3 Deadlift Variations for MMA Fighters

With the increase in popularity of the UFC inevitably comes a flood of information from various strength coaches, trainers and other fitness professionals about “sport-specific” training for mixed martial arts competition. While there are a handful of trainers who advocate a variety of circus-like “functional” lifts, including everything from swinging chains around while standing on a stability ball (yes, this is actually a thing people do) to performing strength exercises in combat gear and altitude masks (again, yes, people do this for real), most intelligent coaches and trainers have taken basic staples of strength and tweaked them to meet the needs of a different sport.

While there will be some disagreement, it’s commonly accepted that one of the best exercises to increase MMA potential is the deadlift. There is not a fighter on the planet who can’t benefit from a stronger posterior chain (low back, glutes, and hamstrings), a better grip, and more power in the entire body. And for a lot of the offseason, the standard deadlift gets the job done. But there are a few variations that can be incorporated into your fight preparation that work either as a main lift or as an accessory lift.

The Single-Leg Deadlift

For sheer glute recruitment, the single-leg deadlift is probably the best exercise out there. It also works well for people who tend to dominate conventional deadlifts with their lower back – since you’re still using all of your lumbar muscles but only half of your glutes and hamstrings, your lower back isn’t moving enough weight to get fatigued easily.

The Zercher Deadlift

The bar position and the wide stance mimics a double-leg takedown. If you can move 300-400lbs for a few reps here you’ll have a lot less trouble taking down an angry 200-lb man who’s trying to beat you in the head.

Band-Resisted Deadlift

I like these because they force you to be fast. You’re less likely to use maximum weights, but with a healthy amount of band tension on the bar, your grip, upper back and traps will get a ton of overload because the band is going to try to yank the bar back to the floor at lockout.

There are a couple of setup options here. The first is with a single JumpStretch or EliteFTS band (light and average bands work the best for this, use more than one if necessary):

The second option is to use a couple of EliteFTS short bands, which are a little easier to set up correctly. The mini, monster mini, and light bands are the best options here, and make sure to choke the bands over the smooth part of the bar, as the knurling can tear up the bands over time:

New AST Power Camp In October

On Wednesday, October 5, we will be starting our second AST Power camp, a 6-week camp designed to prepare you for competition at a powerlifting meet as part of Team AST.  Our first camp led a team of 6 members, as well as coaches Zach and Sergio, to the 2011 USPF Illinois State Meet at Lance’s Gym in Chicago, IL.  All 8 members of the team placed in the top 3 in their respective weight and age divisions.

This time, we will be competing at the UPF Power Weekend in Dubuque, IA on November 19.  More information and rules can be found here: UPA Power Weekend.

The camp can have up to 8 participants, and will be held Wednesday mornings from 7:30-8:30am, starting October 5.  Participants will be responsible for their own entry fee for the competition should they choose to compete.

If you are looking for a new way to challenge yourself and enjoy some friendly competition with your training partners, get involved and join the camp!  E-mail Julie, Zach or Christine to sign up.

Team AST Goes to Nationals!

This weekend, 3 members of All Strength Training’s powerlifting team went to the 2011 USPF Raw Nationals to compete against over 100 other lifters. The lifters included all 3 of AST’s coaching staff – myself and Christine on Friday, and Sergio on Saturday. Another member of AST’s powerlifting team, Mark, had to miss the competition due to family commitments (but I’m sure he’ll be back on the platform as soon as we can find him another meet to do).

All of the lightweight divisions competed on Friday, so Christine and I lifted together. Christine was the only female lifter in the raw division (the raw division allows only the use of wrist wraps, knee sleeves and a belt – no squat suits or bench shirts), and competed without the use of even wraps or a belt. In the process, she set 4 USPF American records in the 123lb open women’s weight class – a 132lb squat, an 83lb bench press, a 176lb deadlift, and a 391lb total (all personal records as well). She also narrowly missed an 88lb bench press.

I also lifted raw with no equipment, in a competitive 165lb weight class (the eventual winner, Troy Smith, opened the deadlift with over 500lbs and ended with somewhere between 540-550lbs). This was my first time lifting in competition with no supportive equipment at all, and ended up coming away with a 248lb squat, 209lb bench, and 358lb deadlift (I was particularly happy with the deadlift, as that had been a lift I’ve struggled to improve on for the last 2 years).

