Category Archives: Charles Staley
It’s designed for people who are new to the Olympic lifts, and/or for those who do have some experience but still find themselves struggling.
Note: Before we go further, let me state that this is designed to be a “learn by doing” article – it won’t have much real value unless you watch the videos and actually try the drills I’ve provided in them.
With that out of the way, the goal of the following sequence of drills is rapid competence. Not mastery, not perfection, but competence.
How rapid? One session. Honestly, I’m not very patient, and I assume you aren’t either. So my goal here is to get you up and running, doing decent power cleans in the very first session, so that you have a chance to taste the fun and unique satisfaction of this lift.
And trust me, it really is fun. Once you get that initial taste, my bet is that you’ll then do the hard work it takes to go from competence to mastery, which, admittedly, takes a lot longer.
Since my approach is all about expedience, please excuse my choice to omit specific recommendations about breathing, grip, stance, and the “double knee bend” (whatever that is). You can worry about those details later, and/or we can hash them out in the LiveSpill.
Remember, we’re after rapid competence here – like speed-reading, my job here is to help you get the gist of the story very quickly. After that, should you so choose, you can go back with an eye for more detail.
Let’s Get Started
The following series of 8 drills is designed to be learned in the order presented. But before we get to the first drill, a quick word about the weights you should be using for each drill.
I obviously can’t recommend specific weights, since all of you will have different strength levels. The key for each drill is that you want to select a weight heavy enough to get the proprioceptive feedback you need to facilitate learning, but not so heavy that you’re forced to do “whatever it takes” to complete the drill. If you’re not sure, err on the side of going too light, at least at the beginning.
Most people can successfully work their way through all 8 drills in a single session, while others may require a few sessions to digest the skills. Further, the earlier drills can usually be ditched very quickly – within a few weeks in most cases.
Wherever you happen to fall on the skill continuum, what’s most important is that you learn these drills in the order they appear below, and don’t be afraid to drop back a level or two if necessary.
The 8 Progressions
Drill #1: Learning The Shelf Position
The “shelf” refers to the position the bar ends up in on your shoulders at the completion of a power clean. If you’re not familiar and comfortable with this position, your pull will be inhibited. So in this series of progressions, we start at “Point A” and only later will we tackle “Point B.” I want you to be very comfortable with the destination before you go any further.
As you watch this video of me, you might notice some asymmetry – I have restricted flexion in my left elbow, which puts my elbows in different positions on the catch. That’s okay. The main thing is that you have a pain-free, comfortable, stable position for the bar on your deltoids – not your collarbones.
Typically, most lifters will need to catch the bar with high elbows to achieve this position. Go ahead and test it for yourself: first shelve the bar with high elbows, noticing where the bar sits. Then, slowly lower your elbows – at some point, you’ll feel the bar contact your collarbones, and at the same time, you’ll notice (especially if you’re using significant weight) the bar starting to slip off of its perch. When this happens, obviously your elbows are too low.
Be forewarned that many people will experience a significant stretch on their wrists as they practice the shelf position. Usually this fades over time, but sometimes it never does. Only time will tell.
In the meantime, taping your wrists and/or modifying the width of your grip can help a lot. Another very helpful trick is to protract your shoulders (push your elbows forward) as you receive the bar. Doing so creates a “shelf” for the bar to rest on.
Finally, keep in mind, during an actual clean, the bar only needs to be there for a moment. After that, you can drop it.
One last point on this drill: at this stage anyway, don’t be concerned about having a full handgrip around the bar as it lands on your shoulders, In truth, you’re better off allowing your hands to open up at this point (like mine are in the video). In the power clean, the hands become dormant once the pull has been completed (more on this later).
Okay, on to the next drill…
Drill #2: Clean Pull From Above The Knees
(By the way, even if you had trouble with the shelf, you can still move on to this next drill, since learning it doesn’t depend on your ability to properly rack the bar on your shoulders.)
