the joy of strength training

Gubernatrix

January 9th, 2014 at 10:11 am

How to power clean

The power clean is one of the best movements you can do for power, strength and explosiveness. It’s a bit of a challenge to learn – but it’s no fun if everything comes easy, right?

The difference between a power clean and a clean is that in the power clean the bar is caught with the hips above parallel – in other words, in a high squat position rather than a low squat position.

Some people, including trainers, shy away from teaching movements like the power clean as they think they take too long to learn, but if you’ve got a clear, systematic teaching method, it’s possible to learn the movement much quicker than you think. In fact, in this video I cover it all in less than 5 minutes!

I have a number of different drills that I use when teaching the olympic lifts but the ones in this video, which I have adapted from those of US Weightlifting coach Glenn Pendlay, are the quickest way that I know to get someone power cleaning correctly, i.e. like a weightlifter would.

Three tips for the power clean

I made this video a couple of years ago while working at Ultimate Performance. The English Lit grad in me would like you to know that I am not responsible for the captions!

Anyway, in the video I tackle some common issues and errors that I see when people are first trying to learn the power clean, including:

  • Land in a quarter squat position – most people land too high, i.e. their legs aren’t bent enough
  • Drive elbows through fast and high – this is the key to a secure receiving position. I also suggest a stretch if you have flexibility problems getting into this position
  • Drive hips into the bar – most people try to go under the bar too early. You need to extend up tall (make yourself as tall as possible) before squatting down.

Using the power clean in training

The power clean is a power exercise which means it uses explosive strength – producing the greatest amount of force in the shortest amount of time. (Confusingly, the ‘power’ in the name doesn’t refer to the type of strength but to the receiving position. A full clean would in fact generate more power.)

It is utilised by athletes who requires explosive qualities, from sprinters and throwers to MMA fighters.

Power exercises are usually done first in a strength programme since they require the most amount of force production and train the biggest, strongest muscle fibres – which are also the fastest to fatigue.

Power exercises are usually done in the 1-5 rep range for the same  reason; fatigue sets in quickly and there is a big drop off in force production.

It is possible to perform high reps in the power clean – this is often done in Crossfit – but the athlete needs to be conditioned to do this, with good form and no drop off in power. Often what happens is that after the first few reps, technique breaks down considerably and the athlete is no longer getting the power/technical benefit from the exercise, although they are probably getting a big cardiovascular hit!

For those new to the power clean, I would stick them in at the start of your routine at least twice a week, use the drills in my video as a warm up and then do 5-6 sets of 3-5 reps.

If you are using power cleans for fitness and/or you need the practise, go for the higher end of the rep range. If you want the explosive power, stick with 3 reps or fewer.

Barbell complexes for conditioning

Power cleans open the door to barbell complexes as they allow you to get the bar from floor to shoulders, providing a smooth transition between, say, a deadlift and a push press. Barbell complexes are awesome for conditioning (fitness) and you can also get stronger with complexes. A commonly-used combination is:

  • Deadlift/romanian deadlift
  • Power clean
  • Front squat
  • Push press
  • Back squat

Perform anything from 3-8 reps of each exercise, transitioning with no rest between each exercise. Complete 5 or more rounds (with or without rest in between) and you will be in pieces (in a good way)!

September 6th, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Weight training and olympic lifting courses for beginners in London

I run regular weight training and olympic lifting courses through my company Strength Ambassadors. I have a number of courses coming up in the remainder of 2013 in central London, UK. If you want to improve your strength or even start from scratch, there could be a course for you! Read on to find out what’s available.

Olympic lifting for beginners in London

1. Olympic lifting for beginners

The perfect environment to try the snatch and the clean & jerk for the first time, or improve your existing technique.

I believe my course is unique due to my background: I’m a competitive weightlifter by hobby (I won a bronze in the British championships this year), and I’m also a personal trainer working with ordinary people. I’m used to dealing with a range of abilities, from those with mobility restrictions, people who don’t have much gym experience, to weekend warriors and serious amateur athletes.

