Anti-Glycolytic Training for Endurance Athletes
Too much HIIT too often: Someone's exploded mitochondria leaked into the stall mat. AGT protocols don't do this.

Too much HIIT too often: Someone's exploded mitochondria leaked into the stall mat. AGT protocols don't do this.

From The Archives - I’m going back through the old blog and reposting some of the best articles.

"Glycolysis is stupid like cancer. It kills not only the host but also itself." - Pavel Tsatsouline

Running and cycling coaches already have a substantial bag of tricks for increasing an athlete's ability to go faster and farther with less effort. Interval, tempo, threshold, hill repeat and long workouts are staples of endurance athlete preparation. On the surface, these workouts are simply different methods of applying stress to the body, each type of stress designed to evoke a different adaptation and, if all goes well, the athlete's performance improves.

As Mike always points out, the science of why these workouts produce results is certainly there. In some cases it is well understood, in other cases not so much. The big limitation of trying to be too "sciency" here is because while the individual reactions are well understood, the complexity of the interactions, all the possible pathways, the dynamics of the system make hard and fast statements virtually impossible and outcomes difficult to predict. This complexity is the reason, as Mike explains we still crash test cars instead of doing computer simulation crashes: we as yet don't have enough computing power, it's cheaper to actually crash the cars and the test results are more easily measured.

It's similar when it comes to programming athletes. We know what the science says should happen at the biochemical level (the staff sports docs/exercise physiologists on professional/elite teams can analyze blood, saliva etc to confirm) but for the most part for most of us most of the time, observing how the athlete responds and performs to our programs is more easily measured. (It's funny. I have always joked that my athletes are Crash Test Dummies whenever they start a new program I've written for them.)

My goal as a lifting coach is the same as the sports coach's goal: help my athletes to go faster, farther with less effort: to increase their 100% capacities so they can use less to accomplish more. And I am always on the lookout for information I can use to further that goal. So it was with great interest that I attended a two day course in Portland, OR last fall called "Strong Endurance" designed and led by Pavel Tsatsouline of Strong First. The course was a presentation of Pavel's several years long research into the Soviet exercise science literature on how to improve athletic endurance via what came to be called Anti-Glycolytic training. The biochemistry section was daunting, graduate level as one participant noted, but necessary to draw the distinctions between what AGT is compared to other modalities that might seem similar, but aren't. (It's not HIIT, it's not Tabata, it's not a Metabolic Conditioning WOD)

In a nutshell, rather than frequently push athletes to near exhaustion to improve endurance (long term HIIT training for example) AGT uses movement time and intensity to initiate biochemical phenomenona which improve alactic power, produce less acid, improve lactate shuttling by way of increasing the number, size and quality of mitochondria. The protocols differ. Some are designed to promote mitochondrial respiration, others mitochondrial biogenesis, and some do both. Type I and Type II fibers have their own particular protocols. With the exception of "glycolytic peaking," all the protocols are designed to produce less lactic acid while improving the body's ability to buffer and use it. A variety of sports are cited in the literature with impressive results compared to control groups training conventionally.

Because I want to respect the proprietary nature of Pavel's work here, I won't go into specifics about how I implement the AGT protocols outlined in the course for my athletes. I will say that because my athletes get so much lower body work from their sports specific training that I set up their AGT protocols with building more upper body / upper limb mitochondria in mind, thus increasing the overall size of their "lactate battery." To that end we use kettlebells and barbell exercises combined with bodyweight movements. We usually incorporate the AGT work as "finisher" circuits after our strength training. Most of the protocols are deceptively "gentle" for having originated in the old Evil Empire. The coach does not have to adopt the attitude of Ivan Drago in Rocky 4, "If he dies, he dies." This is smarter/not harder (well, there are some hard efforts) training at its best.

Randy Hauer
Anti-glycolytic Training Is Like Weight Training For Your Mitochondria

I was on the forums last week talking about something related to A+A training (we generally use Alactic + Aerobic training which is a subset of Anti-glycolytic Training) and I had another insight that I want to share with you.

Your buddy Larry comes to you and wants to get strong. Do you tell him to go to the gym down the street and load the bar with 400 pounds and squat? Of course not, everyone knows that lifting way more than your capability will injure you and actually not make you strong. The right way to get strong is slow progressive overloading. There are hundreds of ways of designing a program to slowly increase the resistance so that Larry can get strong. The internet is full of fights about the minor differences in programs, but in reality it’s all the same - try to lift a little bit more this week than you did last week and you’ll improve.

Now when Jimmy wants to “get in shape” or “lose weight” why does everyone recommend HIIT-based solutions - CrossFit, Orange Theory, F45, Insanity, P90X, or any of those other late night infomertials? Anyone who’s (briefly) tried HIIT has felt great (the stress-induced endorphins make you happy to mask the suffering!) - and they may have even lost weight or improved body composition…for a while. Why is it okay to tell Jimmy to go hard on day 1?

Glycolytic training in general - HIIT specifically - is like going to the gym and loading the bar with 400 pounds on your first day. Just like you might be able to lift a car off of a person in an emergency, you may be able to survive some exposure to HIIT.

It’s not good for you.

It’s not sustainable!

And It’s causing damage to your body.

Here’s where A+A training comes in. Just like progressive overload with weights, A+A is progressive overload with your mitochondria.

Lactate (a byproduct of anaerobic glycoloysis - HIIT) can be burned aerobically in your mitochondria. It's a slow reaction, but it's not slow because of the lack of oxygen - the rate limiting step is elsewhere. Since you're not limited by oxygen, the amount of lactate you can burn is limited by the number of mitochondria you have that can work in parallel.

