Tips of the week Tip: The 4 exercises that should not be missing in any training session
The big four
The following exercises or movement patterns should not be missing from any program. If you are doing a full-body workout instead of a split program, they should be included in every workout.
- Upper Body Pressure Exercises: Exercises in which the upper body pushes an object away from the body or pushes the body away from an object. Examples: Push-ups, bench press, shoulder press, landmine press.
- Upper body pulling exercises: Exercises in which the body pulls an object toward the body or pulls the body toward an object. Examples: Pull-ups, all variations of rowing, rope climbing.
- Quadriceps dominant leg exercises: Exercises that involve significant flexion of the knee and primarily train the quadriceps, gluteus, and leg flexors. Examples: Squats, lunges, split squats, step-ups, vertical jump.
- Hip dominant leg exercises: Exercises that bend the body at the hip and primarily train the posterior muscle chain. Examples: All variations of the deadlift, glute-ham raises, hip thrusts, sprints and long jump.
The not-so-great exercises:
Some of these exercises should be found in every training session and should be trained every week.
- Exercises for the middle of the body: Exercises that target abdominal muscles and lateral abdominal muscles. Examples: Crunches, planks, knee raises hanging.
- Grip exercises: Exercises that challenge the hands and forearms in a significant way. Examples: Farmers walk, wrist curls. Exercises with a spring grip, hanging hold, exercises with a fat grip.
- Rotator cuff exercises: Thanks to primarily sedentary jobs, most people have very poor posture. Rotator cuff exercises should be found in every training session to exercise the rotator cuff and upper back. Examples: Face Pulls, Y-L-T Raises, Pull Aparts.
- Lateral hip exercises: weak lateral hip muscles can be the precursor to injury by altering the mechanics of movement. Examples: Lateral lunges, mini band walks, monster walk, lateral hip extensions.
Tip: Perform these descending sets of 3 variations of squats
Set a new personal best by using smart mechanical descending sets to improve your technique and strengthen weak points.
By Christian Bosse
Mistakes with the technique hold you back
Are you trying to do squats with heavier weights? Do you think you need to train harder and get stronger? That may be partially correct, but you may be missing something.
Too many exercisers are trying to get stronger and stronger, but it's not their strength levels that are holding them back. Instead, it's their squat technique that has suffered over time and isn't getting enough attention. Mistakes with your squat technique will hinder your progress. Here are some possible technical errors:
- You bend the upper body too far forward during the downward movement and are not able to reach the full depth of the movement.
- The weight shifts too far towards the front of the foot at the lowest position and the force cannot be transferred efficiently to the ground.
- The hip comes up first in the upward movement and shifts the load to the posterior muscle chain.
How can you improve your technique?
Overhead bar squats and front squats can improve the form of squat exercise execution. These squat variations should be a regular part of your strength training program.
Squats with the bar overhead require a more upright posture than classic squats because you are forced to perform the squat movement more precisely, otherwise the bar would fall forward or backward.
Squats with the bar above the head
In this squat variation, you hold the bar up with your arms stretched above your head. Here you need to keep your upper body more upright, because if you bend forward, you will no longer be able to hold the bar in front of your shoulders.
In this squat variation, you hold the weight in front of the body, which means you can use far less weight than in classic squats and the load is shifted more to the quadriceps.
Mechanical descending sets
Mechanical descending sets are most commonly used to build strength and muscle mass, but they can also improve your squat mechanics and technique.
In a regular descending set, you reduce the weight to be able to perform more repetitions. In a mechanical descending set, you move to a more mechanically advantageous position. With front squats, you are in a more mechanically advantageous position compared to overhead bar squats. And in classic squats you are mechanically stronger than in front squats.
Mechanical descending sets with 3 squat variations
Perform one repetition of overhead squats, 2 repetitions of front squats and three repetitions of classic squats, each with the same weight. Add this as a warm-up before squats or an Olympic weightlifting exercise. Keep the repetition numbers low (1-2-3 reps) to avoid accumulated fatigue. This has several advantages:
- Time efficiency: You kill three birds with one stone.
- You combine three squat schemes into one exercise.
- Combining three different movement patterns in one set will result in better technical learning than training one movement pattern at a time.
However, there are a few drawbacks as well:
- You need to be confident in all three squat variations to get maximum benefit from this descending set.
- Moving the bar from the overhead position to the front squat position is very difficult.
The correct use of this descending sentence
If you're like most exercisers, you can use more weight for front squats and classic squats than for overhead bar squats. To get maximum benefit from this descending set of three squat variations, you should use a near-max weight for overhead bar squats for all three exercises (a weight that will get you 1 to 2 reps).
This is an advanced training method, so you should make sure you have sufficient technical confidence to perform these exercises safely and without injury.
Tip: Perform repetitions in 5 minutes
The fastest, hardest training strategy you'll ever use?
From TC Luoma
Many excellent exercisers use this standard training recipe for growth:
- Train one muscle group two or three times a week.
- Use different repetition ranges per workout to either maximize muscle fiber recruitment (low repetition ranges) or stimulate mechanical tension, metabolic fatigue or muscle damage (higher repetition ranges).
