Estimated reading time: 5 minutes.
We’ve talked previously about how varying your training lifts, especially if you’ve had extended periods of doing very similar things. With that in mind, I’m going to talk through some of my personal favourite variations for the squat, bench, and deadlift. There are likely a few in here that you’ve heard of and done before, but hopefully, there are some wildcards you’ve never done. I highly advise working them all in at some point, assuming that they’re all paint ree for you!
Starting off with squats
I typically use front squat with a lot of people, of all experience levels. One of the main issues folk encounter with these is gripping the bar, if you can’t get a full clean grip, I typically fall back to either a cross grip or using lifting straps to get a pseudo full grip position.
Frost squats are excellent in any rep range, highly challenging to your erectors to maintain an upright position and with essentially zero room to lose position and just grind through, you typically will just drop the bar
Safety Squat/Shoulder Saver Bar:
The SSB is another great squat variation, especially if you’re one of the folks that get irritated shoulder quite easily from the combo of bench training and trying to crank into a lower bar position squat often. Specifically, though, try to aim to use one that has the handles and plate sleeves lined up in the same direction.
See the picture above, the weights are slightly in front of the centre when the bar is resting on the shoulders. At some point, someone decided to make a version of the bar where the handles and weights are offset like the one pictured below.
This kind of removes one of the biggest benefits of the bar (the other being shoulder comfort, which is 100% there still) but when the handles and plates are forward of centre the pads are essentially trying to round you over forward throughout the lift, and you have to constantly remain upright and really push back into the pads, which I think is a great ‘feel’ cue for regular bar squats.
Lastly, I think I’d have to pick paused squats.
While paused squats might sound pretty basic and a fairly common staple, I think there’s a reason for that. You really can’t understate how helpful the pause can be for giving the lifter a split second to think about their cue on the reverse. It takes a significant amount of practice and time under the bar to even be able to process cues once the ‘oh God this is heavy’ sets in.
The key thing is to make sure folks aren’t just loosely hanging on tissues at the bottom of the pause, and are actively maintaining an isometric effort. Which can be an issue for very mobile people. You want folk holding on tension at the bottom during the pause, then powering out.
Bench press variations
Close-grip Incline Bench:
I like this for a few reasons, firstly I don't think enough folk use incline as a variant often enough, leaving a bunch of pecs undertrained. Secondly, due to the angle, you typically get a much deeper tricep stretch in the bottom position than you would on a flat close grip. I also like that it gets you used to pushing the bar facewards, which not doing can be a fairly common technical issue in a competition bench.
I imagine you’re starting to see a theme here.
I like paused benches because not only do you need to pause the lift in competition, so you might as well get used to it. You can also benefit from the pause from a technical standpoint. Much similar to squats, that brief period of time for you to think about your cue and execute it can do wonders.
Reverse Grip Bench:
The forbidden grip.
Read from the Book of the Dead unearthed from Hamunaptra, or assemble all five pieces of Exodia. However you personally unlock the forbidden grip is up to you, the main thing is I really like it as a bench variation.
The main reasons why I like it, once you get over how awkward it feels at first, are that if you ever have shoulder bother, it’s a lot comfier typically due to the more internally rotated position. You may find that in times of regular benching causing pain, the reverse grip is fully pain-free and lets you keep loaded.
It also hits the triceps and shoulder pretty well, though like everything your mileage may vary, but I highly advise trying it out. Very much make sure you have side spots in place though, as the first few times till you feel out how to grip it and where it will sit in your hand it can get pretty wobbly.
Opposite Stance Pulls:
So if you’re a conventional puller, take some time, a cycle or so pulling sumo, and obviously, the reverse if you’re a sumo puller. Taking some time away from your competition stance can be very helpful, it gets you out of the pattern you’re used to, and might have some niggles in, and lets you still load up. Specifically for sumo pullers, where you typically shorten the range of motion by a decent amount, going back to a bigger range in conventional can really help build up some muscle that’ll carry over to your sumo pull.
Low-handle Trap Bar:
I really like a low-handle trap bar deadlift. It gets you into a very low position and puts the legs and glutes through a large ROM, whilst allowing you to keep a decent torso position. For pretty much all non-powerlifters, trap bar is what I’d consider their main movement. I just find it easier to get folks loaded up on, with minimal technical proficiency required.
I’ve always called these stealth deadlifts because we had the idea that they could be their own variant when we used to do dumb stuff like try and get a session in late at night in my parent's garage, so we were literally trying to make minimal noise.
