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Powerlifting Neurology 101

There is something that you probably do not know about me. I am a Registered Nerve Conduction Study Technologist. I am board certified through the American Association of Electroneurodiagnostic Technologists as well as the American Association of Electrodiagnostic Medicine. I am not a doctor but I would venture to say that I know more about neurology than your average powerlifter. This is unfortunate because building your nervous system is just as important in powerlifting as building muscle.

The purpose of this series is to educate the weight lifter on the basics of neurology as it pertains to becoming stronger. I will begin by instructing you in the basic anatomical structure and physiology of the portions of the nervous system relevant to the powerlifter. I would like to dive right in but since us powerlifters are all big meat heads I guess I had better start at the beginning.

The Nervous system is composed of 2 things, neurons and neuroglial cells. Neurons are nerve cells that transmit impulses which you can view as information. This information may be sensory in nature (a taste, a sensation) or motor in nature (a signal to contract a muscle). Neuroglial cells hold the neurons together and provide metabolic support (they supply nutrients and such to the neurons) and as far as the purposes of this paper are concerned they aren't very important so I won't bring them up again.

A neuron is composed of dendrites, a cell body (or Soma), an axon and an axon terminal. There are several other components to a neuron but again, they aren't important for you to know at this point. The dendrites are branches coming off of the cell body that receive information from other neurons. The cell body regulates metabolic functions of the neuron. The axon is a long branch off of the cell body that transmits signals to other nerves and/or muscles. The axon terminal is the very tip of the axon that sends the signals off to other cells.

Neurons are the active cells in all nervous tissue. The nervous system is comprised of the CNS (central nervous system) and the PNS (peripheral nervous system). The CNS is made up of the brain and spinal cord and the PNS is made up of the spinal nerves and peripheral nerves which carry information from the brain to your body. Because I am trying to keep this article as basic as possible while still conveying my point we will only be discussing the signals carried from the CNS to the muscles of the body. These signals are referred to as motor signals because they are basically what happens when you brain tells your body to bend over and pick up a weight.

When you decide to move consciously a signal is derived in an area of your brain called the motor cortex. The motor cortex houses the cell bodies of neurons called upper motor neurons. An upper motor neuron is any neuron involved in the contraction of a muscle fiber that does not share a synapse with that muscle fiber. We will get to synapses in a bit, but for now just know that upper motor neurons don't have direct contact with the muscle fibers which they influence. The signal derived in the upper motor neuron travels down a neural pathway through the brainstem and into the spinal cord. This pathway is called the common pathway. Once in the spinal cord, the signal continues to travel down until it reaches the desired level of the spinal cord at which the signal will travel outwards to the targeted muscle. At this point the signal is transferred from the upper motor neuron's axon to an anterior horn cell. An anterior horn cell is a neuron whose cell body is housed in the anterior horn of the spinal cord. The anterior horn is called such because it is in the anterior portion of the spinal cord and because it is shaped like a horn. Once it has reached the anterior horn cell, the signal will now be propogated along the spinal nerve which branches off of the spinal cord and into the peripheral nerve which sends the neurotransmitter signal out of the neuron through the neuromuscular junction and into the muscle cell. That was quite a mouthful and you're probably wondering what half of the stuff I just mentioned was so here is a quick list of definitions you should read and then re-read this paragraph.



















-Upper Motor Neuron: Derived in the motor cortex of the brain. Upper motor neurons are where motor nerve impulses begin

-Common Pathway: the pathway through which motor nerve impulses travel to get to the spinal cord

-Anterior Horn Cell: a neuron whose function is to transfer information from the spinal cord to the periphery

-Spinal Nerve: a nerve that branches off of the spinal cord

-Peripheral Nerve: a nerve that is generally composed of several spinal nerves that transmits information directly to the muscles

-Neuromuscular Junction: this is a synapse between the nerve and a muscle

Now to learn about the synapses themselves. The word "synapse" means connection which should pretty much sum up what it is. A synapse is the point at which two neurons or a neuron and a muscle meet. When a nerve meets a muscle it is a synapse but it is referred to as a neuromuscular junction because this way it differentiates itself from a synapse with 2 nerves involved. A synapse functions by transmitting signals with the use of chemicals. The presynaptic terminal (the neuron that is sending the signal) and the postsynaptic terminal (the neuron or muscle fiber that is receiving the signal) have a small gap between them called the synaptic cleft. The presynaptic terminal releases a chemical signal into the synaptic cleft which floats over to the postsynaptic terminal. The postsynaptic terminal has little spots on it called receptor sites. These receptor sites are basically like locks and the neurotramsitters that plug into them are like keys. The neurotransmitters hook up with their respective receptor sites on the postsynaptic terminal and open up ion channels that depolarize or hyperpolarize the neuron. For purposes of this paper, let's assume that the postsynaptic terminal is a muscle fiber. When the neurotransmitter hits the muscle fiber, it will contract the muscle. When you are dealing with neuromuscular junctions the neurotransmitter is Acetylcholine.

