Cutting Weight for Competition from a Female Athlete’s Perspective

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As a women whose training partner is a man, I can say cutting weight next to him is very annoying. Doing the same weight cut as my training partner seems to be quite more of a struggle for me than it is for him. Given, as a women, hormones come in to play.  Women, having higher levels of estrogen, which is commonly associated with weight gain by slowing down the metabolism. Progesterone, which plays a big role in women’s menstrual cycles, influences the body to hold on to water a bit more. These are factors that contribute to the greater challenge of cutting weight for women.

I’ve done weight cuts where I just focus on a water weight drop (miserable), and weight cuts where I took the more gradual approach (i.e changing my diet, adding more cardio (ugh))… Neither are enjoyable. It’s exhausting, miserable, and pisses me off.

For someone who competes in the 132 weight class, I find it that much harder to cut down. Changing diet up can really screw up my strength, especially when 90% of the time my diet is very clean, so to clean it up more than it already is, can be quite challenging.

How can I make weight, and preserve as much lean mass, strength, and energy as possible? It’s tough for sure. I have found myself sitting in hot tubs, steam rooms, and saunas, fully clothed doing cardio to just lose .25 of a lb.. UGH!

What I have found to be the “easiest” approach, is the gradually cut. More recently, I sit at about 140 and need to get to 132. I clean my “all ready clean” diet up a bit more… usually 4 to 6 weeks out.. Bye-bye jars of peanut butter (sigh)… No cheat meals, no pancakes.  Hello to lots of chicken salads, salmon, sweet potatoes, and protein shakes. Not too horrible really, as long as you are getting in carbs especially post workout, and keeping enough protein in.

As long as I can drop a few “bad” pounds, preferable 4-5 through diet, and keep the water cut to 5 lbs or less… seems to be the best… but again, HARD, as a women, not having too much weight on you to lose, 1 lb can be painful and disgusting to drop. You have to do what you have to do right…

Water loading prior to the dehydration phase is very important. This helps get the water out easier, along with water pills, dandelion root, and magnesium citrate supplement to help extract the water. Steam rooms, and low intensity cardio for the sweat, but be careful to not expend too much energy at a higher intensity as you will need this to recover.

When cutting, do ask yourself, do I need to do this, is it necessary? If you are competing to compete, to get more experience, then I suggest not cutting weight, not only does it take a physically toll on the body, it is stressful and mentally exhausting as well. If you are looking to break records, or hit a certain lift at a different weight class, then sure, do what you got to do, but do prepare yourself for a challenge, a very tough challenge.

When refueling and rehydrating try to avoid going all out and scarfing down as much food as you can immediately as this is not the best way to go about it. First and foremost, your body needs to rehydrate so get some water, sodium, and electrolytes back in. The first thing I have is Pedialyte. This allows me to have a great start to the rehydration process. This process can easily be done wrong. I myself have taken the route of stacks of pancakes, steaks and omelets, hash browns and whatever else I could “uncomfortable” get in my body to try to get the energy and strength back up. Sodium and water is the first priority, then gradually get food back in.  Don’t get me wrong, go and eat a good amount of food, but I don’t suggest getting terrible full like at Thanksgiving. Your body has just been through a massive depletion and needs time to process what you are putting back in so everything will starting functioning (digestive system) as it should. Be smart, be passionate, and only cut if necessary.

Risk Vs. Reward

Reward

  • Being more competitive at a lower weight
  • Better chance of breaking records or placing on top
  • Putting weight back on after weigh in (weigh more than your competition= stronger)
  • Qualifying for bigger competitions

Risk

  • Losing strength
  • Not recovering well enough from water cut (if part of your personal process)
  • Possible psychological effects on the brain due to severe dehydration (i.e. depression, mood swing, aggression etc.)
  • Physiological effect on the body (Reduced blood volume, heart must work harder to supply oxygenated blood,
  • “Dehydration results in reduced muscle blood flow, waste removal, and heat dissipation, all of which are necessary for sustained, high power muscle action in events such as boxing and judo.” (Armstrong, 1992, p.29)
  • Feeling like crap during the entire dehydrating process

-Tasha

As seen on The Alpha Project

Keeping the Fire Ablaze

As a fitness professional, I spend a lot of time in the gym.  It can be a wonder of how someone such as myself could keep up a high motivation for training myself and others.  After working with clients all day and spending most of the day inside the gym, motivation does not come easy.  I have learned a few things over the years that have helped me to continue to drive myself to train as hard as I need to and to push my clients in the same way.

