Category Archives for "Functional Fitness"

Muscle Experiments with Kassem Hanson – The Barbell Life 324

Coach Kassem has a lab in his gym.

Seriously. That’s the only way he could keep up with the volume of experiments he wanted to do on his lifters. He is on a quest to understand muscle gain at the deepest level – and then to help us all get more jacked.

And what I really appreciate about Kassem is that he can take the science and boil it down to practical action steps that people can implement. But be careful. Listening to this podcast will probably get you excited to head to the gym immediately – so be warned.

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.


  • A two-week protocol so powerful that it makes a natural lifter look like they’re unnatural
  • Warming up and junk volume?
  • Determining the perfect hypertrophy “recipe” for each individual
  • Blood restriction training… WHY does it work?
  • “Smashing things up” to get hypertrophy WEEKS later
  • and more…

Overhead Athletes and More with Herman Demmink – The Barbell Life 323

Is the snatch a horrible exercise choice for some athletes?

Is the kettlebell snatch stupid? Or maybe you just can’t coach it?

Well Herman Demmink joins us on the podcast today to talk about working with overhead athletes like all you baseball players out there.

We also get into brain science, what he’s learned from watching hundreds of surgeries… and how athletes can earn scholarships and make it into the big leagues.

Protocols for Aches and Pains, Muscular Imbalances & Recovery

Work Harder. Train Longer. Prevent Injury.

Prevent injury, reduce pain and maintain joint health with Travis's specific corrections for your individual muscular imbalances.


  • Getting his CrossFit Level 2 cert so he could tell athletes NOT to do CrossFit
  • Sport practice vs. too much movement?
  • Earning scholarships and getting into the big leagues
  • Ed Coan snatching?
  • The biggest mistakes coaches make when they try to learn from each other
  • and more…

Your Questions Answered – The Barbell Life 322

How do you program for mass and strength at the same time?

How do you improve your power clean?

Can you still gain strength at 59 years old?

These are just some of the questions we get to on today’s podcast – it’s time for listener questions!


The Art of Combining:

Weightlifting - Powerlifting - Bodybuilding

Strongman - Functional Fitness - Endurance Cardio

Learn the art and science of how to train multiple disciplines simultaneously. Get stronger, faster, bigger...


  • Programming for mass AND strength
  • Breaking plateaus (overtraining?)
  • Military powerlifting and HIIT
  • The best gym environment… and does it really matter?
  • Supplement recommendations, equipment recommendations, book recommendations
  • and more…

How Important is the Clean to Strength and Conditioning?

This is one of those debates that will rage on throughout the end of time.

Coaches are notorious for setting up camp with certain ideologies never to be heard from again. I get it though. We are creatures of habit. We like things done a certain way and at a certain time. Change can be very difficult for such structured humans.

However I challenge all of you to maintain an open mind because you owe it to your athletes. A close-minded coach might very well cause an athlete to come up short on reaching their goals.

Pros and Cons

With that being said, I am not going to sit here and tell you that you should or shouldn’t use the clean. I am simply going to list the pros and cons of the movement, and then I will leave implementation up to you. I will definitely give my reasoning for using it, but surprisingly I am going to also give you some clear times when the clean should not be used in a strength and conditioning program.

The main reason I love the clean for strength and conditioning is the bang for your buck – meaning you accrue several benefits with one exercise. When time is of concern, that’s a big advantage. So let’s start with a look at all the benefits:


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.

Power Production – This is the element of the clean that has strength coaches licking their lips. They know that massive amounts of power are required for big hits in football, bombs in baseball, knockouts in MMA, exploding out of the blocks during sprinting, and leaping above one’s opponents on the basketball court.

If you take a look at most sports, you will see that fans are most excited when athletes demonstrate incredible amounts of wattage on the playing field. Base hits are awesome in baseball, but if you want the fans on their feet, blast a ball over the center field wall. A defensive boxer like Floyd Mayweather is fun to watch. However, if you want to gain the attention of the whole world, find another Mike Tyson to put in the ring to drop power bombs on the domes of his opponent. When I was growing up, there was nothing more exciting than watching Ronnie Lott run through his opponents on the football field.

Usain Bolt produced a peak power output of 2691.5 watts in the start phase of his 9.58-second record-setting 100m sprint performance. According to a research article from Everett A. Harman, Michael T. Rosenstein, Peter N. Frykman, Richard M. Rosenstein, and William J. Kraemer in 1988, the average power output performed during a vertical leap is 1325w and the peak is 3767w. Oleksiy Torokhtiy, Ukranian Gold Medalist in Olympic weightlifting, generated 2200w during the first pull and an enormous 3700w during the second pull. Is it making sense now as to why the clean might help specifically?

