Strength Training

Smash Through Your Training Plateau: Increases in Both Volume and Intensity

When we think about gym related progress, we typically consider the load we are capable of lifting. Whether we are talking about a 10 rep max (RM), a 5RM, a 3RM, or a true 1RM, we tend to measure progress by improvements in strength.

And, ultimately, there is nothing wrong with this.

A direct strength measure (such as that seen in RM testing) provides us with a tangible measure of progress. As such it can give us a clear demonstration that the hard work we have been putting in is genuinely paying dividends.

Unfortunately, this train of thought can have some repercussions.

One of which is the way it can influence an individual’s perspective of progress. This results in the thought that the only way to progress is to throw more weight on the bar. This describes progress through increases in intensity.

 

Progressing through Increases in Intensity

By adding more weight to the bar, we increase the load we need to lift. This describes an increase in intensity.

Increasing intensity is one of the key ways we can make an exercise (or exercise session) more challenging, subsequently implementing the principals of progressive overload and allowing us to become stronger.

So say hypothetically we are doing 3 sets of 5 deadlifts as our main strength work, and to progress we add 2.5kg to the bar each week. As a result we continue to do 3 sets of 5, but the weight at which we perform it at increases. This elicits tangible improvements in strength, and follows the principals of progressive overloads perfectly.

But, unfortunately, this can’t go on forever.

Eventually we will hit a bit of a plateau.

During which, we may no longer be able to hit our prescribed number of reps.  Or, we can hit them, but our form deteriorates badly after each rep, until the 5th rep looks less like a deadlift and more like a 7 car pileup.

This is when progressing through increases in volume can become extremely valuable.

 

Progressing through increases in Volume

By increasing the amount of volume we perform each session we are still implementing progressive overload into our training, but doing so in a different manner (without adding any weight to the bar).

So building on the above example, say hypothetically we do reach our current ‘upper limit’ in regards to exercise intensity. In this scenario, we can’t go any heavier because our form begins to break down significantly (which is obviously not a good thing). Rather than increasing the weight, we can start performing additional sets at the same weight.

So from 3x5, we can go the 4x5 the following week, and then 5x5 the week after that.

This allows us to progress by increasing the amount of volume performed at a given intensity each session (which can also trigger additional muscle hypertrophy). While this in itself is a form of measurable progress (we are undertaking more total work per session AKA progressive overload), it can also have another key benefit.

By increasing the amount of reps we are performing of a particular movement each session, we can improve our technical proficiency of that movement. As our ability to express strength relies heavily on the capabilities of our nervous system, this can lead to improved neural efficiency, and subsequently increased strength.

By allowing ourselves to improve our performance of a movement at a given weight through increase in volume, we can then set ourselves up for future increases in intensity (which we can now handle).

 

So using the above examples, we can manipulate increases in volume and intensity to elicit a solid training response. This might mean starting with a weight that we can perform for 3x5, and then adding a set each week until we can perform it for 6x5.

Once we master this weight at 6x5, we increase the weight (progressing through increases in intensity) while also reducing the volume back down to 3x5. We then start the process again with the new weight.

Which would look something like this:

Week 1: Deadlift 3x5 @150kg
Week 2: Deadlift 4x5 @150kg
Week 3: Deadlift 5x5 @150kg
Week 4: Deadlift 6x5 @150kg
Week 5: Deadlift 3x5 @155kg
Week 6: Deadlift 4x5 @155kg
Week 7: Deadlift 5x5 @155kg
Week 8: Deadlift 6x5 @155kg

Using both intensity and volume to improve we can set ourselves up for long term, sustainable progress, that is visible each session!

 

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Why your athletes need to do more than just squat and deadlift

As someone who works in a gym setting day in day out, it is pretty easy to accept that I enjoy strength training (like, a lot). Strength training is, in my opinion, the most effective means of increasing physical performance and building a high resilience to injuries.

And I know many coaches would agree.

As a result, due to this affinity for strength training, most of us gravitate towards trying to improve the big 3 (Squat, Bench, and Deadlift).

Hunter Bennett Performance

Which is fine. The gym is our domain. It is where we work, where we train, and where most of us learn and hone our craft.

There is no reason not to good at demonstrating strength in our domain.

The issue is when this style of training seeps into the programs of our clients.

This does not matter whether they are high level athletes or 80 year old retirees. Unless they are powerlifters, they do not need to become incredibly strong in these particular movements.

