Category Archives for "Functional Fitness"

Understanding the Olympic Lifts Before Teaching Them

I am a huge proponent of teaching the Olympic lifts – the snatch and clean and jerk. They are great movements for sports performance, at times general fitness, and for competitive sport of course.

For sports performance, you get the most bang for your buck when performing these Olympic lifts. For starters, you get a pull, a squat, and an overhead press with one movement versus three separate movements. In a field where time is everything, you can’t beat it. You also get:

  • force absorption when you meet the bar during the catch phase.
  • power production which is second to none in the weight room.
  • kinesthetic awareness as you learn to move around a heavy bar in space.
  • mobility because it is required with these movements.
  • core stability – especially in the torso as it stabilizes during the pull and catch phase.

If you are coaching general fitness, CrossFit has shown us all that the Olympic movements are great for coaching adults… if the adults are able to perform the movements properly. A simple assessment using the front squat, overhead squat, snatch deadlift, and the strict press will tell you if the athlete is capable of performing the movements. This goes for athletes and general fitness adults. If they can’t perform these four movements, then you probably need to start with teaching them these four movements and helping them improve their movement patterns.

Guys, a 40-year-old accountant who has been strapped to his desk and computer for the last twenty years isn’t prepared to snatch. They might never be prepared to snatch. That’s ok! They can do other movements that will improve their mobility and strength without hurting them. This is part of the main point of this article. As coaches we have to be experts in what we are teaching. If we aren’t experts, then we shouldn’t be teaching.

Last of course, the snatch and clean and jerk are great movements for competitive sport. At Mash, we coach some of the best weightlifters in the world. However, if you want to coach the sport, you dang well better understand the movements and the ins and outs of the sport. FYI there are a lot of ins and outs. Too many athletes get burned out and/or hurt by coaches who simply don’t understand the sport. It never fails, no matter how many ‘how to’ videos and articles I produce, we see rookie coaches who literally have no idea what they are doing at meets.

KNOW YOUR CRAFT

Here’s the main point of this article: If you don’t know how to teach the Olympic lifts, please don’t try and teach them. If you are dead set on teaching them, then take a USA Weightlifting Level 1 Coaching Course and get a foundation. From there, find a mentor near you to shadow and ask questions. I’ve had so many great mentors over the years who have helped me with the lifts – like Coach Sean Waxman, Coach Don McCauley, and Coach Kevin Doherty. Don’t let your ego get in the way. Your athletes deserve better.

I am not talking about specific technique, degree of plantar flexion, or how much to move one’s feet. I will save all of that for a pure weightlifting article. I am talking about teaching the lifts in a way where the athletes will be able to perform the competitive lifts safely and in a manner where the aforementioned benefits will be realized by the athletes. I am going to break the concerns into two categories: Safety concerns and performance concerns.

Safety Concerns

There are four main things I am looking for to determine the safety of the Olympic lifts:

  • Properly tracking feet and knees
  • Neutral spine
  • Safe rack position in the clean
  • Safe overhead position in the jerk and snatch

Properly tracking feet and knees: Two days ago I got into a Twitter argument with a lady about a video I posted. I had found a video of one of her athletes on a meme account on Instagram performing the worst clean I have ever seen. First he was performing the clean with some sort of free moving machine, which was the first mistake. Regardless if they were using a machine or a barbell, you always want the athlete pulling, catching, and squatting with knees that track with the first two toes (big toe and pointer toe). Significant amounts of valgus or varus (knees inside the feet or knees outside the feet) are bad for an athlete over time and can cause injury if left untreated. The athlete was demonstrating massive amounts of knee valgus during the pull and the catch phase. The worst part of the whole thing is the coach had no idea they were putting the athlete at risk. One could wonder – what made the coach believe they were qualified to coach athletes? I tried to offer the coach free help to teach them basic biomechanics, but instead of taking me up on the offer she just tried to make excuses and defend their style of training. Coaches – don’t let a silly thing like pride keep you from improving in your chosen craft.

Neutral Spine: Keeping a neutral spine is the most important part of the equation for the safety of the athlete. During a deadlift there is some pretty good evidence that pulling with a flexed thoracic spine will not end up in injury – noting that’s when the athlete begins the pull with a flexed spine and maintains that degree of flexion throughout the pull. When your spine starts moving while in motion and under load – that’s when injury can quickly yield its ugly face. Personally, I have never had any back issues since adhering to the teachings of Dr. Stuart McGill. As far as I know, he’s performed more research on the spine, especially where sport is concerned, than any other scientist of his kind. Therefore, I have to go with neutral spine most of the time with my athletes.

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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.

When it comes to the dynamic Olympic lifts, I recommend neutral spine all of the time. If you let your spine flex during the dynamic pull of the snatch or clean, you are asking for a major injury. If your spine flexes during the catch portion, you are putting yourself at significant risk by flexing with a massive load at those speeds.

If you are a sport athlete, you will negate the benefits of force absorption if you catch with a flexed spine. The goal is to teach the athlete to absorb force with a flat back (aka neutral spine), so they can then turn around and deliver the blow to their opponent. If you watch really good rugby players or NFL football players, you will notice their backs never budge during collisions.

Safe rack position in the clean: There are a few necessities when it comes to the rack position in the clean. An athlete will be required to have optimal shoulder protraction and elevation to form the resting position for the bar. The bar will sit behind the front delt and in front of the traps. There is a nice little crevice for the bar to rest in between the delt and trap if the athlete has proper shoulder protraction. The athlete will also be required to have good lat and triceps mobility to allow for proper elbow height as well as good mobility to allow the elbows to get around and up in a quick fashion.

