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 

Advertisements

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!

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