A few weeks ago, I wrote an article on my personal blog describing the mission of our 501(c)(3) nonprofit weightlifting team and our future plans. You can read that one here if you want to.
SUCCESS AND GOALS
To summarize, we have succeeded in some areas and look to improve in a few others:
Our athletes are succeeding
Four on the 2018 senior world yeam
Two locked on the 2019 youth world team
Four looking to make a Junior Team next year
Two more youth making a bid for a youth unternational team
Three up and coming seniors looking to make Team USA
We want to develop the at-risk program by hiring a full-time person
We’ve been overwhelmed with your generous donations. Meanwhile we are trying our hand at using our resources to raise our own funds. What better way than to let all of you join in on some fun competitions?
THE ONLINE MEET
Coach Crystal McCullough developed the Feats of Strength Online Meet happening January 10th-13th. We know that we cater to a diverse group of barbell lovers, so we made a few different divisions:
Olympic Weightlifting (Snatch and Clean and Jerk)
Powerlifting (Squat, Bench, and Deadlift)
SuperTotal (Snatch, Clean and Jerk, Squat, Bench, and Deadlift)
Here are some of the prizes you can look forward to:
Prizes include the top male and female athlete being offered a spot on Team Mash Mafia with Coach Mash as your head coach!
$500 in gift certificates from Mash Elite Performance
Beautiful kilogram change plates from Intek Strength
Gifts from Wodfitters.com being considered
Gifts from Harbinger Fitness being considered
Gifts from MG12 being considered
Gifts from Nike Weightlifting being considered
SUPPORT THE MASH MAFIA BY COMPETING IN OUR ONLINE MEET
It should be fun for our followers. 100% of all the proceeds will go to our non-profit 501(c)(3). We have a lot of fundraising for 2019 mainly because our athletes are going to be flying all around the world with Team USA. Our coaches are being required to travel to Fiji, Cuba, Guatemala, Peru, Ecuador, and Thailand just to name some of the countrie we have to go to. Since it is the Olympic qualifying period, we might have to travel to other countries for the sake of our athletes.
The secondary goal is hiring a full-time person for our at-risk program. We want someone who can develop the program, build relationships, and help transport the youth. It’s a lot, but we want to impact our community. We can do it with your help.
If you have any questions, you can email email@example.com. We know our goals are high, but we have some amazing followers who want to see our athletes succeed, and that want to see the at risk youth in our community given more opportunities.
I hope that you guys will help us out this holiday season. If not, no big deal! We are just happy that you follow this crazy team.
A lot of people understand the importance of nutrition and recovery.
But hardly anyone really talks about what is just as crucial… the mental game. That’s what we talk about today with Colin Iwanski – the man who has been hired to get USAW athletes operating at their peak mentally.
I have seen good athletes become great by learning how to remain calm at the right times and amped up at the right times. Some people are born to be great competitors – but even they can improve. So listen in to this one!
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At the World Championships, I had the chance to sit down with Pyrros Dimas and talk weightlifting.
Once again, I’m never going to get past the fact that I get to hang out with one of my favorite athletes of all time. That’s right, I didn’t say favorite weightlifter. I said favorite athlete.
I’m not a weightlifting purist like a lot of you are. I absolutely love the sport, but I also love football and basketball. I would still consider myself more of a strength and conditioning coach because I love coaching athletes from multiple sports. It’s simply more challenging, and it keeps me from getting bored. I simply love coaching athletes. I love the great athletes move through space and the way they compete with such confidence.
I remember reading about (and sometimes watching) Pyrros battle with such greats as Siemion and Huster. Pyrros had the unique ability to win. Only a select few athletes have the ability to raise their performance level when victory is on the line. Michael Jordan comes to mind when talking about this ability. Michael Jordan had the ability to take over a game when victory meant the most – like the NBA playoffs. I remember watching Jordan play game five against the Utah Jazz in 1997. Jordan had flu-like symptoms, and he still rose to the occasion with 38 points for at two-point win.
Pyrros had that same ability. If a world record were needed for the win, then Pyrros would hit a world record. This ability to rise above the competition is what drew me to Pyrros – not to mention he’s jacked. I’d say the reason I like Pyrros and Lu Xiaojun is because they are both amazing and jacked athletes. I mean is there a male athlete on earth who doesn’t want to be jacked? Maybe, but I sure loved being muscular when I was a competitive athlete.
HIS CURRENT WORK
Anyway I guess that’s enough of me being a fan boy of Pyrros, but I definitely wanted to give a little context before getting into the rest of the article. Most of you reading this know that Pyrros is now the Technical Director for USA Weightlifting. That really means he is one of our national coaches along with Mike Gattone. At the international meets, these two help guide the decisions made during the competition – such as attempt selection, warm-ups, and training during the final weeks. They do a lot more than this (such as helping coaches like me decide strategies for my athletes), but at least you have the watered down version of what Pyrros does for USA Weightlifting.
