Tag Archives: compound exercises

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

When Should You Use Isolation Movements?

Compound movements will always be king. I stress it in all of my writing and programs, and no matter how you spin the argument, you must recruit more muscle to build more muscle. The beginner lifter, or the person struggling to add mass or strength should be focusing on compound movements.

But…

That’s not to say that isolation movements and bodybuilding does not have its place. Quite the contrary in fact; you just need to know how to use isolation movements in your training to maximize your results.

The following situations are times where I incorporate isolation movements.

#1: Adding Pounds to Big Lifts

Accessory work is vital to improving your numbers on things like overhead press, squats, and deadlifts.

A big part of that is isolating the primary and secondary movers on those lifts and building size and strength in them.

If you want to be a better presser, you have to build up your triceps and shoulders, so things like tricep pushdowns and front and side delt raises are great movements.

Want better squat and deadlift numbers? Glute ham raises and RDL’s are crucial to isolate your hamstrings.

This situation is, by far, the most prevalent time I and a lot of my Primal Strength Gym members use isolation, and we usually hit at least one isolation movement per training session.

#2: Direct Arm Work

Arms tend to respond well to higher-volume training, and while I train my arms indirectly through pull-ups, row variations, and heavy pressing, it may take some added sets of curl variations and tricep work (push-downs, dips, close-grip bench) to add mass to your arms.

I tend to do a lot of direct arm work on my lower body days, as opposed to upper body days where my arms already get a lot of indirect time under tension. I also use movements like light banded curl variations for tendon health and rehabilitation from strained and achy muscles.

isolation

#3: Bringing Up Weaknesses

If you are doing a lot of compound lifts, especially if you split your routines into an upper-lower split like I recommend, chances are you will need to incorporate some isolation movements to bring up neglected muscles, imbalances, and weaknesses.

Hamstrings are the prime example of this as it seems the vast majority of the population has weak hamstrings.

Upper back can be another common area, especially if you train a lot of compound movements.  For example, outside of deadlifting and farmers carries, I have to be conscious to make sure my upper back is getting trained frequently enough. So at least once a week, I’m dedicating some time to isolate my upper back with face pull variations and even shrugs.

Those examples aside, directly targeting and isolating any muscle that is lagging behind in development is a great strategy if you aren’t getting the results you want from heavy compound lifts.

#4: Adding More Volume to Increase Hypertrophy

Sometimes, especially for more experienced lifters, the solution to build more muscle mass is to increase training volume. If you are doing a lot of compound movements and recruiting a ton of muscle, your physical and neurological exertion will be elevated, making it very difficult to increase your training volume effectively (and it’s stressful on your central nervous system (CNS)).

Isolation movements are a great way to introduce more volume into your training to try and produce mass gains and hypertrophy, without over-taxing your body and CNS.

All the best,

— Tank

Contrast Training To Boost Strength Gains

Contrast training is one of the most effective ways to increase your strength levels, power output, muscle mass, metabolic function for fat loss, and overall performance levels.

contrast training
Sprinting with a parachute or sled, followed by sprinting with no resistance, is a great example of contrast training.

I first read about contrast training in Yuri Verkhoshansky’s Supertraining, but I have seen it employed elsewhere for a variety of different training goals and applications.

The concept is simple. Taking an example from Verkhoshansky and something we’ve probably all done in our lives, imagine picking up a can that was half full of liquid when our mind thought it was full. Typically what happens is we move the can with much more force than we intended and make a big mess. Our nervous system was primed based on past performance and therefore muscle capability was enhanced.

Now apply this to strength training. There are two different ways I use contrasts in my training. I use contrasting movements (an explosive movement after a heavy lift) and I use contrasting tempos (lighter loads with explosive, faster tempo than normal).

