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Kennet Waale

The Back Squat Done Right

Despite being a popular exercise, most folks and jacking up their back squat. Tsk. Tsk. Unless staying weak and opening the door for injury sound good, you need to optimize your squat pattern. 

In this extended guest blog post, Kennet Waale digs into the back squat and covers…
*How breathing better and improving mobility is essential for safety. 
* A Miley Cyrus reference. Because why not. 
* What you can do to improve your squat


There is more to a successful squat than throwing a bar across your shoulders and droppin’ low like Miley Cyrus. 

And there is more to a successful squat than sitting up and down.

 Several joints move at the same time, all of which require a lot of tension and synchrony. You need excellent control with your hips, knees, and ankles, to generate strength and move weight.  Above all, you must avoid rounding your back…unless slipping a disk and spending hours in physical therapy is your idea of a good time. 

Bottom line: The squat is not a simple task at all. In this article, I’m going to tackle the common myths and explain what you really need to do to improve.

The Big Myth: You Have To Squat Ass-To-Grass

No. This is wrong. You don’t have to squat ass-to-grass.

Okay, in an ideal world it would be great to see everyone squatting ass-to-grass. But let’s get real….and take into account real world differences. Your structure, injury history and current training are some of the factors that will determine the ideal squatting depth.

And I’ll go further. If you are a fitness enthusiast who is only looking to feel better, shed some body fat and get stronger, then the standard squat isn’t even a necessity in your program.

But if your goal is to compete in powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting, the squat is a staple exercise.  Train it regularly to the depth required to pass and catch a lift.

How to explain the common notion that you have to squat with your buttocks touching the ground? Well, it has a lot to do with poor reasoning and misconceptions by fitness professionals who really ought to know better.

Do the same movements have to occur at the hips, knees, and ankles?


Does this mean that every squat should look the same?

–Hell No. 

Can we achieve these movements without the standard squat?


The Danger Of Hyper Extension

Extension and flexion are normal and required movement patterns. But many people tend to hyperextend their lower back during squats, which compromises spinal health.

And it all starts with the set-up. Your upper back is naturally slightly rounded with your lower back being naturally arched. In order to create a solid base, we need to reverse these spinal positions ever so slightly.

This means that your joints, ligaments, and muscles will aid in the support and efficiency of the movement.  Your upper back will maintain an ever so slightly extended position throughout the whole movement.

Focus on keeping your lower back in a nice and steady position throughout the movement from beginning to end.

Beyond The Sedentary Lifestyle

Getting your thoracic spine (upper back, newbs) and hips ready for squatting is essential. So is joint mobility. None of these is possible if you spend your working hours slaving behind a desk, and your relaxation hours partaking in #NetflixandChill.

So, this begs the question…how can we battle against the sedentary nature of our lives?
By improving your most basic human function, pooping breathing.

Optimizing your breathing patterns will:

  • improve stability through your midsection
  • allow for better thoracic mobility
  • aid in hip and low back stability through co-contraction of other deeper stabilizers

These exercises are a great starting point for improving mobility and your breathing patterns:

Perform one set of five or six reps per exercise to optimize your breathing patterns for the squat.

Diaphragmatic Breathing With Lat Stretch: Concurrently feel an amazeballs stretch in your lat while improving your breathing function. 

Quadruped Thoracic Rotations: To improve thoracic mobility

Tall Kneeling Rotations: To improve thoracic mobility. 

Sumo Squat to Stand: Improve hip mobility.

Glute Bridges: Improve glute activation and hip extension, both of which protect your lower back from excessive hyperextension.



Squatting On The Ground

For some people, it’s best to learn to squat from the ground up with an exercise like the resisted rock-back. This exercise teaches you to hold a neutral spine position as you rock back towards your heels without the compressive stress of a massive barbell. 

 In a quadruped position, attach one or two bands around your shoulders. Breathe into your low back and maintain a nice and neutral spinal position, and rock back towards your heels. Do 2-3 sets of 5 repetitions before moving to the Goblet Squat.



The Goblet Squat

The Goblet Squat is a brilliant way to start squatting properly because the weights acts as a counter-balance to maintain a neutral spine, ergo, not keeping over and jacking up your back, and helping you sit into the squat safely.

As a rule of thumb, the majority of people find squatting more comfortable with slightly turned out feet. Ensure to push your big toes into the ground, stay heavy on your heels and let all your toes touch the ground.

Once you have mastered the positioning with your feet and learned how to generate lots of tension throughout the entire range of movement, we have to decrease the weight of the kettlebell and add a band around your knees.

We do this for two reasons:

  • Your abs will act as co-contractors instead of the weights of the kettlebell
    *  Aa band forces more external rotation and abduction in your hips aiding in more stability and strength. Basically, you get stronger to lift more weight and prevent injury. 

