Military Press

A Prerequisite to Lifting Heavy Weights

Ahhh how exciting, my first blog post as a coach at SAPT. I’ve got my cup of coffee, The Best Around playing on loop and I’ll be doing hip mobilities throughout writing this blog entry. Why? Because The Best Around was originally supposed to be for a Rocky III montage, but was replaced by Eye of the Tiger and I think Joe Esposito deserves more credit for the inspiration it brings…. Why am I doing the hip mobilities every 30 minutes while at a desk? Easy, because I want to squat later. Mobility: A Prerequisite to Lifting Heavy Weights

If you’re reading this blog, then it’s obvious you want to get strong, build muscle, and improve fitness in each and everyone of your workouts. You’re the type of person who sees exercises like deficit deadlifts, deep squats and overhead presses and gets as giddy as a little schoolgirl at the thought of trying it in your next workout. You look up the technique, take a few mental notes, begin with light weight for a warm-up, and then finally drop butt-to-heels into that heavy squat.

But what happened? You thought you would drive up out of the hole like superman initiating his flight takeoff, but instead you feel your lower back light up like Iron Man’s arc reactor.

You didn’t check your mobility prerequisites for that exercise did you?

Position is Power

Every exercise requires a certain degree of mobility in particular joints in order to execute the movement safely. If the mobility is not there, then the body will look for a way around it to accomplish that movement. By doing this you are putting yourself into a compromised position, and what’s worse is that if you’re doing it with training, you are reinforcing a compromised motor pattern. Practice doesn’t make perfect; practice makes permanent.

Not only are you actually weaker in these compromised positions, but you are more likely to injure yourself. This needs to be fixed before you can get strong. You can only squat so much weight with a Hyena Butt. You must work on gaining enough mobility to get into whatever position a given exercise/movement requires, WITHOUT compromise, and then you can become strong.

I’m sure you’re probably wishing I’d just shut up and tell you how to get mobile, right? Well too bad! Because first it is more important to understand WHAT needs to be mobile.

Understanding Mobility

Joint mobility is the degree to which a joint can move through a range of motion. When a joint becomes less mobile, it becomes more stable as it can’t move. (Note: Stability is not a bad thing! You just need it in the right places.)

Though it’s not black and white, many of our joints are meant to be mobile while others are stable. Sometimes, due to activities (or lack thereof) in our daily life, injuries or even the shoes we wear, joints that should be mobile become stable and throw off our body’s movements. When these joints that should be mobile are then locked down, joints that are stable then become mobile to compensate for the lost motion. This relationship is constant throughout the entire body and it’s the reason you will see lots of errors in movements that can’t be fixed with simple queues.

The Joint-by-Joint Approach outlines this mobility-stability relationship between the joints and how it could affect movement. Essentially it conveys that the following joints need more mobility or stability:

Arch of Foot – Stability

Ankle- Mobility

Knee- Stability

Hips- Mobility

Lumbar spine- Stability

Thoracic spine- Mobility

Scapula- Stability

Gleno-humeral(shoulder) joint- Mobility

Does anyone else see the pattern here? Our body alternates the needs of our joints from head to toe. So what do you think happens if one of these is thrown off? Then the pattern is broken and they all get thrown off to some extent. If someone is flat footed, they will probably have poor foot stability and it will cause their feet to collapse in movement. This results in a loss of ankle mobility over time, and their knees will almost always cave in when they squat. The reason for this is because their knees are now looking for mobility. The same can be true for losing stability. Lets say Yoga Sue starts stretching out her lower back more and more because she’s been having back pain. By creating more mobility in her lumbar spine through stretching, she is reinforcing her body to move through her lower back rather than hips and will eventually lose hip mobility. I’ll touch more on the stability component in my next post.

If the stability/mobility pattern is thrown off, then it will compromise your movements and thus jeopardize the intended benefits of lifting heavy things and your training sessions will look like poop.

Fix It!

So I’m sure you’ve spent the past few minutes form checking your squat depth in a mirror and are now begging for the answer of how to become a mobility master. Have patience grasshopper; first you must find your weakness.

Step 1. Find your limiting factor

This step will most likely need a coach or knowledgable training partner. You must determine what joint is immobile and causing the issue in your movement. You can use a movement screen for this or you can informally just breakdown the movement to see when the poop hits the fan.

Step 2. Determine WHY it’s your limiting factor

Joints can become immobile for several reasons. More often then not it is because your joint is stuck in one position for a long period of time due to your lifestyle. If you find this to be the culprit you’re going to need to make some changes before you can start seeing results. You may have to stop wearing those 5 inch heels or you may have to start getting up and walking from your desk every 20 minutes.

Sometimes a joint can become immobile due to overuse in a certain range of motion. You will see this a lot in runners or any other athlete that goes through repetitive motion. If this were the finding, you would just go straight to step 3.

