Archive for Exercise of the Week
A great way to train for the stability necessary for overhead lifting is to perform overhead walks. Since the athlete is walking the weight will want to shift around and the athletes are forced to stabilize the musculature of the core, hips, and upper back. I like to utilize kettelbells for this exercise, but dumbbells can be used as well. Since the kettlebell sits behind the hand it helps the athlete pack the shoulder down and back a little easier than with dumbbells or barbell.
Give overhead walks a try and watch you overhead stability improve!
Here is a video below.
Fix your Press with Scapular Slides
Even when performing the tall kneeling KB press some athletes will have trouble locking out the weight overhead without pressing it forward. In order to teach proper overhead mechanics the Floor Slide is a great drill for athlete to perform. This will teach the athlete to lockout with the arms directly in the center line of the body.
The athletes should set up lying on their back with their arms overhead. The athlete should make an attempt to to keep their head, upper back, butt, wrist, hand, and elbows on the floor at all times. Some athletes who have tight pecs or shoulder mobility issues may not be able to get their wrists on the floor initially, but over time they will get better. The athlete should actively pull the shoulder blades down and back and move their arms as if they were performing a pull up or lat pull down. Try to keep the wrist in alignment with the elbows when performing the movement. The athlete can also perform the movement on the wall as well once the floor pattern is mastered.
Here are a few different variations you can utilize of the scapular slide in order to teach proper overhead mechanics. These exercises will help improve low trap function(which is very important for stabilizing the shoulder and preventing injuries) and dynamically stretching the pecs(which can cause faulty movements patterns when overhead pressing) and improving technique for overhead lifting.
Fix your Press with Scap Pull Ups
One of the most common flaws in overhead lifting is having an “unpacked” shoulder. Many athletes will shrug up when performing an overhead press. This movement is called scapular elevation. Elevation of the scapular when pressing and pulling essentially “disconnects” the shoulder from the body and makes the shoulder very vulnerable to injury. When the shoulder is packed down and back it is much more stable and strong since it is more “connected “to the body. The scap pull up is great exercise to teach athletes to pack the shoulder when performing overhead lifting exercise whether it be pressing or pull ups.
Set up on a pull up bar and just hand for a few seconds. Without bending the elbows pull the shoulder blades down and back and think about lifting the chest up and out. Hold for a given amount of time and relax. This will help strength the muscles in the upper back in order to maintain proper position when lifting overhead. This exercise effectively depresses the scapula, which is the opposite of elevation. This the proper position when lifting overhead for both pressing and pulling movement. The scap pull is a great way for an athlete to learn how to properly pack their shoulder for overhead exercises.
Fix your Press with the Tall Kneeling Overhead Press
Overhead pressing is one of the best ways to strength the shoulders, triceps, and core muscles. Before the bench press was the standard indicator of strength (even though it really shouldn’t be…) the overhead press was the gold standard for pressing power. When performing a standing overhead press it takes a lot of control from the muscles of the core, hips, and shoulders in order to perform a clean repetition.
Many times (especially when the weight gets very heavy) you will see lifters lean back in order to try to press the weight up overhead. The puts a lot of stress on the lumbar spine and isn’t the optimal way to press for long term health. The other common problem you see when pressing is the lifter will try to press the bar away from them like a bench press instead of actually pressing the weight overhead. The weight should rest directly over the center of the body when locked out.
The tall kneeling kettlebell overhead press will solve both of these problems. Since the kettlebell sits behind the hand it helps pull the athletes shoulder down and back and in general athletes tend to lockout weight with better technique then when using dumbbells or barbells(at least in the beginning). The tall kneeling position helps teach the athletes to get tall and tight in order to maintain a neutral spine throughout the entire press. If the athletes tries to lean back in the tall kneeling position they will fall over. This is a great self correcting drill for teaching proper hip and spine position for overhead pressing. Here is a video below.
Give the tall kneeling KB overhead press a try and you will be much more stable when you go back to standing overhead pressing.
Learn to Keep the Hips and Core Stable for the Bench Press
The bench Press is a total body exercise and while we don’t want our butts coming off the bench when we are pressing we still need to teach the importance of leg drive in the bench press. Once the athlete learns how to set up, pull the bar out, keep the upper back tight, utilize the lats when pressing, and tucks the elbows, then I will start to be concerned with leg drive. Obviously there are many other important factors when pressing, but to get the most out of our pressing variation we need to incorporate the legs into the movement as well.
The most important thing is to keep the glutes tight during the entire movement. I am not as concerned about really flexing the legs hard as if performing a competition bench press as I am that the legs are have constant tension their entire set. By keeping the glutes turned on the athlete will create a more stable platform to press from as a result.
