It's 2022, and it seems like new equipment and more efficient ways to get things done in the weight room are constantly coming to the limelight every couple of months. Although it's great for the industry, it's even better for those who train with this equipment.
However, there is this old-fashioned tool that the majority of lifters and coaches are forgetting exists. You likely see it every day in the gym and just think of it as a safety feature for your training (which isn't entirely a bad thing).
I'm talking about the safety pins.
Safety pins can massively benefit your training and improve position and technical prowess at specific joint angles (and many times can be easier to recover from).
As you continue to lift heavy, add size where you need it, and utilize ample recovery to benefit from the hard training, let's discuss how you can use pins in your training to break PRs.
Digesting the Basics
Using pins as part of your training shouldn't be the main part of your training. These variations should be used as supplemental exercises in more cases than not and are designed to help aid areas of your lifts where you have trouble. Setting up a rack pull (or pin pull) is a giant waste of time if you're only going to pull it six inches and you have issues from the floor.
Most pin work will fall under one of two categories:
You're very unlikely to see eccentric exercise options from utilizing pins. I've even written in the past about what the difference is between squatting and benching to pins and pin pressing and squatting from pins.
Realize that using pins can be somewhat a pain in the ass. Finding where to set the pins up, using them in a group with training partners, and then moving into them after some basic squat or deadlift work can feel like a hassle, especially if your training time is more limited.
You'll also need to have a good training facility with quality racks, bars, and owners that are cool with you potentially dropping some weights at times (both from being loud and putting the equipment through the wringer). I've personally not had any issues with my elitefts racks, but still something to consider.
Let's discuss using pins from a concentric standpoint. If you don't understand concentrics, there is no lowering portion of the lift (from a training perspective). The deadlift, by nature, is a concentric-based exercise. Concentrics are usually harder because of the need to generate force from a dead-stop position and the inability to use the stretch-shortening cycle. This is great for decreasing soreness (DOMS) and improving the rate of force development (RFD).
Typically, you'll see concentric work with pins programmed for singles. The main reason behind this is that you'll basically want to drop the weight back to the pins. Lowering the weight back slowly will essentially defeat the purpose. If you do more than one rep in a set, drop the weight back down, reset, and go again. You'll likely perform these for three to four singles if you're using them for a supplemental exercise in your program. If you're going to perform these as your max effort work, just work up to a top single for the day and shut it down.
When it comes to where to set your pins, my suggestion is to set the pins just slightly under your sticking point. This is going to teach you to accelerate through the sticking point. Most sticking points that you see are typically later than where you truly have issues. Think about a missed deadlift just above the knee. You likely started to slow down below the knee and didn't have enough speed to get past the top of the knee. You can teach yourself to drive through that sticking point by setting your pins at mid-shin.
Below are some videos and explanations to help you with various concentric pin work:
Anderson Squat (Squat From Pins)
Conventional Rack Pull
Sumo Rack Pull
Good Morning From Pins
Another amazing aspect of pins is using them for isometric work. Nothing is more humbling than trying to pull a sub-max weight into a pin and feeling like you can't budge it. Most people will use pause squats, Spoto press, and deadlifts with pauses for their isometric work. These aren't bad exercises by any means, but the pausing aspect can be subjective.
Did you really hit a PR if you constantly don't hold your pauses for two seconds? Because I can tell you, the majority of paused work I see is crap and just a "slow-down" of the original movement.
When it comes to isometrics and using pins, we've got two main reasons this can be beneficial:
For many lifters, learning to strain or yield can go a long way because you'll have more time under tension in an area where you need it. Most isometrics into pins will be held for five to six seconds. Five to six seconds may seem short, but it will be much longer than you think. The great thing about these is that they will improve your strength at or about 15 degrees from your joint position, so you can see benefits above and below your sticking area if you get the pins set up in the proper position.
Another positive piece to performing isometrics into pins is that it can help you with your positioning. As you go into the pins, you'll immediately be able to feel that you're too far forward, behind, elbows are flaring, etc. Generally, when you see people miss lifts or have issues around their sticking point, from a technical standpoint, they go into the position with technical issues, which biomechanically puts you in a rough spot.
Pair these with a similar movement for approximately the same weight or effort so that you can also see some post-activation potentiation.
When it comes to programming, I've taken these programming methods from Cal Dietz and Tri-Phasic work. Again, I've had success with them, but feel free to experiment on yourself and see if you find you need more or less load.
I like using a three-week wave of 60%, 65%, 70%. Each week, you should perform three sets of one with an isometric hold for five to six seconds.
Below are some examples of how you can set the pins up for the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Of course, you could also set these up for other major movements with some creativity.
Back Squat Into Pins
Bench Press Into Pins
Conventional Deadlift Into Pins
Sumo Deadlift Into Pins
Pushing It Together
While the implementation piece of pins can be a major hassle, I think you'll find that using them can serve as an ace card for meet preps and breaking through plateaus you've had for quite some time.
I've used pins to hit my all-time best bench press, and I've gone on to help others hit all-time PRs as well with these methods.
They suck, but the results will quickly make them completely worth it.
Feel free to reach out if you need any help with setup and implementation.
Brandon Smitley is a 2011 graduate of Purdue University where earned his Bachelor’s degree in Health and Fitness, and of Indiana State University with his Master's Degree in Coaching. His best lifts to date are a 567-pound squat, 330-pound bench, 510-pound deadlift, and 1377-pound total in the 132-pound weight class! Brandon holds his CSCS, USAW, and CPT certifications. He has opened THIRST with his wife, Adrian, to help athletes and others realize their full potential from proper strength training methodologies.