So as a recap in layman's terms. Your brain decides to flex a muscle, it sends a signal down your spinal cord, that signal gets transferred to your spinal nerves which send it down to your muscle and shazam, your muscle flexes and the girl you're trying to show off to is still unimpressed. The acetylcholine that is sent from the presynaptic terminal to the postsynaptic terminal doesn't all get used every time its released; however. Because of this your body has to have a way of getting rid of it effectively or your muscles would be flexed all of the time. There are three ways that your body gets rid of extra neurotransmitters and they are as follows:

1: Reuptake: this is when the presynaptic terminal reabsorbs the extra neurotransmitter
2: Enzymatic Degradation: this is when enzymes in the synaptic cleft break down the neurotransmitters
3: This one doesn't really have a fancy name, but it's basically when the neurotransmitters just float away out of the synaptic cleft so your nerves don't have to worry about them anymore. Kind of like what happens with most of your girlfriends.

There is a saying floating around the powerlifting community that involves neurology and it enrages me!!!! However, it does bring me to my next topic of discussion. This saying is "CNS fatigue" people talk about "Oh man, I deadlifted too much yesterday and I totally like, fried my CNS bra". I have asked many of these people what the hell they were talking about and none of them really knew. The closest thing that I can think of to what they were talking about was something called synaptic fatigue.

Synaptic fatigue is when the receptor sites get clogged up with neurotransmitters so even though neurotransmitters are still being secreted from the presynaptic terminal, the postsynaptic terminal can't use them. Imagine for a moment that you have a lock (the receptor site) and you broke a key off in the lock. It wouldn't be very easy to stick another key in it and get it to work untiil you got the broken key out first. The same concept applies here. Luckily for our nerves, they have a much more efficient way of getting the neurotransmitters out than you would of getting the broken key out. After a few seconds, the enzymes in the synaptic cleft will act on the neurotransmitters that are stuck in the receptor sites and break them down so that the synapse is nice and clean and ready for business once again. This process takes at most a few seconds so I don't know why these powerlifters would be complaining about frying their CNS THE DAY AFTER THEY LIFTED! I have even discussed this with the neurologist with whom I work and he had no idea what these people were talking about.

Anyway, that concludes the first installment of my series on Neurology for powerlifters. Next I will be explaining the concept of nervous system plasticity which will be much more functional knowledge than was presented to you today. Until then, go lift something heavy.


Block Periodization

If you have spent any time studying about all the different types of powerlifting programs out there your head is probably spinning. I see it every time I get onto the bodybuilding.com powerlifting/strongman forum. There is always someone asking questions about a program that, to those who understand the program, seem almost too obvious to even answer. I understand where these people are coming from though.

The problem with most lifters following a preset program is that they only understand WHAT they are supposed to do, they seldom understand WHY they are doing it and this is actually a more important aspect of your training. Unfortunately, most of the programs out there don't come with a "why" section attached to them, they usually come in the form of an excel spreadsheet and calculate the sets/reps/weights exactly so you don't even have to think. The problem with this cookie-cutter approach to training is that each individual has strengths/weaknesses and exercises that work best for them. These programs are a way to give a man a fish, well I am here to teach you how to fish... slowly but surely.

To begin your fishing lessons, I will be going over an older program that is simple both in philosophy and in execution. This is the Block Periodization style of training. There are three different types of block periodizatioin which I have seen cycling around. The original three phase cycle, a strange bastardized three phase with some westside barbell principles sprinkled in it and the four phase cycle which is basically the same as the 3 phase with the addition of an extra 4 week "power" phase. I don't like the 4 phase system because the purpose of the cycles becomes too similar when you try and break it up more.  If it ain't broke don't fix it!

The original cycle is defined by its creator as, "The general approach to the compilation of block periodized training assumes the sequencing of 3 different type mesocycle-blocks that form a single training stage ending in some competition".

The three blocks are the Accumulation mesocycle, the Transmutation mesocycle and the Realization mesocycle.

