Posts Tagged ‘Olympic lifting’

The overhead squat is, in my opinion, one of the most challenging non-Olympic lifting barbell lifts which you can do. It requires a ton of mobility in several different regions of the body, as well as a ton of core strength and overhead stability. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the overhead squat, check out this video below.

Perhaps the first question which needs answering is: do you even need to overhead squat? I had this debate with an Olympic lifter friend of mine. His argument was that overhead squatting is unnecessary because the movement is covered when you snatch. I still felt the overhead squat was an important exercise to help create core and overhead stability. It took my thick head a couple of days to realize why we had differing viewpoints: he squat snatches, while I mostly power snatch. As a result, he gets a lot of full range overhead squatting in from his snatching, whereas I do not. This would explain in part why I struggle with the overhead squat: I haven’t really done it much.

Long story short, if you do a lot of squat snatching, you probably don’t need to program heavy overhead squats into your routine. If you mostly power snatch, I’d recommend programming in overhead squats to get you comfortable in the bottom position. And just to throw a little common sense at you: unless you are a CrossFitter training the overhead squat for its own sake, or an Olympic lifter training the overhead squat for snatching with a belt on, ditch the weight belt. Doing an exercise like this which demands a lot of your core with a belt on doesn’t make much sense.

What Does The Overhead Squat Do?

Believe it or not, the overhead squat, for most people, is not going to do a ton to build up lower body strength/power. Think of it this way. Let’s say you can back squat 300# for 3 reps, and overhead squat 250# for 3 reps. In both movements, your legs are displacing the same amount of weight. Since you can presumably overhead squat less than you can back or front squat, your legs will not be challenged in the same way that they would be if you back or front squatted.

The overhead squat is GREAT for core stability, upper back strengthing, mobility (especially when done lightly with an emphasis on perfect technique), and assessment purposes. If you want to see what’s wrong with a person’s body mobility-wise, watch them overhead squat.

As a bit of an aside, if you have never done the overhead squat, it may look like it requires a lot of tricep strength. While the triceps might be needed to press the weight into an overhead position, your elbows should be locked out when overhead squatting. There should be NO bend. If you find your triceps working a lot, you are probably doing the movement wrong.

Am I Ready To Overhead Squat?

Here is a guideline which I would suggest. Ever heard of the behind-the-neck Sots press? See the video below. If you can do this exercise properly and pain free with an empty Olympic bar, you PROBABLY (and remember, I’m not a doctor) have the mobility and shoulder health required to overhead squat.

My Sots Press Was Laughable. How Can I Get To The Point Of Overhead Squatting?

There are a number of things which can cause a poor Sots press. If you are an athlete and have been training using even moderately good programming and full range of motion, I’m going to go ahead and assume core stability and upper back/shoulder strength are likely not the reason your Sots press looks like you are bowing. Chances are the culprit is poor mobility.

If your torso inclines forward, you may have poor ankle mobility (focus on soleus and heel cord) or poor hip mobility (focus on piriformis, glutes, hams, etc.).

If you have pain in the knees or hips you probably have poor mobility in the knees or hips. Pretty self explanatory.

If you cannot push the bar straight up overhead, chances are one or several of the following areas need mobility work: upper traps, lats, pec minor, thoracic.

While I’m not going to go into how to fix all of those problems, check out the video below from Kelly Starrett which has some good overhead squat warm-up/solution info.

I’m Good To Start Overhead Squatting. How Do I Incorporate It Into My Programming?

Since this movement demands a lot of the core and a little bit less of the legs, I would definitely suggest doing it closer to the end of your workout. You definitely want to get your Olympic lifting and heavy squatting in first. Essentially, I would categorize this lift as an accessory movement. Don’t make it the focus of a workout.

I would not suggest going much above 6 reps per set on this exercise. It is a very complex movement that requires a lot of neural drive. High rep it, and small muscles like the ones in the upper back will start to fail, thus causing poor mechanics and increasing risk of injury.

The overhead squat is also a great warm-up for snatching. As well, as I mentioned earlier, it is a great assessment tool.

In Closing…

The overhead squat is an excellent exercise for any athlete who is not squat snatching. However, if you don’t respect how difficult and demanding it is and just try to jump into it, you are likely to hurt yourself. Check out your Sots press, and if you have issues which need some attention, fix them. Once you are ready to overhead squat, definitely consider making it a regular part of your routine. #allgo


…when training for strength and power. Too often I hear about people switching from Anderson Front Squats one week to Front Box Squats with chains another week. Take it from someone who made that mistake. It’s not necessary and can even slow your progress. Focus on the basics: power Olympic lifts, front and back squats, deadlifts, bench and row, and overhead press and pull-up. If you mix up your rep count and sets effectively and add in the proper remedial work, you don’t need a ton of exercise variation. #allgo


There was a period of about 6 months (anyone who grapples I’m sure has had this at some point) where I had either broken or dislocated toes on each foot constantly. Because I could barely handle toe extension when doing bodyweight lunges (loading was out of the question) I stopped doing lunges and split squats. In retrospect I could have done Bulgarian split squats or pistols. To be honest, if there is one area of my training which I tend to slack on it’s single leg work. I hate it, because I’m not good at it. Hence, I took the opportunity to ignore this part of my training. This week I had a couple of reminders about the importance of single leg work.

First, I hit a PR I have been working towards for a while. 250# power clean. The next day I was working with another trainer on the gym floor, and noticed that I am still unable to do a bodyweight pistol. This is a pretty ridiculous and embarrassing imbalance.

Secondly, I was talking to an Olympic lifter buddy of mine this week. He has taken the entire month off bilateral squat work to only do unilateral stuff. His Olympic lifts, to my surprise, have gone up this month. He recommended a ‘front loaded, front-foot-elevated split squat’ to me the other day. I couldn’t find a video of it, but here’s a video of a front loaded Bulgarian split squat, another great unilateral leg exercise.

Single leg work is great for balance and injury prevention. It obviously has a ton of application to sport, and, as evidenced by my Olympic lifter buddy, it can improve your Olympic lifts and squats. Generally I’m pretty proud to say I work my tail off in the gym and have a pretty balanced program, but this is one area where I really need to get serious about improving. Join me? #allgo


MMA as well as many other sports require lots of different physical capacities for athletes. You have to be powerful to have a quick double-leg. You have to be flexible to throw a head kick. You have to have good conditioning to kickbox after shooting six times in a row. The more things you attempt to improve at once, the smaller the improvements in each individual area will be. Sure, you may be able to both snatch 200# for the first time and break a 20 minute 5k in the same month. However, chances are you would have seen greater improvement in one area if you had focused on that one area alone. Feel yourself being tossed around during grappling? Take the month off from conditioning and squat heavy several times a week. Breathing heavy after sprawling twice? Drop the heavy power cleans for a month and make friends with burpees. Yes, you can get stronger while doing some conditioning, but make sure your training has a clear emphasis. The more focused your training, the better the results will be. #allgo

In the last post, I detailed the schedule of my high volume experiment. While some of you might agree that the schedule was indeed very high volume, others may feel that the schedule was nothing out of the ordinary. I wanted to remind the reader that I am a recreational athlete, not a professional. Full time grad school and a personal training coordinator job keep me busy. In comparison to the rest of my life, the volume was pretty heavy.

And now for the results.

1) I felt pretty fatigued for the month. It was obvious that my CNS was perma-fried, and never got a chance to recover. This was, however, part of the point of the experiment. In the Contreras article I linked in the last post, he mentions that Olympic lifters who train using a very high volume schedule get used to getting PRs while fatigued, resulting in higher numbers when they actually compete well rested.

2) I got bronchitis. No way to know whether or not it was a result of the stress I was putting on my body, but that stress certainly didn’t help matters. As a result, in the middle of the experiment, I had to take a week completely off from the gym, and transition back with slightly lower volume the next week. My numbers dropped a bit, but I was PRing again in no time.

