Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Russian & Bulgarian Training...Dr Mel Siff


Subject: Russian & Bulgarian Training

We often seem to revisit the topic of specificity of training and a
comparison of the methods used by the Russians and Bulgarians, so I would like to share comments made to me in Russia some years ago by Prof Alexei Medvedev, former world champion weightlifter, coach of the Russian national team and current Head of the Department of Weightlifting at the State Central Institute of Physical Culture in Moscow.

We were discussing (through an interpreting friend) this very issue of Bulgarian vs Russian training methods. He shared many insights with me, including the different methods of quantifying training intensity and periodising weightlifting for different classes of lifter, but this one short comment stood out at the time:

Standing there in his dimly-lit office with his hand on my shoulder, Prof Medvedev said:

"Why do you think that the Bulgarians have so many injuries?" He went on to comment on the typically long years of top-level competition by Russian athletes, their higher average age at the Olympics and their lower injury rate. He added that a certain Bulgarian coach had been contracted to work with teams in China and before long the increased injury rate and drop in consistent form had ended up in his being dismissed very quickly (actually, he used a rude gesture with his arm to show exactly what the Chinese felt about that coach!).

To add to this debate from the other side of the fence, my weightlifting coach for several years was a top Bulgarian lifter who had trained with Abadjiev and Spassov, as well as all the famous names in contemporary Bulgarian lifting and he had very definite views on the Bulgarian system, both good and bad. In explaining what athletes are expected to do in Bulgaria, their coaches told them that if they became injured or painfully overtrained, then they obviously weren't good enough for top level competition!

With great satisfaction, he added that if a nation with a total population of only one big American city could place so often in the top few nations at the Olympics, then something serious must be wrong with American training. That was his simplistic analysis! (Anyway, that was before the last Olympics). No results, no use for anyone! Bulgarian athlete - no results - no place for you!

At first I thought that this philosophy is unduly harsh, when I realised that it is not all that different anywhere else in the world. The Chicago Bulls start losing a few games in basketball and in no time, the fans are baying for blood. In world soccer, the scene is no different, nor in American football. Win most of the time and the fans are deliriously happy - lose one or two and all the armchair experts and team owners are ready to sacrifice coaches and players.

So, when one examines the so-called Bulgarian system, one cannot lose sight of the different cultural systems governing the sport. One cannot simple take a philosophy, training method or lifestyle (or even foodstuff) from one country and hope to apply with equal success anywhere else.

Anyway, a lot of this talk about 'Bulgarian' and 'Russian' systems is somewhat of a misnomer, for, as Medvedev emphasized to me: "There is no such thing as one Russian system - we have many coaches and guidelines and each coach is allowed to develop his own system. It is the Americans who are so
rigid , not us - they want fast foods, fast formulae and fixed programs that are easy to apply".

He nodded in agreement when I commented: "You mean something like a sporting MacDonalds where you can drive up and get a training program off a menu without waiting?" Sad and amusing, but all too often, true in America. Why do you think that muscle building, fitness, strength training, sports, rehabilitation and health books sell best if they offer rigidly devised set exercise routines for anyone and everyone, without much attempt at in-depth analysis or individualisation?

Dr Mel C Siff

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Heavy Back Squats vs Front Squats on Speed during 40m

The Acute Effects of Heavy Back and Front Squats on Speed during Forty-Meter Sprint Trials. Abstract Text:

The purpose of the present study was to investigate the effects of performing heavy back squats (HBS) and heavy front squats (HFS) on the average speed during each 10-m interval of 40-m sprint trials. In a randomized, cross-over design, 10 strength-trained men performed a HBS, HFS, or control treatment before performing three 40-m sprint trials separated by 3 minutes. The HBS and HFS treatments consisted of performing parallel back or front squats with 30%, 50%, and 70% of the subject's 1 repetition maximum after 5 minutes of cycling. The control treatment consisted of cycling for 5 minutes. The sprint trials were performed 4 minutes after completing the HBS, HFS, or control treatments. Significant increases in speed were found during the 10- to 20-m interval for the HBS compared with the control treatment (mean difference, 0.12 m.s; 95% likely range, 0.05-0.18 m.s; P = 0.001). During the 30- to 40-m interval, HBS produced significantly greater speeds compared with the HFS treatment (mean difference, 0.24 m.s; 95% likely range, 0.02-0.45 m.s; P = 0.034) and the control treatment (mean difference, 0.18 m.s; 95% likely range, 0.03-0.32 m.s; P = 0.021). The differing effects of the treatments may reflect different levels of muscular activation or different mechanical aspects of the squat exercises. Similarly, the multidimensional nature of sprint running means that other specific exercises may confer improvements in sprinting performance during other intervals. It is suggested that coaches could incorporate HBS into the warm-up procedure of athletes to improve sprinting performance.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The 9 Fundamental Exercises of Crossfit...More to Come

