Skip to content

Foundations for the Olympic Lift

December 16, 2010

If you’ve picked up the Fall 2010 edition of the USA Ultimate magazine / looked at p. 45 of the online edition, or have been training for more than a few months, you’ve probably heard that (learning the) Olympic lifts can Be Good For You(tm).

Why? Well, if you’re a teenager or past your twenties you might need the mass-building hypertrophy & “armor building” of bodybuilder lifts (DB curl, or generally isolated less-than-functional movements), and if you’re new to strength training, learning the powerlifts (back squat, non-trap-bar BB deadlift, bench press) is a pretty easy way to go since this is what your gym buddies probably already know, for better&worse.

[Though you might want to try a combination of front squats & RFESS over backsquats, trap-bar over non-trap-bar deadlift, and skip out on bench pressing for a while, just sayin’]

But, as Dan John reminds us, Olympic lifts have more of a cardiovascular aspect than you might expect, and the body is built as one piece, and you use it as such on the field, so why not train it that way?

So we know that you can do bodybuilder (minus the functional, multi-joint compound lifts) to build some armor and mass, and you can powerlift to develop strength, but you run the risk of developing slow-strength (F=ma) rather than explosiveness/power (force over time), and you may be adding to the imbalances in your musculoskeletal system rather than working out the weak links in your kinetic chain(s).

But let’s go back to basics. The fundamental idea behind an Olympic-style lift is that you have a weight on the ground, and you want to put it over your head. Sounds simple enough, but it’s worth re-iterating how useful it is to be able to generate enough power (force=mass x acceleration over a small time period dt) into the ground and straight up vertically. Sky that biatch anyone? Or even going old school, I’m pretty sure we humans have been picking stuff off the ground and one of the hardest things to do is to hold it overhead to throw it / move it, so we’re also probably supposed to be pretty good at that, dontcha think?

Okay, so you’re on board that it’s sweet to move weights from the floor to above your head, you like that overhead work tends to be self-limiting in a good way (see Dan John’s overhead squat article), but why BB snatch & OHS rather than KB or DB snatch / OHS? Actually I think for most athletes, learning and practicing the one-handed DB snatch is a great power exercise, and the KB snatch is hella fun (although can bang up your wrists if you start doing more than 60-70 in a row, ahem, especially your non-throwing-wrist which you’ll find probably isn’t as strong as your throwing wrist…) but learning to Olympic snatch & overhead squat your bodyweight-on-a-barbell seems like a worth goal to shoot for after you’ve been training seriously for 3-4 years.

An Olympic Progression

Building off of our previous post on strength training progressions, we’ll remind you here to first master your bodyweight, some offset-center-of-mass lifts, DB lifts, powerlifts, PVC pipe overhead squats for at least a few years before you attempt any barbell Olympic lifts.

From a joint-by-joint approach, you’re particularly going to need

= Ankle mobility
= Hip mobility
= T(horacic)-spine mobility

For the ankle, refer to previous blog posts on the ankle complex and Ultimate ankle strength.

For hip mobility, I might suggest you start with what I call the “FTW squat”. I actually stole this idea from Pavel who borrowed it from John Du Cane’s Qigong program, but they call it the Face the Wall squat which isn’t as sexay. I mean, FTW squat = squat FTW, don’t you think?

How do you squat FTW? Face-The-Wall and squat down, without bangin’ yer nose or knees into the wall. Keep on inching forward until your toes are touchin’ that wall and you descend under control, slowly, with good form.

After you squat FTW for a month+, learn to do goblet squats with a light Oly plate, 175g disc, or DB / KB.

Got that down? Now spend a couple of months learning to do an overhead staff squat. I like to call this the OHSS since I do it with a waxwood composite- staff also good for reprimanding small animals and poking medium-sized athletes, and it’s easier to find cool waxwood staffs than it is a “dowel” or “PVC pipe” (how industrial-complex of you). And anyway, who doesn’t go OHSS after trying to do a couple dozen OverHeadStaffSquats in a row?

Okay, you probably got stuck around here, since even though you worked on your ankle mobility and hip mobility for a few weeks/months, you’ve never trained mobility in your thoracic spine. You might think this is shoulder flexibility, and there’s some truth to that, but as Sue Falsone reminded us at the PerformBetter Functional Training Summit, t-spine mobility is an essential element of a strength coaching program. She actually suggested we train t-spine rotation before t-spine anterior/posterior glides/mobility, which was news to me.