While these movements are important (with particular emphasis on the squat and deadlift, and their role as fundamental movement patterns), and should make up a large portion of your clients training, they are not the be-all-end-all.

Most of your clientele are not competitive powerlifters, they have individual needs that need to be addressed, and as such should receive individualized programming to meet those individual requirements.

For those from athletic populations, having a high level of relative strength is important, but once that has been achieved do they actually need to get stronger? The difference between a 2 x body weight deadlift and 2.5 x body weight deadlift on performance will be minimal. Once they have appreciable levels of strength, it is time to focus on improving other qualities, such as power.

Not to mention that athletes need to be resilient to injuries, have single leg stability and single leg strength, have the ability to run fast, jump high, and change direction rapidly (just to name a few) – and if you think that this can be accomplished by only squatting and deadlifting then you are very, very wrong.

Yes those movements can contribute to improving those physical qualities, but they are a very small piece of the puzzle.

This holds very true for those from the general population as well.

While the squat and deadlift are important movement patterns that need to be learned and trained, it is our job to get our clients moving and feeling (and often looking) better. This does not mean they need to deadlift 3 x bodyweight.

Sure, strength is important – it builds tissue resilience and will stave off age related declines in function – but building strength in different movements such as single leg squats, rows, and single arm pressing variations is important as it builds well rounded and resilient individuals who can handle anything that life throws at them.

Furthermore, these same clients are most likely training not only for health, but to improve body composition as well. And while squats and deadlifts have the potential to increase muscle mass, again they are only a small component of a much bigger picture.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love squats and deadlifts. They are important movements that need to be trained and learned, but they are not the only thing that needs to be trained and learned.

People have individual needs that need to be addressed, and it is extremely naïve to think that all of these needs can be met by merely squatting and deadlifting.

Program to the requirements your clients, not to your own personal preferences.

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Why Simple is almost always Better than Sexy

While the title of this blog post may suggest an intense debate over what style of lingerie is best, I actually wanted discuss training (as per usual...).

Each and every week there seems to be a new method of training, using some new fandangle piece of equipment that is suggested to help you build more muscle, become stronger, and increase athleticism (often in a fairly short amount of time).

These methods often include things like agility ladders, suspension trainers, unstable surfaces, among a heap of other unique pieces of equipment.

Now while I won’t say that these methods don’t have any merit at all, people often become focused on these a little too intently, and as a result, lose sight of the bigger picture.

 

The Big Picture

The bigger picture is simple (and unfortunately not all that sexy).

Assuming you have no abhorrent and glaring movement deficiencies, basic strength exercises should make up the bulk of your training. This holds true whether your goal is to improve athleticism, increase strength, build muscle, or lose fat.

Simple barbell movements have been the staple of exercise programs for decades. Funnily enough, this is for an extremely good reason.

They work.

Squats and deadlifts (and their single leg variations), presses, and rows should make up the bulk of your training. These exercises are large compound movements that require the simultaneous work of a number of different muscle groups, and subsequently use a heap of muscle mass.

Additionally (ultimately because of the above), it is with these movements that we can use significantly greater amounts of external load.

This makes them extremely beneficial for hypertrophy (due to the increased mechanical tension associated with increased loading) and fat loss (due to the huge energy expenditure associated with the large amount of muscle mass used).

Furthermore, looking at the movement’s occurring at specific joints, these exercises replicate those of ‘athletic’ movements such as jumping, bounding, and sprinting. It therefore makes sense that by becoming stronger and more powerful in these movements, we are going to improve our ability to perform those more athletic movements.

These movements can be performed a number of different (simple) ways to help us achieve our individual goals:

Strength: Heavy weight and sets of 1-6 repetitions
Hypertrophy:  Moderate weight and sets of 6-15 repetitions
Power: Light to moderate weight and sets of 1-5 repetitions moved EXPLOSIVELY with INTENT.

See, simple (and kind of sexy?).

While there is a place for sport specific exercises, suspension trainers, unstable surfaces, and in some cases, machine based exercises, we should not forget that basic strength exercises still reign supreme.

They provide a fantastic way to put on mass, build strength, and improve athleticism, and as such should ALWAYS make up the bulk of our training.

 

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Why Gender Specific Training is Bullshit

Misinformation within the health and fitness industry is rampant.

