Tout dans la vie est une question d'équilibre d'où la nécessité de garder un esprit sain dans un corps sain.


Everything in life is a matter of balance therefore one needs to keep a healthy mind in a healthy body.


E. do REGO

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Overhead Press: Bodybuilding's Forgotten Muscle Builder

If I asked you to name the best upper-body pressing exercise — one that lets you move serious weight and builds size and strength in just about every muscle above the waist — what would your answer be? If you said "the bench press," you're thinking like a typical modern gym rat.

If your answer was "the overhead press," then you're thinking like bodybuilding's pioneers, the guys who built bodies that inspired the lifters of the sport's Golden Age.

Back in the day, the standing overhead press was the cornerstone exercise of some of the most impressive physiques. But it was more than just a muscle builder. It was a key marker of manliness itself, on top of being a fundamental strength-building exercise and even a competitive Olympic lift.

Sure, it's out of favor today, thanks to a combination of intimidating difficulty and injuries caused by bad technique. But if you're an ambitious lifter with a healthy back and shoulders, it deserves a place of honor in your training program.

When the Press Was Clean

The overhead press has always been a potent symbol of athletic masculinity. The silhouette of a figure with a loaded barbell locked out overhead is a classic image expressing brute strength, raw power, and an attitude that asserts, "Yep, I just made this barbell my bitch."

Through the years, all the big-name musclemen — from Sandow and Saxon to Reeves, Reg Park, and Arnold — used overhead pressing. The shift toward the bench press as the primary upper-body pushing exercise is relatively recent. There's an obvious connection to powerlifting's rise in popularity in the 1960s, but there's also a surprising link to an even older strength sport: Olympic weightlifting.

Until 1972, the Olympics included three lifts: press, snatch, clean and jerk. "But the competitive press became sloppier and sloppier, resembling a laid-back standing bench press rather than a strict military press," says longtime TMUSCLE contributor Dan John. "Between the danger of injured backs and just ugly, difficult-to-judge lifts, it was time to move on."

Just before it was finally removed from competition, superheavyweight Olympic lifter Vasiliy Alekseyev, weighing nearly 340 pounds, pressed 520. At that same time, 123-pound bantamweight Imre Foldi pressed 280. Even with ugly form, those are awe-inspiring numbers.

With the disappearance of the overhead press, bodybuilders had one less reason to incorporate the Olympic lifts into their training, according to physical-culture historian Randy Roach, author of Muscle, Smoke, & Mirrors.

"A lot of bodybuilders are really hybrid powerlifters-bodybuilders, and they train with most of the same exercises," Roach says. "But Olympic weightlifting was a sport that relied heavily on skill."

The shoulder press was the least skill-dependent of the Olympic lifts. When it was taken out of competitions in 1972, Roach says, "it kind of burned all connections with bodybuilding and powerlifting."

Before 1972, it was common for a lifter to use the barbell shoulder press as a measure of his overall strength. After 1972, it became the forgotten lift. If bodybuilders compared their strength, it was usually with the bench press. As a result, all variations on Olympic lifts — cleans and high pulls along with standing presses, jerks, and snatches — began to disappear from bodybuilding routines.

Shoulder presses were still included, but from a seated position, often with the back against an upright bench. That may target deltoids more directly — at least, that's the idea — but it leaves out a lot of muscles that come into play when you stand up and lift the way men were meant to lift.

Your core muscles — abs, lower back, glutes, and upper thighs — have to be strong and stable to do a standing press with good form. That's in addition to the muscles you're targeting: delts, traps, triceps, and serratus.

If you're weak in any of those areas, those deficits are exposed on a standing press. A genuinely strong guy should be able to press the equivalent of his body weight overhead, according to prolific TMUSCLE contributor Christian Thibaudeau, with good form and no momentum generated by your lower body.

Now let's talk about how to get there.

Meet the Press

Thibaudeau, an Olympic weightlifter-turned-bodybuilder-turned-coach, offers these key points about form:

While a truly strict "military" press requires the heels to touch, you'll get a more stable and powerful base if your feet are about shoulder-width apart. Also, be sure to keep the legs straight, but not locked, throughout the set. The exception is when you're doing a push press, which I'll describe in a moment.

If your heels come off the ground when you press, your stance is probably too narrow. If your toes come up, that's a pretty good sign that your torso is leaning too far back.

Full-Court Press

While the standing barbell press is the most basic way to get the bar overhead, it certainly isn't the only way. These are Thibaudeau's top variations (plus one from Dan John):

Dumbbell overhead press

The benefits of using dumbbells instead of a barbell range from the obvious to the obscure. First, of course, is versatility. You can use a pronated grip to mimic the hand position of a barbell press, or a neutral grip to make it easier on the shoulder joints of injured lifters. With a neutral grip, Thibaudeau says, you'll also get more triceps involvement, making it a good choice for lifters who do total-body workouts with little or no direct arm training.

You can also do one-arm shoulder presses to incorporate more of a challenge to your core muscles. (It's possible to do this with a barbell, if you're feeling brave, but it's not a recommended move in a crowded gym.)

Dumbbell variations potentially hit more of the stabilizer muscles in your shoulder girdle, which is a nice benefit. But the biggest reason to choose dumbbells, Thibaudeau says, is to give your central nervous system a break, a tip he got from powerlifter Dave Tate. When an athlete has a drained CNS, the first thing to do is take the barbell out of his hands. He'll suffer less fatigue from that workout, and recover more fully from previous training sessions. Thibaudeau recommends switching to dumbbells every three or four workouts in which the shoulder press is a primary exercise.

Push press

According to Thibaudeau, as soon as a lifter builds a solid overhead press, using at least the equivalent of his body weight, he should learn the push press.

Set up as you would for a traditional barbell shoulder press. Dip your hips and knees, and then straighten them explosively as you push the bar overhead. It should feel like you're jumping and throwing the weight overhead at the same time, and your momentum could take your feet off the floor when you're learning the lift and working with lighter weights. Even with heavier weights, you could come up on your toes.

The push press is a good move to use when your progress on the traditional shoulder press comes to a halt, especially if you perform the eccentric portion slowly. You'll get your body used to pushing heavier weights overhead, which should help when you return to the original exercise. You'll be able to press heavier weights, which means increased strength and a bigger hypertrophy stimulus.

You can also do this with dumbbells, using a pronated or neutral grip.

Bradford press

Hold a barbell on your front shoulders, as you would for a traditional shoulder press. Press it just high enough to clear your head, rotate it behind the back of your head, and then lower it halfway down to your shoulders. Now press it back up until it just clears your head again, and lower it to the starting position. That's one rep.

Keep going in a rhythmic fashion. "It's a constant-tension exercise, so you can't use much weight," Thibaudeau says. "For example, if you 250 pounds for your military-press set, use around 165 for Bradfords."

