Category Archives: Beginners

Push presses for superior upper body strength

Do you want a stronger upper body? To be stronger overall? Have stronger jerks? A stronger bench press? Well, the push press is the one!

Here’s how to execute the push press –

Since incorporating push pressing into my routine, I have been delighted with the results. The best thing about the push press is that it involves your entire body, in particular it activates your core muscles. And a stronger core can improve probably everything physical you do.

This diagram from Men’s Health illustrates the three phases of the push press:

The thing about strict press (pressing dumbbells or a barbell overhead but using only your shoulders, the rest of you should be still) is that, in my opinion, it’s a hard exercise to improve on. From experience, if you only ever strict press, you will quickly reach a plateau and even adding 2.5 kg becomes impossible. The strict press mostly isolates the shoulders, shoulder girdle and arm muscles – all of which are relatively small. Many people struggle improving their strict press because they get stuck on the initial part of the lift. Basically, you can’t get the weight moving! Continue reading

Optimal grip width for the snatch

This week I’ve been working on improving my snatch technique. I have come to a bit of a ‘dip’ in my snatch training. As always with Olympic lifting training, your technique will never be perfect; there’s always something that can be sharpened up, so it’s important to continually think about and even video yourself lifting to identify any areas that could be improved. Continue reading

How to jerk safely inside a power rack

I train in a VERY small environment. It may be just about okay to clean in such limited space (after all, the bar is only going to crash to the floor if I fail) but jerking is a lot harder. Let me make it clear to you that pushing heavy weight overhead is scary(!) and when I am doing jerks, I am pushing the most amount of weight over my head.

Nervous about jerks

In such a small space, as the weights were getting heavier I was becoming more and more nervous executing the lift, particularly after my elbow sprain a couple of months ago. When I fail a jerk rep, I try my hardest to control the bar down to the floor as safely as possible – but sometimes all I can do is just drop it. I train inside my family’s garage and I am always conscientious about damaging the floor or the equipment, and of course myself. We must always remember that rowing machines and floors can be replaced, we can’t be. Continue reading

My personal favourite ways to reduce muscle soreness

I’ve just changed my training programme, and with this new routine along came some serious DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness).

After 8 sets of jerks, followed by 5 sets of push presses on Sunday, my upper body is seriously sore!

Some type of DOMS is okay (after all, it definitely proves you worked out!), but the worst soreness is the type which makes working out harder.

My personal two favourite ways to reduce muscle soreness are…

  1. Deep massage
  2. Stretching Continue reading

Should your toes point forward or slightly outward in squats?

I have been carrying out some research on valgus collapse (knees caving in) in squatting and have come across an idea that is somewhat new to me. Although I am an experienced squatter, I have never really thought much about the position of my toes. When I squat, I place my toes where feels most comfortable, and that is usually rotated outwards slightly. To me it feels natural that in a wide or shoulder-width squat stance, my feet should angle outwards to accommodate this position. Continue reading

Beating that psychological barrier when maxing

Anyone who lifts properly will know that weightlifting is as much a mental game, as it is a physical one. Personally I think that the mind has a greater influence over our lifting potential than the body.

Since training the Olympic lifts, I’ve realised just how much my mind is involved in this sport. Anyone who’s executed a heavy Snatch will appreciate just how scary the lift can be! Beating that psychological barrier when maxing is hard. It is that barrier that is the enemy.

I remember watching the Weightlifting at the London 2012 Olympics, the commentator said a couple of things that really resonated with me: “it doesn’t matter if you’ve lifted the weight many times before, if your mind tells you it’s not going up, it’s not going up” and “at the end of the day, these lifters are holding enormous weights over their head, of course it’s going to be scary!”. Continue reading

It’s better to overdo the warm up than underdo it

This is another blog post based on my personal experience in weight lifting. Something my coach said inspired me to write this one. We were doing a practice competition and he said something like,

“Now when we start competing, we must be careful to get the balance correct between warming up but not doing too many warm up sets. Every single rep you do before the competing lift will use up those vital energy stores.”

This comment made me think. Of course in theory he is correct. But I think weightlifting is as much an art as it is a science and over the 4-something years I’ve been training, I know what works best for me.

I’m sure a lot of people would say I probably overdo the warm up, but in my mind, there is no such thing! Continue reading

Are you better at repping or maxing?

The other day I was doing 5 sets of 5 reps of Clean and Jerks. Reps 1 to 3 are typically manageable, but by the time I get to rep 4 I need to slow down and breathe. For me it is the fourth and fifth rep which are all about endurance.

I’ve also been watching the World’s Strongest Man. It was interesting to see how these men perform when lifting – more often greater than – their personal maxes for as many reps as possible. Some of the lifts include the “Viking Press” and “Squat Lift”. These scenarios made me consider whether I am “better” at repping or maxing? And do people tend to be better at one or the other? For now I think I’ll use the term “better” to mean “easier”. Continue reading

Glute activation training with thigh bands

Unfortunately many people lack the ability to activate their glutes through normal activity, e.g. walking. Even weight lifters often have a problem with glute activation during their leg exercises, such as squats and deadlifts. Think for a second and consider these statements…

Your glutes are never sore after squats, but your quads and/or hamstrings are

You don’t “feel” your gluteal muscles working during squats

It is the plague of many athletes to have either “no glutes” or weak glutes; and many use their quadriceps too much in order to compensate. But good glutes are key to excelling  in your lifts. Recently I bought myself some “thigh bands” and these have become an excellent means by which to carry out my glute activation exercises. The bands are just small resistance bands that you put around your legs.

Squatting with a band around your thighs

When I squat, I always put a band around my legs, just above my knees. I have the band on for warm up sets and working sets, it never comes off. I’ve mentioned in another blog post that my knee has a tendency to cave in. Putting a band around my thighs makes me more aware of my knees and how to properly control them. With a band around your thighs, if you push your knees against it on the way up out of the squat, you are activating your glute muscles. Most people use their quads more than is optimal when squatting but when the glutes are activated, there is less load on the quads, and you will likely be able to lift more weight. The glutes are huge muscles and can definitely lift a lot of weight. 😉

This image illustrates correct knee position and the incorrect (knees collapsing) position in squats:

The band helps you to “spread the floor”, which makes you put the weight on your heels – this improves glute activation as well.

Squatting deep

Any type of squatting will work the glutes, but if you want them to be worked extensively, then do be sure to squat deep. Caterisano et al. (2002) studied how squat depth affected muscle recruitment to see which lower body muscles were activated the most at different squatting depths. The subjects carried out 1/4 squats, parallel squats and below parallel squats. The study found that the deeper you go, the more glute activation you achieve. You can read more about this on the T-Nation blog.

When I squat, not only do I wear the band, I also squat extremely deep! It’s important. If you can’t squat deep, work on your flexibility…

Monster walks sideways with thigh bands

Monster walks are an amazing, simple exercise that really fire up the glutes. You can do them in various directions. Thigh bands are great for this exercise. You place the band around your ankles, maintain a slightly tilted posture with bent knees, and walk sideways. The stance should be wide and keep good tension on the band. Step out to the side with one foot and then in with the other foot. As always, make sure your knees are aligned with the hips and that the feet are pointing forward. Make sure your knees do not cave in! If they do cave in, this is a sign of weak glute firing. This is another exercise that trains you to keep your knees out.

Monster walks forward and backward with thigh bands

In the same posture, put the band around your ankles and widen your stance. Walk forward with small steps, really squeezing those glutes (make sure you feel them working!). Your torso and hips should be facing forward, don’t rotate your pelvis at all. After a few steps, change direction and walk backward.

monster walk backward with thigh band

After these exercises, ask yourself these questions…

Are your outer thighs sore?

If your outer thighs are sore, this is a great sign the glutes have been activated. The glutes carry out hip abduction, which mean the outer thigh muscles are used to push the legs out.

Are your glutes sore?!

If your glutes are not sore after these, there’s a high chance your glutes are not firing. But hopefully after several sessions of glute activation training with thigh bands, you’ll have achieved the mind-muscle connection really needed to get your glutes working.


I’m so pleased that I’ve found these thigh bands, they have really enhanced my glute training. I bought mine from PhysioRoom on Amazon, in a set of 4 of different resistances. I’m also sure the more “standard” resistance bands would suffice. 🙂


Further reading:

A previous blog of mine on firing up the glutes

Band placement during walking glute activation drills – a good, educational video showing how 3 different band placements affect glute activation

Tips on training the glutes