Category Archives for "Weightlifting"

Hang Clean vs. Clean from the Floor

The clean is one of the most discussed lifts in the strength and conditioning world. I have written countless articles about the clean, and I have an entire book dedicated to everything about the movement.

One of the statements you might hear floating around in several strength and conditioning circles is that hang cleans are easier to teach and just as effective as a full range of motion clean from the floor. Is that true? Well, I have to give everyone’s favorite answer: “it depends.” While we’re discussing this, I will also tackle the topic of clean pulls in relation to full cleans.

My goal is to arm you with the scientific facts, so you can better make a decision for your athletes. A coach must be armed with the basics of biomechanics, physics, anatomy, and physiology. This knowledge will help them discern the information they are going to receive from mentors and peers. I don’t want any of you to assume that just because one of your go-to coaches says something that the information is automatically true. If that’s the case, the industry will never get better. I don’t want any of the coaches I mentor to take everything I say as gold – just like Louie Simmons or Coach Joe Kenn don’t want their coaching followers to take everything they say as law. It’s simply the information we have extracted from our own experience and studies. Of course based on the results of our athletes, we are mainly doing things correctly. However, I believe strength and conditioning still has a way to go.

Benefits

Let’s get into it. First, we need to go over why strength and conditioning coaches choose to use the clean in their arsenal of exercises. Let’s take a look at the benefits of a clean:

  • Power= Force x Velocity – moving moderate loads at a high velocity through space
  • Rate of Force Development (RFD) – this comes with improved motor unit recruitment and improved rate coding (the speed of which the neuromuscular system recruits maximal motor units. We will dig deeper, so don’t worry.)
  • SAID Principle – Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands
  • Develop proprioception – movement through space
  • Mobility

These are just a few, but I feel I have made a solid point. The clean is a lot of bang for your buck. We will look at each benefit and compare a few of the favorite versions of the clean with the full movement clean. The goal is to arm you with the knowledge necessary for choosing the proper tool for the job. That’s the main point really. All movements are simply tools in our tool boxes. Like any good builder or carpenter, we have to know which tool is good for the job.

THE POWER OF THE CLEAN

Travis Mash's guide to the mighty clean... the most valuable lift for Strength and Conditioning Coaches

Learn to understand the clean on a deep level so you can easily and confidently correct movement flaws, assess athletes, write programs, and coach them to athletic success.

Power = Force x Velocity

Let me make this as simple as possible. Force equals mass x acceleration. Louie Simmons has made it his life’s work to make sure we all know that. Let’s look at the relationship between force and velocity. First, the mass component of force is inversely proportional to velocity. That means when the mass goes up, the velocity goes down and vice versa. Acceleration is equally proportional to velocity, since acceleration is a measure in the change of velocity.

On the field of play, athletes are normally only charged with the duty of moving their own bodyweight as quickly as possible (unless they’re throwers or strength athletes). Velocity is superior in almost all athletics except for powerlifting and aerobic sports. Therefore, the velocity at which an athlete is moving a certain weight is crucial. This is where the clean from the floor is superior, and I will explain why.

Impulse is an equation in biomechanics that looks at the duration of time a force is applied. Bear with me as I explain because I promise to bring this back to a simple analogy. Here goes:

  • Impulse = Momentum
  • Impulse = Average Net Force x Unit of Time Applied or Impulse = Σ Δt
  • Momentum = Mass x Velocity
  • Therefore: Average Net Force x Unit of Time Applied = Mass x Velocity

Now I will bring it back to layman’s terms. The longer you apply a force, the increased duration of time will create more and more velocity. Once again, mass has an inverse relationship with velocity – meaning velocity decreases as mass increases. What’s the point to all of this?

Obviously with a hang clean or clean from the blocks you won’t be able to create as much velocity as with a clean from the floor. The athlete has more time to apply force to the initial pull from the floor, creating more velocity and momentum on the bar. If velocity is the main goal of your program or the specific block of programming, you might want to consider performing at least some cleans from the floor.

If power equals force x velocity, each athlete will create more power from the floor. I believe this to be important, but not necessarily the end-all. The clean is an expression of power, but doesn’t necessarily mean the expression of power gives an athlete the ability to produce more power on the field. Dr. Bryan Mann performed some pretty significant studies showing the squat to be more proportional to increases in power where the 40-yard dash and vertical leap are concerned. I have found in my own tracking of data that increases in strength with the back squat if kept steady with increases of power in the clean together equal maximal gains on the field of play.

Some might think that just doing clean pulls will be an alternative to get the same velocities as the clean from the floor. Not so fast! In my friend Coach Wil Fleming’s new book Velocity Based Training for Weightlifting, he explains some research that he performed with his athletes. He found that the clean pull was 15% slower in velocity than a full clean at the same weight (usually 88-90% of an athlete’s 1RM for the clean). He also found that the clean high pull was 10% slower. One consideration might be the hand release clean pull, which was only 3% slower.