For the fitness professional

  • Find a different gym to train at other than where you work.

If you work in a gym, chances are most people know you and feel comfortable enough to approach you whenever they see you “available” in their eyes.  This is a good thing for business but it can be a problem when it comes to your personal workouts.  I suggest that you get the heck out of there whenever you can and train at a different gym.  Being unknown or at least keeping to yourself is sometimes necessary to get the work in that you need and to keep your focus during your training sessions.

  • Plan your schedule wisely

One of the greatest things about working as a personal trainer is the freedom to manage your own schedule.  Conversely, one of the worst things is that your schedule is at the mercy of your clients.  This often leads to trainers working split shifts.  Many trainers can manage the split shift just fine but it does take some planning ahead to pull it off successfully.

Be sure to prioritize yourself into your schedule setting boundaries of when you are “available to clients” and “unavailable to clients.”  This includes limiting the extra-early morning clients and the late-night clients that turn a 10-12 hour day into a 14 hour day.  Plan your shifts so that you can provide an honest quality service to all of your clients and to get in your own quality training sessions throughout the week.

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For the competitor

  • Find a gym that supports your sport/style of training

This should be a big priority for those who are serious about their training.  It is hard to improve your deadlift in a gym that doesn’t allow chalk, doesn’t have bumper plates, and frowns upon loud crashing weights.  It is also helpful to get in an environment with like-minded people and people that are stronger than you.  You might be the biggest fish in the pond but there is always the ocean.

  • Remember that your competition may out-train you… if you let them

While you may want to take a day off or only push yourself so far, just remember that you are giving your competition the chance to out-train you.

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For the general public

  • Establish a few realistic, specific, and time sensitive goals

Goals are important.  More precisely, specific goals are important.  They provide your training with purpose and help to establish a means to measure progress; both of which are motivating.  Training with purpose and recognizing (and celebrating) progress is a good way to keep motivation alive.

  • Find your “Fitness Identity”

Finding a fitness identity can be tricky for some but once you have it, it does wonders for motivating your training.  A fitness identity is a trait that one can identify with that is related to fitness.  An example of this would be associating an activity, such as running, to an individual.  “I run often, therefore, I am a runner,” or “I train to improve my total, therefore, I am a powerlifter.”

Once a fitness identity is established, training purpose is established or reinforced and you may find that other aspects such as nutrition and lifestyle choices may coincide more with the new found fitness identity.

To summarize, your training needs to be a priority if you truly want to reach your goals.  As Adrian Larsen would say, “Good things come to those who wait… go out and f*cking earn it!”

-Dan

As seen on The Alpha Project

Lone Wolf or Dynamic Duo?

All the best superheroes have a partner, a team mate. No one rides alone successful. The greatest success’ and accomplishments are those that are usually shared.

It has always been said, two (muscle) heads are better than one.

Protection, safety, rescuer. All is fun until you get stuck under a weight. Its never fun to be “that guy/gal” who tries to PR on their own, or feels cocky under a heavy weight and all of a sudden that weight is a bit more than expected. No partner, no one to help move that weight up or off you, so you become “that guy/gal” screaming for help while pinned under a barbell. You don’t want to be remembered in the gym for being rescued. It happens more frequently that it should. This won’t happen with a training partner (given the partner is experienced enough to spot properly).

When spotting, know what your partner likes and dislikes in a spot. Knowing your lifter’s preferences could be key to their lift being successful. A bad spot can ruin a potential PR or just an entire set alone. Talk to your partner figure out what cues help them and what spotting technique works for them. More importantly, always be prepared. If a lift goes wrong, that person is relying on your to bail them out. Be ready for anything. Eyes open and focused on them. Period.

Accountability. Hands down the most valuable component of having a training partner is accountability. How many people have hit there snooze button on a planned early morning training session?  It is too easy to make excuses; staying in a warm, cozy bed for longer, stayed up too late last night, too hungry to get ready in time to train, next thing you know you have to get on with the rest of your day.  Evening training sessions can be just as difficult to make; too tired from the day, dinner was too heavy, etc.  Next thing you know… damn a workout is missed.

