Category Archives for "Athletic Performance"

Five Most Important Movements for Athletic Performance

I have come up with these movements based on the science available and my experience. I love science as much as the next person – but unless your research contains a control group with thousands of people over the course of twenty years or more, then I have a little more and little better data than you. There isn’t a block of programming I have used in the past two decades where I haven’t tracked the results. If you are a new strength coach, I recommend tracking results from day one, making sure to track such items as:

  • Total volume
  • Average intensity
  • Average increases in maximums
  • Injury rate
  • Athletic measurements vertical leap, broad jump, and 20/40 yd dash

There are a lot more, but these five categories will get you started. Based on my findings and my experience, here are the five movements I would consider the staples for any good athletic performance program:

  • Clean (and all variations)
  • Squat (and all variations)
  • Deadlift (and all variations)
  • Push Press (and all variations)
  • Carries (and all variations)

Each of these movements have variations which are great for attacking weaknesses, avoiding the law of accommodation, and keeping things fun. That last one is something a lot of coaches need to learn. You probably love the weight room naturally. Heck, that’s why we are strength coaches, but our job is to teach these athletes to love the weight room. One thing I can promise is that the modern athlete loves variation. With the world at their fingertips through their phones, we need variety to keep them engaged. Variety along with a naturally fun (yet safe) culture will keep the young folks coming back.

Clean (and variations)

The best way to express power in the gym is with the clean. The snatch is great for power as well, but if I had to choose, I am going with the clean. The clean prepares the body athletically in multiple different ways, such as: rate of force development, force absorption, mobility, kinesthetic awareness, core stability, and balance (to name a few). I prefer the clean versus the snatch mainly because of the higher load, leading to greater amounts of force absorption and core stability. However, someone could make a case for the snatch due to the higher velocities, greater mobility needs, and overall greater postural development.

Here’s a quick absolute power comparison:

Exercise Absolute Power (Watts)

Bench Press: 300
Back Squat: 1100
Deadlift: 1100
Snatch: 3000
Second Pull: 5500
Clean: 2950
Second Pull: 5500
Jerk: 5400

Now are these comparisons absolutely correct? No, because you could increase absolute power outputs in movements like the squat and deadlift by going lighter, or with different variations like squat jumps. However, I like to go with the clean because of the greater bang for your training buck. Force absorption is my favorite, and many of you have heard me talk about it. Here’s the thing. If you can clean 400 pounds, you can sure take on a block or deliver a bigger blow to your opponent. My star football player, Cade Carney (starting running back at Wake Forest University), cleans over 400 pounds – and you can see it when he runs the ball. When he runs into someone, he doesn’t go backward.

Tommy Bohanon, starting fullback for the Jacksonville Jaguars, cleans over 450 pounds. I love watching him play. He does everything correctly – he sticks his blocks, catches the football, and runs the ball north and south for positive yards when given the chance. When I watch football, I watch my guys more than the whole game. Tommy doesn’t just make blocks. He crushes his opponents. Now I agree it’s more than one trait that allows him to dominate his opponents: genetics, his size, and skills acquired. However, I promise a 450-pound clean helps.

MASH FILES: LEARN FROM THE PROGRAM OF AN NFL BEAST

Travis Mash shows you all the details and reasoning behind the recent off-season program for Tommy Bohanon (starting fullback for the Jacksonville Jaguars)

Then you can use these principles to individualize your own programs to fit an athlete's strengths, weaknesses, age, gender, sport demands, and unique response to training.

Based on the second pull producing the most power, there are several variations which work well:

  • Hang Clean
  • Hang Power Clean
  • Clean from Blocks
  • Power Clean from Blocks
  • No Hook Grip
  • Pause in the Catch
  • Slow First Pull to Explosive Second Pull

Hang cleans not only focus on the power output of the second pull, but they are more specific to the vertical leap with a counter movement. If you don’t know what the S.A.I.D. Principle is, you need to. “Specific adaptation to imposed demands” essentially means the body will specifically adapt to the types of demands placed on it. (National Academy of Sports Medicine)

Once an athlete has trained for two years, they will hopefully have developed some solid base levels of strength such as: max squat = 1.5 x bodyweight, and max deadlift = 1.75 times x bodyweight.

After that, specificity should become a major key of your programming. Cleans from blocks are better for starting strength in relation to sprinting. Clean from blocks are specific in regard to starting from a dead stop and the joint angles required. The pauses in the catch are great for force absorption. Once again, pauses in the catch during power cleans are more specific to most athletes. I want you to think about taking on a block in football, running into someone in soccer or basketball, or setting up a throw in wrestling. You normally won’t be in a full squat when performing these sport specific movements. Specifically, you will be in a position above parallel – much like a power clean.

