The Importance of Isometrics

I would like to preface this blog by saying that I am a huge fan of isometrics and I personally have been using them for close to 10 years. I will discuss some of the advantages of isometrics and explain how and why all of my athletes perform isometrics. An isometric exercise is an exercise in which the muscle length and/or joint angle does not change during contraction.  Isometrics have been around since the 1950’s. There has been more scientific research done on isometrics than both concentric and eccentric contractions. One study performed in the 1960’s found that one small isometric workout performed once a week for 10 weeks increased strength by 5% and the athlete was able to maintain the strength developed during those 10 weeks for over one month.

Isometrics are an extremely effective way to develop strength at a particular joint-angle. The strength developed radiates 15% above or below where the force is applied.  One way Baystate athletes utilize isometrics is during the pull. For example, I will have my weightlifters perform three 10-second isometric holds (no straps).  The first hold is 2” off the ground, the second hold is directly below the knee, and the final hold is right at the power position. Biomechanically, these are three of the weakest positions in the strength curve and we are able to strengthen those positions through isometrics. Due to the muscles remaining the same length, very little inflammation and soreness is associated with isometrics. Isometrics also allow me to have a closer look at my athlete’s technique. Typically, a snatch or a clean occurs in 3 seconds or less.  However, isometrics allows a coach to see if an athlete’s technique is holding up, or if we need to adjust something. Additionally, isometrics can improve muscular endurance and stability.  One way our team uses isometrics to improve both muscular qualities, is to hold the barbell at the top of a squat once the lifter completes their ascent.  In the past, some lifters have held each rep for as long as 15 seconds at the top.  

Overall, isometrics are one of the most effective training methods to gain strength at a certain joint angle. At Baystate Barbell, athletes perform isometrics, or “static contractions”, 3-5 times per week. Our isometrics range from 2-10 seconds depending on the exercise, as well as the lifter.  We utilize isometrics during pulls, squats, snatches, and cleans and jerks. Isometrics allow us to train to a maximal effort more frequently.  The lifter is able to exert a maximal effort on the barbell while not coming close to 100%.  For example, I may have one of my lifters perform a front squat 1rm with an 8 sec pause in the bottom. The lift will require a maximal effort but the lifter will be lucky to hit 90% of their 1rm front squat. The training adaptation associated with isometrics also happens very quickly.  The lifter sees gains in strength in about 6-8 weeks.  Due to this, the Baystate Barbell isometric training cycle usually begins approximately 8 weeks out from a competition.  Lastly, isometrics will not add muscle mass.  If a particular lifter needs to stay in a certain weight class and cannot afford to gain weight, we may perform an abundance of isometrics close to competition.  

Assessments: A Language of Movement

As a chiropractor, soft tissue practitioner, and student of movement, assessments are the foundation of my practice.  The moment a patient or client walks into my office, the process begins; assessing and gathering the data and information to create a treatment plan that best suits the needs and wants of my patients.

    Recently, during a conversation with a colleague of mine, it was brought to my attention the emphasis I place on assessments.  Initially, I was caught off guard.  School, post-graduate education taught me that establishing a baseline and assessing using the skills we have acquired is an integral starting point for patients and clients in all settings.  How do you know something is working, if we don’t know where we started?  Assessments allow us to establish a baseline, check progress, know if something is working, and change it if it isn’t.  Assessments can also alert us of danger or “red flags” and can help us determine the course of action that is a priority for that client or patient.  Most of us want to help with the tools that we have, but if we are able to determine that some things are beyond our scope, we must do what’s best for the client/patient in that situation and refer them out.

    Besides establishing a baseline and helping us understand the wants and needs of a client/patient, assessments are a form of communication.  They allow us to communicate to the client/patient.  The majority of patients are coming in the office because they notice symptoms and these symptoms aren’t allowing them to do what they want to do, pain free.  It’s crucial to be able to have a language that can help bridge the gap between practitioner and patient; trainer and client.  The assessments allow us to communicate to patients or clients the “why.”  Why does my back hurt, why am I not hitting my lift?  These simple questions from clients and patients can be answered by utilizing a language that we should continue to develop and learn to speak.  Assessments are also a language that we can use to communicate between practitioners, trainers, doctors, etc.  

