I’ve tried to learn as much as possible over the last 10 years with regards to optimal training and longevity. Trends have been and gone, the way we look at athletes has vastly changed as well as our outlook on rest and recovery.

However it’s easy to jump down the rabbit hole and get overwhelmed by all the content out there telling you what you should and shouldn’t be doing. The type of training you do is irrelevant as long it meets your goals and requirements and you enjoy it. Obviously if you’re training for a specific sport or performance marker then of course, the type of training has to be a bit more focused but again there are many tools that will work in each situation, there is no right or wrong way to train.

That being said I thought I would go through some of my most important tips to help maximise your potential in whatever training regimen you subscribe to and improve health and performance.

1) Get Assessed: If you’re truly interested in health and performance then your first step is to get assessed. Any good coach should be offering some form of assessment to see your current level with regards to movement quality, mobility and fitness ability. If you’re not being assessed, then the rest is just guesswork.

2) Earn Your Positions: An assessment isn’t worth the paper it’s written on if you don’t follow through on improving where required. Struggle to get overhead without excessive rib flare? Can’t keep a neutral position during a deadlift or squat? Your coach should be directing you on how to improve these or refer you to someone who can. You should also accept that if you have less than optimal positioning then certain movements may not be suitable for you AT THAT TIME. You want to stay injury free right? Take the advice, work on the problem areas and earn your right to incorporate those movements into your training.

3) Don’t Skip The Warm-up: You don’t need to spend 30 mins foam rolling and another 30 mins stretching, but your warm-up should be focused and relevant. It’s your chance to prime the body for the session and un-do some of the nasty postures and positions from your working day. Check out my article on warm-ups here.

4) Breathe Correctly: A lot of us live in an extended posture, which can lead to poor overhead position, lack of contribution from the posterior chain during hinging patterns and lack of core strength. Learning how to use correct breathing patterns including full exhales can help you get back to a more neutral position over time. It ain’t sexy or fun, but it works. Check out my article on breathing here.

5) Build Solid Foundations: I’ve seen time and time again, people skipping the boring foundational work to get to the fun, exciting throw heavy shit around stuff. It catches up with you. In my opinion, every athlete should spend time building

– Solid aerobic base: The better your aerobic capacity, the more efficient the heart and lungs will become. This leads to less contribution from the anaerobic systems as well as improved endurance and recovery. Read more here.

– Basic bodyweight strength: Everyone should be able to do strict press-ups, pull-ups and dips. In my perfect world, I would also have you doing a 1-arm pull-up and 1 arm press-up but the basics will suffice. It sets the stage for more advanced movements such as muscle-ups and handstand press-ups. It teaches you body awareness and control as well as building great amounts of core strength, which most people lack. I understand if someone is carrying some excess bodyweight this may not be possible……. yet, but once bodyweight has been reduced, build the foundations.

6) Don’t Ignore Assistance/Accessory Work: Anyone who says isolation exercises are useless is telling you lies. Have a sticking point in a lift? Struggling with stability or co-ordination on a movement? Assistance work can develop those weaker muscles and could help improve performance on your weak lifts. Now that doesn’t mean you stop doing the lift itself as you still need to build that pattern to efficiently recruit all the right muscles, but strengthening a weak area alongside can give you some great gains. I’ve seen a woman get strict pull-ups just by adding bicep curls into her training. Every exercise has a value when used in the right context.

7) Grease The Groove: Stolen from Pavel Tsatsouline, he talks about regular practice to improve efficiency and quality. Use an empty bar/pvc pipe/light DBs or KBs and slow the movement down. Feel the muscles firing in the right areas and make the movement become as natural as possible. Apply this to your heavier efforts to improve neural efficiency and therefore performance. Do it regularly, even some press-ups at home or work can go a long way to achieving this mastery.

8) Use Weighted Carries Frequently: If you have read anything by Dan John then you know how much he puts stock into weighted carries and drags. Grip strength is hugely overlooked when it comes to progressing training. Add to that the postural and core benefits when done correctly and you have a highly valuable exercise. Use DBs, KBs, Farmers Handles; whatever you can get your hands on. I also like bottoms-ups KB carries for shoulder health as well as grip training.

9) Build A Strong Posterior Chain: Glutes and hamstrings are typically inhibited and weak in most athletes. Movements such as bridges, hip thrusts, hyperextensions, hamstring curls and single leg work can really bring these muscles back in line and help improve health and performance. Bret Contreras has done some great studies on the effects of hip thrusts on glute activation/hypertrophy.

10) Don’t Cherry Pick Your Sessions: Ignoring your weaknesses will always come back to get you. Whether it be having to scale a workout or creating imbalances such as pressing over pulling or squatting over deadlifting. Yes training should be enjoyable but if you want to be able to become a well-rounded athlete, you need to develop the less enjoyable skills too!

11) Don’t Train Through Pain: Just don’t. If something hurts, you’re either doing it wrong or there is pathology somewhere. Assessments and good coaching should help you sort it. However that doesn’t mean you have to stop training and wish your life away at home. Work around the issue whilst fixing the cause and come back even better.

12) On the flipside: Don’t get scared of every ache and pain you experience. Again, consult a coach if unsure. Training is tough work, you are literally breaking your body down so it adapts and rebuilds stronger and more robust. It’s not always going to feel comfortable and if you want performance, you need to accept this. Listen to your body and ask questions if required.

13) Enter a Competition: It doesn’t matter whether it’s a sport, fitness comp or endurance event. The buzz, the butterflies and the adrenaline of a competition environment can really teach you some lessons about your body and mental toughness. This stuff is invaluable and can really help you take the next step on the performance ladder. Even if you only do it once, compete.

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This list is by no means exhaustive but I’ve covered some in gym tips with regards to training. Lets look at some tips for outside the gym.

14) Water: Again, overlooked when it comes to implications for training especially in the age of addiction to coffee and all that jazz. Aim to drink 2-3 litres per day. Simples.

15) Sleep: Hormonal balance is a delicate thing and one of the biggest disruptors to that balance is lack of quality sleep. Not to mention its effects on recovery after training. Aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night in a dark, cool room. Stop using screens at least 30 mins before bed to start to unwind or at least use an app like f.lux to alter the background colours of the screen.

16) Recovery Plan: Adaptation and therefore improved performance takes place out of the gym. Training is the stimulus; rest is where the magic happens. You should be incorporating rest/active recovery days each week. From there, every 6-8 weeks you should use a de-load/recovery week where you reduce volume or have it as rest/active recovery. Your body will thank you and the gains will continue.

Also think about getting a massage once a month or during your de-load phase. Salt baths, contrast showers, meditation and yoga all have their place on your recovery protocols. Utilising HRV can be another way to auto-regulate your training and keep on top of recovery/training intensity. Check out my articles on HRV here and here.

