Tag Archives: lifting weight

Adding the Overhead Squat

Training right now feels great. Yesterday was a rest day, and all I did was walk on work breaks and go 45 minutes on the spin bike.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Dan John, a long tenured strength and track and field throwing coach who has authored a few very insightful books on training. The best known of the bunch is Easy Strength with Pavel Tsatsouline, thouugh I’ve recently read Attempts, A Contrarian Approach to the Discus, and am currently reading through Can You Go?

There’s a lot of information and I obviously won’t go into all of it. In Contrarian, however, he references a lift that he found instrumental in developing athletes: The overhead squat.

It’s a typical Crossfit exercise, and simple in scope. You hold the barbell overhead. You squat, making sure your weight drops between your squatting legs, and then come back up with the bar still straight overhead.

John sums up the benefits as such:

  • You can’t fake or cheat the strength and mechanics required to do it.
  • It demands balanced strength, not just to balance the bar itself overhead, but all of yourself has to be strong and developed. This develops it
  • You develop strong, flexible legs, not yoga flexible/strong, but the ability to quickly, powerfully transfer more than bodyweight, e.g. a jumper, a thrower, a football or basketball player, a sprinter.

I like my five day strength circuit and I plan to stick with it for the next while. But I also have some redundant exercises in there, and swapping in a sub-max version of the overhead squat would be a decent addition. I’d start with light weight and gradually build up to see my current capacity.

Last week I briefly tested the overhead squat mechanics with the Smith rack at the gym and found that it would work just fine (I was lucky; if I were a couple inches taller or my arms were a bit longer, it might not have!).

John also mentioned the Power Curl, which is just a leveraged bicep curl using a full bar. I might mix that in, though it turned out the redundant exercises I mentioned were bicep exercises, and I may have enough for now. Adding in the overhead squat is probably enough for now.

More to come as I see how it works.

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Rapid-Fire Sets: A Strength Training Workout For Endurance and Strength

The Rapid Fire Set workout can be done on a Smith Machine rack or on strength machines at the gym

The following strength training workout is an excellent way to test your strength while still developing your muscular endurance.

It requires that you can quickly adjust the weight: Gym machines, a Smith rack, or at home with quickly adjustable dumbbells. I wouldn’t recommend doing this workout with conventional barbells or dumbbells unless you have the entire training area to yourself, such as at a home gym. Definitely don’t do this with barbells and dumbbells at a regular gym.

You basically do a lot of light, gradually increasing reps for each exercise in rapid-fire sets of just 4 reps per set. Eventually, you hit a max weight, then take the weight down and repeat the rapid-fire cycle one more time.

This can build muscular endurance while still building muscular strength, and gets your heart rate going enough to generate better mitochondrial development than your typical strength endurance weight training.

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Reverse Engineering a 1RM Formula to find your training weight

In personal training you can use max-effort reps on an exercise with any weight to estimate a trainee’s one rep maximum (1RM). Your 1RM is the most weight you could possibly lift one single time at full strength for an exercise. Calculating this with lighter lifting removes the risk of trying to lift the maximum weight you possibly can.

A CPT has a trainee lift as much weight as they can for 4-6 reps. You start at a reasonable weight and progress until they reach a failure point. You then enter that max weight and the number of reps performed in a mathematic formula that can estimate a 1RM. You then use this number to program workouts for that exercise.

This is similar to runners using conversion charts to figure out, from a previous 5K or 10K time, how fast you could run a mile, or a marathon, without having to first do either. Weightlifting and endurance running of course have different goals. But both use formulas and estimates to determine training intensity.

There are a lot of 1RM formulas, and each certifying organization seems to recommend a different one. NFPT for example uses the Brzycki Formula. Meanwhile, NASM just gives you a chart, and that could have been calculated from just about anywhere. I personally use the Epley Formula. For what I’m about to describe, I have found Epley from experience more accurate for training purposes. It has accurately gauged my true 1RM. Various studies also indicate that it’s among the most accurate of the formulas.

I used the weights I trained with during swolework not just to determine my 1RM for those exercises, but also reverse engineered the 1RM formula to determine weight to use in sets.

At one point I was doing four 6 rep sets of lat pulldowns at 85 lbs. This for me is pretty heavy. I gave close to max effort on these 6 reps each set. I wanted to focus more on endurance with 12 rep sets. But I didn’t want to take the weight so far down that my strength wasn’t being challenged.

To start I used the Epley formula to estimate my 1RM for lat pulldowns. I presumed that 85 lbs was the most weight I could lift in one 6 rep sitting.

Weight: w = 85
Reps: r = 6

1RM = w(1 + (r/30))
1 + (6/30) = 1.2

1RM = w * 1.2
1RM = 85 * 1.2 = 102 lbs

I can use this formula backwards by applying some algebra, understanding that any equation divided by itself equals 1.

If I divide both sides by (1 + (r/30)), I can isolate the weight (w) to one side. This basically creates a reverse engineered formula where I enter my known 1RM and a set number of repetitions to determine what weight and number of repetitions can produce the maximum benefit from the workout.

1RM / (1 + (r/30)) = w

Knowing I want to do 12 reps (r = 12), knowing my 1RM = 102, I can determine the optimal weight:

102 / (1 + (12/30)) = w

(12/30) = 0.40

102 / 1.40 = w

w = 72.9

I can’t get a lat pulldown machine to give me exactly 72.9 pounds of resistance. But I can get a multiple of 5, so I round down to 70 lbs. I could try rounding up to 75 lbs and see how that goes. It’s probably safer to round down and get through a whole workout at 70 before deciding to add that 5 lbs.

So I do my 12 rep sets of lat pulldowns at 70 lbs weight. This likely gives me the max strength endurance value out of that 4 sets. In my experience, this weight gave me exactly the challenge I wanted for that exercise.

Note: That’s in line with NASM’s 50-70% max recommendation for stabilization and endurance. But rather than using their wide range (51-72 lbs) and just randomly picking a weight within that, I get a firm answer in line with the specific number of reps (12) I’m using.

Let’s say I do 15 reps instead, r = 15.

102 / (1 + (15/30)) = w

(15/30) = 0.50

102 / 1.50 = w

w = 68

At 15 reps, it’s best for me to use 65 lbs. If I were to use the same 70 lbs, it might be too much. I could round up to the nearest 5 lb increment from 68 for, say, the last 1-2 sets. So I could do the first 3 sets at 65 lbs, and the last set at 70 lbs. I could do the first 2 sets at 70 lbs, the last 2 sets at 65 lbs. There’s other ways you could probably come up with.

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