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Posts Tagged ‘athletic strength training’

Why You’re Not Getting Stronger

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Around here, the kids are all back in school and they have the whole year ahead of them.

There’s tons of excitement as they look forward to the many possibilities and potential for the year.

I still remember my Senior year, when I said I was going to not play basketball (which I pretty much hated) and just concentrate on baseball.

I wanted to go into the school weight room three days a week and put on some serious muscle, because I was 6-feet tall and about 200-lbs, but thought for sure with hard work I could put on some muscle and show up for my Freshman Year in college looking like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire.

While I never ended up looking like Mark or Barry, I did end up putting on some muscle and planting the seeds that would grow into a life-long interest in weight training.

Unfortunately, at the time, I didn’t realize some of the things these guys were doing and taking in order to get so freakish. I also didn’t realize that there was a difference between training for size and for training with strength. I just went in there and did what I read about in bodybuilding magazines and didn’t understand the importance of proper loading and rep schemes in order to get stronger. If finding a balance between muscle gains and improvements in strength levels is something that you struggle with, then today’s article is perfect for you.

Today’s post comes from Eric Cressey. Eric is probably best known for his work with professional baseball players at his facility in Connecticut, Cressey Performance, but he is also know for his work in the arena of fitness and especially the field of strength & conditioning. His knowledge blows me away and he is one of the few professionals in the field I subscribe to. Every article, video and product he puts out is GOLD. Possibly his most well-recognized work, Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look Feel and Move Better is on sale for this week only for $50 off the regular price.

Enjoy today’s post from this world class author, speaker coach, and lifter.

5 Reasons You’re Not Getting Stronger

By: Eric Cressey

Like most lifters, I gained a lot of size and strength in my first 1-2 years of training in spite of the moronic stuff that I did. Looking back, I was about as informed as a chimp with a barbell – but things somehow worked out nonetheless. That is, however, until I hit a big fat plateau where things didn’t budge.

Truthfully, “big fat plateau” doesn’t even begin to do my shortcomings justice. No exaggeration: I spent 14 months trying to go from a 225-pound bench to 230. Take a moment and laugh at my past futility (or about how similar it sounds to your own plight), and we’ll continue.

All set? Good – because self-deprecating writing was never one of my strengths. I have, however, become quite good at picking heavy stuff off the floor – to the tune of a personal-best 660-pound deadlift at a body weight of 188.


Eric Cressey, 660-lb Deadlift

My other numbers aren’t too shabby, either, but this article isn’t about me; it’s about why YOU aren’t necessarily getting strong as fast as you’d like. To that end, I’d like to take a look at a few mistakes people commonly make in the quest to gain strength. Sadly, I’ve made most of these myself at some point, so hopefully I can save you some frustration.

Mistake #1: Only doing what’s fun and not what you need.

As you could probably tell, deadlifting is a strength of mine – and I enjoy it. Squatting, on the other hand, never came naturally to me. I always squatted, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it took the back seat to pulling heavy.

Eventually, though, I smartened up and took care of the issue – by always putting squatting before deadlifting in all my lower-body training sessions (twice a week). I eventually wound up with a Powerlifting USA Top 100 Squat in my weight class.

More interestingly, though, in addition to me dramatically improving my squat, a funny thing happened: I actually started to enjoy squatting. Whoever said that you can’t teach an old dog (or deadlifter) new tricks didn’t have the real scoop.

Mistake #2: Not taking deload periods.

One phrase of which I’ve grown quite fond is “fatigue masks fitness.” As a little frame of reference, my best vertical jump is 37.3” – but on most days, I won’t give you anything over 34” or so. The reason is very simple: most of your training career is going to be spent in some degree of fatigue. How you manage that fatigue is what dictates your adaptation over the long- term.

On one hand, you want to impose enough fatigue to create supercompensation – so that you’ll adapt and come back at a higher level of fitness. On the other hand, you don’t want to impose so much fatigue that you dig yourself a hole you can’t get out of without a significant amount of time off.

