Thursday, January 13, 2011

Making your strong points...stronger II - Strong from the bottom up

My soapbox on "weak point" training and the bullshit that surrounds it, is that it shouldn't be about training muscles but movement patterns.  And that movement pattern has to essentially be the movement itself or strengthen the pattern at the weakest position.  This is why doing more work on the main lift is generally the best "assistance" work.  Not only that, if you are going to gear your training towards getting stronger and overcoming weaknesses, train them in the least favorable positions.  This is also why I don't call this style of training "weak point" training because that particular term has become focused around making muscle groups stronger for the most part.  And, most people have no idea how to train weak points.

Geared powerlifting methodologies towards training the top part of the movement is generally a complete waste of time for raw guys.  Maximizing top portions of a lift are great for guys who wear supportive equipment that gets you out of the hole or through natural sticking points.  However for guys who don't wear it, it's fairly useless.  Above parallel box squats, 3-5 board presses, etc.  Not really good for anything as far as the majority of raw lifters are concerned.

And let's not get into the whole "CNS" bullshit.  You can't "train your CNS" nor is your CNS concerned with lifting weights.  I've written plenty about this before.  It's "bro science", i.e. bullshit.

The theory behind this version of weak point training is, you need to train these portions of the movement because it makes you stronger in them.  For example I see raw guys doing board presses to strengthen their lockout. 


The majority of guys miss a bench prior to lock out.  So then they say "well I use a 1-board or 2-board to strengthen that area."  

This misses the mark too.  Because of the myotatic reflex when you lower to a board, you're still benefiting from the reflex action in that range.  The range you should be worried about getting stronger in, is right there at the chest, the start of the movement.  The stronger you are off the CHEST, means the more force you will be able to apply through the rest of the range of motion.  In other words, you overcome the sticking point because you are stronger at the area that generates the most momentum to overcome the worst leverage point, i.e. where the transition from chest to triceps take over and then the lockout.  If you can't generate enough momentum for the triceps to finish the movement, it won't matter how strong your lockout is, you will still fail.  

Don't think so?

Ever had someone spot you on bench, and as the weight slows and you know you aren't going to make the lift?  Do they have to pull on the bar hard for you to finish, or can they can do something as little as touch the bar with a finger and you can finish the lockout?  Generally it's the latter.  That slight amount of extra momentum is all that was required.  How much was it?  Not much.  But without that momentum you fail to make the lift.  So generating more force from the very bottom of the lift with greater velocity is what actually powers you through the "sticking points" or "weak points".  Not training at the actual "weak point" itself, like the lockout or training the lockout itself.  

The only caveat with this is the deadlift.  With the deadlift, there is very little myotatic reflex because you are pulling from a dead stop obviously.  Second, when you work the deadlift from angles below the knee, like at mid-shin when you pull off of blocks, the angle of the knee, back, and hip are less favorable than when pulling a regular deadlift off the floor.  This is why for a lot of people they actually pull less weight at the mid-shin height than from the floor.  Pulling right below the knee puts the body back into a more favorable position, and most guys can pull more from there than they can from mid-shin or off the floor.  But that's still a good area to pull from.

A lot of guys think that pulling off of a deficit will immediately carry over to pulling from the floor.  They are generally surprised when it doesn't happen right away.  I found that I was able to get a lot of squatting type motion involved in pulling off of a box, i.e. standing on it.  So when I went back to the floor, the movement felt awkward and I got very little out of it.  I wasn't any stronger in my regular deadlift.

When I pulled from heights where the weight felt more "dead", like at mid-shin, I got immediate carryover to my floor pulls.  Again, the harder the assistance movement was, the easier the main movement became.  The more force you can generate from the hardest portion of the movement, the easier you will glide through the "weak points".

Essentially, you just have to get stronger.  There are no short cuts, no weak point training, no shit like that.  You just have to get stronger in do it with specific means in mind.  Specificity will always reign king no matter what anyone tells you, so make sure when you train to get stronger in the hardest portion of the lift, you use the lift itself or a variation that makes it harder from the start.

Squats -
Pause Squats

Bench -
Paused Bench

T-Shirt Benches - I stole this from Bill Gillespie.  Bring the bar down slowly and touch your t-shirt with the bar as lightly as possible.  Then press it back up fast.  You should barely graze your t-shirt.  This will make you work hard off the chest.

