That title in itself is sure to upset a keyboard warrior out there somewhere.  And actually he would bring some valid arguments as to why I’m incorrect.  So I’m just going to nip this one right off the bat.  We DO USE pulls of all sorts of variations to supplement our training.  In the sport of weightlifting, specificity is key.  So any exercise that resembles the contest lifts the most SHOULD have the most carryover; the key word in that being “should.”  In practice, this won’t always hold up as an absolute.

Young coaches, remember that before you address your trainee’s specific needs as a weightlifter, you must first cover their general needs as an athlete and a fully functional human.  The fact of the matter is that you will be coaching and dealing with regular people; people who go to school all day, sit behind a desk, stay up late with sick kids or arguing with their boyfriend.  ALL of these people will have some sort of movement pattern issue and the most common one you will see is people having problems with a proper hip hinge.  And while hinging at the hip obviously isn’t the ONLY thing that happens in a contest lift, it IS one of the most important moment patterns to perfect for the successful weightlifter.


Image taken by THE Randy Strossen of Ironmind.  The RDL was originally brought to the USA by Nicu Vlad.  He demonstrated the lift to Jim Schmitz and others at the “Sports Palace” in SF and the term Romanian Deadlift was coined.

So, onto reasons why I teach the RDL before I teach the pull for the beginning/intermediate weightlifter:

  1. It helps to pattern a proper hip hinge.  Weightlifters (and most adults) will try to quad and low back their way through life.  DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN.  Develop the hinge pattern the way God intended; with ALL the muscles of the posterior chain involved as the prime movers.  The RDL isn’t the only way to develop the hinge; far from it (Wattup to all my Hardstyle Kettlebell homies out there).  But it is one of the best ways to LOAD the hinge pattern.
  2. Your trainee’s pull won’t even remotely resemble what a snatch or clean looks like.  This is why when I first introduce the pull, I’ll do it in a complex with a snatch or a clean.  That way the trainee will feel if they pulled on the bar the same for every rep.  This will help develop the rhythm and feel for when the trainee is finally ready to load up the pull as a legitimate assistance exercise.


We DO utilize all sorts of pulls in our training so shut up if you’ve come here to defend the clean pull because there’s nothing to defend.  I simply teach the RDL first for the reasons above.  

  1. Rear leg elevated single leg split squat (driving through front heel to activate the glute).
  2. Single leg DB RDL.
  3. Behind the neck Dip N’ Split
  4. Single arm split leg DB press (pressing with the same side as the leg that’s out front.  Again pushing through that front heel.  Alternating feet.)
  5. High pulls (all variations).  We’ve always done them but they come up more frequently with the emphasis on upper body involvement and “activity through the middle.”

Come at me bro.

Honorable mention: Single arm farmer carry.  (Both lats engaged. Elbow slightly bent and reaching behind.  Neutral spine.)

A good coach is going to continually learn, add or change his perspective on his training process throughout his career.  New information can be gathered through the relationship he builds with his trainees, occasionally through his own experience, speaking to licensed and educated people in other fields or through looking at the literature (and I’m NOT talking about that shit you read for free on the internet).  In my opinion, only pulling from one or two of these sources, limits perspective when the goal is to try and gain a more comprehensive understanding of the trainee and the effect of your program.

I fell into some luck recently in my new situation by finding myself being surrounded by professionals who understand weightlifting but are also able to give me new insight on stuff we’ve been missing out on or neglecting.  As a result, I’ve made a few changes to my strategies that include sending athletes to get screened by professionals for muscle imbalances and getting them set up with the right corrective exercises.  One convenience is that since we all perform the same activity, we’re all going to have the same things to work on.  I’ve also implemented mandatory “prep” before my lifters are allowed to touch a barbell.  This prep changes day today and will change from training block to block to make sure all of our bases are covered.  This differs from my style even a few years ago where I would just leave it up to my lifters to take care of themselves before they lift.  Some would do a good job with a good mix of dynamic movements and activation routines, some would roll around on a foam roller for like 5 minutes and call it good and a few would do what I call “the Brett Farve warm-up” which is basically taking a knee or doing a few air squats before hitting the platform.

Here’s a little gem that I learned from a PT friend that I call “baby planks” because it’s part of a series that is based off of baby movements.  I’d like to state again that I DID NOT make this up and I’m not taking credit for it.  This particular version is the second step in the progression that gets pretty advanced.  Regular planks are pretty much useless because the stronger muscles lining your trunk will always take over.  Correctly set up, this plank is far superior for a number of reasons, the most important being that as weightlifters, we’re going to be prone to becoming lordotic if we don’t take care to correctly balance out our musculature.  Trainees might think that they’re building a strong ass but in many cases, they’re just getting more and more used to sticking their ass out; problematic when loading the spine and living pain free.

At the moment we run these 3x per week for just 5 ten second holds pre-workout.  It doesn’t take a whole lot to make sure your correct muscles are firing and we’ve got a whole series of stuff we have to get done before we hit the platform.

I could've done a better job getting rid of my lumbar curve. Next time I'm going to get a friend to tell me if I've hit neutral or not.

I could’ve done a better job getting rid of my lumbar curve. Next time I’m going to get a friend to tell me if I’ve hit neutral or not.

The set up is VERY important:

  1. Lie on the ground face down.
  2. Extend your arms in front of you, pinkies down.  Your finger tips should be touching and you should have enough space that your dome should fit in between your arms with room to spare.  DO NOT MOVE YOUR ARMS AT THIS POINT.  Trainees will try and cheat by putting their elbows lower.  Your weight will be pushed through your elbows engaging all the muscles lining your T-spine.
  3. Bring one of your legs up about 60 degrees.  This is the hardest part to get right.  The inside of your knee will be pushing into the ground with your foot in the air.  At this point, one of your hips will be raised.
  4. Bring your other leg up about 60 degrees.  At this point, your hips will be elevated with your belly still touching the ground.  This is your start position.  If somebody walks past you at this point, they’ll probably wonder what the hell you’re doing.  Just say that you’re “practicing” and they should “move along.”
  5. Elevate your torso.  Everything lifts up off of the ground at the same time by pushing through the inside of your knees and your elbows.  the lumbar curve in your spine should be disappearing.  If the trainee has a tough time with this, tell them to “Imagine that they are wearing a seatbelt.  Try and pull your seat belt towards your chest.”  Have a partner look alongside and make sure that all of the curves are taken out.  Some will be weak or hyper-mobile so keeping a neutral spine will be a challenge.  Some will begin shuddering like they’re doing 120MPH on the autobahn.  Rounding or bulging in the upper back is caused by dysfunction in the T-spine.

Say that 5 times fast.

Over the past month or so, I’ve been really stepping up my game on balancing out my team’s Olympic Lifting training with prehab exercises, functional movements and activation stuff to keep us healthy and prepared to train.  Part of this has been surrounding myself with the right people. Amadeo, the owner of CSP (the gym we share space with) is extremely educated on these movements and I do my best to steal information from him whenever I can.  Additionally, I’ve enlisted the help of a young hot shot who works at the premier athletic PT facility in Sacramento.  It never hurts to ask questions.  And I’m a firm believer that to be successful in the fitness industry, it’s best to stick to what you’re good at.  People don’t come to me to fix hips.  People come to me to fix their snatch, get stronger, faster, more balanced and better looking.  So I’ve been asking more questions and arming myself with more information. When the situation calls for it, I’ll ask others for help or even send my people elsewhere.

This handy little prep exercise is something I’ll throw in the beginning of a team workout or group exercise session.  I’ve been doing it myself for a few weeks now and it’s helped me uncover a gap in my armor.  Obviously this exercise is meant to prepare the glutes for extension (ya’know . . . like in Olympic lifting).  Having the calfs resting on the foam roller helps turn off the hamstring and keeps the exercise focused on the glute only.  If the trainee (in this case, myself) feels the movement work muscles in places BESIDES the glute, this could be a sign of weakness and overcompensation from other muscle groups.

The bottom from is the start position.  The top is the finish.  Have the trainee hold this position for 5 seconds or so until he/she feels the burn in the correct muscle (dat ass).

The bottom from is the start position. The top is the finish. Have the trainee hold this position for 5 seconds or so until he/she feels the burn in the correct muscle (dat ass).

2-3 sets of 5 on each leg is plenty.  You can superset this with other prep exercises in your toolbox that work different muscle groups.  In my case, I noticed that my left glute was actually significantly weaker than my right which may or may not be part of the problem puts me at a higher risk for low back injury.  I actually felt this initially in my right low back when I was trying to work my left glute.  Hold the top position isometrically for about 10 seconds until you feel your correct cheek come to life.  Other problems when doing this exercise is having the foam roller too low on the leg shank.  Put it high up on the calf so your brain doesn’t have such a tough time turning on the correct muscles.  Remember, this is for your ass, not your hamstrings.

Use this to compliment your hip abduction, external rotation and knee flexion prep exercises and your low half should be good to go with a proper dynamic warm-up.

This will be a first installment in a series of posts describing certain accessory exercises we do and my rational for why.  First and foremost, I’d like to say that NONE of these exercises are NECESSARY for improvement of the Olympic lifts.  They do not reinforce technique and they do not provide a primary adaptive stimulus.  That’s why I use them an accessory lift.  If you’re reading this (or any post on the internet like it) thinking that one of these exercises will become the ONE TOOL essential to your progress then you’ve come to the wrong blog, hombre. Also, I am married to none of these exercises so my views on them are subject to change.  These are simply things that I include in bodybuilding style circuits for my competitive lifters on our accessory days to finish up the workout.

Now that I’ve got that over with, lets talk abut the heavy KB swing.

Whenever a coach of a different discipline validates the KB swing as a tool for improving things other than swings or lungs, KB fanboys get immediately overly excited.  Calm down.  I currently am including the two handed version of these in a bodybuilding circuit for the team once a week for 3×12.  So If I had to assign a % of how important this is to our training, it might be like 3%.  I developed a new respect and appreciation for the swing after listening to a presentation on the swing done by Russell Dunning.  When done correctly, the swing will bias the often lacking posterior chain.  Olympic weightlifting by nature is a very quad dominant sport down to the way our shoes are built.  So if I want to build a sexy butt and hamstrings to fill out my Levis, I’m going to have to do some extra work.  So over the past few years I’ve begun including much more posterior chain work for the team including lighter accessory movements such as single leg DB RDLS,  GHR’s, GH bridges with furniture sliders, BB hip thrusters, banded external rotations of the hip, reverse hypers, ETC.

"ASSessory" exercise to build dat ass.

“ASSessory” exercise to build dat ass.

Keep note that much like an RDL, a vertical shin with your weight placed towards your heel is necessary to bias the posterior chain like you’re supposed to.  Hmm . . . is there a position in weightlifting that is similar to this one?  Perhaps as the bar passes the point of our knee?

Are there other ways to swing a kettlebell that are also correct?  Sure, maybe.  I don’t care really.  I’m not a kettlebell expert.  This is how we do them and why.