1 medium avocado
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Juice from 1 lime
Sea salt and pepper, to taste
Coconut oil spray or olive oil
1 slice of rye bread, toasted
4 asparagus spears, grilled
How to make it:
In a small bowl mash the avocado with a fork. Add red pepper, lime juice, salt and pepper. Mix until spreadable. Spread on rye bread and top with grilled asparagus. Makes 1 serving.
Nutrition information per serving: 337 calories, 7 grams (g) protein, 29 g carbs (14 g fiber), 4 g fat
Avocado with Smoked Salmon
What you’ll need:
1 medium avocado
Pepper, to taste
Fresh dill, to taste
1 slice of rye bread, toasted
3 oz smoked salmon
How to make it:
In a small bowl, mash the avocado with a fork. Add pepper and dill, and mix until spreadable. Spread on rye bread and top with smoked salmon. Makes 1 serving.
Nutrition information per serving: 468 calories, 25 g protein, 27 g carbs (12 g fiber), 1 g fat
Avocado Egg Salad
What you’ll need:
1 medium avocado
3 hard-boiled eggs, yolks discarded, whites chopped into small pieces
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
½ celery rib, diced
¼ cup 2% Greek Yogurt
Juice from ½ lemon
Pinch fresh dill
Sea salt and pepper, to taste
1 slice of rye bread, toasted
How to make it:
In a small bowl mash the avocado with a fork. Add the egg, Dijon mustard, celery, Greek yogurt, lemon juice, dill, salt, and pepper. Spread egg salad mixture on a piece of rye bread. Makes 1 serving.
Nutrition information per serving: 429 calories, 23 g protein, 29 g carbs (12 g fiber), 26 g fat
Still hungry? Check out this shake recipe brought to you by Premier Protein.
Premier Protein Peanut Butter and Jelly Shake
What you’ll need:
1 scoop of Premier Protein Vanilla Powder
1 cup milk (may substitute with non-dairy option)
2 Tbsp creamy peanut butter
2 tsp raspberry jam
½ cup frozen mixed berries
1 cup ice
How to make it:In a blender or food processor, combine all ingredients and blend until you get a smooth texture. Enjoy immediately.
My sexual performance is one of the few aspects of my life I don’t subject to brutal internal scrutiny. I like what I do and I’m sticking to it. This doesn’t mean I’m not willing to learn a thing or two, though, and now that technology has invaded just about every aspect of our lives, I figured there had to be a way to extract some meaningful data from a round of intercourse. If the Apple Watch can save lives and Siri can make distress calls, why can’t a device analyze what’s going down in the bedroom?
Enter the Motiv ring, a fitness tracker that’s so small you can wear it on your finger. Just like other fitness trackers, it keeps tabs on your heart rate, how well you’re sleeping, and other vitals. The fine folks at Motiv gave me a chance to wear this inconspicuous—albeit stylish—black ring to help me learn a little bit about what’s happening with my body as I’m getting intimate with my wife. I gladly took them up on the offer.
So, how does it work? Unlike fitness apps that require you to press a button to start recording your activity, the Motiv ring automatically tracks your vitals as soon as it senses movement, which you can then read through Motiv’s app. If you twist the ring while it’s on your finger, it syncs with the app and gives you a chance to read your stats in real time.
“Motiv’s app is not optimized for sex,” a Motiv spokesperson told me. “You’d have to manually add the activity, however it should capture heart rate peaks and valleys during intercourse.”
Because I’ve done weirder stuff to my body with far more distracting pieces of machinery, my wife had no problem with me bringing this inoffensive little ring into the bedroom—probably because the alternative of taping my phone to my chest wasn’t particularly sexy.
For our Motiv experiment, we decided we wouldn’t do anything too out of the ordinary, but we also wanted to make sure to get a good workout. After I slipped on the ring, we lured the dog outside, took off our clothes, and proceeded to turn our bedroom into a sex gym. We did it all: hand stuff, mouth stuff, butt stuff, and regular stuff. She did the thing I liked, I did the thing she liked, and together we did our usual three-position routine that gets us from fired-up to molten-hot in about 15 minutes.
As we were going at it, I tried to keep a sliver of my thoughts on my heart rate to determine if the data on the little screen would match the projected data in my head. My wife must have noticed my eyes were drifting, because she playfully pinched my nipple, which pretty quickly brought my back into the moment. All in all, the Motiv ring didn’t affect my sexual performance in the slightest. I assume the wedding ring on my other finger got me used to wearing jewelry during sex.
After we finished up, cleaned off, and jumped in the shower, I synced my ring up with the app. It’s worth mentioning that I had to use my wife’s iPhone for this experiment, as Motiv’s Android app is currently in the final stages of testing (that’s what I get for trying to stand out by buying a Pixel). While there are definitely some kinks that need to be worked out of the iPhone app—like the confusing display—it couldn’t have been easier to input my activity.
