How to stretch your pecs without wrecking your shoulders

Don’t Do This

Sorry if this bursts your prehab bubble, but the use of “banded distraction” techniques has got to be debunked. It’s become popular to grab the thickest elastic band you can find, wrap it around a chosen joint (usually the shoulders, hips, or ankles) and stretch at extended end ranges under tension.

While this technique may work for some, most of the time the aggressive banded distraction plus end-range stretch does more harm than good.

The idea that a piece of rubber is strong enough to mobilize and alter the position of joints is a bit insane. Joints are encapsulated by thick and rigid non-contractile tissue, stabilized by more wire-like ligaments, and surrounded by multiple articulating layers of muscles and tendons, in addition to a dense fascial sheath lying above all of these structures.

And then there’s the three layers of dermal tissue and adipose tissue that exponentially decrease the transferability of a band to even reach, let alone alter, the joint’s movement.

This is the reason it may work for a select few. Band contact on skin may actually be the reason for many positive responses. Nerve roots that distribute from the spine run to both areas of the skin (dermotomes) and specific musculature (myotomes). The cool thing about the nervous system is that we can see cross linking between sensory and motor pathways, and use one to manipulate the other.

By the band touching dermotomes that correlate with underlying myotomes, contractile musculature (and dare I say fascia) can actually reduce tone, improving movement capacity. But again, this will NOT work for everyone.

I’m not saying never to mobilize and stretch with a band, but be smart about it. Structures like the hip and ankle are more resilient due to the size and stabilizing structural components to these regions. But when it comes to the shoulder, the most mobile joint in the body, there are better ways to unlock neural tightness and improve positions.

Do This

Reciprocal Eccentric/Concentric Pec Mobilization

  1. Place your hand and forearm in contact with a rack or immovable object. Elevate the shoulder to just above 90 degrees.
  2. From here, stagger your stance with your opposite foot from the elevated arm out in front. You’ll keep your shoulder, forearm, and hand in the same position throughout this drill using your body to generate the movement.
  3. Start by contracting your pecs to drive your body into rotation towards that elevated arm. Move slowly under maximal internal tension and control.
  4. Once you’ve hit end range, reciprocate the movement and move back in the opposite direction. The key here is to keep tension in the pec, and grade it back slightly so you’re stretching against your own tension, never getting into forced end ranges without control. Do this repeatedly for 45-75 seconds per side using a controlled breath.

The Details

Many lifters are correct: their chests are tight and need some attention. Where they miss the mark is the unlocking of the neural tone that’s prevalent in the front side of the shoulders after they’ve already addressed other postural regions like the thoracic spine and cage that respond extremely well when mobilized into extension and rotation.

Once the thoracic spine, cage, and shoulder blade show some semblance of function, the next region to address to combat chronic forward shoulders, dumped over scapulae, and even forward head posture is to address the pectoralis group.

A majority of injuries occur in ranges of motion that an athlete has access to, yet cannot actively stabilize. This is called the “motor control gap” and is a powerful way to objectify otherwise subjective practices like foam rolling, stretching, and corrective exercises.

For the pecs, that range of motion tends to be elevation above 90 degrees plus external rotation. This instable extended range of motion is the one most closely associated with front-sided shoulder pain. So instead of placing your shoulders into an inherently unstable position to stretch the pecs, you can create active tension around the shoulder and use a reciprocal tension technique.

This will improve positions of external rotation and horizontal abduction while keeping the shoulders in a safe and stabilized position.

by Dr John Rusin @t-nation

Tip: Don’t Cut Your Rest Periods Short

Short on time? Don’t rest less between sets or you’ll interfere with your gains. Try this instead.

Rest Periods and Gains

When you’re pressed for time, you’ll be tempted to cut your rest intervals short. Resist the urge! While it may seem like a time-saver, it’s actually a results-killer.

Consider that research shows that 3 minutes between sets is optimal for gaining strength and size (1), so when you short-change your rest times, you reduce the amount of weight you can lift and/or reps for your subsequent sets. As a result, you lower your volume load and decrease your gains.

But I’m Busy and Need a Faster Workout!

Instead of using insufficient rest intervals, try the late Charles Poliquin’s method of alternating between non-competing exercises. This system has been around for a long time, yet few people use it. That’s too bad, because when done correctly, you can cut your training time in half.

Instead of doing a set of bench press and then playing around on your phone for 3 or 4 or more minutes, place a heavy dumbbell next to the bench press. Then do this:

  • A1. Bench Press: Rest 45 seconds
  • A2. 1-Arm Dumbbell Row: Rest 45 seconds

Repeat for your desired number of rounds

If you prefer whole body training, you can also pair lower body hinge movements with upper body movements:

Hinge and Push Example

  • A1. Trap Bar Deadlift: Rest 60 seconds
  • A2. Dips: Rest 45 seconds

Squat and Pull Example

  • B1. Front Squat: Rest 60 seconds
  • B2. Chin-Up: Rest 45 seconds

This style of training only gives you time to record your set in your training journal, grab a quick swig of water, and get ready for your next set. This keeps you off your phone, which will improve your mental focus and create a better flow to your training session.


  1. Schoenfeld, BJ., et al. Longer inter-set rest periods enhance muscle strength and hypertrophy in resistance-trained men. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 2015, 30(7):1805-12. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001272.

Original article @T-nation

How Quickly You Lose Muscle


“You can lose up to a kg of lean body mass in just a week when you’re fully immobilized”

11% decrease in type II muscle fibre size in just 10 days of no exercise

This is primarily due to a drop in glycogen and water levels within muscle tissue and NOT actually a loss of muscle tissue

“muscle glycogen can decrease by 20% after just a week without training

“Muscle glycogen levels and water stores will quickly refill once you start training again”

“Taking a couple of weeks off from the gym won’t cause any significant muscle loss, just a decrease in glycogen”

After 3+ weeks of no training is when you’ll typically start to experience actual muscle & strength loss”

Maintenance calories equation
bodyweight (in lbs) x 15 (example: 170 lbs x 15 = ~2550 calories to maintain weight

1g of protein per lb of body weight to gain muscle

“you only need around 1/3rd of your original training volume to maintain muscle mass”

“A high-intensity full body workout 1 – 2 times per week is likely enough to maintain muscle mass”



Glycogen and decreased muscle size:…………

3+ weeks muscle loss:……

Maintenance calories and protein intake:…

Stay active:……

Lifting 3 Days a Week Is Best. More Gains. Less Gym!

mens health 4 - Copy

A Better Way to Lift Weights

One of the most fundamental decisions every lifter needs to make is how often he or she needs to train each week. A related question is how often each muscle or body part needs to be trained each week.

Train too often and you can’t recover. Don’t train enough and you regress to (or below) baseline between workouts. Obviously, this is an important programming factor! If you’re like most lifters, your ideal workout frequency is three times per week.

This recommendation contrasts sharply with a few of the more popular training styles practised today:

  • Squat Every Day: I’ve seen some compelling arguments made for the so-called “Bulgarian” approach by coaches I like and respect, but for reasons I’ll outline below, the high-frequency lifestyle is less than optimal for most.
  • Bro-Splits: This is where you have a leg day, a back day, an arm day, and so on. Everything gets hit roughly once a week. If you’re so damn big and strong that you need six days to recover from training a body part, then this is a great training structure. But assess yourself honestly – does your chest workout mess you up so badly that you need almost a week to recover? Probably not.
  • Push-Pull: This is the “next best” of these three examples, but two upper and two lower days per week probably isn’t enough frequency, unless you can bench over 350 and squat over 500. If you haven’t quite arrived at these numbers yet, you’ll be better off training each body part a bit more often.

Success Leaves Clues

If you haven’t done much research on the bodybuilding, weightlifting, and powerlifting stars of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, you might be more impressed than you expect.

Despite the relatively primitive state of drugs, nutritional science, and recovery modalities back then, there were plenty of strength and physique athletes who could give today’s stars a run for their money, guys like Franco Columbo, Anatoly Pisarenko, Bill Kazmaier, and Doug Young, just to name a handful.

That’s not to say all successful strength and physique athletes trained three days a week back in the day, but a lot of them did. And in fact, one of the most well-established and successful training routines of all time is the legendary “5×5” program by Bill Starr, which – you guessed it – used a three-day training structure.

This program (and variations of it) are the bread and butter of strength coach and T Nation contributor Mark Rippetoe, who specializes in beefing up young guys so fast that they’re often accused of juicing.

Who’s Best Suited For Training 3 Days A Week?

Probably you. Three training days a week tends to work best for guys between 185 and 225 (84 and 103kg) pounds with lifts in the following neighborhood:

  • Squat: 300-350 pounds (136 – 160kg)
  • Bench: 225-275 pounds (103 – 125kg)
  • Deadlift: 365-405 pounds (165 – 185kg)

If you’re significantly smaller and/or weaker than this, consider whole body workouts about four times a week or roughly every other day. If you’re stronger, go with the push/pull system. If you’re freakishly big and strong, go with the bro-split, bro.

There’s also a lifestyle consideration that impacts this decision. If you work a lot, especially in a physical job, or have high levels of stress or outside commitments, limiting your workouts to three a week will pay off in spades. Training is only beneficial if you can recover from it, and your workouts are only one form of stress you experience in the course of a day.

It should be noted that back in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, most occupations involved more physical labor than they do today. This is likely one big reason (along with fewer pharmaceuticals) why the three-day training schedule worked so well. So if you work construction, or are just on your feet all day at your job, three days a week will be a game changer.

Finally, remember that the law of diminishing returns applies to training frequency in an unmistakable way: Is training twice a week better than once a week? You bet. A lot better. Is three times a week better than two? Nearly all training experts would say yes. What about four times a week? Here’s where things begin to get “iffy.”

For some people yes, others no. But in either event, even if four is better than three, it’s likely only marginally better. So even if you doubt the premise that three sessions a week is better than four, you can’t as easily dismiss the efficiency of getting perhaps 90% of the payoff with 75% of the work.

With all of that in mind, a very practical litmus test to fine tune your training frequency is to look at your progress in the gym. If you’re working hard and getting results, you’re probably dialed in. On the other hand, if you’re busting tail and not making progress, this means you’re not recovering and should consider reducing your training frequency.

The Advantages Of Training 3 Days A Week

1 – Greater Frequency

All else being equal, the more you can disperse your training volume over a greater number of sessions, the better you’re likely to do.

If we compare three days a week with the push/pull system for instance, you’ll notice something interesting. Let’s say you typically do 4 working sets for chest, and of course, on the push/pull system, that means 8 sets a week per chest exercise.

When you shift to a whole-body, three days-a-week structure, you’re now using 12 sets a week, since you’ll now be training chest three days instead of two. That’s a 50% increase. Seems significant, right? And what’s more important, if you’re benching in the 225-275 range, is you’re probably going to recover in two days, not three to four.

If you don’t repeat the training stimulus as soon as you’re recovered, you’ll lose a bit of ground. Week by week, month by month, this adds up to a lot of lost ground.

2 – Better Recovery

When you lift three days a week, by definition, you’re recovering four days a week. Juxtapose this with the earlier point about training more frequently and you begin to see the magic. You actually train each body part more often, while simultaneously allowing for more recovery. That’s tough to beat.

By “recovery” I mean passive and (possibly even better) active recovery. You could simply rest on your four off days, or do complementary activities such as cardio, foam rolling, mobility work, and so on. When you train on a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule, you can schedule these restorative activities on Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday, and then take Sunday totally off if you like.

3 – Better Compliance

In a recent interview, certified freak of nature and self-proclaimed “World’s Strongest Bodybuilder” Stan Efferding stated that consistency is at the top of the list when it comes to training considerations.

He meant that no matter how “optimal” a given system or approach is, if you can’t or won’t do it consistently, it’s not going to pay off. Training three days a week allows time for a life outside of lifting – weekends off with the family, time for other hobbies, and enough energy to attend to life’s responsibilities without becoming overwhelmed. Consider this if life stress is affecting your workouts.


How It Looks

When you train thrice a week, you’ll be doing whole-body workouts, meaning, you’ll train both upper and lower body in each session. These workouts can (and usually should) be a tad longer than what you’d use if you were training more frequently. Here’s what a sample training week might look like:


  • Split Squat
  • Flat Dumbbell Bench
  • Romanian Deadlift
  • Close-Grip Pulldown
  • Standing Dumbbell Curl
  • Lying Triceps Extension


  • Pull-Up
  • Back Extension
  • Bench Press
  • Hack Squat
  • Triceps Pushdown
  • Low Cable Curl


  • Deadlift
  • T-Bar Row
  • Front Squat
  • Incline Dumbbell Press
  • EZ-Bar Curl
  • Standing Calf Raise

Notice a few things about this hypothetical example:

  • The first four movements in each session represent the four primary patterns for strength and hypertrophy development (squat, push, hinge, and pull). The last two exercises in each workout are “optional” movements – things you like to do, or should be doing, that don’t fit neatly into the four patterns.
  • These could be anything from direct arm, calf, or ab work, to weighted carries, power cleans, box jumps, or whatever else might fit your needs and circumstances. There’s lots of flexibility here, so take advantage.
  • The overriding point is this: If you train the four “big” patterns three times a week each, you’ll be stimulating a lot of muscular territory, with the fewest possible number of exercises, with minimal redundancy. In other words, maximum return for your training dollar.
  • In each “neighboring” workout, the exercises selected for each primary pattern are as dissimilar as possible. If you do a vertical pull and a horizontal push on Monday, you’ll do a horizontal pull and a vertical push on Wednesday. Since fatigue is specific, varying exercises as much as possible (within the confines of the given template) will allow you to recover faster, and you’ll also be less prone to pattern-overload (overuse) injuries.
  • In a Monday/Wednesday/Friday setup, you’ll have more recovery time after the Friday session than you’ll have after the Monday and Wednesday workouts. For this reason, place the most damaging exercises – the ones that will require the most recovery – on Friday.
  • For me, this means deadlifts, but for you it might be something else. I also tend to be more willing to go hard on the optionals on Friday, knowing I’ve got more days to heal up. So you might use that day for weighted carries or something similarly masochistic.
  • The Friday session can also be shifted to Saturday with minimal (if any) negative effect on the overall program. So if you’re more sore than you anticipated on Friday, or if an unexpected interruption crops up, you’ve got enough flexibility to make adjustments with no repercussions.

Adding “Supportive” Activities To This Template

Lifting is a bit like cooking in that it results in a great meal, but also a messy kitchen. For many lifters, your off days are best spent working on cleaning the kitchen before it’s time to cook again.

In my own case, I love to bench and tend to be a bit kyphotic, so I spend time doing mobility drills for my upper back, chest, and shoulders on my non-lifting days, and I also do a fair bit of walking just to move some blood around and burn a few calories.

If fat loss is a big part of your goal, those off days are the best time to do formal cardio to accelerate energy expenditure and fat loss. If you’re a recreational athlete, use your non-lifting days to practice your sport of choice. Lots of possibilities here. Explore them all.

Now Make It Your Own

If you’re working hard without satisfactory results while training four or more days a week, or if you have a physically demanding occupation, or just have a lot of responsibilities and stresses in life, give this approach an honest run.

Remember, there’s a lot of room for customization with this template, regardless of whether you’re a weightlifter, bodybuilder, powerlifter, strongman athlete, or just a serious recreational lifter. Just apply this template and its foundational principles to your own situation.

Charles Staley is an accomplished strength coach who specializes in helping older athletes reclaim their physicality and vitality. At age 56, Charles is leaner than ever, injury free, and in his lifetime best shape. His PRs include a 400-pound squat, 510-pound deadlift, and a 17 chin-up max. 

Original article by Charles Staley@t-nation

Listening to music while exercising activates specific brain regions — and could help stave off fatigue

brain scan

New neuroimaging research sheds light on how music can help people shield themselves from feelings of fatigue while exercising. The study, published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology, found that listening to music while exercising was linked to increased activity in a particular brain region.

“As a researcher I have always been interested in unravelling psychophysiological mechanisms. The effects of music on exercise have been systematically investigated for more than 100 years, and we are still not completely sure how music enhances exercise performance, assuages fatigue, and elicits positive affective responses,” said study author Marcelo Bigliassi of Brunel University London.

“I have spent the past decade trying to answer this research question and, finally, after a series of fNIRS (functional near-infrared spectroscopy)EEG (electroencephalography), and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) experiments, we can now understand how music is processed in the brain during exercise.”

In the study of 19 healthy adults, participants laid down in an MRI scanner and exercised using a hand strengthener grip ring. The participants executed 30 exercise sets, which each lasted for 10 minutes. During some of these sets, the participants listened to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine.

Bigliassi and his colleagues found that the presence of music was associated with greater excitement during exercise along with an increase in thoughts that were unrelated to the task. They also observed changes in a particular region of the brain.

“Music is a very powerful auditory stimulus and can be used to assuage negative bodily sensations that usually arise during exercise-related situations. This psychophysical response is triggered by an attentional mechanism that will ultimately result in a more efficacious control of the musculature,” Bigliassi told PsyPost.

“What we have identified in this study was that the left inferior frontal gyrus activates (see the Figure below) when individuals exercise in the presence of music. This region of the brain appears to be a hub of sensory integration, processing information from external and internal sources (e.g., music and limb discomfort, respectively).”

“Increased activation of this region was negatively correlated with exertional responses, meaning that the more active this region the less fatigue participants experienced,” Bigliassi said. “It is important to emphasise that the practical implications of this study might be very similar to other applied studies in the field of sport and exercise. However, unravelling these mechanisms can actually open a new avenue for scientific investigation into the effects of sensory modulation on attentional responses and subsequent fatigue-related sensations.”

“For example, it is possible that other forms of stimulation (e.g., electrical) could lead to a series of domino reactions that might facilitate the execution of movements performed at moderate-to-high intensities and lessen fatigue. This could be used during the most critical periods of the exercise regimen, when high-risk individuals are more likely to disengage from physical activity programmes (e.g., individuals with obesity, diabetes, and etc.).”

Another of Bigliassi’s studies used portable EEG technology to find that listening to music while walking reduced focus but increased energy levels and enjoyment. The effects were associated with an increase in beta waves in the frontal and frontal-central regions of the cortex.

But Bigliassi does not want to overstate the positive effects of music.

“I have some practical concerns about the exaggerated use of music and other forms of stimulation during exercise that are relevant to share. This is because, as humans, we are constantly trying to escape from reality and, also, escape from all forms of physical discomfort/pain,” he explained.

“We have learnt so much about the psychophysical, psychological, and psychophysiological effects of music in the past two decades that people are almost developing a peculiar form of stimulus dependence. If we continue to promote the unnecessary use of auditory and visual stimulation, the next generation might be no longer able to tolerate fatigue-related symptoms and exercise in the absence of music.”

“My view is that music and audiovisual stimuli can and should be used and promoted, but with due care,” Bigliassi said. “We should, perhaps, learn more about the joys of physical activity and develop methods/techniques to cope with the detrimental effects of fatigue (i.e., learn how to listen to our bodies and respect our biomechanical and physiological limitations).”


The study, “Cerebral effects of music during isometric exercise: An fMRI study“, Marcelo Bigliassi, Costas I. Karageorghis, Daniel T. Bishop, Alexander V. Nowicky, and Michael J. Wright.



Original article by @psypost

Slow Reps vs. Fast Reps


Repetition speed – how fast you lift a weight and how fast you lower a weight – has always been somewhat of a controversy among lifters.

Some say that the eccentric, or lowering phase, is everything when it comes to hypertrophy and the concentric, or lifting phase, is everything when it comes to strength. And there are plenty of really annoying guys who don’t know the difference between the two phases, don’t give a shit, and still grow.

But all you have to do is use a bit of Sherlock Holmesian deduction the next time you go in the gym. You’ll likely observe that many of the guys who lift purely for speed, strength, and explosivity don’t look as muscular as many of the bodybuilders, who, at least some of the time, play around with their lifting speeds.

Slow Reps vs. Fast Reps

It’s undeniable – despite the success of the annoying guys who grow regardless of what they do – that lifting speed alters important factors affecting hypertrophy and strength development; things like time under tension, muscle activation, and metabolic and hormonal responses.

How much does speed alter strength and hypertrophy? Scientists in Sao Paulo, Brazil, say “slow speed” reps can help you build muscle up to 3 times faster than “fast speed” lifting. However, in a surprising twist of accepted lifting principles, they also found that slow speed lifts can progress strength up to five times faster than fast-speed reps.

How They Proved It

The scientists rounded up 12 experienced male lifters and got them to do Scott curls twice a week for 12 weeks. Half of the men performed “slow speed” reps where they lifted the weight in one second, but lowered it over the course of three seconds.

The other half did “fast speed” reps where they took a second to lift the weight and a second to lower the weight.

The workouts consisted of the standard 3 sets of 8 reps (of which the 8th rep constituted failure). As far as testing methods, they employed ultrasound examination of cross-sectional area of the brachialis biceps muscle, along with before and after 1-rep curl maxes of each of the test subjects.

After 12 weeks, the men in the slow speed group showed nearly five times the progression of strength than that shown by the fast speed lifters. The slow speed lifters also built three times as much muscle as the fast speed lifters.

Does That Mean You Should Always Go Slow?

The results, while hugely impressive, don’t necessarily mean you should automatically turn into Eddy Eccentric and measure your sets in geological time. Instead, the lesson should be that it’s a great idea to periodically employ slow tempo lifting into your workouts for periods perhaps as long as 12 weeks, after which you can go back to faster tempos for a while.


  1. Pereira, et al. “Resistance training with slow speed of movement is better for hypertrophy and muscle strength gains than fast speed of movement,” International Journal of Applied Exercise Physiology, Vol. 5, No. 2.



East European Bodybuilding

Muscle mass secrets from the old countries

by Christian Thibaudeau |


Big Bad Europeans

The more you’re involved in the world of strength training, the more you get to meet interesting people and learn new training methods. Last year I attended the Weider International Grand Prix of Canada, a bodybuilding contest organized by the Quebec Federation that included several of the world’s best amateur bodybuilders from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, France, Poland, etc.

What’s interesting is that these countries aren’t under the same influence as North American lifters. They haven’t been contaminated by muscle rag propaganda. Rather, their methods are heavily influenced by the training of their Olympic lifters and powerlifters. In some cases, athletes from all three sports train together and some even compete in two or all three of these events!

So when you get to know these guys and learn how they train, you realize there’s more than one way to get big, and you don’t need to follow the 3 x 10 dogma to do it!

This is obviously a high quality physique. What makes it even more impressive is the fact that this particular athlete had just started his preparation for the World Championships that were to be held three months later. So he wasn’t even in top form in this photo!

Needless to say, these guys know how to train for size. But exactly what are they doing? The following will explain their training system and how it can be adapted to fit the North American lifestyle.


1 – Intensification/Accumulation Split Training

These athletes have two training sessions per day (on the days they train). The morning session is a high load workout, while the early evening (or afternoon) session is an “intensive” workout.

Don’t confuse “intensive” with intensity strength training jargon. Intensity normally refers to the weight used (e.g. an intensity of 90% of your 1RM). Intensive means the use of advanced intensity techniques such as supersets, drop sets, forced reps, etc.

The heavy session is performed first when the CNS is fresh and ready to go. That’s a very important point. At least 4-6 hours separate both workouts to allow the athlete enough time to use restorative measures and ingest two or three meals.


2 – Mornings Are For Strength

In the morning session, train for strength. East European countries have a large background of Olympic lifting and this is reflected in the training of their bodybuilders. The bodybuilding coaches (they do have a national coach and a whole organized coaching system for their top athletes) were often old Olympic lifters. The same could be said about some of their athletes.

While they don’t perform the Olympic lifts in their first session, they do employ an Olympic lifting mentality of using few movements (two or three) performed for a lot of sets of few reps, normally above 85% of the athlete’s maximum. This training session serves several purposes:

  • It greatly increases muscle density and hardness (myogenic tone or “tonus”).
  • It can enhance neural efficiency, especially the capacity to recruit high threshold motor units. This means that subsequent bodybuilding-type training will be more effective since the body now has the capacity to recruit more muscle fibers.
  • It can increase muscle size in its own right.

East European bodybuilders use what they call the “basic exercise” for each body part and will rarely change it. The basic movements are:

  • Quadriceps – Front Squat
  • Hamstrings – Romanian Deadlift
  • Pectorals – Bench Press
  • Shoulders – Push Press, Upright Rowing
  • Back – Barbell Rowing
  • Biceps – Barbell Curl (even slightly cheated)
  • Triceps – Close-Grip Bench Press

Day 1

  • A. Front Squat
  • Week 1: 7 x 4
  • Week 2: 5/4/3/5/4/3
  • Week 3: 3/2/1/3/2/1
  • 3 minutes of rest between sets
  • B. Romanian Deadlift
  • Week 1: 7 x 4
  • Week 2: 5/4/3/5/4/3
  • Week 3: 3/2/1/3/2/1
  • 3 minutes of rest between sets


Day 2

  • A. Bench Press
  • Week 1: 7 x 4
  • Week 2: 5/4/3/5/4/3
  • Week 3: 3/2/1/3/2/1
  • 3 minutes of rest between sets
  • B. Close-Grip Bench Press
  • Week 1: 7 x 4
  • Week 2: 5/4/3/5/4/3
  • Week 3: 3/2/1/3/2/1
  • 3 minutes of rest between sets

Day 3

  • A. Barbell Rowing
  • Week 1: 7 x 4
  • Week 2: 5/4/3/5/4/3
  • Week 3: 3/2/1/3/2/1
  • 3 minutes of rest between sets
  • B. Barbell Curl
  • Week 1: 7 x 4
  • Week 2: 5/4/3/5/4/3
  • Week 3: 3/2/1/3/2/1
  • 3 minutes of rest between sets

Day 4

  • A. Push press
  • Week 1: 7 x 4
  • Week 2: 5/4/3/5/4/3
  • Week 3: 3/2/1/3/2/1
  • 3 minutes of rest between sets
  • B. Upright rowing (shoulder width grip)
  • Week 1: 7 x 4
  • Week 2: 5/4/3/5/4/3
  • Week 3: 3/2/1/3/2/1
  • 3 minutes of rest between sets



3 – Evenings Are For “The Pump”

In the early evening session, train for “the pump.” Well, the objective isn’t the pump per se; it simply means that in the second workout of the day, the methods used are high-volume and high-density (a lot of work performed per unit of time).

Rest intervals are kept as short as possible and density training techniques such as supersets, pre-fatigue, post-fatigue and drop sets are used, as well as intensity techniques such as slow eccentrics, isometrics combined with regular reps and forced reps. (If you’re unfamiliar with those techniques, checkout my Violent Variations series.)

If the AM workout rarely changes as far as exercises, volume and methods go, it’s quite the opposite for the PM session. Basically, in the first session of the day you train to get as strong as possible, while in the second workout you try to trash the muscles. So, exercise selection and training methods can vary widely. However, the key is to keep a fast training pace and use intensity or density techniques.

A sample week of PM training could look like this:

Day 1

  • A. Back Squat
  • 3 x 12-15
  • Use the double contraction (11/2) technique: go down to a full squat, get halfway up, go back down then stand up. That’s one rep.
  • 2 minutes of rest between sets
  • B1. Leg Extension
  • 1 x 20, 1 x 15, 1 x 12, 1 x 10
  • Hold a 2 second peak contraction on each rep
  • No rest
  • B2. Leg Curl
  • 1 x 10 – 5 – 5 *
  • 1 x 8 – 4 – 4
  • 1 x 6 – 3 – 3
  • 2 minutes of rest

* These are rest-pause sets. Perform the first number of reps, take 10 seconds of rest, perform the second number of reps, take 10 seconds of rest, then perform the third number of reps. You use the same weight for all three mini-sets within the same rest-pause set.

Day 2

  • A1. Incline Bench Press
  • 1 x 10, 1 x 8, 1 x 6, 1 x 20
  • Post-fatigue method
  • No rest
  • A2. Incline Cable Flies
  • 4 x 12-15
  • Hold a 3 second peak contraction on each rep
  • 2 minutes of rest
  • B1. Lying Barbell Triceps Extension
  • 1 x 10, 1 x 8, 1 x 6, 1 x 20
  • Post-fatigue method
  • No rest
  • B2. Standing Cable Triceps Extension
  • 4 x 12-15
  • Hold a 3 second peak contraction on each rep
  • 2 minutes of rest

Day 3

  • A1. Lat Pulldown
  • 4 x 8-10
  • Hold a 3 second peak contraction on each rep
  • No rest
  • A2. Seated Rowing
  • 4 x 12-15
  • Hold a 3 second peak contraction on each rep
  • 2 minutes of rest
  • B1. Preacher Straight-Bar Curl
  • 4 x 12-15
  • Use the double contraction (11/2) technique: go down until the arms are fully extended, get halfway up, go back down, then curl the bar completely. That’s one rep.
  • No rest
  • B2. Reverse Grip Barbell Curl
  • 4 x 8-10 + max iso
  • Perform 8 to 10 reps then hold the bar in the mid-range portion of the movement for as long as possible.
  • 2 minutes of rest

Day 4

  • A. Seated Dumbbell Press
  • 4 x 12-15
  • Use the double contraction (1 1/2) technique: go halfway up, go back down, then lift the dumbbells completely. That’s one rep.
  • 2 minutes of rest
  • B1. Lateral Raise
  • 3 x 21s: 7 full reps, 7 top range reps, 7 low range reps
  • No rest
  • B2. Bent Over Lateral Raise
  • 4 x 12-15
  • Hold a 3 second peak contraction on each rep
  • 2 minutes of rest
  • C. Power Shrug
  • 4 x 8-10
  • 1 minute of rest

A week of training would look like this:

  • Monday: Day 1 exercises
  • Tuesday: OFF/Restorative measures (See my article 7 Secrets to Rapid Recovery to learn about the best restorative measures.)
  • Wednesday: Day 2 exercises
  • Thursday: Abdominals/Restorative measures
  • Friday: Day 3 exercises
  • Saturday: Day 4 exercises
  • Sunday: OFF/Restorative measures

Training twice per day might seem like a lot, but the actual training volume is very similar to a regular bodybuilding workout, except that this volume is divided into two daily sessions. This makes it even harder to overtrain. Plus, there are three days per week without strength training.

Restorative measures are included three times per week also. So, if you follow this plan exactly, the potential for overtraining is actually relatively low. Where there can be a problem is when people try to do more volume at each session (e.g. performing four exercises in the morning and adding a few more in the evening). In this particular case, more isn’t better.


North-American Lifestyle Adaptations

Not everyone has the luxury of training twice a day. If you work forty hours per week, or are a full-time student it could be hard. Fortunately, there’s a way to adapt the principles of this training program to suit your own schedule.

Obviously, if you don’t have any time restrictions, following the original plan would work very well for you. But just in case, here are some other options:


Option #1: The Grouped Workout

This is the simplest option: you group the morning and evening sessions into a single workout.

The heavy sets are obviously performed first. Once this segment of the training program is completed, you take a 15 minute break and ingest a serving of Surge®. Why? Because performing both workouts within the same training session will run you longer than 60 minutes and we want to avoid a catabolic-dominant situation.

By taking in nutrients and resting a short moment you can prevent cortisol from ramping up too high, which will allow for a much more effective workout.

For example, Day 1 would look like this:

Day 1

  • A. Front Squat
  • Week 1: 7 x 4
  • Week 2: 5/4/3/5/4/3
  • Week 3: 3/2/1/3/2/1
  • 3 minutes of rest between sets
  • B. Romanian Deadlift
  • Week 1: 7 x 4
  • Week 2: 5/4/3/5/4/3
  • Week 3: 3/2/1/3/2/1
  • 3 minutes of rest between sets
  • Take a 15 minute break and a serving of Surge.
  • C. Back Squat
  • 3 x 12-15
  • Use the double contraction (1 1/2) technique: go down to a full squat, get halfway up, go back down, then stand up. That’s one rep.
  • 2 minutes of rest between sets
  • D1. Leg Extension
  • 1 x 20, 1 x 15, 1 x 12, 1 x 10
  • Hold a 2 second peak contraction on each rep
  • No rest
  • D2. Leg curl
  • 1 x 10 – 5 – 5
  • 1 x 8 – 4 – 4
  • 1 x 6 – 3 – 3

This first option is the easiest to plan, but I’ll be honest with you: it can be brutal. The lower body day is especially gruelling. So it isn’t the most effective way to train if you have either a low work capacity or are extremely fast-twitch dominant. However, workhorses and slow-twitch dominant individuals can normally use this approach.


Option #2: The Crossed Workout

This is similar to the first approach in that you perform both types of workouts at the same training session. The difference is that you don’t train the same muscle groups during the two different segments of the training session. For example:

  • Day 1: Intensification lower body/Accumulation shoulders
  • Day 2: Intensification chest/Accumulation arms
  • Day 3: Intensification arms/Accumulation back
  • Day 4: Intensification shoulders/Accumulation lower body
  • Day 5: Intensification back/Accumulation chest

Ideally you’d switch to an eight-day cycle to keep the same training days/rest days ratio. So a training cycle becomes:

  • Monday: Day 1
  • Tuesday: OFF/Restorative measures
  • Wednesday: Day 2
  • Thursday: Abdominals/Restorative measures
  • Friday: Day 3
  • Saturday: OFF/Restorative measures
  • Sunday: Day 4
  • Monday: OFF/Restorative measures
  • Tuesday: Day 1
  • Wednesday: OFF/Restorative measures
  • Thursday: Day 2
  • Friday: OFF/Restorative measures
  • Saturday: Day 3
  • Sunday: OFF/Restorative measures
  • Monday: Day 4
  • Etc.



Option #3: The Pendulum Organization

Those of you who are familiar with my pendulum approach know that it alternates the nature of the training program every week. It can be used with this bodybuilding approach:

  • Week 1: Perform the intensification workouts
  • Week 2: Perform the accumulation workouts
  • Week 3: Perform the intensification workouts
  • Week 4: Perform the accumulation workouts
  • Week 5: Perform the intensification workouts
  • Week 6: Perform the accumulation workouts

You keep the same training schedule as in the original plan:

  • Monday: Day 1 (lower body)
  • Tuesday: OFF/Restorative measures
  • Wednesday: Day 2 (chest and triceps)
  • Thursday: Abdominals/Restorative measures
  • Friday: Day 3 (back and biceps)
  • Saturday: Day 4 (shoulders)
  • Sunday: OFF/Restorative measures




This type of training has obviously built several rock-hard physiques. (You have to see these guys to get the full impact!) If properly applied it’ll do the same for you. Not to mention, this type of training will build as much strength as it will muscle size! Try it!

The Best Exercises. Period.


Here’s what you need to know…

  1. Nothing will make you yoked like the snatch-grip high pull.
  2. While using a Prowler is great for fat loss and building muscle, the farmer’s walk with a trap bar is better.
  3. The bench press is not the best exercise to build the pectoral muscles. It’s the dip.
  4. The best exercise to use as a test for power, speed, and explosiveness isn’t the 40-yard dash or the vertical jump, it’s the underhand forward medicine ball throw.

One cautionary note before you jump into this list of favorites. I’m assuming you’re using proper form on all of them. A great movement can be turned into something totally worthless if not done properly.

1 – Best Exercise to Make You Look “Yoked”

The yoked look comes from the “shoulder pad” area. It’s the size and thickness of the delts, traps, and mid-back. They’re the muscles that make you look visually intimidating and scream power.

Nothing will build those like the snatch-grip high pull from the hang or blocks. I’ve had people contact me saying that it changed the way their body looked in as little as two or three workouts!

For the high pull, focus on exploding upwards with the lower body and hips to create upward momentum. Then pull the barbell violently toward your neck – anywhere between the nipple line and neck constitutes a high pull. Keep the bar close and the elbows high.

  • To gain massive size:  Do sets of 3 to 5 reps.

2 – Best Exercise To Get You Ripped

Deadsquat Bar Carry

While some love the Prowler or sled to keep fat at bay, I prefer the farmer’s walk or Dead-Squat™ Bar carry. Why? Two reasons:

1 – You’re less likely to be limited by metabolic factors.

The Prowler causes the greatest oxygen debt in the least amount of time. This is in part due to the high demands of the exercise, but also because it’s hard to breathe when pushing the bastard!

While the farmer’s walk is also metabolically demanding, at least you can breathe properly when you do it. As such, you can carry big weights for longer than you can prowl big weights and you recover faster between sets. That allows for a greater density of work, which is important when trying to get as lean as possible.

2 – The farmer’s walk involves a greater number of muscles.

The Prowler might hit the legs a little harder, but you don’t get the same traps, arms, and abs involvement as the farmer’s walk.

You will also experience growth in those muscles because of the occluded stretch you create, which makes the farmer’s walk a bigger bang-for-your-buck movement.

  • For fat loss:  Bouts of 2 minutes with 1 minute of rest.
  • To build muscle and lose fat:  Go heavier for 1 minute with one minute of rest.
  • To build size/strength while keeping fat gain at bay:  Go very heavy for 20-30 seconds with up to 2 minutes of rest between sets.

3 – Best Exercise To Be A Solid Power Athlete

The power snatch from the hang. A power athlete is someone competing in sports requiring a high level of speed and explosiveness like football, sprinting, throwing, or jumping events.

Power Snatch

If you do them properly, the power snatch from the hang is also one of the best tests of your athletic capacity. Of all the lifting exercises, it’s the one with the highest power production level. It also requires good overall coordination and full shoulder mobility.

The power clean from the hang would have been a good choice too, since the power produced is also very high, but you get higher acceleration and rate of force development and peak velocity in the power snatch – all elements that are key to ultimate performance in explosive sports.

The power snatch is obviously a complex lift. Remember my cautionary note – if you can’t do a movement properly, it’s not the best for you.

  • To build maximum power and explosiveness:  Use a load that’s 70-80% of your 1RM. We want all reps to be violently explosive, so sets of 2-3 reps are best.

4 – Best Exercise To Build A Big Chest

The dip builds the best pecs.

John Schlect Dips

The best exercises for individual body parts can vary from one person to the next because of leverages or muscle dominances. But the chest is one exception. And while most people think the bench press builds the best pecs, most people are wrong.

To this day I haven’t met one person who was very strong on dips (in perfect form) who didn’t have a very good chest, but I have seen my fair share of big bench pressers with very ordinary pecs.

The first sign of a good/bad dip is body swing. Those who aren’t doing the dip properly tend to have their torso and legs moving during the exercise, whereas those who are very good at dips seem to have their torso and legs fixed on a sliding rail.

Another sign is whether the shoulders stay in the pocket or not. Bad dippers (and those who get shoulder problems from dips) often allow their shoulders to move forward and up relative to their torso when they go down. If you took a picture of only their shoulders, it would look like they were doing a shrug.

When you dip down you should flare your lats – think of rubbing the inner part of your upper arm against the lats – and “open up” the chest, not unlike during a bench press.

  • To build a big chest:  Do full-range dips with an additional load of 50% bodyweight for 6-8 reps.

5 – Best Exercise To Get Strong

Talk to every competitive strongman and ask him what his most important barbell lift is, and 9 times out of 10, you’ll get one answer: the deadlift.


No movement transfers better to strength than picking things up from the floor and carrying stuff with your hands, the two most important tasks in strongman competitions.

Even back in the 1800s during the golden age of strongmen, the ultimate test of strength was how much weight you could lift off the floor (using two hands, one hand, or one finger). In even earlier days, the strongest man in the village was the one who could pick up the heaviest stone.

Lifting a big weight off the floor requires greater overall strength than all other simple actions, so it’s not surprising that the deadlift is the king of lifts for strongmen.

Becoming strong in the deadlift is the best way for 90% of the population to become strong overall. The reason? The effect it has on strengthening the nervous system. This, in turn, increases your strength potential everywhere else, too.

  • To build maximum strength:  I like doing a deadlift workout that I saw Canadian strongest man Jean-Francois Caron do. He would max out on rack deadlifts (bar starting just below the knees) and then do 6 sets of 3 reps of floor deadlifts. Caron has deadlifted over 900 pounds for reps, so it’s hard to find fault with this plan!

6 – Best Exercise For The Time Constrained

If you only had time to do one session of 10 minutes per week and could only do one lift, what would you do? I’d do 5 sets of 3-5 reps on the clean and press – specifically a power clean from the hang followed by a push press – with about 60-75 seconds of rest between sets.

CT Cleans

The clean and press involves to some degree most, if not all, the muscles in the body. I’m not saying that it will work everything optimally, but you can at least stimulate all of your muscles to some extent.

It can also help get you leaner because it has a high-energy demand, involves so many muscle groups, and requires a high velocity of movement.

  • To build or maintain muscle size and burn fat:  Do 5 sets of 3-5 reps. More than that and it turns into a metabolic conditioning exercise.

7 – Best Exercise To Test Athleticism

When you’re a strength coach working with groups of athletes you often have to test your athletes to know where they are and who has the most potential. Coaches will use tons of tests and the testing of a team will often take 4 hours or more.

When it comes to an athlete in football, hockey, basketball, or baseball, the test that has the highest correlation with athletic potential isn’t the 40-yard dash or vertical jump, but the underhand forward medicine ball throw.

The 40-yard dash is of course a very popular choice, but nowadays it’s more about technique and beating the test than pure athletic capacities. The vertical jump is a little bit less technique dependent, but it doesn’t involve the upper body that much (about 10-15%) so it’s less complete than the underhand throw.

  • To test an athlete for potential:  Have them swing the ball between their legs and throw it forward as far as they can. The weight of the ball should be 10-12 pounds. A 15-meter throw (16.4 yards) is a decent result, while 19 meters (20.7 yards) would be excellent.

Source –

As Strong As Your Weakest Pattern!

Think about movement. We reason in terms of flexion, extension and so on… We think of how the shoulder moves… and then we think of the hip.


We dissect the body with great skill yet the athletes that we work with move in unison.

In recent years, some authors have popularized the concept of muscular chains and it definitely is a step in the right direction. Thomas Myers is one of them and did a great job with his book Anatomy Trains.

That being said, if drawing up muscle chains can point to the right direction as far as where is a movement breaking down, it does not actually inform us of why.

Muscle Chains

And then, there is the notion of motor patterns. They are the foundational movements. They are the first movements we perform. They are the origin of our raison d’être.

These motor patterns are initially reflexive and some develop in utero. It would then make sense to think that the biochemical environment of the mother while she is pregnant affects the potential for performance of the future superstar athlete.


I will present 2 of these reflexes that develop in utero and how, if not well integrated, they can affect performance.



Reflex 1: Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex

The Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex is a primitive reflex that appears at birth and is usually integrated by 6 to 12 months of age.

tonic reflex

During year 1, when lying on his back, a child tilting his head back will normally lead to and automatic stiffening and arching of the back. Simultaneously, the legs then stiffen and the shoulders adduct with retraction.

This is a great example of the establishment of a muscle chain that is key for posture and strength of the extensor chain.

As of 1 year of age, if the reflex is well integrated, the child should have good recruitment of the posterior chain. He is then a future accomplished dead lifter!



Reflex 2: Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex

The Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex is yet another primitive reflex in newborns that usually disappears around 6 months of age. It is also know as the fencing reflex.

asymmetrical tonic neck reflex

When turning the face of the child to one side, you find extension of the arm and leg on the side of head rotation. On the other side of the body, you find flexion of the arm and the leg.

In utero, the reflex is important to develop muscle tone and the vestibular system. The vestibular system is the system per excellence to provide stability while moving. It is imperative for athletes that seek performance in less than ideal conditions.

The Asymmetrical Tonic Reflex also provides an excellent opportunity to develop hand-eye coordination. Hand-eye coordination is, obviously, vital to most sports where muscle chains find their origin with the musculature of the eyes.


In conclusion, I believe it is important to assess both posture and movement. After all, posture’s origin is how we have integrated or not these very patterns and since posture is movement, it is an invaluable piece of data to collect and optimize for the best performance!


Deconstructing the Deadlift

A Deep Analysis of Proper Deadlift Mechanics


Here’s what you need to know…

  1. “Rigid body” analysis – where the shape and dimensions of a body are considered to be constant and undeformable regardless of the forces applied to it – is useful in the analysis of complex human movement, like the deadlift.
  2. The Standard Pulling Position is where the bar travels up the legs in a vertical line over the middle of the foot. The shoulders stay just forward of the bar until the top of the pull.
  3. The most efficient way to pull a barbell is straight up. Always.
  4. A correct deadlift will start with the bar about one inch from the shin, placed with the shin in a perfectly vertical position.
  5. The heavier the weight the more efficient the pull must be. Warm-ups can be done “wrong,” as can rows, cleans, snatches, and anything else with a light weight.
  6. Looking up when deadlifting is a common mistake.
  7. The alternating grip allows you to pull more, but it can cause injuries.


“Rigid Body” Analysis

The human skeleton is the system of levers that we use to interact with our physical environment.

It’s operated by a system of “motors” – little tension engines called “muscles” that operate the levers of the skeleton by generating a contractile force.

The details of the operation of this physical system can therefore be understood through analysis, and these details can be as complex or as general as the level of the analysis.

With more than 600 muscles and 200 bones, things can get very weird. Or they can be rendered understandable by pulling back a little and viewing the system as a chain of segments that transmit the force generated by the groups of muscles that operate them.

Running, jumping, throwing, swimming, and hitting a ball are fantastically complex activities if all of the constituent muscles and bones must be enumerated, each of their contributions to the functioning kinetic chain considered, and their individual force-production/transmission roles calculated.

It’s not only impossible with our current instrumentation, it’s rather pointless, because enumerating the individual contributions of the forearm muscles and bones of the wrist to a racquetball serve don’t help us serve the ball, or learn how to do it better.

Movements become analyzable if you consider them at the macro level – the functional segments of the body operating against the resistance of the implement or the ground, and the primary muscles responsible for their operation.

The concept of “rigid body” analysis – where the shape and dimensions of a body are considered to be constant and undeformable regardless of the forces applied to it – is useful in the analysis of complex human movement.

A stride in a sprint is a hip/knee extension with a contralateral hip/knee flexion. The kinetic relationships of the feet, shank, thigh, trunk, and arms are complex enough without having to enumerate the roles of their constituent components.


In coaching the sprint we’re primarily concerned with the force production and transmission relationships of the segments themselves, and we’re less concerned with their internal components.

It’s important to understand what the calf muscles, quads, hamstrings, glutes and adductors, spinal erectors, and shoulder girdle muscles are doing, because this understanding informs us about force production within the functional segments.

It isn’t as important to detail the mechanical function of the obturator, the peroneus longus, or the long head of the triceps brachii in the sprinting motion, or their respective percentages of force contribution at any given point of their participation in the movement.

Their functions become important to consider in the event of an injury, and an informed coach knows enough anatomy to understand these functions, but we don’t single them out for training because they’re worked along with the primary muscles as they fulfill their anatomically-determined role in the correctly-performed gross motor pattern.

More important are the feet, shank, thigh, trunk and arms during the development of the acceleration as revealed by the analysis of their relative angles and their relationships to the ground.

The individual muscles that make this happen are not of concern during the execution of a record performance, unless one of them fails due to injury.

Strength training has long been the victim of a lack of focus on the movement patterns of the segments of body itself, in lieu of the great deal of attention being paid to the constituent components – the “muscle groups” of bodybuilding-think.

Let’s examine your favorite and mine, the deadlift, from the perspective of rigid-body analysis, and see if we can’t come to a better understanding of what actually happens when a bar is pulled from the floor.

The Mechanics of the Deadlift

An examination of men’s division deadlift records on video will show you what you need to know about the relationship between the loaded barbell and the lifter: the barbell travels up the legs in an approximately vertical line over the middle of the foot, while the shoulders stay in a position just forward of the bar until the top of the pull.

Rippetoe Coaching

And this is true no matter what the lifter attempts to with the bar; you may start somewhere else, but you’re going to end up doing the pull this way.

We call this position The Standard Pulling Position, because, as we’ll see, it results in the most efficient pull for deadlifts, cleans, and even snatches.

(The reason why women’s deadlifts don’t always obey this rule has to do with the same reason women can perform a much higher percentage of their 1RM for reps, but that’s a subject for another article.)

It’s important to know why this amazing lack of variation exists in pulling a heavy barbell from the floor, because if we know what’s going to happen when we pull a heavy deadlift, we can make better plans for making it happen with the greatest level of reproducible efficiency.

If you know that the barbell is coming up in a straight line over the mid-foot, you can practice placing it in that position and keeping it there.

And if you know that the shoulders are going to be a little forward of the barbell when it leaves the floor, you can make plans to have them in this position when the pull starts.

Knowing why is good, because it convinces you that correct technique is important.

It’s not nearly as important to know what role the individual forearm muscles play in the effort, or the obturator, the peroneus longus, or the long head of the triceps. They’re working, and good deadlift technique is designed to make them contribute to the pull.

But more important is the overall relationships of the major segments of the kinetic chain to the load on the bar.

Why Vertical?

Gravity is the force that makes mass “weigh” what it does. It’s the attraction between two masses.

In the case of the earth, it’s really really big relative to the barbell, so the attraction between the two masses is heavily skewed.

Since the attraction is between the two Centers of Mass, the center of the barbell and the center of the earth have a very predictable relationship: gravity operates on the bar, and it does so as a downward pull, in the precise direction of the center of the earth’s mass. Always.

We call this direction “vertical.”

As a result, work done against gravity is always performed vertically, upward. Always. All work done against the gravity vector will be done parallel to that vector in the opposite direction. Therefore, the most efficient way to pull a barbell is straight up. Always.

Figure 1: Top

Figure 1: Bottom

This will be the shortest explanation in this article. Sorry.

Why the Mid-foot?

A correct deadlift will start with the bar about one inch (2.5cm) from your shin, placed with the shin in a perfectly vertical position. This will place the bar directly over the mid-foot, for everybody.

Human feet are quite thoroughly proportional, front to back, and we’ve seen people with size 3 to size 17 shoes position the bar over the mid-foot with it placed an inch forward of the shins.

Once the bar is over the mid-foot, turn your toes out a little, maybe 15 degrees.

When this position is taken and the knees are dropped forward and out a little, so that the shins touch the bar without moving it and the knees stay parallel to the toes, the shin angle will be perhaps 7 or 8 degrees forward of vertical.

The knees-out position allows you to use the hip external rotators more effectively when you pull, and it also makes more room between your thighs so you can set your lumbar extension more effectively.

Knees out also involves the adductors in the pull as well, by stretching them into a position where they can more effectively participate as hip extensors.

And the slight shin angle allows the quads to perform enough knee extension to help with the start of the pull. Knees any more forward than this will cause the shins to push the bar too far forward to pull a deadlift. Here’s why.

Deadlift Start

The foot is your point of contact with the ground. If the bottom of your foot was an arc, as though you were standing on a 12-inch piece of pipe that was split down the middle into halves, the mass of the system would be in balance directly over the center of the arc – your mid-foot.

If you were in good balance, you could squat down and stand back up by keeping your center of mass directly over the middle of the arc. Even though your feet are essentially flat against the ground, the balance relationship is clearly the same.

The surface area of the feet is the area across which the load of the combined mass of the barbell and your body is distributed against the floor.

A man with a size 11 weightlifting shoe will have a surface area of about 90 square inches (580 cm²), or an average of about 5.5 pounds per square inch with a 500-pound deadlift (3.84N/cm²).

At 800 pounds, the load is closer to 8.9 PSI. If the barbell is placed in a position halfway between the toe and the heel, the average load across the contact surface will be fairly evenly distributed – “balanced” – between forward and aft sections of the foot.

If the most even pressure distribution occurs with the load at mid-foot, positions either forward or behind this point will display an unevenly loaded surface area.

Forward of the mid-foot, the load distribution will skew forward, reducing the surface area of force distribution – likewise if the bar is behind the balance position.

Rippetoe Quote

Physics Class

The most important effect of this uneven loading is that it sets up uneven moment forces between the balance point and the lifter/barbell Center of Mass measured vertically from the floor.

Moment force, or leverage, is the turning force your hand transmits to a bolt through a wrench. If we measured the force of the spin along the shaft of the bolt, that quantity would be torque, but we aren’t concerned with torque since nothing in a human joint spins under normal circumstances.

We’re merely concerned with the force transmitted along the shank, thigh, and trunk segments between the barbell and the floor – the force that moves the load.

A wrench multiplies the force you can generate with your hand by trading a longer arc of motion at a higher velocity for a much shorter arc and a higher amount of force. A crowbar works the same way, distance and velocity exchanged for force – mechanical advantage.

The moment arm is the distance between the point of force application (your hand on the crowbar) and the point of rotation (the bend in the short end of the crowbar), measured at 90 degrees to the force application, and it’s the way the multiplication of force is calculated.

The longer the moment arm, the greater the leverage at the point of rotation.

A crowbar has a long segment, a bend, and a short segment, and is meant to be used to generate high force when prying a nail out of a board. Here’s an example of the same long/short segment configuration used the opposite way:


The trebuchet is a siege engine that uses a very high amount of force on the short segment to increase the velocity of the light load on the end of the long segment.

In this system, the multiplication takes place in the opposite way: like stepping on a rake, high force operating the short segment rotating around a fulcrum produces a high velocity at the end of the long segment, if the force is high enough on the short end.

The angular velocity on both sides of the fulcrum is the same, and the long moment arm multiplies the velocity along the arc at the end of the long segment.

Figure 4

Now, think of the horizontal distance between the mid-foot and the 600-pound bar as a lever against your feet, with the vertical distance up the legs as the segment. If the bar is above the knees and you shift forward 2 inches, the distribution of the weight against the floor shifts forward.

Along the vertical distance between the floor and the barbell, leverage is being applied to the system that wouldn’t be there if the bar was directly vertical to the mid-foot.

The horizontal distance between your hips and the bar constitute a moment arm, one that you use to generate enough force to pull the bar up. The additional 2 inches of moment arm your technical mistake has created gives the load on the bar some additional leverage against you.

The total amount of moment force that must be generated is optimal when the bar is over mid-foot, but now the force of the additional 2 inches must be added to the amount of force you have to produce to keep the 600 pounds moving up.

Moving the bar back behind the mid-foot to shorten this moment arm doesn’t work, because you’re off-balance backwards against the floor, and because moving the hips back lowers them in relation to the knees.

Since the bar moved forward, the countering force that must be added to the pull comes from behind.

At the bottom of the pull, the posterior tug comes from your calf muscles – the gastrocs and soleus. You can feel this effect for yourself if you stand up straight and let your bodyweight drift onto your toes.

It’s easy enough to counter this off-balance shift without a 600-pound bar to deal with, but adding enough backward pull from a bar position above the knee can’t really be done, since calves aren’t designed or positioned to generate force against a barbell above the knee.

Those of us who have ruptured an Achilles tendon know how this works with a load on our backs or on the floor in front of us – the effect is subtle, until you can’t produce it effectively, and then you miss a rep or fall forward.

Figure 5 Panel A and B

If you start with the bar forward of the balance point, it will roll back to the mid-foot before it leaves the ground, thus correcting the problem while the vertical distance between the bar and the foot is manageably short.

If the weight is light enough, as with a clean, the bar can be pulled off the ground in this forward position, but it will be pulled back toward the balance point as it rises, thus creating a curve in the bar path off the floor.

If it’s light enough to pull very inefficiently, as with a snatch, a strong lifter can throw it all over the room and still catch it overhead – not efficient, but quite commonly performed.

If you get forward higher in the pull, the way you might try to save the lift is by making your back angle more vertical earlier in the pull than you would if the bar was in balance – you look up, and you lean back, or at least try to lean back.

This doesn’t work very well, as some of the recreational federations have admitted by placing a spotter behind their less-than-technically-competent deadlifters at their meets.

Why the Shoulders Forward of the Bar?

This is a very interesting phenomenon, because it doesn’t seem logical that the arms would not just hang straight down when loaded, like a plumb line mirroring the gravity vector.

The point of rotation is the shoulder, the barbell is in the hand, the arm connects the two points, and the damn thing ought to behave properly.

But it doesn’t.

Every heavy deadlift hangs from the shoulders with the arms at a slight angle, perhaps 7 to maybe 11 degrees, with the shoulders just forward of the bar, and with the bar over the middle of the foot.

The back angle adjusts to place the shoulders in this position; if the hips are too low, with the shoulders back behind the bar, the back angle will adjust horizontally to place the shoulders in the Standard Pulling Position.

Furthermore, the following generalization is born out by repeated observation: the heavier the pull, the more likely it is to conform to this alignment, and the lighter it is the greater the amount of deviation it’s likely to display.

Watch Brad Gillingham’s 881/400kg deadlift. Brad comes to the bar and carefully places his mid-foot directly under the bar – shins about an inch from the bar – takes his grip without moving the bar, drops his knees forward until shins touch the bar, squeezes his chest up, and pulls the bar in a vertical line to lockout.

His back angle at the very start of the pull doesn’t change to more horizontal, and in fact immediately becomes more vertical as the bar is pulled up.

Notice the shoulders just forward of the bar (ignore the black shirt, look at his shoulders and hands), and notice that the arms don’t become vertical until just before lockout.

Perfect pulling efficiency is displayed with the bar over the mid-foot and the shoulders just in front of the bar, the heavier the weight the more efficient the pull must be. You can watch videos for hours on end that show this pattern.

Warm-ups can be done “wrong,” as can rows, cleans, snatches, and anything else with a light weight. But when the last bits of your limit capacity are approached, this alignment must be displayed or you miss the pull.

Look at this heavy set of 745×4 by Mike Tuchscherer:

When the bar is forward of the mid-foot during the reps of this set, it drifts back during the pull, but notice the position of the shoulders over the bar, evidenced by the arm angle.

Mike is strong enough to pull this weight with a little horizontal slop in the floor pull, and he does this with heavy attempts as well. But the bar always drifts back to the mid-foot.

More importantly, why are his shoulders in this persistent forward position? This is best explained with an illustration.

Figure 9

Moment force – leverage, like your hand generates when it pulls on a wrench – is most efficiently applied at 90 degrees to the tool being pulled on, be it a wrench, a crowbar, or a hammer.

The latissimus dorsi muscles attach the lower back to the upper arm; specifically, the lats originate on the back from T8 all the way down to the sacrum and across the top of the pelvis, and have an insertion point on the medial anterior proximal humerus, essentially in your armpit.

The shoulders just in front of the barbell place the lats in the best position to apply moment force to the humerus – to best pull the bar back to keep it over the mid-foot balance point.

The lats at 90 degrees is the alignment generated by the shoulders-in-front-of-the-bar position with the arms hanging at an angle, as the figure shows.

You can see the effect of this position quite clearly: control of the tendency of the bar to drift forward is best accomplished with the backward tug provided by the lats.

And the back angle – the angle between the plane of the trunk and the horizontal floor – is what controls the position of the shoulders relative to the bar, and thus the angle of attack between the lats and the humerus.

The actual back angle that occurs in a properly positioned pull is dependent on anthropometry.

A short back and long legs will obviously generate a more horizontal back angle in the proper position than a long back and short legs. In either case, the proper position for the lats against the humerus will result from a shoulder position just in front of the bar that hangs the arms at 7-11 degrees, any variation being due to anthropometry.

But the lats generate tension between both origin and insertion, so they’re pulling on the lower back as well.

Part of the back angle settling into position with shoulders forward of the bar is probably a function of the hips being pulled up into that position by the lat’s anterior tension on the low back, as the muscle belly settles into its optimum force production length in isometric contraction.

This effect also rotates the mass of your body up into a position more above the bar. As your own mass moves into a position so that more of it is forward of the bar, the center of mass of your body lines up better with the center of mass of the barbell.

Pulling it upward is then easier, since you obviously can’t pull upward on something in front of you. A deadlift will always be in front of your legs, and that’s why you lock it out with a slight backward lean – to balance your mass back against the bar in front.

But during the pull, some of your mass – including your head, if your neck is positioned correctly – remains forward of the bar, and the arms don’t become completely vertical until you finish the pull.

As for the minutia of the system, the teres major and the long head of the triceps also cross the shoulder joint between the scapula and the humerus, and therefore they’re also involved in this moment force relationship.

But the triceps long head is at a very poor angle for generating moment force across this gap, and the teres is a short small muscle; neither are terribly important to the consideration of the larger mechanism at work.

The lats hold the bar back over the mid-foot, and they hold the back angle in a position to keep your mass more over the bar.

Two other back angle configurations are possible.

Figure 10

This is the most common start position in competitive powerlifting, and it’s inefficient for reasons that are obvious in light of this analysis.

The most compelling argument against it is the fact that everyone who starts a heavy deadlift here exhibits a shift in back angle towards the Standard Pulling Position.

You can try to pull the bar with vertical arms and hips down too low – “squat with the bar in your hands” – but it just doesn’t work that way.

The fact that the extraneous movement occurs before the bar leaves the floor, and that it can be pulled without this extraneous movement demonstrates that a higher-hips position is a more efficient place to start a deadlift.

Watch Ed Coan:

Note that the greatest lifter in the history of the sport of powerlifting demonstrates this shift in back angle.

The pull starts when the bar actually leaves the floor, and during the time between when his upward motion started and the bar leaving the floor his back angle changed.

In fact, there’s a slight pause in the motion as the system comes into stability, just before the bar leaves the floor, as the lats “grab” the bar. This is a very common start technique, and there are countless examples of it, to the extent that it’s considered by some to be the best way to pull.

If the hips are low, the lats are not optimally engaged with the arms, and the lower back isn’t optimally anchored to the bar – the lat generates tension against both the origin and the insertion.

As the lat becomes optimally aligned to hold the bar back over the mid-foot, it also pulls the hips up into their characteristic position, and the resulting back angle is stable just as the bar leaves the floor.

Again, the actual angle depends on anthropometry, but the alignment itself produces the back angle.

This is the other back angle with which the bar can be pulled:

Figure 12

In this position, the lat’s angle of attack has opened beyond 90 degrees. This is recognizable as the classic stiff-legged deadlift position, with knees extended and back angle more horizontal.

Those of us (who even lift) know that you can’t pull as much in this position as you can with an optimal back angle, and that if you start here you’ll almost certainly miss the attempt unless you can lower the hips and pull the bar back in.

The ability to stabilize the bar over the balance point is critical to the ability to apply enough force to pull the deadlift. But there is another reason…

What About The Hamstrings?

3 Pic Combo

Look at the three positions in Figures 9, 10, and 12, and notice the hamstrings.

The hamstrings are really a poorly understood component of the squat and the deadlift, the subject of much unnecessary stretching and “mobility wodding.”

Remember the basic rule of hamstring kinematics in the pull and the squat, (and most everything else too): As the hips flex, the knees flex.

If the angle of hip flexion remains roughly equal to the angle of knee flexion, the hamstrings haven’t changed muscle belly length very much. Thus, hamstring flexibility isn’t the determining factor in squat depth.

If the hamstrings don’t change length – this is very hard to measure, and is why it hasn’t been done quantitatively – hamstrings function primarily as isometric stabilizers of the back angle in both the squat and the pull.

In both movements, their primary contribution to the kinetic chain is support of the back angle. They anchor the ischial tuberosity to the medial and lateral attachments on the tibia, at the knee.

This pelvis-to-knee connection functions as a bridge between the extending knees and the extending hips, enabling the force generated by the quads, glutes, and adductors to move the load without the back angle collapsing horizontal.

Along with the spinal erectors and the lats, the hamstrings are the “isometric glue” that holds the pull together.

This, coupled with the fact that a muscle generates its greatest contractile force isometrically, at its resting length, means that whatever position generates the best semblance of resting muscle belly length will be the strongest position to use the hamstrings isometrically.

Our analysis shows that in a squat, the low-bar position holds the hamstrings at resting length (or possibly slightly stretched, depending on the lifter’s anthropometry) throughout the movement.

In a high-bar squat or front squat, the knee angle is more closed and the hip angle is more open, shortening the hamstrings from their resting length and therefore diminishing their isometric capacity to anchor the back angle.

In a deadlift, the correct start position finds the hip angle more closed and the knee angle more open than in the low-bar squat bottom position, with the hamstrings stretched slightly beyond their resting length, allowing them to contribute primarily isometrically as they hold the back angle in place, as well as contributing to hip extension at the top of the pull as they return to their resting length.

The position which generates the most mechanically-efficient angle of attack on the tibia and the pelvis will be the position that can generate the greatest back angle stability during the first part of the pull.

Look at these three positions and decide for yourself which works best for hamstring function.

What About The Back Angle?

As the bar travels up the shins in a deadlift, the back angle becomes more vertical. This begins immediately after the bar leaves the floor.

In a clean or a snatch – sub-maximal accelerated pulls by definition – the back angle should (and usually does) stay more constant and more horizontal until the bar gets much higher. “Staying out over the bar” is a familiar concept to some Olympic lifters, their having heard the cue many times.

What does it mean, and why?

The concept of the moment arm is quite important throughout barbell training, and nowhere more important than when considering the role of the back in the clean and snatch versus the deadlift.

The primary difference between the Olympic lifts and the deadlift is acceleration– the first derivative of velocity, the rate at which velocity increases.

A clean is a pull that’s accelerated enough to catch on the shoulders.

In order to impart sufficient momentum to the loaded barbell that it continues on upward between the end of the pull and the catch on the shoulders – that portion of the bar path during which no force is transmitted to the bar by reacting against the ground – it must be sufficiently accelerated so that it “floats” long enough to shift the feet and the arms into the catch position from the pulling position.

The snatch is caught overhead, and is thus a longer pull with an obviously lighter weight.

As such, there are no slow cleans or snatches. They must be accelerated or they don’t rack, and this is why they’re better measures of power than “dynamic effort” deadlifts. How precisely do you “miss” a dynamic-effort deadlift?

In stark contrast to a clean, a deadlift can be slow. Some world records have taken 8 seconds to pull, as opposed to less than a second for a clean or snatch.

This critical distinction is the reason for the difference in the behavior of the back angle between the fast and slow pulls: a deadlift shows a back angle that becomes more vertical as it leaves the floor, while a clean and especially a snatch preserve the horizontality of the back angle as long as possible.

Dimas was the undisputed master of staying out over the bar, preserving his back angle until the bar was above his knees.




This is important because of acceleration, and the way it’s produced in a fast pull. A clean is a pull in which the back angle/hip moment arm can be maintained long enough to accelerate the barbell – to increase the linear velocity of the barbell by using the mechanical advantage of the longer moment arm.

The back segment between the hip and the barbell is the “tool” the lifter uses to accelerate the bar. Look at this leverage arrangement:

Figure 14

Like the trebuchet, the clean uses the short moment arm loaded to a high force level and operating over a short arc around the fulcrum to accelerate a much longer moment arm with a lighter load on the end – if you’re strong enough.

If the weight is too heavy, this long moment arm can’t be maintained; the back angle becomes more vertical immediately because the longer moment arm can’t be operated by the posterior chain musculature, the weight therefore can’t be accelerated, and it’s a deadlift instead of a clean.

And this is why a deadlift can be done with some spinal flexion, and a clean is much more dependent on lumbar and thoracic extension.

Many heavy deadlifts have been pulled with a round upper back, but Olympic lifters who fail to keep their backs tight and flat will have problems reproducing their technique accurately – a rounding back is a power leak, and the deadlift doesn’t rely on power and acceleration like the Olympic lifts do.

The Other Details

Sometimes, but not very often, the fine anatomical details of origin/insertion/action of the individual muscles are critical, so forget all that shit I said about this earlier.

Here are a couple of examples where the details about things that can’t be analyzed as a rigid-body problem are important.


Eye gaze direction is critical in all barbell exercises, and is the most commonly misunderstood aspect of squatting and deadlifting.

The chest follows the eyes, and the back angle is the chest. It’s very important to understand the role of the trunk segment in the mechanical execution of these two lifts in particular, and how the eye gaze direction can affect the physics of the lifts.

Since this is a deadlift article, we’ll stay with pulling. If you look up, the vast majority of you will have overextended your cervical spine – your neck.

This seems probably counterproductive, considering the fact that the spine is best loaded in normal anatomical position, the way it’s best configured to transmit force between the vertebral bodies spaced apart with intervertebral discs, who like to be loaded in compression the way they’re designed to transmit force.Deadlift Head Up

Your head actually weighs 5-8% of your bodyweight, and keeping your neck in normal extension maintains the position of more of your body’s mass in front of the bar. It actually produces a longer back segment, some of which is then positioned forward of the bar.

We’ve already observed that you can’t pick up a heavy object that’s too far “in front” of you, and that more of your mass forward of the bar balances the alignment of the bar’s center of mass and that of your body.

Keeping your head in line with your back maintains this mass relationship much better than an overextended cervical spine. This effect is obviously more important in a lighter pull, like a clean or a snatch.

Figure 16

Now, observe the anatomy of the traps. Note that it has an origin from the base of the skull all the way down to T12, thus making it the longest muscle origin in the human body.

Note that almost all these fibers insert on the spine of the scapula. The traps therefore support the scapula, which articulates with the arm, which holds the bar. The bar therefore hangs from the traps, which hang from the spine, from the base of your skull down to the last vertebra with a rib attached to it.

And you want to lift a heavy weight with the top one-third of your spine in overextension, with your neck curved like a hook? You should probably rethink this decision.

We’ve already explored the role of the back angle, so do an experiment. Stand up straight and look at the floor about 15 feet in front of you. Note your posture and the weight distribution on your feet against the floor.

Now, look up at the ceiling, the way your high-school football coach told you. “Look up, son! You gotta look up if you wanna go up! I said look up, boy! Look up through the top of your skull!”

Our experience with this little test indicates that about 80% of you will feel your weight go to your toes. This is because your chest follows your eyes, and your back angle follows your chest, and you lean onto your toes to compensate so you don’t fall backwards.

If this happens at the bottom of the pull (or the squat) when your knees and hips are in flexion, the result will be that the hips move forward a little, since “the back bone’s connected to the hip bone.”

And since “the hip bone’s connected to the knee bone,” the knees will move forward a little too. This closes the knee angle and distally slacks the hamstrings, which you’re trying to use to support the moment arm on the hips.

If you have trouble in the middle of a pull, check your eye gaze direction and see if you’re looking up. If so, try fixing your gaze on a point on the floor that holds your chest in the best position to use your back angle for the pull.


Alternating Grip

You’ve probably been taught to use an alternate grip when you deadlift. This position places one hand supine and the other hand prone on the bar, and is a very secure grip for a heavy single.

It also places one shoulder in internal rotation and the other in external rotation. Most competitors use an alternate grip in a meet. But not all of them – look closer at Gillingham’s 881 above.

And not every pull is a limit deadlift. There are consequences to the use of asymmetric shoulder loading in a pull, and some attention should be paid to this when you decide which grip to use.

Focus now, just one more time: Remember that the lat attaches in the armpit, to the proximal medial anterior humerus, in front and on the inside of the bone.

When you assume a supine grip and externally rotate the humerus, you’re altering the tension on the lat by increasing its length relative to a prone grip in internal rotation. You’re also creating a wonderful opportunity to add bicep tension – and therefore elbow asymmetry – since the bicep is the primary elbow supinator.

Roger Estep

In Short…

Just improve your deadlifts, and think a little more clearly when you come to the bar.

Note: Illustrations are the copyright of the The Aasgaard Company.

source@Mark Rippetoe