Tag Archives: Barbell

Postures and Ideals

Digest Version: If you’re going to correct a persons technique, make sure you truly know what it is you’re seeing, and how to address the issue. Don’t bring opinions to a science fight.


Me vs a Drawing: My elbows come closer to my body, my grip is narrower, my feet are turned out slightly, my abs are not nearly as well defined but my lats are far bigger….and I’m browner.

One day in a gym not my own….A guy told me that I shouldn’t bench press (with a barbell) or Deadlift (again, with a barbell), and that there are safer ways to build my chest and legs. Barbell Bench Press and Deadlifts weren’t ideal exercises for me. Mind you, this person was a total stranger. Our only previous interaction was my asking him to spot me for an effort.


SIDENOTE: I’ll agree to the fact that there are safer options than Barbell Bench Presses and that Deadlifts can be done with safer things than barbells.

When I asked “Why?” his response was that the Bench Press and Deadlift both create internal rotation of the shoulders…and left it at that. I could understand it if my technique was poor and I had no control of the load, but this wasn’t the case.  Proper technique takes care of that issue pretty well.

Mental notes formed within seconds…        

F7-21 Lim IR_PS Capsule

Internal Shoulder Rotation test.

I have no major history of shoulder injuries and don’t present pain in any given shoulder range. He never asked.

There is a slight structural difference between my left and right shoulder. Although it could stand improvement, my internal shoulder rotation is actually within normal ranges. He never asked or checked.

I typically only Deadlift once per week, and bench twice per week tops. Unless preparing for competition, I may only train maximum effort level 1-2x per month. I also use the ShouldeRok and Indian clubs daily along with a few lift specific mobility drills to keep my shoulders healthy. I don’t just Bench Press and Deadlift. He didn’t ask anything about my current training, he didn’t even ask if he could observe some repeated efforts just to see if it was a case “one off rep” or an actual lift issue.

I’m a competitive powerlifter in the Drug-Free Masters Raw Division. As such, I compete in the Bench Press and may compete in Deadlift as well. For me, Benching and Deadlifting are sport-specific to what I do. He didn’t ask me about my training history, training status or goals.

I left out the fact that the legs are only part of what the Deadlift builds. For all I know he does some squatty type of Deadlift. I bypassed all of those bullets and went straight for the heart.

“Why should internal shoulder rotation be avoided so heavily when it is a naturally occurring action, couldn’t internal rotation be managed during the set up and execution of the lift?” He couldn’t provide an answer.


The guys brain in action after my single question.  I could only imagine how it would have went down had I unloaded on him.

In his head, he had an idealized set of postures and ideal angles. That what he saw for a single repetition and zero knowledge of the person lifting the load was “wrong” and something else was “right”, but he couldn’t explain why he believed them to be wrong.

I can’t back this up, but I have the suspicion the guy may have been a trainer.  I don’t know, I didn’t ask.


Going off the possibility of my suspicion, according to a number of trainer textbooks there seems to be an assumption that there is an idealized posture, with ideal angles of body alignments and that they are identical for everyone. While it is certainly possible to lift something incorrectly, at least according to the intent of the exercise, I believe a few fundamental assumptions are flawed,and aim to challenge that belief.


Despite not having any moving parts, the Kettlebell is quite possibly the most technically butchered piece of equipment in a gym based on the intent of the exercise.

Absolute positions such as “this is wrong” and “this is right “ may only serve to reveal a lack of insight into evaluation and understanding.  I think every discussion regarding ideal body type, posture or alignment has to be prefaced with the question “ideal for what, and for whom?” and “ideal compared to what standard?”

Having an insight into the variety found in a given movement, and being able to transfer observations to another persons needs is key. In short,being able to adapt an exercise to an individual, and knowing the “why” behind the exercise.

Four things that I believe can somewhat be agreed upon…
There isn’t an ideal body type, there are simply human shaped people.
Although there will always be exceptions, certain activities often favor certain body types. This is why we typically don’t see Sumo sized Figure skaters.
The human body is amazingly adaptable. Look how many people lost their asses simply by sitting in comfy chairs all the time.
The human body will adapt to the external requirements it encounters. Adaptation does not need to be forced.

In high-level athletics an Olympic weightlifter has completely different physiological and kinesiological needs compared to a same weight/age/gender Olympic marathon runner. Within those two sports, specific lifters and runners have different requirements compared to other competitors.

In gymnastics, you will see different body types according to the event the athlete is strongest in. For example, Mens Rings specialists, Pommel Horse specialists and Floor specialists all appear slightly different. This doesn’t mean they cannot compete in all the events, just that they are superior in one of them.

Physiques, and postures will accordingly change in response to the demands placed upon it, Different leverage (arm,leg and torso length proportions) will change how an exercise is experienced or viewed. There is an idealized set of angles and ranges per person, and it may not look like the textbooks drawing.


