I’ve wanted to put this subject down on paper for a while, but I wasn’t sure of the best way to approach the subject. Every time I am out eating dinner with my girlfriend, getting drinks with buddies, or waiting in line at Whole Foods, I hear conversations about exercise. Maybe I simply have ears for the subject, but I honestly think that the subject of “working out” is one of the most commonly discussed issues amongst friends, colleagues and couples; right up there with work and family. I hear some good things, I hear some not so good things, and sometimes I hear some downright ridiculous advice: “My trainer told me to do this,” or “I did this WOD (Workout of the Day) yesterday,” things of that nature.
The overall point I’m trying to make is that just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD do it. Just because you saw a video on YouTube of someone doing this crazy exercise doesn’t mean they are a “fitness expert” and for that matter has any clue what they’re talking about. As I will demonstrate below, you can cite research all you want, and even make is say what you want it to, but it doesn’t validate the claims made if it is taken out of context. In my attempt to further my point I put together a list of the top three exercises you’re probably not doing, the reasoning behind doing each and how program them in your routine. I’m hoping you’ll be able to sift through the nonsense of the following exercises and receive further insight as to how you should be “training” (notice I said training and not “working out” or “exercising”) and what a balanced program might look like. So without further ado…
The first exercise that you might or might not have seen, depending on where you train, is probably one of the best exercises for athletes who participate in team sports. It is called a partner Squat-Chin-up combination and definitely builds a better connection with your partner, since we all know chemistry on the court or field is super important in competition. (Note: I am recreating something I have actually seen performed in real life, in person, at a gym. Yes, really.)
You’ll have to excuse our videography crew, they found it hard to take a simple video without shaking and laughing:
So, as briefly discussed in the video, this exercise not only increases intermuscular coordination (the ability of different muscles in your body to work together in a coordinated fashion), but it also increases something you might not be so familiar with, a newer concept of inter-personal muscular coordination. The theory behind this is comparable to the former: when one person is working by performing an exercise it increases the ability of the adjacent person to perform an exercise. The concept of partner training increasing the total training effect is known as the Kohler Effect, first documented by the German industrial psychologist Otto Köhler. Köhler noticed that people working out with partners or in groups were able to perform an exercise longer than they did when training individually. This is demonstrated in a 2011 study published in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology by a group at Michigan State University (Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 2011, 33, 506-526 © 2011 Human Kinetics, Inc.)
Another important concept to discuss is that of irradiation (the mechanism by which more tension is generated in a particular muscle by being “innervated” better by surrounding muscle contractions), which is also very important here and can directly explain why you could potentially do sets of 50 to 100 reps of an exercise for which you could likely only perform half as many when flying solo. I would suggest finding a partner that is close to you in bodyweight and strength, and just start with a couple sets of 30-40 reps with 2-3 minutes of rest between sets.
The second exercise is simply a different take on the hip bridge, but it brings together a couple different techniques for increasing strength, size and power in your posterior chain (who doesn’t want that?):
(Note: I am recreating something, again, that I have actually seen performed in real life, in person, at a gym. Yes, really…again.)
The first principle to tackle with this exercise is accommodating resistance (the application of a counterforce to a muscle action to regulate the speed of contraction). Accommodating resistance is a technique used to increase the speed and/or power an exercise is performed at, and is typically performed with the assistance of bands or chains. However, when you manually resist the exercise you have much more control over the resistance, and can make sure your client or training partner is receiving the perfect amount of resistance with each rep. The second aspect to this exercise is the use of occlusion training, or blood flow restriction (BFR) training. BFR training can actually increase muscular development through a couple different pathways: (1) fiber recruitment type and (2) metabolite accumulation.
1. Fiber Recruitment Type: Your muscles consist of 2 different fiber types, cleverly named “Type I” and “Type II”. Type I fibers, or “aerobic” fibers require oxygen in order to contract, and type II fibers can perform contractions without the presence of oxygen. The importance of type II fibers is that they can produce a lot more power, and have a much easier time growing in order to increase strength, but typically are only recruited when you go to failure or are using loading parameters of greater than 80% of your 1 Rep Max. By restricting blood flow to the muscles, your type I fibers (the ones your body wants to use first at lower threshold movements because they require less energy to contract) fatigue much quicker than they usually do because of the lack of oxygen, therefore creating a need to use the type II fibers in order to continue whatever you’re doing. What is really cool, however, is this type of training seems to actually cause a fiber type shift from type I to type II fibers, meaning some of your “aerobic” or slow twitch fibers can actually turn in to “anaerobic” or fast twitch fibers. This shift will increase the potential for both muscular size and strength. To summarize this point, through BFR training your muscle is basically (metabolically speaking) getting a similar effect as if you were training with really heavy loads, with much less of the resistance.
2. Metabolite Accumulation: By not allowing the flow of blood out of the muscles your body has no way of flushing the metabolic bi-products produced by muscle contraction. The accumulation of these bi-products (particularly Lactate) actually stimulates the production and secretion of growth hormone. Studies have demonstrated that the concentrations of growth hormone can be increased to 290 times normal baseline levels (J. Appl. Physiology 88: 61-65, 2000), which is twice as much of an increase than simply training with heavy stuff. This is the primary mechanism by which blood flow restriction training produces muscular hypertrophy, which is exactly what we are looking for if we want to grow!
And finally… the third best exercise you’re probably not doing is called the T.A.I.N.T. press. This press, not to be confused with the Tate Press (made popular by Dave Tate) is a Triceps-Activated Inter-Neuromuscular Tactical Press. Before I talk about technique I’ll let you check out a quick demonstration:
As you can see, the range of motion in this press is decreased to essentially the lockout portion of your bench press, but with the unorthodox position. It also puts a lot more of the stabilization requirements on your triceps and lower abdominals to keep yourself nice and crunched in, simply balancing on your upper back. Another cool aspect when pressing this way is the inversed spinal curvature that you get. Typically, when you press you have extension of both your thoracic spine and lumbar spine, but with this press you get thoracic and lumbar flexion, making you recruit different stabilization techniques to accomplish the lift.
So, as I said before, you can come up with a reason to do any exercise, lift or movement, but just because you can doesn’t mean you should! The worst part of it all is that I have personally witnessed the first two exercises performed in gyms where people were actually paying a trainer to get them fit. It took me a long time to come up with a justifiable reasoning behind performing any of these exercises, and the whole point is to tell you to keep it simple. Just to be clear though, the concept of irradiation, accommodating resistance, and occlusion training are all real things, but you can’t transfer strength gains between people, and it’s just dumb to resist a hip bridge with your hands on someone hips, sorry if that is a little too blunt.
There is a reason lifts like a Deadlift, Squat, Bench Press and Chin-up have been around for so long, THEY WORK! So instead of the acronym T.A.I.N.T, use the acronym K.I.S.S.- Keep It Stupid Simple (or Keep It Simple Stupid, either way works). A well-established and very successful strength coach Pavel Tsatsouline once said all you need to do to become a beast is Deadlift and Press. This could certainly do the trick, but I think you want a little more balance in your program, so my suggestion is to do 9 things every week:
1. Deadlift (bend pattern)
2. Squat (squat pattern)
3. Overhead Press (push pattern)
4. Bench Press (push pattern)
5. Bent Over/Chest Supported Row (pull pattern)
6. Chin-up (pull pattern)
7. Bulgarian Split Squat (static lunge)
8. Pallof Press (twist pattern: anti-rotation)
9. Hill Sprints (gait pattern)
If you hit all of these every week you are covering all of your “primal patterns,” a term coined by Paul Chek, and you’ll certainly be building a balanced, well moving beast!
An example weekly breakdown would look like this:
3. Pallof Press
1. Front Squat
2. Bench Press
3. Chest Supported Row
1. Bulgarian Split Squat
2. Overhead Press
3. Hill Sprints
by Nick Johnson
Prior to joining Halevy Life, Nick served as the Assistant Strength Coach at The College of William & Mary. Before his time at The College of William & Mary, Nick held posts at the Vermont Orthopedic Clinic and as Director of Strength and Conditioning at Killington Mountain School.
Nick earned his BSc. in Exercise Science with a minor in Chemistry, and also holds the most comprehensive certification of its kind and the most specific to the field of strength and conditioning coaching, the SCCC (Strength and Conditioning Coach Certified).