Photo 1Figure 1: Decrease the weight in increments, until you are able to do it with just bodyweight

PUTTING IT ALTOGETHER with These Five Squat Cues

Woot, Woot!


Amongst the gazillion cues available, these are the cats meow for my clients.  

1.“Elbows Together” or “Pull The Bar Through You”

  • Use instead of: “elbows  under the bar”  

Photo 2

Figure 2: Pull the bar through you and point your elbows towards your butt.

Squatting with your elbows “under the bar”, as is often taught, will leave your shoulders slightly more internally rotated. This will lead to a loss of tension in your upper back.

Photo 3

 Figure 3: Don’t squat with your elbows under the bar. You will lose tension in your upper back.

Heck, even if you got your shoulders underneath the bar without losing tension, it wouldn’t help that much. Why? Because your lats have to be on fire to maintain a strong position. When you imagine pulling your elbows together or pulling the bar through you, you will create a strong retracted position with your lats being highly engaged for more strength and a stable spine. More gain and less pain? I’m down. 

One more cure I tend to find work very well to further re-emphasize lat activation is ‘to squeeze your arm pits.’

2.“Breathe Into Your Low Back” or “Create A Balloon Belly”

Use instead of: “ fill your belly with  air” or “breathe  into your tummy.”

As we mentioned above, a well-working diaphragm (breathing) will ensure a really stable base through your midsection. When we increase the intra-abdominal pressure, it will reinforce our upper back and hip strength throughout the movement.

Breathing into your chest and belly could be okay. But we need to remember that there is a front, back and side portion of the body. When you “breathe into your low back” or ‘create a balloon belly” you will reinforce the strong expansion of your midsection in all these directions to protect you from injury. 


3.“Push The Ground Away From You”

Use Instead Of: “Push Your knees Out” or “Spread The floor”

Photo 4

Figure 4: Point your toes out and push the ground away from you.

Squatting without proper foot placement and tension is a god-awful task. The majority of people who squat tend to push their knees out,  leaving their feet in a very vulnerable position by lifting their big toes and inside of their feet off the ground.

When you use the cue “push the ground away from you”  you’ll automatically assume a position where your big toes, little toes and heels are firmly pressed into the ground. Pushing the ground away from you forcefully will allow for strong glute activation and safe knee position. Together, this creates a stronger and safer squat. 

4.“Traps Up First” or “Touch Your Head To The Ceiling”

Use Instead Of: “Chest up First “

Photo 5

Figure 5: Think of your trapz and head touching the ceiling when you come out of the bottom of the squat.

Squatting with your “chest up first” can tend to cause more than wanted extension in the lower back. When you start moving up in the squat, we change from a lowering to a rising phase. These phases of the squat differ highly in muscle activation. Other than poor glute strength making it hard to get out of the bottom of the squat, the ‘chest up first’ cue will further reinforce an already weakened position.

If you think ‘Trapz up first” or “Touch your head  to the ceiling” your back and be put in a lot stronger position.

This leads me to the last, and probably most important cue…

5.“Own The Position”

To squat safely and effectively you must know and own every part of your squat.  Know what it feels to sit in the bottom position. Know what it feels like when you break at your knees instead of both hips and knees. Know what it feels like when you are in an efficient versus inefficient position.

If they remember the other cues and lose focus ever so slightly, “own the position” is a good catch-phrase to bring lifters back on track and focus on the quality of each rep, rather than the weight on the bar. 

What Now?

Drop your ego.

Scale things back.

Know that you are where you are because of something that didn’t go to plan in the past.

Bottom line: You have to prepare and you need to practice. The squat can be one of the best exercises in the gym, but you need to own it. That’s how you get better. 

About Kennet Waale

Kennet Waale is a coach for Movestrong Training Systems, and the co-founder of Thy Vertex; a multifaceted health facility in Brisbane, Australia.

He earned his Bachelor’s degree in human movement studies as an exercise scientist at The University of Queensland. During his almost eight years of coaching, he has gone to work with athletes up to the Commonwealth and Olympic levels as well as every day folks wanting to look better naked.



How to Develop Rotational Power

What is rotational power? And why is it important for athletes, trainers, and people who want to improve their athleticism?

Kennet Waale explains in this extended guest post that comes complete with videos, tutorials, and a sample workout.

Over to you, Kennet.

Developing rotary power can improve hitting real world strength, overall athleticism, agility, and even straight-line sprinting speed.

Yet it is neglected. What gives?

All movements involve some level of rotation.

