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Pull the Weight Down
Conscious effort is spent primarily on concentric contractions; our defiance of gravity is never ceasing. There is, however, good reason to align ourselves with gravity and make the best use of eccentric loading.
Our conscious mind is swindled by weight: our awareness of the weight on the bar controls our perspective and our limitations are painfully on display. Beneath our consciousness, however, the brain recognizes muscle tension. It makes no note of the 300 pounds you've placed heroically on the squat bar. It cares only about the tension necessary to sit down, and stand back up, with that weight.
Since the brain is subconsciously concerned with tension, we need to consciously create as much as possible. After setting a firm grip, creating torque at the hips and shoulders, pulling the weight into the bottom position is the next step in creating optimal tension.
I know, the concept seems abstract, so here are a couple of examples:
- During squat descent, drive your knees out and pull your body into the bottom position by squeezing your hip flexors and abs
- During bench press descent, torque your pinkies into the bar hard, then pull the bar down to the bottom position on your chest while driving your chest up to meet the bar
Tension through pulling is accomplished on any exercise that has an eccentric component. Take the examples from the squat and bench and extrapolate them.
Squeeze a Clamp in Your Off Hand
Let's continue with the tension theme.
Unilateral exercises are bilateral barbell exercises' younger, less desirable brother. But they deserve the same respect in regards to tension; they require just as much.
Sometimes, however, we're caught with our off-limb swaying in the breeze, wastefully taking up space rather than willfully producing tension. It's not your arms fault. It simply lacks guidance; an input from something that requires a strong grip provides sufficient direction.
The next time you find yourself performing a lift that requires you to grasp a weight in only one hand, occupy the other hand with a coil clamp used to keep weight on a barbell. It creates tension that transfers through your body and generates an atmosphere of force production.
While squeezing the clamp, think 'crush' and close the handles forcefully; this sufficiently sets intent and produces an intense contraction.
If you must go at it sans clamp, a tennis ball also works well.
Spread Your Sit Bones
I picked this cue up from Evan Osar. It's a weird cue, I'll admit. But 'spread your sit bones' is an effective cue for making your hips strong and stable while standing, squatting and deadlifting.
Your sit bones are your humeral heads, the bony protuberances you feel when you rest your butt in a hard chair. Attached to these bony heads are intricate muscles that control the positioning, internal rotation and external rotation of the hip joint. "Spreading" these bones activates hip musculature responsible for hip stability; this, in turn, stabilizes the hips and core, telling the brain it's okay to give the hips range of motion. Range of motion, however, is not the only end. You'll also generate tension that produces increased strength.
As you spread your sit bones, you'll feel tension deep in your posterior hips, beneath your glutes. You'll also feel a reflexive contraction deep/low in your core; this is the increased core stability I was talking about.
Use this cue before setting up to squat or deadlift; use it also to increase hip stability while standing to reduce stress on your lower back.
Farmer's Walks/Ropes to Finish Upper-Body Sessions
Conditioning sessions are unfairly skewed to favor the lower-body. It's damn shame. Truth is our upper-body needs conditioning too. Finishing an upper-body session with conditioning extremities promotes recovery, and enhances your adaptation to heavy training.
In this context, when I say conditioning I mean building aerobic work capacity. These farmer's walk/ropes sessions are done for time at a low-to-moderate intensity. It may sound soft and fishy (an adjective combination that never paints a good picture) but, trust me, it works.
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- For farmer's walks, you'll start by putting eight minutes on the clock. Then you'll grab two dumbbells, two kettlebells or two of what have you that's moderately heavy and start walking. Although it's a heroic feat to complete the entire eight minutes of walks without setting the weights down, it's not necessary. Walk for as long as you can before your grip falters, or you lose your form, then set the weight down for twenty to thirty seconds and compose yourself. Once you've got yourself together, get back to work. Increase time by one or two minutes per week until you're carrying for fifteen minutes. Once you've achieved fifteen minutes stalwartly carrying iron, increase the weight and decrease time to reset progression.
- The ropes session can be done the same way, but you must be mindful of intensity. You can't go full-bore with the ropes for eight minutes and expect anything good to happen. A better approach is to work for two to three minutes at a moderate pace and follow up with a one minute rest period; complete this for five to ten rounds. As you build capacity, push the work periods up to five minutes.
Ease and comfort are the training devil's harlot; efficiency and intelligence, however, are the means to building enduring strength and size. Hack your training with these tips and get bigger and stronger for the abiding future.
Do you have a secret training method or technique that maximizes your lifting potential? Share it with our readers by posting it in the comments field below!