Repeated A+A bouts that lightly tap into glycoloysis cause some lactate to be generated and then you have to burn it in the mitochondria. As you do more A+A work, you grow more mitochondria so you can burn more lactate faster.

It’s just like weight training - repeated progressive overload stimulates growth.

When you go do your workout at the latest fad gym, all you’re doing is glycolytic work, and because you want to feel like you got a good workout, you go until you feel the burn. That burn is the excess lactate that can’t be burned in your mitochondria spilling over into your blood. That acid bath in your cells and blood stream is actually causing damage - the reason that HIIT stops working!

In our A+A bouts we go hard enough to get a little lactate - enough to stimulate more mitochondria. As you slowly grow more mitochondria, you can do more work, generate a little more lactate and burn all of it before it overflows into your blood!

Meaning you can do more work with less of the nasty byproducts.

A+A is slow overreaching that is always manageable. Just like a slow weight progression with barbells.

And just like there are hundreds of different protocols to get people stronger, there are (likely) hundreds of protocols to improve your mitochondria under the A+A umbrella. It’s just that we’re so new to this, we don’t know what they are. And that’s why I experiment on you.

Michael Deskevich
Tactical Strength Challenge - May 4

It’s that time of the year for the semi-annual Tactical Strength Challenge. We’ll be hosting it officially for anyone who wants a real score on the leaderboard. But even if you don’t want a world-wide score, we still want you to compete and add energy and excitement to the competition.

When: Saturday, May 4. We’ll have the doors open at 10:00AM and start the first flight of lifting at 10:30AM.

This is open to the public, you don’t need to be a member to participate.

What is the TSC? It’s only my favorite competition of the year! We compete world-wide with gyms everywhere on the same day. There are three events, Deadlift, Pull-ups, and Kettlebell Snatch.

You get three attempts to put a 1RM deadlift - weightlifting rules apply for the flights.

One attempt at max reps of pull-ups before you come off the bar.

And a 5:00 snatch test - max reps of Kettlebell Snatch in five minutes. Fun!

Official rules are here.

SFG Enrique Jackson will be our judge for anyone who is getting an official score. I’m so happy that he volunteered to help out out again this year!

If you’re planning on attending, please enroll in the event here so that I know how many people to expect.

And finally, if you’ve never been to Barbell Strategy, please create an account and sign the waiver. I just want to have all the lawyer-y stuff done before you arrive.

See you all on the 4th…be there! It’s mandatory for my people.

Michael Deskevich
Strength Training for Kids

From The Archives - I’m going back through the old blog and reposting some of the best articles.

One of the strength and conditioning experts I try to keep up with is Richard Blagrove, a highly respected UK strength and conditioning coach and author who works with endurance runners. His Nov 23, 2017 piece published in the UK magazine Athletics Weekly entitled “Why 12-Year Olds Should Lift Weights” is the inspiration for this post.

Two things that American sports coaches and parents are guilty of are:

1) too early sports specialization

2) superstitious fear of strength training for kids

I have very well meaning parents, some of whom are in medical fields, who express deep concerns over their adolescent athletes strength training. This despite the fact that every sport that kids participate in has inherent risks and all of them (think soccer or track is safe? why?) are orders of magnitude more likely to injure their child than strength training.

Hamill et al Study.

The hazards of specializing too soon are addressed in the must read book, Any Given Monday: Sports Injuries and How to Prevent Them for Athletes, Parents, and Coaches - Based on My Life in Sports Medicine, by James Andrews and the benefits of multisport athletic participation are spelled out in Istvan Balyi's book, Long Term Athlete Development.

Blagrove asserts that starting a kid on a strength training program at 16 is about 10 years too late, and I agree. Strength training for children is skill based (not resistance based) and begins with learning fundamental movement patterns intermixed with games and play. As the child matures emotionally and physically more complexity, structure and challenging exercises are introduced. By the time the child hits puberty, they have a movement vocabulary appropriate to more sophisticated sports performance oriented resistance training.

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Here is a chart from the article summarizing key recommendations for kids participating in strength training programs.

Finally, if you have a kid in high school and there is good chance he or she is going to want to play their sport at the collegiate level, they will be at an extreme disadvantage if they don't know their way around a weight room. On the other hand, they will be instant leaders on the the team if they do know what they are doing. I get feedback all the time from kids who have gone on to college programs whose strength coaches are ecstatic (as much as strength coach allows him or herself to BE ecstatic) that an incoming freshman knows how to squat, power clean and deadlift properly. One of my former female athletes now in a Div I program is routinely called on to demonstrate proper barbell technique for the boys on her team. It's this kind of feedback that keeps me doing what I do!

Randy Hauer
The problem with boot camps

From The Archives - I’m going back through the old blog and reposting some of the best articles.

The other day I was at the park with Alek, and I saw a boot camp-type class with about a dozen women in the grass next to the playground. They were doing some reasonable movements - lunges, jumping squats, push-up variations, but the quality of their movements was just terrible. Not one person went below a quarter squat, most wormed the push-ups, and the lunges were all over the place. I don't blame these women, who were clearly trying and working hard, or even the instructor, who was demonstrating with lovely form and explaining things right. Instead I blame the format.