Using either of these, think of the above water example. Working in explosive movements/tempos after a strength movement recruits more motor units and produces more force. The benefits are straightforward. The more muscle you recruit, the more explosive, strong, and powerful you are. Contrast training also increases the amount of work you are doing giving you a greater metabolic boost than normal training. And obviously, the more muscle you recruit, the more hypertrophy you can induce (although you may want to up your reps slightly for a hypertrophy focus).

Putting Contrast Training Into Practice

Ok, so you get the concept, but how do you actually implement it? As mentioned before, I use contrast training in two different ways.

#1 Contrasting Movements

Start with a 5-8 rep set of a heavy lift and pair it with an unloaded explosive movement with the same rep scheme. For example, a heavy set of squats followed by a set of box jumps; or a heavy set of bench followed by a set of plyo push-ups; or a heavy sled drag followed by an all-out sprint.

contrast training
Heavy squats followed by max effort box jumps will increase your strength and explosiveness.

Your unloaded contrasting movement should be done with maximal effort. Rest times in between your heavy lift and contrast movement can vary and is goal dependent. If you goal is maximal strength, rest for 3 minutes. If your goal is for increased athletic performance or fat loss, rest for 30 seconds or no rest at all. For hypertrophy, split the difference somewhere in between.

Four to five sets (of each movement) will do the trick. Use the lower end of the rep scheme for maximal strength, and the upper end for hypertrophy and fat loss. You don’t need to use contrast movements every training session, as I don’t recommend training maximally for extended periods of time, but continuously keep it as part of your training toolkit.

#2 Contrasting Tempos

For this, you are doing the same movement (bench, squat, deadlift, etc.) for three sets, but varying the tempo in which your perform it. You start with a set of slow tempo emphasizing the eccentric movement of the lift, then perform a set faster than normal, and then perform a normal one. Here is an example:

Set 1: Using a moderate weight (70-80% of your 1 rep max), you use a very slow tempo (about 5 seconds on the negative portion of the lift) and then pause near the bottom of the lift for 2-3 seconds. For squats the pause would be at roughly parallel, for bench, the bar just above your chest, etc. The idea here is that you keep full body tension. After the pause, you perform the concentric part of the lift normally. This set is done for 2-3 reps, and then you rest for 2 minutes.

Set 2: This set is done with lighter weight (60-70%) but done explosively. You control the eccentric portion, but explode from the bottom applying as much force as you can. This set is for 3-5 reps, and then rest for 60 seconds.

Set 3: This set is done with the heaviest weight (80-85%) using normal tempo (2 seconds down, no pause, 2 seconds up). This set is for 4-6 reps and then you rest 3 minutes.

You perform this series of sets (all 3) 2-3 times, giving you a total of 6-9 sets.

After your last set, try to end your training with the tempo that is most conducive to your goals. For example, if you are a strength athlete always end your training with the heaviest set. If you’re a an athlete and are trying to develop explosiveness, then add in an extra set of set #2 at the end of the series. For hypertrophy, end the series with an extra set of #1.

contrast training
This is perfect position for pausing at the bottom of the squat.

Training Smarter, Not Harder

Use contrast training to help boost your performance, but know how to tailor them to your goals based on the recommendations I gave above. These are easy to integrate into any strength training program, so use them to your advantage and break through your plateaus. But as with anything else, do not overuse them to the point that they lose their effectiveness.

— 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

Implementing a Full Body or Upper Lower Split

The only two training splits I recommend are either full body or an upper lower split.

Body part splits and bodybuilding style training has its place for supplemental programming, but it’s ill-suited (as a primary focus) for the average gym rat or athlete who wants to get both strong and huge. Training full body or with an upper lower split recruits far more muscle, allows you to train much more frequently than body part splits, and will build both size and strength concurrently.

If you want a more detailed look into why I advocate against body part splits for the average gym rat, read this: Ditch the Body Part Split

upper lower split

I favor an upper lower split personally because I think it has a few advantages over full body training, but I’ll give you examples of both just so you can decide for yourself what suits your needs and schedule more.

Full Body

For a full body split, it’s pretty straightforward. You train your entire body each training session so no movement is off limits.

