Home Posts tagged "Powerlifting"

Stop Thinking About “Normal” Thoracic Spine Mobility

Two years ago, I published a post, Tinkering vs. Overhauling - and the Problems with Average, where I discussed the pitfalls of focusing on population averages, especially in the world of health and human performance. I'd encourage you to give it a read, but the gist is that you have to be careful about overhauling a program because you see someone as being outside a "norm" that might have been established for an entire population when they are unique in so many ways.

Thoracic spine mobility is an excellent example. What would be considered acceptable for an 80-year-old man would be markedly different than what we'd want from a 17-year-old teenage athlete in a rotational sport. This athlete, for instance, had some marked negative postural adaptations that contributed to two shoulder surgeries during his time as a baseball pitcher. If he was far older with different physical demands, though, he might have never run into problems.

Lumbar locked rotation is a great thoracic spine rotation screen I learned from Dr. Greg Rose at the Titleist Performance Institute. Briefly, you put the lumbar spine in flexion (which makes lumbar rotation hard to come by) and the hand behind the back (to minimize scapular movement). This allows you to better evaluate thoracic rotation without compensatory motion elsewhere. Check out the high variability among three athletes who are all roughly the same age:

On the left, we have a professional baseball pitcher. In the middle, we have an aspiring professional golfer. And, on the right, we have a powerlifter who's moved well over 600 pounds on both the squat and deadlift. Adaptation to imposed demand is an incredibly important part of this discussion of "normal." The hypertrophy (muscle bulk) that benefits the powerlifter could possibly make the baseball pitcher and golfer worse, but at the same time, I wouldn't necessarily say that the powerlifter is "lacking" in thoracic rotation because you don't need a whole lot of movement in this area for a successful, sustainable powerlifting career.

I should also note that these are all active measures. If we checked all three of these guys passively, we'd likely see there's even more thoracic rotation present than you can see here. And, that can open up another can of worms, as having a big difference between active and passive range of motion can be problematic, too.

The take-home message is that if you're going to call someone's movement quality "abnormal," you better have a clear designation of what "normal" is for their age and sport, as well as what's required for their athletic demands.

For more information on how we assess and train thoracic mobility, I'd encourage you to check out my new resource, Sturdy Shoulder Solutions.

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Why You Shouldn’t Look Up When You Lift

To tuck the chin or not? It's one of the most debated topics in the world of strength and conditioning and sports medicine these days. If you've read any of my stuff (including the detailed presentation, "Nuances of the Neck," in my new resource, Sturdy Shoulder Solutions), you'll know that I prefer tucking it - the so-called "packed neck position" - to preserve a more neutral cervical spine positioning, whether it's on deadlifts, squats, or push-ups.

One of the most common arguments against this packed neck position is that Powerlifter X and Olympic Lifter Y look up during lifts, and they're really strong. I'd encourage you to consider that:

1. Most of your clients/athletes have no interest in being Powerlifter X or Olympic Lifter Y. They just want to be fit, healthy, proficient in their sport. They value quality of life over weight room PRs - so movement quality takes place over absolute loading.

2. Good outcomes don't necessarily equate to good movements, so it's difficult to always draw population-wide conclusions from elite athletes. As an example, Cressey Sports Performance athlete and Cubs pitcher Steve Cishek is an accomplished MLB pitcher, yet he has some "high maintenance" pitching mechanics that you would never teach to another up-and-coming pitcher. He's just found a way to make them work, even if they do put his body in some funky positions. 

 

Slooooooow moooooo Cisshhheekkk. #cspfamily #cubs

A post shared by Eric Cressey (@ericcressey) on

Just because someone is strong doesn't mean that they're getting to those big numbers via the most efficient or healthy avenues.

3. We have no idea what Powerlifter X or Olympic Lifter Y's necks will look (or feel) like in their 60s.

4. Especially under load, it's never a great idea to take one joint close to its end-range at the expense of motion at other joints. A common example is getting too much low back movement when the hips are stiff. Well, when it comes to cervical extension, most people get far too much in the upper cervical region and far too little in the lower cervical spine. So, not all "look ups" are coming from the same place - and some will certainly create more pathology than others.

5. When you go into upper cervical/head extension, you're shortening levator scapulae, which is a downward rotator of the scapula.

If you're looking to set up an overhead squat or snatch, it's probably not a great idea to encourage downward rotation of the scapula when you need upward rotation for quality overhead motion. Here's a video that delves into this a bit further:

6. You're also shortening sternocleidomastoid, which is one of the biggest muscular contributors to chronic headaches.

So do yourself a favor and just tuck your chin a bit. And, if you'd like to learn more about the functional anatomy and unique challenges we face with the neck, be sure to check out Sturdy Shoulder Solutions.

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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training – Installment 30

I haven't written up a new installment in this series since last June, so it seemed like a good time to do so. With the professional baseball season underway, I've got plenty of stuff rattling around my brain.

1. The MFR Stick is an absolute game changer.

In the past, we used "The Stick" for self-myofascial-release of the forearms, triceps, and biceps.

It works pretty well, but we've broken a number of them over the years when certain meatheads got a bit overzealous with their soft tissue approaches, and it exploded. Additionally, guys always seem to want to take dry swings with it, and the beads would invariably come flying off and wind up all over the facility.

Luckily, Perform Better came through in the clutch this offseason with the release of the MFR Stick.

Athletes have raved about how much better it is, from the greater feedback provided by the steel, to the reduced "give." And, it's far more durable. This is a must-have for any gym, in my opinion. Pick one up here.

2. Not surprisingly, music selection matters - but with a few key considerations.

It's hard to overlook the beneficial effects of music on exercise performance, whether considering your own anecdotal experience, watching Michael Phelps throw on his headphones before a big race, or actually reading the research. If you actually dig a little deeper, a few important "asterisks" emerge:

a. The benefits tend to be more significant in shorter, more anaerobic tasks, as opposed to lengthier aerobic endeavors (study).

b. Music is more impactful if it is self-selected (study).

c. Males tend to be more impacted by musical selection than females are (study).

d. Motivational music can lead to greater risk taking (study).

The take-home messages are that:

a) if you're a male powerlifter looking to make some really aggressive lifting decisions, you should select your music accordingly.

b) if you're a female cardio enthusiast going out for a leisurely jog, why are you reading this blog? music probably doesn't matter all that much.

c) everyone will continue to disagree over the musical selection at every gym for the rest of time.

3. The most successful coaches and rehabilitation specialists I know understand how to find the commonalities across various disciplines.

The Postural Restoration Institute and Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization approaches both utilize flexion-bias movements to restore normal function.

Both Muscle Activation Techniques and the Selective Functional Movement Assessment emphasize the importance of differentiating between passive and active range-of-motion, and understanding how to enhance motor control in the “gap” between the two.

Various pitching coaches may disagree on the utility of weighted balls or extreme long toss, but everyone agrees on the importance of quality catch-play.

My point here is that the best professionals have good filters to not only weed out the garbage, but to identify the best components of every discipline they encounter. And, they have the foresight to make sure that they don’t get married to a single school of thought, as doing so prevents you from identifying these important unifying themes.

Have a great week!

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The Issue With Most Powerlifting-Specific Programs

Today's guest post comes from former Cressey Sports Performance intern, Jamie Smith.

All athletes are humans that express biomotor qualities in their sport of choice. Think strength, power, speed, agility, endurance, balance and flexibility. Their ability to express these biomotor qualities – combined with their actual task-specific skills – is what makes them the athletes they are. However, before people are athletes, they are humans: humans expressing these physical qualities; humans that require strength, conditioning, and movement variability to consistently and successfully perform their sport. When a human hires a strength and conditioning coach, it is assumed that the strength coach will oversee the human’s program, guide the human, and keep the human safe throughout their “career” as they progress and get better at expressing their physical qualities in their sport of choice.

For example, when a young baseball player hires a baseball specific strength and conditioning coach, the devised program will encompass aspects of core stabilization drills to strengthen the core for the sport’s rotational demands. The program has lower and upper body strength work to increase the potential power output for throwing and hitting. There are PREhabilitaiton exercises (such as rotator cuff strengthening drills) to support throwing loads. The program reflects the demands of the sport and includes exercises to prevent “baseball specific injuries.”

