Posts Tagged ‘programming’

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


Last night I got together with a few of my teammates and my MMA coach to watch the fights. My coach told me an interesting story. When he was first getting into competition (he has done MMA and kickboxing professionally), he very excitedly told his coach one day that he had completed 500 push-ups. His coach responded “You know what doing push-ups is good for? Getting better at push-ups”. Maybe a bit of an oversimplification, but thought provoking nonetheless.

During the week, I try to get in about 6 lifts (some heavy lifting, some conditioning lifts, the number of each is dependent on what I’m focusing on that training phase), 3-4 BJJ sessions, 1 muay thai session, and a sparring session. Usually I’m pretty much on schedule give or take 1 training session. Ideally I’d like to lift less and do more MMA, but since I work at a gym and can lift whenever I want, I am able to fit more lifting into my schedule.

I had a very interesting end of the week in terms of training. Friday I did nogi rolling in the morning, and gi rolling at night. Saturday, which is generally my off day, I got in the lift which I had missed on Thursday. Squat snatches, back squats, rack rows, and bench press. Sunday morning I did kickboxing sparring.

Friday morning when I went into the gym for nogi, the place was pretty quiet. I noticed a couple of guys doing padwork in the back of the gym. One of them was an amateur boxer. I love sparring with boxers. I started boxing before I started kickboxing, and definitely enjoy the former more. I always say my goal is to learn enough kickboxing to use my boxing effectively in an MMA setting. As someone who does a lot of all around training (boxing, bjj, muay thai), I always find sparring against a specialist like that is a real eye opener. This session was no different.

I did a couple of rounds with him, a few rounds of rolling, and then a couple of rounds of kickboxing sparring. Just as I was about to leave, a giant human walked through the door. I’m 6’2”, 210#. Not huge, but I don’t look up at many people. This guy had to have been at least 6’5”, and told me he weighed 320#. He also told me he could rep out 4 plates on a back squat. I’m not even near that. Very, very nice guy for the record.

He told me he had been rolling for about 4 months. We did 2×5 minute rounds against each other. Being a big Frank Mir fan, I chose to pull guard the first round. Big mistake. Squirm as I did, when he chose to drop his weight on my chest, I was stuck. The second round was much better for me. I secured his back early in the round, and although I was unable to sink in deep hooks, I was able to use wrestling to hold him down and threaten with some chokes.

Being an extremely poor natural athlete (I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this in previous posts), and being relatively weak for my size, I was surprised at what I felt was not a huge strength disadvantage for me. This guy was much larger than me, but when we clinched, I didn’t exactly feel helpless. This got me thinking…

Fast forward to this morning. Sunday morning is competitive sparring at my gym. We do some lighter sparring during the week, but Sunday mornings, you better keep your hands up. This morning there was a guy I didn’t recognize, so I went up and introduced myself. He was in from out of town. 21 pro MMA fights, and he floats between 155 and 170, although he looks like a natural 155er. Again, very nice guy, as are the vast majority of the guys who walk through the doors of my gym. I did some shadow boxing, running, and light bag work to warm up.

After my warm up was done, I did a light sparring round for about 5 minutes with this pro. He was clearly better than me. Caught me with a couple of head kicks, and did a good job of neutralizing my usually fairly effective boxing.

The sparring portion of the class was 3×3 minute rounds with 1 minute breaks. At the end of the three rounds, my coach told me I could do another round with this pro if I liked. I was tired, but didn’t want to give up the opportunity. I gassed. Badly. And he knew it. He was a nice guy and didn’t punish me for it, but at the end of the round I could barely string two punches together. I know I work hard in the weight room. Whenever I do conditioning, I push, and I push hard. So why was I so tired and this guy was so fresh?

Interesting side note, remember that I mentioned that I usually only get in 1 muay thai training session a week and 3-4 bjj sessions. To sum up the stories I just told, I was happy with how strong I felt against that my giant grappling partner Friday, and disappointed with how tired I got on Sunday. Especially since I’ve always thought my conditioning to be a larger asset than my strength. Then I remembered my coach’s story…

Yeah, I’ve been doing a lot of conditioning this month, but I haven’t been doing a lot of muay thai. That’s why I got tired. Strength and conditioning is great, but it’s not going to get you in better shape for muay thai than muay thai will. The bottom line is, nothing will mimic the physical demands of your sport better than your sport. Yes, strength and conditioning is very important for a lot of reasons, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that high rep front squats will put the same demand on your legs that muay thai will. Front squats are great, and will definitely help, but should be used to SUPPLEMENT your muay thai technique work. Want a fast shot? Yeah, you should be doing heavy cleans and hitting the prowler, but you should also be spending a lot more time practicing your shot.

