Work Your Weak Areas

WORK YOUR WEAK AREAS

Leo Totten, M.S., USAW 5

“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link”.  I use that term in almost every seminar or clinic that I do.  It is human nature to avoid working on their weak areas, instead overworking their strong suits.  They continue to make progress that way, but as long as they ignore their weak areas, they will always be holding themselves back from reaching their full potential.

I’m not saying to go the opposite way and only work on what you aren’t good at.  If that was the case, it would be difficult to be motivated to even come into the gym.  But instead, continue to refine your strong areas, but make sure that a significant amount of work on the weak areas are included to try to work that balance and to make sure that the weak area isn’t what is holding you back.

Take an honest look at your current status of your weightlifting strengths and weaknesses.  From a lifting standpoint is it a Technique, Strength or Flexibility issue that is your weak spot?

Technique –  Is the bar path or bar trajectory the most efficient?  Is your start position or setup as it should be?   Do you have the issue of early arm bend?   Does your technique break down only in certain positions during the lift?

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?

Flexibility –  You may be strong as a bull, but do you have the flexibility or mobility to get the body in the correct positions?  When the bar is overhead in the snatch or jerk, do you have the requisite shoulder flexibility to keep the bar behind the ears so the center of gravity of the bar is where it belongs?  When you “rack” the bar on the shoulders in the clean, is the bar on the clavicles and shoulders where it belongs or does the bar slide down the chest due to lack of flexibility?

Another thing to consider is the balance between the competition lifts, training lifts and assistance exercises.  When I do my clinics and seminars, I often have the lifters fill out my Strengths and Weaknesses chart.  With all the numbers in front of them, they can see what they need to work on.  For instance, we typically look for the snatch to be about 80% of what they clean & jerk.  When they calculate it, if the snatch is below that 80%, then they need more focus on the snatch in their training.  If that is the case, then we determine what part of the snatch is holding them back.  Is it something with the strength of the pull, is the speed of the movement, is it the bar path, is it the overhead supporting strength or is it the speed of getting into the receiving position?  Once we determine that, we can arrange the programming to deal with that issue head on.

Obviously, if the snatch is higher than that 80% mark, then some part of the clean or jerk needs more focus.   We use the same principle to decide what part of the c&j needs work and that gives us a better idea of how to set up programming.

From the “non-lifting” side of things, there are many other factors that can negatively influence progress.   Away from the platform, are there stresses in your life that are taking away from your recovery time?  Too many hours at work, stressful work, family issues, boss issues, etc.  I always say that the one hour you spend on the platform isn’t nearly as important as the 23 hours off the platform.  If the “non-lifting” issues are something you need to work on, then it is important that you recognize that and make it a strength, not a weakness.

If any of these issues are determined to be the culprit, then take the time and have the self-discipline to work on what is holding you back.  Its not easy, but, hey, if lifting was easy, everyone would be good at it!

Up Next: In future articles, I will hone in on specifics to make each of these weak areas better for you – practical, down to earth methods for setting up your training to attack your weak areas while still maintaining your strengths.  A strong, overall program that hits your strengths as well as your weaknesses is the key to ultimate success.

 

Tottenism Tuesday – The Lone Wolf Goes Hungry

Recently, I attended the Sorinex Summer Strong conference down in South Carolina. It was my first time that I was able to make it down there and it was one of the best conferences I had been around (and I have been to a lot!) I always like going to these strength conferences because there is so much knowledge out there and I want to soak up as much as I can. The Sorinex conference had some awesome speakers including Bert Sorin who, in my mind, gave one of the best. In his talk he mentioned the lone wolf. Most people think of the wolf as a predator that you certainly would not want to meet on a late evening trek through the mountains. But the point he was making was that wolves go around in packs for a reason. They count on their brothers and sisters to team up on their prey so everyone in the pack gets fed. The lone wolf goes hungry. He brought that concept into perspective with the team that has developed around he and his Dad, Richard, for the company. Obviously, those two guys are the head of the organization, but they have developed a strong team around them to make the company the success that it is. I’d like to think that the culture of my East Coast Gold Weightlifting Team has developed with that same concept in mind. I try to surround myself with good, quality people to help with coaching, medical, education, marketing and athlete identification. That concept has spread to all of our satellite centers so the team continues to grow and prosper. So, whether it is a weightlifting team, an athletic team or a business, the “team” is what its all about.

