The Ultimate Guide to Deadlifts

Deadlifts are a great lower body and back strengthening exercise. Here is why it works, how to do it safely, and what to expect by deadlifting regularly.

HOW IT WORKS

Deadlifts are a compound exercise primarily working the legs and lower back. The exercise is popular because it is one of the big three lifts in powerlifting. Unfortunately, if done incorrectly, deadlifts can also lead to injury, which sometimes discourages people from performing it.

The objective of a deadlift is to improve strength in the posterior chain of muscles. These are the postural muscles of the upper and lower back, the glutes, the hamstrings and the gastrocnemius of the calves. This group of muscles spans many joints, and makes up a whole natural chain of movement. Anytime you bend over to pick something up, you use this chain!

By strengthening your body with deadlifts, you’ll have better posture, better lower leg strength and better back strength.

HOW TO DO IT CORRECTLY

Standard deadlifts are performed with a barbell, so we will describe the movement in this variation.

Start with a barbell on the floor or 8’ off the floor (a standard Olympic plate height) Place your hands with a grip slightly wider than your shoulders with palms down. Extend your back so that your spine is neutral and straight. Ensure that the barbell is touching shins, with feet under the bar. Shoulders should be down and back, and your neck should be neutral and long- not staring up ahead!

The correct standard start position is with knees bent and hips slightly lower than your shoulders. If looking at yourself in a mirror from the side, you should see your back just slightly inclined.

To activate the deadlift, engage the abdominal muscles to hold your core in place. Extend the knees first. As the bar begins to move, push your hips forward, extending the hip and keeping the bar as close to your body as possible.

To finish the movement, extend to a straight standing position with shoulders behind the bar. Return to the start position using the same technique.

VARIATIONS OF DEADLIFTS

Once you have mastered the technique of a deadlift, the rest is all about improving strength. Performing sets of 8 to 12 deadlifts is a great way to master the movement. You might choose to perform one of the many variations of deadlifts to work the same group of muscles but with different tools and for different goals.

Roman Deadlifts

This is synonymous with straight-leg deadlifts. These eliminate the work of the quads in the initiation of the movement. To perform a roman deadlift, keep your knees straight- but not locked out- at the start position. Your back should be parallel to the floor. This version requires more mobility in the hamstrings and focuses more on strengthening them as well.

Single leg deadlifts

These are a common one for people who do not want to use a lot of weight. They are also a great way to improve ankle and glute strength while improving balance. Using little or no weight in each hand, stand on one foot. Descend into a deadlift keeping your back straight and both legs as straight as possible. Your working leg remains stable, working at the hip. The lifted leg follows a straight line with the body, lifting backward.

Goodmornings

This is another way to target the hamstrings and glutes over the quadriceps.

…Continue reading 

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The Ultimate Guide to Pull-Ups

This ultimate exercise of upper body strength is one of the re-emerging most popular functional exercises. Here is how you can improve your pull up, how to correctly perform a pull-up and how to progress towards being able to perform a pull-up!

WHAT IT IS

Synonymous with chin-ups, this great exercise is a functional compound movement. The objective is simple; hanging from your hands on a bar or other object, pull your entire body upwards, lifting your head and neck beyond your hands.

HOW TO DO IT CORRECTLY

To get this exercise done correctly, you’ll need a structure that you can completely hang from. Palms should be facing forwards for the purpose of this standard movement. Hands should be slightly outside your shoulder-width.

To initiate the movement, start with your shoulder-blades pulled down your back, stabilizing the shoulders. Then continue to pull your weight vertically, bringing your chest towards the bar.

Avoid swinging, kicking and any other movement that might give you momentum. Keep your abdominals tight and feet together. Once you have passed the bar, lower yourself down with control, to a fully extended hanging position.

HOW TO LEARN TO PERFORM A PULL-UP CORRECTLY

Pull-ups are on the most-wanted list for men and women. There is something about the ability to pull one’s own weight around that spells ‘Fit’. There are several progressions that you can do to learn to do a pull-up. Being predominantly a strength movement with very little technique, two things matter most: Your strength – more strength means being able to move more weight.

