Thursday, 10 October 2013

Symmetry for the Strength Athlete - Thoughts on Training the Traps and Rhomboids

First Point.  If you aren't deadlifting heavy once a week or more (or at the very least maximal once every fortnight and deadlifting for speed or reps on the weeks in between) then you should address that first, locate your balls (in the proverbial sense) and incorporate the most effective posterior chain exercise available into your programme.

Whether you deadlift conventional stance, sumo stance, from blocks, in a rack off the pins, with a clean grip, with a mixed grip, with a snatch grip, with a hex/trap bar, from a deficit or any other variation, you will get the most bang for your buck in terms of trap/upperback development by performing any variation of this lift. 

I am not however going to go into deadlift variations in this article, but instead focus on what other exercises and how else to train your traps to maximise the development of strength and size of this 'show piece' muscle group.  Virtually everyone lifting weights both for strength and for size wants an impressive set of traps.  Aside from simply the aesthetics, a strong and large set of traps/rhomboids will improve posture, reduce risk of injury and improve all your lifts (squats, deadlifts, bench press and especially overhead pressing).

Too often I have heard people say, "oh if you want big traps then just deadlift heavy".  Whilst I agree wholeheartedly that not deadlifting would be a case of neglecting the best exercise available to you, I do have a problem with hearing this advice being given out.  Specifically the words "JUST deadlift heavy".  The problem I have with this is the following…..

If we all were the same size and shape, and had zero muscular imbalances, all had the exact same technique, and full ability in the neuromuscular sense to achieve maximal muscular contraction, for every rep performed,  in all muscles involved in any given movement, then one could argue that the 'big lifts' or compound exercises would be all we need.  We could survive and train muscles to equal proportions using the squat, bench press, overhead press, deadlift and perhaps bent over row.

The unfortunate fact however is that we do not live in this fantasy world.  We are all different, in shape, size, build, strength, flexibility (not an exhaustive list).  We all have different thought processes in terms of how we approach lifts.  We do not all relate to the same coaching cues, and do not all have the ability to be able to 'feel' every muscle working when we so wish.  We do not all possess 'textbook' lifting technique (whatever 'textbook' means, as text book is individual and more often than not based on whatever enables the greatest efficiency for a particular lifter).  The main point is that we need to also incorporate other exercises to bring up lagging muscle groups.  Now this is by no means a new concept in the slightest.  This has been known as 'weak point training' or 'assistance exercises' or 'special exercises'. 

What I want to speak about in this article refers to looking at addressing weak points in the upper back in particular the traps and rhomboids.  

The reason for this article is because I have recently changed the way I train this muscle group, having managed to finally break the cycle of picking up multiple nagging minor injuries which albeit weren't stopping me from train but we at the very least slowing my progress.  You would think that I fell into the stereotypical meathead category and was training all the pressing muscles with no regard to the postural muscles but this was not the case.  For a long time I have been aware of a muscular imbalance, and I took all the advice from multiple sources that i could.  I performed hundreds of face pull exercises and more band-pull-aparts than anyone else in the gym because these were regarded by many as to be the 'go-to' exercises for developing these muscles to assist in the bench press.  

However, despite performing a large amount of work using these exercises I still kept getting injuries in my neck and upper back.  

Finally I started thinking for myself,  and instead of banging my head against the wall convincing myself that if  **enter any well known T-Nation article author here** said that it was face pulls and band pull-a-parts I needed, then i'd keep doing them until the problem went away.  Eventually, I reviewed my exercise choice and concluded that in actual fact despite the fact that indeed these exercises on paper should be ideal for my corrective exercise programme, they weren't doing the job.  The problem, largely, was because I could not make a significant 'mind-muscle' or neuromuscular connection or link.  I could not 'feel' these exercises working in the way I should.   I revisited some of the older training methods that I used to use when training for muscle gain was my main priority (notice I do not say bodybuilding, because I never had any intention of getting on stage, I just wanted to be bigger).  Years of strength training had caused me to lose sight of some of the training wisdom which comes from the bodybuilding side of the training world.  

