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The Evolution Of The Strength Athlete – Part 1

June 8, 2011 05:00 PM

 AndyBolton2

High quality 1003lbs – photo courtesy of Andy Bolton 

 

So, you wanna get strong?
 
That’s great, and I commend you on your choice of physical pursuit. It goes without saying that you will need to lift weights and add weight to the bar in order to get stronger.
 
However, if you wish to reach your strength potential (in your chosen lifts) then there is going to be much more involved than mindlessly ‘lifting weights’.
 
You must hone your technique, find good training partners, join (or create) a great place to train and pay attention to your training program. Furthermore, if you learn how to warm-up prior to your strength training sessions and give some thought to the recovery methods that you use; you will speed up your strength gains even more.
 
This article series, "The Evolution Of The Strength Athlete", will discuss these topics in some detail and help you on your way to building the strength you desire.
 
I am a Powerlifter by trade. I have won multiple World Championships, Squatted over 1200lbs and Deadlifted over 1000lbs. However, I have also competed for many years in Strongman and I train all kinds of athletes who want to get stronger.
 
The take home point is that these articles are for anybody who trains to develop strength (not just Powerlifters). If at times I talk about the Squat, Bench Press and Deadlift, it is because these are my favourite lifts. But 95% of what I am going to share with you will be true regardless of whether you are a Powerlifter, Strongman, Weightlifter or just a guy who wants to get strong. (Even bodybuilders will find a lot of value in this series).
 
So, introduction over, let’s deal with the most important thing first: Technique.
 
Walk into any commercial gym, anywhere in the World and you will usually find that almost everybody in there is performing almost every exercise that they do with terrible form. Is it any coincidence that these people are often also weak and in physical pain and/or injured. The simple answer is ‘no’.
 
If we study any sport, we usually find that the best athletes who participate in that sport have the best technique. Of course there are exceptions to the rule. But in general, this point stands.
 
And again, this is not coincidence. These athletes have worked hard to develop their technique to outstanding levels. You may ask, "Why?"
 
The answer is because great technique will allow you to perform at your highest level and with the least injury risk. For the strength athlete, this means that you must develop your technique in order to achieve your strength potential and minimise injury-risk.
 
In one of the greatest books on sport ever written, (Supertraining), the author sheds some light on developing technique and why you must pay attention to it. I will paraphrase Mel Siff because the book is over 500 pages long and I can’t remember which page this information is on. But the point stands:
 
"It takes approximately 500 reps to ingrain a technique."
 
In other words, if you practise your Squat 500 times, you are now likely to do what you have practised on auto-pilot; without thinking.
 
Even more interestingly, Mel Siff explains that:
 
"It takes approximately 3000 reps to undo an old technique and ingrain a new one."
 
The take home message is clear! Work on technique first and foremost; otherwise you will spend a lot of time down the road un-doing poorly learnt movement patterns.
 
Get your form right before trying to mindlessly add weight to the bar. Once you have your form down the strength gains will come much faster anyway (all other things equal).
 
With all that said, I hope you are starting to view technique with the importance in deserves. Instead of always looking for the next training program to increase your strength; start working on your form. It will un-lock the simplest and most powerful strength gains you have ever had (and reduce your injury-risk in the process).
 
Before I share with you some tips for improving your Squat, Bench and Deadlift form, let me just prove what I have said with an example from my own career.
 
I didn’t have great Squat, Bench or Deadlift form in the early years. However, I soon learnt what good Squat and Deadlift form looked like, practised it, and the results speak for themselves. A 1214lbs Squat and a 1008lbs Deadlift are mine.
 
AndyBolton3

WPO Finals 2007 benching 672lbs – photo courtesy Andy Bolton

 
However, the Bench was another story. I have struggled (comparatively speaking) with this lift throughout my career. Many well-meaning people have suggested different techniques and programs for me, and all worked to some degree. But I never felt like I understood the Bench like I did the Squat and Deadlift.
 
Fast-forward to early 2011 and I became the all-time British Bench Press record holder with a respectable press of 755lbs. This represented a gain of over 50lbs in 6 months (having been stuck at my previous PR for several years)! How did I do this? I worked with Bill Crawford of Metal Militia and he helped me with my program. But, before he changed my program, guess what he did?
 