Good programs implement strategic overreaching follows by periods of lighter training stress to allow for adaptation to occur. You can’t just go in and hit personal bests in every single training session.

Mistake #3: Not rotating movements.

It never ceases to amaze me when a guy claims that he just can’t seem to add to his bench press (or any lift, for that matter), and when you ask him what he’s done to work on it of late, and he tells you “bench press.” Specificity is important, but if you aren’t rotating exercises, you’re missing out on an incredibly valuable training stimulus: rotating exercises.

While there is certainly a place for extended periods of specificity (Smolov squat cycles, for instance), you can’t push this approach indefinitely. Rotating my heaviest movements was one of the most important lessons I learned along my journey. In addition to helping to create adaptation, you’re also expanding your “motor program” and avoiding overuse injuries via pattern overload.

I’m not saying that you should overhaul your entire program with each trip to the gym, but there should be some semi-regular fluctuation in exercise selection. The more experienced you get, the more often you’ll want to rotate your exercises (I do it weekly). Assistance exercises ecan be shuffled every four weeks, though.

Mistake #4: Inconsistency in training.

I tell our clients from all walks of life that the best strength and conditioning programs are ones that are sustainable. I’ll take a terrible program executed with consistency over a great program that’s only done sporadically. This is absolutely huge for professional athletes who need to maximize progress in the off-season; they just can’t afford to have unplanned breaks in training if they want to improve from year to year. However, it’s equally important for general fitness folks who don’t have an extensive training background to fall back on, unlike the professional athletes.

If a program isn’t conducive to your goals and lifestyle, then it isn’t a good program. That’s why I went out of my way to create 2x/week, 3x/week, and 4x/week strength training options – plus five supplemental conditioning options and a host of exercise modifications – when I pulled Show and Go together; I wanted it to be a very versatile resource.

Likewise, I wanted it to be safe; a program isn’t good if it injures you and prevents you from exercising. Solid programs include targeted efforts to reduce the likelihood of injury via means like mobility warm-ups, supplemental stretching recommendations, specific progressions, fluctuations in training stress, and alternative exercises (“plan B”) in case you aren’t quite ready to execute “Plan A.”

For me personally, I attribute a lot of my progress to the fact that at one point, I actually went over eight years without missing a planned lift. It’s a bit extreme, I know, but there’s a lesson to be learned.

Mistake #5: Wrong rep schemes

Beginners can make strength gains on as little as 40% of their one-rep max. Past that initial period, the number moves to 70% – which is roughly a 12-rep max for most folks. Later, I’d say that the number creeps up to about 85% – which would be about a 5-rep max for an intermediate lifter. This last range is where you’ll find most people who head to the internet for strength training information.

What they don’t realize is that 85% isn’t going to get the job done for very long, either. My experience is that in advanced lifters, the fastest way to build strength is to perform singles at or above 90% of one-rep max with regularity. As long as exercises are rotated and deloading periods are included, this is a strategy that can be employed for an extended period of time. In fact, it was probably the single (no pun intended) most valuable discovery I made in my quest to get stronger.

I’m not saying that you should be attempting one-rep maxes each time you enter the gym, but I do think they’ll “just happen” if you employ this technique.

To take the guesswork out of all this and try some programming that considers all these crucial factors (and a whole lot more), check out Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look Feel and Move Better.

-Eric Cressey-


Simple But Awesome Glute Activation Exercise

Thursday, January 19th, 2012


Image Source: EliteTrack.com

If you spend a lot of time seated, or if you travel a lot in vehicles or in airplanes, then this post is for you.

Also, if you are an athlete and your sport requires you to be able to perform powerful movements with the lower body, like jumping and bounding, then this post is for you.

In addition if you run, whether in sprinting fashion or distance, then this post is for you.

And if you participate in strength sports or feats of strength, then this post is for you as well because today I am going to show you how you can get more power out of your glutes which will lead to better striding power when running, better leaping and jumping power, and better executtion of posterior chain strength movements such as deadlifts, cleans, throws, and braced bends.

