Archive for December, 2012

Quick Tip: Goal Setting

Posted: December 31, 2012 in General
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Hope you all had a great holiday season! I’m back from my break and my deload week, and looking forward to getting back on my regular routine.

Let’s face it, with this being the last day before the new year, I’m sure you have at least considered some fitness goals for 2013. Whether you are a serious athlete or looking to get started, you no doubt have something you’d like to accomplish by this time next year. Make sure you differentiate between results-based goals and behavioural goals. Results based goals are not a bad thing, but realize that you cannot always control them. I’d love to be able to snatch 200# and earn my BJJ blue belt by 2014, but no matter how much hard work I put in, there are no guarantees that I will meet these goals. While it is great to aim high, if you are constantly setting unattainable goals for yourself, you may get discouraged.

Set results-based goals, but also set behavioural goals. Instead of saying “I’m going to achieve this result”, say “I’m going to repeat this behaviour”. Maybe your behavioural goal is to start snatching once a week. Maybe your goal is to eliminate grains 5/7 days per week. Results-based goals are not always in your control, but barring outside factors such as injury, behavioural goals are. Best course of action in my opinion: set a realistic results-based goal, and then plan out the behavioural goals which will get you there. #allgo

Site News

Posted: December 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

Hi Everyone.

I will be spending the next week traveling to spend time with friends and family, so I will not be posting again until 2013! Whatever spare time I have will be devoted to my own workouts. I wanted to wish you all a Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays. Don’t forget to stay active, drink water, and get vegetables in over the holidays. This was my conditioning workout today. A short one, but it definitely did the job. #allgo

Complex – 5 rounds, rest approx 1:30 between rounds (barbell should be approx 30-40% of your back squat 1RM)

5 overhead squats

5 thrusters

5 bent over rows

5 back squats

10 burpees

10 kettlebell swings

Finished off with some upper back remedial work and a few rounds of shadow boxing.


As many of you know, it can be difficult to keep up with your regular workouts over the holidays. Gyms are closed, there are additional social events, traveling, etc. Before you get into the thick of things with Christmas and New Years, set out a specific plan for yourself about which days you are going to get your workouts in. In addition, program some workouts for yourself that require minimum equipment and can be done in a variety of locations. Find a hill around your house, throw some weight plates in a backpack, and do some sprints. See how fast you can complete a couple hundred burpees. We all need some R and R here and there, but don’t use the holidays as an excuse to slack completely! #allgo


Okay, let me start off by saying I’m not a huge bench press fan. In fact, after doing Eric Cressey’s ‘maximum strength’ program and and developing a ‘close grip’ bench press 1RM of 280, I stopped benching for about 6 months and concentrated on heavy overhead pressing and push ups. I am not keen on the bench for a few reasons. I am not sure bench pressing is super functional when it comes to most sports. It can also cause shoulder injuries and reduce overhead mobility. On the other hand, it is a heavy upper body compound that will help increase your strength, and potentially your power depending on how you do it.

Before I get into the meat and potatoes of this post, I want to ask you a question. Why do you bench? Your response is likely ‘to get stronger’. When you say stronger, are you referring to you the amount you put on the bar and lift in the gym, or the pushing strength which translates into your sport? The reason I ask is that there are very different ways which I would recommend benching based on what you answered.

Powerlifters don’t really care about functional strength. What I mean by this is, powerlifters are only concerned with the amount of weight on the bar. Whether or not the strength they develop in the gym translates into other sports is not their primary concern. As a result, powerlifters generally use a wide grip on the barbell which both reduces the range of motion and recruits more of the pecs.

For those of you in Canada, or other places with snow, pay attention to how you push a car next time you are helping push a vehicle out of the snow. When you set up to push, are your elbows and hands wide like a standard bench press? Probably not. Chances are your hands are about shoulder width apart, and your humerus (pictured below) is only slightly abducted from your torso.


For those of you who have ever done boxing, what do they tell you about your elbows? Keep them tight! Physically, human beings are designed for upper body pushing in this way – with your hands about shoulder width, and your elbows tucked in. Naturally, this is how you should bench. Yes, starting off your numbers will be a bit lower. BUT, you will be avoiding shoulder injury be reducing impingement and likely increasing your range of motion, as well as increasing your functional strength. Some of you might be thinking “I heard close grip bench is more for triceps than chest”. My question is, what does it matter? You are not a bodybuilder. You are not trying to hit a certain muscle. You are trying to increase your strength in a functional movement pattern. Fact is, benching with a closer grip and having your elbows in relatively tight to your torso will improve your pushing strength in sports situations a lot more than the powerlifting style of benching will, even if your numbers in the gym are a bit lower.

