The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat - We Are The Mighty
The MIGHTY FIT Plan

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

The low bar back squat is the ultimate exercise for overall muscular development, it recruits more muscle groups than any other exercise if performed correctly.


Barbell Back Squat 101

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Back Squat — Setup

1. Grip bar and position

  • Set your bar on the squat rack at about nipple height. Facing the bar, grip it with both hands slightly wider than shoulder-width distance–you want to get as close to shoulder distance as possible while still maintaining some level of comfort in the shoulder. The closer together your grip, the more of a shelf you will be able to develop for the bar to rest on your back.
  • Keeping your grip on the bar, duck under the bar and set it evenly on your upper back. The bar should be rested on your rear delts (the back of your shoulders)–not on the top of your shoulders, and not on your neck/cervical spine, which will feel terrible (this is a high bar squat which has different mechanics). Squeeze the shoulder blades together.

2. Unrack the bar

  • With your feet planted evenly under the bar, “squat” the bar up out of the rack.
  • Take 2-3 small direct steps backwards. The bar moves up and then back. Never diagonally.

3. Set feet

  • Heels about shoulder width apart.
  • Toes pointed at about 30 degrees. Think of your feet as “at attention,” but instead of heels touching they are at shoulder-width distance. Experiment with this to get the most comfortable stance that allows for the best depth. Wider legs and more pointed toes will tend to be better for those with big bellies, long legs, or both.

Back Squat — Execution

1. Breathe and Squat

  1. Inhale and brace with the abs. The pressure from the full lungs and tight core are what protects the spine. Spinal protection in the squat has NOTHING to do with vertical back angle. Keep the eyes fixed on a spot on the floor 5 feet in front of you.
  2. Squat with a straight bar path. Don’t let the bar come forward or backwards at all. Straight down and straight up. Stay in your ass, with a tight core (see breath above), and make the tailbone move straight up and down: the rest of the body will follow.
  3. Don’t let the knees collapse inward. Actively “twist” your knees apart so that they track over your toes. You’ll feel this engage the muscles in the side of your glutes, which may be an entirely novel sensation for you.

2. Finish and exhale at the top

  1. Knees and hips should lock out softly at the top. Don’t “snap” into position: be easy on your joints.
  2. Every rep finishes with an exhale at the top when you are finished with the movement. Don’t exhale on the way up, as this reduces intra-abdominal pressure and puts your spine in a compromised position.

Back Squat — Coaching Cues

  • Breathe at the top
  • Knees track out over toes for the entire movement
  • Vertical bar path, stay in your tailbone/ass
  • Balance is over the midfoot
  • Eyes look at the ground 5-10 feet in front of you

Back Squat — Adjustments

The bodyweight squat, the goblet squat, and machine assisted squats can all be less taxing alternatives to the barbell back squat if you are injured or need adjustment.

If you have issues reaching depth due to pain or lack of mobility in the ankles, try the reaching plate squat to learn how to use a counterbalance to keep your balance over your midfoot.

If you have pain in your knees, try warming up with 3 sets of 20 hip thrusts from the floor with a moderately heavy dumbbell. It’s been shown to reduce knee pain.

If you have undiagnosed nonspecific back pain, you need to embrace the process of progressive overload. Perform the movement with an empty or very light barbell. As soon as the weight starts to cause pain during or even after the exercise, stop or go lighter next time. Over the next few months, slowly progress in weight as you’re able. You will more likely than not find that once you learn how to move through the squat pattern comfortably, the pain will go away.

Many trainees experience “growing pains” in the beginning of their first real training plan. Learning to differentiate between your body adjusting to the new training and actual pain due to an issue is an invaluable skill that needs to be developed.

Caveat: This exercise guidance should never usurp the advice of your medical professional. If there is a question in your mind as to the suitability of this exercise for you confer with your doctor. WATM is not liable if you do something ill-advised after reading any of our fitness content.

Back Squat — Resources

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

The MIGHTY FIT Plan

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Deadlift

Here we go again! Deadlifts. The name comes from the fact that each and every rep should start at a complete dead stop, unlike the squat or the bench press where the stretch reflex is involved in the rep.


Deadlift 101

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Deadlift — Setup

1. Bar over midfoot

  • When you approach the bar on the ground, step your feet under the bar, about hip distance apart. Stand close enough to the bar that it comes over your midfoot. This is about 1 inch away from the shins.
  • This is your balance point. Pulling vertically from this point will keep a straight bar path and make the lift as efficient as possible.
  • Stay locked in this position. All other steps should not move the barbell and mess up this step.

2. Take grip

  • Bend at your hips with soft knees and take your grip just outside of the legs.
  • The straighter your arms, the shorter distance you have to move the bar. This is the most efficient position.

3. Bring shins to bar

  • WITHOUT MOVING THE BARBELL, bend at your knees and bring your shins to the bar.
  • Your hips should not move: they are already in the most advantageous position for you to exhibit the most strength.

4. Press your chest up and lock your back into place

  • Try to “bring your belly to your ass.”
  • This will achieve both a locked and neutral spine and a presented chest.
  • The shoulders will be slightly in front of the barbell at this point.

Deadlift — Execution

1. Brace the core

  • Inhale and take the slack out of the bar by completely bracing the core muscles as you take a full breath in. Your arms should be straight, and you should hear the bar “click” as it touches the upper part of the weight’s sleeve.

2. Pull the bar up along the legs

With a flat back and straight, long arms, drag the barbell up your legs. The balance point (the point directly over midfoot) is directly along your legs for the entire movement.

  • Tight lats will keep the bar against your legs and prevent it from swinging forward and out of balance.

Squeeze your glutes at the top.

  • Finish with hip extension, NOT back extension.

Allow the bar to follow the exact same path back down to the starting position.

Exhale

  • Don’t exhale at the top. Take a full breath when you have the bar back on the ground.

Deadlift — Coaching Cues

  • Eyes look at the ground 5-10 feet in front of you
  • Tight lats
  • Press the feet through the floor
  • Push knees into the elbows at the start position and keep them there
  • Tight is right. Comfort does not ensure proper form
  • Lifting is not comfortable and not painful. It’s in the middle, outside of the comfort zone but not in the danger zone. That’s where growth happens.
  • Each rep starts from a dead stop.
  • DON’T BOUNCE THE WEIGHT

Deadlift — Adjustments

If you’re squatting your deadlifts, stop. Use a kettlebell or dumbbell to teach you how to actually hinge at your hips.

  • Take a kettlebell and hold it behind your back with both hands, like you’re being handcuffed.
  • Hinge at the hips by pushing the hips backward.
  • If you are doing this correctly you will feel the kettlebell “pushing” against your ass, opposing the backward movement.
  • If you are doing this incorrectly, you’ll feel the kettlebell hanging freely behind you because you are squatting straight down.

Low back pain is a sign that you are not neutral through your low back. Drop the weight and focus on a neutral spine. With load, it will feel hyperextended, even though it is just at neutral.

If your low back is in flexion at all, YOU’RE WRONG. Drop the weight and become more strict on your form. If your back is in flexion, it means you will have to finish the deadlift by bringing your spine in neutral. The spinal erectors are not designed to bring huge weights from flexion to extension, they are designed to contract isometrically.

Sometimes the hands hurt. This could mean you need more chalk or to trim your calluses. Remember: lifting is not comfortable. The deadlift will never feel like getting a back rub from your secret lover (unless, of course, she’s a dominatrix.)

Neck pain happens when you are cranking on your neck to “lead” the movement. Don’t do that. It won’t make you stronger. Choose a spot 5-10 feet in front of you on the ground and look there the entire time. This will keep your neck in neutral.

Caveat: This exercise guidance should never usurp the advice of your medical professional. If there is a question in your mind as to the suitability of this exercise for you confer with your doctor. WATM is not liable if you do something ill-advised after reading any of our fitness content.

Deadlift — Further Resources

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat
MIGHTY FIT

Gain (or regain) warrior-status in just 8 weeks with this fitness plan

One of the most common reasons I’ve found that people don’t stick with a workout plan is that they go too hard too fast.

Imagine trying to qualify with the M4 at 500 yards the first day you put your hands on the weapon. That’s exactly what many people do when it comes to fitness.

We’re going to change that today.


Note: I’m going to recommend that you read through this introduction, but if you want to skip to the action and sign up right now, click here.

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

You’ll never be proficient at 500 yards if you can’t hit the target at 30 yards.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Alexander Mitchell/released)

Before you discharge that weapon at distance, you need to drill how to load it, zero-in the sights, clean it, support it in the different firing positions, use your breath to help your accuracy, and a hundred other things that contribute to solid marksmanship.

Likewise, when it comes to fitness, you need to drill a solid foundation first. You have to learn:

  • What your 1 rep maxes are
  • What muscles respond to high volume vs high intensity training
  • How your endurance is affected by muscle gain
  • Proper form for the various lifts so you can maximize their benefits
  • The best time of the day for you to workout
  • Where the best equipment in your gym is located
  • How fast and efficiently you recover from certain workouts
  • How changes in your diet affect your performance
  • Muscle memory of movements

All of these things are individual to you, and they are constantly changing.

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

Biceps curls and the treadmill… classic sign of a foundationless approach.

High and Right

When you start hitting high and right on a target at 100 yards, it may only be off by an inch or two. But when you move out to 500 yards it is now off by feet and probably not even hitting the target.

If you try to jump into a hard-core program that has six 2-hour lifting sessions a week without establishing a baseline, your accuracy of the movements, ability to recover, and overall muscle/strength gain are going to be high and right. This potentially means injury, or more commonly translates to a level of muscle soreness that prevents you from making any actual gains.

That soreness, also called DOMS, is often enough to make you say “fugg it! The weight room isn’t for me,” or to decide that you’re meant to be flat-chested and have chicken legs forever.

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

Don’t let this happen to you in the gym by biting off more than you’re ready for.

I’ve seen the equivalent on civilian ranges countless times. Some ding-dong shows up with a weapon he’s never fired. He starts by trying to hit the target from the furthest distance available, fails to hit the target, gets frustrated, starts firing at a rapid pace (against range rules) like an obese Rambo, and gets kicked off the range for being a jackass.

Don’t be like that in the gym by doing too much too fast and quitting due to excessive soreness and a lack of fundamental understanding of what makes lifting weights a therapeutic art. Both lifting and marksmanship can be forms of meditation if done correctly–which is completely lost on your local bicep-curling gymrat and the average gun enthusiast who knows the nomenclature of every weapon in Call of Duty but consistently loads rounds in the clip backwards.

