Category Archives: How To

Building Lifting Programs: 4 Vital Characteristics

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll notice I don’t put a ton of lifting programs up on my site.

That will probably change in the near future but for now there are many reasons that I don’t. The overarching reason is because I pride myself on educating lifters so they can think for themselves, not just follow a program blindly. The fitness community is inundated with thousands of lifting programs that people can follow, but ask the average user to develop their own program and describe the inner workings of their training and they likely can’t.

“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime”

I’d much rather teach you how to do your own programming so you can sustain yourself over a lifetime, rather than trying to find the next greatest thing after the end of an 8-week cycle.

Log-Press
So in designing your own lifting program, what are the major factors that you need to develop it around?

#1: Your Goals

Far too often when I talk to someone about lifting, they don’t have a clear definition of what their end game is. When embarking in lifting programs, you need to train to both your short-term and long-term goals.

Do you want to add on mass? Or do you want to gain total body strength? Maybe your goal is lift specific and you want to add 25 pounds to your bench press?

You need to have your end game in mind. If you want to add mass, doing programs meant for powerlifters may not add a lot of hypertrophy, and inversely, if you want to get stronger, high-volume bodybuilding style programs probably won’t get you there.

All of your training must be done with intention.

Never Change The Goal
#2: Volume-Intensity Relationship

To induce a training effect you have to stimulate your body with enough volume under heavy enough loads.

Training to your goals will take care of a lot of this dynamic. Strength seekers will favor less volume with more intensity and the mass seeker will probably favor more volume with lighter intensities.

Knowing the relationship between volume and intensity is paramount and may take some manipulating to make the gains you are looking for. Throughout the course of your training life, you will come across periods where your body needs more volume to induce growth, whereas other times you may need to add weight to the bar to boost your gains. Unfortunately there is no magic recipe for this. This comes down to your knowledge as a lifter, understanding what your body is telling you, and your ability to manipulate your programming to what your body needs.

For some general guidelines on volume and intensity check these out:

How to Add More Volume To Your Training

Crank Up the Intensity

What Rep Range Should You Use to Gain Mass?

#3: Training Frequency

This is how often you train, and more specifically, how often you are stimulating your various muscle groups.

Depending on how you break-down your training sessions, your training frequency may vary but typically you should be training at least 3 or 4 days a week.

Your training frequency will also be dictated by the volume-intensity relationship as higher-volume or intensity sessions may require more time in between training sessions. Rule of thumb for Primal lifters is that you allow for 48 hours rest in between muscle groups.

#4: Exercise Selection

This is a big one for me. I’m a firm believer in recruiting more muscle to build more muscle, so I favor a lot of compound lifts. However, you must be careful when using a lot of compound movements and ensure that you are getting proper recovery and not over-training your nervous system.

This is not to say isolation movements don’t have their merits, but you just have to know when and how to use them.

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In Summary…

There are four major components of program design:

  1. Your Goals
  2. Volume-Intensity Relationship
  3. Training Frequency
  4. Exercise Selection

These are the only things you need to think about when designing a lifting program.

Any time I write a program for Primal, I am building it around these components. So as you progress in your lifting career, these are the things you need to think of in order to give yourself the proper programming to make both short and long-term gains.

As a parting thought, I want to finish by saying that there is no such thing as a perfect program. It just doesn’t exist.

Something may work for a while, but your body will adapt and your gains will stall. This doesn’t mean the program is garbage, it just means that you need to manipulate a portion of the program to reach your desired end state. This is what I call the 25% rule. To read more about the 25% rule, stay tuned for my next post…

— Tank

How to Increase Your Overhead Press

Outside of all of the major lifts, overhead pressing typically takes a back seat to movements like the squat, deadlift, and bench press.

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To me, this is a shame because as a strength athlete, pressing heavy weight over your head is one of the best indicators of relative and maximal strength. Unfortunately the overhead press is almost always an athletes weakest lift.

Until now…

The overhead press may be the most difficult of the four major lifts to increase in terms of adding significant weight to the bar (in comparison to squats for example), so don’t get discouraged if you aren’t making big jumps. Adding 20 pounds to your overhead press can be a significant increase. Check out these 4 strategies to boost your performance.

