Tuesday 27 September 2011

Essential Somatics: A review

I have been researching the world of Somatics and I got my hands on a copy of Martha Peterson's DVD 'Essential Somatics.' The basic premise of Somatics is lifted from Martha's website directly:

Sensory Motor Amnesia is the condition of chronically tight muscles that develops due to accidents, injuries, surgeries, and on-going stress. These muscles have learned to stay so contracted, that no matter what you do - stretching, massaging, or drugging the muscles - they won't relax for the long term. Muscles that have learned to stay contracted must learn to relax. HSE goes to the root of the problem: your brain and nervous system, and its control of muscles and movement. Your brain has simply forgotten how to relax these muscles, so you must retrain the brain to retrain your muscles in order to reverse pain and regain mobility.

While most pain relief methods focus on the one specific area of pain (e.g. the neck, hip, shoulder), Hanna Somatics understands that pain in one part of the body is part of a larger pattern of muscular dysfunction:

So, I got Martha's DVD and I definitely learned a lot from it. You know something is good when it leads to you buying the source work ' Somatics' by Thomas Hanna. Martha's DVD was easy to follow and had solid, basic instructions. The premise is simple: learn to release chronically tight muscles and activate muscles that have forgotten how to work. The movements themselves are very basic and one of the keys is to avoid straining, pushing or pulling of any kind. Martha is effectively trying to get you to re-educate certain parts of your body and that is really what Somatics is all about. i had spent a good time reading her site that is linked above, and also her blog. I quickly realised that some of the exercises I was reading about I was doing plain wrong. the DVD massively helps clear up any gray areas and is a necessity in my view. The blog helps deepen your understanding of the ideas, but the DVD gives you the visual and aural cues needed.

Here is an example:

Can Somatics help a weightliter or strength athlete? Yes it can. When you learn more about why your body moves in a certain way and how to identify and correct faulty movement patterns, you should be able to do the following:

1 Improve your positioning and therefore your power. Learning greater proprioception is vital to any athlete.
2. Improve your flexibility and joint mobility
3. Learn to release chronically tight muscles which will aid recovery and also help avoid overuse injuries.
4. The more your body relaxes, the more your mind will relax and this should improve your sleep and therefore recovery.

These are just some of the benefits that I have gotten from Somatics and I know there are lifters out there who can also benefit in the same way. The practice is simple: do ten minutes every day and your body will learn. If you have the discipline for ten minutes a day, then I think purchasing this DVD will help you. Martha is also bringing out a DVD specifically on releasing the Hips and lower body; I will also review this when it comes out; one thing I know for sure is that weightlifters get tight hips and this is my Achilles' Heel so bring this one on! Dan John has also reviewed this product and is actually using Martha's advice to help recover from a hip operation. Dan John is a strength training legend, so if he likes it and you don't, you should be embarressed. Here is a link to his review.

I am currently organising a private Somatics session with an instructor in Dublin and I feel that this will help. Any product that inspires you to get the source material, get a DVD and organise an actual session with an Irish instructor is definitely one to check out for yourself. Here is a link to Matha's site where you can buy the DVD.

Thursday 1 September 2011

Food facts for weightlifters

David Rogerson has kindly agreed to write a guest article for weightlifting epiphanies and I think you will agree that it will drop an awful lot of knowledge bombs on an awful lot of people. David is the lead sport nutritionist at Podium Performance as well as a member of the academic teaching team at Sheffield Hallam University. David currently delivers nutrition consultancy services through the athlete support programme, conducts interactive seminars and workshops as part of the SHU Wellness service and assists the Podium Performance strength and conditioning programme; he is also a certified strength and conditioning specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Thanks again to David, and here it is:

The sports nutrition world can seem a little daunting to the uninitiated, with contradictory information, pseudoscience, real science and heavy links with industry making it a bit of a melting pot of useful and misinformation. Lots of popular internet sources and lay press articles are clearly influenced by bodybuilding culture where high protein diets and (potentially heavy) supplement use seems norm, and on the flip-side, it seems like much academic writing is written for full time and / or endurance athletes and can be typified by (sometimes) very high carbohydrate intakes and lower protein diets; it’s no wonder that people get confused about what information is useful and what’s probably bunk. The weightlifter, or coach, is probably wondering where the sport fits into the sports' nutrition world and what the necessary nutritional requirements for the athletes are. Well the goal of this article, really, is to hopefully shed some light and provide a little context, and hopefully, allow the reader to form some reasonable judgement and opinions about how plan and construct a reasonable diet for a weightlifting.

When looking at a sport, strength and conditioning coaches, nutritionists, physiologists, therapists, etc, will most likely perform some form of ‘needs analysis’, which provides useful background information about the physical peculiarities of a sport and an individual and his / her situation as it relates to performance. This is important, and the above staff would likely use this info to form their respective programs and support systems. When asked by folks what is the best diet, I will often be a little cagey and say, ‘that depends’, and clearly it depends on the information provided by such analyses. Let’s have a brief look at weightlifting as a sport, considering the demands of training and the demands of competition separately, which are often a little different. This also depends on your training philosophy and is something that I cover a little later, and map out some general ideas about how to create a basic dietary template. Perhaps in a future article or two I can go into a little more detail about a few specifics such as supplements, weight loss, weight gain, etc, but to get the ball rolling I will cover the major macronutrients, protein, carbohydrates and fats to begin, anyway onto our ‘needs analysis’.


We all know that weight lifting is a brief, maximal intensity sport requiring masses of strength-speed, maximal strength, mobility, coordination, etc, etc. From an energy perspective, most lifts tax the immediate energy systems mostly, the ATP-PC system being most notable. The fuel for this comes from the immediate provision and recycling of stored ATP, which we have stored in very, very small amounts. Contrast this to another sport or activity, such as the marathon or even a 400m sprint where energy is obtained from a variety of systems and fuel sources throughout the duration of the event(s); fats, carbohydrates and proteins are all probably utilised to a noticeable degree from most if not all of the available systems, particularly for the marathon. The fuels required for effective performance in these activities are different and really the diet needs to reflect this. Weightlifting poses an interesting challenge to the body structurally, we see muscle, soft tissue and bone adaptations and consistent heavy loading places tensile stresses on our bodies’ structures, which can damage them. Intense training also leads to inflammation, which is important for the structural adaptations that we want to occur, but can also make us feel sore, tired and quite stiff. With higher frequency training, typical of some weightlifting systems, we have to deal with this most of the time. Each of these factors, and many more, can (and perhaps should) be addressed with the athlete’s habitual diet.


This is where things can be a little tricky. Consider the effect that your training methods are likely to have on your dietary requirements: with higher volume training it’s likely that more overall energy is being used, and perhaps more overall calories and carbohydrates specifically are needed. Lower volume training requires less of each. We know that pre and post-training meals are important from a recovery perspective, and if you train multiple times per day, then perhaps you need to eat more frequently to reflect this. Maybe you periodise your training such that you have higher volume phases, lower volume phases, higher frequency phases or days and at certain points you may need to gain or lose weight depending on a few things. Again, I would suggest that your diet would need to reflect this.

However, my goal isn’t to baffle you with possibilities or to make my job seem that more complicated and scientific than it needs to be. Rather, my preference with most things in general is when in doubt, simplify. So, let’s explore some basic and easy ideas that we can all incorporate into our training.


