Category Archives for "Functional Fitness"

The Good, the Bad, and the Future of Functional Fitness with James Fitzgerald – The Barbell Life 243

Last time we had James Fitzgerald on the podcast, we talked about programming for CrossFit.

This time, we talked with James about something that I’m super excited to think about – James is trying to get functional fitness into the 2028 Olympics.

We also talked about some of what he doesn’t like about CrossFit and their recent changes in direction.

He made some excellent points about how CrossFit shouldn’t really be tied too much to the idea of good health. So give this one a listen to rethink some assumptions you may have about functional fitness.

COACH MASH'S GUIDE TO HYBRID TRAINING

The Art of Combining:

Weightlifting - Powerlifting - Bodybuilding

Strongman - Functional Fitness - Endurance Cardio

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

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

  • His plan to get functional fitness into the Olympics
  • Actually making intentional progress with functional fitness
  • Why CrossFit’s current way of scaling is just silly
  • The biggest mistakes coaches make
  • Understanding the importance of different contractions
  • and more…

CrossFit and Gaining Muscle with Dave Lipson – The Barbell Life 239

Dave Lipson has been around CrossFit for a long time.

In fact, he’s been around long enough that he competed in the Games on a whim (back when you could just walk up and enter). And he’s got some crazy and hilarious stories to tell.

But recently Dave has been competing in a different realm – the world of bodybuilding. He’s having a blast getting jacked, and he’s figuring out ways to combine his love of CrossFit with his love of muscle.

So listen in to this one if you want to learn how to crush a metcon and pack on muscle while you’re doing it.

A World Class Coach's Guide to Building Muscle

Hypertrophy for Strength, Performance, and Aesthetics.

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

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

  • Squatting every day for a year giving him a PR on… the Strict Press?
  • How he combines CrossFit with bodybuilding
  • What he learned from recovering from an elbow injury
  • Why hypertrophy training matters for CrossFit performance
  • Crazy stories from the old days of CrossFit
  • and more…

Increase Your Pulling Power with My Two Favorite Movements

Pulling has been an object of debate in the sport of Olympic weightlifting for quite some time.

Some coaches feel deadlifts shouldn’t be changed because of the change in velocity. I think there has been enough information released lately to prove that to be a fallacy. It doesn’t really matter how fast the bar moves. If your intent is one of maximal effort, you will still recruit the fast twitch fibers required for high velocity pulls.

Think about it for one second. Heavy squats don’t make athletes stand up from cleans slowly. If so, Nathan Damron would stand up incredibly slowly, and we all know that isn’t true.

Some claim the deadlift causes another deficiency. Some think the deadlift is performed with a different pull all together. When I wrote my book Pulling Science, I quizzed over one hundred experts in the field about the way deadlifts are different from the pull of a clean. We found everyone is different. We teach our athletes to pull the clean and deadlift in the exact same way. Whatever technique produces the most powerful pull is the one to use for both lifts. Why would you use a pull that produced less power in either lift?

Here’s the thing y’all! If your pull is weak, you need to fix it. I promise 70% of your max deadlift will move faster than 80% of your max deadlift. By this I mean, if your deadlift goes up, your current clean will also move faster. All you have to do is study any of Coach Bryan Mann’s work on velocity-based training to understand what I am trying to tell you.

FORGET OPINIONS. HERE'S THE SCIENCE ON PULLING.

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.

There are two movements that are my go-to movements for increasing my athletes’ pull. They worked for me, and they’ve worked for my athletes. They will work for you.

Banded RDLs from a Deficit

Back in 2003 Arnold Coleman, unbelievable champion powerlifter, told me Ed Coan used banded stiff-legged deadlifts from a deficit to build his massive 903-pound deadlift at 100 kilograms / 220 pounds body weight. Whether he did or not, you will have to ask him.

I decided to try them – but more in an RDL fashion. RDLs aren’t a lot different from stiff-legged deadlifts. The only real difference is RDLs are performed with slightly bent knees and a neutral spine with a focus on a hip hinge. From the information I have studied from Dr. Stuart McGill, I simply assumed RDLs would be a bit safer on my spine, and I believe I was right.

After the first 8 weeks of trying these banded RDLS from a deficit, my deadlift leaped from 733 pounds to 800 pounds. It was the most dramatic increase I ever experienced. My ability to keep my back in extension while pulling increased an enormous amount. My overall pulling power increased as well, not to mention an increase in velocity.

Normally we use a four to six inch deficit. Here are my recommendations for bands:

  • Mini-bands for a deadlift under 500 pounds
  • Purple bands for a deadlift between 500-600 pounds
  • Green bands for a deadlift over 600 pounds

Here are my loading suggestions:

  • 3-4 sets
  • 5-8 repetitions
  • 50-65% intensity

Here’s a video that may help demonstrate these exercises (look around the 0:20 mark):

Banded Deadlifts from a Deficit

We use banded deadlifts from a deficit to:

  • increase the range of motion in the pull with the goal being increased hypertrophy.
  • focus on velocity to increase the speed of the pull.

If we are using banded deadlifts with a goal of hypertrophy, we normally focus on controlling the speed of the eccentric contraction. The easiest way to do this is simply to make the eccentric slightly slower than the concentric. It was Greg Nuckols who said he increased the strength of his deadlift when training in Globo Gyms – where he wasn’t allowed to drop the weight. He believes being forced to control the eccentric contraction added more hypertrophy in the right places, which led to an increase in his deadlift.

If we are using this exercise to focus on speed, the eccentric isn’t a big concern. You will be using submaximal weight, and you will be going nowhere close to failure. Therefore, hypertrophy won’t come into play with velocity-based deadlifts. If you desire to improve the strength speed portion of the deadlift, your goal is a velocity somewhere between 0.75 m/s and 1.0 m/s. If your goal is speed strength, then you want to move the barbell at a velocity somewhere between 1.0 m/s and 1.25 m/s.

So what’s the difference between strength speed and speed strength? Here’s some descriptions from Bar Speed:

Strength Speed

This one is defined as moving moderately heavy weight as fast as possible. This is the strength quality most related to the Dynamic Effort Method in powerlifting. This quality is managed with a 0.75 – 1.0 m/s velocity, and normally this velocity is reached with loads between 50 – 60% of your 1RM. Personally I love this zone because a strength quality is being addressed that produces a great deal of power. Furthermore, it has a much higher rate of force development than its neighbor accelerative strength. It’s also more easily recovered from compared to accelerative and absolute strength. Not to mention dynamic squats leave the athlete more neurologically charged, allowing them to perform explosive movements like cleans and snatches even better.

Speed Strength

If you are an Olympic weightlifter, you live in this realm. You are probably pretty efficient in this area. Here we are using lighter loads at high velocities. In this case, speed is the primary concern with strength being secondary. This strength quality takes place with velocities between 1.0 and 1.3 m/s and usually with percentages of your 1RM between 30 – 40%. At this point you are leaning more toward velocity and less toward force, so overall power is starting to decrease.

OPEN UP NEW POSSIBILITIES IN STRENGTH

Mash Elite's Guide to Velocity-Based Training

By measuring bar speed (simple to do with your smartphone), you can guarantee each and every training session is as effective and safe as possible.

Sample 12-Week Program:

BLOCK 1

Week 1

Day 1
Speed Deadlifts (from 2 inch deficit, alternate stance, 60-90 sec rest between sets): 40% bar weight + 20% bands or chains for 8 x 2

Suitcase Deadlifts (from 4 inch deficit, stay at 7-8 RPE): 3 x 5 each side

Day 2
RDLs (from a 2 inch deficit, with bands): 4 x 8 (7-8 RPE)

Reverse Hypers: 3 x 45 sec

Week 2

Day 1
Speed Deadlifts (from 2 inch deficit, alternate stance, 60-90 sec rest between sets): 45% bar weight + 20% bands or chains for 8 x 2

Suitcase Deadlifts (from 4 inch deficit, stay at 7-8 RPE): 3 x 5 each side

Day 2
RDLs (from a 2 inch deficit, with bands): 4 x 8 (8-9 RPE)

Reverse Hypers: 3 x 50 sec

Week 3

Day 1
Speed Deadlifts (from 2 inch deficit, alternate stance, 60-90 sec rest between sets): 35% bar weight + 20% bands or chains for 8 x 2

