Category Archives for "Weightlifting"

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…

Where Coaches Get in Trouble

Ever since I posted the video on Twitter of the young athlete performing a clean with terrible technique, I feel that most of my attention has been drawn to the high school strength coaching world.

But this article is about all coaches in the strength world: high school, collegiate, CrossFit, weightlifting, powerlifting, etc.

I want to teach these coaches how to stay off the CCR… the crappy coaching radar.

A lot of coaches possess all the skills necessary to stay off of the CCR, but they swerve out of their lanes. Suddenly they are directly in the bullseye of the CCR.

Here’s how to stay out of CCR trouble.

1. DON’T TEACH WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW

Look, no one loves Olympic weightlifting more than me. But just because you go to a Saturday clinic and someone tells you that Olympic weightlifting is a great way to get athletes ready for their sport doesn’t mean that you start teaching the snatch and clean and jerk come Monday. You have to know how to teach the lifts. Personally I think teaching the snatch and clean and jerk isn’t that hard, but that’s because I have years and years of experience.

Teaching the lifts

If you are really good at teaching the squat, press, and deadlift, I suggest sticking to those movements. Most athletes are so raw that anything will prove to be monumental in their development. Whatever you teach, you need to be 100% proficient in teaching that movement.

Athletes will benefit in a big way from squats, benches, and deadlifts with a few simple plyometrics and accessory movements thrown in. However, poorly taught cleans and snatches will not only yield poor results, but now you have put your athletes in danger. I’m sure that’s the opposite plan that most coaches intended, but those are the results nonetheless. I suggest getting really good at two to three movements first, and then slowly add one or two movements to your toolbox each year.

The Mash Elite Video Curriculum: Coming Soon

We're in the process of creating a massive video curriculum series on technique for the main lifts, programming, mobility, and coaching. Thanks to those who pre-ordered... and get ready for the full resource to be released soon!

2. ADDING POINTLESS ACTIVITIES TO A WORKOUT JUST TO MAKE IT “HARDER”

You see this all the time. Old school coaches love to teach athletes how to work hard, and I agree that good old-fashioned hard work is something everyone needs to learn. But whatever you do, it needs to be done safely.

Some coaches see a program with 5 x 5 at 75% on the back squat. Then they think if 5 x 5 at 75% is good, then 10 x 5 must be better. You know… because if our rival high school is doing 5 x 5, then we will work harder than them with 10 x 5. Sounds awesome! Right?

Wrong! Now you’ve placed the volume into a dangerous level.

A good place for coaches to reference regarding volume is Prilepin’s Chart:

As long as you stick to these parameters, you will be pretty safe. Based on this chart, 50 repetitions at 75% intensity would obviously be more than double the maximum suggested volume. This chart was produced back in 1974 after looking through the numbers of hundreds of top-level athletes in the old Soviet Union. It has stood the test of time, so you can trust it as a great foundation.

3. FAILING TO EXPLAIN THE WHY

Coaches really need to be able to answer the why to whatever you are prescribing. This one rule will keep you out of trouble. If you don’t know the why to your program and every exercise prescribed within the program, stop reading this and go figure that out. If I can’t explain why a movement is in a program, I drop it.

If you find yourself getting mad or offended when athletes ask you questions about your program, that’s probably a sign you are feeling insecure about your program. If this is you, change things right now. You should invite kids to ask. There is no better time to explain the benefits, connect with your athletes, and to get the buy-in that we are all looking for.

Connecting with your athletes and getting buy-in is more important than your program itself. If you can connect with your athletes, you can create real change within their lives. If an athlete believes that something will work, it will work. If they don’t, it won’t. That’s just a fact.

One last point about this issue is that within time constraints placed on you in the school system, none of us have time for an exercise that is of no value. This is another reason to know your why for each and every exercise.

4. PRESCRIBING WORKOUTS THAT DON’T FIT THE CLASS SIZE OR AVAILABLE EQUIPMENT

Before you design any workout, you need to ask yourself a few basic questions:

  • How many people will I be coaching per class?
  • What equipment do I have readily available?
  • How much time do I have per class?
  • What is the main goal I am hoping to accomplish?

