Strength Movements

The Strength Movement Bible

Every time we host a strength cycle, we get tonnnnns of form checks / questions about the new programmed strength-based movements! To help our crew, we’re coming in hot with the strength movement holy grail right here.

Buckle in for all the knowledge bombs (:

We’re going to give you everything you need to know about our strength movements for these cycles. Sometimes these change, but these tend to be the big hitters.

  • Low Bar Back Squat
  • Sumo Deadlift
  • Flat Barbell Bench
  • Strict Pull-Up
  • Back Rack Reverse Lunge
  • Strict Barbell Pendlay Row
  • Strict Barbell Overhead Press

Low Bar Back Squat

The low bar back squat is like the evil twin sister of the high bar back squat, mainly because it tears your shoulders apart to give better leverage to your posterior chain.

Said another way: if your upper body isn’t in pain while trying to hold the bar in place for this movement, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Benefits:
– More glute-dominant 
– Easier to brace the midline and lift a heavier load

Drawbacks:
– Hamstring-dependent (requires strength / flexibility here)
– Requires a ton of shoulder mobility

Tips for Low Bar Squats:

  1. To get the bar where it needs to be for Low Bar, you have to wiggle and work to wedge it down onto your shoulders before taking the bar off the rack.
  2. Make sure wrists stay flat. Feel free to unwrap your thumbs.
  3. Your hands / feet will likely be a smidge wider. You still need to have a tight / engaged upper body. We should not see elbows move forward as we’re squatting.
  4. Torso angle should not change whether you’re at the top, mid squat, or down at the bottom. Even at the top, you should still be hinged forward.
  5. If you normally have knee pain when squatting, give this version a try. It’s slightly different loading and muscle recruitment, and isn’t as much “knee over toe.”

Sumo Deadlifts

Sorry not sorry, but we like to *make* you do sumo deadlifts instead of giving you the option of conventional. But trust us, it’s going to be worth it.

The key to completing a successful sumo deadlift: Bring your butt down and your chest up right before you go to pick up the bar.

This gets our shoulders more in line with the bar, makes our chest / torso more vertical, and brings our hips closer to the bar.

Other Tips for Sumo:

  1. Place your feet out wiiiiiiide.
  2. Externally rotate your feet – if it feels awkward, you’re in the right position.
  3. Keep your hands pretty narrow.
  4. Bring the hips into the bar so the torso is more vertical / upright.

Flat Barbell Bench

Bench press might seem like a pretty self-explanatory movement, but there are actually quite a few nuances that can make this movement more or less advantageous for what you’re trying to accomplish.

What we really mean here is answering the ultimate question… to arch or not to arch our back?

You might see people in the gym basically in a back bridge on the bench when they’re performing a bench press… but why?

Big Arch:

  • Best if goal = move as much weight as possible
  • Shortens the distance the bar has to travel up / down
  • Will likely let you lift MORE weight than a flat setup

Flatter Setup:

  • Best if goal = maximize physique/body comp
  • Bigger distance barbell has to travel up/down
  • More ideal setup if pregnant, newly PP, or back injury
  • May not be able to lift *quite* as much weight in comparison to being super arched

For Most:

  • Consider meeting somewhere in the middle (:
  • Maybe have a small / slight arch
  • Everything should still be tight / engaged!

In addition to the back arch, bench press can also be a super intimidating movement, because it can be really scary to “fail” a rep, especially if you’re working out alone.

So, how do we properly “fail” a rep here?

Check out this Instagram reel for a great visual and explanation so you can start tapping into that full bench potential (:


Strict Pull-Up

Enter the most controversial movement we have for our strength cycles… mostly because a lot of people are still struggling to get a strict pull-up and we’re like here, do a million of them, haha.

But don’t fear, we’ve got options.

First off, let’s make one thing clear: if you want to get your first strict pull-up, banded pull-ups are not the way.

Banded Pull-ups:
– may take off too much body weight
– may not encourage good positioning
– may not engage / work lats
– may not lead to unassisted reps

^ This is why you might be able to rep out Banded Pull-Ups like crazy… but not necessarily be seeing much progress towards Unassisted Pull-ups.

This is why we love the Rack Pull-Up:

You’ll need a barbell and a squat rack. A Smith machine could work as well.

4 Levels of Difficulty:
Level 1: foot-assisted
Level 2: feet in front
Level 3: feet on bench or box
Level 4: feet up on bench + weight

Tips for the Rack Pull-Up:

  • Think about driving your elbows into your waist
  • Torso should be vertical, aka a straight line up and down.
  • Make sure the tush is in line with the rack or Smith machine, not out in front of you.
  • You want to engage and use your lats to move up / down.
  • Take your time and move with control up and down.
  • Try getting a 2-3 second tempo in both directions (and make sure you don’t just flop back down to the floor after getting your chin over the bar).

If you want to gain strength for strict pull-ups even faster, you could also do lots of:

  • Scap Pull-ups
  • Cable Pulldowns
  • Cable or Barbell Rows
  • Bicep Curls
  • Chin over Bar Holds

^^ Keep it simple, but keep it consistent. 10-15 min of work 2-3x / week compounded over time consistently will pay massive and very fast dividends.


Back Rack Reverse Lunge

This is a brand new repeating movement coming in hot for our strength cycles! They are an absolute savage single-leg movement.

The best part? They are performed with “alternating” legs, which means that you can properly train both legs at the same time. You’re welcome!

  • You can opt to use a low bar or high bar position (or a safety squat bar).
  • You can also execute the movement in whatever way feels most natural, with no concern about whether it’s quad or glute-dominant.

Tips on Performing the Lunge:

  • Ensure you are not walking a “tight rope” (we want some width between the feet; likely similar to your squat stance in total width).
  • The knee gently contacts the ground.
  • Use both the quads and glutes (as well as a bit of power from the midline / low back).

We want to avoid excessive rest at the top of the rep, so look to standardize your breath for each rep to allow just one quick gulp of air, and then descend the next leg into the reverse lunge.

Here’s a really solid visual explanation from the legend himself, Bryan Boorstein!


Barbell Strict Pendlay Row

Pendlay Rows are a great way to build a strong back, and they also provide great carryover to movements like Deadlifts, Snatches, Cleans, etc.

Depending on your flexibility and anatomy, Pendlay Rows can either feel easy and awesome, or awful or awkward.

Tip 1: If Pendlay Rows feel like hot garbage, try putting the bar on top of 2 bumper plates to give yourself an elevated surface to work from.

Tip 2: People also tend to really struggle with keeping their back flat, shoulders and upper back engaged, and getting the set-up right. We suggest reverse engineering the setup. Start with a deadlift and then get in the proper position from the top down instead next time

A few other tips:

  • Try to perform this movement as strictly as possible.
  • There shouldn’t be much chest / torso movement.
  • The bar should hit your mid-abdomen at the top of the movement.

Barbell Strict Overhead Press

This movement can be super challenging because it’s very tempting to want to use your legs to move the bar more efficiently and with more power. But you gotta resist!

We want to set up the strict press with glutes and midline squeezed, bracing. The elbows are directly under or just barely in front of the bar.

As you press, we don’t want to go around the face, so we must move the face slightly back and out of the way.

As soon as the bar clears the head, we can move the head forward, under the bar, to press out and complete the rep from the strongest position.

This is likely going to be your weakest compound lift, and for good reason. You are basically only using your arms and shoulders without any momentum.

Tips for Barbell Strict Press:

  • Tuck your chin and keep your core tight.
  • Move your head out of the way to allow the barbell a straight line path up and down.
  • Don’t bend your knees or bounce into your legs at all.
  • Brace your core – this is the only way to truly generate power with zero momentum.

Want More Help?

To see all the video versions of these movement hacks, check out the Paragon Training Methods Instagram page or head over to the Paragon Youtube page for more movement descriptions.

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LCK and Bryan from Paragon Training Methods

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