Joining me on the show this week is Rebel Coach Ryan L’Ecuyer. Here at Rebel, we train many athletes as well as powerlifters, and something that we’ve been noticing in conversations surrounding the big three lifts is that people are not executing them appropriately based on their outcome goal. Powerlifters are being told to squat, bench, and deadlift more like athletes. Athletes are being told to squat, bench, and deadlift more like powerlifters.
Both of these are failing propositions. Each population should set up and execute the big 3 lifts in a specific way because the outcome being chased is frankly very different. Listen in as Coach Ryan L’Ecuyer and I sit down and discuss the key differences in how to set up and execute the squat, bench, and deadlift as a powerlifter or an athlete (spoiler alert: if you’re a human, you’re an athlete).
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:
- [08:50] Big rocks for setting up a squat as a powerlifter
- [09:49] The key difference between squatting as an athlete and squatting as a powerlifter
- [11:00] Low bar setup cueing and coaching tips
- [16:40] Why it’s easier to handle more weight under eccentric load than concentric
- [20:30] The distinction of an athlete squat and understanding what triplanar control is
- [21:29] Why the low bar squat isn’t great for repeated exposure
- [23:50] The importance of having some level of variability in your squat
- [25:55] Understanding the different types of stances for an athletic squat and a powerlifting squat
- [28:25] The difference between a powerlifting bench press and an athletic bench press
- [34:12] The similarity between the two lifts of needing to be set before the load gets into your hands
- [37:20] Understanding the idea of retraction when rowing the weight down and protraction when driving the weight up
- [39:01] The difference in position when feet are on the bench and when feet on bumper plates
- [42:40] Why extension is only a problem when you can’t get out of it
- [44:28] Deadlift exercise selection for a powerlifter and an athlete
James Cerbie: That’s a really good question. We’ll just figure that one out on the fly.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Yeah, we always do.
James Cerbie: You can’t have too much preparation for these things because that was actually one of the things. So we’ll go here just like really quickly and people listening may get angry. But you seem like the whole Joe Rogan Spotify, like everyone’s calling for Joe Rogan to be canceled type stuff.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Is that right? I don’t know anything about anything.
James Cerbie: Yeah, I don’t really pay a ton of attention to it. I just have one key podcast a week I listen to. They debrief me on everything that’s happened to the previous week. It’s great. And so they were talking about how there’s been this big call to cancel Joe Rogan and how he kind of came out with essentially just a fake apology this past week. He’s like, yeah, I don’t know what you guys take me seriously. Like, I’m a fucking comedian. I don’t even prepare for these episodes. He gets like 11 million hits a month. Sorry. I think he gets 11 million downloads a week.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Unreal.
James Cerbie: Yes. Nuts for the dude that used to do Fear Factor.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Dude, he’s been around for so long, it’s like he’s always been around.
James Cerbie: That’s how you need to go train down there. He’s in Austin now and I’m 100% positive he’s probably not doing very good training. From the things that I see floating around in the conversations with other people, I’m like, you need to get hooked up with my man Ryan, and we could fill out the body to match your head size.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: I know that’s what I was going to say. I think that my neck is too small for him. I don’t think he would ever take me seriously, so I’m not doing neck training. I know Tom Segura is down here and Joe Rogan. I’ll train both of them if they’re interested. So you guys are listening to podcasts? I’m sure they are.
James Cerbie: Yeah. We get Elon Musk in there for you as well. I think it’d be a really good option.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Yeah, I’ve heard he’s got some money that he could spend on training for sure.
James Cerbie: Yeah. I think that your hourly rate would be safe. I think he’d be okay.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Yeah. Probably not going to get a whole lot of objections to the rate from any of those guys. Yeah, I think that’s a good plan. I think I should probably take the best approach there is. It would probably just be to go to their Instagrams directly and just pass through them.
James Cerbie: Just tweet at them a lot. Elon is really active on Twitter. You can go on there.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: I think I could take a jet ski to Joe Rogan’s house. I’m pretty sure he lives on Lake Austin or Lake Travis or something like that. I could probably just pull up in his backyard.
James Cerbie: I think you should just pull up and then just like, go through poses.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Yeah.
James Cerbie: Until he comes out to have a conversation with him.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: This is my interview. You didn’t know that you had one with me.
James Cerbie: I’m here to save your gains.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Yeah, this is what you want. I don’t pay attention at all to anything that’s going on, but I’m actually surprised to just hear that now because I know that he kind of just talks about whatever the hell he wants to talk about, which I totally respect. So I’m surprised that he’s just getting nailed now because it seems like it’s coming for everybody. The funny thing is, I wonder if I’ve ever been canceled, because I have no idea if I was.
James Cerbie: That’s the beauty of it.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Yeah. I don’t think I ever will gain the popularity for that to even be an option, but I could assure you that if I ever did, I’d have no idea what’s happening.
James Cerbie: Yeah, that’s fair. That’s totally fair.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Yeah.
James Cerbie: I was going to say the last thing I say here is, like, Elon could pretty much just put you on retainer for a year. That’s why you should sell your services.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Yeah. It wouldn’t even be close to a dance, right? No, it wouldn’t even show.
James Cerbie: I’ve thought about that before where I was like, let’s say he bought you out for a month. He sees you every day, Monday to Sunday for a session for a month that is less of his net worth than you. And I’m going to get a cup of coffee together tomorrow.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: That’s wild.
James Cerbie: Yeah, probably. I don’t know math. I haven’t done the math. I’m assuming that’s probably pretty darn accurate. And he probably wins that by a landslide. Actually. Probably the amount of chat. Anyways, let’s change this.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: I have to make one joke. I hope I’m at least like an artisan coffee. I’m not like Dunkin Donuts coffee.
