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How many times have you heard the phrase “it all goes downhill after 30?”.
I’ve lost count of the number of times other guys have said this to me… is it true though?
Getting older rarely leads to improvements in our bodies.
Wrinkles, grey hair, sagginess, loss of libido, baldness (I know about this one all too well!) are just part of the game.
There are many physiological process which slow down and change as we get older. Ultimately, these changes are unavoidable.
From a physique perspective, each decade after age 30, people who don’t train can lose 3-5% of their muscle mass. 3-5%!
That can make a huge to difference to how you look and feel. Just the mere fact of muscle loss will slow down your metabolism and make it easier for you to gain fat.
So not only do we have Father Time to contend with, but for most people entering their 30s, there are a whole bunch of other things too.
Financial security and climbing the career ladder become priority. Some guys are married and have young children that take up their time. Some guys are in serious relationships and their girlfriends won’t let them go out 😳.
The point is, fitness and health starts to be seen as a luxury and isn’t given the attention it needs. You slowly see the stomach getting fatter and the previous 25 year old you fading away.
Who’s that guy in the holiday pictures again?
I turned 30 in 2016 and I have definitely noticed subtle shifts in my body.
I feel training sessions more. My joints are creakier. Staying lean is more challenging. It’s harder to recover from a late night like during my 20s (now I have a migraine for 3 days after.)
In my whole life playing sports and lifting weights, I’ve only ever had one injury, a minor hamstring pull.
Once I entered my 30s, I’ve had back and knee injuries that kept me out for months.
Just look at someone like David Haye.
The decline in his speed and reflexes in the space of 5 years is very obvious. The multiple injuries accumulated as he’s aged have pretty much destroyed his career. (He’s still a physical specimen though).
So yeah, it’s inevitable that your body will change. But you can slow down and maybe even halt this decline.
There are no excuses for letting yourself go. Getting older is not a choice, but maintaining self respect is.
So here are the strategies to avoid ‘dad-bod’ and stay in shape.
Focus on posture
I always harp on about posture.
As you get older, you start to hunch over. Hours spent on the computer and phone, as well as the tightening of the chest muscles will make you look like Quasimodo.
Having a good posture makes you look taller and younger.
You can include face pulls, band pull aparts, and rear delt flyes in to your training pretty much every day. Sets of 10-20 are good and will build up the small muscles in the back.
You will need a band for pull-aparts, get it here
As well as that, add in lots of horizontal rowing movements, such as TRX rows, cable rows, incline rows, and bent over rows, TRX rows.
Do lots of work in the 8-15 rep range and really focus on feeling the muscles in the back working.
If you can’t squeeze the weight at the top of the movement for at least 2 seconds, it’s probably too heavy (thanks Jay Ferruggia).
Minimalist, express workouts
You have shit to do, so don’t waste your time.
You can achieve excellent results in just 3-4 days, 30-45 minutes per session if you are really good!
One way to really condense workout time is to use ‘non-competing supersets’.
For example, you may superset an upper body movement with a lower body one. Or an upper body push with an upper body pull.
The idea is that these movements don’t interfere with one another, so you can still push hard and get the most out of each one.
Also, instead of just resting after the exercise, you get more work in. This will cut down your workout time and ensure you hit your muscles hard during the short time you have.
If you have three days, ‘Push/Pull/Legs’ is a great split for you. You could also do ‘Upper/Lower/Full’.
Most of my male clients past the beginner stage are on some variation of the above.
Now what about if you don’t want to just lift, but enjoy other activities such as boxing, sprinting, or jiu jitsu?
You can and should still lift, but may need to reduce the volume (i.e. drop the frequency down).
If you need help with programming and want me to give you step by step guidance, consider signing up for online coaching.
This becomes even more pertinent once you hit your 30s, even though it should always be a consideration.
You need to plan in recovery sessions/activities in between weight training sessions.
Taking a walk, swimming, sitting in nature, yoga, meditation, massages, low intensity cardio, sled dragging sessions, and band work are all good for you.
These things keep your stress levels down and your joints healthy.
You may find yourself tighter and needing to stretch more often the older you get. Keep yourself mobile, because getting tight makes you old.
Hips and chest/shoulders are the key.
These 90/90 hip stretches from Andrea Spina are money.
Modify lifts that don’t agree with you
If a flat barbell bench press is what you’ve done for 10 years but now causes you pain, it’s time to swap it for something else my brother.