3) My joints, specifically my knees, felt pretty good. And that’s without taking fish oil. I did have a bit of knee pain for about a week, but it disappeared completely with no rest.

4) My weight stayed about the name, but my body comp changed. I definitely put on some lean mass, and dropped some fat. I would have likely dropped a little more fat, but I decided before starting the experiment that I would allow myself to be a little more lax with my dietary habits so long as I remained super disciplined about my workouts.

5) By the end of the month and a half, the effects of over-training became extremely pronounced. Appetite decreased substantially, I had trouble sleeping (and I usually sleep like the dead), and my T levels plummeted.

6) After a deload week, I did some testing. I PR’d on front squat, back squat, pull-ups, bench, and power snatch. Pretty much all my big compounds. I didn’t test push press, and I missed my PR on my power clean. I also PRd my turkish-get up.

7) This month made me realize I have not done a good enough job of tracking my conditioning progress, so I cannot tell you whether my conditioning improved over the month or not. If I had to guess, I would say it probably did a little bit.

8) I had very little muscle soreness over the month, but then again I don’t tend to get sore much anyways. Aside from one high rep squat conditioning workout, DOMS was minimal.

So, would I recommend this type of program to another athlete?

If you’re a pro, sure! If you are a recreational athlete like myself, hard to say. Did I improve? Yes. But, there are still lots of unanswered questions. What would have happened if I had just focused on the weight training while completely dropping conditioning and reducing MMA training? Chances are I would have gotten a lot stronger and maybe not been as fatigued. But then again, my conditioning would surely have suffered.

It is also important to note that I am currently suffering though either a second bought of bronchitis or a bad flu, which is keeping me out of the gym and off of the mats. Like the earlier bronchitis bout, there is no way to tell whether or not the high volume caused it, but for whatever reason or another, my plans to begin this month focusing on improving conditioning and maintaining strength and power are, thus far, shot.

All in all, I would say proceed with high volume training at your own risk. Get plenty of sleep (8 hours a night, plus a daily nap if you can swing it). Lastly, be prepared that in addition to the fact that your body may be too fatigued to peak after a month of training like this, you may need more than a week to recover. #allgo

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Tony Gentlicore, who, by the way, is a quality follow on twitter. A couple of months ago I checked out these two articles. You don’t necessarily need to read them, but I thought I would reference them in this post for you keeners.…/the_squat_4_times_per_week_experiment

I have also been reading and watching a lot of videos about CrossFit. As I mentioned in a previous post, my opinion about CrossFit is very nuanced, but there are lots of things I like about it. Rich Froning has been the male CrossFit games champion for two years running. If you don’t know him, youtube him. The guy is an absolute freak of a human. In a documentary vid detailing his training, the interviewer asks one of his training partners if he thinks Rich is over-trained. He responds with something like “I used to think that, but I think Rich and a lot of the elite CrossFitters are redefining what it means to be over-trained”.

These articles and that video got me thinking. The human body is very adaptable. Do 100 bodyweight squats if you have never squatted before, and you will be sore for days. Do them everyday, and you will eventually not be sore at all. I started to wonder how much volume my body could handle. I mean, I hear about pro MMA fighters doing multiple workouts per day, but those are pros. What would happen if I increased my workout volume to over-training territory intentionally. Would I crash and burn? Adapt and improve? Stay the same?

In addition to the high volume of training, I decided after reading the Bret Contreras article which I linked above, that I would increase the frequency of my squatting from twice a week to 3 or 4 times a week. Three heavy squat days, and potentially fourth day involving lighter squats integrated into my conditioning routine. For the last month and a half, my training schedule looked like this.


Monday: AM – heavy lift focusing on power snatch and back squat


Tuesday: AM – heavy lift focusing on pull-up and bench

PM – conditioning

Wednesday: AM – heavy lift focusing on power clean, front squat, rack pulls

PM – muay thai

Thursday: AM – heavy lift focusing on pull-up and push-press

PM – conditioning

Friday: AM – nogi BJJ

PM – heavy lift focusing on power snatch and back squat

Saturday: off

Sunday: AM – kickboxing sparring, nogi BJJ

PM – optional conditioning


Here are other minor details that you should be aware of.

