Lift Bigger on the Big Lifts

You are only as strong as your nervous system allows you to be. Explosive exercises and plyometrics are central nervous system (CNS) primers. When programmed strategically, they can unlock your power and strength potential in the big lifts. And if you're an athlete, they'll increase your explosive performance and make you neurologically efficient.

Here's what to do before bench pressing, squatting, and deadlifting. These moves will activate the muscles you're about to use, prepare your body for explosiveness, and reveal your true strength potential.

Bench Press Primer

Twitchy Seal Jack + Explosive Medball Press

  • A1. Twitchy seal jack, 3-5 reps
  • A2. Explosive bentover medball press, 3-5 reps

Do 2-3 total supersets with 30-45 seconds rest between bouts.

Many lifters struggle with barbell bench pressing because it causes shoulder pain. But if bench pressing causes pain, it'll also hinder your power and strength under the bar. You'd perform better without the pain. The first thing lifters often do is try to gain mobility. But more mobility isn't going to fix your achy shoulders. What will? More activation and central nervous system stimulation.

Before bench pressing, do an explosive CNS primer superset. Pair the jack with an explosive medball press. It'll activate postural stabilizers of the core, hips, and shoulders AND trigger the type of heightened neurological state that produces powerful, pain-free presses.

How to Do It

The jack is a game changer for your performance. Don't overlook it because of its old-school PE class history. It's a safe and effective preparatory movement you can do anywhere.

For the horizontal press, using the seal jack variation (arms in front of the body) is better because it moves the shoulders in and out of an end-range stretch. This slight stretch revs up the nervous system, especially when executed fast and with precision.

Start with your arms elevated up so they're about parallel to the ground with your palms facing one another and your thumbs up. Explosively complete 3-5 seal jacks, really focusing on moving in and out of that end range quickly and changing direction as fast as possible at the shoulders. These are about quality, not quantity. After a few twitchy reps of seal jacks, move directly into the medball press.

Using a lighter medicine ball between 6-12 pounds, hinge at the hips with a neutral spine and engage the glutes and core to stabilize. You'll be exploding the ball into the ground as hard and fast as you possibly can for 3-5 reps. Try to press with rhythm on these to elicit a heavy neural response that happens with quick repeat bouts.

Keeping the total reps low and the quality high, shoot for 2-3 supersets with 3-5 reps of seal jacks and another 3-5 reps of medball presses, then hit the bench. You'll enjoy the carryover to explosive performance.

Deadlift Primer

Twitchy Jumping Jack + Medball Slam + Horizontal Jump

  • A1. Twitchy jumping jack, 3-5 reps
  • A2. Explosive overhead medball slam, 3-5 reps
  • A3. Depth broad jump from box, 1 rep

Do 2-3 total supersets with 30-45 seconds rest between bouts.

Because the deadlift is a relatively "slow" movement to the naked eye, it's easy to forget that this lift needs to be one of the most explosive in your arsenal if you want to get stronger. But since the deadlift is notorious for being a backbreaker of an exercise, people gravitate towards doing passive prehab work on their spine, hips, and shoulders to prepare for pulling, which is exactly what NOT to do when trying to train explosively with maximal torso stiffness.

Instead, match the deadlift with a neural primer that helps create maximal stiffness at the core while generating an immense amount of force output and fiber activation.

How to Do It

The first movement in the giant set is the old school jumping jack that's performed with twitchy explosiveness in and out of a lat stretch in the overhead position.

Why the jumping jack for deadlifts? Easy. The lats are some of the broadest muscles in the body with huge splaying attachment points throughout the back of the rib cage, lower back, and pelvis. You need them for deadlifting. By tapping into their activation you can help achieve better stiffness in the shoulders and torso during pulls. Stick with 3-5 fast reps, coordinating the feet with the arms up overhead.

The deadlift is based on a hip extension movement pattern, so you'll also need to train it with CNS primer movements. The overhead slam is the perfect way to train triple extension (hips, knees, and ankles extending) in a coordinated fashion.

The slam also requires you to be explosive in the overhead position, which places an emphasis on both the lats and torso. Focus on fully extending the ball up overhead with the entire body and coming into a powerful flexion to slam the ball as hard as you can into the ground for 3-5 reps with maximal velocity.

