Thursday, June 30, 2022

Dorian Yates - Peter McGough (1990)


From the June 1990 Issue

Since I won the British Overall Championship in November 1988 with only four years of training under my belt, many people have wondered how I could have built a national standard physique in such a short time, especially as my British title win was only my third contest. 



A typical conclusion is that I am genetically gifted for the sport. While this may be true to a certain extent, I would also wish to state that I have a great love for bodybuilding and have worked like a dog since my first workout. 

I also think I have been lucky in that I haven't made many mistakes, and that those I have made I've been able to learn from. I don't believe it should take seven or eight years to build a physique capable of winning a national title. A lot of competitors, probably just as gifted as I am, take that long, or in fact never make it at all. The reason for this I believe often lies in ineffective training methods.

When I first started training I was strongly influenced by the "heavy duty" training principles expounded by Mike Mentzer. I was impressed by the logic and honesty behind his approach to training and diet. What I've done over the past few years is to combing the principles of heavy duty with more basic and conventional type training, and come up with what I find to be a very effective program for me! My confidence is based on the ongoing gains I have made since day one -- 80 quality pounds of muscle in four years.

Of course, diet is very important, and a lot of authorities say that bodybuilding is 70% growth hormone and steroids, er, nutrition, but I can't agree with that because if you don't train properly you'll get nowhere regardless of the diet you follow. Training, diet, and mental attitude are all equally important.

High-Intensity Training

I believe in fairly brief and infrequent workouts compared with the practice of most bodybuilders. The idea is to train as intensely as possible and then to allow enough time between workouts for recovery and growth. Remember that recovery must take place before you grow, so if you don't allow enough time between workouts for recovery you aren't going to grow! 

Most research concludes that it takes at least 48 hours after a heavy workout to fully recover. From personal experience I would go along with that guideline as I tend to feel sore and sluggish the day after a workout. This is why I presently follow  a workout plan that means I train four times every eight or nine days, using a two-way split. Usually I will train every other day and when I start to feel a little tired I will take a break of two or three days. 

Recovery ability varies from person to person, and you must watch out at all times for sighs of overtraining and tailor your routine accordingly. A method used by many athletes to determine overtraining is to monitor their heartbeat upon rising in the mornings. If there is a sudden rise over a few days it is possible that overtraining is taking place. Other symptoms are restless sleep, soreness, joint pain and general irritability. If you presently feel overtrained, then I suggest a less frequent workout plan. 

The low number of set I perform during my workouts is also, I believe, an important factor. Generally speaking, after warming up I do only 4-6 sets per bodypart. As regards warming up I believe you should use your own judgement. Usually I do two or three light to moderate sets before attacking a bodypart with maximum weights. 

After warming up I think tow all-out sets is enough for any exercise. I will choose a weight which allows me 5-8 strict reps. I perform each rep fairly slowly without any cheating or momentum. Cheating only reduces the workload by bringing other muscle groups into play. I pay particular attention to lowering the weight, emphasizing the negative resistance because the muscles are stronger during this phase. 

When I reach failure my training partner assists me with another two or three forced reps by pulling slightly on the bar. Occasionally I will take it one step further by continuing with negative or partial reps. If you can do more than three sets in this manner you must be holding back! 

I do two or three different exercises for each bodypart, so that in general I rarely exceed six to nine sets per muscle group. This may not sound like very much, but if you really put everything into every set you don't need any more.

Choice of Exercises 

When you are training for mass and strength the core of your routine should consist of basic exercises such as squats, bench presses, rowing, etc. These exercises are best for size because they involve large muscle groups (aided by smaller secondary ones) and allow the use of heavy weights. 

I also believe that free weights are superior to machines, although I do use some machines and pulleys for variety. I think you should combine some isolation exercises such as dumbbell flyes, lateral raises, or leg extensions with the basics to ensure the full development and shaping of each muscle group.

Goal Setting

An aspect of training which I feel is very important is goal setting -- something I have practiced with beneficial results since I commenced bodybuilding. When I began training -- weighing 180 pounds and laboring to rep out with 150 on the bench press -- it was very hard to visualize myself with 20 inch arms and being capable of benching 400 pounds.

So what I did, and still do, was to set myself small monthly goals, such as 20 pounds on my bench press, or a 1/4" gain on my arms. Although this might not sound like much, if you manage that increase every month the gains soon add up. 

As for taking measurements, the leading bodybuilders say that they don't bother and go by what the mirror tells them. Well, that may be okay for top pros (although I stills suspect that they all have a tape measure in their training bags) but for beginners and intermediate bodybuilders I believe regular measuring and weighing can be more than helpful. It can be very encouraging to see the tape expand another quarter-inch. As long as you are not getting fat it is an indication that you are growing and that your training methods are working.

I also use a training diary (see link above) to record all my workouts and food intake, the reason being that if you don't record everything, your training will be rather hit and miss, and you won't know what is working for you and what isn't. 

Mental Approach

A correct mental approach is essential for the type of training previously outlined. If you enter the gym with a casual attitude you will end up with a casual workout and zero results. 

The fruits of any workout are a direct result of the state of mind you possess upon entering the gym. Before I go to the gym I make time to sit down and psyche myself up. This I do by mentally rehearsing my workout. I go through all the exercises that I'm going to do and visualize myself powerful and huge, using more weight than I've ever used before.

Another method I use to psych myself up is to go through old copies of muscle magazines (my collection has to be seen to be believed) and look at photos of top bodybuilders posing and working out. Pictures of Casey Viator incline pressing 400 pounds and George Frenn squatting huge still send me running to the gym like a looney every time. 

I would like to add that while I am saying it helps to be aggressive during your workouts, you should control your energy and channel it into your training and not direct it at other people in the gym.

I would like to stress that I am not saying that my way of training is the one and only way of working out and that all other methods are useless. That would obviously be untrue as other methods have worked well for other people. However, I know there are a lot of guys out there who are unhappy with their progress, and I urge you to give this type of training a try. If you are not gaining at the moment what have you got to lose? But remember that you only get out of training what you put in! 

Training Schedule: 

Day 1 - Complete Routine A
Day 2 - Rest
Day 3 - Complete Routine B
Day 4 - Rest

Basic Mass Routine

Routine A: Chest/Back/Delts

Chest - 
Bench press, 3 x 6-8
Incline press, 3 x 6-8

Back - 
Lat Pulldown, 3 x 6-8
Barbell Row, 3 x 6-8
Deadlift, 3 x 6-8

Delts - 
Press behind neck, 3 x 6-8
Side Lateral, 3 x 8-10

Routine B: Thighs/Calves/Biceps/Triceps

Thighs - 
Squat, 4 x 8-10
Leg Press, 3 x 10-12
Leg Curl, 3 x 10-12

Calves - 
Calf Raise, 3 x 10-12

Biceps - 
Barbell Curl, 3 x 6-8
Incline Curl, 2 x 6-8

Pushdown, 3 x 8-10
Lying Extension, 3 x 6-8

Complete 2 or 3 warmup sets for each bodypart (not listed). 

Enjoy Your Lifting! 



How I Specialized for Muscular Development - Alan Stephan (1948)

Thanks to Michael Murphy! 

From the October 1948 Issue.

I have seen many fellows use various methods for specializing on their physiques. Some work fine but others do not seem to help the individuals at all. Why? 

It is my belief that the fellows who didn't make out so well failed to take into consideration their own bone structure and just what additional muscle they needed, how many repetitions to do and how much rest to take in between sets. I this article I am going to describe how I am specializing on my frame. 

I have used cables to specialize on my muscular development the first four years I trained. These first four years I consider to be the foundation. i hardly ever varied my workout of 10 exercises. Doing the military press, then pull over on platform to mat off platform, then barbell curls. In these three exercises I rarely ever failed to try for a record. 

I remember I started in the press with 50 pounds and have worked up to 290 in good form. And started in the pull over at 30 pounds and have worked up to 205 with elbows straight with the barbell off a platform. In the pull over I accomplished the 200 pounds just before I left for the service and then after a month of training after I got out I did it again, but I really felt it in the elbow joint of the arm which leads me to believe that the muscles were just as strong, but the tendons and ligaments went down in strength and elasticity. 

The exercises I did were the prone press, straight arm flying exercise, squat, dead lift, weighted dips, leaning over rowing motion, and reverse curl. (The three before make 10).