Occasionally you may find that a joint is immobile because it is protecting something. This will take a more educated diagnosis, but if that is the case, then DO NOT MOBILIZE IT. If muscles aren’t firing right or there is a structural issue causing instability, the body’s natural response is to lock that joint down to keep it from being unstable and causing more damage.

Step 3. Soft Tissue Work

You now know what’s immobile and why. You’re about to start training, now it’s time to mobilize it. Foam rolling is one of the fastest ways to increase mobility of a certain joint. Simply roll on the muscles that influence that joint and try to workout the super-happy-fun knots you find. If you’re new to this use a foam roller, if you’re one bad dude, try a PVC pipe or lax balls. If it’s your thoracic spine, try using a t-spine peanut.

Step 4. Mobilities

You’re going to have to lengthen the tissues holding down the joint at some point. I find it most effective to do in the warm up, right after foam rolling and even throw a few into the workouts. If it’s pre or intra-workout, then you will want to use dynamic movements to accomplish this. Otherwise feel free to do the good ol’ fashioned static holds.

Step 5. Activate

If you take one thing away from this process, I want it to be this: Mobility will not stick, unless stability is created somewhere else. If you’re trying to loosen up your hip flexors, do some glute work after you stretch them. If you’re trying to improve ankle mobility, do some dorsiflexion exercises after you stretch the calf. If you’re trying to improve adductor length, do some core stabilization exercises right after loosening up the adductors. I think you get the picture.

Step 6. Use It

In order to keep your joints mobile, you must consistently use the full range of motion in them when you train. This means going to full depth in a squat, locking out that deadlift and overhead press and really grinding the lateral lunges. If you want to get fancy with it, you can even use exercises that are known for creating excessive range of motion like Bulgarian split squats, windmills and arm bars. Whatever you decide to do, don’t cheat yourself and use the full range.

Step 7. Dominate

If you consistently follow the previous steps, you should be in a good position to rip some weight off the floor. Some issues will take longer to fix then others, but be religious with your mobility work and it will pay off to help you feel and perform better.

Bench Tips!

Far too often I hear people bash the bench press.

“It’s not functional.”

“It’s for egotistical gym-bros.”

“When do you have to lay supine on your back and press a load up in sports?”

“It’s bad for your shoulder.”

“It’s stupid.”

“Do you even squat.”

Blah blah blah… I’m not here to defend the bench press, because I don’t necessarily believe it needs defending. It’s awesome and if you disagree, good for you. This post is for those that ignore the hate (and are healthy enough) and want to improve their bench press. Maybe you compete in powerlifting, or you want a strong upper body, or you want to turn heads on Mondays at your commercial gym when you bang out some clean, full range reps with huge weights. Whatever your reason is, here are some tips to help you add weight to the bar.

Learn to Bench

Just lay down and press right? Wrong! There are so many technical aspects to the bench that are simply ignored, resulting in sub-par benching. The bench should be considered a full-body lift, by using your legs to drive yourself down into the bench, staying tight through your hips and abs, and squeezing your upper back hard to stay rock-solid during the lift. Your set-up on the bench will be very individual. Everything from grip width, back arch, foot placement, and even head movement will vary between lifters. The key is to find your perfect set-up and practice it over and over.

Use Your Lats! If You Don’t Have Any, Build 'em!

This is huge. The lats play a crucial role during the bench press, creating a strong foundation to push off of and controlling the bar bath. After you unrack the bar, you shouldn’t simply let gravity take over and let the bar fall to your chest. You should be actively pulling the bar down under control, concentrating on flexing your lats hard. A good cue here is to think about “breaking” the bar in half (external rotation torque!) as you lower it to your chest.

If you can’t feel your lats working during the movement, chances are you just need more lat work. Pullups, chinups, lat pulldowns, and rows all fit the bill. Keep pulling to improve your push!

Do Overhead Work

I believe that overhead work is extremely beneficial to improving your bench. The increased strength in your shoulders, triceps, upper back and scapular stabilizers you will build with vertical pressing will all go a long way in helping you push more in the horizontal plane. That being said, straight barbell overhead pressing is not for everyone. Some may lack the mobility to perform the movement or it just hurts to do. Never fear, there are always options. If you find that overhead pressing with a barbell bugs your shoulders or your back, try landmine pressing. You can still get in some quality overhead work with a more joint-friendly angle.

Straight Weight

Drop the bands and chains for a while and stick with straight weight. I think accommodating resistance is a great addition to your training, but if you’ve become accustomed to benching with chains and bands, it may be to your benefit to run a few cycles of training strictly using straight weight. By over-utilizing accommodating resistance you end up avoiding that bottom-range tension when the bar is on your chest. If your goal is to bench big numbers you can’t avoid that tension forever. Perform your heavy work, rep work, and even speed work with some straight weight for a while and rest assured that your strength and power won't wither away without the extra bells and whistles on the bar.

