Friday, February 5, 2010

Leg Work for the Olympic Lifter - Carl Miller

Click Pics to ENLARGE

Leg Work for the Olympic Lifter
by Carl Miller

See here also:

Let me open this report by emphasizing that leg work for the Olympic lifter is not an end in itself. Rather, it is only a means to the end of snatching and clean & jerking more weight.

The theory of training is based on adaptability. An individual’s body, based on his inherent characteristics and exposed to what is scientifically and empirically known about training, is brought to adapt to a higher degree of intensity of progressive resistance. The higher the degree of intensity one can adapt to, the greater weight he will lift. This report which deals with leg work reflects such. There are specific items which will be clarified. Not every lifter can fit into a program designed for his level of lifting when he is not used to it. I continue to stress that it is okay for a lifter to fit into a lower ranking if it feels more comfortable. But from this base point, adaptation to higher levels should take place.

The reader will find a good deal of dependency on high reps (10-20) in doing leg work. This should not create a problem. Fast twitch muscle fibers (which are the power lifting fibers) can be trained by either low or high reps.

The theory of specificity is closely adhered to. This means that as the lifter gets closer to a contest peak, more things are done like they will be done at the contest. General development because of its broad carry-over value is stressed early in the cycle when the contest is far away.

The leg work exercises will be placed into categories. These categories are based on the leg development that is needed for the lifter to make progress in his snatching and clean & jerking. Lifters in the lower classes do exercises in the two most basic and broad categories of this leg development. As they advance in rating, more specific categories are added to hone leg development to its finest for Olympic lifting. Below are listed the categories and their placement into lifting rankings. The number of days per week that leg work is done is taken from the Bulgaria #3 material, namely, Classes III and IV – 2 days per week, Classes I and II – 3 days per week, Master – 4 days per week, and Elite – 5 days per week.

"Bulgaria #3 (title changed) - See here

Classes III and IV –
day one: Front Thigh
day two: Hip and Upper Thigh

Classes I and II –
day one: Front Thigh
day two: Hip and Upper Thigh
day three: Speed

Master –
day one: Front Thigh
day two: Hip and Upper Thigh
day three: Speed
day four: Deep Penetrating

Elite –
day one: Front Thigh
day two: Hip and Upper Thigh
day three: Speed
day four: Deep Penetrating
day five: Specialized Pull

Next, exercises thought to be among the best will be placed under these categories.

Front Thigh –
1. Front Squat – reps.
2. Super Killer.
3. Sissy Squat.
4. Front Squat – reg.
5. Hack Squat – reps.

Hip and Upper Thigh –
1. Back Squat, hips in – reps.
2. Back Squat, hips in – reg.
3. Back Squat, hips out – reps.
4. Back Squat, hips out – reg.
5. Back Squat, shoulder straps.

Speed –
1. Back Squat – reps.
2. Front Squat – reps.
3. Back Squat – reg.
4. Front Squat – reg.
5. Throws.

Deep Penetrating –
1. Eccentric.
2. Isokinetic.
3. Functional Isometric.
4. Electro-stimulation.
5. Dead Stops.

Specialized Pull –
1. Bottom Pull Back Squat, floor.
2. Bottom Pull Back Squat, below knee.
3. Top Pull Back Squat, above knee.
4. Olympic Dead Lift, clean – reps.
5. Olympic Dead Lift, clean – reg.

These exercises are arranged below based on when the categories under which they fall are practiced within the different classes. The reps are taken from my article Bulgaria #5 with the exception of high reps, the eccentric reps, isokinetic reps and functional isometric reps. These are dealt with separately in other reports and will be briefly reviewed when a list of the exercises is given later, and peculiarities about them will be discussed. THE TIME – IN MINUTES – ALLOTTED TO THE EXERCISES IS UNDER THE HEADING OF WORK and is taken from my Bulgaria #3 article. The intensity at which they are practiced will immediately follow these exercise charts of the six classes (see tables above).


There is a broad but structured guideline for the intensity at which the exercises should be done. Again, it falls under the exercise categories.

Front Thigh –
Every 3 workouts a 100% effort should be made for whatever reps are being used. The other 2 workouts should be done in accordance with how the lifter feels but not falling below 75% effort for whatever reps are being used. Once a good warmup is completed on the 100% day and the 100% is tried, then the lifter should stay as heavy as possible for what time remains in the time slot. A good guideline on the other days is:

1.) to work up to a weight that the lifter might have done one or two reps more with – one more on a medium day and two more on a light day – when he is doing seven reps or less, and
2) to work up to a weight that the lifter might have done two or three reps more with – two more on a medium day and three more on a light day – when he is doing ten reps or more. Once this is reached, then the lifter should stay as heavy as possible using the same guidelines.

Hip & Upper Thigh –
Every 5 workouts a 100% effort should be made for whatever reps are being used. The other 4 workouts can be cycled down to 75%. An example would be 75%, 80%, 85%, 92% and 100%, though not necessarily in that order. Once the planned percentage is reached for the day, the lifter should try to stay there for the time that remains in the time slot; he should make an all out effort to do so.

Speed –
Every 2 workouts a 90% effort should be made for whatever reps are being used. The other workout an 80-855 effort should be made.

Deep Penetrating –
Every 2 workouts an all out effort should be made for whatever reps are being used. This would mean the following with different respective deep penetrating exercises:
Eccentric – 110-140%.
Isokinetic – slowest speed possible but yet moveable when using machine; when doing manually each rep takes 6 seconds.
Functional Isometric – all the weight that can be handled, pushed to the top pin and held for 6 seconds.
Dead Stops – all the weight that can be handled from the lifter’s respective position with good form.

The other deep penetrating workout a sub-effort should be made for whatever reps are being used. This would mean the following with the different respective deep penetrating exercises:
Eccentric – 95-105%.
Isokinetic – fastest speed possible on machine; when doing manually each rep takes 2 seconds.
Functional Isometric – 85-90% pushed to the top pin and held for 6 seconds.
Dead Stops – 85-90% from the lifter’s respective position with good form.

Specifics of Each Category of Exercise

Most readers of this paper will be familiar with the normal ways of performing the exercises mentioned. I will list here some specific modifications and not all the details of how to do the exercises, which we be repetitious.

One thing should be stressed which is specific to each exercise to be discussed, and that is that the lifter should EASE INTO the last two or three inches before the bottom is reached. One of the biggest problems of lifters right now is tendonitis of the patella tendon. Every care should be taken to avoid this because it is so hard to get rid of. Easing into the last two or three inches will mean less weight but more carry-over value to snatching and clean & jerking more weight.

Front Thigh –
In all front thigh work the hips should be ahead of the heels, even if this means elevating the heels on a 2-4 inch board. This idea of the hips being ahead of the heels is what is wanted when the lifter is coming up from a clean or even a snatch. Flexibility work should go along with all leg work. Specific flexibility in the Achilles tendon and quadriceps muscles is needed. A gain in flexibility in those places will allow the hips to move ahead of the heels.

Front thigh development is basic in lifting because so much of the intensity of pulling and jerking is felt by the front of the thigh. What often happens when the front thigh development is below par is faulty technique. The practice of front thigh exercises in correct form is essential. Only in this way is there development that is functional to snatching and cleaning & jerking. Faulty form will result in the exercise not working the front thigh in the manner needed to be of help in the snatch and clean & jerk.

1.) Front Squat – reps. some important points to remember are these:
Keep the elbows up and do not let the shoulders round; this has a chance of happening when doing high reps. The rhomboids get stretched and do not get developed, and as a result rounding of the shoulders takes place in the clean and also when jerking. KEEP THE SHOULDERS UP!
Ease into the last two or three inches before bottom position is reached. This was stated before, but is should be stated again because when doing high reps the tendency is strong to not ease into those last two or three inches.

2.) Front Squat – regular. Remember the points made for exercise #1 because as heavier weights are handled for regular reps the tendency will be to round the shoulders and to not ease into the last two or three inches before the bottom. THINK SPEED when doing the regular reps on all weights. Get your neuromuscular system trained to power not strength.

3.) Super Killer – This is a front squat done on a 4 inch board with a broom handle or some other long vertical object held by another person behind the lifter’s heels and a little ahead of them. The lifter’s hips are thus well forward. His back should be just about vertical. As he rises he concentrates hard on moving his hips even further forward. If his hips do come back, they will hit the vertical object. The training partner who is holding the object should not let it move so that the hips move forward again.

4.) Sissy Squats – These have been described in many bodybuilding magazines. The only deviation is to have the feet spaced apart the width they are when coming up from a clean, toes slightly turned out. This exercise is often overlooked by the Olympic lifter because not much weight can be handled. A tremendous degree of intensity is placed on the front of the thighs. When doing this exercise, keep the knees well forward and do not let the hips even come close to moving back. When more weight is needed, tie it around the waist with a strap or rope.

5.) Back Squat – Like sissy squats, these have been described over and over in bodybuilding magazines so no further description will be made here. As with the sissy squats, put the feet clean recovery width apart with the toes slightly turned out.

Hip & Upper Thigh

The known role of these muscle areas has increased as the thinking on pulling has evolved. Pulling is now thought of as a hip and thigh lift with the back blending in later on, instead of the back lifting and then the hips and thighs entering in.

Because this type of leg work has general carry-over value to pulling, the hips when doing this work are sometimes permitted to go back since they are worked more this way, as is the upper thigh. But because of specificity, at various times the hips are also not allowed to go back because they do not go back when pulling. In other words, general overload is wanted at certain times and then, to get as much carry-over value as possible, specific overload is wanted at other times. Take a stance as close to clean recovery stance as possible when doing the exercises, with the toes slightly pointed out.

1.) Back Squat, hips in, reps – Have the bar placed high on the traps and not low on the shoulders. This will encourage a more upright back position and thus the hips will be in more. In many instances the hips will not be able to be ahead of the heels but should be as far forward as possible even if a 2-4 inch board is needed. EASE INTO the last two or three inches before bottom. Thrusting the elbows forward when coming up will also help keep a more upright position and keep the hips in.

2.) Back Squat, hips in, regular – Remember the same points covered in exercise #1.

3.) Back Squat, hips out, reps – The bar can rest low on the shoulders for this. This will encourage the hips to be back. Much more weight can be handled, as much as or more than 100 pounds than with the hips in. More strain will be on the lower back since the back tilts forward more. Do not use more weight than the lower back will stand. If pain develops, use less weight. Previous work should have included lower back work to prepare for such an exercise.

4.) Back Squat, hips out, regular – Remember the same points covered in exercise # 3.

5.) Back Squats, shoulder straps – This exercise is used with a piece of equipment like the Magic Circle, which is described in Iron Man magazine. There are two wide straps that go over the lifter’s shoulders and with hooks or snaps attach to a barbell or some supportive apparatus to which weights can be loaded. It is used mainly with beginners to give them a dispersed feeling of weight on their shoulders instead of the concentrated one that a barbell gives. But it can also be used with more advanced lifters. This equipment distributes the weight over a broader base and puts less strain on the shoulders. Good squatting technique, either with the hips in or out, is thought to be achieved quicker with this exercise.


Speed exercises cannot be emphasized enough. There are many lifters with strong legs. That means they can come up with heavy weights when squatting. But there are fewer lifters who can come up with a little less weight when squatting but with great speed. Pulling is a fast motion, and coming up from a clean should be a fast motion. These movements take leg POWER, and that means SPEED. You can train a muscle to move fast. Neurologically, if you think speed your muscles will contract faster. Speed is specific. If you squat with heavier and heavier weights while not paying attention to speed, you will get stronger with heavier and heavier weights. But your legs will not get more power for the athletic speed you need to clean or snatch a heavy weight. I am not discounting squatting with heavy weights and grinding out the reps. Apparently, what this does is activate deep muscle fibers. However, after they are activated, they must be trained for speed if the strength developed is to be converted into the power needed for the lifting of heavy weights in the snatch and clean & jerk.

When doing speed exercises the lifter should have someone help him by using a stop watch. As the lifter starts to rise from the low position, the watch is started. As his knees straighten at the top, the watch is stopped. Then the watch is started again when he has returned to the bottom and starts up once more. Sporting goods stores sell stop watches which accumulate time. Again, EASE IN AT THE BOTTOM! Do not crash or even slow down at the bottom; ease in.

These speed exercises, besides building power for snatching and clean & jerking, are fun. It is a real challenge to try to beat your previous time. It is a new incentive. These exercises also take the strain off the lower back since a lighter weight is handled. The back feels more alive and fresh. In all speed squats the hips should be in. Nothing new need be said about any but one of he exercises since a referral back to similar exercises points out what should be paid attention to.

1.) Throws – The bar is at the shoulders and the lifter goes down as he would be doing for a normal front squat. After easing in at the bottom, he then accelerates as fast as possible with sufficient power to throw the bar off his shoulders high enough so that he can catch the bar on his traps. If more than one rep is called for, he then goes into a normal back squat and then accelerates as fast as possible with sufficient power to throw the bar off his traps high enough that he can catch the bar on his shoulders. It may seem at first that not enough weight can be used to truly call this a leg building exercise, but remember that power is using strength quickly enough to be able to pull a weight to a sufficient height or come up from a clean easily; as long as there is progressive resistance (more and more weight as the body adapts) then power will be developed. If this exercise is done correctly, especially with reps, the thighs really feel worked. It will take a few sessions to get the timing down to be able to catch the weight in the right spot and without any jarring. Give in with the legs a little as the bar is coming down, and this will cushion the catch.

Deep Penetrating

These are the exercises that have been shown by physiological studies to activate more muscle fibers than do normal kinds of progressive resistance. Many times muscle fibers would never have been activated if it were not for these exercises. Some physiologists believe they are so deeply penetrating because the natural defense mechanism of the body, which prevents a person from contracting a muscle so hard as to hurt himself, is partially bypassed. It is not entirely bypassed since there seems to be enough natural defense in operation to keep from getting hurt, because the injury rate from these exercises is no greater than from normal exercises.

1.) Eccentric – This is basically lowering the weight under control. In the squatting exercises suggested for legs, the lifter bends his knees and slowly gives in to the weight so that after 6 seconds he has bent his knees enough to be in a full squat position. The incentive is to use more and more weight in correct form for 6 seconds. If the lowering is faster than 6 seconds then too much weight is being used. Naturally, spotters are needed to help the lifter up from this full squat position so that another rep can be done. When training alone in a power rack, only single reps are possible.

2.) Isokinetic – This is constant resistance throughout the whole movement. Therefore, the lifter works his strong areas of movement in addition to his weak ones. In normal exercises with a barbell, usually only the weak areas are worked hard, because when they are, they give out and the exercise cannot be continued; this leaves the strong areas not given as much work.

There is a company called Mini-Gym in Missouri which sells an isokinetic ham-quad unit. The unit has multiple speeds. The slow speeds work the deepest muscle fibers, and the faster speeds train the fibers to be more powerful. As stated during the section on intensity, both speeds need to be used.

The quadriceps can also be worked isokinetically by manual resistance. A partner puts his hands on the lifter’s foot and presses down evenly while the lifter tries to straighten his knee. If using a training partner for manual resistance a lifter can assume various positions in which he can straighten of flex his knees, extend his hips or abduct his thighs. Please refer to other sections of this article for intensity and work suggested.

Isokinetic movement isolates muscles that are normally used in their entirety when the lifter is doing some sort of pull or squat. Therefore, whether the isokinetics are done manually or with a machine, it is advisable when doing them to work the quads, the thigh biceps, the hips and possible the outsides of the thighs.

3.) Functional Isometric – With the bar between two pins one hole apart on each side, the bar is pushed up from the lower pin and held against the upper pin for 6 seconds. The movement of the squat should be divided into 8 equal distances apart and one rep per distance should be done. The incentive on a maximum day is to hold heavier and heavier weights against the top pin for 6 seconds. In all distances, keep the hips in. Use the back squat.

4.) Dead Stops – With the bar resting on the pins in a power rack and on the traps, and the lifter one to two inches from dead bottom, he drives up fast to complete extension. After finishing the reps at that position, he puts the bar on pins set at a height so that the thigh bone is right above parallel; he drives up fast for the required reps. Then he sets the bar on the pins so that the body is 4-6 inches lower than full height; he drives up for the required reps. Thus there are three positions. In all positions keep the hips in, and use the back squat.

Specialized Pull – These leg exercises are very effective in working the legs along the lines they will be used when pulling. They add a lot to the leg program by using the leg power already gained and zeroing in on exactly what is going to be done in competition. Because they are specific and their value lies in their specificity, adherence to correct execution of them is of great importance.

1.) Bottom Pull Back Squat, floor – With the bar on his traps the lifter assumes the position he would be in if he was going to pull the bar from the floor. From here he nearly straightens, then re-bends and straightens his knees as if he were doing the double knee bend. The hard part here is to keep the hips from shooting out back and to have the shoulders go forward enough when the bar – if there were a bar being pulled – passes the knees. The lifter accelerates the movement as height is gained. After the re-bending when the hips go down and forward, there is a marked increase in leverage and a great acceleration can take place. After the knees straighten, the lifter goes up on his toes and remains there for 3 seconds. Remaining on the toes for 3 seconds means that the forces to extension add upward, and not forward or backward.

2.) Bottom Full Back Squat, below knee – With the bar on his traps the lifter assumes the position he would be in if he were going to pull the bar from 2-3 inches below the knee. From here he nearly straightens the knee, then re-bends and straightens his knees, as described in exercise #1 above.

3.) Top Pull Back Squat, above knee – With the bar on his traps the lifter assumes the position he would be in if he were going to pull the bar from 2-3 inches above his knees. From here he bends his knees (as in the re-bend exercises #1 and #2), then straightens them and goes up on his toes as described in exercise #1.

4.) Olympic Deadlift, clean (reps) – This should be done exactly like the double knee bend and with straps. When done this way it gives the thighs a tremendous workout. When form is broken, then the back is worked, which is not wanted. There is no shrug done here. The weight is lowered after the knees straighten, and another rep is started.

5.) Olympic Deadlift, clean (regular) – This is no different from the previous exercise. Since more weight is used, and a lot of weight can be used, strict adherence to good form is a must.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Archive