A version of Coach Joe Kenn’s Tier System would work nicely here. For example you could front squat, box jump, and plank for the first set of exercises. Then you could finish up with lunges, lateral step-ups, and a carry for the next set and be done. This would take forty to fifty minutes at the most.

What happens if a few people aren’t ready for the front squat? That’s easy. You group those folks together, and they’re doing kettlebell goblet squats, box jumps, and a plank. You have to know your area and your athletes.

5. WRITING A PROGRAM ON THE BOARD AND THINKING THAT IS COACHING

This is my biggest pet peeve and the number one mistake I hope to change. We’ve all seen a high school coach write a workout of the day on the board, explain it a bit, and then walk out of the room until the end of class.

If this is you, you need to change things right now. You are putting your students at risk. You are putting their very lives at risk. You and the school need to be held liable.

Do I sound upset? If so, well… I am. I have children, and I want them to be as safe as possible when they are away from me. I need to be able to trust the adults that are supposedly teaching them at school. If you don’t want to do the job, then don’t. You should quit if you don’t want to do it. If you are in a public school just collecting a check, you need to reevaluate your priorities. You might not like your students, but they are someone’s children.

Real coaching means you are coaching every repetition of every set. Don’t tell me your athletes lift perfectly. I have the best weightlifters in the country, and they still need direction each and every day. Don’t tell me that your 16-year-old boy is performing a clean perfectly on every repetition. Heck – when they perform a repetition perfectly, that’s the perfect time to coach them. That’s when you tell them to remember exactly what they just did, so they can repeat it.

If you want your athletes to improve and more importantly to be safe, you have to be present. I’m not just talking about being in the room. I’ve watched coaches prop their feet up on a desk and read a magazine. I am talking about being attentive to what’s going on.

6. CHASING NUMBERS AT ALL COSTS

This is one of the most common mistakes. Coaches get so caught up in big numbers that they let movement go right out the door. You will see bench presses bouncing off the chest, high squats, and crazy cleans like I posted a few days ago. Why? For what? Just so the coach can tell their friends and athletic directors that their guys are getting strong. It’s crap, man! Learn to coach so you can actually get someone strong in a way that will translate to them being a better athlete. The best way to do that is focus on perfect movement.

If I take a guy with less than perfect movement and improve his movement significantly, I have made him a better athlete whether I got them stronger or not. On the other hand, if their squat goes up while movement quality goes down – congratulations, you just created a worse athlete. This is why I am excited about creating some basic standards for movements and teaching these standards to coaches all over the country. I want to emphasize functional movement patterns over increases in strength. Sound crazy coming from a strength guy? It shouldn’t because a functional movement will always be the strongest movement.

FREE SEMINAR ALERT: JAN 12 AT LEWISVILLE, NC

If you're local to our gym in North Carolina, I am teaching a free strength and conditioning seminar on January 12 entitled Jump Higher and Sprint Faster from Work in the Weight Room.

7. GETTING TOO COMPLICATED

Keep it simple! There is no reason to get fancy, guys. If you’re getting results from basic movements and programming, then keep it basic. Here’s another rule that will never steer you wrong: Get the most out of the least!

If you are getting results from a basic barbell squat, there is no reason to add bands or chains. If linear periodization is getting the job done, then don’t worry about conjugate. Keep it simple and get the most out of the least.

This is a lesson I learned a few years ago. I swear there is a paradigm shift that all strength coaches go through. We start out keeping it simple, focusing on good movement, and getting a bit stronger. Then we start reading all these fancy books and articles. The next thing you know our programs look like something you might find on an engineer’s desk at N.A.S.A.

Then someone (such as Coach Kenn or Coach Dan John) reminds us to slow our rolls and keep it simple. Then we start simplifying things, and we realize that results come much quicker with a simpler approach. This goes for all levels – not just high school.