The problem is in the brain. The brain realizes that deceleration is inevitable when there is no commitment to go under a barbell. Anecdotally most athletes will tell you weights that normally feel light will feel much heavier during clean pulls. I can attest to the same thing. This doesn’t mean that clean pulls are worthless. They are still important for developing strength in the different positions required to perform a clean. A clean deadlift is important to athletes for developing strength at the hip and isometric strength in the spinal extensors required for massive collisions. Are you getting the theme? It’s all about understanding the application of different exercises (the tools in the tool box).

Rate of Force Development

Now before some of you break down in tears because you only program hang cleans or cleans from blocks, let’s discuss a principle that probably favors your style of programming. Force is important, but the rate at which someone can apply a maximal or a high rate of force is more important in most athletic events. Velocity is important, but there is something more important to consider. How quickly can an athlete get to top velocity? That’s a look at acceleration, and once again brings us back to force. Now that I have confused the heck out of you, I will bring this back to simple terms.

Rate of force development is the rate at which the contractile elements can produce force, and is affected by rate coding, maximal motor unit recruiting, muscle fiber type, and attachments. The entire pulling phase of a clean is typically about one second on average. Obviously, the entire pulling phase from a hang clean or clean from the blocks is a much shorter time. That allows the athlete to work within time zones more applicable to their sport. For example, I want you to think about the position an athlete is in before a tackle, the load phase of a vertical leap, or joint angles in the start position of a sprint.

It’s important to practice motor unit recruitment in the same time zone as will be needed in a particular sport. A motor unit is motor neuron (nerve) and all the muscle fibers that it synapses (connects) to. The intended adaptation of strength training is maximal motor unit recruitment. The more motor units that are recruited lead to more force. However, rate coding is the speed at which the neuromuscular system recruits maximal motor units, which translates into maximal RFD. Improvements in this area come with time as those neuromuscular junctions (synapses) become stronger and more efficient with the frequency of signaling. Muscle fiber type plays a role in this as well, but I need to discuss the next point before diving into that.

Specific Adaptations of Imposed Demands (SAID Principle)

Simply put, your body will adapt specifically to the demands that one applies to the body. If you train fast, muscle fibers will adapt, causing a certain group of muscle fibers to mimic or conform to fast twitch fibers. With that being said, you can make an argument for both the full clean and the hang clean. The full clean allows for a faster velocity, recruiting fast twitch fibers and over time causing an adaptation of other hybrid type fibers to mimic more of the fast twitch fibers. (Watch Andy Galpin’s 55 Minute Physiology on this topic.)

This is why overspeed training has validity for jumps and sprints. However, hang cleans and cleans from the blocks are better for improving rate of force development in the specific time zones and specific angular displacements of the joints in use (hips, knees, and ankles). Also the hang clean is more specific to the vertical leap due to the counter movement, and the clean from the blocks is more specific to the joint angles of a start in a sprint.

Developing Proprioception

Proprioceptors are the nerves in the joints, muscles, and tendons that give feedback to the brain on joint, muscle, and tendon position and each of their rates of change. Basically this gives the brain feedback on where the body is in space at any given moment. The better the body gets at this process will allow the athlete to move through space more efficiently. That’s why most weightlifters are incredible athletes with the ability to do whatever they want with their bodies. If you’ve ever hung out with my athletes, you have watched them walk on their hands, perform backflips, and rep out muscle ups. You could make an argument that a clean involves more total movement, making the proprioceptors more efficient – but I believe both the hang clean and clean from the blocks are just fine for improving this neural pathway.

Mobility

This quality isn’t talked about enough. In the bottom position of a clean or hang clean, the athlete will be required to reach maximal range of motion at the hips, knees, and ankles. This range of motion is important for joint health because synovial fluid is one of the only ways that joints receive nourishment. Synovial fluid is only released during end ranges of motion, so a health joint needs to be able to move through the entire range.

When it comes to sprinting, the recovery leg has to be able to completely flex at the knee to allow for a shorter moment of inertia to experience maximal angular velocity at the hip joint. If you watch any amazing sprinter, you will see their heel right on their glutes during the recovery phase. This is my argument for including full range of motion cleans and squats in an athlete’s training even though quarter squats and power cleans might be more specific.

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There it is. The answer to the debates that float around popular strength and conditioning circles most of the time is going to be: “it depends.” This is why I vehemently despise absolutes. Assessment and application are the two traits that separate the top coaches from the posers. I want you young guys to arm yourselves with a massive arsenal of tools. I want all of you to have assessment tools that will allow you to coach and program in a way that will specifically answer the challenges those athletes face. I hope this article provided some science to aid in that application.

Strongman and Weightlifting with Alec Pagan – The Barbell Life 343

A few years ago I was coaching Alec Pagan as he competed in weightlifting.

But in record speed, he has flipped the script to go after the sport of Strongman… and he’s taking over.

