The Bench Press: Simple Coaching Cues For Any Level.

The bench press is one of the Big 3 (squat, bench, deadlift) or 4 if you add in the military press. These 3/4 exercises are the most scrutinized and researched because they are the most widely taught and used outside of the Olympic lifts. With that being said, with so many people coaching and trying to reinvent the wheel, you get multiple interpretations of how it should be taught and what is best technique. Like other coaches, I take the things I learn from many different sources such as previous coaches I’ve worked for or with, seminars and conferences, speaking to others within the community and come to a conclusion on what I feel is the best technique to provide safe and productive results.

My own personal way of coaching the Bench press comes from a combination of my favorite coaches, Mark Rippetoe and Dave Tate, along with my own personal experience. Mark Rippetoe is one of the best strength and conditioning coaches in the game. He authored and published an amazing book called Starting Strength, which covers the major lifts from bottom to top. Dave Tate is the owner of the powerlifting team and company EliteFTS. He has set numerous records along with his team and you would be a fool not to at least pay attention to someone putting up numbers like they do. There are many similarities between the coaching of the bench and the two coaches, but there are some large differences as well. I do not want to spend too much time on them because that can be used for a compare and contrast article in the future if it’s requested. My own personal experience obviously comes from seeing thousands of reps of the bench press and being able to quickly isolate problems that people are having and correct them. If the same common problem is constantly being corrected, then I can assume that most people will inevitably have that problem as well. Therefore I develop my coaching cues to eliminate the problem before it happens and make sure that those are corrected from the beginning when starting a new team or client on a program.

The bench press of old was taught with a completely flat back against the bench, flat feet at all times, and no references to abdominal tension, grip strength, or tight backs. Those days have come and gone…

I prefer to coach most of the lifts from ground up. The cues I use are simple, efficient, and can be taught verbally, visually, or through tactile cues. My goal as a coach is to use my visual perspective of the lifters movement, analyze it and be able to successfully communicate the appropriate changes necessary to fit the model of the lift that I want them to accomplish. At times this can be difficult, especially with new athletes or clients. So a good coach will be able to correct using all three cues if necessary for one quirk he or she may have. Cues also vary in if they are extrinsic or intrinsic. Simply put, the extrinsic cues are those like “widen your feet”, “Lead with your hips”, etc. Intrinsic cues are used to what the person should be feeling or focusing on internally, “think about ripping a newspaper apart with your feet”, “punch your elbows out as if you were hitting someone in the nose.” Now imagine having 30 athletes at one time! S&C coaches usually are constantly moving, talking, yelling, and doing whatever it takes to quickly process information, give corrective cues, watching to see if the cue is being implemented by the athlete, adding additional cues if not understood, and moving on to the next person while constantly checking to see if the person is reverting back to there original movement pattern.

With that being said, here are some coaching cues I use to teach and correct the bench press. There are a lot more in depth ones as well:

Feet: “Drive your feet into the ground”        The constant driving and pushing feet into the ground will help activate and keep the hamstrings, quads, and glutes tight. The important piece of this is to not raise the glutes off the bench. The drive of the feet should be pushing you almost backwards and down.

Lower back: “Create a small arch in your lower back by thinking about a baseball being placed there”
This cue is extremely important and one that is a counter to the old philosophy of keeping your back flat. Arching the lower back will help keep the spine tight and help reduce the risk of injury. Also, the arch helps drive the upper back and shoulders down and into the bench to create a very solid platform that you want in this exercise. The arch in the end should be high enough to get your whole hand underneath and slide across the bench.

Notice the feet planted, small arch in back, and tightness in arms by gripping and ripping

Abdominals: “Contract your abs by sucking your stomach into your spine or bracing as if you were about to get punched in the stomach”
The abdominal contraction is important because the tension it creates allows the body to stay rigid in the core so that there is no leakage of power through the upper body. Powerlifters have some of the strongest cores and rightfully so.  They need a stable platform that has no power leakage and does not move.

Upper Back: “Imagine pulling apart a band straight out in front of you with straight arms”
This cue will help with retracing the scapula and latissimus dorsi (lats) and pre-stretching the chest so that the lowering portion of the movement creates a rubber band effect of the chest due to how tight the muscle fibers are from the pre-stretch, then stretch of lowering the weight to the chest. This also helps with the overall tension and the common theme of preventing power leakage throughout the body. For most athletes this is extremely important because outside of football, many teams do not practice the bench press enough. This helps protect the shoulders for sports that have overhead movements (baseball, softball, tennis, swimming, etc.) by eliminating excess movement of the shoulder while fighting to control the lowering portion and the explosive upward movement.

