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5 Ways You’ve Never Used a Barbell

Written on March 13, 2014 at 11:09 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Performance coach, Greg Robins.

Hi, my name is Greg, and I have a problem.

I love the barbell.

In fact, I would be perfectly happy just training with the bar, a rack, a bench, and some plates. Call me crazy, but every exercise that has ever made a serious impact on my physique and strength levels involved the barbell.

To be honest, most people don’t use the bar enough. It’s not surprising, given the state of a typical “gym” these days. For every three or four bars, there must be a few hundred other pieces of equipment.

I continually challenge people to use the bar more often. Usually, my advice centers on doing more variations of the basic lifts. For me, the staple lifts never get old. However, I know plenty of people who thrive on variety in their training. With that in mind, here are five lesser-used exercises that include the barbell.

1. Barbell Rollouts

Rollouts are a great exercise, but not everyone has a wheel or other fancy implement. Not a problem! In fact, using a barbell is just as effective, if not more effective.

One benefit is that you can make the bar heavier or lighter. This may seem like a trivial difference, since the bar stays on the floor. However, you will notice that a 185-pound bar is a heck of a lot harder to pull back to the starting position. This will make your lats work harder, and tax your core. The best part? It makes your lats and abs work together, as they should!

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2. 1-arm Barbell Rows

Heavy rowing should be a staple in most people’s programs, especially those of you who want to move some appreciable weight in the gym. This variation is a serious grip challenge. It’s also a great way to load up past what the gym offers in DBs; just use a strap so you can hold on.  However you choose to do it, the basic premise is simple: perform a row in the same fashion as 1-arm DB row. In this case, keep the barbell between your legs, and make sure to use 10- and 25-pound plates so you can keep a decent range of motion.

1-arm Barbell Rows

3. Weighted Carries

Most folks look immediately to farmer’s handles, DBs, and KBs to do weighted carries. That’s all well and good, but the barbell lends itself very well to a few loaded carries as well.  Among my favorites are a barbell overhead carry, a barbell zercher carry, and a 1-arm barbell suitcase carry.

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zercher

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Each offers a totally different advantage. Overhead helps people work anti-extension properties in full shoulder flexion. The Zercher carry is great as an anti-extension exercise as well, and a better choice for those who can’t get overhead safely. Lastly, the suitcase carry trains core stability in virtually every plane, and even challenges the grip quite a bit.

4. Self Massage

Forgot your PVC pipe? No worries! The barbell with a small plates on each hand can make for a roller as well. It’s not for the more tender individuals, but works perfectly fine for people who have a longer history doing self-massage.

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I also like the fact that the bar is much thinner than a roller, putting more direct pressure on the areas of interest. Try this baby out on your lower extremities and lats next time you hit the gym.

5. 1-arm Overhead Exercises

I’ve written previously about the benefits of bottoms-up KB exercises. They create a lot more need for shoulder stability, and tax the grip. However, the barbell can offer a similar benefit.

Since the bulk of the weight is now further from your hand, the forearm and shoulder demands increase BIG time.

It’s a great challenge on 1-arm shoulder presses, as well as Turkish Get Ups. Don’t believe me? Give it a try.

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If you’ve been hunting down some new physical challenges in the gym, these should definitely get you moving. Train hard and use the barbell!

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Help Me to Help You: An EricCressey.com Survey

Written on March 12, 2014 at 8:06 am, by Eric Cressey

I just have a quick post today – and it's actually me asking a favor of my readers.  In my search to improve EricCressey.com (including an upcoming site redesign), I'm hoping to learn a bit more about my readers and newsletter subscribers so that I can target my content a bit better. If you have a few moments free and would be willing to share your thoughts with me, I'd greatly appreciate it.  We promise not to share your responses or information with anyone.

You can access the survey HERE.

Thanks!

Also, if you'd like to subscribe to our free newsletter, you can do so below – and you'll receive a detailed deadlift technique video tutorial.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 3/10/14

Written on March 10, 2014 at 8:01 am, by Eric Cressey

I hope you all had a great weekend.  Before the Monday Blues can set in, here are some recommended strength and conditioning reads to get the week started off on the right foot.

Is Nutrient Timing Dead? – Not a week goes by the Dr. John Berardi and his team at Precision Nutrition don't kick out some awesome nutrition-related content. Former CP employee and current PN team member Brian St. Pierre (who authored The High Performance Handbook Nutrition Guide) took the lead on this great article.

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Reality: You Can't Run a Sub 5.0 Forty – This article is absolutely awesome because it highlights just how inflated most high school 40 times are. 

Elite Training Mentorship – In this month's ETM, I've got two new exercise demonstration videos, an article, and a webinar called "5 Important Upper Body Functional Anatomy Considerations." There's also some great content from Tyler English and Vaughn Bethell this month.

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Functional Stability Training Sale to Benefit National MS Awareness Week

Written on March 7, 2014 at 11:41 am, by Eric Cressey

I just have a quick "heads-up" blog for you today, as Mike Reinold and I just put both Functional Stability Training of the Lower Body and Core on sale today for 25% off.  It's National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Awareness Week, so we'll be donating 25% of the proceeds to MS-related charities.

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Both products are available in both DVD and online-only formats. Don't miss this chance to get these resources at a great price – and help out an awesome cause in the process.  Just head to www.FunctionalStability.com, and enter the coupon code msawareness at checkout to get the discount applied.

Thanks for your support!

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 56

Written on February 27, 2014 at 1:59 pm, by Eric Cressey

We're lucky to have Cressey Performance coach Andrew Zomberg filling in for this week's collection of quick tips for your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs.  Here we go!

1. Own the weight/movement during execution.

Far too often, I see trainees fail to take control during the execution of a lift. For example, many people completely disregard the tempo, which inevitably leads to a faulty lift.  If I see something like this, I tell the individual to "own the weight/movement or count to three” as they go through the eccentric portion." By employing this cue and focusing on the tempo, you will not only mitigate the risk of injury, but you will become more proficient with the given lift.

So, the next time during the execution of a lift, try to become more mindful with how fast you’re completing each rep.  Make an attempt to utilize a countdown or envision the “owning” cue in order to control the lift.

2. Limit yourself to three steps when you set-up for a squat.

Squatting (whether a traditional back squat, front squat, or one that utilizes specialty bars) is generally a staple in most training programs.  But too often, a lifter will take too many steps to set up once they unrack the bar from the J-hooks.  This bad habit not only causes the lifter to lose his/her pre-settings (air and tension), but it also expends far too much energy during the foot-placement.

So, once you are under the bar and your air is set, take only three steps for your set-up.  On the first step, allow yourself to clear the hooks.  Then, use the second and third step to position yourself in the appropriate squat stance.  From there, reset your air and go to town!

3. Assume a quadruped position while loading for a push-up.

Once you have mastered a conventional push-up (unloaded without elevation or additional stability points), the next step for progression is loading it (using a weighted-vest, chains or bands).  However, this weight should not be added while in the push-up position because you will fight the anti-extension component and waste a lot of energy you need for the lift.

Instead, assume the quadruped position (on all fours) as weight or added resistance is being loaded.  If you opt for a vest or bands, still assume the quadruped position (rather than hanging out in a starting push-up position).  By doing this, you allow your base of support to be closer to your center of gravity, making the set-up less strenuous.  Remember, even though you want to work hard, be smart.  You need to know when to preserve your energy in order to optimize the exercise.

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4. Get out of your footwear as much as you can.

The shoes we wear often restrict our range of motion and provide external stability that our feet need to develop on our own.  This is why many lifters perform some of their training exercises barefooted.  Eliminating footwear allows for improvements in ankle and foot mobility and stability, reduction in hypertonic calves, greater activation of the posterior chain, and increased proprioception of the foot.

However, there are unfortunate situations where gyms do not allow members to take off their footwear.  So in these cases, you should purchase minimalist sneakers (we like the New Balance MX20v3) that will aid in providing just enough stability to prevent lateral sprains, all while helping you increase ankle mobility and stability in the foot.  Also, get out of your footwear (running sneakers, dress shoes, or heels) whenever you can, and while shoeless, implement foot and ankle drills in order to maintain adequate function.

5. Create a shake matrix to streamline the smoothie making process.

A busy lifestyle forces many of us to eat on-the-go, which is why shakes are all the craze lately.  Unfortunately, a lot of people make the same smoothie day after day, week after week, without any changes or new add-ons.  Incorporating different nutrient-dense ingredients is very important, though.  The variety provides a blend of essential macronutrients, vitamins and minerals you need for optimal bodily functioning.