This happens either through a concentric muscular contraction creating the rotation like a swing, or by controlling the movements in an eccentric manner followed by an isometric contraction. The ability to create and transfer these forces come from efficient movement and the ability to disassociate and integrate the torso and hips at the right times.

Why The Consensus Is Wrong

There’s a common belief that improvements in the gym will lead to improvements on the track or field, or in daily living. This will happen in an exponential and linear way. All that’s needed is strength exercise, which will be highly transferable.

There is some truth to this. But there is also an unfortunate reality: the exercises we perform in the gym in no way replicate how power and forces are often created on the athletic playing field (Shepherd 2004; Siff et al. 1998).

But it’s complicated.

If you are an Olympic weightlifter or a powerlifter, the transferability from strength exercise to your sport is obviously high. On the flip side, planning is tricky when dealing with rugby or soccer players who run a lot and have frequent changes of direction.

Questions To Consider

How do you get strong?

Improve motor unit and muscle fiber recruitment (using more muscle fibers) and improve technique.

This increases your ability to produce force and hoist bigger weights. But would this be a worthwhile endeavor from a pure power production point of view if,  for instance, an athlete couldn’t transfer the added strength into his sprinting technique?

Would getting stronger in big lifts like the squat really make performance that much better if it didn’t improve sprinting technique?

Consider these questions:

  • Does the athlete have to overcome a large initial load such as a second rower in Rugby? Or an American example, is this person a lineman and has to overcome a defensive lineman?
  • Is the athlete a 100m sprinter and only has to overcome gravity – bodyweight and some frictional forces?
  • Do you play golf or baseball, where you need rotational power and strength? 
  • What is the predominant energy system requirement – is it ATP-PCr or Aerobic? Basically, do you play explosive sports or longer-duration sports?


Strength and power production are important. But past a certain baseline level, they won’t  improve performance unless they are sport-specific. 

Stability, general strength and pure rotary movement exercises are all important components of developing rotary power. This can be done through the use of various tools such as bodyweight, cable machines, resistance bands, kettlebells and barbells.

Disassociation of the Thorax and Hips

Disassociation is the ability to separate two corresponding regions of the body. The movements needed to produce rotational power (i.e in golf and baseball) come from adequate levels of disassociation.

Athletes who know how to disassociate the torso and the hips will increase the distance between the shoulders and hips as they turn.

This will maximize the rotational components and allow for powerful coiling and acceleration of the body for better power performance.

Disassociation without the ability to fully control acceleration and deceleration will not improve performance. It is therefore of utmost importance that you pay attention to integrating the torso and hips, too.

Use these two drills to improve your disassociation.


Integration of the Thorax and Hips

Efficient force transmission is a key component for power development.

Integration of the body can be as simple as practicing technique, like swinging a baseball bat to help the muscles used in rotation fire together faster and more efficiently.

Have you ever seen Charles Barkley’s’ excuse for a golf swing?

That’s poor dissociation–highlighting a need for better movement efficiency.

For Fitness Nerds Only: A Graph!

I was first introduced to the concept shown in the graph below while I was still at university.  It describes the stimulus, recovery and adaptation over time for various aspects of training.

 SRA Graph

Curve 1 in blue describes technique training. This would be considered to be higher skill and low intensity for beginners,  and lower skill and low intensity for those more rounded. The recovery time is short and the adaptations take place with little to no recovery  needed (due to the little demand from external loads.)

Curve 2 in red describes hypertrophy training. This requires slightly more external load and volume. Technique is still an important focus, but the recovery time is slightly longer due to the increased intensity and volume. This makes the second curve either a lower skill and high intensity,  or higher skill and low intensity. It depends on the level of development of the client. The recovery time is slightly longer and the frequency is set to 2-4 days per week.

Curve 3 in green describes maximal neural output and force production. The curve requires a high-intensity level and can be classified due to the recovery time from the stimulus. Depending on the level of development and sport at hand, this can be either classified as a high skill and high intensity or lower skill and high-intensity curve.

Building Anti-Rotation and Rotational Stability

Stability is a key component in maximizing efficiency of movement. Many of the people who walk through the doors at our facility partake in a rotary activity. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or Rugby athletes are two examples. But, everyday folks training move and look better naked also experience rotation daily and must be stable to prevent injury.

Beyond injury prevention, we want to improve force transmission from head to toe throughout your body.

This helps you maximize power in rotational movements like a golf swing.

But there’s a catch: You must first be stable to prevent rotation before maximizing rotational power. 

