Over the past few years I’ve seen many lifters and coaches discussing the seemingly strange movements I prescribe for strength development. Many of these guys are grasping the big picture but missing many of the finer points. To remedy this, I’ve written this “toolbox” series to help experienced lifters fill in the blanks and newer lifters learn about some very effective exercises. You can find the first installmen here if you missed it.
You’ll notice that many of the movements in this toolbox are “assistance” or “accessory” exercises designed to assist the big lifts: squat, deadlift and bench press. This all goes back to a fundamental truth in strength training: to get stronger, a lifter must discover his weak points, then work to bring them up. These exercises will do just that!
Name: Abdominal Wheel
Muscles Targeted: Abdominals
Exercise Description: Start on your knees and roll yourself out, keeping your abs tight. Once you’re parallel to the floor bring yourself up and back to the starting position.
This isn’t an exercise for everyone as it requires great core strength. For a real challenge, try this movement from a standing position. Begin with straight legs and the wheel at your feet. Keeping the legs straight and your low back arched, extend out until you’re parallel to the floor. From this position, reverse the motion while keeping your legs straight.
Training Mistakes: I’ve seen many mistakes with this movement over the past few years. The first is rounding the back. I know you’re all saying, “Dave, we already knew this.” Well, if you already knew it then quit doing it! Funny how everyone knows this but I keep seeing the same thing over and over again!
Also, your goal with this movement is to be able to do them from your feet, not your knees. So instead of three sets of twenty on your knees, move up to your feet. So what if you only do a few sets of three reps; this is what you need to get stronger.
If you can’t go all the way down to the floor from your feet then do them standing in front of a wall. Use the wall as a break for your range of motion. Start so you’re only going half the way down. As you get stronger you can move back.
Name: Band Through Belt
Exercise Description: This isn’t really an exercise, but a great way to perform a variety of exercises such as squats, good mornings and various deadlift movements. By putting a band through your belt and performing any of the above exercises, you’ll get a tremendous amount of hip, glute and hamstring involvement. This is one of the most uncomfortable and painful things you can do during a workout.
Here are five great uses for the band-through-belt set up:
1. Use during your dynamic box squat sets.
2. Use during your sled dragging session.
3. Try to keep the bands on during your entire bench workout.
4. Use for your plyometric training.
5. Use as a finisher after your leg days. Put the band on and walk around for five minutes. For extra conditioning, place one light band around your back and perform bench type movements as you walk around. You may look like a moron but it’ll work the crap out of you!
Name: Band Triceps Pushdowns
Muscles Targeted: Triceps
Exercise description: Choke a band at the top of a power rack or any other sturdy piece of equipment and place your hands on either side of it. Keeping your elbows close to your side, extend your arms and lock out like you’re doing a cable pushdown. These can be done with both arms or with one arm at a time.
Training Mistakes: It was once written that this movement could be used as an extra workout and could add up to 75 pounds on your bench press. While this was indeed true with a few guys at Westside, some lifters took it too far.
For this special extra workout you’d do 100 total reps with a light band three times per week. These reps would help to flush the muscle with blood and aid in the recovery process. We call this a feeder workout. It has to feed into the next session. If it doesn’t feed into the next session, or worse yet, hinders your next session, then you have a problem.
I’ve seen questions such as, "Dave, I’ve been doing the 100 rep pushdowns every day for the last eight weeks and my bench seems to be going down. What am I doing wrong?"
Are you serious? What are you doing wrong? Come on, what you’re doing wrong is being a 100 percent complete. Why do something for eight weeks that isn’t making you better? While this is a great training aide and does have its place for some people, it may not be what you need at this time.
There are many other ways to use this movement. Here are a few I personally use:
1. As a finisher at the end of a bench workout. For some reason I can do a ton of these, get a huge pump (I can’t believe I actually wrote that), and not have any adverse recovery effects.