On today’d podcast, we break down his journey – as well as what makes him so successful as a Strongman coach.

COACH MASH'S GUIDE TO HYBRID TRAINING

The Art of Combining:

Weightlifting - Powerlifting - Bodybuilding

Strongman - Functional Fitness - Endurance Cardio

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

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

  • What makes his Strongman approach so different… and so successful
  • Flipping over the desk at Pan Ams
  • “The most annoying thing about international weightlifting is pretending your competitors aren’t cheating”
  • Double standards in men’s and women’s Strongman
  • Fixing lifters’ backs and the incredible “Frankenstein” clean
  • and more…

Rotational Power for Athletes

In this article I am going to try and explain rotational power in the simplest of terms.

Most articles from strength and conditioning experts are written in terms of linear force and power. Louie Simmons has made the force equation the most popular of all biomechanical equations: Force = Mass x Acceleration. Fly by night strength coaches use this equation (incorrectly most of the time) to explain everything, which is the main motivation for me to develop content explaining all the other elements of biomechanics that are also important.

Torque = Force x Moment Arm

A great starting point when discussing rotational biomechanics is to explain torque. Torque is the ability of a force to cause rotation on a lever.

Torque is the rotational cousin of the force equation. Torque is the driving force for human movement. Muscles in conjunction with bones, ligaments, and tendons are responsible for movement. Muscles shorten, causing the tendons (a tendon is a flexible but inelastic cord of strong fibrous collagen tissue attaching a muscle to a bone) to pull on its corresponding bone. This creates a rotational movement around a joint.

An example would be the quad tendon that crosses the knee becoming continuous with the patellar tendon attaching to the tibia. When the quadriceps shorten, they pull on the quadriceps tendon, causing the patellar tendon to pull on the tibia producing knee extension. All locomotion is created by torque at the corresponding joints.

So even if you are in a sport like weightlifting or powerlifting which are linear in nature, you still have to understand torque and the elements of rotational power. Let’s take a look at the two components of torque: force and moment arm.

Moment Arm: The moment arm of a force system is the perpendicular distance from an axis or rotation to the line of action of a force.

Force: Torque is dependent on the amount of force, angle of application of force, and of course the moment arm.

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We are going to go over several scenarios where rotational power is important. Moving forward, it’s important all of you understand there are a few biomechanical terms that must always be considered in regards to rotational power. Let’s look at them up front, so you will understand the rest of the article more easily:

Length and size of Moment Arm or Moment of Inertia: When it comes to overcoming a resistance, the length from the force to the joint trying to overcome the force is proportional in regards to difficulty. The farther away = more difficult to overcome.

However, when it comes to producing torque, a longer moment arm produces a larger rotational force aka torque. The farther down the tibia that the patellar tendon inserts will proportionally create a greater torque making it easier to overcome an external force. Another example is a longer bat will produce a greater torque when striking a baseball.

Moment of Inertia = ?m*r²: Simply put the moment of inertia arm being rotated during rotational power. In baseball it is the bat and the arm combined. When throwing a punch, it is your arm. During sprinting, it is your leg rotating at the hip. You get it.

With moment of inertia, you have to consider the overall weight aka the mass, but as you can see the length is even more important. I know that because it is squared. We will go over this a bit more – especially in the sprint recovery section. The technique in various sports will take moment of inertia into consideration in regards to increasing and decreasing angular velocity.

Relationship between Impulse and Momentum:
Σ Δt = I* Δω
Σ Δt = I*(ω f − ω i)

impulse = change in momentum
Where
Σ = average net force acting on an object,
Δt = interval of time during which this force acts,
I = moment of Inertia of the object being accelerated,
ω f = final angular velocity of the object at the end of the time interval,
and ω i = initial angular velocity of the object at the beginning of the time interval.

Ok let’s put this in layman’s terms. The longer that I can apply force to something is directly proportional to the angular momentum that I can produce. Since the moment of inertia is a fixed amount, really what impulse is directly affecting is the angular velocity. The longer that I can apply a torque will proportionally increase the angular velocity of the object. That’s why an athlete’s range of motion and technique are so important.

Rate of Force Development (RFD): When it comes to sports outside of powerlifting and strongman, RFD trumps overall ability to produce force. If someone can back squat 227kg/500lb, they are at least producing a little over 2,225N. That’s a lot of force. However, now that we know true rotational power is formed from applying torque over a period of time, we know that only applying that 2,225N of force for a short time isn’t going to produce the angular momentum that we are after. Now if that athlete can recruit the motor units to produce 2,225N of force instantaneously, they have optimal range of motion, and solid technique, then you have a powerhouse.

RFD is King in Weightlifting!

Now if you are an athletic performance coach, I hope you are starting to see that how you train is more important than the exercises chosen. Specificity is key. If you want your athletes improving their rate of force development, velocity and intent are a big part of the equation. There is one more important point that I hope you are starting to understand:

Assessment and Mobility

Assessment is king!