It can get way too easy to miss a workout. Maybe you’re in a bad mood, low on energy, would rather watch Sons of Anarchy, whatever the excuse, chances are if you know someone is waiting for you at a given time, you’re going to show. Work out will be complete. One step closer to those goals.

Results:  When training with a partner you are more inclined to pick up the training intensity. Again, if you have the right training partner, who does not slack off or leave you hanging. We all want results, to reach our goals, to lift and train with purpose. It’s much easier to let yourself down than to let another person down. If someone is expecting you to be there to train, you’ll show up, work hard, accomplish the day’s training program, and therefore lead you to key results.

Time-saver: Having a training partner can really eliminate time not only spent in the gym, but during working sets, rest periods etc. A lot of people may not realize how much time can be wasted setting up equipment, racks, getting gear ready etc. Having someone to help move this proves along quickly can make all the difference in a workout when you’re in a good groove and flow.

Notice Technique Flaws: We don’t always know how we look when we are lifting. A lot of the time we focus on moving that weight and if we finish the lift, we will feel accomplished. Well, form, technique, cuing; all crucial to gains, success, progress, and injury prevention. It’s important to have a set of eyes watch the things you can’t see. Maybe your knees are buckling in during a squat, or back breaks a little in a certain part of a deadlift, or your elbows are flaring too much during a bench press. It feels great to you, but that lift could have moved much smoother by fixing the things you don’t notice. Partners give you the eyes you need when you “can’t see”.

Encouragment. Training alone: “I missed my lift, I’m pissed and feel like a weak piece of garbage”. This can ruin your day. That weight should have flown up. “I’m not strong enough, I lost my strength, and I thought I was better than that.”

So easily we put ourselves down, become these self-loathing individuals, the Debby-downers, the negative-Nellys. When you’re just not feeling like superman and more like the garbage man, you need to hear some words of encouragement. Training partner: “You got this Bro. take a moment, re-group, and hit it again.  Today might not be the best day. There’s still tomorrow, and the next time. This is one day. You’ve lifted it before. You work hard, you’re a freaking bad-ass. It’s a bad lift, it happens. You got it next time.”

Instead of walking out of the gym completely defeated by a bad lifting day (we all have them, it’s normal) A training partner can at least make you feel a little bit better, and that little bit can go a long way. Keep on encouraging and motivated your team mate. It’s important. DO NOT LET THEM FALL TRAP TO INTERNAL EXECUTION. Wah. Bad day. Head up bad ass. Not only for missed lifts, but for praise when you hit a PR. It is nice to get recognized for that, maybe a high 5, a slap on the ass, a chest bump. HA. Whatever it is, it’s always nice not to share the experience of success and gain alone.

Afraid to increase the weight? Think you’ll miss it? Partners are there to push you, keeping your mind in the game, mentality is huge when lifting and gaining. You need to keep the positivity there and having a partner there to reinforce the positive thoughts can be night or day difference in the gym.

Right kind of training partner. The right training partner is someone that shares your vision. This person is driven and dedicated to the same level as you. He or she is not flaky, nor is he or she training for a completely different sport or goal. Someone training for a marathon would not make the best training partner for a powerlifting or vice versa, even if they were best friends or husband and wife. The goals must be the same or similar. Gender should not matter. Sometimes training with the opposite sex can actually be better. Who doesn’t like to impress the opposite sex and work hard, and show off a little?

A great partner is someone you feel can push you, motivate you, and excite you to lift. A training partner who comes to the gym, not prepared, bad mood, constantly complaining, or never following through with the planned workout, etc., would not make an ideal workout/ training partner. If your current training partner is not helping you reach your goals, then now is the time to reevaluate what you want in a partner. It’s not selfish to “fire” your training partner if it’s not working out well. You will never accomplish or be successful with your goals if you let someone take you away from achieving them. What is selfish about following your dreams and reaching your goals? Nothing. So say bye-bye to the bad partner and get a new one. IT IS WORTH IT. If you want a good reliable partner you need to pay the same respect to that person. Show up, be ready, be motivating, be open minded, and be a teammate. HAVE FUN!!!

Check out these training buddies. Now this would be an ideal training session 😉

-Tasha

As seen on The Alpha Project

Breaking through Mental Blocks

You can be your own worst enemy when it comes to training.  Hitting new PR’s can be more of a mental game than it is physical strength.  Try these three strategies the next time you gear up to set a personal record.

