5 Tips From The Trenches
Here's what you need to know...
• Adding thick grip handles to face pulls lets you train the grip effectively while hitting the back.
• When seeking advice, make sure you ask a guy whose goals match your own.
• You can't talk and BS your way to a better body or impressive strength levels. You are how you train.
• To improve a weak point, hammer it with extra work for 3-5 weeks while putting the rest of the body on maintenance.
When you train athletes all day and then yourself, you pick up a few things. Here are five new tips and tricks I've learned recently.
1. Use Thick-Grip Face Pulls
I've been slow to adopt the thick-grip training craze, especially with pulling movements like rows, chin-ups, and deadlifts.
It sounds good in theory, but in practice using a thick grip forces you to reduce the weight so much that you end up sacrificing overall strength and muscle building potential for the sake of grip strength or forearm size. Not a worthwhile tradeoff.
Adding thick grips to face pulls is different, though. Face pulls are more of a "feel" exercise than a brute strength exercise, so you don't want to go super heavy anyway. The weight you use won't be negatively affected by the addition of the thick handles.
Moreover, one problem with face pulls is getting too fast with the movement and using the arms too much, which defeats the intended purpose of working the upper back.
Adding thick handles helps you take the arms out of it, allowing you to think about using your upper back to do the work. Not only do you get some extra work for the forearms, but you also make the exercise more effective for the upper back.
Just slide the thick handles onto a triceps pushdown rope and go.
Just don't try to be a hero and use a ton of weight. No one gives a rat's ass how much you face pull.
2. Learn to Spot Training Bias
Adopt the ability to sort through the influx of information you're exposed to on a daily basis and figure out how to best put it to use.
The internet is replete with training information – some good, some not so good, and some downright atrocious. Read as much as possible and subscribe to the adage that "knowledge is power." But knowledge can only be power if used correctly.
Sifting through the quagmire of information can be overwhelming, especially when so much of it is contradictory. For that reason, many lifters stay mired in "paralysis by analysis" and spin their wheels.
To keep from going down that path, you not only have to focus on the information presented to you, but you also have to take into account the context behind the information, as well as the biases of the person sharing the info. Whether they admit it or not, all writers, lifters, and coaches are biased, myself included.
That's not meant to be a slight. Think of bias as "baggage." We all have baggage, meaning we're all products of our experiences. That's a good thing. It makes for a more diverse and comprehensive smattering of information to be disseminated.
Most writers won't explicitly state their biases up front. They may not even be aware of them, but they are inextricably embedded in the writer's message. So as a reader, it's important to be aware of a writer's personal bias so you can understand where he or she is coming from.
Context is just as important as the information itself. When you read an article and take it at face value, all you're really getting is a miniscule snapshot of the author's mind. What you can't see in that snapshot are all the factors that led to that opinion. Those things are the biases.
For example, let's take a simple question: What's the best way to squat?
You'll get some very different – and sometimes contradictory – answers depending on whom you ask.
For a powerlifter, the ideal form is the one that allows you to move the most weight. A geared powerlifter will likely advise you to take a super-wide stance and sit way back into the squat to recruit more of the hips and get the most out of the gear. A raw powerlifter might suggest a narrower and slightly more upright stance to get more from your quads and avoid beating up your hips.
But both will advise squatting exactly to the required depth because any higher won't count and any lower will force you to take weight off the bar.
An Olympic lifter, however, will advocate rock-bottom squats as they're most specific to the Olympic lifts, and they'll likely also recommend a heavy dose of front squats, too.
A bodybuilder is squatting for quad development, so he'll suggest a more upright posture and more of a knee-dominant squat pattern to put greater emphasis on the quads. He also isn't as concerned with the range of motion and may even suggest squatting a few inches high.
Depending on who you ask, they may even recommend using something like a machine hack squat to take the stabilization component out of it to allow you to just hammer the legs into oblivion.
Ask a guy with a bad back and he'll likely recommend doing front squats, belt squats, split squats, or single-leg squats. Ask a guy with a bad knee and he might recommend box squats with a vertical tibia. Ask a guy with a bad shoulder and he may recommend squatting with the safety squat bar.
You get the idea. The answer to any question depends on which guy you ask.
The key is to make sure you ask the right guy for your goals.
Here are some of the things you should consider about the source of the info before you evaluate it:
- His goals
- His strengths and weaknesses, likes, and dislikes. People tend to like what they're good at and dislike what they suck at. In turn, they're more likely to promote what they're good at and criticize what they suck at.
- Training background
- Injury history
- Are they a coach or are they just talking about their own experiences?
- If they're a coach, what types of clients do they work with?
3. Adopt This Slogan: "You Are How You Train."
You've heard the saying, "You are what you eat." If you eat well, you'll be healthy and look good. If you eat like crap, you'll look like crap. Simple.
I'd like to propose a similar slogan for training: "You are how you train."
Many know a lot and can talk a good game, but few truly understand just how much hard work goes into producing real-world results. You can't talk and bullshit your way to a better body or impressive strength levels.
It's said in life that it's not always what you know but who you know. With training, neither of those things really matter. It's all about what you do.
Train like a beast and you'll become a beast. Train like a little bitch and, well, I think you can finish the sentence.
4. Attack One Goal and Pursue It Ruthlessly
How you go about achieving your goals has to change as you get stronger and your training age increases.
When you first start training, all it takes is a balanced strength program and you'll get stronger at just about everything all at once. If you're smart about it, that will take you a long way.
But after you've achieved more noteworthy strength levels, eventually your progress is going to come to a screeching halt, especially if you've reached a bodyweight you're comfortable with and no longer want to gain weight.
Once you've built up a good base of strength, more ambitious goals are going to require laser-like focus, meaning other things will have to be placed on the backburner for a bit. More advanced lifters start to run into problems when they try to prioritize too many things at once.
At best that's a recipe for falling short of your goals, but it's also a recipe for overuse injuries because as strong as you might think you are, the body can only handle so much at once.
A better strategy is to attack one goal at a time and pursue it ruthlessly for 3-5 weeks before backing off and adopting a more balanced program for 8-10 weeks before going after another goal.
That goal may be to improve a certain lift or bring up a particular body part. Make that the main focus of your program and put everything else on the backburner. You don't have to stop training everything else, just back off a bit.
As an extreme example, the two times I've been at my all-time best on chin-ups were in the months following my two knee surgeries where I wasn't training my legs. I just focused on chin-ups every day. I pressed one or two times a week, but nothing to write home about.
After five weeks, my elbows started getting cranky so I backed off the chin-ups and resumed a more normal training program. My pressing had dropped off slightly, but it came right back after a few workouts and I maintained most of my newfound chin-up strength.
Last year I devoted four weeks to improving my incline press, so I pressed four times a week and put everything else on maintenance mode, doing some pulling and lower body work once a week with reduced volume. My incline press went up 20 pounds, and within two weeks of resuming normal lifting my other lifts were back to normal.
If you've hit a plateau and feel like you're not making progress, try this strategy and see if you can't bust through.
5. Use the Dead-Squat Bar
I've been using the Dead-Squat™ Bar in my workouts for a little over four months, and every time a new person comes to the gym I invariably get the question: How is the Dead-Squat bar different from a regular trap bar?
It's a fair question, so I thought I'd answer it here.
The biggest difference is just the sheer size of it. When I first saw it on the website I thought it looked big, but I didn't realize just how big it was until I put it next to a regular trap bar – it looks like it eats regular trap bars for breakfast!
Furthermore, Dead-Squat™ Bars are over a foot longer than three regular trap bars!
The increased size obviously allows for substantially more loading potential, but it also makes it more stable when you're pulling big weights. Regular trap bars can get tippy back-to-front, but the thicker Dead-Squat bar makes for a smooth pull.
Also, its increased front-to-back size allows people under six feet tall to use it for single-leg work like split squats, lunges variations, and step-ups. This lets you load those exercises similar to dumbbells, yet with nearly unlimited loading potential – and you don't have to worry about the dumbbells swinging.
Here's an example of full-stride split squats. As you can see, the bar stays very steady, and when you're done with the set, all you have to do is set it down:
- It's rackable. The fact that it's rackable opens up a slew of options beyond just trap bar deadlifts – rack pulls, presses, rows, and scrape-the-rack variations.
- It has angled handles. This gives you the option to use either a semi-pronated "closed" grip or a semi-supinated "open" grip. The closed grip works well for deadlift variations, but I really like the option of the open grip for presses and rows.
Open grip presses feel better on the shoulders without the wrist stress and awkwardness of a reverse grip, and open grip rows give you the feeling in your back of an underhand Yates row, with less biceps recruitment and wrist stress.
Five bits of knowledge, five opportunities to put that knowledge into action. Let me know how these tips work for you.