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I learned to squat a long time ago. It was 1977, and I had just been in a little altercation that convinced me that I might need to be in a little better shape than I was. I was an Early Adopter of soccer in high school (Texas, 1973-74, nobody knew what the hell we were doing, we had to buy the balls through the mail, football coaches thought we were girls, our soccer coach didn't know what he was doing, etc.) and had continued playing intramural in college. I was in decent "shape" in the sense that I wasn't fat, but considering myself then with 30 years of experience now, I can understand why I decided I need to train. I was a soccer player, for God's sake. I was not very strong. And although my little brush with violence had left me mostly intact, I was unhappy with the outcome. I decided the same thing young men have been deciding since there have been young men: I was going to get stronger.

A lack of strength had not been a major factor in the affair. The guy only hit me once--a sucker punch, really and actually--and I was not completely inexperienced in these matters. But I failed to whip his ass, and failures of this type usually demand a response. Being a relatively civilized individual, my response was not to drive by and shoot him, as the pussies of today seem prone to do. It was to begin a systematic overhaul of the person responsible for my failure to whip his ass: me. And usually these types of overhauls involve a realization that you're not as strong as a guy ought to be. Such epiphanies have for many decades been an important part of the gym business.

Video Article!

Coaching, according to expert lifting coach Mark Rippetoe, is no more than figuring out what to say to people to get them to move how you want them to move. This will vary from person to person, so, as a trainer, your bag of tricks--your ways of explaining and cueing movement and mechanics--must be broad and diverse. But, before that, you need to understand exactly what's going on in the mechanics of lifting and the body positions it requires.

This video continues Rip's discussion of lifting mechanics from last month's CrossFit Journal. Taken together, the two videos offer a clear, down-to-earth explanation of how and why the principles of force, physics, and human physiology determine the positions that constitute good--safe, effective, and efficient--form for the barbell lifts.

Video Article!

What constitutes good form for barbell lifts is not a matter of opinion or up for debate, argues lifting coach Mark Rippetoe. Rather, proper mechanics are about understanding the relevant bits of human skeletal anatomy and the principles of force and physics. These are what determine the most efficient, strongest, and mechanically sound body positions for all the lifts and these are what we, as lifters and trainers, need to learn to recognize and analyze. In this video article, he explains the skeletal geometry that is the basis for the back squat in particular.

The salient parts for geometric analysis of the squat are the shin, thigh, and back and the three angles formed by them: the knee angle (formed by the tibia and the femur), hip angle (rigid back and the femur), and back angle (the back and the floor). The relationships among these--with the added point that the bar will always be directly over the mid-foot if the system is to be in balance--determine the correct position of the bar on the back and of the elements of the body under that bar. Once the pieces are in place, then the force of the bar on the spine (and other joints) and the force generated by the body are applied in appropriate planes and the lifter is poised to be efficient and correct.

Strong Enough?

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It's been a hard year here at Wichita Falls Athletic Club. We've lost a couple of very worthwhile folks since last summer, and another good friend of mine died recently. Cardell was 45 when he was diagnosed with an ascending aortic aneurism that possibly involved the aortic valve. He was prepared for a complicated, dangerous operation, but sepsis developed almost immediately after the surgery, and he died as a result of complications from the infection. The reason I mention this rather unhappy personal item is that it took him three and a half weeks to die. That's a long time in the ICU, and he lasted that long because he was very, very strong.

Cardell completely ruptured his patellar tendon at work a couple of years ago, a devastating injury that could easily have left him crippled for life. But he was strong, and five months after the surgery he squatted 315 pounds for 5 reps to our standards here at the gym (i.e., with full range). Strong people are harder to kill than weak people, and more useful in general. While we're on the subject, our condolences go to the family and friends of Jesse Marunde, who will be missed as well.

Strength is the ability to produce force, and it is possibly the most important component in athletics.

Popular Biomechanics


The most useful theories are those that simplify our understanding of apparently complicated things. The theory of evolution explains the rather interesting fact that frogs and humans both have two forearm bones, that grasshoppers and catfish share the common pattern of repeated trunk segmentation, and that all of us, including bacteria, use pretty much the same high-energy phosphate system to move things around inside our cells. My observations will never be this profound, interesting, or important. They will not even be that original. But since you apparently have nothing better to read right now, let’s just enjoy these next few minutes together as though they will be useful.

Barbell training has been the focus of my attention for the last couple of decades. I am not bored with it yet. Whenever I have the opportunity to train a group of interested, motivated, bright people, I learn as much as they do. It has recently come to my attention that there are objective ways to describe proper form for the basic barbell exercises that are valid for everybody who does them, regardless of their anthropometry. For example, it doesn’t matter how long your femurs or how short your back, the bar is going to come off the ground in a deadlift when the bar is directly under the shoulder blades. (For a detailed discussion of the deadlift, see my CrossFit Journal article "A New, Rather Long Analysis of the Deadlift.") This position will place the shoulders slightly forward of the bar and the arms at a slight angle back to it. This is a function of the mechanics of the skeleton, and is true even when form is bad: if the bar is too far away from the shins, and not right against them in a position that minimizes the torque against the hip joint, the bar still leaves the ground from a position plumb to the scapulas.