1) I did foam roller and lacrosse ball work before EVERY heavy lift and most conditioning sessions.

2) Since my Sunday conditioning session was optional and I was pretty draggy all month I made it about 50% of the time.

3) You may notice that I did pull-ups and snatched twice a week. This is not necessarily a recommendation I would make for the general population. I did this because my pull-ups suck, and my snatch is about 30# below where it should be in comparison to my clean. I figured I might as well spend more time on those weak points.

4) My heavy lifts were generally 1-1.5 hours in length. The upper body lifts were a bit faster, with the lower body lifts lasting a little longer.

5) My conditioning workouts were short but very intense. Not including warm-up, mobility work, etc, they were generally 15-25 minutes, but they were brutal.

6) My heavy lifts were VERY low rep. I only did singles for the Olympic lifts. All other heavy compounds (squats, pull-ups, etc.) were 2-3 rep sets. My rep and set schemes in my heavy lifts had very little variation.

7) The point of this experiment was to see if my body could handle this type of volume. I knew I would be over-training, but I wanted to see what the outcome would be. As a result, I didn’t miss workouts (except for an ill-timed bout of bronchitis which I will discuss in the next post) regardless of how lousy I felt. In fact, due to some special circumstances, I worked out from Dec. 9-25 without taking a rest day.

8) The week between Christmas and New Years was my deload week. Because of a hectic travel schedule I did even less during that week than I generally do in deload weeks. Over those 7 days, I did one 5k run, a sprinting session, and one day of lifting which included some light Olympic lifting as well as a conditioning circuit revolving around back squats and overhead pressing variations.

That’s what the last month and a half of my life has looked like. Lots of work, not a ton of rest. There were some pretty interesting results. Stay tuned for part 2 of this post where I get into just what happened during my experiment, and what the end results were when I wrapped it up. #allgo

After getting some feedback and looking up some new information, I just wanted to briefly revisit my last post. A friend of mine messaged me with a question about proper foot positioning during a squat. He made reference to the fact that I suggested you squat with your toes completely forward, yet I used a picture of Kelly Starrett where his toes point out slightly.


I should have made more of an effort to differentiate between foot positioning for a) squatting or Olympic lifting, and b) sprinting, prowler pushing, lunging, etc.

Regarding squatting and Olympic lifting, having your toes point out slightly is okay! Most people do not have the ankle mobility to drive their knees out with their toes pointing completely forward, which is fine. Starrett’s foot positioning in the squat on the right is excellent. Do NOT do this…

squat-improve_mainLook at this guy’s feet, and his right knee. His toes are pointed very far out. No surprise, you can see his right knee collapsing in slightly. Look at the difference of the angle of the ankle between this squat and Starrett’s good squat. Starrett’s ankles are angled out nicely over the OUTSIDE of his feet, while this guy’s ankles are collapsing in causing poor knee positioning and dangerous joint stress. All that is to say, pointing your toes out slightly in squatting or Olympic lifting is fine, but keep a close eye on your knees.

In terms of running, lunging, prowler pushing, etc. … It is my belief that the toes should be pointed DIRECTLY forward in these movements. For one thing, since these movements are more dynamic than say, squatting, it is more difficult to ensure your knees track properly. When I squat I always remind myself to drive my knees out. When I sprint I’m concentrating on not falling flat on my face!

Secondly, I believe having your toes pointing out even slightly in movements such as sprinting is a bit of a slippery slope. If you do it a bit, as you get tired, you are going to do it more. When you are standing, walking, running, lunging, pushing a sled, or doing single-leg squats, point your toes directly forward!

I leave you with another video of Georges St. Pierre training for his most recent fight with Carlos Condit. Watch from 4:00-4:30 to see Georges stressing his knees again by using very poor foot positioning on the prowler. For the record, I mean no disrespect to Georges and his team, but this is definitely an issue which he/they ought to address! #allgo