#1: Cuing the Overhead Press

Full Body Tension: This is one of the biggest technical errors I see on the lift. Lifters tend to naturally have a lot of upper body tension when overhead pressing, but not enough tension in their lower body. When pressing, you need to focus on contracting your quads, glutes, and abs. More tension = more muscle recruitment = more strength.

Grip Width: Start with a shoulder width grip. Your shoulders will thank you. Plus, having a grip similar to what you use on bench press will translate to the overhead press and make you more efficient.

Try Using a False Grip: This may not work for everyone, but it’s worth trying to see if it helps you. A false grip is essentially not having your thumb wrapped around the bar. The theory is that this will allow the bar to stay close to your body and save wear and tear on your shoulders and wrists. I am personally not comfortable with a false grip on anything but pull-ups, but many reputable trainers recommend it for the overhead press. It comes down to your comfort level.

Christian-overhead-press
Take note of his use of the false grip.

Engage Your Biceps: On the eccentric portion of the lift (lowering the bar), focus on activating your biceps to take the stress off of your shoulders and triceps and distribute the load more evenly across your upper body. To do this, think about doing a hammer curl towards your face and ears. Might seem a bit strange, but take the time to master this skill and your overhead press will probably increase immediately.

Head Through: Getting your “head through” the bar will allow you to press heavier weight and nail the lockout. As the bar passes above your head, focus on pushing your head through the “window” created by your arms.

#2: Ditch the Bar

Sometimes to improve a lift, you need to include some variation. For the overhead press, instead of always using a standard bar, incorporate some different tools into your training. At Primal Strength Gym, we use things like fat bars, kegs, logs, and sandbags. If you don’t have access to those, you can switch to dumbbell pressing once a week instead of the bar. Dumbbells will activate more stabilizer muscles and allow you to even use one-arm variations.

Tank Keg Press 4
#3: Supplement With Incline Bench Press

A big overhead press requires strong shoulders and upper chest.

My main assistance lift for training the overhead press is mid-high volume incline pressing with varying tempos. The intention here is to build mass on your frame, hence working with reps in the 6-12 range with moderate intensities.

(A technically sound overhead press requires the bar to rest on your shoulders and upper chest in between reps, as opposed to using brute strength and your arms to support the bar. The more upper body mass you have to “rest the bar” and save your strength, the stronger your overhead press will be.)

For tempo, I like using incline bench presses with a 1-2 second pause on the bottom part of the lift, then exploding the bar off my chest. This will develop the explosiveness you need to overhead press big weight.

Make sure you use the same grip width on the incline bench as you do for you overhead press to make sure it carries over into all of your pressing.

#4: Other Assistance Work

Other than incline bench press, you need to develop your shoulders, traps, and triceps to assist you in the press.

Z Presses: This movement involves sitting on the ground in a squat rack and pressing the bar from the safety pins. It takes your lower body out of the movement entirely, and forces you to press the weight with high core tension and maximal shoulder and tricep recruitment.

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Swiss Bar Floor Presses: Using this specialty bar with your floor press, you put the focus on your triceps to build pressing power. Close grip bench can be used as well if you don’t have a swiss bar.

Face Pulls: A lot of people focus so much on their front delts that they forget about their rear delts. High rep sets work well for me here, so think of working with sets of 8-20.

Plate Raises: Strictly to develop your shoulders, this is meant to be a high-rep movement with 25 or 45 pound plates.

Lateral Raises: Another shoulder builder, this dumbbell movement should be used with light to moderate weight and high-reps.

Upright Rows: This is my favorite trap builder (other than deads and farmers carries) because it uses a higher range of motion than shrugs and engages your biceps and shoulders as well.

Dips: To be strong in any pressing movement, you need to have strong triceps. Dips are one of my staples because they save wear and tear on your elbows and use your shoulders as stabilizers. If dips cause you pain, you may substitute the french press.

Your assistance work should be done multiple times a week, giving those muscle groups about 48 hours of rest in between training sessions. Focus on an 8-12 rep range for at least 4 sets using intensities of 70%-85% of your one rep max. (Add weight to the bar each set/linear periodization)

Closing Thoughts

The four takeaways:

  1. Cue Yourself
  2. Use different tools other than the bar
  3. Make incline bench a focus
  4. Perform assistance work for your shoulders, traps, and triceps multiple times a week

For more “How To Style” articles, check out the Primal archives here:

How to Primal Archives

All the best,

— Tank

How to Spread Your Wings: Building Bigger Lats

Conventional thinking will lead you to believe that to add mass to your back, you need to work with high-rep sets and more total volume.