If you’re struggling with an aspect of technique, you won’t be left alone in a corner to get along as best you can; you’ll be coached through the process.

On the other hand, if you’re a strong, mobile athlete you won’t be expected to lift PVC pipe for 2 hours (actually no-one lifts PVC pipe in my classes). Weightlifting is a strength sport, after all!

Male or female, experienced gym rat or newbie, you’ll be well catered for. You’d be surprised at how humbling the olympic lifts can be, even if you think you’re strong. That’s part of the fun and fascination of weightlifting!

Why not watch the video and see for yourself?

My next course starts 20th September. Olympic lifting course details

Article: Why Crossfitters benefit from learning the olympic lifts from an olympic weightlifter

2. Ladies Who Lift

A women-friendly way to learn how to train with free weights, confidently and correctly!

This is my flagship course, which has been running now for several years. It covers everything women need to know to train with weights in the gym.

Ladies Who Lift beginners weight training course in London

Where relevant, I teach women-specific aspects of weight training because, although broadly women can and should train in a similar way to men, we usually have different goals and different qualities/aesthetics that we want to develop – hence there are subtle differences in training methods.

But the big advantage of this course is that I teach weight training from a woman’s point of view; I don’t assume any knowledge at the get-go and I understand your fears, needs and motivation as I’ve been there myself.

I get a huge variety of women on this course, all wanting much the same thing! Don’t believe me? Check out the video!

The next course starts in November 2013. Ladies Who Lift course details.

Article: Women, please stop underestimating yourselves (guest post by male trainer and author Josh Hanagarne)

If you have any questions about my courses, please ask me below!

July 11th, 2013 at 10:25 pm

Mental Meat Heads

I was recently interviewed by Dave Hall for his Mental Meat Heads weekly video interview series. Dave was introduced to me by our mutual friend Chip Conrad, who thought we would get along – and he was spot on!

Chip Conrad and Dave Hall, Mental Meat Heads

Dave Hall (with the very cool sideburns) alongside Chip Conrad

Since the interview, I’ve watched a few of the other interviews and really enjoyed them.

What is different about Mental Meat Heads is that the people Dave interviews are not trying to be controversial or the next ‘internet guru’. They are all positive people who want to live well and help others, primarily through strength.

But it’s not always been that way for them, and the interviewees have interesting back stories – something that Dave is very keen to draw out.

It’s fascinating to hear how people have overcome adversity or even just taken very different and random paths to get to where they are now.

As someone interviewed, you don’t realise how inspiring your own story can be to others until you tell it to someone who is genuinely interested.

I say ‘interview’ but these are more like conversations. Dave is a fascinated listener, not someone reeling off questions. This results in his guests really opening up and talking comfortably, not just saying what they think people want to hear.

Refreshingly, there’s no ranting, no negativity. There is all too much of this on the internet as it’s easy to get attention if you post a rant.

Mental Meat Heads is a breath of fresh air, and if you are tired of internet ranting and just want to hear some interesting and inspiring people have a positive chat about life and lifting, Mental Meat Heads is the place to go.

July 5th, 2013 at 2:46 pm

If Gandhi can…

Kate TaylorFolks, please welcome guest blogger Kate Taylor.

Kate is a personal trainer who is currently working with me as her career mentor. She aims to chart her progress and hone her writing skills along the way.

Enjoy her first post and leave your comments and feedback below.

Becoming a protégé

Have you ever wondered how the likes of Richard Branson and Yves St Laurent, Bradley Wiggins to Marco Pierre White got their big break? How have they come to be admired and recognised in their field when others are left in their wake?

Of course we all have; but perhaps what made the difference is that they went out and got it, straight from the horse’s mouth.

Greats in their game such as the aforementioned all have one common bond. They all had mentors.

Dadabhai Naoroji, mentor to Gandhi

Dadabhai Naoroji, mentor to Gandhi

There are few people who have had a more profound effect on the world than Mahatma Gandhi, acting as a significant motivation to Dr Martin Luther King, Jr as well as Nelson Mandela.  More notable is that Gandhi himself had a mentor: Dadabhai, an Indian leader.