The Accumulation Mesocycle is defined by the following characteristics:

1: 2-6 weeks in duration
2: Higher volume training
3: Sets with 5-15 reps
4: 50%-70% 1RM
5: No deload phase
6: Focus on general strength

The Transmutation Mesocycle is defined by the following characteristics:

1: 2-6 weeks in duration
2: Moderate volume training
3: Sets with 3-5 reps
4: 70%-90% 1RM
5: Followed by 1 week deload
6: Focus on competition lifts

The Realization Mesocycle is defined by the following characteristics:

1: 2-4 weeks in duration
2: Low volume training
3: Sets with 1-3 reps
4: 90%+ 1RM
5: Followed by 1 week deload
6: Focus on competition lifts

What does all of this mean? The block periodization method of training is not some cookie cutter program, it is an actual system of training that you can break down and tailor to your own personal needs. For the sake of people who are afraid to think for themselves, I have posted an example cycle below. However, when there is leeway I have not listed specific exercises, I have posted movements or muscle groups. You can use any exercise you like for these movements, as long as it fits the criteria which I have given.

The Accumulation Mesocycle is in place so that a lifter can build a strong base from which to become powerful. In other words, it is there for you to put on some muscle mass and have good conditioning. Because of this, you train more or less like a bodybuilder ( I know.... I said it) in terms of your set and rep schemes. Your split and exercise selection will be that of a powerlifter however (thank God!) please, don't go off doing preacher bench cable curls... it's just too homo. Here is the example cycle:

Monday: Bench Press
1: Bench Press Variation: (Close Grip Bench, Wide Grip Bench, Board Press, Floor Press, Pin Press...)
50-70%
3 sets
5-10 reps

2: Press Variation: (Overhead Press, Jerk, Db Bench, Incline Press...)
3 sets
10-15 reps

3: Rowing Variation: (Barbell Row, Dumbell Row, T-bar Row, Chest Supported Row...)
3 sets
10-15 reps

4: Rowing/Pull Down Variation: (Cable Row, Lat Pull Downs, Chin Ups, Upright Row...)
3 sets
10-15 reps

5: Triceps Movement: (Skull Crushers, French Press, Cable Push Downs, Rolling Triceps Extensions....)
3 sets
10-15 reps


Tuesday: Deadlift
1: Deadlift Variation (Deficit Deadlift, Sumo Deadlift, Rack Pulls, Halting Deadlift, Romanian Deadlift.....)
50-70%
3 sets
5-10 reps


2: Good Morning Variation: (Safety Bar GM, Seated GM, Band GM, Power GM...)
3 sets
10-15 reps

3: Glute Ham Raise, Hyperextension or Reverse Hyperextension
3 sets
10-15 reps

4: Shrug Variation (Barbell, Dumbell, Shrug Bar, Shrug Machine....)
3 sets
10-15 reps


Thursday: Bench
1: Bench Variation: (use a different one than on Monday)
50-70%
3 sets
5-10 reps

2: Triceps Movement
3 sets
10-15 reps

3: Rowing/Pull Down Variation
3 sets
10-15 reps

4: Deltoid Movement (Overhead Press, Delt Raises....)
3 sets
10-15 reps

Friday: Squat
1: Squat Variation (Box Squat, Belt Squat, Olympic Squat, Low Bar Squat, Front Squat....)
50-70%
3 sets
5-10 reps

2: Squat Accessory (Lunges, Split Squat, Leg Press, GM....)
3 sets
10-15 reps

3: Posterior Chain Movement (Romanian Deadlifts, Zercher Squats, GHR, Reverse Hyper...)
3 sets
10-15 reps

4: Upper Back Movement (Shrugs, Upright Row, Barbell Row, Dumbell Row....)
3 sets
10-15 reps

Be sure to eat a lot while you're on this cycle as your body will require plenty of protein and carbs to keep up with the volume. It is also important that during your accessory movements that you are lifting heavy enough weights that you fail somewhere between 10 and 15 reps on every set. If you fail at 8 every now and then that's okay, but if you fail on a set any lower than 8 then you know that you need to lower the weight. This cycle is there for muscular hypertrophy mostly so you should treat it as such. Per Dave Tate, the more experienced the lifter, the shorter the Accumulation Cycle. Basically, if you weigh 300lbs and have been lifting weights for 10 years then you probably don't need to build much more muscle than you already have but if you're a pencil neck 170lber then you definitely need to beef up. Like the great Louie Simmons says, "you can't flex bone".

