Olympic Lifts

Weekly Workout Checklist – Are Your Workouts Complete?

Are you sure you have a well-rounded program? Most people don’t, whether by avoiding legs, back, or bench (just kidding), and they never really think too much about it. Here is a simple checklist to make sure you’re training is varied enough to allow progress.

As you can guess, many exercises can count towards multiple categories. For example, Chin Ups would get marks in vertical pull, double arm pull, core anti-movement, and bodyweight movement (depending on your definition or execution, you could make a case for them to be a loaded hold as well). The point of the checklist isn’t to do an exercise dedicated to each category, but to make sure you’re hitting the body in a variety of ways.

Unless you are on a bodybuilding type split, dedicating workouts to a single muscle or movement, it’s unlikely you would need a full training week to fill each category, in fact, it’s pretty easy to meet all of the requirements in a single workout in only a few lifts. However, if you like upper-lower or chest/tris/shoulders-back/bis-legs/core splits, this can help give you some new goals to shoot for. Make sure you’re working in some single limb exercises for added stabilization. Yes, you will make it easier on the prime movers of an exercise (I’ve never met anyone who could dumbbell bench the same as their barbell bench, but some have been close), but that’s not the goal. By incorporating the stabilizer muscles more, you can improve your strength numbers and reduce the likelihood of an injury.

I include ankle and hip mobility/AIS stretching because I think they are the two joints most in need of increased mobility. These are great to do as intraset rest work/active recovery.

The only downside to a checklist like this is everything is weighted equally. That will be addressed with another post, because it is important to include rep variations, heavy and light days, more pulling than pressing, etc. This chart is just a starting point to make sure you are hitting the core areas properly.

Also, if you missed the last post, I have put together a free ebook of inspirational quotes, available here. Please give it a look and if you like it, share it with anyone else who may enjoy it. Let me know any comments or questions you have. As always, if I can ever help you or your program in any way, please feel free to contact me.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES

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5 Ways to Improve Your Training Results

Sorry for the long hiatus. I have been working on a few other projects and focusing on my reading. I want to be certain that whatever content I put on the site is worth your time and not just…well, crap.

With that said, let’s take a look at a few ways to bust through a plateau or achieve those goals you haven’t quite reached yet.

  1. Do Everything you Don’t Want to do – For most lifters, this means legs. Specifically, squats and deadlifts. Yes, they are hard (if you’re doing them properly) and yes, I know your legs will be sore for a couple days, but there’s a reason they are so difficult – they work! What is more difficult, a circuit of leg curls, leg extensions, , hip adduction/abduction, glute bridges, calf raises, planks, and back extensions, or heavy squats? Better yet, what’s more effective? Don’t kid yourself into thinking because you trained your legs on machines that you did a leg workout. Use the barbell, load it up with plates, pick it up off the floor, and stand up with it on your shoulders. Likewise, most exercises we avoid are ones we should be doing because they are holding us back. Look back on your workouts, whatever area you avoid or do easy, crank up the intensity and bring it up to par. Your body wants to keep some symmetry, so if your stuck in place with one muscle group, growth in the others will be limited.
  2. Time is Your Most Precious Asset – Imagine you only have 20 minutes from when you enter the gym to when you leave, how are you going to spend it? Probably not with ten minutes with a treadmill “warm up” or mixing your workout drink…I hope. Treat your workouts with a sense of urgency, attack the weights with intensity and get your work done. Instead of pretending to warm up on a cardio machine, try a barbell complex or short total body circuit to get everything ready. Then, big weights and big lifts. Remember, intensity is more important than duration in training. Power, strength, and explosion happen fast, not gradually over hours. Think of it this way, who won the 100m dash in the Olympics? What about the 5000m? Exactly.
  3. Don’t Treat Ab Work as a Main Movement – I’m not going to say your abs get all the training they need from other lifts, but abs/core should be treated as auxiliary work. Use core work as active rest between sets of main lifts or as a circuit later in a workout, don’t dedicate five sets strictly to abs and resting from abs. That’s not how you get a six pack.
  4. If you Haven’t Done a Lift in the past Month, do it – This works off number 1, but also serves as a reminder to vary your workouts. You may have found a program that’s great and gives you results, but don’t get complacent – eventually your body will adapt. That doesn’t mean scrap the whole thing every week, just try different grips, stances, or weights/reps/rest schemes. Instead of incline bench, try it with dumbbells, single arm DB bench, or replace deadlifts with sumo or wide grip. Small changes, continuing progress.
  5. If You’re in a rut, try this – Classic 5×5 workout, with some additional tweaks. 5 main exercises, each for 5×5, with the first three sets acting as warm-up/acclimation sets, and the last two as your true working sets. For the rest period during the first three sets, there will be auxiliary work to be done as active rest. Set 1 will be 50% of your working weight (not your 5RM, but the weight you will use in set 4), set 2 is 70%, set 3 is 85%, with the final two as working sets.

