Saturday 27 February 2010

Saturday's spirit

My rest and recovery week is over now and I am starting my new 8 week program to take me up to Nationals and world domination on Monday. I am meeting up with Harry tomorrow evening to put the finishing touches on it and I am already looking forward to it. There are a few things I must sort out as well as I can in these 8 weeks:

1. Have a flat back when lifting: I have booked my flights and accomodation and myself and Zag are going over to Tom Bruijen's place. He helped me a lot last June and the only time I have been able to lift with a flat back was after training with him. I will be going over from March 31st to April 4th and will train every day. I am already looking forward to it. In the meantime, I will continue to do my back mobility work, flexibility and will do more core training.

2. The plan is to stick to the plan: I am stealing this phrase from Dan John. Basically, I need my plan to be so well organised that what gets me in trouble is taken out of the equation: me! By being more organised and having more specific targets to hit, I will take out my ego and pride. These get me in trouble and cause me to steer clear of the plan. I need and will have far more specific targets and I will stick to them. When I have light days, I will stay light. When I have heavy days, by God I will go heavy. I need to trust the plan and not my mind which lies to me all the time.

3. Widen Snatch grip: I started this when I trained on Monday, Thursday and Friday. I have widened my grip out an inch and a half on both sides and the movement does feel different and I feel less powerful, but I know it is a necessity. I will now no longer Snatch with as narrow a grip as before and I will force my body to co-operate. I know this will help me in the long run and I am willing to sacrifice short term poundage for long term gain.

4. I have to get stronger: While I am taking my time getting used to my new Snatch grip, I will be getting stronger in the squat. The Russian program got me up to where I was when I weighed 100kg--I am now 95--and over the next 8 weeks I need to Back Squat 190 and Front Squat 170. I am expecting this to be relatively comfortable. Like my classical lifts, I will work out what exactly I need to be lifting each week in order to get those numbers without psyching myself to the gills and going all powerlifter on it. I now I can do it.

5. Take my mind out of my lifting: When I was going well in January and early February, I disciplined myself to leave out thinking and analysing while lifting. Reading The Inner Game of Tennis really helped me on this front and I will read parts of the book again. Focus on feel and leave the mind out of it. If I could do it before I can do it again.Instead of worrying about whether my positioning is right and am I finishing the pull vertically rather than horizontally and am I keeping the bar close and am I etc etc etc. Shut up. Just shut up. I will listen to Byrdie when he tells me that now.

That is it really. I worked up to a few singles with 97 in the Snatch on Friday and 110 in the Clean and Jerk. I worked up to an easy 170 Back Squat and I failed 180 annoyingly, but I know I will get that next time I go for it. Monday is the start of a new cycle and a new perspective. Stick to the plan. Stick to the plan. Now it is up to me and the lads to write a plan that I am fully confident in taking me to the 120/150 that I know is there.

This is the dawning of a new day in Irish weightlifting. I can feel it and it is coming to fruition in our senior male and female lifters and some of our masters' athletes. We can do it. We need to work together to do it. We need to organise a two week training camp in June or July where we set our stall for the future and the present. It can be in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria or even at home if we get one or two coaches in. Everyone needs to lend their organisational skills, their time and intelligence. We have a lot of smart people in Irish weightlifting and we need to use them for everyone's benefit. We can keep inching up like we have or we can seize Irish weighlifting by the scruff of the neck and snap it overhead so that it looks from a higher and more advantageous perspective. We can do it.

Thursday 25 February 2010

Thursday's titanic video

As we are still on the topic of the history of Irish weightlifting, I thought I would post this video that I made earlier today. In 1999, a group of Irish weightlifters including Wayne Healy, Joe Kerr, Jimmy Power and David Daly went to compete in Athens for the Senior men's World Weightlifting Championships. They were coached by the inimitable John McDaid and he actually recorded a fair bit of footage from the competition. I got the dvd off Wayne and took the liberty of editing it and here it is. Each of the lifters except Daly are shown competing and there are also a few training lifts at the end, one of which shows Wayne Snatching 120kg and Cleaning 145kg a few days after competing in the 62kg class. Hopefully you enjoy the video. I know we can get to the stage where we have a number of lifters competing in the World Championships again. The standard is 335 sinclair points. Now, we have to train with intelligence and intensity in order to get there.

In my own training, I had another laid back session in my recovery week. Tommy Hayden was in Hercs and he had a look at my Snatching. I was working my my technique and getting proper extension and keeping the bar close while also trying with a wider than usual grip. I have a long way to go. I did lots of doubles and ended up with two easy singles with 100kg. I then Front Squat and Jerked up to 130 and after a paltry attempt at 140, left it there. I did around twenty minutes of self-myofacial release on my cardboard roller that Colin Bell so graciously gave me; I then had a ten minute sauna and was done for the day.

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Tuesday's throwback to old times

This week is my recovery week and as I am busy in work, I intend to use it. Yesterday I experimented with a much wider grip in the Snatch and it felt really comfortable. The only problem was that I found it even more difficult to keep my back locked. If I can sort this out, the wider grip would be ideal. I also Front squatted up to an easy single with 150 just to keep the legs active.