The force that is transferred from the back to the bar doesn’t just leap over to the arms through the air. It is transferred to the arms through the shoulder blades, and it just so happens that when the correct deadlift position is assumed, the shoulder blades—not the front of the deltoids—are in fact directly over the bar in a line perfectly plumb and vertical to the bar. Let’s review the basic force-generation mechanics of the deadlift and see if this makes any sense.

The force that makes the bar go up is generated by the muscles that extend the knees and the hips, and this force is transferred up the rigid spine, across the scapulas to the arms and down to the bar. The weight leaves the floor when the quadriceps extend the knees, but for this to happen the hamstrings and glutes must anchor the hip angle in its position. The hamstrings pull down on the pelvis from below, and the glutes hold it from the top of the iliac crest; if the back stays flat this allows the force to travel up the rigid back held at a constant angle while the quads push the floor.

Going Deep

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Anyone who says that full squats are "bad for the knees" has, with that statement, demonstrated conclusively that they are not entitled to an opinion
about the matter.

People who know nothing about a topic, especially a very technical one that requires specific training, knowledge, and experience, are not due an opinion about that topic and are better served by being quiet when it is asked about or discussed. For example, when brain surgery, or string theory, or the NFL draft, or women's dress sizes, or white wine is being discussed, I remain quiet, odd though that may seem.

But seldom is this the case when orthopedic surgeons, athletic trainers, hysical therapists, or nurses are asked about full squats. Most such people have absolutely no idea what a full squat even is, and they certainly have no concept of how it affects the knees, unless they have had additional training beyond their specialties, which for the professions mentioned does not include full squats. Because if these people knew anything about squatting, and the difference between a full squat and any other kind of squat and what they do to
the knees, they would know that "full squats are bad for the knees" is wrong and thus would not be making such a ridiculous statement.

I know of no better example of functional strength than a 600-pound deadlift. Except a 700-pound deadlift. That's what strength is: the ability to generate force, and the "functional" part is really just a qualifier. Because when you're that strong, it's functional. That's the part that has the modern "academic" wing of the fitness industry in such a fog just now.

It is currently fashionable to characterize certain types of training as "functional" and other types of training as something else, maybe "non-functional" or "training that lacks function" or "functionless" training. I have no idea why this has received such attention recently, except that there are several equipment manufacturers that make stuff that is supposed to add "function" to our training. And damned if it doesn't always involve some sort of instability that the overcoming of provides the benefit.

But more than involving instability (and expensive proprietary devices), it also always seems to involve very light weights. Look, if a guy wants to do his alternate dumbbell presses while seated on a stability ball, that's fine with me. But my god, you have to use more than the 15-pound dumbbells! Because if you want functional strength, you have to at some point get strong enough to lift more than the 15s. You just do. But this point often gets lost on stability ball day.

And I swear that I actually saw a guy doing 50-pound behind-the-neck lat pulldowns while seated on a Swiss ball. I was out of town, by the way, in a state that begins with a C.

The squat is the key to strength and conditioning. It is the sine qua non of barbell exercises. I usually go so far as to tell new trainees that if they are not going to squat, they should not even bother to train. No other exercise changes so many things about the body in so short a time as the squat. To omit squats because some uninformed fool said they were "bad for your knees" indicates that you probably didn’t want to do them anyway, so it's just as well.

The next time some quasi-professional health-industry type repeats this hoary old silliness, ask them how they know. If they say that the bulk of their professional practice is generated by athletes who regularly and correctly performed full barbell squats and consequently "blew out" their knees, call me and I will be there within thirty minutes with $80 million in cash.

My money is safe, of course. The truth is that the bulk of their professional practice—insofar as athletic/sports injuries are concerned (never mind the myriad injuries and conditions resulting from inactivity)—is composed of soccer, basketball, and football players with knee injuries, none of whom are ever counseled that their chosen activity will "hurt your knees." That advice is always saved for athletes participating in a structured strength program that includes squats.

Over the past six years our school’s powerlifting team has been quite successful. We have had about thirty athletes advance to state championship contests and eight have won first or second place. Three have gone on to win national championships, and two of those have made this year’s U.S. World Team and will represent the United States at the IPF Sub-Junior (18 years or less) World Championships in September.

Several months ago I came across a link to, and, after sifting through the site for a while, I was hooked. As someone who appreciates the value of hard work, I knew I had to find a way to incorporate this type of training and conditioning into my team’s regimen. I will first describe our existing strength training system and then show how we have incorporated CrossFit methodologies to take the program to an even higher level.

The Deadlift

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The deadlift is unrivaled in its simplicity and impact while unique in its capacity for increasing head to toe strength.

Regardless of whether your fitness goals are to "rev up" your metabolism, increase strength or lean body mass, decrease body fat, rehabilitate your back, improve athletic performance, or maintain functional independence as a senior, the deadlift is a marked shortcut to that end.

To the detriment of millions, the deadlift is infrequently used and seldom seen either by most of the exercising public and/or, believe it or not, by athletes.

It might be that the deadlift' name has scared away the masses; its older name, "the healthlift," was a better choice for this perfect movement.

In its most advanced application the deadlift is prerequisite to, and a component of, "the world’s fastest lift," the snatch, and "the world’s most powerful lift," the clean; but it is also, quite simply, no more than the safe and sound approach by which any object should be lifted from the ground.

The deadlift, being no more than picking a thing off the ground, keeps company with standing, running, jumping, and throwing for functionality but imparts quick and prominent athletic advantage like no other exercise.


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