For as long as anyone can probably remember, “The Big 6” have been the go‐to exercises for people seriously looking to maximize their strength and size.
The Big 6 will always be mainstays in the weight room for as long as we all live. No matter what level you’re at, the basics of strength training will remain the same:
- Bench Press
- Military Press
These exercises will remain the same, but their application and how they are done will change. Where I train, we have been performing these exercises and their variations for almost a decade, and the results and movements never seem to get old. That’s why they are a staple in my speed training program featured in The Speed Encyclopedia.
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I also know for certain that 10 to 20 years from now, we will still be doing them, not because we are neglecting something bigger and better, but because they are superior and work so well. The Big 6 will never die, nor be beaten by something else. They’ve been alive and well for over a century.
One of the best things about The Big 6 is that they are easy to implement. They also naturally build structural balance to the body, which is essential to unlocking maximum strength, speed and physical health.
With this group, you have two upper-body pressing motions, two upper-body pulling motions, and a pull and push for your lower body.
Becoming or staying structurally balanced when training is arguably the most important factor in the ability to stay healthy and continue to improve over the long term. Here are 3 scientific reasons for staying structurally balanced if you desire to get big and strong.
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1. Adaptive Shortening
Adaptive shortening is tightness that results from the muscle remaining in a shortened position. Basically, if you stay in a position too long, your body tends to want to remain in that position. This process can occur quickly, and unless you are in a perfect posture when this occurs, you become imbalanced.
One muscle group generally becomes tight and hyperactive, while the opposing muscle group becomes loose and under-active. This is referred to as reciprocal inhibition, the neuromuscular phenomenon that occurs when increased neural drive in a specific muscle causes decreased neural drive to that muscle’s functional antagonist. This is why balanced training becomes so critical—to offset this natural effect and help prevent injuries and decreased speed and athletic performance.
2. Length‐Tension Relationship
LTR is your muscles’ stretch-to-strength ratio. There is an ideal length at which your muscles can produce the most force. If they stretch too much or too little, you lose strength potential. Ideally, you want a moderate degree of stretch for explosive movement action.
Analyze a person jumping vertically and you’ll see this scientific phenomenon at work. The jumper won’t squat too high or too low before he jumps, otherwise he will definitely not be as powerful.
Note that I am referring to muscles being too long or too short when you move in sports or elsewhere, not when you actually stretch. Maximizing flexibility everywhere you need it is a great thing. You want to have the potential to move a muscle as far as you need to, but no more. Without adequate flexibility, this is impossible. This is another reason why you should be balanced with your training, so you stay balanced with your movements on the field and maximize your stretch–to‐strength ratio.
3. The Tension Effect
This concept was first introduced to me by Joe DeFranco. The tension effect occurs when the body recognizes that a weaker and smaller muscle cannot support heavier weight that bigger and stronger muscles want to move.
A prime example is seen with the pectoral or chest muscles (prime mover) and the rotator cuff muscles (stabilizers) on the back of the shoulder when you bench press. If the pectorals are too strong for the rotator cuff, and the rotator cuff cannot support the weight when you press, the pectorals will shut down and relax to prevent an injury to the stabilizing rotator cuff.
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Unfortunately, this is a hidden reason why some of us cannot maximize strength and size, hence our speed, if we are not in balance, and it applies to every other strength exercise as well. The only way to prevent this effect from happening is to strengthen the underdeveloped rotator cuff of the upper back so that it can support heavy weight, stay healthy, and allow other muscles to reach their potential.
For more tips on speed training, check out my Speed Encyclopedia, which features a comprehensive research-based speed training system for athletes and coaches.