17) Nutrition: I’m by no means a nutritional expert, but the basics seem to work well with most. Manage your calories in and out, have some good pre-workout nutrition in place and you’re good to go. No restrictions, no ‘diets’, just wholesome food the majority of the time and the rest in moderation. Drop me an email for our free nutritional guide.

18) Supplements: Various supplements are useful for different people and are not always required. However, fish oil, zinc, magnesium ands vitamin D seem to work well. Examine.com are doing some great studies on the effectiveness of the majority of supplements out there.

19) Get Involved!: Get involved with the community at your gym whether it be socials, competitions, events or taking part! It adds so much more value to your training and helps the gym feel less of a chore.

20) Motivate Others: Encourage fellow athletes, congratulate them, and give them a high five or a fist bump. It sounds cheesy but again it builds a more positive atmosphere and makes it that little bit easier to get there when you have close friends training with you.

21) Take Responsibility: You might have a coach or trainer who sees you an hour once a day. Do you really think that’s enough time to get everything done that you may need? Yes they will make the programme as effective as possible in the time they spend with you, but chances are you may need more. More mobility training, extra skills work developing things like your bodyweight exercises, more aerobic work using zone 2 heart rate zones.

I’m sure you don’t want to pay someone to watch you foam roll or spend 30 mins on a treadmill do you? Take responsibility and put in the extra work to help take you to the next level. Not sure what you need to do? ASK! The coach/trainer is a resource to tap into. I love it when athletes ask me for help as it shows a dedication to their training beyond showing up for an hour and going home to forget about it all. However we can’t help you if you don’t ask us.

22) Consistency: All of the above don’t mean a thing if you don’t show up. Consistency is king when it comes to results. You could have the world’s best programme, nutrition and recovery plan – but this means nothing if you’re not consistent. You should be aiming to train at least 3x per week if you’re serious about progress/performance and at least 2x per week for more general health. Just get through the door and the rest will take care of itself.

Training isn’t about suffering through the grind and hating your life every session. Training should be a lifestyle choice and something you want to do rather than something you feel you have to. With so many ways to get fit and strong available the first step is finding something you are excited about doing then start to implement some of the strategies outlined above.

Here at Warrior we offer comprehensive assessments and fitness testing for members and non-members alike. We can also help you direct your training in the right direction to unlock your true potential. Interested? Email info@warriorstrength.co.uk to find out more.

Overview

We have already covered some major movement patterns with the squat and deadlift, now it’s time to look at another. Pressing. More specifically, overhead pressing.
Pressing is great for developing huge upper body strength and is vital for most aspects of performance.

Benefits
The overhead press is great for developing the shoulders, chest and arms whilst also demanding stability from the core and lower body. Providing you have the correct mobility and no abnormal bone structures like a type III acromion (hooked bone causing impingement) then the overhead press can be a great way to develop the stabilisers of the shoulder girdle which aren’t utilised whilst bench pressing. On top of that, developing those stabilisers can actually improve your bench!

Before You Start
Overhead pressing is a very simple looking movement, however it requires a lot of mobility to execute correctly. Most notably the thoracic spine. If you have an excessively kyphotic thoracic spine or slouched shoulder position, chances are you might not be ready for overhead pressing. With today’s lifestyle of tech and prolonged sitting the chances of you having this type of posture are high.
This means that your scapulae or shoulder blades are in a poor position and in turn could lead to impingement related pain. On top of this, correct upward rotation of your traps, serratus anterior as well as strong rotator cuffs all contribute to correct overhead mechanics and shoulder health.
Do you have lower back pain while pressing overhead? Again your thoracic spine could be letting you down, providing you aren’t just being stupid with the weight on the bar. As I said, more than meets the eye with the press.
So before you start moving anything overhead, it’s worth conducting a little assessment. Try the back to wall shoulder flexion below.

You should be able to get your thumbs to the wall without the lower back or head coming off the wall. Did you pass? If you did then chances are you have good thoracic extension and can start pressing. However if you struggled, try the same movement but lying on the floor. Bend your legs so your feet are flat on the floor, get your lower back and head flush to the floor and reach overhead. If you still can’t maintain a good position, I would put overhead pressing work to one side and address mobility/stability issues as detailed later in this article.

Can We Press Yet?
If you have adequate mobility and flexibility then you are ready for the barbell overhead press. If you struggled to pass the overhead test, then it may be worth looking at variations or alternatives to build shoulder strength.
However before we look at those let’s assume you are ready for the barbell press.

SETUP:
• Foot Position – We want our feet ideally below the hips i.e. jumping stance, to give us a solid base or ‘pillar of power’ to support the load overhead.
• Grip – Grip the bar just outside shoulder width roughly 1.5” to 2” away from the shoulder.
• Rack – Elbows should remain slightly in front of the bar with forearms vertical. This position will also help engage the lats which are just as important as the shoulders.
• Tension – This is a strict press so before we lift, everything from the foot up should be engaged and tight, paying particular focus to the glutes and mid line.

EXECUTION:
• Big Breath – Once tension on the bar has been sufficiently built and the position has been set, take in a big breath and hold. Think about pushing your belly out as if to brace for a punch to the stomach.
• Press the Weight – To initiate the press, we should drive the weight through our heels and move the head back not chin up. The bar should remain over the centre of the feet and travel straight up.
• Drive Chest Forward – Once the bar passes the forehead, make a conscious effort to push the head and chest forward to assist in locking out the movement.
• Lockout – The bar should be overhead with arms fully extended and a straight line from arm to foot through the shoulder and hip.
• Push Elbows Forward – To complete the lift, the bar must be returned to the shoulders by pushing the elbows forward to keep the bar on the optimal path. Again the head moves back to accommodate the bar and end position should look the same as the start position

Variations

Sometimes just changing the grip on a movement can reduce pain or improve movement whilst working on the issue at the same time. Using a neutral grip dumbbell press may work as a good alternative to the barbell press. It is also easier going on the wrists if you suffer with the flexed wrist position of the barbell press.

If neutral grip still doesn’t do it for you, then perhaps try a single arm pressing variation, whereby again impingement can be reduced and better position can be maintained. Work your way through these progressions, starting with the half-kneeling stance to improve core stability at the same time and keep the lower back in a good position.

Finally if you cannot maintain a good overhead position with any of the above, or are still in pain try landmine press variations. They are great for building shoulder strength while minimising any chances of impingement related pain or poor overhead positioning.

