Category Archives for "Functional Fitness"

Two Fast Ways to PR Your Squat

The back squat may be the most popular barbell movement on Earth. Since the inception of CrossFit and the new box gym/garage gym movement, the squat has made up lots of ground on the pec-pumping bench press. Articles are written and videos are made almost weekly giving all of us content about this amazing exercise.

We discuss things like:

  • Hypertrophy
  • Technique
  • Programming
  • Targeting specific joints
  • Post Activation Potentiation

Yet there are two even simpler concepts that can equate to massive personal records and more weight used for hypertrophy repetitions. These two concepts can yield results right away versus training for 12 weeks in hopes the program might work. We get so caught up in all of the scientific data and trying to invent a program that is revolutionary, we forget two very basic yet powerful concepts:

  • Big squat-specific warm-up
  • Bracing

Big Squat-Specific Warm-Up

Too many of us get in a hurry, climb under a bar, and start pumping out the repetitions. This leads to inefficiency of the movement, fewer fibers recruited, and less proximal core stiffness as it relates to the lumbar spine.

A solid warm-up is key. Here are a few main points:

  1. Bike, Row, or Treadmill (2-5 minutes) – The goal is simply to raise the body’s core temperature a couple of degrees. This will make the rest of this warm-up much easier and more tolerable for all of you veterans like me.




    Coach Travis Mash shows you how to simply and scientifically diagnose and fix your squat weaknesses. Squat Gainz also contains six supplementary squat-focused programs you can add to your current strength work to drive your squat through the roof.

  3. Mobility – I front-squatted 250 kilograms / 550 pounds in 2017 at 44 years old. That’s the most weight I have front-squatted in my 40s. There was one big difference that day – I used Donnie Thompson’s body tempering. I made sure to hit the major joints used during big squats: back, hips, knees, and ankles. This allowed me to move in and out of necessary positions required for a massive squat, and I was able to move in and out of these positions without pain. If the body is experiencing pain, it’s not going to recruit the maximal fibers required for optimal performance. It’s perceiving a threat and is protecting you.

    Body tempering or foam rolling/lacrosse ball work will allow you to move into good positions without the aches and pains that come from aging and years of repetitions. In choosing a foam roller, density is key. A squishy foam roller isn’t going to produce much change in the tissue, so I recommend going with a firm/dense foam roller or even a PVC pipe. Lacrosse balls are great for targeting key points because they are dense with a small surface area.

    I am not a huge proponent of static stretching, but there are a couple of stretches which will go a long way regarding optimal movement in the squat. First the half-kneeling hip flexor stretch is a key for me – and if you are a powerlifter or weightlifter, it’s going to be key for you. As barbell athletes we stay in hip flexion. Over time this can cause our hip flexors to shorten, which causes an anterior pelvic tilt. This forward tilt of the pelvis makes squatting with good technique a lot harder than it has to be. Anterior pelvic tilt can also cause lower back issues – and trust me that’s one section of the body you want to be healthy. I love Squat University’s explanation of this stretch. Simply put, he recommends getting into a half-kneeling position and then performing the opposite of an anterior pelvic tilt. Here’s my explanation: with a vertical spine, flex the abdominals, flex the glute on the side of the kneeling knee causing a posterior pelvic tilt, hold the position for 10 seconds, and perform two repetitions of 10 seconds per side.

  4. Purposeful stability, coordination, and further mobilization – I like to use specific weighted movements to begin coordinating the required muscles for squatting that also encourage optimal movement and stability. I watch too many people spend countless hours focusing on mobility. My favorite warm-up weighted movements are:
    • Westside ATP aka belt squat- 20 seconds marching, 20 seconds squatting with kettlebell, and 20 seconds hinging. Three sets of all this.
    • Potato sack kettlebell squats with 3 deep breaths at the bottom for 2-3 sets of 8 repetitions
    • Lying supine on a bench with a band around your feet unilateral knee to chest. Obviously one leg remains neutral in isometric contraction, while knee flexion is performed on the other side. This is a great way to warm up the hip flexor and the glutes. Do 1-2 sets of 8-10 slow and controlled repetitions per side.
  5. Create proximal stiffness with the McGill Big 3 – I recommend all of my athletes perform Dr. Stuart McGill’s recommended side planks, bird dogs, and curl-ups before squatting, deadlifting, or performing any of the Olympic movements. Those three movements help to create stiffness around the spine – and in the words of McGill, “proximal stiffness equals distal movement.” Basically if the muscles around the spine are stiff and stable, the body will allow the limbs to move freely throughout required ranges of motion.

Brace for PRs

Most strength coaches would agree the key to a big squat is a strong back. We have countless debates and discussions on the best ways to strengthen the back. We talk about good mornings, front squat carries, and other exercises designed to improve the strength of spinal extensors. However there is something much more critical for ensuring spinal extension during a massive squat, and that is proper bracing.