2. I also like to set up two bands and perform alternating pushdowns while kneeling on the floor. After I reach failure, I stand up (to lesson the tension) and keep the set going until I fail again.
3. I’ve also used this with a light or mini-band as a warm-up before my bench sets. I only use this if my elbows are hurting me.
Name: Bench Press w/ Band Around Wrists
Category: Special Exercise Variation
Muscles Targeted: Triceps, Shoulders and Lats
Exercise Description: If you have no idea what we mean when we tell you to “pull the bar apart” when you bench, then this is the movement for you. This variation is usually done when performing dynamic bench presses. It’ll teach you to pull the bar apart and activate the rear delt and rotator cuff region while you bench.
To perform, just double a mini-band around your wrists, spread the band apart and grab the bar.
This is a great teaching device that I’ve seen work wonders with beginners and advanced lifters. Keep in mind that it’s a teaching aide and shouldn’t be used exclusively. Try it for a few sessions and see if your technique improves. I’ve also seen this be very effective for those coming back from a pec strain or tear. It teaches you how to keep some of the stress off the pecs.
1. Using it as a crutch. Use if for what it’s intended for and get off of it. There’s no need to stay on it for longer than four to six weeks.
2. Using it for all your bench training from flat benches, inclines, declines and so on. Use it for your main bench work, then move on.
3. Using too much band. One mini-band will be plenty for 99% of lifters.
Name: Bradford Presses
Category: Supplemental, accessory
Muscles Targeted: Shoulders
Exercise Description: Begin by un-racking a barbell much like you would during a military press. Press the barbell so that it’s a couple inches over your head. At this point, lower the barbell behind your head. It should now resemble a behind the neck press. Press back up so that the bar is a couple inches over your head and bring the bar back to the front military press position. This would constitute one rep.
By not locking out the weight, you’re putting the stress on your shoulders and keeping it off your triceps. This is best used for high reps (8-15). You can perform these seated or standing, and usually a medium or wide grip is used. (Note: This is sometimes called a Rainbow Press.)
Name: Zercher Squats
Category: Max effort, supplemental
Muscles Targeted: Hips, low back, hamstrings, glutes
Exercise Description: This is a great exercise to build your deadlift and teach you to maintain proper position when squatting. Because of the position of the barbell, it forces the lifter to maintain tight abs, an arched lower back, and proper chest position.
Begin by placing a bar in a power rack just below your armpits and unrack it in the crook of your elbows. Keeping your back arched, stomach pushed out and chest up, squat back until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Make sure to keep your elbows and arms close to your body. A shoulder-width stance is usually used.
Stand up by thrusting forward with the hips.
The amount of weight you can hold in your elbows will limit the bar weight used on this exercise. Some of the pain can be alleviated by placing a single 2 x 6 board (approximately 16-18" in length) in the crook of your elbows and placing the bar on it.
Name: Glute Ham Raise
Muscles Targeted: Hamstrings, glutes, calves
Exercise Description: This is a special exercise that strengthens the glutes, hamstrings and calves all with the same movement. This exercise was developed in Russia and is one of the best exercises for increasing speed and power in the posterior chain.
You begin the movement with the use of a special glute ham raise bench by using your glutes to raise the body. At this point, the hamstrings take over, and then the gastrocnemius finishes the movement. During the movement it’s important to push your toes against the toe plate. It’s also important to control the eccentric (lowering) part of the movement.
To the beginner, a GHR should be hard to do. If you get on a bench and can knock out 10 to 15 reps the first time you do it, then the machine isn’t built correctly. The toe plate should be long enough to push your toes into it. The pad should have an angle on it to keep your body in the correct position so you don’t fall off at the top.
I can go on and on with this, but the fact is that too many companies build equipment designed by people who’ve never lifted a real weight in their lives! In short, you aren’t going to get a good GHR for less than $500.00. I don’t care who you are or what you say, I’ve seen them all and 90% of them are junk you should never invest in. It’s far better to stick with movements such as Romanian deadlifts, pull-throughs and stiff leg deadlifts than it is to use a crap GHR.
