Training Tips


There are 3 factors affecting flexibility: stretch reflex, extensibility and elasticity.
Stretch reflex is demonstrated by experiencing how difficult it is to stretch out a muscle because it will naturally try to oppose such stretching by contracting (shortening) when it is being fully extended. In order to achieve the full muscle stretch, it is necessary to initiate the stretch reflex response and this is achieved by performing slow, steady stretching movements rather than fast, dynamic or ‘bouncy' ones. The slow movements seem to retard any reflex response and allow the muscle group lengthening to occur. That is why coaches will always recommend slow ‘teasing' of the muscles during stretching without any fast, irregular, bouncing or jerking motions taking place.
Extensibility of a muscle group is the length to which it may be stretched without causing injury or damage. This is usually about half of a muscle's resting length and any attempt to force a stretch beyond this natural safety margin will usually lead to muscle and/or tendon tearing and ruptures.
Elasticity is the ability of a muscle to be safely stretched beyond its normal resting length and return to it once the applied force has been released.

Flexibility during exercise

It is recommended practice to include stretching activities during any weight training session itself, not just before or after. It makes good sense for a lifter to engage in appropriate muscle stretching exercises when moving between exercises or work stations. It is not difficult to achieve and is known to add significantly to the overall flexibility of the lifter concerned. For example, when Bench Presses have been completed for the session, eight to ten ‘towel dislocates' can be performed slowly as the lifter moves to the next exercise station or on arrival there. These are done by holding the workout towel at each end and slowly moving the stretched towel overhead from the front of the body to the rear and back again. Grip width may be adjusted to suit the initial flexibility level of each person.
Another example could be doing elbow, wrist or hamstring stretches at the Deadlift or Squat stations while resting. A very desirable practice is to do such stretching between exercise sets instead of standing around passively - stretching can still be done while talking to fellow lifters! Doing this delivers dual outcomes: flexibility is improved and cooling off is minimised when long waits are being experienced for equipment use in busy gym areas.

Post-training flexibility work

Stretching muscles after a training session is really important to every athlete, lifters included. The muscles will be thoroughly warmed as a result of the training, and this makes them very conducive to being stretched. At the same time, lactic acid and extra blood will have congested the exercised muscles, and these will tend to revert to a shortened status if they are not adequately and appropriately stretched.
Work alone or in pairs perhaps, and design a stretching session that includes static stretches for ‘top to toes': muscles affecting the neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, elbows, chest, back, hips, knees and ankle areas.
Sustaining such a regular and comprehensive approach to stretching instead of doing just a few ‘favourites' before and after any workout will help eliminate some of the muscle soreness generated in weight training sessions, particularly after any lay-off. Remember ‘second day soreness'? Ten or fifteen minutes of effective stretching between the final workout set and the shower can be very beneficial to a long-term training program that leads to a competition or maximum effort training session.
There are dozens of recommended (and not recommended!!) stretching activities that will assist lifters in their quests for personal success, and it would be good self-management to investigate as many variations of appropriate stretching movements and positions as possible: the InterNet could be an accessible source but it would also be prudent to ask advice from your friendly physiotherapist or chiropractor next time you visit them. Try to develop a portfolio of stretches for each of the major body areas listed above, and use a variety of them to minimise boredom and to increase your likelihood of keeping up with the stretches instead of socialising between sets or rushing off after the weights work is done.
A wise coach once said: "If you don't have time to stretch properly, then you don't have time to train!
Happy stretching!


The above material has been extrapolated and paraphrased from Starr, B. (1976). The strongest shall survive...Strength training for football. Maryland, USA: Fitness Products.

Dr David Wescombe-Down PhD ScEdD JP
Training Tips


Training Tips for Powerlifters

Nutrition: using the right ‘fuel' in your ‘engine'!

