Squat Deeper and Enhance Hip Mobility

The ability to perform a full, pain-free squat with your torso at least 60 degrees relative to the ground is an essential component of athleticism. This ability relies on a myriad of mobility and stability qualities that run from the ankle to t-spine. If you can’t maintain a relatively erect torso in the full squat, oftentimes a trainer or therapist will recommend a wall squat to improve your technique.

A quick overview of the wall squat: stand facing a few inches away from a wall with the arms hanging straight down in front, between your legs. With your feet wider than shoulder width and angled out slightly, squat as deep as possible. Stand and repeat.

The wall squat has the potential to be a great drill for people with the right body structure, but most people find it uncomfortable and awkward. It’s not natural to squat down with a wall hitting your face, and it’s too easy to fall backward as you try to maintain an upright torso.

That’s why I’ve merged away from using the wall squat with my clients. These days I use a goblet squat with a lateral shift to mobilize tight hips. By holding a kettlebell or dumbbell at your chest, you create a counterbalance load that allows you to really push your hips back without falling over backward. This counterbalance also allows you to maintain a more erect torso. And since this exercise doesn’t require you to stand directly in front of a wall, you don’t have to worry about that nuisance.

Key Points for the Goblet Squat with Lateral Shift
1. Maintain an arch in your feet: it’s common for people to pronate their feet in the bottom position of a squat. Be cognizant of your arches as soon as you start to descend – don’t let the arches flatten.

2. Push knees out to the side: as soon as you squat focus on pushing your knees out to the sides to avoid valgus collapse (inward movement of knees). Keeping your knees pushed out will also help you maintain an arch in your feet.

3. Maintain an erect torso and neutral head position: there should be a straight line from the base of your neck to your pelvis when you’re in the bottom position of the squat. Have a partner cue you the first few times until you get the feel for the correct position.

4. Relax in the bottom position: when you’re in the bottom position (hole), maintain a normal breathing pattern. If you have to strain or hold your breath the new position won’t stick. After shifting side-to-side four or five times, exhale deeply as you achieve a deeper position.

Now that you know the correct technique, the key point of this exercise is the lateral shifting to mobilize the hips by creating a more intense stretch on the hip capsule and surrounding muscles. I learned the value of the lateral shift many years ago from Pavel Tsatsouline. When you do the lateral shift correctly it induces a feeling that’s similar to hip scouring, a technique that my friend Dr. Trisha Smith frequently performs on me to mobilize my hips.

Use this exercise to not only improve your squat technique, but also your Olympic lifts, lunges, and kicks. Plus, enhancing hip mobility will take stress off your knees and back. Perform this exercise at the beginning of your workouts and anytime you need to loosen your hips.

Stay Focused,
CW

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DNS in LA

I recently spent four days at USC’s Movement Performance Institute studying Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS) with Dr. Petra Valouchova, Dr. Craig Liebenson, and their associates. It was terrific training that progressed my knowledge for building strength and athleticism. DNS is an approach out of Prague, developed by the outstanding physiotherapist Dr. Pavel Kolar, that gets its roots from developmental kinesiology.

The DNS-Sport training starts by teaching you how to stabilize the torso with specific techniques that put the ribcage and pelvis back in proper alignment. In particular, many people suffer from some degree of the “opening scissors syndrome” which can be caused by anterior pelvic tilt, an elevated ribcage, or both.

opening scissors syndrome

So the first goal of DNS is to re-establish proper posture as shown above the letter “b.” In DNS training I learned how essential proper diaphragm function is for training and posture. That function hinges on the correct breathing patterns that re-align the ribcage and pelvis, and it’s this proper alignment along with elevated intra-abdominal pressure that boost your strength and performance during sport.

The saying, “You can’t shoot a cannon from a canoe” sums up the importance of spinal stability whether you’re a professional athlete or a hard-training fitness enthusiast. A more powerful body requires higher levels of stability. Too often people will jump straight to the advanced stuff like Olympic lifts before building a stable base. The positions that DNS emphasize help bridge the gap between stability and power.

I should mention here that many of the most valuable DNS techniques come from proper cueing and instruction throughout various movements. In other words, it takes a lot of practical experience to really understand and feel the effects of improving neuromuscular stabilization with the DNS approach.

With that in mind, here’s one move I learned that helps correct the “scissors” posture many of us battle. One key element of the exercise below is that your breathing pattern should remain normal. This isn’t intended to be an intense strength training exercise – it’s a drill to help put the ribcage and pelvis back in proper alignment.

From there, DNS builds on neuromuscular patterns that were developed during the first year of life. Even though DNS was primarily intended for rehabilitation purposes, the exercises and positions they teach can be applied to strength training.

