Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Dan John, Simplicity, Etching, and Movement Mastery

The man himself.
Dan John is a pretty cool cat. He has lifted big weights, thrown various implements impressive distances, and coached amateur and professional athletes to sporting success. Furthermore, the combination of his experience, his wisdom, and his penmanship has helped him amass a considerable, and well-deserved, internet following.

In addition to these accomplishments, Dan John is a captivating speaker. While I have never seen or heard him in person, I have been able to listen to and watch interviews that he has done. The first time I heard him speak was on an episode of The Strength Coach Podcast in July of 2009, shortly after his now classic book, Never Let Go, had been released. During this interview, Coach John elaborated on a few of the points he had made in his book, and two of the concepts that he expanded on immediately struck me as strength and conditioning gold.

These concepts were simplicity and "etching", and they have influenced my lifting and my coaching tremendously since the day I first heard Dan speak about them.

Simplicity and Etching
Simplicity, as Coach John explains it, is fairly simple to understand; it is all about whittling your thought process during a complex movement down to the most basic and most important aspects of that movement. Once the most basic and most important aspects are identified, short, descriptive words or phrases are applied to each of the highlighted components. If you have ever played American football, then you have experienced how powerful simplicity can be. "Spread, right, twenty two-dive" can inform eleven young men playing eleven different positions exactly where to go and what to do in a football game. All Dan John did was take this lesson he learned while coaching football and applied it to the individual sports, such as track and field and lifting.

The second thing that Dan talked about was what he termed "etching". Etching, in Dan's words, is "when you do the same thing over and over again" until that process or movement is "etched" into your mind. I find it funny how plainly Coach John refers to etching, because it is a concept that is also held in high regard by other, more technical entities (like the Russians; see principle #4).
Use etching if you want to become The Greatest.
Movement Mastery
Simplicity and etching work hand in hand, as breaking down and labeling different aspects of a process or a movement make it much easier to do that movement in a consistent fashion. Due to the fact that lifting technique seems to greatly benefit from consistency, these tools prove to be incredibly effective during heavy lifting. For example, when I squat, I focus on four words at different phases of every single repetition that I do. These four words are:
  • Tight
  • Breath
  • Spread
  • Hips
"Tight" reminds me to squeeze my upper back before I initiate each rep. This ensures that I do not begin a rep with a loose upper back, which can cause the chest to drop, the upper back to round, and the entire rep to get flat-out ugly. The next word I think of before I begin my descent is "breath," which guarantees that I remember to fill my belly with air, tighten my torso, and hold my air throughout the remainder of the rep. Neglecting to do this makes it difficult to maintain adequate torso stability under heavy loads. As I initiate my descent, I think of the word "spread," which forces me to shove my knees out to the sides. Shoving the knees out is an integral part of the Starting Strength-style squat that I employ, as it lengthens the adductors (enabling them to contribute to the squat more effectively) and makes it easier to reach proper depth.  The final word that I think of is "hips"; this reminds me to drive my hips up out of the hole, as I reverse from the eccentric to the concentric portion of the squat. Again, if you are familiar with Starting Strength (which you should be), then utilizing hip drive is probably nothing new or exciting to you. The benefits of hip drive can be made clear with a lengthy biomechanical explanation that I won't bore you with; just believe me when I say that focusing on driving the hips up is much more effective than focusing on the chest or on the heels when squatting (at least when utilizing the style of squatting that I utilize).
For those interested, I squat like this (except I am not as strong, as awesome, or as 70's Big as Justin Lascek).
Focusing on this mental checklist has led to tremendous improvements in my squatting technique. In addition to thinking about these points while squatting, I have made a strong effort to "etch" the squat pattern that I want to utilize by goblet squatting before every lifting session that I do. Even though I don't have a bar on my back, I always think "tight" before every rep of goblet squats, and then I follow that with my routine of "breath, spread, hips". This process is what simplicity and etching are all about: figuring out what the most important aspects of a movement are, labeling them, and then practicing the movement with laser-like focus.

The technical points that you focus on while squatting might not be the same as the ones I chose, and that is fine. Also, your cues will likely change with different squatting variations (for example, I focus on driving my chest up out of the hole as opposed to my hips when front squatting). As long as you are focusing on the things that you should be focusing on during each lift, the only thing that really matters is that you are consistent from session to session.                        

Focus, Distractions, and Discomfort
In addition to improving technique, I have noticed that the mental cues that arise from simplicity and etching make it harder for me to be distracted and decrease my awareness of discomfort. If I am focused on nothing but "breath, pull, drive" while benching, then the frat bros at the next bench over talking about how wasted they got last night are not an issue. I have seen some weird shit in the gym (Asian guy doing box jumps off of balance disks with a bar on his back), but I am routinely able to focus because I have my simple mental cues to fall back on. Just remember, a wandering mind tends to lead to wandering limbs; thinking of nothing but a few key words can make all the difference in a crowded commercial gym.

Another added benefit of using simplicity and etching while lifting is that you can be slightly desensitized to discomfort. Let's say you want your arms registered as lethal weapons and, therefore, you are curling. Thinking "contract" (during the concentric), "squeeze" (at the top of the movement), and "control" (during the eccentric) will make it easier to bust out a few more high quality reps because you will be focusing on the execution of the movement rather than the burning in your biceps. I know, that is a dumb example. But, think about this; you are doing a set of three reps with a tight, tucked, arched-style bench. By the third rep your head feels like it is going to explode from the pressure of holding your breath and contracting just about every muscle in your body. With this kind of discomfort, mental cues are absolutely invaluable because they allow your to stay focused, not panic, and continue to grind out reps in the perfect groove. More perfect, heavy reps means more results. Remember that before you kick your feet and flop around while struggling to grind out one last, ugly rep.

Simplicity and etching can even help during curling!
Simplicity and etching are just two of Dan John's great lessons. I gave examples of how I applied his wisdom, but there are many more applications that I didn't touch on. Do you use simplicity and etching? Also, if you are a Dan John fan, what DJ tenets have stuck with you? Let me know in the comments section below...

Thanks for reading!     

Monday, March 26, 2012

Employing Russian Training Principles to Become a Lifting Cyborg, Part 2

By Andrew McGunagle

Last week I introduced the eight principles that guide athlete development in Russia. In this article, I will expand on the first four principles that were presented and I will provide some ideas for their implementation. I would like to note that each of these principles are very broad, so I will not be able to cover every single idea I have regarding them. Furthermore, I urge you to read the first installment of this article series again and think about how you have unknowingly utilized these principles in the past and how you can thoughtfully implement them into your current and future training. Using these principles to guide your training process can be incredibly helpful, as long as you do so logically. So, without further ado, here are some ideas concerning the first four principles of the Russian philosophy of physical training.       

1. The Principle of Awareness: Essentially, this principle refers to the importance of each athlete becoming a student of their respective sport. This means that every athlete should have a working knowledge regarding the processes occurring during their training and how to manipulate variables for sporting success. In the past year, I have spent a lot of time becoming a student of the sport of powerlifting. The most prominent realization that I made was the importance of distinguishing between scientific training principles and program dogma. An unfortunate trend concerning powerlifting-related information is that claims are made and decisions are based on individual experience and preference. While governing your own training based on past successes and failures is important, basing everything you do on unfounded "truths" purported by others is not always advisable. For example, certain figureheads claim that deadlifting heavy more than once a week can not and should not be done, that lifts over 90% intensity are extremely harmful to the central nervous system, and that multiple heavy workouts in week will quickly lead to overtraining. While these statements may be applicable to certain programs and certain individuals, they are not irrefutably true for every person and every situation. When lifters begin to get caught up in the laws laid down by individuals rather than the physiological principles that govern the body, their programs quickly become inefficient and, oftentimes, misguided. The best advice I can give to strength athletes seeking to become a student of their sport is to couple their time spent in the gym with studying texts such as The Science and Practice of Strength Training, Starting Strength, The Reactive Training Manual, and Supertraining. When you begin to understand the physiological processes of strength development, you will start to realize that much of the stuff you read online is, quite frankly, useless bullshit.

Misha dispels the dogma.
2. The Principle of All-around Development: In America, we largely tend to specialize early and neglect all-around development. Due to the fact that our athlete development systems are much less organized than the Russians', this principle is, in all honesty, a bit more difficult to implement. We do not have the heavily structured sports schools that guide young athletes through the stages of athletic development towards sport mastery. Instead, young Americans are, for the most part, at the mercy of parental decision making, personal preference, and opportunity. If you are a parent, the best advice I can give you is to enroll your child in a variety of sports, enlist the help of a smart strength and conditioning coach when your child reaches their teens, and to have your child specialize in one particular sport as late as possible. I am aware that there are certain extraordinary examples of athletes who specialized early and went on to have great success (Tiger Woods). However, all-around development facilitated by engaging in a variety of activities will ultimately lead to a more enduring athlete. If you no longer play organized sports and only lift, then the application of this principle is fairly straightforward. Learn the lifts, practice them, and work towards mastering them. Lifts to get good at include squats, deadlifts, bench presses, overhead presses, chin-ups, single-leg movements, rows, and anything else that isn't completely useless. Some coaches would urge all lifters to become proficient in the Olympic lifts, but I personally do not believe that is universally necessary.

Whatever this is would fall under the category of "completely useless".
Also, in addition to physical development, the Russians also stress the importance of "moral and cultural development". While I do not have specific research to back up this claim (although I suspect I could find some), I do endorse the importance they place on personal development. If you are a lifter or an athlete, you have to realize that your training and your competitions consume only so much of your time. Engaging in other activities, such as reading, playing an instrument, writing, creating artwork, or whatever else you enjoy, during the hours you spend outside of the gym can directly improve your life and indirectly improve your lifting.        

3. The Principle of Consecutiveness (or Consistency): This principle is fairly straightforward; progress from less to more and from simpler to more complex. However, also employing this principle in reverse, as the Russians suggest, is not so routinely employed. The Russians believe that utilizing this principle in reverse aids in the maintenance of the "harmony of the body". Implementing a cool down period at the end of a training session and tapering training efforts at the conclusion of a competitive season seem to fit the bill in this regard. Looking back on my high school athletic career, I realized that I unknowingly employed this principle after my senior year football season. I had been training hard for my senior season for the previous nine months, and the near-daily practices, lifting sessions, and Friday night games wore me down. So, in the weeks following my final football game, I casually rode my bike around town after school. Every non-rainy day after my final class I hopped on my bike and rode wherever I felt like riding. I didn't worry about how long or short or how hard or easy my rides were; I just rode and enjoyed the fresh air and the scenery. This was very restorative for me, and, when I got back to lifting a few months later, I made great progress. I am sure that trying to lift heavy immediately following the conclusion of my season would have been counterproductive, as sitting on the couch would have also been. Now, I am not necessarily suggesting that you should stop training for a few months and ride your bike (although, you could). However, I would like to highlight how light, informal physical activity can be used effectively when the goal is "harmony of the body".

Riding around in a place as beautiful as Sonoma greatly helped my cause.
4. The Principle of Repetition: Perfect practice makes perfect. In my opinion, no other phrase summarizes the key to lifting success more succinctly. However, while many individuals mistakenly believe that this principle only concerns the execution of sporting or lifting movements, repetition is also important on a larger scale. Repetition can facilitate better performance when athletes prepare for sessions with a consistent mental and physical routine, when they respond to the stresses of their training in a standard, positive style, and when they approach their recovery modalities in a regular manner. The more often you do things right, the easier it becomes to do things right. In addition, I would also like to highlight the importance of a having a standard set-up routine for each of the big lifts. If you watch videos of great lifters, you will usually see them set-up for their lifts in a particular, consistent fashion. While the routine is different from lifter to lifter and from exercise to exercise, it usually involves intent focus and, often, a mental checklist. While I have used him as an example before, the best example I can think of concerning a standardized set-up routine is Mike Tuchscherer. It doesn't matter if he is squatting warm-up weights or world record weights; Mike repeats his set-up process every time.

Those are my thoughts concerning the first four principles of Russian athletic development. They are far from all-inclusive, so be sure to leave any thoughts that you have about these principles in the comments section below. Also, if you haven't already, be sure to read the first article in this series and look for the third and final installment next week. As always, thanks for reading and keep getting stronger.        

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Employing Russian Training Principles to Become a Lifting Cyborg, Part 1

Klokov: man or machine?

By Andrew McGunagle

If you are a casual Olympic weightlifting fan like me, you have undoubtedly marveled at the strength and the skill of Russian lifters such as Dmitry Klokov and Mikhail Koklyaev. They lift big weights, and they do it with a noticeable elegance and a degree of precision that is truly remarkable.

Because weightlifting is such a specialized activity, I am always interested in learning about the training methodologies that mold great lifters. While genetics certainly play a role in the success of top level competitors, you don't become a world class O-lifter by accident. Natural ability combined with haphazard training can get you into the NFL, the NBA, and the MLB, but you can not casually train your way to an Olympic medal in weightlifting.

Unfortunately, I don't hang out with Klokov and Misha in Russia, so I can't tell you about their training specifically. However, I can consult the Russian-inspired super-text, Supertraining. Yes, I have the book. No, I have not read it cover-to-cover (yet). But, I did come across a section of the text that I believe is particularly enlightening regarding the development of Russian champions.

You see, in Russia they take their athletic development pretty seriously. Sports are used to further their national aims, so creating stellar athletes is of the utmost importance. The development of their world class athletes is guided by 8 principles, which I would like to share with you. These principles form the backbone of the Russians' scientific sports preparation, and it is highly likely that the Russian beasts that we are awed by today were shaped by these same guidelines.

It is important to note that these principles extend beyond the sport of Olympic weightlifting. Powerlifters, throwers, field athletes, and runners can all benefit from thinking about and then creatively employing these broad principles. You may not be snatching and clean and jerking for an Olympic gold medal, but you can certainly use these guidelines to streamline your training. In addition to presenting the principles in this article, I will give you some of my thoughts and ideas as to how you can apply them to your own training in part two of this series. This is going to be fun, so let's get to it.

(Note: The following principles are taken from Supertraining, Sixth Edition - Expanded Version with permission from Natalia Verkhoshansky. Thanks Natalia!)

1. The Principle of Awareness: This first principle stresses the importance of each Russian athlete becoming a student of their respective sport. Not only should each athlete understand "the ideology and the philosophy of Russian sport" (which you are learning about right now), but they should also have a working knowledge of "the processes involved in acquiring sporting proficiency". An understanding of the mental and physical processes that are occurring during training allows these athletes to regulate their own training more effectively.     

2. The Principle of All-around Development: All-around development "entails building a solid physical and mental foundation" that will allow young Russians to excel once they specialize in a particular sport. This general development is not restricted to dragging a sled and circuit training, as it is in the minds of many modern American trainees. Rather, it encompasses a variety of physiological and psychological characteristics that provide these athletes with the skills to meet the challenges of rigorous specialized training. It is worth noting that "exemplary moral and cultural development" are also emphasized.

Misha has snatched 210 kg, clean and jerked 250 kg, totaled 950 kg in powerlifting, and he can play the guitar and sing.

3. The Principle of Consecutiveness (or Consistency): Consecutiveness refers to the general trend of progressing an athlete from lower intensities and volumes to progressively higher ones, as well as moving from simpler to more complex skills. In addition, employing this principle in reverse within individual training sessions and competitive seasons is also advised. This winding down allows athletes to maintain the "harmony of the body", which can be disrupted by sessions and seasons that are ended abruptly.  

4. The Principle of Repetition: Both the repetition of exercises and the "proper sequences of work and rest [sic] fatigue and recovery, injury and rehabilitation are vital in producing the proficient athlete." When considering the repetition of exercises in particular, the Russians acknowledge a three stage process in learning sporting skills. The first stage requires the athlete to fully comprehend the skill they need to learn "before attempting to master it." Next, the athlete has to learn how "to concentrate full attention" on the skill(s) that they are attempting. Finally, the skills are practiced until they become so well conditioned that the athlete "no longer needs to concentrate consciously on the movements to perform them efficiently."

Klokov could be thinking about his hot Russian wife while snatching 3 kilos over the world record from a deficit.

 5. The Principle of Visualization: Visualization, as you surely already know, refers to an athlete's ability to picture the correct movements necessary for mastery of their sport. The Russians take visualization a step further by encouraging athletes to understand movements through a variety of educational venues, including (but not limited to) coaches, lectures, video analysis, and diagrams. Furthermore, this principle also involves being able to teach the movements to others, particularly "to enhance desirable learning by novices." This transfer of knowledge also ensures that younger athletes are exposed to the type of "exemplary behavior" that is expected of them as they advance towards the higher stages of sports mastery.   

6. The Principle of Specialization: This principle refers to both an individual's  specialization in a particular sport and the use of special exercises for perfecting aspects vital to efficient sport performance. Contrary to the ideals of some American parents, the Russians discourage early specialization in certain sports, particularly strength and endurance sports. Early and intense specialization "does not seem to produce an enduring athlete". Therefore, the Russian model provides a timetable with age ranges to begin, specialize in, and perform at the highest levels of each sport.

7. The Principle of Individualization: What works for Klokov might not necessarily work for Misha. Because of this, "Russian experts stress the importance of designing individual programmes to suit each athlete". This emphasis on individualization is especially important when considering the brain and central nervous system of each athlete, as fluctuations in this essential system make peaking for a competition an important training consideration.  

8. The Principle of Structured Training: Lastly, we come to structured training. In a nutshell, this principle refers to periodization. Periodization is planning, and it encompasses everything from long-term programming all the way down the structure of individual training sessions. While long-term programming is certainly an integral component of this system, the sequence of individual sessions is emphasized. The three general phases that constitute a training session include the initial phase, the main phase, and the concluding phase. The initial phase starts with an introduction, "during which the group is organised, is given an explanation of the session's objectives and participates in general educational drills". This is followed by a general warm-up, a specific warm-up, and then the main phase. While these previous phases are common practice all around the world, the subsequent concluding phase is often neglected. The Russians believe the concluding phase is vital, as "the athlete's body is generally destressed to return to its initial condition so as to enhance recovery, growth and retention of motor skills."

Conclude your sessions and go berserk in competition

If only your Pop Warner football coach had been this organized. You coulda been a contenda, eh? Interesting stuff, no doubt. In an effort to keep the length of this article sane, my thoughts, comments, and suggestions to accompany each principle will be featured in part two of this article series. So stay tuned! As always, be sure to leave any questions or comments you may have in the comments section below. Or, email me at Thanks for reading!


Verkhoshansky, Yuri Vitalievitch., and Mel Cunningham. Siff. "A Philosophy of Physical Training." Supertraining. Sixth ed. Rome, Italy: Verkhoshansky, 2009. 24-26. Print. Expanded Version.      

Saturday, March 10, 2012

10-Second Tip: Loading/Unloading Magic

It is finals week and, unfortunately, the next 7 days of my life will be spent studying and writing essays. However, I don't want to leave my Strength Musings readers hanging, so I have a quick tip to share.

When you are loading/unloading multiple plates during/after a deadlift session, place a 5 pound plate on the ground next to the first plate and roll the first plate on top of it. This will elevate the rest of the plates, making it much easier to slide them off of the bar. For the visual learners out there, this is how it is done:

While I am lucky enough to currently lift at a gym that has a deadlift jack, I used this trick a lot this past summer while working with clients at an internship. I was reminded of this when I recently saw Klokov do it in a video. For those of you who don't know of Klokov, behold:
551 pound paused front squat.

 540 pound jerk.

496 pound push press.

Damn, I am looking forward to the Olympics this summer!

That is it for this week. If you haven't already, be sure to check out some of my past articles. Liftin' Skillz and Setting Up For The Bench Press: A Systematic Approach have been especially popular. Thanks for reading and keep getting stronger!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Training Tricks

By Andrew McGunagle

While working with clients at an internship this past summer, I often found myself saying, "The trick for this exercise is..." I hadn't realized it before that time, but it quickly became clear to me that I had little "tricks" for just about every exercise that my trainees performed. These tricks improved exercise execution and performance instantly, and the individuals that I worked with enjoyed those quick improvements immensely.

Silly rabbit, tricks are for improved lifting safety and performance.
Now, these tricks are not things that I made up on my own. Rather, I picked them up from other lifters and coaches and then tested them in the gym. Whenever one of these adjustments made an exercise safer and more effective, I continued to employ it and made sure to file it away in my memory banks for future teaching purposes. If you have been lifting for a while, you may already employ some of these tricks in your own lifting sessions. Those of you with more gym experience will not find this list particularly revolutionary. Newer lifters, on the other hand, will likely learn some things that will make their next lifting session better than their last one. So, here are four tricks that will lead to instant lifting improvements:  

1. When doing dumbbell rows, stick your leg straight out to the side: For the longest time, I absolutely hated dumbbell rows. I understood their utility in terms of strengthening the lats, lower traps, and rhomboids. However, whenever I did them with heavy weights, I found myself too unstable for the exercise to be effective. When I finally figured out how to fix this problem I facepalmed, as the solution was so ridiculously simple.

Instead of having my foot that was contacting the ground directly underneath me, all I had to do was kick it straight out to the side. Viola! Wider base of support, increased stability, more weight moved with better form. This trick is stupidly simple, yet I have seen surprisingly few lifters actually employ it. Most of the time, you see this (what I was doing before):

This dude just looks unstable
The trick (which I first realized when Bret Contreras mentioned it in his excellent rotary stability article) is to set up like this:

The Glute Guy's got tricks.
Simple? Yes. Effective? You bet. Try this the next time you do DB rows, and I promise that you will be pleasantly surprised with how much more stable you are and, in turn, the ability to move more weight due to this stability. Using this set-up isn't cheating; you are simple getting stable enough to actually utilize the strength that you have. Falling all over the place doesn't get you stronger; moving more weight does. So stick your leg out to the side and use your strength to build your strength!

2. Dig the bar deep into your palms when doing pressing exercises: I will admit that the description "lifting fundamental" fits this tip better than "lifting trick" does. However, despite the fact that virtually every serious lifter know to do this, I have seen enough beginners screw this up to understand that it bears mention. Unless instructed otherwise, the majority of inexperienced lifters will simply grab the bar and hold it up near the bases of their fingers when they first learn to bench or overhead press. When the bar sits up near the fingers, it is further away from the axis of rotation at the wrist. This unnecessary distance makes the position of the hand harder to control, and it almost always causes the lifter's hands to bend back. Digging the bar deep into the palms of your hands gets the bar closer to the axis of rotation at the wrist, which, in turn, makes it much easier to maintain a neutral wrist position.
Left = wrong, right = right
Why is a neutral wrist position important? Well, when you press, you are doing your best to apply force to the bar, right? This force, which is being generated by your pecs, shoulders, and triceps, is utilized most efficiently when it is able to travel from the elbows, up the forearms, through the wrists, and straight into the bar. When the bar is behind the wrist joint, this system is out of balance and the forces that your muscles are producing are not being directly applied to the bar. Whenever I am teaching a person to do a pressing movement, I always make sure to tell them to dig the bar deep into their palms and to squeeze the bar as hard as they can. These two simple cues allow for proper alignment, more efficient pressing, and, last but not least, less stress on the wrists. Dig and squeeze when you press, all the cool kids are doing it.    

3. Set up in the bottom position when doing rear foot elevated split squats: The rear foot elevated split squat (more conveniently called the RFESS) is a good single-leg exercise. I wouldn't go so far as to replace squats with the RFESS, but it is a useful exercise nonetheless. There are two problems that I often encountered when first teaching people the RFESS, 1) they complained about their back foot hurting, and 2) they were too close to the bench in the bottom position. The foot pain caused people to abhor this exercise, and they would do their best to rush through it as quickly as possible. The poor bottom position caused these individuals to shift their weight towards the front of their supporting foot, causing their knees to be subject to increased amounts of stress. Both of these issues were fixed by setting up for the exercise in the bottom position:
Start down here. Weighted vest, heavy DB, and added ROM optional. Unless you are Ben Bruno.
When you set up in the bottom, place the top side of your back foot flat on a bench and position your back knee on a mat/folded towel on the floor. From there, set your forward foot out in front with the knee at a 90 degree angle (shin vertical). Starting with this vertical tibia is important because your weight will inevitably shift forward when you first stand up. If you make the mistake of setting up with an angled shin, you will find that you are much too cramped during your set. A good start makes for a good set, and it also seems to lessen the stress on the back foot. Lastly, setting up this way allows you to avoid fumbling around on one leg trying to find the bench with your foot. Using that method, not only are you unstable, but you inevitably set up a little bit differently each set you do. Consistency trumps inconsistency in the weight room, so set up in the bottom and get it right every time.      

4. When squatting, use a thumbs on top grip and lift your elbows up: This last trick is straight from Mark Rippetoe's fantastic book, Starting Strength. Sure, sure. You've read the book. So has every other serious lifter. But, do you actually use a thumbs on top grip and lift your elbows up? I see very few people actually follow this advice, and I think that they ignore it for three main reasons:
  1. They have always wrapped their thumbs around the bar when squatting and it feels awkward to change.
  2. They believe the, in my opinion, faulty advice to rotate their elbows under the bar when squatting.
  3. And, lastly, they simply do not understand the long-term consequences of using a full grip and having their elbows under the bar.
For those of you that do not understand the difference between the two grips, here is a picture:

Left = wrong, right = right (as a left handed person, this trend is starting to bug me)
On the left, we see what a lot of uninformed lifters do; they, intentionally or unintentionally, have their elbows directly under the bar. This is inadvisable for a couple of reasons. First, your wrists, forearms, and elbows will inevitably be forced to support some of the load when in this position. If you plan on getting strong, then you should also plan on having wrist and/or elbow pain in the future if you use this positioning. The back is a big, solid base that can support heavy loads. The wrists, on the other hand, are relatively meager. The second reason that low elbows is inadvisable is because this position will make it more difficult to maintain your upper back tightness. Squeezing the upper back is a very important part of the squat. This tightness makes it easier to keep your chest up and it prevents the bar from digging down in to your spine. When the elbows are lifted up, your upper back muscles are forced to bunch up, creating a solid base of muscle to support the bar. Also, because the elbows are behind the bar, the majority of the weight is being supported by the back. The back can support loads in excess of 405 pounds; the wrists can not do this effectively.

Placing the thumbs on top of the bar furthers your efforts to keep the stress off of the wrists and on the back. A thumbs on top grip makes it easier to maintain a neutral wrist position when squatting. When you make the mistake of wrapping your thumbs around the bar, the bar tends to drop down into your palm during the set. As the bar digs in to the palms, the wrists tend to bend back. The best example I can give of this is an amazing lifter who went by the internet name "Blenderate". Blenderate wowed the internet lifting community with his amazing heavy high rep squatting. Unfortunately, he had to give up the sport of powerlifting due to spine and elbow issues. I hate to make assumptions, as I do not know what kind of prior injuries may have led to these issues. However, I would be surprised if his thumb and elbow positioning during his squats did not contribute to his elbow problems:

As you can see, his thumbs are wrapped and his elbows are low. Sure, this is only one (admittedly speculative) example. However, the rationale for thumbs on top and elbows up is difficult to counter. If you choose to ignore this advice and continue to use the positioning that you have always used, I can't stop you. Just don't say I didn't warn you.

Training tricks, yo.
There you have it, four lifting tricks for instantly improved lifting safety and performance. I always like learning new lifting tricks, so leave any that you have in the comments section below. Lastly, I want to extend a big thanks to all of my readers. Hundreds of lifters from all around the world have been checking out Strength Musings, and I want to thank all of you for reading (especially with my sometimes excessively long posts). There is much, much more awesome content to come, so stay tuned!