I like these as the controlled lowering and touchdown of the bar is a really good way to get people to feel what the tension and pressure they’re trying to create at the start of the lift should feel like.
Hopefully, you give some of these lifts a try! If you do please let us know how you get on in the comments.
@atsapprioved on all social media.
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
One of the reasons a lot of people will choose to work with a coach is that they can act as an objective pair of eyes turned onto the medium to long-term plan, as well as help construct that plan in the first place. I’ve written before about the nature of having a plan and how to build one if you’re just starting out but as our first post in this newly themed content arc eluded to, if you’re not a beginner any more sometimes you can get lost in the great swampy middle.
Let’s give an example of what this might typically look like. The person in question might be a year or so into training, and they started off by completing the Couch to 5k plan through the app of the same name. They got through it and ran/walked their 5k. They worked hard and pushed themselves and not that elation of accomplishment has passed, now they’ve had their chill time and now have their eyes set on a 10k.
There are plenty of training plans out there for training for a 10k, some even borrow the handy marketing title of Couch to 10k, though I’m not certain they’re produced by the same people. This person embarks on training for this, but a month or two into the plan, things are really dragging, and they’re barely even halfway through (this might not be the actual timeline, grant me some poetic licence.) They get demoralised at their distance from the goal, and their lack of immediate progress. Then they start skipping sessions, usually with a perfectly valid reason, like working late or helping family, or date night. They still keep training, just inconsistently, then they start picking up little injuries/sore bits, and before long they chuck the whole thing entirely. Not to say that they go back to sedentariness but they bail on their target of the 10k/Beach body/sporting competition, whatever it is.
If you aren’t working with a coach the only person reminding you and keeping that long-term goal in mind is you. It can be hard to differentiate between what is a failing of the plan to get to that goal, and what are just bumps in the road that suck when you’re the one executing that plan. It will always feel worse to you. I’m sure most people reading this who work with a coach have either sent a filmed lift, or been mid-session and just finished a set that felt horrendous, and your coach says something like ‘That looked great! Let’s add 5 kilos’. You’re not sure if they’re delusional and didn’t just witness you fighting for your life, or they just weren’t paying attention.
It’s likely because, to an outside observer, it did look very manageable. You just experienced it differently from that. This is where the water gets really murky (throwback to the swamp reference). If you are training/working towards things by yourself, you need to try and find an objective measure to judge things with that you have minimal control over. To decide these moments where you’re not sure if it’s the correct level of difficulty, or if you’re actually falling behind/backwards on the plan, there may need to be some adjustments.
We’ll cover some specific ideas for objective measures when doing self-lead training in a later article. We’re just here to talk about the importance of long-term vision.
Another important benefit of long-term vision and planning for athletic performance and fitness is that it helps athletes avoid injury and overtraining. When you have a clear long-term vision and plan, you can structure your training in a way that gradually builds up your physical attributes over time. This gradual approach can help prevent injuries and avoid the negative effects of overtraining. Most of this comes from not always hammering things really hard, sometimes your training session wont be a world-ender, you’ll just feel pretty ‘meh’ and that’s fine. If you’re constantly pushing through things that really should be red flags for you not to, you’ll likely end up injured and/or overtrained.
We’ve talked about this before in our posts relating to goal setting, but physically writing your goal down, writing your plan out, on paper, has reals significance in helping you stick to it. It’s very different when every day you see a little post-it note or photo stuck somewhere, that little reminder of what you’re working towards when things feel gross and you’d much rather chin it off.
The one good thing is that as with the smaller goal chunks we’ve talked about before, completing bigger and longer in the making goals will subsequently fortify you for further goals that may be hard to achieve. Which is another large benefit of pursuing health and fitness related outcomes.
Less practical takeaways this week, but hopefully you found something of use in the ramblings.
As always find us @atsapproved on all social media.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
As we cruise into April our content angle will be pivoting into more intermediate to advanced-level content for more seasoned fitness enthusiasts. What better way to kick that off than to cover some common things to investigate and potentially try if you find yourself and your progress plateauing and getting stagnant.
Firstly, consider that it may be time to change up your program/routine. Regardless of what you’re training for you’ve likely constructed some sort of training plan to aim for a specific target. Whether that be a certain performance, competition, or improvement in a certain physical quality. If you have been using the program without change for close to or over two months, it may be time to review some of the data you’ve gathered and see what’s happened.
On the flip side, it could be that you’re changing programs too often and not allowing enough time for progress to appear.
If you’re taking notes (you should be) look back at your last 8 weeks of training and see if you can find any trends emerging. Here’s a chart from a client’s program review.
Deadlift x4 @8 RPE
This is the weight they used for their deadlifts over the last six sessions of this program. The pink line is just a trend line, which can be handy if you have a broad spread of data to see if overall it was good or bad.
Like this one, which is drop sets on a bench press exercise
Stuff all over the place, though overall, slightly positive.
In this specific case we’re pretty sure that after week 5/6 in a program, we start to plateau and then get worse, we figured that out just by running one program for 10 weeks to see what happened.
I encourage you to look at your training data and see where things were going well, and where they were not going well, make some notes about each, and then change things up for a bit to try and re-sensitise yourself to training. Changing sets/rep schemes, changing exercises, changing the days of the week you do particular exercises on. If Monday has been a squat day since time began, try swapping it out to Wednesday, or wherever you deadlift. Similarly, if you’ve always done your pacing medium-long distance runs on a Monday, try swapping them out with your intervals.
Next up, consider swapping your exercises. Most programs have some amount of variation baked into them, all the way from Crossfit at the extremely high end, to Bulgarian style at the extremely low end of the variation. For most people though, I imagine the answer is probably somewhere in the middle, and if you’ve started to stall out on stuff, it may be time to consider swapping some things out. This may also be wise if you’re starting to pick up little niggling pains consistently on specific exercises. Soreness kind of goes hand in hand with hard training, but consistent pains are usually a red flag worth paying attention to.
If you’re training for strength, consider changing to a different bar, adding pauses, or even a specific tempo for exercises. Even a change in stance or grip can be enough variety to keep things moving in the right direction. If you’re training for hypertrophy/physique-based improvements and your normally scorching incline dumbbell bench press pump has faded into obscurity, perhaps try swapping out to another variation. Machine presses, barbell bench, and even increases ROM pushups.
If you’re training for aerobic-based things, like distance running, or a specific quality in your sport, consider changing up the equipment you use or the method of hitting your aerobic training. If you’re currently crushing the pavement miles, consider doing some off-road stuff, perhaps even beach based if you have access to one. Mix in more inclined running or swap up running entirely for swimming or some other method of getting the heart rate up.
Thirdly, this one might sting a little, perhaps consider that you may not be recovering enough for your current training. Adaption (getting better) only occurs after recovery from any particular stress, and if you’re just hammering the stressors too much, or too often, or both, you just might stall out, even though you’re working hard.
I saw this poster on a bus stop in New Zealand while we were over there and it made me laugh, as this is pretty dead-on training advice, just on some random bus stop. I had recently heard someone use the analogy of plants with regard to training and adaption. Just because a plant is growing well with how much you water it, or how much sun it’s currently getting, doesn’t necessarily mean that doubling the amount of either of those will be better, or even positive at all. So yeah, maybe consider training one less day, or having a look at your sleep and nutrition.
Speaking of nutrition! That’s going to be our last little stone to turn over in this post. If you have been consistently in a calorie deficit for aesthetic or sport-based reasons, constantly cutting to make weight, or just hammering a deficit to try and get as lean as can be without maintenance breaks you may wish to discontinue that, at least for the short term.
Being in a calorie deficit can be a strain on your resources for recovery. Whilst normally performance impairment will mostly come from how harsh a deficit you’re trying to run (don’t run large deficits, just take your damn time.) if you run even a moderate one for long enough it’ll start impacting things. Look to take a break and just maintain stable body weight on a slightly higher amount of calories, enough so that you feel like you have plenty of energy, and keep adding until you see steady increases, then pair it back a little. You really want to try and see how much you can get away with for maintaining, whilst remaining in a stable weight range (your body weight will fluctuate day to day, that’s normal). It’s also worth looking into your specific macronutrient breakdown. If you’re lifting, how much protein are you taking on? Is it enough to support your recovery? If you’re training for aerobic performance, how are your carbohydrates looking? Are you doing anything about intra-session nutrition? Possibly look into gels or electrolyte/carb drinks for consumption through your longer sessions.
Hopefully, some of those points sparked some ideas to follow and look into your own training. If you’re keen to see how our more intermediate content plays out, follow us on social media, or sign up to our newsletter. Find us @atsapproved on all social media.