James Cerbie: You’re not like McDonald’s on the go. Like, whatever it is.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: That watered down. Yeah. Okay, cool.
James Cerbie: Have you ever seen the story? Okay, this is the last thing we’re talking about, people. And then we’re actually going to talk about lifting things. As a quick preview, we are going to talk about the big three today, squat inch deadlift. And we want to focus on the difference in how we like to coach those movements for a power lifter versus any of our other athletes. And when you hear athletes just like in parentheses, you’re thinking human, because we think all humans are athletes. If you’re a powerlifter, you’re just kind of like a sub categorization of that. And it needs to be set up and coached differently. So we want to talk about some of the key differences before we get there, though. While we’re on this topic, there’s a really funny story, actually not a story. It’s in a documentary on HBO, I think of Warren Buffett, and he’s driven the same route to work every day for whatever it is 40, 50, 60 years and he goes by the same McDonald’s, and he gets McDonald’s for breakfast every single morning. And he comes home from work the night before, and he always tells his wife what exact change needs to go in the cup holder in his car for when he goes to McDonald’s the next morning because he gets one of three meals at McDonald’s.
One’s like a dollar, one’s like a buck 75, the other is like 250, something like that. And he orders at McDonald’s based on the performance of the market the day before. If the market had a good day, he splurges for like a $3 whatever meal at McDonald’s. If it has a down day in the market, he only goes for the dollar menu, whatever it is. I’m sitting here thinking like, oh, my God, this dude is worth how much money? But that’s the thing, though, right? He is who he is because that’s the mindset that’s like he can’t turn that off. That’s just ingrained. Yeah. I thought that was a funny story.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: That’s pretty incredible.
James Cerbie: Yeah, that’s cool.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: I like it. Yes.
James Cerbie: I’m like, Warren, you can just buy McDonald’s. You can have as much as you want.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Yeah, incredible.
James Cerbie: Anyways, let’s talk about the big three squat, bench, dead, three lifts that really have a significant place in our hearts. And so I think what makes the most sense here is maybe we kind of take it lift by lift, and we can kind of go like, all right, let’s start with the squat, and let’s talk about setting up a squad as a power lifter versus how we would think about setting up a squat for someone who’s just more of an athlete. Then we can go to the bench and then we can go dead.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Cool.
James Cerbie: That seems fair.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Yes. Sounds good to me.
James Cerbie: Cool. Let’s start with the squat. And let’s start with the powerlifting reference first in terms of big rocks, in terms of set up and execution of a squat for powerlifting, with the one intentional goal of squatting as much weight as humanly possible.
Big Rocks for Setting Up a Squat as a Powerlifter
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Yeah. So I think first we need to understand the criteria, and there are really two criteria. I don’t know how to speak English. You guys know this. So really the thing we need to start with the knee straight. We need to get the hip crease below the knee joint, and then we need to stand back up. So I guess that’s three things. And I guess there’s one other thing that you can’t go depending on the Federation. I think most federations would agree that you can’t go back down once you start going up, which is weird, but it does happen sometimes.
James Cerbie:Like an Olympic lifting. You kind of get that little double hit squad.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Yeah. So you can’t do that. At least the Federation that I compete in. So that’s basically it. Now, however you get there is really up to you. It doesn’t really matter. The bar needs to be on your back. I don’t know why you’d put it anywhere else, but you couldn’t anyway if you wanted to. So that’s really it. So we have to consider that first. Then there’s all of the other technical things that go along with that. But like you said, the key here is we’re trying to move as much weight as possible. So you’re going to manipulate all other variables to make sure that you hit basically the only criteria is that you drop that hip crease below the knee joint or in line with, depending on the Federation that you compete in, and that’s you just need to figure out how to do that. And I think that’s where the discussion really begins. It’s really not about this verticality of the pelvis necessarily, and the stacking of the ribcage and all the stuff that we like to talk about is being important for just general movement that becomes, I would say, somewhat irrelevant. I wouldn’t say it’s completely irrelevant and we can talk more about that, but I’ll kind of open that back up to you, James.
The Key Difference Between Squatting as an Athlete and Squatting as a Powerlifter
James Cerbie: Yeah, no, I think that with regard to that powerlifting squad, I think that we hit the nail on the head here is we have to think about the key difference in my mind is in one instance, I’m really putting a priority on the position of the pelvis and rib cage. It’s kind of like not necessarily my number one priority, but it’s really, really high towards the top of the list. Like if we’re training athletes and humans, the position of the pelvis and rib cage is huge. And I want to see vertical displacement of the pelvis in powerlifting, you’re almost intentionally not doing those two things right. Because in powerlifting, you’re going to do a low bar back squat. Right 90%, you’re going to low bar back squat. So it’s not really a true squat per se. It’s going to be more of a glorified hinge slash Good Morning. Anyways, I don’t know, maybe if you want to talk about some of the nuances of the set up in that kind of like low bar position in terms of what you’re looking for from maybe like a coaching or a queueing standpoint, like if you had somebody standing in front of you and you’re trying to get them set up into like a really good low bar position, what are some of the things that you are looking for in coaching?
