Category Archives for "Functional Fitness"

Growing SoCal Weightlifting with Chris Amenta – The Barbell Life 320

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

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

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

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



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


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

Stay Off Your Toes – by Vinh Huynh

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Things I’ll add to the set position:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bench Press: Technique Points and Warm Up

As a high school athlete, I did not get exposed to the weight room unfortunately. In college, my workout was playing sports and running.

When I went into the military, everything was centered around running, push-ups, and sit-ups. I started running competitively in 2006 and had a running coach. He was an Ironman who was very knowledgeable about running, but he told me I shouldn’t lift weights because it would make me bulky and slow me down.

Fast forward to 2010, I was introduced to CrossFit at 35 years old – and boom, my love for strength training and eventually coaching was born!

I got good at heavy squats and deadlifts as well as cycling lighter weights, but bench press was not a movement that you see very often in a CrossFit strength program or conditioning piece. The bench press is such a technical lift. If you don’t do it with some frequency, you will not be as efficient in it as you could be.


The latest and greatest methods from Travis Mash as he continues to innovate Mash Mafia programming.

Weightlifting - Powerlifting - Super Total

Garage Gym Warrior - Functional Fitness - Strength and Conditioning

Technique Matters

I will never forget the biggest ‘AHA’ moment I have had with the bench press. My first CrossFit competition in 2011 had a workout called Death by Barbells. One part of it was 3 minutes max effort bench press with 50% of your body weight. I believe my weight was 75 pounds. One of the spectators, Scotty Cox, was a friend of the gym I went to – and he was also a really good powerlifter. He kept saying cues to me while I was doing the workout, but I couldn’t make any changes as I only had that 3 minutes to get as many reps as I could. When the workout was over, this was my ‘AHA’ moment. He said, contrary to popular belief, the bench press is not just an upper body exercise and that I was not taking full advantage of the movement if I didn’t use the whole body. If you ask Travis, he will tell you I still have some room for improvement when it comes to using my lower body to my advantage.

In 2014, due to an injury, I switched over to competing in powerlifting. My bench press was definitely lagging behind both my squat and deadlift at the time. I still feel it is, and I am working on it. At that point in my very early powerlifting career, my bench set up included lying on a bench and unracking the bar. Thankfully, I got the chance in 2015 to work with Paul Key, who is known to be a bench press specialist. He showed me efficient ways to set up on the bench, how to include my lower body in the movement, and even how to wrap my wrist wraps efficiently. I saw a quick increase in my numbers just by making those changes.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, if I had just started as a great bencher and didn’t have to work at it to get better, I might not be able to coach it as well as I do. But my struggle has allowed me to write an article like this.

The bench press is the most technical of the three power lifts and it requires the most focus. There are those that have the ideal body type for benching: short arms and barrel chest. For most, that isn’t the case and we have to work at perfecting our technique and using our levers to our best advantage to overcome our long arms.

Proper Warm-Up

At the beginning of each session with any of the main lifts, it is important to get in a proper warm up. This would include a general warm up to get your heart rate up followed by a specific warm up to prime your body for the movement you are about to do. Give yourself about 10-15 minutes to warm up.

General Warm-up

A general warm-up consists of getting the heart rate up and getting the muscles warm. That is not done by static stretching but by dynamic movement.

Some go-tos are:

  • Bike or row for 1-2 minutes
  • Leg swings
  • Greatest stretch
  • Skips
  • Jumping jacks
  • Soldier march
  • Side shuffle
  • Carioca
  • Arm swings
  • Walkouts
  • Hip circle monster walks, side walks, leg raises, etc. (These are my favorite.)

Specific Warm-up

Specific movement prep is doing complementary movements specific to the main movement on any given day.

What many don’t realize is the bench press is a full body movement. A specific warm up should include both upper and lower body.

Some go-tos are:

  • Hip circle monster walks, side walks, leg raises
  • Lunges with a twist
  • Drive the bus with a peanut
  • Slides with a peanut (on wall or floor)
  • Band pull aparts
  • Walk outs
  • Band pull aparts
  • Bar work – always start with an empty bar
  • Use a small foam roller under the curvature of the back with the empty barbell to work on the arch and thoracic mobility

The thoracic spine needs to be moving in order to get a proper arch. You want the lats and triceps to be firing for obvious reasons and the glutes and hamstrings to be firing for leg drive. Using all or an a la carte of the above movements will have you ready to bench press.

Lift Technique


Contrary to popular belief, you don’t just lay down on a bench for a proper set up. The set up is crucial!

  • Lay down on the bench with the eyes under or slightly behind the bar.
  • Take your hands and place them at the top of the bench stand just under the bar and actively push your lats under you and down. Pack it all in.
  • Plant the feet either in front and to the side or behind the knee so you are able to push back with the feet rather than up.
  • Without losing any tension in the upper body (while still holding on to the rack), push the hips up toward the shoulders. This locks everything in and creates that natural arch.

Lift Off

  • Be sure to keep the shoulders tucked under you and down.
  • Keep elbows under the bar, bring the bar to where wrists, elbows, and shoulders are stacked.


  • Take a deep breath and push into the belly, reaching your chest as tall as possible.
  • Squeeze the bar by thinking about breaking it with your pinkies. This will keep the lats engaged.
  • Glide the bar down to the highest point of the sternum, roughly where the xiphoid process is.
  • Keep the elbows and wrists stacked.
  • Pause on the chest.


  • Initiate the drive with the legs by pushing back with the feet.
  • Explode the bar off the chest by pushing up and back, keeping the elbows under the bar.

If you are a powerlifter who competes or is looking to compete, there are a few more important details to take note of. I recommend practicing like you compete when you get close to competition so you can get used to the rules of competing.

  • The spotter will hand the bar off to you.
  • The judge at your head will tell you when to start your descent.
  • You must pause the bar on the chest until the judge tells you to press.
  • At lockout, you have to wait for the judge to tell you to rack it.

During times of adrenaline, I have seen lifters miss easy weights because they jumped the gun and didn’t wait for commands. I am guilty of it myself. On the bench press, you have to be more relaxed and focused in order to hear the commands.


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One Programming Tip

In order to get better at bench, frequency is key! The more you do it correctly, the better you will be at it. AND, the stronger you will get.

While frequency is key to improving your bench for technical and movement-specific purposes, there is also auxiliary work that can be done to strengthen the muscle groups used in the bench. Variations of the bench are also ways to be able to bench more often and target different areas.

My go to movements are:

  • Pull-ups
  • Floor press
  • DB pull-overs
  • Rows
  • Tricep work
  • DB presses (vertical, horizontal, incline, decline, floor)
  • Band work
  • Push-ups
  • Muscle snatch (to open the shoulders back up)
  • Fat grip curls (these help with pain at the elbows!)

Here is a sample week of bench frequency from a block of a program I did last year leading up to my best meet to date. After this particular cycle, when we added frequency in, my bench max jumped 13 kilos! Keep in mind, I did other main lifts and auxiliary work with this program. I am just pulling out the bench work.

Day 1

Wider than normal grip Bench Press (no misses on + sets) – 1RM (paused 5 sec), then -15% for 3+ w slight paused

Day 2

Bench Press – 85% 1×3, 75% 1×5, 88% 1×2, 78% 1×4, 90% 1×1, 80% 1×3+
DB Pullovers + Pull-Ups Wide Pronated – 3×10 + submaximal
Hang Muscle Snatch + Bentover, T-Bar, or Seated Rows – 3×10+10
DB Triceps Extension superset Band Pushdowns – 5×10+10

Day 3

Closegrip Bench Press – 3RM (1st rep paused 5 sec)

Day 4

No Bench this Day

Day 5

Bench Press
Set 1 – (90% x 1) rest 2 minutes and then (80% x 4)
Set 2 – (add 5-10 Kilos to the 1 rep set if possible) (90% x 1) rest 2 minutes and then (80% x 4)
Set 3 – (add 5-10 Kilos to the 1 rep set if possible) (90% x 1) rest 2 minutes and then (80% x 4+)
DB Flat Press – 3×10
Band or Cable Row+Cheerleader (elbows back to retract scapula+external rotation+press (same in eccentric) – 3×10
1a. Nosebreakers+Pullovers+Closegrips Triceps – 3×10+10+10
1b. Axle Bar Curls – 3×10

I wouldn’t suggest your bench frequency to be this high all the time nor do I suggest 4x/week for everyone. I personally do well with high volume and high frequency. Others might be crushed with this much bench frequency. My suggestion to you is if you are benching once a week now and have stalled, add in another bench day. If you are at two right now, add a third. Don’t just go from one day a week to four. Slowly add frequency, allow the body to adapt, and make sure it responds in a positive way.



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

About Crystal: Crystal is Travis’ right hand person! She is a USA Weightlifting National Coach and holds her NSCA – Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist certification. She is an RN with a Masters degree in Nurse Education. She also holds multiple other certifications to include CFL2, USATF, Precision Nutrition, and Flex Diet. She is also an international elite ranked powerlifter.

Combining Barbells and Kettlebells with Dr. Michael Hartle – The Barbell Life 318

The world of kettlebell training has a lot to offer.

Barbell athletes can use the philosophies and modalities of kettlebell training to increase their power. And kettlebells are great tools for stability and muscular balance.

Dr. Micheal Hartle is the chief barbell instructor for Pavel Tsatsouline’s StrongFirst – so as you can imagine, he knows a ton about combining barbells and kettlebells. It’s all about taking the best of both worlds.

(And get this – just to show how powerful these principles are, Dr. Hartle was able to stay resilient as he played semi-pro football as a middle-aged man.)


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...


  • Gaining strength DURING a football season (when other teams are losing strength)
  • The best exercise for strength, stability, and active recovery – that you’re probably not doing enough of
  • Pavel, Louie Simmons, and a big brawl
  • Achieving the proper tension in the deadlift
  • How he played semi-pro football as a middle-aged man and was resilient and healthy throughout it all
  • and more…

Barbell Athlete Assessment with Quinn Henoch – The Barbell Life 316

Dr. Quinn Henoch spends his days assessing and rehabbing barbell athletes who are in pain.

He also knows a lot about helping athletes to be more strong and mobile – so that they can perform better and avoid injury in the first place.

And what I love about Quinn is that he has a wealth of knowledge specifically about the barbell. Let’s face it – those of us who love lifting are going to experience very different issues from what many other therapists are used to.

So get ready for this podcast if you want a simple and effective approach to assessment and mobility.



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


  • What’s wrong with some assessment models – and why the FMS might be bad for powerlifters
  • Evaluating “software” and “hardware” in an athlete
  • Using landmine presses and single-arm DB lifts to enhance mobility
  • The way he views the overhead squat
  • How to still train in the midst of injury and pain
  • and more…

Video: Snatch Analysis

It’s not difficult to notice the flaws in a beginner’s lifts.

But it’s a different matter when we’re talking about advanced lifters.

I’ve got a video analysis today where I break down the snatch of Ryan Grimsland and Matt Wininger. Both of them have great bar paths, and both of them also have areas of improvement.


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