You would be surprised at the number of athletes who don’t understand how to brace. I was working with an Olympic hopeful weightlifter at a camp in 2017 for USA Weightlifting. He wasn’t one of mine, but I was surprised to find out he had never heard about bracing. This same young man had lived at the Olympic Training Center, and yet had never even heard of this simple concept. The lesson learned here was never assume the level of an athlete equates to them knowing the basics. I recommend never assuming anyone understands basics. Just like all the great coaches from all of our favorite sport, as coaches we should ensure our athletes perfect the basics.

Here are a few easy ways to ensure tightness around the spine:

  1. Hands as close as mobility will allow – This will create maximal stiffness in the upper back around the thoracic spine, which is where most of us fail during a squat. Close hands along with the Valsalva maneuver (we will discuss more in just a bit) will ensure optimal stiffness.
  2. Tuck elbows under the bar – Too many people let their elbows flare out, which also allows the scapula to flare out. In my experience, the muscles related to the scapula are the gateway to the spinal extensors. When the scapula flares, then the back especially in the thoracic spine area starts to flex or round. Every great squatter on the planet knows this leads to the death of any big squat.
  3. Root your feet in the ground – I like to think about the big toe, pinky toe, and heel as roots growing into the ground. I literally dig them in, and then perform a cork screw (external rotation) in the ground to activate the external rotators. This might not have any direct relationship to the spine, but I have found weak feet equals weak back.
  4. Learn to use a belt – The Valsalva maneuver is a pretty amazing tool to use. Simply put, you will breathe in as much air as possible into the belly, pressing out against your belt in the front, sides, and even in the back – while keeping the mouth shut and not letting any air escape. This technique causes massive amounts of tension around the lumbar spine, and any great strength athlete will tell you a stable spine is a stronger one.





Coach Travis Mash shows you how to simply and scientifically diagnose and fix your squat weaknesses. Squat Gainz also contains six supplementary squat-focused programs you can add to your current strength work to drive your squat through the roof.

I hope this article helps all of you achieve the squat of your dreams. Let this be a lesson in the barbell continuum – and by that I mean most of us start out on our barbell journey’s seeking to maximize the basics. Then somewhere along the way, we try to get super scientific and fancy, causing us to forget the basics. Then we get older and wiser, shifting back to realizing the basics are what gets us strong quickly and keeps us safe. For all of you young coaches and athletes, I recommend none of you ever quit trying to perfect the basics. The basics will lead to the personal records you are dreaming about, and the basics will keep you safe and healthy along your journey.

Listener Questions Answered – The Barbell Life 273

I love these podcasts.

I love answering listener questions because that way I know I’m actually helping people – actually telling you all something that you want to know. These are always tons of fun for me. I hope you guys enjoy them as well.

And we’ve got another awesome one today for you…





Coach Travis Mash shows you how to simply and scientifically diagnose and fix your squat weaknesses. Squat Gainz also contains six supplementary squat-focused programs you can add to your current strength work to drive your squat through the roof.


  • When do you push through pain and when do you stop?
  • Breaking squat plateaus
  • Rotator cuff warmups
  • Getting strong in CrossFit
  • Mobility and tendon health
  • and more…

Get Jacked in a Hurry

I was telling my father-in-law yesterday that I have written over one thousand articles since 2002.

I have always taken the outlook if I give as much as possible to all of you, the rest would take care of itself. For 17 years, I have been writing articles, making videos, and producing podcasts, so I could teach all of you the best ways to get strong and in shape. From 2002 until now, things have changed so much – and that change is what I am writing about today.


We are a busy society. The Internet has given us access to our businesses and customers we didn’t have before. We can always be posting, writing, or making videos, so now we are all busier than ever before. We want to train, and we want to get in better shape. However, the fact of the matter is time is limited.

This has been my reality since 2016. I have a growing family, a thriving business, and athletes who are competing all over the world on a monthly basis. I still desire to be strong and in shape, but I care more about my family, athletes, and customers than I care about my own fitness and strength. Are those bad priorities? That’s open for debate, but the fact is that’s the way it is. I am going to spend time with my family. I am going to communicate with my online team and ebook customers. I am going to focus on my in-house athletes.

However, I have found a way to get in shape without spending countless hours in the gym. As I write this, it sounds like an infomercial, but the difference is I am not selling anything. This is 100% for your benefit.

