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Testing Phase Training: Conquer Weaknesses Through Self-Awareness

In this article, I’ll detail the components of a testing phase that I have used on a few lifters for whom I’ve programmed. First, a “testing phase” is simply a phrase that I use to delineate a mesocycle in which the lifter’s strengths and weaknesses are tested and evaluated. The developmental goal in this phase is in learning more about one’s training, rather than in building strength—think of this as a way to build towards a self-awareness PR. The goal is not to get stronger (though you need not get weaker while doing this) but, rather, to put yourself in the position to get stronger.

I wrote this testing phase as a (hopefully) helpful response to the methods currently used by beginning and intermediate-level lifters who lack the necessary experience and self-awareness to perceive weaknesses and address them. Weakness diagnosis is a fickle mistress. If lifter X has a flaw in his or her squat technique, and lifter X seeks out advice, the diagnosis—and the suggested remedy—will be different almost to a person. “You’ve got weak hips!” “glutes!” “quads!” “back!” “Drive with your hips!” “Keep your chest up!” “You should squat narrower!” “You need to squat wider!” “Abduct!” “Adduct!” “Do more special exercises!” “Do more specificity training!”

And so on. Most of the advice given out, even by very good lifters and coaches, ends up being the projection of personal experience. Lifter Y found one solution to be helpful for him or her, and so it becomes the solution for the lifters X of the world. While personal experience is extremely valuable in learning training, the relativist in me acknowledges that if we all respond differently to different training methods—and if all the major training methods work for at least someone—then projection misuses personal experience.

Evaluating weaknesses through movement variations helps to limit the variables and make diagnosis a little easier. Instead of trying to choose from a seemingly infinite number of possibilities why you’re failing your bench press two inches off your chest, you simply rotate through a number of different variations on that lift until you discover the ones you’re least good at. Afterwards, you develop those movements and see if your progress carries over to your competition-style lift. Oftentimes, it will.

So, here’s a simple short (three-week) training cycle that won’t project onto you, but will instead allow you to try and diagnose your own weaknesses. The theme of this article should be simple—instead of being beholden to another person for insights into your own weaknesses as a lifter, learn instead to self-empower through practicing—and perfecting—your own diagnoses.

I. The Movement-Based Split

For the testing phase, the training split takes place over five sessions per week—there are two squat sessions, two bench press sessions, and one deadlift session. This progression protocol for this mesocycle is from specific to general—then back to specific—over the course of a three-week training cycle. Each of the three main movements—the squat, bench press, and deadlift—follow this trajectory. Additionally, each week in the mesocycle presents the same theme for each of the three main movements. I’ll detail these for you:

I.I: Week One.

Week one consists of specific-general movements. I’m terming these “specific-general” rather than “general-specific” just to indicate that for most lifters, they’re closer to the “specific” side of the spectrum than the “general” side. In other words, these movements are closer variations to a competition-style technique than the variations that follow in week two. One of these movements will end up being a specific exercise for a particular lifter, as lifters will be asked to perform the following exercises:

Squat:

1.) Low-bar squat.
2.) High-bar squat.
3.) Beltless squat (using your normal bar placement).
4.) Paused squat.

Bench press:

1.) Close-grip paused bench press.
2.) Wide-grip paused bench press.
3.) Moderate-grip paused bench press.
4.) Bench press with chains.

Deadlift:

1.) Conventional deadlift.
2.) Sumo deadlift.

In week one, a lifter gets to cross-reference their typical lift with a variation on that main movement (either a low-bar or a high-bar placement on squat, a grip-width change on bench, or a deadlift style change).

For the squat, they also get to see how much—or how little—they benefit from using their belt, and get to see how they respond to an isometric component that eliminates stretch-reflex (a paused squat. For the bench press, they also get to see how their strength curve is affected by accommodating resistance. And for the deadlift, they get to cross-reference two different deadlift styles with one another.

kyle keough

I.II: Week Two.

Week two consists of general-specific movements. These movements are chosen to introduce lifters to different loading schemes and test for specific weaknesses. They include:

Squat:

5.) Front squat.
6.) Zercher squat.
7.) Specialty bar squat.
8.) Bulgarian split squat.

Bench press:

5.) Floor press.
6.) Two-board bench press.
7.) Overhead press.
8.) Incline press.

Deadlift:

3.) 2” deficit deadlift.
4.) 2” block deadlift.
On the squat, movements five and six test lifters on two different front-loaded squat variations; movement seven allows for another loading scheme to be introduced; and movement eight tests a unilateral movement. And if a specialty bar isn’t an option, simply choose another variation to test a perceived weakness. For example, you could substitute with a box squat if you felt you performed poorly on paused squats. Or, you could try a foot-width variation—a wide-stance or a narrow-stance squat could be employed. The important thing—and this is critical to having a successful training phase—is that a balanced variety of exercises are sampled.

On the bench press, movements five and six test lifters on two limited-range-of-motion exercises: the floor press and the two-board bench press. This will allow lifters to evaluate tricep and lockout strength. Movements seven and eight introduce different planes of movement with the incline press and overhead press. These will help test the lifter’s ability to adapt to different planes of movement and will help identify possible shoulder weakness.

And on the deadlift, lifters will have their biomechanics adjusted slightly by performing a shortened and an elongated range-of-motion variation. These variations can give some insight into how dependent a lifter is on bar-speed off the floor, as well as how much targeted training a lifter needs for developing a stronger lockout.

I.III: Week Three.

Week three consists of higher rep-range training, plus an evaluation/confirmation of previously-held beliefs regarding weaknesses. The goal of this week is twofold: first, lifters return to specific training and perform the main movement for a ten-rep set to test their performance with higher rep-range training; and second, lifters choose to either repeat or introduce new movement variations in order to evaluate or confirm previous results. The movements are as follows:

Squat:

9.) 10-rep competition-style squat.
10.) Perceived weakness #1.
11.) Perceived weakness #2.
12.) Perceived weakness #3.

Bench press:

9.) 10-rep competition-style paused bench press.
10.) Perceived weakness #1.
11.) Perceived weakness #2.
12.) Perceived weakness #3.

Deadlift:

5.) 10-rep competition-style deadlift.
6.) Perceived weakness #1.

II. The Use of Movement Variations

The testing phase uses movement variations in order to identify strengths and weaknesses. Each main movement—the squat, bench press, and deadlift—is substituted with a number of movement variations, and each variation is performed up to a specific protocol.

The testing phase I’ve written up here is only an example; it can be adapted to test a specific lifter’s needs. If and when modifications are made, it’s important that the following criteria are still met:

1.) The testing phase should diagnose changes to the performance of the main movement. This means utilizing variations that either have you narrowing or widening your stance (on the squat or the deadlift), or narrowing or widening your grip (on the bench press). The testing phase, in other words, should have within it specific variations to the main movements.

2.) The testing phase should diagnose weaknesses within the concentric phase of the movement. This means utilizing limited- and long-range-of-motion movement variations. A board press would be an example of a limited-range-of-motion movement variation, while a cambered bar bench press—or even just a dumbbell press–might be an example of a long-range-of-motion movement variation. It is important, when it’s feasible, to test the components of the concentric through these variations.

3.) The testing phase should diagnose muscular weaknesses through movement variations. There should be variations that exploit specific weaknesses—if you have weak triceps, for example, then you should have incorporated a movement variation that will demonstrate this weakness for you. This is why you’ll want to perform the main movement in several different ways and introduce different loading schemes and different pieces of equipment into this phase.

4.) The testing phase should diagnose weaknesses in the strength curve. If you are particularly slow coming out of the hole on your squats, there should be at least one variation—like a paused squat, or a box squat—that exposes said weakness.

5.) The testing phase should confirm weaknesses in the strength curve through an introduced isometric phase. So, if you’re weak at knee-height on your deadlift, there should be, again, a movement variation—a below-the-knee paused deadlift could be one; a low rack pull could be another; a low block pull could be a third—that confirms this by introducing an isometric phase just below this point.

6.) The testing phase is not designed to confirm flaws in mobility or general physical preparedness, but these might show up through different movement variations. A lifter might find him or herself unable to perform a correct front squat, which might lead to the realization that a particular muscle is tight and uncooperative.

kyle2

The Testing Phase:

Week One:

Bench Press A Session

Close-Grip Paused Bench Press
– Up to a 5-rep set at a RPE@7

Wide-Grip Paused Bench Press
– Up to a 5-rep set at a RPE@7

Bench Press B Session

Moderate-Grip Paused Bench Press
– Up to a 3-rep set at a RPE@8

Bench Press with Chains
– Up to a 5-rep set at a RPE@7

Squat A Session (all unwrapped)

Low-Bar Squat
– Up to a 5-rep set at a RPE@7

High-Bar Squat
– Up to a 5-rep set at a RPE@7

Squat B Session (all unwrapped)

Beltless Squat
– Up to a 3-rep set at a RPE@7

Paused Squat
– Up to a 3-rep set at a RPE@7

Deadlift Session

Conventional Deadlift
– Up to a 1-rep set at a RPE@8

Sumo Deadlift
– Up to a 1-rep set at a RPE@8.

