Stretching your quads

It’s impossible to get fit without someone reminding you to “stretch your quads”. The quads, or quadriceps ( quad for four) run up the top of the front of your leg. Three of them go from the knee cap to below your hip. One goes across the knee and then across the hip. Here is a useful graphic from wikipedia

Stretching these muscles is important as they are the ones most likely to become short if you sit too much. We all sit too much.

Here is the standing quad stretch that I think everyone must have seen at some stage

But this is just the start of your quad journey. Get on a bed (or anything comfy) and kneel down

Put your hands behind you and lean back. Some may find this hard. Don’t worry, just keep on getting used to it. Just incase you get stuck, it maybe as well to have someone around to pull you back up again if you cannot get back up again.

Once you build your confidence, get a cushion pile and slowly take a cushion away each time you try

Eventually you’ll simply lie down. you’ll notice my hips are fairly high, so to be a quad stretching master, eventually you need to pull your hips down.

Unfortunately, you probably need to build this up to 3 minutes. If your ankles are very tight you may need a small roll (a towel) under them, as the initial stretch can be quite intense! Enjoy. Slowly build up your time and tolerance. In the early stages, it’s just about getting used to it.

Olympic lifts as a percentage of your back squat

It’s a big, big, sweep of the arm, but most of your lifts can be (could be) compared to your back squat. If you back squat 100kg, the chances are you can snatch up to 60kg, and clean 75kg. Bear in mind these figures could vary by as much as 15%

Front Squat Snatch Clean
 87.5%  60%  75%
Overhead Squat
Power Snatch Power Clean
 67.5%
55%
 65%
Deadlift Snatch Pull Clean Pull
 125%  90% 100%
Christian Thibaudeau adds extra ratios and insights  here
Waxman’s gym has a fascinating “Weightlifting Lift Calculator” here
Box Rox also has a nice assessment tool here
My take home message is this: once you start struggling with your olympic lifts, and your technique is quite good, start to consider improving your strength.

The learning and practice of  Olympic Weightlifting from a Psychological point of view

 

This paper describes the learning and practice of the snatch, from the sport of Olympic style weightlifting where a barbell is pulled from the floor to overhead and caught in a deep squat. Many of the skill and learning issues are the same for the other Olympic lift the clean where the bar is caught on the shoulders), so illustrations will be used from both activities. It is described as a discrete, gross motor skill and a combined throw and catch. The learning curve is initially positively accelerated then becomes stepped, and pyramidal at advanced levels. Demonstration and extensive cueing are used in the early stages of learning as is segmentation and light weights. Feedback focuses on knowledge of performance. The strength element of the move influences the selection of practice type. The whole spectrum of imagery and self talk moves from technical to motivational.

Chiu and Schilling (2005) observe that Olympic weightlifting is associated with improvements in motor control, noticeably improved activation of muscle groups and motor units, and activation of more fast twitch fibers, hence the skills are also taught to many athletes as part of their strength, conditioning and power  programmes and are  not pursed as a sport  in their own right.

The Olympic Lifts are   a sole participant, self paced skill, performed in a static environmental context.  The move is initiated by the performer, which  according to Gentile (Schmidt  & Weisberg, 2000) makes this  a closed motor skill. It is an object manipulation action function involving the change of position of a barbell  (Magill 2007), requiring correct management  and the adjustment of body position to counteract the in-balance created by the object and conforms to  skill definitions suggested by both Knapp (cited in Guthrie 1953) and Magill (2007): a learned ability, maximum certainty, minimum of time and energy with predetermined results and, according to   Schmidt & Weisberg (2000) produced as a function of practice.

The snatch is   a ground based  multi joint weightlifting exercise, the athlete  exert large  multiple muscle group force whiles standing on his own feet thus developing balance and  coordination: the speed   develops the nervous system (Garhammer, 1985) requires a triple extension at the ankle knee and hip, a  jumping athletic movement, demands the athlete recruits muscles in  a synchronized pattern, develops explosive power:  requiring a high degree of kinesthesis or proprioception (Magill, 2007) The larger muscles are mainly used, making this a  gross motor skill,  requiring both gross motor  and psychomotor ability (Magill, 2007)

According to Charniga (2001) the lifts involve a combination of lifting and catching which, using Gentiles (Magill, 2007) taxonomy   is a mixture of 2B, a throw, combined with 4B, a catch.   4B is higher up the skill table (Magill, 2007) suggesting the catch element of the move to be more problematic than the throw aspect. Hence Newton (1984) recommends that athletes should learn the receiving position 1st,, then the 2nd pull.

