One of the first things you lay eyes on when you enter the Primal Strength Gym is a wall of kegs. Once you take a closer look around, you’ll see a wide variety of odd objects like a circus dumbbell, sandbags, slosh pipes, tires, logs, grip tools and other unorthodox equipment.
Deload week is one of those concepts that’s engrained into our heads as a way to force feed a recovery period into our training.
You’ll see it in a lot of prominent strength and muscle building routines, and while deloading does work, I will also tell you that the traditional deload is a complete waste of time.
Let me elaborate.
Traditional deloading typically looks like this:
- A planned week of rest (or light activity) following 3 weeks of intense training.
- Intensities ranging from 40-60% of your 1 rep max (RM) for the entire deload week.
- Lots of bodyweight training.
- Mobility and tissue work.
The traditional deload falls into the “recovery” phase. It is followed by the “supercompensation” phase, which I call the “rebound” phase where your body rebounds to come back from fatigue with a heightened level of performance.
The problem with the traditional deload doesn’t lie in its premise or concept as it relates to recovery. The guidelines for a deload are effective and have a time and place; but the problem lies in that it fails to take into account the specific needs and performance variances of the individual.
So Do You Really Need to Deload Every Four Weeks?
Of course not.
I’ve personally had intense training cycles last for upwards of 6-8 weeks before I saw any dip in performance. If I would have taken a prescribed deload week, I would have lost a week of heightened performance and gains.
Let me put it to you another way. One week of deload for every four weeks of training equates to 13 weeks off from training per year. That’s not a recipe for success.
Maybe there comes a point when you need to take a week off. That is up to you. For me, and most people I know/train, those times are few and far between. In fact, I usually feel worse after a week off and have to play catch up from taking the extra rest time.
With that being said, there are better ways to deload.
A Better Way to Deload
A much better way to approach your deload is through a concept called cybernetic periodization, a term coined by sports scientist Mel Siff.
Cybernetic periodization is essentially programming your deload days according to how the weights feel that certain day. Doing it this way allows you to account for the daily variances in your training as opposed to putting blanket guidelines on yourself.
For example, I had a girl come into the Primal Strength Gym about a month ago. We were talking and she was expressing disappointment that it was deload day.
As she was warming up, she realized that the weights felt light and her body was primed to perform. A prescribed arbitrary deload was not optimal for her progress that day. Instead of a deload, she kept pushing the weights higher and higher.
The result? She set a 10lb deadlift personal record.
Never sacrifice training performance and momentum for prescribed deload days. Ride the highs for as long as you can take them.
(Note: There is a difference between riding the highs and not being honest with the feedback your body is giving you (the key to using cybernetic periodization). Ignoring negative feedback from your body is a pathway to crashing and injury.)
#1: Autoregulatory Deload
In non-scientific terms, I call this the “play it by ear” deload. This deload is simple in concept, but it may take an advanced lifter to recognize when to apply it.
Essentially, you have no prescribed deload days. As with any program, your training volume and intensity will cycle but there are absolutely no planned deload days (not to be confused with days off in the training program).
Instead, you deload based solely on how your body feels on that given day. This takes honest self assessment and heightened body awareness but in my opinion, this is the best deload strategy you can use.
How do you put this into practice?
- Weights feel light and your body says it’s time for Hulk Smash?
- Push yourself to the extreme and aim for some PRs.
- Weights feel moderate and you have good energy?
- Push yourself above par but no need to max out.
- Weights feel sort of heavy and energy levels are so-so?
- Follow the program and meet your expectations, but don’t push yourself too hard. Technique above intensity.
- Weights feel like immovable lead and you feel like shit?
- Deload to 40-60% of your 1RM and back off the volume.
- Walk away after a thorough warm-up and self assessment. Give it a honest shot (some of my best days have actually come after starting sluggishly), but take the day off from the bar if need be and get some solid stretching and foam rolling in.
#2: Max Effort Deload
This one is similar to the “play it by ear” deload but it has a prescribed rest period while still utilizing cybernetic periodization.
Basically, you will plan to have two consecutive deload days within a 4-8 week training window (around week 6 is most common). They are not scheduled but you will base the deload days on how you feel in a given day.