Powerlifting appears to be in a grey area of strength and conditioning, though. Powerlifting is a very specific sport that really only requires one biomotor quality: strength. Secondary to this, the sport is completed entirely inside the gym, so a lot of powerlifting coaches only look at the gym as the sport itself, strength training, rather than seeing the gym as a potential avenue to prevent “powerlifting specific injuries.” On the other hand, a strength coach from any other sport will look at the gym as a place for the athlete to improve their athletes’ physical qualities AND prevent injuries.

This is where a majority of powerlifting programs miss the mark in terms of “sports performance.” If you have followed Eric Cressey’s blog for any number of years, you would have read a vast number of articles referencing the issues that arise for athletes when their training and sport is purely "extension based.” From head-to-toe, the list of body dysfunctions that arise from training and “sports performance” that drive purely extension based movements is almost endless.

When we break down the powerlifting programs more generally that place sole focus on the big three and their variations, we begin to see how this extension focused training becomes an issue.

The squat drives extension through the thoracic spine and – for those who don’t understand correct bracing strategies – quite often the lumbar spine, too. Lat tension is achieved by pulling on the bar, helping create trunk stability. And, activation of every extension based muscle is needed to stand up with the weight every single rep.

The bench press requires global spinal extension in order to create an arch, reduce range of motion and stabilize the scapula. Lat activation is necessary to support and stabilize the thoracic spine and scapula further. Retraction and depression of the scapula aids in glenohumeral stability.

The deadlift, obviously, demands extension of the entire system with significant loads.

Powerlifting is an extension-based sport, and when you couple it with the extreme loads that the body is under, a lot of the same extension-based issues from other sports begin to arise.

So what can be done to improve powerlifting programs in order to reduce the risk of injury? Try these six strategies.

1. Restore some flexion back into the system.

For us at Melbourne Strength Culture, the PRI Breathing Drill - 90/90 Hip Lift - is our first port of call. This allows the body to regain some much needed flexion through the hips and thoracic spine. This also couples as a great teaching and motor control drill to improve intra-abdominal pressure. Do this DAILY!

2. Increase anterior core strength and endurance.

Planks, dead bugs, ab wheel roll-outs and all their variations are a great place to start. Do these DAILY!

3. Incorporating ‘reaching’ drills in your warm ups.

Back to wall shoulder flexion, forearm wall slides, foam roller wall slides. Get some much need protraction, upward rotation, thoracic flexion, serratus anterior and lower trap activation to improve your scapular stability. Do these DAILY!

4. Utilize loaded reaching exercises.

Incorporate loaded push-ups, landmine press variations, and overhead pressing variations - both unilateral and bilateral – to get the scapula moving.

5. Drive some thoracic rotation by incorporating unilateral rowing exercises.

Half-kneeling 1-arm cable rows with reaches are tremendously effective. The spine, the rib cage and scapula function better synergistically when movement variability is included in a program. Restore some flexion and rotation capacity in the thoracic spine and allow the scapula to have a convex interface to support it.

A strength and conditioning program should highlight and strengthen the biomotor skills needed to excel in the sport AND prevent the injuries that arise from overexposure to the stressors of a given sport, so why is powerlifting any different?

About the Author

 Jamie Smith is owner and head coach at Melbourne Strength Culture. You can find Jamie on Instagram and YouTube.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 6/19/17

I hope you all had a great Father's Day! It was my third one as a Dad, and I was fortunate to get in some reading and viewing during nap time so that I had material for this week's recommended resources! Check them out:

ASMI Injuries in Baseball Course - Mike Reinold just made this great course available online, and it's an absolute steal compared to what you would have to pay to travel and attend it. There's some excellent information from some of the top baseball sports medicine professionals in the world, so I'd call it "must watch" for anyone who trains or treats baseball players. It's on sale for $100 off through this weekend.  

Why are there so many MLB hamstrings injuries? - Lindsay Berra of MLB.com tackled this big injury topic with some help from Cressey Sports Performance - Florida's co-founder, Shane Rye.

4 Ways to Build Confidence for Powerlifting - I loved this article from Tony Bonvechio, who works with the women's powerlifting team at CSP. So few people pay attention to the mental side of lifting success, but this article delves into it nicely. I'll add another recommendation to go with it: Rookie Reminders is an interview withs several successful powerlifters on all the things to remember before your first meet. Picking the brains of those who've competed before you is one more way to build confidence in this regard. 

Top Tweet of the Week (three-parter) -

Top Instagram Post of the Week -

 

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The Dose-Response Relationship and Strength and Conditioning Progress

Like most competitive powerlifters, when I want to lift some really heavy weight, I bench press with a good sized arch in my lower back.  It shortens the range of motion, allowing me to press more weight. This positioning actually makes my shoulders feel better, but it's surely not "healthy" to take my spine into these more extreme ranges of motion while lifting a bunch of weight.

You know what else? I probably spend a grand total of 30-45 seconds per week in this potentially injurious position. The dose is incredibly low, so the response just has never been there (and I'm going on 14 years of doing it). I'm sure my likelihood of staying healthy is a bit higher because:

a) the rest of my training features a ton of variety
b) I don't arch to this extreme on every bench press rep
c) I’m able to reverse that lordotic curve just fine (I'm not locked in that position)

If a kid has a bowl of ice cream as a treat once a week, it’s no big deal. If he has it for every meal, that’s a problem. But what if he has only one bite of ice cream at each meal? Over the long haul, it probably isn't a huge deal. And what if the ice cream is watered down? Or plain vanilla instead of cookie dough? "Dose" is a function of a number of factors - and while you can "give" on one or two, it's hard to "give" on all of them and not wind up with an overweight kid.

There are countless parallels to this in strength and conditioning. Some exercises may be a bit more dangerous than others.

On the exercise selection front, back squatting and conventional deadlifts probably should be used sparingly (if at all) if you've got chronic low back pain.

In terms of training technique, everyone should try to avoid deadlifting with a rounded lower back, but many lifters "get away with it" because they exposure to this dangerous pattern is so limited.

A high-volume training program can be an amazing stimulus to kickstart new gains, but used to excess, it can be a problem.

Frequency wise, if you go high volume seven days per week, you'll break down, too.

From an intensity standpoint, testing your one-rep-max in every training session would be a great way to destroy your joints and make sure that you actually get weaker.

The point is that many different factors influence the "dose" of training you impose on your system, and that dose yields a very specific response. Understanding this complex relationship of programming variables and training techniques is paramount for yielding successful training outcomes.

However, this discussion should also bring you to an important realization: you usually can't comment on someone else's training program or technique unless you have knowledge of all these variables and their training history. Each situation is completely unique, so we should all resist the urge to be Monday Morning Quarterbacks. Seek to understand the processes at work instead of just judging the outcomes.

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Optimizing the Big 3: August 20, 2017

We're excited to announce that on August 20, 2017 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 20, 2017

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

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Registration Fee:

$149.99 early bird (through July 20), $199.99 regular (after July 20)

SOLD OUT!

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...

SOLD OUT!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 2/15/17

It's been an exciting and busy week, thanks to the launch of the new Minimus 20v6 Cressey Trainer coinciding with the last week of the Major League Baseball off-season.

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I'm happy to report that the shoes have sold really well - to the point that we're already sold out in several sizes. With that in mind, there are still some options for you to get them:

1. If you're looking for international shipping, Eastbay.com is your best bet. They should be making the shoe available on their site either today (Wednesday) or tomorrow.

2. If you're in the U.S. and your size is already sold out HERE at New Balance's website, Eastbay.com is also your best bet.

3. If you're in Canada and your size is already sold out HERE at New Balance's Canadian site, you can try SportChek.ca or Eastbay.com.

Now that all that is out of the way, let's get to this week's content!

Meet the First Performance Coach to Get His Own Signature Training Shoe - This article at Stack.com takes a look at the design process behind the new Minimus 20v6 Cressey Training sneaker.

