Monthly Archives: November 2015
Seriously, Get a Grip.
In the days of old the test of manliness was what we know it to be today. People didn’t run around asking one another his common question:
“How much ya Bench?”
Instead they would ask this one:
“Good Morning Good Sir, would you mind sharing with me what numbers which you press?”
Okay, it might not have been asked in that exact way but you get the idea.
It was back in the days when the Clean & Press were highly regarded as the true test of ones strength, this also used to be an Olympic event (along with some other lifts too), but it was seen as too dangerous for people to press heavy weight overhead in the ways they did, thus it was removed (with the other odd lifts as well) and the Clean & Jerk/Snatch were all that was left. This left the world without an ego movements so the modern times now favour the bench press because of powerlifting over the press (some call it Military Press others Overhead Press etc,) because it was the only pressing movement left they recognised.
Another reason people tend to favour this is because it’s easier and you can lift more weight that way. The Press, Bench Press, Incline Press, The Behind Neck Press are all part of the pressing family, it’s just that some are not as favoured as others due to their difficulty and effect on the amount of weight that can be lifted (hurting ones ego).
We have covered tips to improve both the Squat and the Deadlift, today’s will be revolved around the pressing movements, we shall start with the Press (Overhead Press) and then move in to the Bench.
On a side note, you will find if your press goes up your bench will too.
When Performing the Press there are 3 main things you want to remember:
– Assume the Position (Elbow, Wrist & Hand)
– Total Body Tension
– Press in a Straight Line
Only 3 tips while the others had 5, why only 3?
Keep reading and all will be revealed.
Assume the Position (Elbow & Wrist) –
Firstly you will now to adopt the correct pressing position. To achieve this you will want your elbows to be directly under the bar before your being your press, this means that your elbows, forearms and wrists will be in one STRAIGHT line. You want to avoid your wrists being bent backwards and in a poor position (people who moan it hurts their wrists don’t have the correct alignment and need to re-rack and start again).
If you’re sat now reading this I want you to make a fist and point your thumbs as your shoulder while having your elbow in front of your body pointing straight down to the floor. Notice what a straight elbow/forearm/wrist position looks like, now have your thumbs face each other by turning your from your forearms (like you’re holding a bar) you will find your hands are about shoulder width apart and level with your clavicle (roughly) , this is where your hands will need to be once you grip the bar. Straighten your arms out and take hold of the bar and move in until it rests on your clavicle with your elbow/forearm/wrist all lined up correctly.
Next we learn about a forgotten part of the press Total Body Tension. this can be the difference between a good press and a spinal injury.
Total Body Tension –
I’m sure you’ve seen it, you know, the reverse banana shape people take on while pressing a weight overhead (well they are actually pressing it away from them which leads to this, but that will be covered later) that send shivers down your spine as you think they’re going to snap in half. I know you’ve seen this and chances are you probably do it too, I know how easily it can happen because I used to do it too.
What was missing? Yep, total body tension.
When you set up/unrack and wall out the bar you want to grip it hard and firm, not you literally want to squeeze the bar as hard as you possible can, like white knuckle tight so that you create and irradiation effect that travels through the entire body recruiting multiple muscles and motor units ready for the press to begin (much like gripping the bar as described for the deadlift). You will also do well to secure your lower body by screwing your feet in to the floor (as with the squat) contracting your quads, glutes, core and upper back as hard as possible, you want your body to be TIGHT so that you have no power leakage at all.
Don’t forget your Power Breathing too, this will help increase inter-abdominal pressure meaning more stability and strength. Once you’ve got your body connected (as one whole unit) it’s time to get your pressing alignment right.
Press in a Straight Line –
This might sound obvious but you’d be surprised how often people try and press away from their body rather than directly over it, possibly due to too much bench and poor posture.
When you press a weight overhead you want to press in a straight line so that the bar stays over the centre line of your body, which will obviously be filled with tension and resistant to buckling in to the fabled banana shape.
There’s only one problem though isn’t there.… Your head gets in the way.