So, where should you grip? There is no exact right answer. Use the knurling (the rough part of the Olympic bar pictured below) to help you landmark. I would suggest gripping the bar with a grip only slightly wider than shoulder width. For the record, I would suggest overhead pressing with approximately the same grip width. Check these three videos.


This video demonstrates a powerlifting style bench. I would not recommend this for athletes. Too wide.

This video demonstrates ‘close grip bench press’, a bodybuilding exercise generally used to target the triceps. For our purposes, the grip in this video is too close. The range of motion is reduced, and the closeness of the grip reduces its functional carryover. That being said, I found the trainer’s accent quite pleasant.

This video demonstrates the type of bench press I am advocating. Note the hand and elbow positioning, as well as the full range of motion. The tempo is fairly quick, but otherwise a solid demo.

Benching with a closer grip than the standard powerlifting grip will both reduce risk of injury and increase the functional carryover of the movement. Check your ego, and don’t worry too much about your numbers starting off. This will allow your to push harder in your sport. #allgo

Olympic lifters tend to snatch and clean on the same day. Since athletes have to worry about certain things Olympic lifters don’t, such as a lot of unilateral work (lunges, pistols, prowler, etc.), I would suggest having a separate snatch day and a clean day. Pair snatches with back squats and cleans with front squats, and always perform your Olympic lifts before you start your squats. What about overhead squats you say? Expect a full length post about that in the near future. #allgo


In the last post I discussed the basics of the clean and the snatch. This post will give you some tips about how to integrate them into your training routine.

1) Always do your Olympic lifts as your first heavy lifts of the day. Olympic lifts are power movements. Therefore, you will be using type 2B muscle fibers when you do them. Since your type 2B fibers burn out the fastest, you do not want to try snatching >90% of your 1 rep max after running for 15 mins. You will not get it. Always Olympic lift fresh.

2) Don’t do high rep Olympic lifts. There are lots of things CrossFit does well. High rep Olympic lifts are an example of something they do terribly. First off, doing high rep power movements makes no sense. I have discussed in earlier posts the difference between power and muscular endurance. There is no good reason to do a power movement for endurance. Not only is there no good reason to do high rep Olympic lifts, there are lots of good reasons NOT to do them. Your posterior chain muscles (glutes, hams, erectors) fatigue at different rates. Hence, while some muscles used in the snatch may stay fresher longer, other muscles will run out of gas quickly. Uneven fatigue of the musculature in a movement as complex as an Olympic lift can and will cause injury if high reps are performed regularly. Check out this video of Mikko Salo and Graham Holmberg, two top CrossFitters doing high rep snatches. Fast-forward to the last couple of minutes of the video to see them snatching with a rounded lumbar. Recipe for a lower back injury. (For the record, these guys are absolute monsters in the gym, and I mean no disrespect.)

3) Keep your Olympic lift sets between 1 and 3 reps to focus on pure power. John Broz, a proponent of the Bulgarian lifting method, recommended sticking to only singles or doubles for Olympic lifts. Don’t go much higher than that. Otherwise, you are not using maximal load and are therefore not improving your power as much as you could be.

4) Don’t waste your time with kettlebell or dumbbell Olympic lifts. The Olympic lifts are basically lower body movements. Yes, the traps are used, but for the most part you are using your lower body. Let me ask you this. What’s your max clean? 100kg? Awesome. Think you can clean a 100kg dumbbell? No chance. What about two 50 kg kettlebells? Maybe, but unlikely. Since Olympic lifts are lower body movements, and using unilateral implements reduces the amount of weight you can lift, why would you use anything other than a barbell? Answer: you wouldn’t…at least not after reading this post I hope.

5) Snatch. While many athletes perform cleans, the snatch is one that a large number shy away from. It could be because they require more hip and overhead mobility, or it could be because they are arguably more difficult to learn mechanically. Snatches are awesome for core strength, upper back development, and athleticism. While it could be said that the clean requires the more brute strength of the two Olympic lifts, it could also be said that the snatch requires more power, speed, and finesse.