I got an email from the legend that is Jimmy Jennings and this is what he said:

Hi Barry,

I don't know if you have seen this piece. About 1984 or 1985 a group of old members of the Hercs had a get-together at a bar/club in Capel Street.
Myself, Patsy and Liam Stewart and a couple of other committee members were there. The ex-members who numbered about 10 or 12 were all in their late 60's and older. They most likely have all pased on now. I asked them to write up something about the old club. Some time later I received this piece from Eddie O'Regan. It was typed out on old type-script on flimsy paper. When I recently re-typed it I realized how well it was written. It's very funny and gives a flavour of the old club and the times. If you have not seen it I'm sure you'll enjoy it. Your piece on what it is like being a weightlifter reminded me.


Well, here is that article and I hope you will agree that it is both fascinating and very well written:


It was in the “Mail” one night, about 1937, that I came across a short letter that was to have a very important influence on my life. It was from the secretary of the Hercules Wrestling and Weightlifting Club, and advised that there were vacancies for new members. The address was at the rear of Ormond Quay, and I rambled along one night with a companion, to investigate. I had never heard of weightlifting up to this and hadn’t an idea what it was all about. But I was always interested in wrestling and was curious to see trained wrestlers in action.

With a friend I wandered down an ill-lit lane and came to a large shed built into the rear of a decrepit building facing the River Liffey. A wicket door was opened to our knock and I stepped into the club. I stopped dead at the first sight that held my eyes. A young man was standing on a low wooden platform, about five inches high, and was heaving overhead a great pile of iron. But what arrested my attention was, to my neophyte eyes, his superb physique. He wore only bathing trunks, his body was tanned and glistening with sweat, and muscles that I had never seen before, except in pictures of Greek athletes, were rippling and bulging under the taut skin. He let the heavy bar down to his shoulders, and in a quick motion dropped it to the floor with a great clanging of metal. It was probably meant to impress us. It certainly impressed me. I was an immediate and enthusiastic convert.

I joined the club that week and came three nights a week to work out, concentrating on weight training for the first few months. The premises were primitive. A wrestling ring took up half the floor area. The equipment consisted of Roman rings, a heavy punch bag, an abdominal board, and a small supply of weights and bars. There were no adjustable dumbbells, and only two or three impressive looking bells of about 50 or 60 lbs each. A few skipping ropes and a large fly-blown mirror practically completed the meagre fittings. A rough-looking cold shower had been fitted in a tiny compartment off the dressing room. That was the Hercules Club when I joined it but what it lacked in fittings it made up in enthusiasm, particularly among the few devoted founder-members who had built the whole thing themselves, from nothing. They had scraped and scrounged the few bits and pieces together practically out of thin air. Considering most of them were unemployed and there were no such thing as grants or loans for this sort of effort, it was a remarkable achievement. They had even constructed a collapsible stand that was generally stowed on the steel girders of the roof. It could be assembled for a “show” and could hold about fifty or sixty people on five or six tiers.

The members were a mixed lot, from various walks of life and every age. At this time, and for some years, this club was the only wrestling and weightlifting club in the twenty-six counties, as these sports had a minute following. The club, when I joined it, had one young doctor, a seaman, a plumber, a couple of fitters, a sprinkling of clerks, civil servants, a dustman, a few factory workers, electricians, musicians and one or two with their own business. The wrestling trainer, George Dale, was an Englishman who had been bantam-weight champion of England, a first-class wrestler. There was no instructor for weights. You pottered away by yourself, depending on whether you could get a bar or enough discs, and followed one of the Bob Hoffman courses pinned to the wall. After about six months of a strenuous routine on the bars I noticed a definite improvement in my physique and a remarkable feeling of well-being and glowing health.
It was a great delight to cycle to the club after tea, spend about two or three hours training, finishing with a short wrestling session to work up a sweat and ending with a cold shower that would send blood tingling through every vein in your body. Lively and varied discussions were held in the dressing room. Diet, exercise and tales of prowess in various sports were common, especially arguments about the relative merits of old-time boxers, wrestlers and strong men. The highlights of the careers of Tunney, Dempsey, Johnson, Fitzsimons, Max Baer, in boxing; Frank Gotch, Hackenschmidt, The Terrible Turk, The Gorgeous Greek, in wrestling; Louis Cyr, Sandow, Apollon,Charles Rigoulet, Arthur Saxon, in the iron game, and many others whose names I have forgotten. The American weightlifting magazine “Strength and Health” was in great demand, and copies were forever being swapped around among the weight enthusiasts.

There was always the danger of narcissism in the bodybuilding game, and particular care was taken to discourage and ridicule anyone who showed signs of the disease – spending long sessions in front of the mirror, preening and pirouetting and posing, along with exaggerated muscle fluttering. The emphasis was more on strength and ruggedness than the wasp waist and bat-latissimus types. They were vigorously discouraged. Another related passion of physical culture generally was the craze for sun tan. Once the warm weather came a number of young men chucked their job, if they had one, and spent their days basking on the rocks of Dollymount or Sandycove.