Common Errors

With the press, most errors can be corrected with simple verbal cues or visual demonstrations. Refer to the video above along with the written description to ensure you are pressing correctly. However as mentioned earlier, if we lack overhead mobility and stability such as shoulder flexion, ROM and scapulae movement, no cue is going to fix that. So work on single arm pressing or landmine pressing whilst using the exercises below to assist with getting into the correct overhead position.

Start with developing your breathing patterns by checking out the article here. To expand on that article try the below stretch with diaphragmatic breathing to not only open up the lats, but open up the rib cage and thoracic spine too.

Next work on soft tissue through SMR, again checkout this article on SMR by clicking here. In the video below, pay close attention to rolling out the lats, chest and thoracic spine.

With that we want to work on mobility exercises for thoracic extension and scapular movement on the rib cage. Give the below exercises a try and re-test often using the overhead test as if you don’t see improvement, then they aren’t for you.

We also want to improve stability especially in the scapulae and rotator cuff to ensure correct overhead mechanics. Once you have done some mobility/flexibility work add in some of these exercises to re-enforce motor control and stability.

This list is by no means exhaustive, just a handful of exercises I have seen work regularly. However as I said before, if after a re-test you see no improvement, try some other exercises. You may also need to look at thoracic flexion exercises if your thoracic spine is already stuck in extension. Check out this great article detailing some flexion exercise by clicking here.

Finally, adding in pulling exercises such as the barbell bent-over row and the chin-up are great ways to re-enforce correct scapulae movement with actual strength and can also help improve that kyphotic posture we spoke of earlier.

Assistance Work

The overhead press is a stubborn movement and very hard to continually progress at the same rate as say your squat or deadlift. Assistance work can be the difference between adding an extra kilogram to the lift or being stuck at the same weight for months. Now there are notably two main areas of failure in the overhead press: struggling to even move the weight off the shoulders or struggling to finish the lockout overhead. The former would mean you want to target the shoulders and chest for assistance work and the latter targeting the triceps. So if you struggle to get the bar off your shoulders try these:

Front Raises target as the name suggests, the front of the shoulder one of the prime movers in the press.

The rear of the shoulder often gets neglected or over-looked even though it contributes to your press. Bent-over Flyes are a great way to hit those muscles.

The Push Press allows you lift more weight than your strict press, through use of assistance from the legs and hips. This can again help you get past plateaus by having more weight overhead.

For those stubborn triceps:

Skull crushers are a great way to isolate the triceps along with any other tricep extension exercise.

Dips are a great full body movement that can develop the shoulders, triceps and chest at the same time. Check out my YouTube channel for regressions and progressions on the straight bar dips in the below video.

One final note is that it may be worth investing in some fractional plates from 1/4kg to 1kg. That small jump may also help you get through a plateau rather than jumping up 2.5kg when using 1.25kg plates which is usually the smallest most gyms have.

Today’s post is on a subject that’s so simple and straight forward, it hurts to write it. In fact, if anyone is serious about making changes in their life, tracking progress and setting baselines should be the FIRST thing you do once you have set your goals. It doesn’t matter how great the programme or how good the intentions are, if you can’t measure how far you’ve come from a week ago, a month ago or even a year ago, how will you know where you are today?

Tracking, journaling, recording or whatever else you want to call it can help you measure progress, give focus, motivate and help stay organised. This can apply to more than just an exercise log.

Your Body – The scales are the worst way to measure body progress for most people. Hopefully if you are reading this, then you know how important some form of strength training is to EVERYONE. This means that you will be building muscle and muscle occupies less space than fat and a lb of muscle will burn more calories than a 1lb of fat as it’s more metabolically demanding. This means that you will burn far more calories day to day if you utilise part of your training regimen to build muscle. However it also means that the scales could stay the same or even go up slightly in the beginning. But don’t panic! Because muscle occupies less space you will look smaller and more athletic. So the best way to track body progress is through the 3 methods below.

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–          Take Photos: In shorts or something like a bikini for ladies. Take one from the front, side and back using a mirror or friend/family member. You don’t have to show anyone, just take them and keep them safe. Every 2-4 weeks, take the same photos in the same place with the same light and roughly at the same time. Your body can be affected by many factors, so replicating the same scenario will give you the best comparable results.

–          Measurements: Remember we said the scales could stay the same or go up but you could get smaller? Measuring certain areas on the body can give you black and white evidence of this progress taking place. Measure every 2-4 weeks at the same spot on the body and note it all down. You can measure neck, shoulders, chest, biceps, waist, hips and thighs. This also works for those trying to gain mass too.

–          Body Fat %: A little bit more of a challenge to measure but again a great way to how progress. If you are building muscle, you will burn more calories at rest and thus lose body fat. You will look good in the mirror and body fat % will decrease. Get a professional to do it for you using callipers or better yet, ultrasound. Do not use those funky machines you get in shopping centres as they are not accurate.

Food – Pretty much all studies on calorie intake show that we always underestimate or under report how many calories we eat day to day. Add to that the fundamental principle we need to adhere to is calories in vs calories out, you can see why some people’s weight loss goals can become a struggle. First thing to do is figure out how many calories per day your body needs at rest, also known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR). This tells you how many calories your body burns each day just to function. From there you can use the Harris-Benedict formula to find out how many calories your body needs when activity level is taken into account, so by the end you will have a number that tells you how many calories your body needs to MAINTAIN current weight.

From there you can then hit this number each day if you’re already happy with where you are or add/subtract depending on goals. Start conservatively at first, adding or subtracting 200-300 calories from your original number. Adjust as required with the aim of losing/gaining 1-2lb per week. Any more and I would say you’ve added/subtracted too much.

This is where tracking comes in. Record everything you eat AND drink each day for 5-7 days. How do the calories match up? If they aren’t where they need to be then your weight loss/gain goals won’t be where they need to be, it’s that simple. Yes food quality is important, but if you first haven’t addressed calories in vs calories out it won’t matter!

Once you have developed a routine you can keep tracking if you feel it helps or just stick to the routine so you know exactly what you are eating day to day. It doesn’t need to be a chore and apps like My Fitness Pal are great for doing all of the above for you and having it on your phone means there’s no excuse for not recording. You don’t need to starve yourself, cut out carbs or top eating the nice foods. Just adhere to calories in vs calories out and get 80% of your food from good whole sources and you’re set!

