Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Training Log: Overload bench and Deadlifts

Overload Bench Press 8-23

Slingshot felt great, but I rolled my wrist unracking at my drop-off sets. Decided to call it a day then so I didn't hurt anything. I think I'm going to buy wrist-wraps. Played with some DB wrist curls, reverse wrist curls, and other motions to do a bit of grip/wrist work afterwards. Wrist felt fine in following days so I think it helped. 

Bench Press45121
Slingshot Bench Press27551
Grip work10153
Seated Cable Row9083

Deadlift 8-22

Hit a great 495, then backed off for a bunch of speed-doubles at 405#. Felt fantastic. I'm really, really liking paused deadlifts as a warm-up. They definitely help to dial things in. Messed with deficit deadlifts a little bit, but still figuring out the best way to do them in my gym. Arm still acting up, so continuing rehab for vertical pulling.

Lat Pulldown 55503
Band Pull-Apart15152
Seated Machine Fly90103

Friday, August 22, 2014

Research: Teres Major

Had a touch of soreness performing chin-ups this week, so I'm giving them a rest.  I figure this is a good opportunity as any to take a look at a less well-known muscle of the body. The Teres Major assist the Lats in pulling. Actually, chin-ups are pretty complex and interesting in and of themselves:

From Wikipedia, 

Chin-ups, like most pull-ups, target the latissimus dorsi muscle as a shoulder extensor, scapular downward rotator and scapular depressor, in bringing the spine to the humerus. This is assisted by elbow flexors (brachialis, brachioradialis, biceps brachii) which bring the humerus to the forearm. Chin-ups unlike pull ups also highly target the biceps.That is one of the main differences between pull ups and chin ups.

The lat's functions are also assisted, both by shoulder extensors (teres major, posterior deltoid, infraspinatus, teres minor), scapular downward rotators (rhomboids, levator scapulae), and scapular depressors (lower trapezius and pectoralis muscles).

Pulling higher with a narrow grip puts the focus on extension rather than adduction of the shoulder.

If one leans back at the top of the movement, the focus is shifted somewhat towards scapular retraction and hyperextension.

Muscle Location

The Teres Major has an origin in the lower 1/3 of the Scapula, and inserts at the  Intertubercular goove (between the greater and lesser tubercles) of the humerus. 

In other words, it goes from your shoulder blade to just below the top of your upper arm. 

Muscle Function

The teres major is a medial rotator and adductor of the humerus and assists the latissimus dorsi in drawing the previously raised humerus downward and backward (extension, but not hyper extension). It also helps stabilize the humeral head in the glenoid cavity. (wikipedia)

To adduct is an anatomical motion term, meaning to pull towards the center of your body. When we hear about adductors it commonly refers to the hip adductors, your inner thigh muscles that pull the leg back towards your center line. 

If I read this correctly, the main functions are to assist in rotation and adduction, while also helping the lats to pull the arm back downward. The same motion you're making in a chin-up, which means I'm probably on the right track!


A lot of pulling exercises pretty directly work the teres major. Things like:

  • Barbell Pullovers
  • Bent Over Row
  • Cable Internal Shoulder Rotations (Seated or Standing)
  • Dumbbell Internal Shoulder Rotations (Lying)
  • Lat Pull Downs
  • Machine Internal Shoulder Rotations
  • Pull Ups and Chin Ups

Isolating it is a bit harder. According to a thread on bodybuilding.com:
On page 112 of 'strength training workout II' Frederic delavier gives a great teres major isolation exercise, which I do as a to failure 100 rep warm up once a week.

In the book are pictures with 2 options: one with and without an adjustable vertical pulley.

#1) set the adjustable one arm pulley at mid height to your elbow height, when your arm is flat along your body. Face 90 degrees away from the pulley. Do not face the pulley. With the arm nearest the pulley, Rotate your arm out at 90 degrees to grab the weight while the elbow is touching your body side. Then pull the weight with your hand going to where your elbow was at your side and let the elbow go out to the side, kind of how superman stands with fists into sides and elbows out. Hold 2 seconds then release slow. Elbow back to the side of your body. That's one rep.
Another idea, off the exrx.net forums:
Using light resistance on a pulley, 4-10KG(each hand) Stand between 2 high pulleys holding them in each hand, palms down elbows straight, optionally you can start with a 45degree angle and bring the weight towards you and hold for a couple of seconds. 

Starting at 90 degrees involves the lats more for the 1st part of the exercise. 

