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27.5.15

Hold

Isometric Exercise (Braking)
By Donny Shankle

An isometric exercise (or what I call braking) does not utilize a range of motion; instead, you are held in a fixed position for a determined length of time. There are two types of isometric exercises you can use in training to improve strength. They are overcoming isometrics and yielding isometrics. Overcoming isometrics is exerting force against an immovable object. Yielding isometrics would be pausing or putting the brakes on at a designated position of the lift. These exercises, especially yielding isometrics, are great for weightlifters still in the beginner to intermediate levels of training. Strength is still catching up with efficiency at this time and it is useful in the beginning to introduce these new challenges. 

I have used a few overcoming isometric exercises during periods of injury. After recovering from a fractured vertebrae in my neck, I would have someone give me resistance with a towel wrapped around my head. A training partner would try and pull my head forward and I would try and pull him back. This same idea was applied to both sides of the head as well as me trying to pull him forward to strengthen my neck. After a dislocated shoulder, one way I brought some initial strength back into my arm was to stand in a doorway with the back of my hands on each side. Here I would push out feeling the muscles work. However, overcoming isometrics do not have to be strictly limited to intermediate level lifters or periods of injury. Arthur Drechsler (author of The Weightlifting Encyclopedia) showed me a great overcoming isometric exercise. In a power rack set the pins to the exact height where you receive a Clean. Then, set another pair of pins directly beneath this height with a bar resting on them. Get underneath the bar and try to squat it up as hard as you can. Hold your back straight, stay off your toes, and push the elbows up. This exercise will help you establish a straight back and better allow you to maintain the proper alignment throughout the duration of the Clean.

The more common variation of isometric exercise I have used would be yielding. There are three main ways I have brought this exercise into play. The first and most common type is pulling to a determined height from the floor and braking it there for a minimum of two seconds. This is followed with either completing the lift or bringing the bar back down to the floor. If the weightlifter is being pulled forward to the toes for example, have him or her practice this type of isometric exercise. There are multiple heights beneficial to pull to. I like to pull to just above mid shin, to the knee and to the hip. The chest and shoulders are still in front of the bar at any point you choose to brake. This keeps the tension on the back, increasing the stress, and eventually improving strength.

I am not a fan of using pause squats as an isometric exercise but I do see their value for advanced level weightlifters. Initially all concentration must be on mastering the stretch reflex with bar oscillation. Along with having strong legs this is how you stand up with heavy Cleans. An advanced level weightlifter should be able to Clean with a stretch reflex on every attempt. Since efficiency is at a point it can no longer improve then an increase in stress to improve strength using isometric variation is fine. A pause squat is holding the bottom of a squat for a minimum of two seconds before standing. The hips, back and legs are put under tremendous stress making them stronger.

Braking on a dip during a Jerk is the other most common isometric exercise I have used. Here the weightlifter moves into the dip of a Jerk but does not always drive out of it. A drive can follow after a minimum of a two second hold or you can return the bar to the floor. A Clean + Dip (2 seconds) + Jerk would be an example isometric exercise to help get the weightlifter off their toes during a Jerk. The straighter you are able to keep your dip and drive during a Jerk the better. Another way I have used isometrics during a dip would be when I go very heavy from the blocks. A pretty significant increase in weight is used here from what you can actually Jerk. The muscles and joints are put under tremendous stress preparing them later on for much lighter weights. Add a minimum of fifteen kilos to the bar going off your best Jerk. Pick the bar up from the blocks and dip holding it for at least two seconds. Fight to keep the chest up and back straight as you are braking during the dip. After you drive up return the weights back to the blocks. This isometric exercise can be performed from the five points and from behind the neck.