Obviously the clean is great for demonstrations of power – or as I like to say, “the clean is great for the realization of power.” Squats are great for increasing an athlete’s ability to produce force, which also relates to increases in power. Remember, power equals force x velocity, so increasing one’s ability to produce force is definitely a component to producing more power. However, the clean allows the athlete to take that ability to produce more force and turn it into power production by moving heavy weights at a high velocity. The two movements (clean and squat) go together for the perfect system.

Force Absorption and Production – One of the benefits that isn’t talked about nearly enough is force absorption. Every time an athlete receives the bar, they are forced to absorb a barbell traveling at a velocity of 9.81 m/s (roughly the speed of the earth’s gravitational pull). When you take a barbell weighing 140kg/308lb traveling at 9.81 m/s/s, you get a force of 1,373.4 N. That packs a pretty big wallop, and that is exactly what athletes need to prepare them for the impacts of their individual sports.

During the pull phase, they’re also learning to produce massive amounts of force. This is the essence of sport. Whether we are talking about football, rugby, or MMA, men and women have to produce force when they are exploding into someone or punching someone. On the other hand, they have to absorb force, when they are getting hit.

Kinesthetic Awareness – This refers to an athlete’s ability to navigate space and the awareness of the way they move. There are times in weightlifting where an athlete is pulling under the bar – with their feet and barbell floating through space. If at anytime the athlete loses connection with where they are in space, they can be in a lot of trouble. I have never met a weightlifter who didn’t naturally have amazing kinesthetic awareness.

This will manifest in his or her ability to time movements perfectly. A great weightlifter knows exactly how high a barbell needs to be for them to rip under it and meet it precisely in the bottom of a front squat. It’s poetry in motion if you get to see such things on a daily basis.

Kinesthetic awareness comes in handy for receivers crossing the middle of the field and leaping for a high football. What about when a pitcher flings a 100 mph fastball – only to have it knocked straight back at them? With great awareness, the pitcher snags it barehanded like nothing. If an athlete performs enough of the Olympic lifts they will be better at kinesthetic awareness for that time. I can promise this from two decades of experience.

Balance and proprioception go along with kinesthetic awareness. If an athlete doesn’t have good balance, they’re going to fall on their butts performing heavy cleans. You will begin strengthening the feet of the athlete, increasing range of motion in the ankle, and creating stability in all the lower body joints when catching a heavy clean.

Proprioception is the body’s sensors in the peripheral nervous system that send feedback to the central nervous system to improve the body’s ability to produce coordinated movements. When you ask your athlete to perform complex movements like the clean, you are using the medulla oblongata to improve coordination. The Medulla uses sensors from the hands, arms, feel, and legs for information on how to get better at the movement. Improvements in that pathway will lead to an improvement in the body’s overall ability to perform coordinated movements, which is why weightlifters and gymnasts have amazing abilities to perform multiple athletic movements.

Triple Joint Specificity – Say what you want, but triple joint extension is where it’s at when it comes to producing power. An athlete will perform a triple joint extension when they throw a punch, swing a bat, jump to dunk a basketball, fire out of the blocks in sprinting, or leap through the air in the long jump.

Technique preferences aside, when an athlete performs a clean correctly, they are going to extend in their hips, knees, and ankles if performed correctly. A movement doesn’t have to look exactly like an athlete’s sport to be specific. It just needs to be close. Therefore maybe the power position of the clean doesn’t exactly mimic a vertical leap, but it still teaches the body to extend simultaneously at all three major joints of the lower body. Why do you think that the finish of a second pull produces more power than any other movement?

My favorite aspect of the clean is the ability to mimic the countermovement used during a vertical leap or the static start used in the start of a sprint. Hang cleans are perfect for a vertical leap – not to mention adding a slow eccentric will strengthen that position and give it more of an ability to produce power in the future. When a coach prescribes blocks of various heights or cleans from the floor, the athlete is forced to produce power from a static start. Both have their merits.

Core Stability – There it is. The most overused phrase in strength and conditioning. News flash: performing a hundred crunches every morning isn’t building a strong core. A strong core is a stable musculature that protects the entire spine and pelvis. When you catch a 300lb barbell in the front rack position accelerating at 9.81 m/s/s, your spinal extensors are getting rocked along with your transverse abdominis, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, and several other supporting muscles. Not only is your core stabilizing and getting strengthened while catching a clean, it’s doing so in a way that is specific to sport collisions.

Mobility – Let me tell you a story to make a point on the clean’s ability to improve an athlete’s mobility. I remember watching Morgan McCullough as a child around eleven years old. He was incredibly strong for his size and age. However, he wasn’t showing me that he could sit low into a bottom position found during the catch of a clean. He would catch the barbell with his hips at parallel or slightly below. There was a part of me that was afraid mobility was his kryptonite. Now six years later, he can almost sit his butt on the ground during the catch of a clean. It was the first time I realized the body’s ability to adapt to any movement with just a bit of frequency.

Now I have watched the hips of hundreds of young athletes with average or even subpar mobility adapt to acquire optimal mobility. The key is performing movements with ranges of motion that mimic the desired mobility, and then perform those movements on a frequent basis. For example, I recommend the clean two to five times per week because of the vast number of benefits that are directly related to athletic performance.

I have said it before, and I will say it again: You can perform all of the yoga, lacrosse ball exercises, banded stretching, and foam rolling you want, but the best way to get mobile is with weighted exercises on a frequent basis. I especially recommend movements like the clean while taking two to three deep breaths in the bottom catch position.

Coaches, let me be clear. You don’t have to teach the clean or any of the Olympic movements. However, you are going to have a heck of a time coming up with all the exercises required to produce all of these benefits. In a world where time is like gold, I think that it’s probably a good idea to learn this amazing movement.

One last piece of anecdotal evidence I want to mention: I have never seen an athlete great at the clean who wasn’t also a great athlete on almost any competitive field. Especially in football, the athlete who cleans the most will be the athlete dropping bombs on the football field.

However if you aren’t willing to put in the time to learn it properly, I would avoid it all together. All of the aforementioned benefits are only realized with optimal technique. This is the part most coaches forget, which is why they land on a meme page making fun of their coaching ability. Don’ t let that be you.



It's finally here... Learn about technique, programming, assessment, and coaching from a master. For strength coaches and for athletes, these 53 videos (7 hours and 56 minutes of footage) will prepare you to understand the main lifts for maximum performance and safety. Get ready to learn...

Growing SoCal Weightlifting with Chris Amenta – The Barbell Life 320

A few short years ago Chris Amenta was moving across the country to train with Jon North.

Now he owns the incredibly successful SoCal weightlifting – and he is a talented coach and programmer in his own right.

So it was an honor to have him on the podcast, to pick his brain, and to learn from him.

Anyone who wants to be a weightlifting coach or own a gym should give this one a listen.



It's finally here... Learn about technique, programming, assessment, and coaching from a master. For strength coaches and for athletes, these 53 videos (7 hours and 56 minutes of footage) will prepare you to understand the main lifts for maximum performance and safety. Get ready to learn...


  • Getting connected with Jon North and moving across the country to train with him
  • The needed elements to grow a successful gym
  • Why multiple weightlifting coaches can be a problem (but also a benefit)
  • Starting and growing Onyx
  • His current programming approach (heavy reliance on autoregulation)
  • and more…

Stay Off Your Toes – by Vinh Huynh

I have had the benefit of working with some great athletes, and coaching them at various levels – everything from local to international.

One of my favorite things to do is watch each weightlifter and analyze their technique. In this process, I look at each attempt for similarities, differences, and what I’d coach. Most importantly, I 100% believe learning more about qualities that factor into successful and unsuccessful lifts only makes you a better coach.

Much like Travis, I’m not set on any one particular method. However, I do have a “foundational” technique I use with newer athletes, and I continually evolve it to work best for that one person.

As a coach, I was very fortunate to have had two of America’s best coaches as my mentors, both Travis Mash and Don McCauley. One of the many things they both stressed to me was the importance of continually learning because, “You’ll never know when you have an athlete that will benefit from a technique considered different.” For those of you who know me well, you’ll know the foundational technique I coach is closer to Don McCauley’s than anyone else’s – something he coined as the Catapult Weightlifting technique.

Today I want to continue the technique conversation Travis wrote about in The Most Common Mistake In Weightlifting. And no, it’s not going in the direction some of you might think it’s going, which is “Should a weightlifter purposefully extend up onto the toes and jump their feet?”