The no hook is to functionally strengthen your grip, but more importantly to improve timing. Too many people spend too much time at the top. If you over pull without a hook grip, you will lose the bar out of your hands. No hook teaches you or your athlete to extend the hips, and then immediately begin the pull under the bar. A drill is always a better way of teaching versus any kind of verbal instruction.

Squat (and variations)

I love cleans as much as the next coach. Heck, I am a three-time Team USA Head Coach for USA Weightlifting. However, squats are the king of athletic performance. When it comes to vertical leap and 40-yard dash, the squat is more directly related to improvements than cleans. Coach Bryan Mann was the first person to open my eyes to that data. For specificity reasons, I recommend paying close attention to all qualities of strength:

  • Absolute Strength (0.3m/s and slower)
  • Accelerative Strength (0.75 to 0.5 m/s)
  • Strength Speed (1.0 to 0.75 m/s)
  • Speed Strength (1.3 to 1.0 m/s)
  • Starting Strength (anything faster than 1.3 m/s)

You can read more about this and these qualities in my eBook Bar Speed. Along with my co-author, Coach Spencer Arnold, we break down the mystery of velocity-based training.

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Mash Elite's Guide to Velocity-Based Training

By measuring bar speed (simple to do with your smartphone), you can guarantee each and every training session is as effective and safe as possible.

Some of my favorite variations are:

  • Paused squats
  • Eccentric based
  • Isometric based
  • Half squats
  • Jump squats
  • Front squats

Paused squats, which can also be lumped into isometric squats, are great for stability – especially at the exact angles of the pause. You can add some deep breaths for improvements in mobility along with stability. Another benefit of the pause is to limit the load due to the increase in difficulty. Front squats are the best way to strengthen the spinal extensors because the weight is in front of the body, maximally lengthening the spinal flexor moment. You could say all of these variations are a form of the conjugate method, which is simply varying the training stimulus to avoid the law of accommodation (fancy phrase for the dreaded plateau).

Deadlifts (and variations)


Deadlifts are arguably just as specific as squats. Some studies show greater gains in athletic performance from deadlifts (especially trap bar deadlifts). I also like deadlifts for their ability to (as Dan John calls it) “bulletproof the athlete.” Deadlifts develop the posterior chain of the body from the neck to the ankles. You’ll never see a great deadlifter without a massive neck/traps and back. Ed Coan immediately comes to mind. All of this comes in handy on the football field or wrestling mat.

I love to use the following variations for the deadlift:

  • Off blocks – for the obvious specificity of joint angle for sprints, jumping, and a strong athletic position.
  • Pauses anywhere during the pull – to strengthen any potential kink in the armor.
  • Velocity based – for the same reasons listed in the squat section.
  • RDLs – to strengthen the hamstrings and glutes a bit more due to the lengthening of the muscles under load.
  • Suitcase deadlifts – for addressing or preventing asymmetries. We normally use a twp to four inch deficit along with a farmer’s walk apparatus.

Push Press (and variations)

Without a doubt, the push press is the best upper body exercise because it begins with the lower body – just like any great athletic upper body movement, such as a punch, javelin throw, shot put throw, or pass block. (I’m not saying the bench press is a bad thing. I’m just saying it doesn’t make my top five.) The push press is the perfect movement in the gym to develop explosive upper body strength.

The only variations I might use are simply using different implements like dumbbells, kettlebells, or an axle bar. The only reasons I would use different implements are for symmetry, stability, and to avoid accommodation. Dumbbells are great for young athletes to develop stability.

Carries (and variations)

Carries should be a constant with any good program. When it comes to the stability of the spine and hips while the body is upright, which is 95% of the time in most sports, nothing is better than carries. There are two people who have greatly influenced me who are colossal proponents for carries: Dr. Stuart McGill and Coach Dan John.

Dr. McGill brings up a point I had never heard of. The unilateral farmer’s walk has been shown to improve an athlete’s ability to change direction because they are preparing each side to absorb massive amounts of force when they pick up each leg. This movement is also great for avoiding back pain by properly working the quadratus lumborum. The QL lifts the hips up and down from side to side, so asymmetrical work is the best way to strengthen and properly work the QL.