Lears (1989) observes  the sport  to be  a changing apparatus:  the aim is to lift more each time, and thus  creates  different velocities  and changing weights resulting, in  intertrial variability  (Gentiles, cited in Magill, 2007) .  When demonstrated as a sport, the lifts are performed as single attempts, making this a discreet skill (Magill, 2007).

When the move is evaluated as a learning or performance curve, the early cognitive stages represent a positively accelerated progression.  However, the skill ultimately reflects dynamic strength (Zatsiorsky,  2006)  with practice stepped , pyramidal and periodized as  higher gains  are sought and progress becomes slower (Rippetoe and Kilgore, 2005, Bompa, 1999)  reflecting the associative and autonomous stages of Fitts and Posners model (Magill, 2007)

Learning stages reflect much of the literature with the need for an overt cognitive  Stage ( Fitts and Posner 1967, cited in Magill, 2007 ) where very clear progressions and skill break downs are deployed. Crossfit London (2005) indicates some 32 separate stages or progressive practices. For absolute novices, its best to use a wooden pole or polyvinyl chloride pipe (Hori and stone, 2005).

According to Hedrick (2004) most  strength and conditioning coaches avoid teaching the lifts  because of the technical demands but he   suggests he has taught thousands of (US air force academy) athletes to clean with good  technique which  is essential (Chiu & Schilling 2005, Hori and Stone, 2005) as is   attention to detail (Lear, 1989)

Many teaching practices simplify the skill, thus addressing  the degrees of freedom issue (Magill,  2007) but also reflect the fact that part of the skill can be used to develop power generation.  Hori and stone (2005) recommend practices that begin from the hang or from boxes, to simplify learning and  take  advantage of the  high velocity and acceleration output.

Hedricks (2004)   suggests 12 steps: Education, modelling, foot position, hand position, grip, start position, jump shrug, low pull, high pull, clean adjusting foot position and squat clean.  Garhammer (1984) sees three distinct phases the 1st pull, the second pull (including the transitioning double knee bend) and receiving the bar.

Some teachers focus on the Double knee bend teaching  and practicing it  segmentally; research suggests this does  not need to be  specifically taught or practiced. (Gentry, 1999)  Some believe this to be an overt coached move, others that it is a natural move that some do or don’t have (Jones 1991, Walsh 1989) Never the less, Johnson (1982) details segmental exercises.

In order to assist learning in the cognitive stages, BWLA ( the British weight lifting association)  rely  on a set teaching  sequence with demonstration at its heart (Lear 1989) . According to Magill (2007) demonstration works best when the skill to be acquired is about  mastering unfamiliar patterns of movement hence there is a widespread use  of observational learning (Bandura, 1986), modelling, and demonstration (Magill, 1998, Cumming et al., 2005).

Adeyanjou (2005), Heyes and Foster (2002), Hebert and Landin (1994), all suggest that repeatedly watching live or video taped performances can result in enhanced skill acquisition. Magill (2007) shows beginners, observing other beginners, will perform at a higher level.  There is an emphasise on verbal cues, (Landin, 1994) which are used extensively in coaching the lifts (Crossfit London 2005), and are often combined with demonstrations (Cissik, 1998)

As with many skills and sport, feedback is essential to assist learning and the development of the snatch.  In the early stages there is sufficient task intrinsic feedback (Magill, 2007) as the lift is either achieved or failed. However, it is possible to successfully lift weights badly; so much coaching focuses on feeding back knowledge of performance, rather than knowledge of results.  Learning is about force control and applying the right amount of control (Magill, 2007). The teaching aim is to over  overcomes the  end state comfort control issue, were trainees use incorrect form as it feels easier, but drill  correct mechanics.(Cohen & Rosenbaum 2004, cited in Magill)

However, feedback tends to mirror all spectrums of coaching available: Kono (2001) suggest that many early stage athletes receive poor quality coaching.

