Thursday, June 20, 2019

My 10 Undeniable Truths of Weight Training for Beginners - Part 3 - Balance your training routine - By RJ Hicks BS CSCS

A common theme I come across when discussing training with individuals is the lack of balance in exercise selection in their routines. Many people believe they are training all their muscles, when they only truly train half or focus on training the primary muscles used in a given activity and ignore the rest. If you want to get as strong and muscular as possible, take up a balanced approach.

It is easy to get in trouble with unbalanced routines when your philosophy of training is based on a certain group of exercises. The first example that comes to mind are people attempting to mimic strength athletes, competing in powerlifting. Many people believe the squat, bench and deadlift are the only three lifts you need for total strength and muscular development. The squat, bench and deadlift are great exercises, but by only training those three lifts you leave out many of the equally important muscles. 

The bench press trains the front deltoids chest and triceps but does not train the muscles the overhead press trains to the same extent. Just as the deadlift fails to train your upper back to the same quality as the bent over row or chin up. The bench press and deadlift do not truly train all your muscles of the upper body, maximally. You miss out on a lot of upper body strength and size potential; creating an imbalance in the shoulder joint. This imbalance between the pushing and pulling muscles can invite shoulder problems down the road. That is why these exercises are meant to complement each other. 

Some coaches de-emphasize total body training to solely emphasis exercises that resemble movements performed in an athletic setting. You would never want to work only the primary muscles in a given activity. The muscles surrounding a joint must be strengthen on all sides regardless of your event, to prevent one side of the joint from over powering the other. The antagonist (opposing) muscle groups must be just as strong as the agonist (primary) muscle groups. A balanced joint is a stronger joint. This should be the goal of every athlete in any sport. To do this you must work the front and back of both the upper body and the legs.

I prefer a strength training philosophy grounded in training with balanced routines over a philosophy paved by certain lifts or modalities. I break the body down into planes of motions rather than muscle groups. This allows me to avoid being pigeonholed into one exercise or training tool over another, while keeping a balanced approach. The philosophy is simple; a bench is a horizontal push, a military press is a vertical push, a row is a horizontal pull, a chin-up is a vertical pull and the squat, deadlift and leg press cover the push and pull for the legs. Now it doesn’t matter if barbells, dumbbells, machines or body weight with added resistance are used. 

The foundation of a routine would consist of a horizontal push, a horizontal pull, a vertical push, a vertical pull, then rotating one major push or pull movement for the lower body.  That way one workout the squat or leg press is trained, and the deadlift is trained the next. There is equal emphasis on pushing and pulling for both the upper body and lower body, and therefore greater stability in the joints. 

You can choose to cover the basic planes each workout or spread across the week, based on individual preferences, recovery or time. One workout you can train the (bench) horizontal push, (pulldown/chin up) vertical pull and (squat/leg press) lower body push, while on the next workout you train the (overhead press) vertical push, (row) horizontal pull and (trap bar or conventional deadlift/stiff leg deadlift) lower body pull. Splitting the work up over a 7-10 day can allow you to better focus on each lift or might just be the extra recovery needed in each movement to keep progressing.

The more equipment you have the more planes of motion you can add for variety sake. Every workout does not have to be based around a flat press and a horizontal row. Incline presses and high rows, dips and upright rows, decline benches and low rows are many great combinations that share a similar plane of motion and follow the simple push/pull philosophy. Find the exercises you enjoy the most and balance out the upper and lower body training.

There is no one size fits all for productive training. Strength in any one exercise can be obtained through consistent and progressive effort, yet true strength can only be developed through complete muscular balance in all parts of the body. Adopt a balance training routine philosophy and get balanced!

Editor's note: Great Article R.J.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Embracing The Deadlift - By Jim Duggan

     Not too long ago, the US. Army decided to overhaul its long-standing physical fitness test, in order to improve fitness, reduce injuries, and better demonstrate strength.  Read those last three words again: Better demonstrate strength.  STRENGTH.  What we train for, what we admire, and respect. What we enjoy reading about ( and writing about, too!). And just what movement has the Army chosen to most effectively  test the strength of its soldiers?  Why, none other than the Deadlift.  Actually, to be more precise, the Trap Bar Deadlift.  More about that in a few minutes.
     Since the 1980s, the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) consisted of three events: Push-Ups, Sit-ups, and Two Mile Run.  Since the Fall of 2018, a new Army Combat Readiness Test (ACRT) has been developed, and is in the process of being implemented.  The new ACRT consists of the following:
1) Leg Tuck.  This replaces Sit-Ups.  It's basically a hanging knee-up.  You hang from a pull-up bar, and bring your knees up to your elbows.  You need to do a minimum of three, and get maximum points if you do 25.
2) Power Throw.  This is a backward toss with a 10 Lb. medicine ball.  We've seen variations of this in World's Strongest Man contests over the years, usually in the form of tossing beer kegs for height.  For the Army, the test is measured in centimeters and a minimum throw is 450 cm ( 14.5 feet.) To max the event, you need to toss the medicine ball 1400 cm ( 45.9 feet.)
3. Trap Bar Deadlift.  Lift as much weight off the ground for three reps using a Trap Bar.  The minimum weight is 170 Lbs.  To get maximum points, you need to do 400 Lbs..
4. T-Push-Ups or Hand Release Push-ups.  This is a different version of the standard Push-Up.  There are four counts to the movement.  Up Push-Up,  Down Push-Up,  Extend your arms to your side's to form a "T" with your body, Bring your arms back to the Down position. Minimum score is 15, max is 80.
5.  Shuttle Sprint Drag Carry.  This is a shuttle run consisting of carrying various loads for a 25 meter shuttle course.
     Sprint 25m and back with no weight.
     100 Lb. Sled drag 25m and back.
     Sprint 25m and back with no weight.
     Sprint 25m and back carrying two 40 Lb. kettlebells.
     Sprint 25m and back with no weight.
     Minimum passing time is 2:40, Max points is 1:30.
6.  Two Mile Run.
     While the inclusion of kettlebells, and the sled-drag are sure to pique the interests of strength athletes, it is the Deadlift that immediately registers with those of us who hoist the Steel.  It is refreshing to see that the Army is finally recognizing the Deadlift as a superior movement for testing, demonstrating, and building strength.  Perhaps the "powers that be" took a long look at the benefits of this wonderful exercise.  Or maybe they just looked up some of the quotes Lifters have used to describe the Deadlift.  Here are just a few:
"The Deadlift is the great separator. Many times a powerlifting contest comes down to the final Deadlift."
"The most basic and simple test of overall bodily strength."
"The Deadlift separates the men from the boys."
"The contest isn't over until the bar touches the floor."
"In a contest, a good deadlifter always  has an ace in the hole."
     While I don't believe the Army is trying to convert their soldiers into Powerlifters ( at least not yet), it is nice to see that strength, or should I say STRENGTH, is an integral component of fitness.  Whether you are a Soldier, Firefighter, or competitive athlete, deadlifting will build great strength that can be applied to any physical endeavor or challenge.
     It is particularly interesting to see that the Trap Bar is being used as the implement of  choice to perform the Deadlift in the new testing process.  I first became aware of the Trap Bar back in 1992 at Iron Island Gym.  I've always liked the feel of the movement, and have gotten good results incorporating it into my workouts.  There have been times when I've used it for sets of low reps.  Three sets of five or six will build great strength, while providing an effective alternative to conventional Deadlifts.  Let's face it, week after week of heavy Deadlifting can become monotonous. Utilizing a Trap Bar can keep your workouts interesting, while you still provide work for your back, and hips.  There were also times when I would use the Trap Bar for high reps.  Training at Dr. Ken's Iron Island Gym, it would be difficult to avoid high intensity training, and the Trap Bar provided the perfect vehicle with which to train intensely.  An all-out set of twenty reps will be enough to throw anyone "for a loop." Or, you could do three sets of ten with one minute of rest between sets.  It looks easy on paper, but wait until you try it.
     Over the last month, my interest in the Trap Bar has been renewed. This has nothing to do with the Army's new test.  Rather, it is just a recognition of the benefits of using such a quality piece of equipment.  I recently purchased a heavy-duty trap bar with 2" handles.  The thing is a beast, and the thick handles will tax the grip, and add intensity to the movement.  I like to use a 2" platform inside the bar ( 2" deficit) to make the movement even more challenging.  The soreness that I've experienced indicates to me that it must be working.
     Hopefully, the Army's new physical fitness standards will be successful.  Past experience with new things tend to indicate that the results will be both positive and negative, especially at first.  After sufficient time has passed, I'm sure that they will be happy with the results.
     In any event, best of luck to our soldiers in their Deadlifting endeavors.  May they embrace the benefits of a wonderful exercise.
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Bob Whelan

Bob Whelan

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