Q&A – 22

It’s PR Friday. Post your training updates and PR’s to comments.

Question of the Weekend
What do you think is the most effective assistance exercise for your training? List your training focus to give us perspective.

There is no reading list this week (I lost all the links I had saved up).

Random pic of Mike and Mark Felix from the Arnold

Scott P. asks,

Justin, I know you’re probably not considered an expert on the subject but if I were training for an endurance event like the GoRuck Challenge, what would you recommend to keep strength gains made while on 70’s big programming? Ideally I would obviously like to continue making strength/power gains while bolstering endurance and I know at some point something will give. I figure if my character in Skyrim can whip a dragons ass with an 90lb hammer while running 60+ miles in a day why can’t I?


Dear Scott,

Like I told you on the Facebook Fan Page, over the last couple of years I have had a vested interest in training military and related personnel. I’ve worked with or trained Special Operations personnel from every branch of the American military (some more than others) including SOF personnel in two other countries and have worked with various airmen, soldiers, and Marines that worked in a variety of jobs. I also told you that I’m going to be doing a Go Ruck Challenge in June in Washington D.C. (where they originated) with my friend Jeremy of CrossFit Annandale (Shawn says he’s gonna do it too, so we’ll see…).

I specifically have a few friends that are current or prior Airborne infantrymen in the Army. For anyone who doesn’t know, they regularly have to do a 12 mile road march in under 3 hours with 35 pounds, not counting food, water, and the rest of their kit (usually a rubber ducky M4, their full kit including kevlar vest, helmet, possible weapon magazines, etc.). The standard weight easily reaches 45 pounds of weight, and probably is 50 or more, especially if it’s wet. I’ve heard of guys doing this as fast as 1 hour and 20 minutes (which is really fucking crazy). But let’s talk about how you’re going to train for it.

The most important thing about adapting to road marching is progressing slowly and getting “time under ruck”. You wouldn’t want to randomly throw 50 pounds on your back and set off because your feet will probably blister and your structures won’t be able to handle it (feet, shins, knees, hips, back, shoulders, etc.). Make sure you have good foot wear. Standard desert issue boots from the Army are fine, but any hiking boot will do. Jeremy has completed one Go Ruck Challenge and he wore Merrel trail/hiking boots. On your first training day, just load a pack or book bag with about 25 to 30 pounds and walk at an easy pace for at least 30 minutes but no more than 60. Be cognizant of potential blisters on your feet; if needed, stop and check out your feet to make sure you haven’t developed one. It’s okay to stop if one develops — the GR Challenge is not today. Road marching foot care is a lengthy topic, so we’ll save it for another time.

If you didn’t complete one hour with your starting weight, then increase your time by about 15 minutes each session until you do. Once you are on the move for an hour, the next session you can start increasing your weight. To be safe, increase by five pounds. Maintain an hour-long walk until your pack is up to 45 or 50 (if you were doing military prep, I’d say 50, depending on your body weight). Once you get a at least several sessions with the heavier weight for an hour, start alternating sessions where you drop the weight back down to about 30 pounds and increase the distance by 30 minutes. To clarify, once you have adapted to carrying the heavy weight for one hour, you will start doing 90 minute walks with lighter weight. When you increase duration, make sure to initially decrease the weight and work the weight up over several sessions.

Since the go ruck is with about 30 pounds of bricks (not counting food/water), I’d have you stay at 30 pounds and increase duration every couple weeks. Military personnel will regularly hit 6, 8, 10, or 12+ mile marches in training. For the sake of doing a Go Ruck, just focus on the duration and over time work up to around three hours. This whole progression should take at least three months.

If your Go Ruck Challenge is sooner than later, then just work with 25 to 30 pounds and increase duration. The Go Ruck Challenge is what is called a “gut check”; there’s no solid way you can train for a gut check because it’s designed to test your limit. It’s supposed to be hard and there’s no way you can prepare yourself to the point that you’ll breeze through it. But you should definitely train for it so that you don’t subject your feet to blisters and your joints and muscles to strains or pulls.

Now, how do we incorporate this into a strength training program? I like a HVY-MED-LT set up for this (and use this template for many general strength and S&C programs — more on this in the future). If the HVY-MED-LT set up fell on MWF, then you could road march on Tuesdays, Thursdays, or Saturdays. Your goal should be at least two road marches a week, and there should always be one on Saturday morning since you’ll have the rest of the weekend to recover. Your longest efforts will also go on Saturday for the same reasons. Cap your week-day road marches at an hour, but aim to go faster (in contrast, the Saturday movements will focus on increasing the total duration). I suggest doing the week-day road march on Thursday in a HVY-MED-LT set up since Friday’s training day is just a light session (that probably only includes conditioning, light strength movements, or isolation work). If you’re on another template, consider modifying it or logically place the rucking in (remember, one road march on a week-day and one on Saturday).