So, what were the results? Pretty much what I expected: From 12:20 p.m. to 12:50 p.m., I engaged in a “cardio” activity with “maxed out” effort, which elevated my heart rate to a noticeable peak before dropping to a consistent valley. The low heart rate corresponded with the six or seven minutes I went down on her, while the sharp incline synced up with our mutual journey towards orgasm. After we came, a slow-and-steady heart rate valley suggested a relaxed, blissful post-coital state, which I can confirm.
“The low heart rate corresponded with the six or seven minutes I went down on her.”
What did I learn? Nothing new about my sex life or performance, but I did find myself impressed with the ring and dumbfounded that such a small piece of technology could produce such a detailed set of data. I even ended up consulting with multi-certified sex educator Anne Hodder to try and gain a little more insight into what specifically happens to my body during sex.
“It’s difficult to apply a specific number of calories to 20 minutes of sex,” says Hodder. “Estimates say men on average burn 101-ish calories during a full session—which as we know can be anything from 3 to 20 minutes. Just keep in mind that if your main goal for getting busy is to simply add another 200-plus calories to your daily workout, maybe rethink your intentions.”
Clinical sexologist, certified sex coach, accredited sex educator, and ambassador to the American Sexual Health Association Sunny Rodgers was kind enough to break it down by sex act.
“Let’s just say a couple burns 100 calories every time they have sex,” says Rodgers. “If they have sex approximately three times each week they can burn over 15,000 calories a year without ever visiting the gym. Fellatio burns an estimated 24 calories per hour. Nibbling can burn 28 calories per hour. Noisy sex play can burn 5 calories per moan. A deep, screaming orgasm can burn 24 calories in addition to the orgasm calories. Heavy petting can burn 90 calories in an hour. Sex itself burns about 101 calories for men and 69 calories for women. Clitoral Orgasm? About 52 calories per orgasm.”
Compare this to the calories I burn during a full workout—around 400-500 if I’m going hard—and I’d happily have sex four or five times in lieu of going to the gym.
It’s a lot of information, but I was still left with a sense of yearning. Modern fitness trackers are only a little over a decade old, and they’ve already managed to contain their technology into something that can slip over a finger. What is fitness-tracking technology going to look like in another ten years? What will the next version of the Motiv ring look like? Will they be able to read our thoughts? Control how our bodies move? Tell us precisely how much blood is flowing into the penis when we’re erect? We’ll have to wait and see, but when the future does arrive I know I’ll gladly volunteer some more time in the bedroom if it means I get to learn a little bit more about how my body works.
Chances are, nobody has to tell you that exercise is a great stress reliever. But here’s the thing: You can reduce stress even more—and make that reduction last longer—if you tailor your workout specifically to your personality type.
“The psychological boost of adhering to a program that you enjoy doing is much greater than the reward you get from any single session,” says Steve Edwards, Ph.D., a professor of sports psychology at Oklahoma State University.
Edwards has identified six distinct exercise personalities. Find the one that best describes you, then follow our tips. You’ll end up ripped and relaxed.
The Aesthete You thrive on the artistry of sports and exercise.
Check Yourself Out
The mirrors in a weight room help you notice when your form starts to fail, but you can also see what you do well. And for you, that’s tension-taming. “Some suggest that vanity is at work here, but it could just as easily be a more profound appreciation of the capability of one’s body,” says Edwards.
Master a Skill Sport
“Get involved in any sport you think is well executed,” says Edwards. The sweet sound of a 5-iron meeting a Titleist, the crack of a big-barreled Louisville, or the plunk of an aced first serve satisfies your senses and leads to less stress.
The Thrill-Seeker You work out for the rush.
Add Risk to Your Runs
Try running up and down stadium steps to exhaustion. The stress release is in the danger: “It gets trickier the longer you go. If you mess up, there could be a nasty fall,” says Edwards. Not a stadium in sight? Run outdoors over rugged terrain.
Stop doing three sets of 12 repetitions of every exercise; there’s no challenge in that. Do fewer repetitions and more sets with weights that are near your one-rep max on compound exercises, such as deadlifts, squats, and bench presses. Then lighten the load for power moves, such as jump squats, which appear riskier.
The Social Activist You like the camaraderie of exercising with others.
Join a Team
For you, going it alone is misery—and that only adds to your anxiety. So build your program around group activities and team sports. “Join a jogging or cycling club,” says Edwards. Or, if you spend your time in the gym, create an exercise schedule that’s workable for your similarly stressed buddies.
