Sunday, 16 November 2014

Pimp yo' Deadlift

This is the 3rd part of the series on customising your lifts. The deadlift is probably the simplest and least technical of the 3 power lifts yet one that is often bastadized by terrible technique. I have seen many rounded back hipless deadlifts even amongst power lifters who should know better. Poor technique on the deadlift is probably responsible for more injuries than any other lift. So let's learn how to deadlift not only in a strong way but also a safe way.

So with the bar loaded the first thing you must do it set your stance. There are many options avaible here. The standard stance is feet just inside shoulder width. But this may not be ideal for you. There is the sumo stance where the legs are wider apart and the hands are placed inside the legs. This reduces the range of motion but like I discussed about the wide grip pull up in the bench article a reduced range of motion is not necessarily stronger if it puts you in a leverage disadvantage or relies on you using less dominant muscles. Within the sumo stance you can very the width from just outside the hands sometimes called a crab stance to as wide as possible that your hips will allow. Of course you could be somewhere between these two points. Generally a sumo stance will make it harder to break the bar off the floor and will require more leg strength and less back strength. The wider you take the stance generally the harder it will be to break off the floor but the less distance you will have to lock it out. A very wide stance also requires great flexibility and while the stress on the back is reduced the stress on the hips is greatly increased. If you are more quad dominant and a good squatter the sumo deadlift may be more suited to you.

Wide sumo stance

Crab stance

You can also take your stance the other way making it more narrow than the conventional stance. If you take your stance in narrower it also means you can take a narrower grip on the bar which can decrease the range of motion. If you look at my picture at the top you can see I take quite a narrow stance around hip width. I find this makes the deadlift stronger off the floor which is my weakness. Some deadlifters take their stance even narrower than that and have the heels touching. This is referee to as a frog stance.

Frog stance

As well as stance width you can also vary the angle of your feet. A very wide sumo stance will require you to angle your feet out more as will a very narrow stance. You will find that by varying the angle of your feet you change the action of the quads and hips. Generally the greater the angle of the feet the better the quads can be used but at a cost of reduced hip action. You can experiment with different stances and foot angles until you find your optimal stance. This may take some time and will be dependant on your leverages and muscles dominance.

When setting your stance you also need to gauge the ideal distance your shins will be from the bar. A bar that is too far from the shins will have to be pulled in otherwise the bar will be too far away from the lifters centre of gravity making the lift harder. How close will depend on your build and start position. Some lifters will have the bar directly over the middle of the foot while others may have it closer and touching the shins. Experiment with the start position to give you the strongest pull and which helps you keep the bar closest to your body.

Now we have the issue of grip. There are four possible grips a lifter could use. Most beginners start with a double overhand grip. This is a good place to start as it allows them to pull evenly with their back and avoid twisting. To begin with the grip will not be a limiting factor and it helps the grip to develop to a greater degree than someone who starts with a mixed grip from the get go. Eventually a lifters back and hips become so strong that a double overhand grip will no longer suffice. The most common solution to this problem is to use a mixed grip. This is where one hand holds one side of the bar while the other side is rotated and holds the bar underhand. This puts four fingers and a thumb on each side of the bar and stops any rolling or slippage. There are some disadvantages with this technique however. Due to holding the bar in an uneven manner it can cause a lifter to twist slightly and favour one side of the back more. This can be especially prominent in those less experienced. Long term it can lead to uneven development of the upper back with the overhand side becoming more dominant. As you switch from double overhand to mixed grip you may notice a slight change of position. You actually have to get closer to the bar to pull mixed grip and this is not quite as optimal a position compared to double overhand. The final problem is the the underhand arm is exposed to injury as the weights start to get really heavy. The bicep tendon can become the weak link and can be at risk of tearing. Talk to experied dead lifters who handle a lot of weight and they may well have had this injury at some point.

The alternative to the mixed grip is the hook grip which is less commonly used. This is a grip adapted from Olympic lifting where you wrap your thumb around the bar then wrap your fingers over your thumb. This wedges the bar in place and allows you to pull double overhand very securely. This is advantageous as it allows you to pull without worry of uneven emphasise or development. It allows a slightly higher start position and allows you to adopt a narrower grip on the bar. Your forearm actually attaches at an angle to the elbow and when you hold the bar underhand your arm is angling out making you take a wider grip and in turn gives you a greater distance to pull the bar. The hook grip solves this problem. So why is the hook grip rarer than the mixed grip? You only have to try it to find out. The hook grip is more about pain tolerance than strength. Friction keeps the bar locked in but hanging on depends on how well you are able to deal with your thumbs being crushed by a heavy weight. If can take a lot of time and patience to build up to the point where dead lifting with a hook grip is merely uncomfortable rather than agonising. Long term while saving the bicep it can potiently damage the thumbs. I have been using the hook grip for the past few months and have finally got to the point where I can handle my previous best mixed grip with it. But the first time I tried it with only a light weight I felt like both thumbs were going to dislocate. If you are going to try it take your time and build up slowly. Another disadvantage of the hook grip is that you can't really train reps on the deadlift with it. I have taken to using straps for reps and hook grip for singles and always make sure I hook grip all of the warm up sets.

For the truely mad or perhaps for those whos grip is a real limiting factor you can try a mixed hook grip. I've never heard of any high level competitor ever using this grip but it doesn't mean you can't. While it would give you all of the disadvantages of both grips in terms of start position, uneven back development and injury risk to the bicep and thumbs there is no stronger grip available to you. That bar is going nowhere but staying in your hands and it will be your pulling muscles that fail you never the grip. Another potential advantage is a little neurological phenomenon to do with how your hands perceive a weight. Most lifters can lift more wearing wrist straps than they can without them even if their grip is never normally the limiting factor. Now take a very thick bar like a 2-3 inch diameter bar and deadlift it. Work up to a max. The grip will be the limiting factor here but you may find you get to the point of bugding the bar off the floor and not being able to hold on long enough for the lockout. Your hands perceive the weight as heavy because it is hard to hold onto even if it is much lighter than your conventional bar max. This sends a signal to your pulling muscles to shut down to avoid injury because they think the weight is very heavy. Now when a lifter wears straps the hands are not peiceving the weight as heavy and so no signal is sent to the muscles to hold back to avoid injury. So by adopting a mixed hook grip, the strongest grip you can take it is almost like wearing straps. This would reduce any feedback the hands are feeling because the grip is so secure and may actually allow you to lift more weight like that. This is quite theoretical so do take it with a pinch of salt. Ultimately you must test for yourself to see.

Once you have decided on the type of grip you are going to use you must decide on the width of the grip. A closer grip slightly reduces the range of motion but you don't want to take your arms narrower than vertical other you would again increase the ROM the same as a wide grip. Also you would lose a lot if stability on the bar. You want to make sure your hand stays on the knurling aswell as the smooth part of the bar is much harder to hold onto. Grip width will depend on how broad you are and the type of grip you use.

Getting down to the bar can become a ritual in itself as can the start of the pull. You can lower yourself to the bar like you are reversing a deadlift or bend over like a stiff leg deadlift then bend the knees and pull through. There are a few tricks that can be utilised other than just bending down and picking it up. The deadlift gets its name because it happens from a dead stop. Unlike the squat and bench which start with the negative portion first and rely on a stretch reflex the deadlift starts from the bottom with no momentum. Its possible to create momentum using a few techniques made famous by big pullers.

First you have the drive bomb technique. This is simply getting down to the bar quickly and pulling as fast as possible. This attempts to create momentum with speed and the reflex of lowering quickly. But its important to make sure you have a proper grip and set your back correctly otherwise this could lead to some dropped barbells.

