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Recording Results

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When it comes to working with weights, you want 100% of your mental energy focused on the task at hand – pushing yourself and lifting the weight for more reps/better form than the previous workout.

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To do this efficiently, recording your results is essential. It may not sound like much, but recording your results each and every workout allows you to be more effective over time….this will generate significant increases in intensity and improve workouts.

The bench press is often the favoured exercise within the gym environment for young men who crave size and even more perhaps that title as a ‘’strong dude.’’ The saying goes the same in every gym up and down the country, ‘’how much do you bench?’’ Well, today we are going to explore this exercise in a bit more detail, discuss some of the benefits and beyond that some of the best variations we feel will help you add size and strength. Sound fun!? Good.

Every now and again you meet people who give you a massive surge of inspiration. Last week was one of those for me. As a coach I meet a lot of different people and this lady, originally a native of the Basque Country came to me for guidance. Her story hit a nerve; she had narrowly escaped death following a long struggle against cancer. In her own words ‘’she beat that ******’’ and she went on to say about how 7 year old children she met with leukaemia inspired her to keep fighting and stop feeling sorry for herself. Whilst I totally agree with her it was so hard to actually imagine the stress, trauma and anxiety she was subject to. Even though she witnessed kids suffering with a similar nightmare I couldn’t help but think it would be near impossible to avoid feeling sorry for yourself. But then again this lady is no ordinary lady, her mind-set is just phenomenal.

If we were to take a look at a range of elite athletes who competed in specific sports and then tried to create a hybrid of their training do you think it would work? We aren’t sure but thought it would be a very interesting topic to cover. Leigh Halfpenny, George St. Pierre, Usain Bolt, Chris Jenkins, Bobby Lashley – these are all guys who sport incredible physiques and perform at the very highest level within their chosen discipline. They are all lean, muscular, strong, powerful and healthy. The world renowned coach and leading authority, Charles Poliquin said ‘’success leaves clues’’ and that is so true. Collectively between these athletes we have compiled 4 points which their training has in common. If want to look like a powerful, lean, strong athlete then it’s a good idea to train like one.

Over the weekend I headed up to Cardiff and trained at my usual gym there, Universal Fitness. It is a sensational gym with many elite athletes training there – we are talking Olympic coaches, pro rugby players, football players, physique competitors and even fighters. One coach who I have looked up to for some time is a gentleman called Scott Francis. He has an extremely impressive client list and I was fortunate to bump into him this weekend along with his better half, Francesca Fox who is a fantastic fitness chef!

Almost every individual who trains in a gym to enhance the shape and appearance of their physique will have better developed muscle groups than others. We all have some which grow faster than others. Sometimes genetics are all there is to know, nothing more can be said or done to explain why. That doesn’t mean that you cannot do something about your lazier muscle groups though in order to make them play catch up.

In a simple step by step plan we have outlined 3 key areas you can focus on immediately to accelerate the growth of muscle tissue within your weakest muscles groups whichever they may be.

1 – Mind To Muscle Connection
This is a term used frequently within muscle building circles and you should take heed. As you train a specific muscle you should be able to feel it move all the way through each rep. That’s the start, middle and finish. Each burn, each tare and each kilo of punishing tension placed on your muscle should be felt. If you cannot ‘’feel’’ the muscles working they probably are not, at least to their maximal capacity. To improve this practise flexing and tensing the weak muscle through a full range of motion as you would with weight. Visualise that muscle working in your mind, work on it! This is your foundation to growth as you are able to recruit more muscle fibres within that muscle, without it you will be chasing your tail forever more.

2 – Training Frequency
The next port of call to accelerate growth within less developed muscles is to train them more frequently! There is an overriding myth within the fitness industry that hitting a muscle group more than once a week is over training. It isn’t. Natural (not drug assisted) individuals experience an increase in muscle protein synthesis levels (which supports recovery and growth within a muscle) for 48 hours post-training. That means it returns to basal rate after this. Why wait another 5 days to train that muscle again? Train the weak muscle twice or even three times a week to force MPS levels to remain high. Remember, stimulation is the key to growth.

3 – More Reps
When people complain about certain muscles failing to grow they overlook the fact that they are training one way and one way only. Usually within the 8-12 rep range they never delve into new territories which might be the reason certain muscles don’t grow (especially quads, calves and deltoids in this instance due to their higher slow twitch muscle fibre population). Try going for 15-20 reps on occasions, sometimes 25-30.