Below is a list of exercises that you could implement to maximize the stability foundation. If short on time – these are also excellent fillers in between other main exercises

Supine Exercises:

Cry Babies

1/4 Turkish Get Ups

Quadruped Exercises:

Bird Dog w/Cone

Bear Crawls w/Cone

Sidelying Exercise: Sidelying Pretzel Presses

Bridging Exercises: 1/2 Turkish Get Ups

Glute Bridge Marches

1/2 Kneeling Exercises: 

Half Kneeling Cable Chop

Tall Kneeling Exercises: Tall Kneeling Pallof Presses, Tall Kneeling  

Medicine Ball Chops and Lifts

Half Kneeling Isohold

Bilateral Exercises: Pallof Presses,  Figure-X Pallof Presses

Unilateral Exercises: 

1-Arm & 1-Leg Rows

Rotary Planks To Wall

Hip Airplanes

Int/Ext Medicine Ball Rotations

General Strength

General strength is one of four categories that dictate rotary power development.  One factor here is the improved force transmission (active and passive stiffness) between your upper and lower body when performing squats and deadlifts. Basically, not flexing or rotating your spine to both prevent injury and improve strength.

The best general strength exercises are still your major movement patterns. Throughout the entire body these stimulate growth, which gives muscles their greatest cross-sectional area and thus, increases power potential.

That means still get strong with your squats and deads, but don’t rule out unilateral exercises.

Good choices include: one arm dumbbell bench press,  Bulgarian split squat,  normal split squat,  one-leg hip thrust,  and single arm row.

Rotary Movement Exercises

Rotary movement exercises involve small levels of rotation in the thoracic spine, but a strong, stable, lumbar spine. All of these exercises all stem from a powerful hip drive. Below is one of my favorite rotary exercises, the 1 arm lateral KB Clean.

1-Arm Lateral KB Clean

Putting It Together: Programming

How should you use all this to create an efficient training program to look better naked and perform like an athlete?

  1. Perform a warm up that is dynamic in nature and which could include diaphragmatic breathing. The warm up should include exercises targeting torso and hip disassociation.
  1. Move on to the integration and stability exercises. Pick two exercises from the categories outlined that fits the individual(s)’s needs the most. I personally highly recommend the two effective exercises; Bird Dog w/Cone and 1/2 Turkish Get Up.
  1. Choose two exercises that will fall under the general strength banner. Take into consideration the needs of the individual and the potential sport. A deadlift and a one-arm dumbbell bench press will never go wrong.
  1. Pick two or three rotary movement exercises as assistance work to further reinforce and improve pure rotary power development. If you work with athletes who need to be “compact” such as boxers or MMA fighters – Rotary Squats and Lateral Swings are a good combination. The same logic can be applied to improve rotation in recreational sports, like beer league softball, if that’s your thing.

Case Study: The Rugby Player

Below is an example program for a high-level Rugby Player who’s in-season and wants to maintain rotary power. We have also used a similar program set-up with great success with athletes from different sports such as MMA and Boxing.

Warm Up  
Joint Circles



5 minutesUpper and lower body. Try to relax!
Thoracic Windmills5 repetitions per sideBoth sides
Glute Bridges10 repetitions
Bird Dogs w/cone5 repetitions per legBoth sides


A1) Back Squats or Front Squats


3-5 x 5 repetitionsFocus on technique and speed
Rest 2-3 minutes between each set
B1) 1-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press3 x 6-8 repetitions per sidePer side – control the rotation!
Rest 2-3 minutes between each set
C1) 1-Arm Lateral KB Cleans2-3 x 8-12 repetitions per sidePer side – stay tight and keep the KB close!
C2) Landmines2-3 x 8 – 12 repetitions per sidePer side – move everything together not separately!
Rest 2-3 minutes between each round of the superset


Warm Down  
Joint Circles (same as warm up)


5 minutesUpper and lower body. Try to relax!
Diaphragmatic breathing

(lay on your back and breathe into your belly)

2-3 minutesRelax!

Wrap Up

Rotation: whether it’s developing force or preventing it, it’s part of everyday movement.

That means rotational stability and power aren’t just qualities for athletes. It’s for everyday folks who like to hit the links, throw a ball with their kids, and develop a well-rounded, athletic body.

kennetAbout Kennet Waale

Kennet Waale is a facilitator and coach for Movestrong Training Systems, and the co-founder of The Vertex – a multifaceted health facility in Brisbane, Australia.

He earned his Bachelor’s degree in human movement studies as an exercise scientist at The University of Queensland. During his almost eight years of coaching, he has gone to work with athletes up to the Commonwealth and Olympic levels as well as ever day folks wanting to look better naked.






  1. Parchmann, CJ and McBride, JM. 2011. Relationship between functional movement screen and athletic performance. J Strength Cond Res 25(12): 3378–3384, 2011).

