Barbell Training for Sport

Let me just start off by quoting one of the most influential lifters and self made, self proclaimed, meat head millionaires I’ve ever met: Mark Bell. Bell famously signs off his podcast (Mark Bell’s Powercast) with, “Strength is never a weakness.” This could not be more true. Though yes it is a clever play on words, the underlying principle should be considered when training for sport. Strength is a critical component to EVERY sport. I literally mean EVERY sport. Do not get that confused with most important. In a sport like track, speed is universally most important, but strength is a valuable component in even speed oriented sports. You do not need to be the strongest man in the world, or sport a 500lb deadlift, but when two evenly skilled athletes enter in competition, the one who is stronger is most likely to come out on top. Strength is directly correlated to one’s ability to produce force. For example, in the sport of sprinting, a stronger athlete can produce more force with each foot strike, producing a greater stride length. Greater stride length leads to greater distances traveled with each step with less energy used.

Why specifically barbells? Sure dumbbells, kettle bells, sandbags and body weight exercises are also great tools to build strength, but barbells are most commonly recognized as the superior training tool in building the greatest amount of strength. One of the greatest resources for learning about barbell training, Mark Rippetoe’s “Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training”, explains this concept best. Rippetoe states, “Properly performed, full range-of-motion barbell exercises are essentially the functional expression of human and muscular anatomy under load… Barbells allow weight to be moved in exactly the way the body was designed to move it…” (Rippetoe, M., 2013). Using a machine only allows the body to move the way the machine allows you too. If you are looking to strengthen your lower body, you can squat, or you can use the leg press machine. The leg press machine is a great piece of equipment, although it does have it’s flaws. You do not have to balance the weight and recruit all the stabilizing muscles of your trunk, the leg press machine has a backrest which allows you to produce force against a fixed object, thus removing the need for back strength.

Here are three basic barbell exercises that anyone can add to their current sport training. Keep in mind I am not a doctor, nor do I intend to play one on the internet. Be safe, not foolish.

The Squat:

The king of all exercises is the squat, and I believe every athlete from every athletic discipline can benefit from squatting. Correct and technically sound squatting helps strengthen the entire body (a stronger body is a body that is less susceptible to injury and able to produce more force). One of the biggest benefits of the squat is that it is the only exercise to directly train hip drive. Hip drive is the active recruitment of the muscles that create the posterior chain. The posterior chain includes all the muscles running from your mid back, hamstrings and everything in between. The posterior chain is the core of all athletic movements. The posterior chain contributes greatly to jumping, pushing, picking things up, pulling, stabilization, and balance. Employing squatting into an athlete’s strength and conditioning program can assist in the jumping ability of a basketball or volleyball player, develop the power and strength in the legs and hips of a football player, and produce greater leg drive and force in a wrestler. The squat is also a great exercise to strengthen movements that involve hinging at the hips. The hip hinge position is seen in many sports (traditional wrestling stance, football starting line position, starting position of a vertical jump, etc.).

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A big misconception about squatting is the belief that squatting is bad for your knees. Let me clarify that bad squatting is bad for your knees (Ex: Squatting with your knees caving in is bad for your knees). Squatting with proper technique is actually one of the best exercises for your knees. Rippetoe goes on to state, “The squat, when performed correctly, not only is the safest leg exercise for the knees, but also produces more stable knees than any other leg exercise does.” (Rippetoe, M., 2013). In a study conducted by Tony Ciccone, Kyle Davis, Dr. Jimmy Bagley, & Dr. Andy Galpin from Cal State Fullerton on deep squatting and knee health, they found that deep squats do not place greater amounts of stress on the ACL and the PCL than shallow squats. However, their research went on to conclude that deep squats, “… result in greater activation of lower-body musculature compared to shallow squats.” (Bagely, J., Ciccone, T., Davis, K., & Galpin, A., 2015). That being said, DO NOT avoid deep squats. A REAL squat is when you lower the hips to at least parallel with the knees, preferably below. Any squat with hips higher than the knees is a partial squat, and not a REAL squat.