Visualization

There is a saying that “on competition day, a champion athlete has already completed his/her task 1,000 times over in the mind.”  I’m not entirely sure who said it but it speaks truth.  Repeatedly visualizing every step that needs to take place in order for you to complete a lift will do wonders for your nerves when you actually attempt the lift.  Mental practice is key to continuing to see success.  Many of times, our worst habits will surface when the weight gets heavy enough.  This is one strategy to gain more focus and eliminate the mental clutter when you attempt your next PR lift.

Change your Warm-up Sets

I can almost guarantee that you have done the same weights in your warm-up sets leading to the top weight for the past few months.  Am I wrong?

Try changing up your loading pattern for your next workout.  Instead of going up by the same plate increments each time, try making different jumps up in weight for each set.  For example, instead of going from 135lbs to 185lbs, skip 185 and go to 195.  This works well in your first few warm-up sets because taking a bigger jump has less of an impact on your overall performance.  You might find that you can move some weights easier because you haven’t exhausted yourself too much on the lighter sets.

You might even try playing around with more or less sets with fewer reps working your way up in weight.  The point of warm-up sets is to prepare the body for the heavier weight NOT to fatigue you before you get there.

Blind Sets

If you have a training partner that you trust and that knows your strength well, have them choose your weights for you for your next work out.  Try your best not to add-up what is on the bar and just lift it.  In this way, you can cut out all of the mind games that you play on yourself when attacking a certain weight.  There will be no expectations only assumptions as to how that weight may feel.  You might find yourself lifting a weight you have never lifted before and assume that it is lighter than it truly is.

-Dan

As seen on The Alpha Project

You Cannot Do it Alone

If you were looking to start your own business, would you take the risk of doing it all yourself?  No, at least I hope not.  You would seek out the advice of someone who has a successful business, and possibly an attorney, banker, and maybe even a contractor.  Why should your approach to your personal health and fitness goals be any different?

The point of seeking out a good coach or mentor is to gain from their knowledge and experience in order to help you be more successful with your goals.  You will learn from their mistakes, saving you the time of figuring it out yourself, accelerating your progress.  Here are a few more reasons that you should seek out a good coach:

Passion for what they do:

Most of the trainers and coaches that I know never stop learning.  The day you stop learning is the day you lost your passion.  The live what they preach.  A quality coach is constantly pushing themselves to improve whether it be with their knowledge, skill-set, and their own personal fitness.  You will benefit from all of the extra hours that a quality coach puts into his or her craft.  Honing their craft is a high priority of good coach.

Different from your training partner:

An argument could be made that a good training partner would suffice in place of a coach.  A good training partner is important but there are additional benefits to hiring a coach as well.  A training partner can be great for accountability, pushing the intensity, spotting your lifts, etc. but more than likely you and your training partner train together because you train similarly.  It can benefit you both to seek out guidance on your training, technique, exercise programming, etc.

People of all skill levels can benefit:

Have you ever noticed that even in individual sports such as MMA, the fighter will have an entire coaching staff behind them?  Anyone from beginner to elite athletes can benefit from coaching.  An additional set of eyes that can spot holes in your game or technique is valuable to anyone.  Depending on your goals, you should seek out a coach than can elevate you to that next level, whatever that may be.

-Dan

As seen on The Alpha Project titled “Why you Should Hire a Great Coach”

Reduce and Prevent Shoulder Pain

Poor posture combined with heavy lifting and poor exercise programming (or lack of any programming) can wreak havoc on the shoulders.  If you find yourself with achy shoulders or care enough to keep them healthy, then keep reading.  Here are three tips that you can do to help reduce and prevent shoulder pain from occurring.

It’s advisable to consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program and even more important if you currently suffer from shoulder pain.

  1. Improve Your Posture– Most of us sit for hours each day with hunched shoulders and rounded backs. This not only has a negative long term impact on the spine, but it also affects the shoulders and surrounding muscles. Continuously putting your body in a poor position, such as hunched over a computer screen for hours on end can lead to tightness and shortening of the pectoral muscles. This can lead to muscular imbalances and increase the risk of injury.

