The Jungle Gym

This is a secret announcement.
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We are undertaking an experiment. A covert operation.The mission – to prove you CAN train ANYWHERE.
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This summer, we will bravely be going where no strength trainee has gone before; Into the heart of Africa and the depths of East Asia. Our journey will take us across savannahs, through impenetrable forests and across remote islands… into the wild.
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Our hypothesis?
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That you don’t need to be in a ‘gym’ to grow. That progress doesn’t have to be environment-specific. That with clever thinking, innovation and adaptation of standard protocols, you can make anywhere your place to train. Your place to progress. In fact, that by getting out of your ‘comfort’ zone and being forced to think differently about training, you might just reignite that growth engine anew.
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As devoted strength disciples, it is our intention at a minimum to maintain our position in terms of strength and physique, if not to come back stronger. Clearly strength is specific, so we might see a short term loss in specific lifts that can’t be directly recreated. But it will come back. Fast. But the muscle itself? That’s not going anywhere.
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How?
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Through clever use and manipulation of bodyweight via the TRX Suspension Trainer, and whatever else we can get our hands on – trees, sandbags, logs, water containers, and all manner of other creations.

We’ll be recording our techniques to show you how you too can create your own ‘Jungle Gym’ wherever you are. Whatever the tools at your disposal.

Remember, we didn’t always have ‘gyms’ at our disposal. Ever seen an ancient Greek statue? Or indeed recreations of history – TV series like spartacus, movies like Gladiator & the 300. Those guys looked and were STRONG.

As much as we’ll be forced to be creative, we won’t forget to take our chances when something good is on offer. In a place with a half decent facility? We’ll be making the most of it, whatever that might mean. Even a ‘useless’ facility can be put through its paces with some quick thinking & innovation.

Is this optimal? Screw optimal. Take what you have and push it to its’ limits. Think outside the damn box. Use what you’ve got in every way possible. The trouble these days is too much choice, and not enough action. We won’t have many choices. But we will have plenty of action.

Just before you worry that the steady stream of articles from Elite Kinetics will dry up over the summer then, not to fear. We’ve been prepared and have a vault full of pieces to keep you entertained regardless.

Without further ado, we’ll sign off. Into the wild. To the true Jungle Gym…

Until next time. Train Hard. Train Smart. Be Strong.

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Are Your Hip Adductors Sub Standard? – by Ben Coker

So you’ve been hammering away at your legs – busting your ass of to try and get them stronger and bigger. Frustratingly you just don’t feel any stronger in the ‘hole’, those squats just won’t fly up and the tape measures still shows the same inches around. What’s going wrong? It’s a safe bet that your hip adductors could be  substandard.

The adductors as a group constitute a large muscle mass in which all of the muscle originate on the pubic bone and insert running down the medial femur. There role is to provide hip adduction – bringing the thigh across the body (towards the midline) and also to maintain pelvic position during gait.

The potential strength development of the movement adduction is significant since the agonist (hip adductors) are very large when combined as a group. Yet in many movements and sports activities the adductors are not the main agonists and consequently are minimally loaded or strengthened through activity. This highlights the potential for underdeveloped adductors in athletes and gives rise to the benefits of specific resistance training for the adductors.

In specific activities like squatting the adductors they play an important role. Mark Rippetoe explains wonderfully:

“At the bottom of the squat, where the hamstrings and adductors are fully stretched, there is as much pull on the knee from the posterior as form the anterior…the adductors have stretched too, and if the knees stay parallel to the feet, as they should, the adductors will get tight and pull on the femurs. This  “knee out” position anchors the femur so that adductor contractions and hamstring contractions produce hip extension, which is apparent when sore adductors show up the day after a heavy squat workout”

“If the knees are shoved out to the sides at the bottom of the squat, the adductors are tightened. If this is done correctly, there is a slight “bounce” or muscular rebound off the hamstrings and adductors at the bottom of the squat, which initiates the upward drive out of the hole”.

