Posts Tagged ‘strength’

By Blaine Sumner (web)

Many training principles preach the tune “You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” While this is true, and focus does need to be put on bringing up weaknesses, the big picture as a strength athlete is to make the competition movement as strong as possible. I frequently see recommendations for people to work on movements that they suck at in order to get better and to bring up weaknesses. But this is only effective up to a point – especially if the majority of the focus is on improving competition movements.

I would categorize “training the weak links” as a purely physical goal. Usually, these exercises and rep schemes are ones that an athlete will agonize over. They aren’t fun to do, and if the lifter isn’t focused on them, they will just go through the motions; and how effective can this really be?

In my opinion the most important variable in getting stronger is not the perfect training program or genetics, but motivation and the unwavering desire to get better; in other words, making the challenge more mental than physical. And in order to meet this criteria, the lifter must be focused and excited on the training task at hand. There are plenty of strong lifters who dread training sessions and have to drag themselves to the gym, but the strongest lifers will be the ones with the highest degree of motivation and desire to get stronger.

blaine deadlift

So how does this fit into training weak links and only being as strong as your strongest link? To put it in rough mathematical terms, we will say that the effectiveness of an exercise in making you stronger is
A x B = C.

A is how well the exercise translates to the competition movement, B is the focus and energy that the athlete puts into the exercise, and C is how much stronger the athlete gets. If a lifter has to do an exercise that may carry over well to their goal (high A), but puts very little focus into it (low B), then the athlete may not get much stronger. However, if the athlete picks an exercise that won’t translate as much to the end goal (moderate A), but is extremely motivated to perform the movement well (very high B), then the end result is simply a stronger athlete.

It is popular, safe, and wise-sounding to say we are only as strong as our weakest link, which is still very often the case. But unless an exercise is selected with sound judgment and performed with high focus, the results will not be optimal. An example of this may be a lifter selecting a squat variation for his training. He knows he is weak in the bottom of the lift, so pause squats may provide the most technical carryover to his competition squat. Maybe the lifter is feeling aggressive today and the lower weight used in pause squats may not be motivating; however, the thought of doing reverse band squats that overload the top part of the movement and allow him to handle 110% of his competition max may dramatically bring up his focus and energy. This is a perfect case to implement the exercise that will draw more motivation rather than technical sense.

I can look back on my training when I took my raw bench press from 474 to 529 in 1 year. Previously,  it had taken 3 years to make that same jump before. A big part of my success is due to adjusting my training so I was able to get more fired up for a bench press session. In a raw bench press, my weak point is about 1/3 of the way up, so I used to always select exercises that would focus on bringing up that point. Pin presses, pauses off the chest, and long pauses seemed like the obvious choice to strengthen my weak point. Doing leverage-challenging exercises at your weakest point will force you to use significantly less weight. I reached a point in my bench press training in which I felt this approach was not giving me satisfactory results. I evaluated my training and realized that I have always been able to get my squats to move up, but not my bench, so why was this difference present? I decided it was because on my squat day, I was always able to get an adrenaline rush because the exercise and weight would get my juices flowing. I attempted to recreate this with the bench by now selecting exercises that would force me to use more weight. Lifts like reverse band bench press, high board press, towel press, and “soft” equipment bench press. Every bench movement was now an overload on weight as opposed to just focusing on strengthening my weak point. I was able to get much more psyched up before a heavy set of bench presses, and my bench moved more than it had in years. While I don’t think this method is always the best, and goes against conventional wisdom, I can attribute much bench progress to focusing on what got me psyched up instead of the most logically sound exercise. Sometimes, you just gotta want it.

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By Max Shank (web)

Powerlifting. Olympic lifting. Strongman. These are sports synonymous with strength. The competitors are sometimes people who are very athletic.

The trick is to focus on the things that bridge the gap between being entirely specialized to squat many hundreds of pounds and the ability to move around well (and with strength) in many ranges of motion.

My favorite big, bang-for-your-buck movements include some variations of the following:

Jump, Sprint, Handstand, Hang

The secret is knowing where to plug these into the existing program, and that’s where most people get frustrated and just say “forget this gymnastics shit.”

Jumping

Most good strength athletes are going to include some sort of bodyweight-only power work in their training, such as jumping – which is already a step ahead of the game. However, if you want to get the most possible benefit, it makes sense to include some multidirectional work in there as well.

A couple options:

Lateral Shuffle 2-Step (Video)

This is great for conditioning or for power. If you want to do this as explosive work, it had better be under 5 seconds of work!

Sprints: I don’t need to beat a dead horse; we all know that sprinting will make you faster, stronger, increase testosterone and growth hormone and most importantly allow you to chase down even the most athletic girls. Sprinting up a hill is a good way to teach you to stay up on the toes and drive into the ground.

Vertical Jumps

Broad Jumps

Both vertical and broad jumps are tried and true measurements of power to weight ratio for athletics. It would stand to reason that practicing these would help improve your power.

Lateral Bound and Stick

Standing on one leg, drive explosively laterally and land on the other leg. You’ll look like you’re a skater. Aim for a smooth and soft landing and progress by increasing height and distance of the jump slowly.

All jumping variations – if done properly – not only make you stronger, but also less likely to be injured. Look at any ACL or meniscus injury prevention and there is going to be some sort of emphasis on jumping and landing on one and two legs.

Do some bodyweight-only power work in the beginning of your session mixed with some glute activation drills (even if you are planning on performing Olympic lifts). This can serve as part of, or the finish of, your warm-up.

Handstands

Here are a couple of reasons why incorporating hand balancing of some sort into your training is a good idea.

-Improves proprioception (body awareness)

-Enhances shoulder strength and structural integrity

-Allows you to do more total volume for the shoulders

Let me explain that last one real quick.

When you do a military press with your bodyweight on the bar, you are forced to stabilize that weight through your entire body – a greater overall load. However, if you do a handstand pushup, you are no longer sandwiched between the ground and a barbell. This allows you to train more frequently, recover faster, etc., while still getting a similar training effect on the upper body pushing muscles. There is a reason that the Chinese weightlifters are continuing to utilize handstand pushups as accessory work.

Weighted Handstand Pushups

If you are diligent enough in your handstand practice to do them freestanding (away from the wall), you are also going to activate deep core postural muscles to keep your body alignment. Think of it like an open chain plank.

Progressing to a single-arm handstand is by far the easiest way to improve overhead lockout strength; it’s unlikely that most people are going to be able to put their bodyweight overhead on one arm with a weight unless they are a very experienced lifter. By learning to transition from two arms to one, even an intermediate lifter can start building some awesome structural integrity and strength in the shoulders.

The other side of the spectrum in upper body pushing is the L-sit. The L-sit is also a nasty core exercise that improves active hip flexibility and core coordination. Learning how to make the transition between the L-sit and the handstand in one fluid movement is challenging but possible for any athlete over time. Use L-sits at the end of a workout as a core finisher.

Hanging

There are several fantastic exercises that involve hanging from a pull-up bar or gymnastics rings.

My three favorites:

Front Levers

Single Arm Hang

Skin the Cat

All of the above are going to help improve the upper body powerhouse muscles: the lats.

This is especially true for the FRONT LEVER, which at its most difficult variation, is basically an isometric straight arm pushdown with your entire bodyweight combined with the hardest plank you’ve ever done.

Example of a front leverAs you can see in the picture above, the legs are extended straight. To make this easier, simply pull the knees into the chest and try to lock down a solid body position there before progressing forward. It’s a vital tool for helping to wake up the lats.

Single-arm hangs are great for improving grip strength as well as rotator cuff and scapular function. These things are imperative for providing a strong structure for heavy benching or Olympic lifts. Just grab a bar and hang with one arm, alternating sides under control. If you want to make it extra hard, wrap a dish towel and tape it to the bar so it is a bit thicker and spins.

SKIN THE CAT

Done on the rings, skin the cats are probably the best bang for your buck core exercise/lat activation/shoulder mobility/looks cool drill available. Be cautious when first starting out and keep the knees as close to the chest as possible to avoid any accident when going over the top into shoulder extension. Go slowly and increase range of motion progressively. This is a good core/shoulder finisher or a great warm-up if you’re already quite skilled and strong in the movement.

Skin the CatThe great part about bodyweight training is sometimes just that it’s fun, different, and offers you a certain amount of freedom training-wise. In fact, you can combine some of the movements above. Again, not impossible for ANYONE who puts in the time – I was never a gymnast and couldn’t even do a pullup when I was 19. One major benefit that I have seen with adding some bodyweight movements is the ability to do them periodically throughout the day. This is especially true with handbalancing and  hanging variations. Your body will adapt to the stimulus and it won’t prevent you from still getting after it and moving heavy weights as long as you are staying away from high levels of exertion.

Simple way to implement a few of these:

  1. Do a couple sets of jumping in your power phase prior to heavy lifting. If you are planning to Olympic lift, jump first.
  2. Do some hand balancing as skill work before your heavy pushes or on a day where you are focusing on lower body.
  3. Another good option is to hang and handstand at the end of your workout as an accessory superset.
  4. Sprinting is a similar animal to jumping. If you are going to do very short distances (30m or less), you can do them prior to your weight training. I personally find that doing these on a different day or as an easy finisher is best. The important thing is that you get it in when you are not in danger of pulling a hammy. Sprinting uphill will lower your risk for injury as well as keeping you on your toes.

Find a way to incorporate some bodyweight strength training into the program and I promise you will see some great benefits to your overall athleticism, helping you crush bigger weights for longer.

by Jacob Tsypkin

CROSSFIT IS AN ENDURANCE SPORT.

I know you don’t want it to be. Hell, I don’t want it to be. Strength is cool. Cardio is…well, exercise.

But you’re the one who wants to exercise competitively, so let’s talk about cardio.

Competing at the Regionals level and beyond in CrossFit requires that an athlete be well rounded – strength, power, athleticism, muscular stamina , and aerobic capacity are all key. But the fact is, more events will require some type of endurance than won’t. Even the solitary test of maximal strength/power at the 2013 CrossFit Games – the clean & jerk ladder – required a degree of endurance, since athletes were required to perform on a 90 second clock.

It would be well beyond the scope of this article to discuss all the possible means and methods for effectively improving conditioning in CrossFit athletes. What I aim to do here is present three types of conditioning work I have found valuable with my athletes. The first is often overlooked. The second is commonly used, but rarely to it’s fullest potential. The third is often sadly ignored.

STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING

For developing athletes, strength should be independently developed year round. There is no need to combine strength training with gymnastics or aerobic conditioning, except for a bit of fun once in a while.

For the athlete looking to be competitive at the Regionals level and beyond, effective combination of heavy lifting with various types of aerobic conditioning is a valuable training tool as well as crucial event practice, preparing the athlete for game type scenarios wherein they will have to handle near max loads at high heart rates.

I do not wish to suggest that all of a high level CrossFit athlete’s strength work should take these forms – even during the competition season, pure strength work is an important part of what we do. These methods are simply a way to help build strength in a way that is immediately adaptable to competitive CrossFit, as well as help accumulate total training volume and build durability.

I generally recommend pairing movements which primarily stress differing muscle groups. This serves to keep the effect aerobic and to allow the athlete to apply full intensity to both exercises.

Below are several examples of this methodology in practice. These are by no means the only way to go about this type of training.

5 sets: Back Squat 2-3 reps @ 85% 1RM, followed immediately by 20-25 chest-to-bar pullups. Rest 2 minutes between sets.

5 sets: Front Squat 4-5 reps @ 70% 1RM, rest 60 seconds, then 4-6 muscle-ups, rest 60 seconds.

5 sets: 4-5 push press @ 70% 1RM, followed immediately by 25 unbroken Kettlebell swings (Russian,) with the heaviest weight the athlete can handle. Rest 2 minutes between sets.

A combination of strength and aerobic capacity like TeamJTS' Reid Worthington is needed to excel in the sport of fitness.

EMOM

Let’s get one thing straight right now: EMOM stands for “every minute on the minute,” not “electronic mom.”

Now that that common mistake has been dealt with, let’s discuss the value of this type of training.

Using every-minute-on-the-minute protocols (and the same idea with other time domains) presents three particular benefits.

Firstly, they help the athlete learn how to pace. When confined to predetermined time period, the athlete will gain an understanding, both conscious and subconscious, of how much work they can do with the given movement in that time period.

Secondly, it allows the athlete to spend time working on trouble movements in a format which keeps the focus exclusively on that exercise, while still providing a challenging stimulus.

Finally, it allows the coach to precisely control volume, intensity, and progression. This makes it easy to create an effective stressor without causing undue fatigue or soreness, as well as giving the athlete quantifiable progress when the workout is repeated with slight increases to load or volume over a training cycle.

This type of training can be monomodal or multimodal. Here are a few examples.

Every Minute for 10 Minutes: 6 dumbbell snatches, 80#/60#, alternating hands each rep

Every Minute for 12 Minutes, alternating exercises each round: a) 10 shoulder-to-overhead, 155#/105#, b) 15 kettlebell swings, 32kg/24kg

Every Minute for 10 Minutes: 3 muscle-ups/12 wall ball

TeamJTS' Jamie Hagiya is currently 25th in the World in the CrossFit Open.  EMOM work is a great tool to use in developing your conditioning and skills for maximum performance in CrossFit.

MORE AEROBIC

I know you don’t want to run a 5k. I know you don’t want to row a 6k. I know you don’t want to sit on the damn Airdyne for 20 minutes.

But I’m not here to make you happy – I’m here to make you better. And I’m here to tell you that aerobic training makes you better at CrossFit.

Unfortunately, there’s often a sort of taboo around the subject in CrossFitLand. Many coaches and athletes avoid aerobic work, whether out of pure dislike, a genuine belief that it lacks benefit, or a desire to avoid being too much like joggers (with a soft J.)

This has led to a lacking understanding among CrossFit coaches and athletes of how to effectively program aerobic training. Below I have presented a simple and intuitive template.

There are three primary means I use for pure aerobic work: running, rowing, and the Airdyne. Swimming is also a great option for those with regular access to a pool.

For a given training cycle, I will typically use 2-3 tests each for running and rowing, and 1 on the Airdyne – running and rowing seem to respond better to frequent exposure, and are more likely to come up in competition. Some of the tests this season included:

COOPER TEST (MAX DISTANCE RUN IN 12 MINUTES)

5k run

1600m run

2k row

5k row

10 minutes max calories on Airdyne

These means are chiefly expressed in two methods: steady state aerobic work, and aerobic intervals. In all cases, I use the testing parameters to determine the training plan.

What follows is a 6 week training cycle used in TZ Strength in early 2014.

Week 1

Run: 6x400m @ 2-4 seconds faster than 1600m pace; rest 60 seconds between efforts

Row: 3000m @ 90% of 2k pace

Airdyne: 20 minutes @ 80% of 10 minutes max cals

Week 2

Run: 20 minutes @ 80% (5k, recovery piece)

Row: 6x500m @ 2-4 seconds faster than 2k pace; rest 60 seconds between efforts

Airdyne: 12 minutes @ 95% of 10 minutes max cals

Week 3

Run: 10 minutes @ 105% of Cooper Test pace

Row: Row 6k @ 92% of 5k pace

Airdyne: 6 x 2:00 on, :60 off @ 120% of 10 minutes max cals

Week 4

Run: 4x800m @ 3-6 seconds faster than 1600m pace; rest 120 seconds between efforts

Row: 3000m @ 92% of 2k pace

Airdyne: 20 minutes @ 65% of 10 minutes max cals (recovery piece)

Week 5

Run: 24 minutes @ 90% of Cooper Test pace

Row: 4x1000m @ 3-6 seconds faster than 2k pace; rest 120 seconds between efforts

Airdyne: 11 minutes @ 100% of 10 minutes max cals

Week 6

Run: 11 minutes @ 105% of Cooper Test

Row: 20 minutes @ 80% of 5k (recovery piece)

Airdyne: 4×4:00 on, :120 off @ 110% of 10 minutes max cals

For athletes who specifically lack aerobic capacity, you can add further steady state work on the days they aren’t already doing aerobic training. Below is an example of 6 weeks of additional steady state aerobic work one of my athletes did during the training cycle above. During that training cycle, the template above was employed Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Thus the workouts below were performed on Tuesday and Saturday as warm-ups to the rest of their training:

Week 1

Run 12 minutes @ 5k pace

Row 12 minutes @ 5k pace

Week 2

Airdyne 15 minutes @ 80% of 10 minutes max cals pace

Run 12 minutes @ 5k pace

Week 3

Row 12 minutes @ 5k pace

Airdyne 15 minutes @ 80% of 10 minutes max cals pace

Week 4

Run 14 minutes @ 5k pace

Row 14 minutes @ 5k pace

Week 5

Airdyne 17 minutes @ 80% of 10 minutes max cals pace

Run 14 minutes @ 5k pace

Week 6

Row 14 minutes @ 5k pace

Airdyne 17 minutes @ 80% of 10 minutes max cals pace

This template allowed the athlete to establish comfort, practice pace, and build durabilty with our three primary modes of pure aerobic training.

Hopefully this piece will lead you to, at the very least, be sure to include substantial amounts of conditioning year round in your training for competitive CrossFit. The last six weeks before the Open just aren’t gonna cut it.

In the next installment of this series, we will discuss adapting and adding lifting practices to suit training for the CrossFit Games.

BY JOEL SMITH (web)

Tell me one person in the gym you know who doesn’t want to be more powerful?

Athletes live and breathe power.  Powerlifters and Olympic lifters thrive on the prospect of being able to turn on more muscle in an instant.  Bodybuilders are be able to lift heavier weights through a high rate of force development, thus allowing them to inflict greater structural damage upon themselves in the rest of their training.  Distance runners and endurance athletes need power to make each and every step in their race more efficient.

Even the mailman could use the occasional burst power to flee a lurking guard dog.

Bottom line, power is important for anyone.  Being a piece of athletic dynamite is a coveted skill, leading to things such as:

  • Explosive squatting, deadlifting, bench pressing ,etc.
  • Enhanced Olympic lifting ability
  • Leaving your competitors in the dust
  • Skying high for a dunk, spike, block, etc.
  • Making the ESPN top 10 list
  • Staying young.  Fast twitch is the fountain of youth

Power is the key that allows athletic feats, big lifts, and overall physical domination.  From a strict lifting perspective, power helps recruit more muscle fibers more rapidly, which in turn benefits maximal strength, which finally, can help improve muscle size and hypertrophy in subsequent phases by allowing for greater tonnage with greater ease!

Anybody can use a little up-tempo work.  You really can’t have “too much” speed or explosiveness!

A “not-so-traditional” way of looking at the circular effect of speed, strength, and size.

When it comes to building power, things like box jumps, the Olympic lifts, or “dynamic effort day” come to mind.  These are all great methods to becoming a more forceful athlete, and becoming one isn’t complicated: lift heavy weights, do some movements to train the stretch-shortening cycle, and play explosive sports often.  This is common sense, and it works!

Although developing power isn’t complicated (lift heavy weights fast and sprint/throw/jump), there are a few tips/tricks/hacks to be more efficient with it, and this is why I am writing this article.

Whether your interest is lifting, athletics, or even bodybuilding, these tips will help you hone in your rate of force development!  We’ll start with a staple of power throughout the ages that is nothing new: compensatory acceleration.

1. Feedback oriented compensatory acceleration

Compensatory acceleration is a familiar concept to many.  The number one way to transform your lifting is to explode as hard as possible on the concentric (up) phase of each rep rather than cruising through your efforts.  Getting faster and more explosive is not a casual endeavor.  It requires significant mental intensity to move a heavy weight as fast as humanly possible.

Fred Hatfield is thought to be the father of Compensatory Acceleration Training

Compensatory acceleration is simple: trying to blow every rep through the roof, regardless of the weight on the bar and how heavy…. or light it may be.  The goal here is maximal motor recruitment and velocity.  To get the most out of a training program designed for power, using the full spectrum of strength between 30 and 95% of the 1RM is going to provide the optimal result (although circa 80% tends to be the sweet spot).  Switching to this mindset can carry dramatic results for both lifting and athletic personal bests.  Clearly, power based lifting phases are where this type of lifting is seen the most often, but it can be incredibly useful to bang out some compensatory acceleration based reps on the tail end of a strength or hypertrophy based day in more traditional phases.

The key with compensatory acceleration is to stay focused while using it.  Simply working on bar speed is great, but athletes can often use some extra help to improve their results.

Focus and speed can be improved by providing some sort of instant feedback during the lift.  This can happen through the use of a tendo unit or (if you are the 95% of people who don’t’ have a tendo), putting a stopwatch on a particular set.  When an athlete has an outcome goal and is under pressure, they will perform better.  Just think of how high your vertical would be if you never had a rim to touch, a shot to block, or a box to jump on?  Get focused on obtaining a goal and watch your results continue to improve.

2.Use a variety of methods

When it comes to training power and speed, variety is a critical factor.  The reason lies in motor learning and the way the brain puts together the “motor program” for your next PR.

Once athletes reach the pinnacle of human performance, they can easily get stuck in a rut.  After performing the same skill over and over again, the brain likes to get efficient.  This leads to biomotor “speed limits” and barriers that keep you from your next personal best!

Take sprinting for example; a prime display of power.  After a certain period of learning to sprint, the human body finds a motor program that is efficient given the athlete’s anthropometrics, fiber type, adolescent development, etc.  Once this motor program is wired in, it forms a neural “shortcut” that the body uses every time the athlete runs.  This shortcut, once established is quite difficult to change.

Sprinting is one of the premier means of power development.

To remedy this, intelligent track coaches have implemented a battery of runs challenging the force and speed limits of sprinting.  Sprint training using resisted runs (hills or a sled) and assisted runs (bungee sprints) put into a program alongside standard sprinting will produce results far ahead of just using only sprinting/assisted or sprinting/resisted training methods, due to the all-out assault on the athlete’s old motor program.

Aside from sprinting, it has been suggested that elite track and field athletes in any of the jumps or throws require a greater variety of specific strength exercises (exercises which replicate the sport skill, such as a thrower using heavy or light shot puts in training) relative to intermediates to succeed and put together a world-beating motor program.

Moving to the strength world, alterations in the speed, tempo, or phase emphasis by which a lift is performed can lead to both power and strength improvements.  Any lifting can be manipulated in a variety of ways.  Using the squat as example, my favorite variations for power development are the following:

  • Controlled eccentric with explosive concentric phase.  Applies to full and partial squats.
  • Accelerated eccentric with isometric pause and explosive concentric.  Applies to full and partial squats.
  • Accelerated eccentric and concentric phases.  Can anchor the feet if the weight is under 40% of 1RM to allow greater eccentric acceleration.
  • Timed ½ squats with bodyweight loaded on the bar.  5 second efforts.
  • Timed ½ squats with 1.5x bodyweight loaded on the bar.  7 second efforts.

3.Maintain quality reps

Power is often trained in certain “phases” throughout the training year in many programs.  If power is the ultimate outcome, however, great coaches realize that it must be touched on in all training phases.  Power can always be improved whether lifting is low or high volume by improving the quality of each individual rep.

For example, instead of doing those 5 sets of 5 with 3 minutes rest between, take the same weight and try 8 sets of 3 with 2 minutes of rest.  Or even 12 sets of 2 on a 1 minute rest.  With Olympic lifts, I have even gone to the point of 20×1 on 30 seconds rest and seen great results, as the volume is maintained, but the average bar speed performed on each rep is higher and the focus is greater.

The key is that during these increasingly broken-up sets, the weight stays the same as the higher RM derivative, even with the lower average rep.  The goal is the improved quality being a product of speed and not more weight with the smaller sets.

A high rep quality doesn’t have to be reserved for the taper, realization phase, power phase of training or whatever you call it.  You can start training like this from square one, in fact for many athletes who are lacking in the power department, I strongly recommend a GPP with some form of power emphasis.  When it really comes down to it, your body knows four things in regards to your workout:

  • How much volume you lifted
  • How intense was the average rep
  • How fast was the average rep
  • The stress response from that volume

Doing things this way allows more speed to be infused into each effort, molding your body into a power-machine.  I will say that there are also times where power is successfully built in higher rep ranges, say the 5-20 range, but the key is that those reps are all fast, powerful and with a smaller, tighter range of motion and they tend to piggyback off of strength.  Let’s talk about that in the next point: waveloading.

4. Do the wave

Nearly every type of strength session involves some sort of wave-load.  Waves can move from light to heavy, heavy to light, or combine both elements through the course of the workout.  In any training setup, light to heavy is the traditional method, such as a common workout of 4×6 with each set getting progressively heavier.  A stand-alone 4×6 featuring 200,225,250 and 275lbs is a standard issue, stand alone workout used for strength.   Unfortunately, it doesn’t do much to help power out.

In order to optimally waveload for power, you’ll have to go in reverse after the strength section of your workout.

Heavy to light waveloading helps the body establish a rhythm of speed on the tail end of the workout.  Finishing a heavy workout with some speed oriented backoff sets is the most natural and common (as well as efficient) way of accomplishing this.  Moving into the higher rep range can also be useful after your heavy sets are done, so long as the rep speed is kept high.

So for example, after a heavy squat workout of 3×3 with 350, 390, and 430lb efforts, you could do any of the following on your backoff sets to put a power premium on the workout.

  • Speed sets of 3 with 300lbs performed every 2-3’ until speed drops off noticeably
  • Speed sets for 3×10 or 2×15 half squat with ~375lbs performed at high speed
  • Speed sets with a different barbell exercise such as 5×3 power cleans with 65-75% 1RM.
  • Higher rep sets of a dynamic exercise such as box jumps, kettlebell swings, or prowler pushes if you desire a bit of a speed oriented work capacity response

For some reason, higher rep work following a lower rep strength stimulus seems to be the acceptable place where this type of thing can be included in a workout.  This is where it is the most efficient, as stand alone sessions with higher rep work don’t seem to accomplish much.

The body appears to crave power work directly after experiencing slower, higher force movement.  For some reason, many commercial “12 week vertical jump improvement” programs make use of this concept, and often piggyback higher rep plyos immediately after a lifting set.  I can attest to the effectiveness of this as well, being a track coach, and in the vertical jump game for a while.

Of course there are movement purists out there who will be saying “that’s not the way you do that”, but for some reason… going higher rep, faster and lighter works for power after the heavy sets are over.  The higher rep sets can also be applied within the heavy sets, ala complex training.

5. Be competitive

If you want to be explosive, you have to get out there and compete; end of story.  Training by yourself will only get you so far.  How good would the world records be in track if nobody ever raced each other, or competed in front of a crowd with their pride on the line?  I’ll tell you they would not nearly be as good as they are right now!

Nobody sets a record in a training run.  Some athletes I have coached over the years run and jump 5-10% better in a competitive situation vs. practice.  Some research has indicated up to a 12% absolute strength boost with a crowd present.  Don’t underestimate adrenaline and a competitive spirit on performance and pushing you to your absolute limits.

Speed is the hardest biomotor quality to improve and demands fully intense and competitive efforts to fully realize.  Also, competing makes these efforts seem less like work and helps the athlete realize the final goal, which is a useful psychological booster.  Use it.

Conclusion:

With all this said, anyone can get more explosive.  Always remember that training fast is only one side of the coin and there is still a time to grind, but this article is all about how to make the most out of any training with that explosive designation.  The potential of the human body is vast and waiting to be tapped into.  If you are looking to become a fireplug in any aspect of training, pay heed to the above five pillars and you will be on the fast track to becoming a more powerful athlete.   Get a vision, get competitive and go get it!

BY LESTER HO

This comes as I see a post by Diane Fu talking about how the eyes contribute to weightlifting. And recently I have read several posts on what can be done to fix the snatch. So adding to what you probably have already read, here’s my list of 8 points to consider when you are looking to fix your snatch:

1. Grip

olympic-lifter-back
Your grip should allow you to comfortably get the barbell to your hips when coming up from the ground.

How narrow or how wide you go in your grip determines many other factors in your snatch. An example would be a narrow grip which means the bar sits lower at your hips when you are in the power position or fully extended. So slight adjustments to your technique to bring the bar higher and close to the hips are required. Fixing your grip also depends on flexibility and strength in your joints. Going wider, although allowing the bar to move into a better position at the hip crest, may be strenuous on your wrists and shoulders in the receiving position. Another issue with the grip is not having a full grip when setting up. This results in the hand being loose and possible friction against the bar which could result in gaining calluses easily.

2. Feet

Feet position will be a common question to the coach. How wide, how pointed out etc. Having them forward or barely pointing out would be a very general answer. If we look at individual differences, we then have to consider flexibility and lever lengths (this I mentioned when I spoke about the start position in a previous post). This will determine how you set your feet for optimal force production and stability. I will talk abit more about the feet in the next point about the toes since weight distribution is related to the feet as well.

3. Toes

Toes contribute to the understanding of weight distribution. If the toes are too active and you can feel weight moving towards your toes, you know that the centre of mass is moving too far forward. When talking about weight distribution, common points brought up include feeling your weight through the mid-foot, sitting back on the heels in the first pull, ball of the foot/flat-footed in the second pull etc. In my opinion and from a biomechanical perspective, weight distribution needs to be as centered as possible in order to achieve maximum stability. I’ll just post a question regarding balance. It’s hard to balance a pen on its tip right? Same for your feet. It’s hard to balance on your toes and more muscles need to work just to maintain balance if the contact surface between the feet and ground is reduced right? If more work is needed to maintain balance, less work can be done to produce force to generate a ground-reaction force (GRF) strong enough to move the weight effectively and efficiently (read the section about GRF here).

4. Shoulders

Position of the shoulders help cue the right positions to be held in the snatch. Keeping your shoulder blades back allow for the lats to be engaged and allow for a stronger receiving position at the bottom. Ensuring that this happens will prevent firstly loose shoulders in the first pull which results in losing the slack when picking the weight off the ground and subsequently have the hips shoot up too quickly. In the second pull, a poor shoulder position results in less force being transferred to the barbell and the barbell moving away from the body. Keeping the shoulders blades back even after initiating the second pull allows the bar to remain in a straight path when the hips “punch” the weight up instead of the bar being “punched” out of a straight path.

5. Head/Eyes

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Looking down during the movements might not be a good thing as you will lean your body forward. Picture from David Lasnier Sports Training.

Our sense of balance is established through feedback from the eyes and ears. They provide information regarding what the horizon is and allows us to maintain stability through our muscular and skeletal system. In simple terms, where our head is directed, our body will follow (wise words from a wise man I know). Looking down or too far up will result in the body having excessive lean through the snatch. Therefore, correcting your focal point and keeping your visual focus at the right level will allow you to attain a consistent and stable movement pattern in the snatch.

6. Hips

When we talk about the hips in the snatch, we see it as the driving force in the body for the entire snatch movement. Many strength and conditioning coaches see the weightlifting movements as a good carry-over exercise to many athletic movements due to the violent hip extension involved. Yes. it is definitely hip extension involved but understanding the direction of force applied by the hip is important to have effective and efficient force production and transference. Treating this portion of the snatch as a romanian deadlift is a big no-no due to the fact that the hips are moving forward and not in a upward motion. One of the big factors to a snatch is vertical displacement and to drive the bar upwards, the hips need to be moving upwards, not forward.

7. Knees

Like the hips, the knees also contribute to force production through the legs for the second pull in the weightlifting movements. But many do not focus enough on the knees due to the excessive emphasis on the hip extension which as mentioned contributes to high force outputs. For the knees to contribute, the knees can’t be straight at any point until the second pull is completed. This basically means from the moment the bar gets lifted off the ground, the knees cannot reach full extension. This is to allow the knees to go into the transition phase and let the double-knee bend occur. With that, the stretch-shortening cycle allows for the quads to be utilised to contribute to force production in the second pull. This also means that in the second pull, it’s not only hip extension but knee extension which gives the violent upward propulsion of the body and barbell. So understanding how your knees move allow you to effectively produce force in the right (vertical) direction.

8. Bar

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In the second pull, the bar needs to remain close in order for it to move in a straighter path.

Notice how the last thing to consider is the barbell. This is because if you focus internally on what your body is doing, you are making the bar move the way it’s supposed to move. It is afterall an inanimate object which requires you to manipulate it during the lift. More importantly, the one thing to consider regarding the bar is to keep it as close to your body as possible. If the previous points are taken into consideration and adhered to, the bar is going to be kept close to your body and eventually the bar will travel in a straighter path, making it move upwards more effectively and make the receiving of the barbell an easier one at the bottom position.

So when fixing the snatch, there are these 8 points I would actually focus on. Sometimes fixing one of them could result in fixing a few of the other points. Apart from the bar, the rest of them are not in any order of importance (each of them is as important as the others and needs to be addressed if they are an issue). They are equally critical to helping you achieve better movement mechanics in the snatch and subsequently better performance.

by Chris Kresser (web)

picture of paleo person jumpingThere’s no question that regular exercise is essential to health. Our paleolithic ancestors had a different word for exercise: life. For the vast majority of our evolutionary history, humans had to exert ourselves – often quite strenuously – to get food. We naturally spent a lot of time outdoors in the sun, walking, hunting, gathering, and performing various other physically-oriented tasks. We had no concept of this as “exercise” or “working out”. It was just life.

Things are different today. 60% of American adults are not regularly active, and 25% are complete couch potatoes – they get no exercise at all, other than walking back and forth between the car, the cubicle and the refrigerator. This lack of physical activity has profound consequences. Regular movement protects us from disease in several ways, but most importantly it prevents oxidative damage and inflammation – the primary mechanisms underlying most modern, degenerative diseases. This explains why those who are completely sedentary have between 1.5 and 2.5 times the risk of developing heart disease and a higher risk for virtually all modern, degenerative disease.

On the other hand, we’ve got the exercise fanatics. Many Americans have been caught up in the fitness craze over the last 40 years, devoting countless hours to jogging, the Stairmaster or the treadmill in the hopes of slimming down, getting healthy and preventing disease. But while this type of activity may help with stress management, research suggests that it’s useless for weight loss and may in fact be detrimental to health.

If you doubt this, you’ll have to explain why Americans have continually gained weight over the last 40 years, in spite of increased leisure time exercise and increased energy expenditure.

Why “cardio” doesn’t work for weight loss

When I say “cardio”, I’m referring to steady-state, repetitive activity done at a moderate intensity like jogging outdoors, running on a treadmill or climbing the Stairmaster. [Side note: the idea that you have to perform this type of activity to benefit your heart and vascular system is false. Anything that places a demand on the muscles – including so-called anaerobic activities like weightlifting – will also condition the heart and vascular system.]

Most people are surprised to learn that cardio doesn’t work for weight loss. How could this be? There are three main reasons:

  • caloric burn during exercise is generally small;
  • people who exercise more also tend to eat more (which negates the weight regulating effect of exercise); and,
  • increasing specific periods of exercise may cause people to become more sedentary otherwise.

In an example of the first reason, a study following women over a one-year period found that in order to lose one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of fat, they had to exercise for an average of 77 hours. That’s a lot of time on the treadmill just to lose 2 pounds!

In an example of the second reason, a study found that people who exercise tend to eat more afterwards, and that they tend to crave high-calorie foods. The title of this study says it all: “Acute compensatory eating following exercise is associated with implicit hedonic wanting for food.” I love it when researchers have a sense of humor.

In an example of the third reason, one study assigned 34 overweight and obese women to an exercise program for 8 weeks. Fat loss at the end of the study was an average of 0.0kg. Not very impressive. But the researchers noticed that some women did lose weight, while others actually gained. What was the difference? In the women that didn’t lose weight, the increase in specific periods of exercise corresponded with a decrease in overall energy expenditure. Translation: they were more likely to be couch potatoes when they weren’t exercising, which negated the calorie-burning effect of their workouts.

If you’re still not convinced, the Cochrane group did a review of 43 individual studies on exercise for weight loss. Study length ranged from 3 to 12 months, and exercise sessions lasted on average 45 minutes with a frequency of 3-5 times per week. The results? On average, the additional weight loss from exercise averaged about 1 kg (2.2 pounds). Meh. Assuming they worked out for 45 minutes 4x/wk over 6 months, that means they had to exercise 69 hours to lose that 1 kg.

Why cardio may be harmful

Too much cardio exercise has a number of harmful effects on the body:

  • increases oxidative damage
  • increases inflammation (the root of all disease)
  • depresses the immune system
  • decreases fat metabolism
  • disrupts cortisol levels
  • causes neurodegeneration

Overtraining is especially damaging because of its effects on cortisol. We discussed cortisol at length in Step 6: Manage Your Stress, but in this context what’s important to understand is that too much exercise can disrupt our natural cortisol rhythm and drive levels too high initially, and depress them over time. Cortisol dysregulation promotes abdominal fat gain and muscle loss, which in turn causes further weight gain.

There’s also some evidence that frequent endurance exercise may promote – rather than prevent – heart disease. Dr. Kurt Harris summarized a study performed on 102 active marathon runners and 102 age-matched controls to determine the effect of aerobic exercise on cardiovascular health.

The marathoners were between 50 and 72 years of age, and they ran an average of 35 miles per week. They had no known history of heart disease or diabetes. The control group was similarly aged and also had no history of cardiovascular or metabolic disease.

You might be surprised to learn that the marathon runners were three times more likely to have heart damage than the non-runners. Among the runners, there were 12 heart attacks vs. 4 attacks in the non-runners.

In another study by the same authors, the more marathoners ran, the higher their likelihood of heart disease. In fact, the number of marathons ran was an independent predictor of the likelihood of irreversible damage to the heart tissue.

No cardio? Then what should we do instead?

In short, we should move like our ancestors. They didn’t strap on a heart monitor and take off for a 45-minute jog, nor did they go down and swim laps for an hour in the local lake. Yet they were extremely fit and almost entirely free of the modern diseases that plague us today.

They performed low-intensity movements like walking, gathering foods or working in other capacities on a regular basis. These periods of low-intensity activity were punctuated by brief periods of much higher-intensity activity – such as going on a hunt, running for a predator or fighting for survival.

This is the type of movement our bodies are adapted for, and thus this is what we should aim for in our daily lives. But how do we do that? As Mark Sisson suggests, we should:

  1. Move frequently at a slow pace
  2. Lift heavy things and sprint occasionally

Move frequently at a slow pace

Moving frequently at a slow pace means approximately 3-5 hours a week of low level activity like walking, cycling, gardening, hiking, performing manual labor, etc. This mimics our ancestral pattern of movement, helps maintain a healthy weight, promotes proper metabolic function and provides a foundation for more strenuous activity. Another benefit of this type of activity is that it’s often performed outdoors. Spending time outdoors reduces stress, increases vitamin D levels, and brings us pleasure, joy and a sense of connection with the world around us.

I think one of the best ways to do this type of movement is to integrate it into your daily life. This could include commuting to work and doing errands on foot or by bicycle, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, doing your own gardening and yard work, etc.

Lift heavy things and sprint occasionally

In contrast to cardio, this type of exercise involves performing movements at very high intensity for short periods of time – usually between 30 seconds and 2 minutes. This is sometimes referred to as high intensity interval training (HIIT).

Several studies have been done comparing HIIT to low-intensity, steady-state (“chronic cardio”, as Mark Sisson calls it) exercise, and HIIT has been shown to be superior in nearly every meaningful marker.

In this study, one group was assigned to “chronic cardio”, while the other was assigned to intervals of 8-second sprints. After 15 weeks, the researchers concluded:

Both exercise groups demonstrated a significant improvement (P less than 0.05) in cardiovascular fitness. However, only the HIIE group had a significant reduction in total body mass (TBM), fat mass (FM), trunk fat and fasting plasma insulin levels.

A pair of studies done at McMaster University found that “6-minutes of pure, hard exercise once a week could be just as effective as an hour of daily moderate activity“, according to the June 6, 2005 CNN article reporting on the study.

The study itself was published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, and it revealed that HIIT resulted in unique changes in skeletal muscle and endurance capacity that were previously believed to require hours of exercise each week.

follow-up study confirmed the results. Despite the fact that the more conventional endurance exercise group spent 97.5 percent more time engaged in exercise, both groups of subjects improved to the same degree. The group that exercised 97.5 percent more received no additional benefit whatsoever from doing so. Considering the wear-and-tear and increased risk of injury associated with that much more exercise, there’s absolutely no point to doing “chronic cardio” when you can receive the same benefits with a fraction of the time and risk by doing HIIT.

The Cochrane study I linked to earlier in the article also found that high-intensity exercise was superior to “chronic cardio”. In particular, the researchers found that high-intensity exercise led to a greater decrease in fasting blood glucose levels than low-intensity exercise.

Why high-intensity exercise is better

bbsIn his excellent book on high-intensity strength training, Body By Science, Dr. Doug McGuff explains that high-intensity training is superior to chronic cardio because it produces a greater stimulus and thus more effectively empties the muscles and liver of glucose. This stimulus can last several days with HIIT, as opposed to just a few hours with low-intensity training.

HIIT also activates hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL), which mobilizes fatty acids for energy use. This means that during HIIT, both glucose and fatty acids will be burned, leading to greater fat loss and restoration of insulin sensitivity.

High-intensity strength training: best of all?

Both high-intensity running or bicycling sprints and high-intensity strength training are effective. But I believe high-intensity strength training is probably a better choice for most, simply because the wear-and-tear and risk of injury is lower – especially if the strength-training is performed using weight machines as described in Body By Science.

This is, in fact, the method of training I’ve been doing since April of last year. I admit I was somewhat skeptical about it all before I read Body By Science. But the research and the physiology was convincing, so I decided to give it a try.

The results have been incredible. My workout varies in length between 5 and 9 minutes a week. That’s right, I said minutes. With only a few exceptions, I’ve increased the amount of weight I can lift, the time I can lift it, or both, with each successive workout. My strength has increased and my physique is, if anything, better than it was when I was lifting 3x/week for much longer periods.

Where to learn more about HIIT

There are many books on the subject, but these are the two I’d recommend for most people:

  • Body By Science, by Doug McGuff. The “bible” on high-intensity strength training. Goes into great detail on the physiological mechanisms and benefits behind this type of exercise, and explains how to put together a routine. Doug also has a great blog with an active community of people using the BBS approach. To see an example of what this type of workout looks like, check out this video on YouTube. For an in-depth video presentation about BBS, watch this video.
  • The Power of 10: The Once-A-Week Slow Motion Fitness Revolution, by Adam Zickerman & Bill Schilley. This is more of a nuts-and-bolts book, with less theory than BBS and more focus on teaching you how to do this type of workout. It also has specific routines that can be performed at home, on the road and without access to a gym. The approach is slightly different than what’s advocated in BBS, but the basic idea is the same.