Big 3 – August 14, 2016

We're excited to announce that on August 14, 2016 Greg Robins will be delivering his one-day seminar, “Optimizing the Big 3″ alongside fellow Cressey Sport Performance Coach Tony Bonvechio. This event, which will take place at our Hudson, MA location, is a a great chance for strength and conditioning professionals to learn from the best. And, it's also been very popular with athletes who have an interest in improving the squat, bench press, and deadlift.

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“Optimizing the Big 3” is a one-day seminar for towards those looking to improve the squat, bench press, and deadlift.

Split into both a lecture and hands-on format, the event will provide attendees with practical coaching on the technique of the classic power lifts. Additionally, Greg and Tony will cover how to individualize movement preparation, utilize supplementary movements, and organize their training around a central focus: improved strength in these “big three” movements. Furthermore, they'll touch upon the lessons learned in preparation for your first few meets to help you navigate everything from equipment selection to meet-day logistics.

The value in learning from Greg is a matter of perspective. He has a wealth of knowledge, and has experience stemming from various experiences as a coach and lifter. Greg will effectively shed light on how he has applied movement principles, athletic performance modalities, and anecdotal evidence from working with a wide variety of different populations to optimize the technique, health, and improvements in strength of amateur lifters.

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Agenda

8:30-9:00AM: Check-in/Registration

9:00-11:00AM: Maximal Strength Training Theory – The main lecture of the day will be focused on the principles of how to assess where you (or your athletes) are in terms of training history and how that determines what kind of training loads should be used. Furthermore, this lecture will focus on principles of managing stressors and how to assign proper loading parameters for different level lifters. Last will be a discussion of the cornerstones of training vs. planning, as well as a look at the commonalities and differences of different training approaches.

11:00AM-12:00PM: Managing the Strength Athlete: Assessing and Meeting the Demands of the Lifter – Learn what demands a high amount of volume in the classic lifts puts on the body; how to assess for it in others and yourself; and what you can do to manage the stress associated with these demands.

12:00-12:30PM: Group Warm-up

12:30AM-1:15PM: Squat Hands-on Session

1:15-1:30PM: Squat Recap, Programming Considerations, and Video Review

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1:30-2:15PM: Lunch (on your own)

2:15-3:00PM: Bench Press Hands-on Session

3:00-3:15PM: Bench Press Recap, Programming Considerations, and Video Review

3:15-4:00PM: Deadlift Hands-on Session

4:00-4:15PM: Deadlift Recap, Programming Considerations, and Video Review

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4:15-5:00PM: Final Q&A

Date/Location:

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Cressey Sports Performance
577 Main St.
Suite 310
Hudson, MA 01749 

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Registration Fee:

$199.99

Click here to register using our 100% secure server!

Note: we’ll be capping the number of participants to ensure that there is a lot of presenter/attendee interaction – particularly during the hands-on workshop portion – so be sure to register early, as the previous offerings have both sold out well in advance of the early-bird registration deadline.

On the fence? Here is what previous attendees have to say...

"Greg Robins has constructed one of the most comprehensive seminars that I have ever attended. I’ve had the opportunity to not only attend The Big 3, but host it at my gym as well. I truly believe that every coach and/or individual who's interested in mastering the squat, bench, and deadlift absolutely must attend this workshop. Greg is loaded with knowledge and learning directly from him has greatly impacted my ability to coach my clients and athletes."
-Chris Semick 
Co-Owner, War Horse Barbell - Philadelphia, PA

"Attending the Big 3 Workshop with Greg Robins and Tony Bonvechio was the best thing to happen to my barbell training. After taking close to 20+ years off from working with a barbell I decided to attend the Big 3 workshop to receive excellent coaching and guidance in training. In my experience as a healthcare provider (ATC) a strength coach and a kettlebell instructor this course has helped myself and my clients significantly. I was able to relate all the movements to rehabilitation, strength training and kettlebell training I perform with clients and this helps me to give them a better transition back to sport and training. I would happily attend this workshop again to continue to learn and dial in the Big 3 movements. Just one day with these two professionals is not enough time to soak in all the knowledge!"

-Eric Gahan
Co-Owner, Iron Body Studios

"Greg Robins is the epitome of high integrity, an unparalleled work ethic, and a true passion and dedication toward making those around him better. His Optimizing The Big 3 Workshop is no different. After attending this workshop while also being a personal client of Greg's, I've increased numbers in all 3 lifts, and improved my overall strength by leaps and bounds in the process. Greg is the real deal. Don't hesitate - just go."