The Deadlift:

If the squat is the best exercise to develop hip drive, the deadlift is the best exercise to develop back strength. Similar to the squat, the deadlift develops stability in the posterior chain, and allows for the lumbar spine to remain rigid in order to transfer power into the trunk. The deadlift is one of the greatest tests of strength. You can either lift it or you can’t. The deadlift requires the athlete learns how to brace the spine properly which transfers over into all athletic movement. Learning to properly brace the spine is crucial to avoiding potential injury and producing power in a more efficient manner. Not everyone needs to do heavy deadlifts. For a marathon runner or a swimmer, heavy deadlifts might not be necessary. Although, lighter deadlifts with an emphasis on proper bracing and hamstring recruitment can greatly assist in injury prevention.20170829_200924962_iOS.jpg

The deadlift is another great exercise that focuses on strengthening the hip hinge position. It develop one’s ability to lift objects of the ground from a hip hinge position, and extend the torso with proper bracing of the spine. Look at the back control position in jiu jitsu shown below. When the athlete in front is bending forward to defend different submission attempts, the athlete in back must use their posterior chain to extend their opponent’s body to create openings for submission attempts, forcing the hips open and forcing their body into a weaker position. The deadlift can directly strengthen one’s ability to extend the body and open the hips.

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The Overhead Press:

The overhead press is one of the greatest upper body barbell exercises one can add to their strength and conditioning program (in this article I am referring to the standing overhead press). The overhead press not only develops the shoulders and all the secondary muscles involved in overhead extension, but teaches an athlete how to brace their spine in a new overhead range of motion. The overhead press is not just an upper body exercise. According to Rippetoe, “… except for powerlifting and swimming, all sports that require the use of upper-body strength transmit that force along a kinetic chain that starts at the ground.” This route that force travels through the body is called the kinetic chain. This chain begins at the feet (base) and ends at the bar (the load being moved) in the hands of the athlete. It goes without saying that some people consider this exercise as dangerous. Let me again state that bad pressing is dangerous. Pressing with poor technique can lead to shoulder impingement. Shoulder impingement refers to the pinching of the tendons between the head of the humerus (upper arm) and the scapula (shoulder blade). When pressing overhead, the athlete should focus on shrugging their shoulders at the lock out point of the lift. This causes the scapula to be positioned in a manner where the arms are strongly supported and impingement is not present.

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Please excuse the poor picture quality. This is a shot of me doing a behind the neck press. Different range of motion than a regular press, makes this a great variation of an overhead press.

In closing, barbell training can greatly enhance someone’s athletic ability and drastically increase performance in their sport. Barbell training is arguably the best way to build strength. By incorporating the squat, the deadlift, and overhead press, an athlete can get stronger, have the ability to produce more force, and become a more complete athlete. There are several ways to program barbell training for sport. This is all dependent on the athlete, the sport, training experience, etc. which I will cover in a future article. Below are some links to some of the best instructional videos on how to squat, deadlift, and press. Give them a watch and try them out.

If you enjoyed this article, share it with a friend. One of my biggest passions is spreading the gospel about the barbell. Barbell training has changed my life and I believe it can change yours too.

For more information of barbell training for sport, questions about current training programs, or inquiries about 1-on-1 training sessions, DM me on Instagram (@joshuasettlage) or email me at settlagesac@gmail.com.

The Squat:

The Deadlift:

The Overhead Press:

 

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What I’ve Learned About Bulking

If you are someone who is serious about lifting weights, or someone who is just starting, at some point you have or will think about trying to get stronger. To a certain degree getting stronger comes with getting bigger. Bigger muscles have a greater capacity to be stronger muscles. This is the reasoning for most lifters choosing to go through a “bulking” phase. Bulking is the simplest terms is a phase of training where total calories consumed are increased and the goals of training are to build muscle and get stronger. Although, bulking can mean many different things depending on who you ask, and the different methods of bulking vary even more drastically. Let me first clarify the notion of a “clean” or “dirty” bulk. A clean bulk is a well paced rate of weight gain, and consists of manageable macronutrients obtained from healthy foods. A dirty bulk is an excuse to eat garbage in the name of bulking. If you are serious about getting better as an athlete by putting on size and gaining strength, you better be eating clean and staying disciplined. Do not make excuses for yourself. For the rest of this article, the term bulking refers to a “clean” bulk.