Week Two:

Bench Press A Session

Floor Press
– Up to a 3-rep set at a RPE@8

Two-Board Bench Press
– Up to a 1-rep set at a RPE@8

Bench Press B Session

Overhead Press
– Up to a 3-rep set at a RPE@7

Incline Bench Press
– Up to a 3-rep set at a RPE@8

Squat A Session (all unwrapped)

Front Squat
– Up to a 5-rep set at a RPE@7

Zercher Squat
– Up to a 5-rep set at a RPE@7

Squat B Session (all unwrapped)

Specialty Bar Squat (SSB, Cambered Bar, etc.)
– Up to a 5-rep set at a RPE@7

Bulgarian Split Squat
– Up to a moderately difficult set of 8

Deadlift Session

2” Deficit Deadlift
– Up to a 5-rep set at a RPE@7

2” Block Deadlift
– Up to a 5-rep set at a RPE@7

Week Three:

Bench Press A Session

Competition-Style Paused Bench Press
– Up to a 10-rep set at a RPE@8

Perceived Weakness #1
– Up to a 1-rep set at a RPE@8
– Up to a 10-rep set at a RPE@7

Bench Press B Session

Perceived Weakness #2
– Up to a 1-rep set at a RPE@8
– Up to a 10-rep set at a RPE@7

Perceived Weakness #3
– Up to a 1-rep set at a RPE@8
– Up to a 10-rep set at a RPE@7

Squat A Session (wrapped/unwrapped for comp-style; unwrapped for #1)

Competition-Style Squat
– Up to a 10-rep set at a RPE@8

Perceived Weakness #1
– Up to a 1-rep set at a RPE@8
– Up to a 10-rep set at a RPE@7

Squat B Session

Perceived Weakness #2
– Up to a 1-rep set at a RPE@8
– Up to a 10-rep set at a RPE@7

Perceived Weakness #3
– Up to a 1-rep set at a RPE@8
– Up to a 10-rep set at a RPE@7

Deadlift Session

Competition-Style Deadlift
– Up to a 10-rep set at a RPE@8

Perceived Weakness #1
– Up to a 1-rep set at a RPE@8
– Up to a 10-rep set at a RPE@7

III. Evaluation of Results

Once you’ve completed the phase, how do you know what constitutes a strength, and what constitutes a weakness? Diagnosis at this level is in select occurrences blatantly obvious, but most of the time, it’s hard to determine whether you’re “good” or “bad” at a particular variation.

First, it helps to identify lifters who are like you—not only in age, strength, and training experience, but also in biomechanics—and compare numbers. The relationships between main movements and movement variations are not set in stone by any means, and there will be a certain amount of normal variance between lifters. But here are a few casual observations, placed into scenarios, which might help:

1.) In powerlifting, an exceptional front squatter will front-squat somewhere around 80% of their max back squat. A good front squatter might net 70%, and a really weak one might only be capable of hitting 50%. Part of your aptitude in this lift—or in any lift–is determined by biomechanics, but if you lie on the proficient end of the spectrum, you’ll probably benefit by discarding these, whereas if your front squat is really weak (relative to other lifters like you), it’s probably worth training.

2.) There exist rare cases of deadlifters who have such exceptional bar-speed that their 2” block deadlift is equal—or even worse—to their max deadlift off the floor. If you discover that this is the case for you, 2” block deadlifts could be a very useful training tool.

3.) And generally speaking, the average powerlifter is capable of overhead pressing somewhere around two-thirds of their max bench press. For some, it’s a little less; for others, a little more. But if your overhead press is nearly equal to your bench press, further developing it isn’t likely to carry over, whereas if you struggle to overhead-press 50% of your max bench press, chances are it’s a variation that needs to be introduced into your training in order for you to address a weakness as efficiently as possible.

In conclusion, a testing phase is still fraught with ambiguity—the answers derived from the data are never clear-cut—but it will certainly help many beginning- and intermediate-level lifters develop better self-awareness in training. Whether you’re programming for yourself or adopting another, proven program, self-awareness is the most critical component of success. This article is not exhaustive by any means—and there are many components to a good diagnostic beyond exercise selection that I’m not prepared to cover here—but it hopefully provides at least a starting point for you in your quest to be a more self-aware lifter.

Out of the Frying Pan & Into the Fire: A Pro’s Story of Injury and Triumph

So here I am in my immaculately clean (that’s a lie) apartment in northern Okayama Prefecture, somewhere in rural Japan between Osaka and Hiroshima. During one of the best parts of my day, my morning shower, I was pondering over the many injuries I’ve been rewarded with since I first began my quest at age 14 of becoming super muscular and strong. I’m still fighting a quad pop I had last year as well as getting my erectors into peak condition after a back strain almost 3 years ago. I still can’t believe it’s been that long but when you’re training like crazy and are riding wave after wave of personal records in a great groove, it can be horrible when you’re totally thrown off the tracks and are forced to rest for a long time. Regaining that lost momentum can be really difficult, physically and mentally. In this article I will go over all the notable injuries I’ve had since I began lifting, what caused them, and how I fixed them.

dan harrison japan

Dan Harrison

I had been going like a speeding Shinkansen (the bullet train in Japan, its top speed is around 200 mph) making inhuman gains in my squat and deadlift, as well as some pretty great upper body gains. From late 2009 until the beginning of 2011 I had gained over 150 lbs on my squat and deadlift, 60-70 on my bench, finally won my professional card in Strongman, rocked a 925 deadlift in the gym, nailed some national powerlifting records, and placed 7th at my very first pro show, Odd Haugen’s Strongman Challenge at the Los Angeles Fitexpo. A few months after that it all came crashing down. Just now in 2014 am I back to where I was in strength and am building up for a powerful comeback that will take me right to the top in 2015. Hitting a solid 4th place at the Fitexpo in 2013 was a huge confidence booster as well. I’m 32 years old now but some of the best at World’s Strongest Man are in their mid and even late 40s so I know I have a VERY long path of destruction and war ahead of me. Life is all about pushing ahead toward your awesome goals and fighting through setbacks. When you take a swing at the world, it will take a few good swings back at you and some of them will knock your teeth out. We all know that a coward dies 1,000 deaths so until your clock truly runs out, you’re still in the game. Got it?

The 90s

I’ve had some pretty awesome experiences in the Iron Game. I’ve met almost all of my heroes, worked out with the strongest men in the world, had a real inside look into the worlds of Bodybuilding, Powerlifting, Strongman, and Armwrestling, and countless other really amazing things. When I was in high school my grandparents used to drive me to Muscle Beach to go workout at the weight pit and then take me to Gold’s Gym Venice to workout some more. This was the mid 90s, almost all of the best bodybuilders of that era were in there training so I got a chance to meet and talk to a lot of them. My favorite was Chris Cormier, he was the coolest guy ever! Meeting Flex Wheeler in his prime was cool too, his training partner at the time, Rico, scared the hell out of me. I came up asking to get an autograph and he was like “WHAT DO YOU WANT KID!!!?!?! Ha ha ha just kidding, hey Flex, this kid wants to meet ya!” It was totally awesome.

Another gigantic guy I was talking to there (no idea who he was) told me “you’re only 15 and you have a real good frame, ONE DAY YOU’RE GONNA BE A HOUSE!!!” As a high schooler I would get all jacked out of my mind on Ultimate Orange and go squat and deadlift at 6am sometimes. I used Tom Platz’s program “Big Beyond Belief” and got some really good gains out of it. California Muscle Culture in the 90s was still very alive.

Dan Harrison girls

A 17 Year Old in the Trash Can

Back to injuries… my first actual injury was a pec strain from bench pressing. The bench press is probably one of the most dangerous exercises as well as the most widely performed around the world. Even with perfect performance the pecs are in a very vulnerable position and can be strained or worse at any time.

It’s always a roll of the dice with the pecs while training the bench press even with great warmup and sensible training. Even the best professionals who do all they can to lift safely have massive pec injuries and constant stingers there! So anyway, I was 16 years old and feeling really strong (feeling strong, not actually strong. Big difference!) I was attempting a 245 bench press. It felt amazingly light at liftoff but as it came down I felt a strain across both pecs and the bar free fell the rest of the way down. I’m sure my spotter caught it or else I would have had a big problem! For years after that any time my pecs became slightly overworked it would feel as if it was going to tear or something! Sharp pain! This bothered me on and off for TEN YEARS. At this point in my lifting I had done a 405×6 deep squat with a belt and some ace wraps and a 455×6 (touch and go) floor deadlift. Right when I turned 17 I began to have a lot of knee pain, got a back strain from deadlifting heavy every week for years on end, a pretty bad shoulder strain from doing behind the neck presses (an already horrible exercise) with way too much weight and horrific form, a strain in my right wrist from God knows what, and elbow pain. I decided to just take a full month off the gym, stop behind the neck pressing, and be smarter about lifting; this worked really well and soon enough I was back to 100%.

Japan and the United States " people power " showdown !Tanigawa master vs Dan -Harrison

Tanigawa master vs Dan -Harrison

Amateur Strongman, Dumb and Dumber

During the 9 years I’ve been involved in Strongman competitions the one area that has taken the most damage is my back! This is to be expected, Strongman is about picking up really, really heavy stuff!!! The back has to support the whole body under these insane loads so when it gets hurt, it can be pretty bad. The first back strain was during training for my first show which had an 18” deadlift. This is an event where a barbell is supported on 2 blocks so instead of picking it up from the floor, the bar begins (for most people) a few inches below the knee so for almost everyone, a much heavier weight can be used and we all know that the heavier the weight is, the cooler it is! The rough thing about this type of deadlift is that almost all of the strain is RIGHT on the low back at the beginning of the pull!! In training I overdid it and despite my erectors burning with exhaustion I kept pulling singles until POP. Oh man, what a moron! What have I done… had a small pop in the low back that wasn’t awful, but very annoying for months and months until a very good chiropractor yanked on my leg and POP, something released in my back and the pain was gone.