Symmetry, muscle tension, being able to feel a muscle working and being able to consciously contract a muscle or muscle group on demand when required were all principles which I had always been aware of but perhaps had pushed to the back of my mind because my training was now solely focussed on powerlifting and subsequently I cared more about movements rather than muscles. Bodybuilders tend to aim to hit a muscle from multiple angles, using different limb and joint positions, different use of levers, different movements  , different training tools and equipment, and a huge variety of exercise variations to 'attack' a muscle in so many different ways in the attempt to achieve well-rounded muscular development.

With this in mind, I revisited my corrective exercise regime to address my Traps and Rhomboids and decided to play around with a few alternatives to what I had been using in an attempt to find more suitable exercises for myself which I could genuinely feel the the muscles working and could make a connection and learn to more powerfully contract the traps and maintain a retracted shoulder position.

My goals were that in addition to improving my bench press by addressing my muscle imbalance, I wanted to develop the muscles significantly for two reasons.  Firstly because I believe it will reduce my chance of injury in this area, and neck and trap strain has really been a problem in the past. Secondly big traps are impressive and building a big 'yoke' is always a good thing.

So after playing around with multiple exercises I discovered that despite the fact I felt it was more my lower traps and rhomboid thats were weak.  If I combined exercises which are traditionally thought of to develop the upper traps with the exercises specifically targeting the rhomboids and lower traps, it was much easier for me to make the mind muscle connection and 'feel' a better contraction throughout the full muscle group.

I will list below the best combinations of trap and rhomboid exercises I have found which work for me, but if you take nothing else from this article, take this point.  These exercises are the ones which worked FOR ME, I advise you to play around with multiple exercise variations until you find the ones which enable you to genuinely feel the muscles working.  During a set you should be able to consciously feel the muscle contracting and in corrective exercise, just as in bodybuilding, this should be prioritised over volume, intensity or any other parameter.  Bottom line, if you can't feel it working, it probably isn't.

Power-Rack Single Arm Lean-Away Kettlebell or Dumbbell Shrugs.  Notes.  Keep head upright,  externally rotate shoulder, draw shoulder up and back, focus on squeezing trap up towards the ear. Keep rep range between 8 and 12. PLus 1 set for higher reps 30-50.

Rope-Grip Kettlebell  Upright rows.  Notes. Place a length of rope through a kettle bell handle. Tilt body forward slightly as this gave me the ability to feel my mid and lower traps working more. The rope grip took stress off my wrists and elbows.  I had a problem with barbell upright rows where I felt pain in the front of my shoulder and this worked much better for me.

Banded Face-pull into External Rotation into Overhead Press (taken from Joe Defranco) Hold in each position for 3 seconds to give time to feel contraction.
Keep reps between 12 and 20.

Sled Rear Delt Crucifix Walks (L shape, Y shape and T shape) + YTWLs with DB Prone on Incline Bench.

Neck harness Sled Walks + Regular Neck Harness Neck extensions (seated)

Trap Bar Bent Over Shrugs (head supported on bench)

Supinated Rope Grip Face Pulls

Also do not neglect stretching the muscles of the neck, traps, levator scapulae etc.


Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Estimated Maxes Vs Actual Maxes

When beginning a programme and establishing your working weights do not estimate 1 rep maxes. Do not take a stab in the dark and say 'I reckon i could'. Chances are you are over estimating ability due to ego, or in rarer cases under estimating your ability and selling yourself short. Instead use factual information to set your max weights. Either test your 1 rep maxes under the same conditions as you will be performing reps in the programme. For example If you will be close stance squatting below parallel with a pause at the bottom of the rep, then do not use a previous record for a wider stance squat above parallel with no pause. The difference in weight will be significant as it is a totally different movement. My advice is to take a week prior to starting a programme to test all primary movements in the programme to a technical max. This could be a 1 rep max, 5 rep max or whatever, depending on the type of training you are doing and what info you need before starting your programme. Note that I said a technical max. This is a weight you can lift with a bare minimum of breakdown in form. In training you want to spend most of your time performing reps which are technically as perfect as possible. If you base your workouts off a max which your form completely broke down and looked horrendous then chances are you will stall out in your programme very quickly due to the fact you have over shot the runway a little and need to be working slightly lighter to ensure progress. The key is to recognise the difference between training and competition. Granted training is supposed to challenge you but it is not where you take risk in injuring yourself. During competition you are at risk enough as this will be an all out maximal attempt where some breakdown in form is probably acceptable / normal. You will make better progress in training if you are honest with yourself about your current level. Too often I see people come in and say, well Ive deadlifted 220kg (for example) before, so I am going to base my programme off that. Omitting the facts that firstly the last time they performed this lift at this weight was months / weeks ago, and they have no idea if they can actually hit that today, and also that the previous time was performed under different circumstances, different bar, different gym, different stance, different shoes, perhaps using straps. All in all it would be ridiculous to base a max by anything other than what you know for 100% certainty that you can get on any given day of the week whether you are feeling good or bad. If in doubt estimate a few kg's too low, you will more likely make progress for longer this way. In summary, control your ego and lift what you CAN lift, not what you think you probably could lift on a good day.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Staying hungry

