All 20 Belgian male bodybuilders grabbed their gear and ran when a drug tester showed up at the Belgian National Bodybuilding Competition over the weekend (May 17, 2009). So Brussels gains no national champion, but quite a legacy.
It's funny except that it's so sad, pathetic, and it points up the dangers facing younger and more intellectually vulnerable generations at the steroid crossroads. I've written and compiled a body of work on drugs and bizarre practices in bodybuilding, and this just points up the problem in all its urgent relevancy.
I'm boycotting AP, which carried the story, but you can read more it in SportingNews.com.
We all battle our weaknesses, bad habits and flawed thinking in Olympic-style weightlifting. The sport is a lifelong involvement; that is, we lifters can spend our entire lives pursuing perfection in the lifts. Because the lifts involve every basic movement in sports, and because they are whole body exercises which demand equal and peak performance from every muscle group, mastering the lifts requires maximum performance in every aspect, on all levels.
When the arms bend, the pull ends.
I am happy that I am advanced enough to know what my weaknesses are. I battle a bad habit of breaking my arms too soon on the pull. It's a common problem, yet finding solutions has not been easy.
But through my good fortune of learning from some of the masters - Mike Conroy, Jim Schmitz, Tom Hirtz - and through my continuing and long education, I have had a Eureka breakthrough toward cracking the code of how to break the habit. I hope by sharing it here, I can help someone else overcome this vexation.
First, understanding the habit. Why do we do it? To get the bar high, to feel the rush of the "explosion", to apply full strength.
Getting the bar high - This is perhaps the strongest psychological reason behind breaking the arms too soon. I can only speak for myself, but I suspect this applies to many others. I FEAR that I will not get the bar high enough to be able to get underneath it. But of course I will, because this is a perfect sequence, with respect to both biomechanics and physics. People have been getting under the bar for many years and not bending their arms nor raising the bar higher than hips/waist. And I'm betting some of them have even been my somatotype (I have proportionally long arms).
To feel the explosion - It's a trick. Because I feel the contraction of my biceps, I mistakenly think that's part of the pull, and not to feel it means I'm not trying hard enough. But in fact, the pull involves the triple extension - ankles, knees and hips - plus the shrug. That's all.
To apply full strength - This is very similar to the trick of feeling the explosion. Since bicep contraction and elbow flexing are intrinsic to so many weight training and strength training activities, I'm hardwired to react under load with elbow flexation.
Okay, so now we understand why we do it. Why shouldn't we do it? Because you will not be able to pull heavier loads this way, and then you won't be trained to get under the bar properly, and you simply won't be to progress.
But simply telling people not to do something in training isn't enough, especially if they fall in the old dog/new tricks alley. You have to train them out of it. So now the good part: how to fix it.
Jim Schmitz advises me, "Do snatch grip and clean grip pulls without bending your arms. Just shrug and get up on your toes. Do them slow or half-speed to really get the feel for keeping your arms straight as long as possible."
Schmitz also has an excellent combination to train out of this - Pull/Pull/Pull-Drop
- Starting from a hang position, perform an eccentric slide (draw your rear-end back and slide the bar down your thighs nearly to the knee). That trains you to get your hips back.
- Begin the first pull; explode into the second, faster pull once the bar reaches the tops of your thighs; triple extension/shrug
- Do this three times. On the third time, freeze at the top of the pull for just an instant, then DROP under the bar as fast as you can, into a squat clean position (later, use a squat snatch).
Now, to build on this, let's look at why it works. I think it works in part because it fatigues the muscles you need to activate in order to bend your arms, so your body has no choice but to perform the pull correctly (all other things being equal - you know how to and can perform the slide and pulls correctly, and you know what you're trying to achieve). This combo also trains you to be stronger and more explosive in the pull, which will give you what you need to get the bar suspended so you can get under it.
Fatiguing the biceps is a big one for me. I find that if I use a lighter weight, I can perform this combo successfully from the start, but as I add weight to the bar, I start to fall back into bad habits very quickly. My habit is deeply ingrained, so I have to use drastic measures. So here's my new trick.
Perform the Pull/Pull/Pull-Drop combo to Suicidal Tendencies Institutionalized ("Sometimes I try to do things but it just doesn't work out the way I want it to."). Once you get into the heavier loads and start bending your arms, stop pulling. Go do some chest presses, then bicep curls. I prefer dumbbells. In between bicep curl sets, right when your biceps are ready to recover, go do a pull from the hang and drop underneath it (step three in Jim's combo). I'm thrilled to find this works on even stubborn me: the biceps can't fire enough to pop up a heavily loaded bar, so if I just concentrate on pulling high and getting under it fast, I can do them correctly.
This is also satisfying in general, because I feel like I neglect my bicep training in Oly weightlifting, and I miss the look.
So there you have it. I'd love to hear from anyone who gives these techniques a try, and also if you find there are any other reasons you bend your arms too soon besides the ones I've discovered for myself. The better we understand the issue, the better we can strategize to fix it.
Good luck in your training. The next big step will be carrying this over to my performance in meets. Perfect practice makes for perfect performance.
"There are a lot of girls who are a lot stronger than I am. But - and that's the thing that is awesome about Olympic-style weightlifting - that with technique and speed you can really maneuver the bar in a certain way and it just kind of lifts itself up there." -Natalie Woolfolk
Pictured is a blurry Natalie Woolfolk