Disguise Your Exercise
Make all of your activities more active and you’ll find yourself sweating in solitude less often. “Try doing business on the golf course. Or join a Big Brother program and take the kid with you to the gym,” says Edwards.
The Deathophobe You exercise to stay healthy, but wish there were an easier way.
Don’t Go Too Hard
The more comfortable exercise is for you, the more you enjoy it—and high satisfaction equals high stress relief. So use moderate weights and do a moderate number of repetitions. Just keep your rest periods short to maximize the muscle benefits, says Edwards.
Combine your workout with something you find relaxing, such as reading, watching TV, or listening to music, says Kevin Burke, Ph.D., a professor of sports psychology at Georgia Southern University. You’ll focus more on what calms you (good tunes) and less on what you hate (the treadmill).
The Fanatic You like feeling committed to your exercise routine.
Shock Your Body
Given your loyalty to sweat, ensuring variety is a challenge. You can avoid irritating ruts and keep your muscles growing with a lottery approach, says Burke. Before you work out, grab a Men’s Health workout poster and several slips of paper. Write down the names of the exercises for the target body part and then draw from a hat.
Avoid Rush Hour
Waiting in line for benches and squat racks interferes with your mission to get fit, so grab the always-available Swiss ball. On an upper-body day, do two or three sets of Swiss-ball pushups to failure. On a lower-body day, do two or three sets of 20 Swiss-ball wall squats: Stand with the ball wedged between your back and a wall. Now squat, allowing the ball to roll with your back as you go down.
The Energized Animal You hit the gym to release energy.
Add Iron to Your Lunch
The longer you go without exercise, the more stressed you feel, says Edwards. Try to fit a workout into your workday. If you can, go to the gym around 2 p.m., just after the lunch crowd dissipates, so you can finish faster.
Keep a Racket Close By
By stowing your gym bag and other sporting goods in your car or under your desk at work, you can exercise whenever you feel the urge. “This also encourages variety in activities,” says Edwards. “If you’re driving by a park and it occurs to you that a quick run would be fun, you can grab your shoes and go for it.”
I’ve owned my CrossFit NRG in Salt Lake City, Utah, since 2008. Whenever I program a workout for my students, I think of it in one of two ways: high-skill or low-skill.
High-skill movements—like Olympic lifts—take a lot practice and instruction. I find it hard for students to make corrections under high intensity or stress, so you’ve got to give a lot of rest. Rest allows for reflection and a chance to make corrections. After all, the best time to practice a move like that is when you are fresh as possible.
On the other hand, low-skill movements don’t require much instruction. I can challenge my students and make them sweat, all the while knowing they’re safe. I can give them a little bit of everything, but not enough to do serious damage. That’s why my favorite workout (below) consists of low-skill exercises.
While it may look easy on paper, it’s a lung burner. If you go hard, and you go fast, you’ll test your limits and finish in better condition than when you started. This workout is accessible to the newest CrossFitter, but also challenging to a veteran who can blow through small sets. You should finish in under 20 minutes.
DO THIS: Perform the first exercise couplet as an ascending “ladder.” Begin with 1 rep of the knees to elbows and 1 rep of the wall ball. Next, do 2 reps of each move, and then three, and so on until you’ve completed 10 reps of each exercise.
When you’ve completed the first couplet ladder, begin the second couplet. Perform it as a descending “ladder.” Begin with 10 reps of the box up followed by 10 reps of the pushup. Next, do 9 reps of each move, and then eight, and so on until you’ve worked your way down to 1 rep of each exercise.
Knees to elbows: Grab a pullup bar with a shoulder-width grip and hang at arm’s length. Raise your hips and lift your knees to meet your elbows. Then lower your hips and legs back down to a dead hang. That’s 1 rep.
Wall ball: Stand facing a wall. Holding a medicine ball in front of your chest, quickly squat down as low as you can. Stand back up, and simultaneously release the ball at a target above your head on the wall. Catch the ball and immediately squat again. That’s 1 rep. Men should use a 20-pound medicine ball and aim for a target 10 feet above them. Women should use a 16-pound ball, and aim for a 9-foot target.
Box up: With your feet shoulder-width apart, dip down and then jump onto a box. Step down and repeat. Start with a box that’s 20 to 24 inches high,
Pushup: Assume a pushup position, with your arms straight and hands below and slightly wider than your shoulders. Bend at the elbows and lower your body until your chest nearly touches the floor. Pause, and push your body back up.
James Sjostrom is owner of CrossFit NRG in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a StrongFirst Team leader. He has taught more than 10,000 hours of personal and group training.
When it comes time to build a set of truly impressive arms, most guys just have one motion in mind: Curls. From dumbbells to barbells, weight racks to preacher benches, they think the key to massive gun growth is all about the biceps.
