Tips to Instantly Improve Your Squat – Ben Coker

Today’s blog is a short one but nonetheless, a very useful one. Dave Tate in particular has produced some excellent material on how to improve your squat and therefore I am not going to rephrase what the man has already done succinctly. Instead I am going to make you aware of two simple techniques you can use before your squat set that will instantly make your squat stronger.

Tip #1 Squat/Frog Jumps

Jumping by nature is a high force movement as involves the projection of a load (your body). The higher the force produced, the more high-threshold motor units are recruited. Therefore as an activation tool performed prior to a regular lifting movement frog jumps will act as a “wake-up” call, potentiating the nervous system. This will allow you to recruit the high-threshold motor units more easily in the subsequent lifting exercises.

  • Go to full depth as you would in your squat. This will ensure that all the muscles involved in the squat will be potentiated in the jump.
  • Following on from the above; ensure that you jump using the hips (sit back in the squat part of the jump) and do not rely on jumping with the knees (quads) alone.
  • Make sure you complete the jump fully with a hard forceful triple extension to ensure the posterior chain is fully activated.
  • You must put everything into the jump and really explode as high as you can; otherwise you are not activating the high thresholds motor units as well as you can.

Perform 2-3 max jumps about 30 seconds out from you set and feel the power.

Tip # 2 Squeeze The Fucking Bar.

No really. Try and break the thing in half!

Okay I’m not talking about when the bar is racked across your back…that should be staple by now. To reiterate, as soon as you grab the bar you never let go of it. In squatting, the lift starts as soon as you grab the bar and ends when you let go of it when it’s back in the rack. Don’t let up with that grip during the lift.

What I am talking about is an extra concerted effort before you go under the bar. Once you take a hold of the bar imagine trying to snap the bar in half. I peronally imagine ‘pushing’ the ends of the bar away from me and down, making use of a strong lat contraction, whilst ‘pulling’ the middle towards me in a way such that if the bar were to break the broken ends would swing towards my face. Other imagery may work better for you. In short my whole body is tensing to the max in the attempt.

For this to work you really need to try and break the bar not just go through the motions. Your body should be trembling if you are doing it to the right intensity. Hold this squeeze for 3-5 seconds. You be surprised how tiring it actually is! And the mental mindset you get into in trying to snap a barbell is a phenomenal boost. Then overall feeling is ‘amped’ to say the least. From there, without breaking grip, go under the bar and own the squat.

Get nasty with the bar!

Wrap Up

Both of these methods work extremely well for me. They potentiate my body extremely well but also help to get me angry enough (with the help of a strong iTunes playlist) to go under the bar with utter range and a confidence that the only way is up from that hole.

I’d love to know whether these methods work for you. Whether a wobbly 1RM now feels a solid and clean1RM and or more weight goes on the bar of even if a 3RM becomes a 5RM leave your comments and let me know!

Train hard. Train smart. Be Strong.

5 Top Tips for Improving your Squat – by Adam Bishop CSCS

Following on form my previous article on tips to improve your deadlift, this article will focus on simple ways to improve your squat. While mainly focusing on the back squat, the advice below can be applied to squats of all varieties. Once again this is aimed at intermediate to advanced athletes looking to bust though plateaus and keep the squat numbers on the rise. Hopefully everyone reading this will be able to apply at least one of the tips below into their training in order to progress.

Tip 1 – SQUAT you idiot!

Gym idiot 1 – “I just don’t understand it I can leg press big man weights but when I occasionally decide to squat I really struggle.” No shit Sherlock. The leg press or any other machine or leverage based implement is NOT a replacement for the squat in the long term. In other words, if you want to increase your squat loading you need to be squatting regularly. The squat should be the first exercise you think of when you plan a lower body resistance session. Squatting with proper from and to good depth (parallel or below) is the best way to progress.

Gym idiot 2 – “But I heard that squatting to parallel or below is bad for your knees!” Horseshit. If you perform the squat with proper form; i.e. sit back into the squat so that you backside movers first ensuring your knees never go further forward than your toes, knee injuries are VERY unlikely and in fact the risk of injury will decrease through the strengthening of the knee joint itself.

