Saturday, May 8, 2021

High Intensity Strength Training for Wrestlers - By RJ Hicks MS CSCS

I was fortunate enough to experience training at a high intensity “strength” training studio when I was wrestling in high school.  I add the word “strength” to high intensity training because everything was focused around training progressively, not just training to failure, rolling around puking on the floor. Both of my wrestling coaches doubled as strength coaches at the gym and were excited to get the team in there to train during the off season. The gym was tucked away on the back side of a several small businesses and had two large garage doors that would be lifted up every time we arrived.

The gym was filled with tons of high quality strength training equipment. Medx, nautilus and original hammer pieces flooded the gym floors. There were over 30 pieces of equipment of all different brands and colors packed away like a Swiss Army knife with plenty of motivational pictures and quotes covering the walls. What I like best about this high intensity training gym was the fact that they still had plenty of free weights, farmer carrying bars and sandbags to mix into the training. It was a completely different training atmosphere from the traditional bench press stations and squat racks that I was use to training with at the high school and we were all excited to training there.

We trained twice a week after school during the off-season. Each workout varied in exercises, but followed a similar format as a bases of training. We would do an upper body pull, upper body push, lower body movement followed by a different series of upper body pull, upper body push, and lower body movement. Isolation movements, manual resistance, bodyweight exercises and strongman implements would be sprinkled in throughout the workout to complement all of the compound movements. It was a simple way of devising routines and allowed for a ton of variety, but devastating to all of us. No one ever left wishing they had done more.

Every set was in your face coaching until you hit your best effort on each exercise. There were no do-over or repeated sets to make up for, it was a now or never mentality every exercise we approached. Technique for the first time ever was heavily enforced on every repetition. It was demanded that you allow the muscles being trained to lift and lower the weight through the fullest range of motion. It was also the first time I trained where there was no sitting around between exercises. All of us paired up in twos and would follow a “you go I go” format. One athlete would coach, while the second athlete would lift. Roles would reverse between moving on to the next exercise. We each carried a notebook and recorded the exercise sequence, weight used and the repetitions completed. This would allow us to always keep track of our progression and act as an accountability tool.

Each workout would start off with a dynamic warm up and six 60 yard relay sprints outside in the front parking lot. We would partner up and race down and back each sprint to get the most out of each bout. After the running was done we would grab water and move inside to complete three exercises in a row. We’d hit a vertical/horizontal upper body pull, vertical/ horizontal upper body push and a compound lower body movement  for one all-out set of the heaviest weight we could handle for the target repetition range. Then we would move to an abdominal movement or 4 way neck for some built in recovery, without truly resting. It would be back to another similar three/four exercises in a vertical/horizontal upper body pull, vertical/ horizontal upper body and an isolation lower body combo (i.e leg curl and a leg extension) to cover additional planes of motion. At any point after a compound exercise we could follow up with exercises like shrugs, curls or lateral raises. And on the rare occasion we would substitute the lower body isolation movements for the hammer one legged deadlift to really drive up the intensity of the workout. Just like the first series, we would follow up the second lower body exercise(s) with another ab/lower back movement and some sort of challenge/finisher. Some days we would finish with farmer carries/sand bags, and or wrist rollers for the hands and forearms, other times we would perform chin ups/dips and or pushups at an extreme slow cadence for added torture (30 seconds up/30 seconds down or a 10/10 cadence for push-ups).

The amount of flexibility in the training allowed us to train eight to ten athletes at a time with full supervision. Each pairing could start anywhere in the sequence and never overlap or wait on a piece of equipment to become available. Poundage progression and good form were able to be prioritized in our training, because of the sequencing of exercises. We always used a push/pull format and followed less taxing exercises i.e. calf raises, 4 way neck, mid-section exercises with more demanding exercises for the lower body (squats, leg presses, and deadlifts) to maximize the amount of quality work in the shortest amount of time. This allowed us to be at our strongest during each exercise and not force us to go down from too much metabolic demand all at once.

I think the most valuable thing we got from this training that every athlete could benefit from was the clear distinction between strength training to build are bodies stronger and more resilient then going to practice to take our stronger and more resilient bodies to become better wrestlers.  Never once did we try to mimic sports specific movements underload in the weight. Nor did we waste precious lifting time trying to build explosiveness and speed (something genetically inherited) by performing quick lifts or plyometrics. Strength training is a completely separate activity from wrestling and our coaches did a great job of making that clear. They strength trained our whole bodies hard and progressively and never tried to turn weight training into something it was not. My advice to athletes and non-athletes alike is to keep the fads/gimmicks out of your training like we did and just train for STRENGTH!

Example routines:

Pulldown                                                    military press

Chest press                                                chin up

Bicep curl                                                    shrug 

Leg press                                                     squat machine

4 way neck                                                  ab movement

Seated row                                                  dumbbell row

Military press                                              decline press

Leg curl/leg extension                               Add/abd

Lower back                                                  calf movement

60 second chin up/dip                               farmer carries

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Saturday, May 1, 2021

Two Great Exercises To Build A Powerful Back - By Jim Duggan

      The importance of a strong, powerful back should be obvious to anyone who lifts weights.  Powerlifters and Olympic Lifters have always known about the need to maximize their back strength.  Over the years, many legendary lifters have demonstrated amazing power, and hoisted incredible poundages.  Record-breaking Snatches, Clean and Jerks, and Deadlifts are testimony to the benefits of devoting a great deal of time and effort towards working the back hard, heavy, and regularly.  Even if you are not a competitive lifter, nobody wants to have a weak back.  