So for the hardcore, try the Brettzel on for size, for everyone else, a simple t-spine twist as mentioned previously is a good start. For anterior/posterior mobility you might start with TRX assisted deep squats or goblet squats where you focus on what I call “Iron Man” chest. That is, stand or squat, and “be proud” (puff out your chest as if you’re Ahnold on some Southern California beach), or just imagine that you’re Iron Man and need to fire a beam out of your chest. The key here is you don’t want your Iron Man beam to point into the ground, you want to fire it up high at the baddies, going to a bit of extension at the t-spine and arching (not rounding!) your lumbar spine a bit.

Hey, you’ve made it this far! Maybe you’re all I can has Avatar and can pass the FMS overhead squat screen, and have spent a year or two mastering your bodyweight lifts, your Turkish get-up with small children / little women (you can do this with yer 100lb+ lady friends but it’s a bit easier to learn without pressing them overhead, just plop them on your shoulder as you punch-n-crunch in the first phase of the TGU), and have decent enough ankle dorsiflexed, hips squatty, t-spine Iron Man-ly mobility, plus enough reps with a shiny waxwood staff. What’s next?

Read more…

UltiTraining: a Holiday Gift Guide for 2010

December 15, 2010

Happy Holidays from! Here are 4 Gift Ideas Under $40 for your favorite Ultimate player/trainee in your life.

1. A pair of FatGripz.

Can has thick bar training? I confess that I have these on order but haven’t received them yet (was going to wait so as to not recommend products I haven’t personally used yet, but Coach Dos and Charles Poliquin like ’em so that’s good enough for me)

Why grip training? Well, the harder you can grip, the more force your body can exert, and in general lifters / trainees tend not to train their grip at all. Also, one might guess that adding a bit of strength- and strength-endurance grip work, whether through towels / FatGripz / Kettlebell bottoms-up cleans / Farmers walks, might help you hit that 88 yard pull more consistently, but ask me again in 6 months to confirm that hypothesis =)

2. Mike Boyle’s Advances in Functional Training, for the aspiring athlete, lifter, or strength coach.

Mike does a great job in describing the state-of-the-art of what modern pro & collegiate strength coaches have learned in the last ten years. Particularly recommended are the sections on core training as anti-flexion / anti-rotation, on single-leg training and knee prehab.

You can pick up this book at, or Dan John’s Never Let Go as a great stuff-that-stocking gift.

3. For the food/smoothie/shake loving trainee, check out the NINJA!

…our third gift under $40, you can CRUSH BLEND CHOP in style once you pick this up this pro food blender/processor on or at your local CostCo (I admit I saw it and had to have it).

CHOP those onions, CRUSH your opponents, I mean ice, and BLEND that whey protein / rice milk & almond / dried coconut / creatine / yogurt / chia shake into dominator-friday-afternoon submission. Or something.

Either way, the NINJA is easy to operate, clean, and makes quick work of a power smoothie, garlic or onion for a morning omelette, and oh did I mention it’s less than $40? Just remember that I am ninja, We are ninja, but I believe that you are Ninja too.

4. Invisible Shoe Huarache Kit — grab the kit or the custom-made “invisible shoe” for a bit more.

Made from the same Vibram sole as ye old VFF (Vibram Five Finger), but a bit more hippy / less obvi when you’re cruising on the beach or whatnot.

Plus, no worrying about whether or not airport security will get angry at you for keeping your VFFs on (ahem), and a tad easier to clean as well. No more holes in my VFF toes? Count me in sista/bro.

Why Huaraches? Well it takes Ultimate feet to make Ultimate plays, and many folks undertrain ankle mobility, foot strength, and lower-body proprioception. That said, you should start foot training gently, since you don’t also want to overtrain your feet (don’t move into pain!).

Okay, so got a bit more or a bit less cash? Read more / hit the fold for some more pricier & cheaper gifts for the UltiTrainee in your life.

Read more…

Who needs a gym?

November 21, 2010

How bad do you want it?

Who needs a gym?

Check this compilation 2010 from the blog.

Read more about making your own equipment.

the 3 and a 1/2 lower-body stretches you aren’t doing

November 19, 2010

While the debate continues on as to whether stretches mainly affect/target muscles or fascia, are better placed before and/or after training, I think many of us would agree that Ultimate players would benefit from feet that are stronger and more flexible / “mostable” — mobile & stable as some would put it.

But what can we do beyond tennis balls / lacrosse balls or, as Sockeye-Taylor suggested in a previous post-comment, frozen golf balls?

Here are 3… and a 1/2 lower-body, foot/ankle complex targeted stretches you probably aren’t doing. (If you are, kudos, let us know what else we could be doing =)

1. Stretch your plantar fascia / aponeurosis by pullin’ on yer toes

Here are a few articles that describe it well: “a foothold that spurs healing” or one from the Sports Medicine blog.