2.SHEPHERD, J. (2004) Building Rotational Power: All You Need To Know About Getting In Shape To Perform Zippy Turns On The Hoof, Peak Performance, 197, p. 4-6

3.SIFF, M. & VERKHOSHANSKY, Y. (1998) Supertraining: Strength Training for Sporting Excellence. Johannesburg, South Africa: University of the Witwatersrsand.

4.BAECHLE, T.R. & EARLE, R.W. (2008) Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. 3rd ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishing Company.

15 Expert Tips: How to Improve Athleticism

Let’s be Clear: 

To Improve athleticism, building muscle and strength isn’t enough—you must be able to move and generate force rapidly to stand above the average meathead.

Who wants to be all show and no go?

Further, what fun is having tons of endurance without appreciable muscle mass?

If you’re like most lifters, you want demand a blend of both athleticism and muscle mass, and that’s what I’m here to deliver. 

Short on time? Grab this article as a Checklist


In today’s post, I’ll show you how to build a body capable of competing with the toughest athletes, yet still lean and muscular.

I reached out to a handful of expert coaches in the industry to help you maximize your training and improve athletic performance.

Not only will you maximize your training, you’ll build real-world athleticism. In other words, these tips will help you become Unleash Your Athleticism, and become a beast both in and out of the gym. 

 1) Value Relative Strength As much as Absolute Strength

There are many factors to consider, but heavy strength training is a tool for improvement, not the end-all be-all in performance.

Does the allocation of resources towards building more strength with potential gains in size outweigh the benefits of higher relative strength and corresponding improvements in agility, speed, power, and coordination?

Sorry to burst your bubble, but no.

bodyweight training, Expert Tips to Build Muscle, How to Improve Athleticism

There are always exceptions like absolute strength athletes such as lineman, throwers, and strongman competitors, but when athletes’ sports are movement based relative strength reigns king.

Incorporate bodyweight training, movement skills like sprints and jumps, and stop blindly adding weight to the bar above all else.

Related: Find out Seven Ways to Improve Relative Strength

2) Develop Unilateral Strength and Power

David Dellanave of Dellanave.com

If you want a more athletic, and dare I say functional, type of strength prepare to get comfortable with unilateral work. The fact is most sports movements happen from an offset stance and favor power development unilaterally.

Let’s look at two great movements to make this happen:

The first is the skater squat or airborne lunge. This is a super challenging movement that is fantastic for building single leg strength. Don’t be put off by this bodyweight exercise – most people have to progress from a Bulgarian split squat to develop single-leg strength and stability to prepare for the unsupported, skater squat.

The skater squat is like a pistol squat, but instead of the non-working leg being outstretched in front of you, the hip is flexed and you tap the knee of the non-working leg on the ground near your planted foot. Here’s one of Ben Bruno’s guys doing it:

In most cases, you’ll want a little weight to act as a counterbalance to aid in balance. To progress the skater squat slightly reduce the range of motion by tapping the knee to a yoga block rather than on the ground. This increases the difficulty of the exercise by requiring additional eccentric control. Gradually increase the range of motion until you’re going all the way to the ground.

The second unilateral power exercise is the split stance one-armed push press, one of the most underrated exercises for athletic power development. Working with one arm negates the bilateral deficit and allows you to move a ton of weight for massive gains in strength and power. The push press requires other transfer of force from the power body until a full-body, coordinated movement.

When done from a split stance, the push press forces stability through the hip and trunk. Keep in mind the best way to find which foot position is best is to biofeedback test it.

Integrate these two staples into your strength and conditioning program and you’re going to be a force to be reckoned with on the field.

3) Jump Rope to Improve Coordination

Jumping rope is an excellent way to develop the individual qualities that make up coordinative athletic movement—what we typically call “athleticism.”

Tweet: Check out this awesome tip to build athleticism in the gym @Eric_Bach: http://bit.ly/1bg0bAw #performance #trainingCheck out this awesome tip to build athleticism in the gym @Eric_Bach: http://bit.ly/1bg0bAw #performance #training

Hitting the weights hard and eating well is important, but true athleticism requires coordination, not just brute strength. Everyone loves being big, strong, and fast, but they’re useless without technique and the ability to consistently express those physical qualities on demand in a coordinated manner.

Jumping rope not only allows you to develop these qualities individually but also trains your body to seamlessly integrate them in concert with one another.

4) Improve Functional Mobility and Reinforce with Strength and Stability

Dr. John Rusin, the Strength Doc.

If you have goals of becoming an elite athlete, functional mobility is a pivotal aspect of high performance.

If your first thought in achieving Gumby-like mobility is with the addition of more stretching and foam rolling to your training program, think again.

