Category Archives for "Functional Fitness"

Grip Training for the Pull

In my time as a coach, I have watched athletes who should be world-class end up falling short due to a lack of grip strength.

These same athletes had all the other tools necessary to be strong – amazing leg strength, an incredible posterior chain, beautiful movement, optimal mobility, and the ability to produce massive amounts of power. But they lacked one key ingredient… hands.

Hand size and grip strength are important for all sports – not just strength sports. Think about it for just a second. In football, you need hands for catching, controlling your opponent, and tackling. In basketball, you need hands for catching, dribbling, passing, and shooting. In wrestling, you need strong hands to control your opponent. Have you ever met and shaken hands with a world-class wrestler or fighter? If you have, then you know they all have death grips. You get the point.


The older I get, the more fascinated I become with this age-old strength art. I remember my grandfather’s grip and forearms. They were scary with a massive amount of muscularity. He was a farmer, so he was always working grip strength. He was the original strength athlete in our family, and he constantly amazed people with his ability to carry two partially wet bales of hay in each hand and throw them on top of loaded trucks. That’s roughly 120 to 150 pounds in each hand.

Growing up on the same farm, I naturally have strong hands and muscular forearms. I was able to double overhand hook grip an 804 pound deadlift in competition. I’ve double overhand deadlifted over 500 pounds without a hook grip on several occasions. Grip is something my parents helped me with by giving me big hands. Growing up on the farm did the rest.

When my boys were born, the first thing I did after welcoming them into the world with a hug was to check their hand size in relation to the rest of their body. Luckily I did my job. Both boys have catcher’s mitts for hands.


But what if you don’t have large hands? You should train the grip.
What if you do have large hands? You should still train the grip.

If you have big hands (especially long and not particularly fat hands), you probably won’t have trouble with grip until you are handling some massive loads. If you have short or thicker hands, you will want to start working on grip strength as early as possible in your training career. Either way, you don’t want to wait until you are outlifting your grip.

There are two main types of grip strength: squeezing (or concentric) grip strength and holding capacity (or isometric) strength.

This article is going to focus mainly on holding capacity strength, also known as isometric strength. This is the type of grip strength relevant to the deadlift, clean pull, and snatch pull. The snatch pull can be difficult because you have to overcome vertical and lateral forces in the grip. During these lifts, an isometric contraction is used to hold on. I will probably write another article someday on all the different elements of grip, but today we are focused on grip in relation to the pull.


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

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



Here are a few exercises I have used to create an unbreakable grip.

A slightly bigger bar works in two ways. First, the body will adapt to the bigger diameter and over time get stronger and stronger from the new stimulus. Second and along the same lines, an isometric contraction makes the new joint angle of the hands stronger. Like Mel Siff noted in his book Supertraining:

“…isometric training also produces significant strength increase over a range of up to as much as 15 degrees on either side of the training angle. Moreover, as with all strength measurements, there is a specific force or torque versus joint angle curve for each type of muscle contraction, so that it is highly unlikely that a strength increase would be confined to a very precise angle and nowhere else in the range.”

Basically, getting stronger in the new joint angle will also strengthen the original angle. Using the conjugate method, the new joint angle prevents the body from refusing to get stronger due to accommodation. The adaptation from the new angle caused by the thicker bar will then aid with getting the original angle stronger.

I recommend multiple sets of one to five repetitions with a slower eccentric, mainly to increase the time of the isometric contraction.

A deadlift from blocks allows you to hoist more weight than a lift from the floor. I recommend using your normal grip (either mixed grip or hook grip) for specificity. If you don’t use your competition grip, you won’t be able to handle enough weight for specific adaptations to occur. In this case I don’t recommend high repetitions, as most of you will be focusing on increasing grip for your max.

I recommend three to five sets of one to three repetitions with loads greater than your current max from the floor, with holds of 15-20 seconds. When you can hold a specific weight for all sets and reps for 15-20 seconds, add weight the following session. You can use this method one to three times per week.

Performing this movement unilaterally can prevent grip asymmetries, since you have to hold with each hand for equal time. The distance of the partial deadlift isn’t as important as the hold itself.

I recommend three to five sets of one to three repetitions per hand with loads as big as possible, keeping the weight the same per hand, with holds of 15-20 seconds. When you can hold a specific weight for all sets and reps for 15-20 seconds on each hand, add weight the following session. You can use this method one to three times per week.

This is one of my favorites because it is also good for trunk and hip stability. We perform carries one to three times every single week from our weightlifters to our general fitness folks. One key for specificity reasons: you will want to use handles with a diameter as similar as possible to your deadlift bar.