Suitcase Deadlifts (from 4 inch deficit, stay at 7-8 RPE): 3 x 5 each side

Day 2
RDLs (from a 2 inch deficit, with bands): 3 x 8 (7 RPE)

Reverse Hypers: 3 x 35 sec

Week 4

Day 1
Speed Deadlifts (from 2 inch deficit, alternate stance, 60-90 sec rest between sets): 50% bar weight + 20% bands or chains for 10 x 1

Suitcase Deadlifts (from 4 inch deficit, stay at 7-8 RPE): 3 x 5 each side (7 RPE)

Day 2
RDLs (from a 2 inch deficit, with bands): 3 x 8 (9 RPE)

Reverse Hypers: 3 x 55 sec

BLOCK 2

Week 5

Day 1
Speed Deadlifts (from 2 inch deficit, alternate stance, 60-90 sec rest between sets): 45% bar weight + 15% bands or chains for 8×2

Unilateral Reverse Hypers: 3 x 10 each side

Day 2
RDLs (from a 2 inch deficit, with bands): 4 x 6 (7-8 RPE)

Hyper Extensions with Barbell: 3 x 10

Week 6

Day 1
Speed Deadlifts (from 2 inch deficit, alternate stance, 60-90 sec rest between sets): 50% bar weight + 15% bands or chains for 8×2

Unilateral Reverse Hypers: 3 x 10 each side

Day 2
RDLs (from a 2 inch deficit, with bands): 4 x 6 (8-9 RPE)

Hyper Extensions with Barbell: 4 x 10

Week 7

Day 1
Speed Deadlifts (from 2 inch deficit, alternate stance, 60-90 sec rest between sets): 40% bar weight + 15% bands or chains for 8×2

Unilateral Reverse Hypers: 3 x 10 each side

Day 2
RDLs (from a 2 inch deficit, with bands): 3 x 5 (7 RPE)

Hyper Extensions with Barbell: 3 x 8

Week 8

Day 1
Speed Deadlifts (from 2 inch deficit, alternate stance, 60-90 sec rest between sets): 55% bar weight + 15% bands or chains for 10×1

Unilateral Reverse Hypers: 3 x 10 each side

Day 2
RDLs (from a 2 inch deficit, with bands): 5RM, then -10% for 2 x 5

Hyper Extensions with Barbell: 4 x 5

BLOCK 3

Week 9

Day 1
Speed Deadlifts (from 2 inch deficit, alternate stance, 60-90 sec rest between sets): 50% bar weight + 10% bands or chains for 8 x 2

TRX Leg Curls (DB, band, or machine): 3 x 10

Day 2
Clean Deadlifts (from 2 inch deficit, with bands): 4 x 6 (7-8 RPE)

Hyper Extensions with Barbell: 4 x 6

Week 10

Day 1
Speed Deadlifts (from 2 inch deficit, alternate stance, 60-90 sec rest between sets): 55% bar weight + 10% bands or chains for 8 x 2

TRX Leg Curls (DB, band, or machine): 3 x 10

Day 2
Clean Deadlifts (from 2 inch deficit, with bands): 4 x 6 (8-9 RPE)

Hyper Extensions with Barbell: 4 x 5

Week 11

Day 1
Speed Deadlifts (from 2 inch deficit, alternate stance, 60-90 sec rest between sets): 45% bar weight + 10% bands or chains for 8 x 2

TRX Leg Curls (DB, band, or machine): 3 x 10

Day 2
Clean Deadlifts (from 2 inch deficit, with bands): 3 x 5 (7 RPE)

Hyper Extensions with Barbell: 3 x 5

Week 12

Day 1
Speed Deadlifts (from 2 inch deficit, alternate stance, 60-90 sec rest between sets): 60% bar weight + 10% bands or chains for 10 x 1

TRX Leg Curls (DB, band, or machine): 3 x 10

Day 2
Clean Deadlifts (from 2 inch deficit, with bands): 5RM, then -10% for 2×5

Hyper Extensions with Barbell: 3 x 5

Tips, Tools, and Pairings

Let me give you a few points about the workout. First I would stay with a two-inch deficit. More isn’t better in this instance because an increase might cause you or your athlete to lose tightness around the spine. This can quickly cause an injury. For some athletes, you might not need a deficit at all, depending on their natural range of motion.