The next technique is the rolling start and has been made famous by the best dead lifter ever Benedict Magnusson. You start with the bar a foot or so in front of you. Bends down into a stiff legged position. At the start of the pull you roll the bar slightly away from you then strongly in towards you. As the bar reaches you bend you knees and begin the pull upwards. This is like creating a ramp for the bar. But this technique can be hard to master. You can end up putting too much spin on the bar and it rolling out of your hands. Or you can pull it into yourself too much which creates resistance for the bar to move upward. But not rolling enough creates no benefit at all. You will have to practise it a lot if you are going to make it work for you.

Benedict Magnusson may be the strongest dead lifter ever but the man to break the 1000lbs barrier first was Andy Bolton. He uses a completely different technique to start his pull than Magnusson does. Its referred to as dipping and Bolton uses 2 dips before he starts to pull. Bend over and grip the bar with your legs still straight so you are like a stiff legged deadlift. Then bend the knees and start to pull on the bar but only enough to create tension in the muscles and take the slack from the bar. Straighten the legs again back to the stiff legged position. Repeat this once more. Then on the third pull fully and deadlift the bar. This technique helps to create momentum as well as progressively build the tension in your muscles. You don't have to do three dips you might do one or more but this is what Andy Bolton does and seems about right to get a benefit from the technique. Only pull enough to create the tension don't tire youself out unnecessarily before a big pull.

The only other technique that I know of to help get the bar moving is the squat start. This involves taking your grip on the bar then dropping into a squat. You rise out of it then start to pull when you reach the correct dead lifting height. This is attempting to create a stretch reflex by trying to add a negative portion to the lift first. You can see Mikhail Koklyaev use this technique here:

Of course you don't have to use any of these techniques. You can start the deadlift however you want and you may not feel any benefit from them but I would advise against spending too long in the bottom position. If you have ever held a ski squat or horse stance in martial arts you know your legs quickly tire in that bent position. The longer you spend down the bottom the weaker your pull off the floor will be. If you don't believe me load up a deadlift bar with about 80% of you max. Get set up in the bottom position then wait. Count to ten and then pull. See how slow and grinding the lift will feel off the floor. Sometimes you will see people messing around trying to find the perfect grip or back position for ages all the while they are losing strength. Make sure you do all of your psyching up and mental preparation standing up before you grab hold of the bar. Then when you take your grip begin the pull. Don't attempt to psyche up when in the bottom position. Look at the video of Magnusson. He does his spectacle of a psyche up routine before he grabs the bar. Once he grips it he pulls instantly and doesn't pause at all.

Now we have the start position itself. There are two main options here. You can bend the knees enough and lower the hips so the top of the knees are over the bar and shin is at a slight angle. The chest will be up. From here when you start the pull you press your legs against the floor and rely on alot of quad strength to get the bar moving. This action feels identical to a leg press machine. Alternatively you can have less bend at the knees and a higher hip position. The shin will be vertical and the chest will be down more. This requires greater flexibility of the hamstrings to achieve and is kind of a cross between a stiff leg deadlift and a conventional one. At the start of the pull the quads will still be used but to a lesser extent and there will be a greater reliance on the hamstrings and hips to move the bar. For those who are more hip dominant this can be a superior technique but can stress the lower back to a greater degree.

A little known trick to help you at the start of the deadlift is to use your lats. Tense your lats and pull the bar into you at the start and throughout the lift. For those who don't know how to tense their lats this is NOT a lat spread like you see in bodybuilding. When you tense them the shoulders should move ever so slightly downward not out to the side. Think of it like an isometric straight arm pull down. This keeps the bar close to your centre of gravity during the lifts and stops it falling forward out of line.

During the deadlift the safest position for you lower back is to maintain its natural arch. But what about the upperback? Injuries to the upper part of the spine are very rare and it doesn't have to abide by the same rules as the lower back. A lot of very advanced dead lifters actually bend their upper back while maintaining the arch in the lower back. This shortens the lever and can make the lifter stronger. Some lifters have the body awareness and mobility to adopt this position from the start if the pull. For others the weight will pull the upper back round during the deadlift while the lower back is maintained. This is probably the hardest technique to grasp and will take a long time to practice and develop the mobility necessary. Procede with caution this is for advanced lifters only. Many who think they are doing this technique end up also bending the lower back as well and risk injury. You may need someone to watch you or video you to ensure you are doing it correctly. When in this position the head and chest will be down unlike the conventional deadlift technique.

Both Andy Bolton and Konstantin Konstantinov use this technique

Head position needs to be considered in the deadlift. In the round upper back deadlift the head will be looking down out of nessesity. In the more conventional version you can either look up or slightly down keeping the head in line with the back. The head up version reinforces the chest up and arched lower back position so is a good start for beginners. You can also pull back with the head to try and get the body to follow midway through the deadlift. But you must be careful not to over arch the neck or lowerback in doing this. The head slightly down inline with the spine is more of mental focus thing allowing you to keep your eyes fixed on a singular point and narrow your focus.

Breathing during the deadlift is similar to the other lifts you want to take a big breathe of air and hold it while tensing your abs. You can then either exhale at the top of the lift or exhale forcibly and slowly at the sticking point while still keeping the abs tense. Avoid shouting or any other macho displays mid deadlift as this will simply cause you to lose tightness in the core.

While the deadlift is often thought of as a back exercise it is the hip muscles that lock the bar out namely the glutes and hamstrings. The back is only working to stabilise the spine not lift the bar. Once the bar has passed the knees you must thrust the hips through. Its exactly like what it sounds like. Think about pushing your hips through the bar. Once you have locked the bar out squeeze the glutes together. This insures your hips are all the way through and stops you leaning to far back. Some people have a trendancy to lean way back at the lockout which can cause the knees to unlock and a no lift in competition.

You would think putting the bar down again bears no instruction but you would believe how many people get this wrong. There is only one way to put it down properly. Once the bar is locked out unlock your hips but keep the knees straight lower it down like you were doing a stiff legged deadlift. Once the bar goes past your knees unlock your knees and bend them until the bar reaches the floor. The alternate of course that many beginners do is to unlock the knees first keep the torso upright and then smash the bar into your knees on the way down. Stick to the first option. Keep hold of the bar until it is resting on the ground. Letting go too early or dropping it is cause for no lift.

The squat and bench can both be cheated in the gym by cutting depth or bouncing the bar off your chest and unfortunately the deadlift can also be cheated by hitching the bar. This is where you lift the bar to your knees then rest it there. You then lean way back and attempt to roll it along the thighs to the lockout position then stand up right with it again. You sometimes see this in strongman competitions but is illegal in powerlifting and will get you red lighted. If you find yourself unintentionally hitching the bar lower the weight and do the technique properly.

Now its time to discuss equipment. Belts can be worn and offer extra support around the core. I don't find that a belt helps the deadlift quite as much as the squat but is still of some benefit. Don't get one that is too thick or too tight as it can make it harder to achieve the correct start position. Make sure you get one that is the same thickness all the way around not one that tapers at the back. For shoes generally you want something with the thinnest possible sole. This will reduce the distance you have to pull the bar. You can get specialist slippers made for this purpose quite cheaply. Other good shoes are wrestling or boxing shoes or plain old school plimsolls. Some lifters actually get benefit from dead lifting wearing heeled Olympic shoes. While the elevated heel will increase the range of motion slightly it enables a stronger position for the quad to be in which could help you off the floor. Its worth trying to see which feels best for you.

Under no circumstances should gloves be worn as they only make your grip worse and stop your hands from becoming conditioned. Straps can be of some benefit as I said above I use them for reps instead of the hook grip just make sure you don't use them constantly and allow your grip to become weak. Wrist wraps are also allowed to be worn in competition but offer absolutely no benefit to the deadlift.

