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Why I Don’t Like The Cue “Sit Back” And What To Use Instead

Why I Don’t Like The Cue “Sit Back” And What To Use Instead

One of the most used cues in powerlifting through the years has been “sit back”. And while I am sure it has worked for many people, or else it probably wouldn’t still be used, it also tends to develop bad habits when that cue is taken out of context. Yes the hips do need to have some movement backwards, but there should never be movement backwards that doesn’t also coincide with movement down. Above are side by side videos of Abbee (Click this link to view video). On the left we have the typical negative outcome that I see from the cue sit back. The lifter pushes their hips back at the start and the knees breaks late, which then usually leads to some type of anterior pelvic tilt and eventually the lifter shifting forward at the bottom to compensate. The pattern created from “sit back” becomes “back then down”, which is incorrect. Any movement back should be accompanied by movement down, which in my opinion is better achieved through the cue “sit behind your heels”. Cues such as these work because it gives the lifter a frame of reference and target for how their body should move. The “sit behind your heels cue” takes the context of sitting back, but now adds the element of downward movement. This will naturally force a more even break at the hips and the knees, as it is impossible to “sit behind your heels” if the legs stay straight. The same cannot be said about “sit back”. On the right you can see what is achieved when using the “sit behind your heels” cue, as well as the directional movement that these differing cues promote. By now cueing with the proper directional movement in mind, the hopeful out come will be more efficient and consistent squat technique. As with all cues, everyone internalizes them differently and one size doesn’t fit all. But I do believe for those who struggle with the aforementioned issue from the “sit back” cue could very much benefit from implementing “sit behind your heels” instead.

Why/When You Should Be Doing Tempo Squats

Why/When You Should Be Doing Tempo Squats

In my opinion, probably the most versatile and the variation I utilize most in powerlifting is the tempo squat. Name just about any issue you could have with your squat, and the tempo squat could be used in some manner to help that issue. Above (CLICK HERE) we have both Shane and Nik performing tempo squats. Both have found great benefit from this movement, but for different reasons. I have beginner lifters utilizing this movement all the way to my most advanced, but each application has a slight individual twist on why it is beneficial. I am going to try to give as much detail as possible while still trying to keep this brief, but below are the main answers for why and when to use tempo squats:

1.) To precede all other reasons, the main and overriding benefit of tempo squats is that it slows the movement down. Every reason below links back to this. Slowing any movement down allows a lifter to have more time to process cues as well as feel different positions throughout the full range of motion.

2.) The next main benefit that overrides most of the reasons below is that it is self limiting. I typically program tempo squats in the range of 85-90% of what someone could competition squat, with the vast majority right at 87.5%. This means we can still achieve high relative intensities while lowering the absolute intensity. Lower weight typically means a better overall ability to maintain positions and execute cues.

3.) And the last main benefit that overrides the rest of the below reasons, is that tempo squats really do a great job of improving movement. Even though the tempo may only be done during the eccentric portion of the movement, the quality of the eccentric then directly affects the quality of the concentric.

4.) So in what ways can it improve movement? First off, it helps to a support proper knee to hip flexion during the eccentric, allowing us to feel even tension distribution as we load the squat during the descent.

5.) Second, to achieve this proper tension distribution, we must also have the proper distribution of foot pressure. The slowed down eccentric gives us that extra time to actually notice our foot pressure and make slight adjustments when we are shifting towards the toes or even the heel.

6.) Next, the tempo squat helps us to maintain proper bracing and pelvic position as we descend. When we speed up the eccentric, many times we lose the initial braced position we set at the top of the movement, but with the tempo it allows increased emphasis on maintaining that position through the full descent.

7.) Now that we have a better understanding of the core benefits of tempo squats, as well as how it helps movement, next up is the specific movement issues it addresses. First up is the chest fall pattern. The chest fall pattern is typically due to improper weight distribution  during the eccentric, usually from pushing forward at the bottom and having to shoot the hips up as we accelerate out of the hole. Tempo squats allow us to improve that eccentric loading so that as we reach to bottom we have a better distribution of tension and can resist shifting our weight forward towards the toes. Also, the increased time to process cues allows us to think about maintaining torso position as we transition into the concentric portion of the movement.

8.) The other big movement fault tempo squats help to address is some form of shift within the squat. Shifts can come to light a different ways, but the two main shifts you will see is either a shift as you come up out of the hole or a shift that occurs throughout the entire movement as you bias towards one side. Part of fixing a shift is being able to feel the asymmetries in tension side to side, and tempos squats allow us to feel the changes in loading side to side as we descend. And just like with the chest fall pattern, it also gives time for us to process cues as we transition into the concentric portion.