We use lot of variations with carries:

  • Bilateral Farmer’s Walk
  • Unilateral Farmer’s Walk
  • Zercher Carries
  • Barbell or Axle Bar Overhead Carries
  • Dumbbell or Kettlebell Overhead Carries
  • Kettlebell or Dumbbell Staggered Carries

Sample Program

Here’s a sample week of programming to show a way I would possibly program these movements:

Strength Phase
Day 1

Clean Complex – Clean + 2 Front Squats: Max (no misses)
Back Squat – 5 x 5 at 78%
superset with
Prisoner Squat Jump + Knee to Chest – 5 x 5
Deadlifts (velocity based) – 75% straight weight (or 60% straight weight and 20% bands/chains) for 8 x 2 with 60-90 sec rest, velocity goal 0.75 m/s or faster
Wide Grip Bench Press – 3RM (first rep paused 5 sec)

Day 2

Hang Power Clean – 3RM (8-9 RPE, no misses)
Push Presses – 5 x 5 at 78%
Closegrip Axle Bar Decline Presses with 100lb of chains – 5RM, then -15% for 3 x 5 (last set is 5+)
Barbell Rows (paused 2 sec on sternum) – 4 x 5
DB Fat Grip Overhead Walks – 3 x 20 yd forward and backward

Day 3

Clean (from blocks) – 3RM
Back Squat Box Squats (add weight to the last two sets if the speed is there) – 50% Bar Weight + 20% Bands or Chains for 6 x 3 (60-90 sec between sets, velocity goal 0.8 m/s)
superset with
Seated Box Jumps to 40″ Box to Depth Jump for Height – 6 x 3
Suitcase Deadlifts (from 4″ deficit) – 3 x 5 each side (stay at 7-8 RPE)
Leg Curls (Band, DB, or Machine) – 4 x 10

Day 4

Clean Complex: Pull + Clean + Front Squat: Max
Front Squat – 3RM (first rep paused 5 sec) 8 RPE
Weighted Dips or Nosebreakers – 4 x 8
Pull-ups – 4 x submaximal reps

KNOW THE WHY

In this workout, I included all the movements I recommended in this article, along with several of their variations. I also included some accessory movements I like to use simply as a reference. Rows, dips, and pull-ups are accessory movements that almost everyone should use (unless they have mobility issues that put them at risk). I normally include some form of leg curl mainly for injury prevention. Knee extension is so common in athletic performance workouts that imbalances can form rather quickly. All I have is anecdotal evidence, but I have witnessed a simple leg curl alleviate 80% of all knee pain.

The key for an effective athletic performance workout is to keep things simple. I like to use rep maxes a bit more than percentages just because athletic performance classes are normally taught in bigger groups with a time cap. If you start throwing lots of percentages at teenagers, you will add several minutes of simple math to the workout. Not to mention, they’ll often mess up the percentage.

Keep it simple and do your job as a coach. When the bar speed starts to slow down, cut them off. If you are blessed to have velocity instruments, set those numbers in stone to avoid potential injuries in the weight room. An experienced coach is just as good as GymAware in most cases. We know when the bar is slowing down.

Here’s the last bit of information I want to leave you with. You should know the why behind each and every exercise you prescribe. If you don’t, either cut the movement or find out the why. If an athlete questions your program or exercise selection, take it as a chance to teach. If you get offended, I take it as you not being able to defend your program. That’s a real lack of knowledge in my opinion.

I am a teacher. A good coach is a great teacher. I value every opportunity to teach my athletes. You should too.

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Integrated Periodization with Dr. Scott Howell – The Barbell Life 234

I think this is the first podcast guest we’ve had who grew up in my hometown. He used to workout in the very first gym I ever trained at back when I was just a kid.

And Scott Howell has had an inspiring life. He had a rocky start, but he came back to get an incredible education. Now he writes and studies and thinks all day about periodization.

Specifically, Scott talks with us about a plan that fits everything together – nutrition, training, and mindset. This guy is just smart.

Here's the key to unlocking even more gains in 2019...

Become a member of the Mash Mafia.

* Fully Customized Programming

* Unlimited Technique Analysis

* The Best Coaching in the World

LISTEN IN TO TODAY’S PODCAST AS WE TALK ABOUT:

  • Why the best weightlifters will not make the Olympics
  • Arguing about periodization on the internet
  • Meeting and learning from a strength legend
  • His rocky start in life and his inspirational rise
  • The complicated rules of the Olympics
  • and more…

The Need for High School Strength Coaches

Lately I’ve been playing on Twitter, and the other day I posted a tweet that kind of exploded. Here’s what I posted:

The tweet sparked quite the debate and an outpouring of coaches and parents expressing their views on the subject. There were several good points I want to talk about. First I want to state why I believe having a certified strength and conditioning coach in high school is important.

LIFELONG INJURIES

Most athletes (heck, most people) are introduced to weight training and fitness in their local high school. That’s where we learn to squat, deadlift, clean, press, bench, row, and more. So here’s the first problem: if a coach doesn’t know what he or she is doing, basic functional movement patterns (such as squatting and picking things up off the floor) are messed up from the beginning. Most people will continue those patterns throughout their adult life, leading to all kinds of dysfunctional movement and possible injury.

As this article is published, it’s a few days after I received a hip replacement at 45 years old. Most of you probably think the surgery is a result of heavy squats, deadlifts, and cleans. If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re wrong. My doctor, Dr. John Howe, said the main problem was a growth plate injury that probably first happened in middle school or high school. Was it because I was loading a dysfunctional movement pattern? Maybe, I definitely didn’t have my form perfected in high school.

However, there is another reason that makes me even more passionate about the issue. Major injuries and even death can happen in the high school weight room. The rate of injury per 100 contact injuries in weightlifting is 0.17. That’s a low number and what we all want to see. However, that number comes from athletes who are directed by qualified coaches like Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists and/or USA Weightlifting Sports Performance Coaches.

NEGLECT

Anyone who’s in this industry is familiar with what goes on in some high schools. A coach comes in the room, puts a workout on the board, and then goes to his office to do who knows what. That’s neglect. But what about the person who’s present but simply doesn’t know what to do? I’ve been a consultant to hundreds of colleges and high schools throughout my career, and most of you wouldn’t believe the things I have seen. If you all had seen these things, you probably wouldn’t let your child participate in high school weight training.

There’s one more thing to consider other than our children being put at risk. They are missing out on all the benefits they would reap if they only had a qualified coach. They could be learning functional movement patterns that could help keep them strong, mobile, and fit throughout their lives. Nothing makes me happier than seeing one of my former students training long after sports are over. One of my guys, Gunnar Anderson, is now a fitness model – and several others are still training for fitness. I love it.

FUNDING ISSUES

So what’s keeping the schools from bringing in qualified strength coaches to teach our children these valuable skills that could benefit them for life? The biggest reason I heard was money… or really, a lack of money. I get that education is going to come first, but dang it I want the kids safe. I just don’t think that the people making decisions are familiar enough with strength training to make a good decision. That’s why we need to educate the country about the dangers present in high school weight rooms and the benefits that students are missing out on with an unqualified strength coach.

I hope this article will spark you guys and gals to share this blog and to write your own articles. Maybe we can hold free clinics. I am holding one Saturday, January 12th at 10:00 AM at LEAN Fitness Systems (the home of Mash Elite Performance) in Lewisville, NC. It’s titled Jump Higher and Sprint Faster from Work in the Weight Room. We have to approach this thing from an education standpoint.

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A suggestion a few people made was to find teachers who like to coach in the weight room and certify them with the NSCA. I think this is a great idea. Lots of P.E. teachers double for weight room teachers, and some have a bit of knowledge. It they took the time to study for their CSCS, this would be a step in the right direction along with a commitment to pursue their continued education in the field. However, now people are saying that some schools are swaying away from teachers who are also coaches because the perception is a lack of concern for academics. Come on now, my best teacher in high school was also a coach.

CONCERNED

There were a few comments that simply alarmed me. My friend, Coach Zach Even-Esh, commented on my tweet that he had offered his services for free multiple times to the high school in his hometown of Manasquan, New Jersey. They turned down each free offer. How can they justify that? Several qualified coaches responded with the same thing.

Here you have amazing certified strength and conditioning coaches offering their valuable services for free, only to be turned down by the powers that be. At this point, it’s obviously not about money, but this is pure neglect of our children. Sorry to sound so harsh, but with three little ones coming up, this is concerning to me. It should be concerning to you as well especially if you have children.

ADDRESSING THIS

Here’s what we can do:

  1. If you are a parent reading this, call the principal of your children’s school. You can call the athletic director. I encourage you to call your superintendent. Most of all, I hope you will form groups in your area. Groups create more noise than one person, so tell your friends and neighbors. If they are concerned as well, get together with them. School boards might ignore one person, but if you put together a group of ten, they will be on their knees.
  2. If you are a coach, we have some work cut out for us. I am committing to host one free seminar to be held quarterly with all coaches, parents, and athletic directors invited. Imagine what would happen if we all committed to doing the same?
  3. Write blogs and articles like this to inform your neighbors, coaches, and school board. It’s not their fault if they don’t know. If you tell them and they ignore you, now they are at fault.

A few of us bound together can make some major changes regarding this issue. It’s easy to look the other way. It will take some work on our part, but we can educate the world about the importance of strength and conditioning coaches in high schools.

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REMEMBERING THE BENEFITS

Before I close, I want to name just a few advantages of having a certified and qualified strength coach:

  • Safety of the athletes
  • Ability to teach athletes and students functional movements that will keep them strong, mobile, and fit for years to come.
  • Improving the athletic abilities of students – making them faster, stronger, and bigger
  • Teaching athletes lessons in the weight room that they will carry throughout life: goal setting, perseverance, dedication, and commitment.

My strength and conditioning coach in college, Coach Mike Kent, influenced my life in a way that no one else on earth ever has. He taught me that a good program could literally transform an athlete. He taught me respect. He was the first person to acknowledge my strength, and he pointed me toward Olympic weightlifting. It was because of him that I moved to Colorado Springs to be coached by Wes Barnett. Where would I be without that coach? Our high school students need such men to lead them down the right road with strength.

Hip Thrusts Are Bad? The Safety Squat Bar Is Bad?

Hip thrusts are bad? Safety squat bar squats are bad? Stop with the absolutes!

When will the absolutes end? Scrolling through social media, I saw two of my respected peers tossing around absolutes as if N.A.S.A. were backing them. However, their accusations about two of my favorite movements were made with no scientific backing at all.

Look, I don’t care if you don’t like a movement. Maybe you don’t believe an exercise works. That’s ok. You don’t have to use it, and you don’t have to prescribe it to your athletes. But when you get on social media or take to your blog and claim that a certain exercise doesn’t work without any research to back up your claim, you could be keeping someone from the very exercise they need to break through a plateau.

HIP THRUSTS ARE SOFT?

A lot of people who I consider colleagues (and some I even consider friends) constantly hate on the hip thrust made famous by my friend Bret Contreras. Glutes are important for just about everything that’s awesome in sports. If you want to sprint fast or jump high, strong glutes are a must. If you want to snatch big weight or squat monstrous loads, powerful hip extension is a must. Have any of you yanked a big deadlift off of the floor only to have it stall right at lockout? It’s happened to me, and I’ve watched it happen to others. Glute bridges are the obvious choice.

But wait! Is this simply my opinion? Am I simply doing the exact opposite of the coaches screaming that hip thrusts don’t work? Well luckily I can back up my statements with mounds of research stating that hip thrusts are superior when it comes to strengthening the glutes. I just now did a quick search of the web, and I saw a few rants from coaches who want to seem smart. My articles aren’t written to convince you guys that I am smart and everyone else is dumb. My thoughts and systems are backed up with the results of my athletes.

The information I pass on to you guys and gals is either proven by research or proven by the results of my athletes. I don’t pass on my random thoughts. I don’t look at an exercise and cast judgment without looking at the data. I don’t look at what someone else is doing and then write an article explaining why they’re wrong. I am interested in facts. I am interested in what works.

There is one more thing I want to say to my powerlifting brethren who are constantly criticizing the hip thrusts or making fun of it as a soft exercise. I was inspired to write this article when I saw a video of Stefi Cohen performing the hip thrust to improve her deadlift lockout. Of course she is y’all! It’s targeted hip extension, which is the lockout of the deadlift. Duh!

I prescribe hip thrusts to my Olympic hopeful weightlifters, champion powerlifters, and to my NFL Football Players. Are my athletes soft? If my athletes are soft, there are a lot of really soft athletes out there since we are beating most everyone else. Guys, I want you to look at the research and just think about it for a bit. If you want better hip extension, then find a way to load your hip extension.

WESTSIDE BARBELL METHODS IN WEIGHTLIFTING?

COACH TRAVIS MASH GETS INSIDE THE MIND OF LOUIE SIMMONS

World champion and world-class coach Travis Mash takes a look at Louie Simmons's Westside Barbell strength principles and applies them tom the world of Olympic weightlifting.

Safety Squat Bars

I had never heard anyone say a negative word about the safety squat bar squat until recently. A good friend of mine was answering questions on his Instagram story the other night. (By the way this is a good way to connect with your followers.) Anyway, he was asked if using a safety squat bar for squatting was a good idea for weightlifting. My friend replied that it absolutely was not – unless you or your athlete are injured. Once again, a colleague of mine is using an absolute without any basis (research) for his statement.

In Olympic weightlifting, a back squat isn’t specific to the snatch or the clean and jerk other than the angle of the torso, which is true with using a safety squat bar. Either movement is simply a way of building strength to get better at the sport of weightlifting. If you’re a powerlifter, one could make an argument around specificity – especially when getting close to a meet. But in either sport, the safety squat bar provides one major benefit. The safety squat bar increases the length of the spinal flexor moment.

As I explained in Squat Science, the spinal flexor moment depends on two factors: 1) the load on the bar and 2) the horizontal distance in the sagittal plan relative to the torso between the bar and any intervertebral joint.

There are three ways to increase the spinal flexor moment: 1) move the bar higher on the back or in front of the body, 2) increase the load, and 3) incline the body more (which increases the distance of the load horizontally to the floor from any intervertebral joint).

So here’s the point I want to make – the safety squat bar moves the weight toward the front of the body. The part of the bar that holds the weight is bent toward the front of the body.

Some bars displace the weight farther in front of the body than others. The more the weights are displaced toward the front of the body will equal a greater demand on the spinal extensor muscles. The front squat is also great for strengthening the muscle groups responsible for spinal extension. However, the front squat is limited by the shoulder’s ability to remain protracted and elevated – not to mention the rack position in general. Since the safety squat bar is still secured behind your neck, you can normally handle a bit more weight than in the front squat. Depending on the bend of the bar, you should be able to place more of a load on the spinal extensors. This is a great way to get the back strong while strengthening the hip and knee extensors as well.

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The weightlifters and the powerlifters on my team use the safety squat bar for this very reason: to strengthen the back. For a lot of weightlifters, they lack the strength in the back (mainly referring to the groups of muscles responsible for spinal extension) to maintain a good angle of the torso during the pull. Some lack the ability to maintain a neutral spine during the catch phase of a clean. Have you ever seen a weightlifter’s elbows drop and thoracic spine round during the catch? I know that I have. If this is you or one of your lifters, the safety squat bar is a great tool.

USES

I’m all about specificity, but sometimes weightlifters can take this too far. Let’s think about it for just a minute. I’m only going to refer to my own weightlifters right now. We snatch and clean and jerk at least three times per week on each of these. We back squat with a straight bar one to two times. We front squat one to two times. We perform snatch and clean pulls. Do you really think that adding in safety squat bar squats is going to somehow mess up your technique? If that’s true, aren’t you at risk of messing up your technique when you perform any assistance movement outside of simply snatching, clean and jerking, front squatting, and pulling? I think we are all a little too overboard with specificity.

Besides a simple safety squat bar squat, there are a couple of more movements with the safety squat bar that I recommend. I am a fan of safety squat bar goodmornings (and all variations like seated, chain suspended, off pins, etc.) and safety squat bar box squats (I know, I know… this is taboo).

Safety squat bar goodmornings are my absolute favorite for strengthening the spine – especially when a hip hinge is involved like during a pull of any sorts. With my weightlifters, I normally stick to a regular goodmorning, but there are several variations you can try, such as wide stance, suspended from a chain, off pins, seated, and with bands or chains. (This sounds like a chance for another article.)

Depending on the variation, you will be working specific weaknesses. For example, a goodmorning that starts lower on pins will more closely mimic starting in a more static position – like a pull with an initial concentric contraction. This will focus on performing a concentric contraction without the advantage of the stored kinetic energy you gain from a typical eccentric contraction. Once again, I am working on an article fully dedicated to variations of the goodmorning.

Safety squat bar box squats are great for strengthening the spinal and hip extensors. Now I agree that this movement isn’t specific to a squat necessary in weightlifting, so I only use it sparingly and in the off-season (at least eight or more weeks out from a competition). I only use this movement once per week and in conjunction with at least two to four other straight bar squat sessions. The most non-specific part of this movement is that I have the athlete sit back. I want them on the box with a vertical shin and a more horizontal torso. This movement is designed to strengthen the pull more so than the squat portion of the lift. However, you will reap the rewards of strengthened hips and back muscles.

Obviously this isn’t a great movement to strengthen the quads because the range of motion at the knees is minimal. However, the range of motion at the hip is maximal or near maximal depending on the height of the box. The demand of the internal spinal extensor moment is now through the roof because 1) you’re using a safety squat bar with the weight is distributed in front of the body and 2) your torso is inclined.

This movement is excellent for strengthening the pull especially at position two (when the bar is at or slightly below the knee) when the shins are vertical. The box will teach the body to fire the proper muscles from a static position with the advantage of stored kinetic energy produced by the eccentric phase of the lift. This movement is still great for strengthening the parts of the body required for squatting (back and hips), but it’s not a replacement for high bar back squats and front squats. I consider this more of an accessory movement, whereas back squats and front squats are primary strength movements for Olympic weightlifting.

Once again, the moral of this entire article is to relax with the absolutes. Unless science has proven that a particular movement won’t work or is dangerous, there’s probably a time and a place in training that it will help a lifter. Specificity is key especially in the sport of Olympic weightlifting, but let’s not go overboard. One of Hunter Elam’s biggest competitors is Mary Peck, and she uses low bar back squats in her training. With a 211kg total at 64kg bodyweight, I’d say that the low bar back squat isn’t interfering with the specificity of her lifts at all.

As long as we stay true to specificity the majority of the time, some variation is a good thing. Of course, it’s key to know your athletes. Some athletes respond really well to variation, and some don’t respond well at all. It depends on the individual’s overall athleticism. Athletes that grew up playing multiple sports are normally better with variation. Once again, as a coach you have to know your individual athletes. The big takeaway is to not throw away the baby with the bath water. Almost all movements have a time and place that’s up to us as coaches to determine.

