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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GVT for Legs, Back and Shoulders – by Ben Coker

Are your back, leg and shoulder workouts leaving you lost on how to keep inducing hypertrophy? Are any of these body parts lagging behind? Or do you simply like a gruelling challenge of manliness? Enter German Volume Training.

German volume training offers a demanding workout in the simplest format. One exercise, 10 sets of 10 reps. This type of training provides a shock to the system to help break hypertrophy plateaus (through the sheer volume of mechanical stress and your body’s huge hormonal response) and offers a testing but refreshingly simple break from training monotony.
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Sure people might already know this BUT how many actually practice it?
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Here are some GVT training sessions for back, legs and shoulders that I use. They test your metal and officially declare you insane but they certainly let you know what your really made of. This type of training session should not be performed frequently as they can drain your body and CNS like nothing else, leaving you over trained. Used wisely though these sessions will inject impressive ‘boosts’ in your hypertrophy.

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In order of sanity:


10×10 Wide Grip Upright Row

This will provide you with the sensation of a thousand knives piercing your your shoulder girdle! But quite simply this volume will leave your shoulders and upper back looking like the Himalayas and will do wonders to your V taper.

Keep the rest low, 1min max and push through the burn. Don’t be a wimp as to be honest these are tame compared to the rest. (A note of caution, if you suffer from shoulder impingement this may not be a suitable choice due to the orientation of the shoulder joint in this movement).
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10×10 Wide Grip Pull Ups (no swinging or kips)

If you can do 10×10 wide pull ups its an impressive feat. Heavy boys don’t use your bodyweight as an excuse! Become a master of body weight pull ups and get lats that block out the sun. Be warned after set 3-4 life becomes hell. Dig deep and drag your ass up. After all, how badly do you want a Dorian Yates looking back??

Rest on these should be no more than 3 minutes but if rest on the last few sets is longer its no big deal in the grand scheme. Just don’t abuse the rest and take like 10 minutes between sets!
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10×10 Back Squat

Performed with 2 minutes rest and done arse to grass 10×10 squats will have your legs like jelly, your vision blurry and your stomach uneasy! Again about midway through set 4 the world looks and feels a little bit different! On the good side they will make your legs resemble those of a tyrannosaur! Or Branch Warren…

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10×10 Barbell Deadlift  

When I tried these I said aloud to myself ‘You’ve officially lost the plot, this is your craziest idea yet’ and I still agree. These are by far the hardest GVT session I can think off and extremely taxing on the entire body. After set 3 it feels like its job done, time to do some rows… not today! Only 3 times that extra to go! I can’t really do justice to the endeavour, it’s simply gruelling on the highest level.

Be sure to know good form in the later sets and I advise a spotter for motivation and to monitor your form in case it breaks down!

I used this workout before a went a way on a week and a half holiday and boy I needed every day as rest and continued grazing! My entire body was in seizure…and it felt amazing! This will put serious mass and crazy thickness on your legs, back, shoulders and forearms given ample nutrition and recovery.

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Wrap up
If you are lost on how to keep inducing hypertrophy, you have lagging lags, back and or shoulders or you simply want a gruelling challenge of manliness give these GVT ball busters a go. Remember don’t use these every session as it can be too demanding for your body (barring maybe the upright rows) and you will lack the part specific benefits of other movements. I like to throw one in every few weeks to keep me mentally stimulated and physically growing.
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A final not on what weight to use for your 10 sets.  It up to you. If your a softy your gonna use a comfortable weight and rest lots. If your more like me then you’ll go as heavy as you can go and rest as little as you can physically manage.

You won’t necessarily be able to judge correctly the weight on your first attempt. That’s fine, just adjust accordingly next time. That’s if there is a next time…

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!

Boulder Shoulders : The Missing Link to an Impressive Upper Body – by Ben Coker

You work on your pull ups, and endless back row variations, you pound your chest from all angles and you hit shoulder presses yet you upper body still lacks that mass factor and you still cant achieve that v-taper that makes others take notice. You want the solution? Get some shoulders. Big shoulders.

Big shoulders are the key finishing factor to helping you achieve that complete upper body that’s awe inspiring and set you apart from the rest! Believe it or not the impressiveness of  your chest, lats and v taper will be compromised by scrawny shoulders. Now let me guess you do shoulder work right? Wrong. 3 sets of shoulder pressing with some half hearted front raises and poorly performed side laterals or even worse one of these thrown in at the end of a chest session doesn’t cut it! If your serious about getting an impressive and complete muscular appearance you need to prioritise your shoulders.