Instead of the rather aimless, though pleasant, rambling and cycling and picture-going I now gave three nights, and sometimes four,to weight-training and wrestling. I followed the bodybuilding courses assiduously and gradually worked my way into weightlifting proper. Every Saturday night myself and two other enthusiasts worked on the Olympic lifts, the press, the snatch and the clean and jerk. Although the two others were a stone or so heavier than I was, I managed to keep abreast of them and sometimes surpass their lifts. It was tremendously exhilarating to be working to ones limits, and every odd Saturday or so to put another 5lb or 10lb extra on the lift. Soon enough I was heaving overhead that magic 155lb that I had seen Al Seddon struggling with on the first night I had entered the club. I was about 136lbs bodyweight.

I kept a diary for those early years and entered the dates and poundages of all the different lifts as I pushed the limits slowly upwards, for we often varied the Saturday night programme by trying out lesser known lifts, the one- hand clean and jerk, one-hand snatch, the bent press and the two-hands anyhow. My weight increased slowly but my strength and stamina fairly rapidly. There was this incredible sense of well-being and superabundant vitality.
We put on a few outdoor shows. One, in Tolka Park, was a curtain-raiser to a wrestling match between Jack Doyle, the Gorgeous Gael, and some other behemoth whose name I have forgotten. So tyro though I was, I found myself demonstrating the Olympic lifts to a crowd of several hundreds. However, as nobody had a clue about weightlifting anyway, the sheer novelty of the thing went down well. The wrestling match between the pair mentioned was a shambles of the first order, as neither of the contestants had the faintest idea of the game and Doyle would have shoved his arse through a hoop for money at this stage of his career.

Another exhibition we did was on the invitation of some enterprising gent who was running a “fancy fair” in Rush in North County Dublin. He thought it a good advertisement to bill us around the town as “The Famous Weightlifting Team from the Hercules Club”. He offered a prize of 10 shillings to any local yokel who could lift the heaviest weight overhead. This, of course, was a great draw, for there was no surer way of attracting the young males of the rural scene than by a test of strength, as every circus manager knows well.

Well, it was quite a surprise to the few of us who travelled down by train to Rush (all fares paid, of course) to find, when we arrived, that a girl’s pipe-band had been hired to parade us in to town. And there we were, a bunch of excited young fellows marching up the main street of Rush to the tune of “all the priests of the parish won’t make me a nun”, while the juvenile population of Rush, and the canine one too, trotted along beside us, staring in wonder at the “rasslers” and strong men from far-away Dublin.

Arriving in the fair-ground we had to strip and dress in our gear under the make-shift platform. A few of us demonstrated the Olympic lifts. McSorely and another put on a rib-tickling “all-in” wrestling bout, where the yells and curses could be heard around the ground. And then, the big show, “The Strong Man Event” arrived. Unfortunately, the chap we had chosen as judge was hardly “sans peur et sans raproch”. He was an ex-army sergeant, a good fellow, but as rigid and unbending and adamant as an Ogham pillar. Tommy’s idea of the Olympic lifts would have excluded 90% of the World Champions, for if a little finger or a hair on the trapezius was out of line - - pouf! Disqualified. We had enough rows over his judging in the club, but here he was, standing with his tough, pugilistic eyes riveted on nervous locals who assayed the barbell, and dismissing them contemptuously one by one.

Frantic knocks were heard from underneath the platform as some of us tried to warn him, for imprecations and threats were being bandied around by the young bulls of Rush. But Tommy never deviated an iota from his Roman code. Finally, the strongest of the contestants had hoisted about 130lbs overhead, though of course, his arms were not locked and his body bent like a bow, his eyes popping out of his bucolic head and creases up his neck like the skin of a melodeon. Tommy said “NO”, it wasn’t a proper lift. When he put the weight down I thought that he was going to assault the judge. McSorely saw the way things were going and walked over to the sweating “strong man”. “THE WINNER” he cried, raising the chap’s hand high and a great round of applause broke out around the platform. Tempers subsided slowly as the “strong man” was handed his ten-shilling note, and a few of us led Tommy away who was still protesting, “it wasn’t a proper lift”.

“the Mail”. The Dublin Evening Mail was a popular newspaper up until the fifties.
Jack Doyle. The Gorgeous Gael was a professional heavyweight boxer of the forties and fifties. He married the film-star beauty Movita who later married Marlon Brando. He said that he could fight like Jack Dempsey and sing like John Mc Cormack. Dempsey himself said the reverse was true.
Tolka Park is the famous ground for soccer and other events.
The Tommy in question is, I believe, Tommy Dillon who in his final days was brought back to the club on a zimmerframe and with a leg amputated to do some exercises.
The George Dale cited was the founder of the Hercules Club in 1935. He probably returned to England some years later. He remains something of a man of mystery but the club he founded endured.

Sunday 21 February 2010

Saturday's sharpness--not!!!!!!!

I competed in the Dublin Open on Saturday, and the Junior and Masters nationals were on at the same time. It was another enjoyable competition and there were several good lifts. Well done to Neil Dougan who qualified for the Senior European Champions with 106/129 lifts at 70kg bodyweight. His consistent improvements over the last year are very encouraging for everyone. Laura Nolan also lifted six for six and posted pb's in the Snatch and Clean and Jerk as did Cathal Byrd who Snatched 111 and Clean and Jerked 144. He just missed the 146 Jerk, but it is there. Zag was sick and overworked and Snatched 99kg and his Clean and Jerk just was not there on the day. The Irish Rugby ladies all lifted fantastically and there is a very obvious progression to their lifting every time they compete.