I recommend three to four sets of 20 yards. 20 yards is a good amount because you can use weight more relevant to your deadlift. Once you can handle a specific weight for three to four sets without dropping the bar, you will want to increase the weight.


Personally I love these for general strength purposes. The diameter might be a bit much for totally specific gains in strength. However, considering the earlier statement from Mel Siff, you will still notice gains in overall isometric grip strength. These would be great early in a macrocycle if you were looking to increase your grip over a year’s time.

I recommend multiple sets of one to five repetitions with a slower eccentric, mainly to increase the time of the isometric contraction.

I love this exercise. This exercise definitely refers to capacity grip training, but it lacks the specificity of a deadlift hold. We performed these at the Olympic Training Center during my short stay. Personally I noticed a difference in grip strength – but just about everything I do for grip training works for me.

I recommend either pinch-gripping a 25kg or 20kg competition bumper plate. Or you can pinch-grip two metal 10-pound or 25-pound plates together. Once you can carry or hold the plates for 20 seconds, move on to a heavier and more challenging plate.

Once again, even though the specificity isn’t there, I still love these for strengthening overall grip. Isometric work has at least some carryover throughout the range of motion, but a more specific bar will always work best.

I recommend three to four sets of one to three repetitions for 15-30 seconds. When you can complete all sets at 30 seconds, increase the weight.

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Grip strength training is so much fun. There are so many ways to train your grip to get stronger.

Obviously grip strength can help the deadlift in powerlifting. However, grip training can help athletes in their struggle to both snatch and clean more weight. A secure grip will send a signal to the body to fire on all cylinders. A weak grip can cause the body to prematurely shut things down due to a system weakness. Let’s work hard to keep the system firing properly, so we can all maximize our numbers on the platform.

Dr. Stuart McGill on Footwear, Focal Point, and Cues in the Deadlift

When I did my recent research for Pulling Science, I had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Stuart McGill.

There’s a good chance you’ve heard his name before. I think it’s safe to say he’s the world’s foremost expert on performance and injury of the low back. He’s performed research in the field, taught for decades, and worked with world-class athletes.

It was an absolute honor to talk with him again. I have learned so much from reading his books and even more when I’ve got to talk to him. He stopped by our facility a few months ago and blew everyone away with his knowledge.

The conversation I had with Dr. McGill was recorded. That gave me the chance to go back and review his comments as I was writing Pulling Science, and it also gives you a chance to listen in! Get ready for your mind to be blown.


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

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

Here’s what Dr. McGill had to say when I asked him about what cues he gave to athletes during the deadlift:

There’s so much wisdom in what Dr. McGill says. So often we coaches get in our little camps – and it’s all too easy for coaches to think that what works for their handful of athletes is going to work for everyone.

But that’s just the start of Dr. McGill’s insight. His individual approach doesn’t stop with cues. Here’s what he had to say about footwear and focal point during the pull:

Whether you’re an athlete or a coach, try bracketing the particulars of the deadlift the way that Dr. McGill advises. You may end up finding out that a totally different arrangement could be helpful in your pull.

Thanks to Dr. McGill again for speaking with me – and stay tuned for more insight from this incredible mind.

Your Questions Answered (with Dr. Andy Galpin) – The Barbell Life 218

Andy Galpin was visiting the area, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to put him on the hot seat.

It always amazes me how he can just sit down and answer the craziest questions off the top of his head, rattling off the research with ease. This guy is on the cutting edge when it comes to the science of strength and muscle.

So get ready for a scorcher of a podcast as we get to listener questions on training for masters, dealing with limited equipment, getting strong without gaining weight, rep schemes, rest days, and more.

And we spent a ton of time talking about all aspects of the pull. Listen in to hear more about the most functional exercise on the planet.


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

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



  • Why Dr. Stuart McGill advises to not use the hook grip
  • Changing body comp later in life
  • The best “bang for your buck” exercise
  • Is spinal flexion really that big of a deal?
  • The only real way to strengthen connective tissue
  • and more…

Why You Need to Work on the Pull

CrossFit has shed more light onto the barbell world than everything else prior combined. CrossFit has shown the world the barbell isn’t some monster that will make women masculine and turn the average dad into the Incredible Hulk (I wish).

The back squat is now an everyday phrase being coined as the most functional movement one can perform. However, I’d like to throw the deadlift in the ring as a movement that’s just as important. I just wrapped up writing my latest guide, Pulling Science, so the topic is fresh on my brain.