However, when you take a closer look at the fiber composition in your back, you’ll see that your lats have about equal numbers of both fast and slow twitch muscle fibers. So to build bigger lats, you don’t necessarily have to drop the resistance and crank up the reps.

Working with a variety of rep and resistance ranges will induce hypertrophy while still allowing you to make strength gains and get stronger in your main compound lifts.

bigger lats

Knowing this, what exercises should you focus on to build bigger lats?

#1: Pull-ups and Recline Rows

I like bodyweight pulling variations for a number of reasons. First, they save wear and tear on your body from things like heavy row variations. They also allow you to work with higher rep-ranges and make great finishers and circuits.

On days where I’m trying to focus on my lats, I will follow heavy row variations with a pull-up and recline row circuit. For example:

1) Single Arm Dumbbell Rows x 6 reps (heavy)
2a) Pull-up Variations x Submaximal Reps (leave 1-2 good reps in the tank)
2b) Recline Rows x Submaximal Reps (1-2 good reps left in the tank)

So I’ll perform 2a and 2b back to back without rest as a way to add more volume into my training without using heavy lifts.

#2: Heavy Row Variations

As the lower rep, more resistance component of my lat training, I like using heavy row variations. Your rowing movements should be built around these variations:

  • Bent over single arm dumbbell rows
  • Bent over barbell rows
  • Kroc rows
  • Chest supported rows

Bent over barbell rows and dumbbell rows are my staples. I favor dumbbell rows braced over a bench because a) since they are single arm movements, you eliminate strong arm dominance, and b) going heavy on barbell rows can be difficult because you must fully engage your hamstrings and glutes, which could detract from the max resistance you can use.

For rows, I primarily work in the 5-8 rep range. Crank up the resistance here and focus on lifting heavy, not for a lot of reps. As I said before, your lats are made up of equal fast and slow twitch fibers, so lift heavy and then couple the heavy lifting with the bodyweight examples I gave you above.

#3: Cable Rows and Lat Pulldowns

I tend to stay away from machines, just because free weight movements engage more muscle, but cable machine movements are a good way to isolate your lats if you’ve done a lot of compound lifting in your training.

bigger lats

Another good thing about machines, since you have the mechanical assist and little risk for injury, you can do both high-and low reps with the entire range of intensities. They are also a good way to incorporate circuits or supersets.

One of my favorite lat blaster circuits, especially after a day of heavy overhead pressing or hang cleans, is to couple lat-pulldowns with seated cable pulley rows. This is a great way to pump a lot of blood and nutrients into the muscle. For example:

1a) Lat-pulldowns x 12
1b) Seated cable pulley rows x 12

Departing Caveats

  • The key to building bigger lats is to incorporate a variety of rep ranges.
  • I always emphasize #1 and #2.
    • The possibilities are endless with pull-ups, especially when you start incorporating resistance by adding plates to a weight belt.
    • Row variations, for the most part, should be done with heavy weight and low reps.
  • Machines are a good supplemental tactic but free weight movements should always be emphasized.

— Tank

How Deep Should You Squat? The Squat Depth Debate

Proper squat depth is a hotly debated topic in the strength world and you’ll get a lot of different answers depending on who you ask and what their perspective is.

My answer?

It’s two-fold.

  1. In an ideal world, you’d squat to parallel or below. Deep squats are actually healthy for your knees and they engage your posterior chain far more than partial reps.
  2. In reality, most people lack the flexibility and mobility to squat below parallel with good form and without rounding their back. So in the real-world you squat as low as you can with good form, and then you work on your strength and mobility over time until you can squat deeper. Form trumps all so better to squat a little higher safely, then crush your back trying to go below parallel.

Is Squatting Below Parallel That Important?

Outside of power-lifting and some sports (that require a high-degree of mobility), squatting below parallel is not totally necessary. However, the deeper you can squat, the more benefits you will receive and I believe everyone should aim to squat deeper.

If you think about it, we are born with the ability to squat deep and we simply lose the ability to do so over time due to poor lifestyle habits and inactivity. I watch my two year old on a daily basis squat “ass to the grass”, so as adults we should be striving to regain that lost ability.

What Can You Do To Increase Your Squat Depth?

#1: Cue Yourself

Whenever I teach someone to squat properly, I’m usually amazed about how much progress they can make in the first 5 minutes of training just by me cuing them.

The top 3 cues I use are “Chest Up”, “Spread the floor”, and “Sit in the hole”.

  1. “Chest up” cues the lifter to stick out their chest and keep it high, allowing them to maintain good posture throughout the lift and focus on sitting back into proper position.
  2. “Spread the floor” cues the lifter to spread their knees apart. Legendary lifter Dan John said that squatting takes place between the knees, not over them. So “spreading the floor” allows the lifter to get in between their knees and engage their glutes and hamstrings. Otherwise, the lifter tends to make the squat quad dominant and they get out over their knees. Really bad position to be in if you want to stay healthy…
  3. When you “spread the floor” you create a void (the hole) in between you knees, which is where a parallel or deeper squat is made. By “sitting in the hole”, you naturally squat deeper and get a deep knee bend while engaging your glutes and hamstrings.

By cuing yourself, I can almost guarantee you will squat deeper from the outset.

squat depth
By “spreading the floor”, this lifter is able to “sit in the hole” and squat deeply. Notice how his abdomen and torso slide into the void (the hole) created in between his knees.

#2: Crush Assistance Work

Assistance exercises are vital to training your mobility and flexibility that will lead to a deeper squat.

Other than barbell squats, you should be hitting a few of these exercises on your lower body days:

  • Goblet Squats
  • Front Squats
  • Zercher Squats
  • Single Leg Squats
  • High-box step ups

These exercises won’t load the spine and allow you to naturally squat deeper than you would on heavy barbell back squats. My typical rep range for assistance work is 6-12, so a few sets in this rep scheme on lower body days will help you develop the mobility for a deeper squat.

#3: Isolate Your Posterior Chain

One of the few times I recommend isolation work is to bring up weaknesses. In this case, most people have weak hamstrings and glutes. This prevents them from squatting properly, and in some cases causes them knee pain.

Bringing up your posterior chain will alleviate both of these issues. Focus on glute ham raises and hip thrusts. Often times in my warm ups, I do several sets of glute ham raises, meaning I’m hitting my posterior chain directly at least 4 times a week.

Departing Caveats

  • I mentioned this before, but form trumps all. If you can’t squat parallel or below, work with the 3 strategies I outlined and you will be able to squat deeper over time.
  • Injuries, blown joints, knee pain, and other circumstances may prevent you from ever squatting below parallel. With this in mind, squat as low as you can while maintaining a neutral spine. You can still get great benefits from partial rep squats, and then crush the assistance work I outlined to augment your back squatting.

— Tank

How to Sprint Faster

A big part of why I founded Primal Strength Camp is because fundamental skills that were once prevalent in mankind are eroding from our society. The most common of those is the ability to run.

At Primal Strength Camp, we are geared towards performance so training to sprint faster is commonplace. There are a variety of things you can do to sprint faster and fortunately a lot of those things align with other things you should be doing in the gym anyway.

sprint faster

#1: Lose Body Fat

Blinding flash of the obvious I’m sure, but carrying extra weight, other than for leverage in some big lifts, does nothing for your athletic performance. The extra weight will make you slower, less agile and mobile, and less healthy overall. Drop the weight with high-intensity cardio and clean up your diet.

#2: Increase Your Explosiveness

You’ve heard me talk about ways to increase your explosiveness to lift bigger weights but how does that translate to sprinting faster? The more explosive you are, the more force you can generate. To sprint faster you need to produce a lot of force from the ground through your posterior chain and the rest of your body.

Lifting heavy weights, plyometrics, and medicine ball work are all things you should be doing in the weight room that will develop your explosiveness and help you sprint faster.

#3: Improve Your Posture

This is by far the most common problem I see when I watch people run. Office jobs, long bouts of sitting, too many video games for kids, and overworking the muscle groups you can see (chest, shoulders, etc.) and neglecting your posterior chain are all major contributors to bad posture.

Bad posture directly translates to poor running mechanics.

This correction can be made through conscious effort and persistence. When walking and sitting, you should be thinking about a big chest and retracted shoulder blades, rather than slouching. You can make a lot of progress just by sitting up and walking “proud”. In the gym, try retracting and holding your shoulder blades at the lockout of your deadlifts (using lightweight).