1. Enjoy fresh fruit and vegetables - generally no limit.
3. Use only natural vitamin and mineral supplements, not synthetic.
4. Avoid too much of vitamins A, D, E or K and also protein supplementation, because they are not neatly water-soluble for excess to be passed through the urine. Instead they will be stored as fat around internal organs, and this can become a real problem.
5. Amino Acid supplementation: make sure your supplement contains all of the essential amino acids: Tryptophane, Lysine. Methionine, Phenylalanine, Treonine, Valine, Leucine & Isoleucine. Your body will make the other 14 amino acids.
6. Foods containing essential amino acids: milk, egg yolk, liver, kidney, soybean, Brewer's yeast, wheat germ & cottonseed.
7. Take 2 grams of protein for each Kg of your bodyweight per day. You may need to adjust this because of individual differences in metabolic rate, energy need and total training load.
8. High protein supplements: powders are better than tablets because no ‘binders' are contained.
9. Whey protein powder (from milk) such as Red Back are superior to soy and other vegetable protein sources. This is because of the better digestibility and assimilation by the body. Vegans, vegetarians and others with special needs will make their own informed choices, of course.
10. Try using a small blender to mix a very nutritious meal from milk, eggs, wheat germ, protein supplement and Milo powder (or honey).
11. Type I & II diabetics need to substitute skim milk for whole milk and minimise the use of honey in these blendings.
12. Sip on your protein shake during or immediately after training, certainly within an hour of completion, for maximum protein uptake by the body.
13. Sources of complete protein: eggs, milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, cheddar cheese, tuna, chicken, Brewer's yeast, sardines, wheat germ, cottonseed flour & almonds.
14. Valuable sources of carbohydrate: fruit, vegetables, milk, yogurt & cottage cheese.
15. Avoid sugars and starches from white and brown bread, cake, pastries, biscuits, tinned fruit, jams, ‘fast food', chocolate, processed white rice, potato, gravy, desserts etc.
16. Always avoid or at least minimise the use of salt, sugar and saturated fat (such as in bought take-away & fast foods).
17. Rule-of-thumb is 30 grams of fat per day, provided it is made up from:
10g polyunsaturated fat
10g unsaturated fat
10g saturated fat
They are not all the same thing!
18. Try taking 3 tablespoons of a good quality, unprocessed vegetable oil per day. Capsules are a friendly way to go.
19. 2000g of fish oil daily is a popular recommendation by medical and nutrition authorities.
20. Avoid hydrogenated fats in peanut butter, processed cheese, solid cooking fat, French fries & potato crisps.
21. Try for at least 4 fish meals (not fried!!) per week and minimise your consumption of red meats. Definitely avoid sausages, meat patties, hamburgers, salami, kabana and other processed meats. This will require vigilance and lots of "Won't Power" (as opposed to "willpower") during our current barbecue season!

A quality coach will constantly advise lifters to follow the above guidelines, and sometimes needs to be quite adamant in doing this. Why? You are what you eat.
If you owned a high performance Subaru WRX, for example, would you fuel it with 2-stroke motor mower fuel? Probably not, and you wouldn't because you know it would not perform properly. It might go, but it would never perform at its real potential and gradually the engine would ‘sludge up'. It is very similar for an athlete's body. That is why coaches will always advise us to give our bodies the BEST of fuels, not just stuff to fill it for now. For some of us, this will require an attitude or cultural adjustment: so how much do you want to succeed on the lifting platform?

Good luck for your 2009 pursuits in "Defying Gravity" - how much do you want it???

Dr David Wescombe-Down
Australian National Powerlifting Coach 1983-4, 93-5
Training Tips for Powerlifters

Some thoughts on sets, repetitions & rest breaks

In October 2008 I mentioned three sentiments shared by most elite coaches and the first of these was:

1. Everything you have learned about weight training is incorrect for powerlifting.

The comment may raise a few eyebrows but the reason for it is quite fundamental: purpose. Bodybuilding, ‘normal' weight training and even simplistic strength training rely on ‘sets' of ‘repetitions'. It will usually be the number of repetitions and sets, plus the rest period duration in between that will help define the purpose of the particular training routine. Powerlifting is different of course. Given that it takes approximately 10 years to produce an Elite level lifter, there are various stages en route to that lofty status.