Make sure you are adducting in the coronal plane (directly to your side) the more forward your arms are the more the pecs are involves. 
You will find it incredibly hard to adduct at the last part of the exercise when your hand is an inch or so away from your body, I believe this is when the Coracobrachialis takes over and if you wish to isolate that then use minimal resistance, a good idea is to squeeze against a pillow.


Re/prehab/Soft Tissue Work

Training Log 8-20-2014: Fatgrip bench

If you look up at the top, I changed the birds to juggling clubs. Just one of those little things that makes me smile.


Anyhoo, bench went alright . Hit rep PRs on 205 and 245, but couldn't keep them up for remaining sets. Next week I'm hoping they should be sustained. Skipped chin-ups this week. I think I've been doing too many and have a touch of bicep tendinitis, or possibly something up with my Teres Major. Truth be told, I'm not sure what's up, just that I have a stark soreness when pulling my body up vertically, located in the upper inside of my upper arm. Instead of chinups I did a lot of face-pulls and rehab lat pulldown work.

With my accessory work this week I've been really concentrating on the mind-muscle connection. Trying to approach it from a body-building perspective, to hit those muscles harder. Things like holding contractions at the top, isolating muscles in the movement, etc... I'm making an effort to really pay attention during my support/accessory work time.

Also, I strapped a weight-plate to my body to start loading my backbends. That felt awesome.

Bench Press, w/ Fat Gripz4510214,395
Lat Pulldown702528,000
Calf Raise36515421,900
Seated Leg-Curl1351234,860
Cable Facepull501242,400
Hanging Leg Raise0122

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Assembling a juggling practice

I've been blogging a lot about weight training lately, not so much about circus. Since I've got back from IJA this year I have been working towards assembling a regular, structured, jugging practice. Here's what I'm working with so far:

  • Warm-up. Stick balancing on chin. 15 min. Working towards balancing the stick for the entire 15 min, but when I get to 3-5 min at a time I'll be in good shape. Currently at around 30-45s.
  • 4 Ball warm-up.
    • Run several sets of fountains, at least 100 catches each.
    • Reverse fountains and columns.
    • Transitions between fountain, reverse, and columns. Generally 20 catches of each before moving on.
  • 4 Ball practice
  • 5 Ball
    • Pick one feature to focus on:
      • Consistent Height
        • Keep all throws the same height
        • Special focus on RH, as it tosses a little lower
      • Minimum Height
        • Keep all throws above a minimum height
        • At least an extended arm's length above head
        • The higher the better, but maintain accuracy
      • Elbows Tucked In
        • No "Frankenstein-ing"
        • Don't let one hand toss forward/backward
      • Consistent Width
        • Throws land inside/near shoulders
      • No "wax-on/"wax off"
        • Arms go up and down more than in circles
    • Work towards maximal runs with minimal foot movement
    • Some days I'll run pyramids: 10 x 10 catches, 10 x 12 catches, 10 x 14 catches, etc. 
  • Play time!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Things I'm Reading This Week

DIY Self-Myofascial Release

A lot of people have heard of using a foam-roller or lacrosse ball to do soft-tissue work on your own. This article talks about techniques using only your hands. An interesting take-away:
A general programming method I learned from a mentor of mine is the need for a 1:1 ratio between training and recovery. More specifically, with each compound movement pattern or emphasis that causes mechanical, metabolic or tensional stress to the tissues involved, a focused recovery session working on those active tissues is not only recommended, it's an absolute necessity for the long term health and functionality of those tissues.

Bear Crawls v. Crab Walks

Keep in mind that Cressey is a baseball trainer; a lot of what he speaks of is with an eye towards throwing ability. That being said, when he speaks about shoulder health -- especially as a circus performer -- I listen!
I dislike crab walks. As the humerus (upper arm) is "hyperextended" behind the body, the head of the humerus (ball) glides forward relative to the glenoid fossa (shoulder socket). This puts a lot of stress on the anterior capsule, biceps tendon, and nerve structures that pass along the front of the shoulder. And, it makes the rotator cuff work overtime from a mechanically disadvantageous position.

(NFSW!) BMFE: Henry Milo Steinborn

Chaos and Pain is a fantastic blog, not just for fitness information but for his history articles as well. I rarely see other blogs take the time to go back in strength-sport history. And few do it with as much style and humor as Jamie. Generally speaking, Chaos and Pain is always going to be not safe for work - porn/gore/language/etc. 

Steinborn was the inventor of the "Steinborn Squat". Lifting without a power-rack or squat-stand, he would upend the barbell, tuck underneath it, then squat from the bottom up. I've tried it before and it's definitely as crazy as it sounds. 

