Preparation, the Platform, and Performance

By Mark Clevenger
November 30th 2016

Great performances on the platform are directly correlated to the amount of preparation an athlete puts in long before game day. I’ve seen very strong athletes fall apart on the platform and under perform or bomb events they had no business failing. The common denominator I’ve seen in these failures has been improper preparation. So if preparation is so important, how do so many people get it wrong and how do you avoid this crap the bed (or platform) scenario?

One of the biggest problems I see with athletes prepping for a contest involves their training leading up to it. They either get too specific too fast and burn out, or wait too long to get specific and never reach their true peak for a specific implement, movement, or medley. The other aspect of training that often gets neglected is diet. You can’t run a Lamborghini on regular unleaded and expect it to still go from 0-60 in under 3 seconds. The biggest diet gainz robbing culprit of them all is alcohol. You can’t eat well all week, train hard (and smart), and then binge drink a night or two on the weekend and expect that performance poison to not have a negative effect. Diet and training are the two variables each person has direct control over that directly impacts performance, so don’t let these two keep you from being the strongest version of yourself on game day.

The other problem I see with athletes is that they want to compare themselves to everyone else at the competition. Their mind is so worried about what X person is going to pull, and what Y person is going push, that they lose focus of their moment on the platform and their task at hand. Athletes must stay focused on the given task and when their moment comes execute that task to the best of their abilities. If they do this for every event chances are they will walk away with a PR and a performance they can be proud of.

By no means are these two problems the only ones plaguing athletes performances on the platform, but they are the two biggest problems I’ve seen that every athlete has direct control over. If you’re not familiar with developing training programs, hire a coach to help you. If you’re not familiar with proper dieting principles, hire a nutrition coach (or check out Renaissance Periodization, they are the best bang for your buck). If you can’t spare the change for either of these than educate yourself, there are plenty of free (or cheap) resources available online. So take control of your diet, training, and mindset to smash PR’s and maximize your performance on the platform.

Lift Rx ‘The Back Squat’ Ebook

This Lift Rx Ebook is the first in a series of manuscripts that aim to improve the performance of each athlete’s lift through a comprehensive step-by-step guide to teaching the lift from start to finish, identifying common movement faults, spot and cue corrections for these common faults, and some exercise selections to fix improper movement patterns or muscle imbalances.Lift Rx Back Squat

Although this Ebook is geared toward the personal trainers and professional strength coaches new to the field of health and human performance, the information in it is valuable to anyone who enjoys the squat, deadlift, press, and bench press.

Download Ebook here

The PR Hangover

By Mark Clevenger
October 20th 2016

PR’s (personal records) are the reason most people train and compete. To do something you’ve never done before is one of the most exhilarating feelings we can experience. Unfortunately as we get older we learn that sometimes these PR’s come at a price. It’s like binge drinking. When you’re 21 you can go out drinking all night, get 4 hours sleep, get up and go about your business no problem. When you’re 31 it takes 2 full days to get rid of the hangover and you burn at least 1 PTO day trying to recoup. The gym PR’s are no different, their hangover can sometimes put you on the couch for the next two days.

Why is it that hitting a big PR takes so much out of us? Doing something you’ve never done before requires your body doing something it’s never physically done before. Our bodies are terribly inefficient at things it doesn’t know how to do, requiring our nervous system to work in hyper drive to accomplish the given task. Our nervous system is highly metabolic and is subject to fatigue like all other metabolically active tissues in our bodies.  This hangover (overly tired, insatiable hunger, total body soreness) is the physical display of neural fatigue.

When our nervous system attempts to activate muscles to complete a movement at a weight it’s never done before it doesn’t know how many times it needs to discharge a signal to the muscles involved, how frequent those signals should be, or the correct sequence of motor unit activation. This causes it to go into hyper drive and is the cause of neural fatigue. Once the nervous system figures out the recruitment patterns and how much activity it needs to achieve sufficient force for that particular movement at that particular weight, then that lift (and weight) starts to feel easier to accomplish. Your nervous system now knows it doesn’t need to throw the kitchen sink at the muscles to complete the lift.

So the next time you go on the weight room equivalent of binge drinking and do something crazy like set a 300# PR on a tire flip (cough, cough), you’ll understand why you feel like the walking dead the next day. At that point burn a PTO gym day, get some rest, eat some good food, and get ready to make a hero’s return to the gym because everyone was talking about your awesome lift while you were gone.

References:

  1. MacIntosh B.R. Gardiner P.F. McComas A.J. Skeletal Muscle: Form and Function. Second edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2005.

The 5 types of strongman competitors you’ll see at your fist novice competition

By Mark Clevenger
September 10th 2016

The following are the 5 most common strongman competitors you’ll see at your first novice competition.