My first phase of bulking was one, giant, six month long, uncontrolled, experiment. After I stopped wrestling my junior year of highschool, I assumed since I would no longer have to make weight anymore I would gain lots of muscle, and become big and strong. I was mistaken. Instead of eating lots of food and lifting heavy, I was still doing hundreds of burpees, running all the time, and only picking exercises I was good at with my lower body weight. In turn, I gained only THREE pounds over a nine month period (139-142). Just before high school graduation, I decided it was time for me to get BIG and STRONG. I researched and studied many articles, podcasts, and webinars from the top minds in strength and conditioning to figure out just how I would execute this bulking phase. After filtering through all the information, this is what I found to be the most common principle’s of bulking.

  • A healthy rate of weight gain is 1-1.5lbs per week.
  • You must increase overall caloric intake to gain weight.
  • You must lift HEAVY. Your program should reflect a focus on strength. You can’t truly get strong if your program is designed for someone to build conditioning.
  • EAT. EAT. EAT.
  • Keep eating.

All of these pieces of advice are very true, and can create a good base for someone who is trying to bulk. I took all these pieces of advice to the extreme. My goal was to weigh 175lbs and add 90lbs to my back squat in six months. Every morning I woke up excited to weigh myself and see how close I was too my goal. When I ate, I stuffed myself full and then ate more to ensure I was getting enough calories. I stopped all conditioning. Literally ALL conditioning. No running, burpees or rowing for a whole year. I conveniently skipped the light conditioning at the end of the week, because I needed to “recover” when really, I didn’t want to breathe hard. I kept eating and lifting heavy and obtained what I considered at that time to be amazing results. In six months time, I had gone from 142lbs to a bigger and stronger 176lbs. If my rate of weight gain was greater than a pound and a half per week, I didn’t care. I was growing and was blindsided by such a quick and large increase in weight. I had only added about 60lbs to my back squat which at the time I was happy with. This all came at a price. As you can see in the photos below, I went from being very lean, with a traditional light weight, wrestler physique, to what my family members called my dimple belly stage. I was simply too large and soft for my very short frame.

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June 2015. Weight: 142lbs
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December 2015. Weight: 176lbs
  • You must EAT. EAT. EAT. to get big, but you can not just consume whatever portions you want even if it is all relatively healthy foods. For the most part I was eating what most would consider healthy food, but my overall caloric intake was off the charts for what my current activity levels were.
  • Conditioning may not be a focus in a bulking phase, but for the benefit of overall health, some conditioning should be in every bulking program. I was shocked when I had a tough time doing sprint intervals on the rower and running just one mile.
  • There is a reason why most experts suggest no more than 1.5lbs gained per week when bulking. I was just getting too big, too fast and gained a substantial amount of fat and not the amount of muscle I was aiming for.
  • Continue to do bodyweight exercises so you can still move your own bodyweight even at a larger weight. It was one big wake up call when I could barely get through 10 grueling pull ups.

The second time I decided to bulk, it was after I had finished the 2016 Tahoe Show bodybuilding event where I competed as a Teen Men’s Physique competitor. At the show I had my best physique to date. Though I had lost some strength during the prep, I loved how I went from the heaviest I had ever been, and in 15 weeks created my best physique ever.

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2016 Tahoe Show Front Pose. Weight: 149.5lbs
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2016 Tahoe Show Back Pose. Weight: 149.5lbs

Going into this second bulk, I knew I could not repeat the process I had done the year before. I knew I needed to take control of my eating habits, pay more attention to how much weight I was gaining from week to week, and not lose all the conditioning I had developed during the prep for the bodybuilding show. In turn, that meant I needed to change up my programming too. I tested out some new training techniques and programming principles centered around gaining strength (5-3-1, Bulgarian method, etc.). My new goal was in four months to gain between 10-15lbs of body weight, add 30lbs to my back squat, and still have visible abs. The results: Weight Gain: Yes, 15lbs. Back Squat 1 Rep Max PR: No. Visible Abs: Yes. I then realized I needed to learn more about programming for strength. I already learned how to put on weight, and from previous training endeavors understood how to train for conditioning and getting better at bodyweight exercises, but I needed to truly learn how to get strong.

