What do a suspension bridge and a successful strength athlete have in common?
An incredible ability to maintain tension
Just as there are two ends to every bridge, there Should be to be two ends in every barbell lift.
Everything must stay tight or else it fails.
The floor should be solid, safe, and made of a non-slip surface. You should not be squatting on your local ice rink, or a bosu ball...ever.
The bar should be balanced, in proper condition and in your hands. Not much else to say here.
You are the bridge. Your body acts as the link between two ends. Your bridge fails if you disconnect from one of the ends...and you will waver in the wind, and potentially become unsafe, if you don't maintain enough tension between those end points.
Seeing the vision yet?
There are 3 major locations that should be emphasized in every single lift. It doesn't matter if you are deadlifting, squatting, pressing overhead, or benching...these 3 places need to be tight-tight-tight.
1. Heels to the ground
Your contact point to the ground is the beginning of the kinetic chain that eventually ends at the bar. You shouldn't be squatting on your toes obviously, but you also shouldn't be pressing either. And for god sakes...stop practing your step routine while you bench press.
Drive your heels into the ground, hard. Create tension throughout the entire backside of your body by locking in those heels and pressing the floor away from you. I coach this as, "have active feet".
Feet, Ground, Chalk: Deadlift
No matter what lift you are performing...your heels need to be firmly rooted on the ground.
2. Core Tight, and Braced out...not sucked in.
We should all know what it looks like to "suck-in" and make our abs flex. We pull the lower abdominals in towards the spine and lift our chest to make our waist smaller.
When we lift heavy we want to do the opposite. We put to brace those abdominal muscles, as well as the lower back muscles, outwards! We do this by breathing deep into our belly, ribs, and back. (More on this topic of breathing can be found with the Postural Restoration Institute-PRI-).
I coach my clients to take the type of breath that they'd need if they were diving down in the ocean to get treasure. We want as much air as possible.
Once we put that air in the system (pressurizing the cabin), we want to flex those abs outwards and create a tremendous amount of tension in our midsection. This tension protects the lumbar spine, stabilizes the pelvis, and serves as constant for the joint/limbs that are moving to accomodate the barbell.
It is important to note that each of the 4 major lifts has a specific pattern for the core bracing in relation to lumbar position. Bench involves a large arch while overhead pressing should not. Squatting and Deadlifting typically require a mild arch with the goal being to come close to neutral.
No matter what lift you are doing...you need to brace your core and fill that space with air.
3. Your Shoulder Blades Need to Lock In
Each of the 4 lifts have a unique position, or movement pattern for the shoulder blades. Being cognizant of the sheer existence of the shoulder blades is important for improving your strength in the barbell lifts.
Squat - The shoulder blades should be packed downwards with the lats flared out a bit to provide a firm, stable base for the barbell to rest upon. Positioning the hands over the bar and elbows slightly up will tighten the muscles of the back and lock in the scapula.
Deadlift- Pack those shoulder blades back and down by flaring the lats and elevating the chest. I call this a proud spine. This tension will help resist the flexion that occurs once the bar leaves the ground and is controlled completely by you. Putting your scapula is the position protects the cervical, thoracic, and even lumbar spine from damage when the weight starts getting heavy.
Bench Press - The scapula should attempt to "pinch" the bench. Imagine that you are trying to squeeze the entire pad between those blades. This tension is going to stabilize the shoulder joint and press the chest towards the bar. Once the load is in your hands you'll feel broad and big underneath the bar, which is perfect. Don't release the pinch.
Shoulder Press - The scapula need to move during the press. There should be a movement progression from packed and squeezed (the bottom) to flared and open (the top). This movement is accomplished by ensuring the core is tight, the weight is controllable, and the traps are engaged to complete the repetition. The movement of the shoulder blades should not be overemphasized; however, rather they should move naturally as the humerus reaches a vertical position and the weight locks out over head.
Observing the rules of tension is a sure fire way to see a boost in your strength the next time you hit each of the major lifts. It is important to understand that tension must be maintained from beginning until the end of every set.
Get tight and lift heavy today!