Pull the band apart with your arms straight held straight out. Picture from T-Nation

Hands: “Grip the bar and squeeze as hard as you and try to rip the bar in half”
Gripping the bar as hard as you will activate your forearms and tighten the tendons in the elbow and shoulder and has been found to be quite effective. Ripping the bar apart has the same effect as the grip, but helps tighten the shoulder muscles and even more of the upper back.

Un-racking the weight:  Not much of a cue here, but I tell everyone that your not a sissy for having a spotter or getting a lift off. With heavy loads from where your position is, your more likely going to get a shoulder injury just from trying to un-rack the weight than from the movement itself that way.

Lowering Portion: “Actively pull the weight down using your lats and keep your elbows around 45 degrees”
Unless your a bodybuilder or looking to get hurt, there is no reason to have your elbows out at 90 degrees from your body. As you lower, think about pulling the weight into your body by squeezing your lats and pulling like a row. This helps stretch the chest, tighten the core and the upper back. The tighter you get, the better your rubber band effect will be when driving the weight up.

The Drive: “Stay tight, Drive the weight into the ceiling!!!!!”
No real explanation here. Keep the body tight so you eliminate any power leakage that may occur and reduce any injury possibilities.

 

There you have it. A couple quick, easy to understand coaching cues that you can use next time you do your bench. Try not to focus on all of them at once, but pick one or two and work on them in your setup before you un-rack the weight and I will bet you have a better and safer bench very soon. Again, there are different types of bench press techniques, from bodybuilding, powerlifting, and athletics. This is what I’ve found to have the best results for getting athletes or clients stronger and I have found it also to be the best way to create a safe technique that reduces injuries or the likelihood of injuries. In my field…that is what it’s all about.

Please comment below if you have any questions or want to spark a conversation about the bench press. Thanks everyone!

 

-Coach T

 

New Year. Failed Diets

With the new year comes New Years resolutions. One of the top 3 resolutions…weight loss. Why is it that so many people inevitably give up within two weeks and fail? Why do the excuses ensue?

In an effort to get a better grasp on weight loss and dieting programs,  it should be our first priority to find the underlying reason a person NEEDS to diet and to understand the importance of creating long term change through behavior modifications for the success of a diet to work.

The first issue we need to discuss is covering the necessity that dieting involves creating a behavior modification. The New Years resolution trend is that back and forth dieting seems to stem from not being able to either fully commit to a program and sustain it or that goals are not being readdressed after they’ve been met. The American College of Sports Medicines position on weight loss is that “weight loss programs target changing both eating and exercise behaviors, as sustained changes in both behaviors have been shown to result in significant long-term weight loss” (ACSM Weight Loss). Safe and effective weight loss and long-term weight management requires adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes knowledge of nutrition and exercise. From a mental standpoint, staying motivated is important and can be maintained by reminding yourself of your motives (strong self-talk is a great tool http://tiesmanstopics.com/that-voice-inside-your-head/ ) Better health, increased energy, higher self-esteem, and other personal reasons all will increase the chances of healthy weight loss turning into a lifelong commitment to weight management.

Obviously there are serious medical benefits of fat loss like reducing your risks to future diseases or conditions stated later. Now while BMI isn’t the gold standard to evaluating body composition, it is a pretty decent indicator. A higher BMI will correlate with obesity. Obesity has some serious side effects that are not just your personal appearance. Here is a basic calculator you can use, but please do not get hung up on the results. Bodybuilders, athletes, and most people will be “obese”. The calculator does not take into account your lean muscle mass vs. fat mass  http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/obesity/BMI/bmicalc.htm

  • Obesity has been related to back and joint pain.
  • Obesity can significantly contribute to symptoms associated with osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, and spondylolisthesis (Siveri & Spinasanta).

These conditions happen because your body is designed to hold and distribute weight appropriately, when excess weight is added the spine therefore is forced to allocate the weight to areas and this leads to structural damage. This mostly occurs in the lower back, also known as the lumbar spine. Also, excess weight will cause the facet joint of the spine to encounter unnatural pressure and stress and this can cause osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. While the spine suffers, other parts of the body can suffer as well due to the excess weight distribution. The knees, ankles, and hips all will have to adjust and can encounter similar issues as the lumbar spine.