  1. The guy/girl that doesn’t belong: This is the athlete who crushes every event and obviously should have been an open competitor. How they got to compete in the novice division is still a mystery of the universe. Their mastery of the implements and timing of the details suggest this is nowhere near their first rodeo. You watch and learn as much as you can from them all the while hating the fact that you have to compete against them.
  2. The guy/girl that doesn’t belong, part deux: This is the athlete who zeros almost every event. Why they decided to pay money to compete in something they are physically unprepared for baffles everyone there. Fellow competitors give them tips and cheer them on because that’s what this sport is all about. When it’s all said and done we just hope they fall in love with the sport, learn from the experience, hit the weight room… hard, and come back when they’re a little more prepared. Mad props to this athlete for putting themselves out there though.
  3. The strong Crossfitter: This athlete is strong (by Crossfit standards, take that however you want) and pretty good at Crossfit. They thought this success would parlay to success as a novice strongman, and most of the time it does. They have the mental toughness required to attack each event with 100% of themselves, they have the strength endurance to repeat this effort in multiple events throughout the day, and they are generally good at both overhead and lightweight deadlift events. They are not as good at the more traditional strongman implements like farmers walks, atlas stones, ect… Their strengths in the overhead and lightweight deadlift events generally carry them through pedestrian performances in the other events to the podium.
  4. The naturally strong athlete that never really works out: This athlete claims to never really workout. They do manual labor all day for a living and decided to compete on a whim because it sounded cool. You believe them when they say they never train because they look like a baby giraffe trying to walk when they touch any barbell or implement. They generally come out the gate doing reasonably well in the first two events and then either get hurt, or their bodies tank, because they are not used to repeating maximum effort for multiple events in a row. You watch them jealous of their natural talents and wondering how good they could be at this sport if they worked at it.funnylifting
  5. The athlete who has committed to the sport but not ready for open competition yet: This was me. I trained in strongman every college football offseason because I was a blocking tight end and my strength coach was an ex-strongman competitor. By the end of every season I lost so many of the gains I made that the cycle just restarted for the following season until I graduated. These athletes are fairly strong overall and have a good grasp on the implements because they are part of their regular training regime. They truly love the sport, are always in the hunt for the podium, and perform fairly well in every event. These athletes generally make the jump to the open division shortly after they start competing in the sport.

This list isn’t all inclusive, there are other ‘types’ of athletes you’ll encounter. These are just the 5 most common that I have seen. Ask yourself if you fall into one of these categories. If you fall into the first, do everyone a favor and compete in the open division. Kicking kittens isn’t cool and the other athletes won’t appreciate you dominating a division below where you belong. If you fall into any other, you have a good idea of what to expect based on the type of athlete you are. Either way go enjoy the experience, learn from the vets, be a good sport, then go out and connect with your fellow competitors after the contest for burgers and beer.

Coaching the Details

By Mark Clevenger
August 16th 2016

Let me start this by saying that coaching the details is not the same as over coaching. As coaches we start by taking athletes where they are at the moment we start working with them and progress them to where they want and need to be. Don’t be that coach that throws every detail about a lift right out of the gate at their athlete. You could overwhelm them with information and create faults that would have never been there to begin with. Plus, you’d be surprised at how often things come natural to an athlete with just a little general instruction.

As coaches we have to take pride in paying attention to the details of our athletes. We should be paying attention to their lifts, their programming, and the demands of their sport. These elements are the trifecta of success for every athlete, in every sport, across the globe.

Since the ultimate success of our athletes starts with our ability to create the safest, most efficient, and strongest movement patterns possible we will start there. The process for any lift or movement starts with identifying all the faults an athlete has and start addressing them with the one that needs the most attention first. For athletes with very poor technique this can be easy to identify. The athletes with good technique we may need to vary the lifts intensity to find errors that need attention.

Working to fix these faults with our athletes every day will help them maximize the programming we create for them. This programming follows the path laid before it by the movement faults of the individual athlete. Take these into consideration when creating your micro and mesocycles for your athlete. Finding faults is one thing, knowing how to use programming to fix them is another beast all together.

Lastly, understanding the demands of your athletes sport allows you to program exercises and drills that can help prevent injury or muscle imbalances. The stress and demands of many sports can leave an athlete at risk for these things. As coaches we have to understand where these physical pitfalls can occur and make efforts through our programming to counter these. The biggest part of our job is preparing athletes for competition, the most important aspect of that is keeping them safe and healthy. Through our attention to detail in the trifecta of an athletes success they become the best version of themselves possible and will find success, however they define it, through those details.

Building the perfect pressing platform: Part 2

By Mark Clevenger
July 26th 2016

In part 1 we covered everything from the feet to the shoulders. Here in part 2, we’ll discuss the shoulders themselves and how to position them with the arms for the press. We will look to marry the safest known biomechanical principles of the shoulder to optimal performance in order to create the safest and strongest pressing position possible. This will allow you to safely move big weights for many years to come.

Everything we do from now is in an effort to create a giant helipad that the barbell lands on, rests, and takes off from. Doing so requires several talking points that must be flushed out. We will need to discuss hand placement, bar placement, define and apply scaption, forearm angle, and upper back engagement. To start, the general rule of thumb for hand placement is somewhere between the tip of the shoulder and approximately 6 inches wider than the tip of the shoulder. Anything wider than that generally creates instability, which is no bueno. As far as traditional vs thumbless grip, it’s really a matter of preference. Yes, pressing overhead with a thumbless grip can be unsafe but so can leaving the toilet seat up in the middle of the night. Understand you can drop a barbell on your head, or get stuck in a toilet at 3am, both are risks that are up to the individual to take.

barplacementNow that we have a place for our hands on the bar, we need to have a place for the bar on our shoulders. As we rotate our elbows under the bar the torque created around our shoulder creates natural tension of the musculature. This tension usually creates a shelf with the shoulder muscles that the bar can rest on. Generally the best place on this shelf for the bar is as far back toward our neck as we can tolerate.

