Paleo Simplicity

Really, is it all that complicated?  Yeah, all of us in the Paleo/Evolutionary Fitness community like to geek-out on the minutia of this stuff (and with the workout specifics as well), but when we get down to brass tacks — or (and especially so!) when dealing with the “mainstream”, or potential converts — it’s helpful to remember this: Paleo is, at its roots,  really, really easy.  To wit, check out Robb Wolf’s the Paleo Solution, Quick Start Guide.  In fact, the entire Paleo Solution book is a great Paleo introduction tool.  I won’t go into a full-fledged review just quite yet, as I prefer to fully digest a book (lots of margin scribbles, notes, underlining, etc.) before weighing-in.  I can tell you this much, though; Robb’s book would be a fantastic introduction to anyone contemplating testing the Paleo/Evolutionary Fitness waters.  As opposed to, say, Taubes’ Good Calorie, Bad Calories; a read that I’m particularly fond of, by the way, but that can be, oh…how shall be say…a bit off-putting to the newly initiated?  Hell, even Toban Weibe’s most excellent summary of Taubes’ tome can be much for most initiates.  Not so Robb’s the Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet.  Accessible?  You bet; I’d feel comfortable suggesting it to anyone — and certainly to anyone who is even the least bit skeptical over the whole “Caveman” thing.  Robb does an excellent job of both providing sound, science-backed information, and doing so in a way so as to not come-off as being some kind of a back-to-the-caves whack-job…or worse yet, a dietary dogmatic.  Bottom line?  Get Robb’s book; get it for yourself and for anyone you care enough about to coax into the Paleo fold.

On to a couple of workouts –

Let’s preface things a bit by noting that I spent the greater part of Sunday lifting, toting, and just all-around man-handling heavy things.  And not in a fun way, either — I’m talkin’  moving, folks.  As in, shuttling a shit-pot-ton of household…stuff, from one place to another.  How does one ever acquire so much?  Anyway, thanks to my good friend Robert Remmers for sacrificing his Sunday (and a good deal of sleep!) to help Michelle and I out.  Thanks, my man — we couldn’t have done it without you!

So I split this workout up into an AM/afternoon thing, as that’s just the way things happened to pan out on Monday, between training clients and handling other, more admin-related work.  It was a nice opportunity for me to test how I’d respond to back-to-back (and separated by only a few hours) explosive work, as it’s been a while since I’ve done something like this.  Again, I’m not personally a huge fan of the power clean, as I feel like I can (because of my build/bio-mechanics), get a bit more out of other lifts — however, I do like to keep light and technically flawless PCs in the mix — more so for the dynamics of the catch (as opposed to the pull).  So, power cleans and power snatches in the AM; trap bar jump-ups and feet elevated ring presses in the 2nd of the day’s bouts.

power cleans: 135 x 7, 7; 175 x 3, 3; 185 x 2, 2, 2, 2 (high, rock-solid catch, very little knee bend with an immediate return to the hang position and explosion into the following rep)

power snatch: 135 x 3, 3, 3, 3

…and a few hours later:

trap bar jump-ups: (jump squats with a trap bar): 135 x6, 6, 6, 6

in a superset with –

feet elevated ring presses: bodyweight + 60 lb vest x 8, 7, 7, 7

How much can one cram into 10 minutes?  Quite a bit, actually.  I sandwiched this quick-HITer (heh…) between Wednesday AM and early afternoon fixie sprint sessions:

tru-squat: (115 counter weight) – 115 x 12, 150 x 10 (42×0 tempo)

rdl (X-Ccentric machine): 90 x 12, 140 x 7 (42×0 tempo)

nautilus pec dec: 110 x 8, 7 (4020 tempo)

Amazing what a concentrated slam you can give to your body in such a short period of time.

