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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 26

Written on November 30, 2012 at 7:27 pm, by Eric Cressey

Compliments of Cressey Performance coach Greg Robins, here are this week’s tips to improve your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs.

1. Improve your anti-extension core stability exercises with these tips:

2. Improve your sitting posture with one easy step.

This past week we were fortunate enough to have Michael Mullin from Orthopedic Associates in Portland, ME give a guest in-service on how he uses concepts from the Postural Restoration Institute in his practice. I picked up a lot of great tips from Mike, but one in particular I found particularly easy to implement. When asked what people can do when sitting (especially at a desk) to improve posture, Mike suggested simply sitting on the edge of their seat, a concept he referred to as “functional sitting.” By doing so they are in a more “active” position where the body has to stabilize itself more. I’ve spent the last few days putting it to the test and I think it’s a great piece of advice. Give it a try!

3. Appreciate the importance of breathing (namely exhaling) in “core stability.”

Another interesting point that was hammered home by Mike was that the body can draw stability from three major sources: Muscular, Positional (think joint placement), and Gaseous (breathing). As an example, try this:

Make a fist and tense up your whole arm, that arm is under a lot of muscular tension and is stable.

Now relax and completely slouch over in front of your computer, you body is probably hanging out on bony structures now, and drawing stability primarily from the position in which gravity has put it.

Finally, take a deep breath and hold it. The expansion of your diaphragm and lungs has filled you out and is giving you stability.

We need to draw stability from all three sources appropriately; in fact, all three depend on each other. If we breathe correctly, we will be a in a better position. If we are in a good position, we will use muscles appropriately to create stability.

With that in mind here is a quick way to add some focused breathing into a common stability drill. When doing your dead bugs, practice fully exhaling in the bottom position before returning to the top. As you exhale try to depress the rib cage and lower it towards the hips. This will cause the low back to sit heavy into the ground. We have incorporated this at CP, and it has a made a great difference in showing athletes how exhaling activates the abdominals and causes true “core stability” to be trained.

4. Consider your somatotypes when making fitness-based decisions (Part 1).

A person’s body type (also known as their somatotype) is a general classification of their physical composition, as well as certain physiological characteristics. Taking into account your body type is an easy way to individualize your approach for added success in the gym and the kitchen. If this is a new concept to you, first you need to figure out what body type you are most similar to. Then, consider these general guidelines for training and nutrition to optimize your results. For more information, I encourage you to poke around the Precision Nutrition website. Many of these suggestions come from their certification manual. Their web site, nutrition programs and certification program provide an unparalleled source for nutritional information.

Ectomorphic: You tend to be “skinny” through both your limbs and torso. Your metabolism is fast, and in some cases hyperactive. Your tolerance to carbohydrates is great. You tend to be someone who always wants to gain “size”, especially in the limbs (arms and legs). If this sounds like you, use what works for you to your advantage. Go heavy on the carbohydrates; at least 50 – 60% of your intake can come from them. Furthermore, if you are looking to get bigger, limit extra physical activity and focus your efforts on strength gains, and in time, the addition of higher training volumes.

Stay tuned next week and I’ll hit upon another body type!

5. Read into skinfold measurements a bit deeper.

Calipers are often used to measure a person’s body fat percentage. It is a relatively inexpensive way to get an accurate idea of this number, and track progress. One really interesting topic I read about when prepping for my Precision Nutrition exam was the relationship between skin fold measurements and hormone levels. Basically people with similar hormone profiles also tend to carry body fat in the same place. By considering this information you can take a better approach to eliminating body fat as a whole. For example, if you have a high abdominal skinfold you are likely to have elevated levels of cortisol and stress in general. Therefore a better approach to your body fat reduction should include strategies to reduce stress, improve sleep, increase protein intake, and suppress cortisol.

Here are a few more tips for you to consider in relation to where you store body fat:

High suprailiac: Reduce your carb intake, and/or use nutrient timing strategies.

High subscapular: Improve your insulin sensitivity. Consider adding in fish oil supplementation.

High chest: Boost your testosterone by making sure your calories are high enough and you are receiving enough dietary fat.

