Sunday, September 30, 2012

Muscle Imbalances Pt. 2: Mobility VS. Stability





     In Part 1 of this series we spent time looking at shoulder girdle imbalances that could hinder performance by diminishing force capacity. We got a little technical and looked at specific musculature that can become inactive or weak in a specific movement. This leads to biomechanical inefficiencies and decreased performance. Prior to moving on to muscle imbalances relating to the hip (Part 3), and how to fix them, I thought it would be important to take a step back and evaluate the relationship between stability and mobility.

            Maximal force output generates from power output surrounding joints that demonstrate exemplary stability. It seems logical to say then, that if you want to increase your power output, you need to improve your joint stability. This rationale makes sense, but the methods behind achieving this stability may surprise you. Remember this fact:

            Quality stability cannot be achieved without quality proprioception. Quality proprioception cannot be achieved without quality mobility.

            Proprioception can be defined as your body’s sense of relative position with adjacent parts of the body and strength of effort being utilized in movement. Basically, there are receptors located all throughout your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joint capsules that provide your body brain with information to process so that it can properly organize movement. If you closed your eyes and then raised your arm up in the air in front of your face you should know exactly where your arm is because of these neural pathways. 


            If you go back through the LBEB archives you will discover the disdain for training in front of mirrors. Many people who have poor proprioception will develop visual accommodation creating poor kinesthetic awareness. If your lack of kinesthetic awareness is compensated for by your vision, you will promote global inefficiency in mobility and stability in your body.

            A simple test you can perform to assess your proprioception is a single leg stand. Stand barefoot on one leg, eyes open, with your other leg lifted at a 45 degree angle from the hip. Then repeat on the other side. If you are under the age of 60 you should be able to do this for 30 seconds without problem. Your arms shouldn’t flail around, the foot you are standing on cannot move and the elevated foot cannot contact the base leg.

            Now perform the same test with your eyes closed. Give yourself a few tries per leg. If you are under the age of 60 you should be able to do this for at least 20 seconds keeping your eyes closed. Repeat on the other side and assess symmetry. If you find yourself struggling more on one side or a major discrepancy in time, you should take that into consideration as well. If you are incapable of hitting the goal times with your eyes closed, but you are fine with your eyes open, you demonstrate poor proprioception with visual accommodation. In other words, you MAY be someone who squats in front of mirrors.



            Why does this matter? Go back to the lines above. You MUST have quality proprioception in order to achieve stability prior to force output. The other part states that you must have quality mobility to achieve quality proprioception.

If you lack joint mobility, you cannot achieve the necessary stability to maximize force output. Squat all you want, but it’s kind of like the saying, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” If you are repeatedly performing squats, and your body is making small compensatory adjustments throughout each one because of joint restriction, you are diminishing your returns.

            You may still be able to move a ton of weight, but you could move so much more!

            You think of the squat and typically you think of ankle and hip mobility, but think of the snatch instead. Ankle, hip, thoracic and shoulder mobility all at one time, working in harmony with speed and force from the legs, hips, core, back and shoulders. What I’m telling you is that reduced mobility in any one of those areas will reduce your lifting potential. Your brain will get bad input from your body. Garbage in > garbage out!



            If it’s your ankles, perform closed-chain dorsiflexion movements, not just traditional calf stretches. Put your foot up on a stool, keep your heel down and press the knee forward while keeping most of your weight on the straight leg. See if you can get your knee four inches past your toes.

            If it’s your hips there are a ton of movements it could be. Go to mobilitywod.com and run through some movements to see where you are restricted.

            The thoracic spine and shoulder are covered decently by Starrett as well. Foam rollers, lacrosse balls, woody bands, seated rotation mobs etc., are all good for improving these areas.

            Once your mobility restrictions are removed improve your proprioception further. Foam pads, wobble boards, rocker boards, and air discs are all good tools to use in order to improve your proprioception. And, hopefully it goes without saying to not try and strength train on these devices.

