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!

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!

Training Stimuli: managing volume, intensity and recovery

Dosage is everything

Let’s explore how to dose volume, intensity and recovery for optimal results. Unfortunately, googling a program and using it just isn’t going to hack it. A training dosage is not just 3 sets of 12 at 65%. Dosage is about the perfect amount of training for your body to achieve the desired outcome.

‘Tommy’ might be able to train on 6 hours of sleep per night, but ‘Fred’ burns out on the same training plan with less than 8 hours per night. Two people of the same race, sex, height, weight, and even body composition will not react the same way to the same stimulus. It’s just the way it is! Family history, health history and genetics play a strong role here that we can’t change. The other part of dosage is knowing how to find the correct ratio of rest, intensity and volume for your specific goal.

While one thing works for one person (or a lot of people) it won’t work for everyone!

 

BALANCING INTENSITY AND VOLUME

Two major things can go wrong if intensity and volume are not balanced correctly:

  1. You’ll find yourself plateauing and cease improvement, or;
  2. You’ll find yourself exhausted and cease improvement (or a decline in performance)

When either of these occurs, you’ve probably got your numbers mixed up, incorrect, or simply not cycling correctly. Sure, there are a million other things which could be going wrong, so let’s pick up on the biggies.

  • Too much intensity at a particular volume

In this scenario, you’re working at loads that are doable for a few sets, but not sustainable. 5 to 8 sets at 12 to 15RM is enough to burn out a muscle for a while. Most people wouldn’t be able to hit that muscle again for about 7 days. For example, seated row at 75%max performed at 12 repetitions for 8 sets is a great deal of work, and probably up to failure for most people. The intensity and volume are both high; 75%max is great for sets of 8, but when we’re talking about a total of 96 reps in a single training at that intensity, it gets a little more tricky!

In this scenario, most people would find themselves exhausted after a few weeks, and performance would cease to improve. Even a good amount of rest may not be enough to see moderate gains. Of course, the outcome depends on the unique capacity of each person.

  • Manageable volume and intensity, but incorrect ratio.

Here, you’ll be completing sets and reps in which either the intensity or the volume is too low. If you take until the 5th set before feeling like the last few reps are very challenging, we can safely say that the intensity is likely not enough to vastly improve performance in either strength or in mass.

Intensity is easy to augment… simply add more weight and see how it goes! Volume can be adjusted in multiple ways: add more repetitions or sets, or add a couple of new exercises to the same muscle/ muscle group. You’ll be asking it to adapt to a greater stimulus without adding intensity.

 

RECOVERY AND RECUPERATION

Intensity vs Recovery…

As the intensity of a workout increases, so too should the recovery time. Increasing the volume of training does not put the same demand on the body as increasing intensity. For this reason, if you are unable to rest and recover from your workouts, you should NOT be increasing intensity! This applies to every athlete, at every level. The effect of personal life on training is a lot greater than many think. For example, stress from school, work, or relationships means a reduction in the body’s ability to recover. A reduction in training intensity must follow to prevent overtraining.

This is a classic mistake we see in so many impatient athletes at any level. Athletes in sports that require more central nervous system work, like weightlifting, require even more rest than strength athletes. CNS adaptation and recovery require the most nutrition and rest.

Volume and Recovery…

Training at higher volumes requires lest rest because the intensity will naturally be lower. Endurance athletes train at low intensities that last for several minutes or hours. Jogging vs sprinting, for example. These athlete are able to recover within 12 hours and have another training. This is the equivalent of choosing weights that you could perform around 50 repetitions of. Less intense = less rest.

Nothing can make up for rest and recovery. Dorian Yates gives the example of rubbing sandpaper on his palm. Imagine rubbing sandpaper on your palm one day. The scratch will …   Read the rest of the article here

5 Reasons Why you need to Squat more

Squatting is a basic foundational movement. Forget smith racks and leg press, there is really no other leg exercise that compares to a squat. Strength, power and mobility are all challenged in the barbell squat, which is why it’s surprising to seeing guys avoid squatting in their programming or just not squatting enough. These are my top 5 reasons why you need to squat more:

 

1: OVERALL STRENGTH AND POWER

I’m using the term ‘power’ loosely here; power is technically defined as the rate of work over time. Work is defined in physics as the amount of forced placed upon an object times its displacement. When we perform a squat, for example, we use a particular amount of force to move the object (a bar), while the displacement stays relatively stable since we are moving within a particular range of motion.

You move a 100kg barbell from extension to flexion and back to full extension. You’ve performed a particular amount of work. Work increases when we lift heavier, and decreases when we lift less. The more work performed, the greater the strength.

So this means that simply performing a squat creates work for the entire core and lower limbs… talk about efficiency! A leg curl or leg press machine removes the amount of work being performed on the overall unit. A smith machine is even worse, removing all of the stabilizer muscles from the exercise, leaving the core untrained through a squat. With the exception of high level bodybuilders and those on specialized rehab programs, absolutely no athlete should ever use a smith rack or machine to perform exercises!

Let’s briefly get into power. Let’s look at your work done (technically defined as Joules of work) over time. To progress, we need to train power and strength. With more work completed in a shorter amount of time, power increases. Those looking to improve crossfit or weightlifting performance need to pay close attention to how much work and power they do to see improvements. Without a decent stimulus in these two categories, you may not see improvements

 

2: CROSSFIT AND SQUATTING

Squatting plays two roles in CrossFit; first, it’s a functional movement. Front and back squats are a part of so many of the classic CrossFit exercises. Think of thrusters, box jumps, wall balls and lunges. If you are not squatting 3 times per week, minimally, don’t expect to see improvements in CrossFit performance!

Second, being able to perform squats at both at a high intensity and high volume (lots of repetitions) makes all other crossfit movements easy. Don’t believe it? Just take a look at the top 50 CrossFit games finishers. Check out squat PRs and you’ll notice that the stronger athletes perform better, even at movements which don’t appear to require a lot of strength.

 

3: WEIGHTLIFTING AND SQUATTING

In Olympic lifting, squatting is jokingly referred to as the 3rd lift. Anyone who lifts knows that squats need to be performed 3 to 5 times per week, every week. There are no exceptions to this. Workouts are usually organized around a 3 to 6 day program. A classic lifting workout looks something like this:

Day 1:

Snatch

Clean & Jerk

Back squat

Day 2:

Snatch

Clean & Jerk

Front Squats

Etc…

Sure, intensity and volume are played with, as well as the addition of accessory movements, but lifters must squat frequently. Why? Well, even though snatch and Cleans have a squat within the movements themselves, it’s not enough to improve strength. Training snatch and clean & jerk tax the nervous system more than they tax the muscles. Squatting separately from the lifts is the only way to improve strength within the lifts!

… Read the full article here: 5 Reasons why you need to squat more