I am never satisfied and always want more progress, so often when someone hits a PR, my response will be "well done, what's next?".  Please do not assume I am not hugely impressed and pleased with what you have achieved.  I simply want you to keep the momentum and not rest on your laurels.  Do not lose that drive, the second you achieve one goal, set your sights on the next and keep moving forward. As Dan John says, it isn't about the individual achievements, it is about the journey and the struggle and the continuous dedication over months, years, decades. 

Often when someone hits a PR, they 'take their foot of the gas' so to speak and this many times can be a mistake.  I am fully acceptant that sometimes someone needs a lighter recovery week following hitting a PR (note that I did only say SOMETIMES), however often people take too many steps backwards when really what they need to do is push as hard as they can at this point to squeeze as much progress as they can out of their 'good spell'.  When the going is good you need to take advantage of that.  Progress is rarely linear, especially when you have been training for a while.  Many programmes would try to convince you that you can make continuous gains over a long period of time and slow and steady increases will get you there in the long run, but life and training is much more complicated than that.  Sometimes you come on leaps and bounds with a lift and PR very frequently, other times, you have to wait out a plateau and figure out what is missing from the puzzle before you can go on to continue your progress. My advice would be to stay fluid with your programming, learn how to programme on the fly sometimes.  Learn when to push it and when not to. Learn to understand and recognise when you are 'surfing the crest of a progress wave', and when you are about to get 'knocked off your board'. (I don't know where the surfing metaphors came from, Ive never even been surfing)

Sometimes, just because your programme tells you to have a week off after hitting a PR, maybe you need to push it for one more week.  Maybe you can wait another few days before you rest.  Maybe you need to exploit this sudden boost in strength you seem to be having.  Maybe not, but if you stick to rigidly to your programme and do not take advantage of these situations then you are missing out.  Too many people settle for mediocrity these days.  Mediocre job, mediocre life, and worst of all mediocre strength levels.  Don't be the guy who says "I'm pretty happy with where I've got to, I just want to maintain', because you may as well chop your proverbial balls off, strap a couple of twenties to yourself and throw yourself into a canal.  Stay Hungry, keep pushing it, keep challenging yourself, don't set limiters on your strength and keep working your ass off.  I often hear people say things like 'I'd like to be able to squat 200kg' whereas I'd much prefer to hear someone say 'hitting 200kg will be a nice milestone'.  You have no idea what you are capable of, and should never set a limit to what is possible.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Progressive Strength Template

Sometimes simplicity is the key when it comes to training.  Here is a basic template which has been tried and tested and is producing some good results already.  Nothing revolutionary here I'm afraid just a simple system which if used correctly will enable you to make gradual progress at your own pace. Assistance exercises can be altered and other days can be added in for extra assistance work, however this is a basic 2 day per week programme which covers quite a lot of the basics without needing to be too over complicated.  This programme has been written for a member of my Thunder-Ducks class who also trains 2 more times per week.  The Thunder-Ducks classes consist of lower and upper body lifting and programmes for these are rotated every 4 weeks.  This lifting programme is to compliment the classes, however can be used on its own.  It would also go well if combined with added conditioning or sprint sessions.  Here it is......