This highlights the importance of the adductors in strengthening the squat. Clearly therefore additional resistance training for the adductors will help improve your squat – namely out of the ‘hole’.

Rippetoe also adds that hip extension in this manor is accomplished “much more efficiently and much more safely for the knee when it occurs from this correct position- the position that cannot be achieved unless the squat is deep”.

This is a clear message to me that if you want to improve your max. squat, adductor size/strength and knee health you have to squat deep. There is also the conclusion that by developing our adductors we can actually improve our squat strength out of the hole.

It also goes without saying that developing a large muscle group in the legs, which the adductors are, is like tapping into a goldmine in regards to hypertrophy of the legs. Building up your adductors will do wonders for aesthetics  resulting in significant hypertrophy and ‘fullness’ of the leg.

Compare these two examples:

Yes the legs on the left are bigger overall but regardless of quadriceps development look at the difference in the inner thigh mass...the adductors make a big difference!

Interestingly by building the adductors in both strength and size, we improve our depth in squatting which not only makes us better at squatting but also saves our knees AND actually serves to further develop such properties of adductors! Squatting deep is a winning cycle.

Its also worth noting by having a more developed set of adductors they will enable you to squat heavier weights and this extra weight will stimulate your quads to grow and strengthen even more! Your adductors could be limiting the size and strength of your quads by dictating how much weight your can put through them!

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So what exercises develop the adductors?


1) Squats

Unless you’ve been asleep this should be apparent by now! As Rippetoe highlighted, squatting deep will call upon the adductors to help in balancing the anterior posterior forces on the knee and in hip extension out of the hole. This stimulation will cause them to grow in strength and size. Let us not forget that powerlifting stance squating both free and box variations (wider stance) put extra stress on the adductors and inner thigh musculature as the adductors are stretched more and the leg action is more of adduction in the up phase in this stance.

BUT the key here is to actually squat deep!

People out there will be undoubtedly reading this and agreeing, ‘oh yes, deep squats – people need to do them’, but don’t realise that they still don’t do them themselves!

Be honest to yourself and ask for an external opinion from someone who can squat to depth themselves. Get them to evaluate your form and ensure you are hitting depth. Only then will you be stimulating the most growth out of your adductors by squatting. If not you could just compound the imbalance.

Extra emphasis can be placed upon the adductors by using a second pause at the bottom of a deep squat.

2) Sumo Deadlift

These work the glutes, hamstrings and adductors more as opposed to conventional deadlifts. The low back sheer force is drastically reduced in sumo deadlifts making the movement heavily hip reliant. The sumo stance puts the legs more in a position of abduction meaning that the adductors are recruited more in the lift as they in effect try to pull the legs back into adduction. 

3) ‘Frog stance’ leg press

This modification leg press is an exercise I have had great results with in both adductor size and strength (giving rise to a larger squat max and a more stable ‘hole’). Just like powerlifting stance squats and sumo deadlifts the adductors are stretched more in this position and the up phase involves more adduction of the hip.

Simply place your feet higher and wider than normal with toes pointed out slightly and get real low in the bottom position – no partials here! This loads the posterior chain and inner thigh more than in a conventional leg press.

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These can be implemented at the end of a workout when fatigue dictates lighter weights to be lifted if you are wary of the ‘alien’ positioning. This is key for avoiding injury especially as in this new position you will be weak and you joints exposed when you first attempt the lift.

Controll the eccentric with the posterior chain and adductors. You should feel them being loaded as the foot plate gets lower.

The motion really stretches out the adductors putting them under more eccentric stress and due to the position of the legs, the press portion of the movement is more in line with the anatomical movement of adduction (the prime movement pattern of the adductors).

4) Walking lunges with hold

Single leg work I feel is important both for performance and hypertrophy and walking lunges are my favourite. The adductors (along with the abductors) play a role in leg and pelvis stabilisation and this is heightened during single leg work.

To target my entire leg not only the adductors in the best way I used a wide ‘step’ and sink straight down into the hole, keeping the torso upright.

