Weightlifting and Strength Program

Two years ago I wrote a post about Transitioning Into Olympic Weightlifting. If you have considered making the switch, it’s worth a read. @conorjmcclure asked how the program could be turned into a 3x/week program instead of the regular 4x/wk.

There are two ways to use the original template: 1) as a transition into weightlifting to allow joints and soft tissue to adapt to the explosive movements or 2) as a combination of explosive weightlifting movements with traditional strength movements. How I’d approach a 3x/wk would depend on the trainee’s intention, but usually people still want to get stronger while incorporating the Olympic lifts. Here’s how I’d do it:

Monday
Snatch (heavy)
Clean and Jerk (medium)
Squat

Wednesday
Press or Push-press
Front Squat
Barbell rows

Friday
Snatch (medium)
Clean and Jerk (heavy)
Squat or Bench
RDL

It’s not a perfect template, but I like the symmetry of snatching and CJ’ing on the first and third training days instead of bunching them on one side of the week. If the lifter was young (and therefore can recover well) or an intermediate squatter wanting to push it hard, they could squat on Friday. This weekly structure would work well with a traditional Texas Method set up, and depending on the lifter’s deficiency, they could focus more on the Olympic lifts or the squatting. Otherwise, I’d clean and jerk heavier near the end of the week, use that as some squatting work, and then get some benching in if the person was weak or still wanted to get bigger. I don’t usually knock bench completely out of a program unless someone is no-shit committed to weightlifting.

I always like to get quality RDLs in most programs since most trainees rarely develop their posterior chain properly and they can be a benefit in weightlifting. If someone wanted to, they could squat and bench and RDL, but that’s kind of a lot of shit going on. The benching could always be lighter or medium-ish and supersetted with RDLs for the sake of getting through it.

As far as the snatch and CJ, I’d approach it like I mentioned in the previous article. To summarize, you’d lift heavy in one of the lifts and then “medium” (or about 80% of the hypothetical max) with the other lift. Snatch is always done first since you’ll always CJ after a snatch in a meet. Monday would be heavy snatch, medium CJ. Friday would be medium snatch, heavy CJ. For the medium lift, accumulate 6 to 10 reps preferably on a clock (1 minute for snatch, 90 to 120 seconds for CJ). For the heavy lift, work up to heavy singles, meaning you can only do about five of them. Each week you’ll aim to increase the weight by 2.5 or 5k. When you can’t maintain 5 singles, just do about 3 and keep progressing. Eventually you’ll only be able to hit one heavy single and can’t repeat it. Keep pushing the weight each week with as small increments as you can. If you did this progression right, you should have about 2 or 3 months of work. If you have serious mechanical errors, then decrease the top load about 10% and work on your issue.

This is pretty much a beginner progression on the Olympic lifts that can last anywhere from two to four months. It’s simple and effective. Once you peter out on this progression, you’ll be ready for more complicated programming unless you just want to continue doing sub-maximal work on the Olympic lifts and max them every few weeks.

Ideally you’d want a coach before starting so you don’t ingrain bad habits or movement patterns, but once you complete this progression you definitely need to seek out a coach. If you spend a couple months working on something, it means you’re dedicated enough to spend a little money and improve on whatever you accomplished solo.

I wouldn’t add much more to this other than pull-ups or chin-ups sprinkled in on any day. Of course, muscle imbalances should be corrected when necessary, but most people throw too much shit into a training program, clutter it up, and they miss out on raw performance gain that the basic barbell lifts provide.

 

PR Friday – 15 Aug 2014

PR Friday — Post your training updates, PR’s, and questions to the comments and the 70′s Big crew will respond. 

Weekly Q&A gives you a chance to ask anyone from the 70′s Big Crew a question in the comments below, on Facebook, or Twitter. Follow 70′s Big on Instagram

Recap: On Monday I posted an article that discussed the benefit of “External Hip Rotation in the Squat” and why a wide stance is not conducive to doing so. Chalk Talk #3 came out Wednesday and was a quick word on the importance of preparation in training, nutrition, and rehab.

In other news:

USAW finally increased the qualifying totals to its two national meets, the American Open and Nationals. This is due to the significant increase in lifters in the past few years (thanks CrossFit) and will allow more efficient meets as well as increased standards for American weightlifting.