Like many challenging skills the problem is in the transition from one phase to another, throw to catch, which relies on a strong stimulus response bond created by practice (Magill, 2007).

The sport has a large foundation in deliberate practice. Much of the repetition levels are low i.e. one to five repetitions of amounts reflecting 90+% of the lifters one rep max. According to Ericsson (Magill, 2007) this is not intrinsically motivating, requires high levels of attention and does not leads to immediate social or financial rewards

Much practice focuses on retaining skill at escalating levels of maximal muscular contraction (Lear, 1989).

Many psychological studies are on continuous skills rather than discrete skills (Lee and Genovese, 1988). The snatch is about maximal lifts and practice tends to be grouped at the minimal repetition/ maximal strength end of the training spectrum, there being no strength  benefit to training with lesser weight ratios, with higher ones not physically possible (Zatsiorsky, 1995)  conforming to Ericssons  ( Magill, 2007)  view  that training  quality is vital and needs to be appropriately difficult.  However at the elite end training sessions are  variable as athletes would be unable to tolerate a maximum lift regime.(Rippetoe, 2005).

Both schmidts  Schema theory and   Gentiles learning stage model (Magill, 2007), suggest  variability to be the key to successful future performance. Standard variability practice  is not conducted against a maximum effort  back ground, but well within the  students capability (Shea et al., 1990). This  is clearly distinguished from an attempt to lift the heaviest weight possible. It is note worthy that some athletes win competitions by lifting a weight they had not achieved in practice, lending possible support to both of the conflicting theories of motor programme learning as advocated by Schmidt versus dynamic theory pattern as advocated by Kelso (Magill, 2007).

The study of lifting practices can be deceptive as many athletes use the lifts as a power training system, and not as a competitive event in its own right,  and  focus on weights in the 70% of 1 RM (Garhammer, 1985).

Practice can be subdivided into structural units: training sessions, training day and various periodized cycles (Bompa,1999), where the aim is to keep athletes fresh and vary the training intensity (Zatsiorsky, 1995 ) Elite practice tends to be shorter, multiple session and distributed, rather than massed, practice to allow for rest as fatigue negatively influences learning (Magill, 2007).

As the skill is  high in complexity  there is  substantial use of Whole Part Whole practices, but with variation at various stages of learning. Some exercise regimes will take the novice back to basic muscle strength and set isolating exercises (tricep extension, and hamstring curls).  This is not without controversy, as some coaches see no value in breaking exercises down to individual muscle level as they offer no specificity of practice (Magill, 2007).  Some advanced coaches even object to the inclusion of the back squat as having little transfer to the speed  of the snatch (Charniga, 2001)

At an elite level, the tendency, in the absence of rehabilitation, is to focus on compound movement   (Lear, 1989) or meaningful chunks as the associative and autonomous stages are reached (Magill, 2007)

Various experiments have concluded that the correct imagery can enhance strength (Chaiwanichsiri et al., 2006 &  Ranganathan  et al.,2003).  Silbernagel et al (2007) ascertained that many weight trainees use the whole spectrum of imagery, both cognitive specific and motivational. Munroe-Chandler (2004) identifies that weight trainee’s use imagery in the following order: appearance, technique and energy, but grouped body builders in the same category as athletic lifters and studies the subject as “exercise addiction”. These experiments were single joint isolation exercises and may not apply to athletic moves. Zatsiorsky (1995) notes that Olympic lifts do not primarily provoke hypertrophic growth: making it an unsuitable mechanism to discharge body dismorphia.   Kono (2001) states that positive thinking clues and technical phrases are used by Olympic level lifters, suggesting technique and success (in lifting) imagery and self talk is the focus of the weightlifting athlete.

Rushall (1984) indicates that athletes use self talk to cover all aspects of training, both specific and motivational. Milller (2006) notes the use of cues and self talk raises from technical to motivational as higher skill levels are reached.

This paper ascertained that the snatch is a discrete, gross motor skill and a combined throw and catch. The learning curve is positively accelerated for beginners, and then becomes stepped and pyramidal at advanced levels.  The practice of the sport is influenced by its unique strength nature, but never the less follows traditional learning patterns of using demonstration, cueing, segmentation, imagery and self talk.

References

Adejanju, L. (2005). Effects of repetitive audio visual display on volley ball skill acquisition among non athletes undergraduate students of a south western Nigerian university : “the interdisciplinary journal of African sports”  . Accessed at http://www.ohiou.edu

Bandura A  1986 Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory Prentice Hall USA

Bompa T (1999)  Periodization training for sports Human kinetics United states.

Chaiwanichsiri D, Tangkaewfa S, Janchai S Aksaranugraha S 2006  Effects of imagery- weight exercise. Journal of the medical association of Thailand Aug 89(8) 1260-4

Charniga A, (2001) Concerning the Russian squat routine 2001. Accessed from www.dynamic-eleiko.com

Charniga A (2001) The relative value of  pulling exercises in the training of weight lifters Part 1 www.dynami-eleiko.com

Chiu L  Schilling B A primer on weighlifting from sport to sport training National strength and conditioning association vol 27 no1 42-48

Cissik, J (1998) An introduction to Olympic Style  Weightlifting McGaw-Hill USA

Crossfit London 2005  accessed at www.Stemlerfit.com

Garhammer J  1984  Power clean kinesiological evaluation. National strength and conditioning association  journal 40, 61-63

Gentry Roy, 1999  “a comparison of two instructional methods of teaching the power clean weight training exercise to intercollegiate football players with novice power clean experience”  Part of  a doctorate submission to the Virginia polytechnic institute.
E. R. Guthrie (1953) The Psychology of learning John Wiley, New York

Hedrick  (2004) Teaching the clean strength conditioning journal 26 4 70-72

Heyes, C., & Foster, C. (2002). Motor learning by observation: evidence from a serial reaction time task. The quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 2002 55A(2) 593-607

Hori N and stone M  2005 weightlifting exercises enhance athletic performance that requires hi load speed strength. National strength and conditioning association vol 27, no 4, pages 50-55.

Johnson J 1982 teaching the power clean and the hang clean National strength and conditioning association journal Aug/Sept 52-54

Jones  L (1991)Coaching accredition Course Club Coach  Manuel. US weight lifting federation

Kono t. 2001  “weightlifting Olympic style” Hawaii kono company USA

Landin D 1994 the role of verbal cues in skill learning. Quest. 46 299-313

Lee  T and Genovese E 1988 distribution of practice in motor skill acquisition. Learning and performance effects reconsidered. . research quarterly for exercise and sport 59, 277-287

Lear J  1989 Weight Training and Lifting A & C Black  London  1st ed

Magill   2007 Motor learning and Control: Concepts and Applications Mcgraw-Hill  USA

Miller  A J 2006. The influence of types and selection of mental preparation statements on collegiate cross-country runners’ athletic performance and satisfaction levels

Accessed at http://www.ohiolink.edu/etd/send-pdf.cgi?miami1145904211

Munroe-chandler, Kim, 2004  Using imagery to predict weightlifting dependency in men International Journal of Men’s health accessed at  http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0PAU/is_2_3/ai_n8966587/pg_1

Newton H  1984 Bridging the gap power clean. National strength and conditioning journal vol 6 no 3 64-66

Ranganathan V, Siemionow V, Liu J, Sahgal V Yue G (2003) From mental power to muscle power-gaining strength by using the mind Neuropsychologica 11.018

Rippetoe M (2006)  The power clean  Crossfit Journal Aug 48 6-9

Rippetoe Mark and  Kilgore Lon (2005), Starting Strength  a simple and practical guide for coaching beginners The Aasgaard Company, Wichita Falls

Rushall, B.S. (1984). The content of competition thinking. In W.F. Straub & J.M. Williams (Eds.), Cognitive Sport Psychology (pp 51-62). Lansing, NY: Sport Science Associates.

Silbernagel Ms, Short SE Ross Stewart LC Athletes use of imagery during weight training  Journal of Strength and  Conditioning research. 2007, Nov(4) 1077-81

Schmidt ,RA & Weisberg G 2000 Motor Learning and performance (2nd ed) Champaign,IL Human Kinetics

Shea C and Kohl R   & Indermill C 1990 Contextual interference contributions of practice  Acta Psychologica 73

Walsh B (1989) the scoop in Olympic  style pulling movements- is it a teachable commodity National strength and conditioning Association journal 112, 65 67

Zatsiorsky V  & Kraemer W (2006) Science and practice of strength training   (2nd ed Human Kinetics usa)

Pull ups and girls

I  love the pull up.

It is seen by many as a useful test for measuring the strength and endurance of the arm and shoulder girdle, and useful for those occupations where you need to manipulate your body weight: fire fighters, climbing into lovers’ bedrooms, showing off in front of kids, and getting out of holes when the zombie apocalypse strikes.
In Dec (2012) The media (papers and blogs) were all a-thither with the scientific proof that women cannot do pull ups. Even the Marines (“hoo-rah”) expect men to do 3, but women don’t have to do even one.

Zilch.

If you boil down the current research on women and pull ups, you will find two physiological reasons why most women cannot pull up.

It is generally accepted that women have a higher % of body fat (Heyward and Stolarczyk 1996) and according to an average of the research, women have upper body strength ½ of that of a man. (ranges from 35-79%: Laubach 1976).

Unfortunately this can easily be spun into the standard gym nonsense that women don’t have to do pull ups. Woo hoo, here comes your next Yoga class….after all strength is for smelly noisy boys.

We must accept that (Western) women have been sold a pernicious type of cultural weakness that blurs fitness with the spa. It palms off competence in Zumba as a substitute for the fitness that most women in the developing world need purely to survive the day. Elsewhere in the world women have to be tough, they have to plant food, haul goods, build stuff. A heroin-chic stick insect clinging to a partner’s arm isn’t available as a job option.

In fact, to be slightly political, the only reason Western women can prance around an aerobic studio and claim to be fit, is because their ancestors had the decency and foresight to be pirates, drug dealers and slavers who not only stole wealth, but saved it.
The poorest of us lives in comparative luxury based on this accumulated wealth, and it doesn’t matter if you have no physical competence
But what did this science experiment have to do, to validate the proposition that women don’t have to pull up?
“Three days a week for three months, the women focused on exercises that would strengthen the biceps and the latissimus dorsi — the large back muscle that is activated during the exercise. They lifted weights and used an incline to practice a modified pull-up, raising themselves up to a bar, over and over, in hopes of strengthening the muscles they would use to perform the real thing. They also focused on aerobic training to lower body fat”
And the result of this exciting “lat” challenging, bicep-strengthening routine was: “By the end of the training program, the women had increased their upper-body strength by 36 per cent and lowered their body fat by 2 per cent”
Wowee!
“But on test day, the researchers were stunned when only 4 of the 17 women succeeded in performing a single pull-up.”
“We honestly thought we could get everyone to do one,” said Paul Vanderburgh, a professor of exercise physiology”

A few interesting points.
1) This “hot news” (New York times dated 2012) was based on a report published in 2003 (“Training college-age women to perform the pull-up exercise.”) Shows how behind the times fitness media is.

2) It has been presented by much of the blogging world as justification for women having no pull ups, with the implication that they ought not to bother.

3) It shows that no one reads the small print. The researchers did not set out to produce a pull up specific routine
“We designed our training program with certain delimitations ..a whole body workout and not just a workout to improve pull ups”

4) It shows the impatience of “fitness regimes”. Why should the ability to achieve a certain goal in an arbitrary 12 weeks hold any sway? What’s wrong with spending 6 (+) months learning a skill?

5) The ineffectiveness of looking at movement in the simple terms of the strength of individual muscles.
All worthwhile “exercise” movements are analogues of human movement: they need to be learned, and they all, all combine numerous components of fitness: co-ordination, accuracy , agility, flexibility, strength, strength endurance, and to be frank some mental toughness and determination.

6) If you will permit me to sling a cat in among the pigeons, my final point is this : are pull ups a proper marker of fitness, or is “fit” a guesstimate of VO2 max.

Get a pull up

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Relative intensity

In this article we visit the basic language of weightlifting and how it relates to the concept of relative intensity.

When it comes to using weight; in simple terms, people think this: lift the heaviest weight you can, that’s your 1 rep max; then based on that you can lift 90% of it 3 times (3reps), 85% of it 5 times, 75% 10 times. If you do 3 rounds of 3 reps, that’s 3 sets.

So weight lifting is a mix of percentages, sets and reps, all based on a one rep max. Simples!

This is a great place to start, but to develop your strength head,  you need to develop your knowledge and insights into the strength game.

Some time ago, Zatsiorsky pointed out there are two types of  one rep maxes you can have: a competition 1 rep max, and a training 1 rep max.

A) A competition max is  where you get hyped up and get a PB  and scream a lot.

B) A training 1 rep max

Marvellous.

However, often people skip the full definition of a 1 rep training max.

A maximum training weight  is the heaviest  weight you can lift  without substantial  emotional stress.

Damn. No screaming.

For athletes, the difference between the two is great. The example Zatsiorsky cites is that for athletes who lift  200 kg during a competition, a 180kg is typically above their maximum training weight. As a possible indicator, if your heart rate increases before your lift, that’s a sign of emotional engagement. Weightlifting is meant to stress your body, not your mind.

That’s the job of your partner and employer.

In short, if you screamed it up – it’s too heavy to use as a basis for regular training.

So, if you are calculating reps and sets using a 1 rep max, please, please use the right one; otherwise you’ll break. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon… If you want to properly test your 1 rep max, book a PT session with one of the training team.

If you have been lifting regularly for a while, you have probably begun to review strength literature and you are probably aware that lifting 80% of your 1 rep max provokes strength gain.

So, when lifting sets of 5, you’d probably like to put 80% of your 1 rep max on the bar. Everyone does that, but think about what it is you’d are actually be doing.

Let’s forget weightlifting for a moment, and talk about bricks. Imagine you are a labourer on a building site. Lets say we run a test to see how many bricks you can move in a day. For argument’s sake, let’s  say you can move 1000.

Normally in training we wouldn’t want to move the 1000, we would do 800 ( 80%) but many people want to set 5 reps of that. So there you are, lifting 5 x 800 =4000.

If you tried to do that in a day, you’d probably die.

Back to the weight room. So you can lift 100kg calmly as your 1 rep max. You’ve been told if you lift 80% and over of this figure, you are strength training. So, to keep the maths easy, if you lift 80kg, you are strength training. But do you lift that 80% five times?

As you see from my poor labourer example, the first 800 was probably easy, but the next 800, isn’t easy, the 3rd 800 is getting you to breaking point.

In short, 80% lifted multiple times, isn’t perceived by the body as 80%. It sees it as much, much heavier because of the volume. The bricklayer, is of course a silly example – but try and get the message rather than be sidetracked in the endurance aspect of the example.

In simple terms, because you are lifting in sets of multiple reps, a load of 67% of your 1 rep max lifted 5 times has a relative intensity of 79%. It feels like 79%, your body thinks it’s 79%. It is 79%

Putting 76% of you 1 rep max on your bar for 5, has the effect of being 88%.

70% feels like  =82%,

73% feels like  =  85%.

80% on the bar for 5, is like lifting 91%.

Relative intensity is the simple observation that volume, load and rest effects how your body feels and adapts to weight.

here is a nice chart to explain

Remember your muscles are dumb, they don’t know or care about percentages. They just know what feels heavy.

According to Mike Tuchscherer; “The body responds to things like the force of the muscle’s contraction, how long the contraction lasts, and how many contractions there were. A percentage isn’t necessarily a precise way to describe this, as different lifters will perform differently.”

In take-home terms, if today you went to CrossFit London or CrossFit SE11, and during the strength session, you only got to 68% of your (proper) 1 rep Training max for 5; you actually hit the 80% in relative intensity. That’s the 80% you need to nudge your strength along.

For now, in our general programme, we are not obsessing about percentages; but those who do know their lifts, I hope will be grateful for this insight. For the rest of you, simply work to a set of 5 that you can comfortably lift, bearing in mind these RPE (rates of perceived exertion) as guidance.

On a scale from 1 to 10:

9: Heavy Effort. Could have done one more rep.
8: Could have done two or three more reps, but glad you didn’t have to.
7: Bar speed is “snappy” if maximal force is applied
6: Bar speed is “snappy” with moderate effort

After a while, I suspect a “five” you can do in class will be at an RPE between 7 and 8.

Once you bedded this concept of relative intensity into your head, you can look forward to many years of safe, effective lifting.

More insights coming soon.

Grateful thanks to Coach Chet Morjaria @  Strength Education and to Coach Anthony Waller @ CrossFit London for the numerous corrections  and observations they supplied