Freddie Laker, mentor to Sir Richard Branson, advised him, “Make a fool of yourself. Otherwise you won’t survive’”. Branson went to the older and more experienced businessman for guidance.

It can take years to work your way up to the top. Learning, researching, networking, getting some things right and getting even more things wrong.

At large all experience is good, but why not go directly to ‘who’ you want to be in five or even ten years’ time and ask them to teach you how they got there?

Hence my reason for contacting Sally Moss. Out of what seemed nowhere, Sally was a recognised name in the female strength and performance circles – and not once have we seen her photographed with her top off!

I hope to realise my strengths and remove limitations, to hear how Sally has ascended through the ranks and who has inspired and influenced her own success.

Kate Taylor

June 25th, 2013 at 10:35 pm

If… (the weightlifter’s version)

There can’t be many people who haven’t heard the Rudyard Kipling poem that begins, “If you can keep your head when all about you/Are losing theirs and blaming it on you”

Reading it again this evening, I was inspired to write a weightlifter’s version. So here goes:

If…

(The weightlifter’s version)

If you can be aggressive when you don’t feel like it,

Give energy and focus when you are tired and sore,

Pay attention to the process not just the numbers,

Keep your chin up when everyone else is lifting more;

 

If you learn to be comfortable with failure,

And see each missed lift as a forward step;

Accept that mastery takes a lifetime,

And there’s no such thing as the perfect rep;

 

If you can walk out on that platform,

And know that you gave your very best;

Accept that this is your choice of battle,

And it’s your mind and body put to the test;

 

If you’ve decided strength is worth the striving,

And you accept the challenge, come what may -

Yours is the bar and everything that’s on it,

And you’ll be a weightlifter today!

Dmitry Klokov

April 28th, 2013 at 7:54 pm

Improve your weight lifting

Gubernatric performing barbell back squat in rackI am often asked, ‘how do I improve X?’ where X is a movement or a desired quality in weight lifting, like squat depth, snatch technique or pressing strength.

Sometimes people are hoping I will reveal a secret ‘trick’ to improve their weight lifting that will solve the problem quickly and simply.

But all too often the answer is simply: do X more often. And be patient.

Let’s say you want to improve your squat depth. How often do you squat? Once a week? And you expect to improve by doing something for 30 minutes once every seven days?!

How about doing some kind of squat exercise every day? For six months?

Last year I desperately wanted to improve my jerk. I was trying different exercises but nothing was working particularly well.

So I ramped up the reps, doing 136 jerk variations a week. Finally, my jerk improved. It’s hard to do something 136 times a week and not get a bit better at it!

Very often, more is the answer. it’s not trendy in coaching circles to say this, as everyone wants to emphasis technical proficiency.

But in my experience we’ve gone too far in the direction of the ‘quest for perfect form’ and not far enough in the direction of ‘repeat 10,000 times’.

Note that I didn’t say I did 136 jerks, I did 136 jerk variations. You can do your ‘more’ in a structured way.

So here is my nuanced list of tactics to bring up a weakness:

1. Attack the problem from a few different angles. Use different tools. Even if what you want to improve is a specific movement, you can still change certain variables – from stance or grip width to number of reps or load. For example, to improve your pull up strength, try heavy bent over rows, weighted pull ups and wide grip pull ups.

2. Work on the weakness first in your workout. If you want to improve your squat, squat first. Give it your full energy and attention.

Kettlebell windmill3. No need to put the world on hold while you sort out your problem. Incorporate ‘weakness’ work into every session but don’t let it dominate. It’s easy to get frustrated and blow it out of proportion.

4. Do the movement more often. If you have a poor press, do more pressing. Press every workout if need be. Doesn’t have to be heavy every time. (I owe this advice to Dan John.)

5. Don’t get discouraged after 1 or 2 sessions. Be patient, give it time. Aim for 4-6 weeks to see noticeable improvement and up to months or years to achieve your goal in full. Does ‘years’ sound like a long time? How long have you been training? How long to you intend to keep on training? A few years ain’t nothing.

