Tag Archives: plyometrics

The Importance of a Dynamic Warm Up

My first few years in the gym I would be so cranked up on pre-workout and oozing testosterone that I could walk into the weight room and start cranking out sets with authority. No warm up, no stretching, just my dumb “meatheadness” and bulldog mentality.

Fast forward to today and I don’t touch a weight without a fairly thorough dynamic warm up. Part of that is I’m 32 now and can’t meathead my way through workouts anymore, but more importantly I’m a much smarter lifter than I was in high-school and my 20’s.

I was costing myself a ton of gains by not getting my body properly fired up before training. There are two main reasons for this:

  1. Your muscles are not warm and elastic when you first start lifting, which hinders performance and mobility
  2. It takes a while for your central nervous system (CNS) to fire properly and activate your motor neurons at peak performance

Translation is that you don’t perform optimally until partially through your workout, meaning the first exercises (which are usually the most important) you are hitting are probably getting neglected or not performed to their maximum potential.

I came across this from a recent study on warm ups. Note the difference between jump performance when no warm up was performed versus a general and dynamic warm up was completed. In this case, “general” means aerobic activity (light jogging, jump rope, etc.). If you want the full study, you can find it under this title: Effect of Various Warm-Up Protocols on Jump Performance in College Football Players, by Pagaduan, Pojskić, Užičanin and Babajic, in Journal of Human Kinetics, 2012.

I’ll take another example from a very recent experience of mine. I had been experiencing pain in my lower back after squats and deadlifts. I diagnosed the problem as underactive glutes. So the other day when I was scheduled to squat, I expanded my dynamic warm up to target my glutes and get them firing in full force before I started squatting.

The result?

I had one of the best squat days I’ve had in a while and finished the training session pain free.

You can probably take an example out of your own training if you don’t do a dynamic warm up. Think about your performance in the first exercise you do and compare that to some of the things you do 20-30 minutes into your training. I bet you are much more focused, your muscles have stopped being sluggish and are firing on all cylinders, and you are cranking out sets much more efficiently than your first couple of the day.

Do not jeopardize your gains or perform sets sub-optimally because you don’t want to take the time to properly warm up. Every set matters…

Not to mention the injury risk you pose to yourself by going full Hulk smash the first 5 minutes you enter the gym…

hulk-smash1

There are two components to a proper dynamic warm up.

#1: Foam Rolling

Foam rolling is a must before a training session to break up inflamed tissue, promote blood flow, and boost performance.

I usually hit my quads, hamstrings, glutes, IT band, adductors, and any trouble spots in my upper body.

You only need to foam roll for a few minutes. I don’t advise rolling a certain area for more than “10 rolls” because too much foam rolling can actually irritate muscle tissue rather than benefit it.

#2: Dynamic Stretching

I don’t really advocate static stretching in a warm up until after I hit some more dynamic movements. Forcing cold muscles to stretch for long durations of time when they aren’t elastic isn’t optimal.

Dynamic stretches that I promote include bodyweight squats and lunges, squat jumps and other jump variations (broad jumps and small box jumps are good options), skipping, jogging, and animal walks (bear crawls and partner walks are awesome). RDL’s with only the bar are great to hit your hamstrings as well.

I also do a series of resistance band stretches (overhand and underhand pull-aparts, and disclocators).

band pull apart
Dynamic stretching is an easy, low-impact way to get your CNS firing, warm up your muscles, and tune up your mobility prior to lifting.

** Now only after I have done some dynamic stretching, I will incorporate some static stretching into the mix, specifically to target my hips and glutes. **

Sample Primal Warm-Up

This entire dynamic warm up should only take about 10-15 minutes to complete.

  • Foam Roll
  • Band Pull-Apart Circuit (10 each movement)
  • Walking lunges: 10/side
  • Bodyweight Squats: 10
  • Skipping: 10/side
  • Standing broad jump: 8
  • Single-leg broad jump: 6/leg
  • Jump squats: 10

After the foam rolling, you could do several rounds of the other exercises to get your body primed for some heavy lifting. The dynamic warm up should be up-tempo with little to no rest in between exercises and rounds.

— Tank

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 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

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

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.

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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

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.

Daria+Klishina+2013+European+Athletics+Indoor+lSjZNVWNHMnx

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.

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

Top 10 Bodyweight Exercises

Bodyweight exercises are an awesome way to build total body strength and pack on some serious muscle if you know what movements to do and how to program them into your training.