  1. Your strength – more strength means being able to move more weight.
  2. Your weight – your bodyweight is what you have to move, making every pound count. If you are carrying a lot of extra weight it can take longer to get your pull up.

Here are the progressions to get to a pull-up from the most basic (lightest load) to the more specific. Work your way through each one, mastering it, then moving onto the next. Unfortunately, improving strength and to get your pull-up is not always linear. Expect bumps, setbacks and a lot of repetition.

Step 1: Low Bar Pull-Ups

This involves pulling your weight up but keeping the weight of your legs and lower half supported. Imagine using a barbell on a squat rack, and pulling yourself up using that bar, with your feet resting on the floor. This de-loads the weight that you will have to move but you still get the same exact muscle recruitment because the position of the body is virtually the same.

To master this technique, perform 3 or 4 sets of 5 to 10 reps. Place your feet farther away to increase the load in your arms. Once you’ve mastered this, try a band pull-up.

Step 2: Band Pull-Ups

This involves using giant elastic bands designed to hold a lot of weight, supporting you as you dip, alleviating some of the weight to be lifted over the bar. Anchor your band to a chin-up bar. Different bands have different levels of resistance which is usually indicated by a color. Try out a few if you aren’t sure how much help you will need. Place one foot into the band and the other crossed over the outside. You will feel a considerable amount of weight lifted as you pull yourself up.

To improve here, perform band pull-ups to failure at 5RM or so. If you can easily whip out 7 or more repetitions, the band is likely too strong, making your body too light to see strength improvements.

Step 3: Negative Pull-Ups

Negative doesn’t refer to any emotion here, just to the actual action you’ll be focused on! What is referred to as “negative” is the eccentric contraction of the movement? This is the descent part of a pull-up. This is contrary to the “positive” or concentric contraction when your body moves upwards.

Stand on a platform, and suspend yourself in the finish position. That is, with your chin over the bar. Start here, then, with control and precision, lower your body downward on a count of 4 to 5 seconds. Move smoothly and evenly. Perform 3 sets of 5 negatives to master the negative pull up.

Step 4: Weighted Negatives

If you have mastered steps 1 to 3 with no improvement, you can try to add a layer of difficulty by strapping or carrying extra weight as you perform negative pull-ups. This can he…Finish reading here!

The Ultimate Guide to Squats

Get the best out of your body by mastering squats. This guide will describe why you should be performing squats to enhance performance, lose weight and improve overall strength.

WHAT IT IS

Squats are a compound strength movement that is generally considered the ultimate lower body strength exercise. Squats are so effective because they are arguably the most natural movement for the human body, besides walking and running. Toddlers sit and play in a deep squat position without fatiguing for long periods of time because it is the natural human seated position.

A squat can be done in a dozen unique variations, all using the same technique. Start in a standing position with feet comfortably apart and toes turned out. Your stance will be unique to your abilities and physiology.

To activate, dip down, pushing your hips slightly back, then bending at the knees. Imaging dipping to sit on a very low stool… Your hip should dip below your knees while your back remains neutral and erect.

Your knees can’t pass…what? There is an old myth that the knees should not pass forwards beyond the feet. This is biomechanically impossible and has been debunked over the last 15 years. Still, the myth persists. Your knees should actually follow your toes, in both width and direction. Keep your heels on the ground throughout the movement and you’ll be just perfect.

There is another myth that squatting at depth (hip below knees) is bad for the knees. This has also been debunked, and people who squat to the end range with correct technique have much stronger, more stable knees than those who do not.

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM IT

The first benefit of squatting is improving your lower limb mobility:

The squat movement requires mobile hips, a stable lower back and flexible calves and hamstrings. Adults who are unable to perform squats at all are the unfortunate result of a lifetime of sitting in chairs which leads to a loss of mobility. Those adults who are flexible enough are fortunate to have genetics that allows them to have mobility and flexibility without ever having practiced.

Another benefit of squatting is improving lower limb strength:

The quadriceps are the main winners when squatting, performing knee extension. They are aided by the glutes, which perform hip extension.