Tip 2 – Speed is what we need…

Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell brought the “dynamic method” to the masses with his training techniques featuring “dynamic” squat days alongside separate “max effort” sessions. After extensive study of Dr Y. V. Verkhoshansky’s training techniques in the field of weightlifting, Louie decided to implement Verkhoshansky’s expertises in power production to suit the sport of Powerlifting. Dynamic, or speed squats can be implemented into an athletes program in an attempt to increase their rate of force development (RFD) in order to teach the athlete to accelerate the bar through the movement.

Now, before you run out and buy some jump-stretch bands, lace up your Chuck Taylors and pull on your Westside Barbell T-shirt I’m going to burst your bubble and say the likelihood is you’re not ready to be performing the Westside Barbell method. The athletes at Westside are elite and have trained their bodies to deal with performing a max and a sub-max squat session in the same week in addition to the use of both bands and chains. You must ask yourself, “Have I ever used simple plyometric or power movements for a prolonged (8weeks+) period of time”. If the answer is no then you are not ready for Westside.

However, you can experience great gains in squat strength through including jumps or other power exercises preceding your squat workout, through complex training, or as part of a separate dynamic day. What I’m suggesting is simple jumping movements in order to increase your RFD and ultimately your squat. It is IMPOSSIBLE to jump non-explosively. Simple movements such as vertical counter movement jumps or box jumps combined with a solid squat program will bring great gains.

Box Jump:

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Vertical Jump: 

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Tip 3 – Know the muscles that are used for squatting!  

So when you squat your quads do all the work right? WRONG. A squat performed with good form will recruit the quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, glutes and other muscles, such as the spinal erectors, isometrically. This is why the squat is regarded as a whole body exercise as it recruits muscles throughout the body in order to maintain a co-ordinated movement.

So if you are only targeting your quads through assistance exercises, such as leg extensions, you are severely limiting your squat progression. The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the human body (lets void the poor jokes here) and produces a huge amount of force during a squat. Weak glutes will result in a weak squat and potentially bum knees as your leg internally rotates and the knee goes into valgus.

In the same way the hamstrings work eccentrically during the downward phase, as the knee is anchored and the hips are ‘pushed back’. On the up phase they contribute to hip extension.

The spinal erectors work isometrically aiming to maintain body posture and an upright position allowing for force to be transferred through the posterior chain and through the bar.

Weak glutes, hamstrings, spinal erectors or quads will result in limitations in the mass lifted by the squat. This brings me nicely onto my next point…

4 – Smart assistance exercises.

Assistance exercise selection is the key to strengthening weak points in the squat. If your form is correct and your gains are stagnating then good assistance exercises is paramount to progression. Once again, as with the deadlift, we are talking about posterior chain development and thus the same exercises apply. GHR, good mornings and reverse hypers are a great what to strengthen the posterior chain.

I am a firm believer in the use of unilateral (single leg) movements when it comes to the squat. Unilateral movements force the lifter to focus on the movement and work the muscle involved to a greater extent than bi-lateral movements. Exercise such as the Bulgarian split squat and single leg sit backs emphasise keeping the knee joint in line with the foot (via proper glute activation) and overloads the muscles involved.  The often forgotten benefit of single leg work is that as you are mechanically weaker it takes less absolute load to achieve a training effect in the target muscles and thus you can spare the CNS via reduced spinal loading. In case you need spoon feeding this is a great way to get in volume and increase frequency without over training.

Bulgarian Split Squat:

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Single leg sit back:

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The box squat, when done correctly, is another great way to strengthen the glutes and hamstrings while still working on squat technique.

The box squat, for those of you who are unaware, involves squatting down to a box or bench. Now, there are those who believe the box squat is reserved for those who compete in equipped powerlifting, but I am not one of them. When performed correctly this movement aids in glute and hamstring recruitment as well as teaching the lifter to sit back into the squat and load the posterior chain.

