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5 Deadlift Technique and Programming Lessons

Written on July 19, 2014 at 7:27 am, by Eric Cressey

Yesterday, I deadlifted 600 for three reps for the first time.  This is a number I've been after for quite some time.

After the lift, I got to thinking about some good lessons I could "teach" in light of this milestone for me. Here are five quick Saturday morning thoughts:

1. Personal records sometimes happen when you don't expect them.

I honestly didn't feel particularly great when I started the training session yesterday. In fact, if you'd asked me prior to the lift if I was going to be setting a PR in the gym that day, I would have said, "Absolutely not." However, a thorough warm-up and a few extra sets of speed deadlifts on the "work-up" did the trick.  Make sure to never truly evaluate where you stand until you've actually done your warm-up.

2. It's really important to take the slack out of the bar.

If you watch the video above, you'll notice that I pull the bar "taut" before I ever really start the actual lift. Every bar has a bit of slack in it, and you want to get rid of it early on. Check out this video on the subject:

You can actually get a feel for just how much slack there is in the bar if you observe how much it bends at the top under heavy weights. This doesn't happen to the same degree with "regular" barbells.

600x3

3. Don't expect to accomplish a whole lot in the training session after a lifetime PR on a deadlift.

Not surprisingly, heavy deadlifting wipes me out. Interestingly, though, it wipes me out a lot more than heavy squatting. From a programming standpoint, I can squat as heavy as I want - and then get quality work in over the course of the session after that initial lift. When the "A1" is a deadlift, though, it's usually some lighter, high-rep assistance work - because I mostly just want to go home and take a nap after pulling any appreciable amount of weight!

4. Percentage-based training really does have its place.

For a long time, I never really did a lot of percentage-based training for my heavier work. On my heavy days, it was always work up, see how I felt, and then make sure to get some quality work in over 90% of my 1RM. As long as I was straining, I was happy. Then, I got older and life got busier - which meant I stopped bouncing back from these sessions as easily. Percentage-based training suddenly seemed a lot more appealing.

I credit Greg Robins, my co-author on The Specialization Success Guide, with getting me on board the percentage-based training bandwagon. He was smarter than me, and didn't wait to get old to start applying this approach when appropriate.

SSG

5. You've got to put force in the ground.

This is a cue I've discussed at length in the past, but the truth is that I accidentally got away from it for a while myself.  Rather than thinking about driving my heels through the floor to get good leg drive, it was almost as if I was trying to "just lift the bar." It left me up on my toes more than I wanted, and my hamstrings got really cranky. 

I took a month to back down on the weights and hammer home the heels through the floor cue with speed work in the 50-80% range, and it made a big difference. I've got almost 15 years of heavy deadlifting under my belt, and even I get away from the technique that I know has gotten me to where I am. Technical improvement is always an ongoing process.

Looking for even more coaching cues for your deadlift technique? Definitely check out The Specialization Success Guide. In addition to including comprehensive programs for the squat, bench press, and deadlift, it also comes with detailed video tutorials on all three of these "Big 3" lifts. And, it's on sale at the introductory $30 off price until tonight at midnight. Check it out HERE.

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My Top 5 Powerlifting Mistakes

Written on July 15, 2014 at 2:08 pm, by Eric Cressey

With this week's release of Greg Robins and my new resource, The Specialization Success Guide, I got to thinking about some of my biggest mistakes with respect to developing the Big 3 (squat, bench press, and deadlift). Here are the top five mistakes I made in my powerlifting career:

1. Going to powerlifting equipment too soon (or at all).

Let me preface this point by saying that I have a tremendous amount of respect for all powerlifters, including those who lift in powerlifting equipment like bench shirts and squat/deadlift suits. Honestly, they just weren't for me.

