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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My Three Favorite Back Exercises for Grapplers

The following are my three personal favorite exercises to strengthen and develop the back for grappling athletes. Let me make clear that these exercises are my favorite. This does not mean they are the only exercises I do for back. I utilize many different exercises for back (a full list of exercises will be at the end of the article), but of all of them, these are my favorites and why.

Pull Ups:

Franco Pull Up

The pull up is the king and staple of old school body weight wrestling training. Not only does is help establish grip strength (which is a crucial component of wrestling and jiujitsu), it requires you to be strong with your own bodyweight. This is very important when you are competing with other athletes who are competing at the same weight as you. The exercise is simple. Hang on the bar with both arms lock out, then pull yourself up until your chin rises above the bar. Then lower yourself ALL the way down. There’s one correct pull up. Pull ups help develop the lats which make up the major vertical pulling muscles in your back. I know what you’re thinking, “When am I ever going to do a pull up in competition?” How about a snap down in wrestling? Since last i checked there was no “snap down” machine at the gym, pull ups are the next best developer of the muscles used to pull things down, and or close into your body. You can add these at the end of your workout, or if you have a pull up bar set up in your home, every time you walk by you can bust out 5-10 pull ups.

Sample Pull Up Finisher:

5 sets of sub max reps (if you can do 10 max, only do 7-8)

Deadlifts:

franco deadlift

If the squat is the greatest strength building exercise, deadlifts come in a close second. Deadlifts assist in strengthening your posterior chain (the chain of muscles running from the base of your neck, down to the bottom of your hamstrings). A strong posterior chain, traditionally means a safe back. When you’re in your wrestling stance, or in constant flexion having someone in your guard, or being in someone’s guard, having a strong posterior chain will protect your back. Deadlifts are also a great measure of strength. For grappling athletes, if you can deadlift 2x your bodyweight, and your opponent can only deadlift 1.5x his bodyweight, you are superiorly stronger. With all the lifting, throwing, and tossing in wrestling, the deadlift will help you handle your opponents with ease all while still being able to protect your spine. Take folkstyle wrestling for example. Say you start on top in referee’s position and your opponent is quick to stand up. If you want to pick him up and return him back to the mat, you need to lift him off balance and off the ground. The deadlift in all variations is just that movement. The practice of picking up objects (barbells, DB’s KB’s, atlas stones, sandbags, etc.) off the ground.

Sample Deadlift Workout:

One of the easiest ways to incorporate deadlifts into your strength training is a simple, 5×5 set up. Starting at one day a week, do five sets of five reps for deadlift and try to make each rep with perfect form, slowly adding weight each week. This works with both sumo and conventional stance.

Bent Over Barbell Rows:

Franco Bent Over Row

I should preface this by saying, any horizontal rowing motion is a fantastic exercise for the back in regards to grappling. Although, if I had to choose one, it would be the bent over row. The bent over row not only focuses on strengthening the muscles of your back responsible for pulling things to you in a horizontal plane, but also requires you to stay tight and in good position. This activates the muscles of the lower back isometrically (staying in a static position), and works the rowing muscles of the upper back, both eccentrically (lowering of the weight) and concentrically (actually lifting of the weight). Bent over Rows can be used with barbells, dumbbells, kettle bells, sand bags, etc. You can ever do them on a elevated surface to let the weights down even lower to get a stretch in the muscles during the eccentric portion of the lift. Not only is this exercise for back development, but also helps eliminate imbalances in the back. I see a lot of people do a lot of vertical pulling (pull ups, lat pull downs, etc.), and not enough horizontal pulling exercises. Imbalances in the body lead to injury and time away from rolling.

Sample Bent Over Row Workout:
Superset:

Any Chest Exercise: 4×6-8

Bent Over DB Row: 4×6-8

This can be thrown in at the beginning of a chest and back workout.

You can also apply the 5×5 method to the bent over Row to focus more on developing strength in the mid and upper back.

Current List of Back Exercises I’m Using Right Now:

Pull Ups (Use many different grips)

Deadlifts (Conventional and Sumo stance)

Goodmornings

Bent Over Rows (DB, KB, and Barbell Variations)

Banded Reverse Hypers

GHR (Weighted and Bodyweight)

45 Degree Back Extensions (Weighted and Bodyweight)

Seated Rows

1 Arm DB Rows

RDLs (DB’s, KB’s & Barbell Variations)