I lifted five out of six, and considering that this was being approached as a training session, I was reasonably happy. I Snatched 107 as my opener and it was relatively straight forward. I jumped to 112 and made it, but it was muscled up and I did not have my rhythm or composure. I needed to be a bit calmer I think and this carried over to my 116 attempt which was strong, but ugly. If I was more composed, I would have made it. Not on the day though....

In the Clean and Jerk, I was feeling more relaxed and even though I was not feeling sharp, my mind was clearer so I performed better. I opened with an ugly 135 and nailed the Jerk. My Jerk was the best feature of my lifting and has really improved from all the skill work I have been doing in my warm ups. I then did an ok 140 and jumped to 146 for a 1kg pb. I got it. It was ugly. My back was rounded. I felt terrible. But I got it. Considering I have been doing very few Clean and Jerks I am really happy with that. Due to unfortunate circumstances, Harry had to leave after the Snatch and Wayne really helped me out. I did not feel like 146 was there and just gave it everything I had. Thank god I got it.

Thursday 18 February 2010

Thursday's ticking over

Myself and Byrdie had a nice and snappy workout in Hercs today and something momentous happened: Harry Leech performed Power Clean and Jerks. He has not been able to Snatch or Jerk in over two years due to a shoulder injury and his moment of Morgan Freeman style redemption brought a tear to my eye and a belief that--picture the movie trailor voice guy with the incredibly deep voice here--anything is possible.

I took a long time to warm up and was the better for it. I used the power plate, shoulder prehab, my back mobility exercise and upper back stretch and lots of bar work. Then I did the following:

Snatch--4x2@40 1x1@70, 80, 90, 100
Cathal did three singles with 92, but I wanted to get the feel of 100 and do one slightly heavier single over three slightly lighter ones. I really focused on keeping my back locked and it was working nicely. I have a ways to go with my back but this week alone there has been a definite improvement. Have a look;

Clean and Jerks--1x2@50, 50 1x1@50, 70, 90, 105, 112
Byrdie rightly convinced me not to take too big jumps as I was more tired than I realised from yesterday. I only did one single with 112, but Cathal did 3. Very light weights, but I would rather save it for Saturday.
All in all, I felt great after the session and I am looking forward to competing on Saturday. It should be fun and I am really looking forward to those moments just before I lift....

I have a few more guest articles that I will post over the next week or two. I will be having another longer interview with John Broz; an article on flexibility and warming up by Alex; an article on pre-hab movements and the why's and wherefore's by the one and only Zag and also a brilliant article describing what the Hercules club was like in the thirties; I have to thank Jimmy Jennings for that one. Have a great weekend lifting everyone and post some big numbers!

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Wednesday's whopping recovery

We trained twice again today and it proved to be a productive and enjoyable session. Amy lifted with us again and got a lovely 57kg Snatch pb which was also a Power Snatch. Her skill is improving all the time and she narrowly missed 59kg. Cathal Byrd also trained very well and his lifting rhythm and control have very clearly progressed since London. He got an easy 105 Snatch and 130 Clean and Jerk and on Wayne's advice, left it in the tank for Saturday's competition. Here is what I did:

Before I left for the gym I did the thoracic mobility exercise with the foam roller and I did it again while warming up for my first and second sessions. This improved my back lock immensely which then had a positive knock on effect on the my general technique. I can still extend more fully and with greater speed, but one thing at a time....

Snatch--1x2@40, 40, 40, 60 1x1@80, 90
Clean and Jerk--1x2@60, 60 1x1@80, 90, 100
This was an easy first session and we used it as a physical and technical warm up for the heavier session to follow. We then had an hour break and came back to lift again.

Snatch--1x2@40, 40, 60 1x1@80, 90, 100, 105, 110
I felt great all day and I focused mainly on keeping my back locked and staying over the bar. In my last two Snatches I still might have finished my extension better which would have had a better knock on effect for my catch and receiving position, but all in all they were a world apart from where I was on Monday.

Clean and Jerk--1x2@60, 60 1x1@80, 100, 120, 120, 130
It was great getting in a few heavier Clean and Jerks because I am sorely lacking in practice and timing because of my last training cycle. I repeated 120 again because I let my back round, but once I try to lift my upper back first, this coaching cue tends to get me to keep my back relatively locked. Like Byrdie, I took Wayne's advice and left it there for Saturday.

I actually felt like myself today for the first time in over two weeks. It was great not feeling wrecked and actually energetic. I am pretty tired now, but I know with a good feed and sleep I will be right as rain for a short sharp session tomorrow, a rest day day on the Friday with the competition on Saturday. Like before, I am not tapering for this competition and will see how I can do on the day. I am looking forward to it already! Have a look at the video below and let me know what you think.

