Response to: 5 moves you should avoid at the gym.

It’s hard not to get in to ad hominems when right from the beginning, an individual advocating themselves as an authority capable of teaching refers to compound exercises as “moves”
But that’s not a tone I want to set. I have prided myself as an educator, and always look for the truth in even misinforming articles. There’s usually a gem of information hidden, no matter how deeply buried.
First I’d like to invite Justin to explain where he got the information, what was the basis for this article and the beliefs it seeks to spread. The article starts by saying that powerlifters and bodybuilders should stop reading; what separates them from the “athletes” in the very next paragraph.
Any instructor, S&C coach, Personal trainer or sports professional needs to understand the anatomical adaptations of sarcoplasmic or myofibrilic hypertrophy, and the benefits of maximal strength exercises such as the Squat and deadlift, as well as the movement restrictions that can be incurred from limiting range of movement, as well as the differences in the training methods that provide the stimuli for the different biological responses in the body.
In short, muscle building and strength training are two of the main resources for athletes, open minded or otherwise. Without strength, an athlete cannot generate power, force, basic stability in the joint. Without muscle building exercises, strength can be limited, extra muscle mass is also an integral part of an athletes metabolism, as well as injury prevention in certain circumstances.
So…. What should we be doing?
ACL injuries are common in women, we need to ensure full range of movement and stability to help reduce the likelyhood of tear. Was there underlying glute med issues, internal or external hip rotation problems, as is common in women; and more importantly, if so, how do we fix this underlying problem without increasing either strength or muscle mass.
Age appropriate exercises are everyones responsibility, and a bar breaking a tibia in Olympic lifting? That I’d really need to see; As a coach and international athlete of 15 years, there is no physical way of performing an Olympic lift and breaking a tibia with the bar, unless it’s been accidentally dropped and landed on the front of the shin in the worst possible set of consequences.
You’ll be bored senseless if I run through all of the injuries mentioned, but in honesty they all have a common theme; either poor instruction, or accident not caused by the performance of the exercises themselves.
So without further adieu, here’s my top 5 responses, to the top 5 exercises “Justin Shaginaw, MPT, ATC” says you the general public shouldn’t do:

1. The Deep Squat
When you constantly have a debate, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your knowledge level.
Athletes squat past 90 degrees with resistance for a simple reason. It keeps posterior, anterior, medial and lateral muscle balance. One of the main causes of injury in field sports is hamstring tears. Squatting to parallel has less than 1/3rd the glute activation of the deep squat. This leads to quad dominance, tighter muscles, limiting range of movement and an increased risk of injury.
It’s not that it isn’t functional, it is, but biomechanics are something that requires a very in depth understanding of movement.
Take sprinting; acceleration forces require a strong posterior chain, with strong glutes and erector spinae to drive the body forward, strong hamstrings, reducing the length of the leg to allow more efficient movement of the leg, increasing how quickly you can get the foot into a position to provide the next driving step. Jumping is the same, as well as a host of movements that are essential to sport, health and every day life.
If you only squat to parallel, you’re decelerating, under load, stopping, applying most force, to change direction all where the weight arm lever on the knee is at it’s greatest.
In short there is no greater sheer force on the knee, (& patella tendon) than when the person squatting, only goes to parallel.
When you squat below parallel, the stronger muscles of the hips have significantly more activation, bear more of the load, and reduce the stresses on the knee.
The knee as a hinge joint does not like rotation, which is why strengthening the glute med, ensuring stability, avoiding internal hip rotation under load, by going to full depth is so important. This is why you start the exercise with toes turned slightly out, this allows a full depth position, taking rotational forces away from the knee, and allowing circumduction at the hip.

So, should we stop at 90 degrees?… absolutely not. It carries the greatest risk of muscle imbalance, limiting range of movement, greatest amount of sheer force on the knee, increasing the risk of damage to the patella tendon, as well as negating the benefits to the glutes and major hip muscles, as well as promoting muscle imbalance.
It is an injury waiting to happen, and definitely a training method to be avoided

2. Deadlifts
Here’s one that I can see where he’s coming from…. problem is he’s coming from a perspective where there’s poor performance of the exercise. If you want the TLDR explanation for this particular part. Do the exercise right, and you’ll be just fine, better than fine, and stronger into the bargain.

Muscle and bone degenerate when it is left unused or underused. So how to we maintain the anatomy we have longer into the twilight years; simple, train it. Just like cardio, interval training or general cardio training keeps the heart and lungs functioning better, longer, resistance training does the same for the muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments.
To increase it, you need to lift … more. Seems elegant in it’s simplicity and it kind of is. Osteoblasts are stimulated by compressing bone, this is how resistance training builds stronger bones. Ligaments thicken, muscle fibres too. In short, resistance exercises prevent exactly the problems that have been advocated to avoid by not doing resistance training.
It’s a catch 22, if you don’t train it, it gets weaker, if it gets weaker, it’s easier to injure, and the more and more likely the injuries that are described are going to become reality.
So enjoy your deadlifts, lift heavy things, it may just save that bad back in later life, because it’s stronger, more structurally sound and can deal with all those little jobs around the house, because the big jobs in the gym have allowed you to go home prepared.