Scaption is defined as approximately the 30-450 angle of our upper arm from the frontal plane (see picture below for clarification)1. This position creates the least amount of mechanical stress in the shoulder joint and allows for the greatest amount of muscular engagement from the shoulders and upper back1. This muscular engagement with decreased joint stress creates stable shoulders to press with.

scaption

Forearm direction should be pointed in line with the theoretical point over our heads where the weight will end at the lockout of the press. This ensures a natural path during the press from its starting point to its lockout centered over our heads. Finding this position requires some shoulder mobility by demanding us to rotate our arms under and around the bar. If this position is difficult to find then the issue is one of shoulder flexibility and requires specific exercises to increase the range of motion of the shoulders.

forearmangle

The upper back is responsible for keeping the shoulder blades retracted and elevated. By keeping your upper back engaged you make the press easier by decreasing the distance traveled by the bar and by providing functional stability for the shoulders to operate through. Both of which are necessary for efficient and successful presses at higher relative loads.

Understand that in applying these concepts there will be variation from person to person at every position we’ve discussed because no two people are built exactly alike. Variation does not mean incorrect, it just means two peoples execution of the same concept do not look exactly alike. Remember, building this perfect platform for the press is a complex process that involves the entire body. Understanding how to achieve maximal pressing performance from the application of safe biomechanical principles is the key to your overhead pressing longevity. Now go forth, apply these concepts, and press the world regardless of your sport of choice. The skys the limit.

References:

  1. Neuman D. A. Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System: Foundations for Rehabilitation Second Edition. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier.

Building the perfect pressing platform: Part 1

By Mark Clevenger
July 8th 2016

Regardless if you’re a Crossfitter, Strongman, or Olympic lifter, the press is a cornerstone of your training. The concept itself is very simple, press the weight over your head. The proper execution of said concept is anything but easy. I want to take a look at the press from an osteokinematic, biomechanical, and maximal performance viewpoint, in an effort to marry the three into the safest and strongest pressing position possible. This first part will cover everything from your feet to your shoulders.

The stability of every platform starts with its base so that’s where we’ll begin. We want a base of support that is wide enough to offer sufficient stability while not being so wide that we lose the ability to generate maximum power from hips for any power variation of the press. A general rule of thumb is the wider your feet get past your hips, the greater the decrease in force production through the hips1. I have found the happy medium between base of support and power production for most people lies with the feet directly underneath their hips or just slightly wider than their hips.

We can’t sufficiently discuss the position of the feet without addressing the toe angle. This angle of the foot itself serves two main purposes: First, it positions the entire leg for maximum recruitment of the lateral rotators of the hip and the gluteus maximus. Recruitment of these muscles is important not just for producing force in the power variation of the press, but they also help stabilize the pelvis during these dynamic movements1. A stable pelvis during these power movements will decrease the risk of lumbopelvic injuries and increase force transmission from the legs and hips to the bar2.

The second main job of the toe angle, in conjunction with a wide enough base, is to allow the vertical dip and drive of the torso. This movement is a combination of lateral rotation of the thighs, abduction of the thighs, flexion and extension of the knees, and slight flexion and extension of the hips. All of these movements increase the overall amount of active musculature involved across the hip which produces a more stable pelvis and generates greater force production. Lateral rotation and abduction of the thighs are what create room for the pelvis to drop vertically. Without this, athletes will be inclined to hinge forward at the waist which will create horizontal displacement of the bar in the drive. This displacement creates an external moment that makes the execution more difficult than it has to be.

Gym Log Press

Moving up from the pelvis we get to the area that creates stability in both the thoracolumbar and pelvic regions, the ‘core’. Our posterior back muscles are actively engaged when we are vertical and under load by supporting our torso to keep it upright. The other anterolateral (AL) muscles of the core must also be braced to share the weight of the external applied load and to help stabilize the pelvis. These AL muscles have anterior, lateral, and posterior attachments to the pelvis, the ribcage, and around to the fascia of the lower back2. Without the active engagement of these muscles the pelvis is more susceptible to movement and because of the relationship the pelvis has with the lower back any movement here will create some sort of flexion or extension in the lumbar spine2. Any flexion/extension here under load is a can of injury soup with your face on the cover.

Hopefully you’ve found this information useful and applicable to your press.  Stay tuned for ‘Building the Perfect Pressing Platform: Part 2’ where you will learn how to position your hands and arms.

References:

  1. Neuman D. A. Kinesiology of the hip: A focus on muscular actions. Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Therapy. 2010; 40(2): 82-94.
  2. Neuman D. A. Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System: Foundations for Rehabilitation Second Edition. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier.