Last year I wrote two articles in which I discussed how to identify weak points within the bench press and deadlift, complete with a list of exercises that effectively combats those sticking points. I was happy to note that these articles have been read and shared a lot, so it’s about time that I conclude the powerlifting trilogy: Let’s talk about sticking points in the squats.
Gyms are on the verge of reopening their doors, which means that we may soon be united with a long lost muscle building friend: heavy lifting. Unfortunately not everyone has been able to keep up a rigorous training routine throughout the lockdown, so many are wondering: will I have to start all over? We've had a look at the latest research, and we're glad to conclude that your hard-earned muscles stick to your body much more loyally than you may think. In fact, you may have very well progressed in spite of the abstinence from heavy weights. Allow us to elaborate.
Keeping a rigorous training habit going in times of quarantine is not easy. Not for me at least, and I am guessing that many of you share this sentiment. Especially now that gratifying external motivations like a cool gym or glances of admiration at the beach are out of the equation. So why do we do it? And, more importantly: how do we keep wanting to do it? I could quote a cliche about how the tough get going here, but that's just not what I believe in. Instead, I'll share a bit of how I am going through this process myself, and what I do in order to keep my own training spirit alive.
Classic gym wisdom states that a strength training session acutely increases the amount of anabolic hormones in the blood, such as testosterone and growth hormone. This creation of an ‘anabolic environment’ is then believed to lead to more long term muscle growth, coined the hormone hypothesis. Based on this idea, many believe that in order to maximally grow one’s biceps, the legs should be trained first. But does science agree with this matter?
After blabbering on about the importance of movement in these trying times and why it's a good idea to treat yourself to some equipment, it is time to get to the heart of it. Moving for fitness is easy, but going a step further and turning a situation with limited equipment into serious strength training is a challenge. Especially when improving your bench or shoulder press is on your wishlist. But it can be done. I'll explain what is important to consider when looking for alternative exercises in pursuit of pressing gains, and provide you with a way to build your own program.
My online feeds are now flooded with videos of people lifting bottles of water and kitchen equipment. The pandemic life. While I'm pleased to see that so many keep moving, I fear that for the serious trainee it is not enough. Because although doing a couple of burpees in the living room is great for maintaining health, that's about all it has to offer. Training without proper equipment lacks variety and progression models, which will over time hurt your results and your training spirit. So in order to be ahead and keep things interesting, now is the time to invest in some training gear.
I love resistance bands. They are probably the most versatile tool in my gym bag, and a staple regarding exercise selection - even when I have state of the art equipment at my disposal. Also, they are portable and cheap. Just what we need now the gyms are closed. With a little creativity the amount of movements that can be performed with resistance bands is endless, but you have to know what you're doing in order to make it worth the while. So, in order to save you the hassle, I have cut through the crap and composed a list of eight movements that deserve a spot in your exercise library even well after you have returned to the barbell. Let's go:
Wow, this is a strange way to come back from my holiday. Before I left there was 'that thing in China', and now within the scope of just a few days the country is on lockdown. Including all gyms and other health-promoting facilities. And they may very well remain closed for months to come. Amidst questions that all of us deal with regarding the social, logistical and financial sides of our lives, there is a slumbering problem bound to soon rear its head. Because while staying at home may be great for containing viral infections and boosting your shares in Netflix, it is potentially catastrophic for the health of our bodies and minds.
Sometime last year a colleague of mine asked me whether I was still doing any heavy squats, because he hadn’t seen me do them for a while. ‘That is correct’, I replied. ‘Why not?’, he asked. And I told him that I just didn’t feel like doing them. That answer completely baffled him, because how can a guy who claims to be all about programming turn his back on the holy mothership of all leg exercises? Is he even serious? Well, I am. And I always have been very serious about my training. However, if there is one lesson that I have learned throughout the years, then it is that optimization only lasts if enjoyment is part of the plan.
If you're looking to cash in on your pressing potential, just performing the big barbell movements won't cut it. Simply because there is always that one lagging muscle in the pressing chain that is holding the rest back, and that needs extra training volume. Today's victim: the triceps. While there are tons of isolation ('single joint') exercises to train this muscle group with, not all of them do as much for improving your bench or strict press. I'll explain how to identify the right triceps exercises for this purpose, and also provide you with some of my own favorites. Programming tips included.
The deadlift is often considered to be among those few holy movement archetypes that everyone should be doing. The mothership of all hip and back building. I agree. And while most seem to be in agreement that it's a good idea to perform this movement with a stable and neutral back, style of grip remains more elusive. You'll see different gripping styles and accessories used, and I often receive questions as to what I'd recommend. So let's get to it!
"A man searching for his limits is bound to find them." I have no idea who said this, and Google can't seem to help, but I know that it's a phrase that echoes through my head every time I regard injuries. Because if you challenge your body hard enough, injuries will be part of the deal. And as I mentioned a few articles ago, I am currently dealing with an injury of my own. While it is a particular case, I thought I'd share my experience and thoughts of dealing with this both in specific and general. Because there are lessons to be had, regardless of what tissue is causing trouble.
You probably don't really care about your first few warmup sets. They are kind of boring, but you do them anyway because you vaguely remember tweaking your back that one time when you jumped straight into doing heavy deadlifts. So the lighter warmup sets are a necessary evil to quickly deal with, on your way to the fun zone. While this is understandable, a problem that arises is that many lifters under-appreciate their warmup sets to the extent that they don't really pay attention. They lie relaxed on the bench like a sack of potatoes while going through their light presses, or aimlessly bounce around in the bottom of their squats. And these habits set them up for poor performance and risk of injury later on. I'll explain.
A photo showing well developed muscles in the newest 'high tech' gym gear. Accompanied by a Churchill quote about getting up seven times after being knocked down six. Or was that Rocky? Who cares. Hashtag rise and grind. The message is clear: looking like this is a choice, and it’s awesome. If you’ve ever spent more than two minutes on social media, then I’m pretty sure you have seen your fill of these kinds of advertisements. Also, if you’re a bit like me, then you have probably struggled with what to think of this.
Most gym regulars love counting their sets and reps like their lives depend on it, but what they do with their time in between usually remains vague. The amount of rest taken between sets does actually have a big influence on training effectivity, so you better be counting with a purpose. As to how much time you should take for optimal results, there are - as always - many opinions. Unfortunately many of those opinions are based on little more than gut feel, so it's time to shed some light on the matter.