I first got into a bench shirt when I was 160 pounds, and my best raw bench press was about 240-250 pounds. I was deadlifting in the high 400s, and squatting in the mid 300s. In hindsight, it was much too soon; I simply needed to develop more raw strength. My squat and bench press went up thanks to the suit and shirt, respectively, but just about everything I unracked felt insanely heavy. I just don't think I had enough training experience under my belt without any supportive equipment to feel truly stable under big weights. It's funny, though; my heaviest deadlifts never felt like this, as it was the "rawest" of any of the big 3 lifts for me.

There's more, though. Suits and shirts were just an annoying distraction for me. I absolutely hated the time and nuisance of having to put them on in the middle of a lift; training sessions easily dragged on to be three hours, when efficiency was something I'd always loved about my training. Perhaps more significantly, getting proficient with equipment took a lot of time and practice, and the more I was in it, the less athletic I felt. I spent too much time box squatting and not enough free squatting, and felt like I never developed good bottom-end bench press strength because the shirt did so much of the work for me.

At the end of my equipped powerlifting career, I had squatted 540, bench pressed 402, deadlifted 650, and totaled 1532 in the 165-pound weight class. Good numbers - enough to put me in the Powerlifting USA Top 100 for a few years in a row - but not quite "Elite." I tentatively "retired" from competitive powerlifting in December of 2007 when Cressey Sports Performance grew rapidly, but kept training - this time to be athletic and have fun.

For the heck of it, in the fall of 2012, I decided to stage a "raw" mock meet one morning at the facility. At a body weight of 180, I squatted 455, bench pressed 350, and deadlifted 630 for a 1435 total. In other words, I totaled "Elite" by 39 pounds...and did the entire thing in 90 minutes.

Looking back, I think I could have been a much more accomplished competitive lifter - and saved money and enjoyed the process a lot more along the way - if I'd just stuck with raw lifting. Again, I don't fault others for using bench shirts and squat/deadlift suits, but they just weren't for me.  I would just say that if you do decide to go the equipped route, you should be prepared to spend a lot more time in your equipment than I did, as my dislike of it (and lack of time spent in it) was the reason that I never really got proficient enough to thrive with it in meets.

2. Not understanding that fatigue masks fitness.

Kelly Baggett was the first person I saw post the quote, "Fatigue masks fitness." I thought I understand what it meant, but it wasn't until my first powerlifting meet that I experienced what it meant.

Thanks to a powerlifting buddy's urging, I went out of my way to take the biggest deload in my training career prior to my first meet. The end result? I pulled 510 on my last deadlift attempt - after never having pulled more than 480 in the gym.

You're probably stronger than you realize you are. You've just never given your body enough of a rest to actually demonstrate that strength.

3. Not getting around strong people sooner.

I've been fortunate to lift as part of some great training crews, from the varsity weight room at UCONN during my grad degree, to Southside Gym in Connecticut for a year, to Cressey Sports Performance for the past seven years.

When I compare these training environments to the ones I had in my early days - or even what I experience when I have to get a lift in on the road at a commercial gym - I can't help but laugh. Training around the right people in the right atmosphere makes a huge difference.

To that end, beyond just finding the right program, I always encourage up-and-coming lifters to seek out strong people for training partners, even if it means traveling a bit further to a different gym. Success happens at the edge of your comfort zone, and sometimes that means a longer commute and being the weakest guy in a room.

4. Spending too much time in the "middle zone" of cardio.

A lot of powerlifters will tell you that "cardio sucks." I happen to think it's a bit more complex than that.

Doing some quality work at a very low intensity (for me, this is below 70% of max heart rate) a few times a week can offer some very favorable aerobic adaptations that optimize recovery. Sorry, but it's not going to interfere with your gains if you walk on the treadmill a few times a week.

Additionally, I think working in some sprint work with near-full recovery can be really advantageous for folks who are trying to get stronger, as it trains the absolute speed end of the continuum.

As I look back on the periods in my training career when I've made the best progress, they've always included regular low-intensity aerobic work - as well as the occasion (1x/week) sprint session. When did cardio do absolutely nothing except set me back? When I spent a lot of time in the middle zone of 70-90% of max heart rate; it's no man's land! The take-home lesson is that if you want to be strong and powerful, make your low-intensity work "lower" and your high-intensity work "higher."

