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Importance Of Deloads For Joint Recovery

Importance Of Deloads For Joint Recovery

I will be bold and say that deloads have become the most underutilized training tool in today’s modern programming. And a key word there is “training tool”, not a punishment as many look to it as, because a deload done right is performance enhancing, not a detriment to progress. For strength purposes, a deload taken at the correct time (after a mesocycle that results in a slight overreach in the final week) should result in a supercompensation of strength, producing improvements upon resumption of training after the planned deload week. And another key word there was “planned”, as many times deloads are just the result of a realization that maybe you have pushed it a bit too far, and the aches and pains, or worse injuries, are starting to pile up. Since this is Pain-Free Powerlifting, rather than taking this blog post in the direction of the effects and benefits of supercompensation during planned deloads, I want to look at the health and recovery benefits in regards to injuries. Let me note that a large portion of my knowledge in regards to this subject is due to the e-book “Scientific Principles of Strength Training”, by Mike Israetel, Chad Wesley Smith, and James Hoffmann, and I highly, highly recommend it to anyone who is serious about strength training. (1)

So before looking into the options of how to structure deload weeks, let’s look at the reasoning behind them in regards to injury prevention. When it comes to deloads, there are three things we are looking the recover during this process.

1.) Muscle

2.) Central Nervous System

3.) Ligaments, Tendons, and other tissues

That exact order is also the ranking of what recovers the fastest versus the slowest. In reality, deloads are not all that important for muscle fiber recovery, as the human body is fairly efficient in recovering in this aspect, which is exactly why you may have still been making progress without planned deloads currently. Most deloads, in regards to programming for overreaching and supercompensation, are not planned in regards to the recovery of muscle fibers, but instead for the second item on our list, which is the central nervous system. When you hear the term “fatigue” or “training fatigue” discussed, this is usually in regards to the central nervous system. As we overreach, or push past our maximum recoverable volume, our training fatigue reaches a point where our performance actually decreases. At this point is when a planned deload works perfectly in allowing the central nervous system to properly recover, resulting in supercompensation and a strength/performance increase upon resumption of training. Where things have changed recently though is the realization that a simple taper, where intensity is maintained and volume is reduced, can have very similar effects as a full deload in regards to the same performance benefits. And there is no denying that. We do not “have to” reduce intensity to allow our body to dissipate fatigue, as volume is the main contributor. By simply cutting volume, we can continue with our heavy training and receive similar, if not possibly better short-term results. And honestly, it’s more fun this way. As powerlifters we love to train and lift heavy, so no one likes the easy deload weeks. Any excuse to continue training heavy, especially a reason with valid research and validity behind it, is going to attract the attention of many. But in my opinion, the “taper” we see programmed currently falls short.  Our short term progress may benefit, but there is a possible detriment to our long term health and progression. Without an intensity drop as well, we are then ignoring the final component of recovery, which is ligaments, tendons, and other soft tissues, which is the slowest to recover out of the 3 components. This is where I argue that a planned deload is most needed, as we need sufficient time to not only reduce fatigue to allow for a supercompensation effect, but we also need sufficient time to reduce the wear and tear of training. I am confident in stating that overuse injuries will be more likely to occur when tapers are used versus planned deload weeks, and if that means slower short-term progression for the sake of better long-term progression, I will take that any day.

With that being said, let’s take a look at the general how a deload should be structured. When it comes to a mesocycle length, this will be highly independent and based on multiple factors of your training goals, history, and injury resiliency. For the sake of sticking with injury resiliency as our main concern, a general rule will be that the longer a mesocycle is, the high the likelihood of injury. I do not think any of us would argue that if we trained 1 week on, 1 week deload, we would stay pretty darn healthy, but probably wouldn’t make any progress. Whereas if we went 8-10 weeks straight training, followed by a deload, we may be putting ourselves at a higher risk for injury. So for a general rule of thumb, I believe most mesocycles should last somewhere between 3-6 weeks, followed by a planned deload. As already stated, whether it’s 3 weeks or 6 is going to be dependent on many individual factors. But if you want to base this solely off of health and injury prevention, for the most part you will be less likely to accumulate overuse injuries with 3 week cycles versus 6. As for how to actually program the deload, below is a general template, with a good portion of this information being gathered from the previously stated e-book “Scientific Principles of Strength Training”, along with my own thoughts and principles on how to bring everything together.