How do you solve the problem of your head being in the way? You simply draw your chin back allowing the bar to pass nicely by. Once the bar is past your head you don’t have to keep it drawn back and I would encourage you allow it to return to a neutral position so that you can finish the press with the correct alignment.
The finished press should find your biceps by or slightly behind your ears but never in front of them. This final position means your body and arms will be in once straight line (relatively speaking).
With those little tips you will find yourself hitting new numbers in your overhead work with ease, along with the added benefit of much stronger and more stable shoulders which will actually improve your bench numbers which leads us nicely on to the next set of tips which are to help you improve your bench.
The bench tips are as follows (some will look familiar):
– Assume the Position (Elbow, Wrist, Hand, back & Feet)
– Total Body Tension
– Pull the Bar Down (Between Nipples & Sternum)
– Press in a Straight Line
The tips are similar but not identical so be sure to read them carefully.
Assume the Position (Elbow, Wrist, Hand, back & Feet) & Total Body Tension –
For a good starting grip width I would advice using the same hand spacing as you would for your press, perhaps 1-2 inches wider if it’s more comfortable but that’s down to personal choice. Your elbow, wrist and hand position will need to be in a straight line just as with the press but you also now have to think about your back and foot position as you’re led down for this press variation.
Once you’re led under the bar (eyes should be under the bar before unracking) and have taken a firm grip you want to start to grip it tight and create the irradiation effect. Your shoulder blades should be drawn down and back (towards your butt) to create lots of upper back tension as this will become important for creating a stable base. When it comes to your foot position I encourage you to have both feet flat on the floor and directly under your knees (or slightly further back), for now keep your feet flat on the floor and drive your heels in to the ground and create tension throughout your entire lower body, linking this with a tight back means you’re giving yourself the best possible (and most stable) base to hit some big bench numbers.
Don’t forget your Power Breathing here too.
Your entire body should be tight, almost to the point of shaking, if it is then you’re ready and should have someone help you unrack the bar and hold it steady over your chest ready with your elbows turned slightly in, try to bend the bar in your hands as you hold it, that will help put your elbows in the right position for you to descend in to the press.
Now it’s time for the descent…
Pull the Bar Down (Between Nipples & Sternum) –
Yep. PULL THE BAR DOWN.
Once you’ve unracked the bar, take one more deep breath and get in as much extra air as possible you will want to pull the bar down to your chest while pull your chest up to the bar if that makes sense, it will touch somewhere between your nipples and the top of your sternum. As you pull the bar down you want to keep the mental image of trying to bend the bar (mentioned above) your elbows will be slightly tucked meaning you can get your lats in to the movement to help you press the weight back up. Pulling the bar down also creates even more tension and can help activate the stretch reflex and help you begin the press.
Press in a Straight Line –
As this tip says press in a straight line from where you came down, it’s pretty simple really. As you press begin to exhale and grind out that lift as fast as possible. As the press makes it’s way up keep a tight grip on the bar and keep the press moving, you will find your elbows mighty slightly flare on the way up once they get past the half way sticking point, this isn’t really problem but try to avoid deliberately flaring them unless you know exactly why you’re doing it, otherwise let it happen naturally and concentrate on pressing that bar in a nice straight line all the way to a new PB.
With the Presses covered that now bring us to the end of the this bout of lifting tips, it’s time to go out and practice what you’ve learnt. Don’t be afraid to remove some weight to improve your technique, trust me you will thank me in the long run.
Now of you go and practice.
Last week I felt like sharing some of the lessons I had learnt regarding the squat and some teaching points to help it improve. Today I will be doing the same but for the Deadlift, also known as the King of exercises.
Over the years I have picked up 5 tips that helped improve my deadlift and help me break through those milestone targets.
– Bar Position (Foot Position)
– Shin Position (The Hinge Set Up)
– Getting Tight (Hand & Body Position)
– Pushing the Floor Away (Begin the Grind)
– Moving as One (United We Stand, Divided We Fall)
If you’re ready let us begin.
