Variability in training
Variability in training
Ive been meaning to write a blog on variability in training for a while, highlighting some things which I think could be improved on within your traditional training cycles (Macro-cycles). There are common mistakes that many of us make when trying to improve our strength in the gym. Many of these mistakes revolve around not spending enough time and effort training more general qualities and general strengthening exercises. Now that most peoples training circumstances have changed, it seems the perfect time to put a positive spin on the training people are doing and why I believe this will set people up for long term training success.
A real life example: Me
I have power-lifted for 8 years and have got to a decent level within that time, with 2019 being the most successful year of my powerlifting career. The mistake I made was after this successful training season, I was keen to push on and didn’t spend enough time in a general physical preparedness block, restoring back the tissues that were pushed to near limits and addressing weaknesses that occur with highly specific training, this potentially contributed to a adductor/hip strain 3 months into my ‘off-season’.
This seems a random story but stay with me, you’ll see where I’m going 🙂
I keep my protein powder above my kitchen cupboards, as a man of modest height I cannot reach them without climbing onto the kitchen sides, this makes me do a Copenhagen style plank for a few seconds, an exercise which evidently I cannot do well and which I feel the intensity of performing this advanced side plank heavily contributed to my adductor injury. I can deadlift 4x my bodyweight but I cannot do a Copenhagen side plank. I’m strong in the saggital plane, but anything that requires a different plane of movement, or challenges outside this plane, I’m weak relative at compared to my saggital-plane strength. I programme myself rotational work, single leg and arm work alongside carries even when in Specific training, but the ratio of these to my powerlifting training is very low and as it isn’t the main focus, the intent and progression of them will not be matched to my Powerlifts. Looking back, after an intense competition season, I didn’t spend enough time training more general qualities.
It’s important to state that all sports have injuries regardless of how well you do everything. We can minimise them by programming smartly, taking into account acute/chronic work:rest ratios, balancing out your training e.g your push to pull ratio, making sure we are doing sufficient, but not so much that we cant recover, volume. Whilst Injuries still occur even if all this is taken into account, doing all this well will massively reduce your injury rate. What happens if we do get injured? We should be using the injury and data collected from the previous block to move forward and to help guide your next meso-cycles. Max said to me ‘learn from your injury and make sure what you have learnt is reflected within your next training blocks’, this is very good advice, I can now perform a (just about) passable Copenhagen side plank for 20 seconds! #helf
GPP v SPP
All sports have these phases of training, GPP (General Physical preparedness) is training that is general in nature, if you play a team sport it would be work not too specific to your sport, training different energy systems, adding additional strength work, alongside Pre and rehab protocols. For a power-lifter it would be similar, it could be high volume training of highly varied exercises training your weaknesses, or technique focused work, typically performed at lower intensities and higher repetitions. It builds a solid base for your more specific training to come in the future.
SPP (Specific/Special Physical preparedness) as the name entails, is training specific to the sport you play, in the example of team sports, its training the energy systems and movements in a way specific to your sport, in the case of a powerlifter, this would be training heavily based around your competition lifts, at high intensity and low repetitions, getting more specific to a 1 rep max as the programme progressed.
These 2 phases of training are not black and white, they have a lot of grey area and crossover, but potentially a lot of people don’t spend enough time with more general training, if they do high rep or technique work in the GPP phases, chances are its with a competition lift or a close variant, they may add some more general training, but perhaps the training wasn’t general enough? The issue for many people is the competition/training timeline within which they work, if someone has a competition in 16 weeks, its tough to not do any squatting and focus solely on single leg and other general training. Our barbell club programme is typically based off a 16 week Macro-Cycle leading towards max testing, so the GPP work, whilst being more general compared to the SPP phase, never strays too far away from the specific lifts we want to work on. We now however, find ourselves at home with no/minimal kit, and no competition/Max testing schedule coming up, which means we can now do the biggest and most general GPP phase ever, potentially setting ourselves up for some fantastic and very productive SPP work in the future!!
