A mini band below the knees stops the knees caving during squats!

I have tried ALL the different methods to fix valgus collapse (knee valgus/knees caving inward). After a good nine months of squatting with a mini band BELOW my knees, I feel I can now confidently say that this has been the number one method to correct this issue.

Enough talking, what is this miraculous fix then?

Put a mini band BELOW your knees

mini band below the kneesThis input forces you to keep your knees out during the squat by getting the lateral hip muscles firing. It also helps to think about pushing your knees out on the descent in the squat as well as on the ascent. And always push with your heels too. If the band starts to draw your knees in, that is your cue to press them back out with your hips and glutes – do not let the band pull them in!

bweightsquatknesspress-b-male[1]Over time, you will learn how correct knee tracking movement should feel and one day you’ll be able to squat without the band at all.

I have tried a mini band above the knees, on the thighs as well as almost on the kneecaps. Neither of these methods have been as amazingly successful as having the band BELOW the knees.

One way of looking at the 5×5 – same weight for each set or not?

5×5 same weight for all sets?

I was recently reading about one of the most common sets/reps scheme, which is the 5×5 strength routine. 5 reps is generally used for building strength rather than hypertrophy.

Alternatively, lifters might prefer to use the 3×8-10 sets/reps scheme, generally used for hypertrophy. Reps of 8-10 is normally around 70-80% of your 1RM.

Okay, so I wanted to compare two versions of the 5×5 method. They are:

1. Cumulative fatigue – using the same weight for each set (typically all 5 sets will be at 85% of your 1RM)

2. Pyramid – increasing the weight for each set so you might aim to totally max out on the final set, or even only achieve 4 reps on the final set (so here set 1 might be at 70%, set 2 75%, set 3 80%, set 4 85% and set 5 90% of your 1RM).

What does this mean?

Let me use an example of a woman who has a deadlift 1RM of 100kg.

What would the two methods look like?

Method 1 – Cumulative fatigue

Set 1 = 5 reps at 85kg

Set 2 = 5 reps at 85kg

Set 3 = 5 reps at 85kg

Set 4 = 5 reps at 85kg

Set 5 = 5 reps at 85kg

How would this workout feel? I’d imagine it would feel extremely difficult if 85% is representative of a 1 set 5 rep max then imagine having to do this for 5 sets? I’d make a guess that the woman would have to rest for 4-5 minutes between sets to make the recovery. She might also fail to make 5 reps on the fourth and/or final set.

Method 2 – Pyramid

Set 1 = 5 reps at 70kg

Set 2 = 5 reps at 75kg

Set 3 = 5 reps at 80kg

Set 4 = 5 reps at 85kg

Set 5 = 5 reps at 90kg

According to this, sets 1, 2 and 3 fall inside the hypertrophy percentage range (70-80%) however, hypertrophy is best obtained when the muscles are under tension for 45-60 seconds. 5 reps will probably not take this amount of time. It probably takes more like 25-45 seconds.

How would this workout feel? I imagine it’d feel a lot easier than method 1. Sets 1, 2 and 3 should feel easy. Set 4 is likely to feel manageable too because she has only just reached her 5RM. Sets 1, 2 and 3 might well have felt like warm up sets to her. I don’t think our lifter would have trouble hitting all 5 reps here on set 4. She might need less rest time between sets, maybe 3-5 minutes instead of 4-5 as in method 1.

Now what about set 5? 5 reps at 90kg? This is 90% of her 1RM, which according to charts, tells me a 90% 1RM corresponds to a 3RM. So our lifter might make 3 reps on set 5. No doubt this set would be challenging.

 

Conclusion

I think method 1 is going to be a lot more tiring. The appropriate weight is being used for the correct rep range, i.e. she is lifting a weight that she can ONLY lift 5 times, 5 times. Therefore her muscles are being worked in a way that will make them stronger.

Method 2 is interesting. I almost feel that sets 1, 2 and 3 are “wasted” being used as working sets because she is lifting a weight than she can clearly lift MORE than 5 times and surely that defeats the object of doing a 5 rep set? Theoretically, our lifter would be able to deadlift 70kg and 80kg more than 5 times (70% and 80% respectively and in the 8-10 hypertrophy scheme). Put in another way, she might be using an 8RM as opposed to a 5RM but being “forced” to stop at 5 reps.

I think set 5 is useful though. Our lifter will be able to try out more than she might’ve otherwise, and will be less tired than in method 1 (because the weights used in workout 2 are less). Set 5 will be testing and excellent for strength gains.

