Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Pulling with the Quadriceps

2008 silver medalist Li Hongli and his developed quads
"For whatever reason, there's a tendency in this country at this time to think we have a dearth of hip extension strength (glutes and hams) and a wealth of knee extension strength (quads). That wasn't the case in 1998 when I first got into this profession. There was no big emphasis on hip extension.

Somehow, somewhere, the emphasis changed from triple extension to emphasis on hip extension and this new thing emerged: the posterior chain.

And what great timing it was, because suddenly we had become a nation of quad dominant, dysfunctional people, plagued by gluteal amnesia.
- Excerpt from "That P-Chain Thang"
by Physical Therapist Tracy Fober

When I started lifting weights in 2006, I had to take in a lot of new information. Technique was stressed repeatedly and it's still important to this day. While performing movements with good form minimizes risk of injury, it also makes exercises easier and allows us to derive more benefit from them for our goals.

It's training efficiency - getting the most bang for your buck in the training you do.

In my social media feeds, several training videos tend to show up. I watch a good number of them and it's apparent there's a disconnect in understanding technique. Technical deviations are common near maximal efforts, but most videos I see are submaximal.

The most notable issue I notice is pulling a barbell off the floor using the quadriceps muscles.

The popularity of gluteal training has cause the hips and glutes to be heavily emphasized in training. This is especially true for recreational exercisers who sit for long periods throughout the day. In many lower body movements, most people are taught to focus on their hips, such as sitting back when beginning a squat. Unfortunately because of this, the quadriceps muscle group gets overlooked. Remember the function of the quadriceps - to extend the knee.

When the mistake happens in deadlifts or weightlifting pulls, it's easy to observe. The hips are high and the movement ends up resembling a stiff legged deadlift where the legs are almost straight.

Notice the high hips and vertical shin

Sometimes trainees set up correctly, but either due to lack of knowledge or strength, their hips shoot up, the torso becomes almost parallel to the floor, and they end up pulling with their hamstrings, glutes, and low back. This doesn't make use of the quadriceps and ends up fatiguing the other areas sooner in the movement.

In a good pull that utilizes the quadriceps, the barbell and hips rise at the same speed. This is the quadriceps initiating the movement as it extends the knee. When done correctly, the back angle remains constant at the start of the movement.

Depending on whether a deadlift is being done by powerlifters or pulls by weightlifters, there are things to consider when looking at the technique and incorporating corrections.


Powerlifters have a lot of freedom in their deadlifting styles. Conventional, sumo, low hips, high hips, narrow stance, rounded upper back, and any other number of variations or combinations of them. Pulling style will be up to the individual's build and preferences, especially if the person has a history of injury.

For reference, take a look at the following conventional and sumo deadlifts. Both show good pulling technique.


However, there are exceptions and this isn't the only way to deadlift. An experienced lifter won't necessarily have the same deadlifting style if they know what works best for them. For instance, Bob Peoples was well known for deadlifting with his legs nearly straight and a rounded back. It would generally be considered bad form and ill advised to perform deadlifts in that way, but it suited him the best based on his own build and experience.

For beginner and intermediate trainees, they have less time under the bar. More often than not, they unintentionally deadlift with their hips high. The issue tends to reveal itself at heavier weights.

A quick correction is to give a point to look at for the person to focus on as they straighten their knees or think about pressing their feet into the ground. However if a little more assistance is needed, guiding them with hands on their hips and low back can also do the trick.

If the quadriceps are lacking strength in this specific position, hack squats (previously discussed here) can be used as a correction.

Begins at the 3:35 mark

Done properly, a hack squat has the bar lifted without any issue. If the hips come up first, the bar will hit the hamstrings before it reaches lock out. It teaches to begin the lift from the knees by using the quadriceps and requires maintaining good positioning of the torso before finishing with the hips.

Fortunately for weightlifters, there is less range in pulling styles and simplifies the issue.


Alex Lee at 2015 World Championships

Weightlifting should be straightforward, but for whatever reason lifters make the classical movements more complicated than necessary. The first pull is described as the portion of the lift from the floor to the knees.

Similar to powerlifters, for weightlifters the issue may be lack of awareness. Some simply pull too fast off the floor and lose their position. This is especially true if the main thought is to stay over the bar and emphasize hip extension after the second pull. Sometimes the quads are not taken into consideration.

Corrections for this were discussed in last year's FuBarbell + Training Geek seminar review. To recap the relevant section,
"From the start position, we were told to go straight up as if we were trying to draw a straight line from a pencil sticking out of our ear. Visually, a PVC can be held adjacent to the lifter. Keeping the ear in line to the PVC will force the lifter to pull straight up. If the lifter still needs further feedback, Diane demonstrated by having her hand on the upper back and told Lester to press her hand upwards. This achieves the correct pulling action.

They provided excellent cues to understand how it should feel. I particularly liked the emphasis on feeling the quadriceps contract in the start position and in extension. In the start position, "feel your heels float" gave the right idea of how far you should start over the bar - the weight is shifted forward just enough to have your heels stay lightly on the ground. If done correctly, the quadriceps muscles can be felt."
These cues are great for shifting the trainee's idea of the set up and execution without being overly analytical and verbose.

To exaggerate feeling the quadriceps, I learned a very good drill from Stephen Powell. When I reached out to him for coaching, this was one of the first exercises he introduced to me. It's a modified set up to perform pulls called Sex Pocket Pulls.

Demonstrated by Carlee Acevedo-Fuller

In the video above, Carlee is doing pulls on plates, but with her heels hanging off the back. This forces her to slow down and pull with the quadriceps. She has to find the right balance so her heels do not touch the floor. By ensuring her heels don't touch the floor, her pull is smooth and fluid.

These can be done with a snatch or clean grip or even a grip width in between the two.

Closing Thoughts

The quadriceps are strong and should be used to our advantage. By not using all our muscles, progress will be slow and the workload will be transferred to other muscles. Those muscles have to do more than required during a set and limits what we are capable of.

