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Dave Van Skike 05-29-2009 10:07 AM

Triple Extension Movements for Football
From Elitefts this AM. Food for thought.


Many people subscribe to the belief that the only way to lift explosively is through Olympic lifting. When performed with sound technique, Olympic lifts are great for building explosive power. Many elite athletes efficiently use Olympic lifts. Louie Simmons at Westside Barbell has advocated a speed day using the dynamic method of training with weights at 50–60 percent of one’s max. However, he still puts maximum force on the bar.

Dr. Fred Hatfield, co-founder of the International Sports Science Association (ISSA) and author of numerous books on training, devised compensatory acceleration training (CAT.) In layman’s terms, CAT is lifting with maximum force but with a submaximal load, usually 60–80 percent of a 1RM. Hatfield held several world records in the squat in the 1980s, including a 1014-lb squat at a body weight of 255 lb in the over 45 years of age division. Rarely would he go over 800 lbs in training, but he would put maximum force into the bar.
If properly implemented, the use of Strongman events in a football training protocol is a superior method for an average or elite athlete to develop explosive power using triple extension exercises. Olympic lifts can be tedious and take years to execute properly. Eastern block Olympic lifters, routinely the best in the sport, begin training as early as age five. With technique being a critical component, most high school kids learning to Olympic lift correctly must start off using just the bar or a broomstick. They never develop any strength or explosive power. In some cases, athletes are prematurely given the green light to go heavy and often get injured in the process. Olympic lifts must be broken down and analyzed microscopically and therein lies the problem. This teaches athletes to concentrate more on form than on attitude and the amount of weight they can or should be using.

Strongman training encourages athletes to be aggressive, focusing on “kicking butt” rather than perfecting technique, which is similar to a game situation. Very few high school football players are “fired up” to do Olympic lifts, but most do look forward to and enjoy Strongman training. These training techniques allow athletes to focus on being aggressive. Too much aggression in Olympic lifting will destroy technique.

According to Bob Jodoin, strength coach and ISSA master trainer, “With stone lifting, you start with your knuckles on the ground and finish at triple extension. The loads and leverages are different, however, and this plays well into the concept of dynamic, real world training. Good stone lifting technique emulates the perfect football tackle.”

Does a snatch emulate a perfect tackle? Triple extension of the hips, knees, and ankles trains a football player to put maximal force into the ground in a shorter period of time. Is the best way to train this triple extension with a barbell or variously shaped Strongman objects? Football opponents move and are all shaped differently, making Strongman training more relevant. If done in a team setting, Strongman training gives athletes a chance to compete and gives coaches a chance to coach as they would in a game without having to break down every small detail.

“It’s like game day every time we do it,” says Ken Mannie, head strength and conditioning coach at Michigan State University, speaking about team Strongman workouts. “It puts pressure on the players and forces them into truly competitive situations—more than weight room sessions and scripted workouts ever could.”

“It’s irregular lifting, which makes it closer to football movements than ordinary weight training. It makes the body perform when it’s not in a perfect line, so tendons and joints get stronger. And just like in football, a player is forced to use his whole body,” argues Mike Golden.

Compare the starting position in a tire flip and the starting position in a clean. The tire flip starts with the shoulders on the tire, the feet shoulder width apart, the chest over the tire, and the back arched, similar to a four-point stance. As the athlete lifts the tire up and gets triple extension, he will push the tire downward as hard as possible like a bench press. This mimics extending an opponent on to his heels and pushing him to the ground. An athlete gets triple extension with a clean, but even if the athlete jerks the weight, it is not nearly as sport specific as the triple extension of pushing over a heavy tire.

I could give other examples of the biomechanical superiority of Strongman training, but world renowned strength coach, Joe DeFranco says it best: “The beauty of Strongman training is that there’s no one way to perform the exercises. Athletes usually end up improvising to complete the event. The tire doesn’t always flip over the same way. The sled doesn’t always glide easily over the surface. The awkwardness of these events builds true ‘functional’ strength from head to toe. This enables the athlete to strengthen muscles that are nearly impossible to strengthen with traditional training.”

Olympic lifting is great for developing competitive Olympic lifters and for some elite athletes. However, Olympic lifting fails to duplicate the movements in football in any true way, and the risk to benefit factor is extremely great. Strongman training is very similar to actual football movements and will build legitimate transference strength. Strongman training develops every type of strength. In a future article, I will expand on other Strongman training techniques—not just triple extension ones—that will help your football players.

Garrett Smith 05-29-2009 10:41 AM

Interesting...but as so often, the author turns it into an "either/or" argument, when a sensible combination may be best...

Dave Van Skike 05-29-2009 10:49 AM


Originally Posted by Garrett Smith (Post 58064)
Interesting...but as so often, the author turns it into an "either/or" argument, when a sensible combination may be best...

fair enough...his argument would be better if he focused on training economy and the fact that there is no "right' way to manipulate the SM implements.

Jacob Rowell 05-29-2009 11:42 AM

I never played football. I was what you might call "skinny" or "unathletic" most of my life. Perhaps still?
From an implementation standpoint, the article makes perfect sense. I can imagine telling a group of 16 year old kids "See that heavy shit over there? (Pointing to keg, log, axle, or stone) Let's see who can shoulder it/put it overhead first" works better than discussing the intricacies of oly.

But.. in terms of training effectiveness, I'm not sure I ever get close to reproducing the speed or power when in shouldering a stone, sandbag, keg, or racking a log as I do with a clean or power clean. At near max weights, I attempt a slow, incomplete triple ext, and then begins the death march as I roll said object up my torso.

Maybe squats aren't appropriate for football because I'm not able to ask the big fellow across from he if he could kindly sit squarely on my shoulders so I can squat him properly? hah.

No doubt, SM movements could round out a solid S&C program, teach guys to apply force in less than ideal situations. But to replace o-lifting?

Jamie Crichton 05-29-2009 11:47 AM

For training athletes, I agree 100% that more simple movements are better. There's no debate; the olympic lifts are hard to learn and this takes time. Athletes in sports like football, rugby or whatever will gain more benefit from exercises that don't take long to learn. Removing the limiting factor of 'skill necessary to correctly perform the lift' means that you can ramp the weight up to where 'pure strength' becomes the limiting factor and thus gives you a training effect.

As to whether one style is better than the other in general terms, I agree with Garrett, it is a pointless debate. Why not use both? It obviously depends on your goals. Ultimately the body doesn't know whether it has to lift a barbell, a tyre or anything else. Explosive contraction is trained regardless.

I like variety in my training because my sport is crossfit, so I try to make use of strongman, olympic lifting, powerlifting, gymnastics etc to give me broader athleticism. So for me it is about choosing the movements that I feel will give me most carry-over to all other disciplines. Doing the olympic lifts will make me stronger at the olympic lifts and also benefit strongman and crossfit. Doing strongman will make me better at strongman and crossfit, but is less likely to improve my olympic lifts.

It makes sense for me to perform the high-skill movements often, as I get carry over to other things. Strongman, powerlifting etc is good for variety and to increase all-out strength, but if I can potentially realise improvement in these without training them, I then have more time to train other exercises (which require more practice, such as the olympic lifts).

Likewise, gymnastics are likely to improve other aspects of fitness due to the incredible strength they build. But you just aren't going to get good at gymnastics without training it.

So it seems logical, to me at least, that you perform the exercises which give you greatest carry-over to ALL other things, as well as that thing itself.

Does that make sense?

Garrett Smith 05-29-2009 12:18 PM

More food...

Odd objects are also fantastic medium for training explosive work. Exercises such as Olympic lift variations and throws make odd objects such a valuable tool for training. What keeps coaches from using such great lifts such as the snatch, clean, and jerk is knowing that their clients do not possess the flexibility to perform the lifts well. This is especially true in case of the wrists for cleans. With using sandbags and kegs, this problem is eliminated as anyone can quickly learn how to perform a safe and effective clean or snatch in just minutes. Don’t be mistaken though, Olympic lifts are not just for athletes. Everyone needs to learn how to move fast, have a stronger posterior chain, and increase body coordination.