For example, one position that’s emphasized in DNS is the modified side plank, a mid-transition position between lying on your back and standing. I’ve been having my clients hold the modified side plank while they perform various presses and pulls because it’s an excellent way to build spinal stability and strengthen the muscles around the pelvis. Also, the position is stable enough to allow you to train with moderately heavy loads.

In the near future I’ll be showing more exercises that revolve around these novel positions, but in the meantime, here’s a video of me doing a kettlebell press from the modified side plank.

DNS is a complex approach that addresses posture, movement, joint centration, intra-abdominal pressure, etc. so there’s plenty that needs to be said beyond the few things I mentioned here. If you’re interested in learning more about the philosophy and development of DNS, you can read this overview from Dr. Craig Liebenson.

Stay Focused,
CW

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The Benefits of Sandbag Training

Adding sandbag exercises to your current training program is one of the best things you can do. Since a sandbag doesn’t have a fixed, rigid shape like a barbell or dumbbell does, the neural activation and muscle recruitment with sandbag exercises are superior for building athleticism and motor control.

If you compare the difference between pressing two 50-pound dumbbells overhead to pressing two 50-pound sandbags overhead, you’ll know what I mean.

In the 1990’s, Swiss ball and Bosu ball exercises became the rage. And like any trend that gains traction, trainers sought to one-up each other by coming up some inane exercises such as squats while balancing on a Swiss ball.

Another “gem” from that era was a biceps curl while standing on a Bosu ball. Sure, the Bosu ball made the exercise exponentially more difficult, but it certainly didn’t make the biceps work any harder. In fact, the biceps were performing less work because the load of the movement had to significantly decrease to meet the balance demands. In other words, this exercise made the ankles and hips work harder at the expense of the biceps.

I embrace the concept of instability training. However, the instability should come from the load you’re lifting – not the surface you’re standing on. Sandbags are the perfect unstable loading mechanism because the muscles you’re targeting have to work harder. Sandbags also create a greater challenge to your core muscles, and that’s something we can all benefit from.

Compared to rigid objects, sandbags recruit more motor units, build more athleticism, and increase the metabolic demand of any movement.

When it comes to sandbag training, Josh Henkin is top dog. He’s been a harbinger in teaching athletes and non-athletes how to implement sandbag training into their programs.

I like all the exercise he teaches, but one in particular is the shoveling exercise. This is a terrific exercise that challenges a movement pattern that typically isn’t produced in the gym with traditional exercises.

With regard to the video above, I’ll often modify the shoveling move and add a clean/overhead press into the mix each time my client rotates back to the center.

Another one of my favorite sandbag exercises is the get-up – an exercise that’s more challenging than it looks if the sandbag is heavy enough. I’ll typically have my athletes do the sandbag get-up at the end of the workout to create a large metabolic demand while building athleticism.

Sandbags can certainly be used as a stand-alone workout. However, I recommend you start by spending 10-15 minutes at the end of your current workouts performing a few sandbag exercises that interest you. That way, you can easily add sandbag training to any of my other programs without changing a thing.

I have all of Josh’s sandbags, and they’re made with the strongest, most resilient materials you’ll find. They come in a few different sizes with the “burly” version being the largest. I’ll tell you that his burly sandbag is a monster. It can hold up to 160 pounds of sand and it’ll be the heaviest 160 pounds you’ve ever felt. Just trying to bearhug and squat with the burly bag is a challenge to my biggest, strongest athletes.

blog burly bag

My advice is to incorporate a few sandbag exercises into your current program. Spend 10-15 minutes at the end of your workout and minimize your rest periods to create a large metabolic demand. If you do, you’ll get leaner, stronger, and more athletic.

Here’s a sample 10-minute sandbag workout that you can add to the end of three of your workouts each week.

1A Shoveling for 5 reps to each side (10 reps total)
Rest 10-15 seconds
1B Get-up for 6 alternating reps with each leg forward (3 reps per leg)
Rest 10-15 seconds, repeat 1A-1B for 10 minutes


Get The Best Core Workout with The Ultimate Sandbag!

Stay Focused,
CW

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A Forgotten Key to Muscle Development

Now that the 2012 Olympics are in full force, we’re all reminded of the astonishing level of development the human body can achieve. You only need to look at the physiques of the gymnasts for proof. The guys who perform the rings and pommel horse events have the most impressive muscle development I’ve ever seen on natural athletes.

If your muscle-building efforts have come to a halt, I’ll bet that you’ve been searching for the latest program to get you out of that rut. Maybe you think you need more volume or a higher training frequency or a new set of exercises? Those elements are important, but most likely, that’s not the problem.

For the last few years I’ve spent most of my own training time around future Olympic gymnasts. Each week while training to improve my rings technique, I observe athletes of all ages: from 5 years old through high school teenagers. One thing I’ve noticed is there’s very little variety in their training. They don’t perform dozens and dozens of different exercises with varying sets, reps, and tempo. Instead, they focus on a handful of exercises on the rings, parallel bars, pommel horse, etc. However, their level of muscle development at such a young age is impressive.

Here’s the key: as these young athletes improve their technique with better control on the rings, etc. their muscle development also improves. How? Because it’s takes greater muscle activation to perfectly control a movement.

This is similar to Olympic weightlifters who compete in the snatch and clean and jerk. They don’t perform a lot of different exercises, either. In most cases they just do the two Olympic lifts along with a few assistance exercises. And man do those Olympic weightlifters have impressive physiques: especially in the lower weight classes where their body fat must be kept to a minimum.

How do gymnasts and Olympic weightlifters achieve head-turning muscle development with such little variety in their training? Because they constantly focus on achieving perfect technique with every rep.

So what is perfect technique? It’s when you maintain perfect control of the movement and your posture. This allows you to achieve the highest levels of muscle tension and motor unit recruitment. Unfortunately, there’s minimal focus on technique these days and that can lead to three problems: less muscle, less strength, and a higher risk of injury.

Take a typical YouTube video of the muscle-up, for example. You’ll often see kipping and a forward head posture to pull off the move. Kipping became a necessary aspect of the muscle-up because people weren’t strong enough to pull their body into the correct position. And the abrupt forward head posture is a neural reflex mechanism that can mess up your neck, shoulders, or both.

I mention the muscle-up for good reason. It’s an advanced exercise that people attempt to pull off when they’re not ready. One of the reasons I started my Rings and Power seminar is to teach athletes and trainers how to “peel back” the advanced rings exercises. There’s a strong emphasis on perfect technique, right from the start, and then the moves become more complex over time. When you focus on perfect technique you gain three benefits.

More muscle: controlling the instability of the rings requires intense focus between the mind and muscles. This enhanced mind-muscle connection increases motor unit recruitment so you can build muscle faster.

More strength: rings and other body weight exercises require you to slow down the movements and focus on high-tension muscle contractions to stabilize and move your body through space. These high-tension contractions recruit your largest, strongest motor units.

Lower risk of injury: when you perform exercises with your glutes and abs activated, and when you keep your neck packed (chin tucked and head neutral with the spine), your spinal column is in its ideal position to release the most neural input to the muscles while minimizing stress to your neck and shoulder joints.

So each time you perform an exercise, imagine you’re being tested on it. Keep your core and glutes activated, keep your head neutral with the spine, and focus on achieving as much tension as possible in the peak contraction phase.

Now, I know that perfect technique can’t be taught in a blog post, but when you learn how to do challenging exercises such as the muscle-up and handstand push-up from the rings with control, your muscle development will reach a new level.

Stay Focused,
CW

Body Weight Training for Maximal Strength

Question: Chad, is it possible to replace traditional barbell and dumbbell lifts with exercises using nothing but rings and parallettes? How does that fit into a full-body workout? Thanks, JB

CW Answer: Yes JB, it’s not only possible, it’s ideal. Even though exercises with rings and parallettes don’t require external loading, you can build just as much strength and muscle as you can with iron, no matter how heavy that iron is. In fact, if you know which exercises to do, you can break through hypertrophy plateaus and achieve newfound muscularity with exercises on the rings and parallettes.

You only need to look at the muscular development of the Olympic gymnasts who specialize in the rings events to know how powerful those exercises are for muscle growth. Every single guy has an upper body that most of us would commit a felony to possess.

A typical retort I hear when I mention the muscularity of the rings gymnasts is something like this: “Yeah, but they’ve been doing those exercises for 10 years!”

Well, I know many guys who’ve been lifting weights for more than 10 years and their upper body looks nothing like those gymnasts. If I could turn back the clock I would’ve started training my upper body on the rings 10 years ago and I’d have a lot more muscle than I do now.

So the question is: How do you incorporate exercises with rings and parallettes?

1. Choose High-Tension Exercises: When most people think of maximal strength development, they only think of lifting heavy loads. Even though that’s certainly a way to build maximal strength, the essential factor is tension not load.

I’ll use the rings handstand push-up as an example. Most fit guys can only perform a few partial reps of this exercise. And if they can do a full range of motion handstand push-up from the rings, they can’t do many. Therefore, that rings handstand push-up is building maximal strength even though there’s no iron.

For maximal strength development, the key is to choose exercises that can’t be performed for more than 10 continuous seconds. This could be a muscle-up, front lever, back lever, handstand push-up or any other body weight exercise. When you follow that rule, you’ll always build maximal strength while achieving maximum recruitment of the high-threshold motor units.

2. Train with Sufficient Volume: To promote hypertrophy, the volume of each exercise must be sufficient. Even though there’s little research to reference with regard to volume and hypertrophy, my empirical data demonstrates that at least five sets is necessary to elicit a strong hypertrophy response. One or two sets of any exercise, no matter how much load or tension, won’t make your muscles grow. You can’t go wrong with 5-10 sets.

3. Perform a Full-Body Circuit: When an exercise mandates high levels of muscle tension (e.g., rings handstand push-up), you need at least three minutes of recovery before you repeat that exercise. Although, this doesn’t mean you should sit around for three minutes. By placing your rings and parallette exercises in a full body circuit you can get at least three minutes of recovery while keeping your workouts relatively brief.

Here’s a circuit that works well for a relatively fit guy:

1A Handstand push-up from rings for 3 reps
Rest 30 seconds
1B Box jump for 3 reps
Rest 30 seconds
1C L-sit hold for 10 seconds
Rest 30 seconds
1D Dumbbell single-leg deadlift for 3 reps, each leg
Rest 30 seconds, repeat 1A-1D 4-9 more times

Between the rest periods and the time it takes you to finish those four exercises, you’ll have three minutes of recovery before repeating an exercise. Of course, the options are endless when it comes to exercise selection or the number of exercises you have in a circuit. The above is just an example.

The trick with rings exercises is that many of them don’t fall perfectly within a “push” or “pull” category. That’s one of the reasons why I started my Rings and Power tour. In that 2-day seminar you’ll learn how to program all of the rings, parallettes, and body weight exercises into the ultimate power and muscle-building system.

To find out how to reserve a spot in the Rings and Power seminar, go to this link.

Stay Focused,
CW

Rings and Power Training Seminar

Over the years, my approach to training has substantially evolved. I think that’s been an essential part of my success. In the early days I would just hammer my clients with heavier barbell and dumbbell exercises, without regard for much else.

I’ve spent 17 years experimenting with every training system imaginable, collecting data, and working with some of the best experts on the planet such as Dr. Stuart McGill, Dr. Craig Liebenson, and my Russian silver-medalist gymnastics coach. Here are just a few highlights of how I train myself and my clients these days.

Gymnastic Rings
My goal for any athlete or advanced client is to develop him to the point where all upper body training consists of rings exercises. I consider rings the ideal approach to upper body training for three reasons. First, the type of unstable and challenging contraction you get from the rings can’t be matched by a barbell or dumbbells. Second, the freedom that rings give your joints drastically improves mobility and strength through a full range of motion. Third, hanging from the rings frees up the compression down through your spinal column: that’s essential for nervous system recovery and performance.

Importantly, only buy wooden rings because you can grip them better than any other version. The best wooden rings for the money are made from Christian’s Fitness Factory. You can check out the rings at this link.

Body Weight Training
I’m convinced there are body weight exercises that can challenge the strongest and fittest athletes on the planet. During my recent Perform Better presentation in Rhode Island I had a guy attempt a body weight triceps exercise. He could bench press over 400 pounds but he couldn’t perform a single rep of the exercise!

At the other end of the spectrum, certain body weight exercises provide an effective progression toward the advanced rings exercises. Moving your body through space is more challenging to the nervous system than just lying on your back and pressing weights. Indeed, there’s a body weight exercise that’s formidable to any athlete when you’re looking to build his upper body, core or legs. However, body weight training alone isn’t enough and that’s why the next category is essential.

Full-Body Strength Lifts
No power and muscle-building program is complete without a heavy deadlift, squat or Olympic lift variation. There are three primary reasons. First, those strength exercises build your posterior chain muscles better than any body weight move. Second, the compression through your skeletal structure that you get from a heavy deadlift is crucial for building stronger bones. Third, pulling something heavy from the floor forces the nervous system to fire hundreds of muscles in sync, and that’s essential for boosting rate of force development: the key component of explosive power.

Cycling the loads of heavy lifts can make or break your progress. I use a specific loading system that cycles between four types of workouts. Olympic strength coach, Charles Staley, hired me in the spring to design a strength-building program for his first Master’s powerlifting meet. He won the event.

Explosive Training
Of all the types of training you could do, explosive training can be the trickiest. That’s because the compressive forces from depth jumps, plyometrics, and the like are enormous. You must have a system of progressively building up your tissues to withstand the impact forces from explosive training.

Want to find out how to put the whole system together for you and your clients?

I’m now giving a two-day seminar, the Rings and Power Tour, across the globe. With the information you’ll learn in that seminar, your training, coaching, and business will reach the highest level possible.

The next Rings and Power seminar will be in San Diego on July 7-8. You can reserve your spot at that seminar, or any other location, by visiting this link.

And for a sample of what the Rings and Power tour is all about, check out the video below.

Stay Focused,
CW