Pause!

I firmly believe that the strong drive out of the bottom position is KEY to improving your bench press. Even if your sticking point is fairly high up in the range of motion, doesn’t it make sense that if the explosion from the bottom was better you could ride that wave all the way up to lockout? I admit I have been one to analyze a bench press, take note of the sticking point and say “well, it looked like the sticking point was somewhere around a 2-board, so the best way to improve would be a ton of 2-board work.” Board work is great, but you can NEVER be too strong out of the bottom. One of the best ways to increase the strength out of the bottom is paused bench pressing, where you lower the bar to your chest, stay tight and hold it, then press it back up. By coming to a dead stop you kill some of the elastic energy you may have been relying on. Throw in some paused benching to your routine, and although you will undoubtedly have to cut down on the absolute load, you will not be disappointed!

Till next time, keep pressin' on!

SAPT Blog Gems of 2011

With it being the Friday before the New Year, I thought this would make a good time to share some of the most popular blog posts I wrote during 2011. I thought it would make a great way for some of our newer readership to catch some things they may have missed, give our "veteran" followers some reminders of things they may have read a while ago, and hey, not gonna lie, it makes for an easy day of blog content on my end! 2011 saw substantial growth for SAPTstrength, and I honestly cannot thank you all enough for your support. This was also the first year I made a effort to write consistently, totaling roughly 150 blog posts (along with a few additional articles for websites).

It amazes me to see the readership of this site growing weekly, and it really does humble me to know that many of you out there enjoy the coaches+writers of this site (Sarah, Chris, and myself), and think that we, to put it scientifically: don't suck.

That being said, let's get to the list. Happy New Year everyone, and we look forward to 2012 with you all!

Warrior, The Resistance, Mobility, and Happy Birthday Baggins

You know, it's so funny, sometimes the posts I put together last-minute, on a whim, and in a "holycrapIcan'tthinkofanythingtowritesoletmediscussLordoftheRings" mindset, are the ones that receive the most traffic. This one topped the list, and it wasn't even really about training! Geeze people, comon'! Stop being so hard to please.

I don't know if it's because I talked about Lord of the Rings or discussed the epicness of Tom Hardy's traps, but apparently this one hit home with you all.

26 Things I've Learned: Training Edition

Okay, now for some that are actually training related. Here I recap - via 26 short bullet points - several "ah ha" moments I've had since entering the strength and conditioning industry. This one trimmed the fat and gave the "quick and dirty" for anything ranging from improving one's results in the gym to program design.

A Few Things I've Learned: "Life" Edition

It honestly surprised me how much traffic this one received, as I wasn't anticipating this post being that big of a hit. Here I put on my sage hat (at least as much as possible for me to do so) and give some quick bullet points on anything from behavior economics to yellow traffic lights.

CrossFit: Friend or Foe?

You know what they say about discussions with in-laws at the dinner table: Avoid the topics of politics, religion, and......CrossFit. Just kidding (kinda), but it does seem that people tend to fall on vastly different ends of the spectrum when it comes to CrossFit. It's as if it's an either-or topic...black and white, if you will: Either it's so evil worse than Satan himself, or it's so good it has saved you from congestive heart failure.

In this post, I do my best to look at it from an objective point of view. Is it for elite athletes? General fitness enthusiasts? Are ALL affiliates awful facilities that (quote) "do nothing but injure people?" Click the link to see for yourself.

To Overhead Press or Not to Overhead Press

The overhead press is a hot topic of debate among doctors and strength coaches alike. See this Q & A for a quick run down on if the overhead press is the right exercise for you.

And now, here are two great ones from Sarah and Chris:

A Little Bit About Knee Injuries - Sarah Walls

Here Sarah does a great job breaking down the what, why, and how-to-prevent of knee injuries. Notice that one of her main points is to "get those glutes firing!" I can't tell you how many times I'm working with a female with a knee injury/pain and have her doing glute work when she looks at me, and (*cue sassy voice*):

"Um, I don't want my BUTT to get any bigger...."

Well, do you want your knee pain to increase in magnitude, too?? Get those glutes workin' girl! Your butt circumference won't increase in an unfavorable way, I promise.

Our Take on "Sport Specific" - Chris Romanow

Last, but certainly not least, is an excellent short blurb by Chris on sport specific training. I can't tell you how many times I'm asked by a well-intentioned parent on why I'm not having their child perform X exercise since it is "sport specific." Should you do band-resisted running if you're a sprinter? Is it really necessary to have a soccer player squat, since it doesn't look like a very "sport specific" drill? See his points on the link above.

**That's all for now. Feel free to chime in below for any topics you'd like to see covered in 2012!**