The simplest workout I ever wrote brought the most gains. I wrote a basic four-days-per-week workout with high frequency and high intensity for Cade Carney to get ready for his freshman year at Wake Forest University.

Here’s an example of what it looked like:

Day 1

Back Squat (with belt) – 1RM (paused 2 sec), then -15% for 2 x 3 (not paused)
superset with 36″ Box Depth Jumps and Touch for Height – 3 x 5
Clean EMOMs – Start at 70% for 8 x 1 rep, working up heavy
Bench Press – 1RM (paused 2 sec), then -15% for 2 x 3 not paused (last set is 3+)
Dips – 3 x submaximal reps
superset with KB Bat Wing Rows – 4 x 8

Day 2

Front Squat (with belt) – 1RM (paused 7 sec at a 8 RPE)
Complex: High Hang Clean + Low Hang Clean – 1RM (8 RPE)
Push Presses – 1RM, then -15% for 2 x 3 (last set is 3+)
Glute Ham Raises (eccentric slower than concentric) – 4 x 6 weighted
KB Staggered (one OH and one to the side) Carries – 4 x 20 yd each way

Day 3

OH Squat – 1RM (2 sec pause in bottom), then -15% for 3
Complex: Clean Pull + Clean – 1RM
Bench Press (pause all reps, add mini bands) – 8 x 3, start at 40% + bands, working up heavy but no misses
Deadlift Max Effort – 1RM from 4″ deficit
Chest to Bar Pullups – 3 x submaximal reps
superset with KB Swings – 3 x 12 reps

Day 4

Warm Up with OH Squat Variations – work up to 70% for 3 reps with 1st rep paused 5 sec
Front Squat (with belt) – 2RM
Hang Snatch – 3RM
Strict Presses – 1RM, then -15% for 3

See how simple it was? We used lots of repetition maximums because he was fresh out of football season. We agreed to stop one or two sets before potential failure unless I gave him the green light.

This simple program worked like a charm. His squat went up by over 70 pounds, bench press by over 50 pounds, and clean by over 70 pounds. Sounds crazy I know, but he was weak when he first started after a long season of football. His team actually won the state playoffs, so he was really beat down. Needless to say, he made a huge impact at Wake Forest to the point that all of his coaches have been by our gym to check us out. As a strength coach, there is no bigger compliment than to send a guy or gal to college only to have their new strength coach commend your work.

MY COMMITMENT

I am committed to making the weight room in high schools all across America a safer and more productive place for student athletes. You might think that I am crazy, but there is an army of us preparing for this battle. It’s not just me. I am developing a database of folks who want to help out. I just spent an hour talking with Coach Sean Waxman last night, and he’s fired up as well. If you get the two of us loudmouths together, things will change just to shut us up.

The Mash Elite Video Curriculum: Coming Soon

We're in the process of creating a massive video curriculum series on technique for the main lifts, programming, mobility, and coaching. Thanks to those who pre-ordered... and get ready for the full resource to be released soon!

The Path to Improving High School Strength Coaching

A few days ago I posted a video on Twitter of a high school athlete performing a clean. At least it was their version of a clean.

The video and my statement sparked a 500,000-view discussion that I believe might have started a movement. Strength coaches from around the country chimed in with their thoughts and suggestions. People such as Kelly Starrett and Zach Even-Esh voiced their concerns, and we all agreed that the responsibility falls on us to correct this issue.

Real Danger

Before I get into how we can change, I want to paint a picture showing the real need for change. The only argument against having certified and experienced strength coaches in our high schools was that of money – that high schools couldn’t afford their history teachers, books, and/or materials, so they aren’t going to fork over the money for a position like a high school strength coach.

So what do I think about that issue? I get it. Money is tight. But think about it this way. The weight room can be the most dangerous room in any school. When proper movement is taught under the watchful eye of a competent coach, the injury rate is somewhere around 3.3 injuries per 1,000 contact hours. This number is lower than most all other activities. For example soccer experiences about 35 injuries per 1,000 contact hours. However, these numbers are thrown out the window when a coach isn’t competent, or worse isn’t even watching the class. Sounds crazy, but I have witnessed multiple high school weight rooms with a missing coach.

