Today, we’re taking a deep dive into how to get better results out of your training with Aaron Straker and Bryan Boorstein.
→ The mistakes you’re making with movements like Romanian Deadlifts, Squats, Lateral Raises, Pulldowns, and much more that are killing your muscle growth.
→ Bryan & Aaron’s exercise setup and execution adjustments to get more out of these movements.
→ Our personal favorite/most effective movements for each muscle group.
[*Aaron and Bryan deserve credit for most of the points and concepts below. I’ve expanded on their thoughts a bit where helpful, but highly recommend you listen to the episode as well to fully understand the context of the conversation.]
The mind-muscle connection is important… but also not everything.
To a certain level, it doesn’t matter if you’re not heavily feeling ____ muscle working in a movement, as long as you’re using said muscle correctly.
Bryan used the example of N1 Education’s Single Arm Lat Pulldown:
If the movement is executed properly, the setup aligns so well with the function of the illiac lat muscle, that you lat must be working in the movement.
On the other hand, you could isometrically squeeze your biceps or glutes without any load/the optimal setup to load the muscle… and it’ll still feel like you’re doing something (you’ll still “feel the mind-muscle connection”), but aren’t likely growing muscle this way.
I’ve always found it helpful to frame this to clients like this:
While things like…
→ The mind-muscle connection
→ A good pump
→ A bit of soreness
…aren’t what we design your training program to create, they do typically come as a byproduct of you putting the target muscle in the proper position to experience tension.
So they’re typically good signs that you’re doing something right, and are stimulating muscle growth.
But, the most common mistake people fall into is thinking…
“If I don’t feel the target muscle(s) working, I need to think harder about squeezing and contracting the muscle.”
…whereas really this is very rarely the case if you’re truly executing a movement properly.
So if you’re not feeling the mind-muscle connection, stop thinking about “squeezing harder” and take a look at your technique and execution of the movement.
Brad Schoenfeld recently released a study that seemed to indicate that loading a muscle in the lengthened position is the most impactful for stimulating muscle growth:
The interesting thing is, the contracted or shortened position is where we really feel the connection with a muscle the most.
But the Schoenfeld study seems to show that the shortened position is the least effective for stimulating muscle growth.
Now, this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t train muscles through a full range of motion or avoid the shortened position… just that feeling a muscle work more doesn’t necessarily equate to more growth.
So how important is the mind-muscle connection? The mind-muscle connection will likely come as a byproduct of smart training, but probably shouldn’t be the primary focus of your training.
First, a quick overview of your shoulder anatomy:
The side delts are a hard muscle to effectively overload, as their position on the body makes it much harder to place them under a significant degree of tension during any compound presses.
So to target side delts, lateral variations are your best bet.
1. When doing lateral raise variations, think “getting wide”/trying to drive your arms out instead of up – You don’t want to simply be “flapping your arms”.
Imagine trying to keep the weight/cable handle as low to the floor as possible, for as long as possible on the way up is very helpful for engaging the side delts.
2. Limp wrist position – A common mistake people make with lateral raises is letting thumbs turn upwards while raising the weight.
This engages the brachialis muscle (muscle underneath your bicep), and takes tension off of the delt.
To fix this, using a “limp wrist” position where limps are essentially limp and you’re grasping the weight in a hook grip (vs. having the weight centered in your palm with thumb wrapped) can help maintain tension on the delt.
3. Lead with the elbow – Very similar to the above, focus on flying your elbows wide can help ensure the side delts are doing the majority of the work.
4. Remove complexity with chest support or lying variations – Aaron mentioned how much he liked chest supported variations and lying variations, due to the fact that they don’t allow you to use toros momentum, nor do you have to think about torso control.
5. Put delts in a position to experience tension in the lengthened position – Dumbbell lateral raise variations lose almost all tension on the muscle at the bottom of the rep in the important lengthened position we discussed earlier.
