Pull-ups are an incredibly badass bodyweight exercise, and the possibilities for creativity and play are endless. This is one of…
“One weird trick to lose stubborn belly fat!” You’ve all seen these ads pop up, annoyingly while reading an article or scrolling through your social media feeds, promising to hold the secret to getting lean or upping your credit score.
These ads, we know, are a scam. Fat loss, if you want it, comes from consistently following a diet and exercise routine suited for your body to serve that goal and upping your credit score is all about living within your means. Done and done.
But be honest. A small part of you wants to click, doesn’t it? Because, well, weird is interesting. It’s different and intriguing. Below is a story about how I actually found what felt like one weird trick that had me deadlifting my previous 1 rep max for multiple reps within hours of learning it. Bear with me here. This is far from a scam.
I first found The Movement Minneapolis in 2012, when on the hunt for more information about my newly discovered passion, heavy strength training. It was the Internet doing what the Internet does best: connecting like-minded folks who share a common viewpoint.
In this case, I saw a video of this dude named David Dellanave doing an incredibly impressive deadlift with a Movement Minneapolis sign propped up behind him. I did a Google, discovered David owned the gym and that it was close to my house, and set up an appointment for a free introductory session.
That visit went like this:
David, approaching me sitting on the couch in the gym lobby:
“Hey! I’m David. So. What do you want to do today?”
Me, saying the first thing that came to mind:
“I want to be a badass weightlifter.”
At the time, I didn’t know the difference between weightlifting and powerlifting.
To me it was all the same. What I meant was, I wanted to lift heavy things. A lot. I also sounded as smooth as Jennifer Grey did in Dirty Dancing when she said, “I carried a watermelon.
David, without batting an eye:
“Alright. Cool! Let’s hit the gym.”
We enter the gym, a small, brick-walled and black floor-matted space lit by a skylight with nothing but barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells, sandbags, and the like. No machines. No mirrors. I turned to look at him. He just looked right back at me.
Me, with a growing sense of feeling like a jackass:
“So, what do you want me to do? You’ve got a plan for our session, right?”
Because I’d read up on this guy. I knew he was a smart cookie. There were serious brains behind the brawn. I was also a trainer in my own right, conducting and programming for 30-plus sessions a week; there was a small part of me that wanted to just be told what to do. To not have to think too hard about my own training. (The me now looks back on the me then and laughs and shakes her head at that wish. Girl, please.)
He laughed and said: “What do you want to do today?”
“Can we deadlift?” I now know he’s never going to say no to that question.
“I’ll never say no to that question! Let me show you biofeedback testing to help us determine what deadlift you should do today.”
Hmmm, what? It was like a needle scratching on a record. I had never heard of biofeedback testing… but I was intrigued. Interested.
After quick demo and biofeedback breakdown, I walked out of the gym that day having easily completed my previous one rep max for reps and feeling like I had just cracked the surface on my lifting potential. And most importantly, that I had discovered the key to perpetual progress in the gym.
One weird trick, indeed.
Biofeedback testing, as utilized by hundreds of clients in-person and online at The Movement Minneapolis, means conducting a range of motion test to gather insight into your body’s response to a specific movement and then using that information to inform your next decision. In the case of exercise, you use that information to determine what you’re going to lift, carry, twist, press, etc,. in your workout. That’s how David describes it.
My 10-second elevator pitch: Biofeedback range of motion testing puts you in the driver’s seat and turns you into your own best personal trainer. Because no one knows your body better than you do. And if you’re not paying attention to your body we like to say this: You’d better test yourself before you wreck yourself.
Here’s how this plays out in your training session:
After your warm-up, you’ll take your initial range of motion. This is what is a called your baseline. Every other range of motion test will be compared to this one for the remainder of the training session. While there are a few different range of motion tests you can use, most clients use the toe-touch test shown here:
Next, you will perform 3-4 reps of different movement variations, unloaded. To make the process quick, assume the position as if you are holding a barbell, kettlebell, or dumbbell, and knock out a few reps.
Let’s take deadlifts as an example and test deadlifts in a conventional stance, sumo stance, and Jefferson stance. For conventional deadlifts, you will act like you have a barbell (I told you this trick was weird!) and put your body in the position it would be in for that deadlift, performing 3-4 reps like you would if you had a real bar with weights on it.
Then you will conduct your toe-touch test. Next, do the same for sumo deadlifts and conduct your toe-touch test. Repeat for Jefferson deadlifts. Which movement felt the easiest and gave you the greatest range of motion? Which one took you further than your baseline test? Which one didn’t?
As David puts it, any movement that gives you a bigger range of motion than your baseline test is a green light and you’re good to go. Any movement that only equals baseline or is shorter is a red light or a no-go and is set aside for that given day.
After the movement is determined, the equipment is gathered, weight is loaded, and real reps are performed. The toe-touch test is performed after every set to determine that the movement is still getting the green light. Once your test begins to shorten (which can happen after two sets or ten), the red light is on. That is your body signaling to you that it’s done with that particular movement and it’s time to move on.
You still with me? This is what I meant when I said I laughed and shook my head at the previous me, who wanted to check out during her workout. There is no checking out when using biofeedback. You’re constantly in the moment and self-monitoring your progress. You also might end up taking yourself by surprise with what you’re already capable of and even better, movements that might have previously been considered off-limits to you become more accessible with biofeedback testing. More on that in a minute.
