Friday, October 12, 2012

Lifting Standards: Visual and Mechanical

Do Bad Backs or Bad Movement Patterns run in his family?

One of the many reasons I encourage people to compete in a powerlifting competition, is that it legitimizes your gym lifts.  Competitions create visual lifting standards... but what about mechanical lifting standards?

Visual Lifting Standards

Sure, everyone on the Interwebs can perform a NFL combine style 225 lb chest bounce bench press and a 315 lb high knee bend (also known as a squat). But performing those same movements in a competition is a different story.  In competition you have several judges scrutinizing your lifts for a certain number of visual standards.

A few example visual standards include:
  • Squat: Crease of the hips drop below the knee.
    • That will take a ton of weight off of your Squat High Knee Bend. 
    • AKA Low Knee Bends?
  • Bench: Demonstration of motionless bar at the top and bottom of the lift. 
    • No momentum = much harder lift.
    • No training partner deadlifting "spotting" the bar off your chest throughout the movement screaming "All you bro!".
  • Deadlift: No hitching or downward movement of the bar.

Competitions measure a task

Task  = Lift the heaviest weight from Point A to Point B, fulfilling a certain number of visual standards.   Very cool, very fun! 

However, with heavier weight, form tends to break down, injuries become much more prominent, and long term bio-mechanical issues start to generate. Plus once you teach your body (and your mind) that it's ok to perform a max effort lift with poor form, you'll continue to try to PR in that movement pattern, ultimately exacerbating those mechanical issues. 

Everyone one cringes when you see someone perform a max effort lift with poor form, but they'll also be the first to congratulate you on muscling though a disgusting movement pattern.  

No one cares if you blow out your back, knees, shoulders, or elbows during your lift so long as you moved the weight from point A to point B.

Mechanical Lifting Standards

Slight Mechanical Inefficiencies

Now, the one thing competitions (and typically most training programs) don't scrutinize or account for is mechanical standards.   That's on you and your training partners to judge! 

A good friend of mine is capable of a 405 lb deadlift (with poor form e.g. round back, poor firing patterns, etc)... A very strong deadlift!  But when we worked on correcting or improving his movement pattern, he was only capable of performing 185 lbs. (Note: that could drastically improve over time and training.)  

We restricted his weight by forcing him to achieve certain mechanical standards first!  Not as glamorous, but the goal is to PR with sexy form and teach your body/mind that regardless of the weight on the bar, your body should move the same. 

But, when someone asks him what he deadlifts, do you think he's going to respond with 185 lbs? or 405 lbs? Most people don't care how you did it, they just care about what you did... 

Typical Bro Question: "How much ya bench?" 

Atypical Bro Question: "How much do you close grip bench with strict form elbows in and a 2 second pause off your chest?"

Note: I understand when performing a max effort lift the focus is on the task, your adrenaline kicks in and the form will break down a bit.  But you should strive for a certain mechanical standard even at the higher weights.  

So, how do I start implementing Mechanical Standards into my training?

Yes, it's very tough to "regress" your weights to work on achieving certain mechanical standards.  So think of it this way.  Instead of measuring a Deadlift PR... Measure a Deadlift PR with Mechanical Standards...

Deadlift Personal Record (PR) Examples : 
  • RAW Competition or Task focused Deadlift with a belt: 425 lbs
  • RAW Competition or Task Focused Deadlift : 405 lbs (Rounded back? Booty Popping?)
  • Neutral Spine Deadlift : 315 lbs
  • Strict form "Booty Popping" Free Deadlift : 185 lbs.
Much more efficient deadlift. 

At GTS, if we have a 10 week training cycle for competition, we focus on Strict Patterning for the first  4-8 weeks... only progressing weight if the pattern looks amazing...

Then later in the cycle we'll switch focus for 3-5 weeks to the Task... Adding weight to the bar regardless of how beautiful the movement pattern looks.  

Focus your effort on what you need the most work on.  In the example Personal Records above, the absolute strength isn't the issue... the pattern is! Therefore the majority of the training cycle should be focused on improving the pattern instead of the top end strength of the task.

  • All deadlifts, benches, and squats are not created equal.  
  • Set mechanical standards for your lifts.
  • Record PRs with notes regarding the Visual and Mechanical Standards met.
  • Create training cycles that focus on pattern improvement in addition to weight improvement.
  • Re-watch/read Fugly Deadlifting.  It's a good example of a new set of mechanical standards we set for Joe to improve his deadlift. We took 1 step back on his weight during the training cycle, to take 2 steps forward in the long term. (Video embedded below for convenience)
  • More video analysis to follow over the coming weeks addressing mechanical issues in various lifts.

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