Paleo 101, Workin’ the Groove, and Settling In

Since Monday was a holiday (here in the US, at least), I figured it would be a great time to ease into the Austin fixie scene, get a feel for traffic patterns and, well, just the overall vibe and such.  And what I found was this: Austin is definitely a bike-friendly town; courteous drivers, plentiful bike lanes, fabulous rolling hills, too many ultra-cool coffee shops to count…wow, fixie paradise!  I went into the Efficient Exercise Rosedale studio and did a little bit of prep work for my Tuesday clients, then saddled-up and hit a series of sprints over to our downtown ATX studio to do some prep work for those clients (see my route, here).  Five miles of hard intermittent sprinting each way was a nice, bodily reintroduction to the biking experience.   How’s that for mixing business with pleasure, huh?  Yeah, to say the least, I’m lovin’ this new gig  🙂

So today following my client sessions I decided to ease back into the weightlifting scene by hitting some power cleans and close-grip high pulls.  Nothing real radical or too strenuous, just climbing back onto the on-ramp, so to speak.

power cleans: 135 x 10; 165 x 7; 185 x 3, 3, 3, 3, 2, 2

close-grip high pulls: 185 x 5, 5, 5, 5

Now, the Efficient Exercise downtown facility is chock-full of Nautilus MedEx equipment (along with a ton of other really cool play toys!), and so following my client sessions tomorrow (I train clients at the downtown facility on Wednesdays), I plan on hitting a Mentzer-inspired HIT session.   Again, more so to ease into things here.  As I’ll have to take substantial training time off in order to move into my new house in about a week (way excited about this!  Moving that is — not the missed workouts part  🙂  ), I’ll have to repeat this phase-in process once more.  And I don’t look at this as a setback, either — rather, I take the long view, and see this as a necessity to remain in the game for the long-haul.  It’s a great time to focus on technique flaws, form alterations (and abominations!)…small things that tend to get glossed-over when the training focus is on “hard, heavy and fast”.  Everything under the sun has its season. 

Oh, and I heard this yesterday on NPR’s “The Human Edge” series; a little bit of Paleo 101, if you will.  If you’re looking for a tidy intro, of sorts, for friends and family who want to now the most basis of all questions that we get asked in relation to our diet selections — why the overt avoidance of neolithic foods?  — this piece is a nice, concise referenceIt’s an easy answer, of course — but sometimes, though, it’s good for people to hear that same answer from multiple sources.

Active Recovery? Conjugate for the Masses?

Many of those in what I would call the HIT-purist camp, most notably Dr. Doug McGuff (Body by Science), recommend a full recovery between workouts; that is to say, they don’t favor the performance of “active recovery” as it tends to alter/delay super-compensation following the inroad made during preceding workout.   And, to a certain extent (and for certain n=1 cases), I do see their point.  However, when I have attempted an extended period (i.e., more than one day) of out-and-out non-active, full recovery following even an off-the-charts inroading session, I always come out of that “activity hibernation” feeling a bit sluggish, both on the subsequent (after the first day post-workout) days off but, too, when I do get back in the gym, in the saddle or on the track.  In other words, if I take longer than a single day’s post-workout “activity hibernation”, I lose a certain amount of edge.  I wonder if this is more psychological and/or hormonal driven rather than a physiological reality.  Of course, there’s also the theory of endorphin and/or adrenalin addiction, but that to me seems a little far-fetched to me.  I don’t know any other way to describe this feeling other than a slight CNS sluggishness.  One day of post-workout idleness and I’m fine; longer than that and I lose a good bit of “pop”.  I’ve seen this in others, too, and so I know I’m not necessarily an “outlier” here.  Could it be that my definition of “CNS sluggishness” is actually what a “normal” or “non-jacked” CNS is supposed to feel like?  Quite possibly.  That said, though, I still like the idea of “active recovery” and relatively more frequent (albeit “Conjugated”) workout sessions.

Now maybe it’s due to my close and long association with sports performance, but I do tend to see things more along the lines of a track and field coach when it comes to this issue.  Of course, too, we need to recognize that the per-workout inroads here are not taken to the same magnitude as say, a true HIT beat-down.  In other words, a comparison of late-in-the-workout sprint times (or distance) to the “fresh” times would indicate that the drop-off is not all that severe.  Just another variable to be mindful of; again one size does not fit all.

A couple of things that ought to be defined here, first, though: one person’s “active recovery” may in fact be another person’s full-blown workout.  Metabolic conditioning and recuperative status obviously have much to say by way of influence here.  No big surprise, either – again, we’re talking, as always, n=1 protocol administration.  But we also need to consider that the type of recuperative activity in relation to the overriding modality of previous workout has a tremendous bearing on overall recuperation.  Huh?  Let me explain.

