Monday, April 19, 2010

Israelis, Stop Benching Like Americans

I’ve joked to my neighbors that Israel is Americanized in the wrong ways and not Americanized in the right ways. Since making aliya on November 3, I’ve trained in two Israeli gyms, both of which contain a form of negative Americanization.

Guys like to bench press, and Israeli guys are no exception. This isn’t inherently bad, although most guys bench with shoulder-wrecking form and don’t approach the bench as a technical lift to start with. Retired elite powerlifter Dave Tate gives an overview of how much technique the bench press involves:

Furthermore, benching without overhead pressing (standing, of course) and back exercises in equal volume is a recipe for shoulder problems and results in a heinous lack of balanced strength. Yes, heinous, because a healthy guy should be able to stand on his feet and deadlift twice his body weight. He should be able to clean or unrack two-thirds of his body weight and press it overhead. (That’s press, not push-press.)

The press can be especially tough in the most constructive sense. Mark Rippetoe has called the press “the soul of the sport of barbell exercise” and observes in Strong Enough?:

The press is hard. You won’t be able to press what you can bench. You have to support with your whole body what the bench supports when you lay down to press. So you are doing all the work instead of letting the bench do some of it, supporting, balancing, and manhandling the whole load. This is how strength was, and is, built.

Because of its standing nature, the press is immune from an inane—no, infernal—phenomenon: the two-man bench press. Anyone who has spent some time in the free weights area of a gym knows what I’m talking about. A guy starts to strain during a set, and bar speed slows down. Then the spotter starts “conducting the bar” by placing his hands under the bar to help lift the weight. Rip discusses the rudeness of such behavior:

But sometimes the two-man bench press is consensual, which is to say requested. Hell, the other day I saw a guy doing cable crossovers with someone assisting on the final reps. This is depraved stuff, right up there with the ghoulish Wall Street type guys in the end of Requiem for a Dream.

Barbell training is an individual endeavor. Training partners can be great, but we are alone under the bar. When a spotter participates in a lift, he subverts how we develop strength and distorts how we measure strength. As Rip writes in Starting Strength, “No rep counts that is touched by anybody other than the lifter. No spotter touches any bar that is still moving up.”

In Judaism, we are taught that "Derech eretz kadma l'Torah." (Good manners precede Torah observance.) To my new countrymen, I say: Do not be a rude spotter or an accomplice to stupidity. Stop emulating the wrong Americans, and start lifting like Jews.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Breaking Down the Walls

"The end of a matter is better than its beginning," King Solomon observes in Ecclesiastes. On April 10, my friend Eric Talmant broke through a major barrier after two years of effort.

Eric is a top powerlifter in the 165 lb. weight class and the founder and director of the Raw Unity Meet. ("Raw" powerlifting doesn't use equipment like squat suits and bench press shirts. In the RUM, knee wraps also aren't allowed.) At the first Raw Unity Meet in January 2008, Eric deadlifted 622 pounds for a personal record:

He deadlifted 635 pounds a few months later:

At the second Raw Unity Meet, Eric attempted to deadlift 639 pounds and missed it at his knees. The third Raw Unity Meet this January had huge interest, and Eric accumulated an immense amount of fatigue going into the competition. He pulled 639 past his knees and was approaching lockout when his body shut down:

Missing a deadlift can mess with a lifter's head. Missing the same deadlift twice can really mess with a lifter's head. And passing out during a deadlift can rattle a lifter that much more.

Eric did not get rattled.

On April 10 at the R.A.W. United Beau Moore Classic, Eric set personal records on his squat and bench press before deadlifting. On his second attempt deadlift, 640 pounds went up with amazing speed:

Then Eric did something even more amazing on his third attempt:

Eric totaled 1435 pounds, which is the second highest raw total in the country for the 165s. His 650 lb. deadlift is number one.

Eric is usually reserved on the platform, but after deadlift PRs he often shows justified exhilaration. After he deadlifted 650, what struck me was the look of profound peace, awe, and gratitude toward his Creator.

I am honored to have a role in Eric's latest achievements. In December, Eric and his head coach David Bates brought me aboard as his technique coach. Using Mark Rippetoe's mechanical model along with my own concepts, I identified inefficiencies in Eric's lifts that I felt were blocking PRs. Eric adapted the model and concepts to his style, and the results speak for themselves.

But as I once wrote, after the meet is before the meet. We're already discussing future goals. Old walls have been broken down. Moving on to new ones...