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Teaching the Clean

One of the most technically difficult movements to learn and perform well, the clean is also one of the most beneficial. It’s a dynamic blend of strength and power development, full body mobility, and precise proprioception. It’s no surprise it’s often referred to as one of the most athletic lifts.

Starting new athletes in the clean can be a tricky endeavor due to it’s many moving parts. Here at PLT4M, we like to start at the “top” with the most basic element of the clean and work our way down over time.

Thus, we begin by teaching the “High Hang Power Clean” – basically focusing on the jump and pull with a catch in our front rack position. We introduce this movement in parts:

Hands & Feet:
The athlete’s feet should be in a neutral position directly under the hips. Their hands should be at least “thumb-swiping” distance from the thighs on the bar, with the arms hanging long and loose from the shoulders.

Position 1/Jumping Position:
From here, we instruct the athlete to simply “soften” the knees, or bend them slightly. The torso remains vertical, we’re not looking to lean forward, here. It is just a little 2 inch dip of the hips.

Pull & Catch:
We tell the athlete to jump with the legs while pulling the bar up the torso. Cue them to try and pull their shirt up with the bar, keeping the elbows high and outside. Once the bar has reached chest height, we shoot the elbows through and assume a quarter squat position – also known as the power position.

Even breaking it down to these most basic pieces, you will see many different athletes exhibiting many different faults, From here, it’s easier to identify individual issues and fix with each athlete, rather that try and break the movement down even further.

Fault 1 – Scarecrow vs Zombie:
One of the most common issues you’ll see with new athletes is the tendency to reverse curl the bar as opposed to the proper high pull. First, cue the athlete to mimic a Scarecrow, not a Zombie (elbows high and outside – video here: https://youtu.be/r2bFx9iJBQI). If the visual cue doesn’t work, provide them with a tactile cue, placing a physical obstruction like a pvc pipe in the way, forcing the bar to travel upward instead of out from the body.

Fault 2 – Starfish Catch
The next most common issue relates to hip and foot position on the catch. Often, athletes will jump the feet out wide in an effort to stabilize the weight. While this is instinctual for many, it puts them in an unsafe position under load, and also limits their ability to move weight. Cue them to avoid this starfish catch, and jump from hip-width to shoulder or squat width (video here: https://youtu.be/gA2PyfCHeps). There are a number of ways to fix this issue. You can use a tactile cue by placing your foot or other obstacle in the way of excessive width, or a visual cue with a taped target area on the floor.

Once we’ve mastered the high hang power clean, we can much more easily begin to introduce the other variations – moving all the way down to a full squat clean from the floor.

Always remember that we are looking to instill great mechanics before we add serious loading. Set good habits and the weight will come!

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Deadlift Technique Drill

At PLT4M, we’re total sticklers for proper deadlift form. We love the lift as a tool for developing raw strength as well as a rigorous reinforcement of core stability, posterior chain mobility, and spinal alignment and posture.

Too often, though, we see young athletes pulling heavy loads off of the ground with sub-par technique or worse. Not only are they sacrificing maximum potential force production with inefficient movement, they are putting themselves at the very real risk of legitimate injury.

In order to combat this risk, we like to spend time drilling our “pulling” technique anytime we get the chance.

DEADLIFT POSITIONAL DRILL

Here we have a complete drill for athletes to correct or improve their positions while warming up for heavier loading. With a PVC pipe or empty barbell, perform 5 slow reps of each of the following:

1.Top-Half Deads (Like an RDL, from hip crease to the knee). Focus on pushing the hips back, keeping the bar on the quads, knees remain where they are, lumbar curve maintained.

2. Bottom-Half Deads (mid-shin or ground to the knee). Focus on pushing the floor away, instead of pulling the bar off the ground. Hips and shoulders should rise together, maintaining a good flat back.

3. Pausing Deads. Combine the two movements, with a deliberate pause at the knee.

4. Full Deadlifts. Blend both pieces into one fluid movement. Focus on returning the bar the exact same way you pick it up.

Still having trouble with an athlete even after utilizing this drill and trying some fixes? Not sure what the problem is? Give us a shout, we’d be happy to consult!

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Teaching the Thruster

The Thruster.

Arguably one of our favorite movements, as well as one of the most challenging in almost any training scenario. The thruster is a true full body movement that combines a full-depth squat with a press to lockout overhead. It is a serious “bang for buck” movement when it comes to athletic development.

Most obviously, it develops raw strength through a complete range of motion. Athletes see gains in the below parallel front squat action as well as the shoulder to overhead press. Being such a compound movement, though, the thruster is also super demanding of the core. Midline stabilization is as much a part of the movement as anything else.

It also doubles as a power development movement. Basically, the thruster is a dynamic coupling of individual strength pieces. The power transfer from our squat through a strong hip extension (like a push press or jerk) to make the bar weightless is what allows an athlete to perform reps at volume without experiencing undue fatigue. We are working to improve power output and economy of movement.

Also worth mentioning is the mobility component. The front squat and the shoulder to overhead press both require and work to develop range of motion and stability within almost every joint in the body.

Lastly, and certainly not least, the thruster can be used in a conditioning or stamina sense for the entire body. At light loads, the movement can be performed repetitively at high speed (anaerobic capacity) or for serious aerobic volume. Or it can be performed at heavier loading for less reps within a larger set of movements. We are able to train an athlete’s ability to move his or her body, as well as an external load, under general fatigue, in a number of different settings.

Being such a useful movement, it behooves us to teach it in a comprehensive fashion. First, we must always begin by making sure our athlete has a solid understanding of proper squat and press mechanics. If we’ve mastered the air squat, and understand a simple push up, then we can add a pvc and begin to drill the thruster itself.

Instruct the athlete to bring the pvc up to the shoulders in a full grip. Elbows should be high, the goal is to keep the upper arm parallel to the floor in this front rack position. Have the athlete complete 5 good front squat reps. If these are good, we can work on the press.

With the bar back at shoulder height, instruct the athlete to take a slight dip (torso remains vertical, just a slight bend of the knees). Then, squeeze the quads and glutes violently to get the bar “weightless” and finish by locking out the arms with the bar overhead. Bar should always end over the middle of the athlete’s body – not out in front or behind.

Once we’ve gotten comfortable with the overhead portion, we can put these two pieces together. Cue the athletes to drive up with the legs aggressively out of the front squat and finish with a full lockout.

Medicine Ball Workout

Testing Fitness

A staple of both education and fitness, testing is a unique animal when it comes to teaching physical education. Many people have differing opinions on whether or not your physical ability should have any bearing on your grade. Regardless of whether or not you associate grades with physical results, though, testing can be a very useful tool in your fitness curriculum if done the right way.

Why?

As we have stated many times before, here at PLT4M we are firm believers in the power of competition. Competing with one’s self is the essence of testing. Seeing progress is an enormous motivator. Problem is, often, the greatest deterrent to effort is a lack of belief in one’s own ability at the start. Luckily, when it comes to fitness, the greatest strides are made at the beginning. Thus, when someone uncomfortable with physicality is coached well, they can see results immediately. Picture the athlete that fully believes they are incapable of doing a push up – with proper scaling options and coaching cues, he or she will be performing perfect reps in minutes. Such improvement in ability through scaling progressions, growing strength capacity, or physical motor through hard work is a wonderful incentive for further effort.

Just as important, keeping data and seeing hard proof of results is the ultimate reinforcement of healthy behavior. When students begin to associate effort with results, you have taught them the ultimate lesson: they are the master of their own bodies and long term health. That lesson is the whole reason we teach fitness in the first place.

How?

Many common physical education tools and/or approaches track student performance against “national standards”. Personally, we philosophically disagree with this approach towards student evaluation. Instead, we believe in measuring personal progress.

Imagine this: Student A has never done ANYTHING related to fitness in his or her life. Before your class, test results would place them in the lowest percentile across the board, essentially being told they are unhealthy and unable. Right off the bat, you’re likely to lose this student emotionally. You are reinforcing a negative perception of self potential. Even if you get Student A to work in class for 15 weeks, doing their best to master the movements, work hard and get better, the results in the post-test could still place them in a low percentile compared to the national “standard”. What good is this? The lesson internalized here is that even with hard work, they will be at the bottom. The opposite is equally true. If you have another student who begins at the top of all tests, he or she will have little motivation to improve. They will believe that there is no need to work, they have already reached their potential. Both scenarios work against our overall mission of motivation and improvement.

What we need to recognize, and celebrate, is that any student is a far cry from where he started. They have moved up scaling progressions, maybe even getting their first strict movements. They have increased physical capacity, and seen real progress. They put in the effort and were rewarded by becoming fitter. We should recognize this improvement. Such will motivate them to continue to strive for progress going forward. In our fitness programs here at PLT4M, we test often, and measure personal progress through absolute values and percentage changes depending on the activity and curriculum. We want to show students their capacity for change.

Whether or not you include test results in your grading is up to you. But, we strongly recommend testing as a measure for students to better see the correlation between work and progress. It’s not just about where you are now, but how far you have come.

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Teaching & Scaling the Pull Up

While a staple of many fitness routines, the pull up can be a tricky movement to use with young or inexperienced students and athletes. It is one of the more daunting movements for some students and athletes, as it is extremely difficult to perform even 1 rep without first practicing and developing the requisite strength and body control. Often, kids will avoid the movement altogether.

As teachers and coaches, we cannot expect athletes to simply hop up on the bar and get better through failed attempts. Instead, we should develop a pulling progression that puts athletes on the path to getting their first strict pull up. This progression is built on movement variations of increasing difficulty that continually reinforce proper mechanics.

We begin by introducing good pulling technique through the inverted row (using rings, TRX bands, or a barbell). After sound technique is learned, and once an athlete can complete 3 or sets of 5 strict ring rows, he or she can slide the feet forward to increase difficulty. After fully mastering the inverted row, we can transition the athlete to the bar with the assistance of a band. With enough practice, this in turn will get the athlete to the point of pull up success!