Christine and I both left a little on the platform and felt that we could have definitely gone heavier on 3rd attempts. Christine in particular – she proceeded to break her own deadlift PR in training on Sunday by pulling 195lbs, 19lbs over what she did in competition on Friday.

Sergio lifted on Saturday, and did not have his best day on the platform. He hit his squat opener of 374lbs, but struggled with and missed 385lbs twice. He also was strong enough for his bench opener of 275lbs but was redlighted for jumping the head judge’s “press” command. He then jumped to 286lbs for his 2nd and 3rd attempts but was unsuccessful with both, disqualifying him from the rest of the meet. We’ve already talked about a few errors he made in preparation for the competition and he’ll be back in the gym on Monday ready to get it right next time.

The competition was run incredibly well, and we would like to thank Lance Karabel and Ted Isabella for putting on a great meet. Hopefully Team AST will continue to grow, and will return to the platform later this year.

Quick Tip: Build Your Back for a Bigger Bench

The bench press is often thought of as a chest-specific exercise, but when done properly with near-maximal loads, it can become a full-body movement.  And as is often the case, the chest is not the limiting muscle group in how much weight you can move.  In fact, many times a bench press plateau can be caused by a lack of upper back and lat strength.

The reason this is the case is that the body has several automatic reflexes that it will use to limit imbalances between antagonistic (opposite) muscle groups.  So when you reach the point where your lats and back can no longer help stabilize the weight, your body will shut it down and progress will come to a halt.

One simple solution is to superset chest movements with back movements, matching exercises set-for-set and rep-for-rep.  Not only will this help ensure that your back stays balanced with your chest, but there is also evidence that training antagonistic muscle groups in a superset fashion can help you lift more weight than if you had done conventional sets.  Here’s a sample approach:

Sample Chest/Back Workout:

A1.*  Incline Barbell Press – 5×6-8, 40X0 tempo**, 90sec rest
A2. Wide-Grip Pullup – 5×6-8, 50X0 tempo, 90sec rest
B1. Neutral Grip Dumbbell Press – 3×13-15, 30X0 tempo, 60sec rest
B2. 1-Arm DB Row – 3×13-15, 30X0 tempo, 60sec rest
C1. Incline DB Flye – 3×13-15, 2210 temp0, 60sec rest
C2. DB Pullover – 3×13-15, 2210 tempo, 60sec rest

*Complete a set of the A1 exercise, then rest, then complete a set of A2, then rest, then continue back to A1.  Continue until all sets of each pair are completed.

**The first number is the eccentric rep speed (i.e. the lowering part of a bench press), the second number is the pause in the bottom position, the third number is the rep speed up, and the fourth number is the pause at the top of a lift.  X denotes “as fast as possible.”

5 Essential Squat Variations

Anybody who has been training for a significant amount of time has likely heard the squat referred to as the “king of lower body exercises,” and for good reason.  The basic barbell squat recruits more muscles at once than almost any other exercise, and has been shown in many studies to produce levels of growth hormone that are exponentially higher than alternative movements such as the leg press or leg extension.

However, you can’t always eat chicken for lunch, and you can’t use only the barbell squat in your training, or you will likely reach a plateau that can only be broken by incorporating one or more of the following variations on the squat.

1. Front squat. The front squat is one of the most common alternatives to the back squat and is a favorite of athletes and Olympic lifters.  The bar is racked across the front of the shoulders with the elbows held high to keep the bar from rolling down the arms, and many lifters find that they can squat significantly deeper with the front squat than with the back squat.  Lower back and hamstring involvement is also significantly reduced, with more stress placed upon the abdominals and the quads due to the more upright positioning.

2. Safety bar squat. The safety squat bar is a special bar with a padded yoke and handles that extend out in front of the lifter, and the weights sit about 3″ in front of the bar itself.  This creates a feeling like you’re going to be pushed over, which forces the middle and upper back to work harder to stay upright and is great for when a lifter tends to fail in a conventional squat by falling forward during the lift.  In addition, because the handles sit out in front of the bar it’s an ideal alternative for those with bad shoulders or poor flexibility.