The key here is learning the progressions and doing more advanced moves far beyond your everyday pushups and planks.  Mastering some of these moves will take a lot of practice (months or even years to achieve safely) but the rewards are well worth the time it takes to get there.

#1: Pushups (And Their Variations)

This is a no-brainer.  Pushups were probably one of the first bodyweight exercises you ever learned.  The key here is embracing all of the variations this exercise has to offer.  Plyo-pushups, diamond pushups, elevated feet pushups, handstand pushups, and one-am pushups are all killer movements to work into your training.

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


#2: Pull-Ups (And Their Variations)

This one goes hand in hand with #1.  Pull-ups are one of the best bodyweight exercises for building an impressive back, as well as developing your biceps and grip strength.  You will want to work in different grip variations for these; neutral grip, narrow grip, wide grip, palms facing out, palms facing in, and even one-arm pull-ups are all good hand placements to use.

You can also use different modalities for these; do not relegate yourself to just using a bar.  Use gymnastics rings or clock handles, or even hit up outdoor sessions on tree branches.

#3: Glute Ham Raise

These are essential for developing your hamstrings and glutes.  Almost every person I come across is weak in their posterior chain.  This will affect your performance in lifts like the squat and deadlift, so you need to work these into your training and bring up those weaknesses.  A good way to do this is to hit at least 50 of these before every leg workout as part of your warmup.

#4: Jumps (Plyometrics)

Not only are these a great conditioning exercise, but they will develop leg strength and total body power.  Standard vertical box jumps are the most common, but do not forget all of the other variations.  One-legged jumps, broad jumps, jump-squats and split-lunges are all movements to consider here.

#5: Animal Walks

You rarely see these in the traditional gym scene but these are a Primal staple.  Bear crawls and partner hand walks are my two favorites.  These will develop your shoulders and core stability, and force you to create total body tension.  You will recruit a ton of muscle to do these movements and they are a great full-body exercise.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mas-jz4kK7U[/tube]


#6: Hanging Leg Raise

This is one of my top ab exercises.  It works all of the muscles in your midsection as well as your lats.  Performing these over time will improve your grip strength and help you with exercises like farmers carries and deadlifts.

#7: Pistol Squat

This is the king of all bodyweight squats.  As one of the most advanced bodyweight movements you can do, pistol squats require a great deal of total body strength and balance.  If you think bodyweight squats are beneath you because you can squat 400+ pounds, think again.  Work up to this movement.  Whenever I see someone able to do these, I know they are a badass.

bodyweight exercises

#8: Recline Rows

These are also referred to as inverted pull-ups.  Basically you have your feet on the ground and your body is nearly parallel to the floor, and using rings or a rope, or even a low fixed bar, you pull yourself up as if you were doing a pull-up.  I have all of my big guys do these as they are at a disadvantage when trying to do traditional pull-ups at their bodyweight.  I sometimes super-set these with regular pull-ups to really light up my lats and biceps.

#9: Front Lever

Front levers are a progression from hanging leg raises and an advanced movement requiring full body tension.  At the end position of this exercise, your entire body is parallel to the ground, feet and legs straight out with your back towards the ground and you staring at the ceiling.  Think of performing a hanging leg raise, and then flattening out your entire body, as if you were laying down.

#10: Muscle Up

Very few people are able to do these and they take a lot of skill, strength, and power.  But if you can do them, you will build a lot of muscle.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOCVo_gLoCo[/tube] So now that you know all of the best bodyweight exercises, how do you work them into your training?

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

Read this on some of the best ways to incorporate bodyweight exercises into your weight lifting routines.

How to Incorporate Bodyweight Exercises Into Your Training

Evolve!!

— Tank

How Do I Incorporate Bodyweight Into My Strength Training?

Bodyweight training is an essential part of any serious strength training routine.

Contrary to what many people may believe, it is a great way to build muscle if you know how to properly integrate it into your training.  It develops stability and balance, core strength, and will become more and more important as you get older.  Plus some of the movements require some serious muscle to pull off.

Still have your doubts?  Look at any male gymnast.  Those guys train bodyweight all day long and they are jacked.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzhQVDj0iOQ[/tube]

But, like anything else that you take on, to get good at it, you need to practice.  The one thing I’ve found is that we get so busy with the other aspects of our training, like trying to set PR’s at the big barbell lifts, or gain weight by doing high-volume, moderate-intensity work, we neglect the bodyweight exercises.

Listen, I get it 100%.  It’s tough to cram everything in.  It’s hard for me to pry myself away from the bar too.

At one point, I really tried.  I got really enthralled with bodyweight training and I decided to train that way once a week, in addition to a 4 day heavy strength training routine.  I had grand plans of crushing pistol squats, and all of the inversions, and every single pushup and parallel bar exercises you could imagine.

I quickly learned something.  My intentions were good, but you can’t get good at anything by doing it just once a week.  Getting bigger and stronger is my priority, which requires heavy lifting.  But bodyweight training is still an important component and I wasn’t going to neglect it.  So I had to find a better way…

So what is the best way to incorporate bodyweight training into a regular weight lifting routine?

Strategy #1: Work It Into Your Warm-Up

Every time you train, you should be warming up.  By working bodyweight movements into your warm-ups, you are practicing them upwards of 4 times a week.

Pushups, pull-ups, bodyweight squats, jumps, and lunges are all staples of Primal warm-ups.  By the time we are done, we’ve already hit 100 reps of bodyweight work before the workout has even started.  This allows you to keep your heavy weightlifting workouts the same, but still get in an ample dose of bodyweight training.

Strategy #2: Learn the Variations

This is a biggie.  The key to building muscle with bodyweight training is learning the progressions.

pistol squat strength training

A lot of times people master pushups or pull-ups and stop there.  It’s “too easy” and they get bored.

But can you do plyo-pushups?  Inverted pushups?  Feet elevated pushups?  Bet you can’t do one-arm pushups!

“I can squat 400lbs, so what do I need to bodyweight squat for?”

Sure you can, but what about jump squats?  One legged squats?  You are a real hard ass if you can pistol squat.

Maybe hanging leg raises are easy.  How about front-levers?

It takes impressive muscle development to pull off these moves.

Learn the variations and work them into your training.  Devote 10-15 minutes of your gym day to working on them.  You don’t need to master them all of course.

Pick 1 or 2 and work at them consistently.  Over time you will get better.  Then you can work one or two more variations into your training at a time until you eventually build up a repertoire.

Strategy #3: Use Bodyweight as a Finisher

This is one of my favorites and a good way to have a little competition with yourself or your training partner.

Pushup or pull-up ladders are awesome.  You perform 1 rep, your buddy performs 1.  You 2, them 2.  3, 3.  And so on.  First person to quit loses.  It wouldn’t be uncommon to get a hundred reps or more in just a few minutes.

Circuits are good here as well by picking a variety of bodyweight exercises and performing them one after the other for a set number of reps.

This time could also serve as your opportunity for practicing the variations I mentioned above.  After a heavy squat workout, finishing the day off with several sets of one legged squats would be icing on the cake.  Benched heavy?  Plyo-pushups to add in a little explosiveness and power will serve you well.

Strategy #4: Bodyweight Only During De-Load Phases

If you are coming off a heavy duration of heavy lifting or high volume work, de-loading is something you probably need for a few weeks after several months of wear and tear.  Or maybe you are just beat up from your previous workout and need “a break”.  Bodyweight training is a perfect way to do this.

Whole workouts built around bodyweight during de-load phases are great opportunities for several reasons.  One, you are protecting your body and central nervous system from prolonged bouts of heavy lifting.  Two, you are working your body more with different movements that will train your muscles in new ways.  Three, you will have entire workouts to practice the variations as opposed to 10-15 minutes a day.

As you get older, you will probably find your de-load phases will become more and more frequent.  Hate to burst your bubble but you can’t escape it.  Your ability to recover decreases and the aches and pains will probably increase.

But incorporating more bodyweight training and easing back on some of the heavy barbell work will keep you in the game longer.  Don’t be stubborn.  Accept it and prolong your shelf life.

flag pole strength training

Alright Primal Camp.  Take these strategies and run with them.  Using these will allow you to use bodyweight every day you train, without detracting from your normal lifting routine.  Use them properly, and you can build some big-time muscle in the process.

Evolve!!

— Tank
NASM Certified Personal Trainer
Underground Strength Coach

How to Build Bigger Legs

When explaining the human body to people, I generally compare it to a house.

strength bigger legs

Your legs are the foundation, your torso the frame, and everything else is supporting structure.

Without the foundation, the house sinks and crumbles over time.  It is not built to last.

Your body is no different.  Your legs are the most important part of your body and only become more important over time as you get older.

Top 5 Leg Exercises

#1: Squat Variations

There are dozens of squat variations out there with hundreds of different resistance tools to use.  Start with back squats and front squats.  Once you master those you can mix in the other variations, including the single leg variety.

I tend to train squats with low to moderate rep ranges most of the time to build maximal strength.  I rarely go above 8 reps here and train with a lot of heavy doubles and triples.