            Proprioceptive training is crucial for athletes not only for the reasons listed in this article, but because it has also been shown to markedly reduce ACL injuries in soccer and basketball players, ankle sprains and a variety of other injuries.

            The message here is to improve your mobility and proprioception in order to maximize stability. Stability allows you to generate maximum force. Use those recovery days you are supposed to be taking and focus on something that will still help you the next time you get under the bar.



Dr. Kevin Kerchansky, DC, DACRB, CSCS, CICE

Dr. Kerchansky is the Director of Physical Rehabilitation at Triad Pain Management Clinic, a multidisciplinary, functional rehabilitation facility in Tempe, Arizona. He is a Board Certified Diplomate to the American Chiropractic Rehabilitation Board, and has been certified to testify in court as an expert in Clinical Biomechanics. Dr. Kerchansky is a post-doctorate educator at Northwestern Health Sciences University, currently conducting seminars around the country on the Functional Rehabilitation of injuries. His pursuits have also led him to credentialing through the NSCA, USAW, CrossFit, and various other sport systems.


           





Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dynamic Training


Article written by Jay Stadtfeld for LiftBigEatBig.com
 
Most of the time, people think of speed as something that Olympic lifters need, but nobody else. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Powerlifters and Strongmen both can benefit from adding this into their training.
 
Dynamic training is as simple as it sounds. Dynamic. It’s training as fast as possible under load (bodyweight or otherwise). It doesn’t necessarily have to be set up like Westside’s Conjugate system, but adding speed work to your program could certainly benefit you, and here’s why:

  • Speed will power you through a sticking point
  • It will allow you to be more efficient
  • Improves explosive force
  • Increases maximal strength

 Shane Hamman knows squat

If none of those reasons above stand out to you, you’re probably in the wrong game.

The idea with Dynamic Effort (or DE) work is to move a submaximal weight as fast as possible. I realize that this type of training makes people think of triple ply lifters who waddle up to a monolift, but it certainly has an effect on the raw lifter, as well.

There are a plethora of exercises that can be used for dynamic work, and I prefer to set it up so it’s at the beginning of my training day (after SMR and mobility work, of course) so that maximal force can be applied to any particular exercise.



Below is a list of exercises that you can use to improve your force production, and not all of them have to be with bands, chains, or a barbell:

  • Bench Press
  • Deadlift
  • Squat
  • Olympic lifts (Clean, Snatch, etc.)
  • Box Jumps, Depth Jumps, etc.
  • Any kind of throwing (shot, discus, or Highland Games style)

The biggest mistakes people make with dynamic effort training that I’ve seen involve using too much weight, not emphasizing the concentric action of the movement (the “up” phase) and instead dive-bombing the attempt, and training at too high of a rep scheme.



The percentages and rep schemes vary, dependant on if you’re a geared or raw lifter, and experience under the bar. If you’re a raw lifter, using a higher percentage will be necessary than if you’re a geared lifter. Jim Wendler has a very good write-up on EliteFTS about this particular style of training, complete with band, chain, and “straight weight” cycles, which can be found here.

Hopefully this gives you a good idea as to why you need to include some type of speed training into your program. When in doubt, train like an athlete. Get fast; get strong; get big; prosper.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

"Don't Let your Knees Go Past Your Toes!"

Aimee Anaya

 By this point in your quest for total “jackitude”, I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Never let your knees go past your toes.”

I’m not sure how this saying started, but I assume it started during a game of Dungeons and Dragons, perpetuated by a long standing myth that some guy blew out his o-ring sitting on a toilet, which resembled a squat. Then, as time progressed, the o-ring became the knees (You know how the telephone game works, right?) and there you have it.  Now, you can’t start squatting in any gym without some trainer, who has a certification bought off a seal at Sea World, running up yelling at you through a pre-pubescent, squeaky voice that you’re going to destroy your ACL.