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

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

Since I will be addressing weightlifters, powerlifters, strength and conditioning athletes, and general fitness enthusiasts alike, I will refer to the deadlift most of the time as the pull. Weightlifters normally perform clean pulls, snatch pulls, or clean deadlifts. Since I will be referring to the pull mechanism as a whole and not just the deadlift exercise, pull seems less confusing.


I believe most of us pull something or lift something off of the ground as much or even more than we put something on our backs and squat low to the ground. Most of you reading this are not in need of convincing – or you probably wouldn’t be reading an article from a weightlifting/powerlifting coach and former athlete. But there are still some people out there who hate on the pull for some reason. Some will say it is too dangerous, which totally frustrates me. Now that I am 45 years old and my body is worn down from years of training, pulling is the one thing I can do with little to no pain.

Any exercise can be dangerous if you perform it incorrectly. Heck, you can tear a biceps if you jerk too hard during a curl. However, performed correctly the deadlift is not only safe but will help prevent injuries on the field, on the platform, and in life. Deadlifts add much needed muscle from the traps all the way down to the ankles. Pulls are especially great for adding muscle mass to all the muscle groups aiding in spinal flexion, hip extension, knee extension, and grip strength. That’s a lot of muscles that all of us use for so many various tasks in sport and life.

Basically if you want to run faster, jump higher, or lift a car off of someone, you should train the pull.


If you’re a powerlifter, you have to train the deadlift obviously since it’s one of the three movements you compete in. But in the world of Olympic weightlifting, the pull or clean deadlift is much more widely debated. The debate has always baffled me, but nevertheless it’s a major point of discussion.

I think this is more of an old school generation debate. The reasoning some have against any type of clean deadlift or pull is that the speed is different from the competition movement – so they believe it will throw off the actual clean or snatch. What they are forgetting is that, in regards to fast twitch muscle fibers, it’s all about intent. If I am trying to pull as fast as possible, the fast twitch fibers are firing like crazy.

Here’s another point: if I add some hypertrophy to the muscles required to perform spinal flexion, hip extension, and knee extension, those areas now have bigger muscles to produce more force. There are two main ways we can get stronger, and those ways are bigger muscles and better efficiency from more of a neurological response. There are other aspects that come into play like muscle attachments and muscle fiber type, but those things are fixed my genetics and therefore out of our control. That leaves us with either getting bigger muscles or getting better at the movement.

Heavy pulls are going to slap some major beef onto the same areas required to perform snatches and cleans. Therefore, you will be able to produce more power in those movements if you practice those movements. When you think about it, the argument makes no sense. We know from Coach Bryan Mann that squats are directly related to increases in sprint speeds and vertical leaps. Obviously squats aren’t as fast as either one of those movements, and yet squats still contribute to the improvement in those movements. Why? It’s because squats strengthen the muscles required to sprint. Therefore an athlete is enabled to sprint faster because their muscles are now able to produce more force into the ground.


Common sense science aside, I have seen pulls produce better results. Most recently, I cut the squat volume down on two younger weightlifters on my team, Morgan McCullough and Ryan Grimsland. I added intensity and volume to the pull, and both boys have experienced major improvements in a short amount of time. Both boys competed at the Youth Pan American Championships in early June. Both have added major kilograms to their totals in the past two months of focusing more on the pull. Morgan has added 8 kilograms so far (17.6 pounds roughly). Ryan has added 9 kilograms so far (19.8 pounds).

A better case study would be Travis Cooper when he was training for the 2015 Senior World Championships. I was one of his three coaches at the time, with his main coach being Glenn Pendlay. Travis sustained a back injury that nearly sidelined him for the competition, which would have also significantly lowered his chance for the 2016 Olympics. Heavy squats of any kind would flare up his injury, but deadlifts didn’t seem to bother him at all. We opted to take a clean-deadlift-only approach with pulling two to three times per week.

Not only was he able to compete, but he actually totaled a lifetime personal record, which is always harder at a world championship (due to the travel, time difference, and the conservative nature of the meet). At that moment, I knew my hypothesis of pulling importance was not only true but that pulls might be even more important than I had thought.

If you know anything about the Chinese weightlifting team, you know they are one amazing group of athletes. They are crushing world records at a rate faster than any other country. They are also the most jacked team on the planet, making them the coolest team as well. I have never seen a Chinese athlete without a massive set of traps, lats, and spinal erectors. Guess what? They pull! They pull frequently, and they pull heavy with both heavy snatch pulls and heavy clean pulls. It’s obviously not hurting their performance.