In my opinion, there is something more important that he does. That’s what this article is all about. It’s my way of passing on the information to all of you, so that you can turn around and use the information with your own athletes. After all, this is Team USA – not Team Mash. I want USA to field the best team possible. Yes, I want my team to crush. But at the end of the day when I am in my deathbed, I want to look back and see that I did everything in my power to improve the sport within the United States.
Here are the two takeaways from my talk with Pyrros:
Eccentrics from the hang to improve positions
Laying a foundation for high intensity and high frequency blocks
While we were sitting there, we started discussing a common theme amongst US lifters that Dimas had noticed. Yes, it was a surreal moment to sit down and have a discussion with my childhood hero. He noticed most lifters were not staying over the bar long enough. Instead of driving with their legs for as long as possible, they were moving to hip extension too soon and pushing their hips into the bar. This causes the bar to be in front or to loop behind.
This type of movement creates an inconsistent snatch, and it causes a clean to be in front. You will notice a lot of American lifters catching a clean and collapsing forward. Their elbows will drop, and their thoracic spine will round. Most people try to address the problem as a weakness in their torso. However, a lot of the time they are simply catching the clean forward a bit. This creates three problems for the athlete:
Almost impossible to catch a bounce out of the hole.
Makes it harder to stand up from the catch phase of a clean.
Takes energy away from the Jerk.
So are we all doomed to lift like this forever? I for one hope not. There are two things that you can do to rectify this flaw. First, you can simply use verbal cues to try and correct such as:
Stay over the bar
Feet through the floor
Pretend you have longer legs than you do
Knees back and chest up
I should say to only try one at a time with these. Less is definitely more in the sport of weightlifting. If these don’t work, you can try the suggestion from Pyrros. He said to use eccentrics from the hang to strengthen the positions. We know that eccentrics are a great way to get stronger, and the best part is that eccentrics are a great way to get stronger specifically.
Chris Beardsley is an exercise scientist who I have been following for a few years now, and so should you. In his book, Strength is Specific, there are three basic biological mechanisms that determine how much force we produce: the length-tension relationship, the force-velocity relationship, and force enhancement during lengthening. These three factors determine why we are stronger at certain muscle lengths, at certain contraction speeds, and in eccentric versus concentric.
When we train, adaptations happen specifically around these three factors. That means the way we train is very important to the type of adaptation we gain from training. By spending more time in the correct position during the eccentrics, we are teaching the body to be stronger in the specific joint angles that we want the body to be in during the clean or snatch.
Plus it’s easier to maintain proper positions during the eccentric contractions. We are around 125-130% stronger during the eccentric contraction of a lift versus the concentric. To summarize, we are spending more time in the correct positions during the eccentric contraction, and it’s easier for the athlete to stay in the correct position. This type of training leads to specific adaptations strengthening the body in the correct joint angles – not to mention improving the movement neurologically as well from the practice and improved pathways. Just like any other sport, the more one practices yields improved performance.
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We’ve been doing hang snatches and hang cleans with a five-second eccentric on each repetition. We’ve been using eccentrics in the main session of the day and in our morning technique sessions as well. We’ve also been adding in five-second eccentric hangs followed by slow concentric pull snatches and cleans – only speeding up at the last second to finish the lift. We are dialing in that perfect position.
Our goal is for all of our athletes to make at least 85% of their snatches. Obviously that means they are constantly hitting at least two snatches – and most of the time all three. When an already strong athlete is hitting at least two snatches, they become very hard to beat. When an athlete drives with their legs, stays over the bar, and squeezes the bar in, they create a tighter bar path leading to more made lifts.
Preparing the body for high intensity and frequency
Some of you might know Pyrros was born in Albania. He started lifting in Albania with a Russian influenced program. He was able to form a base filled with general physical preparedness. When he moved to Greece, he entered into a Bulgarian influenced program and trained two to three times per day everyday. His workouts were filled with daily maxes in the snatch, clean and jerk, and front squat.
I asked him his thoughts about the Bulgarian program. He told me that his time training in Albania with a Russian style program prepared him for the demanding Bulgarian program. By accident he stumbled upon a program that I consider to be the optimal way of training. You have to spend quality time preparing the body for the extreme demands of high intensity and high frequency.
When we were discussing Hunter’s training program, he wanted me to focus on the eccentric hangs. He told me to pile the volume on her. His exact words were to kill her. Most of my athletes are training towards a February/March competition, and these competitions are very important for all of them. All of them will have endured an 8-10 week training block of hypertrophy and strength work. After that, each block and each week will become more and more high intensity and high frequency. Variance in exercises will decrease and specificity will increase as we start to express the newly built strength.
We can all agree that absolute strength is best expressed with intensities of 90% and above. The only debate is how much, and that answer is very specific to the individual. Accessory work will be less during these high intensity and high frequency blocks, but we will always keep accessory work in the program to target specific weaknesses and asymmetries.
A look inside
Here’s a sample of what we are doing right now:
Day 1 – AM Session
Three-Position Snatch from Mac Board – 55% for a three-position snatch, 60% for a three-position snatch, 65% for a three-position snatch, 55% for a three-position snatch, 60% for a three-position snatch, 65% for a three-position snatch
Day 1 – PM Session
Low Hang Snatch with 5 sec eccentric from Mac Board – 75% for 9 x 2 (60-90 sec rest between sets)
Front Squat – 10 x 3 at 80%
Safety Squat Bar Goodmornings – stay at a 7-8RPE for 3 x 8
Push Press- 5 x 5
DB Bench Press – 5 x 10
Dips – 4 x submaximal reps (use weight if getting more than 10 reps)
Hang Snatch Grip High Pulls – 60% for 3 x 10
Day 3 – AM Session
Tempo Eccentric and Concentric Snatches – 55% for a tempo eccentric and concentric snatch, 60% for a tempo eccentric and concentric snatch, 65% for a tempo eccentric and concentric snatch, 55% for a tempo eccentric and concentric snatch, 60% for a tempo eccentric and concentric snatch, 65% for a tempo eccentric and concentric snatch
Day 3 – PM Session
Low Hang Clean w 5 sec eccentric from Mac Board – 75% for 9 x 2 (60-90 sec rest between sets)
Snatch Grip Deadlift w 5 second eccentric – 5RM (8 RPE), then -10% for 2 x 5
Rear Leg Elevated Split Squats with DBs – stay at a 7RPE for 3 x 10 ea leg
Unilateral Farmer’s Walk – 3 x 20 yd ea arm
Strict Bear Crawls – 4 x 20 yd
Stability Ball Stir the Pot – 3 x 20 sec ea way
Day 5 – AM Session
Slow Pull Snatches (focus on staying over & squeezing, Pause in Catch 2 sec) – 60% for 2, 65% for 2, 70% for 1, 60% for 2, 65% for 2, 70% for 1
Behind the Neck Jerk Steps – 40% for 3, 50% for 3, 60% for 2 x 3
Day 5 – PM Session
Snatch Complex: Snatch + Low Hang with 5 Sec eccentric from Mac Board: 2RM (9 RPE)
Clean and Jerk Complex: Clean + Low Hang with 5 sec eccentric + Jerk: 2RM (9 RPE)
Strict Press – 10 x 3 at 80%
Bent-over Rows Paused on Chest 1-2 seconds – 5 x 10 at 60%
Back Squat with Belt – 10 x 10 at 65%
TRX Leg Curls – 4 x 10
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I hope this helps all of you. A lot of coaches in America have mixed feelings when foreign coaches are hired in America. I can assure you that hiring Pyrros was a great decision. He brings so much wisdom to the table. I mean, think about it for just a second. Yes, he’s a three-time gold medalist (along with one bronze), but that’s only the beginning. How many people do you know who trained in the ‘real’ Russian system and in the ‘real’ Bulgarian system? Not to mention, he received his Master of Sports from the Albanian government. That’s a lot of experience and education he brings to the table. I for one have learned something new from him each and every time we’ve talked.
Some might expect him to be overbearing with all of those accolades, but quite the contrary. He is very receptive and open to discussion. We are very blessed to have him and the rest of the members of USA Weightlifting. They have worked very hard so far this quad to get the athletes ready to make this Olympic run. It seems like they are coming up with something new every month to help our top athletes. We finally have a group focused on medals and international performance versus having a group just happy to have an easy job. There’s nothing easy about what any of them are doing. They are focused and committed, making it easy for coaches and athletes to also be focused and committed.
It’s their commitment to all of us that makes me want to open up to all of you. For once I feel like that Team USA is one big team and not some segmented group of individual teams. If you’ve ever been to a big international competition, you will see an atmosphere that is very different from just a couple of years ago. The coaches are sitting around helping each other and coming up with strategies that will help everyone. It seems that all the coaches have their own strengths and weaknesses. It’s nice to see us coming together.
In my opinion, Danny Camargo is one of the best (if not THE best) coach in American weightlifting.
I’ve had the privilege of talking with him often at major meets – so I’ve seen firsthand the way he coaches and the way his athletes perform. And of course he is most known for coaching the super popular Mattie Rogers.
Now while Danny and Mattie have a great relationship now as coach and athlete… it wasn’t always that way. And in this episode, Danny opens up and tells us all about the struggles they went through. But he also tells us how they made it through – and what he’s learned along the way.
Here's the key to unlocking even more gains in 2019...
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?
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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.
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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.
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.