How often have you spent way too long adjusting your foot as you step under the squat bar or up to the deadlift bar? Do you shift your shoulders endlessly on the bench because it doesn’t feel ‘just right’?
It seems like ‘just right’ gets tougher as the weight gets heavier and your setup starts to become long and inefficient.
‘Just Right’ is a myth. Nothing good happens when you take too long to setup. You start to overthink the lift. Your amped up CNS starts to cool. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Make your setup an efficient rhythm, what my Air Force TI would have called ‘by the numbers’ in drill. Who cares if it’s just right, right is good enough. Put your hands and feet where they are supposed to be with a mechanical rhythm, the same way every time, and lift the damn weight.
Remember that lifting for power means being efficient, and spending the minimum time under tension!
I coach the deadlift ‘by the numbers’ – every part of the movement has a distinct action and sequence.
The first action (can you hear your drill instructor on the first day of basic training screaming ‘<censored> ONE’?) is tightening the back and pulling the slack out of the bar. Katja demonstrates this clearly here in her pulls. As she starts her setup, you can see her entire back tighten up and flatten out.
She does this by pulling her shoulder blades downward powerfully. This does a couple things:
– It tightens the back, creating a rigid lever; this helps to transfer power from the legs directly to the bar
– It reduces spinal flexion, stabilizing the spine and reducing the risk of injuring the back
– It sets the shoulders in place, so once the lifter stands up the lift is done – there is no need to lean back or attempt to pull the shoulders back at the end
– It creates tension between the lifter and the bar, which builds a better muscle contraction at the start of the lift
Maintain this tightness and upward tension on the bar as your drill instructor screams ‘<censored> TWO’!
A strong, tight back translates to strong pulls!
I originally discovered just how important the rebound is in the squat when doing high rep sets. At that point where your muscles are shot, your heart and lungs are shot, I found that the momentum created by the rebound was the only reason I was completing reps.
Most times you take the rebound created by the stretch reflex for granted. You don’t feel it working until EVERYTHING ELSE is shot.
If you watch to the last rep in this video, you can see how I generate a lot of speed out of the hole before the bands cinch up and try to kill me. A great deal of that momentum is created by the rebound, I kick in the ‘voluntary muscles’ to really accelerate and drive through the sticking point once the bar already has a head of steam behind it.
How, exactly, do I maximize this rebound? In my last post on the topic, Stretch Reflex in the Squat, I discussed the technique aspects to stay in position and prevent that energy from leaking. The other key is hitting the bottom with a bit of velocity, creating a strong stretch reflex, like bouncing a basketball off the floor.
One thing to keep in mind, if you’re a newer lifter, or hyper mobile, you may not be able to use this technique effectively until you effectively built a mass of muscle to rebound off…
First, a quick primer on the stretch reflex. The stretch reflex is an involuntary reaction of a muscle, once stretched, to automatically try and contract. You can use this reflex to strengthen your lifts.
In the squat it creates a rebound off the bottom of the squat, helps you change direction to get upward momentum started.
Since it is an involuntary action of the muscle, it’s not necessarily something you can force to happen. There are, however, things you can do to maximize its affect:
1. Keep your upper body rigid. A rigid upper body transfers the power of this rebound directly to the bar, driving it upward. A soft torso absorbs some of this energy reducing its impact on your lift. I break upper body tightness down into two components – a) Thoracic tightness is created when you tighten your upper back by squeezing your shoulder blades down, hard b) Lumbar tightness is created by strong bracing and a strong core (with or without a belt).
2. Maintain your body position at the bottom of the squat. The most common error I see here is allowing the hips and knees to shift forward at the rebound point; this shift allows the hamstrings too loosen up, and reduces the rebound effect. A cue I like to use is to spread the floor before you start each rep, and to push out throughout each rep; drive your knees out so they don’t shift forward
3. Maintain your back angle at the bottom of the squat – don’t allow your hips to shift up or back ahead of the bar. Allowing this uses up your rebound without driving the bar upward.
4. Finally, maintain a good bar path. Make sure you keep the bar moving straight down and back up directly over the center of your feet.
In case it hasn’t become obvious, the best way to create maximum rebound leveraging the stretch reflex…is to use good squat technique.
As a ref I joke a bit about giving red lights, but in all honesty I don’t like giving red lights. I’m not, however, going to give away lifts and penalize lifters who come to a meet properly prepared.
In a recent meet I gave out far too many red lights for squat depth and missed commands. Most of these were unnecessary if lifters had taken a couple simple steps to make sure they were platform ready.
All squats you perform in training need to be at legal competition depth. If you think they are close or second guess yourself, you’re squatting too high. In a perfect world you’d have a qualified ref from your federation watching your lifts in training and giving you real time feedback. Having an experienced powerlifter watch your lifts is a good option as well. If this is not possible, video your sets and watch them after each set.
Although your first meet can be nerve wracking, if you train for competition lifts you set yourself up to succeed. For every set and every rep, there should be a distinct stop after your set up before executing the first rep, and a distinct stop after each rep and before re-racking the weight. If you come to a complete stop at these points you’ll have cleaner training sets and you will never miss a command.
Note: for sets above 5 reps I recommend just motoring through the set but use the controlled stop before the first rep and after the last rep before racking.
In your final weeks of training as you are peaking, you should be performing all singles to competition form with commands.
Let’s give my red light thumb a break!!!
Since I was in Mexico a few weeks ago…
The pyramid at Chichen Itza was built somewhere around 1,500 years ago and still stands in remarkably good condition today.
I consider strength training and building a strong body that is going to last similar to building a pyramid. Start by building a broad, solid foundation of strength and technique before adding layers of blocks on top. As your strength levels soar, take care to expand your foundation so it can support the ever higher levels of strength!
The strength game is measured in months and years, decades if you’re successful, not workouts, days, or weeks.
“Deadlift suits don’t help that much do they?”
They can if you know how to use them…
In my opinion, they help lifters with a low hip starting point more than a high hip starting point (which is kind of a function of femur length) and conventional deadlifters more than sumo deadlifters due to the greater amount of hip extension..
The deadlift suit works to extend the hips. At the start of the lift, maintaining the back angle as the suit helps extend your hips you create a nice pop off the floor. Letting your hips rise ahead of the bar will reduce the effectiveness of the suit.
Regardless the hip starting position, as with all equipped lifting, the key is to maintain the lifting pattern. By doing this the gear forces the bar up as it extends the hips.