As soon as you hit a “feel like shit” day that I mentioned earlier, your two day deload starts. In this two day window you will:
- Drop the intensity of your max effort barbell lifts to 40-60% of your 1RM
- Or drop the max effort barbell lifts entirely and focus solely on accessory work.
After those two days, you can ramp your training back up and start progressing as normal.
- A deload is effective and will work, but in a traditional sense, it is not optimal or necessary for training progress
- Deload needs to be based on individual needs and feelings, not prescribed programming
- Cybernetic periodization should be the main factor in deload programming
- There are two optimal ways to deload
- Autoregulatory Deload
- Max Effort Deload
- Deload programming requires honest self assessment and being in tune with your body
- DO NOT sacrifice performance and training momentum because a program says you have to deload
All the best Primal Nation,
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.
#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.
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:
#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.
There are four major components of program design:
- Your Goals
- Volume-Intensity Relationship
- Training Frequency
- 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…
Two of the “most internet-searched” body-parts in terms of developing hypertrophy are calves and biceps. Not hard to believe that the average gym goer is not too enthused about the size of his/her calves or arms.
The problem is that search results will probably spit out hundreds of different bicep or calf specialization programs that are based on adding more volume to your already crammed and lengthy training schedule. I’d bet most of those programs are inferior to simply doing a series of isometric holds (when comparing results to actual training time).
Before I dive into a discussion on isometric holds, let me give some preface to why I recommend these above a lot of other training methods.
I always tell people to train to their goals and to mimic what other greats in their field do.
Want to be maximally strong, for example? Copy some of the strongman greats like Derek Poundstone or Mariusz Pudzianowski.
Want to be explosive? Train like an NFL linebacker.
Want to be a powerlifter with huge bench, squat, and dead numbers? Copy someone like Jim Wendler.
So what if you want killer calves and huge biceps? You need to train like athletes that have amazing muscular development in those areas. In my opinion, there is no better place to look than dancers and gymnasts.
What are dancers and gymnasts doing in their training that lead to so much development in their calves and biceps? Lots and lots of time under tension using isometric holds.
Isometric holds do two things:
- Recruits the largest motor units for maximum contraction
- Forces you to have mind-muscle connection by increasing the neural drive between your brain and muscle
- Most full range of motion reps on a given movement only take a few seconds to complete, limiting the amount of time under tension. However, with isometric holds, tension durations last up to 10 seconds.
There are three things to consider when doing isometric holds:
#1: Do Them As Separate Workouts
Since isometric holds recruit your largest motor units, you need to perform them when you are at your freshest and free from fatigue. This means you need to do them on separate days from your normal workouts, or at least 4-6 hours apart from your typical training.
#2: 10-Second Holds for 5 Sets
In Verkhoshansky’s Supertraining, he promoted up to 10 minute sessions of isometrics. What I recommend is working up to 5 sets of 10-second holds in various positions (focusing on different muscle groups), not to eclipse 10 minutes total in duration for an entire isometric workout. You may have to start out with 2-3 sets of 4-6 second holds, but over time work up to 5 sets of 10 second holds.
#3: Progression is Frequency
Do not surpass 10 second isometric holds. It’s not necessary and if you’re doing them properly, you’ll find that more than 10 seconds may be too much for your CNS. Instead, to progress, train isometric holds more frequently. Think back to my dancer and gymnast example. They train isometric holds daily, so as you progress, think about training holds 4-6 times per week in addition to your normal strength training.
The following is a list of holds based guaranteed to boost the muscular development of some of your lagging body parts:
Calves: Single Leg Calf Raise Held at Peak Contraction
This one is simple. Standing barefoot on one leg, spread your toes as wide as possible. Push through the ground as hard as possible, creating an intense contraction in your calf muscle. Keep your leg straight and maintain maximum contraction throughout the hold. Avoid using anything to hold your balance. You would alternate legs for each calf.
