Today we’ll look at training cues and exercise mechanics. This day is very technical and loaded with information you can apply in your next training session. In correlation with the following cues, make sure you don’t make any of the training mistakes I covered on Day 2 - Biggest Training Mistakes. These cues are perfect for any training level. If you master them right from the beginning you’ll have a very productive time in the gym. If you’ve been training for years and have a lagging muscle group, one of these cues or tweaks in execution might be your cure. If you go through each muscle group of your body, you’ll notice that your strongest and most developed muscle groups are usually the muscle groups you can feel really well when training them. Your ability to contract them is very high.
This is not a coincidence.
The better neurally innervated a muscle group, the better you can contract it. With the right cues and mechanics we can work on that innervation and improve it over time. Training with weights is not about moving an object from A to B. It is about contracting muscles against external resistance. The motion always starts with your body first. By doing that we can intentionally place the tension where we want it, not where it happens to go. If you just focus on moving the weight and that motion happens to train muscle X, you’ll never know why the other muscles don’t grow, because you never learned what your body is actually doing. And that matters a lot. Now let’s look at each muscle group and what you should pay attention to.
Before we get to each of these 2 muscle groups a few notes that apply to both of these both of them. With any exercise for lats or traps keep this in mind: wherever your elbow aims as you pull back (or down), that part of your back does most of the work. So if you do a cable row and pull the handle to your lower chest, your mid and upper traps will do the bulk of the work. If you pull the handle to your belly button, you’re working a lot more lats than traps. Also think about your torso and what your chest is doing. That’s right, I want you to focus on your chest while training your back. Take a chest supported row for example: as you pull don’t just focus on pulling back. Simultaneously think about pushing your chest in forward, so in the opposite direction of the pull. Even if you don’t have anything to push against, still remember that cue. If you think “chest goes forward” or “chest into pad” while you pull back, your lats and traps have no choice but to do the work. Now let’s look at each muscle individually.
Lats are a big muscle and have numerous origins. With lats I want you to focus on one thing: before you pull the weight closer to your body, whether that’ a chin-up, pulldown or cable row, always focus on pulling your shoulder blades into your back pocket. Then pull. This takes practice and patience. It took me quite a while to master this, but you’ll notice a significant difference in the contraction intensity with this cue.
Similar to the lats, traps are a big muscle group with diverse fiber angles. Regardless, we’ll keep it simple and practical. When you perform a row focus on pulling your shoulder blades together first. Then pull. Notice that this is different from the lats. It’s not down, but back/together. This will ensure you initiate the movement with your traps, especially your mid traps which are a glaring weakness for pretty much everybody.
With quads cueing is tricky. Depending on the exercise, different cues make sense. In any case, whether you’re using a leg press, hack squat, or free weight barbell squat, focus on pushing into the immovable object. In the case of leg presses that means you focus on pushing your lower back into the seat. This ensures proper torso alignment which will ensure a safe lower back position. Forget about pushing the sled away from you. In the case of squats or hack squats its the reverse. Your feet are in a fixed position, hence you focus on pushing into the ground/platform. Push the earth away from you. How you apply force across your foot also matters. For free weight movements like squats you want to focus putting pressure on the middle of your foot and push into the floor from there. With any machine like leg presses or hack squats you don’t have to worry about balance and can focus more on pushing with your toes without your heels losing contact with the ground/platform. You immediately should feel more tension in your quads when doing this.