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From @coachtravismash : Great day training at @snapfitnesshr with @emilydrewmash with my new workout plan. Today’s workout: . -Standing Presses 5×3 working up to a 3RM at 9RPE . 1a. Deadlift 6-4-2 working up to 200kg/440lb x 2 (video shown) 1b. Split Stance Jammer Punches 3 x 5ea 1c. Battle Ropes with Squats 3 x 30 sec . 2a. DB Triceps Extensions 4 x 6 2b. Push downs 4 x 10 2c. Preacher Curls 3a. Step-Squat-Lunge mobility 3 x 8ea 3b. Battle Rope 3 x 30 sec . The goals of my workouts are as follows: -Time efficient 60-75 minutes -Strength is still a priority -Movement is a massive component -Bodybuilding to get jacked . These workouts are perfect for people in a hurry, master athletes, and pretty much everyone. . Now my question is: “Would you guys and gals want me to publish these workouts on here daily?” . If so, let me know what questions you have and what you’d like. 👀 the clothing from my favorite companies: wrist wraps and belt from @harbingerfitness @strongerexperts t-shirt #jamaica and my Pan Am Games @usa_weightlifting hat and shoes. . . . @intekstrength #intekstrength @athleteps @harbingerfitness #harbingerfitness @tfox66 #nikeweightlifting #athleteps @mg12power #mg12thepowerofmagnesium #wodfitters @wodfitters @strongerexperts #strongerexperts @leanfitnesssystems #LEANFit @shruggedcollective @andersvarner @usaweightlifting #usaw

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First let’s talk about the goals of the program, which happen to be my goals at this stage of life. Here’s what I am trying to do:

  • Get stronger – This will always be a priority because I love being strong.
  • Get fit – By ‘fit’ I mean more work capacity and better cardiovascular health.
  • Mobility is a key – At this stage of my life I want to be able to move and play sports with my children. I have a 19-year-old, 4-year-old, 2-year-old, and a 6-month-old. My 19-year-old is in college, but the other children are wild and crazy. They want to play sports, run around, and have fun.
  • Leave each workout feeling and moving better – I don’t like the word ‘feel’ because it is so subjective, but really I want my body to experience less inflammation and joint pain. With proper movement patterns and a solid warm up, this is definitely an achievable goal.
  • Get jacked – I have always loved bodybuilding. Yes, even at 46 years old I love chasing the pump. I might be known as a strength athlete and strength coach, but I am definitely a fan of bodybuilding. My desire for the iron was 100% inspired by Arnold, Ferrigno, and Colombu.

So is it possible to accomplish all of these goals in less than 75 minutes? Absolutely, if you have a focused plan, keep the head phones on, and quit the chitchat. Here are a few keys that are important for this to work:

  • a warm up that includes a lighter version of the strength focus on the day (ex. the bar only or 60kg/132lb) – pinpointing the joints that are trouble areas and pinpointing the joints required to perform the tasks at hand
  • a simple periodized approach to the strength movement on the day
  • a circuit-style approach for accessory work
  • a plan that includes bodybuilding movements, joint mobility work designed to improve movement deficiencies, and exercises designed to spark the heart rate
  • targeted strength movements that are also a part of the circuits for efficiency’s sake

Short on time in the gym? Here's the blueprint you need to follow.

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Day 1

Back Squat: 5 x 5 (75% minimum, working toward 5RM at 9 RPE)

Met Con 1
Hang Snatch: 3 x 5 at around 7 RPE
Leg Press: 3 x 10
Farmers Walk: 3 x 25 yards
Barbell Hip Thrusts (with strap around knees): 3 x 12

Met Con 2
Rower: 4 x 250m
Russian Baby Makers: 4 x 10
Lunge: 4 x 50-100m

Day 2

Bench Press: 5 x 5 (75% minimum, working toward 5RM at 9 RPE)

Circuit 1
Clean and Push Press: 5 x 1 + 5 at 70%
Barbell Bentover Row: 5 x 10 (65% minimum)
Weighted Pushups: 5 x 10

Circuit 2
Double Unders: 3 x 25 – 50
Spider Man Walks: 3 x 10 per leg
Weighted Dips: 3 x 10

Day 3

Deadlift (eccentric slower than concentric): 5 x 3 (83% minimum, working toward 3RM at 9 RPE)

Met Con
OH Squat: 4 x 5 (around 7 RPE)
Pullups Strict: 4 x submaximal reps (use weight if more than 10 per set)
TRX Leg Curl: 4 x 10

Circuit 2
Reverse Hypers: 3 x 45 sec
Step-Squat-Lunge (Hip Mobility): 3 x 10 per leg
Prowler Push: 3 x 25 yards (heavy)

Day 4

Clean and Jerk: 5 x 2 (start at 70% and work up to 8 RPE)

Circuit 1
Bench Press: 4 x 10 (start at 65% – work up if too easy)
Horizontal Bodyweight Rows: 4 x submaximal reps (2-sec pause at top of contraction)
Axle Bar Biceps Curls: 4 x 10

Circuit 2
Kettlebell Potato Squats: 4 x 6 (with three deep breaths in the bottom of squat)
Sled Drag Forward: 4 x 40 yards
Heavy Med Ball Throws for Height: 4 x 8
Sled Drag Backward: 4 x 40 yards

Day 5

Front Squat: 5 x 3 ( at minimum of 83% – with last set being 3+ leaving one in the tank)

Circuit 1
Kettlebell Goblet Squat on Belt Squat: 4 x 10
Hyperextensions with Bands:4 x 10
Barbell Lunges:4 x 10 each leg

Circuit 2
Side Lunges: 4 x 8 each side
One-arm Overhead Dumbbell Squats: 4 x 5 each arm
Dumbbell Power Cleans: 4 x 10
Steep Inclined Treadmill: 4 x 60 seconds


This workout shows you the way I would use this style of training to emphasize the movements I love – the snatch, clean and jerk, squat, bench, and deadlift. You can also see the way I am targeting optimal movement for my hips. As far as mobility, my hips are my only trouble spot.

