Sunday, August 29, 2010
The Squat Snatch, Part Two
by Bob Hoffman
After you have developed some shoulder flexibility, next you must learn the correct low position. The toes should be pointed outward somewhat and the legs kept fairly wide. Every lifter is built differently and so there will be at least moderate variations in style. There have been two-hand snatchers in the past who squatted with a comparatively close grip, the feet not far apart, and the body nearly erect. This is not a good style because too often the lifter tends to raise his heels and lose balance. Yet it is the squat style that the Germans used many years ago when they were the only ones using this method in international competition.
Way back in 1924 I first saw Henry Steinborn trying to snatch 250 in the style described above. It was a world record attempt. The same night, due to a mistake in loading, Steinborn clean & jerked 375 thinking it was 350. But better lifters today average about 70 to 80 pounds more in the clean & jerk than they do in the snatch. For example, in the featherweight class, the snatch and jerk records, which were both held by the Russian, Tchimiskian, until very recently, 242 and 315, respectively, show a difference of 73 pounds. In the lightheavyweight class, where the records are held by Jim George at 303 and 388, the difference is 85 pounds.
In attempts at world records 10 tries are allowed, and so a man can miss repeatedly and fall all over the floor as the Germans did with their style years ago and still make one good lift and set a record. But in regular competition where only three attempts are allowed, a lifter had better learn to be sure. Of all the German squat snatchers of the prewar era, I believe that Rudi Ismayer, who held the world record in the middleweight class in 1932 at 253 pounds, had the style used by the majority of today’s lifters. Ismayer had a good position.
In tracing the history of lifting, I can not tell for certain who had the modern style of squat snatching first. Bill Good was using the present style in 1935, and so was Gord Venables. In fact when Venables snatched 242 in the Olympic tryouts in 1936, the lift was considered to be quite a wonder of the day. But from that time until the middle 1940’s, all of our champions were splitters. Then in 1945 along came 14-year old Pete George to win the Ohio state title using the squat technique. The next year he was junior national champion. In 1948 at the London Olympic Games he set a new Olympic record with a snatch of 270 as a middleweight. Pete was the only squatter on our American team in ’47, ’48, ’49, and ’50. But then in 1951 Dave Sheppard made the team and squat snatched 280 to tie Pete for the world title at Milan. The next year Tommy Kono made the grade at the Olympics, and he was also a squatter. That made three squatters on the team. In 1954 Chuck Vinci made it four, and the next year Paul Anderson and Jim George added two more squatters to the list. Isaac Berger made it unanimous when he joined the squad in 1956, and somewhere along the line even Joe Pitman changed from the split to the squat snatch. All the members of our victorious Olympic team in 1956 were squatters.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Pete George as a competitor and Larry Barnholth as a coach are the ones to whom the most credit goes for popularizing the squat style snatch throughout the world. And credit too must be given to Dave Sheppard, whose startling world records using this style did much to encourage American lifters to try the squat style.
Both the squat and split methods of snatching have proven their merits. The world records are pretty well evenly divided between the two. Vinci, a squatter, holds the bantamweight record at 231 pounds, but this lift has been equaled by Stogov, a splitter. The Italian lifter, Mannironi, recently snatched 244 as a featherweight in the split style, but then Isaac Berger made 245 in training, and Ike is a squatter. No lightweight squatter has come within 10 pounds of Kostylev’s magnificent 275½ record in that class, and we had the pleasure of seeing him make 281 in his impeccable split style while weighing just a fraction of an ounce over the class limit. Duganov, a squatter, holds the middleweight record, and Jim George, also a squatter, has the world record in the lightheavyweight division. In the next class, Vorobiov, a splitter, has done more than anyone else in the world, and although Schemansky, a splitter, officially owns the world record in the heavyweight class, a record which should fall to either Ashman or Medvedev soon, Anderson, a squatter, has made 336 for the U.S. record.
Method of Performance
It behooves any lifter to try both styles and to determine for himself which method he can do best. One thing in favor of the squat style is that you can not do it at all unless you learn to be reasonably proficient in that method. On the other hand, a great many lifters who use the split style are very bad lifters, making their lifts with atrocious style. It has been proven that the splitter can get just as low as the squatter if he masters the style. But few lifters learn the correct style of split snatching and as a result their performance records suffer.
Even the best exponents of the squat technique in the world make a lot of misses. I have seen the very best, Kono, George, Duganov, even Sheppard, miss one or two lifts in an important competition before they are successful. There is more range of movement in rocking under a split snatch than the squat method allows. The squatter has less range of movement, but the real star at this style of lifting have managed to run forward or even step back if necessary in order to fix the weight overhead. The squat style is a good method if a man can do it, and, as I’ve said before, every lifter would be wise to practice it enough to see if he can perform if surely enough to use the method in competition.
When you have mastered the preliminary exercises we suggested previously in Part One, you must practice going through the motions almost endlessly. When I was an active lifter I went through the motions at least three times before I lifted in either practice or competition. In this manner you teach yourself to assume proper positions, just as you teach yourself to balance on your hands, to ice skate, to ride a bicycle, to swim, or to dive. Once you have taught yourself to do these things, you will never forget them. Make sure that you learn the correct procedure from the beginning. Once I stood watching a group of young high school lifters practicing. Hardly one in the group had even fair style. I said to the instructor, “Why don’t you teach these boys correct style?” He replied, “Bob, they have only been lifting for eight weeks; it takes time to learn.” And I said, “Yes, and the longer you go on with faulty technique, the more difficult it is for you ever to become proficient or a champion lifter. You can learn the correct position in a few minutes.” When a body learns faulty habits, poor technique in any sport, lifting included, it is practically impossible to teach it to perform correctly. That is why we have always made it a rule in our gym not to miss more than twice in a row. When a lifter does miss twice, I want him to drop back in weight and come back up again. That way success becomes a habit. Too many misses develops habits of missing just as successes develop habits of success.
You may find the correct positions with moderate weights, but it is just as likely that you can handle these weights in faulty positions too. That is why we have always asked York lifters to handle respectable poundages in training, at least heavy enough to force them to go into proper positions. Much of our lifting is done with good poundages. If you miss, drop back five or ten pounds, and if you succeed, move up five pounds. Muscles once taught never forget. My championship canoe racing days are 30 years behind me now, but I can get into a canoe, ride the gunwales, balance, jump and paddle in this position, just as I did in my racing days. I had not rowed in a racing scull since 1926, but recently I had the opportunity to row such a boat, and I got into it and maintained balance just as I did more than 30 years ago in the same kind of boat. So my advice to you is to learn to do it right. Keep striving for perfection as you develop strength and speed, and you will become a better lifter. So often I say, anything worth doing is worth doing well, yet still I often see fellows who have been lifting with the same poor form for the last 20 years. Just think how much farther they would have gone if they had learned to lift properly!
Correct squat style is so absurdly simple, yet a lot of ambitious lifters never learn. You simply perform a high dead lift, and when the weight is as high as possible, you go into the lowest possible position under it, then rise from the low position as you maintain balance.
Proper stance is the first thing to be considered in the squat snatch. You approach the bar and stand with the feet on a line, a comfortable distance apart. This should be the position from which you can make a standing broad jump. There are exceptions to this rule. Jim George stands with his heels together and his toes and knees turned far out. This is not a natural position, for it is awkward, and maximum leg strength can not be exerted from it, but Jim holds the world record in his class at 303, so it must be all right for him. But other men who have set records, notably Vinci, Berger, Kono, Sheppard, Duganov and thousands of others, start with their feet in the position I prefer and recommend.