    Working with Baystate Barbell athletes is simple and easy because of the language we are able to speak to our athletes.  Athletes don’t want to have to think, they want their program and want to come in the gym and crush it.  It is our job as coaches and practitioners to guide these athletes based on the assessments we perform and their goals.  It’s important to be able to speak a language that allows for easy communication between the athletes and coaches.  For this, we perform assessments on all new athletes joining our team, educate these athletes in the language that we speak, and bridge the gap between the athlete and coach.

    The first set of assessments we perform are soft tissue assessments.  These assessments help us determine the health of a joint and the surrounding tissues individually.  It’s important to make sure that each individual joint is working properly.  Once we establish that we have a healthy range of motion in those individual joints and tissues, we then take a look at functional movements to determine how well those joints and tissues are working together.  The functional assessments also allow us to determine specific deficits and imbalances that an athlete may have.  Based on the training goals of that client, we can then begin to test energy systems in the body and determine the priority for that athlete and begin building those systems over time.  Once we establish a baseline, we continue to use these assessments to track the progress and evolution over time.

    

Maxing Out with Coach Pendlay

This past weekend we had the honor of hosting Coach Glenn Pendlay. He came and conducted a seminar for Baystate Barbell.  Coach Pendlay has coached a total of 112 national champions throughout his career, for over twenty years.  He has coached athletes such as Donny Shankle, Jon North, Travis Cooper, Jared Fleming, James Tatum, and the list goes on.  I can honestly say that I learned this weekend more by speaking to Coach Pendlay and through watching him coach than I have learned collectively over the past couple of years.  

Coach Pendlay has been programming and coaching me for the past six months, and I am stronger now than I have ever been.  Since training under Coach Pendlay, I have maxed out more than I ever have and have seen amazing gainzzzz.  As a result, I’ve now had all of my athletes maxing out more in the last few months than we have in in the past. The best part of this past weekend was being able to converse with Coach Pendlay regarding his training philosophy, in particular “Max Out Friday.”  I wanted to know a little bit more about where the idea of “Max Out Friday” came from and why it has been a programming staple of his for so many years.

Throughout his coaching career, Coach Pendlay has always made Friday the heaviest training day of the week.  While training under Coach Pendlay, athletes can expect to “max out” on Friday’s.  Athletes are not always “maxing out” their snatch and clean and jerk, but countless variations of the snatch and clean and jerk.  The reason for different exercises every week is due to the biological law of accommodation. According to this law, the response of a biological object to a given constant stimulus decreases over time. Thus, accommodation is the decrease in response of your body to a constant continued stimulus.  This means that if the athlete “maxes out” on the same exercise every week, their body will get used to that exercise and no physical adaptation will occur.  However, by changing the stimulus (in this case the max out exercise) every Friday, the body will continue to adapt.  An example program would look like this: Week 1- hang snatch (above knee) and hang clean (above knee) max, Week 2- hang snatch (below knee) and hang clean (below knee) max, Week 3-snatch from deficit and clean from deficit max, and Week 4-snatch and clean and jerk max.  

In addition, Coach Pendlay gave several reasons for why he believes in “maxing out” every Friday.  First and foremost, the best way to increase absolute strength is maximal effort.  Maximal effort was first documented by Russian biomechanist Vladimir Zatsiorsky and was popularized in the United States by powerlifting coach, Louie Simmons. Zatsiorsky states that maximum effort is superior for improving both intramuscular/intermuscular coordination.  For an athlete to get stronger they need to lift weights they have never lifted before.  According to Coach Pendlay, athletes will not always set a new PR on Friday. In fact, they may go several Fridays without setting a PR. However, they will get used to lifting heavy weights and attempting weights they have never tried before.  There are too many instances where certain lifters will go months without lifting anything over 90% nevermind a maximum.  Going to a max every week keeps lifters in a certain state of preparedness where they could compete on any given week.  