The final step is to do a depth broad jump. This is a hip-dominant jump which complements the deadlift (a hip hinge dominant pattern). By starting your jump on a low box about 2-5 inches off the ground, you can create kinetic energy and accentuate the "stretch reflex" of the lower body to trigger a strong neural response.

This depth drop will fool the body into being more explosive than it is naturally. You'll only need a single jump at the end of each of superset, so keep quality and effort high.

Squat Primer

Alternating Medball Side Slams + Explosive Vertical Jump

  • A1. Alternating medball side slams, 2-3 reps per side
  • A2. Depth vertical jump from box, 1 rep

Do 2-3 total supersets with 30-45 seconds rest between bouts.

This CNS primer superset creates and activates core stiffness. It'll also elicit a powerful stimulus in the vertical plane of motion.

How to Do It

The side to side movement of the medball slams places the body in a position that'll recruit more stability through the "other" muscles of the core, like the internal and external obliques, which are huge players in creating a heavy brace. With this variation you'll activate motor units for the purpose of translating stiffness and performance into the big lifts.

Do 2-3 alternating slams per side, driving the ball down to the outside of your toes as explosively as you can. Focus on getting full triple extension of the ball up overhead and triple flexion upon driving it into the ground. Quality trumps quantity here, so low reps and high intensity is warranted.

After the slams, move directly into the vertical jump, a primer technique that complements the squat pattern. Use the box to create force and elicit a strong neuromuscular response before stepping into the rack.

For these jumps, explode up with maximal force production off of the floor and reach maximal height while sticking the landing in an athletic stance. This will ingrain the movement after each jump. Do 2-3 supersets with enough time between bouts to come close to full recovery and avoid a pre-fatigued state, which is a major problem with ramping up too much volume in the pre-training sequence with plyometrics. With these supersets, less is better.

Whole Upper-Body Primer

If you're doing a full-body workout, or you're on an upper-body lower-body split, then this is for you.

Jack Combo + Explosive Medball Slam/Press Combo

  • A1. Twitchy jumping jacks, 2-3 reps
  • A2. Twitchy seal jacks, 2-3 reps
  • A3. Bent over medball press, 2-3 reps
  • A4. Overhead medball slam, 2-3 reps

Do 2-3 total supersets with 30-45 seconds rest between bouts.

How to Do It

Start with the jack combo, completing 2-3 reps of jumping jacks followed directly by seal jacks. We get the best of both worlds with the arm action in the horizontal plane of motion along with the vertical motion at the arms and shoulders.

Likewise, priming the bentover medball press first with 2-3 reps, followed by a more extended full-body slam with the overhead variation, will create a powerful stimulus for the nervous system. This is exactly what you want to cap off a dynamic warm-up sequence before training.

You're involving multiple variations of jacks and throws here. This forces you to be mentally checked-in. Each superset requires your full effort in order for the movements to be as explosive and smooth as possible. Find your rhythm!

Whole Lower Body Primer

This one combines the rotational medball throw with a depth jump combo as one final neural surge before jumping into lower body training for the day.

Rotational Medball Throw + Explosive Jump Combo

  • A1. Rotational medball throw, 2-3 reps per side
  • A2. Explosive vertical to horizontal jump combo, 1 continuous rep

Do 2-3 total supersets with 30-45 seconds rest between bouts.

How to Do It

The medball throw targets the rotational plane of motion, also known as the transverse plane. Training powerful and sequenced rotation with the hip, torso, and upper shoulders will bring up weak links that help with both performance and injury prevention.

Stand next to a solid wall and grab the ball with a double underhand grip. Starting with the ball at your back hip, powerfully rotate to transfer force through the hips, up into the torso and out through the hands. As you get more skilled, you'll be able to throw and catch smoothly and look like a boss. Drive 2-3 reps per side into the wall and move directly to the jump combo.

Combining the depth drop with the vertical and horizontal jump is challenging, but you'll improve by working on your skill in the vertical and horizontal jumps independently. So once you step out of the beginner zone and get the confidence for a multi-jump bout, you'll be ready for the combo.

Use a small box to accumulate kinetic energy in the legs and complete a vertical jump first. After landing, go directly into a max effort broad jump. Stick the landing on the horizontal jump for 1-2 seconds and solidify your position.

The key here is to minimize the amount of time you're spending in contact with the ground. Move powerfully through these two jump variations in sequence. Once you master this combo, you'll want to add it to every one of your lower body workouts as your new primer.

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