3. Overhead press
The method the rotator cuff is at risk is never actually explained. So from me… train it, upright rows, shoulder presses, anything that gets you moving when you perform the exercises under competent supervision or instruction. Do them, they’re excellent
Again, tissue is maintained through resistance and exercising the muscle.
As ageing is a contributing factor to tissue degeneration, prevent it while you can, and live a long, healthy life, free of the defects of an attitude that says, I suppose I may as well accept my fate.

I’ll use an analogy for this one.
You’re in a car, travelling down the road and somebody, without looking pulls out of the junction in front of you.
You have 2 choices, you can say, well I’m going to hit them anyway, and do nothing, understanding that the impact is inevitable……
Or. You can use your brakes, try to steer around, and use every tool at your disposal to lessen or avoid the impact entirely.
Personally I’d go with number 2, I may not avoid the impact, but by at least taking preventative measures, it’ll lessen the impact and potential damage in the long run.
Who knows, it may even save you years of pain and discomfort by taking action while you can….

PS: Smith machines are for chin ups, anything else is a movement your body is forced into, we move in 3 planes, stabalise in 3 planes, the smith machine works in 1, get a bar, your knees, back and training will thank you.

4. Bench press
This one’s a hard one for me, I’m not a fan of the exercise, but it does have it’s place; and it’s place is not performed with a limited range of movement.
Shortening muscles, increasing a risk of tear and removing a stabalising force on a stabalising joint is not the way to perform this exercise. Get your full range, break the plane with your elbows, and if you are a powerlifter or someone who relies heavily on bench, work your posterior as well, maintain muscle balance as best you can.
If you find your shoulders start to naturally internally rotate, increased flexibility through stretching, strengthen up the lats, trapezius, rhomboids etc.

5. Heavy weights….
Seriously the old adage is true, you’re not going to get anywhere by lifting weights in a gym that weigh less than your purse.
This section actually started off with promise, despite the headline. Function is essential, I’ve talked about full range of movement a number of times already, but what good is full range without the stabalisers allowing the joint to actually…. you know… function.
For stability, muscles need strength, for strength you need to train against resistance.
When it comes to sport, those impacts can be huge, and without resistance training, the impact forces alone in contact sport could be enough to seriously injure, or potentially kill an untrained athlete.
The body’s ability to adapt to stimulus is one of the key survival mechanisms that has allowed our species to get this far.
However there is a caveat here, and it’s that word –Stimulus.
Innervation of muscle fibres, activation of fast twitch fibres requires resistance. If you don’t provide resistance training, you will not get stronger or faster. Medium weights build big bodies. Heavy weights build strong athletes.
Depending on what movement you take, eg: squat, great for maximal strength
Cleans & Snatches, awesome for explosive power; but to get any better, you have to cause the body to adapt.

Here’s the basic principles – Your body will stay as it is, and naturally degrade over time, it’s called homeostasis.
Thing is, that’s if we do nothing. So we go out and do something…..
Overload, that’s when the body has done enough of something that it has to make a change in case it needs to do it again.
So it makes little improvements, (supercompensation) and we get just that little bit better, over time the cumulative effects of these small improvements add up, and that’s how we get stronger or faster.

Without resistance, the stimulus is not enough to start this process, one of the main ways of getting stronger or faster is the use of resistance. In a gym scenario, that means lifting heavy weights.

The increase in bone mineral density has been shown to help reduce osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
The increased muscle mass increases the metabolism, burning more energy, even when the gym was hours or days ago.
The body’s ability to regulate is also affected in a positive way, with athletes who’ve underwent clinical studies involving resistance training showing a reduction in blood pressure both systolic and diastolic, increased cardiac output, lower resting heart rate, increased insulin sensitivity, lower body fat percentages within the healthy range, reduction in postural defects or muscle imbalances, which also reduces the likelihood of muscle tears and injury.
So athlete, bodybuilder, fitness enthusiast, or even just couch potato looking for a way to improve, resistance training, and heavy weights are key to your development.
The trick is to work at a suitable pace, with competent supervision and above all, good technique. That’s how to avoid the issues, while solving the problems.

Functionality is an essential starting point, this much is true, but functionality is only part of the puzzle, if you ignore everything after the ability to move, you lose the ability to move effectively or build upon the solid foundations.
Think of it like a house, build on shaky foundations and there’s always the risk of catastrophe. Functional movement builds solid foundations.
Thing is, once the foundations are solid, the next thing you have to do is build on them, that way the foundations will have a chance for the function to be useful.
The harder you work, the more you can build, and the longer you’ll enjoy a long and healthy life, and the maintenance will keep you strong, fit and healthy for years to come

I honestly think that not even Justin believes what he has written, i may be being cynical, but it looks like a way to stir up discussion, but there’s a serious problem if that’s the case. Some people will believe what was written as fact. For those, this is a very harmful article, and rather than stir discussion and learning, it’s providing misinformation, falsehoods, that will serve to entrench already widely believed, but wholly disproved and outdated information.