The chart above is the 30,000-foot view of my own, personal, overall training prospective.  HIT/HIIT methodologies tempered with Autoregulation and/or drop-offs (where appropriate), and with particular “strengths” (or aptitudes) cycled in and out of individual training sessions in a conjugate-like manner.  Very rare is a workout session of mine that extends beyond 45-minutes, and an all-out single-set-to-failure type workout might take as little as 15 minutes.   Where I guess you could say that I split from the HIT-purist camp is that I believe it is possible to train more frequently (and more completely) — and without overtraining, by the way — by cycling methodologies in a West Side-esque, Conjugate System manner.  Will this overall view still hold true for me tomorrow?  As far as I can tell, and from this vantage point, yes; however, and as always, I remain ready to shift sails according to prevailing winds and any newly-defined port-of-call.  Would I prescribe this prospective to everyone?  Not on your life; it does work for me, though, vis-à-vis my current location with respect to where my goals intersect with my place along the anabolic continuum.  Again, n=1 rules the day, and the truth of the matter is that the vast majority of trainee’s would see their greatest improvements by following a unique-to-the-trainee-tweaked, BBS-like protocol.  Simple, straight-forward, relatively easy to program and track and, most importantly, highly-effective with a minimum of time investment.

By the way, for a concise breakdown of West Side’s Conjugate system, and a bit of West Side “myth-busting” as well, check-out this Dave Tate post on the Ironbrutality site.  Myth #3 will give you the quick-and-dirty overview of the Conjugate method.  Actually, I’d add to that list myth #6 – that the Conjugate system works, but only for strength and power athletes.  With specific tweaks, any athlete – or bodybuilder, in my opinion — can incorporate this methodology into their overall training plan.  Again, the vast majority of trainees need not go there – but for those who do, the Conjugate system is a winner.

Tuesday evening workout –

A good bit of saddle time tonight prior to hitting the iron on Tuesday; probably the last of each prior to packin’ up the ol’ dog-and-pony show and headin’ down ATX way.

My intent tonight was to lead-off with some power clean work, however the rack was in use when I got in, so I had to alter things a bit.  Hey, I’ve got no problem with waiting on a guy to finish heavy pulls and squats in the rack – it’s the bicep curl crowd in that same rack that drives me nuts.  Anyway, I kicked things off with a kneeling jump squat, pull-up superset:

kneeling DB jumps*: 20lbs x 5, 5, 5

regular-grip pull-ups: bw x 10, 10, 10

no rest between sets, here.  Then, the following superset:

flat bench, single-arm DB press: 75 x 8; 85 x 8; 90 x 7

single-arm DB row: 120 x 6; 125 x 6; 130 x 6

again, blowin’ and goin’ here, with very little rest between arms or between sets, then a rapid-fire reps few sets of power cleans:

135 x 5; 165 x 5

Reps were fast as possible here, with rest between sets just long enough to add additional weight.  I followed that with a rest-pause set of 7 singles at 185.

*As I’ve mentioned before, I prefer to use DBs for this exercise, but it really doesn’t make much difference; you can use a barbell as well, as in this demonstration, and in my experience you’ll be able to handle a significantly greater overall weight if you do so.  I think you can better transfer power to a barbell than to a pair of DBs, but that’s just speculation on my part.  The key is to really engage the hips in the movement.  If you’ve got sleepy hips in the Oly movements, this exercise will help fix that.  Also, if you use DBs for this movement, be sure to explosively shrug the weight up (as you would in a normal Oly/Oly derivative lift), as opposed to “arcing” the DBs outward and forward so as to provide upward momentum.

And speaking of effective and efficient power transfer through the torso (or “core”), check out this podcast interview with Dr. Stuart McGill.  Dr. McGill is known as “the back doctor”, but as you’ll hear in the interview, the good doctor also knows a good deal about performance enhancement, especially when it comes to power transfer through a rock-solid torso.

