Monday, July 30, 2012

You Need Olympic Weightlifting Shoes

Notice elbows directly under bar with vertical trunk

Article written by Jay Stadtfeld for

Chuck Taylor's, wrestling shoes, Olympic lifting shoes, Vibrams... there are a plethora of shoes to choose from for your feet. Your training could very well depend upon which you choose, as certain kinds are better for different lifts. Yes, even your footwear could make or break your training session.

Recently, Brandon made a post on Facebook that said something to the effect of, if you don't own Olympic lifting shoes, put a 5 pound plate under your heels. While I agree with that, and it's a fine idea until you do purchase shoes, it's not the end all be all of your issues. As I'm sure he didn't intend it to be, either.

You see, the issue with Chuck's, wrestling shoes, Vibrams, or even those New Balance Minimus shoes that I have is that they don't support your foot throughout the duration of the lift. Olympic lifting shoes allow you to do a few things that regular shoes will not, such as:

   Spreading the floor

     Olympic lifting shoes possess straps, which allow you to push out against the side of the shoe with your foot, increasing hip activation. More hip activation will equate to a stronger pull or squat.

      More stability

    More stability means that you'll have a very consistent platform from which to push. Not at all inconsistent, unlike that from compressible soled shoes.

   Olympic shoes have a wooden sole (they have rubber on the bottom so you won't slide), which means your foot is going to consistently be on a stable surface, unlike Chuck's which have compressible soles. Inevitably people try to come up with the argument, “Well Vibrams don't compress...” While this may be true, they don't have a...

   Olympic shoes typically have at minimum .5” to a 1” heel, which allows you to utilize every aspect of your musculature for the lift you're going for. The Soviets realized that a heel would allow the lifter to squat into a deeper position due to the increased range of motion for the ankle joint, and so the design of the modern lifting shoe was created.

Notice the ankles rolling in without shoes

  Besides allowing lifter to squat into a deeper position, the raised heel also allows the lifter’s chest to stay upright, even in the bottom of a deep squat with the bar held overhead or racked across the deltoids (Snatch and Clean & jerk)
A side note about the heel: This doesn't permit you to slack on mobility of the ankle and hip structures, just because the shoe masks the issue. You should be able to squat with no artificial support. If you can't, get to work.

Because of the weightlifting shoe not having any “give” to it, you can always rely on a very stable platform to push from, whereas other shoes will have some give. Vibrams may not, but they also don't have the support or heel that weightlifting shoes have. Aside from the “I'm cool, I wear Vibrams in the gym,” factor, they're basically a pretty worthless shoe to use unless outside. If you are a wearer of these shoes, and have never tried weightlifting shoes, you need not look much further than the three illustrated points above to see why you should try them.

Notice near vertical chest while arms are locked overhead

As a caveat to my point (what good is an article without some objectivity?) I don't have any problem with people who deadlift without weightlifting shoes, as I'm one of them. However, some people may benefit from this simple change. The easiest way to do so is by trying it. I'm a long limbed lifter (no jokes, please), and find that a flat soled shoe is the better way for me to pull, as when I'm wearing weightlifting shoes I'm actually shot a bit further in front of the bar than I'd like to be. Though, when it comes to squatting, I'm ALWAYS in my Olympic weightlifting shoes. Always.
If you're serious about training, and I'm sure you are, VS Athletics makes a pretty cheap pair of shoes that are of decent quality. I've had mine going on three years now and bought them around $70. I strongly suggest you get rid of the plates under your heels, get out of your crap shoes, and slip into something a bit more stable. Come to the Force and leave the Dark Side behind for good.

Charniga, Andrew. "Why Weightlifting Shoes?" Why Weightlifting Shoes? Eleiko, 2006. Web. 29 July 2012. <>.
Kilgore, Lon. "Weightlifting Shoes 101." Weightlifting Shoes 101. ExRx, n.d. Web. 29 July 2012. <>.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Deadlift Grips

Article written by Jay Stadtfeld for
The meet doesn't begin until the barbell hits the floor. It's when men (and women) find out what they're worth. It's the one lift that can make or break your entire day.

The deadlift.