On a side note be sure to incorporate any variation gradually. Beginner level weightlifters are still learning how to move and the muscles are still adapting. Even advanced level weightlifters should move into isometric exercise slowly if they are not familiar with the variation. Yielding isometrics should be slowly assimilated and negatives should be trained alongside them. The combination keeps the weightlifter engaged and strengthens the lifter’s ability to find the correct positions to brake. All isometric variation should be completely dropped the closer competition approaches. During spans of training directly preceding competition your concentration shifts to making lifts perfectly and fast. In the four month paradigm I use leading into competition some isometric exercise is used three to four months out. This variation not only strengthens the body but improves self-esteem. You can either choose to black out or toughen up and turn the spotlights on. Once you are safely using very heavy weights during braking along with completing attempts confidence soars and new personal record lifts are not far away.

25.5.15

Q&A

Q: My elbows are not coming up during my Clean. Do you have any drills I could do to help me with that?

A: First check the rotation of the bar. Your elbows may be down because the spin on your bar is no good. If the spin is good then your grip may be too wide. It is more difficult to get your elbows up with a wide grip. Try bringing your hands in a little. If the grip is fine spend some time stretching the lats and work on getting your elbows up with an empty bar. Here is a stretch you can do on your own before Cleans. Using two bars, place one bar in a squat rack at shoulder height and the other bar should be racked across your five points. Bring your elbows up and put the back of your arms on top of the other bar in the squat rack. Squat a quarter of the way down and let the elbows come up.

When your elbows are down on a Clean, it could also mean the “finish” lacks power. Your hips may be coming through slow. Concentrate on bringing the hips all the way through the bar at the “finish” of your pull. Extend your body all the way until your shoulders move slightly behind the bar. Make some noise with your feet to help you “finish” more aggressively. Powers are the best exercise to get you thinking about completing your “finish”. Start power Cleaning once or twice a week. Use the combination power Clean + hang Clean above the knee. This is a great combination to really get you thinking about turning your elbows over fast on the power Clean and keeping that same “finish” on the hang Clean. Working in the hang will set your back vertical so all of your concentration can be put into bringing your hips through violently and getting the elbows up.

20.5.15


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19.5.15

Study

Be A Student Of The Sport
By Donny Shankle

If I were to mention the names Lee James, Cheryl Hayworth, Leonid Taranenko, Paul Anderson, or David Rigert would you know who I am talking about? These are all great weightlifters. What kind of basketball player doesn’t know about Michael Jordan? What kind of soccer player doesn’t know about Pele? Not only did all of these weightlifters lift fantastic weights but there was also something preeminent about their character. It was amazing to watch them lift.

By being a student of the sport and studying the champions of the past, we can’t hope to emulate them nor should we. Yet by standing on their shoulders perhaps we can see farther than they did and surpass them. Maybe we can become even greater. By studying past and current champions or other subjects in general which you admire or enjoy learning about, you start to develop more of your mind. Since the mind is at the center of what lifts the bar, who’s to tell you a clever wit can’t help you become a great weightlifter? Who’s to say a sharp mind can’t help you lift more weight?

By being a student of the sport and immersing yourself in study, you begin to develop your own philosophy towards weightlifting. If your philosophy can help you put more weight on the bar, or if what you believe in can help you put in more repetitions during the day, or more tonnage during the week then this is great. By studying the performance of champions you begin to develop more of your own character. You will learn more about yourself as an athlete and person. The more you know about yourself the stronger your identity is and the better weightlifter you are going to be.

13.5.15

Build Upon Your Numbers

Before And After
By Donny Shankle

A lot of the weightlifting questions I get center around “How do I increase my squat numbers?” My own experience has shown me the best way to squat bigger numbers is to prioritize the exercise. Also, keep your snatch and clean and jerk numbers at a base or reasonable minimum while you push the squats to new personal record levels. Squatting before you SN and C&J with fresh legs when you have the greatest amount of energy is the best time to go after new personal records. Conditioning your legs is also important to improve strength. It’s easiest to see the weightlifters who do not have conditioned legs during competition. If they complete all of their snatches and only their opening C&J they are missing the reserve strength six for six weightlifters have. The best way to improve your conditioning is to squat after you have finished snatching and clean and jerking. A combination of squatting both before and after training the lifts is where most weightlifters should train.