Do this: Make a conscious effort to improve your posture throughout the day. Sit up tall, pull your shoulders back, and sit in the back of your chair. To develop this habit, set a simple calendar reminder for every two hours during your work day.

  1. Improve Thoracic Mobility– The thoracic spine is the middle section of the spine that is attached to the ribs. Having poor movement in this area will often affect the available range of motion for the shoulder. Try this: slump your shoulders forward like you just heard some very depressing news and then try to lift your arms overhead. Didn’t work too well? Now try standing up tall with a proud chest and lift your arms overhead. See the difference?

Do this: Improve muscle tissue quality through foam rolling and soft tissue work (maybe even a massage).  Focus these efforts on the mid-back. Be sure to also target the chest and lat muscles of the back. Then work on improving the range of motion in the thoracic spine through stretching and mobility drills. These can serve as part of warm-up before a workout or can be done by themselves throughout the day.

  1. Strengthen Shoulder Muscles– In order to counteract poor posture habits and tightness in the front of the shoulder, most people can benefit from strengthening the muscles on the posterior, or backside, of the body rather than the anterior, or front, of the body.

Do this: Organize your workouts so that for every anterior-focused exercise you perform (e.g. any type of press), you also perform two posterior-focused exercises (e.g. any pulling or rowing motion). Also, spend time developing the smaller, deep muscles of the rotator cuff. Simple exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff require only a band or light weight.

See a knowledgeable fitness professional to learn more and design a workout program to fit your needs. If you experience chronic shoulder pain or have an injury, visit a physical therapist for a thorough evaluation.

-Dan

Training with Strength Bands – Beyond Speed Work

A good pair of strength bands can be a very useful and portable tool for anyone in the gym.  If your gym doesn’t have these readily available, I would suggest purchasing a set and carrying them with you to the weight room.  The most common uses for strength bands in the fitness world are for speed work by applying them to a barbell (variable or accommodative resistance methods) and mobility drills (joint traction and distraction).  There are plenty of other ways to utilize a set of strength bands.  Below are just a few of the ways in which I commonly use bands in my own training or with clients that I work with.

 

Band Over-and-back Chest Stretch

Using a band instead of PVC pipe for this warm-up allows some “give” for those that need it.  You can also pull against the band better than you can against a PVC pipe.  I will utilize this as a warm-up or occasionally in between sets of heavy pressing.

 

Band Single Arm Chest Press

This drill is great for teaching tightness in a bench press.  The band, when tucked under the arm, provides a good feel of how your shoulder position should be during a bench press.  Use this as an instructional drill and as a warm-up for pressing.

 

Band Chest Press and Band Pushup

This drill works well as another bench press warm-up and for some a good strength exercise.  For a more advanced version, try bringing down into a pushup.

 

Band Overhead Triceps Extension

This works well for those with cranky elbows and tight chest and shoulders.  Also another good heavy pressing warm-up.

 

Band Triceps Pressdown

A great way to burn out your triceps with burning out your elbows.  Those with elbow pain will appreciate band work as it can be easier on the joints.

 

Band Pull Apart

This is one of my favorite drills.  I’ll use it to warm-up before heavy presses and in between heavy presses.  It is a great exercise to work the rear shoulders and mid to upper back.

 

Band 45-degree Hip Extension

This is great variation to the 45-degree hip extension or low back extension.  With the constant and increased tension at the top of the movement with the bands, you can focus on feeling the hips drive the movement.  I try to mimic a deadlift lockout at the top of this exercise, locking out the hips and avoiding too much extension or “hyperextension” of the hips and low back.

Band Deadlift

This has to be one of my current favorites for teaching someone how to deadlift.  The bands are unloaded in the bottom making it safe to perform for virtually anybody.  The increase in band resistance at the top can help an athlete “feel-out” the muscles that drive the movement.  This way, when the athlete transitions to barbell deadlifts, they can have a focus of what muscles to fire to drive the movement from.

I also like the bands for warming up my deadlift and to work on a light speed set in between heavy sets.

Band Ab Pull-ins

One of my favorite ab training exercises.  I like that this variation is done standing; just as in the squat and deadlift.  Note here that the goal is flex the abs and not the hip flexors.  This will create a rounding in the back, the hips should stay fairly still.  I will work this with my breathing; exhale and tighten up as much as I can at the bottom of the movement.