To do a GHR, you’ll start with your body in a horizontal position on the bench with your toes pushed into the toe plate. Your knees will be set two inches behind the pad and your back will be rounded with your chin tucked. You then push your toes into the pad and curl your body up with your hamstrings while keeping the back rounded. As you approach the top position, squeeze your glutes to finish in a vertical position.
The sets and rep scheme for the GHR depends on the strength of the lifter. I find most athletes and lifters to be very bad at these as the hamstring strength of most people is downright terrible. For those who fall into this category, I’d have them do two to three sets of GHR as part of their warm-up for every workout of the week. I suggest they strive to get 3 sets of 10 reps. This will mean for most that they’ll be doing three sets to failure, failing around 3 to 5 reps each set. Over time this will improve.
Once they get better, I’d have them keep the GHR as a warm-up movement and drop the sets and reps to 3 x 8. At this time in the program, they’d now add the GHR as a main movement as part of the main session at least one time per week. Yes, they’ll be doing GHR’s five times per week!
For the main session there are several suggestions to follow for the highest success. While doing the GHR as the main movement, it’s “bust ass” time. The reps and sets will fall into several categories and should be rotated every few weeks. Examples of these programs would include:
1. Three sets to failure
2. One hundred total reps (using as many sets as needed).
3. Three heavy sets of 5 to 6 reps while holding weight across chest.
4. Three heavy sets of 5 to 6 reps while holding weight behind head.
5. Three heavy sets of 5 to 6 reps with the back of machine inclined up 4 to 30 inches.
6. Dynamic GHR sets: Here you get to the top position and drop fast and rebound out of the bottom with as much force as you can. You can use a heavy medicine ball or weight to lower faster and drop the weight at the bottom.
7. Static-Dynamic GHR: Start at the horizontal position and have a training partner place his hands on your back for a three to five-second count. While doing this, drive into your partner’s hands as hard as you can. After the five seconds, your partner will pull away and you should fire up as fast as you can to finish the rep. This is best preformed with 5 to 6 sets of 3 reps.
8. Yielding GHR: For this version you’ll break the movement into three holding positions, each for 5 to 10 seconds. Start at the horizontal position and hold for 10 seconds, raise halfway and hold for another 10 seconds, then rise to the top and hold for 10 more.
8. Timed GHR: In this version you’ll give yourself a set time and do as many reps as you can. For example, you use five minutes and end up with 70 reps the first time you do it. The next time you’d use the same time and try to beat the 70 reps.
9. GHR with bands: This is a movement for the more advanced lifter. Strap each of the bands around the bottom of the GHR and place the other end around your upper traps. The bands will add heavy resistance at the top.
10. Forced GHR with heavy eccentric: This is a good version for those who aren’t strong enough to get one rep. With this version the training partner will help the lifter get to the top and then he’d lower the rep on his own. Only enough assistance should be applied to help the lifter get one rep. Sets of 3 to 5 reps are best with this style of the GHR.
11. Incline GHR: Incline the back of the GHR bench anywhere from 4 to 30 inches. The change in angle places an increased amount of stress on the hamstring and glutes.
12. Decline GHR: For those that have a hard time getting 5-8 reps, you can place boards under the front end of the GHR bench. This will make the movement easier to do allowing you to get a few more reps. I’ve suggested this hundreds of times with our customers. A large percentage of them find they can only get two reps with our pad angle (compared to 10 to 15 reps on their old unit) and are looking for a way to get stronger fast. Placing boards under the front end is the fastest, easiest way to get the job done.
If your progress in the big lifts has stalled, try a few of these exercises and bring up those weak points! For more info, be sure to checkout my Eight Keys series and visit www.elitefts.com for new articles, Q and A’s, an exercise index, and the best strength store in the world.