This drill is perhaps the most pivotal of the bunch. If you can shelve the bar properly, and if you can do this drill, you’re capable of doing a great clean. It’s as simple as that. Watch this video first – I’ll meet you on the backside:
As you just saw, this drill very much resembles what some people call a “Romanian Deadlift,” or a stiff-leg deadlift. Keeping the bar against your thighs at all times, simply sit back, allowing the bar to slide down your legs, and then, once the bar approaches your kneecaps, reverse the motion, acceleratively “jump-shrugging” the bar.
There are three main points I need to make about this drill.
First, as you sit back, get your shoulders out in front of the bar as it approaches your knees, not directly over top of it. In other words, the main body action as you lower the bar to your knees is hip flexion, not knee flexion (although it’s natural and appropriate for the knees to “unlock.”)
Second, it’s not really a shrug. Yes, the shoulders elevate, but it’s a passive elevation, not active – they elevate because your straight arms are being pushed up by the bar’s upward momentum, which causes the shoulders to rise.
Third, the bar must become weightless for a split second at the top of your pull. This is one of the most significant differences between cleans and any other lift you’ve probably done before.
In fact, you’ll notice that in the video, I have metal 5-pound plates on the bar. The only reason they’re there is to provide me with auditory feedback – if you’ve done the pull properly, you’ll hear that distinctive “ka-chink” sound on each rep. If you don’t hear it, keep practicing until you do.
Before we go on to the next drill, watch this quick demonstration that I learned from coach Mike Burgener. It’s something that all beginners to the clean should be shown before they start practicing the lift. The first “rep” simulates the energetics of a deadlift, and the second “rep” simulates what happens during a clean (i.e., the bar becomes weightless).
Drill #3: Clean Pull / Power Clean Complex From Above The Knees
Once you’ve got a consistent, relaxed clean pull going for you, the next step is to integrate it with an actual power clean. Do two clean pulls from above the knee, and on each rep, notice how the bar “wants” to travel up to your shoulders, but for now at least, you’re not letting it.
On the third rep, do exactly the same thing, but this time simply allow the bar to coast up to your shoulders, and then shelve the bar once it’s arrived.
The idea here is that you use the two clean pulls as a rehearsal to “groove” your power clean technique. You should understand that the pull is the active phase of the clean, and everything after the pull is the passive phase.
Here’s me performing a clean with no arm contribution after the pull just to get the point across:
Drill #4: Clean Lift-Off From Floor
At this point it’s time to graduate to starting your drills from the floor, which is more difficult than the above the knees position because you’ve got to navigate around your knees with the bar.
The first step is to learn how to start the pull in a hip-dominant manner, which is demonstrated in the video below. While this movement will look similar to a partial deadlift, the thing to notice is that the angle of my back (relative to the floor) stays constant as the bar moves from the starting position to knee height.
Most novices, however, do something different: they raise the shoulders faster than the hips, which leaves the knees flexed, which in turn reduces the power you’d otherwise have in your posterior chain.
Here’s a drill to help you understand and master the idea of a hip dominant pull. Using an easy weight, do 6 reps, where the odd-numbered reps are “incorrect” (knee dominant) and the even-numbered reps are “correct” (hip dominant). Here’s what that looks like:
There are three main ways to tell if you’re doing this drill correctly. First, on the “correct” reps, you’ll feel a lot of tension accumulate in your hamstrings. Second, you’ll arrive at a position where your shoulders are in front of, not over top of the barbell as it reaches the bottom of your kneecaps. And finally, as the barbell reaches knee level, it’ll want to drift forward, away from your legs, requiring you to pull it back to yourself.
On the “incorrect” reps, you won’t feel much hamstring tension, and as the bar reaches your knees, your shoulders will be directly on top of the bar, not in front of it. Once this drill feels comfortable, move on to Drill #5.
Drill #5: Clean Lift-Off/Clean Pull Complex From Floor
Just like we did earlier, we’re now going to use the clean pull to groove your technique for the clean. The only difference is that now we’re starting from the floor as opposed to above the knees.
The only “new” technical element to absorb here is tempo – most novices will tend to quickly rip the bar right from the floor, which hurts your efficiency in a number of ways. The better approach is to pull the bar slowly until it reaches your kneecaps, and then increase the speed.