At this point you can move straight into the Transmutation Mesocycle, this mesocycle is in place so that you can turn the non-specific strength you developed during the Accumulation Mesocycle into specific strength i.e. the competition lifts. This is accomplished by focusing on the competition lifts themselves obviously but also by focusing on the type of strength that you need (small bursts) and therefore, the sets will be performed in the 3-5 rep range. Here is the sample mesocycle:

Monday: Bench
1: Bench Press
70-90%
3 sets
3-5 reps

2: Pressing Movement
3 sets
5-10 reps

3: Rowing Movement
3 sets
5-10 reps

4: Triceps Movement
3 sets
5-10 reps


Tuesday: Deadlift
1: Deadlift
70-90%
3 sets
5-10 reps

2: Pull Down Variation
3 sets
5-10 reps

3: GHR, Hyperextension or Reverse Hyperextension
3 sets
5-10 reps

4: Shrug Variation
3 sets
5-10 reps

Thursday: Bench Press
1: Bench Press
70-90%
3 sets
3-5 Reps

2: Triceps Movement
3 sets
5-10 reps

3: Rowing Movement
3 sets
5-10 reps

4: Deltoid Movement
3 sets
5-10 reps

Friday: Squat
1: Squat
70-90%
3 sets
3-5 reps

2: GM Variation
3 sets
5-10 reps

3: GHR/Hyperextension/Reverse Hyperextension
3 sets
5-10 reps

4: Shrugs
3 sets
5-10 reps

The Transmutation Phase is where you start to feel very worn down. during your major lift you should be going completely balls to the wall and still be putting in a lot of work during your accessory movements. Because of this, you should follow this mesocycle with a one week deload phase where you perform your lifts but you do them nice and light and do plenty of active recovery work. This cycle is followed by the realization cycle where you drop your volume to almost nothing and hit some serious lifts. In the Accumulation and Transmutation cycles you were sewing your fields and in the Realization cycle you are reaping them.

Monday: Bench Press
1: Bench Press
90%+
3 sets
1-3 reps

2: Rowing Movement
3 sets
10-15 reps

Wednesday: Deadlift
1: Deadlift
90%+
3 sets
1-3 reps

2: Shrugs
3 sets
10-15 reps

Friday: Squat
1: Squat
90%+
3 sets
1-3 reps

2: GM
3 sets
10-15 reps

During this phase I try to get a triple with my previous one rep max. It doesn't always happen but when it does I know I have made some improvements and it makes all the work worth it. I am about to go back onto this cycle (I have been running a westside template and I hurt my shoulder from maxing out on squat every week) so hopefully it will heal well during the Accumulation Mesocycle since the weights will be easy to manage. I will update this post with the results of the cycle once I have finished.

If you have any questions regarding this article or you have something that you would like for me to write a post about, feel free to drop me a comment here or send me an email at norsemanpowerlifter@yahoo.com. For now, go lift something heavy.

How to Choose a New Bar



I recently pulled a personal record on the deadlift. I was so excited after I pulled it that I yelled and hit a most muscular pose (which was ultimately unimpressive I'm sure) but this new feat of strength was bittersweet. When I attempted to rerack the weights the last plate wouldn't budge. I pulled and pulled and pulled and still nothing happened. Finally I picked the bar upright about 3 feet off the floor and slammed it down hard 4 times, finally the weight fell off. Upon further inspection I realized that I had bent the bar and the sleeve! That's why the weight wouldn't come off. The bar was an old behemoth, a 65lb squat bar that I bought off a guy named Doug out of his garage a while back for $50 (I threw in a tip too). This is the second time this has happened to me and both times it happened during PR attempts on the deadlift.

Needless to say, I'm not going to stop deadlifting! If I didn't deadlift I wouldn't be Jon Helm! So I suppose it's time to take off my yamaka and fork out the dough for a higher quality bar. This may seem like a simple feat if you have the cash, but buying a quality bar is a little bit trickier than you think, especially if you are a powerlifter or olympic lifter.

The first thing you must consider when looking for the right bar for you is what the bar will be used for. Different bars are used for different purposes and don't let the kid working at Big 5 tell you any different. If you are a powerlifter you need to acquire a power bar and if you are an olympic lifter you need to acquire an olympic lifting bar. There are in production, dozens of "general use" bars. These are fine for post-menopausal women who can't lift half of their own body weight. They are probably okay for most other purposes as well, even crossfitters and football players could train with these bars most likely but if you are a powerlifter, strongman or olympic lifter you are probably going to be moving a lot more weight than most other athletes.