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

Let’s get you zeroed-in.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Robert B. Brown Jr.)

The Plan

So how do you make sure you aren’t the maniac Rambo-firing at the gym?

The MIGHTY FIT Plan is the first program at We Are The Mighty dedicated to this pursuit.

All too often, people try to make a lifestyle change or get ready for a new military school by firing from the 500 yard line while standing. This is a foundationless approach.

Build your foundation over the next 2 months with The MIGHTY FIT Plan.

This plan is for those who are ready to start taking control of their fitness with a proven method. Just like the rifle range, you need to set an accurate baseline by zeroing in your weapon, doing some dry fire drills, and firing test rounds at a close distance.

Your body is your weapon. This plan will zero in your body to become efficient and effective at all the lifts.

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

There’s always a way to train once you decide to execute.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jonathan Wright)

This plan is designed to:

  • Introduce you to the main compound movements and their proper forms
  • Establish and progressively increase your ability to recover from workouts
  • Build a base level of muscle that will enable you to thrive in all your other athletic pursuits (including unit PT)
  • Allow you to figure out how to fit lifting sessions into your already busy schedule
  • Learn your body and how it responds to training

So, how do I get The MIGHTY FIT Plan?

Click here to get the MIGHTY FIT Plan + The Fat Shred Plug-in for FREE in the Composure Fit App.

The Exercises

Over the next eight weeks, you’re going to become familiar with the following exercises — save this link so that you can always come back and re-familiarize yourself:

The MIGHTY FIT Plan

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Hip Thrust

Hip thrusts are for everyone, especially military professionals. If you have weak glutes, you suck at hiking. 5 reasons to hip thrust:

  1. To increase butt hypertrophy #assgains
  2. To improve deadlift lockout strength
  3. As a squat warm-up to get rid of hip pain
  4. Improved athleticism AKA hiking ability
  5. Increase sprint speed and explosiveness

Moral of the story: Don’t skip these just because you don’t want to be seen humping the air in the gym.


Hip Thrust 101

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Hip Thrust — Setup

1. Find your comfortable position

  • Find a bench that’s the right height. If you’re sitting on the ground with your back straight against the bench, you should be able to place the bottom of your scaps just above the bench.
  • You can stack aerobics steps, use a free weight bench, use a stationary bench, or if none of these are the perfect height, you can sit on a step or weight to get you to the right height.
  • Your second option is to use your arms to help you get into position once you have the weight on your hips. With this option, your glutes won’t touch the ground on the bottom of each rep, because you shimmied your way up the bench
  • Pad the barbell with whatever your gym has. A squat pad, yoga mat, airex pad, foam roller with a hole in it, or a hip thrust specific pad will work.
  • Pain is a detriment to muscle recruitment. If there is a searing pain, you will unconsciously be weaker due to neurological preprogramming. Don’t be tough, get more padding.
  • Place the barbell at the most comfortable position for you near the hip-crease.

2. Look straight ahead

  • Look yourself in the eye in the mirror or straight ahead at the wall. Don’t break eye contact.
  • Looking forward will prevent you from extending your low back. Low back extension is not a hip thrust and is wrong. It also prevents you from making eye contact with other humans…which may be perceived as harassment with this movement.

Hip Thrust — Execution

1. Vertical movement

Press into the heels and drive the hips up vertically while squeezing the glutes.

  • Full range of movement ends when you are in posterior pelvic tilt and your glutes are fully engaged.
  • If you think of your pelvis as a bowl, posterior pelvic tilt is when the front rim of the bowl is higher than the back rim (the bowl’s contents would spill out the back).
  • If you aren’t squeezing your glutes as hard as possible you’re wrong.
  • STAY OUT OF YOUR BACK. The hip thrust is all about extending your hips and engaging your glutes. The lift should not continue into the spine, causing a backbend.
  • Drive through your heels. That’s where you will find maximum glute recruitment.
  • You can keep your feet flat on the ground or lift your toes.
  • If breathing correctly, there should be little concern for any back issues with this exercise. The breathing cadence is simply good practice and allows you to keep the entire core engaged isometrically which is exactly how you should be used to contracting whenever you are moving something heavy. Just like with the other main lifts:
  1. Inhale and brace with your core
  2. Conduct a repetition
  3. Exhale at the bottom

Hip Thrust — Coaching Cues

  • Look forward
  • Stay out of the back
  • Drive through the heels
  • Pivot on the mid-back
  • Don’t push horizontally on the bench
  • Keep core engaged
  • Keep ribs down

Hip Thrust — Adjustments

Hip pain is inevitable if you don’t pad the weight. Don’t be a tough guy. Pad it up.

Neck pain is possible if you are leading the movement with your head. Keep your eyes facing forward and this won’t happen.

Knee pain is a result of trying to drive horizontally through the toes. Lift the toes and drive through the heels. Remember the hips are moving vertically, pivot on your back and use all of your force to drive your hips up by squeezing the glutes.

Caveat: This exercise guidance should never usurp the advice of your medical professional. If there is a question in your mind as to the suitability of this exercise for you confer with your doctor. WATM is not liable if you do something ill-advised after reading any of our fitness content.

Hip Thrust — Further Resources

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat


The MIGHTY FIT Plan

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

The single leg RDL is one of the great equalizers in the gym. Very strong men can suck at these no matter what their max deadlift is. They also show any imbalances between the left and right side of the body.

If you start with the strong side, you are allowing your weak side to become even weaker. The first side is always better, so start with the weak side to cure any imbalance you may have.

Like the deadlift, RDLs are a hip hinge, with one major difference: you start at the top of the movement. So really, they aren’t “dead” at all.


Single-Leg RDL 101

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Single Leg Romanian Deadlift — Setup

1. Resistance selection

For this variation of the RDL, you will hold a dumbbell in each hand.

Single Leg Romanian Deadlift — Execution

1. Weak side

Balance on your weak side leg by lifting your strong side leg behind you.

2. Eccentric portion

With a strong neutral spine, hinge at your weak side hip until you feel a stretch response in your weak side hamstring.

  • Allow the arms and the weights they are holding to be “dead weight”. As you hinge they can naturally swing out as they will want to.
  • This is contrary to the traditional barbell RDL and the deadlift where you are keeping the bar in contact with your legs the entire time.
  • The weight acts as a counter balance. You will find that this exercise is actually easier at a slightly heavier weight that can adequately counter the weight of your leg.
  • Keep a neutral spine throughout the entire movement.

3. Concentric portion

Squeeze your glute and hinge back up to the starting position.

4. Rep it out

Repeat on the weak side for the prescribed number of reps.

5. Switch

Switch to your strong side and repeat.

Single Leg Romanian Deadlift — Coaching Cues

  • Stay locked in your back so that the entire hinge is in your hips.
  • Full ROM is when you feel the stretch response in your hamstring, not when the weights touch the floor
  • Keep the knee soft
  • Let the hands hang heavy
  • Allow the weights to act as a counter balance

Single Leg Romanian Deadlift — Adjustments

The single leg RDL is difficult for coordination reasons. If you have balance issues rest your non-working leg on the ground in between each rep. To further adjust, hold onto a pillar or wall with the non-working side arm to maintain balance.

The Single leg RDL is what I would call a corrective exercise as well as a ball-buster. If it is causing you issues, you are probably trying to load it too heavy. Lighten the load.

If there are any major issues with it, simply switch to the Dumbbell RDL with both legs on the ground.

Caveat: This exercise guidance should never usurp the advice of your medical professional. If there is a question in your mind as to the suitability of this exercise for you confer with your doctor. WATM is not liable if you do something ill-advised after reading any of our fitness content.

Single Leg Romanian Deadlift — Further Resources

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat
The MIGHTY FIT Plan

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Shoulder presses are secondary to the barbell overhead press, which more completely engages all the musculature it takes to press something overhead. The DB shoulder press is designed to add extra mass to the deltoids as well as assist in becoming stronger for the overhead press.


Shoulder Press 101

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Dumbbell Shoulder Press — Setup

1. Exercise Selection

Choose a weight that will allow you to observe all the below rules of engagement for this exercise.

  • You can do these either standing or sitting, just stay consistent with your choice so you can measure gains in strength.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press — Execution

1. Starting position

Grip the dumbbells in each hand and bring them up to rest on your shoulders, thumbs facing in, elbows out wide but slightly in front of the body’s lateral line (your sides). The exercise begins when you press the weight off the shoulder.

  • The first rep will always be the hardest because you are starting below the actual start position of the exercise.

2. Concentric portion

Brace your core, then straighten the arms to bring the dumbbells overhead on a directly vertical path.

  • The top of the rep is when the delts are still engaged just before the elbows lock out.

3. Eccentric portion

Bend the elbows to bring the dumbbells straight down.

  • The bottom of the rep is when the upper arm is just below parallel with the ground.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press — Coaching Cues

  • Don’t bounce or cause momentum.
  • Momentum means you are no longer working the intended muscle, but instead taking advantage of physics.
  • Use full range of motion.
  • Don’t shorten the reps to allow you to use higher weight. Full range of motion is vital.
  • Be proud of making an exercise hard with a lighter weight. That’s workout efficiency.
  • Don’t let the shoulders flare.
  • The elbows should be wide, but not so wide that they’re in line with the sides of the body.
  • Maintain tension.
  • Don’t lose tension at the top of the exercise and rest. Stop just short of locking out your elbows in order to maintain constant tension.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press — Adjustments

Low back pain is the most common complaint in this exercise. Tighten down your core as described above and stay there throughout the movement. When performing the standing variation of this exercise, squeeze your ass tight. The more grounded you are, the less likely it is that you’ll hyperextend through the low back.

If you have shoulder pain, ensure that your elbows don’t go past parallel with the ground on the eccentric (bottom) portion of the movement. Also ensure that your elbows are slightly more forward than the sides of the body, not in line your sides, and not behind it.

If your head hurts, you probably chose a weight that is too heavy, neglected to ask for a spot, and lost your grip. Now you have a concussion. See a doctor.