And that, my fellow iron friends, is how the myth of “Never let the knees go over the toes,” started.
Often times in daily moving, your knees travel past your toes, such as when climbing stairs (according to a study by the American Sports Medicine Institute, 0-66 degrees of flexion is normal in this instance), or squatting down to grab that pesky piece of food that fell on the floor. Yet, even though this occurs daily, people inherently still think it’s bad for you and you’ll inevitably catch the Bubonic plague.

The argument largely begins when sheer forces to the knees are examined under load while squatting. According to the American Sports Medicine Institute, maximal compressive forces were found at exactly 91 degrees of flexion, compared to 90 degrees during a leg extension exercise.  The article goes on to say how electromyographic data illustrated greater hamstring and quadriceps contraction during the squat than the other tested exercises.




The thing you should focus on is the hamstring and quadriceps recruitment/contraction, as those are the muscles that support the knee in positioning. Without the contraction between the two, the probability of getting injured is greater than if only focused on one muscle contraction.

In application to sport, where your knees will travel ultimately depends on a few factors, such as what squat you’re performing (low bar, high bar, front), and body proportions (long femur, short femur, etc.). In effort to properly utilize your hamstrings, it’s necessary for your knees to travel slightly in front of your toes in order to get that “bounce” out of the hole, and also for your quads to assist in muscling up the weight. If you want to be an efficient squatter, it makes sense to utilize every muscle you have.
The fact of the matter is, squatting increases the strength of the musculoskeletal system, including the quadriceps and hamstrings, which in turn strengthen (presuming you’re performing the squat properly) the joints.  Stay balanced in your mid-foot, keep the bar over the middle of said mid-foot, stay tight, and allow your body to do what it naturally wants. The more you try to keep your shin vertical, the less balanced you’ll likely be (unless you’re a wide squatter, which is a different story for a different day).

Source Cited:
   Fry, A.C., J.C. Smith, and B.K. Schilling. Effect of hip position on hip and knee torques during the barbell squat. J. Strength Cond. Res. 17(4): 629-633. 2003.

Wilk, Kevin, Rafael Escamilla, Glenn Fleisig, Steve Barrentine, James Andrews, and Melissa Boyd. "A Comparison of Tibiofemoral Joint Forces and Electromyographic Activit During Open and Closed Kinetic Chain Exercises." A Comparison of Tibiofemoral Joint Forces and Electromyographic Activit During Open and Closed Kinetic Chain Exercises. N.p., July 1996. Web. 19 Sept. 2012. <http://ajs.sagepub.com/content/24/4/518.short>.

Maitland, Murray, Stanley Ajemian, and Esther Suter. "Quadriceps Femoris and Hamstring Muscle Function in a Person With an Unstable Knee." Quadriceps Femoris and Hamstring Muscle Function in a Person With an Unstable Knee. N.p., Jan. 1999. Web. 19 Sept. 2012. <http://ptjournal.apta.org/content/79/1/66.full>.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Squats: Barbell VS. Smith Machine


There are few topics that irritate me as much as those who argue for the legitimacy of the Smith machine in an athlete's proper strength training program. A few of the more common arguments include:
  • Smith squats are good for those starting out, who don't know how to squat.
  • Smith squats are safer because they allow you to squat without a spotter.
  • Smith squats are no different than squats with a real barbell.
If you have been around LBEB for any amount of time, you know our opinion of things like the leg press and the smith machine for strength and size development, but for those that don't, let's take a little journey and pick apart some of the common arguments presented above.

1. Smith squats are good for those starting out, who don't know how to squat.


Because sitting that far back with a tampon bar prepares you for a real squat
 We hear this argument a lot, usually from the same crowd that say "Hey, at least they are off their butts and doing something!" The problem that arises from this argument is that the Smith squat and barbell squat are similar mostly in name, and little else. The feet must be placed in front of the Smith bar in order to compensate for the guided path of the Smith machine, causing a shear on the knees, as well as a rounded lower back that occurs at the bottom of the smith squat.