The 9 Fundamental Exercises of Crossfit

Air Squat

1. Hips
2. Sit Back
3. Pull Feet Apart
4. Breathe into belly button
5. Head Up
6. Feet Ground
7. Eyes Forward
8. Chest Up
9. Maintain Lumbar as you squat
10. Pull down

All squats are hip based motions. The hips are the core part of the body and the driving force of the extremeties such as the legs and arms. Begin by folding at the hips and pulling yourself back (as if toward a bench, ball or chair) and down actively engaging your hip flexors and hamstrings to do so. You should feel as if your feet are pulling apart and your toes are turning out, heels in, in a corkscrew fashion (Keep in mind the your feet will not actually move since they are rooted but the effect will take place sending a circular or spherical energy through you’re the ground into your body giving you the strength to pull down and explosively push up.

Make sure prior to the squat to breathe in to your belly through the nose and push against that belt.

Keep your head up and eyes forward which will help with maintaining midline stability and the neutral spine. In addition to help with this keep your chest up. All these aspects will help you maintain the spine and your lumbar curve protecting your back and giving deep strength to push through the air or with weight on your body!

Front Squat

1. Pull down into squat
2. HR - lying example
3. Lead with elbows - upper arm parallel with ground
4. If wrist lacks flexibility, bar onto fingertips
5. If elbows drop, you buckle/fall forward
6. Engage lats
7. Bar rests over heels, pushing through midline on shoulders

The Set-up:
Begin by placing the bar so it rests over the heels pushing through the midline of the shoulders. Note: If your wrists lack flexibility then allow the bar to rest onto your fingertips.

The Movement:
Before beginning the move, be sure to engage the lats and breathe in through the nose to your belly. Then pull yourself into the ground with your hip flexors and be sure to lead with the elbows up so the upper arm (elbow to shoulder) is parallel with the ground. If you fail to do so and the elbows drop you will lose your midline stability and neutral spine and increase the likelyhood that you will buckle or fall forward.

Remember to keep your feet active, corkscrewing the ground, this will keep your heels engaged and the weight distributed evenly throughout the foot increasing your muscle recruitment, strength, power and effciency.

Overhead Squat

1. Link Shoulders
2. Think lats, scapular depression,
3. Screw the arm into shoulder socket
4. Bar remains over base of support - midline stability
5. Crush the grip
6. Bracing
7. Pull down into squat
8. Heels, hips, elbows

The Set Up
Have the bar over your base of support which will help maintain your center of mass/gravity and thus your midline stability.

Be sure to link your shoulders to your body by engaging your lats which is done through scapular depression! This will create a corkscrew effect by screwing the arm *humerous bone) into the shoulder socket thus increasing the strength of your body! Additionally before squatting be sure to crush the grip which will help to activate your muscles again increasing the efficiency, strength and power behind the move.
More muscles working and so effectively, the more potential output of energy and force you can apply to the move

Breathe in retaining the air and brace your core again increasing the strength of your body and helping to neutralize the spine and maintain midline stability! The pull down into the squat with those hip flexors and hammies. Keep your head up and eyes forward!

Think hips, shoulders, core, and head.


1. Strong Waist
2. Bar should be in line with balls of feet
3. Full body tension - lats, butt
4. Bar travels in a straight path to finish inline with the midline
5. Strong wrists help elbow lockout

The press begins with a strong foundation and comes back to the basic principles of rooting, linking through tension through the hips and legs and engaging the belly by breathing in through the nose against the belt.

The bar should be in line with the balls of your feet. Before you press breathe in, tense your body and engage the lats. You only have butt a second to take advantage of this powerful combination so do not tense and breathe until you are ready to press.

For the lats, remember to pull your shoulders down, now this will be a small but crucial movement creating a rubberband effect through a strong contraction which when released will follow with a powerful snap. The snap or the bar being pushed up must travel a straight path of motion to finish inline with the midline of the body.

Make sure to have strong wrists is an essential part of linkage and for being able to create the connection from the hand to the body through the elbows which must be locked due to the muscular contraction (I.e. tension)

Begin the move with a strong breathe through the nose, retaining the breathe, tensing the whole body from lats to core, to hips to legs, crushing the bar and using all this stored energy to drive explosively through the use of your body as a strong base from head to toe. Make sure to stabilize the bar in the overhead position linking the arms to the body, effectively linking the bar to the ground through the whole body functioning as one unit. Then actively pull the bar through the lats back to the rack position.