Session 1

Deadlifts - Warm up - 3 sets of 3 reps @ 30-40%
    Ramping Sets - 55% x 1, 65% x 1, 75% x 1
    Working Sets - 5-6 singles @ 85% and above     

(N.B. These could be all done at 85% or taken to a new PR (100%+), remember push the boundaries, then build the foundation, then push the boundaries again etc. I would advise phasing a new weight in gradually over time by initially just performing it for your last single, and then next week your second to last single, and then your third to last single etc.  Just play the singles by ear, take advantage of the times you feel strong, and keep it conservative when you arent feeling your best.  Remember that getting 5 singles on a weight, where you previously could only get 4 singles is still progress.)

    Rep Sets - 5 sets of 5 reps @ 70-75%                    

(N.B.  once you can get all 5 sets of 5 at 75%, then increase by 5kg and start the progress of building up to 5 sets of 5 reps again)

Bench Press - Warm up - 3 sets of 3 reps @ 30-40%
    Ramping Sets - 55% x 1, 65% x 1, 75% x 1
    Working Sets - 5-6 singles @ 85% and above     (see notes above)

    Rep Sets - 5 sets of 5 reps @ 70-75%                    (see notes above)

Assistance 1 - Glute Ham Raises - 3 sets of 10 reps
Assistance 2 - V- grip Inverted Rows - 3 sets of 15 reps @ 1012 tempo
Assistance 3 - Ab wheel (kneeling) - 3 sets of 12-15 reps

Session 2

Squats - Warm up - 3 sets of 3 reps @ 30-40%
    Ramping Sets - 55% x 1, 65% x 1, 75% x 1
    Working Sets - 5-6 singles @ 85% and above
    (see notes above)

    Rep Sets - 5 sets of 5 reps @ 70-75%          
    (see notes above)

Military Press - Warm up - 3 sets of 3 reps @ 30-40%
     Ramping Sets - 55% x 1, 65% x 1, 75% x 1
     Working Sets - 5-6 singles @ 85% and above        (see notes above)

     Rep Sets - 5 sets of 5 reps @ 70-75%                     (see notes above)

Assistance 1 - Supinated Grip Chin Ups - 3 x 10 reps @ 3011 tempo
Assistance 2 - Tricep Dips - 3 sets of 10 reps @ 3010 tempo
Assistance 3 - Dumbbell Side Bends - 3 sets of 20 reps @ 2010 tempo

Note on Avoiding Over-Training

I am largely convinced that most time people say they are over-trained, they are in fact under-trained, under conditioned, not eating properly, not undergoing at least some attempts at a recovery protocol.  However this note is simply to recommend that you use your 'common sense' when using this template.  If you try and hit a new 1RM every single session when performing the singles, then you will probably start to burn out your C.N.S, and you will also probably spend a lot of time practicing compromised form and technique.  This will lead to bad habits and most likely some form of injury.  If however you use your B-R-A-I-N and learn for yourself which days are ok to push the weights a little and which days are ones where you need to reign it in a little bit.  You are making progress if you increase your Total volume of work performed at a given weight.  One way of measuring this would be to add up the total weight of all your single reps added together.  This is a valid Method of Progression, and one which will take the focus from always being on whether you lift a heavier top set than the previous week.  If one week you perform 3 singles at 225kg, 1 single at 235kg and 1 single at 245kg, and after a few weeks you perform 5 singles at 245kg then granted your max weight hasn't increased, but you have built the work capacity to repeat your previous 1RM 5 times which, I would put money on, is actually no longer your 1RM and you are capable of lifting significantly more. Without knowing it, you have actually turned your previous 100% effort into a lift requiring merely 90-95% effort meaning you should be then ready to test yourself again and lift a new 1RM, before starting the cycle all over again.  This may seem like common sense to many, but what is very evident when observing and reading about many people's training habits, is that common sense isn't always so common.

Any questions, feel free to email  If trying the programme, please be sure to let me know how you get on.......

P.S. This programme works best when the athlete/trainee has been taught how to lift with good form and understands the mechanics of at least the main 4 lifts involved (squat, deadlift, bench and military press). I would advise all undertaking a new programme both get checked by your GP before doing so and also to enlist the help of a qualified coach. If you choose not to do so, then understand you do this at your own risk.

Monday, 28 January 2013

There's a METHOD in the MUSCLE.....

There’s a method in the muscle.....

