Category: Articles

Featured Book – The Physically Prepared Weightlifter

Leo Totten Writes Foreword for James Tatum’s Book

“The Physically Prepared Weightlifter: A General Physical Preparedness Program to Build Your Base”

It was an honor to write the foreword for James Tatum’s book The Physically Prepared Weightlifter. Check out why this book is so important, read an excerpt of my foreword and head over to his site for more information!

“I wrote this book because one of the biggest problems that I see in Weightlifting, CrossFit, and Sports Performance training is a lack of general physical preparedness for the weightlifting movements. Although your sport may utilize a barbell and weights often times you are not developing the base of general strength required to perform well & stay injury free.

That is why I wrote The Physically Prepared Weightlifter. Up to this point there has not been all inclusive guide for generally physically preparing your body for sport. This book fills that void. With over 100 pages of programs, instruction and theory, this is the go to guide for making your body ready for any demand your sport has.” – James Tatum

FOREWORD

When James Tatum told me that he had written a book on physical
preparation for the weightlifter, I was pleasantly surprised. I already
knew he was an outstanding weightlifter himself and one of the nice
guys in the sport, but an author too? I had known him through several
years of competitions and had always known him as someone who was
well prepared himself. When the notion of him writing a book came
about, I knew it would be a good one. Because of the high regard that
I have for James in all aspects of his life, I was honored when he asked
me to write the foreword to his book.
The word Quality is used in a variety of contexts and I myself use that
word a great deal. The word depicts Excellence. I always tell people
that long ago I developed the habit of hanging out with quality people
and it has done me well over the years. Hang out with quality people
and it rubs off….

To Read the rest of the Foreword and check out James Tatum’s Book head over to the website here

Team USA-Key Factors for Success

KEY FACTORS FOR U.S. TEAM SUCCESS

by: Leo Totten, MS, USAW 5

People often ask me why the U.S. is behind some of the other countries in weightlifting.  Well, first of all, I really do think we are making major strides toward moving up in the world.  Our rankings are steadily on the rise.  Our most recent performances at the Pan Ams and Worlds as well as Youth and Junior successes are a good indication of that positive, upward move!

In my eyes, there are many factors that lead to success as a nation in our sport.  The first factor that most people consider is, oh yeah, the other countries are still using drugs and we are trying to be as drug free as possible.  Granted, that may be one factor, but other factors are an influence as well.

More about the drugs in a minute, but let’s consider some of the other factors.  I think one of the major things to consider is our lack of a “national” plan.  Most of the very successful countries in weightlifting have a national plan that all of the local and regional clubs feed into.  There is a plan where everyone is on the same page with the same basic philosophies and strategies setting the stage for success at the national and international level.  The U.S. is doing well and improving, but it is pretty much a system of individual clubs doing their own thing and not really on a “national” plan.

Another factor is the lack of state support in the U.S. that the other countries are able to take advantage of.  We are doing better with supporting our athletes financially, but it is still difficult if not impossible for our athletes to make a living at our sport. Matt Frazier was a darn good weightlifter for the U.S. but now is making a lot more money as the top Crossfitter in the world!

Weightlifting has definitely gotten a lot more visibility and acknowledgment in the past 5 years or so and we have Crossfit to thank for a majority of that increase.  Not only are more adults exposed to our weightlifting movements, but now many more folks actually know what  snatches and clean and jerks are.  The best part is that is the adults doing Crossfit are exposed to weightlifting, then future generations will have a clue what we are about as well.

Weightlifting in our country is certainly on the rise.  But we continue to have questions about other countries having an unfair advantage using drugs while we in the U.S. are on a very stringent testing policy.  Until the playing field is leveled where everyone around the world is on that same stringent testing policy, it will continue to be one of the factors making it difficult to compete at the highest international level.  Performance enhancing drugs work and will continue to be a factor as long as some countries are able to get away with it while others cannot or will not.

That being said, U.S. athletes need to continue to train and compete drug free.  We need to continue to educate our coaches and athletes to do all the positive things they can do legally and ethically to get as close to the same results that performance enhancing drugs can get you.  Drugs are a short cut where one can cut corners so we have to continue to advocate proper training that covers these same bases.  It is a longer route to success, but it can be done with patience and proper training.  Push for better nutrition, proper hydration, consistent recovery methods, more mental training, plus intelligent training methodologies for the U.S. lifestyle. Create an environment where athletes can thrive and succeed on a consistent basis while doing the right things, the right way.

Athletes will do anything to get that tiny bit of advantage over their competition.  That tiny bit of advantage makes a huge difference.  I once heard an athlete quip, “If eating Brillo pads would put 5kg on your total, there wouldn’t be a clean pot in the country!”  Well, that may not be totally true, but the message is clear.

Our East Coast Gold team motto is “Train Hard, Train Smart”.  That means you have to put in the work and be able to deal with the hardships that top level competition requires.  But you have to do it the smart and correct way.   Training smart means consistently doing the things the right way for consistent success.   Love to see the U.S. continue its rise to the top!