Cambered Bar Benches

Deadlifts -
Block Deadlifts and all pulls below the knees

You notice that the main lifts are listed first?  That's because they should always be the staple, no matter what.  The work you do after that should be enough to strengthen the main lift.  That's it.  That's all.  2 sets of pause squats for 3-5 reps after 8-10 sets of squatting should be enough.  If you want to run a cycle of pause squats only, make it a max of 4 weeks or so.  I've done this with good results.

For bench, always pause the first rep.  Then as your back off sets do 2-3 sets of 5 pausing every rep.  The next week do the cambered bar for 2x5, then the next week do the t-shirt benches for 2-3x5.  Rotate back to the paused benches for 2-3 sets of 5 the next week.

For deads I would pull from a specific height after your regular pulls, or alternate them out.  So pull from the floor for all of your main sets, then pull from a height for 2 sets of 5-8 following that.  Or pull from the floor one week, then from mid-shin or right below the knee the next.  Scott Yard has figured this out to a science.

That's it.  Yes it works.  It's simple and that's why it works.  You don't need special bars or chains or bands or foam or any shit like that.  Train the main lift in a way that makes it harder than the competition lift.  Get strong as a Cape Buffalo in those areas.  Then the main lift is cake.  And then, you can have your cake and lift it too.

:::ba donk splash!:::

Be sure to tip your waiter. 


  1. If you can overcome sticking points by being stronger off the chest/out of the hole/off the floor, wouldn't bands or chains help b/c they teach you to be faster and push harder off the chest/out of the hole/off the floor?

  2. Not really. Because the force curve makes it so that the tension is increased the longer you push. If you had a mechanism that increased tension at the bottom then actually decreased as you pushed, it would be more beneficial.

    Second, pressing with bands will change how you press. Same with squatting. I know Mike Ruggiera and Mike told me that squatting with bands made him stronger, however when he took the bands off, the movement was so different it didn't transfer over.

    Again, being specific reigns.

  3. Also, I don't believe in "learning" how to press faster. When you are stronger you can press a weight faster. If you aren't strong enough, you won't be able to.

    The rule of thought there was the one behind WSB's "speed day". Sounds great in theory. That you "teach yourself" how to press faster. But the problem is, it doesn't work.

    Some things sound good on paper, but don't really carryover into the real world.

    Just get stronger.

  4. When I had a bad case of tendonitis in my elbow I used speed bench to (hopefully) keep my bench numbers up. It was really a hypothesis, but it worked. Over the course of 4 weeks, I didn't lose a bit of strength. To be fair, for whatever reason, I was able to OHP withouth pain. I'm not saying the OHP didn't help, but I've ran a program with little benching and lots of OHP and noticed a dip in my bench numbers (not doing speed sets). I could care less if I bench faster or not - it just helped me keep my numbers up.

  5. It wouldn't surprise me that it kept your strength up while you also did overhead press. I can bench light and incline heavy and keep my bench the same.

    4 weeks is also not very long. I've take vacations and not trained and came back and pressed the same or sometimes more.

  6. Hi Paul,
    I've seen you say on a previous post that before you have acheived rep goals with a given weight by working on adding reps to the weight each week until goal reps reached.

    A goal of mine this year is to squat 140kg x 10 (current best 3) do you think something like this could work:

    wk 1: 140kg 1 x 2, 8 x 1 (10 reps)
    wk 2: 140kg 2 x 2, 6 x 1 (10 reps)
    wk 5: 140kg 5 x 2 (10 reps)
    wk 6: 140kg 1 x 3, 2 x 2, 3 x 1 (10 reps)
    etc...I think you prob get the idea...

    Been following your UB Strength & Hypertrophy Program using 'the over warm-up' and have gained 2.5kg on each lift for the last 2 6wk cycles (5kg in total) - doesn't sound like a lot but it is on lifts which have been going nowhere for a few years and I'm planning on sticking with it all year to see if I can add 15-20kg to each lift.

    Thanks for the posts - I check this site before EFS now!!


  7. That's awesome Dan!

    When a lift hasn't moved in forever and you gain 10 pounds on it feels like conquering a mountain. These are the kinds of things I love to hear about. Makes my dad.

    Keep up the solid work.