If it is a genuine article, believed to be factual and genuine advice by the author, then it shows a frightening lack of understanding of the basics of exercise principles, uses of functional movements, as well as long term player and athlete development for somebody in such a high profile position.

It goes beyond unprofessional, and strays alarmingly into irresponsibly.

For those interested, here’s the original link

3 Important Things About Centre of Mass In Weightlifting.

Just finished teaching on 2 coaching courses over consecutive weekends, and this exact topic more than anything else, really brought home how the lifter mechanics and the combined centre of gravities interact
Excellent piece, keep up the great insight

The Training Geek.

As more people crave the need to learn and many others begin to use biomechanics terminology, concepts such as centre of mass and base of support begin to be discussed and thrown around when technique is mentioned. In any system, due to gravity, if the centre of mass falls out of the base of support, it disturbs the physical balance of the system. But in weightlifting, there are a few important points to be established when talking about the centre of mass.

1. There is more than just the weightlifter’s centre of mass that needs to be observed.

The common observation if centre of mass becomes the topic of discussion in weightlifting technique is looking out for the centre of mass of the lifter being over the feet at all times. This gives us the weight distribution profile (i.e. front of the heel -> heel -> ball of the foot etc)…

View original post 671 more words

Technique happens in the training room, not the competition platform

it’s been a long time, but I’ve finally gotten back behind the keyboard and a little bit of extra time to empty my brain into the webosphere.

Today’s a quick insight to the perils of studying weightlifting through social media and the educational wonder/nightmare that is Youtube.

I already feel like I sound like an old man saying this, some would say I am, but I digress… the main point is not that the videos etc. on social media are bad, or in any way unrealistic; for the most part they’re pretty accurate.

There are videos that are completely ridiculous, and frankly technique that should only be on camera in the form of a blooper reel, but for this segment, i’m going to focus solely on the analysis of competitive weightlifters, top class performers at their sport; away from the weekend workout warriors or text book only teachers.

What is misleading when using top class performers; is basing technical analysis from a 1RM attempt. The weights seen on the platform are the ones used to win, the top end of an athlete’s ability; Ask yourself the question, how good is your technique above 95% of your best weights?

Only the absolute pinnacle of performance athletes maintain really good technique to their maximal lifts.These individuals are the exception to the rule, those that are truly great at their art; beyond which us mere mortals can hope or even strive to attain.

Lu Xiaojun, has impeccable technique, rarely flinching, and rarer still missing. He is one of the greatest examples of technical proficiency, skill mastery and consistency that the sport has ever seen; he is unfortunately in the significant minority.


This kind of consistency is the weightlifting equivalent of a blue moon, it happens so rarely and only a handful of generations will ever witness it.

That said, excellent technique, examples of movements worth study are abundant, most who wish to learn from, study and analyse these same athletes are simply looking in the wrong place.

How do the athletes prepare for competition, where is technique borne, honed and practiced at its absolute best?

The answer – The training hall, the warmup room. This small dark annex, mere feet from the biggest stage an athlete will ever grace; this is where analytical cameras should point. The awesome spectacle of the biggest weights on an Olympic stage, so fluidly moved by the best at their game is a sight for spectators, awe inspiring, motivating, and the end result of decisions made and battles won and lost in the training halls throughout years of hard training, sacrifice and physical and mental endurance.

There are countless videos analysing technique, studies and theories on movement skills, biomechanics, and even technical analysis taught, based on principles used when evaluating the technique of top class performers; all when their skill is performed at its absolute worst.

Move away from the lure of the spotlight and isolation of the main stage, cast your gaze, and your lens into the back room. The 50%’s the 75%’s 80%’s & 90%’s. The skill sharpening, Light loading and technical perfection of lifters doing what they do best. Smooth, but challenging weights that sail effortlessly, sub maximal attempts where every fibre of the body is working in unison, and before the weak link in a lifters strength or ability rears its head.

This is where the camera will capture the single best source of visual information. This is where those wishing to truly understand what it takes to lift, what it means to even be selected for the event, a competitor, a contender, can see the fluidity, skill and art that lifters strive for years to achieve.

The lessons learned may only be one small part of what it takes to lift, but when you watch it, when you see what lifters go through in the training hall, when skill, sharpness and proficiency are still on their agenda;

You see weightlifting at its purest, before the yearning, and overpowering desire to grab hold of a bar and rip its head off takes hold, and the physical and mental preparation of a lifter is tested to the limit.

There really is only one place to study technique, at the place it occurs at its absolute best. That only happens before the big stage, before the hot burning lights, and more often than not, before the audience ever knows you were even there…

A Call to Standards for Coaches, Owners and Athletes

Excellent, educated and informative,
Definitely worth a read

This isn’t specifically a post for outside or inside the gym. But I’m over these nonsensical blog posts railing on CrossFit. Let’s change direction and highlight some gyms and people doing it right in the strength and conditioning world shall we? There are far more educated, conscientious fitness professionals quietly going about their business of improving peoples’ lives than there are fools allowing neophyte clients to get rhabdo. For heaven’s sake.