High triceps or thigh: Reduce your estrogen levels, exercise more, and eat plenty of green leafy vegetables.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 11/29/12

Written on November 29, 2012 at 12:21 pm, by Eric Cressey

Here’s this week’s list of recommended strength and conditioning reading/viewing:

Thrive on Throwing – This is an outstanding DVD set from Alan Jaeger that thoroughly teaches the science and practice of long tossing.  Alan has generously offered to provide my readers with a 25% off discount (which applies to his other products as well).  I highly recommend this throwing resource, as long toss sometimes gets a bad rap in large part due to the fact that many players and coaches implement it incorrectly.

Making the Case for Long Toss in a Throwing Program – While we’re on the topic of long toss, I thought I’d bring this old article back from the archives, especially since a lot of our professional baseball clients started throwing this week.

5 Holiday Diet Tips that Don’t Suck – This is a quick read from Nate Miyaki over at T-Nation, but it packs some good information and strategies for you to employ this holiday season.

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Now Available: Cressey Performance Camo Shirts!

Written on November 28, 2012 at 7:42 pm, by Eric Cressey

I’m excited to announce that Camoflauge Cressey Performance Elite Baseball Development t-shirts are now available for sale.  Prior to today, these New Balance shirts were worn exclusively by our professional baseball clients.

These shirts are 90% cotton and 10% polyester and insanely comfortable.  They do, however, run a bit small.  So, if you normally wear a large, order a XL.  If you’re normally a XL, get a XXL.

We’ll be accepting pre-orders until February 25th in order to make sure that they all shipping out in time for the holidays. Each shirt is $24.99 + S&H, and I’d recommend you purchase seven of them, as you’ll want to wear one every single day!

Click the links below to add shirts to your cart:

XXL

Extra Large

Large

Medium

Small (note: if you weigh more than 120 pounds, this won’t fit)

We plan to do one order now and then retire these guys for good, so don’t delay if you’re interested in picking one up. Enjoy!

 


Squat and Deadlift Technique: Why the “Knees Out” Cue Might not be Enough

Written on November 27, 2012 at 10:34 am, by Eric Cressey

“Knees out” is a term I’ve heard yelled in gyms during squatting for as long as I can remember.  However, that cue alone might not help a lot of lifters train safely and productively.  Check out today’s video to learn more:

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How Each Pitcher Creates (or Loses) Velocity Differently

Written on November 25, 2012 at 5:25 pm, by Eric Cressey

If you’ve read my baseball content on this website for any length of time, you’ve surely noticed that I’m a firm believer that no two pitchers are built exactly the same.  Rather, they all develop velocity via different combinations of athletic qualities – or miss out on velocity gains because they don’t possess some of these qualities.

To that end, a while back, I gave a presentation down in Texas to a group of a few hundred pitching coaches on this very topic, and it’s now being released.  Check it out:

Pitching Whip: What it is and How to Get it

Both electronic versions and DVDs are available, but only for a short time – and at the current 75% off discount. So, don’t delay; check it out here now.

Also, on a related note, for those who don’t know that I publish a free baseball-specific newsletter, you can subscribe to it in the opt-in box below (you’ll receive a free copy of the Cressey Performance Post-Throwing Stretches, too):

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I’m Having a Black Friday/Cyber Monday Sale (Just Like Everyone Else on the Planet)

Written on November 23, 2012 at 6:51 am, by Eric Cressey

I guess I’m joining in the discount madness this holiday season, even if I didn’t have to do any planning!  Here are some options for your holiday shopping at EricCressey.com:

1. Whip: What it is and How You Get it – This was a presentation I did a while back at Ron Wolforth’s Pitching Coaches Bootcamp, and it’s now available for sale individually. In the presentation, I talk about factors the influence whether you increase throwing velocity and how strength and conditioning programs can have a dramatic impact – either positive or negative – on whether one develops the whip needed to throw harder.  You can either watch this online or get it as a DVD.

2. 20% off all Physical Products at MikeReinold.com – This sale includes Functional Stability Training and Optimal Shoulder Performance, along with many of Mike Reinold’s other products.  Just enter the coupon code BLACKFRIDAY2012 at checkout to get the discount.

3. 15% of all Products at RobertsonTrainingSystems.com – This sale includes Assess and Correct, Building the Efficient Athlete, and Magnificent Mobility, along with many other products from Mike Robertson. The discount will automatically be applied at checkout.