How to Use Olympic Lifts for Strength and Conditioning

Which weightlifting movements should coaches use for athletic performance? Are they even necessary?

This is one of my favorite debates because it can go on and on. Some coaches feel that the Olympic lifts have to be used in a strength and conditioning program for a program to be legit. Other coaches feel that the snatch and clean and jerk are too hard to teach and carry too much risk of injury. So who’s right?

The easy answer is that a program can be successful using just about any choice of movements. If you don’t agree, all you have to do is look around the country. Programs have been successful using the Olympic lifts, and programs have been successful without the Olympic lifts. The real key is choosing movements the strength coach and his or her staff feel comfortable and proficient teaching to their athletes.

Teaching the lifts

KEY MOVEMENTS

Yesterday I asked a question on Twitter, “If you could only use five movement to train all of your athletes, what five movements would you choose?” The answers varied from person to person with a form of barbell squat (front or back) being the most common. Personally I would choose:

  • Clean and all variations. These deliver power production and velocity.
  • Back squat. Squats increase lower body strength and core stabilization. Not to mention the research states that vertical leap and improvements in speed are more closely related to the squat than any other movement in the gym.
  • Push press. The push press is the most functional way of demonstrating upper body strength because the power originates from the lower body. For example, a football player blocks their opponent with force originating from the hips ending with an explosive punch in the arms.
  • Deadlift. Just like the squat, the deadlift can be linked to improvements in athletic feats like the vertical leap and 40-yard dash. I also chose the deadlift to strengthen the posterior chain to promote symmetry when used with the back squat.
  • Barbell bent-over row. This was a hard choice between rows and pull-ups. However, it’s just a bit easier to load a row. A strong back is imperative for any athlete. The barbell row is particularly useful due to the stability component necessary of the spinal extensors to maintain the hinge position of the bent-over row.

One more thing I would like to note is the importance of spine stabilization from pretty much all of these movements. If you want to protect the spines of your athletes, you need to strengthen all of the muscles around the spine – especially all the muscles that extend the spine. The abdominals help, but it’s the spinal extensors that keep the spine locked in neutral. Deadlifts do a great job of strengthening the back, hips, legs, and neck. That’s what makes the deadlift the best bullet proofing movement in the gym (as Dan John says). Have you ever seen a good deadlifter with a small neck and traps? I haven’t.

WITHOUT THE OLYMPIC LIFTS

I love the Olympic lifts. Of course I do – I coach some of the best weightlifters in the country. But if someone isn’t proficient at teaching the movements, then they shouldn’t add those movements in their program no matter how good they are. A movement is only beneficial when used correctly. If I didn’t understand how to teach the Olympic lifts, I could still create a program that would deliver athletic improvement. I could use the following movements:

  • Squat variation
  • Deadlift variation
  • Push press
  • Bent-over rows
  • A type of carry (farmer’s walk, Zercher, overhead, etc.)
  • Squat jumps or another type of plyometric

I could use these movements along with a closer look at velocity, and I could cover every quality of strength required to maximally improve any athlete. With that being said, I want to talk about the use of the different variations of the Olympic lifts specifically: full lift variations, hang variations, power variations, and block variations.

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Full Variations

The full snatch and clean are great for total athleticism. You’re going to get power production, proprioception, balance, coordination, mobility, and force absorption. I’ve never seen a bad athlete complete a full snatch. When a person learns a snatch, they have learned to produce power, move their bodies through space, and move quickly (speed). They’ve also developed incredible mobility. All of these characteristics are important to athleticism.

There are challenges and maybe even some drawbacks to the full variations. For one, these movements take a bit longer to learn. They’re complex in nature, so they take a little extra time. And in the world of strength and conditioning, time is valuable. Remember we are talking about non-weightlifting athletes. Their sport isn’t Olympic weightlifting.

HANG VARIATIONS

This is probably my favorite because it mimics the countermovement of a vertical leap. You are going to receive a stretch reflex just like when you jump. Plus this is the one variation that begins with an eccentric contraction, which is great for hypertrophy and strengthening the movement. The range of motion involved in the hang variations is more specific to sprinting and jumping as well. Nowhere on the field (football, soccer, basketball, or baseball) are you asked to perform a full squat. I’m not saying that there aren’t benefits to a full squat catch, but the specificity of the hang movements will normally yield a higher return to sport specific requirements. When you catch the hang movements in a power position (above parallel), you have the most specific movement in the gym.