As Spring Training Begins, Pitchers Enter Tommy John Danger Zone - Along with Alan Jaeger and Mike Reinold, I was interviewed for this USA Today article on the spike in injuries seen during spring training each year. 

Power Development for Powerlifters - This is an excellent post from Cressey Sports Performance coach Tony Bonvechio. I wish I'd had it back in the early 2000s to help my bar speed along, as it took me a few years to figure out that getting faster was a key to getting stronger for me.

Top Tweet of the Week

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5 Spine-Sparing Strength and Conditioning Program Strategies

In his book, Back Mechanic, Dr. Stuart McGill frequently uses the term "spine hygiene" to describe how individuals position themselves during various everyday and athletic tasks to manage their back pain. Most of the strategies speak to the positional side of things, but I thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at some strength and conditioning program strategies you can employ to keep the spine healthy over the long haul. 

1. Don’t pick up heavy dumbbells.

The stronger you get, the bigger a pain it is to pick up and position dumbbells, whether it's for rows, presses, or single-leg work. Things are even harder when the heaviest dumbbells are positioned on the lowest tiers of the dumbbell rack. We've been brainwashed for years that dumbbells are more spine-friendly than barbells, but this simply isn't always true. Being able to unrack a weight from chest height and not having to swing it into position can be invaluable once you're developed an appreciable level of strength. I'm not saying not to use heavy dumbbells, but rather to be very careful with this approach if you're someone who has dealt with low back pain.

2. Cycle in heavy bilateral loading.

Make no mistake about it: a barbell will allow you to move the most weight in your program on the overwhelming majority of exercises. Unfortunately, this also means that the compressive and shear forces on your spine will generally be highest with barbell exercises. That doesn't mean that you need to eliminate them, but rather that you need to cycle them out periodically to give you a little break. At the peak of my powerlifting career, I'd always stay away from squats, deadlifts, and good mornings for the first 10-14 days after a meet. It was all lower intensity work, anyway, so plenty of single-leg work and glute-ham raises was a perfect fit.

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3. If you are going to do both in the same session, squat before you deadlift.

There are many theories as to why deadlifting is so much more exhausting both systemically and locally, but regardless of the one to which you subscribe, you'll surely recognize that heavy pulling before squatting is a recipe for a cranky back. After all, there is a reason you always squat first and deadlift last in every powerlifting. A few of my favorite approaches in terms of sequencing are:

a. Squat heavy, deadlift for reps
b. Squat heavy, deadlift for speed
c. Squat for speed, deadlift heavy
d. Squat for speed, deadlift for reps

Occasionally, you can dabble in some speed deadlifts before you squat, but once you've reached a solid level of strength, I think you'll find that it still just doesn't work out all that well.

4. Don't train in a fatigued state if you don't move well.

Experienced lifters with great core control can usually get away with training through fatigue as long as the training loads aren't outrageous. Interestingly, though, if you look at the typical recreational runner with back pain, it usually starts after they've already been running for a while. Fatigue changes the game, as they start to substitute lumbar extension (low back movement) for hip extension.

This doesn't just underscore the importance of gradual return to running progressions; rather, it reminds us that those with a history of low back pain need to spend a lot of time training with perfect technique in non-fatigued states. As McGill has discussed, they're better off doing multiple sets of shorter prone and side bridges than they are trying to hold one set for 60 seconds.

Back-Mechanic

Over time, these good positions because second nature and accepted as the norm "subconscious awareness." Every second the individual spends in a bad position, though - either because of poor positional awareness or an inability to overcome fatigue - is a step in the wrong direction.

5. Go to split-stance.

Just as single-leg lower body work can be much more spine friendly than bilateral work, simply going to a split-stance on other exercises can be helpful for minimizing unwanted spine movement, too. As an example, we always teach our wall slide variations with a split-stance, and you'll also see this approach integrated with rowing and landmine press technique, too.

Cressey wall slide

Wrap-up

These are obviously only a few of seemingly countless ways to keep your lower back healthy in a strength and conditioning program, so I'd love to hear some of your suggestions in the comments section below!

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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 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 Tony Bonvechio, and 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.

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LEARN HOW TO DEADLIFT
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