These are the exercises I followed for four years hardly ever varying from this routine and doing no more than three sets. Now I believe that if I had specialized in training after the first year as I am doing now I would have acquired more development faster.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think a fellow should start right out specializing, for everyone should have a period of training to get all of the muscles of the body developed to a  certain degree and from there see just where the weak points are and then work on them. It's fine to work on the good points but to leave the bad ones alone is to leave weak links in your physique.

During the third and fourth year I usually worked one evening a week for a half hour on cable exercises. I believe cables tend to increase muscular delineation and definition, of which no bodybuilder can have too much, and I believe the cable exercising helped me to get my back definition above all exercises besides the chin behind neck. 

I don't honestly think cables develop strength in the body, at least not as much as weights but one can develop three or more times the strength of the average man with cables. This is one way I specialized on muscular development. 

A way I am now using in specializing on the pectoral muscles is using the incline press with dumbbells starting out with 55's and going up to the 100-pound dumbbells by 5-pound jumps. I do this for two weeks, then for two weeks I go down from the 100s by 5-pound jumps to the 55s. In this schedule, after getting to the bottom or getting to the top, I take the 65's and do 10 sets with them without setting them back in the rack, only keeping them on my thighs after each set and taking about 10 deep breaths between sets. I do not take too long a period between sets when I go down but when going up in weight I take about one minute when past the 85s and about 30 seconds up to them from the 55s. 

I am using the method to accentuate the line across the shoulders and the upper pecs. I believe that this line and outline is the very first thing anyone sees when looking at a physique. And I think by using this method on the incline presses with dumbbells one can develop this line to a high degree of physical perfection. I know for a long time I had trouble with this line but after hitting upon this exercise and method I made rapid progress. 

I also use another system  with the incline bench and dumbbells and that is to use just one weight and do the exercise in sets of three combined sets with about three or four breaths in between each individual set. On each set of three I do the first set of prone presses with dumbbells with the elbows out as far as I can get them. This has always been my weak position because I always had the tendency to keep the elbows close to the body when prone pressing, so this part of my physique has been neglected to a certain extent but now it has greatly improved because of this exercise. Then the second set after three or four breaths is done with the elbows and the dumbbells on a 45-degree angle to the body. The third set is done with elbows close to the body. This position is the one I always use in the prone press and the one I am strongest in so I save it for last and gauge my weight to the harder movement with the elbows out. 

High Pectorals. 

I do the prone press in sets of three variations -- starting out with the prone press, with the elbows back and out as far as possible. This has always been my weak position, but by specializing on the movement, I have been able to equalize the development of my upper chest.

I perform the second set of reps after only a few heavy breaths have been taken. I then perform the prone press, but this time with the dumbbells on a 45-degree angle to the body. The final set is done with the elbows close to the body as shown in the figure on the right above. As I am strongest in this position, I save it for the last and gauge my weight to the harder movement with the elbows out. this movement is popular with all the muscular greats, who are famous for their high pecs, athletes such as 

Clancy Ross


Abe Goldberg

I am now also using a special routine on the biceps. I do 3 sets of barbell curls with 150 pounds, about 10 on each set with little rest between sets. Then I do 3 sets of leaning over curls with one dumbbell at a time using about 40 pounds. I place the elbow of the arm against the thigh and lean over so that the upper part of the thigh goes against the elbow of whatever bicep you are building. From there I do three sets of thumbs up curls with dumbbells, using one dumbbell at a time. 

The first type of curl gets the muscle thoroughly warmed up, the second gets it to peak  contraction, and the third uses the maximum in weight and also involves the brachialis anticus, the large muscle in between the bicep and tricep. I used to do this one as my very last exercise as everyone was headed for the shower. In this last curl I use 80-pound dumbbells and on the last three reps of each set I lean back a little and put my elbow in my side so as to get the fullest measure out of the exercise.

There is one more exercise I do for specializing on the biceps and latissimus an that is putting a towel on the lat bar and pulling it out a good ways and sitting on a bench and holding an end of the towel in either hand pulling the hands down and past the stomach and doing it with a slow methodical movement. I use 100 pounds in this exercise but have to lean back a good ways for counterbalance, but this is good because it puts me in a perpendicular position to the cable. I got this idea from a movement that Sam Loprinzi had invented for pumping up before the '46 Mr. America contest, everyone was doing it and it seems to pump up the the entire upper body musculature. 

If you are approximately the same frame structure as myself, I think you will find it to your advantage to use this means of specializing. It has meant a lot to my appearance and self confidence. 

Enjoy Your Lifting!       


Wednesday, June 29, 2022

John Black Workout


Thank You to Robert Wildes! 

The following 12 week, 3 workout per week training cycle emphasizes the deadlift, but is well rounded enough to be used as your fundamental powerlifting program. It is suitable for use over a broad range of capabilities, from the advanced novice to the world class competitor, but should NOT be used by anyone recovering from a back problem. 

For this article, I will assume a maximum starting deadlift capability of 600 pounds and project a 30 pound improvement at the end of the cycle.

To obtain maximum benefit from this cycle, it's necessary to APPRECIATE ITS HERITAGE. You should pay mental respect to and derive strength from the long line of champions that have contributed to it. 
Bob Fortenbaugh, my first team coach, laid the foundation for the revolutionary strength programming at Black's Health World. Bob had tremendous influence on Hoss the Boss and mself, enabling Hoss to take over the reigns as coach of one of the strongest teams in the history of powerlifting. Hoss was so successful he went on to become manager for the North Coast Power Shop, where he has helped many with his strength coaching abilities.

Joan Fruth, a great lady and former world champ came to visit Black's and ended up staying for weeks, committing hundreds of hours to writing training programs and assisting the team at meets all over the country. During this period, many great lifters influenced my personal training program and shall always have my respect and gratitude: Jack Sideris, Fred Hatfield, Lou Simmons, Rick Gaugler, Matt Dimel, Steve Wilson, Tony Fitton, John Florio, Bob Wahl, Vince Anello, Dave Waddington . . . the list goes on and on.

Learning from them and adding my own experience has resulted in the following program. It is geared to the big deadlift. Let's face it, many contests are won by bodyweight and it's sure nice to have an ace in the hole.

As in all training, proper warmup and stretching is extremely important. For the deadlift, pay particular attention to the hamstrings and back. REMEMBER, protecting yourself and others from injury is your primary responsibility during the workout.

Your workout days can be any three-day combination during the week as long as there is at least one recovery day between workouts. I like a Mon/Wed/Sat schedule. I also happen to use the conventional style in the deadlift. 

Since this article deals specifically with the deadlift, I will only list the progressions of weight for the deadlift. To maintain a sense of perspective for the overall program, however, I will show the number of reps performed for all exercises. 

Day 1:   

Exercises - 
1) Squats, light weights, 70% of Day 3 level.
2) Bench Press, medium weights, 90% of Day 3 level.  
3) Seated DB Press.
4) Alternating Over-the-Head Front and Rear Barbell Press
(just clearing top of head). 
5) Lying Triceps Extensions, EZ Curl Bar
6) Weighted Dips
7) Barbell Curls
8) Weighted Crunches (3 x 15 every workout). 

Of the above, 1 and 2 follow the Day 1 Rep Schedule all the way through. Numbers 3-7 keep the same. 

Day 2

Exercises - 
1) Deadlifts, on platform so that the bar is ankle height at bottom of lift. 
2) Shrugs.
3) Pulldowns.
4) Bentover BB Row.
5) Leg Extensions.
6) Leg Curls.
7) Calf Raises (4 x 10 each workout). 
8) Inclined Weighted Situps (3 x 25 each workout).

Of the above, the deadlifts follow the Day 2 Rep Schedule all the way through. Numbers 2-6 keep the same reps (8-6-6-4-4) starting in Week 6. 

Day 3

Exercises - 
1) Squat
2) Bench Press
3) Deadlift. 

As you can see, there are not a large number of different exercises being used in this program. More is not better in this case. What is important is to maintain a high level of concentration and intensity at all times while maintaining strict form. 

Here's a few personal training tips: 

1) Think only of the rep you are on; never let your mind drift to the last rep until you get there. 

2) Don't rush the reps. Control the weight down as well as up, the slower the better, with absolutely NO BOUNCING. 

3) Reposition after each lift. That's right, I said at each and every rep, not just between sets. This doesn't mean that you release and re-approach the bar. You stay tight, fully within the series of reps, but take just an instant of mental effort to verify that you are fully satisfied with your form. I would rather see someone attempt 8 reps but only get 6 good ones than do all 8 poorly. 

I cannot emphasize total concentration on perfect execution enough. If you find that you cannot maintain good form, then you should back off and work on execution. To do otherwise is to fool yourself and cheat your body our of its true potential for improvement and risk serious injury.

Start a little light on the high rep sets and steadily increase the weight as much as possible on each subsequent training set. 

The one-rep-at-a-time method should be used throughout the program with particular attention being paid to correct form on these very critical maximum effort lifts.

I hope you are successful with this workout. Many people before you have achieved significant gains with it. If you take to heart my advice on strict form and execution, you will too.

NOTE! The above deadlifts are performed just as if your feet were on ground level. DO NOT make them stiff-legged. I suggest that you wear a heavy sweatshirt for all platform deadlifts. The increased depth makes abrasions between the arms and thighs likely and you don't need that kind of annoyance detracting from your concentration.  

Enjoy Your Lifting!     


Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Cleaning Up the Clean -- Bill Starr (2003)


I have found that most athletes can learn to clean rather easily. 

If they can do front squats and power cleans, I can teach them how to do full cleans in fifteen minutes, even less if the athlete is gifted. 

But mastering the technique with heavy weights is a different kettle of fish. It's extremely difficult to  maintain perfect form when the weight on the bar is one you have never handled before. And it takes a large dose of courage to go under this new weight, even if it has been pulled high enough. Very few are capable of maintaining correct form with personal records, but that is exactly what has to be done if the lift is going to improve. 

Generally, the faults are minor, but small breaks in form are sufficient for the lift to be missed. That's one of the things that always intrigued me about this lift -- the heavier the weight on the bar, the more concentration is required. But this is also true in many other sports as well, such as the pole vault and high jump.  

When the bar is raised, technique has to be refined. 

I want to discuss some of the most common form errors lifters make on the clean, but since I'm often guilty of assuming too much, I'll start with the basics. 

If a person really wants to clean some heavy weights, he must use the hook grip. It is not a luxury, but a necessity. 

For a time, Ernie Pickett and I trained together at the York Gym. One afternoon, I mentioned to him that he should use the hook grip on his cleans and snatches. He contended that he didn't have any trouble holding onto the bar with his regular grip and could do a 700-pound deadlift in that manner, so why hook? "Besides," he added, "it hurts like hell." Ernie was a big, strong example of manhood, but he had a low threshold of pain tolerance. 

"Well, you're lucky to have a strong grip. I have the grip of a Girl Scout. If I didn't hook, I wouldn't be able to pull 200 pounds. But one of the reasons you're not snapping the bar at the finish is because your grip is slipping a bit," I replied. 

Tommy Suggs was training with us and said, "I watched your last set and when you finished your little finger wasn't around the bar. And if your grip isn't tight when you go to rack the bar, you can't fix it right. Same idea applies to snatching."

With two of us badgering him, Ernie relented, and the hook grip did help him to clean and snatch some huge weights. 

I'll explain exactly what I mean by the hook grip  . . . 

Wrap your thumb around the bar, pushing down hard, then place your middle finger (if you can) and index finger over the thumb, and finally wrap the remaining fingers round the bar. Now you're locked to it as solidly as if you were strapped to the bar. It's helpful to tape your thumbs because this will ease some of the pressure and make it hurt less. Just make two revolutions around the segment of your thumbs closest to your palms -- no more tape than this, however, because more tends to bunch up and make matters worse.

Always start out with light weights when learning to use the hook grip. Some wait until the weights get heavy before using it and this is a mistake. The pain will distract you from paying close attention to your form. If you use the hook grip from the very first warmup set, by the time you reach your heaviest set, you will not even notice that you are hooking. In time, it will become a natural habit. I still find myself hooking my steering wheel. 

The best starting position for most people is as follows: feet at shoulder width with toes pointed forward. Your frontal deltoids should be slightly ahead of the bar. You can set your hips high if you like, as high as parallel to the floor. This will give you a longer pulling lever, but this high starting position is only effective if you are able to maintain it through the start and middle. If your hips come up, you will be out of position at the top and this will adversely affect your finish.

The bar must be tights against your shins. If the bar moves away from your body, it will stay away throughout the movement and be out of position at the finish. 

Lock all the muscles in your back. The best way to do this is to pull your shoulder blades together. If you only think of tightening your lumbars, there is a tendency for your middle and upper back to round.

Get every muscle in your body tight, from your feet to your traps on down to your hands. Look straight ahead and now you're ready to start the clean.

I'll pause here to mention a mistake I see nearly every beginner, as well as quite a few veteran lifters make. They stay in that set position for too long, either psyching themselves up or thinking on the form points. Staying in that crouched position drains energy, and on a max attempt every little bit of energy matters. Do all your psyching and reviewing form keys while standing over the bar. When you are ready, lock onto the bar, tuck it tightly to your shins, set your feet, get your muscles taut, look ahead and go. I'm not a proponent of the dive technique, but I do believe in moving expeditiously at the start.

One other small point always helped me: 

At the start, don't think about pulling the bar upward, think about pushing your feet down through the platform. This will help keep you tight and maintain a solid position. If the start is sloppy, so will be the rest of the pull. 

The bar starts close to your body and stays close through the middle range. When it passes your knees, drive your hips forward and this will accelerate the bar upward. At the same instant that you're snapping your pelvis into the bar, climb high on your toes and shrug the weight. Again, I stress the importance of keeping the bar close to your body. If it's away, the finish is weakened.  

I realize that some coaches teach their lifters not to bend their arms at all at the finish, using only the momentum provided by the powerful traps to complete the pull. I, however, believe the arms should bend immediately after the traps have been contracted. The prime movers of the upper arms, brachialis, brachioradialis, and their respective attachments, are powerful groups. True, they are not as strong as the traps, but they can provide thrust for that critical final pull. If all the groups are coordinated perfectly -- traps, calves, and arms -- the bar will jump at the top.

I've had some lifters contend that bending the arms isn't really necessary for a solid finish on the clean. Instead of arguing, I ask them to do an experiment in the power rack. I set the bar on pins below the knees, and have them strap on and pull the bar as high as they can, using their regular straight-arms method. I mark the height they achieve and put a second set of pins in the rack at that spot. Then I have them pull again, but this time I tell them to finish by bending their arms. Some hit those top pins so hard they rattle their teeth.

Bill Starr, cleaning 446 at 218, 1969. 

Tommy Suggs

I remove the top pins and have them do more reps, concentrating on trying to get the bar higher and higher. In every instance, they pulled the bar at least four inches higher when they involved their arms. It just doesn't make any logical sense to eliminate this available power source from the equation, but it does have to be a coordinated effort in order to be effective. A slow bending of the arms is rather useless and, in many  cases, detrimental. 

I learned to clean by watching other lifters at contests in Dallas. I would stand on the side and study their technique before it was my turn to go on the platform. I quickly observed that the good lifters, like 

Sid Henry (training program):

Louis Reicke (training): 

and Gerald Travis, all made the bar jump at the finish, while the not-so-proficient ones would drag it at the top. Sometimes it almost came to a complete halt. The importance of a powerful finish was ingrained in me from then on. 

Over the years, I watched many strong lifters pull their cleans much higher than they needed in order to rack them, often to mid-chest, and still fail. The reason was that their top pulls resembled upright rows. There has to be a pop at the top, and this is best achieved by utilizing the arms right in behind the shrug. The bar absolutely must be moving with great velocity as you make your move to the bottom to rack the weight. If it isn't accelerating, it will drop like a guillotine, and you can kiss that attempt goodbye. 

At the conclusion of the clean pull, you should be high on your toes and your body should be extended vertically. If you cut your pull and end up leaning forward before you make your move to go to the bottom and rack the bar, chances are you will be unable to rack the weight correctly if you are leaning. 

Timing is critical in knowing exactly when to make that move to the bottom. THIS CAN ONLY BE ACCOMPLISHED WITH LOTS OF PRACTICE; THERE ARE NO SHORT CUTS

I teach my lifters to use the final shrug and arm pull as the key. Once the traps contract and the arms do their job, move -- with no hesitation. Often, a lifter will hesitate simple because he is fearful of going under a heavy poundage. 

At York, we called this not having the balls for the curves. 

For beginners, there is the tendency to cut the pull and move early, especially with max weights. I realize that it's extremely difficult to make yourself wait and wait for the bar to climb high enough, but this is exactly what you have to discipline yourself to do.

One of the very best ways to learn the timing at the top of the clean pull is to do hang cleans, or what we came to call Barski cleans. 

I've mentioned these in previous articles and noted that Barski didn't do them. He didn't need to since his timing was nearly perfect. He got me and several others to do them to help us improve out timing at the top, so it was only fitting that I named them for him. And Barski cleans sound so much better than hang cleans anyway.

Do them in triples and keep in mind that the line on the Barski cleans has to be identical to the line used when you pull from the floor. If you pull with a different line, they will not benefit you at all; in fact, they'll probably work against you. 

This is where the hook grip comes in handy. Never use straps on these. Straps can be dangerous, trust me. Kenny Moore can attest to that statement. He was doing Barski cleans in the York Gym using straps and missed his third rep. Since he couldn't release the bar, it crashed down on him, and his hand took the brunt of the weight, which was 350 pounds. His hand split open between his thumb and index finger. It took three dozen stitches to repair it, and he went through a lengthy and painful rehab period. It's simply not worth the risk. 

If your grip starts to fail after the second rep, set the bar back on the platform and secure your grip. That's far better than being locked onto the bar. 

The two best exercises to do to build a stronger top pull are high pulls and dynamic shrugs in the power rack. 

Both need to be worked hard and heavy to be worthwhile. The most common errors I see lifters make in their cleans are: bending their arms too soon, letting their hips rise up too rapidly, and not completing their pulls. The third fault is usually related to the first two form breaks. 

Many beginners get in the habit of bending their arms too soon, and it is not corrected, it can be be most difficult to break later on. They bend their arms early, thinking they can accelerate the bar better that way. But if really works against them since it kills the final snap provided by the traps. When I see a lifter bending his arms too soon, I have him stop and tell him, "Try to contract your traps with your arms bent." He does and then I say, "Now contract them with your arms straight." They quickly notice the difference. If you're pulling on a personal record, that extra punch is critical at the top.

Also, if the arms bend through the middle, they can't bend at the very end when they are the most useful. It's like using up a valuable resource too early. Doing high pulls is a good way to correct the error of bending the arms too soon.

Use light to moderate weights until the form improves, then load up the bar. I seldom recommend that a lifter train in front of a mirror, but I make an exception when he is having trouble keeping his arms straight. It helps him to see his mistake. Once he breaks the habit, I move him away from the mirror. I want him to feel the movement, not see it, because he cannot watch himself on the platform in a contest.

Allowing your hips to com up too fast can be a result of not being strong enough to hold that position, or it can simply be a habit you've slipped into unknowingly. In the same manner that beginners bend their arms too early in their attempt to make the bar move faster, they also rush the bar off the platform and forget about maintaining a solid hip and back position. The bar doesn't have to leap off the platform in order for the lift to be successful. It does, however, have to move upward in a tight line and start picking up speed as it gains height. I compare it to a whip. At the very top, the bar should be no more than a blur. 

If I see a lifter having trouble keeping his hips down at the start and middle of the pull, I put him on a diet of halting deadlifts. 

He pulls the bar from the floor to mid-thigh, pauses, then sets it back to the floor, always keeping a flat back and locking his hips so that they do not move at all. I try to move these halting deadlifts to 50 pounds more than he is planning on cleaning, for 5 deliberate reps. They usually get the job done.

In many cases, the lifter has simply neglected to think about locking his hips in place when he begins his pull, and doing the slow deadlifts reminds him of its importance. Sometimes the problem is directly related to weak lower back. Then I load him up with lots of good mornings, stiff legged deadlifts and back hyperextensions. 

Now for racking the weight, another high-skill movement, it does come naturally to some, while others have to do tons of sets to get the feel down correctly. One of the things I teach my lifters is never to let the bar float freely at the conclusion of the pull. In other words, don't just high pull the bar, then jump to the bottom and wait for it to crash on you wherever it pleases. Not many can get away with this technique. The only two I ever saw were Barski and Frank Capsouras, but when they hit the bottom, they were so rock solid that they could deal with the descending bar. Most can't do this.

When you feel the bar is high enough and make your move to the hole, pull the bar with you. This action keeps it under your control and helps you position it exactly where you want it, firmly across your frontal deltoids. In addition, keeping a constant pressure on the bar helps you stay tight, especially in your upper body, and this is critical when racking a heavy weight. 

Cleaning heavy weights was one of the most satisfying things I ever did in any sport. When everything clicks just right and the bar jumps at the top, for a wonderful moment it is weightless and you are in complete control of the monster. It is a heady feeling. 

Hopefully, some of these tips will enable you to achieve that intoxicating sensation. 

Enjoy Your Lifting! 


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