Thursday, March 27, 2008

Allez Dabaya!

Watch a nifty little documentary on Vencelas Dabaya, the 2006 69 kg world champion from France (via humble beginnings in Cameroon) here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My Thoughts on That Heel Thing

Oh boy, here I go....

I remember the first time--it was about 4 years ago--I heard and saw a young assistant strength coach describe this "heels" method of teaching the squat. "Sit back, on your heels, drive through the heels and push the hips through." I had never seen anything like this. Why the overemphasis on the forward pelvic thrust and the slamming of the knees into hyperextension? In all my time around very talented and experienced coaches and athletes, I'd NEVER, EVER had anyone describe the squat in this way.

If you are standing still and just moving up and down with a weight on your back or in your arms to counter-balance you, you can get away with sitting back on your heels. In my opinion and experience, this is an unathletic, unnatural way to squat; and it usually involves little ankle mobility. Some people squat big weights and other swing big bells that way. That's fine if your feet are nailed to the floor.

But if you actually have to move and react to changing situations, you cannot live your life on your heels. If you have to apply force and power, within multiple planes and at a variety of speeds, you cannot be on your heels. You will be left in the dust or knocked on your ass. The well-developed athlete is balanced over the entire foot, with the center of pressure (CoP) constantly changing within the base of support (BoS), depending on where the center of mass (CoM) of the system is and what the next movement is going to be. What is the context of the situation? What is the task?

This is the concept behind the "ready position" or "athletic stance." I use the same concept when teaching a bodyweight squat, a med ball squat, a barbell squat or a deadlift; feel the floor with your entire foot. Do not simply isolate and overemphasize the "posterior chain." Coordinate the entire body to move skillfully and accomplish the task at hand. Simple squatting is one of the first steps when teaching the lower extremities to create and absorb ground-based forces--along with developing basic leg strength. None of these tasks should be done exclusively through the heels, or on the toes. What do you think all of those arches are for anyway? The human foot/ankle complex is a marvelous piece of work; learn to use it effectively.

Certainly, there are times when the CoP moves posteriorly to create more favorable leverage. There are times when you must cue novice athletes to flex at the hip to more effectively generate or absorb ground-based forces. However, you do not have to live and train on your heels to create the combined hip/knee extensor strength necessary to be a strong and coordinated athlete. And remember, it is coordination of all the hip, knee and ankle extensors.

I would really like know when/where this emphasis on the heels (in squatting, in particular) comes from. It now has a life of its own and has spread like the old "don't let the knees go over the toes" myth. Why all of this emphasis on the hamstrings and shunning of the quads with squatting? In my world, overuse of the hamstring at the knee and hip is not a good thing. The hammies are helpers and do lots of hard work in decelerating the lower extremities; they support and help control the pelvis/torso orientation. I am not so sure it is wise to view them as primary concentric hip/knee extensors. Seems like there are other single joint muscles designed to do that.

I am open to discussion and thoughts. Feel free to chime in.

Verrueckte Katzen

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Creepy-Cool Big Dog by Boston Dynamics

Tell me this video doesn't generate some really interesting gut reactions. Who needs Imperial Walkers when you could have an army of these? If you know anything about motor control and locomotion, you'll appreciate this impressive work by Boston Dynamics.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Meet the Bar: Part 2

Nghiep Dinh, 62 kg bronze medalist at this year's nationals, is one of the most powerful athletes out there. You can see the Cutman's training vids here. Nghiep is often faster than the bar into the hole. When the barbell is 2.26x your bodyweight, it is even more important to make sure the elbows get around fast. If they don't, the bar usually wins.

But when Nghiep gets his elbows around and keeps the bar close, he is able to get a solid receiving position so that even if his timing is a bit off, he is still able to rack the weight.

Watch Nghiep Dinh, at 136 lbs (62 kg), successfully clean and jerk 308 lbs (140 kg). He is fun to watch.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Meet the Bar

I spent some time this weekend with Catherine Imes and the kettlebell. I had to work on "meeting the bell" when snatching and not letting it bang my forearm. This is a skill; it is about timing arm/wrist action and applying the appropriate force. This will take me some practice to be able to do consistently.

In the barbell clean, there is a similar skill in meeting the bar. Many novice adult lifters have some trouble with this skill, if they focus too much on just diving under the bar, regardless of the weight. Getting under the bar is a skill you need to have if you are going to lift heavier weights. Meeting the bar is also a skill you need, if you don't want to have the bar crash on you with the heavier weights. It is a skill you acquire with light weights. As you become more experienced, you will learn to gauge the depth to which you need to pull yourself under.

Meeting the bar is hard to learn with a PVC pipe, in my opinion. The pipe does not rotate and you cannot mimic the appropriate wrist/elbow/shoulder action that should occur around the bar, in relation to pulling under. Many people simply reverse curl or flip the wrists with the pipe when they move fast. The result is a really big, loopy pipe/bar path. The somewhat subtle skill of meeting the bar is then more challenging to develop with light weights as the reverse curl/wrist flip motor pattern becomes hard to break. This is one disadvantage to initially using PVC pipe vs a bar at first.

To effectively meet the bar, the elbows drive the action as the body pulls under, not the wrists. If you watch a weightlifting meet, you will hear coaches cue athletes with "fast elbows" to get the proper receiving position. The bar is received upon and supported by the shoulder/deltoid area, not the in the hand and wrist. The hand and wrist connect the shoulder and elbow to the bar; they do not control or drive the movement, nor do they receive the bar. Think "lead with my elbows."

Kate Corbin does a nice job of meeting the bar here. This is basically a bodyweight power clean for her, at 75 kg. She pulls herself under the bar just enough to receive it smoothly.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Friday WOW (Words of Wisdom)

I'm still mired in video and other tasks for a few days. So in the meantime, if you've got CrossFit on the brain, it would do your mind and body good to check out this piece by Greg Everett of The Performance Menu.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Iron Maven vs. The Govenator

Well, not really. That's me, Jackie Berube and the one and only Sage Burgener mugging for the camera (Coach Burgener was across the venue) when The Govenator himself swooped in, complete with sniffing dogs and body guards, to view the final clean and jerks in the 75 kg women's session. He was gracious enough to present the awards.

Jim Fetters, the Columbus Weightlifting Club's webmaster, has a great bunch of still images up on Flickr. This was my view of the competition.

It was a really long weekend, but a good one. And I made it home just before the ice and 10 inches of snow hit. I will post some highlights of the lifting and a few observations over the next week or so.