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December 2016. Weight: 165lbs

Gaining weight was the easy part, but what good is more bodyweight if you can’t move heavier weights on the barbell. After this second go around at bulking, here are the new takeaways:

  • It is possible to eat very clean and still gain weight.
  • The training program must be tailored to build strength in addition to muscle size.
  • Getting bigger doesn’t not always mean stronger. I for sure got bigger, but still moved the same weight I always had.

After starting up jiu jitsu again and competing in several tournaments with training goals geared toward building conditioning, maintaining strength and cutting weight for competitions, I knew it was time to bulk again. That is where Settlage Size & Strength was born. I wanted to seriously get BIG and be STRONG. To my surprise, I had made some serious strength gains while still cutting weight for jiu jitsu so I knew the new programming techniques and principles I applied were working. Now it was time to construct the best diet for me that allowed me to have enough fuel to train hard with the weights for two hours in the morning, roll hard in jiu jitsu for two hours in the evening, and still build size and strength. I researched many books, videos, articles, and interviews with some of the best coaches in powerlifting. Guys like Mark Bell, Chad Wesley Smith, Matt Wenning, Mike Israetel and Louie Simmons. After spending hours of studying, and creating draft after draft of the new program, I now had a new way of going about bulking. This time I was very specific in how I tracked my macronutrients, conscious of the program and the progressive overload that I followed as well as splitting the total six month program into two phases. The first three months were focused primarily on hypertrophy or muscle size. The last three month phase were all about strength. Here are the new principles of Settlage Size & Strength for my current hypertrophy phase:

Personal Nutrition:

Macros:

  • Carbs: Start with 2g/lb of bodyweight. Once weight gain stalls for two weeks, increase carbs by .25g/lb of bodyweight. If weight gain becomes greater than 1-1.5lbs per week, cut back carbs by .25g/lb of bodyweight per week till proper rate of weight gain is established. I am currently around 2.15g/lb of bodyweight.
  • Protein: 1-1.5g/lb of bodyweight.
  • Fat: Keep majority of fat sources from healthy fat sources like olive oil, coconut oil, grass fed butter, etc.

Personal Training Protocol:

Big 3 Exercises:

  • Squat every day. Each day being a different squat variation.
  • Drop sets for volume on Monday, Wednesday, & Friday.
  • Bench Monday & Thursday.
  • Deadlift Monday & Wednesday.
  • Accessory & bodybuilding exercises reflect the primary exercise for the day.

Of course there are many more intricacies and details to the program as far as rep schemes go and variations in volume from week to week, but this is the foundation of the program. In the 4 months I have been running this program on myself, I have seen amazing results! In the first 12 weeks I gained 10lbs of muscle, and achieved an unexpected 30lb PR on my back squat! I still have some abs and have kept excessive fat gain at bay. I still am able to do my bodyweight exercises and have plenty of conditioning for jiu jitsu. I must address the jiu jitsu though. The hard rounds of jiu jitsu acts as a great source of cardio that others doing this program might not have access to. I believe jiu jitsu has allowed me to gain weight and consume more calories than if I was not competing in jiu jitsu. Due to my higher levels of activity through jiu jitsu, I can afford to consume more calories. Although, this does come at a price. If I have a hard training session at jiu jitsu, sometimes my workout the following morning can suffer. I do my best to recover as optimally as possible, but sometimes it happens.

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May 2017. Weight 155lbs
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August 2017. Weight: 170lbs

 

All that being said, if you are someone who is looking to gain weight and get stronger, I hope this article gave you some insight and new perspectives on gaining weight and building muscle. The last two years of bulking and cutting cycles have taught me so much. I learned a substantial amount about my body and how it responds to different training stimulus and nutrition protocols, as well as much more. My hope is that you can take these tips I found through my several bulking cycles and apply them to your own! Don’t stop there, join the conversation! If you have questions about bulking or building strength for sport or everyday life, DM me on Instagram (@joshuasettlage) or email me at settlagesac@gmail.com! I am here to help, you. If you are interested in signing up for Settlage SIZE & STRENGTH, now is the time to do so! Registration is open till Sept. 3rd! I have seen some crazy results on this program and I am only 4 months in! Let’s put on SIZE & STRENGTH together!