Biceps: Single-Arm Hang
For the single-arm hang, you start by hanging from a pull-up bar with an underhand grip and your pinky fingers touching each other. Pull yourself up so that your arms are at 90 degrees. Quickly release one arm and with your free hand, grab your opposite wrist. Maintain this position for the duration of the hold, keeping peak contraction in your forearms, biceps and upper back. Alternate this move with each arm.
Triceps: Dip Peak Contraction
Start in the top position of a dip on parallel bars. Push your palms down into the bar to remove any shoulder shrug and contract your triceps as intensely as possible to lock out your elbow joints. You may add weight to this drill with a weight belt if you master the move with your bodyweight.
Chest: Push-Up Isometric Hold
This is one of my favorite isometric holds. Start by getting in the top position of a pushup, arms just wider than shoulder width and elbows just short of lockout. Brace your entire body as you would during a push-up rep and, without picking your hands up off of the ground, attempt to pull your hands together. Your hands won’t move but your pecs will be intensely activated and at peak contraction. Hold this position for the duration of the hold.
Start with a dumbbell or some other weight in each of your hands. Lift your arms up (palms down) and out to your sides until they are parallel with the ground. Maintain this position for the duration of the hold without shrugging your shoulders.
Hamstrings: 10-20 degree Glut Ham Raise
On a glute ham raise machine, shift your body forward with no hip hinge (your body should be in a straight line from your neck to your knees). You will not need to go very far forward (10-20 degrees probably) before your hamstrings start firing intensely. Maintain this position for the duration of the hold.
If you don’t have a glute ham raise machine, find another piece of equipment that you can hook your heels into. Lat pulldowns work, or if you have a partner to hold you down, that would work as well. Use this picture as reference for the setup of the hold.
- You can stimulate muscle growth with isometric holds.
- There are 3 rules to isometric holds:
- Use them as separate workouts
- Do up to 5 sets of 10 second holds
- Progression for isometric holds is increasing training frequency.
- Review the isometric holds exercise list for muscular group specific movements.
So before you embark on a body part specialization program that will add a lot of training time to your schedule, try using isometric holds. Have your doubts? Take a look at a few gymnasts or ballerinas and see how isometric holds contribute to their muscular development…
Outside of all of the major lifts, overhead pressing typically takes a back seat to movements like the squat, deadlift, and bench press.
To me, this is a shame because as a strength athlete, pressing heavy weight over your head is one of the best indicators of relative and maximal strength. Unfortunately the overhead press is almost always an athletes weakest lift.
The overhead press may be the most difficult of the four major lifts to increase in terms of adding significant weight to the bar (in comparison to squats for example), so don’t get discouraged if you aren’t making big jumps. Adding 20 pounds to your overhead press can be a significant increase. Check out these 4 strategies to boost your performance.
#1: Cuing the Overhead Press
Full Body Tension: This is one of the biggest technical errors I see on the lift. Lifters tend to naturally have a lot of upper body tension when overhead pressing, but not enough tension in their lower body. When pressing, you need to focus on contracting your quads, glutes, and abs. More tension = more muscle recruitment = more strength.
Grip Width: Start with a shoulder width grip. Your shoulders will thank you. Plus, having a grip similar to what you use on bench press will translate to the overhead press and make you more efficient.
Try Using a False Grip: This may not work for everyone, but it’s worth trying to see if it helps you. A false grip is essentially not having your thumb wrapped around the bar. The theory is that this will allow the bar to stay close to your body and save wear and tear on your shoulders and wrists. I am personally not comfortable with a false grip on anything but pull-ups, but many reputable trainers recommend it for the overhead press. It comes down to your comfort level.
Engage Your Biceps: On the eccentric portion of the lift (lowering the bar), focus on activating your biceps to take the stress off of your shoulders and triceps and distribute the load more evenly across your upper body. To do this, think about doing a hammer curl towards your face and ears. Might seem a bit strange, but take the time to master this skill and your overhead press will probably increase immediately.
Head Through: Getting your “head through” the bar will allow you to press heavier weight and nail the lockout. As the bar passes above your head, focus on pushing your head through the “window” created by your arms.