Here are some other benefits of the pull:

  • Faster sprint times
  • Higher vertical leaps
  • Longer broad jumps
  • Increased muscle mass in the hips, back and legs
  • Decreased injury rate on the field due to the stabilization of at-risk joints
  • Strengthening of the core (all the muscles supporting the spine and pelvis)
  • Decreased injury rate of the average adult performing household and other adult activities
  • Better posture

The key is how you perform the movement. If you are an adult wanting to get generally fit, I recommend using a double overhand grip with a neutral spine. Obviously if you’re a powerlifter, you are going to use either a mixed grip or hook grip. You can also use a little spinal flexion to make the lift a bit easier because when the spine flexes it gets shorter front to back. That makes hip extension a bit easier, but probably increases the risk of injury. I say probably because there is still some research that needs to be done. Some people don’t seem to be affected as much as others, but I would still err on the side of caution. My friend Dr. Stuart McGill says it’s dangerous, so I am going to go with what he says. That’s his area of expertise. As a powerlifter, the reward might be worth the risk to you. That’s a personal decision to make.

However, when it comes to adults performing general fitness, I’d say to keep a neutral spine, never use straps, and keep a double overhand grip. If you have to use straps to lift the weight, it’s too heavy for your goals. People performing general fitness are trying to look and feel better. You will be able to reach both goals with a neutral spine and double overhand grip.

If you are a sport athlete (football, basketball, wrestling, soccer, etc) or an Olympic weightlifter, I definitely recommend keeping a neutral spine as well. A neutral spine is required to perform a heavy snatch or clean. A neutral spine is also more sport specific to field athletes. Not to mention, as Dr. McGill says, “Proximal stiffness around the spine leads to distal power output in the legs and arms.” I’d also forego strap use with athletes simply for the benefits of increased grip strength – leading to easier tackles, better take downs in wrestling, and any other movement requiring a strong grip.

For Olympic weightlifters, strap use can go either way. If you have a strong grip, I’d recommend using straps if your hands are already beat up. Weightlifters perform so many pulls that the health of their hands can be a real issue. However, if grip is an issue (like it can be for some people with small hands), you might want to perform heavy clean pulls without straps.


Pulling Science goes into much more detail than this. In the book, I included six pulling programs. There is also the advice from some amazing coaches and athletes like Dr. Stuart McGill, Stefi Cohen, Dr. Andy Galpin, Hayden Bowe, Dr. Aaron Horschig (Squat University), and many more. I break down the science in a way very easy to understand, and then I give the real world advice from the top sources. I also give my own advice for strengthening the pull. This book is one of the most complete books that I’ve written, so I hope that you will enjoy it.


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

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

Athletes Need a Gym Culture

By now we have all heard the terms community and culture so many times that it’s kind of old news.

But why are those terms important? The new popularity of CrossFit and the barbell sports, along with the magic of the Internet, has spread these terms around the world and back. The main reason CrossFit became so popular was community.

CrossFit created a community of people coming together to get in shape and be healthy. Let’s face it – when we become busy adults, it’s not easy to go to the gym and work some more just to get in shape. However, when there are other people at the gym who are going to work and suffer with you, the whole process of getting in shape becomes fun and exciting. The common bond of working hard forms a family-like atmosphere that most of us are drawn to. Weightlifting, powerlifting, and strength and conditioning clubs all have a community as well. Whenever there is a group of people coming together to work on a common or similar activity, you have a community.


At Mash Elite, we have weightlifting, powerlifting, strength and conditioning, and adult group fitness – so we have a bit of everything. The community is simply a group of people coming together to reach their goals.

What about culture? That is where the rubber meets the road, as my father-in-law always says. Our gym is divided up into a front section, where all the adult group fitness and a lot of the accessory work for the athletes take place. In the back of the facility is where all the grinding takes place. The gym is separated by two big curves that allows for a nice flow from the peacefulness of the front to craziness in the back.

Once you’re in the back, things get way more serious. The athletes are there to be the best in the world. We still have fun, but there is a totally different feel in the air. The weightlifters, powerlifters, football players, and track athletes are there to do extraordinary things. They are trying to make an Olympic team, world team, earn a scholarship, or play in the NFL. That’s the difference in the back room and the front room. Everyone is trying to reach a goal, but the folks in the back are there to perform the extraordinary.

Our culture has been developed carefully over the last year and a half. Some people have moved on, and some have been added. All of it was for the best. Now we have a group who works together, trains hard, and likes to be coached. We support one another. We might pick on each other, but no outsider is allowed to pick on our teammates.

This is why we so carefully choose our members now. We require a 100% approval rate from not only the coaches but also the team members. It’s a tough process to join the team now, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love these folks. I am not looking for a new athlete like I did in the past. I have all the ones I want.


The main reason I am writing this article is to explain a phenomenon that occurred last week. Our team as a whole hit an astonishing amount of personal records then. It was really one after the other. I am talking about amounts you rarely hear about.

Nathan Damron snatched 170kg from blocks. Ryan Grimsland snatched 113kg and 115kg, hitting two personal records in the snatch and PRing his total as well. Morgan McCullough made personal records in the snatch, jerk, clean from deficit, and his total on Friday. 14-year-old Hannah Dunn snatched 70kg/154lb to get over the hump for a long awaited PR.

It wasn’t just my world team members. It was the entire team both on-site and online. We hit so many personal records that I can’t get them all posted, as they are getting lost in the photo stream.

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

Become a member of the Mash Mafia.

* Fully Customized Programming

* Unlimited Technique Analysis

* The Best Coaching in the World



So how does this happen? That’s the question that has been ringing in my ears. I mean, it is the time of year, as most everyone is peaking for the American Open Series 3 happening a few weeks from now. But I have still never seen anything like this before. I’ve seen days that seemed to stick out but never an entire week of extraordinary feats.

I’m calling this phenomenon gym momentum, and I wish Greg Nuckols or Andy Galpin would perform a study on this supernatural happening. We’ve all experienced it in some form or another. If you’ve ever been to a Jon North seminar, you’ve probably witnessed exactly what I am talking about. It starts by someone getting jacked up and hitting a big lift, and the next thing you know the entire room is slamming personal records.

As a coach, this is one of the biggest reasons you are trying to cultivate and nurture a solid culture. This is the reason you might have to cut your top athletes if they don’t fit the culture you are trying to develop. You will never have a room like the one I have if you have the one bad apple who doesn’t allow the room to blossom. You know who I am talking about. I am talking about the guy who demands the attention to always be on him – or the grumpy athlete who makes everyone walk on eggshells. If that’s you, you need to change. No amount of victories or records gives you a right to steal the attention of the room. If you are a true champion, you would never want that.

When I was a world champion, I wanted my teammates to experience the same feeling. I remember bombing out at the world championships in 2006, and I immediately started coaching my teammate and best buddy, Ox Mason, in hopes that he would win. I promise you all that one day all of your athletic days will be behind you, and you don’t want to look back on a career that was totally self-absorbed. You will be pleased to look back and remember being a great team member and inspiring others to succeed.


The type of momentum that we experienced last week will never happen at a gym unless a proper culture is a primary goal. If you want to be a world champion, this type of environment is mandatory. You will need a coach for direction and a team for support. When you are trying to be the best at something, a strong support base is crucial. You will have days that are harder than others. Having a teammate and coach to support you during those dark times is a must in all sports. On the other hand, it’s just as important to have teammates to inspire each other to higher and higher levels, which is what happened all last week.

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

Become a member of the Mash Mafia.

* Fully Customized Programming

* Unlimited Technique Analysis

* The Best Coaching in the World

Remember, forming a community is the easy part. The moment you open a gym, you will have a community. Culture is the hard part. It’s something you need to think long and hard about before opening a facility. What kind of culture are you looking to create as a gym owner? What kind of person fits that culture?

As an athlete, what type of culture do you want to seek out? How can you help that culture develop?

It’s more important than many might think.

Gymnastics and CrossFit with Dusty Hyland – The Barbell Life 216

I’ve always had a love for gymnastics. I just love movement – it’s the reason I find weightlifting so beautiful.

But gymnastics movements are more than just art. Gymnastics can lead to incredible strength, muscular balance, and all-around fitness.

Just ask today’s podcast guest, Dusty Hyland of SkillWOD.

We get into the benefits of gymnastics on this podcast – and the problems he has seen in CrossFit related to gymnastics. And we end up talking a long time about getting kids into fitness… the right way instead of the wrong way.


Proceeds Support Our Non-Profit Weightlifting Team

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



  • How to program and progress in gymnastics for CrossFit
  • How gymnasts get SWEET jobs after college
  • The simple way to change gymnastics programming for maximum results
  • Is CrossFit Kids a good idea?
  • Strategies for pushing athletes in the gym… but not too much
  • and more…