Maximum effort variations of the snatch and clean and jerk performed every week is also a form of varied practice.  Varied practice is a motor learning theory that includes frequent changes of task, so that the athlete is constantly performing different exercises to be learned information.  In many instances varied practice has been shown to enhance the retention and application of acquired skills. The backbone of varied practice states that the diversity of the tasks may allow the learner to retain the most relevant information. In terms of lifting, this would mean the better a lifter gets at all of the snatch and clean and jerk variations, the better that lifter’s snatch and clean and jerk would be.

Maxing out is vital when it comes to technique.  Any lifter can have decent technique when lifting 70%, but that’s not necessarily true when maxing out. Athletes need to make sure that their technique can withstand a maximum effort. Sure, 101% will not look as technically sound as 70%, but there shouldn’t be that much of a difference.  This type of training not only builds physical strength but also mental strength.  Most lifters are used to maxing out after a two week taper when they are completely rested and their bodies are healed.  It’s a totally different situation maxing out after a grueling week of training when every part of your body is sore.

Lastly, Coach Pendlay also mentioned that Fridays are most often times reserved for “maxes” and not 90%, 95% or 98%.  Lifts in the 90%-98% are circa max and certainly have their place in a training cycle; however, circa max weights are not to be confused with maximum weights. Going to maximum does something completely different to the body than all of those other percentages do.  Coach Pendlay stated that, in weightlifting, athletes should be perfecting their technique and working on speed with weights in the 70%-85% range or training to a max.  Also, most of the training volume will take place during the week, and Friday’s will have very little volume. Most times, lifters will work a training max and be done.  

    

Barbells and Cycles: Things to consider when coaching female lifters

Weightlifting has become increasingly popular over the last few years in the United States, especially among female athletes.  Weightlifting is still a relatively new sport when it comes to females, however. The first world championship involving females was in 1987 and women made their Olympic debut in 2000.  This article will explain how I program differently for my female lifters, express a few things that I have learned coaching female athletes, and one major point that needs to be considered when coaching female lifters.

First, studies have shown that the strength of the average woman is approximately two thirds of that of the average man.  The major difference is due to the larger percentage of lean muscle mass on the male, particularly in the upper body.  As a result, the majority of the female strength training volume targets the upper body.  It is much more difficult for women to get their upper bodies stronger than their lower bodies.  To combat this, I program an abundance of compound movements for the upper body for my female athletes.  These movements include strict presses, push presses, bench presses, etc.  Secondly, I program a large amount of high rep accessory work for the upper body, to increase hypertrophy.  The best way to get a muscle stronger is to get the muscle bigger.  Some examples of how to do this would be lateral raises, band pull aparts, etc.  Women tend to have a higher percentage of their overall mass in their lower bodies compared to men.  The leg strength of female athletes is virtually identical to men when the amount of muscle mass is equal.  As a result, the total amount of volume for the lower body is comparable for my female and male lifters.

Second, in my experience I have noticed that female lifters have a much better ability to “grind out” reps than male lifters.  Female lifters are able to perform more reps at a given percentage of a 1rm than a male lifter. However, some of the performed reps may be slower and more taxing than I would like.  To counteract the slow reps, I program different jumping exercises twice a week at the beginning of each training session as part of the warm up. I’ve found more success programming the jumps at the beginning of the session when the athlete is fresh rather than at the end when the athlete is already tired.  The jumping exercises are an excellent way to increase explosiveness and rate of force development.  Some examples of jumping exercises would be standing box jumps, seated box jumps, barbell jumps, etc.

Lastly, over the past couple of weeks, I have noticed several of my female athletes “hitting the wall” at times they shouldn’t be.  For example, some of my female athletes would be missing lifts at low percentages, would have little or no desire to train, and some would be struggling with maximizing strength output. I eventually realized that all of these struggles were related to the menstrual cycle.  The fluctuating hormone levels have a huge impact on female athlete’s strength levels and reaction time.  Again, I realized that I would need to structure future training programs around the menstrual cycle which, ideally, would be handled by a female coach. Due to the menstrual cycle, there will be times during each month when every female lifter will struggle or not feel their strongest.  For that one week, I would plan a deload where I significantly reduce the volume and slightly reduce the intensity.  Once the hormone levels return to normal, strength should return and the female athletes will resume normal training.