The reason I would never recommend a person "start on the smith machine, then move up to free weights" is because the two movements are so different. I have coached a lot of people, most of them were complete beginners. I had every single one of them start out by doing simple air squats, then move on to an empty barbell , then finally a loaded barbell. The reason for this is because the movements of my progressions are very similar to one another in regards to trunk recruitment, knee position, and torso elevation. On more than one occasion, we have watched on of my newer lifters (less than 2 months training) out-squat a different coach lifting right next to them, and they did it with impeccable form.

If your idea of a good squat is keeping your knees together while keeping your butt up and touching your nipples to your knees, you have issues. A smith squat will not prepare you for the movement patterns of a barbell squat, stop using this as an argument and educate yourself on correct technique.

2. Smith squats are safer because they allow you to squat without a spotter.



In the video above, the woman outlines all the benefits a Smith machine can offer to a beginner lifter. These "benefits" are the exact reasons you should NOT be using this machine. The spotting excuse holds little water as well, since nearly every squat rack has guards or catchers on them. You can set these catchers to just below the lowest point of your squat in case you need to bail, thus eliminating one of the biggest arguments for the Smith machine.

Another option is to use bumper plates so you can simply toss the bar off your back if failure occurs. Not sure how to bail? Email me! I have worked with women who have literally never set foot in a gym before calling me, and they can squat up to 200lbs within a few months of starting. If a brand new person can squat without a spotter, so can you.

3. Smith squats are no different than squats with a real barbell.



On the topic of the similarities between Smith and barbell squats, we may need to beat a dead horse. Charles Poliquin, my squat Grandmaster, has this to say on the subject:

"With a Smith machine, the bar is on a track, and this increased stability decreases the requirement of the body’s neutralizer and stabilizer muscle functions. Therefore, the strength developed on such machines has minimal carryover to a three-dimensionally, unstable environment such as occurs during the freestanding squat. This is an especially important fact to those who use weight training to improve sports performance."

A huge drawback of the Smith machine is that eliminates the need for your body to build stabilizer muscles, as it does the stabilization for you. We may rag on folks who over-emphasize stabilization training, but the bottom line is if you have no stabilization muscles, what the hell kind of training do you think you are doing? In addition to the stabilization factor, the Smith machine places unnecessarily high levels of stress on the patellar ligament and the anterior cruciate ligament. Some bodybuilders favor the Smith machine because of its focus on the quads, but remember folks: Just because it creates a favorable response with a muscle does not mean it is is healthy for a tendon or joint (like the sumo deadlift high pull, or BTN strict press).

On a more scientific note, researchers have found that use of the Smith machine resulted in vast reductions of power, due to the increased load during the concentric phase and the reduction of the potentiation from the stretch-shortening cycle as well as a decrease in velocity for the eccentric phase. Now say all of that ten times fast.


The long story short is this: stop trying to justify your use of the Smith machine. You say that is is useful to do assisted pullups or to hang rings from? There are literally a thousand other places to hang rings from. It astounds me that gyms will spend thousands of dollars on this piece of equipment so someone can hang a TRX band over it. Get under a real bar, and get a solid coach to guide you on your way.


Want to learn more about why the Smith machine needs to sleep with the fishes? Check the sources below.


Sources

-Poliquin 1

 - Schwanbeck, S., Chilibeck, P. D., Binsted, G. A Comparison of Free Weight Squat to Smith Machine Squat Using Electromyography. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2009. 23(9)/2588-2591.

-Buddhadeev, H., Bingren, J., et al. Mechanisms Underlying the Reduced Performance Measures from Using Equipment with a Counterbalance Weight System. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012. 26(3), 641-647.

 - Vingren, J., Buddhadev, J., et al. Smith Machine Counterbalance System Affects Measures of Maximal Bench Press Throw Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2011. 25(7), 1951-1959.

