Learn to Train X — What We Taught and What We Learned
From Jeff Guller Elite FTS | Posted on: 09/7/2018 | 5:16Posted in Training
I just got back from the LTTX seminar and couldn’t wait to write about it. I had to slow myself down and collect my thoughts before I could put pen to paper. I have been to quite a few learn-to-train seminars, but this one, for me, exceeded them all. First, let me say again that the S5 Compound is the best and most thoroughly equipped gym ever! PERIOD. FULL STOP. END OF STORY. If there is another gym that comes close, I would like to see it. All powerlifting enthusiasts should see it at least once. I get excited when I see it; my adrenaline flows, and I never fail to get a PR. The seminar was very well organized and administered. I have seen in the world of sports that the best athletes are not always the best coaches. At the LTTX, all of the coaches were great and were also great lifters, some of the best current and past lifters ever.
Before the seminar even began, I had a few really cool things occur. On Thursday evening, we had an open training session, and elitefts team members and attendees participated. I had completed my bench training in my hated bench shirt and had changed into my elitefts team shirt. Seeing that, two attendees asked me if I would look at their bench. Little did they know that they were asking the worst bencher on the team. However, I do remember all of the things that Dave Tate taught me. I watched them bench for a while with no comment. Gradually, I suggested changes to their setup. They widened their grip, got a better arch, set their feet better, put their shoulder blades together, and breathed correctly. As we progressed, they both PRed. When we finished, one of them said: “The seminar hasn’t even started, yet our 1,100-mile drive was worthwhile.” They had driven from North Dakota. Nothing else they said could have made me feel better. I considered my weekend to be a success. On Friday morning, I undertook a squat PR. With enormous help from my dear Canadian friends, who coached me, encouraged me, spotted me, wrapped my knees, worked the mono, and filmed the whole thing, I got a 440 PR on the eve of my 77th birthday. The next day, I got a PR on the number of years I’ve been alive. Enough of my shameless self-promotion—let’s get on with the seminar.
Dave opened the seminar with a very comprehensive presentation. Dave called it a compilation of many previous seminars. One of the takeaways from it is: No matter what your program, exercises, or set-rep scheme, does everything you do contribute to making the three powerlifting lifts better? If not, don’t do it! Next, Nate Harvey presented a comprehensive talk concerning training athletes at the college level. He discussed some of the things in his excellent book Conjugate U. One of my takeaways from his presentation is: Find out from your sport coach what exercise or trait he deems most important, for example, sprints, jumps, cleans, or other exercises. Then, emphasize this trait in training his athletes. At the end of the presentations, we were ready for pizza and salad, and there was plenty for all of the powerlifters (think fat boys) to enjoy.
The training portion of the seminar began at 10:30 AM on Saturday morning. The trainees were divided into about seven groups, and at least three elitefts team members were in each group. I was fortunate to have Nate Harvey and Joe Sullivan in my group, as both are extremely talented lifters and wonderful coaches. We were scheduled to devote an hour-and-a-half to each lift with a question-and-answer (Q&A) session to follow. Our group contained some accomplished lifters who could use some polish to their techniques. I considered others in our group to be early intermediates—people who needed their techniques overhauled.
Heretofore, I had not paid sufficient attention to the squat walkout. It may be because I am so bad at it. However, it is a pet peeve of Dave’s and Joe’s to address it from the outset. He advocates, teaches, and insists on a two-step walkout—not two steps and adjust your feet but two steps and two steps only! If, after two steps you are not perfect, re-rack the weight or squat where you are. This can be practiced with little weight, and there is no rule against looking at your feet. Not many lifters practice it, but we did until everyone got it. Thereafter, we squatted and squatted and squatted. One of the things we emphasized is being deliberate, not slow, not wasting time with a load on your back, but not going too fast or before you are ready. It’s a balancing act, to be sure, but one to which we should adhere. Although a wide stance, sitting back, being on one’s heels, a hip thrust, and proper breathing are all axiomatic, they still must be coached. Our goal was to try to develop the most efficient squat for each person. After squats, we had an excellent barbecue lunch and fellowship. As usual, I saw some former attendees and met many more new ones.
After lunch, we worked on the bench. I immediately noticed that some of our taller guys had a grip on the bar not as wide as mine. I told one attendee, “You are a foot taller than me, but my grip is wider than yours.” We adjusted the grip of the taller guys, and I suggested that their grip should be even wider, not today but in time. We adjusted the foot position, arch, and back tightness. As Dave once told me, “If you are comfortable on the bench, you are doing it wrong.” Of particular note, we cautioned everyone to be more deliberate, to bring the bar down under control, and to explode once it touches. Joe particularly emphasized that each rep of each set should be done with maximum force and speed, no matter the weight. This is true in all of the lifts. Donnie Thompson once told me that when a man screws with iron, iron almost always wins. This is why it is so important to respect the weight, no matter the amount, and to use as good a technique as you are capable of using. Most of our guys PRed, which made the coaches very happy.
Finally, we deadlifted. Nate demonstrated the sumo technique, at which he excels, and all of our attendees worked on it. The most common problem was getting one’s ass closer to the bar. It’s not easy but greatly improves the lift. Joe demonstrated the conventional deadlift, at which he excels. He taught us what I consider to be the best cue of the weekend: the anti-shrug. It consists of moving your shoulders in a downward motion as far as they will go. Once you have moved them as far as they will go, move them a little farther. This tends to tighten not only the shoulders but also the pecs, the back, and the core. Once you’re done, grip the bar in either a sumo or a conventional way, and stand up. This is a rather simplified explanation of the deadlift, but it’s one that works. Once the upper body is completely tight, getting a proper stance is somewhat individualized. The deadlift is not really a pull. The hands are attached to the bar, and you stand, leg drive, then hip thrust. Again, many of our guys PRed in the deadlift. I also checked on my guys from North Dakota. They also PRed in the squat and deadlift in their respective groups, and I was very pleased that they had such a successful lifting weekend.
After the lifts had concluded, we adjourned for a Q&A session. I am certain it was informative to the attendees because it was for me. I participated more in the coaching than I had previously, but I invariably learned much more than I taught. From the presentations by Dave and Nate and the coaching with Nate and Joe, I derived more knowledge than I shared. All in all, it was another great learn-to-train seminar. We concluded the evening with an elitefts team dinner. I had over the course of the weekend met new teammates and renewed acquaintances with others. I’ll say again that this is the best group of people with whom I have ever been associated. Everyone who has a serious interest in powerlifting should see the S5 Compound, and one of the best ways to do that is at a learn-to-train seminar. I love them, and I think you will, too—plus, all of the proceeds go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.