Wednesday 29 July 2009

Monday’s mentionables

JP and I went to train in the USD gym, but it was closed that day. I had a look inside and it is outrageously well kitted out with a generous array of platforms, bars, bumper plates and a whole pick and mix of strength and conditioning goodies. There was even a small track to do sprints and warm ups in. This is the gym that JP trains in with Casey Burgener during the week and in the weekend they split off to Mike Burgener’s place about an hour away. After this we went back to Crossfit and I did the following session:

Power Snatch triples—I worked up to one triple with 80 and then another with 84kg; the latter is included in the video below. I worked on keeping the bar closely to me by engaging my upper and mid back in the first pull. Upon looking at the video i needed to get over the bar a bit more, and that maybe why I was sending it out a little bit. I was on my heels too much I think. This is what video analysis is for.

Jerk behind the neck—I was a little surprised when I saw Harry had put these into the program, because I had not performed this movement in 6 or 8 months. At the beginning they were out of the groove and awkward, but each set saw an improvement in rhythm and position.
I worked up to 2 doubles with 130kg and they felt very solid, so I then did a single with 140kg for a new pb and what I felt was my best jerk of the session. Because this felt so good, I said what the hell and I went up to 150kg just to see what would happen. I nailed it and it actually felt like there was more in the tank, but I was in a rush and I had to get my Squats in. I was pleased with the 150 because the most I got before was a single with 130 the last time performed the movement. This was not planned, but I went with the flow because I was feeling relaxed and enjoying myself.

Back Squat doubles—I had to hurry with these so I worked up to a double with 150kg and I went for a double with 160, but I could only get a single. My legs are still feeling a bit rubbery after the long flights over and although my leg strength felt better than Saturday, it may take another few days to get back to normal. These weights would usually be very straight forward, but not so far over here.

In terms of training over here, I will be happy if I get five or six sessions in total. I am focusing more on maintaining with short workouts that last just over an hour rather than getting any volume in—this is where training in Chick Hamilton’s gym in Kilmarnock will come in! Have a look at the video and if you have any constructive criticism, please leave a comment. Thanks again to JP and all the Crossfit crew for their hospitality.

Sunday 26 July 2009

Saturday's stormer in Crossfit San Diego

I had originally planned to train in Mike Burgener's gym which is about an hour outside San Diego, but he was away and the lady in charge of his place told me that there would not be that many lifters around. I decided to google--this is now an official word in the Oxford dictionary by the way-- and find out where else I could train. I found JP Bolwahn's blog which informed me of Crossfit San Diego. I emailed him and I was warmly invited to train in their facility and in the video below, I show this magnificent gym in all its glory as well as having a brief interview with JP who, along with his girlfriend Lauren and the rest of the Crossfit staff who we went for a few beers with that night, were all very cool. I cannot recommend their place enough with the warm and congenial atmosphere as well as the kick ass facilities.

Here is what I did:

Power and Squat Snatch--I worked up to three doubles with 90, but these were Squat and full Snatches by the end.

Power Clean + Front Squat + Jerk--I worked up to two doubles with 110

Front Squat--I worked up to two doubles with 140. My legs were fried after the long flights over.

Here is the video of my brief stay and you will need audio to listen properly. I will be training in the University of San Diego with JP on Monday and I should have some footage of their facility also.

Wednesday 22 July 2009

Wednesday's worrying slip into old habits

I had a fun session today and some close analysis was needed after I got home and looked at the videos closely. The plan was to Power Snatch to max and to Back Squat to max. But, it did not quite work out like that. Here is what I did:

A relatively short warm up with the bar ensued because time was short.

Power Snatch--
1x1@70, 75, 80, 85, 90, 95--A new training Power Snatch pb. It is on the video below.

Squat Snatch--1x1@98, 100--These were very close to being Power Snatches, but they felt very fast.

Snatch--Myself and Sami agreed I was looking fast so I wanted ot see what would happen. Straight afterwards I regretted it, but then I analysed the videos closely and I think I may have found out why I have not been able to keep that back lock over 100kg.
1x1@106 and then I missed 111 and 109. The misses and successes are below. I could not understand how I was able to keep my back locked two weeks ago and not since then, so I looked at the videos from then and anaylsed them very closely. I realised that I was trying to do over the last two weeks was to lock my back isometrically, when before, Tom had me actively pulling with my mid and upper back along with my legs. This helped me keep that lock and maintain my back angle throughout the first pull.

