When it comes to exercise performance, especially the more exotic movements I often prescribe, most people grasp the big picture but miss the finer points. To remedy this, I created this "toolbox" series to help experienced lifters fill in the blanks and newer lifters learn about some very effective exercises. Here's the newest installment!
Reverse Band Barbell Toss
Category: Dynamic Effort – Supplemental
Muscles Targeted: Chest, Shoulders, and Triceps
Exercise Description: I've seen bench press throws prescribed by several coaches over the years, but personally I never liked the idea of tossing a barbell up in the air and catching it. A medicine ball is one thing, but a barbell crashing down on my head is totally different. Trust me, if it was to hit anyone on the head it would be me!
I did, however, like the idea of teaching the body to absorb force and the dynamic effect of pressing through the lift with zero deceleration. So a few years ago I set up this modified version that'll provide some of the same effects (but not entirely the same because of the reduced loading and intensity).
Here's what you do. Set the barbell up in the rack with a set of Jump Stretch average bands. I like to have people start with what I call "balanced weight." This is the weight it takes to zero out the bar right above your chest. With a 7.5 foot rack, this will be around 115 pounds. At this weight the barbell will hover right at your chest level.
When you have this weight loaded, rack the bar in the J-cups and position yourself to bench press. Unrack the bar and lower it to your chest as you would a bench press. Perform a few reps to get used to the weight (it'll be very light). After a few reps, toss the bar a few inches out of your hands and catch it on the down stroke.
Now just release and catch. Try tossing a little higher each rep but control the force you toss with. This will be a high rep movement (in the 20-30 range). With each set add more weight. How much you add will be up to you and what your comfort level is. Remember, the goal is to not smash yourself in the face. Use the pins and/or spotters just in case, and keep the weight at a moderate level.
This isn't intended to replace your normal dynamic bench work, but as an additional or supplemental movement. I've had great luck using this movement for shoulder and pec rehabilitation.
Pure Cable Flyes on Incline
Muscles Targeted: Pecs
Exercise Description: This is one I tried for the first time a few days ago. Dr. Ryan Smith has been making the trip out to bench with us, so I've been using his expertise to come up with new movements that'll help build and stabilize my pecs and shoulders. I come up with the stuff and then ask his advice. Right away I knew this movement was a winner.
Since I've torn or injured my pecs more times than I've seen Paris Hilton on TV, I've been looking for a movement that would completely isolate the pec region without having to rely on a one dimensional pec-deck machine.
To do this movement you'll need to get some type of ankle cuff.
I personally like the leather version but have had a hard time finding them, so nylon may be the best bet. I also found the incline bench to offer a better range of motion with the cable than a flat bench.
Attach a strap to each wrist and get on the bench. Keep your chest up high in the air like you have a string on your sternum pulling you toward the ceiling. Now do your flyes. Since you're not holding a dumbbell or cable handle, you can't lead with your hands or use your forearms to aid in the movement. You feel the pecs working right from the start and continue throughout the entire range.
Barbell Good Morning
Category: Max Effort and Supplemental
Muscles Targeted: Lower Back, Hamstrings, and Glutes
Exercise Description: If you haven't guessed by now, I love the good mornings. I feel everyone should do some form of this movement; it's one of the best exercises you can do for strength development. When programmed correctly, it can be a huge difference maker in any program.
I also feel that the good morning is a great form of chaos training. By this I mean if you miss a squat because you fall forward, how would you recover from it? Or if you fall forward while pulling a deadlift or any other pull, how would you recover? You'd have to arch your way back into position, hence a good morning.
Now what could you do to strengthen the body so this wouldn't happen in the first place? Yep, a good morning!
To do a good morning, place the bar across your back as you would a squat. Take a moderate stance. Before you lower, fill your abdomen with air and brace yourself as tight as you can. Keep this tightness as you bend over by pushing your ass back and keeping your back in a natural arched position. You'll feel like your toes will want to come off the floor.
When you reach the bottom position (just above parallel), think of arching your upper back up as you drive your hips in. There will be a slight bend to the knee.
To illustrate the power of good mornings, I'll use my wife as an example. Traci had some training experience while in school but this was limited to just messing around in the weightroom from time to time. After moving to Columbus to train at Westside, she'd come to meets with me to handle the details and for support.
At one of these meets, she was approached by Dorris Simmons (Louie's wife) in regards to training at Westside. Traci didn't want to be a powerlifter but wanted to get into better shape. More importantly, she wanted to strengthen her lower back because of problems she was having with it.
During her first visit to the club she was asked to pull a deadlift (this is what everyone else was doing). Her back hurt too bad to pull the bar! She was then pulled off the basic Westside plan for lower body and was told to focus on only a few movements dealing with lower back and abs. These included hanging leg raises, pulldown abs, reverse hypers and good mornings. These movements were done every time she stepped into the gym.
The first good morning session was done with a broomstick and then progressed to good mornings while standing on a band with the other end of the band around her upper traps. Her torso was the weakness and these movements were the solution.
So how did it work? Eleven months later, she squatted 365, bench pressed 240, and deadlifted 315... in the 123 weight class.
The key is to begin and train at the level you're at. If you're too weak to do a good morning, then use a broomstick until you can use a curl bar. Then move to a barbell and so on. Her best good morning before the meet was 225 for three reps.
Last note: If you use good mornings for max effort work, then I'd advise you to keep the reps to 3-5. For many years I used singles and triples, and to this day I feel triples worked much better because the load was on the spine for a longer duration and the weight was lower, thus keeping the form and technique tighter.
Upper Back Good Mornings
Muscles Targeted: Upper Back
Exercise Description: One of the other biggest weaknesses I see with lifters is the upper back. This causes problems coming out of the bottom of the squat and makes the lockout of the bench press much harder. There are many things to correct this, but this is one of the best I've seen and used. I have to give credit to Louie Simmons for this one.
You'll need to use a safety squat bar to do this movement.
Get under the bar, unrack the weight, and take a moderate to wide stance. This is a very simple movement to do and you can use the pictures as a guide.
Start in a standing position and let the upper back round forward as your hips stay in the same place. From this point, arch your upper back back into the start position. I wish there was more I could say to describe this, but that's about it!
This is a movement where higher reps (10-15) with multiple sets (3-5) will work better. Make sure to keep your upper back as tight as you can when you're in the start position. To top this off, add in 15-20 shoulder shrugs at the end of your set.
Hamstring Plate Slide
Muscles Targeted: Hamstrings
Exercise Description: We've been building a huge exercise index at EliteFTS.com. We have three people dumping movements in this index with the goal of 1000 movements. One movement placed by a coach on our Q & A board, James Smith, is the hamstring plate slide. When I first saw this I had to give it a shot.
To perform it, sit on the ground with a plate in front of you (the plate needs to have a lip on it). Hook your heel on the lip of the plate and slide back so you get a full extension on the leg. Now curl the plate to you. At this point you can do one of two things: You can move your body back and pull again or you can push the plate back with your foot and pull again.
What I really like about this is there's no eccentric loading. This makes it a great movement for adding extra volume to your hamstring training without the need for extra recovery.
That's it for this installment. Until next time, load the bar, kick some ass, and break some records!