Sometimes to hoist big numbers in the gym you need to start with weights that are light, really light, as in broomstick-light! Believe it or not, a simple broomstick can be a powerful tool in your arsenal. It can help boost your bench and squat in a big way. Here’s how.
The Morning Ritual
On the bench press, many strength athletes start their warm-up with an unloaded bar. They do this not only to bring blood to the area and load up the motor program for the task, but also to gauge recovery. If that 45-lb bar does not feel right or feels strangely heavy, then it’s not time to train yet. An extra day of recovery is needed.
Mike MacDonald, a bench press specialist, would go even lighter than an unloaded bar. He would use a broomstick to gauge recovery, but he would do so before he even entered the gym. On the morning of a scheduled bench press workout, he would take a broomstick and simply perform a bench press motion while standing. If he felt any shoulder or chest soreness, then he wouldn’t train that day.
Believe me, MacDonald knows a thing or two about this lift. He’s held the bench press world record in 4 different weight classes (181, 198, 220 and 242 pounds) at the same time for 5 years straight, from 1976-1981. In fact, MacDonald set 36 world records in the bench press across those 4 different weight classes and here's the kicker: He performed those lifts raw without the aid of a bench press shirt or elbow wraps.
Physically Mike MacDonald did not look like a beast, but man was he a beast on the bench press! Success leaves clues, so make the morning broomstick test a ritual.
The Warm-Up Ritual
More and more hardcore lifters are recognizing the importance of mobility drills during their warm-up. Static stretching is a thing of the past; dynamic stretching is where it’s at today and there’s no better way to do it than with the overhead squat.
Ten reps or so of the overhead squat using a snatch (wide) grip will stretch everything from your toes to your fingertips. The key with dynamic stretching is to start slow and shallow and gradually increase speed and range each rep.
Don’t use a heavy weight – even an empty bar is too much – just use a broomstick. You don’t want to cause fatigue and you don’t want to struggle. You want to fire up your nervous system and improve your flexibility and to do that, you need speed and range – the broomstick will allow both.
Of course, proper execution is important. To start, position your feet about shoulder width apart or slightly wider with the toes out a bit. Grab the stick with a fairly wide grip, but don’t go overboard. A good way to determine how wide your hands should go is to first lift your arms out to the sides, and then lift them up about halfway toward your head. That width works for most people.
Your arms need to be fully extended throughout the movement. That means no elbow bend whatsoever. Try pulling the stick apart. That will activate the triceps and keep the elbows in extension. And make sure the stick is always in line with the back of the head – don’t allow it to travel forward.
When you descend, the knees should track over the middle toes. Keep the chin up, back flat, hips level, and heels down at all times. Stress perfect form! Keep nudging the range each rep a millimeter at a time until you reach your maximum depth.
You’ll notice an instant improvement in posture, which will improve your strength and reduce your risk of getting injured. Levers are stronger when positioned properly and joints experience less wear and tear. This is the concept of “ideal” posture. You’ll end up lifting like a Neanderthal without looking like one!
And what the overhead squat does to your flexibility is pretty neat. I’m not saying that you’ll be able to comfortably do "number two" in the woods, but you’ll definitely squat deeper in the gym once you’re done. The deeper you squat during your work sets, the more muscle you’ll activate, and the more muscle you activate, the more you grow!
Another cool thing about this drill is that it can be used as a diagnostic for muscle balance. It’s a great tool to assess both strength and flexibility during your warm-up. Just watch how your body responds in action. You’ll notice an imbalance very quickly if you have one. Check out my Stretch for Strength presentation and my book The Elite Trainer to help you spot those imbalances and deal with them.
Bottom Line: A broomstick can help you determine when you’re ready to bench heavy weights, and it can help “clean up” your posture before lifting heavy weights. Use it!
To your success,
John Paul Catanzaro
Catanzaro, JP. (2003). Stretch For Strength [Video Presentation]. Richmond Hill, ON: The Catanzaro Group.
Catanzaro, JP. (2011). The Elite Trainer: Strength Training for the Serious Professional. Richmond Hill, ON: The Catanzaro Group.
Catanzaro, JP. (2016). The Warm-Up: Modern Methods for Strength Training. Richmond Hill, ON: The Catanzaro Group.
Chek, P. (1994). Scientific Back Training [Correspondence Course]. La Jolla, CA: Paul Chek Seminars.
Poliquin Group Editorial Staff. (2013). Posture Made Perfect with Overhead Squats. In Poliquin Group [Internet].
Todd, T. (2011). Mike MacDonald. In The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban [Internet].
Wassung. (2006). The Mike MacDonald Thread. In Power and Bulk [Internet].
Posted Jan 10, 2018