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?
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.
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.
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.
Some love it. Some hate it. But what’s the truth on the Bulgarian Method?
The Bulgarian Method (made famous by the late Coach Ivan Abadjiev) was a system comprised mainly of the snatch, clean and jerk, front squat, power snatch, and power clean. The athletes in this system would work up to a max for the session with a few back-off repetitions, and this would take place two to three times per day and seven days per week.
Yes, this is an extreme system. It worked in a country riddled with drugs and a national system with a funnel of athletes. I don’t believe it to be the most optimal system due to the obvious risk of injury and overtraining. However, I don’t ever recommend throwing out the baby with the bath water.
A.S. Prilepin worked within the Soviet weightlifting program from 1975-1985, allowing him to extract data from thousands of top athletes. To me that makes his studies more applicable than any kind of study performed at a university with a few college students. Prilepin determined that intensities over 90% were the best loads for getting stronger. Without a doubt, if you want to get stronger, you are going to need to go heavy.
I have developed twenty athletes for Team USA since 2015. Every athlete on my team goes through a Bulgarianish block of training. However, how often and for how long depends on the individual.
When I say Bulgarianish, I am simply referring to a high intensity and high frequency block of training. No one I know truly trains year-round two to three times per day to a maximum. But if you want to get an increase in a particular lift of two, there is nothing better than high intensity and high frequency.
My programming has evolved multiple times over the past four years. We tested out high intensity and high frequency as a base program, and it worked for some. We’ve tested out programs that averaged right around that 80% intensity range, and that style worked for some. However, a mixture has proven to yield the best results in our experience.
Our programming looks something like this:
Accumulation: get the body acclimated with movements that are out of the ordinary, giving the joints and the mind a bit of a break. This block is hypertrophic in nature.
Hypertrophy: this block is similar to the accumulation phase, but the movements become a bit more specific.
One to two strength blocks with average intensities of around 80%: the focus is efficiency in sport specific movement. The volume will be higher during this type of a block to produce a neural efficiency response. The secondary focus is strengthening weaknesses and strengthening the muscles directly related to the sport specific movement.
One to two High Intensity and High Volume Blocks with average intensities around 90%: The overall volume during this phase is a bit lower to allow for as much recovery as possible. Now we are preparing the body both muscularly and neutrally to withstand higher loads. This phase is the most specific.
Peaking/Taper Block: this is normally four to six weeks depending on the person. The focus is on specificity of the competition movements, while maintaining the special strengths developed in the previous blocks.
Each of these blocks is specific to the individual. All of my athletes will at least perform each of these blocks for some amount of time. Within each block, there are several variables that must be considered to produce the optimal program for the individual. Here are just a few variables that must be considered:
Average weekly and daily volume
Average weekly and daily intensity
Weakness and asymmetry driven accessory work
Duration of the phase (two to eight weeks)
Frequency of the individual movements
A lot of these variables are determined by the characteristics of the individual athlete. Here are a few of the characteristics that we look at:
Level of performance
For a more detailed explanation of all of these variables and how we customize programs to the individual, check out our guide Mash Files.
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We don’t even come close to performing a Bulgarian block, but almost all of my athletes perform a high intensity and high frequency block.
Here’s a sample of what a week of “HIHF” might look like:
Snatch (from blocks with bar at knee): 1RM
Clean and Jerk: 75% x 2, 80% x 2, 85% x 1, 78% x 2, 83% x 1, 88% x 1, then work up allowed 1 miss
Front Squat : 1RM (paused 3 sec)
Clean Pulls: 4 x 3 (work up heavy, starting at 90%)
Power Snatch: 65% for 2 x 3, then 3RM
Behind the Neck Jerk (from racks/blocks): 75% x 3, 80% x 3, 85% x 2, 75% x 3, 80% x 3, 85% x 2, then 3RM
Front Squat (with belt): 75% x 4, 80% for 2 x 3, 85% for 2 x 2, then find a 2RM
Reverse Hypers: 3 x 45 sec
Snatch: 75% x 2, 80% x 2, 85% x 1, 78% x 2, 83% x 1, 88% x 1, then work up (allowed 1 miss)
Clean (from blocks with bar at knee): 1RM
Upper Muscluar Imbalance Superset:
1a. DB Tricep Extensions: 3 x 10 reps
1b. DB or KB Push Presses: 3 x 10 reps
1c. Plate Front Raises: 3 x 12 reps
OH Squat: 3RM
Power Clean: 65% for 2 x 3, then 3RM (9RPE)
High Bar Back Box Squat + Bands or Chains: 40% bar weight + 30% bands or chains for 6 x 3 (60-90 sec between sets, velocity goal of 0.8 m/s)
Sled Bear Crawls: 4 x 30 yd
Clean and Jerk: Max
Front Squat (with 100 lb of chain): 1RM
Snatch Pulls (from blocks): 4 x 3 (work up heavy, starting at 90%)
Back Squat: 5RM, then -10% for 2 x 5
Clean Grip Deadlift : 3RM (first rep paused 3 sec at knee), then -10% for 2 x 3 (not paused)
Leg Curls (DB, Band, or TRX): 3 x 10
Unilateral Farmer’s Walk: 3 x 30 yd each hand
In this sample week, we are snatching four times plus an overhead squat. I mention the overhead squat in relation to the snatch simply because it’s specific to the snatch. We are performing a clean four times and jerking three times with one of those times being separate of the clean. I think it is important to split the clean and the jerk up at least once per week for a block or two to ensure that each movement is perfected separately.