Hangs

POWER POSITIONS

This refers to the catch of the snatch and clean being above parallel. I already talked about this position regarding the hang movements. I like the power movements because they are a bit easier to teach. I also like the fact that they require the athlete to move faster. Everyone thinks that power movements are all about how high they pull the bar. I’ve got news for you. All you can control is the velocity of the bar. You pull it as hard and as fast as possible. When your hips extend, the height of the bar is already determined. There is nothing you can do to pull the bar any higher after the hips extend.

If you want to get good at power cleans and snatches, the focus needs to be on:

  1. Timing
  2. Speed of the third pull
  3. Strong catch (force absorption)

To get good at power movements, timing is crucial. If you waste any time at the top, you will miss the peak of the bar. You will find yourself pulling under while the bar is on the way down. The biggest reason I prescribe power movements for my weightlifters is to get them better at timing. Timing is crucial to be good at the sport. Timing isn’t necessarily important for non-strength athletes, but it helps in being able to handle higher loads.

Obviously speed is important to all athletes. In a perfect world, the barbell should move faster throughout the movement – with the third pull (the pull underneath the bar) being the fastest. The power movements require athletes to move quickly, so it teaches speed without the athlete actually thinking about it.

The strong catch is the quality that transfers to athletes the most because it requires the athlete to absorb large amounts of force in an abrupt manner. When you think about football or rugby, it’s easy to see the benefit of power cleans and power snatches. When you add the velocity required for power movements to the force absorption, you have a very functional movement for just about any sport. Plus the catch height of the snatch and clean is at a position that is much more specific to other sports, such as softball, baseball, football (linebacker, running back, etc), or even soccer.

BLOCK VARIATIONS

I like variations from blocks for a lot of the same reasons as above, and they have one advantage regarding specificity. Block cleans and snatches begin from a dead start, which is specific to sprints. There isn’t a countermovement with sprinting. With block cleans and snatches, the movement begins from a dead stop. This teaches the athlete to generate force as quickly as possible and is a great way to improve the rate of force development. Let’s face it: sport is played at a fast pace. Athletes are asked to go from 0 to 100 as fast as possible. The athlete who can react and get to full speed at the fastest rate will end up being the best athlete. Blocks can be done from whatever height is the most specific or from the height that is the weakest.

For specificity reasons, I would say that hang powers and block powers are the best movements for directly affecting athletic performance. I recommend using hang powers to improve vertical leap and broad jumps. Hangs are also good for improving elasticity, strengthening position, and tendon strength. Block powers are great for improving sprinting times especially the start and acceleration portions.

THE REAL MUST-HAVES

There’s a place for all the Olympic variations, including the jerk. But if I had to choose two variations, I would use hang powers and powers from blocks. I hope this helps some of you strength and conditioning coaches decide which movements to use and when to use them. Remember, there isn’t a movement that is an absolute must-have for any program. Coach Mike Boyle has made a career out of getting athletes better without bilateral squats or cleans, so obviously you don’t have to use those movements. I recommend squats and cleans, but you don’t have to use them.

The only must-have I require of all my coaches is that they know the why for each and every movement they program. If you don’t know the reason for a movement, then drop it from your program. As a coach, you should be excited when one of your athletes asks you why you’ve programmed the way you have. It’s a chance to teach them and get buy-in. Coaches, do your homework and know the why behind your program.

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Cal Dietz on Triphasic Training – The Barbell Life 227

When I was talking recently with my friend Dr. Andy Galpin, he mentioned he was a big fan of Cal Dietz’s Triphasic Training.

And if you’ve been in the strength game for any amount of time, you’ve surely heard of it.

I was so excited to have Cal on the podcast today to talk with us. He’s doing a lot of crazy things in the gym that sparked my curiosity – stuff like having his athletes squat with their heels up. Or Cal’s love of the single leg squat with a safety squat bar.

Cal talks about such profound training concepts, but he has an ability to break it down and make it sound so simple.

racking

The concepts Cal talks about with us could allow any athlete to make big changes or just slight changes to their training – whether the athlete is into weightlifting, powerlifting, CrossFit, or field sports.
 

MASH FILES: LEARN FROM THE PROGRAM OF AN NFL BEAST

Travis Mash shows you all the details and reasoning behind the recent off-season program for Tommy Bohanon (starting fullback for the Jacksonville Jaguars)

Then you can use these principles to individualize your own programs to fit an athlete's strengths, weaknesses, age, gender, sport demands, and unique response to training.

 

LISTEN IN TO TODAY’S PODCAST AS WE TALK ABOUT:

  • Why he has his athletes squat with their heels up
  • The power of the single leg squat with the safety squat bar
  • Eccentrics, isometrics, energy systems, potentiation clusters, and cortisol management
  • Going from squats to light kettlebell swings?
  • The injury prevention aspects of triphasic training
  • and more…