 

To deadlift, or not to deadlift...

Baystate Barbell puts a huge emphasis on getting stronger, and one of the best ways to get stronger is to deadlift. It seems that the majority of the weightlifting community is usually focusing on squatting, while not paying as much attention to deadlifting. Weightlifting is a pulling sport and we treat it as such.  

First, the explanation on how Baystate Barbell trains the deadlift.  Typically, the team deadlifts twice a week with at least 72 hours between the deadlift days. The athletes do not use an alternate grip when they deadlift.  However, they do use straps.  The athletes focus on keeping a flat back, using a double overhand grip, and moving their hips and shoulders off the ground at the same rate. An emphasis is placed on teaching the athletes to stay over the bar until the barbell has passed their knees.  The athletes focus on pulling with speed and always try to make the deadlifts mimic the actual lifts, as best they can.  A slow, rounded back deadlift will have zero carryover to the snatch and clean and jerk.

On the team's current training cycle, the athletes are deadlifting on Tuesday and Saturday.  Their sets will be between 3-5 and the rep range will be between 3-12. Some of the variations used include the clean grip deadlift, clean grip deadlift from a deficit, no hook deadlift, snatch grip deadlift, sumo deadlift, paused deadlifts, deadlifts from boxes, etc.  The variations will differ from athlete to athlete.  Also, it has been my observation that deadlifting is a surefire way of increasing the back squat and the front squat.  The athletes squats increase at a much faster rate when they are deadlifting.  

The Baystate athletes do not “bounce” the barbell while deadlifting.  "Bouncing" eliminates the first 1-2 inches of the deadlift and the first 1-2 inches of a snatch pull or clean pull is critical.  Some of the athletes will lower the barbell to the ground in a controlled manner and reset before performing another rep, while other athletes will lower the barbell to 1” above the ground then perform another rep. One of the main “cues” the team uses is “Slower down, Faster up.” Both ways focus on performing the eccentric part of the deadlift slower than the concentric.  Most strength athletes will only perform the concentric portion of the deadlift and forget about the eccentric.  At Baystate Barbell, the team feels as though that is a mistake.  By performing a controlled eccentric, the athletes are increasing the time under tension and reducing the chance of injury.  

One of the main reasons the Baystate athletes use all different variations of the deadlift is muscular balance and muscular imbalance. Some of the most common imbalances the team sees is between the deadlift and back squat.  Ideally, the conventional deadlift (alternate grip) and the sumo deadlift should be 5-10% more than an athlete’s back squat. The clean grip deadlift should be equal to the back squat, while the snatch grip deadlift should be 90% of the back squat.  For example, if one of the athletes can only clean grip deadlift 90% of their back squat, we know that particular athlete has to strengthen their pull.  An abundance of posterior chain accessory work including RDL’s, good mornings, etc. would also be included.  Also, if there is a muscular imbalance such as the one discussed above, the athlete has a higher likelihood of suffering an injury.  The Baystate team tries to identify and correct the imbalance before an injury occurs.  We are always making sure that the strength ratios listed above are where they need to be.  

  

 

How Baystate uses EMOM sets...

For the past few months, the Baystate Barbell lifters have been using EMOM (every minute on the minute) sets for the snatch and clean and jerk and have had great success.    Personally, I’ve used EMOM sets in the past and they worked very well for me.  However, I decided to fine tune a few details and do a little more research on the topic in order to learn more about how EMOM could be applied to weightlifting. Below is an in depth explanation of what I’ve come up with and how I believe is the best way to program EMOM sets.

As I have explained in past blogs, Baystate Barbell performs the snatch and clean and jerk on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  The lifters will perform EMOM sets ONLY on Mondays and Wednesdays. Fridays are our heaviest day of the week and the lifters will usually, if not always, go to maximum. Maximum attempts will NEVER be performed every minute on the minute.