Of course you can change the workout around to fit your own goals. For example, you can totally focus on the squat, bench press, deadlift, and strict press. This would allow for more frequency in those movements. Therefore you could achieve better neural efficiency in the movements that are more important to you as an individual.

There are a few more keys to living a healthy and strong life that I am applying to my life. I am trying to be active everyday with a minimum being to take a 10-minute walk. I am at the beach with my family right now. My wife Emily Drew and I totally took advantage of the public park yesterday. My workout was filled with dips, pushups, pull-ups, squats, rows, and explosive step-ups. We followed up this workout with a swim in the ocean.

It’s funny to see me transitioning to the stage of my life. I was consumed with a desire to lift the heaviest weights on the planet, which was all I cared about. It’s exciting to be entering this new world of fitness. Recently I have watched so many of my powerlifting and strongman friends die in their pursuit to be the strongest men on earth. I have four babies I want to watch grow up, and hopefully I will get to see them become parents. I want to be the most jacked grandfather on the planet – which will require me to live long enough for that to take place.

I will never be an aerobic fitness bunny hopping around in my tight outfit encouraging people to jump around with me, but I can get in better shape. I can encourage others to do the same. When I think about it, it’s a bit more fulfilling to inspire others to live longer and more healthy lives versus inspiring them to lift the most weight on the planet. With a little thought into the program, we can have both. Let’s lift some heavy weights and get fit. Coach Dan John has been preaching this for years. I want to see my athletes living long lives – heck, Morgan McCullough is my godson. I sure don’t want to see him dying early.

Yes, I want to pass the torch of strength to my children and my athletes. However, I want to pass the torch of health and fitness as well to my children and my incredible athletes. It seems way more fulfilling to coach balance rather than coaching absolute strength. As this workout evolves, I will pass it on to all of you more and more.

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Developing a Champion Culture

The word “culture” has become such buzzword over the last decade. The word is used in businesses, churches, and gyms.

Culture is an important part of our facilities and an important part of our teams.

So what is gym culture?


Here’s my definition of gym culture:

“Culture refers to the beliefs and behaviors of the members within a gym or team that affect training atmosphere, each other’s view of the mundane tasks required to be great, each other’s view of reality, and the interaction of members with each other inside and outside the training facility.”

Culture should be defined by the owner and cultivated by the coach. Normally the owner and coach are one and the same, as in my case. However, it’s probably optimal for the roles to be separate. In a perfect world, someone can be working on the business while someone is inside the business coaching the athletes. Both are full-time positions, but it’s tough to find good fits for each.

There was a time I thought “culture” was simply a buzzword with little to no value. I thought I would fill my gym with athletes, coach them up, and they would be great. Luckily I have the ability to draw athletes, so I did it. I started a gym in Advance, NC, and within a year or two we were filled with over two hundred young athletes – mostly high-school-aged. If you’ve never heard of Advance, NC, don’t sweat it because that’s my point.

However, filling a gym with athletes is one thing, while keeping those athletes and forming an optimal environment is another. The first thing I want to do is to define the real benefits of forming a solid culture as it relates to the bottom line and creating amazing athletes. If you understand the benefits of a great culture, you might be more inclined to work hard at developing the culture which fits your goals.

Benefits of a good culture:

  • Produces enthusiastic results
  • Cultivates lasting relationships
  • Increases referrals
  • Increases retention
  • Creates an entity that takes on a life of its own and people want to be a part of it


This five-part clinic series stands above all others as the most comprehensive event for coaches and athletes alike. Level up your knowledge of technique, programming, business, and coaching.

Culture of Chaos

In 2017 I had a massive team. At the 2017 National Championships, I had more athletes than any other coach. I thought I had a great team, but all I had was a lot of good athletes. There’s a big difference! I had collected a lot of talented athletes with no consideration for culture. I hadn’t even considered the kind of culture I wanted to nurture. Therefore I nurtured a culture of chaos. It was a lesson I will not soon forget.

It was Sean Waxman who brought this to my attention. It’s funny he could see my gym imploding all the way in California. Luckily I have a friend like him who’s not afraid to tell me the truth. He told me I was going to have to make some really tough decisions, or my entire gym was going to fall apart. It wasn’t long before I could see the exact thing he was talking about.