Leaks and Tweaks

The lions share of my clients training revolve around three tools; Bodyweight, Kettlebell and the Barbell. Bodyweight allows for equipment free training. Kettlebell can limit things to a single tool and the Barbell allows for progressive loading across a great range.  The principles of training apply regardless of the tool used and each presents certain advantages and limitations.

That said, I will use whatever tool is necessary or best suited for a particular client and their needs.

I am currently training my basic barbell lifts (Back Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift and Military Press) with specific targets for each. The last month has seen gains in all lifts, but more importantly new insights into each technique. As well as I thought I knew them, I still have much to learn…at least when applied to myself.

An  “energy leak” is a term I picked up from StrongFirst and roughly translates as a place on your body where energy is being needlessly lost during a lift. Poor elbow positioning for example,compromises each of the compound lifts and could potentially lead to injury due to compensations or risky joint angles. Minimally, a leak increases the inefficiency of a given movement and treads the line between safe and unsafe.

SIDEBAR: Based purely on conversations in the gym it seems elbow issues are on the rise.  Barring past injury, poor technique can often be attributed.



This is why we Deadlift.

In some circles the Deadlift is considered the easiest compound movement to teach and is the lift capable of handling the greatest loads. It is learned before the Kettlebell swing is introduced, required learning for the Olympic lifts, a staple in Strongman training and a fundamental human movement pattern.

My goal is to perform 3 repetitions at twice my heaviest bodyweight (AKA Fat Chris) which would be a 360lb/164kg Deadlift. This is presently the lift which I am plugging leaks and tweaking my program to address my needs. Twice bodyweight doesn’t mean I’m strong, it just means I’m not weak.


Iron Addicts Las Vegas Wall of Power requires a male to deadlift at least 300lbs/136kg over bodyweight just to get on the board. 300lbs by itself is more than many humans will ever lift.

As of today, (7.3.16) I am 87.5% of the way to my Deadlift goal. At 90% my leaks could change as load changes things. I could potentially reach my target in spite of my leaks, but I consider the long-game and the potential for injury. Further, I wouldn’t progress a client until these leaks were addressed.

Tweaking a program could be required when dealing with leaks.  In some cases a total program re-write may have to occur, it depends on the size and relative complexity of the leak.

The most common Deadlift leaks seen in others in the absence of past injury or structural issues:
The Feet/Ankles: Lack of driving into the ground, deadlifting in running shoes, Lack of mobility.
The Knees: Too much knee bend, essentially squatting the bar up.
The Hips: Too low or too high, mistimed hip drive, bucking the bar up (“Kipping Deadlift”) or essentially stiff legged deadlifting the bar up when this wasn’t the intent.
The Lower Back: Rounded
The Upper Back: Rounded
The Shoulders: Incorrect positioning over the bar, slack in shoulders,re-slacking between repetitions,shrugging the bar up.
The Head/Neck: “Pez Dispensing” the head during the lift.
The Arms: Slack, triceps not engaged,trying to involve them in the lift, re-slacking between reps.
The Wrists/Fingers. Weak grip, Poor grip technique, never switching sides on alternating grips.
Somewhere above the eyebrows: Ego or lack of self-confidence. The weight is too heavy for them or they think it is too heavy for them.”
A number of these leaks stem from poor, or less than optimal initial set-ups. Imagine a Dog a taking a poop and you’ll have a visual for a very poor Deadlift set up.


Working above the knees rack pulls for some lower back targeting. It’s only a few inches but quickly becomes exhausting work and helps train the grip.

My current leaks
Upper Back too rounded on set up.
Hip drive occurring too soon and I wind up bullying/stiff leg deadlifting the weight up.
I’ve had my leaks confirmed by a veteran powerlifting coach. Review of past video indicates my leaks are consistent.

My programming tweaks
I happen to be starting a new cycle anyhow and the intent this phase is plugging my leaks while developing my other strength skills. I have added T-Spine mobility drills to my training and active recovery days along with Farmers Walks as a finisher to help build the full body strength needed for the Deadlift. Considering the leaks are consistent across loads it suggests that the motor pattern was grooved slightly off in the first place.

Upper Back Rounding: I am working sets of five progressively heavier single reps along with various position rack pulls. The focus is on proper torso position in the start phase and making my opening rep and fifth rep look identical in performance. Video is taken and analyzed for form,velocity,acceleration and force output.

Hip Drive is a matter of timing and volume of perfect practice. This is an advantage of working with single reps. Even non-elite, but highly experienced and capable lifters occasionally mistime lifts, so I’m keeping good company.

I have no problems repeating a load and wont die if I don’t PR something in a particular session. I just need to be better than I was last session and continue inching my way to my goals.


Bar Fight (AKA Chris is a meathead)

Note: My laptop died this morning so until it is replaced all blogs will be done on my phone.  CS

Some time ago I did something I shouldn’t  have and certainly know better.  I engaged in an ultimately futile internet argument with a person I will likely never meet.