Now, because I am not actively pulling with my mid/upper back, my ass rises too early and this means I have to swing it in the pull, which also causes me to jump backwards while the bar goes forwards. Because I sorted out my first pull, these two things were not happening, unlike now. I have to sort this out and regroove my first pull. I cannot go back to the way I was lifting before. Have a look at the video and leave any comments if you can help.

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Tuesday's trappings

I had a fun training session today where I was more co-ordinated than the previous day, thankfully. Harry did give out to me for indulging in wishful weightlifting when I did not immediately start on the numbers that I finished with a few weeks ago. This is a lesson that made me reassess what I want to do tomorrow. Simply put, the fatigue built up from the last cycyle of training and working in that summer camp-- which was really tiring!-- means that I have to build up again and then take over from where I was.

I will be going to California for two and a half weeks on Thursday, so I guess it will start off after that. I will train a bit while over there, but only to maintain where I am at. A few days after I return, myself, Cathal Byrd and Andy Murphy will be training in Charlie 'Chick' Hamilton's gym in Kilmarnok, Scotland for a week which should be a great learning experience. Anyway, here is what I did today:

Power Snatch--I worked up to 3x3 @80--These were more tiring than heavy. Harry was reminding me to stay over the bar while keeping my back locked.

2 Cleans + 1 Jerk--I worked up to 4x2@110--I missed the first Jerk due to a lack of concentration, but I nailed every one after that. Even though this is a weight I have used for a triple in the Power Clean, they felt relatively heavy. Two sets are in the video below, so any constructive criticism is welcome.

Back Squats--3x3@140--I left it light because I will be doing some Back Squat singles tomorrow.

Monday 20 July 2009

Monday's marvels

I was supposed to be away for five days, but things did not pan out as expected. I feel like a different person after four days off training and I have finished working in the Summer Camp that I did for two weeks--which was actually far more tiring than I expected!

This morning I did an enjoyable primer session and here was the plan:

A warm up with some bar work and a medicine ball.
1. 1 Hang Power Snatch + 1 Hang Squat Snatch--I worked up to a nice and easy double with 80, which felt fast and locked in.

2. Good morning to press behind neck--1x5 @ 40, 50, 60

3. Clean Grip RDL--My back lock gave out on me the previous day so I performed these to activate and wake up my lower and mid back. 1x5@70, 80, 90

I finished off the first session with some partner flexibility.

Session 2

1. Snatch doubles—I worked up to an easy double with 80 and then my form deserted me with 90, and I struggled to Snatch it even though this is an easy Power Snatch. I left it there but in hindsight I should have reverted to Hang Snatches. Lesson learned.

2. Snatch Pulls—I worked up to a double with 110 and these also did not feel right so I left them.

3. Same story with the Cleans. It felt like I was re-learning the movement. Can five days off have this much of an effect?

4. Front Squat—I needed to salvage the session and I felt like my strength was ok, if not my co-ordination. I worked up to a double with 110 and then did singles with 120, 130, 140, 150, 160 for a pb and 165 for a second pb. These felt good and i am glad something came of this strange workout.

Here is a video of Sami, who got pb’s today in his Power Clean + Squat Clean double—112kg, his Snatch double—87.5kg and his Back Squat double and single with 155kg. I think it is safe to say he has more in him and that Harry’s masterplan is working. My Front Squats are also included. Any constructive criticism is welcome as always.

Friday 17 July 2009

Wednesday's wretched lack of co-ordination and motor skills

I wanted to do a quick testing on Wednesday, but I needed to listen to the body a bit more. I was still wrecked, but I gave it a bash anyway. My basic co-ordination felt pretty ropy and I was unable to keep a basic back lock which was a bit annoying. My speed felt great though, particularly after watching Zlatan Vanev in the Ironmind Unbelievable Bulgarians tape. I was able to Snatch 100 and 105 due to a quick second pull despite no back lock, so I suppose I have to be happy with that. The problem was that this back lock absenteeism was causing me to swing the bar out too much. I missed 109 twice, and it did not feel heavy, but more that I felt a complete lack of co-ordination. Here is a video of the lifts and a surprise return of an Irish weightlifting legend-turned coach in action also.
I will be away for 5 days, but I am a third of the way through a three part article, so I will finish that off over the next few days. This means I will have more than my anticipated 5 days off, but I played a full game of tag rugby last night and I am burnt out, so I think I need the rest.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

Tuesday's transcendence

Here is a video I made after my training session on Saturday. It looks back briefly on how my Snatch has progressed over the last fourteen months since I have started lifting. There is a very clear progression in my style and technique even if the narrative is not as linear as most videos. Have a look and let me know what you think. As always, constructive criticism is both necessary and welcome.