Again I pause at the bottom when the adductors are loaded and then squeeze straight up. I try to minimise the push off of the back leg and turn the movement more into a single leg squat.

5) Isolation exercises

As a final brief note, lets not forget those ‘sissy machines’ that isolate the adductors; cables, seated and standing pad machine variations. These can be used to top of a gruelling leg session and NO it doesn’t mean you are a girl because you are doing them!!

Everything has its worth if used in the right context!

This article goes a long way in highlighting the way the body works in unison and the importance therefore of not neglect body parts to achieve improved strength and aesthetics. If you are struggling with strength out of the hole in your squats and or your upper leg strength and size has stagnated, try adding in some of the above exercise to your programme and see the difference.

I did and I enjoyed the results.

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References

Rippetoe M.  Strong Enough: Thoughts from thirty years of barbell training.  Pp. 66-69. The Aasgarard Company, Wichita Falls TX. 2007

How to Approach Dieting Successfully – by Ben Coker

Summer time is here and I’m guessing a lot of you out there are embarking on a diet of some form. Regardless of your goals; ‘loose a bit of excess’ to ‘get shredded’, dieting is often misguided and executed poorly.  What better time therefore  to lay out the framework for a successful diet to help you avoid pitfalls and confusion in your quest for lean!

 

Weight Training

  • Weight training builds muscle and muscle is hungry therefore more muscle raises resting metabolic rate making you burn more calories throughout the day.
  • Resistance training ramps up your metabolism not just during training but for the whole day due to the metabolic and physiological adaptations that it stimulates in the hours after.
  • Nothing changes in how you lift. You don’t want to loose your muscle when dieting – granted, so just as you built muscle mass by lifting heavy weights you must carry on doing the same to maintain that mass when dieting. Nothing changes apart from maybe cutting down the volume of each session a little. This is because you are in a calorie deficit and you don’t want to damage the muscle to such an extent as to not allow recovery that the amount of calories you are consuming allows.
  • Don’t go light on the weights to ‘cut up’ that myth is horse sh*t. Keep your strength up to maintain fullness and thickness in the muscle plus why would you want to just give up and piss away your hard earned strength gains? Keep them up there. If you do then suddenly you get the benefits of a increase in bodyweight to strength ratio too if that’s your thing. Remember heavy weights built your muscle so continuing to lift them will help maintain them! Don’t believe me? Maybe Ronnie can convince you…

 

Nutrition

  • Eat low GI food sources- Low GI carbs – (fruits, vegetables, sweet potatoes, brown rice, oatmeal), healthy fats and lean protein sources. Read here for more info on building a basic diet.
  • Don’t starve yourself – you must eat often.This is the one people can’t grasp and if by the end of this you still don’t grasp it don’t worry, just do what is instructed. You’ll thank me later. As in bulking you eat every 2-3hours so too is true in dieting you just reduce the number of calories per portion. The process of eating, digesting and assimilating nutrients from food requires energy. This is referred to as dietary induced thermogenesis. By eating little amounts often you keep your metabolism ticking over nicely and burning calories.
  • Aim for around a 500kcal deficit at a time. Once progress has stalled then very gradually reduce your calories again. As mentioned in our previous article, ‘Leave Something in the Tool Box’, it is crucial for continued long term fat loss to not crack that nut with a sledgehammer. Use as little is needed at a time and leave the big guns for later.
  • You want to be consuming the majority of your calories especially carbohydrates around your workout (just before and just after). This will help to shuttle most of those nutrients into your muscles and not get stored as fat. The peri workout window is the time when your muscles most need nutrients to fuel your weight training allowing your to maintain high quality workouts and importantly to allow you to recover form them leading to sustained muscle mass!
  • In dieting protein is even more essential. The calorie deficit can lead to increased protein degradation in the body and so I recommend that you have  between 2-3g per kg bodyweight, moving towards the 3g/kg end when calories are really restricted to ensure there is a flood of amino acids for your muscles to use.
  • Re-feeds are needed. Don’t be a diet Nazi and never allow for a re-feed. If you do then I declare you an official diet retard! Cheat meals become of more importance the further into a diet/the lower % bodyfat you are. Re-feeding allows for whatever nutrients your muscles have been missing to be stockpiled up and your muscles can restore themselves. The sudden injection of increased nutrients also ramps up your metabolism. Reduced calorie intakes over time have the effect of down regulating your metabolism making it harder to burn calories and thus fat despite the fact you are in a calorie deficit! It is important not to abuse this tool. I purposefully refer to them as re-feeds and not cheat meals for that very reason. Charles Poliquin notes on the rules of successful re-feeding here.
  • Drink water and lots of it. Water has no calories and is an appetite suppressant, but it also helps the body to metabolize stored fat. When the kidneys do not have enough water, they cannot function properly. The liver steps in as a backup, but doing so hinders its ability to metabolize fat effectively. People who are trying to lose weight but fail to maintain euhydration can’t metabolize the fat adequately! As an extra point try to drink very cold water as the body has to heat it up to body temperature before it can be useful and this burns a few more calories. Every little helps.