We are squatting five times, but we are using a few variations to avoid accommodation. Chains and using a box are both ways of minimizing recovery time. Chains deload when the range of motion is at the most extreme angles preventing some of the muscle damage. The athlete will still experience maximal weights up top, and they will improve in the area of compensatory acceleration, as they learn to recruit more and more fibers while standing up and overcoming more and more chain resistance.
We use pauses to limit the load and to encourage proper receiving positions in the clean. Pauses are also a way of stabilizing in the bottom position, which enables the athlete to absorb force more quickly during a clean. This allows them to catch the weight and change directions more quickly. We also use velocity as a tool to focus on maximal speed with moderate weights, which is what the sport of weightlifting is all about anyways. This is a time to focus on strength-speed, taking a break from the accelerative and absolute qualities of strength.
As you can see, we use much more variety than a typical Bulgarian Program. We also use a bit more volume because our athletes need more practice with the movement. When my athletes such as 15-year-old Morgan McCullough and 16-year-old Ryan Grimsland have been competing for more than seven years at a high level, I might consider a “HIHF” block with less volume because they will have hopefully perfected the movement at that point. Most of the Bulgarians started their training much younger than most Americans. General physical preparedness was handled in the school system, and from there the athletes were placed in the sport that fit their genetics. In America we get athletes, such as Hunter Elam, who is amazingly strong and athletic but didn’t start weightlifting until she was in her twenties. She still needs more practice at the lifts to perfect the movement.
I will always use accessory movements to strengthen the weaknesses of my athletes. Do I believe that accessory work will lead to a bigger snatch? In some cases it does. Accessory work definitely helped to improve Hunter Elam (who had a pretty big overhead deficiency). But accessory work doesn’t always help to improve the snatch and clean and jerk in all athletes. I still use accessory work a lot, however, because accessory work prepares the body to handle the beating placed upon it by the sport of weightlifting. Accessory work also helps to correct asymmetries, which can cause injuries over time.
Here's the key to unlocking even more gains in 2019...
I will conclude with this quote from a man much smarter than me:
“Muscles and the CNS can only adapt to the demands placed upon it. Thus the… maximal effort method is considered superior for improving intramuscular and inter muscular coordination”
Science and Practice of Strength Training – Zatsiorsky
Yes, going heavy is the quickest way to getting stronger. However, a lot of athletes who have come and gone in America have proven it’s very hard to withstand day-in and day-out and year-after-year.
But that doesn’t mean to throw out the baby with the bath water. You definitely want to add in block of high frequency and high intensity, depending on the individual needs of each athlete. I recommend using this method with a bit more of a balanced approach in regards to accessory work, strength work, and volume.
When I was talking recently with my friend Dr. Andy Galpin, he mentioned he was a big fan of Cal Dietz’s Triphasic Training.
And if you’ve been in the strength game for any amount of time, you’ve surely heard of it.
I was so excited to have Cal on the podcast today to talk with us. He’s doing a lot of crazy things in the gym that sparked my curiosity – stuff like having his athletes squat with their heels up. Or Cal’s love of the single leg squat with a safety squat bar.
Cal talks about such profound training concepts, but he has an ability to break it down and make it sound so simple.
The concepts Cal talks about with us could allow any athlete to make big changes or just slight changes to their training – whether the athlete is into weightlifting, powerlifting, CrossFit, or field sports.
MASH FILES: LEARN FROM THE PROGRAM OF AN NFL BEAST
Travis Mash shows you all the details and reasoning behind the recent off-season program for Tommy Bohanon (starting fullback for the Jacksonville Jaguars)
Then you can use these principles to individualize your own programs to fit an athlete's strengths, weaknesses, age, gender, sport demands, and unique response to training.
“Balance is not something you find, it’s something you create.”
– Jana Kingsford
For most of us, we have obligations outside of the gym. Some of us work out simply for our health, while others of us are training at a high level for our sport (i.e. weightlifting, powerlifting, CrossFit). There is only a very small percentage of athletes who have the ability to treat training and recovery as their full time job without distractions. Obligations can be work related, school related, or family related. We can make a million excuses about not having time to go to the gym (and many of these excuses may even be valid). The bottom line is that we make time for things that are important to us. No matter how busy we are, if we prioritize our health and fitness as important, we will find a way. Balance is key!
Whatever combination of busyness you have, goal setting, prior planning, and time management are key components of successfully staying active in the gym and training. I am a wife, mother, coach, business partner, and elite athlete. Each of my days are spent doing a combination of these things:
Spending time with Wayne and Morgan – My husband and I find time throughout the busy day to go on walks or go to breakfast so we can have couples time. Morgan and I spend time together watching silly TV shows and talking on the way to and from the gym. THIS is my number one priority, but I know that I can always do a better job.
Coaching – I coach our morning adult fitness classes at L.E.A.N. two to three times per week as well as coach weightlifting with Travis each afternoon. I also travel to the National meets with the team to help Travis coach.
Managing a gym – I am the general manager of L.E.A.N., and I have daily obligations of answering emails, marketing, membership recruitment and retention, programming, cleaning, etc.
Training – I compete in powerlifting and train five to six times per week.
Programming for online athletes – I have 30 online athletes who I program for through our Silver Level program. I have weightlifters, powerlifters, and CrossFit athletes.
Customer service – I am the person you email when you need anything at the firstname.lastname@example.org email.
Podcasting – We spend three to four hours every couple of weeks talking to guests on the podcast.
Homeschooling Morgan – We are on a break right now (thank goodness!), but when we are in session, I grade his daily work and issue his tests to him.
This may look like a lot – and if I’m being honest, it is. However, I wouldn’t give up a single one of them! I have an amazing support system with my husband, Wayne, and my son, Morgan. Wayne has taken on two to three mornings of coaching adult fitness classes at the gym for me, and he coaches when I go out of town with our weightlifters. He will also start helping me with marketing and membership recruitment. He brings Morgan to the gym to train on the days I can’t come home mid-day. He cooks dinner, does housework, and helps Morgan with school. I couldn’t do all of this without him. Morgan keeps me accountable with my training and pushes me to always be the best version of myself. Both my husband and my son help me to stay balanced.
I say all of this, not for you to feel sorry for me or to brag, but to prove to you that with the goal setting, prior planning, and time management, it is possible to stay on track with your health and fitness despite all of your obligations.
Short on time in the gym? Here's the blueprint you need to follow.
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Women in the roles of wife and/or mom sometimes feel even more overwhelmed than men. We feel like there are certain things we are supposed to be doing. Giving up our own time for fitness is the first thing to go. We put others’ needs before our own. We identify as someone’s wife or someone’s mom, and we can lose ourselves if we don’t learn to find balance and prioritize.
I have found through trial and error that I have to go through a set of simple steps regularly in order to be successful. There are some weeks I am more successful than others. These are a few steps that I try to work on each week:
Set aside time to go to the gym and train. Make an appointment with yourself!
Set training goals. This can be as simple as getting in the gym x days a week or as specific as a meet or competition to train for. I personally find that I do better when I have a meet I am training for. When you have goals, you are more likely to keep the appointment you made with yourself. Be realistic with your goals.
Make a list and prioritize all the tasks you have to complete throughout your day. Check off tasks as you accomplish them. Block out specific time blocks for each task.
Lose the excess baggage. If there is something or someone bringing you down and keeping you from reaching your full potential, lose it. This can be as simple as getting off social media if it interferes with your productivity.
Have open communication regularly with your family and friends to let them know what you need from them as a support system to be successful.
Here's the key to unlocking even more gains in 2019...
Here are a few additional pointers for moms and wives especially out there having a hard time balancing everything and on the verge of losing themselves:
Work toward an integrated life. Perspective is crucial in order to create harmony in your life – by having a balance of time for yourself and time for your family. If you have these two things, there won’t be guilt over all the other things. Only you will know the formula that works best for you.
Don’t feel guilty for finding a better version of yourself. What I mean is don’t stay home from the gym or fail to pursue dreams because you feel guilty for taking time for yourself. As my husband says (via a Rich Froning quote), “A happy wife is a happy life.”
Realize that following your dreams only encourages your children to follow theirs. You teach your children a valuable lesson of how important health and fitness is in their lives by including them.
Life will knock down even the best of us at times. Learn how to get back up, brush it off, and continue forward!
Creating balance in your life isn’t going to happen overnight. There are times you will feel overwhelmed. I still have my moments of being overwhelmed. Don’t let yourself get to this point if you can help it. Regularly go back to the steps and make sure your goals are realistic, the way you manage your time is working, and you have communicated your needs with your support system.
I hope this article gave you something to think about and can provide you with some simple strategies to maybe make your life a little less hectic without giving anything up you love!