With the velocity-based deadlifts – if you have a tool to measure velocity, you will want to stay at 0.75 m/s or faster. If you drift below 0.7 m/s in the first five sets, you need to lower the weight. You can work up on the last two sets as long as you stay above 0.65 m/s. Our team doesn’t spend a lot of time in the speed strength quality of strength with pulls, because we are already spending so much time in that zone with our cleans. However, if you have a slow clean pull, you could drop these percentages on down. Bands really help to teach athletes to accelerate during the entire pull.

I included a few of our favorite accessory movements that we pair with deadlifts. My favorite pairing is the RDL with hyperextensions. The RDL is maximal resistance during maximal lengthening, and hypers are maximal resistance during maximal contraction. This will strengthen the posterior chain in both loading parameters. Plus hypers don’t cause a lot of muscle damage because the load diminishes during the eccentric phase. That’s good because the RDLs will smoke you and leave you hurting for the next few days. You definitely won’t need an accessory movement to destroy you even more.

Now go put these movements to use. I hope they work as well for you as they have for my team and me.

A Guide to Starting Running for the Strength Athlete

About the Author: Eric Bowman is a Registered Physiotherapist in Ontario, Canada who works in the areas of orthopedic physical therapy and exercise for people with chronic diseases. 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 in the Canadian Powerlifting Union and has completed the CPU Coaching Workshop & Seminar.

Over the last few years the popularity of hybrid strength coaches and athletes (such as Alex Viada and more recently Brandon Lilly) and the release of programs that combine strength and cardiovascular fitness (such as Do What You Want) has led to more strength athletes than ever lacing up their sneakers and starting to run. With the new year upon us, this is bound to increase as people pursue New Year’s Resolutions for weight loss.

Running is arguably the most popular form of exercise around the world. It’s easy and inexpensive to do, and it provides many cardiovascular, respiratory, and psychological benefits when done properly.

That said, running does have a high injury rate – even higher than that of strength sports. Competitive runners are more likely to have knee osteoarthritis than sedentary people. It may seem that this paragraph is contradictory to the previous one – but the key to safe and sustainable running comes down to being prepared for it and programming it correctly.

How do I know if I’m prepared to run?

My criteria to run is a combination of the criteria given by Tom Goom and Christopher Johnson (the two smartest physiotherapists I know in terms of working with runners) as well as my own professional experience in orthopedics, coaching, and cardiopulmonary rehab.

To be prepared from a cardiovascular perspective you should be able to walk for at least 45 minutes at a brisk pace without feeling short of breath and without it feeling like a max effort exercise.

As I wrote about in my article on heart health, I also advise you get a graded exercise test (or stress test) done if you have high blood pressure, high blood sugar, an abnormal heart beat, chest pain, or any other heart related symptoms or conditions. This test will enable you to determine if you are able to safely exercise in a moderate to high-intensity activity such as running. You can never 100% eliminate safety risks during exercise but you can minimize them through proper testing and programming.

To be prepared for an orthopedic perspective you should

  • not be morbidly obese. This should go without saying but, while there are exceptions, I’ve seen too many obese people hurt themselves from taking up a running program. For them – again based on the results of a stress test – lower impact activities such as riding a stationary bike, pulling a sled, and/or cutting down on rest periods during assistance exercises probably present better options to build cardiovascular fitness and assist in weight loss while sparing the joints.
  • be able to tolerate basic leg exercises such as squats, leg extensions, leg presses, leg curls, and hip hinge movements. Make sure you can walk (and squat) before you run.
  • be able to tolerate single leg hops. Running, in a sense, is a plyometric movement as it involves a series of stretch-shortening cycles. You don’t need to be able to do depth jumps off a 20 inch box with a weight vest on, but you should be able to tolerate very simple, low-level plyometrics prior to running.
  • have good frontal and transverse plane control. In simple terms you should be able to run, jump, change direction, and land without your knees or your trunk excessively swaying or caving inward or outward. This is a more controversial opinion as some great runners have dynamic knee valgus, but given the size of the athletes I’m referring to, and the high total load involved between absorbing the shock from running and absorbing the shock of lifting big weights, I’m a fan of moving in a way that causes the least amount of joint stress possible relative to the goal.
  • no pain pills or injections in your system.
  • be able to fully bear weight on both legs.