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Tuesday's throwdown

David Woodhouse has generously contributed a guest article and I am sure you will find that it is both knowledgable and extremely applicable to weightlifting. Read, enjoy and post any questions you may have for David in the comments section below. Here is his pb Snatch by the way:

Charlie Francis and the CNS: Implications to Weightlifting--by David Woodhouse

The importance and role of the central nervous system (CNS) was first brought to my attention through reading Charlie Francis' (semi) autobiography, Speed Trap. On reflection this is a worrying statement given that I had at that point completed a BSc in Sports Science and two gym instructor courses, but that's another story...! Due to its frank discussion of drugs, Speed Trap has been dismissed by many conservative scholars but for many people it is remains the best book about elite level athletics ever written. Francis is revealed to be a highly intelligent, analytical and 'athlete focused' coach, and the passing of time has only given more credence to his more controversial claims.

Francis was himself an Olympic sprinter but is best known as the long time coach of Canadian sprinter, Ben Johnson. Johnson's performance in winning the Seoul Olympics was widely regarded as the fastest run in history until Usain Bolt broke the world record in 2008 (Johnson ran 9.79s on a softer slower track and whilst slowing to celebrate in the last 10 metres). Other notable athletes Francis worked with were Commonwealth Champions Mark McKoy and Angella Issajenko.

Charlie based much of his training philosophy around carefully managing the demands on the CNS. More specifically, his training week was modelled on the idea that the CNS requires at least 48 hours to recover from high intensity training such as sprinting, plyometrics or heavy lifting. Charlie learned of this through discussion with top (Eastern) European coaches from the early 70s. Before this most elite sprinters (including himself) in the West performed speed work on a daily basis and therefore in a constant state of CNS fatigue.

Most modern sprint coaches now prescribe speed work only on alternate days. Between speed sessions lower intensity 'tempo' running is performed as a form of active recovery. Anecdotal evidence suggests that moderate exercise can increase rate of recovery faster than rest alone. Weightlifting coaches have for years alternated heavy and light workouts and this perhaps provides a logical reason why. As an aside, in my experience, most lifters don't distinguish enough between their heavy and light sessions. They go too heavy on the light days and, due to fatigue, not heavy enough on the other days! What results is a string of moderate workouts that achieve little.

The tempo or light sessions also serve to raise general work capacity, manage body composition and can be an opportunity to address technical errors. Clearly all these benefits are equally important to the weightlifter. In my experience however, for the novice and intermediate lifter, rest actually IS better than light lifting for promoting recovery. Perhaps until the athlete has developed sufficient work capacity, general exercise such as swimming, walking or cycling may be more effective than specific lifting on 'off days'.

For elite (full time) athletes, Francis favours the following weekly template:
Monday, Wednesday & Friday: Speed & Weights
Tuesday, Thursday & Saturday: Tempo and Calisthenics

The specific track work is always given priority over strength work in the gym in the same way the competition lifts are generally given priority over squatting and pure strength exercises in weightlifting. Observant readers may notice the similarities between this program and the 'Americanised Bulgarian' program that I outlined in my previous article.

Less advanced athletes generally follow the following program:
Monday & Thursday: Speed
Tuesday & Friday: Weights (strength)
Wednesday & Saturday: Tempo

This ensures that the CNS is fully recharged for the speed sessions but cuts total work by a third (one less speed and strength workout per week). Weightlifters could apply these templates by substituting the competition lifts for speed work and squats for strength.

Why is CNS fatigue so important?.. A fatigued CNS cannot generate the frequency of nerve impulses required to activate the highest threshold motor units. As a result, the most powerful 'fast twitch' muscle fibres are not recruited and subsequently will not be trained. It is intuitive therefore that training performed in a state of CNS fatigue will be at best inefficient. If high intensity training is repeated for prolonged periods then performance will likely stagnate or decline. This state is typically described as overtraining, and causes symptoms of insomnia, irritability and involuntary muscle contractions.

Additionally, a fatigued CNS has a compromised ability to coordinate muscle action which is also detrimental to performance in any multi joint sport. Interestingly, Francis interpreted his athletes' inability to learn new skills as a sign of CNS fatigue and would, in those situations, conclude training early. If a weightlifter is making technical errors and missing warm up lifts, the coach might conclude that he has CNS fatigue and should stop or have a lighter workout.

Francis insisted that all speed work be done at maximum intensity, but that total volume per week should be less than 1600m. By the mid 80s his athletes would run over 100 metres only once per week. By training at maximum the athlete's neural adaptations were maximised and his risk of injury in competition were reduced. Clearly Francis believes intensity to be a more important, a more powerful variable than volume! He also states that a mature elite level athlete may have to reduce volume to allow further progression and also to reduce injury risk. The idea of lifting at maximum intensity was covered extensively in my last article, 'Ivan Abadjiev and the Bulgarian System'.

Francis also controversially states that CNS adaptation can be both specific and general. The former includes inter and intra muscular coordination and is specific to the exercise being performed. The latter involves a higher output (rate coding) by the CNS and leads to improvement across all exercises. So in the same way that bench press can improve sprint performance, sprinting can improve bench performance. When considering this the reader should be careful to distinguish strength improvements via neural mechanisms from those due to increases in contractile protein.

I hope this has been a thought provoking article. For further reading I suggest readers visit for direct insight from the man himself or track down a copy of Speed Trap on ebay.