The disadvantage to full body training is that your training sessions will typically be longer than normal and your recovery times increased. You may also be hard pressed to fit everything you’d like to do in a single training session.

As a general rule, no matter what the split, I train my biggest/heaviest lifts first and follow that with assistance work and specialty training such as plyometrics and explosive movements. Several days a week, I will end with 20 minutes of high-intensity cardio.

Here is an example full body training plan:

  1. Big Lift (Bench, squat, overhead press, deadlift)
  2. Assistance (row variations, tricep and bicep work, hamstring and posterior chain movements, floor presses, squat variations, single-leg exercises, etc.)
  3. More Assistance (different movement from your 1st assistance exercise)
  4. Bodyweight or Explosive Movement (push-up and pull-up variations, dips, kettlebell cleans and snatches, barbell hang cleans, heavy push presses, plyometrics)
  5. Core Work and/or Conditioning (sprints, hanging leg raises, medicine ball throws, kettlebell swings, battle rope, weighted crunches, farmers carries)

* For some of your explosive work, if it’s really taxing, you may perform that as your second movement to reduce the possibility of technical errors and injury, as well as increase the actual training effect of the exercise. *

Training hard with a full body approach, you only need to train 3 days a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday for example), with some light to moderate active recovery sessions on your off days.

34f18_ORIG-friday_59_

Upper Lower Split

Upper lower splits are a progression from full body training and are what I typically use in my own training and with my clients. Your training sessions are split into upper body days and lower body days.

The upper lower split is more flexible than a full body split and allows you to hit your entire upper/lower body within a reasonable time frame (a typical training session would be about an hour). It also allows you to train more frequently, several times a week for both your upper and lower body.

Sticking with some of the considerations I laid out above (heaviest lift first, etc.) an upper lower split would look something like this.

Upper Body

  1. Big Lift (bench, or overhead press)
  2. Upper Body Assistance
  3. Upper Body Assistance
  4. Bodyweight or Explosive Movement
  5. Core Work and/or Conditioning

Lower Body

  1. Big Lift (squat, deadlift)
  2. Lower Body Assistance
  3. Lower Body Assistance
  4. Bodyweight or Explosive Movement
  5. Core Work and/or Conditioning

For an upper lower split, I take a 2 days on 1 day off approach. A sample schedule would be something like this:

Monday – Upper
Tuesday – Lower
Wednesday – Off Day/Active Recovery
Thursday – Upper
Friday – Lower
Saturday – Off Day/Active Recovery
Sunday – Off Day/Active Recovery

If you are looking for some set and rep guidelines for both full body and upper lower split programs, check out these two articles:

How Many Sets To Build Muscle?

What Rep Range To Build Muscle?

If you want an 8 week program centered around an upper lower split, check out Uncaging Your Primal Strength. You can download it from my programs page. It comes complete with an exercise list, rep and set guidelines, and built-in printable training worksheets.

Since its release, people from all over the world have been crushing the program, breaking strength plateaus, building muscle mass, and shredding body fat.

I also have a ridiculous deal going on for 3 of my eBooks, where you can get Uncaging, The Primal Mind, and Primal Strength Nutrition for a 30% discount. Don’t miss out before I come to my senses and raise the price back to face value!

If you want something even more dynamic and personalized, check out my online coaching portal: Primal Online Coaching.

By investing in online coaching, you will get 8 weeks of personalized programming, video critiques of your lifts, and a lot of interaction with me. Why not invest in the same training that is producing the nationally ranked athletes and record holders from the Primal Strength Gym?

Online Coaching Sign Up

— 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

Best Exercises You Aren’t Doing

best exercisesSome of these may seem obvious to you, but inevitably we all can neglect some of the best exercises for building size and strength.

Take a look back at your training logs and see how much time you are devoting to these. I bet you’d be surprised at what you find. I meticulously plan my workouts every single day, but when I look back on my records, I can always find at least one these best exercises that I’m neglecting.