Don't be intimidated by the behind-the-neck portion of the lift. Yes, behind-the-neck presses are completely contraindicated, as explained below, but with Bradfords you're only lowering it to about the level of your ears. "I have a client who can't do military presses but can actually do Bradfords," Thibaudeau says.

Power clean and press

If you can do a good power clean — pulling the bar from the floor to your shoulders — then the power clean and press is the ultimate overall shoulder builder.

Explosive lifts like the push press and power clean teach your body to recruit the high-threshold motor units more efficiently. Those are the fibers with the most potential for growth.

The power clean involves more upper-back muscles, so combining it with a shoulder press gives you more total muscle stimulation than any other upper-body exercise. Of course, there's also a price you pay in terms of CNS fatigue — it takes a lot out of you, and requires more recovery time than other upper-body exercises. But if you're an advanced lifter who's looking to get a lot accomplished in a limited amount of time, this is an exercise you should consider.

To do a power clean, set up as you would for a deadlift, with your feet a bit less than shoulder-width apart. Grab the bar overhand with your arms just outside your legs. Start with your back flat, hips loaded, knees bent slightly, and feet flat on the floor.

The first part of the exercise, called the first pull, is to the top of your knees. While the bar is still moving upward, quickly and powerfully straighten your hips and knees and come up on your toes to generate momentum. When your hips and knees are straight and your heels are off the floor, shrug your shoulders as hard as you can.

Now comes the trickiest part: As the bar moves upward, dip under it by bending your hips and knees. Catch it on the front of your shoulders, allowing the bar to roll to the ends of your fingers as your elbows come up. In the perfect catch position, your feet are flat on the floor, with your knees and hips bent, torso upright, head elevated slightly, and your upper arms parallel to the floor (and thus perpendicular to your torso).

Straighten your hips and knees, and then do a standard shoulder press. Then lower the bar to the floor for the next rep.


Dan John often includes this supplement to the shoulder press with his lifters. After you lock out the final rep of any set of overhead presses, you can do a handful of partial reps where you only press the bar the final two or three inches.

This extra work not only reinforces correct lockout technique and body position, it helps to make the entire body, from the armpits down, tighter and stronger. After including pressouts for several sessions, you'll become intimately familiar with the location and function of your serratus anterior muscles.

Pressing Issues

Because of the sometimes-delicate nature of the shoulder joint, anyone with a history of shoulder pain is quick to write off the overhead press, and that's usually fine. "If it hurts, don't do it," is an excellent maxim, and not one I'll try to convince you against.

The trouble is that even people without a history of shoulder problems are sometimes intimidated by overhead press variations. Some won't do any overhead exercises, which is a clear overreaction. Others are scared away from variations like the behind-the-neck press, seated shoulder press, and any type of overhead press using a machine.

To figure out the true risks that these variations may pose, I checked with Clay Hyght, a chiropractor and trainer as well as a competitive bodybuilder and bodybuilding judge. He didn't hesitate to come down hard on one of those exercises:

"The risks of doing behind-the-neck presses far outweigh the benefits," Hyght says. "There are simply too many other good shoulder exercises that are both safe and effective.

"Many people say, 'But I've been doing them for 20 years and I've had no shoulder problems.' Sure, and I know people that smoke a pack a day for just as long, and they don't have lung cancer. But we undoubtedly know that smoking increases the risk of lung cancer. So, if you want to have shoulder problems, go ahead and do behind-the-neck presses. Otherwise, do something that makes more sense, like a dumbbell shoulder press."

While the basic overhead press is done standing, the majority of barbell shoulder press stations you'll find in your gym will have an upright seat back. The message bodybuilders receive is that overhead presses are supposed to be done seated, with the rear shoulders resting against a pad.

This extends to the dumbbell stations, where adjustable benches are usually set to the fully upright position when lifters do shoulder presses.

But are seated presses really a good idea? Hyght gives the seated press a conditional thumbs-up, with a caution for those with a history of lower-back problems. "Seated shoulder presses do increase the compressive load on the intervertebral discs," he says.

"It's still a rather safe movement," Hyght adds. "Assuming you have a healthy spine, keep your abs tight, and avoid hyperextending at the lumbar spine, you won't likely develop any problems from doing seated presses. We basically have to pick our battles, and the seated shoulder press isn't a battle that most people should worry about."

Then there's the machine shoulder press. Sometimes the equipment you find in gyms is well designed and useful, and sometimes it isn't.

"There are quite a number of biomechanically sound shoulder machines," Hyght says. "They typically offer a good combination of safety versus effectiveness. Hell, just about any shoulder press machine would be far safer than a behind-the-neck press!"

But Hyght says that machine presses should never replace dumbbell and barbell exercises as your primary overhead lifts. "I might choose a machine shoulder press as the primary shoulder movement once every five training cycles," he says. "And even then, it would probably be specifically for intensity-boosting techniques, like rest-pause or forced reps."

Whatever variation you choose, the key is to do some type of overhead pressing for shoulder development. "You couldn't win the lightweight teenage division at a local drug-tested contest if you didn't train your shoulders directly," Hyght says. Lateral raises alone are unlikely to work.

Press Here for Impressive Shoulders

Christian Thibaudeau created this four-week program to widen and thicken your shoulders. Do each workout once a week.

Workout 1 - Heavy Loading

Exercise Sets Reps Technique(s)
A) Barbell seated shoulder press from the bottom position 2 3 Increase the weight for the second set; use cluster reps (see below)
B) Barbell seated shoulder press 2-4 3 See below
C) Push press 5


Increase weight for each set; use slight leg drive

Barbell seated shoulder press from the bottom position

Set up a bench in the power rack, and set the bar on safety pins at the level of your mouth. Start each rep from the pins. Rest 10 seconds between reps. So you'll press the weight from the pins, set it back on the pins, rest 10 seconds, press it again, set it down, and then press it one more time. Increase the weight for the second set, and do it the same way.

Use more weight than you would for standard shoulder presses (after a thorough warm-up, of course). Your goal here is to prime your central nervous system for the standard shoulder presses that you'll do after these.

Barbell seated shoulder press

Start with a weight that's slightly less than what you used for your second set of the first exercise. Raise the pins so you start each set with your arms fully extended. Do 3 reps, then add 10 pounds. Continue adding sets with increasing weight until you can no longer get 3 good reps without having an eyeball pop out of the socket.

Workout 2 - Contrast Loading

Exercise Sets Reps Technique
A1) Push press 5 3 Explosive reps
A2) Dumbbell lateral raise 5 5
B1) Dumbbell neutral-grip push press 5 3 Explosive reps
B2) Barbell front raise 5 5
C1) Barbell power clean or power high pull 5 3 Explosive reps
C2) Dumbbell bent-over lateral raise 5 5

Rest 15 seconds in between sets of the paired exercises. So you'll do push presses with explosive reps, rest 15 seconds, then do lateral raises with a traditional lifting tempo. Rest as much as you need before you repeat the two exercises.

Barbell front raise

Stand holding a light barbell (even an unloaded Olympic bar may be too much weight for this movement) with straight arms in front of your thighs. Raise the bar straight out in front of you until your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Lower the bar and repeat.