These boot camp classes are really popular, and a lot of people equate them with the type of work we do in the gym minus the barbell. And sometimes I wonder, if the movements are reasonable (like I saw), are these workouts really so bad? But in my park experience, I realized the problem: rushing. The instructors teach fairly big groups, they get their students through a lot of work, and they can't take the time to actually teach the movements and correct people. I'm sure the instructor saw the quarter squats and she clearly knew how to do a proper squat, but after her class got through their 20, they needed to go on to the 50 lunges or whatever was next, and then the thing after that. There simply was no space in the class format to walk around and give each person cues to improve their movements and help them develop strength through their full range of motion. There were no movement standards, and I doubt any of the women in the class realized they were falling short.

People pay good money for these classes, and they may be quite happy with them, because they are doing work and getting out of breath. But they are not learning or pushing themselves to improve. If you want to have fun and get out of breath, take a spin class. (I did for years - it was great.) Don't go to the park and reinforce partial movements that don't actually build strength and kid yourself that you're doing functional fitness.

At our gym, we TEACH. That means we expect you to get outside your comfort zone, to keep working on stuff that's hard, to put your body through full range of movement, and to learn to move properly with and without weight. We will correct you, give you cues, give you drills, and modify your movements. Form is hands-down our top priority - I don't care how many reps you do, how fast you move, or how much weight you move unless you move with good form. The people that we attract totally get this. I am so pleased at everyone's attention to form and willingness to keep working at it. I have seen every one of our athletes get better and better, first learning to move properly, and then adding speed, pounds, and reps. As coaches, we will continue to demand the best from you. If the next time you see someone doing quarter squats in the park, you feel emotional pain and have to stop yourself from shouting "Go lower!", we know we've done our job.

Amy Santamaria
Executing the Fundamentals

From The Archives - I’m going back through the old blog and reposting some of the best articles.

"If you do not learn to execute the fundamentals flawlessly, you will never be a champion on or off the field...I can't push a noodle. I can't make you do these things... I'm simply your coach. You are the ones who must have the desire to execute the fundamentals, day in and day out."1

One of the lifting fundamentals I stress early and often is using a focal point. Using a spot, usually eye level or slightly higher, to focus on during the execution of the pull and recovery phases of the lift makes an enormous difference in visual/vestibular integration and stability. I see lots of lifters at local meets who are technically pretty sound on the pull but lose lifts receiving the bar overhead or recovering simply because they move their heads inappropriately or do not have a fixed gaze on a static point out front. In practice with my own lifters, reminding them to use their focal point more often than not fixes any wobbliness and extra steps on recovery.

I got to watch Rio Olympian Jenny Arthur warm up clean and jerks for her session this weekend at the Rocky Mountain State Games in Colorado. I took some video of her towards the end of her warm ups. Notice how assiduously she maintains her gaze on her focal point. (First video 85kg, second video 105kg)

If you have trouble with balance or body awareness on your lifts (and pretty much any lift will improve: presses, squats, snatches, overhead squats, clean and jerks) make sure you are using a focal point. Some lifters find a lower focal point is helpful on the first pull and another, higher point at the finish of the explosion. You will "lose contact with reality" during the pull under phase (if you are moving correctly and fast enough) so having a visual reference to return to as you receive the bar is key. At meets, either at introductions or in between sessions, get on the competition platform and scope out the view. Note where the judges will be, the audience and any fixed features in front of you to use. You don't want your opening attempt to be a totally new experience!

Randy Hauer
What I Learned From the Year Without Barbells

When I did the year without barbells, I was testing out some programming ideas. Many of them you saw last year as I rolled them out, and there will be some fun ones coming up this summer. Here's what the main themes are from now through the summer.

Kettelbell complexes: high rep double kettlebell work is fun, helps with coordination and strength, and has lots of carry-over to the barbell. Just about every day you'll be doing some type of complex with the kettlebell, often doubles.

Olympic lifts are good: This is where the pendulum-of-belifs swings the wildest to me. I learned the Olympic lifts very early in my lifting career. I had good coaches (e.g. Randy) and they were willing to spend the time to put them in beginner programs. But for beginners, you also get more bang for your buck with the simple power lifts. Get strong first and then learn the technical lifts. I'm back on the Olympic lift bandwagon. We'll be visiting them a lot - almost every day until September, but we won't be doing a high volume of them on any given day. That way we can ease into them and you can learn the technique without time pressure.

Heavy barbells: While I like kettlebells, you need to have a pretty high volume of work to get the same effect as a few good heavy barbell lifts. So the core lifts are back, Press, Bench Press, Squat, Front Squat, Deadlift every day. Volume is pretty high this month and then it will taper a bit for summer maintenance.

AGT: AGT is important! Randy is the Czar of AGT with his elite and pro athletes. I'm trying to steal as much from him as I can and also find a way to fit it into a class program. We'll mostly be sticking with the A+A style of AGT (thought there is a lot more to it than that!), and I'm trying to get a ten-minute session in just about every day after the strength work. It seems boring and weird, but it really does contribute to that WTF effect (). Put in your time and treat the AGT seriously.

LSD: I'm doing lots of LSD myself. It's important to have that aerobic stimulus to stimulate mitochondrial biogenesis - that will make everything above so much easier (or less costly as Al Ciampa says). Feel free to come in and spend an hour on the erg, if you want (A few folks actually do that over lunch!) but really this isn't good "gym work" LSD should be SLOW jogging or hiking or rucking and enjoying the Colorado outdoors. The work we do in the gym will make you have a better time outside, and the work (fun) you do outside will make the gym work more effective. Put it all together for full-body health and strength.

Michael Deskevich
We Need A Montage For Our Athletes
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Here are some videos and photos of what a few of our athletes are up to these days.

Last weekend at the Mullen Invitational, our Sports Performance athlete and Fairview Knight Marlena Preigh won the 1600 meter run in the morning and the 800 meter run in the afternoon.

