Skill days are just a wonderful addition to just about anybody’s training schedule and i would encourage everybody to include them in their
training whenever possible.
If you are in cutting or fat burning phase then Skill Days can drive up your metabolism to new height. If you are in a strength phase skill days can hone the skills that make the difference between hitting that last 5 kg on competition day and taking the trophy or going home empty handed yet again.. If you are in a growth phase then Skill days can inflate even the flattest of muscle groups and if you are recovering from injuries then your skill days can help keep you in the gym as well as the game. In fact i cannot think of a single area of training that cannot benefit from skill day training.
The only question now is… what the HELL are skill days?
Skill days are a full workout devoted to maybe 1 or 2 exercises at most and are normally some area of your lifting or skill set that you are completely crap at, or hate to do, (which normally just mean, Crap at), or some area of you training that you would like to improve. Or perhaps its an area that you just want to be better than everybody else in the world at, (sure isn’t it the little thinks that keep us going) The important think to remember is that it is a Skill Day and it is not a, slaughter yourself on the alter of suffering, day… The weights should be kept light and the focus on perfection should be kept high.
Skill day exercises could be just about anything (but only just). As i said earlier they should be stuff you are are crap at but wish you weren’t or stuff you want to get better or really good at. But let’s throw down a few ground rules anyway so that i can at least justify my, just, comment from 2 sentences ago. As a general rule Skill Day exercises are going to be compound, core or awkward, high skill lifts, like Squats, Levers, or clean and jerks. And let me be absolutely clear about the next bit… They should not… not…not…ever be little isolation exercises like Preacher curls or Tricep kickbacks. Bending your elbow is not a skill lacking in most people, where as holding the bar in a clean position and keeping the bar on that shoulder shelf for the entire range of a front squat…is. So pick your poison and get busy inoculating yourself against it.
For the sake of not turning this article into a full scale epic novel we are going to look at only 2 exercise as an example of how you might construct a Skill day. And if you have been following the pictures above you may have guessed we are going to run with Bench press and Front Squat as our problem areas. These are, (in my opinion) great examples because most people who bench have not got a clue about how to to it right and as a result have almost constant shoulder pain. And the front squat is just such a great exercise for showing up so many bumps and faults in the whole body that is an absolute must, particularly in the clean position like the pic above.
A1 Goblet squat 3 x 12
A2 Bench press 3 x 12
Betwen sets of A
Foam rolling for the Glutes
Shoulder Mobility exercises
B1 Front Squat (heals up) 3 x 12
B2 Bench from (low) pins 3 x 12
Betwen sets of B
Squat Mobility exercises
Foam rolling the lats
C1 Front Squat (Feet flat) 3 x 12
C2 Bench from (high) pins 3 x 12
Between sets of C
Foam Rolling the chest
Now lets look at the program in more detail.
Your focus here should very much be on CAT (Compensatory Acceleration Training) as you drive the weight off your body, paying close attention to the arch in the back, the feet driving into the floor, the lats and traps flexed and the elbows coming in slightly as the bar descends to the bottom of the chest, near the bottom of the sternum. At no time should you be struggling with the weight. If you are… the bar is TOO HEAVY!!!
In the simplest of terms, CAT, means to accelerate the bar from the bottom of the lift to the top (in the case of bench press and squats) without jarring the joints or muscles at the top. So it is not just a wild firing of the weight off the body, it is a controlled acceleration and a short controlled deceleration. CAT is an excellent method of teaching the body to power through sticking points in the lift and it can help grease the grove of precision lifting so important when attempting to break through strength Pb’s. And as such is also a great way on insuring against injuries as you start to stack up the weights.
As it was with the Bench Press, so it is with the Goblet Squat. The weight should not be a challenge. Skill Days are about Greasing the grove and not about challenging your strength. At the bottom of the Squat your chest should be high and your elbows between your knees. This is the area that you will be focused on and not the weight. I prefer to use a Kettlebell for the Goblet Squat but you can use a Dumbbell or a Plate just as well.
Front Squat (heals up)
With the Front Squat we are looking for a good high chest, with high elbows and the hands in the Clean position. For these sets i would raise the heals, particularly if you have difficulty getting low, the raised heal position helps with the dorsal flection of the ankle and allows a more comfortable decent with less chance of the chest tipping forward. If the full clean position is just next to impossible to you then start by using straps to help.
Strapped Clean position
Bench Press from Pins (low)
For the Bench Press from pins, you need to set yourself up in a squat rack and set the safety pins up so that when benching the bar can come to rest just above your chest. without touching it. This will be your start position for these presses. As the bar comes down for each rep you will release your grip on it completely as it rests on the pins, then re-engage the bar again and press. You will be following the CAT rules and you will be using proper bench form, as described earlier. Your strength will be weaker when pressing like this because the elasticity normally inherent in the bench press will be taken out of the equation, making it a kind of Dead Press. But this method will give you more power and strength off the bottom of your lift, where most people tend to be weakest.
Front Squat (feet Flat)
We are now doing the full version of the front Squat, (if possible). We are still not loading the bar up too much. Make sure the bar is light enough for you to comfortably apply CAT to your sets and if you are still having difficulty with your decent then raise the feet again and use the straps as well if needed. remember this is probably an exercise you are not very good at so it can take time for the body to bend and adjust to the way we want, but it will with practice and time. And i assure you there is little as good as the feeling you get when you manage a front squat for the first time un-assisted; so stick at it.
Bench Press from (high) pins
Just like the previous Bench exercise we are using the pins and he squat rack to create a stopping position, but this time we are setting the pins much higher. In fact we only what a range of movement of about 6-8 inches (about 14- 17 cm). This is an all top lift exercise and you will probably be able to go really quite heavy, heavier even than normal which is exactly what we want. As well as working the Triceps really hard this exercise will also acclimatize the body to the feel of a much heavier weight than it is used to while in the bench press position. I cannot overestimate how important this can be when training to get strong. Inhibitors in the muscle that normally shut the muscle down when it suspects you are lifting more than it thinks is safe for you, can become accustomed to the feel of the heavier bar and less likely to get in the way when doing full bench presses with heavy weights.
Now that we have the basic concept of Skill days and how they might be constructed it can be real east to include them in any plan. For Fat Loss one of the best combo’s i can think of is the Clean and Jerk combined with the Snatch. Just like with the strength Skill day we looked at above, keep the weights low and the sets and reps high
Again the basic principles apply. The simple act of doing such a large amount of volume for just 2 exercises will cause the muscle to grow. But the trick with using Skill days for added Hypertrophy is to pick exercises that stimulate muscles that are falling behind other areas of your body. For example if the legs are lacking then i would suggest Quad and Ham exercises like the Leg press and Romanian Dead lift. Or perhaps your hams are fine but the calves are like 2 knots on a rope. The Front squat and variations of calf raises would be the order of the day.