Thus, many exercisers devote their first training day of the week to a specific muscle group (chest, legs, back, shoulders) for strength training using 5 sets of 5 repetitions, cluster training, or another of a hundred variations. Then they devote a second training day to high volume training that causes metabolic exhaustion and muscle damage. These types of workouts usually include multiple sets of 8 to 10, 10 to 12, or even 12 to 15 repetitions.
However, there is another type of "second day of training" that causes extreme amounts of exhaustion, muscle damage, and - if done correctly - sheer terror (because the workout is so damn hard).
50 repetitions in 5 minutes
- Prepare a barbell or a training station. Use a weight with which you can do about 8 to 10 repetitions.
- Set yourself a timer for 5 minutes and 3 seconds (the extra 3 seconds will allow you to press start and get into the starting position for the exercise).
- Set up the timer so that you can keep an eye on it.
- Activate the timer and get into the starting position for the planned exercise (deadlift, bench press, squats, leg press, bent over row, or any other heavy exercise of your choice) and perform as many repetitions as possible - ideally anything in the 8 to 10 repetition range.
- Pause as long as you like, giving you 5 minutes to complete the 50 reps - and the clock is ticking. If you pause for say 60 seconds, then each subsequent rest will get shorter and shorter....
If you finish your repetitions long before the end of the 5 minutes, then the weight is not heavy enough and you should increase it in the next training session. If you just manage to do 50 repetitions within 5 minutes, then you have chosen the right weight. Increase the weight at the next training session. If you can't do the 50 repetitions, then use the same weight for the next training session.
One 5 minute round is all you need. If you see the need (or are able) to do another exercise for that muscle group, feel free to do so. If you use this method correctly - especially for leg exercises - you will dread going to the gym.
Tip: When to train to muscle failure and when to avoid it
This guide will help you achieve long-term success.
By Charles Staley
When should you train to muscle failure?
The good news is: performing a set to muscle failure generates a stronger training stimulus than not doing so.
The bad news: It also generates a disproportionate amount of fatigue, which can negatively impact the rest of your workout session or subsequent workouts for the week.
This means that most sets should be completed 2 or 3 reps before reaching absolute technical failure. This way you still achieve the most training stimulus, but at the cost of a much smaller amount of fatigue.
Note: I use the term "technical failure" to emphasize that sets should never be continued beyond the point where maintaining proper form is no longer possible. Every single repetition should be exactly the same except for the speed.
The right time and place for muscle failure
There is definitely a place and time to continue sets to muscle failure. These include:
- For "small" exercises and/or muscles: even if you perform all your curls to muscle failure, this won't cause much damage or much stress to your nervous system, so most of the time you can work your arms and calves hard without worry.
- Any exercise where you are not strong enough to use a lot of weight. Slimmer or weaker people simply can't push themselves as hard as more muscular or stronger people - even if they train as hard as they can. For example, if your maximum weight for squats is under 90 kilos, then you should probably perform most of your sets to muscle failure.
- On the last working set of an exercise: at this point you don't have to save yourself for further sets of the same exercise and as long as it's not a really demanding exercise (like deadlifts or squats), you can perform the last set until muscle failure.
- One week before an unloading period: if you know you have a light week planned (or next week is a vacation week), then you can train to muscle failure - at least on your last sets.
- During occasional strength tests. If you never continue a set to muscle failure, then you will never know how strong you are. Look for opportunities to beat your personal best for sets of 10, 5, 3 or even one repetition when the time is right.
- If you're only going to perform one set anyway. The old "one set to muscle failure" approach has often been discredited as the optimal training strategy, but hey, we all have times when time and energy are limited. In those situations, one hard set is light years better than no set. So if you can only perform one set, go all out.
Costs vs. benefits
Always remember that training with weights has its benefits, but it also has its costs - especially in the form of exhaustion. Remember that training is a process, not a one-time event. Every time you perform a set, it pays to consider how it will affect your subsequent workout.
Tip: You are confused about the muscle confusion
If you think your muscles need to be "confused" every time you train, you're confused. Here's why.
By Bret Contreras
P90X has been promoting the concept of muscle confusion and the commercial has been a huge success. However, while variety in workouts is definitely a good thing, consistency is absolutely necessary for optimal results. You definitely shouldn't strive to "confuse" your muscles on a regular basis. Certain exercises should be performed every week throughout your training career.
A better way
Prioritize 1 to 3 exercises for 4 to 6 weeks at a time, doing them first in your workouts with a progressive plan.
For example, you could perform squats and/or bench presses three times per week for 4 weeks in a row with varying repetition ranges, which could look like this:
- Monday: 4 sets of 6 repetitions
- Wednesday: 4 sets of 2 repetitions
- Friday: 4 sets of 4 repetitions
After the 4 week cycle you can test out your 1RM weight, unload, and then repeat the process with new exercises like deadlifts and/or shoulder presses.
After you've done the hard workout (in this case squats and bench press), use variety and train the other muscles of your body with the exercises that seem ideal at the time. Aim for 2 to 3 sets of 6 to 20 repetitions. Be sure to perform multi-joint exercises and isolation exercises that work the entire body in combination.
If you consistently set personal bests while making sure you regularly activate all muscles to a high degree, then your muscles will grow over time. Making strength gains and setting personal bests is much easier when you use a periodization approach instead of just doing something different in a different way every time you go to the gym.
By Dan Blewett