 

Cardio

  • Low intensity morning fasted cardio is great for fat oxidation. After fasting whilst being asleep free fatty acids are floating around in the blood as your body’s main fuel source.  If you eat breakfast then you will stimulate a rise in the body’s insulin production and insulin inhibits lipolysis (the breakdown of fat). Performing low/moderate intensity cardio upon waking before breakfast allows you to continue the oxidation of those plasma free fatty acids. Fat oxidation increases up to and peaks at around 60-65% VO2 max (1) so that’s your target point to be exercising at.
  • High intensity isn’t bad for fat loss though. The nature of the energy systems used means that carbohydrate becomes the predominant fuel source. Romijn et al (1995) conclude that at higher intensities (85% VO2 max) the oxidation of fat is lower but there is still substantial contribution. Therefore he argues that high intensity exercise is just as substantial for fat loss as medium intensities (but not low intensity) (2). High intensity exercise will most definitely ramp up your metabolism for the rest of the day too. On a air of caution thought: Due to the fuel systems used in high intensity exercise it will deplete glycogen stores leading to reduced performance in your weights session if done overboard. The combination of too much high intensity exercise and resistance training will leave the muscle depleted of glycogen whilst dieting. These factors are detrimental to muscular strength, size and fullness.

I personally, as do many, feel that if keeping large to extreme  amounts of muscle mass (e.g. bodybuilding) is the goal then avoid high intensity exercise. If your not concerned about the keeping the ‘nth’ degree of mutant muscle mass then high intensity cardio is definitely an option and conveys great conditioning carry overs.

  • Don’t go gun ho on the cardio form day one. Again referencing our previous article, ‘Leave Something in the Tool Box’, start with just tweaking your diet then the next progression would be 20 minutes each morning of cardio, for example. This leaves you room to progress up to say 30 minutes then 40 minutes (amongst dropping calories in and around). You can also add in more cardio after a weights session if needed. Doing cardio after weights and not before (if you opt for two cardio sessions a day) is very important. Just like after sleeping, the effects of heavy resistance training has lead to a temporary depletion of muscle glycogen so when you exercise your body will utilises free fatty acids as an energy source quicker meaning more bang for your buck with the fat loss. It also mean that glycogen is prioritised for the weight training allowing for heavier weights to be lifted essential in keeping up muscle size and fullness.

 

Your mind – Champion it!