3. Zercher squat. Like the safety bar squat, the Zercher squat is an excellent option for those with shoulder or flexibility issues, but it requires no special bar.  The bar is placed in the crook of the elbows and then held tightly against the abdomen, placing additional stress on the core and mid-back muscles.  One downside is that the bar position can become uncomfortable with heavy loads, but in my experience it’s better to suck it up and get used to it than to use padding such as a squat pad or towels, as it tend to make it harder to keep the bar in a consistent position throughout the execution of the squat.

4. Cyclist squat. The cyclist squat, also called the one-and-a-half squat, is a variation on the barbell squat.  In essence, the lifter squats down until the hamstrings touch the calves, then up just past parallel, then all the way back down before rising to full lockout.  It’s important to not bounce out of the bottom position, and to not rise up too high during the “half” portion of the squat.  The extra movement at the bottom incorporates the vastus medialis oblique (VMO), the teardrop-shaped muscle inside and above the kneecap that acts as a knee stabilizer, which makes the cyclist squat a great choice for athletes.

5. Barbell hack squat. Like the machine hack squat, the barbell version places significant workload on the vastus lateralus, or outer thigh, helping to improve the “sweep” of the quads. To perform the barbell hack squat, grasp the bar behind the back, almost as though you’re setting up for a deadlift behind the body. With the heels elevated 1-2″ on a plate or blocks, drop the hips down and then back slightly while staying as upright as possible until the plates touch the floor, then drive through the heels back to the top.

Incorporate these variations to keep yourself progressing and to inject some variety into your training programs.  You won’t be disappointed.

A Visit to the Compound

Originally published here: http://articles.elitefts.com/articles/training-articles/a-visit-to-the-compound/

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I recently got the opportunity to visit Elite Fitness Systems in London, Ohio for the first (and hopefully not the last) Learn to Train seminar, with all proceeds going to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Even though I’ve followed the company and have been a customer for several years, this was my first opportunity to visit their on-site training area (nicknamed Area S4, or The Compound) and meet their sponsored athletes and the owner of EFS, Dave Tate.

The first item on the itinerary for the seminar was technical instruction of the 3 power lifts – squat, bench, and deadlift. After Dave took us all through some technical points on one of his lifters (Ted Toalston, who looks a lot bigger in person than in their videos), he asked the group, “so who thinks their squat sucks?” I had my hand in the air before Dave could even turn around, and was lucky (unlucky?) enough to be torn to shreds by Dave, as well as Todd Brock, a friend of Dave’s and a great powerlifter himself.

While I don’t have the most impressive squat in the world, I always thought it was rather technically sound, especially since I am pretty good at hammering the technical aspects into my training clients. However, it seemed like this was one of those cases of “even trainers need trainers,” because I clearly wasn’t practicing what I had been preaching.

The first thing Dave and Todd noticed was my grip – specifically, that I was completely incapable of fully gripping the bar with my left hand, no matter how hard I tried. I’m not sure if it’s something to be proud of or terrified by that it was actually something neither had seen before, and didn’t quite know how to fix. The answer seemed to be widening my grip out substantially and it seemed to take care of it.

Dave and Todd then spent the next 30 or so minutes making tons and tons of adjustments to my technique. Never in my life has it been so painful to squat an empty barbell before, but by the time they got done with me I had a list of things to fix and a smile on my face.

Then we all broke out into stations and received additional one-on-one coaching from some of the EFS-sponsored lifters. I think everybody got a little overzealous with the squat, because the group was originally allotted 30 minutes to practice, but ended up going for about 2 hours. Although, since I saw several personal records broken among even just the small subset of lifters at my station, I don’t think anybody particularly cared that it ran long.

From there we moved on to the bench press, with Dave giving a relatively short, maybe 15-minute breakdown of the performance and leaving the rest up to the coaches who were handling each station.  I think everybody was pretty gassed out from a few hours of squatting and we wrapped things up in about 30-40 minutes.

Last in the technical part of the seminar was the deadlift.  Again, Dave did some quick review and left the coaches to make the bigger corrections.  Although, I did hear Dave give one of the most logical, yet interesting, ways to get males to set up right for the sumo deadlift, which was, simply, “try to drop your nuts onto the bar.”  The best part was seeing all of the metaphorical light bulbs going off over a good twenty heads after he said it.