Caveat: This exercise guidance should never usurp the advice of your medical professional. If there is a question in your mind as to the suitability of this exercise for you confer with your doctor. WATM is not liable if you do something ill-advised after reading any of our fitness content.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press — Further Resources

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

The MIGHTY FIT Plan

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Dumbbell Flys

Dumbbell flys are sometimes looked down on by serious strength athlete. The truth is that flys often help train the movement of the bench better than benching can. The act of squeezing the pecs together in the fly provides a very obvious muscular contraction. That same contraction is what should be felt in the bench press as well. If your press doesn’t feel like you’re squeezing your pecs together the fly movement will fix that issue very effectively.


DB Flys 101

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Dumbbell Flys — Setup

1. Exercise selection

For the dumbbell fly, choose a light dumbbell that you can maintain perfect form with for the entirety of each set.

  • For the cable fly, choose a weight that you don’t need to cheat with on the final reps and that you don’t slam back into the stack like an egomaniac.

Dumbbell Flys — Execution

1. Tight back

Lay on your back in a similar set up to the bench press, scapulae drawn in together.

2. Starting position

Start with the weights at the top of the movement with arms perpendicular to the ground, shoulders externally rotated (fingers facing midline).

3. Eccentric portion

Open the arms to the side in a “fly” motion, in a slow and controlled movement that engages the muscles eccentrically.

  • Breathe in as the weights move down (the eccentric portion of the movement).

4. Concentric portion

When you feel the maximum stretch response at the bottom of the movement with soft elbows, begin the concentric portion of the movement by bringing the arms back to the starting position, up until just before perpendicular.

  • Breathe out as your contract your chest while the weights are traveling upwards (the concentric portion of the movement).

5. Constant Tension

Maintain tension throughout the entire set and don’t bounce in the bottom portion of the exercise.

Dumbbell Flys — Coaching Cues

  • The goal is constant tension throughout the entire movement.
  • Don’t rest at the top
  • Don’t rest out the bottom
  • Full range of motion is exactly where you feel the chest engaged.
  • Too far open allows you to rest
  • Perfectly perpendicular to the ground at the top is a rest (because the joints are stacked).
  • The arms don’t have to be perfectly straight.
  • Conduct the movement with soft elbows.

Dumbbell Flys — Adjustments

If you find flys particularly difficult, switch to the pec dec.

These are an ancillary exercise and can be switch out for any other chest exercise that you prefer more.

Remember the primary chest developer in this program is the bench press. If you don’t feel that this variation is making you better/stronger in the bench press, then choose another variation.

Caveat: This exercise guidance should never usurp the advice of your medical professional. If there is a question in your mind as to the suitability of this exercise for you confer with your doctor. WATM is not liable if you do something ill-advised after reading any of our fitness content.

Dumbbell Flys — Further Resources

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat
The MIGHTY FIT Plan

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Horizontal Rows

It is important to hit your back musculature from various angles and grip widths. Change your horizontal pull of choice every 4-6 weeks. When programming, consider heavy squats and deadlifts as back exercises as well. These large compound movements engage much of the posterior chain (back muscles) in an isometric contraction. The majority of the things we use our backs for are isometric contractions (stability and support).


Horizontal Pulls 101

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Horizontal Rows — Setup

1. Exercise selection

Choose a variation that you like and stick with it for a minimum of 4 weeks.

2. Range of motion

Ensure that you can fully express the entire range of motion comfortable for whichever variation your choose.

Some Options

  • Barbell Bent Over Row
  • Underhand EZ Bar Row
  • Row to Chest
  • 1-Arm Dumbbell Row
  • Chest Supported Row
  • Row Machine
  • 2-Arm Dumbbell Row
  • Cable Row

Horizontal Rows — Execution

1. Shoulder blades

Allow the shoulder blades to move through their full range of motion.

  • Rows are a back exercise with secondary effects on the biceps. If your shoulder blades (scaps) are locked into a position, you are by definition NOT going through the full range of motion for your back muscles.

2. Elbows

Don’t pull your elbows past the torso

  • Pulls are a back exercise. When you pull your elbow beyond the torso you are engaging rear delt which isn’t the purpose of the movement. In addition, you’re putting unnecessary stress on the anterior portion of the glenohumeral joint (front of your shoulder).

3. Breathing

  • Exhale as you pull the load towards you (concentric phase).
  • Inhale as you allow the weight away from you (eccentric phase).

Horizontal Rows — Coaching Cues

  • Full range of motion in your shoulder blades
  • Breathe with the movement
  • Think: Pull to the hip to prevent single arm variations from pulling past your torso
  • Maintain control through both the concentric and eccentric phases

Horizontal Rows — Adjustments

Choose a variation that doesn’t cause pain. There are many variations that all do an adequate job.

Back pain is often caused by rocking the upper body during the movement. Lock your core down. Focus the exercise on the intended musculature. If your whole torso is rocking you are cheating your pulling muscles out of gains.

If a particular variation bothers your wrists, switch to a supine or neutral grip variation.

Caveat: This exercise guidance should never usurp the advice of your medical professional. If there is a question in your mind as to the suitability of this exercise for you confer with your doctor. WATM is not liable if you do something ill-advised after reading any of our fitness content.

Horizontal Rows — Further Resources

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat
The MIGHTY FIT Plan

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Zercher Squat

The Zercher squat is in this programming for 2 reasons.

  1. It can be fun and a nice change up from front squat (it works basically the same musculature).
  2. It can be a good replacement if you find the front squat too uncomfortable.
Zercher Squat 101

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Zercher Squat — Setup

1. Bar height

  • Set the bar in the rack about the height of your belly button.