If the athlete can’t get into a good position, they are at risk of hurting their wrists – especially on a mistimed clean – causing the elbows to hit the knees and trapping the bent wrists with the barbell. The collarbones are at risk if the athlete can’t protract and elevate their shoulders. Athletes have actually broken their collarbones over time by not having proper rack positions.

Safe overhead position in the jerk and snatch: If you want to see a bad overhead position in the snatch, simply visit a poorly coached CrossFit. If the coaching staff is forcing all members to snatch, you will see some middle-aged adults trying to snatch with techniques that will make your skin crawl. I am not talking about simply bad technique. I am talking about snatches that are literally risking the orthopedic health of the athletes with each and every repetition.

EVALUATING WHEN WE SHOULD NOT TEACH

I’ve got news for you all. Some people are never going to perform a proper snatch. If they have been working at a desk for the last twenty years and have naturally poor movement, they are going to be restricted. Some are never going to get the movement required to snatch, and that’s okay. They simply want to be healthy. It’s our jobs as professionals to help them get healthy without hurting them.

A snatch requires shoulder mobility and spine mobility, especially in the thoracic spine. The scapula will need to move properly as well. The athlete will be required to place the bar at arm’s length somewhere over the ears or slightly behind that line. The athlete will need to maintain a neutral spine and be able to keep their ribcage down. If they can’t keep their ribcage down, they are getting movement from their lumbar spine as opposed to the thoracic spine. The lumbar spine is meant to be stable during loaded movements. When it starts moving under load, an injury is probably going to occur.

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For a good coach, there are several other options for adults – like snatch pulls, dumbbell snatches, kettlebell snatches, or snatch pulls from blocks. Meanwhile, you can work on their mobility unloaded in a safe manner. The goal is to have your adults leaving your facility feeling better than when they walked in. They shouldn’t be driving home cringing in pain from snatches they weren’t meant to do.

Some coaches use the excuse that their adults won’t listen to them. I’ve heard coaches say their adults want to do what everyone else is doing, so they grab a bar and start snatching even though their coach had told them not to. My response is for them to be the professional. It’s all about communication. Your athletes/clients have to trust that you have their best interest at heart, and they have to believe you possess the knowledge to best lead them in a direction most suited for them.

Let me be clear on something: I am not just talking to CrossFit coaches working with adults. I am talking to you coaches working with young athletes. If you can’t teach the movement proficiently, then you shouldn’t teach the lifts at all. You can always learn to teach a perfect squat, pull, press, and row. Then you can add in some plyometrics and med ball throws to have a perfect program. The Olympic lifts are only awesome if taught properly.

Let me end by saying the Olympic lifts are great movements. But they are only as good as the coach teaching them. If you are a strength and conditioning coach, put your time in and learn the lifts properly. You can normally find a weightlifting coach in your area who would love to mentor you on the movements. CrossFit coaches – you need to do the same thing. All coaches need to realize not everyone is ready to learn the Olympic lifts. You need to always have regressions in your toolbox. Your athletes trust you, and they believe you have their best interest in mind. It’s up to us meet these expectations.

Top Movements for Strength and Conditioning

Lately, my greatest mission has been to improve the quality of strength and conditioning around our country. It seems my focus has been on high schools and middle schools, but really I aim to help all coaches. That’s right, my aim is to help you guys and gals.

There are times I post videos on Twitter mainly to shed light on the need for change. Yeah it might hurt some feelings, but a lot of you don’t even realize there’s a problem. No one really governs our industry, so there’s no reason any of you should know there are issues.

And that’s the problem! When sport coaches are hiring strength and conditioning professionals, there is an inherent challenge. How do these sport coaches know the first thing about strength and conditioning?

So instead of complaining, I decided to do something about it in the way of helping you all. My goal is to help you all through articles like this one and videos. That way I can at least do my part.

The Barbell

The first thing I want to talk about is exercise selection.

The good thing about the Internet is that people get introduced to our industry via videos thousands of times per day. The problem is that people are getting introduced to junk multiple times per day. How do new people to our industry know the difference between a good coach and a bad coach?

The Internet is also a temptation for money-hungry coaches to post videos that are more for show than for performance. When you see videos of lifts being performed with bosu balls, slide boards, or an excessive amounts of bands, you can rest assured that the video is for show only.

Look, there are only a few movements that are scientifically proven to improve performance. I have no problem adding in some new movements as long as the main movements that we know work are the core of what you are doing. If your Instagram Page is filled with bosu balls, bands attached to every limb on your body, and other circus tricks – I know right away you are simply trying to get followers and money.

Last week, someone asked the question, “Can you call yourself a strength and conditioning gym without owning one barbell?” You already know my answer was that you absolutely can not. It has nothing to do with the fact that I love the barbell movements. My answer has to do with science.

Science has proven that certain barbell movements directly affect athletic performance in the way of faster sprint times and vertical leap. There is no doubt the barbell can help improve those two markers. However, there is so much more the barbell helps to improve:

  • Power production
  • Force production
  • Force absorption
  • Hypertrophy
  • Kinesthetic awareness
  • Reduced injury rates
  • Work capacity
  • Absolute strength and muscle control
  • Rate of force development
  • Motor unit recruitment
  • Synchronization of motor units
  • Core stability as it relates to the body on the field of play (standing upright)
  • All qualities of strength with velocity based training

As you can see the barbell is irreplaceable.