  • Dieting can play havoc on your mind. I personally can’t help feel that I’m missing out on even more growth. ‘I could be growing, instead I’m just staying the same’ is a typical thought that can plague you. You have to say goodbye to growing for a little while and learn to appreciate that now you are going to showcase your master piece you’ve spent long hours of lifting and eating to create. After all, this is what its all about right? Being muscular and shredded!
  • Another psychological demon is the belief that your hard earned muscle is wasting away with every meal you have where you don’t pile in a 1000kcal plus! Be a champion of mind. Don’t let dieting plague your thoughts. If you do the aforementioned points in this article your not going to waste away. Your body is robust and will do what you want it to given that you do the right thinks.
  • A final note on being hungry. Deal with it. Learn to champion the emotion of hunger. Your body is fed, just not your fat cells!  Hunger is just in your mind. Every minute of hunger your experience you are getting leaner! This mindset actually helps me to enjoy being hungry! Drinking water is a great help and diet soda effectively curbs hunger BUT and I stress, the later is far from perfect and you should avoid ideally as they contain other ‘miscellaneous’ ingredients that are non conducive to results and health if abused. Having your re-feeds should be enough to get you through. If not you ain’t meant to be in this game.

...the Georgia Dogs way.

 

References

1) Achten J, Jeukendrup AE. Maximal fat oxidation in trained males. Int J Sports Med 2003; 24(8): 603-608

2) Romijn JA, Coyle EF, Sidossis LS, Zhang XJ, Wolfe RR. Relationship between fatty acid delivery and fatty acid oxidation during strenuous exercise. J Appl Physiol. 1995 Dec;79(6):1939-45.

Shut The Hell Up and Listen – by Jamie Bolton

Why can’t people shut the hell up and listen?

People ask you for advice. The fact they are asking you for advice means they think you are in the know. You give out practical, well-thought out, proven recommendations. Then either explicitly or implicitly, they outright dismiss what you have just said.

I guess some truths are just inconvenient.

“I want to lose bodyfat”. Okay, the only carbs you’re going to eat are fruits and veggies. “No you’re wrong, they’re must be an easier way, that sounds too hard.”

“I want to smack some size on my legs.” Sure, take your 10 rep max in the squat, but get 20 with it. “Damn, are you trying to kill me? That sounds way too hard.”

Hard? Possibly. Effective? Definately.

Everyone wants to believe the route to their goals is easy. It isn’t. The route to your goals however, is simple. But it’s hard.

In fact I’m going to go one step further and say it’s too hard for most people. When it boils down to it – most people really don’t want results that badly. If they did they would be willing to take the simple actions that are necessary to progress. But you know what, that’s fine by me. It makes those of us who do get results even better.

We are are born with two eyes and two ears. We are only born with one mouth. If you use them proportionately, it means you should be absorbing four times as much information as you preach.

Stop being so dismissive and pissed off about where you are now. Seek and listen to those who have walked the walk, talk less yourself and then act accordingly. You might just see results.

You’re probably thinking that I myself am preaching like the source of all knowledge. Hell no. You know what. I’m still learning. Everyday. I am constantly looking for feedback and ways of improving what I do in all aspects of life. I spend hours routinely trawling through the work of guys more senior than me, the likes of Thibaudeau, Cressey, Dan John, Rippetoe and Wendler  spring to mind amongst many, many others. I spend hours testing stuff out in the trenches on myself and others.

If something comes along that sounds contrary to what I previously believed, but sounds well backed up, you know what I do? I try it. I don’t just dismiss it. If it works, brilliant. If it doesn’t, then that’s great too.

As Edison said, “I haven’t failed, I’ve found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” You learn from experiences, both successes and failures. If you just do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got. To add another quote and paraphrase Einstein, “Stupidity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

The way I see it, if I’m not learning, I’m not progressing. If I’m not progressing, I must be regressing. So listen to those with more experience than you. Learn. Progress.

To quote one more legend, Bruce Lee once said “Take what is useful. Discard what is not.”
Not, discard anything that doesn’t fit with what you want to hear and what you want to be true.

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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Press like a Powerlifter, Pull like a Bodybuilder – by Ben Coker

This article outlines a training philosophy that I feel holds much credit: ‘press like a powerlifter, pull like a bodybuilder.’ This philosophy carries over to most sporting disciplines that involve strength and power. Why? Because it works in unison with the way the human body is designed to work.

