By Jimmy Pena MS, CSCS
From techniques, tactics, plans and schemes, your treasure chest of personal records of strength and size is filled with triumph and failure. Some approaches worked; others didn’t. Well, if you incorporate any or all of the following eight tips, you’ll soon see a general upward shift in your strength. Some of the items might be easy adjustments, while others might require major shifts in technique. Since you’re a strongman, able and eager to do anything in your power to add plates to the end of the bar, we have no doubt you can handle them.
. Stagger Your Grip
You’re stronger when using an alternating or staggered grip. The reason is related to the transfer of the weight of the bar in your hands. When you use an overhand grip, it can roll out of your hands, creating a problem with heavier weight. The staggered grip can prevent this problem through the physics of reverse torsion. That means the overhand grip is twisting the bar in one direction while the underhand grip is twisting it in the opposite direction. As a result the bar doesn’t roll in your hands and you have a stronger grip.
2. Strongest Portion of Rep
From one week to the next make sure to exhaust the strongest portion of the rep, whether you’re doing squats, benches or deadlifts. During a bench press you seldom exhaust the upper portion of the movement simply because you failed to move the bar past the sticking point. However, the strongest portion of the press is the top half, as with the deadlift and squat. Once you’ve worked through the full range of motion, spend a set or two blasting the phase of the range of motion in which you’re the strongest. That means doing partial reps with heavier weights than what you use for full-range-of-motion training and using the safety bars in the power rack.
3. Stand for Something
When you have an option, do a given movement standing up. You’re much stronger standing than you are when seated because your legs, low back and core musculature as well as body english allow you to move more weight. So beyond your deads and squats try to work from a standing position. Other examples might be the overhead press and overhead triceps extensions. Whenever possible, work to engage your entire body. The strongest men on the planet will never be found sitting down during their workouts, and neither should you.
4. More Power to You
If you’re not training for power, you’re letting some of your best lifts pass you by. Training specifically for power helps you develop fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are the fibers most responsible for size and strength gains. One way is to use plyometrics. Similar to ballistic-type movements, plyometrics have no element of deceleration. Normally you slow down an exercise slightly so that the weight doesn’t leave your hands. With plyos, as in plyo push-ups, you don’t decelerate but rather you allow your hands to leave the floor, exploding as high as possible. You can also use barbell power throws with the Smith machine to help develop power. When you’re doing bench press throws, overhead throws and biceps curl throws, the Smith machine can be a vital tool for developing power.
5. Put It in Reverse
Try benching and squatting the same way you deadlift … from a dead stop. Reverse movements for the squat and bench should be done in the power rack with the safety bars set at the point where the bar would be at the bottom of both movements. (For the bench the bar begins and ends an inch or so above your chest.) You begin each rep from the bottom of the exercise with the bar actually touching the safeties. The key is to allow it to settle on the safeties each rep. The removal of the downward (negative) phase will eliminate elastic tension, helping you develop strength at your sticking point (because the movement is now harder without the use of the stretch reflex) when you return to standard training techniques.
6. Antagonizing Strength
Try a light set of rows for back before every set of bench presses. A muscle is stronger if its antagonist, or opposing muscle group, is contracted immediately before it’s required to work. Not many techniques in the gym allow for a particular muscle to be able to make a gain in strength by indirect means. If you do a row before a big bench press, your bench press will be much stronger. One important key is to not go to failure on the row because doing so will actually hinder the bench press. You can apply this antagonistic technique to virtually every bodypart and lift.
7. Path of the Bar
In bench pressing, many bodybuilders lower the bar to their chest and then press it straight up toward the ceiling. Make sure you aim for your lower chest, not your middle or upper chest. You’ll find you’re much more powerful if you take the bar a little lower on your pecs. Then, as you explode upward, allow the bar to travel in an arc over your face so that it moves back and straight up. The arc motion will allow for more pectoral involvement, as opposed to the straight up-and-down motion, which places undue involvement on the triceps and lessens the stress on the chest.
8. Strong Tools
Finally, if your gym bag lacks a good belt and a pair of pulling straps, you’re not fully equipped. Use a belt on your heavier lifts because it helps you develop intra-abdominal pressure and keeps your spine from injury. Many guys will tell you they want their “core” to work, but don’t listen to them. If you’re going heavy enough, neither you nor the strongest Olympic lifter on the planet can produce enough pressure to support your spine, so throw on the belt. Don’t let pride get in the way of not only your best lift, but also of preventing serious injury. Keep it off on your lighter-weight sets. As for pulling straps, those same guys who say they don’t wear belts will also tell you they want their forearms to do the work during heavy pulls. Again, bad advice. First of all, your forearms are still at work, and you never want your back and legs to be at the mercy of your hand/grip strength. You can train your grip separately, but for now throw on the straps and pull as much weight as you can. You will be stronger with them!