Instead, I’m going to expand a little on what Travis wrote – and talk about pulling from the toes. As long as you understand the fundamentals of a lift, you probably know enough to follow along. Some of what I’m writing is taken from an outline for a book Don and I were working on prior to him getting really sick and ultimately passing away. One day I’ll get it finished, but for now I’ll share some of it with all of you.


Master Technique and Programming for the Conventional Deadlift, Sumo Deadlift, and Clean Pull

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

In Travis’ original post, he writes about qualities of the start position, which I call the set position:

  • Shoulders must start and stay above the hips
  • A tight neutral spine with no rounding
  • Knees parallel with elbows or slightly in front
  • Eyes straight ahead
  • Long arms with elbows out

Things I’ll add to the set position:

  • Weight balance in your feet will likely be on the balls of your feet
  • Head position: chin slightly raised above neutral
  • Eyes: 6-12 inches above the horizon when standing
  • Shoulders: snatch – slightly behind the bar to on top of the bar; cleans – shoulders on top of the bar
  • Hips: snatch – low hips; clean, hips somewhere near parallel

Please note, I’m not going to continually write, “for most athletes,” so just know nothing is 100% absolute in this sport.

First, the weight balance or distribution in your feet at set will be on the balls of your feet. This is mostly due to the position you’re in, and where the barbell is – and for most, the barbell is over the balls of your feet. While the weight starts there, you don’t want to keep it there.

Head position. I like athletes to have at least a slightly raised chin above a neutral position, why? I have found it’s easier for athletes to maintain a tight upper back in this position. However, this is slightly debated in the weightlifting community because of whether it’s “optimal” to have the cervical spine in that position.

Eyes. When an athlete is standing tall, I want him/her to look straight out and I call that the “horizon,” then find a spot 6-12 inches above that. When athletes are in the set position, it’s hard to look at a focal point that high with just eyes, so naturally, athletes will raise the chin up. Mostly, I have athletes do this because I want them to make sure they’re at the top of their pull before going under the bar, and setting the focal point too low might make them feel like they’re further along in the pull than they actually are.

Shoulders. In the snatch, shoulders should start slightly behind the bar. For some, leading edge of the shoulders might be just on top of it; for a few, leading edge of the shoulder just in front of the bar at set. In the clean, shoulder should be on top of the bar. For some, leading edge of your shoulders should be slightly in front. Where your shoulders are in reference to where the bar is at set is going to be dependent on a lot of factors, but for the most part I like to see athletes with a more upright torso at set (and make sure you don’t interpret that as “vertical torso”).

Hips. I’m a fan of lower hip positions at the start because the bar and your center of mass will start closer and stay closer throughout the duration of the pull. Therefore, in the snatch, I like to see hips low. I get a lot of local coaches commenting on how low my athletes start, especially in the snatch. Ideally, hips will be at minimum below the knee crease. In the clean, hips are usually somewhere around the level of the knee crease. With these hip positions, our athletes have found it easier to stay centered over their base of support (their feet) during the pull, are able to pull longer and sweep the bar in more – all while minimally using their posterior muscles we’re reserving for hip extension (which we’ll use later).

During the start of the pull, the athletes I coach will have hips that rise slightly faster than shoulders, but that’s due to how low their hips are at set. The weight balance in their feet should be moving from the balls of feet back toward the heel. Now at meets, you’ll hear me tell the athletes to “keep their heels down” as they pull, but this not the same as keeping all of their weight on their heels – it’s simply a cue that I’ve used to make sure they don’t leave their weight on the balls of their feet.

Prior to coming to set, you’ll see lots of athletes raise their hips one last time while raising the balls of their feet off the ground and this is something our athletes do a lot too. It’s simply a reminder of where the weight balance needs to go as they pull, and I tell most athletes to think of it being just in front of their heels. To help newer athletes, and even sometimes veteran athletes, recognize where their weight balance is I have them do a simple drill:

  1. Stand nice and tall with feet flat in the floor.
  2. Transition their weight to the heels without the front of their feet lifting up, and they have heels, and stay there for 10 seconds.
  3. Transition weight to front of feet / balls of feet (toes) without the heels coming up and stay there for 10 seconds, and they have balance on toes.
  4. Lastly move to where the weight is over the middle of their feet and hold that position for 10 seconds, and they have midfoot.

Midfoot is a hard one for newer athletes to recognize, so sometimes I have them stand on a small change plate in each of those positions, so they can feel it more. I’ve also used this drill with veteran athletes who’ve had problems with weight distribution in their feet as they pull.