The function of the muscle involved in pressing movements from an evolutionary perspective is that of high force/velocity contractions. Think of this in terms of survival:

  • We thrust spears and punches for attack and defense
  • We fended off predators or attackers with our arms and thrust them off us with our legs hips if we were supine and crouched.
  • We jumped
  • We ran after prey or ran away from predators

I quote Christian Thibadeau saying ‘Pressing is performance…it’s the bodys’ primary movement pattern.’ All these movements are fundamental movements of human beings and the common factor in all of them is high force/velocity. It becomes easy to see how this basic design carries over into sports performance.

It makes logical sense therefore to train such movements with high force velocity/contractions and in order to obtain this you find that the rep range is usually lower (1-5 reps). Every pressing rep should be performed as fast as possible. The actual speed of the bar is irrelevant to a degree its all about attempting to explode into the bar and trying to move the weight as fast as possible. You can read more on this in a previous article on maximum motor unit recruitment .

Press like a powerlifter

 

This type of contraction and rep range should be utilised for bench press, shoulder press, squat, deadlift and sprinting training. Now, just to answer the question many of you are now probably thinking – but yes the deadlift and squatting are presses. Squatting is quite obviously the movement of pressing the floor away from you in order to stand up right? Well so is a deadlift. You do not pull the bar off the floor with your back (if you do your probably injured or will be soon). You press the weight up with a strong leg drive obtaining hip and knee extension whilst maintaining spinal extension- an isometric contraction.

Now lets look at pulling movements from an evolutionary perspective:

  • We grabbed prey and held onto it
  • We grappled and wrestled with prey and predators
  • We held on and pulled ourselves up when climbing trees, rocks etc
  • We maintain posture throughout the day, often having to do this often under a load, usually for duration i.e.carrying objects over a distance.

The back muscles are largely comprised of type I fibres which are slow contracting and fatiguing. This explains the evolutionary role of such muscles.  As outlined in my article highlighting the benefits of farmers walks, it is clear that performance-wise we need our pulling musculature to be trained to stabilise our bodies thoughout any high force pressing. This creates a rigid platform from which we can better transfer forces and thus perform. It makes sense therefore to train such muscles/movements using higher volume using fatigue and constant tension methods such as rest pause, drop sets, isometric holds and eccentric less pulling exercises (for extra volume without undue eccentric damage which prolongs recovery). A good article titled ‘Curing Imaginary Lat Syndrome’ follows on this idea.

Pull like a bodybuilder

On a side note Joe Defranco adopts such a training philosophy with his athletes, not just for the obvious performance results the blend produces but also for the great results it has for shoulder longevity. Again I quote ‘we train the bench press like a powerlifter and the back like a bodybuilder… The upper back will always get twice the volume of our pressing muscles… [using] bodybuilding form and technique.’

Now there are a few exceptions or should I say instances where pressing movements can be trained more along the fatigue methodology. Our legs carry our body all day, everyday, and resultantly have a large amount of type I fibres. Its not surprising therefore that they will respond well to higher volume and or fatigue training too. I am a huge fan of volume training for legs. Now if you are clever you will realise that utilising both methods of training will be advantage for progressions sake in the leg department!

Some people may raise the question – ‘If deadlifts are training pressing and thus using lower reps, why is it then that they develop your back musculature so much?’ The answer: The back is working in an isometric hold for the entire duration of a rep/sets. In a set of 5 reps for a heavy deadlift the back is under isometric tension for about 20-30 seconds! Exactly how I prescribed the back to be trained.

I also understand hypertrophy specific methods can be added into a programme but on the whole the concept of press like a powerlifter and pull like a bodybuilder forms a very solid template from which to structure the majority of your training, especially if performance is more important to you. Lets not forget that training muscles in the way they were designed to work is going to lead to substantial hypertrophy regardless.