Workouts – It’s frustrating how many people I know who don’t track their workouts. There are two simple principles we must adhere to if we want to progress in exercise. They are progressive overload and use of volume. For the body to adapt it needs to be challenged to force adaptation. That means more weight on the bar, less rest, more reps, move further or work out longer. However this should be done in a progressive manner such as adding a couple of kg on the bar each week or running an extra 5mins each week allowing the body to adapt at a rate where recovery is maximised and injury risk reduced. How will you know what you need to do today if you don’t know what you did yesterday or even last week?
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If you squatted 100kg for 3 sets of 5 reps last week then you should be aiming for 102.5 or 105kg this week. If that’s not possible you could do 100kg for 3 sets of 6 reps or 4 sets of 3 reps, all are a step forward from the week before. Once simply adding weight to the bar or running further becomes too difficult or you hit a plateau, you then need to look at volume of training. However if you’re not logging your sessions how will you know when you hit such a plateau? Volume basically means you will need to do more within a given session to keep forcing adaptation. This could be more reps and sets, or it could even be doing 2 runs spread over the day. Tracking workouts means progress, but it also gives you focus and direction each session. You know exactly what you have to do and it will save you time in the gym. Again there are plenty of apps and programs for this or you could use my favourite, the trusty notebook and pen.

Recording and tracking progress cannot be underestimated and is vital for all health and fitness goals. It doesn’t need to be complicated or complex, it just needs to show you and drive you to be better than you were yesterday.

Overview

The squat may be considered the king of all barbell exercises, but the deadlift could arguably share that throne or at least come close. Just like the squat if you truly want to unlock your true athletic potential, you need to be pulling heavy things from the floor.

The deadlift is one of the truest full body movements there is. Having strong and powerful glutes and hamstrings are crucial for running faster, jumping higher and being a general ninja. On top of that having strong lower back muscles to help the spine remain stable can help reduce lower back pain. The deadlift has you covered on all fronts.

Benefits

Again like the squat you can develop huge amounts of muscle with this full body movement as well as a host of other benefits:

 

–          Develop strong glutes

–          Get insanely strong

–          Reduce injury risk through glute and hamstring development and thus increasing stability at the knee joint

–          Huge amounts of growth hormone release when deadlifting heavy = gainz

–          Deadlifts build strength and stability in the lumbar spine muscle

–          Deadlifts improve rotator cuff and scapula stability and their ability to withstand distraction forces

–          You can develop huge lats and strong upper back

–          Deadlifts will develop a core to rival Jean-Claude Van Damme!

There you have it, the deadlift really is a great exercise. Anyone who thinks the deadlift is bad for your back, stop. Just like any exercise, if it’s performed incorrectly then yes, you could suffer lower back issues. If you do it right you will develop a lower back of iron.

Before You Start

If you look back at the article on the squat, you will remember that there are some basic skills you should develop before squatting heavy. These same principles apply to the deadlift, work on bracing, neutral posture and hip hinging. Missed the article? Click here before moving on.

Can We Deadlift Yet?

Once you have mastered the basic principles above, we can look at deadlifting. However due to everyone’s different limb and torso length, hip/hamstring mobility and even upper back strength/mobility, you may need to look at the various types of deadlift. Not everyone will be able to do conventional deadlift straight away and your priority should be correct setup and positioning whilst working on your mobility and stability to earn the conventional deadlift.

However before we look at the variations let’s assume you are ready to do the conventional deadlift and look at the setup/execution of the movement.

SETUP:

  • Foot Position – We want our feet ideally below the hips i.e. jumping stance, but some may be able to get in a better position with a slightly wider stance up to shoulder width. From there feet should be placed so the bar is over the mid foot to allow for a more vertical shin and keep the knees out of the way of the bar. Toes should be pointing forwards throughout. This should also mean that the shins are relatively close to the bar but not touching.
  • Hip Hinge – At this point we want to load up the glutes and hamstrings correctly. We do this by hinging at the hips (push hips back) to get into the correct position and from there we can then bend the knees to get down to the bar.
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  • Grip – Grip the bar with a neutral (overhand) grip with both hands on the outside of the knees as to not interfere with them. We’ll go through grip variations later.
  • Tension – We want to build tension in our upper body as well as our lower extremities and we can do this by bending the bar around the shins. This will help engage the lats and set the back which must be slightly arched. We can also pull the chest up and set the shoulders back to maintain this good position. The key thing is to keep that tension throughout the movement. We also want to take the slack out of the bar i.e. gently pull the bar into the shins so that the collars of the bar sit into the top of the plates. This will prevent you from ‘jerking’ the bar off the floor and excessively loading the lower back.

EXECUTION:

  • Big Breath – Once tension on the bar has been sufficiently built and the position has been set, take in a big breath and hold. Think about pushing your belly out as if to brace for a punch to the stomach.
  • Press the Weight – To initiate the deadlift, we should drive the weight through our heels and press the weight from the floor with the legs whilst simultaneously lifting the shoulder and chest.
  • Drive Hips Forward – Once the bar passes the knees make a conscious effort to push the hips forward and squeeze the glutes to assist in finishing the lift at the top. Hips should be locked out and a straight line from head all the way down to ankle. Do not over-extend!
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  • Hip Hinge – As above hips go back to lower the bar towards the knees, all the while tension is maintained and upper back and chest engaged.
  • Bend the Knees – Once the bar has moved past the knees and back angle is correct, bend the knees to allow the hips and shoulder to descend to the floor at the same time. The end position should be EXACTLY the same as the start position, with the bar set down in the exact same place.

Variations

Sumo Deadlift – Is a great alternative for those who may have just recently had a lower back injury but want to get back into pulling heavy weight. The sumo deadlift puts less shear force on the lower back than the conventional deadlift.

You can also develop more hip strength through the sumo due to its set up position, however you will need some good hip mobility to get into a good starting position due to the wider starting stance.

Finally if you have shorter limbs and a longer torso, you may find the sumo position more comfortable and allows you to move more weight.

Trap Bar Deadlift – This is a great option for those who don’t have the mobility to maintain a neutral spine during conventional deadlift from the floor. However I would say that you should only use this for a short period of time with beginners lifting a moderate amount of weight and get them working towards the conventional or sumo deadlift. This is because some people allow too much movement to happen with the trap bar due its centre of gravity being slightly further out from the body and the extra stability required to keep the bar path straight up and down. However it is a useful tool and can really help beginners get into deadlifts as there is no undue stress on the lower back. Just ensure the setup is the same as the conventional deadlift as people tend to run the trap bar deadlift into more of a squat.

Rack Deadlift (raised bar) – Finally the other common variation is the rack pull deadlift. Personally I prefer this deadlift over the trap bar for those who are just starting out or don’t have the mobility to get into a good position from the floor. The deadlift is exactly the same as the conventional but the bar is just raised off the floor through the use of racks, plates or even mats. It could be raised by just a few inches, it may need to be raised up to mid shin level, remember position is priority and you can work on getting down to the floor concurrently.

Grip Variations

There are a few different ways you can grip the bar during any deadlift starting out first with the overhand or neutral grip. You should always start out with this grip as it promotes the development of grip strength while lifting. Only once your grip becomes the limiting factor should you then look at other variations listed below.

