Tag Archives: pushups

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

Training Finishers for Fat Loss and Muscle Gain

Want to boost fat loss, improve your conditioning, build some extra muscle, and increase your mental toughness, all in less than 20 minutes?

Adding training finishers to the end of your workouts is an extremely effective way to do all of the above.

Most of the time Primal finishers take the form of either high-intensity cardio, a hard hitting bodyweight circuit, or a strength movement with a conditioning component built around improving mental toughness.

Since finishers are meant to be high-intensity, you only need to do them a few times a week and are not meant to be done after every training session. Doing finishers too often will jeopardize your recovery times and strain your central nervous system (CNS), and if you are working your ass off during the main components of your training sessions, they just aren’t necessary all of the time. Keep your finishers to 20 minutes in duration or less.

battle rope finishers

High-Intensity Cardio Finishers

Primal conditioning philosophy centers around high-intensity cardio and using finishers in this fashion is a perfect opportunity to burn some extra fat. High-intensity cardio burns more fat calories in a shorter period of time than steady state cardio like jogging or the stair climber, and it will have a long lasting metabolic effect, boosting fat loss for up to 24 hours after you have left the gym.

Here are some examples of high-intensity cardio finishers:

  1. Battle Rope Finisher: 3-4 rounds of battle rope for intervals of 30 seconds to 90 seconds or more. Non-stop movement of the ropes switching between rope slams (single and double arm variations), rope jumping jacks, and shoulder rotations. Rest 1-2 minutes between rounds.
  2. Hill Sprints: This is the most classic and effective fat burning cardio you can do. 5 – 10 sprints with 1-2 minutes rest in between rounds will do the trick. Your rest period includes time spent walking back down the hill.
  3. Sled and Prowler Work: Weighted sled pulls and sprints, and loaded prowler pushes make for brutal conditioning finishers. Pulls/pushes for 50 feet or more with short breaks in between movements work best.

Bodyweight Circuits

Bodyweight circuits are one of my favorite finishers to not only boost fat loss, but also build muscle and throw in some extra volume to my training sessions. You can do circuits with light resistance as well, but if you worked hard enough during the core of your training session it probably isn’t necessary. Bodyweight yields a good training effect while minimizing wear and tear on your body that increases recovery times. Using a circuit that recruits the entire body will boost the effectiveness of the finisher.

An example would be:

1a) Pushups x 10
1b) Recline Rows x 10
1c) Jump Squats x 10

Perform each exercise consecutively without rest in between. Completing all 3 constitutes one round. Rest 30 seconds to 2 minutes after each round. Perform 3-5 rounds.

Strength and Mental Toughness Finishers

These are my favorite finishers to use. I like leaving the gym knowing I gave it everything I had and really testing yourself at the end of a training session is a sure-fire way to end on a high note. The strength component of this finisher should involve heavy weight but with a movement that has little risk for technical error or injury. With this in mind, I often turn to heavy farmers carries or carrying odd objects like kegs, sandbags, or stones.

You will get a strength, muscle building, conditioning, and mental toughness training effect with this kind of finisher. I also like combining this type of finisher with high-intensity cardio as a form of contrast training.

A couple examples of this type of finisher would look like:

  1. Kettlebell farmers carries for 150 feet.
  2. Heavy object carries for 150 feet in a variety of positions (zercher, shouldered, cleaned, overhead). Keep in mind risk for technical error and increasing the difficulty with different positions since you are already fatigued from your entire training session.
  3. Farmers carries for 50 – 150 feet followed immediately by a hill sprint.

farmers carry finishers

Wrapping Up

  • Finishers are a great way to boost fat loss, improve conditioning, increase muscle mass, and build mental toughness.
  • The best finishers can be high-intensity cardio, bodyweight circuits, and strength and mental toughness movements.
  • Do not perform finishers after every training session because they can jeopardize your recovery times and increase CNS fatigue.

— 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

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

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 A Bigger Chest

Everybody loves a nice set of pecs.strength training

Aside from some bulging guns, nothing fills out a shirt better than a big chest.

“But Tank, my chest is flat as a pancake.”

It’s ok.  I’m here to help.

So what’s first?

If you want to build a rack like this, then your training should focus around 2 exercises.

#1: Bench Press

The bench is the undisputed numero uno mass builder for your chest.

If I’m going for pure strength, I’ll stick with flat bench and really load up some plates.  But for hypertrophy, you are far better off setting the bench to a slight incline (around 30 degrees) and working with loads 70-85% of your 1RM.  Flat bench will build chest width, but targeting your upper chest with the incline will help build “peaks”, and really add mass to your frame.

Bench is one of those exercises that you can “brute force” your way through it, but I encourage you to really fine tune your form.  You will get much more out of benching this way; I’d bet that your 1RM would go up at least 10lbs in some cases by just making a few adjustments.

Feet firmly anchored into the floor, legs and glutes tightened, lower back off the bench with your chest high and shoulder blades firmly retracted into the bench.  Do not simply sink into the bench.  These are all things you should be thinking of each and every rep, including your warm ups.

After a few warm up sets, you are ready to work.  Hit about 3-5 working sets.  Normal strength training law applies; 3-5 reps for strength, and 6-12 for mass gain.  You should be aiming to get stronger since the more weight you can press, the bigger you will get, but to gain mass you will need to amp up the volume.

Vary your grips from time to time.  Forget about the decline.  Throw some fat gripz on the bar to build Popeye forearms and protect your shoulders.  Dumbells are good too for this same reason.  In fact, after benching for a few months with a barbell I encourage you to switch to dumbbells for a while to save you from some wear and tear.strength training incline press

#2: Pushups

This classic can be easily overlooked, but truth be told, aside from bench this should be your go to chest destroyer.  The beauty of these is that you can do them anywhere, anytime, with countless numbers of variations.  Your goal should be to perform at least 20 normal perfect pushups before even thinking about doing any of the other variations.

women's strength trainingQuickest way to get better?  Do them every single day.  Even if they are not a core part of your training that day, at a minimum they should be worked into your warmup.  I will also do these as a finisher, typically in ladder fashion.  1 pushup, 1 second rest.  2 pushups, 2 seconds rest.  3, 3, 4, 4.  You get the idea.  All the way up to 10.  That will get you 55 reps in less than two minutes.  Keep working at these and you will be a pushup master in no time.

Just make sure you are doing them properly.  You’d be surprised how many people think they are doing them right, but they aren’t.

Your body should be aligned as if you were doing a plank.  Legs, glutes, and core tight.  No saggy ass or arched back.  Your elbows should be tucked towards your sides and pointing backwards; do not let them flare out to the sides.  Hands about shoulder width apart and your thumb should line up just under your armpits.  Lower yourself down until your chest almost touches, and then press yourself back up.

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

 

“But Tank, only 2 exercises?  What about dumbbell and cable flyes, dumbbell pullovers, and the pec deck machine?”

Good question.

Listen, I know it is easy to get wrapped up in doing all of this other chest sh*t that you read in magazines, but unless you know how to program them into your training properly, they can be a waste of time.

First of all, machines suck.  Don’t use them.  And dumbbell chest work (aside from presses) is usually isolation.  If you don’t know how I feel about isolating your muscles, read here and hereCompound exercises are king. 

Now if you are trying to add more volume to your chest work and need to save wear and tear on you joints and shoulders, dumbell flyes and other isolations may be okay for a few sets a week, but they should never be your focus.  Beginners (those who have been training for less than 2 years) need to stick the basics.  If you are more advanced, you may be more qualified to work these into your training.

Besides, if you are benching properly with the right program, and mastering the pushup variations, you really don’t need to worry about anything else.

“Alright Tank, what else should I know?”

Glad you ask!

Strengthen Your Triceps

strength training triceps

Your tris are a critical part to any pressing movement, and other than your chest, the main muscle used in the two most important chest exercises.  So it is natural to train up your triceps to help you bench more weight and for more reps.  And I’m not sure about you, but whenever I do pushups, my triceps are the first thing to go.

Dips are my go to here.  I keep my rep ranges moderate to high, usually in the 12-20 range.  As you progress, strap on a weight belt and add some plates to the mix.  Perform these on a dip stand.  Propping your feet up on a bench is a recipe for a pec tear or shoulder problems…

You can also do exercises like skull-crushers or behind the neck dumbbell presses, but some of you may experience elbow pain as you crank up the weight.  If this applies to you, back off the weight and/or reps and just focus on dips.

Rope pull downs on cable machines?  Nope!  Remember, machines suck.

Stretching

I’ll admit I wasn’t as privy to chest stretching until I did a cycle of DoggCrapp.  I know that sounds funny, but if you aren’t familiar with “DC”, you should check it out, especially since you are reading this article and trying to gain mass.  It is a great program.

Anyhow, following DC protocol, you have to stretch your muscles in between each exercise for 60 seconds.  The chest stretch was my favorite.  You simply take two dumbbells that are light weight (I did 40’s), lay on a flat bench, let them fall out to your sides and hold them there for a minute.  The position should look like the very bottom of a chest fly.  Brutal, but worth it.

women's strength trainingIf you missed my post on how to build bigger legs, you didn’t hear me talk about how long muscles are strong muscles.  The longer the muscle, the more room you have for adding mass.

Bottom line?  Stretch!

That’s it people.  You’ve got the recipe for building a mountain of a chest.  Now go and make it happen.

When your man-cleavage starts busting out of your t-shirts, don’t hate me…

Evolve!!

— Tank

Top 5 Muscle Building Exercises

Here is a list of the top 5 exercises everyone should be doing to get stronger and build muscle mass.  If you aren’t doing them, you better start!  These are not an option, no excuses.  Get it done.

muscle building

#1: Deadlift

Nothing makes you feel manlier than stepping over a huge amount of weight and muscling it up off the floor.

In the earlier stages of my training, I made the rookie mistake of ignoring this.  Don’t be like me.

Deadlifting is the best total body exercise you can do.  Most new lifters are weak in the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, back), so immediately putting this into your routine will help bring up your weaknesses.

If you look at some of the strongest and most impressive physiques around, you will notice the size of their upper back.  Deadlifting will build mass on your traps unlike anything else, and having strong glutes and hamstrings will improve your ability in a lot of other areas; jumping, sprinting, squatting, etc.

Another often overlooked benefit of deadlifting is the improvement it will have on your grip strength.  Getting over the bar and picking up heavy sh*t will improve your grip strength exponentially.

muscle building women

#2: Squats

You know how I tell the difference between serious lifters and “pretenders” at the gym?  The size
of their legs and whether or not I ever see them squat.

You want to be strong, you gotta squat.  Quads, abs, glutes, hamstrings, I can’t think of a better lower body exercise to do.

Squatting is an essential part of your routine.  The beauty of squats is the versatility of the exercise. Bodyweight squats, front squats, back squats, zercher squats, jump squats, the list goes on and on.

But we train for strength here, so start with back squats.  Using a box is a good way to get your form down correctly before you progress to free form squatting.

#3: Bench Press

Want to build a big chest?  Get off the pec dec machine, put down the dumbbells and step away from doing flys.

Get under the bar and move some heavy weight.  Bench pressing is king.  And lets face it.  If you are trying to be an alpha male and impress some people, what’s the first thing most people will ask?

“What do you bench?”muscle building

If you have a choice, set the bench to an incline of about 30 degrees.  It’s a bit easier on the shoulders, and helps incorporate more upper chest into the exercise.  A big upper chest is what most people look for in their physique.

Bench pressing is a great upper body exercise, not only because it builds your chest, but also your triceps, shoulders, and forearms.  I never do direct forearm work and I attribute my growth there to doing rep after rep of heavy bench.

Keep adding weight to the bar and improving this lift.  Aim to bench press 1.5x your bodyweight; that’s an honorable accomplishment.

#4: Overhead Press

Picking up heavy weight and pressing it over your head doesn’t get any more Primal than that.

muscle building women

Shoulders, upper back, triceps, and core strength are just a few of the areas worked by this classic exercise.  If you perform these standing (which you should be), or progress to a full clean and press, you are talking about an awesome total body exercise.

This press is a great example of an exercise you can do with anything, anywhere.  You name it, you can press it.  Odd objects like kegs, sandbags, stones are awesome tools,
or just your standard barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells.

Regardless of how you are performing the exercise, incorporating heavy military presses in your routine will build some serious upper body strength.

**Note**  NEVER perform these presses behind your head.  I know you’ve seen people do it, doesn’t mean you should.  It’s just an injury waiting to happen, unless you are rigidly strict with your form.

muscle building

#5 Farmers Carry

Farmer carries will crush you.  If you want to build some serious mental toughness, start performing these.

The beauty of farmer carries is, like the military press, you can do them anywhere, with anything.  Sandbags, jerry cans, kettlebells, dumbells, stones; just pick up something heavy and walk around with it.

Grip strength, your entire back, forearms; they all get worked over doing this exercise.  If you perform these while only carrying an object in one hand, you will work your obliques and core.

At Primal Strength Camp, we try to emphasize this lift because it’s simplicity and versatility yield great benefits for any kind of lifter.

Honorable Mention

“Only 5 exercises?  These possibly can’t be all you need to do!”

Yep, you are right.  There are a number of exercises you should be doing that aren’t on here.  Maybe one day I’ll expand this to a top 10.

So what didn’t make the cut?

  • Pull-ups — You can argue for these over military press.  Either way, you need to be doing these.
  • Pushups — An oldie but a goodie.
  • Snatches — A great power exercise and overall strength builder.
  • High-Pulls — I’m big on building an impressive back.  These will add meat on your traps.
  • Power cleans — Awesome exercise leading up to incorporating the full clean and press into your routine.

Now What??

Start doing these NOW!  If you want to get bigger and stronger, you have to do these on a regular basis.  If you don’t, you will be missing out on some serious gains and you won’t be meeting your potential in the gym.  There is a reason these have been around forever; it’s because they work!

Evolve!!

–Tank