Specificity is key. Absolutely do strength and conditioning, but also just do your sport. As much as you can. In the end, that is the best way to develop the physical capacities which you need to succeed at it. #allgo

I communicate a couple of times a week with a friend of mine who does CrossFit. She suggested I take a look at the “Fight Gone Bad” WOD. I found this video explaining the routine and the story behind the workout. MMA fans will recognize the fighter for whom the workout was originally designed.

The programming for the original “Fight Gone Bad” WOD is as follows:

3 rounds composed of 5×1 minute activities. 1 minute rest between rounds.

Activity 1: rowing machine (C2 rower)

Activity 2: wallball

Activity 3: sumo deadlift high pulls

Activity 4: push press

Activity 5: box jumps

I thought this looked like a really good workout, but I did have to adapt it a little bit. I didn’t have an area to do wallball, and I just plain don’t like the sumo deadlift high pulls. Both the position of the hands and the position of the feet in that exercise do not have a ton of functional carryover. I kept the same breakdown of 3×5 minute rounds with each round being composed of 5×1 minute activities. My programming was as follows:

Activity 1: thrusters (95#)

Activity 2: deadlift and row combination (Perform 1 standard power deadlift. Once the bar has been put back on the floor after the eccentric portion of the lift, extend the knees while keeping your lumbar extended and perform one bent over row – 95#)

Activity 3: box jumps (24 inch box)

Activity 4: push press (95#)

Activity 5: rowing machine (C2 rower)

All in all it was a pretty brutal conditioning session, which meant it did its job. Next time I perform this, I think I might try to use a lighter barbell. My focus in this conditioning session was supposed to be aerobic conditioning, but the weight was heavy enough that my muscular endurance struggled and therefore I had to stop more than I would have liked given what the goal of the workout was.

Feel free to use the template of 3×5 and 5×1 to design your own MMA conditioning workout. Keep this in mind however… As much as I don’t like Coach Glassman (the creator of CrossFit), he does make a good point about activity order in the video posted above. If you are looking to focus on aerobic conditioning during a workout, be very aware of the order which you program your exercises in. If you do 3 minutes in a row of squatting variations, your legs will likely become the limiting factor before your aerobic conditioning does. As a result, try to use the order of the activities to give certain muscles a break. This is why I programmed the thrusters and the push press so far apart in the round: to give my shoulders and traps a rest. Hope you give either of these workouts a try. And by either of these workouts, I mean mine. Yeah, shameless self promotion – big surprise. #allgo


CrossFit has gained a ton of steam as both a brand and an exercise methodology over the past few years. CrossFit is now partnered with Reebok, and the once modest CrossFit games have grown into an international phenomenon. I reference CrossFit frequently in my posts. There are things I think are great about CrossFit, and there are things which I think are terrible. This post is more opinion-based than many of my other posts. It’s only fair to inform the reader that I’ve never actually set foot in a CrossFit ‘box’ (the name of their gyms), but that I have done a fair amount of research on CrossFit, been in close contact with some CrossFitters, and done several CrossFit style workouts personally.

I pulled this definition off of wikipedia. Yes, wiki is a sketchy source at best, but it works for giving us a general definition here.

“CrossFit describes its strength and conditioning program as “constantly varied, high intensity, functional movement,” with the stated goal of improving fitness, which it defines as “work capacity across broad time and modal domains.”

Here is a video that expands a bit on that definition.

I’m going to get into some things I like about CrossFit, some things that I think are objectively not good about it, and some things that just generally annoy me about it.

Some things I like about CrossFit:

1) First and foremost, CrossFit advocates functional movements. Out of the hundreds of “WODS” (workout of the day) I’ve seen, I’ve only seen a couple workouts off of the Spartan Race twitter feed that involved bicep curls. Otherwise, they focus on squats, Olympic lifts, closed chain bodyweight movements, and other awesome exercises.

2) CrossFit encourages hard work. I’ve never seen someone doing a CrossFit workout who looked like they were slacking off, which is more than I can say about the hords of people I’ve seen on the shoulder press machine.

3) CrossFit improves general fitness, especially in the beginning. Chances are, if you are new to fitness, or if your ‘workouts’ consisted of a bunch of single joint movements and the treadmill, CrossFit will at least initially improve strength, flexibility, muscular endurance, coordination, aerobic conditioning, etc.

4) There is a focus on mobility. This one pretty much speaks for itself. On that note, Kelly Starrett is another great thing about CrossFit. If you haven’t checked out his blog, you should. The guy is a mobility wizard.

