Course Review: Optimizing the Big 3

A few weeks ago, I attended a seminar on optimizing the big three (bench press, squat and deadlift) at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, Massachusetts.  Greg Robins and Tony Bonvechhio are two smart dudes and offered a ton of value. 

Greg and Tony's seminar is geared towards the powerlifter but did a great job making this applicable to all walks of life.  I am by no means a powerlifter, yet I love to use the big three in my workouts and in my clients programming.  

The information provided gave me greater insight into the programming and cueing of these exercises.  The best part of the seminar is the hands on portion - in which we actually got to lift and get coached by both Greg, Tony and Miguel.  Getting insight into your bad habits as a lifter, as well as watching them coach several others gives you invaluable education you can't get elsewhere. 

I highly recommend anyone interested in powerlifting or weight training, whether a trainer or someone who is an avid fan of exercises - this is a must course.

Here are some take aways from the seminar:

When it comes to program design for any client, powerlifter or not, you must address the needs of the lifter.  What are the prerequisite movements to be successful at the exercise?  What limitations do the currently have?  What's their training age? etc..

Secondly, when it comes to programming the big three, there are three things we must take into consideration.

  1. They are all saggital plane movements
  2. They are all bilateral movements
  3. They are all extension based movements

Therefore, constant programming of these lifts will create postural and movement changes due to the repetitive nature and loading of these patterns

Greg and Tony talk about a great concept called "covering your basis". Due to the facts above, we address the repetitive nature of these exercises through corrective exercises and our warm-ups.

I have already been a proponent of using the warm-up to address movement concerns of the athlete at hand so this was music to my ears. Having a warm-up designed to prepare the body for the demands of that day is key to owning that session. 

Start from the ground up using a few drills to address movement concerns and prep for the major workouts of the day.  For example, work on scap stability or thoracic extension before bench press.  

Technique is the one thing as coaches that we have control over.  So not learning how to coach and cue is doing a disservice to your clients or yourself. They mention that "crappy technique puts a ceiling on your training."  This is absolutely vital. Poor technique not only puts a ceiling on training, but causes bad habits and increases chance for injury.  Learn how to coach these well, so you can set your clients and yourself up for success in the future. 

  1. Bench 
    • Bar and wrist over elbows 
    • Leg Drive 
      • If you use a flat footed stance, your leg drive is similar to pushing yourself up the bench.
      • If you prefer heels up, then your leg drive is trying to drive your feet into the ground and squeezing the bench with your thighs.
      • The leg drive serves a couple of purposes.  One, to develop more power throughout the entire body.  Two, to assist in maintaining your bar path.
    • Pull your shoulder blades into your back pockets.  This will add more passive stability to the shoulders, but also will help you maintain your thoracic extension - which is crucial to shortening the motion and maintaining bar path. 
  2. Deadlift 
    • Bar lined up over shoe strings
    • Arm pits in front of bar
    • Wedge yourself into the bar
      • What this means is that you are trying to take tension out of bar.  In order to do so you pull the weight of the bar off the floor by dropping your butt and raising your chest.  Once you feel the bars weight in your back, you know you're ready to drive through the floor.  
  3. Squat
    • Greg and Tony used two terms to describe your squat technique:
      • Don't be a stripper
      • And Don't Pop-Lock and Drop - but rather Lock, Drop and Pop
    • What this means is you don't want to arch your back on the decent.  You want to maintain a belt buckle up, ribs down posture throughout the entire set.  So, A - lock in the torso position, B - drop into the bottom of the squat and C - pop back to the top.

Another thing they mention, and I think we all forget this often, is fitness is dependent on the goal/sport at hand.  A golfer and a Cross-fitter require two very different training stimuli to reach their goal.  But does a golfer need to be crushed by a Workout of the Day (WOD) everyday in order to effectively hit a ball 300 yards down a fairway?  No, it can actually hinder their performance.  Point being, know your athlete and find their goals, and as Dan John says "keep the goal the goal."

All in all, this seminar blew away my expectations and I highly recommend you attend.  The work done at CSP is top notch and you can learn a lot from these fine gentlemen. 

Move Well, Stay Strong