I apologize for the short hiatus, but Technique Tuesday is BACK, and today I’m going over the Goblet Squat. This exercise is a great early progression to begin grooving the squat pattern. As I mention in the video, a proper squat can be limited by mobility restrictions, but many times stability is the issue. Since the weight is held in front of the body at chest level in the Goblet Squat, the anterior core must really fire to keep the torso upright. This can significantly clean up squat technique for many people, and is one of the reasons I love the Goblet Squat. Check out the video and learn how to perform it correctly!
Last summer, I wrote a blog about some things I’d been doing to try and improve my bench press (you can read that article HERE). If you know me or have read some of my posts, you know that the bench press is not my strongest lift. My best raw bench in competition is 310 lbs. and my best gym bench is 315 lbs. Certainly not numbers to brag about by any means, but I’m proud of them nonetheless as I’ve had to work hard to achieve them.
I’ve employed many methods over the last year or so to increase my bench and have been able to make some progress. Yesterday, I had a great heavy bench session, so I thought I’d share some things that I feel have been helping my bench press. They’re in no particular order, but it’s my hope that you might be able to use some of these strategies to get your bench numbers to budge, too!
1) Strengthening My Triceps
After catching the powerlifting bug after my first meet in December 2011, I enlisted the coaching and programming services of Tony Gentilcore. One thing Tony noticed was that, if I wanted to bench more weight, I needed to get my triceps stronger. Since working with Tony, I’ve made it a priority to increase the strength of my triceps, and I feel it’s paid great dividends in my bench press performance.
In all of my current programs, I always include some form of direct triceps work. While some may poo-poo on isolation exercises, they definitely have their place, and highly depend on your goals, strength levels, and training age, among other things. I’ve been performing a lot of band pressdowns, some skullcrushers here and there, TRX extensions, and close-grip bench and pushup variations. Including these exercises in my program, and utilizing various set/rep schemes, has helped me increase my triceps strength and hypertrophy.
Gotta get those horseshoes!
2) Changing My Grip Width
Building on my last point, I’ve also slightly narrowed my grip on the bench press to get my triceps more involved. I used to set my grip way out by the rings, which is the farthest acceptable grip width in powerlifting. I’ve brought my hands in about ½ an inch to an inch, and it’s allowed me to use the strength I’ve been developing in my triceps, and my press has felt stronger.
Grip width is a highly individual thing and you have to play around with it and choose what’s right for YOU. The primary reason I used to set my grip so wide was that the bar wouldn’t have to travel as far. However, as time has gone on and I’ve played around a bit, I’ve found that this might not be the best option for me, and have made a change for the better.
3) Strengthening My “Pull”
I absolutely love most horizontal pulling exercises. Why? Because I want a back the size of Bane’s, obviously.
“You think darkness is your ally? You merely adopted the dark. I was born in it, molded by it.” BADASS!
Kidding (not really) aside, I particularly love dumbbell rows and their variations; Kroc Rows (heavy, high-rep dumbbell rows) are one of my favorite exercises to perform in the gym. I’ve been crushing pulling exercises in my training lately, and just finished 6 weeks of Kroc Rows (both with and without straps). To my delight, I’ve felt progressively stronger in all of my pulling exercises, and my bench press has felt stronger as well.
It’s not a huge secret that the stronger your pull, the stronger your press. A relatively equal strength ratio of pulling:pushing is important for bench press performance, but also for structural balance. For example, if you can bench press 315 lbs., ideally you should be able to perform a chin-up with about 315 lbs. of resistance, as well (bodyweight + external load).
As I mentioned, I’ve been performing Kroc Rows for the past 6 weeks, and I’ve also been including a fair share of TRX inverted row variations, TRX Y’s, reverse flyes, and some chin-ups. Just yesterday, I tried out some Meadows Rows, and am excited to do those for the next 6 weeks!
4) Continuing to Learn
Talking to experienced coaches, powerlifters, and seeking out good information on the internet and in books has been integral to my progress. Also, being able to have several training partners has made a big difference for me. Having someone there to watch my technique, give me feedback, and make suggestions on the spot has been extremely valuable.
5) Showing Up
Movie director Woody Allen has been quoted as saying, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Arguably the most important reason for my progress on the bench, or for progress towards any goal for that matter, is simply showing up and being consistent. I make my training sessions a priority and am sure to get all of my lifts in every week. There are days when I just don’t “have it,” when I don’t feel like benching, and I’ve gone through periods of time where my bench numbers stagnate. Remember: getting stronger is a process and it takes time. Progress isn’t always linear. Learn to embrace the process, and most importantly, show up!
I hope you can apply some of these tips to your training and see some improvements over time. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to let me know!
One of the coaching cues that I find myself constantly using in the gym is for athletes and clients to “dig their toes into the ground.” I tend to use a fair share of exercises in the quadruped, half-kneeling, and tall-kneeling positions in my programming, and when people are in these positions, it’s imperative that they dig their toes into the floor. This rule applies whether someone is performing a Quadruped Extension-Rotation during the warm-up, or a Half-Kneeling Cable Lift towards the end of a training session.
Below is a series of pictures detailing what I mean. Notice the difference in my rear foot/feet in the INCORRECT and CORRECT photos (Chuck Taylors optional, but encouraged).
By now you’re probably wondering why I’m adamant on enforcing such a trivial detail. Well, here are 5 reasons why I feel it’s important to dig your toes into the ground.
You’ll notice a marked difference between having your toes dug into the ground versus not having them dug in when performing most kneeling exercises. Having your toes dug in to the floor gives you better stability and balance, and allows you to perform a given exercise more successfully. Digging your toes in essentially lets you feel more “connected” to the floor.
2. Glute Activation
When your toes are dug in and you’re more “connected” to the floor, you can effectively activate your glutes. This is supremely important during all half-kneeling and tall-kneeling exercises, as the hip should be fully extended, stable, and directly above the knee on the ground. Also, by engaging your glutes, the head of the femur is pulled posteriorly, preventing it from gliding forward in the socket and potentially contributing to anterior capsule laxity.
3. Great Toe Extension
If you’re familiar with the joint-by-joint approach, a model for which joints in the body require more mobility or stability, you’ll know that the great toe, and all of the toes, requires mobility. When we walk or run, we progress through the toes, especially the great toe. So, it’s important that we have adequate mobility, particularly in extension, through all of our toes. Digging your toes into the ground during quadruped, half-kneeling, and tall-kneeling exercises promotes and helps maintain extension through the toes. Furthermore, and this is a nice segue to my next point, extension of the toes facilitates a stretch of the plantar fascia. The plantar fascia is directly connected to the Achilles tendon, and lengthening this fascia helps improve…
4. Ankle Dorsiflexion
We’re a very plantar-flexed society. Think about it: when you’re sleeping, sitting, or wearing shoes with big heel lifts, you’re most likely in a state of ankle plantar-flexion. Since many people sleep several hours per night, sit at a desk during work all day, and wear crappy shoes, there’s a lot of time being spent in plantar-flexion. Digging the toes into the ground during kneeling exercises promotes more ankle dorsiflexion, which is an essential movement capacity that, if limited, can lead to things like anterior knee pain.
5. Calf Muscle Inhibition
Piggy backing on #4, promoting and gaining more ankle dorsiflexion will help to inhibit the calf muscles (gastrocnemius, soleus), which are often overactive in today’s population. An individual stuck in plantar-flexion is more likely to have increased tone and decreased soft tissue length in their calves. Take, for instance, someone who is in a gross extension pattern. Their pelvis is anteriorly tilted, adding to an increased lumbar lordosis, causing an anterior weight shift and altered center of gravity. Under these circumstances, the calf muscles would have to contract and constantly be “on” to prevent this individual from falling any further forward. By increasing dorsiflexion range of motion, the calves can be inhibited and effectively turned “off.”
Hopefully now you can see why it’s important to dig your toes into the ground during quadruped, half-kneeling, and tall-kneeling exercises. I use the “dig your toes into the ground” cue all the time in the gym, and I feel with good reason. It may seem nitpicky, but the benefits of this simple adjustment can turn out to pay big dividends.
While it’s a somber day here in New England and across the country due to the events at the Boston Marathon yesterday, Matt and I have decided to carry on with our weekly edition of Technique Tuesday. Before we begin, though, we’d like to send out our thoughts and well wishes to all those affected by the explosions in Boston yesterday.
As for today’s installment of Technique Tuesday, Matt takes you through the 90/90 Split Squat Iso Hold. We love this exercise for young athletes so they can learn to “own” the split squat position. It’s also a great choice for those who are hypermobile or suffer from anterior knee pain. Check it out below!
Welcome to another edition of Technique Tuesday! In today’s installment, I go over the Eccentric Only Chin-Up. This is a good vertical pulling exercise for athletes and clients who need to get stronger in order to perform their first full range of motion chin-up. Take a look!
In today’s installment of Technique Tuesday, Matt goes over how to properly brace your core for optimal function and performance. Bracing does not only apply to core exercises, but to most, if not all, exercises in the gym. Take a look and enjoy!
Today’s edition of Technique Tuesday features the Barbell RDL. In addition to targeting the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, upper back), this is an excellent exercise for progressing and reinforcing the hip hinge movement. Take a look to see how it’s done!
The snow storm yesterday threw Matt and I off our game a bit, so we’re a day late in getting Technique Tuesday up…sorry! In today’s edition, Matt goes over one of our favorite upper body horizontal pulling exercises: the inverted row. Sit back and enjoy!
Today’s edition of Technique Tuesday covers the Stability Ball Rollout. This is an excellent anterior core stability exercise to use early on with young athletes and beginner clients. Take a look as I go over how to perform the exercise correctly, important coaching cues, and common mistakes.
Today marks the first edition of a weekly series Matt Skeffington and I will be doing called Technique Tuesday. Each week we will select a different exercise and go over proper form, coaching cues, the purpose of the exercise, and where it fits in a strength and conditioning program. First up is Matt going over the single-leg deadlift, or SLDL. Enjoy!