#4: Increase Your Stride Length

The longer your strides, the faster you will cover more ground. A lot of this goes back to #2 and being more explosive, but more specifically you must focus on driving with your legs.

In most cases this means driving your legs back and creating more leverage with each stride. Focus on “pulling the ground” away from your body with your feet and actively engaging your posterior chain.

To improve your stride length and technique, prowler and sled pushes and pulls are the best remedy. The necessary movement to move the prowler or sled mimics running technique.

#5: Strengthen Your Hip Flexors

I always talk about hill sprints as the only thing you need to do for fat loss, but they also indirectly help you sprint faster. The stronger your hip flexors and the more force they can generate, the faster you can sprint.

The top sprinters in the world focus on hip flexor development, so in addition to hill sprints, emphasize hanging leg raises and knee drives (explosively move your knee upwards to your chest). You can add resistance to your knee drives as well by strapping your foot into a cable machine.

— Tank

3 Simple Ways to Add to Your Training Volume

One of the biggest factors in making gains in the gym is your training volume. With all of the troubleshooting you can do with your training programs, sometimes the recipe for success is simply doing more work.

training volume

You must incorporate enough volume in your training to produce a training effect, and the more experienced you are as a lifter, the more training volume you likely need.

For some set and rep guidelines, check out some of my past articles:

How Many Sets Should I Do Per Training Session?

What is the Best Rep Range For Building Muscle?

But expanding on those, what are some simple ways to increase your training volume to help induce hypertrophy gains?

#1 Drop Sets

This technique is popular among bodybuilders, but strength competitors and athletes can get a lot out of drop sets as well.

I tend to stay away from drop sets on my major lifts (with the exception of squats from time to time), but I employ drop sets frequently on my assistance lifts (especially direct arm work). The idea here is that for your last set, you reduce the resistance by 30% from your heaviest set and crank out as many reps as possible.

Drop sets are best used on lifts that have a low risk for technical error like rope-pushdowns and other tricep movements, curl variations, recline rows (and some other row variations like cable rows), hamstring curls, and other isolation movements. You can employ drop sets on compound lifts like bench press and squats, but they also produce the greatest injury risk, so you must maintain strict form and train smart.

Drop sets will only add a minute or two to your total training time but they add a significant amount of volume to your training and pump a ton of blood into your muscles shuttling vital nutrients.

However, use drop sets strategically and avoid using them on the same movements or muscles week in and week out.

#2 Load-Up Your Warm Ups

I’ve mentioned this before as a way to incorporate more bodyweight training and bring up weaknesses, but your warm-up is also a way to add more training volume.

For your warm-up sets on your main lifts, or even some of your assistance work, use higher reps than normal. Your overall max numbers on your top end sets may suffer a little, but that’s the price you pay if more volume is a solution to making more gains. After a few weeks, your body will adjust anyway so your strength loss will only be temporary.

This also accentuates another point I make with a lot of lifters. Instead of looking at your progress from a set to set basis, start viewing the bigger picture of total training volume. An extra 10-15 reps during your warm-up sets will likely add a lot more to your total work output (total pounds lifted) even if it means you sacrifice a few reps on your higher-end sets.

Jamie Eason

#3 Grease the Groove

I picked up this term through a mentor of mine, world class strength coach Zach Even-Esh.

It’s essentially active recovery, but with a more judicious approach. In between training sessions on scheduled off-days, you can use grease the groove to throw a bit more volume into your overall weekly workload. Keep in mind however that grease the groove training is meant to be short-duration (20-30 minutes) and low-impact.

For my own training, I keep a fairly strict schedule with Monday and Thursdays being upper-body days, and Tuesday and Fridays being lower-body days. Wednesdays and the weekend are my “off-days” but Wednesday is where I will typically get a grease the groove session in.

Since I emphasize training Primal style with heavy compound lifts, I don’t do much direct bicep work and sometimes my bodyweight work (outside of warm-ups) takes a backseat to barbell and kettlebell training. Wednesday’s grease the groove session then becomes my avenue for curl variations, push-up and pull-up training, and any other work that I may be neglecting.

You must be conscious of what movements you are doing on these days and the intensity in which you train, which is why I stress grease the groove being low-impact. Otherwise you jeopardize your recovery times from your main lifting sessions and the extra work you are getting ends up being more detrimental than beneficial.