So most folks are aware that carbohydrates and fats provide energy and protein is used to repair damaged tissues primarily, along with a few other important functions. Let’s start with protein intake, as that seems to be the nutrient most associated with strength and power sports. A topic of much academic debate, it seems pretty straightforward that strength and power sports require a good chunk of protein in their diet; most bodybuilding sources recommend values ranging from 1.0g to 1.5g x lb of bodyweight, or around 2.2g to 3.3g/kg. So using these values, a 70kg / 154 lb lifter would require around 154g to 231g or so (no need to be too specific) per day. That is a lot of protein. Certainly the academic / scientific literature suggests that are clear benefits for athletes to eat lots of protein, with values up to 2.2g /kg being beneficial; there doesn’t appear to be any additional benefits (that are measurable at this time) with values beyond that, but eating more probably isn’t all that harmful either, as long as the lifter doesn’t have any pre-existing kidney problems. This is where things get interesting. Some of the academic research suggests that people need more protein when they start new training programs, as the training represents a new stress on the body, but that over time, as people become accustomed to the training, they need less. I suppose if we look at it anecdotally, when we start a new training program we tend to get pretty sore and beat up for a period of time ( 5 x 5 anyone?), but that as the weeks progress we tend to adapt. The scientific press also suggests that more advanced trainees require less protein than beginners too, as they have become pretty effective at adapting to training loads. Well, if you periodise your training into distinct blocks then I suppose we could argue that due to the fluctuation and variation of training stresses, chances are, you may need more protein at certain times. If however, your training is much more stable, akin to a higher intensity, specific model like the ‘Bulgarian – style’ then perhaps you need less overall protein due to the comparative stability of the training. Now to keep things simple, perhaps then for those systems that segregate training into distinct training phases, we could suggest that they need an overall higher protein intake throughout the training calendar (no need to vary the protein amount because, chances are, the training phases change somewhat frequently anyway). Let’s say for these athletes, something like 2.0 – 2.4g / kg per day perhaps equating to 140 – 168g per day if my maths is correct for the 70kg chap, and for those with more stable training systems, something like 1.8 – 2.2g / kg would probably be fine, working out to be around 126 – 154g per day this time. In the real world, the values don’t differ drastically for either system, probably the equivalent of an extra protein shake or so per day, but it provides interesting food for thought (sorry). I would also add (I thought I was keeping things simple – sorry!) that when trying to lose weight / cut for a competition the relative importance of protein as a nutrient increases, to help prevent the loss of muscle mass. So if you need to lose weight, perhaps keep your protein intake consistent as you cut kcalories from fats and carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates, the energy currency

Well we know that carbs provide easily usable energy and we mentioned earlier that because weightlifting is a maximal intensity strength/power sport, we rely on the immediate energy systems for energy provision mostly. Well, during training we use up the immediate energy supply pretty quickly and tap into other energy stores as time goes on, we also use energy obtained from foods to replenish these depleted reserves when we rest and recover. The academic writing has paid a lot of lip-service to carbohydrate intakes, and we can find some pretty massive amounts being recommended to some athletes. I would argue that for a weightlifter, these values (sometimes up to 60 – 70% of your total energy), are probably a little too high. If we consider that other sports spend much more training time using energy systems that rely on stored carbohydrates and fats, like team sports, most running and cycling activities and even bodybuilding, then perhaps we can see that a weightlifter’s requirements are probably a little less given that weightlifters don’t perform so many cyclic / repetitive activities. Generally I don’t really like advising specific ratios for nutrients, as these don’t tend to factor in body-size, overall kcalorie intakes, etc, but I think that a more balanced approach is probably better where the three major macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat and protein) are eaten in fairly equal amounts, give or take a few here and there, for most weightlifters most of the time depending on some stuff I will detail below. An interesting caveat is that the more carbohydrate you eat, the less your requirement for protein (and fat) is likely to be: carbohydrates ‘spare’ other nutrients being used for energy when the diet contains sufficient amounts of total energy / kcalories. As a (very) general guide then, I recommend that values somewhere around 2 to 3g / kg per day are a good starting point if training volume is fairly low or about 140 to 210g for our 70kg lifter and perhaps up to around 3 to 5g per day if training volume is higher, which would work out to be 210 to 350g per day. If you want to work these recommendations into your current program, specifically if you have some sort of periodised plan, then perhaps the higher values could be used for the higher volume training phases and the lower values used for lower volume phases leading up to competition. Inadvertently, this can help lifters lose a little weight if the values above helps to put them in an energy deficit (where and individual burns more energy / kcalories than they ingest). For some folks carbohydrates can be tricky, so I suggest that you play around a little with your intakes to find what seems to work for you. As a guide, for most people I personally like them to eat as much food (and carbohydrate) as they can before they gain weight, the larger intake can infer some metabolic advantages and the more wiggle room you have to play with, the easier it can be to cut weight.
A quick note about nutrient timings, I like to use the sponge analogy when talking about pre/post training nutrition: after training your body is incredibly receptive to the food that you eat and will soak up nutrients and absorb them like a dry sponge does when submerged in water. Consider that the overall effect of training is to take away your body’s energy reserves and to damage the tissues that contribute to the training, and then when in this position your body is essentially crying out for nutrients to ameliorate the damage and depleted reserves. So, a big chunk of the sports nutrition research looks into the effects of ingesting protein and carbohydrate meals or supplements before, during and after training and certainly. This drip-feeding of nutrients seems to assist recovery. Perhaps I can cover this later, but let’s say for now though that eating or drinking something with protein and carbohydrates before and after your training is a good idea, and maybe having a little something during your longer sessions could help as well. This doesn’t have to be an expensive supplement, whole food is awesome, but I will say that if you are training multiple times per day ingesting a liquid meal after training could help you recover a little quicker between sessions.


Fats are awesome and traditionally undervalued in mainstream nutrition media. Most likely, this was based on research the links intakes of saturated fats with poor health. This is not something I want to discuss here as it opens a proverbial can of worms but I will say that fats serve some very important functions and that habitually low fat intakes could be detrimental to health and performance. Fats help us to absorb fat soluble vitamins as well as assist the production of important hormones and help form cellular structures amongst other things. It seems as well that certain types of fats posses’ metabolic and anti-inflammatory functions as well as helps us to feel full and improve the taste and sensory qualities of our food. As a guide, values of around 0.8 - 1g per kg of bodyweight will probably be about right, so the 70kg lifter will probably ingest around 58 – 70g per day. Personally, I would opt for the higher value, but that’s just my preference. What types? Well don’t be afraid of the animal-based saturated fats, so please do eat red meat, dairy products, butter and whole eggs but try to balance this out by being sure to ingest other sources of fats too, particularly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. We can get these from things like olive oil, nuts, seeds, fish, avocados, flax seeds, etc. Probably one of the easiest ways to make this stuff work is to use some olive oil each day, eat good quality sources of meat and eggs, and have some fatty fish regularly. I would also recommend a fish oil supplement too and anecdotally, they do seem to aide recovery and help some folks with joint problems when taken daily due to their inherent anti-inflammatory properties, something to the tune of 6g or so depending on the strength of the product you buy.


Simply, the more you sweat the more you need to drink. Maintaining a hydrated state will help an abundance of physiologic and thermoregulatory processes, and remember, the body likes to maintain homeostasis, or essentially an even keel, like anything, if a little is good more is not necessarily better. You can drink too many fluids which can dilute the concentration of important minerals in your body. Outside of training times I would say drink when you feel the need to but be sure to maintain a clear urine colour; you should urinate every couple of hours or so too. During training, just be sure to drink something and if you want to get a little more technical, perhaps weigh yourself before and after training and be sure to replace any weight loss with fluids. Roughly 1kg or weight loss will equate to 1 – 1.3L of fluids.


