Friday, August 20, 2010


Boris posted this today:

I saw this on TV back in 2008. He cleaned & jerked 10kg (22 lbs.) over his personal best. It's definitely impressive. However, it was after he won I learned how his wife passed away a few years prior.

He was lifting for her and I thought it was beautiful. Likewise, the Russian lifter he was competing against looked like a tank and I didn't think Steiner would win.

Every now and then I hear or read someone lifting who uses aggression, anger, and basically rage to lift heavy.

Me? I believe you should be focused, but not filled with anger to push yourself.

Rage is hot tempered, irrational, and violent. And in a sense to achieve this mindset, you need to hate to a certain degree. After all, what else fuels aggression?

Is that how you want to be? Have hate and anger as your motivating force?

Passion for an activity should be driven by positive means. Steiner competed with the love for his wife. Love is nurturing unlike aggression.

What drives you should have a positive meaning.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

10 Performance Training Tips

But not from me today. I found this great piece to share since I won't get a chance to write any new material today or Friday. (and Monday's post took a lot of time to write so this is an official cop out)

Carmen Bott's blog posts are always gems and this latest one is no exception. Her 10 tips should be the essentials of anyone's fitness lifestyle and I couldn't agree with them more - although I don't use chalk regularly, if ever.

I've copied & pasted the post below, but you can check out the original here.


Coach Bott’s 10 Performance Training Tips
"1. Your attitude and character will determine everything. Be authentic, and have integrity. Do what you say you are going to do and do it with purpose and conviction. I have trained enough high profile athletes and CEO’s to know they have those traits in common. Expect nothing less than excellence from yourself and enter each training session with a goal to achieve.

2. Your warm-up / movement prep for your strength sessions should take approximately 25 minutes if done thoroughly.

Your warm-up order should be as follows:
a. Raise core body temperature without stressing the joints (ie: 20 pike arches) = 3 min
b. Foam Roller for myofascial release = 6-8 min
c. Follow joint mobility drills for hips, groin and T-spine = 5 min
d. Include static stretched at this point if you have tight spots = 5 min
e. Follow dynamic warm-up with increasing velocity and muscle activation drills = 5 min

3. Always treat each rep as if it were an entity in itself – DO NOT be in a rhythm like a step-aerobics instructor. Instead – use “breath”, “brace” and “drive” as your 3 keys to explosive strength. Initiate reps with purpose and precision. Even if some lifts are grind lifts and some are more plyometric in nature. Always set the body to execute a perfect ’shot’ like a basketball player would at the free throw line. Repping out sloppy lunges are for the weak.

4. Block out distraction and welcome a tranquil mind. Good lifters and those who can execute complex skills are beyond focused; they are also incredibly patient. Do not let your mind wander during a rep – be in the moment and pay attention to your body.

5. Do not train to failure, do plyometrics under fatigue or speed work for high reps. This is the North American flaw I see in S&C coaching. Strength is a skill and needs constant tinkering and refinement, not crappy reps with poor form and severe fatigue. Power and speed require split second deliverance of energy. We can only do this by resting long (10-15x the work length) between sets and doing very little volume – speed work is NOT conditioning work and vice versa and no, you cannot train the two together in their infinite forms.

6. Load and unload the body over 3 week mesocycles. This is basic human physiology and the science behind adaptation. The human organism can handle 3 weeks of abuse and then it needs a week to unload. The Russians have proven this time and time again that this is the best loading/unloading scheme in terms of timing. So, go up for three, down for one.

7. Let pain be your guide. Please do not succumb to the adage – “No pain, no gain’ If it hurts, please do not do it. You are given only one body in this lifetime and we must cherish it.

8. Fuel yourself with nutrient-dense foods. Avoid white food – white rice, white flour, white sugar etc. All of this is garbage and garbage in = garbage out. Aim for protein with every meal, vary your veggies, eat only whole grains (quinoa, spelt, oats, wild rice) and get your liquids from water and herbal teas.

9. Focus on the process. This means to focus on the execution of the task/exercise etc, versus the result of it. It has been proven time and time again that those who focus on the process get better results and achieve their goals more consistently than those who are focused on the outcome or result.

10. Use chalk. Your grip takes approx 8 times to recover from a lift as compared to the rest of your body. You can improve your grip very simply by using chalk to train with. Yes, it is messy and yes it will get on your clothes, but for an extra 20 lbs on that deadlift, or 2 more pull-ups on that set – it is well worth it!

Happy training!"

Monday, August 9, 2010

Troubleshooting the Squat

Either she's doing a front squat
or she just cleaned the weight.

Mimi commented on Friday's post asking,
"That girl's squat was hardcore. Any tips for getting that low? It's embarassing, but I have to fight to just get parallel, even with a lighter weight."
Originally, I thought what could be the issue. The more I thought about it the more I realized the amount of factors that have to be taken into account. I'm better at an in-person evaluation due to the fact I can examine a few reps, change variable X, see a few more reps, and repeat until there's marked improvement.

What I'm going to resort to is what my History professor called the shotgun technique. It's where all of us wrote as much information - or anything we remembered from the class - for our exams in hopes of getting
something right. Hence the name "shotgun."

We'll be focusing on the low bar positioned back squat in 2 respects: set-up & execution followed by troubleshooting problem-causing areas.

Set-up & execution

A bad set-up can hinder performance and the ability to produce solid reps. I'll be brief with this since there are quite a number of articles on the subject.

First and foremost before you even get under the bar, you need to tighten your entire upper back. This means pulling your scapulae - shoulder blades - together
hard. This can be done by moving your arms back and bringing in your elbows close to your torso & glutes.

The end pose will have your chest sticking out, elbows pointed down to the floor, hands near shoulders, and your forearms curled in from the sides towards your armpits*. How close your hands get to your shoulders will depend on how good your shoulder mobility is. For this reason, it's advantageous to incorporate scapular wall slides in your dynamic warm-up.

Another good example here. Notice
how he's pulling his elbows in and down.

The end result is a "shelf" created by your trap muscles for the bar to rest on, indicated by the red line:

This image is used to describe the bench press, but you get the idea.
The elbows should be closer to the waist if this were a back squat.

With upper body tightened up, you're ready to get under the bar. Fit the bar to rest on your trapezius shelf and lift it upright. Now what?

With a stance roughly shoulder-width and toes slightly flared outwards, you're ready to squat. I always say break or hinge at the hips, but apparently no one knows what I mean by that. So think of it like this. Imagine someone with a disgustingly gross hand comes-a-reaching at your crotch and you want to avoid it - and for the sake of this cue you can't move side-to-side smart asses.

Squatting straight down a bit or bending at the low back doesn't really move your pelvis away from the creeper. However, pushing your hips backwards does. This is what I mean by "breaking" at the hips.

After you initiate the movement, squat as low as comfortably possible. If your lower back begins to round or you feel pain then that's where you stop. When you descend (the eccentric portion), don't simply drop down, but instead have control and keep muscular tension. The speed itself doesn't necessarily have to be slow or explosive. Rather, just work hard on moving the weight as efficiently as possible.

To squat back up, push through the back of your feet and lock your hips out by squeezing your glutes hard (example here, notice how his butt isn't protruding after each rep). Also "push" your legs outwards to the side. This keeps your legs from caving in on each other.

The last thing I'll mention is where you should think about pushing through your feet. I tend to say the back and outsides of the foot. The back because you won't end up on your toes and rounding your lower back. The outsides to effectively push your legs out to the sides. To be more specific, here:

Blue indicates where to focus driving through your feet.
And my paint skills ain't no joke.

Alright maybe that wasn't a brief description, but it definitely was thorough. That about covers the basics so let's move on to the second half.


There can be a couple of issues preventing you from getting a deep squat. I'll go through them one-by-one in order of easiest to try out. Try each with either your own bodyweight, an empty barbell, or some light weight on the bar.
  • What's your footwear like? You tend to want a flat shoe to be able to lift on an even surface. Running shoes are the least ideal. They're very soft and cushioned making it feel like you're pushing your feet into a mattress. It fights your push back.
  • Solution: Either squat barefoot or go for the cheapest gym-friendly alternative to purchase - a pair of low top Converse. Last I recall they run around $40. There are cheaper shoes, but I doubt your gym would allow them. (ballet slippers & cotton martial arts slippers)
Ankle mobility
  • Grab either two 5, 2.5, or 1.25 lb. plates. 2.5 is right in the middle so if that's available grab those first, but if not the 5's will suffice. Set-up like you normally would squat, but this time put each heel on top of one the plates. Now squat.
  • Has your depth improved? If so, your ankle mobility is restricting your squat.
  • Solution: Rocking ankle mobilizations - 1 set of 4-6 reps for a full one-thousandth count (he goes for 2 in the video) to start with if your ankle mobility is poor. When you become more proficient you can do 2 sets or 8 reps. After that, it's best to move on to a more challenging drill. You can continue to squat using plates as your mobility improves. Choose smaller plates every 4 weeks until you can squat without them.

Drill A is the one I referred to.
Hey look at that, Converse!

Hip flexors
  • Christine already recommended stretching the hip flexors. Sitting for long periods leaves them in a flexed position and as a result they become tight. We want to lengthen them to allow ourselves to stay as upright as possible during the squat. Their tightness contributes to use of lumbar spine throughout the movement.
  • Solution: Lunge stretch - Simply go into a long stride lunge and with the side of the leading leg, push your pelvic bone forward while squeezing the glute of that side and hold for 15s. Repeat for the other side.

You can simply hold the position for 15s per side instead of multiple reps.
Hey check it out, Converse again!

Hip Mobility
  • Poor hip mobility in the bottom position of the squat is another problem. If your body's not able to go that far down it can be practiced outside of squatting.
  • Solution: Kneeling rockbacks - Keep your torso parallel to the ground and use your arms to push back as far as possible. Don't let your lower back round and don't aggressively force the stretch more than you should.
Lance demonstrating the starting position.

Core Strength
  • If your abs aren't strong enough then you'll lose rigidity in your torso and lean forward.
  • Solution: The planks progression I outlined here is a great start.
And that folks is me shotgunning the squat. Hope that helps Mimi.

In the words of Boris Bachmann, good squatting!

Further reads & resources:
*If you flail your hands around you look like a retarded T-rex.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Fresh New Moves

Certainly not the push-up I had in mind.
...Or was it?

Today we combine all of them into "bang for your buck" movements and in doing so, we'll get a whole lot of things accomplished at once.

It's no doubt that the push-up is a great exercise. The problem becomes that the standard version becomes to easy once proficient at it. However, how many of us can do a 1-handed push-up? It's tough, but the top position before lowering isn't. And that's what we'll be using to our advantage.

The purpose of the dynamic warm-up is to lengthen muscles that are in a flexed position more than they should be (like hip flexors), activating muscles used infrequently (glutes, certain trap muscles, serratus anterior for instance), and is very specific to mimicking motions in the proceeding training session. A key point to making sure the dynamic warm-up is effective is to increase the difficulty of the movements. Instead of a glute bridge, you might elevate your shoulders* or add light resistance to make it more difficult (Bret Contreras answered my question here). After all, you've most likely become stronger and accustomed to whatever you were doing the past 1-2 months.

What we're going to do is make the push-up more challenging and incorporate it into the warm-up. First behold, the bird dog from a push-up position!

I believe that's Kris Aiken.

I came across this a while ago over at Precision Nutrition's exercise library. I gave it a shot at first sight, but bombed doing it. On the bright side, this forced me to work with regressions (aka easier variations).

Something else I noticed was that I could translate other exercises into this push-up position. And thus, a semi-original idea was born on the blog!

Now, which exercises can you do from this position? 2 thoracic spine mobility drills and a few glute activation ones. I would have made video demonstrations, but the life of lifting alone doesn't help this blog. So of course I'm opting for youtube. Let's begin with t-spine work:

Work it Mr. KevLar.

Straightforward, but I'll elaborate just in case. To perform from the ground push-up, both are done similarly with the free hand or elbow going behind the supporting arm's elbow. The latter is almost like a T push-up, but less opening/rotation of the hips.

For the glutes I'll refer to this,

What qualifies from the video/can be done from a push-up:
  • Donkey kicks
  • Donkey whips (but less range of motion compared to what's shown)
  • Fire hydrants
  • Knee circles
  • Bird dog mentioned earlier
While holding the push-up, your posture should be:
- Chin tucked in & not protruding forward.
  • To prevent hyper-extension of the neck.
- Scapulae/shoulder blades protracted by pushing your hands into the ground thus separating them apart.
  • To activate serratus anterior.
- Glutes and knees squeezed & locked out to prevent hips rising or sagging
  • To activate the glutes, avoid movement in lumber spine (as opposed to what's shown in the videos)* and brace the core by expansion.
The problem is you may be lacking the strength to hold this posture while executing whichever movement you choose. The plan is twofold to tackle that problem . First, I'll share the plank progressions scheme I used to become strong enough to tame this beast.
Plank variations
1) Floor plank
2) BOSU ball
3) Swiss Ball
4) 1-arm floor plank
5) 1-arm BOSU ball plank
6) RKC plank (scroll down to "Surprises")
7) Repeat from step 1 with RKC plank

- Within each variation: Perform with feet on floor, then elevate feet once with stackable platforms or a 45 lb. plate, finally elevate feet a 2nd time before moving on to the next level.
  • For example, the floor plank should have been performed with your feet on the floor, elevated once, then elevated again before progressing to the BOSU ball plank.
- Perform sets of 30 seconds.
I outlined a thorough plan to bring up ab strength, but I personally was strong enough after step #6 so you may not need to move on to #7 - although it would give you a pretty strong core.

Second, to make yourself comfortable with performing the movements you can do them against an incline such as stairs or the safeties in a squat rack. Every 3-4 weeks, you can lower yourself and once you know it you'll be able to perform them from the floor.

That about sums it up. I recommend making use of these moves since I haven't found the slightest mention of them anywhere else.


Take it easy. Falling flat on your face hurts.

Trust me.

*I asked Bret for some feedback and he said the shoulders, not the feet, elevated increases glute activation as well as pointing out the excessive lumber spine movement.
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