squat

Why changes in both volume and intensity should dictate recovery

I was recently reading through some programming information provided by a textbook that I purchased during my undergrad degree, and was slightly surprised at some of the information in there.

There was a pretty large chapter on the nitty gritty of exercise programming, with specific mention to both sets, reps, and recovery. Within this chapter there was a fairly lengthy explanation on rep ranges and intensity, which ultimately outlined the following:

                High Intensity = 1-5 RM
                Moderate Intensity = 6-12 RM
                Low Intensity = 12+ RM

It was further explained that heavy training periods should utilise high and moderate intensity training loads, while deloads (AKA recovery periods) should utilise low intensity lifting.

While this appears to make sense on a couple of levels, there is a fairly large flaw to their thinking.

Anything that requires maximum repetitions (RM) is not submaximal and therefore should not be considered low or moderate intensity. This holds true whether you are hitting a 3RM, 12RM, or a 20RM.

You see, while a 3RM while will elicit more mechanical stress (due to the heavier load) than a 12RM, that does not make it any less maximal. In fact, I would argue that a 12RM is likely to have a longer recovery period than a 3RM because it would elicit a significantly greater amount of metabolic damage (even despite lower mechanical stress).

So if your training program looks something like this, I have a bit of bad news:

Week 1: Moderate Intensity 8RM
Week 2 and 3: High Intensity 4RM
Week 4 (Deload….): Low Intensity 12RM
Repeat:

At no point are you actually allowing your body time to rest and recover. And in all serious, at no point are you working at anything less than a high intensity.

This is because every week you are still training to failure, irrespective of the rep range used.

A high volume kettlebell workout does not count as an active recovery - no matter how light the load is.

A high volume kettlebell workout does not count as an active recovery - no matter how light the load is.

 

So what can we do instead?

A good deload should allow the body opportunity to recovery without running the risk of losing strength. This means that training is recommended, but it should be done in a way that doesn’t stress the physiological systems of the body.

Arguably the best way to do this is by manipulating volume and intensity of a given training week.

By dropping volume significantly and intensity slightly one week out of every 4-6, we can provide ourselves with an opportunity to recover from our accumulated training fatigue in way that won’t affect our progress.

So an example of that may look something like this:

Week 1: Moderate Intensity 4 sets of 6 at 80% 1RM
Week 2 and 3: High Intensity 6 sets of 4 at 90% 1RM
Week 4: Deload using 3 sets of 4 at 70% 1RM
Repeat:

By letting volume and intensity dictate our deloads rather than maximal rep ranges, we can give ourselves a genuine opportunity to recover, while still receiving a small training stimulus.

This will ensure that we are fresh and ready to go for our next block of training, while also reducing our risk of overtraining significantly.

 

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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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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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Single leg secrets. Why unilateral training may be the missing piece of your training puzzle.

I love squats and deadlifts. Like really love squats and deadlifts. You can bet that if I’m writing a program, there’s a pretty good chance it will feature a number of squat and deadlift variations.

And why shouldn’t it? They are important motor patterns, they build strength and size, can improve posture, all whilst having a direct carry over to athletic performance.

But with that in mind, I feel like we can sometimes fall into a bit of trap, and focus too much on these exercises alone. If we take a step back and a look at an individual’s goals, the inclusion of single leg exercises can often go a long way in helping achieve our desired results.

Here are a few of the main reasons why I like to include single leg work into my programs.

Hunter Bennett Performance. Single leg training, stability, athletic performance, single leg stability, unilateral training, hypertrophy, strength.


Single Leg Stability

When training one leg at a time using single leg squat or deadlift variations, there is a significantly greater stability component than when training bilaterally.

This means that the muscles around the hip (think Glute max and glute med in particular) and trunk have to work that much harder to maintain proper pelvic alignment and femur position (avoid valgus collapse of the knee).

This increased stability has the potential to carry over to everyday movements such walking up and down stairs, or stepping down from something high, as well as improving our athletic performance during sprinting, rapid changes of direction, or single leg bounding movements.

Because if we really think about, most sport specific movements (with the exception of powerlifting and olympic lifting) are performed on one leg, and developing an adequate amount of stability on one leg is only going to improve our ability to perform these movements.

Increased workout density

When doing single leg work, we effectively have to do twice the number of reps. I realise that each leg is only doing the prescribed number of reps, but in regards to the rest of the body, its working hard to maintain stability, hold heavy weights and maintain postural position for twice as long as it would during a bilateral exercise.

This means that there is going to be an increase in total work done per session, which has the potential to improve strength and hypertrophy, and also promote fat loss.

