Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bouncing Is For Lowriders, Not Deadlifts

Article written by Seth Larsen
            Strength athletics are a dangerous pursuit.  There is no denying this.  We subject ourselves to things that the average person would consider insane and most medical practitioners would say are severely detrimental to our health.  I consider that half of the fun, but there's no reason to be an idiot about it.  One of the steps on the path out of the realm of idiocy is this: stop bouncing your deadlifts! That's right, I'm joining in with the trolls on this one.  I'm not about to go around to each of your videos and critique them, but I am happy to say that bouncing your deadlifts off the floor is both stupid and dangerous.  Yes, it helps you hit more reps for time and makes you look more bad ass when your non-lifter friends watch your videos, but to those of us in the know, you look like less like a bad ass and more like a jack ass when you do it.

            Did I hurt your feelings? Good. Maybe that will make you pay attention so you don't wind up walking around like Herbert from Family Guy in your mid-twenties.  Pop culture references aside, this is a serious issue in the age of high-rep deadlift WODs and YouTube heroes.  If you have a minute, go watch some videos of people doing the Open workout 14.3 from last month.  You will see countless deadlifts accelerated into the floor with such force that they literally fly up into the next rep due to the rebound.  I'm not talking about touch-and-go deadlifts here; I mean the bounces that were heard around the world that week.  Newsflash, guys, this is not what bumper plates were designed for!  Now I'm not going to sit here and talk about the benefits of dead-stop pulls versus touch-and-go, as many people far stronger than I am have already beaten that topic into the ground.  At this point, we should all be aware that the dead-stop has a far greater strength benefit.  It is also significantly SAFER than bouncing, which is what I'd like to address.

The importance of a stable and tight back position while deadlifting can not be overstated, but it has been discussed ad nauseam by myself and others, so I will not rehash proper positioning here.  However, it is this position that is compromised when one attempts to bounce the barbell off the ground to gain momentum for the subsequent reps.  It takes a significant amount of tightness in the upper and lower back and force from those same muscles to achieve lockout on any deadlift, but the same can not be said for the bar's path back into the ground.  Controlling the eccentric phase keeps you in the same strong position you used for the lockout.  Now I'm not saying a negative is necessary on every rep, or even that you can't set the bar down quickly. Bouncing is the key issue here.  When you actively accelerate the bar into the ground, the force shifts from your posterior chain to your anterior musculature.  This makes it difficult, if not impossible to maintain the proper curvature of your spine to prevent injury during heavy lifting.  Repetitive cyclic flexion of the lumbar spine has been shown time and again to result in injury.  Why do you think construction workers, movers, and all manner of laborers wear back braces and trusses to protect themselves?  When you attempt to bounce a deadlift, you deactivate the muscles that compose your own anatomic back brace.  These muscles are designed to resist flexion, so when you accelerate into flexion, you are taking them out of the equation.  I don't know about you, but this sounds like a pretty bad idea to me.

They must have bounced a lot of deadlifts
            Now that we've established the muscular issues with the bounce, we need to talk about the forces resulting from this accelerated impact into the floor.  Multiple studies have documented the extra force on an athlete's body when landing during plyometric exercises, and this is no different.  Gravity is responsible for this increase in force.  I'm going to get a little mathematical on you here, so I apologize in advance for that.  The equation for force is mass times acceleration, something basic physics has taught us.  When gravity is added into the equation, it multiplies that force by 9.8.  That means that gravity is taking your force of bouncing the bar and making it almost 10 times stronger.  10 times! And where do you think that force is going?  Into YOU.  These forces are rebounding from the floor, through the bar, into your muscles, joints, and bones, all of which are in a compromised position now due to your desire to get that extra rep, that faster rep.  The supportive musculature has been disengaged, throwing all that force into the joints, specifically those of the spine.  As I have discussed before, your intervertebral discs are fragile and protecting them is paramount in maintaining your long-term health as a lifter.  By bouncing, you are essentially causing a self-induced whiplash injury, which is as detrimental to your lumbar spine and its discs as it is to those of your neck.  However, it is actually worse than such an injury caused by a car crash, since in such a collision your body can actively use its supportive musculature to resist the force.  Unfortunately, that has already been shut down.

            Don't take what I've said here the wrong way; like I said, touch-and-go deadlifts are not going to kill you or put you in a wheelchair.  When you are deadlifting for time, feel free to continue to use that method.  I can't argue that it isn't going to be faster than resetting on every rep.  But do yourself a favor and stay tight, touching the bar to the floor instead of bouncing it.  Unless you'd like to increase the chances of playing with your children and grandchildren from a wheelchair or repeatedly going under the knife to fix what's left of your spine.  Stay strong and healthy, my friends.


1.      Chiu, L, Schilling, B, Fry, A, Weiss, L. “Measurement of Resistance Exercise Force Expression.” Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 2004.  Vol 20, 204-212.

2.      Sandhu, J. “Low Back Pain and Concept of Segmental Stabilisation.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2010. Vol 44(Suppl I), i1-i82.

3.      Hoops, H, Zhou, B-H, Solomonow, M, Patel, V. “Short rest between cyclic flexion periods is a risk factor for lumbar disorder.” Clinical Biomechanics, 2007. Vol 22, 745-757.

4.      Fast, A, Sosner, J, Begeman, P, Thomas, MA, Chiu, T. “Lumbar spinal strains associated with whiplash injury: A cadaveric study.” American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 2002. Vol 81, 645-650.

5.      Solomonow, M. “Neuromuscular manifestations of viscoelastic tissue degradation following high and low risk repetitive lumbar flexion.” Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, 2012. Vol 22, 155-175.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Training The Farmer's Walk

Article written by Matt Mills

The farmers walk is one staple of my programming that I never take out.  If you want to get bigger, leaner, and more athletic, then the farmers walk is the answer.  If you are a strongman competitor, the farmers walk is absolutely essential to your training. If you are not a competitor of any kind, the farmers walk is about as functional as it gets, and should be performed by anyone.  No, I’m not talking about squatting on a bosu ball because that’s considered “functional” for some reason beyond me.  I’m talking about an exercise that we all do single day.  Any time you carry a weight you are performing a farmers walk to some degree, hence where the name came from.  One of the most rewarding things as a strength coach is when I have a member of my gym come to me all excited telling me how they were able to carry all of their groceries in at the same time.  If you ever need help, moving be sure to ask the guy or girl that has a good farmers walk!

If you are a powerlifter, or just someone looking to get their deadlift up (and who isn’t?!) you want to carry some heavy weight in your hands.  One of the biggest benefits of doing farmers is the increased grip strength.  Whenever I see someone miss a deadlift because of their grip I can’t help but cringe.  Having a strong grip is essential to living a healthy life, and ladies, I know you don’t like asking your guy to open that jar up.  For those of you interested in more fat loss, the farmers walk is a perfect finisher.  Literally every muscle in your body must work to either stabilize, or move the weight efficiently.  The more muscle groups you work, the greater the metabolic effect is burning calories.  One of my favorite benefits of the farmers walk is the amount of work your traps get.  Whenever you see someone with some big traps and neck, you know they have put some work into the gym.  In fact the farmers walk is my favorite builder for the traps, and is the first exercise I suggest when someone asks for advice.  

The core is taxed heavily here, and is one of the best ways to get strong abdominals without doing any direct work.  For you competitors that have a weakness on the farmers walk, and it is not your grip, then it is your core.  A great way to fix this is with suitcase carries.  Simply take one farmers handle, and load it up to a fairly light weight of about 50%-60% of your max and carry it for a given distance.  I generally stick with 50-100 feet.  Make sure you stay as tall as possible, and do not slouch to the side you are carrying the load.  You will feel your obliques of your opposite side screaming by the end.  Suitcase carries are also another great way to increase your deadlift, as strong obliques are essential to a big pull.  Another great way to build your core strength is to carry uneven loads.  Load one weight up to 75% of your max and the other to 50%.  The challenge to stay upright will be extremely difficult. Improve on your core strength with these variations and watch your farmers go through the roof.