Also something interesting I ran across this week was a podcast interview with Dr. Joel Wallach, author of the book, Immortality.  The topic of the discussion centers around the depletion of minerals from the soil, and the effects of that condition on human physiology.  It’s a very interesting interview, especially for those concerned about the quality of their food.  I know I don’t need to point-out to folks who read this blog, but a food’s being labeled “organic” in no way ensures that that food was raised in a healthy-soil environment.  The interview can be found here, and it’s show #695 (Doctor of Ashes).  Good stuff.

So things are likely to get a bit silent around here for the next few days, as I complete my relocation to “the ATX”, and integrate into Efficient Exercise team.   Check-out the sidebar for Twitter updates from the road, as Meesus TTP and I meander on down Austin way.  So adios for now, and I’ll see y’all on the flip-side.  Be good, work hard, and of course, stay paleo  🙂

Simple Vs. Easy

“Before I studied the art, a punch to me was just a punch, a kick was just a kick. After I’d studied the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick no longer a kick. Now that I understand the art, a punch is just a punch, a kick is just a kick.”

-Bruce Lee

Photo credit: hanneorla

Photo credit: hanneorla

This past week saw a proliferation of fantastic strength and conditioning information being offered to the masses — podcasts, articles, you name it — all of it for free, I might add.  This kind and quality of information was once only available to upper-end athletes — and when I say “once”, I mean as recently as the early ’90’s.  The problem with this plethora of information, of course, is that the vast majority of it is nothing but noise — misinterpreted, misrepresented, manipulated, or just flat-out friggin’ bass-achwards wrong.  What to do?  How does one go about filtering this low signal to noise ratio for the nuggets of truth (and there are some) that may be out there?  My advice is simply this: All truth is simple in concept, complex and difficult in learning and actual real-world application, and finally, a different kind of simple — elegantly simple — in mastery.  Consider Bruce Lee’s quote above.  Really, this is just he’s saying as well.  Filter all that incoming information with that notion in mind.

As an example of this, what if I said that one could build a stunning body (as “stunning” as one’s genetic hand will allow), and, if athletically inclined, propel this individual leaps and bounds ahead of the competition by doing no more than this: Power cleans, heavy carries, sprints, and adherence to a Paleo lifestyle.  Now, that’s about as simple as it gets in concept; however, give this “workout” a shot: carry a pair of 150 lb dumbbells — any method, it doesn’t really matter — one round of a 400 meter track.  That’s it, you’re free to go home after that — or to the hospital, whichever you feel you need.  That’s the difference between a concept that’s simple, and the application thereof that is anything but.  Is there any question, though, as to the efficacy of such an endeavor repeated over time? Think you’ll lose fat and muscle-up by adhering to that simple workout everyday, coupled with a sensible diet?  You bet your sweet ass you will.  This same idea is applicable to the Paleo lifestyle.  I can’t think of a more simple “diet” concept — eat protein, good fats, fibrous veggies and a smattering of fruit; have some raw dairy if it’s to your liking.  That’s it, that’s my “diet book” in its entirety.  Where the rubber meets the road, though, is when you’re confronted with that luscious carrot cake, or bombarded once more with “oh my God, your cholesterol must be…! or, Everyone knows you have to have carbohydrates in your diet!, or the dreaded just one little piece won’t hurt ya.” There’s a world of difference between being an intellectual Paleo, and in being Paleo in action.  The concept is simple; application — especially in the initial stages, will test your resolve.

Photo credit: Cossfit

Photo credit: Crossfit

Analysis Paralysis

One doesn’t need much in the way of equipment to pull-off what Tanya is doing here.  What one does require, though, is an immense amount of intestinal fortitude.  Simple in application, difficult in actual application.  Nothing fancy here; lunges with a heavy load held at lockout over your head.  Simple; and it’ll simply hand you your ass in no time flat.  Not much programming involved here, either.  And check this out: that very same exercise can be tweeked for strength, power, and yeah, even hypertrophy emphasis with simple manipulations of load, rep speed and total time under load.  How much more detail do we really need to be concerned about?  About as much workout detail as anyone can realistically juggle in a real-world situation are these few things:

  • Modality (strength, hypertrophy, power)
  • Movement
  • Duration
  • Rest

If you delve into much more detail than this in your pre-workout planning, you’re just setting yourself up for frustration.  Modalities are best worked in blocks according to what your needs happen to be.  Movements should be basic, multi-joint, and functional (unless there is an underlying need for some sort of isolation work).  Duration is the energy cycle you intend to target.  Rest is simply an avoidance of overtraining.  Now the problem with getting into much more detail than that is allowing yourself to bail on an entire program if, for instance,  someone happens to be occupying the squat rack (probably doing bicep curls) when your “program” called for heavy front squats.  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen have this occurrence blow their entire workout (and their day’s attitude), and, if they happen to be following some “pre-set program”, said program is now deemed, “useless” now, and unworthy of continuing.  I say to this what the hell, do deadlifts, Bulgarian splits squats, whatever — just have it be of the same modality, basic movement patern and target duration.  Do you think your body really gives a damn? Your body only needs proper and targeted stimulus — it’s your conscious mind that absolutely has to have the particular exercise at the precise percentage of 1RM on this particular day.  Adapt, overcome, and bust your ass at whatever you happen to be doing — even if it wasn’t in your plan — and everything else will take care of itself.  Hey, don’t get me wrong, it’s fine (and even sometimes, necessary) to have a workout template planned out — I usually operate with one  in the background as well — my point is that things can and will go wrong; your shoulder hurts, the car broke down, you had to plow through a 60-hour work week, somebody has the squat rack tied-up with doing bicep curls.  Reach that “enlightened” point of a “kick being just a kick”, realize your template is no more than a crutch for your conscious mind, and move on.

An Example of Simple Vs. Easy

Consider my Saturday, July 18th workout (the first of two that I performed in the middle of an intermittent fast); this one rates pretty damn high on the intensity scale and about rock bottom in complexity.

  • Overhead lunges (just like Tanya is demonstrating above); two 45lb plates x 25 yards
  • Ring flyes (4/2/x tempo)* x 7 or so
  • Muscle-ups on a pull-up bar x 2

*four second eccentric, 2 second hold at critical joint angle (bottom-out position), fast-as-humanly-possible concentric.

I lost count after 4 rounds of this beast.  I had to stay away from home for a while because the realtor was showing the house, so I just kept hitting set after set.  What the hell else was I going to do 🙂   After a while, though, I could only lunge for about 10 yards or so, so I walked the last 15 yards of each round the plates still at full extension over my head.  I hit the point where I could only manage 4 flyes at my initial tempo.  And muscle-ups?  My upper body was so toasted from the overhead caries that I hit the point of only being able to eek out a single, then I digressed to the point of being happy to get my chest to the bar.  Simple? You bet.  Easy? Try it on for size and get back to me.  And the second workout?  Interval sprints on my fixed-speed steed, about 2 hours following the workout above.

In health,


More on the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, of the Power Clean

“Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.”

Bertrand Russell

Carl Valle recently posted an entry for the Elite Track site in reference to a previous article he’d posted that was critical of the technique exhibited in a video clip of a couple of College of the Canyons athletes performing the power clean.  I wrote about both the previous article, and the clip, in a post of my own, here.  As an additional point for discussion, I’d like to post an insightful — though a view I happen to disagree with — comment I received pertaining to what was my own critical assessment of the technique exhibited in the video.

Here’s reader David’s comment:

Unless I’m missing something, there seems to be a confusion of the difference between a Power Clean and a full Olympic Clean.  The first video shows a Power Clean where the object is to use your power to bring the bar up with a minimal dip in a high catch.  The second video shows a full Olympic Clean where you catch the bar deep in the whole. They are different lifts with different goals and different ranges of motion.

The guy in the first video may lack some muscles but he does have the posterior chain strength to bring 333lbs up to chest level in one explosive movement. Unlike the guy in the background, he catches it on a vertical torso. Also notice the length of his legs.

And my reply:

I have to disagree with your assessment, here — vehemently so, in fact. The first video represents a demonstration of no more than a poorly (at that) executed high-pull; there is no “catch” exhibited by either athlete. Now, I love the high-pull, and I perform the movement quite often myself. However, in my opinion, both of these athletes would be better off (1) performing a proper high-pull, and milking the movement for all its posterior chain enhancing benefits, and (2) learning and executing a proper power and/or full clean (and, yes — I’d agree that the 2nd clip is more a demonstration of a full clean), and utilizing that movement for working the body’s force-absorption capabilities.