AR-140609730

Thor AKA The Mountain AKA A Large Man

Thor — AKA Hafþór Julíus AKA the giant man who played Gregor Glegane AKA The Mountain That Rides AKA The Mountain on Game of Thrones AKA the TV show of A Song of Ice and Fire AKA another chance for me to use AKA — won Europe’s strongest man

Benedikt Magnusson set a new World Record with a 461kg (1016 pounds) deadlift (watch the vid below until the end):

Weekend Discussion: What program do you follow or what kind of training method have you found useful?

Low Bar vs High Bar Squat, Part 2

A couple of years ago I wrote “Low Bar vs High Bar Squat” and it is still one of the most visited, and argued, posts on this site. I re-read the post and felt the need to update some of the information.

In the first post, I compared the positioning, mechanics, and utility of the high bar and low bar squats. All bickering aside, my final recommendation on which squat to use was:

If you’re gonna be a powerlifter, then use the low bar. If you’re going to compete in Olympic weightlifting, then use the high bar. If you have deficiencies in one area, then the other squat can improve that deficiency. If you can do both reasonably well and aren’t training for one of the barbell sports, then use both.

I do want to reiterate one point, and that is how the low bar squat should not be used for competitive weightlifting. Since weightlifting elements are common in CrossFit competition, I would also not predominantly use the low bar squat in CrossFit programming unless it was in the off-season. This is not any kind of attack on Mark Rippetoe or anyone who promotes the use of the low bar; the low bar is just not efficient for those purposes. Low barring will teach a trainee an inappropriate motor pathway for weightlifting as well as incorrectly developing the hip and thigh musculature.

To my knowledge I’m the one of the few people, if not the only one, who has gone to a USAW National event by primarily low bar back squatting. It definitely made receiving positions in the clean and snatch unnecessarily difficult as well as created mechanical problems (i.e. pitching forward when trying to squat out of the receiving position). After high barring consistently and dropping about 15 pounds of body weight, I was hitting the same PR snatch and CJ numbers with a weaker squat, and it was partially due to bettering the motor pathway of my receiving position and developing the musculature in a way that supports that pathway (The other variable of my improved numbers was that I significantly improved my weightlifting technique).

From a mechanical analysis perspective, it doesn’t make sense to low bar for weightlifting and it has not proved to be effective in my training or anyone I have coached. But enough about me, for gods’ sakes, let’s get to the amendments I have about the original Low Bar vs. High Bar article.

Hamstring tension during the high bar squat

In the first article I made a blanket statement saying, “the (high bar squat) ascent begins with zero hamstring tension due to knee flexion”. To review, if there is too much knee flexion, then there is not tension in the hamstrings since they cross both the knee and the hip. Yet, saying that all high bar squats have zero hamstring tension at the bottom position is not correct in all situations.

This is an ATG squat

This is an ATG squat

There are different ways to high bar squat. One method used by weightlifters is essentially collapsing into the bottom and allowing the backs of the hamstrings to slam onto the calves in complete knee flexion. The knees usually jut forward and some people say the rebound occurs off of the ligaments of the knees, though it’s probably a combination of the soft tissue around the ankles, knees and hips. The rebound off the soft tissue and joints is used as a rebound to drive the weight up. It’s similar to catching a clean or snatch very quickly. This can be called “ass to grass” or ATG squats. Another method is similar, except instead of crashing into the bottom position, the weight is lowered under control until the same bottom position is met. These are also referred to as ATG squats, but the weight is lowered under tension.

This is a non-ATG high bar squat

This is a non-ATG high bar squat

Lastly, the bottom position of a high bar squat can be a couple of inches below parallel, much like the low bar squat. To quantify this, the crease of the hip would need to be at a lower level than the knee cap (i.e. the point in which the head of the femur articulates with the acetabulum would be lower than the top of the patella). The weight would be controlled to this bottom position, and then squatted up.

While there is more knee flexion than in a low bar squat, there is not complete knee flexion and therefore not complete slackening in the hamstring. The hamstring is obviously much more slack than a low bar squat, but it will have some tension, especially when the trainee is externally rotating the hips effectively. External hip rotation effectively stretches out both the adductors and at least the medial hamstrings, therefore it creates tension around the hip. This is how I coach the high bar squat, especially with beginners.

All of the text in this section serves to show that I no longer think there is zero tension at the bottom of a non-ATG high bar squat.

Net anterior/posterior knee forces during the high bar squat

This is a mega ATG squat that is rebounding off of all of the soft tissue

This is a mega ATG squat that is rebounding off of all of the soft tissue

And all of the above text is important to make this point right here. Since there is adductor and hamstring tension applied in a non ATG high bar squat, these muscles apply a posterior force on the tibia. Therefore, the net force is not entirely anterior and therefore not as abrasive to the knees as originally thought. ATG squats will yield significantly higher anterior stress (i.e. the front of the knees), but ATG and regular high bar squats can still recruit hamstring tension on the ascent. If there is tension at the bottom of a non-ATG squat, and there is hamstring tension on the ascent (due to the hamstrings maintaining the back angle by their attachment on the pelvis), then the high bar squat can be excused from “knee wrecking” accusations.

In order to provide this tension the trainee would need to properly externally rotate at the hip, therefore making the high bar squat more difficult to master than I made it out to be in the first article when I said, “To learn how to high bar squat, put a bar on your back and squat all the way down with your knees shoved out.” A quality high bar squat will require good external rotation (to be discussed in another post and video). 

The stretch reflex is still present in a high bar squat

Despite the pad, this is a pretty good high bar squat. And impressive if real

Despite the pad, this is a pretty good high bar squat. And impressive if real.

Because there is hamstring and adductor tension at the bottom of a non ATG high bar squat, there is tension to execute a stretch reflex. The stretch reflex is one of the most important qualities of a low bar squat. Once a trainee starts mastering the low bar mechanics, I teach them how to “bounce” out of the hole with hip drive. The same thing can happen in the high bar squat, yet the intent and cues are different. Whereas in the low bar the trainee is aiming to “push the butt up” (a specific cue I found to be better than “drive the butt/hip up”), the high bar squatter will “drive the heels” while maintaining the external rotation.

Overall, the point in this section is to state that there is not complete knee flexion in a high bar squat, there is adductor and hamstring tension, and therefore there is a stretch reflex off of these muscles when coming out of the hole.

There is a difference

One issue that pops up occasionally is the idea that there is not a difference between the high bar and low bar. I guess the point is that there is not a mechanical difference, an adaptation difference, or that it doesn’t matter which one you do.

Some people may not have a noticeable difference in seeing or executing the two types of squat if they are a) very immobile, b) very uncoordinated, or c) squat with a wide-geared-powerlifting stance. Having crappy mobility would make it hard to see a difference between the two squat variants. Crappy mobility in the hips, knees, and ankles, would prevent a proper bottom position in a high bar. Crappy shoulder mobility would prevent a good rack in a high or low bar position (I’ve seen both). Therefore, when they attempt one or the other squat version, it just turns into a bastardized version of whatever their mobility permits.

The uncoordinated trainee may have the mobility to rack the bar or get into a bottom position, but he doesn’t have the coordination (or coaching) to execute the squat version.

Lastly, wide stance squatters aim to have vertical shins, sit back very far, and lean over to achieve hip flexion. This style of squatting — which I am not a fan of — developed in order to take advantage of gear that resists hip flexion (i.e. it helps extend the hips AKA squat up). Wide stance squatting relies on gear instead of good external hip rotation to provide force. Wide stance squatting will also look nearly the same regardless if the bar is placed on the traps (high bar) or on the rear delts (low bar), therefore there won’t be much of a difference between the two squats because the mechanics are the same anyway.

Despite the fact that large weights have been squatted with these wide stance squats, it doesn’t use the non-geared anatomy efficiently, is therefore more injurious, and is not conducive to athletics, weightlifting, or general performance. But I digress.

In closing…

It's better to have squatted than to not have squatted at all

I ended up talking a lot about the high bar squat and neglected the low bar squat. I just needed to revise and explain the above statements about the high bar. The low bar is still what I would coach for raw powerlifting, but if someone were interested in competing in weightlifting or CrossFit, then I would have them high bar. It would just depend on the individual, as usual. One thing we can all agree on…it’s better to have squatted than to not have squatted at all.

High Rep Olympic Weightlifting

This topic has been festering on the internet for a few days because Mark Rippetoe wrote an article titled “The Fallacy of High-Rep Olympic Lifting” for T-Nation. By the way, I see a comparison between Rip and Stone Cold Steve Austin in his heel (bad guy) days in WWF — he’d come out and buck the system and some people hated him, some loved him for it, yet both fan groups paid attention while another group just said, “Get this guy outta here, I wanna watch Shawn Michaels hit a side-lunge-front-double-bi.”

Rip’s article basically says that using the Olympic lifts is misguided because they are injurious, reinforce poor mechanics, and aren’t optimal for conditioning anyway. You also get the gist of an anti-CrossFit sentiment. Various CrossFit-oriented responses will point out that the end will justify the means in the pursuit of well rounded conditioning (or maybe just CrossFit capability).

