Gains, gains, gains, gains. What’s more fun than making gains? Isn’t that what our sport is all about? Making gains in the gym with max lift PR's, rep PR’s, PR’s of all sizes, shapes and descriptions. I have been more than fortunate to have made gains regularly, despite what the calendar says. One of the things I have found as satisfying as making personal gains is gains made by clients, training partners, and people I coach.
I had the opportunity to train and coach three young college men this summer for a month or so before they went back to school. They were also MMA participants and one was my brother’s grandson. They wanted me to help them get stronger and more explosive for their MMA competitions. They had done the three powerlifting lifts at school for the past year. The problem was that they didn’t know how to do any of them correctly.
We began with the squat. I watched each of them squat, without comment. Generally, all of them had a stance that was too narrow with the bar up on their neck, they did not breath correctly, and they were not familiar with the concept of being tight. We began with a few cues at a time. Our first cue was the concept of getting the entire body tight. Each of them in response began finding squats much easier to do. We did box squats, which improved each of their techniques. They put the bar lower on their backs, got back on their heels, and worked on filling their stomach cavity with air. They did this and began making gains. We went more slowly than they wanted. The bottom line, however, was that each of them squatted between 60 and 80 pounds more than they had previously. I cautioned them, now that they knew a little about squatting, not to expect the gains to come as quickly.
We next worked on their bench press. They were not familiar with arching their back, leg drive, or putting their shoulder blades together. I tried to convey to them the bench press setup that Dave Tate taught me. We also needed to work on proper breathing. As they learned these things, particularly leg drive, their bench presses improved dramatically. By the time they were ready to go back to school they had achieved PR after PR.
They also wanted to learn the sumo deadlift. I persuaded them to first learn to deadlift conventionally. We did, however, work on sumo one day to show them how technical and difficult it can be. Once we worked on proper positioning for each of them, getting tight, proper hand position, leg drive, and hip thrust, they each made dramatic improvements. They each experienced at least a 50-pound improvement in their deadlift.
In order to help with their explosiveness in their MMA work, we did leg presses for speed and box jumps. They enjoyed the leg presses for speed — the box jumps, not so much. They did them reluctantly when we saw athletes from another discipline doing them. There is a world famous BMX (bicycle) track in Rock Hill, South Carolina. BMX riders/athletes from all over the world compete there and many train at our gym the week or two before a major event. On a day we worked together, we saw athletes from Brazil, Venezuela, France, Russia, and Canada. We saw them doing box jumps at a height taller than me (insert joke here).
These young men are now back at school. They have started a program I wrote for them. I get questions and regular feedback.
I recently started working with four women, all of whom are in their 50s. Unlike working with the young men, we have no bad habits to break or anything to unlearn. We start from zero. We started squatting to a bench with no weight. We worked on form, technique and all the cues. I tried to impress upon them the importance of being tight and being on their heels. We next added a 10-pound kettlebell, a 25-pound barbell, and then a regular bar. It took a while to learn bar placement and we still make corrections.
We then began to add weight and determined that one of the young ladies is stronger than the rest. They each seem to have their own strengths and weaknesses. As for supplements to our squats, we use kettlebell squats and swings. We use the shrug bar for our deadlifts. Since no one is expected to compete, we will continue to use the shrug bar. It is more back-friendly and the hands are in a neutral position. Positioning with that bar can be an issue and we work to ensure it is not.
It seems as we age, the skin seems to loosen around the triceps area. Women seem to be more keenly aware of this and would like it resolved. As a result, we do a great deal of triceps work. It has taken a little longer to learn the fundamentals of the bench press. The coordination of the arch, leg drive, shoulder blades together throughout the lift, squeezing the bar, and breathing will take time. I haven’t even gotten it myself yet. So far, the ladies are adapting and doing very well. It’s great to see their enthusiasm, how they encourage each other, and how satisfied they are with their accomplishments.
I train bench press every Saturday with two very large and very strong young men (one in his 20s, the other in his 40s). They have to take a lot of weight off the bar when it’s my turn. They have only competed in push-pull meets in recent years and have done very well. In July they began to squat.
The older of the two, soon to be 46, is a powerlifter from back in the day. He was a 750-pound deadlifter. Now, after a heart attack last year, is back up to 675, very soon to be 700. After only a month of squatting, he is well over 500 pounds. He hurt his knee squatting years ago and is now back at it. He has been in powerlifting much longer than I and knows what he is doing. Nevertheless, I am able to help with his cues and critique his lifts. His gains are outstanding. I have every confidence that he will total 1850 pounds before this year ends, and a 2000-pound total is not an unreasonable long-term goal. With those numbers, I believe he could compete anywhere, in any federation, and do quite well. He competes rawer (if that is a word) than anyone I’ve ever seen — no belt, no knee wraps, no knee sleeves, no wrist wraps. Nothing! When he walks in the gym, he’s ready.
Gains by these three classes of people have encouraged me as much or more than my own gains. The best is yet to come!