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Kettlebells For Strength Gains And Fat Loss

Kettlebells are generally something that get laughed at by powerlifters and Strong(wo)man competitors alike. However, kettlebells used correctly can be a vital tool to any lifter. When I originally started my gym, my main clientele were interested in fat loss. I thought kettlebells were fairly useless, and anything you can do with a kettlebell you can do with a dumbbell. I was lucky enough to have a friend that was RKC certified come show me a few things, and needless to say I was very humbled. I will say that kettlebells are absolutely great for fat loss. Exercises can be explosive, full body, and easily transitioned to the next movement for complexes. Now by no means am I saying kettlebells are the greatest thing ever, and they cure cancer, but they are a valuable tool. If you are a strength athlete then you should never abandon the basic barbell lifts, because nothing will get you stronger. For the strength athlete kettlebells are a great accessory after your main lifts. They are also great as “finishers” if you are in need of improving your conditioning, or dropping some extra pounds to make a lower weight class. One thing about kettlebells that makes most people shy away from them is that the technique is very difficult. If you are interested in adding kettlebells to your training program I suggest you work with someone that has a lot of experience with them.
First, I’m going to outline a few of my favorites for accessory work. These are exercise best to do for higher reps after your main lift.

One arm strict press
You should always incorporate single limb movements in your training from time to time. Imbalances can develop, especially on an overhead press. When performing a strict press with a kettlebell, there is a greater range of motion then with a dumbbell press. The kettlebell starts in the rack position where it rests on your chest, with your elbow pointing straight down. Your forearm should be tight against your chest, and your fist by your chin as if you were a boxer. As with any kind of strict press, tighten your glutes, core, and quads to not use any leg drive. Begin the press by squeezing the handle tight, and press the kettlebell slightly away from you, bringing it back in to lock out directly over your shoulder joint. Done correctly there should be a slight arc to your press. Lower the weight the same way by thinking about pulling it down and keep your lats tight. Make sure not to just lower it straight down as you would with a dumbbell. The kettlebell should return to the rack position before reversing the movement.

Double racked Squat
Racked kettlebell squats are extremely humbling for those who have never tried them. The kettlebells will sit in the same place as they would for a strict press. This exercise engages your core, and your quads big time. Kettlebell squats are also a great teaching tool for the squat. With new clients that are untrained I will start them with a simple goblet squat. Most people walking into a gym for the first time are not ready to have a bar on their back. For those who are experienced try goblet squats as a warm up before barbell lifts to loosen the hips up to achieve proper depth. Going back to the double racked squat, make sure you squat very low. With the kettlbells racked in front, you will be able to stay very upright to break parallel with ease. If you want to make these extra challenging, add a pause in at the bottom. Also do no compare these to what you can front squat, many of you big squatters will be humbled by a pair of 70lb kettlebells!

Swings
For those of you that have no experience with kettlebells, I’m sure you have heard of, or seen a swing. Swings can be great as a warm up, going heavy for accessory work, and doing higher reps for conditioning. When I’m talking about swings I also mean the Russian swing, not the crossfit or “American” swing. I don’t care much for the American swing as I feel the kettlebell snatch is a better exercise if we are going to bring the kettlebell over your head in one motion. However if you are a crossfit competitor then by all means, keep training the American swing. I will get into snatches later in the article. To perform the swing properly, make sure you are doing a hip hinge with little bend at the knees. Start the kettlebell out in front of you as I do in the video and hike it back like a football. Your wrists should come into your inner thigh, and think about absorbing the weight in your hips. Explosively reverse the movement by pushing the weight off and stand up tall. Extend the hips all the way and squeeze your glutes tight at the top. Make sure to not lean back to avoid injury to your lower back. You should be completely upright at the top of the movement.

Jack Knife sit up
The jack knife is my favorite abdominal exercise to perform with kettlebells. For a beginner, start with no weight, and work on not overarching your back when lowering your arms and legs. Once you are strong enough, progress to holding two light kettlebells. You will see people doing these with a med ball, but kettlebells in each individual hand, and the way the kettlebells pull back, make this exercise much more difficult. Keep the reps higher as with most abdominal exercise of at least 15 reps. On a side note if have very strong abs, a great finisher is to pair this with ab wheel rollout. Try a countdown of 10 jackknife situps, 10 ab wheel rollouts, 9 of each, 8 of each, etc, all the way to 1 each.

Fat loss complexes
Again I must emphasize that you learn proper form before you try a few of the more complicated kettlebell exercises. These complexes can be done at the end of your training, or added in as conditioning work on your off days. On your off days of training just remember that you need enough rest to be recovered, so do not go too heavy and beat yourself up. I used to do full kettlebell workouts on my off days of heavy weight training, and all it did was beat me up, cutting down my recovery. Keep these light, fast, and use short rest periods.

Complex 1
1a) Left Arm KB Snatch- 3 x 10 x 0 sec. rest
1b) Left Arm KB Clean- 3 x 10 x 15-60 sec. rest
1c) Left Arm KB Swing- 3 x 10 x 0 sec. rest
1d) Right Arm KB Snatch- 3 x 10 x 0 sec. rest
1e) Right Arm KB Clean- 3 x 10 x 15-60 sec. rest
1f) Right Arm KB Swing- 3 x 10 x 0 sec. rest

Complex 2
1a KB swings 30 sec
1b Jump Rope 30 sec
-perform 10 rounds with a 10 sec rest in between
Complex 3
1a Right arm Snatch 2 x 20
1b Right side sledge hammer hit 2 x 20
1c Left arm snatch 2 x 20
1d Left arm sledge hammer hit 2 x 20
I would like to add that I do not have Turkish get ups at all in these exercises even though it is one of the most popular kettlebell exercises. Generally people will add get ups on a lower body day, which you can argue the primary muscles used are the abdominals. Turkish get ups are really a full body movement, and are great if fat loss is your number one goal. However I am using kettlebells to add to your strength training, not take away from it. Also Turkish get ups tend to beat the shoulder up quite a bit. If you pressed heavy the day before, and are now on a lower body day finishing up with get ups you are only sacrificing recovery time on your shoulder. A good alternative is to do these with a sand bag. You get all the benefits of a get up, but without taking a beating on your shoulder. Simply rest the sandbag on your shoulder and hug it with the same technique.
Kettlebells are a great tool in any trainer’s tool box. If you are a coach working with clients mainly interested in fat loss, I highly recommend you learn how to perform and teach kettlebells. Perfect these moves first, focus on your main lifts (squat, bench, dead, events, etc) and add these movements in and you will get stronger, and be more explosive as a strength athlete.