This is really where cables seem to be superior for most lateral raise variations over dumbbells, as they allow more tension on the muscle at the bottom (and in this case, lengthened) position.
6. Staying in the medial plane – Rather than flying your arms straight out to the side or in front of you, they’re flying out at about a 45 degree angle.
This allows the shoulder to rotate more naturally.
1. Incline Prone Lateral Raises
2. Snatch High Pull With Dumbbells
1. Lying Cable Upright Row
2. Cuffed Lying Y-Raise
1. Elbows shouldn’t pass the midline – On any rear delt variation, once your elbows are behind your torso, your rhomboids, traps, etc., will kick in much more, meaning that the rear delts have to do less work.
So for people that struggle to develop rear delts, their elbows are often simply coming too far back on their rear delt movements (making it a more rhomboid or trap focused movement).
It’s a smaller range of motion than people believe.
2. You can’t feel your rear delts because you’re going too heavy – Similar to the above, going too heavy often forces the other muscles of your upper back to kick and, and the rear delts experience less tension than if you’d used a lighter load.
1. Cable Rear Delt Fly
2. Bent Over Cable Fly
1. T-Position Row
2. Cable Facepull
First, a quick overview of your quad anatomy:
The biggest reason most people can’t build their quads is because they’re not putting themselves in a very mechanically advantageous position to train them properly.
So many people can spend years squatting, believing…
“If you want to build your quads, all you need to do is barbell back squat and/or front squat.”
…when in reality, these are two movements that many will find make it harder to properly apply tension to (and grow) the quads vs. more stable alternatives like the hack squat or leg press.
1. Your quads aren’t growing because you’re not spending enough time in deep knee flexion – Your quads extend the knee (push the knee back) from the bottom of the squat.
Remember our discussion earlier about how important the lengthened position is for muscle growth? Here it is again.
If you’re not reaching a significant degree of knee flexion (knee bend) at the bottom of your squats, you’re failing to reach the lengthened position for the quads.
Through the top half of a squat, there is much less tension on the quads vs. the bottom half.
This means stopping your reps at parallel is much less effective for quad growth than deeper reps, as you’re missing out on the part of the rep where most of the tension is applied to the quad.
2. Your quads won’t grow because you’re not driving your knees forward (stop trying to “sit back” into your squat) – A quad-focused squat is almost a different movement than a squat where you’re simply trying to move the heaviest weight possible/get stronger at squatting.
Context is very important here. For a general population trainee who simply wants to get better at squatting and doesn’t care to get “jacked quads”, sitting back into the squat will allow for more muscle groups to be used and a stronger squat.
But to target the quads with things like driving the knees forward, elevating heels, “trying to keep hips under you”, you’ll be able to do less weight.
3. Your quads won’t grow because you’re too attached to the amount of weight on the bar (ego lifting) – Similar to the above point, a quad-focused squat or lunge is performed much differently than one the way you’d move simply to “lift the heaviest weight”.
The fact that you have to achieve so much knee bend, keep your pelvis underneath your shoulders, and control the negative means you’ll have to use significantly less weight.
4. Your quads won’t grow because the rate limiter of your squats/lunges is wrong – When the goal is building muscle, you want the “rate limiter” (the thing that forces you to eventually stop a movement) to be the specific muscle group(s) you’re targeting.
Let’s say you’re doing heavy Front Squats to train your quads.
Per usual with the Front Squat, your core and upper back fail before your quads.
Thus, this has become a pretty shit exercise for actually building your quads.
This is why machines and using movements with hand support are so helpful for quad training – they remove balance, core strength, your upper back, etc., as potential rate limiters, and allow you to simply focus on maximizing tension in your quads.
5. TRY ELEVATING YOUR HEELS – The amount of knee flexion (knee bend) you can achieve with good form while squatting is often limited by your ankle mobility. Many people struggle to achieve lots of knee flexion in the squat, because of ankle mobility.
Elevating your heels allows you to bypass poor ankle mobility and achieve much more knee flexion.