He forced me to work on my form! Once my technique was good the strength piled on faster than it could have done by changing any other thing to do with my training.
 
Technique Rules above all else.
 
With that said, pay careful attention to the following technical advice…
 
The Squat Technique
  • Set-up under the bar and make sure it is symmetrically positioned on your back. Your lower back should be arched, the shoulders pulled back and down, and the chest forced out
  • Take a deep breath of air into your belly, un-rack the bar, take a small step back with each foot and assume your start position
  • Take in some more air, force the knees out and push the hips back to start the movement (feel like you are sitting back into a chair)
  • Try to keep the shins vertical or as close to vertical as possible (the wider your stance the easier this is to do)
  • Stay tight and go down until the crease of your hip is just below the top of your knee
  • Reverse the movement by driving with all that you have back to the start position
  • Keep your upper back arched and the chest forced out
  • Repeat for reps and rack the bar
  • Only relax the abs once the bar is racked
  • Throughout the entire Squatting movement your head should be driven back into the bar and you must look straight ahead at all times
 
AndyBolton4

WPO Finals 2007 going down with 1214lbs the new world record - Photo courtesy Andy Bolton

 
The Bench Press Technique
  • During the set up spread your feet as wide as possible, squeeze the glutes hard and set the upper back tight
  • The shoulders should be pulled back and down and the chest forced out
  • Take a deep breath of air into your belly and have your training partner assist you in un-racking the bar
  • The start position should see the bar held over the Sternum with the arms locked out
  • Lower the bar to the Sternum, squeezing it as hard as you can and keeping the forearms perpendicular to the floor
  • Reverse the movement by driving the bar aggressively back to the start position in a straight line, or slightly back towards your face
  • Repeat for reps or rack the bar
 
The Conventional Deadlift Technique
  • Set up to the bar with a hip width stance, toes pointed forwards and your shins within 2 inches of the bar
  • Grip the bar with a mixed grip (one hand supinated and the other pronated)
  • Arch your lower back, relax the shoulders, take a deep breath of air and you are good to pull
  • Keep the head in a neutral position or look straight ahead
  • As soon as the bar breaks the floor, feel as if you are pulling backwards. The bar must stay close to your body throughout the duration of the pull
  • When the bar gets to knee height drive the glutes forwards to lockout the weight
  • At the top, squeeze your glutes and keep the abs tight
  • Take in a little air and return the bar to the floor (this can be done quickly; there is no need to slowly lower the bar to the floor)
  • Be sure that subsequent reps are pulled from the same starting position (do not let the bar drift further forwards with each rep)
 
In this article I have provided you with some reasons why you must focus on your technique. This is true of warm up sets with 45 pounds and top sets with 100’s of pounds. You have also gained a basic overview of some key points to practise on your Squats, Benches and Deadlifts.
 
To take your Squat, Bench Press and Deadlift technique to another level, please check out the books on my Products page on my website www.andyboltonstrength.com
 
In part 2 of ‘The Evolution Of The Strength Athlete" we will take a look at who you train with. Be sure to keep an eye out for that installment.
 

 
About the Authors:
 
Andy Bolton is a World Champion Powerlifter, Author, Public Speaker and Strength Coach. During the course of his career he has held the all-time Squat record, the all-time Deadlift record and the all-time Total Record. He currently owns the biggest Bench Press in British history and was of course, the first man to pull 1000lbs. He has pulled over 900lbs in competition so many times that he has forgotten the exact count! These days he still trains like a beast, in a dungeon of a gym in Leeds, England. He also helps plenty of athletes achieve their goals through his online training programs, seminars and internships.
 
To see how Andy can help you get Stronger, more powerful and add muscular size; check out www.andyboltonstrength.com and be sure to subscribe to his free newsletter… it’s jam-packed with tips and techniques to help you build strength, speed and power.
 
Elliot Newman is a Powerlifter, Author and Public Speaker from England, UK. He has competed in the BDFPA, WDFPF, BPC and WPC and has competition best lifts of 255kg Squat, 157.5kg Bench and 260kg Deadlift. He is passionate about all things related to Strength Training and Health.
 
 

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