Core Lifts

Good Mornings
This is an excellent warmup lift that works and stretches the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. Position your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and place an empty barbell (45 lbs) on your shoulders as though you are doing squats. Then, with your knees slightly bent, bend slowly at the waist until your torso is parallel to the floor. Keep your head up and back flat. Slowly return to a standing position, repeat. As I say, "good mornings" are an excellent warmup exercise, and I think they should stay that way. That is, you should use this exercise purely as a warmup; never attempt to add weight to this lift.

Dead lifts
Place a barbell on the floor with about the same amount of weight you can squat. With feet shoulder-width apart, bend at the knees and grasp the bar with your hands (one palm facing forward, one backward). While keeping your head up (think of looking at the ceiling), stand up with your arms straight. At the peak of the lift, with the bar somewhere near the top of your thighs, pull your shoulders back and hold for a second. Lower the bar to the floor (don't drop it!). Repeat.

The key to doing a proper "dead lift" is in lifting with your legs and butt, not your back; don't make the mistake of straightening your legs, then lifting the bar with your back. Follow this rule: If your hips move, the bar must move. If your hips move and the bar doesn't, reduce the weight.

Power Cleans
This is the first half the Olympic "clean and jerk" lift, the part in which the athlete takes the barbell from the floor to his/her chest in one quick motion. Place the barbell on the floor, loaded with about half the weight you can dead lift. With your feet shoulder-width apart and both palms facing backward (toward your body), accelerate the bar upward with your legs, glutes, lower back and traps. As the bar passes your waist, drop quickly into a lunge position (one foot forward, one foot back) as you snap your wrists back and throw your elbows under the bar. Stand erect, bringing your feet together, while resting the bar on your upper chest. Lower the bar in two motions, one to your waist, then to the floor. Repeat.

The secret to proper (and safe) "power cleans" lies in keeping the bar in the same plane throughout the entire lift. Too many novice lifters make the mistake of letting the bar get away from their bodies early in the lift and then yanking it back into their chests as they near the top of the lift. Clearly, such a motion is hard on the lower back, and it may cause the lifter to actually fall backward (which is why your spotter must be behind you for this lift). Keep the bar in the same plane and think of moving your body around the bar and under the bar. **If you've never done power cleans, practice the motion a couple dozen times before doing it with an empty barbell. Only add weight after your weightroom supervisor has OKed your technique.

1/2 Squats
These are "cheater's squats" -- that is, your butt only drops about 1/2 way down to a "real squat" (thighs parallel to the floor). There are several related reasons for doing this particular lift, all of which revolve around one biological truism: Muscles are stupid and lazy things; they'll always do the least amount of work possible. Dead lifts and power cleans do an excellent job of working the glutes, quads, and hamstrings in deep flexion, but in shallow flexion (near the top of the lift) these muscle groups don't have to work very hard because the leverage is so much better. A quick numerical example might help: A 300 lb. dead lift may work the quads, glutes, and hamstrings at or near 100% at the bottom of a dead lift, but these muscle groups may only be working at 80% 1/3 of the way up, 60% 1/2 way up and less than %20 near the top of the lift. As I say, since muscles are such lazy things, you need to add an exercise to your workout that works these muscle groups at or near their capacity in shallow flexion (near the top of the lift). Half squats do this perfectly. (Incidentally, this is exactly the reasoning behind Nautilus machines. By shaping the gears like seashells, these machines increase the resistance near the top of every lift, forcing our stupid and lazy muscles to work hard throughout the entire range of motion.)

You should also recognize that when athletes jump, only the top 1/2 (or even less) of the dead lift motion comes into play in redirecting the forward momentum of the approach into the upward momentum of the jump. The more weight you can handle in that portion of the dead lift motion, the more quickly and efficiently you will convert your horizontal approach speed into vertical jumping force. And the way to increase the weight you can handle in the portion of the motion is by doing half squats . . . really heavy half-squats.