So if you’re going to use 200 pounds for your working set in power cleans, set 1 is 100, set 2 – 140, set 3 – 170, set 4 – 200, set 5 – 200+. Simple enough? If it’s easier to round the weights, that’s not a problem (185 is a lot quicker to load onto a bar than 180). Here’s how the workout will look:

  • Hang Clean – 5×5 (Hip Flexor Stretch – 30 seconds after each of the first three sets)
  • Squat – 5×5 (Push Ups – x10-20)
  • Wide Grip Deadlift – 5×5 (DB Rows – x8)
  • Single Arm DB Military Press – 5×5 (Single Leg RDL – x8 with light weight)
  • Pull Ups – 5×5 (Planks – 30-60 seconds)

Other exercises can be substituted, but keep the general outline – Olympic/power movement, squat variation, deadlift variation, press, pull. No machines for main lifts (unless you’re unable to perform heavier than body weight pull ups for five).

Good luck, if you have any questions you can reach me on Twitter, Facebook, email, or on my cell.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES

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50 Ways to Become a Better Athlete

Here are some tips to help you or your players reach the next level of their development.

  1. Lift more – The best athletes are in the best shape. There’s no sport where extra strength is anything but beneficial. Get into the weight room and on a real strength program.
  2. Lift less – The flip side is there can be too much of a good thing. Overtraining can derail your progress and increase the chance of an injury.
  3. Lift heavier weights – At some point, you’ll need to advance to heavier weights and lower reps. 8-12 reps only works for so long, if you want to increase your maximum strength, you’ll need heavy weights and 5 reps or fewer.
  4. Lift lighter weights faster – The limiting factor for power development is rarely the strength aspect, but rather time. It’s important to train your neuromuscular system to recruit the stronger Type II muscle fibers as fast as possible.
  5. Lift your body weight – Learn to move your body in space. Pull ups, push ups, plyometrics, etc. Many stabilizing muscles are better trained in this type of environment, where the body is the source of both movement and resistance.
  6. Get bigger – If you’re on the smaller side, get in the weight room, eat more calories, and bulk up. You’ll need it at the higher levels of competition where the athletes are universally bigger and stronger.
  7. Get smaller – If your body fat is on the higher end for athletes (generally above 15-18%, but it depends on age, gender, and sport). Get some help with your nutrition and work on getting leaner. Please, be sure to do this safely and not by starving yourself or risky diets/supplements.
  8. Learn from people who have done what you want to do – There’s no better resource than someone who has been where you want to go. Learn from their mistakes and try not to repeat them.
  9. Stretch more – Full range of motion goes a long way in preventing injury and staying healthy.
  10. Stretch less – Don’t become obsessed with your flexibility, unless it is imperative to your sport. It’s important to maintain elasticity in your muscles for the stretch-contract cycle.
  11. Focus on mobility – Like #9, range of motion is an important area to focus on. Muscles can be flexible, but joints must be mobile in order to move freely.
  12. Put more time and effort into your warm-up – The days of jogging on the treadmill for 5-10 minutes and doing a light set or two of your first exercise are over. Learn a proper warm-up and implement it.
  13. Focus more – Put away your phone and pay attention to the task at hand. If you’re distracted during a game, you’ll get beat. Train how you play – focused.
  14. Think less – Malcom Gladwell did an excellent job describing the difference between panicking and choking in his book, What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures. We choke when we over-think and question our instincts. Clear your mind and let your body do what you’ve trained it to do.