Now lets put this all together. To perform we need (1) to press with high force and (2) our pulling muscles must create a rigid platform for us to transfer those forces. To do this efficiently we need our pulling muscles to be trained to stabilise our bodies throughout any high force pressing, or over multiple presses. Therefore train the pressing muscles like a powerlifter; heavy and powerful for fewer reps whilst training your pulling muscles with fatigue and constant tension methods for higher volume. The perfect blend for a healthy and truly functional athletic performer.

The result: Athletic performance on a big scale!

Farmers Walks: The Overlooked Solution To Many Problems – by Ben Coker

The idea for this article came after a chat I had with two friends who are both training powerlifters. The context of the conversation was this: 6 weeks out from a meet one of them wanted to do ‘something a bit different’ and do some strongman stuff to break from the grind of competitive lifts and band/speed work etc. The other suggested it would be detrimental to the meet preparation. After listening on the debate I said that actually I think its a great idea, putting forward the question, ‘Do you know the benefits that heavy farmers walks can bring to your competition lifts and other lifts in general?’ After a brief silence I explained…

Farmers walks are one of the simplest and most function exercises ever. Period. Standing and walking are primal essential functions of human life and this exercise is just that. Stand up with a heavy weight and then walk with it a given distance. Every major muscle group is involved in this exercise, and not only that, dependant on the working distance, great stress can be put upon the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.

Marius reaped the benefits of heavy farmers walks!

Lets think about the muscular actions and anatomical movements that are occurring and how they can benefit competition lifts and main compound lifts in general.

The farmers walk trains the entire posterior and anterior chains; the traps down to the forearms including the entire spinal core musculature. I hope your ready. Here it is from head to toe:

Farmers walks build monster traps. The upper traps are recruited to hold the shoulder girdle in elevation or at least maintain neutral. This distributes some of the load off of the spine making the weight feel lighter and thereby helps you keep proper posture. How do strong upper traps benefit other lifts?

  • If you are a raw bencher than the mechanics of the lift require the bar to be positioned higher up the body as you raise and lower the bar. This means that the upper back especially the shoulder girdle need to be stabilised and this is accomplished greatly in part by having a strong upper trap contraction.
  • When deadlifting strong traps are needed just as they are in a farmers walk to help distribute some of the load off of the spine making the weight feel lighter and enable better form of spinal extension.
  • When overhead pressing the upper traps play a huge role in lifting the weight. A shoulder press involves elevation of the shoulder girdle and that is the main role of the upper traps.
  • When squatting having strong chunky traps will not only allow you to tighten up and squeeze the upper back more (giving more stability and force transmission from the legs) it also means that the bar can sit more comfortably and stable on your shoulders. Ever wondered how Koklayev can squat 290kg with no hands? That’s part of the answer.
  • When bicep curling, if your upper traps aren’t strong enough to stabilise the shoulder girdle the weight you can curl greatly drops.

 

Farmers walks build a back of gorilla-like proportions.  The upper back (including lats) and all spinal erector muscles comes into play to ‘pin’ back the shoulder blades, maintain spinal extension, prevent spinal rotation and also lock the arms in position as the weights being carried want to oscillate. How does a strong back benefit other lifts?

  • When bench pressing (raw or with gear) a strong upper back, including lats, are needed to secure the scapulae and provide a solid platform for the pressing muscles to act off of.
  • An integral part of the deadlift is a strong upper back. This enables an efficient transfer of force from the legs down to the arms by ensuring a stable shoulder girdle and preventing the weight from swinging forward (i.e. arms moving forward) as to maintain a shorter lever arm and less torque through the lower back. Needless to say having strong spinal erectors will enable you to maintain spinal extension under greater loads, which in the deadlift will allow a greater transfer of energy from the legs to the shoulder girdle and down to the bar – a bigger lift.
  • The upper back includes the lower trapezius muscle group and this muscle plays a role in scapulae adduction (key for deadlift shoulder girdle stability) but more importantly is its role in upward rotation of the scapulae. Any overhead press involves upward rotation of the scapulae. Not only is a strong upper back needed to maintain cervical extension but also strong lower traps are needed to assist in and ensure the correct movement of the scapulae in upward rotation. This is key not only for strength purposes but also shoulder health. It is also key in overhead pressing movements to have a strong spinal erectors to enable you to keep a strong upright platform for you to press the weight off of.
  • When squatting upper back strength is vital to ensure maintenance of spinal extension, and a tight grip on the bar. If your low back is weak then you will struggle to squat any type of decent weight and risk injury through not being able to keep spinal extension and allowing maximal energy transfer from legs to bar. How many people ‘fold’ when squatting as their upper back is simply poor. Maybe you’re one of them?
  • Going back to the bicep curl (because I know people out there still want to curl a car). If your upper back sucks, your shoulder girdle will not be stable enough to curl heavy weights. How many guys do you see curling, hunch back with their shoulder blades pointing out their back like a directional sign. Guys drop the curls and work on your Kroc rows.