Short on time? Grab this article as a Checklist

Whether stretching and rolling works is still under academic debate but one thing holds true; neither of these modalities are going to streamline translatable mobility like the pristine execution of accentuated loaded eccentrics to your training schedule.

johnrusin, How to Improve Athleticism

You have most likely already had a taste of the basics of accentuated loaded eccentrics in foundational barbell movements like the Romanian deadlift. With the operative word being “accentuated,” this type of training method is largely dependent on the execution of prescribed tempos and extended ranges of motion.

Increasing the time under tension during the eccentric phases of big compound movements while moving into the last 10% of available range will strategically micro-tear facial layers and muscle tissue, while also retraining neural receptors to adapt to extended ranges of motion under load.

In other words, you’ll build strength, stability, and increase range of motion all in one.

Give it a shot, and remember this method can be used for nearly any movement pattern or muscle group. The key is in the execution– own your movement, challenge your body and reap the benefits of Olympian level mobility.

Tweet: Check out this awesome tip to build athleticism in the gym @Eric_Bach: http://bit.ly/1bg0bAw #performance #trainingCheck out this awesome tip to build athleticism in the gym @Eric_Bach: http://bit.ly/1bg0bAw #performance #training
5) Incorporate Basic Movement Patterns Like Skipping

Tony Gentilcore of Tonygentilcore.com

I like to use skipping drills with many of my general fitness population clients. Most have spent YEARS in front of a computer and their idea of athleticism is taking the stairs over the elevator. People don’t move a lot anymore and end up having the movement quality of a crowbar.

It’s funny: I’ll say to someone, “we’re going to warm-up with some skipping drills,” and many will roll their eyes and chuckle as if to say “dude, really? Skipping?” Then I watch them skip and I’m the one who ends up laughing.

Skipping is a nice way to help build “groove” proper sprinting mechanics (opposite arm/leg swing), not to mention is a low-grade drill that pretty much anyone can do without risk of injury.

It’s a nice way to “extend” a warm-up or to introduce SOME form of athletic movement if they haven’t done anything more than walk to the water cooler in the past ten years.

Tweet: Check out this great list to Build Athleticism in the Gym Try this awesome tip to build more athleticism in the gym

6) Balance Training based on Neural Demands 

When setting up any training program or workout, you need to place more neurologically demanding exercises early in the week, and early in each session.

In other words, neural demands are the requirements placed on the nervous system for the ideal execution of an exercise. 
Athletes require high speed, technical, multi-joint movements like sprinting, jumping, and compound lifts. In these exercises, the nervous system is the driver of performance.

If you’re blasting cleans with excess fatigue the nervous system fails to send signals to the muscles fast enough to allow technique execution of the exercise.

weight-lifting-for-women-2, How to Improve Athleticism

In the case of sprinting under fatigue, you’re unable to produce maximal efforts and training conditioning rather than truly increasing speed, all while increasing the risk of injury due to technical changes. This leads to missed lifts, altered technique, and potentially wreckin’ yo gains.

Keep the high-intensity exercises like sprinting, cleans, or near-maximal lifts with full recovery in the beginning of your workouts.

Exercises towards the velocity portion of the graph (i.e. speed) are obviously faster and more sensitive to changes in technique than slower speed exercises like heavy deadlifts or squats.

To get jacked to the max start your workout with explosive movement like sprints, jumps, or throws and then hit the weights to get stronger and create muscular damage for growth.

Tweet: Check out this awesome tip to build athleticism in the gym @Eric_Bach: http://bit.ly/1bg0bAw #performance #trainingCheck out this awesome tip to build athleticism in the gym @Eric_Bach: http://bit.ly/1bg0bAw #performance #training

7) Build your Base of Strength to Improve Athleticism

Ben Bruno of benbruno.com

For most gym-goers, a basic strength- training program will go a long way in improving athleticism. Keep the specialized exercise programs for more advanced athletes and hammer full-range-of-motion strength training.


Training with good form and in a progressive manner will give you a bigger bang for your training buck than a lot of the fancier “sport specific” drills, especially until you have a foundation of strength.

Emphasize major lifts with sound technique, get strong and develop your base of strength. This sets the table for improved training with more sports specific drills going forward.

8) Move Explosively Everyday

Nick Tumminello of Nicktumminello.com

If you’re like most lifters, you stopped rapid, explosive movement years, if not decades ago.
Rather than solely lifting heavy, incorporate explosive movement and do something fast every day.” That means you should sprint, throw, punch, or jump regularly.

Being jacked and strong is nice, but expressing strength fast and generating tons of power separates the contenders from the pretenders.

Moreover, rather than spending countless hours refining technique on Olympic lifts, it’s best to use exercises with an accelerated learning curve to train the same qualities: explosive power, nervous system activation, and activation of high threshold muscle fibers.