     Most people who lift weights include some form of Deadlifting in their workout programs.  Regular (conventional) Deadlifts, Stiff-Leg, Trap Bar, or even Dumbbell Deadlifts are all effective exercises for building a strong back.  Likewise, there are numerous movements used by Olympic Lifters to assist them in increasing their pulling power.  Most of us who have trained for any length of time have tried a variety of exercises in our quest for back strength.  We've all "paid our dues," and then some. 

     However, I would like to discuss two great exercises that some people may not have tried, even though these movements are familiar to just about everyone who has ever "hoisted the steel."  They may not be seen on a regular basis in most commercial gyms, but they are highly effective in building great strength.  

     1)  Good Mornings.  This is a great exercise for increasing power throughout your entire back, particularly the lower back.  Since a powerful lower back is critical for lifting heavy poundages, it is a great assistance movement for the Deadlift, as well as an excellent movement for assisting the Olympic lifts.  It may possibly be the best exercise for strengthening the lower back.  It is also one of the most demanding movements that you'll ever perform.  

     Many arm-chair experts and keyboard warriors will tell you that Good Mornings are dangerous, or "bad for you."  This is not true.  I don't believe any exercise is dangerous, however I do believe that not all exercises are compatible with all people who train.  If you have lower back issues then you should be especially careful if you have never done Good Mornings before.  The best way for anyone to do them is to begin with light weights and gradually work up to heavier poundages.  If you do not experience any back pain, then you can consider working up to heavier weights.  I have been doing Good Mornings for decades, and I have never hurt my back doing them.  I have done them for sets of 20 reps with lighter weights, and I've worked up to 315 Lbs. for sets of five reps.  I've never experienced any problems, however it is up to each individual to determine what is best for him/her.  You must listen to your body and find out what works for you, and what doesn't. Always listen to your body.

     To perform Good Mornings, set your feet at about shoulder width.  Make sure the bar is tight on your traps.  You do not want the bar moving, or rolling on your neck.  Make sure the bar is held solidly and does not move.  The next important thing to remember is to keep your knees slightly bent.  Never do this exercise with locked knees.  Keep your body tight, bend forward while looking straight ahead.  Try to imagine pushing your feet through the floor while trying to touch your chest to your thighs, even if you can't actually go down that far.  Always do the movement in a slow, controlled manner. Do not bounce!  As far as the number of repetitions, you can vary the reps in different workouts.  On lighter days, you can do several sets of 8-10 reps, and on your heavy days you can shoot for five sets of five.  Like most movements, if you train hard, progressively, and safely, you will make impressive gains that will translate into gains in your Deadlift and other pulling movements.

     2)   Stone Lifting.  Lifting stones, particularly Atlas Stones, is an activity that will be familiar to anyone who has an interest in competitive Strongman contests.  They are a popular event- both for the participants as well as the spectators.  But lifting stones has also evolved into a tremendous exercise.  This is another demanding movement that will tax your entire body.  This is definitely NOT an isolation exercise.  After an intense stone session, you will feel as if you have been hit by a truck.  In other words, this is not an exercise for pumpers, toners, or those who want to get "shredded."

     Naturally, you will have to have access to stones to derive the benefits of this great exercise, but the good news is that stones are available. Some commercial gyms have even tried to "jump on the bandwagon" and now have stones available for their members.  Even if your gym does not have stones, there are still places from which you can order them.  I have five stones ranging in size from 140 Lbs. up to 300 Lbs.. 

     There are two popular movements you can do with stones.  Most of the time, I will lift the stone from the ground and stand up with it and then lift the stone to my shoulder.  Getting into the starting position will be uncomfortable, and you will definitely be pulling with your back.  "Lift with your legs" is definitely sound advice, but when it comes to lifting stones off the ground, the back most assuredly comes into play. Your form may not be pretty, but you will utilize most of the muscles in your body.  Your legs and hips will definitely get a workout as you attempt to get a heavy stone to your chest. And, yes, momentum will help get the stone to your shoulder.

      You can also lift the stone from the ground with the goal of placing it in your lap and standing up with it while holding it against your chest.  In most Strongman contests, the stones get lifted from the ground and placed on a platform, or a "plinth."  If you have access to such equipment, then this is an excellent movement.  Recently, I had a dead tree removed from my backyard. I asked the arborist to leave a stump of about four feet in height.  At first he wondered why no would want a four foot stump remaining until he saw the stones in my yard. I now have a perfect plinth for stone lifting!

     As for incorporating stones into your workouts, they make for an excellent "finisher." You can set a goal to shoot for in a set amount of time, or simply try to get as many reps as possible regardless of time.  There are just two pieces of advice, or more accurately two warnings. First, do not use a belt when lifting stones.  Second, do not use tacky or any other grip adhesive to help hold on to the stones.  If you're having trouble holding the stones, then work on your grip.  Real men (and women) do not use tacky!


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