Push Press

1. Same setup/finish as basic press
2. Breathe
3. 1/4 squat, knee bend
4. Torso upright
5. Heels stay grounded
6. Dip-Drive-Press
7. Aggressive drive
8. Explode through bar into ground

The Set-up

The push press set-up and finish mimic the press.
The foundation needs to be strong and goes to the back to the basic principles of rooting, linking through tension through the hips and legs and engaging the belly by breathing in through the nose against the belt.

The bar should be in line with the balls of your feet. Before you press breathe in, tense your body and engage the lats (depressing the shoulder blades). You only have butt a second to take advantage of this powerful combination so do not tense and breathe until you are ready to press.

For the lats, remember to pull your shoulders down, now this will be a small but crucial movement creating a rubberband effect through a strong contraction which when released will follow with a powerful snap. The snap or the bar being pushed up must travel a straight path of motion to finish inline with the midline of the body.

Make sure to have strong wrists, this is an essential part of linkage and for being able to create the connection from the hand to the body through the elbows which must be locked due to the muscular contraction (I.e. tension)

After you breathe in and create full body tension, dip by doing a 1/4 squat knee bend, then use the energy of the squat and pressing through the ground with your heels attached to the floor aggressivly driving and exploding your body through the bar while pushing into the ground.

Keep in mind that your torso stays upright and that you breathe, tense, dip, drive and press and after stabilizing the bar at the top, shoulders actively engaged with the arm linked to your body with those lats fully depressed effectively linking the bar to the ground through the whole body functioning as one unit (hips engaged, core strong legs active, feet rooting). Then actively pull the bar through the lats back to the rack position (like the ascent phase of the pull-up).


2. Engage the lats and link your arms to the bar
3. Maintain a neutral lower back.
4. Eyes Up
5. Crush the bar
6. Feel as if you are wedged between the bar and the floor (imagine trying to move a bar bolted to the ground).
7. Conventional (feet shoulder width) stance

Start with a legs hip distance apart and hands grab the bar in a double over or mixed grip (over/under) position. Shoulders over the bar, arm pits in line with bar and bar touching the shins. Stay tight and compact and imagine that you are wedging yourself into the ground.

Once you set engage the lats linking your arms to the shoulders and the bar to your body and take a deep breathe through the nose to the belly bracing your core against a belt (imaginary or real), keep your head up and eyes forward to make sure you keep your back in a neutral position.

To begin the lift push your feet into the ground driving through your hips and legs as you explosively lift the bar of the gorund, grazing your shins as it travels beyond your knees and you pull your hips through making sure that your hips, knees and shoulders all finish at the same time.

This is a single movement and all major parts and joints involved should start and finish the move at the same time. Do not be lazy in the hips or back, making sure to keep a strong neutral spine, lats tight, core engaged and hips aggressively extending in an effort to lift the bar off the floor.

Sumo Deadlift High Pull

1. Seamless
2. Use the energy of the deadlift to pull against
3. Vertical Bar Path
4. Push through ground
5. Don’t shrug
6. Pull with elbows
7. Pull bar apart through hands

With a wide stand deadlift, drive the pull of the bar off the ground from the hips extending. This will begin the movement of the bar on a vertical path and create a float. The float is key because it will make the bar feel lighter and lessen the load and effort of the upper body. It is important the upper body is not the prime mover, in fact it is the hips and legs and the upper body assists. The motion should feel seamless, which will truly make this move more efficient and therefore much easier to perform when doing reps.

Some key points to remember with the upper body is to avoid making this a shrug motion (where the upper traps rise toward the ears) and instead pull the energy created from the hip drive from the elbows while pulling the bar apart with the hands creating additional muscular contraction.

Med Ball Clean

1. Chest Up
2. Pull down
3. Grab Ball
4. Stand up
5. Pop Hips
6. Release Ball
7. Pull Down
8. Catch Ball
9. Seamless
10. No shrug
11. Do not accentuate

The "C's"of The Lifestyle Movement

The Lifestyle Movement

You must make change happen by committing with intent, creation of new habits and taking control of yourself and the process.

Control = Time Management and Change Process

Create = Healthy Habits

Challenge = Take it and Make it happen

Change = Philosophical approach/ Habits

Commit = To your intention and the process

Consistency = Daily practice

Chaos = It is a theory not a practice, your practice is to stay in your state of grace and be grounded

Choice = You make the choice, you have control and you must commit to the choice and take the challenge to stay consistent and grounded in the chaos

C = Your success!

Complete = You are complete and that comes from showing yourself the unconditional love that only comes from within and

Monday, October 05, 2009

Kettlebells, Speed & Power

10 seconds flat, 4.4 or less forty yard dash, 36 inch + vertical jump, is all about power, strength, speed and the ability to produce force. For an athlete with specific goals of increasing power, strength and speed it is crucial to have a strength and conditioning program that addresses these goals. The program must include work in the gym using specific Olympic lifts, power lifts and other supporting exercises to increase and better both the athlete’s strengths and weak points. Learning the techniques and acquiring the skills of the Olympic lifts and power lifts is challenging and can take years of practice and hours a week in the gym along with a knowledgable coaching staff. For athlete’s time and timing are crucial to success since there is a limited lifespan in regards to peak performance and a limited amount of time in each day to do what is necessary for training to peak and perform.