Importance of the Glute Muscles to Sport, Strength and Power Movements

Your Glutes are some of the most powerful muscles in your body.

They are heavily involved in Power Movements like jumping and sprinting as well as directional changes.

Unfortunately, if you spend a lot of time sitting down, then you might be making your Glute strength disappear.

You see, when you are seated, your hips remain in a flexed position. Over time this joint angle at the hip can cause the hip flexors to shorten and tighten.

The image above from Human Kinetics shows the relationship between the front of the body and the rear. With tight hip flexors, generally comes weak lower abdominals and conversely, the muscles on the opposite side, the lower lumbar muscles and the glutes get weakened and can’t do what they are meant to do.

When the hip flexors shorten like this and become tight, they can actually hinder the amount of power your glutes can generate because they will keep your hips from extending correctly in the movements we mentioned earlier, such as jumping, running and other unilateral and power movements.

To illustrate this a bit better, imagine trying to jump up in the air, but attached to your waistline is a chain on either side, connecting you to the floor, and just as you are about to really get some drive going, the chains hit their maximum length and won’t allow you to explode. That is kind of what is going on when you have tight hip flexors.

Two of the main reasons to address this issue are stretching the hip flexors and activating the glutes.

Understanding the Hip Flexors

In the image above, you can see where the hip flexors are located, and where they attach. A lot of people don’t realize the actual articulations of the hip flexors.

Per Wikipedia:

Origins: The Psoas major originates along the lateral surfaces of the vertebral bodies of T12 and L1-L5 and their associated intervertebral discs. The Psoas minor, which presents in only some 40 percent of the population, originates at the transverse processes of L1-L5. The Iliacus originates in the Iliac fossa of the pelvis

Insertions: Psoas major unites with iliacus at the level of the inguinal ligament and crosses the hip joint to insert on the lesser trochanter. The Psoas minor inserts at the iliopectineal arch, the thickened band at the iliac fascia which separates the muscular lacuna from the vascular lacuna. femoral nerve, L1, L2

Common Hip Flexor Stretches

For individuals who have tight hip flexors, one of the ways to correct the situation is with stretching. Below is a commonly used stretch and some slight variations in order to intensify it.

Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

One common Hip Flexor stretch is the kneeling hip flexor stretch. Just getting into a position like what is shown above is not good enough, however. You must keep the torso upright and as you move forward, keep the pressure directed into the hip flexor muscles themselves. Improper angling here can result in stretching the quad. The quad originates on the ilium so its path is similar to the hip flexors. Not that there’s anything wrong with stretching the quad, but the purpose of this stretch is the hip flexor.

With Arm Raised

This stretch can also be intensified by raising the arm on the same side as the leg being stretched.

With Foot Elevated

As your flexibility increases, the rear foot can also be elevated to increase the stretch on the hip flexor and the quad as well.

Again, this is just one stretch that you can do for the hip flexors, along with a few modifications. In a bit I am going to show you another exercise to try that actually stretches my hip flexor even better while activating the glutes at the same time.

How to Activate the Glutes

When tightness on one side of the body inhibits a muscle on the opposite side of the body, we often have to retrain the muscle to fire properly. In the case of Glutes that have been shut down, the athlete has probably learned to use the hamstrings and muscles of the lower back to provide the force needed for hip extension. We have to get the body back in tune by training the Glutes to fire when they are supposed to.

Glute Bridge

Perhaps the most common of Glute activation exercises is the glute bridge. This movement can be done with one or two legs, and can be modified by extending a leg or by adding resistance, such as chains.

Quadruped Hip Extension

Quadruped refers to being on all fours. One leg is then lifted upwards by means of the Glutes. Very simple to perform, but attention must be put forth not to cheat or use momentum.

Fire Hydrant

Named after a dog lifting its leg to mark a fire hydrant, I learned this movement from Joe Defranco, and in particular, I learned that you don’t half-ass this movement (sorry for the pun, but I had to). The way I heard Joe describe this movement is to imagine you’re sneaking into a house through a very large window. Perform the exercise by carefully pulling the hip around the full range of motion, slowly and deliberately. Doing the exercise like this REALLY helps you feel it. Don’t just go through the motions.

How to Do Both at the Same Time

There is absolutely plenty of value in performing the above exercises. I have done all of them and they have worked for me in varying degrees.

However, recently, when shooting footage for a DVD on Braced Bending, I stumbled onto an exercise that actually is highly effective at stretching the hip flexors while getting an extremely intense contraction from the glutes. In fact, of all the Glute exercises I’ve ever tried, none of them can compare to the heightened contraction of this maneuver.

I call this move the Knee Driver, because I was using it to demonstrate the initial kink used when braced bending things like steel bars, wrenches and other odd objects. In the initial kink, you use the strength of your glute to drive your knee into the bar to get it to bend, thus the Knee Driver.

Knee Driver



My apologies for the poor quality video. I had changed the settings
by accident and did not realize it was so grainy until I uploaded it.


For me, I have never felt a Glute Exercise that caused such a deep and hard contraction of my Glute Muscles. I mean, this exercise balled my glute up so tightly when I first tried it that I could not believe it, plus it stretched my hip flexors at the same time, and I have done it just about every workout since then in order to get my Glutes ready to go.

I like to perform this exercise for two sets with each leg and to do at least 6 to 8 good solid contractions per set. I don’t even bother with a lot of the other glutes exercises I used to do, because the contractions pale in comparison to what I get out of the Knee Driver.

I encourage you to give this a try and report back what you have found and how it compares to other exercises you have tried.

All the best in your training.

Jedd


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Grip Strength Challenge – Barbell Snatch

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Slight Change of Plans, DIESELS!

A couple weeks back, we contested the Dumbbell Snatch and I said that during the week of June 11th we would be contesting the Barbell Snatch.

I am changing that up, but it is for a VERY COOL REASON.

After this week, the next four weeks’ challenges will be WILD CARD events to qualify for the Wild Card spots at the North American Grip National Championship on July 16th, 2011.

ANYONE in North America can take part and instantly qualify, IF they win in just ONE of the FOUR wild card weeks.

Next week, the challenge will be the Two Hands Pinch. The Euro-Pinch device will not be necessary. Instead, two 35’s or 45’s or their kilogram counterparts can be used with a pipe through the middle. An entire video demonstration will be available on my YouTube Channel showing you exactly what to do.

IF YOU WANT TO COMPETE WITH THE BEST IN THE NATION, BUT HAVE HAD NO QUALIFIERS NEAR YOU, THEN THIS IS YOUR CHANCE TO GET TO NATIONALS.

That’s next week – let’s look at this week’s challenge!

This Week’s Challenge – Barbell Snatch

The Barbell Snatch is another OUTSTANDING drill for developing not only full body strength, power, and explosiveness, but also Grip Strength, as long as you don’t mess around with a hook grip or use straps (please don’t be that guy…)

The Barbell Snatch is great for athletes because it trains the core, is a posterior chain dominant, and it also requires the all-important triple extension of the ankles, knees, and hips, which is also present in jumping, leaping/bounding, and sprinting. So put this movement, or a variation, into your program on a routine basis to get the most benefit.

To perform the Barbell Snatch, load up a barbell and Snatch it overhead in one movement.

For the challenge, again, no hook grip or straps are allowed. A wrist wrap is fine for support and injury prevention and belts and chalk are also perfectly fine.

To see the Barbell Snatch in action, just play the video below.

The winner this week will be the one who Snatches the most weight the most times in one (1) minute. No press-outs will be counted. Also, the off-hand should be used to a minimum. My watchful eye will be checking this out. And again, no hook grip or straps!

Make sure you are getting quality reps. You should be locked out with one hand on the bar and feet in line. Any questionable reps will not be counted. I will begin the 1-minute time limit once you begin your first rep.

Get warmed up and get your best effort on film! Remember, any number of reps at a higher weight will beat any number of reps at a lower weight. So go heavy and go for time!

Let’s see those submissions, and please pass this on to anyone you think might be interested in winning one off the Wild Card spots at Nationals for their Division, so they can participate next week.

All the best in your training.

Jedd

P.S. Get on the Strongman Training DVD Early Bird List. Put your name and email in the box below.


Slippery Rock Strength Clinic Rundown

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

This past weekend, I traveled to Slippery Rock University to speak at the 3rd Annual Pennsylvania Strength Clinic. The clinic was organized by Tony Tridico (Titusville) and the on-site organizer was Dr. Jonathan Anning (Slippery Rock).

The entire clinic was designed around the premise of how to build a solid strength and conditioning program and each speaker presented with this in mind… (more…)

Hardest Core Exercise – Part II – Dragon Flags with Bruce Lee Son!

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Hardest Core Exercise – Part II

Dragon Flags with Bruce Lee Son!

by Jim Smith, CSCS, RKC

In the first installment of Hardest Core Exercise Ever, you’ll remember we setup a sit-up to press on the GHR bench with two kettlebells.  This variation provided a high intensity, powerful contraction of the rectus abdominis and hip flexors, as well as engagement of the lats.  A contralateral torque was also was also overcome by the internal / external obliques and TA.  More so when the kettlebells were pressed independently.

In this next installment, we will target the same musculature with another high intensity exercise.  It is not called the Hardest Core Exercise Series for nothing!

For our next exercise, we’ll give a shout out to the guy with one of the best known six-packs in the biz – Bruce Lee.  No one can deny his world-class physique.  But unlike most guys, he was not only ripped, he was strong.  And one of the reasons for his strength was some of the advanced bodyweight exercises he used in his training.  One such exercise was the Dragon Flag.

Oh you’re still not convinced, let me throw in Rocky from Rocky IV (even though Rocky III was the best one!)  Sly was at his peak and wanted to show how hard he was training to conquer the evil Russian.  So again, the Dragon Flag was pulled out.

Dragon Flags

Dragon Flags are performed by bracing hard on a bench or hard surface, while locking your arms in a fixed position.  The legs are driven up as if you are performing a reverse crunch.  From there, the lifter will lower themselves down not allowing any part of their body to touch the bench except for their upper back.  This is an important form cue.  This makes the exercise so much harder.  The lifter lowers their body until it is right above the bench.  The other important coaching cue is to make sure when the lifter raises back up, they do NOT bend at the waist, but rather raise their entire body as it was lowered, in a straight line.

Why Are Dragon Flags Good?

Dragon Flags entire the entire torso.  The entire torso is (and should be considered) the core.  Isolated movements attempting to target one muscle group are not effective in the real world.  More torso rigidity for squats, deads, bench press, clean & press, sporting events, athletes, power development, etc…you name it, is developed with Dragon Flags.  Long duration tension (static and engaging strength training movement patterns) along with a full body engagement will always be preferred in the long run.

Where to Incorporate Dragon Flags?

We typically engage them after the workout.  We know that the athletes are warmed up by that time and also that none of their primary lifts will be affected by the recovery from doing the Dragon Flags.  They are a seriously powerful movement and full recovery between sets is a must in order to give an all out effort with each attempt.

If I Can’t Do a Dragon Flag, What Do I Do?

You can modify the Dragon Flags to make them easier if you can’t perform them right away.  It took me a long time to be able to start hitting them on a regular basis.  You can just perform negatives.  Lower as slowly as possible and then drop your feet onto the bench and drive back up to the starting point.  You could lower slowly as far as you can and then tuck your knees to your chest instead of raising back up and keeping your body straight.  This would be considered then next level up.  If you can hit the knee tucks AND control the negative to a stopping point above the bench and with your body in a straight line, you can then move to the full execution.

Dragon Flags

As you’ll see in the video, I hit 5 reps on the first set.  I think I could have hit a couple more with good form.  In the second set, I throw on ONE 10lb ankle weight and try it again.  You’ll have to check out the video to see how I did!

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