Let’s discuss some of the competitive demands and how this relates to food. Firstly, the lifter needs to weigh in, and so for everyone but the superheavyweights, this is probably your first concern on competition day. For most, this means dropping bodyweight be it through fat loss, water loss or a combination of the two. Clearly diet is hugely important for these to be achieved without detriment to a lifter’s performance and is something that we can manipulate to good effect. This is perhaps a topic in detail for another day, but a strategic reduction in overall energy and carbohydrate intake in the days / weeks leading up to a competition, plus a little water manipulation through strategic over consumption and restriction in the days leading up as well (if needed), will get the job done as long as the lifter isn’t a million miles away from their target weight. After the weigh in it is important that the lifter re-hydrates and fuels up for the competition with appropriate fluids and foodstuffs. The goal of this is to get back into you what you took out with your cutting procedures, so, hypotonic sports drinks are handy here to get some fluids and minerals back in quickly (those drinks without all of the added sugars and carbohydrates, such as Powerade zero, Lucozade hydroactive, etc – read the labels carefully). If not, dairy products, milkshakes and coconut water will also provide the necessary minerals too, as well as plenty of other nutrients as well, but you may have to drink additional water with these. In addition to the fluids, you want to eat a mixture of proteins and carbohydrates immediately after the weigh in, something easily digestible and something that agrees with your gut tolerance. Probably little need to get overly concerned with stuff like Glycemic Index or Glycemic load at this point and go for something that you enjoy, can eat manageably and gets into the blood stream fairly quickly; sugary foods are fine for this purpose if you want to eat / drink them but remember to have some protein in here too. I generally recommend that if you haven’t eaten yet, have a piece of fruit, fruit contains fructose (and other carbohydrates and fibre) which can help replenish liver glycogen, which is generally lower in the morning or when we are fasted and is important for maintaining blood glucose. An added benefit is that some research also suggests that combining glucose and fructose carbohydrates helps to replenish muscle glycogen faster, which is important if you are depleted and have finite time before you compete. So get some fruit in you as well as anything else you eat. I’d generally recommend that you make all this food, and the other stuff you may eat during competition, to be things that you have eaten habitually for a while though. The last thing you need to be worrying about during a lift is if the worrisome gurgling of your gut and potential gassiness as you catch a heavy snatch or clean. As a rule, I say to folks that you probably want to eat little and often during a competition and snack, rather than eat meals. Eating larger portions of food can make you feel a little sluggish, full and lethargic for a while thereafter, and it seems that eating little and often tends to keep you more on an even keel in this regard. If you like to feel fuller as you lift (as I do personally), I would recommend a larger meal / snack immediately after you weigh in and then snack and drink fluids after that to maintain that satiety, rather than go for an all out binge before you lift. If you have time, eat / drink something small after you snatch, before you clean and jerk. The goal of these frequent feedings is to keep overall blood glucose fairly consistent within reason. If your blood glucose drops too much feelings of fatigue and exertion can creep up on you that aren’t just due to the exertion of the competition, low blood glucose can increase effort perception, so, if you do opt for sugary carbohydrate foods beware that blood glucose can drop rapidly (for some people) after eating them. A small amount of carbohydrate, something to the tune of as little as 10g can help ameliorate this, and some research also suggests that a simple carbohydrate mouth rinse could potentially do something similar. So, to recap, after weigh ins drink and eat and get your weight back up, get the fluids, minerals and carbohydrates back into your body and then graze thereafter. If you simply cannot eat due to nerves, go for liquid meals: protein supplements, meal replacements and flavoured milk shakes will get the job done. After the competition, well, I will leave that up to you. What I will say though,is if weight is a concern for you and you have another competition coming up, consider the overall amount of lifts that you perform during a competition and warm ups; chances are, even with all the nervous energy, you probably aren’t burning too many total kcalories and probably not as much as you would during a normal training session, and when eating little and often, it is easy to overeat if you are not careful, especially if you decide to inhale your bodyweight in food / drink after the competition too.


So there we have it, a basic introductory guide to some nutritional recommendation for a weightlifter. None of this is revolutionary stuff I would argue, but I would hope that it at least makes you consider how the amount and type of training you do could impact your dietary requirements and how things don’t always have to be static. One of the tenets of this article is that we alter our training volumes and training stressors to coincide with our objectives and goals; I think that it is generally a wise idea to do the same with our diet as well, to at least match the demands of the training with the dietary tools that enable and assist your adaptation to the training. Because really, training is a stimulus for adaptation and diet and recovery are some of the tools that enable to it happen effectively. I will get off my soapbox for a moment and say that for most people most of the time, counting every kcalorie or nutrient you eat is not necessary to simply getting better as a lifter, but I think that having a systematic approach to your diet is useful, especially when it comes to gaining and losing weight. If we step back for a minute and assess what I have written as a whole and simplify the information, in sum:
• Eat a good amount of protein, eat more / less based on your training objectives,
• Eat carbohydrates to coincide with your training volume,
• Eat / drink protein and carbohydrates before and after training, especially if you train multiple times per day, maybe even have some as well during your longer sessions,
• Fats need to be eaten in reasonable amounts and be sure to eat a range of foods that contain all of the important fatty acids.
• Drink to sustain hydration, measured by urine colour,
• During competition, replace any fluids and energy sources that you have depleted and drip-feed foods throughout the day.

But most of all, and something that sometimes gets omitted from nutrition articles, just enjoy your food. The best diet / nutrition program is one that you can stick to long term.

Monday 25 July 2011

Abadjiev's attitudes

Here is the final part to the interview. He was a very nice man and by the end of my visit, had warmed to me and the other Cal Strength guys. When he found out that the interview would be done by interview, he even tidied his hair in the mirror!

Thursday 21 July 2011

Abadjiev's answers

Any post by me is both unnecessary and embarrassing.

Wednesday 20 July 2011

Interview interest

I have been missing for a short while, but I will make up for it by posting an interview with the most famous weightlifting coach of all time. Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

Thursday 30 June 2011

Friday's feast day

I trained twice on Friday and even though I was not as sharp as I would have liked, it was nice to be able to lift without severe DOMS. I did some hip mobility drills in the morning and for the first session I simply Back Squatted. I worked up to a single with 175kg and I failed. Very embarrassing. I followed this up with a double with the same weight and I got a nice little pb double in the Back Squat. My positioning felt rough, but I just needed to gut it out.

In the second session of the day, I lifted in the awesome gym, United Barbell, owned by Jenny Werba and her business partner. It is a Crossfit gym and it is fantastic! It has beautiful Eleiko weightlifting equipment and a nice platform. Max Aita was coaching a few of his lifters there and I was allowed join in. There was a really fun and intense atmosphere there with Kirsten, Joanne and Jenny kicking ass and taking names. I started off Snatching and worked up to a double with 100 and I failed the second rep with 105. I then did singles with 110 and 113 and I failed 115 and then Clarked it. I worked up to 128kg in the Power Clean and Jerk and I finished up with the Back Squat. I ended up hitting a double with 177kg and then I got a single with 182kg which felt great in regards to my form. We were rushing off, so I did not have time to finish off with a pb set of 5 which I know I would have hit.

Max was helping me out technically and there were a few points that he was making that hit the nail on the head. The important thing is that what Max was saying, was very similar to what Kelly Starret was telling from a completely different perspective when I saw him about my hip. I need to digest this more and I will write a full post on this also alongside my overall reflections and experiences from my trip.. Max said he would write a guest post for Weightlifting Epiphanies also, so that should be something to look forward to.

Here is an interview that I know will help an awful lot of people out there who are trying to set up their own weightlifting clubs and gyms. David Spitz owns California Strength and he wants to help you:

Monday 27 June 2011

DOMS domination

Well, Monday was one of the best training sessions I had ever had in the sport of weightlifting. The following day, only the soles of my feet and my scalp did not hurt. I understand what was happening and why it was happening, but holy sweet mother of God did it hurt. Every part of me that is. I had a token workout on Tuesday and on Wednesday morning. In both sessions, I was basically just trying to get the blood flowing and some active recovery on board.

For the Wednesday afternoon workout, I had a nap before hand and some caffeine. I was still really stiff so I Snatched from the blocks and was able to muster out 110kg which I was happy with considering the circumstances. Sami was able to Snatch high pull and then hang snatch 100 pretty easily too. He destroyed 120 in the Clean and Jerk afterwards also. The Clean and Jerks were hurting pretty badly and I had to summon up the fury of the gods to hit 130kg. Glenn told me to do a few Clean Pulls with 135, but the general whole body pain was too much and was something I have not experienced since I played rugby. I tried to squat after, but that was a no go also.

The Thursday morning workout was also a washout. Last year I would have been incredibly frustrated by this, but I knew what was happening; DOMS is something I have not experienced that much in weightlifting, but Monday's workout was incredibly taxing but worth it. I was able to conquer my mind on Monday and even if I could not lift for the rest of the week, it would be worth it.

Here is an interview I had with Kevin Cornell and it is very different to the ones I have done before; Kevin's journey as a weightlifter has been interesting and something that a lot of us can learn from:

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Monday's mutilation

I woke up in a haze of pain and body confusion, but thankfully I ended the day well. Myself and Sami had our best sessions of the trip and these were needed very badly. All the guys were sore and tired from the competition on Saturday and there was a general sense of fatigue.

Our first session was 25 Snatches every 90 seconds. I had to Snatch off the blocks and Sami joined me there. I started off struggling to hit 90kg, but around 15 Snatches in, I worked up to 95 and then a few Snatches later, I worked up to 100; a few later I went up to 105 and for my last Snatch I worked up to 108kg; not a heavy weight but it felt far better Snatching this than Snatching 90kg for my first one or two singles. After the session, I chilled out and rested. It was actually a struggle to force myself to eat because when you are that tired, it is the last thing you want to do. It is quite weird because it is the same when I need to sleep very badly: it is really hard to go to bed and sleep and when I am feeling very tight and inflexible, the last thing you want to do is stretch. Counter-intuitive it may be, but it is still there.

The second session had us start off with Back Squats and we were all going for pr's with our five rep maxes. Jon hit 220kg for five reps which turned out to be a 10kg pr. Sami hit 150kg, Kevin hit 222kg for four reps. Spencer just missed squatting 280kg for a single. I went up to 170, but only hit 3 reps with it; I could not get through the sticking point with the fourth. I went back down to 162.5kg and got my five for a 2.5kg pr. Embarrassingly small, but 2.5kg less so.

We then moved onto Clean and Jerks and we had 20 to do every 90 seconds. I worked up to 130kg and started from there. I needed to hit this figure and try to get over my fear with the Clean. Everyone really pushed it in this session and it was the most intense training session I have ever had in the sport of weightlifting. It felt far longer than the Snatches and everyone's legs were already shot from squatting to maximum. After 15 Clean and Jerks, the fatigue really started to creep in and I had to switch off the mind completely in order to get through the lifts. Every now and then just at the mid point of my pull, that little doubt would creep in and try to screw me over. I had to try and not think about it at all. On my last Clean and Jerk, I worked up to 135kg and forced myself to lift past the point were that devil whispered in my ear that I can't do it.

Here is a video of the Clean and Jerk part of the session. Everyone was sweating really badly and everyone was hurting from the squats; it is only really in the last ten minutes of the video that you can tell people were hurting.

I did a massive amount of active recovery after the session again, with an ice bath and later that evening some contrast water therapy also.

Monday 20 June 2011

Sacramento slip up

Sacramento was about an hour and a half away and we were all looking forward to the competition. The gym was amazingly awesome and the competition was a small one for American standards, but still had over 70/80 people competing in it. The organisers were really efficient and everything ran very smoothly. The MC's in particular were instrumental in keeping the action moving and in getting the crowd involved before and after. The only Irish person who could possibly compare would be if Paudie Roche took the mike in a competition.

Donny and Rob both lifted very well and hit total pr's; Rob hit 127/153 and Donny hit 166/203, but he narrowly missed 210kg. Jon hit 152/185kg and Spenser hit 155/195kg. These were big numbers and the Cal Strength team took the overall medals. Two female lifters Joanne and Jenny bot qualified for nationals. Sami ended up with 100/126kg and lifted three out of six.

The gym has a powerlifting club, a crossfit club and a weightlifting club. It has absolutely everything a gym can want and it is all contained in what looks like an outdoor shed/warehouse. It was very hot that day and even when we were in the shade, we were effectively outdoors. We Irish boys were not quite used to that.

When we got there, we registered and ended up weighing in and waiting around for a few hours to lift. I was very stiff by the time that I started warming up, so it was a relief to get a bar in my hands at last. The plan was to open with 115/140. I warmed up in the usual manner and ended up missing 110, which was supposed to be my last warm up. I asked Glenn to put me up to 116kg as an opener so I could actually make 110 in the warm up room. For my opener, I only high pulled the bar. I then missed it out front and I ended up making the lift on my third attempt. The relief was enormous and it was not nice staring down the barrel of bombing out. This did not go as planned, but what can you do?

I had a good rest for the Clean and Jerks and I warmed up to 137kg. I asked Glenn to bump up my opener to 142 and after I hit that, I ended up only high pulling 148kg twice. This was extremely humiliating, but there is no choice but to simply get on with it. I wanted to hit this lift very badly, but fear clearly won the day. Frustrating, yes, but this will be one hell of a challenge to overcome and it will make me a stronger person when I do overcome it.

After the competition, I felt just like every single one of you reading this blog have felt when something you want really bad does not come out the way you have worked so hard to achieve. Everyone feels disappointment, but not everyone reacts in a positive way. Which am I? This is what I feel like:

Here is another cool video:

Friday 17 June 2011

Thursday and Friday's fingerfood

After our intense sessions on Wednesday, I was generally stiff and sore the next day. My lower back was quite tight also, but I did not mind this because I trained well on Wednesday and I had two days to recover for Saturday's competition. On Thursday we only had one session and it was Power Snatch and Power Clean. I only Power Snatched because my back was stiff and sore. I worked up to 90kg and then I tried to Power Snatch 100 twice but only managed to bring it to parallel or lower. I left the Power Clean and had an ice bath. Spenser hooked me up with a quick back massage after as well, which felt good.

On Friday, all the guys were pretty focused on the next day's competition and basically went through the motions in training. I only went up to a few reps with 50kg, 70 and 90kg in the Snatch and Clean and Jerk. Sami did the same. The rest of the guys went up heavier. Jon went up to around 120/160, Rob 110/130, Spenser around the same as Jon and Kevin also.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Wednesday's wiping of our floor

We did two sessions today. All last night and this morning I did some active recovery things that made my back feel good going into the morning session. All the guys trained really hard and were pretty wiped after the day was out.

In the first session, we all started off with a Snatch High Pull followed by a Snatch from below the knee. I only worked up to three of these with 90kg and Sami got some excellent technique work done with Glenn. Kevin Cornell was the beast of the morning and hit a high pull and Snatch from below the knee with 140. It was awesome and he has impressed myself and Sami massively since we arrived. Himself and Jon are going to push each other massively over the next few months. Donny Snatched 160, Clean and Jerked 185 and Back Squatted 270kg in the morning session alone. He is a machine.

The guys then went on to do the same with Cleans, but I skipped that to protect my lower back. I went on to do Jerks from the blocks and I ended up hitting 150kg for a pr. Once I get used to this exercise, I should be able to put up a good bit more weight because I have power to spare in the Jerk. The rest of the lads then went on to do Jerks from behind the neck off the blocks and Sami hit an easy 110 for a triple. Jon hit 160kg for four reps. Kevin hit 160 for five reps and 170kg for three.

For the second session of the day, everyone was having their last maximum intensity session before the competition on Saturday. It was intense and there were some big weights. Myself and Sami struggled in our first afternoon session because it would be three or four in the morning at home while we were training. It was a strange sensation feeling like you should be asleep but adrenaline coursing through you at the same time. Jon Snatched 147kg and Clean and Jerked 175kg, which was impressive because he was working for hours before the second workout and had eaten very little all day. Kevin Snatched 140 and I am not sure what he Jerked. Donny had 195 overhead in the Jerk and Snatched somewhere over 160kg. Spenser Clean and Jerked 180 which was impressive considering he has had a sore knee all week. Rob hit 120/140 and Brian just did pulls because he has a sore wrist.

Sami was zonked and hit 95/115kg despite being practically asleep. He finished off with an easy 160 squat and called it a day. I had a decent second session. In the Snatch, I worked up with one Power Snatch and a full Snatch with 50, 50, 50, 70, 90, 100 and then I hit 110 and 115 twice for two singles in the Snatch. I was happy to get them considering my turnover and lifting in general was pretty slow. My first 115 was like a delayed high pull followed by a dive under to catch. I hit it again and it felt like that was the end of the road. I intend to open with this on Saturday, so I was happy to hit it twice. In the Clean and Jerk, I did doubles with 50 and 70. I then did singles with 95, 105, 115, 130 and 140kg. I wussed out of 145kg which was embarrassing because it was there and I could not control my mind. I finished up with some Back Squats and did a double with 100 and singles with 120, 140, 160 and I missed 180 twice which I found surprising. Maybe the jump was too big, but I will get it next time.

All in all, it was a good session in that I got a lot of work done; I hit a pb in the Jerk from the rack and I hit my openers for Saturday. It is funny for myself and Sami, because our lifting is literally in slow motion compared to the other guys and it is awesome watching guys lift so quickly from the floor to the catch. We are both enjoying training here immensely and are enjoying the Cal Strength hospitality from Glenn and the boys.

Tuesday's talent for not hurting myself

Sleep, active recovery and simply being able to lift was the name of the day. Ice baths, jacuzzi contrast work and some anti-inflammatries and a good sleep left me feeling ok today. I woke up and did some trans-abs and lower abs work in the morning to try and take the strain off my lower back; I followed this up with a mwod workout and ended up feeling good in the morning, determined to be careful and not ruin myself.

We were supposed to have a Power Snatch and Power Clean workout. I decided to Power Snatch off blocks because it is at the bottom of the pull where I feel it the most. I started off with triples with 40, 40, 60 and then a double with 80. I then did singles with 90, then three singles with 100 and I finished up with 105kg which brought me down to parallel.