In my own training for today, I took a word of advice from the above article and had a light snappy day which should set me up for tomorrow's training day and Saturday's competition. I worked up to three singles with 95 in the Snatch. They were sharp and fast and then I worked up to a single with 110 in the Clean and Jerk. Again, very easy and I felt great afterwards. I am starting to feel more like myself which is great. I was pretty beat up over the last week and a half and it nice to feel like I have energy again. Alex showed me a few back mobility exercises that I found very helpful in my first pull and I will do them again tonight and before training tomorrow morning.

Monday 15 February 2010

Monday's matchplay

Today was a great chance to get some reps in. Myself, Wayne, Amy, Alex and Cathal did two seperate sessions where we got lots of reps in and had good fun to boot. Well done to Laura who got a 3kg pb in the Snatch with 55kg and to Amy who got a 79kg pb Clean and Jerk. Here is what I did today:

Snatch--4x2@40 1x2@60, 80 1x1@90, 90, 95

Clean and Jerk--1x2@80 1x1@80, 90, 100, 110

Snatch--1x2@40, 40, 60 1x1@80, 90, 90, 100

We then had an hour's break for a bit to eat. Wayne Snatched up to 95 and then 100 also with Cathal going up to 95kg and then 101 in the second Snatch session.

Snatch--1x2@40, 40, 60 1x1@80, 90, 97 which I missed strangley because I did not finish my pull. I then got it easily and then got 102. My lifts were pretty ugly because I was not quite able to lock my back on the day and that caused a chain reaction of things that do not normally happen, to just go and do that. I went back to 100 and promply missed the weight twice due to the reasons above. Annoying, but that is what fatigue does I suppose. I should have left it at the 102 and moved on.

Clean and Jerk--1x2@60, 60, 80, 90, 100, 110--I kept these very light because I was wrecked.

Front Squat--1x2@60, 100, 120, 130- This was teh first time I have Front Squatted in a long time and it felt great. I kept it very light, but the movement felt really nice.

In the final session Byrdie went up to 108 in the Snatch and 130 in the Clean and Jerk; as you will see below, he had more in the tank. Wayne went up to 103 and did a few Cleans with 120. Have a look at the video below and leave any constructive criticism you may have.

Sunday 14 February 2010

Sunday's sit down

I trained on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and I was focused on getting my squats. Monday really took it out of me and I should have done the recovery session rather than the 4x4@90%. I was able to get two sets of four reps. Each rep felt brutally hard and it took everything I had to get the fourth reps. In my third set, I actually had my best 3 reps yet and I had the very strange sensation of thinking I was pushing through the sticking point of my final squat, but I was actually going down while it felt like I was going up. Very strange. I only had time to squat on Monday and aside from my warm up, that was all I did.

On the Wednesday I did some Snatch skill work with Wayne and Tommy helping me out. I did around seven or eight doubles with 50kg and I worked on extending up rather than back. I finished off with a few doubles at 80kg and then I did the recovery squat session with 6 sets of 2 @80%. This is supposed to feel easy by now, but it never does.

On the Friday, I worked up to a few singles with 90 in the Snatch. I was pretty beat up from the current cycle of training and nothing felt like it was going right. I had 3x3@90% to do with 162kg. I did my first triple and in my second, I got buried in my second squat. I couldn't even squat the weight up with a spot and had to let it drop. I felt as rotten as I have ever felt and walked into the changing room about to pack it in, but thankfully my innate stubborness and mortification at my lack of fortitude got me back out. I loaded the bar back up to 162 and just about got my triple. I gave myself around six or seven minutes to rest. Anger is a powerful stimulant and can be very productive when used in the right setting. It was only my anger that got me through my third triple that followed. It was not courage or any other virtue worth singing about; just pure, self-directed anger. Thank God it was there, because I did not have the focus and concentration on the day to get me through the squats otherwise.

So, I am in a bit of a quandry as to what to do for next week's training. The squat routine and the heavy Snatching has taken its toll on me and it took four weeks to happen. I have hit the wall. Cathal Byrd is coming up to Dublin to train with myself, Zag and Wayne. We had planned to train twice on the Monday and Wednesday and a light technique/recovery session on the Tuesday. Harry wisely told me to have another light week next week because I have a competition on the Saturday. I told him I had a light week this week and his reply was: "look at the state of you. You need another light week." So I will mainly work on my technique over the next few days. I will leave the last week of the Russian squat program for after the competition, which I will be treating as another training session, but I still want to do better than last week's debacle.

Thursday 11 February 2010

Thursday's treatise: an article on why I am a weightlifter

I have been thinking about what Olympic weightlifting can offer a person and why we, as individuals, train and compete in this sport. Each person has different motivations and aspirations, but I believe—or hope!—that sometimes a group of people, regardless of nationality, can experience similar passions, trials and tribulations. Here is a brief portrait of why I view Olympic weightlifting as my path to fulfilment.

Weightlifting appeals to my underlying personality. My parents raised me as a lifelong learner and in the twenty months since I gave up rugby to train with the barbell instead, my inner perspective has, and still, continues to evolve. Weightlifting forces me to look at myself as I really am and how I want to be. Do I want the sublime athleticism of Kolecki? The ruthless efficiency of Kakishvilli? The brute power and showmanship of Dimas? No. I want to be myself. The beauty of this journey is that I am continuously discovering what exactly I want to be, and more importantly, what I am. This differentiation is vital for anyone who seeks to progress, adapt and evolve on any front.