 

Farmers walks develop the whole of your legs. You have to be stupid to not understand that walking with a stupidly heavy load requires a lot of lower body recruitment. Granted, they won’t build muscle or strength in the legs like squatting and deadlifting but their role in maintaining an upright posture is crucial. The glutes and hamstrings are needed for propulsion and in achieving full extension at the hip and knee. If you can’t extend the hip and the knees under a heavy load how do you expect to keep your spine in an upright position? You can’t. All you will do is put more torque stress through the spine which is tiring and potentially dangerous for spinal longevity. Carrying over to other lifts, simply think deadlift and squat lock outs and stabilising your torso during an overhead press and you should appreciate how maintaining hip and knee extension is beneficial.

Farmers walks develop a scaffold pole of a torso. The core is a whole body working together concept and farmers walks involve just that. Due to the various torques that exist in all planes of movement during a farmers walk it’s no surprise that these give all your core musculature a battle – that includes the major muscle groups as well as the deep musculature. The cross-over of having a rock solid core needs not preaching. In short: a strong core allows energy transfers through the body to be more efficient. Better transfer of energy means more force output, thus improving all lifts not to mention the health and longevity benefits.

Farmers walks will give you an iron claw. Grip strength – the bane of many lifters. Stop moaning and using straps. Instead, get some farmers walks done. A strong grip is associated with nearly all lifts. Studies have proven that squeezing the bar whilst squatting, pressing, and curling will lead to more motor unit recruitment. Not to mention the fact that strong grip strength means you can hold more weight without straps, key for strength competitors. Oh, and bodybuilders, I forgot you don’t need superhuman grip strength to excel in your sport. Fair point I agree but I ask you this: forearms look amazing when they look like dinosaur legs right? You bet they do. Do farmers walks as a finisher and get your forearms to epic proportions.

There you have it. I ask you now, ‘do you think farmers walks will help improve your lifts?’ If your answer is still unsure, seeing as I can’t slap you, I will leave you with this note instead. The more you become trained the more you have to put in to get returns. When your a newbie you can put in say 1 unit of effort (training, diet, rest etc) to get 10 units of results (size, strength etc). As you become seasoned and further away from your pre-training state you find that you have to put more units of effort in to get less units of result. That’s why pro lifters don’t keep growing or getting stronger at the rate that weed does who had just started going to the gym and now actually eats something more than a bowl of coco pops each day!

Take this idea back to my lifter friend preparing for his meet. He is continually getting down with the grind of his competition lifts. He is experiencing diminishing returns for his effort (not his fault it’s just how the body works). He can however try to maximise improvements in his lifts given what time he has. I suggested that investing time in movements like the farmers walk is likely to increase his chances of putting 5kg on his bench press in a few weeks then simply continuing to pound away on benching movements. Why? If you haven’t figured it out yet, the benching movements are relatively highly trained compared to the accessory muscles. Therefore in a few weeks the lesser trained muscles will improve at a greater percent than those more highly trained. A few weeks after giving this advice I happened to see the guy post the following as his Facebook status: ‘What a week! 3 new PBs and a 230 Deadlift!’ Enough said. Get walking. Farmers Walking.

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