Whatever your current PR squat (either front or back squat), try and squat within fifteen kilos of this after practicing the lifts. If you can do this easy then try and squat within ten kilos of your best. If you can do this then you should try to squat within five kilos of your best. Once you are squatting five kilos less than your best squat at the end of training the lifts, I would venture to say you are capable of a new personal record squat. For example if a lifter’s best front squat is 170 kilos then after training the lifts for the day he should work up to 155, 160 and 165. Duration time is kept short and you can still go after PR’s if these weights happen to be easy. Obviously if this example lifter was able to squat more than 170 at the end of training then he is capable of an even greater PR once his legs have rested. Use this before and after approach in training at least three times a week. Build upon your numbers by constantly applying maximum effort with maximum effort conditioning. As you get closer to competition, concentrate more on conditioning your squat to complete all of your lifts in competition.

Rest periods when you are going after new squat PR’s should be long enough to feel strong for each attempt. Keep all of your rep ranges low and allow your body to adapt to the heavy weight. The more tonnages you are moving during the week, the greater stress you are going through and the stronger you will become. As long as you are not losing bodyweight, eating, and resting well your squat numbers will improve. Keep in mind every Snatch and Clean you do also involves squatting thus repetition is being performed. A lot of extra repetition in one set of squatting is not needed unless the lifter is perhaps in the beginner or intermediate stage of lifting. Also, squat jerkers are applying even more repetition. It’s weekly, monthly and yearly where the repetition adds up and not daily.

10.5.15

Q&A

Q: I get very nervous in competition. Aside from competing more, is there anything I can do to help me relax?

A: Make sure you are sitting down between your warm-ups and as you wait for your attempts. Sitting will help to put you in a meditative state of mind. Put a towel over your head to block out the excitement and listen for your coach to call you when your clock has started. Associate a certain smell with relaxation. Many weightlifters for example will put a few drops of eucalyptus oil in the bath or in the sauna. A few drops of this same oil under the nostrils in competition helps to eliminate some of your nerves. If you have prepared well in training then once you get in the warm-up room or on the platform most of your nervousness should have subsided.

8.5.15

Damn It's Cold

Training In The Cold
By Donny Shankle

The only thing worse the C&J doubles is having to train in a really cold gym. Warming up in a cold gym takes longer and grabbing the bar can sometimes feel like sticking your hand in a beehive. It’s easy to find the grit it takes to train in the cold on occasion. Yet, trying to muster this grit everyday is quite another challenge. The only thing you gain from training in a really cold environment is the extra back exercise you get from shoveling snow. It is not just the cold which can hamstring your training. The lack of sunlight during winter can also dispirit you. Trying to wear more layers is not an option either because you decrease your mobility. Your best strategy for training in the cold is to find someplace warmer. Unless the gym you train in is heated, move for the time being in preparation for competition. Of course, if you are from the north and have hardened yourself to this type of climate then great. However, I am willing to wager you will have a difficult time finding the group atmosphere required to ignite the attitude it takes to go after daily personal records. Especially if the gym you train in feels like a freezer. If you do not have the luxury to train in a warmer climate leading into competition, or if the gym you train at does not have adequate heating, then at least try putting in your heaviest training during the warmest hours of the day.

7.5.15

Drink Water

Training In Humidity
By Donny Shankle

Climate can have a decided effect on your training if you are not acclimated to it. Training in high humidity for example can quickly zap your strength and disorient your nervous system. It’s very important in this type of climate to replenish the body’s minerals and water soluble vitamins which get lost through perspiration. Putting an effervescent vitamin and mineral tablet in your water during training is a good start. I am constantly drinking Berroca (even when it’s not humid) which is full of B and C vitamins to keep my energy levels up.