Low Bar Setup Cueing and Coaching Tips
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Yeah. So this is one of these things where I’ll say that I do like Mark Riveto in the way that he explains this because he does a good job. I don’t know why I said that. That’s such a dickhead thing to say, because a lot of times I don’t agree with Mark ribboto, but I will say he was right about this stuff in the sense that the bar needs to stay over the midfoot relatively so, and if you go out of somewhere out of that, you’re going to just lose your balance or you’re going to be really highly disadvantaged. So when you go into a low bar position, you’re naturally going to have to lean forward a little bit more just to maintain that bar over the center of mass. So with that you can’t just put the bar lower on your back and then just hope that it stays there by just gripping the shit out of the bar, which a lot of people do, and then they get into these issues with their wrists and their elbows and all that. So really what you’re looking for is there should be this idea of creating the shelf with the posterior delt primarily where if you got to push your elbow out into internal rotation a little bit or put your humor into internal rotation a little bit, which means your elbow is going to be going behind you, that should pop that postier Delta out a little bit.
And if it doesn’t pop your posterior delts a little bit, you probably don’t have posterior delts and you should probably do some hypertrophy work to remedy that. Yeah, you should probably take care of that girl. That’s kind of where the bar for most people is going to sit. It’s going to be somewhere between there and like the superior angle of the scaffold and you kind of figure out what feels good for you there. But you should be able to pull that bar into your back. You should feel like you’re able to use your laps to help to create that tension in your upper back and to just really stick that bar to your back. So that’s the first thing you just figure out what the set up is going to be. It’s not going to be right on the upper traps like it would be with most people or in my case directly on my squat tumor that I’ve created over time to help the bar sit there. So you want to find that position that’s just a little bit lower. You can see some people go even lower than that, which to me just I guess if you had a super long torso or something and you were just really disadvantaged from an anthropometric standpoint, then I guess that would be okay.
But then you’ve got to be able to deal with that position, which is just going to probably beat the crap out of your elbows and wrists and all that. So that’s the first thing. And again, the reason that we’re doing that is because we’re going to allow the hips to take more of the load. We’re going to get less of this moment arm at the knee and more of a moment arm at the hips. I think that that’s better for most people in terms of strength because they’re just barely more load.
James Cerbie: You got some big guns back there and it allows you to lift more weight.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: It just allows you to lift more weight. And I think one other thing that it does that’s actually useful is it does limit the depth. If you do a really good call, like a stacked squat, this vertical squat, you’ll kind of just drop straight down. And it’s almost like, hard to control. If you’re really in a good position, you’re just going to drop ass to grass without even really trying to. And you don’t really want to do that with that much load on your back. You’re just going to reduce the amount of weight that you can lift ultimately. So when you get yourself into that position where you lean forward a little bit more, you put your pelvis into a little bit more of an anterior tilt. It’s like you’re not really able to get that low anymore unless you were to go into a huge poster tilt. And you’d see all this movement taking place at the lumbar spine, which you’re not looking for either.
James Cerbie: Yeah, I’m over here trying to think through the logistics of being in a low bar set up and trying to post yearly tilt my pelvis. I’m just like, yeah, that is really hard, that it’s uncomfortable.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: The funny thing is that the way that I set up personally for my list for my low bar squat is I actually do have to think about that a little bit. So I’ll do it before I even unrack the bar, knowing that it’s not going to stay that way. So I’m still thinking about trying to get the ribs back. I still want my center of mass back as much as I can because if I just extend forward, I’m just going to end up on my toes. Everything’s going to be too far forward. So it’s not like you just throw all of this stuff out the window. Because if you go into a low bar position and you just let yourself extend like crazy, you’re probably not going to hit death. So you don’t want to have the fullest death that you could possibly have, but you can limit it so much that you don’t even hit depth by the criteria in your organization. And that can definitely be an issue. So I actually still think about that when I set up. So I’m getting underneath the bar. I’ll take a couple of breaths there. I’ll be thinking about excelling and getting my ribs back a little bit of a posterior tilt, knowing that it’s not going to be like a full on poster till I’m just going back to like, quote, unquote neutral.
I’m just getting out of a ton of extension essentially. And then from there, it’s like I’m still trying to drop as vertically as possible, but I know that I’m not going to stay super vertical. Like, there is going to be some forward lean, and that’s going to be amplified even more because I think what happens there is that you can always handle more weight under eccentric load than you can concentrate. Right. I think on the way down you’re going to and you’ll see this with like the vast majority of people. I’m sure a lot of people watching this or listening to this have watched a lot of people squat like total weirdos. It’s a fucking squat. Like, how exciting is it to watch? But I mean, how many thousands of squats have we watched? Oh, my God, you’re going to see this guy’s squat. It’s the same damn thing, but it’s funny. So we’ve seen enough. But if you’re one of these people, you’ve seen enough of these things that you’ll see when people come down, that whatever it is on the way down, it’s more amplified on the way up.
That’s kind of what I’m thinking about as I’m squatting is I want to be as vertical as possible. I know there’s going to be more of a forward lean, but on the way down, I’m creating a greater moment arm at the knee. My knees are traveling further forward on the way down than they are on the way up. And immediately when you start to come up out of the hole, the knees are going to shoot back and the hips are going to take over the rest of the way. And that in my mind. I think a lot of people try to prevent that in their low bar squat. That’s just taking advantage of leverage that’s allowing you to hit that is a low bar squat. That kind of what you want. Yeah. The relative verticality on the eccentric is going to allow you to hit depth, and then you’re just going to let big muscles take over on the way out. And I think that that’s actually like, if you have to do every single one of your squats like that from the bar all the way up, I think you’re going to run into some problems, but once it starts to get heavy, you’re always going to see that knees are going to shoot back, hips are going to go up higher, and they’re going to finish the lift.
It’s essentially a good morning from halfway up. That’s okay. I think where you run into a problem is where that is your only option. If you do your Goblet squats like that, you do your front squats like that, taking a shit squat like that. I think that’s where you’re getting some problems for sure.