Overtime you must learn to customise your lifts to make them as suited to your body as possible. This requires a lot of experiment and practise. The perfect technique will not fall on your lap straight away and may change again over time. Sometimes generally excepted rules of technique aren't always optimal for the individual. Case in point a lifter called Bob Peoples. Bob was a farmer who also happened to be an amazing deadlifter. He pulled around 720lbs at a bodyweight of 175lbs. He had some freaky long arms but also had the most unconventional technique. He would fully exhale all the air out of his lungs and then pull with a completely rounded back. This breaks the rules and sounds like his vertebrae would explode yet he managed to lift amazing poundages in this style. He experimented, didn't listen to conventional wisdom and really made the lift work for him. Now I'm not suggesting you try his technique. I doubt it would work for most of use but you must learn to find exactly what does work for you through trail and error.

Bob Peoples

That finishes of this series of posts. Its up to you to customise your lift and go forth and smash some PR's!

Friday, 14 November 2014

Pimp yo' Bench

As I outlined in the first part of the series there is no one size fits all to technique when it comes to performing a lift. It's those who tend to work out the best ways that work with their own body that tend to perform best. The bench is no exception and probably has more minor technical details then any other lift. I would say it's definitely the most complicated of the big 3. Surely you just lie down bend and straighten your arms but a strong bench requires much more attention to the finer details of technique. It is really a lesson in body tension.

 The first thing you have to do when lying down get the right distance up the bench. Most feel the best way to do this is to have the bar directly over their eyes. This puts them in the ideal position once the bar is unracked. Next you have to set your arch. You'll notice that strong benches has a pronounced arch in their lower back when benching. This serves a few purposes. It raises the chest towards the bar which decreases the range of motion and allows heavier weights to be lifted. It also improves stability while benching. If you watch a beginner with no semblance of technique bench in the gym you will often see them and the bar wobble all over the place. This is a lack of stability and leaks strength all through the movement.

The severity of your arch needs to be experimented with. It will be dependant on your flexibility and how it feels to you. Some people find too much of an arch causes their lower back to cramp or feels too uncomfortable to focus on pushing strongly. Practise and find the strongest position to you. Think about trying to get your glutes as close as possible to your traps. If you are mearly concerned with developing your pecs and are not concerned with the weights you are moving then there is no need to arch at all.

Here's a good example of arching
While arching you need to keep your upperback tight and shoulder blades squeezed together. This helps create stability and the base of your arch. It also keeps the shoulders locked in and raises the chest up further. If you have ever been to a powerlifting meet you will see all manner of rituals and routines used to set their arch. Some lifters may pull their glutes towards their shoulders then set their feet. Others may do this the other way round. Many grab the bar and pull themselves into it like a barbell row to get the upper back tight. You may see some putting their feet on the bench bridging up then putting your feet on the floor and maintaining the arched back. Experiment with finding the ideal way for you to setup and maintain your support and tightness. Remember i said earlier the bench press is a lesson in body tension and the ideal pisition is not necessarily a comfortable one. Foot position also comes into play when first setting up on the bench. You can experiment with stance width and distance from you. You dont want the knees the extended anymore than 90 degrees otherwise you would lose the benefits of leg drive latter on. Generally a wider stance will increase stability but will not enable as strong a leg drive as a closer stance. Either way you should activate your side hip muscles by pushing the knees out to the side. This is just like in the bottom of a squat. Some federations will allow you to bench on your toes with heels elevated. This can enable an even greater arch to be achieved and can allow a stronger leg drive but again at a cost of reduced stability. Some federations only allow you to bench flat footed however weightlifting shoes can be worn to give an artificial heel elevation. These are all things to consider and practise when benching to find your perfect groove.

So you ve sorted your foot placement set your arch and got your upper back tight and shoulders locked down. Now it's time to take your grip on the bar. The maximum legal competition grip is with your index fingers on the small ring on the outer knurling. Some lifters take the widest possible grip reasoning that it would reduce the distance the bar travels and therefore allow greater weights to be lifted. But this is not the full story. Just because you decrease the range of motion doesn't mean you can move more weight if you are at a leverage disadvantage. Let's take the wide grip pull up, most people would agree that wide grip pull ups are harder than shoulder width ones. Bodybuilders even use wide grip pull ups to target the lats more and take their arms out of the movement. Yet if you compare the wide grip pull up to a shoulder width one the range of motion is reduced yet the movement is harder. The same can be true of the bench press. A wider grip may not always allow you to lift the greatest amount of weight depending on your individual leverages and muscle dominance. Personally I bench with quite a narrow grip with my hands just inside the knurling. While the distance may be greater I can relie on my stronger shoulders and less on my weaker pecs. Also I feel much faster off my chest which creates momentum to finish the lift. You need to experiment with different grip widths to find the strongest for you. Try the widest, narrowest and everything in between to find your perfect groove. It's also worth bearing in mind that a wider grip can stress the shoulder joint more than a narrower grip making you more susceptible to injuries. However if you are using the bench press for muscular development then a wider grip can be more favorable for pec activation. Next comes the type of grip you use. Most use the standard thumbs around grip which allows you to maximally squeeze the bar as well as being the safest option to avoid any dropped barbells. But if you are not careful the bar can end up to high in the hand and end up loading the wrist. This not only puts unwanted stress on the wrist but also leaks strength so you no longer have a strong a chain to press with. Wrist wraps can help you to avoid this problem.  There are also a few other grip options available. You have the false grip where you don't wrap your thumb around and instead keep it the same side as the fingers.

The advantages of this grip is that you can better load the bar    over your forearms and avoid any bending of the wrist by allowing the bar to be placed in the heel of the palm. The disadvantages of this grip is that you cannot squeeze the bar as hard during the press and the potential of dropping the bar. While this is a risk it is very unlikely and would require a serious lapse in concentration. There is also the thumbs on grip. This is like the false grip but you place your thumbs running parallel along the bar. This is my preferred grip as it still allows you to have the bar over the heel of the palm but gives you increased safety and security by allowing you to wrap your thumb in the event of slippage and reduce the chance of accidents. A very rarely used grip is the reverse grip having both palms facing towards the lifters head. This is not often seen but some lifters have made it work. You must bear in mind that if you compete not all this grips are allowed in all federations so make sure you check the rules before picking your preferred style.

So you've set your arch got your upper back tight shoulders locked down. Foot placement set, grip width and style sorted. Now it's finally time to unrack the barbell. You can use a spotter to hand the bar off or unrack it yourself. If you use a spotter make sure they don't pull the bar up as they hand it off otherwise you can lose your upperback tightness. If you unrack it yourself do so by using a pullover action rather than trying to press the bar out of the rack. This helps you maintain your tightness and avoid pre fatiguing the triceps. When setting up it helps to have the bar directly over the eyes. When you unrack the bar you will have the bar in a good position over the chest. A typical bodybuilding bench press involves keeping the elbows at a 90 degree angle to the body throughout the lift. However the shoulders can be kept in a much safer position if they are moved closer to the body. 45 degrees or even closer. This takes stress off the shoulder joint and emphasises the pecs less. It also allows you to maintain a tighter and more stable upper back.