Think of it like a golf swing – club speed is important, but only at the point where it contacts the ball. Good golfers use the entire swing path to accumulate speed, and good lifters do the same thing with the bar.
Think of the tempo of a simple baseball throw: it starts slow, almost lazily slow, but then accelerates and finally snaps at the end. That’s a good representation of proper bar speed on the power clean.
If this drill is coming along well, it’s time to move on to the next step. If not, go back a step and brush up your technique before moving on.
Drill #6: Clean Lift-Off/Clean Pull / Power Clean Complex From Floor
This is a 3-rep drill, where each rep is a rehearsal for the next. Everything else should be self-explanatory at this point, but stay on top of the tempo issue – all 3 reps are slow from the floor to the knee. You’re not strong down there anyway, so wait until you reach the “power position” before you pull the trigger!
Everything feeling good? If so, time for the next step. If not, well I guess you know the story by now.
Drill #7: Clean Pull / Power Clean Complex From Floor
All we’re doing here is removing the first set of training wheels – the lift-off. If doing so doesn’t seem to hurt anything, move on to the eighth and final step. If not, back down a level for now.
Drill #8: Power Clean From Floor
Congratulations! You’ve arrived at the final step – a power clean from the floor. I have no new technical concerns to alert you to here, since we’re not really doing anything new at this point. The real trick at this stage is to spend the majority of your practice time on the level or levels that are appropriate for your current level of skill.
For most people this means clean pulls, either from above the knee (if you think you’re really struggling) or from the floor (if you feel pretty good but just want to clean things up a bit).
Now that we’ve gone through all 8 steps, let’s address a handful of common issues/problems and how to solve them.
The Scoop: Complete vs. Incomplete Hip Extension
You might’ve noticed in the last video that my thighs make significant contact with the bar. In fact, all competent weightlifters demonstrate this maneuver. Less skilled lifters, by comparison, do not.
Most coaches think it best to not teach this maneuver, as it should simply be the byproduct of good technique (i.e., complete hip extension). I’m on the fence on that issue, but I want you to do a little test to help convince yourself of how important complete hip extension is, and then I’ll share a few tips to help you fully extend your hips on the power clean.
Here’s the test: Perform a vertical jump (it doesn’t have to be maximum effort) without fully extending your hips. (Don’t do this while anyone is watching because you’re going to look completely incompetent.)
Feels like shit doesn’t it? I’m betting you found it difficult to pull off at all – that’s how important full hip extension is on a vertical jump.
It’s just as important on the power clean – not fully extending your hips hurts your clean just as much as it hurt your jump.
Now, a few tips if you’re struggling with this.
First, go sloooow until the bar passes your knees. If you go too fast here, it’ll be difficult to time the proper extension because by the time you push your hips forward, the bar will already be too high.
Second, get those shoulders out in front of the bar as it reaches your knees – you can’t extend your hips unless you first flex them right?
Finally, it’s okay if the bar isn’t touching your shins (although it should still be very close to them), but by the time the bar passes your kneecaps, keep it pinned to your thighs as you pull. This helps you feel where the bar is, which in turns helps you figure out your timing for the scoop.
Here’s a video I did on this maneuver a few years ago:
The Finish: The Clean Pull From Supports
Many novice lifters have trouble understanding how to “finish the pull.” The drill below works absolute miracles right from the first rep. I’m really not sure why, but I think it helps the lifter feel safe enough to fully commit, since he won’t be racking the bar on the shoulders, nor does he need to worry about getting it back down to the floor.
You’d think you could just do clean pulls from above the knees, but it doesn’t work nearly as well.
Incidentally, in no time at all you can go really heavy with this – I routinely used to do 405 for triples when I was competing in Master’s weightlifting.
The Catch: Learning How To Avoid Grinding And Crashing
Lots of new lifters struggle when it comes to racking the bar on their shoulders during power cleans. Often, they don’t trust their precision and fear slamming the bar into their throat, chin, or face. The result is that they use excessive hand contribution to “guide” the bar to its proper finish position. Only problem is, you can’t do this with real weight, and it also punishes your wrists and elbows.
Other lifters simply fail to properly estimate the amount of pull they need to get the bar to their shoulders – they’ll get the bar almost high enough, and then painfully grind it the rest of the way. Ouch. Don’t do this either.
Here’s me grinding 225 – you’ll notice that I didn’t pull the bar high enough to catch it with high elbows (I rotated the elbows up afterward, but by then, its too late):
The remaining issue is when lifters overestimate the amount of pull they need. The bar sails up past the face, and then crashes down onto the shoulders. That’s an owie, too – power cleans should never hurt, no matter how heavy they are.
It’s just a matter of putting your time in to correct these problems, should you experience them. Keep practicing.
Practice vs. Training: Appropriate Load Selection
One frustrating reality for power clean novices is the necessity to keep loads manageable until technique becomes stable. During this time of course, cleans can’t be used to develop strength or power because the loads will be, by necessity, too light.
When this is the case, simply use clean pulls (from above the knees or the floor, or even better, from the rack, depending on your skill level) for power development – they’re 95% as good as cleans for this purpose.
Another strategy is to use the various drills as part of your dynamic warm-up routine. Why use non-skill movements for this purpose when using these drills kills two birds with one stone?
I Want Your Feedback!
I hope you found this article useful, and I’d love to hear from you in the LiveSpill area below.
Those who know me from my seminars or my writings know that I’m a huge proponent of the Olympic lifts.
Sure, I’ve written about the power lifts, and have coached several powerlifters, but I’ve never competed in the discipline – until this past April 1st, that is. This article is a summary of my experience, and what I learned from it.
Just to set the stage, back in August of last year, I re-injured my left elbow trying to improve my jerk technique. I had (for unknown reasons) developed some calcification in that elbow, which had gradually reduced both my full flexion and extension in that joint.
So I found myself at a crossroads – I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to clean and jerk again, and at the same time had grown disappointed by my limited progress in the “O lifts” in recent months.
I needed a change, a new challenge.
In September, my friend and client Gene Lawrence (a world champion powerlifter in the master’s division) told me about an upcoming raw powerlifting meet: the 100% Raw! Federation’s Southwest Regional Championships in Prescott Arizona, which would be held on April 1st, 2012.
I had about six months to prepare, and the competition was only a few hours away from my home, so after some deliberation I decided to enter.
Before I share some of the important lessons I learned from training for and competing in my first powerlifting meet, I’d first like to tell you why it took me so long to finally “pull the trigger” on this adventure.
I had (and still have) an enormous amount of passion for the sport of weightlifting. I worried that dividing my attentions would hamper my efforts in that sport. Nothing could be further from the truth, as I’ll share with you shortly.
I felt I wasn’t strong enough to avoid complete embarrassment in the powerlifting world. Although I’d deadlifted 500 pounds a few years earlier, my lifetime best squat was about 365 pounds. Furthermore, while I had done a sloppy “touch and go” 300-pound bench press in my mid-thirties, at age 52, I hadn’t done any form of bench press in years due to shoulder issues. In fact, on the day I sent in my entry form, I probably wasn’t capable of a legal (paused) 200-pound bench.
I wasn’t sure I was capable of performing “legal lifts” in powerlifting. First, after several serious knee surgeries, I have very limited flexion in my right knee. I knew I could squat “close” to parallel, but different federations have different depth requirements, and I wasn’t certain that I could train at or compete with proper depth in the squat.
Second, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to bench press intensely and consistently enough to prepare for competition due to the aforementioned shoulder problems. In the past, any time I got more than 5-6 workouts into a bench press program, my shoulder would flare up and eventually stop me in my tracks.
Initial Training Approach: Linear Progression
After a short layoff from my usual training in weightlifting, I started my preparation on Wednesday, September 28, 2011 – almost 6 months to the day from the competition. (I started documenting my training right here at T Nation on October 31st, for those of you who might like to reference my training journal).