2. Elbows

  • Approach the bar and hook the arms under the bar into the crooks of your elbow.

3. Unracking

  • Squat the weight up from there and take 2-3 direct steps backwards.

4. Stance

  • The stance for the Zercher squat is typically more narrow than the back squat, but this is a personal preference.
  • Choose the stance that allows you to reach depth without getting in the way of your elbows or belly
  • Your balance point is the midfoot, so the torso angle in the Zercher squat is more vertical than the back squat. Very similar to the front squat.
  • Because the bar is on our front, we need a more vertical torso to keep the bar over midfoot.

Zercher Squat — Execution

1. Inhale and squat

  • Remember: Full lungs and a tight core are what allow you to protect your spine.
  • Breathing is the same as the back squat.
  • Exhale at the end of the movement when you are back at the top of the rep.

Zercher Squat — Coaching Cues

  • Eyes look just below straight ahead. DO NOT lead the movement with your eyes by looking up at the ceiling.
    • Cranking the neck (cervical spine) is a great way to ensure a future injury in any exercise. Lead the movement with the chest and elbows.
  • Keep the knees out.
    • Just like with the back squat and deadlift, the knees should be tracking out over the toes throughout the whole movement.
  • Keep the torso erect.

Zercher Squat — Adjustments

Low back pain is a sign of a weak core. The point of these exercises is to point out weak points and imbalances in the body so that you can fix them. You may find that the limiting factor for many movements is a weak core. Take solace in the fact that this is super simple to fix and will have secondary benefits on other aspects of your life. The remedy is to lighten the load and embrace progressive overload. Put your ego away and lift the weight that is appropriate for you on this specific day. You’ll get to the big weights when it’s time. Enjoy the process.

Elbow pain is inevitable when training the Zercher squat. Luckily it is not necessary to do this variation. If you have issues, switch to a different squat variation that produces less stress on the elbows. You can also decide to pad the elbows with a yoga mat or something similar to ease up the elbow pressure.

Caveat: This exercise guidance should never usurp the advice of your medical professional. If there is a question in your mind as to the suitability of this exercise for you confer with your doctor. WATM is not liable if you do something ill-advised after reading any of our fitness content.

Zercher Squat — Further Resources

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

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5 methods to get that bicep vein popping out of your arm

Remember back at the beginning of your career when you only cared about how tight your sleeves were?

I remember wanting to look jacked, even though I was only 170 pounds soaking wet. In my inner circle, you got bonus points when your biceps vein looked like it was going to burst out of your skin. So how do you get a bulging vein anyway?


In this article, I’m giving you five strategies to employ that will increase your vascularity.

That biceps vein is probably the first one you’ll see on your journey to becoming the big veiny triumphant man you’ve always wanted to be.

 

Eat to lose fat

Sounds pretty simple? Why haven’t you done it yet then?

Losing body fat is one of the harder body goals to achieve, not because it’s complicated or overly difficult. It’s hard for an entirely different reason…you have to make hundreds of decisions every day to eat properly to burn fat.

Trying to run the fat off through cardio is only one decision.

It’s a lot easier to say “yes” one time than “no” 134 times in a day.

The science is proven. If you want to burn fat diet manipulations are more effective than extra cardio. I wrote a lot more about this topic in What type of exercise burns the most fat.

The goal is to get under 15 percent body fat for some of you. To be sure though, aim for under 12 percent body fat.

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat
You can’t go wrong with leafy greens when it comes to vascularity. (DeCA photo)

 

Eat to increase Nitric Oxide

Nitric oxide is the compound that makes your veins dilate; AKA get bigger. There are plenty of foods that help increase the amount of nitric oxide in the blood.

Foods that get converted into nitrates in the body do the trick to up your level of nitric oxide. Eat foods like:

  • Beetroot
  • Lettuce
  • Celery
  • Broccoli
  • Arugula
  • Spinach

You’ll notice that these foods are healthy and something you should be eating anyway. This is a time when what’s healthy and what’s aesthetic are actually the same thing.

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat
Salt makes food delicious and makes you look fluffy. (Photo by Jason Tuinstra on Unsplash)

 

Keep sodium intake low

Salt holds onto water. Simply put, the more salt in your diet, the more water you’ll retain the less your biceps vein will show.

If you recall in How to cut weight in a borderline safe way, I covered a specific strategy to decrease body water retention in order to make weight. Similar rules apply here. The smarter you are about what you eat, the more likely your body will look the way you want it to.

If you eat a lot of pre-prepared food from the 7-day shop on base that you just need to add water and microwave to cook, I bet you struggle to get your veins popping the way you want them to. There’s a lot of sodium in those foods to make them last longer on the shelf and taste better since they’re made from the cheapest ingredients possible.

Eat from the above list instead.

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat
The body remembers. If you treat it well it’ll look how you want it to. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Preston Jarrett/Released)

 

Keep water intake consistent

The body remembers. If you’re chronically dehydrated, your body is craving water and will retain as much as possible whenever it has the chance.

If instead, you keep a consistent level of hydration, your body will hoard less water and be willing to excrete any extra water.

Apply this to trying to achieve more vascularity. You will have to stay chronically dehydrated in order to have any veins show and one glass of water will completely change the way you look.