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Top 5 Ways To Stay Motivated

I have been a gym owner now for nearly 10 years, and have been a trainer/coach for 12 and I can honestly say the number one reason why people quit is lack of motivation.  I have heard countless times from people that they “wish they had my motivation”.  Speaking to avid LBEB readers, I’m sure you all have plenty of motivation to train.  However even the best athletes suffer from lack of motivation from time to time.  I was lucky to have started weight training at a very young age.  I was picked on quite a bit when I was younger.  Like many kids that get bullied I didn’t have the confidence to fight back, so I was an easy target.  When I was in high school I decided to do something about it, and started weight training.  I know this is your typical meathead story that many of you may have gone through.  It is very important to remember why we wanted to become “a stronger version of ourselves” if I can steal a quote from Elliot Hulse. 

Once I started seeing results from weight training I was immediately hooked, and had to get my hands on every piece of bodybuilding material there was.  Unfortunately I thought reading Muscle & Fitness and Flex would get me to look like Arnold.  I would do all the workouts I would find in these magazines, even Lee Priest’s 20 set arm workout at only 15 years old.  Despite the high volume bodybuilding workouts I did make good progress.  I was able to stay extremely motivated through high school because I was able to see consistent results.  I was also a wrestler and I refused to lose a match because someone was stronger than me.  For many of you as athletes through high school and college, staying consistent with training is easy because, well, you have to.  However many former athletes when out of college lack the motivation to train on their own, because the competition is over.

The first way to stay motivated is to make sure you are doing it for yourself, and no one else.  This is one of my first questions to a potential new client.  I have had plenty of people tell me the only reason they are here is because their significant other said they should.  The worst is an overbearing parent who thinks their kid is going to be the next Michael Jordan, and forces them to weight train.  Don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to start weight training correctly at a young age.  However that’s the difference, I wanted to train and learn.  Forcing someone to get in better shape is a sure way to get them to quit right away.  So again, find YOUR reason you want to better yourself.  It can be simply for health reasons, or like me you just don’t want anyone to mess with you anymore.  Now that we know where motivation comes, from here are my top 5 ways to stay motivated

Compete

I encourage every member of my gym to compete in something.  In my opinion, nothing will motivate you more than putting yourself out there in front of a crowd to show off your hard work.  I had always trained to get stronger but I didn’t consider competing until I was 26.  My only regret is that I didn’t start when I was younger, because I was afraid to put myself out there.  I reached a point where I was getting bored with my training, and needed a purpose to train.  I considered bodybuilding but nothing excited me about being onstage flexing.  Luckily a friend told me I should try powerlifting, and I signed up for the first meet I found that was nearby.  I immediately had a fire lit in me, and all I wanted to do was get under the bar.  I never thought I was going to be any good at powerlifting, or even strongman.  What I did know is that I would be become a better lifter, and push myself harder than ever.  In case any of you missed it, check out Brandon’s article on why he decided to compete here.       

matt car

Find the right training environment

This can be a very tough one.  With so many gyms getting rid of squat racks and heavy dumbbells, many serious lifters are forced to find new gyms.  Fortunately there are more and more “hardcore” garage gyms popping up as a result of this.  This is one of the main reasons I started my own gym.  I was sick of commercial gyms not allowing me to do the training I wanted to.  I can honestly say if I didn’t start my own facility I wouldn’t be a pro strongman, or possibly would have never even competed.  Having the right training environment also goes along with having the right training partners.  Personally I like training with likeminded individuals, and more important competitors that are stronger than me.  I wrote an in depth article on this you can check out here.

Overcoming an injury

Getting injured is every competitor’s greatest fear.  Unfortunately, if you push yourself to the absolute limit, injuries are bound to happen.  I have been competing in Strongman/Powerlifting/Crossfit for nearly 8 years now, and this is something I have grown to accept.  My first major injury was a complete pec tear while bench pressing in a charity event, of all things.  After surgery I was completely depressed, and unmotivated to do anything.  This is where many athletes let themselves go since they can’t train, so their nutrition goes out the window.  This is something you should absolutely not do, as it will be far more difficult coming back with extra body fat.  Luckily after my surgery I snapped out of it after a 2 week layoff, and decided to focus on the things I could do.  I was in a sling for 2 months so the safety bar became my best friend.  I’m sure many of you following the Lift Big Eat Big page saw LBEB athlete Matt Falk using the safety bar, when he was coming back from his shoulder surgery.  Your mental approach to coming back from an injury is everything.  To get injured, obviously something went wrong, maybe you just did something stupid, but either way take it as a learning experience.  After my pec tear I had to figure out why it happened.  After working with some bench press experts I have been able to come back to benching with even better technique.  More importantly I learned how not get injured while benching, so I am now a better coach because of it. 

The goal you set for yourself has to have meaning to you.  If it doesn’t you will not be motivated enough to pursue it.  A lot of people just want the end result without the hard work, and this is how we have people like Dr. Oz on television.

dr oz

I stated previously about lacking drive when I considered bodybuilding the goal wasn’t right for me.  I never would have been able to step onstage without being excited to do so.  I wanted to compete to train harder, and have more motivation but bodybuilding wasn’t doing it for me.  The thought of being out on the platform in powerlifting did, so it was an each choice for me.  If you are lacking motivation towards your goal then it’s not the right goal for you.  To find significant meaning in your goals, you must consider a few things.  One being, what is the outcome if you don’t succeed.  When I compete in pro level shows I must make a bodyweight of 231.  If I don’t achieve this then I can possibly show up to a contest, and not be able to compete.  Not competing would be a big negative consequence, but let’s say I just wanted to weigh 231.  Without competing there would be no negative consequence if I failed.  This makes the goal less meaningful, and less likely for you to push yourself towards it.  The goal should make you want to act, and not force you. 