I have had the privilege of working in or around some top-notch CrossFit gyms in the Dallas area. I’ve also traveled plenty and seen what prompts the backlash at our community but here’s the problem: very little of this silliness is done with malicious intent. It derives from lack of understanding, low barriers to entry (a good AND a bad thing) and…frankly…little motivation to raise the bar.

Here is my shout out to excellent gyms, a call to standards for…

View original post 898 more words

Crossfit and weightlifting, an objective critique

It’s been a while since my last entry, it was a long one, so apologies if you’re only finally finishing it now.

There’s something that’s been playing on my mind, and it again centres on preconceived notions. Mostly the at the extremes:

crossfitter mentality – Crossfit is epic; we’ve the strongest, fastest athletes etc     Vs       Strength athletes, Crossfit will actually kill you, they’re weak, technique is awful, lets mock them at every opportunity, and so on.

Let me start by putting off basically my entire audience by saying; I’m a strength coach. Specifically a weightlifting coach. I’ve been training for a decade and a half, coaching for almost a decade. The odd thing is… I love crossfit.

The idea of it, the very notion of brining Olympic lifts to the masses and getting some excitement away from the dusty barns and books of yesteryear; It’s awesome to see such excitement, enthusiasm and love for the sport, it’s humbling to think of just how many people now share what has been a massive part of my life, with something that has taken up more than half of my lifetime.

That said, there are dangers with this new found enthusiasm; that being the danger of extremely complicated exercises, being taught by other amateur performers of the lifts.

The snatch as well as clean and jerk, involve some of, if not the highest amount of motor neuron incorporation of any exercises. The amount of muscle that has to be used in a very specific order to get the best effect is staggering.

The main thing that beginners say to me, is how surprisingly difficult the lifts are to perform. Even with light bars and weights, it’s surprising to them just how out of breath they are, and how much there is to get right for the lift to be a success. My usual answer is simply… that’s why we do them.

A weightlifter is an athlete who revels in both the physical challenge of shifting heavy weights, but more than that. It requires technique, finesse, flexibility and a level of control you simply don’t get with other exercises.

We weren’t satisfied that the weights were heavy, they had to be hard to do. In both mental and very real terms, the bar had to be high, or we didn’t want to know.

I think he’s Happy; ok Dimas, you can put it down now

I think he’s Happy; ok Dimas, you can put it down now

Crossfit shares this mentality… The WOD’s are often times brutal, their results are extreme transformations in both physical and mental strength, speed, power, endurance.  The weekly challenge has been both excruciating and mesmerising every Thursday throwdown @Asylum where we take on the local crossfit, resulting in a weekly festival of sweat and tears. We’ve gotten our asses kicked and kept coming back for more.

Like certain countries that won’t let that one victory of yesteryear fade from memory in search of the next big thing, I’ve been heard uttering the phrase, “yea we beat them at fran!” and more than once.

This competitive spirit for exercise is not lost on me, I embrace it. At this point you probably think I’m a convert, I almost did myself, but in actuality, a competitive instinct to be great at something I enjoyed is what brought me to weightlifting in the first place. Through 7 years on a rugby pitch, loving every second of brutal contact, being beaten and broken, I found weightlifting. It was a new challenge, and I threw myself into its world, and before I knew it I was a part of it.

It is this same eager participation I feel when working with crossfitters, they love the sport, not holding it in the sacred halls of austerity; but getting stuck in, training hard and reaping the rewards.

Yes there are a million things going wrong,

Case in point

Case in point

It is at times wreckless with the definitions, performance, and frankly safety of something we hold so close to our hearts.

Weightlifters really care about our sport (don’t tell anyone they’ll think we’re wusses)

it’s like saving up all your hard earned cash, or in our case hours in the gym, to achieve this wonderful thing. Like buying that car you’ve always dreamed of, only now some reckless teenager has borrowed the keys, and you’re petrified they’re going to cock it up for everyone.

Thing is it was never yours to begin with. The exercises are just exercises, they’re fun, challenging, and everyone deserves the opportunity to learn, practice and love them as much as we do.

Like crossfit, weightlifting has its good and bad coaches; with awful technique not limited to the crossfit hall of fame, but littered around each bad coach from weightlifting or crossfit. It’s not the sports fault, we have great programs and great lifters… so does crossfit. A bad coach is a bad coach, I personally can’t blame the sport for that, it’s not the athletes fault they were given dangerous loads too early, by someone who wasn’t competent, that happens no matter where you go, or what sport you do.

Thing is, crossfit was a victim of its success at this early stage. It’s apparent to everyone that it is an absolute publicity and marketing machine.

Frankly I think most were just pissed off that crossfit captured the imagination of the public in a way weightlifting never could. We were too old, a dusty relic of days gone by, mumbling to whoever would listen in our dank and dusty caves where iron, wood and rubber ruled. Suddenly there’s new life in the sport, and more people than ever before dragging us kicking and screaming into the light, and to be honest the fresh air is doing us all the world of good.