Why Do I Get Up Early?

Since I began posting pictures of the digital alarm clock in my room, many people who follow my social media are curious about it. I often hear, “Aren’t you tired?”, “I don’t know how you do it.”, “Why do you get up so early?” After hearing this almost on a daily basis, I decided to share the main motives behind this daily decision and how you can join me in doing so.

I get up early because there is work to do.

I get up early because everyone else is asleep.

I get up early because it’s a challenge.

I get up early because it takes discipline.

I get up early because chances are, my competition is still asleep.

I get up early because if I wake up two hours before the competition does, that is two hours of extra preparation I have ahead of them.

I get up early because I love it.

Getting up early is not easy. It’s hard. It sucks leaving the warm comfort of your bed to head to the gym where you’ll be in pain and sweaty and tired and gross. In all honesty, I too have times where the most beneficial thing to me and my training is to sleep and recover and I am careful using those strategic rest days. Although, for the most part, I choose to ignore that voice in my head and throw the blankets off, drink a glass of water, go down to the squat rack and warm up. When there is work to be done, one must get up early. Nobody has enough time, so we must make the time. If I hear someone tell me they don’t have time to train, and I see them sleeping in till noon, laying around on the couch for several hours and then deciding to get ready and do something with their day, it frankly makes me sick. I do not have enough time to get done everything I need to. I am busy and have responsibilities like everyone else here on Earth. I do not have enough time, but I do have goals. I do have visions, dreams, aspirations, and plans. In order to accomplish those goals I have to make the time to work towards them. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger said, I must sleep “faster” to add two more hours to my day so I can train. Taking one more step towards making that vision a reality. I want to influence, mentor, lead and encourage young people around me to be more disciplined, to be mentally tough, and to be stronger. Getting up early starts the snowball effect for my day. If I have to discipline to get up at 3:30am, I also have to discipline to not cheat on my diet during competition prep. If I have to discipline to do that, I also have the discipline to work on growing my personal business when I am already a full time student, and continue to learn and develop myself mentally and spiritually just as much as I am physically.

Getting up early is a choice you must make the night before. If you normally wake up at 7:00am, you can not simply just will yourself awake to get out of bed at 5:00am. You have to set your alarm the night before and make a conscious choice and commitment with yourself that you are supposed to get up when you intend to. That leads me into my first tip of getting up early.

  1. SET AN ALARM. This seems like an obvious step, but I can’t tell you enough how many times people tell me they are going to start getting up early and yet never set an alarm! If one alarm is not enough set more. I currently have five alarms set so that there is no way I am not awoken when I should have been.
  2. DO NOT HIT SNOOZE. The first act of #dailydiscipline for me starts with refusing to hit snooze. If I refuse to hit snooze, I am on track to getting after it that morning. The snooze button is one of the worst inventions ever created. It is the button that activates laziness. It is a button that entices you to give up on your commitment to yourself of getting up early. If you do not plan on waking up at 5:00am, do not lie to yourself and set your alarm for 5:00am. If you do plan on getting up at 5:00am, proceed to step three.
  3. GET UP. Physically leave your bed. Undo the covers and go from horizontal to vertical as quickly as you can. You can’t fall back asleep if you are standing up and walking around. When I first began making a commitment to getting up early, I would wake up, but lay in bed staring at my phone and seeing what was going on the night before. Before I knew it was being woken by alarm number two. If you leave your bed the first time, there is no longer a desire to hit snooze, there is no longer a desire to get back under the covers, there is no longer a voice saying to roll over and fall back into a deep slumber. You are already up. Act on the first two acts of discipline that took you here.

These three steps to getting up early probably seem like the most obvious steps for any process imaginable. As mentioned earlier, there are a lot of people who tell me they want to wake up early, but don’t know how, or are not committed enough to do it. It is not complicated by any means, it is just hard. Like anything else it becomes easier as your body adapts to the new circadian rhythm. It’s not impossible, you can do it.