Burn out

Being completely burned out happens to even the best athletes.  When I first started strongman I competed 10 times in my first year.  I had an absolute blast, and learned a lot about competing, but I was exhausted and my entire body ached.  My second year I didn’t learn from it, and competed 12 times.  At one time after winning my pro card I competed 3 weeks in a row.  Again I had a great time but I was left completely beaten up, and even had to pull out of Pro Nationals.  At this point I was completely burned out, and didn’t even want to think about competing.  It turned out I needed the extended break to let my body heal.  Not only to get healthy again but to just be able to train for fun, and not worry about a competition.  When athletes reach the top level of their sport we tend to let the sport define who we are.  When we can’t compete then this is where motivation takes a drop.  Despite everything I have accomplished I feel I’m only as good as my last competition, and I know many other athletes feel the same way.  We all have bad shows, but again you must see this as a way to improve. 

4

For example last year in a big pro show I was in the lead going into a press medley I had smoked in training.  For any of you that have performed a circus DB clean and press you probably know there are a lot of different techniques to press one.  Another aspect of the circus db clean and press is the shape of the db makes a huge difference in how you press.  I’m very good with a flat sided db where I literally put it on the side of my head.  This is called the “boom box” technique.  However with a round bell you can’t do this as well, so it’s better to let it sit more on the traps.  Going into the competition it was supposed to be a flat db, so this is what I trained with.  When I walked up to the medley it was a slater bell which has round sides.  I immediately freaked because I knew this was a huge weak point for me.  Sure enough in the competition I missed the dumbbell losing my first place position.  At first I was pissed and even blamed them for switching the dumbbell on us.  After I calmed down I realized this is strong(wo)man, and any event is subject to change.  I immediacy ordered a slater bell to practice with so that would never happen again.  This sounds simple in theory but turning your weaknesses into strength is the hardest part of training.  You will never succeed in anything if you don’t master this.

Share what keeps you motivated and why on the LBEB Facebook page, or drop a comment below. 

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How To Build Your Lats

Don’t worry this isn’t going to be your typical article from a muscle magazine about how to get your “wings” so big that you can fly. What I’m going to outline will definitely grow your lats, however, this is a focus for the strength athlete to improve your lifts, and to decrease chance of injury. If you are a powerlifter, strong(wo)man, or crossfitter, the lats play a crucial role in virtually any lift. Learning how to engage them properly will drastically increase your strength. A quick anatomy lesson: the latissumus dorsi is a huge muscle that connects the spine to the humerus. The lats are responsible for extension, and adduction. The lats are also extremely important in stabilizing the scapulae. Weak and/or tight lats are a guaranteed shoulder injury waiting to happen.

When working with clients who are new to training, activating the lats can be very difficult. The first drill I use is having them put both hands between their legs as if they were in a sumo dead lift position. I will then push against their hands to resist, and they will automatically turn the lats on. When deadlifting, this is extremely important to do. In a previous article I outlined how to do this, as well as a video with the drill here.

A second drill I use is also a great exercise to build the lats. The straight arm lat pull down can be performed generally on a cable, but also a band if you don’t have access to one. If on a cable use a wide lat pulldown bar. Grab the outside of the bar with your arms locked out, and slightly hinge at the hips with your arms stretched out. Pull the bar into the crease of your hips, and as you do, try to rip the bar apart to further activate your lats. When the bar comes into contact with you continue to pull it in for a second. Bring the bar back up fully stretching the lats before pulling it back down.

If you are a powerlifter, this exercise is a must to improve your bench press. Ask any top powerlifter and they will tell you how important the lats are to adding pounds to your bench. The straight arm lat pulldown is exactly how you should be unracking the bar. Use your lats to pull the bar out over your chest. An inexperienced lifter will press the bar out, losing all tightness in their upper back. I will save how to properly set up for the bench press for another article. If you are able to flare the lats (similar to a bodybuilding pose) as you lower the bar you will create your own internal bench shirt that will spring the bar off your chest. This tightness will protect your shoulders, and chest from injury. Think about rowing the bar to your chest, and when you reverse it, picture pushing yourself away from the bar, rather than the bar away from you. This technique will make sense when you are under the bar.

Behind the neck band pullaparts are another favorite of mine to activate the lats. They are very similar to the standard band pull apart, where the band is pulled across the chest. Behind the neck will start with the arms full straight over your head. Pull the band apart until it stretches across your traps, and continue to pull down contracting your lats throughout the movement, and especially at the bottom. I prefer high reps here so go as high as 20, and keep the band under control to have good time under tension.

Most trainees are familiar with getting the upper back tight during the squat, but forget about keeping the lats tight. Most squats I see that fail happen because not the legs giving out, but the lower back. Of course this can be a form issue when someone leans forward too much turning the squat into a good morning. However engaging the lats will keep your spine protected when coming out of the bottom. Again having good body awareness with the ability to make your lats contract before descending in the squat is crucial. A tip I picked up from Chad Smith is to try and pull your elbows together during the set up to fully engage the lats.

To fully isolate the lats they need to be in a wide grip position. Wide grip pull ups, and any pull up variation are an absolute must in anyone’s program, but the kneeling cable pulldown will completely isolate them, and mimics the lat tightness you need in setting up for the squat. Kneel down in the middle of a cable crossover holding on to two D handles with your arms completely stretched. Think about pulling your elbows into your sides, and again squeezing your lats hard for 1 second at the bottom. You won’t need a lot of weight for these so keep the reps high in the 15-20 rep range.

On any given press day I will always have plenty of rowing, and vertical pulling movements. Pressing heavy over and over without balancing the movements will result in injury. Here is an example of what an overhead training day can look like for a strong(wo)man competitor:

1 Log Press work up to a heavy double
2a Military Press 3 x 8 (reps x sets), (2a, 2b superset)
2b Band pull aparts 3 x 20
3a Straight arm pulldowns 3 x 20
3b Wide Grip Pull ups 3 x max – this is a killer combo for lat size!
4 Tricep accessory work, etc.

If you have been ignoring direct lat training then be sure to add it in, and watch your pressing increase dramatically along with having pain free shoulders. Questions, or comments feel free to drop a comment below or on the Lift Big Eat Big page.

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42 tips & tricks to improve your deadlift

I have written quite a bit about deadlifting, so it’s no surprise that it’s my favorite lift.  It’s also a lift I coach nearly every day while working with competitive strong(wo)man, and powerlifters.  Here is a list of 42 cues I use to coach the deadlift. 

