Tips And Thoughts From Ben Bruno
by Ben Bruno T-Nation
A while ago I wrote an article called 7 for 27 in honor of my 27th birthday where I shared seven random thoughts and training tips.
At the end of that article I stated that my goal was to share 27 points by my next birthday, so if I'm going to keep my word and follow through on that promise, I've got to get cooking.
Here it goes.
1. Paused Reps vs. "Touch-and-Go" on the Deadlift
When pulling multiple reps in the deadlift, should you pause and reset between reps or do them continuously?
I've gone back and forth on this one. I used to do only paused reps because I thought touch-and-go was "cheating." After all, it's a dead lift, implying you should start each rep from a dead stop, right?
Cheating though implies you're breaking rules, and last time I checked, there's no "deadlift for reps" contest, so there really are no rules.
I also used to think paused reps were safer because with touch-and-go reps there's the potential for form to break down as the set goes on, which usually manifests in people failing to get their hips down and "stiff legging" reps later in the set, something that can get dangerous with heavy loads. With paused reps, you can theoretically reset between reps to keep that from happening.
But that's not what usually happens. Instead, you'll often see that the first rep in a set of deadlifts is the worst, when people are trying to overcome inertia and break the bar off the floor.
ĘSo when you're doing paused reps, there's more "first reps," so to speak, and you'll see form deteriorate with paused reps as fatigue sets in. The higher the reps, the uglier it gets.
So here's what I do now. With my lower-rep sets (under 5), I'll use paused reps and reset my form on each rep to ensure that my form stays tight and I'm not relying on momentum to break the bar off the floor.
With higher reps, though, I'll do touch-and-go, but I make a conscious effort to keep my hips down and my form tight. My back has felt much better doing it this way.
It's also important to note that touch-and-go doesn't give you license to free-fall the weight and aggressively bounce it off the floor. You don't want to lower it really slowly, either, as that's dangerous in its own right, but you do want to be in control of the weight.
Think of it as a "kiss" more than a bounce. Realistically, when you're dealing with heavy-ass weight, that kiss may be a bit more aggressive, more like making out with heavy petting, or sliding into first base.
Here's an example (of deadlifting, not making out).
Bear in mind that I do most of my pulling with the trap bar, which lends itself better to pulling for reps.
2. The Chalk Sock
Most commercial gyms won't supply chalk because they don't want the mess, which blows because most bars in commercial gyms absolutely suck. I've been in several gyms where it honestly felt like the bars were greased, which makes it next to impossible to hold any appreciable weight unless you use straps.
If that's you, look into buying a "chalk sock." They're actually made for rock climbing so you can usually find them at your local mountaineering store. If not, you can easily buy one online for cheap. The one I use has lasted me five years, so it's five bucks well spent.
They're great because they're small and don't make a mess, so you won't draw ire from the gym staff.
As long as you aren't pulling a Lebron James and throwing it all over the place, it shouldn't be a problem.
3. Don't Be Afraid to Fail, Sometimes
I try to avoid using blanket statements as much as possible because things are hardly ever black and white, and it's easy for those kinds of statements to be misinterpreted or taken out of context.
For example, there's a growing faction within the strength training community that advises to avoid training to failure at all costs.
Usually these types of comments are aimed at the powerlifts, but the message has been interpreted as a universal absolute: do not train to failure. Ever.
I agree that it's wise to avoid training to failure on certain exercises – squat and deadlift variations included – because the potential for injury is too high and the risk versus reward doesn't play out favorably.
I'd also add good mornings to that list, along with barbell rows, overhead presses, explosive movements, and probably most single-leg work as well – basically, any exercise where it can get really ugly and dangerous when form breaks down.
But for some certain exercises that don't pose as much risk, training to failure absolutely has a place, and a valuable one at that. Some of my personal favorites include dumbbell bench press variations, dumbbell rows, push-ups, chin-ups, inverted rows, single-leg hip thrusts, and sliding leg curls – exercises where you won't get hurt if form breaks down.
You definitely want to be judicious in your use of training to failure, but taking a couple sets of the above exercises to the max at the end of a workout can help pack on muscle while teaching you to push beyond your comfort zone in a safer way. The latter is useful in its own right because a lot of lifters are brutally soft and never even sniff their potential because of it.
If you choose your exercises wisely, this can also be a great way to get in some extra volume to help bring up any weak points and/or work on any imbalances you might have.
For example, if your hamstrings are particularly weak, you could do a couple high-rep sets of sliding leg curls at the end of your leg workout, or you could tack on a couple sets of inverted rows at the end of an upper body workout to bring up your upper back and help offset all the pressing you're doing.
4. Ring Push-ups Make For a Great Finisher
Speaking of good finishing exercises, ring push-ups are at the top of my list on upper body days. I like them because they kill a bunch of birds with one stone: frying the chest while simultaneously helping to build strong and stable shoulders, along with functioning as one hell of a core exercise to boot.
It's like when you were a kid and your mom would put your nasty-tasting pills that you refuse to swallow in applesauce or pudding; it's giving you the things you need but might not enjoy doing (core and shoulder stability work) while also giving you what you do like (a massive chest pump) in a form that's more enjoyable and easier to swallow – pun totally intended.
I say they're a good finishing exercise because after a few hard sets you probably won't feel like doing much else, especially any pressing.
5. Breakfast of Champions
Here's an awesome recipe that's been my go-to breakfast for the past 4-5 years (yeah, I'm a creature of habit).
First let me clarify what I mean by an "awesome" recipe. I hate cooking, so to me, awesome means:
It's good for you.
It tastes good.
It takes under 10 minutes to make, start to finish.
It involves no prep time. The only thing I hate more than cooking is preparing to cook.
With that in mind, here's my breakfast. I don't normally measure anything out, but I did for the sake of this article so you can replicate it yourself.
Ingredients: Quinoa flakes (similar to oatmeal, but oatmeal works too), chocolate Metabolic Drive® Low Carb, cinnamon (optional), sea salt (optional), water
Step 1: Put 1/2 cup of quinoa flakes in a bowl with 2 cups water.
Step 2: Microwave for 4 minutes.
Step 3: Mix in 2 heaping scoops of chocolate Metabolic Drive.
Step 4: Sprinkle in a touch of sea salt and some cinnamon (optional).
Step 5: There is no step 5. That's it.
So easy, a meathead can do it.
Note: It's usually hot as hell coming out of the microwave so give it time to cool down, or if you're impatient like I am and don't want to wait, stick it in the freezer for a couple minutes.
I'll add four Flameout™ and some fruit and call it good. My preference is blueberries, in which case I'll mix about a cup right into the bowl, but this time of year when blueberries cost an arm and a leg, I'll just eat an apple or two on the side.
I crush that and then lift about an hour or two later. It gives me good energy to train, and it doesn't upset my stomach, which to me are the keys to a good pre-workout meal. I've tried different methods – fasted training, low carbs, etc. – but I keep finding myself going back to my old faithful. If it ain't brokeÉ
One of these days I might get really adventurous and try this recipe with vanilla protein powder (I like to live on the edge), but I've been telling myself that for years and haven't made the jump, so I guess we'll see.
6. Try Using Kettlebells for Rows and Overhead Presses
I haven't really delved into using kettlebells much for "kettlebell exercises," but I love them in place of dumbbells for one-arm rows and overhead presses.
For the rows, set up just as you would for a regular dumbbell row with one hand on a bench, only use a pronated grip rather than a neutral grip, which leads to more of an "elbows out" rowing motion that really smokes the upper back.
You can do this with dumbbells too, but it doesn't feel nearly as smooth as it does with kettlebells. Kettlebells also let you use a thumbless "false" grip, which helps take the arms out of it to a greater extent and makes it feel even better.
For overhead presses, you can do them either single-arm or double-arm, but I prefer single. Either way, start by holding the kettlebell with a neutral or even semi-supinated grip with your arm in tight to your body.
As you press, your hand will naturally rotate into a pronated position, similar to the motion of a classic Arnold press. That rotation – along with the weight distribution of the kettlebell – makes for a more shoulder-friendly pressing alternative.
So if most overhead pressing variations bug your shoulders, using kettlebells may allow you to do them pain-free without having to ditch the pattern.
7. Sometimes the Best Rehab Protocol is Nothing
The most successful lifters are usually the ones that push themselves the hardest. Sure there are the genetic outliers for whom it comes easy, but for the most part, the ones getting results are those with a dogged work ethic that refuse to make excuses and get down to business, regardless of the circumstances or the adversity.
That's a great attitude to have for the most part, but if you're not careful, it can come back to bite you in the case of injuries.
Many gym-related injuries are due to overuse. Things hurt because we abuse certain exercises, either by doing them too much, using ****ty form, or both.
So what do we do when something hurts? Usually one of two things.
Ignore it and try to push through it. After all, who wants to be a *****? This is well intentioned, but from personal experience, I can say unequivocally that this almost never has a good ending.
We start hammering away with rehab work.
Sore back? It must be weak, and so must the core, so it's time to pound some back extensions and ab work.
Sore knees? Time to start crushing some TKEs (terminal knee extensions) or leg extensions because obviously the quads must be weak.
Sore shoulders? Surely it's due to a weak rotator cuff, so better bust out a ton of internal and external rotations until it feels like your arms are going to fall off.
The more the better – because that will obviously get you better faster.
I say this facetiously of course, but I've been guilty of that attitude more times than I can count.
When you step back and think about it logically, it doesn't make much sense to fight overuse with more use, does it? But that's exactly what we do to get back up to speed as quickly as possible.
Instead, the best thing you can often do at the onset of pain is nothing. Just leave it alone.
Now when I say nothing, I don't mean you can't train at all; I just mean to leave the painful area alone and avoid anything that hurts. Rather than focus on what you can't do, focus on what you can do and use it as an opportunity to work on other weak points and attack them tenaciously.
Case in point, a couple months ago I was being a knucklehead and tweaked my back badly doing something I knew I shouldn't have been doing. In the past, I definitely would've tried to work through it and would have probably turned a relatively minor injury into something much more serious.
This time, in effort to be smarter – or at least slightly less idiotic – I shut it down completely for two weeks. This isn't always necessary with most injuries, but those of you who've blown out your back know that you can't really do anything pain-free at first.
Once it started to feel a bit better, I embarked on a four-week incline-bench intensive program because a) inclines wouldn't piss off my back and, b) my incline press has always been comparatively weaker to my other lifts, so I figured it'd be a good chance to bring it up.
I stayed away from all lower body work entirely for the first two weeks of the pressing program to allow my back to rest more, and when I resumed, I kept it extremely light. I gave myself predetermined weight limits for my trap bar deadlifts each week and forced myself to obey them –135 pounds the first week, then 185, then 225, then 275, etc.
Talk about feeling like a *****. But I hit a new personal best on inclines at the end of the four-week program, and three weeks after that (so nine weeks after the initial injury) I hit a new personal best on the trap bar deadlift, so it all turned out for the best.
Those initial four weeks of no lower body training felt like an eternity at the time and it took everything I had in me to keep patient, but when you step back and put things into perspective, four weeks is nothing, and I was able to avert a potential disaster and turn it into a positive.
8. Goal Setting
With 2013 fast approaching, there are going to be a lot of people coming up with New Year's resolutions.
I think setting goals is extremely important, but the concept of New Year's resolutions is a bit of a pet peeve of mine because it just seems so contrived. If something's important to you, why wait until the New Year to start?
Goals should constantly be in flux and you should be reevaluating them consistently throughout the year as things change and life takes its natural ebb and flow.
It's easy to set a big ambitious goal at the beginning of the year and then forget about it. I guess that's why most people probably have the same resolutions year in and year out.
To keep that from happening to you this year, try breaking your goals down into macro goals and micro goals. Macro goals are the end goal, so they're more results oriented.
Micro goals, on the other hand, help lay the blueprint for how you'll achieve the overarching end goal, so they're more process oriented. That's a key distinction. Without a series of actionable process-oriented goals, it's highly unlikely that you'll reach your end goal.
I'll set my macro goals high, probably unrealistically high to some. To me, setting realistic goals is a one-way ticket to mediocrity. No thanks. But I'll break it down into manageable baby steps to give myself some direction and keep from getting overwhelmed. The more specific you can be with your micro goals, the better.
And I'm Out
I'll stop there to keep this from getting too long. I'm now eight steps closer to my overall goal of 27. I hope you're able to glean something useful from my randomness.