I’m happy with the lifts I was able to record during my competitive lifting career.
I did not set the scene on fire, far from it. But I set a record or two and had the time of my young life doing it. If there is any regret, it’s this – I don’t know if I could have lifted more, but I know I could have lifted the same loads with more beauty and efficiency.
Squatting and pulling loads ranging from 250 to 450 kilo’s or more in the squat, bench and deadlift is intense, and unnecessarily stressful if you’re leveraging brute rage over mechanical alignment.
See the evidence. I was strong as hell, no doubt, but I was only locking in bad habits that would eventually stop my progress in two of the lifts. Lesson learned.
Can you guess which exercise I hated the most during these years?
That’s right, it’s the front squat. I tried to train that lift over and again because I knew it would unlock my strength again. But I failed. I kept trying to rush it, pushing the load up before I had given my body any chance to adapt to a new position. My ego drove the van.
If you rush this lift, you will get nothing but frustration. You will drop heavy barbells over and again, instead of holding on long enough to get any real training effect. So, do something better!
Again, I can offer no sure fix. I can only say what has helped my wrangle a grizzled thoracic spine that’s been ground down by years of sport and shit coaching. It’s just two things.
1. You have to take your time, baby.
I’ve said it time and time again, but you need to do more pause squatting. But still, if your back is all jacked up and you’re new to the lift, pause squats will only be more difficult.
So, keep the load very light at first. Think about progressing time over load for a bit Further, if you have a cool bar like the Buffalo Barbell, use it! You’ll be able to comfortably carry more load, which will only boost the rate of adaptation.
My Rx: Ramp to 3 RM every other week, 3 full breaths at the start, 3-second eccentric phase, 3-second pause in hole, explode!
Front squats with the buffalo bar. Try it out.
2. Get in the pool I know that people love to mobilize. They roll around on the ground with all sorts of gizmo’s wedged into their every soft-sport and crevice. That’s great, I know the mobility movement has done a lot of good for a lot of people. Rock on! But here’s the thing, if I would have tried rolling around with foam and shit on the floor of a hardcore powerlifting gym back in 1997, I would have been run out of the building. That wasn’t a thing then, not even close. And sorry to say, but I’ve never felt anything during band distraction of a joint. I don’t like it. With all that said, I think mobility is the single most important thing you can work on! Really. It’s exactly how you get healthy and lift heavier barbells with more beauty and efficiency. I just think – in my humble opinion – you’re better off getting up and doing something fun that encouraged good position and range of motion in key segments of your body. I love the pool, baby. It has saved my lifting. Here are just a few ideas from my routine that might start you experimenting in the water. I hope you go get wet, it’s worth it.
- Just screw around in the water. When you want to start pushing laps, do it, but make sure you get a little instruction. Barbell Shrugged Episode 21 is a great starting point.
- During every stroke, arch up and hold good position through your back. Do this right as you come up for breath. Don’t crank your neck, kept it nice and aligned with the spine. Think of shoulders too. Every time I reach forward to pull water, I think of getting full and balanced range of motion in each arm. I “feel” for imbalance and tightness, and I swim until it works itself out.
- Stretching in the pool is the best. It’s chance to shed some gravity and get into novel positions without pain. I have two favorite positions. First, I will reach up and grab the start stand in my lane, lifting myself out of the water to waist height. I will then spread my feet wide and sit down as far as I can, stretching every single muscle on the back of my body. It’s joyous. The second move is to flip over, grabbing the stand and facing the wide open lane. From here I just extend and arch backwards, which is not possible for me on land.
- One of my favorite relaxation drills is just to bob up and down in the deep end. I sink quickly due to my size, but land in a nice and deep squat position down at the bottom. I clasp my hands and hold them straight overhead, arms straight, head poking through the shoulders. I imagine that I am perfectly straight. I hold. Then I jump up to the surface. If I don’t make it, or it takes too much effort, I know my alignment isn’t good. But if I shoot up high effortlessly (like a fat and bearded dolphin), then I know things were OK. The more and more that happens, the more fun I am having and the better I will squat, jump, pull, whatever.
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I hope these tips help you squat better. Give it time and you’ll adapt much sooner than you think.
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