Barbell power high pull

The high pull starts the same way as the power clean: Pull the bar from the floor, generate momentum with powerful hip and knee extension and by coming up on your toes, and shrug your shoulders. But instead of dipping under the bar and catching it on your shoulders, stay upright. Allow your elbows to bend and lean back as the bar comes up to, or just past, the level of your chin.

Lower the bar to the floor for the next rep.

Some will perform this movement as a fast-motion upright row, but it's really a different exercise. A row uses upper-body muscles — traps, delts, biceps — with no contribution from the lower body. A high pull gets most of its power from the hip-extensor muscles, with the final pull coming from the traps. The delts and arms are just along for the ride.

Pressing On

To sum it up:

The return you get from putting the bar overhead is a wider, thicker set of shoulders that look like you're wearing shoulder pads even when it's all you under that T-shirt.

Press on, brothers.

The Overhead Press: Bodybuilding's Forgotten Muscle Builder

The forgotten exercise.

The Overhead Press: Bodybuilding's Forgotten Muscle Builder

No doubt about it, full, round delts look bitchin'.

The Overhead Press: Bodybuilding's Forgotten Muscle Builder

Olympic lifters had ugly form on their shoulder presses, but the strength it took to push huge weights overhead is undeniable.

The Overhead Press: Bodybuilding's Forgotten Muscle Builder The Overhead Press: Bodybuilding's Forgotten Muscle Builder

Behind-the-neck presses are a recipe for disaster.

The Overhead Press: Bodybuilding's Forgotten Muscle Builder The Overhead Press: Bodybuilding's Forgotten Muscle Builder

A high pull gets most of its power from the hip-extensor muscles, with the final pull coming from the traps.

© 1998 — 2009 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.


The Best Part of the Mediterrannean Diet

For years, we've been hearing that the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest way to eat. People who to consume diets that are rich in whole grains, olive oil, nuts, fruits and vegetables, fish, cheese and moderate amounts of wine seem to live longer, healthier lives. But is there any particular part of the diet that is really key? The first study to try to dissect the Mediterranean diet suggests that there is.

Dimitrios Trichopoulos of the Harvard School of Public Health and his colleagues analyzed data collected from more than 23,000 men and women who participated in the Greek part of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition.

For the study, participants answered detailed questionnaires about their diets and lifestyles and were followed for more than eight years. Interviewers asked how much physical activity they got, whether they smoked and whether they were diagnosed with cancer, diabetes and heart disease, and who died.

In a paper published online this week by a British medical journal known as BMJ, the researchers reported that those improved their adherence to a Mediterranean diet were about 14 percent less likely to die during the study period.

But the main benefits in terms of a reduced mortality appeared to be from consuming moderate amounts of alcohol, little meat, and lots of vegetables, fruits and nuts, olive oil and legumes. Eating a lot of cereal and fish and other seafood did not appear to play a significant role, the researchers found.

Specifically, the researchers found that moderate alcohol consumption, usually in the form of wine during meals, accounted for 23.5 percent of the benefit, whereas low levels of meat and meat products accounted for 16.6 percent, eating a lot of vegetables accounted for 16.2 percent and lot of fruit and nuts accounted for 11.2 percent. High monounsaturated fat and saturated fat caused 11.2 percent of the benefit and high legume consumption accounted for 9.7 percent.

The findings, the researchers say, should help people pick the parts of the Mediterranean diet most likely to help them live longer.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mythbusters Vol 6 by Nate Green

Whether they're debunking long-held myths by citing specific research, drawing from personal experience, or just making an educated guess, our rotating panel of experts likes to put the smack down on some of the most pervasive gym myths that cloud our consciousness and keep us from building lean, muscular, powerful bodies.

But as any self-respecting GI Joe fan understands, knowing is half the battle. The other half? Well, it's putting advice into practice. That's up to you.

This is Mythbusters Volume 6 with Dr. Clay Hyght, Alwyn Cosgrove, Chase Karnes, Mike Robertson, and Nia Shanks.

Myth: To gain muscle you must select exercises that enable you to use the maximum amount of weight.

If you've been in the iron game for any length of time, I'm sure you've heard this. It's been passed around so much and is spoken with such certainty and authority that you would assume it's part of the Holy Gospel.

The problem is this "fact" is built upon faulty logic. First, an analogy.

Let's say you have a choice between a job that pays $50,000 per year and one that pays $55,000 per year. I bet you'd go for the one that pays $55,000 right? But what if that job is selling Kirby vacuums and you have to use your own car and pay for your own gas to travel around the Midwest? And what if the other job is in an office within walking distance from you house, saving you precious gas money and hellish trips to Akron to sell vacuum cleaners?

It may be time to reevaluate your job situation and pick the job that pays less. As the saying goes, "It's not how much money you make, it's how much you keep."

We train with weights in order to stimulate our muscles. This, obviously, can be done with a number of different methods. However, there's one thing that everyone agrees on: in order to maximize size and strength gains you must maximize the stimulation to the target muscle.

However, maximizing the stimulation to a muscle is not accomplished by simply moving more weight. Pesky little things like gravity, rotary force, leverage, and momentum come into play.

For an easy illustration let's look at the leg press. If getting big and strong was as simple as using more weight, then the leg press would be the single best leg exercise on the planet. But it's not.

Let's say you can leg press 500 pounds. But are you really doing 500 pounds?

To find the actual force (or resistance) of a leg press (a standard, angled sled), use the equation F = W x sin 45 degrees. "F" is the Force (what we call resistance), "W" is the weight, and 45 degrees is the angle of the machine. So if you leg press 500 pounds, then F = 500lbs x 0.707. Thus F = 353.5 pounds. Kind of disappointing isn't it?

And this is assuming that your leg press is actually 45 degrees and not 30 degrees like many are these days. If the machine is angled at 30 degrees, then the resistance is a measly 250 pounds!

Now I'm certainly not bashing the leg press. It's a great exercise for some people. The point is that selecting exercises simply based upon the amount of weight that can be used is erroneous and does not pass a logic test.

The most fundamental principle of weight training, whether for size or strength, is Gradual Progressive Overload (GPO). So go ahead and focus on using progressively heavier weight and more reps, but do not ignore physics and base your exercise selection simply upon the amount of weight you'll be able to use.

Myth: Sweating on a treadmill is just as good as sweating outside.

In the past people moved more and their exercise programs were well rounded, but recently more people have switched to doing treadmill-only workouts for their cardio. Whether they think it's better for their joints or because they're closet vampires who can't...stand...the light! and never want to venture outside, I'm not sure.

What I am sure of is that steady-state cardio on the treadmill is just fucking stupid. And, no, I'm not going to rehash the old argument about how intervals burn more calories. You already know that.

Instead I'm going to do some math.

Walking a mile is about two thousand reps in the sagittal plane at about one and a half to two times your bodyweight. Jogging would be around fifteen hundred total reps at about two to three times your bodyweight.

