Olympic Lifts for Sports Performance - The Ultimate Tool for Power

I've always been a proponent of utilizing the Olympic lifts for Sports Performance, ever since the first day I was given my first team to train back as a graduate strength and conditioning coach. Before I even dug deep into the science behind the Olympic Lifts for traditional athletes, I inherently knew that there was something about the Snatch and the Clean that made every athlete perform better. When I was a graduate strength coach at Ball State University, I used them for my softball players, track athletes, and even cross country athletes as well. In athletic performance, the ability to produce as much power with minimal energy loss is critical to boosting success. Whether it's from a softball player creating energy from their legs into a swing or pitch, a thrower driving a discus, or a every stride a distance runner takes; if you can eek out a little more power, technique being equal across the board, then you have the advantage. This is the primary goal of the Strength part of Strength and Conditioning.

However, despite the growing knowledge of the Olympic lifts, and popularity of the sport, utilization of the Snatch and Clean are still minimalistic in nature for many strength and conditioning coaches, particularly in the University or Professional setting. The former is mostly due to colleges valuing their athletes and sports coaches more so than the strength and conditioning staff, and any unseemly movements may be reported to administration, putting the coaches on the chopping block, despite repeat cases of athletes getting injured without the use of Olympic lifts (see University of Oregon football rhabdo case, University of Iowa Football Rhabdo Case, Ohio State Women's Lacrosse rhabdo case, South Carolina swimming rhabdo case....you get the picture). 

I don't have much experience with the professional sports level of Strength and Conditioning, but from what I understand with some contacts, it's a mix of athletes being so powerful, financially wise, that sometimes they don't even bother with workouts, or, that Strength and Conditioning Staff believe that the athletes are "strong enough" and don't benefit from any more resistance training that focuses on increasing strength and power, focusing more on muscular balance, and plyometrics for power production. This is also a trend that is growing in the University level, even though some athletes at the best athletic universities in the country pale in comparison to some recreational CrossFit participants in terms of performance in literally anything outside of their sport's domain.

Don't believe me? Go to your nearest D1, top tier university, volunteer in the weight room for a week, and watch running athletes learn how to jump and land, or watch swimmers try to learn how to squat. My personal favorite is trying to watch football players try yoga.

Now let's be clear, this isn't about bashing or criticizing the University or Professional Strength Coach, they have hard jobs to do, with usually being under the microscope by administrators the whole time and are usually cannon fodder when an athlete gets hurt. This is about finding a way to not only help them, but help athletes as a whole, from the youngest to the veteran professional, become better at their craft, and help those strength coaches get better paychecks. Well...one goal at a time.

So why am I such a big proponent of the Olympic Lifts for every athlete that can perform them?


The Literature

It's well established that if you want to produce more power you need two things: Strength (the ability to move a load) and Speed (the ability to move relatively faster than something else). Power, in the athletic sense, is the ability to move a load at a certain velocity; If you can move 100lbs at 20m/s you have X power. If you have 100lbs and you move it at 40m/s you have double the power. Conversely, if you move 200lbs at 20m/s, you have double the power compared to the same velocity at a lighter load. While it would be amazing to have an athlete be able to do squat jumps at the speed of light, it's most likely never going to happen. So the only way to practically increase power in an athlete is to increase their strength, and increase their ability to move sub-maximal and maximal loads at faster velocities.

There are numerous studies showing that by doing plyometrics, such as box jumps, hurdle jumps, and other explosive bodyweight movements, can increase the speed of an athlete under their own bodyweight, and increase their overall power. Similarly, there are plenty of studies that show that by training under sub-maximal loads, an athlete can get physically stronger while still maintaining contractile speed of muscle groups, and increase overall power. Further more, combining these two methods, plyometrics and resistance training at appropriate loads, can increase overall power output at greater levels than either modality on their own. To summarize, training explosiveness at the bodyweight level, while training strength at appropriate loads, will make you more powerful than the next athlete doing box jumps and unilateral muscle balance work all day long.

So where do the Olympic Lifts come in with power production? While it would be awesome to have every football player at the university level cleaning 400+lbs like Penn State's Saquon Barkley, it's not realistic for a number of reasons that we won't get into.  I believe that every Athlete should lift like a National or International Weightlifter, in terms of technique, they shouldn't train in the lifts like a National or International Weightlifter. Primarily due to the fact that the referees on the turf don't care if you can clean 400lbs, you still didn't get the ball into the end zone. 

Recent studies indicate that, at worst, utilizing the Olympic Lifts will produce similar increases in power as traditional Powerlifting movements (Squat and Deadlifts), but the majority of the research is showing that the Olympic Lifts increase overall power output greater than the squat or deadlift. To be clear though, most of these studies are looking at Power Output during the movement, rather than a set standard movement that participants in both groups can perform, like a vertical jump test, however there are a few that practice this method and Olympic Lifting seems to produce more power over Powerlifting movements.


Intermediary Loads

As mentioned previously, it would be amazing to have traditional sports athletes lifting loads that would put them on the podium at USAW Nationals, but you're not likely to see that, even if they are capable of doing so. For the purpose of Sports Performance, the Olympic Lifts should not be trained to maximal effort regularly, just like any strength coach worth their salt wouldn't max out on squats or deadlifts regularly. Seeing increases in the Olympic Lifts during testing phases is a great objective measure to show your bosses that you're doing your job, but don't get caught up in PR's all the time just to prove a point.

Proper training of the Olympic lifts, just like with strength movements, should be focusing on loads that are increasing overall power output of the athlete. For a lot of strength coaches, this is problematic as you might not have a 1RM in the snatch or clean to gauge this off of, but the solution is simple. Just progressively overload the athlete in the Snatch and Clean until you find a feasible 1RM without maximal testing, and go off of there for the time being. When I was coaching track and field athletes at the university level, I only tested the athletes in the Olympic Lifts at the end of the school year, mostly because I needed to get them stronger and couldn't waste a day testing the Snatch and Clean when we already spent a week testing everything else, and also because they weren't moving in a proper manner with the lifts yet, so any 1RM would be moot in a few weeks' time. 