Bar Position (Foot Position) –
Unfortunately for a lot of people they are at a disadvantage before they’ve even attempted to break the weight from the floor.
What do I mean by this?
When I see people set up the most common mistake is the bar position. Many will have it too far forwards in relation to their foot, often over the ball of the foot or the toes, this leads to them often shifting their weight (knees) forwards in an attempt to get down to the bar already making the lift inefficient.
*If you’re wondering how far apart your feet should be my advice for that would be to prepare to take a standing long jump, you will notice they are often close (around hip width apart at max, possibly closer) and facing forwards, this is how far apart your feet should be.
The bar need to be placed over the MIDDLE of your foot. If you look at your foot you will see the middle is actually very close the the bottom of your shin/ankle, people forget that their foot runs from their heel to their big toe and often measure the middle from their instep to their big toe, this is a grave mistake. If the bar starts out a little too far away then you have little to no hope of pulling the bar in with your lats and keeping it close when you’re performing the deadlift, this can lead to missed lifts and even potential injury, not to mention a dysfunctional and horrid looking technique.
More on technique later…
The next time you set up to the bar be sure to look down and make sure the bar is int he middle of your foot, it might seem like a silly tip but it’s one that most people would benefit from knowing. I myself used to set up incorrectly and literally added 10kg to my lift when I adjusted my bar position.
Shin Position (The Hinge Set Up) –
Once you’ve got the correct bar position in relation to your foot you will need to aim to keep your shins as vertical as possible. This is an interesting topic because everyone has slightly different proportions but the overall lesson applies to everyone.
Imagine your calves are touching a box, you can even place a box behind you if you wish so that you don’t have to imagine it, you can feel it!
Keep the whole calves to box imagine in your mind (or calves touching a box of you’re lucky enough to have one) reach down for the bar.
Did you find your knees drifting forwards and as a results your shins ended up making the bar roll forwards slightly?
It’s only move the bar slightly, that won’t be too much of a problem, right?
WRONG! Stand up, reset and start again.
The problem of the knees drifting forwards is common and often a result of years of incorrect bar placement in relation to the foot. What’s that you say? Some elite level lifters knees go slightly over the bar. They’re the elite, they can do what they like. We are not he elite so we need to get the basics solid before we can start to bend the rules slightly, though you will actually find that the elites still end up breaking the weight from the floor with their shins in a vertical (or as close as their structure will allow).
*Have your hands about shoulder width apart, so they can hand straight down naturally. use a double overhand grip for as long as possible.
Now you’ve reset and are planning to take hold of the bar again I want you to think about hinging from your hips. Stick you ass back as far as possible so that you begin to build tension in those hamstrings and start getting tight (more on this soon), keep sitting back while descending to grab the bar and you will notice your shins stay in a good position and the bar does not move.
If you struggle to achieve this them put the bar or perhaps a 4 inch block and practice taking hold of it with good shin position and lower the block by 1/2-1inch each time until you can get in to the correct position from the floor.
Once you’re able to firmly grasp the bar from this hinging movement, with vertical shins it’s time to get tight and get in to the final position read for the main lift.
Getting Tight (Hip, Back & Body Position) –
I’ve spoken about Bracing* before. I suggest you take in a good deep breath before descending/hinging to the bar, this will help you start to create inter-abdominal pressure and tension throughout the body (it also helps keep your back safe).
As you take hold of the bar with your first hand pull against the bar hard while trying to pull your shoulder blade back and down (towards your pockets), then push/screw your foot in to the floor on the same side creating all over tension on that side. Now take hold with the other hand and do the same.
Always keep pulling against the bar hard so that you’re creating an irradiation effect (this means the harder you grip the more muscle/motor units you will recruit), from here start pulling yourself slightly backwards, this will start to lower your hips in to the correct pulling position, your shins might even touch the bar as it is pull backwards towards to slightly. You know when you’re int he right position because you will feel tight and I mean REALLY TIGHT, your shins will be vertical (or as close as possible) with your entire back tight, your hamstrings loaded with tension and your shoulders inline or fractionally behind the bar (more directly over is optimal). This puts in in the correct position ready to grind out the lift. Yes GRIND out the lift, this will make sense soon.
If you’re thinking about head position I suggest keeping it in a neutral alignment, not ‘looking up’ because when people look up the crank their head back with actually dampened their neural output capabilities. Think long spine and slightly tucked chin (not head down!). Pick a spot to look at around 3-5 feet in front of you, that’s usually the place to be.
Doing all of this takes the slack out of the bar meaning that when you begin your grind you don’t get that initial weightless pull and then hit a block, it’s just the weight moving it’s way to a new PB.
Time to start the lift….
*Adopt a plank position and completely contract every muscle possible (especially your core musculature) now try to pack out any loose areas with air by controlling your breathing – try 10 second inhalations followed by 5 seconds holding all the air in. There is a term known as ‘Power Breathing’ which is worth researching that will help you learn more ways to practice bracing correctly.
Pushing the Floor Away (Begin the Grind) –
Wait… Push the floor away. The deadlift is a pulling movement isn’t it?
Yes and No.
From the floor your upper body (back, lats, etc) are static and holding you in position, considering your legs are primarily a pushing muscle you will be pushing the floor away you get the weight moving.
You want to think that you’re pulling the bar in/towards you and perhaps even slightly back as the weight gets past the knees but in the initial part of the lift where you break the weight from the floor you want to be keeping a nice tight position (described above) and push the floor away with your feet. Now what I am about to say will sound very controversial but hear me out…
DO NOT try to explode the weight off the floor.
When it comes to explosive power that has very little use for lift a ‘dead’ weight, you’re literally trying to create something from nothing when you try to explode in the deadlift and this will lead you you shooting your hips and ass in to the air and craning the lift up with your back and snapping yourself up good. Instead push the floor away while staying tight and grind against the weight, it will move and then you can keep grinding and maybe even pick up speed as the lift ascends.
When you use this style of technique the weight might feel like it’s not ever going to move but it will, trust me. You need to stick with it and it will come up, be patient and stay tight!
If you struggle from the floor then using a 1/2-1 inch deficit will help you overcome this problem, just apply/follow the tips above.
Moving as One (United We Stand, Divided We Fall) –
This links in with people who try to explode the weight off the floor. They lose all connection through their body and this results in an ugly lift that may or may not get 3 white lights.
Ideally you want to keep your body constantly tight throughout the entire lift, this will help keep everything moving together, as one.
The deadlift is a whole body movement. It works literally every muscle you have which is why it is the King of exercises (the squat being the Queen and the Overhead Press being the Prince), but you need to keep everything moving together to get the most out of the lift. If your hips outrun your upper body you will struggle to lockout or even get the lift past your knees, you want to lock everything out at the same time so you are stood up completely straight. None of this excessively leaning back rubbish, that says to me you’re not lifting as one unit and you’re leaking power, precious power you could be using to get more lbs on the bar.
While I’m not a fan of bands or accommodated resistance for anyone who doesn’t lift in gear I find using bands from he floor can actually hep you move the body as one unit, just don’t use them all the time otherwise you will be strong at lockout but unable to move the bar from the floor.
The above tips have been learnt through years of trial and error along with hours spent attending seminars with some of the best pullers in the world and all of them run o er these basics. One problem is many will see someone like Andy Bolton, Dan Green, Eddie Hall, Ed Coan and other such greats and try to copy their technique, but there is one problem… You’re not them and no where near their level. They practiced the basics for countless hours and you can see that their positions at certain points are almost identical, even if they start in different ways.
What are the main points to take away from this?
- Have a Solid Set Up& Get Tight
- Don’t Rush
- Move as One
Now go, practice and start hitting the numbers I know you can.
Walkouts, Partial Reps, Banded Moments, Movements with Chains, Lockout Reps, Board Pressing, the list of specialist exercises is numerous but do you really need them?
Today I thought I would share some information on 5 tips I’ve learnt over the years and used to improve my squat and help in achieving continued progression.