I encourage you to start getting up early. Why? Because it takes discipline. If you can have the discipline and grit to wake up early, you can have the discipline to skip the cookie tray at work. You can have the discipline and most importantly the extra time needed to workout even if it’s just something small. Starting your day with one small step of discipline makes for other bigger steps of discipline easier. Another reason I enjoy getting up early is because it makes my day longer. If you currently do not have time to read and work on personal development, or do not have enough time to workout, or do not have enough time to prep healthy food before you leave for work. Imagine all you can do with one extra hour in the morning. Imagine how much more productive you can be if by 8:00am, your workout is done, you have read a chapter of a new book or listened to a podcast, and are ready to tackle the day with your homemade healthy lunch already assembled? Take it from me, you can do a lot.

Get up early. You do not have to get up at 3:30 like me, but just set your alarm an hour earlier. Instead of waking up at 6:30 and hitting snooze till 7:00, set your alarm for 5:30 and actually get up when it goes off. Take a picture of your alarm clock and tag me on Instagram (@joshuasettlage). Let’s create a culture of #dailydiscipline that does not settle for mediocrity and strives to jump start the day. My life has changed since I began waking up early over a year ago. My hope is that yours will be changed as well. GET UP.

The Importance of Mind Muscle Connection

In the bowels on Instagram and YouTube, if you are viewing any sort of fitness, bodybuilding, or workout content, I am sure you have heard of the phrase, “mind-muscle connection”. Though it may be a simple concept, the challenge is consistent application and correct execution. Mind muscle connection was made popular by those of the Golden Era of Bodybuilding during the late 60’s and 70’s. The Golden Era of bodybuilding produced famous lifters like, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbu, Dave Draper, Serge Nubret, Robby Robinson, and Frank Zane.

During bodybuilding’s early years, athletes chased the pump that they got when lifting seriously. The wonderful feeling of blood flushing through your muscles resulting in your skin feeling tight over the growing and pumped up muscle bellies. The champions of that era though went one level deeper into their training. The “mind-muscle connection”. The mind muscle connection is just that. A connection and extreme focus you place on the muscles at work during a certain exercise. For example, when doing a dumbbell curl, using mind-muscle connection means literally envisioning the bicep contracting and squeezing the weight at the top. Then focusing on how it then lengthens as you let the weight down slowly and the two heads of the bicep drifting away from one another.

This results in a better contraction. When you have a better contraction, you can recruit more muscles fibers to do more work. When more muscle fibers are at play they are able to be subject to training stimulus and thus yield better results after proper recovery. Mind muscle connection can greatly improve your workouts. The mind-muscle connection, like stretching and posing between sets, is one small extra step you can take to shock your muscles even more. Being in complete control of your body is a crucial aspect to training. Your mind is capable of subjecting the body to the specific stimulus necessary to produce the results you want to see.

The mind muscle connection also means you need to stay focused on your workout. It doesn’t mean you are texting between sets, or checking Instagram or talking to a friend at the gym. It means you are focused solely on squeezing your chest together in a fly, or pressing out the bench press with perfection. If you just go to the gym and are going through your workout lackadaisically, you will never tap into your true potential. I consider the gym almost like a church. You should not be texting in church or wondering about what is for lunch afterwards. The gym is no different. You are there to train. Not to socialize, watch other people workout, while you sit on a bench for ten minutes scrolling through Instagram. It is a time that you set aside to TRAIN. Having a mind muscle connection in your workouts means you are training with intent, not just going through the motions.

Though the mind muscle connection as described above is important, it is not necessary for all activity and exercises based on your goals. If you are pulling a heavy deadlift, your focus should shift to staying tight in the midsection, proper bracing of the spine, and keeping the bar in it’s optimal bar path, not on the hamstrings and spinal erectors. Focus, which is greatly involved in mind-muscle connection, is the underlying principle to be learned. Whether you are doing dumbbell lateral raises and you are focusing solely on your deltoids, or running and focusing on your pace and cadence, the focus you bring into the gym is what can elevate your workouts and assist you in seeing better results.