It’s easy to drop this stuff into a template, but it’s hard to actually do it. Don’t get a big ego and load your pack up heavy (and never go above 50 pounds). Progress everything slowly; you don’t want to have a minor tendon strain interfere with your squatting. If you’re moving in hot climates for long durations, stay hydrated. High speed socks and boots will help, but aren’t necessary. Powder your feet. Take care of the structures. And for gods’ sake, if you show up to the challenge, don’t fucking quit.

Dave N asks,

I saw someone else post a question a long time ago about long forearms and trouble getting into a good rack position for cleans and front squats. I have a similar problem. When I put my arms into a good elbows up rack position, my knuckles are resting on my shoulders up almost past my delts. My shoulder ROM is actually fairly decent (I do a lot of MWOD stuff for it), so I’m not really sure what to do. Right now I simply don’t clean (I snatch) and I do the crossed-arm thing for front squats, but for weights over about 275 that hurts like hell. Does anyone have a suggestion on what, if anything, I can do to get a decent rack position?

Dear Dave,

Hope you’ve been doing well. People with long forearms will require a wider grip in the clean and front squat rack. It’s not uncommon to have the pinky finger within an inch of the outer ring (on an IPF regulation bar, but it may be necessary on an IWF bar). The key isn’t only to have the elbows up, but to bring them “in” towards each other. By bringing the elbows in, the shoulders externally rotate. External rotation of the shoulder promotes good thoracic positioning by putting the shoulder joint back and down. The opposite internal rotation would bring the shoulder forward and inward, which wouldn’t be conducive to having a good “chest up” position when front squatting or recovering from a clean. Also, the “elbows in” position facilitates a better rack compared to having the elbows pointed straight forward or slightly out.

Other extremely common mistakes are that lifters try to keep their fingers wrapped around the bar as they are in the front squat position. Instead, let the bar sit loosely in the fingers, and it’s okay to pull the pinky and ring fingers off of the bar to achieve a better position. If the upper arm (the humerus) isn’t parallel with the floor, then it’s wrong.

It’s likely that lacking mobility prevents a good front rack position. In which case, use tack and stretch on the distal triceps (with a bar or lacrosse ball), use 5 way shoulder (particularly the “external rotation while in flexion” stretch that hits the lat), and any other mob that improves external rotation.

enlightenedsnipe asks,

I’ve really been struggling lately to keep my knees out. I really noticed it this past weekend at my first meet on my heavy attempts, however I looked back and I’ve been doing it regularly for close to a year. I couch stretch/table stretch/foam roll regularly and cue knees out in my head, but it feels more like a muscular imbalance or something.

(this one is the worst but it was there on the lighter ones as well)

Dear enlightenedsnipe,

I hope you are also doing well. Your video is pretty bad, and it’s probably a bit worse than normal given that it’s a limit rep. However, it’s something that needs addressed if you are going to get stronger and if you are going to prevent injury.

Strength training with compound movements isn’t solely based on mechanics; the musculoskeletal anatomy must do its job in order to achieve good mechanics. Biological structures don’t simply “get better” because we cue them, they get better because they adapt to a specific stress within a given ROM in a respective movement. In other words, improving your ability to keep your knees out is dependent on the chronic application of a proper mechanical stress. You have to train and develop the muscles to lift properly, because you’ve allowed them to develop improperly.

This is done in three ways: a) using loads with the primary movement so that proper mechanics are achieved, b)improve mobility to allow the structures to function in the desired ROM, and c) possibly use ancillary exercises to develop the weak structures. Right away you need to stop squatting shitty. Use only loads in which you can track your knees with your toes. If you cannot do this with a given load, then drop. Yes you will be using lighter loads than you think you should. Yes you will feel like a bitch. I’d rather see you squat bitch weight properly than blow out a meniscus or lumbar disc squatting heavy weight like shit. I would even venture to say that for a minimum of two months, this should be your method of squatting (while squatting twice a week). It will be likely that you will fatigue in the middle of a set; the first few reps may look good while the last two reps will look and feel shitty. If this is the case, then just use more sets of triples. You should aim to get 15 to 25 reps at your “work set” weight. This weight will be lower than you would like, but I predict you’ll have difficulty in doing it properly. If you have to use exceptionally light weights in order to keep your knees tracked with your toes, then focus on having fast bar speed out of the bottom; the effect will be similar to speed or dynamic effort squatting. Only do these things if, and only if, you can keep your knees tracked with your toes.

Work on your mobility twice a day. If you are a chump about this, then decrease it to once a day on the weekends. You should be hitting the anterior hip, internal rotators, external rotators, 10 minute squat test, ankles, lumbar, thoracic spine, etc. If you don’t mob, then you don’t care.

