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Virtually any method of strength training will illicit a response in a novice, detrained or untrained lifter. A program with any significant level of intensity, weather it be lifting soup cans, P-90-X, INSANITY, CrossFit, or Westside Barbell’s conjugate method, will enhance the strength of an individual in just a few months. For this reason it can be very deceiving or misleading to interpret the data shown by the exposure of training protocols on novice athletes as a qualification of a programs efficacy and efficiency. We see this all the time on TV in the form of the Shaker Weight, Tony Little’s Gazelle training, The Perfect Pushup and Zumba. Something is always better than nothing but what does this breed?…  relatively inexperienced coaches with a minimal amount of knowledge or development having initial success with clients, attracting more people to programs that requires minimal coaching. So how do you differentiate yourself and your program from others? Here is the best suggestion I can give you:

Take the Time to set a Good Foundation of the Basics

When dealing with a new athletes take the time to restore the range and correct pattern of basic movements. Anyone can slap weight on a barbell. It takes skill to teach someone how to move with virtuosity. Setting this foundation will raise your athletes ceiling in the long run…increasing their potential, decreasing the risk of injury and ensuring them a more fruitful and productive athletic life. Here are some basic concepts of movement.

Core Strength

The ability to support and maintain a neutral position of the spine as you move about the hips, knees, shoulders and elbows. This position evenly loads the vertebral discs of the spine…reducing shear and creating a safe and effective transmission of forces.

Posterior Chain Engagement

Teach athletes to access the biggest most powerful muscle groups in the body…the glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors. This can be done by initiating movement with the hips, balancing weight in the heels, turning over the pelvis to stretch the hamstrings and maintaining a strong lumbar curve of the back.

Move in Proximal to Distal Patterns

High levels of power are generated from the center out. This happens in a wave of contractions from the high force low velocity muscles of the core to the low force high velocity muscles of the extremities.

Restore Full Range of Motion

Athletes should be moving through their anatomical full range of motion. Partial range of motion results in partial strength and partial flexibility. To ensure good muscular balance and enhance muscular recruitment require full range exercises. This should be the first plan of attack…DO NOT WAIT!! Your athletes won’t learn to go full range once they develop a 400lb quarter squat.

Anyone can use intensity to get people in shape. It is the knowledge of movement and mastering an appropriate prescription in strategic doses that will ensure the continued athletic development of clients. Use these principles to differentiate yourself and your program from others.

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The Olympic lifts are some of the most fun, challenging and rewarding movements one can do in the gym. The lifts are a beautiful and violent chorus of movement. The snatch (bringing the bar from the ground to overhead in a single movement) and the clean and jerk (bringing the bar from the ground to the shoulder and then overhead) require athlete to move weights fast under high loads. The moves develop tremendous flexibility, coordination, speed and balance as well as strength and power. That is why there is so much “bang for your buck” in training them. Practicing the Olympic lift will no doubt make you fitter and more athletic so everyone should be practicing them. Having said that, the complexity of these lifts, make them a love of passion and frustration. Much like a golf swing, when you hit that perfect shot, hitting that perfect snatch where the lift just feels right is an addictive experience. These are cerebral lifts that require concentration and focus. Most people struggle with the positioning and speed of these lifts before strength becomes a limiting factor, making knowledge and practice a vital piece in development.

The first pull of the Olympic lifts is probably the biggest issue for most novice and intermediate lifters. This is the initial pull off the floor to the middle of the thigh, before athletes aggressively open their hips to elevate the bar. In essence, the first pull is meant to set you up for success. When done properly, it will maximize your strongest position and keep the bar in an ideal spot for top leverage. It is a positioning pull, meaning that the emphasis is not on speed, but maintaining the proper position. Here are some mechanics of the first pull, that are different to the traditional deadlift.

Set up:

Start with the feet hip width apart and the bar over the last laces of the shoe (right before your toes start). This is a bit farther forward than the traditional deadlift. With the hands outside the shoulders grab the bar with a hook grip (fingers wrapped over the thumb).  Lower the hips until the shins touch the bar, this may be a bit lower than your deadlift setup. The weight in your feet should be distributed 60:40 between that heel and the ball of your foot.

The First Pull: 

Keeping the back tight. Stand up while PUSHING THE KNEES BACK and KEEPING THE CHEST RISING. Go slowly and allow the bar path to drift back towards the heel. This is the major difference between an Olympic lifting pull and a deadlift. The bar path is not completely straight. This allows the bar to land in the proper position at the hip to maximize leverage when aggressively opening the hips. When done properly that bar should actually make contact with the hip or upper thigh.

Athletes have a tendency to rush the first pull or just pull it straight up like a deadlift. This will compromise the explosiveness and speed of the lift in the next phase. You may see a pull that look all like one speed without the rapid explosiveness we are looking for in the middle. Consider this video showing the bar path of Olympic Lifting champion Xiaojun Lu. Watch the height of his hips as he starts to pull and how he pushes his knees back creating a bar path that drifts from the front of his foot back towards the heel.

The Olympic lift are a ton of fun to tinker around with. Most people are limited not by strength but by skill, making technique practice vital. Sometimes a new tip or cue can totally change the game and lead to a new PR!

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