Jan 29, 2015
The Core of Four

ryanjohnson-head.jpgBy Ryan Johnson

Wayzata (Minn.) High School Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Ryan Johnson, shares an innovative, systematic approach to performing the Olympic lifts using a 13-pound, five-foot-long steel rod. Called the “Core of Four,” Johnson uses the bar to progress less experienced athletes through primary lift movements. For more experienced lifters, the Core of Four serves as a dynamic warmup.

While the rest of the country is worried about the dreaded H1N1 the folks at Wayzata have caught Blue and Gold Fever. Our sports teams are having another very successful fall campaign and on Nov. 8, our community voted to extend another school levy referendum to further our funds for education. This combination has everyone dancing arm in arm around town, and man is it exciting.

Soccer got the year started with a bang: our girls were recently crowned state champs after knocking off a nationally ranked team, and our boys were state runners up. Our Boys Cross Country team finished second in the state and was very close to winning its third straight titles. Currently, our football and volleyball teams are playing in the state tournaments, looking to make their own successful runs.

A large part of our great fall can be attributed to an outstanding summer and a new curriculum of weight training we had instituted. Then, I marveled at its success on a structural level–it was easy to instruct and lead–now, our fall sports results are validating it on a competitive level.

Before I describe the program in detail I have to give credit to its creators, Scott Sahli and Larry Meadors. Both Scott and Larry are very involved in the Minnesota Chapter of the NSCA, and have been recognized time and again by the organization.

Our new curriculum (I love describing this as curriculum as I feel that it best represents our teaching/learning initiative) is a systematic approach to performing the Olympic lifts through a layered series of safe movements. At the foundation is the Core of Four (Cx4), which is the initial series of movements we teach all our athletes.

The Cx4 is comprised of the following: • Front Squat • OH Squat • RDL • High Jump Shrug

After the athletes have mastered the Cx4 we begin to train in a series of progressions for our other primary lifts. This system allows for the Cx4 to be a dynamic warm up or a stand-alone lift depending on the day.

Our lifting progressions are composed of the following: clean, jerk, and snatch.

When athletes begin Cx4 workouts, they do so lifting a 13-pound, five-foot long, one inch diameter steel rod. We buy the rods in 20-foot lengths and have them cut down to five foot sections. We then grind down the edges and actually coat the bar with floor finish so it doesn’t cut, scratch, or rust.

These rods are accessible at every platform and begin the instruction of the Cx4. This rod is a great start for our youth and it also serves as a perfect dynamic warm up for our experienced lifters. Our first lift is the front squat, which teaches great spine position that will lead to other lower body squat exercises as well as teaching the catch position for the clean. The second lift is the overhead squat, an exercise vital to identifying flexibility and core strength deficiencies. It also serves as the catch phase of the snatch lift, and is as an excellent warm-up exercise.

The third lift is the RDL or Romanian Dead Lift. This exercise is a major component of the pull phase of the clean exercise and is also an excellent hamstring exercise by itself. The final lift of the Cx4 is the high jump shrug. This exercise takes a normal bar shrug and adds the RDL pull and triple extension of the hips, knees, and ankles. This quick, but very effective series is part of the hang clean exercise, and when done in quick succession very much resembles the lift itself.

When the Cx4 progression is taught as an intro to training, we progressively have the athletes graduated from the 13-pound rod to heavier bars and then add weight to the bars as they increase their work loads. When used as a dynamic warmup, we stick to a 3×5 set/rep range and go through each exercise in successive order three times before moving on to the next.

We have seen tremendous improvement in all of our lifts from all levels with this protocol. The lift progressions are equally impressive as we break down the lifts in a similar fashion.

Often times we hear about strengthening the core and its importance in training and activity. Many people perform isolated “core” work in an attempt to strengthen the low back and abs, but neglect large exercises that actually do the same work with two feet on the ground.

I was describing this curriculum to our girls’ cross country coach, as he wanted to find alternative ways to help his runners build core strength. He wavered a bit at first as I mentioned our methods, but really saw the light as he watched my young son perform the series of lifts with the 13-pound bar. I explained how much better my son’s push-up form had become after doing a summer of the Cx4, and he broke into a big grin as he saw the connection to the core.

You can reach Ryan Johnson with your questions or blog ideas at: [email protected].

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