Unfortunately, this is an unyielding truth that we have to come with terms with.

While I feel that exercise professionals (such as myself) can help play an important role in changing the poor practices that this misinformation does produce, it is not as simple as it may sound.

This misinformation is spread frequently and expertly within mainstream health and fitness magazines, TV commercials, and YouTube videos AND despite zero scientific evidence (and arguably zero logical thought progression) to support it, it is gobbled up due to clever marketing that plays heavily on our insecurities.

One such claim that seems to circulate a lot more frequently than some others, is the suggestion that females should train differently to men.

This suggestion is an absolute joke that does nothing more than perpetuate the myth that if a women lifts heavy weights she will become ‘big and bulky’.

This, from my perspective, has two negative repercussions.

1.       It leads to the suggestion that weight training is not a suitable form of exercise for women – which the title of this post suggests, is a load of rubbish

2.       It continues to build the idiotic perception of an ideal female body. Seriously, who has the right to suggest that a female with a muscular physique is unattractive? What people find attractive is none of your business. Furthermore, people show a large number of anatomical and physiological differences (AKA we look different) – as such there is no such thing as an ideal body.

So building on that first point, I am here to tell you that women should lift heavy ass weights, and subsequently, gender specific training is misinformed jargon spread by mainstream fitness 'gurus' who haven’t trained a real client in their lifetime.

 Lifting heavy and building strength is key (photo from T-nation.com)

Lifting heavy and building strength is key (photo from T-nation.com)

 

Strength is King

Lifting heavy weights build strength.

I don’t care what anyone says, strength is incredibly important for EVERYONE, no matter their goal or current training level. Strength limits the amount of work we can perform in a session, it dictates our upper limit of power production, and it plays a large role in our rate of functional decline.

By increasing strength, we can improve the amount of volume we can handle in a given session. This can improve our ability to achieve body composition related goals (AKA losing fat and building muscle).

Furthermore, as we age our strength declines. This will eventually limit our ability to perform general tasks of daily living. Subsequently, by maintaining strength we can maintain our functional capacity into our older age.

This will allow us to maintain a high quality of life for our lifetime.

I don’t think you would find a single person who would say that those are not important for females (or males for that matter - EVERYONE should strength train).

 

BUT wont lifting heavy weights and getting strong make me big and bulky?

In short, no, probably not.

While building strength (and lifting heavy) does unquestionably play an important role in building muscle tissue, this process is actually quite difficult for females.

This can be put down to a a number of various gender specific differences in hormone levels and physiological factors.

Ultimately, to summarize without getting too wordy, women will have a much harder time putting on a muscle mass than men.

While lifting heavy will add a small amount of muscle mass, it is not going to turn you into a body builder (not that there is anything wrong with that).

In fact, I have written extensively HERE about how strength training can improve body composition and promote fat loss WITHOUT causing massive increases in muscle mass.

 

Bone Density

While this may be a little on the boring side, it still holds significant importance.

Females are susceptible to becoming osteoporotic later in life (even more so than males). This susceptibility actually increases after the onset of menopause.

While there are a number of dietary factors that can play a role in maintain a high level of bone density, so can strength training.

Heavy loading has shown to stimulate an increase the production of bone cells. This can lead to a significant increase in bone density, reducing the risk of developing osteoporosis. As a result, strength training can play a HUGE role in osteoporosis prevention both before and after menopause.

 Strong Bones...

Strong Bones...

 

Strength Training Builds Confidence

There is nothing better than hitting a new PB in the gym.

Overcoming something that you have been working towards steadily for months truly shows that the hard work you have been putting in has been paying off.

I believe this is truer for strength goals than body composition goals as they provide a tangible measure of improvement.

Getting stronger and achieving new strength goals is rewarding – way more so than lifting a 3kg dumbbell repetitively (unless your into that of course – who am I to judge?).

And maybe more important than the knowledge that you are getting stronger in the gym, is the knowledge that this strength carriers over to other aspects of life too.

This might be as simple as being able to move your own furniture without assistance, change a car tire easily, or escape from a horde of hungry zombies.

All silliness aside, you get my point.

Being able to do difficult things independently is both empowering, and a massive confidence booster.

 

So, to conclude.

Gender specific training is a joke.

Lifting heavy has HUGE benefits for males and females alike. This holds true from a health perspective, a body composition perspective, and a performance perspective.

 

 

If you want to start strength training, but don't know where to start, fill out the form below!

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Training frequency: The forgotten factor for building muscle and strength

When writing a training program people normally think about two key factors.

Volume and Intensity.

While there is no question that these two factors are integral to promoting the growth of muscle tissue and neuromuscular strength development, there is one other factor that needs A LOT more consideration than it is getting.

Training frequency.

Training frequency refers to how often we train a specific movement or muscle group.

While body building splits (where we train each individual muscle group one time per week) are extremely popular, they may not actually be our best option for increasing muscle mass or strength.

It is commonly accepted that muscle tissue takes 48-72 hours to recover from a solid training session. As such, we actually have opportunity to train a muscle group more than one time per week without running the risk of overtraining (which honestly occurs VERY rarely in the weekend warrior…).

 Klokov trains frequently, and hes jacked.....

Klokov trains frequently, and hes jacked.....

 

Training frequency and muscle mass

Increasing training frequency is a great option to provide muscle tissue with additional weekly stimulus.

By increasing training frequency, we can effectively increase the amount of work a muscle or muscle group gets each week. We know that increasing weekly volume is a great wat to stimulate muscle growth.

Additionally, by increasing training frequency, we also increase the amount of mechanical tension our muscle tissue receives over any given training week. This increase in mechanical tension considered another key factor in triggering muscle growth.

 

Training Frequency and Strength

While increasing training frequency can have considerable influence on increasing muscle size, it is the way in which it can influence strength development that is arguably most important.

Demonstrating maximal strength requires the integration of both the nervous and muscular systems. The role that the nervous system plays in recruiting motor units and muscle fibres to produce force is extremely important in this demonstration of strength.

This becomes even more important during large compound movements (such as the squat, deadlift, and bench press…) where a large amount of neuromuscular coordination is required.

By increasing training frequency, we can increase our ability to recruit muscle fibres during these complex movements. This allows us to become more efficient (and subsequently stronger) at these specific lifts.

In fact, within most training circles, the completion of these complex movements is considered a skill. Put simple, the more we perform these skills, the better we become at performing them. These improvements come through an increase in neuromuscular coordination and increased in muscle fibre recruitment.

Furthermore, these increases in neural development are likely to have a greater carryover to our endeavours of athletic performance.

Increases in motor unit and muscle fibre recruitment will make use more efficient and more powerful during athletic movements such as sprinting, jumping, and bounding.

 

Practical Considerations

So we know that increasing our training frequency can have significant improvements in our ability to develop strength and build muscle tissue, but how do we implement it into our weekly training program?

The easiest way is to split up your training week into upper body and lower body days, in which each day has a slightly different emphasis.

For example, we might have a squat dominant lower body day and a hip dominant lower body day where both squats and deadlifts are performed on each day, but the core lift changes slightly.

The same can be said of the upper body days, where we might have a push dominant day and a pull dominant day, where although we perform both pushing and pulling on each day, the primary focus differs slightly.

For example:

Monday – Hip Dominant Lower Body Day

Deadlift 5x5
Front Squat 4x8
RDL 4x8
Walking Lunges 3x10
Single led RDL 3x10

Tuesday – Push Dominant Upper Body Day

Bench Press 5x5
High Bench row 4x8
Overhead Press 4x8
Chin Ups 4x8
Incline DB Press 3x10
Batwing rows 3x10
DB Fly’s 3x10
Single Arm DB Row 3x10

Thursday – Knee Dominant Lower Body Day

Back Squat 5x5
Sumo Deadlift 4x8
Front Squat 4x8
Bulgarian Split Squat 3x10
Reverse Lunges 3x10

Friday – Pull Dominant Upper Body Day

Bent over BB row 5x5
Overhead Press4x8
Weighted pull ups 4x8
Bench Press4x8
Seated Row 3x10
Seated Shoulder Press 3x10
Single arm cable row 3x10
Decline DB Press 3x10

So while this program is not perfect (certainly no individualisation...) it does provide a good example of how we can integrate an increase in training frequency into our training program.

As a bonus, the increased use of compound exercises associated with an increase in training frequency can stimulate greater muscle growth and strength development due to further increasing the amount of load (and subsequently mechanical tension) we lift for any given week.

 

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about training frequency!

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Do Hip Thrusts for Posterior Chain Strength and Power

I recently wrote a post on low bar vs high bar squatting (you can read it HERE if you’re interested), where I claimed (a claim I still stand by) that one of the few truths within the health industry is that strong and active glutes are integral to low back health.

While making this claim is all well and good, I thought there was a little more I could do in regards to discussing how to increase glute strength.

As a result we have this blog post.

So here we go.

 Dem glutes

Dem glutes

 

The glutes are one of the largest muscle groups on the posterior chain. They are powerful hip extensors, which explains why having strong glutes can seriously improve our athletic performance (think sprinting, bounding, and jumping).

While I have covered the importance of glute activation extensively (HERE), I have not talked about improving glute strength nearly enough.

 

Enter the Hip Thrust

The hip thrust is a posterior chain dominant exercise that focuses on hip extension strength specifically.

The hip thrust was made famous by the Glute guy himself, Bret Contreras. Since its meteoric rise in popularity, hip thrust strength has been demonstrated to have a direct relationship to a number of performance measures, with specific emphasis on sprint speed and measures of horizontal power (think broad jumps etc.).

To perform the hip thrust, all you need is a bench and some glutes (for an example check out the video below).

 

While it looks quite simple, there are a few key cues that allow you to maximise the benefits of hip thrusts.

1.       Keep your heels flat on the ground

2.       Keep the spine neutral by bracing your abs HARD (avoid excessive lumbar extension in the bottom position)

3.       Squeeze glutes HARD

Hip thrusts are an awesome exercise to develop posterior chain strength and power. As a bonus, they are extremely easy to load. You can use resistance bands, barbells, or even weight plates as a way to add external resistance to the hip thrust, making it an extremely versatile (and beneficial) exercise.

 

Programming Considerations

I typically use the hip thrust as an accessory exercise on my lower body days after either squats or deadlifts.

I use pretty typical loading parameters dependant on my current goal, for example if I am training for strength I might use a 6x4 set and rep scheme, whereas if I am training for hypertrophy and GPP, I might use a 4x10 set and rep scheme.

As I have already mentioned, the hip thrust is a great way to build posterior chain strength and power while also promoting spinal health.

As an added bonus, hip thrusts can be a useful tool to help build that ghetto booty you have always wanted.

 

Contact me if you have any questions!

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Low Bar vs High Bar Squat – What’s all the Fuss About?

Within the health and fitness industry there are a few truths that are (in my humble opinion) undeniable.

1)      To promote fat loss, you need to maintain a weekly energy deficit.
2)      To improve performance, you need to train for strength and power.
3)      Strong and active glutes are integral to the health of the spine.

Outside of that, the details become debatable.

And boy, do we like to debate them.

From what diet is the best, to what exercise is promotes optimal Tibialis anterior development (I kid, I kid..... kind of..), we love to discuss the minute.

One of those discussions that come up regularly is low bar vs high bar squatting. People will argue for hours about the differences between the two, often aligning themselves to one entirely.

Which is funny, because in the end the differences is a couple of inches.

Seriously.

hunter bennett performance

 

Two inches (if you’re lucky) higher or lower, and that’s the differences.

Well, there is a little bit more to it that, but honestly, not a whole lot more.

 

Bar Placement

As mentioned already, the difference ultimately comes down to the position of the bar on your back. With high bar squats, the bar sits on top of the traps, while with low bar squats, the bar sits just above the spine of scapula and slightly above the rear delts.

While this change is relatively minimal, it does result in some variances in technique further down the chain.

You see ideally, with a squat, the bar should sit over the middle of the foot for the duration of the lift. This is where those variations in technique come into play.

hunter bennett performance

 

Torso angle and Joint loading

To maintain the bar over the mid-foot, the angle of the torso changes slightly. With a high bar squat, a more upright torso is required to keep optimal bar position, whereas with a low bar squat greater trunk lean is required.

Maintaining a more upright torso places slightly more torque at the knee joint than what would typically occur during a low bar squat where there an increased trunk lean is observed (It is important to note that this is not a bad thing, it is just what happens biomechanically). As a result, the hips are loaded less, and we see a subsequent reduction in shear force through the lumbar spine.

Using a low bar squat position forces us to sit back and load through the hips, which subsequently causes an increase in the shear force on the spine (again, not necessarily a negative).

If we look at this from a muscular perspective, a high bar squat is going to place increased demand on the quads. A low bar squat is going to place an increased demand on the glutes and spinal erectors.

This isn’t to say that during a high bar squat there is no demand on the glutes and erectors (and vice versa in regards to a low bar squat and the quads), just that the demand is slightly reduced in comparison to the alternative.

It is also important to note that as a direct result of bar position, the extensors of the thoracic spine are going to be under less demand during a low bar squat in comparison to a high bar squat (this is in my opinion, why some people can squat more low bar than they can high bar).

 

Practical Implications

So what does this actually mean?

In reality, not a whole lot.

I often find that people who may not have had a whole lot of experience in the gym pick up the high bar back squat better as it more closely replicates goblet squats and front squats (which I typically use as a regression). As a result, we often start with those.

From there though, what I recommend becomes goal dependant.

If an individual’s goal is purely hypertrophy based, I will opt for whatever variation is more comfortable. This is because the muscular load is quite similar between the two lifts, and from a hypertrophy perspective, glutes and quads are going to get a heap of work either way.

From an athletic performance perspective, I would typically recommend a high bar back squat as the joint angles more closely replicate movements that require vertical power (AKA Jumping), and there is less load on the erectors (which are typically already copping a heap of load from exercises targeting posterior chain strength).

For someone trying to build a big ass squat, I would recommend low bar. As the thoracic extensors are taken out of the equation, we effectively eliminate what is often the weakest link in the chain. As a result, the hips and quads should be able to handle maximal load, increasing the amount of weight we can move.

 

But seriously, in the end, the difference is a couple of inches. High bar squats are still going to build strength, low bar squats are still going to improve performance.

The differences are minute.

Contact me today!

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Why the Front Squat is King

As an exercise, the front squat is heavily overshadowed by the barbell back squat.

It is considered a ‘regression’ in certain circles, where it is used as a mere stepping stone allowing you to move towards a full back squat.

Ultimately, the front squat does not get the love that it truly deserves.

That’s why I am here to tell you that it should be a staple in your training if your goal is to improve strength and overall athleticism!

hunter bennett performance adelaide personal training

 

The front squat smashes the anterior core

Most wouldn’t think it, but one of the key benefits of front squatting is the load it places the muscles of the trunk.

Due to the bar position being slightly in front of the torso, it effectively tries to pull the spine into flexion. This creates a HUGE demand on the muscles of the anterior trunk to maintain a nice upright spinal position, making it a fantastic way to build core strength and stability.

This actually leads quite nicely into our next point…

 

It’s hard to cheat a front squat

During a heavy set of back squats, it is pretty common to fatigue through the erectors of the lumbar and thoracic spine.

This results in ‘caving’ of the trunk, causing a movement that kind of looks like a squat / good-morning hybrid that places a large amount of shear force on the spine.

This cannot happen during a front squat due to the bar position. If we lose our upright position during the front squat by caving forward, we will lose the bar.

This actually makes it a safer variation, while limiting poor movement patterns and poor compensations.

 

The front squat demands mobility

To perform a deep front squat, you need good mobility at the ankles, hips, and thoracic spine.

By front squatting often (and addressing any serious mobility requirements) we can improve mobility and movement quality, while also improving our strength throughout a large range of movement.

This can go a very long way in improving our ability to improve strength in the gym, reduce our risk of injury during athletic movement, and improve our overall athleticism.

 

Front squat strength directly carries over to athletic movements

Simply looking at the front squat we can see its similarities with a number of athletic movements.

The upright trunk position during the front squat is very similar to that we see during jumping, bounding and sprinting. So it makes sense that getting stronger in the front squat can directly improve our capacity at performing these athletic movements.

Additionally, due to its ability to build strength in hip and knee extension, it can also improve our ability to accelerate, change direction rapidly, and perform jumping and bounding movements.

 

The front squats improves squat and deadlift strength

The upright torso position of the front squat places a serious demand on the quads. This helps improve knee extension strength, which directly improves our capacity to perform other movements.

Obviously, this carries over directly to the back squat. Having strong quads is only going to improve your ability to squat more weight. Also, considering that the front squat can significantly improve strength of the spinal erectors, it will improve our ability to remain upright in the back squat. This improves our capacity to perform the movement, making it more efficient (AKA stronger) and safer.

Secondly, improve quad strength will significantly improve your deadlift strength off the floor. The first portion of the deadlift (floor to knee) is VERY quad dominant, and as a result front squats can seriously improve deadlift strength.

So, there you have it.

To summarise: Front Squats = Gainz

I would recommend using front squats as the core movement on one lower body day per week for lower reps (4 sets of6 reps, or 5 sets of 4 reps, etc.), and then as an assistance exercise on your other lower body days for slightly higher reps (3-4 sets of 10-12 reps).

If you want to get in contact with me with any training enquiries, fill out the form below and i will get back to you ASAP

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Paused Squats to Build Strength and Size

Paused squats to build strength and size

Squats are an exercise that get A LOT of attention.

They are considered the ‘king’ of exercises by some, while described as a living hell by others.

I guess I personally fall somewhere in between. I enjoy squatting. There is something very rewarding about hitting a new squat PR. And the quad pump after a set of high rep squats? I’ll let Arnie answer that one….

 Thanks Arnie...

Thanks Arnie...

BUT…

I suck at them.

They have never felt natural to me. It took quite a bit of work just to get comfortable squatting to depth. And once I actually started to add load, I was weak.

Like REALLY weak.

Now I’m not one to force a square peg into a round hole (so to speak), and if this was a client who didn’t necessarily need to back squat to see reach their desired goal, I wouldn’t have forced it.

But this was ME. And I wanted to be able to squat lots of plates.

Maybe not a clever goal by any means, but I wanted to get good at something I wasn’t particularly good at (still do in fact… lots of room for improvement).

So I squatted. My lower body sessions typically involved both back and front squats, and while I did see improvements, they came slowly, and I still didn’t feel 100% ‘comfortable’ squatting.

So I started playing around with different squat variations, and happened to strike gold.

Hunter Bennett Performance, lose fat, build muscle, increase strength, personal training

 

Introducing Paused Squats

I started using paused reps after my heavy squat sets as an assistance exercise, and actually started seeing some improvements! My squat got stronger, I felt much more comfortable squatting under load, and my jeans got considerably tighter!

A paused squat is pretty much just a squat where you pause completely (as in STOP DEAD) at the bottom of the squat for 2-3 seconds (or longer, for the masochists out there) for each individual rep.

If you think it about it, it makes sense. Most people are weakest at the bottom of a squat, and as a result this is where they tend to feel least comfortable. By spending a bit more time in the bottom position of the squat, we can get a little more comfortable in that position.

Here’s a quick video of me pumping out a couple.

If we look a little deeper (pun intended...), there are a couple of serious benefits that paused squats provide over regular squats.

 

They build strength out of the hole.

It is pretty common to see people drop into squat really quickly, and then bounce back up. While there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this, it does have a couple of issues.

When we drop quickly into a squat, we rely on two things to get us out of the hole. The first is the muscles ability to use the stretch shortening cycle (SSC) effectively. The SSC describes the storage of elastic energy during the eccentric portion of a movement, followed by the use of that energy for the concentric portion of that same movement.

So using the squat as an example, during the descent the quads and glutes are lengthening under load. During this eccentric loading they are storing ‘elastic’ energy in the muscle and tendon tissue. By descending rapidly (and spending minimal time in the hole) this energy can be used effectively to help produce a concentric action (the up portion of the squat). Now while this can be a good thing, it is not something we want to become too reliant on during the squat. If we rely solely on the SSC to get out of the hole, we are likely to limit our strength development in other areas of the lift (eg. Just after we bounce out of the hole).

Secondly, it places a large amount of stress on the passive structures of the hip. The hip capsule and its surrounding ligaments take majority of the load as we rapidly drop into the bottom position. This means we are relying on these structures for stability in the bottom position of the squat rather than the muscles surrounding the hip and trunk. This can lead to hip issues and potential injury.

By pausing at the bottom of the squat we completely eliminate the SSC from the lift. This forces us to stay completely tight in the bottom position, and we are required to rely on the muscles around the hip to provide stability and maintain a solid position. This allows to build strength in the bottom position of the squat, which can increase our strength out of the hole.

Additionally, by increasing our strength out of the hole we can also limit the stress placed on the passive structures of the hip, and even improve our ability to use the SSC out of the hole on regular squat sets due to the improved muscular strength in that position.

 

Improves Squat technique

Good squat technique is essential to a big squat, and a large component of good technique is the ability to maintain a neutral spine throughout the duration of the lift. Often people will hang out in the bottom position of the squat, losing spinal position and relying on those passive structures to keep them upright.

By pausing in the bottom you can’t rely on these passive structures to maintain a good trunk position, you have to earn it. This teaches you to remain ‘tight’ throughout the duration of the lift, which will allow you to produce more force coming out of the hole.

I know for myself personally, by increasing this sense of stability in the bottom of the squat, I started feeling more comfortable squatting under load.

As a bonus, maintaining a healthy spinal position throughout the entire lift is also going to significantly reduce the risk of injury, or risk of developing low back pain.

 

Greater potential to build muscle

By pausing mid-way through a rep we increase the total amount of time under tension (TUT) the muscles are under. TUT is considered a key mechanical trigger to muscle growth, and by increasing it we can increase muscular hypertrophy as a result.

If you want massive quads (silly question, everyone wants massive quads) then paused squats are a great variation to implement into your training as an assistance exercise.

 

 

Programming Considerations

I typically program paused squats as an assistance exercise after heavy squats or deadlifts on one of my lower body days, and then as a core lift on one of my other lower body days.

I like to use 3-4 sets of anywhere from 2-8 reps using a 2-3 second pause in the bottom.

Try them out for 4 weeks and I can guarantee your technique and strength will improve. 

 

If you want any more info, contact me via the form below and i will get back to you ASAP!

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The Most Effective Way To Split Squat - Maximise Your Results!

Split squats. You might be doing them wrong.

It’s fair to say I have a bit of a love hate relationship with split squats and their variations. I love them because they are a fantastic way to develop single leg stability, strength and power (which can even carry over into squat and deadlift strength!). They place significant load on the lower limb, making the great for hypertrophy, and as they are a single leg exercise, they can eliminate and correct unilateral strength and stability differences. As a result, split squats can have direct influence on improving athletic performance, and as they also place a massive metabolic demand on the entire body, as such they are a fantastic exercises to use for fat loss.

The reason I hate them?

They are sheer brutality.

Seriously.

Try and punch out a couple of sets of 12 per side and feel good about life afterwards. It’s impossible (trust me).

Despite their brutality, I honestly think I would have put at least one split squat variation in 90% of the programs I have written. This is because not only are they great for athletic populations, they also have direct carryover activities of daily living (walking upstairs, standing up from a sitting on the floor etc.)

And recently, I have been seeing more and more people performing them in the gym. This in itself is fantastic – as I said, they are an awesome exercise that can be implemented effectively to meet almost any goal. The only issue with this, is that I have seen many (MANY) people performing them wrong.

Now, what do I mean by doing them wrong?

Well when people typically coach a split squat one of the most common cues that I hear is ‘chest up’. This cue is said with the intent to keep a nice neutral spine, saving load through the lower back, which is all well and good. The issue though is the resulting movement often looks a little bit like this (thanks google images).

 Not the best looking split squat i have ever seen....

Not the best looking split squat i have ever seen....

Now while this doesn’t look horrible by any means, there is a couple of things that draws my eyes. While he is maintaining a nice upright posture (chest up, right?), it is actually causing two issues. Firstly, it is causing him to hyper-extend his lumbar spine, resulting increased extension forces on the spine. This is also most likely impacting his ability use his anterior abdominals to stabilise the spine (similar to anterior pelvic tilt position). Secondly, this hip and trunk position results in a huge amount of load placed on the anterior part of the hip capsule, causing unnecessary strain on the passive support structures (ligaments, cartilage) of the anterior hip.

To eliminate these issues I teach split squat variations with a slight forward lean of the torso coming from the hips, similar to that seen in the image of strength coach Jordan Syatt below (again, thanks google)

 Good split squat, slight forward lean at the hips.

Good split squat, slight forward lean at the hips.

Now I realise that this is a different variation to the first image, but the same principals apply, and the differences are pretty apparent. There is no hyper-extension of the spine, ensuring a neutral spinal position, and as a massive bonus, by increasing hip flexion slightly, the glutes are put in a more advantageous position meaning they will work harder during the movement!

The focus should be on ‘sliding’ the hips back as you descend into the squat, whilst keeping the distance between the top of your pelvis and the bottom of your sternum constant throughout the duration of the movement. This ensures that you load through the hips correctly, and also makes sure you maintain a nice neutral spine throughout the duration of the exercise.

 Have a go at this next workout and notice the difference!

 

If you want any more info, fill out the contact form below!

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