Many lifters and coaches grasp the big picture when they read about the movements I prescribe for strength development, but they often miss the finer points. I've written this "Toolbox" series to help these experienced lifters fill in the blanks. It'll also help newer lifters learn about some very effective exercises.
A fundamental truth in strength training is this: to get stronger, a lifter must discover his weak points, then work to bring them up. Many of the movements in this toolbox series are "assistance" or "accessory" exercises designed to do just that!
Standing "Strip the Rack" Close Grip Shoulder Presses
Muscles Targeted: Front Delts and Triceps
Exercise Description: Before I was a member of Westside Barbell, I'd take weekend trips up to the club to see what they were doing. This is a movement I picked up 14 years ago on one such trip.
After a dynamic bench session, I noticed a few guys at the other end of the gym pressing a barbell into and up the actual power rack. It was so simple I couldn't believe I didn't think of it years earlier.
To set up for standing "strip the rack" close grip shoulder presses, you set the J-hook in the power rack at chin level. If your J-hook is like the one displayed in the picture (with a long head base), you'll need to set it lower so the bar won't hit the J-hook (head base) during the movement.
Next, you get under the bar and press to the top of the J-hook so the bar is now resting against the rack. Take a slight step back so you'll have leverage to press into the rack. At this point you'll press the bar up and into the rack at the same time. Try your best to strip the paint off the rack (your gym owner will love this). The harder you press into the rack the better.
This isn't your normal shoulder press because you're not pressing back and over your head; you're pressing forward and away. This will make it an easier movement for those who may be training around shoulder injuries. (Note: If you have a shoulder injury and this still hurts, don’t be a moron and keep doing it. Find something else to do.)
This isn't a movement that you'll need to go really heavy on. I like to prescribe multiple sets of 10 to 15 reps with this exercise. Stripping the rack also works very well for bench presses, close-grip bench presses, curls and extensions.
• Going too heavy. This is a supplemental movement for your shoulders. There's no need to try and impress anyone with how much weight you can use on the "stripping the rack" press. Save that for the important stuff like squats and pulls.
• Not keeping your abs tight and your back straight. No need to explain this to anyone.
• Getting in an argument with your gym owner over the movement. Look, he bought the rack and if he doesn't want you to do the movement, then don’t do it. Better yet, buy your own rack or go to a gym where they don't allow spandex!
Brockensteins (Band Pull-Outs)
Category: Special Exercise
Muscles Targeted: Lats, Pecs and Triceps
Exercise Description: Todd Brock is one of the most anal training partners I've ever had. He's always thinking, watching, thinking, analyzing, thinking, watching… well, you get the point. He wants to figure it all out. Because of this attention to detail, he's been one of the best training partners I've ever had.
Todd was a member of Westside before I arrived in 1990 and still makes his way into the gym. I guess you can say he's picked up a few things along the way. Over a year ago I began to have him really take a look at my bench technique. I had to make a few changes to my technique because of injuries and bench shirts.
Bill Crawford was a huge help with showing me how to set up, press the bar and basically relearn how to press. (If you haven't been to one of his seminars, I highly recommend it.) One of the biggest problems I was having was being able to hold the bar at the top of the movement and getting the bar out of the rack. This was due to several injuries I've sustained in the past, coupled with my lack of holding barbells.
We addressed this problem with a few different special exercises cycled in two-week blocks. I also began to hold all my heavy weights at the top for two to three seconds. Todd remembered Jessie Kellum showing him a barbell pull-out movement and decided to have me give it a try. After a few sets we'd taken all the weight off the bar and began adding bands that pulled the bar back. This worked fairly well but wasn't giving me enough downward force, so we added more bands, this time pulling down. As you can see in the picture, we have bands pulling the bar back and bands pulling the bar down.
To do this movement, you set up with your body lower than normal on the bench. Grab the bar with your bench grip and pull the bar out like you were going to bench. Keep pulling the bar as you would a pullover and pull to a point 10-12 inches farther than your bench press start position (more toward you feet). No need to be exact; if you go too far you'll know it because it won't feel tight in the lats.
The real trick to this movement is to pause for a two count each time you pass your bench press start point. So for each rep you'll have two pauses for a total of four seconds. Each rep should take five to six seconds. Make sure to use as much band as you can. You shouldn't be able to do more than three or four reps per set. If you can, the band is too light.
How many sets should you do? Who the hell knows? Do what you think you need to do. When I was really trying to focus on this, I was doing eight to ten sets. Now that it's no longer a problem, I don't do them at all.
While this is a great movement, I can’t overstate the value of learning to hold the bar at the start and finish of each heavy rep.
• Only using bands that pull down. You have to have the back band!
• Making this a pullover movement. This is for your bench; your take-off should be exactly the same as when you bench.
• Not going heavy. The bands have to be heavy to make this work. We aren't trying to get you stronger to lift light weights. You need to get stronger to lift big weights!
• If you don’t have a problem un-racking weights then don't do this movement! A special movement isn't some fancy new bodybuilding exercise. It's a movement with a very specific purpose. This isn't intended to give you wider lats; it's intended to help you with the start of your bench press.
TKE’s (Terminal Knee Extensions)
Muscles Targeted: Quads
Exercise Description: Every movement has its story and this one is no different. I was first shown this movement 14 years ago at a post-rehab seminar. After the seminar I spent some time with the speaker and asked what movements I should add into my program to keep me from getting injured. After some time explaining what I do (it seems no one knows the difference between bodybuilding, strongman, weight lifting and powerlifting) he gave me a list of three different things. Terminal knee extensions was one of them.
