Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Indicator Lifts

In Joe DeFranco's article "Westside for Skinny Bastards III" he discusses the idea of indicator lifts. These are lifts that demonstrate certain aspects of your strength, which you can use to determine the success or failure of your training program.

I'll wait here while you go and read it. Scroll down to "INDICATOR EXERCISES" and read away.

Okay, so here is the question - What are yours?

You need to determine what they are, and why. Why, in my opinion is critical.

The four lifts listed in WS4SB3 come with a good explanation of why they were selected. Maximal strength? Bench press for the upper body, box squat for the lower body. Explosiveness? Vertical jump or box jumps - since the height you can jump is a great predictor of athletic potential. Relative strength? Chinups. You need to be strong to do them, but only good relative strength will let you do them with heavy additional weight and only good relative strength-endurance will let you do them in bunches. Those four lifts have a good rationale behind them.

This article suggested three for MMA athletes, and provides a lot of good information on how to improve them. But it doesn't provide the "why." There isn't anything to indicate why they were selected, and what they mean - do the better fighters have a higher close-grip bench press? If their close-grip bench press goes up, what about their fighting game improves? This isn't meant to disparage the article - just to point out the missing element I'm focused on here. Why are those important?

Let's look at some examples.

Two easy ones are powerlifting and weightlifting.

A powerlifter's indicator lifts are the flat barbell bench press, the deadlift (either conventional or sumo style), and the back squat. If those lifts are improving, the program is working. If they are not, no matter what else is going up (max chinups, vertical jump, accessory lifts), the program isn't working.

A Olympic weightlifter's indicator lifts are the snatch and clean-and-jerk; possible the components of the latter, too - the clean, the jerk. If the competed lifts are improving, the system is working.

It gets more complicated as what you need to improve isn't a lift but a quality, like sprinting speed or jumping height or long-distance endurance? You need find out what in your training is going up along with that quality, and then see if that is causation (you squat heavier, your sprints times are better because you're stronger) or just coincidence (your bench press goes up, your sprint times are better...but if the bench press stagnates, your sprint times continue to improve).

If your indicator lifts go up, no one can tell you your program is not succeeding. If they are not, something must change, no matter what else the program is doing for you.

I think this is something you need to determine for yourself, or in conjunction with a coach. I have no easy answers. It's food for thought - what do you think ties best to the qualities you need? And yes, going back to a point I bring up often - you need to track your results. You need to be able to look at your notes and find the correlation between what you do and where you are. If you're not recording it, you're just guessing and depending on memory. Write it all down, and see what you are doing and where it is getting you.

And for what it's worth, I lift at DeFranco's. So my predictor lifts for MMA? Box squat, bench press, box jump, and chinups. So far, they are climbing slowly but steadily, and it's showing up on the mat.

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