6. SLOW DOWN THE ECCENTRIC – It’s more than just dropping down and standing back up. On the negative portion of each rep of a quad focused squat, you should be trying to send your knees as far forward as you can, and trying to increase the distance between your patella and hip as much as possible.
7. DON’T LET GLUTES/LOWER BACK KICK IN/HIPS SHIFT AS THE PAIN SETS IN – “Keep your pelvis under you”. When your hips shift back in the squat (commonly happens from the bottom of the squat on the way up), your glutes and lower back are moving more of the load, your quads are doing less.
Aaron’s top quad movements:
1. Bulgarian Split Squat W/ Hand Support
2. Pendulum Squat or Hack squat
Bryan’s top quad movements:
1. Pendulum Squat or Hack Squat
2. Leg Press
First, a quick refresher on hamstring anatomy…
1. You’re not hinging properly – When doing movements like Romanian Deadlifts of Stiff Legged Deadlifts, stop when your hips can’t move back any further horizontally.
Once you can’t push your hips back any more, further range of motion comes from your to torso dropping. This creates more low back (and system-wide) fatigue, and can make the stimulus to fatigue ratio of the movement much worse.
2. Use Romanian Deadlifts, Stiff Leg Deadlifts, Good Mornings, or Back Extensions + A Leg Curl Variation – Training the “hinge” pattern discussed above covers one of your hamstrings primary functions (hinging at the hips), the other primary function – knee flexion (pulling your heel towards your butt) – is covered with leg curl variations. So it’s important to train both variations.
While traditional deadlift variations are good strength movements for most, they’re typically inferior to the above hinge options for muscle growth.
3. UNDERSTANDING HOW TO CONTROL YOUR PELVIS – In a movement like a Romanian Deadlift, you must control your pelvis to properly apply tension to your hamstrings.
→ Posterior pelvic tilt – When your back rounds forward slightly a.k.a. back flexion.
→ Anterior pelvic tilt – Your back is in an “arched” position.
→ Neutral pelvis – Your back is neither excessively arched nor rounded.
Your body will naturally want to shift your pelvis into a posterior pelvic tilt when you’re performing a movement like a Romanian Deadlift, when we want it to stay neutral to keep tension on your hamstrings and off your low back.
4. Using a hip band can help – Something Bryan mentioned (and a strategy we use often with online clients), a hip band attached behind you can really help cue “pushing the hips back into the hinge”.
5. More weight ≠ more tension in your hamstrings – Just like with squats and quads, a heavy deadlift doesn’t necessarily equal hamstring growth. Drop your ego, and focus on mastering execution of your hinges before trying to add load.
First, a quick refresher on the muscles that compose your back:
It used to be thought…
“Horizontal pulling trains back thickness, vertical pulling trains back width – do pulldowns/pull-ups for lats, do rows for rhomboids & upper back.”
…which really isn’t true at all.
What area of your back you want to target with any pulling variation is dictated by the way that your elbow travels in relation to your torso.
→ When your elbow is flared out to the side, you’ll be biasing much more upper back.
→ When your elbow comes directly by the side as doesn’t pass the midline at the back of the rep, the movement will be much more lat focused.
→ When your elbow is flared at about 45 degrees, we can get a bit more of a combo of the two.
Aaron’s favorite lat movements:
1. Trap Bar Rows
2. Machine Assisted Pull-Ups
Bryan’s Favorite Lat Movements:
1. 1-Arm Lat Pulldown
2. Rack Pull-Ups W/ Rotational Handles
Check out Aaron Straker’s content:
→ Metabolic Performance Protocol
Check out Bryan Boorstein’s Content:
These are the same science-backed strategies we implement with our online clients undergoing the physique transformation process.
If you’re ready to be coached 1-1 by our team to your best physique ever, click here now to apply for online coaching with our team.
Jeremiah Bair is a certified nutrition coach, strength coach, and owner of the online coaching business Bairfit. Check out his Podcast and Instagram for more educational content.