On top of that, assuming your using dumbbells as your main form of external loading, it wouldn’t be unlikely to see increased grip strength along with an increase in mass through the forearms and upper back as well.

So to summarize. More Gainzzzz.

Reduced Neural Fatigue

Large bilateral exercises use greater total load, and as such are heavily taxing on the nervous system. By reducing the amount of bilateral exercises we do, and substituting them for single leg exercises (not forever! – just occasionally, like during a deload, or a period where you’re getting considerable fatigue from life’s many stressors), we reduce total load used and therefore neural fatigue.

This is a way that we can still see improvements in lower body strength and hypertrophy, without completely running ourselves into the ground. Do something like this may be beneficial for a  4-6 week period, as a way to refresh whilst still seeing improvements in strength and size, which are likely to carryover to bilateral exercises when we start performing them more regularly again.

Awesome. So now what?

Start doing some single leg work!

I would try to include both knee dominant (think split squats, lunges and pistols) and hip dominant (single leg deadlift variations) single leg variations into your training programs 1-2 times per week to start with and just watch the awesome happen.


If you want to incorporate single leg training into your program but aren't sure where to start, see if you qualify for my coaching program here.

What the research tells us about Foam Rolling

Most people have a bit of a love hate relationship with their foam roller. They seem to make you feel and move better, but tend to also cause a fair bit of discomfort. In the following little post i hope to take a brief look at foam rolling, and what the recent research tells about it

Foam rolling is a type of self-myofascial release therapy (self-massage) that has been suggested to break up adhesions between layers of fascia (the connective tissue sheath that surrounds our muscle tissue). It has also been thought to reduce the neural tone of hyperactive neural receptors within the muscle tissue, and also rehydrate muscle tissue at the cellular level through the equal redistribution of fluid. And what does that mean exactly?

Pretty much all of that is thought to lead to an acute, and over time, chronic return in Range of Motion (ROM). This ROM has often been reduced by the muscle stiffness caused by heavy exercise and repeat sedentary activity in altered postural positions (AKA sitting).

Now I need to mention that this is merely a brief overview of the POTENTIAL mechanisms that have been suggested in regards to what foam rolling MAY actually do,  and this is by no means a definite description on how foam rolling works.

Hunter Bennett Performance. Foam Rolling, Foam roller, Self myofascial release, athletic performance, rehab, strength, fat loss

 

For starters, does foam rolling actually work? What the science says.

Research on foam rolling is fairly minimal, as an intervention protocol it is difficult to regulate. How could you ensure each individual undertaking the foam rolling is actually rolling the exact same spot as everyone else, applying the same amount of pressure as everyone else, and applying that pressure for exactly the same amount of time as everyone else? Exactly, you couldn't.  Despite that a couple of studies have been published looking at the effects of foam rolling on flexibility.

Foam rolling has shown to improve flexibility acutely in a number of papers (Macdonald, 2013; Button, 2014; Halperin, 2014; Jay, 2014: Grieve, 2015), in a variety of situations, suggesting that foam rolling does have the capacity to improve passive range of motion in the short term. Interestingly, one of these studies (Jay, 2014) showed increased range of motion only lasted ~10 minutes, which means you might have to use the new found ROM or you will lose it pretty quickly.

It has also shown to improve measures of ROM chronically (Ebrahim, 2013; Mohr, 2013), with as little as two weeks of consistent foam rolling required to improve chronic flexibility.

As for the practical implications of this, we could foam roll tight, restricted tissue and expect to see immediate improvements in ROM, and if which we continue to perform consistently over time, chronic improvements in ROM.

Building on this, if we incorporate foam rolling into our warmup, and then begin to move in a way that uses this ‘new found’ ROM, we create a need to maintain these seen improvements. This is  more likely to create long term changes in ROM.

An example of this would be stiff adductors limiting squat depth. By rolling our adductors we would see an increase in ROM and therefore an increase in squat depth. By proceeding to train, using this new found depth, we would begin to build stability and strength at the ‘new’ end ROM, creating a demand to maintain it. By now improving our capacity to squat deeply whilst maintaining stability through training, we become more comfortable in this position, and are able to achieve it more comfortably over time, resulting in a reduction of chronic stiffness. If we continue to foam roll consistently during this period, we are likely to further contribute to improving ROM and reduce tissue stiffness, making more permanent changes.

Anecdotally, whilst the improvements in ROM are apparent and beneficial, it is the way that people tend to feel immediately after foam rolling stiff and adhesed tissue that I think has significant benefit. Releasing restricted tissue feels good, and performing movement unrestricted feels really good. This sense of improved and unrestricted movement starts the session on a positive, and makes movement in general more enjoyable. Don’t discount the way someone feels when performing exercise, if they feel like they are moving well and enjoy it, it can go a long way to improving adherence and performance in the gym.

 

 

 

 

References.

Ebrahim, A. W., & Elghany, A. W. A. (2013). The effect of foam roller exercise and Nanoparticle in speeding of healing of sport injuries. Journal of American Science, 6, 9.

Halperin, I., Aboodarda, S. J., Button, D. C., Andersen, L. L., & Behm, D. G. (2014). Roller massager improves range of motion of plantar flexor muscles without subsequent decreases in force parameters. International journal of sports physical therapy, 9(1), 92.

Jay, K., Sundstrup, E., Søndergaard, S. D., Behm, D., Brandt, M., Særvoll, C. A., & Andersen, L. L. (2014). Specific and cross over effects of massage for muscle soreness: randomized controlled trial. International journal of sports physical therapy, 9(1), 82-91.

MacDonald, G. Z., Button, D. C., Drinkwater, E. J., & Behm, D. G. (2014). Foam rolling as a recovery tool after an intense bout of physical activity. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 46(1), 131-142.

Mohr, A.R., Long, B.C., & Goad, C.L. (2014) Effect of foam rolling and static stretching on passive hip-flexion range of motion. Journal of Sport Rehabilitation

Grieve, R., Gooodwin, F., Alfaki, M., Bourton, A. J., Jeffries, C., & Scott, H. (2014). The immediate effect of bilateral self myofascial release on the plantar surface of the feet on hamstring and lumbar spine flexibility: A pilot randomised controlled trial. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.

Button, D. C., Bradbury-Squired, D., Noftall, J., Sullivan, K., Behm, D. G., & Power, K. (2014). Roller-Massager Application to the Quadriceps and Knee-Joint Range of Motion and Neuromuscular Efficiency During a Lunge. Journal of athletic training.

 

This weeks health and fitness articles - Novemeber 21

Brutally Honest Guide to Losing Weight

This is the story of how a man lost 80lb's over the course of a year. While it doesn't necessarily sit perfectly in sync with my training/diet philosophies it provides an accurate and unglorified  depiction of what it actually takes to lose weight.

Hint: alot of hard work and dedication

 

The Sticking Point in the Squat: What Causes it and What to do about it

A fantastic Article by Greg Nuckol's breaking down what causes the sticking point in the squat, and what you can do to become stronger in that position.

 

Is Skipping Breakfast Bad for You?

Interesting article that should provide some clarification on whether eating breakfast is as important as what your mother thought. 

Heads, Shoulders, Knees Over Toes? Should the knees travel over the toes during a squat?

How often are you at the gym and hear someone coaching the squat, spouting coaching cues like 'sit back as far as you can', 'keep a vertical shin', don’t let your knees pass the toes etc. all promoting the common misconception that if your knees track over your toes during a loaded squat they will spontaneously combust.

It's almost funny how often this advice gets given out' if it wasn’t so sad.

I say sad because the ankles should have the mobility to allow the tibia (shin bone in layman's terms) to move beyond the toes. It wants to pass over the toes. This movement is required to walk, run and jump, safely and efficiently, and is seen during simple movements that occur in everyday life, such as picking something off the floor or walking up a flight of stairs.

Now obviously squatting under load is slightly different to jogging or walking up stairs, but despite that, that range of motion at the knee is essential to safely perform a loaded squat.

 

A study published by the NSCA (Fry, 2003) looked at joint kinematics during a normal barbell back squat, in which the knees passed over the toes, and a restricted barbell back squat, in which the knees did not pass over the toes.

Hunter Bennett Performance. Adelaide based personal trainer. Lose Fat. Increase Strength. Build Muscle.

 

They found that during the restricted back squat there was significantly greater anterior lean of the trunk, which resulted in a 22% decrease in knee torque compared the normal back squat, but a 1070% (that is not a typo!) increase in hip torque.

By reducing the load on the knees, via a vertical shin whilst squatting, the load is increased through the lower back and hips x10. This increased load through the lower back is not ideal, and can even increase risk of injury of the lower back.

Not to mention that the squat is a knee dominant exercise! And by sitting back with a vertical shin we reduce the load placed on the quads, which, from a hypertrophy perspective, is what we are trying to load when squatting in the first place.

Now i don't want to get into an argument with anyone about low bar vs high bar squatting, and i am well aware that particularly from a powerlifting perspective, using a more hip dominant squat (think sitting back and down) can allow them to squat more weight, which for their particular sport, is the goal.

All i wanted to do was highlight the fact that there is no issue with knees tracking over the toes during a squat (assuming they do not have any knee issues to begin with), and the stigma surrounding it is nonsense.