We don’t put products on sale very often, so be sure to take advantage of these offers before they expire at the end of the day on Monday!

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 25

Written on November 21, 2012 at 10:09 am, by Eric Cressey

Compliments of Greg Robins, here is this week’s list of quick and easy strategies to improve your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs.

1. Consider this concept for easy general programming.

I often get asked for tips on how someone can go about writing their own strength and conditioning programs. There are many great posts and articles covering this topic out there. In fact, maybe none as complete as those Eric has featured here on this site.

I like to show people a very simple concept based around improving “work” by improving three different variables: intensity, volume, and density.

Consider setting up a training session like this:

a. Choose one exercise to focus on improving the actual amount of weight you can put on the bar for one set. For example, try to move more weight on the squat for one set of 3–5 reps. All that matters here is your “top” set, so you can take as little, or as long as you want to reach that set.

b. Next, choose 2-4 exercises to improve how much total weight you can move over all the sets for each given movement. For example, let’s say you choose DB Bench Press for 4×8, and DB Reverse Lunge for 4×8/side. For ease of calculations, assume you used 10lb dumbbells for each exercise; you would have moved 640lbs total for each exercise in that training session (per leg on the lunges). Next week the idea would be to move more than 640lbs total. This can be done by adding sets, reps, or increasing the weight.

c. Lastly, choose 4-6 exercises and designate a rep number and weight for each movement. After that, choose an amount of time (realistically 8-10min). Focus your efforts on doing more work in that time frame from one training session to another. For example:

A1. KB Swing (20kg) x 10
A2. Push Up (BW) x 10
A3. KB Goblet Squat (20kg) x 10
A4. Inverted Row (BW) x 10

Week 1: You complete three rounds in 10min.
Week 2: Anything over three sets of each exercise in 10min is an improvement.

For those of you in a jam, this should provide a simple and easy way to set up a training session. Enjoy!

2. Make 1-arm carries more effective.

3. Don’t attempt to use pre-workout supplements for a general lack of effort.

One debate that you can’t escape, in nearly any setting, is which pre-workout supplement is the best. Which one gets you the most “jacked up, bro!?” I’m here to reiterate once again, that it doesn’t matter. Take, for example, this recent study published in The Journal of The International Society of Sports Nutrition. A certain popular pre-workout supplement was put to the test against a placebo. While the results favored the group taking the supplement, the difference in results were minimal at best. Not to mention the favorable results were all things that could be just as easily provoked with other means. I’m not saying that things like creatine, caffeine, beta-alinine, etc. don’t work; they do. I am saying that no pre-workout supplement will ever be the difference maker in you having success in the gym or your sport. Want a boost? Have some coffee. Want to cover all your nutritional bases? Eat well, and grab a few supplements that actually supplement things you aren’t getting enough of from food. Want to perform at an elite level? Do what it takes to make that happen: outwork everyone, take care of your body, and seek out a motivating environment with like-minded people.

Your pre-workout supplement is overpriced, largely ineffective, and a non-factor in your success. Move on.

4. Improve your positioning on standing cable exercises.

5. Enjoy cranberries as a Thanksgiving super food!

There are a lot of great foods that make the cut for Thanksgiving, and one of my favorites is cranberries. Cranberries are a major super food, and one we probably neglect most of the year. After all, they are pretty bitter unless we add sugar. What a shame! Cranberries’ antioxidant properties are through the roof. Additionally, they help keep your urinary tract, kidneys, and bladder in check. Plus, they are often used to treat skin conditions, and help fight the “less desirable” physical characteristics of aging.

So, how do we go about including them without adding a bunch of sugar? Here are a few ideas:

a. Dehydrate them and include them in baked goods, salads, or other dishes.
b. Use them with fatty foods like oils, and fattier meats the bitterness can actually blend well!
c. Mix them with other fruits that tend to be sweeter in flavor.
d. For cranberry sauce recipes, experiment with honey, natural fruit juices, or agave nectars instead of the usual sugar filled varieties.

We hope everyone has a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 11/20/12

Written on November 20, 2012 at 7:37 am, by Eric Cressey

Here’s this week’s list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

The 4-Hour Chef – Tim Ferriss’ book is now available, and it looks to be fantastic.  My wife and I actually had dinner with Tim in San Francisco back in February when he was immersed in the writing process.  We talked at length about how the scope of the book had grown incredibly from a cookbook only all the way up to becoming a book of lessons on how to learn and become highly proficient on any task – with cooking as a medium through which to do so.

I’m actually buying a few copies of this as Christmas presents, including one for my mother, who is a high school principal with a big interest in finding innovative ways to get kids excited about learning – and learning faster.  As a bonus, she likes to cook and eat healthy: win/win! 

The Virtual Squat Seminar – This was a great post from Jim Wendler over at T-Nation.  He covered a lot of what you need to know in order to squat safely and effectively.

All the Hype Behind Kipping Pull-ups – My good friend and business partner, Tony Gentilcore, goes into “dangerous territory” by covering the kipping pull-up, but actually presents a very “neutral” argument that I think anyone can appreciate, regardless of how they feel about Crossfit.

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5 Reasons to Use Speed Deadlifts in Your Strength Training Programs

Written on November 18, 2012 at 7:42 am, by Eric Cressey

When my first book was published back in 2008, a lot of people were surprised that I included speed deadlifts, either because they felt too easy, or because they didn’t think that deadlifting that wasn’t “heavy” couldn’t be productive. Interestingly, when their deadlifts invariably shot up after completing the four-month program, nobody was questioning their inclusion. With that in mind, I thought I’d use today’s article to outline my top five reasons for including speed deadlifts in one’s strength training program.

First, however, I think it’s important to outline what a speed deadlift is. Simply take any variation of the deadlift, and perform it at a lighter percentage: 35-80% of one-rep max (1RM) for sets of 1-5 reps. The higher the percentage, the lower the rep scheme, and vice versa. Examples include 8×1 at 80% of 1RM, 6×3 at 50% of 1RM, and 4×5 at 35% of 1RM. It’s possible to add chains or bands to the exercise, too, if you have access to them. You would rest anywhere from 30s to 120s between sets.

The most important factors, however, are perfect technique and excellent bar speed.

The bar should feel like it is exploding off the floor straight through to lockout.

Now, let’s get down to the reasons you might want to include it in your program.

1. Technique practice

I’ve coached a lot of deadlifts in my career, and people tend to fall into one of three categories:

a. Great technique (~5% of people)
b. Great technique until the load gets heavy (~60% of people)
c. Terrible technique (~35% of people)

In other words, 19 out of 20 people’s technique will go down the tubes as soon as the load gets heavy, so they might as well work on technique as they gradually build the weights up.

When you first took driver’s education class, you didn’t go straight for 65mph on the highway, did you? Nope, you drove around a parking lot, and then headed out for some back roads with very little traffic. Deadlifts are the same way; master the easy stuff before you get to the advanced stuff.

2. Improved bar speed off the floor

Imagine two lifters, both of whom are attempting 500-pound deadlifts. Lifter A puts a ton of force into the ground quickly at the start, and the bar jumps off the ground. Lifter B puts the same amount of force into the ground, but it isn’t applied as quickly, so the bar comes off a bit more slowly. Which lifter is more likely to complete the deadlift? My money is on Lifter A. Bar speed off the floor matters, and that is a very hard thing to teach at higher percentages of 1RM.

What you have to realize is that explosive strength (also known as rate of force development) is dependent on the INTENT to apply force rapidly (lift quickly), not the actual bar speed. An isometric muscle action can be explosive even though the bar doesn’t actually move; just imagine an elite deadlifter pulling against a bar 500 pounds heavier than his 1RM. He’s still applying a lot of force to the bar – and doing so quickly – but the bar isn’t moving. Take a look at my missed deadlift at the 2:12 mark of this video, as an example. You’ll see the bar bending, even if it isn’t moving; there is still force being applied. Advanced lifters get that.

The problem is that less experienced lifters don’t appreciate that you can be explosive in an isometric action; they have to have the feedback of the bar moving fast to teach them that they’re actually being explosive. And, that’s where speed deadlifts can be a great teaching tool and practice mechanism.

3. Power development

In an old installment of The Contreras Files, Bret Contreras did a great job of making a case for submaximal conventional and trap bar deadlifts (30-40% of 1RM) as potentially being as valuable as Olympic lifts in terms of the peak power production, in light of some recent research.  I think we all still have questions about this comparison, as the Olympic lifts require an athlete to apply force for longer (greater ROM) on each rep (allowing for greater carryover to athletes), and more seasoned Olympic lifters may be able to demonstrate higher power numbers simply from better technique.  However, the important takeaway message with respect to my article today is that submaximal deadlifts can, in fact, be a great option for training peak power – and I'd definitely recommend them over Olympic lifts for folks who don't have a qualified Olympic lifting coach available to teach technique.

4. Double extension is probably safer than triple extension in older, uncoordinated, inexperienced exercisers.

I'll probably get some nasty comments for this point; oh well.

We know that as people get older, the age-related loss in power is a huge deal.  So, training power is important for not only folks who are trying to get stronger and more athletic, but also folks who just want to preserve power for quality of life purposes.  I'd love nothing more than to be able to do loads of jumping, sprinting progressions, and Olympic lifts with a middle-aged population, but I'm just not sure that's a good idea in light of the number of degenerative Achilles tendons there are in the crowd, and how poorly many folks move.  These are exercises toward which we can build, no doubt, but early on, double extension exercises for training power can still be beneficial. 

I think this is one of many reasons that kettlebell swings have become so popular; they allow you to train power via double extension with a lot of the same benefits as the aforementioned modalities, but more safely.  Speed deadlift variations can work in much the same way: double extension, compound exercise, plenty of opportunity for power development, and less risk.  Eventually, when you want to start to introduce some eccentric challenges and triple extension, skipping drills, uphill sprints, and sled sprints are all good ways to do so gradually.

5. A way to train squats and deadlifts on the same day without feeling like poop.

Heavy squats are hard, and so are heavy deadlifts.  Doing both on the same day is brutal – and it can increase your injury risk in training.  Accordingly, powerlifters need to lower the intensity on one of the two if they want to get in plenty of quality work on both.

On this front, a training approach that worked really well for me during my powerlifting career was two have two lower body days per week, and break them up as:

Day 1: Squat for Speed, then Deadlift Heavy
Day 2: Squat Heavy, then Deadlift for Speed

Speed deadlifts allowed me to train bar speed, pull frequently enough to enhance technique, and get girls to like me – all without feeling like poop.  It was a win/win situation.

Speed deadlifts aren't the be-all, end-all of training initiatives, but then again, nothing is for everyone at every time. One thing that makes them unique is that they yield benefits to beginner, intermediate, and advanced lifters – but for all different reasons. Try incorporating them here and there in your training and I think you'll find them to be valuable.

For more deadlifting tips, I'd encourage you to check out Deadlift Domination, a thorough resource from Andy Bolton.  It's on sale through Friday night.

deadlift_domination_3d_cover

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Deadlift Domination: What a 1,000-Pound Pull Can Teach You

Written on November 15, 2012 at 2:33 am, by Eric Cressey

I know a thing or two about how to deadlift.  In the 165- and 181-pound weight classes, I've consistently pulled well over 600 pounds.

One thing I noticed early on in my training career was that while there were a ton of guys out there with huge squats and bench presses who could really coach technique, very few people could apply the same level of wisdom to the deadlift.  I suspect that it has to do with the fact that it's the one lift out of the big three that hasn't been as dramatically impacted by the addition of powerlifting suits/shirts to the sport.  Plus, there are more differing opinions, given that some folks pull sumo and others pull conventional.

Because of the fact that great pullers are pretty few and far between – even at powerlifting meets – I had to study a lot of videos of my technique and coach myself, especially as I added body weight and moved to a new weight class.  Candidly, nothing I ever read early-on in my powerlifting career ever helped me much, and I can't put a finger on a single person who gave me feedback that really made a difference.  It seemed like everyone just said to squat heavy and do plenty of good mornings, and then your deadlift would come along for the ride.  Really logical, right?

Then, in 2006, Andy Bolton changed the game when he pulled 1,003 pounds, becoming the first one to eclipse the half-ton mark.