Marrying all three points together creates a very comprehensive battle plan to force growth even within the most stubborn muscles.

West Wales in noted for its natural beauty and in particular it’s coastline. I was lucky enough to be born and brought up here, it is quite stunning in fact. One of the more famed areas is the ‘’blue lagoon’’ at Abereiddy beach which is an old quarry which has now filled up with water which has a very unique turquoise tint. Along with the towering walls which surround the lagoon it is quite airy. This weekend the Red Bull World Tour Professional Divers are here for the second year in a row. They are jumping off a specially assembled ramp near the top of the lagoon, from an eye watering height of 27 metres! To put that into perspective, Olympic divers jump from 10 meters! Not only do they dive, they perform radical acrobatics on the way down before getting into position (either head or feet first) into the icy water. They reach speeds of 55mph on the way down and come to a grinding Holt in just 4 metres once they hit the wall. They are only allowed 5 dives within 24 hours due to the stress it places on the body.

As I stood at the top of the grass littered cliffs looking at the Irish Sea from the hills of Wales I was simply taken away by these guys. They are athletes of the absolute highest calibre. Whatever the discipline or sport I always try and take something away from people like this, adding wisdom and experience to my mind-set.

With every jump having a very real ability to break a bone, their neck or even kill them the level of concentration required is simply immense. These aren’t just a group of adrenaline junkies who will do anything for a thrill. There is a great deal of skill involved and a large part of this mastering the mind and overcoming nerves. Any athlete can relate to this whether it is a rugby player taking a kick to win the match, a footballer steadying himself in a penalty shootout or an MMA fighter remaining calm before a championship fight. It sure goes to show that to be our very best we need to be complete masters of our mind. Food for thought there.

For me getting under a squat rack with twice my body weight weighing down on my shoulders makes me nervous because it has the potential to cause me damage if I don’t concentrate properly. Mental preparation is at the heart of everything, especially sport and exercise.

As a final note, these guys clearly value the use of warming up and warm downs. They are ultra-flexible, they take care of their bodies and do everything they can to keep them healthy. They have to due to the fact they are so close to the limits. However, more people should do this who train recreationally to avoid injuries from occurring.
Cliff diving isn’t for me (I hate heights!!) but it sure has taught me something valuable.

 

My physiotherapist once used the analogy of football to explain why even the ‘’small’’ muscles we don’t really see are of massive importance. The story went ‘’imagine Rooney is the one who scores all the goals, well that’s the big muscle lifting. However if Carrick wasn’t there supplying him with the passes then he wouldn’t be able to score as well. That’s the smaller supporting muscles working in conjunction with the big muscles.’’ It makes an awful lot of sense. As the saying goes, you cannot fire a cannon from a canoe.

With that said I am going to outline 3 exercises which I feel are essential to include for overall health and stability which in turn will allow for a bigger and stronger you.

1 – Standing Cable Face Pull

This exercise was introduced to me by an elite strength coach and I have used it at least twice a week ever since. This exercise is there to promote good posture and in turn better shoulder integrity. By building up your trap 3 muscles (lower portion of your traps) you are going to immediately relive the pressure usually places on the bicep tendon by having excessively tight anterior (front) deltoids. The primary concern here is to fully extend with each rep and then hold the resistance for 2 seconds having pulled the weight in towards your face. The weight used isn’t that important and we are looking for 12-15 reps per set here.

2 – Good Mornings

If anyone knows about back problems it’s me, my lower back (the left hand side) is like glass on times and can cause me immense amounts of pain and stress. Another great friend who is also a top strength and conditioning coach recommended this exercise to me. By doing this exercise we can improve hip mobility, strengthen the hamstrings/glutes and lower back. These are generally reasons that back injuries/pain occur. Again, the weight used on this is minimal, it is all about controlling the weight, making the hamstrings work and ‘’feeling’’ the movement. Look for 8-10 reps, twice a week is good.

3 – Weighted Pull Ups

On the same topic, in the interest of good posture, shoulder health and balance the same good friend as from point ‘’2’’ instructed me to get as strong on these as my bench press. Therefore if I am bench pressing 1.5 times my body weight for 1 rep I should be pulling the same on pull ups. This means using a dipping belt and adding the needed weight combined with my body weight to reach the 1.5 figure. It’s logical but true. Where there’s a balance in strength there is usually balance overall.