5) Thrusters. I’m not sure if this exercise predates CrossFit or not, but CrossFit has definitely popularized it in a big way. This exercise is incredible for conditioning. Period.

6) They have incredible facilities. Seriously, the gyms are like adult playgrounds.

Some things that are objectively not good about CrossFit:

1) One of the main, if not THE main focus of CrossFit is improving work capacity. My understanding of CrossFit is that they basically have two types of workouts. The first type of workout, which I have heard called “technique”, seems to focus on strength and power. The second type of workout, which I have heard called “met-con”, or “metabolic conditioning” focuses on work capacity. In met cons, you are generally either looking to complete the workout as quickly as possible, or you are doing an AMRAP (completing as many repetitions or rounds as possible in a pre-determined time period).

The problem with their conditioning workouts is that they include movements which should never be used in a conditioning workout. Ask any Olympic lifter about how many reps a set of cleans or snatches should have, and they will likely say 4 or less. John Broz would say 2 or less. The reason for this is two-fold. First, Olympic lifts are power movements. Doing high rep Olympic lifts improves muscular endurance, but not power. Logically, it makes no sense. Second, high rep Olympic lifts are dangerous. Because the muscles that make up the posterior chain fatigue at different rates, attempting to do 30 reps of 135# clean and press for time (the CrossFit benchmark workout known as ‘Grace’) will ensure you are lifting with a rounded lumbar. I shouldn’t have to explain why that’s bad. High rep snatches? Probably not the best idea if you like your shoulders intact.

2) Kipping/butterfly pull-ups. TheseĀ are bad for your shoulders. Point blank. I dare any CrossFitter to explain how they’re not.

3) There is a lack of periodization/organization in CrossFit FOR THE MOST PART. I watched a video one time where a guy teaching a CrossFit programming course tried to explain that the WODS provided on the CrossFit mainsite were a lot more organized than people think. I looked at every WOD everyday for three months. Either I know nothing about fitness, or there was little or no organization.

Periodization and organization of your workouts is essential. Ask any Olympians if they periodize. Many high level CrossFitters such as Rich Froning, the current male CrossFit games champion, have recognized this. There is a documentary online where he explains how he organizes his workouts, specifically his strength/power workouts. Any serious athlete knows the value of periodization. You don’t need ‘constant variation’ to improve, and it can even be a hindrance.


4) For athletes who need to complete in a specific sport, CrossFit isn’t focused enough. If you are an average Joe or Jill looking to ‘get fit’, CrossFit is great. If you want to compete in the CrossFit games, you should be doing CrossFit. But, if you are a volleyball player, do a workout that is designed for a volleyball player. Even CrossFit has admitted in an indirect way that their system is not necessarily the best for athletes. The creation of “CrossFit Endurance” for endurance athletes and “CrossFit Football” for strength and power athletes suggests this.

5) At least from what I have seen, there is virtually no focus on prehab. No rotator cuff work, no upper back work, no glute med work. At least directly. Prehab is very important for injury prevention. Any program that ignores it, especially if the program has been designed for an athlete, is, in my opinion, incomplete.

6) When it comes to exercise, hard and good are not the same thing. If I did a half hour of leg extensions, I would be working hard. I would also be beating up my knees.

Some things that I just don’t like about CrossFit:

1) Some of the exercises don’t seem to make sense. Like medicine ball cleans. Whyyy?

2) The self-righteous attitude of the group. You didn’t invent circuits or cross-training, so calm down. Just because I’m doing burpees doesn’t mean I’m doing CrossFit.

3) Building on #2, the idea that CrossFit is the be-all-end-all of fitness. Just because you want to improve physically somehow doesn’t mean you should be doing CrossFit. Want to clean 300#? Spend your time cleaning. CrossFit met-cons will only slow you down.

4) I’m going to bring in my philosophy background here, so my apologies if I bore you to tears. The number of CrossFitters who fall victim to the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Roughly translated, that means “after this, therefore because of this”. I’ve heard more times than I can count the number of CrossFitters who said “I’m in the best shape of my life since I started CrossFit”. I’m glad to hear that, but is it because of CrossFit specifically? Maybe your problem was that you were slacking off. Maybe you have improved because you have been working hard and doing functional movements, neither of which are exclusively attributed to CrossFit.

And there you have it. That’s my opinion about CrossFit. My suggestion if you are an athlete is to take what is good about CrossFit and include it into your PROGRAMMING! Below are a couple of articles critiquing CrossFit if you would like a little more information. Now go do some thrusters. #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