Tricky Triceps and Lousy Lock-outs – by Ben Coker

Do you have match stick arms? A horse shoe that is more fitting for a ‘My Little Pony’?  Do you find yourself struggling to lock out your presses?  Here are some exercise modifications that I use regularly in my pressing workouts or on separate arm days to grow those triceps into horseshoes of epic proportions and develop a super strong lockout.

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1) Dead-stop lock outs from pins (bench or standing/seated OH press)

The sticking point in presses is often the point where the triceps would be taking over in the lift. This works just that.

Firstly I like the standing overhead version. Why? 1) a big shoulder press equals gains in the bench press 2) the synergistic and stabilising work by the lower traps and all the upper back muscles and posterior chain gives you a thicker upper back, a stronger core and a therefore a stronger set up when doing a flat bench.

These are in effect partial reps and so isolate the triceps (and delts) better. Simply set the safety pins at whatever level your sticking point is or at a level to isolate the delts and or triceps to whatever degree you want.

The beauty in these is that dead-stop start allows you to mimic a sticking point by adding in inertia. By having to start each rep from the artificial sticking point you are forced to work through it having to overcome the humbling force of inertia. By being able to set the bar on the pins each rep you remove all stretch shortening activity, its just your muscles versus the inertia of the weight!

Its also worth noting here the beneficial carry over dead-stop pressing has in sports where a stretch shortening contraction is not available yet a powerful press is needed – think football linemen and  shot put for some obvious examples.

The safety pins mean that no spotter is needed and that you can go through fatigue with rest pause. This is essential for overloading those triceps. In effect an weight that you can do for 8 reps without pins, you can now do for 12. Taking a couple seconds rest before each rep when near or at failure enables you to grind out more reps then you normally could. Trust me if you got the guts you’ll be surprised at what you can do.

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2) Isometric press for 3 count (bench or overhead press).

Again this modification can be performed in the bench press position or the overhead press position.

Set you safety pins at a suitable level and rest the bar on them (Yes another dead stop movement because they are bad ass!). Now simply add in another set of safety pins above the first set at whatever part of the press you find you have a sticking point. Proceed to press the bar off the pins and up into the set of pins above. Here you drive as hard as you can, imagine that you are trying to break those safety pins like your life depended on it! Hold that for 3 seconds then return the weight to the first set of pins. Repeat for reps.

Whats happening here is that the second set of pins is a definite sticking point, one you cant actually break… but  be sure to give it everything you’ve got. This teaches you to recruit as many fibres as you can at this crucial part of the lift where you normally fail and also not to give up and keep driving (and breathing) through ‘the wall’.

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3) Pin press into eccentric skull crusher.

Set up is similar to the previous exercise except you only need the first set of safety pins. Close grip press the weight up and then eccentrically lower the weight down in the form of a skull crusher until the bar rests on the pins. Slide the bar back into it’s original position and continue for reps.

These are great as again they use a dead-stop, they allow you to use rest pause and there is no need for a spotter. But, more importantly, it allows you to overload the triceps with a weight that you would not normally be able to handle as you only do the eccentric part of the lift as a skull crusher. This is great for getting those triceps accustomed to heavy loads and makes them swell!

Another modification that can be used but not shown in the video is this: When you can no longer control the weight eccentrically as a skull crusher you may still be able to rest pause and grind up some standard pin presses…get ready for some serious pump if you do!

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4) Triceps Hell

The title of this says it all. Taken straight from Dave Tate at EliteFTS this exercise kicks butt!

What to do: Set up in a bench press position. Choose a weight. Do 5 reps off of 1 board, then without racking the weight do 5 reps off of 2 boards, then off of 3 boards and so on until you do 5 reps off of the 5 board. This is killer. You will need a spot and someone to hold/swap the boards.

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5) Mechanical Drop Set Triceps Cable Extensions

Mechanical drop sets allow you to focus on performing more reps once you hit failure by making a small change to the execution of the movement to allow yourself to get more reps with the same weight.

In this exercise perform cable rope extension keeping your arms apart until failure. When you can no longer perform a rep with the arms in isolation, squeeze the handles together for the concentric part of the lift and keep the arms apart for the eccentric portion. Once you reach failure again try to squeeze out mini partial reps at the top of the movement (if you can). Insane pump guaranteed with these burners. N.b. the weight in this video is way off working set weight and so the pump reps won’t be as easy as demonstrated…most of the time I can only do 1-3  I’m that fried!

(Apologies for the video orientation).

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Wrap up

Include these exercises as finisher on pressing days or incorporate them into body part splits to see big gains in performance and aesthetics in the triceps department!

