Lifts Archives

As a guy, my ultimate goal is to build strength. I want to lift as much as the linebacker on the football team. I also want muscles as big as his. To accomplish this, you cannot use isolation weight lifting exercises as the core of your routine. To really build strength, you must focus your workout on these three exercises.

How to build strength #1: Bench Press

Outside of curls, the bench press is definitely one of the most glamorous of the weight lifting exercises. It seems as though nearly every day is “bench day” when people head to the gym. Lucky for them, the bench press is a great workout for most of your entire upper body. Doing a press incorporates the chest, shoulders, triceps, and your core all at once. Doing a bench press also helps to correct some muscle imbalances. If your shoulders are disproportionately strong, this will help even things out some.

For proper form on the bench press, make sure your back is flat at all times. Arching your back can and will lead to injury. Keep your feet flat on the ground. You want to bring the bar down gently to your sternum, then lift so the bar ends up at eye level when your arms are fully extended. Once again, gently bring down the bar (do not bounce it off of your chest), and repeat. Make sure you do this workout at least once a week.

How to build strength #2: Dead Lifts

This workout requires a bit more technique. If you are new to core lifts, you should probably start with very little weight so you can get the hang of the technique involved. Trust me though, this definitely will build strength if done correctly. This is one of the go-to workouts of most football players for a reason. Doing one dead lift will use muscles from the lower back, quads, abdomen, and biceps. The abdomen, lower back, and upper legs constitute the “core” of your body. Although I don’t have any documented proof, I have personal experience that indicates that a well developed core will increase your strength in other lifts too. Increasing my dead lift will also increase my bicep curls. Use dead lifts to increase all of your weight lifting exercises.

To properly execute a dead lift, start with the bar on the ground. Bend your knees to reach the bar. Make sure you puff out your chest. I’ve been told to imagine a pencil being held between your shoulder blades. Make sure you don’t let the pencil drop as you go down. Bend your back only slightly to grab the bar. Lift the bar using as much legs as possible. Also, make sure you are looking forward at all times. Moving your head around could lead to a pulled muscle or a shift in balance. One rep is completed when you stand up with the weight in your hands; arms extended and knees locked.

How to build strength #3: Squats

If you ignore everything else I have to say, please just listen to this: squats are one of the most important weight lifting exercises you can do. Squats are like the magic pill to build strength. Doing one squat will work your quads, calves, lower back, abs, and even other small balance muscles you don’t notice. Multiple times, if I got away from doing squats, nearly every other workout I did would plateau. By going back to squats, my other lifts seem to magically improve. Please, make sure you do squats at least once a week. Somehow, it builds strength in your entire body and allows you to lift more in almost all weight lifting exercises.

Doing a squat is similar to doing a dead lift, except the weight is on your shoulders. Make sure your back is as straight as possible. Use as little back as possible when squatting down and when lifting up. Depending on the type of squat you do, keep your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart; pointed forward. Regarding eye contact, I like to find a spot on the wall in front of me about 7 or 8 feet above ground. I focus on that point throughout the set; when I go up and down. One rep is completed when the squatter goes all the way down, then returns to the starting position, knees locked.

For more information on proper form for these weight lifting exercises, take a look at bodybuilding When properly incorporated into your workout, these weight lifting exercises will build strength and help you fight through any plateaus you encounter. With these lifts, maybe you will be able to lift as much as that linebacker.

Are back squats, a powerful fat-burning exercise, something that every woman should try to master? I’m a certified personal trainer.

Perhaps you keep hearing about how fabulous the back squat is for any goal a woman may have: weight loss, a firmer butt, firm legs, a stronger back, a tighter middle — and on and on.

So why is it, then, that many women struggle with the back squat, while other women take to this multi-joint exercise rather quickly? It has to do with body proportions (save for miscellaneous variables like “bad knees” or pre-existing back issues).

There are different kinds of squats: back, overhead, front, dumbbell, goblet, to name a few. The free barbell back squat is considered the best of the lower extremity exercises.

Women new to squatting should see how they do first with a bodyweight squat. Many women will not be able to sink to a thighs-parallel-to-floor position without an exaggerated forward lean that makes it impossible to keep an arch in their lower back.

Throughout the squat exercise, the trainee must keep an arch in their lower back, never losing it, never. The back should never, ever round out!

Why is it that some women can descend to parallel while keeping their backs fairly upright, and other women must pitch way forward, arms out in front of them to prevent from falling backwards? Body proportions.

In order to keep balanced while lowering into a squat, your shoulder must be smack overhead of your midfoot, forming a vertical line.