The upper and lower back, abdominals, as well as the calves and tibialis muscles (front of calf) are working to stabilize the body through the entire movement to keep you balanced, and support any weight you might be carrying.

The hamstrings and calf muscles are working eccentrically to control the descent of the body, during hip and knee flexion.

As you can see, the great number of muscles and joints involved in a squat make it nearly a full body exercise. You can expect sore muscles, improved strength, improved mobility, and improved lower limb muscle endurance by working squats.

VARIATIONS OF SQUATS

We love squatting because it is such a diverse exercise while still being safe, functional and effective. Once you have mastered the movement of 10 to 12 air squats in a row with no weight, you might want to try adding some level of difficulty. Here are a few variations you might want to try:

Back Squats: Performed with a barbell behind your neck. Great for strength training… Continue reading here.

6 best queues to improve your snatch

Time to improve your snatch! So let’s look at the most common queues I use with athletes of all levels who are looking to improve any of the snatch parameters. Snatch parameters include things like speed, mobility, acceleration, power, etc.

Let me also add, right off the bat, that none of these things are made up by myself. I learn from my coach of 7 years (John Margolis) and pass it on. I learn by researching work by Bud Charniga, and pass it on. I learn by watching what all sorts of great coaches say and think and pass it all on. Coaching is sharing information, which we should all do more readily if we want to advance the sport! Okay, enough rant, we move into the queues!

           Snatching this week

My 6 Best Queues to improve your snatch:

 

1. Stop pulling high and get low!

The power lifts are great to practice pulling high, but we find that most people instinctively pull high already! Improve your snatch by actually getting under the bar. Learn to get under the bar by queing yourself to get your body to pull down on the bar

2. Lead with your shoulders

The initial pull is where people seem to get tripped up when they get nervous, particularly at 85%RM and more. I like this queue because it keeps your hips from popping up. “Lead with your shoulders” means keeping the chest out and the spine as extended as possible through the beginning of the pull. If you are leading the movement with your shoulders, it also helps with keeping them covering the bar, which brings us to the next point…

3. Cover the bar

Well, this is nothing new, but if you set up a camera to watch yourself, you’ll see the mechanics of your movement with more clarity. No matter the level of the athlete, there is always a coach somewhere, yelling “cover the bar”! So, watching from a lateral angle, you’ll notice that your hip extends too soon, bringing your chest vertical earlier than is ideal. Remember that when the bar reaches the crease of your hip, you still want to have both the power of the knees extending and the hip extension! That means that the bar should be tucked in tight with the chest leaning slightly forwards until the last moment.

If you notice that you hit your pubic bone with the bar on the way up, it’s a good indication that you are not covering the bar long enough!

4. Lock the mechanism before pulling

Inconsistent at reasonable loads? This is another one for those of you anxious to pump out big lifts, but can’t seem to be consistent at 90%. Lock up your training mechanism by pausing, and quickly going through a mental checklist…

-Quads… Abs… hamstrings… glutes…lower back… upper and lats…

Then loosen your arms to be sure you can whip the bar around. By pausing and intentionally locking up, you’ll be tight throughout your pull. Make this a habit and you are guaranteed to become more consistent at those heavier loads!

5. Bring the bar to you

Bringing the bar in is the mechanics of a snatch means that at some point, the bar has lost contact with you. This is as it passes the knees and on most athletes, is slightly off the thighs. Rather than trying to shove your hips into the bar, you should be pulling the bar to yourself. This means engaging your lats, which perform shoulder adduction and extension. Pull the bar in, bringing it to you.

This ties in with #4, Your lats should be wound up, prepped to pull the bar horizontally into your waist, locked into position.

6. Train what you want to improve

There is no secret to lifting… this is what my coach, John Margolis, repeats over and again to his athletes. If you want to improve your snatch, then snatch. Stop box snatching, hang snatching and power snatching and focus on snatch. Considering the very low volume of training lifters are able to do in a week (or month), who has time to waste sets and reps on lifts that are not what you want to improve!? Accessory movements should be treated as such, something to add to training to tweak a few small techniques here or there, or to change up a boring program. Beginners, remember that you’ll need a solid year of repetition, 3 times per week, minimally, to really learn to snatch!