But a permanent residence on the curl machine and repeated 21s won;t help you develp those sleeve-busting arms on their own. For true gains and size, you need to cut back on your biceps, believe it or not, and concentrate more on your triceps. Your squat rack-hogging curl-head buddy might not want to hear it, but it’s the truth, right down to the basic anatomy of your arm.
“Your triceps comprise more than two-thirds of your upper-arm mass,” says BH Gaddour, M’Health Fitness Advisor. “So building thicker, more developed triceps muscles makes your entire arms look more like shotguns than pistols.”
What’s more, says Gaddour, triceps also play a huge role in some of the most effective and popular exercises, like the pushup and bench press. “Triceps strength is usually the limiting factor in pressing movements,” he says. ” So your bench, pushup, and other presses only go as far as your triceps take them.”
That’s why you need to throw the following ten exercises into your routine. There’s no better way to build gigantic arms-and a bigger bench.
Working your triceps is more than just an aesthetic pursuit. You’ll build major strength, too, specifically for the standard bench press. Elbows-Out Triceps Extensions, aka the Tate Press after powerlifter Dave Tate, could be the boost you’ve been looking for to boost your bench max.
DO THIS: Sit on an incline bench with a set of dumbbells. Raise them into the air in a press position, with your palms facing away from you.
Lower the dumbbells to your chest by bending your elbows. Touch your upper check, pause, then press back out to the starting position.
Close Hands Pushup
It doesn’t get any more basic than this. The standard pushup is great for your chest and arms, but moving the hand position in closer puts the attention squarely on the triceps. You’re still going to get some work for your pecs with this variation, but your tris should really feel the burn by the time you’re through.
DO THIS: Lower yourself down into a standard plank or pushup position. Bring your hands close to each other at chest level, with your thumbs touching one another. Your spine should be straight, and your core and glutes should be squeezed tight.
Lower yourself down to the floor, bending your elbows at a 45-degree angle. Make sure your elbows don’t flare out to the sides; keep them locked in place. Pause, maintaining the squeeze in your core and glutes, then push back up to the original position by straightening your arms.
Seated Overhead Triceps Extension
When you work your triceps, you might forget there are three parts to the muscle: the lateral head, the medial head, and the long head. The last part might not always get the attention it deserves—unless you’re regularly doing exercises like this one, with your arms over your head to isolate the long head.
DO THIS: Sit on a bench and grab one dumbbell. Form a diamond shape with both hands to grip the top end of the weight. Raise the dumbbell over your head, keeping your elbows up and your core tight.
Lower the barbell down the top of your back by bending at the elbow, maintaining your strong chest and keeping your shoulders still. Raise the weight by fully extending your arms, pausing for a count to squeeze at the top of the movement.
Foam Roller Press
Lowering the bar to the top of the foam roller cuts your range of motion in half. Pressing from the midpoint of the lift emphasizes the “lockout,” or the ending push of the bench press.
“The lockout is all triceps, and you can use a big weight on the bar” says Tony Gentilcore, C.S.C.S., co-owner of Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA. It also allows you to train hard for the bench press, with minimal strain on your shoulders.
DO THIS: Lie down on a bench and place a foam roller length-wise on your chest. Secure it with a resistance band, if need be. Grab the barbell overhead and hold it directly above your chest. Lower the bar to touch the foam roller, and then press it back up.
Because you’re lifting your entire bodyweight, your triceps have to work against a much heavier load than they would in a triceps-isolating exercise, according to Ian King, owner of King Sports International.
DO THIS: Hoist yourself up on parallel bars with your torso perpendicular to the floor; you’ll maintain this posture throughout the exercise. (Leaning forward will shift emphasis to your chest and shoulders.)
Bend your knees and cross your ankles. Slowly lower your body until your shoulder joints are below your elbows. (Most guys stop short of this position.)
Close-Grip Bench Press
The bench press is a great exercise to work your chest and core. But a change in grip can help expand your arms.
“Placing your hands closer together makes it so your triceps have to work harder,” says Craig Ballantyne, Owner of Turbulence Training. “That can lead to new growth and more strength.” (It’s also one of the 3 Secrets to a Bigger Bench Press.)
DO THIS: Grasp a barbell with an overhand grip that’s shoulder-width apart, and hold it above your sternum with arms completely straight. Lower the bar straight down, pause, and then press the bar back up to the starting position.
Rolling EZ-Bar Triceps Extensions
This method of the triceps extension gives your triceps short pauses between each rep. “This allows you to rest more so you can bang out more reps and really pump up the muscle,” says Gentilcore.
DO THIS: Lie with your back flat on the ground, a loaded EZ-bar laying on the floor above your head. Grasp the bar, roll it towards your head until your upper arms are vertical. Now press the weight so that your arms are straight and vertical.