Experiment with the angle of your upper arms while benching to see what feels strongest and safest to you. This applies to both the negative and lifting phase. The speed at which you lower the bar is another factor to be considered. If you lower the bar slowly you can maintain control and tightness especially as you approach your chest. This allows you to store tension for the paused style powerlifting bench press. However it required more strength to lower slowly like this than a quicker decent. Quicker descents use less energy but it's harder to control the bottom and keep the tension. I feel a faster decent is more useful for the touch and go bench press whereas a slow decent is more useful in the paused style especially when using max attempts. You must try each style to find out for yourself. When the bar is on your chest you can simply pause it there for the required time making sure to keep the tension on before pressing. But there is another technique I refer to as the catapult. Lower the bar under control but when the bar is on your chest actively pull the bar into you using your back muscles like you are doing a barbell row. Make sure to still keep tension on the pressing muscles though and don't let the bar actually sink into your chest. Now we should discuss proper leg drive on the bench. At the commencement of the press push your feet into the floor and away from the bench without moving your feet. The best way to describe it would be to do an isometric leg extension using the floor as assistance. The drive should come from the quads not the hips. Alot of people misinterprete leg drive as pushing up with the legs and end up bridging and raising their glutes off the bench. This is cause for no lift in powerlifting and is cheating otherwise. Proper leg drive should create a ricochet across the body and into the chest giving you additional momentum for the first few inches of the lift. Your feet cannot actually move otherwise this is again cause for a no lift. When leg drive is combined with the catapult technique and timed together at the start of the lift you will see the greatest benefit from it. The bar will fly of the chest then it's up to you to finish it off. Make sure only to keep a slight tension on the legs during the negative phase but pushing before the pressing phase will cause you to lose the benefit of leg drive.

During the pressing phase there are a few more things to consider. First we have line of sight. Most look at the bar as its moving. But I've also heard it been suggested to keep your eyes on the ceiling the whole time. The logic being that you body tends to go where your eyes are looking. The only problem is I find that the bar path tends to be less consistent with this method. See which feels best for your self. There are a few different opinions when it comes to bar path. You have 3 options available. You can try to press the bar straight up. You can press slightly towards your head like an incline press or you can press slightly away like a decline press. Some find that pressing towards the head can help them break through the sticking point better. But there is the risk of the bar drifting too far out of line and you losing the bar over your head. Those who use a greater arch can do well pressing the bar slightly away instead. Due to a greater back arch the lift basically becomes a decline press by default. Press in the groove that feels most natural to you. However it can take some practice to nail the incline/decline bar path and they are subtle movements.

When you are pressing there are additional tension techniques you can use. You can maximally squeeze the bar while pressing also known as white knuckling. This creates tension throughout the entire arm that can contribute to strength and support. This only really works on the regular grip bench and not the false grip or thumbs on grip. Another method is to pull the bar apart as if trying to make the bar longer or pull it in two. This creates additional tension across the upper back to keep you stabilised and supported it can be applied to both the negative and pressing portion of the lift. Alternatively you can create tension by applying force as if you were trying to bend the bar in half. Imagine the motion of a strongman bending an iron bar. This is what you want to recreate while pressing. It allows greater activation of the pecs and lats.

Personally I don't use any of these tension techniques and bench with a thumbs on grip but they are worth trying to see if they help for you.

When it comes to breathing it helps to take a deep breath once you have unracked the bar, hold it and tense your abs to give support to the torso. This is the same as the squat and deadlift. You can either then keep the breathe held until you have locked out the bar or exhale forcibly but slowly at the sticking point all the way to lockout. This works in exactly the same way as the squat and deadlift.

A final note about equipment for the raw bench. Wrist wraps can be worn in all powerlifting federations and help keep the wrists in line under the bar, they are worth considering. A belt can also be worn. Some find this helps to add additional tightness by allowing the abs to push against it. Personally I find wearing a belt makes it harder to create my ideal arch and also causes cramping in my lower back. Not good if you are in a meet and have to deadlift later.

As you can see there is more to the bench press than you probably first thought. Don't try to use all of the techniques here but test them over time to see what feels best. Give a technique time to work. If it doesn't feel great after the first session try a few more before trying something else. Most of all be patient the bench press can take a long time to develop and feel right. Its a lift you really have to grow into.

Stay tuned for the final part soon pimp yo' deadlift.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Pimp yo' squat

Some people would have you believe that there is only one exact perfect form for performing a lift. Any deviance from that is incorrect, in proper form and you will only be weaker or injured. This is not the case and you will find it is those who customize their lifts and make them their own who tend to perform best at them. Everyone's body is unique. Not just in leverages but muscle dominance aswell. Go to any powerlifting meet and you will see a range of techniques for the big 3. The best lifters work out what the best way for them to perform a given lift is while still remaining within the rules. This can be a long process of experimentation and some lifters may follow a certain form for years before finding one which is suddenly stronger. Even more conventionaly strong ways to perform a lift such as wide stance squats or wide grip bench may not be necessarily the strongest way for you to perform them. There are literally hundreds of variations and small tweaks you can try to find the optimal way for you to perform a lift.

Let's look at some of the things you can experiment with within the squat. I will cover the bench and deadlift at a layer date. There are a few undisputed aspects to squatting that should never change. You have to keep a neutral spine in your lower back. You have to keep your upper back tight. You have to keep your chest up and you must not let your knees bow in. Beyond that the squat is really open to your own interpretation and there are a great deal of things you can experiment with.

First we have hand position. You can vary the width of your grip on the bar. A very narrow grip makes it easier to maintain a tight upper back and can be great for new lifters to help reinforce this. On the other hand it requires much greater flexibility in the shoulders and can lead to shoulder and bicep problems down the line. If you have very wide shoulders a very wide grip may work for you almost touching the plates. Any grip inbetween may work best as long as you are able to do it pain free and still maintain a tight upper back.

Next are the thumbs. Do you wrap them around the bar or not? Some powerlifting federations do not allow a thumbless grip so bear that in mind if you compete.

Then comes the wrists. Conventional form tells you to keep you wrist straight to avoid weight bearing on them. Personally I find this massively increased the stress on the shoulders so a bent wrist is also fine as long as the upper back is keep tight and the weight maintained on it.

Next we have bar position. You can go low bar or high bar. Traditionally low bar is seen as giving you better leverage but this may not always be the case. Some people are stronger high bar and many great powerlifters have used the high bar technique. High bar also makes it easier to hit depth and targets the quads better than low bar.

When I first learnt to squat I read starting strength and followed the advise on form. Low bar squat narrow thumbbless grip straight wrists. I found this position very uncomfortable especially during the bottom of the squat. I found the tension on my shoulders would cause me to cave in at the bottom lose my upper back tightness and in turn my lower back position. After some experiment and talking to a powerlifting coach I changed my technique to low bar slightly wider grip with thumbs wrapped round the bar and slightly bent wrists. All the tension on my shoulders was gone and I never had any problems in the bottom of the squat anymore. My point is not that Starting Strength is wrong just that that technique didn't work for me. My way of squatting fits my own body better.

After bar position comes head position. Some prefer to look up while squatting, others may find  they tend to over arch their lower back if they do this. Others look straight ahead and others keep there head in line with their spine so will look straight in front of them at the top and a few feet in front of them in the bottom however you may find that your back rounds and have a tendency to fall forward. Do that which feels the strongest and most comfortable.    

Next on the list is your stance. Many strong squatters especially geared ones squat very wide. Squatting like this emphasizes the hips and back more. Generally the narrower your stance the more emphasis is on the quads and the more upright your torso would be. A wider stance may not be the strongest for you though. Personally I find a wide stance gives me no power out of the hole unlike my shoulder width stance. Some lifters find a wide stance beats their hips up and makes it harder to hit depth aswell. A very narrow stance would hit your quads more but you could be lacking in strength due to not fully utilising the larger posterior chain muscles. Experiment with different stances wide and narrow to find which is strongest for you. There is also the angle of your feet which in turn affects the angle of your knees. A wider stance generally requires a greater foot angle.

