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Strength Training With The Experts

deadlift heavy weight with good form at a gym

The Deadlift Builder You Need to Try

By Matt Mallard, Director of Personal Training and former Strongman and Highland Games athlete

In the last few years, the world of strength sports has seen a huge increase in Deadlift World Records. Since Andy Bolton broke the 1000lbs barrier in 2006 with a lift of 1003lbs, there has been a larger jump between 2006 and now, than when they started tracking that data in the 80s until 2006. Right now the top dogs are Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, aka The Mountain from Game of Thrones, at 1104.5lbs in Strongman and Danny Grigsby at 1074lbs in Powerlifting.


The Deadlift is a hinge based movement, mostly relying on the Gluteus Maximus and the Hamstrings to perform the movement and the Spinal Erectors to stabilize the spine. Most hamstrings movements rely on moving the knee, rather than the hip, so there is little carryover to building the Deadlift. Popular Glute movements, like the Hip Thrust, don’t have carryover to the deadlift because of the stability and range of motion(ROM) of the movement. So, how do you build the Glutes and Hamstrings in a way that benefits the Deadlift?


The Pull-Through is the answer that you’re looking for. There are a few reasons why this movement is great for boosting your Deadlift. First, it forces you into a stretched ROM at the bottom of the lift. Not only will this give you a better hinge range of motion, but it will increase overall flexibility for the Gluteus Maximus and the Hamstrings. Second, it loads those same muscles at the top of the lift, whereas performing lifts like the deadlift or the RDL have very little muscular load at the top of the lift. This is especially important if you have a hard time locking out your Deadlift. Last, it teaches you to coordinate the upper and lower body in the deadlift by driving forward with the hips, while pulling the upper body up and back.


How do you perform the Pull-Through? Let’s get in to it…

1. Set up a triceps rope on a cable machine, set on the lowest position.

2. Step over the rope, so that you’re straddling it.

3. Pick the rope up and walk forward 3-5 steps. You want to make sure that the weight stack doesn’t touch at the bottom of the range of motion. Your hands should be resting on the thighs with straight arms.

4. Establish a shoulder width or wider stance with 15-30 degrees of toe out.

5. Soften the knees and arch your lower back. Again, be sure that your elbows stay straight. If you bend your elbows, using your arms to help pull, you’ll run the risk of digging the handles/cable into your tender bits, so to speak.

6. Let the weight pull your hips back, without letting your knees bend any more than when you first softened them at the beginning of the lift.

7. Stop once you feel the first stretch out of your hamstrings. Once the hamstrings stretch, the hip can no longer rotate and the spine will end up in a poor position to compensate.

8. Drive your hips forward and pull the shoulders up and back, until the hips have fully extended and you’ve got a huge squeeze coming from the Glutes. You’ll feel like you’re leaning forward a bit at the top of the lift if you’re performing it correctly.


Check out this quick clip form Dr. Mike Israetel and Jared Feather if you are more of a visual learner. Cable Pull-Through


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Squat heavy weight with good form at a gym

Breaking Through Back Squat Plateaus

By Matt Mallard, Director of Personal Training and former Strongman and Highland Games athlete

Do you feel stuck in the Back Squat? Maybe you’ve been lifting the same weight for a while, maybe you can’t get as deep in the Back Squat as you would like, or maybe your Back Squat just sucks… Today, I’m here to help.

If you already hate squatting, I have some bad news for you. To fix your Back Squat, you need to Front Squat more. This is piece of advice one of my mentors gave me early in my lifting career and every time I hit a plateau or started having issues with my Back Squat, the Front Squat seems to fix the problem every time. It helps for a few reasons…

First, the Front Squat acts like a weak point tattle tale. Torso position too far forward? The Front Squat will let you know. Not keeping the bar path over the mid foot throughout the lift? The Front Squat will let you know. Upper and mid back too weak to support the squat properly? The Front Squat will let you know.