I’m not really concerned about assistance exercises given that you have a lot of work to do. Some options off the top of my head are:
– front squat with knees tracked for back off sets if your regular squats are particularly light
– RDLs
– Good mornings
– weighted walking lunges while holding DBs (where you drive your heel through the floor on the ascent)

Realistically I don’t think lunges are necessary. Don’t get cute. Work on the fundamentals. Get to work and update me on your progress.

Eli W. asks,

I dont know if its Q&A friday worthy, but do you have any suggestions on a program that incorporates the 3 big lifts along with Oly lifting? I train 4 times a week and just add the lifts in whenever I have time but I feel like I need more structure to actually progress the lifts.

Thanks brah

Dear Eli,

I do. This was the original template I was playing around with back in 2009 in my training. There are some updates I would make to it now (and I intend to release a .pdf eventually), but it’s mostly the same.

Monday — LT or MED Snatch, HVY Clean and Jerk
Tuesday — Squat, Press, RDLs
Wednesday — OFF
Thursday — HVY Snatch, LT or MED Clean and Jerk
Friday — Squat, Press, DL or heavy pull, Weighted pull-ups or chin-ups

I’m not a huge fan of heavy deadlifting in an Oly program, so this is more “novice focused” template. The light or medium Oly work can be timed (snatching on the minute, CJing on 90 seconds to two minutes) and staying at the same weight (perhaps about 75 to 80% of max, or hypothetical max) for about ten singles with the intent of not missing. For someone wanting to focus on Oly stuff, it would kind of depend on their strength and establishes musculature, but I’d prefer to have a 3x/week template that has SN/CJ each day, with fluctuating intensities (so it’s not maximal every day). I’d drop in squatting, pressing, or posterior chain work relative to the lifter (squatting would always be there).

If someone just wanted to work the lifts along with their strength or S&C program, they could throw in one of the lifts at the beginning of their training session.
Remember the priority continuum of:
Explosive lifts > Strength Lifts > Compound assistance > Isolation assistance

If you aim to compete in weightlifting, I suggest focusing on an Oly-centric template for 4 to 8 weeks. If you end up not enjoying it, it’s easy to shift your training focus after.

Adam W. asks,

Hey Justin how high is the effective heel in the VS shoes, over an inch for sure? I have fucking atrocious ankle flexibility that is killing my squat technique, even with a 0.75″ heel. I’m losing extension for depth because of the chain reaction of bullshit stemming from the ankles. My squats are fucking beautiful if I’m wearing my heeled shoes AND elevating my heels on 3/4″ rubber but that is gay. Not sure what to do while I work on improving my mobility.
Here’s a video showing it.

Dear Adam,

First, I hope your ego is intact from the lashing Marotta gave you in the Fan Page thread about this. Second, I apologize it took this long to answer; there wasn’t a Q&A last week due to posts about the Arnold. Third, you have the shittiest ankle mobility of anyone ever.

First thing you need to do is to mob them daily with anterior and posterior band distraction. I can’t find the video I wanted to show you, but I have two examples of the technique: one and two. Both of these videos include a “super friend”, but having help from someone isn’t necessary. By the way, for everyone else, this is the specific ankle work that can reduce the tension on the knee and even alleviate posterior (rear) knee pain. Adam, regardless of the band distraction (anterior or posterior), think about getting as much dorsiflexion as possible (pushing shin to toes). Aside from that, work on getting the shin ankle lateral with respect to the ankle (the same that occurs when the knees are shoved out). If the inside of your foot lifts up while you are trying to push the shin laterally, then hold your foot or shoe down with your other hand and go to the end ROM your ankle allows. Spend at LEAST one minute on each direction for each ankle EVERY DAY.

You should be able to low bar squat with limited ankle flexibility (since low bar positioning doesn’t require much dorsi flexion). Also note that your lumbar flexibility is non-existent. You, specifically, need to work on your anterior hip (banded anterior distraction to start, couch stretch to finish), lateral hip (roll slowly on lacrosse ball for 2 minutes each side prior to squatting), as well as your lumbar and thoracic spine (thoracic spine can be hit decently with “5 way shoulder” and double lacrosse ball while supine). Stop using the extra rubber to squat. Hit these mobs before squatting. Test/re-test. Do it daily. Update me on your progress.

52 thoughts on “Q&A – 22

  1. @Maslow

    I have been working hard at the mobility wow stuff for a while now. I will get this one a try. I am certain I will be able to add cleans in at some point, but they are causing me pain at the moment. I think it will take a while longer to do them pain free. Just curious what I could use instead of cleans for the time being. Power snatches are a no-go as well for the same reason.

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