  15. Listen to your coaches – Yes, there are some that don’t know what their talking about, or don’t have your best interests in mind, but they are a much smaller minority than athletes believe. Your coaches want to help you – let them.
  16. Play other sports – This is especially important for younger athletes (high school and under). The more sports you play, the more your body will develop. Areas not regularly stressed in your sport become addressed with cross-training, and you avoid getting burnt out.
  17. Play your sport more – Of course, the further along you are in your athletic life, the more important it is to get more reps. If you play basketball, get in the gym and put up more shots or jump into pick up games. Continue to develop outside of practice.
  18. Sleep more – Sports, and training, put huge demands on the body and require adequate recovery. This is even more true for student-athletes who go through the strain of school on top of their physical demands. Get to bed early, sleep as many hours as you can before midnight, and let your mind & body recover.
  19. Eat more – As I said above, your body needs proper recovery in order to develop. Starving yourself or not getting enough fuel can quickly lead to overtraining.
  20. Eat less – Remember, eat to fuel, not to feed. Don’t put junk into your body or else you’ll get junk out of it.
  21. Find your motivation – Everyone reaches a point where they have to ask if all this work is worth it. This moment comes at a different time for everybody, but acts as an excellent filter to find the truly dedicated athletes. Find what works for you – quotes, posters, whatever helps you fight through the rough patches to reach success.
  22. Do more sprinting – I have yet to find anything as great at developing athleticism than sprinting. Huge bang for the buck – fat loss, lower body strength, lower body power, increased speed, increased vertical – great all around for athletic development. Very few athletes can’t benefit from getting faster.
  23. Go swimming – Not many training programs schedule in frequent trips to the pool, which makes it a perfect change of pace. No-impact, different stimulus, and different demand on the body.
  24. Fight a grizzly bear – Not literally (hopefully), but try something you think you’ll fail at, but have wanted to try. Worst case scenario, you’re right where you started, but you’ve gained a new experience. Best case scenario, you’ve beaten the grizzly and are ready to take on the next challenge.
  25. Get more reps in your sport (relaxed) – Remember what first started your passion for sports, they’re fun. Spend some time getting back to having fun with it and not worry about mechanics or perfecting every move.
  26. Learn something new – This can be related to your sport or completely separate. It’s important to keep yourself mentally stimulated and not get complacent with what you know.
  27. Build a support structure – Nothing great was ever built on a poor foundation. Friends, family, coaches, and mentors can provide invaluable resources for your development. If you let them know your goals, you’ll be amazed at the support, motivation, and help you’ll receive.
  28. Try to help others improve – I’ve found that one of the best ways to improve is by trying to help others. It’s amazing what you can learn about yourself while viewing someone else.
  29. Watch the best – Take the time to see the best at your sport. Instead of just watching a game on TV, try to study the players. Learn from them and see what you can carry over to your game.
  30. Do more single leg lifts – Most movements in sports are unilateral. Train single leg movements to improve hip and core stability.
  31. Get off the ground – If your sport involves power (hint – they all do), then make sure you’re getting in some good plyometrics. Moderate your total jumps, but be sure to include hops, bounds, and jumps off one and two feet.