Missing something from this list in your training? It’s time to make it a priority. Maybe that means scrapping something else from your current training plan to fit these in, and in that case, you are welcome for the intervention.

  1. Deadlifts – What? Everybody does deadlifts right? Wrong. The average gym rat doesn’t spend enough time making these a focus, or they commit one of the greatest gym sins of all by not deadlifting period. They are one of the greatest tests of overall body strength, and if you aren’t doing these with regularity, I can guarantee you that you aren’t meeting your full strength potential.
  2. Pushups – Amazing that such a classic can get overlooked, but it happens on a regular basis. Hall of Fame NFL running back Hershel Walker claims he built his body totally from push-ups. Not sure I buy it, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. An easy way to make sure to get these in is by incorporating them into a warmup or a finisher.
  3. Pullups – Same as above. After you can do 15 perfect pull-ups, vary your grip and start working on some of the variations.
  4. Glute Ham Raises – Weak hamstrings are the single most pervasive muscle imbalance across the planet. Weak hammies will hinder you in the deadlift, squat, sprinting, and a myriad of other athletic performance activities. If you don’t have access to a glute ham machine, there a variety of different techniques to perform them, or you can substitute in Romanian deadlifts, good mornings, hip thrusts, hamstring curls and boxsquats. If this list was a top 15, all of these would be on there.
    best exercises
    If you don’t have a glute ham machine, there are a variety of alternatives.
  5. Farmer Carries – These are a must and one of my favorite exercises. They make a great training finisher and will work wonders for your upper back, grip strength, forearms, and mental toughness.
  6. Squats – Kinda goes hand in hand with #1. If you don’t want to look like a lightbulb, you gotta squat. Squat often, squat for a lot of reps, and squat heavy. As I mentioned with pull-ups, work in some of the squat variations like front squats, box squats, and single-leg squats. All of these will help improve your flexibility, technique, and strength.
  7. Hang Cleans – Performing these will do wonders for building mass on your entire upper body and for developing your explosiveness. Hang cleans produce 4 times as much power as squats and deadlifts, and 9 times as much as the bench press, according to some research. They are also fairly easy to learn, making them a great addition to the classics like bench, squats, overhead pressing, and deadlifting.
    best exercises
    There are several starting positions for doing cleans. I like hang cleans because they require more upper body strength and force and the technique is much easier to learn than full cleans.
  8. Kettlebell Swings – These are the easiest of the kettlebell lifts to learn and one of the most effective. Benefits for your legs, shoulders, hips, mobility, explosiveness and power make this fat burning lift a must for your strength training routine.
  9. Hill Sprints – Get outside and run some hills for fat loss. I always feel sorry for the suckers I see on the stair stepper or treadmill for hours on end when they could be outside doing 20 minutes of hill sprints and get a far better training effect. Hill sprints are the single most efficient way to burn fat. No more elliptical, I’m begging you.
  10. Hanging Leg Raises – In my opinion, these are one of the best core exercises you could do. Not only do they strengthen your ab muscles, but they target your hip flexors as well. They offer a great range of motion and help improve your mobility.

— 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.

Washington Redskins v Dallas Cowboys
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

7 Tips to Develop Crushing Grip Strength

Grip strength is one of the most overlooked aspects of training, yet it can be one of your most important assets in your quest to get stronger.

grip strength

The stronger your grip, the better you will perform at all of the big lifts like the bench press and deadlift.

This all stems from something called “radiant tension”.  For every lift, you should be gripping the sh*t out of the bar.  When you do this, the tension will travel from your hands, into your forearms, through your upper arms and into your shoulders and so on.  This is radiant tension.  Any experienced lifter knows that to get stronger and press more weight, you have to be able to create not only radiant tension, but also total body tension.  Grip strength is your starting point.

If you want to test this concept, do a light set of bench presses with a slack or just loose grip.  You will notice that your control over the bar isn’t that great and you aren’t recruiting a ton of muscle to do the lift.  Then do a set with as much radiant tension as you can muster by really death clutching the bar, and I guarantee you will be able to feel a difference in your muscle recruitment, efficiency, and force production.

So, what if your grip sucks?  How the hell do you fix it?  Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.  Here are 7 ways to develop crushing grip strength:

#1: Death Grip the Bar

I already mentioned this is the key to creating radiant tension.  You should be doing this on every single rep of every single set.  If you want to get good at something, you have to practice.  Frequently grabbing the bar as hard as possible will improve your grip strength over time.

#2: Use a Thicker Bar

Thick bar training is not only what I attribute my grip strength to, but also my forearm development.  In fact, I haven’t used a standard size barbell in years.  Using a thick bar will challenge your grip and force you to get stronger.

If you don’t have thick bars at your gym, pony up $40 and invest in a pair of Fat Gripz.  This is what I use and they are ALWAYS in my gym bag.  You can purchase them on the right hand side of this page.

grip strength

#3: Do Not Lift With a Bar At All

If you missed my post on imperfection training, check it out here.

Training with odd objects can be one of the best things you can do to help develop your grip strength.  Why?  Because odd-objects typically have no grip!

Sandbags and stones for example have nowhere for you to naturally put your hand around.  You simply have to grip it wherever you can get your hands placed in order to move the weight, and your hand position will rarely be in the same place twice.  This is a sure-fire way to force your body to use radiant tension, whether or not you even realize it.

This will also take your fingers out of some of the lifts, forcing you to be more proficient with your entire hands and upper body muscles to help maintain a hold on whatever you are lifting.  This brings me to the next technique for maximizing your gripping power…

#4: Use False Grip

A false grip is simply switching up how you grip things, taking the emphasis off of your fingers, and gripping anything you might be holding deeper into your hands.

For those of you trying to learn muscle ups, using a false grip is crucial.  But this also applies to your various strength training exercises as well.  Using this kind of grip gives you more surface area on the things you are gripping, naturally giving you more power and ability to sustain gripping power.

Watch this video.  Travis Bagent gives a great breakdown on the false grip and how that has helped him in his arm wrestling career.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9235-tIBkA[/tube]


#5: Ditch the Straps

For the longest time I didn’t use straps.  I viewed them as cheating.  However, my outlook on that has since changed and I think there is a time and place for them.

If you want to emphasize a muscle group, but don’t want your reps to suffer and fail prematurely because of your grip, it makes sense to use straps.  But they are a slippery slope.  I started using them too frequently during a training cycle, and then when I started training without them again, I immediately noticed my grip had weakened.

Use them strategically but not too frequently.

#6: Deadlift

If you are picking up heavy weight off the floor repeatedly, you will develop serious gripping power.  Deadlifting is awesome for this because you inherently squeeze the hell out of the bar anyway.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone deadlift with a slack grip.

So, not only will you be moving serious weight with a strong grip, you will be utilizing radiant tension that will carry over into your other lifts.

grip strength

#7: Farmers Carries

Anybody that knows me knows that I have a special place in my heart for farmers carries.  In fact, I think they are one of the top 5 exercises of all time.

Picking up heavy sh*t and walking is the ultimate grip test.  You can also carry light to moderate weight over longer distances to develop your “grip endurance” that will help you maintain a strong grip over the course of long training sessions.

So get a grip Primal Nation.  Without it, I can promise you that your performance is suffering.

Evolve!!

— Tank

Imperfection Training

Imperfection training is a big part of what Primal Strength Camp is all about.

I first read about the idea of this type of training in the book “Supertraining” by Yuri Verkhoshansky.  If you’ve never heard of this book and are serious about strength training and muscle building, you need to invest in it.

Consider this statement:

All-round sports training must include the capability of coping with unexpected and sub-optimal conditions. In certain sports where accidents or unexpected situations often occur, such as the martial arts, parachuting and motor racing, participants are taught how to cope with events that can have serious consequences. This type of preparation needs to be adopted far more extensively in all sports so that the athlete is able to anticipate threatening situations, react much more rapidly to unexpected circumstances, take action to avoid or minimise injury, and cope with sub-optimal conditions by practising with imperfectly executed movements.

When I first started training outside with odd-objects for fun as a way to break up the monotony of the gym, I immediately noticed that my gym strength didn’t translate to the real world.

The real world IS a “sub-optimal condition”.  Nothing is ever perfect.  But our bodies get so damn accustomed to moving so rigidly in the gym (almost always in a linear fashion) that we are ill-equipped to handle unexpected movements and uneven loads.  This is why I had trouble lifting kegs and sandbags when I first started.  I was already using imperfection training without even realizing it.

One thing I think we can all relate to is helping somebody move furniture.  You can bench 300 pounds and squat twice your bodyweight, but if you ever try to move some weird shaped couch or get a dresser up some stairs, I bet it kicks your ass.

Anyhow, if you are interested in possessing “real-world strength”, the concept of imperfection training and working it into your routines is a no-brainer.  This especially goes for athletes because nothing you ever do in a game situation is perfect.  Rarely are you moving in a linear fashion like most of your exercises in a gym (they may be dynamic like Olympic lifts or jumps, but are still not chaotic).

“Creating chaos” in an exercise form is not totally accomplishable.  There is only so much you can do and you will never be able to mimic the things you will encounter in real-life situations, but there are things you can do to help bridge the gap.

#1: Lifting Odd-Objects

Kegs, stones, slosh pipes, and sandbags are all good tools to use here.  Cleans, clean and presses, overhead presses, and sandbag shouldering are all examples of movements to perform.  None of these tools have evenly distributed weight, especially in the case of kegs (only partially filled) and sandbags.  The water and sand will continually shift making each and every rep of the movement different.

#2: Uneven Carries

Farmers carries are an awesome exercise, but rarely do you see variations in style.  Uneven carries require different sized loads to be carried in each arm.  For example, two different sized kettlebells.

At Primal, we like to take things a step further and carry two entirely different objects altogether.  In one hand we may have a 50 pound kettlebell, but we will have a 100 pound sandbag in a shouldered position in the other arm.  Or carrying the same sized object in two different carry positions; one at your side and one in a cleaned position is a good example.

Ever used a slosh pipe?  This is an uneven carry extreme and a Primal favorite.  A 10 foot pipe filled only partially with water, the water is constantly changing positions side to side, creating full body tension in an effort to keep the pipe upright and stabilized.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c93mGtzBhJs[/tube]


#3: Outside Sled Work

Most of the time you see sled work, trainers have their people pulling/pushing the sled on turf.  That’s good and all, but it certainly makes it a hell of a lot easier.

We train with our sleds outside in parks, often times in tall, dry grass or patchy fields at best.  It may go from fairly easy to impossible in a split second if you snag it on a dirt pile or high-patch of grass.  Doing it this way, you have to be very focused on keeping your legs churning and burning, similar to how you would see a running back trying to push the pile in a short yardage situation.

#4: Dynamic Throws

Heavy throws are a great way to build strength and total body power and explosiveness.  Aside from normal medicine ball work, kegs and sandbags and even stones are a great tool to use for these.

strength training
Keg tossing will develop some serious explosive power. This will help you off the ground with your other lifts too, like deadlifts and the clean and press.

If you are trying to build some “functionality” behind all of that gym muscle, imperfection training is something you need to consider for your training arsenal.  Use some of these ideas and run with them.  The beauty of this style is it allows you to be creative.  When you get so bogged down in traditional training, throwing a little chaos into your world can be a really rewarding and refreshing thing to do.  Training this way once or twice a week in addition to your normal routine should reap you some benefits.

Just do it responsibly and with some thought behind it, because just like sports, some of these movements can lead to injury.  You should be concentrating and focusing on moving efficiently during this training just like any other gym session.

Evolve!!

— Tank