It's the Littlest Things That Can Make the Biggest Difference

TAGS: set up, squat stance, competition, Eric Maroscher, monolift, MEET, squat

elitefts™ Sunday Edition

Call me Ishmael...  Actually, let me get right to the point. Over my 23 years of competitive powerlifting, I have seen many unbelievable feats of strength and power. Feats of which legendary stories are made and that can be retold time and time again. The things I have seen Ernie Frantz do and the stories he has shared with me could fill a small book. The “blood story” is my favorite... but that is a story for another time.

It is the subtle things, however, that can set the stage for the historical and legendary events to take place, and that is what this piece is really all about. Get out a pen and paper, or your iPad, because you will definitely want to take a note or two on this little gem that I am going to share with you.  This little thing,that can make a big difference is as simple, yet as genius, as the idea of hooking a chain onto a barbell sleeve.

I was at a meet not long ago, and I saw what I traditionally see at a powerlifting meet: some new-to-the sport powerlifters, some middle-of-the-road powerlifters, and some flat-out mighty impressive powerlifters. What I also saw prior to the meet is something I have seen at literally every single full power meet I have been in or attended. Let me say that again. Without fail, in my 23 years as a competitive powerlifter, I have seen this same scene just as if I were Bill Murray in Ground Hog Day...

Picture in your mind’s eye the following: It is 30 minutes prior to the meet, and the monolift (APF meet) is all set up and ready to go. There is a line, a looooong line, of lifters starting in the warmup area and snaking around the lifting area to end at the monolift. In this line are powerlifters, just standing and waiting. They are standing in this seemingly motionless line so that they can go up to the monolift and try to figure out what rack height they need for their squats. (They do this because each lifter has to report his rack height/monolift height to the head table so that during the meet, the bar will be loaded with the correct weight at the correct height for that powerlifter. Note for non-monolift users: much like there are pin holes in squat racks, there are also pin holes on the monolift. And just like different squat racks, monolifts are all a little different, and what is pin hole 13 on one monolift might be pin hole 17 on another. At MONSTER GARAGE GYM, we have two elitefts™ monolifts. They were purchased a couple of years apart. Consequently, since Dave is constantly tweaking and improving designs, my pin height on our original monolift is hole 10, but I use hole 15 on the new monolift).

Are you with me so far? Because what is coming next is what I want you to hone in on. Regardless of which monolift I use at the MONSTER GARAGE GYM, be it the original monolift using hole number 10 or the new monolift using hole number 15, the distance from the floor to the bottom of the squat bar (which is laying on the monolift arm hooks) on both monolifts is always 52 inches. Can you see it yet? Let me state this another way... I know that with 800 pounds loaded onto the bar—while wearing my squat suit, briefs, and knee wraps, and standing in my full semi-wide power stance—the distance from the floor up to the bottom of the barbell is a distance of 52 inches.

Let’s go back to this meet in your mind’s eye for a minute. I can wait forever in a long line, and when I get up to the bar and monolift, I can try to simulate where I think my stance is while dressed in my sweats and under an empty bar. Or I can walk up to that monolift, pull out my tape measure, have 52 inches of metal tape showing,  bring the bar to that level of the tape, and glance over at the pin hole… done! I am off to warm up while the masses are in line for another 30 minutes. Even after their long 30 minutes, all they end up with is a best guess of where the bar should actually go. In other words, a mere approximation of that perfect bar setting that they have used so successfully at their gym for so very long.

Can one hole up or down really make a difference? When you are at 100% max squat with a personal record on the line, you can bet the bank it matters. And nothing is more costly than regret.

Here are some specifics:

When you measure your bar height, do it during a training session with your competition weight on the bar, and while also wearing what you are going to wear during the meet. Here is why: For one, the gear makes you stand wider. The more gear, the wider the stance, and the lower you are going to need the bar height to be. Furthermore, if you have a good amount of weight on the bar, the bar bends some. You want to make sure that when you are standing with a loaded bar on your back in your squat stance, the monolift hooks can clear under the bar once you have stood up in preparation to squat. I am sure that you have seen this at meets yourself—the lifter stands and either the hooks can’t get out from under the bar and they have to raise the monolift height, or once the lifters squats and comes back up, the hooks cannot get back under the bar. Remember, with big weights the bar bends and your spine gets compressed. So, a half an inch of vertebral pads getting squished and two inches of bar bend can make it so the hooks on the monolift's arms can’t get under a bar... And that is when bad things happen.

The point I am illustrating for your benefit is this: you have readied yourself for this meet by making copious plans in regards to your training poundages, made sure you are making weight, and if you are equipped, making sure your gear is perfectly fitted. So why take a chance on guessing the proper height of the barbell? That position, the perfect barbell position, is the launching point and landing point for your competition squat. The squat sets the tone for the meet. You might be nervous and you might have warmed up too much or not enough. So having control over this variable. This crucial variable, is important.

If you are more of a USAPL lifter and a monolift is not being used for the squat, this is still a must-practice since the bar does bend. (Even more so, as the USAPL does not use the 55 pound bars. So there is somewhat more bend and whip). Also, there is the whole back compaction that will occur in every lifter when the weight gets up there in poundage. And if nothing less, you are saving yourself 30 minutes of standing in line, as you will always have to give your squat rack height to the head table prior to when the squats begin.

We think of football as a game of inches and powerlifting as a game of pounds, but for a powerlifter attempting max effort weight with the squat, you want everything to be as perfect as it is in the gym. Having the inches from floor to barbell at the meet exactly as it is at your home gym can be the difference between making the weight or not making the weight. It can even be the difference between making the weight and getting injured, and nobody wants that.

Here is what I want you to do:

Go into your garage and dig out that old, rusty metal tape measure and put it in your gym bag the moment you get done reading this. On your next squat day, I want you to go through this exercise and document the inches between floor and the bottom of the barbell. Do that, write that number down, take that number to your next competition, and never again will you have to guess at something as important as your squat height, and your days of waiting in line to take a guess at your bar height are a thing of the past.

Remember, powerlifting is a journey, not a destination. Thus, it’s the littlest things that can make the biggest difference.  Even Queequeg would agree to that.

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