6) Don’t do Olympic lifts in complexes. When I say complexes here, I mean complexes where you are really busting your butt on a conditioning day, rather than complexes which you use to warm up for Olympic lifting. Truthfully, I’m not quite sure how I feel about the latter.  This is a mistake I made for a long time which I have now corrected. I used to think “Well, I shouldn’t do high rep cleans, and I shouldn’t clean mid-complex, but what if the first movement of each complex is a clean, and I only do it for 4 reps? Should be okay”. Negative. I was wrong. First of all, I was still starting the complexes fatigued, meaning that my form was off, and therefore that I was increasing risk of injury. I rarely feel my lower back doing low rep high weight cleans, but I almost always felt it doing hang cleans with much lighter weight in complexes.

I also noticed that doing the cleans in complexes hurt my form on the days where I did them heavy. Because I was used to muscling them up and getting them done by any means necessary while fatigued, I was practicing poor movement patterns. I wasn’t until I stopped doing cleans in complexes and starting doing a lot of empty bar technique work that I was finally able to break through my 100kg 1RM clean plateau.

Hopefully these two posts have cleared up how you should and should not use Olympic lifts in your training. I now leave you with a video of Dmitriy Klokov snatching 192 kg, or 422.5#. If this doesn’t make you want to go pick up heavy things, you are dead inside. Seriously, the guy is like a freakin superhero. #allgo


This is going to be the first part of a two part series on the Olympic lifts. Part 1 will deal with why you should be Olympic lifting, and go into some key terms and distinctions. Part 2 will deal with how to properly program the Olympic lifts into your training.

First and foremost, if you are an athlete, you should probably be Olympic lifting. The Olympic lifts are great for building power and coordination, two things which are important in pretty much all sports. Also, to Olympic lift properly, especially in the case of the snatch, you will have to address imbalances and mobility issues in your body. See how well snatching goes if you have poor shoulder mobility from too much benching.

There are two Olympic Lifts: the snatch, and the clean and jerk. Check out the following videos.

Here is the snatch:

Here is the clean and jerk:

As you might notice, the clean and jerk is actually two movements. The clean and the jerk. While the jerk isn’t a bad lift by any stretch of the imagination, I would suggest that unless you are considering doing Olympic Lifting competition, just focus on cleans and snatches. While heavy overhead work is a great idea providing you have the mobility and are injury free, I’d suggest focusing on heavy push press instead, and doing them on a different day than your Olympic lifts.

It is important to understand that there are lots of variations of these lifts. For the sake of simplicity, I will only discuss the snatch here. All of the statements that I’m making, however, also correspond to the clean. If someone simply says “snatch” you should assume the bar starts on the ground. If they say the word “hang” before snatch, the bar starts somewhere around the knees. The terms ‘power’ snatch and ‘squat’ snatch refer to what position the lifter is in when he or she catches the bar. For the squat snatch, the bar is caught in an overhead squat position below parallel. For a power snatch, the bar is caught in an overhead squat position somewhere above parallel. Once again, all of these qualifying terms work the same with with a clean.

You may have also heard about snatch pulls and clean pulls. The pull variations of the Olympic lifts mean that the bar is not actually caught. For example, in a power clean, the lifter catches the bar in the front rack position which you also use for front squats. In a clean pull, the clean motion is performed, but the bar is not actually caught. One of the advantages of Olympic lifting pulls over the standard lifts is that they allow you to displace more weight and do not require as much technique.

You may have seen someone at some point do a split snatch or a split clean. When you catch a standard snatch, your feel are basically in a squatting position with your toes in line with one another. You can perform a split snatch were you catch the bar with one foot in front of the other in a lunging type of position. This is a less commonly utilized option, but is fine to use if you feel more comfortable.

Don’t get too bogged down with terms and variations. You don’t need to do hang snatch pulls one week and power snatches the next week. In fact, I would avoid hang cleans and hang snatches altogether save using them for a warm up or a teaching tool. You are going to snatch more weight than you hang snatch, so why not just snatch?

In terms of the best Olympic lifting variations for sport, I’d focus on the power clean and the power snatch. While both power and squat variations are excellent, power Olympic lifting variations require a little less mobility and are a bit easier to learn. Let’s not forget that you are working out for the sake of your sport, and likely have a ton on your mind already about the little nuances of movements specific to it. My guess is most of you reading this would rather spend time perfecting your x-guard or switch kick than your snatch, and fair enough!

Lastly, review my last quick tips post about Olympic lifting technique work. These lifts are very complicated. Don’t rush into them. Learn to do them properly before you start to load heavy.

Long story short: 1) You should be Olympic lifting. 2) The two variations which you should focus on are power snatches and power cleans. #allgo