-Poliquin Myths 2


Friday, September 14, 2012

Training Hard & Smart


Article written by Marshall White for LiftBigEatBig.com

I am a proponent of training like an animal and believe you me I love training as much if not more than most athletes.  Here's the thing though, as an athlete if you want to make optimal gains you have to train HARD and SMART.  What does this mean? This means that sometimes training 6 days a week for 3-4 hours a day is not always the way to optimize your gains.

I've been seeing some people lately on the LBEB Facebook site talking about using the Bulgarian method as their system of training.  While I respect their ability to work like a mule I do not think they are getting the gains they could be getting if they added a dash of smart to all that hard they have in their program.  Think about it logically.  Building muscle and strength is all about tearing down muscle fiber then letting it heal stronger.  If you are constantly tearing the muscle fibers you are obviously missing out on a key component to getting stronger.  There has to be a time for healing and recovery. 



  The argument is made that by training like the Bulgarians the athlete is doing so many reps of the selected movement that form is being worked so hard that it almost becomes second nature.  There is some validity to this argument.  But again let's look at this logically.  If an athlete were to properly program in form work without neglecting or negatively affecting building their pure strength and recovery would this not create a better athlete? Yes the athletes form might be slightly less efficient but if the athlete is fully recovering between training session they will be  stronger, thereby moving more weight.  Which is the end goal right?


I respect athletes that can train 5-7 days a week but I maintain they would be better off by "condensing" these workouts into fewer, more intense days, allowing for recovery and repeat the process.  It seems to me that moving a 400lb deadlift 3 times in a week is far better than moving 300 6 times in a week.  In addition all the food and sleep you are getting will go to making you grow and add muscle rather than recovering you just enough to do the same workout 4 more times that week.



As athletes I think we all want to believe that if we just work a little harder than everyone else we will be the best.  Hell I know I do.  I wish to god I could just go out and load stones all day and all of a sudden be the strongest man in the world.  Unfortunately, the reality is it doesn't work that way. We must be smart about our programming, allow for recovery while still working our asses off in order to see the biggest gains.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Amino Acids 101


Article written by Jay Stadtfeld for LiftBigEatBig.com
Amino Acids are an essential part of a good diet, and are found either already in the body, or in the foods we eat. They are defined as an organic compound containing an amino group, a carboxylic acid group, and any of various side groups that link together by peptide bonds to form proteins or that function as chemical messengers and as intermediates in metabolism.

Amino Acids carry out a slew of functions within the human body. Some are used for muscle building and repairing cells and tissues, others aid in brain function and immune system function, and others boost energy levels (great for pre-workout in lieu of a Monster).
The human body produces 10 of the 20 essential amino acids, meaning you must eat or supplement the other 10 into your system. The 10 that the body produces on its own are called the “non-essential” amino acids.

Below is a list of the 10 essential amino acids that are taken in via food or supplement, along with their role in the body:

Phenylalanine – Changed into Tyrosine and used to create epinephrine, and other thyroid hormones within the body.

Valine – Helps prevent breakdown of muscle tissues by supplying them with glucose for energy production.

Tryptophan – Used to create niacin and serotonin.

Threonine – Helps promote growth by maintaining a proper protein balance in the body. Also assists with central nervous and immune system function.

Isoleucine – Helps heal the body the site of a wound via blood clotting, also increases endurance and repairs muscle tissue.

Methionine – Assists in processing fat and elimination thereof.

Histidine – Develops and maintains healthy tissues in the body, particularly, coating the myelin sheaths of the nerve cells.

Arginine – Helps strengthen the immune system, and keeping the liver, skin, joints, and muscle tissues healthy and operating properly.

Leucine – Works in conjunction with isoleucine and valine to repair muscles, regulate blood sugar, and provide you with energy.

Lysine – Helps prevent outbreaks of herpes, and used for hormone production and growth of bones.



It’s important to remember that these are not produced within the body, and are either consumed through food or supplements. I don’t know of anyone truly “lacking” of these in first world countries (except vegans/vegetarians), however you could supplement if need be. I’m aware certain protein powders contain amino acids (“You don’t say?” *cue Nicholas Cage face*), and that is a fine way to ensure you’re getting enough of the muscle building properties of a few of these.

Regardless of being non-essential (again, your body produces these naturally) or essential (your body doesn’t produce these), it’s imperative to have amino acids in effort to sustain a healthy vessel and make sure your immune, muscular, and central nervous system is up to par.


Sources:
"Alternative Medicine, Nutrition, and Health in the News." VITAMINSTUFF. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2012. <http://vitaminstuff.com/>.
"Tryptophan: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia." U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2012. <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002332.htm>.
“Disclaimer." University of Maryland Medical Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2012. <http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/phenylalanine-000318.htm>.
ESSENTIAL AND NONESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS FOR HUMANS. UIC, n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2012. <http://www.uic.edu/classes/phar/phar332/Clinical_Cases/aa%20metab%20cases/PKU%20Cases/essential-nonessential.htm>.
"Amino Acids." Amino Acids. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2012. <http://www.biology.arizona.edu/biochemistry/problem_sets/aa/aa.html>.
Berrett, Megan. "Amino Acids Functions." Epic Nutrition. N.p., 2 Mar. 2012. Web. 10 Sept. 2012. <http://epicnutritiontoday.com/amino-acids-functions-what-can-they-do-for-me/>.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Upper Back Training


One of the biggest holes I see in most athletes development is usually upper back strength.  I feel that your upper back is one of the most important muscle groups you can work yet it's so highly neglected by so many people.  Why? Maybe because we don't know how to work it? Maybe we just don't see it as that important?  I think that if you really look at your development and you're honest with yourself you'll probably agree that your upper back could use some extra attention.

Are you one of those people that can pull just about any deadlift off the floor but the trouble is always in the lockout? Or when front squats get heavy do you start rounding over in the hole often dropping the bar? These are signs that your upper back needs to be stronger.  In my opinion the most important thing that your upper back does is provide the stability or the "uprightness" needed to move big weight.  By this I mean keeping you upright in the hole on a squat, reigning the bar in when a deadlift gets a little in front of you, and providing a big stable platform off which to press, whether it be bench press or overhead pressing. The upper back should be activated in almost every single movement you do.


Now, I know some will say they train their upper back, after all they knock out a couple sets of pull downs or pull ups at the end of the workout.  This is a half assed approach to training your upper back.  I feel the upper back should be trained with heavy compound movements just like you would train any other area for strength and performance.  We all know isolation exercises like leg extensions don't do shit for your athletic performance, it only makes sense that pull downs won't either.  If you want a big strong upper back that will increase your lifts you have to treat training it with the same respect and approach you do all the other body parts you want to get huge and strong.



I am a firm believer in using variations of exercises you already use in order to increase your upper back strength.  I believe in using variations simply because typically learning the form of the variation will be much easier than learning something completely new, also the use of variations makes programming upper back work into your routine very easy.  So what variation should we use?  For me personally I have seen the most results from using the hang or muscle variations of the Olympic lifts.  Muscle snatches are my favorite, followed by hang snatches, then muscle cleans and hang cleans.  I prefer these movements because they increase the explosiveness of my upper back in addition to the raw strength.  There are additional movements you can use though if you're not adept at the Olympic lifts.  Bent over rows and t-bar rows can also be very useful.  Whichever movements you decide to use the main thing to remember is to train them for strength, which means lower reps and heavier weight.  Don't flippantly add 3 sets of 8 bent over rows at the end of your workout, this is not how you would approach squats, and if you want a monster squat I suggest you take your upper back just as seriously.


Keep in mind that your body works as a unit, every muscle group is important and vital to your overall gains.  Treat it as such and you'll see more progress than you've ever seen.