When a coach isn’t competent or even present, the weight room can be a death trap. The bench press is the most dangerous movement in the weight room – especially when performed without a spotter. I’ve watched heavy weights dropped from arm’s length onto chests, throats, and even heads. Anyone who has ever lifted weights has probably been pinned under a bench press due to exhaustion. If you have a trained spotter, that’s not a problem. Lifting to failure is one of the quickest ways to add muscle size (hypertrophy). However, people have died by getting pinned under a heavy barbell in the bench press.

Bad technique in any movement can cause injury. But during a squatting or pulling movement (examples: back squat, deadlift, and clean), the spine and pelvis are put at risk. Shoulder and knee injuries are horrible, but spinal injuries can affect everyday activities for the remainder of the athlete’s life. Are we really willing to put our youth at risk of a major injury due to lack of funds? If that’s the case, I recommend not offering weight training at all in schools. I want my children to understand history as much as any parent, but I’d rather their history knowledge take a bit of a hit versus risking their lives or their long-term health.

Carryover

There’s something else school boards and the powers that be are forgetting.

“There is substantial evidence that physical activity can help improve academic achievement, including grades and standardized test scores.” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance”). Here’s a link to a report about the combined studies on this subject.

If the priority were academic performance and safety, all the data would point towards an effort to improve the circumstances within our high schools and middle schools. I’m not going to sit here and write about all the problems within our schools. That’s not who I am. I get it! There are some major challenges, and I agree if there isn’t any money, you can’t pull dollars out of the air.

Here are my suggestions:

1. Performance Standards

First, let’s standardize the performance of movements. I know that there are several techniques for movements such as cleans, squats, benches, and deadlifts – and I am not trying to make coaches teach a certain way. However, there can be standards set that all experts would agree on. For example:

  • Clean – neutral spine (flat back without excessive hyperextension or flexion), shoulders have to stay above the hips, elbows can’t touch the knees (this helps to avoid broken wrists), and knees stay aligned with the first two toes.
  • Squats – neutral spine, shoulders remain above hips at all times, and knees stay aligned with the first two toes. It’s hard to standardize depth because there’s some pretty good evidence correlating half squats with increases in speed and vertical leap due to the specificity in joint angles. However, I suggest that most squats be performed below parallel in a controlled manner, especially during the first two years of strength training.
  • Deadlifts – neutral spine, shoulders remain above hips at all times, and knees stay aligned with the first two toes. For all of you powerlifters who like to round your thoracic spine, remember these are high school athletes.

Once you’ve standardized the movements, all coaches should take a course and pass a test. That way all coaches in a high school setting will at least have seen proper movement patterns. Then they can be held liable if they choose to deviate from the standards. The video within my tweet that went viral wouldn’t have passed any of these standards.

2. Programming Standards

The next step is to standardize programming protocols. There are a lot of amazing experts out there who would love to come together on producing these protocols (such as Coach Joe Kenn, Kelly Starrett, Andy Galpin, and Coach Sean Waxman). A four person team like this would rock because you have two-time NSCA Coach of the Year Joe Kenn, DPT Kelly Starrett coming at things from a functional movement approach, Doctor Andy Galpin who heads up a lot of the latest research in the industry, and Coach Sean Waxman who is one of the best weightlifting coaches in the country. When these dynamics come together, something beautiful is formed. I just want to avoid things like 10 x 10 at 70% in the clean. This could help avoid crazy workouts that some coach thought of on New Year’s Eve that puts 5 athletes in the ER due to rhabdomyolysis.

A group like this could even develop basic plans that an inexperienced coach could follow. In middle school and high school, basics work the best anyways. Standardized movements and programming leads me to my next suggestion.

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3. Qualify the Unqualified Coach

If we have standardized movements and standardized programming, now we are set to prepare all coaches. If we can’t afford to hire certified and experienced strength and conditioning coaches, the next best thing is to prepare the coaches that we have.

I am a firm believe that most coaches in a high school care about the students. They wouldn’t hurt anyone on purpose. They simply don’t know any better. Heck, if I started coaching a high school football team tomorrow, I would do a terrible job. I wouldn’t do a terrible job because of my dislike for the athletes. I simply wouldn’t be prepared for the job.

I’d like to see a solid curriculum developed that would teach these coaches the movement standards and the programming protocols. The curriculum should also contain the basics of biomechanics, anatomy, and physiology. There should be a testing procedure proving the coach’s proficiency. After that, I recommend one more thing – which brings me to my next point.

4. Coaching Mentorship Network

I am a good coach because of my network. I’ve learned from amazing coaches: Coach Joe Kenn, Coach Sean Waxman, Louie Simmons, Coach Don McCauley, and Coach Dragomir Cioroslan to name a few. My time spent with these coaches helped to mold me into the coach I am today. If we could provide these coaches with a mentor to answer questions and give suggestions, we could be assured that coaches wouldn’t slip back into their old ways. Mentors would be for accountability as well as continued growth.

Who becomes a mentor? I am sure that several of you are asking that very question. The first thing to do is find a group of amazing coaches to form a board. An example of a high-powered board would be people my suggestions above: Coach Joe Kenn, Kelly Starrett, Andy Galpin, and Coach Sean Waxman. This board could develop the standardized movements and programming protocols, as well as give their seal of approval for potential mentors. Even if mentors required a monthly fee like $350-500 per month, that’s still a lot cheaper than hiring a strength coach for $40,000 per year.

5. Certifying Clinic

If we could keep the other suggestions and top it all off with a clinic, I think that we could be assured the conditions within high school weight rooms would at least improve. Just like USA Weightlifting’s Level I Certification, we could recruit proven and experienced coaches to teach other coaches based on the developed standards. Personally I like the USA Weightlifting Level I because it teaches the progressions of the competition lifts as well as the main accessory movements. That also guarantees a qualified coach gets to witness the competency of the potential coach’s ability to teach the movements.

The USAW Level I also teaches the basics of programming and gives examples of well thought-out programming. We could start by requiring the USA Weightlifting Level I. I like that curriculum over the NSCA CSCS simply because of the practicality of the certification. The potential coaches are actually taught to teach the lifts, and they have to demonstrate their competency in teaching the movements. The CSCS does an incredible job of teaching the science, but the USAW Level I is more practical. To solve the problem in our schools, we need the practical.

Personally, I would like to see USA Weightlifting get together with the National High School Strength Coaches Association, make a few tweaks to the USAW Level I to make it more strength and conditioning based, and then boom you would have a perfect certification for high school strength coaches. Let’s just get started! I just want to see change taking place.

The Beginning

Of course there are other things that I would like to see happen like:

  • A certified strength and conditioning coach in every middle school and high school.
  • P.E. Coaches doubling as certified strength and conditioning coaches
  • Fundraising events to help handle the costs

However, I know that schools are strapped for cash. I know that our teachers are underpaid. I care more about academics than sports in my own family, so I get it. I hope these suggestions will help spark some real change that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. I think these suggestions could be implemented quickly.

Now if some of you don’t like these ideas or have better ones, I want to hear them. If this article simply gets people talking, then it has done its job. Let’s start the discussion, ladies and gentlemen. Let’s teach our kids to be strong, but let’s keep them safe.

Integrated Periodization with Dr. Scott Howell – The Barbell Life 234

I think this is the first podcast guest we’ve had who grew up in my hometown. He used to workout in the very first gym I ever trained at back when I was just a kid.

And Scott Howell has had an inspiring life. He had a rocky start, but he came back to get an incredible education. Now he writes and studies and thinks all day about periodization.

Specifically, Scott talks with us about a plan that fits everything together – nutrition, training, and mindset. This guy is just smart.

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

  • Why the best weightlifters will not make the Olympics
  • Arguing about periodization on the internet
  • Meeting and learning from a strength legend
  • His rocky start in life and his inspirational rise
  • The complicated rules of the Olympics
  • and more…