Category Archives for "Barbell Life"

Reflexive Performance Reset with JL Holdsworth – The Barbell Life 236

My friend JL Holdsworth is a successful gym owner and powerlifter.

He’s also one of the men behind Reflexive Performance Reset. I’ve heard about RPR but didn’t know much.

What he shares blew me away. He has a way to retrain your nervous system to recruit muscle optimally. The results seem almost magical, but JL says they’re based off solid science.

So listen in to this one!

IT'S UNDENIABLE. SQUATTING EVERY DAY WORKS.

Get Travis Mash's Guide to
High Frequency Programming

If you want to get better at a movement... maybe you should do the movement more. High frequency will work like magic as long as you avoid certain pitfalls.

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

  • A trick to giving Dave Tate a 90 lb PR in three days
  • Dealing with powerlifting injuries
  • Why his gym is successful – and his advice to coaches and gym owners
  • Why “muscle activation” is a horrible concept
  • The good and the bad parts of Louie Simmons and Westside Barbell
  • and more…

Getting Jacked with Brandon Warren – The Barbell Life 235

Brandon Warren is a local bodybuilder who is crushing it right now in men’s physique competitions.

In a large regional show, he recently took first place in his class. Then he went on to win the show overall.

It’s amazing to see where Brandon has come from. I met him when he was just a high school kid, and I helped him lay a foundation of proper strength.

Now he’s gone his own way and has concentrated on physique competitions. But – as Brandon will tell you – it’s been a bumpy road for him.

A World Class Coach's Guide to Building Muscle

Hypertrophy for Strength, Performance, and Aesthetics.

World champion and world-class coach Travis Mash has combined the latest research with his decades of practical experience to bring you an amazing resource on muscle hypertrophy.

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

  • The science behind partial reps
  • To deload or not?
  • His typical training week
  • Getting a crazy pump without lifting weights
  • Advice for CrossFitters and advice for newbies
  • and more…

The Path to Improving High School Strength Coaching

A few days ago I posted a video on Twitter of a high school athlete performing a clean. At least it was their version of a clean.

The video and my statement sparked a 500,000-view discussion that I believe might have started a movement. Strength coaches from around the country chimed in with their thoughts and suggestions. People such as Kelly Starrett and Zach Even-Esh voiced their concerns, and we all agreed that the responsibility falls on us to correct this issue.

Real Danger

Before I get into how we can change, I want to paint a picture showing the real need for change. The only argument against having certified and experienced strength coaches in our high schools was that of money – that high schools couldn’t afford their history teachers, books, and/or materials, so they aren’t going to fork over the money for a position like a high school strength coach.

So what do I think about that issue? I get it. Money is tight. But think about it this way. The weight room can be the most dangerous room in any school. When proper movement is taught under the watchful eye of a competent coach, the injury rate is somewhere around 3.3 injuries per 1,000 contact hours. This number is lower than most all other activities. For example soccer experiences about 35 injuries per 1,000 contact hours. However, these numbers are thrown out the window when a coach isn’t competent, or worse isn’t even watching the class. Sounds crazy, but I have witnessed multiple high school weight rooms with a missing coach.

When a coach isn’t competent or even present, the weight room can be a death trap. The bench press is the most dangerous movement in the weight room – especially when performed without a spotter. I’ve watched heavy weights dropped from arm’s length onto chests, throats, and even heads. Anyone who has ever lifted weights has probably been pinned under a bench press due to exhaustion. If you have a trained spotter, that’s not a problem. Lifting to failure is one of the quickest ways to add muscle size (hypertrophy). However, people have died by getting pinned under a heavy barbell in the bench press.

Bad technique in any movement can cause injury. But during a squatting or pulling movement (examples: back squat, deadlift, and clean), the spine and pelvis are put at risk. Shoulder and knee injuries are horrible, but spinal injuries can affect everyday activities for the remainder of the athlete’s life. Are we really willing to put our youth at risk of a major injury due to lack of funds? If that’s the case, I recommend not offering weight training at all in schools. I want my children to understand history as much as any parent, but I’d rather their history knowledge take a bit of a hit versus risking their lives or their long-term health.

Carryover

There’s something else school boards and the powers that be are forgetting.

“There is substantial evidence that physical activity can help improve academic achievement, including grades and standardized test scores.” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance”). Here’s a link to a report about the combined studies on this subject.

If the priority were academic performance and safety, all the data would point towards an effort to improve the circumstances within our high schools and middle schools. I’m not going to sit here and write about all the problems within our schools. That’s not who I am. I get it! There are some major challenges, and I agree if there isn’t any money, you can’t pull dollars out of the air.

