High pulls are a great explosive movement for building more power through the hips and a bigger upper back. But they can put a lot of strain on the shoulder joints. Using a trap bar instead of a straight bar allows you to pull from a higher starting position and with a neutral grip. This changes the angle of your upper arms, placing it in a safer position when pulling upward, preventing impingement.
Do It: Load a trap bar with a moderate amount of weight, then stand in the middle of it with your hands positioned squarely in the middle of the handles. Stand up quickly and, in one smooth motion, shrug your shoulders and pull up hard with your elbows until the bar reaches chest level. It’s OK to get up on your tiptoes.
Sets x Reps: 6 sets x 3–5 reps.
Trainer Tip: Kill the negative rep. Keep your hands on the bar, but let it crash to the floor rather quickly. This will help prevent you from overtaxing your nervous system or increasing your risk of injury under heavier loads.
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DIP WITH FAT GRIPZ
Doing dips with your hands on a fatter bar, which you can use by placing Fat Gripz on dip bars, increases the surface area that your hands are pressing against. This decreases the stress on your hands and also increases the comfort level in the remaining joints in the chain (elbow, shoulder).
Do It: Place a pair of Fat Gripz on a set of dip bars. From there, lower yourself until your elbow joints bend 90 degrees. Drive through your hands to come back up.
Sets x Reps: 5 sets x max reps.
Trainer Tip: To ease elbow and shoulder pain, you can also use Fat Gripz for other pressing movements like the bench press and the shoulder press.
Do It: Stand inside a loaded trap bar as you would for a deadlift. Drive your hips back and hinge over to grab the handles. Keep your chin tucked, then row your elbows up to your sides until they pass your torso.
Sets x Reps: 4 sets x 10–12 reps.
Trainer Tip: Remember that trap bars can often weigh more than Olympic bars. The last thing you want is to initiate a row with 15 to 30 more pounds than you expected.
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This popular strongman move has the lifter press two neutral bars overhead. The neutral grips and adjustable hand width are a great combo for better-quality pressing that’s also shoulder-friendly. Plus, you’re unintentionally using a fatter grip (the benefits of which are discussed on page 81).
Do It: You probably won’t find a Viking press machine at your local gym, but you can MacGyver one. Set up two barbells to sit horizontally across pins—set at chest level—in the squat cage. (For best results, stagger them so that the far side is one notch higher than the near side.)
Place small plates (2½ or 5 pounds) on the far side of the barbell, and use these as blockers or pivot points for the bar. Load the near side with weight and place those ends of the barbells on your shoulders. Lean in slightly, then press overhead, making sure to create a straight line from shoulders to feet.
Sets x Reps: 5 sets x 10–12 reps.
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Pulling an empty bar as hard as you can into safety pins allows you to work with max effort without stressing your lower back with real weight. So an isometric pull can be subbed in to tax your central nervous system for when your lower back needs a break.
Do It: Set up an empty bar in the squat cage at ground level, with the safety pins at the bottom notch of the cage, above the bar. Set up as you would for a conventional deadlift, and pull with good form, right up into the pins. Try your hardest to stand up with the weight.
Do it: Load a landmine bar with manageable weight. Place the bar over one shoulder and support it with both hands as you lean fully against it with your upper back. Your body should be standing on a massive slant. Find your comfortable stance, then squat down, making sure to “push against” the bar to change force angles.
Sets x Reps: 4 sets x 15–20 reps.
Trainer Tip: Aim for higher reps here. The quads respond very well to high-rep work, and the setup of this movement is very conducive to chasing a pump, rather than trying to max out.
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SAFETY BAR SQUAT
We normally associate squats with knee pain and back pain, but the back-and-down position that they demand of our elbows can wreak havoc on the shoulder joints. Enter the safety bar.
This barbell sits on your shoulders with handles out in front for you to grab onto, which allows the hands and arms to be comfortably tucked, rather than flared out to the sides, stuck on a bar on the back. For people with immobile shoulders or cranky elbows, that can be a saving grace for joint pain and discomfort.
Do It: Position your head in the space provided and ensure the bar rests comfortably on the upper traps. Hold on to the handles nice and tight, and perform your standard squat.
Sets x Reps: 5 sets x 5 reps.
Trainer Tip: Pull on the handles while squatting. It’ll help produce back tension to keep you braced and upright during the squats.