  1. When deadlifting for strength, keep your reps in the 1-5 rep range. For hypertrophy purposes, 6 – 10 is ideal.

  2. Thinner, taller lifters tend to be better pulling sumo, shorter thicker lifters tend to pull better conventional. There are always exceptions, of course.

  3. Conventional deadlifting will have a better carry over to those wanting to gain overall muscle mass.

  4. If you suck at sumo then you need to work on your sumo to increase your conventional pull and vice versa.

  5. Always take the slack out of the bar before the initial pull, otherwise known as taking the bend out of the bar.

  6. Never do touch and go deadlifts in training, it’s a DEAD-LIFT. The only time this is acceptable in training is when an upcoming competition allows it. If they do, bounce the shit out of it, because you compete to win.

  7. Once you are set up properly always explode off the floor, the more speed you can generate, the easier the lockout will be.

  8. If the bar moves away from you off the floor then set the bar up a little further. If the bar rolls into you when you start, set up with the bar closer to your shins.

  9. When locking out, do not let the knees lock out too soon. This will take the glutes out of the movement, and put all the stress on the lower back.

  10. Overtraining is very easy when deadlifting. The stronger you get, the more you need to decrease your volume. This is especially true for advanced powerlifters and strong(wo)man competitors.

  11. Chuck Vogelpohl was able to deadlift over 800lbs using both sumo and conventional. He even was known to switch within the same meet. This isn’t a tip, but I find that to be pretty amazing.

  12. Conventional deadlifting requires more brute strength, while sumo requires far more technique to use leverage to your advantage.

  13. Head position will vary from person to person. I personally like to look at an upward angle on both styles of the pull, but looking upward is especially important while pulling sumo. “Packing the neck” or having a neutral head position can help glute activation on the lockout.  If lockout is a problem for you, give this a shot.

  14. The lower back doesn’t need to be excessively arched, but it does need to stay in a neutral position throughout the lift.

  15. The upper back can be rounded; in fact that is the natural curve of our thoracic spine.

  16. When starting the pull, think about pushing the floor away from you to engage your quads better, some like to think of it as a standing leg press.

  17. You should take as little time as possible while setting up. Longer set ups will take more energy.

  18. Try to keep your shoulders behind the bar throughout the lift. This isn’t always possible for everyone but it will help keep the bar in a straight path.

  19. Once the bar comes toward lockout drive your hips forward, and again make sure your shoulders are back!

  20. When pulling sumo the bar should be as close to your shins as possible, so the bar is as close to your center of gravity as can be.

  21. When warming up make sure you form is picture perfect. Don’t get sloppy just because 135 is on the bar, pull 135 like it’s your max every time to ensure good technique on your max sets.

  22. Drive your knees out hard while pulling sumo, this will keep your hips close to the bar where they should be.

  23. When gripping the bar your hands should be shoulder width. Set up with your hands hanging straight down, and locked out at all times. If you are deadlifting on an axle or fat bar with no straps this is especially important to do.  Contract your triceps to ensure they are locked.

  24. Typically alternating your grip with your dominant hand being underhand will ensure the best grip.

  25. Pulling with a hook grip is also an option. This will take time to develop, and a lot of pain when moving heavy weights.

  26. Dan Green’s number one tip is to regularly perform stiff legged deadlift: that means you should be doing these!

  27. If you are weak off the floor, do both deficit deadlifts and snatch grip deadlifts.

  28. If you are weak at lockout, perform block pulls and pause deadlifts from the height you fail at.

  29. I hate rack pulls, they damage bars, and do not apply as much to a pull from the floor. Get some blocks and/or mats to pull from.

  30. If you lack grip strength on the deadlift, you should start holding your top sets for a few seconds at lock out. Also make sure you are doing farmers walks on a regular basis.

  31. Make sure you are doing single leg work, Single leg deadlifts, and Bulgarian squats are at the top of my list.

  32. Getting your lats tight, in my opinion, is the most overlooked part of the deadlift set up. It will protect your spine and ensure the bar stays close to your body.

    Work on flaring the lats like a bodybuilding pose once your grip the bar.

  33. If you set up with your hips too low, your hips will initially shoot up when starting the pull. The hips and chest should rise at the same time. The hips shooting up too fast will put all the stress on the low back and make for a very difficult lockout as I said earlier.

  34. Use the weight of the bar to set your hips in the optimal position. This will also keep you tight, and take the slack out of the bar.

  35. Imagine you are on a teeter totter. Think about throwing your bodyweight behind the bar to ensure the best leverages.

  36. Coming back to getting the lats tight, they also must be extremely strong. Make sure you do lots of row variations. Some of my favorites are dead stop dumbbell rows, Pendlay rows, and Meadows rows.

  37. When locking out, do not excessively lean back. This is a common beginner mistake that can injure your lower back and even take you out of lockout. This is a problem I have seen in powerlifting, leaning back too much will cause a bend in your knees.  Your body should be in a complete plank, just be as tall as possible with your glutes tight.

  38. During your warm up sets, stretch your hip flexors in between. Tight hip flexors can cause low back problems, and a poor lockout.

  39. A simple way to increase grip strength while deadlifting is to pull double overhand as long as you can. Once you get to your heavier sets switch to a staggered grip.

  40. Learn how to grind. I see too many people give up on a deadlift that could have been successful, but they gave up too soon. Make sure you give it everything you have, every rep.

  41. Take your air in at the top before you go down to the bar. Some people like to raise their arms up in the air to fully expand their belly with air.

  42. When pulling double overhand or in straps, try to bend the bar in half by externally rotating your hands. This is another way of getting your lats tight in the set up.
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Strongman Training Combos for Strength and Size

The sport of strongman requires strength, power, and even conditioning.  Training heavy events year round is a sure way to get really beat up, and sacrifice your recovery.  After my last big show of the year I generally take 2 months off or so to let my body recover, and just get stronger on the barbell with basic lifts.  When I first started taking these periodic breaks I was concerned that I would get weaker on the strongman events.  However when I got back into training specifically for strongman I found my motivation was higher than ever and more importantly my body didn’t hurt!  A great way to ease back into strongman events is to train with moderate weights, but combine them with bodybuilding movements, or other strongman events.  The combinations will absolutely pack some muscle on your frame, but also build your work capacity for when you have to start moving the heavier weights.