Our sport requires a mix of brutal honesty and romantic ambition. These two traits are seemingly at odds, but I feel that they actually fortify and strengthen each other. Without ambition, there can be no will to improve. Without honesty, there can be no method to improve. I think we all know that when genuine will power and thoughtfully structured planning are combined, totals tend to soar. Things tend to change. You need to believe that your body is capable of far more than it is currently achieving in strength, speed, power, skill and flexibility. Can your ability to focus on the task at hand improve with dedicated practise? Can you change how you respond to external and internal pressure? You need to believe that your body and your mind are capable of adapting to the stresses placed upon it. I need to believe this. One without the other is a flagrant waste of potential, but this essential belief is there in all of us, if...we dare to expose it.

Are we ashamed of our romantic ambition? Do we really think we are good enough to go looking for the total of our dreams? This requires genuine testicular fortitude—metaphorical for the fairer sex!—which cannot be faked. Time and actions reveal all. Courage matched with ambition can become a potent tool. What I believe makes this tool accurate, is brutal honesty. You need it. Your training partners need it for themselves and as a group. Your coach, if, like me you are lucky enough to have one, must have the courage to question his or her methods. Do you have the belief in yourself to hit a raw nerve and go for the jugular; can you look at yourself in the mirror and work on what frustrates you about your lifting? This is where honesty and, what it hopefully leads to, planning, comes in.

Planning, whether it is short, medium or long term, is needed. Specific planning for you, the lifter, can only be optimal when one’s strengths and weaknesses are critically analysed. This is why your coach needs to be as self aware as you are, because he or she may have to examine their traditional beliefs about technique and how to construct a program. It is not enough to try new exercises or different repetition and set ranges. Getting stronger is not enough. How a movement is felt and understood both physically and intellectually has to change; coaching cues may need to evolve; how you use mental imagery before and during a lift may need to be coloured in differently. Your entire understanding—and initially, your comfort—of each lift may need to change. Most of us are amateur lifters who lift for love. We do not have professional coaches and our lives are not tailored around workouts. We need more than the elite to progress. This requires self belief and faith, which can only be rewarded with an improved total when there is a plan that is intelligently structured. Can you picture breaking down your body and mind to build yourself stronger? Then roll on the romantic ambition and brutal honesty.

These are traits that I want and need to develop and weightlifting helps me do so. For the last nineteen months I have chosen weightlifting as one of the main avenues in which I can improve myself in body and mind; in strength and health; in my maturing as a man. Before this game was called strength training, it was called physical culture. Culture implies development and progress: this is why I love the sport of Olympic weightlifting.

Sunday 7 February 2010

Saturday's sickener

I competed in Limerick yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed myself. It was great meeting up with the lads again and although I did not lift well, I am really glad I went down. New experiences, new lessons to be learned.

I weighed in at 93.8kg after not having a breakfast and no fluids that morning. I felt good and I had around three hours until I started my warm up--there is only one weigh in time: it's a small, but very well run competition with 25 lifters.

In my warm up,I found it hard to focus on my own lifting and in two weeks time I need to be more disciplined and not allow my concentration wander. Here is what I did:

Snatch--1x2@40, 40, 40, 60, 80 1x1@90, 90, 100, 105

I then missed 110 in my first attempt. It flew up but I started my second pull way too early and did not stay over the bar. Too over-eager! I was too far behind the bar to catch it at all. I then got it pretty easily in my second attempt. I went up to 116 for a pb in my third attempt and there were so many things wrong with the Snatch that it is difficult to know where to start. My balance was off in the lift so I almost fell too far forward which caused me to swing outrageously. The bar went up slowly and was way out of place, while my feet jumped back. I have very rarely felt that out of sync in a lift. I was too anxious and needed to be far more composed mentally. The mind controls the body and my mind was all over the place.

For the Clean and Jerks, things went very pear shaped. As soon as I started with 60kg, for some reason I was blacking out at the top of my Cleans. This has never happened before, but I went with it anyway. I went up to 110 and because I was feeling sluggish, I power Cleaned 120 but again, I had to drop it when I stood up. It was more an instinctive reaction than a thought out decision. I then Cleaned 130 as my last warm up and dropped it at the top. I then missed 130, which is usually a Power Clean and went out to wait for my 135 opener.

135kg is usually a really easy opener for when I am being more conservative. I missed the Clean in my first attempt. Looking at the video I got it up to Power Clean height and let it fall down on me by around six inches or so. It put me back on my heels and I fell over backwards in as inelegant a fashion as is posible. So embarassing. I then went out for my second attempt, got it and called it a day. This was one of my hardest ever Clean and Jerks, because I was very light headed as I was about to Jerk, but I had to get it anyway. I was so happy when I was finished--my lifting felt horrible.