Say you do weightlifting or sports conditioning circuits; horrendous visions of sweaty men indoors with med balls and pools of murky sweat you’d need a mop for jump to mind. Call it crossfit, and all the skimpy clothes, great bums and fantastic figures spring out like a bright summers morning (and I never said that wasn’t still the men… perverts)

This same ability to grab the right attention, ensured it grabbed the wrong attention. You only have to google crossfit fail compilation and you’ll see where the snide comments come from.

However, crossfit is fast maturing and accelerating up a steep learning curve.

Weighltifting is not purist, elite and only for strength atheltes. They are high energy, explosive, taxing exercises, something I’ve used to great effect in my personal training for years. The exercises are just that, exercises.

How you use the exercise determines its effect. You want cardio-fitness? higher reps, lower weight (%1RM). You want strong, competitive athletes? more rest, less reps, bigger weights. It’s not set in stone, use them the way you want to benefit most, but please, don’t call yourself strong for doing 50 reps with a light weight, that’s endurance. Most weightlifters joke about their lack of fitness… funny that it’s true, but also a sign they could be missing a trick. A good tolerance to lactic never hurt any weightlifter during a conditioning phase.

When I took the time to step back and really look; the single biggest fault I could see, was how the athletes embrace each other but the coaches didn’t. I decided it was up to me to take the first step, if I didn’t I was only part of the problem.

Crossfit coaches are a fairly open minded bunch if you get the right ones, there are those who are really defensive after enduring a lot of abuse from outside; they’ve every right to be, something they hold dear was getting abused by someone who didn’t know as much as they did (sound familiar?).

The thing is, when it comes to the technique of weightlifting, it takes years of dedication to come to grips with even the basic concepts; that’s where this creeps in…


But I truly believe it’s becoming less and less common, the more time that better and better crossfitters demonstrate what is possible when you practice good form, and become efficient in how you move. If you move like a weightlifter, you move more efficiently when moving the biggest weights possible. If you move in the same way for lighter weights… you use up less energy, and can move more of them.

I was lucky enough to do my crossfit cert under Mike Burgner, an awesome coach, and an awesome person. He’s forgotten more about the lifts than I’ll probably ever learn; and also happy to call it like it is.

I loved listening to him, the no nonsense approach to weightlifting, the skill and discipline required shone through, and this was a crossfit certification.

So what does this mean for me?

I stepped into the world of crossfit, and I came out loving it. I’m still a weightlifter, I still train for strength, but I’m more than happy to help guide, coach and hone the skills of anyone, and everyone who wants to share in that same love for the exercises I hold so close to my heart.

It’s not that you have to train for strength because “that’s what the exercises are for”… they’re not. They’re exercises, that’s all. It’s just that you have to respect the weightlifter for the time dedication and energy they’ve spent into perfecting how they move, to accelerate a heavy object, into a small window overhead, with such a small margin for error. The tens, hundreds and thousands of hours teaching themselves how to move does in my book earn respect for your own endeavours. What it doesn’t earn you is the right to belittle someone doing the same thing for a different effect.

So how do we solve it… simple, learn from each other. Weightlifting has been a minority for so long that we’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to be interesting, sexy and fun. The midlife crisis is over, and it’s time for the sport to shake off the old, embrace the new and let them learn from us, rather than ridicule.

If we don’t it’s simple, they’ll get better, and soon they’ll be teaching us…. Ok maybe not, but you get the idea.

If weightlifters can embrace the amazing attributes crossfit can bring to an aging sport, teamwork, excitement, fun, we can have better, stronger and amazing athletes handed to us right on our doorstep, all we have to do is open ourselves up to it.

If crossfit can keep those same ego’s in check, embrace the knowledge, time and expertise that weightlifters have to offer in the technical, movement and strength training aspects of crossfit, we’ll both have much better athletes at the end, and everyone who joins in will find they’ve got a much bigger family to be a part of.

A family I’m proud to say I’m part of.

Semantics & Sports Science; the double knee bend and other taboos

Today I think may just go that extra mile and incite a full-fledged riot in the sports science community. I’m going into dangerous territory, where reputations are on the line, and punches are seldom pulled.

It takes a pinch from my first article, on the myth of the one true path, and gives you a few anecdotes from various walks of my professional career.

Today it’s time to explore commonly held beliefs on coaching, technical skills, try and address the origins and break down the myths surrounding training, coaching and just what it is to lift.

I’ll start with a big difference, found between those who practice “fitness” (or more accurately cardio) and those who practice strength. I make this distinction because fitness encompasses strength, mobility, stability, endurance, power, mental strength, aerobic and anaerobic capacity, and this list in itself is by no means the end of it, but you get the idea.

Thankfully the days of (Fitness=cardio) are becoming a thing of the past, with the advent and influence of crossfit and HIIT. The day of the half hour on the treadmill is being successfully challenged, and there is a wider spectrum of training methods that are now much more commonplace.

When I first became a fitness instructor many years ago (level 2); it was only a means to an end. I’d been involved in strength training and weightlifting competitively for quite a few years, and had racked up a few coaching licenses on my way. I had the basics of anatomy and physiology, as well as fundamental movement skills and strength training.