Tottenism Tuesday – One Lift at a Time

Bruce Lee once said, he was not concerned about someone who had practiced 10,000 kicks. He was more concerned about a person who had practiced one kick 10,000 times. He was concerned about the opponent that had put in the deliberate practice to make one move as perfect as possible and therefore as efficient and effective as possible (and in his case perhaps deadly). For those of you who know me, I am a huge Green Bay Packers fan. Back in Vince Lombardi’s day (you young whipper snappers won’t know who he was, but Google him) he had the Packers run the Green Bay Power Sweep. They practiced it to perfection and even though the opponents knew it was coming, they couldn’t stop it because it was that efficient and that effective. They drilled it over and over again until it was perfection and a beauty of a play to see. The key in both examples is deliberate practice. For the weightlifter, that means focusing all of your attention on that one lift in front of you in your training session. It is important to focus in competition when there is more pressure and each lift means more, but I’m talking about doing each lift with that same focus, that same intensity in practice. That is hard to do with everything else going on in the gym, the music, the training partners and other distractions. But the key is to make every lift as focused as possible, whether it be a 50% warmup weight or a max attempt. The mind and the body have to be deliberately trained to hit that perfect lift every time. Get into the mindset where every time you step on the platform and touch the bar, it is the same routine, the same focus. The more you practice in this deliberate way, the more it becomes automatic and you get into that zone more easily. Most importantly, when the competition does come around, it has become second nature to be focused and “in the zone” every time.

Tottenism Tuesday: June 26, 2018

The Hurrier I Go, The Behinder I Get

By: Leo Totten, MS, USAW 5

This old Pennsylvania Dutch saying holds true in this modern day way of living as well as it did back in the day.  Basically, what it means is slow the heck down!  Particularly in this day and age, with technology being what it is, everyone wants everything NOW.  Immediate gratification, right?  Well, the honest truth is that everything worthwhile in life (weightlifting or otherwise) takes time and if you try to hurry to get to where you are going, chances are you are going to put yourself farther behind.  We are in such a hurry to get to the top that one forgets what it takes to get there.  Take the time to build the foundation.  Take the time to work on your weak areas.  Take the time to really sit down and examine where you are, where you want to go and what it will take to get you there.  There are no shortcuts.  The discipline has to be there to do the drudgery type things that others may not be willing to take the time to do.   Of course, its not easy.  But, if it were easy, everyone would be good, right??

-Leo

Pull Like the Chinese

By: Leo Totten, MS, USAW 5

 

OK, I know what you’re thinking!  Here comes another dissertation on how awesome the Chinese weightlifters are and how they have a secret pulling technique that we Americans need to emulate if we are going to attain the same heights that they have attained.

I recently read a blog by Coach Yats, an American who has spent a lot of time in China studying their weightlifting techniques and training methodologies.  He presents some interesting points that we all can learn from.  In this particular blog, he spoke primarily about the Chinese snatch pulling technique as compared to snatch pulling technique in the U.S.

As it turns out, it seems their pulling technique being taught isn’t very different at all from what we teach here.  Well, at least what we should be teaching and coaching.  He says that “on paper”, they say the same thing we say – keep the bar close, use the legs, good back position, extend.  But the difference is in our actual execution, correction, and programming based on weak areas.  In the U.S. we talk it, but don’t necessarily train it.

Here are some of the points stressed by Coach Yats:

  • Bar close means the bar lightly touching the thighs as well as the abdomen, chest and even the face. So, if there is a “bump” to the bar, it isn’t staying close enough.
  • Fast is only important after reaching the perfect power position.
  • Chest is open and back arched throughout the entire movement not just at the start.
  • Proper extension means just straightening at the knee and hip.

The two primary technique teaching tools the Chinese emphasize are the snatch high pull (finish with elbows up) as well as snatch pull (finish with straight arms in full shrug on balls of feet).

Hmmm….kinda sounds like how we train the snatch pulling technique!

Yats goes on to mention the importance of a proper power position.  Again, nothing different than what we should be teaching – shoulders slightly in front of the bar, stay over longer, keep the arms straight without bending prematurely and keep it close.  But his main point here was, think power position every time!!

So, the bottom line is, keep stressing the same, biomechanically sound pulling technique we have been teaching and do all assistance exercises in the same manner to get the most out of the pattern for maximum performance in the snatch!

And, yes, pull like the Chinese!!

Are your cleans doing what they are supposed to do?

ARE YOUR CLEANS DOING WHAT THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO DO?

By Leo Totten, MS

Whether your sport is powerlifting, strongman, football or any other “strength” sport, the Power Clean should be part of your workout plan.  Obviously, the major emphasis of your training should be whatever discipline you are participating in, but including power cleans at the right time can enhance the performance in any strength sport.

When choosing the exercises to be put into your program, there are two primary considerations to keep in mind.  Does the exercise fit a need or purpose and are the athletes able to perform the exercise correctly so it actually accomplishes what it is supposed to do?

Whatever exercises the coach puts into the program for their athletes, there should be a definite purpose as to why that exercise is being done.  Why waste time doing exercises that have no functional value in helping the athletes achieve their goal of strength and power?  Choose the best exercises for time efficiency and if the athlete knows the rationale behind it, they will buy into the program much more readily.

Power cleans should definitely have a place in your program.  The benefits have been well documented – power development, core stability, flexibility development, cardiovascular improvements as well as balance and overall athletic ability.

The “pull” part of the power clean utilizes the “triple extension” of the hip, knee and ankle, thereby working all the major muscles of the core, hips, quads and hamstrings.  Think of the pull as a vertical jump motion with a weight in your hands.  (Olympic lifters have awesome vertical jumps, a primary test of leg power used by most coaches and athletes).  This triple extension movement has a high correlation to athletic performance if done properly.  The bar has to stay close to the body with emphasis on vertical displacement of forces.  For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  Force into the ground causes more powerful forces upward.  As little horizontal displacement of the forces as possible is desired.

The “receiving” position (or the “catch” or “rack”) is how the bar is received on the chest (actually, the bar will lie across the clavicles and shoulders) after the explosive pull motion.  By “receiving” the bar on the chest, now the athlete is working functional core stability, working on deceleration and absorbing forces.  Most sport is all about exerting force but also receiving forces.  (However, if lack of flexibility is preventing you from receiving the bar in the proper position, you can still do the “pull” motion to get the benefit from that explosive, triple extension.  As flexibility improves, then the power clean can be finished correctly).

So, the question becomes, are your athletes doing their power cleans correctly to reap the benefits and actually accomplish what they are meant to accomplish?  Are the lifts being done in a safe, efficient manner?

  • Is the bar staying close to the body or is it a glorified reverse curl?
  • Are the athletes in the correct position to accelerate through the “power position”?
  • Is the bar “crashing” when receiving the bar on the chest or is the bar received in a smooth, effective manner?
  • Is a flat back and tight core being maintained during the pull as well as the catch?
  • During the “catch”, is the weight supported by the body or is all the weight on the hands and wrists?
  • Has a logical teaching progression been followed to individualize for athletes of differing abilities?
  • Have appropriate assistance exercises been utilized to work on the weak areas of the lift?

These are some of the questions that a coach needs to ask themselves when having their athletes performing power cleans.  It is your job to continually monitor and assess that what they are doing is safe and accomplishing what they are supposed to accomplish.  Continue to develop an “eye” for proper technique and learn how to fix any deficiencies the athletes may have.  The amount of weight is important, but not at the expense of proper form and proper speed of execution.

Power cleans can be a great addition to your arsenal of exercises in your program, but only if done correctly to get the full benefit.

For certification on how to coach the Power Clean as well as the other Olympic lifts, go to www.usaweightlifting.org.

Also, check out a one hour DVD entitled, “Power Clean:  Doing it Right”, available at www.tottentraining.com .

Utilizing the SNATCH as an Effective Tool in the Coach’s Toolbox

Leo Totten, MS

Totten Training Systems, LLC

USAW Level 5

We all have been inundated with information on how beneficial the Olympic lifts can be as part of the strength coach’s repertoire – an effective tool in the toolbox.  Many of the physical attributes that athletes need are enhanced by doing the Olympic lifts properly:

  • Ability to exert forces as well as to absorb forces
  • Maximum force production as quickly as possible (explosive power)
  • Total body movement / Multi-joint movement mimicking sport movement
  • Closed kinetic chain
  • Triple joint extension
  • Functional core stability

However, many coaches use the Clean as the sole Olympic lift and forget the benefits of getting some Snatch training into their programs as well.

What is the Snatch and what does it accomplish?  The pull pattern is basically the same as the Clean, but the difference is where the “catch” or “receiving position” occurs – overhead instead of on the chest.

Because of the pull similarity to the Clean, teaching the Snatch is relatively simple.  In spite of this, some coaches think the Snatch is too difficult to teach and/or not worth the effort.  A good coach is a good teacher.

Like the Clean, the Snatch has two major components to the lift, the “pull” and the “catch”.  The pull works all of the major muscle groups and utilizes the triple extension producing the desired explosive power so crucial to athletic performance.  

Thinking back to old exercise science classes and the force/velocity curve, different components of strength training affect moving that curve in a positive direction.  Because Snatches will need to use lighter weight and move that weight more total distance, they would be training more in the “speed-strength” category as opposed to “power” or “strength-speed”.  Documented studies have shown Hang Power Snatches to exude higher velocities than Hang Power Cleans.  By the same token, Snatch Pulls have higher velocities generally than Clean Pulls.  In a nutshell, if you train fast, you’ll be fast!

An additional benefit is that a wider grip is used for the Snatch as opposed to the Clean, thus opening up the chest more and allowing for more leg work and less back.

Some coaches are afraid of the overhead component of the Snatch.  But, are overhead movements, in general, OK to be used by the coach?  Obviously, screening for risk factors of all athletes ahead of time is smart to head off any problems or if a particular athlete is predisposed to shoulder issues, then caution must be taken.  But, if safe and progressive training protocol is utilized, then the Snatch or another overhead movement can be effective and useful.  With proper technique, proper progressions and proper loading, the athlete has an additional resource for core strength, scapular and shoulder strength and stability, as well as scapulothoracic mobility.  The “catch” or “receiving position” can provide that additional benefit of core and shoulder stability.

Let’s be clear, though, that we are talking about Snatches to enhance athletic performance.  Most coaches are not using Snatches to create a one rep max to prepare for a weightlifting competition (although we can help with that too! )  Athletes can use variations or derivatives of the Snatch to accomplish their goals.

A weightlifter in competition has to perform a one rep max on the platform from the floor.  A majority of the time, they use a “Squat” Snatch as opposed to a “Power” Snatch. That simply means they only have to pull it as high as they need to get under and stabilize in the full squat position.  A Power Snatch needs a higher pull to “catch” it above parallel.

However, any other athlete besides the weightlifter performing the Snatch can do any number of variations of the lift.  Different goals, right?  They can reap benefits of proper Snatches by either doing a power or squat.  Both need that explosive power in the pull, but more flexibility is needed for the athlete to hit the bottom, squat position.  Perhaps more weight can be used in the Squat Snatch, but only if the technique and flexibility allow it.

Flexibility might be another inhibiting factor for a proper pull position from the floor.  If this is the case, the athlete can still attain the explosive component of the lift by doing a Hang Snatch from varying positions.  Many athletes will do Snatches off blocks instead of from the hang, still accomplishing the goal.

If the pull is the weak component of the lift for the athlete, a heavier load can be used for just the pull itself rather than finishing in the overhead position.  Any variety of start positions (floor, hang or blocks) can be used.  Keep in mind when adding load, though, the proper technique AND speed of movement must be emphasized.  Other slower, strength movements like snatch grip Deadlifts or snatch grip RDLs can be used where speed is not a factor, just proper technique.

 

The overhead position has to be strengthened as well.  The Overhead Squat is one of the best exercises to improve the Snatch and is also a great exercise in and of itself.   This is a great exercise to work shoulder and core stability, balance, flexibility and, of course, it increases confidence in the receiving position in the Snatch.  Other overhead strength builders for the Snatch can be included in the program as well – Snatch Balance, snatch grip Push Press and Push Jerk.

Bo Sandoval, outstanding strength coach at University of Michigan, had this to say about including Snatches in his toolbox of exercises for his athletes:

“I implement the Snatch as a means to develop ground based explosive power systemically through coordinated bouts of concentric and eccentric actions.  This lift, when executed properly, takes fractions of a second, taxes the ATP/CP energy system and requires varying degrees of athletic positioning while demanding and promoting mobility, stability, and speed throughout.  Currently, I use the Snatch and/or variations with Track&Field, Cross Country and Lacrosse.  I have used this movement with, but not limited to, Football players, Basketball players, Swimmers, Gymnasts, Weightlifters (of course!), Shooters, Tri-Athletes, Wrestlers, Cyclists and Bobsledders.”

 

So, ask yourself:

  • Do the exercises you choose accomplish what you want them to accomplish?
  • Do the exercises you choose fit with the clientele that you are working with?
  • Are the exercises you choose safe and effective for the athletes you are working with?

Can the Snatch be one of those exercises that fit those criteria?  With proper coaching and if done for all the right reasons, the Snatch can be a very effective tool in the coach’s toolbox!

For more information on performing Power Snatches correctly, check out a one hour DVD entitled, “Power Snatch:  Doing it Right”, available in our online store.

INTERESTED or COMMITTED??

Leo Totten, MS

Head Coach, Totten Training Systems

Head Coach, East Coast Gold WL Team

commitment2

One of my favorite things to do first thing in the morning is to tune in to Mike and Mike on ESPN.  I like to catch up on the latest scores and the back and forth banter of two very cool sports talk show hosts.  Mike and Mike often bring on special guests who offer their expert opinions on the topic of the day.

Herm Edwards, an outstanding football coach and now expert analyst, was brought in to discuss the professionalism (or lack thereof) of a particular pro athlete.  His perspective was very enlightening and his point was how he breaks down athletes into two basic categories – those who are “interested” and those who are “committed”.

As a coach, how many times have you come across athletes who talk a big game and have big plans on doing this or achieving that?  But when push comes to shove are they just “interested” in attaining those goals or are they really “committed” to doing all that it takes to actually make it happen?  Are they willing to put in the long hours and discipline to persevere through the highs and lows that it will inevitably take to get to the top?  Are they willing to do the things off the platform and away from the coach’s eye that are needed to continue their progress?

Get to know your athletes.  Dig in their psyche.  Find out what makes them tick.  Don’t assume that each person is the same with the same aspirations or same motivations.  Do what needs to be done to help them maximize their performance for what “they” want and need, not necessarily what “you” want or think they want.  

Don’t get me wrong.  As a coach, you absolutely treat the athletes as if they are as committed as you are and as you know they need to be to reach their true potential.  You always push them to do the things they need to do to succeed.   You always try to get them to evolve from someone who is just “interested” into that “committed” athlete doing what they need to do.

However, don’t beat yourself up or get frustrated if your athlete doesn’t “get it”.  You can only do so much and the athlete himself or herself has to get it into their heads that all the little things that need to be done when you aren’t around can only be done if they are truly “committed”.  Keep pushing but understand that all athletes are different and have different motivations.

Reminds me of the great “bacon and eggs” analogy – the chicken is “interested” but the pig is “committed”!

CELC Now at TTS

Totten Training Systems announces the latest course in the certification series.

Coaches Education and Lifting Certification (CELC)

Everyone knows how important a positive, efficient weight room is in the production of top level athletes and teams. Give your teaching and coaching in the weight room a better direction!

Learn more about the CELC and our other offerings on the courses page.

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