When performing box squats ensure that you sit back slowly onto the box allowing for a second’s pause on the box before driving back up. The box should be of a height that allows the lifter to achieve a squat to parallel; high box squats are for egos. Touch and go is also a no no. In addition to this it is important that you maintain your form and do not rest, causing thoracic and lumbar rounding, while on the box, STAY TIGHT.

Box Squat:

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Tip 5 – Stay tight and the importance breathing.

Too many people fail squats due to not maintaining total body tightness. What I mean by that is they fail to realise that keeping their core and upperbody tight aids ensuring that the force generated by the lowerbody reaches the bar on the shoulders and keeps the body upright.

A key factor in maintaining this tightness is breathing. Through proper breathing technique the athlete can utilise the Valsalva maneuver which involves a deep breath in followed by the closing of the glottis (i.e. holding your breathe) whilst  attempting to expire.  As the air in the lungs, is prevented from escaping, a fluid ball is created, aiding in the maintenance of a rigid upper body making it easier to support heavier loads.

This technique increases intra-abdominal pressure in much the same way as a lifting belt. There is the risk of blackout during the Valsava manoeuvre as this method drastically increases blood pressure. It is advised therefore that the breath be exhaled during the upward or concentric phase of the lift in order to avoid this.

Those worried about the risk of blacking out can create intra-abdominal pressure though contracting the diaphragm and abdominal muscles (by forcing them out) while leaving the glottis open. This creates a liquid fluid ball in the lower torso. Both techniques make it easier to squat with heavier loads.

Wrap up

However simple some of the above may seem, ask yourself are you really practising what I have just preached? If you are unsure, go away and implement the above into your training with a conscious effort…you should see an increase in your squat numbers. Remember to always use trusted spotters when squatting with maximal weights to avoid injury.

Stay tuned as next time I’ll be giving you my 5 top tips for increasing the most popular of the power lifts: the bench press.

Interview with John Hamson, Junior British Powerlifting Record Holder

John Hamson is a superb rising talent in the powerlifting community. Aged only 20, he is still a Junior yet boasts lifts than many seniors aspire to! Recently crowned the holder of 3 Junior British records in powerlifting, John still has 2 and a half years as a Junior to go to further this immense feat!

EK: John, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Firstly, congratulations on your recent performance in the South Yorkshire Open. Now, I know the readers are dying to know already so why don’t you put them out of their despair and tell us what your lifts were on the day and what records you set.

JH: Hello, no worries and thanks. My lifts were 330kg on the squat which was a British record, 230kg on the bench which was a British record and 292.5kg on the deadlift which took the total record which is now 852.5kg.

EK: Very Impressive to say the least. Ok, let’s rewind a few years. Tell us when it all began. When was it that you first became interested in lifting weights?

JH: It all began at the age of 12. My brother had a weight set with a bench in the garage and I started experimenting with various lifts, when I got to 14/15 I had out grown the equipment that was in the garage so we updated the equipment and bought a rack and a Olympic bar along with plates.

EK: Did you decide early on that you wanted to power lift or did you rather stumble across it along your  route of progression in the weight room?

JH: I stumbled across it when I started training my goals were to simply get stronger and bigger, I was always an active individual; did cross country running, played football, rugby, swimming, boxing and also did my own training so you could say my GPP was high!

EK: There are a lot of readers out there who are thinking about competing at a meet for the first time. Tell us about your first meet; how did you find out about entering and indeed preparing for it?

JH: My first meet was terrible I had not long turned 16 and I was keen to impress but my openers were too high I didn’t know the commands properly, but fortunately I didn’t bomb – I totalled 510kg. I researched the different federations and decide that the GBPF was the best for myself.

EK: What advice would you give to a new lifter entering his/her first meet in light of your experience?

JH: Do your research, know what the rules/commands are before you enter and train the way your gonna compete. Don’t be sloppy with your technique in the gym as it will fall apart when you get on the platform. I have been to many comps where people fail their first lift and then come back into the warm up room saying I did that for 5reps in the gym no one cares! Check your ego at your first comp get your first lifts on the board and get in the game. Your not in the comp until you pull your first deadlift.