James Cerbie: And that squat is what’s going to stand in contrast to what I would call more of an athlete squat, which is where we’re looking for far more of a vertical displacement of the pelvis as opposed to horizontal, because that low bar squat, as you mentioned. Right. I’m going to have to get a forward lean. While we’re thinking about trying to sit as straight down as we can. We know that we’re really going to be kind of like sitting back more. It turns into this hybrid squat hinge pattern thing. But it’s totally appropriate for the sport because that’s what you need to do to lift as much load as possible, which is the goal. That is the point of that sport, right?
Why it’s Easier to Handle More Weight Under Eccentric Load Than Concentric
For athletes, though, it’s a little bit different because the goal isn’t necessarily to just lift as much load as humanly possible. We’re going to probably put a little bit more weight on the underlying quality of the movement pattern itself. Right. So that’s where we want more vertical displacement of the pelvis. I want to see more of a vertical torso. I don’t really want to see this like a big forward lean. I want to see them try to keep their asshole underneath the top of their head and not have those hips totally shoot out. Right. Because with these squat patterns, we’re thinking safety bar squats. Front squats, obviously like a hack squat or a pendulum squat are great if you have access to them. So it’s very different. It’s a squatty squat. It’s way more knee dominant, way more squad. Right. But the reason that we like that and I think we had an earlier episode in the podcast with Ty Trelle, and he did a really good job talking about explaining this. Like, with athletes, we want to see an athlete that can squat in a phone booth, because if you can squat in a phone booth, that tells us a lot about we’re going to start using some larger words here, tells us a lot about triplane or control, your ability to have frontal and transverse motion, your ability to not be a rigid two X four.
Right. But this is, again, the distinction. This is why I hate when people just get black and white on this. Being a rigid two X four is probably a good thing in powerlifting because it’s going to help you lift as much weight as possible. But for an athlete who needs to not only be strong, but you need to be fluid, need to be able to move well. You need to be powerful. You need to be able to cut and rotate. That vertical squat is just so much better for what we’re trying to get there. Right. I’m still going to get really nice quad hypertrophy and quad strength glute hamstrings are still doing a majority of the work on the eccentric portion of that lift. You’re getting tons of hamstrings controlling the lowering portion, adductors, et cetera on board there. And then we’ll even throw wedges in there a lot with our people because we want to really see that vertical squat pattern. Plus you get far less beat up that way because I think, as you mentioned, that low bar back spot is great for moving as much load as possible, not so great with long term repeated exposure.
Whereas if I can get you a really nice, good looking vertical squat more of an athletic squat. We can really crank volume up on that quite high. You don’t get nearly as beat up. You don’t get nearly as much hip back stuff going on. Right. And so that for me is the distinction to where, like the athlete, I really want to prioritize that stack position. I really want to prioritize ribs down, pelvis under, and I want to swap patterns that’s going to really reinforce that happening and taking place in a powerlifter. We’re okay with fringing that line because the goal is slightly different. I don’t know if you feel that was a fair summary.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Absolutely. Yeah. I’ll say even for that powerlifter, I think there is a time for working on that other kind of squad. There’s no reason why they have to exist like that all the time just because that is their goal. I’m sure at a certain level, like when you’re highly specialized and you’re actually going to do this at the greatest level, I guess you could make an argument for that. But even then, I would say I think that these people can demonstrate some other movements and these patterns.
James Cerbie: It’s going to keep them healthy.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: I think it really does keep them healthy. I don’t see it being a negative in any way. Just because you do a more vertical squat once a week. It’s not like you’re going to forget how to low bar squat. That pattern is pretty innate, man. You obviously need to practice it and everything, but it’s pretty much like teaching someone how to squat for the first time. They’re going to show you a low bar squat if you just let them do it. People know how to do that. You can very easily figure it out. So I don’t think that you’re going to lose it in any way. At the very least, you just get a different sensory experience when you’re doing these other exercises. And I think from a pain perspective, that can be really great where people can walk out of the gym feeling much better, and then that’s the worst case scenario, and then the best case scenario is that they’re actually working some different tissues in a different way. And we know that just overuse over time, the same damn thing all the time. That tends to be when things have variability, right? Yeah.
The Importance of Having Some Level of Variability in Your Squat
James Cerbie: That’s kind of the word that keeps coming back. You need some level of variability. There’s no such thing as good posture. The human body, as an organism, doesn’t really like anything that just stays the same for extended periods of time. It needs change. It needs phase change. And the reason I like the phase change is because that tracks all the way up from the organism down to the chemical level. When you start looking at residence bonds and all these other things happening there, they want to have ways of passing and moving electrons around so they’re not stuck in one rigid structure. And we need the same thing. One quick note here, and then we’ll go talk about bench press, which is this kind of more rigid, two by four thing. And I think most powerlifters at this point have realized that they need these other inputs in their training at certain times throughout the calendar year so that they can stay healthy and feel good and put out the type of training volume they need to put out to actually continue to get strong and not just feel like a dumpster fire along the way, but a really well periodized training program will take care of that patterning.
By itself, the act of peaking, the act of getting more specific in training, will inherently pattern you to be more prepared for when you step on the platform. I’ve had this conversation where about sprinters and other athletes where it’s just there’s that conversation of if you take Usain Bolt and have them run 100 meters 100 times and you get them on a table and measure all the joint angles and everything before every single race, there’s probably like an optimal underlying position and pattern that he walks in with where he is at his peak. Right. And so then the question becomes, well, his job is to run in a straight line as fast as he can between these two other little white lines. He doesn’t need to be able to fucking turn and rotate. He’s got to run straight. So if I give him things that help him turn and rotate, I’m probably going to make them slower. Right. But that’s where he does need some of those things when he’s not trying to peak to go to the Olympics. But when he is trying to peak for the Olympics, the programming will actually take care of the decreased variability itself. That’s an important concept.
Understanding the Different Types of Stances for an Athletic Squat and a Powerlifting Squat
Ryan L’Ecuyer: There one more quick note on the squat, very quick, because we didn’t cover the stance. I think just naturally your stance is going to end up going out wider. Again, that is to take advantage of just trying to meet that one criteria of getting the hip joint below the hip crease below the knee joint. You just don’t have to move as far if you bring your feet out wider, like you’re just doing less work. So that works pretty well for that. And again, it also kind of restricts the range of motion where you don’t get too low. And then if we’re looking at a more mathletic type of squat, we’re probably going to have a more narrow stance with straighter feet, depending on what they can actually accomplish with their body.
James Cerbie: Yes. I think it’s a good distinction that powerlifting squats are going to be wider stance, toes. You can’t go wide stances, like toes pointing straight ahead. Like just not going to happen. It’s going to be a wide stance, toes are going to be out. And it’s a skill. Powerlifting is a skill. Right. And you’re trying to, I think, as you mentioned, you’re trying to move the bar literally. How do I want to say this as far as possible?
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Yes.
James Cerbie: This is the qualification for this is how far the bar has to move for the lift account. You don’t want to lift it any further than that exact qualification. Otherwise you’re wasting effort and work. It’s like, yeah, no one in powerlifting. You don’t get bonus points because you went deeper in your squad.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Definitely not.
James Cerbie: I think that’s an important distinction on the stance power of things. We’re going to intentionally get you more wide athletes. We’re going to bring you in a little bit narrower, more feet underneath shoulders, toes straight or ahead, depending on how you can manage that. Again, that just depends on what it looks like and feels like.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Yes.
The Difference Between a Powerlifting Bench Press and an Athletic Bench Press
James Cerbie: Let’s talk about bench press, because I think that’s the other one. We’re going to see really big differences. I really don’t think we’re going to see much differences in terms of the technique and execution on a deadlift on a straight bar deadlift. Like, there are only so many ways I’m going to conventional straight bar deadlift. It’s just like the choice of the deadlift pattern, I think, is what changes. But we’ll talk about that in a second. So let’s start with that powerlifting bench press first. Right. Because I think everybody listening hopefully has seen a powerlifting bench press. Right. And the reason I wanted to do this episode is because we still see people kind of like crossing these lines incorrectly. And so you still see people training athletes and coaching them in the big three, like they’re powerlifters. And then you still see the vice versa thing happening where people are trying to sell power lifters not to do it that way. We got to really appreciate this conversation. And so the powerlifting lifting bench press. Right. Big arch, you are as far from the stack as you can get, my friend.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Oh, yeah.
James Cerbie: Like, no stack allowed. Get those ribs out, baby. Poke those things up in the sky and be proud about it.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: I love taking people through the beginning phases of training and teaching because we’re always having to reinforce that pattern, like teaching them how to stack and manage that. That’s the hardest part. Like, we always try to do that as the foundation. I love going to a composition style bench press. After doing that, if I decide that I’m in a program for that person because I’ll be like, hey, you remember all the stuff that we just worked on for the last few months? Forget about all of that. That’s over now. Just arch away. Do exactly what you want to do on day one. It’s going to be awesome. So, yeah, it’s in the rules. You can do it. So why wouldn’t you?
James Cerbie: Yeah. Again, we’re trying to move the bar the shortest distance possible.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Totally. There’s no better example of that than the bench press.
James Cerbie: Yeah. Some of the women in powerlifting.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: I think the bar moves two inches, quite literally. Yeah.
James Cerbie: I don’t know how you manage to keep your ass on the bench and be where you are. And it’s a glorified elbow extension. It’s just a bump. Done.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Yeah. It gets so silly when you start doing the wider grip. I would assume all federations have some restrictions on how wide you can go with your grip. But most of these people will take it out as far as they possibly can and then do that arch. And literally it’s like a two inch range of motion and yeah, at some point it gets so silly. Can we just skip this part? It’s kind of silly, but again, the rule is fine.
James Cerbie: Exactly. Yeah. So core elements here on setting up the bench press as a powerlifter, we’re going for a big arch. Realistically, the biggest that you can get pretty much right. Hips, ass have to stay on the bench. They can’t come off their shoulder blades. You are very intentionally going to drive those shoulder blades down and back into the bench and really set those things pretty hard. Right. Those shoulder blades, we’re kind of very intentionally limiting degrees of freedom here on purpose. And then I think foot placement, you see some differences. I think some people really like walking feet back underneath and they’re almost on their toes. Other people like being able to solve their feet flat and bench press that way. I think that’s kind of like a personal preference thing, isn’t it?
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Well, so somebody does have to do the organization, the Federation that you’re in. So for instance, in the USAO or IPF, which are not associated anymore, I guess just some kind of drama. Again, I don’t even know what’s going on. Joe Rogan, so I have no idea what’s going on with these guys, but they require that the heels stay on the ground the whole time and then a lot. I think they may be like the only Federation that does that and then the other ones will do heels up. So I think probably even within that you have some people that will choose to do heels down. I think that most people feel stronger with heels. That heel up just allows you basically to get into more of an arch. Like you just get your feet back further. But the leg drive is going to be very different with that. I think I haven’t played around with that very much, but when I’ve watched people do it, it doesn’t seem to be as prominent. The leg drive is a little bit different.