How to know if you are Overtraining

Unable to make progress at the gym even though you are working hard? You may be experiencing the effects of overtraining.

WHAT IS OVERTRAINING?

Every time you workout, you are essentially asking your body to perform a task. Each time we make a demand on the body to perform a task, it must learn to coordinate and complete the pattern of movements. Every time the body learns to coordinate and complete a movement, it becomes better reinforced in the muscle nervous tissue. The body creates an imprint of the task in order to be better prepared for the next time it may have to do the same task. This act of preparing itself is the basis for all physical training, complex or not, as the body adapts.

What happens when a demand on the body exceeds its ability to adapt to the stimulus? This is common when the demands are more frequent or more intense. This state is called overreaching. Chronic overreaching can quickly lead to overtraining if left untreated.

There are many reasons why a person may be unable to adapt to the demands we place on the body. Overtraining is actually reached more quickly than many people think and overtraining occurs frequently.

 

HOW TO RECOGNIZE THE SIGNS OF OVERTRAINING

There are many signs and symptoms of overtraining, here are a few you or people near to you might have noticed:

  • Feeling irritable, grumpy, or snapping at people
  • Unable to improve performance even with steady training
  • Trouble sleeping or insomnia
  • Stubbing your toe, tripping over your own feet, or fumbling more than usual
  • Feeling more fatigued than usual, or waking up feeling unrested
  • Feeling anxious, depressed or generally apathetic
  • Feeling sick with a small virus that just won’t go away.

You may actually be experiencing just two or three of these signs or symptoms that are out of character for you, and this could be an indication of overtraining.

 

OVER TRAINING VS UNDER RECOVERING!

The term overtraining insinuates that the problem comes from the actual exercise, which may be the culprit in the equation. However, the issue could also be coming from the lack of rest and recovery, or an inability to recover for one of many reasons.

If the problem stems from the exercises, it means that your sessions are either too intense, too heavy, or are lasting too long without enough fuel to feed performance. However, if the issue stems from the inability to recover, it may be a result many different things:

  • You aren’t getting enough fluid or electrolytes
  • You aren’t getting enough nutrients via quality of nutrition
  • You aren’t consuming enough calories to fuel performance
  • You aren’t able to recover and heal within the given rest time and require longer
  • You aren’t able to recover because of other stresses or anxiety in your life

If any of these sound familiar to you, you can expect to have a difficult time with recovery and thus a difficult time performing well in workouts. Improvements can only occur when all the “other” aspects of training are in line.

 

HOW TO FIX OVERTRAINING

When you are in the stages of overreaching, you will be able to heal more quickly than when you are in the stages of overtraining. If overtraining is pushed consistently, it can then lead to  … Read the entire article here!

The Most Common Weakness in Athletes and How to Fix it!

Weak glutes are just way too common, and they could very well be holding you back from hitting PRs in nearly every lift, as well as metcon performance. Glutes are used in virtually every movement we do, and yet, for some unfortunate reason, they are the most common suspects for weaknesses, deficiencies or imbalances.

Glutes are pertinent to correct hip function. Keeping the hip and back stable, and moving correctly is a part of it’s role. You can imagine that a weak glute or dysfunctional glute would lead to a whole chain reaction of instabilities and pain development elsewhere, as a result.

Using straps to perform a Roman Deadlift

IF YOU HAVE WEAK GLUTES, YOU MIGHT BE EXPERIENCING SOME OF THESE SIGNS

  • Painful knees: glute medius is responsible for keeping the femur in the correct position in internal/ external rotation
  • Bad mechanics in basic movements: if you have trouble maintaining correct hip alignment through a squat at sub-max intensities.
  • Weak or unstable ankles and knees: at the end of the chain of the lower limb mechanics, an unstable hip will cause instability in the knees and/ or ankles.
  • Back pain: if the glutes are unable to fire to maintain posture, the lower back ends up working a double shift, causing pain in a shorter than usual time span.
  • Chronically tight hip flexors: these are the antagonist muscles of the glutes. They work to flex the hip while the glutes extend and rotate the hip. If you are constantly experiencing

HOW IT EFFECTS PERFORMANCE

Glutes should be working constantly to make sure the hip is functioning correctly.