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Building a Bad Ass Fighter – by Ben Coker

I have numerous associates that are involved in fighting sports and resultantly I am frequently asked about training programmes to help develop ‘specific conditioning’ for a fighter for upcoming fights. The physical demands of professional fighting are intense. Muscular strength, power and endurance are all crucial to success. It is clear that training must be aimed to increase all of these. How do we develop all of these at the same time? Well it isn’t as daunting as it first appears as I will explain.
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I don’t want to go into strength training in this article as the area that causes most confusion lies in developing ‘specific conditioning’ for a fight a.k.a. the muscular endurance. A side note: In terms of pure strength training for a fighter I feel success is obtained in just the same way it is for any athlete: include all the main compound movements; Squat, deadlift, row/chin up variation, overhead press, bench press. Do them heavy and do them fast, this means pure strength days and speed days.  ‘Specific conditioning’ is achieved by mimicking a fight by doing the anatomical movements that occur in a fight separated by no or short rest periods to develop the oxidative capacity of the muscles involved as well as developing cardiovascular and pulmonary systems. Cutting to the chase here are the exercises that i consider to give a fighter in training ‘bang for his buck’.
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Tornado ball
This exercise works all of the stabilising muscles of the torso as well as developing power from the hip. This movement mimics that of punching from the hip, developing the power in the legs and hip and then enabling it to be transferred through the torso by strengthening its stability.  (Hulse’s reference to it not being a conditioning exercise is in the context of the exercise alone. Used as one exercise in a circuit it can be used for conditioning whilst developing power).
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Renegade rows
This exercise would benefit a fighter who has mounted an opponent in an attempt to ‘ground and pound’. Through developing sagital, horizontal and frontal stability, this exercise will allow a greater transfer of power through the torso and thus delivery through the arm to the opponent.
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SA T-bar jerk press (1st exercise in video)
The first exercise shown here offers a unique movement that develops power in the arms, shoulders and especially the legs and hips. A great exercise to develop punching power using a straight arm…no ‘windmilling here’.
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Sandbag or Turkish get ups
Get ups are fantastic at strengthening and stabilising your body as you move from supine to standing. Lets face it no fighter wants to be stuck on his back and not have the strength and stability to be able to stand up when there is a external force attempting to pin him down.
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Barbell glute bridges
Glute bridges are a great exercises for developing power in hip extension which is key for developing punching power but more specifically enhancing the ability to throw an opponent of off you if you are supine and they get some wise idea about attempting to pummel your face in. Train this movement heavy and fast and you’ll be amazed at how easily you’ll be able to throw an opponent off of you!
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Burpees
This grandad of exercise still has its place. It develops eccentric strength and concentric power in the chest and triceps as well developing muscular endurance. It strengthens the core musculature of the torso and develops power and muscular endurance in the legs and glutes. If you can bang these out effortlessly even when weighted then you’ll have no problem springing up off the mat repeatedly, crucially getting to your feet quicker…which is where the fight is won.
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Battle ropes
This  fantastic exercise and its variations works the entire upper body strength, endurance and stability.There is a strong focus on your core, arms, grip, anaerobic and aerobic systems whilst remaining non impact. Even the legs and glutes can be worked when performing larger movements. These are also great for developing the rotator cuffs which are crucial for shoulder health when shoulder is exposed to extreme velocities
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Farmers walks
This exercise is overlooked for the many benefits it provides to the whole body in terms of strength, stability and conditioning. I wont delve into the exercise in further detail as it is the focus of an upcoming article. Just trust me when i say they are a must!
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Towel/ rope chins
Grip strength for a fighter is crucial when it comes to grappling! Not only will farmers walks help with that but towel/rope chins are fantastic at giving you an iron claw. For those who think outside the box try Towel T-bar rows too as an alternative.
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Sled Rows
These are great for developing grip, upper back strength and muscular endurance.They also force you to tighten up your complete abdominal and lumbar musculature to provide a stable platform. These are key to strong grappling.
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Bear hug carries
It’s all well and good having strong biceps, pectorals, lats, legs and glutes but they need to put to practice and trained in a functional way. Bear hugging a heavy bag or other large object and carrying it over a distance will have your arms and grip screaming, your back and chest pumping and your lungs burning! For the grapplers and wrestlers out there this is a must.
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Wrap up
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This is no means an extensive list but it gives exercises that I feel are great for developing a formidably conditioned fighter. Stay tuned for upcoming articles that delve more into further conditioning ideas. As an idea on how to create a decent circuit consider the following:
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Towel Chin ups – failure
Farmers walk – 25m
Renegade rows – 8 reps per side
Bear hug carry – 25m
Burpees – 20reps
Barbell glute bridges – 10reps
Tornado ball – 10 secs
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Remember these aren’t meant to be easy. Choose as many exercises as you wish, perform as many reps as you wish, rest as little as you can. Don’t get lazy. Push your limits. Enjoy.

Strong Flexible Hamstrings: An Athlete’s Best Friend – by Ben Coker

The hamstring group is comprised of 3 large powerful muscles that span the back of the upper leg; the biceps femoris, semimembranosus, semitendinosus. It is a bi-articulate muscle whereby it spans two joints, the hip and the knee. Resultantly the Hamstring acts as an agonist for knee flexion and hip extension and is a key force provider to a whole spectrum of athletic performances!

Bi-articulate muscles are more predisposed to strain due to the large forces due to contraction origination from both ends. Often the injury comes when the muscle is subject to high forces at the end range of motion (ROM). Sports that commonly cause hamstring injuries are sprinting sports that involve sudden accelerations, indeed 91% of hamstring injuries are incited through non contact mechanism and 57% occur when running. In soccer it is the most common injury, accounting for about 12% of all injuries. This is not surprising as in sprinting the hamstrings act at the hip to promote anatomical movement from flexion to extension whilst at the knee, extension to flexion. Sprinting involves acceleration and high force generation and as indicated above is done so when the hamstring is often near or at its end range of motion.

Witrouw et al (2003) (1) concluded from a study on 146 professional male soccer players that poor flexibility led to an increase hamstring strain rate. This make sense if we imagine the hamstrings as elastic bands. An old dry elastic band that has lost its stretch will often snap after a lesser force is applied to it in a stretched position. A new very stretchy elastic band can absorb more force or load through it before it reaches its yield point and snaps. Therefore, as in sprinting our hamstrings are often in positions at their end ROM, we want them to be able to tolerate more load (from sprinting) in those stretched positions. Therefore it is essential to regularly stretch your hamstrings to maintain and improve their suppleness and toleration of higher forces at their end ROM.

This leads on to my second point. For many athletes leg training is dominated by quadriceps focus often leading to an imbalance in their quadriceps:hamstring ratio. Crossier et al (2008) (2) found that 47% of 462 professional soccer players they analysed were imbalanced! This is a very important point as such imbalances drastically increase the chances of an athlete suffering from a hamstring tear.

The quadriceps and hamstrings work as an antagonistic pair and cutting to the point in sprinting when the quadriceps contract to extend the knee ready for another ground strike, the hamstring group has to act eccentrically to act as a brake to the force applied by the quadriceps. If this did not happen the large powerful quads would extend the knee so hard that it would hyper-extend at extreme forces…I think you get the picture.

If your hamstrings are not eccentrically strong enough to act as a sufficient brake to the quadriceps then they will simply be stretched too far as the knee hyper-extends and will tear. It is therefore crucial to emphasis eccentric overload of your hamstring in your leg training! Exercises such as negative focused Nordic raises, stiff legged deadlifts and ‘2 leg up 1 leg down’ hamstring curls are example resistance training remedies.

The generation of force at the end ROM comes not only from the eccentric braking of the hamstrings in response to the quadriceps force but also from the following hamstring rate of force development (RFD) or power in the concentric phase. Once the knee is fully extended out in front of the body and ground contact is made the hamstrings (along with the glutes) act to promote hip extension and knee flexion – driving the body forward. In sprinting this must happen very quickly and the quicker the contraction the more force there is involved. If the hamstrings are not adequately trained to contract both concentrically and extremely quickly immediately following eccentric contraction then they are susceptible to tear! Therefore leg training for athletes must include hamstring work about the hip and knee that involves developing RFD following an eccentric contraction. Controlled Romanian and stiff legged deadlifts (focusing on the quick transition from eccentric to concentric), Nordic raises (if your strong enough), sled-pull throughs and explosive leg curls are examples of resistance training remedies.

It is important to add that strength endurance training of the hamstrings should also be implemented. Why? Well if the hamstrings fatigue quickly then their eccentric braking action and RFD will decrease quickly and the chances of a hamstring tear increase! Thus improving hamstring muscular endurance as well as hamstring strength will decrease the susceptibility of hamstring tears.

A final factor in giving you some knowledge in how to prevent hamstring strain comes from a quote that I took a few years back from Eric Cressey’s and Mike Robertson’s DVD series ‘Building the Efficient Athlete’. They say that structure dictates function and function dictates dysfunction. ‘What the hell?’ you’re thinking. I’ll explain.

Firstly ‘structure dictates function’: If we know the structure of the limbs and the muscles then we can figure out there function. In the hamstring example we know that the hamstring muscle spans the back of the leg crossing the hip joint and knee joint, inserting on the pelvic girdle and the lower leg. Therefore we can now ascertain that the hamstrings must act to cause flexion at the knee and extension of the hip.

Secondly ‘function dictates dysfunction’: If we now know the function of the hamstring is to flex the knee and extend the hip then we can look at co-agonists and antagonistic pairs of those anatomical functions to find dysfunction in a movement pattern. For example, the glutes are the main hip extensors and so if they are weak we can get a dysfunction in hip extension and thus in the hamstrings i.e. the lack of force produced by the glutes cause hip extension force to be compensated for by extra hamstring exertion leading to possible hamstring tear! The solution may lie in strengthening the glutes and not strengthening the hamstrings as this could compound the scenario!

Wrap Up

The take home messages I would give is this, try to think about your training and performance in terms of structure and function. This can lead you to identify problem areas, prevent injury and also allow you to better train your muscles! Secondly your susceptibility to hamstring injury can be greatly reduced by;

  1. Eccentrically overloading your hamstrings in training
  2. Developing hamstring RFD
  3. Developing hamstring strength-endurance
  4. Stretching your hamstrings to make them better able to tolerate force at the end of ROM.

Remember, prevention is always better than cure, not least if it improves performance too.

References

(1) Witrouw et al (2003) Am J Sports Medicine 31: 41-46

(2) Crossier et al (2008) Am J Sports Medicine 36: 1469-79

Maximising your Hypertrophy: One Rep at a Time – by Ben Coker

You may believe a rep is just a rep and that’s probably why you aren’t growing that much! Each rep counts. Get the most out of each rep and reap big results. In this article I will explain how to perform the perfect rep to maximise hypertrophy

For simplicity, we will consider the rep to be composed of 2 phases –
A) Eccentric or negative
B) Concentric or positive

The Eccentric phase
The eccentric phase of a lift is essentially the lowering phase, where the weight is moved to the starting position prior to a concentric contraction. Here the muscle is under tension whilst lengthening. Using the bench press as an example, it would be the lowering of the bar from lockout to the chest.

The August 2009 issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine investigated the advantages and disadvantages associated with concentric and eccentric exercises. When comparing eccentric training alone with concentric training alone, in terms of hypertrophy, eccentric training proved to be superior (1).  ‘These greater increases appear to be related to discrepancies in the sarcomere z –lines… (which) represent fibre protein remodelling’(2).

What does that mean? Eccentric training causes lots of tension overload and thus damage to the contractile elements of muscle fibres. As you lower the weight the body is still sending action ‘potentials’ to the muscle group but only activates a smaller number of the fibres to control the weight on its way back to the starting position. This means there is more mechanical load or stress through those fibres that are working. The result is a super compensatory effect, classic hypertrophy. By controlling the eccentric we can also stabilise ourselves ready for a stronger concentric lift and reduce the impact of the stretch shortening cycle, making the muscles do more of the work!

Now I’m hoping that most of you are already aware that time under tension stimulates high levels of muscle fibre hypertrophy and the above isn’t complicated. But that is only half of the rep. Why the hell would you want to settle for a maximum of 50% gains when it could be 100%? In an exam you would just answer in depth 50% of the questions and very briefly just do the others to a poor standard? The same is true for each repetition. Welcome to maximum motor unit recruitment.
The concentric phase
The concentric phase is the part of the lift where the muscle is contracting and shortening, the upward phase of the lift. Following our earlier bench press example, it would be the lifting of the bar from chest through to lockout.

It is essential to lift the weight as fast as you possibly can! Even if the weight is heavy and the bar is not physically moving noticeably faster you should always try to explode into the bar. ‘As the intensity needed to apply force increases (speed), so does the number of motor units involved in the task, particularly the number of fast twitch or high threshold motor units’ (3). (This is also known as maximum motor unit recruitment). In other words, by attempting to accelerate the weight as fast as possible, we can recruit the most muscle fibres

The last 30 years of research has clearly demonstrated that fast lifting tempos reduce your motor unit recruitment threshold (4).  This means you can train your nervous system to recruit all of your motor units sooner. In addition to this we know fast twitch motor units controls more muscle fibers and these cells are bigger (3). Therefore by lifting with a fast tempo and actively engaging as many motor units as possible (especially the high threshold types that control more fibres), not only are we training for power and strength but we have instantly exposed ourselves to much more potential growth as there are more fibres being trained..

Summary

It is clear that hypertrophy is greatly stimulated by focusing on the eccentric portion of the repetition. But to maximise hypertrophy we must activate (and therefore train) as many muscle fibres as possible from each repetition (maximum motor unit recruitment). This is achieved not only by include a slow controlled negative but also by using a fast concentric contraction.

So don’t be lazy, do this for every rep of every set of every exercise that you do, every day you train from now on and you’ll unleash a whole new potential you weren’t even training before! Doing the small things right every single day is how we truly achieve greatness!

References

(1) Roig, M., et al. The effects of eccentric versus concentric resistance training on muscle strength and mass in healthy adults: a systematic review with meta-analysis. The British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2009; 43:556-568

(2) Jack H. Wilmore, David L. Costill, W. Larry Kenney. Physiology of sport and exercise: Human Kinetics (p.207)

(3) Kelly Baggett at http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/kelly13.htm

(4) Desmedt JE and Godaux E. J Physiol 264: 673-693, 1977.

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