In the 12-week peaking phase prior to a competition there is the need for lifters to work from their competition 1RM to calculate workloads and repetitions, and also adjust the rest breaks to match each element of the peaking phase. Failure to do this will usually result in either:

1. Not reaching potential maximum at the competition
2. Increased risk of injury or premature training boredom.

So, our more advanced and elite lifters (7+years of competition and training) might arrange a program such as:

Based on a SQUAT 1RM 100Kg (simply adjust the following weights proportionately according to your own 1RM)

Week 12 70Kg x 1 rep x 15 sets with 60 second rests between
11 75Kg x 1 rep x 12 sets with 60 second rests between
10 80Kg x 1 rep x 8 sets with 90 second rests between
9 85Kg x 1 rep x 6 sets with 90 second rests between
6 90Kg x 1 rep x 3 sets with 2 minute rests between
7 80Kg x 1 rep x 15 sets with 60 second rests between
5 85Kg x 1 rep x 12 sets with 60 second rests between
4 90Kg x 1 rep x 8 sets with 90 second rests between
3 95Kg x 1 rep x 6 sets with 90 second rests between
2 100Kg x 1 rep x 3 sets with 2 minute rests between
1 105Kg x 1 rep x 3 sets with 2 minute rests between

Intermediate lifters (3-6 years approximately):

12 70Kg x 6 reps x 3 sets
11 72.5Kg x 6 reps x 3 sets
10 75Kg x 6 reps x 3 sets
9 77.5Kg x 6 reps x 3 sets
8 80Kg x 4 reps x 3 sets
7 82.5Kg x 4 reps x 3 sets
8 85Kg x 4 reps x 3 sets
6 87.5Kg x 4 reps x 3 sets
4 90Kg x 2 reps x 3 sets
3 92.5Kg x 2 reps x 3 sets
2 95Kg x 2 reps x 3 sets
1 100Kg x 2 reps x 3 sets

Novice lifters (0-3 years approximately) will often work through the 5 sets x 5 reps or 10/8/5 reps 3 set foundation work in 4 week blocks prior to a competition. It is worth noting that there are as many training routines as there are lifters using them, and the key lies in each of us finding for ourselves what works and what doesn't. There really is a lot of experimental Science in Powerlifting and that is one of the reasons it takes a decade to make a lifter.

It makes sens to rest long enough between sets to feel like you are ready to go again during the novice and intermediate years. Certainly take a whole day off if ever your body is saying "Time Out!" A four to seven day rest every 8 or 12 weeks is another common practice, because the body needs to recover from the punishment we give it, mentally and physically.

There is a plethora of peaking cycle routines available on-line these days and it would be easy to choose one and commit to it. However, that might not be the smartest thing to do for yourself: better to keep a record of every training session, your bodyweight at the time etc, so you can review your previous training leading up to each competition and develop a picture of what is most likely going to help you achieve your goals. Nothing is set in stone and everything is there to be trialled, though giving a program a fair trial would go without saying. Please note that due to how the internal processes of the body work, it takes a minimum of about four weeks for measurable results to be achieved. There's your challenge - go for it!!

Speaking of rests and at this tail end of the year, it is appropriate to thank Rose Gow for her website work, Don Juers and all of the Powerlifting SA committee plus the lifters for their commitment and efforts during the year. Best wishes to all for 2009: have safe and happy holidays wherever you happen to be!

Dr David Wescombe-Down (National Powerlifting Coach 1983-4 & 1993-5)

Training Tips

Rehabilitating powerlifting injuries: Part Two

Following on from the more general information last month, it might be useful to look at some active rehabilitation strategies for a few of the common injury areas. Minor or major, ALL injuries can cause set-backs, so let's take our warm-ups, stretches, ice-packs and effective communication along the road to recovery. Remember, try for rehab exercising every day and progressively lower the reps while increasing the resistance.

By way of recent example, I have just negotiated a 9-week hiccup to State title preparation due to periformis (buttock muscle) tendon and elbow tendon injuries, on opposite body sides. This has ruled out squats, leg presses, rowing, curls and pushdowns for that length of time so I had to replace them with DB front raises, DB pullovers, bent-over DB lateral raises, single leg curls and single leg extensions. My lifts haven't improved but they haven't gone as far backward as they would have if I had stopped training or tried to work through the injuries, only to make them worse.