Cleats often keep your feet immobile, or otherwise stress your foot/ankle complex in unexpected ways. Not to mention that from the tensegrity anatomy train perspective, your plantar fascia / aponeurosis literally connects up through your superficial back line to the lower-parts of your posterior chain that give many Ultimate athletes problems on and off- the field.

2. Stretch your soleus — the /other/ calf muscle

Ah, deep soleus! Oft forgotten, in contrast to the more superificial “gastroc” above.

Google soleus stretch for plenty of help.

3. Mobility work for your ankle complex, specifically a mild open-close stretch for the space between your talus and calcaneus.

See the video description here at UltiTraining: Ultimate Ankle Strength.

Finally, the last stretch really isn’t a stretch as just a reminder to do SMR / soft tissue work for the topside of your foot! If you need it, but I definitely needed it after this last club season…

So, what are you doin’, get yer shoes off and stretch those smotherfrictioned feet =)

Dominator Friday: Fall(ing) Edition

November 19, 2010

This week’s Dominator Friday is brought to you thanks to USA Ultimate Club Nationals, UC-Santa Cruz- Sean Ryan Memorial tournament, Alexander Yuen and Kevin W. Leclaire, and the letter F.

Photography by Alexander Yuen

Photography by Kevin Leclaire /

Read more…

on Aerobics and Active Recovery

November 17, 2010

Our last blog post covered Omega-3 foodie steps to eating better in the training days/weeks/months before a tournament, and perhaps a future post will discuss day-of nutrition, but how might we recover after a hard week/month of tryouts, Club Nationals, or long-short days at Sean Ryan / UC-Santa Cruz?

We’ve previously covered a few ways to rest, recover, regenerate, but I thought I’d write a shorter post that is a bit more actionable for a few specific things to do in the few days/weeks before and after a tournament.

1. Keep up your aerobic base with simple conditioning at least once every three days.

You’re likely doing sprint work enough for anaerobic development, but you might not realize that in the original Tabata interval study, *all* participants did some steady-state work at least one day a week. Did you also know that “Every three days, you basically have a new heart”? (Source: Dr. Ana Maria Cuervo, molecular biologist, cited in the NYTimes)

If you pick up Vern Gambetta or read certain blogs that focus on strength sports rather than endurance (marathon) or strength-endurance (Ultimate) sports, they’ll often tend to poo-poo steady-state cardio, and I admit that I’ve done so myself in my own training. But what I’ve found is that a moderate amount of steady-state cardio (2-3x a week let’s say for 33 minutes a pop on a stationary bike) not only helps with mood, but acts as “active recovery” as they say.

After a tournament, rather than pushing too hard (and then forcing adaptations to stimuli other than the tournament and Ultimate practices themselves), with new lifts / deadlifts / anything neurologically challenging, some steady-state cardio can be of use before you start lifting / running sprints / complexes again.

2. Floss your muscles, floss your fascia!

We talked about SMR / foam rolling before, but I still recommend the TigerTail massage stick as it lets you pinpoint your way to specific soft tissue areas right after/before/during a tournament. Did you know that massage work can stimulate a positive immune response? new studies demonstrate. Who knew?

Another tip I picked up from Mark Verstegen at a recent PerformBetter summit, in a talk titled “Training the Endurance” athlete, was to suggest that endurance athletes (Ultimate players in our case) put a tennis or lacrosse ball near their bathroom sink so that you can floss your plantar fascia/aponeurosis by rolling your foot over the ball as you brush your teeth.

3. Finally, to keep it simple again, take your fish oil (Omega-3 / anti-inflammatory) supplements 2-3 times a day!

See the previous post on Omega-3s and fish oil for the deets.

That’s it for today. Can has active recovery?

1. 33 minutes of aerobic steady-state cardio at least once every 3 days
2. Floss your muscles, floss your fascia!
3. Take fish oil supplements regularly

on Omega-3 steps to Ultimate Foodie Domination

October 29, 2010

In the past few months, I’ve been working on my nutrition coaching certification from the great guys at Precision Nutrition, and just wanted to share a few small steps you can take towards “Ultimate Foodie Domination.”

But just what does that mean? I’m not quite sure, but we can both agree that you not only are what you eat, you become what you eat quite literally as your cells and soft tissues get replaced bit by bit.

Not only that, but think about it this way, if I told you that you could increase your top speed by 10% in 6-8 weeks, that sounds like a good thing right? Well, one way to do this would to be improve your running form/economy, and/or include strength training to make better use of the muscles you already have. Another way to do this would be to drop a bit of less-than-necessary body fat: in other words, to change your body composition.

In recent blog posts, whether on 10s toughness or the inner/mental game of Ultimate, we’ve looked at the role of the mind in high level play. But let’s not forget that the brain consumes a large fraction of the available blood sugar supply coursing through your veins, and that the more efficient/effective your brain is, the better you’ll play at the end of a long tourney day.

In this blog post I won’t cover day-of tourney nutrition–perhaps I’ll ask sports medicine doc Jamie Nuwer for a guest blog post, but rather focus on what you can do in the days and months leading up to your next tournament.

So, let’s keep it simple, with nods and thanks to Dan John and Dr. John Berardi /

“Omega-3 steps to Ultimate Foodie Domination”

Step 1. Eat a complete, lean protein source at every meal

Plenty of athletes and Americans miss this, going instead for simple carbs up the wazoo with no greens or veggies to speak of. (Step 0 should really be eat your greens, but I think y’all know that, so instead step 0 might be get your greens+ if you aren’t a veggie kind of girl/gal/guy.

If you ask your local, neighborhood, skinny non-athlete nutritionist, they’ll tell you that vegetarians (but not necessarily vegans) shouldn’t worry about protein, and that you can eat too much. While this can be true, it also misses other factors such as nutrient timing, feeding frequency, and the general up-in-the-airness of how important it is to consume complete protein sources at regular intervals.

That said, it’s a great heuristic, and some simple suggestions might be:

a) half-egg half-egg-white omelettes with spinach

b) pre-soaked irish steel cut oatmeal, cooked, and *then* mixed with whey protein (don’t mix in the whey before!! like my friend Jessie, ahem)

c) top sirloin steak with onions prepped in balsamic

(see PN’s Gourmet Nutrition for more!)

Moving on.

Step 2. Consume simple carbs mainly before/after exercise

Of course, this advice may differ on a tournament week (carb loading), or depending on your ecto/endo/meso body type, and so on. But the point is that breads/pasta/grains are encouraged to be eaten a few hours before practice/exercise or immediately after the event.

But enough on carbs, except to say that I think the IF (intermittent fasting) WD (Warrior Diet) heuristic for meals is pretty neat: eat greens, protein, and carbs in that order at dinner. You’ll make sure there IS something green & proteinacious, but fill out/up preferentially on those.

Step 3. Take 1-2 Omega-3 fatty-acid supplements, fish oil if possible, at every meal

You might note that this is slightly higher than some recommend, but a number of doctors now recommend this slightly higher dose. If you take a look at this InformationIsBeautiful visualization of the research support for various supplements, you’ll see that fish oil is consistently a highly recommended supplement over many peer-reviewed scientific studies as well as meta-analyses. In fact, there have been studies stopped because to deny fish oil to the control group was considered unethical (!).

But why fish oil? And why at every meal? For Ultimate athletes, controlling inflammation is the name of the game, and even if you don’t think you are inflammed, your body is still healing from injury, stress, training and the like, and the lower your generally inflammation levels are, the faster you will recover & play next time. (Particularly inflammed? I’ve had good results with Zyflamend.)

Not only that, but fish oil has cardiovascular and mental/mood health benefits, which are of useful wherever you play on the field.

Drilling down, fish oil has a high amount of Omega-3 fatty acids. To boil it down, science suggests that you want a high Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acid ratio. In other words, more Omega-3 (fish oil) and less Omega-6 (corn oil #fail).

Interestingly, while there are botanical sources of Omega-3, “the Center for Science in the Public Interest reports that ‘the omega-3s that FDA considers healthful (DHA and EPA) are not found in plants such as flax seed.’ [121]” to cite ye old Wikipedia.

Within those sources, however, not many know that chia seeds have more Omega-3 than flax seeds, and don’t need to be ground. In fact, inspired by the Taruhumara tribe storied in Born To Run, who regularly run hundreds of miles for fun & carry chia seeds with them along the way (Aztecs valued chia seed over gold, per unit weight, understandably!), I’ve starting trying out chia fresca in tournaments.

And while I don’t yet have Invisible Shoe Taruhumara cleats just yet (will have to make do with Nike Air “Huraches”), I think chia is well worth investigating as a micronutrient source during day-of tournaments. Another unexpected source of Omega-3 might be Wakame, which one source suggests has the highest veggie source of Omega-3:Omega-6 (18:1), compared to corn oil which has the _opposite_ 45:1 O-6 to O-3 (at least according to that one source).

DHA/EPA/Hg debates aside, I do think that regular supplementation of fish oil for non-vegetarians makes a heck of a lot of sense, and you can read dozens of books / hundreds of journal articles on the topic if you’d like (I started with the Omega-3 connection), & feel free to post interesting chia / wakame articles/links in the comments section.

So there you go. Omega-3 steps to domination!

Step 1. Eat a complete, lean protein source at every meal.

Step 2. Consume simple carbs mainly before/after exercise

Step 3. Take 1-2 Omega-3 fatty-acid supplements, fish oil if possible, at every meal