A great way to teach glute tightness in the bench press is to have them press while in a static glute bridge position. Have the athlete hang their butt off of the bench when performing dumbbell press variation in order to ensure glute activation the entire set. This is a variation I learned from strength coach Joe Bonyai who is a strength coach at Empower Athletic. He has many great innovations for teaching movement patterns and this is one of them. If you want to start to learn to increase leg drive in the bench press the butt of the bench DB press is a good place to start. He also has great progression for teaching core, shoulder, and hip stability in the bench as shown below.
Pulling the Bar out
Fixing the Bench Press Part 3
Often times many problems happen with the bench press before the first rep is even performed! It is important to learn how to set up properly and HOLD proper position in the bench press for the entire set. When setting up for the bench press the athlete should try to pull their shoulder blades down and back and hold that retraction of the scapula the entire set. This ensures shoulder stability and also shortens the range of motion the bar has to travel. The reduced range of motion will put less stress on the shoulder as discussed in previous articles.
If the athlete doesn’t take the bar out properly they will lose their position. What you will typically people will try and “press out” the bar rather than “pull the bar out”. By pressing the bar out the shoulder blades almost always become “unpacked” and they athlete will lose their position and their tightness. The athlete should try and pull the bar out as if they were performing a straight arm pull down.
The straight arm pull down is a great way for athlete to learn how to pull the bar out properly from the rack. The straight arm pull down can be performed standing or supine(lying down face up). The athlete should try and actively pull the bar down or out(depending on whether they are standing or supine and where the resistance is) with their lats while keeping the shoulder blades pulled down and back.
You can also provide band resistance to a barbell to force the athlete to pull the bar out rather than pressing it out. Elite fitness systems calls this exercise Brocksteins.
Give the straight arm pull down try if you are having trouble on racking weight for the bench press.
Fix your Bench Press Part 2
Reverse Band Bench Rows
Last week we talked about working on tucking the elbows in the bench press. This week we are going to talk about proper set up for the bench press and activating the lats during the movement. Reverse Band Bench Rows are a great way to teach an athlete to activate their lats in the bench press.
The lats are a very important stabilizer for all pressing movements. The athlete should think about “pulling” the bar down and keeping the “belly up” when benching. This will allow great control of the press and eliminate any bouncing you see at the local gym. The larger and thicker the upper back and lats are will also help create a very stable base to press from. Reverse band bench rows are a great way to strengthen the lats as well as teach proper technique for the bench. If the athlete tries to pull the bar down to high on their chest with their elbows out they will have a much harder time getting the bar down. When the athlete set up with good technique and creates tension throughout the entire body they will have a much easier time getting the bar down and they will find their natural bench groove(bar path).
Set up bands on top of a power rack as if you were performing a reverse band bench press. The bar should sit right about where you would lock out a bench. Get a good set up on the bench with the shoulder blades pulled down and back and get the feet and legs set tight on the bench. Grab the bar with your normal bench grip and focus on pulling the bar down and keeping the belly up. It is important to drive the heels down into the floor and suck big air in the belly to create tightness throughout the entire body. By doing this the athlete will get tight through their lats, abs and glutes. This creates a very stable platform to press from.
Reverse Band Bench rows are a great way to improve pressing technique and teaching the lifter to utilize the lats in the bench press. This exercise will help you become rock solid during all of your pressing attempts!
Fixing the Bench Press Part 1
Bench Press with RNT
The bench press is probably without a doubt the most popular exercise in the United States. No one ever asks “How much you deadlift?”, but at some point someone will ask you “How mucha bench?!?” Whatever you answer be it 225 or 495 that person will tell you how they used to bench that before a shoulder injury or their buddy’s cousin benched 600 back in high school, but let’s not get off topic…
If you walk into any commercial gym you will see many variation of the bench press and most of them are NOT good. Whether it be half reps, benching to what seems like their neck region or just bouncing it off their chest or what seemed like a contest on who can break their sternum first! The bottom line is most people just need to learn how to bench properly. Of course there are finer points for competition lifters, but athlete and general fitness trainees alike can take a lot of technique pointers from a good competition bench press.
The first learn we will talk about it elbow and shoulder position in the bench press. The elbows should be “tucked” in towards the body at the bottom of the press. The upper arm should form about a 45 degree angle with the body. You will see many people’s upper arms form a 90 degree angle with their body(keeping the elbows out). This creates a lot of stress on the shoulder. By tucking the elbows it will reduce the rotation of the shoulder and provide a lot less stress on the joint when going through a full range of motion. Remember the bench press is a total body exercise we aren’t looking to isolate the “pecs” here. Our goal is to build maximize upper body strength and power so we want to be as efficient as possible.
We can use a band around the wrist to teach proper pressing technique. The band we force the wrist together and cause the elbows to “flare” out. By spreading the band apart this will activate the muscles in the upper back and cause the lifter to press with a more efficient technique. The band will help the lifter feel the stabilizer muscles in the upper back “turn on” and can be used to help the lifter feel what tucking the elbows feels like for the bench press. This is another form of RNT(reactive neuromuscular training) because it forces the lifter into the problem and lifter must actively fire their muscles in order to correct themselves.
Give the bench press with RNT a try if you are having trouble tucking the elbows and achieving the upper back during the bench press. It is important to think about “bending the bar” or “pulling the bar apart” when pressing to activate the upper back and keep the elbows tucked.
(NOTE the athlete in the video is pretty new to benching properly so he really DOESN’T do a good job of “flaring the elbows at the top, but the tucking part is very good. Most people will have more problem tucking so it still worth while to watch and learn form the video)
Here is a video of myself performing the exercise.
Notice how I “tuck” the elbows as I lower the band to my chest and “flare” them out as I push the band away from me. A useful cue for this is to think about “pulling the bar apart” or my personal favorite try and “bend the bar” as you lower it. By utilizing this style of pressing in your workout you will greatly reduce the stress on your shoulders(versus a typical “body building” style bench) as well as increase your overall stability in the lowering phase of the bench press.
Let me know how it works for you! Leave a comment below.
Improve you Starting Position for the Deadlift with the Exercise of the Week
The active straight leg raise is a great exercise for improving the mobility necessary to perform a proper deadlift. When combined with the gray cook band it also teaches the athlete to keep the upper back tight during their movement.
The active straight leg raise is performed while lying on the ground (supine). This ensures the athlete’s low back will remain neutral the whole time. It is much harder to compensate by using the lower back when on the floor and will help the athlete learn to get their range of motions from their hip mobility rather than lumbar mobility.
The athlete will then proceed to grab the handles of the cook band (or other band with handles if a cook band is not available) and perform a straight arm pull over to the floor. The athlete should be squeezing their upper back tightly as well as bracing the abdominals. This creates tension in the lats and in the core and will help stabilize the lumbar spine when performing the movement.
The athlete will hold the bottom position of the pull over while performing the movement. This will ensure there is tension throughout the entire range of motion. The athlete will then flex one hip(bring their leg off the ground) as high as he or she can without changing position in their low back. The athlete will then extend their hip(put their leg back down on the floor) and release the pullover with the band. It is important to note the exercise is called the active straight leg raise so makes sure the athlete’s legs remain straight for the entire duration of the set. Repeat for a desired number of repetitions. You will notice sometimes the athlete will get better during their set and increase their range of motion.
This is a great exercise for teaching to keep tension in the lats and abdominals for deadlifting as well as to help gain the necessary hip mobility required to deadlift properly. It can be used as a warm up or as an exercise in between sets of other strength work. If you do not have a band you can still perform the exercise, but it just won’t be as effective. If you don’t have a band, think about performing the pull over through the floor in order to active and create tension through the lats.
The active straight leg raise with the cook band is a fantastic exercise for improving performance and health! Give it a try and let me know what you think!
Improving Starting position for the Deadlift with the Exercise of the Week
By John Gaglione
The RDL Stretch is a great way to stretch out after a deadlift workout. It will stretch out the hamstrings as well as the muscles in the upper back. The position used in the RDL Stretch can also be utilized for teaching lat tightness for the deadlift.
The athlete will sit back and assume a position as if he or she we start to deadlift. The athlete should feel a gentle stretch in the hamstrings. This usually means the athlete’s hips are maximally flexed. The athlete will then put their hands on top of a rigid object or table with the palms facing down. The elbows should be locked out the entire time. An exercise machine works well in most cases for this, but use whatever is available to you. The coach can have the athlete put their hands on top of his or her hands as well if no object is available.
The athlete will “pull down” aggressively on the object and they should feel their lats get tight. Some coaches’ cue their athletes to feel like there are trying to squeeze a towel between their armpit and their side. This isometric (static) contraction of the athlete will allow the lifter to get the tightness necessary to get in a perfect starting position for the deadlift. This is also a perfect time to explain to the athlete the arms are simply “hooks” for the deadlift. The athlete should not “yank” the bar to start the deadlift. The arms are a means of transferring power through the legs. Having a tight upper back will help do this.
The RDL Stretch is a great way to stretch the hamstring and teach skills for the deadlift. When used as a stretch the athlete can passively pull their shoulder blades down and back and get a stretch in the hamstrings and lats. When used as a teaching drill the athlete should actively pull their shoulder blades down and back and think about performing a straight arm pull down. This can be usefully when teaching tightness in the lats as well as teaching the elbows should be locked out for the entire set.
Here is a picutre of the RDL stretch below.
Give the RDL stretch a try and see what you think.