Unfortunately, the fitness/strength and conditioning/social media industry is a bit skewed–a lot of great coaches don’t get the attention they deserve while others undeservingly bask in praise of relentless fandom. It’s not often that I start a post off with such a digression–especially one with such a distinct topic–but ironically, it’s necessary.
The previous paragraph’s digression leads us to Ethan Reeve–strength and conditioning coach at Wake Forest University. He’s a great coach that I’ve looked up to since I started my career as a coach–even though he doesn’t get a ton of Facebook blasts and Twitter love. What he does is produce. The dude knows how to train and he makes good athletes better.
One thing I’ve adopted from Coach Reeve is the use of the single-arm bench press. It’s a great anti-rotation exercise and transfers well to football players that have to play to an edge, such as defensive linemen and linebackers.
Check it out:
I’m sure you saw the strong anti-rotation component of the exercise as you witnessed the value that pressing with one arm has for a defensive linemen. Hopefully you also noticed the trick the athlete did with his non-working arm.
“He grabbed the bear by the throat and pulled it to the ground.”
That’s the cue I use to coax my athletes into creating tension with their off arm during unilateral lifts. It’s half-stolen from Charlie Weingroff. He gave the grab the throat cue; I added the bear part. Why? ‘Cause fuck bears.
Grabbing and pulling down engages the lat and creates stability through irradiation–giving the athlete a better opportunity to resist rotation and generate more force with the pressing arm. It sends the message that the body is safe and it’s ok to let loose the beast.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the athlete had great leg drive–he’s been coached to drive his feet into the ground and maintain the drive throughout the set. This builds further on the tension generated by the working arm and the throat grabbing. More tension leads to more stability; more stability leads to more strength.
The single-arm bench press is, of course, a high-tension exercise–successful completion dictates tension as necessity. But what about exercises that don’t require high levels of tension? Can they still benefit from preparatory tension generation? You bet my sweet ass they can.
(I know I’m supposed to say your sweet ass, but I don’t know you. I don’t know anything about your ass.)
The bird dog is the perfect example. In most cases it’s used as a warm-up/activation exercise–high tension isn’t necessary. That isn’t to say, however, that some tension generation isn’t beneficial. It most certainly is.
By using the down limbs, and pulling in opposite directions, we can accomplish a few things:
- We generate tension that leads to rotary stability.
- We train a solid contralateral pattern–stability with contralateral limbs and joints with mobility on the opposite sides.
- We teach hip dissociation–as one hip creates flexion torque, the other extends.
- We allow the working joints to simply move without struggling to create requisite stability first.
Keep in mind that this is low-level tension–you don’t have to wrench the hell out of your hand and knee to make this drill successful. We don’t want to threshold stability–the coordination of the core should still be predominantly reflexive. We are just juicing the process.
Here’s a video example with a bit of explanation:
I never thought I’d say this, but I don’t look horrible in lime-green/yellow.
Either way, now you have two examples of how tension helps to create rotary stability–one high tension and one low tension.
Use them as you will; and expound upon them.