James Cerbie: I don’t know how you really get a leg drive from that where you can kind of extend your knee a little bit. You tried knee extension.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: That’s how I’ve heard people describe it. It’s almost just like kind of it’s almost like you’re trying to kick your heel down towards the ground and that’s going to give you a little bit of pop there, but it’s definitely not going to be as big of a deal as with a flat foot. So I think at that point you figure out, yeah, I’m personally pretty good at getting leg drives out of my bench. I would probably continue with feet flat even if I was able to lift them up. That’s a big thing. I think you’d still to some degree, it would start the same with whatever type of bench you’re trying to do. You’re going to start from the floor or the bench if your feet are on the bench, if we’re talking about the other kind of bench, which I’m sure we’ll talk about. But those things are probably the same. Like, you’re going to want to push into whatever you have underneath your feet, get a nice solid foundation. The difference is that your feet are probably going to be further back. You’re going to be more arched like you mentioned, with the upper back.
Like you’re intentionally trying to limit movement as much as possible. We don’t want to see a whole lot of scapular movement. You’re really trying to just lock that down, which is not really how that scapular algorithm is supposed to work. You’re just cutting out the scapula at that point. But that’s for a particular reason. And yeah, you’re really trying to use your laps to drive your thorax forward into more extension and create more compression in the upper back and to reduce that range of motion even more as you’re coming down, you’re like trying to lift your chest up to the bar. It’s not like you’re actively pulling the bar down and trying to, it’s almost like you’re doing a row on the way down. And again, trying to limit that range of motion even more and just create that almost like a slingshot effect by really tightening up the upper back and then just releasing that along with that leg drive. Once we get away from the feet, it’s kind of a lot different, I think, than regular.
James Cerbie: Yeah.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: That we would use for teaching someone how to reach well or to build hypertrophy. Even most likely, it’s going to be a lot different.
James Cerbie: Yeah, I think an important point. There is a similarity between the two patterns between the two lifts. You need to be set before the load gets in your hands.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Yes.
The Similarity Between the Two Lifts of Needing to be Set Before the Load Gets into Your Hands
James Cerbie: I’ve got an athlete in the team. We’ve been working on this. He’s been struggling to get really good, like, leg position. He’s not a powerlifter. He’s one of our athletes. Again, everyone is listening. If you’re a human, you’re an athlete. We call all of our clients athletes. So while he’s benching, you see his feet kind of like shit, like moving around, like on the floor. And I’m like, bro, you can’t have leg drive. You’re all over the place here. And so we’re working on it. He’s doing a really good job making adjustments, but that was kind of the biggest thing that I told him about. He was like, hey, you need to be totally set, 100% locked in before that weight comes out of the rack. Because once it comes out of the rack, it’s kind of a free for all. You’re not going to reclaim your position under load. You’ve got to be set and locked in. And then we get a little hand off to get the weight. And now we’re working. Yeah, but if that’s not set first, you’re never going to get it later on, right? Yeah, clearly. Then if we talk about an athlete bench press, the biggest difference is the arch.
James Cerbie: We’re taking that arch away intentionally. I don’t want you to have this massive extension. I want you to focus on that stack. I want ribs down and pelvis under. I’m probably going to see, hey, maybe you can have a really small like a really small little arch I’m okay with. But generally speaking, I want your back essentially on the bench all the way down to your sacrum. Whereas in powerlifting, we’re essentially trying to get that lumbar spine and back up off the bench to create the arch. And athletes, I want your back pretty much flush with the bench all the way down. Right. In terms of foot position, I want your whole foot pushing into the floor. I want you to feel healed. I want you to feel everything. I’m probably going to put your feet up on like 45 pound bumper plates because it can be really hard to get in that position and not have to arch due to the hip extension requirements. So I can bring the 45 pound bumper plate, elevate your feet slightly. And now all of a sudden it’s like, okay, awesome. I got a great stack. Ribs are down, pelvis tuck under, back is velcroed to the bench all the way across.
I got a good leg drive going in here. I’m really locked in. And I’m not going to aggressively cue you to just lock your shoulder blades either. I’m going to let those things probably move and do a little bit of work since the ribs are there for them to actually work off since I’m not driving this massive extension pattern.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Totally. Yeah. I think that’s beautiful. That’s basically all the points that I would have. There is one more thing that I’ll try to remember that I was going to say because I’m forgetting right now, but well, there’s two things I would say. Like I said before. Okay. Yeah, I remember what it first thing, you probably still can think about being active on the way down with your back. Like, you can actually think about putting that bar down. I don’t think that’s going to hurt in any way. You just don’t want to do that as you’re arching. If you do, like a good regular row, like you’re not arching as you go, you’re just pulling with your laps. Right. So you can definitely do that.
Understanding the Idea of Retraction When Rowing the Weight Down and Protraction When Driving the Weight Up
James Cerbie: You’re just getting retraction, right. You’re just getting retraction and protraction out of the scap. Because as you row the way down, I get retraction. And then as I drive the way up, I should be getting retraction as the scaps wrap around the shoulder. Sorry, as a scap wraps around the rib cage a little bit.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: And then the other thing I was going to say is, especially for people that have done an arch bench press for their entire lifting career, you don’t need to touch your chest just because you’re doing a bench press. You don’t necessarily need to touch your chest if you have no shoulder extension and no shoulder horizontally deduction, you’re probably not going to be able to touch your chest with the bar without going into this humeral glide in the front like that anterior glide of the shoulder. And you’ll feel that a lot of people, when they do feet on the bench or feet up bench press where they eliminate that arch. It just fucking kills my shoulders because you’re grinding the shit out of the front of the shoulder. It’s too much range of motion. You don’t have that availability. You just didn’t know it because you’re reducing the range of motion by six inches by putting your feet on the ground and arching your back. So you’re still getting the same amount of stretching out of your pecs and all that. You’re probably getting more out of your pecs with the feet flat. You’re just feeling a lot on your shoulders.