A "Catch"...Kinda

A "Catch"...Kinda

After seeing this frame capture, though, I’ll have to revise my assessment a bit, and thus, my reply to David.  I do see that this athlete has managed to flip his wrists around and has “caught” the bar at chest level.  But now this brings up a whole other host of issues.  Look at this athlete’s elbow position.  The full force of this 300-whatever pounds — let’s not even get into calculating the total combined downward force here — is being toted by his shoulder musculature.  You want some hellish rotator cuff problems to deal with?  Catch a heavy clean in this fashion for a while and you can move directly to the front of the line.  Bring the elbows out to a 90 (in relation to the ground), and you’ve provided a nice, supportive shelf for these forces to be properly absorbed.  Of course, a proper catch in the splayed stance exhibited here would be near impossible to pull off.  I stand by my initial assessment, though, of the poor lower body positioning exhibited throughout the clip, and my suggested prescription of a combination of heavy (and properly performed) high-pulls coupled with the use of reasonable weights in the power (or full) cleans — with the emphasis on proper technique — still stands.  David is correct in his assessment of the athlete’s posterior chain strength — the kid is able to horse 300-whatever pounds, even if with lacking form, to chest height.  My thought process is this, though: let’s use good form and proper exercise selection to boost this kid’s strength even further and keep him safe from potential injury.  If this athlete could be convinced to take a few steps backwards here, he could, in time, far surpass — and with proper technique, no less —  the poundages he’s currently throwing around with poor form. Now, to be sure, this is no small task.  Anyone who’s spent time around the hyper-competitive mindset knows full-well how difficult it is to convince one of these guys (or gals) to reduce the weight on the bar for the sake of proper technique, injury prevention (they are, of course, bullet proof at that age — and I was no different), and the squishy promise of enhanced performance later on down the road.  It’s a coach’s job, though — with all the wiliness of a used car salesman combined with the manipulative “button pushing” of an LA shrink — to do just that.

In health,


Perfect Vs. Good Enough

“The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities.”

Theodore Roosevelt

Athlete and Strength & Conditioning coach extraordinaire, Bill Starr, penned this insightful article about a year ago or so back (or at least it was brought to my attention about that time; it may actually be older), and it comes to mind whenever I hear arguments crop up concerning “perfect” exercise form.  As Bill Starr has forgotten more than most Strength & Conditioning aficionados will ever even come to know (and I include myself in that group), I tend to give him a listen when he speaks; especially so, when he opines on the weight game.  And I’ll admit that it’s comforting (in a self-congratulatory kind of a way) when his sentiments happen to harmonize with my own, thus giving me that warm-fuzzy feeling that I might actually have a bit of a clue about this whole S & C business after all.

Now, I’ve always been of the mindset that “perfect” form, whether it’s in a power clean, chucking a football, throwing a punch, or swinging a baseball bat, is a relative thing.  Each one of us is put together differently, and we each have our our biomechanical advantages, disadvantages, and idiosyncrasies to contend with.  But just as lacking perfect throwing mechanics didn’t stop Brett Favre from reaching greatness,  just because I can’t pull-off a text book power clean does not mean that I still don’t derive a hellacious benefit from working the movement.  Sure, I don’t allow myself to get sloppy, nor would I allow anyone I train to do so; within a certain “flaw window”, though, I’ll let things slide.  How wide is that “window”?  Well, like just about everything else in the Strength & Conditioning world, it depends.

I can definitely say that this demonstration of the power clean, though, is somewhere waaaaaay beyond that window.  The sad part of this is that the guy in the foreground actually has better form than the guy in the back, which, as you’ll see, ain’t sayin’ much.

I have all the respect in the world for coach “Dos”, and for what he has done out at College of the Canyons, but for the life of me, I can’t figure what his reasoning is for allowing this kind of atrocious form to be exhibited in his weight room.

Now, contrast that technique with this:

A few very subtle flaws here and there (feet too wide, an early pull from the arms), but all-in-all, a pretty damn good lift.  Wind this kid up and let him rip.  A good enough lift to derive some serious benefit?  You bet.  And then some.

By the way, that first clip was featured in this, Carl Valle written, Elite Track post.  Carl is spot-on, in my opinion, in his assessment here.  Again, this gets back to adjusting the catch portion of the exercise to the athlete’s frame, muscle distribution, and limitations.  Using myself as an example, I tend to be one of those who (as Bill Starr alluded to in the piece cited above) tend to bend (pull with) my arms way too much and way too early when performing any Oly (or Oly derivative) lift.  The thing is, if I were an S & C coach observing an athlete of my build, I could predict this flaw in the lift before the athlete even touched the bar.  Why?  Long arms that are relatively much more muscular than the traps — ergo, more reliance upon the arms (at the expense of traps) in the pull.  Now, here’s the $64k dollar question: which came first, the trap/arm muscular “imbalance” or the flaw in the lift?  My money is riding squarely on the genetic side; I’ve simply learned to perform the movement in a way that’s best suited to my natural strengths and weaknesses.  Now, take a no-neck athlete with scrawny little T-Rex arms of my same bodyweight and lower body biomechanics and you’ve got someone who could potentially double me up in the Power Clean; you might even have found yourself someone who could realistically go on to contend on the Oly platform.  And what’s more, this guy will more than likely exhibit “perfect” form in the pull portion lift; it’s natural for him to do so.  He’ll unconsciously (and quite naturally) keep those big traps engaged in the lift as long as possible.

Now, let’s take a look at the catch portion of the lift.  In assessing my build we find this: big, sweeping quads and a big (protruding, not wide) ass.  Translation: this athlete is good (and quite naturally comfortable), low in the hole, in the front squat position.  If he’s fast (which I am, relatively), this will reduce the peak height at which he’ll have to pull the bar in the first place, because he’ll be comfortable swooping in and catching a heavy weight low in the hole.  By the way, look how low the kid in the second clip makes his catch.  Talk about comfortable in the hole.

*A quick aside: again the traps are cut a break in this scenario, this time due to the reduced need for bar height in the pull.  Further reliance upon — and reinforcement of — natural strengths.*

Now, I know nothing about the two kids in the first clip — and let me say that there’s a lot more going on that’s wrong (and just plain ugly) here than just the catch — but I’d bet that even if the weight were radically reduced for these two we’d still have plenty of work to do to get even close to a decent catch.  Just focusing on the lower body, take a look at the exaggerated leg splay.  This suggests to me tight hips, tight ankles and a sub-par posterior chain.  Even with a much reduced weight, I bet these two are uncomfortable catching in anything resembling a proper stance, and deep in the hole.  Now, let’s walk around back and have a look; I bet we find this: lacking glutes, no junk in the truck; a.k.a., the dreaded accountant’s ass.  The thing is this: these two may not ever, due to their inherent limitations, be good in the hole — or good in the pull, for that matter — they can, though, be a hell of a lot better.  And in the process, they can milk even more benefit from the exercise, even if they never perfect the movement.  And that’s the point.  Because, in performing the exercise in the fashion these two are, they’re missing out on 50% of the movement’s benefits (the catch/force absorption component).  And, of course, we’ve got the safety issue to contend with.  So where is the point where the plug ought to be pulled?  Ask yourself a few questions: (1) is there real and measurable benefit being derived?  (2) is the movement still relatively safe? and, (3) what is my goal with the movement?  There’s a hell of a lot of difference between utilizing a lift for athletic development and in training the lift for competition.  So if you’re an athlete looking for all-around betterment, and the answer to the first two questions  is yes, then by all means continue on.  I don’t mean to suggest that you should allow yourself to become lax in striving for perfect form in the lift, just don’t obsess about perfection to the point of having that obsession limit your athletic progress.

The CrossFit Argument

CrossFit and the promotion of poor form.  Ah, this is one argument that never dies.  Alex, over at Journey to Health, spoke to this in a recent post.   And here’s the post, (and all the comments) from The Art of Manliness,  that she was commenting on.  Here’s my take on the issue: If I were waiting for perfect form in the snatch and clean & jerk to come along, I’d still be “polishing my form” with 135 pounds.  Gimme a break.  There’s perfect, there’s good enough, and there’s time to call it quits.  Strive for perfection, work your ass off with good enough, and pull the plug when your form deteriorates into (1) unsafe and/or (2) non-productive.

In health,