As promised, I’ll begin responding to some saved questions from my last Q&A. Thanks for all the submissions — so let’s get to it.
Q: I’m just starting to lift and feel like my grip strength is terrible. How can I improve it for something like deadlifts?
A: One of the most important things to do is avoid using lifting straps (especially for deadlifts, rack pulls) when possible. Grip strength comes with practice. So, the more you utilize it, the stronger you will be. It will be difficult for a few weeks, but it will get better. Next, you can work on grip strength by including various grip strength exercises. This would be in addition to your deadlifts and deadlift variations. Some of my favorites include heavy farmers walks, one handed bar hangs, incorporating a “fat bar” into training, towel pull ups, and if you have access to it, a climbing wall.
Q: I see a lot of people use sleds at my gym. My question is, when would you incorporate prowler pushes in training? And what are the benefits?
A: Prowler pushes are an effective movement that can be incorporated to challenge the quads, glutes, hip and core musculature while also building work capacity and improving conditioning simultaneously. Sometimes it’s difficult to find lower body movements that limit spinal loading, which is why prowler pushes can be a great addition to increase training volume without adding additional barbell movements.
Another unique element about prowler pushes is that they involve concentric muscle actions, meaning the eccentric movement is taken out of the equation. Eccentric movements can increase development of greater delayed onset muscle soreness, leading to longer recovery times and strength loss.
Prowler pushes have several potential performance improvements that may include improved acceleration and sprint mechanics, improved core stability and improved unilateral lower body strength. Am I a fan of them? Big yes.
Q: For strength athletes, do you include medicine ball training in your programs?
A: At times, yes, but it would depend on the goal of the athlete and where they were in their training phase. When training with medicine balls, an athlete is able to incorporate the whole body while moving through various planes of movement. When performed correctly, they can be a unique and effective way to improve acceleration in hopes of increased force production. An example I like to use is when you perform something like a barbell bench press, prior to the top of the press you are forced to slow down the barbell. Conversely, with a medicine ball chest pass, you can use explosive power to throw the weight in safe manner.
Medicine ball training has several potential performance improvements that may include improved throwing velocity, enhanced hand-eye coordination (catch and pass), core strength, shortened amortization phase that will translate to improved power production. So keep that in mind when you are considering programming them into your training.
Q: Would you recommend hiring a coach if someone is just entering the powerlifting world?
A: Absolutely, and here is why. In the early stages, we are focusing on teaching and rehearsing proper motor patterns. If good form isn’t taught correctly to a beginner, it is harder to train and learn later on. Good technique is critical as it can prevent injuries by reducing excessive tissue loading that comes with bad form, so developing proper technique in the beginning stages will help prevent injury later. Also, it’s important to mention that poor technique can hinder strength, and thus athletes may only achieve strength (or 1RMs) that their technique allows. That all being said, I fully believe it’s important to provide the highest quality of instruction and monitor movement patterns of new (and advanced for that matter) athletes to help them move more efficiently, fluidly and in a safer manner.
Q: Assuming you provide continuous feedback for squats/bench/deadlifts, do you ever discuss moment arms with athletes when evaluating their lifts?
A: Yes, I do provide continuous feedback for anyone who trains with me. And understanding moment arms can help you and your athlete evaluate lifts, which positions are safe or dangerous and what muscles are working most or least during each portion. Because moment arms change with the angle of insertion, you can manipulate torque variables to maximize efficiency while also keeping the body safe. Torque drives movement. Adjust the angle of application and moment arm and you can increase or decrease the amount of compressive force. This can go a long way when it comes to understanding technique. For example, rounding of the back in the deadlift will minimize the moment arm of the load around the hip and increase the risk of a spinal injury.
I’ll get to more another time! Happy training!