Just over half-way through the squat cycle, and things are starting to get heavy. With more weight comes more demand on the body – demand to get tight, to stay tight, and to drive the ever-loving hell outta the bar. But if we’re going to make those kind of demands on the body, then we have to help it and give it as much of a fighting chance as we can.
We’ve talked about the need to “Get Tight – Stay Tight” when performing heavy squats, including “drawing in as deep a breath as possible, holding the breath, and squeezing it in your belly,” and then “tensing up every muscle in your body at one time, locking down the essential parts to create as stable a base as possible from which to initiate your lift.” However, if you think you’re going to be able to draw a deep breath into your belly and really tighten up your shoulders, back, chest, and core with 85+% of your 1RM on your back, you’re sadly mistaken. These things must be done before you even unrack the bar. As Tom pointed out in his comment to the above-linked post, “It should be uncomfortable before you take the bar off the rack! Full body power requires full body tension. Heavy weights require maximum spinal support.”
But getting tight before you un-rack the bar isn’t enough. The time between when you un-rack the bar and when you start squatting is a critical window, and the smaller you keep that window, the better off you’ll be. Don’t rush, but don’t dilly-dally either; un-rack, take a few steps back, grind your feet into the floor, and then squat. A few steps back means limiting yourself to three steps or less after un-racking the bar. Three Steps or less. Not four, not five, and sure as sh!t not six or more. Remember, we’re not dancing with the bar; we’re squatting with it.
Why make such a big deal about this? The simple fact is that too many people are taking too long to start squatting after the bar is on their backs. 4 or 5 big steps, then maybe a small adjustment step or two, then wiggling the hips and shaking out the legs?!? At 60, 65, 70, and maybe – just maybe – at 75%, you can get away with this. At 80%, it probably didn’t help anyone perform the ensuing 3 sets of 6 reps, and it was definitely affecting people this past Sunday working at 85% for 3 sets of 5 reps. And guess what? it will only make things worse as we continue to progress higher in weight.
Learn to limit your step-out. Do all the wiggling, snorting, shaking, and lamaze breathing while the bar is still in the rack. Once all that’s out of the way – once you’ve pulled yourself into the bar and taken in a deep breath – un-rack the bar, take your two or three steps, grind your feet into the floor, and then get to work on the task at hand: squatting.
Warm-up sets were programmed as 10 @ 35-40%, 8 at ~50%, 5 @ 65%, and then 3 @ 75% (with a further 3 @ 80% depending on how big of a jump 75 to 85% is – the larger the weights, the larger that jump, and the more beneficial it is to include an extra warm-up set). It’s great to see folks working stretching and mobility in between sets, as well as to see the intended effects of said stretching/mobility. Also, it’s nice to see so many people really pushing themselves to hit proper depth; however, remember that every rep of every set needs to be at depth, not every other rep, or worse, just the last two or three when you think someone might be watching. When you’re lifting, stay honest, and when you’re not, keep the lifters honest. That’s how we improve and get better as a group.
Once all the working sets were done, bars moved from the racks to the floor for some hamstring accessory work.
Sunday’s deadlifts were based on max effort deadlifts, rather than back squats. Warm-up sets were done at 1 x 3 @ 35%, 1 x 3 @ 50%, and then the three working sets at 65%. Additionally, unlike last Sunday sumo-speed-pulls, these were done as conventional set-up deadlifts, and although not speed pulls, were styled as “touch-and-go,” so that the weight kissed the ground before reps 2 and 3 (“kissed,” as opposed to trying to bounce the weight off the floor).
With back-to-back heavy exercises, class skipped the conditioning work on Sunday and instead took the time to stretch out. Two sets of wall straddles, a set of wall-assisted baby-makers, some hip and glute work (again, wall assisted), followed by some hamstring stretching. Post workout stretching helps increase flexibility while your muscles are still warm, but it should also serve to indicate what parts of you need extra attention before the next workout. Take mental notes, and be sure to work on those areas before you get under the bar next time.
Nice work everyone. See you all on Tuesday.