Forget rowing and bench press: replace them with straight-arm pullovers, front/lateral/bent-over DB raises and gentle tricep pushdowns on a pulley machine. It's quite OK to wear support ‘tube' wraps during elbow rehab activity, even if their assistance is more psychological than actual.


Front/lateral/bent-over DB raises and DB raises to the rear can all be done one arm at a time or both together. Overhead DB presses, DB bench presses and DB shrugs are also effective. DB are preferable to BB movements at this time because dominance of one body side is minimised during each repetition.


Wrist curls (palms up), wrist curls (palms down), wrist curls, wrist rollers and weighted lever movements are all useful.

Upper Back

Cleans, shrugs, upright row (pull ‘em high!!) with either DB or BB can stimulate recovery here.

Middle Back

Bent-over row, lat pulldown, wide grip chins, T-bar row, DB row and seated pulley row all have their uses in rehab cycles.

Low Back

Reverse back extension (hip hyperextension), back extension (hyperextension), good mornings, and low pulley pull-throughs are handy rehab exercises for the lumbar area.


Squat (as soon as possible, but be careful!), leg press, hip adductor/abductor exercises.


Single leg extension and leg curl, preferably on a standing position machine rather than prone or supine version. Definitely not lunges, step-ups or Hack squats due to risk potential for the anterior facet aspects of the knee joint capsule.

This list is by no means exhaustive and represents a ‘snapshot' of rehab resistance exercises available. Always get the best professional advice that you can and remember: communicate, communicate, communicate! If one are of the body has an injury, keep training the remainder as normally as possible while carrying out rehab on the injured area.

Machines have a definite and useful place in the rehab process: certainly in the early stages of resistance rehab, where their guided path movements provide some safety and assurance to the user. As the sun sets, it is not the equipment but how we use it that counts.

Dr David Wescombe-Down (National Powerlifting Coach 1983-4, 1993-5)

Training Tips


Rehabilitating powerlifting injuries: Part One

Probably the most frustrating part of powerlifting can be sustaining an injury that affects training and preparation for any length of time. Seemingly minor injuries like torn calluses (from Deadlifting), sore elbow tendons and shoulder tenderness (usually overuse of Bench Pressing) can create major set-backs to competition goals and training plans. We cannot live in cotton wool and when subjecting the body to enthusiastic powerlifting training, we have to accept that all will not go well all of the time. In fact, my advice to would-be powerlifters echoes sentiments I have acquired from other coaches over 40+ years in the Iron Game:

1. Everything you have learned about weight training is incorrect for powerlifting
2. This will hurt - a lot!
3. I am a powerlifter - pain is my constant companion

Warm-up, appropriate apparel, correct technique, concentration and recovery sessions all help to reduce the incidence or seriousness of some injuries, but not all. Even the best lifters have injuries at times and some of them, even at Senior World Championship level, have been major: bicep tendon detachment, double knee blow-outs and elbow dislocations.

As coaches, we have clear cut responsibilities regarding rehabilitation of injured lifters:

1. Do not attempt diagnosis
2. Refer the lifter to an appropriate medical authority for diagnosis
3. Do not exercise an injury that shows acute (sharp) pain
4. Use 25-100 repetitions without resistance, twice a day, every day, for the first week of rehabilitation
5. Work directly on the injured area
6. Exercise the injured area FIRST in any training session
7. Gradually reduce the number of repetitions while increasing the resistance (weight)
8. Focus on excellent nutrition during any rehabilitation phase ie no alcohol consumed
9. Have regular progress reviews with the medical authority (physiotherapist, doctor etc)
10. Remove injured lifters from any competitive influences (eg other lifters training normally) until they have fully recovered


It can be very easy for a coach to accept the ego boost from assuming (or being seen to have) a pseudo-medical advisory role as part of the coaching brief. This actually puts the coach at a high risk of criminal irresponsibility and for the lifter, an underlying major injury can sometimes be masked by more superficial symptoms, hence the need for sound professional advice at the outset.

A new injury usually presents with a sharp pain during a 3-5 day period, depending on extent and severity. Total rest of the area is recommended during this time. Hot-cold, Deep Tissue Massage, interferential and ultra-sound modalities are usually administered during this period, and when the acute pain has gone, exercise can commence.

Chronic (dull ache) pain usually dissipates after 6 to 8 repetitions of the injured area.

High repetitions (25-100) provide therapy by circulating blood containing nutrients to the injury site and removing resultant waste products from the body cells.

Tendons and ligaments require much longer rehabilitation time due to their minute blood flows compared with that in muscle tissue. As a guide, work on 100-120 days to rehabilitate a tendon or ligament and 20 days for a simple muscular injury, but always follow your medical authority's prescription and advice.
Exercising with high repetitions and low weights several times a day every day, is to ensure a high turnover of blood supply to the injured area. There are well-documented case studies involving elite performers 25 years of age and less for whom the injured body parts were exercised every six to eight hours with proper nutrition, no alcohol was consumed and plenty of rest provided. For Master age lifters, this figure quickly climbs out to 12, 24, 48 and even 72 hours. Better to be safe than sore and sorry!

Take-away, packet or junk snack foods and alcohol do not have any place in an injury rehabilitation diet. In fact, they do not deserve a place in the diet of any lifter aspiring to do their best.

In summary, communication is the link to establishing and maintaining an effective injury rehabilitation program, and sensibility with consistency is the way to carry one out. There is very rarely any conflict between an informed powerlifting coach and medical authorities because they pursue a common goal: the safe and complete recovery of an injured lifter. The coach needs to take the time to fully explain what is proposed for the injury exercise routine, and also needs to ask the medical authority whatever questions are relevant to ensure the medical advice is followed accurately. An injured lifter needs to follow the basic principles as outlined, maintain good form and consistency when exercising, communicate regularly with the coach, and allow both time and Nature to successfully complete the recovery process.

Take your time so you can take your place - again.

Training Tips

Training recovery for the older powerlifter.

There are several important aspects of powerlifting training that become even more important as a lifter moves into and through the various Master age levels:

1. Warm-up
2. Choice of repetitions and sets
3. Post-exercise stretching
4. Recovery

Detailed information relevant to appropriate warm-up, repetition/set selections and stretching will appear in subsequent editions of Training Tips: some advice on recovery activities to follow powerlifting training sessions is the subject of this edition.

What is ‘recovery' or a ‘recovery session'?

Recovery, or recuperation, is frequently overlooked by powerlifters, particularly if they feel pressed for time or have a history of not performing dedicated recovery processes and activities. Younger, ‘bullet-proof' lifters often don't see the need for any recovery sessions, and that attitude can remain with them for their whole lifting career: quite unfortunate really.

It is worth remembering that lots of chemical changes (eg lactic acid production, ATP-PC depletion, changes in hydration levels etc) occur with heavy resistance training. In addition, certain demands are placed on the psychological system, particularly when peaking for competitive performances. Physiological changes related to the ‘breaking down of muscle fibres' are part of muscle overload, under the umbrella of Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand (SAID) principles. On a session-by-session basis these changes are not visible to us, so it is easy to overlook them, or worse, overlook their significance. The better we can recover between training sessions, the more often or intensively we can train: and isn't that what will help give us the results we are working towards?

In any recovery process, we are trying to recuperate from both the mental and physical stressors, though the mental component is more likely to be an issue for a lifter performing at higher levels: eg record breaking. Of the two forms, it may be seen as easier to recover mentally, since that process does not usually demand any specific equipment, materials or support services. Often a good sleeping pattern will suffice for a younger lifter, but once we move through our 30s, and beyond, we may find that sleep alone is not enough. Enter the reverse psych up method!

Using the mind to mentally recover

When preparing for a competition, record attempt or that elusive PB, we know that we need to mentally rehearse the lift(s) and focus, focus, focus. That's the psych up method and there are as many ways to do it as there are lifters doing it! For our recovery phase, we reverse that by occupying our mind with anything but lifting. A range of diversionary methods are available: family distractions, hobbies, fishing, restoring old cars and boats, workshop activities, volunteering, reading, watching movies, collecting, meditation, self-hypnosis, gardening, cooking, self-sufficiency and other recreational interests can all be used to take the mind away from the training and lifting focus.

Failing to switch off when out of the gym can contribute to burnout, notwithstanding the need for some scheduled mental focus and planning sessions as well. It's all about life balance.

Physical recovery

Physical recovery contains both passive and active components. Passive methods again include sedentary elements such as watching movies, listening to or playing music, sleeping, reading and a similar range of hobby/recreation options as previously mentioned. Any athlete in training needs sufficient sleep for physiological recovery, so it is quite acceptable to grab power naps whenever possible, but nothing beats the sizeable chunks of 7-9 hours nocturnal sleep that we all really need as humans. Hopefully we are both conditioned to, and dependent upon them!

Going for a stroll, walking the dog, having a leisurely bike ride, paddling a kayak/ surf ski, or having a hit of tennis are other typical active recovery methods available. Perhaps the most useful and important forms of recovery are also those that require some cost or organisation: ice packs, deep tissue massage, hot tubs and lap swimming. Maybe cost and organisation are the factors causing many powerlifters to not even consider these as preferred recovery strategies?

Cold packs on muscles

Using ice on soft tissue, particularly that surrounding key joints, is extremely beneficial for:

1. Hip flexors and extensors - after sumo deadlifts, squats and leg press training.
2. Elbow tendons - following bench pressing or rowing work.
3. Low back - for benefit after conventional deadlifts, rack partials, good
mornings, hyperextensions etc.

Ice treatment can range from 10 minute spot packs on elbows to multiple packs on a number of areas simultaneously: I use one and two kilo packs of frozen peas wrapped in tea towels to:

1. Sit on and cool off the hamstring-gluteal area after deadlift/squat training,
because hamstrings are key prime movers in both movements.
2. Reduce elbow tendon inflammation from pushing/pulling movement patterns
used in pressing and rowing activities.
3. Place under the lumbar muscle areas and lie on for up to 15 minutes after heavy back training sessions.

The small peas in their packets allow shaping of the cold packs to suit any area desired, and sitting or lying on them can be done while watching TV, discussing matters of the day with family or even having a post-training snack: not invasive or time-consuming.

Deep tissue massage (DTM)

One of the Rolls Royce treatments, but not to be confused with the more pleasant sensual massage of which some dreams are made! My physiotherapist spends 15 minutes working hard on my back, at the end of which he walks away with sore thumbs and cursing heavily-muscled athletes (his words, not mine!) whose tissue density make the massaging such very demanding work. What he (Thanh Ho @ Physio Direct) does in those sessions, is look for pulls, tears and adhesions, which are pre-cursors to scar tissue resulting from breaking down muscle fibres over long periods of time. By using various massaging techniques, he breaks up any adhesion clusters. Flexibility and a physical feeling of release usually result from Thanh's efforts, but a degree of pain tolerance is required by the recipient to reach that stage.

Once we know what is required, it is possible to perform some DIY rehabilitation of adhesions: I have rubbed my back against power rack support bars, door jambs, brick wall corners, ends of benches and anything else of suitable height/type to do the job on a quick fix basis. Nothing fancy but it is cost free! Any time is the right time for DTM in my opinion.

Spa or hot tub

My other best friend in the recovery sessions is our home saltwater spa (electronic chlorinator = no chemicals), which is actually much more economical to run 24/7 than paying for weekly DTM sessions, though it works differently. I no longer see a spa as a luxury item @ approx $5K brand new and fully installed when compared to the many years of recovery benefit it provides (and also when compared to the $30K+ that some people will happily pay for an ever-depreciating and wearing-out motor vehicle!). As a mature-age powerlifter (60+), I see it as essential and I only wish I had daily access to one when I was competing back in the 1960s and 70s! The 36C degree water temperature improves blood flow to the skin, relaxing both mind and muscles. I use water jets as opposed to the air jet froth & foam facility and move through several set positions for the various jets to pummel the most recently worked muscles: traps, quads, hamstring-glutes, lumbar, calves, etc. Each cycle is auto-timed for 20 minutes and I try to give at least five minutes per muscle area per cycle (usually every second day).

