Vail Daily column: Bending movements build your body |

Vail Daily column: Bending movements build your body

Last week I discussed the great importance of squatting and bending. These basic exercises are simple and incredibly effective for anyone, regardless of age and goal orientation. The challenge is properly programming these exercises effectively; the design parameters are tricky for intelligently using these exercises to gain strength, muscle size, and to establish durable joint health. Here is what you need to know.

First baseline your current movement competency for squatting and bending. Refer to last week’s discussion on the fundamentals of the techniques required. Also, consider hiring a coach for a movement screen. Even though everyone should squat and bend, the type and amount of weight used for each of these movements is based exclusively on how well or poorly you are currently moving. For example, can you touch your toes without bending your knees? If you can’t, then you may need to use bands or simply practice bending movements with only bodyweight before using aggressive external resistance such as kettlebells or barbells. A clean toe touch tells a story about your range of motion needed to maintain posture during loaded bending movements.

Understanding purpose

Establish good movement and then set your goals. In general, I view squatting as a warm-up exercise that is beneficial using extremely lightweights, or your own body weight to maintain ankle, knee, and hip range of motion. On the other hand, the heavy barbell front squat, back squat, Zercher, and double kettlebell-racked squat are king when it comes to developing overall body muscle size and strength. If your goal is to gain weight as a young athlete, then good luck getting there without some sort of heavy squatting. Squats also develop great leg and core strength. However, I don’t love heavy squats used excessively for aging athletes or for others who don’t require muscle size increases. Weighted squats can beat you up; the aggressive joint angles assumed often lead to sub-optimal outcomes. Be careful here. Here is where bending reigns supreme.

Benefits of bending

Bending motions such as deadlifts and their variations are optimal for developing strength and athleticism. Bending at the hips spares the spine and knees. Bending is the strongest archetypal pattern humans can assume. Roll a very heavy medicine ball at a toddler and he will deadlift the ball instinctively — he will not squat the ball up from the ground. He will get his legs under him, raise his hips, and the ball will come off the floor. Deadlifts build tremendous strength quickly. Deadlifts don’t necessarily build muscle size — a great concept for mountain enthusiasts who may need strength but understand the liability with increased muscle size. Increased muscle size demands more oxygen and increases the weight of the buggy. Have fun carrying those 10 extra pounds up the mountain during your road race.

How do you properly program bending motions? For ultimate strength gains, use barbell deadlifts. If you are training other fitness qualities at the same time as strength, use the deadlift for one by five repetitions every week with the heaviest weight possible. Add 5 pounds to the bar each week. However, if you are limited on time and aren’t worried about other fitness qualities, specialize in strength increases using the deadlift. Use a weight that is 70 percent of your one repetition maximum; this is a weight that you could lift about 10 times. At 70 percent, the load is light enough you can train deadlifts daily without overtraining. One of my favorites is Steve Justas’ singles routine. With 70 percent of your one repetition maximum, perform three, five, seven, nine, 11, 13, 15 singles each day of the week respectively. For example, assuming your one repetition maximum is 300 pounds, use approximately 215 pounds and perform three singles on Monday; five singles on Tuesday; seven singles on Wednesday, etc. Finish the week with 15 singles, and add 5-10 pound to the bar the following week and repeat. Test your max every month to see where you are. Adjust accordingly. Get ready to add 50 pounds to your deadlift in eight weeks.

Be wary

Disclaimer alert. Barbell deadlifts can be brutal and do not always agree with all trainees. I have learned to appreciate single leg deadlifts in recent years. I have had great success using these movements will all but the most limited trainees. For single leg deadlifts, use two dumbbells or preferably kettlebells, and while standing on one foot, with about a 20-degree knee bend, bend at the hips while the free leg reaches behind the body in full hip and knee extension. Keep the toes pointed toward the ground at all times. This is a great way to develop strength and look at left-right differences. The great thing about single stance deadlifts is that they are very friendly to the lower back and aggressively activated the deep hip stabilizers because of the twisting forces occurring while using a single leg — omething that is absent during two-footed exercises. For sets and repetitions, I recommend three to five sets of three to five repetitions. Pull big kettlebells from the ground on one foot for a few reps to appreciate the strength gains here.

Gray Cook once stated, “Maintain the squat, train the deadlift.” I agree with his sentiment that squats are critical for joint health and maintenance. However, champions are built with bending movements. Give this philosophy a go, and stay strong. Have a great week.

Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at and 970-401-0720.

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