Farmer walk to shrug

Farmer walks are a great way to build your traps, among many other things, so one of my favorite combinations is to perform a farmer walk for 50 feet, then go directly to barbells shrugs.  Aside from building your traps, you are also working on your grip.  Make sure you use straps on the shrugs, or your grip will surely give out on your next set of farmers.  Choose a weight that is about 75% of your max farmer to begin with, and I prefer to do higher rep shrugs so choose a weight that will allow you to get 15-20 reps.  Try this combo at the end of a deadlift day, 2 sets is all you need.

Overhead yoke carry to one motion log

Most of you are probably familiar with carrying the yoke on your back, or in front of you to simulate a conan’s wheel.  This is something that you will rarely see in contest but is great to work on your lockout, and stability when pressing.  Start by pressing the yoke overhead, either by strict pressing or doing a slight push press.  Jumping the weight up will make it very difficult to get it under control as the yoke will swing more.  Once overhead think about pressing the yoke up as high as possible, and do not let your elbows bend at all.  With the yoke locked out overhead, carry it for 50 feet, and be very careful lowering the weight as it can drop the wrong way towards your face.  For the one motion log you will need to go very light here around 60% of your 1 rep max.  I perform this combo at the end of my overhead press day so I like to keep the lower body involvement to a minimum.  After the first rep just lower the log to your lap and continue to drive it up over your head, using your hip drive to get it moving.  You should be explosive on every rep here, and 2 sets with 10 reps will be good.

Yoke to Walking Lunges

A great exercise to build the yoke itself is walking lunges.  You working on stability as well as your quads, two things you need for a big yoke.  Again this is not about how much weight you are moving so work on your foot speed here.  Around 60% of your max yoke is perfect, but carry it for 100 feet if you have the room for it.  In the video you will see I carry it for 50 feet then turn around and bring it back.  The lunges I prefer to do with chains over my neck, as I won’t have to worry about holding on to anything.  Immediately after finishing the yoke throw a few chains on your neck, or if you don’t have them some light dumbbells will be fine, and lunge for 100 feet.

Hand over hand sled pull to sled curl

The hand over hand sled pull is an event I honestly don’t see enough in strongman.  Whether it is in a competition coming up for you or not, this is a movement you want to work on.  You will strengthen your back, lats, arms, and grip all in one.  This can be done either in a seated or standing position, but I prefer to stand as I am working on this event for speed.  Keep tension on the rope at all times, and do not let it loosen, or the rope will sway from side to side slowing you down.  Once the sled is at your feet, have a pair of straps attached to the other side.  Curl the sled with very strict form, and it’s important as you step back to keep tension on the sled at all times.  Wear your Bicepticon shirt with pride after doing a few sets of these.

 

These are great finishers to any of your training sessions if are taking a break from heavy even training, and want to pack on some serious muscle.  Start your training cycle with the weights moderately light, and as you progress slowly increase the weight each week.  You will find when returning to heavy event training for an upcoming completion you will be faster and stronger than ever.

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Squat Variations For Increased Performance

The old saying by powerlifters is: if you want to squat more then you have to squat more.  No this doesn’t mean get on the Smolov program right away, but adding different squat variations are guaranteed to help.  I’m a very big advocate of training weak points, and using a lot of accessory work to do so.  The squat is a lift I have struggled with for a very long time, and simply just squatting every week wasn’t helping me very much.  When I began powerlifting, my first few meets were only push/pull, so I was able to avoid squatting, but I knew this would only hurt me in the long run.  When I signed up for my first full power meet I knew I had to get my ass in gear, and put some serious weight on my back.  My plan was simple: I would hit heavy doubles and triples each week, progressively adding weight.  For all of my training days I have a compound exercise that is my priority, followed by accessory work to strengthen the movement further.  For the squat I used a lot of variations to get stronger, and even improve my form.

Pause Squats

Pause squats are my absolute favorite to perform, following my heavier sets.  If you have read any of my articles, before I also like rotating specialty bars here. I have tight shoulders that can cause me problems from squatting low bar constantly.  I prefer the safety bar for this movement as it is easier on my shoulders, but also it is far more difficult to stay upright with.  The safety bar wants to pull you down, so you have to fight it on the way up to not fall forward.  If you do not have access to a safety bar this is perfectly ok to do a normal barbell paused squat.  Personally I am a much better squatter in a wider stance; it’s where I’m strongest and most comfortable.  To perform my accessory work, I choose what I am weaker at, so pause squats for me are with a high bar position, and a narrow stance.  Most squats fail when the lifter falls forward out of the hole, and this is where pause squats can correct a weakness.  There are a couple reasons for the lifter to fall forward, but one of them is lack of tightness in the upper and lower back.  The pause squat will force you to stay tight, and bring out any flaws in your technique.  When you reach the bottom of the squat do not relax, and do not let your breath out.  Take a huge breath in at the top of the movement, and hold it all the way until you come back up.  Also make sure you count for a full 3 count.  It’s best to have someone else count, if you do it yourself you will turn it into a very quick pause.  Holding heavy weight on your back in a below parallel squat is not very comfortable.  Another benefit of these is getting proper depth.  I squat as low as I possibly can as I hold the bottom, this will only strengthen your regular back squat even further, making depth even easier to reach.  On a side note you can also do these in a front squat position.  I feel paused front squats apply the most to the sport of strongman, and especially atlas stones as I outlined in my last article.

Above Parallel Pause Squats

Don’t worry, I am in no way saying to not go below parallel when squatting here, but you are going to pause right above it.  To do these, first perform a full squat, but you will now pause right above parallel.  Just as a warning, these are extremely difficult, so start light.  If you have a weak point where you stall just above parallel then this will be your go to accessory movement.  Again tightness is crucial here so you must keep your upper back tense, and your air held in until you reach the top.