#2: Ditch the Bar
Sometimes to improve a lift, you need to include some variation. For the overhead press, instead of always using a standard bar, incorporate some different tools into your training. At Primal Strength Gym, we use things like fat bars, kegs, logs, and sandbags. If you don’t have access to those, you can switch to dumbbell pressing once a week instead of the bar. Dumbbells will activate more stabilizer muscles and allow you to even use one-arm variations.
A big overhead press requires strong shoulders and upper chest.
My main assistance lift for training the overhead press is mid-high volume incline pressing with varying tempos. The intention here is to build mass on your frame, hence working with reps in the 6-12 range with moderate intensities.
(A technically sound overhead press requires the bar to rest on your shoulders and upper chest in between reps, as opposed to using brute strength and your arms to support the bar. The more upper body mass you have to “rest the bar” and save your strength, the stronger your overhead press will be.)
For tempo, I like using incline bench presses with a 1-2 second pause on the bottom part of the lift, then exploding the bar off my chest. This will develop the explosiveness you need to overhead press big weight.
Make sure you use the same grip width on the incline bench as you do for you overhead press to make sure it carries over into all of your pressing.
#4: Other Assistance Work
Other than incline bench press, you need to develop your shoulders, traps, and triceps to assist you in the press.
Z Presses: This movement involves sitting on the ground in a squat rack and pressing the bar from the safety pins. It takes your lower body out of the movement entirely, and forces you to press the weight with high core tension and maximal shoulder and tricep recruitment.
Swiss Bar Floor Presses: Using this specialty bar with your floor press, you put the focus on your triceps to build pressing power. Close grip bench can be used as well if you don’t have a swiss bar.
Face Pulls: A lot of people focus so much on their front delts that they forget about their rear delts. High rep sets work well for me here, so think of working with sets of 8-20.
Plate Raises: Strictly to develop your shoulders, this is meant to be a high-rep movement with 25 or 45 pound plates.
Lateral Raises: Another shoulder builder, this dumbbell movement should be used with light to moderate weight and high-reps.
Upright Rows: This is my favorite trap builder (other than deads and farmers carries) because it uses a higher range of motion than shrugs and engages your biceps and shoulders as well.
Dips: To be strong in any pressing movement, you need to have strong triceps. Dips are one of my staples because they save wear and tear on your elbows and use your shoulders as stabilizers. If dips cause you pain, you may substitute the french press.
Your assistance work should be done multiple times a week, giving those muscle groups about 48 hours of rest in between training sessions. Focus on an 8-12 rep range for at least 4 sets using intensities of 70%-85% of your one rep max. (Add weight to the bar each set/linear periodization)
The four takeaways:
- Cue Yourself
- Use different tools other than the bar
- Make incline bench a focus
- Perform assistance work for your shoulders, traps, and triceps multiple times a week
For more “How To Style” articles, check out the Primal archives here:
All the best,
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Pullups – Same as above. After you can do 15 perfect pull-ups, vary your grip and start working on some of the variations.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
I’ve never really been a firm believer in physically overtraining.
Not because it doesn’t exist, but because I rarely see someone in an actual overtrained state.
(Beginners can be the exception as they tend to be the ones staying in the gym 5-7 days a week pumping out high-volume routines and marathon lifting sessions.)
As we get more and more advanced after years of training, we are guiltier of not working hard enough rather than too hard. If you have been in the iron game for a while, reaching a state of true overtraining is much harder than you think.
However, what I do believe in and is much more common in strength athletes is what I call “mentally overtraining”, or scientifically termed central nervous system (CNS) fatigue. CNS fatigue is brought on by a lot of things, but not limited to:
- Not recovering properly in between workouts
- Training to failure too often
- Lifting too heavy for too long
- Not getting enough sleep
- Normal everyday stress
CNS fatigue will impair your body’s ability to perform. More specifically, neurotransmitters, which are responsible for sending signals from your brain to your muscles, will not function properly and cause dips in performance. You may also suffer from a poor mood (and indirectly a lack of motivation), reduced cognitive ability, and false perceptions of perceived exhaustion (i.e. thinking you are working harder than you really are).
That all sounds pretty bad right? Now that you know what it is, you need to know how to prevent it. Most of it comes down to common sense and training smarter, not harder. But there are specific things you should consider.