If instead you stay properly hydrated regularly, then just a little bit of dehydration will make your veins pop.

Here’s a bunch of other reasons to drink more water.

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat
Lift often and lift heavy. Bigger muscles equal better vein visibility. (Photo by C.J. Lovelace)

 

Lift weights

The structure of your arm goes like this; skin, fat, veins, muscles, bone.

We have now entered the level of your muscles. Assuming you’re eating and drinking according to the recommendations above, you next need to help your muscles push your veins to the surface.

Weight training is going to increase the blood flow to your muscles. That increase in blood flow is what’s known as “The Pump.” It makes your arms feel bigger, tighter, and stronger. It has two effects on your vascularity.

  1. The increase in blood flow will increase the size of your blood vessels even more than your diet already has.
  2. Larger muscle circumference will push your veins closer to the surface of your skin and make them more visible.
For more on the effects of weight training, check out Why you should be training, not exercising.
The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

If you follow these rules, you’re guaranteed to look more vascular than ever before. If you’re looking for more here’s a bonus, ensure you’re using a pre-workout supplement that contains citrulline malate. For more on how to choose a pre-workout check out Part 1 of What supplements in the Exchange are worth your money.

The new Mighty Fit Plan is coming in hot very soon. Be one of the first to sign up for it here!

Join the Mighty Fit FB Group here!

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Ground based Pull-up guide

Life is hard, pull-ups are harder.

I received a less than polite email from a reader that effectively said: “You suck! This free pull-up guide sucks! I can’t even do one pull-up, and that’s your fault!”

Cool. I have some family members that would love to start a Michael Sucks club with you.


So, in this article I’m going to lay out a plan for you to use to get that first pull-up. That plan involves 4 exercises and a way to implement the plan into your current training plan.

  1. RKC Plank
  2. Push-ups
  3. Hollow Body Hold
  4. Hanging

More importantly though, the plan teaches three skills. Those skills are what this article is structured around.

 

Total Body Tension

Three of the exercises on this plan train total body tension, if you do them correctly. The RKC plank, hollow body holds, and hanging all rely on your keeping total tension in your body for the whole time you are performing the exercise.

I talked about this concept in This lifting cue has all the life advice you’d find in a Clint Eastwood movie when it comes to bar path for barbell based exercises. The same rules apply for your body when doing bodyweight exercises; the less extra movement you have in your body the better you’ll be at a movement.

When it comes to pull-ups, it does feel like it’s easier to perform a few reps when you are swinging wildly on the bar. I’m not talking about intentional kipping, I’m talking about just being loose and letting the momentum of your swinging body help you. This sensation is a lie though, don’t listen to it.

Instead, learn how to properly hold tension in your body so that you are ONLY moving up and down during a pull-up. Loose legs cause energy bleed-off, a loose neck does the same, and is a cervical spine injury waiting to happen.

When you perform the exercises above you’re teaching your body that you’re in charge of the path of movement it takes and will not tolerate any extra movement for any reason.

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat
Click the image to get the guide in pdf form.

 

Comfort on the bar

If you want to be able to do pull-ups you need to feel comfortable on the bar. So, yeah, I guess the ground-based pull-up guide is a lie. I’m okay with that. My primary goal is to get you doing pull-ups, not to be truthful to a title.

Marksmanship is probably the most salient example here. How good can you be at firing a weapon if it feels foreign to even hold it? The answer there is, not very good. The same holds true for pull-ups if you want to get a bunch of reps you need to know what to do when you get on the bar. Not only mentally, but you need to have the muscle memory to engage the proper total body tension as soon as you start hanging.

In order to put all three of these together, you need to do all three in unison.

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat
The original plan that got me in trouble with you guys. It’s still great. I stand by it.

 

Putting it all together

Now that you are training your essential pull-up skills, you just have to ensure one other variable is in place and then you’ll be ready.

You need to pull: horizontal rows, vertical rows, lat pull downs, barbell rows, etc. Your training plan should include these types of pulling exercises to ensure your back is getting stronger. As long as that’s happening you’ll be golden once you start getting on the bar properly.

You’re getting strong and you’re training your pull-up form as you start to get better on the bar it’s time to start swapping in some of the exercises that are in the double your max pull-up PR plan: eccentric pull-ups, horizontal rows where you start to elevate your feet, and most importantly scap pull-ups.

Scap pull-ups get you into the position you need to be in order to start pulling with your full back’s potential. Swap these in first. In your first set of hanging perform a set of five scap pull-ups. After that point, just start swapping in more and more sets and reps.

[instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/Boy2kallmyu/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link expand=1]Michael Gregory on Instagram: “I think that this was more than 20 but the last few were ugly so we won’t count those. . Sometimes I deviate from the plan. . I had just…”

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I know it seems simple…because it actually is. You just need to train this stuff consistently. Not once a week either. Minimum is two times a week that you should be going through all these exercises with the intent that you’re doing them to get better at pull-ups. The full circuit may take 15 minutes max. Do it like this:

  1. 2-3 sets of MAX hold RKC plank
  2. 2-3 sets of 75% of your max number of perfect push-ups
  3. 2-3 sets MAX hold hollow body hold
  4. 2-3 sets MAX hold hanging

That’s it.

Get the First Pull-Up Plan here.

Get the Double your Pull-Up Max Plan here.

