Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Triple Extension-Flexion

Lu Xiaojun showing some
serious triple extension.

I've briefly discussed triple extension before, but not resisted triple flexion. Kevin Vick, who I learned this from, explains triple flexion is often overlooked in the Olympic lifts. Think of it as your body's "brakes" at the ankles, knees, and hips from the heavy weights.

If we were to break down the snatch or clean, it would be triple extension, triple flexion, and finally double extension [at the knee and hip; squatting the weight up]. It's why I don't believe there are replacements for the O-lifts. There's a lot going on in a very little amount of time with a maximal load.

If for one reason or another you cannot perform the snatch or clean, two more alternatives come close to replacing them.

Jump Squats

This depends on which squat you choose. I've tried a Zercher jump squat and it was not pleasant on my arms. However, a back squat works well:

Jamie Lewis [NSFW]
The most user friendly would be a goblet jump squat. However after a certain point, heavy loads become uncomfortable, whether it's a dumbbell or kettlebell, to hold against the chest. Either way, choose a jump squat variation that suits you the best.
Trap Bar Jumps
I think these are great for anyone who finds conventional deadlifts difficult. Trap bar deadlifts tend to be easier to get the hang of.

Courtesy of Garage Strength

The exercise is essentially a clean shrug, the only difference being the trap bar. From a technical standpoint, there's less to troubleshoot and piling on the weight is no problem.
They don't quite replace the snatch or clean, but both are simple to incorporate into any program.

Give them a try.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Row for Press

Arnold & Franco know a
thing or two about presses.

One exercise cue given for horizontal pressing exercises, namely the push-up and bench press, is to pull during the eccentric portion. The purpose is to have the individual retract the scapulae [shoulder blades] and contract the back muscles. Muscles work through the processes of contraction and relaxation. In the bench press, the pecs will relax and stretch out as the bar is lowered while the traps and lats contract.

The problem is the cue becomes useless if a person doesn't understand how to use their muscles and isn't aware of what the action itself feels like. Essentially, the cue is the basis of another exercise within the horizontal press itself.

It's the basis of the barbell row. An exercise that I believe is underrated. Most individuals opt for pull-up variations or inverted rows. Both are great and have their uses, but this leads to the BB row being neglected. Not only that, but the former two are easier to perform with less chance of being incorrectly performed.

However, the BB row performed correctly recruits the entire back. Take a look at the exercise:

Keep the chin tucked in.

45 lb. plates should be on each side, however if that's too heavy and there are no bumper plates then the exercise can be performed in a squat rack with the safeties on the lowest level.

The grip used can be under- or overhand with the bar pulled either to the lower abdomen (think lower ribs) or to the clavicle (above the windpipe). The execution is as follows,
  • Shoulder blades spread apart at the start [bottom], the torso kept tight and rigid from the mid-back to the base of the skull, and the bar is held near the fingers - NOT high up on the palms by the wrists.
  • Keeping the wrists straight and arms close to your sides, initiate the pull by bring your scapulae together then pulling through the forearms until the bar touches your body. Another way to imagine it is "scrunching" up your entire back together.
  • Reverse the movement by lowering the bar ending with it on the ground and your scapulae spread again. The descent doesn't have to be slow, but should be controlled and not dropped.
It's a simple movement, but gets butchered for two reasons.
(1) Maintaining a strict bent-over pose isn't easy. The arched back and tightened hamstrings is difficult and taxing on the body. Notice in the video how the torso hardly moves.

(2) It's common to see people compensate with momentum to use more weight or because of the inability to keep the necessary posture. (But some just don't know better.)
Initially it takes practice since the bent-over position is new and uncomfortable. To become familiar with the exercise practice using light weight. When you're confident you can do more, work in a 1-4 rep range of moderate to heavy weight. After heavy training, you'll notice a stronger scapular retraction.

Incorporation of barbell rows will lead to better pulling in pressing exercises and create a strong scapular retraction perfect for moving heavy weights.

Related articles,

Friday, August 5, 2011

Supercharging the Back

Teres major, right under the armpit, often becomes
sore from working the lats & not the lats themselves.

Today I'll share a few tips for using the lats and the mid-back more efficiently. This is in addition to t-spine mobility and maintaining a tight low back to optimize pulling strength.

First take another glance at latissimus dorsi,

It's the red glaring area if you can't tell.

It's understandable to believe this giant muscle would be higher up based on experience with soreness. No one's held responsible to learn anatomy before they exercise but as you can see the lat is located lower than you would expect it to be. And how many times does it feel sore from a training session? (Note: A muscle doesn't need to become sore to mean it has been worked but it can be used as an indicator depending on the context.)

Roll It Out

Grab a foam roller or medicine ball and give it a whirl. It's that simple to feel the muscle without having to exercise it directly.

Be sure to hit the lat and not the spine. You'll be orienting yourself on a slight tilt rather than completely flat. 5-8 slow passes from the bottom of the armpit to right before the last rib should cover it. And there's no need to be overly aggressive - don't grind the thing into your side and be in a world of hurt.

Low Trap

Mike Robertson discusses the Y, T, & W drills:

These are great for hitting low trapezius since compound pulls easily develop the middle and upper parts of the trap. If you haven't performed these before, I suggest 4-6 reps per each position and slowly work up [+2 reps] to the recommendations in the video.

Sternum Chin-Ups

The sternum is the breastbone. In a sternum chin-up the body is angled parallel to the floor as close as possible while attempting to perform a chin-up making the chest touch the bar [full instruction here].

The first time I completed these, the next day I was literally sore in new places. While it's a tough exercise, it's possible to work up to them using the regression the lat-pulldown to the sternum,

It's similar to the typical lat-pulldown. Here lean back, arch your body, and use an underhand grip to pull the cable to your windpipe. The most important point is keeping a rigid torso to mimic the actual sternum chin-up and properly protracting/retracting the shoulder blades.

Last Thoughts

Boris reviewed a DVD called Lats: The Super Muscles if anyone is interested (it's kettlebell-focused for the most part).

There isn't much else to add, but the take away point is to use what you've got! While going through motions may appear you're working X or Y, sometimes that's not always the case. Be mindful of what you're doing.

After all, you don't want to waste your time. Have a good weekend everyone!
omplicated, right?

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011


I was going to write a post on breathing but of course Boris beat me to it - in fact, 4 years faster than me. Since he succinctly discusses it, and it also saves me time, I'm going to embed the video here.

Click through and read the comments.
Some are helpful and interesting.

Random tidbits I've picked up from other places,
  • Mike Robertson gives the cue to expand/brace against all sides of the stomach, not just in front of the abdominals.
  • Pregnant women should not hold their breath [source].
  • Individuals with high blood pressure should take it easy and rest longer between sets [source].
  • More discussion can be found here.
And while I'm at it, Boris recently listed squat variations out the wazoo. That's a whole lot of squats.

Until next post, breathe easy!
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