So, I refer you to the “shake matrix” (see below), created by Dr. Mike Roussell.  This table presents different, tasty ways to eliminate boredom and ensure that you provide plenty of nutrients to your body.  Use it as inspiration and change up your recipes!

shakematrix

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 55

Written on February 21, 2014 at 10:13 am, by Eric Cressey

Thanks to Cressey Performance Coach Greg Robins, here are some strength and conditioning tips to kick off the weekend:

1. Try this convenient way to massage your upper traps.

In my never-ending quest to make my neck disappear, my upper traps take quite a beating. I’m not alone; many lifters place a high demand on this area via heavy deadlifts, back squats, and high amounts of upper back volume. It comes with the territory, but I couldn’t help but think there must be a better way to attack soft tissue work below what’s left of my neck. Luckily, CP coach and massage therapist, Chris Howard, had a great tip for me.  Here it is:

2. Consider giving more positive feedback.

As part of our internship process at CP, we hold mid-term and final evaluations to let our interns know how they’re doing. It just so happens that this past week was the halfway point for our spring class. I’m fortunate that I get to watch our new interns operate under two very different environments, both the day-to-day semi-private strength training, and the faster-paced morning bootcamp classes.

As the mid-term evaluations came to a close, I realized that even our smartest, most prepared interns, received similar feedback from me:

“If someone is doing something right,
you can still reinforce the positive.”

During the day, when things move at the pace of the athlete, a coach can have the tendency to switch into “observation” mode. Especially as the baseball off-season draws to a close, many of our athletes are very self-sufficient. From a technique perspective, they are relatively flawless.

In the morning, we have many clients who have executed some of the day’s exercises hundreds of times. In the fast paced bootcamp environment, a coach may have the tendency to look feverishly for faults, and find none.

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That’s not a negative, but as a coach our job is not merely to offer up negative or constructive feedback. In fact, offering positive feedback can make the training even more effective. Here a few quick reasons why:

  • Often times, people do things correctly and are not even aware of it. Positive feedback can help them hone in on something they are doing well, how they’re making it happen, and how it feels. You will notice that these actions/feelings will translate well to the actions and feelings they need to create on an exercise where they aren’t as comfortable or proficient.
  • Receiving positive reinforcement will help them push harder, and bring more energy to the session.
  • It’s a great opportunity to break the ice, and build a rapport with a client who may be more introverted.
  • As a coach, it keeps you alert and in a more “active” mode.

3. Make a more nutritious sandwich.

Speaking of our interns, I recently got a fantastic idea from Brooks Braga, one of the current ones. Brooks turns to a sandwich for a quick meal on a daily basis, and I couldn’t help but notice his bread slices looked a lot like a pancake. As it turns out, they were – and some pretty nutritious and delicious ones at that! In fact, they are made primarily from almond and coconut flour. I asked if I could share the "Brooks Bread" recipe and he obliged; thanks, Brooks!

Ingredients:

½ cup almond flour
½ cup coconut flour
1-2 scoops vanilla protein powder
1 tsp baking powder
2-3 eggs
~½ cup unsweetened coconut milk

Directions:

a. Mix the dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl
b. Mix the eggs and coconut milk in a separate bowl
c. Combine the wet and dry ingredients
d. Scoop a heaping tablespoon-sized amount of batter and spread into your shape of choice on a griddle/frying pan.  If it’s as runny as normal pancake batter the pancakes will not stick together, so it should be thick!
e.  Cook on low-medium heat for a minute or so per side

Modifications:

a. 1 tbsp arrowroot powder can be added for thickening/binding
b. 1 tsp vanilla and/or cinnamon makes them a little more delectable
c. 1 tbsp coconut oil/grass-fed butter makes them richer
d. Several spoonfuls of coconut cream will help to increase the caloric density
e. 1-2 tbsp cacao powder can be used to make chocolate pancakes…why not?
f. Stevia can be used for sweetening

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Notes from Brooks:

a. The batter should be thick enough to the point where you have to spread it out on the griddle/frying pan.  If it is too runny the pancakes will not hold together very well.
b. You might have to play around with the coconut milk amount depending on your other ingredients.  I would suggest starting with ¼ cup coconut milk and adding more until you get a consistency that is thicker than normal pancake batter but still spreadable.

There you have it: a tasty substitute for your lackluster whole grain bread slices. Give it a try!

4. Try this simple programming tip to add more volume to your assistance exercises.

The following is a great way to ensure that you do more work in an exercise over a four-week period. I use it all the time for a sets and reps scheme on the smaller exercises in a program. Let’s use a DB Reverse Lunge as the example:

Wk 1: 3×8
Wk 2: 4×8
Wk 3: 3×10
Wk 4: 4×10

The key is to set your best set of 8 in week 1 and then use that same weight all the way into week 4. By increasing volume through the addition of sets first, and then through the addition of reps and sets, we are able to do more total work both overall and in a single set. That’s a good recipe for increased muscle growth, and strength gains as well.

The bigger the movement, and the stronger you are on it, the more difficult it will be to make this a reality. With that in mind, stick to this scheme for your assistance work.

5. Ditch the handle to increase grip demands on a farmer carry.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 2/20/14

Written on February 20, 2014 at 9:25 am, by Eric Cressey

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

Long-Term Athletic Development and the ABCs of Training – This was an awesome article from US Lacrosse, but it applies to all sports. It closely reflects our approach to developing baseball players at Cressey Performance.

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Carb Controversy: Why Low-Carb Diets Have It All Wrong – Brian St. Pierre wrote up an extremely well-researched post for Precision Nutrition – and some of the points he make will surprise you.

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11 Ways to Make an Exercise Harder – Call this a little "Throwback Thursday" inclusion, as I wrote it back in 2010. If you're looking to learn how to write strength and conditioning programs, this is a good resource for understanding progression and regression.

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Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective – Installment 8

Written on February 18, 2014 at 8:14 am, by Eric Cressey

It's time for the eighth installment of my series on coaching cues.  Try putting these three cues to work for you.

1. Bear hug a tree.

I love anti-rotation chops as a way to train rotary core stability. Unfortunately, a lot of people butcher the technique so that they can really load up the weight on these. In short, the closer the arms are to the body, the easier the exercise.  So, if you really bend the elbows, you can use a lot more weight without getting as good of a training effect.  With that in mind, I tell folks to "bear hug a tree" as they're doing these exercises, as it ensures that the elbows are only slightly bent, but still well out in front of the body.

2. Be heavy on the pad.

Chest-supported rows (also known as T-bar rows) are an awesome exercise to strengthen the upper back, and the presence of the pad on the front of the torso is a great external focus point to keep the lifter's technique sound.  That is, of course, only if people use it!

One of the most common mistakes I see is that people will keep their hips on the lower pad, but then extend heavily through their lumbar spine (lower back) to lift the weight.  In reality, it should be a neutral spine posture from top-to-bottom; the ribs have to stay down. The cue I like to give athletes is to "be heavy on the pad." Keeping the chest firmly on the pad prevents the rib cage from flaring up when it should just be movement of the scapula and upper arms.

3. Pull the bar into your upper back.

This was a coaching cue that made a huge difference with my squat. One of the biggest mistakes you see lifters make when back squatting is that they don't take control of the bar. Rather than pulling it down into the upper back to create a good "shelf," they just let it sit there. The last thing you want to be under heavy weights is passive.  By pulling the bar into the upper back, you not only dictate the bar path (it can't roll), but also get the lats engaged as a core stabilizer.

While on the topic of squatting, if you're looking for a thorough squat technique resource, I'd encourage you to check out Jordan Syatt's new resource, Elite Performance Squatting. It's a great two-hour presentation.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 2/13/14

Written on February 13, 2014 at 9:58 am, by Eric Cressey

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

Is Your Vitamin D Supplement Hurting or Helping You? – This might be the single-best thing I've ever read on Vitamin D.  The Precision Nutrition team did a great job with it.

Buddy Morris: The Next Chapter – This is a great podcast at EliteFTS with Buddy Morris, head strength and conditioning coach at the University at Buffalo. I've long been a fan of Buddy's not only because he's a bright guy, but also because he's an example of everything that's right about strength and conditioning. He's humble, super approachable, and always looking to get better – regardless of how long he's been in the field.  This is a "must listen" for up-and-coming coaches.

Cressey Performance on Social Media – You might not know it, but Cressey Performance is well represented on social media.  If you aren't following us already, you're missing out on daily tips, exclusive articles, and the ever popular "quote of the day."  Here's where you can find them all:

Cressey Performance on Facebook

Excellence Bootcamps on Facebook

Cressey Performance on Instagram

Cressey Performance on Twitter

Enjoy!

CP3

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Strength Training Programs: 3 Habits to Make You a Better Lifter

Written on February 12, 2014 at 7:35 am, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Performance coach, Andrew Zomberg.  Andrew's a fantastic coach and a great writer, so you'll be seeing much more about him around here in the future!
 