The last two may seem pretty common-sense but are violated a lot.

How do I program it correctly?

Without a proper assessment of the individual, I can’t arbitrarily prescribe a universal beginner running program for everyone. Some general themes to go by are:

  • When in doubt, start with less running volume.
  • Progress slowly. The 10% rule of not increasing your running volume by more than 10% per week is a good guideline to go by and has some research supporting it. That said, some athletes may tolerate a faster progression and some may need to progress more slowly.
  • Understand there’s going to be some give and take with your weight training. Beginning a running program while doing a Bulgarian squat program may not be the best idea. If the running volume goes up, the leg training volume needs to go down. It is what it is.
  • Keep training your glutes, hamstrings, and core muscles regularly.
  • Make sure you’re getting enough high quality sleep and food, and make sure that you’re maintaining good psychosocial health.

COACH MASH'S GUIDE TO HYBRID TRAINING

The Art of Combining:

Weightlifting - Powerlifting - Bodybuilding

Strongman - Functional Fitness - Endurance Cardio

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

What about stretching and running shoes?

Two common beliefs about running injury prevention are: you should stretch before each workout and you should wear running shoes specifically tailored to your foot shape to prevent injury. But the research doesn’t support either.

Dozens of studies (with the odd exception here and there) have shown that stretching before running doesn’t really affect injury risk. And there’s some research that shows having a tighter achilles tendon can make you a better and more efficient runner. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want anyone stiff as a board, but my rules of thumb for warming up (which I plan to elaborate on in a future article) are:

  • Use active movement strategies to warm up (such as brisk walking to light jogging, air squats, walking lunges, etc.), increasing blood flow through actively moving rather than holding static stretches
  • (If you’re a competitive athlete only) Stick within the range of motion needed for your sport(s), work, and activities of daily living. No more no less.

A series of studies done in the armed forces, interestingly funded by Nike, showed that fitting shoes to people’s foot shapes didn’t affect injury risk. What I recommend is for people to try the shoes before buying them, and try running in them if possible, in order to find a shoe that’s comfortable for them.

I hope this provides some useful advice for effectively starting a running program to maximize benefits and minimize injury risk. Have fun pounding the pavement.

Kelly Starrett of MobilityWOD – The Barbell Life 237

When anyone in the CrossFit world thinks about mobility, one name comes up first.

And Kelly Starrett joins us today to drop some wisdom.

Too often you don’t get answers straight from the horse’s mouth, but you only have opinions that have been formed by picking up pieces of information here and there.

So it was great to talk to Kelly today about all sorts of issues from knee valgus to elbow overextension to spinal flexion and more. Get ready for a dose of truth.

Protocols for Aches and Pains, Muscular Imbalances & Recovery

Work Harder. Train Longer. Prevent Injury.

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

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

  • The real deal on knee wobble in the squat
  • Spinal flexion – good or bad?
  • How to keep quad mass after surgery
  • Unilateral split squats working better than bilateral?
  • Protocols for strengthening lifters who are very elastic
  • and more…

Hip Thrusts Are Bad? The Safety Squat Bar Is Bad?

Hip thrusts are bad? Safety squat bar squats are bad? Stop with the absolutes!

When will the absolutes end? Scrolling through social media, I saw two of my respected peers tossing around absolutes as if N.A.S.A. were backing them. However, their accusations about two of my favorite movements were made with no scientific backing at all.

Look, I don’t care if you don’t like a movement. Maybe you don’t believe an exercise works. That’s ok. You don’t have to use it, and you don’t have to prescribe it to your athletes. But when you get on social media or take to your blog and claim that a certain exercise doesn’t work without any research to back up your claim, you could be keeping someone from the very exercise they need to break through a plateau.

HIP THRUSTS ARE SOFT?