So can you open a strength and conditioning facility without the barbell? Well yes, I can jump off a cliff if I want to… but it’s going to be a bad idea. I could use kettlebells, dumbbells, and sandbags – but that is still not optimal for my athletes to maximize their potential. If you’re training adults in general fitness, it would totally be fine to use these instruments as long as you are quantifying their improvement. If you want to train top athletes like I do, you are going to need to use the barbell.

The Big Five Movements

Now that I have cleared that up, what barbell movements are essential for strength and conditioning? I could give a long list and make an argument for each, but I am going to narrow it down to five.

I want to provide younger coaches a go-to list to master and implement. When you master the five movements, then you can slowly add in other movements if you deem that necessary.

However, if you master these five, you will have a top rate facility, and your athletes will benefit from these movements that will help them reach their goals.

The Squat

No doubt that the daddy of all lifts is the back squat. Research has proven that the squat can be directly attributed to increases in speed and vertical leap. Bryan Mann actually set out to prove that the clean was superior in these areas, but his research proved that the squat was dominant.

With the use of velocity based training, the back squat can be used to improve every quality of strength (absolute, accelerative, strength speed, speed strength, and starting strength). However, the goal for the first few years of training should be absolute strength. If you read Coach Mann’s articles and books, you will learn that absolute strength will directly improve all qualities of strength for the first couple of years. Once your max reaches two times your own body weight, you can start spending training blocks on qualities of speed that will be more specific to your sport.

The back squat will also strengthen the body in a way that will prepare athletes for battle. All you have to do is think about all the joints that are strengthened with the squat: ankles, knees, hips, and all intervertebral joints. Basically the squat helps to bulletproof the body. If you are a football player, strengthening the back to absorb the impact of collisions is a must. You are asking your athletes to get into small car wrecks each and every day. To prepare the body for that kind of trauma, you are going to need to put a load on the body forcing adaptation where you need it.

If you coach or you are a parent to a soccer player, you know all to well that knee injuries are everywhere in the sport – especially for female athletes due to their steeper Q-angles. I laugh when parents tell me that squats are dangerous, especially when their children play soccer. Parents put them in a sport that causes more knee injuries than any other sport on the planet, and they let them play year round without any strength training. It’s almost like they want to see them get injured.

Look, if you are a parent, you better have your soccer player squatting to strengthen their knees. I bet you don’t drive your car everyday year round without getting any maintenance performed on it. Why do you do that with your children? I once had a parent get mad at me because my battle rope was too heavy for their middle school daughter – making it dangerous for her. Yet the same parent had that same little girl playing year round soccer and sometimes for multiple teams at a time. Are you kidding me?

One thing to consider is maybe using front squats if you are in a busy high school. Front squats don’t require spotting since the athlete simply dumps it forward if they can’t complete the lift. This will take one worry away from the coach. And if you are coaching 30+ people at a time, you will appreciate one less worry. Front squats are superior for strengthening the back, and almost as good as the back squat for strengthening the quads. I’ll take it as a win when you eliminate spotting catastrophes.

I definitely want to mention variations because they can be very helpful regarding specificity. For example, squat jumps at around 40% and quarter squats have been shown to improve speed and vertical leap at a faster rate than full depth squats. However, these two movements work after an athlete has spent a couple of years maximizing absolute strength. I would recommend shooting for 2 or 2.5 times body weight in a full depth squat to maximize the results of these partial movements. One reason that these partial depth movements are so effective is that the angles of the joints are more specific to sprinting and jumping. Once again, specificity is king.

The Clean

Power production is maximized with this movement. Let’s take a look at the numbers in this figure courtesy of USAW:

Power Production

As you can see, the Olympic lift movements are five or more times the traditional power lifts. This quality makes adding at least one of the Olympic movements a necessity – not to mention the other factors that make the clean an incredible choice:

  • Force absorption. Personally this is my favorite quality of this movement, especially for my football players. When you catch a 300 pound clean over and over, this prepares the body for taking on 200-300 pound athletes on the field of play.
  • Kinesthetic awareness. This is learning to understand how your body moves through space. I coach some of the best weightlifters in the world, ranging in ages from 10 to 50. If you visit my gym on any given day, you will find them out back walking on their hands, performing back flips, and doing other crazy circus tricks. My point is they are all very aware of their bodies in space. When you are floating through space with 300 pounds and suddenly catching the weight on your chest or overhead, you learn to understand where your body is in space.
  • Mobility. Practicing the Olympic movements frequently will obviously contribute to improved mobility. If you know any weightlifters, then you know they are some of the most mobile athletes on the planet. The completion of the lifts requires ankle, hip, and thoracic spine mobility. When you perform these movements on a daily basis, the body adapts to required movement. Athletically optimal movement trumps strength. However when you pair movement and strength, you get a dominant athlete.

OPEN UP NEW POSSIBILITIES IN STRENGTH

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The Push Press

This is where my opinion differs from a lot of traditional strength and conditioning coaches. Up until recently the bench press has been the king of the upper body movements for most strength and conditioning coaches. But when it comes to power production (the ability to move weight quickly through space), the push press is supreme to the bench press. However, there is something that makes it even more specific to sport.

The bench press is performed lying down on your back. Specificity wise, the only time that happens is when you get knocked down. The push press originates with massive knee and hip extension followed by an upper body push, which is similar to all athletic movements that involve the upper body: throwing a baseball, punching, throwing a football, or shot put. If you’re a football player either taking on a block or delivering a block, it’s a very similar movement. The funny thing is that I have always noticed an increase in an athlete’s bench press after an increase in their push press. I can’t explain this relationship, but I’ve witnessed the phenomenon time and time again.

When you top this movement off with the benefits to the core and the overhead stability, you have the perfect upper body movement. I want to be clear that I do not hate on the bench press. Heck, I was a world record holder in the bench press – and I love the pump we all get from a massive bench session. However when it comes to benefits to sport, the edge has to go to the push press.

The Deadlift

Dan John once said that the deadlift is the best movement for bulletproofing football players. I’d agree.

Have you ever seen a good deadlifter with a weak neck or weak back? I know I sure haven’t. The deadlift is excellent for developing the back – especially the spinal erectors, the hips (glutes and hamstrings), and the quads. The deadlift can directly be attributed to increases in speed and jumping, just like the squat – not to mention the angles of the hips and knees are more specific to sprinting and jumping.

The trap bar deadlift has been shown to be even more effective for improving sprint times and vertical leaps. The center of mass is in a more advantageous spot as well making the lift easier to teach and bit safer. Either trap bar or barbell deadlifts are both great movements for athletes regarding injury prevention and optimizing performance.

Along with the squat, the deadlift is the most functional movement on earth. Our life is spent picking things up and squatting down, so it’s safe to say that both the squat and the deadlift are great for improving overall wellbeing. A lot of people refuse to deadlift because they say the deadlift hurts too many people. Guys, if you are hurting people with the deadlift, you don’t know how to teach the movement. If you can’t deadlift, how in the world is a wrestler ever going to throw their opponent? If you focus on establishing a fairly neutral spine and you understand the hinge pattern, the deadlift is one of the safest movements on earth. It’s also a great movement for making sure you don’t get hurt playing other sports.

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Heavy Carries

Bringing up the rear are heavy carries. Too many people talk about building the core without having the first idea about what that phrase really means. The core is every muscle that supports the spine and pelvis. As an athlete you want to strengthen the core in a way that relates to sports, which means you want to strengthen the core in a vertical manner. That means you want the core strong while standing upright or running in an upright posture.

Newsflash: performing lots of crunches and sit-ups isn’t a great core workout. Performing sit-ups and crunches is a great way to teach the torso to be a flexed position, which is the last place most athletes want to be in. Heavy carries are the best way I know to build the core in a vertical manner.

We use the following versions of the carry:

  • Bilateral Farmer’s Walk
  • Unilateral Farmer’s Walk
  • Front Squat Rack Position Carries
  • Zercher Carries
  • Axle Bar Overhead Carries
  • Fat Grip Dumbbell Carries

You are strengthening the traps, pelvis, and grip with the farmer’s walk. Dr. Stuart McGill has some good research stating that farmer’s walk will improve speed, especially change of direction because the pelvis down to the foot gets strengthened so much with each step. The supporting leg will take on the entire load making that joint sturdy and able to absorb massive amounts of force. The front squat and Zercher carries shift even more of the load to the spinal erectors making these carries super specific to strength sports like weightlifting and powerlifting – not to mention football for absorbing those big hits. The overhead carries are excellent for overhead stability, making these carries awesome for baseball players.

Others

I have to give the following movements honorable mention as important movements to strength and conditioning:

  • Pullup
  • Dip
  • Pushup
  • Bentover Row
  • Reverse Hyper
  • Bench Press
  • Barbell Hyperextension
  • Goodmorning
  • RDL
  • Snatch
  • Overhead Squat
  • Lunge
  • Rear Leg Elevated Split Squat

A Sample Program

I also put together a nice little four day per week workout for you guys that could literally be used ongoing for your athletes. Let’s take a look at it, and then I will explain it a bit more in detail at the end.

Strength Block
Day 1 Week 1

Push Presses (If possible and if not strict presses) – 5 x 5 at 75%
Back Squat – 5 x 5 at 75%
Overhead Fat Grip Dumbbell Carries – 4 x 20 yd each arm, building to a 9 RPE Max

Optional Assistance Exercises
1a. DB Bench Press – 4 x 8, work up to an 8-9 RPE
1b. Pullups – 4 x submaximal reps (use weight if more than ten)
1c. Reverse Hypers – work to an 8 RPE, 4 x 40 sec

Day 2

Hang Clean – 3RM at 8 RPE, then -10% for 2 x 3
Deadlift (eccentric slower than concentric) – 5 x 5 at 75%
Bilateral Farmer’s Walk – 4 x 30 yd, building to a 9 RPE Max

Optional Assistance Exercises
1a. DB Lunges – 3 x 10 each leg, staying around a 8-9 RPE
1b. TRX Leg Curls – 3 x 10, staying around a 8-9 RPE
1c. DB Power Cleans (focus on external rotation) – 3 x 10, staying around a 8-9 RPE

Day 3

Push Presses – 5RM at 9 RPE, then -10% for 2 x 5 (last set is 5+ but no misses)
Back Squat with Belt – 5RM at 9 RPE, then -10% for 2 x 5 (last set is 5+ but no misses)
Zercher Carry – 3 x 40 yd, work to an 8 RPE

Optional Assistance Work
1a. Dips – 4 x submaximal reps (add weight if able to get 10)
1b. BB Rows – 4 x 10 reps, working up to a 9 RPE

Day 4

Clean from Blocks – 3RM at 8 RPE, then -10% for 2 x 3
Deadlift (eccentric slower than concentric) – 5RM at 9 RPE, then -10% for 2 x 5
Unilateral Farmer’s Walk – 4 x 20 yd each arm, building to a 9 RPE Max

Optional Assistance Exercises
1a. Unilateral RDLs – 3 x 8 each leg, building to an 8-9 RPE
1b. DB Bulgarian Split Squats – 3 x 8 each leg, building to an 8-9 RPE

Day 1 Week 2

Push Presses (If possible and if not strict presses) – 90% of Day 3’s 5RM for 5 x 5
Back Squat – 90% of Day 3’s 5RM for 5 x 5
Overhead Fat Grip DB Carries – 4 x 20 yd each arm. Stay with where you stopped in week 1

Optional Assistance Exercises
1a. DB Bench Press – 4 x 8, work to a 9 RPE
1b. Pullups – 4 x submaximal reps (use weight if more than ten)
1b. Reverse Hypers – 4 x 45 sec, work up to a 9 RPE

Day 2

Hang Clean – 3RM at 9 RPE, then -10% for 2 x 3
Deadlift (eccentric slower than concentric) – 90% of Day 4’s 5RM for 5 x 5
Bilateral Farmer;s Walk – 4 x 30 yd. Stay with where you stopped in week 1

Optional Assistance Exercises
1a. DB Lunges – 3 x 10 each leg, staying around a 8-9 RPE
1b. TRX Leg Curls – 3 x 10, staying around a 8-9 RPE
1c. DB Power Cleans (focus on external rotation) – 3 x 10, staying around a 8-9 RPE

Day 3

Push Presses – 5RM, then -10% at 2 x 5 (last set is 5+ but no misses)
Back Squat with Belt – 5RM, then -10% for 2 x 5 (last set is 5+ but no misses)
Zercher Carry – 4 x 40 yd, work up to a 9 RPE

Optional Assistance Work
1a. Dips – 4 x submaximal reps (add weight if able to get 10)
1b. BB Rows – 4 x 10 reps with the ending weight from week 1

Day 4

Clean from Blocks – 3RM at 9 RPE, then -10% for 2 x 3
Deadlift (eccentric slower than concentric) – 5RM at 9 RPE, then -10% for 2 x 5
Unilateral Farmer’s Walk – 4 x 20 yd each arm. Stay with where you stopped in week 1

Optional Assistance Exercises
1a. Unilateral RDLs – 3 x 8 each leg. Stay where you stopped in week 1
1b. DB Bulgarian Split Squats – 3 x 8 each leg. Stay where you stopped in week 1

Day 1 Week 3

Push Presses (If possible and if not strict presses) – 90% of Day 3’s 5RM for 3 x 5
Back Squat – 90% of Day 3’s 5RM for 3 x 5
Overhead Fat Grip DB Carries – 3 x 20 yd each arm. Stay with where you stopped in week 1

Optional Assistance Exercises
1a. DB Bench Press – 3 x 8
1b. Pullups – 3 x submaximal reps (use weight if more than ten)
1c. Reverse Hypers – 3 x 35 sec

Day 2

Hang Clean – 90% of 3RM for 3 x 3
Deadlift (eccentric Slower than concentric) – 90% of Day 4’s 5RM for 3 x 5
Bilateral Farmer’s Walk – 3 x 30 yd each arm. Stay with where you stopped in week 1

Optional Assistance Exercises
1a. DB Lunges – 3 x 10ea leg, staying around a 8-9 RPE
1b. TRX Leg Curls – 3 x 10, staying around a 8-9 RPE
1c. DB Power Cleans (focus on external rotation) – 3 x 10, staying around a 8-9 RPE

Day 3

Push Presses – 5RM
Back Squat with Belt – 5RM
Zercher Carry – 3 x 40 yd

Optional Assistance Work
1a. Dips – 3 x submaximal reps (add weight if able to get 10)
1b. BB Rows – 3 x 10 reps with the ending weight from week 1

Day 4

Clean from Blocks – 3RM
Deadlift (eccentric slower than concentric) – 5RM
Unilateral Farmer’s Walk – 3 x 20 yd each arm. Stay with where you stopped in week 1

Optional Assistance Exercises
1a. Unilateral RDLs – 3 x 8 each leg, 10% less than where you stopped in week 1
1b. DB Bulgarian Split Squats – 3x 8 each leg, 10% less than where you stopped in week 1

Day 1 Week 4

Push Presses (If possible and if not strict presses) – 90% of Day 3’s 5RM for 5 x 5
Back Squat – 90% of Day 3’s 5RM for 5 x 5
Overhead Fat Grip DB Carries – Maximum weight for 20 yd each arm, and then subtract 10% for 2 x 20yd each arm

Optional Assistance Exercises
1a. DB Bench Press – 4 x 6, work to 9 RPE
1b. Pullups – 3 x 10
1b. Reverse Hypers – 4 x 50 sec

Day 2

Hang Clean – 1RM, then -20% for 3 x 3
Deadlift (eccentric Slower than concentric) – 90% of Day 4’s 5RM for 5 x 5
Bilateral Farmer’s Walk – Maximum weight for 30 yd, then subtract 10% for 2 x 30 yd

Optional Assistance Exercises
1a. DB Lunges – 3 x 10 each leg, staying around a 8-9 RPE
1b. TRX Leg Curls – 3 x 10, staying around a 8-9 RPE
1c. DB Power Cleans (focus on external rotation) – 3 x 10, staying around a 8-9 RPE

Day 3

Push Presses – 3RM, then -15% for 2 x 3 (last set is 3+)
Back Squat with Belt – 3RM, then -15% for 2 x 3 (last set is 3+)
Zercher Carry – 3 x 40 yd

Optional Assistance Work
1a. Dips – 4 x submaximal reps (add weight if able to get 10)
1b. BB Rows – 10RM, and then -10% for 3 x 10

Day 4

Clean from Blocks – 1RM, then -20% for 3 x 3
Deadlift (eccentric slower than concentric) – 3RM, then -10% for 2 x 3
Unilateral Farmer’s Walk – Maximum weight for 20 yd each arm, then subtract 10% for 2 x 20 yd each arm

Optional Assistance Exercises
1a. Unilateral RDLs – 3 x 8 each leg, building to a 9-10 RPE
1b. DB Bulgarian Split Squats – 3 x 8 each leg, building to a 9-10 RPE

This workout is designed to go on and on in a very simple way. If you notice, I am not recommending a lot of percentage work because I realize a lot of you are coaching high school athletes. If you’ve ever watched high school boys and girls trying to figure out their percentages for the day, then you know that will eat up too much of the limited time you have with them. It’s so much easier to explain the RPE system, and then tell them to work up to a 5 rep maximum.

On day one we are starting with 75% for 5 x 5 to get things kicked off. After that, it depends on you Day 3 rep maximum. That way you are taking into account increases in strength for volume. Remember, especially with high school kids, they get stronger sometimes week to week and definitely month to month.

We are including a type of carry every training day because they cause almost no muscle damage, meaning they are easy to recover from. I’ve also programmed to progressively overload the carries in a strategic way. This is important because athletes will go through the motions on carries unless you either turn them into a competition or present a simple way to progress them.

The assistance work is simply a suggestion and is definitely optional and interchangeable. I would recommend you leave in pull-ups and dips as upper body accessory work because both movements are so good for relative strength and upper body development.

In case you don’t know what the PRE Scale is, I will explain it simply. Basically it goes like this:

  • 10 RPE is an all out maximum for the prescribed repetition maximum
  • 9 RPE is stopping one set before maximum
  • 8 RPE is stopping two sets or a couple of reps before maximum
  • 7 RPE is stopping 3 sets or three reps before maximum
  • etc etc etc

On the strength work (squats, push presses, and pulls) we are not taking it to a complete 1RM simply for safety reasons. However, 3RMs can get dangerous if athletes take it right to the edge. I recommend stopping before a potential miss just to keep things progressing without over reaching too much with your athletes. With the Olympic lifts, we are taking it to a 1 RM because technique is just as important as the amount. Testing with repetition maximums can turn into some ugly reps very quickly. Even with singles I recommend stopping before the reps slow down or get ugly.

I hope that this article sheds some light on what a solid strength and conditioning program should look like. I will add that sprints, jumps, and change of direction have to be a part of a solid program. I was simply pointing out the weight room portion. One thing to consider might be pairing jumps and sometimes sprints with squats or cleans. We all have to consider time so complex training might be a solution.

Your Questions Answered – The Barbell Life 260

I have to say this is one of the most fun things I do.

Today, we have a listener Q&A podcast – where we get to the questions that you have written in. I love these podcasts because I get to just talk about what I love so much, but also I know that I’m answering people’s burning questions and really helping them with their problems.

So give this one a listen to see if there’s any nugget of knowledge that you might find helpful.

COACH MASH'S GUIDE TO HYBRID TRAINING

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Weightlifting - Powerlifting - Bodybuilding

Strongman - Functional Fitness - Endurance Cardio

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

  • Training for tactical events (where you have to do it all)
  • Fixing issues with hip extension
  • The crucial differences between strength training and power training
  • Dealing with horrible DOMS
  • Combining HIIT with leg training
  • and more…

Dr. Charlie Weingroff on Squat Debates – The Barbell Life 257

Dr. Charlie Weingroff is a powerlifter and a movement specialist.

Those two don’t normally go hand-in-hand… but today they do.

Charlie joins me today to talk about the finer points of squat technique. One of the things I really love about Charlie is that he’s all about the data – all about the science.

So listen in to this one to hear about the real truth when it comes to squatting.

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.

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

  • How your neck positioning in the squat can relate to back pain
  • What Louie Simmons taught him about reverse hypers
  • Why he has basketball players front squat
  • The often unrecognized best bench presser of all time
  • Disagreements about the box squat
  • and more…

Why Jamaica Rules the World of Sprinting

I returned last night from one of the most incredible trips of my entire life.

Phil, the CEO of Stronger Experts, and I have been talking about a trip to Jamaica from the very moment I joined the platform. For all of you who don’t know what Stronger Experts is, I will give you a brief explanation. Phil gathered some of the world’s top experts in the areas of weightlifting, powerlifting, strength and conditioning, speed training, nutrition, injury prevention, and rehab. The platform is a one-stop shop for young and aspiring coaches to learn from the best in the business.

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One of the coaches on the platform is Coach Jae Edwards. Jae is a big part of the reason why I joined this platform. He works with some of the top sprinters in Jamaica – including Yohan Blake. I’ve been fascinated by the Jamaican sprinters for quite some time now. I have been dying to understand their training and their mindset. Phil gave all of us that chance.

I was able to arrange for Doug Larson and Anders Varner, my friends from Barbell Shrugged, to come along to document the journey. This guaranteed we would come away with some moments that would encourage and inspire all of you. It also allowed me to co-host one of the most amazing podcasts of my life with Yohan Blake, which brings me to the point of this story.

No Other Option

Yohan explained to us life growing up on the island. Yes, it is one of the most beautiful places in the world. However, life on the island for the locals can be one of the hardest existences in the world. Yohan grew up in a one-room house with seven siblings and his parents. Food was hard to come by, which made athletic endeavors much harder for him than the athletes here in the United States.

