Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Torso is the Key

The key to optimal power and strength production is the torso.  If you don't have a strong torso, or don't know how to utilize it properly, you aren't lifting to your full potential.  A strong torso doesn't mean having a six pack, and it most certainly doesn't mean how many crunches, twists or contortions you can do.

What it means is having the ability to stabilize your spine under load in order to transfer energy and power from your body into the ground, bar, person, etc.  Think about this for a moment - does energy transfer better through a hard object or a soft object? (Hint - not a soft object)  If you're not stabilizing your torso correctly and are soft, the energy and power you're trying to exert is being absorbed and lost.

In a previous post, Be Thankful, I briefly mentioned that barbell work is the perfect solution to building torso strength.  Sean Waxman of Waxman's Gym wrote an exceptional article explaining in blunt detail the importance of torso strength and how to develop it in order to optimize power production.  Barbells, barbells and more barbells!

Sean points out that the majority of "core" stability fads, exercises and drills that the mainstream seem to drool over are often derived from Physical Therapy protocols.  These type of protocols are "designed to restore normal movement and function, which has been threatened by injury."  Don't get me wrong, if you're injured or recovering from injury, implement those type of exercises in your regime.  If you're healthy and can move around pain free, however, rely on the barbell to strengthen your torso.  A barbell, or more traditional Strength & Conditioning protocol is "designed to enhance normal movement and function in order to improve athletic attributes."

Don't expect to see much improvement, if any, should you decide to rely on Physical Therapy protocols to strengthen your "core" or torso through isolation movements that work on flexion and extension.  Once the focus turns to torso stabilization and strength, you'll be headed on the right path.

No need to get fancy.  Keep it simple.  Don't get distracted by fads.  The barbell and the basic exercises you can do with it are time tested.  Grab a bar, some bumper plates, and start squatting, pulling and pressing!

Strong torso = stable upright position in the squat!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Be Convinced

Performance is all about confidence.  If you don't have it, your skills, whether they are learned or natural, are as worthless as a piece of shit.  You have to believe in yourself and your abilities in order to succeed.

Here are a couple scenarios that I'm sure a few people here have experienced when squatting:

Scenario 1)  There's a ton of weight on the bar, you know it and are not looking forward to it.  As soon as you get under the bar and un-rack the weight, the thought of "oh f---, this is heavy" comes into your mind.  Then two things happen - you either have to bail out, or you have to work so hard it feels like you're going into labor. 

Scenario 2)  There's a ton of weight on the bar, you know it, but you tell yourself you're going to destroy this set and anything that gets in your way.  As you get under the bar, but before you un-rack the weight, the though of "LIGHT WEIGHT! (or insert own mental cue here)" is streaming through your mind.  Then just one thing happens this time around - you crush it and then proceed to crush the rest of your day.

What's the difference?  Being CONFIDENT and CONVINCED in your abilities to succeed.  Simple as that.  This applies to any type of training modality, whether it be weightlifting, power lifting, crossfitting, running, etc.  It also applies to life. Imagine that.

Convincing yourself of your abilities needs to start before you get to the gym, field of competition, work, etc.  If you change your mental approach, I'm willing to bet that your performance and success will improve greatly too.  What are you waiting for?!

Donny Shankle is ALWAYS convinced!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Be Patient

We are a results driven society.  In everything we do, we want results, and we want them NOW.  If you're a beginner or new to any type of training, you will probably get those gains - it's called the beginners effect.  Once you've hit those big initial gains as a beginner, however, huge increases in performance start to taper off.  When beginners start to plateau or aren't seeing the big gains they're used to, they become frustrated and sometimes through in the towel.  For those of you who are at this point, my advice is this: BE PATIENT.

Don't stop and never let go.  Elite athletes might not hit a PR for months, if not years, and when they do, it's not a substantial increase.  Does this deter them?  NO.  It motivates them to keep pushing, to keep training, and to keep their eye on the prize and work towards improvement.

Being patient is especially true with technical movements such as the snatch and the clean & jerk.  When it comes to learning or perfecting these lifts, don't expect to nail it the first time.  Neurologically, your body needs time to adjust to the new movements.  For some, it may take longer than others, and that's fine.  When being coached, don't be frustrated if it's not clicking right away.  Be patient, don't let go and keep moving forward!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Lift Light to Lift Heavy

In this weeks training, we've had at least one barbell movement in each workout: thrusters, deadlifts, hang power snatches, and snatch grip push press. I love it!  Getting STRONG and POWERFUL!!!!  But wait, you need to learn to crawl before you walk.

Contrary to popular belief, the key to mastering these lifts and movements isn't necessarily about strength. While it obviously helps, it's not the key.  Just look at the state of weightlifting here in the states: we have some of the "strongest" athletes in the sport, but can't compete with other countries where their athletes are more technically proficient (we'll save this discussion for a later date).

The key is TECHNIQUE.  Technique = efficiency.  As a weightlifter, all it takes to miss a lift at maximal loads is to be off on your technique by fractions of an inch.  As a crossfitter, better technique and efficiency means more reps faster.  Being efficient just makes things much easier.  When being cued by a coach on a lift, have you ever had the feeling that the lift felt much easier when implementing what your coach said?  Doing it right makes it much easier!

Proficient technique also reduces the chance of injury (just think of a rounded back when deadlifting - ouch!).

You cannot expect to improve your technique by "beastmoding" every workout with heavy loads and think you're getting better because you gutted it out.  You're actually getting worse.  You need to take a step back, check your ego at the door, and "learn to lift light in order to lift heavy." (Hat tip to Sean Waxman for ingraining this into me early!).  Do it correctly.  Once you're technique is solid at a certain weight, THEN you can start moving up.  Trust me, you'll be better off in the long run.

Yeah.  That's perfect...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Lift With Intention

My biggest coaching mentor, Sean Waxman (Waxman's Gym), repeatedly tells his lifters that every lift they take is one more closer to their retirement.  Might sound harsh and blunt, but harden up - he's absolutely right.

Whether you're a weightlifter, powerlifter, or crossfitter, you must lift, train and workout with intention.  What do I mean by this?  You have to approach each training session or rep as if it's your last.  You have to have focus.  You have to have passion to achieve greatness.  You have to have a purpose.  You have to have a goal.  You have to have a desire to get better and improve.

You can't expect to get better at ANYTHING by just going through the motions.  You have to be present.    No half-assing it here, folks.  If you're just planning on going through the motions, "kindly leave", as Travis Holley always says.  You won't be able to lift or train at your peak forever, so take advantage of the moment NOW.  Never leave an opportunity for yourself to look back and wonder "what if".

Next time you train, remember this: the moment you set foot on the gym floor, it's go time.  Be focused, be intense, be tough, and have intention.

Source: Rob Macklem's Flikr

No regrets here with this lift.