  32. Learn to do the Olympic lifts – Compared to the big three lifts (deadlift, squat, bench press), Olympic lifts are the best for power production. The list of benefits are endless and include improved flexibility/mobility, increased power output, and great posterior chain training.
  33. Play above your level – Very important for high school athletes. Sometimes, it’s good to realize you’re place in things. Older, bigger, better players will negate all your strengths and force you into finding other ways to play.
  34. Drink more water – At least a gallon a day. Grab a jug and finish it by dinner.
  35. Take fewer supplements – You don’t need everything GNC sells. Remember, they are supplements and should be supplementing your diet. Eat right and you won’t need to spend hundreds of dollars a month on powders and pills.
  36. Take more supplements – There are a select few I recommend. Get a good  protein supplement (I like Muscle Milk), fish or flaxseed oil, magnesium for before bed, and a good multivitamin. Some extras that are nice, but just luxuries to have, are pure L-Glutamine and some BCAA powder, but there should be enough of both in your protein.
  37. Ask questions – This goes along with several of the above points, try to learn as much as you can. Asking questions of other players, coaches, even players from other sports can provide you new information and insights to improve your game.
  38. Train like you play – Does your sport involve several quick, explosive movements followed by brief rest periods (pretty much all do)? Then why train by running on a treadmill for an hour? Strength, speed, quickness, and power are the key ingredients to an elite athlete, not distance running (unless you’re a distance runner/triathlete).
  39. Get healthy – Go to your athletic trainer or doctor and find a way to get rid of any nagging injuries you have. An injured athlete is an ineffective athlete.
  40. Take some time off – Right after season, step away from the court, field, etc. Give yourself a few weeks to recharge mentally and physically.
  41. Turn off the TV – Years ago, before all of the video games, people were forced to find other means to entertain themselves. Before Madden, people actually played football outside. Crazy idea, but give it a shot.
  42. Do something calming everyday – There’s a lot of stress in this world, be sure to find a calming activity that relaxes you. There’s plenty of time to be stressed, find ten minutes to be calm.
  43. Listen to your body – Not every day will be a great training day. Go off what your body is telling you and take a rest when you need it and push when you can (and you can more than you realize, so keep pushing).
  44. Find a mentor – A good mentor can teach you more than any book, class, or video ever can.
  45. Don’t be afraid to fail – This goes with learning something new. You won’t perfect a skill overnight, but you can get a little better at it each day.
  46. Buy a foam roller – I’ve expressed my love for foam rolling before, but it deserves repeating. Roll out every day and work out any kinks you have. You’re body will feel better after.
  47. Avoid alcohol – Alcohol doesn’t do anything to benefit your body and instead wreaks havoc on your training gains. Decide what’s more important to you, drinking or succeeding in your sport.
  48. Surround yourself with positives – As with stress, there is plenty of negativity in this world, try to surround yourself with as little of it as you can. Positive energy feeds positive results.
  49. Know your limits – You can only do so much. We all have our limits
  50. Try to exceed them – But fear of them can keep you from making gains. Have a gut-check workout. Bust your butt and try to better yourself every day.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments by email, or on Twitter. As always, if I can ever help you or your program, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES

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Training for Power – Part II

Training for Power – Part II
In part one,  I gave a little background information on the Olympic Lifts and expressed my interest in using them. I also mentioned that there are several times where it is contraindicated, ineffective, or just plain dangerous to perform Olympic Lifts. So, what do you do when you can’t (or shouldn’t) use Olympic Lifts to train for power?
1. Plyometrics – There are few ways to train for power that are more simple, yet effective, than plyometric training. Jumps, skips, bounds, and bounds can all be used to increase an athlete’s power production. This is not limited to lower body exercises, pretty much any exercise done with an emphasis on rapid contraction qualifies as a plyometric (by loosely using the definition). I think of it as controlled chaos, with both parts mandatory (control to avoid injuries and chaos to make sure you’re training in an explosive manner).
2. Medicine Balls – These are a great way to train the core for explosive and/or rotational movements. You can train every muscle by utilizing throws, slams, and tosses with a medball. It takes a great amount of core strength to transfer the force generated from your legs to the release point at your hands. I am a big fan of medball training.
3. Kettlebells – Kettlebell swings are an excellent alternative when Olympic Lifts are contraindicated. They allow an athlete to focus on getting full hip extension and firing the posterior chain.
4. Dynamic Lifts – This is a concept made popular by Louie Simmons and the guys at Westside Barbell. The basic idea focuses on speed as the determining factor for volume rather than RMs. For example, let’s say your performing dynamic pull ups and know you can get ten before failing. Perform the lift as fast as possible until your speed drops (usually around halfway to failure, in my experience). So, in this scenario, you would perform 5 dynamic pull ups, exploding upwards each rep as fast as possible, and as soon as you feel your speed slow or you notice a sticking point on rep 6, the set is done. The idea behind this method is to train the neuromuscular connections with the fast-twitch fibers, increasing the rate of recruitment, thus allowing more powerful contractions.
These are just some ways to train for power outside of Olympic Lifting, all of which I use in my programs and find very effective. If you know of other methods, please feel free to share and email me at Drew@HenleySP.com, or on Twitter at Twitter.com/DrewBHenley.

As always, if I can ever be of assistance to you or your program, please feel free to contact me at anytime.

All the best,
Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES

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Training for Power – Part I

This is the first in a series that I’ve wanted to write for a while, and was finally pushed over the edge to do it. I just finished reading an article on CrossFit and was frustrated beyond words as a strength and conditioning coach. Olympic lifts are not meant to be done for dozens of reps!!! They are a POWER exercise, not to mention the incredible amount of technique that is required to perform them properly (and safely). I won’t go into detail on my thoughts towards CrossFit (I’m not entirely against it, just parts), but I want to explain how athletes and coaches should use the Olympic lifts and why.

First off, a little basic information on the Olympic lifts – there are only two, the snatch and clean & jerk. Both start with the weight on the ground and end directly overhead, arms and legs locked out, and have several criteria to meet to be considered a completed lift (most of which I won’t discuss here because they only matter in competition). There are several supplemental lifts, which for training purposes can be grouped together so long as they are used in the proper manner, such as hang cleans, power cleans, push press, jerks, etc. These can all be used to increase power and force production, IF they are used properly. Dozens of reps in a fatigued state is (surprise!) not a productive use of these exercises.

So, how are the Olympic lifts and their derivatives best used to maximize power development? Low volume, high velocity, and a variety of loads. The main consideration for improving power and force production is time, specifically using as little of it as possible to complete a rep. Time is precious commodity in sports, where a fraction of a second can be the difference between an effective jam at the line of scrimmage and a DB getting burned for a long touchdown. As important as strength is, the ability to utilize that strength quickly is far more important to an athlete’s performance.

John Garhammer, PhD, who has conducted some of the best research in the world on the Olympic lifts, provided some amazing statistics regarding power development. Garhammer’s research shows the absolute power of the 2nd pull of Olympic lifts (when the athlete begins an explosive acceleration of the weight) is approximately 5 times as much as power developed during back squat or deadlift, and over 18 times as much as a 1RM bench press!

That’s great, but why is it bad for CrossFit type gyms to use these lifts? I mean, if less is more, just think how much more MORE is! The answer is, of course, too much. There’s a reason you don’t see drag cars going thru residential areas, that much power can only be safely utilized in short bursts. The Olympic lifts are very technical and require a lot of practice to be able to safely utilize, especially when moving heavier weights. As I said before, trying to navigate these technical lifts during a fatigued state is not only difficult, but very dangerous. Use these lifts properly, and you have an excellent tool for your athletes. If used recklessly, you’re risking your athletes’ progress and safety.

With that said, the Olympic lifts are not for everybody or every sport. In part 2, I’ll show some other methods of developing power when Olympic lifting is contraindicated. Let me know any questions, comments, or requests you have. As always, if I can ever be of assistance to you or your program, please feel free to contact me at anytime.

All the best,
Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES

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