Friday, August 27, 2010
The Squat Snatch, Part One
by Bob Hoffman (1958)
It is generally known throughout the world that I have always preferred the split style over the squat style in two-hands snatching. But from the beginning of my career in lifting I have always suggested that each man practice a great deal with both styles in an endeavor to find which style suits him best. The main reason I have advocated the split technique is because it is a surer method in that it permits the lifter to use a great deal of movement in rocking under the weight in the low position. Furthermore, by using the method we have called the “one-legged squat” for the past 35 years, it is possible to get as low in the split style as in the squat.
The only difference between a low split and a full squat position is the angle at which the body is held. Most splitters hold their bodies erect when in the low position although there were and still are certain splitters who lean the body well forward and keep the arms well back as in the squat style. Notable examples were Wally Zagurski and Stanley Kratkowski, both of whom were former national champions and members of the 1936 Olympic team. By employing this position a splitter can get as low as a squatter. Many squatters hold their bodies quite erect and look up at the bar when in the low position. Certainly these men do not get any lower than a good splitter.
Since I have been an advocate of the split style for so long, perhaps many of you are wondering how it is that I feel competent to write about the squat technique. I have seen the best squatters in the world in action and in training for all these many years. There have always been squatters on the York team, and at Melbourne at the 1956 Olympic Games every single member of the American team was a squatter, all seven of them. So, I know a lot about what is what is what in squat snatching. As a matter of fact, early in my lifting career I did a lot of squat snatching myself – in the one hand snatch. In the first contest we had as a York team I lifted and snatched 160 with one hand, 175 with two hands. Later I moved my lifetime records considerably higher, made 230 with two hands. In those very early days lots of people said I was the best lifter in the York barbell gym (here we go) and that took a lot of territory, for there were many terrific lifters in action here at the time. I simply wasn’t as strong as Grimek, Stanko, Davis, or even the smaller fellows such as Terlazzo and Terpak, and style alone is not enough. Strength is the most important characteristic of a lifter; if you have it, your chances of being a champion are good, for with constant practice you should be able to master the best style.
In my book, “Weightlifting”, the best styles for snatching are described. Formerly, a great variation in lifting styles could be found around the world, but now the lifters from almost every nation have adopted our methods. Even the Russians have been honest enough to admit that they follow Bob Hoffman’s training methods and lifting techniques. The following description of the two-hands snatch is quoted from my book: “As in the one-hand snatch, there are various methods of performing the lift. Stand close to the bar with the feet about 18 inches apart. Bend the knees slightly, bending in the back as in the two-hands snatch. Prepare to grasp the bar with a slow dive and hook. The back is kept flat throughout, the hips low, as the knees are bent. Grasp the bar tightly, using the hook grip. You have concentrated on a long, hard pull, determining to pull the bell as high as possible – at least to the level of the neck or chin. Start the lift with the arm straight, the initial pull being given by the back and legs. The legs and the back will be almost straight before you start pulling with the arm. Pull with increasing rapidity, with all your force, keeping the bar close to the chest and pulling high. Immediately, as the bell reaches its highest point, the body must be lowered. My style was to go into a full squat, at the same time turning a quarter turn or stepping forward a bit with the foot on the nonlifting side (one-arm snatch).
“Close observers of lifting styles will note that the final position of the bent press, the one-hand snatch, and the one-arm jerk in the low position are almost identical. The knees are well bent, the body bent over to right angles, the side upon the thigh, the free hand either resting upon the thigh, hanging between the legs, or crossed to the opposite knee where it rests. The nonlifting hand, at the beginning of the lift, should be rested across the knee on its side. A sharp push is given with this nonlifting hand as the weight is lifted from the floor. It will add pounds to your record.
“Some lifters will use the Get Set style, grasping the bar and starting the lift after a momentary straightening and bending of the legs to give some rebound to the start of the lift. A few lifters who have succeeded with fair poundages use split style in one-hand snatching, similar to their methods in two-hands snatching. This method does not generally permit as low a position or as high a poundage as the full squat. Best to master the full squat position as it will greatly assist you in performing the one-arm snatch, the one-arm jerk, the bent press and the one-arm swing. To teach the body the proper position, hold the weight overhead with one hand, then lower the body into the lowest possible position – the full squat. When the bell is fixed overhead, rise immediately to the erect position. The nonlifting hand can assist in maintaining balance and help the body to the erect position when heavy weights are employed. Regardless of how high you pull the weight in the one-hand snatch, or where you catch it when the lifting arm is straight, always drop into the low squat position, for it will teach you the proper low position so you can handle more weight.”
Although the one-hand snatch has not been a part of the national championships program since 1935 and will probably never be a part of it again because of the time factor, it is a very fine lift and one which all ambitious lifters should practice. A well-executed one-hand snatch is very impressive to behold. The Russians are still breaking one-arm world’s records. It would be interesting to see what some of our great two-arm snatchers could do in the one-hand lift.
It is not easy to learn sure and correct form in the two-hands squat snatch. I believe that the Russian Duganov, has the ideal form in two-hands snatching. He is not a young man, was wounded in the war and had his leg broken in three places, and still he set the world’s middleweight record at 292½ pounds while making record attempts in the lifting at Leningrad in 1955. This is one record that I believe will last for a long time yet. Bogdanovsky, the Russian champion, has done 281, and of course Tommy Kono made a wonderful 286 in our nationals at Los Angeles this past June, but still it does not seem likely that either of these two great lifters will take that record from Duganov in the near future. And in spite of his fine form, I saw Duganov in the only world championships in which he appeared, at Stockholm in 1953, miss his first two snatches before finally succeeding with 264 on his final attempt.
More than once Tommy Kono has missed his first two attempts in the snatch before succeeding. Tommy has been six times world’s champion, has defeated his Russian opponents 10 times. What I am getting at is that even the best squatters often miss. It is imperative that you learn correct form in squat snatching. Splitters rarely make a miss, even the best squatters often miss. It would seem that the squat style is a good way of lifting if you can do it, and you CAN do it if you learn properly. The object of this three-part series is to help teach you the proper method of doing the squat snatch.
It seems so easy when you see a lifter succeed with a high-grade squat snatch. The spectators applaud, and the lifter is happy, for a squat snatch properly performed is a thrilling experience for the lifter and for those who see it done. In fact it looks so easy that lots of men decide to try the squat when they have already lifted for a long time in the split style. Some, such as Joe Pitman, do better than ever in the new style, but others, such as Sid Henry, enter a contest and miss three times in a row. There is a lot of study and preliminary practice that is an essential part of building up to the point where you are a successful two-hands squat snatcher.
A squat snatcher must be a finished performer, for there is not as much room for error in this method as there is in splitting. The squat snatch requires a great deal of practice for proper position, for balance and flexibility. You must practice and practice, and then practice some more, to learn the proper body positions, to acquire the needed sense of balance, and to develop sufficient flexibility. Instead of just starting out to try the squat style without preliminary practice as so many do, you should practice a great deal before trying it in actual lifting.
Split snatchers use most any sort of gymnasium or rubber soled lifting shoes. Squat snatchers use heavy shoes, usually with uppers of more than ankle height, and sturdily constructed. Most lifters merely purchase a pair of heavy duty work shoes and have the heels raised a bit. The heels should be at least as high as when they are brand new, and preferably a little higher. With some lifters, an extra quarter of an inch is sufficient, but with others a full half inch in necessary. Keep the heels on your lifting shoes in new condition, for when they become worn and rounded it is easy to lose balance.