You can also adjust your training times during the day. Try to train in the cooler hours of the day if you can. I realize this is not the best option since the cooler hours may be too early in the morning for most people. There is something else you can do which I learned training during summer in the Carolinas. Pay more attention to your rest time in between exercises. When it’s really humid in the gym, train one exercise and then find somewhere cool to sit and drink water for about fifteen minutes. Then go back into the gym and train your next exercise. Repeat this process for as many exercises as you have planned for the day’s training. Your training session will end up being longer but the quality of your training will remain optimal throughout.

Lastly, do not spend an hour training one exercise. Warm-up in a cooler spot and then get to work. Even misses in this type of climate take a greater toll on you. When you are training in a really humid environment, allot yourself no more than twenty five minutes training the SN and another twenty five minutes for the CJ. You may feel like you want to train longer but don’t. As you get more acclimated to the climate you can then begin gradually extending your training times.

5.5.15

Top Block

Stacking The Top Block
By Donny Shankle

A cheap but effective way to build your lifting blocks strong is to stack the top block. Stacking means placing the boards you are using side by side. A row of boards lined up this way turns cheap wood into a strong surface to drop even the heaviest of weights on. This is where stacking boards comes in handy. As you keep getting stronger, you are going to need stronger pulling blocks and Jerk blocks. Here is how you put them together.

All of your bottom blocks or frame are built basically the same. The frame is high enough for you to pull or Jerk from and it’s puzzled in with some reinforcing boards drilled in from the sides. How many reinforcing boards you use depends on how long you have made your lifting blocks. The important piece I want to mention is the top block since this is the principal block the weights are returning to. Cut approximately twenty two 2x4’s (or as many as you need to fit along your supporting frame) and two 2x6’s to act as anchors. All of these boards are going to be cut to the width of your frame or for this example twenty inches. Now the time consuming part is drilling a hole large enough for a 3/4in. threaded rod to slide through in the exact same spot on each board so they line up perfectly. The best way to do this is to measure away from the center a quarter of the entire boards length (5in. in this example) and drill a hole on each side. Slide the threaded rod all the way through each board until you have just a little bit extending on each end. Put a washer on each side of the two rods running through and tighten everything with nuts. The 2x6 boards should be positioned towards the ends of each top block. The extra two inches should extend on the bottom side and a 2x2 piece cut from each corner so they slide into your frame perfectly. Drill a one inch board along the top along with a piece of thick rubber to cover everything. This will help to help muffle the sound as you drop your weights. Finish each block off by drilling another small length of board at the ends to act as a safety lip. This will keep your weights from rolling off.

Having your 2x4’s stacked this way makes them very strong. Once you stack your top block you will rarely if ever need to replace your blocks. This stacking method can also be used to make your lifting platforms.

4.5.15

Keep Training

Squatting With a Shoulder Injury
By Donny Shankle

If you happen to have a shoulder injury which keeps you from Snatching and Clean and Jerking, you can still put in good training while you let yourself heal. The squat can be trained without aggravating your shoulder with the aid of a safety squat bar. The way the bar is designed will keep it from rolling off of you and there are handles in front which will help steady you. Since the kind of leg strength you will need to lift at your best is going to take you a long time to develop, it’s important to keep training the squat as often as possible. Of course, if you are still able to squat on a straight bar and it doesn’t bother your shoulder then great. However, if pulling your arms behind the bar or if the way the bar sits on you gives you pain then switch to a safety squat bar. You do not have to pull your arms behind this type of bar. You can either use your good arm to give you control while you squat or even squat hands-free. A hip belt can also be used to squat during the time you are injured. First see if you can use a safety bar comfortably before going to a hip belt because squatting on the safety bar is a variation closer to an actual squat. The back muscles are still involved to keep you upright. I have trained with some weightlifters (myself included) who have had either a shoulder or wrist injury but still put in great training on the squat. So much so that their greatest leg strength gains were developed during this period. When they returned to the lifts, personal records soon followed because of all their hard work on the squat. Champions always see the positives no matter the situation.