We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the Squats began to take hold …
And suddenly there was a terrible roar all round us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are those goddamn animals?” — Hunter Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
I knew we’d entered the land of monsters the second we’d walked into Average Broz gym. Multiple squat racks were loaded with up to, and well over, 200 kilos. Even the small guys (yes, not everyone is as large as Pat Mendes) were lifting weights most of us would be envious of. Every one of their 5 platforms was being dominated by, what must appear to outsiders, to be a collection of wild beasts.
The usual suspects were in the house – Pat Mendes, Rob Adel and Jared Enderton- as well as a number of other cats like my new friend, Tim, who is a regular reader of this blog, and was interviewed a while back about his experiences training with Broz (I posted the video at the bottom of this article).
I can tell you, as big as some of these guys seem on video, they are twice as large in person!
And then … there was this giant dude, bigger than the rest, with a shaved head standing by a tall squat stand talking to a woman about half his height. He turned and recognized me. Just then, I got “the fear” and froze. It’s always best not to move when you’re being stared down by a rabid animal.
But I was wrong … of course.
With a big smile that seemed oddly incongruous on a man of his stature, he reached out his hand and said, “It’s good to finally meet you in person, Nick”. And that was it. I was totally at ease.
John Broz has that effect on people. He somehow – through shear force of personality – makes the fact that he’s so large and physically imposing totally irrelevant.
Over the course of our time there, it was confirmed for me just how relaxed, genuinely affable, helpful, and all-around cool John Broz is as a man. He made our stay a great one, put on a fantastic meet, and is a real asset to the sport of weightlifting in America.
For my club, PDX Weightlifting, the Las Vegas Open will be a regular stop from now on.
Feels Oddly Like Home
One thing that Peter, Dave, Brandon, and myself all noticed was that the vibe of their place felt a heck of a lot like our own.
Sure, they have some beasts in there who could out lift all of us twice over. But there are also regular lifters like you and I. They’ve got a young kid, only 16, who shows real promise and has just an awesome attitude – I look forward to seeing him at future meets. And no matter who you are, if you come in ready to train hard, you’re welcome.
What you may not be aware of is that Average Broz is full of a great group of folks who spend every moment when they’re not under the bar goofing off and having fun.
We could totally relate to that.
They go for a heavy lift, and whether they make it or not, they are back to joking around. Lot’s of laughter, sports talk, video games on the iPad, etc. You might find that surprising if you’ve only seen their videos.
When it is time to lift, sure, it’s time to lift and you do. No complaining or whining, bitching and moaning. That kind of crap just isn’t tolerated.
And why would you, anyway? Going for it, lifting harder, more often, and with more intensity than anyone else IS fun.
The point is that if you aren’t someone who agrees that killing yourself in the squat rack is awesome, then you just don’t belong. But, regardless of your current ability, if you DO agree that hammering it as hard as you can and not giving up is THE way, then you’ll fit in great.
When you have a crowd of people who all love to work hard at the same things, there is always going be a lot of horsing around. It’s the Yin/Yang balance idea. The training is hard, very hard. So why not relieve the tension by running away from monkeys on an iPad?
What Would Naim Do In MY Body?
John Broz is an inspiring man. Just being around him makes you want to squat again … even if you just did for the last hour. He’s full of interesting aphorisms, advice, and motivation. His combination of hardcore training philosophy with a lighthearted personal demeanor is captivating, to say the least. So over the course of the next week or so, I’m going to put up a number of articles explaining to you some of the best advice I got from him. But before we do that I want to at least mention this one.
One of the things that he said is still rattling around in my head, and it relates to something that Peter and I discussed a lot on the plane ride home, is Broz’ emphasis on the mental side of “talent”. Having physical talent for a sport is meaningless if the right mental state isn’t there.
If you don’t already know, Naim Suleymanoglu was a Bulgarian weightlifter. (Bulgarian born, raised, and trained. But by ethnicity he was Turkish, and eventually competed for Turkey.) He has the greatest Sinclair formula of all time. (The “Sinclair” is a way of calculating how good a weightlifter is by comparing how much they lift with how much they weigh.)
He won three Olympic Championships, seven World Championships and six European Championships and earned 46 world records. – Wikipedia entry
What made Naim so amazing wasn’t just his physical capability and raw talent. It was his mental fortitude and control. Many other people on this planet have been born with great bodies for weightlifting. No one has ever done what Naim did.
The difference between a good athlete and a great athlete is determined between the ears.
During one of our conversations, Broz said, “What would Naim have done in my body?” That’s a profound question, when you think about it. It’s one you should ask yourself.
You may not have the physical genetics to match the greatest athletes on the planet (you might, it’s impossible to know for sure until you truly go for it), but are you doing everything in your power to maximize what you have? Are you using your perceived lack of ability as a crutch? An excuse not to give it your all?
If so, then you need to change.
It happens in my club all the time. Someone comes in with a certain belief about how far they can go. But after training with us for a while, they have to increase their goals! They’ve already surpassed what they originally believed to be possible.
You can’t ever know how far you can go until you’ve already gotten there.
John asked me what my goals were. I said I wanted to break the American Snatch record in the 35 y/o, 77 kilo class before I turn 40. He said, “What’s the World Record in that class? That should be your goal.”
What would Naim have done if he’d been born in your body? In mine?!
(Sounds like to plot of an awesome movie … )
No Matter What, You’ve Got to Squat
It’s undeniable. When you walk into Average Broz gym, you feel the uncontrollable urge – no, NEED – to squat.
We love squats at PDX, but holy heavens, the boys of Average Broz LOVE Squats. And it makes sense. If you ain’t strong, you’ll never snatch and clean the numbers you want to.
When I lost all my weight, the first thing to go was my squat. That caused my clean and jerk to tank.
When I started training hard again, I got my snatch back really fast. The clean and jerk has taken almost 6 months. And my squat is STILL not back to where it was when I was heavier!
This means that I am far more efficient now as a lifter. That’s the good news. I used to have a bodyweight snatch. Now I have a snatch that is 20k above bodyweight. I didn’t just lose weight, I doubled down on technique. I’m a better snatcher now than I’ve ever been.
But I’m hitting my limit. For me to add more weight to the snatch and clean, I have no choice but to get my squats and pulls back up.
“A guy who only squats 100k ain’t gonna snatch 120k.” — John Broz (paraphrase)
Olympic lifting is a technical sport. But it is also a strength sport.
There was a great young kid who competed this weekend at the Vegas Open. He came up with a (really fun) team from California. I think he’ll make a solid lifter in the future. But for now, he’s all technique and no strength. He ended up missing his last clean and jerks because he couldn’t stand up out of his cleans.
Now … I think that is GOOD for a rank beginner. (Kudos to his coach for a great job – all of his lifters looked very technical.) At first, you want to drill technique so much that you can do it all in your sleep. You want to be so damned efficient, that you are cleaning almost as much as you can front squat.
My book Samurai Strength is all about dialing-in the technical stuff as fast as possible.
But at some point, you’re technical abilities will outstrip your brut ability to honestly move that heavy-assed bar! This is still a strength sport.
There is nothing shameful about squatting first in a workout while you are still fresh. Squat, squat, and squat some more. Then work your technique. If you can, put them in different sessions. Squat in the first session, then Oly lift in the other. Do them on alternate days. Whatever. Just make sure that when you squat, you can focus on making it the priority, and you can go ALL OUT.
Of course, if you are like many lifters out there, you may be stronger than you are technical. If that is you, DON’T squat first. Work your snatch and clean first, then squat in your workouts. However, if you’re getting to a point where your technique is pretty solid, but your squat hasn’t moved, it may be time to start adding in some serious volume on the squat.
(The pic below is my lunch – chicken and waffles – that I ate before we got on the plane on Sunday. After a long exhausting weekend, it hit the spot!!)
How Much, and How Often Should You Squat?
As hard as you can, as often as you can.
Really … it’s that simple. Broz doesn’t have a white board where he puts the WOD (workout of the day). He doesn’t have a simple set/rep sequence for his guys that is carved in stone. That would miss the point!
The point is to do as much squat volume as you can possibly handle.
More Volume –> More Stress –> More Adaptation
We watched Broz’ lifters squat up to a max, miss, then re-rack the bar and try again and again. Then afterwards, they’d drop some weight and start doing 3’s. This could last quite a while.
A variation I’ve been playing with – which seems to be working – is the following template.
- Work up to a 1RM (rep max)
- Drop 20 or 30k off the bar and work back up in 3’s till you miss the 3rd rep, or you start to ‘grind’ too much. (Add 5k or less per jump)
- drop 20 to 30k off of your best 3RM, and do 2 sets of 5 reps. These last ones are all about speed and technique.
I do this 5 days a week. Back Squats on M/W/F, and Front Squat on T/H. But whether it’s front or back, the workout looks the same. I then finish with heavy clean pulls to a heavy single (not max, just heavy).
Yes, it’s taxing. Holy God it is taxing. But my squat is slowly crawling back to where it was, and I’m still a 77k lifter. My goal is to surpass my old weights on the squats in the next few months. I can really tell that my form and comfortability in increasing by leaps and bounds.
In the past, I’ve usually stuck with doing more sessions, all to heavy singles, with minimal back off sets. Because I own a gym, it isn’t hard to do 2 or 3 sessions a day if I just decide to. I LOVE that way of training, especially when I’m just doing the Oly lifts and front squats, with occasional RDL’s thrown in for good measure. It works miracles on the snatch!
But that kind of wildness is hard to translate to others with different situations, who’s jobs don’t have squat racks in the cubicles!
What I’m doing now is something I believe will work even you only trained 3 days a week.
I’ll keep you updated. If this squat experiment goes well (I’m going to also get some of my guys to do it), I’ll let you know.
Speaking of heavy squats, here’s Dave squatting a new 170k PR at Broz place the day after the contest:
The entire reason we went to Vegas in the first place was so that Brandon could use it as a Nationals qualifier. Brandon decided about 3 weeks prior to the Las Vegas Open to move down to the 62 kilo class, as he felt he’d be more competitive in the long run.
That’s great … except that he had a little under 20 pounds to lose!! He’d been lower previously, but because of the holidays, his weight had been slowly creeping up. This extra weight gain was fantastic for his strength levels. But moving to the 62’s was going to be brutal.
On the day of the meet, Brandon was understandably nervous as to whether he’d actually made weight.
He did. He weighed in at 61.65 kilos! I think, realistically, if it weren’t for the dry Vegas air, and it’s tendency to dehydrate you, he wouldn’t have made it.
But he DID make it, and he did what he came to do. With his opening lifts, he qualified for Nationals as a 62 kilo lifter. This will be his first showing at Nationals, so it’s going to be a lot of fun. Now he’s got 6 weeks to regain his strength (well … 4 weeks plus a 2 week taper) while simply maintaining his weight.
My Masters lifter, Dave (in the 40-44 y/o, 105k class), also came down. He was in the opposite boat as Brandon. He didn’t have to diet. He ate his way into the contest! (Any time you can eat your way into a contest, you are far more likely to lift well. I personally prefer to live about 2 kilo’s under the weight class limit just to allow for this. Pizza the night before a contest is awesome!)
Dave had a great meet. He didn’t lift his best ever, but he came close. He hit a 90k snatch, and a 110 clean and jerk. He cleaned 115, but missed the jerk because of a wonky catch on the clean. No biggie. I think we’ll have him open at 90k on the snatch at Masters nationals this year. We’ll see. (He’s already qualified for Masters Pan Ams. And we all have plans for Masters Worlds in 2013. I hear it’s supposed to be in Italy … yes, please!)
We’ll definitely be making the Las Vegas Open a yearly stop for us from now on. Broz and his crew are all great, friendly, and inviting. They ran a fantastic meet.
Las Vegas is a draw all by itself, though we noticed that we were far more interested in spending all our time squatting and chatting with Broz, Pat, Rob, Jared, Tim and the rest than we were in drinking on the strip.
I mean, really. If you’re going to go all the way to Las Vegas, you gotta get your squats in!
Over the weekend I met a number of other great coaches (and athletes), including Derrick Johnson, and had some great conversations with them. I’m going to write up separate articles addressing what I gathered from these talks for you over the next couple of weeks. There’s so much that I couldn’t possibly get it all into one post!
Stay tuned for that.
And if you haven’t already signed up for my email list, be sure you do. I just revised and updated my Free eBook, The 7 Deadly Sins of Weightlifting – all you have to do is sign up and it’s yours.
Here’s that interview of Tim from few years back: