Written by Team Juggernaut
by Matt Mills, Lightweight Pro StrongmanNote from CWS: Lightning Fitness, in South Windsor, CT, is without a doubt one of the best gyms I have been to. Great space, excellent equipment, exceptional coaches! They have everything you need to improve and their coaches/clients are truly passionate about training. Very rarely will you find so many high level competitors under one roof. Go check them out at http://www.lightning-fitness.net/
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of having Juggernaut come to my facility to do a powerlifting clinic. All the members of my gym were very excited when they heard the news that both Chad Smith and Brandon Lilly were coming. I must say the guys were a little disappointed that Caitlyn Trout couldn’t be there as well! I have known Chad for a little over a year having competed against him twice now which I’m still working on beating him one of these days. Training for Light Weight Pro Strongman Nationals I hired Chad to do my programming and I was not disappointed. Chad brought my strength to a whole level. This was my first time competing as a light weight pro I placed 4th and also secured my spot to compete in the Arnold Strongman Classic this coming February.
Brandon I had been following for some time on Facebook and on the Juggernaut website like many of you and his tips have helped me greatly even as an experienced lifter. Having met Brandon and worked with him on my lifts I can honestly say he is someone that truly loves the sport of powerlifting. More importantly he is someone that truly loves to help others and see them succeed in the sport. I think we can all agree right now the sport of power lifting needs more people like him.
I have been to a lot of seminars as any serious trainer and strength athlete should but I have to say the Juggernaut clinic has been my favorite. Not just for what I have learned working with them but also seeing the passion that both Chad and Brandon have in teaching. When Chad asked me to write a review of the clinic and list a few pointers I learned I was more than happy to do so.
We first covered the squat which has been a weak lift for me compared to how big my deadlift is so I was all ears. After watching our technique and working up to a heavy set they had noticed my upper back wasn’t as tight as it could be. As most of you know the limiting factor in a squat is generally not your legs giving out but your low back causing you to lean forward and either goodmorning the weight up or fail coming out of the hole. I have always been good about driving my elbows under the bar to keep my chest up but then Chad instructed us to try and touch our elbows together. Of course you can’t do this but the squeezing of my elbows together increased the tightness in my lats greatly. The difference coming out of the hole was huge and has allowed me to hit a few good rep prs on my squat in the next few weeks.
Another common mistake I make is descending too slowly in the squat once the weight gets heavy. They pointed out to us that all this will do is waste energy and slow you down out of the hole. “Lift 135 like it’s your max and lift your max like its 135.” This was a big light bulb moment for a lot of us and increased my speed out of the bottom dramatically.
Next up was the bench press which is a lift I used to love when I competed in Powerlifting. I say used to because over the last two years I have torn my pecs 3 times with one resulting in surgery. Since my last tear I haven’t competed in powerlifting but have always had the itch to go back. After listening to Brandon I realized I was making quite a few mistakes that would have caused this. I have always been good about getting a big arch and plenty of leg drive but I was never able to “rip the bar apart” once the weight got heavy. What would happen in my case is I would squeeze the bar in off the chest which caused me to tear the muscle belly of my pec. Brandon said not to rip the bar apart but rather bend it in half by externally rotating your hands. Once I applied this I immediately felt my triceps working and much less of my pecs. With my next powerlifting meet coming at the end of March using this technique I am much more confident benching then I was coming off my previous injuries. Another great tip was getting the lats tight giving you an “internal bench shirt” as Brandon called it. Coming from strongman I’m very good at getting my lats tight to the point where I can barely touch the bar to the top of my chest when overhead pressing but when it came to benching I was not doing the same. I have recently put benching back into my program and those cues have made a world of difference.
In the past month before the clinic I was having a rough time with my conventional deadlift. I’m normally a sumo deadlifter but in strongman sumo deadlifting is not allowed so I wanted them to asses my conventional pull. The problem I was having is that my hips would shoot up off the floor and not stay in line with my chest rising. The hips rising and locking out the knees first is a common problem for most people but frustrating nonetheless. Brandon instructed me to “squat the weight up” which goes against most other coaches that teach the deadlift. However having applied it I felt way faster off the floor which is a weak point for me. Generally if I move the bar an inch of the ground I will lock it out. Now this technique does not work for everyone as Chad stated but with my body type it did. Another common mistake I was making on the deadlift was letting the bar travel out as I started the pull. This technique flaw would also slow down my bar speed for the initial pull so again I needed to keep my lats tight! During a big conventional pull my pecs would cramp up very bad and after a heavy deadlift session I would actually be sore in my pecs from it. After keeping my lats tighter in my set up this problem has gone away completely. Coming from 3 pec tears you can imagine my relief from not having to worry about it.
A couple other quick tips I learned not regarding the lifts directly were about what really is a pr. I found it very interesting that in some foreign countries a pr does not count if form breaks down. This makes a lot of sense to me because how many ugly deadlifts do we see and with that horrible form are you getting any stronger? Of course when it comes to a contest you want get that lift at any cost but in training this will only slow down your progress. Finally a pr doesn’t necessarily mean you have increased your weight or reps, it can simply be a better quality lift. Let’s say you pulled 405 for 3 but it was a 10 for an RPE (rating of perceived exertion). Instead of going for 410 the following week why not pull 405 for a triple but this time finish with an RPE of a 9 with better form, speed, etc. This is something that helped me with my clients tremendously when explaining they shouldn’t increase their weight when I didn’t feel they are ready.
Having the Juggernaut team at my facility was a great learning experience and I highly recommend attending one. I can’t say enough good things about both Chad and Brandon who are not only accomplished athletes but great teachers. If you haven’t yet please show your Support for Brandon after his injury and pick up some of his apparel and programs!