And since the treadmill switches your hamstring and glutes off — your foot hits the belt and the belt pulls you through — it's mainly a quad exercise.

So let's say a client does three miles three times per week for one year (and I'm being conservative).

That's 6000 reps x 3 days per week x 52 weeks, which equals 936,000 reps of knee extension work. Or 468,000 reps per leg.

Let's say the load going through with the knee was a measly 100 pounds. That's 4.6 million pounds of work for the quad with absolutely no hamstring work.

Think of it this way: if you did 400,000 reps of triceps extensions with 100 pounds you'd get four million pounds of volume. If you didn't balance that out with biceps curls you'd expect the elbow joint to hurt, right? You're damn straight it would!

So long term walking or running on the treadmill is almost guaranteeing knee pain. And that's not even the worst part. Since the hamstring is switched off you're actually burning even less calories than you would if you were to walk on the ground!

This study showed that hip flexion angle increases on the treadmill as opposed to the ground and that stance time was reduced. Basically, the whole hip extensor mechanism is affected; hip and knee flexion angles have to increase to bring the hip through on the stride. So hip flexor fatigue plus substitution patterns equals severe knee pain.

Ten or twenty years ago we'd get away with this because our clients ran outside and did other activities. The contribution of treadmill time to total exercise time was much lower. It's hardly the case today.

One of the problems with low intensity steady-state aerobics for fat loss in the deconditioned population is the sheer amount of reps needed. I can do a bodyweight circuit and spread the "reps" over the whole body and get a similar metabolic effect.

At my gym we've always done interval training as we felt the results were superior, but over time we've moved to a "metabolic resistance training" model.

For example, one mile on the treadmill would be 1500 reps and burn around 100 calories. If you did a circuit of kettlebell swings, undulating ropes, inverted rows, sled pushes, and burpees for four rounds with 10 to 15 reps each, you'd burn 100 calories in less time with less load, and the reps would be spread over the entire body instead of on the ankles, knees, and hips. It's just a superior model.

Myth: You're not putting on muscle because you're too active outside the gym.

The big guys at my local gym used to tell me I couldn't gain weight because I was too active. I played football, worked a manual labor job, raced motocross, and lifted three days per week. They'd always tell me if I wanted to gain weight I'd have to cut back on all the activity and sit on my ass all day. Luckily for me they had it all wrong.

I've heard many recreational athletes or guys who work manual labor jobs blame their failure in gaining weight on their high activity levels. On the surface it may seem like they have a valid point. I mean, if too much cardio causes catabolism then recreational sports and manual labor would do the same, wouldn't they? Not exactly.

You won't burn so many calories that they can't be replaced with proper nutrition and eating big. Take some freakin' protein bars to work with you. Try packing a lunch. If gaining muscle is important to you, you'll sure as hell find a way to sneak in some hard-boiled eggs and tuna packets.

And anyone who's familiar with the "G-Flux" concept may argue that this increased physical activity should cause you to have an even better chance at gaining muscle and losing fat.

And what about the training thing? Most guys think they'll have no energy to train after they work at the construction site. The simple fact is the human body has a very remarkable ability to adapt. So while the first few weeks of adding in a training program may seem difficult, the body will eventually adapt to the increased activity and it won't seem as hard.

Try planning your workouts when you feel most rested. If you work construction Monday through Friday, hit the gym hard with an upper-body workout on Saturday, a lower-body workout on Sunday, and a full-body workout on Wednesday. If you don't go to work until 9 A.M., try training at 7:30. Careful periodization of your program with planned back-off weeks is a must, but just because you work or play hard doesn't mean you still can't train hard.

You're just not that special. Look at college, pro, and Olympic level athletes. Some of these guys practice and train hours everyday, yet they're still jacked. You don't see their physical activity affecting their abilities to gain or maintain muscle do you?

I know you've heard this a million times, but it's calories in versus calories out. If you work or play hard, then you're going to have to eat that much more. Another thing I recommend is using BCAAs before and during any prolonged physical activity.

Myth: You should never wear a weight belt.

This is a classic case of people swinging too far to one side. The answer is always going to be "it depends."

Are you a competitive powerlifter? Then, yes, I think using a belt on sets above 90 percent of your one rep max is a good idea. But you've also got to understand that the stronger you are raw, the stronger you'll be once you get in your gear.

Are you a guy who trains hard in the gym and is concerned mostly about building huge muscles? Then, no, I don't think you need a belt. Well, at least not all the time.

First, let's talk about what a weight belt does. It gives you a psychological advantage when you start to move out of your comfort zone and also provides some extra stability to your lumbar area.

The problem is you should already have an "inner weight belt" which consists of your abdominals, lower back, and diaphragm before you even consider using an external weight belt to compensate for your lack of muscular balance. Most guys with weak cores are the same guys who think squats and deadlifts are enough to work their torso. Sure, they help, but if you're truly interested in building muscle and strength, you need to target your core directly and get it as strong as possible.

The whole point to building the core is to effectively transfer energy from your legs, through your "inner weight belt," and into the bar. As Dave Tate says, "Would you rather have a pillow or a rock for a stomach?"

If you've got a doughboy core, you won't be moving heavy weight.

So let me go ahead and throw out a general rule about belts. If you're a powerlifter or just someone who wants to work on max strength, then I think a belt is a good thing to have in your gym bag.

But if you're not pulling max singles or heavy triples, I think you can safely get by without one if you really work on your core strength and stability.

Myth: Intervals are the best training method for fat loss for everybody.

I've done my fair share of running full speed up a hill and nearly losing my breakfast doing barbell complexes. There's no argument that interval training is effective for fat loss.

But if you're serious about building muscle and increasing your strength, sitting on the bike and pedaling furiously till your legs look like the Roadrunner's will negatively impact your progress. So interval training is not always the best method.

From personal experience, and from the results of my clients, I've noticed that interval training can be so overwhelming that performance in weight training sessions start to decline. Weights that once felt easy barely move and you start to lose motivation. This sub-par performance in the weight room will lead to a decrease in fat loss.

The way I've always trained has been ovaries-to-the-wall. (I'm a woman, so deal with the analogy). It doesn't matter if I'm deadlifting 250 pounds for reps or jumping rope, I go all out every time, and so do my clients.

If you train with that intensity multiple times a week it'll catch up with you quickly, causing you to lose focus, burn out, or not recover properly. That's why if your main goals include building muscle and strength, you should lay off intervals for a while and make sure you kick your ass every time you're in the gym.

But if you still want to lose a little fat and need to huff and puff like an overweight Wal-Mart whale to feel productive, I suggest going on brisk walks outside after your weight training session. Find a hill or put on a weight vest to make it harder. But keep these walks limited to twenty to thirty minutes and don't do it more than four times per week. This will help you retain your muscle mass and burn fat at the same time without sacrificing any of your precious energy. And if you really need to shed a lot of fat and want to do intervals, at least be smart enough to tune down the frequency and intensity of your weight training sessions.

Your Turn

Playing the angles may not be such a good idea after all.

Mythbusters Vol 6

Treadmill work is horse-puckey.

© 1998 — 2009 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Best of Back

"I wanted my back muscles to bristle with power," Arnold Schwarzenegger said about his preparation for his role as Conan the Barbarian. "If my back is writhing and rippling during fight scenes, the public will know that I am a rugged fighter."

Writhing, rippling, dense layers of muscle, all tapering down into a tight waist. Arnold really nailed it.

If you think about it, a massive, symmetrical back defines a bodybuilder and avid weight trainer. For modern physique competitors, the contest is often "won from the back" as the saying goes. For regular gym rats, a good back is what separates the truly dedicated from the truly pathetic.

A great back has two main qualities: thickness and a V-taper. That means you need to do both horizontal pulling (row-type exercises) and vertical pulling (pulldown or pull-up type exercises). A common mistake among beginners is to do one but not the other. A common mistake among advanced trainers is to do both movement patterns, but overemphasize one over the other, creating imbalances and a weird, mutant-like look that prompts small children to point at you and laugh.

To help both groups, we've put together some of our staff's favorite rut busters, gap fillers, and foundation builders for the back.

It's time to get your barbarian on!

#1: The Gymnast's Extended-Set Back Routine

Back in the 70's, Arnold popularized a lat training program that involved doing a massive volume of pull-ups. Basically, he suggested you do 50 strict, wide-grip pull-ups, regardless of how many sets it takes. At the end, you might be getting only one or two reps per set; didn't matter, as long as you reached 50 reps total.

Modern strength and hypertrophy experts, most of who agree that anyone worth his salt should be able to do at least 12 full-range pull-ups, have echoed this theme. But the thought of higher-volume pull-ups confounds two groups of lifters: the weak newbie and the experienced trainee with a high body weight. The good news is, both can build a powerful set of lats with this program from Charles Poliquin.

"Many athletes and bodybuilders who claim that they can never really 'feel' their lats will be 'feeling' them for several days after this program!" says Poliquin.

The idea is do as many reps as possible with one grip position, rest a little, then do another set with a new grip position, rest, and repeat several times. You start with the grip position that's the toughest for most people. That way you're fresh and can do more reps. As you progress through the sets you'll fatigue, but you'll use "easier" grip positions at which you're naturally stronger.

Here's how it'll look:

Remember, a pull-up is where your palms are pronated or facing away from you. A chin-up is supinated, where your palms are facing toward you.

Even if you're a newbie or have a high body weight and can only get three reps per position, that'll still give you 12 total reps per extended set. As a bonus, after a few months of the gymnast's routine, your lat spread will be so wide that you'll be able to jump off the roof of your house and glide to the grocery store, which will save gas in this troublesome economy.

#2: Rack Pull (Partial Deadlift)

You do your pulldowns and pull-ups. You do your rows. So your back training is covered, right? Well, if you're like most people, you'll discover you've been missing something after you begin performing rack pulls. This lift builds a brutal upper back and traps!

To perform, place a bar in a power rack so that it sits just above knee level and load it up with every plate in the gym. (Okay, maybe not every plate, but you can go very heavy on this one.) Now perform just the "top" of a deadlift. Coach Christian Thibaudeau recommends that you hold for two seconds at lockout before lowering the bar back to the pins.

You may also want to take a tip from coach Mike Robertson and perform the rack pull with scapular retraction. In Mike's version, you'll set the pins in a power rack to a point about an inch below your kneecaps. From here, just do a top deadlift: fire your heels into the floor, thrust your hips forward, and lock out the bar with a glute squeeze.

When you've locked the bar out, pull the shoulder blades together forcefully and maintain this retracted position for three seconds.

This is a phenomenal exercise for upper back thickness, forearm and grip development, and deadlift lockout strength. And while we normally don't recommend that you overuse lifting straps or hooks, feel free to break them out on the last couple of sets of this exercise so you can really focus on the heavy load.

#3: Sternum Chin-Ups

Here's one for advanced lifters only. Newbies need not apply!

We learned of the sternum chin-up from Poliquin, but it was first introduced by Vince Gironda many moons ago. Why haven't you ever seen it performed in your gym? Because most people simply can't do it. It's that tough.

This variation of the chin-up involves leaning back throughout the entire movement.
The lower portion of the chest is what will actually touch the bar. You can use either a supinated or pronated grip, and the grip can vary from narrow to shoulder-width (the latter being more indicated for the stronger trainee).

"As you pull yourself to the bar, have your head lean back as far away from the bar as possible and arch your spine throughout the movement. At the upper end of the movement, your hips and legs will be at about a 45-degree angle to the floor. You should keep pulling until your collarbone passes the bar and your sternum touches it. By the time you've completed the concentric (lifting) portion of the movement, your head will be parallel to the floor."

This exercise works more than just the lats. It also creates a great overload on the scapular retractors. The beginning of the movement, however, is more like a classical chin, while the midrange resembles a pullover motion. Finally, the end position duplicates the finishing motion of a rowing movement.

In other words, yeah, you're gonna be hurtin' for a few days after you try this one!

#4: Face Pulls

Bill Hartman, physical therapist and strength coach: "Face pulls are the most underrated exercise in all of strength training!"

Chad Waterbury: "Face pulls and more face pulls. That's probably what you need. It's definitely one of the most underrated upper body exercises. When you do it correctly you'll strengthen your rhomboids, traps, and external rotators."

Not only do Hartman and Waterbury concur, the face pull has found its way into the programs of Poliquin, Dave Tate, Joe DeFranco, and just about every other muscle-building expert you can throw a bottle of aminos at.

Which begs the question: If you're not doing face pulls, what the heck is wrong with you?!

We think the face pull is one of those neglected exercises that not only leads to size gains, but also acts as a corrective movement to fix those I-benched-too-much-in-my-youth issues. It's also great for curing computer-geek posture.

"Face a pulley machine and grab the rope with an overhand grip. Pulling through the elbows, take the middle of the rope in a straight line towards the bridge of your nose. The key is to make sure you fully retract the shoulder blades at the midpoint, squeeze, and then return to the starting position."

Lots of variations here. DeFranco likes pulls to the throat, but you can also pull to the forehead to target a slightly different area of your upper back. You can also perform them seated or standing. And while an overhand grip is standard, many prefer the neutral grip.

Whatever you choose, the face pull might be the "missing ingredient" in your recipe for a big back!

#5: Cobra Lat Pulldown

We love the big foundational movements like heavy rows and pull-ups, but every once in a while a "new" exercise comes along that really sparks fresh growth. The cobra lat pulldown we learned from Coach Thibaudeau is one of those movements.

"When you stretch a muscle you increase its activation potential. So, this exercise is a very good one for those who have problems activating and stimulating the lats," says Thibaudeau.

Lie down sideways on an incline bench (around 45 degrees). Grab a single handle attached to a high pulley, making sure that you fully stretch the lat at the top of the movement. Now, pull the weight so that your elbow is moving toward your hip area. Squeeze the peak contraction and return to the stretched position.

#6: Cable Pullover

Many Golden Age bodybuilders swore by the Nautilus pullover machine for building a powerful upper body. The pullover was as common as the bench press and the row. Sadly, most gyms these days don't even have a pullover machine, and those that do pale in comparison to the old Nautilus machine.

Thibaudeau, a big fan of the older pullover machines, has struggled for years to replicate their effectiveness. Here's what he came up with: the cable pullover.

"The set-up for this exercise is a bit tricky. You'll have to set up a decline bench in front of a low pulley station with a triceps rope attached. Lie down on the bench so that the rope is above your head.

"The starting position has you in a fully extended position. You perform the exercise by executing a pullover motion (keeping the arms straight) focusing on your lats the whole time. Really emphasize a wide pullover arc — this will hit the lats the hardest.

You lower the weight slowly, again in a wide arc, and return to the fully stretched position. Hold the stretched position for one or two seconds to get rid of momentum and to increase hypertrophy stimulation."

#7: Iso-Dynamic Rows

Sometimes it's not a new-fangled exercise you need to explode your back; it's a new technique.

One such technique is using a variation of the isometric (i.e. holding a load in place without moving it). You can recruit up to 10% more muscle fibers during an isometric contraction, and as Thibaudeau and other bodybuilding experts have noted, the back responds especially well to isometrics.

Here's a Thibaudeau routine that turns the standard cable row into an isometric torture session:

For this movement, hold the peak contraction for a certain period of time on each rep. To adjust to the fatigue level, the duration of the hold is decreased with each rep.

Two or three sets of this should do nicely. And by "do nicely" we mean make you cry like a little girl in a frilly pink dress holding a lollypop.

And if you like that, you can use the exact same iso-dynamic technique for the pulldown. Ouch.


Remember, for a barbarian back, use a foundation of heavy compound exercises that target both planes of motion: vertical and horizontal pulling. Then ramp things up with new plateau-busting exercises and training techniques for ultimate back development! Crom!

Exercise Models: Andrew Barker, Tim Smith, and Christine Pendleton.
Location: Gold's Gym, Abilene, Texas

Best of Back Best of Back

Pull-Up: Wide-Grip and Medium-Grip

Best of Back

Chin-Up: Medium-Grip and Narrow-Grip

Best of Back

Rack Pull

Best of Back

Sternum Chin-Ups

Best of Back

Face Pull to Throat

Best of Back

Cobra Lat Pulldown

Best of Back

Cable Pullover

Best of Back

Iso-Dynamic Rows

© 1998 — 2009 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.


Stick Your Neck Out Neck Training for Improved Strength and Performance by Nick Tumminello

For years, boxers, wrestlers, and football players have understood the importance of having a strong neck to tolerate the high-impact nature of their sports. You don't want to be coldcocked by Floyd Mayweather Jr. or run into the ground by Shawne Merriman only to find your head and body on two different stretchers.

However, aside from the above sports, I haven't heard of many people practicing regular neck strengthening routines. They just don't get it.


There are three very important reasons to make neck training a priority in any training program.

Reason #1: The Neck Supports Your Head

I'm going to make this one real simple.

Your brain controls your entire body. In order for your brain to communicate with your body, it must go through your neck. If something isn't right at the neck, it can affect everything your brain is trying to tell your body to do (or not do).

In other words, your neck is an essential crossroad to your body!

Also, keep in mind that strength is greatly dependant on the central nervous system (CNS) and neural recruitment. It only makes sense that having a strong, functional neck can improve your strength and power output.

Reason #2: Injury Prevention and Pain Reduction

The incidence of neck pain has been steadily increasing over the past two decades and is now second to back pain, the most common musculoskeletal disorder. Women are more likely than men to suffer from persistent neck pain, in particular those who spend a lot of time in front of a computer.

sexy clevage

Oh sure, she's kinky, but it's all in her neck.

This is a key reason to emphasize neck strength in all athletes. In doing so, there are accelerated improvements in posture and torso stability, reductions in neck pain, and most importantly, zero neck injuries.

On the science side of things, research studies have shown conflicting results as to whether or not exercise can effectively treat neck pain. However, I've yet to find enough high-quality research to support that it doesn't.

I did locate a new study on women with neck pain that was published in the January issue of that found:

Here's another study that had similar findings:

The authors then concluded with an important statement:

This is interesting because it basically reinforced something that I discovered years ago through trial and error. I found that in order to make significant improvements in neck strength and performance, we must utilize some specific neck strengthening protocols (like the ones shown here).

Just doing general stuff like cleans, snatches, presses, and kettlebell swings alone won't do it.

Reason #3: Improved Posture

Even though your spine is classified by three different sections, it's a single interconnected unit. Because of this, when one part of your spine is out of alignment, the other parts also move out of alignment to compensate.


The de-evolution of posture.

You'll never see anyone with perfect alignment at their pelvis, lumbar, and thoracic spine who has bad alignment at the neck. Like the tooth fairy, it just doesn't exist.

Sometimes coaches get so caught up with the position of the pelvis and lumbar spine that they virtually ignore the neck position in movements like the plank, birddog, and deadlift.

As Paul Chek says, "Your coreis what would be left if you had no extremities (arms and legs)." This further reinforces the fact that it's just as important to train your neck as it is your abdominals, back, and hips.

You could even classify the following exercises as "core training," if you're so inclined.

Neck Strengthening Exercises

Now that you understand the importance of training your neck, here's a list of the "best of the best" neck exercises.

You'll hit the neck from all angles using both static (isometric) and dynamic (concentric/eccentric) strengthening protocols. On the static exercises, start with 10-second holds and work up to 30-second holds. The dynamic movements are usually performed for 15 to 30+ reps to build endurance.

All of these protocols shown require an understanding and awareness of a neutral spine and head position. I've developed a three-step progression that'll create this type of awareness and give you the strength and stability to support it. This progression can be found in my article entitled Everything Push-Ups.

Rooney Swiss Ball Neck Circuit

Here's a great circuit that I learned from coach Martin Rooney.

Front hold:

neck stretch

Side hold:

neck stretch

Don't smirk just yet. These are harder than they look.

To increase the challenge, simply move your feet further away from the wall.

Wrestler's Bridge with Swiss Ball

This is a great version of the old school wrestler's bridge traditionally performed on the floor.

neck stretch

This exercise should be limited to specific athletes with no history of neck issues.

Head Harness

Neck extension:

neck stretch

Lateral neck flexion:

neck stretch

The lateral harness work is beneficial if a left to right imbalance exists in the neck and upper traps.

Rooney Neck Good Morning with Band

Here's another superb exercise I learned from Martin Rooney. It's a favorite of mine!

neck stretch

This one is a great prep exercise for movements like deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, and good mornings. You can work up to thicker bands to increase the difficulty.

It's okay to allow wrestlers to "round out" their back during this movement because it has more carryover to their sport.


Head Off the Bench Hold

This can be done while performing a bench or dumbbell pressing movement. Simply move higher up on the bench so that your head is no longer being supported by the bench. Keep your head straight with your chin tucked downward while pressing the tongue against the roof of your mouth. This'll increase neck muscle activity and stability.

bench press

This can also be done while performing horizontal pressing movements on a Swiss ball.

swiss ball

Many coaches are down on integrating the Swiss ball into strength training, but using it here creates a lot of "bang for your buck." You get glute and neck activation while simultaneously strengthening your pushing muscles. You can offset any instability created by the ball by placing your feet in a wider stance.

The Taliban Plank Series

The Taliban plank series utilizes the Title Boxing "Neck Strengthener" to add overload to the neck during the various plank positions.

Neck Strengthener

This is a convenient way to strengthen your neck because you can use it like a weight vest to increase the load on any and all movements. To insure proper neck alignment, drive your chin toward the back of your neck to create a double chin as directed above.

Even though elbow planks and side planks are pretty self-explanatory, many people still perform planks using faulty alignment. So yeah, don't do that.

Neck Strengthener

Elbow plank with neck load

Neck Strengthener

Side plank with neck load

A Few Final Tips

Before finishing, I want to give you a few additional bullet points that'll help you get the most out of your new neck training knowledge.

With all of that said, one final word of caution: From here on out, good luck with that top button on your dress shirts.

About the Author

Nick Tumminello

"Effect of Two Contrasting Types of Physical Exercise on Chronic Neck Muscle Pain," Lars L. Andersen, Michael Kjaer, Karen Sogaard, Lone Hansen, Ann I. Kryger, Gisela Sjogaard, Arthritis Care & Research, January 2008; 59:1; pp. 84-91.

© 1998 — 2008 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.


Big Gains with Active Recovery

If you walked into my gym in Baltimore, you'd notice my clients and athletes never stop moving. Doesn't matter if they're bodybuilders, powerlifters, combat athletes, injury-rehab clients, or people training for general fitness. They all keep moving.

If nobody explained what these clients were doing, you'd probably get the wrong idea. You might say "circuit training," which would make me strike you. You might also guess "supersets." That would be true in a technical sense — they're usually alternating between two exercises — but the exercise pairs are probably unlike anything you're familiar with.

You'd have to watch for a few minutes to figure out that there's a complete mismatch of intensity between the two exercises. The first one is hard and heavy. The second one doesn't appear to require much effort at all. In fact, the client's breathing tends to return to normal during the second exercise.

What we're doing is active recovery. Sometimes we're using the second exercise to help with recovery from the first one, which means the athlete can then work harder in subsequent sets. And sometimes we're using the second exercise for a separate goal, like core stability, neck strength, or injury rehab.

That's why my clients never stop moving, and why they tend to accomplish a lot more than a typical gym rat would in the same amount of time.

Like a lot of trainers, I discovered years ago that if I stick with traditional workout programs, there's only so much I can accomplish in the limited amount of time I have with my paying customers. Nobody can bang out sets and reps nonstop for 50 or 60 minutes. If they're working hard and pushing themselves to get bigger and stronger, they'll spend more time recovering between sets than they spend lifting.

I eventually figured out that the only way to accomplish more was to use that downtime productively, without making them so exhausted that they couldn't go hard on the primary exercise. It's called active recovery, and it's something you can incorporate in your own training. You'll accomplish more work in the same amount of time, without compromising anything or requiring more rest and recuperation in between workouts.

You could think of dozens of ways to use active recovery, and they might all be valid, as long as they adhere to these three simple rules:

With that out of the way, let's look at some of the ways you can use AR to get more done the next time you're in the gym.

For Bodybuilders: Diverting Exercises

In a diverting exercise, you do light contractions of the muscles opposite the ones you're focusing on with your primary exercise. So you'd do push-ups after heavy rows, or recline pulls (aka reverse push-ups) after heavy bench presses.

Quoting from Serious Strength Training, by Tudor Bompa and Lorenzo Carnacchia: "Such physical activities can facilitate a faster recovery of the prime movers.... As the muscle becomes more relaxed, its energy stores are more easily restored."

Thus, just as your brain is trying to limit the work an exhausted muscle can do, you're sending the opposite message, disabling the disinhibition.

Here's an example of how to use diverting exercises as active recovery in a traditional three-day bodybuilding split.

Day 1: Chest and Triceps

Primary exercise Diverting exercise for active recovery
1) Bench press Recline pull
2) Incline bench press Face pull
3) Pec flye Rear-delt flye
4) Triceps pushdown Biceps curl

Day 2: Legs

Primary exercise Diverting exercise for active recovery
1) Squat or deadlift Reverse pull-through with cable or band
2) Leg extension/leg curl Leg curl/leg extension
3) Calf raise Dorsiflexion march with miniband

As the name implies, this is the opposite of the pull-through. You're facing the cable stack, or whatever the band is attached to, and working your anterior muscles, rather than your extensor chain. With arms straight, pull the bar or handles straight down between your legs. Bend at the hips, not the back; you want to keep your spine in its optimal spinal alignment. If you like the exercise, in future workouts you can employ a more challenging load and use it for core training.

Use a light resistance mini band. Stand tall and march in place while maintaining ankle dorsiflexion (foot flexed upward, as if you were trying to walk on your heels). Set your arms in the prisoner grip, and keep your torso stable to increase the core demand.

Day 3: Back and Biceps

Primary exercise Diverting exercise for active recovery
1) Pull-up, chin-up, or lat pulldown Shoulder press
2) Bent-over or seated row Push-up
3) Biceps curl Triceps extension

For Powerlifters: Four-Part Squat

Even the most serious and knowledgeable lifters restrict their mobility work to a few minutes during their warm-ups. That's fine if you have no mobility-related restrictions to your lifting technique. But even the best lifters can tighten up in a max-effort workout with squats or deadlifts. And the ones who start the workout with mobility issues will probably get a little worse as the training session progresses.

I learned the four-part squat from Gray Cook, and use it with a lot of my power athletes. It's a great drill to employ between sets of Olympic lifts as well as power lifts.

Start with a wide stance, as shown in the photos at right. Begin by bending forward and grabbing your toes.

Now drop your hips as low as possible into a squat position, making sure to keep your back straight. You also want to engage your glutes to pull your knees outward, away from your elbows, as shown in the third photo.

The third step is to raise your arms overhead, so they're in line with your torso.

Finally, stand straight up.

As you repeat the drill, be sure to repeat each of the four steps as a discreet movement.

This isn't the only way to use dynamic mobility drills for active recovery. You can also work on mobility for unrelated movement patterns — lower-body mobility on the days you're doing bench presses and other upper-body exercises, and upper-body mobility on the days you're squatting or deadlifting.

Or you can do movement prep for the next primary exercise in your workout.

For Power Athletes: Neck-Strengthening Exercises

The neck is technically part of your core, which means that everyone could benefit from some neck-specific training. For wrestlers, MMA fighters, and football players, neck strength and stability are crucial. And yet, almost nobody does any type of conditioning for this crucial body part.

I showed some good strengthening and stabilizing exercises in "Stick Your Neck Out," an article posted on TMUSCLE a year ago. Using them as active recovery gives you a chance to add a new dimension to any workout. You work your neck without adding time to your workout or taking any focus away from your primary training exercises.

Exercises for neck stability can pull double duty when you use them for AR. Take one I show in that article, called the head-off-the-bench hold. It's pretty simple: do a dumbbell chest press on a flat bench or Swiss ball, but with your head and neck all the way off the bench or ball, and thus unsupported.

You can use the dumbbell chest press with light weights as AR for a rowing exercise, and by doing it with your head unsupported, you add the benefit of training neck stability. Shoot for 8 to 12 reps per set.

For Everyone: Core Strength and Stability Work

Pick any three trainers, and chances are you'll get three different opinions on when to do core work. Some say to do core training at the start of a workout, before you get exhausted from heavy lifts. Some say you should never do it before heavy lifts, since you don't want those muscles to be tired when you need them to support your spine. And others work it in with other types of training, in a separate workout.

Personally, I like to do core exercises for active recovery, except when the primary exercise is a squat or deadlift variation, or another movement that requires spinal stability, like the bent-over row.

But that still leaves more than three-quarters of the exercises you might do in your workouts. I find my clients get better results with shorter, less intense bouts of core training than they do with longer, more intense sessions.

Here are two of my favorites, which you probably haven't seen before:

You can use a band or cable. (The photos at right show it with a band.) Position yourself on one knee with your back to the cable machine, or whatever the band is attached to. Hold the cable with both hands over your head, and start with your back extended. (If you feel this in your lower back, you may be extending too far.)

Now you have several options: You can do it as a static hold for 15 to 30 seconds per side, or you can do reps, straightening your torso to the position shown in the second photo at right.

Or you can start in the second position, if the first is too awkward or uncomfortable. From there you can do perform isometric holds or short-range-of-motion reps pulling forward slightly.

As you can see in the photo, I'm holding an isometric position while positioned sideways on the glute-ham apparatus. You can also use a Roman chair or two flat benches set up parallel to each other, with your feet under one and your hip resting on the other. You can maintain that position for time using just your body weight, or you can add resistance with a dumbbell or weight plate, as shown in the photo.

Make sure you hold for the same amount of time on each side.

One last note about core training: I don't like to use rotary exercises for active recovery, since the movement patterns are more complex. They should be used as primary exercises so you give them the focus they require.

For All Athletes: Reflex and Reaction Drills

I don't like the term "sport-specific training." If you're an MMA fighter, sport-specific training is what you do when you're sparring or working with your coach. If you're a baseball player, you train for your sport by hitting, throwing, and fielding. What I do is strength and conditioning, making you bigger, stronger, faster, and leaner so you can get more out of whatever skills you develop on the field, court, or mat.

That said, I don't have a problem with practicing sport-specific skills as part of my training sessions. With a fighter, we might use shadow boxing for active recovery, or even some controlled sparring, especially if he needs to practice new holds and combinations for an upcoming fight.

If I'm training a tennis player or golfer, I might have him bring his racquet or driver to the gym, and practice strokes or swings as AR. This is especially important if his coach has recently altered his mechanics. Practicing the stroke or swing helps him groove the new motor patterns without interfering with our workout or requiring extra practice time with his coach.

You can also do drills that aren't specific to any sport, but help improve some useful athletic quality, like reaction time. One of my favorites is the card catch, which you see in the video to your right. I learned it from Todd Durkin, and like to use it for AR toward the end of the workout, when the athlete is tired.

For Injured Lifters: Rehab Exercises

When I had ACL reconstructive surgery on my right knee a few months back, I was a mess. I'd lost a significant amount of muscle in my legs, especially the right one.

By doing my rehab exercises as AR three times a week, I was able to double the amount of time I devoted to rebuilding my size, strength, and range of motion — three sessions a week with a physical therapist, and three workouts of my own. I was back to running and coaching athletes through complex speed and agility drills in just seven weeks.

I won't go into detail about what I did, since every injury is different. I just want to stress that low-intensity rehab exercises are perfect for active recovery, since they don't create any new fatigue in the uninjured muscles you're using for your primary exercises.

Wrapping It Up

These are the major points I want to make about active recovery:

Even with all those applications for active recovery, I'm really just scratching the surface. You can work on any fitness or athletic quality during your down time between sets of your primary exercises — agility, mobility, flexibility, balance, hand-eye coordination. You can save time by doing movement-prep exercises for whatever primary exercise comes next in your workout.

Most of the time, it's better to do AR exercises for time, rather than for reps. (One exception is the neck-training exercise I mentioned earlier.) If you're taking long rest periods between sets, you can incorporate some unilateral exercises, since you have time to hit both limbs. But if you're taking short rest periods, stick to bilateral exercises so you finish them within that time.

The most important rule is that whatever you do for active recovery can't be fatiguing, and it especially can't be fatiguing to the specific muscles you're using for your primary exercise. So you don't want to do push-ups in between sets of heavy bench presses, or core exercises in between sets of squats, deadlifts, or any other exercise that requires a lot of core strength and stability.

The other two rules, as I mentioned, require that you have a reason to select the exercises for active recovery, and you don't choose anything that extends the rest period between sets of your primary exercises.

But other than that, you're only limited by your imagination. Use active recovery diligently and creatively, and you could end up with much more productive workouts without spending one extra minute in the gym.

With strategic use of your downtime between sets, you can build more muscle, strength, and athleticism without spending more time in the gym.

Big Gains with Active Recovery

The reverse pull-through, which hits your anterior muscles, is a good active-recovery movement for squats and deadlifts, as well as a useful core-training movement.

Big Gains with Active Recovery

The dorsiflexion march, although goofy as hell to look at, helps your calves recover in between sets of heel raises.

Four-Part Squat

Big Gains with Active Recovery
Big Gains with Active Recovery

Part 2 from a different angle — notice the knees
are pulled away from the elbows.
Big Gains with Active Recovery

The kneeling posterior reach is a low-intensity core exercise that increases flexibility in your hip flexors while building strength and improving stability in your mid-body muscles.

Big Gains with Active Recovery

The lateral hold, whether you use your body weight or add an external load, is an isometric exercise for core strength and stability.

Card Catch

About Nick Tumminello

Big Gains with Active Recovery

Nick Tumminello, the director of Performance University, is a nationally recognized coach and educator who works with a select group of athletes, physique competitors, and exercise enthusiasts in Baltimore, Maryland. Go to his new website to get your free "Smarter & Stronger" video course.

© 1998 — 2009 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.