A lot of people who I consider colleagues (and some I even consider friends) constantly hate on the hip thrust made famous by my friend Bret Contreras. Glutes are important for just about everything that’s awesome in sports. If you want to sprint fast or jump high, strong glutes are a must. If you want to snatch big weight or squat monstrous loads, powerful hip extension is a must. Have any of you yanked a big deadlift off of the floor only to have it stall right at lockout? It’s happened to me, and I’ve watched it happen to others. Glute bridges are the obvious choice.

But wait! Is this simply my opinion? Am I simply doing the exact opposite of the coaches screaming that hip thrusts don’t work? Well luckily I can back up my statements with mounds of research stating that hip thrusts are superior when it comes to strengthening the glutes. I just now did a quick search of the web, and I saw a few rants from coaches who want to seem smart. My articles aren’t written to convince you guys that I am smart and everyone else is dumb. My thoughts and systems are backed up with the results of my athletes.

The information I pass on to you guys and gals is either proven by research or proven by the results of my athletes. I don’t pass on my random thoughts. I don’t look at an exercise and cast judgment without looking at the data. I don’t look at what someone else is doing and then write an article explaining why they’re wrong. I am interested in facts. I am interested in what works.

There is one more thing I want to say to my powerlifting brethren who are constantly criticizing the hip thrusts or making fun of it as a soft exercise. I was inspired to write this article when I saw a video of Stefi Cohen performing the hip thrust to improve her deadlift lockout. Of course she is y’all! It’s targeted hip extension, which is the lockout of the deadlift. Duh!

I prescribe hip thrusts to my Olympic hopeful weightlifters, champion powerlifters, and to my NFL Football Players. Are my athletes soft? If my athletes are soft, there are a lot of really soft athletes out there since we are beating most everyone else. Guys, I want you to look at the research and just think about it for a bit. If you want better hip extension, then find a way to load your hip extension.

WESTSIDE BARBELL METHODS IN WEIGHTLIFTING?

COACH TRAVIS MASH GETS INSIDE THE MIND OF LOUIE SIMMONS

World champion and world-class coach Travis Mash takes a look at Louie Simmons's Westside Barbell strength principles and applies them tom the world of Olympic weightlifting.

Safety Squat Bars

I had never heard anyone say a negative word about the safety squat bar squat until recently. A good friend of mine was answering questions on his Instagram story the other night. (By the way this is a good way to connect with your followers.) Anyway, he was asked if using a safety squat bar for squatting was a good idea for weightlifting. My friend replied that it absolutely was not – unless you or your athlete are injured. Once again, a colleague of mine is using an absolute without any basis (research) for his statement.

In Olympic weightlifting, a back squat isn’t specific to the snatch or the clean and jerk other than the angle of the torso, which is true with using a safety squat bar. Either movement is simply a way of building strength to get better at the sport of weightlifting. If you’re a powerlifter, one could make an argument around specificity – especially when getting close to a meet. But in either sport, the safety squat bar provides one major benefit. The safety squat bar increases the length of the spinal flexor moment.

As I explained in Squat Science, the spinal flexor moment depends on two factors: 1) the load on the bar and 2) the horizontal distance in the sagittal plan relative to the torso between the bar and any intervertebral joint.

There are three ways to increase the spinal flexor moment: 1) move the bar higher on the back or in front of the body, 2) increase the load, and 3) incline the body more (which increases the distance of the load horizontally to the floor from any intervertebral joint).

So here’s the point I want to make – the safety squat bar moves the weight toward the front of the body. The part of the bar that holds the weight is bent toward the front of the body.

Some bars displace the weight farther in front of the body than others. The more the weights are displaced toward the front of the body will equal a greater demand on the spinal extensor muscles. The front squat is also great for strengthening the muscle groups responsible for spinal extension. However, the front squat is limited by the shoulder’s ability to remain protracted and elevated – not to mention the rack position in general. Since the safety squat bar is still secured behind your neck, you can normally handle a bit more weight than in the front squat. Depending on the bend of the bar, you should be able to place more of a load on the spinal extensors. This is a great way to get the back strong while strengthening the hip and knee extensors as well.