I left it there with the powers so that I did not make the same mistakes of the previous day. Instead of doing Power Cleans and loading my lower back again, I went on to behind the neck Jerks off the blocks. I had not done this movement in around a year and a half and I wanted to get 160kg. I worked up to 150, but 160 was just beyond me today.

I tried 160 three times, but it was not there. I finished off with some flexibility work and one set of reverse-hypers to get some blood flow into my back. I then spent some time in the pool with a few of the guys and after lunch, I had a lovely ice bath to cap things off.

All in all, this was a light day for everyone. All of the guys looked pretty beat up and lifted like it too. There will be two training sessions tomorrow and everyone will more than likely be more fired up for them than today. There is a competition in Sacramento on Saturday that most of the guys will be lifting in. Glenn put myself and Sami down also, so I am really looking forward to it and I want to make sure that I can lift properly and do myself justice. Today was an important day for me because I was able to train with moderate intensity and without pain. I was stiff and sore afterward, but that can be worked around. Once I am intelligent in my training over the next few days, I should be fine and lift well on Saturday.

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Cal Strength sign in

Myself and Sami arrived in the airport at 4am and flew from Dublin to Paris and then from Paris to San Francisco. Glenn picked us up and we got a quick bite to eat and we were straight into the gym for our first workout. 14 hours of travelling after only two or three hours sleep is generally not conducive to hard training, but we made it work.

When we arrived into the gym, it looked very similar to last year, but it was far busier. There were lots of High School kids training there and pretty much all of them had some form of the Olympic Lifts in their training, just like East Coast Barbell. It was a real pleasure walking in somewhere where people are training hard and weightlifting is the norm as opposed to the exception. Again, this is one of the main reasons myself and Sami started ECB.

When we were driving to the gym, Glenn said we should have a workout to help us sleep that night and get over jet lag, but that we should keep the weights light for obvious reasons. When we started warming up, I surprised myself by feeling ok, and generally pretty loose. I had seen a physical therapist who helped me with my lower back the previous day and I was not sure how I would feel, so I used a belt for support also. Myself and Sami warmed up with the bar and then we both worked up in doubles in the Snatch with 40kg for a few, then 50, 60, 70 and once I hit 80kg I did a single with that, 90 and then 100kg. Sami worked up to 90 and then we thought that was that. But no, not he wasn't. Glenn said we were Snatching once every 90 seconds on that weight and we thought he was joking. But no, no he wasn't.

My first rep with 100 felt light but very rough. Five reps in I started to find my rhythm and my Snatches felt really smooth and generally pretty powerful. Sami was Snatching the best I have seen him in many months--he had been on holiday for the past ten days and had not touched a bar at all-- and I could feel my lower back, but it was not sore. I was going to leave it after 12, but I felt good so I kept going. Sami was spent after his twenty lifts and developed a weird pain in the left arm and shoulder, so he could not really Clean and Jerk afterwards.

I rested for fifteen minutes and I said that I would skip the 20 Clean and Jerks that the other guys were doing and just work up to a single and leave it there. Jon North and Kevin Cornell were starting with 160 with Spenser also. Rob Blackwell started with 120 and Power Cleaned because the low catch hurt his back. Donny had just worked up to 170kg in the Snatch, so the atmosphere was set. I worked up to 120 and then for some unfathomable reason, said maybe Power Cleaning would be easier on my back too. I worked in with Rob and we both did five or six Power Clean and Jerks and my back felt stiff, but ok. Then on the next rep, I felt it give out and it was almost like I fully contracted it for the first time. Very strange. I left it there, cursing myself for not listening to my instinct and calling it a day after the first 120.

The real fireworks began after Jon and Kevin began to creep up the weight after ten singles or so from 160, gradually to 170. After the twenty reps every 90 seconds, they then started trash talking and worked up to 175. Then Kevin hit 177.5kg for a pr (after 20 singles!) and then they both hit 180, again, Kevin got a pr. The intensity in the air was palpable and myself and Sami were wishing we could have gotten in on the action. Sweat was flying everywhere and Jon was ranting incoherently at the bar and all around him. Kevin had just ripped up his finger quite badly changing weights and they were both somehow managing to keep increasing weights despite their lungs nearly coming out of their mouths. Here it is:

Video streaming by Ustream

After we finished training, we all ate an outrageous amount of food in Glenn's at an impromptu team bonding session. He also gave me a go on his ems unit to help loosen up my back which had tightened quite rapidly. We finished up with a few trips in Jon's hot tub and then we slept the hell out of it after 28 hours of little or no sleep.

Lessons learned:

1. Follow your instinct: I said I would take it easy in my first workout, and I predictably let myself get caught up in the atmosphere and kept training on when I should not have. I am an idiot and did exactly what I said I wouldn't. It will take me a few days to get back to where I should be, but I will not make the same mistake again.

2. Tempo lifts are awesome: When myself and Sami were doing the classical lifts every 60 or 90 seconds at home, it was great for our lifting because you let the rhythm of the movement take over rather than trying to overpower the bar. This is a vital aspect to lifting and the fact that you do not have time to over-analyse also helps smoothen out your creases.

3. We need to get stronger and stop worrying about technique. I have said this a few times and yesterday simply reinforced this indisputable fact.

Sunday 12 June 2011

Sunday's slight back strain

Over the last six weeks or so my back has been gradually getting more and more stiff and on Thursday, I strained it with a 95kg Snatch. It was nothing major, but it was the same area that has been at me since I got back from holiday. I felt it go with a light Snatch and it got worse as the day went on; I definitely strained it. I went for a swim in the sea both days after and took the appropriate anti-inflammatories and fish oil etc. I felt ok and I did some bar work on the Friday and felt fine and had another swim in the delightfully cold sea to help things along.

I drove up to Belfast hoping to compete yesterday and fifteen minutes into the warm up, I had to call it a day. Lifting from the floor was painful and I could not generate any power at all. I left it at 100kg and I was disappointed, but I knew that if I lifted I would have injured myself badly, rather than having a simple enough strain. Also, I am going to California Strength with Zag tomorrow for two weeks and that is definitely the priority. I am glad i listened to my body, because usually my default position would be to dig in my heels and "man up" even when it would be silly to do so.

I am seeing a physical therapist today and hopefully he can help me before I leave for California so that I can train to a full extent. Last year I went over to train with the lads and do as many sessions as I could with them. I knew it would burn me out, but I wanted to experience it anyway. This time, I will formulate a plan with Glenn; myself and Sami will go over with specific goals in mind, rather than to lift as often and as heavy as we can. Last year I came back in a heap and this year I want to build on my last few months training and take it from there.

I am still worn out from the last few months, but so is everyone else reading this blog! I will get my energy back in a few days and then hopefully I will have loads to write about in California. Bring it on!

If this does not make you laugh, God help you:

Sunday 5 June 2011

Sunday's stranger moments

Like I said last week, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. The past month has been manic and it has taken a toll on my lifting. My squatting has continued to improve however and I have gotten my first squatting pb's in a year and a half.

Last week I equalled my pb double with 155 in the Front Squat and got a double with 170kg in the Back Squat. This week I got a triple with 170 and a double with 160kg in the Front Squat. I then went for a double with 165, my one rep max, but I could not get through the sticking point.

On Monday, I Snatched 105 and missed 110 twice with it being slightly out front both times. I worked up to a Clean double with 120 and a single with 130 and then I hit 160 for a double on the second attempt. On the Wednesday, I Power Snatched 95 and hit 100 but it was a full Snatch. I went on to Power Clean and Jerk my old pb of 130 despite struggling to Clean it two days earlier. Very strange. I then Back Squatted a triple with 170 and I was going for a double with 175, but the previous effort took it our of me and I could only get a single. The third repitition with 170 was one that breaks your form and your back, but you get it anyway.

On the Friday, I Snatched 105 and Clean and Jerked 130. I was not able to even try and Clean 135. I have no idea why not, but I was not able to make myself do it. I then was determined to get a double with 165, but I was only able to get one rep with it.

All in all, this was a very strange week's training. My lower back has been very stiff and sore for the last few weeks, but this week it was stopping me getting into good positions from the floor.

I have been trying something a little different this week also. Because my schedule changed a bit, I had a bit of time to combine squatting while working during the day. Around afternoon time, I would work up to a conservative max single where I would not push it. I would then train as usual later that evening and I would find it helped me squat heavier weights later in the day. I wanted to focus more on my squat this week because they were going well and also because I knew how hectic my scedule would be. Equalling my Power Clean pb after not hitting close to it for over a year and a half was also an unexpected surprise, but I will take it when I can get it.

I am competing next Saturday in the Ulster Open up in Belfast and I am really looking forward to getting out to the platform. I need to get a bit rested and train intelligently this week. I am not tapering for the competition but I want to lift well for it. On the 13th of June, I am also going to Claifornia Sterngth for two weeks to train with those boys, so that should be fun also. It will be a novelty to be able to focus sloely on my lifting and not ECB or anything else, so bring it on!

Watch this video. Kolecki is unbelievable in it and he was only 18 years old!

Saturday 28 May 2011

Saturday's staple: call a spade a spade...

Life has taken over this week, so I had to adapt my training accordingly. I still trained three times this week, but my classical lifts were down. The upside to this is that my squats were a lot better this week and I was able to match my Front Squat double and triple pb's for the first time in a year and a half.

On Monday, I Snatched up to 100 and I did Clean doubles up to 130. I tried for 134, but I could only get the first rep in on two attempts; my mind won over and I did not even go under the second attempts. It was very frustrating because I wanted to get it badly. My training was affected quite a bit by a gash in my left leg that has been very slow to heal, but it affected my Snatch a lot more. I Front Squatted afterwards, and worked up to a double with 150 and then I hit a double with 155kg which matched my pb from 18 months ago. Embarrassing, yes, but I was happy to get it. I had a four second sticking point to get through, but it was worth it.

On Wednesday, I Power Snatched up to 95 for two singles and one No Man's Landed Snatch 98kg. I was unable to Clean and Jerk at all and ended up missing 130. Very strange and very frustrating. It has been a long time since I have missed that weight. Anyway, I had to accept it and move on to the Back Squat. Last week I was unable to hit 167. This week I hit 160 and 165 for a triple. I then hit 170kg for a double, which I was happy with because I think that was a first. I was pleasantly surprised, because I felt so empty in my lifting and devoid of any momentum.

Today, I was knackered again and I was happy to hit 108/134. Not impressive weights at all, but a year ago I would not have been able to hit them when I had been this drained. I then worked up to a single with 160 in the Front Squat and then I hit 150kg for a triple. Harry Leech was training a few lads in Santry gym and I was able to get out there for a session. it was great training with him again and he also gave me a Chinese-style weightlifter's massage where the coach walks up and down the lifter's back and legs.

I finished off with some shoulder mobility drills also and I felt tired, but happy.

So, I finally bit the bullet and I started following Kelly Starrett's MWOD. I was taking bits and pieces, but I decided to actually follow someone who knows far far more than me. I went all the way back to day one and I am now finished day 30. Generally, I do two mobility of the day workouts and I am really enjoying them. I thought my shoulders were flexible, but I was wrong. It takes around ten or twelve minutes for each MWOD, so sometimes I do two, sometimes three. I am following Starrett's direction for general health as much as for weightlifting. One thing I know for certain is that I am getting more flexible generally and I am also enjoying the process.

Here is an awesome old school Bulgarian weightlifting video:

Here is an outrageously impressive physical performance of a different kind:

And lastly, Ray Lewis's speech to a team before kick off is probably up there with Jim Telfer's 1997 Lions' pre-games' speeches:

Which do you prefer?

Monday 16 May 2011

Monday's moonshine

What do you do when you are down? Get back up and start working harder. So that's what I am doing.

On Monday, I was determined to get a better Front Squat and a Clean double pb. The previous Monday I hit 150 for two doubles in the Front Squat and then last Monday I hit 150 and 152.5 for a double. Once I get a small bit better, my pathetic squats will get slightly less pathetic. Each week, I either get an extra rep or I get 2.5kg more. Taaaappppp it in. Just taaaaaaaappp in in Happy.

So, this is what I am trying to do. Sleep more and get more every session. This sounds very familiar of course, but I am trying to arrange it so that every time I train, I am fully prepared in every facet that I can control. Being busy is not an excuse. Being tired is not an excuse. Being someone of little fortitude is also no excuse. It's funny because my mind kept trying to screw me over on Monday and that nagging little voice that says you can't do it was insistent. On the fourth go, I hit a Clean double with 133 which is again, embarrassing, but it is 1kg less embarrassing than it was before.

Here is another cool old school video. Maybe I need some of their rage. All I know is that they have nothing on Klokov:

Here is a weightlifting video that I really like because you can tell Lapikov is tired from training and is not competition fresh and fast:

Sometimes I get frustrated that I have been training like this guy:

Aside from this hilarity, all I am trying to do at the moment is to do my last training program properly. I am currently on a download week, but I will squat heavy. I need to get stronger and I need to consistently lift bigger weights in training. Does this sound familiar anyone?

Sunday 8 May 2011

Nationals' nightmare

Yep, I had a shocker. I wanted 122/150. I got 118/143. Embarrassing and gutting, but there are a few lessons to learn here. I weighed in at 94.3kg and I cut almost two and a half kilos, just missing the 94kg bodyweight. Hindsight being as it is, this said a lot about the day.

The most important thing was that the competition was a resounding success. There were 43 lifters which is the biggest competition Irish weightlifting has had since the 60's. Most people lifted really well and I think it is safe to say the Jordanstown University is the best competition venue in the country. Irish weightlifting is really improving and our overall standard is gradually going progressing.

On to my report. I arrived for the weigh in at around 10.30am and I lifted at around 5pm. It was a long wait, but the 94kg and upwards lifters all had to wait the same amount. I did a quick warm up session to wake myself up after waiting around for so long. I did two doubles with 50 and then did Power Snatch singles with 70, 80, 90 and 100kg. Maybe 30 or 35 minutes later I started my proper warm up. I did a few doubles with 50 and 70kg. I then did singles with 80, 90, 100, 105 and 110kg. I felt the strongest I have ever felt pre competition and I was 100% confident that I would hit 122.

Wayne had me open with 114kg and it was a joke. I went on to smoke 118 and actually pulled back on it slightly, which made the recovery tricky because the bar was pretty far back. It felt stupidly light though and I was ready for why I was there in the first place. I gave 122 everything I had but the bar was out front and I missed it. The bar was high enough and I was low enough, but I could not fix her overhead. I was genuinely surprised I missed it.

I then chilled out for 15 minutes and refuelled. I did a bit of bar work and did a few doubles with 70. I then warmed up with singles with 90, 100, 110 and I power cleaned 120 and 130 before I jerked it. In hindsight this was a mistake, but I wanted to really finish the pull and use my hips. I then hit 137 as my last warm up and Wayne had me open with 143kg. I was feeling a bit light headed but I knew what I had to do. I cleaned it easier than I have ever Cleaned 143 and somehow contrived to miss the Jerk. This very very rarely happens and I simply just took the Jerk for granted. Stupid is as stupid does. I then hit it again and got the lift, but the Jerk was tough. Wayne bumped me up to 148 and I pulled too far back on the Clean and ended up not even being able to rack it. I felt heartbroken and extremely disappointed. I went upstairs and finally got that Front squat with 160 after missing it the last four times I went for it.

Lessons learned:

1. I did not prepare properly: I don't actually need to go back to the drawing board, I simply needed to give the original drawing board a proper go. I put the effort into the training, but it was in the preparation outside of the actual training itself where I let myself down. My training has not been as productive as it should have been because of general fatigue. I am fatigued because I am not sleeping enough to recover from my demanding lifestyle. I am only training three times a week, so I am not tired from training. It is life outside training that causes fatigue and I am not sleeping enough because I am idling what spare time I have away online. The perfect embodiment of my lack of preparation was in how I did not make weight. In and of itself, this is not important but it speaks volumes on how I was not organising myself accordingly. My behaviours are simply not matching my goals and this has to change. If I want to qualify for the European Championships, and I am so staggeringly close already, I simply need to sleep far more.

2. Conservation of energy: I need to be more disciplined about internalising my energy, particularly when I am waiting so long to lift. I made an effort to contain my enthusiasm, but the simple thing to do is to organise somewhere else to go. I went to Tesco for an hour with German and Oleg, but walking around a supermarket is not an ideal resting place during a seven hour wait. Doing something else not only conserves my energy, but also keeps me from brooding on what is to come. This allows me to stay more relaxed and conserve more physical and mental energy.

