It is great to see coaches make progress with their goal of improving speed using all the different ideas they learn here at SimpliFaster, but sometimes that progress only comes on “leg day.” Come an upper-body day (or “backs and bi’s”), we go right back to our powerlifting/bodybuilding catalog, which may have a negative impact on all that good you’ve done on “leg day.”
Moving beyond that old-school mentality is hard—from a logistical standpoint, it is easy to have a whole day that requires minimal supervision. How can someone screw up a bicep curl? Since many of us deal with high school athletes, it’s hard to dump old-school methods, particularly when all your athletes want the I Benched 250 t-shirt. You can post the rewards from all of the hard work the athletes put into the weight room, and it’s hard to fight with adolescents when their whole goal is to look the part. They are constantly bombarded with photos, numbers, and workouts about the importance of the weight room and why they should be “stronger.”
So, could the upper (powerlifting, bodybuilding)/lower (speed) split be detrimental to performance?
I think it can.
If speed is your goal, then control of the torso is key. But, the goal of the HS athlete can also be to lift as much weight as possible, especially in big lifts like the bench press. The first thing they will do is get the great arch and pin their shoulder blades back to get their two plates, 250 or 300, or three plates. The problem as we strengthen in certain positions is that those positions become our fallbacks because, deep down, our brain knows we are strong in those positions. This would be a dropped pelvis, a popped rib cage, and a slow runner. Watch for it at the end of a 100 or 200.
Same with a bicep curl. For the sake of weight, watch the collapse and curvature of the spine and the jutting of the chin in a forward position. And then we wonder why our drills don’t remedy that scenario.If the arm can only travel a short distance, the knee will only go to a height that creates balance in the system. The brain always prefers stability over performance, says @korfist. Click To Tweet
The overdevelopment of the short head of the tricep from all of the pushdowns can affect how well the arm travels. This impacts knee lift because the body is always looking for a counterbalance. If the arm can only travel a short distance, the knee will only go to a height that creates balance in the system. The brain always prefers stability over performance.
So, how can we prevent these traits from showing up on speed day?
With any exercise, posture should be the number one concern. Posture for my athletes is getting a good glute squeeze, a slight thoracic tuck (ribs to glutes), pulling the sternum away from tuck to create tension, and a soft, neutral neck (one that moves with little strain). Once in that position, can they move with resistance and hold that position?
That would be the role for my athletes in lifting weights because this is what I ask my body to do when it starts to fatigue. It usually starts to break somewhere in the middle, and the results can be seen somewhere in the limbs. I can do any exercise and apply this rule to get better results on the track and gain strength (that matters) and stability for my game. (We all know that “looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane” athlete.)
To add complexity, I add what I call vertical and speed modes. Vertical mode is basic standing straight up and down. It’s great for beginners. Speed mode is keeping that torso position and putting a 10-degree lean forward without counterbalancing with the hips dropping back. Why? Because this is usually the position really fast runners are in, and I want my athletes to be strong in that position. Try, and you will find that your basic lifts with the feet on the ground require a lot of torso rigidity.
2. Rib Control
As we progress in our lifting, we can start to add altitude drops to the upper body or dropping and catching weights. We do this for two reasons. First, to learn how to absorb and release energy to develop our power, and second, to learn how to control the torso when greater forces challenge our rigidity. Dan Fichter gave one of the best presentations I have seen in 30 years about altitude drops last summer at the Revolutions in Speed presentation at the University of Minnesota.
He demonstrated this concept by asking a big bencher to absorb a 25-pound plate. The athlete collapsed. This translates into an upper body with no connection to the torso, which results in an athlete who can’t control the power transfer.
Advanced altitude drops for upper body with @WGF1 @TFConsortium pic.twitter.com/pZ9M5zUrFL
— Christian Korfist (@korfist) July 17, 2022
Video 1. Advanced altitude drops for the upper body with Dan Fichter.
I like to add movement to my upper body as well with Indian clubs and maces. We now dynamically have to control the torso while the limbs move all over. The mace makes it even more difficult. At Summerstrong last May, the people from Wolf Brigade put on a great presentation on mace work. When done correctly, it’s a great upper-body workout.
Video 2. Wolf Brigade mace work.
3. End Range of Motion
When we elevate weight over form, we tend to shorten our range of motion. Look at all arm work—rarely do we find the full length of those muscles. As the limbs get strong in a shortened range, it changes how we carry our body and how we move.
Look at the “bench and bi’s” guy: curved shoulders and elbows that don’t fully extend. How does he look when he runs? Like a controlled stumble.If the body is not strong in the full range, it will systematically shorten the entire system, which means a short stride, says @korfist. Click To Tweet
How do we prevent that posture? Well, start with 1 and 2, but then progress to extension work for the upper body, to full range of motion for the back—which would be elbows extending past the torso. Or full range of motion for the triceps, which is hands and elbows past the torso as well. If the body is not strong in the full range, it will systematically shorten the entire system, which means a short stride.
Train with a Holistic View
As an aside, what about the concept of hands as feet? To finish my rant on the upper body—I spend an incredible amount of time on feet. We pronate, supinate, get to the big toe, ankle rocker, etc. It is strange that the amount of brain space that goes to the hands is greater than the feet.
But when we lift with the upper body, all of the energy stops at the heel of the hand. That is like jumping off your heels. And people wonder why a big bench presser doesn’t always convert to a good shot put/discus thrower. Use straps and finger loops to change up where the body pushes or pulls from. Pronate or supinate to get more out of your wrist. Or go thumbless on all of your pulls to strengthen the grip reflex.
I am not saying junk all upper—you can still have fun throwing weight around. But there is always a cost for sloppiness. Ultimately, weights will always go up in the upper body. It is just that we want it to show out on the field.
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