Now it's time for the descent. Some may use a very exaggerated sit back really pushing the hips back while others may appear more upright. A good sit back allows a strong hip drive on the way up but too much may turn your squat into a good morning. If you are a more quad dominant squatter you may find less of a sit back stronger for you. Then we have the rate of descent. Some will descend very slowly and controlled while others may drop quick and attempt to bounce out of the bottom. A slower descent would allow you to pin point the exact depth you need to go without going to deep. A drop and bounce squat can make you stronger out the bottom but you will be going to greater depth. Also there may be a greater risk of injury from the drop technique. You could use either of these approachs or you could be somewhere in the middle. I used to drop fast and bounce but in an attempt to stop myself going ass to grass everytime I have adopted a slower more controlled descent.

When coming up for a squat you must of course push with your legs and drive with your hips. But there is also the elbows to consider. some people prefer to drive their elbows up. Others find this causes then to topple forward. Some prefer to drive their elbows down which can reinforce the lowerback arch and help them stay upright.

                                 Here's some definite elbows down squatting

When it comes to breathing you should take a large breathe tense your abs and hold it. Then squat. You may prefer to keep your breath held through the duration of the lift. Some prefer exhaling while keeping the abs tense upon rising. This is also known as power breathing. Others still wait until they hit their sticking point then exhale forcibly. Again experiment and see which is strongest.

Of course no discussion about squats could be complete without talking about shoes. There are two real choices here. You can wear Olympic lifting shoes with a heel or flat shoes such as converse or wrestling shoes. Olympic shoes will make it easier to hit depth, put slightly more emphasis on the quads and keep you upright. They also give you a very solid base to push from. Oly shoes can only really work with a narrow to medium stance. A wide stance would require some weird ankle flexibility and make it hard to push from the heels. Flat shoes tend to emphasize the posterior chain more and require greater flexibility to hit depth. Those who squat wide all tend to wear flat shoes. Converse are a favourite of powerlifters although I'm not sure why. I find them too squishy to squat well in. Some other options are wrestling/boxing shoes or old school plimsoles.  You don't get the solid base of Olympic shoes with flat options like converse or wrestling shoes but you can get specialist flat squat shoes made for powerlifting but they will set you back a fair bit of money. I would suggest when first starting out to go for cheap flat shoes. You if you decide a wide stance works best then you may want to stick them and invest in some specialist ones further down the line. When experimenting with medium or narrow stance squats you can try squatting with your heels on a 1.25kg plate to see if a heeled shoe may benefit you. If this is the case then a pair of Olympic shoes may be a good investment.

That pretty much covers squatting. As you can see there are a lot of small changes and tweaks you can make. Take your time and slowly experiment with them until you find your final form. Do not make radical changes but small adjustments to technique using trial and error. You need to squat in a way which works best with your own leverages, biomechanics, muscle dominances and goals. Squatting for big quads might require a different technique to squatting maximal weight. Or not, who knows? Squat the best way for you not just how your favourite powerlifting or bodybuilding icon does.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Pick'n'mix Cardio

If you are someone who competes in a particular sport which has a cardiovascular element then you are going to have to be very specific about how you train. Runners need to run, fighters need to spar and crossfitters need everything. But if you are a strength athlete, bodybuilder, or someone just training for strength, health, physique or whatever then you can be far more general when it comes to cardiovascular exercise. If you are doing cardio for the health benefits, fat burning effects or to build general endurance then the type of cardio you do doesn't matter as long as you are getting the benefits.

When you are doing cardio for these benefits you are not trying to build muscular endurance but are trying to build the endurance of your heart and lungs or burn calories.

Most of the down sides of cardio are associated with doing the same thing repeatedly. The adaptation s of your type 2 muscle fibres towards endurence will be greater if they are getting repeated signals to adapt to an ever greater demand from the same activity. In other words if you run a lot your muscles will adapt to get you better at running. But if your goals are to be as strong and muscular as possible this is not what you want as you are now conflicting with your other goals. The other down side to repeated cardio is wear and tear on the joints. The same motion over and over especially if its high impact like running tends to lead to overuse injury's. So how do you get the health and fat burning effects of cardio while avoiding loss of strength or muscle and minimising your chance of injury? Simple you do a different type of cardio everytime you train it and rotate around the vast options of cardiovascular exercise open to you.
Think of all the different types of cardio exercise.
You have running over varying distances and speeds on varying terrain, skipping, swimming over distances, speeds and strokes, cycling, rowing machines, elliptical, stairmaster, bodyweight circuits, kettle bell work, burpees, carrying things, playing different sports, interval training, power walking, walking with a weighted vest, pushing a prowler, pulling a sled, sledgehammer strikes, battling ropes, assault courses, bag work, grappling, barbell complexes, method naturelle type training. The list is pretty much endless. By taking a varied approach to cardio you still burn fat, get all the health benefits and allow your heart and lungs to adapt to exercise. However the constant variety doesn't allow your muscles to adapt effectively or to produce as much repetitive strain on the joints. The more of a type of cardio you do the more efficient you become at doing it and therefore the less beneficial it is. Constant variety means you will not be as efficient each time and will burn more calories each time.

Of course this method is not perfect as it is difficult to gauge progression.  Is running better than swimming? Did I burn more calories doing that circuit than this power walk? Well you have a couple of options. There is the rate of peiceved exertion. This is your personal gauge of how hard something is. If 30mins of running just about killed you while 30mins of swimming felt easy you know you got more benefit and burned more calories from the running. That's not to say that the most intense forms of cardio are always best. If you just do hill sprints all the time you will probably end up over trained. There are many benefits to easier more sustainable cardio. But overtime you are looking to work harder and for longer. Another way to gauge progress is to buy a heart rate monitor to wear during cardio. Here you can see your heart rate and how it compares between forms of cardio. Some even have built in calorie counters. While these may not be 100% accurate they are at least accurate to themselves so you can compare the calories burning effects between different types of cardio. You do not always need to seek progression on cardio and if you are not doing it for performance then does it matter to you whether it is improving or not? That's up to you but if you are losing fat, getting stronger and more muscular I wouldn't be worried. Training like this allows you to auto regulate your cardio based on how you are feeling with easier and harder workouts thrown in when your body feels ready. Of course you can pick and chose what types of cardio you want to be based on person pretences or create some kind of random. Cardio genrater perhaps giving different options a number and following a dice to see what to do. This can keep things fun and interesting.

I tend to divide cardio into steady state type activity, power walking, vest walking, running, swimming, rowing, elliptical
And interval type cardio, sprints, hills, skipping, bag work, bodyweight circuits, battling ropes, kettle bells, prowler, sleds, sledgehammers, complexes etc. I will perform a mix of the two on any given week depending on what I fancy doing. If you get the opportunity you can play any number of sports and if I have the chance I like to do all day cardio on off days.

All day cardio is basically hiking or bike riding over a long distance that will take several hours. The intensity is very low and is more of a leisure activity exploring new areas and getting into nature. But by being on your feet or on a bike all day you can really burn a lot of calories. Just see how tired you feel after hiking 10 miles. A good thing for this is to look at google maps or earth and find some unexplored places or country side that's within walking or cycle distance. You can of course drive further out and then begin walking or riding as well. You might be suprised just what you find and how good this makes you feel. Take the family with you, your dog, or just get some solitude. You can listen to music or audio books or just the sounds of nature. Only do these on a rest day and just fit them in if you find you have a spare day. I try to do one every couple of weeks.

Keep your cardio constantly varied and never get bored, get all the benefits with none of the draw backs. Programme it however you like or do it completely at random. Make sure you are still lifting to be strong and useful and eating good and you will continue to lose fat, get fitter and be healthier.

They like to mix it 


I'm Quite Partial to Partials

Training with heavy partials is a very old training method which has fallen out of favour in recent years. Many big strong guys got incredible results from incorporating partials into their training. Two guys which come to mind are Paul Anderson and Bob Peoples. Anderson used partials almost exclusively for his squat training and ended up squatting a disputed 1200lbs. Whether or not he actually did this he was certainly a very strong squatter with lots of witnessed lifts in the 800-900lbs range. Bob peoples used partials for the deadlift which he was built perfectly for with massive monkey arms. He ended up pulling around 720lbs at 180lbs of bodyweight. Both these guys did these lifts before power racks were widely avaible and ended up digging a hole in the ground with the barbell placed over the top. They would lift in the hole and overtime start to fill it in until they were doing their lifts with a full range of motion.

There are a few reasons I feel partials are no longer as popular as they used to be.

They were widely used from around the 30s to the 60s with many strongmen from those eras advocating them. In this time those who lifted weights did so to get strong and to compete in weighting. After this bodybuilding started to take over and training for strength became less important. Partials are a pure stength training method and don't have a place in a bodybuilders routine, So partials and strength training in general fell out of favour while bodybuilding grew in popularity.

Many current strength athletes opt for accommodating resistance methods such as bands and chains which achieve a similar effect but aren't quite the same animal and don't quite cover all the benefits I believe partials have.

The final reason that partials aren't popular as its viewed by many lifters as ego lifting. But there is a difference to a beginner half squatting or only unlocking their arms on a bench press than a serious lifter using partials in addition to full range of motion lifting. The former is simply ignorance to what full range of motion is and how a exercise should be performed. While the latter is an assistance exercise to compliment full range of motion lifts. Its not to brag and say "look how much weight I lifted for 2 inchs!" No one cares how much you lift in a partial. Its simply an assistance exercise and should be treated as such.

All of this aside there are many advantages to including partials in your training.

Firstly partials build epic core strength. The body requires great stability to be able to support weights much heavier than your full range max even if it isn't moving them very far. The abs, obliques, lower back, upper back and internal core muscles are having to work super hard to maintain the neutral spine during the lift. These muscles can be worked much harder than during a conventional exercise as the prime movers are no longer the limiting factor. You will really have to brace hard and hold your air during a heavy partial and I would advise you to do them without a belt on. Unless you have a very weak core you should find that you can handle weights beltless greater than yor belted full range lift.

Tendon and ligament strength. Many old timers believed that great strength could be achieved by not only developing the muscles but also the tendons and ligaments as well. They used partials as a means to do this as it overloaded the tendons beyond what the muscles could handle during a full range lift. This in turn would make you stronger without increasing your bodyweight as well as making you more resistant to injury. To further develop the tendons perform a ultra high rep pumping exercise on top of this. Tendons have less blood supply than muscles and require much greater volumes to build them that 3 sets of 10 just can't achieve. Working anywhere from sets of 30 to 100 reps afterwards should give you tendons like a terminator.

Heavy partials can give a great psychological boost to your training. By getting used to handling heavier weights suddenly normal working weights done through a full range of motion don't feel as heavy. Having 200kg on your back is no longer a big deal once you are used to supporting 300kg. While there is obvious physical strength to be gained from training partials from a stronger core, tendons etc there is also great confidence to be gained in their training as well.

Heavy partial training when done from a deadstop can help strengthen your full range lifts by making you stronger through a sticking point. When doing a full range lift there comes a point where the bar is at the least mechanical advantage and will slow down. If the lifter is strong enough they will grind slowly through it to complete the lift. If they are not this is the point at which they will fail the lift. This is known as a sticking point. It can be on different parts of the lift and will differ between people. You might be weak off your chest in a bench, weak at the mid point in the squat and weak at lockout in the deadlift for example.

Take a average gym goer who does half squats. Not because he's doing partial training but simply because he's ignorant to proper full squat technique. He takes the bar out of the racks slightly unlocks his knees and comes up. This kind of partial creates a stretch reflex on the muscles at the bottom which helps you come up stronger. Now when coming up from a full squat and you hit your sticking point the stretch reflex as all but gone and its up to you to grind the weight out.

Partials perfored like this with an eccentric action first creating a stretch reflex will not carry over to full range lifts very effectively. How ever if you perform partials from a dead stop by using the pins on a power rack you have no stretch reflex. You will be relying on pure strength alone through that specific range of motion. You will find that partials done this way are hardest when trying to get them off the pins and that you really have to slowly grind through them. This will teach you to grind through the same sticking point in a full range of motion lift. It is this reason that I feel dead stop partials are superior to accommodating resistance training methods such as bands and chains when it comes to raw lifters.

So what partial exercises can you use and how should you implement them into your training?

While any exercise can be done with a partial range of motion there are only a few which are beneficial in the ways I have described.

Partial squats done off the pins in the power rack at varying heights.

Partial front squats off pins. Never tried these but I'd imagine they might be quite hard on the knees. These supposedly worked well for Dan John at improving his cleans.

Partial over head squat. Never tried this but probably a beast of a core exercise

Rack pulls from various heights or block pulls

Bench off pins at various heights. I believe these would work better than the fabled board press as the board press still creates a stretch reflex. It might be useful for geared guys but the Bench off pins will have more carryover to raw benching.

Overhead press off of pins. These are great for core strength. If you are short or your gym has a really high powerrack you can do these. I'm 5'10 and most racks are to low to lockout.

Incline press off pins. If you use inclines as your main press you might want to get stronger at them by doing partials

Seated press off the pins. Doesn't have the same core benefit as standing overhead press partials but still helps you get stronger over head

Partial weighted chins. You have to be able to set the bar at different height and pull from an already bent arm position so a Smith machine works well for these.

Partial one arm chin ups. I write about these in the one arm chin post.

Partial curls off pins. Yes this would mean curling in the squat rack so don't do them if someone is waiting to squat. I believe arm wrestlers use these as well as those who compete in strict curl events. It would also be a great way to strengthen your tendons to help prevent injuries from deadlifting or strongman.

When it comes to adding them to your training program I suggest doing them after the full range lift as an assistance exercise. You should only use singles to train dead stop partials otherwise you are creating a stretch relfex between reps and losing some of the benefits. You can do high sets anywhere from around 6-15. You could also do them rest pause with around 5-10 seconds rest between reps. Just make you are not supporting the weight in between pauses and that it is resting completely on the pins.

You can use various heights when training partials. I would suggest if you have never used them before to work from around the middle of the full range lift.

As you become accustomed to using partials you can use what the old timers did which was progressive movement training. This is starting at the top of the range of motion and very slowly overtime increasing the distance until you are doing full range lifts.

Make sure you build up slowly when doing partials. With such high loading on your body your joints will start to hate you if you go too heavy too soon or over do the volume. I would suggest you don't do partials more than once a week for each body part and you may even want to alternate each week between squat/Deadlift partials as they both put a lot of stress on the lower back. Don't go any heavier than your full range max your first few sessions then slowly increase the weight and sets from there. Doing partials from a dead stop off the pins in the power rack is a safest way to do them because if you are not strong enough the bar simply won't move but there is still a risk of injury. You are building your tendons and ligaments which take a ling time to develop so don't rush you have been warned.

To get the full tendon building effects it is good to perform high rep pumping exercises afterwards to get maximum blood through the tendons and ligaments. Aim for around 100 total reps split over several sets.

Some exercises which work well are:

bodyweight squats/kettlebell swing after partial squats.

45 degrees back extension/ banded good morning/ kettlebell swing after rack pulls.

Push ups or wall push ups after partial Bench or incline.

Dumbbell press or band press after overhead partials

Empty Olympic bar curls after partial chins,  one arm chins or partial curls.

That's it! Regularly include partials in your training and after a few years you will become both an unstoppable force and an immovable object.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

How Crossfitters Should Train: Like Athletes

Its almost costomery to bash crossfit on fitness blogs and websites and while there are some good things to crossfit, it doesn't help itself with the tide of bad things also. But I'm not going to simply put it down but offer up an alternative.

The main philosophy of crossfit is to be a good all rounder when it comes to strength, endurance and athletism.  I see nothing wrong with this as a fitness goal. Wanting your body to be prepared for any situation and empathising physical performance above aesthetics. In some ways this is not too different from my own philosophy of being strong to be useful although I value strength above endurance

The problem comes from the application of training for this goal. Completely random haphazard workouts with no way of gauging progression. High rep Olympic lifting turning an exercise designed for explosive power into a sloppy and dangerous one. But even worse than this is the complete defiled abomination that is the kipping pull up. What I find ironic is that a regular pull up would be much more useful in developing the attributes they desire than kipping would. They are superior in building strength and if you needed to actually climb something chances are you wouldn't be able to swing and kip your body around.

Crossfit is basically classed as a sport now and what's interesting is that a lot of the top competitors don't actually do traditional crossfit by following WOD's. They develop their own ideas about how to increase performance.

But here's the thing. There are many sports where a mix of physical characteristics are needed. Sports like Rugby where athletes are massively strong and muscular but also have amazing sprinting speed and the endurance to play for 80minute matches.

There's MMA where fighters have to have the conditioning for 5min rounds as well as the strength to knock out an opponent and grapple with them.

 There's under 90kg strongman where competitors have not only amazing static strength but incredible work capacity and speed the pull trucks,  load and carry implents like farmers walks, yokes and medleys.

In the world of athletics there are multidisciplinary events such as the decathlon and heptathlon. Athletes have to have good performances in a mixture of running distances, throwing and jumping events. Take Jessica Ennis the British 2012 Olympic champion in the women's Hepthalon. I bet she could beat any female crossfit competitor in the crossfit games simple because her levels of strength, speed, endurance and athletism are so high. Without even needing to practice specific events. And she still has better abs than any of them.

If your goals are to be a good all rounder than why not study the training of these kinds of athletes and apply it to yourself. I'm not going to research all the training methods these athletes use but generally a few similarities arise. They periodize their training. Peaking for specific events and spending periods of time emphasising the development of certain areas above others. They work on weaknesses. Needing an all round level of physical skills will expose weaknesses quite obviously. Athletes in these disciplines work hard to improve their weakness as it makes a a dramatic improvement in performance. They develop skills in seperate training sessions rather than trying to mishmash everything together. They will have weight sessions to build strength, sessions for speed drills, sessions for endurance. Rarely do you see them try and combine everything at once. They use the right tool for the job. They might use Olympic lifting for power, weight lifting for strength and something sport specific for speed and endurance such as sprinting for rugby or sparring for MMA.

Your training should take you closer to your goals and to do that you need to learn from others who have what you want to achieve. A training method should be judged on the performance it creates not how much it makes you sweat or by how many people are in the group. I would love to see a high level athlete from one of those sports go in and dominate the crossfit games. Unfortunately this won't happen because they will be too busy training for sports that matter rather than trying to be the best at exercising.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Nutrition on a Budget

 It is a common misconception that healthy muscle building or fatloss food is considerably more expensive than a standard diet of junk food. While this maybe true if you want the highest quality organic, grass fed, free range, natural, gluten free, dairy free, carrots or something if you have a tight budget it is still possible to get some good nutrition at a low price.

First of all if you are on a budget it is not the time to follow fad or restrictive diets. Paleo, keto, velocity diet etc. These tend to be very expensive while results can be achieved following more regular food choices, an even mix of macros and watching your calories.

Learn where to shop. There are many budget supermarkets out there such as Aldi and Lidl which tend to be cheaper than the regular big supermarket names. There are also frozen food specialists such as Iceland and Farmfoods. Farmfoods especially is full of loads of cheap nutritious food so if you have one locally check it out. Amongst the bigger supermarket chains Asda appears to be the cheapest with Waitrose being the most expensive. Sainsbury and Tesco seem to be in the middle. By all means shop around for particular items as prices may vary amongst supermarkets.

Now let's look at each macro and go over the cheapest and best sources available


This is going to be your most expensive macro and the most important. Evaluate protein sources based on the grams of protein per £ spent.

If you are really on a budget and you need protein then just eat the cheaper conventional meat and eggs rather than organic, free range or grass fed. Let's be honest the difference between the two is minimal and if you are on a tight on money protein is very important. Now you might not ethically agree with it but unless you are vegetarian and outside the factories with a picket line I doubt you actually care about aminal welfare as much as you think you do. I expect a massive load of hate and butthurt for putting that. Try to eat less fatty meats such as chicken, turkey and lean mince beef. One of the main benefits of grass fed meat and free range eggs is the better ratio of omega 3 in the fat. By eating less fat you are avoiding the worse ratio from conventional meat anyway. I'll get to how you can improve the fat ratio later. Also the majority of toxins from meat are stored in the fat so this also helps you reduce those which maybe in the conventional meat.

The cheapest meats tend to be chicken, turkey and beef mince. Chicken and turkey thigh is even cheaper than the breast. skin on is cheaper still and you can always remove it later.

Buy frozen if you can. Frozen chicken breast, chicken thighs, frozen mince, frozen fish fillets are all just as good as the fresh versions but much cheaper. When it comes to fresh meat turkey and pork are your best bet and you can get mince from both at a good price. Casserole meat can be cheap and great for stews and soups.

Eggs can be cheap if you get regular ones but even the free range ones aren't too much more. I've found 6 eggs for 70p yielding around 45g of protein.

Tinned fish. Frozen white fish is fairly cheap but some really good sources are tinned. Tuna and salmon are the most obvious ones. Salmon even when tinned is still quite expensive while tuna is a cheap and good source of protein. But less common fish are also very cheap tinned. Mackerel, sardines, pilchards and anchovies are all fairly cheap tinned. These are also pretty high in omega 3. If you eat these often enough you can push your omega 3 ratio quite high with no worries about the fat you've been getting from conventional meat and eggs. You can even avoid the need for fish oil supplements. Just make sure you get them in brine or olive oil. Even tomato sauce. Just avoid getting them in sunflower oil as this is so high in omega 6 as to defeat the object of eating these.

Liver and other organ meats are some of the most nutritious foods you can eat and is also some of the cheapest. A 400g liver will cost you about £1 for around 60g of protein and a massive hit of almost every vitamin and mineral. It may not be that tasty so you might have to play around with cooking methods and recipes. Personally I can just eat it fryed with some onions and veg. You won't need to spend money on multivitamins if you eat this a couple of times a week.

Cottage cheese is an old bodybuilding favourite for its slow release protein it's also very cheap.

While not a complete protein source kidney beans are dirt cheap and full of vitamins and fibre.

Finally protein powder. You may think this isn't exactly cheap but that's because you buy it by the kilo. Depending where you get it from this could be anywhere from £15 to £30. Avoid GNC and buy it online from bulkpowders or myprotein. if you look at the grams of protein per£ you'll actually realise that's it's very cheap indeed.

Here's a quick run down of some of these foods from a protein g/£ ratio most of these are from ASDA online

Smart price Turkey breast 33g per £1
Turkey thigh mince 45g per £1
Farmfoods beef mince 33g per £1
Pigs Liver 225g per £1
Smart price beef and pork mince 69g per £1
Frozen chicken breast 40g per £1
White fish fillets 40g per £1
Farmfoods eggs 60g per £1
Large free range eggs 27g per £1
Tinned tuna in brine 45g per £1
Tinned mackerel 30g per £1 with 4g of omega 3
Tinned sardines in brine 46g per £1 with 4.4g of omega 3
Cottage cheese 30g per £1
Myprotein unflavoured whey 53g per £1
Myprotein flavoured whey 44g per £1
Kidney beans 40g per £1

These are just are just a few examples obviously prices may vary so you'll have to work out your own ratios.

As you can see liver beats the rest by far but you can't eat that stuff day in day out. Some are better than others But it's good to get a mix of sources for a more balanced amino acid profile and for the sake of taste variety.


Carbs tend to be pretty cheap as it is and are not usually a worry. The cheapest sources without being complete crap are porridge oats, rice and potatoes with tinned potatoes being especially cheap at about 20p a can. You can get oats and rice in kilo bags for around £1. Whole grain pasta is cheap and so are rice cakes for snacking potential. Even whole grain bread isn't very expensive. Don't worry about gluten or paleo as chances are you can digest gluten just fine. And don't have the budget to be really fussy. Rice and potatoes are gluten free though. You certainly don't need expensive carb powders Like dextrose or multidextrin for post workout. Any carb source will do.


You can certainly get some of your fat intake from your protein sources. Most other fats tend to be more on the expensive side especially the healthful monounsaturated kind.

For saturated fats you have single and double cream if you simply need the calories also full fat Greek yogurt. Coconuts are quite cheap at less than a £1 for a whole one. They have medium chain triglycerides with many health benefits. You can drink the water for a good source of minerals and electrolytes as well.

You can get creamed coconut which can be used to make coconut milk as its cheaper than buying the milk ready made. Peanut butter is fairly cheap and a good source of monounsaturated fat but avoid other nut butters as these are very expensive.
Nuts themselves are generally not that cheap but the most bang for your buck comes from almonds and walnuts. Buy them unsalted. For cooking use regular olive oil. Butter can be used in some cases as well. Olive oil is not cheap but is your best bet. Vegetable or sunflower oil are too high in omega 6. And the paleo favourite coconut oil is massively expensive as well as unnecessary since the healthy fats can be gained much cheaper from an actual coconut.

Vitamins, minerals and fibre

Here I'm talking about fruit and veg mostly. You can get a lot of cheap veg frozen with all of the vitamins and minerals remaining locked inside. Frozen broccoli, peas, mixed veg, peppers, stir fry mixes, cabbage and spinach. Can all be picked up for around £1 for a big bag. Starchy veg like parsnips, turnips, Swedes and potatoes tend to be less nutritious so you may be better just have a cheaper carb source like oats or rice. Red onions can be bought fresh and are more nutritious than white ones. Generally more colourful veg is better than white veg so I don't bother with cauliflower, Swedes or things like that. Salad leaves and lettace are pretty void of nutrition so don't waste your money on those. Tomatoes can be bought tinned and are actually more nutritious when cooked like that. They work great with mince dishes. When it comes to fruit berries contain the greatest amount of antioxidants. In summer when they are in season they tend to be fairly cheap but at other times of the year you can pick up frozen mixed berries quite cheaply. Blend them in smoothies or have them with yogurt or cream. Of other fruit apples and bananas are well priced and ignore the more exotic fruit from half way around the world.

When you are on a budget you really need to be critical of the supplements you take. Looking at the g/£ of protein ratio you can already tell that whey powder is actually cheaper than alot of food so I suggest keeping it in your diet. Beyond that nothing else is really necessary. Omega 3 can be obtained from oily fish so you may not want to spend money supplementing there. Vitamins and minerals can be obtained from liver and lots of fruit and veg. So a multivitamin is not needed. Creatine is a very cheap supplement that can actually make a big difference so if you can spare the money it can be worth taking. If you need a boost pre workout then pick up some caffeine tablets such as pro plus rather than fork out for expensive preworkout supplements. It's mostly the caffeine which helps you anyway. Every other supplement has questionable scientific evidence to back them up and really aren't worth your money.

When it comes to beverages obviously you should mostly drink water. If you need some taste then go for sugar free flavoured waters rather than the typical big brand diet soft drinks. They are far cheaper. Tea green tea and coffee will just have to be budgeted for if you need them.

Buy in bulk. You can save money getting bulk deals and multipacks. Most people get paid on a monthly basis yet shop weekly. For non perishable items you can shop emphasising bulk deals when you have more money in order to save more. What deals are available depend on the supermarket so look around.

Check out the discount section and fresh food counters. Supermarkets usually discount perishable food which Is going out of date by as much as 75% for the last day. You can pick up some real bargains on meat and fish. Usually there is a certain time of the day that these products are reduced so try to find out when this is so you can pick up a bargain before anyone else does.

If you are bulking a great way to add calories is to drink a can of evaporated milk. It will set you back about £1 for 600 calories with a fairly even mix of fats carbs and protein. It even is quite high in vitamin D. But don't confuse this with condensed milk which is much higher in sugar. A very easy way to bulk would be to just drink a can of this in addition to your regular meals for that 600 calorie surplus.

Learn to use spices. While not cheap if you only buy one a month it is not much money. Some of these foods are very bland so may need spicing up a bit.

Pay attention to calories and macros when eating on a budget. You can use one of the online calculates to find your customised amounts. This ensures that you don't over eat and spend money needlessly and by having a balanced carb intake allows you to have some very cheap food sources rather than the more expensive proteins and fats. You can even emphasise more calories from carbs and have a lower fat intake. This is not necessacarily a bad thing as some people fair better with higher carb intakes and have more energy. As long as your calorie intake is in check you will not get fat. This applies to bulking cutting or maintaining. Don't worry too much about meal timing either just focus on getting the carbs fats and protein you need over a 24hour period.

Don't cheat too often. The foods I've outlined are very cheap compared to pizza, ice cream, cookies, eating out etc. If you cheat quite often the money soon adds up.

Avoid processed diet foods which are always very expensive. Gluten free bread and cereal, protein bar's, sugar free chocolate, and similar things available in most health food stores.

You can save money from food also by fasting. The typical intermittent fasting protocol of 16 hour fast 8 hour eating is no good since you will still eat the same amount of food. But a once weekly 24hour fast can have numerous health benefits but I won't go into them here. It can work well if you are cutting and save you an entire days worth of food. But do not exceed one day a week for this and don't train that day.

Finally see what you can get for free. Depending on where you live you may be able to hunt and gather a little. This may be a bit crazy but you never know what's out there. I know in my local area at certain times of the year there is seafood mussels, cockles, and winkles, seaweed, blackberries, chives and nettles. There are also lots of wild rabbits. I'm sure there is plenty of protein right there.

Finally I've give you a few cheap meal ideas

Oats with whey protein and skim milk

Mince meat of choice with onions chopped tomatoes, kidney beans, garlic salt and rice

Stir fry liver, chicken, onion, mushrooms and assorted veg

Soup from assorted veg potatoes and skin on chicken thighs. Remove the bones when cooked

Defrosted mixed berries with double cream

Weightgainer smoothie with evaporated milk, whey protein, banana

White fish with chives cooked in butter with mixed veg and rice

Rice cakes with peanut butter on

Mixed veg omelet

Simple meals like these are all very cheap. Eating like this might not be the most tasty or exciting way to eat but when you have a tight budget you need to focus on quality nutrition. At a guess I would say it would be possible to have a weeks food at around 3000 calories a day with balanced macros for about £40-50 taking into account bigger buys at the start of the month like protein powder.

 While it might not be the absolutely healthiest way to eat. When it comes to making progress whether muscle gains or fat loss it will achieve the exact same results as any grass fed organic gluten free extra virgin natural free range diet will.