That doesn’t mean you have to stop benching. You could just swap it for a more shoulder friendly version, such as an incline bench press or a DB bench where your hands can rotate naturally.
Time to start working with your body rather then against it.
(That said, if you can do certain lifts without a problem, then go for it.)
Some good swaps you can make:
Swap ‘Flat barbell bench press’ for ‘incline barbell bench press’ or ‘neutral grip barbell bench press’ or ‘ DB bench press’.
Swap ‘barbell back squat’ for ‘front squat’ or ‘box squat’ or ‘goblet squat’.
Swap ‘straight bar deadlift’ for ‘trap bar deadlift’ or ‘rack pull’.
Start thinking ‘health’ rather than simply physique. You’re in this for the long term.
You can look good but be very unhealthy. Being at 6% body fat probably isn’t healthy because your hormones will be completely shot. Having huge muscles but eating massive amounts of food the whole day isn’t healthy either.
As you get in to the dirty thirties, your metabolism will probably slow a little bit, so you need to compensate by eating a little less.
The likelihood of getting diabetes also increases as you get older and fatter, so another smart approach may be to adopt a low carb diet, which I have found works brilliantly for getting leaner.
Note: low carb, not no carb.
Precision Nutrition’s infographic below is very simple but excellent for helping you understand what a low carb diet looks like.
There are two versions – one for any time of day, and one for after workouts.
For those that drink, alcohol tolerance will also most likely change. This can result in serious fatness if you try to keep drinking the same way you did in your youth.
Accept that you probably won’t be as slim like you did at 20.
This doesn’t mean you accept being overweight and losing all your pride. Not at all. It just means you recognise that your 20s and 30s are not the same.
But you can make your 30 year old self an even better version if you stick to what’s written above. it’s all about smart and efficient training.
About 2 months ago I badly hurt my lower back. I was deadlifting and my form was off (I’m not mobile enough to be pulling from the floor, which I stubbornly ignored until it was too late).
I exacerbated the problem by going to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class the next day, and anyone who does BJJ knows what it can do to your back.
Boom. In the infamous words of Mike Tyson, “I broke my back”. No squatting, deadlifting, or BJJ for at least 6 weeks.
Lower body strength and muscle is important to me (and should be for anyone), but what was I going to do without squats and deads?
Enter the sled.
Anybody who’s ever watched athlete training montages will see the sled and be inspired by it. I was always obsessed with it, even when I never had access to one. It is far more than a gimmick or novelty exercise, like we see all over instagram and social media.
During my back injury, I replaced all heavy lower body movements with heavy sled pushes or drags. I’d load it up heavy and go for 3-4 sets of 15-20 meters (avoiding using weights so heavy I’d have to stop in the middle etc).
After that, I’d so some single leg work (split squats etc) and some light hinging (i.e. pull-throughs). I’m happy to say that during this time I’ve pretty much held on to my leg size and feel very, very strong.
Athletically, its even better. Playing football for the first time in about 6 months, I felt fast and dynamic. Not squatting and deadlifting wasn’t the end of the world, after all.
I will be continuing this kind of training for a number of months until I feel confident enough to reintroduce squats and deads.
Sled work can improve conditioning, leg strength (and even foot strength as your feet have to grip the floor), as well as reducing body fat. Furthermore, the sled won’t wipe out your nervous system the same way squats and deadlifts do, nor will it leave you sore (there is no eccentric component). It also feels better on your joints then heavy squatting!
Admittedly, the sled isn’t the most effective tool for people merely looking to put mass on their legs, but when you add in other more traditional leg exercises, it is the perfect supplement to a training regime.
Regardless of whether you’re an athlete or just looking to get stronger and improve your looks, I recommend using the sled for heavy sets rather than simply doing sprints all the time.
Pushing heavy weights WILL melt fat off you.
Throw in sprints occasionally, but by and large, aim to get stronger with the sled over time.
Try to avoid too many sets where you have to ‘grind’, legs about to fall off, stopping halfway through etc. Go heavy, but keep it just about manageable.
If you don’t have a sled, I feel bad for you son, I got 99 problems but a sled ain’t one. In all seriousness, you can always do plate pushes (put a heavy plate on a suitable floor and push it). Not quite the same, but it will have to suffice.
By the way, I’m not suggesting you cut out squats, deads etc. You can and should do them if you’re capable of doing so and confident in your form. But the sled is a fantastic tool for pretty much anybody, athlete or not.