These 3 exercises will hold you in good stead to maintain a healthy posture and in turn shoulder joints and your lower back.

 

 

Beginners to the weight training world quickly become acquainted with the basics – bench press, military press, deadlifts and squats. At least they should. These are all fantastic foundation exercises to build your physique and strength from. However there comes a point where we need to get a bit more advanced and technical in order to keep things moving. Below we are paying special attention to more advanced exercises to help you increase strength on your bench press, military press and squat.

Get strong on these exercises and you will grow!

1 – Pin Press

You are familiar with the regular bench press, great. The pin press is performed within a power rack rather than a conventional bench. We want to set the safety pins approximately 4-5 inches away from your chest in order to shorten the range of motion on each rep performed. In doing so we can immediately increase the amount of weight you can load on the bar which is the point of this exercise. Increasing power and strength in a specific phase of the rep. As you lower the bar to the safety pins allow the pins to take all of the weight before pressing in order to increase the amount of muscle fibres required to get the bar moving again.

2 – Push Press

You are familiar with the military press, great. The push press is a variation of an overhead press with a more advanced technique. Whilst standing upright and in position ready to press the bar above your head you allow a slight bend in your knees to occur and ‘’push’’ up with your body as you press, creating additional momentum. In doing so we can increase the poundages you can handle on your overhead press. Be wary though, there is a fine line between push pressing and cheating!

3 – Partial Squats & Box Pause Squats

You are familiar with squats, great! Far too many people do not go to parallel when they squat which limits their progress immensely. However, on partial squats we are going to avoid going parallel to the floor and go approximately 2/3s of the way down. In doing so we can load the bar up with more weight and improve strength & power in the final part of your squat.

Box pause squats are next on the agenda. Using a bench as a marker, squat down until your backside touches it and then pause for 2 seconds before exploding up to the top as fast as you can. This will help develop speed and power at the lower half of your squat. Work with 50-55% of your 1RM here and make sure you are explosive on the way up!

Get stronger, get bigger, get leaner!

 

 

With back pain affecting 80% of the population at some stage of their life and 49% of the UK population experiencing back pain that lasted for at least 24 hours at some point in the year the need for better understanding and treatment of back pain is essential (1, 2).  Between 2003-2004 nearly 5 million working days were lost as a result of back pain which equated to 1% of the working population on any one day took sickness leave due to a back problem (5).  This places back pain as the number 2 reason for long term sickness in the UK (6).

It is interesting to note that in 85% of back pain sufferers that no clear pathology could be identified (4).  However, certain factors are commonly associated with back pain including:

•    Having back pain in the past (2)
•    Obesity (2)
•    Smoking (2)
•    Physical work such as frequent bending, twisting, lifting, pulling, pushing, repetitive work, posture and vibrations (3)
•    Psychological factors such as stress, anxiety, depression, depression and mental stress (2, 4)

Therefore building a strong and healthy back is essential for reducing pain in both sedentary and exercise environments. By keeping good mobility through the lower extremities, hips and upper body will help to avoid using compensations such as overly flexing and extending the spine. This will help to reduce the tissue loads and muscle challenge.  By also activating and strengthening muscles which are commonly under active and weak can help to improve posture and to move more efficiently.

The beginner and intermediate mobility and activation programs below will help to increase range of motion and reduce muscle compensation.  This will ensure more effective training by recruiting the correct muscles and when used with a balanced training program should help to prevent future back problems.

Beginner

Every Session:

A.    Foam Roll:
Upper Back
Glutes
Quadriceps/Hip Flexors
Hamstrings

B.    Mobility:
Cat Camel Stretch x 8
Thoracic Extensions x 8
Seated Glute Stretch (90:90) x 60 seconds each side
Half Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch x 60 seconds each side

Week 1 & 2:
Session A    Session B
A1. Glute Bridge
3 x 12 reps
Flatten back to floor, brace abdominals and squeeze glutes.    A1. Single leg Hip Extension From knees
3 x 12 reps each side
From all-fours extend leg back and up whilst maintaining bend at knee.
A2. Bird Dog with Leg Point
3 x 6 reps each leg
From all-fours extend one leg at a time whilst keeping torso square to floor.    A2. McGill Curl Up with Elbows Down
3 x 8 reps
Keep neck from bending by looking up to ceiling. Brace abdominals when pausing at top of movement.
A3. Scapular Push Ups from knees
3 x 12 reps
From all-fours draw shoulder blades together and then pull wide apart across back, keep arms straight.    A3. Band Pull Apart
3 x 15 reps
Pull band apart until contact made with mid chest. Don’t allow ribs to flare.