Having mentioned the motor vehicle, it is worth noting that sitting in and driving a car is one of the worst possible ergonomic positions in which we happily and regularly place our bodies. If you don't believe this, check with your local chiropractor or physiotherapist. Should you ever have the need for a spinal manipulation or intensive back DTM session, please make sure you go for a 10-minute walk before getting back into that car to drive home. Otherwise you might just have wasted the entire consultancy you just paid for, because the sitting position in a car tends to severely undermine such specialist treatments. Just a fact of life...

I am sure there are many other recovery stories to tell and these have just been a few shared to get you going. Keep training sensibly, recover properly and continue to defy gravity!

Dr David Wescombe-Down JP MACE
National Powerlifting Coach - 1983, 1984 & 1994
Training Tips
September 2008
Training recovery for the older powerlifter.

 Training Tips

Sled Vertical Leg Press

The Sled Vertical Leg Press is more compact than the contemporary incline leg press sleds available today and provides a much more linear transfer effect in movement patterns for both squat and deadlift: critical training elements for competitive powerlifters.

Although a hard to find apparatus in most gyms today, the Sled Vertical Leg Press is an extremely useful training aid for powerlifters and lower body rehabilitation clients. It receives thumbs up from informed members of the physiotherapy fraternity, primarily because it has a high safety factor with respect to lumbar spine activity under compressive load when the correct technique is applied. It also allows for two- or one-legged operation which is useful for correcting structural and technique weaknesses. The Sled Vertical Leg Press was a standard piece of heavy-duty gymnasium kit until about 15 years ago, but it has been displaced by incline leg press variations in the commercial operations these days.

Since today's commercial fitness centres tend not to operate with instructional staff constantly interacting with clients during weight training workouts, these types of apparatus have disappeared because they require constant instructional supervision (both for safety and correct technique reinforcement) until each user has attained the skill and competence to do so unassisted. Therefore, as it is no longer a popular commercial machine, personal trainers and other Fitness Leader course graduates have probably never seen one and obtaining sound training advice on its use has also become a collector's item!

Anyway, if your training facility does not have one, make the most of any incline version present, noting only that you may be able to use twice or three times as much weight on an efficient incline leg press compared to a vertical version. This is probably not a good thing for a competitive lifter, since it provides a false sense of strength performance given that the movement pattern does not correlate well to either the competitive squat or deadlift. Using 300Kg on an incline leg press machine certainly does not mean a similar performance on the lifting platform will immediately follow! With the Sled Vertical Leg Press however, the correlation (transfer effect) is much closer, and the weights used will be very similar.


There are divided opinions on toes in, toes straight ahead and toes out to work the various leg muscles from different angles for leg press, squat, calf raise and Hack squats (at least!) so feel free to make your own informed choice on whether any benefit results from such approaches. I use just two postural variations: spacing of feet and toes angled to correspond with my competition squat or deadlift stance, depending on for which of those I am undertaking the Sled Vertical Leg Press work. Since I am using a mixture of Sumo and Conventional deadlift stances, I obviously perform some sets with a wide foot spacing and others with a much narrower stance. In fact, I have measured both competition stances in centimetres and have simply placed corresponding marks on my leg press machine with permanent marker pen. Masking tape on your gym equipment could be the substitute for that.

Lie down on the large and comfortable incline pad so that your back is fully supported. Place the feet (as discussed above) on the sled foot plate that carries the weight discs. Hold the carrier support handles and carefully extend the knees so that the weight sled (carrier) rises to its highest position (for your leg length) on the sled guides. Lift and rotate the carrier support handles to clear the way for the sled to slide up and down over its full range of motion.

Inhale while lowering the loaded carrier in a controlled manner as far as possible without altering the position of your hips or allowing the tailbone/lumbar spine area to round up off the support pad. This is critical to both safety and obtaining maximum training benefit. Push the loaded carrier fairly quickly (approximately three times as fast as the controlled descent) back up the guides, using the heels and flat feet not the toes, until the knees are softly extended or close to extension.

When using this exercise for deadlift training, I halt the loaded carrier movement at the bottom of the movement for a One-Two count before pushing up, since this best replicates the start position for legs and hips in an actual deadlift - please recall that we have to break the deadlift bar from the platform and when in an initial static or stationary starting position.