Glutes and Running

As mentioned above, the glutes extend the hip. In running, the entire body is working as a mechanical unit to use as much momentum as possible to move the body forward. Within this, the role of the glutes is to extend the hip in order to propel the other foot forward. In a person with weak glutes, the hip extensors are not doing their job and so the hip flexors on the opposite leg have to do more work to draw the leg forward. Similarly, the same side lower back will often feel the strain as it adapts for the weakness.

Running just a short distance with weak glutes can quickly lead to back and/ or knee pain. Consider how many repetitions are required when running just a few kilometers. A 5 km run without the proper muscles firing is 1000’s of steps and a short 30 minutes can lead to a great deal of pain.

Glutes and Strength Training

The action of the hip is generated and stabilized by the glutes. Glute med extends and abducts the leg away from the body, glute max extendes the leg posteriorly and gluteus minimus stabilizes and performs internal rotation. These muscles are therefore the main agonists during deadlifts, squats, lunges, kettlebell swings, and others. The glute holds the posterior chain of muscles together. Without it, the muscles of the back are used to extend the body, or the hamstrings take the brunt of the work when knee flexion is also involved.

If you tend to feel general muscle soreness in the quads and hamstrings or back but not as intense in the glutes, this is a good sign that … Read the entire article here!

Top 5 Shoulder Mobility exercises

Having trouble with that overhead position? How is your front rack for squats? These are our top 5 shoulder mobility exercises which you can do pre or post-workout!

 

ANATOMY YOU NEED TO KNOW…

As you may know, the shoulder joint is called a ball and socket joint. But this does not fully describe the joint. A ball and socket usually leads people to believe there is some sort of comfy slot (socket) for the arm (ball) to be trapped in. In reality, the shoulder joint is nothing more than two bones somewhat close together and a whole host of soft tissue- muscles and ligaments- criss-crossing across the two, holding them together.

All that soft tissue is bound to lead to problems, even though it is what makes our shoulders so mobile. No other joint can move as freely as the arm does in the shoulder joint. Muscles from the back and chest attach at various points, which means that at any given time a tight muscle is pulling the balanced structure apart, or compressing it in any direction. These tight muscles quickly limit the range of motion of the joint and can eventually lead to some pain, or possibly injury, if they require a compensation elsewhere.

Looking at a persons posture may give an indication of which shoulder is causing more problems, but testing mobility is the best way to find out where improvements should be made.

More than likely, you have some idea of what is and is not mobile enough in your shoulders based on the lifts you have the most trouble with. A combination of stretching and myofascial release techniques can go a long way!

 

HERE ARE OUR TOP 5 SHOULDER MOBILITY EXERCISES:

1. SUPINE LYING OVERHEAD SQUATS

This is probably the most complex of the 5 stretches, but is so effective at opening up the chest. Lying on your back with a foam roller horizontal under your mid back or lower traps. Place a light barbell overhead. Place arms at about 45 degrees out from your body as you would in an overhead squat grip. Maintain your feet flat on the floor and hips up in the air to place your hands and shoulders. Keep your arms extended when you activate the stretch by dipping your hips down towards the floor.

 

2. CORNER STRETCH

Another simple way to loosen up both Pec major muscles at the same time. Find a corner somewhere, and get comfy! Place your arms up in an ‘L’ shape, with elbows and shoulders creating a straight line. Place both forearms up on the wall and gently lean forwards to activate the stretch. Stretch for 2 seconds then release, repeating 8 to 10 times.

 

3. FRONT RACK/BACK RACK STRETCH 

Here, you’ll need to place a bar in a rack at approximately your back squat height. Place hands …  Read the rest of the article here!