If you are working with a baseball or softball player, you need to assess their scapula movement, shoulder ROM, thoracic spine ROM, hip mobility (especially internal/external rotation and abduction), rate of force development, angular velocity/momentum, and ability to produce overall force. It’s important that you understand how to assess mobility. It’s helpful to have something like GymAware to measure velocity, and force plates to measure force and RFD unilaterally.

You will also need to have a way to measure posture and the strength of his or her decelerators. If an athlete is powerful, mobile, and technically sound and yet hurt all the time, they are of no value to any team. Therefore another key to understand as athletic performance practitioners is this:

Availability is king!

I had a chance to work with Dr. Lawrence Gray, D.C. early in my career – and to date this was the best thing I could have done to improve as a practitioner. Up until this point, I had only focused on performance, mainly my own. He had been my go-to sports medicine doctor during my entire powerlifting career, which led to multiple world records and world championships. Learning assessment and treatment with him is a tool that every athlete I have worked with since has benefitted from. Personally, I wish the strength and conditioning industry would practice an apprenticeship format with part of the career path being time spent with a doctor like Dr. Gray.

Durability and availability will get you on a field of play quicker than any other attribute. The opposite will get you a quick exit from the sport. Rotational sports are riddled with injury. If you want to look like an expert, spend some time understanding deceleration, posture, and correction, then you will immediately be in the top 1% in my experience. That’s why so many high profile athletic performance practitioners seem to be lacking in their ability to increase power and strength. You don’t have to be that good at those things if you can keep athletes healthy and on the field. However, if you can do both, then you become invaluable.

Here are a few simple videos that you can use to start your assessment game:

Flexibility:
https://youtu.be/Ot6Vpu75zAA

Posture:
https://youtu.be/OwsMB1B6-kE (Forward head)
https://youtu.be/fb7gOr0edwM (Shoulder Internal Rotation)
https://youtu.be/tgim4WWeAy0 (Rounded Back aka Kyphosis)
https://youtu.be/mi1dPRlmRoA (Anterior Pelvic Tilt)

Now let’s put a few of these principles to action!

Pitching a Baseball: Why do you think that the majority of pitchers are long and lanky? Remember, Impulse is the ability to produce a force over a period of time. The longer that you can produce a force will lead to greater velocities on the baseball. That’s why the wind up and delivery are so important. Check out this video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yEpdoAZiHWQ

After watching that video, you will understand my little section on assessment. By the way, my next article is going to be all about assessment, so get ready. The video shows the importance of ROM on impulse and torque. It also shows the importance of force development – and yes, the importance of being strong. Hopefully you are starting to understand the importance of traits like ground contact time, true plyometrics, and velocity. That’s why my relationship with GymAware is so important. (Use Code: ‘MASH5’ to get a 5% discount on either of their products)

STRENGTH UNIVERSITY VIDEO CURRICULUM

THE PERFECT WAY TO GROW IN KNOWLEDGE DURING THIS TIME OF SOCIAL DISTANCING

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

Lifting Technique: When it comes to lifting weights, you have to consider the external torque you will be overcoming. You will also need to consider the internal torque your body is capable of producing at the individual joints. When it comes to the external torques on the body, there are three important points to consider:

  • The force produced by the mass of the object you are lifting and gravity
  • The direction of that force which is always vertical in weightlifting and powerlifting
  • The perpendicular distance from that vertical line of force and the axis of rotation of the joint being considered

This is why it’s so important to keep joints resisting the external load as close to the line of action as possible. If you have ever performed a clean or deadlift, then you probably know how much heavier the barbell seems after allowing your butt to fly up faster than your shoulders. This biomechanical mistake in weightlifting or powerlifting increases the demand at the hip and any intervertebral joint of the back. Here’s a video that will clarify: https://youtu.be/2wyAVMt3ng4

Leg Recovery During Sprinting Mechanics: I hear coaches debate sprinting about as often as I hear coaches debate lifting technique in weightlifting. They talk about the start position, use of blocks, shin angle during the acceleration phase, arm action, and so much more. One of the big keys that I believe to be low hanging fruit is action of the leg during the recovery phase. I am talking about what happens when the foot has struck the ground propelling the body through the air, and the active leg has complete hip, ankle, and knee extension behind the body.

Now it’s time to recover the leg and start the process all over again. A major key is to shorten that moment of inertia as much as possible. If you watch the Olympic level sprinters, you will see their foot brush their butt shortening the moment of inertia as much as possible. This action will maximally limit the resistance at the hip, which now we know will increase velocity. During angular momentum, angular velocity is inversely proportional to the moment of inertia meaning the moment of inertia goes up and velocity goes down and vice versa. Here’s an image to further clarify:


Image Courtesy of Spikes Only

I hope that I have made rotational power a bit simpler for all of you. As athletic performance professionals, we really do have the opportunity to make huge impacts if we understand a few principles in biomechanics. If we perfect our abilities to assess, we can find low hanging fruit that can have massive impact with little stress on the body. The key is putting a little time up front understanding these principles – and then like anything else practice, practice, and practice some more. The cool thing is that once you grasp the concept of biomechanics, all of it becomes proportionally easier. It becomes a game much like a puzzle, but this game will lead to gains.