Did I do them? No. Why should I? My knees felt great.
So now we move ahead a few years later. While at the gym one day, Dick Hartzell comes in. For those who don't know Dick, he's known as the Band Man. Dick is the founder and owner of Jump Stretch and knows more about training with bands than anyone on this planet. There's a hell of a lot more you can do with bands than placing them around barbells. Dick is known for getting athletes back in action with some of his special band training methods. He has several videos on band movements for sports, flexibility and strength (see www.elitefts.com).
One of the first things he showed me was a TKE with bands. I was told that with the way we squat (mostly hips and hamstrings) that we needed to address the VMO (Vastus Medialis or what's known as the "tear drop" muscle) or we'd be looking at problems down the line.
Did I listen? No. Why should I? My knees felt great.
Five years later I place a call to a dear friend of mine who's known for great rehab training methods. I tell him I just messed up my knee squatting with the SS Bar for a max a couple weeks ago and it wasn't getting better. I made a trip up to see him and after a few tests it turned out I was okay, but my VMO wasn't firing correctly and this was causing most of my knee problems. I had a huge imbalance problem.
Guess what I was told to do? You got it: TKEs. Did I listen? Hell yes I listened!
Don’t make the same mistake I did. Add a couple sets of these into your program twice a week. It won’t hurt you and could actually prevent future problems. I'm not sure it would've helped avoid my knee problem (I had bad form with max weight; something will always give), but I wished I would've been doing this because it might've made a difference.
To do a TKE you need a light or average Jump Stretch Band (www.elitefts.com or www.jumpstretch.com.) Other bands may work as well. Choke it around a power rack post or any other stable object at knee height. Wrap the other end of the band around your knee. Walk back so the back is pulling at the back of your knee. With your heel on the floor, bend and flex your knee.
When you flex make sure to contract your quad as tight as you can for a one or two count. You'll want to do 15-20 reps for a couple sets of each leg. This is also a great warm-up if your knees tend to bother you. With all rehab work, if you're seeing a doctor or therapist you'll need to run this by him first to make sure you won't screw yourself up more.
Yeah, I know this is a stupid movement. I also hate this kinda crap. I was born to go heavy and stuff like this kills me to do. But you know what? We still need to do it.
• Letting your heel come off the ground.
• Not stepping back to tighten the band.
• Rushing the movement. Keep the movement slow and controlled with a tight contraction at the finish position.
• Not doing them at all!
Category: Max Effort and Dynamic Effort
Muscles Targeted: Whole Body
Exercise Description: This movement is unreal for bringing up your deadlift. By using a Jump Stretch platform or your own homemade one, loop the bands around the bar and platform. You can adjust the tension as you like but having the tension kick in fast seems to be the ticket.
This is best done using one or two mini-bands folded in half for each side. Once you're set up, begin to pull the bar the same way you would a deadlift. This will help bring up the midpoint and top of the deadlift while teaching you how to pull off the floor.
This movement is great for those who are weak at the top of the lift. It'll teach you to accelerate the bar to the top, but this isn't the best choice of max effort movement if you're weak off the floor. Band deadlifts can also be used for dynamic deadlift training. Most lifters who use dynamic deadlifts will do them right after their dynamic squat movement. This way you move right from one explosive movement to the next. You won't need much of a warm-up and should be able to go right into your training weight.
There are many different dynamic deadlift cycles to choose from. I'm including two for you to start with:
Three Week Dynamic Deadlift Cycle with Double Mini-Bands
Week 1 — 45% for 6-8 singles
Week 2 — 50% for 6-8 singles
Week 3 — 55% for 6-8 singles
Three Week Dynamic Deadlift Cycle for Those Weak Off the Floor
Week 1 — 50% for 6-8 singles standing on 1 one-inch mat
Week 2 — 50% for 6-8 singles standing on 2 one-inch mats
Week 3 — 50% for 6-8 singles standing on 3 one-inch mats
• Make sure to keep your shoulders behind the bar, round your upper back and arch your lower back.
• Not having band tension at the start of the lift.
• For dynamic work: Using very heavy bands is okay for specific training cycles, but keep in mind this is speed work. If you add a ton of band tension, make sure to reduce the weight to ensure bar speed.
• For max effort work: Just max out. Who cares if it's a ton of band tension and light weight, or a ton of weight and light bands. Just get it on!
Fat Bar Pushdowns
Muscles Targeted: Triceps
Exercise Description: We just came out with a new line of Fat Bars and like anything else we come out with, I use the crap out of them. Since using a fatter grip creates a novel stimulus, these things do the job nicely. One of the bars I like a lot is the Fat Bar 3" triceps bar.
The pushdown is a pretty straightforward movement. Start at the point where your arms are bent and you feel your forearms against your biceps, keep your elbows in and push the bar down.
The great thing about the fat bar is it seems to disperse the stress throughout the entire triceps region while taking much of it away from the elbows. Will pushdowns give you a huge bench? I don’t think so, but they'll help you condition your elbows for the stress of heavy pressing.
• Thinking that this will give you a huge bench. Pushdowns should be one of the last things you do for your bench and triceps training.
• Going too heavy and leaning way over the bar.
• Grunting and screaming. Come on! It’s a damn pushdown, not a strength show!
Try a few of these exercises to bring up those weak points or prevent injury!