Overcoming Lousy Leverages, Part II
A New Outlook on an Old Topic
by Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson
In Part I, we discussed how your body type can hinder you on certain lifts while making you an absolute stud on others. We also covered how your body type can influence the way you should be training to maximize your performance in the squat.
Here in Part II, our goal is to take the guesswork out of bench and deadlift training and, in the process, take your total to an all-time high!
Benching and the Long Limbed Lifter
Much like the squat, the bench press is a challenge for the long limbed lifter. Just like he tends to miss the squat at about the midpoint of the lift, the same thing occurs when benching. The arms are typically a weakness, as the pecs and anterior delts provide a significant amount of elastic energy and rebound. However, this rebound runs out further away from the lockout position because of his gorilla arms.
Think of a rubber ball that's dropped from some height. The higher the starting point, the more time the ball has to gain momentum and the higher the subsequent bounce. In a bench pressing context, the longer the arms, the more range of motion there is to store elastic energy, and the greater the subsequent force production thanks to the stretch-shortening cycle.
So what's the solution for the long limbed lifter?
Solution #1: More Speed-Strength!
As was the case with the squat, this lifter needs to focus on being super explosive and blasting through the sticking point. Accommodating resistance work with bands and chains is again our method of preference. Lots of band and chain tension work great here, with the actual bar weight being fairly low (40-50%).
Solution #2: Top End Work
From the midpoint up, the lifter will have to grind to complete the lift. For that reason alone, top-end work is essential to building the bench press. The rebound gets him to the midpoint, but a strong lockout will finish the lift. Exercises such as floor presses, board presses, and rack lockouts will give him the necessary strength to lockout big PR's with consistency.
Notice that we don't simply tell you to build the triceps; we're training movements, not muscles. Strength increases will be "generally specific" to the joint angles at which you train.
Floor presses are a surefire way to build a huge lockout.
Solution #3: Elbow Extension Work
Beyond simply training the lockout (which is very specific triceps work), general elbow extension ("triceps isolation") work can also aid in hypertrophy. "General" triceps work doesn't consist of fluff exercises such as kickbacks or single arm pushdowns. Heavy exercises such as skull crushers, throat crushers, dips, close-grip bench presses, JM presses, and rolling dumbbell extensions are excellent weapons for your triceps training arsenal. Lockout exercises should, however, comprise the bulk of your "triceps" work.
Benching and the Long Torso Lifter
The shorter armed lifter doesn't have the luxury of the massive rebound off his chest. Instead, his strength lies in the short levers of his arms; any weight that he can get off his chest he can lock out.
This lifter is constantly challenged by the bottom portion of the lift, and it's one of the reasons that adding a bench shirt can do wonders for his numbers — and typically a lot more quickly than is the case with guys with ape arms.
Solution #1: Bottom End Work
Strengthening the power off the chest is the key to this lifter's success. Due to the short ROM (range of motion), the tendons of the pecs, triceps, and anterior deltoids don't have much opportunity to store elastic energy. This is where bottom-end work comes in: to improve starting strength off the chest.
Movements such as cambered bar benches, bottom-half benches, heavy dumbbell bench presses of all varieties, and speed benches from a pause on the chest will benefit this lifter. Leave the flye variations for the bodybuilders; again, we're training movements and not muscles.
Solution #2: Strength-Speed Work
Just like his long-armed counterpart, the lifter with the long torso needs to put an emphasis on training for bar speed, but the emphasis is slightly different. These lifters tend to respond better to work that's slightly further to the left on the force-velocity curve than was the case with the long-torso trainees. The majority of speed benching should be in the 50-60% range with less overall accommodating resistance.
Deadlifting and the Long Limbed Lifter
Long limbed lifters, rejoice. The deadlift is typically your finest hour! Those long arms provide you with a biomechanical advantage that favors big deadlifts. However, that doesn't mean a long limbed lifter is exempt from missing deadlifts. In fact, the strong lower back can often hold back the true deadlifting potential if it's relied upon too much.
What typically happens when these lifters miss deadlifts is that they stall about one-half to two-thirds of the way up. Their starting position is impeccable, but the hips can rise too quickly and as the movement starts to slow, the chest caves over to put more stress on the stronger spinal erector muscles. This movement, however, shifts the bar too far from the axis of motion (hips) and can often cause a lifter to miss an otherwise easily completed lift.
So how do we fix this?
Solution #1: Strengthen the Legs
Just as the legs need to be strengthened to complete big squats, they also need to be strengthened to properly start big pulls. Typically the weakest links here are the hip extensors; the quads are minimally involved in a good deadlift. Due to the position of anterior pelvic tilt for the majority of the lift, the hamstrings are vital to getting a smooth and efficient pull from the floor, while both the hamstrings and glutes are active at the midpoint-to-completion of the lift.
Dedicated posterior chain work not only improves the initial and middle portions of the pull, but it'll make bigger weights feel smoother, as the lower back isn't forced to compensate. Exercises such as glute-hams, pull-throughs, lunges, step-ups, glute-emphasis reverse hypers, and kneeling squats will get your posterior chain strong in no time.
The reverse hyper
Solution #2: Slow Pulls
Yes, you heard right: we want you to practice pulling slowly! Don't worry, though, we're not falling into the super-slow camp. Rather, using some submaximal deadlifts with a slow initiation of the movement can actually teach you proper hip and knee angles at the start of the lift.
When long-limbed lifters use bad technique with heavier weights, the hips jump up prematurely and they wind up stiff-legging the attempts. Try starting your lift slowly while keeping the hips down, and then explode the hips through to complete the lift. This option is best included as part of a warm-up (remember, you're using submaximal weights).