It struck me as surprising that an entire industry would teach something so fundamentally flawed that went so fervently against everything I’d learnt in strength training; the journals, articles and research I’d read, professionals I’d learnt from, and yet on my assessment day, just like passing your driving test; my blood ran cold as I was forced to utter the phrase “and you mustn’t allow the hips to go below parallel” when teaching the squat in my exam.

My examiner, was also a strength and conditioning coach, we both knew this was incorrect, but he had to “tick that box” despite knowing full well the logic held as much water as your average sieve.

Asking someone who is at the time, bearing load (weights), to decelerate, stop, turn around and apply the forces needed to get themselves moving again, all at the point where there is most sheer force on the knee, greatest strain on the patella tendon is simply madness. It’s asking for injury.

3f711_ORIG-9feb2_ass_to_grassSee, happy as you like

It also promotes muscle imbalance, which is a nightmare to fix in any athlete, client or gym user. The whole idea of going to the gym is that you’re better when you leave, not worse. So not only does squatting to parallel have the highest risk of injury, but prolonged usage of this particular variation of the squat actually systematically increases  your risk of injury in the long run. One quick caveat, I’m not talking about competitive powerlifters here; this is the body pump and aerobics classes of this world that purvey this particular myth. Powerlifters performing low bar squats to move the maximum amount of weight based on the particular rules of their competition is entirely different than saying that this is the one and only way of squatting. That myth is entirely a fitness industry staple.

Breaking parallel is the way to go, transfer the weight to where it should be and build actual movement, strength, balance and coordination. More important for athletes in field and team sports where sprinting mechanics are important; this will reduce quad dominance and decrease the risk of a hamstring tears due to proportional anterior and posterior strength and mobility. No need to take my word for it, this little snippet sums it up beautifully


So why does the partial squat continue to be taught as the required standard in the fitness industry… frankly the only answer I can come up with is laziness.

It’s easier to avoid putting the time and effort into addressing one of the most chronic issues affecting the vast majority of the population, sweeping it under the carpet and pretending it doesn’t exist. This allows people to exercise in their comfort zones, which is pretty much the mantra of almost all major commercial gyms.

A little inside knowledge here…. If I ask you, what is a commercial gym for? The usual thought is, they are there to get you fitter, but the dirty little secret is, that they’re not. If you got better on your own, why would you come back? Fitness gyms, (massive chains, and we all can name quite a few major examples) have almost identical set ups. How they operate, their ethos, it’s really obvious when you look at who gets paid.

There are the reception teams, there to let you in and out, cleaners etc. But the only other people employed and paid are… the management and sales teams.

So your membership, the money you pay, the bottom line. That’s what the gym goes for ten times out of ten. They’ve entire teams dedicated to keeping you coming back, paying memberships, rather than instructing and teaching progressive training principles to help you get better.

Actually taking the time to get the general population flexible enough, stable enough and strong enough to perform the squat (as well as a million other beneficial exercises) properly would be too time consuming, cost too much and ultimately eat into the profitability of the structures that have been put in place. The investment is in a continuous, increasing membership base, not in the improvement of the members they already have.

This ethos of short cuts and quick fixes rather than long term progressive health benefits is rife, it’s even tainted the education process to the extent that a detrimental long term adaptation is taught as standard practice.  It’s pandemically wide spread, with the next fad taking over as quickly as the last one died out.

I don't know who thought this one up... but i see what you did there

I don’t know who thought this one up… but i see what you did there

Just like yo-yo dieting; misinformation, general ignorance and an industry that has let money overtake quality has reached the limits of what was possible. The tipping point has come and gone, and the increased knowledge, results showing from other training is now becoming more and more mainstream.

In a discussion with a prominent strength and conditioning coach I posed the same question about the depth of the hip, and he said thank F*** for the likes of Weightlifting, Crossfit and strength training, which is bringing an end to this dangerous practice.

It isn’t gone yet, but it is thankfully on its way out.

*A side note for anyone interested… the aesthetics of a good squat are a great side effect; Glute activation more than triples during a proper full depth squat. So it does make for a much better derriere.

Sticking with the squat… one other major myth that rears its ugly head is letting the knee track over the toe. Let’s be clear, if you’re knee moves over the toe, That Is FINE…. Hell It’s necessary depending on how long your femurs are. If you’re femur is 2 feet long, then stopping you’re knee from tracking properly over the toe, as in past the end of your foot, is only going to mean you compensate by keeping the bum high, dropping the chest and turning the squat, into a good morning. This places more load on the lower back…. Back injuries in squatting, It’s not the squat that’s the problem, it could very likely be poor form and compensation from tightness around the ankles. So you’re left to compensate with poor form, either that or your unbalanced ass is going to fall over as all your weight will be behind your heels. When the centre of gravity is not over the base, there’s not a lot left to do but fall over.

squat form

The only way to maintain a proper, upright torso, flat back (or neutral spine if you prefer) is to let the knee travel past the toe. The issue with tracking is that the knee is a hinge joint. It doesn’t like to be twisted, so track the knee over the toe, by aiming the knee to travel down the centre of the foot. Aim the knee between the big toe and the second toe and you’re good. The knees will travel in a straight line, and the circumduction, rotation and all those other movements will be taken care of by the hips. They eat that stuff up, they’re designed for it. Everyone wins. Better squat, better weights, better movement and proportionally strong athletes.