6. Check your technique – there may be a more efficient way of doing the movement. Be prepared for this to feel difficult or weak at first, until you adapt to the new method. Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards.

7. Focus on one weakness at a time. If you try to solve too many issues at once, you won’t be able to give enough time and attention to each.

8. Sometimes there is a psychological issue. Look inside yourself and be honest – is this physical or mental, or a bit of both?

9. Don’t give up! Never stop believing that you can improve.

When is ‘more’ not better?

Avoid doing exactly the same thing day in, day out. Work on the problem but try not to do exactly the same movement two days running as you may suffer from overuse or repetitive strain.

One suggestion is to tackle one problem per training cycle (e.g. 4 weeks) and pick 3-4 variations. Do each variation once per week.

The long term view

How long did it take me to get a really good rock bottom squat? About six years. And people want to achieve the same thing in six weeks!

I don’t blame them – ‘faster’ is what the fitness industry sells. But that’s not how your body works.

People don’t want to know about ‘six years’, they want to know about ’six weeks’.

Here is the truth about six weeks: you can make improvements in six weeks, for sure, especially if you employ the tactics I have listed above. But that’s not the same thing as turning a weakness into a strength – or at least no longer a weakness. That’s a long term game.

But the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be there!

April 21st, 2013 at 9:52 pm

Women are the experts on women’s health and lifestyle

Yesterday I attended a women’s health and lifestyle conference organised by wetrainmoms.com. All the presenters I saw were women, speaking on a variety of topics, from nutrition to hormones to fitness marketing.

It was inspiring to hear so much great information, practical advice and real life experiences from women in the health and fitness business. People like Jenny Burrell, Wendy Powell, Vicky Warr, Lucy Johnson, Dr Anu Arasu and Stephanie Ridley.

This industry is male-dominated and I work in a particularly male-dominated corner of it at the moment. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that men have all the answers because they are more confident in putting out information, but oftentimes, women are the experts on women.

Men can be very knowledgable too, but women know what it’s like to be a woman and understand how women like to be informed and motivated.

I look forward to seeing more female experts on the platform.

 

March 24th, 2013 at 6:38 pm

Why Crossfitters benefit from learning the Olympic lifts from an Olympic Weightlifter

Samantha Briggs lifting big weights above her head at the 2012 Crossfit Games

Crossfit has done a lot of good for the sport of Olympic Weightlifting. Awareness of and participation in the sport has rocketed.

As an Olympic lifter and instructor I say ‘thanks Crossfit!’

I know that the demands of Crossfit are different from the demands of competitive weightlifting.

But Crossfitters can really benefit from learning the Olympic lifter’s way of weightlifting, and the best Crossfitters that I know have done just this.

Maximal olympic lifting is becoming more important in Crossfit

Samantha Briggs (pictured above) is a fan of olympic lifting as a sport. She is a force to be reckoned with on the UK weightlifting scene, being 2013 English Champion at 58kg – as well as being one of the world’s top Crossfitters.

It has become common in recent times for Crossfit competitions to include 1 rep max snatch and clean events, not just multiple rep workouts with light weights. All competitive Crossfitters therefore now need to be good at both!

We’ve all seen the video clips and heard the stories of terrible technique in some Crossfit gyms. I know that this isn’t representative of the community as a whole, but who wants to be a laughing stock or give the haters more ammunition?

I’m not gonna lie, I have an agenda here. I have an Olympic lifting beginners course that I am trying to promote.

But as well as myself, there is a growing number of decent Olympic lifting instructors in the UK with a competitive background in the sport, not just those who have done a two-day certification and never stepped on a competitive platform in their life.

If Crossfitters are embracing the challenge of Olympic lifting, they might as well benefit from the available expertise.

And if you have competitive ambitions, it helps to be coached by someone who understands the pressure and the unique demands of lifting in a competition.

So how can we help?

The common issues I see among Crossfitters performing the Olympic lifts are:

  • Finding it difficult to go under the bar – always power snatching or power cleaning
  • Technique limitations which mean they can perform multiple reps with light weights but have trouble pushing up 1 rep maxes
  • Good levels of fitness but strength is lagging behind (this is very common in women, in my experience)
  • Inexperience performing maximal lifts and the mental approach required
  • Insufficient understanding of the double knee-bend mechanism, resulting in poor technique and a limit as to how much weight can be lifted.

