Add this to your warm-up routine today for big benefits in your training session. Great for athletes, powerlifters, weightlifters, CrossFitters, and everyone else!
First things first, let me put it out there that I LOVE the Olympic lifts (from here on out referred to as the O-lifts). I think they're a fantastic tool to develop strength, power, and enhance athletic potential. Not to mention, I can't help but tip my hat to those that have accomplished near-impossible feats of power with them, and there are few things I find more beautiful than a perfectly executed snatch. In fact, while I currently can't back this up with any scientific research, I'm convinced that Maximus utilized the O-lifts as part of his training arsenal to utterly own anyone who stood in his way in his quest to avenge the death of his family.
HOWEVER - and as Sarah recently noted in her Squat vs. Box Squat post - the O-lifts are an extremely complex movement that many ELITE athletes spend their entire lives perfecting. Not to mention, 99 times out of 100, the limiting factor in the athletes we work with at SAPT is simply a lack of strength. They lack the strength (and subsequently, joint integrity...) and neuromuscular control to produce and decelerate movement, and THIS is the primary reason that they can't seem to improve their change-of-direction speed, or throw that ball faster.
In fact, the interesting thing is that even if I wanted to start them off with O-lifting, the majority of them would lack the strength to do that, too! Walking someone, and strengthening them, through the squat and deadlift progressions will actually help them with the O-lifts (cleans, snatches, jerks, etc.), but performing the O-lifts WON'T necessarily have carryover the other way around and help them become better at squatting and deadlifting. It's just not a reciprocal relationship like that.
Nevertheless, this post isn't about sparking a "Should I O-lift or Not O-lift a New Trainee" debate. If you are a coach that has found this to work for you, then great. I respect that. We have just found that, especially with consideration to the fact that we often don't work with a given athlete for more than six months at a time, we can accomplish more in less time by working with other tools in the "strength coach toolbox."
And, while I may personally feel that the majority of athletes spend too much time on the speed-strength end of the spectrum and really don't need a whole lot of "speed and power" work (at least, initially) to enhance their athletic potential, I still feel it's important to incorporate explosive movements in training to teach someone how to control their body in space. Not to mention, these movements will often serve as a CNS primer for the squat and deadlift portion of the session, just like the O-lifts are often performed prior to strength work.
What do we use to accomplish this? Jumping!
Yes, jumping. Anyone from a beginner to an advanced athlete can utilize this powerful tool that is much more "dummy-proof" than the O-lifts. While I'm not going to list the specific progressions we'll use with someone, I just wanted to make a quick point.
Take, for example, two jumping variations we use; the box jump and the hot ground to tuck jump (the latter shown the video):
In both variations, if doing them correctly, you'll still be producing force through the "triple extension" motion that the O-lifts are frequently praised for working. This being, simultaneous extension of the ankles, knees, and hips. Essentially all this means is that the toes are pointing down, and the knees and hips are straightening out.
Note the similarity of the body position (specifically at the joint angles of the ankles, knees, and hips) during the picture of O-lift in the very beginning of this post, and my body positions during a box jump, and a freeze-frame of the same hot ground jump performed in the video above:
Hot Ground to Tuck Jump:
Crazy, huh? As an added bonus, one of the most difficult portions of the O-lifts is ACTUALLY achieving triple extension. If you youtube nearly any run-of-the-mill person doing an O-lift, and carefully watch their ankles/knees/hips, you'll quickly see that they're not even doing the very thing that makes the O-lifts so beneficial!
Also, with some of the jumping variations, you also receiving a bit of often-neglected hip flexor work at greater than 90 degrees of flexion, such as in the top of the hot ground jump:
Now, these jumps must be progressed appropriately, just as a skilled coach of the O-lifts would do with a trainee. And, the volume must be monitored, as mindlessly having an athlete jump around until their knees explode isn't going to help their vertical. Usually fifteen TOTAL reps will be more than enough to receive the intended benefit.
Again, what I am NOT saying is to avoid the O-lifts like the plague. Again, they are phenomenal tools, and there's no chance that jumping variations could take the place of O-lifting in the appropriate scenario.
But, like anything, one should be sure they understand where he or she (or someone they're coaching) is honestly at when taking into consideration what will be the most bang-for-your-buck training approach, given the time and resources you may have at your disposal.
The other day, one of our baseball guys was deadlifting and, upon finishing his second work set, turns to me and asks if he can put another ten pounds on the bar. Given that his form was less-than-impeccable, I gave him a simple "No." In fact, I wanted him to take it down ten to twenty pounds, as it was his lumbar spine that was buckling (I wouldn't have been as concerned if it was something like failing to keep his neck packed or forgetting to finish the movement with his glutes). He immediately became exceedingly frustrated and started rambling about how he felt like he wasn't as strong as he thought he should be, and that he ought to move UP, not down, for his next deadlift set, how he felt it had been too long since he improved in his squat and deadlift, yadda yadda yadda.
I asked him: "Well, how have you been playing on the baseball field?"
He replies: "I've hit more home runs, my 60-yard dash time improved, and my movement, positioning, and throwing from home plate has become way better as compared to last year." (note: he's a catcher)
I then reminded him that he had averaged only one training session every 7-10 days over the past six months at SAPT (due to in-season baseball and then traveling the country playing on various club/select teams), so he was not only fortunate to have maintained his strength levels in the weight room but also - and more importantly - his markers of sport performance had IMPROVED.
I concluded with: "Don't you think this is a pretty darn good indicator that we have accomplished what you came to SAPT for in the first place?"
Our goal with him was not to put up huge lifting numbers, but to help him become a better baseball player. Does squatting, deadlifting, performing single-leg work, and movement training help us get there? Absolutely, but there's a point where we can't force bad form just for the sake of hitting a weightlifting PR that day. Not to mention, we each get only one spine. Yes, just one. It's not worth destroying it over a 10-lb deadlift personal best.
Now, this athlete is pretty accomplished (committed to a Division 1 program and was one of only two players in the entire Northern Va region to be named to the Nationals roster for the Area Code Games), so I couldn't blame him for wanting to succeed in every endeavor he put himself into. But it reminded me of something I heard from Jim Wendler when he was talking about strength training the football team under him:
"We're chasing wins, not numbers."
So simple and profound. So often we get caught up in the minutia that we forget what our primary goal was in the first place. We can't see the forest for the trees, so to speak.
Don't forget to keep the primary goal, the goal.
- If your goal is sport performance, remember that it's not the end goal to have a gigantic bench press or squat. - If your goal is fat loss, why are you obsessed about your strength levels not being what they used to be? - If your goal is maximal strength development, should you really be performing three to four conditioning sessions a week so that, heaven forbid, your "work capacity" slightly diminishes?
Heck, I remember during the Fall of 2009 I was following a program specifically designed to improve my squat, bench, and deadlift numbers. Yet, I was also performing these insane conditioning sessions multiple days per week (see video below), and wondering why my numbers were stalling!
Note: Yes, if I could go back in time, I'd give myself a quick scissor kick to the face.
My mentality in 2009 reminded me of a football player we're currently working with. He's about 170lbs soaking wet, and has been musing that he can't seem to put on any weight. But when we give him some very practical suggestions on adding some size he responds with, "Well, I also want to keep myself looking good, too."
(Dude, don't worry, your six-pack isn't going to go anywhere if you pack on some size in order to open up a can on the football field).
It's tempting to chase multiple qualities at one time, but I've found that the body responds better to sticking to ONE goal at a time, as opposed to trying tackle everything at once. In other words, it would be better for you attack fat loss, HARD, for one to two months, and then go back to your standard strength-oriented program afterward than it would for you to try and accomplish both (fat loss and setting lifting PRs) at the exact same time.
So, to conclude, remember why you're in the gym in the first place. The big picture, so to speak; and allow that to dictate your choices. Don't miss the forest for the trees.
On Wednesday, I touched on competing demands and how these will affect the quantity, and quality, of the training stressors appropriately applied to athletes and general fitness enthusiasts alike. I used myself as an example of making a major mistake in attempting to obliterate a great athlete while not understanding everything he was facing outside the gym walls of SAPT. You can read it here in case you missed it. Getting right to it, below is a sample lower body workout I may use with an athlete who is performing sprints and change-of-direction training with his or her sports team, throwing/hitting two days per week, and maybe getting in a lift or two under the watch of his high school coach. There are obviously countless scenarios that would affect the individualized programming of the specific athlete, but the one below should at least give you an idea.
A) Trap Bar Deadlift
1x3, then 1x3@90% weight used in set 1
B1) DB Split Squat ISO Hold B2) ½ Kneeling SA Cable or Band Row
2-3x5/side hold :5
C1) DL Hip Thrust, Back+Feet Elevated
C2) Sandbag Walkover C3) Side-Lying Wallslide with Slider
2x8 hold :5 2x6 2x8/side
D) Sledge Swings or EASY Prowler Push
2-3x10/side or 3 Trips
*Work up to one "heavy" set of three, and then do one more set of three at 90% of the last weight used. **Even though this session would be considered "lower body," I added this because I really feel people can't get enough horizontal pulling. Especially with the unilateral version you receive a bit of added core stability and thoracic mobility to boot. ***Your butt cheeks should feel like they're about to fall off the bone if you do these correctly.
B1) Split Squat ISO
B2) 1/2 Kneeling SA Band Row
C1) DL Hip Thrust, Back+Feet Elevated
C3) Side-Lying Wallslide with Slider
D) Sledge Swings
The above program will provide plenty training stimulus to elicit positive strength adaptations, while at the same time not fatiguing the athlete to the point of sending him or her backwards. Also, while I didn't list them, there would also be plenty of mobilization drills to help "undue" the crappy positioning and imbalances that the athlete accrues throughout the week.
With the trap bar deadlift, you'll receive a solid dose of work for the entire posterior chain while still giving the quads plenty stimuli (as the trap bar deadlift engages the quads a bit more than conventional deads), along with some healthy compressive stress (which the spine tends to handle better than shear stress).
The accessory work will hit most of the things that athletes fail to receive from their other spheres of training, namely:
- Glute strength and endurance (which, unless you're first name is Don, and last name Juan, there's about a 110% chance you lack these)
- Scapular retraction and depression
- Serratus anterior work
- The lateral subsystem (QL, adductor complex, and glute medius)
- Light conditioning (with the sledge or prowler) that should "wake-up" the athlete more than anything as opposed to some insane glycolytic session
In all honesty, I tried to come up with a clever way to end this post but...I got nothin'.
I'll never forget my first major lesson in programming for athletes. I had been writing training plans for the athletes and general fitness clientele at SAPT for a couple months at this point, when Chris told me to write the next wave for one of our baseball guys. Now, this particular high school senior definitely fell to the right of the athletic bell curve: he was on scholarship to play baseball for a SEC Division I university (which he is currently doing), was right on track to win the region in wrestling (which he did), and carried a general sense of "I'm gonna make you crap the back of your pants if you get in my way" about him when he pushed the prowler.
This being the case, my first thought when Chris told me to write his next wave was, "Sweet! I'm gonna get to have a lot of fun with this guy." I eagerly sat down at my computer, cup of coffee in my left hand, while my right hand performed arts of wizardry (that would be, using the mouse to spray excellence all over the programming template).
For his first lower body day, I gave him some loaded jump squats and med ball work, followed up by multiple sets of heavy squats, then some speed deadlifts, followed by some high volume unilateral work and core stability exercises, with a decent chunk of hip dominant accessory work to bring up the rear. It was the perfect program. "This kid was going to grow like a weed upon finishing this 3-week wave," I intoned to myself at my desk.
The next day, Chris and Sarah gently pulled me aside to give me a little lesson of the SAPT dojo:
"Something you need to understand is most of these kids have countless competing demands outside of the SAPT walls. In order to continue to truly develop them as athletes, you need to understand what they're facing throughout the other 23 hours of the day"
As it turns out, this high school senior I was so eager to obliterate was, at the time, throwing multiple days per week, playing at showcases on the weekends, lifting in the afternoons with his high school baseball team, AND lifting every morning during a weight training class. (Yes, you read that correctly, he actually dropped out of one of his core classes to take not one, but two, different weight training classes so he could lift every morning in the block scheduling system). Suffice to say, this guy loved being around the iron, up to the point of it nearly being disadvantageous because of all the abuse his body was receiving.
And I wanted to give him 100+ repetitions of CNS-intensive lower body movements in one single session. Right....
Now, (slightly, but only slightly) to my credit, up until I joined SAPT, the large majority of experience I had training people consisted of working with the Division 1 athletes of Virginia Tech, along with personal training a wide variety of clientele in both the Blacksburg and Northern Va areas. In both of these scenarios, the time I had with the athletes/fitness clients in the weight room was the only resistance training they were getting each day. Not to mention, the VT strength coach was handling the programming, and he was in constant communication with the coaches of the teams we were working with (so he knew what the kids were doing outside of the weight room).
In fact, that's one of the greatest differences between training athletes in the private sector (ex. a place like SAPT) and the public sector (ex. working for a Division I,II, or III university). In the private sector, you often have little control of what the athletes are doing outside your walls from a resistance training standpoint, as local coaches often demand that the players attend team lifts, conditioning sessions, and technique training (which sometimes, unfortunately, means throwing a ball until you're blue in the face).
The point of the story above is this: One of the best things you can offer those training under your watch is to not only understand what they are going through outside of your doors, but also be able to effectively program around this. While there are obviously multiple qualities that chip in to the training effect you're looking for, the body can only handle so much stress and thus you must comprehend how to aptly apply, or reduce, each stressor.
Are the athletes in performing loads of sprints and movement training work with their coaches? Reduce the lower body volume and adjust the exercises accordingly.
Are your overhead athletes in a phase where their throwing/hitting volume is ramped up? Pump the brakes a bit on their upper body training.
Is their central nervous system fried from simply doing too much, too frequently both on and off the field? Maybe they just need a light "bloodflow day" when they come to see you.
And this doesn't just apply to competitive athletes. Many times, your general fitness client may show up after completing a 10-hour work day, fighting traffic in the car for another hour, and having received only five hours of sleep the night prior because they had to take their daughter to a 4 a.m. swim practice. Their body may simply refuse to allow them to work at 90%+ of their 1RM.
The program I wrote for the aforementioned athlete may have been appropriate if he was in some sort of accumulation phase of training, his lifting at SAPT was the ONLY lifting he was receiving, and he made a point to eat and sleep as much as humanly possible while outside the gym walls. But this clearly wasn't the case, and so I had to quickly amend the remainder of his program to give him what he needed. To give him what he wasn't receiving from his high school lifting instructor and baseball coach.
Sometimes just a simple understanding what goes on outside of your doors will go a long way in allowing you to provide your people what they are paying you for with their time and money.
I just stumbled upon a study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research in December 2010 titled: “Comparison of kinetic variables and muscle activity during a squat vs. a box squat.” Basically, what the study found is that box squatting was measured to produce both more force and more power than a traditional squat at certain working percentages!
I’m sure many people assume the box’s only value is to ensure depth, but those of us who are familiar with old articles from Westside Barbell or EliteFTS know better:
- A pause on the box – with or without relaxation – takes away the stretch-shortening cycle and forces the athlete to generate all that speed and power from the bottom position. No relying on stored energy, this pays huge dividends when you finally get the opportunity to use a “bounce” out of the hole.
- The same pause that removes the stretch-shortening cycle is also the responsible factor for why box squatting or dynamic effort box squatting can be considered valuable supplemental deadlift work, too. Why? In the deadlift you start from the bottom with virtually no stored energy.
- A bigger squat and a bigger deadlift?!? Sign me up!
Below I’ve put in a repost of mine from last May. Maybe the big gains were due to the BOX? Eh, it was still the dynamic effort work, I’m certain. But, I've now found real science backing up that decision to use a box:
Dynamic Effort Training to Fuel Huge Strength Gains (from May 2011)
I had something wonderful happen last week: the George Mason Throwers – who just came off the season – retested in the squat and everyone PR’d. I’m not talking 5lb PR’s, we had HUGE PR’s of 55lb and even 60lb (that’s a 365lb squat moving up to 425lb and a 455lb squat moving up to 510lb)! The lowest PR was 20lb. This progress occurred over about 16-weeks. By the way, I called the depth on each attempt myself, anyone who knows me personally knows I’m a stickler for proper squat depth.
I will be (and that day I was) the first to admit how shocked I was at our new numbers. You see, we were retesting so everyone could be sure they are working off the correct percentages for their summer training program. Coming off the season, I figured everyone would be down around their old max (if we’re lucky) or even below… that’s how it works, right? Maybe not…In hindsight, my approach to this team (much like the sprinters and jumpers I wrote about last week) has been extremely conservative. So what was the catalyst for all these great PR’s? Dynamic Effort Squats (or Speed Squats as they’re sometimes called) are the key to their success.
What are they? Dynamic Effort squatting is a squat that is performed using relatively low percentages and performed as fast as possible through the concentric portion.
Why did we use them?The Throws’ coach communicated to me at some point in December or January that the group, generally speaking, needed to learn to accelerate through to the “block” portion of the throw. I suggested Speed Squats.
How do you use them? Don’t mess with success: There is a pretty tried and true method to speed squat success and you can work off of these parameters for YEARS. If you are new to speed squatting try this wave over a three-week period: Week 1 10x2@50% - Week 2 10x2@55% - Week 3 8x2@60% - stay strict with a maximum of 60 seconds rest between sets.
Can Olympic lifts take the place of Dynamic Effort Squats? Theoretically, yes. In practice, absolutely not! The problem with the Olympic lifts and their variations is the complexity of the movement – it is, after all, its own sport. You are better off taking a simple movement that an athlete is familiar with and squeezing out every drop of progress (which will last through 4-5 years of a college career, I promise).
It blows my mind how relatively unknown Dynamic Effort lifting remains to many coaches. But, then again, the only reason I know the ins and outs of the method is via my colleagues over the years. Okay, I NEVER do this, so since you’re probably already sitting down – stay there! I don’t want anyone injured… Below are a full 4 waves of lower body lifting I wrote for the throwers this past semester. You’ll see that we did a lot of speed squatting and very little heavy accessory work. Really take a close look at the last few weeks. Oh, and a note about Wave 3, the team’s CNS was trashed so I took the DE squats out to let the team recoup. Finally, in addition to this mandatory team session lower body training day, we had an additional Saturday lift that was to be completed on their own. It consisted of very basic movements to “clean up” what we couldn’t get to during the two days they see me.
Wave 1: Weeks 1-3
A1 High Pull
A2 Rocking Ankle Mob
Banded DE Box Squat
B1 Band Pistol Sq
B2 Pallof Press
C1 DB Swing
C2 Plate Pinch
Wave 2: Weeks 4-6
DE Box Squat
A1 Oblique Deadlift
A2 Body Saw
B1 Bulgarian Split Sq
B2 St. Arm Walkout
C1 OH Plate Squat
C2 Plate Pinch Driver
Week 7: Deload Week – light DB and bodyweight work… step away from the barbell!Wave 3: Weeks 8-10 – Taper Begins
“Low” Bar Squat (1/4 Squat depth)
A1 Oblique Deadlift
A2 Partner Plank
B1 SL DB RDL
B2 MB Side Throw
C1 OH Plate Squat
C2 Hex Hold
Wave 4: Weeks 11-13 – Taper Continues to Conference
DE Box Squat
“Low” Bar Squat
A1 SL ¼ Squat
A2 MB OH Throw
DB OH Squat
Lastly, here's a personal update from the weekend: Arabella "successfully completed" her first 1K race - I believe it was with a blazing fast time of 17:25. She made it on her own for a little less than half the race and I carried her the rest of the way.
In all honestly, the "Fun" Run was anything but fun. 1. It was super cold outside which wouldn't have been so much of a problem if they had started the race on time, not made everyone stand there for an extra 25 minutes. 2. Number 1 led to a fairly uncomfortable and cranky Arabella (finely tuned athletes can not be kept waiting!). 3. There was ice all over the place! Arabella slipped several times as she pushed for a PR.
The Goblin Gallop was well run, as always, and they certainly didn't have control over the weather. Regardless, I think this will be a wonderful memory for my family in the future!