I would say for most competitors, grip is the biggest weak point on the farmers walk, and its what the event really tests in a contest.  For those of you who are against straps, this is the reason why they are allowed in strongman on the deadlift most of the time.  Strongmen arguably have the best grip in the world, and it is tested heavily on events like this.  Put farmer walks in a contest with a husafel, keg, sandbag carry, stones and your grip will be fried by the end.  If you are looking to hit farmers as hard as possible, look into getting a pair of lifting straps and use them on your deads and heavy rows.  I do have to make a statement about one thing in your training that I get asked about quite a bit, and have even read in another article.  NEVER USE STRAPS ON A FARMERS WALK…EVER!!! 

When grip is your main weak point, you have a couple ways to make it your strength.  First, use a pair of fat grips to make the farmers handles much thicker.  You will have to drop the weight down quite a bit but once your grip increases from the thicker handles, the normal farmers will feel like tooth picks.  Another option that I love to do on my final set of heavy farmers is to hold them once you finish your carry.  Squeeze the handles are hard as possible and for as long as you can.  Just make sure you save this for your last set because otherwise your grip will be shot for you other sets.

In a strongman competition, you will most likely run into a farmers event that will have a turn involved.  Turning with farmer handles is incredible hard, and will tax your grip immensely.  There are a couple tricks to help you master the turn.  A common mistake I see are competitors trying to make a complete stop at the turning point, staying in place while slowly turning around, and then trying to pick up speed again.  Stopping is only going to slow you down, and make you have to hold onto the handles even longer then you should have to.  Instead of making this mistake, take a wider turn and keep your feet moving, so you don’t lose any speed.   

You will have to slow down slightly to keep the farmers under control, but you will make the turn much faster, and be able to pick up momentum once you make the full 180 degrees.  The most important part here is when you start to come around from the turn, you must not let the farmers handles continue to turn.   Turning with the handles at a heavy load is extremely difficult to control, and without controlling them they will continue to turn you until you lose your grip.  Right before you feel the handles start to turn you, push back against them hard in the opposite direction.  When you turn against the handles it will actually keep them straight in line, and allow you to continue to the finish line in a straight shot.  Finally while turning do your best to keep the plates in contact with one another.  Once the plates stagger the turn will even be more difficult as the load will be unbalanced.

Here are a couple quick tips that make a huge difference on the farmers walk:
Grip the handles not in the middle but just a hair back from the center.  Your grip mainly comes from your index, middle finger, and thumb.  I grip the farmers in the middle then move them back just a half inch.  Once you start moving with the weight the handles will dip slightly making you move the weight faster from the momentum.

Dig your hand into the handle for your grip.  You should curl your wrist in as deep as possible.  Once you pick it up your wrist will straighten.  This will pinch your hands more but your grip will be better, which is more important than your sensitive hands.

Use a staggered stance when the weight is light enough.  This is a little trick that will save you a second or two on your time.  If you start in a staggered stance you can take a step right away as you pick the weight up.  I line the toes of my back foot up with the heel of my front foot. 
Take short choppy steps, do not try to take long strides as this will make the handles swing more, making them much harder to control.  

Programming Options
I like to make my training more difficult then it will be for an upcoming contest.  If this is possible for you always train an event slightly heavier then what you will be doing in a contest.  For example, for the Arnold Classic I recently competed in I had to carry 345lbs in each hand for 75 feet.  Leading up to the contest I trained only for 100 feet starting at a lighter load of 280lbs.  By the final heavy week of training my heaviest carry was 365lbs in each hand for 100 feet.  If you are not able to go slightly heavier, then work at the heaviest load you are able to for the given distance of the contest.  Once you have reached a heavy max drop the weight down to about 65% and perform multiple sets of speed runs with short rest periods of 60-90 seconds.  As always, find what your weak point is on the farmers as I have outlined above and make it your strength!