On a brighter note, Zag Snatched 100kg for a competitive pb, despite straining his right trap in the warm up. He Clean and Jerked 120, was denied 125 for a pressout and Cleaned, but missed the Jerk with 130kg. Wayne Snatched an extremely impressive 105kg and due to a shoulder injury, only Jerked 115--although he Cleaned 125, he did not try to Jerk it. He is saving it for two weeks time in the National Masters/Juniors; this is also an open event which is why myself and Zag are lifting in it. We will treat that as another training competition again.

Here is a video of some of our lifts. Thanks to Murph, Eamonn, Cathal and the rest of the lads from Limerick for organising the competition. It was great fun and I will learn a lot from it.

Here is a special bonus feature of one of the most impressive displays of strength and fortitude I have ever seen. I have never seen anyone go for a lift like this, no holding back, head first, no holes barred. You have to repect this guy.

Friday 5 February 2010

Friday's focus

I was meant to train on Thursday and get my squats done, but I was had a bit of a tummy bug so I left it. I did my squats today and left my Power Snatch to try and get some degree of freshness for tomorrow's competition in Limerick. I did my recovery squat session of 145kg for six sets of two reps. I will do my 4x4 with 162 either after the competition or on Sunday. At the moment, I am leaning more towards squatting on Sunday and getting back into my routine on Monday.

I have been having several epsom salt baths over the last few days in order to try and heal up and recover to a greater degree. Obviously I have been paying more attention to getting a solid eight hours of sleep a night and have done so for the last five nights. This is the part of my training that I find the most difficult ot follow through on. The training part is always done, as is the nutrition piece of the jigsaw; but it is the sleep part that I struggle with the most. I still get around seven and a half hours a night most nights, but this is not enough for me when I am training hard. I am thinking that I really need more like nine hours of sleep in order to recover fully. Now, the kicker is that when I am training really hard, I find it far more difficult to get to sleep. ZMA does not really help me in this regard and I would rather improve in this regard without any supplements. What I have been doing is turning off my laptop earlier, having a bath and generally switching off earlier. Also, I have not been using any stimulants such as guarana or caffeine. This has helped over the last week, but now I need to go from eight hours to eight and a half hours. I always find it hard to go to bed earlier, but I know I can form whatever habit I need to succeed.

In a similar vein, here is a video that I know will help people improve their posture and back health in general. It is long, but it is worth the time. You can learn a lot and it will improve yor present and future back health ehich will of course help you in your everyday life and in your training:

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Tuesday's tricky nervous system

I hit a bit of a wall today. The session was tough: I was tired after yesterday's squats and I should have tailored it more accordingly. I was feeling good all day so I thought I could be a bit more aggressive with the Snatch. This did not prove to be the case. Zag was pretty wrecked also, and he was in a rush, so his lifting was in a similar vein to my own. I knew this wold come, so now I have to be smart and just get on with it I suppose. Here is what I did:

Snatch--1x2@40, 40, 40, 60, 80 1x1@90, 90, 100, 100--The second rep was a little better, but it was ugly as sin. It is encouraging that I can still hit 85% when I am as co-ordinated as Bambi on ice.

Power Clean and Jerk--Again, I Power Cleaned because my calves are still sore. I worked up to a single with 100, and then promptly left the gym. I need to regroup the 'auld energy. Tomorrow will be light Snatch and the recovery squat session. I am looking forward to being more sensible.

Here is a video of Cathal Byrd's new pr Snatch:

Or maybe it is this one; not sure really...Is there a progression here if we are being honest?

Monday 1 February 2010

Monday's myriad

Training was very basic today: Power Snatch and Back Squat. I wanted to spare my calves so I Power Snatched instead of going into the full lift. I worked on power and basic rhythm within the lift. It was not pretty, but I got my three singles with 95kg and left it there. I was not quite staying over the bar enough and this meant I was extending back rather than finishing my pull by extending up. It was a minor thing though and I will get it right for tomorrow and Wednesday.

Wayne Snatched up to 99, did a few Clean and Jerks--he had a sore shoulder though so he did not do much--and then took a break and Snatched again up to 102 and then did Cleans working up to a triple with 110. He then took a break and Snatched a third time up to 95 I think and then called it a day. His left quad was at him slightly so he was not able to squat, but he "could Snatch till the cows come home." He is still only training twice a week, with three times being the exception, but his numbers are going up every week and it is great to see him lifting consistently again.

I warmed up with the Jerk work again and then did a few doubles with 50, a double with 70 and then two singles with 80, one with 90 and then three singles with 95. It was a Monday so my speed was not quite up to scratch--it tends to be better on the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for some reason.

I took a ten minute break and did three sets of wider foot stance Back Squats and these took the pressure off my achilles/soleus/calves. I then did doubles with 100, 120, 140 and then I did my five sets of five with 153kg which is 85%. It was tough going out for the last set because my legs felt like jelly and they really did not want to do; but when there is no choice, you just have to do it! Once I got the rhythm with the squats they were fine; heavy but I knew I would get them.

I have the UL open on Saturday and I am really looking froward to competing again. Myself and Zag will train tomorrow and Wednesday and then have two days to rest. We are not tapering and are treating it as a training competition, so we will have to wait and see how we do. The most important thing for me is to keep getting my squats and my Snatch up. The rest can come whenever it will. Have a look at the video below and let me know what you think: