Month: May 2013

Hang Tough: Perfecting Your Pull Ups (& Chin Ups) Part 1

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Pull ups & chin ups are 2 great bodyweight exercises that can be performed almost anywhere, with minimal equipment. Hitting a variety of muscles including the traps, lats, biceps and delts, pull ups & chin ups should be incorporated in to any strength & muscleImage building programme. In fact, there is no better exercise for building strength in the upper body. There are significant differences between the two exercises and this guide will illustrate not only the differences between the chin up & pull up, but also how to perform them correctly, even if at the moment you can’t even perform 1!

So what is a pull up? Grab a bar and hang from it. Now, pull yourself up until your chin clears the bar. That’s it! If you use an overhand grip (palms facing away from you), you’re performing a pull up. If you’re using an underhand grip (palms facing you), you’re performing a chin up. It’s as simple as that!  Of course you can make the exercises harder or easier depending on your level of strength, but both the pull up & chin up are still great exercises in this basic form.As we stated earlier, they are exercises that can be performed almost anywhere that you can hang from.

The full pull up technique can be broken down into 7 key points.

1. Start each rep from a ‘dead hang’, with the arms extended fully.

2. Using an overhand grip, take the bar close to the fingers not the palm.

3. Breathe at the bottom of the movement as this is much easier than trying to breathe at the top.

4. Focus on a point above the bar & pull up towards the bar, pushing the chest out and shoulders back. Don’t allow the shoulders to pull forward as this places unnecessary stressImage on them.

5. On the drive, pull your elbows towards the floor. This engages the stronger latissimus dorsi muscles.

6. Bend at your ankles behind you, this is a much stronger position than just having the legs hang below you.

7. Using your legs to aid in the drive is known as ‘kipping’. Only incorporate this when you are tired.

START OFF ASSISTED

The hardest part of the pull up is the actual pulling up portion. Only around 1% of women can perform unassisted pull ups. If you have a training partner, have them assist you in the lifting portion of the exercise by providing a platform for your ankles to push against or by aiding you at the hips. If you have suitable equipment, tie an elasticated band to the bar and hook it underneath where your ankles are crossed, again to provide some assistance on the lifting portion. Click HERE for an example on how to do this!

If you have one available, utilise the ‘Assisted Pull Up Machine’. This machine works by using a counter-balance, which reduces the amount of your bodyweight that you are forced to lift. The greater the amount of weight selected, the less bodyweight you are pulling up to the bar. This is a good machine for those with very little upper body strength, however as you are unable to control the decent or ‘negative’ portion of the exercise, progress can be slow. Therefore, it is much better to use assistance from a partner instead of this machine.

IT’S GOOD TO BE NEGATIVE

The lowering portion of the pull up or ‘the negative’ is a controlled decent from the bar to the arms fully extended & because you are working with gravity instead of against it, it is an easier part to perform for the beginner. Performing ‘negative only’ repetitions is a great way to build up the strength on route to performing your first full rep. This can be achieved in a couple of ways.

1. Using a Team Mate – As we stated above, have a partner aid you in the lifting portion & slowly lower yourself back down

Image2. Step Up To Achieve – Place a step or bench beneath the bar & jump up into the top of the movmenet before again slowly lowering yourself back down.

3. Challenge Your Negative – Some people may get to a point of being able to perform multiple negative reps, without being able to do a full pull up. Adding some extra weight using a dipping belt or a small dumbbell.

Chin ups are an easier exercise to perform than pull ups, so utilise the above methods using the chin up technique. However, try to use both methods as they do utilise slightly different areas of the body.

Once you can perform 10-15 full repetitions, adding resistance in the form of a dipping belt with added weight, or a dumbbell held between the knees will keep the exercise challenging.

In Part 2 of the ‘Hang Tough’, we will look at more challenging versions of the movement, including ‘muscle ups, ‘side-to-sides’ and asymmetric chins!

Pressing Ahead: Military Style

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The press is another of those exercises that can be used to develop strength and musculature in a variety of muscles. Along with the bench press, the shoulder press should be part of any training programme geared towards increasing strength in the upper body.
The type of form adopted for the shoulder press can be varied with the use of both barbell and dumbbells each bringing their own strengths and weaknesses. Here we will concentrate on the standing shoulder press, or ‘Military Shoulder Press’, although I will also touch upon the alternatives later.Image

The military shoulder press is predominantly a shoulder exercise, hitting all 3 of the shoulder heads (the clue is in the name!) However when performed correctly, with optimal weight, the military press also hits the traps, triceps and ‘core’ muscles.
When teaching the correct form of the military press, my preference is to use an empty Olympic barbell. If an Olympic barbell provides too much resistance, simply use a broom handle or similar lightweight pole until the correct form is mastered. Using too much weight at an early stage can cause technique errors to manifest themselves and become habitual, which if left uncorrected, could cause less than optimal performance and injuries to occur.

The steps below will allow you to master this multi-muscle strength builder in no time! Ideally the bar should be set up at around chest height, similar to if we were using the bar for squats, however, this is not always possible. A training partner or spotter that can aid you in getting the bar in to position can be invaluable, especially when performing working sets.

1. The first step in the military press is the grip. Simple human mechanics dictate how and where to grip the barbell. Grasp the bar just outside shoulder width so that the forearms are in a vertical position. This allows the bones of the forearm to be placed directly below the bar, on the heel of the hand. Positioning the bar here is optimal for the early stages of the ‘drive’.Image

2. The position of the elbows is an important point to consider for the balance of the shoulder press. Elbows under or behind the bar can cause the barbell to be driven away from the body, making a less than efficient and therefore less than optimal movement. This can also place unwanted stress on the shallow shoulder joint. Ideally, we want the bar to be resting on the front heads of the shoulders, with elbows slightly ahead of the bar. This will allow the bar to be driven directly upwards to a point over the crown of the head, in-line with both the shoulder blades and the middle of the feet. Yes, this means the bar will move towards your forehead, but as you will see below, we move the forehead out of the way first!

3. The military press requires a firm base from which to drive from. Using a stance not too dissimilar to one that would be used to squat, we are able to provide a stable base of the ‘kinetic chain’. The kinetic chain is the various muscles and bones involved in the production and transmission of force between the base of support and the load being moved, in this case starting at the ground and ending at the bar. This is one reason why it is important that the correct footwear is used when performing barbell movements such as the press, deadlift and squat. The standing military press requires the longest kinetic chain of the human body and is therefore a great way of building stability whilst under load.

4. Once you have established a firm base, it is time to stabilise the upper back by lifting the upper chest or “showing off your boobs”. Imagine you are pushing your chest up towards your chin by contracting the upper erector spinae. This movement along with the correct positioning of the elbows lays the foundation of the pressing movement.

Image5. When you are ready, take a deep breath*, hold it and press the bar overhead until the elbows are locked out. The bar should finish positioned over the middle of the foot, the shoulder blades and behind the forehead, not infront. Once the bar is locked out at the top, shrug the shoulders up to support the bar, The arms and traps working together will support the bar overhead, particularly when using heavy weights. Locking the elbows out and shrugging the traps up with the bar directly over the ears, produces a stable position for the shoulder girdle muscles and prevents shoulder impingement.

6. In 1972 the standing shoulder press was dropped from Olympic weightlifting competition. One reason for this was the bench press was growing as a preferred choice as a pressing movement (a movement with a very short kinetic chain ironically). Another reason is the amount of ‘lean’ permitted by competition judges was just too varied. However, as we’re not under competition rules, ‘learning to lean’ is key to not driving the bar into our nose and forehead. As the bar is starting a few inches ahead of where it will finish, some lateral movement is needed as the bar moves vertically. Pushing the hips forward whilst the bar is resting on the shoulders helps us to achieve this. The knees and lower back must remain locked out during this movement, as the hips are the only part of the body required here. This movement can and should be practiced without the bar. Practice isometric contractions the abdominals and quadriceps to stabilise the lower back and knees whilst not using the bar. This can be invaluable when it comes to incorporating this technique to a weighted barbell.Image

7. The Military Shoulder Press does not use any momentum from the legs to assist the upper body in pressing the bar. Towards the end of a set, you may want to incorporate the ‘push press’ as the shoulders begin to fatigue. It is performed almost identically as the military press, with the addition of a small, explosive ‘push’ with the legs. This produces momentum from leg drive, which will allow you to push past the early sticking point brought on by fatigue. See Tip Box on how to incorporate this movement into the end of your sets.

8. Once you have practiced this motion and feel comfortable with its use whilst under a weighted bar, it is time to incorporate each element together. Take the bar out of the rack with the correct grip, elbows in the correct position, chest up and hips forward. Do not begin to drive the bar upwards before you have pushed the hips forward. Doing so will cause you to push the bar forward slightly to avoid hitting the face, instead of straight up which is what is desired. Once the barImage has passed the forehead, move the hips back and the torso forward to get under the bar, don’t move the bar backwards. The forward movement of the torso aids in the lockout of the elbows and traps, bringing the upper arm and forearm into alignment.

TOP TIP

Utilising the push press is a great way to finish of the set, especially as fatigue has kicked in. From the standard starting position (A), bend the knees slightly whilst maintaining your stable ‘core’ (B). Drive the hips upwards explosively. With this momentum, drive the bar upwards and continue to lockout as with the military press (C).

Deadlift 101.1

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Following on from the Squat technique article I posted last week, what could be better than a 2-part series on Deadlifts! There are very few exercises that stimulate multiple gImagerowth like the deadlift can. It is one of the main exercises used as a benchmark of overall strength, simple to execute and a big strength and mass builder when used correctly. Unfortunately, it is also one of the exercises I see performed incorrectly more time times than any other in the gym. On a number of occasions I have felt the need to intervene before a serious injury occurred.
Below, i’ve split this King Strength Builder into 8 easy to highlight steps, that will have you well on your way to perfecting your deadlift. The advise below is for the conventional Regular deadlift. Part 2 will look at the variations of the deadlift, which include the Sumo, Stiff-Legged & Rack Pull.

1. Stand with feet slightly narrower than shoulder width, with the bar over the middle of the feet. Note that I said feet, not trainers.  Feet can be angled out slightly. This will allow you to establish a better back angle.

2. Bend at the waist, keeping legs straight, gripping the bar with a tight overhand grip. A split grip of overhand & underhand can also be used.

Image3. Now bend the knees until the shins touch the bar. The bar should be over the middle of the feet, with shoulder blades directly above the bar. This should establish the correct back angle for the lift.

4.Taking a deep breath, take the tension of ther bar. Maintaining neutral alignment in the neck, lift the chest and pull your shoulder blades back and down, looking forward at a point roughly 15-18 feet infront of you. This will allow you to gauge your body position throughout the movement.

5. Pushing your heels through the floor, lift the chest, pulling the bar upwards in a smooth motion, maintaining its proximity to the body. Be ready to suffer some shin scraping.

6. Once the bar has passed the knee, drive the hips through & the chest forward as you pull the shoulders back. Some people may feel the benefit of using the latimus dorsi to pull the bar upwards towards the waist. Hyper extension of the hips is unnecessary, locking out is the aim. Try to maintain the deep breath as this will support the back and core.

7. The eccentric (lowering) part of the movement will be performed much quicker than the concentric part. Lower the bar by pushing the hips back and when the bar reaches the knee, start to bend the knees.
Don’t try to control the weight too much, just go down with it.

Nothing builds & shapes a great behind like the deadlift.

Nothing builds & shapes a great behind like the deadlift.

8. Keep the chest up and your focus forward as this will stop you from rounding the back & which is better for the back.

 

Hints & Tips

*TIP 1: When deadlifting, use flat soled shoes such as Converse Chuck Taylors, Adidas Boxing shoes or as a last resort, bare foot like Arnie. This will allow you the proper stability when pushing through the heels. Just don’t drop weights on bare feet. It hurts. A lot!

*TIP 2: Avoid using wrist straps where possible. Relying on wrist straps will not only take away the added grip strength benefits, but will also place stress on the wrists where the straps dig in. Use straps for big PB efforts.Image

*TIP 3: Need some added grip? Chalk up!
Climbing chalk or powerlifting chalk will reduce moisture on the skin, which is how calluses form. If your gym doesn’t allow the use of chalk, your gym sucks & you should trade up!