Which workout method will be better overall for strength or for hypertrophy? I’d be inclined to say that method 1 is better for both strength and hypertrophy. Why?

a) The appropriate weight is being used for each set, i.e. a 5RM for each of the 5 sets. This is the optimal weight for strength. The volume is high (25 reps) and each rep is as hard.

b) If we look at method 2, it is using a hypertrophy weight (70-80%) but not a hypertrophy rep range (it’s using 5 reps not 8-10). So sets 1, 2 and 3 are not going to be very hard. They will certainly be manageable. Sets 1, 2 and 3 are also not optimal for strength gains because although they are 5 reps, they are not heavy enough weights to get the full benefit. Our lifter is lifting a weight that she COULD lift 8 or 10 times, but she is making herself stop at 5 because the workout says so. I’d almost go as far to call this pointless, if it weren’t for reaping the rewards on sets 4 and 5. Method 2 gives the lifter the opportunity to “test the waters” at above her 5RM. This will be helpful in breaking plateaus and building new strength.

However, overall, due to the lower amount of work required in method 2, I’d say that method 1 was superior for both strength and hypertrophy in this theoretical case.

Of course, weightlifting doesn’t work this way. I just thought it was interesting to talk about, since I’d been thinking about it. There are many more factors involved in how strength and hypertrophy are gained. This was just one way of looking at it. Both methods have their place – the key is progressive overload, which means progressing every session; adding a little bit more weight, less rest time, etc.

When the bar swings out in front – Tall Snatches

Once the bar reaches my pockets (the creases of my hips), it swings out in front of me. This is not supposed to happen. In a good snatch, the bar is supposed to be as close to your body as possible so that the barbell and the body are a ‘single system.’

This picture illustrates a great third pull. The bar is very close to the lifter’s body:

snatch high pulls

third pull

The problem: the bar swings out in front

We can narrow this down to being a problem primarily with the third pull and the tall snatch is a superb exercise for nailing the third pull.

The fix: the tall snatch

What is the tall snatch?

It is a snatch from a ‘high hang’ or ‘tall’ position. You start on your tip toes, the bar at your hips. There is no knee bend. You have a very vertical torso. There is no downward dip/drive to initiate the lift – you just shrug and pull from the high hang and continue the lift as you would in the full snatch.

There is no room for the bar to swing out in the tall snatch. You will notice that it is near impossible NOT to pull the bar straight up in an upwards path.

The key to a good tall snatch is the aim to get your arms into a “scarecrow-like” posture, which ensures the bar stays close. At the end point of the third pull, the combination of the pulling power and the bar being so close to the body leads to a vigorous pull under the bar into the bottom of the overhead squat position.

It is because the bar begins so high in the tall position that speed is imperative in this exercise. So the tall snatch is also an excellent exercise choice for improving your speed getting under the bar.

The tall snatch is an assistance exercise to ASSIST you in becoming stronger in the full snatch. It is best used with light weights and the goal is speed.

The brand new ‘Hooked Store’

I am excited to announce the launch of a very awesome new online weightlifting shop! Hooked Store is now my favourite place to shop for weightlifting and fitness equipment all in the UK – that means no import tax or customs charges for the things you want that are usually only available in China or the US!

Great website, great prices, great products. Abbie, owner of Hooked Store and Lady in Weighting, is continually adding new ranges and new stock so keep checking back.

What are you waiting for? Check it out now!

The correct way to do Push Jerks

Today I was coached on push jerks. What is a good reason to incorporate the push jerk into your training programme? Well, push jerks require less depth than the split jerk so they train excellent hip drive, a very vertical stance, and confidence in holding a heavy weight overhead in only a very shallow lower body position. It is good to train the body in unfamiliar ways.

The push jerk is a good alternative to the split jerk and a good addition to any overhead training. The push jerk is a very useful assistance exercise when training the Olympic lifts because it allows a very heavy weight (less than only in the split jerk) to be lifted overhead. You should be able to push jerk more than you can push press and push press more than you can strict press.

Amount of weight used in the presses

Strict press < Push press< Push jerk < Split jerk In fact, the weight used in the push jerk should actually be extremely close to that used in the split jerk (it can be as close as just 5kg less).

woman jerking in competition

The traditional split jerk.

The correct way to do push jerks

This is how I execute push jerks:

  1. Position the bar on your shoulders, as if you were about to perform a split jerk
  2. Dip vertically
  3. Now perform a vertical jump straight up in the air at the same time as pressing the bar straight up over head. The pelvis should be tucked under and torso very vertical
  4. When you land, your feet should be in almost the exact same position as how they were at the start
  5. When you land, you should have bent knees but you should not be anywhere close to being in a squat position. The legs will be in a similar stance to that in the end of a power clean

Push jerks can lead to squat jerks

Kendrick Farris Squat jerk

Kendrick Farris finishing his famous squat jerk. Image from: www.workhardworkharder.com

Once you get confident at push jerking heavy loads, you can consider progressing on to the squat jerk. This is essentially a push jerk except that you ride the weight down into the full squat position. It is identical to the split jerk except for the finishing stance, i.e. you finish in a squat stance rather than a lunge/split.

Most athletes use the split jerk in competition. Why?

  1. The bar does not have to go so high overhead. In the squat jerk, you have to drive the bar much higher.
  2. It is easier to achieve balance in the centre of the body, due to the splitting of the front and back legs. There is also a small amount of room to “fix” an unstable bar by shifting your feet around. In a squat jerk, there is little to zero room for error because you are essentially stuck in the position you land in.

Why would some people squat jerk instead?

  1. They have an extremely strong mobile casino rock bottom squat position and superior leg strength.
  2. You an achieve more of an upright torso in the squat jerk.

As with any lift, you get better only by practising. I have asked my coach why some people squat jerk instead and he explained that some people just seem to “naturally” find it better than the split position. But we both agree that everybody is an individual and the goal is to get the heaviest weight over your head – whichever way you choose to do it. I imagine that if you train one particular lift over and over, you will get good at that particular lift. So, train the squat jerk and you will get good at the squat jerk. Train the split jerk and you will get good at the split jerk!

There are some impressive Olympic lifters who squat jerk instead of split jerk. Three good examples are Pyrros Dimas, Kendrick Farris and Lu Xiaojun.

Pyrros Dimas video:

He lands in a quarter squat position and rises very quickly.

Kendrick Farris video:

If you have not already seen or heard about Kendrick Farris, I recommend browsing some videos showing his clean and jerks. His jerks are extremely dramatic and intense!

Lu Xiaojun video:

Love this. Looks strong, comfortable and natural for him.

 

My coach has suggested that I trial out squat jerks. Because I am so comfortable in that rock bottom squat position, he thinks I might like them. I am very good at overhead squats and I have the shoulder flexibility to perform them in the clean/squat jerk grip. I”m going to try them out and see what happens!

Do you split jerk or squat jerk? Why or why not?

The ‘bounce’ in the squat clean

The full (or “squat”) clean consists roughly of 1) a first pull 2) a second pull 3) a front squat. The ideal scenario would be that you have the strength to simply front squat up out of that rock bottom position. You don’t have to think much about your technique, you simply squat the weight up. In some scenarios however, the lifter does not have adequate leg strength to simply ‘squat’ the weight up out of the hole. This is often the case for those who have front squats that are very close in weight to the weight they can clean. At present I am one of these lifters, but I am working on changing that… Continue reading

Elbows up and front squats

Recently I’ve been having problems with staying upright during front squats. “Elbows up” has been the most successful cue for me to keep as vertical as possible.

The benefits of front squatting

It’s an obvious one, but (for myself at least) the biggest benefit of front squatting, is how helpful it is in its carryover to the Clean. If you are primarily training the Olympic lifts, front squats should be an essential, core part of your training programme. A sensible Olympic lifter will always make sure his or her front squat is better than their clean. In my mind, the basic sequence of the Clean & Jerk lift is 5 movements, which are: 1) Pull 2) Receive 3) Front Squat 4) Recovery 5) Jerk

Notice that the front squat is number 3 out of a total of 5. You do not want to be failing the front squat part of the Clean & Jerk. You have already expended energy on numbers 1 and 2, but you still need lots of energy for numbers 4 and 5.

So that being said, if your front squat is a good weight more your clean, you will have a greater chance of having a successful Clean & Jerk. Most Olympic lifters can clean about 90% of their front squat. At the moment, I am only able to clean 85% of my front squat. And it shows. I am often unable to front squat up out of the clean during training. Hence I am working on improving my front squat. Ideally, I would feel most comfortable with my max front squat being about 10kg more than my max clean. Continue reading

How am I stronger at overhead squats than front squats?

I’ve noticed that I can overhead squat the same weight as I can front squat with good form. Initially this surprised me… because overhead squatting is arguably a lot harder than front squatting. Overhead squatting requires excellent shoulder strength and excellent balance and core stability. When I mentioned this to my coach, he explained that yes I would be surprised that some people are better at overhead squatting than front squatting, typically because good overhead squatters have phenomenal shoulder strength. In particular, some of the Chinese Oly lifters can clean/jerk-grip overhead squat more than they front squat. Continue reading