That’s biofeedback applied to training, in a very small nutshell. Good test: Green light. Not-so-good test: Red-lighted until another day. Good test after a set: Keep going. Shortened test after a set: Move on. Pretty simple, right? But I know what you’re thinking.
David Dellanave opened the doors of The Movement Minneapolis in 2010, after being introduced to the biofeedback training method at a strength workshop hosted by strongman and grip athlete Adam T. Glass. It was immediately obvious to him that this was a game-changer when it came to training and he says: “Like other great steps forward in technology, the idea behind biofeedback training was a matter of someone connecting dots in a new way, that no one else had considered before.”
But why is training using biofeedback so revolutionary? The fact is that David and the coaches and clients at The Movement Minneapolis set no limits on what they are capable of. The end game is that there is no end game: There is only better. Better, meaning effortless movement execution (because it’s not hard to perform a movement that feels great), and enough reps to generate a training effect but no so many to piss your body off.
David describes it like this:
“I used to use the parable of the tortoise and the hare to describe training with biofeedback versus following a traditional program, with the implication being that your progress might be slower at first glance but over the long run you will make far greater progress with biofeedback.
Unfortunately, this sells biofeedback training short. The reality is that in some instances progress may be slower by following the body’s feedback rather than forcing it to adapt to a traditional program, but in many instances progress will actually be much faster when the body is perfectly primed to adapt to the stimulus that is being applied.”
When we train in a way that feels good to our bodies and we leave the gym feeling better than when we entered, going to the gym doesn’t feel like a drag. When you like your training you’re much more likely to be consistent and consistency is where it’s at when it comes to making progress. Isn’t that the reason we go to the gym in the first place?
So what do I do, JVB? Just use the range of motion test with the movements in my current exercise program? Won’t people at the gym look at me like I’m crazy?
Yes, that’s exactly what I want you to do. And as far as looking crazy, who cares? As long as you’re not hogging the squat rack for your biceps curls no one is really going to care what you’re up to. Biofeedback is an objective measurement of how your body is feeling right now—an important measure to take before you grip and rip a loaded barbell.
Because of the objectivity of the test, the question “Should I do this?” and the statement, “I can’t do this” become a moot point. The question “Can I do this?” is front and center. And the answer?
You already know how to get started so here’s how you apply it. (For more information on the nuances of biofeedback testing check out David’s article, “5 Fixes For A Common Biofeedback Testing Question”.)
If you’re intending to barbell back squat but you get to the gym and the movement tests poorly try different squat variations like a barbell front squat, kettlebell goblet squat, or Bulgarian split squat. You’ll still be squatting and targeting the quads, hams, and glutes, but you won’t be forcing your body into a movement it doesn’t want to do. Your body will thank you by rewarding you with gainz and a butt that demands its own zip code. You’re welcome. For example, a typical class plan at The Movement Minneapolis looks like this. Members test each movement in a line of movements and perform the one movement that tests the best from each line.
Micro-variations are a small change in position, such as a slight stagger in your foot stance, or a change in your hand position. This is absolutely clutch. It’s where a lot of the magic with biofeedback happens. Think of it this way:
A small caveat: good form is any position that allows your body to complete a movement without pain and without risk of injury. According to David, slightly staggering your stance in a deadlift or squat, or changing your hand position from locked on a barbell to the freedom of two dumbbells can have outsized positive effects on the training outcome.
“Testing variations has enabled many trainees to return to pain-free movement in lifts they thought they’d never get to do again. On the other hand, changing course when the body is responding negatively to a particular movement helps avoid training injuries.”
This brings us back to consistency: it’s not hard to stick to a training program that feels good, doesn’t leave you broken, and has the flexibility to work with your body, not against it.
And lastly, don’t forget!
Remember a good test gets the green light. This might mean you end up doing much more work than you anticipated doing or thought you were capable of. Who knew you were so strong? NOW YOU KNOW.
Intriguing, yes? And according to David, it’s a “listen now, or pay later” situation:
“In a certain sense, the body always gets its way. If you keep trying to force a movement that the body isn’t responding well to you’re eventually going to have pain or injury that stops you from doing it. You can listen now, via biofeedback, and make an adjustment to make progress, or listen later when you’re waiting for the inevitable injury to heal.”
I’ll take progress now, David! (And tomorrow, and the next day.) How about you?
If you found this article helpful, now you can learn even more about biofeedback in JVB and Jen Sinkler’s presentation from one of our GGS events. We’ve just released that video as part of our BRAND-NEW Strong Women Lift Each Other Up video series that includes 20+ hours of high-quality video presentations and hands-on demonstrations that will help you become a better coach, trainer, and lifter.
These videos were filmed at GGS events and GGS-sponsored events and include information from world-class health and fitness professionals including the entire GGS advisory board plus PhDs, RDs, and Olympic Athletes like Dr. Krista Scott-Dixon, Marni Sumbal, Ingrid Marcum and more!
In this series you’ll get helpful, actionable information that you can’t find anywhere else, including info about:
Plus you’ll learn about pelvic floor dysfunction, kettlebell swings, fat loss, thyroid disease, menopause, core training, anatomical differences between men and women and how they affect training, and more.
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