by Charles Poliquin
One of the most respected coaches in personal training and strength coaching is Mark Rippetoe. This is a guy who has paid double dues in terms of education and practical experience, both as an athlete and as a coach.
Rippetoe has been involved in the physical and athletic fitness world since 1978. As an athlete, he competed in powerlifting for 10 years. At a bodyweight of 220 pounds, his best lifts include a 611-pound squat, a 396 bench press and 633 deadlift; his best total was 1,643 pounds. He has also power cleaned 275 pounds. Among his weightlifting mentors are elite weightlifters Bill Starr and Tommy Suggs, and top weightlifting coaches Angel Spassov of Bulgaria, 1984 US Olympic Team head coach Harvey Newton, and accomplished US coaches Glenn Pendlay and Dr. Lon Kilgore.
After graduating from Midwestern State University in 1983 with a bachelor’s in geology and a minor in anthropology, Rippetoe continued his education through many certification organizations, such as the National Strength and Conditioning Association and USA Weightlifting. In 1984 he became the owner of the Wichita Falls Athletic Club in Wichita Falls, Texas. He is the author or co-author of five books, his most recent being Mean Ol’ Mr. Gravity.
If you get a chance to attend one of his seminars or, better yet, train under him, don’t hesitate. I recently spoke with him and it was quite an educational and entertaining experience. Here is a sample of the wisdom, and sharp wit, of Mark Rippetoe:
Now that we’ve had some fun, here’s a taste of Rippetoe’s serious side: five important lessons he’s taught me.
Lesson #1: Fine-Tune Your Spotting Techniques
In his book Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training
Rippetoe pays a lot of attention to spotting, a subject that is often mentioned in passing in most books about strength training. In discussing the squat, for example, he says that Olympic lifters use bumper plates and are taught to dump the bar behind them (not forward, over their head). However, he warns that this technique requires good coaching and practice. When two spotters are available for the squat, Rippetoe recommends using both hands and the crook of one elbow to catch the weight and provide assistance. For single spots on the back squat, he recommends lifting the bar, not grasping the trainee around the waist, as that method is difficult. The purpose is to simply take some weight off the bar so the trainee can complete the lift.
Lesson #2: Use the Press for Core Stability
Rippetoe calls the standing press simply the press – he doesn’t call it the shoulder press because he doesn’t see how you can press without the shoulders. In 1972 the press was dropped from Olympic weightlifting competition, and since then the bench press had gradually become the key pressing exercise for athletes.
Although Rippetoe is a fan of the bench press, he believes that the standing press deserves at least as much attention, especially for athletes, because the force application starts from the ground and is transmitted up the body to the hands. In contrast, the bench press is primarily an upper body exercise, with the force transferring from the upper body to the hands – although Rippetoe does teach how to use the legs in the bench press. He says the press involves a long kinetic chain that produces a high level of potential torque, and as such it is a superior exercise for developing core stability.
Lesson #3: Think of the Power Clean As a Jump
Judging from some of the power cleans many athletes perform, some coaches and athletes regard the movement as a fast deadlift followed by a reverse curl. Rippetoe says it’s best to think of the power clean as a jump. He teaches the power clean from the top down. He will start by having the athlete rest the barbell on their mid-thighs with their knees slightly bent, with their shoulders in front of the bar and their elbows straight. From this starting position, and without bending their elbows, he will have them jump by extending their knees and hips so that they leave the ground. After this first step, he will have the athlete rack the bar and then learn how to lift the weight from the floor. This progression enables athletes to master the basic technique of the power clean quickly and helps prevent the common technical error of arm-pulling the bar.
Lesson #4: Don’t Use Mirrors in the Gym
Rippetoe believes that good technique involves getting to know what the proper feel of an exercise is, so as to internalize the movement. He believes that using mirrors in the gym to check your form is a bad idea. When performing the squat, placing the mirror in front provides feedback in only one plane, and trying to shift the rack or your body position to try to see more of an oblique angle would create twisting of the neck or spine that could cause injury. His motto is “Learn to feel it, not just see it.”
My own take on this, “If you need a mirror, it means you don’t know where your body is in time and space, therefore you don’t belong in the weight room”
Lesson #5: Consider Three Angles in Teaching the Deadlift
In teaching the deadlift, Rippetoe says there are three important reference angles to consider: 1) the angle at the knee that is formed by the tibia and the femur, 2) the angle at the hip that is formed by the femur and the plane of the trunk and 3) the angle of the back in relation to the floor. Each of these angles depends upon an individual’s anatomy; for example, long arms would make for a more vertical back angle. In the performance of the deadlift, Rippetoe says, the knee angle should change first, followed by the hip angle and then the back angle – and using this sequence will help ensure that the barbell moves up in a vertical plane.
Mark Rippetoe is one of those rare people in our industry whose writing is as extraordinary as his coaching. I highly recommend you read everything he has ever written. And when Rippetoe gives a seminar on physical training in your area, sign up. You’re going to enjoy learning from this great coach.
Copyright ©2011 Charles Poliquin