How many of these hypertrophy methods have you tried? and with how much success?
Pick one and try it out to accelerate your gains, or if you’ve already tried all of them, why not revisit one method. Nothing revolutionary here, just tried and tested methods for improving muscle gain.

20 rep Set Method
  • Following your working sets on your main lift of the workout (eg. Squat) you take   50% of your unequipped 1RM, and perform a 20 rep set of the same exercise.
  • Next workout, if you got all 20 reps, you increase the load by 5% and attempt to hit 20 reps again. If you do not hit all 20 reps, you stay on this weight each time you do this workout until you can.  Once you hit the 20reps then you make the 5% increase.

The ‘Boring But Big’ Method
  • This one is taken from Jim Wendlers 5/3/1 notes.  Simply perform 5 sets of 10 @ 60% or above  following your main working sets on the exercise. 

EDT - Escalating Density Method
  • Pick 4 exercises. 2 for one bodypart, 2 for an opposing bodypart (agonist / antagonist). Set in agonist / antagonist supersets (A1-A2 and B1-B2).
  • Perform exercises A1-A2 back to back for a 20min timed period. Attempting to get as many sets in as possible in that time.  Rest time is ‘as required’ and expected to go up as fatigue sets in.  Normally you would use a 10RM load for each exercise but only aim for half the reps possible, in other words a 10RM load would mean aiming for 5 reps per set.
  • Then have 5 mins rest, and then repeat process for B1-B2.

Pre-exhaustion Super-set Method
  • Use an isolation movement to ‘pre-exhaust’ a particular muscle group, before performing a more compound exercise straight afterwards.  In other words a same muscle group super-set.  So A1 might be a dumbbell chest flye for a set of 15 reps which will preexhaust the pectorals muscles prior to performing A2 which could be a heavy flat bench dumbbell press.  These are typically used when there is a lagging muscle group which the trainee wants to bring up, or when a trainee has trouble feeling a muscle working or activating it sufficiently. 

Post-Exhaustion Super-set Method
  • Basically the opposite of pre-exhaustion.  Following a compound movement, you pick an isolation exercise to perform to focus on a specific muscle group.  To use the same example as above, you would perform the chest flye straight after the heavy dumbell press.  This would be to further recruit any motor units within the muscle and provide more stimulus for tissue damage (leading to hypertrophy) as the muscle would be ‘finished off’ by an exercise which specifically targets it.

The Drop Set Method
  • Very simple here.  Load the bar / machine etc up with multiple plates allowing for suitable drops in weight each time fatigue is reached.  You will need at least one very attentive spotter here who can be ready to strip weight off the bar when needed.  Essentially what you will do is start your set at a given weight which you can get a certain number of reps (for example your 10RM, depending on your goal though this may change and be as high as 20 or as low as 3-5 reps). Perform a set until very close to absolute failure, when you cannot complete any more reps unassisted or without a significant breakdown in form, then your spotter should take 5-10% off the bar and then you will perform as many more reps as you can at this weight, your spotter then reduces the weight still and you once again perform as many reps as you can.  How many ‘drops’ you do if up to you and again dependent on work capacity and training goal, however 3-5 is usual and probably recommended. 

Basic agonist / antagonist Super-set Method
  • By super-setting opposite muscle groups / types of movements you allow more work to be done in a session than when performing classic station training where you do one exercise after another.  You will also increase muscle activation because the ‘resting’ muscle is still active during the opposing movement. You will also increase work capacity because more work is being done in a shorter period of time, however you actually end up with more rest time per set. It also ensures that you balance your training in terms of how much time you dedicate to both the agonist and antagonist muscle groups.(ie. balancing bicep training with tricep training etc).

The High Rep Finisher
  • Simple concept with lots of different protocols that will work.  The simplest one is the 100 rep challenge. Perform at the end of your workout, focussing on one or a few muscles you have focussed on for the rest of the session.  Pick a load which is comfortable to perform at least 25 reps on.  Then perform 100 reps in the shortest time possible.  If using a unilateral exercise like a split squat then perform 50 per leg. An example might be perhaps performing 100 reps on a tricep push down after a chest and tricep workout, or 100 reps on a bicep curl after an arms specific workout.  Bare in mind these methods do not only apply if you split your training by body parts and are also very effective when using upper/lower splits or even full-body training programmes. 