Walk Before You Run

WALK BEFORE YOU RUN

Expect Top Notch Advanced Results? Start with Basic Skills First!

by: Leo Totten

Certifications are awesome! They certainly serve a purpose of continuing education and constant growth for professionals.  However, it is one thing to know the material but can you actually teach it?  Do you have the knowledge of the teaching methods to actually get the point across to the students?  I teach many of the certifications that are out there myself and I know how many coaches want to push, push, push, without utilizing the materials taught.

One of the problems that we in the U.S. face is the lack of coaching/teaching education.  Everyone gets the knowledge to get the letters after their name, but it is difficult to find programs that actually show you how to break it down and teach it.

That being said, it is important to get back to the beginning.  Where do we start?  If you check out YouTube you will find the latest, greatest videos of what the best in the world are doing or should be doing.  But do they really get to the basics of how to teach the concepts you see?

For coaches, the concept of “walk before you run” is a pretty effective way to go.  Teach the basics before trying to have your athletes do the more advanced stuff.  In all fairness, the coaches are not all at fault for the need for immediate gratification that most of us are used to and the tendency to just skip right to the more advanced skills.

The problem goes back as early as training and educating our youth.  How many elementary physical education classes have gone by the wayside? How often do you see sport coaches pushing their young athletes to compete year-round and specialize way too early?  Heck, for that matter, how many times do you see kids sitting inside playing on their video games rather than being outside playing?

Having taught high school physical education and weight training for many years, it was frustrating to ask the kids to do a simple “power skip” down the gym for a dynamic warmup and a handful of the students didn’t know how to skip!!  Forget trying to do anything more advanced when they didn’t even know the basics!

Unfortunately, with our education system deleting physical education programs, these basic skills are not being taught.  It is being left up to the “professionals” who are certified as coaches and trainers to catch up with skill development that should have been covered long ago. But, is your academic background preparing you to go out and teach what you are learning from those certifications? Can you “bridge the gap” between the knowledge and the practical application.

To paraphrase some of the concepts of LTAD (Long Term Athletic Development), coaches should be cognizant of the principles and train their athletes accordingly.  (Again, basics first – walk before you run).

For example:

FUNdamental Stage:  Males age 6-9 / Females age 6-8

  • Basic overall sports skills leading to physical literacy
  • Introduced through fun and games
  • Developmental progression of fundamental movements and skills
    • Fundamental locomotor movement
    • Speed and agility
    • Strength and power
    • Endurance
    • Balance and stability
    • Body control
    • Object control

Learning to Train Stage:  Males age 9-12 / Females age 8-11

  • Further develop all fundamental movement skills and teach general, overall sports skills.
  • Further develop endurance, flexibility, speed and change of direction
  • Develop strength with bodyweight exercises as well as medicine balls and swiss balls
  • Structure competition to address differences in training age and ability
  • Ratio of 70% training to 30% competition
  • Still continue to encourage unstructured play

The reasoning behind showing this general information on the LTAD strategies is to let our certified professionals know that there is more to be done than just learning the science or the academics behind training.  It is to reiterate to professionals in the field that we are responsible for getting kids caught up with the basic skills that they have sorely missed in their upbringing.  And, even more importantly, getting our professionals caught up on the basic teaching skills that they have been missing in their educational “upbringing”.

Guest Post: Sex Differences in Resistance Training Program Design

Guest Post:

Sex Differences in Resistance Training Program Design

by Christopher Taber – PhD, CSCS, USAW 2

Should there be Resistance Training differences for each of the sexes?

It’s common knowledge that men are from Mars and women are from Venus: practically everyone knows this. But even with this difference, should we also train them differently in the gym? The short answer is: probably not. However, it is wise to take into consideration a few small programmatic alterations to assist in optimizing training for female athletes. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to examine sex related variations between men and women in designing resistance training programs.

Weightlifting, Resistance Training

Two National level East Coast Gold Weightlifting athletes at a recent training camp Photo Courtesy of @gomezdom627

The first examination we should make would be regarding strength characteristics. In general, women possess about 2/3 the absolute strength compared with their male counterparts. But, if we compare men and women on the basis of fat free mass and cross-sectional area of muscle, the differences between the sexes disappear indicating that muscle tissue is not sex dependent. Secondly, we can examine how females respond to strength training. A female athlete’s progression in response to training is the exact same as males, if not faster, due to the initial starting point of strength. Thirdly, if we look at intersession differences women typically fatigue slower than males and they can handle more repetitions at higher intensities than males.  This may be important for long term planning of a training cycle as you may be able to plan more high intensity repetitions for females compared to males as you get closer to competition time.

So if strength and resistance training outcomes are similar between sexes, what special considerations should we make? The first may be upper body strength training. Females typically begin with lower upper body strength levels compared to males. This can be easily rectified by supplementing 1-2 upper body pressing exercises after a workout to help promote lean body mass and strength gains. The next consideration is knee health and stability. Females are more likely to tear their ACL through non-contact impacts compared to males. The variables related to ACL tear are multifactorial but modifiable variables are strength levels and neuromuscular control. The first factor is something we already target with strength training programs, mainly increasing absolute strength and improving the hamstring to quadriceps ratio through strength training and pulling exercises (Leo’s favorite). The second factor is to improve neuromuscular control through optimal landing mechanics which we can teach through plyometrics and jumping tasks.

So, in short, resistance training should look similar for males and females because adaptations are similar between the sexes. We should consider the initial upper body strength of our female athletes and add in more exercises where they are needed to help improve strength and increase lean body mass. Additionally, we should screen our athletes through jumping and landing tasks to make sure they have adequate neuromuscular control and knee stability. Finally, we should build training plans that work to improve the hamstring to quadriceps strength ratio to make sure the athlete is balanced and strong. With these considerations in mind, it is time to go train and always remember there is no substitute for strength and hard work!

 

Christopher Taber is an assistant professor at Sacred Heart University and head coach of the Sacred Heart weightlifting team. His research is focused on strength and power development for athletes as well as athlete monitoring and testing. Christopher coaches and competes for East Coast Gold Weightlifting team, is on staff for Totten Training Systems, and lives with his wife Lucy and his dog Marble in Connecticut. You can find more information at Atlas Human Performance. 

Jim Taylor – Mentor and Role Model

JIM TAYLOR – Mentor and Role Model

by: Leo Totten

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Jim Taylor, powerful running back for LSU and the Green Bay Packers.  He was my mentor and my role model and I’m sure he probably had no clue.

Jim Taylor Trading Card

Jim Taylor, 1961 Trading Card

I’m sure many of you are too young to remember Jim Taylor, a fierce and powerful fullback, who helped the Packers win 4 NFL titles and the first ever Super Bowl almost 60 years ago. TheAdvocate.com ran a great coverage on his career and story. He was known for his bruising, punishing style of running the ball who would prefer to run over defenders rather than around them.  He was voted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1976 who not only personified the Vince Lombardi “run to daylight” philosophy but for living his life as he played the game – with passion, determination and love for all he did.  He recently passed away at the age of 83.

Jim Taylor and his memorabilia

Jim Taylor- photo courtesy of TheAdvocate.com

Many of you know that I am a huge Green Bay Packer fan but you probably aren’t aware of exactly why. Well, Jim Taylor is the main reason. Way back in the day (early 60’s), I was a puny kid who was very athletic but just really little.  In fact, in 8thgrade, I only weighed 83 pounds!  (I joke that back then, I was so weak, I couldn’t pee a hole in the snow!) 😊

Always being a big fan of football, I remember watching the Packers play on TV and I saw #31 just running over people and seeming to relish the idea of punishing those who had the audacity to try to tackle him.  I was most impressed by his huge, powerful thighs!  After some research, I discovered he had developed the leg development and body build by heavy weight training and weightlifting!  This was all new to me and I wanted to learn more about the man and his methods so I could be big and strong like him too!

He began his love of lifting while at LSU and learned a lot from the methodology and techniques taught by Gayle Hatch and the other strength coaches at LSU at the time. Evidently, they were doing a lot of great stuff in the strength and conditioning field so I tried to learn as much from them as possible.  And for that, I owe Gayle a debt of gratitude. Gayle and I had some awesome conversations while at the Olympics in Athens in 2004 and we talked about Taylor and his work with Gayle.  But, I never actually met Jim Taylor and that is one of my biggest regrets.

In fact, Gayle got me a signed copy of “The Fire Within”, the biography of Jim Taylor! Interestingly, while reading the book, I noticed that Jim’s background growing up was very similar to mine. Another coincidence, I guess.

The Packers teams from the early 60’s that Taylor helped succeed at the highest level, led by Vince Lombardi and his disciplined coaching style, also became the backbone of my personal coaching style.  Tough, disciplined yet compassionate and caring to do the right thing.  In fact, the way the whole Packer organization does business working with the community and the league is a model of excellence and perseverance.

Like I mentioned at the beginning, Jim Taylor was my mentor and role model but he probably had no idea. But my love of lifting and desire to be the best I can be came a lot from him.  It is important to have strong role models and, growing up, that is exactly what I needed.  Jim Taylor provided that and didn’t even know it.  But, for that, I owe him a huge thanks!

So, the moral of the story is this.  As a coach and teacher, remember that you have more influence and effect on your athletes’ lives than you may realize.  The things that you say and do and the actions that you do, will be remembered.  You are much more of a mentor and role model than you may even recognize.  And, hey, there might just be some little boy or girl out there who uses you as motivation and inspiration.  What kind of role model do you want to be?

Work Your Weak Areas Part VI: Strength – Jerk Overhead

WORK YOUR WEAK AREAS

PART VI: STRENGTH – Jerk Overhead

As we discussed in the article on SNATCH Overhead strength movements, getting the JERK overhead and keeping it there is pretty darn important too.  Nothing is more frustrating than to hit a strong clean and then blow the jerk.  Or going after the gold medal with the winning clean and jerk only to have the Jerk come crashing to the platform before the down signal.  If Jerks are the weak part of your clean and jerk, then you know what you have to do, right??

 

JERK OVERHEAD

Push Press and Push Jerk:   Refer to the article on Snatch Grip Push Press and Push Jerk and you get the idea of how to do the same movement to improve the Jerk.  The technique cues are basically the same for the Jerk.  Although these exercises can be done from the front or the back, I prefer doing them from the front to drill the same position as when actually performing the Jerk itself.

Set up:  This is a crucial part of getting the Push Press, Push Jerk and Split Jerk into position for the optimal dip and drive.  Many lifters mess this up and I can usually tell when they set up whether they will make the lift or not.  When setting up, the core has to be tight so that the whole body works to propel the weight upward, not just the arms.  At the same time, the dip and drive have to be straight down and straight up with the center of gravity of the bar over the middle of the foot.  The bar should be on the shoulders and clavicles with a loose grip on the bar.  Lift and spread the chest taking in a big gulp of air.  At the same time, the elbows will spread out and probably down just slightly.  Be careful not to lift the shoulders where the bar loses contact with the clavicles so the bar doesn’t collapse on the chest on the initial dip.  Also, once the dip occurs, the elbows will not drop at all and stay neutral.  A common mistake for many lifters is to try to push the elbows way up on the dip, but with any significant amount of weight on the bar, the elbows will invariably drop causing the drive to go forward. Practice this setup technique whenever performing any of the overhead jerk movements.

Jerk Dips:  If getting into that “set” position is difficult and the weight just feels really heavy, try Jerk Dips.  Basically, all that exercise entails is to take a weight off the rack and get set as if starting a Jerk, then do the dip.  A common mistake is to do this exercise like a ¼ front squat.  Keep in mind that this is a Jerk exercise, so get into that “set” position each time.  One should be able to handle a significant amount of weight, probably 120% or more of what they plan on Jerking.   Do no more than triples for 4-5 sets.  (Hint: A great way to incorporate practicing this set position is at the end of each set of Front Squats.)

Jerk Drives:  A little more advanced movement from the Jerk Dips are Jerk Drives.  Still do the “set” position, but instead of just doing the “dip” part, add the “drive” part.  The drive should only go to the top of the forehead while balancing on the balls of the feet.  If the dip and drive are straight up and down like they should be, the lifter should be able to hold that extended position for a second or two.  Remember that the legs do the work and the arms only follow through to the full extension of the much stronger hips and legs.  Again, probably 4-5 sets of 1-3 reps with 80-100%+ of max jerks should help improve the dip and drive.

Press in Split:  Ever since they took the Press out of competition (yeah, I’m that old to remember the Press – God, was it awful!!), upper body and shoulder stability have been an issue for many lifters.  In order to support the heavy jerks, there needs to be much of the strength and stability that the Press training brought along with it.  So, getting back to pressing movements is critical.  In particular, I like the Press in Split. This can be done either from the front or back, but I tend to have it performed from the back.  That way, the lifter only needs to focus on the press movement itself and pushing straight up.  The key is to only use the arms and shoulders while keeping the torso and the split in perfect position.  This isometric hold of the split reinforces correct receiving position while working the shoulder strength.  We usually don’t worry about working off of percentages, but stressing strict positions with no “body heave” to get the bar moving.  4-5 sets of 5 reps are often utilized and we sometimes mix it up by using dumbbells.

Jerk Recoveries:  Back in the day, I would get frustrated when I was just not able to hold jerks overhead, particularly after a tough clean.  When I started doing Jerk Recoveries, my jerks got a lot more stable and much more consistent.  Set up inside a power rack with the pins set at the top of the head when standing on your toes.  This is really all the higher one has to drive a jerk to be successful if the dip and drive are done properly.  Set up so that the hips are directly under the bar – this is the critical part of the lift.  Split under and get in the correct position with the center of gravity of the bar directly over the hips, recover with the front foot first, pushing up and back with that front foot.  Then, follow through with the back foot recovery, all the time striving for vertical movement of the bar and as little horizontal as possible.  Again, the hip position is crucial.  Back in the day, I learned this essential exercise inside a power rack at York Barbell that was literally 6” front to back.  I REALLY had to push vertically to stand up with the weight or else I got a major “pinball” effect bouncing off the rack!!  I got to the point where I could do 250kg and when that happened, guess what, hardly ever missed a jerk!  Typically, we do 4-5 sets of singles and doubles and try to pile on the weight.  Up to 120% or more of your current jerk works great!

Front Squat + Jerk:  Did you ever get to the end of a meet and you have to hit that last clean and jerk for a Gold medal or that elusive personal record, only to just run out of gas? Been there, done that!  The best fix I have found is to do the Front Squat plus Jerk combo exercise.  Typically, we will do 3 front squats followed by one jerk but sometimes we push the weight and do 2 fronts plus the jerk.  Either way, it works the strength as well as endurance.  Using percentage of the 1RM in the Jerk, we do 3+1 up to 85-90% and 2+1 for 90% and heavier.  Another variation is to do a pause at the bottom of the front squat and then do the jerk. (Kinda simulating when you hit that heavy clean just a tad out of position, you have to sit in the bottom for balance and then grind out of the bottom – never had that happen, I’ll bet!) 😊

Sots Press:  One of my favorites!!  When I saw Victor Sots do this movement with 155kg for double, I was amazed and just had to incorporate the exercise into our plan!  What a great exercise for strength, balance, flexibility and focus! Use a clean grip, while sitting in the bottom in the front squat position, press.  Sounds simple, but trust me, not easy at all!  Keep it strict, keep it light and do 3-5 sets of 5 at the end of the workout and you will be surprised how useful this exercise is. (Hint:  balance is an issue when first learning this exercise, so be very careful when “missing”.)

 

If STRENGTHis your weak area, then fix that weak area!  Back in the day with my own lifting career, I was always very quick, explosive, flexible with great technique, but was just not very strong! A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and strength was my weak link.  When I got that going, my lifts got going too!

Work Your Weak Areas Part V: Snatch – Overhead

WORK YOUR WEAK AREAS

PART V: STRENGTH – Snatch Overhead

Leo Totten, M.S., USAW 5

 

No matter how strong your pulls and squats are, you need to be able to hold the weight over your head in a solid, strong manner.  If you can’t do this pretty comfortably and the overhead part of the lift is your “weak area”, then it is important to include a lot of overhead work into your program.  Remember, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so if staying tight and strong overhead in the snatch or jerk isn’t happening for you, then that needs to be fixed!

SNATCH Overhead

Overhead Squats:  This is a mainstay in our programming.  This exercise has many values from core and shoulder stability, balance, strength and confidence, all characteristics for the perfect catch after a strong pull.  From a strength standpoint, we usually look for the athlete to be able to do at least 10% more in the overhead squat than they expect to snatch.  This is a rough figure but seems to hold pretty true overall.  Some lifters are able to overhead squat way more than that so strength isn’t the issue for them, but rather some other part of the lift – is the pull in the right position, are they getting under the bar quickly enough, is the top pull quick and efficient?  A good coach will be able to pinpoint the issue and address it in their programming.  We try to keep the reps per set to no more than 3 as the wrists tend to take a beating with the bar overhead for longer periods of time.  We use the percentage of the 1RM in the snatch for training purposes of the Overhead Squat.

Snatch Balance:  This is an exercise that we include often in our programming and it is a strength as well as speed exercise.   Like the Overhead Squat, we expect the athlete to be able to do a proper Snatch Balance with a minimum of 5% more than they plan on snatching.  But what is a “proper” Snatch Balance.  The whole goal of the exercise is to work on speed and timing going under the bar and catching it in a solid, tight bottom position, pressing the body under the bar without it “crashing” on them.  Many times I have seen videos of athletes doing the exercise where it looks more like a “push jerk plus overhead squat” where they catch it high and then ride it down.  Instead, we want to see the arms locked out at the same time they hit the bottom.  Start with the bar on the shoulders, give it a little knee kick (to simulate the triple extension at the top of the pull), but “press” yourself under the bar quick and tight.  Again, we keep the reps per set to 3 or less to be able to keep them sharp and quick. Like the Overhead Squat, for training we use the percentage of the 1RM in the snatch for the Snatch Balance.

Snatch Grip Push Press:  For great lockout and shoulder stability, the Snatch Grip Push Press is one of the best exercises.  Start with the bar on the shoulders behind the head with a snatch grip, dip and drive and then finish with a strong press out keeping the knees straight after the initial drive.  For this one we don’t work off of percentages but just sets and reps, typically 5-6 sets of 5-6 reps with a weight that can be done with proper form and drive.

Snatch Grip Push Jerk:  The dip and drive are similar to the Snatch Grip Push Press, but now the knees bend to receive the bar overhead in a quick, powerful movement.  It is important to keep the core tight all the way through the movement, focusing on a quick, tight catch.  Usually we use 5-6 sets of no more than triples with weight that can be done with proper form and drive.

Muscle Snatch:  We don’t utilize this exercise too often, but when the need arises we put them in to serve the purpose.  We could put this into the strength of the pull category as well, but it fits just as well in with the Overhead strength movements.  If an athlete has trouble keeping the bar close throughout the turnover part of the snatch, it is often a flexibility issue that we have to focus on.  But often it is an upper back/shoulder strength issue that is the cause of the bar not finishing properly overhead.  We start with the bar either in the power position or at the knees, then pull as if a regular snatch will be performed.  But after the complete extension, the knees do not rebend to catch the bar overhead.  Instead, the upper back and shoulders finish the pull with the elbows lifting up (not back), turning under and pressing the bar overhead.  It is important to keep the torso as vertical as possible with the bar as close as possible throughout.  In fact, the bar should pass right in front of the face with as little “looping” of the bar as possible.  Don’t worry about trying to hit big weights on this exercise as the form with definitely suffer and the purpose of the exercise is missed.  No percentages on this exercise, just 5-6 sets of 5-6 reps with weights that can be handled in good form.

 

In the next article on Work Your Weak Areas, we will hit on Strength JERK Overhead.  

Guest Post: Eccentrics for Squatting

Eccentrics for Squatting

Guest Post by Christopher Taber – PhD, CSCS, USAW 2

Christopher Taber is an assistant professor at Sacred Heart University and head coach of the Sacred Heart weightlifting team. His research is focused on strength and power development for athletes as well as athlete monitoring and testing. Christopher coaches and competes for East Coast Gold Weightlifting team and lives with his wife Lucy and his dog Marble in Connecticut. You can find more information at Atlas Human Performance. 

 

It is no secret that squats are important for weightlifters. Squats are a multi-joint exercise that challenge the largest muscle groups in the body and help to develop strength and power. Squatting strength is vitally important for standing up with heavy weights and developing explosive power for the snatch and clean and jerk. Everyone can benefit from heavy squats and this article will discuss methods of using eccentric muscle actions to help improve your squatting ability.

Muscle actions are broken down into several categories but the commonly encountered actions are concentric, isometrics and eccentric. Concentric muscle actions are caused by the muscle shortening and around found when you stand up from the bottom position in the squat. Isometric actions are when there is no change in muscle length but the muscle is still developing tension. Isometrics can be found in the top position of the squat and briefly in the bottom in the transition. Finally, eccentric actions are when the muscle lengthens under tension and are found when you descend in the squat.

From several research projects, data has demonstrated that muscle is stronger in the eccentric portion of a lift action compared to the concentric portion. Typically, training intensity is based on the concentric muscle action which may underload the eccentric portion of the lift thereby not fully developing all strength qualities. There are several methods you can utilize in training to develop stronger eccentric strength and help to build your squat. We will discuss slow eccentrics and accentuated eccentric loading as strategies to improve your eccentric strength and power.

Slow eccentric squats are a great way to increase eccentric strength and control during squatting. During the eccentric portion of the squat you simply extend the amount of time it takes you descend and this can range anywhere from 3-8 seconds. Obviously the longer you take to descend the more challenging the concentric portion of the lift will be. These can be used on all the repetitions or simply used on the first or last repetition to make the lift more difficult for the lifter. To make this more difficult make sure you count for your lifter as they tend to rush through these lifts and 5 seconds turns into 3!

The second way to develop eccentric strength is called accentuated eccentric loading and this advanced strategy involves handling a heavier weight during the eccentric portion of the lift compared to the concentric portion.  This technique can be implemented by either removing the weights manually at the bottom of the squat or with the use of weight releasers. Most commonly this is performed using weight releasers attached to the bar which fall off in the bottom of the lift allowing the lifter to descend with heavy weights and stand up with a lighter weight on the concentric portion of the squat. This technique allows for optimal loading of the eccentric portion of the lift with weights that challenging while allowing for the concentric prescription to be appropriate once the weight releasers are removed. This loading allows for better development of eccentric strength while still training the stretch shortening cycle and maintaining the normal mechanics of the squat. Below is a video with the weight releasers in action.

Casey Rohrbaugh, one of Leo’s national lifters for East Coast Gold Weightlifting Team, uses the weight releasers in training to build strength for her cleans.

Overloading the eccentric portion of the lift is a great way to get stronger and improve an athletes squatting ability but it’s important to implement them at the correct times in training. Heavy eccentrics can cause substantial muscle damage and soreness in the days following a training session. Typically this damage and soreness peaks 36 to 48 hours after training and can persist for a few days after training. Heavy eccentrics are best implemented farther out from competition when maximal strength or hypertrophy is being developed because of the muscle damage and increased fatigue on the lifter.   Finally, heavy accentuated eccentric loading is an advanced training strategy which should be implemented will well prepared and strong athletes. It is not recommended to utilize this strategy for lifters whose back squat falls below two times bodyweight because of the training stress and injury risk. Slow lowering eccentrics are appropriate for most lifters and can be implemented in a wide variety of ways into training and are great for developing squatting strength and power.

For more information on eccentrics or how to incorporate them into your training plan reach out to Totten Training Systems and learn from the best!

Work Your Weak Areas Part IV: Strength – Legs

WORK YOUR WEAK AREAS

PART IV: STRENGTH -Legs

Leo Totten, M.S., USAW 5

From the first article, “Work Your Weak Areas”:

Strength –  You may have really good technique with lighter weights, but as the weight gets heavier, do you have the strength to hold the correct positions?  Are you not able to keep the back and shoulders in the correct position when the bar is at the knees due to poor posterior chain strength?  Do you lack the overall leg strength for proper pulling power or to recover from those heavy cleans?  Do you have the technique to get under those snatches in a quick, efficient manner but lack the overhead strength to support the weight?

In Part III, we dealt with Strength, but specifically about the Pull and its variations as well as RDLs.  Now in this article, Part IV, we will continue with discussion on Strength, but focusing on Leg strength.

Clean Deadlifts:  Yes, I include this exercise in the Leg category but, of course, it could be in the Pull category.  The reason I put it in the Leg category is the slightly different way I like the deadlift to be performed.  If it is done correctly, I want it to match up with the same technique that we want if the lifter is going to be doing a full pull and that means focusing on the legs with the force driving into the floor.  The back stays tight throughout and the bar movement ends at the power position with no back arch at the top at all.  So, as the bar comes off the floor, the knees extend and then they re-bend to get into the power position.  This keeps the legs the focus and keeps the back under constant tension, thus building more strength.  Again, the finish position is the key.  Unlike a powerlifters deadlift where the shoulders start going back almost immediately after the bar passes the knees, weightlifters want to stay over the bar with the shoulders longer and end up in the power position.

Back Squats:  As we all know, good weightlifters have big squats!  They are the base of all the strength that is needed for weightlifting (and all sport for that matter!)  Just check out any of the many youtube videos out there of the top weightlifters in the country and around the world and you will see some huge weights being lifted (and usually quite easily!)  The leg, hip and back development needed for a strong support structure for weightlifting as well as all sports is taken care of in this one major exercise.

High bar vs Low bar:  Definitely High bar!  It puts the body in a more sport specific position and relates more muscle development needed for weightlifters.  Just check out the leg development and massive backs of the top lifters.  They all are doing high bar squats and getting the benefits of that technique.  Particularly if you are working with athletes from other sports, I believe that the high bar puts them in a more athletic position.

How strong do your Back Squats have to be?:   Some coaches say you can never be too strong, some coaches say you should be able to squat at least double your bodyweight.  All this is well and good, but the question is, do you have sufficient strength to be able to snatch and clean and jerk more?  For instance, if you are squatting 200kg but only clean and jerking 120kg, then, guess what, Squat strength isn’t your issue!  This should give you an indication that something in either the clean or the jerk is holding you back, but it certainly isn’t your back squat strength.  As a very general rule of thumb, the c&j should be about 80% of your back squat.  So, in the example just given, the lifter squatting 200kg should, in theory, be able to c&j 160kg.  I use these calculations as a ballpark figure to help determine how to set up training.  In that example, I wouldn’t eliminate squats from the program altogether, but I would just de-emphasize them in the program.  Instead of squatting 4 times per week, I would drop it to maybe 2 times per week.  That allows for more energy to be placed on getting the lifts moving with more emphasis on the clean and jerk.  On the other hand, if the c&j is 80% or higher of the Back Squat, then by all means, make improving the squat a major emphasis!!

Variations of Back Squats:

Pause Squats:   We do a lot of Pause squats in our programming.  In this way, we are doing the concentric and eccentric movement, but the emphasis is on the 3 second pause (or isometric) in the bottom of the movement.  This really emphasizes staying tight in the bottom and getting up with no momentum or bounce.  We use the same percentages as for regular back squats, but this just adds some great intensity for overall strength.  Sometimes we only pause on the first rep of each set, sometimes we pause on each rep.

5 Stop Squats:   Again, emphasizing the isometric part of the movement, this time there is a 2 second pause at 5 different positions on the descent.   As the lifter starts the descent there is a stop, another stop, then a 3rd stop (just above parallel)), 4th stop (at parallel) and the final stop is in rock bottom.  After that stop, blast out of the bottom with as much speed as can be mustered (which probably won’t be much, by the way).  Typically, only 70-80% can be used in this exercise and the reps and sets are limited, usually 3-4 sets of 1-2 reps.

¼ Squats :  We get inside a rack and just load it up!!  Not many reps (4-5 sets of singles) and usually at the end of the workout, but this exercise is an awesome way to get the feel of the heavy weights and really working on the tight core necessary for all lifts.

Eccentric Back Squats:  We absolutely love Eccentric squats.  This is one of the best ways to build strength.  There will be a lot more detail on how to incorporate these lifts into the training in the next article by Chris Taber, but I can vouch for how effective this type of training can be when done correctly.

 

Front Squats:  Most people consider the Back Squat to be the most essential for the pull whereas the Front Squat is more essential for getting out of the bottom of the clean as quickly and easily as possible.  The easier the recovery from the clean, the easier the jerk tends to be.

That being said, in order for the recovery from the clean to be as efficient as possible, Front Squats and the clean “rack” position need to be the same.  It can be very frustrating for a lifter to have a huge front squat yet can only clean way less than that.  The pull for the clean has to be efficient so that the receiving position is the same as the front squat.

How strong does your Front Squat need to be?:   Bottom line is do you get out of the bottom of the clean easily?  If you happen to get stuck in the bottom of a clean and have to sit there for a few seconds before coming up, can you still do it pretty easily?  For the most part, the front squat should be about 85% of your back squat, but the relationship between clean and front squat is even more important.  Basically, you should be able to front squat 10-15% more than you plan on cleaning.  It depends somewhat on whether you are a lifter who relies more on strength or more on technique, speed and flexibility.

I really like the “Kono-ism” (Tommy Kono back in the day really hit home with some of his training tips) where he said that whatever a lifter plans to clean and jerk, they should be able to front squat that weight for a triple.  One rep for the pull, one rep for the recovery from the clean and one rep to have enough “oomph” left for a solid jerk.  Over the years, I found this to be pretty true in almost all cases.

Variations of Front Squats:

All of the variations we use with Back Squats are utilized with Front Squats as well

Pause Squats       5 Stop Squats   ¼ Front Squats    Eccentric Front Squats:

The toughest part of doing the variations in the front squat position is the breathing.  Make sure the core stays tight throughout and hold the breath for the duration.  Lower reps and less time under tension will help if the lifter gets a bit light headed.

In the next article, Chris Taber goes into the details of Eccentric Training for increasing squat strength.  Then, in upcoming articles, the emphasis will be for Overhead Strength.

Stay tuned!!

 

 

Work Your Weak Areas Part III: Strength

Work Your Weak Areas

Part III: Strength

Leo Totten, M.S., USAW 5

 

As a follow-up to the previous article on “Work Your Weak Areas”, Part II Technique, now let’s get into the STRENGTH aspect.  Obviously, strength is a big part of what we weightlifters are all about but the key is to be really strong in the right positions.  Weightlifters need to be able to be strong enough to get into the correct positions and stay there.

From the first article, “Work Your Weak Areas”:

Strength –  You may have really good technique with lighter weights, but as the weight gets heavier, do you have the strength to hold the correct positions?  Are you not able to keep the back and shoulders in the correct position when the bar is at the knees due to poor posterior chain strength?  Do you lack the overall leg strength for proper pulling power or to recover from those heavy cleans?  Do you have the technique to get under those snatches in a quick, efficient manner but lack the overhead strength to support the weight?

(Keep in mind the correct positions desired from Work Your Weak Areas, Part II)

STRENGTH of the PULL: 

Strength to the Knees:  We discussed the correct start position in the Technique article, but the lifter needs to be strong in the back, hips and legs to make the starting pull to make that happen.

Pulls to the Knees:  Get to the point where 100%+ of your top clean or snatch is easy.   Stress correct bar path, hips and shoulders rising together, keeping the shoulders in front of the bar.

Deficit Pulls to the Knees:  ONLY if the flexibility allows a good start position can this exercise be utilized.  Back in the day when I was lifting, the weight always felt SO heavy off the floor but when I started doing these and got good at them, the pull from the floor felt easier and therefore I felt I could generate better speed (and confidence) through that strong power position.

Overall strength of Pull:

3 Stop Pulls:  Absolutely love these!  After a strong set position, pull so the weight literally goes only 1” off the floor, hold for 3 seconds.  Then, continue up to below the knees and hold for 3 seconds. Then, continue up to the power position and hold for 3 seconds.  Return to the floor in the exact same positions as in the pull.

Hints:

  • Coach should count the 3 seconds for the lifter. Trust me, they will cheat on their own!
  • Wanna really get strong? Do a 6-8 second eccentric descent.
  • Make sure the lifter knows that the first hold is ONE inch! (Again, its hard so they cheat!)
  • Use low volume on this one, typically 5-6 sets of singles, maybe doubles.

RDLs:  Most people tend to be “quad dominant” just because of the way humans sit so much.  However, this doesn’t help when it comes to keeping the shoulders in front of the bar when it is at the knees.  If the shoulders are back too far, the quads are doing the work instead of the hamstrings, but that leaves the bar in front of the foot, not over the midfoot where it belongs.  The bottom line is the lifter has to be extremely strong in the posterior chain!  Check out the back and hamstrings of the top lifters in the world and you will know what I mean!  I saw video of Nicu Vlad years ago doing correct RDLs with 300kg for 5 reps.  Hmmm….wonder why he was able to set world records and win Olympic Gold??

Of course, we all do regular Pulls to make the snatch and clean better, but here are a few hints:

  • When doing pulls, make sure you match the same pulling pattern that is used in the snatch or clean itself. Teach the body one pattern so it becomes automatic.  Weightlifting is a very nervous system-oriented movement so teach that nervous system one pattern.
  • For pulls that finish with a strong top pull, be careful not to go too heavy. By that, I mean make sure the weight isn’t too heavy that speed and position are compromised.  Typically, I recommend no more than 10% higher than the 1RM of the clean or snatch.  If it is a more strength-oriented movement without the speed or “pop” at the top (partial movements), then you can go much heavier In that case, 20-30% should work. (of course, keeping correct positions).
  • Pulls vs High Pulls: Typically, we recommend Pulls finishing with straight arms.  That way, we are more assured of maximal force production.  We focus on finishing tall with a good snap at the top of the shrug.  We only do a limited number of High Pulls, finishing with the elbows up.  I like that version of pulls, but I find that most athletes tend to cheat and bend down to meet the bar rather than finishing and then bending the arms.

 

In the next article we will discuss developing the leg strength for the pull as well as recovery from the bottom of the clean as well as the overhead supporting strength for snatches as well as jerks.

Until next time!

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