This is where the Russian Kettlebell, an all around, compact tool, filled with power, strength, and speed in one cast iron ball comes into play. The kettlebell with all its beauty and benefits wrapped into one small, dynamite and explosive package is a full body, explosive core and hip based, fast and powerful strength and conditioning tool.

What makes the kettlebell unique is the relatively small learning curve for learning the same Olympic lifts and the fact that the workouts are intense, effective and short in duration and with results that are amazing if not spectacular. Furthermore, the exercises incorporate movement specifics such as stabilization, range of motion, unilateral training, rotational pattern training application of tension/relaxation principles and the key combination of functional movement strengthening. The key difference and benefit being the unilateral training which cannot be achieved with a barbell and due to the shape of the dumbbell which cannot mimic the same dynamics of the physics of the kettlebell due to the displacement of the weight.

Therefore, the athlete looking to increase speed in the 40 yard dash, 100 meter sprint, jump higher, and/or accelerate off the line or floor would be wise to incorporate the kettlebell. Learning how to perform and execute the swing, snatch, clean, clean & jerk, front squat, push press, etc. would teach the athlete how to apply and direct force through the use of their hips, core and legs in a coordinated movement pattern leading to increased functional output. In addition moves such as the turkish get-up, windmill, and deck squat all effectively train the core from varying angles while increasing strength, flexibility and stability. These factors are all integral to the highest level of performance on the track, field, pitch, or in the gym.

Based of simple physics the bell moves in a path and range, which optimizes your bodies function while maximizing the results. The proof is in the pudding and it is difficult if not impossible to find anything comparable to the kettlebell for producing the results with such a minimal learning curve and in a short amount of time.

The kettlebell is a great addition to any strength and conditioning program for any athlete desiring functional improvement on the field. In fact, many professional teams and athletes as well as collegiate sports programs use the kettlebell in their programs. No wonder why, with the kettlebell you can take and transform your body into a compact, powerful, strong and explosive piece of machinery. The rewards are enormous and the risks are little to none.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Whole and The Parts...are you achieving optimal performance?

The parts are only as good as the whole and the whole only as good as the parts. Make the parts work as a whole, in synchronicity and harmony/balance and the whole will perform optimally.

Lets take a look at the human body. It is an integrated machine that best functions and when all its part are working together in unison and under optimal conditions. Now, this is not something we see on an everyday people as most of us operate in an imbalance state systematically and muscularly. The challenge with this is the undue stress that this places on other areas that now have to pick up the slack for the areas that are out of tune. The beauty is the human body is amazing piece of machinery that is able to adapt, improvise and overcome. However, this can mask great issues and lead to bigger challenges along the way and then we are like a dog chasing our tail. Thank goodness for modern medicine and its ability to help us out of these challenges.

However, we should, for the most part not need to rely on medicine and other things to save our asses. Instead, we should focus on creating the balance in our life and lifestyles that minimize the likelihood of things being out of tune and us living an unbalance, unharmonious life.

Taking a look at the body and the muscular system many of us move with an imbalance that affects our posture, our physical performance and can lead to pain, discomfort and injury. Much of this is due to pattern overload, or doing too much of the same movements. From the Taoist perspective and yoga perspective this is often associated with too much Yang energy or activity and too little Yin energy or activity. Ok, in laymans terms ☺ and in relation to movement and pattern overload, examples include running, cycling, weight lifting through the same movements patterns and often for most without any rhyme or reason. This action will create an interesting environment and it can be deceptive

So, what many of us will notice is an increase in performance, i.e. better time, stronger poundages lifted, etc. But there is silent inhibitors working in our bodies, which comes about due to the improper planning and strategy related to our own programming choices. These is known as reciprocal inhibition, CNS fatigue and poor neurological function hormonally and muscularly. Despite the improvements we truly are failing to gain the optimal benefits because our system on the whole is suffering from improper function due to dysfunctional parts.

Therefore, in order to perform at our optimal levels we need to be in an optimal state. This requires an intelligently designed system that is uniquely arranged for each individual and based on human performance principles such as Anatomy, Physiology, Psychology, Nutrition, and basic lifestyle of the individual. Adding the Yin will help with much of this and in practical terms this means adding recovery principles such as sleep, rest (off days), nutrition too meet the demands of our lifestyle, specific stretching, some form of meditation or quiet time where we can focus on calming and de-stressing, etc.