Reverse the move, placing the weight back on the floor and “rolling” the bar back. Repeat. Do as many reps as you can.
Kettlebell Floor Press
This variation of a classic bench press favors the lockout portion of the lift, which recruits your triceps to an extreme degree, says Gentilcore.
And since the load is distributed differently with a kettlebell than a barbell, your stabilizing muscles have to work harder to keep the weight positioned correctly.
DO THIS: Grab a kettlebell with each hand and lie with your back on the ground. Hold the kettlebells overhead, the bell hanging on the outside of your wrists.
Bend your arm to lower the kettlebells. Touch your elbows to the ground, pause, then press them back up.
Dumbbell Lying Triceps Extensions
This exercise nails your triceps, and doing high reps of it results in a serious rush of blood to the muscle and gives you a great pump, says David Jack, MH Fitness Advisor.
A review in the Strength and Conditioning Journal found that “the pump”—cellular swelling that occurs from blood pooling to the muscle—can actually speed muscle repair and growth after your workout.
DO THIS: Grab a pair of dumbbells and lie faceup on the ground. Hold the dumbbells over your head with straight arms, your palms facing each other.
Without moving your upper arms, bend your elbows to lower the dumbbells until your forearms are beyond parallel to the floor. Pause, then lift the weights back to the starting position by straightening your arms.
Rope Triceps Pressdown
This move zones in on your triceps—but only if you do it right, says Mike Mejia, C.S.C.S. If you use too much weight, you’ll involve your back and shoulder muscles, defeating the purpose.
The trick: Imagine that you’re wearing tight suspenders that hold down your shoulders as you do the exercise. If you can’t keep your shoulders down, lighten the load.
DO THIS: Attach a rope handle to the high pulley of a cable station. Bend your arms and grab the bar with an overhand grip, your hands shoulder-width apart. Tuck your upper arms next to your sides.
Without moving your upper arms, push the bar down until your elbows are locked. Slowly return to the starting position.
Editor’s note: This is Part 3 of a three part series on how to increase your strength in the “big three”: the barbell squat, deadlift, and bench press. In this story, you’ll discover three techniques for eliminating your weak spot—known as a sticking point—in the bench press. (Read part 1 here: The Secret to a Massive Squat. Read part 2 here: The Secret to a Gigantic Deadlift.)
When two guys sit down at a bar and talk fitness, there’s just one question they use to size each other up: “What do you bench?”
Indeed, the bench press is the lift by which all strength is judged—and that’s when Bench Press Monday is a weekly ritual for most lifters.
But if you—Monday after Monday—have benched roughly the same amount of weight over the last year, improvement doesn’t lie in more benching. You need to work on the phase of the lift that’s pulling your numbers down, says Mike Robertson, C.S.C.S., a former powerlifting coach for Team USA, and co-owner of IFAST in Indianapolis.
“If we’re talking bench, we’re talking two really common sticking points and one less common one,” he says. “But fixing sticking points in the bench is the easiest way to improve your numbers.”
You falter when the bar is at your chest
Your chest and triceps—your “pressing” muscles—obviously need to be strong for you to have a big bench. But issues in this position often have more to do with your pulling muscles.
“Getting stuck off the chest is usually due to a stability and control issue, often because your upper back is weak.” Indeed, a strong upper back provides a more stable foundation for you to lift from.
“Having people do more upper back work often fixes this problem,” says Robertson. “I like row and chinup variations.”
Robertson adds that if your pulling muscles are strong but you’re still having issues, building a stronger chest does help some people.
“Doing some dumbbell bench presses builds up the pec muscles and builds stability,” he says.
Standing Supported Single-Arm Row
With a dumbbell in your right hand, place your left hand and left knee on a bench. Keep your back flat and upper body parallel to the floor, as your right arm hangs. Now raise your right upper arm to your rib cage, squeeze your shoulder blade back, and lower it again.
Hang at arm’s length from a chinup bar using an underhand, shoulder-width grip. This is the starting position. Pull your chest to the bar as fast as you can, pause for a three count while “pulling” your shoulder blades down. Take 2 seconds to lower to the starting position.
You fail midway through
The midpoint of the bench, where your elbows are bent about 90-degrees, is no-man’s land, says Robertson. “Your chest has just done it’s big effort, but your triceps aren’t in a great position to press yet,” he says.
That’s why your best bet is to do exercises that help you become a local in no-man’s land. “I like floor presses and board presses,” says Robertson. The reason: they both help you become stronger and more comfortable in the position where your elbows are bent 90-degrees.
Lie on your back and hold a barbell above your chest with your arms straight and knees bent. Lower the barbell until your upper arms touch the floor. Pause, and press the weight back up to the starting position.
Foam Roller Press
(This move replicates the board press, but uses equipment you can find in any gym.) Lie with your back on a bench and place a foam roller length-wise on your chest. Secure it with a resistance band, if need be. Grab the barbell overhead and hold it directly above your chest. Lower it to touch the foam roller, then press it back up.
You miss the lockout
Most guys don’t struggle with this phase of the lift, says Robertson. But if you’re not “most guys” and the final push eludes you, look to your triceps, he says.
“The lockout is really a big thrust from your triceps,” says Robertson. Your move: strengthen those muscles, which make up the back of your arms. You could do classic tri-isolating exercises like skull crushers and rope press downs, but something more bench press specific is a better option, says Robertson.
“I like the close grip bench press here,” he says. “Moving your hands in closer takes less stress off the chest and overloads the triceps. Plus, it requires a greater range of motion so the lockout phase is actually longer in this variation.”
Close Grip Barbell Bench Press
Using an overhand grip that’s a bit narrower than shoulder width, hold a barbell above your sternum with your arms straight. Lower the bar to your chest. Pause, then press the bar up. That’s one rep.
Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of a three part series on how to increase your strength in the “big three”: the barbell squat, the deadlift, and the barbell bench press. In this story, you’ll discover three techniques for eliminating your weak spot—known as sticking points—in the deadlift. (Read part 1 here: The Secret to a Massive Squat.)
The deadlift is perhaps the most “functional” exercise in existence. What carries over more truly to real life than a lift that trains you to safely pick heavy things up off the ground? What’s more, it rocks all the muscles on your backside, the ones that produce the raw power you need to sprint, jump, and tackle.
And besides helping you improve at nearly all tasks you face in sports and everyday life, the exercise is a hardcore muscle builder. It builds up those backside muscles—your hamstrings, glutes, low and upper back, and shoulders—and absolutely cooks your core and arms.
Plus, what’s more badass than taking hundreds of pounds from ground to lockout? There’s just something about this fundamental exercise that makes you feel like a comic book hero. (Here’s more on how to get the most out of your deadlift.)
But it doesn’t matter if you’re a newbie or a DL-aficionado, you’re going to hit sticking points that stall the growth of your numbers (and muscles).
“The deadlift is a lift where you can absolutely have three points where you can miss,” says Mike Robertson, C.S.C.S., a former powerlifting coach for Team USA, and co-owner of IFAST in Indianapolis. Here’s how to fix all three:
1. You have trouble getting the bar off the floor
Building strength in the area directly at, above, and below your sticking point is a go-to way to bust out of a rut. But if your problem is getting the bar off the ground, how can you train a range of motion below the floor? Answer: deficit deadlifts.
“Because the bar is lower than your feet, this variation—where you stand on plates or blocks and deadlift from that position—allows you to achieve a greater range of motion in the lift,” says Robertson. “Extending the range of motion overloads your hip and thigh muscles, teaching you to use your legs to drive out of the bottom.”
The caveat is that deficit deadlifts require you to be pretty mobile. So if you can’t do the lift with a flat back, you’re only going to set yourself up for injury.In that case, do deadlifts to your knees. “Simply pulling to your knee, pausing, then lowering the bar back down grooves a great starting position, and teaches you to stay tight.”
Stand on 25-pound plates, your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend at your hips and knees and grab the bar overhand, your hands about shoulder-width apart.
Keeping your back straight, pull your torso back and up, thrust your hips forward, and stand up with the bar. Then lower it, keeping it close to your body.
Deadlift to Knee
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend at your hips and knees and grab the bar overhand, your hands about shoulder-width apart.
Keeping your back straight, pull your torso back and up, thrust your hips forward, and bring the bar to knee height. Then lower it, keeping it close to your body.
2. You get stuck at the mid-point of the lift
Hey, gangles, your knees are in the way. “Oftentimes people who get stuck here want to pull the bar ‘up,’” says Robertson. “That can cause your knees to get in the path of the bar, so you have to move the bar out in front of you, which can cause your back to cave.”
Solving this problem all comes down to fine-tuning your technique. “I cue people to push their knees back as they lift the bar, and to think about pulling the bar ‘back,’ not ‘up,’” says Robertson. Those tricks “work” because they cause you to shift your weight towards your heels, which naturally pulls your knees out of the way.
Practice that coaching cue while doing deadlifts to just above your knees.
Deadlift to Above Knee
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend at your hips and knees and grab the bar overhand, your hands about shoulder-width apart.
Keeping your back straight, pull your torso back and up, thrust your hips forward, and bring the bar a few inches above your knees. Lower it, keeping it close to your body.
3. You can’t “lock out” the weight
Here, practicing the problematic phase makes perfect.
“Get specific,” says Robertson. “Rack pulls improve your position and strength from the mid-point of the lift up.”
“The other nice thing is that you can use a relatively heavy weight,” he adds. That helps you build more strength, and makes you fearless of having a significant load in your hands, he says.
Put “pins” in a squat cage and lay the bar across them, so that the bar sits at about knee height. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend at your hips and knees and grab the bar overhand, your hands about shoulder-width apart.
Keeping your back straight, pull your torso back and up, thrust your hips forward, and lock out the bar. Then lower it, keeping it close to your body.
The bench press, squat, and deadlift are called the “big three” for a reason: they’re the exercises that all others are measured by.
Indeed, each of those lifts hit nearly every muscle in your body. And because you can substantially load the barbell, they assault all of those muscles with a relatively large load, helping you build more raw strength and size everywhere.
But in the big three, you’re only as strong as your weakest link.
“Most guys struggle with a certain phase of each of those lifts,” says Mike Roberson, C.S.C.S., a former powerlifting coach for Team USA, and co-owner of IFAST in Indianapolis.
Those stall phases are commonly known as “sticking points.” And the key to continually adding more weight to the bar, says Robertson, is to do exercises that train you to lift through your sticking point.
In this three part series, we’ll break down how to overcome your sticking points in each of the three big lifts. Today: the squat.
The squat is often labeled “the king of all exercises” for good reason: There’s likely no other lift that builds as much hardcore, total body strength and muscle.
That notion is nearly weight training scripture. Consider George Hackenschmidt, who used squat variations to become arguably both the strongest and most ripped lifter in the early 20th century.
There’s also Sergey Smolov, a Russian “Master of Sports,” who won international lifting championships with his “Smolov Squat Routine,” a brutal 13-week squat program that can add 110 pounds to your lift.
Even Arnold Schwarzenegger once famously said “I do squats until I fall over and pass out. So what?”
We all want to tack on pounds each session. But plateaus caused by sticking points are just a fact of training. The fix: assault your sticking point with lifts that mimic it.
“The squat has two main sticking points: the bottom of the lift and the midpoint of the lift,” says Robertson. These strategies will get you out of both.
You have trouble with the bottom of the lift
Like becoming more successful with women, getting unstuck from the lowest point of a squat is often just a matter of building confidence.
“When people who get stuck here get a relatively big weight on their back, they tend to go down really slow—they’re kind of feeling out what to do, and then they flounder at the bottom,” says Robertson. “These people are usually just not confident with the weight on their back.”
The solution: spend some time getting good and comfortable—and confident—in that bottom position.
“I have people do pause squats,” says Robertson. That’s because the exercise builds strength, confidence, and comfort in that bottom position. “Depending on how evil I’m feeling, I have people pause anywhere from 3 to 7 seconds with their knees at or below parallel to their hips.”
Keeping your head up and chest high, push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor.
Hold that position for anywhere from 3 to 7 seconds. Now push yourself back up. That’s one rep. Do no more than 3 reps. You can slowly work your way up to 80% of your one rep max squat.
You get stuck in the middle of the lift
People who get stuck in the midpoint usually suffer from a few weaknesses.
“We often find that their quads and glutes aren’t strong enough, or their lower body just isn’t powerful enough,” says Robertson.
Indeed, once you hit the midpoint of a squat, your quad and glute muscles come into play to a greater degree, helping you push through to the top.
“I like front squats for people who get stuck here,” says Robertson. “People often think the exercise is only for Olympic lifters, but the front squat overloads your quads and glutes, making it a great assistance exercise to the back squat.”
It’s likely also a power issue, says Robertson: if you don’t have the momentum to continue your vertical march once you get to the middle, you’re going nowhere.
So you need to build speed, too, says Robertson. “Do back squats with bands or chains on the bar,” he says. “Those teach you to explode out of the bottom position, which helps you plow through that midpoint.”
Your move: do both of the following lifts 2-3 times a week. Retest your back squat after 6 weeks.
Hold a barbell using an overhand grip, your hands just outside your shoulders, and raise your upper arms until they’re parallel to the floor.
Allow the bar to roll back to the tips of your fingers until it rests securely on your front shoulders. Push your hips back and lower your body until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. Squeeze your glutes as you return to the starting position.
Barbell Speed Back Squat
Hang a chain over each end of the barbell, or anchor bands to the bottom of the rack. Loop the ends over each end of the bar. The bands should be very taut at the top.
Unrack the bar and hold it across your back using an overhand grip. Keeping your head up and chest high, push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor.
Hold that position for anywhere from 3 to 7 seconds. Now push yourself back up. That’s one rep.
Do no more than 3 reps. You can work your way up to 80% of your one rep max squat.