  8. To add Dan, just keep running the program. The overwarm ups will build confidence with heavier weights, and soon your back off set will be the 140kg. Just plan on hitting that as your back off set every 3 weeks or so and see how it goes.

    Keep me informed.

  9. Thanks Paul, I'll stay on track. I'll definitely keep you updated.


  10. Excellent post! Not many "lifters" realize that the sticking point is actually lower then where the bar stalls. It is the point where bar speed decreases enough that the bar carries on to a stop. For many, this is a few inches off the chest or floor, and thus a mid shin or mid bench sticking point. I always tell people who get stuck below the knees to pull mid shin or just a few inches off the floor in the rack...this is the true point where leverage sucks and the bar speed slows. Most people just cant grasp that!

    Weak point training way back when was exactly THAT: squat, then do pause squats or close stance high bars. Bench, then do bottom up benches. Deadlift, then pull from mid shin. It did not replace the main lift, it ASSISTED it. I am not sure how we got away from that...

    Speed training. IMO it has it's place. As do bands. When I used to train athletes, I could take a 150 pound basketball player and he would squat 25 slow, but add bands and that same 225 would move fast. I experienced the same thing in my training. I moved 3 blue bands a side and 225 on the bar (felt like the earth on my back) faster then I moved 700. We can at least agree that the quicker you lower the weight the quicker you come back up. This is important in explosive athletics such as fighting, jumping, sprinting, etc. Do I think it carries over a lot to powerlifting?? Not as much as other athletics.

    I do believe in training one's body to recruit more muscle fibers and thus be more explosive. I think it is possible. I think you can take a semi fast person and make them faster, but you cant take a slow person and make them just as fast. We are born with certain abilities, but you can fine tune them through power training versus strength training. This is the reason there are 150 pound men who clean and jerk 400 pounds. I have deadlifted 700, but I cant come close to clean and jerking 400...I bet these oly lifters couldnt deadlift 700 either. Speed versus strength. Also a lot of technique.

    Also the same reason that a beefed up 600 pound raw bencher is going to not hit as hard as a 200 pound MMA fighter...just getting stronger isnt always the answer.

    Alright, I bounced enough ideas and barfed on your blog enough!

    Great read!


  11. so let's say i pull more from the floor than from right below the knee. i can pull 375 from the floor easy, but if i start from right below the knee, it feels a lot heavier. could you please explain if this makes sense and what i should do in this case? when i pull from right below the knee i have to use a half rack and place the bar on the supports. they don't have boxes or mats to pull from, and that's the lowest the supports can go. thanks for your time.

  12. Lots of guys pull less from below the knee than from the floor. I do too from mid-shin. It's about leverages and the way you pull.

    My suggestion is to do both, like the article says. Pull from below the knee one week then from the floor the next.

  13. Pau
    any substitutions for cambered bar bench? Also, when you refer to l,
    pulls below knees would that be sldl's and romanian deadlift?

  14. If you don't have a cambered bar just do the paused benches and the t-shirt benches.

    Pulls below the knees would be box or rack pulls. Where you start the pull with the plates on boxes or on pins in the rack.

  15. Pardon my ignorance, but can you explain a t-shirt bench?

  16. Wow my bad. Somehow it got clipped out of the article. check again.

  17. Sweet, I see it now. Very cool. I will have to try that.
    Thanks for another awesome article.

  18. hey paul, i did paused squats for the first time today per this article. question - on the ascent, should the bar kinda jump once you lock out? i mean, are you trying to apply as much force as you possible can after the pause on the way up, or are you just trying to stand up?

  19. Yes apply as much force as possible. Good job.

  20. So you believe that WSB is more suited for gear lifters and chains and bands do not help the raw lifter. I have found for myself that explosive push-ups help the speed off my chest when benching more so then speed benching or only doing heavy benching by its self. I believe in most part that everyone needs to find what works for them. Find the exercises that help your main lifts and keep good records of them.
    Most people should have at least two exercises that really help their main Lifts. For example some find the Goodmorning helps their squat and deadlift well other find the Romian deadlift has the same effect ect.

    1. I think that chains could be good for a raw guy, but bands? Not as much. The strength curve is totally different.

      I think people have to find what stuff helps them, but the fact is about a zillion guys from the 70's and 80's got strong as fuck without doing much assistance at all, and sometimes none. It's not a requirement.