The Downside of Strongman Training
As with any new training method, BFS believes that coaches should look with a skeptical eye at strongman training before including it in workouts as auxiliary exercises. Playing devil’s advocate, here are some of our concerns.
SAFETY. Not only must athletes be trained to safely practice and spot strongman exercises, coaches must address the fact that there can be a high risk of injury with some of these events – especially tire flipping, in which there is the possibility of the tire falling back on the athlete, or injuring the biceps when improper flipping technique is used. Just ask Gagné.
“I work with a lot of high-level athletes in hockey and football, and there’s a great enough risk of injury with those sports that I don’t want to risk injuring them in the off-season with strongman training. Only if an athlete has an adequate base in Olympic lifting would I consider performing these movements, and I wouldn’t perform them year-round.” In fact, Gagné says that despite his own skill in the exercise and his knowledge of proper warm-up techniques, he almost snapped a biceps tendon while practicing the exercise. Art McDermott agrees.
Coach McDermott, owner of the Poliquin Performance Center in Boston, is one of the foremost experts in the world on strongman training and is writing a book on the subject. Says McDermott, “There are too many people using strongman techniques without proper training. It would be like my mom trying to show someone Olympic lifting — you can expect the worst to happen!”
Does Strongman Training Work?
One of the most vocal advocates of strongman training is Allen Hedrick, strength coach at the Air Force Academy, who has been implementing strongman training with his athletes for the past five years, starting with water-filled barrels, then tractor tires and logs. On a brief visit to the Academy this summer I saw an impressive arrangement of heavy tires, kegs and other strongman apparatus. Says Hedrick, “We use this type of training to supplement our emphasis on barbells and dumbbells, not as a replacement.”
The rationale for including this type of training is that Hedrick believes that the resistance is active, compared to the static exercises performed with barbells. One example he provides is the water-filled barrels. As the barrel is lifted, the water shifts and makes the activity unstable. Although there is little scientific research available at present to evaluate the effectiveness of the active resistance of strongman training compared to the static resistance of barbells, Hedrick believes that in sports such as football, this type of training would be more sport specific because athletes encounter active resistance in the form of opponents.
“The ability to demonstrate maximal 1-rep strength is only important in the sports of Olympic lifting and power lifting. In football – and most if not all other sports functional strength is more important than 1-rep barbell strength. Having my athletes bench press or squat with a keg may not be the best way to increase their ability to demonstrate max 1-rep strength with a barbell, but I believe it does build a higher level of functional strength.”
Hedrick also believes that such training has resulted in fewer injuries, citing that only two of their players required knee surgery this year.
Although there are many proponents of strongman training, it does have its critics. One is Mario Greco, an accomplished strength coach from Canada who has worked with many world-class sprinters and professional hockey and football players. Coach Greco believes that strongman training is not the panacea of athletic enhancement.
“The duration that most of these exercises are performed makes it impractical to use them for maximal strength training,” says Greco. “You don’t perform a farmer’s walk or a tire flip for one rep, so the recruitment of the fast-twitch motor units cannot be as high as you’re able to achieve in conventional weight training. I also see little value in this type of training for improving agility or running speed, and for that matter the skills that are required for football linemen. In football, linemen are continuously driving through with their legs, and they are reacting to the actions of their opponents. If you really want to get more sport specific, have offensive linemen practice speed bag work and defensive lineman practice grappling or wrestling drills.”
Another strength coach who challenges the idea of sport-specificity is Paul Gagné. Gagné’s client list includes two of the best golfers in the world, Michelle Wie and Michael Campbell; Olympic champions in figure skating; and over 100 athletes in professional hockey and football. Says Gagné, “One problem with saying that strongman training is sport specific is that the grips used often depress neuromuscular activity. With a barbell or a dumbbell you are always able to apply the precise amount of tension you want because your hands are closed. If you flip a tire, your hand is open, which reduces the neuromuscular activity. For sport-specific training, I would rather rely on complex neuromuscular exercises such as the Olympic lifts. So I would say that if you want to train the energy systems, strongman training is fine; but there are limitations to applying strongman training to sports."
Good stuff, IMO.

Jacob Rowell 05-29-2009 12:25 PM

I love training SM, but the BFS article you posted Garrett seems spot on.

Makes a good point about grip if I understand it correctly.

Dave Van Skike 05-29-2009 01:12 PM

The BFS article takes pretty safe road. be careful, be skeptical, don't throw the babay out....Also, I have a strong desire to disregard anything that includes the following words.

Fast twitch fibers
motor units
modal domain

Given that the article is about football, it is safe to assume that we are not contemaplating how SM will make you a better olympic lifter, croquet player, gymnast or taxpayer...but a football player? Yes.

Here are some other observations.
  • Olympic lifiting is really time consuming.
  • Anyone can get injured doing a movement wrong, You can really do this in a spectacular way with a heavy odd object.
  • Training with odd objects explosively will make you really tired.
  • Olympic lifing is all about doing it the right way,
  • SM is all about finding a way that works for you.
  • A lineman has more in common with a superheavy wrestler than a super heavy weightlifter.
  • Anyone who can power clean double bodyweight is pretty strong and pretty fast for their size.
  • Joe DeFranco trains his guys pretty much straight up Westside PL/ SM and consistently prepares absolute monsters.

Jamie Crichton 05-29-2009 01:48 PM

Time to be really annoying and say that the take-away point is, there's more than one way to get strong and fast.

The one issue that has only just been picked up on, is that strongman movements are just as capable of injuring an athlete as anything else. I don't where this idea has come from, that flipping a tyre or whatever is somehow safer and won't increase risk of injury. That is absolute nonsense.

Furthermore, odd object lifting often requires technique. To say that you can lift a keg or a tyre etc anyway you like is wrong. That's no different to explaining the power clean by saying 'just pick it up to your shoulders'. Rounded backs, etc, it's going to be ugly and probably do more harm than good.

The useful thing about barbell lifts is they teach an athlete to move properly by making the moving of weight as efficient as possible. If you know how to brace, keep a straight back and drive through the heels in a DL, then when you come to pick up a sandbag or keg you will be in a better position to do it without injury. If you just take people with no idea how to lift and get them to pick up a heavy bag or tyre, it's going to be a sorry mess.

Arien Malec 05-29-2009 01:53 PM

I call bullshit on an article that implies that oly lifting is inherently unsafe without a bazillion years of training and in preference people should be lifting odd objects with maximum aggression with little emphasis on technique and training.

I'm just really fucking tired of people anywhere that spend more energy hating on system X than spreading the love of system Y, whether X and Y be oly lifters, powerlifters, strongman trainers, Crossfitters. Vegetarians are fine to hate on, however.

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