When programming EMOM sets, there are a few things my experience has taught me.  I’ve realized that despite a limited time frame for each attempt, the lifter’s technique tends to get better as the working sets go on.  As the lifter begins to feel more comfortable, their body loosens up, and the movement pattern becomes more engrained.  Because of this, it’s not unusual for me to have my lifters work to a “heavy single” once all the EMOM sets are completed.  However, the “heavy single” is contingent upon how the EMOM sets looked.  If a lifter just went 15/15 and made 75% look like 45%, why not push the weights?  On the contrary, if a lifter had a few misses during the EMOMs, I would have them move on to their next exercise once their “working” sets are finished. Finally, all of my EMOM exercises would target my lifter’s weaker areas or movements.  For example, if a lifter needs to work on their jerk, I may program 1 clean + 2 jerks.  Program with a purpose!!!  

All of the EMOM sets that my lifters perform are between the 70% and 80% intensity range and will NEVER exceed more than 3 movements.  I’ve found that anything more than 3 movements is too much to recover from in one minute. If the variation or complex takes 30 seconds to perform, the lifter will only have 30 seconds to rest.  Also, technique will begin to break down after 3 movements.  Keep the movements simple when programming EMOMs!    The lowest amount of sets/reps performed during an EMOM session is 10 and the maximum is 20.  We would keep the same lift variation for 3 weeks and then rotate in new variations. All sets and reps follow a 3 week wave.  Week 1 serves as an introduction to the movements, Week 2 would be the highest volume week, and Week 3 would have the highest intensity.  

 

How Baystate gets strong!!!

 As I discussed in the last Baystate Blog, Baystate places a huge emphasis on strength and performing specific strength exercises to get stronger.  This blog will go into much more detail in terms of what the sets and reps look like for the strength work.  It seems that a lot of weightlifting coaches tend to focus on technique, while forgetting about strength. Personally, I do not believe in a “strength cycle”.  I would much rather push all of my lifters to get stronger throughout the entire year.  In my opinion, being strong is never a weakness.  

   80%-90% of the BayState Barbell strength work consists of 3 sets with 5 reps.  There may even be some cases where a lifter will perform a 5x5 if we feel the extra volume is necessary (that includes the back squat, the clean grip deadlift, the snatch grip deadlift, the push press, the snatch grip push press, military press, etc.)  In most training cycles, the majority of the “working” sets will be based off of a 1rm.  However, there may even be some instances when the “working” sets are based off of a 3rm or 5rm. For all, “working” sets we will keep a “level load” and NOT ascending or descending sets.  We will continue to add 2.5kg-5kg to every exercise (every week) until progress stops.  Once progress stops, we will attempt a new 1rm, 3rm and/or 5rm. It is not uncommon for my athletes to deadlift or front squat their old 1rm for 5 reps at the end of a training cycle.  Once this happens, we will “reset” and begin the process all over again.

    In my opinion, there is no better way for the weightlifter and/or athlete to get stronger.  The Baystate Barbell strength programming is a combination of the original 5x5 method that legendary strength coach, Bill Starr, wrote about in his book, The Strongest Shall Survive: Strength Training for Football, and The Texas Method popularized by weightlifting coach, Glenn Pendlay.  Both methods have gotten hundreds if not thousands of athletes stronger for decades. The success and effectiveness of this type of programming cannot be debated. The fundamentals never go out of style.

   First and foremost, sets of 5 will not only increase muscular strength but also muscular size.  All of our “working” sets of 5 fall between the 65%-85% intensity range.  These sets of 5 have a significant time under tension and the aforementioned intensity range allows for substantial muscle fiber recruitment.  The time under tension coupled with the added metabolic work provides the ideal scenario for muscular strength along with muscular growth.  Also, I’ve noticed that lifter’s technique tends to break down beyond 5 reps. Muscle fatigue can begin to set in and less attention is paid to technique, which can then lead to injury.  The same can be said for anything under 5 reps.  The weight would now be heavier and there would be less margin for error.  Secondly, I have noticed that lifters recover much better training with 5’s rather than 8’s or 3’s.  In weightlifting, recovery is vital especially when talking about strength work.  I need my lifters to be able to recover so that they can snatch and clean and jerk.  The highest snatch and clean and jerk win weightlifting competitions, not the highest squat or deadlift.  Finally, in my experience, I’ve observed that linear progression can continue longer with 5’s than any other rep scheme.  Again, it is not uncommon for my lifters to have 6-8 weeks of linear progression when training with 5’s.  However, when training with 3’s or 8’s progress would begin to stall after 3-4 weeks.  