The ultimate GPP Phase
We now find ourselves without gyms, so we either have 0 or limited gym equipment, even a full home gym will not have the comprehensive equipment of MSC. Now is not the time to be ramping intensity up and pushing towards testing, now is the time to improve your general physical preparedness. While SPP phases for people who compete at the same sport are very similar, training the same energy systems/similar movements, their GPP blocks are going to look very different to depending on what their weaknesses/goals are. This block in particular will probably be the most varied as we are so far away from any competitions and can spend this time working on the most general of training qualities. While the training protocols will be very different, the goal is the same for everyone, to better prepare yourself for more specific intense work in the future.
For this GPP block, you should choose 1-3 things that you want to improve, things that, if you progressed, would improve your likelihood of success in future specific training blocks. If you are unfit and are blowing out your arse doing sets of 4, you should be looking to improve your aerobic fitness, extra walks/low intensity cardio to build up your general fitness, alongside some higher repetition work. If you have a few niggling injuries, now is a great time to build back up tolerance and capacity to the affected areas; positional isometrics, slow tempo work and lots of general training in different planes of movement will help. If you struggle to get into good positions in your training, added movement preparation and positional isometric work should be your priority. If you are strong with sound technique, lots of focus on general strength, building up the weaknesses away from your priority lifts should be a big focus. Improving on your weaknesses now will improve the likelihood of future training success, helping you stay consistent by minimising injuries and helping you maximise your training under a bar.
Highlight what you need to improve, add lots of general movements that target your weakness, in particular make sure you train all 3 planes of movement, so lots of rotational/anti-rotational work, alongside side to side work (kossak Squats and all single leg work will increase frontal plane stability demands), use this time to focus on muscle groups that can often be neglected, add extra adductor, oblique and knee flexion strengthening exercises. Improve your breathing bracing and ability to create tension that will transfer well to your barbell lifts, helping you produce more force and stay more stable under load! Improve your single arm and leg strength, trunk stability and work on your carries, you will thank yourself when you get back under a bar for the first time AND at the end of your next Macro-cycle!
Technical breakdown to the snatch.
When an athlete snatches, the bar is moved from the floor to overhead in one motion. If you can do this, it means you can snatch. And then, there comes a bit more of a technical side to it. But the way I teach the snatch is very simple. I believe there is no need to overcomplicate things from the beginning because it slows down the learning process. In this blog I will take you through the phases and how to utilise them in order to master a perfect snatch!
The technical model of the snatch starts with the bar on the floor, which then the athlete lifts over his head, receiving it at a bottom squat position and finishes with the athlete standing up with the load remaining overhead in a recovery phase. In order to complete this movement, you first need to be able to overhead squat. For a decent overhead squat, it requires an athlete to have a good shoulder, hip and ankle mobility. If you trying to overhead press a barbell from behind the neck for the first time and you are all stiff, well yeah, it won’t happen just like that, but ask yourself how much overhead work have you done? Some people are naturally more flexible and that’s just how it is; some of us need to work on certain things a bit more. And then still, even if your mobility seems sufficient to perform many movements without limitation, mobility work is vital for healthy and strong joints, so you should implement some into your training anyhow. If your issue isn’t the overhead position but to actually squat with the barbell remaining behind the neck, then it is very likely to be the capacity or your hips and ankles. In that case, you can use a snatch derivative – the power snatch, and catch the bar in a mid-squat position while working on getting into a full depth with consistent training alongside some mobility drills. The overhead squat in its nature is a unique full body exercise for core strength, stability, flexibility, and can work great for an athletic development. More about overhead squat and its benefits may come soon from the one and only – Max Hartman!
The snatch balance is essentially a quick drop into the overhead squat. It starts in a standing position with the barbell behind the neck, follows with an athlete bending the knees, driving up into a triple extension and getting quickly under the bar into a squat with the arms locking out into a fully straight position. Snatch balance = the catch phase of the snatch. Using it in practice, an athlete can adapt to heavier load over the head in the bottom squat position. Therefore, if your pulling phases are quite strong but you struggle to remain stable in the catch, heavy single snatch balance could help you. It is also a good drill for improving speed with getting under the bar, so conversely, you can implement it as lighter triples or doubles.