Whatever sport you apply yourself to, working hard is one part of the equation and can only take you so far. It's also important to work smart. Working smart makes our hard efforts all the more worthwhile and beneficial in the long term.

‘’Technique is the ultimate expression of strength in weightlifting.’’

- Robert Roman
Further Reading,

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Interview with Philippines Weightlifting Olympian Hidilyn Diaz


Welcome to the New Year. 2016 isn't just any year, it's an Olympic year. The 31st Summer Olympic will take place this August in Rio de Janeiro of Brazil. Weightlifting will be one of the many returning sports. For weightlifters, this is their most important competition. Winning an Olympic medal is unlike a medal from any other competition.

Most fans of the sport admire China, Russia, and countries that produce multiple top competitors. As a result, weightlifters from smaller countries may not receive as much attention. But not this time as I had the pleasure of interviewing Philippines weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz: the native of Zamboanga City is a two time, soon to be third, Olympian, and medalist at multiple international competitions. However before I get ahead of myself, let me provide a bit of background to how this came to be.

Before I arrived in Houston for the 2015 IWF Championships, I noticed Papa Yats would be in attendance as well. For those unfamiliar with Papa Yats (or Yatsek), he is a mentor of Hidilyn as well as a coach who provides alternative information about foreign weightlifting training methods and programming on his non-commercial Instagram account. Not only that, he's also involved in fundraising for Filipino weightlifting clubs. He is originally from Poland, has traveled extensively throughout Asia, and now lives in California. His weightlifting philosophy is rooted in Asian and Eastern European methods as he finds them most effective; he is not a believer of American methods.

I contacted Papa Yats to see if I could interview him when I arrived in Houston. He thought it would be more interesting if I interviewed Hidilyn instead. This didn't even occur to me because I assumed athletes would be tired from competition and would want to relax rather than sit down for an interview.

And so on my first night Papa Yats said I could come visit them at Hidilyn's hotel room. As I entered the room, I was greeted by Papa Yats, who introduced me to Hidilyn and members of the Philippines Weightlifting Association - President Roger Dullano and head coach Alfonsito Aldanete. It's at this point I realized I really am an amateur and very new to this sport.

Roger and Alfonsito left the room, leaving Papa Yats, Hidilyn, and myself to sit down and talk. I should mention at this point it was already around 10 o'clock at night and Hidilyn was tired. Also for both of them, English is their second language. Thankfully, Papa Yats knew answers to some of the questions I asked and was able to help Hidilyn if she might have needed clarification.

Overall I believe it was a great conversation. Enjoy.

Recent & Upcoming Competitions

Niel: Welcome to the United States. Congratulations on your performance Hidilyn. How do you feel training reflected in this competition?
Hidilyn: It’s really hard, you have to adjust in weather and jet lag. I could not sweat to drop weight so I cut my hair. We arrived on November 15th and started training on the 16th. I didn’t sweat because it’s so cold here. In the Philippines, I start to sweat even when I would stretch.
Papa Yats: Their gym in the Philippines has open windows where there’s no glass and it’s exposed to the open air where in Manila it’s super hot. There’s no air conditioning or good ventilation. It’s tropical weather over there.
Niel: And the training hall here is kept air conditioned.
Papa Yats: Yeah and it’s kept cold. Today was a little better.
Hidilyn: Then the jet lag – I haven’t slept for days. Yeah for 3 or 4 days then training started. Pangit (Tagalog word): You know pangit? It’s “ugly,” I couldn’t train properly.

Niel: You still did well.
Hidilyn: Yeah, but my goal is 103kg snatch and 123kg clean & jerk. Three weeks before I did a 93kg snatch and a 118kg clean & jerk in training.
Papa Yats: She typically lifts much more in competition than in training. I’m talking about snatching seven plus kilos more in competition than in training. Since she snatched 93kg, that was an indicator she could hit 100-101kg in competition.
Hidilyn: But I also got sick. That’s why my performance dropped for one week. Maybe because I couldn’t sleep I got sick.
Papa Yats: She only did an 85kg snatch the first day she came here (to Houston).

Niel: Hidilyn, how’s your schedule been? You competed at the Southeast Asian Weightlifting Championships in late June, Asians in September, Houston now, and have Rio coming up in 2016.
Papa Yats: Hadie (pet name for Hidilyn) has a competition on December 7th in Qatar which is about two weeks from now. She already started lifting today (Tuesday) in the training hall for the first time after Sunday’s competition. She took Monday off and today she did very light training. Snatches up to 55kg which is very light. Some good mornings, little military press, side bends for the abdominal muscles, and that’s it. The Qatar Federation is paying for the whole trip and there’s a cash prize which is nice. That’s the goal.

A video posted by Papa Yats (@papayats) on

Pull with rebend/Panda pull/Chinese Pull

So schedule has been tight. Southeast Asian Games was the original plan and they, Hidilyn and Nestor, weren’t supposed to compete in Asian Championships, but the IWF asked them to compete if they wanted to win individual qualifications for the Olympics. (The Philippines is not going for team qualifications. There is no budget to send that many lifters to international competitions.)

You know the situation. They switched the Asian Championships from June because there was an earthquake in Nepal and it was changed from Nepal to Thailand in September. There was a little bit of change there and the schedule wasn’t exactly set. Her results were practically the same for all three competitions: 213kg for Southeast Asian Championship, 214kg for Asian Championships, and 213kg for World Championships. Basically, she remained in competition cycle from April to November, never had time to go back to basic preparatory cycle. She was unable to increase results.
Hidilyn: It made it hard to recover and control my weight.