Week 3 & 4:
Session A    Session B
A1. Glute Bridge Shoulders Elevated
3 x 12 reps
Extend hips until level with knees and shoulders.    A1. Side Lying Clams
3 x 15 each side
Keep feet clamped together, emphasise control.
A2. Bird Dog with Arm/Leg Point Hold
3 x 15 seconds each side
From all-fours extend opposite arm and leg until horizontal, emphasis is on slow and controlled movement.    A2. McGill Curl Up with Elbows Up
3 x 8 reps with pause at top
Keep neck from bending by looking up to ceiling. Brace abdominals when pausing at top of movement.
A3. Seated Retraction and Row with Band
3 x 15 reps
Draw shoulder blades together and lead the pulling movement with elbows whilst keeping proud chest.    A3. Band Face Pull
3 x 15 reps
Retract shoulder blades and lead pulling movement with elbows.

Advanced

Every Session:

A.    Foam Roll:
Upper Back
Quadriceps/Hip Flexors
Hamstrings
Piriformis release with hard ball

B.    Mobility:
Cat Camel Stretch x 8
Lying Glute Stretch (90:90) x 60 seconds each side
Spiderman Lunges x 8 each side
Side Lying Windmills x 8 each side
Half Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch x 60 seconds each side

Week 1 & 2:
Session A    Session B
A1. Single Leg Glute Bridge
3 x 12 each leg
Be careful not to hyper-extend during the exercise and arch into lower back.    A1. Side Lying Clam with Band
3 x 15 each side
Keep feet clamped together, emphasise control.
A2. Side Plank
3 x 30 seconds each side
Ensure elbow is directly under shoulder. Squeeze glutes.    A2. Bird Dog with Elbow/Knee Touches
3 x 6 each side
From all-fours extend opposite arm and leg until horizontal, then draw elbow and knee towards each other, touch and extend again.
A3. Band Resisted Wall Angel
3 x 15 reps
Pull shoulder blades back and down whilst drawing elbows into sides.    A3. Prone I Cobra (arms by sides)
3 x 8 reps
Focus on squeezing glutes, pinching shoulder blades together whilst lifting chest off floor. Feet remain in contact with floor.

Week 3 & 4:
Session A    Session B
A1. Single Leg Bridge with Leg Extended
3 x 12 each leg
Non bridging leg must be extended, brace core as hips lifted.    A1. Monster Walks
3 x 15 shuffles each way
Maintain slight bend at hips and knees. Emphasis should be on controlled movement.
A2. Side Plank with Oblique Twist
3 x 6 each side
Focus on rotating the hips towards the floor.    A2. Dead Bugs
3 x 6 each side
Focus on engaging abdominals by keeping lower back pressed into floor.
A3. Prone T Cobra
3 x 8 reps
Focus on squeezing glutes, pinching shoulder blades together whilst lifting chest off floor. Feet remain in contact with floor.    A3. Supine Band External Rotation
3 x 15 reps
Ensure lower back and elbows remain in contact with ground.

REFERENCES

1.    Palmer KT, Walsh K, et al. Back pain in Britain: comparison of two prevalence surveys at an interval of 10 years BMJ 2000;320:1577-1578.
2.    Burton AK, Balague F, et al. European guidelines for prevention in low back pain. Eur Spine J 2006:15(suppl 2):S136- S168
3.    Andersson GBJ. The epidemiology of spinal disorders. In: Frymoyer JW (eds) The adult spine: Principles and practice.
4.    Philadelphia: Liipincott-Raven, 1997.
5.    Neck and back pain: The scientific evidence of causes, diagnosis and treatment. Philadelphia: Lippencott, Williams & Wilkins, 2000.
6.    Van Tulder M. Chapter 1: Introduction. Eur Spine J 2006;15(suppl 2):S134-S135.

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