Man snatching at the Crossfit Games watched by an officialLearning from a dedicated Olympic lifting instructor can address all of these issues because they are related to technique and mental aspects specific to the sport of Olympic lifting.

Crossfitters can also benefit from the approach that Olympic lifters take to lifting, especially to heavy attempts. If you have been brought up on the AMRAP principle then approaching heavy single attempts can be intimidating or simply tricky; why can’t I just rip it up?

As competitive Crossfitters you want to be building an arsenal of skills and approaches, since this is demanded at all levels of the sport. The best Crossfitters can bring to bear the focus and mental routine needed to execute a heavy single attempt, as well as throwing themselves into a long endurance WOD with all-out effort.

All athletes need to work on their weaknesses, and a period with an olympic lifting coach can be an important part of your yearly preparation. With so many skills required for Crossfit, it can be difficult to fit the necessary practise into a typical Crossfit class.

There are a growing number of Crossfit coaches who are good Olympic lifting instructors themselves. They have participated in the sport for a number of years and understand it. But not every box has access to this expertise, so you may need to look elsewhere.

Your local weightlifting club (see britishweightlifting.org) is a great place to start, or you can take a course like mine, which is aimed at beginners and improvers. You can also hire one of the handful of elite British weightlifters such as Giles Greenwood to run a workshop.

So find a good Olympic lifting instructor and watch your Olympic lifts fly up!

Do you agree? Have you benefitted from a weightlifter’s approach? How important is this to you as a Crossfitter?

Olympic Lifting for Beginners course

Ladies Who Lift weight training course

February 24th, 2013 at 6:15 pm

Four weight training concepts every beginner should understand

Learning the key concepts in weight training on the Ladies Who Lift course

I’ve spent years training myself and other people, in groups and one-to-one. The majority of the time I am coaching people who are new to weight training or have very patchy experience of training.

I have therefore evolved my top four concepts that everyone should get their head around when getting into weight training. These are the concepts that I communicate in my beginners’ weight training courses, like Ladies Who Lift.

1. Progressive resistance

The body is incredibly good at adapting to exercise. This means that when you do something challenging, the body is initially forced to change in response to the stress - like getting stronger or dropping fat.

However, the body quickly adapts to this challenge and stops changing. This is why so many people find it hard to get results in the gym. They’ve adapted quickly to the initial training but don’t know how to progress it.

Progressive resistance is finding ways continually to increase the challenge of the exercise. This can be done in various fashions: you can add weight; you can add volume (sets and reps); you can slow the tempo of the movement; you can change the mechanics of the movement to make it more difficult or increase range of motion; and so on.

If people go away with only one concept from my courses, I hope it’s this one, as I believe this is the one that will make the biggest difference to achieving your goals.

2. Movements not muscles

Because of the influence of bodybuilding on general gym-going, people tend to think in terms of muscle groups, such as chest, arms, back. Naturally most people have ‘problem areas’ that they would like to tackle. For example, many women want to know what exercises they can do for their upper arms.

I believe that unless you are specifically bodybuilding, you will have more success thinking about fundamental movements such as push, pull, squat and hip hinge, rather than muscle groups or individual muscles.

This is because in the big, free weight movements such as squat, pull up, deadlift and so on, the whole body is working hard in the movement; in a squat, the legs are the prime movers but the whole trunk is actively engaged, particularly the lats and abdominal muscles, so calling it a ‘leg’ exercise – or even a ‘quad’ exercise is not doing the movement justice!

When planning a training programme where the goal is strength, performance or fat loss, it is good practise to think about the correct balance of movements.

3. Tempo

Changing the tempo (timing) of a rep has a significant impact. Slowing a rep down or including pauses in the rep can really increase the intensity of the rep, making you work much harder even with a lower weight than you normally use.

