The Cave

The Cave Blog

Archive for the ‘Power Lifting’ Category

Should I Use a Belt? When?

Friday, June 5th, 2015

foam-core-lifting-belt-by-harbinger-womene28099s-5-inchIt’s rare to walk across the CrossFit floor and not see at least one athlete wearing a weightlifting belt. But why? Is it necessary? Should you wear one? Should you NOT wear one?
First, wearing a belt is a performance enhancer, but for some, a belt is necessary to perform certain movements without pain. Your core should be strong enough to support yourself through the main lifts, injuries aside. If you choose not to wear a belt, AND are not a competitor, then you are going to be perfectly fine without one. However, if you want to push your maximum amount of weights, then consider using a belt. Now, let’s learn how to use it the the right way.

To use a belt correctly, you should first learn how to breathe correctly by using the Valsalva Maneuver. As you are reading this take in a deep breath, but do not let your chest or shoulders rise at all. Breathe deeply and allow your belly to expand (I know, not the most attractive look). If you have trouble doing this, lie on the floor, place your hand on your abdominals, and practice making your hand rise.
Once you have this down, try to exhale but keep your throat closed to create pressure. Whether you choose to wear a belt or not, this is how you want to breathe while lifting. Now, put your belt on and try this technique. If you do it correctly, you should feel an incredible amount of pressure. This intra-abdominal pressure will help keep your back flat and arched. Your belt should be tight, but how tight is up to you. Personally, I like to have mine with some room, mainly because it’s a good visual to expand my midsection a greater degree. For some competitors, another person needs to help tighten up the belt for them before going into a big event to get it as tight as possible.rogue-lifting-belt-1-700x325

Now that I’ve reviewed how to use the belt correctly, let’s talk about when you should use it. For the big lifts, you should always wear a belt when you are going for a maximum attempt. Squats and deadlifts fall into this category, but you should never rely on wearing your belt. Unless you have an injury, warm-ups and building a set to the higher max should be achieved without the belt, but still practice breathing correctly . CrossFit is rooted in functional fitness…Do you grocery shop with your weight belt on? You should not wear a belt until you need it.

The point when you will need a belt depends on when you are going for a maximum lift. Again, on warm-ups go as long as possible without a belt to engage your core as long as possible. Once you feel your form would break down on a heavy set, then it’s time for a belt. If you are a competitor, always use a belt in competition.

An injury will also affect when you will put your belt on. Athletes with nagging back pain but solid form, especially with squats and deadlifts, could benefit from using a belt earlier in the rep scheme. If an athlete is able to lift pain-free with a belt, then by all means go for it.

If you are thinking about getting a weight belt, talk to athletes who wear them. Belts are like shoes — you need to find the right one for you. Try to get a high quality belt because it does make a huge difference. Take the time to learn how to breathe properly and push out on the belt to create intra-abdominal pressure. And, as always, if you need help, let me know.

For the Love of All Things Heavy, Deadlift.

Saturday, May 3rd, 2014

Some will argue that a squat is the king of all lifts, but I respectfully disagree.  I believe deadlifts to reign supreme for reasons ranging from improving overall strength and body composition, to building a backside and improving posture.
There is no other exercise that requires much of the body to work extremely hard in unison in order to get the job done. High energy output plus external resistance is a dream come true for fat loss and physique change!
The deadlift absolutely torches the posterior chain, making it the perfect exercise to strengthen and develop both the glutes and hamstrings.   Furthermore, deadlifting will strengthen the entire back and its surrounding muscles, making this lift great for rehabilitative, and preventative, purposes. In fact, the deadlift is the most effective exercise for building the core strength that supports all other major muscle groups.
Core strength (core pertaining to the central muscles of the body, i.e. lower back, glutes and the abdominal region) is a very important health component, in that it supports the body in almost every movement and position, and the deadlift is the key core strength building movement.
I’m a big fan of conventional pulls using the barbell, however, the beauty of the deadlift is that there are plenty of variations of it for you to try! Sumo deadlifts, Snatch grip deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, single leg Romanian deadlifts, and trap bar deadlifts, are all at your disposal.
The self-assurance that deadlifting (and really, any heavy lifting) gives a person is significant, because there is no grey area when it comes to getting stronger. You either are, or you aren’t, and unlike the scale or other subjective ways of measuring things, the weights don’t lie. When lifting a weight that you couldn’t 6+ months ago, you can’t help but feel good about yourself, and that ego boost carries over into our day-to-day life as well.