Next, it taxes the squat pattern in a slightly different way compared to the Back Squat. In the Front Squat the bar is moved forward of your center of mass, instead of behind, like in the Back Squat. This changes the mechanics of the movement. You’ll need to have a much more upright torso position to keep from dumping the bar mid squat. Because of this, the movement will require less range of motion from the hip, but it will be more taxing on the range of motion about the knees and ankles.

Last, it is a great way to throw a wrench in the cogs, so to speak, in your programming. Any repeated stress you put on your body will result in adaptation. If you’re constantly providing your body with the same stimulus (like only Back Squatting, especially with the same weight/set/rep scheme) you’re body has already adapted to that particular stimulus. The Front Squat is just different enough to provide that new stimulus and help you break through your stagnant squat progress.

Here are some tips for a successful Front Squat

1. If it is your first time Front Squatting, or you haven’t Front Squatted in a while, be sure to ramp up your weights. Your Front Squat will always be weaker than your Back Squat. If you’re shooting for working sets of 10 reps, start off with light warmup sets and slowly add weight each set until you get to a weight that’s taxing for 10 reps. Let’s say I think I can Front Squat 225, I’d start with 15 reps on an empty barbell, then add 25s for another 15 reps, take off the 25s and add 45s for 13 reps, slap on another set of 25s for 10-ish reps and judge how good that set felt and determine how much more weight I want to add for my working sets.

2. Always do these out of a squat rack with catch bars. Sure you can do it from the clean position, but your setup will not be anywhere near as stable compared to setting up out of a rack.

3. Hand position is a personal preference. Want to hold it like a clean? Fine by me. Want to use the crossed arm variation? That works too. If you really want the Front Squat to be a tattle tale, don’t hold the bar at all with your hands. Position yourself under the bar and extend your arms out in front of you. Your delts will make a big enough shelf for the bar to rest on, but if you get out of position, that bar will let you know in a heartbeat.

4. Your stance will most likely not be the same between the Front and Back Squat. Because it requires a larger range of motion from the knee and lees from the hip, the Front Squat tends to work best with a narrower stance and less toe out than a Back Squat.

5. Don’t be afraid to let your knees go past your toes! Anyone who tells you that letting your knees go past your toes while squatting or lunging either has no idea what they’re talking about or they think they know what they’re talking about and haven’t looked at a shred scientific literature on the matter. As long as your entire foot is staying in contact with the floor, let those knees travel forward!

6. Speaking of knees, while performing any kind of squat you should keep your knees as far apart from one another as you can. Some people like the cue of pushing the knees a part, some like to think of spreading the floor with their feet and others like to think of screwing their feet into the ground. At the very least make sure that the long bone in your upper leg, your femur, is facing the same direction or farther out than where your second toe is facing. Knees collapsing toward the midline of the body under a load is a common way to tear the ACL and it leaves your hips in apposition where they poorly create force.

7. If you’re having trouble with depth, either the weight is too heavy or there is a good chance your ankles are the problem. Drawing your foot toward your knee is known as dorsiflexion and a good deal of people don’t have good dorsiflexion. As you knees get close to or past your toes in a squat, you are in dorsiflexion. Performing standing and seated calf raises with a 2 second pause in the stretched position can help with this, but you really need to actively train this range of motion, if you want to improve it. It’s pretty easy. When sitting, place you ankles directly below your knees, then draw your foot as high as you can while keeping the heel on the floor, pausing for 1-2 seconds, then let the foot down. Start off with 15-20 reps, and when that gets easy, increase the hold time at the top of the movement.

8. Squat as deep as you can. Everyone is going to have a slightly different range of motion in the Front Squat and that’s fine. If you want to maximize your results you need to go as deep as your body allows. Current research shows that lifting through a stretched range of motion increases your muscles ability to grow. Leave that ego at the door, squat as deep as you can safely, and watch those muscles grow.

If your Back Squat is stuck, try Front Squatting instead for the next 4-6 week lifting cycle and I promise you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you place that bar on your back the next time.


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