Squat and Deadlift Coaching Lessons from the XPC Training Cycle

TAGS: elitefts athletes, lifting technique, Bryan Doberdruk, Mario D'amico, powerlifting coach, westside barbell, xpc finals, live learn pass on, Matt Smith, Joe Schillero, meet prep, powerlifting, dave tate

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My affiliation with elitefts began when I met Dave Tate in 1999. I started training at Westside Barbell in July of that year. When I started at Westside I had an 1818 total. I was surrounded by great training partners that taught me a lot about how to train. As a result my total increased 627 pounds in 27 months to 2445 which at that time was the fourth highest total recorded in the world. One training partner in particular, Bob Youngs, had been assisting Dave Tate with the seminars in the early days of elitefts. It was at this time that Bob was leaving Columbus to move to Florida and he recommended me as a replacement.

I assisted Dave on several seminars in the Columbus area as well as being a sponsored athlete and posting in the training logs for quite a while before having to step away due to dealing with the family, career, and training to compete at a pro level. Stepping away from elitefts at this time was one of the sacrifices that needed to be made to try to be the best I could be. As a result of trying to be the best I could be, I divorced my wife and passed up career advancement opportunities in my pursuit. I stayed close and in contact with Dave over the years and found myself recently living in London, Ohio and back in contact with him.

Now that I am no longer competing, he and I spoke and I expressed my wishes to volunteer my time helping out any way I could, looking to give back and further Pass On any knowledge I could give to new and upcoming lifters. I was invited to train at the compound with Dave and various other elitefts athletes.

While training at the compound I began helping some of the athletes train for their upcoming meets. I helped with everything from running the monolift and handing off benches to laying out training schedules to prepare for meets. Three lifters I began working closely with are Joe Schillero, Mario D’Amico, and Bryan Doberdruk. Primarily, we all got together on Saturday morning to do a dynamic squat workout.


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Joe Schillero is a multi-ply full-power lifter. After getting to know and train with Joe for a while I noticed several areas that needed corrected. Joe was having issues with speed. Joe had a PR squat of 750 but was having issues using 315-365 for his speed work.

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Mario D’Amico is a multi-ply full-power lifter. Mario had a meet PR of 760. Mario had issues with sitting straight down and also allowing his knees to cave in in the bottom of his squat. Mario also expressed issues with the deadlift. After watching Mario deadlift, I would have to agree his deadlift was a train wreck.

Bryan Doberdruk is a raw full power lifter. Bryan had a meet PR of 635. Bryan has a very strong lower back, as he had a meet PR deadlift of 735. Bryan’s issues in the squat resulted from poor setup. As Bryan would take the bar out his upper back would round forward. This puts a lot of pressure on the lower back and makes the lift much more difficult as the bar is in front of the hips, taking away leg drive.

Mario, Joe and Bryan were all in need of conditioning. We trained each week using the box squat for their dynamic work with a variety of specialty bars. I noticed, and this is a common issue I have found, that they were used to setting up their phones to video each set. Whereas this sounds like a good idea because of training by yourself, you need to see how it looked, but all this time screwing with the damn phone in between sets was killing them. The rest time was too long, holding back their conditioning.

To improve conditioning, I needed to speed up the time between sets giving them less rest time. Note: If you are going to video your workouts, video the entire workout, not just individual sets. You can go back later and edit down. This will have an impact on your overall general physical preparedness. Shortening the rest time between sets will increase lactic acid buildup, promoting muscle growth and improving endurance. This will become beneficial in those cases where the meet moves along at a rapid pace. The first week of circa max Dave and I almost killed Joe, Mario, and Bryan because, with a second person there jumping their asses, no one had a chance to think about their phones.

First we worked on the form. We mainly used the safety squat bar and the 14” camber bar for dynamic work until six weeks out. Joe was extremely slow if he sat back in the squat, Mario needed to sit back more and push out on the knees, and Bryan needed work on his setup, getting his core tight and arching the bar out.

With Joe, we worked on keeping Joe upright and concentrating on pushing the knees out. Not rushing his squat and letting the lift develop while pushing out on the knees made Joe much more explosive when doing his dynamic work. Mario went up a weight class so the suit he was using at 198 was now too tight at 220. This was another issue that was causing the knees to come in and him sitting straight down. After getting a larger suit, he was less constricted and was now able to focus on form and sitting back with the knees out. Bryan worked on arching the bar out and getting his abs tight before taking the bar out of the rack. Teaching to pull his shoulders back and down and keep the chest up to keep the bar in a good position made a big difference.


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At six weeks out we switched to the straight bar in prep for the meet using a three-week circa max phase followed by a deload phase. The use of the specialty bars made training with the straight bar seem easy. Much improvement was seen once we switched to squatting with the straight bar. Also by not using the straight bar every week, wear and tear on the bicep and shoulder (which can hold back your bench) is minimized.

bryan squat elitefts

For assistance work, Joe, Mario and Bryan focused on hamstring and core work primarily. All three had very weak hamstrings. I switched up their usual hamstring routine from glute ham raises to inverse leg curls because they were very good at glute ham raises, which was not improving their weakness. To bring up the mid to lower hamstring where they were weakest, inverse leg curls were used. They also made adjustments to their standing ab crunches to improve strength at the crease of the hip. They were using the rack to push off of when doing their crunches. I had them step away from the rack. At the start, I told them to flex their glutes to push the hips forward and stretch the abs, then flex hard and contract the abs and hip flexors at the hip crease to crunch down.

Bryan and Mario both expressed concern with the deadlift. Bryan was worried that the lack of heavy deadlifting would affect his deadlift to the negative. Mario needed help with form. After dynamic squats I had them pull 8-10 singles to work on speed and form on the deadlift. Mario needed to learn how to not rush his deadlift and pull himself into position before pulling off the floor. We worked on getting his butt down and head up with shoulders back before pulling off the floor. Once he started getting into better position his deadlift started to improve. Bryan needed only to work on maintaining good form in the deadlift while allowing all the other work to strengthen his deadlift.

Meet day arrived. Joe made a 700-pound squat. Not what he wanted, but he learned a lot from the training cycle. We determined attempts based on numbers done using a chain squat. Joe took his attempts and squatted to parallel by squatting down into chains. His heaviest attempt was 780. All his work was box squats or chain squats. What we did not see was that the suit had no stopping ability at parallel. Going forward we need to make the suit tighter in the hips or get a tighter suit. Mario had a great day. He squatted 820, which was a 15-pound PR. His deadlift was also good but received red lights on his 625 PR because of rushing it by hitching instead of taking his time to lean back. He attempted 625 again and was much better but ran out of gas the last inch and could not pull his shoulders back. It's improving, a work in progress.

Bryan had an easy 600 opener. On his second attempt, 640-pounds for a 5-pound PR, Bryan got a little too crazy and rushed his setup which caused him to round as he took the bar out of the rack. As a result, he was a bit out of control through the lift which resulted in some up and down motion of the bar. He got red lights. Bryan did however finish the day with a 15-pound PR 750 deadlift.

Time to make the necessary adjustments and begin prepping for the next meet.

2016 Arnold Sports Festival — Expo, XPC Meet Reports, and S4 Compound Events

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