Monday 13 July 2009

Monday's mouth-watering guest article

Here is a guest article on the benefits of the Snatch Balance by Andy Murphy, who is a 77kg lifter--100kg/120kg-- and a professional strength and conditioning coach. He has a degree in Sport's Science from the University of Limerick, an IAWA Weightlifting Level One coaching certificate, and he also happens to have a very short memory. Just ask Eamonn "Deadman" Flanagan--who has also contributed a guest article which you can look at here.

The Snatch Balance.

The snatch balance is an assistance exercise for the snatch. The snatch balance enables the lifter to become more efficient at receiving the bar in the overhead squat position.

The bar is taken from the rack behind the neck and held is position with the lifter's normal snatch grip. The lifter stands up straight with their normal snatch foot position and rotates the elbows forward underneath the bar. This is important, as otherwise when the bar is driven overhead, the bar will be pushed out in front.

The lifter bends the knees and then forcefully extends, pushing the bar overhead, while simultaneously pushing themselves under and driving the feet out into their normal snatch receiving position.

The lifter, after stabilising the bar overhead, stands back up with the bar held securely overhead and either lowers the bar back down to shoulders behind the neck or drops it to the floor depending on shoulder health, weight lifted or reps to be performed.

Some common faults on the snatch balance are:

1. Driving the bar too high and riding the bar down. The bar should be driven just high enough in order to enable the lifter to push them underneath and secure the bar in the receiving position.

2. Not moving the feet out into the normal squat position of the snatch.

3. Driving the bar out in front. This can be cured by rotating the elbows underneath the bar and also be having a more vertical dip and drive phase.

4. The feeling of the bar crushing down on the lifter. This is due to either bad timing or due to the lifter driving the bar up forcefully and just flopping under the bar instead of actively pushing themselves under the bar.

The snatch balance is an important exercise for lifters that are uncomfortable in the receiving position of the snatch or that miss lifts due to a poor lockout in the receiving position.

The advantages of the snatch balance over other assistance exercises such as overhead squat and snatch drops are:

1. You are required to stabilise the bar at speed overhead as you are descending under the bar similar to the snatch.

2. You are required to extend the hips, knees etc and then forcefully rebend while pushing yourself under again replicating the snatch.

3. You become accustomed to stabilising and supporting weights in excess of your best snatch and thus when you come to snatch heavy the stabilising and supporting phase of the catch proves to no longer be the limiting factor.

4. For people with wrist issues there is less strain on the wrist than in an overhead squat due to the fact that the bar is not holding their wrist in the extended position for as long.

I have had reasonable success with the use of this exercise in my training. In my own lifting I find I have a strong pull but during the turnover and lockout the arms tend to be very lazy and almost soft in the receiving position. I find the snatch balance enables me to be much more stable in the receiving position and also much more confident with heavier weights.

I have used the snatch balance as my main snatch exercise in a session and I have also used it as somewhat of a warm up exercise performing maybe 5 singles around 80-85 % of my best snatch before some snatch or hang snatch. I have also used it in my normal snatch warm up with 40-50% of my best snatch and find it really enables me to find a comfortable receiving position. I have found that in my own training it works best when it is followed by some type of snatch movement.

I have used mainly singles in this lift due to the awkward starting position which I feel would not be the safest to perform with multiple repetitions. I think lifters who sometimes have a problem stabilising the bar overhead in the bottom of the snatch could benefit hugely from the addition of this exercise to their training toolbox.

Here is a short video of Andy performing the Snatch Balance. If you have any thoughts on the article or comments, please leave them below. In my own training, I worked out on Saturday and Snatched 100 for four singles missing the last and had a token session after that and also another shoddy enough session today. I am still recovering from the volume that my nervous system is not used to yet.

Saturday 11 July 2009

Wednesday's write up

I had a short and sweet session on Wednesday which lasted an hour and a quarter in total. I am quite busy at the moment and this, allied to my training over the last few weeks, means that I am tired, but content with how my training is going. Everything was very light again and is supposed to be a sort of active recovery. Here is what I did:

A fifteen minute warm up with stretching, some bar work and basic mobility drills that we used to do when we were eight years old. You have to love the classics!

Power Snatch doubles--I worked up to a double with 80kg.

2 Cleans and 1 Jerk--I worked up to a set with 100 and I left it there.

Front Squat doubles--I worked up to an easy double with 120 and that was that.

Here is a video that is very relevant to weightlifting, even though it is not immediately obvious. There is an idea that it takes 10,000 hours to master an art, sport etc. The article is fascinating so I suggest you read it. This video has some similarities with it also and I found it very encouraging as a person and as a weightlifter:

Here are a few nice weightlifting videos to end the post:

Last but not least is a variation of video I posted before, but Pablo Lara is a legend and his technique is exemplary:

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Tuesday's torpid active recovery

Today myself and Sami had an active recovery session in the gym with a very light workout and plenty of stretching in the warm up. We are both wrecked from the volume over the last six weeks and also the testing during the weekend, so this session was exactly what we needed. Here is what I did:

Snatch--I worked up to a double with 85kg and left it at that.

Snatch Pulls--I worked up to a double with 100. It was not heavy but the co-ordination was not the greatest.

Power Clean+Squat Clean--I only did three sets of two with 70kg's as what I was doing did not feel like Cleans at all, but some strange, broomstick waving, magical wand manoeuver. I did not try to continue with the Cleans because there should be no trace of these bastardised versions of the Clean in my system when I train next.

Back Squat--I worked up to a nice double with 130 and left it at that. I did around ten minutes flexibility at the end and I went home.

Here is a video of some new lady lifters who are rugby players who are learning the lifts. The video clealy shows that they have talent. They all overhead Squat comfortably and as one part of their program, perform triples in the Drop Snatch, the Hang Snatch, the Clean and Jerk and also some Jerk skill drills.

Sunday 5 July 2009

Sunday's standing on the 'I need to work on my Jerk' issue

Today was another intense session down in the University of Limerick. Yesterday, we Snatched to maximum and Sami Clean and Jerked to max while I went easy on them. Today I went to max on the Clean and Jerks.

Glute activation warm up with some bar work

1. Power Snatch--I worked up to a single with 85kg and I left it at that.

2. Clean and Jerk--My shoulder girdle was quite stiff in the beginning of the session and everything was a bit slow. I worked my way into it and did singles with 100, 110, 120 and on the first attempt of 130, I cleaned it easily but the bar landed on my wind-pipe so I dropped it at the top. I got a nice success with the next attempt.

I then went up to 135kg and I missed the Jerk on this because I went onto my toes on the Jerk dip and lost it forward. I got it nicely on my second attempt. I then went to 140kg, and I cleaned it twice, but missed the Jerk both times. On the first, my left elbow gave out with a poor lock. On the second, I tried to get my chest through, but ended up pushing through too much and lost it behind. This was frustrating because the Cleans felt very solid, but I could not quite get the Jerks in tune today.

3. Zombie Squats--After foolishly going for 140 a third time after finishing and then mentally switching off for five minutes, I hurt my wirst slightly when the Clean fell on top of me. This meant I could not Front Squat so on Cathal's suggestion, I tried the Zombie Squat which is the same as a Front Squat except that your arms reach out in front of the bar like a Zombie, instead of gripping. like in a Front Squat. I worked up to a triple with 130 and singles with 140 and 150kg. These ensure that you have a locked back and core and you can only go as low as you can keep your back locked.

Sami ended up Cleaning and then Power Cleaning 120, but narrowly missed the Jerk twice. He also got a 15kg pb in his one rep max in the Front Squat, which was due a long time. Here is a video of our lifting and some of the banter, so any constructive criticism would be fantastic.

Saturday 4 July 2009

Saturday's Snatch success

Myself and Sami drove down to Limerick last night to train with Murph and Cathal. I had a day off on Tuesday, a stretching session on Wednesday, a light technique session on the Thursday and a day off on the Friday. I still felt pretty rough this morning in our first session, but with a Lions' win and some cafeine, I was flying for the second session.

Session One-- 11am

Power and Squat Snatch--I worked up to two or three doubles with 80kg. Harry was trying to get me to stay over the bar a little more and he thought I was too far back on my heels.

