This past Sunday marked our return the squat cycle for the second of three, 3-week mini-cycles. When we last left our intrepid athletes, they had finished off the first mini-cycle with 6 sets of 3 reps at eighty percent. Well, the weight was still at 80%, but it seems someone got all dyslexic with the sets and reps.
Back to the Back Squats! If you can’t remember your numbers off the top of your head – and don’t fret, you’re not alone – remember you can access the CFDC-squat-spreadsheet (including all the Max Effort Squat Numbers and Calculated Percentages) at any time – you can click on the highlighted link, but you can also find permanent access to the spreadsheet on the left hand side of the blog under “Links.”
Entering the mid-point of our squat-cycle, it’s probably about time we address the Elephant in the room: Form. Or more appropriately, Bad Form. Things are hardly ever black and white, but for simplicity’s sake, we’re going to separate the reasons for bad form into two categories: (1) those who care that they aren’t moving correctly but just haven’t mastered the movement, and (2) those who don’t care that they aren’t moving correctly (more weight, MORE WEIGHT! We all know the types). There’s really no point in addressing the second group – until they either stagnate or hurt themselves, they’re not going to do anything about their form no matter how blue in the face you make yourself, and even then, it’s unlikely. So, what to do about the first group, those who care but just can’t seem to nail down a particular piece?
First, we want to make sure everyone understands the cues they’re being given. If not, please, please simply ask any coach, “what exactly do you mean when you say X ?” Cues are often short, simplified verbal commands to help a lifter remember or key-in on a particular point of performance. However, if you’re not clear on what that cue means, then the coach might as well be speaking to you in martian. Ask, get clarification, and if you feel like you’re doing it right, ask if there’s a way to work on it. For example, probably the most common cue to be uttered during any squat work is “knees out” or “drive the knees out,” a simple directive to a lifter that their knees are caving at the bottom of the squat, and they need to initiate by driving the knees out, and then continuously push the knees out during the entire squat, from descent to turn-around to ascent. So if you don’t understand what “knees out” means, you can ask and will receive the longer explanation.
Of course, there are those times where perhaps a lifter understands the cue, but just can’t seem to put it into practice – perhaps they haven’t built up a solid enough connection from the brain to that particular muscle group. This is where tactile cues can come in handy. Continuing with our example of the knees caving, a great teaching tool is a resistance band looped around the lifter’s knees. The tension in the bands pulls the knees together, which automatically cues the lifter to press out on their knees in order to resist that tension, tension which they can actually feel. Use of the bands can be done both off the bar (in between sets), or on the bar at light weight (during warm-up sets) in order to help build-up muscle memory.
That’s all well and good, but what about those of us who can understand the cues, and are trying like hell to apply them, but just can’t our bodies work the way we want? In that case, chances are you’re suffering from insufficient flexibility or mobility. Tight hip flexors tend to pull us forward, meaning we can’t sit tall at the bottom of our squats. Tight hamstrings pull our hips under at the bottom of our squat, which usually leads to a rounded back. Tight ankle joints pull our heels off the ground and cave our knees in, which pitches us forward. Even restrictions in the shoulders can cause us to lose tension through-out the back which leads to rounding.
Luckily, there are fixes for these issues as well, though sometimes they do take a little more work. A good place to start is KStarr’s Mobility WOD (MWOD) site, also permanently linked on the left-hand side of our blog (4th link from the top). Simply type in the movement you’re having trouble with (“squat”) or the joint or muscle that’s giving you problems (“ankle” or “hamstring”). For example, running a search for “squats” returns 13 pages of MWOD videos – at 10/page, that’s nearly 130 episodes to help you diagnose the problems with your squat, including this very apt Pre-Squat Hip Opener Mob-Rx (Episode 363/365):
Remember, flaws in your form will limit your ability to either lift more weight or lift for more reps, thus inhibiting overall growth in your strength and conditioning. Take the time to fix flaws. Stretch, mobilize, ask for help and reminders, and be sure to take care of yourself out-side of the gym. Don’t be satisfied with insufficient form.
Sunday’s hamstring-based accessory was sumo deadlift speed pulls. Weight for the pulls was prescribed at roughly 60% of your 1RM squat (not DL), which should’ve ensured the movement was crisp.
We’ve covered the sumo speed-pulls a few times before – “OPEN UP” and “TOP O’ THE MORNING” – and each time we’ve said basically the same thing: the speed pull is about explosively pulling the bar from the floor into the extended position while maintaining contro over the movement. However, there were still a few slow, grinding reps being performed on Sunday with what was clearly too much weight on the bar. The beneficial carry-over from the speed pulls is not about the amount of weight you can move, but how explosively you can move it. Err on the side of being too light, not on the side of being too heavy, and work on producing explosion and control simultaneously – trust us, it’s easier said than done, even at lighter-than-RX’d weight.
Working through the squats and speed-pulls took up a good chunk of class time, but with what little time was left, class moved down to the court for a little group ab-work.
I’m not sure that description makes anything clear, but the video sure get’s the point across:
Thanks to everyone for sharing their Mother’s Day Morning with us. Great work in a big class. Rest up, stay dry, and we’ll see you on Tuesday.