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

TRAVIS MASH'S SQUAT SCIENCE

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

The weightlifters and the powerlifters on my team use the safety squat bar for this very reason: to strengthen the back. For a lot of weightlifters, they lack the strength in the back (mainly referring to the groups of muscles responsible for spinal extension) to maintain a good angle of the torso during the pull. Some lack the ability to maintain a neutral spine during the catch phase of a clean. Have you ever seen a weightlifter’s elbows drop and thoracic spine round during the catch? I know that I have. If this is you or one of your lifters, the safety squat bar is a great tool.

USES

I’m all about specificity, but sometimes weightlifters can take this too far. Let’s think about it for just a minute. I’m only going to refer to my own weightlifters right now. We snatch and clean and jerk at least three times per week on each of these. We back squat with a straight bar one to two times. We front squat one to two times. We perform snatch and clean pulls. Do you really think that adding in safety squat bar squats is going to somehow mess up your technique? If that’s true, aren’t you at risk of messing up your technique when you perform any assistance movement outside of simply snatching, clean and jerking, front squatting, and pulling? I think we are all a little too overboard with specificity.

Besides a simple safety squat bar squat, there are a couple of more movements with the safety squat bar that I recommend. I am a fan of safety squat bar goodmornings (and all variations like seated, chain suspended, off pins, etc.) and safety squat bar box squats (I know, I know… this is taboo).

Safety squat bar goodmornings are my absolute favorite for strengthening the spine – especially when a hip hinge is involved like during a pull of any sorts. With my weightlifters, I normally stick to a regular goodmorning, but there are several variations you can try, such as wide stance, suspended from a chain, off pins, seated, and with bands or chains. (This sounds like a chance for another article.)

Depending on the variation, you will be working specific weaknesses. For example, a goodmorning that starts lower on pins will more closely mimic starting in a more static position – like a pull with an initial concentric contraction. This will focus on performing a concentric contraction without the advantage of the stored kinetic energy you gain from a typical eccentric contraction. Once again, I am working on an article fully dedicated to variations of the goodmorning.

Safety squat bar box squats are great for strengthening the spinal and hip extensors. Now I agree that this movement isn’t specific to a squat necessary in weightlifting, so I only use it sparingly and in the off-season (at least eight or more weeks out from a competition). I only use this movement once per week and in conjunction with at least two to four other straight bar squat sessions. The most non-specific part of this movement is that I have the athlete sit back. I want them on the box with a vertical shin and a more horizontal torso. This movement is designed to strengthen the pull more so than the squat portion of the lift. However, you will reap the rewards of strengthened hips and back muscles.

Obviously this isn’t a great movement to strengthen the quads because the range of motion at the knees is minimal. However, the range of motion at the hip is maximal or near maximal depending on the height of the box. The demand of the internal spinal extensor moment is now through the roof because 1) you’re using a safety squat bar with the weight is distributed in front of the body and 2) your torso is inclined.

This movement is excellent for strengthening the pull especially at position two (when the bar is at or slightly below the knee) when the shins are vertical. The box will teach the body to fire the proper muscles from a static position with the advantage of stored kinetic energy produced by the eccentric phase of the lift. This movement is still great for strengthening the parts of the body required for squatting (back and hips), but it’s not a replacement for high bar back squats and front squats. I consider this more of an accessory movement, whereas back squats and front squats are primary strength movements for Olympic weightlifting.

Once again, the moral of this entire article is to relax with the absolutes. Unless science has proven that a particular movement won’t work or is dangerous, there’s probably a time and a place in training that it will help a lifter. Specificity is key especially in the sport of Olympic weightlifting, but let’s not go overboard. One of Hunter Elam’s biggest competitors is Mary Peck, and she uses low bar back squats in her training. With a 211kg total at 64kg bodyweight, I’d say that the low bar back squat isn’t interfering with the specificity of her lifts at all.

As long as we stay true to specificity the majority of the time, some variation is a good thing. Of course, it’s key to know your athletes. Some athletes respond really well to variation, and some don’t respond well at all. It depends on the individual’s overall athleticism. Athletes that grew up playing multiple sports are normally better with variation. Once again, as a coach you have to know your individual athletes. The big takeaway is to not throw away the baby with the bath water. Almost all movements have a time and place that’s up to us as coaches to determine.