For further information and some actual technique cues, visit: (scroll to the bottom of the page for two pix of the sled machine) (shows an actual basic movement technique under the heading of "Sled Vertical Leg Press") (shows basic technique for single leg action variation under the heading of "Sled Single Leg Press")

In conclusion, the Sled Vertical Leg Press is a very effective training device for both squat and deadlift irrespective of competitive stance and style. If your gym does not have one, consider making one for yourself or perhaps investigate among your gym members for someone to build one for you at an agreed price. The machines are not high-tech, nor do they need to be chrome plated or powder coated, and I was able to pick one in up in 2007 via eBay for $150 plus interstate freight cost, so don't let a potential manufacturer sting you!

Until next month, keep defying gravity!

Dr David Wescombe-Down (National Powerlifting Coach - 1983, 1984, 1994)

Front Squat

It is widely accepted that performing the same exercise month in month out, is NOT a preferred way to avoid injuries or improve any particular lift: it introduces boredom and also pre-disposes the body to overuse injuries such as sore elbows and shoulders from too much bench pressing. So it is with the Squat (Back Squat or Power Squat).

The Front Squat is a variation of the more common Back Squat that we do in competition and it recruits the quadriceps more thoroughly than does the Back Squat. It also generates less spinal compression than a Back Squat as less weight can be used and less lumbar spine flexion can occur due to the different posture required. A number of reliable medical opinions also rate the Front Squat as creating less knee joint stress and recommend it over the Back Squat. The Front Squat can easily be introduced to your training program on your light day.  As part of my conjugate approach to training, I am currently using the Inverted (truly upside-down NOT incline!) Leg Press on my heavy day; Box Squats for the medium day; and Front Squats in my light session each week. It is appropriate to keep repetitions of all these primary hip/quad/gluteal exercises to 6 or less, depending on the preparation phase you are in. From a personal perspective, I use 4 weeks each of 6, 4, 2 or 6, 5, 3 repetitions for a 12-week cycle, and 4 weeks each of 5 7 3 repetitions if on an 8-week cycle.

A 25-30Kg difference between Front and Back Squat weights is acceptable. There will be a variation in flexibility required, particularly in the wrists, elbows and shoulders, so put in several workouts with the bar, collars and light weights to improve the flexibility required and also groove the movement pattern correctly. To correctly perform Front Squats, take the bar from the rack across your front shoulders and upper chest with hands approximately shoulder width apart. Keep your elbows high and pointed to the front. Both sets of triceps need to remain parallel to the floor throughout the movement and make sure you use a slow, controlled descent to the below-parallel position, keeping the elbows pointed straight ahead all the time. Don’t allow the elbows to drop, or you will not be able to control the Front Squat properly: there will be unwanted stress on wrists, elbows and shoulders AND a tendency to lose the bar forward. The weight must be kept back and balanced so that the hips and legs do all the work possible.

It is not uncommon for some lifters to feel breathing constriction from having the bar resting on their upper chest and collarbones (clavicles). This will usually arise from allowing the elbows to drop. Take the weight off the clavicles by placing it more on the front shoulders (anterior deltoids). There are a number of grip/bar position variations for the Front Squat and links to some are given below: I just feel I have better control if I use the Olympic lift style, but find something you are both comfortable and safe with.

Just as with any other squat variation, power is generated from applying leg drive at the lowest position reached, and I personally like to make the plates rattle a bit on the way up (having made sure the collars are done up tightly!!). You could use five or six sets on your target weight each week, after carrying out a 3-set warm-up and progressively increasing the warm-up weights each set (eg 6 x 40, 60, 80Kg then 5-6 sets x 6 reps x 100Kg). Sensible variation is the key to overcoming sticking points in lifts, rectifying muscular weaknesses, and relieving the monotony of grinding out the same exercise workout after workout.

For further info and some actual technique cues, visit:
(This one for several variations for holding the bar)

Go ahead – give Front Squats a good try! You might be amazed at your progress in both the Squat and Deadlift as a result.

Until next month - Defy gravity!

Dr David Wescombe-Down (National Powerlifting Coach - 1983, 1984, 1994)



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