You’re going further down than you actually have the capability for.
James Cerbie: Yes, I agree. I think that’s a good point. It’s slightly different for me. So if I keep my feet, if I do 45 pound bumpers and again, it’s just kind of a question. If I’m going to go 45 pound bumpers, put my feet on top of I’m going to be prioritizing load more than if I put my feet up on the bench. Obviously, I get more leg drive. If my feet are on 45 pound bumpers, I can still get my chest. I still have a little bit of extension. It’s just not as exaggerated as it would if I’m intentionally trying to power lift. If my feet come up on the bench, though, and I’m truly in this stacked position where it’s like total Velcro to the bench all the way across, then yeah, I probably get back to an inch within my chest. And that’s where I’m done. You also have yeah, you can feel it too. But that’s the thing that you can feel as you roll the weight down to yourself, you’re going to feel like, okay, my shoulder blades and shoulders are done moving. I literally cannot retract and go any farther. The only way I’m going to get more range of motion is to just dump and do this weird thing where I’m going to get this anterior roll and glide out of my humerus, right. Yeah. I was actually Tyler, who you met at the last training camp because you guys worked on a squad. We were talking about this the other day because he’s been doing more of those feet, elevated Peck, focus, bench press. And he was complaining about that shoulder pain. I was like, yeah, well, if I was going to cut that range of motion a little bit, you’re just not going to get to your chest in this pattern.
It’s like you’re totally locked in with the ribs down, pelvis under. It’s going to be really hard for you to like. It will be really difficult to get all the way to your chest because that shoulder extension requirement at that point is just so extreme.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Yeah. You’ll feel it too. Like you’re just going to feel a lot more peck and a lot less shoulders. I don’t really know where that’s a bad thing.
The Difference in Position When Feet are on the Bench and When Feet on Bumper Plates
James Cerbie: Yeah. People are wondering. And so I’ll make the distinction super quick so you can do feet on the bench bench press. I know that you like to do that for more of a Peck focus bench press. A lot of times I’ve seen that in your programs, which I love, and then the other time that we’ll use that is if we really want to 100% prioritize movement. If I really want to kind of remove all these other extraneous factors and I really want to force this athlete in front of me to maintain and manage the stock position because they suck at it, we’ll just go feed on bench press for a while until you prove that you can do it, and then we’ll walk your feet back down. It’s really kind of a question of what your priority is. Do I want to prioritize this position more or do I potentially want to give them a little bit more leeway, put feed on 45 pound bumpers and chase loads more, or is it a specific high perch fee goal, like I’m trying to get something more pet focused, et cetera?
Ryan L’Ecuyer: I also like that as a progression back into extension because we talk about extension a lot of times about it being like this horrible thing that we’re trying to avoid, and it’s really not the case. You’re going to go into extension on certain things. It’s an available movement. Just like you said at the beginning of this post, there’s no good posture. There’s just different postures. I actually do like someone who is a little bit extended and intolerant. Did I say extension? I don’t know what I just said. Extension intolerant. That’s actually a nice progression to put them on the back. Everything I’m going to do with that person is going to reinforce the thorax over the pelvis. And then if I want to start just because at some point in their life they’re going to go into extension, I think that’s a really nice way to introduce it again where it’s like there’s really not a whole lot of risk there. Like they’re able to push their feet in the ground. They can squeeze their butt a little bit. So they’re kind of getting a nice base there. They’re going into a little bit of extension, but it’s not like the way that gravity is resisting when you’re laying down your back.
It’s very different than when you’re standing up. So it tends to not really be big people anymore. So I think because eventually if you have someone who really has a lot of pain and extension, you do want them to be able to do something there at some point. So I do like that as a progression as well, coming back from an issue like that.
Why Extension is Only a Problem When You Can’t Get Out of It
James Cerbie: Yeah, I think that’s a really important point because extension does get poo pooed and I think we do a decent job in this podcast, we talk about it trying to remind people that it is necessary. It is okay. It is only a problem if you can’t get out of it. Yeah, that’s the only time exception is an issue. If you extend and you are incapable of not if you can’t not extend. Like if that’s your only option. If you can’t get out of extension, it’s a problem. But if you want to be strong and you want to be powerful and you want to have a little oomph, you better be able to extend. If you can’t, you’re going to be about as impressive as just a wet, damp paper towel, right? It just is what it is. I’m sorry, when it’s time, you’re going to extend. Extension is power, but you gotta be able to get out of it.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: I forget who it was. I feel like it was someone at iFAST or something somewhere related to that. That’s what’s coming to my head. But this person was like, show me the person who’s not an extension and I’ll show you the weakest person in the room.
James Cerbie: It was probably Bill.
Ryan L’Ecuyer : Maybe.
James Cerbie: Yeah, it was probably Bill. Yeah.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: I feel like it was one of those guys and I was like, yeah, that seems about right.
James Cerbie: It is. Sure. Sorry, people. Sorry. We’re not sorry. Okay, last one here. Let’s hammer this quickly because then I need to go consume some dinner. Losing all these gains over here, I want to say the deadlift for last year also, just because I think that right. We’re just talking, we’re not going to talk sumo because that’s its own beast entirely. And I’ve never pulled sumo. You don’t pull sumo. We’re not going to go there. We’re talking just a straight up conventional straight bar deadlift. I can’t really think of any enormous differences in terms of how I would coach that for a power lifter versus an athlete. What I would change is just the exercise selection itself for the athlete. I would trap bar deadlift you. I would high handle trap bar deadlift you instead of straight barring you. But if all we had was a straight bar, I would coach and approach it the same way. There’s not really many ways that we can. That one’s pretty cut and dry, right. I can’t think of any way that I would really adjust that.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Yeah.
James Cerbie: Assuming that you can get down to the bar and everything’s fine. I don’t need to elevate the bar for you, but that’s out of the consideration.
Deadlift Exercise Selection for a Powerlifter and an Athlete
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Yeah. I think when you’re coaching anyone who’s not a powerlifter, what you’re coaching is a hinge. You’re coaching the hinge movement and the deadlift from the floor for some people is just a hinge. If they have these freaky long arms and it’s just not fair, it really is just a hinge for those people, then for people who don’t have that, then it ends up being a hinge. Plus a little bit of knee flexion where even if you are just like purely a hinge, there’s still this. You have to think about pushing into the floor that’s initiating and moving off the ground that’s breaking inertia. But aside, that’s the difference. It’s just like if you’re coaching athletes, you’re probably purely doing hinges. So it’s going to be a high bar trap bar typically, or it’s going to be an RDL or 45 deg extension, something like that. And then if you’re talking power lifting the deadlift, it’s different. It’s kind of a different thing in a sense, but very similar.
James Cerbie: Yes. I don’t think we really need to belabor that one. That one’s super straightforward. If you only have access to a straightforward, then you’ll do it the same way if you’re a powerlifter or an athlete. If you have access to more tools, I would recommend probably getting on a high handle trap bar if you’re an athlete. It just makes way more sense because we’re training a hinge there because this is where it all fits back in. Right. Like, we think about different patterns. That allows me to train the athlete on the actual opposite ends of the spectrum of a squat and a hinge, because we have an athlete squat, which is very vertical, and we have an athlete hinge, which is like a super hingey. A high handle trap bar and then a safety spot bar of the wedge allows me to be on the outskirts of the size of this squat hinge spectrum and to not live in the murky middle as much.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: I’ll give you one pro tip before you completely go catabolic and lose all your muscle. I will say that whether you’re like athlete power or whatever, one of the biggest things that I see as an issue with the deadlift, especially for people that have back pain when they deadlift, is that they sit their shoulders back too far and they want to sit their hips down too low and they’re starting. If you were to draw a line from their shoulder straight down. It’s like behind the bar, getting your shoulders in front of the bar. And so a lot of times when you see those people set up with the shoulders behind the bar, it’s like two movements. Like they lift the bar up, their hips shoot up first and then they pull through. And I think that’s just the hips kind of correcting for where they want to be just starving your hips up a little bit higher, your shoulders in front of the bar and you have the ability to push into the floor and fucking lean back. It’s all one smooth.
James Cerbie: It’s going to rip off the floor.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Yeah, I’ve seen that help so many times. That was like the big correction that I made for myself when I was in a lot of back pain. That was from deadlifting that way before. So I will say that it can be really useful. So film yourself and watch from the side and see where you’re at.
James Cerbie: It’s not a squatter and it’s not an Olympic lift.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Yeah, exactly. That’s set up very differently.
James Cerbie: That’s set up hugely differently. That is an Olympic lifting set up in the bottom. I’ve got one guy in the training team right now, actually. He’s done some Olympic lifting in the past. That’s actually the biggest thing that we’ve been working on with him and his deadlift. You still see when he sets up in the bottom of the deadlift, it looks very much like an Olympic lift setup where like hips are low, his chest is up. Right. Like his letters on his shirt are almost pointing at the wall in front of him. And the first thing that happens, like the bar doesn’t even move. He goes to lift and it’s like hips shoot up and correct. And then we’re going, I’m like, bro, just take your hips. Imagine I was in front of you and I was pushing your knees back and you just stayed tight and let your hips come up as I pushed your knees back.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Totally.
James Cerbie: That’s where we want to get to and we want to get a nice leg drive out of that position.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Yes, perfect.
James Cerbie: Because, yeah. Like, otherwise you’re just going to just dump into your low back in that feel safe position. Yeah, it’s awful.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Never feel horrific. I think the people that can get away with it are like 400 plus pounds and they’re really tall. They seem to go because that’s how a lot of Strongman deadlift, but it doesn’t look.
James Cerbie: And Brian Shaw, Thor and Brian Shaw both kind of have that more vertical. Like, they get really tall on their deadlift, but at the same time they’re 6000, 400,000. Guess what?
Ryan L’Ecuyer: There’s going to be a lot of differences between you and Brian Shaw. That includes your deadlift. Like, set up. That’s where I see a lot of it coming from, I think. But I would make that adjustment if you’re someone who has an issue with that list.
James Cerbie: Yes. The way that I like to think about that is, you know, those little, bird things that you put on your desk and they dunk their beak into the water. I love that analogy. You’re just going to be that bird just kind of get tight at the top and then just fall forward over your chest. Fall out over your toes and then once you’re there, just kind of squat down slowly until you get to the bar.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Yeah, your hips go back, chest goes down like that’s it yeah.
James Cerbie: And then we’re there. Fantastic, beautiful man. This is good. I hope you find this helpful folks. I’m going to go eat some dinner so I hope that you guys have a fantastic rest of your week. Ryan man. Thank you as always.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Thank you, James.
James Cerbie: Pleasure.
Ryan L’Ecuyer: Thanks guys. Bye.
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