Bars built for olympic lifters have a lot of bar "whip". This basically means that the bar will bend under pressure and will "whip" back into its original shape rather quickly so that it feels kind of bouncy when you pull with it quickly. Bars built for powerlifters are generally much more rigid than olympic lifting bars and can therefore accommodate heavier loads. There are some things that all bars have in common. These numbers are all approximations, but the average weightlifting bar is 2.2m in length, 28mm in diameter and weighs 20kg. The sleeves are generally 50mm in diameter and the "power rings" (markings to determine what is a legal grip) are 81cm apart.

A good way to tell if a bar is worth buying is by looking at the end of it. Cheaper bars made for general use purposes are bolted together. The bolt is easily identified on the end of the barbell and is usually sized for a large allen wrench attachment. More expensive bars utilize different bearing systems that do not require the bar to be bolted together and therefore the end of the bar is usually covered with a smooth piece of metal. This is what you want. In my experience, if a bar bolts together I can bend it with a max effort deadlift.

For the purposes of this article I will assume that you are a powerlifter. There are 4 basic subdivisions of powerlifting bars. These divisions are as follows:

1: Power Bars: bars that can be used for all the powerlifts. Generally these bars have a static weight bearing capacity of 1500lbs.

2: Deadlift Bars: bars that are slightly longer and smaller in diameter than regular powerbars. These bars also exhibit some of the bar "whip" described earlier. They generally do not have a center knurl.

3: Squat Bars: bars that are fatter and heavier than regular power bars to assure that they do not bend while performing heavy squats.

4: Specialty Bars: bars that are shaped differently and are used to perform different variations of the competition lifts. These bars should only be used in conjunction with a regular bar and include the following:

The safety squat bar






The Buffalo Bar










The Cambered Squat Bar









The "Hex" Bar or "Trap" Bar







Some of these are pretty cool to train with sometimes but are not absolutely necessary to become strong. The most important bar in your gym is the straight one so you should use it the most. Because of this, it is probably the most important thing for you to not be a cheap ass about when you're picking one out. You should expect to spend about $300 for a high quality bar. Below here are some bars that I found online that are both good bars and good bargains. There are more expensive bars out there and for olympic lifters they might be necessary but powerlifters can get away with the less expensive bars because we don't rely on their whip or the collar rotation to the same extent that olympic lifters do. All of the bars shown below are 1500 pound test.

1: Okie Power Bar: $279.00 from crainsmuscleworld.com
2: Texas Power Bar: $328.00 from elitefts.com
3: Jesup Power Bar: $175.00 from jesupgym.com
4: York Black Oxide Olympic Bar: $223.75 from christiansfitnessfactory.com

I have heard really good things about all of these bars. In a video posted on youtube, Mark Rippetoe has a lot of good things to say about the York Barbell so when I get paid next I will be purchasing this one. I will update this blog once it comes in and I have had the opportunity to pull some weight with it. (hopefully it won't bend again!)

DIY: High Pulley Station

You may not have known this, but I am quite the "Do-It-Yourselfer". Especially when it comes to carpentry. Name an opportunity to get my fingers wet in some sap and sweat and I am there. So it makes sense that when I apply this passion to one of the other things I love most (powerlifting), that I go on a crazy rampage marathon of building second only to a seasoned crack addict with a nail gun.

I have been training without any pulleys for the last year or so since I made the swap from working out in a gym to working out at home. Needless to say, training at home really limits the amount of exercises you have at your disposal (which is okay since most of the machines at the gym are rubbish). I am closing in this gap though slowly but surely by building my gym out of wood and other easily obtainable implements. As of now, everything that I have constructed from wood has been just as sturdy or more sturdy than any home gym equipment I have ever encountered (and, not to toot my own horn, I am really strong). There have been a few times even at commercial gyms that I have been worried to set my squat bar back onto the rack for fear that one of the pins would break off or the whole thing would tilt to the side and topple over.

I have gotten away from myself. I brought you here to learn how to construct your own overhead pulley station and now I will do just that.

Before we begin, I would like to point out the fact that I do not have a big, fancy wood shop. The tools I have at my disposal are.... humble. (To put it nicely). Nothing frustrates me more than getting all excited about a diy post/video only to realize that this guy is apparently sponsored by Makita and has a full air compressor/vacuum system and every tool you have ever heard of. For this project I used a power drill, a circular saw (which blew up while I was using it) a jigsaw (which proved to be useless for this project); subsequently, I also used a handsaw and a chisel and hammer (because the power saws weren't of much help). The materials I used to make this were 3 8ft 2x4's, a box of 2 inch coarse thread drywall screws, a bottle of wood glue, an old pulley wheel, a big bolt with a nut and a cable.