Toes is definitely somewhere I do not want the athlete to pull from, ever. However, there are some coaches who coach their athletes to pull from their toes. I’m a naturally inquisitive coach and have asked why. The common answer I get is because the quads are such a powerful mover in the extension, so it’s to not shut off the quads. But my follow up question typically is, “Why would an athlete want to pull from the toes throughout the entire process, when they can readjust up top (double knee bend), which puts an athlete into the right position to use their quads in the extension?” This is usually where coaches who instruct this get defensive, but I’m just looking for clarification on the objective – or perhaps I’m just misunderstanding them. Except, when I see their athletes simulating pulls with their heels floating off of plates, a plywood board, or the end of a platform – it leads me to believe they’re actually being coached to pull from their toes. For the record, don’t do this – your feet are your base of support, and if you’re up on your toes and trying to be “over the bar” during the pull, you’ve reduced how much margin of error you can have by a lot.

As you’re pulling, aside from wanting the weight distribution in your feet to work from front to over midfoot (again I sometimes say heels in meets just to keep the athlete off his or her toes), you want to envision the barbell working back too. Ideally, if you’re watching an athlete from the side, you can see the barbell “angle back.” For some this might be easily noticeable, but for others this might be slight. The vast majority of the time you will not want to see the barbell go forward at all, or “out and around the knees.” With some athletes the barbell might look like it’s moving in a vertical line – but general rule of thumb, not out or away from the athlete. Read Travis’ original post about sweeping the barbell back as you pull and the “McCauley Board” if you (or your athlete) is having a hard time with this.

Now I’ll expand – As the bar passes the knees.

  1. Keep pushing, legs longer
  2. Variable Back Angle as Bar Passes Knees (Yes I said it, come at me)
  3. Readjustment (aka the Double Knee Bend)


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As the bar passes the knees, our athletes are instructed to keep pushing through their legs and to extend the knees a little more. Now there is some variance amongst my athletes, but for the most part our athletes get their legs very long. However, it’s taught in CrossFit (and maybe the USAW Level 1), that once the bar fully passes the knees, an athlete should freeze the knees and start working the torso to vertical and the knees under the bar.

Now, I’m not picking on CrossFit or the USAW Level 1, and it might be taught much differently now versus when I took the CrossFit Level 1 and USAW Level 1 certification – I’m just calling it out as to why you might see a lot of newer weightlifters doing this versus continuing to get their legs long. Also note, there is nothing wrong with doing it this way – in fact this is how lots of the European weightlifters do it.

As the bar is passing the knees, the shoulders/torso starts to “open,” or rise faster than the hips to start initiating the second pull. Remember, our athletes typically start with a lower hip position, so their hips at the start of the pull will rise faster than their shoulders (but shoulders always being higher than hips). The further they get into the pull, there’s only so much more they can lengthen legs before the shoulders/torso starts to rise faster or “open” – and they’ve started transitioning into the second pull. Now, I refer to this as variable back angle, because a good amount of our athletes do not pull with a static back position, and it’s ever changing.

Here’s a couple of good videos demonstrating this, both by National Level Medalists and girls who’ve both represented Team USA:

Nadeen Pierre, Junior, 71/76kg weight class, PRs 89 Snatch (87 in comp), and 115 Clean & Jerk (118 Clean PR)

Adrianne Haider, Senior, 59kg weight class, PRs 89kg Snatch, 110kg Clean & Jerk (112kg Clean)

As you can see in both videos – as the bar starts passing their knees, the legs are minimally extending and the shoulders are (or torso is) opening (basically shoulders rising faster than hips as they continue to pull and transition into their second pull). But take careful note of the double knee bend which is delayed until they’re ready to “catapult” the bar. This is when it happens, and it is the end of the second pull. It’s much easier to see this in the slow motion portion, which is why I recommend watching ATG, Hookgrip, and other slow motion videos of lifts to train your eyes.

Also important to note: none of the phases of the pull are distinctive “sections” and each phase overlaps – first pull overlaps with second, and second pull overlaps with third.

If everything up to this point is done correctly, the bar should literally feel like it’s being catapulted up – and the athlete

  • will look like he or she is “leaning back” behind the bar.
  • will have feet still in contact with the ground, heels might be passively “peeled” from the platform, but not actively/intentionally.

Then there’s nowhere else to go other than to slingshot yourself under the bar to complete the lift. I hope that helps to shed a little light on how I keep athletes off their toes and from missing lifts a mile in front.

Coach Vinh Huynh
USAW International Coach, Union Weightlifting (Mash Mafia Minnesota)

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