Anderson Squats

Anderson squats are brutally hard.  Named after the legendary weightlifter and strongman, Paul Anderson.  Anderson squats are one of my favorites to bring up a weak point in the squat.  Anderson squats will differ from pause squat variations as there will be no stretch reflex from the eccentric portion of the lift, so you will be starting the squat from a dead stop.  Set the pins, or safety straps to a parallel squat.  If your weak point is coming out of the whole then this is where you should start, if your weak point is just above parallel then this is where you will set the bar.  Personally I come out of the whole quickly and have a sticking point right above, so this is where I set the bar.  Get under the bar in either a high or low bar position, and make sure you get your feet set to where you normally squat.  Starting the squat from the bottom can throw people off on the set up, so make sure you set up in the same position to carry over to your normal squat.  Get extremely tight in your upper back, take a big breath in, and explode pushing your feet through the floor.  These can be a real grinder at heavy weights, so be prepared.  These can also be performed in a front squat position and even with bands/chains for more of a challenge.

1 ¼ Squats

1 ¼ squats will create the most time under tension (TUT), so they are a great muscle builder especially for the glutes.  I prefer to do these with a controlled eccentric up to 5 seconds on the way down.  Go down very controlled until you hit below parallel. Then rise up but only a quarter of the way so you should just be slightly above parallel, go back down then explode to come back up all the way to the starting position.

Double Kettlebell Squats

The goblet squat with a kettlebell is a great teaching tool for someone who is not ready to put a bar on their back to perform a squat.  However double kettlebell squats are far more difficult.  Kettlebell squats hit your abdominals hard, so they will teach you to keep them extremely tight, or you will crumble at heavier weights.  You have to go as heavy as you can here, but a limiting factor will be how much you will be able to clean to your shoulders.  Make sure you know how to properly clean kettlebells, or have someone hand them to you.  Once in the rack position make sure your wrists are straight, so the handle should be lower down in your palm to rack properly.  Keep your knuckles close to your chin as if you are a boxer.  Like a normal squat take a big breath in, and descend keeping the abs tight and the chest up.  You should be able to squat extremely low here, so here is a great way to also work on your depth.  For any guys that are up for a challenge trying matching what LBEB athlete Amy Payne can do squatting 70lb kettlebells, I promise you will be humbled.

 

 

Squat Training Example: 

1 Back Squat                                       reach a heavy triple

2 Above Parallel Pause Squats    3 x 5 (sets x reps)

3 Bulgarian Squat                             3 x 8 each

4a Double KB Squat                         2 x 53lb kbs max reps (4a, 4b is a superset)

4b Band Leg Extension                   2 x 30

The example I have outlined is not for a beginner, but if you are an intermediate to advanced squatter then give these variations a try and you will break through your squat plateau with ease.

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Training For Strong(wo)man Without The Implements

As a trainer and coach in strong(wo)man, one of the most common questions I have been asked is how to train events when you don’t have access to the equipment.  First go to www.StartingStrongman.com and check out the strongman gym locator to see if there are any gyms nearby.  Many of the people I program for don’t have the advantage of training at a gym all week that has all the basics for strong(wo)man.  However just about all of them are able to travel at least one day during the week to another gym that does have access to these.  With that being said, I have competed in many contests where I didn’t have any of the equipment needed for the competition.  In fact, for my first competition, all I had was a 225lb stone and an 8 inch diameter log press.  As many of you know that have already competed a 12 inch log makes a big difference from one that is much smaller in the way you must set up for the press. 

One of the nice things about strongman is that you can get some of the basics very cheap with a good welder.  You may not be able to keep these pieces of equipment at your commercial gym, but many competitors simply get together at each other houses and train right in their driveway, or even in the road.  Some basics you can get pretty cheap are: farmer’s handles, stone loader, fat gripz, sandbags, kegs, and tires.  For tires you can easily go to your local tire supplier for tractors and they will gladly give away tires of any size for absolutely free.  Once these tires become damaged the tires will need to be recycled, however for them to have these tire recycled actually costs them quite a bit of money.  What happens is they will store these old tires in the back of the store with no purpose so they are more than happy to give them away.  All of the tires at my gym were hand delivered by the store, because they were so happy to get rid of them.

In every strong(wo)man competition there will always be some form of an overhead press, so you need to train this event hard.  When training at a commercial gym you will usually only have access to barbells and basic dumbbells.  Working on your push press, and/or jerk will apply to pressing an axle or a log, BUT the whip from a barbell is much easier to press then a stiff axle, especially when it is loaded with tires that do not rotate.  This is why the continental clean is more efficient at cleaning an axle with fixed plates that do not rotate with you.  However you will have to stick with working on power cleans for the time being.  Doing a “full” clean will serve no purpose in strong(wo)man as you will not be able to get under an axle, and trust me I have seen people try.  It is possible to continental a barbell of course, but you will get some funny looks from around your gym.  Most commercial gyms also do not have bumpers to use, so you will have to be very careful with dropping the weights, as this will only get you kicked out of most commercial gyms today.  An axle can be relatively cheap to find as well.  My first axle was just a pipe that was cut and welded to fit the specs of a strongman axle, and it only costs me $60.  Most gyms have no problem with its members keeping their equipment there, so be sure to check. 

The circus dumbbell is very simple to train at a commercial gym.  You will need some fat gripz and I would recommend getting them in both the 2 inch diameter and the 2 ½ as you will run into dumbbells in contests that will have different sized grips.  Hopefully your gym will have heavy dumbbells to use, because if you are a guy, then your starting weight will be at least 100lbs in competition.  Also if your gym allows it, you can always purchase a loadable dumbbell, which is how I trained this event before having a circus dumbbell. 

Training for the log will be the toughest as the barbell is a completely different clean and press.  I find the swiss bar applies best to the log, and this is something that most gyms will have.  The best thing about the swiss bar is you can clean and press it with the exact technique as the log.  My first time clean and pressing a log I had no real technique so I power cleaned the log up, which worked at lighter weights.  I see this as a big mistake in beginners as most come from leaning how to power clean first like myself. 