Whether your goals are physique or athletic oriented, you’ll reap huge benefits from explosive throws, pushes, and jumps. By bridging the gap between strength and speed, your nervous system functions at a faster, more efficient rate to improve firing rates of muscles on your big lifts.

Add in jumps for the lower body and push-up variations or explosive throws for three sets of five reps with light resistance after your movement training or directly after your warm-up.

That way, you’ll improve neural activation, better recruit muscle fibers, and prepare the body for activity and sport. 

9) Incorporate Multi-planar Training

Travis Pollen, the Fitness Pollenator

As an amputee, I might be a little biased, but single-leg training with the aforementioned exercises will boost athleticism, especially if you’ve been spending all your time on conventional barbell exercises.

Train unilaterally: multi-planar split squats and lunges, single-leg stiff-legged deadlifts, single leg hurdle jumps, even single-leg hang cleans.


Most lifts take place solely in the sagittal plane, yet sports are chaotic and take place with frontal, sagittal, and transverse plane movements. All movements have forces in multiple planes, but it serves the average gym-goer well to incorporate direct multi-planar movements.

While you must master basic exercise first, incorporating movements that require greater stabilization throughout the entire body will undoubtedly improve a variety of qualities that contribute to athleticism. There are the obvious ones like strength and power and then some less obvious ones, too, like mobility, stability, balance, and proprioception.

10) Build Up Multi-level Strength

Chad Landers of Push Private Fitness

 To improve athleticism get stronger, both in an absolute and relative sense. 90% of people will never have the issue of being too strong to excel in sports. As a result, improving strength and training with a variety of rep ranges to set your infrastructure for speed, stability, power, and improvements in body composition.

It’s imperative to note that you don’t need to train at 90, 95% of your one-rep-max, save that for the powerlifters.

Instead, hammer the 3-5 rep range with 80% 1-RM in the “big lifts” like squats, deadlifts, presses, cleans, rows and pull-ups.” You’ll still build strength without excessive stress that crushes the high training demands of athletes.

Not only do the lighter loads add a greater speed component, they reduce the risk of technical breakdowns and form.

11) Improve Rotational Strength and Power

Kennet Waale is a facilitator, coach, and founder of Move Strong and www.kennetwaale.com.

Power is vector specific, so it requires athletes to train rotational skills directly. The four exercises below are thoroughly explained in the videos regarding execution to help you build rotational strength and power. Following is an outline of how you could use the exercises to improve rotational power and strength in a more traditional athletic performance program.

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A proper periodization plan is obviously important and practicing the foundations is of utmost importance to master any skill. Don’t let your ego come in the way – start light; master the movements and progress the weights and tempo as you go. Soon, you’ll be swinging and punching harder with specific rotational power.

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  • Males +70kg start with: 20kg Kettlebell
  • Males -70kg start with: 16kg Kettlebell
  • Females +60kg start with: 16kg Kettlebell
  • Females -60kg start with: 12kg Kettlebell
  • Stick with the above weights for the first three weeks before you decide to increase it when technique is optimal.


Day 1: Lower BodyDate: Week 1Week 2Week 3
A1) Half Dragon Press (Weeks 1&2)Full Dragon Press (Week 3)Weight*As Above*As Above*As Above
Sets vs. Reps3×5/side3×6/side3×8/side
Rest1-2 minutes1-2 minutes1-2 minutes
A2) Depth JumpsWeight   
Sets vs. Reps3×53×63×6
B1) Sumo DeadliftsWeight50%1RM55%1RM60%1RM
Sets vs. Reps3×63×54×4
C1) Rotational Medicine Ball TossesWeight3kg4kg4kg
Sets vs. Reps3×6-83×8-103×8-12
C2) Walking Lunges with Bar in FrontWeight   
Sets vs. Reps3×10/leg3×10/leg3×12/leg
Speed 5-0-25-0-2


Day 2: Upper BodyDate: Week 1Week 2Week 3
A1) Lateral CleansWeight*As Above*As Above*As Above
Sets vs. Reps3×5/side3×6/side3×8/side
Rest1-2 minutes1-2 minutes1-2 minutes
A2) Push Ups w/ClapWeight   
Sets vs. Reps3×53×63×6
B1) 1-Arm Dumbbell Floor PressWeight50%1RM55%1RM60%1RM
Sets vs. Reps3×63×54×4
C1) Rotational SwingsWeight*As Above*As Above*As Above
Sets vs. Reps3×8-12/side3×8-12/side3×8-12/side
C2) Cry BabiesWeight   
Sets vs. Reps3×6-10/side3×6-10/side3×6-10/side
Speed 5-0-25-0-2

Video Tutorials:

The Dragon Press Half Rotation


The Dragon Press Full Rotation

The Lateral Clean



The Rotational Swing

12) Improve Thoracic Mobility for better Overhead Movement

Dean Somerset of Deansomerset.com

Thoracic mobility gains could be made through improving breathing patterns and glute engagement.