The next one is fun, and it comes down to experience and one small tit bit, science Vs Art.  Not nearly as philosophical as it sounds, but just a matter of taking in more variables and not trying to factually and functionally label absolutely everything.

When running coaching courses, I’m often in a room with guys and girls who are doing S&C at university or sports scientists, and they know that weightlifting in general or at least throughout Europe and pretty much everywhere that isn’t America, doesn’t teach the double knee bend. So they love asking me questions, you know, the ones you don’t get asked pretty much every time…. Honest.

For those wondering what I’m talking about, the double knee bend happens in deadlift, cleans, snatches and any exercise lifting the bar from the floor to about mid-thigh or higher.

What happens is that the legs straighten out (how far depends on relative limb length – Arms : Torso : Legs) as you lift the weight, they then re-bend once the bar passes the knees, hence the overly elaborate term double knee bend. It’s right up there for triple extension for its jargontastic properties. Triple extension is a fancy way of saying straight legs and up on the toes, but more on that later.

The double knee bend happens, it’s shown time and again in lifts and is therefore taught by S&C associations and accreditation bodies which is fine, but it’s mandatory to actively teach it on your test, which isn’t. The question is, if it happens, then why is this a problem?

It is yet another “tick the box” moment, which has come by, only this time on something that does actually happen, so less ridiculous than the fitness industry.

The thing is, cleans, snatches, even the simpler deadlift are still all pretty complicated exercises.

In a snatch the human body moves from fully squatted (start), to fully extended (end of second pull), to fully squatted (catch), to fully extended position (recovery), all within 1-1.5 seconds. Hitting a window, about 5 cm’s wide to secure the weight in a position above the base so the athlete can successfully complete and recover with as heavy a load as possible. The margin for error is miniscule.

The trick to performing it well is to be accelerating the bar from the start, you cannot think your way through the lifts, they happen too quickly. You have to practice good motor patterns to perform an extremely complex movement at speed. So giving an athlete more to think about than they actually need at any point is really just showing off that you know something about it, rather than coaching it.

A simple albeit rhetorical question, does the coach need to know…. Yes. Does the athlete…. Not necessarily.

A good sports scientist knows enough about the movements to fully understand them. A good coach knows enough about the athlete to make it both simple and applicable. Unfortunately, most sports scientists, and even S&C instructors in my experience are simply not familiar enough with the movements involved in the snatch and clean, to be both confident in their use, and proficient enough to coach them. This is no sleight against sports scientists, they are a lifetimes’ work in themselves, and it’s hard to be an expert in everything.

This is where being open enough to ask for help would really be beneficial, scientist or coach.

If I needed to learn to swim, I’d go to a swimming coach. To sprint I’d go to a sprints coach, to cycle, I’d hit the velodrome. So where do you turn when you want to learn snatches and cleans… to the people who’ve spent years teaching, performing and perfecting those exercises. Like it or not It’s a really specialist area, and the best people to learn it from are the people who’ve been immersed in that world forever and a day.

That’s not to say weightlifters know it all. Far from it. Without a good grounding in the principles of sports science: periodisation in programming, overload and supercompensation, recovery strategies, biomechanics, energy systems, neuro-muscular incorporation, etc. the technique in itself is only going to get you so far. Just bear in mind if running people down from the lofty heights of academia, that those same principles were born in weightlifting. Thankfully the more people in academia I speak to and work with, the more open minded I find them, which is awesome. Soon we’ll be one big happy family, if only we could get the weightlifting coaches to open up to new ideas as well..

The combination of the science behind the lifts, and the art of their performance, for the right reps, at the right load with the right technique is where the athlete truly gets the best from their coach.

So it’s not that we shouldn’t ever teach the double knee bend, it’s just that teaching it has more often been counter productive to creating the overarching principle that really makes a good performance of the snatch, clean etc.

Which is that the exercise is by definition, – One, uninterrupted, accelerated movement of a barbell, from the ground to the overhead/shoulder position.

Notice – uninterrupted, and accelerated, neither of which is achieved by the psychological effect of actively thinking about re-bending the knees, this actively breaks the acceleration of the bar, and is usually counterproductive.

I can’t say this is always the case, but I can say I’ve never found an athlete where I’ve actively had to teach this movement. If I do ever find an athlete where this is a good coaching que I’ll definitely use it. I’m just saying, after over a decade of coaching, I’m still waiting, which is why I question it as a mandatory element to teach to pass a test. The practical test is the ability to coach, the theory is the time to write down every detail about a subject. Mixing the two is problematic at best.

