Monday, May 23, 2011

Lies My Weightlifting Coach told me

Or the less controversial subtitle:

Or the least controversial truth: Different generalizations can be made about different populations.

SO. The traditional wisdom in weightlifting is that one's clean and snatch can be predicted via their back squat. IE, the higher the squat, the higher the total. Obviously, any coach would concede that their are technical elements that contribute to success or failure, particularly stability, depth and speed in the front and overhead squat as well as speed in the third pull.

What exercises are best to supplement the traditional lifts, on an individual or case by case basis is an appropriate argument to have specifically. But to suggest anything other than back squats as the king of exercises generally would be tantamount to heresy. Or so the traditional wisdom goes. It wasn't whether or not back squats were great, it was always whether or not you also needed front squats, or overhead squats, or pulls or power variations for instance.

Various systems of training have argued the relative contribution of the back squat rather than it's necessity. In the Sportivny press, Charniga argues that (due to the high competitive success of athletes who do a greater volume of the full lifts and lesser volumes of back squats) "There does not appear to be any scientific support in the literature for the notion that a "squat routine" (a specific loading in squats for the purpose of achieving higher results in this exercise) would be integral part of the training of weightlifters (2001)". His stance that excessive squatting (12-21% of volume being typical, 15% common amongst successful lifters) will be detrimental to performance sticks out, particularly in america where the back squat is a favorite amongst not only weightlifters, but also powerlifters and other strength athletes.

Ivanov has argued that 127% of your Clean and Jerk would be sufficient leg strength, where as Roman suggested that athletes would be able to Clean and Jerk about that ratio, and Snatch about 80% of their C&J. Basically, most experienced coaches are relating the competitive lifts as some percentage of the back squat. In a recent comment I observed from Glen Pendlay online, he argued that some athletes are C&J'ing weights as high as 100% of back squat, and this was due to (in my understanding of his comments) to the specificity of their training, as well as their technical superiority as compared to novices. I am not sure what to make of this assertion exactly, as many of the citations above were made by russians in laboratory like settings measuring world and olympic champions. This leads me to conclude that most likely where some discrepancies derive from is not content, but rather in labeling and/or measuring.

Furthermore, Pendlay's statements bring to light the role of EXPERIENCE, which is really what I wanted to talk about. The argument that the more experienced the lifter, the more individual strengths and weaknesses matter, and the more specialized training methods are required is to me as simple as stating that training must go from more general to more specific or from easier to harder. DUH.

I have observed in my own students, that over time they go through phases were different things matter, but to be honest NONE of them can be considered advanced, elite, or to have achieved technical mastery or their potential yet. These phases are as follows:
  1. The bent over RDL-High Pull Reverse Curl Tall clean phase
  2. The football power reverse curl
  3. the mature pull to power clean
  4. the "shit, I needed to squat lower" phase
It's not until they reach stage four (6-24 months after initiating training for most) that they begin to understand why I have been harping on the front squat and their elbows for the last two years.

for fuck's sake

It's at this stage, that more than the back squat, the ability to do the front squat (in the clean) or the overhead squat (in the snatch) in excess of what they were doing in their power variations determines their advancement as a lifter. Those athletes who can front squat more than the power clean keep pushing their PRs up, and it's the same with the OHS and snatch.

Thusly, for beginners, I have always felt that the most relevant lift to predict weightlifting performance was not the squat, but rather the deadlift. Until they get to the stage where they are squatting truly under the bar and under parallel to catch and are no longer power cleaning/snatching, the deadlift represents the raw capacity to elevate the bar from the floor.

Important caveat; I understand that a clean pull is not a deadlift. And I can verbalize all the reasons why. But without significant training time, this does not change the behaviors or outcomes of my beginning crossfitters. They bend down, and they pull the bar up, hard and fast. They catch it high. That's just the way it is, and it stays that way for a few weeks or a few months.

So, when we are talking about novice competitive lifters, who have their own weightlifting shoes, and they snatch over bodyweight and they back squat like they front and overhead, then yes, I agree, 80% and 60% of back squat is a good standard for them. Those numbers just so happen to correspond to the typical ratio novice weightlifters tend to experience between the squats too. Coincidence?

And finally, when it comes to Crossfitters, beginning weightlifters who are not specialists, who enjoy the lifts about as much as they enjoy skin the cats and 2000m rows, well, if you want those guys to clean and snatch more, BRING UP THEIR DEADLIFT. If you want them to continue to make progress past the 1-2 year mark, you better make sure that they are concurrently improving their skills in the front squat and overhead squat. But don't fool yourself: Until they get much better, the deadlift is the best way to get them to lift more in their muscle cleans and power snatches.

And here's the proof: Taken from my record board, I have run SPSS on about 25 of my clients who have 1RM data for at least most of the following lifts:
Front Squat
Overhead Squat

In a regression analysis incorporating the deadlift, front squat and back squat it was determined that you could predict about 94% of the variation amongst clean performance with these three lifts.

In the regression, deadlifts were significant at p=.038, whereas squats (front and back) where not at p=.39 and p=.37 respectively. The correlation between deadlift and clean amongst this group was r=.961. As you can see from this analysis, deadlifting was much more predictive of current outcomes than squatting was. This is not to say that it's time to turn the weightlifting world upside down, and that Chigishev needs to bring his DL up to 600kgs if he wants to take Rezazedah in the snatch.

What it does mean, is that if it's your first year of Crossfitting, and your DL is still not that great, you can do squat snatches from the high hang with an empty bar til yer blue in the face, but the guy that's hitting his 5x5s in the deadlift is going to crush you at most met cons. When I am not working from my laptop and I have more sophisticated screen shot takers and editing stuff, I will put up the outputs from SPSS so you can see the data directly, and I will also publish the same analysis of the snatch.

The gist of it is this: give or take a few (like 5) per cent, your deadlift predicts your clean and snatch like this:

Clean= 52% of DL

Snatch=38% of DL

So, wanna do Isabel as Rx'ed? Get your DL over at least 355lbs (opening up that 135lb power snatch). Wanna do Isabel fast? Make sure that Rx'ed is less than 70% of your max, or in DL terms, make sure you can DL 507lbs.

For the first year or two, it really is that simple. I highly recommend Power to the People by Pavel Tsatsouline to help you bring up your DL fast, if you can't train in person with me.

(I am an expert)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

"How you gonna keep em down on the Farm once they've seen Carl Hungus?"

So, thus begins my series of observations and lamentations on coaching, teaching and learning.

For the summer, I have a new student: a temporary client, on loan to me from another affiliate where this student normally lives most of the year (her college town). If I recall correctly, she has been Crossfitting for approximately one year.

First off, she seems like a great client/trainee: she has a positive attitude, she shows up ready to work. At first glance, she is young (still college aged), cute and not out of shape. Please understand that this HELPS the atmosphere around the gym to have people of all shapes and sizes, but it's human nature that most people would rather be around people like her, than angry old fat men.

Here's the rub; she's already been tainted by another system. Let me explain.

Today is Thursday, and Monday and Wednesday were her first nights. So I am writing this the following morning, and these are simply my first impressions, but to be fair, there is nothing unique about this particular client or this situation. Because she's new to our gym and we haven't had time to have her 'test out' I placed her in the lower of our two levels of classes (for now, as was explained when she enrolled). The workout on Monday was Power to the People deadlifts, then 2 sets of presses, and then some midline stabilization conditioning. Last night was 5x5 in the front squat. I was not her coach during Monday night, but I was for Wednesday night. It was a full class, and due to some recent classes the other five students who are ALL rank amateurs, had 1, 3 or 5 reps maxes for their front squat. I asked if our new girl did too (she's been training for a year). She said she didn't know exactly off the top of her head, so I asked for a ball park. Unwilling to estimate, she volunteered to go to her car and get her training log (SWEET!). When she returned, the most recent record she could locate for doing 'strength work' on the front squat was a workout from several months back where she performed 20, 15, and 10 repetitions with a 45lb barbell. That was it. That was what she had: a 10 rep max, performed presumably 2-5 minutes after a 20 reps max.

Not to be discouraged, I offered, "You can lift with X, and just start really low weight and go up as fast as you feel comfortable/can maintain technique". Which is what she did. I believe she started somewhere around 42lbs (10kg bar+training wheels). It was ok, but could be better. Elbows were low, thoracic curve was very flexed, depth was basically parallel (we encourage a lot more on the front and overhead), knees tracked a little medially, but nothing as egregious as most first timers, and still essentially safe. Keep in mind however, this is a 20ish year old college girl with Crossfit experience; 125lbs BW. She worked her way up to about 67lbs I think, before really losing form and doing one final set a little lighter.

I have high standards for both technical prowess and relative strength; I think both are key to great Crossfitting and great health and movement generally. Needless to say I was a little disappointed in the skill set and base level that was being brought in, but excited by the challenge of helping this client improve the basics, and return to her home affiliate a better athlete.

She approached me after all the other students had left. She was concerned. Not about her lack of strength or technique (she was outlifted by every single one of my students, who again are all mostly beginners) but rather that she was (in my words here) bored. At her gym, they often do some strength work first (like 3 sets of 10-20 apparently) and THEN do a real WOD. She was worried that she would fall out of shape over the summer should she continue to train like this.

Do any of you (those reading this blog) teach anything? I know some of you do, whether it's elementary school, weightlifting or BJJ. So, I pose to you this question: How would you feel, and what would you do to help the student understand, if they came to you and told you that you're training was going to make them worse? Particularly if they were coming in with orthapaedic injuries and low performance (possibly related to their previous training regime)?

The truth is, she's wearing a knee brace due to a very old ACL surgery that has started to 'act up again'. She's kyphotic and hasn't kept to prescribed treatment plan to help her correct it. And she struggles to move 50%BW in the front squat for five reps (as a 'healthy' young woman). Meanwhile she doesn't want to negatively impact her fitness by spending 1-2 workouts a week working on quality of movement and strength.

When I told her how important I felt relative strength was, and how I believed it would help any athlete do more work in less time in a met con type work out, she seemed skeptical, or maybe even disappointed. I felt as though she was trying to tell me that without ending up on the floor in a pile of sweat, sexy metcon style, she wasn't really training. And as I stated earlier, her sentiments are not unique.

Sometimes I feel like Crossfit is ruining Crossfit. I also think that americans are unique snow-flakes, and hence they cannot mold themselves to 'the program'. They cannot subvert their individuality in submission to a complete program that will change their lives, because they know better, have other ideas, or just don't want to do the work.

Especially the 'boring' work.

After ten years of experimenting, after 140 credit hours, a bachelors degree (and well on my way to a masters), many of the most prestigious certifications in my field, and hundreds of hours of mentorship under other great coaches... I HAVE A SYSTEM. Presumably that's why you showed up, and presumably that's why you're paying me. Follow the system, do the work. Get what you NEED.

Maybe that's my problem; I deliver what people need, not what they want.

I is back

Now let's see if I remember how to use this thing.

So, in September, around the time of my last post, I began grad school.

In November we moved Crossfit Full Circle to a new location, and we have subsequently doubled our membership.

It's been a busy time.