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Also last weekend, our post collegiate pro/elite sports performance athlete Eva Krchova won the CU Invite 3k by a comfortable margin, lapping most of the field in the process.No pix, but Eva also won the Frank Shorter Run for Kid's Health the next day, finishing 4th overall (beating all the ladies and all but 3 gentlemen.)

Our weightlifters have been focusing on squats this cycle and are, due to scheduling (Spring Break, etc.) at various places along the six-week Russian Squat Routine program.

Randy Hauer
Some Kettlebell History

From The Archives - I’m going back through the old blog and reposting some of the best articles.

Note: This is a repost of a piece I did in 2007 to provide evidence of a "third way" for how to train with kettlebells. At the time, controversy was raging in the USA "kettlebell community" (all 50 of us, lol) over the "correct way" to use what was then a still esoteric (and for recreational trainers, a vaguely dangerous looking) implement. Hard Style on the one side, GS/kettlebell sport style on the other side, and a few of us straddling the fence (very uncomfortably) arguing for a contingency approach: kettlebells as one more tool in the strength and conditioning arsenal to address particular strength and conditioning goals. (As if one of the most revered Russian weightlifters and sports scientists ever, A.S. Medvedev, didn't know what he was doing.)

My perspective now is pretty much the same as it was then. (I think.) Kettlebells, like barbells and dumbbells are tools. For athletes who are using kettlebells for supplemental resistance training, they only need to learn and follow the basic biomechanical rules and techniques for safely lifting heavy things that apply to all implements.There is no "one true way" to solve the few idiosyncratic hurdles kettlebells present. However, once lifting weights veers into sports whether Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, Kettlebell Sport then to succeed one has to learn, and master techniques and apply training strategies specific to that sport.

In his book, the Russian Kettlebell Challenge, Pavel Tsatsouline discussed several populations that have used kettlebells as a part of their training. Among those discussed were Russian Olympic Weightlifters. Since Olympic Weightlifting is a serious hobby of mine I was very interested in which kettlebell lifts and set and rep schemes the Russians might have used.

Pavel didn't go into great detail in RKC about what exercises the Russians used, but he did mention the great Russian weightlifting coach and sports scientist Medvedev recommended 24 shoulder and arm exercises and 29 leg and torso exercises. Although I plan a more thorough treatment (one in which I hope to combine Medvedev's, Rodionov's, Verkoshanksy and Vorobyev's kettlebell recommendations with current American Weightlifting training methods) here is brief summary from A.S. Medvedev's chapter from the 1986 textbook Weightlifting and It's Teaching Methodology. Part 2 will cover additional exercises.

Shoulders and Arms

  1. Double KB Clean, 10-12 reps, medium tempo

  2. Double KB Clean + press, 6-8 reps, medium tempo

  3. Double KB Press, 8-10 reps, medium tempo

  4. Double KB Curls, 5-7 reps, slow tempo

  5. Double KB High Pulls, 5-7 reps, medium tempo

  6. Double KB Upright Row, 4-6 reps, slow tempo

  7. One arm press from shoulder, 3-5 reps, medium tempo

  8. One hand x 2KB press (overlap handles) 3-5 reps, medium tempo

  9. See Saw Press, 3-5 reps each side, comfortable tempo

  10. Bent over row, two hands x 1 KB, 6-8 reps, comfortable tempo, relax/stretch at bottom

  11. Double KB Bent over row, 4-6 reps, comfortable tempo, relax/stretch at bottom

  12. Double KB Alternating Bent over row, 4-6 reps each arm , comfortable tempo, relax/stretch at bottom

  13. Double KB Shrug, arms to side, 8-10 reps, slow tempo, relax/stretch at bottom position

  14. Shrug, One Arm, 8-10 reps then switch sides, slow tempo, relax/stretch at bottom position

  15. Shrug, 2 Hands x One KB, bell in front, 9-11 reps, slow tempo

  16. Double KB Circular Shrugs, arms to sides, 5-7 reps forward, the 5-7 reverse, slow tempo

  17. Floor Press, 1KB, legs spread apart, 6-8 reps, medium tempo

  18. Double KB Floor Presses, legs spread apart, elbows tight to body, 6-8 reps, medium tempo

  19. Alternating Floor press, 2KB, legs spread apart, elbows tight to body, 5-7 reps each side, medium tempo

  20. Pullovers, reclining, 1 KB 2 hands, legs spread apart, 5-7 reps, easy tempo

  21. Reclining Shoulder Girdle "Twists", 1 KB 2 hands, legs spread apart, set kettlebell on each side 5-7 reps, easy tempo

  22. Pullovers + Reclining Shoulder Girdle "Twists", 1 KB 2 hands, legs spread apart, 5-7 reps each side (pullover set KB to one side, then pullover set KB to the other side) easy tempo

  23. High Bench Rows, (lying on stomach) 2 KBS, 6-8 reps easy tempo

  24. High Bench Alternating Rows, (lying on stomach) 2 KBS, 6-8 reps easy tempo

Medvedev's instructions for beginners is to begin with the 16kg bells and afer 4-6 weeks move up to the 24kg bells. "Later" move up to the 32kg bells. No more than 3 "lessons" a week for beginners and no more than 30 minutes per lesson. Lessons should be at the same time each day. Beginners should also start with a conservative set and rep scheme: 3 sets x 3 reps per exercise. As strength improves over the 4-6 weeks, beginners should have worked up to 5-6 sets of 3-4 reps. The recommended rep ranges for the above exercises are for more advanced athletes.

Legs and Torso

Medvedev recommends using 5-6 exercises performed in circuit fashion with no rest between exercises, but beginners may take up to one minute if necessary. As fitness levels improve, more exercises can be added. To assure improvement and development of leg muscles always include some squats. Either with one KB on one shoulder, or squats with a KB on each shoulder, or perform suitcase squats "hindu squat" style.

  1. Good Morning (note: what we call RDL these days), One KB held in front, shoulder width stance, straight legs, slow lowering, quick raising, 8-10 reps. Repeat with 2 KBs, one each hand, 8-10 reps

  2. Squat, 1KB held by handle behind head w/ both hands, 8-10 reps, easy tempo

  3. Snatch High Pull, 1 KB, two hands, from ground to overhead, 8-10 reps, easy tempo

  4. Pistol Grip KB Clean to Shoulder (Bottoms up clean) from ground, 5-7 reps each side, medium tempo

  5. Snatch, from ground, 5-7 reps

  6. Double KB Clean to shoulder, from ground, 4-6 reps, easy tempo

  7. Double KB Snatch, from ground, 4-6 reps

  8. Squat + Press From Shoulder (clean 1 kb to shoulder, squat recover to standing position and press) 4- 6 reps, slow tempo, repeat opposite side

  9. Side Bends, KB each hand hanging to side, feet together, bend side to side, 8-10 reps slow tempo

  10. Alternating Side Bend + Row, KB each hand hanging to side, feet together, bend to one side while opposite arm rows upwards; KB tracks alongside body, 8-10 reps each side, slow tempo

  11. Trunk Rotation w/ KB held behind head, 3-5, reverse direction & repeat, slow tempo

  12. Squat + Jump (no weight) 3-5 fast tempo

  13. Twisting KB Pickup, KB outside left leg, bend and twist to pick up with right arm, replace, repeat for 5-7 reps and then switch sides, slow tempo

  14. Kettlebell Swings, 2 hands 1 KB, swing above head height, 8-10 reps fast

  15. KB Hip Abduction, affix kb to foot, bend knee, abduct leg, 8-10 reps, switch sides, slow tempo

  16. One legged Squat, 1 KB held behind head, 4-6 reps each leg, medium tempo

  17. Side Lunges, 1 KB behind head, 5-7 reps, slow

  18. Lunges, 1 KB behind head, 6-8 reps per side, medium tempo

  19. Toe raise, 1 KB behind head, 8-10 reps, high as possible, medium tempo

  20. Toe raise on blocks, 1 KB behind head, 8-10 reps, high as possible, slow tempo

  21. Single Leg Knee Extensions, Affix KB to foot, Sit on High Bench, 3-5 reps each side, slow

  22. Double Leg Knee Extensions, Affix KB to each foot, Sit on High Bench, 3-5 reps, slow

  23. Elevated Single Leg Knee Extensions, Affix KB to foot, Sit on High Bench, elevate thigh off bench and extend knee, 4-6 reps each side, slow

  24. Elevated Double Leg Knee Extensions, Affix KB to each foot, Sit on High Bench, elevate thighs off bench and extend knee, 4-6 reps each side, slow3-5 reps, slow

  25. Seated Good Morning, 1 KB behind head, straddle bench, fold forward, 6-8 reps, slow

  26. Seated Side Bends, 1 KB behind head, straddle bench, 8-10 reps, slow

  27. Seated Torso Twists (face front, turn to side, return to face front all reps to one side first, then switch) 10-12 reps each side, medium tempo

  28. Seated Full Twists, complete twist right to left then left to right, 7-9 reps each side

  29. Roman Chair Situps, 1 KB held on chest, 6-8 reps slow

Bonus Material:

Verkoshansky has a chapter in this same text book with an extensive list of mostly dumbbell exercises for the general weight training of athletes and "developing strength endurance and power for athletes of different classifications."

Here is an interesting KB drill paraphrased as closely as we could get it:

Most athletes need to get from point A to point B as explosively as possible. Here is an exercise for improving explosiveness. Hold 2 kettlebells of equal weight (16, 24, or 32kg) one in each hand. Position two benches of equal height on either side. Benches should be between 60-75cm (24 - 30 inches) in height. Stand between the benches and jump up, landing one foot on each bench. Step down and repeat.

Much thanks to Vladimir Garbovsky for his patient help translating the text with and to Pavel for taking time out of his busy schedule to provide photocopied pages of his original Russian text. Vladimir is of Ukrainian descent and speaks Russian fluently. Even though he is no stranger to the weight room (he plays defensive end for West Chester University football team) much of the translation was nonetheless difficult to put into English weight room idiom. There were no pictures, and the exercises were rarely named, just descriptions so we had to use "translators license" quite a bit and no small amount of pantomime which raised some eyebrows from the students in the Library trying to get some studying done. Any errors are surely mine, but I think we got it pretty close.

Randy Hauer
Squircle and the Kettlebell Snatch

My favorite applied math blogger just revisited a topic that I had forgotten about: the squircle - a shape between the circle and the square.

Image stolen from  John D. Cook

Image stolen from John D. Cook

You see them everyday when you look at the icons on your iPhone. The squircle is not a square with rounded corners, the curvature of the squircle is continuous...so that's kind of cool - nature abhors a discontinuity, shapes like these can describe physical movement nicely.

This is the shape that I've had in my mind, but never really put to words when I'm describing the difference between a swing and a snatch, and the difference between a snatch and a heavy snatch.

The arc that a swing makes is pretty much circular.

A swing is an arc. Yes, I know you should be in the vertical plank at the top and not putting pressure on your lumbar like that, but I was at the mercy of free clip art and that’s what you get.

A swing is an arc. Yes, I know you should be in the vertical plank at the top and not putting pressure on your lumbar like that, but I was at the mercy of free clip art and that’s what you get.

But you need to "tame the arc" for a snatch or a clean. That is, you need to bring the bell up more straight along your body - "like zipping a coat". I've noticed that there's also a bit of a flattening of the back swing too, I would say that the arc that you make when you snatch looks more like this.

Tame the arc like this…

Tame the arc like this…

As you snatch a heavier and heavier weight, you need to keep the bell in closer. If the bell gets too far away from you, it will pull you over on your face. As the snatch approaches 1/2 body weight, you really need to keep it close no matter how strong you are. As the bell gets heavier, you also need to get more momentum into the bell at the bottom of the arc when your hips have the most mechanical advantage. You need to square your squircle even more...which is a flattening of the back swing and a flattening of the arc in front of your body. That also requires a tighter corner (and hence much more power) at the transition.

When it’s a heavy snatch, your squircular path is more square. You need lots of power applied at the bottom to accelerate the bell up!

When it’s a heavy snatch, your squircular path is more square. You need lots of power applied at the bottom to accelerate the bell up!

I know Randy's refreshing a "Dynamics of the Swing" blog post that we worked on over a decade ago. So I won't steal his thunder. But the force you put into the bell (and how "heavy the bell feels") is proportional to the curvature of it's path. So a swing is much more constant force, where as a snatch is more pulsed at the extremes.

Don’t snatch like this unless you want to fall on your face or hurt your back. It’s not supposed to be a circular arc.

Don’t snatch like this unless you want to fall on your face or hurt your back. It’s not supposed to be a circular arc.

All plots courtesy of IDL - we invented the idea of Python before Python ever existed.

Michael Deskevich
Practice Your Weightlifting Like a Chess Master
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From The Archives - I’m going back through the old blog and reposting some of the best articles.

Chess masters don't become chess masters playing chess all the time. Simply playing chess games will not improve your own chess game past a certain point. Chess Masters got to be chess masters by studying and analyzing the games of Grand Master players, learning their logic and tactics while acquiring a repertoire of moves and counter moves to apply in their own games. Learning to immediately recognize patterns on the board, the classic attacks and counters, anticipate future moves and how to respond appropriately takes years of practice. By the time one achieves Grand Master status, a large part of the execution of game is informed by having "seen it all." Novelty and innovation arises as a choice, not an accident.

Similarly, one does not get proficient at the snatch and the clean and jerk by only practicing the full lifts all the time. Breaking down the full movements into their constituent parts and progressions gives the athlete an opportunity for motor pattern "deep practice." Weightlifting coaches have devised hundreds of variations designed to contribute to the development of the two competition lifts. Like any other exercise, progress in the weightlifting movements depends on a variety of stimuli, otherwise the body simple stops adapting and in many cases will regress. Monotony in practice is the enemy of progress while a little sensorimotor chaos reasonably prescribed is an ally.

Assistance exercises and supplemental exercises are tools the coach and athlete have available to address weaknesses that negatively impact the competition movements and that the competition movements themselves are inadequate to address. For example, if your first pull is consistently off balance and loose, practicing "lift offs" and "halting pulls" will be more productive than hammering away at the full lift.

As a coach, it is important to have and convey to your athlete an accurate mental template of the fundamentals of good lifting. Athletes should study video and try what they see, that's part of learning movements. But they should also be able to discern quality movement and be able to detect technical errors.

By the time an athlete is competing regularly, the full movements should be automatic sets of "well rehearsed movement" and (ideally) impervious to venue, nerves and the increasing weight on the bar. That depth of virtuosity and consistency comes from years of deep practice and high level motor skill acquisition which requires regularly taking the lifts apart and putting them back together again.

And squats. Lots and lots of squats.

Randy Hauer
A Year Without Barbells

Sounds kind of sad: "a year without barbells…” 

It was actually fun, as I finished up the Spring TSC last year I got in the mood to really focus on my kettlebell work. I was intrigued by the Easy Reg Park program and a bunch of the AGT/A+A stuff that was getting hot this time last year so I wanted to give it an honest effort and see how well I'd do. 

I got a few followers (I've always wanted to be a cult leader...) to join me in the great kettlebell experiment. We tested the predecessors to many of the kettlebell programs you did in the last year, so in addition to just being a fun experiment to see if kettlebells alone would keep you strong, it also helped me to hone the S&C programming.

The results: I'm still strong, and everyone moves even better!

On the whole, I'd say my top-end on the barbell lifts went down maybe 10% (that's a lot when you have a big deadlift). But my guess is that's just motor patterning, and by the end of summer I'll be back to where I should be. Or maybe I'm just getting old and weak. We'll see...

Seriously, it's kind of cool that in the last year I did maybe 20 deadlifts (which was just the warm-ups and comp lifts for the two TSCs) and last week I did 1x135, 1x225, 1x315, 7x1x405 with no problem at all. Though, 405 is technically my 85% but it felt - and looked, ask Blake - more like 90%. So my top end probably did drop a little. But that's with ZERO barbell training!

My disciples in the year-of-the-kettlebell also have transitioned back to the barbell with me. What I notice with them is that they move so much better. (Barbell) cleans are crisp, snappy, and everyone is landing with a tall chest and high elbows. Jerks are fast and symmetric. All of that double kettlebell work means that you don't get to cheat and you get strength, coordination, and mobility all together. Squats are strong and great - a 2x32kg front squat makes the bar on your back not feel so heavy!

So why am I back to barbells if the kettlebell is so great? You do need to mix things up and keep them fresh. I was getting a little beat down with the same repetitive movements. Additionally, I started an LSD program () and with that much low-power work I needed a high intensity tail event to keep me strong and fast. I noticed that I was losing mass with only the kettelbell loading. And with the new Advanced S&C class I get to workout with everyone and that helps my mental state!

Michael Deskevich
Train vs Test
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From The Archives - I’m going back through the old blog and reposting some of the best articles.

A common mistake that new cooks make is to keep opening the oven to check on their food. Every time you open the oven door, you let heat out and it makes the delicious roast beef take longer to cook. As you become a more experienced cook, you learn to let dinner cook without checking on it. You have a feel for when it will be done and only test when you need to know for sure.

A common mistake that new weightlifters make is to keep testing their maxes. Every time you test a max, you not only burn a training day, you open yourself up for injury (a max is really a max effort - on the edge between making it and not), or tax your body so hard during the max, you'll be lifting poorly for days. As you become a more experienced weightlifter, you get an intuitive feel for where your body is and how hard you should be pushing your lifts.

You do need to know when your food is cooked, and you do need to know what your maxes are. You just don't need to be obsessively checking them. Don't get caught in the trap of checking your max every week, eking out the next 1 pound. We don't often program 1RM test days for this very reason. Be wary of programming that frequently runs you through a series of benchmarks. We feel that it's more important to be consistently making progress than it is to keep checking where you are.

But what about the Bulgarian method? That method of training at 90%+ day-in an day-out worked for two reasons: 1) lots of drugs. The eastern bloc was very good at working with pharmaceuticals to build strong athletes, and 2) survivorship bias.

Survivorship bias is the bias you see when you only see the successes and don't see all the failures. It shows up just about everywhere, and you should always be conscious of it (but it's hard because by definition, you don't see the places where it doesn't show up). Go here to see an excellent short talk about survivorship bias.

In the context of weightlifting, can you say that training at 90% all the time makes strong athletes? Or is it that only the strongest athletes can survive training at 90%, leaving a trail of broken athletes in their wake (that you never see)? Does testing your 1RM every week make you stronger? Or do the biggest advocates of testing their 1RM every week just do so because they're strong and can handle it?

We want to provide great training to everyone, not just the folks who can survive our training. If you follow our programming, you'll make safe and steady progress and build a strong foundation of fitness.

Update: You’ll notice that even since I originally wrote that post years ago, I’ve even reduced the testing days more. We rarely test anymore. I like it that way better. In fact, what I’ve been mostly doing is just keep people lifting in that 75%-85% range all the time. Strength usually sneaks up on them and they suddenly realize that the 85% they’re doing for reps is more than their previous 100%! It doesn’t matter what you’re 100% really is (unless you’re a competitive lifter), so just keep lifting not-too-heavy and do that consistently and strength will sneak up on you.

Michael Deskevich
Strength, Stiffness and Elasticity: Improving Running Efficiency via Strength Training
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From The Archives - I’m going back through the old blog and reposting some of the best articles.

Performance in distance running is between 80-99% dependent on aerobic metabolism. There are three ways to improve endurance: either improve lactate threshold, increase VO2 max or improve Running Efficiency (RE) or some combination of all three. This post will focus on strength training as a means to improve RE and lower metabolic costs.

There have been many studies over the years that have shown improved RE from low rep, relatively heavy weight training. Typically, runners weight training on their own or getting inappropriate coaching advice will go too light and perform too many repetitions per set in an attempt to recreate additional endurance work and/or avoid unwanted weight gain. This approach is misguided: the goal of improved RE requires the athlete to get stronger to generate higher forces more rapidly, thus strength training with lower reps and heavier weights that tap into Type IIa fibers are appropriate. Doing so will compliment the slow twitch/sports specific skill training. Additionally, because the volume is low and the intensity is high, strength adaptations are mainly neuromuscular and do not involve muscle growth (hypertrophy) or associated weight gain.

It may be that the primary factor between world champion marathoners and middle of the pack athletes is the ability to sustain efficient running technique for the duration of the race. Efficient running technique is highly dependent on strength, "In endurance running the stance leg absorbs three to four times the runner's bodyweight on each landing. To keep that up for a long time, endurance runners must be able to recruit relatively large motor units with submaximal effort - in other words, long distance runners have to be strong." (Bosch, pg125, Strength Training and Coordination) The stronger the runner, the less energy is required to run.

Optimum RE can be thought of as repeatedly executing high forces while performing the least amount of work possible. Think of it this way: isometric actions (no changes in length of the muscle) produce the highest forces but do no actual mechanical work and thus have lower metabolic costs. (Fenn Effect, Fenn 1924) Muscle fibers that do change length whether eccentric or concentric produce less force and do more work at higher metabolic expense. Therefore, runners whose technique produces mainly force (isometric actions that make use of the elastic properties of the muscle/tendon unit) will be mechanically and metabolically more efficient than a runner whose technique requires more mechanical muscular work and expends more energy. Perhaps "hitting the wall" towards the end of a race is as much a function of insufficient strength contributing to technical inefficiency as it is lack of adequate fueling.

Another way to think of it is strength training performed correctly teaches the athlete how to "take the slack out of the system" so the body can make as much use as possible of elastic properties: "free force" The stronger the muscle, the better the athlete can reduce slack, the less effort is required to produce the stiffness and springiness which are hallmarks of efficient running technique.