Solution #3: Speed Pulls
In case you haven't figured it out yet, the long limbed lifter would be wise to put a premium on improving speed and acceleration in all lifts. Once the hamstrings and glutes are adequately developed, it's necessary to focus on improving speed and acceleration.
Given that the most common sticking point is at the mid-shin to kneecap level, long-limbed lifters respond very well to speed pulls against accommodating resistances. Bar weight should be in the 40-60% range. Just think, if you're fast off the floor and have long arms, chances are that you can use that speed to carry right through your lockout!
Solution #4: Force the Legs to Do More Work
As we discussed before, these lifters often want to shift the weight to their stronger lower back as quickly as possible. However, if you can strengthen the legs and improve the initial pull, you can save the lower back and improve your leverage throughout the lift. Exercises such as pulling from a deficit and Olympic pulls force you to get your hips down, and therefore use more leg strength to get the bar moving.
Deadlifting from a deficit
Solution #5: Glute Activation
More often than not, lifters miss deadlifts at the top because their glutes don't kick in to posteriorly tilt the pelvis to finish the lockout. For some, correcting this problem is as simple as telling them to "squeeze the cheeks together" at the top of the movement.
For others, motor re-education can be extremely helpful, especially when implemented as part of a warm-up prior to lifting sessions. We outlined such initiatives in our Get Your Butt in Gear series. By getting the glutes firing, you'll avoid hitching the weight. Nobody wants to stand up with the barbell only to get red-lighted or, worse yet, injured.
Correct programming has allowed Eric to overcome "Cressey Flat Ass Syndrome" to pull 568 at a bodyweight of 163.
Deadlifting and the Long Torso Lifter
While the squat and bench press seem to come naturally to the long torso lifter, the deadlift can quite often be his Achilles heel. His short arms and long torso provide for an inefficient starting position and often an awkward looking lift altogether. Because the legs are a strong point, most competitive lifters with this build opt to pull with a sumo stance.
The sumo deadlift
For these individuals, getting the weight off the floor is the hardest part of the lift. These lifters have less range of motion to store elastic energy, so they struggle in the bottom position. In other words, if they can get it out of the hole, they can typically lock it out.
The deadlift is no different, which is why these lifters typically "dip, grip, and rip" quickly (to try to use the stretch-shortening cycle to make the lift easier) or pull in deadlift or squat suits that help them off the floor.
Solution #1: Strengthen the Lower Back and Glutes
The lower back must be highly developed for these lifters to finish those big pulls. They need these muscles to finish big squats, and they must be developed for big pulls as well — training economy at its finest! Maintaining the arch while pulling will keep the emphasis on the strong leg musculature while shortening the distance the bar must travel, meaning these lifters will be out of their misery as soon as possible.
For these lifters, all deadlift and good morning variations are excellent choices, as are back extensions and reverse hypers. Need proof? Matt Wenning is a true stud when it comes to lifting. This guy has squatted 903 and benched 606 in the 275 pound weight class, all at the ripe old age of 25. However, his deadlift has always lagged behind.
Last year, he set a new deadlift PR of 705, but then stalled out. After doing a four-week mesocycle with a heavy emphasis on good mornings, he blew that PR away with a 735 pound deadlift in just a singlet! Thirty pounds in one month is an amazing improvement in a highly trained lifter! Once he got his spinal erectors on par with the rest of his body, his deadlift really jumped up.
Big Matt Wenning blew up his lower back, then blew up his old-PR's along with it!
Solution #2: Speed Pulls from Deficits
Just as speed pulls work for the long-torso lifters, they can be of tremendous value for those with short arms and legs. If you can pull a weight from a deficit, you'll be able to smoke it from the regular floor. Percentages should remain about the same, but accommodating resistance (although still valuable) doesn't warrant as much prioritization.
An Exception to the Rule: The Suited Puller
When you add a squat or deadlift suit to the mix, these lifters start to perform more and more like their long-limbed counterparts. While the suit will help get the weight off the floor, you'll often see lifters pulled too far forward. As such, the methods outlined for the long-limbed lifter can be of definite value.
So, if you're pulling in a suit, figure out where your sticking point is and train accordingly. Eric's Deadlift Diagnosis will also give you some direction in this regard.
Keep in mind that these are simply observations we've made in a variety of lifters with whom we've worked or watched lift; there will be exceptions to every rule. However, as a general rule of thumb, the squatter/bencher body types will respond much better to specificity than will those with the deadlift build.
While your training should still focus on the meat and potato lifts, the guidelines put forth in this series should give you some direction with respect to how you approach your assistance movements when training for performance on the big three. Now get out there and use some of our science to build freaky big lifts!
Note: We'd like to extend a special thanks to all the powerlifters who helped out with compiling the info for these articles. We appreciate all your input!
About the Authors
Eric Cressey, MA, CSCS completed his Master's Degree in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science at the University of Connecticut. A competitive powerlifter, Eric has written over fifty articles for publication in various online and print magazines. Eric is located in Southern Connecticut, and has experience in athletic performance, rehabilitation, human performance laboratory and general conditioning settings. You can contact him at [email protected].
Mike Robertson, M.S., C.S.C.S., U.S.A.W., is the Director of Custom Athletics and President of Robertson Training Systems in Indianapolis, Indiana. Mike received his Masters in Sports Biomechanics from the Human Performance Lab at Ball State University. Mike has been a competitive powerlifter for the last 4.5 years and is currently the USA Powerlifting State Chair in Indiana. To contact Mike, please send an email to [email protected].
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