By Ado Gruzza, Italian Powerlifting National Coach.
A researcher, good friend of mine…..actually an engineer who’s passionate about weight training and weightlifting, has written a book dealing with biomechanics. If it had been written in the English language, it would be in the library of every strength coach I feel. He has always asserted a concept that I think encompasses all the problems that strength training has encountered in recent years in the western world.
He told me that bench pressing has a too low input threshold.
What does it means? It means that to be considered ‘just good’ at pole vault but not to a professional eye. You’ll have to work on technique for months and months, years and years. Because the minimum threshold to be sufficient in the technical gesture is extremely high.
Same thing goes for the Snatch. Seems to have become an easy fashion to take the piss of neo crossfitter logged trendy making a clearly visible horrible Snatch.Too bad that no one is planning to take the piss of some (many) football players, or worse, the well-known guru and renowned strength coach who does not know at all how we should do a Bench Press, or a squat or a sumo deadlift correctly.
This is because Bench Press (like squats) are relatively easy to perform. The apparent sufficiency can be reached in less than 3 sessions. In Snatch it takes at least two years. However, from the minimum level of decency to the technical excellence, there is a huge difference.
And a STRENGTH COACH should KNOW THAT!
If what you want is a REAL ability to display strength, technical excellence is what you need. Technical excellence that rarely (very rarely) we can see form the self-proclaimed gurus of strength training who writes in famous magazine.
Whenever an Athlete, to complete a squat, anticipates the ascent of the barbell with the hips, or falls far below the parallel trying to bounce at the bottom of the movement, he develops what I call a TECHNICAL COMPENSATION.
That means that you don’t really overcome the weight by tapping into your highest potential to generate high levels of muscle tension. On the contrary you learn a tricks, a gimmicks, to lift the weight. Good (although actually only relatively) If you have a local Powerlifting Raw meet however, it is bad for becoming truly stronger.
You learn that lift, not to lift.
You learn to perform that movement, not to output strength.
I have many examples to bring: a young South African National Team Rugby (I tell this story every time I hold a seminar) that with his strength coach made a bench press test of 180 kg. I asked him if he could repeat the test with me, with one, only single, small constraint: no bounce in the chest. Struggling he lifted 140 kg. This means that only one constraint, while remaining in the same line of force, caused a decrease of 22.2% of the total dispensed.
Only one constraint! Think about how many would have met on the field in his sport of belonging. This means that the force developed by those 180kg bench press was a force NOT TRUE. Obviously this was because the athlete was encouraged by the lack of competence of the strength coach to look after the load and not the quality of the lift.
Another guy in this days told me that he was able to take 200 kg squat x 5 repetions. Huh! Not bad for a 90 kg (about 200 lbs) amateur lifter. Since I’m not really naïve, and I saw more squats than tv show in my life, I’ve asked him to go with just 130 kg lowering in 5 seconds and stopping for 3 seconds in the hole. He started to shake like a bush in the wind. He moves muscle that he had never felt in his life. Why? He made huge compensations when lifting. He create such a big bouncing that the right strength line and the right activation of muscles were always bypassed.
Now he use in training many, many kg less, but he is actually much stronger. And over time, not much to tell the truth, he’ll be able to resume the old weight used once.
This is what happens every time you see the maximal strength training in martial arts, in football American and so on.
Take the bench press: because the timing of activation could be optimal, that is the point of being or not being strong, the shoulders blades should remain abducted hard for all the eccentric and concentric.
Not only! The shoulders must be low during the lifting and, above all, the elbows must not move an inch. Whenever the elbows move forward or backward, optimal muscle activation turns on and off, never being able to have a complete motor unit recruitment, spatial and temporal.
When someone speaks of Olympic Lifting, everyone understand how technique and activation is important.
When speaking of ‘slow’ lift, everyone has ever lifted a weight, even if for bodybuilding or just a recreational lifter could consider himself a trainer or an expert.
Many research have been done on squat or bench press without the supervision of a high-level coach, coming to commit blunders in the data analysis. And every time arrives the expert of the moment to say that the technical errors are no more than customization of the lift. Bullshit guys!
You have to make hundreds of thousands of repetitions of bench press, with submaximal weights and a technique always exactly equal to itself, lift after lift, in order to understand how lift. Doing bench press once a week or two makes you a man who goes gym, not an expert.
This is worth of strength training in the Western world.
Now take the best lifters in the world, category by category:
59 kg Sergey Fedosienko, Russian school.
66 kg Sergey Gladkikh, Russian school.
74 kg Yaroslav Olech, Poland.
83 kg Eugeny Vasiukov, Russian school.
93 kg Sergey Mashintsov, Russian school.
105 Anibal Coimbra, Luxemburg but Norwegian trainer.
120 Maxim Barkhatov, Russian school.
Plus 120 Tetsov, Konovalov, Christensen. Ukraine, Russia, Norway.
This guys represent all the greatest school of powerlifting: Russian, Norway, Ukraine. That a look at the quality of lifting of this guys. It’s very easy with Youtube.
We should learn from the best, not from the worst.
One thing that all of these schools of thought have in common is their dedication to quality rather than the load.
Move the focus from the series (such as how many repetitions can I do with 100kg) to the repetition.
The Repetition is the athletic gesture of the strength athlete. Should be treated like a temple.
Everyone in western magazine (paper or web) is looking for the best training plan. The problem is that everyone puts in front of the wrong issue: every one is looking for something that exalt the possibility of activation, while activated is very very easy. To control, the contrary, is the K point.
A good training program is simply a program that allows you to maximize the motor gesture to improve the technique of execution. Nothing more, nothing less. Take the best plan of worldwide powerlifting coaches (international level, IPF, not Circus federation) and they are all devoted to allow the athlete to raise the coordinative skills on a par with those conditionals. Not so easy concept in western strength training. Where too much hide bodybuilding is is behind every famous method. Just think of the 2 or 3 most famous programs.
Think back to all the famous work plans: those that concentrate on technical quality are those on which you have to point your attention. Those full of complementary, low-volume and high-load, with a few sets and a few sessions, although very stylish, made of facts is not worth more than a dime.
Improvement in technique generates a positive loop able to do to become a mule in a horse.
All Olympic weightlifters that we so much admire, have gone through years of incredible dedication to the technical movements. All gymnasts able to perform movements from indescribable quality are passed by tons of hours dedicated to the movement. Decades of knowledge handed down from person to person.
In the world of NOT Olympic weight , the technical gesture is completely and utterly underestimated. To the point that there are no known strength coach who really have minimal technical skills required of a technical stage any federal country.
My advice is to form a critical conscience studying lines of force in the competitive practice.
I invite you to review your concept of guru and never to be confused with the true fitness strength training. The secret of strength lies in the ability of technical movements and nothing else.
Remember to move your focus from the sets to the repetition. Every single rep of every single workout, should be treated with the attention that you would have the Olympic final.
Thanks Ado Gruzza of Italy Powerlifting Federation for coming with this FANTASTIC article. I’ll begin blogging more soon. Been far too busy working on a certification with my coach.