More from Hollie Evett here:
Editor's Note: At first glance you will say, "that guy must be crazy" but after reading this article you may find that Hollie Evett, a top powerlifter for a long time, may have something after all. Perhaps his suggestions will help you.
Answer the following questions:
1) When attempting a near maximum power lift, does the weight feel like it is going to crush you?
2) Are you occasionally injuring your back, shoulders, knees or elbows?
If you answer to either eof the two questions was yes, then you are suffering from the same problem. You have weak or poorly conditioned antagonistic and support muscles.
First, let's look at the function of the antagonistic muscles. For every muscle movement in the body, there is an opposite movement that complements it. The function of an antagonistic muscle is this complementary movement. An example of an antagonistic muscle would be the extensors and flexors of the arm. The triceps would be considered an extensor and the biceps a flexor. Even though these muscles are intended to work together, they are by no means equal in strength. The triceps are much stronger. It looks as if the human body was designed to do more pushing than pulling.
The problem occurs when you bench press. The extensors are worked very hard while the flexors are not. This problem is often ignored by power lifters. This naturally results in a greater ration of difference between the opposite muscles than was originally intended. Consequently, there is a greater chance for muscle injury.
A common muscle injury due to this very neglect of one muscle of an antagonistic pair occurs in football. Knee injuries in high school students are more prevalent than in junior high, college or pro players. Why? Most people would be inclined to think that their extensor muscles might be weaker during this period. The actual cause is the flexor muscle group (the hamstrings) which are not strong enough, resulting in a higher ration of difference between the two groups, and therefore a weaker knee joint. The answer to this problem is simply to work the opposite muscle through leg curls.
A novice lifter usually does great in the bench press until he injures his shoulder. He cannot understand why his shoulders are killing him when he has increased his bench press over 100 pounds. He probably hasn't worked his shoulders at all.
Now we come to the function of the support muscles. In the bench press, the middle and back part of the shoulder are important because they stabilize the shoulder joint while the anterior deltoid, chest and triceps do the actual moving. Think of the movement during the bench press as being similar to that of a screen door. In some cases the spring is strong enough to maintain the velocity of the door being opened, but the hinges that stabilize the door are not. The result is an accident.
An exercise that is excellent for increasing the strength of these support muscles (the medial and posterior deltoids) is the lateral raise. John Grimek used to like to do eight repetitions half-way up. The he would do eight more repetitions all the way up pausing for a second when he approached the middle point. Use a light weight and try to resist it as it comes down. Try to lean forward slightly so as to keep the work off the front of the deltoid.
The supportive muscles in the squat are the abdominals. They are opposite the erector spinae group. It is as important to work the stomach as it is to work the lower back. Many times you hear a lifter's spotter yelling for him to "stay tight." What they are referring to is the tightening of the abdominals.
There are several lifts that will help the lifter work both the stomach and lower back for improvement of his squat. The quarter an bench squats are important because the lifter has the opportunity to use unusually heavy weight. They will give him a psychological boost because they allow him to use more weight than he can actually squat. Using this heavy weight will also encourage the lifter to "stay tight" and not relax. By staying tight the lifter actually gives the abdominal muscles a tremendous isometric workout.
The bench squats were popularized by George Frenn. He would take tremendous poundages off the rack, step back and slowly sit on a bench. While on the bench he would rock back and lift his feet slightly. When he leaned forward, he would slam his feet down and stand up from the bench. It is important to have good spotters and of course keep the body very stable.
The quarter squat is much simpler. The lift is just what the name implies. Squat 1/4 of the way down and come back up. This lift can be done very safely in the power rack. Both of these lifts train the lifter to stay tight to prevent injury plus actually working the stabilizing muscles.
The good morning exercise is also a great workout for the abdominals. They stabilize the body while giving the erector spinae muscles a tremendous workout. The power good morning was popularized by Bill Starr. He put the weight where he normally squatted and bent his knees as he made his slow descent. He went down until his back was parallel to the floor, then he raised up. As the descent is made with heavy weight, you will notice how important it is to keep the stomach very tight.
If you prefer doing regular squats, leaving out the heavy assistance exercise, it would be a very good practice to do some type of situps. It is important when working the stomach to do the bent knee situps. Roman chair situps are an excellent way to work the abdominals because the work is kept on the stomach at all times. If you do not have a Roman chair, you can improvise by sitting across a bench and placing the feet under a couple of dumbbells.
By taking the time to work the opposite and stabilizing muscles in the bench and squat, you will decrease the chance of injury, and also receive a psychological boost because the weight seems lighter.
Enjoy Your Lifting!