Well, I’m a fence rider. I always tell people that there are things I like and dislike in CrossFit, but overall I have a favorable opinion (more on this from a couple years ago. Edit: From 2012). Anyway, let’s ignore the idea of CrossFit and focus on the primary topic: the deabte of high rep Olympic weightlifting movements in conditioning.

Proper mechanics with the lifts is necessary before using them in conditioning

Proper mechanics with the lifts is necessary before using them in conditioning

Do they have a place in a training program? Like all programs, it depends. If someone is doing high-rep, light-weight snatches or clean and jerks, can their form fall apart? Of course. Can someone do a conditioning workout and maintain technique? Certainly, but they’d probably have to slow the overall workout down a little. I agree with Kelly Starrett in that performing snatches or clean and jerks in a conditioning session is not only acceptable, but that they can provide meaningful training adaptations. The trainee in question would need to have the appropriate strength, mobility, and technique to even be considered for such a workout. 

Snatches and cleans are beautiful movements where a lifter creates tension in their system, explodes to release the tension, and then creates tension in a completely new position. They are the epitome of full body, technically demanding lifts. Not only do they have their gross motor pathway demands (e.g. proper pulling position, proper mechanics through all phases of the pull, proper receiving position, and proper recovery), but they have acute motor pathway demands (e.g. keeping the torso solid and not extending or flexing the spine, maintaining external rotation in the hips and shoulders when applicable, etc.).

A 5 year old picture of cleans in a conditioning workout. It's possible to maintain technique while fatigued.

A 5 year old picture of cleans in a conditioning workout. It’s possible to maintain technique while fatigued.

A trainee who plays a sport or has a physically demanding job can use snatches and cleans to test whether they can maintain gross and acute motor pathways when their muscles are tired and they are breathing hard — the latter of which is extremely important for anyone who has to run around with heavy gear on. If a soldier can’t maneuver his battle space with proper mechanics, it can lead to acute injury or chronic irritation that will deem him nonoperational.

The point is that movements like snatches and cleans can help teach a trainee to maintain positioning in extreme fatigue so he can learn what is right and what is wrong. I’ve worked with a lot of athletes and military personnel, and both parties are guilty of reverting to bad positioning in the heat of the moment.

Should these populations bother with the weightlifting movements if they perform them poorly? Of course not; training would only serve as a source of injury. But it’s up to the coaches to develop their trainees to the point that they can do lots of technically sound cleans in a row. That’s one thing CrossFit has taught us: doing the high reps matters not for the sake of increasing the work output, but having proper mechanics to reduce the wear and tear on the body. I’m not so sure CrossFit would emphasize the latter, but it’s up to us as coaches and programmers to learn and acknowledge that.

Are there are a lot of CrossFit coaches who have no business putting someone in a workout with high rep snatches? Fuck yes. Is that a CrossFit problem? I don’t care, because at the end of the day it’s the responsibility of individual coaches to properly prepare their trainees for whatever workout they create for them. Instead of lambasting the use of high rep Olympic lifts and CrossFit, let’s use this as an opportunity to learn and get better as coaches. And that means developing a trainee’s mobility, getting them strong, and teaching them how to lift technically sound before challenging them with fatigue and high ventilation rates.

Pendlay’s MDUSA Program

Glenn Pendlay recently posted an article on his blog explaining how he trains the Muscle Driver USA Olympic weightlifting team (article).

It’s your standard fare of doing the competitive lifts, doing power and other variants when necessary, and getting stronger with presses and squats. There are some peculiarities that help distribute the work load throughout the week, like making the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoon workouts the heaviest days, doing doubles and power variants in the morning sessions, and always trying to improve the squat.

Glenn sits with his beard at the National University Championships

Glenn sits with his beard at the National University Championships

Pendlay also mentions using the Texas Method to push the squats. For those of you who never read my Texas Method e-books, the style of programming was coined when the Wichita Falls Weightlifting team fell into it with Pendlay as the head coach. It’s a good general approach that can push an Olympic weightlifter’s squat without interfering too much with the competitive lifts’ training. The way I program the Texas Method is more for general strength trainees and raw powerlifting, but a weightlifter will have success with the core program of using a volume day, light day, and intensity day.

Anyway, check out Glenn’s article; his system is a simple outline that he dials in for specific lifters depending on what they need, whether their weaknesses are in squatting, overhead strength, cleaning, snatching, or jerking.