German Volume Training
  • Couldn’t leave this one out.  I won’t give all the details of the GVT programme, but understand the basic concept that you have two primary exercises per workout, and two secondary (assistance exercises).  The primary exercises are performed as a superset for 10 sets of 10 reps per exercise, usually at a 4010 tempo, with minimal rest in between exercises, and only 60-90seconds rest in between sets.  The assistance exercises are normally only for 3 sets for anything from 8-12 reps.  This is a great system for those wanting exclusively to focus on muscle gain and perhaps a little fat reduction.  For those wanting to maintain/build strength however this perhaps is not a method to use for great lengths of time as it does involve using relatively light weights due to the high volume, time under tension and short rest times.  It can however be utilised by strength athletes during a ‘rest’ or post competition phase, used to recuperate and gain some muscle in preparation for the following heavy strength phase of training. (for heavier training with this type of method, see Advanced GVT)

The continuous tension set.
- This can be used for many exercises, one such example would be the back squat.  You make the exercise more challenging by never locking out the weight at the top and keeping continuous tension on the muscles involved.  This is a technique used by many bodybuilders.  Muscular tension is a key factor when trying to develop muscular mass, and you must focus your mind on the muscles involved and consciously contracting them as hard as you can each rep. In other words a set of 20 would involve 20 hard contractions of the muscle to move the weight, and not simply being concerned with moving from point A to point B 20 times.

Friday, 18 January 2013

A few lessons on learned in 2012

Here are a few concepts, largely revolving around programming, which I thought I would share with you... Nothing revolutionary, but often we need to be reminded of some of the fundamental principles that training should be based upon.  I will soon be bringing out a more in depth multi-part article on programming in which most of these points will also feature.

The Only Person who can truly know which programme is going to give you the best results is you. How do you find out?  Years of dedicated intelligently planned out training.  However do not be the guy who hops from programme to programme without ever really giving any of them a proper chance to give results.  Also do not tamper with it or alter the programme in any way. Certainly not unless you have equal or greater experience  than the coach who wrote the programme in the first place.  Chances are you have not earned the right to, and if you do not get the results you wanted, certainly don’t review the programme negatively unless you have followed precisely.

Educating yourself as to varying training methods and programmes is fantastic provided you can use your inbuilt filter.  By this I am referring to the fact that for many lifters, the grass will always be greener.  They spend hours online researching different training programmes and methods, and each week they come in and tell you that they are thinking of trying it out for a bit.  The trouble is they rarely stick to anything long enough for it to have an effect and because they are not truly committed to the programme they are doing (due to the fact that everything else looks so much more appealing).  Educating yourself about training is a highly important thing but you should be able to pick and choose what you take from everything you read.  Filter out the things which do not seem appropriate, and note down and take on board the stuff which matters.  Sometimes there might be one sentence in a whole article which is of actual use to you.  Sometimes it might be one specific little details about a programme which you could utlise. However just because you read something, doesn’t mean you necessarily need act on it and change what you are currently doing.

Believe in your system / programme.  This sounds cheesy but my point is that with every creeping doubt that you allow to come into your mind that what you are doing isn’t giving you the results, you will undoubtedly put less and less effort in to what you are doing.  You must stay focussed and determined and trust your gut.  Confidence in a programme can be considered more important in a lot of ways than the actual programme content itself.  This is why some people have made some phenomenal gains from some abysmal poorly structured training programmes.  They have donespan>

Have a system and a method of progression for every element to your programme.
If your not improving, you’re going backwards. Too often I see people only focussed on a small number of elements to their programme and everything else just gets put in the shadows and neglected.  I am talking about things like your assistance exercises which you apparently understand are supposed to aid your main lifts.  These assistance exercises need the same focus and dedication as your main lifts.  Some of these assistance exercises may not have as much importance to spent any of their life actually building up some real life experience.  I’m talking about countless hours, weeks, months, years trying and testing.  Learning, accumulating information, dismissing some of it, storing the rest, and implementing all the time so you understand in practice how it all works. 

Have a system and a method of progression for every element to your programme.
If your not improving, you’re going backwards. Too often I see people only focussed on a small number of elements to their programme and everything else just gets put in the shadows and neglected.  I am talking about things like your assistance exercises which you apparently understand are supposed to aid your main lifts.  These assistance exercises need the same focus and dedication as your main lifts.  Some of these assistance exercises may not have as much importance to you in the great scheme of things but if they didn’t matter at all then they shouldn’t be taking up valuable space in your programme.  For example, often I see people throwing in token gestures towards training muscle groups.  For example, somebody may understand the concept that they need to achieve some sort of muscular balance in regards to their biceps being relatively strong in relation to their triceps.  However too often I see people simply throwing in the same old bicep exercise at the end of their session.  The biggest problem is that they put such little importance and emphasis into this part of their session that they never really look to make any real progress.  I have seen some people perform curls or rows with a certain weight at the beginning of the year and come the end of the year they are still dealing with the same kind of load.  This attitude of ‘its just an assistance exercise, it doesn’t have to be that heavy’ is damaging to progress.  You should be looking to make progress in all areas that your programme is designed to improve.  If you have included straight bar standing bicep curls and you start the programme with 30kg, then you better be damn sure that by the time you have finished that programme you are at least curling 40kg or 50kg or 60kg (depending on ablility and length of the programme).  Remember your main lifts will not get stronger unless you build every other piece of the puzzle as well.

There is no perfect programme. Forget searching for the perfect programme because it doesn’t exist.  There are good programmes and excellent systems, however nothing will work forever. A programme is only effective for as long as it takes you to adapt to it.  This is why I am a big proponent of some Soviet Influenced Methods and Westside Barbell Methodology, because Louie Simmons has developed a system which enables the lifter to rather apply principles and then from there the programme is constantly evolving in the name of progress. 

Utilising the Slingshot for the Bench

For those who have not yet heard of, or used one yet, the Slingshot is a supportive device used for the bench press.  Do NOT however let anyone tell you it is anything like a bench shirt, IT IS NOT!!  The slingshot is made out of stretchy material, bench shirts are not. They are a world apart and anyone who tells you they are similar has clearly never used a bench shirt.  They do however enable an overload to be utilised (the original slingshot usually allows for 10-15% more load to be used).  This excellent training tool was designed by Mark Bell, owner and founder of SuperTraining Gym in Sacramento, California.  Credit has to go to Mark for such a useful and simple device. This training tool has enabled me to handle greater loads for higher reps and with a greatly reduced risk of injury.

Some of the best ways to utilise the slingshot if you are a RAW powerlifter.

1. To enable an overload, handle more weight than you could raw, so get your body accustomed to a heavier load.  So you could max out raw, and then add the slingshot to enable you to perform a few heavier sets, or perhaps handle the same weight but for more reps.

2. To reduce the risk of overuse injury, especially when performing a high volume of work.

3. For higher rep work (works also very well on high rep press up sets)

4. To learn how to use your upper-back more effectively and also to enable a better tuck of the elbows.

I would suggest that performing singles with the slingshot will be of little use to the raw lifter (although no doubt some people will disagree and have success with this method).  I prefer to perform sets of 3-6 reps with the slingshot and have found this excellent for building strength and size in the triceps.

If you are an equipped lifter the slingshot can be utilised....

1. To enable speed work to be done at a higher percentage as an overload.

2. To reduce risk of injury in general.

3. To enable more weight to be handled on days you are not using your bench shirt.

4. To make warming up less taxing, when the main focus is on the work that is to be done in the shirt.

5. To bridge the gap between your raw weights handled during a warm up, and your first working set in the bench shirt.

All in all, the slingshot in my opinion is a priceless piece of equipment that everyone who wants a big bench should be carrying around in their gym bag. They are relatively inexpensive and a tool which not only can help you lift more but I believe actually makes you lift better and more safely.  The one pitfall to watch out for is that you don't get carried away and forget about your raw benching altogether.  You must still build strength raw whether you lift raw or equipped.  It is easy for some people to get carried away and keep putting the slingshot on when they get to a certain weight and not actually try and increase their raw strength, only focussing on their slingshot maxes.  Keep sight of your raw, slingshot and bench shirt maxes and keep trying to improve them all and you will find this training tool invaluable.

Test blog

Test blog