The Starzynski Squat

In the time before the lockdown, I used to coach Olympic weightlifting at Crossfit London on a Saturday morning.

I mean, I was in the same room, at the same time as other people

Seems weird now.

Now that everyone has moved online, it’s easy to forget that that building explosiveness into fitness regimes, without weights can be tricky.  The Olympic lifting drills  are especially difficult to think up as , ideally, you want to the end up in a squat.

There are only so many jumping squats you can do!

This is a fun , useful drill. Enjoy

 

Its an S pull

s pull

Not that it really matters, but, the bar path in the olympic lifts isn’t straight up and down. There is a pleasing “S” curve to its path.

This is probably facilitated by a good “Lat Flare” as the bar passes the hips.

Thanks to Tommy Kono Weightlifting, Olympic Style”.

Thought I’d mention it.

 

Is Successful Strength Training like Marriage ?

Successful Strength training like marriage is measured in years not weeks or months

Pay attention to the basics . Lift often, lift heavy (5 plus, but vary from 5 to 1) be happy with small increases. Every relationship or “thing” in your life requires consistency

Don’t panic if you plateau.

In what other part of (real) human existence do we expect to have increases all the time . We can tamper with economics and pretend we have yearly growth: some NHS workers ( apparently ) get a grade increase each year , but that always. always unravels. “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow…….’

The hall marks of successful strength training (marriage) is patience and maturity: watch for the opportunity to improve but don’t obsess, be happy with consolidation, treasure consistency and above all, be confident enough to rest and take it easy.

Eat well and sleep well

Bear in mind that all advanced programming is dedicated to one phenomenon, failure. Many marriages fail because one partner isn’t happy with the perfection they have, and instead indulges in fantasy . Don’t let the strength porn of a few gifted ( psychotic) individuals deprave and corrupt your normal image of how things are.

Failure is rushing at fantasy target too hard and fast.

Having preached consistency, it’s equally essential to mix it up and be creative. Add some strongman training, add and vary assistance exercises.

Variety has always been the spice of life But variety is still just a spice. It makes the fundamentals seem a bit different that’s all. It still needs the fundamentals/

In short, don’t see strength as something geeky or the preserve of experts. See it as the perfect romance or marriage, demanding consistent loyalty commitment and work , along with romance and variation.

So to be successful, research how to be romantic and simply build it into your strength regime

If you want “functional Fitness” should you be “Olympic Weightlifting”

I’m sometimes asked why people who want to develop functional fitness should Olympic lift.

Here is my answer.(well, it was when I wrote this in 2007)

Depending upon your view, I have either a very narrow or very broad definition of functional fitness. I simply look at those people I would want to take with me into the unknown. Recent crises have seen buildings collapse, crowds riot, aid in need of unloading and rival villages or postcode gangs in need of killing or a good shanking.

I know I annoy a lot of strength trainees who expect me to marvel at their deadlift, and wee little runners who want me to stand drop-jawed at the fact their genetic profile means they can prance around like a gazelle all week. My problem is this specialism produces useless gits. There, I’ve said it. Are you are kettlebell specialist? Yes, no, sorry – you’re a git. Same with 400m runners, same with deadlifters: Introverted, useless gits.

In a normal world, nature does not throw you component challenges of strength or distance or flexibility – it just drops you in holes, floods your home, collapses buildings on your family. Are you a fantastic deadlifter, tough, because you now have to run 10k to get some water? A yoga specialist? Damn, you now have to shift a ton of rubble to rescue your family. A runner? Now you have to pull yourself out of a hole. Bugger!

So that’s my view. Agree or not.

But what are the Olympic lifts?

According to me, in a less witty writing style:

“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 for example is a ground based multi-joint weightlifting exercise. The athlete exerts large multiple-muscle group force whilst standing on his own feet, thus developing balance and coordination. The speed develops the nervous system (Garhammer, 1985). The move requires a triple extension at the ankle, knee and hip – a jumping athletic movement, which demands the athlete recruits muscles in a synchronized pattern. The move develops explosive power: and requires 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)” (Stemler, 2009)

Phew

But for those who like multiple references:

According to Arthur Drechsler, author of The Weightlifting Encyclopedia often cited as “the single most important book ever written on Olympic weightlifting” (by people who cannot possibly have the read this boring book),

1. Practicing the (Olympic) lifts [the snatch and the clean-and- jerk as well as related lifting techniques] teaches an athlete how to explode.
2. Practicing proper technique in the Olympic lifts teaches an athlete to apply force with his or her muscle groups in the proper sequences.
3. In mastering the Olympic lifts, the athlete learns how to accelerate objects under varying degrees of resistance.
4. The athlete learns to receive force from another moving body effectively, and becomes conditioned to accept such forces.
5. The athlete learns to move effectively from an eccentric to concentric muscle action.
6. The actual movements performed while executing the Olympic lifts are among the most common and fundamental in sports.
7. Practicing the Olympic lifts trains an athlete’s explosive capabilities, and the lifts themselves measure the effectiveness of the athlete in generating explosive power to a greater degree than most other exercises they can practice.
8. The Olympic lifts are simply fun to do.

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.

How do you learn this stuff.

Without a doubt, you must learn the snatch with a bit of PVC pipe in a drill based seminar. A good 2 hours of marine-type drilling will get you the basics of the snatch.You can build on this in the years to come. I recommend this because it was the way I was taught. It’s the method we use on the i-course, and I have used it for 5 years of one-on-one and class training. It has received praise in scientific literature.

I think it’s very superior to throwing a 20kg bar at someone and telling them to get on with it. I see this approach too often in the few remaining “authentic” lifting clubs around – or certainly those that are competition-orientated who believe that your training should be as abusive and poor as the training they had, combined with the belief that breaking complex skills down is “spoon feeding”.

Me, I love being spoon fed.

Once you have the basics, start adding weight. It’s as simple as that.

So Olympic lifting is essential to be a functional athlete?

There are generations of strong, effective, functional people who have destroyed whole civilizations, and mutilated acres of this planet’s surface who never heard of the Olympic lifts, let alone screwed one up. (Incidently, missing a lift is the more fun part of lifting: hence the famous books, “When Lifting Goes Bad”,” Missed Lifts That Amost Killed Me”, “Missed Lifts That Almost Killed The Cat”, “Missed Lifts That Actually Got The Cat”,”Why Your Cat Doesn’t Want You to Olympic Lift”.)

So, no, it’s not essential.

In the same way it’s not essential to buy your girlfriend flowers.

If it’s so great how come its so underground?

For those of us who have lifted for a while, and see throwing a bar into the air then catching it as normal, we must remember that all this fun has all but been wiped out as a general fitness activity. Most gyms don’t have bars, certainly cannot be bothered to buy expensive bumper plates, and will go beserk if you drop a weight on the floor. Above all they don’t employ staff with enough skill to teach the lifts. Those that have the skill at your local leisure centre, quickly leave.

As a competitive activity, lifting appeals to a minority of a minority. As an all-day sporting event in anything below Olympic level, to watch or to take part in, it is viciously boring. I don’t intend to compete/watch again. If I do, I’m taking a spoon to scoop out my eyes with halfway through the day, just to break the boredom.

But to take an activity this effective and make it this unheard of, takes some doing. Until recently Olympic lifting has been seen as a dedicated sport (yawn, yawn, see above), controlled by a very well meaning, government handout-obsessed but incompetent group of old boys who have managed to make a boring sport difficult to access and learn. The years of mismanagement and introspective alienation of new trainees needs acknowledgement and praise. Their love and devotion to the sport is without question. If only that was enough.

But why did the Olympic lifts come crashing back to life.

Rapid, force-generating hip extension has always been at the heart of athletics ( jumping, sprinting etc), but this force has always been seen as a single explosion The few athletes who are encouraged to take up the Olympic lifts normally focus on low-repetition and high weight, in pursuit of Olympic weightlifting’s objectives of power and strength.

According to Greg Glassman, Crossfits founder, the value of the lifts outstrips their much-promoted development of strength and power. Those who struggle to learn the clean often suffer from a lack of sufficient speed, flexibility and ability irrespective of how much imagined strength they possess. Refinement of the move calls for exacting standards of coordination accuracy and balance which often outstrips the ability of most strength specialists

His observation that directly proportional to the load you can clean are the benefits, strength, power, accuracy, flexibility, speed, accuracy, agility and balance, is a standard proposition. However his second, unique, world-changing, visionary observation was that your cardiorespiratory endurance and stamina are directly proportional to the reps and loads you can clean. Crossfit, to my knowledge, was unique in the early days in requiring repeated hip extension under fatiguing conditions which, arguably, is more functionally relevant than the best you can lift. The ability to do one thing explosively, once, is very overrated (there is the potential for a smutty joke here that I am rising above).

Heretically, Greg also goes on to state that you don’t need to be able to do the lifts super-well to get super-benefits. This must have a been a stinging slap in the face for the old boys who had spent years of effort working out the most effective way to lift half a kilo more.

This is a complete exercise which incorporates a “super-useful” core to extremity motor recruitment pattern, along with learning how to generate and transmit large and sudden forces.

From another perspective, it builds bravery and stupidity, the two essentials for any elite functional athlete . The Olympic lifts involve throwing stuff from the floor to above your head (while standing). Visualise the issue – you have thrown something heavy into the air, and it’s now crashing down upon you…

You have two options,

1) Run like hell or
2) Stay and catch it.

Option 1 is sensible and demonstrates a mature ability to identify risk. Option 2 is dangerous, foolhardy, bound to end in tears – and – incidently, the right answer.

Practice the basics

You can analyse and use the olympics lifts in many many ways. One is  to view the full skill is a pressure test for your front and overhead squat. The pure ” beautiful” form of the lifts are seen as the squat clean and  squat snatch.

Put in other words, it tests if you own a superb front and back squat to the extend that you  can jump into it with a great big weight. Any squat wobble or misunderstanding of your squat form means that, under pressure, you won’t be get under the bar.

Take home message: don’t skimp on your front squat and overhead squat practice!

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.

Attributions

 

You are a self fulfilling prophecy! Your early teachers, the trainers you have met, the sports you have tried and failed at  have  pretty much taught you that you are weak, uncoordinated and basically crap. So, when you look at the WODs we publish on the Crossfit London UK site, you must to be thinking: “you have to be joking!  I cant do that!”

How you account for failure and success and the feelings these evoke  is the subject of  attributions;  the perceived causes of events and behaviours. Theories about attributions focus on your perceptions and interpretations that affect your behaviour.

The attributions we make about ourselves and others affect our behaviour.

If you cannot snatch (an olympic lift) you would behave differently depending on why you think you cannot. Perhaps you don’t know how, or need more practice; in which case you may  attend a Crossfit London UK skill seminar. However if you think its because you are weak and too uncoordinated to learn, you could simply give up and go back to a leg extension machine in your local fitness centre. The attributions you  make about others also effects  how you feel about them. If you watch a classmate attempt a snatch , how you perceive their attempt will be different if you think they lack the strength or that they are lazy!

Weiner  et al (1974) has  been credited with  bringing attribution theory to prominence by developing an attributional theory of achievement behaviour. He specifically felt that the difference between high and low achievers is the difference in attributional patterns (or how you think about stuff)

According to Weiner, if you had to assess why you screwed up a workout, or came last in the Crossfit games, your explanations could fall into one of 4 categories: ability, effort, luck, task difficulty.

However these four categories are not the critical aspect, the locus of causality (where the “blame” lies) and stability are the two essential dimensions.

The locus of causality can either be internal or external, ie ability and effort are internal,  luck and task difficulty are external. Are these stable?  Your ability is stable, however your effort is unstable and can vary from workout to workout: luck, unstable.

Later Weiner added a third dimension; controllability. Some factors are internal, but not very controllable, ie aptitude and natural ability.

Often people make internal attributions for winning and external ones for failure. In team sports, external attributions normally seem to come from the loosing side (lucky breaks, officials’ calls, weather). The tendency to attribute success internally and failure externally  can be seen as setting up a self serving bias. If you complete a workout faster than class mate, you would prefer to think that your extra effort won the day, not that your rival was ill that day.

Weiner suggests that the internal/external dimension can correlate to feelings of pride and shame, with the internal attributions provoking stronger feelings: you take a greater pride in a victory you earned!

The stability of these factors also has an effect: a stable attribution  leads you to expect the same outcome: if you have failed in the snatch because you its too complicated for you, you can expect the same results in the future. The controllability of the factor effects our moral judgements: we praise those who give extra effort and  dislike those who shirk.

However, the results of studies are confusing. Some have identified winners as internal stable and controllable, others that winners make more stable and controllable, but not more internal, attributions.

Spink and Roberts (1980) showed winners made more internal attributions, more importantly  they actually found two types of winners satisfied, and dissatisfied winners who felt the victory was too easy. Satisfied losers attributed losses to task difficulty, dissatisfied losers looked to their own low ability. Essentially, McAuley(1985)  found perceived success  to be a better predictor  of internal stable controllable atttributions  than objective success.

Attributions and Emotions.

It is quite popular to link attributions and emotions. Weiner identified outcome-dependent emotions (associated with actual outcomes)  and attribution-dependent emotions (the reason for the outcomes)

Work  by Biddle ( 1993) indicated performance satisfaction (or subjective appraisal)  is one of the best predictors of emotion, and that attributions play a role.

Dweck (1978)  deploys attributional theory in the field of learned helplessness.  We all come across those individuals ( do you think this of yourself)  who “know” they are slow, uncoordinated and too un-athletic to take part in sports or get fit ( or Crossfit) Here we can help by making these people attribute their failings to unstable, controllable factors including a lack of practice, instruction and techniques.

In reality, at Crossfit London, we find that many people who have been dismissed as weaklings, or overweight, uncoordinated failures can often make substantial improvements in performance and fitness. Our focus is to get you to work on those things you can control, and make stable; we do our best to get you to forget the vicious labels that incompetent sports teachers and trainers may have lazily given you. Our teaching is made progressive so that we can take beginners and make them skilled performers. Our approach will get the best out of your efforts and enhance your feelings of personal control.

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