Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rut Busters

Rut Busters

Tips and Techniques for Bustin’ Your Sorry Lifts Out of a Plateau


     This article is going to be broken into 3 parts—the bench press, the squat, and the deadlift.  Let’s get right to most everyone’s favorite lift: the bench press.

Bench Bustin’

Tip #1— Do something other than flat bench presses.  I had to include this tip first, because too much bench pressing has to be one of the worst weightlifting sins under America’s sun.  If you’ve been bench pressing at every upper-body workout, and your bench press isn’t going anywhere, then give it a break and switch over to something else.  Don’t switch over to just dumbbells or varying degrees of inclines or declines, either.  Try some bottom-position benches, floor presses, board presses, carpet presses, or rack-lockouts to get that damn lift moving again.

Tip #2—Speed it up.  Of all the innovations to come to the surface over the last couple decades, I would say that none of them are as important as speed work—moving the bar as fast as possible through both the concentric and the eccentric portion of the movement.  And I think the exercise that it helps the most would be the bench press.  I also think that the best set/rep range is what the Westside Barbell Club always recommends: 9-12 sets of 3 reps with approximately 60% of your maximum weight.

Tip #3—Get some thick ‘uns.  No, I’m not talking about hooking up with big women.  I’m talking about using thick-handled barbells or dumbbells.  I first tried these when I read the book “Dinosaur Training,” and have made them a staple of my training ever since.  Try a few weeks of thick-handled bench presses, bottom-position benches, rack lockouts, or dumbbell benches, and when you go back to regular-style bench work, you should notice a definite improvement in the weight you’re lifting.

Tip #4—Do the dumbbells.  This is one area where I believe a lot of powerlifters and other strength athletes could actually take a cue from the bodybuilders.  Many bodybuilders have no problem with devoting entire workouts to dumbbell work, while you hardly ever see a powerlifter use them for anything but assistance work.  I think the reason for this is the increase use of “gear” among powerlifters.  Dumbbells help you “blast” the bottom of your bench press, and that’s really not a problem if you wear double or triple ply bench shirts.  There was a time, however, when the greatest bench pressers relied a lot on dumbbells.  Pat Casey—who gets my vote as the greatest bench presser of all time—used to rep out with 200 pound dumbbells, and that was in the ‘60s.  If they were good enough for Casey, they’re good enough for all of us.

Tip #5—It ain’t all chest.  The chest is important when you bench, but I think many folks forget that the triceps are equally important, and the lats are right behind them.  If you’re an aspiring big bencher, there’s no such thing as too much tri work.  What type of triceps work should you be doing?  Here’s a list of fantastic exercises:

·      Floor presses using various grips

·      Rack lockouts using various pin heights

·      Close-grip bottom-position bench presses

·      Heavy Lying Tricep Extensions in the 2 to 5 rep range

·      Weighted Partial Dips

·      Board Presses using different board heights

Hit your tris hard twice per week, and many of your benching woes will soon be a thing of the past.

     As important as it is to use quite a few triceps exercises, I think it’s equally important to utilize a huge amount of lat work.  Pulldowns, chins, bent-over rows, chest-supported rows, and dumbbell rows are all excellent examples.

Deadlift Bustin’

Tip #1—Hit the squats.  Without a doubt, one of the best things you can do for your deadlift is to squat more.  My deadlift has always been the highest when I was hitting the squats with regularity.  The two best ways to squat for a big deadlift would have to be close-stance, high-bar squats, and wide-stance box squats.  The close-stance squats hit the lower back hard, and the box squats really work your glute/hamstring tie-ins.

Tip #2—Don’t deadlift heavy.  The deadlift, unlike the squat and bench press, is a pure power movement.  You really don’t need to ever deadlift heavy in order to bring up your numbers in the lift.  What you do need to do is work the hell out of the muscles that you use in the deadlift.  As far as directly training the deadlift goes, I advise to hardly ever work up to more than 70% of your one-rep max.  Maxxing out on the lift every 8 weeks should be enough.

Tip #3—Do a lot of other type of deadlifts.  If you were wondering while reading tip #2 how you were going to deadlift maximum weights without, well, deadlifting maximum weights, then here’s your answer.  You need to train a lot of other type of deadlifts heavy.  Rack deadlifts from various heights, deads while standing on a box, snatch-grip deadlifts, Romanian deads, and stiff-legged Deadlifts are all good alternatives.

Squat Bustin’

Tip #1—Squat a lot.  Unlike the almighty deadlift, I believe that the more you squat, the better and stronger you get at it.  As a Russian strength coach once said, “If you want to squat more, you’ve got to squat more.”  Three days a week is optimal for bringing up the numbers on this lift.  Start out with a heavy/light/medium program.  Go all-out on Mondays, use 80% of Monday’s weight on Wednesdays, and use 90% on Fridays.  After several weeks of that, head to and give the “Nitro Squat Program” a try or the “Volumes of Strength” routine.  Both of them make good use of the Russian axiom.

Tip #2—Get bent over.  As Dave Tate would like to tell us, you can’t just squat and expect to get stronger at it.  You need to include some other exercises that work your core, especially your lower back.  Good mornings—and its different variations—are the best things you can do to improve your lower back strength for more squatting power.  Here are some of the varieties:

·      Arched back good mornings

·      Rounded back good mornings

·      Good morning squats

·      Seated good mornings on a bench

·      Seated good mornings on the floor

·      Bottom-position good mornings performed in the power rack with the pins set about waist height

Tip #3—Work them abs.  Louie Simmons once remarked that “the only muscles you use on the front of your body when you squat are your abs.”  I think that got quite a few lifters upset, especially considering how sore their quads are some days after heavy squat sessions.  But, he definitely had a point.  Your abs are very important if you want to break your squat out of the rut it’s in.  By the way, crunches and any other partial movements won’t cut it.  Sit-ups on the floor, steep incline sit-ups, weighted sit-ups, medicine ball throws, and hanging leg raises are all excellent choices.

Tip #4—Accommodate it.  You read, see, and hear about a lot of lifters using accommodating resistance (bands and chains) for their bench press, but how come you don’t see it much for squats?  The answer probably has something to do about the popularity of the bench press compared to the squat.  Well, that’s too bad, because bands and/or chains are one of the best things you can do for a bout of squat rut bustin’.  You can use them for box squats, Olympic-style squats, speed squats, and jump squats.  You name it and they’re good for it.

Tip #5—Get under it.  A lot of powerlifters and a lot of powerlifting clubs have their favorite exercise for building a big squat—take box squats at the Westside Barbell Club, for example.  I have mine, however, and it’s the bottom-position squat.  After several weeks of frequent training on the bottom-position, you’ll have no problem doing regular full squats.  In fact, if you’re like me, you’ll have at least a one hundred pound carryover.  So, get under the bar, and start putting up some big numbers.


     I hope these tips and techniques have given you some good ideas for busting whatever lift has been ailing you out of its rut.  I’m positive that if you apply them, you’ll see results.

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