— Tank

How to Improve Your Pull-Ups

The pull-up, sometimes referred to as the “upper-body squat”, is one of the best tests of your relative strength (strength to bodyweight). It’s one of the greatest upper-body builders there is and one that all serious lifters should train to master.pull ups

But pull-ups give a lot of people problems and it can be one of the hardest exercises to improve on…until now.

Use these methods to improve your pull-up performance.

#1 Do Not Train to Failure

This is by far the most prevalent violation of training your pull-ups. With any other exercise, you usually implement some form of progressive overload and you don’t train maximally day in and day out. But yet, I often see people doing set after set of pull-ups until failure and then wonder why they are not making progress.

You must treat your progression in pull-ups just as you would any other exercise and not train maximally every training session. By implementing some sort of pull-up specific training plan with progressive overload, I can almost guarantee you that your performance will improve.

#2 Train the Regressions, Progressions, and Variations

If you are trying to increase the number of pull-ups you can do, work in some variations that allow you to do more reps. Recline rows work well here and give you the ability to develop your pulling power and really initiate your lats. Vary your grip positions as well (narrow, neutral, overhand, underhand, wide).

For those of you who can already do 10 or more pull-ups and want to further increase your ability, strap some weight to a weight belt and do weighted pull-ups. Then, when you go back to pure bodyweight pull-ups, your movement will feel much lighter.

#3 Train Assistance Movements

There are a ton of row variations. Rows are one of the main exercises I recommend for building your back and by improving your pulling-power in other row movements, you will be improving your pulling-power on your pull-ups too. Single arm dumbbell rows, barbell rows, recline rows, and lat pull-downs are all great for improving pulling power.

#4 Modify Your Rep Ranges in Your Variations and Assistance Movements

This one is important. If you are trying to increase the number of pull-ups you can do, you probably need to add in some more endurance work. Lifting heavy the majority of the time will work wonders for your strength, but say you are stuck on a 5 pull-up max, training heavy with low rep sets on all of your assistance work may not benefit you.

If you want to increase your reps on pull-ups, try increasing your reps on rows and other similar movements as well, so you are conditioned for more endurance that high-rep sets of pull-ups require. For most of you training Primal style, that means throwing in high rep sets of 12 or more on your pull-up specific movements, rather than typical strength rep ranges of 3-8.

#5 Use Your Latspull ups

This comes down to a simple tweaking of technique, but I’ve found that this one adjustment can add up to 3 solid pull-ups on your current max. You must initiate your pull-ups by firing up your lats and not by pulling with your biceps. Cue yourself to drive your elbows down and back when you start the movement; this will engage your lats and take the emphasis off your biceps, giving you much more pulling power.

#6 Improve Your Grip Strength

The more grip strength you have, the easier any lift will feel. Pull-ups are no different.

Train your grip strength with farmer carries, barbell pulling movements, and the use of fat bars. If you don’t have access to fat bars, invest in a pair of Fat Gripz. They are always in my gym bag, and I use them every single day. You can pick up a pair through Primal, on the right hand side of this screen.

#7 Cut Body Fat

Extra weight might help you put up bigger numbers in leverage based exercises like squats and deadlifts or some sport specific activities, but in most other cases it’s worthless and unhealthy. Trimming excess weight will help you move more efficiently and improve your mobility, not to mention make pull-ups a hell of a lot easier.

— Tank

How to Optimize Training Recovery

Training recovery is an often overlooked process in the strength game.

It’s tough for people to pry themselves away from the gym. Trust me, I get it. Back when I first started lifting, I was in the gym every single day, even if it was just to train my abs and stretch. But in hindsight there were far better things I could have been doing with my time to boost my training recovery and make bigger gains.

Truth be told, a lack of training recovery can lead to a laundry list of problems:

  • Injury
  • Poor sleep
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Decreases in training performance
  • Lack of progress

I could go on, but you get the point. Nobody wants to get injured or halt their progress. So your best course of action is to learn how to recover from training.

#1: Post Training Nutrition

Immediately after training, you need to be focused on getting protein, and more importantly, carbohydrates into your system. My go-to nutrition bomb here is a protein shake. It’s an easy way to get quick digesting nutrition into your body. Depending on your bodyweight, your shake would have about 30 grams of protein and between 60-100 grams of carbs. If you can’t get that many carbs into your shake, have some fruit on hand in addition to your shake.

