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


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??



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


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



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 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.


  • 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!

Work Your Weak Areas Part II: Technique


PART II: Technique

Leo Totten, M.S., USAW 5

In “Work Your Weak Areas”, Part I, we discussed how important it is to focus on ALL aspects of training but, in particular, to be disciplined enough in your training to work on the parts that are holding you back.  Identify your “weak areas”, hone in on them and make them a strength.  At the bare minimum, make them so they are not a detriment or something holding you back.

The first item of business is to talk about Technique if it is the weak link in your chain of progress.  Let’s review Technique that was mentioned in Part I and break it down into parts:

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?


Bar path (bar trajectory):  What we are looking for is to produce as much vertical force production as possible and to limit the amount of horizontal movement.  Force into the platform creates force vertically from that movement.  For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  This is not rocket science, it is simple biomechanics.  Why do you think Olympic lifters have such good vertical jumps?  Basically, they are doing a vertical jump “motion” with resistance every time they pull. (Vertical jump motion, not necessarily leaving the feet to jump).

In order to make this happen, the bar path (or trajectory), needs to be as much in a straight line as possible with very little “looping” motion.  I know, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, so you might think that the bar path should be absolutely straight.  Not so, because the body gets in the way and the pull is greatly affected by that.  Right off the floor, the hips and shoulders rise together and the shins will move back as does the bar.  Then, as the bar continues up and gets into the “power position”, the knees have gotten back into position for that powerful “jumping” motion and the bar is received either in the clean or snatch proper position.  The bar has to stay as close to the body as possible throughout (without dragging) and when it is “turned over”, the loop at the top should be minimal.  Bottom line is that the center of gravity of the bar and the body need to stay as much in line as possible and pretty much over the middle of the foot as possible.  Overall, the bar path is an “S” curve, but as flat an “S” as possible.

**This pulling concept applies whether you are a competitive Olympic lifter or an athlete in another sport using cleans and snatches as part of their power training.  I have seen some really ugly “reverse curls” that they call power cleans, but although the weight might be impressive, it really has no relevance to performance on the field.  Technique for athletes other than weightlifters doesn’t need to be perfect, but it needs to be perfect enough to get the benefit from the exercise and to be as safe as possible.**

I like to watch my lifters directly from the side so I can keep a close eye on the bar path.  When we do video analysis, it is obvious to the lifter when they see how far the bar comes away from the body and whether they are kicking it out horizontally or not.

Start position, setup and pull from the floor:  When pulling off the floor, we recommend that the shoulders be above the hips and the hips above the knees.  How much the shoulders are “in front of the bar” off the floor has to do with limb lengths, but the principle holds true for everyone.  The back needs to be locked in tight and flat, arms straight and eyes focused either forward or slightly down in front of the lifter.   This setup is crucial to getting the bar into the correct power position where the lift should really accelerate.  Back in my day (OK, pretty much in the dark ages), if I missed a clean or a snatch, it was something I did wrong right off the floor.  Either in the setup or the initial bar path.

Speaking of the initial bar path or pull off the floor.  If the hips and shoulders rise at the same rate, keeping the back at the same angle, the shins should automatically get back as the bar comes back toward the middle of the foot.  Right off the floor, it is a leg lift, not a back lift.  Many lifters pull with the back first, leading with the shoulders and this causes a forward pull path and the bar has to be physically pulled around the shins and knees.

Did you ever see lifters with bloody shins??  Guess what, they are lifting the with the shoulders first and that actually pushes the shins into the bar.  The fix is to focus on the first pull where the bar path comes back as the shins and knees get out of the way.   Pulls to the knees, pause at the knees and then finish the pull are two of my favorite exercises to remedy this weak area.

Early arm bend:   Simple motto – “arms bend, power ends”!   Watch your athletes from the front for this one.  The arms need to stay straight as long as possible.  Let the large muscles of the hips and legs finish the explosive movement at the top of the pull and only bend them after that complete extension.  Once the legs have fully extended, then the arms bend to finish the pull and the very important job of pulling the body under the bar.  We don’t want to rely on gravity to get the body in position to catch the clean or the snatch, but, instead, a fast turnover of the bar to be able to receive it when it is “weightless”.  By bending the arms too early, the speed at the top of the pull decreases as does the descend going under the bar.  “Meeting the bar” is much more difficult with early arm bend.   One of my favorite warmup drills that helps fix this issue is what I call “shrug snatches” or “shrug cleans”.  Using the snatch as an example, simply take a very light bar and stand up with it.  Do two slow shrugs, then on the third rep, fast shrug and squat under.  Focus on the shrug with straight arms and speed going under the bar.  Makes for a great warmup as well as a remedy for the early arm bend.

Technique breakdown during certain positions of the lift:   This is an issue that almost always has to do with lack of Strength in various position.  You may know where your athlete is supposed to be in each of the positions, but usually they are not strong enough to actually hold the positions.  Basically, what they tend to do is regress into positions they are more comfortable in or stronger in, but that is not necessarily where the body needs to be for optimal pulling positions.

More on Strength issues in a future article!!

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.

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