Send your pull-ups gripes and concerns to michael@compourefitness.com

The MIGHTY FIT Plan

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Leg Press

The leg press gets a bad rep because it’s the exercise that chronic leg day skippers prefer when they finally do decide to lift legs. In reality, the leg press is an excellent addition to any training program in order to get more lower body work without loading the spine.


Leg Press 101

youtu.be

Leg Press — Setup

1. Foot placement

Place your feet on the top half of the platform.

  • The lower your feet are on the platform the more knee flexion you will experience, which can cause knee pain for some people.

Leg Press — Execution

1. Safeties

Unload the platform by pressing it away slightly so that you can disengage the safeties.

2. Eccentric prep

Inhale and brace your core.

3. Eccentric portion

Let the weight down until your shins are parallel to the ground.

  • This is typically the same depth as proper squat depth, however we are all special little snowflakes so compare the feel to your squat and get deeper if you need to.
  • Shins parallel is minimum depth. If you don’t reach parallel you are cheating yourself out of gains.
  • Literally no one cares how much you can leg press. Trying to show off with a really heavy leg press is a waste of your time and will make your mother shake her head in disapproval.

4. Concentric portion

Press the weight away from you.

5. Breathing

Exhale when you are at the top of the movement. Inhale, brace, and repeat.

Leg Press — Coaching Cues

  • Stay out of your back.
  • When things get hard, people almost always decide to throw their low back into hyperextension.
  • Breathe and brace every repetition with a strong core and full lungs before every rep.This is how you are strongest.
  • Hyperextending through the back will never make you better at anything except cat/cow in yoga

Leg Press — Adjustments

Knee pain can be adjusted for by moving your feet higher on the platform or reducing the weight.

Low back pain is the result of a loose core during the exercise. Even though this is a safe exercise, you still need to properly brace every rep or you risk throwing your back into extension. It’s easy to tell with the leg press if you’re doing this. If there is any daylight between your back and the upright seatback, you need to tighten that shit down.

Caveat: This exercise guidance should never usurp the advice of your medical professional. If there is a question in your mind as to the suitability of this exercise for you confer with your doctor. WATM is not liable if you do something ill-advised after reading any of our fitness content.

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat
The MIGHTY FIT Plan

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Front Squat

The front squat is much more quad dominant than the back squat due to the more closed knee angle and more open hip angle. There is less musculature involved here, therefore you will be weaker on the front squat than the back squat.


Front Squat 101

youtu.be

Front Squat — Setup

1. Grip

Start with the bar racked at nipple height. From this position, there are a number of different grips you can use.

  • Clean style is how you see olympic lifters come out of the bottom portion of the clean and jerk, with the palms facing forward, hands at shoulder distance. Two fingers on the bar will generally be more comfortable than all four fingers on the bar.
  • Bodybuilding style is with the forearms crossed over each other, and the palms facing downward.

Both methods require high elbows to develop a shelf with your chest and front delts for the bar to rest on.

2. Unracking

  • Just like with the back squat, unrack the bar vertically and then walk backwards to take your stance. No diagonal bar movement.

3. Stance

  • The stance for the front squat is typically more narrow than the back squat, but this is still a personal preference.
  • Choose the stance that allows you to reach depth without getting in the way of your elbows or belly.
  • Your balance point is the midfoot, so the torso angle in the front squat is more vertical than the back squat.
  • Because the bar is on our front, we need a more vertical torso to keep the bar over midfoot.

Front Squat — Execution

1. Inhale and squat

Remember: Full lungs and a tight core are what allow you to protect your spine.

  • Breathing is the same as the back squat.
  • Exhale at the end of the movement when you are back at the top of the rep.

Front Squat — Coaching Cues

Keep the elbows up. This will keep the upper back in slight extension, which will do 2 things:

  • Keep the shelf the bar rests on more comfortable
  • Keep the torso more upright

Look just below straight ahead.

  • DO NOT lead the movement with your eyes by looking up at the ceiling.
  • Cranking the neck (cervical spine) is a great way to ensure a future injury in any exercise. Lead the movement with the chest and elbows.

Keep your knees out.

  • Just like with the back squat and deadlift, the knees should be tracking out over the toes throughout the whole movement.

Front Squat — Adjustments

Mobility may prove to be an issue for some. The front squat requires more ankle mobility than the back squat. If you are lifting with flat shoes and can’t reach depth, put a 2.5 or 5 lb plate under each heel. Giving your heel a lift will remedy most issues.

Low back pain is a sign of a weak core. The point of these exercises is to point out weak points and imbalances in the body so that you can fix them. You may find that the limiting factor for many movements is a weak core. Take solace in the fact that this is super simple to fix and will have secondary benefits on other aspects of your life. The remedy is to lighten the load and embrace progressive overload. Put your ego away and lift the weight that is appropriate for you on this specific day. You’ll get to the big weights when it’s time. Enjoy the process.

Wrist issues can be adjusted for by trying the alternate grip or using wrist wraps as handles on the bar.

Caveat: This exercise guidance should never usurp the advice of your medical professional. If there is a question in your mind as to the suitability of this exercise for you confer with your doctor. WATM is not liable if you do something ill-advised after reading any of our fitness content.

Front Squat — Further Resources

The MIGHTY FIT Plan — Back Squat

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