Wednesday 22 September 2010

David's delivery

My hip has mostly healed and I have been back training for the last week and a half. I am now training four days a week and along with ECB, my regular job and the coaching that goes along with it, I am one busy bee. But, where there is a will, there's a way. I will qualify for the European Championships next April even if I have to sell my soul to Murph himself. In my training program, everything was going swimmingly, and the program itself was great, but I did not take a step back when I should have and I got a minor injury as a result. Lesson learned.

We have another guest article here. David Woodhouse writes about his coaching system and his experiences in the trenches. Here is his youtube channel so you can see some of his lifters go at it. Thank you to David for the submission, and as always, if anyone has anything they would like to write about, let me know and we can publish your thoughts here.

The System: 300+ Sinclair in <5 years

'Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.' - Albert Einstein

I am not suggesting that the System is the only method of improving Olympic lifting performance, or even that it is necessarily the best method. I am simply stating that this program is universally effective in generating consistent improvement in novice/ intermediate lifters. I am perhaps slightly different from most coaches in that I can make a rational and objective argument why we do what we do.

The training frequency employed in the System was determined by simple application of Supercompensation Theory. To summarise the theory, strength decreases immediately following a training stimulus and, over time, the body will first recover and then, if no further training stimulus interrupts the process, adapt. To clarify, a lifter cannot adapt or grow stronger until he has first recovered. The challenge was to arrange training sessions such that they coincide with the peak in super-compensation.

When a lifter trains to and beyond maximum in every session I found that 72 hour period between sessions to be optimal. In reality, due to logistics resulting from the 7 day week, it is generally necessary to have 96 hours after the second session. I do however accept that full time professional lifters who get optimal sleep, a balanced optimal diet, and who take advantage of restorative measures such as massage and hydro therapy, may be able to adapt to a training program that calls for training on alternate days.

Over the last 12 months I have discovered an interesting phenomena. Two to three weeks after one begins the System limit weights will usually jump up significantly. Most likely the lifter is finally expressing the dormant strength which was already present but that was blunted by residual fatigue. Importantly once the lifter begins lifting at his absolute maximum, and not just his training or daily maximum , his need for recovery also increases. To express this differently, lifting at absolute maximum both requires and necessitates more recovery. When training frequency is too high not only will optimal supercompensation fail to occur but the athlete significantly increases his risk of chronic and acute injury. Ironically these injuries often require extended training lay offs to allow the body to heal.

A logical argument: The central nervous cannot generate the frequency of impulses required to activate the highest threshold motor units if it is fatigued. If these motor units are not activated then they will not be trained and, since they are responsible for the highest force outputs, it follows that training to improve strength in a state of neural at fatigue is at best inefficient.

I believe in the application of the SAID principle. In simple terms and applied to weightlifting, this states that the most effective way of improving the snatch and jerk is through maximum efforts on the snatch and jerk! Training frequency in the System is so low that one must be very specific in the exercise choices. I could write a detailed article on the limitations of most accessory exercises including pulls, deadlifts and partial lift variations but will leave that for another day.

It is accepted within Exercise Physiology that to train the largest fast twitch fibres an athlete must either lift a maximal load or lift a sub maximal load to failure. The System takes advantage of both these training methods every single session. A common belief is that training to maximum for prolonged periods can cause overtraining. However, according to Supercompensation Theory, a lifter cannot overtrain providing that sufficient recovery is taken between sessions.

To improve technical aspects of the lifts (an issue when training frequency is so low) I suggest all lifters, and especially novices, do 20 minutes of broom or bar work every day. This should consist of either technical exercises such as snatch balance or rehearsal of movement pattern with minimal load. I have discovered that not only are these abbreviated sessions useful in ‘greasing the groove’ they are also effective as active recovery from the core workouts.

Initially I favoured front squats as the main (only!) assistance exercise as they are more specific to the clean recovery and can be performed safely without the need for spotters. However I was also keen to gain greater benefit from structural adaptation (hypertrophy) and found that repetitions on the front squat were difficult as the upper back generally fatigues before the legs and hips. Since I switched to back squat pulling strength improved with no obvious detriment to clean recoveries.