Habitual behavior happens unconsciously and compulsively. Daily activities like brushing your teeth or setting your alarm before bed are programmed into your brain simply because of the repetitive nature in which you carry out these actions.  You want to create the same kind habitual behavior in your lifting routine. But, building these habits requires specificity. In other words, it is not enough to say, “I want to be a more efficient lifter.” This big goal needs to be broken down into small, specific behaviors in order to make the change attainable.

Below are three important habits to establish in your lifting routine. These behaviors will pave the way to efficiency. Just know, reinforcing them will take time. According to a 2009 study from London’s University College, it takes 66 days to successfully adopt a new habit.  What does this mean? At first, you will have to work hard at implementing them into your lifting routine – so don’t get discouraged! Eventually, these habits will become second nature, and you will incorporate them without even thinking about it.

1. Create structure. Structure provides a baseline to achieve your fitness goals. By planning things out and establishing a purpose to be at the gym, you can ensure quality and consistency in your workouts. Structure also makes it easier to stick to a program long-term. But planning requires effort and discipline, especially in the preparation phase. To make structure and organization a habit, aim to:

  • Write everything down. This includes the load (amount of weight lifted), any modifications (regressions, progressions, etc.), and the settings (cable column adjustments, hand placements, stance, etc.). It is not practical to remember exactly what you did last week, so take the guesswork out. Keeping track of your workouts is also highly motivational. Tracking your progress provides positive feedback and reminds you just how hard you are working to attain the end goal.
     
  • Execute the program without deviation. Program designs are created for a reason. Exercise choice and exercise order aren’t just arbitrary recommendations that can be ignored. Sure, warm-ups can be boring, and of course it is easier to do a lat pull down than a chin-up, but there are no shortcuts to speed, strength and growth. So, stick to the plan!
     
  • Improve your accountability to minimize hiccups in your programming. If you have a work commitment, schedule your training session around it. If you have an injury, find a way to safely work out. If you often make excuses to skip a weekend workout, train with a partner to increase your accountability to get the gym.

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2.  Improve the proficiency of each lift. Awareness is underrated in fitness. Take single-leg work, for instance. Many “lungers” allow their knee to translate too far forward, which yields premature heel lift. Unbeknownst to their knowing, this redistributes the stress to unwanted areas and simply doesn’t target the intended areas (the hamstrings and glutes). It is so important to hone in on proper technique to ensure stability, proper body alignment, movement quality, and of course, safety. In order to improve proficiency in your programming, make a habit to:

  • Learn the right way to do each exercise. There are plenty of experts in the field who have mastered specific lifts from whom you can learn. However, please keep an open mind. Do not get caught up with just one individual. By learning from several enthusiasts, you are exposed to many different physical and verbal cues that will help perfect your lifts.
     
  • Practice lifts and all of their steps. There are several key components of a lift, including (but not limited to) the set-up, the tempo of the ascent/decent, and the lockout of the movement. Do not race through exercises. Take the time to execute the movements in their entirety in order to maximize results.
     
  • Figure out the limiting factors. These factors may include, mobility or stability restraints, lack of kinesthetic awareness or a pre-existing injury that is preventing the proper execution of a movement. There are several ways to reveal these issues.  Watch videos. Work with a training partner. Get assessed by a trained professional, like an athletic trainer, physical therapist, or chiropractor. It is essential to address limiting factors because if you continue to perform in faulty movements, they will become ingrained, which prohibits growth and could eventually lead to further injury.

3.  Add variations to programs and exercises. Variations are different ways of executing movements to increase or decrease the level of difficulty, eliminate monotony or simply expand your existing knowledge base. Adding variety to your programming will not only create the necessary adaptations for growth, but it will also enhance your level of expertise in specific lifts. Variations are effective on a monthly basis. To add variations in your programs, strive to:

  • Manipulate the volume. Changing your reps and sets by either adding more or less weight in your current program will provide the muscular disturbances needed for noticeable and consistent growth.
     
  • Add more exercises to your toolbox. Your muscles will not get stronger unless you force them to do so. By utilizing different exercises, you impose new stresses to the body, eliminating monotony and allowing for adaptation. This change leads to an endless list of benefits, including the improvement of cardiovascular health, the enhancement of body composition, and the development of quality of movement.
     
  • Play around with additional training variables. Alter your base of support (stance), create new ranges of motion (deficits or partials), adjust your grip placement or modify your tempo.  Changing the variables not only warrants growth, but also helps you avoid plateaus.  Remember, repetition allows the body to adapt to the repetitive motions, so mix it up – on a monthly basis!

Andrew Zomberg is a strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Performance.  You can follow him on Twitter: @AndrewZomberg.

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