elitefts™ Sunday Edition

After getting back from the LTT seminar, I began to think about some of the most common mistakes I see when I attend seminars or train others. For instance, one thing I kept seeing on gym day at LTT was how no one was staying tight or building pressure. From a training standpoint this is a great thing because fixing it right there will usually make a person lift more that very day. That, in turn, makes the trainer look like a genius. (Instant gratification is an awesome thing!) Unfortunately, some aspects of training take a little while to learn...and a little while before you see any results. Hopefully, however, people can read this article and see those instant results the next time they train.

The concept of building tightness and pressure is not all that complicated to understand. Yet, at the same time, it's not the easiest thing to execute. Still, it is hugely important if you want to lift massive weights. The building of tightness and pressure allows you to be much more explosive on the concentric phase of the movement.

I like to think of my body as a coil spring in an automobile. As I descend in a lift, I am like a coil spring that is being compressed. I am getting tighter and tighter, and I am building pressure within my body. The weight is not just pushing me down—I am using the weight to help build pressure within my body. The pressure and tightness are building up the more I descend and is basically stored up energy just waiting to explode. At the bottom of the lift I am ready to explode like a stick of dynamite, and I have the perfect platform to slam the weight back up. All of my muscle are tight, flexed, and in the right position. I have compressed my body and have built up tons of pressure. Now it's just a matter of exploding with a lot of force in order to utilize all that built up pressure. In some ways, it is similar to wearing gear (squat suits or bench shirts), only you're using your own muscle and structure rather than a suit or shirt. I want to utilize that pressure and make sure to explode through it just like I do a squat suit or bench shirt. I don't want to just let the pressure start the movement and then push when I'm partially through the movement. I want to push and explode from the very beginning in order to generate as much speed as possible to help me finish the lift.

One of the biggest problems is that lifters only look at the squat, bench press, and deadlift in terms of the concentric phase. Lifters will just pick up the weight and go through the eccentric phase without much thought—as if they simply let the weight push them down so that they can push it back up. In my mind, every single part of the lift is important, and each part has a specific effect on how the next part of the lift will go. The eccentric phase of both the squat and the bench are very, very important, and your setup is the base for how the concentric phase will go. It's not just a matter of a movement you have to do in order to push the weight back up. When the eccentric phase is performed properly, it sets the lifter up to perform the concentric phase perfectly.

The concept is pretty simple if you think of it in terms of the coil spring or air bags, but the execution can be a little tricky to get used to. Right before you start the lift (this is after you have picked the weight up and set up), you must tighten every muscle in your body. (It will take some time and practice to flex as hard as you need to and hold it throughout the entire lift). Then, you will take a huge breath of air, sucking it into your belly/diaphragm and pushing your abs out. (I think of it as taking in air while pushing my abs out, and then flexing them as hard as possible in order to keep them in that position). Now that you are full of air and every muscle is flexed, you will start the descent of the lift. Some people will ask how they can descend if all of their muscle are flexed, but it is kind of like doing a super maximal negative rep, where you just try to take the weight down and stay in control. You can keep your muscles tight while still moving. This concept can be practiced using little to no weight, so you should utilize your warm-ups to practice and get in the habit of doing this. Remember, your muscles should be flexed throughout the entire lift. This includes the eccentric and concentric phase and the switch between the two.

The other aspect is the building of pressure. This will be felt the most in the squat but also in the bench. As you descend, you're flexing every muscle and your abs are pushed out. The lower you go, the more your muscles (and body) will start pushing against themselves. This will keep increasing pressure the lower you go. If you are building pressure, then you will feel like your face is going to explode and your eyes will want to pop out of your head. If you can build up enough pressure, you will even feel the imposing urge to faint. All of these feelings become even more intense with gear, but a raw lifter will still feel them if he executes the eccentric phase correctly. I would say your goal is to bust blood vessels in your eyes or projectile bleed from your nose! If you can do this, then you know you are building some serious pressure.

The eccentric phase is a very important part of the lift because it allows you to build that tightness and pressure. It should be a controlled and intentional movement. Oftentimes, you can tell when a lifter is not doing this because of how out of control his ascent is. He may even change his speed as he goes down—there will be slow and fast parts. You want your speed to be equal, not too fast or too slow. You need it to be consistent. In turn, many lifters will be slow when they first start doing these techniques. This is okay in the beginning, though, because they are learning to control their bodies. However, if you do go too slow, it takes more energy than is needed. Therefore, over time your goal is to be able to speed it up while still keeping/building pressure and tightness. I also recommend box squats, but make sure you are staying tight on the box. I know there are a lot of lifters who say that you can relax on the box, but I disagree. I say that you should stay tight, pause, and then explode back up. It will help you learn this idea and make you more explosive.

Take the time to learn tightness and pressure because it will increase your lifts. It will take a bit of time to completely master and will feel uncomfortable at first, but that is a small price to pay for hitting big PRs! As I said, you will feel it the most in squats, but you will learn that it is very important in the bench as well. It is even important for the deadlift, but in that lift you must learn to tighten everything as soon as you grab the bar. For a deadlift, I suck all the air into my belly and push it out right before I bend down to grab the bar.

Building tightness and pressure really is like using your muscles as if they were lifting gear and better utilizing the structure of your body. It will increase your lifts and even help decrease your chance for injury. So give it a try. I think you will see bigger weights fly up.