Finding decent working loads with the Lifts is a great way to bridge between plyometric work and strength work. If you're pressed on time, like most professional strength coaches are, the Olympic lifts are a great way to cut down on warm up time for strength movements like the Squat and Deadlift, while also gaining vital explosive training under loads. If you only have 60 minutes 3x per week to train an athlete, you want to cut down on warm up sets as much as possible to get as much work done. Olympic Lifts easily get the body ready for moving loads, and can prepare the athlete to make quicker, yet proper, warm up jumps during their strength movements.


Movement Patterns

Following along the lines of warmups, the Olympic Lifts improve another aspect of Athletic Performance that often takes up much of the training time in weight room: movement patterns. While it is very, very simplistic to say that things like the Snatch, Clean, and Squat mimic movement patterns through a biomechanic lens, there is some truth to that. Whether it's the stride in a runner, exploding off the line for a football player, or turning off the wall for a swimmer; lower body mechanics have similar properties between sports, and benefit equally through strength training movements that mimic them. Explosive lower body movements benefit the most through Plyometrics, Olympic Lifting, and Squatting.

The Olympic Lifts may be the best way of improving power, while improving human movement. The Olympic Lifts require a higher level of athleticism to execute compared to jumping drills, and even higher level compared to squatting and pulling motions. The ability to take an object, lift it in the air, and then immediately change direction, receive the weight, and then stand it up, combines numerous aspects of physicality that Plyometrics and Strength movements lack. Think about how fast beginners progress compared to advanced lifters, this is mostly through coordination of movement and muscle recruitment, and less about pure strength gains. The ability to learn how to move effectively leads to significant gains in strength and power for the exercise being used, but there is some crossover into functional strength as well. 

By learning how to to move better under a load, Athletes become stronger. By maintaining those proper movement patterns, Athletes can continue to get stronger as the program evolves. Similar to the warmup concept, learning how to move with the Olympic lifts improves one's ability to move with other movements as well. In some of the aforementioned studies, there are some that note that improvements in jumping and strength skills is also in part to the practice of said skills, and that by practicing these movements, they improved in post training tests for the groups that individuals were in, as well as improving overall power output. Simply put, by practicing moving better, the subjects became better at the movement they were selected to participate in, as well as overall performance of the study. Consider what being able to move a barbell like a top level weightlifter might do in junction with plyometrics and strength movements.


Take Away

While I am saying that the Olympic Lifts are a major key to improving Sports Performance, I am not saying that they are the end all be all. If you are improving your Athletes without the use of the Olympic Lifts, then by all means, you are doing your job as a Strength and Conditioning Coach. However, if you're not utilizing the Olympic Lifts in your training plan, I believe you're missing a giant component for accelerating performance.

I am also not saying that you should replace plyometrics and strength work with just the Olympic Lifts. Look at any Olympic Weightlifter at the top level, most of them are utilizing a combination of all three modalities to improve their performance. As stated previously, combining plyometrics and strength training led to greater power output than the individual modalities. Properly utilizing Plyometrics, Strength Movements, and Olympic Lifts, can lead to even greater power out put in athletes, I know from using all three as a Strength Coach personally.

I can't speak for why many strength coaches fail to utilize the Olympic Lifts, but I know from a few examples they think that it takes too much time to teach the lifts effectively, there's a preconceived notion that the Olympic Lifts carry a higher level of risk to them compared to other weight room movements, that the growing trend in muscular balance training is taking over the majority of weight room work in some settings as a new and more effective method, despite not increasing power or strength on a significant scale, or a combination of numerous factors known and unknown. All I know is that if you know how to utilize the Olympic Lifts in junction with other training modalities, you will see significant improvements in your Athletes' performance.


Studies Referenced





















5 More (Real) Tips to Maximize Muscle Gain Diets for Beginners

Most people who are versed in the dieting process look forward towards the Muscle Gain portion of dieting, commonly called massing or a bulk. This is a period in which increased calories are needed in order to illicit growth of the body tissued, primarily muscles, so that strength, power, endurance, and other aspects of athleticism can increase. It's also a great time to let the body recover from hard periods of training, and acute or chronic injuries. However, a lot of people abuse the muscle gain dieting process, and have a lot of work to do to get to a good place to begin a cut.

5. Be Prepared

Just like with cutting body fat, muscle gain is no easy task, and while missing a meal here or there can benefit weight loss (in a less than ideal way), missing a meal while trying to gain muscle mass slows the process down significantly. It's recommended that to put on muscle mass, you need somewhere between 250-500 extra calories a day, so as to put on .5-1 pound of bodyweight on a week. Even missing a small meal means delaying this process. This means that you're going to have to be a little more prepared with getting food packed for the day. Once you've completed meal prepping, in whatever form you choose, you'll want to make sure that you have all your meals ready to go for the day the night before, as not to forget to eat a meal.

For our beginners who have a difficult time eating thanks to less than normal work schedules (3rd shift, nurses and other hospital staff, etc) you know that eating regularly can be a challenge, but even with muscle gain plans, there's always a work around. Often times, people will complain that their job or occupation won't allow them to eat food in the work place, in the cases of hospital staff, this is a very real issue, but there's always a work around if you try hard enough. While you may not be able to bring food with you into the areas of a hospital that need constant habitat control (nor want to) or if you're a laborer with strict rules about bringing food on to the warehouse floor or work site, you can always keep your lunch and/or meals ready in the break area, so if you have some down time, you can easily access it, if it's not going to take you so far out of the way that you'll miss something critical with your work.

Otherwise, the simplest work around to getting enough food in if you have irregular work schedules is simply to get up much earlier, and begin eating prior to work. This is often easier said than done for a lot of people, but really, time management is your friend here. If you wake up with just enough time to clean up and pound some food and get out the door to work, take that time and double it. So if you wake up an hour before you need to leave, wake up two hours, this way, you can get in two meals prior to work. Wake up, eat a meal before you do anything else, and then eat a second meal prior to leaving. It's rarely that you don't have time, but more likely, that you're not utilizing all the time you have properly.