If you are eating Primal style, you will feast at night, so after your post-training shake you will have a huge dinner with even more carbs and protein. This meal carries you over into your next day, where you will graze until your workout, and then the cycle begins.

#2: Contrast Showers

This idea seems to be gaining popularity in the fitness industry lately, but it was originally made “popular” decades ago by the Soviets in Eastern Europe. Elite athletes would immerse themselves in a bath of ice water, then follow it up with an immersion into warm water. This process was repeated multiple times, and the process helps stimulate the recovery process. More specifically, the hot/cold alternation improves blood flow, aids in the inflammation process, and reduces lactate in the muscles.

ice bath for recovery

Since most of us don’t have access to two baths in the same room, I’m calling these contrast showers for practicality. Turn the water on as cold as you can stand it, immerse yourself for up to one minute, then reverse the process with hot water for a minute. Alternate hot/cold 4-5 times.

#3: Sleep For at Least 8 Hours

This one doesn’t require much explaining. Your body is in repair mode while you sleep, so if you don’t sleep, you won’t grow. Most of us need at least 8 hours a sleep at night. Turn off the t.v. at least 30 minutes prior to bed, no computer, or electronics of any kind. Read a book. Make your sleep preparation a nightly ritual and get on a schedule. 8 hours. No excuses.

#4: Stretch and Foam Roll

Both of these are great ways to relieve muscle soreness and increase blood flow. Old-school static stretching will also help with your mobility and lifting technique.

Foam rolling should be done every day, but for only limited periods of time. Foam rolling in particular is extremely effective at removing inflammation and knots in your muscles. Overdoing it however, can irritate your muscles just as easily as it can help. Use the roller during your warm-ups, but for tender and trouble spots, limit your rolling to only a few minutes and do not focus on the same area multiple days in a row.

lacrosse ball foam rolling
If you don’t have access to a foam roller, hit up your local sporting goods store and spend the $2.50 on a lacross ball.

#5: Active Recovery

Recovery doesn’t necessarily have to mean sitting on your ass. On your “off-days”, go for a walk, stretch, play recreational sports (within reason), or even do light workouts. Light workouts on off-days are perfect opportunities to work on your bodyweight training. A short duration session of 100 pushups after a big bench press day can actually help shuttle blood flow and nutrients into your upper body and speed up the recovery process.

#6: Take Time Off

This is by far the hardest thing for hardcore athletes to fathom, but it can be one of the best things you could ever do for yourself. If you are training every day and not taking care of yourself, inertia will inevitably catch up to you and you will suffer. Maybe you will get lucky and not get injured, but your performance will dip, or you will get burnt out. This is not a scare tactic. It’s a fact.

Taking a week off is not only crucial for your body to recuperate from the demands you are placing on it, but it is also an opportunity to rest your mind and self-reflect. Reflect on your training, discover what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong, make adjustments, and come back stronger than before. A fully recuperated body both physically and mentally is key to making sure you make continual progress in the strength game, and that you set yourself up for sustainability over the long-term.

— Tank

Plyometrics Training For Strength and Explosiveness

You’ve heard me mention plyometrics before here and here.

They are key at developing explosiveness and athleticism and should be an important component of a well balanced strength training program.  You will need this explosiveness when trying to build strength for the heavy barbell lifts like the bench and deadlifts.  Plus they are vital in developing general physical preparedness and work capacity that will allow you to increase your training volume as you progress.

There are a ton of jump variations you can do, but for most of you these 3 will do the trick.

#1: Box Jumps

Most gyms have some sort of box you can jump on.  Nothing complicated here.  Just jump onto the box.  Jump higher and higher as you progress.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPMqixXXsIA[/tube]

#2: Hurdle Jumps

This simply means jumping over things.  In a standard gym sitting, you can jump over benches or boxes.  If you are training outside, this is where park benches and other objects come into play.

#3: Long Jumps

These are the most advanced because they require a great deal of explosiveness and athleticism already.  You have to be very careful on cushioning your landings, and be aware of the pounding your joints, knees, and legs take in the process.  I do not recommend this for beginners, but as you progress, you can work these in.  Make sure your technique is sound and you have a strong core before doing these.