I pick things up and set them down — functional fitness at it’s best!  Lifting objects from the ground, from a variety of angles, is enhanced through regular deadlifting. We pick stuff up off the floor all of the time in real life — our kids, boxes, groceries, you name it!  Deadlifts help train our muscles to lift practically outside of the gym minimizing injury in real life too. Deadlifts actually have a real life application.


Deadlifts help to develop cardio-respiratory fitness. Like the squat, deadlifts will severely tax the cardio-respiratory system if done with enough intensity. This obviously has positive ramifications for cardiovascular health. In fact, high intensity deadlifts aerobically tax the body big time.
The benefits of consistent deadlifting with substantial weight are numerous, and you’ll notice improvements in both your physique and in your self-confidence.


The deadlift is a tricky exercise to master due to the high level of balance and coordination needed, and the injury risk if incorrectly performed.  Therefore, the deadlift requires an intricate series of steps that need to be followed. A step by step guide to the standard deadlift follows:

FIRST STEP: Achieve the right stance

Assume a shoulder width stance, and grip the barbell so that the inner forearms touch the outside of thighs, and shins lightly touch the bar. Either an overhand or an under/overhand (one hand over, one hand under) grip can be used. The under/overhand grip is preferable in most instances.

SECOND STEP: Adjust posture

Fix spine in a neutral position (neither up nor down, but looking straight ahead), and place the hips down. Pulling in the lower abs will ensure a neutral pelvic position. Shoulders should be held back, squeezed tightly, and positioned over the bar - they should never be rounded.
Chest should be forward, not down. Before lifting the weight, tighten the shoulders and squeeze the glutes together to help generate power during the initial part of the movement.

THIRD STEP: Lift the weight

Grip hold of the bar tightly, and push with the feet. The legs must power the weight up. Hips and shoulders should ascend at the same time, while the hands are holding the weight in place. Toward the top of the movement, lock out by employing more upper body strength until the weight is at about the midway position of the upper thigh.
During the ascent phase, there should be an initial push with the balls of the feet followed by a transference of weight to the heels, as the bar passes the knees into the lock out position. Remember to keep the bar in contact with the body throughout the movement.

FOURTH STEP: Lower the weight

Reverse step three until the bar touches the floor, pause, and repeat until completion of set. Bear in mind that the weight should not forcefully hit the floor - it should be lowered in a controlled manner while tightness is maintained throughout the body. Do not rely on momentum to power the weight up on the second rep, as this will cause a jarring effect, which might contribute to spinal damage.

For the love of all things heavy, deadlift.

The deadlift is picking something up and putting it down. You do it a million times over the course of your life, so it’s important to learn how to do so properly. Even if you don’t have any desire to compete in powerlifting or to set a new gym record, you still need to be strong enough to lift things up off the floor without hurting yourself. It’s basically necessary for life. I’m sure this, in some roundabout way, means that deadlifts are imperative for living.

Swords’ Squat Program

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

Now that the CrossFit Games Open is over, we’re moving back into a more normal cycle of training.  CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program, and so far, we’ve found nothing that is better than heavy squats for gaining strength.  This isn’t to say that we’re not going to program in our regular sweat-fest metabolic/ cardio workouts, just that we’re also going to be focusing on gaining some functional strength.

Squatting is SERIOUS business!

Squatting is SERIOUS business!

Of all the squat programs that we’ve tried, the program developed by Tim Swords, of Team Houston Weightlifting, is one of the most effective.  The program works both front and back squats over a seven week cycle at sub-max weights and low volume.  The upshot of this is that you can do a lot of other stuff without interfering with your strength gains.

And you will see gains if you’re doing the program effectively.  I’m no slouch when it comes to squats, and I was still able to increase my back squat by 25 lbs (over 8%) in seven weeks.

We will be including the squats into the CrossFit programming Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the next seven weeks.  We hope that you’ll be able to follow the program because it will do some great things for you.  But if you can’t come in on those days, don’t despair, you can download the entire program here as a .xslx spreadsheet, just input your maxes in the top and it will do all the calculations for you.  It’s even printer friendly.  If that doesn’t work for you, talk to your trainer and we’ll help you.

Remember, the whole point here is that we want you to be strong because strong people are harder to kill, more useful, and more attractive.  Go lift something heavy!

You’re Never Too Old To Try

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

Another good suggestion from Martin H.

This quick video is the story of Ellen Bittner, now 63, who became interested in power lifting.

Go pick up heavy things, ladies & gentlemen.  It’s good for you!

Strength Training Rankings

Sunday, January 20th, 2013

Here’s another gem of a suggestion by Martin H.


This is the strength training rankings for the squat (high bar, back squat).

This site has rankings for the other major lifts: press, deadlift, bench, clean, and snatch.  The site has the tables available in pounds or kilograms for your convenience, as well as a simple explanation of the categories.

It’s worth noting that these tables are from Dr. Lon Kilgore’s work.  Kilgore worked closely with the original CrossFit Barbell guy, Mark Rippetoe.  These tables are the same ones used for rankings of the CrossFit Total, and can be found on the CrossFit Main Page’s FAQ, here.

I like using these tables to keep an eye on my rankings, if for no other reason than it gives me a simple goal.  Where do you rank?  Where do you want to rank?  Are there any lifts that you’re really good at, or that you’re really bad at?

Mental State and Competition Performance

Saturday, April 28th, 2012

When you are getting ready to compete it is very important to be aware of and in control of your mental state.  Before competitions I often see people freaking out with nerves or sometimes detrimentally working themselves up into such an anxious-frenzied state of adrenaline that they wear themselves out like a fire cracker right as the competition starts.  Usually more experienced veteran athletes stay more calm, focused and controlled.  Of course this also depends on what type of performance or activity is going to be performed during the competition.  I think that it is a lot more beneficial for a power-lifter to work themselves up to a heightened-frenzied  state of arousal with as much adrenaline as he/she can muster right before performing a max dead lift than it would be for an gymnast before performing a high-bar routine.  Another consideration would be the duration of the event or performance.  Said power-lifter may only need to sustain their mental/emotional state for a few seconds until the lift is complete whereas a baseball pitcher would have to not only pitch, but calculate and strategize dozens if not hundreds of throws through the duration of a baseball game where a heightened state of emotional frenzy would not be sustainable.  I myself usually like to feel at least a little nervous yet lucid and calm before a competition.  If you don’t feel nervous at all, (which on occasion I don’t) you may not have all of the power and energy that would otherwise be at your disposal, yet on the other hand feeling overly worried or scared may wear you out and can get in the way of your execution, coordination and thought process during complex skills.   So be sure to practice controlling your level of mental and emotional arousal as part of your training for high-stakes performances.  Please post any questions, thoughts, or musings to comments.

What does YOUR game face look like?

What does YOUR game face look like?

Getting the Most from Going Heavy

Monday, March 21st, 2011

We frequently have heavy lifting days in the gym.  There are different strategies to pace met-con workouts and similarly, there are different strategies to tackle heavy lifting workouts.  Here’s a few things to consider.

He lifts things up.  And puts them down.

He lifts things up. And puts them down.

Establish a 1-rep max.  If you don’t know what you’re capable of lifting, you’ll never know what you should lift or if you’re getting stronger.  If you haven’t hit a max in a long time– or you never have– take the opportunity to figure out what the most weight you can lift is.  You can then use that to determine what weight you should be aiming for in a workout.  A rough guideline is that you should be aiming for 90% of your one-rep max for sets of 1-2 reps, 80% of your max for sets of 2-4 reps and 70% of your max for 3-6 reps.

Figure out your timing.  There’s two ways to time heavy days.  I recommend that most people take 2-5 minutes between lifts.  This allows the maximum amount of time to replenish muscle fuel, without giving enough time to completely cool down.  The trick here is to be strict with the amount of time you take.  Set your watch, or look at the clock so you don’t cheat because you will feel recovered before you actually are.  The other way to time heavy days involves setting up your area ahead of time and speeding through.  You’re still going to give yourself some recovery time– say 30-seconds to a minute– but the goal is to do the lifts explosively to maximize your power output.  The tricky thing with this method is that you have to know what you’re going to lift and realize that you’re not going to attempt a max.  When the weight gets so heavy that you slow down the lift, you stop increasing the weight.  To get the most out of this method, you have to have a solid understanding of what you’re capable of lifting and you have to have really good technique.

