Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Bad Habits Of The Power Clean

Article written by Jace Derwin for LiftBigEatBig.com

The power clean is the utility Olympic lift for just about every sport under the sun. It is often taught as the very first variation of the clean, and regarded as an easier alternative to the full lift since the athlete only needs to receive the bar above 90o of knee flexion. Power cleans deliver on everything they are promised to do, but with poor application, they can reinforce bad habits that can get you little to no gain in the full movement. Experienced lifters probably have no trouble with this movement, but newer lifters will benefit from identifying bad habits before the form and how to avoid them while learning this awesome expression of strength. I will highlight a few issues that are common and why they should be deconditioned from an athlete’s movement pattern. 

One by-product of practicing low quality power cleans often manifests itself in the form of a poor transition from the first pull to the second pull. Due to the need to emphasize the second pull to catch the bar higher than a standard clean, athletes may rush through the first pull with the false feeling that it helps to bring more power past the knees. For the bar to reach its peak velocity at the end of the second pull, it needs to accelerate slowly from the first pull, and peak right at the point of extension. Accelerating the bar too fast off the ground inhibits reaching a maximal pull velocity in the second pull. The first pull should be absolutely picture perfect past the knees, and build into a blisteringly fast second pull that smoothly is pulled into the front rack position. A poor transition into the second pull doesn’t maximize the power of the hip extension, often leaving the bar out front and reinforcing a habit of cutting the pull short. This happens in athletes who are relying highly on the arms to nearly up-right row the bar up into the front rack, and are cutting off the extent of the posterior chain to develop force. Learning to actively sweep the bar into the pull is a skill that takes time but is needed for making power cleans a more effective skill transfer movement. 

 Often times, novice lifters will demonstrate great mechanics in the power clean up until near maximal attempts. Suddenly, they begin widening their stance on the catch because the weight isn’t getting pulled high enough to catch it in a comfortable position. This habit interferes with the transfer of the power clean to the clean, and can cause the habit of the legs jumping too wide to start manifesting itself during attempts at max cleans. If this starts happening during your attempts, drop weight so that you can maintain a good foot position, keeping them similar to the same width you’d use on a clean and keep the power clean a transferable movement. Similarly, novices performing power cleans can also over emphasize the extent to which the feet need to leave the floor. It’s quite common to see a novice performing power cleans where they leave their feet, flex their knees mid-air, and then extend to crash the heels into the platform. This action (commonly called the donkey kick) is an illusion to feel more explosive. In reality, it is a waste of useful force and the athlete can’t continue to put force into the second pull if they are not actively driving into the ground. Avoiding leaving your feet too early gives you more time to apply force into the ground, which transfers into more force delivered to the bar to bring it to a good height for the rack position. 

LBEB Athlete Igor is an awesome example of what the feet should do on a power clean. Igor plays with 210kg like a lion plays with its prey, and he also has an Ipod from the late 70’s judging by his music preferences. Now, we’re not all world caliber Russian demi-gods, but we can at least practice good pull mechanics on our power cleans and keep ourselves from donkey kicking.

Some athletes have discovered straps are helpful when they are perform multiple sets of power cleans and can save them from walking away with hands that look like they've been run through a cheese grater. Straps can help take the stress out of the hand on the pull, but will limit your front rack position by not allowing the hands to release and let the bar sit on the fingers. Compensations in the shoulder girdle to make up for lost mobility forces the shoulders to internally rotate and protract the scapula to keep the elbows high during the front rack. This is a much weaker and unstable position when receiving the bar, not translating to what an athlete should be trying to achieve when receiving the bar in the bottom of the clean. Straps will also inhibit calluses to form where strength athletes need them most. Conditioning the hands to the bar is important and shouldn't take long to achieve with consistent practice. Save straps for multiple sets on the snatch or your deadlift, when grip strength can be your limiting factor. The need for your hands to be active in the reception of the bar is too important and should be practiced with every clean.

 Eliminating bad habits in the power clean is essential. Every step backward turns into two steps needed to be made forward for progress. If you have the ability to practice the full lift, you absolutely should. The full lift develops better timing of the hips on extension and has a greater mobility takeaway than a power clean, which can only make you a better physical specimen and all-around athlete. The full lift also limits how much you can effectively save a clean that’s too far out front, forcing the athlete to practice a much more efficient pull to be successful. Unfortunately, it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to have the know-how to address specific mobility issues and pick up the form without a certified professional instructing the lift. Like before, I highly recommend picking up the hang power clean and starting from there. With little gym experience, the mechanics of pulling weight from the floor for a clean is untrained and should be slowly progressed. Power cleans are a fun movement to experiment with and should be practiced with the intent of keeping their mechanics as similar to the clean as possible. If practiced with purpose, the power clean can yield tremendous carry over into the realm of athletics and other strength sports.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

How To Eat Big On A Budget Pt. 3

Without a doubt, the biggest article request we get is "How can I put on weight?! I have tried everything!" First of all, no you haven't, and if you don't have a burrito in your hand right now, then we have just figured out your main issue: You aren't eating enough! Under-eating is the absolute #1 cause as to why people who want to gain weight can't, no matter how many squats and deadlifts they do. Part of this is a lack of your true caloric needs in order to increase quality mass, but another part can be the perceived hefty price tag that can accompany the gain train. Luckily for you, LBEB is going to continue its series of how YOU can start eating bigger, the way you need to.

#1. Tighten Up Your Meat Game

As stated in the previous budget articles, we are huge fans of buying half or whole grass-fed cows to keep in a giant freezer. We recommend this not only because they cow will have lived a healthier life which involved eating grass like it should be, but also for the reason that all cuts of the cow are extremely cheap. That being said, not everyone has a freezer big enough to stash bodies in.  To counteract the cost of meat, some people resort to buying ground beef in the 80/20 (meat/fat) range because it is cheaper. Unfortunately, this means when you cook it, as much as 20% of what you bought is turned into grease that you will drain from the pan. To put it in perspective, If you were to buy 5lbs of this meat and cook it, you would end up with 4lbs of actual meat. 

You would be better off spending the extra 50-75 cents and getting the 92/8% ground beef instead. It may appear more expensive, but in reality it would be cheaper due to the amount of protein that's left over for you to eat. I hear that you need protein to gain size, but hey what do I know?

#2 Liquid Lunch

One of the first sermons you will hear in the LBEB chapel will involve the famous passage "Man cannot live by shakes alone." This one is especially for all the "hard gainers" that blend 40g of protein with water twice a day with no extra meals and can't figure out why they aren't putting on mass. While it may be true that shakes alone won't get you big, blending actual food into your shakes, on top of your meals, can be extremely beneficial for 2 reasons: The food has been broken down by the blender which allows for faster digestion, it can be cheaper!

One of my go-to's for a liquid lunch about 90 minutes and my solid lunch consists of 80g of our LBEB cinnabun protein from True Nutrition, 1 cup plain greek yogurt, and 3 cups of plain Rice Krispies. I add the Rice Krispies simply because rice is our go-to carb source, and there are minimal extra ingredients in a box of Rice Krispies. You can get about 85g of carbs from 3 cups of Rice Krispies, so this would be an ideal shake to drink after you train as well. It's cheap, easily accessible, and requires no cooking!

#3 Get In Touch With Your Ethnic Side

I love greasy, sloppy American and European food as much as the next bear, but the problem that can come from it is the high amount of wheat and bread in the dish, with little meat. Even if the dish does have high protein, it more often than not comes wrapped in a bun, bread, or is tossed in with pasta. This is not optimal for those of us that are trying to put on some serious mass! Part of the reason we at LBEB try to eat gluten free as much as possible is because most wheat products leave us feeling bloated. By skipping the wheat products, we don't feel bloated, which allows us to eat more, and more often

One of the great things about ethnic foods, specifically foods from Asia, is that a lot of them contain a meat choice, rice, and a vegetable. That is literally what we eat for almost every meal. A great way to make your own ethnic foods for cheap is to head to the international districts in your town and hit up the Asian grocery stores. On a consistent basis, I have found the meat and vegetables to be more fresh and INCREDIBLY cheaper than at American grocery stores. The only thing that might throw you off is the odor that comes from some of the stores, but if you let a little odor get in the way of your gains, you have bigger issues to worry about.

Keep some of these tips in mind the next time you are grocery shopping, and remember the main takeaways: step up your meat game, make meat and rice your main food staples, and blend solid foods if you need to. What are some your tricks to get big without breaking the bank? Leave the comments on the Facebook page!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

What Are The Top 5 Movements?

Article written by Marshall White for LiftBigEatBig.com
Will Dinwiddie suggested this article topic the other day and I was giving it a thought and decided to give it a test run in conversation. To be honest with you folks I couldn't believe how much conversation this ignited! Basically it was suggested that I write an article on, if I had to choose ONLY 5 exercises or movements for any athlete to do what would they be and why? The parameters of this are that the 5 exercises chosen must be specific, you can't just say "squat and all it's variations", these have to be applicable to every athlete in every single sport, and finally you can't say bench press. Ok I was joking about that last one, but the other 2 still apply. I talked with some of the LBEB athletes and my friend Chris Stark (owner of Lift Strong Run Fast) and after much mulling over I came up with my 5. Before I tell and explain my 5 understand that this is just my opinion. You don't have to agree with me so as Pastor B says "calm your tits", this is just an opinion piece and I would like or hear your opinions as well. Now then,  since that is out of the way, here are my 5 and my reasons why.

1. High bar/close stance back squat:
  I don't think I need to go in to a huge explanation as to why I chose a squat but I feel the need to explain why I chose the bar and feet placement. I feel as though a high bar, close stance squat is easier to learn so if I were teaching beginners I would yield results much faster than if I were teaching a low bar or wide stance squat. In addition I believe this type of squat mimics most athletic stances much more so than a wider stance. Think about the foot placement in most sports, usually it is shoulder width, a natural stance, so I feel squatting in this stance will help the strength gained transfer more easily to the athlete's chosen sport. I also feel this stance is more quad dominant which will transfer to more speed and explosiveness in most sports as well as remove the need for working front squats.

2. Clean shrugs (clean pulls, clean hi pulls, explosive shrugs):
 There are many names for this movement but I'm going to use clean shrugs for my purposes. I had a hard time not including power cleans in this list but ultimately I feel the same way about clean shrugs that I did about the squats. The hardest part of teaching a clean is USUALLY getting the athlete to catch properly. If I were teaching a beginner I could yield the same explosiveness and athleticism as a power clean but in a much shorter time simply by removing the catch. Here's a little heresy: with a clean shrug you can get an athlete to go very heavy, basically keeping within a "speed deadlift" range, which in my opinion removes the need for deadlift. Eeeeeek! Yeah I said it, I feel for athletes that are not "strength based" athletes a heavy, explosive clean shrug will actually be more applicable to their sport.

 3. Push press:
 I had to debate myself and others over whether a push press or a strict press would be more beneficial and I had to finally settle on the push press. I decided this because I feel the push press has more facets than a strict press. With a push press you are getting the explosive work in addition to the shoulder, tricep, and upper back work, as opposed to a strict which is not typically an explosive movement and focuses more on just the benefits of a press.

4. Pull-ups (not chin ups):
 I honestly feel as though one of the biggest holes in most athletes development is their upper back. Pull ups are a great exercise to fix that hole and most people already know how to do them, for the most part. I do believe there are some other very effective exercises to build upper back strength, but those exercises can be harder to learn as they are more advanced. The funny thing about pull ups is that most people can't do them (not strict at least) even a lot of athletes, so you have a TON of room for improvement. The equipment needed to do them is minimal and the goal to be reached with them is infinite. Take a look at most high level athletes and I can almost guarantee they can do tons of pull ups.
5. Yoke
This movement is my curveball and I had to defend this one big time in all my conversations. I chose yoke because the other 4 movements are executed on a vertical plane (up and down) whereas yoke is executed on a horizontal plane (back and forth). Think about it, in most sports your movement is not done simply on a vertical plane the vast majority of it is done on a horizontal plane. Why do most people not train their forward movement with heavy loads like they would any other movement? A yoke allows you to load your forward movement and develop serious speed and explosiveness. Understand also that while a yoke is started with a partial squat it is not a squat at all, your big squat doesn't mean shit when it comes to a yoke, therefore we are not double training a movement. While squatting doesn't necessarily improve your yoke, yoking heavy will improve your squat. This movement provides a whole body benefit in my opinion.

There you have it, my 5 movements/exercises that I would have any and all athletes do if I had to choose ONLY 5. I know some of you will disagree and I want to hear your thoughts on this. Post your comments on our Facebook page but please remember these kinds of discussions can get heated so try to be respectful and explain all your points intelligently. Also, if you say bench press you better have an AMAZING reason as to why you chose that :). Thanks for reading and make sure you give us your opinions!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Olympic Weightlifting For Sports Performance

Article written by Jace Derwin for LiftBigEatBig.com

Being how this is America (cue eagle scream), it is safe to say that the vast majority of serious strength athletes did not come to find their love for the barbell directly, but were rather introduced to it in an effort to increase their performance in another sport.  I want to take the time to address the beautiful symbiotic relationship of hard practiced o-lifting and the pursuits of athleticism off the platform.

  Olympic Weightlifting is not only an incredible sport in and of itself, but its use as a training aid to other sports may be the most transferable form of time spent in a weight room.  The point of emphasis for athletes shouldn’t have to be within the competition standard (though it doesn’t hurt) but instead on the RATE OF FORCE DEVELOPMENT.  RFD simply means the speed at which force can be produced.  Stronger athletes can produce more force, but the SPEED at which this takes place is the more important figure, specifically in sports where sprinting, jumping and throwing are used.  This is where O-Lifting reigns supreme, for it is the best way to move the most amount of resistance in the fastest way possible.  You have to train fast to be fast.

As an added benefit, the mechanics to the lift are nearly paralleled to athletic movements in other sports.  O-Lifting recruits tremendous amounts of force rapidly through the hip extensors, which is fundamental for high level athletics.  Think of the last athletic thing that you saw on Youtube that was awesome, and chances are, force driven through hip extension was needed.


In all four examples above, powerful extension of the hip is the key to the desired action.  Hip extension is the point of transfer where dynamic leg action makes its way through the rest of body, and better speed and power through that transfer will only make your desired action easier to accomplish.  Increasing the force and timing of hip extension can benefit sprinting, jumping, swinging, throwing, kicking, and just about anything that’s worth watching on ESPN.  O-lifting not only trains powerful hip extension, but it NEEDS it to be performed.  By training O-lifting properly, you will increase your athleticism whether you want to or not.  Does that mean you’ll be able to take LeBron in a game of one-on-one? Absolutely not, but you will be more capable of transferring force than if you didn’t Olympic lift.

A good example found here: http://i.imgur.com/Guz5YHL.gif

Now, there are inherent risks that go into O-lifting, and it is really up to the athlete and coach to determine the costs and benefits.  It is incredibly time consuming to develop the proper skills and mobility needed to snatch and clean and jerk.  Dedicating hours upon hours just to learn how to snatch 135 lbs. may not be the best time spent when you can be working on you jump shot or fielding grounders.  The early stages of learning such complex motor skills can be awkward and won’t transfer to field as quickly as someone who has a decent understanding of the lifts.  This is where box jumps and kettlebell swings can be a viable alternative.  The loads can be kept relatively low while still recruiting quick and powerful hip extension to accomplish the movement.  Athletes new to lifting should put in a decent amount of GPP prior to picking up the O-lifts with serious intent.  If developing explosive hip action is all we are looking for to benefit our performance, we may draw the line at dumbbell snatches and high pulls to minimize time lost on the field. The main point is to find what is effective, and to progress accordingly.

 A reasonable progression for athletes who compete outside Olympic weightlifting is to train up your hang power clean first prior to pulling weight from the floor or dropping into the bottom of cleans and snatches.  The hang power clean will train the importance of hip mechanics in the second pull while limiting the stress that can be picked up on the low back when pulling from the floor.  The weight can also remain light enough that any issue with front rack mobility can be seen and addressed as need be.  Once the hang power clean is developed so that the athlete delivers force predominantly from the hip and has good mechanics receiving the bar in the front rack, they can progress to the power clean.  Progress slowly in a manner that the most force can be produced without losing quality in the movement.  Typically, an athlete can just train power variations and benefit from training explosive hip drive, but learning how to accomplish the full lifts can reinforce good joint mechanics, and allows the athlete to lift even more weight at faster speeds.  The joint mobility utilized in the full lifts can help keep a high end athlete strong through positions usually not reached come game day, and provide a more holistic approach to athletic development and injury prevention.  

  Alternatively, it may be wise to only do full lift variations in the off-season, where there is no repeated stress of practice and games to add to the demands of the intensity that the snatch and clean and jerk provide.  Lifting should be secondary to daily practice and participation in developing the skills of the game, but not excluded all together.

 If you are involved with a form of competition outside the world of strength sports, consider adding in Olympic variations to your training to help optimize your performance.   Whether you are a high school athlete, weekend golfer, or just want to experience running faster and jumping higher, use Olympic lifting to help maximize your athleticism.  Don’t treat O-lifting as a means to an end, but choose to get better at it and develop the skills of the sport to reach a new potential.  Weightlifting is one of the few skills that nearly every top athletics organization uses with its best athletes.  To be very clear, being good at weightlifting won’t make you and all-star at any sport, but it will give you more tools to work with and open your potential to be better at what you do as an athlete. 

Jace Derwin, CSCS
BS Exercise Science, Seattle Pacific University
Sports Performance Specialist at VoltAthletics.com
Co-Captain of AJAX Weightlifting Team