9.) As mentioned above, I use tempo squats with beginners all the way to my most advanced athletes, but for different reasons. For beginners, tempo squats are utilize to help teach movement. They help to improve the technical proficiency of the lifter and help them find the optimal squat form for their mechanics. For an advanced lifter though, I am usually programming tempo squats as a means to prevent form regression. If you think advanced lifters can’t regress on form, you are gravely mistaken. Just the slightest little change in an advanced lifter’s squat pattern can manifest itself over time into a major change, so tempo squats can be of great benefit to help maintain their movement proficiency.

There is even more I could go over, but the things I did’t cover are typically addressed by the above list. For example, if someone tends to have knee valgus, the improve tension distribution and bracing mechanics are the fix, so these more specific issues get addressed naturally with the above points. I wanted to write this article as I believe sometimes tempo squats get marked as something only a beginning lifter needs to do, but I believe that is far from the truth. The benefits are far reaching, even if it just means using this variation too help self limit the loading.


In-Depth Insight Into An Advanced Powerlifter’s Programming

In-Depth Insight Into An Advanced Powerlifter’s Programming

Patrick (@patrick_gpathletics) is getting back into the heavy work in preparation for the Arnold Raw Challenge in March. Currently Patrick is sitting about 10 1/2 weeks out, and we are in the second week of what has historically been the training block where we see the most progress. Due to the success the first time around with this block back in July, we took it as a template to build off of leading into Nationals, and again now leading into the Arnold. This does not mean we are just running the same block over and over again, but we are taking the skeleton of what worked and adjusting based off the progression of the previous training block and needs of this current prep. So what specific additions and adjustments did we make to the “skeleton” of this block?

1.) The previous training block we used to really push accessory volume. Historically I have had Patrick do significantly less pressing and lower body accessory volume than many of my other athletes. This was in large part due to his strength and experience levels in the sport, and needing high a level of stimulus from the competition movements to drive strength. With that though, leading into Nationals we started finding that “line” of maximum recoverable volume, as Patrick was hitting fatigue markers that we had not yet touched prior. So with that, I wanted to make it a focus to drive volume in other ways, so we set up a plan to really push belt squats and weighted dips. The goal was to use this past training block to adapt to this new stimulus while doing more self limiting variations on the competition movements. And then as we transitioned into this block, keep that accessory volume high while reintroducing more competition specificity and higher intensities. The hope and theory was that Patrick’s overall tolerance to this workload would adapt and be able to sustain these higher volumes, and so far so good. Through the first two weeks of this training block his fatigue is matched, if not lower, to that of our Nationals prep.

2.) The second addition was that of higher intensity singles on bench press. Patrick continually projects out with rep work well higher than what his competition max is, and it has boiled down to form breakdown that generally occurred at 390lbs. and up. In the past, we may only hit 2-3 singles in the entire prep at that weight and that was during the peaking block in the last 2-3 weeks before the meet. This just wasn’t enough practice to break the bad habit he has with overtaking his left arm once weights reach the 95% and above mark. So this time around we started 12 weeks out, and will be hitting these heavy singles weekly. I would not do this with most people, as there is a higher risk factor involved with hitting 8.5-9 RPE singles weekly, but Patrick has shown very little fatigue and/or aches and pains in the past from heavy benching.

3.) The massive change to this block is how we are approaching deadlifts. When talking about the success of this block, it was mainly based around squat and bench press. For deadlift I learned from mistakes during the Nationals prep on what we need to change. The final week of this block during Nationals prep, Patrick’s deadlift strength was at an all time high. We took a very low volume approach, and it worked great, but it was just too soon. Instead what needed to be done is shift that training block of deadlifts to the peaking block, and during this block push volume more to where we may actually see fatigue masking his strength and performance actually suffering a tad. Deadlift, especially conventional, is a different animal than squat and bench press. What I have found is many times regression in strength is common and not the worst thing, just due to the high fatigue caused by deadlifts. I made the mistake last prep in thinking the low volume approach was working really well, but the truth was is the higher volume block that preceded it is what pushed strength, and the low volume block was dissipating the fatigue so that we could actually see the full potential. And in the end, I extended that low volume for too long and actually detrained Patrick’s deadlift a bit. So what I am doing this training block, along with some other small changes, is shifting everything so that we are matching the skeleton of the higher volume block that seemed to drive Patrick’s strength, and then during the peaking block switch to lower volume to dissipate the fatigue accumulated during this block to then peak at the appropriate time.

How To Fix Your Deadlift Lockout

How To Fix Your Deadlift Lockout

One of the biggest misconceptions in powerlifting is in regards to the lockout on deadlift. When someone tends to fail at lockout, the first thought usually is that the athlete needs to strengthen their lockout, but unfortunately that should not be the initial thought process. But at the same time I am not going to completely disregard that, and will circle back around at the end on why people have found benefit in “lockout work”.

What it come down to is pelvic and lumbar positioning off the floor. How you start the deadlift will dictate how you finish the deadlift. If you start with a very neutral back and pelvic position, most likely breaking the floor is the hardest part of the deadlift, and the rest is cake. Whereas if you start in a posterior tilted pelvic position and lumbar flexion, lockout is going to be your problem. And this just all comes down to biomechanics. Take any lifter with a “lockout” problem, have them do a rack pull from just below the knee, and they probably can hit that for probably 110% of their normal deadlift max. So they don’t have a lockout problem, they have a positioning problem. When they perform a rack pull at the knees, they can start with better positioning, allowing for more efficient force transfer from the hip extensors. But when they start from the floor, by the time they get to the knees, their butt is tucked under and their lower back is rounded.

Let’s breakdown the biomechanics of this and why it makes it so hard to lockout when in this position. We have two things going on, posterior pelvic tilt and lumbar flexion.

1.) When we go into a posterior pelvic tilt, 3 things happens with our hips extensors. Our glutes are shortened, our hamstrings are shortened, and our spinal erectors are lengthened. A muscle is the weakest at its lengthened and shortened position, and  strongest in its middle range. So with the glutes and hamstrings, when we start with our butt tucked under and continue that position, as we get to lockout those muscles are greatly underperforming. They are in a shortened state and creating significantly less hip extension force than if they were stabilized in a neutral position. So as we get to lockout, 2 out of the 3 main muscle groups trying to extend the hips and lock out are basically “shut off”.

2.) The lower back, as mentioned above, is lengthened if we start in the posterior pelvic tilt and lumbar extension position. As we get to lockout, the main mechanics that are now happening is lumbar extension. If we started with a neutral back to begin with, the goal of the lumbar spine is to aid in hip extension and isometrically stabilize its position through lockout. But when our starting position is off, the spinal erectors are now having to pull the lumbar spine out of flexion and into extension, doing way more work than usual.

Now, with all that being said, I want to circle back around to “lockout work”. People have sworn by it for decades, so it must work, right? Yes it does, but not for the reasons they typically think, nor should it be the priority. The number 1 priority is always improving positioning off the floor on deadlift, with a secondary goal of strengthening the lower back. When doing lockout work, people thought if they overloaded the range of motion they failed in, they’d get stronger. The issue is when you do a 4″ block pull or rack pull from just below the knees, you are not performing the same movement as your normal deadlift. And that is due to what I mentioned above, as your positioning is completely different. When performing the rack pull, most likely your are not tucking your pelvis and rounding your lumbar spine in the same way, so you are not training the sticking point in the same manner. What you are doing is training the lower back though. And as mentioned, the lower back is going to be called upon to a much greater degree when you suffer from this bad positioning. So that is why this “lockout work” helps, it strengthens the lower back.

My argument against this though is I believe there are better ways to strengthen the lower back rather than overloading lockout work, due to heavy overloaded rack pulls putting a high demand on the body. Instead, we can target the lower back with some less aggressive accessory movements such as back extensions, good mornings, safety bar squats, and bent over rows. So if you have a lockout problem, I’d recommend a two step approach:

1.) Improve your positioning off the floor to achieve neutrality in the pelvis and lumbar spine.

2.) Strengthen the lower back with more conservative exercises such as back extensions, good mornings, Safety Bar squats, and bent over rows/pendlay rows.

How to Properly Brace in the Squat

How to Properly Brace in the Squat

In my opinion the two biggest mistakes/misconceptions with bracing is that the bigger the breath the better and that the belt does the work for you. A bigger breath usually just means less intent for how the breath is used, and most likely results in a nice big chest breath and shoulder shrug. The second issue tends to be even worse, as a belt does not contract your abdominals. If all you are doing is breathing into your belt, you are just expanding your stomach, not bracing. I like the analogy that we are filling up a balloon. When you fill up a balloon it is not done by one big breath, it is done my multiple small breaths. So what I like to do is 3 small breaths. Each small breath expands the lungs and diaphragm further, and after each breath is taken you contract down with your core. It is almost like the abdominals are being use to try to crush the “balloon” being blown up inside of you. Now what does the belt’s purpose in all of this? An external cue to breathe into and for core contraction. We need 360 degree expansion into the belt, so that belt acts as a cue for the intent of each breath, as well as and external stimulus for muscle contraction. Think about if someone pushes their fist into your stomach. The natural reaction is to brace. That is what the belt is doing.

So putting this all together, here is the step by step bracing pattern/setup I use. After the walkout, contract their abs and lock down the ribcage. From there, take a small breath into the diaphragm to slowly fill that “balloon”. After that breath, lock down again with the abs. Then again, take another small breath to fill the ballon even further, then tighten the abs again. Then lastly, take a medium size breath to finish, which combined with the other two breaths in reality is a large breath, lock down the abs one final time, and squat. Sounds like a lot, but all of that should take less than 5 seconds. Its quick and small breaths. Not a relaxed meditation breath. Give this a try and let me know how it goes!