Here is something that bothers me and a point that I constantly preach…Why are people so concerned about weight? Don’t worry about answering, just ponder that for a second. Done? Well the answer is because it’s thrown in your face everywhere. Magazines, television, movies, Victoria Secret models, diet and workout fads. Here’s the thing, YOUR WEIGHT DOES NOT MATTER!! Crazy idea huh. Fat is what truly matters. When it comes to your appearance, losing your body fat and replacing that with lean muscle mass will have rapid results on your overall figure and how your clothes fit. Let’s take this photo for an example of what 5 pound of fat vs. 5 pound of muscle looks like. Therefore, you could weigh the same amount, but look completely different. The scale does not tell the whole truth!

muscle-vs-fat

I like to tell a little joke and it usually gives the person the little “light-bulb turned on” affect. When the topic of weight loss comes up I tell women “why don’t you just cut your hair, I bet that will drop your weight about 5 pounds”. They laugh, I smile, but ultimately they get the idea. Weight is a number on a scale, it’s a devilish thing that makes people go to extremes to change and sometimes it can have drastic consequences.

The combination of a strong diet program that leads to an overall behavioral change for long term fat (or weight if your hung up on that) management in conjunction with proper exercise and physical activity, will help deter future fat / weight gain and should lead to obtaining an idea fat / weight for a persons frame and age. It takes time, effort, sacrifices, and commitment to achieve results that are both healthy and fulfilling.

Please be sure as always to comment below with your thoughts or questions.

Cheers!

Pastrami and Gherkin Open-Faced Sandwich

I recently was given a new cook book from my brother for Christmas, and it is pretty amazing! Now, I’m not one to follow a recipe to a “t” just because I’m picky and think my way is better (big shocker haha). But so far, I have made very few changes to the recipes I’ve tried because they are that good and only needed to change because i needed to substitute for what I have on hand, not constantly buy something like 6 different kinds of mustard. If I had my choice, unlimited income, and extra refrigerator/cabinet space- I would most certainly have over 6 different mustards. Back to my point of this post: this awesome, somewhat edited recipe of an open-face sandwich called the Pastrami and Gherkin.
This is a great, quick, snappy lunch and will leave you with no reason for having to skip lunch or pick up something covered in grease and fat.

You will need the following ingredients for two open-face sandwiches:
– One bagel THIN – i used plain but feel free to use poppyseed or everything flavor
– 2 oz of neufchâtel cheese or low/non-fat cream cheese
– a good glob (little over a tablespoon) of grainy or dijon mustard
– salt and pepper
– 4 slices of thin sliced pastrami
– 1 large handful of arugula leaves (or even a mix lettuce as long as it has arugula in it)
– enough slices of gherkin pickles to at least make a ring around the top of the bagels (i used four slices for each)

To prepare:
– Toast the bagel thin
– combine the cheese and mustard so it becomes one spread
– once the bagel is done toasting, spread no more than 1 oz of the mustard and cheese mixture onto each half of the bagel thin
– sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste
– then arrange the gherkin pickles slices on top of the mustard and cheese mixture – add as little or as much as you want of the pickles
–  place half of the arugula onto each half
– delicately drape two slices of pastrami onto each half of the open-face sandwich
– dig in! just don’t bite your fingers off in the process of trying to not inhale this awesome meal!

image

Tips and reasons for specific ingredients:

– using a bagel thin is important to help cut the carbs a regular bagel has. The thin is half or less of the size of a normal bagel but still the same great taste!
– Neufchatel cheese has less fat than regular cream cheese and personally, I think it tastes better than cream cheese – the regular kind and the reduced fat kind.
– when you get thin slices of pastrami, it lays nicer over the sandwich rather than bulky pieces and easier to bite into. also, you don’t need to put so much meat on when you can get the same great taste with thinner slices and less calories/fat. the whole point of making your own meals, you don’t need to over-do it. Other factors of the sandwich will bring out more flavors and still fill you up, not a ton of meat.
– and yes, draping the meat over the sandwich tastes much better than stacking or folding it (haha, just a visual thing which food always tastes better when it looks more appealing and isn’t grouped onto one section of the sandwich)
– if you are like me and not a fan of pickles on your sandwich, you have to get over it at least with this meal. trust me.
– You might notice in the picture, there isn’t just arugula lettuce- I didn’t want to buy a giant box for a few sandwiches so I got a combo bag of arugula and spinach so I can get more uses out of my groceries. But I am adamant on using arugula because it adds extra flavor, almost a peppery taste, unlike something like iceberg or romaine lettuce which would just be a filler.

Enjoy everyone and please be sure to comment below on what you think of this recipe and your results if you try this recipe out! Stay tuned for more recipes and meals coming soon.