I like utilising tempo for beginners because most people have a tendency to rush their reps; having a tempo to keep to means that the rep is performed in a controlled manner and allows time to focus on technique. It also keeps you ‘honest’, i.e. stops you from rushing the last few reps in a hard set!

Overall, quality of training is vastly increased when attention is paid to tempo, and this will yield benefits beyond simply banging out the reps until you are done.

4. High intensity weight training

How many times have you heard (or even thought) that weight training is boring and it doesn’t feel like you are ‘really working’? How many people do you know who gravitate to running or aerobics because they think that this is the best way to raise heartrate and burn fat?

A key message I get across in Ladies Who Lift is that weight training can raise your heart rate through the roof and make you collapse on the floor in a sweaty mess - if you are doing it right!

There are many ways to achieve greater intensity with weights, including manipulating rest periods and tempo, moving with weight (carries, sled pulls), the right exercise selection and so on.

How do I know it’s working?

Getting into weight training

Weight training is, in my opinion, the best way to get stronger and leaner – increasing fitness and confidence as a side benefit.

It is my mission to help people understand what real weight training is like. It doesn’t have to be boring, it isn’t unproductive and it is for the many not just the few!

So apply these four concepts to your weight training and see your results go through the roof!

September 16th, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Dieting at work

Gluten free cupcakesI often talk to clients and friends about the difficulties of maintaining a good diet in the workplace.

Is it acceptable to break open the tupperware box and start eating chicken during a board meeting?

Can you have a protein shake when everyone else is having coffee and cake?

Can you refuse to go to the team lunch because they are eating forbidden foods?

I know of people who pretend to have allergies or illnesses that prevent them eating certain foods, so that they have a socially acceptable excuse to give to colleagues.

Others just end up hardly eating at work at all, to avoid awkward situations and hostile comments.

One friend of mine found it so difficult to eat properly at work that he decided not to do it. He had a large breakfast at home in the morning and a large dinner at home in the evening, eating the majority of his daily calories at these times. Therefore during the day he could get away with minimal food intake.

This is a possible solution for someone trying to lose fat (it’s a version of intermittent fasting), although not so good for those wanting to put on muscle. However, it is a pity that it comes to this at all.

I empathise with all of these problems as, before I was a personal trainer, I worked in a variety of corporate environments and went through it all myself.

There’s no single answer, everyone needs to find their own solution.

The first thing is to make sure that this situation does not put you off. Understand that you are not alone; practically everyone who tries to clean up their diet has ‘challenging’ encounters in the workplace!

If your colleagues have a problem with what you are eating, that is their problem not yours. It is a pity that they take it out on you, but often the truth is that you are succeeding where they are not, and they resent it.

Try not to take umbrage or make the situation worse, since you’ve got to work with these people. Reassure yourself with the fact that you are pursuing your goals and seeing results.

At first people will ask why you’re doing it, but eventually after the hard work pays off, they will ask how you did it!

Preparation is key

Take your own food in to work so that you have complete control over what you eat. Take in your snacks and your lunch, and store some spares at work if you can, so you are never without a healthy option.

Have a back up

Scout out places where you can buy something in line with your diet for the days when you just haven’t had a chance to prepare your food. If you are going low carb, supermarkets are a good option: you can generally get cooked meat and salad.

Be inventive

Set an example by bringing in healthier options (yoghurt, fruit) as well as the obligatory cake for birthdays etc. If you like cooking, experiment with low sugar/gluten free cooking. You’ll find good stuff if you search for ‘paleo recipes’ online.

You don’t even have to tell people they are ‘paleo’ cakes, just bring them in and see what the reaction is!

Get an expert to help

Why not invite a nutrition expert in to give a talk? People will often accept what an outside expert says more easily than their peers. We have plenty of experts at http://upfitness.co.uk.

If all else fails…

If real food is too awkward to consume, make use of shakes – you can get an entire meal in a homemade shake, just make sure you have enough protein, carbohydrate and fat.

What cunning methods have you found to eat well at work? Have you been in any awkward situations and how did you deal with them? Do share your experiences in the comments!

Image courtesy of http://glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.co.uk