Not to pick on sports science and fitness professionals, but the levels of semantic back and forth outlined above happen even in weightlifting circles. Athletes have it hammered into them, X is automatic, where Y is something you need to work on without first checking if this is actually true for the athlete.

This time, it’s the turn of the triple extension. I’ve been guilty of going up on the toes early in my second pull, but I’ve learnt from my mistakes, that doesn’t mean I don’t teach athletes to go up on the toes. I do. And I get harpooned by weightlifting coaches who think I’m joking.

Sorry guys and girls. I’m not. It happens in the lift, only this time it’s not counter-productive to teach, if you use experience to que it up properly.

Try jumping standing only on your heels. Then jump normally (going onto your toes) if you got more height with the heels, stop lieing, no you didn’t. It was the toes that got more height, more acceleration, more power.

See, this complaint of other coaches I understand. Athletes who do not drive from a flat footed position, tend to be off balance, on the toes too quickly and there is a loss of power, but that to me doesn’t mean I shouldn’t teach it at all, it just happens to be that it is the timing of this that causes the most problems. Which is exactly why I teach it in sequence. Teaching the athlete to stand up straight (still flat footed with knees and hips fully opened out) before going up on to the toes and then shrugging with the shoulders allows the flat footed pull, transitioning on to the toes, then shrugging the shoulders, which is what happens when performing the lift. The degrees of these contractions will be dependent on the body shape of the athlete, and how they best utilise their own biomechanics. By in large, this method works just as well, if not better than any other I have used.

My personal coaching method involves the movements first, then at speed, then with resistance. The athlete will put these together in the way that best fits their own shape, size and strength, with fine tuning to get the best from the lift in its performance.

I know it’s been a long one, so I hope you brought enough coffee for the whole class; thankfully only two main points to go, so without further ado in this intermission, Static Stretching vs dynamic stretching.

Static, maintenance stretching has its cons, it reduces explosive output, not something that’s great for an explosive exercise. However again the absolute of never do this before exercise comes up. This again doesn’t take into consideration the athlete.

Take one of my favourite athletes, and I’m very happy to say friend. Damon Kelly. When talking to one of Ireland’s leading coaches, he was asked why he was doing static stretches before a competition event, as it would reduce the explosive potential of the muscles.

This is true he said, but what I lose in explosive power, I more than make up for by being able to get into the right position in the first place. I am paraphrasing here, but the lesson was a good one.

Losing explosive power is an acceptable compromise when you have a net gain by having better technique and movement.

Static stretching in this case was more beneficial than detrimental. This isn’t always the case, but the reasons are great words to live by. Use it where it is beneficial, don’t when it isn’t.

If you have a phenomenally flexible athlete, then static stretching really isn’t going to gain much in their lifting performance. Dynamic movements, increased blood flow, better secretion of synovial fluid. That is where your lifts will benefit most in this case, so it comes down to the coaching skill of knowing and applying the best method for that particular athlete at that time.  Something that may change over time, so too then must the coaching, and the coach.

The last topic is a bit of an insight into training that has always been with us, just more recently structured and defined as a particular branch of training. I’m talking about Plyometrics and when to use them.

The word plyometric, doesn’t actually mean explosive or anything of the sort… it simply means plyo (increase) metric (measurable) or measurable increase if you prefer. It’s been adopted to bring into consideration any form of explosive power or jump based training; which is great. Just avoid getting caught up on the idea that because it has a fancy title it’s somehow a mysterious entity to be revered rather than understood.

Using plyometrics can be beneficial at any stage of a workout or even mesocycle. It’s how you use them that’s important.

I offered up the opinion to use them as part of a warm up, this did not go down well with some. I’ll not go into details but many, many…. many journals were cited to refute this idea as heresy.

Sad truth is, the actual discovery of plyometrics was at a track and field meeting where the Russian team used it as… yep… their warmup routine.

I routinely use them to warm up for weightlifting, which is in itself plyometric training with weights. The increased blood flow, prepping of the motor neurons and usage of the motor patterns involved in the snatch and clean are a great way to prepare for a session.

The main consideration here was that this usage was with well conditioned athletes, who have undergone sufficient anatomical adaptation to handle the high loads and stresses involved with both the plyometric training and the weightlifting training as well.

How and when you use plyometric training is entirely down to you, as long as you know what it’s for… the stretch shortening, (amortisation) and powerful contractions of the muscle fibres to produce increases in explosive power is a great tool for achieving that result. It’s not in isolation in the force generation capability, but it does have prerequisites, such as adequate mobility, adaptation of tendons and ligaments, proprioception as well as stabalisation strength of the limbs and core.

In all of the above, the recurring theme is that coaching as an art form – the use of absolutes to cover every possible body type, learning preference of the individual and life experience, pre-learned conflicts with new teaching are a way of trying to normalise, label and fit the impossible into neat little boxes. The truth is, there’s simply too many variables for only one right answer, what we need to look for is what works for the individual at that time, and how we can best facilitate this stage of their physical, emotional or cognitive learning.

the generic differences within sports science, strength and conditioning, general fitness, and weightlifting methodologies all disappear when the end user is the focus of the training, and not the source of the coaches learning.