Knowing you need to focus on these 3, how do you incorporate them into your training?

Programming Considerations

I’d treat them just as any other exercise.  They count towards your overall training volume and the higher/further you jump counts towards your training intensity.  The higher/further you jump, the less reps per set you should perform.  Fifteen or less total reps split up among 3-5 sets would work.

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I tend to work my jumps in at the end of my workouts or after my big compound lift.  If I’m jumping for a low vertical, I’ll use them as a conditioning finisher.  If I’m going for high verticals, I’ll make them a focal point of my training after heavy squatting for example.  One thing you can do to work in jumps mid-training is superset heavy squats with box jumps to really build up your explosiveness and leg strength.

One important distinction here is to not treat jumps as high-intensity cardio alone.  While they do make a kick ass conditioning exercise, you also need to treat them as a way to develop explosiveness.  The more explosive you are, the better you will perform on your big lifts.  That’s why it’s important to test yourself and continually try to jump higher and further, not just for reps and time.

As far as frequency goes, you could jump a couple of times a week.  Work in your plyos on the same days you are training lower body if you can.  If you must jump the day after lifting heavy squats or deadlifts, crank your intensity (height/distance) down to no more than 75% of your max effort.  Just like lifting weights, jumping for prolonged periods at 100% max effort can be stressful on your central nervous system (CNS).

Evolve!!

— Tank

Explosive Power for Strength Gains

Explosiveness is key for generating force and strength.  Without it, you will never meet your potential at the big lifts like bench press or deadlifts.  While most gym rats focus on gaining size and developing strength via training heavy, developing explosive power to augment your raw strength can be your competitive edge.

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There are a number of ways to develop explosiveness, and here is what I would recommend.

#1: Up Your Tempo

This one is probably the most obvious, but if you take a look around the gym, I’m willing to guess that less than 20% of the average Joes are doing it.  The problem is people read too much junk on the internet and lift with 4/2/1 tempos or spend an ungodly amount of time on each rep trying to maximize time under tension.  For most barbell lifts, you should be doing them as fast as you can and with explosion (controllably, not like a damn maniac).  This means a 2/0/2 tempo at most.  Move the bar with some authority.

If you start doing all of your reps with some explosiveness, it is inevitable that over time you will become more explosive.

#2: Do Speed Work

This is a classic remedy for when you get stuck at a strength plateau and you need to be able to apply more force and accelerate the bar in order to put up bigger numbers.

Some of you may ask, isn’t speed work just upping your tempo?  Yes and no.  When I spoke about upping your tempo above, I’m assuming that you can increase the tempo of your current working sets (in that 70-85% of 1 rep max zone I talk about here).  If you can grind out a working set of 5 reps on the bench with a slow tempo, I’m betting that you can do the same, if not more, with a higher tempo.

But with speed work, you are reducing the weight you can handle greatly to about 50-75% of your 1 rep max and banging out sets of 5-8 as explosively as possible.  Working with the lighter weights, you will be able to up your tempo more controllably, and while it may seem easy, you are priming your body for improved neurological efficiency.

Spend too much time on the left side of this curve, and your explosiveness will suffer. You need to incorporate some speed work in order to help augment maximal strength.

#3: Learn the Olympic Lifts

There is nothing better for athletes than learning the explosive lifts.  While squats, deadlifts, and overhead press remain my go to gym lifts and mass builders, the olympic lifts are some of the most explosive lifts you can do.  While they are highly technical and can be hard to learn, for someone trying to develop explosive power they can be essential.

I attended an olympic lifting seminar a while back taught by the head football strength and conditioning coach from the Virginia Military Institute, and he spoke of how he has his athletes olympic lift several times a week.

At the very least you should learn how to clean and press, which is something I’m required to do a lot training for Strongman.  If you could only do one upper body exercise for the rest of your life, this would be it.

Laura Snatch

#4: Embrace Plyometrics

Back when my vertical jump was at its highest, so were my squat and bench numbers.  I was jumping twice a week and developed explosiveness that directly translated to my performance in the weight room.

Jumping for height and distance is all you need to do once or twice a week.  Nothing fancy, but it needs to be part of your training.  Not only will this help with explosion, but it’s a great conditioning tool as well.  Vertical jumps, box jumps, hurdle jumps, and broad jumps are all you need here.

Evolve!!

— Tank