Bar Slamming Drama with Tom Sroka – The Barbell Life 341

If you follow me on social media, you know there was a little bit of controversy recently.

And while I try to be respectful, I’m not afraid to speak my mind.

Well, my good friend Tom Sroka joins us today to go deeper into the recent drama.

Tom was there at the beginning when all of this started with Jon North. And his perspective is worth hearing.

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Make the quickest and most dramatic progress possible with the expert coaching of Mash Elite... combined with cutting-edge data-driven decisions.

* Fully Customized Programming

* Unlimited Technique Analysis

*Data-Driven Athlete Monitoring

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

  • Fist fights with Jon North – and the REAL story behind the bar slam controversy
  • Cringing at old videos of him celebrating
  • Ways to still have competitions during the pandemic
  • Stories about almost dying in the snow
  • Why hasn’t weightlifting caught on in the NCAA?
  • and more…

Stress, Programming, and Mindset to Smash Plateaus – The Barbell Life 339

The dreaded plateau.

It’s something many lifters face. It’s something Morgan McCullough faced recently as well.

But we were able to smash through that plateau – and this can be a great lesson for any lifters out there. The key to breaking a plateau is to diagnose WHY it’s happening and then to pull the right tool out of your toolbox to fix it.

So listen in to this podcast to hear all about it!

Resources mentioned in this podcast:
Battling Plateaus

JUST LAUNCHED: DATA DRIVEN "GOLD LEVEL" COACHING

Make the quickest and most dramatic progress possible with the expert coaching of Mash Elite... combined with cutting-edge data-driven decisions.

* Fully Customized Programming

* Unlimited Technique Analysis

*Data-Driven Athlete Monitoring

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

  • The controversial decision that revived Morgan McCullough’s enthusiasm
  • Is the issue CNS or PNS fatigue?
  • K Value and the scientific, optimal formula for gains
  • Ways to manage stress (some you might not have thought of)
  • The 3 most important questions to diagnose CNS fatigue
  • and more…

Battling Plateaus

Plateaus – aka periods of little to no progress – are inevitable in the sport of weightlifting.

It’s the nature of any sport that is so neurological in nature. What I mean by neurological is that it’s very technical. An athlete can increase his or her squat by 10kg/22lb and experience zero increase in the snatch and clean and jerk. If an athlete experiences a glitch in positioning, it won’t matter how much force or velocity one applies.

This is the very trait that makes weightlifting like baseball, golf, and tennis. People go into a slump due to multiple possibilities like CNS fatigue, accommodation, asymmetries, dysfunctional motor patterns, muscular weakness, and legitimate mental blocks. Plateaus can happen in powerlifting, strength and conditioning, and CrossFit – but they should be a bit easier to overcome. Regardless, you will be able to use the following principles to help you or your athletes overcome plateaus. One thing we don’t do is follow the old school advice of “stick with what you’re doing and eventually you will come through it.” No way, we fight plateaus like someone drowning and doing anything they can to get that last breath of air. We fight it!

Causes and Contributors

CNS Fatigue is quite a different animal than PNS Fatigue. Peripheral Nervous System fatigue is a necessary part of the training process to encourage adaptation. Athletes want to stress the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and even bones to stimulate a positive response from the body. However, we want to keep our CNS (Central Nervous System) flowing as close to normal as possible.

Some of the first questions that I ask an athlete who is struggling to improve are:

  1. Is your sleep affected?
  2. Is your appetite affected?
  3. Is your overall mood altered?

CNS Fatigue will disrupt sleep, cause a lack of appetite, and will cause an athlete to be irritable. Why?

CNS Fatigue carries with it a change in the predominant neurotransmitters of the body. When the body is recovered and stress-free, dopamine and serotonin flow freely throughout the CNS. This allows action potentials to flow across the synaptic clefts at the junction of nerves to other nerves, muscles, and tissues. Dopamine is responsible for learning, coordination, feelings of reward and satisfaction, and motivation. Serotonin is responsible for promoting good sleep, appetite regulation, learning, and social behavior. CNS fatigue is caused from too much stress, which keeps the sympathetic nervous system cranking.

CNS Fatigue disrupts an athlete’s ability to coordinate movement, interpret instruction, and eventually affects the ability to recover in general due to lack of sleep and nutrition. It simply spirals more and more out of whack until the athlete takes control of the situation. The good thing about velocity based training is that a coach can identify CNS fatigue by tracking the velocity of different exercises at corresponding percentages. When the velocity of a percentage is more than 10% slower than the normal velocity, CNS is probably the culprit. Here are some steps to take:

  • Stopping any complex movements and immediately moving into some low intensity and higher repetition bodybuilding with a focus on metabolic stress to encourage a positive hormonal response (testosterone, GH, IGF1, etc)
  • A drop in load and overall volume in the following days by 10-20% until sleep and appetite return to normal
  • Meditation, prayer, and other stress relievers
  • Massage
  • Breath work
  • Learning to manage stress with a professional counselor

If it’s not CNS Fatigue, the next logical answer is accommodation. If you are a Louie Simmons fan, then chances are you’ve heard him talk about the Law of Accommodation – “Zatsiorsky stated that the response of a biological object to a given constant stimulus decreases over time.” Now in weightlifting, we can’t make the drastic alterations to our training stimuli due to the neurological complexity of the movements contested. Powerlifting is slower movements with two simple phases, but Olympic weightlifting is multi-directional and relies heavily on the agonist-antagonist relationship – much like swinging a bat in baseball. Put simply, if you want to get better at snatch and clean and jerk, then you better have snatch and clean and jerk in your program. That doesn’t mean there aren’t several aspects that can be manipulated. Let’s look at each of them:

Areas to Manipulate

  • Total Volume and Average Intensity
  • K Value
  • Relative Intensity
  • Optimal Number of Lifts
  • Frequency
  • Exercise Selection
  • Accessory Work
  • Velocity Based Training
  • Tempo (including pauses)

Total Volume and Average Intensity – The average intensity is found by tracking the total volume and the total number of reps in a workout or training cycle depending on what you are figuring for. That’s why we are discussing total volume and average intensity together. Total volume is found by multiplying the number of reps x the load for each set and then adding all the sets together. Example:
Set 1 100kg x 3= 300kg
Set 2 110kg x 2 reps = 220kg
Set 3 120kg x 1 rep = 120kg

Total volume= 300kg+220kg+120kg= 640kg

We track the total volume for all of the competition lifts and the primary accessory lifts (back squat, front squat, clean pulls, snatch pulls, jerks, power jerks, push press, etc). It’s good to track all of these together, and to keep them separate. By keeping them separate, you can track where you focused the majority of your time. We will go over this a bit more when we discuss the optimal number of lifts.

To find the average intensity, you simply divide the total volume by the total number of reps. In the example above, the total volume is 640kg and the total number of reps is 6. Therefore, you would divide 640kg by 6 (640kg/6= 106.67), which equals 106.67 rounded up to 107kg. It’s important to track this number for entire macrocycles, mesocyclyes, and microcycles. Why is data important? Let’s say an athlete is experiencing CNS fatigue, plateauing, and going backwards. We need to be able to compare total volume of macrocycles (bigger phases of a planned out program example offseason, preseason, etc), mesocycles (normally four week blocks with specific adaptations planned), and microcycles (smaller cycles within mesocycles usually one week) with other cycles. Then you can see increases in volume and average intensity, and hopefully pinpoint the breaking point. It’s good to look at your microcycles ahead of time to make sure that the increased stimulus is slow and steady versus a major shock to an athlete’s system. If you’re not tracking data, then you are just guessing.

On the other hand, it’s important to track the total volume and average intensity to put values on success. If an athlete experiences a 10kg improvement in their total, it’s important to realize that this improvement was experienced with 750,000kg of total volume over a 12 week period with an average intensity of 107kg. Then you can use our next data point to plan your next phase in hopes of continued improvement. Let’s look!

K Value – Bob Takano popularized this data point in America after learning this coefficient from Carl Miller in 1974. Professor Angel Spassov also discussed the K Value during his American tour discussing the training practices of the Bulgarians. I will mention this a bit more at the end of this section.

Here’s what you need to figure the K Value:

  1. Total Load (total volume) of a competition macrocycle (usually 12-20 weeks)
  2. Total number of reps
  3. Total achieved (needs to be a successful training macrocycle)

I explained above how to figure the total load aka total volume. Let’s say that your total volume for a 12-week training block is hypothetically 800,000kg and your total number of reps is 7,000. And let’s suppose you make a total of 320kg in your meet. Here’s how you figure the K Value:

  1. K Value= (Average Intensity x 100)/proposed total
  2. Total Volume divided by the total number or reps (800,000kg/7,000reps)= average intensity of 114kg
  3. Average Intensity x 100, so 114kg x 100= 11400
  4. To find the K Value divide 11,400 by the 320kg successful total(11,400/320= 35.6)

Now it’s time to use the K Value to plan the next phase of training by multiplying a goal total by the K Value. If our goal becomes to total 330kg, you would multiply 330kg x .356 (K Value is actually a percentage so 35.6 becomes .356) equaling 117.48 rounded to 118kg. Your average intensity will need to become 118kg over your next training block to potentially total 320kg.

Relative Intensity – This is a bit more complicated to track, but important nonetheless. Here’s how a coach can figure out an athlete’s Relative Intensity (RI). RI is figured by taking (the weight an athlete is using for a particular number of reps)/(the maximum weight that athlete can perform in that given rep range). Let’s use an example:

Athlete 1 has a 5-repetition maximum of 400lb in the bench press, and is benching 350lb for sets of 5 reps.

350/400=87.5% so the relative intensity is 87.5%

The coach or athlete will need to know the repetition maximums of each exercise in all of the different repetition ranges. Just like tracking average maximal intensity, it’s also important to track an athlete’s ongoing average relative intensity in a macrocycle, mesocycle, and microcycle. To do that, the athlete would need to track the relative intensity of each set divided by the total sets. Let’s look at an example:

Set 1 300 x 5 with a 5rm of 320 (relative intensity of 94%)
Set 2 320 x 3 with a 3RM of 335 (RI 96%)
Set 3 330 x 2 with a 2RM of 345 (RI 96%)

Average RI of the workout would be (94%+96%+96%)/3= RI of 95%

Here’s a chart showing you where to spend most of your time:

Just like total volume and average intensity, the coach or athlete can look at the relative intensity to put a value on whatever is happening. If an athlete’s average intensity is 83% and they’re experiencing lots of progress, they’re on the right track. On the other hand, if an athlete is going backwards or plateauing with an average intensity of 88%, they can make a decision to increase or decrease that RI. Based on the chart above, the wise decision might me to decrease it just a bit.

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Optimal Number of Lifts

It’s important that an athlete or coach understands Prilepin’s Chart for this next data point. Here’s a look:

It’s important that a coach or athlete tracks the optimal number of lifts in three different categories:

  1. The Competition Lifts: Snatch and Clean & Jerk
  2. Variations of the Competition Lifts: Powers, hangs, blocks, jerk from blocks/rack, power jerk, or anything resembling the competition lift.
  3. Absolute Strength Category: Squats, Pulls, Deadlifts, Push Press, Strict Press, or relative accessory movements.

It’s important to know the optimal number of lifts (ONOLs) performed in each category to get an idea where an athlete is spending their time. Obviously category number one is the most important. However, for most category number 3 is just as important or more important. Category 2 is used to target specific movement or velocity flaws. I recommend dividing total training over a macrocycle like the following:

  • ONOLs in the Competition Lifts 40% of total ONOLs
  • ONOLs in the Squats, Deadlifts, Push Press, etc (category 3) 40% of total ONOLs
  • ONOLs in the variations of competition lifts (category 2) 20% of total ONOLs

Then consideration can be made for efficient athletes needing strength, and for incredibly strong athletes needing more focus in the competition lifts and their variation. A coach could consider putting more focus in one category over another, but the key is going to be tracking the data. That’s the message. If an athlete is performing 50% of their total optimal number of lifts in the competition lifts and experiencing a plateau, he or she might consider allocating a higher percentage of their ONOLs to the strength movements.

Frequency – This is referring to how often an exercise is used day to day and week to week. This is my go to training characteristic to manipulate if an athlete is experiencing a plateau in any category. If their snatch is stagnant, I recommend increasing the frequency of the snatch. If his or her squat isn’t moving, squat every dang day baby until it is moving. Obviously, it’s really hard for a drug free athlete to perform any movement day in and day out without experiencing overuse injuries. Therefore, I recommend using this protocol in 4 to 12 week blocks followed by higher volume density training.

Exercise Selection – If an athlete is experiencing a plateau, eventually exercise selection becomes a consideration. For example, I just had an elite weightlifter experience his first bit of a plateau and actually a slight decline. This happened right before the Senior National Championships, which was also the final tryout for the Junior World Team and Senior Pan American Team. So did I stick to the plan and hope for the best? Nope, I rapidly switched to accommodating resistance in the squats and pulls in hopes of exciting the nervous and triggering a positive adaptation. Guess what? It worked, and in the last two weeks he made a massive comeback earning a spot on the Junior World Team and almost pulling out a spot on the Senior Pan American Team at 18-years-old on a packed team of studs.

Accessory Work – This is a very long term approach to a potential plateau. We are constantly trying to identify weak muscles, and then targeting those weaknesses with accessory work. Basically this was the entire premise of our EBook “No Weaknesses”. If an athlete has weak hamstrings and glutes, I can promise you that targeting those weaknesses will aid in overcoming weaknesses in their competition lifts.

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Velocity Based Training – I realize this isn’t available for all athletes, but I recommend investing in a unit if possible. GymAware.com is my go to source for velocity based equipment. You can actually get their Flex Unit for less than $500 with our code ‘MASH5’. Then coaches can test their athletes to determine a force-velocity profile in each of the major lifts: snatch, clean and jerk, squat, front squat, pulls, or any movement deemed important in a strength and conditioning program. Once velocity weaknesses are identified, coaches can prescribe sets and reps at a particular percentage for a particular velocity to overcome velocity deficits. This is the way to get really specific and crush difficult plateaus.

Tempo and Pauses – This is my favorite way to target movement weaknesses and flaws. For example if an athlete is having trouble staying over the bar in the snatch, the coach could prescribe Snatch pulls or deadlifts with 5 second eccentric contractions (aka lowering phase) and/or pauses at the knee or any other trouble area. Remember isometric contractions are by far the best way to strengthen joints at particular angles. If you have a power rack, you can pull into pins for designated periods of time to produce maximal effort for periods of time. This technique is my favorite.

Mental Blocks

At this point I have given you a number of solutions for breaking through plateaus, but there is one more issue that needs to be addressed. Sometimes an athlete will go through a block of time with certain mental blocks for whatever reason. I consider myself a mentally strong athlete, but I am not pretending to be a sport psychologist or counselor. Lately I have invested in my ability to aid my athletes with their mental approach by reading books like “Mindful Athlete” by George Mumford. Next semester in my ongoing pursuit of a PhD, I am excited to take an advanced Sports Psychology course.

The truth is that most plateaus and lack of performance is directly related to a mental block. Unfortunately there is little attention to this area by most athletes. For some reason in America, there is a negative connotation around sports psychology. Athletes believe that a focus in this area is a form of them admitting something is wrong. Is this logical? Nope!

We all know that work should be done with strength training, sprinting, relative strength, range of motion, and recovery. Therefore why do athletes believe they are 100% proficient in their mental capacity? Once again, this thought process isn’t logical. When I was an athlete, I worked with a sports psychologist, and I studied the topic on my own. Why? Well, I identified sports psychology as one of the mundane elements of becoming a great athlete that could set me apart from other athletes. I always assumed that if I mastered more of the mundane tasks than my competitors, I would increase my advantage over them more and more leading to me becoming the strongest 100kg/220lb athlete of all-time in 2004 and 2005 and pound for pound the strongest powerlifter in the entire world.

I implore all of you reading this. Sports psychology is the differentiator between good and great athletes. Since there are very few dominant athletes sport to sport, logically that tells us the majority of athletes (99.99%) need to work on their mental capacity. If you come with me to a world championship in almost any sport, you will notice one common trait amongst the champions, amazing confidence. They will be relaxed, focused, and fearless. All you have to do is look at the face of Michael Jordan when the Bulls were down by 1 with five seconds to go. Did he look scared or worried? No, he wanted the ball because he knew he was going to win the game.

Let me leave you with this question, and I am going to ask it in a way that will resonate with any athlete. When you:

  • approach the barbell in a weightlifting competition for your opening snatch, do you think to yourself “please don’t miss” or “Let’s smoke this lift?”
  • approach the line of scrimmage in a football game knowing the football is getting thrown to you with one second left on the clock down by 5, are you excited to win the game or scared that you might drop the ball?
  • walk up to the plate in a baseball or softball game in the final inning down by one, two outs, and bases loaded, are you excited to be in this situation, calm, and focused on the task, or are you scared, sweating, and able to hear your heart pounding from your chest because you are scared to mess up?
  • walk up to a golf ball on the final hole needing to sink the putt to win the US Open, are you relaxed and focused on the process of putting like any other putt or are you shaking from fear of missing the putt?

Improving Our Mental Game

If you aren’t a world champion, you know which athlete you are in the above examples. That’s ok because you can change that if you’re willing to work on it like anything else. I wrote an eBook along with Sports Psychologist Nathan Hansen, and is to date my least-selling eBook. That was an eye-opener for me in regards to most athletes and coaches’ views regarding sports psychology. No one wants to believe they need help in the area. Sad because that tells me most athletes will finish their career where they started it in regards to mental capacity. That’s an exciting fact for coaches and athletes that look to master all mundane components in his or her athletic ability. It is a component that can and will give an athlete a distinct advantage over their competition.

I think it’s funny watching athletes perfect sleep, nutrition, mobility, core strength, movement proficiency, and recovery, but then never spend one ounce of their time improving their mental game. They would be better off to neglect all the others and just focus on their mental performance. I know plenty of athletes that have gone on to be amazing due to their natural ability to dominate his or her sport mentally, while neglecting their bodies in sleep, nutrition, and recovery. My point is that mentally strong athletes can dominate without perfecting several other areas of their game. However, there isn’t a dominant athlete in any sport that is mentally weak. It’s the one requirement of all champions. I hope I got your attention because this is a magic bullet that the majority of you could use to dominate.

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Well, this article turned into a small book, but I feel good in the fact that I have spelled out several areas that each of you can use as a coach or athlete to crush through any plateau. If a coach’s answer to a plateau in performance is to keep on doing what you are doing, you might consider changing coaches. Now you know that there are multiple ways to break through a plateau. It’s up to you and your coach to continue trying these protocols one at a time until you break through. I promise there is a way out if you are willing to put in the work and try different protocols. If you believe that continuing down the exact same road will eventually break through a plateau, you aren’t using logic to make your decision.

Let me know if you have any questions! I hope that each of you go on to become champions in your chosen sport.

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