 

 

 

If you have any questions, please email baystatebarbellclub@gmail.com...

Where it all began...

 

I’ve debated whether or not I should write a blog for close to a year now. I’ve never been much of a writer, but I finally decided to write a blog for one major reason.  I want to share my story, my athlete’s stories and the story of Baystate Barbell with as many people as possible.  I truly believe we have something special at Baystate Barbell.  I see how hard the athletes train, how much they care, and how much work they put in.  I understand that we are still a small club, but I never thought Baystate would be anything more than just me and a few friends lifting in a basement in Fall River.  Since this is Baystate Barbell’s first blog I thought it would only be fitting to start at the beginning…

My weightlifting journey began when I was on the U.S. grappling team. I joined a small, independently owned gym in my hometown back in 2008. I was an impressionable, young kid looking to get stronger for Jiu Jitsu. Little did I know, this “training hall”, as the owner called it, as well as the people who trained there would have an enormous impact on my life. That gym has been owned and operated by one man since its inception in the 1980’s. The owner is a former nationally ranked weightlifter in the United States, having clean and jerked 182kg/400lb. The man is a walking weightlifting encyclopedia.  Inside that gym there have been olympians, olympic-hopefuls, world class powerlifters, and countless Division 1 athletes. Needless to say, there has been an abundance of phenomenal athletes who have trained there over the years, and I was more than a little intimidated when I first started.

    Luckily, I was fortunate enough to have the owner take an interest in me and my training after just a couple of months.  Prior to joining this gym, I had no clue how to train or what terms like “periodization”, “autoregulation” and “supercompensation” meant. My daily workouts consisted of coming in and do whatever I felt like, whenever I felt like it.  One day, I decided to perform power cleans, or at least what I thought were power cleans.  I had no formal coaching previously and really just tried to imitate what I had seen people do in the past.  Nearing the end of my workout, the owner came over to me.  He gave me a few simple “cues” and went on his way.  After I finished my workout that day, I asked the owner if it would be possible for him to coach me and he agreed.  The next day I was learning how to snatch (first from the high hang, then hang from the knee and finally from the floor).  Next it was onto the clean, the jerk, and so on.   I decided to stop grappling all together in order to focus all of my time and attention on weightlifting.   As someone once told me, “An athlete can only be a slave to one master.”

There was nothing fancy about that gym and the equipment wasn’t new, but it had everything you needed to get strong.  The foundation of my training philosophy was developed by spending countless hours on the platform along with talking and training with other strength athletes. It’s not only the equipment present inside of a gym that matters, but also the people and the different personalities. There was a wide range of people from various walks of life and socioeconomic backgrounds who trained at that gym. At any given time, there would be someone cleaning 300lbs, benching 400lbs, squatting 500lbs, and/or deadlifting 600lbs. Everyone who trained at that gym had the same goal regardless of where they came from, how much money they made, or what they did for a living. They all were there for one thing and one thing only - TO GET STRONGER.  

Excuses, mental midgets, and missed training sessions were not tolerated. Not only would you have to answer to the owner, but to the other lifters as well. Everyone held each other accountable. Nobody cared if you were tired or were having a bad day.  All that mattered was putting weight on the bar, making the lift, and getting stronger. Day after day I not only felt myself getting stronger physically, but mentally too. Certain verbal cues like, “Don’t feel it! Lift it!”  and “Last one, best one!” will stick with me forever. I began approaching the barbell with more confidence and I refused to let the barbell defeat me.  It was me or the barbell. I believe that the only competition a weightlifter has is the barbell, and not other weightlifters. One particular rule I will never forget is,  “If you put the weight on the bar, you need to make the lift no matter what”.