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Next we have the mixed grip in which one hand grips the bar so the palm is facing towards you and the other hand grips the bar so the palm is facing away. This allows for a stronger grip on the bar and will allow you to potential pull some extra weight over the neutral grip. Try and get comfortable with mixed grip on both sides as to avoid imbalances.

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Finally you have the option of a hook grip in which you wrap your thumb around the bar first and then clamp as many fingers as you can on top of the thumb. This allows for a strong grip but can be painful on the thumbs. Ease into this one if you haven’t used it before and if you are already quite comfortable with mixed grip, it may be worth sticking with it unless you also do Olympic Weightlifting in which hook grip is essential.

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Common Errors

Rounded Back – Obviously this is the error most commonly associated with the deadlift and lower back injuries. What you will see is either the hips shoot up too quickly without the chest and shoulders following or people lifting the bar with their lower back as they are strongest there. In any case you will be putting an excessive amount of stress on the lower back. To fix this first of all eliminate the fact that it may be load related i.e. your ego is in need of a check and you are lifting beyond your ability. If the weight isn’t causing the issue then focus on cues such as keeping the chest up and shoulders pulled back and down to maintain upper back position.

If this isn’t helping then you may want to look at upper back strength and mobility to allow your thoracic spine to extend correctly to aid in maintaining correct lower back position.

You may also want to look at lower back strength as this could be the limiting factor. Movements such as good mornings are great for this.

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Weight shifting forward – When the weight gets heavy you may see some people allowing the bar to come away from the legs and hang out in front of the body. Again this is potentially bad for the lower back but also it is massively inefficient and will limit your pulling strength. Focus on good setup position with relation to feet under the bar and shin position in relation to the bar. Finally focus on pulling the bar back into the body as you lift by engaging the lats and pulling the shoulders back and down.

Miscellaneous – A lot of the other common faults can be corrected by ensuring you adopt a good setup position as detailed earlier. Issues such as jerking the bar from the floor, pulling with the arms and losing the neutral spine can be down to incorrect starting position including the building of tension on the bar. Film yourself and look back to see where you may be going wrong.

Assistance Work

You may need to address strength deficits in a certain area of the deadlift or bring a lagging muscle group up to strength with the rest of the body such as the lower back. We have already looked at developing upper and lower back strength above so let’s look at some other assistance work.

If you find that you are struggling to get the heavier weights off the floor it may be worth incorporating some Romanian Deadlifts into your training to build up your glute and hamstring strength.

If you find that you fail your deadlifts around the midpoint then it would be worth incorporating some rack pulls into your training.

Also look at the snatch grip deadlift which will help you focus on pulling the bar back and loading up the hamstrings more.

Finally if you find you struggle with the lockout of the deadlift or explosive hip drive to finish the rep then look at incorporating some barbell hip thrusts into your training.

Additional Information

Shoes – While you see many different shoes out there especially in the powerlifting world, you basically want a shoe with a flat sole to give you as solid contact with the ground as possible. Better yet you could do the deadlifts barefoot! However if you do find you have an excessive tendency to shift your weight forward, you may want to explore using shoes with a toe lift. This will help you shift the weight back a little better and keep the bar close to the body – the only problem is that they don’t exist! You would have to customise your own flat soled shoes with a slight toe lift.

Belts – Exactly the same principle as the shoes, they are really useful. They allow better use of intra-abdominal pressure to support movements such as squats and deadlifts and they also give you a physical cue to show you are bracing correctly. Again though we don’t want to rely on the belt, you should still be able to know how to brace without a physical cue and also be able to support sub-maximal weights without a belt. Utilise it on those really heavy training sets (85%+) or in a competition.

Chalk – Chalk will help improve your connection with the bar, thus allowing you to improve on your lift and may even help you maintain a neutral grip longer. Just like the belt, don’t over use it and save it for those heavy sets!

Overview

‘If you ain’t squatting you ain’t training’

While it may seem like an extreme phrase, the squat is considered to be the king of all barbell exercises and I’m inclined to agree. I would argue that if you are not squatting, you haven’t reached your true athletic potential whether your sport is moving iron or moving your own body.

The squat not only builds and develops leg strength and muscle mass, but due to the full body demand of the movement you will develop core strength that no amount of sit-ups can build and even improve mobility and more important stability.

 

Benefits

On top of building slabs of muscle on the body and a core of steel, I briefly mentioned that squatting can improve mobility, however this doesn’t mean you can skip your warm-up. You will still need to prep the body through unloaded movements, but that mobility means nothing if you don’t reinforce it with some full ROM loaded movements such as goblet squats. This will help build strength and stability through the ankles, hips and thoracic spine (upper back).

As also mentioned the squat is great for building muscle and strength not only due to its full body nature but also due to the body’s hormonal response to the movement. As so many muscle groups are utilised this can lead to larger production of testosterone as well as growth hormone which creates a great anabolic, muscle building environment in the body. Heavy squatting will increase blood flow to the muscles bringing more of these anabolic hormones to the muscle receptors and also:

–          Increase protein production

–          Increase the use of stored fat for energy

There is a lot to be said on the benefits of squats helping you achieve a lean body as well as building strength.

Before You Start

So now we know how important the squat is for strength and athletic performance we can now look at how to squat, variations and some common faults/correctives.

However before we can squat it is worth mastering a few basic principles to ‘earn’ your right to squat safely before even attempting to get under the bar.

Neutral Posture – This affects everything you do in life especially when trying to move external loads correctly and transfer external forces around the body. Unfortunately in today’s age of tablets and prolonged sitting, most of us don’t know what a neutral posture is. You should know how to adopt this before moving anything remotely heavy as this will ensure that the spine is loaded safely with all the supporting structures doing their job.

Bracing – The importance of correct breathing techniques seems to be gaining momentum in mainstream fitness. While outside the scope of this article, learning how to breathe diaphragmatically instead of using our emergency accessory muscles will not only help with abdominal bracing and therefore keep you rigid in the bottom of a squat, it will also help to reinforce good posture.

Hip Hinge – Finally, a crucial aspect of the squat is known as the hip hinge which is how squats are initiated, so it makes sense to be proficient at this pattern. While it may seem a simple movement ‘you just push your butt back…..right?’ Many people mistake the hip hinge for some kind of twerking exercise and end up over-extending through their lumbar spine (lower back) which just won’t help the situation.

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There are a few great ways to learn how to hip hinge, one of the first steps is combining neutral posture with the hip hinge which is where the good old pvc pipe comes in handy.

Can We Squat Yet?

Once you have mastered these principles then we can look at whether you can squat. While I would love to just throw each and every one of you under a bar, it simply doesn’t work like that. People’s anatomy is unique to them and some people may not be destined to squat just yet. For those that are ready it is worth going through some progressions first to build and efficient and safe movement pattern. I use this process with all my clients to build them up to squatting with a bar, some may take a session or two, and some may take a couple of months. The key is to only advance once you have mastered the movement with correct and safe technique.

Wall Squat – Are great for teaching the hip hinge movement of the squat but stop people from turning it into some sort of good morning exercise so reinforces postural alignment (see I wasn’t making it up). Move closer to the wall as you progress.

Goblet Box Squats – Goblet squats a great teaching tool for the squats but also a good warm-up/activation exercise well into your training career. Having the weight out to the front acts as a counter balance, forces you to engage the core and allows for a more vertical torso which in most cases will allow for better depth. The use of the box will just reinforce the hip hinge or ‘sitting back’ pattern. Decrease the height of the box as you progress, ensuring your spine stays in neutral and you avoid the ‘butt wink’ or flexing of the lower back (more on that later)

Goblet Squat – Once the box goblet squat has been mastered then we can remove the box and continue with a regular goblet squat. Focus on sitting in between your hips and keeping a vertical torso.

Front Squat – Now we get to finally get our hands on a barbell! Like the goblet squat the front squat allows for a more vertical torso, better core recruitment and heavier loading. However there still may be some mobility restrictions so using two KBs in a front rack position is a good alternative at this time.

Box Squat – Now we have become proficient in the hip hinge, sitting back and maintaining abdominal bracing, it’s time to get that bar on the back! We’ll talk about positioning later but for now just note that the trusty box will be utilised one last time before we move onto the full squat itself. However Box squats can be a useful staple at any point in a training cycle, especially if your squats are more quad dominant.

Now Can We Squat?

Hmmm, I suppose. Only joking! Now what was detailed above might seem like overkill and may even seem like you have to spend an eternity squatting to a box, however it is my job to ensure that you move in the most safe and efficient manner. Will everyone need to go through all the steps above? No. That’s the trainers/athletes decision to make. Will it take an eternity to get through the list of progressions? Not necessarily. I have had athletes learn abdominal bracing, hip hinges, wall squat and goblet squats in a 1 hour session with them ready to squat within a matter of days. I’ve also had some athletes come to me with poor posture, poor mobility and no clue how to squat, so it would be irresponsible to chuck a bar on their back and scream ‘shut up and squat!’ Some people aren’t even designed to squat at all, but that’s another post entirely. Anyway I digress, now that you have earned the right to squat let’s talk about how we actually do this movement I’ve been raving about.

How to Squat (Back Squat)

SETUP:

  • Tension on the bar – We want to build up some upper back, lat and shoulder tension BEFORE getting underneath the bar. Having a well organised upper back will help pull the chest up which in turn will help maintain the lumbar curve (lower back). We achieve this by grabbing the bar with as narrow grip as possible (flexibility permitting) and ‘bend’ the bar in half. This should engage the required area.
  • Setup under the bar – Keeping tension we built up in step 1, get underneath the bar and set it on top of the shoulders (high bar). Pull the elbows down towards the floor and in towards the centre of the body, this again will help set the lats. Angle of the torso will mimic the angle of your arms, so keep them pointing as close to ground as flexibility will allow. Finally set the feet into the correct squat stance, ideally shoulder width apart.
  • Un-rack the bar – Once we are setup underneath the bar we must then remove it from the rack by extending the legs and taking as few steps back as possible (think 1-2). Adjust feet as needed, toes pointing out slightly.
  • Re-tension – Check elbows, lift up the chest and pull the bar into the back to keep lats engaged.

EXECUTION:

  • Big Breath – Once tension on the bar has been sufficiently built and the position has been set, take in a big breath and hold. Think about pushing your belly out as if to brace for a punch to the stomach.
  • Hip Hinge – To initiate the squat, hips need to hinge back to set the lumbar curve and transfer weight onto the heels. Think pushing the butt back and keeping it back throughout the movement.
  • Knees Out – Drive the knees outwards to begin the descent phase of the squat, ideally keeping them over the toes. This transfers load to the hips and strengthens the posterior chain.
  • Depth – The depth of the squat should ideally be below parallel flexibility permitting. Squeeze your butt at the bottom to get out of the hole whilst still forcing your knees out. Again we want to ensure our chest is up and upper back is tight throughout.
  • Finish the Movement – Driving through the heels keeping the knees out we want to ensure our hips and shoulders move up at the same time. Squeeze the butt once more at the top of the movement to fully extend the hips and complete the squat.

Sounds simple right? Well unfortunately there are some weird and wonderful squats out there so I thought I’d go through a few common mistakes and how to fix them.

Common Errors

The Butt Wink – The lower back must maintain a natural arch to avoid putting excess stress through the lumbar spine. A common fault is as someone gets to the bottom of their squat, their lower back tucks under. This causes loss of that natural curve and flexion of the lower back, which is also known as the ‘butt wink’.

In most cases this is due to pelvic alignment and muscle imbalances through the hip flexors and the core musculature. More specifically the hips are tight or ‘stiff’ and the core is not as tight or ‘stiff’. That means once you have found the limit of your hip mobility (hip flexion) the only way to achieve more depth is to allow your trunk to lean forward and cause lumbar flexion.

To address this issue you need to mobilise the hips and create more tension in the core. Foam rolling and dynamic mobility for the hips should be your daily routine if you want to squat ‘ass to grass’ safely.

Working on anti-flexion exercises for the core to increase ‘stiffness’ will also help alleviate the butt wink.

In the meantime, decrease the ROM of your squat to ensure longevity of the spine. Squatting to a box would be the best solution while working on the above.

Heels Coming Off the Ground – As mentioned before the weight should sit around the mid foot to the heel, with the whole foot in contact with the ground at all times. Some people tend to shift the weight into the balls of the feet resulting in the heels coming off the ground. This will put more undue stress on the knee joint but also limit posterior chain activation, hindering progress.

For most the fix should be as simple as focusing on sitting back as you squat. Go back and become a ninja at the wall squats and box squats to drill the movement. As a visual cue, try and keep the shins as vertical as possible.

If this doesn’t solve the problem it may be worth looking at strength work for the posterior chain. RDL’s and Good Mornings would be a good place to start.

Knees Collapsing Inwards (knee valgus) – When squatting our knees should track over the foot and be stacked on top of the ankle. If the knees collapse in this could potentially lead to joint issues down the line. There are of course some lifters who have whats known as knee valgus (knees collapsing in) and are fine. However for the everyday athlete, keeping the knees over the feet will serve you better in the long run.