As an aside, this is where I think most baseball conditioning programs fail miserably; running poles falls right in this middle zone.

5. Thinking speed work had to be "all or nothing."

"Speed work" is one of the more hotly debated topics in the powerlifting world. I, personally, have always really thrived when I included it in my program. If you want to understand what it is and the "why" behind it, you can check out this article I wrote: 5 Reasons to Use Speed Deadlifts in Your Strength Training Programs.

A lot of people say that it's a waste of time for lifters who don't have an "advanced" level of strength, and that beginners would be better off getting in more rep work. As a beginner, I listened to this advice, and did lots of sets of 5-8 and never really focused on bar speed with lower reps.  The end result? I was slower than death out of the hole on squats, off the chest on bench presses, and off the floor with deadlifts. And, it doesn't take much strength training knowledge to know that if you don't lift a weight fast, your chances of completing that lift aren't particularly good.

To the folks who "poo-poo" speed work, I'd just ask this: do you really think focusing on accelerating the bar is a bad thing?

Here's a wild idea, using bench presses as an example. If a lifter has a heavier bench press day and a more volume/repetition oriented day each week, what would happen if he did an extra 3-4 sets of three reps at 45-70% of 1-rep max load during his warm-up? Would that be a complete waste of time? Absolutely not! In fact, the casual observer would never even notice that it was happening.

The point is that speed work is easy to incorporate and really not that draining. You can still do it and get a ton of other quality work in, so there is really no reason to omit it. Having great bar speed will never hurt your cause, but not training it certainly can.

Looking to avoid these mistakes and many more - all while taking the guesswork out of your squat, bench press, and deadlift training? Check out The Specialization Success Guide, a new resource from Cressey Sports Performance Coach Greg Robins and me. This comprehensive product to bring up the "Big 3" is on sale at at $30 off introductory price this week only.  You can learn more HERE.

SSG

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12 Weeks to a Bigger Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift

Written on July 15, 2014 at 5:49 am, by Eric Cressey

I'm happy to announce to my new product - a collaborative effort with Cressey Sports Performance coach and regular EricCressey.com contributor Greg Robins - is now available. If you're looking to improve on the Big 3 - squat, bench press, and deadlift - this resource is for you! Check it out: www.BuildingTheBig3.com.

SSG

This resource includes three separate 12-week specialization programs to improve one of the "Big 3" lifts, and it's accompanied by a 140+ exercise video database and detailed video coaching tutorials on squat, bench press, and deadlift technique. To sweeten the deal, we've got two free bonuses available if you purchase this week at the introductory price.

“As a former international athlete, The Specialization Success Guide gave me the structure I needed to not only get back into form, but has put me on track to crush my previous PRs across the board. Currently squatting 565, benching 385 and deadlifting 620, I am stronger, more mobile, and happy to report that my only regret is not having started this program earlier. SSG has been a game changer for me and I am excited to see where it takes me next!”

Jake S.
Needham, MA


“The Specialization Success Guide is legit! This program is ideal for those who want to get stronger, put on lean muscle, and improve their major lifts. The simplicity makes the program easy to follow and the exercise video library ensures everything is done right. Within the simplicity of the program you will find specific details that will target weak areas of your lifts to get you closer to your goals.

“Prior to running the SSG, Greg had been writing my programs for a year and a half using the same principles and philosophies you will find in The Specialization Success Guide. Greg’s programing has helped me add over 50 pounds to my back squat and a recent PR squat of 420lbs (2.2x my body weight), and I will be closing in on a triple body weight deadlift soon thanks to insights from him and Eric – just as you’ll find in this manual on the Big 3.”

Dave R.
Seattle, WA

Again, this resource - which comes with a 60-day money-back guarantee - is only on sale at the introductory $30 off price this week, so don't miss out. Click the following link to learn more: www.BuildingTheBig3.com.


