Emerging from our Covid Cocoons: Some Exercises to Build new Skills
This mornings local newspaper noted that Covid restrictions for the entire state of Oregon could be lifted within a week. To say that the past 15 months have been disturbing for all of us would be an understatement.
Readers of this newsletter have most likely stayed in good condition throughout the different lockdown periods. Some of us have been out of the gym for different periods and did a lot of training using whatever was available. In some cases this was only part of what we had available at our gyms of choice.
I wanted to share a couple exercises that can not only be used for reconditioning but also for building a new fitness skill set.
First, I wanted to highlight some numbers that put the Covid epidemic in perspective. We have been through a period where a lot of what we used to take for granted has been upended.
As of June 5, 2021, a total of 596,000 people had died from Covid since Feb 2020. Compare that to a total of 291,000 combat deaths in the US military during the four years of World War II or 59,000 during the seven years we were fighting in Vietnam.
Being fit and healthy was one of the reasons that many people were able to survive Covid when they fell ill. We will never know how much physical resilience actually prevented people from getting sick in the first place. At a minimum, it probably helped.
Some new/old tricks
I resurrected an item from my ancient past when I did Olympic style weightlifting. I have been using this approach for the past several weeks in my own training and have found it to be extremely effective in learning new and overly complex movements.
The technique was originally developed in the Soviet weightlifting training system and was a key part of the programs they used to develop regiments of outstanding lifters.
As the Soviets rarely had any money to sink into training machines, they relied on cleverness and ingenuity to develop athletes.
In this case the only piece of equipment you need will be a broom handle. A mop handle will also work as will a dowel from the hardware store.
The purpose is to learn how to do various exercises that are part of Olympic style lifting without using weight. The Soviet coaches taught their lifters to do all the critical movements without weight before they began using weight.
The assumption was that if a lifter could not do a move perfectly with zero weight on the bar, they would not be able to do a decent (or perfect) lift with weight on the bar.
This is not something that is generally taught in gyms these days. I have known far too many powerlifters who assumed that the weight on the bar would be the thing that pushed them to proper depth in the squat. Mostly this was a fantasy.
IMHO different Olympic lifting movements can be extremely good for conditioning and building overall body strength. Trying the learn them with weight on the bar often means that technique will be compromised, and a lifter will perfect their mistakes.
As noted in other newsletters. I am well beyond age 50 and it has turned out to be extremely useful in my training to gradually re-master some of the more difficult Olympic lifting movements while training without weight.
Once you have the movement perfected, you can gradually add weight.
The basic idea is that the dowel (or handle) can be lifted as if it were a 7-foot Olympic lifting bar. Practice the movement holding the handle in slow motion until you have perfected the technique.
Over a period of a few weeks you can gradually speed up performance of the lift without weight until you are able to do it at full speed.
I recommend beginning with some relatively simple movements and then think about progressing to more difficult ones.
Grasp the dowel with your hands all the way out to the end. Hold it above your head, slightly behind your head. Space your feet slightly wider than your shoulders. With your arms straight, descend into a full deep squat.
The first few times you do this may be difficult or damn near impossible. That is why you are using a broom handle.
Begin with sets of 5 reps and work up to doing 2-4 sets of 10 reps.
This movement will significantly stretch and relax your hips and knees. The bodyweight reps will help you build strength in unusual body positions.
You be the judge of when you want to try doing overhead squats with a weighted bar. The extended practice with no weight will help a lot with body control and feeling right throughout the lift.
Dont be in a hurry to start using weight. When you do, you will find that the overhead squat is an amazing lift that helps a lot with your competition squat.
You can also practice and perfect the power clean using an unweighted stick. This will prevent you from simply muscling up a given weight and learning technique flaws that will limit your potential.
My suggestion is that you begin by breaking the move into two parts. The new style of power clean involved bucking the bar upward with your thighs when it is about mid-thigh. Learning to do this can be facilitated by practicing in slow motion with an unweighted bar.
To get the max pull, you will have to shrug your shoulders fully to bring the bar to mid-thigh. Again putting all of this together is best done with a broomstick before you try with weight.
You also raise up on your toes at the max point of the pulljust before popping your hips forward.
You see, a lot of slow-motion practice may be required.
I would stick with sets of 3-5 reps and concentrate on getting all the movements to work together before trying to do this with weight.
When you are really ambitious, you can transition from the power clean into a full squat clean.
But first things first. Get your power clean working well. Each rep activates over 70% of all the muscles in the body.
Some new moves to get back into the swing of things.
One final piece of perspective. Last week I noted that I celebrated my 81st birthday. There have been many changes since 1940 when I was born. Try this one: In 1940 only about 35% of the homes in the US had telephones. Now even aliens, cadavers and hummingbirds have cell phones.