Originally we also performed both competition lifts every session but I soon realised it was necessary to cut back. With that program my lifters were unable to fully recover within the 72 hour allotted time frame and as a result the quality of the second session suffered. Also when performing three exercises the quality of the cleans, and more significantly, the squats dropped off due to the accumulation of fatigue. By performing only one competition lift per session the lifter can attack his maximum repeatedly and is still sufficiently fresh to maintain the quality on his squats. If a lifter is overly fatigued for squatting the exercise will become a negative training stimulus, i.e. will increase fatigue without promoting any further adaptation.

Carl Johnson, coach of world triple jump champion Jonathan Edwards, once said to me, ‘do the minimal required to illicit an improvement’. That is a simple but revelatory statement. Let’s assume that the minimal acceptable rate of improvement is 1kg per month. That’s a 24kg on the total in 12 months, or 120kg over five years. How many lifters do you know who wouldn’t be satisfied with that? Cynics will say it is impossible to maintain a linear rate of improvement as one approaches his genetic potential. What they overlook however is that the rate of improvement is NOT linear because 1kg constitutes a smaller percentage of maximum as the weights continue to increase (e.g. 1kg is 1% of 100kg but 0.5% of 200kg).

A common attitude taken by athletes is, ‘I improved 24kg last year off two sessions per week. I’ll improve more this year if I do 3 or 4.” However, doing 4 sessions is not just an extra two workouts, it is a 100% increase in workload! Commonly therefore, this change does not increase the rate of progress, it actually stops it. The body cannot recover from training let alone adapt to it. Why would a lifter ever perform five sessions when they can still improve on two?!

So do away with the dogma, put aside everything you think you know about training, and give the System a try... BUT if you are going to do it be warned, you must be aggressive and totally fearless in your pursuit of those extra kilos. Do not think of failures think only of the training effect. Good Luck.

The System

Day 1
Snatch - Singles to 3 attempts at maximum, 3 repetitions at 80%
Squat - Triples to maximum

Day 2
Clean & Jerk - Singles to 3 attempts at maximum
Squat - Triples to maximum

“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results”
- Winston Churchill


Lifter A, PBs: Snatch 100, Squat 160x3

Snatch Squat
50 3x2r 60 3r
60 1r 100 3r
65 1r 121 3r
70 1r 141 3r
75 1r 161 3r
80 1r
85 1r
90 1r
95 1r
98 1r
101 3 Attempts

Wednesday 15 September 2010

Murph's magic

Our esteemed friend, the Reverend Andy Murphy, has written a guest blog that I hope you folks enjoy.

Some people argue about the use of various hang lifts and the usefulness of such exercises. I believe they have their place for a number of factors.

• Allowing lifters to train when injured
• Providing variation in exercise (the whole variation and injury debacle)
• Making it easier for rugby heads to do the lifts
• Skill work transfer i.e certain lifters are unable to get the bar into the correct position when lifting off the floor therefore getting them into the correct position and then working this starting position down lower until you eventually reach the floor (that’s if you believe in teaching down instead of up which I do most of the time )
• Their ability to target and develop specific strength qualities

I believe the final point is one of the main reasons I include hang lifts in my own training and why they should be included in the training of many others weightlifters and non weightlifters. This is something I have pondered for a long time and from watching hours and hours of lifting and reading various texts on weightlifting, power lifting, bodybuilding and other sports and also from seeing the way other coaches programme.

In the lifts the so called second pull/ where the lifter generates some decent speed on the barbell/ or to quote a famous American lifter where you rip the head off the lion is one of the most important areas for the successful performance of the lift. In the lifts from the floor when the bar enters the area of the “second pull” it is already moving and thus making it move faster is not too hard well should not be too hard anyway or so they say. If we can alter the conditions of the barbell at this position we can directly influence the specific strength qualities that we target. With the use of the many different hang lifts we can manipulate the conditions in which this bar is presented for the “second pull”.

The way we perform the lifts has profound effects on the way we adapt to the lift performed. With the use of various starting conditions we can target specific strength qualities that are required by an athlete or that are lacking. The use of intra- rep pauses in the middle of the lifts whether it is full lifts or pulls or squats to develop starting strength or the use of a quick reflex for lifts from the hang or pulls from the hang to develop speed strength or weightlifting plyometrics.

Intra-rep pauses are where the lifter pauses in the various hang positions either by descending down into this position before pausing or taking the bar from the floor and pausing in this position on the way up before completing the lift the latter I find further shifts the emphasis to building starting strength. It requires a great amount of effort to generate the required force to overcome the less than optimal starting position and complete a successful lift. The repeated use of these techniques enhances the starting strength of the athlete. The use of pauses in the lifts can also further enhance positioning and skill in the lifts as the lifter gets a feel for the correct positions and this is most evident with the use of pause snatches just off the floor or below the knee the lifters becomes familiar and strong in such positions and thus is more likely to hit these correct positions during a full lift. However there are negatives to use of pause such as the development of high amounts of muscular tension in certain positions which may “slow lifters down” and also the worry of lifters breaking the lifts down into two or three phases and pausing in their full lifts. However I believe with the appropriate use of these intra rep pauses in conjunction with bucket loads of full lifts benefits can be gained outweighing the use of bucket loads of full lifts alone.

A further advantage of hang lifts comes in at the other end of the specific strength qualities speed strength. For the optimisation of such qualities it is a requirement that we descend into the hang position and immediately complete the lift utilizing the full benefit of the stretch shortening cycle “plyometric weightlifting” if you may (damn you Poliquin you have written about this before I got to empty my mind. For example you take the bar from the floor with a snatch grip and stand you then descend into a position just below the knee and upon reaching this position immediately perform a full snatch without any pause below the knee. The uses of such techniques are to increase speed of movement. Theoretically practicing at higher speeds should result in the ability to lift or perform at higher speeds. Obviously using a fairly violent reflex at the bottom of the descent or hang is going to put a serious strain/ loading on the lower back but I think if they are done sensibly and introduced slowly can really increase lifting speed without the worry of injury.

Like all assistance lifts I think it is important that they are used as assistance lifts in conjunction with the full lifts and people do not become obsessed with a certain variation that they are very good at it I think if there is a certain variation that you are rubbish at it might be the area you need to address. Obviously there are disadvantages to the use of hang lifts such as lack of specificity (not the same as a full lift in terms of tempo and starting positions), incomplete range motion and many other however I believe with the correct use of hang lifts from various starting positions one can address areas of their lifting and specific strength qualities that are beyond the possibilities with the use of just lifts from the floor.
Hang = not from the floor it can be from below the knee or at the knee or above each of these have their own merits which I will not touch upon in this waffle
Plyometric= a bastardised term thrown around to mean jumping exercises for the arms and legs

Here is an example of an elite Russian weightlifter working from the hang:

If you have any thoughts on this article or wish to publish some of your own thoughts, please leave a comment below. Thanks again Murph!

Saturday 11 September 2010

Saturday's seasoned return

I am a happy camper. As of last night, I am able to train the classical lifts again and it feels sooo good. I had my second physical therapy session and although my hip felt dodgy the day after the session, it feels better now. Not perfect, but far better. Let's start off with a classic video that many of you should enjoy:

Chris Chea, an English 77kg weightlifter with 121/148 as his all time bests, came over this morning for the next few days. I can't train tomorrow as I am taking the Level two IAWA coaching course and this has to take precedence. There was a great atmosphere in ECB today with Chris, Murph who was up from Limerick, German, Laura, Wayne, Killer, Gillian, Byrdie and myself lifting. It was intense and enjoyable for all except for Byrdie who is still feeling the effects of a brutal three month prep phase. He should be just about right for the World's in Turkey.

As for my own lifting, I wanted to see what I could do on Friday night and Snatching felt good so I worked up to a nice single with 100kg and left it there for the night. The previous day I was not able to do any of the classical lifts, so I did the bench press, as many pull ups as possible in ten minutes and some bench squats. I was definitely stiffer two days after, so lifting today was not as pleasant as last night. After feeling like crap, I eventually hit 105kg in the Snatch and hit 130kg in the Clean and Jerk. Very modest numbers, but I am happy considering how long I was not able to lift properly. Starting next week I will be on the last four weeks of Wayne's program and I have promised myself to be good and to follow teh dictates of the program fully. These four weeks will be focusing on the back squat in particular and it should be quite demanding to say the least. I refuse to let myself give in to temptation and go overboard on the mid week intensity. Patience.....