Monday, 20 April 2020

Safety Bar Squat

One of my favourite specialty bars to use is the safety squat bar. It is a good bar to use if someone has a shoulder injury or poor mobility in the shoulders, as you hold the handles in front of you, making it more comfortable than a regular straight bar.
I also find safety bar squats really strengthen the legs and lower back. The camber pulls you forward, so you really have to fit to stay upright throughout the squat. It really forces you to brace hard and stay tight throughout the lift.
Another thing is that you really have to drive hard out of the bottom of the squat. It improves your leg drive and you can really feel your hamstring, glutes, and lower back.
Whilst it is a different movement and technique to performing squats with a regular straight bar, I really feel that there is great carry over from the strength you gain in the muscles used in the safety bar squat and the tension that you learn to create by using this bar.
For each of my cycles of squats I use different specialty bars early on in my training phases and work my way back to regular bar squats at the end. It has been working well as it is helping develop strength in different muscle groups and at different parts in the range of motion. When I do return to regular squats, I feel like I am in much more control of the bar path then I would be otherwise.
In the video above I am using our Watson Safety Squat Bar which is in my opinion the most solid on the market. I get 175kg for 5 reps, which for me is a good lift.
You can have a look at this study for more information in regards to safety bar squats compared to back squats and you can have a look at Greg Nuckols break down of it

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Benefits of Napping

Taking a nap seems to be a very natural thing to want to do. With our current lifestyles, with work, school, and other commitments, we tend to just keep pushing through and never actually stop. The corona virus lock down has given me much more time than I normally have and every day around 12pm-1pm I feel the need to lie down and rest. With time on my hands, I have been. I don’t even really nap for long. It could be 5 minutes up to 30 minutes, but I have noticed just lying down and closing my eyes for a small amount of time refreshes me enough to be more productive in the afternoon than if I just push through.

This is not new information. The Romans napped, countries in the Mediterranean napped, Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein, and Isaac Newton napped, bodybuilders have talked about naps and them helping muscle growth for many years, but it is something I have consistently been able to do for a couple of weeks now and I think it is definitely something we should all try to incorporate in some way once our lives return back to being crazy busy again.

The most important thing to remember though is that a nap can’t replace night time sleep. You have to sleep well of a night. There is no compromise.

Athletes need between 8-10 hours of sleep a night but not many of them are getting that amount. Simply by getting more sleep you can enhance your performance by 2-5% from some estimates.

Dr Marc Bubbs highlights some good stats on the negative impacts lack of sleep can have in his book Peak. Lack of sleep reduces your ability to tolerate pain, lowering it by 10%. If you don’t get 8 hours of sleep a night you are 1.7 times more likely to get injured than some who does get 8 hours of sleep per night. Lack of sleep also increases the chance of you getting sick. Less than 7 hours of sleep and you are 3 times more likely to get sick than someone sleeping 7 hours, if you sleep less than 6 hours then it was 4.5 times as likely you would get sick.

Plus, lack of sleep can increase body fat levels, lower your testosterone, DHEA, and growth hormone levels, can increase insulin and cortisol levels, lead to poor memory, and increase inflammation, so that is why quality sleep is a non-negotiable.

Naps are used as a bit of an energy boost, a reset, or to help ADD to your daily sleep time. Not replace it.

Some of the benefits of napping, as Sara Mednick points out in here book Take A Nap, include:

  • Increasing your mental alertness
  • Speed up motor performance
  • Improve your accuracy
  • Make better decisions
  • Improve your stamina
  • Improve your mood
  • Reduce stress
  • Boost creativity
  • Help your memory

The time you wake up of a morning will determine when the best time to take a nap is for you. There is a lot of science that goes into this which take into account all the stages of sleep, but there are some good general recommendations that are simple to follow. The simplest is when you feel like taking a nap naturally. That is generally between 1 and 3pm for most of us. If you wake up at 5am then it will be closer to 1pm whereas if you wake up later at say 8am, it would be around 2.30pm for example.

You can also time your nap so that you wake up with a more creative mindset or prioritise your memory.

A full sleep cycle last 90 minutes. Many experts suggest that a 90-minute nap is the perfect amount time as you go through a full sleep cycle. If you are an athlete, using a longer nap like this on rest days can really help your recovery.

If you feel groggy when you wake up then you could be waking up in the middle of slow wave sleep, so you may just have to adjust the duration of your nap. Taking a shorter 20-30 minute nap should work well for this.

If you can’t sleep during the day, don’t worry about it. Just lay down, close your eyes, and relax for 20-30 minutes. It will still be of benefit.

Personally, by recovering properly, my strength is improving at a much faster rate then when living my normal routine. Try napping for a few weeks and see how you progress.


Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Bench Press - Sticking Point Bottom Position

“I’m getting pinned in the bottom position of my bench press. Why is that and what can I do?”

There could be many reasons why you are getting stuck in the bottom position of your bench press. It could be a technical issue such as not keeping the chest up, allowing shoulders to round in bottom position, elbows flaring too much or being tucked too tight, or not having enough involvement from the lats, for example.

It could also be due to a weak muscle group, like the lats (as mentioned above), a weak mid upper back / rear delts / external rotator’s, serratus anterior, or even the pecs.

So, you have to figure out which muscle/muscles are weak and strengthen those through specific assistance exercises.

There are also many techniques you can use to strengthen the bottom part of your bench press.

Exercises/techniques you can use to help the start of your bench press:

  • Paused bench presses
  • Bench press dead stop from pins
  • Functional isometrics
  • Spotto press
  • Cambered bar bench press or DB work. Extra range of motion

Assistance work to address weakness to help start of bench press:

  • Weak lats – pull ups, wide grip pulldowns, straight arm lat pulldowns to thigh
  • Weak serratus anterior – incline front raises, cable front raises
  • Weak pecs (sternal portion) – Dips, decline presses, DB presses

This list is far from complete but it should give you some ideas on how to address your issues.

Example workout – weak pecs and weak lats:

A1 – Dead stop bench press from pins 5 x 3-5, 32X0, 120 rest
A2 – Pull ups 5 x 3-5, 30X2, 120 rest
B1 – Dips 4 x 5-7, 3110, 90 rest
B2 – Single arm DB row neutral grip 4 x 5-7, 3011 90 rest
C1 – Decline DB bench press neutral grip 3 x 7-9, 31X0, 60 rest
C2 – Straight arm lat pulldown to thigh 3 x 7-9, 3210, 60 rest

Bench press tip - grip width
Bench press tip - elbow position
Bench press - arch or no arch?
Increase overhead strength to improve your bench

Saturday, 4 April 2020

What Are the Benefits of Doing 1 and ¼ Reps?

What Are the Benefits of Doing 1 and ¼ Reps?

The main benefit to doing 1 and ¼ reps is to add time under tension to a given muscle group. It is useful as a tool to overload a certain muscle group, to help induce hypertrophy, and to bring up a weakness.

Mechanical tension is an important factor when it comes to hypertrophy. Receptors in the muscle cells are sensitive to both the amount of load and the duration of loading used, as Dr. Schoenfeld points out. This is why hypertrophy can still be achieved when using lighter loads, it just takes longer to reach failure with a lighter load. For athletes, this isn’t all that beneficial. By using 1 and ¼ reps you can create this fatigue in a muscle group quicker whilst still maintaining a decent load.

1 and ¼ reps are also good to use to bring up a weak muscle group or a weak point in a lift. For example, if you want to target the VMO using squats, you can add in some 1 and ¼ reps in the bottom position, or if you have trouble locking out in the bench press you may want to try performing 1 and ¼ reps in the top position.

Using 1 ¼ reps is a good way to work on positioning in a lift as well. Using the squat as an example again, the 1 ¼ rep forces you to stay in control of the weight and stay tight in a position you are normally weakest in. You also get to drive out of the position more times, which is more practice in that position, if done correctly.

I like to use a controlled ¼ rep but if you are an Olympic lifter you could also use more of a bounce in the bottom position to try and increase rebound / elasticity to replicate coming out of the bottom after a clean.

Performing 1 ¼ reps

To perform 1 and ¼ reps you simply lower the bar all the way down, come up one quarter of the way, go all the way back down, and then do a full rep. That counts as one rep.

When using 1 ¼ reps for hypertrophy or to correct a weakness make sure you stay tight and control the lift on the way up, use muscle tension not just momentum. I like to have a slight pause at the top of the quarter rep to make sure you are tight and feel the position, before lowering under control once again.

You can program them in as your main lift for the day if training for hypertrophy, if training for strength, you could use them as an assistance lift. If I really want to bring up a weakness, I will program in full squats as my core lift and then in my assistance work include split squats with 1 ¼ reps.

There are many ways in which you can use this technique. Know what needs to be addressed and then you can program them in accordingly.