Most squat snatchers fail from stiff shoulders than from any other reason. You can loosed up your shoulders and accustom them to turning under the weight and holding it by practicing with a light bar, a stick, or even a belt or a towel. Whatever you use, hold it with a grip as wide as you need to allow you to lower it behind your back while keeping the arms straight and locked at the elbows. The range of movement is from the buttocks to straight overhead. As you become more flexible, bring in the hands more and decrease the width of your grip, as this will make the shoulders even looser. As far as the actual spacing of the hands while performing the lift is concerned, some lifters hold the bar at about the middle of the knurling on the International type of lifting bar, while others hold it with the hands right up against the collars, as wide as possible. You will have to experiment to find the style that suits you best.
It has been said that one picture is worth a thousand words. Keep this in mind when you study the pictures which accompany this article. They show some of the best squat snatchers in action and should serve to replace a lot of descriptive words. You can learn a lot about how the squat snatch should be performed by studying the sequence photos.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Developing the Key Muscles Involved in Bench Pressing
3.1 – What We Know About Muscle Involvement in the Bench Press
How do we know what muscles are involved in the bench press, when they’re involved, and how much? Very good question! The prediction of individual muscle force involvement during human sport and exercise motions is no trivial research effort. Three-dimensional musculoskeletal modeling techniques incorporating input from three-dimensional cinematography, electromyography and force transducers on the bar are needed to someday answer this question fully. An example of the complexity of such studies can be seen in reference (1). What’s also important in such analyses is that there are a larger number of unknown muscle forces to solve for than there are equations to work with. Thus, a knowledge of how the body (i.e., the nervous system) calls muscles into play during a bench press is also needed. Needless to say, it’s not a trivial research problem, but along with my colleagues I have been steadily working toward its solution with the “pilot” two and three-dimensional studies discussed in Section 1.4 and throughout this book. Eventually (especially if funding is available) these questions will be answered.
Until then, let’s look at what we know about muscle involvement in the bench press as determined by a number or our pilot studies. Keep in mind throughout the ensuing discussion that these comments must be considered “best” guesses until more sophisticated studies are undertaken. Three pilot studies will be discussed that relate to muscle involvement in bench pressing.
The first study was conducted in 1979 with the kind assistance of W. Kazmaier, World Superheavyweight bench press champion as subject. As depicted in Figure 14, simultaneous film and electromyographic (electromyography, or “EMG”, involves monitoring electrical muscle activity) data was collected as Kazmaier performed a great variety of bench press styles (varying mainly his grip width and where the bar touched his chest). Weights were incremented as he went through each style of bench press for a given poundage. Some of the major conclusions of this analysis were:
(1) The effects of even small (1-2 inch) changes in grip spacing were significant in terms of muscle involvement. Most bench pressers can “feel” this dramatic change in muscle load sharing as they only minimally widen or narrow their grip during bench pressing;
(2) Pectoralis major (sternal portion) was more involved with wider grips and less involved with narrower grips;
(3) Triceps activity was conversely more involved with narrow grips and less involved with wide. Also, at the start of the push off the chest, the greatest burst of triceps activity. The other major area of activity was in the upper portion of the lift, after the chest’s major activity (which was generally from the chest until half to two-thirds of the way up); and
(4) The anterior deltoid was greatly involved in all styles of lift and at virtually all portions of each bench press.
The second study of interest was an investigation of both the bench press and incline presses sponsored by Diversified Products Corporation in 1980 (reference 8, Section 1.4). Similar cinematography with synchronized electromyography of the triceps, anterior deltoid, and both parts of the pectoralis major (sternal and clavicular). The sternal group of fibers are those originating from the sternum (which are most of the fibers in the chest) and the clavicular group originate off the clavicle. Only one subject was used, who was a skilled collegiate powerlifter with five years training history. To summarize the results for the bench press for this subject:
(1) Two grip widths were used, both a wide grip (32 inch) and a narrow grip (18 inch);
(2) When the bar was lowered to the chest all muscles showed considerable activity regardless of grip width. During the lowering, the wide grip involved the triceps less and anterior deltoid more than was the case during the descent with the narrow grip;
(3) As the bar was initially pushed up, peak activity for all muscles was noted shortly after the bar began its upward movement from the chest;
(4) More anterior deltoid activity throughout the entire lift was noted when the wide grip was used;
(5) Triceps activity was less continuous with the wide grip and concentrated most near lockout and barbell support;
(6) When a maximal bench press effort was made the greatest increase in peak activity occurred for the triceps! The smallest increase in peak activity occurred for the anterior deltoid.
As for the second study’s results for incline bench pressers:
(1) Two incline settings were used, and both the wide and narrow grip spacings were again used at each incline;
(2) When going from flat bench presses to the low incline and then to the high incline (no matter what grip was used), pectoralis major (sternal) activity decreased proportionately. This is probably why people who do inclines are often seen arching their backs in an attempt to “flatten” out their chest and get more sternal pectoralis fibers involved. Better to do flat benches!
(3) At either incline the narrow grip involved more activity of the smaller group of clavicular fibers of the pectoralis major than did the wide grip;
(4) Narrow grip inclines provided more triceps activity than the wide grip at either incline;
(5) Peak activity of all muscles occurred at about halfway up at both levels of incline;
(6) At the finish of some repetitions a large burst of anterior deltoid activity was sometimes seen in an attempt to stop the forward drift of the bar between repetitions.
In 1981 a third study was undertaken (reference 6, Section 1.4) using a more sophisticated analysis. Three-dimensional cinematography and musculoskeletal modeling techniques were used to predict involvement of the triceps, pectoralis major (sternal portion only) and anterior deltoid during the three types of bench presses with yours truly as subject (this was discussed more in Section 1.4 and especially 2.8) The results indicated that as far as muscle activity was concerned:
(1) Triceps involvement is so large near the end (or top) of a bench press (especially with a narrow grip), that it is the limiting factor in the lift in this region;
(2) During the rest of the bench press (from just off the chest until perhaps halfway to two-thirds of the way up) the pectoralis major is the limiting factor and most involved;
(3) The anterior deltoid in both grips is near maximally involved during the entire lift, using any style;
(4) A wide grip keeps the pectoralis major at a greater muscle length longer during the lift and permits the muscle to be of more help to successful completion; and
(5) A narrow grip involves the triceps more and the pectoralis major less.
In summary, it should be obvious that the results from these three studies are remarkably consistent even though different research protocols, subjects, etc. were used. I strongly suggest that the information just discussed be studied carefully by the serious bench presser. There is a lot of useful information here with direct implications for training this lift. Even though more advanced studies still need to be done, the results of these three separate studies correlate extremely well and serve as a great starting point for the sections to follow. With these results in mind, let’s now look at how we might train the key muscles involved in bench pressing.
(1) McLaughlin T.M. and Miller, N.R. “Techniques for the evaluation of loads on the forearm prior to impact in tennis strokes”, Journal of Mechanical Design, Vol. 102: 701-710, 1980.
Monday, August 23, 2010
2.18 – Relationship of Bench Press Capacity to Weight
The quest for relationships between bodyweight and muscular work is an old one. The argument that has been used is the past for relating weightlifting ability to bodyweight is the assumption that the lifting ability of a trained athlete is proportional to the muscle cross-sectional areas participating in the lifting. If ‘d’ is a typical cross-sectional dimension of the body such that muscle cross-sectional areas are proportional to d*d, then lifting ability is proportional to d*d, or :
Since one’s bodyweight is proportional to volume (or d*d*d) then the lift is proportional to the bodyweight in the power law relation of the form:
Where a/~ is the exponent of the power law relation and equals (2/3). Therefore, by this line of thinking a person’s lift should be proportional to their bodyweight raised to the 2/3 power, or:
If this is true then man’s lifting capacity in weightlifting competitions should show this relationship. In 1956, Lietzke (reference 1) found that a plot of the 1956 world record totals in the classic found that a plot of the 1956 world record totals in the classic Olympic lifts (3 lifts) versus bodyweight was indeed linear on a log-log plot with a slope of approximately (2/3), hence confirming this power law relationship.
Lietzke suggested that in the future weightlifting totals would probably increase, but the slope of the line drawn through the points of weightlifting totals versus bodyweight (plotted on log-log paper) should continue to be approximately (2/3). It was Lietzke’s results that motivated me to investigate the applicability of power relations to different lifts, especially powerlifts like the bench press, to see if these arguments were applicable to such different lifts.
Analysis (reference 2) of the relationship of (3 lift) Olympic lift totals from 1952 to 1972 (using Olympic records) found that this relationship did still hold, with the exponents in the power law still equal to (2/3). Probably this increased relationship between bodyweight and lifting capacity for the current (2 lift) Olympic lifts has to do with the greater proportion of muscle mass participating in the two remaining lifts. The stats show an even greater relationship exists between bodyweight and powerlifting ability (reference 2).
A look individually at the three powerlifts (and totals) was next undertaken. It was quite interesting that in order of ranking, THE BENCH PRESS WAS MOST RELATED TO BODYWEIGHT, followed closely be the squat and then the deadlift (which was only related by an exponent (a) of about .86). What this helps explain is why many of us who bench press have noticed a loss in benching strength with even small decreases in our bodyweight. A loss of bodyweight thus typically will affect bench pressing poundages more than, let’s say, it will limit your ability to do the same deadlift maximum. Or conversely, this also explains why a gain in bodyweight typically seems to help increase your bench press (as well as squat) more than it affects deadlift poundages. This knowledge can be helpful to powerlifters or athletes who lose or gain great amounts of bodyweight quickly, in terms of rough selection of the proper weights use in the three powerlifts after experiencing the bodyweight change.
Further work on the relationship between the bench press and other powerlifts could lead not only to being able to predict future records, but also possible in generating a more valid and equitable method for determining the best lifter pound-for-pound in Olympic lifting or Powerlifting than current methods (Hoffman, Schwartz, Malone, etc. Formulas). In any case, if your bench press goes down, you at least now have another excuse (and you can claim it’s due to a loss in bodyweight)!
(1) Lietzke, M.H. “Relation between weightlifting totals and bodyweight”, Science, 124:486, 1956.
(2) McLaughlin, T.M. and Lardner, T.J. “The theoretical relationship between bodyweight and man’s lifting capacity”, research paper in preparation, 1984.
2.19 – The Importance of Chest Size
If you look at the physiques of most champion bench pressers, they typically have either a huge chest, short arms, or usually both. With a fixed arm length and grip spacing, the higher your chest is above the bench the less mechanical work you have to do. Work as defined here is the product of the force acting on the bar and the displacement of the bar in the direction of the applied force, which roughly is vertically upward in bench pressing. If you put some towels or rubber pads on top of your chest during bench pressing you will see that with the same grip spacing on the bar you can probably lift more weight. Consequently, developing the size of your chest is important to bench press performance and a reason why the bench press was shown to be so highly related to bodyweight (in the last Section, 2.18). It appears helpful to develop and maintain chest muscle mass to get and keep a big bench press. In fact, if you lose a lot of bodyweight and, let’s say, the height of your chest is reduced by even 1/4 of an inch – then the mechanical work you have to do will increase.
What’s interesting also is that letting your chest size diminish causes the bar to go down lower than normal (an extreme case would be to even allow sinking of the bar into your chest). When this occurs the key muscles involved in the bench press at the bottom (in particular the pectoralis major and triceps see 3.1) must work at muscle lengths they are not typically accustomed to. Consequently, the maximum force you can generate may be reduced.
Years ago, the great world champion bench presser and powerlifter, Larry Pacifico, visited the National Strength Research Center and in a workout showed me his version of getting the body optimally positioned for the bench press. Basically, the idea involves positioning the body to get the chest as high above the bench as possible. This is exactly what you need to do to reduce mechanical work and hopefully push up more weight in your bench press. It also makes sense, from a work perspective, to avoid letting the bar sink into your chest. Finally, as I mentioned in Section 2.8, a wide grip will also help reduce the mechanical work you have to do.
When I’ve taught weight training classes to novices I’ve always noted that the long-armed and small-chested “basketball” physique types had problems in bench pressing much weight compared to more amenable body types (larger chests, shorter arms lengths). Although obvious, keep this in mind. If I were of the long-armed and small-chested body type I would:
(1) work hard to increase muscle mass of my chest;
(2) use the widest permissible grip spacing;
(3) position myself to get the chest as high as possible off the bench; and
(4) not permit the bar to sink in at chest impact.
In fact, all of us need to follow these suggestions to help optimize our bench press.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
2.14 – Hand/Finger Orientation in Holding the Bar
There are three major methods in vogue for grasping the bar during bench presses: (1) “Normal” grip with palms facing away from head and fingers wrapped around the bar; (2) “Balance” or “False” grip with palms facing away from head but fingers not wrapped around the bar and usually only touching the bar (normally on top) for balance; and (3) “Reverse” grip, popularized by the two bodybuilding brothers “The Barbarians” and Anthony Clark, where the bar is gripped with the palms facing the head.
The most dangerous, of course, is the balance grip where the fingers do not wrap around the bar. I have seen a number of lifters use this, but seldom the best bench pressers. I believe the reason that most top bench pressers prefer the normal grip is that when you use the bar path we’ve discussed, the fingers wrapped around the bar may help both in producing and accommodating the horizontal motion of the bar. I have seen too many bars dropped (even in national competition) using the balance grip, and I caution against its dangers. The reverse grip, believe it or not, although awkward and feeling for most, should not significantly hurt bench press performance. The reason for this is that triceps force capacity does not depend on what grip is used (i.e., forearm pronation/supination).
No matter what grip is used, it is most important to realize that besides controlling the bar and ensuring that it doesn’t fall out of the hands, the grip primarily serves to transfer force from the body to the bar. Since these forces are primarily transferred through the ulna bone of the forearm to the bar, it seems valuable to position the bar near the ulnar surface of the hand (on the little finger side of the palm). An extra benefit obtained from placing the bar across the ulnar surface of the hand has to do with one of the body’s “protective” neuromuscular reflexes.
The human body has a number of these protective neuromuscular reflexes that serve mainly to protect the body from injury. It has been shown, for example, that pressure on the ulnar side of the hand (near the fleshy part of the palm on the little finger side) causes extensor or stabilization response in the upper arm. This reflexively aids the stability of the whole upper arm by stimulating greater contraction of the elbow extensors, especially the triceps.
As you may have noticed, a number of top lifters can be seen pronating their forearms to be sure that the bar rests not transversely across the center of the palm, but rather more on the ulnar surface of the hand. I have often taught this extensor reflex maneuver to beginning weight training classes by instructing them to put the weight on the ulnar surface of the hand during all sorts of triceps exercises (triceps pushdown, dips, etc.). You will be surprised if you try this at how powerful and comfortable this maneuver makes the arm feel.
An additional benefit of having the bar positioned over the ulnar surface of the palm (besides those just discussed) is reduction of the wrist torque. Those who place the bar far up on the palm can dramatically increase the torque about the wrist joint. For all bench pressers, using tight elastic wrist wraps (permitted by the rules of Powerlifting) can help relieve these wrist torques. Although I feel it’s best not to use these wrist wraps all the time in training (so that the wrist connective tissue develops fully) it doesn’t seem to hurt, especially in competition. I recommend them in all competitive or maximal training efforts.
2.15 – Symmetrical Loading of the Bar
The way in which the barbell plates are placed on the bar, as well as the spacing of the hands on the bar are important in bench pressing. The narrower the grip the more important the symmetrical placement of the plates on the bar. With heavy weights in particular, I strongly recommend that the bench presser: (1) check that the plates are positioned so that the heaviest plates are closest in; (2) use the heaviest plates when possible, and I even mean 100 lb. plates as soon as the poundage permits. Even though a lot of plates “look” more impressive, it is better to go to the larger (more centrally located) plates; and (3) always use collars to keep the plates from inadvertently sliding further out toward the ends of the bar. The logic behind all three of these suggestions is that the lateral torque about each shoulder should be minimized as much as possible in order to avoid asymmetry and potential injury. Every bench presser should PERSONALLY check these.
It is similarly important to evenly grip the bar (again, especially with narrow grip spacings). The knurling can be used as a guide to ensure symmetric hand spacing. Bench presses should preferably be handed off and spotted by a single spotter who grabs the bar in the middle. I prefer this (even though two spotters, one on each end of the bar, would seem desirable.) since it is typically difficult for two spotters to coordinate their action without asymmetry and potential injuries. Obviously, this all becomes more important the heavier the weight in the bench press. Finally, if you are significantly weaker in one arm I don’t recommend using an offset grip spacing (with the weak hand closer in) except for emergency situations like a meet. It is more preferable to use symmetrical lifting and let the weight ease back up than to risk injury by overloading the “stronger” side.
2.16 – What if You Miss?
Statistically, weight training is one of the safest activities you could possibly engage in. However, there have been occasional severe injuries and even a few deaths attributed to weight training. Most of these deaths (however few they may be) occurred when performing (guess what) bench presses. Typically this has occurred when people were bench pressing alone without a rack or catchers, got pinned under too heavy a weight and couldn’t get help. Not a very pleasant scenario, but one has to ask – what were they thinking!
When you miss a lift while bench pressing alone, unless you use a rack or boxes, you are suddenly in an extremely dangerous situation. Don’t be a fool. Devise a safe way to bench safely on your own. Enough said about something so obvious.
2.17 – Power Output
Power is defined as the rate of doing work. Conceptually, it can be thought of as the ability to do work (or exert force over some distance) quickly. The maximum and average mean values during raising the bar are shown in Table 9 for all the groups studied 9in references 7 and 9, Section 1.4). It is first apparent that the power outputs of the two light groups were not significantly different. However, the power produced by the heavier lifters was over 40% greater than the lighter groups. This was true (see Table 9) for both the maximum power (i.e., the instantaneous maximum product of force on the bar and bar velocity) and also for the average power during the raising phase (i.e., the ratio of work done on he bar to the time required to lift it). It should be mentioned that the higher power outputs recorded for the heavier lifters was larger than the increase expected from the heavier weight lifted alone. However, this is reasonable since Olympic lifting results (see reference 1) support the trend for greater power outputs for lifters of increased bodyweight for any given movement. Since these heavy powerlifters (again, from reference 9, Section 1.4) have more body mass one would expect that their greater muscle size would permit greater strength and power production. This is reflected in the fact that even though the heavy elite powerlifters lifted about 30% more weight than the light experts, they pushed the bar up .3 seconds faster (see Table 3).
These power outputs (from Table 9) are small relative to values reported in the research literature (reference 1). Values of up to 6000 NM/s have been measured for Olympic lifters (reference 1). Additionally, in 1980 I did a study with Dr. John Garhammer where we compared the power output in the Olympic versus Powerlifts. Generally the power produced in the Powerlifts was at least one-half as much as in the Olympic lifts (reference 2). Two implications arise from this information: (1) Powerlifting is perhaps not the best name for our sport, since our power outputs are actually on the low end of powers produced in human activities. Perhaps we should rename ourselves more appropriately “strength lifters”, etc.; and (2) The use of training programs especially designed for peaking power production (as typically used for Olympic lifters) may need rethinking. The degree to which the development of either strength or power should be emphasized in bench press training programs is a very interesting albeit difficult question. Personally, I feel that most bench press training should emphasize strength development over power.
(1) Garhammer, J. “Power production by Olympic weightlifters”, Medicine and Science in Sports, 12:54-60, 1980.
(2) Garhammer, J. and McLaughlin, T.M. “Power output as a function of load variation in Olympic and Powerlifting”, Abstracts: Journal of Biomechanics, 13:198, 1980.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
The Mental Approach
by John Grimek (1961)
One fact appears to be certain in the weight lifting field: whenever anyone fails to make substantial gains from training, he immediately begins to search for some nonexistent secrets that will assure him of success. He feels that he must find these hidden techniques if he is to attain his physical goal. Do they exist? If you mean certain magic-like special exercises, or super result-producing combinations of repetitions and sets, or a diet that will guarantee extraordinary results for all who follow it, then the answer is, they do not exist. But there is one often overlooked aspect of training that affects and controls one’s improvement, and this is the trainee’s psychological approach to training.
Undoubtedly a number of you have found yourselves wondering why some fellows seem to make faster improvement than others. An obvious answer, and one which applies in many cases, is simply that nature has provided certain individuals with bodies which are more receptive to the stimulation of exercise than others. Most bodybuilders and lifters share this opinion. But there is more to it than this. The average lifter instinctively seems to sense this, but when asked about it is never quite able to put his finger on it. He knows an explanation does exist, but hasn’t the vaguest idea what that explanation is, and hence the answer must be that it is a “secret.”
In trying to figure out why some gain quickly and others not at all or only slightly, we must not lose sight of all the factors involved. For instance, how does the individual train? What method of training does he follow? And most important of all, what is his mental outlook in relation to exercise? The latter statement is especially important because it acts as a direct force in helping him to reach his goal if he steers it properly.
I realize that this statement may not impress you at this time, and you may, with some skepticism, ask yourself what’s so important about one’s mental approach? The answer is – EVERYTHING! Does this answer surprise you? Does it raise doubts in your mind? If so, don’t fret, because many who haven’t given this matter any thought find it hard to accept. It’s true, nevertheless, when one has the proper psychological approach it bolsters his desires and intensifies his drive, gives him that extra energy he may need to reach his goal. Moreover, the right attitude is equally as important as selecting the right training system.
Let’s delve into the subject more fully. Let us take two fellows with equal physical qualities and who are following identical training systems. One of them, however, feels that he will not accomplish ANYTHING by employing this method so goes about it listlessly. The other one greatly favors and believes in it and tackles his training more zestfully. It’s easy to guess, from this description, which of the two will make outstanding gains. It’s safe to say, too, that the one who likes his training will, in all probability, make three to five times the improvement of the other fellow, simply because he believes in his efforts. Of course, it’s natural for one to conclude, under the circumstances, that this lack of improvement is solely due to his failure to put “his all” in his training. And this is correct up to a point. The fact remains, however, that because his mental approach is so impotent and lackadaisical he can’t push himself to an all-out effort. It acts like a psychological block that prevents him from enjoying such training, dampens his spirit and restricts his physical output. Such individuals subconsciously accept a defeatist attitude and become mentally depressed, thus voiding the possible benefits that may accrue from their efforts.
You must learn to recognize that a vast difference exists between those who know that their training will benefit them, and those who feel it is utterly useless. It is also true that those who enjoy their training will invariably benefit from it because they seem to train harder. So it’s plain to see how much one’s mental approach works.
But the question of interest to you is, no doubt, how does this affect you? I’ll try to explain by saying that when your mental attitude is optimistic about training it helps to bring you within easier reach of your goal than when your outlook is pessimistic. For this reason you should aim towards the pinnacle of success and not at the halfway mark. And with your mental facilities all geared up you shouldn’t have any trouble attaining your ultimate aim and I intend no pun with the phrase ‘all geared up’ here.
Along this line let me mention a very striking example of the strong psychological approach – that grand oldtimer, Maxick. If anyone had the power of mental control in relation to strength, he did. It’s been said many times that he would go into deep concentration after each training session when he wanted to accomplish a specific lift or some unusual feat of strength. Never once did he recognize defeat, or that he would fail in his objective. His thoughts always dwelled on the positive outcome of his training labors, and that he would perform the feat he desired when the time came . . . and he always did.
Another outstanding example of this type was Tony Terlazzo, former world and Olympic champion. He also maintained a positive mental approach. Weeks before a contest he would affix certain poundages in his mind which he hoped to succeed with, and then he trained towards that goal. There were times when he overshot himself, again no pun intended, that’s true, but he realized that in order to lift progressively heavier weights he must etch these poundages upon is mind so they would not frighten him when the time came to lift them. Eventually he got so far ahead of everyone in his class that he would often try to lift a higher total than those in a heavier division, and often succeeded. The whole idea proved to be a terrific incentive that forced him far ahead of his competitors and made him the champion that he was. Of course even he could not have forged so far ahead had it not been for his positive mental approach to training and competing. But he was one of the very few to recognize this principle and used it to advantage.
Tommy Kono, the present world and Olympic champion, also uses this positive approach in his lifting. “Think big and you’ll lift big” is his motto. And he’s proved this point by making world records and making and winning many world lifting titles. Had he embraced a defeatist attitude instead of a positive one I doubt if the lifting world would have heard of him at all. Now do you believe that your mental approach is important?
In a small way the foregoing should help to explain why records in all sports are higher today than they were 15 to 20 years ago. For one thing, athletes have to prepare themselves mentally to shoot for these higher marks, consequently they approach them with greater confidence than if they didn’t adopt such lofty aims.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
2.11 – Changes Over Time in Top Bench Pressers
I first began taking high-speed films of Senior National and World Championship powerlifting meets ten years ago at the 1974 Senior Nationals (with the generous help of John Pettitt), and over the past decade I’ve been able to collect cinematographic records (using Estar-AH film, which is archival) of many top lifters at different points during their careers. Some lifters, like Mike Bridges, I’ve been able to film every year over five years.
I’ve recorded a number of other top lifters as they have also moved through several weight classes (usually up!) over their careers. Although I am still waiting for the sample of lifters I have over time to increase, there are some interesting trends I have noticed in the results I have to date (unpublished data). High-skilled bench pressers who increase their over time do typically change their bar path significantly over the years. For example, the horizontal position of the bar path is displaced more toward the shoulder and in particular the angles 3 (circled) and 4 (circled) especially (see Figure 11) decrease significantly. Their bar acceleration data also follows the trend to reduce over time as discussed in Section 2.2. Related to the bar acceleration data, the force application to the bar at the sticking point typically increases dramatically over time, even though there is not significantly more force exerted off the chest. As discussed in Section 2.4, it seems that over time the high-skilled bench pressers preferentially get stronger at their weakest (or sticking) point more than they get stronger at their strongest point off the chest. They develop this improved performance at the sticking point certainly by better technique (as we have documented) and possibly by specialized training.
I have seen, for example, lifters like Bridges work the sticking point region using paused singles with overload poundages at a position only a few inches above the chest (remember Figure 8, Section 2.5!). Whether technique or specialized training is the cause, it is clear that these skilled lifters’ capacity at the sticking point increases over time.
Figure 13 typifies the changes that occur over time in the better bench pressers. Note in this figure that the solid line (which represents Bridges’ vertical bar acceleration during his 446 lb. world record bench press in 1979) is much flatter than the dotted line denoting a 386 lb. attempt a year earlier. The most important thing to note here is how much more positive the bar’s vertical acceleration is at the sticking points of these lifts (compare the positions of instant (7) in both curves of Figure 13). Newton’s laws indicate the Bridges’ was exerting considerably more force at his sticking point in his later lift in 1979. It can be seen also in Figure 13 that he took much more time to lower the bar (see difference in points of chest touch), which is another trend evident over time (as in Section 2.2, Table 3). I have documented similar changes in other top bench pressers over time besides Bridges, like Kazmaier, Gaugler, etc.
The real value of analyzing lifters’ performance over time is to document what changes in technique are associated with greater poundages lifted. Conversely, it can also work to help those not progressing in bench press poundage to identify what technique changes they need to make. For example, the lifters I have tracked over time who have not progressed significantly also did not have the technique changes typical of the successful lifters. One superheavyweight, the great P. Wrenn, had nearly the same technique each of the years I analyzed his performance using the same poundage of 524 pounds. Perhaps if he had made the technique changes we’ve discussed he could have pushed his lift up even beyond this respectable poundage.
It would certainly be valuable to analyze our top powerlifters every year, six months, etc. in order to help identify their technique development and suggest any needed changes. Perhaps between the Senior Nationals and the World Championships our U.S. team could be analyzed in this manner. The United States Olympic Committee funds this type of biomechanical analysis for most Olympic teams at their meets throughout the year. For example, the men and women track sprinters were analyzed at many top meets over the past three years prior to the Olympics, and biomechanical changes in their technique calculated and pointed out to their coaches. There’s no reason in the world why we can’t do the same for our lifters (at all levels). This is a good way to objectively diagnose the effects of different training programs over time. In any case, I will continue to collect films whenever possible in order to keep developing our database on bench press techniques.
2.12 – The “Pause” in Competition
In powerlifting competition, the lifter must “pause” at the chest during the bench press before pushing the bar up to completion (see Section 2.1). At this position the bar must be momentarily motionless as the lifter waits for a signal from the referee signaling that he may begin pushing the bar. Like any powerlifter, I have experienced quick pauses in competition as well as some that seem an eternity (you’re just sure the referee has gotten up and gone on a break!). On the average, the “pause” lasts about two seconds.
Although the major reasons for the pause in the competitive bench press are undoubtedly to insure consistent and fair judging of the lift and even to reduce potential injury from excessive bounces . . . it sure doesn’t help bench press poundages! As most powerlifters are well aware, a paused bench press is a lot harder to do than a “touch-and-go” or slightly bounded lift. Personally, it occurs to me that we could make the pause less devastating on bench press poundages, more consistent than possibly even the best judges, and make it more like the touch-and-go lift we all enjoy more . . . if technological changes are made in the pause signal procedures. I hope to present these at some point to the governing bodies of powerlifting.
But, why does the “pause” hurt bench press capacity? First of all, let’s examine the concept of “elastic energy”. Let’s look first at a scene where we have a powerlifter on a pogo stick bouncing along the road. Each time he lands on the road, energy is stored in the pogo stick’s spring and this energy is subsequently released during the elastic recoil as he takes off again. This suggests that in a similar manner energy might be saved if springs were somehow built into the human body. These springs which store the energy and release it again when required would allow our powerlifter to bounce along using much less power and this time without the pogo stick. Kangaroos, for example, are so good at this that they require less energy the faster they hop!
There is, in fact, evidence that a good deal of energy in human motion is saved by elastic structures in the body (used much like the spring in a pogo stick). One such study (reference 1) showed convincingly that energy is stored by elastic structures in human legs. The oxygen consumption of men was measured while they performed squats 20 times per minute. In some of these experiments the subjects “bounced” at the bottom of the squat and in others they stopped at the bottom for one second to avoid any rebound effect. On the average, the subjects used 21 to 27% less oxygen when using the slight rebound at the bottom of the squat! Apparently, the rebound saved a good bit of energy. Indeed, other studies verify this finding and show that a rebound at the bottom of a squat or vertical jump can increase the upward force applied by as much as 20 to 30% (reference 2, reference 3).
The mechanisms by which this phenomenon occurs has been studied more recently (reference 4, reference 5). It has been found that if a muscle is stressed (during an eccentric contraction – as when going down in a bench press), almost immediately before the muscle shortens (during the concentric contraction – when coming up in the bench press), then there will be more energy available to the upward motion. This means that there will be more weight lifted in the bench press. In other words, one needs a count movement followed almost immediately by the movement desired. Note that in terms of timing the eccentric phase must be followed very quickly by the concentric phase. Hence, a rebound at the bottom of the bench press is very helpful in getting more weight lifted.
It has also been found that the velocity of stretch of an active muscle (during, for example, the rebound or “bounce” at the bottom of the bench press) determines how much storage and utilization of this elastic energy actually takes place (reference 2, reference 3). There is an optimal amount of speed in this rebound (or “bounce”) at the bottom of the bench press that each powerlifter should use. Obviously, many factors (like bar momentum, the physical condition of the lifters, etc.) determine how much of a rebound load each individual powerlifter can beneficially tolerate in bench presses. This could possibly be determined for each lifter through biomechanics research.
In the research that I have done on the squat, I found that bar momentum must be controlled on the way down during the squat until perhaps a few inches or so above parallel. Typically after this point is reached, the top lifters then begin to increase the velocity of the descent before starting to drive up out of the bottom. Less skilled squatters were found to let bar momentum get out of control early in the squat and typically reach the bottom with higher rebound velocities (or “bounce” than the better squatters. It seems logical that less skilled or beginning lifters are less able to tolerate these greater rebounds than top lifters can! This is mainly because training has been found to help increase the ability to store and retrieve elastic energy. It has also been shown that males can usually handle greater rebound loads than females (reference 5).
Where is all this elastic energy stored? Since we don’t actually have springs embedded in our bodies (although one can’t always tell what the Soviets, the East Germans, etc. will do next), the energy must be stored somewhere in the body before being used later. This energy is stored in the body primarily in the tendons and to a lesser extent in the elastic components of the muscles themselves.
Now, my discussion so far has been about how elastic energy is stored briefly in the body by a counter movement before being retrieved to help the movement start. I have discussed the squat in particular, although this also explains why bench press repetitions are easier with either a bounce or touch-and-go than when paused. We lose virtually all the elastic energy during the second(s?) we are holding the bench press pause while waiting for the referee’s signal. From what we’ve seen so far, it does make sense for a lifter to try to “anticipate” the referee’s signal and try to minimize the time of his pause as much as possible. Biomechanically, letting the bar sink in briefly after a pause before pushing the bar up (or “heave” as it’s often called) doesn’t make much sense either, since:
1.) letting the bar sink into the chest increases mechanically the work necessary in the lift; and
2.) there is probably not much chance to “restore” significant levels of elastic energy to be of much help off the chest.
Rather, it seems better to keep the bar from sinking in and try to “anticipate” the end of the pause. It’s hard to tell whether as much elastic energy is stored during a bench press as in a squat, but I doubt it. Nevertheless, keeping the pause as short as possible will decidedly help the bench presser’s performance. Regarding training for the pause, it seems much safer to NOT use pauses extensively in bench press training. If done, the ability to store elastic energy will not be trained, and consequently it may end up that on a “shorter” pause in competition someday you’ll miss out on what could have possibly been a successful lift if “touch and go” style bench pressing was mainly done in training. It has been my personal experience that pause bench presses leave me “flat” (or feeling as if I’m without possible elastic energy storage ability!). However, I DO think techniquewise that “touch and go” pauses are smart to do prior to a bench press competition. I do not believe that excessively long pauses are valuable, whether it’s after a few seconds or an hour on the chest, the elastic energy transfer is lost anyway.
(1) Thys, Hl, Saraggina, T. and Margaria, R., Journal of Applied Physiology, 32, 491-494, 1972.
(2) Cavagna, G.A., Dusman, D. and Margaria, R., “Positive work done by previously stretched muscles”, Journal of Applied Physiology, 24, 21-32, 1968.
(3) Komi, T.D. “Neuromuscular performance: Factors influencing force and speed production”, Scandanavian Journal of Sports Science, 1, 2-15, 1979.
(4) Asmussen, E., and Bonde-Petersen, F., “Storage of elastic energy in skeletal muscle in man”, ACTA Physiologica Scandanavia, 91, 385-392, 1974.
(5) Komi, T.D., and Bosco, D., “Utilization of stored elastic energy in leg extensor muscles by men and women”, Medicine and Science in Sports, 10, 261-265, 1978.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Speed & Endurance
by Clarence Ross (1953)
The young fellow seated with me in my office looked pretty good, even in his clothes. He wasn’t the usual skinny, underdeveloped beginner, but obviously a person with some athletic background. I could tell that by the firm, fullness of his neck, the way his chest pushed his shirt to the front and by the trim squareness of his waist. His eyes were clear and he was in apparent good health, so I waited for him to begin.
“I would like to train with weights, Mr. Ross,” he said, “but my coach at college feels that weight training will slow me down. I could use a little more weight for football, but not if it is going to interfere with my speed or endurance.”
“What makes you think that weight training will slow you down,” I asked.
“Well, isn’t it true that weight-trained muscles are slow and that they tie up in sports, throwing your timing way off?”
“Of course not!” I roared. And then I caught myself. I was annoyed, naturally, for of all the misconceptions about weight training which still persist, even to this day, despite all the proof offered to the contrary, the one that weight trained muscles are slow and lacking in coordination is the strongest. Still, I realized that here, seated in front of me, was a typical, intelligent, college athlete. If I just blew my top and shouted at him that all talk about slow muscles from weight training was a lot of bunk and had been disproved many times over, why, it wouldn’t have helped matters a bit. So I calmed down, and decided to state some facts instead.
“Your coach probably thinks he is protecting your athletic future,” I said, “but actually he is doing you an injustice and holding you back from fully developing all your sports abilities. Today, the majority of modern coaches agree that weight training can and DOES help athletes in every sport.
“Look at Bob Mathias, the king of the decathlon. He’s proved to the world that he stands as one of the greatest all-around athletes of all time. His muscles are weight trained.
“How about Randy Turpin, the middleweight boxer who was fast enough to win the title from Ray Robinson? Did you know that he is a confirmed weight trainer?”
I noticed that by this time my visitor was showing more than a little interest. Instead of quoting facts and figures, such as those brought out in the now famous Dr. Karpovich
report in which weight trained muscles have been definitely proven to be faster than untrained, I decided to keep my discussion to names known to most sports fans.
“The muscles built by weight training know no physical limits. Name any sport that you want . . . and I’ll point to at least one champion who is a product of weights. In wrestling, the great Killer Kowalski uses weights and have rebuilt his body into a perfect wrestling machine. In golf, Frank Stranahan stands as proof of what weight training can do to make a champion. In the pole vault, we have Rev. Richards; while baseball’s immortal Ted Williams was an enthusiastic weight trainer. Each of the above athletes openly give credit to the part weight training had in their athletic career.
“However, while I could go on indefinitely in citing examples of this sort, suppose we get down to some real facts, ones about speed and endurance which make sense without becoming too technical. After all, what is speed other than power in motion? In other words, there can be no speed without a motor power of some sort. In the body, the muscles provide this power. The better trained the muscles are, the more power they will possess.
“And what is endurance other than a continuation of motor power over a period or time? Endurance is based completely upon body power, for weak muscles cannot possess the reserve energy for sustained action. Only powerful and well-trained muscles can keep going in active sports for some period of time without growing exhausted. So here too, it makes sense to realize that well-trained muscles possess endurance.
“But there is still one other factor . . .coordination. Without coordination you can have all the power in the world and still not be able to use this power efficiently. Since muscular coordination is developed through training the various muscles of the body to work in harmony, it stands to reason that any method of exercise which develops MUSCULAR PROPORTION will give the individual a balanced type of power and extremely good coordination.”
I looked this young fellow. I saw that he was taking it all in and that his face showed some belief. It was now his turn to speak.
“You know, Mr. Ross . . . no one ever explained things this way to me. Most of the fellows I know who train with weights don’t seem to have the answers like you. They just tell me not to believe what I hear, that it’s a lot of bunk and so on. I feel that if more athletes had these facts there would be less criticism about weight training among them. But there is one point you haven’t cleared up as yet.
“While it is true that the bodybuilder is primarily interested in building muscle for the sake of building it, someone like me is more interested in using weights mainly to put
on a bit more muscular weight and build up some power. Would I, the athlete, I mean, train exactly the same as the bodybuilder?”
“I’m glad you brought up that point. No, you would not train the same as a bodybuilder. Since the bodybuilder SPECIALIZES in building muscle, this of course is his first training objective, so he must take workouts which will bring about this goal. On other hand, since the athlete is specializing on a specific sport, practice in this sport should still make up the most of his training. However, by supplementing this direct sports training with weight exercises specifically designed to give him greater power and all-around speed, he will in turn find that weight training will help him in his sport.
“I have always felt that no one can serve two masters at the same time. The out-and-out bodybuilder must dedicate his training to the building of muscles. On the other hand, the athlete must spend most of his time in the practice of his specific sport. But, to gain more power, endurance and speed in his muscles, which he can then convert to greater sports ability, he can benefit from weight training.
“Weights and sports go hand in hand. Each physically augments the other, but the balance between them hinges on whether the individual is interested in furthering his sporting abilities or his physique for bodybuilding. It’s as simple as that.”
It didn’t take much mind reading on my part to see that the young chap was pretty much convinced by what I had said. It was no surprise to me when he said . . . “OK. It all makes sense the way you put it, Mr. Ross. I’ll be in tomorrow for my first workout.”
And it was as simple as that. A few of the right examples and some non-technical common sense, and another athlete had been converted to the use of weights. If you are an athlete you will be interested in learning the exercises I gave to my new pupil, or if you are a bodybuilder who is interested in getting some extra speed, endurance and power from your training, then a few months on this program will help you too.
Train three times a week on nonconsecutive days. Use moderately light poundages, relative to your ability, and perform all the exercises with a fairly fast tempo. Start off with one set of 12 repetitions of each exercise and add a set each week until you are doing three sets of 12.
1.) Squat – Start with weight on shoulders, in standing position. Sink down in a controlled fashion as far as possible, as shown, and then immediately come back to an erect position. Perform these squats with quite a bit of speed on the ascent and do not be afraid to breathe heavily.
2.) Swing Lateral Raise – Hold a pair of dumbbells in front of the body, elbows slightly bent. Swing the weights off to the side and above the head. Lower direct to the sides, expanding chest and breathing in deeply while doing so. You may alternate these with the squats, or perform all sets of the squats before going on to the lateral raises.
3.) Torso Swing – Grasp a single light dumbbell with both hands and hold it in front of the body. Swing the dumbbell to one side, then swing back to the other side as far as possible.
4.) Bridge Press – Lie on ground, legs bent and feet flat on ground. Hold barbell in hands, elbows resting on floor. Now bridge up and press the weight to arms’ length. Lower and repeat from starting position.
5.) Leap Squat – Hold a light pair of dumbbells in the hands while standing erect. Now squat down, similar to exercise number one. Immediately leap up into the air from this position. When feet touch the ground again, sink down into the squat position in a controlled fashion and repeat.
6.) Upright Row – Hold barbell with a close grip at waist. Now, pull the weight to the upper chest, bending back slightly while doing so. Lower and repeat.
7.) Overhead Side Bend – Hold a single dumbell overhead with two hands. Bend over directly to one side, then return to an erect position and bend over to the other side.
8.) Fast Deadlift – Use a weight lighter than your normal deadlift poundage for this. Start as in a regular deadlift with the bar on the ground and hands gripping it. Stand up quickly and bend back very slightly and shrug the shoulders, then follow the weight down and repeat.
9.) Combination Situp & Leg Raise – Lie on ground with arms extended behind the head, knees straight and heels on ground. Swing arms to the front and raise the upper body and legs simultaneously. Lower both and repeat.
Perform all exercises with quite a bit of speed. Breathe deeply and for best results move quickly from set to set and exercise to exercise.
Monday, August 2, 2010
Power Training Simplified
by Paul Niemi (1974)
To make good progress, how often must one train and on what kind of schedule? Well, in spite of the four, five and six day per week programs, steady progress can be made on a much simpler routine. This article is based on one of the routines former superheavyweight Hugh Cassidy recommends. In case you’ve just recently become interested in Powerlifting, Hugh won in 1971 with lifts of 800, 570 , and 790. Jim Williams tied Cassidy but lost on bodyweight, while John Kuc placed third with a 2105 total.
Here are some general training hints that Hugh recommends.
Start out light and gradually work up in poundage. Keep your first set in each lift light, and work on increasing the weight in the last set with the other weights equally spaced in between. For example, let’s assume you’re doing the following in the deadlift: 135x8, 175x5, and 200x3. In five weeks you may have gotten your last set of 3 reps up to 250 lbs. Your sets should then be something like this: 135x8, 180x8, 210x5, and 250x3. It’s better to only add about five pounds per lift each workout and continue to make progress over a long period of time than to jump it by more, in which case you may quickly reach a limit and become stale.
If you do start to get stale, try changing the number of sets are reps. For example, trying 3 sets of 10, or 5 sets of 6.
Hugh believes two workouts a week are enough, as one needs a lot of time for recovery and growth between sessions when one is training heavy on the big lifts. He recommends the following:
Squats – 5 sets of 3, followed by 3 sets of 5.
Deadlifts – 2 sets of 8, 1 set of 5, 1 set of 3.
Bench Press – 5 sets of 3, followed by 3 sets of 5.
Hyperextension – 3 sets of 20.
Squats – Work up in sets of 3’s until you reach the maximum weight with which you can do 3 good reps. For example, 135, 170, 200, 220, 240. Then reduce the weight and do 3 sets of 5 with it, for example, 180 x 5,5,5.
Deadlifts – Hugh feels 4 sets are enough if you make big jumps in poundage between the sets.
Bench Press – Follow the same schedule of sets and reps as for the squat. When training, do each rep with a definite pause at the chest.
After the hyperextensions you can add a few exercises that are helpful and that you enjoy, but don’t go overboard. Hugh would do a few sets of upright rows for the arms and shoulders, and some neck work.
Many powerlifters use a lot of assistance movements but Hugh feels the best way to train on the three lifts is by doing the three lifts. to prevent boredom vary the handspacing and the number of sets and reps. Hugh has since reduced to 205 and has recently placed third in a physique contest.
For the past few years Hugh has been putting on strongman exhibitions consisting of powerlifting, teeth-lifting and bar bending. Having a bowling ball dropped on his abdominals is another feat that Hugh added to his act after repeated late night viewings of the Simpsons “Homerpalooza” episode.
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