The state of triple extension is when your ankles, knees and hips are fully extended. Allowing a barbell to travel in the vertical direction will further allow for smooth transition.
During this phase the bar should feel ‘weightless’ and travels as far as the amount of force that is being generated by a lifter from the ground. A full triple extension occurs after the second pull and if we are talking about pulling you don’t actually lift the bar with your arms, they only direct the bar path. All the power is generated against the ground. Thus, your starting position is crucial as much as every phase of the lift.
Your set up is more important than you would think! Have you ever thought why weightlifters use hook grip? Gripping your thumb around the bar helps to keep your arms fairly relaxed but mainly, it locks the bar safely. If you are doing reps on snatches, always make sure you set your starting position on point. Sometimes if you miss a lift can be related to the starting set up. Bear in mind one thing, this position is not comfortable so if a coach or somebody who is watching you, is giving you a few cues, and you move from being comfortable to feeling very uncomfortable, that is probably better set up. Shoulder slightly over the bar, chest up, back tight, bar close to your shins, hips higher than knees, elbows locked outwards, head forward and weight distributed towards forefoot, and you ready to move into the first pull!
First pull is a phase where your knees start to extend (posterior knee drive) while maintaining straight arms and back. A very important thing is to remain the angle of your torso constant. This phase finished just above the knee where the transition/ double knee bend/ scoop through occurs.
During this phase the bar travels from above the knee (hang position) to the hips (power position). The biggest acceleration of the lift must occur at this phase, and therefore, there is a need to drive your extended knees back to the front (bend them again). The bar must meet the hips with the knees bent and your torso in an upright position with your arms still remaining straight. This will allow the bar travel vertically from the hip and allow an athlete to achieve a full triple extension. If the bar wouldn’t meet the hips, the second pull can still happen but it will limit the extension and so the athlete would have to chase the bar in order to catch it, which then leads into jumping forward (in most cases). Therefore, it is crucial to master all the phases.
As mentioned above when the bar meets the hips at the power position, the athlete can now start extending the ankles, which starts with getting onto the tip toes, following that, the elbows starting to bend, extending the knees and hips with the elbows at the highest point. During this phase the bar becomes ‘weightless’ and it travels as high as the amount of force that has been produced from the bottom and the transition.
When the elbows reach the highest point with the ankles still fully extended, the athlete starts to transfer body weight downwards until the arms extend. Adjusting a wider stance will allow a greater depth of a catch. At this point the weight should be distributed towards rear of foot. It is vital to remain tightness in your upper body because now there is a need to stand up – known as the recovery phase. The lift doesn’t finish with the catch, an athlete needs to be able to stand up in a controlled manner.
The recovery phase would be essentially your overhead squat. Again, you need a decent amount of strength but also a few technical points. Lead up with your chest and torso upright.
It is very common that when athletes is being taught the lift through the segmented phases, they are very likely to find it difficult to then perform the movement in its full motion. I believe the athlete needs to have an understanding of what the movement looks and feels like. People can learn a lot by just observing and imagination the processes. Show your athletes the lift, emphasise some cues and let them do it. Don’t let them think too much about it because they will get confused – get the bar and lift it up. Simple. If they understand this and can do it then observe them a bit more and think why they are choosing to move that way. Find solutions and keep practising. It is good to work on the phases you really struggle with but remember that you actually need to apply it in a full lift. For instance, if you bend your elbows too early, and you are trying to fix it with doing lots of pull, and high pulls, you may start controlling it better when doing these derivatives alone but when you then trying to snatch, the early bend still occurs. Hence, try to put this in a complex of pull + snatch. And this applies for any derivatives you are going to utilise; lift off, pulls, snatch balance, pause snatches etc.
That was a little bit about the snatch. It is very similar with the clean. If you would be interested in a break-down of clean and jerk, let me know, and it could be the next next blog.
Hope you enjoyed reading this blog. Even though you may not be a weightlifter or be interested in weightlifting, you may have learnt something new!