Here is an example of what an overhead press day can look like at a commercial gym: (Keep in mind when I say press it means to press with your best technique push press, push jerk, split jerk.  In strong(wo)man it doesn’t not matter how you get it over your head as long as you lock it out)   

1. Barbell Press out of rack Reach a heavy triple rest as needed

2. Dumbbell clean and press         3 x 3 each arm (speed work @65%) 2 min rest

3. Accessory work    Chin ups, dips, etc

The deadlift will be the most simple to train for.  Most strongman contests will have the bar raised to a certain height, but this should not be a problem in any gym.  Unless of course you train at planet fitness, and in that case you are beyond our help.  In my first strongman contest it was an axle deadlift for reps, but we could use straps so I wasn’t too worried about my grip.  However when I started pulling over 10 reps my forearms were on fire!  The problem was I had regular straps that weren’t quite long enough to go around the bar. 

matt

Make sure you get a good pair of lifting straps in the new Lift Big Eat Big Store here.  To train the deadlift at a raised height you will most likely have to do rack pulls, which is how I trained until I was able to get blocks and mats to raise the bar.  I don’t care for rack pulls that much because it does change the way the bar will break the floor.  The safeties of the rack are moved in more so when you are pulling some heavy weights the bar will bend differently and will change the feel of the deadlift.  If you are able to, always do your raised deadlifts off of mats or blocks.  Of course if you don’t have this option then rack pulls will be your only choice.  Just make sure to control the bar down as best you can as rack pulls can bend and warp the bar if you crash it down over and over.  This happened once at my gym and I now do not allow rack pulls for this reason.   The only time deadlifting will get tricky is when you are training for a car deadlift.  If you have access to a trap/hex bar then this will be ideal as most car deadlifts will have side handles.  When it comes to a car deadlift there is a great deal of quad involvement from having the chest higher and having to lean back more.  If your gym allows it you can take two bars and put them in a corner so the ends cannot move around.  Load the bars to a desired weight and strap in to start pulling.  I have yet to see a car deadlift that does not allow straps so make sure you use them when trying this.

kalle
A Kalle Beck Invention

Example Deadlift training:

1. Deadlift:     reach a heavy triple          rest as needed

2 Car Deadlift Simulator:              3 x 8  2 min rest

3 Accessory work :   GHR, RDL’s, ab work

Training for the yoke I will say is the most difficult without having a yoke walk.  The most important thing will be to get moving with some weight on you in some way.  When training for my first competition with a yoke I focused on a lot of core work as controlling the yoke to not swing will take great amounts of core stability.  If you haven’t yet, check out my article on core training here.  If you have bumpers at your gym then load up a bar in a squat rack and getting moving with it.  I recommend bumpers here as you will most likely have to drop the bar at some point and that’s not going to fly at a commercial gym that do not have them.  A very inexpensive way to make a yoke is to get two loading pins and some chains.  Load the pins up to a desired weight and attach them to any standard bar, or an axle if you have one. The bar thickness of a yoke will have at least a 2 inches, and most likely 3.   A chain yoke is far more difficult than any yoke you will have in a contest, and is how many pro strongmen train for yoke walks.  It’s always better to train on equipment more difficult then you will have in a contest. 

 

Another aspect of having a big yoke is to have a lot of single leg strength for added control while moving.  My absolute favorite is barbell walking lunges, and if you have a safety bar this will be even better to use.  The yoke is a brutal event that will tax your entire body head to toe, and as many people (especially guys) hate walking lunges, I find they translate the best to the yoke.  In my first competition with a yoke I thought I would have no problem with it since it was only 600lbs, and I was able to squat that already.  Makes sense right?  Well I found out the hard way that having a big squat did not mean I could move with weight on my back.  Of course it was also a car yoke which is far more difficult than a regular yoke as the car moves around a lot more. 

matt car

Example training day: (if unable to mimic any kind of yoke)

Power Cleans: 3 x 3

Back Squat: Reach a heavy triple

Paused Front Squats: 3 x 3

Barbell Walking Lunges

Ab wheel

If you are unable to get a bar on your back to get moving then you need to do a loaded carry of some kind.  Dumbbell walking lunges, suitcase dumbbell walking lunges (held in one arm), and any version of farmers walk will help to train for the yoke. 

Training for the farmers walk in a commercial gym won’t be quite as tricky as the yoke will be.  Again you need to get some weight in your hands, and get moving so enough space will be needed.  You will need lots of grip to excel at a farmers walk, so make sure you have a pair of fat gripz to attach onto a bar, or dumbbells.  If you’re gym has heavy enough dumbbells then slap on some fat gripz and do your farmers walks this way.  Suitcase farmers walks are my favorite accessory work to train for farmers, and again add the fat grips if you are unable to have challenging enough weight.  If you are able to get two barbells you can do farmers walks with your hands centered on the bars.  However this will be a much different balance then the actually farmers handles but it will get the job done. 

farmers

Performing farmer walks with a trap bar is also a great alternative, but the individual weights of the farmers handles will make them slightly more difficult.  Attaching chains to the trap bar is also a great way to increase the difficulty of the movement, and also very humbling if you have never tried it.  Again the most important thing here is to get weight s in your hands and get moving.  There are a lot of options here if you do not have handles, and again make sure you focus on grip strength the most. 

Training for a stone event without any stones will not be easy, but you can strengthen the muscles involved with a lot of accessory work.  Stiff legged deadlifts are my favorite to strengthen the first part of the movement as your starting position will be similar to lap the stone.  When performing a sldl for the purpose of training for stone loading make sure you are in a slightly wider stance as you would be when getting over a stone.  You will also need to squeeze the stone to be able to hold onto it, so dumbbell flyes are another favorite of mine.  If you have access to a pec dec this will be ideal as you can get constant tension throughout the movement.  Being able to squeeze the stone off the ground is a part of stone loading that people take for granted, and something competitors with shorter arms will have difficult with.  Another great exercise for crushing strength is doing what’s called a plate squeeze.  Take two plates and face the flat sides out.  Put the plates together, and hold them to your chest.  Squeeze as hard as you can and slowly press them out in front of you to lockout and slowly bring them back in.  3 to 4 sets of 5 reps will be good here with about a 3130 tempo (3 seconds out, 1 second hold, 3 seconds back).  Direct chest work, and have the ability to “crush” the stone are crucial to lapping it. 

Once the stone is lapped the single best exercise to train the load is paused front squats.  Many competitors front squat for this reason, but the pause will mimic the movement of loading a stone as you will be pausing at the bottom of the movement to adjust the hand in the proper position.  To learn how to properly load an atlas stone check out my article here.   If you are able to get a stone loader this will also be the next best thing in place of stones.  A stone loader is simply a loading pin that you will put bumpers on.  I have trained many competitors with only access to this, and they have all done very well at stones in a contest.  The main reason is using a stone loader is far more difficult than an actual stone, especially when tacky is involved.  You can see in the video I only have 200lbs on it, and it is fairly difficult. 

I have covered the main events in strong(wo)man as I feel if any competitor is sufficient in these lifts they will be prepared for any competition.  Of course it is always an advantage to have the exact equipment but in my first year of strong(wo)man I had very little equipment so it is possible to train, and be prepared for competition.  With the popularity of strong(wo)man and crossfit growing, you would be hard pressed to not find a gym within at least an hour that has some of the equipment needed.  I know many great competitors that train a commercial gym and get there big 4 lifts up, then travel as much as 2 hours on a weekend to train events.  For those of you with more access to strongman equipment make sure to check out my program designed for the strong(wo)man competitor: The Lightning Method.  If you have an event you have to train for and don’t have the equipment let us know in the comments.

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Sleep: You’re Doing It Wrong

If you are a strength athlete of some kind, then I’m sure you have your training all planned out, your nutrition is on point, and you only use the best supplements.  However most of us forget that recovery is absolutely crucial to making progress.  To maximize your recovery, you need a good night’s sleep, or you will be paying some big consequences in the long run.  Improving my sleep quality is one thing I learned a long time ago, and always made an effort to get my 8 hours of rest.  According to studies the average adult gets 7 hours of sleep each night, with a third getting less than 6.5 hours.  I will say that everyone is different, and I know some top athletes that feel great on only 5 hours of sleep.  Personally I need at least 8 to feel at my best.  When I get less than 6 my energy is lower, and my training suffers, which is a top priority of mine.  For the most part we all have busy lives, and getting to bed an hour early is difficult at times.  However being busy isn’t always the real reason we don’t get enough sleep.  Many of us stay up late to watch TV, watch the end of the game, and reading pointless facebook statuses.  A lack of sleep can cause many detrimental health issues such as weight gain, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.

Up until recently, I was always tired, no matter how much sleep I got.  When I had a day off I could easily sleep 12 hours.  However despite getting plenty of sleep I was still tired, and had no idea why.  I could be driving at 2 in the afternoon, and literally be dozing off at the wheel.  This affected my training a great deal, as I would need constant stimulants to get me energized to train.  Over the last couple of years I have put on about 20lbs from when I started strongman competing at 231lbs.  With this weight gain my neck has also increased to the point I can’t button up any dress shirt I own.  Of course I thought this was great, and was proud of my increased neck size like any meat head would be.  I had come across an article about a powerlifter experiencing the same, and when he was checked out by his doctor he was told he had sleep apnea.  Come to find out anyone is at a risk for sleep apnea when their neck is larger than 17 inches for men,and 16 for women.  Sleep apnea occurs when a person’s breathing is constantly interrupted during their sleep.  When breathing is interrupted the brain, and other parts of the body are not getting enough oxygen.  The long term effects of sleep apnea are: high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, irregular heartbeats, heart attacks, diabetes, depression, and headaches.

Once diagnosed with sleep apnea I now sleep with a Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure Machine (CPAP).  It took a few weeks to get used to but the change in my energy was a complete 180.  I now sleep through the entire night, and wake up feeling rested.  I also look like Bane when I go to sleep which is another added bonus of sleeping with a mask over my mouth.

bane

What we all really care about is how this translates to getting stronger.  With a better night’s sleep I am far more motivated to train, and studies show that with less sleep, or poor quality, that our motivation to train (among other things) is way down.  As we all know having mental toughness is one of the biggest aspects of making progress in not just the gym, but anywhere in life.  I’m going to sound like a sleep commercial, but it all starts with a good night’s sleep.

There are five stages of sleep, with stages 1 and 2 being the lighter stages.  During stages 3 and 4 is when Growth Hormone (GH) secretion occurs.  Growth hormone is crucial to being lean, building muscle, and even mental clarity.   Reaching these stages of sleep is why it’s so important to make sure you are fully rested.  Also I have no proof of this, but I know anytime I have been injured no matter how small it is when I have had a bad night’s sleep.  Having an increased risk of injury should be no surprise as we are less focused, and more likely to let our form go when we have less sleep.  Having sleep apnea for so long I would barely reach stages 3 and 4 due to gasping for air from periods of not breathing.  There is also a stage 5 where dreams occur.  Again if you have sleep issues like I did then you will either not dream, or never be able to remember your dreams.  Remembering my dreams was one of the first things I noticed when I was able to sleep with a CPAP.

sleep

Now that we understand how important sleep is let’s go over some ways you can improve it:

I know this isn’t easy for everyone, but going to bed at the same time every night makes a huge difference in the quality of your sleep.  Our bodies like to be in a rhythm, and when the time you go to sleep is all over the place, you will have trouble falling asleep, which is another reason why people get poor quality of sleep.  Make it a priority at least during the week to go bed at the exact same time every night.  Your training will be the same way.  I like to train at the same time every day, and when that schedule is thrown off I don’t feel right training at night for example when I am used to the morning.

In your bedroom make sure there is absolutely no light coming in at all.  I make my bedroom into a cave with my entire window blocked off.  Our bodies are very light sensitive, so just a little light shining through can disrupt you.  Also if you have a big alarm clock that glares in your face, turn it around.  Not only will the light not be shining on you, but if you have a tendency of waking up then you won’t be checking the clock every hour too.

Make sure there are no noises that can disrupt you.  Sometimes this is out of your control, so it’s a good idea to have some white noise to cloud other sounds out.  A loud fan will generally work well here.  You can also sleep with ear plugs if you live in an especially noisy area.  I grew up next to a house that had roosters that would wake me up at 5am every morning.  This would have been perfectly fine if I had to wake up at 5am every morning, so instead of going hunting I slept with ear plugs and my problem was solved.

Having a routine before you go to bed can be a great help in falling asleep faster.  Watching movies, television late at night can be very stimulating that can keep your mind racing for a few hours after.  Also doing stressful work before bed can do the same.

Our bodies also like to sleep in a cooler temperature, around 66-72 degrees is ideal.  For myself nothing is worse than not being able to sleep because you are too hot.

This is an obvious one but of course, avoid caffeine and other stimulants later in the day.  If you train later in the day then I would recommend taking a smaller dose to start to see how your body reacts.

Start applying these habits and you will feel more energized and motivated to train harder and longer.  If you think you could have sleep apnea by all means go for a sleep study, because I assure you it will be life changing.