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Squats and presses – why you’ve been doing it all wrong


Squats and presses – why you’ve been doing it all wrong

I still can’t believe how few CrossFit gyms are doing this.

It’s kind of appalling.

I’m referring to one of the main variables involved in any strength-training prescription.

First you have sets, reps, and load.
These are the things that get all the love –
the variables that determine how much total work you’re doing.

But nobody (well, outside of OPEX gyms it seems) thinks of…

It’s so fucking basic it makes me want to shake people by the shoulders.

Why, oh why, do you NOT think to control how each rep is executed?

(I’m also speaking to my younger self – before about two years ago,
I had only a feeling this was important but it didn’t occur to me as to how.)

But this is 2016, people.
That margin for error we used to have, in terms of programming?
It’s gone now.

You need to dial in HOW they do things if you expect them to get the
best possible results.

I will make a few points toward this.

  1. Accuracy:
    This is one of the ten general skills of fitness.
    I consider it akin to “consistency” in terms of movement,
    and helps ensure that progress is built on a solid foundation.
    Every single rep executed exactly the same develops a high degree of mastery.
    This means breathing, bracing, movement speed, all that jazz.
    Plus once you’ve established control at a slow tempo,
    it’s EASY to speed it up – the tension stays the same,
    but the effect of the stretch-shortening cycle (if present) is amplified.
  2. Strength through the entire range of motion:
    Each movement has its own resistance curve, so to speak.
    Take the squat, for instance: You’re generally going to be
    strongest at the top, where you have the most mechanical advantage;
    you’ll be weakest either just above the bottom or about halfway up,
    since that’s where you’ll be at the greatest mechanical disadvantage.
    Going slow on the way down ensures that you’ve developed control
    through the hardest parts of the movement –
    this means better muscle activation and core stability.
    If you just squat “however,” you’ll bounce the shit out of the bottom
    to “cheat” your way through the hard part.
    Which leads me to…
  3. Structural integrity:
    Once you start bouncing the end ranges of the movement,
    rather than use a controlled stretch-shortening cycle,
    you’re relying on the elasticity of your connective tissues
    instead of the actual strength of your muscles.
    When you’re young and you heal quickly, and your tissues’
    collagen content hasn’t completely gone down the shitter,
    you might be able to get away with this.
    But when you’re 50 and things don’t “bounce back” the way they used to,
    how do you s’pose your knees will feel from all that cumulative microtrauma?
    If you guessed “not that great,” pat yourself on the back.
    Not only that, you’re getting more strength stimulus from less weight –
    this means happier joints.
    On that note…
  4. Increased training effect:
    This comes from being acclimated to increased time under tension.
    I discovered this once I started doing all my squats with a 30X1 tempo –
    three-second controlled negative, no pause, stand up as fast as possible,
    exactly one breath at the top before initiating the next rep.
    With sets of 10, you’re forced to figure out how to breathe while moving under load.
    Also with strict press at a 21X1 tempo – controlling the negative at a steady cadence,
    with one-breath pauses at the top & bottom – for high-rep sets dramatically
    improved the fatigue resistance of my shoulders and arms (a big weakness of mine,
    especially since my wingspan is 5 inches taller than my height).
    You think those things might be useful in Fran?
    That’s how my mediocre-athlete-ass broke three minutes, after seven friggin’ years.
    So in a word, doing all strength work with a controlled negative –
    maybe not SUPER-slow like a bodybuilder, but slower than you’d normally go –
    and a fast concentric, helps you build strength in a way that has TREMENDOUS
    carry-over to other activities (like CrossFit WOD’s).
    Not only are you building maximal strength through the movement’s entire ROM
    and at increased time under tension…which means more muscle mass…
    But at higher reps you’re developing positional strength endurance,
    under fatigue, in a controlled setting, WITHOUT the pressure of “3-2-1 GO!!” and a racing clock.

It’s a one-way street – the benefits of training with slower negatives improve your ability
to lift quickly (by virtue of positional stability at each point in the movement
improving your ability to generate maximal tension),
but if you never slow down the negative you have NO control over it when you’re forced to.

Am I saying that you should implement slow negatives in WOD’s?
I suppose you can, but I wouldn’t recommend it for “Nancy” or anything.
Although I have used it for assistance-work-type WOD’s with good success.
But no, this is primarily for skill-based strength development work.

And if you’re an Olympic weightlifter where that “bounce” out of the bottom of the squat
is a necessary part of the lift to perfect, you do need to practice that.
But I would submit that at least during a “hypertrophy” block of training
(assuming you’re following a periodized weightlifting program),
your squatting and pressing movements should include slower negatives.

Anyway. That’s the end of my rant.
Go try squatting with a controlled three-second negative with just 75% of your max.
If you’re not used to it, it will absolutely humble you.

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