My initial training approach involved bench pressing and squatting on Mondays and Fridays, and deadlifts every other Wednesday, using a simple “linear progression” approach popularized by Mark Rippetoe here for the bench and squat. I’d work up to a challenging set of 5 on day one, and then 3×5 (with slightly less weight) on the second weekly workout, starting off with very light loads.
On deadlifts, I worked up to a single work set of 5 reps per session (again starting very light). I planned a progression of 5 pounds/session for the bench and squat, and 10 pounds/session on pulls.
Here’s what my initial training week looked like:
Bench Press 3×5
Bench Press 1×5
For squat and bench, I paired a 1×5 lift with a 3×5 lift, rather than doing 3×5 for both lifts on the same day. This was for the purpose of evenly distributing workloads.
I haven’t listed loading parameters for the Olympic lifts, chins, and curls. That’s because I purposely made these decisions intuitively, based on what felt good at the moment. If I felt great on a particular day, I’d try for something big. If not, I didn’t stress about it.
I allowed for occasional variety when it came to the non-competition lifts. The Big 3 lifts, however, were set in stone. I think that training programs should have a “compulsory” as well as an “optional” category, meaning that you should be able to discern between tasks that are central to your goal versus drills that are less critical to your core mission. Therefore, you’ll see that I eventually dropped curls, skipped chins, and so on. Great programs are characterized by a “flexible structure.”
While it may seem excessive to squat twice a week while deadlifting during the same week, keep in mind that volume on Mondays and Wednesdays was fairly low (1×5 for each).
Some readers may notice the complete lack of a general/dynamic warm-up, foam rolling, stretching, and so forth. Personally, I’ve never experienced much benefit in any of these activities, and decided to finally listen to my inner voice on these issues. That said, if you feel you benefit from any of them, certainly use them.
My plan was to run this progression until I hit a wall (which I knew was inevitable), and then devise a new strategy when that happened.
For quick reference, my first 1×5 workouts featured the following loads:
Bench press: 170 x5
Squat: 225 x5
Deadlift: 340 x5
That should give a sense of how light I started off, although these opening workouts weren’t especially easy. I was both embarrassed and nervous on the bench press in particular, given my shoulder history.
That said, I had no pain on those initial workouts, nor did I experience any significant pain or injury during this six-month training period. The only injury I suffered was a moderately-tweaked low back on a 185-pound squat early in the cycle, and a period of 3-4 weeks where I was experiencing moderate left pec discomfort on bench presses. That’s it.
Never before have I experienced a pain/injury-free six months of training, and I sure wasn’t expecting it to occur at age 52.
Reaching A Plateau On Linear Progression
Right around mid-February, I could sense that my linear progression honeymoon period was coming to an end. It was taking all I had to continue making my 5-10 pound jumps, and an additional concern was that April 1st was coming up fast, and 5’s seemed a bit non-specific for hitting big singles in competition.
I had benched 225 x 4 (missed the planned 5th rep) squatted 300 x 5, and pulled 363 x 5, but by this time my discipline had already eroded. I was already “experimenting” (or “pussing out” to be more forthright) by either taking heavy singles, or sometimes going more than 5 reps. Basically I was just sick of 5’s. I needed a new approach before I started losing my discipline altogether.
Enter Chad Waterbury
I’ve known and respected Chad Waterbury for years and asked him if he’d help my with “last minute” peaking strategies. Chad looked at my training journal and told me that in his discussions with people like Franco Columbo and Pavel Tsatsouline, he’d developed a strong affection for a “Medium – Heavy – Medium – Maximum” type of progression.
Medium days were 3 x 3, heavy days were 3 x 2, and maximum days were mock competitions essentially, a chance to evaluate your progress. In terms of progression, each type of workout, when repeated, should be done with slightly more weight.
I immediately implemented Chad’s suggestions, and after about 10 days could feel a renewal, physically and psychologically. My numbers started moving dramatically – before I knew it I was hitting 380 on the squat, 465 on the deadlift, and 255 on the bench, and I felt less drained at the same time. I was peaking. Things were coming together.