2015 Asian Championships
Credit Sportivny Press

Niel: How do you like competing as a 53kg versus a 58kg? Is eating less more comfortable for you?
Hidilyn: I don’t like it.
Papa Yats: She means she doesn't like watching her diet.
Niel: You had to eat a lot to maintain and keep your weight as a 58kg, right? Now you have to watch your weight.
Papa Yats: When I saw the 58kg girls, they’re big now – so masculine!
Hidilyn: They’re so big and strong. Yes, I have to watch my weight, but it’s okay. The best strategy is to lower my weight to compete in a different class. Although I have to eat healthy.
Papa Yats: And the strategy worked.
Niel: Do you eat a lot of Filipino food?
Hidilyn: Yes, everything. I love Korean food, Japanese food, Mexican food, everything. And I love nachos. That’s why it’s hard for me to keep my weight, but I have a nutritionist now who plans my meals. I use to eat healthy food so I’m okay with 53kg now – until Rio.
Papa Yats: Then retirement from lifting.
Hidilyn: I don’t know. It’s really hard. You want to eat with your friends, but then your friends want to eat cakes, milk tea, pizza, and all those kinds of foods. I can’t eat sugar and sweets. Yes it’s hard, but it’s okay. You see I placed in the 53kg.
Papa Yats: Or maybe they’re going to a party or something like a birthday. For instance, she gave me her cheesecake because she couldn’t eat it. She actually brought it to me, because she couldn't decline it from her friends. She actually has chocolate all over the place here (her hotel room). Now it’s different, today is different. Although the Qatar competition is in two week, but maybe you can’t go that bad. (Note from Papa Yats: She went overweight there, and had to lift in 63kg class, because they didn't have a 58kg class. She still won.)
Hidilyn: It’s okay. I already ate chocolate last night so I’m good with that. You want some chocolate?

Papa Yats: Soon she’s going to have to watch her bodyweight again for the Qatar competition. We went for a nice steak dinner today with my friend Jonas (Dr. Westbrook from Two Doctors), but that’s about it. The athlete’s buffet is pretty good downstairs in the dining room.
Hidilyn: The food is good, but it’s the same every day.
Papa Yats: I just want to say in the Philippines, she doesn’t get any extra bonus for winning this. No money involved. She buys her own food. There’s no food fairy that provides food for the high level athlete. She gets some stipend in general from the Filipino Olympic Committee, but it’s not nice like in the United States Olympic Training Center. There are no dining facilities or even a kitchen for the lifters in the Philippines. You have to buy food outside.

In the US, the weightlifters have everything they need to train. At least that's what coach Zygmunt said when he was inviting her over to train in Colorado. Over there they don’t even have air conditioning. They don’t have proper equipment. The gym is falling apart. Niel, you saw the picture of the gym. I mean does it look good?
Hidilyn: You saw how old the plates are?
Papa Yats: Ten years old or more.


Niel: I understand you had some issues with your leg. Has that been getting better and did it affect your performance?
Hidilyn: I don’t like to back squat, but I have special training for the squat. I bounce out of the bottom. I use it so my clean will bounce up when I receive the bar. I squatted heavy weights, but there’s a big bounce at the bottom. It helps a lot for my reaction in the clean, but my squat is still not too good. I don’t know why. The issue isn’t pain, I just don’t have strength for the back squat.
Papa Yats: She doesn’t like the squat exercise so she tries to avoid it.

Arrived in the morning and already in training with @haidie20  I do believe that with a little luck we can squeeze a tiny bronze medal at World Championship in Houston 2015. I say "we" however in all honesty I'm just adding my little brick to the wall... All other lifters left the gym and there's only her and I. Extra work needs to be done. Her biggest weakness is getting up after a heavy clean.  Her leg is injured, and she is doing only minimum of full back squats. We are forced to do different #squat exercises to maintain or even increase strength of her legs (6 weeks only to Asian Championship). Half squat is nothing new, but these here are done with slow tempo and full control, lighter weights, working on feeling deep muscles, glutes, and abdominals. We finished with some electromuscle stimulation for quads (I'm using Compex, but Globus is a good one, too). For the record, I'm not really her #coach, just sort of friend, motivator, and impresario. Beyond certain level, disciplined lifters can really coach themselves, but of course they need that someone to be there with them. Don't be afraid of half squats, but do them for slow muscle building, not for #powerlifting records. When I program, I'm really big on different squat variations, and the results have been convincing to say the least.  #olympicweightlifting #oly #weightlifting #crossfit #usaw #coaching #filipinostrong
A video posted by Papa Yats (@papayats) on

Niel: You competed in the 2008 Olympics when you were 17. You have more experience now. How does your experience now compare to back then?
Hidilyn: At that time when I was 17, there was no pressure. I didn’t know what the Olympic was or anything. I just went there and was amazed thinking, “Oh, this is the Olympics.” I was able to go because I got a wild card. The Philippines Weightlifting Association didn’t expect anything from me, but sent me for exposure.
Papa Yats: She was happy to be there, but she also had kind of good results too. They don’t give wild cards for nothing.
Hidilyn: Yes. In 2007, they saw that I have potential because I got bronze at the Southeast Asian Games and I was only 16.


Left to right: Hidilyn at Beijing in 2008, London in 2012, and 2015 now

Niel: Training can be very hard mentally. What helps you through hard days?
Hidilyn: I set my mind to compete in Rio. I tell myself this is my third time, it’s my third Olympic Games. I want to win, so if I give up then how will I be able to go there? How can I reach my goal? When I train, I always think “Rio, Rio, Rio” in my mind. I promised myself when I qualify that I have to win any medal. I have to win because it’s my third Olympics.

Weightlifting in the Philippines

Niel: Is weightlifting popular in the Philippines?
Hidilyn: No.
Papa Yats: Filipino weightlifting is more popular here in the US than in the Philippines. I’m sorry to say that she has more fans in America than in the Philippines.
Niel: That seems similar to many countries – there’s no recreational weightlifting. There’s only weightlifting to compete at a high level.
Papa Yats: Yes, there’s no recreational weightlifting.

Niel: Is there a Filipino weightlifting system?
Hidilyn: No.
Papa Yats: It’s everybody for themselves. Of course, their group of Nestor, Hidilyn, Jeffrey, Richard, and Chris train together some times. They’re going to have the same kind of training ideas because they have been training together.
Hidilyn: I’ve trained in China in 2007, 2008, and 2013. In 2007, I trained in Guangzhou for two months and in 2008 and 2013, I trained in Guangxi for three months each.
Papa Yats: Which one did you like better, Guangxi?
Hidilyn: Yes, Guangxi. There was Deng Mengrong, Lu Yong, and a 48kg girl. The place is good. China’s training is good.

A video posted by Papa Yats (@papayats) on

Deng Mengrong

Niel: They have a system and schools.
Hidilyn: Yes.
Niel: It’s not like America.
Papa Yats: She’s not familiar with training in America. She sees the videos on the internet, but she doesn’t understand why people would use or teach bad technique. She doesn't understand that you can become a weightlifting coach in one weekend. Obviously I’m not saying it’s everywhere. There are good coaches and systems here, like Coach Zygmunt Smalcerz. He’s doing good things.

Niel: Aside from more medals, what would the Philippines Weightlifting Association like to see happen in the country?
Papa Yats: Right now any kind of bump in popularity and introducing more kids to the sport, but for that you need money for equipment and facilities. It’s not easy, but hopefully with her and Nestor there can be some progress. This is the first time in a long time that the country had any kind of success in weightlifting.
Niel: Speaking of more money, the fundraiser you began passed its goal.
Papa Yats: It’s still not enough, but at least it helps one club. I’m going to set up the next one and I’m going to help Hidilyn's club in her hometown, Zamboanga City. There are many people that want to help, but they don’t know how to help.
Niel: Do you have more ideas in mind?
Papa Yats: Yes, I think everyone who donates will get a copy of Hidilyn's weightlifting program. You can either donate money to my crowdfunding, or donate equipment (shoes, plates, barbells). If you decide to donate equipment, I'll provide you with address of the club in the Philippines to ship it to. That way you can do it your way, and there is no middle man involved.

Short Questions

Niel: What do you like more, the snatch or clean & jerk?
Hidilyn: I love the jerk. But my clean is no good.
Papa Yats: In my opinion, her best lift technically is the jerk. Just the jerk. From the rack I think I saw her a few times do 125kg with good technique. Anything she can clean she can jerk. In the opinion of several foreign coaches, she actually has a better technical jerk than other competitors in her weight class. Actually, the same goes for Nestor.

A successful 117kg jerk by Hidilyn in Houston
Credit International Weightlifting Federation

Niel: If you weren’t in weightlifting, what do you think you would be doing right now?
Hidilyn: I’d have six kids, ha. No, seriously. Six kids – Do, Re, Mi, Pa, So....
Papa Yats: Yeah, a bum no good husband and several kids. Weightlifting helps people grow over there in the Philippines. In many poorer countries, through sport you can finish school. If you look at kids from her neighborhood, who didn’t do any sports, that’s their future: Girls her age with several kids.

Niel: What’s your favorite thing about weightlifting?
Hidilyn: The process and when I struggle in training. When you’re an athlete, you don’t want things to happen so easy. I want to achieve that goal.
Papa Yats: It’s all about the journey, not going to the top.
Hidilyn: Yes, I want it that way.

Niel: What’s your least favorite thing about weightlifting?
Papa Yats: Injury? I don’t know.
Hidilyn: Yes…..and the stretching after training.
*group laughter*
Papa Yats: I think she’s talking about the mandatory partner stretching when you push a little over the limit.

Partner assisted stretching

Hidilyn: After training, I have to stay in the gym to do stretching to prevent injuries, but I don’t like stretching.
Papa Yats: Who likes stretching? No one. I hate stretching, mobility, but of course even I do it almost every day or I try to.
Hidilyn: I had injury before, last year that’s why. Lesson learned. After training I have to stretch and I have to do general preparation exercises


Niel: So to wrap it up, what advice would you give to your younger self?
Hidilyn: Dream big. Do it. Believe in yourself. The thing is, if you dream big, everything is possible. If you want it, you can get it.

Niel: That’s very encouraging. Do you plan on visiting the US again?
Hidilyn: Maybe yes.
Papa Yats: And you need to spend some time with my kids then. You’re going to miss my kids!
Hidilyn: Yes, of course.

Niel: Are there any specific plans for the future we can expect from you? Besides Rio.
Hidilyn: I don’t know yet. Maybe after Rio I’m planning to rest for a while. I want to be some place and I want to explore. I want to relax my mind because for how many years? For 13 years in weightlifting, I don’t even get five days of rest. Only during the holy week, I have only two days rest so I have to enjoy life. I want to see the world and how beautiful it is. Yes, then maybe do some charity work, teach weightlifting to kids.

Niel: Is there anything you would like to say to all your fans out there?
Papa Yats: She doesn’t even know she has fans, but I keep telling her she does.
Hidilyn: Thank you for the prayers, for the support, and for believing in me. Because of them I have the courage to train because sometimes they message me words of support like “You can do it.” I get encouraged by them. Thank you for that.

Post Interview

At this time, Papa Yats and I left to walk around the convention center as well as check out the late night sessions. On our way to the competition hall, we ran into IWF member Aveenash Pandoo (see the previous post), as well as other weightlifters who came to watch the championships, which provided us with additional opportunities to talk more about the sport. For me, this was great. I quickly learned to walk around as much as possible during the rest of my stay and interact with as many people as I could.

Thank you to Hidilyn and Papa Yats for taking the time to sit down with me for this interview. Hidilyn, I wish you much success in 2016 and Rio!

UPDATE: She placed 2nd and won the silver medal! Be sure to send her congratulations on an excellent performance! Her social media sites are linked down below.


If you enjoyed reading this interview and want to stay updated on Hidilyn's journey, you can follow her and Papa Yats on the following social media sites below.

Hidilyn Diaz

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Recap of the 2015 IWF World Championships


During Thanksgiving week this past November, I traveled out to Houston for this year's World Weightlifting Championships. It hasn't been in the United States since the eighties and I couldn't pass up on the chance to go. While I could only be there for three days, it was plenty of time time to take in everything.

This post is more of an interlude before the next one which also relates to the championships. That one will be an interview I had the opportunity of conducting while I was in Houston, but more on that next time.

Here I'm writing about my experience on the trip and that essentially amounts to a bunch of random thoughts. It ends with a compilation of the Instagram posts I did when I came back from Houston. What I won't be doing here is providing an analysis of the competition. That kind of commentary can be found on blogs, podcasts, and eventually Sportivny Press.

There were sessions at all different times of the day, but every session had great lifters to watch. Not only that, but there was always a crowd. For instance, one night on my way to the last session, a coach and his wife went to watch even though athletes from their country weren't in the session. In the competition hall you saw fans, athletes, and coaches watching all the lifters on the platform.

I sat on the far side of the hall. On my first day, I ended up with Enver Turkeleri sitting in front of me, an Azerbaijan coach next to me, Chinese men's head coach Chen Wenbin across the aisle, and the entire Russian and Ukraine team sitting in the rows behind me. It made for interesting observations during the men's 77kg A session. For example, I noticed many of the coaches paid more attention to the scoreboard than the actual lifts happening on the platform. Or when Su Ying missed a jerk, Chen Wenbin immediately demonstrated to the athlete with him the correct movement using only his hands. It was one quick motion and few words.

That moment didn't click in my mind until later that night. It was when Papayats had introduced me to weightlifting coach and IWF education and development commission member Aveenash Pandoo. He gave a lecture earlier that day and said that demonstrating corrections is visually processed faster by the cerebellum rather than explaining it to a person.

Let me say in all the time I've been reading, practicing, and been involved with lifting, that has been the first time I had ever heard that. Saying my mind was blown would be an understatement.

All in all, the atmosphere and venue were great. It also helps immensely if you speak a second language to converse with athletes and coaches. Seeing as how most didn't speak English, it limits the amount of people you can connect with. However if you were able to chat someone up, they were often very friendly.

Random Thoughts and Observations
  • While the men's sessions were interesting, I thought the women were more enjoyable to watch. The men had more missed attempts 
  • Every time a Russian lifter came out for their attempt, the entire Russian team began to clap. Unfortunately, they were always out of sync
  • The Iranian fans win gold for enthusiasm
  • Papayats and I were on the elevator with a Korean coach and his athlete and this very same situation happened:

    When Papayats greeted him, I pretty much stood there clueless
  • I missed the Indian weightlifters compete! I arrived after they had all competed, but I did get to chat with their 77kg weightlifter Sathish Sivalingam and team physiotherapist
  • I also ran into the Two Doctors and Gregor on an elevator ride and managed to get a good laugh out of them. Can't say the same thing for the elevator ride with Zygmunt, but that's because everyone on the elevator stood there quietly when he walked in
The most valuable lesson I came away with from this trip was that there are so many people who know so much more than me. They were some of the best people I had conversations with. Sadly, most people will probably never hear of them because they aren't some Instagram famous person.

Instagram Interviews

If you don't follow me on Instagram, I did quick on-the-spot interviews of athletes and coaches in Houston. It was anyone who would agree to four simple questions: which do they like more snatch or clean & jerk, favorite thing about weightlifting, least favorite thing about weightlifting, and advice they would give themselves.

It provided a bit more substance than just taking pictures, but I didn't plan any of these individuals. The people chosen were based on if I ran into them and they weren't busy. Some people I didn't want to rudely interrupt while others were usually heading somewhere and I didn't want to delay them.

Click on the the person's name to be taken to their full interview. Enjoy!

Dave Luk

A photo posted by Niel Patel (@niel.patel) on

A photo posted by Niel Patel (@niel.patel) on

George Kobaladze

A photo posted by Niel Patel (@niel.patel) on

Hani Kanama

A photo posted by Niel Patel (@niel.patel) on

Ruslan Zhabotinsky

A photo posted by Niel Patel (@niel.patel) on

Jared Fleming

A photo posted by Niel Patel (@niel.patel) on

Monday, August 17, 2015

Deceleration: Cheetahs, Sprinters, and Weightlifters

Credit hookgrip

When I was in college, one of the prerequisites for undergraduates was a writing course. Before each assignment, we read two passages from books then formed a thesis for our paper. The bulk of the paper was drawing upon our readings and finding the similarities between both works. This wasn't always easy and forced me to closely examine the stories.

While I never enjoyed writing - which is strange considering this site - it became a valuable skill in exercise. Coaching, programming, and exercise choices require a sharp eye for picking up the subtle details. That is the aim for this post where we'll take a look at sprinters, cheetahs, and Olympic weightlifters. They appear different from one another, but in fact they share similarities.

Sprinter [source]

Researchers at Southern Methodist University of Dallas analyzed the running mechanics and action of sprinters compared to a group of soccer, lacrosse, and football players. It was previously believed that running fell under the influence of a spring-mass model described as:
The spring-mass model assumes the legs work essentially like the compression spring of a pogo stick when in contact with the ground. In this theory, during running at a constant speed on level ground, the body falls down out of the air. Upon landing, the support leg acts like a pogo stick to catch the body and pop it back up in the air for the next step.
It's been generally assumed that this classic spring model applies to faster running speeds and faster athletes as well as to slower ones. Elite sprinters do not conform to widely accepted theories of running mechanics.
The article states that sprinters deliver a deliberate striking action to the ground versus the mixed athlete group.
"Our new studies show that these elite sprinters don't use their legs to just bounce off the ground as most other runners do," said human biomechanics expert and lead author on the studies Ken Clark, a researcher in the SMU Locomotor Performance Laboratory. "The top sprinters have developed a wind-up and delivery mechanism to augment impact forces. Other runners do not do so."
And I'll highlight this last excerpt.
We found that the fastest athletes all do the same thing to apply the greater forces needed to attain faster speeds," Weyand said. "They cock the knee high before driving the foot into the ground, while maintaining a stiff ankle. These actions elevate ground forces by stopping the lower leg abruptly upon impact." 
The new research indicates that the fastest runners decelerate their foot and ankle in just over two-hundredths of a second after initial contact with the ground.
Keep this information in mind as we review the next article.

Cheetah [source]

The cheetah is the fastest mammal on the planet and is known for its speed. Alan Wilson and his team from the University of London’s Royal Veterinary College discovered that the cheetah's speed is not its most important hunting trait.
Third, cheetahs can decelerate faster than they can accelerate, much as sports cars with powerful engines need beefed-up brakes. While both these processes require different sets of muscles and depend on different conditions, the rates of acceleration and deceleration beat those of any other land-dwelling animal. Based on the recorded data, Wilson calculates that the muscle power output of cheetahs is about four times that of Usain Bolt, three times that of polo horses, and nearly double that of greyhounds.

The top speed of a cheetah hunt had no correlation to the successful outcome of the hunt. Instead, Wilson found that success depended more on how fast the cheetah could slow down, rather than on how fast it could speed up. It is this last phase of a hunt that was critical for success, where the cheetah slows down. When these two observations are put together, Wilson thinks that it seems cheetahs don’t abandon hunts early to save energy or reduce risk of injury.

Finally, cheetahs are not built to be able to turn at their highest speed. In an artificial setting, which astronauts and fighter pilots are put into for training, the force felt by a cheetah trying to turn around at top speed could knock it unconscious. Instead they use their ability to slow down and their ridged footpads and claws to grip the ground well enough to turn quickly.
The cheetah's ability to slow down as well as its agility are key factors to hunting.

Let's pull all this together for training.

Olympic Weightlifter

Weightlifters and the classical lifts, snatch and clean & jerk, are often known for their power and speed. If you want to develop a fast athlete, you have them employ those movements or a derivative of them. Typically, there is an emphasis on accelerating in the second pull and having a forceful extension of the ankles, knees, and hips (triple extension).

This is where it all ties into one another. While a powerful extension is beneficial and desired, sometimes lifters and coaches overlook the next part - deceleration/force absorption. In weightlifting, this is also known as triple flexion and is the resulting action of triple extension. The weightlifter speeds under the bar and decelerates it in the receiving position.

Much like in the discussion above for the sprinter and cheetah, deceleration is critical. Similar to the actions of the former two, the pull under the bar is deliberate.

In the sport of weightlifting, the goal is to put up the highest numbers possible. Athletes accomplish that by lifting the bar to the lowest height possible and then pull their bodies under it to speed into the receiving position. This can only be done because of deceleration at the end of the movement. They absorb the impact.

If the body did not slow down, their would be incredible wear and tear to the joints. And to an extent, this is true for a lifter who is lifting more than they are capable of handling.


If deceleration is important, how is it trained?

For the beginner, squatting consistently with good eccentric (lowering) control is first and foremost.

Intermediate weightlifters can incorporate snatch balances into their programs.

Non-weightlifter can use various jumps such as broad jumps, vertical jumps, box jumps, and depth drops. Emphasis should be placed on perfect landings for the most benefit as well as not overdoing it on the advanced movements like the depth drop.

For weighted movements, the Triple Extension-Flexion article provides two exercises - jump squats and trap bar jumps. Low rep sets with light-to-moderate weight is enough to provide the necessary training stimulus.

As you can see, three seemingly unrelated areas have something in common. Remember that deceleration/force absorption is important and is an active and deliberate action that should be trained.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The FuBarbell + The Training Geek Seminar with Diane Fu and Lester Ho

A day of learning and lifting

After attending the Ma Strength seminar in December 2014, I didn't plan on attending another seminar for a while. However, when the "FuBarbell + The Training Geek Tour" popped up on my Facebook feed, I couldn't pass on the chance to attend - the session was going to be held awfully close to my neighborhood at Brazen Athletics in Fairfield, NJ.

The session was held on a Saturday from 9 AM to 5 PM. The hosts were:
Diane Fu
- Owner of FuBarbell
- Extensive work with Kelly Starrett
- Weightlifting coach for Team NorCal
- Mentored by Wu Chuanfu, coach of Singapore's national weightlifting team

Lester Ho
- Co-Owner Southeast Strength
- PhD candidate, three dimensional kinematics of the snatch
- Mentored by Robert Kabbas, silver medalist at 1984 Olympics
The day before the seminar, I received an email with the course manual. It was a pleasant and appreciated surprise that allowed me to review the material beforehand. The manual gave me an idea of the day's schedule and what to expect.

The seminar had 15 attendees in total with the group comprised mostly of coaches.

Diane began with an introduction of her template which is geared toward improving the athleticism of a specific type of individual - the modern athlete. The modern athlete is usually a person who has little-to-no exercise experience and has a sedentary lifestyle as a student or office worker with limited time to exercise. They tend to pick up weightlifting in their 20's or 30's and are very new to it.

In order of most important to least important, the template prioritizes:
  • Position - A combination of mobility, proprioception, and strength in certain positions/postures
  • Movement - The flow and  rhythm of the full movement and consistent rep quality
  • Speed - Position and movement are prerequisites to speed. Speed will be detrimental to reps if the other two qualities are not developed
  • Load - Weight is the least prioritized aspect. Skill is required first and an individual will lift whatever they are capable of with the correct technique
Lester then began to speak on the biomechanics and physics of weightlifting and covered the laws of motion and the center of mass. This lead to the next segment on levers and varying body types using the toolbox method.

Participants paired up and used their phones to take a picture of each other in the position shown above while lying on our back. Using that image, two boxes - using an app or a computer program like paint - are drawn on to the upper and lower body. This gives an understanding of the lever relationship between the torso, femurs, and lower legs. Depending on a person's leverages, they will have one of three body types, which are:
(1) A long torso with short femurs (ideal for weightlifting)
(2) Long Femurs compared to their torso (more use of legs)
(3) Equal length torso with their femurs (strong upper body)
These characteristics affect a person's positions. For instance, a weightlifter with long femurs will take a wider stance with their feet somewhat externally rotated and catch the bar with an inclined torso in the snatch. A longer torso individual will be able to set up comfortably in a narrow stance and receive the bar with a more upright torso.

They noted levers add another layer of information and give insight, but a coach shouldn't rely only on levers when examining a lifter.

Assessment and Mobility

With the fundamentals explained, we proceeded to the movement portion and started with assessment testing.

The first assessment was simply to crawl on our hands and feet. This is what I consider a true bear crawl - trunk parallel to the ground with the hips at or slightly below the height of the shoulders.

Notice the controlled limb movement
Opposite hand and foot move together

I'm familiar with the crawl and use it in a warm-up or part of the training session. However, I've never thought to use it as an assessment, but it makes sense. The crawl allows you to see pelvic control, core strength, and coordination. Some of the participants found it a bit challenging.

The second test was a narrow stance squat with the hands clasped together overhead called the Charlie's Angel Squat. It's a very simple movement that reveals mobility restrictions in the lower body and shoulder extension along with feeling the quadriceps (more on this below).

Those two movements illustrated how well one's body can move. Understanding how we did on those drills, we went into mobility of the upper body, hips, and ankles.

The upper body stretch we did was a hang from a pull-up bar and our partner pushed on us right below the scapulae. Over the course of three sets, we worked towards a more narrow grip. This stretched all of the anterior pressing muscles really well. Combined this with the fact a bar hang also stretches the lats, there was significant improvement in shoulder extension.

Jump to the 1:20 mark to see a 
similar take on the stretch we did

The next focus was on the hips and ankles by using band distractions. With a band anchored on the rack, you take the other end and put it around your hip or ankle. With the band on, work through various angles - lunge, split, squat, and then repeat on the other side. Almost everyone saw improvements in their positions. The drills were good, but if anyone had an injury they were advised to not do them.


Now that we were all warmed up, we began the actual lifts. They used a top-down approach to break down the pull. It progressed as,

Extension > Power/Hip > Knee > Start

After hitting each point, we reversed the movement and initiated the pull. Combining it together, we did a snatch pull, power snatch, and then finally a full snatch.

From the start position, we were told to go straight up as if we were trying to draw a straight line from a pencil sticking out of our ear. Visually, a PVC can be held adjacent to the lifter. Keeping the ear in line to the PVC will force the lifter to pull straight up. If the lifter still needs further feedback, Diane demonstrated by having her hand on the upper back and told Lester to press her hand upwards. This achieves the correct pulling action.

I really enjoyed their cues. They provided excellent cues to understand how it should feel. I particularly liked the emphasis on feeling the quadriceps contract in the start position and in extension. In the start position, "feel your heels float" gave the right idea of how far you should start over the bar - the weight is shifted forward just enough to have your heels stay lightly on the ground. If done correctly, the quadriceps muscles can be felt.

Extension was cued in a similar fashion. There was no forceful plantar flexion, but instead were told to extend upwards and feel the quadriceps. Done correctly, the heels again "float" as opposed to doing a calf raise.

We were now given 30 minutes of open lifting to snatch on our own. We were allowed to go as heavy as we chose under the condition we maintain good technique. As we lifted, Diane and Lester went around observing and coaching everyone.

I did some light muscle and power snatches and took this as an opportunity to take photos (which can be found at the end). At this point, we were about halfway through the day and we broke for a one hour lunch. I stuck around and took more photos of Diane and Lester lifting. This surprised me a bit because they taught for 3-4 hours, lifted during lunch, and then taught for another 3-4 hours. That is awfully tiring, but kudos to them for being able to do it!

Clean & Jerk

Once everyone got back, we briefly went over the clean and spent more time on the jerk. For the clean, we went through the same progression as the snatch. Everything discussed on the snatch applied to the clean. The only change was the grip width and the bar being racked on the shoulders.

They stressed to set the lats in the rack position by not having too much space between your armpits. If the elbows are too high where the humeri are parallel to the ground, the lats are unable to support the weight. Once the bar was correctly racked, we did a complex that consisted of a push press, push jerk, and split jerk. The goal was to first achieve proper depth on the dip and then complete extension. Most trainees will cut the two movements short which results in a shallow dip and splitting too early for the jerk. To ingrain proper dip depth, including dip holds into your training will cement the new change.

Just like the snatch, we were given 30 minutes free lifting time for the clean and jerk. In the previous seminar, I was instructed by Liao Hui for the rack position - have elevated shoulders and make a big chest. This actually strained my shoulders and caused them to cramp. Lester said set the lats instead. I found it much more comfortable.

Closing Discussion

After lifting, we had the opportunity to ask questions. Questions were asked throughout the day, but I don't recall any questions during this specific Q&A. Diane and Lester spoke about how they taper and deload - including how they are different from one another - plus how a trainee should set their annual training if they compete minimally or not at all.

The final discussion was on programming. They program in 3-4 week blocks. Diane recommended for those who only do WOD's to include strength training sessions that incorporates trunk work (core and lower back). They both agreed pulls are underrated and very beneficial. Pulls done correctly really employ the legs. If feeling the quadriceps is hard to understand, then they recommended narrow stance squats.


It appears Crossfit certifications teach sitting back in the start position of the snatch and clean with an emphasis on hip extension. I am not 100% sure - because I've never taken a Crossfit certification - but this is what I took away from the seminar.


The seminar was solid. The only adjustment I would consider is adding a segment on programming prior to lifting. It felt somewhat brief and lumped together with the Q&A and end. It can be expanded on with an overview of a sample training week along with how to set up the main movements plus accessory work to improve technique.

This next point is not exclusive to this seminar and something I've seen in every seminar I attend. While questions were asked throughout the day, when it comes to Q&A at the end of a seminar, participants hardly ask questions. For whatever reason, that's the way it is. I'd recommend any seminar presenter(s) to instead try and anticipate questions or ask themselves "Can I/we elaborate on this here?" because people will rarely put forth the good questions. I had to do this in college for research papers and I've found it helpful. It's not a foolproof method, but it might encourage more dialogue from the guests.

Material aside, sitting on a wooden box is surprisingly extremely uncomfortable. I would have gladly enjoyed being able to sit in a chair. Call it nitpicking, but it's hard to pay attention when your glutes hurt.

Suggestions for Trainees

If a trainee engages in only WOD's, devote time to training you typically wouldn't do, such as bodybuilding work. Try to feel the muscle for each rep, do isolation work for smaller muscles, go slow, do high reps, and don't worry about the load.

Need to get use to the new start position and staying over the bar? Apply the same concept from the jerk dip hold to the the start position, Hold it for time and get accustomed to how the start position should feel. Stay in the start position for 10, 20, or 30 seconds and then do the snatch or clean. You become familiar with the set up and can use a light load for the lifts.

Final Thoughts

Weightlifting is simple. You take a heavy barbell and you put it over your head. Learning how to do it efficiently is difficult, but teaching someone else how to do it is much harder. Describing how weightlifting should feel to an individual is not easy and can be tough to grasp.

Diane and Lester did a terrific job at conveying that feeling without making it overly complex. This is what I walked away with and it enhanced my coaching skill set. Both of their extensive backgrounds and experience combined into an enjoyable seminar.

If you're lucky, they will do the tour again in 2016.

You can view photos I took from the seminar here.

FuBarbell Sites
The Training Geek Sites

Further Reading,

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Barbell Alternatives to the Back Squat

Squats are a staple among weightlifters

The back squat is a fundamental exercise. However, not everyone can perform it. There are a number of reasons that can prevent a person from back squatting, such as:
  • It's awkward to do
  • No access to a squat rack 
  • They suffer pain in the upper body such as the low back (lumbar spine) or shoulders
As much as I like the exercise, it's not completely necessary. There are many productive variations of the squat. The back squat in particular is effective because it can be done heavy. The same can't be said for squats that don't use a barbell as they get no where near the weight of a back squat. The front squat can be interchanged with the back squat, but front squat progress can be limited by mobility issues. If mobility is adequate, but there's no squat rack, then cleaning it is out of the question. The weight used in a clean will be lower than the actual weight that can be used in a front squat.

Fortunately, there are variations that can be substituted into training. While single leg exercises and dumbbells or kettlebells can be used, they serve better as accessory work and to build volume. I don't believe they can replace the barbell and vice versa. In the appropriate context, each has their own benefits.

The primary exercises discussed here are suitable to build a strong set of legs. Best of all, a rack isn't needed, there are less compression forces on the spine, and they are fun variations to incorporate - especially when training feels stagnant.

Lastly, I'd suggest new weightlifters wait until trying these exercises - have at least one year's worth of training experience. They would see better progress by developing a strength base and proprioception through employing other squat and deadlift variations along with single leg exercises.

Jefferson Lift

The Jefferson is an odd looking lift. It's not quite a deadlift and it's not quite a squat. It's somewhat like a trap bar deadlift-squat combo, but it's still unique in its own way. And contrary to how it may appear, it's not an asymmetrical movement either - weight distribution is even throughout both legs.

I like it because I've found it's great for driving rotation in the thoracic spine (upper back) and it doesn't require as much mobility as the hack squat - which will be discussed last. With the weight directly underneath the body, reps feel balanced and there isn't a huge stress on lumbar spine. The Jefferson lift is a great option for those who don't have access to a trap bar. Also be warned, if you have short arms this exercise will become much more difficult and will require you to squat down lower and there will be trouble at lock out.
Zercher Squat

The Zercher squat is often criticized for the bar placement on the biceps' tendons. Although it isn't necessary, this is where having a specialty bar or wrapping a towel around the bar helps. I've found knowing how to settle the bar in your arms makes a difference.

Essentially, keep your arms extended when setting up then ensure the bar is fully placed in the elbow crooks so it doesn't move and rub your skin.  When the bar's racked in the arms, it's important the upper arms (humeri) are held close against the torso - think of pinning the elbows against the ribs - and the forearms are kept up. This shifts the weight to the trunk instead of having the arms bear the brunt of the weight.

If there's one exercise that teaches you to brace your core, the Zercher squat is it. The bar's location causes the entire trunk and back to brace during the set. And if you don't have access to atlas stones, this also doubles as a poor substitute for stone lifting.
Hack Squat

Mention the hack squat and more often than not, the hack squat machine is what most people think of. There is another exercise known as the barbell hack squat. Its low position requires a little more mobility than the previous two lifts discussed and has some semblance to a Olympic lift start position.

The hack squat is excellent for quadriceps development, especially for the vastus medialis. What I've found best about the hack squat is that there is less stress on the hips in the eccentric portion of the lift. Instead, the focus is extension in the knees and hips. If your hips are beat up from deadlifts and squats, the hack squat serves as a great movement to cycle into a training block and use as a semi-deload from the main lifts.

If you decide to try the hack squat, I advise you to thoroughly warm-up your knees. The hack squat spares the hips, but it can be rough on the knees. Just add a few minutes of cycling and mid-to-high rep bodyweight squats (10-20) to your warm-up and it should do the trick. Similar to the Jefferson lift, short arm lifters will encounter the same problems in the start position and lock out.
If I could have it my way, everyone would be able to do back or front squats. Unfortunately, that's not realistic. However during the year, it is practical to implement these other barbell movements and program them into training blocks. They offer a new stimulus to the body that will elicit progress and will still maintain relevance to the squat and deadlift. Not only that, but they will have carry over and translate well when you return to the main lifts.

Whether you are able to squat or not, be sure to incorporate these movements into your training and improve your leg strength.

Further Discussion,
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