As you lower (as in a chair), the shoulders get shifted back as the hips get displaced back. But in a chair, you don’t have to create that vertical line between shoulder and midfoot because the chair prevents you from falling back onto the floor.

Try this test. Sit on the edge of a chair that allows your thighs to be parallel to the floor, feet flat on floor and a little wider than shoulder width apart, and even side by side. While keeping both feet flat on the floor, move them towards the chair, as far as you can go before you feel you must elevate the heels. Don’t overdo this, though; just go as far as you comfortably can, keeping heels on floor.

Now, keeping back straight (arch in lower portion), lean forward to align your shoulder directly overhead of the midfoot. Do not round the back!

How far must you lean forward to get that vertical alignment? That’s how far you’d have to lean forward in an actual back squat exercise.

Some women will not have to lean forward that much. These women are great back squat contenders. Other women will have to lean their torso practically parallel to the floor. The back squat will be more difficult for them.

What is it about a woman’s proportions that makes the severe forward lean necessary? Many women have a short torso, shorter than the length of their thigh bone (femur). They are “high waisted” and may or may not have disproportionately long femurs. The big issue is torso length to femur length.

If your torso is longer than your thigh, it’s easy to see why you must lean so far forward to get the shoulder over the midfoot.

If the shoulder falls short of the vertical line in an actual back squat situation, you’ll fall backwards. There’s no way around it. This is Physics 101.

Imagine that your torso is longer than your femurs. Do you see how you wouldn’t have to lean as far forward to align shoulder with midfoot? This same principle applies when femur length is the issue.

A woman may have an average torso length, but her femurs are disproportionately long for her height. To get the shoulder over the midfoot she must really lean far forward, because the length of the femurs determines how far out the midfoot is.

You need not be a body proportion expert to understand the obvious: The ideal proportions for the back squat are a combination of long torso and short femur. Those with long femurs and short torsos are screwed when it comes to the back squat.

This is why you will never see a “high waisted” woman with “long legs” performing a back squat to parallel with standard form and no heel elevation.

She goes down halfway to parallel, leaning torso far forward to get that alignment, but can’t lower any further because to do so would force her spine to be parallel to the floor.

Tall women should never assume they have the wrong proportions for the back squat. A very tall woman can have femurs shorter than her torso! A short woman can have a short torso and long femurs! Total height is irrelevant to body proportions and the back squat.

For women with challenging body proportions, they should focus on other forms of the squat, perhaps trying the front squat and dumbbell versions.

A wider foot stance will help tremendously, as will pointing the feet out (though this will recruit inner thigh muscle). A one-inch heel insert will also help.

Finally, for women whose proportions aren’t ideal for the back squat, they have another good alternative, whether they seek weight loss, better looking legs or improved fitness.

Exercise of the Day: One-Arm Rows

Today let’s take a look at a great compound exercise for your upper body; the one-arm row. There are many different ways to do row exercises for strength training. Seated rows, bent-over rows, upright rows, t-bar rows, and probably more. However, the one-arm row is particularly great for those working out at home rather than at a fully equipped gym. Also, these rows tend to employ more of your full range of motion, which gives your back and arms an awesome challenge.

To do one-arm rows (sometimes refereed to as chainsaws since the motion is similar to pulling the cord to start one), you’ll need some sort of bench or raised surface (I’ve been known to use the couch or my bed) and a dumbbell, weight plate, ankle weight, or exercise band for resistance. Household items with handles such as laundry detergent or milk jugs can work well too, and I’ve even used my American Council on Exercise personal training text book as a weight for one-arm rows in a pinch.

To start, position yourself with your left hand and left knee up on the bench so that your back is parallel to the bench and the floor. Keep your right foot on the floor and hold your weight in your right hand. Really let your right arm hang down to the side of the bench, let your shoulder dip down slightly. Complete your rows by bending your right arm as you lift your elbow straight up towards the ceiling until your elbow is all the way back and your right hand is level with your chest. As you do so, be sure to keep your back flat and parallel to the floor. You should be using your bicep, shoulder, and back muscles to lift the weight in a slow, controlled motion. Pause briefly at the top of the row, and then slowly lower the weight back to the starting position. Repeat for 10-15 repetitions, then switch arms and legs to complete the same number of rows to complete the set. Do 3-4 sets of this exercise.

One-arm rows are an excellent way to work your latissimus dorsi (the muscles in your upper back that give you that “V” shape) or lats, without a weight machine and without a pull-up bar. As one of the largest muscles in your body, creating strong lats makes a huge difference in your physique and posture. Doing one-arm rows will help you to prevent injuries from picking up heavy objects and strain from slouching. This exercise also helps strengthen your biceps and shoulders, helping create a strong, balanced and attractive upper body for men and women alike.

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