The Tyrannosaurus rex wouldn’t have liked pushups. That’s because it had short arms.
The mechanics would have been difficult for a T. rex to get into pushup position. The range of motion its arms needed to complete a pushup were taken up by the size of its head. All the verbal cues and mobility tricks in the world would have proved futile because of the decreased arm proportions.
Some athletes think they are prohibited from doing exercises such as squats and dead lifts because they don’t possess the mechanics for them or they are just not “built” for those kinds of movements.
I can almost hear the world’s smallest violin playing background music for this athlete’s whine.
Some athletes have ligament conditions that prohibit these movements. Doctors and physical therapists can recommend which movements you can do. Just remember, even with short arms, T. rex earned a name like “tyrannous.” There may be other things you can excel at. Don’t rule out fitness all together because of some limitation. Find out what you can do and excel at it.
Today’s movements help condition the body for squatting and dead lifting. They are barbell complexes. I like using barbell complexes to train the neurological pathways for certain types of movements. It is practice for which muscles the brain needs to activate and when.
For example, when dead lifting, the core, back and glutes should be active. If they are not, then the back rounds and things start to ache.
Today’s barbell complexes require proper activation of the involved muscles and focus on the correct sequence of movements to perform squats and dead lifts.
Barbell complexes are also a good way to let the muscles dynamically warm up without adding weight. Light movements throughout the full range of motion help increase blood flow to the muscles.
Warming the muscles before working hard is one way to prevent injury. You know you are “warm” if you are breathing heavily. It may take 5 to 10 minutes.
The dead-lift barbell complex specifically conditions the hips to take the heaviest load. It also strengthens the entire back. As the back isometrically stabilizes the spine it becomes stronger. If you notice the back rounding, then contract the core even tighter.
Starting this complex at the top of the dead lift is by design. It is to condition the hamstrings. Sometimes it is difficult for athletes to get into the bottom of a dead lift because the hamstrings are tight. This barbell complex helps warm up the tissue for performance. The weight of the bar adds just enough external stimuli to allow the hamstrings to stretch.
Speaking from experience as a former T. rex whiner, I’ve seen this movement help me mobilize my hamstrings. I used to think that dead lifts weren’t for me. Now I can’t wait until Wednesdays so I can dead lift again.
The barbell squat complex trains the specific areas that a person needs to perform a strong squat. Like the dead lift, it teaches the hips to take most of the load. The tempo is important. It teaches control on the way down with the 4-second eccentric movement. It also teaches an athlete to become comfortable with the depth required by pausing for 2 seconds at the bottom.
This pause can been viewed as a mobility tool. You may be able to get lower on later sets than earlier ones as the tissue warms up and the nervous system begins to understand what you demand of it. Speed on the way up is the strength element. Speed is easy to muster with light weights but that same speed will help you to avoid getting stuck half way up with heavier loads.
Both of these barbell complexes have some common movement elements. First is to keep the back straight. It is most important to protect your spine when moving weight. This means having the core and the shoulder blades squeezed tight. Real tight. If the back rounds then the core is probably not tight.
These barbell complexes are designed to run the body through the full range of motion. If range of motion is a problem for you, perform the complexes without weight. Use them as a mobility tool in addition to your foam rolling and stretching. With time you will have your range of motion and strength will come quickly.
Keep the weight close to the body, especially during the dead lift. The barbell should touch the legs on the way up and on the way down. If the bar moves away from the legs, even an inch, your back has to work extra to perform the lift. Save your back and keep the weight close to the body.
If you experience back pain while performing these complexes, stop. Reassess your form. Get a trainer or friend to watch you. Have them take a short video of your movements with their phone. The first place I look in the event of back pain is the core and then the hips. If your core and hips look good and you continue to experience pain, then get a professional opinion about your movements.
You do not need a full-sized barbell to perform barbell complexes. Use a lighter bar or even a PVC pipe. Focus on the correct movements and range of motion. Progress slowly.
Instructions for Deadlift Complex
While standing with the feet under the hips, hold the barbell at shoulder width with the top of the hands facing outward. Contract the glutes and core and pull the shoulder blades together. Maintain a neutral neck.
(1) Hinging at the hips and keeping the back straight, allow the bar to slide down the legs until it reaches midthigh. Contract the glutes and push the hips forward until you are standing. (2) Hinging at the hips and keeping the back straight, allow the bar to slide down the legs until it reaches the knees. Contract the glutes and push the hips forward until you are standing. (3) Hinging at the hips and keeping the back straight, allow the bar to slide down the legs until it reaches midshin. Contract the glutes and push the hips forward until you are standing.
Repeat this sequence five times for two to six sets. Watch for form flaws such as the knees crashing inward, the heels rising and the back rounding. Keep the shins vertical.
Instructions for Squat Complex
Position the feet outside hip width with the toes slightly pointed out. Place the bar on the meat of the upper back. Contract the glutes and core, and pull the shoulder blades together.
Hinging at the hip, slowly count to four as you descend into a squat. Pause for 2 seconds at your lowest comfortable depth. Then contract the glutes and come quickly out of the squat.
Perform this sequence five times for two to six sets. Watch for form flaws such as the knees crashing inward, the heels rising and the back rounding.
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Chris Huth is a Las Vegas trainer and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. No press releases please. Before beginning any exercise program, consult your physician.