Arnie knew the importance of Big Shoulders

The deltoids are comprised of three parts; the anterior aspect, the lateral aspect and the posterior aspect. This means that you need devote ample time to all aspects to achieve a rounded look! Too often emphasis is put on front delts either consciously and or subconsciously and by the later I mean performing side raises poorly, activating the front delts and not the lateral aspect of the deltoids as the movement is intended! Very rarely will someone have a small front delt compared to lateral or rear delt as anterior delts are hit in chest sessions that everyone does! I simply top them off with some volume at the start of my shoulder session and then pound away on the lateral and posterior parts of my delts.

If the thought of a head turning upper body isn’t enough to get you motivated to train lateral and rear delts than maybe this will. These muscles are key stabilisers in both the bench press and shoulder press and the lateral aspect is also a synergist for overhead pressing. If your too lazy to work it out I’ll spell it out for you; training these parts of you delts improves your bench pressing and shoulder pressing. Let me guess now your motivated…

If you’re a contact sport athlete you’ll also be less susceptible to injury, benefiting from the above stabilisation and the bullet proofing effect that the extra ‘padding’ of bigger delts provides to such an unstable joint as the shoulder is especially in contact scenarios.

We must not forget the trapezius in this overhaul of your coat hanger frame. Its no good being wide with a flat upper shoulder girdle. Big traps not only top off the v taper but are also key muscles in other movements and overall strength – just think deadlift and you can see a clear carry over of strong traps into a bigger deadlift. The first three of the exercises I prescribe below all involve the trapezius group instantly increasing volume of work down for that muscle group but also if you are deadlifting somewhere in your routine the volume is compounded. This should be more than enough especially as it was found that side lateral raises (one of my prescribed remedies) elicits more muscle activity in the upper traps than shrugs! (1) Feel free to include direct shrug work regardless into your shoulder session as i periodically do when i increase my intensity for a period.

Now its time to warn you. Shoulder workouts hurt – in a good way. Simply put if your doing it right it should feel like your muscles are on fire and you’re so sore you cant even hold your posture! So when you adopt the exercises i prescribe think, what i think: ‘I know this hurts but can I actually do more or am I just looking for an easy way out?’ Stop being a wimp and get grinding away till it hurts, then go to it really hurts then go until your form gets scrappy. Rest for a few seconds and then keep going till you get a sensation of a thousand knives piercing you all over your shoulders! The lateral and posterior delts don’t require much weight lifted but better respond to extreme volume and by extreme i mean extreme. Get blood into the muscle and stretch the fascia to stimulate growth. I have found this to be bar far the best method for training my delts.

The remedies…

Modified dumbbell front raises

Start seated holding the dumbbells in a neutral position (like the start of a hammer curl). As you raise the dumbbell in front of you with a straight arm and without swinging, internally rotate and arc the dumbbell up and inwards finishing, with them touching in front of you at eye level. This puts extra stress on the anterior delt and recruits the lateral aspect of the delt more as you internally rotate.

High upright row immediately into press

Use a lighter weight than normal. Perform an high upright row from the hang then immediately press the weight overhead. Imagine the bar continuously moving upwards and not resting for a pause as you change from the muscle up (muscle clean) into the press. These are extremely taxing and harder than you think giving you an entire shoulder pump that is insane!

Wide grip upright row

When performing these the traps will get targeted but always focus on lifting from the lateral delts for extra effect. I image I am holding dumbbells and performing side lateral raises.

Side lateral raises (performed properly)

Always ensure you elbow is higher than your wrist and imagine your palms facing the floor at all times and actively pointing your thumb down towards the floor. This allows you to target the lateral aspect of the delt and even the rear delt!

Face pulls

Using a cable column start with you arms out in front of you shoulder height holding the rope attachment. Keeping your elbows up at 90 degrees to your torso pull the rope to above your eyes. Keep good form and don’t get carried away with weight this isn’t a row!

Low Cable reverse flies

Bending over keeping good form reach across your body to the low cable. Whilst maintaining a constantly relatively extended elbow perform a reverse fly squeezing the rear delt and taking care not to swing and involve other muscles

Wrap up

If you want that impressive physique that turns head then get some attitude and bust your ass off for those impressive shoulders. Put these exercises into your shoulder workout amongst what ever direct pressing and shrugging you already do. Remember its a shoulder training session not a ‘going through the motions’ shoulder session that currently is getting you no results! Think volume not weight and enjoy the pain as its a sign your doing it right and on the way to changing your matchstick-head excuses for shoulders into boulders!

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