3. The Ulster Open in June is going to be awesome: Myself and Byrdie have some unfinished business with Jordanstown and this will occur on June 11th. I will be more prepared and I will have my squats and training lifts at a higher intensity. Weightlifting is simple but it sure isn't easy.

Saturday 30 April 2011

Saturday's seasoning

I took a break from life in general for a week and did not train for 8 days. Wednesday was my first session back, so I trained then, Thursday and today. I had a great break and it was a novelty waking up and actually feeling refreshed and ready to go. While I was away I did two short sessions with some hill sprints and I did yoga four or five times which kept me feeling relatively loose. All in all, I felt fantastic on Wednesday.

The slight issue with all this, of course, is that I have the Senior National Championships this day week. This means that I need to find the delicate balance of being competition sharp with the lifts, with being rested and strong. This week's training was very important in order to find that balance.

In training on Wednesday, my body was practically asleep and this session was more of a tune up for Thursday and Saturday. I ended up Snatching up to 105kg in an extremely shoddy manner. I missed the return leg with the weight. Embarrassing, yes; but my system was not exactly firing on all cylinders and my back was as stiff as a board because my flight home was delayed the previous day and I spent an awful lot of time in the airport and on a plane. Wayne had me Power Clean and Jerk instead of full Clean because my legs were still asleep and I enjoyed them. I ended up with 117.5kg and brought 120 to parallel so it was a no man's land Clean. Embarrassing again, but understandable. I also Front Squatted 150 for a double and then two singles which felt good.

The following day I trained in Morton Stadium in Santry with Shane McQuillan, Sami, Byrdie, Killer and Cedric Unholz, who came over for a few days to train. Cedric is a strength and conditioning coach based in Edinburgh and took up weightlifting in February. It was nice training with someone who is a knowledgeable coach in their own right . It was also nice training in a different environment and everyone enjoyed it. I had spent the day in the sun showing Cedric around Dublin and neither of us were in good nick to train really. My back was very stiff, but I ended up Snatching 111kg despite it. My positioning was awful because I was so tight and stiff, but I just got on with it and focused more on finishing the pull. As you will see in the video below, there was a while lot of pulling with the arms, but c'est la vie. You just have to get on with it.

I then Clean and Jerked up to 132 and missed the Clean with 137. Annoying, but again, you have to accept it. My lifting was feeling very out of sync in both the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk. I then Back Squatted regularly for the first time in many months. I hit a very easy 160 and missed 170 which was very surprising. I lost my position on the way down and I will attribute that a stiff and tight back. Hopefully that is all it is. Hopefully...

I then trained today and I felt pretty tired with a hectic last few days. Cedric had treated my back the previous evening and he really knows his stuff; he is qualified in KMI treatment. I Snatched up to 100kg but I was feeling off, so I went back down and worked up in a second wave, hitting 108 and then missed 112 very narrowly twice. I was going to do a third wave and went up to 90, but I left it there because I was feeling pretty rough. I Clean and Jerked then and the rot continued. I actually missed a Clean with 127 and 130 which was bizarre. Oleg was there and he gave me the required slap around and I then hit 134, 136 and then 140 which is shown below. This showed me again how weightlifting can expose a weak mind, so thankfully Oleg was able to help me snap out of it.

I finished up with some Front Squats and worked up to an easy 150 and inexplicably missed 160 despite getting past the sticking point. I went back down to 150 again and then 158, but missed that too. Frustrating, yes it most certainly is. I have to get on with it an keep squatting I suppose. As I said earlier, I have Nationals this day week and I will train twice. Wayne will let me know what I need to do and I will make sure that I recover as much as I can and that I am nice and loose. Cedric lifted well and we really worked on his overhead position in the Snatch and turning a passive catch into an active one. He is a good athlete and I know he will progress well.

Monday 25 April 2011

A Doctor's dressage

I have been away for a while indulging in a spot of rest and recreation. Usually, these both involve weightlifting, but this time around, I am taking a seven day break from the sport. I am actually still away, but this has been the first time I have been able to update my blog, so I will leave you with a review of Glenn's Edinbrugh seminar from the one and only Dr Eamonn Flanagan. Eamonn, is a Strength and Conditioning coach with Edinburgh rugby and he also a weightlifter. Yes, I agree with you: that is a devastating combination. Without further aplomb, here is the man in question:

Having spent more years in formal education than I care to admit, it is somewhat surprising that I would still be anxious when asked for a composition from an English teacher. But Barry’s infectious appetite for all things weightlifting is best indulged so I will try my best to summarise my thoughts regarding the recent seminar given by Glenn Pendlay in Edinburgh.
Barry has already described the general outline and content of the seminar, so I won’t spend too much time setting the scene. Rather, I will just focus on a few of the specific aspects of the seminar which I found most valuable and about which I have some of my own thoughts on.

The seminar began with a question and answer session and I opened by asking Glenn how he had achieved such great recruitment of youngsters into a weightlifting program. Glenn professed that there is no magic formula, just a willingness to work hard to spread the word and to encourage kids to come in and giving it a try. But as Glenn expanded on his answer he did offer some insight into an aspect that is just as important, if not more important than initial recruitment – athlete retention. Glenn explained that he liked new lifters to compete as soon as possible. He doesn’t demand that lifters spend an age refining perfect technique before they get an opportunity to compete and put some heavy (relatively) weights over head. It is a simple principle that is common in so many other better represented sports, but can often be neglected in weightlifting. Let kids compete, give them opportunities to win things and to beat people and they will be more likely to enjoy the sport, want to continue in the sport and develop a competitive and winning mentality. Glenn also stressed how he has gone to great lengths to publicise results and achievements from young kids in local newspapers and other media – again further developing kids excitement about the sport and excitement about their achievement. Talent Code author Daniel Coyle would call this whole process “ignition” but it is simply a process of getting kids excited about a sport and developing a desire to continue and improve in the sport. In many other more common sports like rugby, soccer or football kids compete early and often and results and achievements are often carried in local media by default. Yet in weightlifting, many newcomers to the sport can wait an age before (if ever) competing and those in the sport must make a big effort to get knowledge of results into mainstream media to get appropriate coverage and credit to young competitors.

The seminar moved on to the processes of teaching the lifts. Glenn has a straightforward and concise reverse method approach to teaching the lifts. He strictly emphasises a small number of key positions and technical cues and allows much scope for the learner to “fill in the gaps” themselves – creating a stimulating, active learning process in which the learner can explore solutions themselves.

The first key positions that Glenn focuses strictly on is the finish or power position with the bar at the hip. There is much focus from the coach on ensuring the learner is in the right position: bar at the hip, in the crease; big chest and shoulders back actively squeezing the bar into the crease; knees slightly flexed; weight through the heels. The position is drilled strictly on every rep. From this position a power snatch is performed. The cue is to “jump and catch” with little explanation beyond this. The learner observes the skill, and attempts to replicate it. The real focus is on the key position at the hip, but the learner is not inundated with information on performing the rest of the movement. Gradually, with practice, the learner catches the weight tight, bracing isometrically and fixing the bar, and begins to descend with the weight into an overhead squat. With further practice, the movement becomes smoother and the learner is performing a full snatch from the high hang/hip position. All the while the main emphasis from the coach in on getting in the correct position. The learner must be hitting the appropriate power position from the hip. Glenn described this as “90% of the lifts” – there is really no point progressing further if the learner is struggling to get the bar “in the crease” and in a position to apply power.

From this point the learning moves down the chain. The next position that is strictly drilled is from just below the knee. The learner reinforces what was previously learned by starting in the power position and then pushes the hips back and stays over the bar as he or she lowers the bar to just below the knee. This position is key. The prospective weightlifter must be strong over the bar as it passes the knees. The learner performs many reps taking the bar from the hip to below the knee and back up to the hip again and into the snatch movement from the hip. The position below the knee is focused on strongly and it is imperative to find the power position at the hip also. As the bar is lowered to below the knee, the timing of contributions to the movement of the hips and the knees is very important. On the way back up, the learner finds his or her own way a little more and fills in the gaps between positions themselves based on their own anthropometry. Little instruction is given regarding the movement in between these two points.

