More Power to Ya: 2 lifts that develop strength & integrate muscle groups

More Power to Ya
2 lifts that develop strength & integrate muscle groups
Story & Photos by Jeff and Martha Ellis

Editor's Note: This article originally ran in the July 2007 issue of FireRescue magazine.

There are many benefits to performing lifts that recruit multiple muscle groups in a single movement. Aside from being efficient, these lifts help train your body to move in a useful fashion. After all, we rarely find ourselves in situations that require us to curl an object using only our biceps. Instead, we're usually in a compromised, awkward position trying to lift something from the ground over our shoulders.

To initiate a power clean, stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, toes turned out slightly with the bar at your toes. Grip the bar so your arms are just outside your legs. Both hands should be in an overhand grip. Additionally, make sure your knees are bent, your butt is down and your head is up, in a neutral position.

The high-pull portion of the power clean utilizes mostly shoulder and arm strength to bring the weight up to your chest. Also, although your legs are straight, you will actually extend up onto your toes during the high-pull segment.

Flip the weight back onto your chest by flicking your wrists back to about a 90-degree angle, bend your knees to move your body under the weight and drop your elbows in against your body. The weight now rests at or near your collarbone. This is also the start position for the thruster exercise.

The start position for the thruster: Stand with the barbell across your chest, much like the "up" position of the power clean, wrists back, elbows down at your sides. Then drop into a squat, holding the weight steady at your chest. When you reach your lowest comfortable point, push up and out of the squat with power and speed.

As you re-approach the start position, initiate the overhead press. The weight should extend over your head into a full military press and then be lowered immediately back to your chest.

When analyzing the different tasks we perform on the fireground, throwing ladders is likely the most common movement that requires us to lift a fairly heavy object from the ground to overhead. Two of the most helpful lifts we use to strengthen this movement pattern are power cleans and thrusters. Both lifts utilize multiple muscle groups, developing strength and integration of muscle use. In other words, the lifts help ensure our muscles work well together.

As you lift a load from the ground over head, the burden of the weight must be seamlessly transitioned among the various muscle groups. As the position of the load changes, different areas of your body become the power or strength source. For example, when throwing a ladder, you initially lift with your legs. Once the ladder reaches mid-thigh and your legs are almost straight, your arms and upper back take over. Finally, most of the strength you need for overhead pushing as you walk your hands up the rungs comes from your shoulders.
If you throw a ladder properly, the entire process-from lifting it off the ground to walking the rungs-should be seamless. This is exactly how the following lifts should be performed as well. The lifts first recruit the leg muscles. If you hesitate or stop the motion at your waist, you lose the power and inertia generated by your legs. This is where integration of muscle use comes into play. Before the weight comes to rest at your waist, your arms and upper back kick in to take it the rest of the way-an all-in-one fluid movement.

Power Cleans
Power cleans are typically performed using an Olympic barbell, but if you don't have one, you can use dumbbells. To start, stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, toes turned out slightly, with the bar at your toes. Grip the bar so your arms are just outside your legs, and position both hands in an overhand grip. Additionally, make sure your knees are bent, your butt is down and your head is up, in a neutral position. Looking forward will help get your body into the correct position.

Initiate the lift by simultaneously straightening your legs and back. Don't straighten your legs too quickly, leaving your back bent over to hold all the weight. Remember, these are integrated lifts; many muscle groups are working together to advance the weight. Note: When lifting objects from the ground, focus on keeping the weight as close to your body as possible; bringing the weight out in front of your body will put undue stress on your back and shoulders.

As the weight passes your knees and moves up your thighs, a different team of muscles takes over. Without hesitation, at the point when your legs are straightening and your body is nearly upright, move into a high pull. Remember: Don't hesitate during any of these transitions. It takes a lot more energy to stop and restart the weight movement than it does to just keep it moving.

The high pull utilizes mostly shoulder and arm strength to bring the weight up to your chest. Additionally, although your legs are straight by the time you finish the high pull, you can still get a little more lift from your lower body by rising up onto your toes during the final phase of the high pull. Sound complicated? It can be. This lift takes coordination and practice.

Once you've reached the highest point of your high pull, you'll be on your toes, elbows pointed out, and your wrists relaxed and hanging down. Then, flip the weight back onto your chest by flicking your wrists back to about a 90-degree angle, bend your knees to move your body under the weight and drop your elbows in against your body. The weight now rests at or near your collarbone.

The entire lift is then reversed in order to get the weight back to the ground: Pop the weight off your chest with a quick downward flex of your wrists while simultaneously bringing your elbows up and out. As you lower the weight past your waist, bend at the waist and knees to bring it the rest of the way to the ground. Repeat this lift 6-12 times depending on your desired outcome.

Thrusters
Thrusters are similar to power cleans in that the lift incorporates several different muscle groups and involves a transfer of the lifting effort from one area of the body to another. The nice thing about this lift is that it doesn't require quite as much coordination as the power clean.

The start position for this lift: Stand with the barbell across your chest, much like the "up" position of the power clean, wrists back, elbows down at your sides. You can use a power clean to get the barbell to your chest, or just lift it off the rack and into position.

There are two parts to this lift: the squat and the overhead press. First, drop into a squat, holding the weight steady at your chest. When you reach your lowest comfortable point, push up and out of the squat with power and speed.

As you re-approach the start position, initiate the overhead press, taking full advantage of the upward momentum generated by the leg press. Extend the weight over your head in a full military press, then lower it immediately back to your chest. This is a fast, fluid lift. Once the weight is to your chest, drop back into the squat, starting the sequence again.

Get Lifting
If you really want to expedite your workout, try combining the lifts. Begin with the power clean. Once the weight is at your chest, drop into a squat, and then power up into the overhead press. Lower the weight back to your chest, then down to the ground, as if finishing the power clean. Repeat accordingly.

Although these lifts are dynamic, powerful movements, always remain in control and balanced to prevent injury. Being powerful is not the same as flailing around with the weight.

These lifts are great for getting you in and out of the gym in a hurry. Throw in some pull-ups between sets and you've covered as many muscle groups as you normally would in a week. Note: If you feel unsure about these or any other lift, seek a personal trainer's advice and coaching for hands-on guidance.

Division Chief Martha Ellis has been a firefighter with the Salt Lake City Fire Department (SLCFD) for more than 15 years, serving as a firefighter, an engineer, a media technician, an ARFF training officer, an airport fire marshal and currently the fire marshal for Salt Lake City. She has won the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge Women’s Division five times, and held the world record for 8 consecutive years. She also works as a certified fitness coordinator for the SLCFD.

Captain Jeff Ellis of the Murray (Utah) Fire Department (MFD) has served for more than 25 years as a firefighter, an engineer, a hazmat technician and a shift training captain. He’s been a certified fitness coordinator for the department since 1996. As a competitor in the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge, he has won two overall world championships, three Over 40 world championships and helped MFD take the team trophy. He has been active in teaching all aspects of firefighting, including swiftwater rescue and fitness and nutrition in the fire service.

E-mail your fitness-related questions or comments to Jeff and Martha at fit2serve@gmail.com.





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