Light and full range of motion vs heavy and partial range of motion.  There’s a place for both options.  If you have poor flexibility or problems with range of motion, you’ll get more out of going with lighter weight and focusing on your technique.  But if your problem is raw strength, you could get quite a lot of benefit from putting lots of weight on the bar and training partial ROM or the eccentric portion of the lift.  The stimulus that you get from just holding a heavy weight can do wonders.

Remember, our prescription is constantly varied functional fitness.  If you always do your lifts in the same way and similar weight, you’re going to adapt to it and get stuck on a plateau.  Mix it up and you’ll see better results.

Technique Review - Deadlift

Monday, February 14th, 2011

The deadlift is probably the single best strength movement you can do.  It uses the entire posterior chain and core muscles, plus the quads, upper back and forearms.  In addition, it’s easily one of the most commonly used movements outside of the gym; anytime you need to pick up something off the ground, you’re going to deadlift it.  Here’s a couple of pointers for the next time you deadlift.

Maintain the torso's angle to the ground until the bar clears the knees.

Maintain the torso's angle to the ground until the bar clears the knees.

  • Keep the bar in contact with your shins through the first part.  Instead of thinking about lifting up, think about leaning back and pulling the bar into your shins.  If you get burns on your shins from the bar, you’re doing it right.
  • When you get into position, pay attention to the angle at which your torso sits with respect to the ground.  As you do the lift, that angle should not change until after the bar is past your knees.
  • Don’t worry if your back angle is different from your classmates’ or trainers’.  The angle that your torso makes with the ground is a function of the length of your torso, arms, legs and thighs; it’s different for everybody.  Just make sure your back is in proper lifting position and that you have tension on your hamstrings.
  • When you start the lift, don’t try to jerk the weight off the ground.  Take the slack out of the bar by putting upward tension on it, then start the lift explosively.
  • Shrug your shoulders and stick your chest out at the top so that the bar is “hanging” off your skeleton.  You should be able to hold the weight at the top for a few seconds.
  • Initiate setting the bar down by sticking your butt out and getting the proper lower back angle first.  Do NOT let the bar pull your shoulders down first as it will cause your whole spine to come out of alignment.

It helps to watch some good deadlifts.  Here’s one of my favorite videos, with some commentary on the deadlift by Greg Glassman.

Using Your Head

Monday, November 15th, 2010

I know a couple of people have heard me explain some physiology of the spine, especially as it relates to power lifting.  The key thing to remember is that everything along the spine is connected; you can’t move one part of the spine without moving the whole thing.  This has some pretty drastic effects when performing heavy squats.  Here are some pics that I got of Patricia while coaching her back squats last week.  (Thanks for modeling for us, Patricia!)

Notice the extreme angle at the neck and lower back.

Notice the extreme angle at the neck and lower back.

It is very common for people to find a focal point in front of them and try to look at it while performing a squat.  This works pretty well for air squats, but it becomes less useful when you have weight on your back.  As you squat, your torso decreases the angle that it makes with the ground.  If you keep your eyes on a single point, you will end up tilting your head back and that will throw off the position of the rest of your spine.  This typically presents as an exaggerated arch position, which can cause an enormous amount of strain on your lower back.

Notice that she's looking at the ground and that her spine is considerably flatter.

Notice that she's looking at the ground and that her spine is in a much stronger position.

A better way to squat is to keep your neck in the neutral position, allowing your vision to sweep closer to you as you go lower in the squat.  This takes a bit of discipline and a little getting used to.  People tend to tilt their head back because because they feel that they will lose their balance if their head is sticking out in front of their feet.  This is not true if they are squatting with weight, as the bar acts as a counter-balance that is (hopefully) considerably heavier than their head.

Next time you do squats, pay close attention to all parts of the lift, especially your spine.