I had a minor strain somewhere in my pec/trapezius area after doing some strapped farmers walk holds with 450 per hand (if you’re asking why I did that, check the title of this section). It was bothering me for many weeks until my trainer’s wife told me to stop drinking all soda. Evidently high amounts of sugar can really increase inflammation especially when you’re hurt, and can prevent muscles from really relaxing and healing. I quit soda and the pain was gone for good  in less than a week.

The next back strain was in late 2006, a couple months before Amateur Nationals. During the summer of 2006 I was making awesome progress in my squat. I went from 550×3 with belt and wraps to 640×1 in just knee sleeves, no belt! It also took my front squat from 405 to 475. I did my first 405 front squat at Gold’s Venice. I failed it the first time but Lou Ferrigno was there, he gave me some pointers about keeping my elbows higher and boom, got it on the second try!

dan harrison flexing

I had a 4 week rotation in lower body work:

Week 1: Squats to a max single or triple, raise the pins in the rack, add 50 lbs and do one full range negative rep, raise the pins even higher and do a second negative with another 50 lbs on the bar, then maybe one down set with 500 for a few reps.

Week 2: Barbell step-ups to a 12” box, a few sets, 5-10 reps per leg.

Week 3: Same formula as week 1 except with front squats

Week 4: Same as week 2.

This was working amazingly until I had the bright idea of trading out the step ups for max rack deadlift lockouts! Wow, was that stupid! The box step ups were amazing because they provided extra leg work WITHOUT beating up the erectors. Heavy squats can do a serious number on the back muscles as well, and the relief provided from the step ups was perfect. When I traded them out in favor of deadlift lockouts, it was a recipe for disaster. This lasted about a month before my back went out, and that lasted many months before I was back in shape. It was bothering me so much I went ahead and dropped the cash for a Westside Reverse Hyper, which turned out to be one of the greatest investments I ever made. With some rest, smart training, and a lot of rep work on the reverse hyper, I was back in action and ready to lift anything.

dan harrison group

Inferno

The next back injury was in 2008. I had had a couple small pops again in my low back leading up to this; the first was leaning back super far to press out a very heavy viking press. The other was the same pop there that happened bouncing out of the hole with a 575 squat. Do you see the connection between free squats and injuries?? The death blow was a 2 day strongman training weekend at Odd’s, a few guys flew in to train so we were all going ballistic. The morning of day 2 I jumped on the reverse hyper and started going full range of motion pretty explosively. What a great idea that was, full range stretching and ripping up one of the most sensitive muscle groups on the whole body! Something went out and I could barely stand up, I couldn’t train that day and ended up spending most of that Sunday in bed. This was the beginning of 6 months of HELL. Have you ever had sciatica? It’s awesome, it’s like your whole leg is on fire from your low back all the way down to your feet. Can’t sleep, can’t sit, can’t DEADLIFT for sure. I ate on the floor for weeks and even had to take a couple weeks off work it got so bad. Funny thing was, I could squat fine and do some strongman events but if I tried to lift even a light atlas stone it was suicide.
I needed to ice my whole leg at night so I could fall asleep. The amount of ibuprofen I took during those months was just wrong. Thankfully I never reached out to prescription painkillers at that time because I would have became an addict for sure. Now and then I’d have a couple of them, become a space cadet for a while and forget about my leg but those drugs don’t heal you at all. My incredible chiropractor ended up giving me a bunch of free sessions digging out tons of huge knots all down my leg. Man, it was horrible! He would actually schedule me during times when nobody else was in the office because I’d be screaming! It was some real medieval style torment but it worked and after a while it all released and I was OK.

The Great Fall

As I addressed at the beginning of this article, I was making incredible progress on my Strongman and Powerlifting journey when a bad back strain in April 2011 took me down.
I had competed in the LA Fitexpo and placed 7th, then 4 weeks later did a powerlifting meet and did a raw 860 squat right after moving to Texas, and then did an extremely heavy 2 day strongman show in Las Vegas 3 weeks after that.

I really should have taken a couple weeks off training BARE MINIMUM after all of that, but nope. One of the things that I did in training in between the Fitexpo and the Powerlifting meet was an 875 deadlift with no belt! Around that time I was still proud of the 855 beltless deadlift I had done a few months prior until an amateur strongman put up a video of him also hitting 855. This pissed me off incredibly so in a determined rage I went in an did 875, because screw him. From floor to lockout it was almost 12 seconds but it felt like it took an hour. I was so crippled after that but who cares, I WON. Right? So after all of that stuff all done in early 2011, I went right back to training and was doing max box squats with 400-500 lbs of band tension, BELTLESS. This was so stupid! I was alternating weekly between low bar back squat and Safety Squat Bar, which puts a huge strain in the mid/upper erectors. During about the 4th week of this nonsense I got a massive strain all across my mid erectors. After that, deadlifting even 315 was impossible. I knew I was in deep trouble because I had a pro show in Philadelphia coming up a month later which was fully paid for by the promoter so I didn’t want to let him down. I talked to the man, Louie Simmons, on the phone and he had me doing a lot of sled dragging and reverse hypers during that month which helped a lot. I still had back problems at the show and couldn’t even do the opening deadlift of 700-something but I did the rest of the events great and finished okay in the show.

dan harrison

A month later I moved back to California (after my 6 month Texas adventure) but my back wasn’t really getting any better so I decided to really commit to taking 6-7 weeks off any real lower body work to become the leg extension and leg curl world champion. This was a difficult time in my life because I had returned to California from Texas with an injured back, a broken heart, and barely enough gas money to make it home. It was the beginning of a two year period where I had to take stock of my life and rebuild myself in every way. I was such a mess but thankfully my old boss was glad to give me my old job back and my family let me stay with them for the time being. I worked night shift so it was fun sometimes to get all jacked up on Green Apple NoXplode and go to the 24 hour gym at 3am. It was difficult for my parents having me living in Texas, it would seem as though it would be much harder having me in Japan now but they seem fine! I think they’re just glad I’m finding my way in the world and really taking control of my destiny. They get a kick out of watching me do crazy stuff around here and traveling around to different countries whenever I want. Moving to another continent into a different culture was a huge risk but like anything in life, no guts no glory. I had a lot of signs that it was meant to be, so I didn’t worry too badly.

During that time back in California I slowly worked my way back into squats and deadlifts and after a few months was super strong again. My deadlift has taken the longest to get back but part of that was because I changed my training so much. In the past I had always done box squats in training but I switched to doing free squats only, which was a huge disaster. My knees were always killing me, my back was chronically tired, and my deadlift completely disappeared. It got so bad that at one point I failed a 675 below the knee rack pull. Pretty upsetting to a 900+ deadlifter. I went back to box squats and more of my old style training and the back got big and strong again!

Break a Leg

I’ve always been big on barbell lunges since 2009, they helped correct some lower body imbalances that brought up my power like crazy as well as almost immediately release all of the residual back pain I was experiencing from the 2008 injury. I could barely do 155 for a few reps at the beginning but after a few months I was working out with 300-400 lbs for reps. After a certain point I didn’t believe they helped because I was able to lunge over 550 for reps but I didn’t see any real increase in my squat or deadlift anymore. The problem was, I didn’t really pay attention to that because lunging giant weights was endlessly entertaining to me, as well as the rest of the gym as they watched in horror half expecting a colossal catastrophic event which they were rewarded with now and then. Inspired by my previous success with squat negatives, I had used heavy lunge negatives from time to time which really did bring up my lunging power. The problem is that I never know when to stop with anything I do. I had the bright idea of doing a lunge negative on each leg with 635. Left leg went great. Did my right leg and felt a decent strain across the side of my leg, which was probably my IT band. This was 2 years ago and I am still struggling with this leg issue. Later that year I was free squatting and something popped in my right leg on the way up with 675. Hurt pretty bad and my leg got pretty stiff.

This was 6 weeks before the 2013 Fitexpo which was a VERY important show!!!! One of the events was a 550 lb front squat for reps, so I was pretty freaked out. I went back to light front squats a week later with about 300 lbs and my R leg wrapped tight, and it felt okay. I kept that leg wrapped up in a knee wrap around the thigh and gradually worked back up to some pretty heavy squats before the show. Seemed to work its way out of my system and I ended up with 3 easy reps with the 550 front squat at the show before I accidentally dumped it forward. Dangit! Winner had 5 so I still had great points. No leg problems in the show, won the tire flip, placed real high in everything else except the Yoke! Usually a great event for me but I had both legs wrapped up tight to protect the quad which made my legs sort of stiff which in turn made walking with 915 and then 1075 very awkward.

dan harrison armwrestling

It popped again a couple months later in the gym during an 800 squat but that healed pretty quickly. This was the fourth week in a row of  free squatting heavy in the gym, I was squatting in just belt and knee sleeves but by week 3 my knees and quads felt pretty horrible. Ignoring that I decided to just go in on week 4 with wraps and add 100 lbs to the bar, because I’m really stupid. Pop! A couple months later It popped again HORRIBLY during a 585 front squat in the gym, and that one was the really bad one. Couldn’t walk for a couple weeks, leg turned black, had to pull out of an important show I had 2 weeks later as well as the whole year ahead of me, so I was trying to keep up heavy training so my whole year wasn’t ruined.