Upcoming Seminar: Optimizing the Big Three

Written on June 30, 2014 at 9:28 am, by Eric Cressey

We're excited to announce that Cressey Performance staff member and accomplished powerlifter Greg Robins will be delivering a one-day seminar on August 24, 2014 at our facility in Hudson, MA. This event is a great fit for lifters who have an interest in improving the squat, bench press, and deadlift - and may want to powerlift competitively.

robins

Overview:

"Optimizing the Big Three" is a one-day seminar geared towards those looking to improve the squat, bench press, and deadlift.

Split into both a lecture and hands on format, the event will provide attendees with practical coaching on the technique of the classic power lifts, as well as valuable information on how to specialize movement preparation, utilize supplementary movements, and organize their training around a central focus: improved strength in these "big three" movements.

Furthermore, Greg will touch upon the lessons learned in preparation for your first few meets, to help you navigate everything from equipment selection, to meet-day logistics.

The value in learning from Greg is a matter of perspective. He has a wealth of knowledge, and experience stemming from various experiences as a coach and lifter. Greg will effectively shed light on how he has applied human movement principles, athletic performance modalities, and anecdotal evidence from working with a plethora of different populations to one main goal; optimizing the technique, health, and improvements in strength of amateur lifters.

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Seminar Agenda:

8:30-9:00AM: Check-in/Registration

9:00-10:00AM: Mechanics, Technique, and Cueing Of the Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift - In this lecture Greg will break down the biomechanics of each movement, how to optimize technique, and what to consider both as a coach and lifter in teaching / learning the movements.

10:00-11:00AM: Managing the Strength Athlete: Assessing and Meeting the Demands of the Lifter - Learn what demands a high amount of volume in the classic lifts puts on the body, how to assess for it in others and yourself, and what you can do to manage the stress associated with these demands.

11:00-11:15AM: Break

11:15AM-12:45PM: General Programming Considerations for Maximal Strength - Take a look inside Greg’s head at his approach to organizing the training of a lifter. Topics will include various periodization schemes, and utilizing supplementary and accessory movements within the program as a whole.

12:45-1:45PM: Lunch (on your own)

1:45-2:15PM: Preparing for Your First Meet - Based off his own experiences, and knowledge amassed from spending time around some of the best in the sport, Greg will share some poignant information on what to expect and how to prepare for your first meet.

2:15-3:30PM: Squat Workshop

3:30-4:45PM: Bench Press Workshop

4:45-6:00PM: Deadlift Workshop 

Date/Location:

August 24, 2014

Cressey Performance,
577 Main St.
Suite 310
Hudson, MA 01749

CP3

Cost:

Early Bird (before July 24)  – $149.99
Regular (after July 24) - $199.99

Note: we'll be capping the number of participants to ensure that there is a lot of presenter/attendee interaction - particularly during the hands-on workshop portion - so be sure to register early, as this will fill up quickly.

Registration:

Sorry, this event is SOLD OUT! Please contact cspmass@gmail.com to get on the waiting list for the next time it's offered.

About the Presenter

Greg Robins is a strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Performance. His writing has been published everywhere from Men's Health, to Men's Fitness, to Juggernaut Training Systems, to EliteFTS, to T-Nation. As a raw competitive powerlifter, Greg has competition bests of 560 squat, 335 bench press, and 625 deadlift for a 1520 total.


The Best of 2013: Strength and Conditioning Features

Written on December 30, 2013 at 12:13 pm, by Eric Cressey

I really enjoying creating features with multiple installments because it really allows me to dig deep into a topic that interests both me and my readers. It’s like writing a short book, with each blog being a different chapter. That said, here were a few of my favorite features from 2013 at EricCressey.com:

1. Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better - This series is mostly CP coach Greg Robins' work, but I jump in here and there. Installments 28-52 ran this year.  Here were the most popular ones:

Installment 28
Installment 48
Installment 33
Installment 37
Installment 47

2. Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective – I kicked off this (ongoing) feature in early 2012, and it was as huge a hit this year as it was last year.  My goal with this series is to feel like you have a coach right there with you. Here were the ones we ran this year:

Installment 5
Bench Press Edition
Installment 6
Installment 7

3. Pitching Performance: Understanding Trunk Position at Foot Strike - This was a three-part series co-authored with CP Pitching Coordinator, Matt Blake.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

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4. Assessments You Might Be Overlooking – I just kicked off this series, but there are some important points covered in the first two installments:

Installment 1
Installment 2

We're close to wrapped up with the Best of 2013 series, but there's still more to come, so check back soon!

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Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective – Installment 7

Written on September 28, 2013 at 5:48 am, by Eric Cressey

It's been a while since we covered some strength training coaching cues that you'll want to have in your back pocket, so here's installment 7.

1. Follow your hand with your eyes.

It goes without saying the improving thoracic (upper back) mobility needs to be a big priority for many athletes.  However, individuals can lose out on the benefit of thoracic mobility drills can be performed incorrectly if one only moves through the shoulder and not the upper back.  Greg Robins covers that problem in this video, in fact:

To help ensure optimal technique, I encourage athletes, "Follow you hands with your eyes." It always seems to "right the ship" with respect to movement of the humerus.

2. Ease the bar out.

One of the biggest mistakes I see both lifters and spotters make is just picking UP the bar and handing it out from the pins on the bench press. This causes a lifter to lose his upper back tightness and start the lift from an unstable platform. Plus, the bar is more likely to drift excessively toward the hips, as opposed to staying right in the path the lifter prefers.

With that in mind, another Greg Robins video complements this tip well; check it out:

3. Get the chest to the floor before the chin.

Push-up variations are an incredibly valuable inclusion in just about any strength training program, but unfortunately, the technique goes downhill quite frequently, particularly under conditions of fatigue.  Everyone knows that we need to monitor core positioning so as to avoid excessive lumbar hyperextension (lower back arching).  However, what a lot of people may not realize is that this "sag" is only one potential extension-bias fault. 

You see, people who are in extension will find all the ways they can to shift away from a neutral posture and toward a more extended posture.  Take, for example, this shoulder flexion video. The individual doesn't just go into lumbar extension and a heavy rib flare to get his arms up overhead; rather, he also goes into a forward head posture.

I liken this to patching up a hole in a leaky roof – only to find a leak starting up somewhere else.  It's important that we patch them all!  With that said, with push-up variations, you can either cue "make a double chin" or tell folks that the chest should make it to the floor before the chin. As long as you've already controlled for excessive arching of the lower back, the cue will be spot-on.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 44

Written on June 6, 2013 at 11:01 am, by Eric Cressey

Today, Greg Robins is back with five tips for your nutrition and strength and conditioning programs.

1. Regress TRX fallouts.

At CP, we often use TRX fallouts in our programming. They are a phenomenal choice for training the anterior core in an “anti-extension” fashion. That being said, they can also be quite difficult for many people. The good news is that these bad boys are easily regressed by moving to your knees, rather than the feet. In order to do these seamlessly make sure to adjust the straps so the handles hang to just below your waist, or slightly further for those with longer arms.

kneelingfallout

2. Do paused deadlifts.

Paused deadlifts are an awesome way to work on proper technique. I’ll be honest with you, though, the first time I saw them my initial reaction was “that can’t be safe!” In fact, I chalked it up as one of those powerlifting staples that would definitely make you brutally strong, but only at a very high risk of injury. In reality, any exercise has a high risk if done incorrectly, and this variation is not something I would advocate just anyone try, or prescribe to their clients/athletes.

That being said, I don’t think it’s inherently dangerous. In fact, I don’t think it’s dangerous at all when executed well. In an effort to correct my own bad habit of coming forward in the deadlift, I decided to give them a shot. I was frustrated because my deadlift had seemingly regressed, and weights that generally felt fast were becoming a grind.

My very first rep sent me way forward and I bailed out and dropped the bar. I was only using about 45% of my 1RM. Reality check; my initial pull from the ground was awful. Through training this variation I was able to re-learn where my weight needed to be upon breaking the bar from the ground, and in about three weeks of using this lift after my regular work sets I was right back to pulling the weight I had before my technique relapsed.

If you have issues staying back in the deadlift, hit a sticking point around mid shin, or just want to do “authenticity” check to your deadlift, I highly recommend these. Here is a video of a set of three from a recent training session.

3. Use a bar pad when incline pressing.

Putting a bar pad on to squat is foolish. If there is a good reason you can’t have steel pressing into your back, then choose a better way to load the exercise. There is, however, a good use for this cylindrical piece of foamy goodness. One would be to pad the hips during barbell supine bridges; that’s old news. Another is to cut out a little range of motion on the bench press, specifically an incline barbell bench press. 

Before you call me as soft as the foam pad of which I speak, hear me out. Incline pressing is a great pressing exercise, but there’s one thing I don’t like about it: it tears apart the front of my shoulders. Because the inclined torso position increases range of motion, you won’t find to many people barrel chested enough to pull the lift off, chest to bar, without getting a considerable amount of humeral anterior glide in the shoulder joint. See the picture below:

IMG_9000

One way to avoid this is by creating an arch in the back to meet the bar before this becomes a player, in a similar fashion to the flat bench press:

IMG_9001

My problem with this is that: 1) the more you arch on an incline press, the less it becomes an “incline press,” and 2) the incline press can be strategically used to supplement the bench press because it removes some of the added help from leg drive and hard arching.

Instead, adding the bar bad to the middle of the bar will effectively cut a good 1.5 inches off the range of motion. This way, we can press a little more safely. It’s nice to not have to think about cutting it short, and focus on pressing the weight, knowing that when the pad touches the chest we have hit an appropriate distance. If you have a “fat” bar this would also be a nice choice to use when you incline press.

4. Remember that mayonnaise can actually be a solid condiment.

Mayo gets a bad rep. Somehow, it has become synonymous with being fat. That might be because, well, it is fat! That’s also why I like it as a condiment. Most condiments are packed with sugar, and if you’re looking to keep the sugar to a minimum, you might be running out of ways to sauce up your grub.

Unfortunately, store bought mayo is generally full of crap. Additionally it’s usually made with less than ideal ingredients. However, with a little searching you can find some brands that keep the ingredients very basic (egg yolks, oil, lemon, vinegar). Alternatively, you can easily find a solid recipe online with a quick search for “real mayonnaise recipe.” I suggest you find one that uses olive oil.

5. Make sure you have the right bench height for hip thrusts.

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Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective: Bench Press Technique Edition

Written on May 29, 2013 at 2:26 pm, by Eric Cressey

It's time for another installment of Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective, and in this round, I'll be focusing specifically on bench press technique.  Here are a few of the ones I find myself using most often with our athletes:

1. Push yourself away from the bar.

This is a cue that is especially important when doing sets with multiple reps, as everything after rep 1 can look worse and worse if you can’t repeat your starting position. You see, when you first unrack the weight to bench press, you want the shoulder blades packed underneath you to create a stable upper back “platform” from which you can press.  You should aim to keep this platform consistent throughout the set.

Now, imagine two bench press technique scenarios: 1) you thinking about pushing the bar away from you and 2) you thinking about pushing yourself away from the bar.  Which one is going to lead to your protracting your shoulder blades at the “finish” position? It’d be the former, for sure.  So, think about driving your upper back into the bench by pushing yourself away from the bar.  This is a great tag-along point to this previous video from Greg Robins, which discussed how important it is to just ease the bar out over the pins rather than jerking it out over them; you want the lifter to remain tight under the bar, not have to protract to go get it.

This platform discussion actually leads to my next cue…

2. Go up and get the bar.

It drives me bonkers when I see a lifter let the bar free-fall, only to bounce off the sternum and come halfway back up.  It’s a toss-up of whether this is worse for the sternum or shoulders, but regardless, it’s a bad move. 