Monday, September 3, 2012

You Need To Compete Pt. 3: Picking Attempts


Article written by Jay Stadtfeld for LiftBigEatBig.com

You Need to Compete: Part Three-Selecting Attempts in Powerlifting

 As we’ve learned in part one and part two of this series, Powerlifting isn’t necessarily just a bunch of fat, strong guys who grunt, pick things up, and waddle off of the platform to repeat the process. There’s actually a pretty big science behind getting stronger and learning just what you’re capable of that ends up culminating into a meet where you put it all to use for a few hours of “awesome-itude”.

In part two, we briefly discussed the hypothetical opener of 380 because you tripled it in training. Today, we’re going to delve deeper into why this is, and how you should approach it at the meet.

The Opener:

I want to first say that I’m never impressed by someone who goes in with an opener of 600, when they’ve never even crossed the 500 barrier in training. Your opener should be something that you know you can hit. It’s there to build confidence. If you set the bar too high, the rest of the meet will seem like a chore, if you haven’t already bombed out by that point.

That said, when I’m choosing an opener, I typically determine it to be something I know I’ll make a mockery of. I’m not saying that it should be something you can hit for 5 reps, and as a matter of fact, I’d suggest against that. I tend to choose something that I can hit for a triple. To give you a percentage, I’d suggest something in the 90% range of your competition PR. So, if you are looking for 500, perhaps an opener at 450 would suit you well.

Remember, the opener is made to build confidence for the meet. If warm-ups aren’t feeling particularly fast, and 400 feels heavier than it should, I have no issue dropping it and going 430 or 440. You can’t always be at the top of your game.


The Second Attempt:

Presuming your first attempt (opener) went well, this is where you’ll find yourself getting close to PR territory. This is normally a middle ground to the final attempt where you go for broke.

Normally on lower body exercises (unless you’re an advanced lifter) a 25 to 35 lb jump is a pretty sufficient advance on lifts. This should come out to roughly 95 to 97% of the last attempt. So, given our example of 500, that should put you around 475 (if using 95%) for your second attempt.

However, on bench, I find that a smaller increase may be needed. Sometimes manifesting itself in the form of a 15 to 20 pound jump. This varies from person to person, but I find it to work well for me.

The basic idea of the second attempt is to prime your body for the final assault; the third attempt. However, because it’s heavier than the opener, it also adds to your total, which is always beneficial.

One note that I’ll make about the second attempt is that it should set you up well for the third attempt. If it doesn’t, re-evaluate and plan accordingly. Don’t select 490 if you plan on 500, but don’t plan on 450 if you opened with 440. Middle ground!


The Third Attempt:

The attempt you’ve been waiting for. Everything culminates into this one final assault on the barbell. Everything you’ve done to this point should set you up for success.

Selecting a third attempt that you can succeed with can be quite troublesome. If your second attempt was tough, an attempt 30 pounds heavier could be a failure, whereas something 20 pounds could be a success.

That having been said, I normally go with something that will be a PR. If I’m feeling particularly great, I may go with a heavier than expected PR.

For example, if 500 was the planned final attempt (yet still a PR) was fast and easy, I may go 510 or heavier.

An easy way to think about this is by using percentages once more. Your final attempt should be 100-105% of your goal. 105% being the UTMOST percentage you should use, and even then I would use it in a very rare instance. 102.5% would probably be the highest you should go.

Again, we’ll use 500 as an example. 102.5% would give you 512.5. That is a pretty hefty PR and a pretty decent sized advance from your second attempt, so use it wisely.



Learning how to set up your own attempts can greatly benefit you in your training and competitions. Having a training partner to determine how fast a particular lift was will also benefit you. If you don’t have access to training with a friend or a good, reliable partner, I suggest recording your lifts and reviewing them. See where you went wrong, if anywhere.

Author’s Note: If for some reason you miss your opening attempt for a silly reason, such as racking the bar too quickly on bench, but it was a smoke show, go ahead with your planned second attempt. No sense in repeating what you’ve already accomplished. If, for some reason, you missed it for legitimate reasons, repeat the attempt and plan your next attempt around that.