Front raises
This lift works the anterior deltoids, the muscles on the front of your shoulder, which are instrumental in generating strong double-arm swing necessary for part-to-whole momentum transfer. Hold a dumbell in each hand while standing erect (knees slightly bent). Keeping your arms straight, raise the dumbells in front of your to shoulder level, with the backs of your hands facing the ceiling. Lower your arms. Repeat.

To make sure that you work the muscles hard throughout the full range of motion, you should do three versions of this lift, rotating them in a three-day cycle. On Mondays, do the standing version described above. On Wednesdays, do the same lift while laying face up on a flat bench, letting the dumbells touch the floor before each rep. On Fridays, do the same lift while laying face up on an incline bench, with your head at the lower end of the bence. Allow the dumbells to pull your arms down and behind you as far as possible before each rep. (Each rep stops when your arms are perpendicular to the floor.)

Side raises
This exercise works the lateral deltoids, the muscles on the outside of your shoulders. While they are not directly involved in the double-arm swing necessary for good jumping, they help stabilize the joint. Grasp a dumbell in each hand while standing erect, arms at your side. Slowly raise your hands to the side, with your arms slightly bent, until the weights are level with your ears (keep the backs of your hands toward the ceiling). Lower the dumbells. Repeat.

As with front raises, you should vary this lift slightly from day to day. On Mondays, do the standing version. On Wednesdays, do the exercise one arm at a time while laying on your side on a flat bench. Allow the dumbell (and your arm) to hang to the floor in front of your chest. Slowly raise the weight to vertical, keeping your arm slightly bent. **Keep the weight light when doing this version of the side raises.

Rear raises
This lift, as you might surmise, works the posterior deltoids, the muscles in the back of your shoulders. These muscle groups are instrumental in "blocking" the momentum created by the anterior deltoids during the double-arm swing. Posterior deltoids also play a large part in generating arm-speed toward the ball as you hit.

Grasp a dumbell in each hand while standing erect. Raise them behind you as high as possible, keeping your arms straight and pointing your palms toward the ceiling. Lower them and repeat. One variation that works these muscles in a slightly different range of motion involves doing them while laying face down on a flat, high bench, preferably one that allows your arms to dangle freely without touching the floor. A second variation that works the posterior deltoids in yet another range of motion requires you to lay face up on a flat bench with your arms (and the dumbells) extended over your head. As with the third "side raise" variation, use light weight when doing this last posterior deltoid lift.

Weighted Crunches or Hyperextended Situps
At the moment of the plant, a good jumper's chest is forward and down, and as s/he jumps, s/he generates momentum by using the lower back to yank the torso upward. The instant before the jumper leaves the ground (and the instant the torso reaches vertical), the abs contract, effectively blocking the torso's motion and transferring its momentum from part-to-whole. The first four lifts in this program strengthen the lower back, but an excellent jumper must also have strong abs.

Everyone knows what crunches are; I'm simply suggesting that you do them while clutching a weight to your chest. Hyperextended situps are a bit more obscure. Sit sideways on a weight bench (so that no part of the bench is behind you), and have a partner hold down your feet. With your hands behind your head, slowly lean backwards as far as you can go, letting your head touch the floor if possible. Do a standard situp from this position. Repeat. As mentioned on the Jump Training Page, many coaches and trainers abhor this exercise . . . "Too hard on the lower back," they say. Yes, it can be, but it's a much more thorough exercise than "crunches," which, I'm convinced, have become popular largely because the nascent health club industry needed a way to convince its soft-bellied clients that they were "workin' hard and makin' progress" so the money would keep rolling in. Regular situps were just too friggin' hard for most people, so the health club industry invented the myth that crunches provide all the ab work one needs.

Ah, but I digress. . . . Try a set or two of hyperextended situps. If they bother your back, don't do them. If they don't bother back initially, try them for a couple weeks, perhaps interspersing a set or two with your regular ab routine. If they *still* don't bother your back, you should keep doing them. They are a great exercise because they work your abs through a full range of motion while working your hip flexors as well.

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Updated August 2000.

Copyright 2000 by Tom Wilson. All rights reserved.
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