What was the arguement about? Glad you asked, although I hope it doesn’t re-ignite any further arguments.  I’m not out to defend my position just merely lay out my side of things.

The arguement was over my belief and practice of teaching new lifters how to safely drop a barbell. The opposition stated not only is this stupid, but it demonstrates my lack of skills and knowledge as a coach and that guys like me are part of the reason why people hate gyms…..you know,us bar dropping meatheads.

I tried explaining we don’t drop bars simply to drop them or to make noise and ONLY drop if needed,but she wasn’t having any of it.

I don’t mind views that conflict with my own.  I even intentionally seek out studies and articles that counter my thoughts in order to have a balanced view of things. I believe I’m fair in comparing the merits of each side.

Normally when I run into a person that seems to be disagreeing simply to disagree I ask the almighty question of questions “Do they even lift?”

Based on photographic evidence the answer was a solid no.

So instead of comparing the relative right/wrong of barbell dropping I decided to compare the two trainers involved.  This might provide some insight into why we feel the way we feel.

The other trainer….

Works in a corporate fitness facility. By her own admission most clients are middle-aged or older, sedentary, weight loss and general fitness types.

The gym is not designed for heavy training.

Clients do not pick up loads heavier than they weigh.

General exercise is the pursuit.

She had around 5yrs experience. Does not lift relatively heavy things.

I on the other hand….

Work in an old school gym. 33% of my clients are other personal trainers, other clients are weight loss,aesthetic or performance type clients.  The oldest client is 10 years younger than me.

The gym is designed for heavy training, suitable up to competitive Powerlifting or Strongman standards.

Strength,Weight Loss, Mobility and practical education for trainers are the primary adaptations and pursuits.

Over 25yrs experience (which makes the fact I argued online an even more meatheaded) Lifts relatively heavy things.

Very different experience levels,  situations, gyms and clientele.  What’s right for one isn’t necessarily right for the other.

Since the other trainer doesn’t deal with the same situations I do and has no practical barbell experience she is not entitled to an opinion on the subject.

So why do I teach beginning lifters how to drop a bar? The short answer is barbell wrecks happen and I would rather they have the knowledge of what to do and not need it rather than need it and not have it. The primary objective is to always control the load in a safe manner, but sometimes things happen and you need to know how to escape a bad situation.

There are some choices here.  (1) Find a highly qualified lifting coach to teach you the basic and sophisticated barbell lifts.  You will learn from that persons past mistakes.  (2) Disregard #1 and get injured in a bar wreck because you didn’t know how to abort a lift safely. (3) Always lift with suboptimal loads and fail to reach athletic,aesthetic or hygeinic goals.









Have Faith in the Process (AKA Chris is down with OPP)

Ed Coan’s Deadlift Program                                                                                                               Dan John/Pavel Easy Strength Program                                                                                           Wendler’s 5-3-1                                                                                                                                Starting Strength Basic Barbell                                                                                                         Jones SFG/RKC Prep                                                                                                                         Gironda 8×8                                                                                                                                       Staley Escalating Density Training                                                                                                   Pavel’s SImple and Sinister…

These are all other peoples programs (OPP) and designed for specific adaptations and skill acquisitions. I am entering my fourth week of Brett Jones SFG/RKC prep and have logged every practice session completed. I have noted performance gains in several techniques and insights greater than during my 30 day Billy Madison program. Many people are keen to try OPP’s, but often fail in one critical area;  They fail to follow the rules.  

Rule 1: Plan the Practice.   Rule 2: Practice the Plan.                                                                   Rule 1 was easy, someone else did the work for you.                                                                     Rule 2 is up to you.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        If you start making drastic changes then it is no longer the original OPP.  Have faith in the process and that the author knew what they were doing before they put the program out. This is the ideal way. After you have ran the program with honest effort you can rerun it to your customized needs.

Fact: Adherence to any program is key.                                                                                       Fact: Plans sometimes don’t survive contact with the enemy.

Suppose the program calls for a weight/rep scheme that you cannot complete.  Typically you can lower the weight and build yourself to the stated standard.  Example: The program calls for 5 bench presses equal to body weight, yet you cannot perform a half-body weight bench press, you’ll simply be starting from a lower weight.

You can adjustment for the stated reps and work your way up to the programs requirement, or you can re-evaluate the program itself, and find a program that you can perform. It is entirely possible you picked a program beyond your level of skill, strength or capacity to recover from.

I recently tested myself using Pavel’s Simple program as a baseline using a 24kg/53lb kettlebell.  I  passed both single hand swing and turkish get up time requirements with time to spare and my next test will either be another 24kg run, or possibly moving up to 28kg/62lb.

What if the program calls for exercises you cannot perform?  Option 1 is not to engage the program at this time, learn the techniques well and then re-consider the program.  Option 2 requires a degree of diverting from the OPP, all techniques belong to a genus, so there are always regressions something you can achieve among the options.