#1: Do Not Train to Failure
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it here again. Slow grinding reps are gain killers. They delay your recovery times, not to mention it is just poor form. Always leave one rep in the tank.
#2: Give Your Body Parts 48 Hours in Between Workouts
If you’ve been around Primal long enough, you know I only advocate training full-body or with an upper/lower split.
So by this rule, if you train full body one day, your next day should be a day off. If you train with an upper/lower split, you would give yourself 48 hours between upper sessions and 48 hours in between lower sessions. This would basically equate to two days on, one day off.
#3: Don’t Overdo Sprints or Plyos
Sprints and jumps are stressful on your CNS and should be treated as a heavy lifting session. If you read my article on how to plan your high-intensity cardio, you’ll remember me saying to pair your sprints and jumps on the same day as your lifting sessions. Hitting up a heavy day of squats, then sprinting your ass off the next day, for example, is a recipe for CNS fatigue.
This is also relative to intensity. Training at 100% effort for your sprints, or jumping as high as you can every single plyo session is just not sustainable. Vary your efforts just as you would in the weight room.
#4: Don’t Train Above 90% Frequently
Speaking of intensity, training at or above 90% of your one rep max day in and day out can fry your CNS.
While it is necessary to train near max effort to make strength gains, it is simply not necessary to do all of the time. When you do train above this threshold, keep your reps low (1 – 2 per set).
You can still make a lot of strength gains by training sub-maximally.
#5: Get 8 Hours of Sleep a Night
We are all probably guilty of this. In today’s day and age, between television, video games, and computers, we stay up way later than we should. Sleep is for recovery and if you aren’t sleeping enough, you aren’t recovering enough either.
Now I’m not trying to be alarmist and throw all of this at you as some scare tactic.
In the grand scheme of things, you should all be working your asses off. We don’t live in a perfect world, especially when it comes to our training, so you are going to have to break the rules from time to time. But like I mentioned above, train smarter not harder. We all want to make continuous progress and that simply can’t happen if you have a fried CNS.
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.
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.
#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.
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.
#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.
Imperfection training is a big part of what Primal Strength Camp is all about.
I first read about the idea of this type of training in the book “Supertraining” by Yuri Verkhoshansky. If you’ve never heard of this book and are serious about strength training and muscle building, you need to invest in it.
Consider this statement:
All-round sports training must include the capability of coping with unexpected and sub-optimal conditions. In certain sports where accidents or unexpected situations often occur, such as the martial arts, parachuting and motor racing, participants are taught how to cope with events that can have serious consequences. This type of preparation needs to be adopted far more extensively in all sports so that the athlete is able to anticipate threatening situations, react much more rapidly to unexpected circumstances, take action to avoid or minimise injury, and cope with sub-optimal conditions by practising with imperfectly executed movements.
When I first started training outside with odd-objects for fun as a way to break up the monotony of the gym, I immediately noticed that my gym strength didn’t translate to the real world.
The real world IS a “sub-optimal condition”. Nothing is ever perfect. But our bodies get so damn accustomed to moving so rigidly in the gym (almost always in a linear fashion) that we are ill-equipped to handle unexpected movements and uneven loads. This is why I had trouble lifting kegs and sandbags when I first started. I was already using imperfection training without even realizing it.
One thing I think we can all relate to is helping somebody move furniture. You can bench 300 pounds and squat twice your bodyweight, but if you ever try to move some weird shaped couch or get a dresser up some stairs, I bet it kicks your ass.
Anyhow, if you are interested in possessing “real-world strength”, the concept of imperfection training and working it into your routines is a no-brainer. This especially goes for athletes because nothing you ever do in a game situation is perfect. Rarely are you moving in a linear fashion like most of your exercises in a gym (they may be dynamic like Olympic lifts or jumps, but are still not chaotic).
“Creating chaos” in an exercise form is not totally accomplishable. There is only so much you can do and you will never be able to mimic the things you will encounter in real-life situations, but there are things you can do to help bridge the gap.