There are three different grips that are predominantly used when deadlifting: the hook grip, the mixed grip, and the double overhand grip. Below is detail into which is which, how to know if you should use it, and which could be safer for you to use.

Hook Grip: Ah, the hook grip. The only grip I've ever used that feels like my thumbs are going to detach from my body like some alien life form and crawl away. Typically, this particular grip is used more for Olympic lifting, as the mixed grip wouldn't allow Olympic lifts to be completed with the grace necessary for that particular sport.

Aside from the thumb issue, it's one of the safer grips that can be used for deadlifting, as it leaves your biceps in less of an injurious position (as does the double overhand), and many top deadlifters use this particular grip, such as Brad Gillingham, who I witnessed pull 837 using this grip.

To effectively use this grip, you must have a strong supporting grip. In other words, you should be able to hold onto the bar without your fingers becoming “un-flexed), otherwise the bar will roll, and you will obviously drop the barbell.

Mixed Grip: The mixed grip is what you'll see most people, including myself, use.

This particular grip allows you to hold heavier weight as it prevents the bar from rolling around in your hand. However, this grip often will feel awkward to first-time users, as you will ultimately have to pronate one hand while supinating the other, making it feel like the bar may be uneven when you're pulling it. By no means does this mean your grip itself is stronger in this position. 500 pounds will still be 500 pounds in your hands, no matter which grip you use. It just may make it seem easier to hold onto since it won't be trying to “unglue” your fingers.

People also feel like they may injure a bicep more often, as noted within the hook grip explanation with this particular grip. If you feel that way, I would suggest adding some bicep work in. The stronger the tendons and muscles, the stronger you'll be overall.

Benedikt Magnusson deadlifts with a mixed grip, and he's the current World Record holder with a deadlift of 1015 pounds.

The benefit to this grip is without a doubt the ability to hold onto the barbell. It's just much easier for someone to do. It also seems that, within my own experience, it's easier to pull the bar back into you, thus keeping the weight over your center of gravity.

There really isn't a particular way to train to use this grip, either. You either like it, or you don't. If not, then perhaps the hook grip will work well for you.

Double Overhand Grip: Undoubtedly the hardest of the grips. With this particular grip there are no fancy  methods to help you out. You can't grab your thumb (hook grip), nor rotate a hand and get after it (mixed grip). You're left with stone cold forearm and grip strength

Due to that disadvantage (not many people have an incredibly strong grip without specifically training it), I'd often only recommend this grip for warm-up sets to your working set of deadlift. I recommend this so as to augment your grip strength. The stronger the grip, the easier the previous two grips I described will become.

Either way, you should find a way to implement all three of these grip styles into your deadlift training. Why pigeon hole yourself to one method, when all three will forge hands of steel? You have the tools, so get to using them.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Benefits Of Assistance Gear

Article written by Marshall White for

Lately Brandon has been posting quite a few videos of the LBEB team smashing some huge lifts.  The fun thing is that myself in particular has been catching some shit for my use of assistance gear while training.  By assistance gear I mean straps, knee wraps, oly shoes, belts,  etc etc.  While I truly appreciate a purist mentality and using absolutely no assistance gear while training is badass the FACT is all of the things we use for assistance serve one purpose and one purpose only: to make us OVERALL stronger.

So many people say "using straps while deadlifting is cheating" and all that crap.  This may be true if you're a competitive powerlifter or olympic lifter but for a strongman that is not the case.  They are allowed in most competitions.  Them being allowed in competition is beside the point, we are talking TRAINING here.  More importantly we are talking training tools.  Using straps while deadlifting in training allows you to overload every other muscle in your body because the weak link is taken out of the equation.  Be honest with yourself and think this through logically:  if you are pulling 600lbs with straps do you honestly believe holding onto 550lbs without straps is going to be a problem?  You will be so much more explosive with the 550 that it will be in the hands less time and it will seem overall lighter on your body.  Not to mention as you approach 550 your confidence will be sky high since it is so far below what you know you are actually capable of.

I've noticed that the crossfit community loves to take pride in their lack of assistance gear and I applaud you guys and gals for that, but are you trying to take pride in something or are you trying to become the best athlete you can be.  How many times have Vibrams been defended on LBEB?  Again, I appreciate this, I've even done some shoeless yoking in my day.  The fact is though I was smashing 1000lb with the proper footwear before my feet were strong enough to go 800lb shoeless.  Putting on some oly shoes to take your overhead up a notch is not cheating, it's simply utilizing a tool to overload your body and prepare your cns for big weight.  Example?  Let's say your current overhead max is 200lb in a pair of vibrams, and just by adding oly shoes to the equation you start putting the bar in a better position, etc and now you're hitting 250lb.  If you decide to take those oly shoes off the day of the competition I think we can agree that a 225-235 overhead should be an easy accomplishment, again, because it is so sub-maximal.  A lift that far below your max doesn't necessarily even need to be positioned correctly because you can "muscle" it into position if you have to.

In my training I try to utilize everything I can to "eek" out every little pound from my lifts that I can.  When I use knee wraps it is so I can go heavier on the squat, thereby conditioning my cns for heavy loads, but also go heavy on yokes or farmers later in the week without messing up my knees too bad.  In my opinion being able to go heavier more times during the week seems nothing but beneficial.  I use tacky when loading stones to reduce stress on biceps, thereby shortening my recovery time between bicep heavy events like, log cleans, tire flips, etc.  If I can recover faster between events, I can do more events during the week.  How can this not be helpful?

Let's talk powerlifting gear for a second because I don't want to get too crazy with the gear.  There are certain squat suits and bench press shirts that can add as much as 3-400lbs to these lifts!  I do not advocate the use of these on a regular basis because in my opinion people become reliant on this type of gear in order to stroke their egos and make them feel like they are strong when in fact they are not.  That being said, even these types of suits and shirts have their place in training.  Let me explain.  Most people do not have a problem with coming out of the hole on a squat, it's usually the top end where the squat slows down and sometimes fails.  A squat suit works by basically making the squat lighter in the hole and as you ascend the lift becomes more and more your body doing the work.  See where I'm going with this?  If you are using a squat suit you are overloading the top end of your squat while still getting the feel of ridiculously heavy weights on your back and practicing full squat form.  When used sparingly and intelligently this can be a very easy way to add massive amounts of pounds to your raw squat.

There you have it, a nice explanation of how assistance gear can be used to increase your performance when you're not using it.  Before I get crucified for this article really think about what I am saying and maybe even try out these things before you dismiss them.  Sure I am belted up when I take an 1100lb yoke for a stroll but because of this I can yoke 1000lb without a belt and yes I slather myself in tacky when loading a 500lb stone but because of this I can load 400+ without tacky, so I would say I'm pretty dam strong with or without gear.  These things are simply TOOLS to increase performance.  Lifting big is not about being proud you squatted 300 without a belt and being happy with that.  It's about taking that 300lb squat to the next level, and a really efficient way of doing that is by adding in some assistance gear.  Hopefully you'll try some of these out and put aside your pride as well in order to get bigger lifts.  If not I hope you enjoy your lifting plateaus because you're going to be hanging out there for a while.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Importance Of Sleep

 We've been told we need eight hours a night throughout the duration of our lives. You may have even heard the term, “Slept like a baby,” at one point or another. But why do people put such an emphasis on sleep, like it will cure anything that ails you? Mostly because it can cure most of what ails you.

When you sleep, your body goes into recovery mode, repairing broken down tissue, giving your brain the rest it needs to prepare itself for tomorrow, and essentially prepping you with the tools you'll need for the day to come. However, sleep often comes at a high price these days. Increasing work demands often keep people awake at night due to stress, television shows that “must” be watched, books that must be read, and so on and so forth. You name it, and I'm sure that it's a terrible reason not to have enough of this precious commodity.

Your sleep cycle consists of two “patterns”: Non-REM sleep and REM sleep (REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement, which occurs during the deepest of sleeps). Within those patterns are multiple stages, each that serve their own purpose.

Dreams occur during REM sleep

Non-REM consists of four stages. Those four stages serve a bevy of importance of which are bulleted below.

Stage One:
                     Lightest sleep.
                     Mostly consisting of the “nodding off” sensation.

Stage Two:
                     Onset of sleep
                     Start to lose a sense of surrounding.

Stages Three/Four:
                     Deepest sleep, which means you're doing most of your repair here.
                     Blood pressure drops and breathing becomes slower while muscle relaxation occurs.
                     Tissue growth and repair begins here.
                     Energy is restored back to normal levels.
                     Growth hormone is released in order to fully repair the body to it's functional capabilities.

REM sleep's duration lasts the final 25% of your nightly sleep, and occurs every 90 minutes or so. REM's importance is detailed below:

                     Provides energy to the brain and body which allows performance during when you need it.
                     Dreams happen in this stage of sleep.
                     Body becomes relaxed.

All of this is well and fine, however, how do you know how much sleep you really need? Well, that all depends on many factors, such as: age, activity level, and many others. Below is a graph from the CDC which outlines the hours of sleep you should be receiving on a nightly basis given your age. I'll preface this by saying, the older you get, the less sleep you'll require. Although, you should take into consideration your activity level, as this chart does not do that. More activity, more sleep.

As you can see, adults require the least amount of sleep than any other age group. However, if you're an athlete, you need at least the recommended 9 hours of quality sleep. Quality sleep being shades drawn (hopefully you have some of those fancy light blocking shades), a colder than room temperature room (this assists with the body temperature drop that occurs back in stage two), and a silent room of which to sleep. I, personally, like having some kind of “white noise” in the background, be it a fan, or even the sound of rain. Anything that helps you drone off seems to be of much assistance.

I also want to put an end to the sense that, if you're in bed for 8 hours, you got 8 hours of sleep. That simply is not true. I have an application on my phone that determines how much sleep I get in three stages: Awake, Light Sleep, and Deep Sleep. The application responds to my body's movements, and determines which stage I am in and at what time I enter it and end it. For example, last night I went to bed at 10 pm last night, spent 4 minutes falling asleep, and spent 11 minutes awake throughout the night. I was in bed for a total of 6 hours and 46 minutes, which gives me a grand total of 6 hours and 35 minutes of sleep. However, I spent 4% of my sleep being awake, 54% of it in a light sleep, and the remaining 42% of it in a deep sleep. When I woke up this morning, I was feeling pretty good, even though I didn't get the recommended 7-9 hours.

Quality of sleep is something you need to consider when going to bed. Turn off your television. Turn off your radio. Shut the blinds. Do everything you can to sound-proof your room. For God's sakes, man. You pick up heavy things and put them down, are bearded, and enjoy eating meat. You're as close to a caveman as you'll ever be, so start sleeping like one. Just don't use a rock as a pillow, that's not comfortable.

Article written by Jay Stadtfeld for


        "How Much Sleep Do I Need?" Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 09 May 2012. Web. 24 July 2012. <>.

            "What Happens When You Sleep?" National Sleep Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 July 2012. <>.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Improving Your Jerk In 30 Minutes Or Less


The jerk is, in my opinion, the hardest aspect of the Olympic lifts to teach besides the snatch. Most of my newer athletes experience the majority of their errors occurring on the jerk portion of the Clean & Jerk. I had to come up with an easy way to break down the jerk into smaller segments just like I did when Streaky worked on her snatch.

Let's talk about how you can fix (or drastically improve) your jerk in 30 minutes or less, or your order is free!


The system I came up with is broken into 4 simple segments. Each segment should take about 5-7 minutes to complete.

1. The Dip

If your dip is crap, your lift will also be crap. My little brother is one of my athletes, and his clean is great, but too many times he fails the lift because his dip needs improvement. The things to watch out for on the jerk are the butt, the knees, and the chest. Many athletes pitch their knees forward and towards each other, causing the bar to pull forward and the heels to come off the ground.

To fix this the athlete should spend 5-7 minutes working on the dip with an empty barbell,  focusing on sending the butt back, keeping the chest up, and pushing the knees out. It should feel like the first few inches of a descent into a front squat. Remember to avoid too deep of a descent, as power is wasted if the athlete descends too far or lingers in the bottom of the dip. A wider grip on the bar will also help ensure that the shoulders don't round forward, some athletes maintain a grip where the hand is right on top of the shoulder, and that is less than optimal.

2. The Split Squat

The next piece to the jerk formula is the split squat. The split squat is somewhat of a combination of a lunge and a squat. The great thing about split squat is it build confidence in the bottom of a jerk, something newer athletes can struggle with for longer than normal.
 In the video above, Anna and Zach have bars on their back, and are focusing on getting as low as possible while keeping the back knee from touching the ground. It's not a lunge, so the back knee shouldn't drop straight down. Rather, the athlete should assume an almost exaggerated split jerk position. 

The athlete should work for 4 sets of with each leg in front for 3 reps. Most women should use 85lbs, while most men should use 115lbs. Consider this a technique exercise and confidence builder, rather than a strength builder.

3. The Split Press

The split press, like the split squat, is another confidence builder for the bottom of the jerk. The athlete should assume a deep split position, the goal being that the athlete will hit this same position when the time comes for the jerk.

While solidly holding the bottom of a deep split, the athlete will then perform my strict (or shoulder) press, returning to the shoulder each time. Ideally the athlete will maintain flexion of the glutes to avoid unnecessary hyper-extension of the lumbar.

3 sets of 5 reps will be sufficient with this movement, keep the weight light, the goal is to maintain stability in the split and build confidence with the bar overhead.

4. The Jerk

Now it's time to put the previous 3 pieces together to make the jerk. The movement should feel much more comfortable to the athlete after completing the previous assistance exercises. You can see in the video that Anna and Zach still have some work that needs to be done, but large improvements have been made. Anna's feet are now positioned on a gangplank instead of a tightrope, her head has driven farther through her arms, and her back knee is now soft. Zach's split could be a little longer, but his rack position has improved and is no longer putting most of the weight in his front foot.

It's great to see that this little sequence can have such a big impact on your jerk. I tried it on 11 athletes with jerk problems and every single one of them showed remarkable improvement, especially Suzi and Brent. Their changes were like night and day. Try this 30 minute sequence in your gym, and see if your jerk doesn't improve tremendously.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Decrease Reps To Increase Performance

It has become increasingly apparent to members of the community that in order to increase one's performance, focus must be taken off the stopwatch and put on to the movement itself. When working the snatch or clean & jerk, it is no secret that high reps inevitably lead to poor performance. 

For the purposes of this article, we will define performance as "the execution of a particular action or work", in this case, the performance of a lift. Performing 75 power snatches or 30 clean & jerks as fast as possible is not only a terrible way to work on form, but also leads to forming incorrect movement patterns (Stephanie calls them "brain tattoos) that can be extremely difficult to break.

 When working with current or ex-Crossfit athletes, breaking the movement pattern of the power snatch or power clean can be one of the more difficult tasks presented to a Weightlifting coach. It is important to realize early on that the amount of reps must be decreased in order to focus on fixing errors in the movement itself, rather than finishing a workout as quickly as possible.

It is also important to break up more dynamic movements into small, progressive pieces. This not only keeps the athlete from becoming to confused as to what piece goes where in the movement, it also instills confidence as the progression gets closer to the full movement of the lift. 

I personally like to coach progressions working in reverse. For example, when teaching the snatch, I like encourage the athlete to start at the top of the lift and work their way down, ending at the starting position of the lift. Last week the athletes came to visit, and I worked with Streaky for 3 days on her snatch.

Below is a video of her working through my snatch progressions that I learned from Dave Miller. She starts out a little rocky, but gets progressively more confident in the movements as she moves through them:

You can see that her hips start off extremely tight, but as she moves through the movement, she starts to open them up. By starting at the top of the lift, she goes through each section of the lift. By the time she reaches the bottom, she is ready to rock and roll.

Below is a video of Streaky throughout her three day visit:

Even though she still has a lot to work on, you can easily see the progress she made in just 3 days. By working in sets of two and three reps, she was able to focus on her form issues, such as lockout, wrists back, and getting under the bar. She still needs to work on the early arm pull and sweeping the bar back, but if she makes this kind of progress in just three days, imagine what can happen in a month!

Try shutting off the stopwatch and working with your athletes on their form issues. You can watch deteriorate on most people once they pass four of five reps with the dynamic lifts. Decrease the rep schemes and you will watch their form improve and their PR's increase!