Rather than getting dominated by gravity, I prefer to see lifters “go up and get the bar.” In other words, I don’t want them to wait for it to reach their rib cage; I want them to help the process along by actively using the muscles of the upper back to pull the bar down to them.  Additionally, they can bring the rib cage up to the bar by getting good air into the rib cage, utilizing apical expansion rather than apical breathing.  Check out this great video from Bill Hartman to learn a bit more about the differences between the two:

Beyond simply reducing the distance the bar has to travel, this bench press technique will also limit how much the humerus (upper arm) extends past the body.  When it extends past the body too much (as with a dip), the head of the humerus glides forward and can irritate the anterior structures of the shoulder.   So, this approach allows you to press heavier weights and stay healthier while doing so.

3. Get the feet out wider.

If there is something out there that would drive me bonkers me more than people who kick their feet around while bench pressing, I haven’t discovered it yet.  There’s no place for antsy feet in good bench press technique, as it’s a sign that you aren’t putting any force into the ground and definitely don’t have sufficient core stability to press heavy weights.

While some folks would cue these individuals to pull the feet up under the body and create a big arch of the lower back, I don’t think that’s necessary in the general population (although many powerlifters utilize this approach with great success).  Instead, I’ll just tell folks to get the feet out wider.  It’s much more difficult to dance around with your feet when you’re in a more abducted position, as it’s likely closer to the end of the lifter’s range of motion in the frontal or transverse plane than the narrower stance width would be.

Just getting your feet a bit wider should help you to improve leg drive, transfer force up to the bar, and avoid looking like a tap-dancing schmuck under the bar.

Give these three tips a shot during your next bench press session and I'm sure you'll feel a lot stronger and safer under the bar.

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Coaching Cues to Make Your Strength and Conditioning Programs More Effective – Installment 6

Written on April 23, 2013 at 7:15 am, by Eric Cressey

It’s been a while since I published a new installment in my “Coaching Cues” series, so here are three new ones you can put into action.

1. “Imagine I have a rope around your waist and pull it back.”

It goes without saying that teaching a proper hip hinge is essential to get the correct posterior weight shift we need for good deadlifting and squatting patterns.  Unfortunately, it can sometimes be much easier said than done, as lifters with poor kinesthetic awareness and body control might not even know what it feels like.  Take, for instance, this example from my 15 Static Stretching Mistakes article; he has so much congenital laxity (loose joints) that he can perform an “extreme” toe touch without any posterior weight shift.

Just because he can do it doesn’t mean that he should do it, though. Just saying “sit back” or “hips back” doesn’t always correct this, though. I’ve spoken about the “touch your butt to an imaginary wall behind you” external focus cue here, but I also like the idea of telling folks to pretend like I’m tugging them backward with a rope, as this fits the correction into a scenario with which they’re familiar.

2. “Ribs down, scaps up.”

We work with a lot of athletes who have a heavily extended posture, and their overhead movements often look like this:

Essentially, they will substitute lumbar extension (arched lower back) in place of keeping a stable core so that the scapula (and, in turn, humerus) can move appropriately with respect to the rib cage.  Most of these athletes lack scapular upward rotation, so we need to help them to get the scapula moving a bit while keeping the ribs down.  Here’s a great exercise for which this cue would be appropriate:

In other words, you can use this cue with your core stability exercises and shoulder mobility drills in this population. Keep in mind, though, that this cue probably won’t be appropriate for folks who sit at desks all day and are really kyphotic.

3. “Push yourself away from the bar.”

One of the biggest bench press technique problems you’ll see is that folks lose their “tightness” at the top of the rep by protracting the shoulder blades too much.  This sets you up for problems – both in terms of shoulder health and strength – on sets with more than one rep. 

With that in mind, one of the easiest ways to coach folks out of this bench press technique problem is to think about pushing themselves away from the bar, as opposed to pushing the bar away from them. It gets them into the “ground yourself” frame of mind and ensures that the upper back is a stable platform from which to press. It’s not uncommon at all to see larger than normal dropoffs from 1-rep max loads to what you see on multiple-rep sets, and I firmly believe it’s because a lot of lifters lose their tightness on the subsequent reps.  So, if you find that you can bench 315 for one rep, but only 265 for three reps, this cue could very well be a solution for you.