4. Focus on Affordable Food

When it comes to food, you won't need to increase your protein intake anymore than you would than if you were cutting weight (to be discussed at a later time) but you will be increasing your carbohydrate and fat intake. Most people think "but wait, isn't protein what builds your muscles?" While protein and amino acids are a critical component in building muscle, the nutrients from carbohydrates and fats are equally necessary for building muscle mass, so you're going to be investing in more carbs and fats at the grocery store for your meal prep.

A nifty marketing trick my dad taught me early on when I started shopping for myself was this: never take the food at eye level. That's the more costly food in the supermarket, and the ones that the store want you to buy. Look for foods in the top shelf or bottom of the shelf, where the price per volume will be significantly less. In addition, try looking for generic branded or store branded foods, as they will be even more affordable. While Jasmine White Rice is a favorite go to for a lot of my fitness and lifting friends, it's way over priced compared to the bargain brand white rice just below it or to the right of it. While it's nice to go with the Whole Foods brand of food choices, there's no clear evidence that paying $5/lb in rice is going to give you a more anabolic response than the $.99/lb Costco brand of rice that will last you through a Game of Thrones length winter. 

I would invest, however, in some grass-fed butter for your fats, particularly for cooking, as the added Omega-3's and other nutrients not found in grain-fed butter and fats can be a nice way to up your micronutrients without an added fish oil supplement. Kerry Gold Butter is my go to, and has become quite affordable since it's moved out of the niche market of Whole Foods and into numerous generic supermarkets. If you're fortunate enough to live in farm country, or Amish Country, keep an eye out for families selling homemade butter. You can get a literal kilo of grassfed butter for ridiculously cheap prices. I could get 3lbs of grass-fed Amish butter from a little country stand in South Carolina for $10.

More food means more money, so it's best to make sure you're getting the most bang for your buck if you don't want to go broke getting bigger.

3. Progressively Increase Calories and Macros

Another common mistake for beginners when going on a muscle gain diet is piling on the food right of the get-go, however, your body isn't going to respond in the way you want if you choose to go all you can eat right away. Your body can't make rapid changes just because you want it to, even when adding calories, or at least, not the changes you may want. Your body is very good at keeping things at a set environment, both when trying to cut and trying to mass. Although it's a lot easier for people to put on size than it is to cut, your body doesn't like to put on muscle as much as it does fat.

To use a crude analogy, muscle is pretty expensive to maintain, while fat is cheap. Another way to view it is you can repair the damage done by exercise towards your muscles relatively quickly; in short, when you exercise or train, your muscles get stressed and use up substrates needed for energy production and metabolism geared towards maintaining muscle mass and/or building it. Once your muscle tissue is filled up with the necessary materials to repair and build, it doesn't really utilize any more, and the rest will be converted into other substrates for other needs in the body, primarily storage energy, aka fat. In order to properly achieve muscle growth, you'll need a combination of higher volume training and higher intake of calories, both which should be progressive. Just like you wouldn't jump right into doing sets of 20 on the squat without building up to it, you shouldn't just throw down the food, if you want to make proper gains. 

Just like with cutting, the process is slow, and patience is required. When reassessing macros and calories for a mass, you should look to start with 500 calories more per day from your Base Diet, and you should be gaining between .5-1lb of bodyweight per week on average. This is ideal towards building muscle, especially higher volume training sessions, and once you begin to level out on your weight gain per week, take it slowly and increase your macros and calories by another 250-500 calories until you are satisfied with your growth.

2. Bulks and Massing Are Not an Excuse to Pig Out

In relation to the previous point, just because you're on a muscle gain diet doesn't mean that this is a time to let loose and go on a See Food Diet. If you're looking to put on quality mass, then you're going to have to make as dedicated food choices as you did during the cutting phase. This means keeping up a variety of food while you are packing away the extra calories, which can be very beneficial for a recovery phase post competition season if you're an athlete or figure competitor. Getting in a wide variety of meats, carbs, and veggies during a massing phase is a sure-fire way to make sure that you're getting plenty of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) which are not only necessary for general health, but function of muscle metabolism as well.

Don't be too glum though, there is a bright side to this. I am much more liberal on Cheat Meals during a massing phase than I am a cutting phase. Obviously, that extra bowl of ice cream or Taco Tuesday isn't going to set you off track if you're looking to put on size, and it's a great way to recover from a prolonged period of cutting or maintaining weight. I would say, much like with cutting though, this should be done periodically, and not on a regular basis, but can be as often as the traditional Friday or Saturday night cheat night if you want to let loose in that manner. Don't get so obsessed with eating clean during a bulk that you forget to have fun.

1. Be Comfortable With Getting A Little Fluffy

This is going to be a tough one for a lot of people, but it's an inherent part of bulking. There is not magic method to putting on 100% muscle during a muscle gain phase, and I have friends in the body building community who use pharmaceuticals to enhance their growth, and even they can't help but get a little soft during this part of dieting, despite common perception of bodybuilding and drugs. I can't give you a proper breakdown of how much muscle to fat you'll gain during a muscle gain cycle, but be aware that it will occur. You may lose your abs, your taper in your quads may get softer, and your face slightly rounder, but that's apart of the process.

And better yet, it's 100% natural.

If you rewind the clock to the early 1800's when people were still mostly physical laborers in this country, and you tried to eat to get bigger, but complained about getting fatter, you'd probably sleep with the pigs for being so silly, or get sent on an expedition with Lewis and Clark for cardio. There's nothing to be ashamed about gaining some body fat if you're trying to get bigger and stronger, it goes hand in hand. As long as you're progressively increasing your calories and macros, getting a wide variety of food, and training hard, you can minimize the amount of fat you'll put on. View this process as an investment; yes you're getting a little softer, but eventually, when you complete another cutting phase, you're going to be even stronger, or look even more jacked, once beach season comes around again.

Enough With The False Outrage

Earlier this week, Starbucks released the limited sale 'Unicorn Frappachino' and the world lost its collective mind at the rainbow colored oblivion.  

Almost immediately following the launch of the drink, fitness zealots everywhere began posting screen shot after screen shot of the nutrition labels, with trigger words like "chemical" and "targets children" and every other scare tactic in the book to fill their outrage meters, in addition to scare tactics towards their clients or gym members.  I saw a post yesterday that said, "If I see any of my clients drinking one of these, you will do burpees until I get tired!!!" As a member of the fitness community, I have one request for everyone who is reacting this way.


First off, if your primary instinct to react towards a sugar filled drink is threats of death by exercise, you're a shit coach.  I don't care if you have all the followers in the world, you're not going to deter a grown adult with empty threats, and if you do follow through, I hope you like saying goodbye to your membership.

Secondly, let's not pretend like this isn't something new. I know without a shadow of a doubt your gym members, and some of your business owners as well, have drank a standard Frappachino from Starbucks, or somewhere else if you're not a fan of the business or coffee.  Let's not pretend that suddenly, this cotton candy bukakke nightmare is somehow worse for people than the standard Frap, because it's not. 

I understand that controversy is a useful tool to get attention towards your business or instagram page, but that's a hollow tactic at best, barely above naked selfies and ass photos. Other than the attention, what are you achieving? Are you getting business? Are you deterring people from buying this drink? Or are you deterring people from working with you? Day in and day out I see post after post about how people are so sensitive and snowflakes and filled with outrage, and now it's to the point where a sugary coffee can set of the internet into a flurry of keyboard combat. How about as a collective, we realize that scaring people into fitness does not work, and more likely than not, will scare them away.  Also, as independent business owners, can we stop shitting on companies that have already made it?  

Altruism is great, but you can't feed yourself on rainbows and sunshine.  Money is needed, and if you think that money isn't important, then you're naive and won't get very far, so stop raging against companies or groups that have gone from where you are, to the end game. They are not tricking people into buying something "new" they are reacting to the market's demands and patterns.  It's not their fault, it's ours. How do I know this, because I know so many of you who are freaking out about this drink, got a proverbial hard on when that video of Creme and Sugar (a small business in Anaheim Hills, CA) went viral on Insider several months ago.  Don't remember them, yes you do.

So for the sake of our community, and the health of our country, stop shifting the blame from the individual, to the evil corporation doing its job. They're not forcing people to buy anything, but your false outrage is building up the interest, and their coffers. Most of you got into this business to change peoples' lives for the better; does acting like a totalitarian when it comes to food sound better to your clients?  Guess that's up for you to decide.

Film Critique: Marvel's Iron Fist

Spoiler Free Review


Marvel's Iron Fist on Netflix came out last week, and much like with Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage, I binged the whole series.  Iron Fist is one of my favorite Marvel Characters, due to my interest in eastern philosophy and martial arts, so I was excited when it finally came out, but unlike his Kung Fu peer, Daredevil, you're going to have to suspend your realism a little longer during the fight scenes, which are more wushu based than practical based.  Danny Rand aka The Iron Fist (Finn Jones) brings an interesting take on a primary hero, being a character that was taken from his life when he was just a little boy, and raised with strict martial arts upbringing in the mystic city of K'un Lun, one of the 7 Cities of Heaven.  This is important because there are a lot of times where you will go "oh come on, no one's that dumb" in certain moments, but this is more like when Thor came to Earth for the first time, except you have a guy who is a super hero who's been out of the modern world for 15 years, and has the idealistic views of a 10 year old boy with the black and white views of a militaristic up bringing.  Some deep breathes may be needed.

The character development, for the first time, was better in the auxiliary characters than that of the main character, particularly in the case of Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) and Ward Meachum (Tom Pelphrey), particularly the latter who plays a complex and ever evolving character, who you can't quite get a real grip on til the end, which makes for a fun, grey area character. 

Colleen Wing, a hard nosed karate instructor, who mistakes the Iron Fist as a hobo, also has more than one side to her, creating a unique female character in the Marvel series who isn't starting off as a damsel in distress, and really doesn't require saving other than being kind of stuck up for the first half of the series.  We have other returning characters that continue to connect the Big Apple Marvel heroes, such as Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Ann Moss), Claire Temple aka Night Nurse (Rosario Dawson) and the enigmatic Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) who is still by far my favorite Marvel Netflix character, and most likely our Big Bad for the Netflix Marvel story arc.  There are several hints that Madame Gao is immortal and not of this plane, but her connection to Marvel Comic sources is still iffy at best, making her unique in that she may be an amalgamation of characters from the comic realm, or she may be an entirely new entity on her own.  Which is why she's my favorite character so far.

The show's tone is not quite as consistent when compared to the other Marvel Netflix versions. It's heavy influence from kung fu and wuxia media is apparent, but with a little too much martial arts seriousness. We don't have the typical break from the plot with gags or jokes like in our other three Marvel series, and some of the plot lines appear to be half filled concepts, with one point in the story being Danny Rand literally saying "It’s a long way to China, I’ll figure it out before we get there!"  Some have complained the overall tone is too dark for a campy kung fu show, but there are somethings going on in the back (you'll have to see for yourself) that are pretty dark. My real issue is just the lack of a break from being in a comic book show, that nearly all other Marvel incarnations have to remind the audience 'hey, don't take this so seriously, it's a comic book show, remember?' and have a little fun at it's own expense.

Overall, I would give Marvel's Iron Fist a 3.5/5 stars, it's not a flop, but it's not quite where Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, which hit deep on some real life issues and not just fictional comic book story lines, which is why we like comics.  Luke Cage hit on the issue of Race, Jessica Jones hit on the issue of abuse and rape, Daredevil hit on shadow corporations creating policy, and Iron Fist just doesn't really have a theme to it, other than Danny Rand trying to get his company and name back, aka Batman Begins.  Despite this, there's still potential for some major character overhauls and more complex relationships based on some cliff hanger moments in the last episode, in addition to Danny's black and white view on the world coming into conflict with his more nuanced world viewed peers in the upcoming Defenders series.  Imagine it: an altruistic, starry eyed billionaire trying to explain how the world works to a penniless and blind lawyer working for the disenfranchised, a woman who's overcoming rape and trauma, and a black man who experienced new age Tuskegee style experimentation, in addition to growing up in the ghetto.

I'm excited for the multifaceted political, identity politics, left vs right butt hurt that's already brewing.

Your Early Arm Bend Is Not The Problem

Weightlifting Coaches seem to spend a lot of time arguing semantics and personal philosophy, rather than arguing the facts about weightlifting (see Catapult vs Triple Extension).  Most of the time, they're arguing the same thing, but they just want the ability to say "Yes, I was right in the way I was saying it."  Weightlifting Coaches are a silly bunch, and maybe one day I'll tackle the Catapult vs Triple Extension argument, but not today.  It's a bit overdone and boring, so rather than that, we'll look at something that's almost as hotly debated: the Arm Bend.

As these things go, we have two camps: Arm Bend and No Arm Bend.  The first camp believes that you should be able to pull the barbell into your hips more to allow the body greater power delivery with the hips and legs; while the latter camp believes that you should keep your arms long while placing the bar into your hips or upper thighs to allow greater power delivery with the hips and legs, otherwise, you'll miss the lift and the unholy spawn of satan will break through the floor beneath you and drag you to hell for bending your arms.  The reality is that they are both somewhat right, and somewhat wrong.

The issue with the arms is not whether you are keeping them straight or bending them in to the hip, but are you keeping tension on the bar?  Whether or not you bend early with the arms or keep them long until after the leg and hip drive at the top of the Second Pull, the only thing that matters is if you keep tension on the bar and generating momentum.  Let's take a look at two lifters, both who have different arm actions:

Rob, on the left, has a much more pronounced arm bend as he gets the bar past his knee caps and into his hips. Colin, on the right, keeps his arms straight (or as straight as you can, there will always be a little bit of flexion in the elbow) as he gets the bar into his hips.  Both are lifting heavy weight with different arm actions.  Why is this?  Why do people who miss weights off their hips during the second pull both do it with straight arms or bent arms?  It's because you're not keeping tension on the bar either way.

If you find yourself getting the bar to the hips and you drive the legs during the second pull, but you are slow or have no speed under the bar, the issue is you're letting your arms and shoulders relax as you finish the pull, robbing you of momentum on the bar, or connection with the bar.  A common issue with a lot of beginners is that once they get the bar past their knees, they bend the arms to get the bar into the hip immediately, rather than adjust the body around the bar. When they learn how to adjust the body the arm bend is still there, but at the top of the Second Pull, they release that tension, and their arms extend as they drive their legs, and their shoulders loosen up.  Both of these actions will rob the bar of upward momentum, effectively negating all the work you just did to get the bar up.

Both camps, when they loosen in the shoulders, are effectively floating in the air momentarily, and with that loss of tension, the bar can go any number of directions - away from the body, upwards like you intended, or maybe backwards if you over pull to compensate the tension issue. Either way, the lifter will have to try and get tension back on that bar quickly if they want to change direction, but even a momentary lapse in connection with the bar can mean a missed lift. How do you fix this?  Simple: don't stop pulling on the bar.

Whether you're an arm bender or straight arm lifter, you need to keep constant tension on the bar to effectively change direction once you've completed the Second Pull. The moment you finish that leg drive and your body is fully extended, you should immediately feel your arms pulling on that bar and pulling you under it, as you're picking your legs up to assist in the change in direction.  You are not trying to pull that bar up higher, but rather pull yourself under; imagine that you're a gymnast on the Bars - the gymnast cannot move the bars around, as they are bolted down to the floor, so they are going to have to move around the bars.  This means flexing and bending your body at the right times in junction with your momentum to execute a skill, but also at certain times pulling and pressing against that bar to make a skill happen.

The same principle applies to weightlifting, just on an apparatus that moves with you.  At a certain point, you're not going to be able to pull that bar any higher, either with your arms or legs, so you have to learn to pull on the bar, with the goal of moving your body, not the bar.  So whether or not you bend your arms or keep them long and straight, that's not going to make or break you; but whether or not you can keep tension on that bar so you can change direction quickly and effectively, that will be all the difference in the world.

The American Open Series

The first ever American Open Series was completed this weekend, and with it, a great possibility for USAW.  With another meet encroaching on nigh 1000 athletes, this was probably the most well run and efficient meets so far.  The sessions were on time, with some slight delays which comes from things like following yourself and mixed sessions (some sessions having youth and junior lifters) but otherwise, very, very few technical issues.  Quite possibly, the best meet in terms of management and effectiveness, even the live stream had very few issues with broadcasting, which was a massive improvement over previous live streams. 

The biggest concerns for most USAW fans and members was that it would be a repeat of the USAW Regionals back in 2015, in which it would just be a meet for the big timers to qualify for international meets, and then fade into the aether.  But, with the proficiency of the meet, and the turnout for the athletes as well as the athletes themselves, the better stream, venue, everything seemed to be even leagues better than The 2016 American open that happened before.  I don't think that this will be an event that will go away anytime soon.

The next biggest concern was that the amount of talent that would show up would not be up to par with that of other National Level meets due to the significantly lower entry totals.  In short, people would think it would be a boring meet to watch because it's not filled with the best Athletes in the country for the A sessions.  Well, guess what, that's the point of this meet.  The point of the American Open Series is to allow people to compete on a stage that is on par with a National meet in terms of appearance, experience, and proficiency.  It's a way to get people who can't make it to a National meet yet, or ever, a chance at experiencing what it's like; and rewarding those who finish in the top a chance to compete at the American Open itself if they don't qualify with the proper total. 

Getting. Bodies. In. The. Room.

That's the goal, that's what you have to do, that's what's needed to be done with the sport of Weightlifting in the United States if you want it to be something bigger than a niche sport.  Do you think that Football would've gotten this big if in the early days, the league only let the best people play? Probably not since in the early incarnations of the NFL, the best (which were college players) weren't allowed to play - my precious Green Bay Packers actually paid a hefty fine for that once.  You think anyone would even remotely care that swimming or gymnastics was a sport, if they didn't have the thousands and thousands of clubs in the country to have them tune in during the Olympics or live streams on FloElite?  You think the CrossFit Games would be what it is if the only way to participate in CrossFit, would to be doing Regional and Games level workouts everyday?

It astounds me that the concern of less than elite level athletes stepping on the stage is one of the deterrents for people's hopes in the success of the event, and believing that giving only the best the chance at an amazing venue and experience, is the way to grow the sport.  The likes of Morghan King or Colin Burns don't pay your gym bills, or for the USAW membership that's coming in now - it's everyday men and women and their kids who want to participate in a sport that is

1) Fun

2) Easy to get into

I bet that if you walked the sidelines of a middle school or high school football game, and pulled the third string kids who won't see play time ever, and showed them videos and pictures of the events and tell them "you could be there within 6 months" that participation in this sport would skyrocket.  Everyone wants to find the next freak who will make their instagram blow up, or the next monster who looks good in a singlet to promote their company with a promo code, but that's not how you make the sport grow.  You need to find the kids with the athletic ability to be top tier competitors, and show them that for 6 brief moments, that they can be the star, and the center of attention.  That they can do something that their parents can show to their family members, and create memories that they'll hold on to for a lifetime.

Third stingers aren't the only ones either; college kids who finish up sports that have no major professional outlet, or those who don't make it to the pros, show them the sport.  Let them know that there's still a place to fill that competitive need that burns in them.  Show them that they can be the athlete everyone looks at and pays attention to.  This is America - where everyone wants to be a star, and weightlifting is the perfect sport to do that, but you still have to give them the chance.  This sport is evolving from having dinky little meets in a garage or skating rink, and growing to the point where it's appearance is getting to that of other Olympic sports. But you have to let people play, and sometimes you have to give them a carrot on a stick to do so, and if that carrot on the stick is lifting at a big fancy meet, give it to them.  If that's what it takes to keep the sport growing, I don't care if there's a session where half the people are using training plates. 

You can't have an event that's filled with amazing athletes if you don't open the door for them to find it.

3 Things You Need to Look For In Programming

With the New Year coming around, you may be looking at a new program to follow if your last program was not what you expected, or you may be looking to improve your own program design if you can't afford a coach and programming option.  If these are the cases, there are three major aspects of programming you should look for....

3. Patterns and Consistency

The biggest mistake I see beginners do with programming is too much variation.  Variation can be defined as "The manipulation of training variables to prevent staleness and injury and to magnify the long-term adaptive response to training." (Scientific Principles of Strength training).  We can manipulate Variation through volume, intensity, exercise selection, frequency, to name a few variables.  By manipulating these variables, we can change the goals of training.  For example, during a work capacity/hypertrophy phase, we will have the highest amount of variation, usually in the form of exercise selection and frequency of training or interacting with these exercises.

The general drawbacks to Variation is that people either A) do too much variation and B) moving outside the requirements of your sport and C) not falling within the goals of the cycle (or having a goal).  Sticking with our Hypertrophy/Work Capacity phase example, the variation of exercise selection will be the highest compared to a Strength or Peaking Phase of training.  This doesn't mean that we want to use ever exercise in the book; too much variation in exercises, such as picking a new exercise each week, or using a new exercise for every day of the week, you won't create any kind of adaptation.  Even if our goal is very general, such as improving leg conditioning, and we only have 3 days per week to train, sticking with the same weekly pattern of exercises will ensure that we are keeping the stimulus the same via movement patterns.  So utilizing say Back Squat, then Front Squat, then Overhead Squats for each day of our 3 day per week training week, we keep one aspect of stimulus the same for our greater goal.  From here we can manipulate a few other aspects of training, specifically auxiliary work, to help train leg conditioning, with more exercise variation, while maintaining a set amount of exercises for our foundation of training.

If you're training for a specific sport, your training should be able to reflect that, to a certain degree.  Too many times, strength coaches or programmers mistake the weight room as an opportunity to do "sports specific" tasks with a dumbbell or barbell.  Strength and conditioning apparatus are not meant to mimic the sport movements themselves.  Unless you're in Powerlifting, Weightlifting, or CrossFit, exercises are not your sport, they are meant to increase certain aspects of fitness or athleticism to improve sports specific tasks.  Whipping dumbbells in your hands while doing a box step up to mimic a tackle will not improve your ability to bring a running back down (yes, I've seen this done), and your time, your very limited time working with athletes, should be focused on making them stronger, more powerful, or last longer during workouts.

Probably the most common mistake after too much variation in exercise is too much variation in reps, sets, and intensities to where you're falling out of the goal of the phase of training.  If you're in a hypertrophy phase of training, you'll typically stick between 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps between 60-75% 1RM; strength phases usually 3-6 set of 3-6 reps 75-85% 1RM; peaking 5-10 sets of 1-3 85-100% 1RM.  This gets into a grey area of what kind of sets and reps and intensities work for sports like Weightlifting and CrossFit, where they are relatively new to the west and anecdotal evidence still reigns, but I've found that typically the intensity ranges for traditional strength ranges works for the same goals in Weightlifting (hypertrophy: 60-75%, strength 75-85%, peaking 85-100%) with higher volume strategies, like triples doubles and complexes, work for hypertrophy phases, while singles work for either strength or peaking phases, depending on the rest period.

Concurrent training and CrossFit training is a newer principle to me, as I was always taught it was impossible to get stronger while being able to do work, while some of the fittest individuals in the world are able to lift competitive numbers in their own weight classes.  I could crudely describe the methods, but that would be a whole separate article in and of itself, so for further reading I would recommend The Hybrid Athlete and Fitness as Sport .  For more reading of Variation, and other principles of Strength Training, refer to Scientific Principles of Strength Training .


2. Periodization and Planning

Building off of constraints within the goals of a training phase, your program has to have some kind of Periodization to it.  Periodization can be a touchy subject for some people, because then it becomes an argument about who's methodology is better (conjugate vs block, linear vs undulating).  The reality of Periodization is that, on a long enough time frame, your periodization will essentially be linear (high volume low intensity at the start of a training plan, low volume high intensity near competition), and the methods of periodization (conjugate, block, linear, undulating, etc) are all methods of scheduling and time management for a coach.

What you, as the athlete or designer, should be looking for when it comes to periodization are, does the training plan reflect the period of training and the goals laid out by your coach?  If you're 6 months out from a meet, and your coach wants to get your work capacity up, does it make sense to be doing 10x1 Block Snatches at 85% for weightlifting?  If you're 2 months out from the CrossFit Open, and your coach is beginning a peaking program, does it make sense to have your weightlifting and strength work be 4x8 @ 60%?  Are you working up in either volume or intensity, or both, during and accumulation phase and then having a deload period to prepare for the next phase of training, or are you just going all out all the time?

The style of programming is less important than the content of the programming.  If your program doesn't have the basics of Program design, then you won't know how to properly stimulate the body to get the desired physiological outcomes.  If your coach gives you workouts on a day to day or week to week basis, and is unwilling to share the plan in the long term (monthly or more) so that you can plan things around your training (work, diet, etc) then maybe it's time to get a new coach or program.

For more reading on Periodization check out these articles.

There is Only One Kind of Periodization pt. 1 by Greg Nuckols

here is Only One Kind of Periodization pt. 1 by Mike Israetel

Sports Periodization - Wikipedia

The Periodization Bible by Dave Tate

Linear, Undulating, and Non-Linear Programming: Which to Choose? by Jeff McDole Jr.


1. Foundation in Research

Probably the most tedious and irksome quality of the fitness and strength and conditioning industry is the attempt to reinvent the wheel, or to shine up a program with a clever name, or to try and create something entirely new.  Much like Hollywood, there's not a whole lot of original ideas out there, and trying to say you've made the break through discovery in training principles probably means you didn't read Bondarchuk and his 30 something periodization models, or any other Russian programs.  There are very few training plans, programs, or principles out there that haven't been discovered or talked about already, and pretending to do other wise is more about narcissism than it is reality.

There is nothing wrong with trying to reinvent the wheel, that's how humans came up with concepts like the wheel, and the internet, but these principles usually came in relation to principles that preceded them., and some of them ignore the updates in scientific principles since the Russians came up with 30 something training programs, which in reality, may fall into the 4 main Periodization Plans mentioned earlier in the article.  Such things like the Keto-diet for athletes, Squat Everyday, Bulgarian Training, and other fad training styles sit on small batches of information while ignoring the overall science.  Yes too many carbs are bad, but all athletes need carbohydrates to be able to properly recover; squatting every day may be effective in getting people super strong legs, but if their lifts or performance on the field isn't going up, is it really working, and how many people are not getting stronger, but getting hurt from squatting everyday; Bulgarian - really?  You still think maxing out all the time is good?

While these programs may work for some people, there is a literal sea of information out there that shows that there are just as effective programs with less risk, and more benefits from them by taking into account for things like nutrition, recovery, being drug free.   While there may be 10-20 articles out there that support these methods, how many hundreds are out there that show at best it does nothing more than the traditional model, or worse, hurt you?

The final thing to look out for when looking at a program or the reasoning behind it is the proponent's response.  If they respond with "well this is what the X do" or "this is what the best in the world do" then you should immediately leave them.  Since they cannot properly explain why they are using this program, they are at best mimicking what elite level athletes do, which is fine, if you know what is going on in the system.  The only person I would trust to explain and design a Bulgarian training system would be Max Aita, since he is the only person I know of that trained the Bulgarian system, with the progenitor of the system itself, Ivan Abadjiev.  Obviously he is not the only person who knows the system, but he's one of the few who has lived it and studied it long enough to understand the nuances and methodology.

Training and Exercise has moved beyond just the stereotypical imagery that movies like Rocky and Remember the Titans portrays, of just working the athletes to death day in and day out.  You have to be equal parts mad scientist and researcher as well as strength coach to get optimal results out of an individual.  It's no longer enough to say "this is how what the best are doing" since 99% of the time, you aren't working with the best, or you yourself aren't the best.  What the best are doing, and what you are doing are two different things separated by worlds of training.

Much like buying a new car, you're not just going to go get the fanciest looking car on the lot, you're going to do your research, learn about the engine and system, look up reviews of the model, see what the pros and cons are.  Getting into a physical training program is very similar, since there are hundreds (if not thousands) of programmers and coaches out there, and you have the right to get information before you buy.  If the programming has no pattern or consistency to it, overall plan to it, or the coach is just hopping from fad to fad or unwilling to explain themselves, you might as well save your money and move on to the next plan.

The New Quad: Start Over, Take a Break, Competition Strategy

Last weekend was my best performance on the National Stage, finishing 10th in the 94kg Class at the 2016 USAW American Open.  Although I finished 8th in the 85kg Class at the 2015 USAW Nationals, I consider this one better for a multitude of reasons:

  1. I didn't finish top 10 due to massive bomb outs
  2. I finished 3/3 in the Snatch and had an 11kg Competition Snatch PR while getting an 8kg Total PR and 5kg Life Time PR
  3. I had more fun than I ever had competing, even before I stepped on the platform.

After the 2016 Nationals, when I had to withdraw from the meet due to hyperextending my elbow, I had to sit down and really think about my goals, and what I wanted to do in this sport.  The end goal is obviously the Olympics, and yes it's a big goal and maybe a pipe dream, but I don't want to sell myself short, so I had to sit back and think, "Ok, how do I make this happen?"  Looking at the qualifying procedure, it's obvious that the first 2 years of the quad don't mean anything in terms of impact on your ability to get on the Olympic Team.  You can make all the teams you want in the first 2 years following Rio, but until the 2 years leading up to the games, none of that matters.  In addition to that, and reading an article from Renaissance Periodization, written by Dr. Melissa Davis, about chronic dieting and reduced performance, it really sunk in that if I wanted to achieve any international standings, I would have to take a break from the 85kg class, and move back up to 94s.

A silly thing in this sport is trying to hide your intentions - like not letting people know what your body weight is, or if you're going to this meet or that meet, so on and so forth.  This isn't a sport like Football where your playbook is secret and you don't want the other team to know your calls and lineup, once that final start sheet comes up, you know and everyone else knows what you'll have to hit to win.  It's especially funny in this day and age of posting PRs on Instagram, that you think people don't have a general idea about what you can do.  So this is my plan, and the plan I recommend a lot of you out there getting in the Sport of Weightlifting should do if you're looking to improve performance.

Stop Cutting Weight

If you've been chronically cutting weight over the last few years to stay in a weight class, and you're seeing yourself peak, maybe you should just stop cutting weight.  Moving up a weight class after the 2016 Nationals progressively made a huge impact in my training, and recovery.  I was getting stronger, lifting more weight, hitting constant training PRs in the strength movements like the Squat and Deadlifts, which haven't budged in almost 2 years.

Besides pure weight lifted, my lifts started going up as well, getting PRs in the Clean and Jerk, but also being able to lift that weight successfully over and over and over.  I cleaned 171 about 10 times before the American Open, and finally put it together to get a PR Clean and Jerk at 170 the week before my taper began.

Mentally and physically, I just felt better as well.  Aches and pains dissipated, my emotions were more stable, and I just had more fun not feeling broken all the time, and not having to cut weight after 3 months of weight gain.  Now is the time to train and put on muscle and size so that you can improve in the sport, and not have any repercussions on the long run.  Unless you're an athlete who's receiving a stipend from USAW for your ranking based on your weight class, then you don't need to worry about hitting a total at every national meet to keep the money coming in.  Go eat some non-paleo grains and ice cream and get strong.

Take a Break

You don't need be so concerned about performance now, so you shouldn't be ridiculously focused on meets.  If you're already at the National level, you know you can get there and shouldn't have to freak out about qualifying.  If you're trying to get to the National level, and find you're stuck, follow the aforementioned weight class change, and just train and have fun.  Don't be so focused on "I HAVE to be a National athlete" that you take the fun out of the meet.  I could've been in the A Session at the AO, but I realized that if I was there, I would be the mess of it, and having to deal with a bunch of egos and games that would have ruined the meet for me, so I purposely lowered my total to put me in the B session, where I would be at the end of the lifting, being able to follow myself or at least have an more steady waiting time between attempts.

People were shocked and appalled that I was having fun in the back at some points, running up to people I hadn't seen in months, giving them hugs, letting people stand in front of me while I was lifting rather than shooing them away, carrying conversations with people while I was warming up.  It was almost like I didn't care I was there, and in truth, I didn't really.  I was there to lift and have fun, and turns out, I beat out a lot of people in the A session, some of which were big name CrossFitters with large strength levels people expected to blow up on their first meet.  If you can't get over your own ego when stepping into a new arena, then you're not going to do well.  And I had a lot of events in the last few months hit me where I had to put my pride aside, and just train.  It's ok if your peaking training isn't going well, or you're not hitting numbers you calculated to hit, or half your sponsors stopped responding to your emails and stopped paying you for no reason - none of that matters.  Life goes on, and you can only worry about you.

There's no point in doing something if it makes you miserable, and if weightlifting and competing makes you feel like you wasted your time, then you should find something else to put your energy towards.

Get A New Competition Strategy

Going in to this, I started looking at some of the bigger names blowing up on the scene in recent years, specifically Mattie Rogers, CJ Cummings, and Harrison Maurus.  Yes they're all very young and strong, but they all have one very common thread between them and their competition success: they curb their egos when it comes to attempts from meet to meet.  Most people I've noticed, will start relatively close to either their competition max or their training max, and they may get out with a total, and at best 4/6.  If you look at these three over the course of their career, they have (or more likely their coaches) have done the following:

  1. Open them well within their capabilities, but within recent history of their 1st and 2nd attempts
  2. 2nd attempts are still within competition history, but perhaps are within 1kg above or below their previous competition best
  3. 3rd attempts, if previous are makes, are for increasing competition lift and totals by maybe 1-2kg

While this seems majorly conservative, I will use Mattie Rogers as an example for this. I've followed her since she first got into Weightlifting thanks to the shared cheerleading background, and she's made what some would call a meteoric rise to the top, but she has been consistently adding a kilo here and there to her total, and when the time was right, making larger jumps to increase that total significantly.  Usually her 2nd attempts are there to increase her total, and the thirds are there to solidify the increase and winning.  Now she is at the level where her openers instantly claim victory, but this was a long and steady process of consistency and patience.

Harrison and CJ are no different, both have been around for a while, CJ longer than Harrison, and both have a similar approach to competition, of hitting numbers they know they are capable of on the first, and second attempts are to increase the total or solidify placement, and third attempts are there to increase the total indefinitely.  CJ's Snatch and Clean and Jerk are prime examples of this, adding 1kg to his Snatch and Clean and Jerk, with the exception of a few stabs at the Youth World Record and missing, he's constantly increased his totals, and subsequently, the American Records. 

This meet American Open is going to be my starting point for the next several years, and while it may not shoot my record up, I'm going to try and increase my total kilo by kilo over time.  It may not be glamorous, but it's a method that's employed by some of our best and brightest starts, and if you want to improve your ranking, and the competition for the fans, consistency is needed.  You can't just max out everyday and expect to see progress on the platform, similar to having fun, you need to curb your ego for a minute and ask yourself about your goal.  Are you more interested in getting like on Instagram from your random PR that took you 4 hours to get on a Friday, or do you want to be on top of the Podium some time in your life?  That's for you to decide.