#1: Lifting Odd-Objects
Kegs, stones, slosh pipes, and sandbags are all good tools to use here. Cleans, clean and presses, overhead presses, and sandbag shouldering are all examples of movements to perform. None of these tools have evenly distributed weight, especially in the case of kegs (only partially filled) and sandbags. The water and sand will continually shift making each and every rep of the movement different.
#2: Uneven Carries
Farmers carries are an awesome exercise, but rarely do you see variations in style. Uneven carries require different sized loads to be carried in each arm. For example, two different sized kettlebells.
At Primal, we like to take things a step further and carry two entirely different objects altogether. In one hand we may have a 50 pound kettlebell, but we will have a 100 pound sandbag in a shouldered position in the other arm. Or carrying the same sized object in two different carry positions; one at your side and one in a cleaned position is a good example.
Ever used a slosh pipe? This is an uneven carry extreme and a Primal favorite. A 10 foot pipe filled only partially with water, the water is constantly changing positions side to side, creating full body tension in an effort to keep the pipe upright and stabilized.[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c93mGtzBhJs[/tube]
#3: Outside Sled Work
Most of the time you see sled work, trainers have their people pulling/pushing the sled on turf. That’s good and all, but it certainly makes it a hell of a lot easier.
We train with our sleds outside in parks, often times in tall, dry grass or patchy fields at best. It may go from fairly easy to impossible in a split second if you snag it on a dirt pile or high-patch of grass. Doing it this way, you have to be very focused on keeping your legs churning and burning, similar to how you would see a running back trying to push the pile in a short yardage situation.
#4: Dynamic Throws
Heavy throws are a great way to build strength and total body power and explosiveness. Aside from normal medicine ball work, kegs and sandbags and even stones are a great tool to use for these.
If you are trying to build some “functionality” behind all of that gym muscle, imperfection training is something you need to consider for your training arsenal. Use some of these ideas and run with them. The beauty of this style is it allows you to be creative. When you get so bogged down in traditional training, throwing a little chaos into your world can be a really rewarding and refreshing thing to do. Training this way once or twice a week in addition to your normal routine should reap you some benefits.
Just do it responsibly and with some thought behind it, because just like sports, some of these movements can lead to injury. You should be concentrating and focusing on moving efficiently during this training just like any other gym session.
Whats up Primal Camp?
I am psyched to bring you a guest post by my friend Jack Niles from jacknilesstrongman.com. I met Jack a while back at a strongman competition in Richmond, VA. He was there selling some of his awesome homemade strongman equipment, some of which I bought and still use on a weekly basis. Check out his store. He is offering free shipping from now until Christmas, so time to get yourself some early presents!
Jack also just won his age division at the Virginia state powerlifting meet, so he knows about true strength and how to kick some serious ass. You should add his blog as a must read to your strength training library. Here is a taste of how he approaches strength and overall physical fitness. Enjoy!
JN — A well rounded program to increase strength has a minimum of four components. Organizing a program around these four tenents should allow you to increase your overall fitness a great deal if applied consistently for atleast 8 to 12 weeks. I will be glad to post specifics on each area individually later.
1. Periodization: A strength program needs to be periodized. It is not possible to always lift heavy and make gains. The body needs to recover. A three week period is good: One light week of each exercise. One week using medium weights for each lift, one heavy week of each exercise. Then start over adding but 5 lbs to each of your lifts.
2. Flexibility. Lifting heavy tightens your muscles. Stretching reduces injuries. A quick simple stretch routine is the ancient yoga “sunrise salutation.” Google it is quick to learn and a good total body stretch.
3. Cardio: The heart is the most important muscle. You need three sessions minimum a week. 1 session of 20 minutes of high speed exercise, 1 session of 30 minutes of medium speed exercise and 1 session of 40 minutes of slow speed exercise.
4. Plyometrics: Power is the ability to move a mass quickly. Plyometrics are used by strength athletes to develop explosive strength. One way to do plyometrics is to do exactly the same lifts as you normally do with half the weight. Do three quick lifts with an emphasis on speed. Rest a minute or less then repeat this. 24 reps or 8 sets of 3 reps is a good plyometric routine. Heavy lifts can be done during the first part of the week and plyometric lifts of the same exercise can be done later in the week.
— Jack Niles