In my last month of training, I managed to chalk up a 403 squat, a 255 bench, and a 475 deadlift (see the videos below). I simply wanted to hit these numbers (or slightly more if possible) during official competition, when the pressure was on, without getting hurt. I felt ready go, but I had a lot of unknowns ahead of me…
So How’d I Do?
In terms of expectations, I only had a few:
I really wanted a 400 squat and a 500 deadlift, and I didn’t want to get hurt in the process. I had no idea what to expect on the bench. But I felt I had to be ready for anything, given that this was my first experience in the sport, and also considering that the warm-up room was scantily equipped and crowded.
I had to be prepared for a rushed and/or incomplete warm-up. I had to be ready for the possibility that my squats might not be deep enough, or that I might not be prepared for the various technical rules I’d face on the bench, including the pause, keeping the feet motionless, and so on. I’d trained for all of this, but you never know exactly what you’re up against until it actually happens.
Here’s an event-by event breakdown of my meet:
My last warm-up was with 315, which I had to take from a very low position due to the much shorter guys who were sharing the rack with me. Nonetheless, it felt fine and I was confident overall.
I opened with 340, which felt about as heavy as I expected, and much to my relief I got three white lights – my depth was legal.
My second attempt was with 369, and now that I knew my depth would pass muster, I felt energized and confident. I probably could’ve hit it for a triple if I’d needed to. Three whites.
I went to the administrators’ table and asked for 402, one pound less than my PR in training, but I didn’t want to get greedy. I would’ve been super happy to hit 400, but had I tried, say, 415 and missed, I’d be in a bad mood for the rest of the meet.
402 was heavy and slow. I struggled out of the hole, and waited for what felt like an eternity for the head judge to signal me back to the rack. I think my spotters and I got the bar back on the stands about a second before I nearly passed out from pressurizing against that load. Three whites! I was off to a great start – 3 for 3, no red lights.
You can see my 402 attempt below:
My last warm-up backstage was with 205, and it felt uneventful. My first attempt was 225 pounds – a weight I’d hit for 4 reps in training. I smoked it easily for three whites.
Second attempt: 245. This went up okay, but not as well as I’d expected. Somehow my placement on the bench was off – I reasoned that
I needed to be closer to the uprights for my final attempt. Due to the difficulty of this attempt, and also because I was 5 for 5 at this point, I asked for 253 for my final attempt – 2 pounds less than my training PR.
As I positioned myself on the bench, I remembered the positioning error I wanted to correct, and moved a bit closer to the uprights. Two fifty three went up with ease – the adjustment paid off better than I’d anticipated. On the bench, I again went 3 for 3, and no red lights. My only small regret is that I was probably good for 260, which would’ve been a new PR. That’s what the next meet is for I guess.
You can see my 253 attempt below:
By this point in the day I was pretty wiped out, and my low back and hamstrings were toasted from the heavy squats. One of the unknowns I knew I’d be facing today was that I’d never maxed out my squat and deadlift on the same day.
There was a war going on in my head: a struggle between wanting to play it safe and hit 500, and the desire to get a new PR, say 510 or so. At this point I’d gone 6 for 6 with no red lights, so I decided to commit to a “perfect meet” – going 9 for 9, no red lights, and at least meeting (if not exceeding) training PR’s.
My last warm-up in back was with 405. It was clear that I could’ve hit at least 5 reps with that, so I felt ready for my 440 opener. After I set that down, I was warned by the head judge to lower the bar with more control, which took me by surprise, but nonetheless, I earned three whites for my effort, and asked for 469 for my second attempt, which I handled successfully. The trick of course, is to optimally bridge the gap between my second attempt and my goal for my final lift, which was 501.
Walking out to that 501-pound barbell, I had confidence that I’d already hit that weight before in the past, but also felt pressure that until this point I’d been running a perfect meet. To say that I was determined to make this lift would be a gross understatement.
Internally, I’d worked myself into such a frenzy of effort that I honestly don’t remember feeling the bar in my hands. As I began pulling, I felt relief that I at least got the weight moving upward, but it felt significantly heavier than I expected. I kept pulling, however, knowing that my deadlifts usually move faster than what it feels like.
As the bar passed my knees, I thought, “Okay, I’m home free now,” but my improved leverage was offset by the mounting fatigue. The pull was a grind from start to finish. Finally, I locked it out, and remembering my earlier admonition from the head judge, did my best to lower the bar under maximum control. Hands on knees, I looked back at the scoreboard – three whites! A perfect meet!
In summary, the only change I would’ve made would’ve been to take a heavier final bench attempt, but as the old saying goes, hindsight is 20-20. I felt I’d performed a perfect meet, but what I learned from the experience was far more valuable than winning my first powerlfting meet (oh, did I forget to mention that detail?).
Injury Avoidance: I had virtually no pain during this 6-month training cycle, despite performing nearly every “challenging” lift in the book (squats, deadlifts, bench presses, two Olympic lifts, rows, and chins) hard and often. There are three plausible explanations for my injury-free experience.
First, I started well below my abilities. Second, I progressed very gradually – only 5-10 pounds per session. Third, I didn’t do any “junk” work, which limited my overall wear and tear.
I didn’t do accessory single-joint lifts, nor did I perform “advanced” techniques like eccentrics, plyometrics, chains/bands, partials, or forced reps. I simply did super-basic exercises using tried-and true programming principles, and I did it consistently and progressively.
I never took a single ibuprofen, never iced anything, and I never missed a single workout or failed to hit my numbers because of pain or injury. In short, my training was remarkably low-tech and the only thing exciting about it was that I got bigger, stronger, faster, and leaner; and I did it without injuring myself in the process.
A note about bench pressing: I noted that my traditional experiences with all forms of bench pressing were characterized by shoulder pain and injury. I can attribute my sudden good fortune to only one thing: since September 28th, all of my benches have been done with a pause, as is required in competition.
I believe this pause helps mitigate the high tensions that occur when the shoulder is at its weakest position (when the bar touches the chest). If you’re having issues with your shoulders when you press, put your ego aside and implement the pause – it took me until age 52 to figure that out, so consider this a head start!
Body Composition: Body comp has never been my strong suit. When my focus was primarily on the Olympic lifts, things like squats, presses, and pulls received only cursory attention – by the time I got to squats, I often had nothing left in the tank.
But by putting my primary focus on “big” multi-joint movements done for higher volumes and longer time-under-tensions than what I was used to, lo and behold, I actually started developing a physique. And while I’ve never particularly cared much about aesthetics, I have to admit it’s fun to at least look like I spend time in the gym.
Improved Olympic Lifts: Perhaps the most pleasant outcome occurred as I gradually started reintroducing power snatches and clean and jerks into my prep. Not only did I discover that I could still perform a workable clean and jerk despite my elbow issues, but in late April – after just five sessions and not having performed a single C&J for more than 6 months – I reached 95% of my best C&J ever, despite weighing significantly less and having not practiced that lift in months. I also reached 98% of my best snatch, after only a handful of sessions on that lift as well.
An even more remarkable surprise was that, for years, both snatches and jerks have been problematic on my shoulders, particularly my left shoulder. Remarkably, I found that suddenly, I’m performing very heavy snatches and jerks completely pain free.
This was one of the most gratifying things I’ve experienced in my entire training career. I attribute this to the 6-month break away from these lifts that allowed my old shoulder injuries to heal, but I also believe that bench pressing contributed to my overall shoulder integrity. Furthermore, I became much stronger as a whole, which certainly contributed to my shoulder health and integrity.
Prologue: What I’m Up To Now…
My current goal is to be ready to do either a powerlifting meet or a weightlifting meet at short notice, any time of the year, while continuing to improve my body comp and staying injury-free at the same time. In other words, I want to be a bit more well-rounded as I get older, and I’m having a lot of fun getting stronger in my 50’s without nursing injuries in the process.
The take-home lesson is, there’s lots for all of us to learn, even if we’re well-known experts who’ve been training for decades. I humbly hope that this story has inspired you to reach out and seek new challenges for yourself – no matter how good you are, no matter how much you may know, no matter how old you are, there are new heights for all of us to reach.