-Matt Ibrahim
Owner, Movement Resilience

And some video proof...

Click here to register!

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training: Installment 10

It's time for the May installment of this popular strength and conditioning series.

1. Train OUTSIDE.

One of the things I've noticed over the years - both with sprinting and long tossing - is that athletes seem to "hold back" when they're indoors. They won't run at top speed when there are only 40-50 yards of turf ahead of them because they're already worrying about decelerating before they even really get moving. And, with throwing, there just seems to be more inhibition when an athlete is throwing into a net - as opposed to throwing to a partner who is pretty far away. Maybe it's the quantifiable feedback of actual distance, or maybe it's just less restriction - but the effort is always better.

To that end, it's mid-May and the weather is getting really nice around the country. Now is a perfect chance to get out and sprint in the grass or at the local track. Don't miss this chance, as it'll be snowing again before you know it!

2. When selecting exercises, prioritize upside over avoiding downside.

This will be the "glass is half full/empty" point of the day - and I'll use an example to illustrate it.

Let's take the question of whether or not to prescribe bench presses for baseball players. I, personally, don't prescribe them for this population, but there are still a lot of strength and conditioning coaches out there who do.

Their argument is that they aren't as big a problem as has been proposed. In other words, they're protecting against the downside.

My mindset, by contrast, is to highlight the lack of an upside. In a population where shoulder and elbow issues are astronomically high, does this exercise provide substantial benefit such that it deserves a place in our programs? Does it deliver a better training effect than a push-up variation or landmine press, for instance?

In other words, it's not just a discussion of "good vs. bad;" it's a discussion of "optimal vs. acceptable." Even if some players can "get away with" bench pressing, are we really doing right by these players if our approach to training is to simply try to justify that our exercise selection isn't doing harm?

3. Use fillers to break up power training sets.

Optimal training for power mandates that athletes take ample time between sets to recharge. Unfortunately, a lot of athletes have a tendency to rush through power work because it doesn't create the same kind of acute fatigue that you'd get from a set of higher-rep, loaded work. In other words, you'll want to rest more after a set of five squats than you would after a set of five heidens, even if you were attempting to put maximal force into the ground on each rep with both.

To that end, one thing I commonly do is pair power training exercises with low-key corrective drills. We call these drills "fillers," but that's not to say that they aren't very important. We might pair a rotational medicine ball training drill with a wall slide variation. This helps us get more quality work in with each session, but just as importantly, slows the athletes down to make sure they get the most out of their power training exercises.

4. Coach standing posture.

Static posture assessments are boring; I get it. However, they can still be incredibly telling. Here's an example...

Last weekend, during a two-day seminar I was giving, a trainer approached me and asked about his chronic bilateral knee issues. He described his soft tissue initiatives, mobility work, and strength training modifications in great detail; it was clear he'd put a lot of thought into the issue and was clearly frustrated, especially having been through physical therapy a few times without success. When he was done describing everything, I looked down at his lower body and asked, "Do you stand like that all day?"

He was just "hanging out" in a bunch of knee hyperextension. A follow-up toe touch screen looked pretty similar to this:

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The toe touch is obviously a movement fault, but he was in a bad starting position before the movement even started. If you stand in knee hyperextension all day - especially if you're a personal trainer on hard, unforgiving surfaces all day - your knees will hurt. It doesn't matter how much you foam roll or modify your strength program. You have to learn to stand correctly before you learn to move correctly.

With that said, apply this to your athletes. How many of them do this during down-time in practice or games? And, next time you watch a Major League Baseball game, watch how many position players just "hang out" like this between pitches - and wonder why we see more hip and back pain on the right side.

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Sometimes, the easiest solutions aren't the most obvious - even when they really are obvious if you know where to start looking!

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 62

This installment of quick tips comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Tony Bonvechio. Enjoy! -EC

1. Avoid over-tucking your elbows when performing the bench press.

It’s widely accepted that to bench press more weight and protect your shoulders, you should tuck yours elbows tightly to yours sides and touch the bar low on the chest. This may reduce the range of motion you have to press, but unless you’re a 300-pound powerlifter with a huge belly, your elbows may still drift too far past the midline of the body if you tuck too much. This can add unwanted stress on the shoulders and make the front of the shoulder cranky over time.

It’s similar to tucking the elbows too tight to the body during rowing variations - it makes it easy to let shoulder slip into too much extension. That’s why we coach athletes to row with a bit more space between the armpit and the elbow. You limit anterior humeral (upper arm) glide while still getting full scapular (shoulder blade) retraction.

Instead, keep the elbows about 45 degrees away from the body and touch the bar somewhere around the nipple line. This also reduces the moment arm between the shoulders and the bar, limiting the horizontal distance the bar needs to travel and making it easier to keep your elbows under the bar for a smooth lockout.

2. Optimize your leg drive to make the bench press more shoulder-friendly.

On that note, using proper leg drive can spare the shoulders by accelerating the bar though the portion of the lift where the shoulders are under the most stress. The less time you spend grinding the bar through the first few inches off the chest, the better.

Optimal leg drive technique differs from lifter to lifter, but foot placement dictates leg drive technique. Lifters with shorter legs tend to thrive with the feet hooked tightly under the bench and the heels off the ground, while longer-legged lifters do better with the feet out wide and heels flat.

Either way, if you plan on competing in powerlifting, you have to abide by your federation’s rules, which may require you to keep your heels on the ground. Here are some tips for choosing the right foot position:

3. Try dark roast coffee to reduce caffeine jitters.

At first I didn’t believe it when Greg Robins told me this, but it’s actually true: dark roast coffee has less caffeine that light roast coffee. And while the difference in actual caffeine content by volume may be small, dark roast coffee is harder to drink in mass quantities than light roast, so a bolder cup may reduce overall caffeine consumption if it gets you to drink less coffee overall. If your morning joe gives you jitters, consider switching to a darker roast.

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4. Slow down the concentric phase of isolation exercises.

As performance coaches, we constantly trying to help our athletes become more powerful. That means we’re often coaching them to perform the concentric portion of most exercises explosively to enhance rate of force development. But when it comes to small muscle groups that often get “overshadowed” when performing single-joint exercises, sometimes we have to slow down.

Specifically at CSP, getting athletes to “feel” their rotator cuff or lower traps during arm care exercises can be challenging, especially if they rush through the concentric phase. Slowing down the tempo of all phases of the exercise usually cleans things up by keeping athletes in a better position and reducing contribution of unwanted synergists. For example, taking 3-5 seconds to externally rotate the humerus during cuff work can prevent the deltoid or lat from taking over.


5. When setting up for the front squat, exhale first.

I stole this trick from Miguel Aragoncillo and it works wonders for athletes whose elbows drop during front squats. Take your grip on the bar and before you unrack it, give a good hard exhale to get your ribs down. Then, inhale into your belly and back, drive your elbows up and unrack the bar.

While “elbows up” is a great cue for front squats, it won’t work if the athlete doesn’t set his or her ribcage in a solid position during the setup. Exhaling first gives you a better zone of apposition, allowing for a fuller breath and creating greater intra-abdominal pressure to keep you upright. Like Miguel told me, “Front squats are just abs and legs, dude.”

For a detailed write-up on the front squat, be sure to check out Eric's thorough post on the topic, How to Front Squat: Everything You Need to Know.

About the Author

Tony Bonvechio (@BonvecStrength) is a strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA. A former college baseball player turned powerlifter, he earned his Master’s degree in Exercise Science from Adelphi University. You can read more from Tony at www.BonvecStrength.com.

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Coaching the Close-Grip Bench Press

It goes without saying that the bench press is one of the "Big 3" lifts for a reason: it offers a lot of bang for your upper body training buck. That said, the close-grip bench press is an awesome variation, as it can be more shoulder-friendly and offer slightly different training benefits. Unfortunately, a lot of lifters struggle to perfect close-grip bench press technique, so I thought I'd "reincarnate" this video I originally had featured on Elite Training Mentorship. Enjoy!

If you're looking for a more detailed bench press tutorial - and a comprehensive bench press specialization program - I'd encourage you to check out Greg Robins and my new resource, The Specialization Success Guide.

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Have a great weekend!

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5 Deadlift Technique and Programming Lessons

Yesterday, I deadlifted 600 for three reps for the first time.  This is a number I've been after for quite some time.

After the lift, I got to thinking about some good lessons I could "teach" in light of this milestone for me. Here are five quick Saturday morning thoughts:

1. Personal records sometimes happen when you don't expect them.

I honestly didn't feel particularly great when I started the training session yesterday. In fact, if you'd asked me prior to the lift if I was going to be setting a PR in the gym that day, I would have said, "Absolutely not." However, a thorough warm-up and a few extra sets of speed deadlifts on the "work-up" did the trick.  Make sure to never truly evaluate where you stand until you've actually done your warm-up.

2. It's really important to take the slack out of the bar.

If you watch the video above, you'll notice that I pull the bar "taut" before I ever really start the actual lift. Every bar has a bit of slack in it, and you want to get rid of it early on. Check out this video on the subject:

You can actually get a feel for just how much slack there is in the bar if you observe how much it bends at the top under heavy weights. This doesn't happen to the same degree with "regular" barbells.

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3. Don't expect to accomplish a whole lot in the training session after a lifetime PR on a deadlift.

Not surprisingly, heavy deadlifting wipes me out. Interestingly, though, it wipes me out a lot more than heavy squatting. From a programming standpoint, I can squat as heavy as I want - and then get quality work in over the course of the session after that initial lift. When the "A1" is a deadlift, though, it's usually some lighter, high-rep assistance work - because I mostly just want to go home and take a nap after pulling any appreciable amount of weight!

4. Percentage-based training really does have its place.

For a long time, I never really did a lot of percentage-based training for my heavier work. On my heavy days, it was always work up, see how I felt, and then make sure to get some quality work in over 90% of my 1RM. As long as I was straining, I was happy. Then, I got older and life got busier - which meant I stopped bouncing back from these sessions as easily. Percentage-based training suddenly seemed a lot more appealing.

I credit Greg Robins, my co-author on The Specialization Success Guide, with getting me on board the percentage-based training bandwagon. He was smarter than me, and didn't wait to get old to start applying this approach when appropriate.

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5. You've got to put force in the ground.

This is a cue I've discussed at length in the past, but the truth is that I accidentally got away from it for a while myself.  Rather than thinking about driving my heels through the floor to get good leg drive, it was almost as if I was trying to "just lift the bar." It left me up on my toes more than I wanted, and my hamstrings got really cranky. 

I took a month to back down on the weights and hammer home the heels through the floor cue with speed work in the 50-80% range, and it made a big difference. I've got almost 15 years of heavy deadlifting under my belt, and even I get away from the technique that I know has gotten me to where I am. Technical improvement is always an ongoing process.

Looking for even more coaching cues for your deadlift technique? Definitely check out The Specialization Success Guide. In addition to including comprehensive programs for the squat, bench press, and deadlift, it also comes with detailed video tutorials on all three of these "Big 3" lifts. And, it's on sale at the introductory $30 off price until tonight at midnight. Check it out HERE.

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My Top 5 Powerlifting Mistakes

With this week's 40% off sale (use coupon code ROBINS) on Greg Robins and my resource, The Specialization Success Guide, I got to thinking about some of my biggest mistakes with respect to developing the Big 3 (squat, bench press, and deadlift). Here are the top five mistakes I made in my powerlifting career:

1. Going to powerlifting equipment too soon (or at all).

Let me preface this point by saying that I have a tremendous amount of respect for all powerlifters, including those who lift in powerlifting equipment like bench shirts and squat/deadlift suits. Honestly, they just weren't for me.

I first got into a bench shirt when I was 160 pounds, and my best raw bench press was about 240-250 pounds. I was deadlifting in the high 400s, and squatting in the mid 300s. In hindsight, it was much too soon; I simply needed to develop more raw strength. My squat and bench press went up thanks to the suit and shirt, respectively, but just about everything I unracked felt insanely heavy. I just don't think I had enough training experience under my belt without any supportive equipment to feel truly stable under big weights. It's funny, though; my heaviest deadlifts never felt like this, as it was the "rawest" of any of the big 3 lifts for me.

There's more, though. Suits and shirts were just an annoying distraction for me. I absolutely hated the time and nuisance of having to put them on in the middle of a lift; training sessions easily dragged on to be three hours, when efficiency was something I'd always loved about my training. Perhaps more significantly, getting proficient with equipment took a lot of time and practice, and the more I was in it, the less athletic I felt. I spent too much time box squatting and not enough free squatting, and felt like I never developed good bottom-end bench press strength because the shirt did so much of the work for me.

At the end of my equipped powerlifting career, I had squatted 540, bench pressed 402, deadlifted 650, and totaled 1532 in the 165-pound weight class. Good numbers - enough to put me in the Powerlifting USA Top 100 for a few years in a row - but not quite "Elite." I tentatively "retired" from competitive powerlifting in December of 2007 when Cressey Sports Performance grew rapidly, but kept training - this time to be athletic and have fun.

For the heck of it, in the fall of 2012, I decided to stage a "raw" mock meet one morning at the facility. At a body weight of 180, I squatted 455, bench pressed 350, and deadlifted 630 for a 1435 total. In other words, I totaled "Elite" by 39 pounds...and did the entire thing in 90 minutes.

Looking back, I think I could have been a much more accomplished competitive lifter - and saved money and enjoyed the process a lot more along the way - if I'd just stuck with raw lifting. Again, I don't fault others for using bench shirts and squat/deadlift suits, but they just weren't for me.  I would just say that if you do decide to go the equipped route, you should be prepared to spend a lot more time in your equipment than I did, as my dislike of it (and lack of time spent in it) was the reason that I never really got proficient enough to thrive with it in meets.

2. Not understanding that fatigue masks fitness.

Kelly Baggett was the first person I saw post the quote, "Fatigue masks fitness." I thought I understand what it meant, but it wasn't until my first powerlifting meet that I experienced what it meant.

Thanks to a powerlifting buddy's urging, I went out of my way to take the biggest deload in my training career prior to my first meet. The end result? I pulled 510 on my last deadlift attempt - after never having pulled more than 480 in the gym.

You're probably stronger than you realize you are. You've just never given your body enough of a rest to actually demonstrate that strength.

3. Not getting around strong people sooner.

I've been fortunate to lift as part of some great training crews, from the varsity weight room at UCONN during my grad degree, to Southside Gym in Connecticut for a year, to Cressey Sports Performance for the past seven years.

When I compare these training environments to the ones I had in my early days - or even what I experience when I have to get a lift in on the road at a commercial gym - I can't help but laugh. Training around the right people in the right atmosphere makes a huge difference.

To that end, beyond just finding the right program, I always encourage up-and-coming lifters to seek out strong people for training partners, even if it means traveling a bit further to a different gym. Success happens at the edge of your comfort zone, and sometimes that means a longer commute and being the weakest guy in a room.

4. Spending too much time in the "middle zone" of cardio.

A lot of powerlifters will tell you that "cardio sucks." I happen to think it's a bit more complex than that.

Doing some quality work at a very low intensity (for me, this is below 70% of max heart rate) a few times a week can offer some very favorable aerobic adaptations that optimize recovery. Sorry, but it's not going to interfere with your gains if you walk on the treadmill a few times a week.

Additionally, I think working in some sprint work with near-full recovery can be really advantageous for folks who are trying to get stronger, as it trains the absolute speed end of the continuum.

As I look back on the periods in my training career when I've made the best progress, they've always included regular low-intensity aerobic work - as well as the occasion (1x/week) sprint session. When did cardio do absolutely nothing except set me back? When I spent a lot of time in the middle zone of 70-90% of max heart rate; it's no man's land! The take-home lesson is that if you want to be strong and powerful, make your low-intensity work "lower" and your high-intensity work "higher."

As an aside, this is where I think most baseball conditioning programs fail miserably; running poles falls right in this middle zone.

5. Thinking speed work had to be "all or nothing."

"Speed work" is one of the more hotly debated topics in the powerlifting world. I, personally, have always really thrived when I included it in my program. If you want to understand what it is and the "why" behind it, you can check out this article I wrote: 5 Reasons to Use Speed Deadlifts in Your Strength Training Programs.

A lot of people say that it's a waste of time for lifters who don't have an "advanced" level of strength, and that beginners would be better off getting in more rep work. As a beginner, I listened to this advice, and did lots of sets of 5-8 and never really focused on bar speed with lower reps.  The end result? I was slower than death out of the hole on squats, off the chest on bench presses, and off the floor with deadlifts. And, it doesn't take much strength training knowledge to know that if you don't lift a weight fast, your chances of completing that lift aren't particularly good.

To the folks who "poo-poo" speed work, I'd just ask this: do you really think focusing on accelerating the bar is a bad thing?

Here's a wild idea, using bench presses as an example. If a lifter has a heavier bench press day and a more volume/repetition oriented day each week, what would happen if he did an extra 3-4 sets of three reps at 45-70% of 1-rep max load during his warm-up? Would that be a complete waste of time? Absolutely not! In fact, the casual observer would never even notice that it was happening.

The point is that speed work is easy to incorporate and really not that draining. You can still do it and get a ton of other quality work in, so there is really no reason to omit it. Having great bar speed will never hurt your cause, but not training it certainly can.

Looking to avoid these mistakes and many more - all while taking the guesswork out of your squat, bench press, and deadlift training? Check out The Specialization Success GuideThis comprehensive product to bring up the "Big 3" is on sale for 40% off introductory price this week only; just use the coupon code ROBINS at checkout.  You can learn more HERE.

SSG

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