Coaching enquiries here –> http://bit.ly/29XNQSQ
What’s up guys,
Now those who train with me know I keep things pretty strict when it comes to exercise technique. I don’t like rounded lower backs, slouched posture, or arched backs all in the name of adding extra weight to the bar.
The fact is, quality reps always trump garbage reps.
Quality reps engage the right muscles, make you stronger throughout the lift, and bulletproof your body against injury. Crappy reps don’t target the correct muscles, don’t improve your strength much, and give you a one-way to ticket to Snap City.
There’s nothing worse than seeing someone do half-squats or trying to press a weight that’s clearly too heavy for them. This is what’s known as ego lifting – guys trying to fool themselves (and Instagram =/) into thinking they can lift heavier weights than they’re capable of.
Ego lifting doesn’t get you anywhere.
(Note: there is a time and a place for form that is less than perfect, such as during very heavy lifting. That’s cool, as long as you have a good foundation of strength and technique to begin with.)
I’m especially a stickler for good form when it comes to the basic bodyweight movements, such as press-ups, pull-ups, and inverted rows. If you don’t have good form with these staples, it’s unlikely you’ll be any better when it comes to moving heavy weight.
A couple of weeks ago I went to a seminar aimed at personal trainers.
During the breaks, the hosts ran a competition for the max amount of press-ups and pull-ups, with a prize for the winner.
Well guess what?
Barely anyone used a full range of motion. Pretty much every rep was choppy at best. None of the officiators said anything either.
The average score in the room was probably 50-70 press-ups, and 30-40+ pull-ups.
To put this number into context, potential Royal Marines have to do 16 strict pull-ups and 60 press-ups to earn maximum points during recruitment testing.
(Yeah, I know a lot of them may have been doing the reps however necessary to get the prize, but it would have been interesting to see the average numbers if the officiators enforced strict form.)
Before we move on, here’s what a few of the best coaches in the world have to say about bodyweight training.
Not everyone needs to or should lift a barbell, but bodyweight exercises are essential. I’ve used them to rapidly transform the bodies of professional athletes, models and entertainers. One of the many things I love about them is they can be done anywhere at any time.
Many men don’t realize that serious muscle and strength can be built with just bodyweight exercises. Not only that, bodyweight only workouts can be high intensity and done in quick training sessions throughout the week. They’re free, improve movement, and improve relative strength.
MOST guys use bodyweight training ineffectively and inefficiently. – You CAN pack on muscle with bodyweight training. You CAN develop serious strength & power as well as burn fat through bodyweight only training.
Bodyweight exercises work a whole lot of muscle at once, so we need to get it right.
For instance, during a press-up, you are (or should be) engaging your shoulders, arms, chest, back, abs, glutes, and quads.
So with the above in mind, below is a brief run-through of three classic bodyweight movements – the pull-up, press-up, and inverted row. Hopefully it will help tighten up your form so you get the best out of these old dependables of strength training.
To make it easier: put a medicine ball underneath your chest and touch the ball, then press back up.
To make it harder: elevate your feet or wear a weighted vest.
To make it easier: use elastic bands to assist you at the bottom of the movement.
To make it harder: add weight with a weighted vest or dip belt.
To make it easier: bend your legs or raise the height of the bar.
To make it harder: elevate your feet on a box/bench, or add a weighted vest.
Hope this helps guys.
Bodyweight exercises always can and should be a part of your training regime. Just make sure you’re doing them properly!
Training is a beautiful thing. It keeps me strong, lean, and healthy. I still want to be in fighting shape when I’m an old codger, God willing.
Fact is though, lifting weights and throwing stuff around comes with a price. Eventually you’ll sustain injuries.
While these injuries sometimes bring things to a steaming halt, it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re smart, you can continue to train and make progress for a long time.
The key to the above is to heed advice I’m sure you’ve heard before – listen to your body!
Learn what exercises work for you. Learn what exercises don’t work for you.
Know when to push, when to back-off, and when to change things around. This type of insight comes with years of training experience.
You do not have to do a certain exercise just because you saw you a muscle model doing it. We are all built differently, with different muscle fiber types, different limb lengths, slightly different bone structures etc. Some people take performance enhancing drugs, some don’t (an important factor to bear in mind when emulating the way certain people train).
Just remember, there are many ways to skin a cat.
As an example, I wanted a client of mine to trap bar deadlift. I chose the trap bar because it’s easy to learn and doesn’t require much fine tuning initially.
Every time he deadlifted, however, he felt a painful twinge in his upper back. He’d walk off after his set clutching his traps and wincing in pain.
We switched to the straight bar version, and lo and behold, the pain disappeared.
The straight bar and trap bar deadlift both achieve similar outcomes, just with a slightly different way of getting the job done.
In an ideal world, if a movement just does not feel good (after you’ve worked on it and addressed correct technique etc), switch to a similar exercise that will give you comparable benefits. Usually this exercise will have a movement pattern and range of motion resembling the original lift.
For example, a good morning and a Romanian deadlift are close to one another in terms of execution and muscle activation, but they are tolerated differently. I personally don’t like how good mornings feel any time I go heavy with them.
Sometimes a very minor change to an exercise, such as a change of grip can make it completely pain free. For example, turning the hands neutral (palms facing each other) in a dumbbell press often solves a lot of shoulder problems.
Below are some variations of the ‘Big 3’ lifts you can use in a pickle.
Squat variations: Back squat – Front Squat – Goblet squat – box squat
Horizontal press variations: (barbells or dumbbells) Flat bench – incline bench (varying degrees) – floor press – swiss bar press
Deadlift variations: KB deadlift – conventional deadlift – sumo deadlift – trap bar deadlift – rack pull
After you’ve found an alternative movement, avoid anything else that aggravates the original problem.
I recently developed shoulder pain during flat barbell benching, so in my case, dips are out. They made my shoulder feel horrible.
In some situations, doing nothing is the best option. Earlier this morning I was supposed to deadlift, but when I got to the gym my back felt super stiff from playing football a couple of days earlier. Trap bar deadlifts didn’t feel good either, so I canned the deadlift all together.
Stay safe, live to train another day.
It’s not ‘brave’ or honourable to train through legitimate pain – what use will you be when you’re out of the gym for 2 months, eating cheese strings and getting fat?
Stay fit, stay healthy, and listen to your body. Don’t let ego get the best of you.
Yes yes everybody, welcome back to what is my first post in a while. I’m currently preparing for a white collar boxing match so most of my time is spent training myself and coaching others (on and offline, see here for details).
Anyway, I’m back, and I plan to post alot more consistently from here on.
Today’s article is about mobility – an often neglected but very important topic.
(Note: In my time working as a coach thus far, I’ve noticed that men generally have much worse mobility than women. Women are biologically designed to be more flexible for a number of reasons. Therefore this post is going to be of much more interest to the guys).
So first off, what is mobility?
For example, being able to move in a controlled, fluid manner through a movement, such as the squat means you probably have good hip mobility.
If on the other hand, you try to get into a deep squat position and find it difficult, there’s a good chance your hip mobility is the culprit (due to tight muscle tissue, joint problems etc).
Now this is often considered a boring topic and I understand why. It’s not as fun as sprinting, squatting, playing sports etc. I get it.
But in life, we sometimes have to do things we don’t particularly like doing. Mobility work is one of those things.
Talking with a couple of friends who compete in mixed martial arts, they described how better hip mobility translates into faster and more powerful kicks. Makes sense. If your hip range of motion is poor, you won’t be able to kick in the most efficient way needed to land on an opponent.
I know all about poor mobility. I have possibly the tightest hips known to man, tighter than a ………. (insert your own word here, I’m not involved). I can barely get into a parallel squat position unless I mobilise first.
A few months ago a friend and I embarked on a quest to become faster sprinters. We began hitting the track regularly and soon noticed just how locked up our hips were. To be fast, you need good hip mobility. This was insight A.
(After carving out the his own mobilisation routine, my friend has seen his sprint times improve exponentially in a very short space of time. I have also seen an improvement in speed although haven’t been as consistent with the training).
Insight B came during a heavy squat day. For probably the first time ever, I went thorough a 20 minute mobilisation routine before even getting under the bar.
The effects were immediate – my squat increased a good 10 kg in one session!
It wasn’t necessarily because I had gotten stronger – but I was now able to fully express the strength I had within me (sounds like a Tony Robbins quote).
So without further ado, here’s what I do before pretty much every lower body session (with some variations). I can almost guarantee that spending 15 – 20 minutes doing this routine will result in a better squat, faster sprint etc.
Click on the links below for a video demo of each technique.
Self myofascial release (foam roller, lacrosse/tennis ball, kettlebell)
Start the mobilisation process with self myofascial release to soften and loosen tight muscle groups.
Deep breathing is important during these movements. Go slowly and don’t rush it. If you find a painful spot, stay on it and hang there for a few seconds.
You need a minimum of 2 minutes on each muscle group to effect a change, according to Kelly Starrett in Becoming A Supple Leopard (an excellent book).
Put the ball on the side of the glute where it feels like there’s dip.
In that position, start to flex and extend the knee to restore normal range of motion.
Sit on a box/bench of some kind, and roll on the ball, where the hamstring and glutes meet.
This may raise eyebrows from innocent bystanders at the gym, but ignore them. It’s not public indecency unless you take your clothes off.
It’s somewhat difficult to describe but I’ll try my best here.
Angle the kettlebell handle so it points inwards towards the middle of your body (like this: \) and put it on the right side of your body, so it digs just underneath your iliac crest (the bony part at the front of your hip).
(Do not put the kettlebell handle on the bone itself unless you want serious bruising.)
This technique can be quite uncomfortable but it hits the deep muscles of the psoas and hip flexors in a way which foam rollers can’t.. so get to it.
Glute stretch – 2-3 sets x 20-30 seconds each leg.
Try and drive your hips into the ground and get your front leg as straight as possible across your body.
TRX Squats – 1 set x 10 reps (3-5 second hold at bottom)
Use this movement to reinforce good squat mechanics. In the bottom of the squat, get your chest up and push your knees out wide as you can (without moving feet).
Glute bridge x 10 reps
This is hugely important as most people have under-active glutes, which play a huge role in activities such as squatting and sprinting.
Therefore, ‘waking them up’ before a session will contribute to better overall performance.
Frog Rocks – 10 reps (3-5 seconds at the bottom)
Push the legs out wide and get far back in to the stretch as you can. These are excellent for hitting the abductors on the outside of the hips, and mimics the squat position in a way.
Fire hydrants – 2 sets x 10 reps each leg
Raise the bent knee up to hip level without excessively tilting your body.
(Notice how I can barely raise my knee to the level of my hip – super tight. After a few more sets it becomes much easier for me.)
Banded hip flexor stretch – 2-3 sets x 5 slow rocks in & out on each leg
You can do this without a band but the band makes it even more effective, as it pulls the joint into a better position.
Slowly rock in and out of the stretch, moving from the hips. Don’t lean back too much.
Banded lateral squats – 10 reps on each side
Again you can do this without the band. The adductor muscles (groin) are important in the squat, and the lateral squat is a great way to improve this (without the most pointless machine ever.. the inner and outer thigh machine).
Band hip external rotations – 2 x 5 on each side
Leg swings (forward and backward) – 10 on each side (as many times as you need)
Lateral leg swings – 10 on each side (as many as you need)
Really try to ‘open’ the leg up behind the body as it swings outward.
Light Romanian Deadlifts – 1-2 sets x 10 reps
These warm up the hamstrings.
Kettlebell swings – 2 sets x 5 reps
Low reps to activate the glutes and get the nervous system firing.
You can continue doing many of these drills throughout the session until you feel loose. Beware not to tire yourself out though – too much can be a bad thing.
Please remember that you don’t have to do this exactly as written, but if you’re just learning how to mobilise, I suggest you follow this format. Over time you can cut out stuff that doesn’t work for you and add stuff that does.
Try to do this 1-2 times a week initially at least. I’ve made good progress in my baseline mobility in a short space of time (but still have a loong way to go), and huge improvements in performance.
Whattup guys and Eid Mubarak to anyone out there celebrating. Just a quick post today.
I wanted to share a great slam ball warm-up for boxers I found in the book ‘Training For Warriors‘ by Martin Rooney (I’ve modified it slightly though).
Though this warm-up can be used by pretty much anybody, it’s particularly good for boxers and combat athletes as it gets the feet & hips turning, and the rotational muscles of the core firing.
You will need a good slam ball for this as regular medicine balls may end up ripping. Use a light ball, 3 kg is a good weight.
There are 5 drills in total:
-Chest Pass (0:08)
-Standing Pass (0:13)
-Football Throw-in (0:22)
-Scoop Toss (0:28)
-Wraparound Pass (0:36)
-Perform 5 reps of each drill without stopping to make one circuit (I only included 3 reps to cut the video time). Aim to do each circuit 3 times. If it’s your first time doing this you can start with one circuit and work your way up to three over of a couple of weeks.
Though you should go at a good pace, you don’t have to put 100% raw power into every throw. This circuit is meant as a warm-up drill rather than a pure power drill, so take it easy.
Plus, warm-ups are supposed to warm you up so you can get started.. not wipe you out before you get there!
If you want to do this with a partner, nothing changes. Just don’t hit it in each other’s face.
Note: Make sure to get your feet and hips turning on the sideways and backward throws, as you could hurt your lower back if you fail to do so. Your lower back is not really built to twist excessively.
That’s it guys. Lemme know how it goes!
If you’re a combat athlete or an aspiring coach, get Training For Warriors, it’s a must read.
What’s good people, you might be wondering why the title of this post is the same as a Wu Tang classic.. well today I’m hitting you with a short one about something that came to my attention after reading Strength Training Anatomy (one of the best educational lifting books I’ve read).
It’s something that most of us are unaware of, and if left unchecked, it can mess with our training and our lives.
Most gyms nowadays are spacious, luxurious, air-conditioned palaces with gleaming mirrors all the way round for us hard-working gym folk to admire ourselves while we’re training.
Even the most humble, least narcissistic person in the room suddenly turns into Patrick Bateman when they’re doing bicep curls in front of a mirror. Veins popping out, sleeves getting tighter. Yeahhhh.
It’s natural. There’s not one guy on the planet who hasn’t been guilty of this at one point.
If there’s a mirror in a gym, you can bet there’s a guy somewhere checking himself out in it.
Apart from vanity being one of the seven deadly sins, this isn’t an issue in itself. However, if you’re hitting the iron (as you should be if you’re striving to be athletic-aesthetic), it can be a big problem.
Allow me to explain.
Along the neck (and all the way down the back) we possess vertebrae – small bones which make up our spine and from which nerves emanate.
These nerves fan out to the muscles in the different parts of our body, sending and receiving signals. The nerves from the neck vertebrae travel all the way down the arm.
Still with me?
I’ve previously talked about certain movements where good tekkers is of utmost importance and should not be compromised at any cost. Deadlifts and squats instantly spring to mind.
If you’re planning to go heavy on these movements, they need to be completed with picture-perfect form. Ghetto deadlifts can seriously f*ck you up.
In exercises such as deadlifts, squats, and bent-over rows, most smart lifters recognise the need for good back positions (i.e. neutral). However, not many pay attention to the position of the neck.
It’s usually on the lifts mentioned above (along with dips) where we throw our heads up to check ourselves out in the mirror.
This lifting of the head puts our neck in extension (picture below on the left), which is not a good position to be in while lifting.
(During something like bicep curls, it’s a different situation altogether, because you’re standing up and your head is facing forward, not extended in any way.)
Having the neck in extension during these movements can cause ‘spasms and contractions’ in the deep muscles of the neck, compressing the spinal nerves.
Over time, this might lead to nerve problems in the arm (aka neuralgia). Symptoms of neuralgia include:
I used to be very guilty of checking myself out in the mirror constantly before reading the aforementioned book.
Although I never got the neuralgia, my neck always felt painful because of the strain of that position.
Working as a pharmacist, I’ve seen plenty of people who suffer from neuralgia and spend their lives popping nasty medication (like anti-depressants) just to be able to function..
Not for me Clive. Just ask anybody who’s ever had sciatica how peak it is.
When you’re setting up for a deadlift or bent-over row, focus on a straight(ish) alignment from head to tailbone (or even tuck your chin ever so slightly.)
For squats, looking forward is fine. For dips, tuck your chin slightly.
Not only does improving your alignment keep you safe from injuries, I’ve also noticed another great benefit.
Not looking in the mirror actually improves my feel for the lift – the mind-muscle connection that Arnold and other bodybuilders always talk about so much.
I feel more aware of my body and less distracted. I know what’s supposed to be working, what’s supposed to be contracting. My execution of the lifts has improved so much – everything is more synchronised, tighter, stronger.
Stay safe and remember.. protect ya neck!
PS – November edition of Motivation Music out now!
I love lower body day. I love lifting heavy things. I love putting chalk on my hands, firing up some Immortal Technique and getting angry. Deadlifts are primal. I love doing them, it’s a rush.
Not only do deadlifts make you feel like an animal, but when it comes to developing whole-body strength and (potentially) power, there are not many exercises that even come close to challenging it.
It works just about every muscle group on the back side of the body, and also develops probably the most important athletic movement – hip extension.
Unfortunately however, the deadlift is a double-edged sword. Done correctly, it will make you a beast. Get it wrong, and your back will pay the price.
The other day I went to the gym to do some sumo deadlifts and saw a friend of mine who’d just started his own session, so I jumped in with him. Like most other guys, when I’m training with a friend, my instinct is to compete and push it to the limit, if only to protect my own ego. Yeah, I know. I’m immature.
On this occasion, my ego pushed me too far and I lifted a weight I wasn’t ready for, just to keep up with my friend. I hadn’t done deadlifts for a few weeks so the clever thing would have been to start conservatively and ease back into it, but I didn’t.
I performed a heavy set of 8 reps, but my form was awful. My lower back was rounding and although I kind of knew, I didn’t care. I’m usually a stickler for perfect tekkers, but I allowed myself to get wrapped up in the occasion and ended up performing a set of ghetto deadlifts, the worst type of deadlift.
Go to any 24-hour gym right now and I guarantee you’ll see this. Ghetto deadlifts are slow, grinding death lifts done with a horribly curved back by a pack of teenagers.. usually for reps. Urgh. I’m cringing just at the thought of it.
Now my deadlifts were nowhere near as bad as that, but I still had some significant back rounding. Immediately after the set my lower back felt painful. It wasn’t DOMS, because DOMS takes at least 24 hours to develop. It was just wack form.
My lower back bothered me for about a week after that, but thankfully the pain went away. However, if you perform ghetto deadlifts over the long-term your lumbar spine will take a beating. You’ll might end up with a herniated disc, sciatic pain, and a whole host of other lovely problems which are very difficult to solve.
Trust me on this one, don’t risk it.
I know so many people who deadlift, have back pain the next day, and can’t work out for a week after.. in all likelihood, those weren’t deadlifts they did, they were ghetto deadlifts. Take the time to learn some proper form before you try lifting heavy.
1) Drop the weight
Unless you have years of experience and picture-perfect tekkers, do not lift maximally on the deadlift. Let’s say you can lift 140 kg with slightly suspect form (slow, grinding, minor back rounding), drop the weight slightly, i.e. to 135 kg. Lift that until you’re strong enough to add more weight without compromising form.
Don’t even go near failure on the deadlift. Perform every rep when you’re 100% fresh and if you’re still learning the movement, keep the reps low, around 5. Every rep has got to look perfect, just like the first one of the set. If you can’t do that, don’t deadlift at all.
This is how you should be setting up for each rep of a deadlift. The back is pretty much straight and as I initiate the lift I’ll pull the shoulders back even more.
I have no problem with a little cheating/swaying here and there for certain movements (such as barbell rows, front raises, bicep curls etc), but when it comes to squats and deadlifts that’s not an option. There’s nothing wrong with cheating.. as long as it ain’t on a deadlift.
2) Lift from a raised platform
If you don’t have the strength and mobility to deadlift from the ground, raise the bar onto some kind of platform and lift from it there. You’ll still get many of the benefits of the deadlift while keeping the lift safer for you.
I’d also add that when setting up for the deadlift, you should keep your head in neutral – not looking in the mirror to admire dem gainz, but in line with your spine. If you keep the head up (in extension) you could develop spinal nerve problems. No bueno.
Hope this helps.
Welcome back to Jump, Lift, Sprint people. Today I’d like to talk about one of the most popular pieces of equipment in commercial gyms across the world.
The beacon of hope for newbie lifters, and the machine with the same name as the agents perpetually chasing Neo in the Matrix.. the Smith machine.
If your gym has one, it’s probably occupied 97% of the time.
Why bother using a barbell when you can just use ‘the Smith’ instead – I mean, don’t you get the same effects anyway?
You can do the same stuff with it, and it’s safe, much safer than having a loaded barbell dangling precariously over your sternum, right?
Well, right and wrong.
Yes, you won’t need a spotter while you’re using the Smith machine. Yeah sure, you’re less likely to get crushed by a heavy barbell while bench pressing. But to call it safe would not be entirely correct (for reasons we’ll get to later.)
And if you’re trying to be athletic-aesthetic, the Smith machine isn’t a great idea for you.
Athletic-aesthetic is about being healthy, flexible, strong, performing at a high level, and having the physique that reflects that. Knowing you’re athletic is one of the greatest feelings in the world.
Back in the day we had to run from big cats in the wild, chase after goats, carry heavy stuff, and build houses. If you stayed at home doing Smith machine squats, that big cat would’ve f*cked you up most likely.
Call me elitist, but Smith machines are the lazy man’s way out.
I acknowledge that there are plenty of guys in better shape than me who really push it to the limit on the Smith machine, but if you’re gonna train hard, why not actually train hard?
The difference between a Smith machine squat and a barbell back squat is night and day. The neuromuscular co-ordination needed for the latter is far higher (let alone the cardiovascular demands).
Anyway, enough babbling. Without further ado, here are 4 reasons why the Smith machine is garbage.
Most people using a Smith machine probably think they’re lifting with perfect form because the bar is moving up and down so smoothly.
The machine does all the work for you, so it’s simply a matter of finding the position which is most comfortable for you and going to town (which sounds great on paper).
However, without exaggeration, 95% of people doing Smith machine squats have shocking form. I’ve seen all kinds of mutant stances used on this machine – feet placed together, toes off the floor, etc. What the hell?
If you tried some of those stances with a loaded barbell, it’s unlikely you’d be able to complete the lift, and if you did you could injure yourself big time.
In the event that a person doing those Smith machine squats eventually saw the light and decided to change over to real squats, if they’d been doing Smith squats for long enough they might have grooved incorrect motor patterns, meaning their ‘real’ squat form would suck.
The bar on the Smith machine (and any fixed resistance machine for that matter) moves in a 100% straight path with no freedom for individual anthropometrics.
Coupled with the poor form detailed above, this will eventually wreak havoc on your joints, particularly knees and elbows.
Although we emphasise textbook form where possible, not even the most experienced weight lifter can move anything in a 100% linear, completely precise motion.
We all have unique muscle/limb lengths, skeletons etc so we should allow our body to move through it’s natural range of motion (unless it’s so bad that it needs to be corrected).
During a machine lift, you barely train the stabiliser and synergist muscles at all. For example, in the barbell bench press – the shoulders, triceps, and pecs all contribute in varying degrees,
However in the Smith version, you don’t require nearly as much input from the triceps and delts.
In my opinion, it’s not even remotely the same lift, especially if you’re doing it it to be fit and athletic. During the barbell bench you activate numerous muscles in a synchronised fashion to complete the lift, so more overall muscle mass gets activated.
If you only care about form over function though, go for it.
If you do Smith machine squats, the strength will not carry over to the real lift due to points 1 and 3 above. Many people think they can do Smith work for a while then jump back on to heavy barbell lifts, but what 99% of them find is that the strength does not transfer.
It does go the other way however, from barbell to Smith – but why would you want to do that?
If you really want to exhaust and focus in on a particular muscle group, simply do your big barbell lift and later in the session do a free weight accessory move. So if you wanted to work on your quads for example, you could do squats first (which hit your glutes, hams, quads etc), and later move onto to step-ups or lunges for higher reps.
This way you still get to target the muscle in question but without having to resort to machines and their associated problems.
Plus if you play a sport, it will all be a hell of a lot more functional and useful for what you’re doing.
Most kind of bodyweight moves are way better than using machines too.
I don’t have a problem with isolation movements per se, mainly machine isolation movements. They’re just not useful most of the time. People often use the excuse that they’re safer if you have muscle/joint problems – but not necessarily.
Movement of a free bar and especially your own body weight is far more complex neurologically, activating more of the surrounding muscles.
Your body works as a chain and you should train as such. Your muscles never work in isolation, ever. (Except for when you’re isolating them 🙂 )
It’s not all bad news though. The Smith machine is good for certain things such as stretching (I hold on to them as I stretch my tight abductors with Cossack squats). You can also use it for doing inverted rows, push-ups, and hanging clothes out to dry..
Ahh, the warm-up. That thing most people really don’t want to do (and if they can get away with it, they don’t). You’re not most people though. A classic example is that of a football warm-up. Let’s say you’re about to play 5-a-side with your friends, what usually happens? You get on the pitch, take your balls out (n.h), and start banging them at the ‘keeper as hard as you possibly can.. yeah, I know, we all do it, it’s the ‘English’ warm-up as one coach so eloquently put it… more like the eediots’ warm-up.