Squat, Deadlift, and Bench movements (includes competition lifts and variations):

Look at this based on each individual workout, not the week as a whole. Find the average volume and intensity for the training block. If the heaviest day was 80% and the lightest was 70%, use 75% as your working number. If your highest volume day was 4×6 and the lowest volume day was 2×6, use 3×6 as your working sets and reps. From here, reduce volume somewhere between 50-70% depending on your fatigue levels, and reduce intensity to 80-85% of the previously performed work. So if you average calculations came to be 3×6 at 360lbs., then your deload workout for that day would be 3×4 or 2×5 at somewhere between 285-305lbs. Below is a table showing another scenario as would be seen in a training program.

Volume Week 4 Deload Week 5
Exercise Sets Reps Weight Exercise Sets Reps Weight
High Bar Squat 1 8 330 High Bar Squat 1 6 280
High Bar Pause Squat 2 8 275 High Bar Pause Squat 2 5 230

Another way to calculate these numbers that is a bit simpler is to take the sets x reps x weight of the prior week’s of training, and apply the same percentages of 50-70% of the volume and 80-85% of the intensity. Either way, it will not make a huge difference.

Accessory Work:

Accessory work is a bit easier to program for, as unless you are experiencing a large amount of fatigue or wear and tear. I only drop the intensity slightly, most times programming most around a 7 RPE,  and then do a similar 50-70% volume reduction. If you are experiencing any overuse issues, using brachioradialis tendinopathy as the example, reducing intensity on pulling movements even a bit more would advised. Below is a table of this example as would be seen in a training program.

 

Volume Week 4 Deload Week 5
Exercise Sets Reps Weight Exercise Sets Reps Weight
Chest Supported T-Bar Row 4 8 @ 8.5 RPE Chest Supported T-Bar Row 3 8 @ 7 RPE
Facepulls 4 12 @ 9 RPE Facepulls 3 12 @ 7 RPE
Bicep Curl of Choice 4 12 @ 9 RPE Bicep Curl of Choice 3 12 @ 7 RPE

1.) Israetel, Mike, Chad Wesley Smith, and James Hoffmann. Scientific Principles of Strength Training. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Juggernaut Training Systems. 30 July 2015. Web. 13 Feb. 2017. <jtsstrength.com>.

STOP! Being So Specific

STOP! Being So Specific

Now how could I say to stop being so specific when it’s fairly agreed upon that specificity is the overriding priority when it comes to strength progression in powerlifting? Because, I also believe it is possible to be overly specific, especially when it relates to longevity within the sport.

Many current popular programs that are circulating online, and also just the general direction of raw powerlifting, have seen a 180 degree turn-a-round from the Westside days where conjugate was king. Performing the competition movements year round, many times only performing those, has become a popular trend, but I am recommending we all meet somewhere in the middle, dependent on the phases of our macrocycle that we currently in. If we are looking at the foundational phasic structure and periodization model for powerlifting, we can break down our macrocycles into hypertrophy/volume, strength, and peaking mesocycles or phases. Not just with powerlifting, but for most sport practice, it is well established that the further away from competition we are, the less specific our training needs to be. Now a certain level of specificity must remain, as a powerlifter should not spend a mesocycle putting emphasis on their 10 mile run time, but what I do mean is that we do not need to continually run high volume, high frequency, and highly specific programs year round. Low bar squatting, deadlifting, and competition bench pressing year round, multiple times a week for high volumes is a recipe for injury. While some may be genetically gifted to be able to sustain that type of training protocol, just as the Bulgarian weightlifting team survived their crazy system, for most this will not be the optimal approach for long term progress and health. Will your strength increase at a fast rate using these highly specific approaches? Probably, but that will only be short term. Long term, you will probably be lagging behind where you could have been because you are still nursing injuries that are halting your continued progress.

Now I am all for an evidence based approach, but if you will let me deviate from that for a minute, I find a couple good experiential examples that do a good job of proving this point.

For those that follow Pete Rubish, world record powerlifter, you may know that he rarely squats. It causes him pain, hurts his progress, so unless he is nearing competition he rarely back squats. Instead he uses Bulgarian Split Squats as his main knee flexion movement, while putting more emphasis on his deadlift. You may argue that his squat isn’t nearly up to par with his deadlift numbers, which is 100% true, but I’d argue Pete has found a way to produce the highest total he can while staying the healthiest possible, which seems to be working pretty darn well for him. If he spent a bit more time back squatting could he possibly have a higher total at his next meet? I’d say he very well could, but the issue isn’t his next meet, its long term. If he starts increasing his squat frequency, knowing historically it will cause injuries, he may get a short term boost to his total, but long term those injuries will hold him back from continued progress. So looking at the case of Pete Rubish, he has seemed to find a great happy medium for success. Take away what causes pain and stops progress, and instead find what helps him over the long term increase his total while staying healthy. Now I am not saying all of us need to take it to this extreme, but what we do need to do is individually find what is optimal for ourselves. Just like some of the Bulgarian lifters made great progress off that system and were able to maintain resilience against injury, there will be some that genetically can tolerate high specificity throughout the entire. Those like myself who are not so lucky though, need to optimize our training plan so that our yearly planning and long term progress is maximized, which means staying as healthy as possible.

Another complete non-evidence based example comes from bodybuilders. While there are very few lessons to be learned from the “bro” approach, I do find one thing to be valuable in translation to strength sports. You’ve probably heard, seen, or maybe done this yourself back in the day, but bodybuilders many times try to find ways to make exercises harder so they do not have to use as much weight, inherently decreasing the risk of injury. They will focus on the mind muscle connection (which actually has some scientific validity) to try and use just the primary muscle to move the weight, use tempos and eccentrics, isometric holds, pre-exhaustion, and shorter rest periods to be able to receive similar results as they would with heavier loads. I believe there is some validity to all those to a degree, as they are practices used by successful bodybuilders through decades of the sport, and even if research hasn’t proven everything they do as valid, I do believe that they have a point here. For powerlifters, especially away from competition during hypertrophy and volume phases, we might benefit from stealing some of this thought process and applying it to ourselves. Using variations such as tempos, pauses, bar placement, bar choice, etc., we can find ways to squat, bench, and deadlift to the same relative intensities, without using the same absolute intensities. While I am not aware of any study showing that using variations of these movements to decrease absolute intensity will in fact reduce injury risk, based on the thought process that less weight equals less risk for the most part, I would be confident is saying that it will. Also, on a current TSA (The Strength Athlete) podcast with Quinn Henoch, he made a very good point that we can “overuse” a movement or stance. To summarize and try to apply what he said, basically if we keep doing the same exact squat pattern over and over, we are stressing all of our tissues in the exact same manner every time, and that has a high likelihood of leading to overuse issues. Some slight variation though can help to provide the body with different stimulus so we are not just constantly drilling the exact same loaded movement pattern over and over. Another way of looking at this is the example of the tires on our car. We get them rotated for a reason, because if we just leave them in the same spot throughout the life of them, they will only wear in certain spots based on their positioning, which will lead to a decreased longevity of the tire. If we rotate them though, we can have a more even wear distribution, leading to a longer tire life. I believe the same applies to our soft tissues and joints as well.

So putting all this together, let’s look how the actual application of these theories and principles plays into designing a program that will promote long term progression and health.  So looking at the how to program this, the amount variation is dependent on the phase you are in, as has been mentioned. The farther out from competition you are, the less specific you need to be, so the hypertrophy/volume phase is a good time to plug in variations based off of two things…

  1. How would you rate your injury resiliency?
  2. What are your individual weaknesses that need improvement, and what variations could help in strengthening these?

If your answer to number 1 is “low”, then my recommendation is that during the hypertrophy/volume phase, limit the amount of direct competition work you are doing per week to just 1 or 2 sets to just maintain skill practice. The growth, volume, and work capacity can be gained from variations instead at this point, and as we move through our phasic structure we can slowly increase our specificity. This can also be movement specific though. If you never have any issues with bench press, then you do not need not be as wary when it comes to programming for injury prevention. But if squats have historically caused you issues, that is where we can play around with our programming to try and increase our longevity. 

After we have determined the movements that we must take a more conservative approach on, based on our past injury history and resiliency, we move to question 2, which is what are your individual weaknesses. It is best to choose variations that address your issues verses picking things you are already good at (as long as they are pain free and do not cause any issues), as now we can kill two birds with one stone, where we now can work around the competition lifts AND improve a strength deficiency. What variations you choose will need to be an entirely different article on its own, but to get a general idea you can shoot over to EliteFTS to check out my recent post on “Alternative Squat Training For The Injury Ridden Powerlifting” to get some ideas of variations based on your historical or current issues.

To wrap up, understand again that every program is individual, and the purpose of “STOP! Being So Specific” is to provide some alternative viewpoints, theories, and principles that can hopefully guide your own individual training. Training smart is the key, and health is the name of the game. The strongest lifters in the world typically are also the healthiest, as year after year they are able to make progress without injuries halting their training. To put this into perspective, lets even look at a worst case scenario of extremely slow progress due to conservative training. Choose one of the options below…..

  1. Add 50lbs. to your total in 3 months,  equating to 16-17lbs a month on average, but know that the following 9 months will be injury plagued and your total will be stagnant, neither increasing or decreasing during that time.
  2. Add 50lbs. to your total over a year’s time, equating to around 4-5lbs. a month on average, yet you were healthy all year and were able to train all 3 lifts without pain.

I would expect almost everyone to pick option 2. We LOVE to train as powerlifters, but we HATE to have to struggle through workouts due to pain and injury. No progress is frustrating, so most of us would choose the slower progress but injury free training, because it will just be downright more enjoyable. So let’s be smart, have fun training, and stay injury free this year. I think we can all agree upon that.

If you have any further questions, always feel free to shoot me an email at sdenovi@gmail.com and I would be happy to help!

 

How To Build A Home Gym And Costs

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How To Build A Home Gym And Costs

I was very fortunate to have fulfilled many a powerlifter’s dream of having their own home gym, and the fact is budget wise, it is very doable. I was lucky to have a bunch of my clients chip in and buy be a power rack as a moving gift, but even if not, a home gym is still an option even on a budget. I know for a long time I had these grand aspirations of having an ER competition squat/bench combo rack, calibrated plates, and all the latest and greatest equipment, but I can honestly say after putting this all together, I have everything I need. If you have a large sum of discretionary spending available, by all means buy the equipment you want, but for budget purposes, I will say I do not feel like I am missing out with the current equipment I have, and am extremely happy with the setup.

With that being said, I have had numerous people ask me about my setup and the costs, so to make this easy, I figured it’d be a good time to put a post together in regards to building a home gym. Below is a spreadsheet with 3 sections; Needed, Recommended, and Other Additions. These are all things I currently have, but also understand that some things need to be prioritized. “Needed” means you are going to have a tough time putting together a program and lifting without that equipment, “Recommended” means you can survive without it, but I’ve found it to be very beneficial, and “Other Additions” entails that you can get away with not having it, but they are cool pieces of equipment if you have the budget for them. General prices are included for each item, but this does not include tax or shipping. With gym equipment, be aware that shipping makes up a large portion of the cost. Also, make sure to keep reading on below for notes on the “Whys” for equipment choice and what I recommend, and where I also touch on how to save on shipping costs.  

Needed Equipment:
Equipment Type Cost Links
Power Rack $600-$700 http://texasstrengthsystems.com/products/racks-stands/25×25-power-rack
    http://www.roguefitness.com/rogue-r-3-power-rack
Ohio Power Bar $275 http://www.roguefitness.com/rogue-ohio-power-bar
Plates $500-$600 https://www.walmart.com/ip/Cap-Barbell-OP-010/19226050
    https://www.walmart.com/ip/CAP-Barbell-2.5-lb-Olympic-Plate-Gray/19226048
Bar Collars $40-$50 http://www.roguefitness.com/oso-barbell-collars
Platform $250-$300 http://www.tractorsupply.com/tsc/product/rubber-mat-black-4-ft-x-6-ft
    https://www.menards.com/main/building-materials/panel-products/construction-panels/sheathing/plywood-sheathing/4-x-8-cdx-plywood-sheathing/p-1444431334153-c-13331.htm?tid=5287733158250827736
Weight Tree $50 https://www.amazon.com/CAP-Barbell-Olympic-2-Inch-Plate/dp/B0013SZC8S/ref=sr_1_2?s=exercise-and-fitness&ie=UTF8&qid=1487866178&sr=1-2&keywords=weight+tree
Bench $175 http://www.roguefitness.com/rogue-flat-utility-bench
Deadlift Jack $65-$165 http://www.roguefitness.com/mini-deadlift-bar-jack
    http://www.roguefitness.com/bar-jack
Recommended:
Equipment Type Cost Links
Loadable Dumbbell Handles $30 https://www.walmart.com/ip/CAP-Barbell-20-Olympic-Dumbbell-Handle-with-Collars/17363031
Extra Sets of Bar Collars $40-$80 http://www.roguefitness.com/rogue-proloc-collars
Strength Bands $15-$80 http://www.roguefitness.com/rogue-monster-bands
Other Additions:
Equipment Type Cost Links
Safety Squat Bar $395 http://www.roguefitness.com/sb-1-rogue-safety-squat-bar
Buffalo Bar $200 https://www.amazon.com/Buffalo-Bow-Bar-Long-NYB/dp/B000RZSKJG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1487866741&sr=8-1&keywords=buffalo+bar
Bulgarian Split Squat Stand $170 http://www.performbetter.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/Product2_10151_10751_2215987_-1_2018515_1000239_1000239_ProductDisplayErrorView
Glute Ham Raise $300-$700 http://www.roguefitness.com/rogue-abram-ghd
    https://www.amazon.com/TDS-Glute-Ham-String-Machine/dp/B000QJAKV4
Rings $72 http://www.roguefitness.com/rogue-wood-rings
Farmer’s Walk Handles $185 http://www.roguefitness.com/rogue-farmers-walk-handles
Sled $115-$265 http://www.roguefitness.com/rogue-sleds
    http://www.roguefitness.com/dog-sled
    http://www.roguefitness.com/rogue-butcher
Roman Chair/Dip/Pullup Station $100 http://www.academy.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/Product_10151_10051_928965_-1?gclid=CjwKEAiArbrFBRDL4Oiz97GP2nISJAAmJMFadv-facjv_GlyPkOhKxp1djXFRsfVD5ztxKV_hWWFFhoCiS3w_wcB&kwid=productads-adid%5E168926669740-device%5Ec-plaid%5E105930398238-sku%5E024780827-adType%5EPLA
    www.walmart.com/ip/11993395?wmlspartner=wlpa&selectedSellerId=0&adid=22222222227000129593&wl0=&wl1=g&wl2=c&wl3=40331780912&wl4=aud-273067695542:pla-78293857232&wl5=9023814&wl6=&wl7=&wl8=&wl9=pla&wl10=8175035&wl11=online&wl12=11993395&wl13=&veh=sem
Kettlebell $40-$100 http://www.roguefitness.com/rogue-kettlebells

 

Needed Equipment Notes:

-For the power rack, I went with the Texas Strength Systems power rack. It is absolutely great, but for anyone else I would recommend going with the comparable Rogue power rack. The Rogue power rack has a slightly higher sticker price, but after shipping they are about even. The real reason to go with Rogue though is the shipping time. I do not believe either rack will really be that much better than the other, but it took upwards of 3 months for TSS to finally ship my power rack, where as Rogue can get it there within the week. You will notice a lot of Rogue equipment on here in general, and that is because if you want to save on shipping and get your order quick, go with Rogue on as much as you can.

-You can go with a Texas Power Bar instead of an Ohio Power Bar, which I have both, but I highly recommend the Ohio one. Best bar I have ever used outside of an Eleiko Power Bar.

-Plates aren’t cheap, so just get what you need. I ordered 10x 45lbs. Plates, 2x 25lbs., 4x 10lbs., 2x 5lbs., and 2x 2.5lbs. If you get the loadable dumbbell handles from recommended section, you may need to order more of the smaller sized plates so that you can load two dumbbells as the same time.

-If there is one thing you do, make sure to go with walmart.com for the plates. The biggest cost is shipping, and Walmart offers FREE shipping. Same exact plates that Texas Strength Systems has, except half the cost.

-OSO Barbell collars are must for deadlifting with steel plates. With those collars the plates won’t move and have to adjust between every set.

-The platform I made is 8×8, and required four 4×8 sheets of plywood and three 4×6 stall mats. I laid two 4×8 sheets of plywood on the floor, with 2 more 4×8 sheets of plywood on top of those, laying the opposite direction. I did not use wood glue as some do, just screws, as I plan to move soon and want to be able to disassemble this. From there, I took two 4×6 stall mats and laid them side by side in the center of the platform, leaving a 1×8 strips on each side that I had to trim the final stall mat to make pieces that fit. Screwed the stall mat into the plywood and I was good to go. Also, with a power rack that does not include a place to rack the weights, make sure to anchor it through the platform into the floor.

-I put a deadlift jack as a must because I tried to go without it for a month, and my back was killing me. It’s not fun loading steel plates without a deadlift jack.

Recommended Equipment Notes:

-Saves a lot of money going with loadable dumbbell handles versus individual. Not optimal, but it works.

-If you have anything other than a barbell that will need collars, get some proloc collars as well. Even though I love the OSO collars, they do not fit on everything. The proloc collars though fit on pretty much everything, specifically the loadable dumbbell handles and the safety bar I have.

Other Additions Notes:

-With all of these items, none are needed, but are items I have bought that are beneficial. If I had to pick my top 3 out of these that I use, it would be the rings, safety bar, and bulgarian split squat stand.

Post-Meet Rest Week? Why You Should Take A Break

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Post-Meet Rest Week? Why You Should Take A Break

So what is on the training plan for Adam this week after his 1620lb. performance last week? Exactly what you see here…..rest. This doesn’t seem to be a commonly held belief, but barring a quick turnover for another meet, I have all my athletes take the week off following a meet. I have them do this for two reasons:

1.) The body takes a beating through all the training leading into a meet. Weeks upon weeks of hard training creates wear and tear on the joints that just cannot be fully recovered unless you just take a break at some point to allow a decrease in inflammation. While this may be an unpopular belief, the only thing that will suffer is short term progress. In the long term, which is what most of us should be focusing on, a week off is going to pay its dividends years down the road when you are still lifting, healthy, and making progress.

2.) The first reason was physical, but the second reason is mental. Powerlifting can be monotonous. As powerlifters we thrive on motivation and passion. If we never have a chance to “miss” lifting though, this motivation and passion tends to dissipate, and that grind turns into something we have to do versus love to do. I usually find that if people hop right back into training after a meet, they get into a rut and find themselves bored. This is especially true when volume/hypertrophy cycles are usually following a meet and the progression of strength is not the main goal at that time. But give them a week off, and by that next Monday they are begging to get at back at it.

While I won’t argue that this is a make or break choice, I think its definitely wise to give yourself a break after a hard and long training cycle leading up to a meet. You’ll usually find that you feel rejuvenated and ready to go once training resumes, and the following training blocks are more productive because of it.

Try This Squat Cue…

Try This Squat Cue…

So I have been working with a new squat cue that I hadn’t heard before over the past couple weeks that is seeming to work really well, and not just on myself, so it is time to share. “Sit back, chest up” has two major flaws. 1.) It causes people to go into lumbar flexion or anterior pelvic tilt to keep that “chest up” versus maintaining a neutral braced position and 2.) Many times this causes people to try to stay too upright will sitting back, which results in the center of gravity being shifted back too far, and then trying to compensate towards the bottom range of motion to get back over their mid-foot and not lose balance. You will have to lean forward in the squat, you can’t fight that, and just trying to keep the “chest up” many times forces you into positions you shouldn’t be in. The fix I have found is “push your hips back and reach your chest forward”. Since implementing for myself, it has allowed me to take out the 6-7 cues I was using and replace it with just this one. To make more sense of this, pretend there is an imaginary wall at the front of your knees or your mid-foot, whichever registers better as an internal cue for you. What you will try to do is push/sit your hips back while at the same time trying to reach your chest forward to move along that wall all the way down. What results is a more natural and gradual increase in hip flexion through the squat, maintaining the correct center of gravity and positioning throughout. I have to admit this idea came to me while watching @jesse_critter25 squat videos. You can see the video of myself implementing this cue HERE, but if you watch @jesse_critter25 squat, you’ll really see what I mean. He sits back, yet at the same time that chest is staying directly above the mid-foot the entire time and “reaching forward”. Give it a shot and let me know what you think.