Tag Archives: sports performance

3 Simple Ways to Add to Your Training Volume

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

training volume

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

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

How Many Sets Should I Do Per Training Session?

What is the Best Rep Range For Building Muscle?

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

#1 Drop Sets

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

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

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

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

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

#2 Load-Up Your Warm Ups

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

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

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

Jamie Eason

#3 Grease the Groove

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

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

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

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

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

— Tank

How to Improve Your Pull-Ups

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

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

Use these methods to improve your pull-up performance.

#1 Do Not Train to Failure

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

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

#2 Train the Regressions, Progressions, and Variations

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

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

#3 Train Assistance Movements

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

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

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

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

#5 Use Your Latspull ups

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

#6 Improve Your Grip Strength

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

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

#7 Cut Body Fat

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

— Tank

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

Should Women Train Differently Than Men?

Despite what you will see perpetuated across the internet or fitness magazines, there really isn’t that big of a difference between how women and men should train.

The common misconception that women will get huge from lifting weights is one of the biggest fitness myths out there.  There are a few reasons for this, but the main reason comes down to hormones.  Men produce on average 10 times more testosterone than females, so for a female to put on muscle mass just isn’t that easy.

In fact, for most females to get “toned”, lifting weights is precisely what they should be doing.  First of all, there is no such thing as “toning” a muscle.  What you are really asking for when you say this is more muscle mass and less body fat.  And the only way to achieve this is to build lean muscle by getting stronger, lifting progressively heavier weights, and burning fat through high-intensity cardio.

Strong-Girl

So with that being said, most of everything I write for Primal Strength Camp applies equally to both men and women.  Women can benefit greatly by training with the boys, but there are some nuances that you should be aware of.

Muscle Mass Distribution

Men naturally have more muscle mass overall.  Specifically, women carry less muscle mass in their upper body which is why females commonly struggle with things like pull-ups and pushups.  Women will need to spend more time on their upper bodies to account for this.

Rest Times

Women recover faster than men do.  In most training programs, the prescribed rest times are built around males and, in actuality, are too long for females.  If you see rest times of 90 – 120 seconds, women should probably shave 30 seconds off those intervals (60 – 90 seconds).

Power Output

Females tend to have lower lung capacity and smaller hearts than men.  Couple this with less muscle mass, and women are naturally less powerful.  Getting stronger has a lot to do with improving power, so women should consider working more techniques into their programming to develop explosiveness.

Cardio Considerations

Because women have less muscle mass than men, they burn less calories at rest, meaning they burn fat naturally more slowly than their male counterparts.  This means training with high-intensity cardio like hill sprints and sled work is crucial.  But going max-effort with that kind of training is stressful on your central nervous system, meaning you should only do it once or twice a week.  To get around this, women can fit in a couple more short weight circuits throughout the week to burn a little extra fat.

Deconditioning

Studies have shown that women lose strength faster than men during non-training time.  Sorry ladies, but this means while men are lounging around during “off-season”, it may be more beneficial for you to train year round.

Diet

Overall, diets should be the same as far as focusing on macro-nutrients (especially protein and carbs).  However, the amounts and total caloric intake will obviously be much less for women due to muscle mass differences and total body weight.

So ladies, if you are looking for programs, know that you can train from a lot of what you find out there.  Just take some of these into consideration and you will be good to go.

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

7 Tips to Develop Crushing Grip Strength

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

grip strength

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

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

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

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

#1: Death Grip the Bar

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

#2: Use a Thicker Bar

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

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

grip strength

#3: Do Not Lift With a Bar At All

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

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

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

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

#4: Use False Grip

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

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

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

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


#5: Ditch the Straps

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

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

Use them strategically but not too frequently.

#6: Deadlift

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

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

grip strength

#7: Farmers Carries

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

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

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

Evolve!!

— Tank

Train Like An Athlete

One of the first things I ask people when assessing how and why they train is to ask them who they want to look like.  The answers I get are almost 100% the same.  Yet, the way they train is completely out of whack with the goals they have.

Let me illustrate.  Take a look at the pics below.  Who would you rather look like?  Jay Cutler or Vernon Davis?

train like an athletetrain like an athlete

Now Jay is huge and impressive, but I’d still venture to guess that most of you picked Vernon Davis on the right.

So let me ask another question.  If you want to look like the guy on the right, why is it that you train like the guy on the left?

The majority of people I see walking around gyms these days are still doing the same sh*t they read out of bodybuilding mags that were idolized decades ago; body part splits, isolation movements, high volume.

If you are a bodybuilder, have at it.  But most of us aren’t getting on that stage any time soon.  We simply want to get bigger, and stronger, and look good with our shirts off.  Most of us want to look like our favorite athletes.  If you want to look like an athlete, you sure as hell better be training like one.

Compound exercises are king.  Squats, deadlifts, bench presses, overhead presses, Olympic lifts.

Sprint, jump, move!  No more isolation, no more 80 reps of one body part training session.  Total body training, or for the intermediate to advanced lifter an upper/lower split, is where you should live.

Do you think Vernon spends his time doing bicep curls and lat pulldowns?  The dude is training for strength and power.  He’s doing pull-ups, heavy squats, clean and presses.  He’s doing total body training sessions.  And guess what?  He still looks good doesn’t he?

Choosing a training plan and exercises that recruit more muscle per movement builds more muscle.  Simple right?  Plus you can work with heavier resistance on the compound movements that will boost your strength, and eventually your mass, for you vain pretty boys…

Ditch the bodybuilding routine.  It’s time to train like an athlete.

Evolve!!

–Tank