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3 Reasons Powerlifting Beginners Should Train More Frequently

Written on October 14, 2015 at 9:35 pm, by Eric Cressey

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


Many popular approaches to strength training have lifters training roughly 3-4 times per week. While this is a solid approach for most gym goers, the lifter looking to excel at squatting, bench pressing, and deadliftng may be better served increasing training frequency to 5-6 sessions per week. Here are a few reasons why:

1. More Practice

The most important variable to manage with newer lifters is technique. Technique on the big three lifts is a variable that is completely controllable by the lifter. In other words, while some people will certainly be limited by leverages or genetics, technique is one item that should not be a factor in stagnating progress. If your technique isn't improving, it's a matter of negligence; you aren't practicing enough. Training more frequently increases your exposure to the lifts. If a trainee makes a point to consciously evaluate technique each session, this should equate to more dedicated practice and therefore a steadier road to mastery of the lifts.

Action item 1: Use video to evaluate your lifts more often. Everyone has a camera on his or her phone these days, so video assessment is easier than ever before. While you may feel a bit awkward filming your lifts, there is truly no better way to revisit your training and evaluate where you can improve your technique.


2. More Volume

While intensity (for the sake of this example, we’ll refer to this as the weight on the bar) is the obvious training variable that must be improved to have success in powerlifting, monitoring and making incremental improvements in the volume (total work done in a training session, or training block) is how you will make that happen. In short, here’s why...

All training is about balancing the relationship among fitness, fatigue, and performance. Acutely, a single training session will cause an amount of fatigue that lessens your performance. You walk out of the gym capable of doing less (in that moment) than you could do when you walked in. However, that acute stress causes a response - which leads to an adaptation where you become more fit than when you walked in (assuming you take the proper steps to recover adequately).

Training is a constant management process between the training effect applied and one’s ability to recover from that loading.

While a single training session may acutely have a negative effect on you, if you manage this relationship well over a given training period, the training will yield a positive effect in improved fitness specific to your goal (in this case, maximal strength). Given that information, more intense training causes a larger amount of fatigue, while doing less intense work will help to build work capacity specific to your sport (powerlifting). Popularly, this is described as the difference between "building strength" and "testing it."

Focusing on adding more volume with less intensity causes a fatigue that is more manageable and more productive. Training more frequently is an obvious way to spread out more work, allowing for better recovery. While one could conceivably also add more work in less frequent training sessions, doing so makes the session more dense and therefore adds an element of increased intensity. In this case, we're viewing intensity less so from a "weight on bar" standpoint, and moreso from the "magnitude" of the training session.

Action item 1: Instead of training 3x/week, try doubling that frequency to 6x/week. Have each session focus on a different lift, and follow a high/low approach. As an example:

Monday: Squat High
Tuesday: DL Low
Wednesday: Bench High
Thursday: Squat Low
Friday: Deadlift High
Saturday: Bench Low (or High again; most beginners can repeat a heavy bench day twice per week)

Action item 2: Don’t warm up in an effort to make the top sets of the day "easier." Many lifters practice the minimal amount of volume necessary to feel prepared for the top sets in a training session. Instead, program out your warm up sets as well. If you do this, and increase your exposure to each lift to 2x/week, that means you will have to warm up twice as often. If you are making a point to do a certain amount work leading up to the top sets, this will increase submaximal training volume by quite a lot over the course of time. As an example, if you are working up to top sets in the 75-90% range try this for a warm up protocol:

35% x 8 to 10 reps
45% x 8 to 10 reps
55% x 6 to 8 reps
65% x 5 to 6 reps
70% x 4 to 6 reps

3. Improved Compliance

We are creatures of habit. How many people do a better job of optimizing sleep, nutrition, hydration, and body management (self massage, mobility, activation work) when their training sessions are taken into consideration? I know I do. If you train 3x/week, that may mean the nights before those sessions you make sure to get enough sleep. It may mean that on the days you train, you make sure to fuel yourself better. It may also mean you take better measures to prepare the body physically for loading. If you train 5-6 times/week, you essentially double those efforts. You drink more water, get more sleep, eat better food, and do more to keep moving and functioning optimally. That alone will improve your results.

For more information on maximal strength training, I'd encourage you to check out The Specialization Success Guide, a collaborative resource between Greg Robins and Eric Cressey. If you want to build a bigger squat, bench press, and deadlift, this is a great collection of programs for doing so!


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Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 62

Written on April 12, 2015 at 7:01 am, by Eric Cressey

This installment of quick tips comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Tony Bonvechio. Enjoy! -EC

1. Avoid over-tucking your elbows when performing the bench press.

It’s widely accepted that to bench press more weight and protect your shoulders, you should tuck yours elbows tightly to yours sides and touch the bar low on the chest. This may reduce the range of motion you have to press, but unless you’re a 300-pound powerlifter with a huge belly, your elbows may still drift too far past the midline of the body if you tuck too much. This can add unwanted stress on the shoulders and make the front of the shoulder cranky over time.

It’s similar to tucking the elbows too tight to the body during rowing variations - it makes it easy to let shoulder slip into too much extension. That’s why we coach athletes to row with a bit more space between the armpit and the elbow. You limit anterior humeral (upper arm) glide while still getting full scapular (shoulder blade) retraction.

Instead, keep the elbows about 45 degrees away from the body and touch the bar somewhere around the nipple line. This also reduces the moment arm between the shoulders and the bar, limiting the horizontal distance the bar needs to travel and making it easier to keep your elbows under the bar for a smooth lockout.

2. Optimize your leg drive to make the bench press more shoulder-friendly.

On that note, using proper leg drive can spare the shoulders by accelerating the bar though the portion of the lift where the shoulders are under the most stress. The less time you spend grinding the bar through the first few inches off the chest, the better.

Optimal leg drive technique differs from lifter to lifter, but foot placement dictates leg drive technique. Lifters with shorter legs tend to thrive with the feet hooked tightly under the bench and the heels off the ground, while longer-legged lifters do better with the feet out wide and heels flat.

Either way, if you plan on competing in powerlifting, you have to abide by your federation’s rules, which may require you to keep your heels on the ground. Here are some tips for choosing the right foot position:

3. Try dark roast coffee to reduce caffeine jitters.

At first I didn’t believe it when Greg Robins told me this, but it’s actually true: dark roast coffee has less caffeine that light roast coffee. And while the difference in actual caffeine content by volume may be small, dark roast coffee is harder to drink in mass quantities than light roast, so a bolder cup may reduce overall caffeine consumption if it gets you to drink less coffee overall. If your morning joe gives you jitters, consider switching to a darker roast.


4. Slow down the concentric phase of isolation exercises.

As performance coaches, we constantly trying to help our athletes become more powerful. That means we’re often coaching them to perform the concentric portion of most exercises explosively to enhance rate of force development. But when it comes to small muscle groups that often get “overshadowed” when performing single-joint exercises, sometimes we have to slow down.

Specifically at CSP, getting athletes to “feel” their rotator cuff or lower traps during arm care exercises can be challenging, especially if they rush through the concentric phase. Slowing down the tempo of all phases of the exercise usually cleans things up by keeping athletes in a better position and reducing contribution of unwanted synergists. For example, taking 3-5 seconds to externally rotate the humerus during cuff work can prevent the deltoid or lat from taking over.

5. When setting up for the front squat, exhale first.

I stole this trick from Miguel Aragoncillo and it works wonders for athletes whose elbows drop during front squats. Take your grip on the bar and before you unrack it, give a good hard exhale to get your ribs down. Then, inhale into your belly and back, drive your elbows up and unrack the bar.

While “elbows up” is a great cue for front squats, it won’t work if the athlete doesn’t set his or her ribcage in a solid position during the setup. Exhaling first gives you a better zone of apposition, allowing for a fuller breath and creating greater intra-abdominal pressure to keep you upright. Like Miguel told me, “Front squats are just abs and legs, dude.”

For a detailed write-up on the front squat, be sure to check out Eric's thorough post on the topic, How to Front Squat: Everything You Need to Know.

About the Author

Tony Bonvechio (@BonvecStrength) is a strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA. A former college baseball player turned powerlifter, he earned his Master’s degree in Exercise Science from Adelphi University. You can read more from Tony at

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Optimizing the Big 3 Seminar – March 8, 2015

Written on January 12, 2015 at 5:17 pm, by Eric Cressey

For the second time, Cressey Sports Performance staff member and accomplished powerlifter Greg Robins will be delivering his one-day seminar, "Optimizing the Big 3," 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. And, it's also been very popular with strength and conditioning professionals. It'll take place on March 8, 2015.



"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.


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 


March 8, 2015

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



Early Bird (before February 8)  – $149.99
Regular (after February 8) - $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 the previous offering sold out well in advance of the early-bird registration deadline.


Sorry, this event is sold out! Please email to be put on the waiting list (and announcement list for future seminars).

Still not convinced? Here is some feedback from previous attendees:

“The coaching I got was phenomenal; amazing experience!”

“Really happy with the content, and the coaching of the lifts. Definitely appreciated the appeal to reflect on training, and be able to defend all exercises you program. I had high expectations for this event and they were exceeded.”

“Honestly, I was really happy with the seminar, my only regret is I wish I asked a few more questions as Greg was really great about avoiding a dogmatic approach that is very common in this field!”

“This was awesome! I learned a ton about the big 3 and feel like I can pass on the knowledge to our clients.”

“I really like your approach to lifting and your lifting philosophy. I've been strength coaching for 20 years and I run a successful business; it's getting hard to find a good seminar. Normally, when I learn one thing I’m happy, but this last Sunday, I learned a lot. I'm really satisfied!”

“Very worthwhile and I would even attend the event again, especially for the hands on.”

“Very concise, while allowing the topics and questions to develop as the audience saw fit. It was very informative and engaging.”

“This was awesome. Definitely would attend something like this again!”

“I loved having the opportunity to actually lift, the coaching was phenomenal!”

About the Presenter

Greg Robins is a strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Sports Performance. In addition to co-authoring The Specialization Success Guide, 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.

Coaching the Close-Grip Bench Press

Written on October 3, 2014 at 6:39 am, by Eric Cressey

It goes without saying that the bench press is one of the "Big 3" lifts for a reason: it offers a lot of bang for your upper body training buck. That said, the close-grip bench press is an awesome variation, as it can be more shoulder-friendly and offer slightly different training benefits. Unfortunately, a lot of lifters struggle to perfect close-grip bench press technique, so I thought I'd "reincarnate" this video I originally had featured on Elite Training Mentorship. Enjoy!

If you're looking for a more detailed bench press tutorial - and a comprehensive bench press specialization program - I'd encourage you to check out Greg Robins and my new resource, The Specialization Success Guide.


Have a great weekend!

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5 Reasons Why a Powerlifting Program Might Be Just What You Need

Written on July 17, 2014 at 7:10 pm, by Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from CSP Coach Greg Robins, who is my co-author on the new resource, The Specialization Success Guide: 12 Weeks to a Bigger Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift.


I realize that competing in powerlifting is a far cry from what most aspire to do. That being said, much can be learned from the approach, and much of what the general gym-goer is looking to accomplish can be reached with the help of a powerlifting program.

To be honest, when I began training alongside a few competitive lifters, competing was not even a thought in my mind. To this day, I don’t consider myself first and foremost a “competitive lifter.” I am a coach, and powerlifting simply has done the following positive things for me. I have seen it do the same for countless other people, and so I invite you take a gander, and ask yourself if you aspire for a similar outcome.

1. It teaches you the difference between “training” and “working out.”

Simply stated, if your visits to the gym don’t serve to attain a greater result in some physical endeavor, then you are simply “exercising.” Diving into a powerlifting program gives your visits to the gym a purpose. When you have a purpose for what you do, you are “training,” not “working out.“

When you make the switch, a few essential characteristics of the successful gym goer begin to emerge. For starters, you become more consistent. Knowing that each session builds off the last makes you more accountable to each training session. Consistency is the absolute must-have ingredient to accomplish any goal.

With that in mind, you ultimately become more accountable to yourself. Recovery measures like sleep and nutrition no longer become a tedious chore. Instead, you willingly make the decision to eat right, get adequate sleep, and minimalize activities that may take away from your training.

When those things organically start happening, you become more productive, see more results, and all the while never feel like they are anything but part of your way of lifes.

2. It teaches you about managing variables and gives you a consistent measurement for improvement.

The problem with most gym-goers is that they have no idea what is working, what isn’t working, or even what they are using to measure their success. Following a powerlifting program gives you three fundamental lifts from which you can measure progress. It’s cut and dry: are the numbers going up? If not, you can look back on your training and assess a few possibilities for why your strength isn’t improving. If yes, you can make note of what you are doing as a source of information to look back on should you run into a plateau down the road.
Over time, consistently working on the same end goal helps you to understand the training process as a whole. You will be able to take ownership for your plan, and optimize it for you.


3. Getting stronger just so happens to do a lot of good things for your physique, health, and lifestyle.

I’m not clueless; I know why most folks exercise. You can feed me all the lines about health, but the fact is most people just want to look good. I was no different. If I could go back in time, I would have started training like a powerlifter at age 16. If I had, I would have acquired everything I sought out from an aesthetic standpoint a LOT SOONER. When I began powerlifting, I obviously began to get a lot stronger – but I also ate better, slept more, and kicked bad habits that didn’t help my performance to the curb.

Not surprisingly, getting stronger meant I put on more muscle, eating better meant I actually got leaner, and paying attention to how my lifestyle did or did not support my training meant I was actually healthier, more productive, and just generally feeling more awesome.

I realized that looking and feeling good were just a bi-product of training with a purpose. My outlook changed, and I wasn’t caught up in superficial crap, just in paying my dues in the gym and earning my progress.

4. The powerlifting community brings out the best in the industry.

When you begin to train for the “Big 3,” you begin to enlist the help of others who do the same. You read their articles, watch their videos, attend their seminars, and so on. Maybe I’m biased, but those who put the time under the iron – and instill that mindset in others – are the people I have come to admire the most.


It’s really not surprising to me at all. Powerlifting taught me what was important. It taught me about movement, because I had to optimize my positions in each lift. It taught me about programming, because I had to be able to objectively look back on all my training variables. It taught me about delayed gratification, because strength takes time to develop. It taught me about work ethic, because nothing comes easy in the battle of forcing adaption. Again, it taught me about what is important, because I began to only concern myself with things that had positive influences on my development. It has done the same for others who share in the pursuit of strength and they are among the best people to learn from and be around.

When you take on this identity to your training, you become part of that community.

5. It instills a sense of confidence in you that is unparalleled.

Walk around and look at the state of this country. It can be appalling. Exercising, in general, may make you feel like you aren’t wasting away, but possessing a level of physical strength far higher than the normal person makes you feel like the specimen you are.

I’m all about using powerlifting as an outlet for my aggression, my need to push the levels of what I can do, to channel my inner animal, to overcome. To some, that notion is unappealing; it’s too “meatheadish”, or too primal. I beg to differ, completely.


In fact, through purposeful training I am more confident to share how I feel, to learn about anything and everything, to explore different avenues of self-development.

A well-defined training goal gives you an opportunity to willingly make yourself uncomfortable. In doing so you learn that even in times of adversity, or pain, that you did not choose to encounter you can get through. I walk around with a sense of confidence, not because I can lift a certain number of pounds, but because I can welcome a challenge head on, and crush it.

Can other forms of physical activity do something similar? Sure they can, but if you are part of the herd of gym-goers that walks into the gym each day and doesn’t know exactly why you there, and what the focus is for that day, then I challenge you to give a powerlifting-geared approach a shot.

You can pick up several 12-week training programs in The Specialization Success Guide that Eric and I developed, or you can dive into any other number of programs out there. I don’t care what you choose to do, but I do challenge you to see it through for a prolonged period of time. I welcome you to this community of like-minded individuals, and for those of you who do choose to run our program I thank you and look forward to hearing about your success.

For more information on The Specialization Success Guide - which is on sale through this weekend at an introductory $30 off price - click HERE.

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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

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


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.


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:


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:


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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