 

Band Assisted Pullups

This method is quite common and it is likely that you have seen this before.  I prefer this method for people over using the assisted pull-up machines with the counter balance weight.  The bands provide the feet to move more freely than the machines and the assistance decreases towards the top of the movement requiring more strength to finish the movement.

-Dan and Tasha

As seen on The Alpha Project

Peaking for Strength with Weight Cycling

One of the beautiful things about training is there really is no right or wrong, just better and worse.  I’ve spent the past few years experimenting with different programs and reading about different methods to get stronger.  From what I’ve found, the best program for me has been quite simple to follow and flexible with the workouts.

I have been following the method of weight cycling for my squat, bench press, and deadlift which is described below.  I do have to attribute the thought process behind the weight cycling method to Andy Bolton, world class powerlifter and the first man to deadlift over 1,000 pounds.  Bolton describes his technique with weight cycling in his book Deadlift Dynamite (highly recommended read).

Here is my interpretation of weight cycling and how to do it:

For those without a specific date to peak

  • Establish your 10RM for squat, bench, deadlift
  • Weekly cycles with planned increases of 5-15lbs
  • Start the first micro-cycle with 10RM and perform up to 5 sets of 5 reps
  • Continue pushing forward each week increasing 5-15lbs as long as you can complete at least one set of 5 reps.
  • When you have exhausted your (hopefully new) 5RM, and can no longer hit 5 reps, set your goal to complete as many sets (up to 5) of 3 reps. Continue increasing each week.
  • Once your 3 rep sets are exhausted, re-start the program with 5 reps again but increase the starting weight of the first cycle 5-10lbs from the previous first cycle’s starting weight.
  • After completing two full rotations of 5’s and 3’s, test your new 1RM.

For those with a specific date to peak (within 12 weeks from today)

  • Establish your goals for the competition
  • Work backward from the competition date to today’s date and determine how many weeks are left.
  • Keep the week before competition as a deload week (no more than 60% of 1RM) and start planning from 2 weeks out from competition.
  • Work backwards from the goal weight planning with 2 weeks out being a 2 rep PR (10-15lbs lighter than your goal weight). 3 Weeks out should be 10lbs lighter for 3 rep sets.
  • This may result in a few cycles depending on how far out the competition date is. For example, planning 12 weeks out for a competition, you may plan two 6 week cycles with a peak after the first 6 weeks.
  • Start each cycle with 5 reps until 5’s are exhausted, drop down to 3’s, then 2’s, deload, and blow away the competition on the cycle before your competition.

Here is an example of a 135lb female powerlifter planning 12 weeks out from a powerlifting meet:

Goals:

Squat 275

Bench 175

Deadlift 345

 

Current:

Squat 254

Bench 165

Deadlift 325

 

Week Squat Bench Deadlift
1 185 x 5 135 x 8 235 x 8
2 185 x 8 140 x 5 265 x 5
3 195 x 5 150 x 5 275 x 5
4 205 x 5 160 x 3 295 x 3
5 225 x 5 165 x 2 315 x 2
6 235 x 3 170 x 1 330 x 1
7 245 x 3 145 x 5 295 x 2
8 250 x 2 155 x 3 315 x 3
9 255 x 2 165 x 3 325 x 2
10 270 x 1 170 x 1 335 x 1
11 (Deload) 165 x 3 to 5 115 x 3 205 x 3
12 (Peak) 275 175 345

 

Realizing that the body can only take so much heavy or intense training, I only have three heavy days a week which will consist of my programmed main lift and a few assistance exercises.  I will typically add three additional days where I will work on technique/speed work, a bodybuilding pump workout, or stability and core with single limb exercises.  I consider these lower intensity workouts to be flexible as they are hardly planned and done by feel that day.

-Dan and Tasha

The Best Back Exercises You Are Not Doing

The following exercises are by no means the king of the crop when it comes to training your back.  Exercises such as the deadlift, pull-ups, chin-ups, and rows should comprise the bulk of your back training.  The following exercises are “not-so common” but effective exercises that you should give a try.

Good Morning

The Good Morning is one of my favorite accessory exercises for the squat and deadlift.  If you back squat with a low-bar placement, or would like to at some point, the good morning allows for a lifter to practice the low-bar placement with a lighter load.  During the entirety lift, the lifter must maintain tightness throughout the entire back to maintain control of the bar and to push the load onto the hips (see video).  Through emphasizing a low-placement, the center of mass (COM) stays closer to the lifter’s COM allowing the lifter to sit back and load the posterior chain.  Through using this technique, not only will the lower back and hips benefit but the mid and upper back will also feel the weight of this exercise.

Chest Supported High Row

The traditional chest supported row is a popular exercise and for good reason.  With the traditional version emphasizing a lower row position, it is great way to overload the lats, mid, and upper back while minimizing the load on the lower back.

The high row version of the chest supported row is a great variation to build up the upper back.  Using about 60% of the weight used for the traditional version, flare the elbows and pinch together the traps, pulling the weight towards the face rather than the armpits.  Your mid and upper traps will benefit from this version.

Face Pulls

Like the chest supported high row, the face pull is a great exercise to add to the arsenal for building the upper back.  Unlike the chest supported high row, face pulls have the added benefit of strengthening the external rotators of the shoulder.  Since the torso is unsupported, the face pull also calls for more core stabilization than a chest supported row.

Face pulls can be done with a number of different stances (half-kneeling, split-stance, seated), and in many different angles/directions (low-to-high, high-to-low, and straight on), and with many different apparatuses (cable station, resistance bands, suspension trainer).  My favorite variation is the half-kneeling cable face pull pulling from a slight high-to-low angle (as seen in the video above).  I like this because of the ability to brace your body to handle greater weight and the high-to-low angle also emphasizes the mid-back.

Band Pull-Apart

Simple yet effective the band pull-apart is one of the best exercises to prepare you for the bench press.  I use this exercise mostly as a warm-up exercise to get a “feel” for my shoulder blades pinching as they should during a set of bench press.  Keeping the bench press in mind, the band pull-apart should simulate the same technique of creating tightness in the upper and mid-back.  When utilizing the band pull-apart, aim for high repetitions and keep some tension throughout the movement.  This will not only work as a great warm-up or prep move but it will also help to bring up the rear delts and upper back.  I like to use this in a super-set or tri-set of back exercises as well.  Another plus side of this exercise is it can virtually be done anywhere as long as you have a band handy.  This makes it a great compliment to almost any exercise as a super-set.

-Dan

The Static Stretching Hangover

A recent study evaluated the effects of dynamic stretching and static stretching against a control group (no stretch) on explosive movement drills after a 24 hour delay (Haddad, 2014).  They tested subjects’ on 5 different jump tests and on their repeated sprint ability.  The findings suggest that static stretching done 24 hours before a maximum effort explosive movement (jump tests) can impair performance while the dynamic stretching group showed improvement in their jumping abilities.

NOTE: Static stretching consists of lengthening muscle(s) to end range of motion with a pause (usually 10 to 30 seconds).  Dynamic stretching involves moving a joint/muscle through a normal to full range of motion without a pause.

According to another study, static stretching between bench press sets of 80% of 1RM performed to failure had no significant effect on performance (Ribeiro, 2013).  The takeaway from both studies suggest that static stretching may potentially have a negative effect on maximal effort performance but has little to no effect on submaximal performance work.

If you plan to crush any strength PR’s in the next 24 hours, you should hold off on any static stretching today.  This is not to say that static stretching doesn’t have its place in your program.  If you need to improve your flexibility, static stretching may be useful but be mindful of when you use this technique.  Plan on refraining from static stretching within at least 24 hours of any strength PR attempts.  The first study did find that the group that performed dynamic stretching 24 hours prior to testing did notice an improvement in their jump performance.  Based on these findings, dynamic stretching should be your primary source of stretching in at least the day before leading up to a PR attempt.

Haddad, M, Dridi, A, Chtara, M, Chaouachi, A, Wong, DP, Behm, D, and Chamari, K. Static stretching can impair explosive performance for at least 24 hours. J Strength Cond Res 28(1): 140–146, 2014

Ribeiro, Alex Silva; Romanzini, Marcelo; Dias, Douglas Fernando; Ohara, David; Pereira da Silva, Danilo Rodrigues; Júnior, Abdallah Achour; Avelar, Ademar; Cyrino, Edilson Serpeloni. Static Stretching and Performance in Multiple-Sets in the Bench Press Exercise. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: POST ACCEPTANCE, 25 September 2013

-Dan