He didn’t even start out as a sprinter. When he was 16 years old, he was playing cricket and decided to try his hand at sprinting. Luckily he was really good right out of the gate. It’s actually hard to imagine how good he would be if he had started earlier like most of the children in Jamaica – talking to the other track coaches, they start them between four to six years old.

Once Yohan realized he had a gift, he knew he had found a way to change the lives of his entire family. He worked harder than everyone else on the island, to the point Usain Bolt gave him the nickname Beast. He still trains with the same tenacity, and is currently the world’s fastest man after winning the world championships. Yohan also holds the second-fastest time ever recorded for the 100-meter dash – 9.69 seconds. After talking to him over the last few days, there is no way I would vote against him. If you want to hear the entire story, just wait for the episode of Barbell Shrugged to drop.

Here’s my point in telling you this story. Yohan approached sprinting with no other alternative. There was no fall-back plan and no other options. Back at home there was only a one-room house and several disappointed family members awaiting him if he failed. He told us about praying multiple times God would grant him speed. He told us about his mother telling him he was their only hope.

As an athlete growing up in America, I can’t imagine having that kind of pressure on me. He felt the weight of the entire world on his shoulders, and he didn’t let the weight crush him. It’s that pressure that made him unbeatable. Yes they have good coaching in Jamaica, but so do we in America. It’s the fact they don’t have any other option that drives them to succeed at such high levels.

The problem with options

In America, our athletes have so many options. If their sport doesn’t work out, then they will go on with their lives. Heck, most of them realize they will be more financially stable when their sport is over. That really makes it tough for them when training gets hard, and training gets hard for everyone no matter the sport. ‘Options’ are the very reason why athletes fail more often than not in America. Let me explain a little more.

Every year, I have an athlete who reaches out to me about wanting to be an Olympian. I often wonder how they get to that goal. I mean did they watch some old Cal Strength videos, or did they stumble upon some old videos of Pyrros Dimas? Who knows? Yet here they are reaching out to me, saying the exact same things as so many before them. It used to be, if they had a little bit of talent, I would get all excited and have them visit the gym. After my trip to Jamaica, I have a new plan for all the people who reach out to me.

Now I am going to rant a bit, so get ready. Athletes tell me all the time they are willing to do anything to become the best, but their actions don’t match their mouths. Don’t tell me you want to be the best, and then proceed to go out drinking and partying every week. You’re lying to me and to yourself. Don’t tell me you will do whatever it takes, and then quit when training gets hard. If you really want to be the best, keep reading.

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What it takes

If you really want to be one of the best athletes in the world, you are going to have to give up all partying. You are going to have to take responsibility for your own nutrition. You are going to need ten hours of sleep every night. Recovery is your responsibility. You will need to find the best chiropractor, physical therapist, and massage therapist. You will need to buy Marc Pro for the inflammation. If you aren’t getting something in practice, you will need to do whatever it takes to understand the deficiency. Maybe you need some extra practice. Maybe you need two-a-days until you get it. Maybe you need to do a little extra homework.

You will need to practice harder and smarter than every other person on this planet. Things are going to get hard, really hard. That’s a promise. You are going to regress at times. You are going to plateau at times. Some of that is a planned response by your coach, and some is a dark place where all athletes will venture. It’s in the darkness where you will experience pain and sadness. Your body will hurt like you are a 50-year-old crippled person. You will get depressed. You will think it’s never going to happen. All of these things I promise are going to happen.

It’s in this darkness you will come face to face with the true you. This can be the loneliest place in the world because you are going to be faced with questions some of you don’t really want to answer:

  • Am I really good enough to be at the top of my chosen sport?
  • Am I really willing to do what it takes to make it in my chosen sport?
  • Is my sport worth pushing through this terrible pain?
  • Am I tough enough to push through this plateau?

Making that decision

For some of you, it’s simply a reality check. You might not be cut out to be the best, and that’s okay. Some of you will learn to simply enjoy the sport. However, for all of you who really have what it takes, you will be faced with the hardest decision of your life. If you quit now, you will probably quit when things get tough for the rest of your life. Nothing great in life ever comes easy, and that’s why athletes who make it to the very top are so darn special. They are special in the same way amazing entrepreneurs are special or incredible inventors.

The rest of this article is especially to the athletes who are about to reach out to me in the future. I want you to contemplate this article and the question above. I know it seems sexy when you see my athletes wearing Team USA on their chests. I know it seems cool traveling around the world lifting weights against the best athletes in the world. However that’s less than 1% of what really goes on. Are you ready for the work that’s really required? Are you willing to stay at home while others go out partying? Are you willing to take control of your nutrition and recovery?

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Here’s the thing. I am no longer willing to coach someone who isn’t willing to match their action with their goals and talents. I have too many great athletes who are willing to put in the work and time. I don’t have the time for trouble cases who aren’t willing to accept the help and coaching. The Jamaicans are willing to do whatever it takes. Are you? I mean are you really?

Yohan Blake didn’t have a choice. That makes it a bit easier to stay focused. For the rest of us who have choices, we must be disciplined. You have to want to succeed more than anything else in the entire world. If there is something else you would rather be doing, then go do that and forget about sport.

I know this article isn’t my normal science based ‘how to’ article, but it’s the truth all of you need to hear. Don’t tell me you were already thinking like this because I watch too many of you come and go. Be honest with yourself! It’s okay to play a sport for fun. However, when you tell a coach like me you want to be the best in the world, then I expect the best work ethic and discipline in the world. If I don’t get just that, you can find another coach.