EK: Are there any forums out there that you use or know off that you would recommend to both new and experienced lifters, looking to further their knowledge and experience in powerlifting?

JH: I use the GBPF forum and the sugden barbell forum, both have some good info on. I also log my training on both sites so check it out!

EK: A lot of powerlifters dabble in strongman competitions and visa versa. Is this something you have considered or have indeed done?

JH: Yeah I have competed in one strongman comp this year it was the midland U105 qualifier. The reason I did this was because it was held at the same gym were I train. I will be doing the same qualifier in 2012 as its something different from the norm but I will actually train for it this time.

EK: So, powerlifting or strongman, which one do you prefer?

JH: Easy question – Powerlifting

EK: OK, let’s talk training. How do you like to split up your training?

JH: I train 3-4 times a week, I squat three to four times a week, bench three times a week & deadlift twice a week & perform assistance movements when needed. Pretty much all my squatting is to a box – I use three different heights 15.5”, 13.5” and 12”. At the minute I am dabbling with heavy band tension.

EK: Maxing out too often is a major failing in many lifters training, yet we know that to be pushing those numbers up you need to test new water at some point. Where do you feel the balance lies?

JH: Good question! There’s nothing wrong with failing a lift, as long you know why you have failed it, whether it’s your teckers or simply your not strong enough yet. When I was prepping for the South Yorkshire’s I failed three lifts in my 12 week prep I think that’s pretty good going.

EK: What is your prefered way of periodizing your training to keep those numbers going up?

JH: The majority of my training is based on linear progression. I set my myself goals of what I want to lift in a comp and I work towards that, I take each week as it comes and evaluate how the week went then base my next training week on that. I have found that this works best for my self. If there are any technique issues they can be ironed out quickly and easily. Also this allows me to mix my exercise selection up, as what I have found, is that if I create a 12week prep with numbers for every week by the time I get to the last two – three weeks and I generally pick up a injury. Resultantly I have learned to back off abit and listen to body more. I like to have freedom in my programming! 

EK: On to nutrition. Powerlifters can be a little more lenient in their diets over say, bodybuilders.  What are your ‘staples’ of nutrition as it were and give us an idea of what your diet looks like on an average training day?

JH: Average day, oats with milk and fruit smoothie, chicken & rice, then more chicken & rice, 2 pints of milk, lasagne, cereal with milk & couple of yoghurts.

Some days I will have a couple of shakes consisting of whey protein and oats.

To be honest I just try and eat as much as I can, I rarely eat fast food, sweets, chocolate etc.. I wouldn’t say my diet is great but it suits my needs.


EK: Being only 20, you are incredibly young and have an entire lifting career in front of you. Whats the big vision for John Hamson? What are you goals and ambitions?

JH: My short term goals are to win the British Juniors next year [2012] and to get selected for GBPF squads. The long term goal is to total 1000kg+.

EK: Goals that I’m sure you will achieve judging on your progress so far!

John, thank you once again for taking the time to speak with us. I feel a lot of readers out there will have benefited from hearing the words of someone who is truly climbing the ladder in the world of powerlifting. Best of luck in the future, hopefully we will see you on the world stage in the years to come!

Trap Bar Deadlifts: The Best of Two Kings – by Ben Coker

Often around the gym you will hear guys sneering at someone who is performing a trap bar deadlift.

‘Its not a real deadlift’, ‘Its just an easy deadlift’ or ‘be a man and use a straight bar’ are common comments thrown around gyms born simply out of ignorance.

Here’s my viewpoint on trap bar deadlifts…I love them. I think its a fantastic exercise. They are a staple in my training and should be viewed as much a mass and strength builder as squats and regular deadlifts.

There seems to be plenty of mass and strength here...

Now before people start losing the plot here, I want to make a few things clear. I DO love squats and regular deadlifts. They are great mass and strength builders and should be stables in any serious strength/hypertrophy programme. Also the specifics of squatting and deadlifting are important for many athletes such as powerlifters, Olympic lifters and strongmen and so they need to be practiced most definitely by such athletes.

The point I am highlighting is that most athletes don’t. The trap bar deadlift offers them the benefits of both the squat and the regular deadlift in one exercise but without any of the negative aspects of the two conventional lifts.

The trap bar deadlift puts the lower body in the same basic position as in a squat. When performing trap bar deadlifts you step inside the bar as opposed to having the bar in front of your shins (in a regular deadlift) or on your back (if you were squatting).

This puts the load more in line with you centre of gravity. This reduces the strain or sheer force on the lower back when compared to a regular deadlift. This is an important point for people who want protect their low back as much as possible especially those coming back from injury or with chronic low back issues, or simply athletes whose spines take a beating as it is in their sport without adding even more in training.

If we were squatting the bar would be up on the shoulders yet in trap bar deadlifts despite being in the squat position the load is not resting on your spine but actually disrupted across the shoulder girdle. As a result there is less compressive force through the spine and thus less stress on body/CNS when compared to if we were performing regular squats.

Trap bar deadlifts also allow you to completely control the entire eccentric phase of the lift as a result of the line of pull being more in line with your centre of gravity. The eccentric phase is a crucial component of a rep in terms of producing hypertrophy and the trap bar deadlift allows you to maximise its benefits.

In a regular deadlift due to the positioning of the knees and the path of the bar a complete controlled eccentric is not possible. The bar either travels horizontally away from you and your centre of gravity to get around the knees putting your body in a suboptimal position which can obviously result in injury or the weight is simply dropped back to the floor.

As mentioned earlier this is not a message to say stop deadlifting and squatting. Hell no! Indeed the extra strain they put on you (if used sensibly) works wonders on hormone responses to training and muscular development. Its also key for athletes that needs to perform regular deadlifts and squats in competition to use them in training! But even here the trap bar deadlifts can be used to increase frequency of leg training and to spare the low back. If you are an athlete or weekend warrior looking to build mass and strength and save you low back wherever possible the trap bar deadlift is for you.

Wrap up

The trap bar deadlift offers the  benefits of squat leg development and the benefits of deadlifting upper back, trapezius and forearm development. Not only this, they also reduces stress on the body (recovery is quicker and there is less stress on immune system) and the potential for injury is reduced.

Any athlete (or regular trainer) looking to spare their low back in training to allow optimal performance in competition should seriously consider trap bar deadlifts as their leg exercise of choice.

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…

Catching up with Josh Hill – UK Powerlifter

Josh Hill is an up and coming powerlifter in the UK, boasting a total of 1000kg (2200lb) in competition, as well as being 2010’s Best Overall Lifter in the British Bench Press Championships. To top it off, he graduates as a Doctor this year and a very knowledgeable lifter too.

EK: Hi Josh, thanks for joining us and taking time out of your busy schedule. To start off, can you give our readers a bit of background on yourself.

Josh: I’m 24 years old, a competitive powerlifter, and I qualify as a doctor this summer.

My first sport was gymnastics, which I began at a very young age, and by my early teens I competed to a national level. Gymnastics conditioning training was my first glimpse of strength work. I remember when I was as young as 10 years old I was sneaking into the weights gym before training!

I come from a rugby background, having growing up in Bath, with my father (Richard Hill) being an ex-international Rugby Union player, and thus inevitably aspired to follow in his footsteps. He was the first one to take me to the gym, and I began to follow a proper strength training programme when I was twelve.

Over the coming years I continued to read about training, improving my knowledge and understanding, adapting my programmes as I went along. From time to time I would visit the rugby clubs my dad was coaching to get advice from the strength and conditioning staff.

By the age of 18 I was able to bench press 180kg raw (unequipped), and deadlift 315kg with a bodyweight around 95kg. From then I began to improve on my strength year after year, winning several British titles in the teenage and junior categories, and so far have continued to be able to bench 10x my age (a little challenge I set myself – lets see how long it can go on!). Last year I won the senior British Bench Press Championships in my weight category, and best overall lifter, with a raw bench press of 233kg (unequipped), which was also the British record in the 110kg and 100kg weight classes.

EK: Those are some big weights being moved at such a young age. What made you make the switch from Rugby to Powerlifting?

Josh: My plans were altered somewhat when I sustained a significant injury to my shoulder whilst competing in a Judo match at the age of sixteen. The injury required surgical repair and a considerable amount of physiotherapy before I could return to contact sports, and by the time my shoulder was ready for this, I had started my medical degree at Bristol University.

Once at university I began training in the Empire Sports Club, a famous weightlifting gym and boxing club where Bristol Rugby Club were training at the time. After finishing lectures each day, I’d head straight to the gym where at the time a powerlifter, Craig Coombes, always trained. I always used to stand and watch in awe as Craig lifted. I had never before seen someone squat over 300kg or shoulder press 90kg dumbbells.

After a while Craig approached me and explained that I was naturally strong and considering I was training at the same time as him each day, whether I would like to join in and begin competing, an offer that I was eventually to take up.

EK: Moving on, can you give us your best competition lifts so far? And your best training maxes?

Josh: Sure thing. In competition, my best lifts are:
Squat (equipped) 400kg
Bench press (equipped) 270kg
Bench press (unequipped) 233kg
Deadlift 330kg

In training, my best lifts so far are:
Squat (equipped) 420kg
Squat (unequipped) 340kg
Bench press (equipped) 300kg
Bench press (unequipped) 240kg
Deadlift 350kg
Deadlift (wearing wrist straps) 390kg

Obviously the challenge is putting all of the lifts together on the same day!

EK: Those are some impressive lifts! What does your training philosophy look like in getting you this far? What have you learned along your journey to date?

Josh: From time to time I would train with the Bath Rugby S&C coach (Chris Gaviglio), an Australian shot-putter, and before he left to return to the southern hemisphere, he put me in touch with a renowned sports doctor turned sports scientist, Christian Cook. Since then, Christian has continued to help me progress in powerlifting, providing me support with training structure, new ideas, principles, and nutritional advice.

I guess, since having support from Christian, I have changed my training philosophy somewhat – I have come to realise the importance of ‘leaving something in the tank’. What I mean by that is, you shouldn’t be failing reps in normal training sessions on compound lifts; there shouldn’t be any assisted reps – it is important to get into a habit of succeeding, and in order to do this you must carefully select weights for training based on a realistic target at the end of the training block – make gradual and constant improvements.

If you have done an entire 6 weeks of training without failing even one heavy rep, when it comes to attempting that new PB in week 7, you will be confident you can lift it, and confidence counts for a lot in lifting. Similarly, if you have completed successfully every attempt in a training block leading up to a competition, why would you even contemplate failing that last and final attempt at a new PB?

Those thoughts of failure, and ‘what if’, will never come into your mind when you are under that heavy weight. As a young lifter, it is too easy to see the route to being strong as lifting as heavy as you can every time you enter the gym; I have made that mistake before, and I’m sure I am not alone.

EK: Those are some great words and ones that every trainee would do well to adhere too. All too often you see people killing themselves and ‘failing’ in the gym. It’s a marathon, not a sprint!
Moving on, what’s your favourite of the competition lifts?

Josh: Undoubtedly my favourite event is the unequipped bench press – it’s the one always asked about. I can’t remember the last time someone asked me how much I deadlift or squat!

EK: Too true! What’s the best advice you could pass on to aspiring powerlifters?

Josh: Just because you are a powerlifter and won’t be getting on stage, it does not give you the right to indulge in poor nutrition and be fat! Stay lean, and train as much as possible without equipment, remembering to keep the habit of successful reps in training.

EK: Great advice Josh. What does the future look like for you in powerlifting?

Josh: My goal as a powerlifter is to get invited to compete in professional powerlifting meets in the USA. To do that I need to prove myself in amateur competition – I have made a good start, but now I want to take my strength to the next level. I know that strength can continue to increase into your late 30s, and my intention is to make my body as strong as my genetics will allow. To reach my genetic potential, whatever that may be.

EK: We’re sure you will most definitely do just that with the mindset you’ve got. Thanks again Josh for taking the time to join us today, and I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from you soon.


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!

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