Here are my suggestions:

1. Performance Standards

First, let’s standardize the performance of movements. I know that there are several techniques for movements such as cleans, squats, benches, and deadlifts – and I am not trying to make coaches teach a certain way. However, there can be standards set that all experts would agree on. For example:

  • Clean – neutral spine (flat back without excessive hyperextension or flexion), shoulders have to stay above the hips, elbows can’t touch the knees (this helps to avoid broken wrists), and knees stay aligned with the first two toes.
  • Squats – neutral spine, shoulders remain above hips at all times, and knees stay aligned with the first two toes. It’s hard to standardize depth because there’s some pretty good evidence correlating half squats with increases in speed and vertical leap due to the specificity in joint angles. However, I suggest that most squats be performed below parallel in a controlled manner, especially during the first two years of strength training.
  • Deadlifts – neutral spine, shoulders remain above hips at all times, and knees stay aligned with the first two toes. For all of you powerlifters who like to round your thoracic spine, remember these are high school athletes.

Once you’ve standardized the movements, all coaches should take a course and pass a test. That way all coaches in a high school setting will at least have seen proper movement patterns. Then they can be held liable if they choose to deviate from the standards. The video within my tweet that went viral wouldn’t have passed any of these standards.

2. Programming Standards

The next step is to standardize programming protocols. There are a lot of amazing experts out there who would love to come together on producing these protocols (such as Coach Joe Kenn, Kelly Starrett, Andy Galpin, and Coach Sean Waxman). A four person team like this would rock because you have two-time NSCA Coach of the Year Joe Kenn, DPT Kelly Starrett coming at things from a functional movement approach, Doctor Andy Galpin who heads up a lot of the latest research in the industry, and Coach Sean Waxman who is one of the best weightlifting coaches in the country. When these dynamics come together, something beautiful is formed. I just want to avoid things like 10 x 10 at 70% in the clean. This could help avoid crazy workouts that some coach thought of on New Year’s Eve that puts 5 athletes in the ER due to rhabdomyolysis.

A group like this could even develop basic plans that an inexperienced coach could follow. In middle school and high school, basics work the best anyways. Standardized movements and programming leads me to my next suggestion.

Six of the Greatest Minds in Strength & Conditioning in One Book

PROGRAM SAMPLER, VOL III: GUEST COACH EDITION

Some of the greatest coaches in the industry have collaborated with the Mash Mafia to bring you a sampler of programs that packs a punch. Take a peek inside the minds of these experts so that you can take your knowledge and performance to a new level.

3. Qualify the Unqualified Coach

If we have standardized movements and standardized programming, now we are set to prepare all coaches. If we can’t afford to hire certified and experienced strength and conditioning coaches, the next best thing is to prepare the coaches that we have.

I am a firm believe that most coaches in a high school care about the students. They wouldn’t hurt anyone on purpose. They simply don’t know any better. Heck, if I started coaching a high school football team tomorrow, I would do a terrible job. I wouldn’t do a terrible job because of my dislike for the athletes. I simply wouldn’t be prepared for the job.

I’d like to see a solid curriculum developed that would teach these coaches the movement standards and the programming protocols. The curriculum should also contain the basics of biomechanics, anatomy, and physiology. There should be a testing procedure proving the coach’s proficiency. After that, I recommend one more thing – which brings me to my next point.

4. Coaching Mentorship Network

I am a good coach because of my network. I’ve learned from amazing coaches: Coach Joe Kenn, Coach Sean Waxman, Louie Simmons, Coach Don McCauley, and Coach Dragomir Cioroslan to name a few. My time spent with these coaches helped to mold me into the coach I am today. If we could provide these coaches with a mentor to answer questions and give suggestions, we could be assured that coaches wouldn’t slip back into their old ways. Mentors would be for accountability as well as continued growth.

Who becomes a mentor? I am sure that several of you are asking that very question. The first thing to do is find a group of amazing coaches to form a board. An example of a high-powered board would be people my suggestions above: Coach Joe Kenn, Kelly Starrett, Andy Galpin, and Coach Sean Waxman. This board could develop the standardized movements and programming protocols, as well as give their seal of approval for potential mentors. Even if mentors required a monthly fee like $350-500 per month, that’s still a lot cheaper than hiring a strength coach for $40,000 per year.

5. Certifying Clinic

If we could keep the other suggestions and top it all off with a clinic, I think that we could be assured the conditions within high school weight rooms would at least improve. Just like USA Weightlifting’s Level I Certification, we could recruit proven and experienced coaches to teach other coaches based on the developed standards. Personally I like the USA Weightlifting Level I because it teaches the progressions of the competition lifts as well as the main accessory movements. That also guarantees a qualified coach gets to witness the competency of the potential coach’s ability to teach the movements.

The USAW Level I also teaches the basics of programming and gives examples of well thought-out programming. We could start by requiring the USA Weightlifting Level I. I like that curriculum over the NSCA CSCS simply because of the practicality of the certification. The potential coaches are actually taught to teach the lifts, and they have to demonstrate their competency in teaching the movements. The CSCS does an incredible job of teaching the science, but the USAW Level I is more practical. To solve the problem in our schools, we need the practical.

Personally, I would like to see USA Weightlifting get together with the National High School Strength Coaches Association, make a few tweaks to the USAW Level I to make it more strength and conditioning based, and then boom you would have a perfect certification for high school strength coaches. Let’s just get started! I just want to see change taking place.

The Beginning

Of course there are other things that I would like to see happen like:

  • A certified strength and conditioning coach in every middle school and high school.
  • P.E. Coaches doubling as certified strength and conditioning coaches
  • Fundraising events to help handle the costs

However, I know that schools are strapped for cash. I know that our teachers are underpaid. I care more about academics than sports in my own family, so I get it. I hope these suggestions will help spark some real change that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. I think these suggestions could be implemented quickly.

Now if some of you don’t like these ideas or have better ones, I want to hear them. If this article simply gets people talking, then it has done its job. Let’s start the discussion, ladies and gentlemen. Let’s teach our kids to be strong, but let’s keep them safe.

Feats of Strength: Mash Online Meet

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article on my personal blog describing the mission of our 501(c)(3) nonprofit weightlifting team and our future plans. You can read that one here if you want to.

SUCCESS AND GOALS

To summarize, we have succeeded in some areas and look to improve in a few others:

  • Our athletes are succeeding
  • Four on the 2018 senior world yeam
  • Two locked on the 2019 youth world team
  • Four looking to make a Junior Team next year
  • Two more youth making a bid for a youth unternational team
  • Three up and coming seniors looking to make Team USA
  • We want to develop the at-risk program by hiring a full-time person

We’ve been overwhelmed with your generous donations. Meanwhile we are trying our hand at using our resources to raise our own funds. What better way than to let all of you join in on some fun competitions?

THE ONLINE MEET

Coach Crystal McCullough developed the Feats of Strength Online Meet happening January 10th-13th. We know that we cater to a diverse group of barbell lovers, so we made a few different divisions:

  • Olympic Weightlifting (Snatch and Clean and Jerk)
  • Powerlifting (Squat, Bench, and Deadlift)
  • SuperTotal (Snatch, Clean and Jerk, Squat, Bench, and Deadlift)

Here are some of the prizes you can look forward to:

  • Prizes include the top male and female athlete being offered a spot on Team Mash Mafia with Coach Mash as your head coach!
  • $500 in gift certificates from Mash Elite Performance
  • Beautiful kilogram change plates from Intek Strength
  • Gifts from Wodfitters.com being considered
  • Gifts from Harbinger Fitness being considered
  • Gifts from MG12 being considered
  • Gifts from Nike Weightlifting being considered

SUPPORT OUR NON-PROFIT PROGRAM FOR AT-RISK YOUTH

THE MASH MAFIA APPRECIATES YOUR SUPPORT

Help us give these young ones the chance to succeed at athletics and at life.

MAJOR UPCOMING FINANCIAL NEEDS

It should be fun for our followers. 100% of all the proceeds will go to our non-profit 501(c)(3). We have a lot of fundraising for 2019 mainly because our athletes are going to be flying all around the world with Team USA. Our coaches are being required to travel to Fiji, Cuba, Guatemala, Peru, Ecuador, and Thailand just to name some of the countrie we have to go to. Since it is the Olympic qualifying period, we might have to travel to other countries for the sake of our athletes.

The secondary goal is hiring a full-time person for our at-risk program. We want someone who can develop the program, build relationships, and help transport the youth. It’s a lot, but we want to impact our community. We can do it with your help.

If you have any questions, you can email info@mashelite.com. We know our goals are high, but we have some amazing followers who want to see our athletes succeed, and that want to see the at risk youth in our community given more opportunities.

I hope that you guys will help us out this holiday season. If not, no big deal! We are just happy that you follow this crazy team.

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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* Discounts on Ebooks

* Tax Deductions

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.

THE BEST OF EVERY WORLD: MASH ELITE PROGRAM SAMPLERS

Proceeds Support Our Non-Profit Weightlifting Team

These samplers of programs cover weightlifting, powerlifting, functional fitness, athletic performance, and more. With all these programs at your hands, coaches can handle any athlete who comes their way - and athletes can explore a variety of approaches.

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.

FORGET OPINIONS ON THE SQUAT. HERE'S THE SCIENCE.

TRAVIS MASH'S SQUAT SCIENCE

After combing through the research and interviewing the experts, the result is a guide that will refine your technique and boost your squat in a safe and effective manner.

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.