Since we were running late from a long squatting session, lunch was already there, so Dave told us to alternate between lifting and eating.  Again, we broke out into groups, and Todd Brock was the coach working my station.  Having helped coach my squat with Dave at the beginning of the seminar, he took one look at my deadlift and said, “well, at least we know you’re good for something!”  Which is good, because the deadlift is the one lift I feel pretty comfortable with so it was nice to have a little affirmation.

After we wrapped up the last of the technical part of the seminar, we moved into program design.  While a lot was covered, I think one of the best takeaways for the day was the concept of making sure your programs fulfill 3 requirements – 1. Is it sufficient?, 2. Is it necessary?, and 3. Is it safe?  The idea is that if you have to answer no to any of those things, the program is flawed.  An example given was somebody who makes 3 attempts at a max weight and misses every one – were those last 2 attempts really necessary for the program to work, or was it just motivated by ego?

Finally, maybe about 40% of the group stuck around for the business discussion, where Dave shared the timeline of Elite Fitness Systems and covered a lot of the mistakes that he made in developing and growing the company.  The thing that really impresses me is that Dave is so incredibly open about where he’s gone wrong and doesn’t sugarcoat anything.  I posed a question during the Q&A about a problem I had been having with one of my coaches not catching on fast enough, and after some back and forth he pretty much said (I can’t recall the exact wording) “you’re the one who’s fucking up by not making it clear enough what you want.”  I know some people wouldn’t be as straight-up in their response, and I appreciated the no-BS answer.

I can absolutely guarantee that if Dave ever holds another one of these seminars, I will be going again and taking my entire staff.  Those of us who got to attend this year are definitely a lucky bunch.  Thanks again to Dave, Todd Brock, Jason Pegg, Ted Toalston,  Steve Diel, and everybody from EFS who helped out.  With any luck I hope to see you all next time!

Simple Glute Activation Movements

The glutes get a lot of attention for their aesthetics (or lack thereof), and there are a plethora of training programs and articles designed to help you “work your booty.” But what happens when you have no idea how it’s supposed to feel when you use your glutes? Oftentimes, we’ll have potential clients come in to our center with the goal of developing their butt, but when they perform standard glute-building movements like squats, lunges and bridges, all they have to show for it is a pumped lower back and sore hamstrings, while the glutes remain underwhelmingly neglected. Why? Because your brain doesn’t know how to make those muscles fire. And if they don’t fire properly, then all of the hip-thrusting in the world won’t fix your posterior.

So how do you fix it? There are a subset of glute movements that are commonly referred to as “activation” movements, which means the whole purpose is to teach you what it’s supposed to feel like to use your glutes, as well as triggering your body to “turn on” (AKA activate) your butt muscles.

 

Here’s a simple glute program that includes both strength, hypertrophy (muscle growth), and activation movements. Give it a shot and let us know how it works for you!

Sample Glute-Training Workout

1. Activation – Band abduction – 2-3 sets of 10 reps with a 10-second hold in the open position

2. Strength – Sumo-stance barbell deadlift – 4-5 sets of 3-5 reps

3. Hypertrophy – Split jumps – 2-3 sets of 20 jumps (10 per side)

superset with

Stability ball glute bridge – 2-3 sets of 20 reps

The Military Press – Part 1

This week we’re doing a pair of videos on one of the most important yet most underused lifts we can think of – the military press.  Part 1 deals with the basics of performing the lift, and part 2 will go over some of the more common mistakes people make and how to fix them.

 

Remember to include a thourough warmup of the shoulder girdle – one of the reasons people get injured so frequently is a lack of shoulder mobility and by trying to go too heavy too fast.

 

Look for Part 2 of this series later this week.

Learning to Deadlift Part 1 – Hip Extension

Chuck Vogelpohl deadlifting

This week’s post is a video post focusing on showing a beginner how to recruit the glutes and hamstrings, which is essential both from a performance standpoint and an injury-prevention standpoint.  It helps to have access to a glute/ham raise but can be done without if you’re creative enough.

Part 2 will go through the basics of setting up for the deadlift, including a host of common mistakes beginners (and sometimes even experienced trainees) tend to make.