I was experiencing some real depression over that one because it was so crippling as well as becoming a real threat to my future in the sport I love. Thankfully I had some good doctors, my chiropractor, and a couple acupuncturists do their best work and put me back together. They also fixed the pec tear I earned at my first Armwrestling tournament around that same time. I mean who does that while armwrestling?? It turned black! This Chinese acupuncturist rubbed FIRE on the pec and stuck all these pins all over me. He also did some deep tissue work and it healed super quick.

Before a show in Russia a couple months later I had the amazing idea to hit some 500 lb lunges and to my astonishment, the quad popped again. People have been asking me all my life, “What’s wrong with you?” I’ve never had a good answer for that. Thankfully that one healed fast and everything went great in Russia. Our team ended up only winning 3 out of 7 events so we didn’t win the overall title but whatever, the trip was one of the most amazing things ever. Drinking Russian energy drinks all day during the show (undoubtedly amphetamine-laced) assured maximum performance as well as zero sleep that night. I was up at 4:30am with Andrew Palmer armwrestling and having one of the strangest discussions ever. Escape from the minus world!

Resurrection

I have the rest of 2014 to train before the 2015 Fitexpo in Los Angeles, California and this is the perfect amount of time to prepare for the most successful year of my Strongman career. I have a great track record of finishing well there (7th and 4th) against an international field so I know what I need to  do. Doing very well there can also get me an invite to more big international shows so I am coming in with the biggest battle axe possible. I’m in the middle of rural Japan and another English teacher who loves heavy lifting ended up moving right down the street! I now have a GREAT training partner! I had forgotten how much that helps; it has been a huge positive development for my training and my life in general. It can be difficult when zero people speak English in your whole city but him and I are kicking ass and showing people around here what high testosterone men are supposed to look like. In just over a month training with me he’s already got huge slabs of muscle all over and has gained about 5kg. We train early in the morning because otherwise we get mobbed by Japanese dudes and training turns into a photo shoot. I don’t mind getting mobbed when I’m out in some big Japanese city but during training I don’t like screwing around. This one guy never shuts up too, but he usually goes in the afternoons along with most of the chatty ones.

Final Words

No more free squats probably ever again, I am done with those as well as bench pressing. I’m done competing in Powerlifting so I have all the more energy to focus on heavy overhead pressing and deadlifts without all the chronic injuries related to benching and heavy free squats. I’m only 32 but I’ve been lifting heavy weights for 18 years, it takes a toll. Instead of bench pressing I have opted for weighted dips which I believe are both safer and more effective. My legs look awesome right now and I haven’t been squatting regularly, just deadlift variations. I might add in some pause front squats just for extra explosiveness and strength support for Strongman. Heavy deadlifts and push presses do work the quads better than anyone gives them credit for. If an exercise is causing you problems again and again and the risk to reward ratio is not good, dump it. Not worth it. In Armwrestling there is a somewhat risky move called a Shoulder Roll which can help finish a match with tricep power but can potentially put the arm in a super dangerous breaking position. And when I say breaking position, I mean your arm can basically break off the bone and your life is over for the next year. I’m going to stay away from that move as much as I can, not worth it. If all I did was Armwrestling I would take more risks like that but I can’t afford to have a major arm injury since I’m also a pro strongman and am training for the biggest show.

Strongman hurts and so does Powerlifting and Armwrestling. Yes there are other athletes in these sports who have had much more horrific injuries than I; broken bones, completely torn muscles and tendons requiring major surgery, hernias, knee blowouts, internal organ damage, heart attacks and worse. These sports are not for chickens! All I can really bear witness to is what I’ve experienced. Every injury is sort of unique so what works for one person may not work for another but there are some general similarities we can all acknowledge. Listen to your body, avoid too much sugar, don’t do behind the neck anything, bench press with great caution, pause squats are amazing and much safer than free squats, pay attention to back pain, and always do a really full warmup especially for your back!!!!!

Dan Harrison

Powerlifting and Philosophy III: What Michel Foucault Can Tell Us about Enforcing Rules in Powerlifting

It’s been a great many months since I’ve attempted to pen the third addition to a “Powerlifting and Philosophy” I started once upon a time. The premise of this series, originally, was to adopt different philosophical perspectives; these perspectives, I wagered, might shed new light on some of the most regularly debated (and admittedly tired!) subjects in powerlifting: meet preparation, the raw-versus-gear debate, and now, in this third addition, enforcing standards.

This article is less about how one judges squat depth than it is about how the discourse surrounding squat depth promotes self-regulation. And to make this admittedly minor distinction, I turn to the philosophical bent of Michel Foucault, a philosopher-cum-historian-cum-social theorist; there aren’t many strength athletes beyond the Misha Koklyaevs of the world–and they’re a rare bunch–that share his proclivity towards escaping classification.

But the Foucault I wish to draw from here is the one who authored the tome “Discipline and Punish”, and chronicled the epistemic shift in modern societies towards self-discipline as a means of control. The distinction Foucault makes here is between discipline—the enforcement of rules by an external power upon the subject—and self¬-discipline—the enforcement of an external power’s rules by the subject him or herself.

Self-discipline, for Foucault, is made possible by the threat of surveillance. When we live in a state in which surveillance exists as a possibility, we modify our own behaviors in anticipation of an external threat. This is why you stop at a red light on a deserted road late at night; though you could run it with no reprisal, the fear you harbor that your behavior is being monitored from some unforeseen location keeps you in adherence with the rules.

Foucault imagines in “Discipline and Punish” a prison structure named the Panopticon, in which the inmates discipline themselves out of fear of surveillance. In the Panopticon, a circular structure, jail-cells all face a central tower, shrouded by a screen. The inmates cannot see the occupants of the tower; they presume, however, that the occupants can see them. Even though the occupants of the tower cannot possibly monitor the entire jail at once, the inmates do not know when they’re being watched and when they’re not. Their response: to live in accordance with the rules out of the fear that they could be caught.

panopticon

You could say that powerlifting contains within it an element of self-discipline; lifters, unable oftentimes to observe the standards of the judges they perform for, will meet or even exceed said standards in an act of self-discipline. In a powerlifting meet, the two side judges are situated just beyond the periphery of one’s vision—because lifters cannot observe these judges and account for what they might be looking at, the response is typically one of self-discipline. My experience is usually one of hyper self-focus—I become more acutely aware of each small segment of my body, and I grow concerned whenever something moves in a way that it isn’t supposed to. If you tend to commit a particular foul on a lift, it’s as if you can almost feel the judges’ eyes on that portion of the lift.

But the concept of self-discipline need not only apply to the physical performance at a powerlifting meet—we, as a community, are engaged with the discourse of self-discipline every day. And I’m here to tell you that all of the participants of that discourse are necessary for a constructive regulation of the sport. These participants, I feel, can largely be divided into one of four categories:

1.) The Self-Discipliners

These are the individuals who enforce the regulations when they feel that the sport’s governing bodies—the federations—are unwilling or incapable of doing so. They’re on internet message boards, on youtube, on Facebook, and on literally every other available form of social media, critiquing, and re-evaluating the performances of lifters inside—and sometimes outside—of sanctioned competition.

Why are they necessary? They unify and uphold a particular standard, and they inspire self-discipline in the participants of the sport. In a sport in which no central governing body exists, it becomes the job of the athletes to willingly subject themselves to self-discipline: it’s up to the athletes to compete in one particular federation and/or perform the lifts to their own standards. Athletes willingly sacrifice potential pounds in the name of self-discipline.

What is their drawback? They inspire fragmentation and disharmony in the sport of powerlifting. I suppose this is true of all the participants in this discourse, but the self-discipliners, in particular, produce conflict. Oftentimes, that conflict is purposeful, but even this category has the dolts that complain about the use of thumb-loops on a bench press.

powerlifting judging

2.) The Deferrers to Authority

These individuals refuse to judge the validity of competition lifts on a sanctioned forum—instead, they place their trust in the governing bodies that accept these lifts. They might promote one particular federation, or they might promote a general acceptance of federation decisions regarding judging.

Why are they necessary? They lend credibility to particular federations, or even just to the existence of “the federation” as a governing body. In a sport in which federations, quite frankly, aren’t incentivized to by overly stringent with their enforcement of the rules, federations depend upon lifter support to function as a reputable authority.

What is their drawback? They elide over a lot of the extant problems with federations, including bad judging; their rhetoric, “if it got whites, it’s all right,” professes blind faith in outside government. Too many deferrers to authority allow for federations to make bad decisions with unchecked authority; too few, and “the federation” loses its cultural purpose and ceases to matter.

3.) The Non-Discipliners

These individuals test the boundaries of the rules rather than self-disciplining in order to meet them. They rely upon a governing body to enforce these rules and are willing to bend—or even break—the rules if said governing body were to allow it.

Why are they necessary? The non-discipliners and the self-discipliners, collectively, keep the rules from being unreasonably interpreted and enforced in either a strict or a liberal sense. No matter who you are, chances are you can think of one person you know who wants the rules enforced too strictly—whether that means a strict or even an exaggerated interpretation of the rule, like the dude that believes “only ATG squats should count in competition,” or that “wearing a belt shouldn’t be considered raw”—and one person you know who wants the rules enforced too loosely. And chances are, you consider yourself to be at the “right” medium, in between these two respective poles.

What is their drawback? If unchecked, the sport would devolve into a circus if the non-discipliners had their way. And yet, without non-discipliners, athletes would routinely hinder their own performances by performing beyond the expectations of the rules. At the highest level of competition, some rule-skirting is necessary to push the competitive standard: can you imagine watching a NFL game with no penalties, a NBA game with no fouls, or a 100-meter dash with not a single false start? The loss of those infractions would not necessarily make those sports better—it would just hinder the performances of those overly cautious athletes.

powerlifting judging squat

4.) The Non-Committals

These are the individuals that don’t take a side, at least not explicitly. They mostly keep their opinions to themselves on the subject of rule-enforcement; in other words, they do the best they can to remain outside of this discourse.

Why are they necessary? Their agreeability keeps the sport from becoming too riddled with conflict. If every participant were a self-discipliner or a non-discipliner, powerlifting would be so overcome with the sort of toxic tete-a-tete that these two factions generate that there would be little enjoyment left for anyone. Bitterness and hostility, on both sides, wears all parties down—the agreeable non-committals keep the sport from becoming too contentious for its own good.

What is their drawback? Well, as Foucault would acknowledge, even a non-response is a contribution to a discourse. You could say that by refusing to voice an opinion, they become complicit in the errors of the other three respective categories.

My point, in writing this article, is to make the argument, through Foucault’s concept of self-discipline, that not only is a certain element of self-discipline necessary for the sport of powerlifting, but that self-discipline must be balanced by the non-discipline, deferrals to authority, and non-committal stances that other lifters associate themselves with. Together, these groups give powerlifting’s discursive community a healthy balance. While the sport is not perfect, this balanced discursive community makes the sport better. Regardless of what side you find yourself on, try to see the value in the existence of your adversaries.

Andrey Malanichev Answers Questions from Fans

Andrey was kind enough to perform a live AMA on Reddit during his stay in New York this past week following his world record performance. Andrey currently hold the highest raww powerlifting total with 2469.1 Lb, and the heaviest raw squat with wraps performed in competition with 1014 Lb.

During the AMA Andrey covers topics such as training philosophy, training advice, assistance work, diet, and much more.

Below you will find some of the most popular questions from the AMA.

Andrey’s Background

 

Loki090: What’s your story? How did you get to where you are know? When did you decide to start training and what influenced that?

I started training at 14 or 15 by accident. I was often wandering my neighborhood rooftops in Moscow. I once saw an TV antenna which was held by something like a weightlifting plate. I lifted it and did a few bicep reps. I liked the feeling and then I took two of these “plates” home and tied them to a long crowbar with cords. That was my first training weight.

I started practicing with this thing under our building’s roof (the service floor). This was a standard soviet building – it sort of looks like these “projects” you have in New York City on Lower East Side and in Brooklyn. So the neighbors didn’t like the noise and they threw me out of there but let me use the basement.

I have practiced like this on my own with a few buddies for 2 years. I even stole two buckets of yellow and blue oil-based paint from a nearby construction site so that we could paint the basement.

By the time I got to a real lifting gym at 16 (trainer Andrey Chuprin) I could bench 80kg and squat 120kg.

iorgfeflkd: Were you always strong, or did you only become strong when you started training?

I wasn’t strong at all actually. I remember being able to bench press only 50kg at first.

Andrey’s Training Philosphy

akagamisteve: Your training philosophy only in three points, said as simple as possible.

I can try to formulate it in two points:

First, I am in favor of simple training. I am skeptical of complicated “systems” and gimmicks in training, diet and lifestyle.

Second, working with extreme weights is often more psychological than physical. When I am about to lift a weight my body often tells me “Don’t do it” and I still do this anyway. I don’t like deliberating too much. I just set the weight and attack it. You need to set goals, not just train aimlessly. If you don’t have a goal or you aren’t focused on the goal you won’t achieve much. You may be doing everything right, have the right amount of strength and yet fail.

dannnyds: What do you do for warm up/mobility work?

warmup is my least favorite part of the workout. I often ignore it and suffer as a result. When I do warm up I stretch and jump rope.

andery

Training Advice from Andrey

OneRepTwoRep: What training advice do you have for novice and intermediate lifters looking to excel at the sport?

If you had to start again from nothing, what would you do differently with the knowledge you have now?

I think I got extremely lucky with the coach and I wouldn’t change anything if I had to do it from scratch

As to beginners and intermediates. – Stay away from all gear other than the wraps. Lift raw! It’s important to build up muscles doing raw lifts – Do a lot of basic exercise – Make sure to do everything in perfect form – Do longer sets: 5-8 reps usually.

WTF-BOOM: The sheer speed in the accent of your record squat was amazing, other extraordinary strong squatters tend to grind through their lifts, yours was incredibly fast and smooth with no sticking point, what in your training to do attribute this to?

Actually, I thought I squat slowly. I don’t do anything special to squat fast. It just comes out that way…they don’t feel easy trust me. thanks!

CrazyMonkeySlapper: Do you ever actually grind out squats or would your absolute maximum squat also be explosive and smooth?

I do it with controlled speed. I think it’s dangerous when you don’t control the movements but I do not “grind” on purpose I just squat at the speed I can control.

dukieduke: What has been most effective for you when training the bench press?

I have 2 different bench presses e.g. on wednesdays I do regular bench press and on saturdays I do slingshot press

Here’s what I did when I was preparing for the last meet (in kg):

For regular press: – 120×5 reps – 140×5 reps – 160×5 – 180×5 – 200×5 – 220×2 – 240×2 – 250×1

For slingshot: – 130×3 – 160×3 – 190×3 – 220×2 – 250×2 – 270×1 – 290×1 – 305×1

Andrey’s Assistance Work

Charlitos:

What is your favorite assistance lift for squat/bench/deadlift?

i don’t have any assistance lifts. as i mentioned earlier i train very simply -just a lot of basic lift exercise.

Andrey’s Diet

Charspaz: What’s your diet like?

I eat a lot meat (prefer beef but also pork and chicken) Drink a lot of high mineral content water (they have a few brands in Russia) Potatoes, rice and pasta. The way we cook pasta in Russia is almost exactly like american mac and cheese.

andrey-diet

Injury Prevention

vitrael: What strategies do you use to avoid injury when you are training with truly unprecedented weights like 400kg or more for reps?

its very hard to avoid injuries at such weights. To be honest I came with an injured thigh to the last meet. Trying to warm up well and using a good warm up ointment [Sombra Warm Therapy] are the only things I rely on.

Misc.

NerdMachine: What’s the heaviest thing you’ve ever lifted in your day to day life (i.e. not a barbell in a gym)?

Joke: my girlfriend 🙂

Seriously speaking, I actually had to move cars out of the way. You know, when someone blocks the exit I had to lift the front or the back of someone’s car to clear the way.

 

gzcl: What metal besides Iron Maiden do you listen to?

Slayer / Megadeth / Metallica /

andrey iron maiden

xcforlife: Who is your favorite athlete of all time? (any sport)

Michael Jordan he is the greatest

simouradian: What’s next from you, Malanichev? What keeps you motivated and what is the next record you want to break?

I wanna beat my own records and maybe a few in raw classic. As to motivation – I can’t even tell you what drives me – I just love doing this.

sconnie64: What was the first time you thought to your self “damn I’m stronger than average”

never thought about it. everybody is good at something

Tips from Andrey

      • i often see people trying to work with heavier weights than they should. i can tell that because they lose the form, which is potentially harmful
      • Rethink your training routine. [when a lift, or progress stalls]
      • Genetics is very important but character is even more so

You can read Andrey’s full AMA at www.reddit.com

Get Smart or GTFO: Essentials for Smart Training

I just read a small article written by amateur strongman Ryan Burgess recently on LIFT.net. He was giving beginners advice on what not to do when getting into the sport of Strongman.

He counted five things he himself was guilty of doing at the beginning, and told people that’s not the way to go. One thing in particular stood out for me.

Many lifters are guilty of this, novice and seasoned. The “go heavy or go home” mentality seems to be the only way a lot of lifters think you should train. To me it’s certainly one way, but definitely not the best way. You’re not training to test your strength, you’re training to build your strength, and the best way to do that is not always trying to lift as much weight as you possibly can. For me, the saying should go more like “get smart or GTFO” because training smart can get you to the top of Goal Mountain a lot faster, and safer .

When I say train smart I mean: plan what you are training for, have some sort of time frame for your goals, eat good food and make sure nothing is missing in nutrition, give yourself enough time to recover between training days and use your time in the gym to the fullest.

pall dumbbell

1. Plan What You Are Training For

Don’t train powerlifting for two weeks, and then decide you want to be a bodybuilder start doing cardio, and then figure “crossfit sounds like fun”. This is all a waste of time and energy. Say to yourself “what do I want to accomplish next”. Then put the time, blood, sweat, and thought into it, and you will achieve your goal! Then move on to the next.

2. Setting a Time Frame For Your Goals

Setting a time frame is not planning to add 20 Lb to your deadlift in five days, it’s improving as much as you possibly can over the next 16 weeks for instance.

3. Eat Good Food and Make Sure Nothing is Missing in Nutrition

Think about what you eat. Know the fuel you’re putting in your body. Don’t be the guy who only eats pizza and ice cream, and says he’s bulking. Everybody knows that guy is a moron. The rule of thumb says to calculate the amount of protein you need; 1 Gram of protein per 1 Lb of bodyweight. Try to be somewhere in the proximity of that. Oh, and if you are bulking, eat more of good food, don’t switch to fat-ass food and call it bulking.

4. Give Yourself Enough Time to Recover Between Training Days

If you train for powerlifting, then I usually recommend the 2-3 times a week training routine. Just make sure you don’t train too often. Kill yourself on each training day, but give your body enough time to rebuild the muscle you break down. You can’t train bench press every day and expect good results. Don’t be afraid of resting, you need it.

5. Use Your Time in the Gym to the Fullest

Using your time in the gym can be tricky because often you know everyone around you, and call most of them friends. Be aware of the time you need in between sets so you’re not wasting it. Go ahead, chat with your friends, but keep your mind on the matter, and don’t lose focus.

I hope this helps someone gain strength through knowledge. Keep getting stronger, and keep getting smarter. And all you beginners … ASK! There are thousands of guys more than happy to answer all of your stupid questions because we remember when we didn’t know and had to ask the older, more experienced guys.

Be great.

Páll Logason 793 Lb/360 Kg Deadlift

Páll Logason 793 Lb/360 Kg Deadlift

The Art of the Sumo Deadlift – Part 2: Mobility

As a follow up to my well received article “The Art of The Sumo Deadlift- Part 1”. I am proud to call upon my good friend and training partner for assistance, who happens to have his Doctorate in Chiropractic. Through some collaboration we were able to put together some common trouble areas for lifters learning to sumo deadlift. Here you will find some suggestions to approach correcting them. Remember these are purely suggestions, and any improper motor patterns, or positions causing pain or impingement should not be loaded before seeking appropriate professional help.

The raw sumo deadlift has become a go to alternative for many high-level powerlifting athletes, such as Dan Green and Connor Lutz (“although at a significantly lesser level than Dan Green” -Clutz).  The short lever movement allows for those with a long torso and short limbs to maximize the pull.  The key to this technical lift is the set up, and proper prioritization of movements to allow for a proper line from the floor to the lockout position.  If you are not mobile enough to get in the proper position, this lift will ultimately be unforgiving, as it’s easy to overuse the back musculature and result in injury.  I will now detail common faults and restrictions in this technique, and give you some mobility examples to help mobilize the areas of restriction.

Common Sumo Deadlift Faults

1.      Toes pointing forward

This is a common fault seen by lifters who are transitioning to a sumo deadlift technique from a conventional technique.  They often set up with a wide stance, but fail to set their toes out at 45 degrees.  This is sometimes a cueing mistake, and not a mobility error.  However, if you have trouble getting your toes to point out it may be wise to look upstream at your hips and adductor muscles.  If they are short or tight you will often notice that your ankles are caving in, your knees are crashing in, and you have trouble keeping your hips open.

Quick fix: Roll out your adductors and medial calf. Practice short foot techniques (http://www.somastruct.com/exercises/short-foot-exercise/)

art of sumo deadlift part 2

art of sumo deadlift part 2

Left Image: Flat Foot, Right Image: Short Foot

2.      Knees over the bar and closed hips

In the sumo deadlift, your knees should be forced outwards over your second toe, and behind the bar while keeping proper hip height and a neutral spine.  For those who cannot achieve this position, it’s often the hips and adductor group causing you to fall forward and closing off your hips.  In addition, weak gluteus medius, and maximus will reduce your external rotation strength, allowing your adductors to over power you.

Quick fix: Banded adductors stretch and strengthen your gluteus medius and maximus to allow proper external rotation of your hips.  examples = Monster Walks and Banded Squats

art of sumo deadlift part 2

 

3.      Shoulders too far over the bar

If you have trouble keeping your shoulders back and directly over the bar, a simple cue is to pull the bar back and into you.  This will allow you to properly load your scapulae (shoulder blades) into the down and in position, which will activate your lower trapezius, and lattisiumus dorsi muscles. This will create proper neutral spine, and external rotation at the shoulder, which will bring your shoulders directly over the bar, and keep your chest up.  From a mobility point of view, you will want to address the anterior chain structures. The pectoralis major, and minor will be forcing your shoulders to internally rotate and cause you to fall forward.

Quick fix: Scapular retractions with bands (Straight arm lat pulldowns), as well as pectoralis major and minor smash.

art of sumo deadlift part 2

4.      Loss of a neutral spine

From a chiropractic perspective, neutral spine is the most important part of this technique, as it allows for all other sequences to be achieved for an optimal lift. If you don’t have proper neutral spine with an upright torso, you are going to turn this lift into a sumo stance stiff legged deadlift. The neutral spine is not a mobility issue, but an issue of prioritization and stability.  The hips are meant to be an area of mobility, and the low back an area of stability.  Therefore fixing the hips will allow for proper overall positioning in the sumo deadlift.

Quick fix: Mobilize the hips and practice proper neutral spine. 

art of sumo deadlift part 2

Left Image: Poor Form, Right Image: Neutral Spine 

5. Lockout trouble

Lockout can be difficult for some lifters, not due to strength, but due to mobility. The muscles that connect your tuberosity of the ischium (pelvis) to your femur (thigh bone) are often the culprits.  These muscles are the hamstring and adductor magnus (adductor) muscles. Having overly tight hamstrings can inhibit your body’s ability to lock out your knees.  In addition the hip flexors, iliopsoas, are often a trouble area in this movement.  It attaches to the vertebrae in your lower back, and the head of your femur. This muscle often causes an increase in your lumbar lordosis, which can lead to back pain and difficulty getting your hips through.

Quick fix: Squat Opener to Sumo Toe Touch (located in bonus video) and rolling out tight adductors. 

Psoas (couch stretch)

Psoas (couch stretch)

Recap

If you want to become an expert lifter, it is important to use proper technique in all lifts.  That being said, the sumo deadlift is one of the most complex, rewarding lifts if performed to perfection.  You will realize immediately that it takes time to master such a technical movement, but once you do, you will see a dramatic increase in your posterior chain muscle strength.  In the long run, this lift will improve your performance in all areas of strength training.

Sumo Warmup, and Bonus Video!

 

  • Foam Roll / Lax Ball
  • ITs
  • Adductors
  • Gluteus Med, Gluteus Maximus, Piriformis
  • Hamstring/Glute Tie-In
  • Rocking Frog to Sumo Seal Stretch
  • Squat Hip Opener to Sumo Toe Touch (working from narrow to wide)
  • Backwards Roll to V-Sit
  • Side Lunge / Adductor Stretch
  • T-Rex Walks
  • Monster Walks
  • Banded Squats
  • Deadlifts!

The Art of the Sumo Deadlift – Part 1

I will be the first to admit that deadlifting has been the most challenging of the three powerlifting disciplines for me. While squatting and benching have naturally come relatively easily, the deadlift not so much. While this may seem like a reason to disregard my thoughts on the deadlift, I can say that I have first hand experience on the trials and tribulations of building a strong deadlift. Similar to how average players often become the best coaches due to the time they put in learning and understanding ways to compete against others more genetically gifted; I have put in significant time studying and critiquing my sumo deadlift technique in the hopes to escape disappointment on the platform.

While I hate to make excuses, the short limbed, long torso lifter is simply behind the 8-ball when it comes to huge conventional pulls. The hips sit too low, the bar travels too far, and without erectors made of rebar, the lift often becomes technically, and biomechanically difficult. Often times compromising spinal position to the point of being dangerous under heavy loads. Being of this aforementioned hobbit type physique, I began to deadlift sumo in the hopes to escape the fate of “out squatting my deadlift”. Historically, sumo deadlifting was largely popular amongst equipped lifters for the simple fact it was easier to load the hips of a deadlift suit with a wider foot placement, allowing lifters to make bigger pulls. There was a feeling that it wasn’t possible to pull big numbers using sumo technique raw. What we have seen is the likes of Belyaev, Pozdeev, Wierzbicki and Dan Green who have put up monster numbers recently, all deadlifting sumo raw.

The sumo deadlift, in my opinion, became popularized by the Russian lifters who are historically all technicians of the sport. The mindset stereotypically of conventional deadlifters’ of “grip it and rip it” definitely doesn’t apply to the technically demanding lift of sumo deadlifts, and may have led to the misconceptions about raw sumo deadlifts. Sumo deadlifting is a lift that requires patience, dedication, and attention to detail. This is not to say that conventional deadlifting doesn’t require these attributes, but in my opinion, they are required in greater quantity when starting to deadlift sumo. I like to look at the sumo deadlift as a masterpiece, rather than a test of true brute strength.

The first mistake most people transitioning to the sumo deadlift make, is that they simply “deadlift conventional” with a wider foot placement. I can’t stress enough, that for the exception of a few genetically gifted deadlifters, the sumo deadlift is not the same movement as a conventional deadlift. What I mean by this, is that you can’t simply storm up to the bar, grab hold of that thing, and yank on it until it comes up. Positioning is extremely important, and plays an enormous role in ability to complete the lift. A notion some conventional deadlifters ignore.

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Sumo Deadlift Form and Positioning

Foot placement

In terms of foot placement, there is no one size fits all approach to setting up. A lot of factors come into play such as hip mobility, biomechanics, and individual lifter strengths. While there is no one answer to this question, it can make or break a lifters’ ability to deadlift sumo. A good rule of thumb is to pay attention to the angle of the shin in the bottom position of the setup, and to start with the shins slightly past perpendicular to the bar.

The narrower the stance, typically the easier it will be to break the floor, but the harder it will be to lock the weight out due to torso angle and hip height (which should make sense later on).

Conversely, the wider the stance, the more difficult it will be to break the floor, but the easier it will be to finish the lift due to upper body positioning. Thinking of it slightly differently, the narrower the stance the more similar it becomes to a conventional deadlift (more back). The wider the stance the less stress on the back and more emphasis placed on the hips, hamstrings (more legs), and upper back.

Semi Sumo (Narrow Stance)

Semi Sumo (Narrower Stance)

Toe Angle

A common question that gets asked, is what angle should the toes be at? A good place to start is approximately 45 degrees.

The more pointed forward the toes are, the greater stress that gets placed on the hips, and the more the lifters mobility is challenged. The more toe’d out the lifter, the harder it will be to get the weight off the floor.

Again, each lifter will be slightly different but splitting the difference is a good place to start!

Knee Positioning

Before beginning the lift, the knees need to be forced outwards, opening up at the hips. The knees must be behind the bar. Unlike the conventional deadlift, shins should be as vertical as possible. This will help with getting the hips and shoulders into the right position.

Incorrect Sumo Knees Over Bar

Incorrect Knees Over Bar

Hip Positioning

The goal of the sumo setup is to keep the hips as high as possible WHILE maintaining proper shoulder positioning. This is going to happen by forcing the knees outwards hard, dropping the hips down, and keeping your hips as close to the bar as possible. The closer the hips can stay to the bar, the easier it will be to lock the weight out.

Incorrect Sumo Knees Caving

Incorrect Knees Caving & Hips Closed

Shoulder Positioning

The shoulders need to be above the bar throughout the whole lift. This idea of shoulders AND hips as high as possible while opening at the hips will keep the torso as vertical as possible. A lot of lifters struggle with understanding where “above” the bar really is at the shoulder.

The best way to judge this is by paying attention to the angle of the arm. When setting up and pulling the weight, the arm must stay perpendicular to the floor. The anterior delt is not the “shoulder”, and lining this up with the bar will force the hips too low making the weight extremely hard to break the floor. Lining the shoulder blade up with the bar will push the hips too high and make the weight difficult to lockout.

Before beginning the lift, the knees need to be forced outwards, opening up at the hips. The knees must be behind the bar, unlike the conventional deadlift, shins should be as vertical as possible. This will help with getting the hips and shoulders into the right position.

Incorrect Sumo Shoulders Over Bar

Incorrect Shoulders Over Bar

Putting it all together

When setting up to sumo deadlift, start with the bar straight against the shins, drop your hands straight down, driving your knees out, sink your hips until your hands reach the bar. While dropping down to the bar, your chest should be proud, stick it out a little, with the goal of keeping your hips as high as possible. Once you have established your hip height, push your heels through the floor, pulling the slack out of the bar until your chest is high, and your shoulders are above the bar. This will keep your torso as upright as possible.

Initiate the pull by spreading the floor with your feet, with the idea of forcing your hips towards the bar. The shoulders and hips should rise at the same time, patiently creeping the weight off the floor keeping the chest nice and proud. Once the bar reaches the knees you then initiate the lockout with an aggressive knee extension, locking the knees to provide leverage to finish the lift. Once the knees are locked, the hips are extended and forced to the bar. To finish, the shoulders are pulled back creating something that is like a giant pendulum.

Correct Sumo Position

Correct Sumo Position

Correct Sumo Position

Correct Sumo Position

Sumo Deadlift Lockout

The sumo lockout is a very brief two-part movement, a violent knee extension followed by hip extension. If the knees aren’t locked before the hips are brought through, the knees will sag and the weight will be extremely difficult to lock out.

The art that is the sumo deadlift requires great patience to break the floor, with the precise timing at lockout. Locking the knees too early will pitch the body forward; locking too late will make it difficult to extend the hips. Once this is mastered, the Sumo deadlift is a piece of beauty, a masterpiece.

No Sumo Deadlift Article is complete without a look at what in my opinion, is the most technically sound lifter in the world, Andrey Belyaev.

Looking for sumo deadlift form check? Post up your video in the comments, and I’ll be happy to give you some feedback.

This is the first of a series of sumo deadlift articles. Keep your eyes open for part two, where we will go over mobility, and flexibility for the sumo deadlift.

Building a Better Rack Position

Coaches and athletes a like love power cleans and front squats for the great strength and power benefits they provide but, there are many that say the lifts are too dangerous, or put too much stress on the wrist. If you have chronic wrist pain, or rack troubles in general with the clean/front squat; the problem might be as simple as fixing your rack position.

Rack position

A proper rack position for the front squat starts with the bar racked across your collar bones (clavicle) and shoulders (just on top of the landmark known as the acromium process). When teaching the front squat for the first time, put your hands out in front of you and rack the bar here. This is where we can address a problem that a lot of people have; rounding forward of the upper back. Keep your shoulders back and engage your lats (latissimus dorsi). This creates the shelf and tightens your core. Now we are ready to put our hands on the bar.

Drive your elbows up and out as you wrap around the bar, keep your chest up, and maintain a tight upper back. Not all your fingers need to be on the bar; you can take it down to just one if that is comfortable for you. As you descend and as you come up from the squat position you need to keep driving up with the elbows as this lets your back do the work more than your wrists.

Still having wrist pain? Time for some quick trouble shooting.

Using a large resistance band tightly wrap your wrist starting at the wrist and working up the forearm to where you cover about ¼ of the forearm. Blood flow will stop to your hand and it will go numb. From here make a fist with your thumb inside and start stretching it at all angles. Make sure you audibly breath out through your mouth to get your body to relax. After hitting all the angles, holding the stretch, and until you feel a release, unwrap the wrist and let blood flow return. This quick tip can drastically increase your range of motion and reduce wrist pain.

I can’t get my elbows high enough!

Here is where you might need to mash/stretch your triceps. If you have a massage therapist, AWESOME but, not everyone has this luxury so, lay on a softball or lax ball and start digging into your triceps. Don’t just roll it around, find a spot where its tight and keep it on there breathing out through your mouth long and slow until it lets go.

You can also use this same strategy to open up your lats and your serratus muscles that wrap around the back of the arm pit and your ribs respectively.

To stretch the rack position use a resistance band attached to a squat rack or pillar, put your hand through the band, twist to wrap once and then face away from the rack with your elbow high above your head, leaning forward and breathing out. Hold until it opens up. 

massage tricep

I can’t seem to keep my upper back flat, what’s wrong?

You might be very tight in your thoracic spine or mid back. So, to correct this we lay our back down on a foam roller or 4” diameter ABS pipe. Make sure the roller is just below your shoulder blades. Let your hands go above your head and back as you relax and open up on the roller, make sure to not let the bottom of your ribs pop up, keep them down and engage your abs so your upper back is actually opening up. Make sure again to breathe out long and slow through your mouth.

Hopefully these tips can help improve your rack and make it a more comfortable experience Cleans and front squats really are great exercises and a lot of fun to perform. The last tip I can give you is to practice this at least 3 days a week, and remember that the closer you get to doing it everyday, the easier and faster the change can happen. Keep squatting!

thoracic foam roller

My Top 5 Mistakes as an Amateur Strongman

Quick Intro

Before I get anywhere with this article, I need to offer one disclaimer: I wasn’t born a great athlete- far from it, to be completely honest. My dad has been a construction worker my entire life and my mom comes from a family of farmers, so while I may have a little “real world” strength coursing through my veins, I was the first person from the Burgess gene pool to truly try to apply it to a sport. What I do have is an insatiable desire to push my genetics to their limit, and the willingness to bust my ass in the process.

After topping out my football career as an alright offensive lineman at Colorado State University, it was only a matter of time before I found another avenue to push and challenge myself. So after spending a few years “dabbling” in Jiu-Jitsu, MMA, and seeing just how much of my football playing weight I could lose, I returned to my first love: lifting. A life-changing meeting with one of my former college strength coaches and a chance network of solid competitive Strongmen and women right in the city I lived steered me towards my first Strongman competition in October of 2010, and I have since competed in four more strongman contests and three powerlifting meets. My results haven’t been anything spectacular, but I HAVE progressively improved, learning many valuable lessons along the way. Having learned these lessons, there are some things I would go back and do-over, but because I’ve yet to figure out that whole time travel thing hopefully a few of you that are in the early stages of competing in Strongman, or thinking about getting started can learn from my mistakes.

5.) Getting caught up in “being” a strongman

I’m a Physical Preparation Coach by trade, and given my background I work a TON with football athletes and teams. A few years back one of the teams I was coaching was struggling, and I remember speaking with them about the difference between enjoying the sport of football and enjoying being a football player. I felt some of the kids on the team enjoyed “being” a football player more than actually playing the sport. Looking back on the start of my competitive Strongman journey, I can honestly say I was guilty of the same thing. I liked the implements, the perceived attitude, being different from the “norm”, and to be completely truthful, the attention. After toiling away in anonymity as an offensive lineman my entire football career, it felt cool to finally have people paying attention to me. This is NOT a winning mindset! Strength athletics is a brutally humbling world, and thankfully I got humbled real quick. Zach Gallmann, a high level competitive Strongman in Ohio, said it best in something he posted earlier this year: this sport will take more from you than you’ll ever get, so you have to accept that to progress. I didn’t really start going anywhere until I let go of the “trappings” associated with the sport and focused on the process.

Lesson Learned: Seek the Battle, not the Glory.

4.) Not getting specific with conditioning

You need to be strong to compete in Strongman, but you also need to be appropriately conditioned to display that strength. No matter what sport you’re training for, conditioning is going to be task specific. In the vast majority of strongman competitions you’ll be asked to lift, throw, carry, or load objects of varying size and resistance within a 60 to 80 second time frame. Some events are scored in favor of max reps, some are scored in favor of fastest time or furthest distance, and some are scored in favor of heaviest weight lifted. Given the unique and varying nature of events and the time constraints, competitive Strongman is considered an anaerobic-lactic activity. You want to prepare for this similar to how you’re going to have to compete. Carrying and loading medleys, heavy sled pushes and pulls, and rest/pause sets and rep-out sets are all great ways to increase muscular endurance and improve your lactic capacity, but it’s important to pick activities that transfer best to your competition. Flippin’ tires when you don’t even have to do that in your upcoming competition, or doing a whole bunch of Tabatas at the end of your lift will definitely have you feeling “worked”, but it’s not preparing you for the specific demands you’ll be facing. You also don’t want to forget aerobic capacity work. This doesn’t have to (nor should it) be hours of steady-state cardio; when interspersed with some bodyweight resistance and/or mobility work, low intensity sled dragging, prowler marching, rowing, or even going on short hikes are all great activities to do on your “off” days. This type of work will increase mitochondrial and capillary density, improving your ability to recover when competing, as well as expediting your recovery in training. Keep in mind when doing this type of work though that intensity should be moderate at best; if it feels like a kick in the balls, you’re defeating the purpose.

Lesson Learned: Move in training how you want to move in competition, and don’t underestimate the importance of active recovery work.

ryan tire

3.) Focusing too much on implements

This one may come as a surprise to some people. One of the major appeals of the sport is definitely the unique equipment. Tires, stones, logs, kegs, and other odd objects are just fun and challenging things to try to flip, carry, lift, and throw. And make no mistake about it: you definitely need to be familiar enough with the implements to understand the most effective way to accomplish whatever task is being asked of you. But the sport is called STRONGman for a reason. After finishing towards the back of the pack of a few consecutive competitions, I came to the brutal, ironic realization that the biggest thing holding me back was not my lack of technique, or conditioning, or anything else: I simply wasn’t strong enough. If you’re just using Strongman implements as a change of pace in your training, than by all means have at it. But if your goal is to cross the threshold and start competing, I highly recommend building your Squat, Deadlift, Overhead Press, and then back and grip strength through every row and pull-up variation you can think of. By stepping back and devoting the majority of my efforts into getting stronger in the traditional gym lifts, I was able to prep for my last competition on a much more solid foundation, resulting in a much better performance.

Lesson Learned: Your foundation is everything, and the stronger the better.

2.) Not training to get stronger

When I first started training for this sport, every lift was a battle. Whether event training or lifting, it was go heavy, go hard, or go home. The result of this was ok strength, poor technique, and shitty work capacity. So what do you think happened when I’d get to competition? I had ok strength, poor technique, and shitty work capacity! Definitely not the formula for success. I realized if I wanted to get any better, I had to learn how to train smarter, not harder. Success in life is measured in what you do, not how hard you tried, so I needed to really shift my attitude on how I approached training. I started studying what top athletes and lifters from generations past and today did to get strong, not necessarily what they did once they were strong. I stopped focusing on quantity on the bar and started focusing on quantity in the training session itself. I regressed my training almost to 0, rebuilding my squat from scratch and learning how to do things right as opposed to just doing them. The results have been tremendous, because since this shift I’ve been hitting lifetime PR’s while continuing to improve my work capacity and other important variables. If a washed-up college O-Lineman can find new levels of strength staring down the barrel of his 30th birthday, than there’s still hope for many of you that are reading this right now.

Lesson Learned:  Training is the means to your competitive end; be objective, plan the work, then work the plan.

ryan walk

1.) Not being fully committed

Don’t get me wrong, if you asked me back in 2011 I’d sure tell you I was committed. But to me, true commitment is when you start changing your life to reach your goals. Over the last year and a half I’ve made sweeping changes to my lifestyle, the majority of which are related to help me maximize my potential in this sport. My personal mantra right now is coach-train-recover-repeat. There’s a saying that I give to clients of mine soon after we start: change your actions, or change your expectations. If you aren’t willing to do the work, re-evaluate what you’re working towards- after all, it’s your goal. If you expect to challenge your genetic ceiling, though, act accordingly. Every champion that’s ever walked this Earth has had to sacrifice things on their road to success, and your journey and my journey will be no different.

Lesson Learned: Be willing to surrender what you are for what you can potentially be.

Reds and Whites: The Power of the Lights

The powerlifting world has recently exploded over the weekend. There are a few lifts that are streaming around YouTube of lifters that competed this weekend that are being highly debated about depth. I’m going to shed some light into the power of “reds and whites” and what they really truly mean. I understand this is going to be a HOT topic, and I’m not going to lean either way, but rather, focus on how us powerlifters can use these stages to set a powerful example, and help develop and grow the sport, not tear it down. While I may be a “young buck” in the sport of powerlifting, I believe that gives me a great opportunity to provide my analysis of these issues. When we were growing up around other younger children or siblings, our parents or teachers always told us to set an example because we are so impressionable at young ages. I see myself as being impressionable since I am relatively new to the sport, and can see the sport in a non-biased frame of mind. While I have competed and done very well, I’m still learning so much from those around me and the likes of the best that step foot on the platform.

Integrity; noun, \in-ˈte-grə-tē\ (As from http://www.merriam-webster.com/)

1: firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values

2: an unimpaired condition

3: the quality or state of being complete or undivided

Integrity might be the most valued characteristic when it comes to sports. We hear about athletes and coaches obtaining integrity and respecting their sport. When it comes to powerlifting though, integrity is always debated via federations and rules. What is considered parallel? Flat feet on bench? Lockout on bench? Hips on the bench? Wraps or no wraps? Drug tested? The list can go on and on, and depending on what federation you compete in, the rules are slightly different about everywhere you go.

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So how do we build integrity in the sport?

Simple. We hold it to ourselves as lifters to high standards of integrity to perform the best and abide by the rules set before us through the federation we chose to compete. I’m not going to go into depth about what should and shouldn’t be the standard for federations. It’s up to you as a lifter to pick your federations based on your beliefs. If you believe your hip has to break parallel, pick a federation that requires that standard. Is this ideal for the sport? Probably not, and it will be debated probably until the end of time. But you as a lifter get to choose which standards you wish to abide by.

What we need to do as powerlifters is join together as a community and force each other to get better and become a brotherhood. There is too much conflict between gear, federations, rules, and other bullshit, and it’s holding the sport back. In my opinion, if there is any reason powerlifting isn’t in the Olympics, it’s because of us lifters bitching at each other over forums and YouTube videos about other people’s lifts, when really we should be supporting each other and trying to make each other better.

Do you ever wonder why the XPC Finals and Raw Unity are the best competitions in the country? Because all the lifters get together under one roof with one set of standards and compete together and support each other! We see the best lifters in the country at these meets, and they throw away all the bullshit and push each other to bring their best performances. The sport has so much room to improve and grow, and if we can take these simple qualities and apply them to every meet, we can enhance the sport and each other to new levels.

I dislike CrossFit just as much as every other powerlifter, but what they do as a community is unparalleled! They don’t go about bitching at each other over Fran times but rather support and help each other. If there is anything we can learn from CrossFitters, it’s unity!

Now with that out of the way, let’s discuss judging.

The judges are merely abiding by the standards set before them based upon said federation. It is up to the judges to hold the integrity of the federation during each attempt. If you know of a federation that can’t do this, then don’t compete in that federation. The only way you can make a positive influence on a federation is to pay to compete under their sanctioning body. If you don’t support them, they can’t thrive. Now, some people may say that certain lifters go to certain feds because they know they are more likely to get whites. This again comes back to that person as a lifter. If they are willing to cheat themselves, let them. Take pride in your integrity and sink every squat, drill every bench, and own every deadlift! Only you as a lifter can set an example of what should be displayed. Your performance speaks louder than you can imagine, and judges and lifters alike take notice in this, and lean to you representing the sport on a positive platform for your community, gym, and peers.

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But really, we need to blame all of us in the sport; from lifters, judges, coaches, federations, websites, and sponsors. It’s basically a checks and balances of each other when you really take a look at it.

    • Coaches teaching lifters proper standards
    • Lifters holding training partners to these standards
    • Federations holding judges to proper standards
    • Judges holding lifters to proper standards
    • Websites and sponsors rewarding lifters of proper standards

It’s just a giant loop! So you as a lifter have to take the initiative if you wish to see the sport improve. Together, we can make a community that supports each other for “whites” and the hard work put under the bar to achieve the goals we have. Lifts will probably always be debated and argued, but that’s just some of the nature of the sport. There is going to be some human error, but if you as a lifter take the initiative to abide by these standards and make your lifts unquestionable it not only makes the judging easier, but an influence on younger lifters to perform the way they see it done.

“Reds” or negativity is not the answer to improving the sport. We need to be filled with “whites” and positivity, support the sport and try to improve upon it the way we can, with great individual integrity and hard work together as a community. When we start doing this, we’ll finally see powerlifting become the best strength sport it can possibly become, and make better lifters across the world.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section and how we can help grow and improve the sport!


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