-Katie Florina

 

That Voice Inside Your Head.

The little voice inside your head has some serious power over your motivation during workouts. I see it time and time again that people say they can’t do something or that they don’t have the drive to keep continuing on with there workout or diet routine. The great thing about being a strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer, health & wellness coach, etc. is that we get to see you from an outside perspective of what you see. Great coaches have innate ability to record every training session and movement pattern a person has inside there heads. This ability allows us to have immediate recall of knowing whether you really can or can not complete something. A great coach then will utilize the information they have and use it to motivate you as best as they can. If your coach / trainer can’t do that amongst many other things…then they suck.

So how can you improve your own little voice? Improve your self-talk.

Self-talk includes all the purposeful and random thoughts that run through your mind. It can be positive, motivational, instructional, and more often than not…negative. The negative talk that goes on in your head can have serious effects on your training session. It will create anxiety and can create physical tension which leads to impaired motor coordination.

Types of Negative Self-Talk
-Focusing on the past or future
-Mistakes or weaknesses
-Focusing only on outcomes
-Things out of your control
-Demanding Perfection

Turn it Around!!!

Identify areas to change
     •Find areas where you are generally negative. Start small and get bigger
Check Yourself
     •Stop and evaluate yourself periodically though the day
Humor
     •Give yourself permission to smile or laugh, especially during difficult times
Surround yourself with positive people
     •Positive, supportive people who give helpful advice and feedback. No debbie-downers
Practice Positive Self-Talk
     •Try not to say anything to yourself that you would say to someone else. If negative thoughts enter your mind, evaluate them and find out why they are there and what can be changed.

 

Ways to develop your Positive Self-Talk

Mantras
•Create your own simple affirmation that you say to yourself in tough situations
Practice Multiple Scenarios
•Use your practice time to use visualization or real practice to put yourslef into negative self-talk situations and work your way out of them through self-talk
Mental Images
•Use your self-talk to create a image of yourself actually doing what you want yourself to do

Give these techniques a shot and be sure to let me know in the comments below your thoughts and your own strategies and if they have helped improve your training sessions.

 

New Year. Less Stress.

I’ll be honest, the last few months have been nothing short of an emotional roller-coaster. I’ve lost my dad to his long battle with cancer. I’ve attended 3 other funerals on top of that. My good friend from the Marine Corps has just passed away. I stress about money and it’s deceptive ways of constantly leaving my pockets.  I’ve loved, laughed, cried, hurt, been filled with rage, and truly been to the very top and to the very bottom.

I feel that like me, 99.9% of people feel these emotions as well at times. I have my own mechanisms for dealing with stress and I’ve been able to refine those through training from the Marine Corps, my education, and my routines (the gym, etc.). Some of you may not know how to deal with stress or may know of others who do not know how to deal with stress. I wanted to give you a technique that I’ve used many times to help with regulating my arousal levels. You will be astounded at how much better you feel in a pressured or stress situation. Give it a shot and let me know in the comments below how you felt before, during, and after.

 

Progressive muscle relaxation (or PMR) is a technique for reducing anxiety by alternately tensing and relaxing the muscles. This is shown to have benefits at helping release mental anxiety. The physical component involves the tensing and relaxing of muscle groups over the legs, abdomen, chest, arms and face. During this time you will have your eyes closed and in we will do the sequence in a pattern.  Tension will be placed into a muscle group for approximately 10 seconds and then slowly released for 20 seconds before continuing with the next muscle group.

Simply focus on the feelings of the tensed muscle. This focus on the muscle contracting and relaxing will allow you to feel the heaviness and warmth of the muscle. This soothing feeling should you translate into helping relax.

How to practice progressive muscle relaxation

1. Lie on your back with your eyes closed, feet slightly apart, arms  slightly away from sides, and palms upward.

2. Allow your breath to slow down. Put your entire attention on the breath as it moves in and out. (Pause 20 counts.)

3. Tense the muscles of your feet. (Pause 5 counts and gently relax.  Pause 20 counts. REPEAT.)

4. Tense the muscles of your calves. (Pause 5 counts. Relax. Let the tension go. Pause 20 counts. REPEAT.)

5. Tense the muscles of your stomach. (Pause 5 counts. Relax. Let the tension go. Pause 20 counts. REPEAT.)

6. Tense the muscles of your chest. (Pause 5 counts. Relax. Let the tension go. Pause 20 counts. REPEAT.)

7. Clench your fists tightly. (Pause 5 counts. Relax. Let the tension go.  Pause 20 counts. REPEAT.)

8. Tense your elbows and tense your biceps. Hold them tight. (Pause 5 counts. Relax and straighten arms. Pause 20 counts. REPEAT.)

9. Tense the muscles of your neck. (Pause 5 counts. Relax. Let the tension go. Pause 20 counts. REPEAT.)

10. Tense the muscles of your head and face. (Pause 5 counts. Relax.  Let the tension go. Pause 20 counts. REPEAT.)

 

What’s Actually In Your Pre-Workout Drink?

I’ve had my fair share of pre-workout drinks (PW’s for short) over the last decade or so. My first PW goes back to my sophomore year in high school where I asked my dad to buy me some basic Creatine-Monohydrate. I mixed it with just water, slammed it down, and I hated the taste and the grittiness of it. In the Marine Corps I really started hitting the weights and experimented with a wide variety of pre-workout drinks and pills. I never cared about what was actually in each of these, nor did I take the time to be educated about them. All I cared about was how it made me feel and if I had a good day or not in the gym. Did it give me that extra boost, that was my measuring stick of the effectiveness of the product.

My drink of choice during my Marine Corps years was the infamous N.O. Explode. I loved the taste, the boost, and the marketing scheme (it was pretty sweet back then for those who remember it).  I loved the stuff. When I was in Iraq I would take this in the morning just to wake up sometimes. It gave me a hardcore rush, tingly skin, and surprisingly some great focus. However, the downside was just as extreme. The drink would give me at times, diarrhea, dramatic increases in heart rate, nausea, and a severe crash. It wasn’t until I attended college that I started digging deeper into what those big words on the back of the label actually mean.

Here is the label for basic N.O. Explode

Some of you may be immune to seeing these labels, but many of you may see this laundry list and be quite overwhelmed. Scientific research has shown that a few of these have been proven to be effective, such as Creatine, Beta-Alanine, and Caffeine. These three have been shown by scientific research to be safe and effective in eliciting greater increases in muscular size and strength (Creatine), work capacity and endurance (beta-alanine and caffeine), and increase in neural drive (caffeine). Another widely associated ingredient in weight lifters is L-Arginine. This ingredient is mostly the selling point of many PW’s as the ingredient that gives you the “PUMP” and can increase your strength. The pump is primarily a vaso-dilation (increase in size) of your blood vessels allowing you to increase blood flow and increase the amount of nutrients the blood can bring to your muscles. The research that has been done on these claims is non-conclusive and generally not supportive of it’s claims.

Another area that is an extreme cause for concern is the Muscle Volumizing Creating Matrix (Patent Pending). The parts of this “matrix” have come under fire recently and a lawsuit has even been brought to the courts. In this area they label claims to have CEM3 (Creatine Ethyl Ester Malate), DI-Creatine malate, Trimethylglycine, Glycocyamine, Guanidino Proplonic Acid, Cinnulin PF® (Aqueous Cinnamon Extract) (Bark), Ketoisocaproate Potassium. The CEM3 was found to not even be in the product itself and that chemists say that this certain ingredient can not even be manufactured. “They claim that CEM3 is far superior to earlier forms of Creatine (such as Creatine Monohydrate and Creatine Ethyl Ester). They state the CEM3 is “acid resistant” and causes less water retention, cramps, and diarrhea, and offers “unique lipid – and water – ‘friendly properties which allow it to quickly enter your bloodstream” and therefore requires no loading (i.e. high doses of Creatine taken for several days)(supplementpolice.com/Complaint.pdf)”

It just goes to show and to reiterate that you must use evidence based practices when choosing a supplement. Read between the lines, research the product,  and read testimonials from qualified experts. I can honestly say that i’ve gone away from these drinks and other types of pre-workout pills. At the current moment I take a basic caffeine pill from Walgreens or CVS. It does the trick for me to wake up or when feeling groggy. Honestly though, on most days, I won’t take anything. I don’t want to be reliant anymore on a substance to increase my performance. I would rather focus on having proper nutrition to fuel me for my workout and my mind in generating the results I want. If you need a bigger pump, lift harder and lift smarter. If you need focus or an increase in intensity, use your mind to generate it.

I am in no way condoning supplements or the use of them. Some items such as Creatine-Monohydrate have been proven to produce accurate results from what they claim. However, just be conscious about what you are putting in your body because in the end, it’s your responsibility! Especially for you athletes out there. If your ever in doubt or question, get in contact with your Athletic Training department or your Strength and Conditioning Coach and utilize the accepted / banned substance list provided by the NCAA every year.