I found myself hating the gym and hating coaching for the first time in my life. For the first time in my life, driving to the gym was like driving to work – and that’s never what I want the gym to feel like.

To make a long story short, I decided to define my culture, to eliminate the athletes who didn’t fit, and to continue to nurture my desired outcome. Most coaches wait their entire careers for just one Team USA athlete, and I needed to get rid of several. This was the hardest task of my life.

Building a good culture

But when I defined our culture and cut some people, things improved. Our culture is now one where people strive to be their absolute best, and their actions match their goals. We have an atmosphere where everyone gets along, and there is absolutely zero drama tolerated. We have produced way more Team USA athletes with way fewer top ranked athletes. Most importantly, I love the gym again – and I love my athletes again.

You don’t have to be a Team USA athlete to train at our gym, but you do have to want to be the best you can possibly be. Last year in 2018 we had four athletes at the World Championships. In 2019, we have eight including our international athletes. We have cultivated an environment where people succeed. We don’t tolerate excuses anymore for anything. If you miss a lift, it was no one’s fault but your own.

For all of you trying to run a business, this environment is one people want to be a part of. It means more members – and more importantly, it means more happy members. It’s in this environment that relationships can be cultivated because we are all on the same path. I am not saying everyone is trying to make the Olympics. I’m saying everyone is trying to become the absolute best version of themselves, and that is relatable among all my members.

Building Relationships

Courtney Haldeman is one of my newer lifters. She’s also in nurse practitioner school. She might not end up in the Olympics like Hunter aims to be, but they both come in and give it their absolute best. The common goal is something they both can rally around. It’s in this culture they have become the best of friends. It’s all I ask of any of our members – to give all they have to give. I want them to learn lessons which will carry over in life way after sport is no longer a part of their personal lives.

When people are in an environment that fits their personality, with all the necessary tools to help them reach their goals (coaching, equipment, and team support), they will tell others. Those people will be their friends and coworkers who are like-minded, so now your gym/team will grow with people who are more likely to fit your culture.

Of course you will need to continuously remind your team/members exactly what the culture is, and sometimes you will have to coach your team members up on the culture – helping them grow into better athletes and people. It’s the biggest part of coaching in my opinion. People will always make mistakes. A good coach sees mistakes as opportunities for growth.

A defined culture filled with members referred by team members will grow a gym filled with people who feel at home. It’s in this environment very few people will ever quit. Therefore retention rates will be high, which is where most gyms fail. If we would only focus half as hard on keeping members, there would come a time in all of our gyms where new members would no longer be needed. If we would all focus on the culture of our gyms, we wouldn’t have to put as much effort into marketing and advertising. We could focus on what we love, which is coaching up our athletes to be better men and women.

Part of Something Special

My main point is the most important thing I want you to take away today – if you want to create something special which people will want to be part of, you have to focus on the culture of your gym. At this World Championships, I have eight athletes – four from the United States, one from Great Britain, two from Denmark, and one from Ireland. I’ve had three international athletes from Australia, one from New Zealand, and several from Canada. My point is we have created something special at Mash that people from around the world want to be a part of.

This has been a dream of mine since I started Mash Elite. I want to positively affect people from around the world with my love of the barbell. I want them to experience the same growth I have as a human. I want them to set big goals, focus on reaching those goal, exceed those goals, and them apply what they’ve learned to life.

Culture can help you create something much bigger than a gym. Westside Barbell is no longer a gym. It’s a way of life. I don’t share their same values, but I definitely desire to leave an impact on the world much like Louie Simmons has done. My favorite compliment ever was by Coach Joe Kenn, when he said I was becoming the Westside Barbell of weightlifting. Those are some big shoes to fill, but I definitely hope to influence the world outside of my gym’s four walls. I want the world to see the beauty of the barbell. I want the world to see all the lessons that can be learned from the piece of steel in their hands.


This five-part clinic series stands above all others as the most comprehensive event for coaches and athletes alike. Level up your knowledge of technique, programming, business, and coaching.

If you want to create something special, you better start focusing on the culture of your gym today. I am going to tell you just like Coach Waxman told me. If you want to build a place that is sustainable for athletes, you better pay attention to what’s going on. Athletes will come and go as they get older or lose interest, but you are there to stay. You better like what you have created, or nothing will last very long. I hope all of you will create entities that will last several generations after all of us are gone from this earth. That’s the real test.

Martin Rooney on Training for Warriors and Being Strong as You Age – The Barbell Life 269

Martin Rooney has been in the coaching game for a long time.

He is a master of preparing athletes for the NFL combine, but he’s also well-known for being the creator of Training for Warriors.

Coach Rooney is an expert at getting people strong and fast – but doing it in a way that prepares them for life. This is particularly important as we get older. You can’t train the same way at 50 and at 25 – and life’s demands aren’t the same for you at 50 and at 25.


This five-part clinic series stands above all others as the most comprehensive event for coaches and athletes alike. Level up your knowledge of technique, programming, business, and coaching.


  • What can you expect at 35 years old
  • His opinions on metcons and kettlebell training
  • It’s not about your workout, it’s about…
  • Getting stronger in your 50s
  • Dangers of the deadlift
  • and more…

Pyrros Dimas: Stop Humping the Bar

During the Junior Pan American Championships in Cuba, I had the chance to sit down with Pyrros Dimas and Mike Gattone to discuss technique.

In case you don’t know, Pyrros and Mike are basically USAW’s head coaches at international events. Pyrros’s official title is Technical Director, and Mike’s is Senior Director of Sport Performance. Pyrros is a three-time Olympic Gold Medalist, and Mike has been coaching for thirty years. Mike coached the Tara Nott – Olympic Gold Medalist. What I am trying to explain is that between the two, they possess a wealth of knowledge. You would have to be a fool not to at least listen to these wise men.


We ended up discussing all of my individual Team USA athletes, and then the conversation turned to Pyrros’s observations of America in general. Over the last few years under the leadership of Phil Andrews (USAW’s CEO), American weightlifting has exploded. During the last Olympic quad, Americans talked about “making the world team at the Olympics.” Now we are medaling at every international competition. Heck, now our teams are winning the big events. For example, at the Youth Worlds, the men’s and women’s teams both won the team competition. That was a first in American weightlifting history.

With all the “new normal” happening, Pyrros explained a couple of things that still have to happen before American weightlifting can truly dominate:

  1. Identify and recruit younger ages to create pure weightlifters.
  2. Stop humping the bar.

As far as identifying and recruiting younger athletes, I totally agree. It’s so much easier to develop athletes when you get them young. I have two incredible youth athletes, Ryan Grimsland and Morgan McCullough. I have several others who have the ability to become incredible. It’s simply easier to teach athletes at a young age. They don’t have faulty movement patterns to unlearn. For the most part, they aren’t distracted by life events like college, work, and relationships.

Morgan Snatch

I have found the earlier you can get an athlete, the better. The goal early on is development regarding technique, strengthening positions, and work capacity. Competition at an early age is also very important to prepare the athletes mentally to excel on the platform where it counts. Proper development during these younger years prepares the athletes to explode when they are prime for international competition – usually between the ages of 18-28 (this is just an average with some athletes peaking much later).

USA Weightlifting has a grassroots and recruitment specialist, Suzy Sanchez, who is working hard to recruit new athletes to ensure the success of USA Weightlifting for years to come. It’s my belief we need to focus in this area for stage two of “make America unbeatable forever.” I’d like to see some of the top American coaches form a committee to brainstorm this area, giving positive feedback to the folks at USA Weightlifting. However, this article isn’t about this goal. (I will write more about that in a later article.)

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“Humping the Bar”

This article is in reference to Pyrros’s second observation of American weightlifting and how lifters “hump the bar.” Let me explain this deficiency a little more clearly. He’s talking about the athlete beginning the second pull too early and reaching for the bar with his or her hips – pushing the bar on a more horizontal course. The goal is to use one’s legs as long as possible during the initial pull while squeezing the bar close to the body. Any horizontal displacement of the bar’s path will lead to a missed lift.

I am going to explain the first and second pull briefly. Then I am going to tell you a few mistakes Pyrros pointed out. Finally, I am going to explain how I am trying to counter those mistakes with my own team.

First and Second Pull

Let’s look at bar path first:

  • Off the floor the bar should travel either straight up or preferably a bit toward the body
  • The bar bath should continue to travel straight up or slightly back toward the body – with the athlete extending their legs, sweeping the bar into the body with their lats, maintaining an angle of the torso with the shoulders well above the hips, and keeping the shoulders over and slightly in front of the bar.
  • The first pull should last until the bar is as far above the knees as possible with the knees having cleared the road for the barbell. Don McCauley used to say “pretend the legs are longer than they really are.”
  • The second pull begins when the legs have extended. At that point, the hips begin the move to create the power position with the feet staying flat and pressing forcefully into the ground. The weight should be centered now in the middle of the feet.
  • The power position is formed when the feet are preferably flat, knees bent four to six inches, shoulders on top of the bar, arms long, and elbows out. Of course there are examples of athletes being successful with slight variances of each, but this is the optimal position.
  • The completion of the second pull happens when the hips and knees extend violently with the shoulders extending vertical and then slightly back.

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After a long talk with @pyrrospyrros and @mgattone64 I have implemented a whole new system for our accumulation and preparation phases. The goal is to correct what @pyrrospyrros believes is the number one issue with American weightlifting and that’s humping the bar. He explained that we needed to focus on using our legs even more during the pull while exemplifying patience with staying over the bar. I’m also working on consistency with getting the bar in towards the body off the floor. In this video, I am demonstrating a few of the ways that we are working to fix these three issues (using our legs, staying over the bar, and sweeping the bar in off the floor. I am going to finish a longer video and article tonight for you guys. Enjoy this clip. FYI it’s pretty cool to see 17-year-old @ryangrimsland totaling 250kg with this complex. Lots of progress in only two weeks with lots more to do. This is one of many examples of @usa_weightlifting working together on the one solitary goal of making American Weightlifting dominant. I appreciate this so much @a.phil . =================== <link in bio> for: . – Mash Mafia Online Team . -Hundreds of Free Articles & Workouts . -Donate to the 501c3 nonprofit team . – 22 Awesome E-Books . -Seminars . -Online Video Seminar . -FREE “Mash Method” E-Book . -FREE “The Barbell Life Podcast” . . @intekstrength #intekstrength @athleteps @harbingerfitness #harbingerfitness @tfox66 #nikeweightlifting #athleteps @mg12power #mg12thepowerofmagnesium #wodfitters @wodfitters @strongerexperts #strongerexperts @leanfitnesssystems #LEANFit @shruggedcollective @andersvarner @usaweightlifting #usaw

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Problems Pyrros Identified

The three mistakes that Pyrros pointed out in several American weightlifters are as follows:

  • The bar traveling away from the body during the initial pull
  • Pushing the hips past vertical to meet the bar, causing horizontal displacement
  • Beginning the second pull way too early

I let his comments resonate for several days while looking at the pull of my athletes. As a whole we are great at the clean and jerk, but several of my athletes are slightly lacking in the snatch. Even though a few of my athletes are incredible in the snatch – such as Hunter Elam – we aren’t as consistent in the snatch as compared to the clean and jerk.

As a coach, the only way to ensure your team is improving is to objectively analyze the performances of your athletes. If you want to believe your training program and technique are superior to the entire world with no room for improvement, then you are doomed to never improve. I have no pride when it comes to my abilities as a coach. I only have a desire to be the best coach, and therefore giving my athletes the best possible chance for success.

Implementing Solutions

After pondering Mike’s and Pyrros’s advice and analyzing my own team, here is what I set out to improve with my team:

  • Bar traveling back off the floor
  • Pushing with the legs longer while staying out over the bar
  • Strengthening the optimal pulling position

These are the exercises and cues we are using:

1. Lift off to knees – We are using lift off to the knees with both the snatch and clean. The goal is to focus on the initial pull coming in toward the body off the floor. We are thinking about pushing with the legs versus pulling, sweeping, or squeezing the bar in with the lats, setting the back tight by tucking the scapula together and down, bracing at the core with the valsalva maneuver, and lifting the chest. The main cues I am using are: push, squeeze, and lift.

In case you don’t know, a “lift off” is simply pulling the bar to slightly above the knees working on that initial pull. A lift off is followed by the full lift with a snatch or clean. I tell all of my athletes to perform the pull of the full movement slowly during warm ups to ensure the proper bar path is being used. We’ve only been doing this plan for two weeks, and so far the difference has been quantifiably excellent. We still have room for improvement, but I’ll take bar path improvements of any degree.

2. Hang Snatch Pulls hovering two inches from floor with a five-second eccentric – Pyrros gave me the idea of slower eccentric hang snatches and hang cleans, but I added this variation with just the pulls. The main reason is the ability to add more repetitions without the threat of decreased technical proficiency. I wanted more repetitions to further ingrain the better movement pattern into the athletes’ CNS, and I wanted to take things to the 5RM range for optimal hypertrophy. For a lot of my younger athletes, it’s simply a matter of strength. They aren’t able to hold those positions out over the bar for as long as is required for best results.

The hang assures constant tension along with the hovering two inches from the ground. Too many athletes set the bar down, and then take 30 seconds between repetitions. It becomes another whole repetition prescription with that much rest between repetitions. The whole goal for this exercise is to strengthen the pull of the snatch with a more optimal position. Therefore if you can’t maintain the position I discussed earlier, you should cut the weight or stop the exercise. This entire block is designed to perfect our athletes’ pull, so precision is everything.


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3. Hang Snatch hovering two inches from floor with a five-second eccentric – This movement is the same as the preceding one except the athlete is actually snatching. This movement is performed lighter with more sets to ensure the precise technique is being used. We are literally using something pull-related every day during this accumulation block to ingrain the optimal pattern into the brains of our athletes.

This movement starts from the hang (bar at the crease of the hip with the athlete standing erect). The athlete takes five seconds to lower the weight to around two inches from the floor before exploding upward into a hang snatch. During the snatch, the athlete should make sure to extend their legs and sweep the bar in with the lats – while keeping their shoulders over the bar for as long as possible, maintaining the angle of their torso for as long as possible.

4. Snatch Pulls off four-inch blocks – Here’s one all of you are probably familiar with. I like to use this exercise to overload the pull in the snatch and the clean. However the key is maintaining the proper position. This is a good exercise to push past 100% of an athlete’s maximum, but only if proper positions can be maintained. If there is any breakdown in movement, the exercise ends. In this case, we are really emphasizing using the extension of the legs, sweeping the bar close off of the floor, and maintaining a good angle at the torso with the athletes’ shoulders out over the bar.

5. Snatch Pull to hip paused at hip three seconds + Snatch – This is one of my favorite exercises we are using right now to improve the positions of our athletes. This is an exaggerated pull where the emphasis is completely extending the legs while staying out over the bar. If an athlete completely extends their legs while maintaining a good angle of the torso (shoulders well above the hips), the bar will be somewhere around the hip crease with their legs extended. The three-second pause is our way of using an isometric contraction to stabilize the proper position. An isometric contraction is the best way to strengthen a joint at a specific angle – in this case the knee joint, hip joint, and all of the intervertebral joints. Isometric contractions are also great for strengthening the joint slightly below and above the specific joint.

Since the goal is to practice the improved pull and to strengthen the specific joint angles, we are using more repetitions for the pull than the actual snatch. For example – in week one, we performed three snatch pulls with a three-second pause and one snatch. During the snatch, the goal is to really focus on maintaining the drive in the legs to further ingrain the proper movement in the athlete’s brain. I recommend my athletes perform the pull during the snatch slowly during the warm up sets to perfect our emphasis during this stage of training.

6. Clean Pull to hip paused at upper thigh/hip three seconds + Clean + Jerk – This is of course the exact same thing as the snatch pull to hip + snatch, except we are focusing on the clean. With most athletes, when their legs are extended, the bar will be somewhere around the upper thigh – give or take a few inches due to arm length.

7. Lasha Snatch Pulls – I’ve had several people ask me about this movement. This is where the conversation started with Pyrros and Mike. Pyrros showed me a video of the famous Georgian heavyweight Lasha Talaxadze performing pulls while completely staying over the bar, violently extending his legs, and remaining flat footed the entire pull. There’s a shrug that happens from the momentum caused by his awesome extension. He keeps his arms long and loose, which allows them to move quickly after extension. Here’s the video on Instagram brought to you by “All Things Gym.”

This type of pull will lead to a more powerful pull, a better bar path, and a faster turnover with an athlete’s arms. Overall this pull will help my athletes emphasize a better technique and a stronger position. Right now we are using it once per week, but I will probably take this to two times per week after this first block. We are simply doing so many pull-emphasis movements that I thought adding one more day of Lasha Pulls might be too much.

8. No-Hook-No-Feet Snatch + Hang Snatch below knee with five-second eccentric – No hook and no feet snatches are great for emphasizing a better bar path without the athlete having to think too much about the movement. Without a hookgrip, most athletes will keep the bar close to them naturally to avoid losing their grip. Of course it will also emphasize better timing at the top of the lift as well, since the athlete will have to rely on the pull under versus up. Once again, we are using a five-second eccentric during the hang snatch to further strengthen the proper movement and position.

9. Clean Deadlifts with mini-Bands – eccentric slower than concentric – If you want to strengthen your pull in a way that recruits more fibers throughout the pull, this is the exercise for you. I just performed this movement recently – and man, did I get sore. The bands are great, but the slow eccentric portion is the key to strengthening the pull with perfect positions. Of course the athlete should be cut off if they can’t maintain a good position throughout the pull. I prescribe taking this movement heavier as long as they can maintain proper movement and positions.

If you are a strength and conditioning coach, this movement is great for getting any athlete as strong as possible. This is one of the movements that helped me personally obtain an 800-pound deadlift. If you are a weightlifting coach, this will strengthen your athletes in a way that will transfer to the sport. Accommodating resistance will teach the body to recruit fibers throughout the pull, leading to an explosive second pull. As the band lengthens, it adds more and more resistance to the pull with maximal load at the top.

10. Barbell Hyperextensions, Reverse Hypers, and Rows – All of our accessory movements are designed to strengthen the posterior chain, so the athletes can gain the strength required to maintain a solid position during the pull. The spinal extensors should be the key muscles targeted, so the athlete can gain the strength to stay out over the bar for as long as possible. Of course, we are trying to strengthen the hamstrings, glutes, and the entire back. Personally, my favorite movement to strengthen the spinal extensors is the goodmorning. However, during this phase we are performing so many pull exercises that adding the goodmorning might be a bit too much on the back. We will probably add the goodmorning in to our program during the next block.

I hope this article gives you all the ideas necessary to improve the pull of your athletes or yourself for that matter. I am grateful for men like Pyrros Dimas and Mike Gattone. We have an amazing family at USA Weightlifting thanks to the leadership of Phil Andrews. I am proud to be a part of this family.

These movements will be great for athletes as well, since the focus is strengthening the posterior chain. If you want strong, explosive, and durable athletes, you might want to try a few of these exercises.


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