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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 37

Written on March 23, 2013 at 4:14 am, by Eric Cressey

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

1. Try these two cues to keep your butt down with your bench press technique.

2. Remember to have fun!

If you are reading this post, then you probably fall into this category: You take the time to educate yourself on training and nutrition – so much so that you might tend to find yourself over analyzing and reasoning everything you do. That’s all well and good, but think back to the days when you just started training. Maybe some of you had to fight against your will to workout, but most of you probably did it because you – I don’t know – actually liked it?!

If I scrutinized everything I did in my training, I’d come to the conclusion that about 20% of the stuff I do isn’t that “intelligent” at all. Then why would I do it? After all, aren’t I supposed to know better than most? The truth is that too many people know too much for their own good. They overanalyze and dissect every little thing they do in the gym.

I used to be one of those guys who scoffed at others in the gym who did curls and triceps extensions. “Ha!” I would think. “What a waste of time, they should be doing more compound exercises.” Now I know enough to think otherwise.

Make sure your training includes some things you just want to do. Want to do curls, and shrugs, and band extensions until your arms explode? Do it. Be safe, but have some fun, for crying out loud.

3. Try spaghetti squash, a versatile vegetable that requires very little preparation.

Spaghetti squash is awesome as a vegetable side, and you can even use it to replace pasta in various recipes.  The best part is that it’s ridiculously easy to prepare.  How easy?  Try this.

Cut the squash in half, and scoop out the seeds.  Pour a little olive oil on both halves, and then sprinkle cinnamon, salt, and pepper on there.  Bake it at 350 degrees until it softens up. 

Yep, it’s that simple.

4. Ladies, consider doing more volume.

I have trained my fair share of women. I have coached numerous figure competitors, female athletes, a few female strength athletes, and enough middle aged women that I feel like I have 5 or 6 people in my life who would willingly claim me as their son. Heck, I even train my own mom twice a week.

There are quite a few things I have realized about training women, but one stands out: they THRIVE lifting weights at about 50 – 75% of what they’re actually capable of lifting. Maybe it’s a neuromuscular coordination thing, a mental thing, or likely a hormonal thing. The point is I am very certain it is true.

50-75% is an optimal intensity for training at higher volumes. Volume is a measure of “total work done,” and knowing that, I tend to keep the volume in a woman’s program (person dependent) quite high. Smart waving through varying amounts of volume should still take place for the best result. However, the “low volume” mark for women can be set higher than that mark for men.

For the women out there, consider training at a higher volume more frequently. This is easily done by adding additional sets to your main exercises and/or by adding 1-3 drop-down sets after your main work sets. The following is an example of a drop-down set:

A1. Squat – 3 sets of 6 at 185lbs, followed by 2 sets of 10-12 at 145lbs

5. Match hand position to stance width.

Recently, Eric did a short video on hand spacing difference between the sumo and conventional deadlift. In short, with the wider sumo deadlift one should utilize a wider spacing, and with a narrower conventional stance the opposite is true. This tip is also applicable to the squat.

Many people advocate getting the hands in as close to the shoulders as possible. I find this works very well with narrower stance squat set-ups, such as the Olympic high bar squat. However, as taller individuals move their feet wider and wider they may find more success using a hand spacing that is also wider. Many folks can go super wide and manage to move the hands in quite narrow. While this does create a lot of “good stiffness,” it may not make for the best control of the bar, or ability to find the optimal spinal position.

A very narrow hand position will force the torso to extend quite a bit, keeping the torso more upright. That fits well in a stance width that depends on a more vertical back position to keep the bar over the center of the foot. However, as the feet move out wider, the lift changes, and a more pronounced forward lean is optimal for keeping the load over the center of the foot. It’s not the answer for everyone, and many people are successful doing the opposite of that. If you are having issues getting comfortable under the bar, give this a try!

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