Using Prilepin’s Chart Post Rehab

About the author: Eric Bowman is a Registered Physiotherapist and Strength Coach in Ontario, Canada who works in the areas of chronic musculoskeletal pain, sports rehab, and strength and conditioning. He’s also intermittently involved with the University of Waterloo Kinesiology program and the Western University Physical Therapy program. He also competes as a powerlifter and has completed the CPU Coaching Workshop and Seminar.

During the time period between my performance in Coach Mash’s Feats Of Strength meet and my previous meet in December 2017, I took time away from competing to work on rehabilitating some chronic patellofemoral pain. I wrote about the process of getting pain-free on my website.

After getting pain-free, the next step was to get stronger. Needless to say, my squat was in desperate need of improvement. So I needed a plan to get from Point A to Point B without rushing so aggressively that I re-aggravated my symptoms. This plan came from the use of a tool, originally intended for Olympic lifters, that I have used both for myself and for other clients recovering from weight-training injuries – Prilepin’s Chart.

What is Prilepin’s Chart?

Prilepin’s Chart is a chart designed in the former Soviet Union to manage the training of Olympic weightlifters. It provides recommendations based off of the percentage of your one-rep max, for optimal repetitions per set, and optimal total repetitions per workout.

Who is it for?

It is for people who have no major orthopedic or medical pathology, can do everything in their work and activities of daily living pain-free, and only have pain (or form breakdown) past a certain weight.

If you still have pain with these other activities, and/or you have other orthopedic or medical issues, those need to get dealt with first. Just saying.

How do I apply it?

I use it for the big barbell lifts – squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press – as well as Olympic lifts on occasion.

The key is having a proper 1RM. This requires putting the ego in park and using a max you know you can hit properly and pain-free. Just because you squatted 700 pounds before the meet doesn’t mean you can squat it now. Use a one-rep max (either taking it directly or from a calculator) from the best performance you can do properly and pain free in that exercise.

For instance, if you can squat 300 pain-free but 315 gives you trouble, 300 is your training max.

From there you use the percentages in the chart. A strength-based workout may be 80% of your max (240 pounds in this example) for 2-5 sets of 2-4 reps. A hypertrophy or accumulation-based workout may be 70% of your max (210 pounds in this example) for 3-6 sets of 3-6 reps.

What are the advantages of this approach?

1) Keeps the athlete in check
Most athletes, especially us studly powerlifters, like to push weights and push the envelope to get back to where we were before.

A flaw I see of people who do programs like 5/3/1, Conjugate, or 10/20/Life is that they become “PR happy” and want to break a PR week after week – eventually leading to stagnation or injury. This isn’t a flaw of the programs themselves but rather how they’re used.

A fixed max and percentages keeps us in check.

2) Flexibility with sets and reps
A flaw of fixed percentage based programs, particularly linear periodization models, is they don’t allow for flexibility in sets and reps. This is a problem for two reasons:

  • Some lifters are more “fast twitch” than others and can’t do as many reps at a given percentage of their 1RM compared to other “slower twitch” lifters. Bret Contreras and Brad Schoenfeld did an experiment where they had subjects perform an all out set at 75% of their 1RM. The top lifter did 21, the bottom lifter did 7. So telling an athlete they must do 3 sets of 10 at 75% of their 1RM might be impossible for the bottom lifter and too easy for the top lifter.
  • If you’re having a bad day, 3 sets of 10 at 75% may be too hard … or if you’re having a good day it’s too easy.

Having a flexible range of sets and reps helps minimize these issues by enabling you to auto-adjust your sets and reps for the day.

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3) Emphasis on proper form
For technically complex lifts – such as the powerlifts and the Olympic lifts – it’s hard to maintain good form past a few repetitions unless you’re someone who is very technically sound. While singles are optimal for technique, doing lots of singles in a workout can get pretty time consuming and pretty monotonous. As such, I prefer the 1-6 rep ranges used in Prilepin’s Chart.

How do I know when to bump the training max up?

If you can hit (or exceed) the top end of Prilepin’s Chart on a consistent basis without pain or excessive fatigue, then you can recalibrate your training max and begin again. I usually use the following recommendations based on how many repetitions you’re consistently (key word) hitting in your workouts compared to those recommended in the chart:

When in doubt – start light and increase more slowly. The big thing is to keep everything pain-free and use proper form.

What about lifters who are short on time and can’t do that much volume?

The one downside, from a practical standpoint, is Prilepin’s Chart can lead to a fair amount of volume in a workout.

For people who are short on time, I recommend Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program – which should be used in a similar manner of using a training max that you can hit properly and pain-free.

With Jim Wendler at SWIS 2018

Wendler’s Variation

Wendler recommends sticking with your current training max and increasing it by 2.5-5 pounds for upper-body lifts or 5-10 poounds for lower-body lifts every four weeks until you stall and can’t hit the prescribed sets and reps. Wendler is way smarter than I am, so I can’t argue with him. My only suggestion is to start with a super conservative training max.

If you use a methodology that is not percentage-based but involves working to a top set on your main movements, such as the Max Effort component of Conjugate training, I still recommend you only increase your weights at a maximum of 5-10% per month (again – if in doubt, less is better). For some, increasing weights that slowly may not feel like a true “max effort” strain. Some ways to make a max effort exercise more difficult without adding weight:

  • Adding in some slow eccentrics and/or isometrics to the lift
  • Doing more warm-up/working-up volume prior to your top sets

Prilepin’s Chart can be applied in many ways outside of Olympic lifting and can be a useful tool, when applied appropriately, in the late rehab stage and post rehab stages of an athlete.

As always – thanks for reading.

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