When you feel like you need more volume, throw in high rep sets every now and then.  If I’m squatting for say, multiple sets of 300+ with low reps, I may throw in one or two sets at 185 for 20 reps.  Your legs will be throbbing, and if you are a pump chaser, this will do the trick.

#2: Deadlift

It is the number one mass builder of all time and one of the top brute strength exercises.

Some people consider this an upper body exercise (and for good reason) because it will pack a lot of muscle on your back.  But it will also build tree trunk legs and help you develop overall body strength and power.

I rarely do these for high reps.  I make sure I’m really stacking the weight on the bar and getting after it.

If you want to do high reps here, really tamper down the weight, somewhere in the 50%-70% of your 1RM and perform reps explosively and with relatively high tempo.  High tempo is not an excuse for poor form.  Form always trumps all.

women's strength legs

#3: Good Mornings

A lot of times we focus too much on the muscles we can see, and neglect the posterior chain.  Good mornings will build football sized muscle on your hamstrings.  The added strength will benefit you in the squat and deadlift as well.

Hit these for moderate to high reps (5-16 reps) for multiple sets.  I do these after squats or deadlifts.  Keep your form tight to protect your back.

#4: Glute Ham Raise

Another great posterior chain exercise that will beef up your hamstrings.  I’d recommend doing these as a warmup, or as a precursor to one of the big leg lifts like the squat.  I’ve heard Joe DeFranco talking about his athletes performing upwards of 100 of these (with resistance) before doing anything else.

If you don’t have a glute ham raise machine, you can do these using TRX bands or a stability ball.  In the beginning, I would do these at least 3 times a week.  When I was trying to strengthen my hamstrings, I did these every single workout, even if I was training upper body.

#5: Jumps (Plyos)

Another great warm up exercise and a key component of training like an athlete.  For a while, my cardio consisted strictly of pulling and pushing sleds, and doing box jumps.  But plyos build a ton of leg strength and explosive power as well.  Coincidently, when I was at peak performance in my jumping, my squat numbers were at all time highs.

Box jumps, broad jumps, one legged jumps; if you can jump it, do it.  Work them into your warmup.  Start with just 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps a piece.  Rest up to 2 minutes in between.  

Focus with each rep because jumping can be dangerous, especially when landing.  Cushion yourself to absorb the fall and stick the landing.

Check this guy out, really damn impressive…

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGl2XFhpX5k[/tube]

Moving on…

Ok, so what else do you need to know? 

In addition to making those exercises are part of your normal training, you need to add the following components as well.

Warming Up

You should be hitting a warm up before every workout.  I have my clients do the same warm up every single time.  It may sound boring, but it is effective and is something I learned from world class strength coach Zach Even Esh.  In our warm-ups, we are hitting bodyweight squats and lunges, various jumps, sprinting, back pedaling, lateral shuffling, and crawling.

This is also a time when you should be foam rolling.  Hit your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and inner and outer thighs.  If you are hitting squats as the main component of your workout that day, take the foam roller with you.  It is not uncommon that I am foam rolling in between sets to keep loosening things up so I can squat deeper.

Hill Sprints and Sled Work

If you know my philosophy, I don’t believe in training muscles as much as I do movements.  One of the primary movements that man must perform to survive is “gait”.  Therefore you must run.  But I also believe in building muscle, so I don’t run for distance.  Instead I train high intensity which almost exclusively means hill sprints and sled work.  I do this a couple times a week to supplement my normal weight training.  Walter Payton emphasized hill sprints in his training and he seemed to have some minor success relying on his legs…

strength bigger legs

Stretching

Long muscles are strong muscles.  Remember that.

The longer your muscles are the more room you have to pack in dense mass, hence you get bigger.  Besides, as you get older, you need to be flexible.  You don’t want to be an old person who can’t tie their own shoes or spends half their morning trying to get out of bed.  If you are a young’en, you may be flexible now, but don’t think that will last forever.  And the more flexible you are, the more range of motion you have; this will come in key for squats, lunges, and jumps.

You can do some static stretching before your workout, but it really should only be the focus after the meat of your training is done.  Stick with foam rolling and active movements prior.  Then afterwards you can static stretch and foam roll some more and call it a day.

What now?

Put all of this together and you will build bigger legs, no doubt.

So if you are serious about training and improving your performance, you must attack your legs with the same ferocity that you would your chest or your biceps. You have the knowledge now, so take action and get it done.

Remember, you don’t build a house without a foundation…

— Tank