That, folks, is a crapload of weight. You don't just get there by being genetically gifted or lucky.  Sure, those factors help, but to get to that point, you have to train smart in order to avoid injury and plateau – especially when you're also competing in the squat (1,214 pounds) and bench press (755 pounds), as Bolton does.

At the time, my best competition deadlift was 617.  I remember hearing that Bolton had pulled 1,000 pounds and instantly checking online to try to locate the video.  Then, I started asking everyone I knew (at the time, I was training at South Side Gym in Connecticut, one of the premier powerlifting gyms in the country) if they knew anything about how Bolton structured his training.  As I learned a bit more through the grapevine (this was before Bolton really had much of an internet presence), there were three things that really stood out for me, from what I had heard:

1. He didn't do a lot of sets at his heaviest weights for the day.  He worked up to the target weight for the day, but didn't really do multiple sets.  I'd been doing a lot of sets of 3×5 in the low 500-pound range, and it was really beating me up to the point that I couldn't pull as frequently as I would

2. His total sets/reps on assistance work and overall training frequency weren't all that high. Learning more about Bolton's training made me realize that as I got stronger, I needed to be cognizant of not letting volume and frequency remain as high as it had been when I was younger and weaker.

3. He didn't miss lifts. I, on the other hand, would often compete with guys 50-200 pounds heavier than me on a regular basis, and it meant that I'd miss a lift at least once every two weeks. I learned to be more conservative with selecting weights on my heaviest sets; the difference between 95% and 101% was a lot of wear and tear and recovery.  I think I went several months without missing a lift on multiple occasions.

Over the next year, I made a conscious effort to get more full days off from training, as opposed to always wanting to add assistance work on off-days.  And, I stopped pushing crazy volume on my deadlifts; in fact, I went to one heavy, low-volume day (e.g., work up to a heavy set of three), and another day where I pulled for speed (45-70% of 1RM) after squatting heavier.  In 2007, in my last official meet, I pulled 650.

An improvement of 33 pounds in a year might not seem like much to most people, but since I already had a deadlift in the Powerlifting USA Top 100 in my weight class, it was a huge deal to me.  There were quite a few things that changed in that year for me, but I can say without wavering that those two modifications to my training were a huge part of my improvement.

Would I have figured those out without asking around about Andy Bolton's training?  I don't know.  I doubt it, though, as I sure as heck hadn't figured them out on my own in the previous three years of competing!

Early on, I taught myself a lot about deadlifting through trial and error simply because I didn't feel like there was a good resource out there for it.  In fact, if you take a look at my technique now (recent "mock" meet video below), you'll see that I've simplified my pulling technique by eliminating the heel stomp. 

If even advanced pullers are trying to find ways to get better, surely there are lots of deadlifting secrets out there that could really benefit novice and intermediate lifters. And, that's why I was pumped when I heard that Bolton was creating a new resource, Deadlift Domination. I was fortunate to get an advanced copy, and it's absolutely fantastic.

deadlift_domination_3d_cover

I emphasize the term "resource" because it isn't a one-size-fits-all plan.  Rather, it's a great educational tool that teaches lifters of all ages about proper technique and programming strategies.  Some valuable topics they cover that stood out for me were how to:

1. Determine whether you're better built for the conventional or sumo deadlift technique.

2. Deload prior to meets/testing days.

3. Integrate kettlebell exercises with more traditional powerlifting training.

4. Manage your breathing during heavy deadlifting (I wish someone had taught me this eight years ago).

5. Build a solid hip hinge so that you can deadlift safely.

6. Make sure you appreciate the difference between how Olympic lifters deadlift (first pull) and how powerlifters do so.

7. Pull yourself down to the bar (this is a HUGE game-changer for lifters when they finally "get it," especially on deadlift bars with a lot of whip)

8. Utilize compensatory acceleration training: performing the concentric (lifting) portion of the movement as fast as possible, regardless of the weight.

These are just a few of the first things that come to mind as I went through the product.  Bolton also goes into great detail with respect to training the squat and deadlift.

Like I said, I wish I'd had access to it as a beginning lifter, and I give it my highest endorsement for those of you in the same situation.  It's on sale with a special collection of bonuses, so I'd strongly encourage you to check it out: Deadlift Domination.

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