Even if you are consciously pushing your knees out and they are still caving in, then address a few issues:

– Mobilise your adductors (inside of thigh) using a foam roller and dynamic stretching such as below.

– Activate glutes during your warm-ups

– Build glute strength in your training session

Chest Dropping Forward – We already talked about the importance of maintaining the natural curve in our lower back to protect the spine. Keeping your chest up will also contribute to maintaining this position. While I say chest up that doesn’t mean you have to be completely upright. Depending on the length of your limbs and torso as well as pelvic alignment will dictate to an extent how much forward lean you will experience. Not to mention the type of squat being performed. Not everyone will look the same.

However just like the knees collapsing in, if you are putting in all the effort in the world to keep the chest up but are still collapsing forward, try these fixes.

– Setup: If you setup under the bar with the chest dropped then it will be impossible to recover during the movement itself. Get under the bar and pull your elbows down and drive the chest up. Then take the bar out of the rack.

– Move your hands closer to the shoulders. This will allow you to utilise the downward movement of the elbows more which helps utilise the lats to drive the chest up.

– Work on upper back strength and thoracic mobility. Foam roller on the lats and thoracic spine as well as the pecs may help you drive the chest up more. Building upper back strength through rows and pull-ups will also contribute to keeping the chest up.

– Address core ‘stiffness’ as mentioned earlier.

– Play around with bar position on your back. Some may find a high bar position will allow you to stay more upright while you address core or back strength issues.

The key thing to remember is if you are experiencing pain or discomfort, stop! What you are doing is either wrong or an imbalance/asymmetry needs addressing. Don’t ignore it, regress the movement to a pain free version and work on the problem. You have plenty of options above to explore.

A Word on Squat Depth

Ideally everyone should be squatting below parallel as this is where you will get the most muscle recruitment from the posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings) however as mentioned earlier not everyone is designed to squat below parallel or squat at all. Go through the following steps to help solve squat depth issues.

Plank Test

Hold a plank for as long as you can with good form and note which muscle you feel working the most. If it’s your lower back then your core musculature isn’t firing correctly and needs to be trained to work reflexively.

Possible Solution: Dead Bugs, Birddogs and my favourite the Bear Crawl will enable you to activate the core. Alongside this, work on your breathing and bracing techniques mentioned earlier.

Plate Test

Put an empty bar on your back and perform some squats noting how low you can get. Place a 2.5kg plate under each heel so that the balls of the feet are still in contact with the floor and repeat the test. If you can get lower, then your calves or ankles may need some work

Possible Solution: Foam rolling for calves and dynamic ankle mobility

Deep Squat Test

Using a fixed upright grab onto it at around waist height. Perform a squat and aim to get as low as you can. If you passed the plate test and your calves and ankles are fine then you should get below parallel without issues. However if you can’t or struggle to get out of the bottom once down there then your hip flexors may need some work

Possible Solution: Hip Flexor stretches as well as activation work through lunges and split squats.

These are just a few ways to troubleshoot squat depth the list is by no means exhaustive. Core stability can have an impact on a lot of movement restrictions hence why it is top of the list. A lot of people have the mobility required but because the body feels it is in a weak position (lack of stability) it shuts the movement down. All the rolling and stretching in the world won’t help, work on strengthening the weak areas such as the core and upper back.

Assistance Work

When you have become proficient at squatting it is worth noting that you may end up reaching a point where you no longer feel you are getting any stronger with the movement. Depending on your training experience and/or programming this may not happen for while or it may happen relatively quickly. Changing the stimulus of the movement should be your first port of call whether that be utilising pause reps, other resistances such as bands and chains or even playing around with reps schemes and rest periods.

However sometimes you may need to work on strength imbalances or assistance work to aid in getting your stronger at your squat. One of the best assistance exercises you can do for the squat is any single leg variation be it lunges, split squats or step-ups.

 

Additional Information

Lifting Shoes – Olympic weightlifting shoes are utilised by many for squatting and for good reason. As mentioned earlier, your ankles or calves could be restricting your squat depth, which for competitive weightlifting athletes isn’t going to cut it. The lifting shoe utilises a raised heel to allow for more ankle dorsi-flexion when squatting to allow more depth and stability in the bottom position. So while really useful especially for competitors, that’s it that’s all they do, they aren’t a magic shoe to fix your squat and nor should someone ignore the issues that are causing the need for ‘assistance’. You should still be able to squat to depth without the shoe and still feel stable without the shoe, if you don’t or can’t then fix it and use the shoe for those top end weights or in competition.

Belts – Exactly the same principle as the shoes they are really useful. They allow better use of intra-abdominal pressure to support movements such as squats and deadlifts and they also give you a physical cue to show you are bracing correctly. Again though we don’t want to rely on the belt, you should still be able to know how to brace without a physical cue and also be able to support sub-maximal weights without a belt. Utilise it on those really heavy training sets (85%+) or in a competition.

Knee Sleeves – Knee sleeves help keep the knee joints warm and lubricated which are great for training in really cold environment or if you’re squatting volume is particularly high. I personally wear sleeves myself and saw some great benefits in getting rid of my ‘creaky’ knees.

 

Breathing, one of the simplest, most natural things we can do. Anyone can breathe and breathe correctly, right? When we think of breathing we think of simply breathing in and out with no consideration for what muscles are being utilised or how it affects our posture, training and stress levels. So let’s take a broader look at breathing and its practical applications.

 

 

–          Breathing can help increase intra-abdominal pressure and thus provide stability of the spine when lifting heavy things.

–          Correct breathing patterns can facilitate faster recovery through correct utilisation of the autonomic nervous system. This can apply to recovery between sets and recovery between workouts.

–          By utilising correct breathing patterns we can aid postural correction which in turn could reduce asymmetries and thus reduce injury risk.

–          Finally breathing can help improve performance!

Now when we refer to breathing techniques within exercise, we are talking about using the core to stabilise the spine. However to truly get the core stability we need, we have to utilise the diaphragm. If we have poor diaphragm function (most do) then we cannot fully contract these muscles and therefore unable to fully utilise lumbar extensor muscles for spinal stability which is where we need it most.  Put simply, if you can’t utilise your diaphragm correctly, you have a higher chance of developing lower back pain.

So what is the diaphragm and how does it work? It’s a dome shaped muscle at the bottom of the rib cage and as we breathe in, the diaphragm contracts and pushes down into the abdominal cavity. This decreases the pressure in the thoracic cavity and the lungs fill with air. When we breathe out the diaphragm relaxes allowing air out. SO what does this look like? When you breathe in the lower part of your abdomen (belly) should rise or expand as the diaphragm pushes down into the abdominal cavity, then the ribs should push down as we exhale to ensure we clear all the air out. What does it actually look like for most? Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly and relax and breathe normally. Which part of your body rises and falls? For most it will be the chest. This means that instead of using the diaphragm fully we are using accessory muscles such as the neck, lats an even hip flexors to help us breathe. As mentioned this could lead to anterior pelvic tilt, increased lumbar lordosis, back pain, neck pain and shoulder issues.

So how can we learn/improve diaphragmatic breathing? We can utilise the following progressions. In all cases the aim is to breathe not just into the belly, but incorporating a 360 expansion of the core. This means that when you breathe in correctly, your belly should expand as well as the lateral (side) and lower back muscles too. This is why we start on the floor so you can feel if your lower back is expanding as it will push into the floor. This is where most people struggle so own these progressions before moving on.

Crocodile breathing poses more of a challenge as people will try to exclusively push their belly into the floor. Remember we want 360 degree expansion of the core so lower back and lateral muscles should expand as well making you look like a crocodile. Get someone to check if unsure. If you can master these drills, you are on the right track!!

So in terms of core stability ensuring the diaphragm moves down into the abdominal cavity correctly will mean that the pelvic floor and then the abdominal wall will contract and thus forcing the lumbar extensor muscles to contract. This means that when you breathe correctly you will feel a 360 degree expansion of tension and true spinal stability. This brings us nicely into its practical applications through abdominal bracing.

Once we’ve nailed down our breathing techniques we want to be able to apply that to core stability and abdominal bracing to move heavy things. From here we’ve done the hardest part of getting our entire core to expand when we breathe and now we just need to maintain that position/tension through bracing. Think of bracing as trying to deflect a punch to the stomach, you have that 360 expansion, but now its solid to touch, that’s bracing. However we should still be able to breathe while holding that position so if the diaphragm is working correctly you should have a solid core all the way to the bottom of the abdomen and still be able to breathe. That is true core stability!

A great way to practice this is through the use of a lifting belt or resistance band tied around the waist. The belt or band provides feedback in terms of that 360 degree brace, then you can practice breathing while still maintaining that tension against the belt or band. Remember though you really need to focus on that full expansion and not just pushing your belly into the floor as again you’ll compensate somewhere else along the body.

What next? Well once you have mastered the breathing and the bracing, you want to add more challenge by utilising these techniques with movement. Having good breathing techniques and bracing ability is useless if you can’t maintain it while moving as that is the main reason you are using it! So we can begin to practice through unloaded exercises such as the Dead Bug, Bird Dog or even as simple as single leg lowering!

If you can apply the principles above whilst carrying out these movements then it’s time to apply those techniques under load. Get squatting, deadlifting and pressing and see how these new techniques change the way the movement feels. Now please don’t mistake this article as some sort of Holy Grail, yes these techniques can improve efficiency and therefore performance and they can definitely help improve posture and minimise injury risk. However once you learn to breathe and brace correctly you won’t suddenly put 50lbs on your lifts, this application is for the long term health, performance and recovery of your body. You have still got to put in the work, perform correct technique and follow a structured programme. This is just another tool to help on the journey to greatness and with so many people reporting the benefits of improving breathing technique, it’s one that can’t be ignored.

Before we talk about complexes lets talk about some basic principles to give a bit of background to the topic.

To build a lean body, increase strength and reduce body fat, resistance training is hands down the best method. Muscle is metabolically active tissue requiring more energy to sustain thus burning more calories throughout the day. So the more muscle you have the more energy you require and the more calories burned.

So how can we build muscle? As we said above through resistance training, however more specifically building muscle is about utilising whats know as time under tension, or TUT. When you move an external load, your muscles are under tension as they contract and relax, the longer they are held under this tension the more they will grow. This is where you may have seen protocols like tempo training when it comes to building size.

Finally to help build that lean body we can utilise what is know as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption or EPOC. EPOC occurs when the body can’t take in enough oxygen to provide the body what it needs, racking up an ‘oxygen debt’. The body replenishes this debt post workout burning calories well after you have finished training, burning more body fat.

So how can we benefit from these 3 principles in one sweat inducing workout? Complexes.

Complexes involve performing a series of movements back to back without rest or putting down the external resistance you are using such as a barbell or kettlebell. This means straight away equipment demands are low as you are using one piece of kit.

Complexes typically involve compound, multi-joint movements such as squats and presses as these are proven to give you the biggest bang for your buck in terms of mass building and hormonal response, due to their full body nature. So while we can use a variety of exercises I would avoid doing your favourite arm circuit as a complex.

So why do they work so well? Due to the time it takes to perform 1 full complex your body could be under load for 1-4 minutes meaning that the muscle building principle TUT is in full swing and you are getting some great muscle building effects. As the movements are being performed back to back without rest it immediately increases the EPOC demand of the session meaning it is a great conditioning workout as well as helping you burn body fat.

So what more do I need to say? Complexes are a great way to build muscle, increase strength, get lean and improve conditioning all in a short space of time using one implement. However, they are not easy so expect to be in the ‘pain cave’ from set 1 if you have used the correct weight. Here are a few tips to maximise the benefits of a complex.

– Perform the exercises as quickly as possible trying to avoid resting between exercises.
– Do not put the implement down!!
– Use 4-6 exercises to avoid over complicating for 2-10 reps depending on goals.
– Rest 1-3 minutes between sets and keep sets to no more than 5 depending on rep scheme.
– Try and increase either the weight, reps or speed each week. However remember 1 movement will be the limiting factor so only increase weight based on performance of that lift.
– Utilise after your normal strength routine for a real mass building kick (keep reps low).
– Use as an independent conditioning session performing complexes for time or higher reps.

Here are a couple of examples to get you started:

Complex 1 (the mass builder) credit: Dan John

Using a barbell perform 5 reps of each movement back to back without rest or putting the barbell down
– Bent-over Row
– Hang Power Clean
– Front Squat
– Military Press
– Back Squat
– Good Morning

Complex 2 (conditioning heaven)

Using a kettlebell perform all allocated reps back to back without rest or putting the KB down
– 2 arm KB Swings x 30 reps
– 1 arm KB Swings x 20 reps (10 each arm)
– 1 arm KB Cleans x 10 reps (5 each arm)

Fire Breather variation
– 2 arm KB Swings x 40 reps
– 1 arm KB Swings x 30 reps (15 each arm)
– 1 arm KB Cleans x 20 reps (10 each arm)
– 1 arm KB Push Press x 10 reps (5 each arm)

I know I said keep the reps between 2-10 but that applies to strength/mass goals. This is for those with HIIT/conditioning goals.

There you have it, an effective tool to get fitter, faster, stronger and leaner. Any questions at all don’t hesitate to drop me an email to info@warriorstrength.co.uk

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