1: To begin you will use 2 of the 8' segments. In order to make space for the pulley wheel at the top of the apparatus, you need to cut a section off of the end of each 2x4 that is about 6 inches long and that goes about halfway through the beam longways. I began this process by cutting about halfway through the 2x4 with a handsaw perpendicularly 6 inches from the end. I then attempted to cut about halfway through the 2x4 from the side with the circular saw, this didn't work out so well as the motor to the saw started to burn out while I was using it and smoke went everywhere (there was also the hideous sound of a banshee screeching coming from it). So cut as much of it as I could with the circular saw and then finished it with a handsaw. This was a tedious process as it's very awkward to saw sideways but I got it done. Even if you have a function circular saw you will still need to use a handsaw because the circular saw blade is round so it can't complete the cut. The circular saw left the wood badly marred and with some burn marks on it (the blade was glowing when I finally decided to quit using it!). Luckily, I'm pretty handy with a chisel and hammer from my days as a master puppet maker back in Italy (hahaha) so this was pretty easy to clean up. Below you can see the bad cuts and how I smoothed them with the chisel. Be careful when you're working with a chisel because if you work too quickly you will probably end up cutting too much material off and ruining the piece of wood.

As you can see, the circular saw was not working properly.










Chiseling the wood smooth, you could also use a heavy rasp or a blunt ended wood plane (of course I didn't think of this until I'd already been whacking away with my chisel for 15 minutes).
The finished cut.








Once the ends of both studs have been trimmed down they can be joined together using wood glue and screws. I use Gorilla Wood Glue usually but if this is not available I will substitute with TiteBond. I like Gorilla Glue for exercise equipment because it is still somewhat pliable once it's dry whereas other wood glues tend to become brittle once they dry and exercise equipment takes a lot of impact so with the Gorilla Glue it holds up a little bit better.

Gorilla Wood Glue










 Apply the glue liberally. Carpenters determine the strength of a structure by how many screws there are in relation to how many pieces of lumber. I believe the same is true for wood glue.
Be sure to clamp the 2x4's together while you drill in your screws to prevent gapping.







 Next, I drilled a hole for the pulley bolt to go through and installed the pulley wheel. I found this pulley wheel and the nut and bolt in my barn but I imagine they sell something similar at Home Depot or Lowe's. The pulley wheel is about 4.5 inches in diameter.


The installed pulley wheel. This one squeaks like hell because it's so old and covered with rust. I may end up getting a new one or buffing this one out with a dremel and oiling the heck out of it.






At this point, you have essentially finished building the high pulley apparatus, all that is needed now is to install it into your wall. This is done by cutting 4, 1ft segments and 2, 3 1/2 inch segments from the remaining 2x4. The 3 1/2 inch segments are screwed into the studs in your wall. The height of these will vary depending on where the studs are in your wall but be sure that there is one very low to the ground (mine is 1ft from the floor) and the second should be very close to the top. DO NOT PUT ONE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE WALL, your weights will run into it constantly when you're using the pulley. The second block should be screwed into the highest stud available. The 1ft segments are then screwed onto the 3 1/2 inch blocks and the 8ft beams screwed in between the 1ft segments.
This is a photo of the uppermost block with the 1ft segments of 2x4 connecting the pulley tower to the wall.







On the lowermost support assembly I screwed 2 extra 1ft segments of 2x4 on the top to give the weights something on which to land and, in doing so, also greatly improved the stability of the whole thing.






Once your pulley tower is attached to the wall all there is to do is toss a piece of cable over the top and put something on it from which to attach the weights and the handles you will be using for your exercises. This can be accomplished a number of different ways so be creative. I used the standard cables with metal sleeves to create loops. I then put S hooks through the loops and tightened one end of them so that they can't fall off. I will invest in some carabeaners later but as of now I don't have any handles for the darn thing! So there's no need.

So here she is!! This overhead pulley will accommodate 5, 45lb plates and has a particularly nice action on it. Seeing as I don't yet have any handles for it, I just looped the cable around my EZ Curl Bar and did a few triceps push downs and lat pull downs to test it out (who knew EZ curl bars actually had a use!?) and it felt great.


















If you have any questions or would like for me to post about a specific topic, you can email me at norsemanpowerlifter@yahoo.com and, as always, go lift something heavy!
























Bench Press Part 2: Variations and Accessory Movements

Seeing as I have already gone over the necessity and purpose of major lift variations and accessory movements in Deadlift Part 2 and 3, I will spare you the monotony of having to read it again and will delve right into this. There are several benchpress variations and accessory movements. It is up to you, the trainee, to cycle through them all to find which ones work best for you. The following statement is not verbatim, but it was written by Louie Simmons that if he told you there were a million dollars underneath a rock in the parking lot, it probably wouldn't be underneath the first rock you turned; however, I'll bet you would flip over rocks until you found it! The same is true with major lift variations and accessory movements. The first one you try probably won't skyrocket your benchpress numbers but if you keep searching you will eventually strike gold. That being said (and no offense to Louie Simmons, of whom i am a faithful admirer, for probably slaughtering your witty analogy), there is a more educated way of finding that magical lift than there is for finding the million dollars. The million dollars could be under ANY rock in the parking lot but the lift that works best for you can be, to some extent, narrowed down judging from you strengths and weaknesses.

Say for example our friend Hank has a very strong lockout but lacks power off of the chest. It would make sense to pick accessory lifts that train the pectorals and anterior deltoids more than the triceps. This common sense (as uncommon as it may be) must be followed if you are to fabricate an effective training plan for yourself. In any event, I am done rambling. Here are the benchpress variations:

 1: Rack Lockouts: These are performed by setting the safety pins at the desired level, placing the bar ontop of them and pressing the remaining distance of the bench press. They are similar in application to rack pulls for the deadlift. I recommend setting the safety pins a couple of inches below your sticking point and training them very heavy, be sure to hold the rep at the top of the motion for several seconds to help build tendon and ligament strength in the joints. Because these are performed with a very heavy weight, I usually perform them in the 3-5 rep range for 3-5 sets. It is very important that you allow the weight to completely rest on the safety pins between each rep. This will eliminate the stretch reflex at the bottom of the movement and will help develop starting strength. This movement focuses mostly on the triceps and therefore I do not recommend using a wide grip.

It is hard to see here, but the barbell is resting on the safety pins. I lay on the floor instead of a bench for these as the weight is very heavy generally and I feel that laying on the floor provides more support to the rotator cuffs. (I periodically have pain in my right supraspinatus so this is a concern of mine).
I will generally hold the lockout for 3 to 5 seconds for each rep and then I will hold the last repetition of each set for as long as I can.














2: Floor Press: This exercise is similar in nature to the rack lockout, however it does not require a power rack and the beginning height of the press is not variable. Simply lay on your back on the floor. Unrack the weight, lower your arms until they rest on the floor. Try to deload the weight as much as possible at this point. You want to begin your press from a mostly-relaxed position.

Starting Position for the Floor Press

Finishing Position for the Floor Press












3: Dumbell Press: This movement is performed just like a bench press but with dumbells in each hand and can therefore be performed through an entire range of motion. It is possible to bring the dumbells past your belly and thus get a really good stretch across the pecs and delts at the bottom of the movement.

Starting Position for the Dumbell Press
Finishing Position for the Dumbell Press












4: Incline Press: The incline press is performed like a normal bench press while the bench is inclined (usually at an angle of 30-45 degrees). I don't have a commercial incline press because I built my gym setup from wood so I set the rear end of the bench ontop of a cement block to achieve this angle. The incline provides for greater stimulation of the anterior deltoids and upper chest as well as lengthening the range of motion (this creates a longer lock-out phase) which will add stress to the triceps.

Starting Position for the Incline Press
Finishing Position for the Incline Press













5: Board Press: This is yet another way to focus on a particular segment of the bench press. Lower the barbell onto some boards laid across your chest, allow the weight to rest on the boards for a moment in order to eliminate the stretch reflex and then press up explosively. The boards can be made from 2x6's (I am using 2x4's in the photo, these can be a little difficult to manage while under a heavy load) or you can use phone books. I will post a blog in the future when I make my own, custom boards.

Starting Position for the Board Press
Finishing Position for the Board Press












6: Close Grip Bench Press: This exercise has increased my bench more than any other bench press variant. It is performed just like a bench press, but with a very narrow grip on the bar. This loads the triceps more than the pecs or deltoids. I like to perform them for 5-8 reps for 3-5 sets.

Starting Position for the Narrow Grip Bench Press
Finishing Position for the Narrow Grip Bench Press













7: Wide Grip Bench Press: Perform a bench press with a wider-than-normal grip. This movement helps to overload the pecs which makes it useful for those who are weak off of the chest.

Starting Position for the Wide Grip Bench Press
Finishing Position for the Wide Grip Bench Press












8: Decline Bench: For these, I place my cement block under the low side of the bench so that my hips are higher than my head. This shortens the range of motion and (for most practitioners) allows for a heavier weight to be used. These are most useful for bench pressers that have very high arches.

Starting Position for the Decline Bench
Finishing Position for the Decline Bench












9: Halting Bench Press: I like this movement for developing the lower half of my bench. Use a heavy weight and press it half-way through, pause for a moment and return it to your chest. This helps develop tremendous starting strength.

Starting Position for the Halting Bench Press
Finishing Position for the Halting Bench Press












10: Overhead Press: This is a major lift of its own and will receive its own post in the near future. The overhead press helps develop power in the deltoids and triceps mainly; however, because it is executed while standing, is a full body movement.

Beginning Position for the Overhead Press
Finishing Position for the Overhead Press






Like the bench press, the overhead press can be performed with dumbells as well. This is the starting position for the dumbell overhead press.
Finishing Position for the Dumbell Overhead Press
Dumbell Overhead Presses (DBOHP) can also be performed unilaterally to provide more stimulation to the muscles of the abdomen, particularly the serratus anterior and obliques. This is the starting position for the unilateral dumbell overhead press.
Finishing Position for the Unilateral Dumbell Overhead Press.











11: Deltoid Raises: Delt raises can be performed to the front for development of the anterior deltoids, to the sides to develop the medial deltoids or to the rear to develop the posterior deltoids and can be performed with numerous implements including dumbells, barbells, resistance bands or the weight plates themselves. They will not help to increase your bench press but it is important for the health and maintenance of the shoulder joints to develop all heads of the deltoids evenly. I like to use these in active recovery after a heavy bench or overhead press workout.

Starting Position for the Front Delt Raise
Finishing Position for the Front Delt Raise
Starting Position for the Side Delt Raise
Finishing Position for the Side Delt Raise
Starting Position for the Rear Delt Raise
Finishing Position for the Rear Delt Raise
Starting Position for the Front Plate Raise
Finishing Position for the Front Plate Raise












12: Behind-The-Neck Press: This is the overhead press's ugly cousin. This uncomfortable system of dungeon muscle torture is sure to pack some mass onto the deltoids at the expense of your own comfort. (Something that most powerlifters are accustomed to). I like to unrack the weight as though I were about to perform a squat and press directly from the shoulders. Some lifters will bring these down to the middle of the head between reps and press back up but I like to completely deload the weight to my shoulders between each repetition to insure that I have a complete range of motion. For the sake of your labrums and rotator cuffs, do these with strict form.

Starting Position for the Behind-The-Neck Press
Finishing Position for the Behind-The-Neck Press












13: Skull Crushers: This accessory movement is a great, basic way to develop the triceps. They can be performed with a cambered bar (shown here), an olympic bar or dumbells.

Starting Position for the Skull Crusher
Finishing Position for the Skull Crusher












14: Rolling Tricep Extensions: This is an interesting exercise for development of the triceps. The lifter positions himself on his back on a bench or on the floor and raises a dumbell in each hand over his face with the elbows locked. He then lowers the dumbells towards his chest as though he were going to perform a dumbell press with a narrow stance of the hands. Just before the weights get to the level at which you would press them back up, you rotate the shoulders backwards so that the weights are now on either side of your head. You then perform this exact motion backwards and voila! you have performed a rolling tricep extension. This should be executed in one, fluid movement.

Hold the weights over your face
Lower them to your chest
Roll them back to the sides of your head
Pull them back to your chest
Press them up












15: Unilateral Dumbell Press: I LOVE doing this exercise. You can get a full stretch in the pecs and deltoids and a really complete contraction at the end of the motion. This also involves the core muscles A LOT because it can be performed with such a heavy weight and because you don't have much holding you onto the bench. Perform this carefully though because it would be easy to fall down if you lose control of the weight.

Starting Position for the Unilateral Dumbell Press
Finishing Position for the Unilateral Dumbell Press












16: Bench Dips: Personally, I prefer regular dips but I don't have a dip rack. Again, I will be building one in the future and will post how I did it. Bench dips are more of a recovery exercise in my opinion, but I'm sure others would disagree with me (but they're all stupid). If you need more resistance you can put plates on your lap. This is most safely accomplished with the aid of your workout partner.

Starting Position for the Bench Dip
Finishing Position for the Bench Dip












These are some of my favorite variations and assistance exercises for the bench press. I will look at many of these lifts in greater detail in future posts. So until next time, go lift something heavy.