Distance runners who engage in appropriate strength training while continuing to train their events should expect to see improved performance, enhanced technical endurance with no weight gain. Hitting the weights consistently could mean faster times with less perceived effort and greater fuel efficiency.

Randy Hauer
Advanced S&C Class
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The few of you who actually sign up ahead of time may have noticed a new "Advanced” Class at 4:30. What’s up with that?

I’ve been feeling disconnected with my workouts lately and I need to be able to workout with people. So, since I’m in charge, I can change that!

I’ll be working out at 4:30-5:30 and I want to workout with you. The “Advanced” class is just the normal programming, but I’ll be working out with you rather than teaching. I have the 5:30-6:30 time slot set aside so that I can give the proper attention and teach if you’d rather that.

How do you know if you can go to the “Advanced” class? Everyone who currently comes to the evening class is good to attend. Basically if you can read the program and know what it means you’re good. I won’t be ignoring you, so don’t worry about that.

Looking forward to working out with more folks this spring, I need the energy.

Michael Deskevich
New Study: The Relationship Between Practice and Long Term Athletic Development

From The Archives - I’m going back through the old blog and reposting some of the best articles.

A couple of posts back I talked about the importance of challenging oneself when practicing as a strategy for enhancing motor learning. I also mentioned briefly the ongoing work of Anders Ericcson in the area of expertise and peak performance. At the risk of being a flip flopper on the imporance of practice remember I did say Cognitive Dissonance goes with the territory as we tease out the actual mechanisms of performance from study to study.

Yesterday there was a report on a study by Psychologist Brooke McNamara et al of Case Western Reserve University. The study, a meta analysis of the available scientific literature on practice and high performance, calls into question the high value we have come to place on practice as the sole means to develop expertise. Practice is important, the study concludes, but "Human performance is incredibly complex," says McNamara. "Multiple factors need to be considered, only one of which is practice."

The concept of the 10,000 Hour Rule of Deliberate Practice was put forth by Florida State University Psychologist Anders Ericcson in the 90s and popularized by such books as "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell and "The Talent Code" by Daniel Coyle. The popular notion of the 10,000 hour rule has played a role in causing otherwise well meaning parents and coaches to create our current epidemic of early sports specialization that according to McNamara has lead, "...to physical or mental burnout before it's clear that a child even has a penchant for that sport."  

The study also suggests that most elite athletes actually don't start specializing in their chosen sport any younger than non-elites. If anything, general, diverse physical motor skill development was the rule for thoseyoung athletes that went on to become high performers. Delaying sport specialization is supported by sports science athlete development expert Istvan Balyi and sports orthopedic surgeon James Andrews, whose book "Any Given Monday: Sports Injuries and How to Prevent Them for Athletes, Parents and Coaches" should be required reading for every parent and coach of young athletes.

To echo McNamara, practice is important. Skill acquisition absolutely requires putting in the reps. And Ericcson's notion of Deliberate Practice is a valuable one especially for us duffers. But practice itself won't replace other factors such as genetics. Roughly 82% of the differences bewteen athletic performances are due to factors other than practice. "The Sports Gene" by David Epstein is a reality check challenging the idea that with early specialization and with enough hard work anybody can become elite: it's just not the case. "...the American ideal of hard work and dedication leading naturally to excellence," is something of a myth.

As for those athletes who chose their parents well and are competing at the elite level, McNamara's study shows that practice accounts for only about 1% of performance differences. That doesn't seem like much of a margin, but at the highest levels of performance that 1% can be THE difference. Maggie Callahan, one of our Hudson Elite athletes told me that this quote (attributed to High School basketball coach Tim Notke and popularized by pro player Kevin Durant) is on the wall in the University of Arizona varsity weight room, "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard."  

I think that is a relatively healthy motto to guide practice at any level.

Randy Hauer
Wait! Don't file your taxes just yet!
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I just realized that you guys did so awesome in the gym last year that the IRS is going to want in on that. I’ll be sending out your 1099-GAINZ soon and then you can finish your tax return.

The folks who train at Barbell Strategy do so well, that we ruining the Gini coefficient of strength for the rest of the country, and since there’s no longer an equitable distribution of strength, the feds are going to want to tax you on your gains.

Michael Deskevich
Getting ready for swimsuit season
Swimsuit season in Colorado

Swimsuit season in Colorado

April is still winter in Colorado, but we can start to get ready for summer now. We've been doing a pretty consistent template since January, and we’re due for a little change starting next week.

Our Q1 programming was a little extra boring. That was on purpose - I wanted to focus on a small number of movements, really train them and make sure you got in AGT every day.

It was kind of scary how well the AGT every day worked! I’ve seen at least one person who now find the Simple Standard (10x10 32kg swings every 0:30 followed by 10x1 32kg TGUs every 1:00) actually simple! Usually that’s a workout that borders on making you question your life choices but now after 3 months of (admittedly very easy) AGT work it’s trivial.

Now we’ll take a little break. We’re going to focus on high-volume barbell strengh work. That will help you put on some size for swimsuit season. We’ll still be doing AGT, but not as much because we won’t have time in class to hit the barbell and do AGT. Cycling the modality is good too, it gives you a little break.

We’ll be simplifying our pattern a bit: Movement #1 is skill/warm-up. Don’t go crazy heavy, use this to get moving. Movement #2 and #3 are Barbell work. The weight for #2 is simply Light/Medium/Heavy - use your judgment. For #3, I prescribe sets, reps, and weight. This is where you’ll want to focus your energy. Then we finish up with A+A or pull-ups for the final movement.

I tested it, and you can easily get done in under an hour if you don’t get distracted.

Have fun!

Michael Deskevich