Stay with me, as I know it sounds crazy, but the implications are pretty powerful. For breathing work, inhalation involves the expansion of the rib cage and extension of the thoracic spine, helping you pull in larger volumes of air during inhalation. As a result, this increases movement in thoracic mobility and stability for overhead movements.

For the glutes, their glute contraction has a massive impact within a very short period of time to help increase thoracic drive. In a situation where the glutes aren’t being used, the pelvis can be held with a bit more anterior tilt, which causes a compensatory movement of the lumbar spine into more lordosis, or extension.


To balance this out, the thoracic spine winds up getting more kyphotic or flexed so as to keep your head vertical over your feet and keep you from falling over.

Flexing the glutes helps to pull the pelvis into slightly more posterior tilt, which reduces the drive on the low back into extension and thus reduces the drive into the thoracic spine into flexion. It’s simple tip with profound, performing improving implications.

The combined aspect of breathing in more air, opening the lungs, and flexing the glutes, increases thoracic extension range of motion rapidly, which can help put you in a better position to overhead press while stabilizing the pelvis for less discomfort and pain in overhead movements.

13) Don’t Sacrifice Nutrition

Kedric Kwan of Kedrickwan.com

 With all the training sessions and high demands on game day, athletes have an extremely high-energy output.

This gives the perception that because of the high-energy output, athletes don’t have to watch what they eat and body composition is last on their list.

Unfortunately, most athletes crush insane amount of junk, wrecking body composition and reducing recoverability. If you’re a recreational athlete and scarf skittles like Marshawn Lynch, you’ll turn into a slob rather than a high-performance machine.


Even though most of us aren’t looking to be a stage ready bodybuilder anytime soon, improving body composition can help improve athletic performance.

Seriously, body fat doesn’t produce force the way muscle can and may decrease relative strength by increasing bodyweight.

The better your body composition is and the higher the ratio of muscle you have to fat, the more force you’re cable of producing. This force, under the right training conditions, will enhance your athletic potential.

By periodizing your nutrition, being aware of your food intake and using specific supplements will help improve your body composition.

Instead of eating everything in sight thinking you’ll burn it all off during training or competition, focus on your body composition with proper nutrition.

Besides, who doesn’t want to be a badass on the pitch while looking jacked on the beach?

14) Incorporate the Medicine Ball Back Toss for Explosive Power

Joey Percia 

One of my favorite drills to use with clients to improve athleticism, more specifically jumping ability, is the overhead backward medicine ball toss for height. I like the throw for height opposed to distance because it decreases the likelihood of over extending the low back in an attempt to get more power, which is a common fault for beginners and those new to the movement.

Most clients who haven’t jumped in years let their arms flop around like wet noodles or tuck them tight to the side like pencil diving in a pool. Not only is this disadvantageous for jumping but it’s an awkward thing to see. This movement gives the client a basic understanding of using an effective arm swing, gets the CNS jacked up and most importantly, it’s fun.”

15) Start Sprinting to Improve Athleticism

Option One: Sprinting before lifting is ideal for improving performance by potentiating the nervous system for heavy and explosive training.

This comes with a risk versus reward trade-off as sprinting done before training must be enough to spark the nervous system, yet low enough in volume and intensity to not fatigue the body and hinder lifting ability. When fatigue is managed, strength performance, conditioning, and athleticism will skyrocket.

After your dynamic warm-up (that you’re already doing, right?), do some submaximal speed drills like skips and low-intensity sprints for 5-10 minutes.

Low volume, short distance sprints performed before strength training help prevent injury and improve performance, as opposed to doing a technical, neurologically demanding exercise after training when fatigue predisposes you to injury.

Perform sprints two days per week. Start with 5 sprints of 10-20 yards with 30-60 seconds of recovery and add one sprint per week, maxing out at 10 sprints.

Option Two: Sprints Conditioning After a Lift

Sprints require sound mechanics and practice before you can pile on tons of volume, a process to which most gym rats aren’t willing to dedicate time. With that in mind, sprinting for conditioning must be done sub-maximally on either a hill or incline to prevent overstriding and hamstring injuries.

How to Improve your Athleticism: Wrap Up

Your body is an integrated system and should be trained as such. When in doubt, training for improving performance builds a foundation for better training of aesthetic goals, bringing you the total package of a lean, strong, athletic body. 

Take a few minutes to review your training and ask, “Where can I improve my performance?”


I put together a brief checklist covering all 15 tips, on one short list for you to throw in your gym bag. Download for free below to optimize your athleticism. 

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