Breathing in Weightlifting

Breathing LiftWe almost have a joke in our gym. I say almost, because it might be true in most cases, but we say this phrase so much that it makes us laugh almost every time one of our coaches blurts it out.

“It’s all comes back to breathing”

Breathing it seems has become a panacea of sorts to nearly all that ails us, our clients, and my athletes.

  • Bad squat mobility: Breathing.
  • Bad shoulder position: Breathing.
  • Back Pain: Breathing.

I am not exaggerating when I say that most (not all) problems that we encounter can be fixed or improved by breathing better.

External Cues for Olympic Lifting

External cues photoOlympic lifting is filled with cues for even the most minute details of the lifts. These lifts have been studied by sports scientists for decades and there are no real secrets to them anymore, as such it is common to hear jargon that is filled with precise internal focused coaching points.

  • Maintain a 30 degree torso angle.
  • Push the knees back until the shins are at vertical.
  • Externally rotate the shoulders overhead.

These are certainly valid points, but what athlete really has great command over the individual angles of their torso, hips and knees? Some athletes certainly do, but we have been working to diversify our coaching points to include more external focus cues.

My Weightlifting Gear

Olympic lifting gearI get questions all the time about what I use to train for weightlifting. The shoes I wear, the bumpers and bar I use, or what I would recommend for training, or for home gym set up, etc. There are plenty of choices, but in my experience the best options when price and quality are considered are what I try to get.

If you are interested in Olympic lifting, there are only a few things that you MUST have.

Bumpers-Without rubber plates you are going to have a very tough time dropping the weights over and over. Not that the weights or the floors won’t be able to handle it, but the impact of metal weights hitting the bar when dropped will eat through bars quick!.

Bar– A good weightlifting bar will mean you can put more weight on the bar without sacrificing your wrists, shoulders, etc.

Shoes– Weightlifting shoes are more than just nice to have. They give you an essential base of support, and open up your ankles for squatting deeper. Plenty of problems that I see with athletes in the clean and snatch can easily be cleared up simply with some weightlifting shoes.

Platform– While not 100% necessary, they are really nice to have, so I shared with you the way to build a platform in about 10 minutes.

There are plenty of other things that I like to use all the time and keep in my weightlifting bag, but those are all listed as miscellaneous.

Simple. Effective: Short Olympic Lifting Combos

Combos image1

I have written several posts (both here and elsewhere) on complexes and combos. Lots of those have been absolutely murderous (5 and 6 exercise behemoth’s for up to 5 reps each) and each serves a purpose in my training.

Recently though I have found myself navigating towards simpler and simpler combos. Instead of 5-6 exercise slogs, I am focusing in on 2-3 movements and doing them at a fairly heavy weight, (similar to what I wrote in this article for T-Nation). These simple combos are more suited for developing strength and enhancing my technique.

They just so happen to be the types of combos that we use at my gym the MOST often for athletes. 2-3 movements done really well, not taxing on energy systems, but on strength. Athletes and olympic lifters get the most out of this type of combo or complex, short and to the point.

Below you will find 3 combos that I have been using in my own training a lot recently. The clean and jerk combo, and the jerk combo are really well suited to everyday athletes, and the snatch combo is perfect for the more weightlifting centric types.

Squat more, Lift more: Olympic lift ratios

I have said it here and many other places that “squatting is the life blood of Olympic lifting.” As your squat goes so do your lifts.

I should be clear, the primary part of your program should consist of the competition movements or a variation, probably 60% or more of your total reps, but the remainder of the program will be a lot of squats, with just a small amount being pulls of some sort and pressing.

A certain level of technical competence is required for the “squat more, lift more” motto to be in effect. For me this is seen when my lifters have been in a few competitions, but in general after an athlete has been in the gym for a year or more. We have to remember that lifting is a skill and that skill has to be learned well for strength to carryover to the platform.

Mike Robertson Interview: MR Talks Olympic Lifts

Mike-Robertson-DeadliftLike the rest of you, I view Mike Robertson as fitness royalty. Up there with guys like Alwyn Cosgrove, Robert Dos Remedios, Eric Cressey, and Mike Boyle. These are the fitness pros you MUST listen to when they speak and write

As the operator and brains behind RobertsonTrainingSystems.com, as well as being a former competitive power lifter, Mike knows exactly how to be strong, and do it while staying healthy. There really is no combo of experience, smart training ideas and good looks in the fitness world like Mike Robertson.

Mike also happens to have one of America’s best gyms (IFAST) and I, just so happen to, know that they have some large Olympic lifting platforms. Mike uses the Olympic lifts in his gym on a regular basis, and even values them enough to bring in one of my favorite Olympic lift coaches, Grant Gardis, on the regular to help hone his and his athletes’ skills.

So today I am turning to Mike to tell us how to be stronger in the Olympic lifts, and stay healthier while doing them.

Not a Bulgarian Olympic Lifting Program

IMG_2884On my travels to the junior national championships several months ago, I ran into one an awesome young man. I spotted him in the Dallas airport on a layover because he was doing snatches with a custodian’s broom (100% serious).

We struck up a conversation and I found out he was self taught and self trained in the Olympic lifts. The kid was rapidly becoming one of my favorite young people when he asked me how many years left I have as a junior (the answer is negative 11 years left). I asked him about his training program he said 3 words that no American weightlifter should say, “Straight Bulgarian homie.”

Uh. Oh.

My favorite, age-mistaking, young Olympic lifter, just made me realize that he didn’t have a hope. Sooner or later, but likely sooner, he was going to break down, or burn out.

Weightlifting Technique is not complicated

botev CleanThe basic premise of the Olympic lifts is simple. Unfortunately, much of what people try to do runs completely contrary to the simple premise. This premise should shape how we approach every part of the lift and when you understand it your lifts will go through the roof.

When we understand the basic premise of a task it should shape everything we do within that task.

In basketball the goal is to score more points than the other team. It shapes how teams play offense, and defense.
In the shot put the premise is to throw the ball as far as possible, all parts of the technique are aimed at improving the likelihood that you will throw the ball farther.

In weightlifting we sometimes over-complicate or overlook the singular premise of Olympic weightlifting.

So what’s the simple premise?

Lift something heavy.

That’s it. Lift. Something. Heavy.

I hope that no one disagrees with that point. Whether ending up with the bar over your head, or at your chest, the premise does not change. If you understand the idea of lifting something heavy your technique should be shaped for the better.

This article is not one to urge you to lift more than you can handle (as in “don’t lift light, lift heavy”) but to approach your technique with this premise in mind. The idea of “lift something heavy” is not me imploring you to go beyond your limits, but to change your thinking to dramatically improve your technique.

Be a Better Coach: Ask Questions

Nearly everyone wants to be a better version of themselves. It’s one of the most human traits that we have. We want more money, we want more knowledge, we want more SOMETHING.

Some of us want to BE that better version and work to get there, and some of us want to appear to be that better version of ourselves.

This post is about becoming that better version of ourselves and one simple tip to get to that place.

The Natural Athlete

I work with really smart people. Like the post from Rod Root (Depth Jumps), I have turned to another one of the awesome coaches on my team to explore an idea that I love. Matt Myers is a MovNat certified trainer and the head coach of our adult training program at Force. Matt just so happens to specialize in things that make him look like a ninja (black costume withstanding). I asked Matt how to train athletes to move naturally, freely, and BETTER. He came up with this awesome piece.  

Throughout all of history, stories of athleticism have helped to define our human heritage.  There was Milo and the first Olympians – legend has it that Milo trained by carrying a bull on his shoulders everyday.  As the bull aged, Milo became stronger (this may be the first known example of progressive strength training).

In his book “Born to Run”, author Christopher McDougall highlights the fossilized footprints of early humans whose stride-length suggests sprinting speeds faster than that of Usain Bolt.

There was Pheidippides, who ran 150 miles in two days to beg the Spartans for help against and invading Persian force, who landed in Marathon, Greece.  He then ran 25 miles to Athens to announce the victory, and fell dead (the modern “marathon” takes its name from his legend).

Even in modern times, athletes like Bo Jackson are famous not only for their unrivaled athleticism (including the fastest ever 40-time at the NFL combine, 4.12s), but for the seeming lack of modern strength and conditioning we associate with such feats.

These stories are not only a part of our collective history, but our own personal histories as well.  My great-great-great-grandfather, John R. Murphy, was strong as a bull.  Even after getting hit by a train, which disfigured his arm, he was called the “strongest man in Fairport (NY).”  Legend has it that he used to win all kinds of bets down at the railroad station showing feats of strength such as moving hundreds of pounds casks from one platform to another with one arm.   He routinely carried railroad ties home 1.5 miles at the young age of 65, and boasted that he would’ve beat John L. Sullivan for the heavyweight boxing crown if he had two good arms.  These were the types of stories my father told me as a young child, and shaped my understanding of what it meant to be an “athlete”.

Obviously, athleticism was a part of our humanity long before the advent of barbells and bumper plates.  Which begs the question:  put in their situation, how would you perform? 

With all of our modern knowledge, but without modern conveniences, how would you train your athletes?