Experts recommend working out 45 minutes to an hour a day (30 minutes for beginners) for weight loss and fitness. But if you’re like most women, you don’t always have a block of 30 to 60 minutes a day to devote exclusively to doing your workouts.
Lest you think that short bursts of activity have a negligible effect on your fitness program, think again. One study found that women who split their exercise into 10-minute increments were more likely to exercise consistently, and lost more weight after five months, than women who exercised for 20 to 40 minutes at a time.
In a landmark study conducted at the University of Virginia, exercise physiologist Glenn Gaesser, PhD, asked men and women to complete 15 10-minute exercise routines a week. After just 21 days, the volunteers’ aerobic fitness was equal to that of people 10 to 15 years younger. Their strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility were equal to those of people up to 20 years their junior. “It would be useful for people to get out of the all-or-nothing mind-set that unless they exercise for 30 minutes, they’re wasting their time,” says Gaesser.
Breaking exercise into small chunks on your overscheduled days can also keep your confidence up, since skipping it altogether can make you feel tired, guilty, or depressed. Keep in mind, though, that short bursts of exercise are meant to supplement, not replace, your regular fitness routine.
Here are simple, practical ways to work exercise into your day even when you’re short on time:
Around the House
1. When you go outside to pick up your morning newspaper, take a brisk 5-minute power walk up the street in one direction and back in the other.
2. If you’re housebound caring for a sick child or grandchild, hop on an exercise bike or do a treadmill workout while your ailing loved one naps.
3. Try 5 to 10 minutes of jumping jacks. (A 150-pound woman can burn 90 calories in one 10-minute session.)
4. Cooking dinner? Do standing push-ups while you wait for a pot to boil. Stand about an arm’s length from the kitchen counter, and push your arms against the counter. Push in and out to get toned arms and shoulders.
5. After dinner, go outside and play tag or shoot baskets with your kids and their friends.
6. Just before bed or while you’re giving yourself a facial at night, do a few repetitions of some dumbbell exercises, suggests exercise instructor Sheila Cluff, owner and founder of The Oaks at Ojai and The Palms, in Palm Springs, CA, who keeps a set of free weights on a shelf in front of her bathroom sink.
7. Walk around the block several times while you wait for your child to take a music lesson. As your fitness level improves, add 1-minute bursts of jogging to your walks.
8. Walk around medical buildings if you have a long wait for a doctor’s appointment. “I always ask the receptionist to give me an idea of how long I have left to wait,” Cluff says. “Most are usually very willing to tell you.”
9. While your son or daughter plays a soccer game, walk around the field.
10. Turn a trip to a park with your child into a mini-workout for you. Throw a ball back and forth and run for fly balls.
11. Walk to work if you can. “I walked to work for months, 1½ miles each way,” says Mary Dallman, PhD, professor of physiology at the University of California, San Francisco, and she really saw results.
12. If you dine out on your lunch hour, walk to a restaurant on a route that takes you a little bit out of your way.
13. If you have a meeting in another building, leave 5 or 10 minutes early (or take some time afterward), and do some extra walking.
14. On breaks, spend 5 to 10 minutes climbing stairs.
15. If you’re pressed for time and must wait for an elevator, strengthen your core with ab exercises. Stand with your feet parallel and your knees relaxed. Contract the muscles around your belly button. Then elevate your upper torso, and release. Finally, contract your buttocks for a few seconds.
16. Use a ringing phone as an excuse to stretch your back. Stand with your feet astride. Imagine that you are encased in a plaster cast from your waist to your head. Gently tilt the lower part of your pelvis backward. Contract your abdominal muscles. Then gently tilt your pelvis forward.
When You’re Watching TV
17. Put away your remote and change channels the old-fashioned way—by getting up and walking to the television set.
18. Dance as if you were 16 again. Put on a music program or MTV. Then dance like crazy, advises Peg Jordan, PhD, RN, author of The Fitness Instinct. “Free yourself to think of movement as something that you have a right to do,” she says.
19. During commercials, jog in place. A 150-pound woman can burn up to 45 calories in 5 minutes. Or try our Couch-Potato Workout.
20. Do leg exercises and lifts with small weights while you watch The Weather Channel, cooking shows, movies, or the news.
21. Pack your sneakers and a fitness DVD. Call ahead to make sure your room has a DVD player. If it doesn’t, ask to rent one from the hotel.
22. If you’re traveling by car, stop twice a day for short, brisk walks and some stretching.
23. During layovers at airports, avoid the mechanized “moving carpets” that transport travelers from concourse to concourse. “If you’re in between flights, walk around the concourse as much as you can,” suggests Cluff.
24. Book a hotel room between the fifth and eighth floors, then ignore the elevator. Better yet, take two stairs at a time. (Check with the hotel first because for security reasons some hotels do not allow guests to use stairs except for emergencies.)