Power Jerk--I worked up to two doubles with 100. Again, these felt very rough and the co-ordination was not the Mae West.

We then started training again after the Lions' game four hours later.

Session two

Snatch--I worked up to singles with 97.5kg, 102.5kg, 107.5kg and a new pr of 110kg first time. None of these Snatches felt particularly nice as I was not finishing my pull. I missed my first attempt of 112.5kg due to a soft finish and I sorted it out for my second attempt, which was another pr and by far my best Snatch. My attempt of 115kg was slow and cumbersome, but I know I will get it next time.

Clean and Jerk--I was wrecked for these and only went up to 120kg. I am saving myself for a new pr in the Clean and Jerk tomorrow. Right now I am very tired, but another power session in the morning and I should feel good tomorrow.

Sami Snatched a new pr of 95kg and narrowly missed 97.5kg. He Clean and Jerked four new pr's and went form a 110kg Clean and Jerk to 119.5kg. These pr's were coming for a long time for the two of us and when we test in another week and a half, more will follow.

Thursday 2 July 2009

Thursday’s tempest—at least for how I lift.

This is a short reflective article on my 8 day training camp in the Netherlands. I have a training report from each day with videos either below this post or you can also get them from the archive on the right hand side of each page.

I learned many things in my 8 days training in Holland with Tom Bruijen. In this post I will deal with some of the technical aspects of weightlifting that I not only learnt, but more importantly, felt in a kinaesthetic and physical manner. Of course, these are all relevant to me and are all very obvious, but like I said, you have to FEEL it.

1. I have learned for the first time what it feels like to lift with a flat and arched back. This transforms the entire feeling of a lift and how you experience the movement. I am able to fully use the power in my legs and hips and not rely on my mid/upper back so much, in the Snatch in particular. On Monday I was not able to maintain this back arch past 100kg despite getting the lifts, but that is up to me to ingrain the altered starting position into my automatic technique through focused repetitions, rather than mindless warm up. If I am unable to maintain concentration on form throughout the warm up I do not deserve to improve on my total.

2. The assistance exercises Harry and I choose to include in my program have to work on both the improvement of technique as well as specifically activating and strengthening the relevant muscle groups. For me, the muscles all long my spine are not used to being properly activated and employed for optimal technique, the lower back in particular.

3. In both the Snatch and the Clean in particular, I simply do not extend and finish my pull enough. This is something that Harry, Tommy Hayden and Wayne Healy have commented on; like the new starting position, I must ingrain how this feels and form a habit of extending fully with the lighter weights so that it carries through when the intensity ramps up.

4. In the Jerk, it all starts with the Jerk Dip. If this is not fluid and does not hit the right position, everything else will more than likely go to the doldrums. The habit of staying on the heels in the dip is just about there, but I still need to be concentrate on it until it is second nature.

5. How I rack the bar in the Jerk controls how I extend in the Jerk drive and how much power of the hips and legs can be utilised. I was made aware of this for the first time in Bucharest when Kevin D’Arcy and Cathal Byrd pointed out how my shoulder girdle was slightly caved in when in the rack position. I worked on this a bit with Harry in the training camp at the start of June, but it only started to feel comfortable this week because I made my grip wider in the Clean which made it wider in the Jerk and easier to ‘open up’ the shoulder girle and upper back. Now that this position and the Jerk Dip are far more comfortable, I can focus on how I drive in my extension and then drive myself under the bar with a secure lock.

6. When squatting, it is imperative that I keep my back lock all the way down and up—again building this habit with the lighter weights first. I must also gradually get my feet a bit wider when squatting so that it mirrors my catch position in the Snatch and clean comfortably.

7. My flexibility is improving at a snail’s pace, but I have to continue working on it—focusing, as always, on the hips, groin, hamstrings and back.
These are the main things I learned training with Tom, but the seeds of many of these aspects were sown months ago. A training week like this gives one the time to focus on these kinds of issues and with few distractions, also the energy. It also goes to show how more than one coach can help one’s technique and lifting as well as many of your lifting peers. These are all basic points that most of you probably already know, but in my opinion you must get the physical ‘feel’ of an aspect of technique before you can truly understand it and begin to adapt. It is not enough to comprehend the concept; kinaesthetic awareness is the fulcrum from which you can begin to adapt. These are only my opinions; feel free to agree or disagree. If anyone has any tips that they learned in a similar or different way, please leave a comment.