9 Tips for Dedicated Lifters

Dan John lays down some knowledge. There's nothing like hearing the common-sense no-nonsense decades of experience Dan John has. I like his ideas about high-rep squats. 

10 Reasons Your Squat Might Be Stuck

Speaking of squats, Paul Carter wrote up this nice little piece on getting your lift to move. Boiled down:

  • Not Squatting Enough
  • Weak Quads
  • Weak Stabilizing 
  • Bad Cues
  • Maxing too much

Bar-less training for Front/Back Levers

I don't really train the gymnastic skills all that often. It's a matter of priorities for me. First and foremost are powerlifting and juggling. Still, I keep an eye on all the information I can, and these guys know their stuff when it comes to skill work. Great article and some interesting ideas!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Research: The Barbell Hack Squat

Whenever I want to play with or learn a new lift, I usually hit up the internet for some research on it first. Now, of course, nothing beats a hands-on training coach. That second set of eyes and experience can identify problems you don't even know you're having.

I'm working on learning the Barbell Hack Squat. The hack squat is essentially a deadlift with the weight placed behind you rather than in front of you. This allows your quadriceps (top of your thighs) to be the primary driver of the movement, as well as takes the load off the lower back. In a standard deadlift, with the bar in front of you, you need to move your hips forward to lift the barbell. This creates torque on the lower back. In a hack squat, the bar starts under your lower back, so it's able to move straight up and down without any shearing or rotational forces. Which means it should be a fantastic supplemental exercise, especially if your back is tired or being rehabbed. Also, they'd be a great quad developer if you're in a gym that doesn't have a squat rack.

As for me, I'm interested in them for a few reasons:

  1. Squat accessory movement to build quad strength
  2. More exercises to work my grip strength
  3. An accessory movement without loading the back, which means less worry about technique/fatigue 
  4. They're pretty unique, look cool, and are an old-time strongman lift. 
  5. I'm attracted to movements using dumbbells/barbells over machines when possible

The lift itself was first popularized by Georg Karl Julius Hackenschmidt. That's where the Hack in Hack squat comes from. Hackenschmidt was a strongman and wrestler whose finishing move was the bear hug. Basically he's Zangief. At the age of 18 he could put up 200lbs overhead with one hand. Among his other strength feats were holding 100lbs dumbbells straight out at arms length, deadlifting over 600lbs with one hand, and one arm-snatched 197lbs. The man was a beast.

Anyhoo, the first place I head towards is ExRx.net. Exrx is an amazing resource for exercises. You can look up a muscle group and see all the standardized exercises that work it. Here's what they have to say about the barbell hack squat:

  • Target
    • Quadriceps
  • Synergists
    • Gluteus Maximus
    • Adductor Magnus
    • Soleus
  • Dynamic Stabilizers
    • Hamstrings
    • Gastrocnemius
  • Stabilizers
    • Erector Spinae
    • Trapezius, Middle
    • Levator Scapulae
    • Trapezius, Upper
    • Antagonist Stabilizers
    • Rectus Abdominis
    • Obliques



Position barbell just behind legs. With feet flat on floor, squat down and grasp barbell from behind with overhand grip.


Lift bar by extending hips and knees to full extension. Squat down by bending hips back while allowing knees to bend forward, keeping back straight and knees pointed same direction as feet. Descend until thighs are close to parallel to floor and bar is behind lower leg. Repeat.


Throughout lift, keep hips low, shoulders high, arms and back straight. Knees should point same direction as feet throughout movement. See flawed demonstration showing depth of hack squat that is NOT sufficient and knees are NOT pointed same angle as feet. Individuals with short arm to torso ratio or protracted shoulder posture, may find this exercise very difficult to perform. 

The stuff on the left can be a little complicated. Roughly translated, it means:
  • Primary drivers of the lift are your quadriceps, 
  • While being assisted by your booty, inner thighs, and calves. 
  • Calves and hammies operate to help stabilize the lift as it moves. 
  • Your back and abs stabilize the lift through stiffness. 
This information is enough for the basics of the lift. At this point I'll usually try out the movement. Then I'll look up what other people are saying about it. 
Charles Polquin writes this about it:
Make sure your feet are on a slant board, and that your torso remains erect throughout the whole range of motion... ...  Any load above 40 kg in this lift is starting to be good IF you keep your torso erect.
So it's important to him to keep the torso very upright. A slant board or weight plates under the heels will aid ankle mobility to allow a more upright torso. If I understand this correctly, keeping the torso straight up and down will ensure that the quadriceps are the true drivers of the movement.

The Polquin Group has these cues:
Walk forward until your heels rest on the board. Initiate the squatting motion by allowing your knees to travel as far forward as possible, without allowing your glutes to move back. Keep a slight arch in the lower back. Once your knees have gone as far forward as possible, lower your hips to the bottom position of the squat. Be sure to keep your back upright by pushing the bottom of your sternum up. Don’t allow the shoulders to round forward, and be certain your hips are under your shoulders in the bottom position.
Once again, emphasis on upright back. One nice cue here is to "push the bottom of your sternum up". The main problems I was having yesterday were the barbell scraping my calves (not necessarily a problem) and a little bit of "wiggling" on the way up, as I try to move the bar past my legs. At the gym, one trainer suggested I try a wider grip, which seemed to help.

Several people online are saying one key is to focus on moving the hips forward. This, combined with the "sternum up" cue, should ensure the work is done by the legs and not the back.

Gazzara, on the Animal Pak forums, has this to say:
If the bar hits the back of your legs, you are bending forward too much. I started doing hack squats to force myself into better form for the regular deadlift. You have to keep your ass down and your shoulders back to get the bar past your hams.

Steve Reeves (aka Hercules) used a custom-made belt to do the hack squat. Notably here is that he is also placing his heels on a board as he squats.
Hack Squats performed the Reeves way were unique compared to how others were doing them. When Steve was training at the old York Barbell Club in his bid for the 1950 Mr. Universe he used part of the old Milo hip lifting wooden platform plus a fabricated cold rolled steel T-Bar. The hip lifting platform had a hole in the middle of it and the “T” end of the bar extended through the hole. Plates were loaded or anchored on the bottom part of the “T” bar underneath the platform. While standing atop the platform Reeves would squat down with his hands behind his back and take a strong knuckles forward grip on the “T” (holding it tightly against the underside of his buttocks) and then would straighten his legs up to almost near lock-out but not quite. Once in the up position he would lower himself and repeat the movement for about fifteen reps. Doing the reps in non-lockout fashion would keep tension on his thighs the entire time.   -- Dave Draper forums.


  • Why?
    • Compound movement that focuses on Quads
    • Avoids lower back stress
    • Squat variation for support work
  • How
    • Barbell behind legs
    • Grip shoulder width apart
    • Keep torso vertical
    • Drive into heels and stand up
    • Lower bar, rinse, repeat.
  • Cues
    • Keep the chest up by pushing your sternum up
    • Move hips forward
    • Let the bar drag past legs
    • Weight should be strongly in the heels
      • Consider elevating heels through oly-shoes/ weight plates/wedge
      • Consider using barbell rack if flexibility doesn't allow full ROM
    • If having difficulty getting past butt, you're leaning too far foward. 

Further Reading

Training Log 8-18-14: Squatty squat squat.

Hit a rep-PR of 375# x 5, felt really good. 415# felt solid and locked-in as well. Then my groove got thrown off; I was shooting for 405# x 2 or 3 when someone started to come next to the squat rack as I was lifting. That distracted me enough to lean a bit too far forward and fail my second rep. After that it just didn't feel on-target to squat.

Decided to try out hack-squats instead. I love these, they're really really fun. Like a backwards deadlift. I'm still learning these, no technique or training to speak of. Instead I just "gripped it and ripped it". The trainer at the gym had a few tips for hand placement so that I didn't wiggle so much on standing up. They'll take some getting used to, but they are definitely staying in the rotation. I think I'm going to swap these out for paused-bottom squats.

My first workout was around 6pm. Four hours later I was on my way home from Alison's and decided to stop at the gym. Juggled for 45 min, then squatted once more. This second session actually felt fantastic. Perhaps because I had already "decided" that my training was finished for the day, or maybe it was because I knew that I wasn't going to go above 375#. Either way, the squats felt super calm and dialed in. Double-sessions are definitely something to consider for the future. We'll see how I feel recovering this week!

I found this ultra-accurate graph somewhere on the intarwebs

Session 1
Exercise Weight Reps Sets
Low-Bar Squats 45 10 1
135 5 1
225 5 1
315 5 1
375 5 1
415 1 1
405 1 2
Hack Squat 135 5 1
225 5 1
315 1 4
315 2 1
315 3 2
Leg Press 405 12 4
EZ-Bar Curl 65 15 2
25 30 2
Session 2
Exercise Weight Reps Sets
Low-Bar Squats 45 10 1
135 5 1
225 5 1
315 5 1
375 3 3
Cable Face Pull 50 12 1
57.5 12 2
Hyperextension BW 50 1