I quite like this approach to learning the lifts. Instruction is precise and concise. Position is of the utmost importance and progression does not occur until certain positions are mastered. The big bonus for me though is that although the goal of each drill is to facilitate developing skill in the snatch, each drill also has its own, stand alone, merits as a training modality. The snatch movements from the hip begin to allow the lifter to train rate of force development characteristics. Catching the bar “tight” and bracing isometrically develops the athlete’s ability to resist external forces, a key element for athletes in contact sports. The work moving into position to below the knee allows the athlete to begin to learn how to differentiate knee and hip movement - a key factor in sports performance and injury prevention. The slow, controlled lowering of the bar to the below knee position also begins to develop posterior chain strength in the novice lifter.

Glenn’s coaching style is concise and direct. Glenn explained that he is not afraid to really exaggerate certain aspects of technique. For example staying out “over the bar” in the as the bar transitions past the knees. This might initially appear excessive but Glenn explained that over time there is an inevitable regression to the mean (or to the way the lifter usually does it). So to make effective change in technique certain aspects may need to be over-exaggerated in practice to ensure that changes are retained when lifting meaningful weights.

Having spent much time observing, drilling and discussing the positions when learning the snatch we took a back seat and watched Jon North work his way through a brief snatch session. Jon is a rambunctious, energetic, macho lifter. He thinks he’s the man and he lifts like it. He worked his way through routine warm-up weights at 70kg, 100kg and 120kg. These are light weights for Jon but each lift was approached with appropriate focus and effort. Technique and effort was constant with each lift. This is something I think many novice lifters can learn from. You must focus your concentration and effort appropriately on the lighter warm-up weights. If you do not, then your performance at the heavier and more challenging weights will suffer. Focus, concentration and effort is not something that the novice can just switch on and off like a light bulb – the mental side of lifting must be practiced repeatedly just like everything else. You can’t snatch 100kg well, if you can’t snatch 60kg well. Jon worked up into the 150kg range – weights which many in the room had probably not seen snatched in person before. It was an impressive display, but just a normal workout for Jon.

All of us attending the seminar then had the opportunity to lift ourselves. After having watched Jon shift some serious weight and with everyone in the room eager to put what wee had learned into practice it made for a motivating environment. Jon seamlessly shape shifted from lifter into coach and was an awesome help to many in the room. Although he is a brash, aggressive lifter on the platform, in person Jon is incredibly humble and helpful. His enthusiasm for the sport shines through and he has a personality that motivates you to want to lift heavy. Everyone lifting got a massive boost from Jon’s enthusiastic coaching and Glenn’s technical advice and quite a few PBs were hit.

Eamonn is a hero, so thanks to him for that. I hope everyone enjoyed it and I will update my blog over the next few days.

Sunday 10 April 2011

DCU dichotomy

I competed yesterday as a guest lifter at the University and College Championships. I am one month out from the nationals on May 7th and the goal was to hit 120 again and go for 148kg in the Clean and Jerk. I did not hit my 120 and I did not hit my 148. I did, however, learn some vital lessons and got a timely reminder coming up to Nationals.

I weighed in at 96kg and I had to wait around four and a half or five hours before I was lifting. I coached Sami who hit an awesome 105kg Snatch and I know he will hit 107 in Nationals. His Jerk did not go so well , but he will be strong and ready for nationals. Lots of people lifted really well and there were a good few in the first competition. It was a great competition and I really enjoyed it. Byrdie hit a nice 116/150 and like Murph, who hit a solid 100, there is a lot more to come.

I was delighted to start warming up after a very long wait. I went up to 106 in the warm up and then opened with an easy 110. This is now too light weight for me to open up on and I took it too easily and cut my pull far too short. My 116 was faster, but I lost my position; I got the lift but it was out front. My third attempt with 120 was so close, I thought I got it. I was lacking that 100% commitment though; the weight felt far lighter than when I hit it last time and I was genuinely surprised to miss it.

I warmed up for the Clean and Jerk and went up to 136kg. I opened up on 140 just to get that monkey off my back and then I jumped to 145 for my second. I got it but I rushed my Jerk and it was a little shaky. I then went up to 148 for my third and I got under it but could not get past the sticking point, which really frustrated and surprised me. This was the most I have Clean and Jerked since November though so although I am a little gutted, I know Nationals will bring more.

So, what did I learn:

1. I have learned this before, but I did not realise how long the wait would be. Get out of the competition hall before you compete! It wastes nervous energy and leaves one frustrated.

2. My Front Squat numbers need to go back up to 165/170. I should have squatted 148 up. It was embarrassing.

3. I am far stronger than my mind tells me. I am capable of hitting my 122/150 right now. Once I get my front squat back up over the next few weeks, that should do the trick, as will continuing doing those Clean pulls to work on strength off the ground.

Have a look at the video and let me know what you think.

Sunday 3 April 2011

Seminar soliloquy

ECB had the pleasure of hosting a seminar with Glenn Pendlay and Jon North on Wednesday the 23rd of March. Due to time constraints (Glenn and Jon were only over for five and a half days really) we could only have a four hour seminar form 6-10pm. In the end, Glenn graciously agreed to extend to a little after half ten as everyone was so anxious to Snatch, we spent more time practicing the lift than anticipated.

There was a great mixture of people attending, ranging from strength and conditioning coaches, to Crossfit coaches, weightlifting athletes and coaches and also a few personal trainers. Most people had a good general grasp of the lifts, so Glenn took us through his basic progressions, using Jon North as an able demonstrator. Like any worthwhile teaching endevour, this proved to be a practical workshop so all the participants then went through the progressions themselves under Glenn and Jon's watchful eyes. Again, like any teacher or coach worth his/her salt, Glenn had the lifters coach each other so that they could get used to applying the coaching cues to another person; Glenn was also able to making cues to the people coaching, not just the athletes, and this as another small point that separates a good seminar from a great one.

Jon North then went up to a max single in the Snatch for two main reasons: firstly, so we could see the progressions in real time speed being performed by an elite athlete. Jon was actually going through the steps we had just learned, except he was Snatching over 150kg! Secondly, the participants were watching Glenn coach Jon and then asking Glenn questions about his methods while Jon rested. This was the Q&A part of the seminar really. Jon finished up with a meagre 155kg, barely missing 161, he did a few doubles with 130 and then 140kg and left it there. He was completely spent from all the flying and his legs were gone. Afterward, it was the participants' turn to Snatch and Snatch they did. Several people got significant pb's and made the most use of the intense atmosphere coupled with Glenn and Jon's coaching. The same format occurred with the Clean and Jerk. Jon went up to a Clean and Jerk with 170kg and then missed the Jerk with 180kg. Due to time constraints, we spent less time practicing the Clean and then went over the major coaching points for the Jerk.

All in all, the seminar was a great success and it proved to be a fantastic learning experience while also being a great laugh. The Edinburgh seminar was run along slightly different lines because we had far more time on our hands. Dr Eamonn Flanagan has agreed to write a seminar review of that experience, so I will leave it to him. Here are the three most important points I learned from having Glenn over:

1. Simple is beautiful: Glenn's teaching progressions go hand in hand with his programming, his man management of his lifters during training and competitions and also with his running of a seminar. He applies a shed load of common sense, boatloads of experience, practical application and a genuine appreciation for the intricacies for the art of coaching to his methods. He has a holistic approach towards the sport of weightlifting, and simply taking out one part means nothing unless you look at the overall scheme of things. As he pointed out in the last sentence of the last minute of the seminar in Edinburgh, "you must have an over-riding philosophy in how you coach." This philosophy carries through to his entire repertoire for getting people insanely strong for the sport of weightlifting. Simple is elegant and effective. I never though I would associate Glenn Pendlay with elegance, but there you go!

2. You must supplement your academic background with an understanding of how to work with people and how to best enable an individual to learn optimally to be an effective coach. Coaching is an art that has to be learned through making mistakes and having a honest love of the learning process. I feel very, very strongly about this and had many discussions with Glenn on this topic and it was interesting to hear his views.

3. You cannot separate strength and technique in the sport of weightlifting. A lot of people have very different opinions on this matter, but Glenn's point was that we all know people who have a massive deadlift or high pull, but cannot Clean anywhere close to the same weight. If one cannot apply their strength to a weightlifting movement, it is through a lack of technique, but also a lack of strength in applying their technique. Because weightlifting is such a neurally demanding sport and requires so much skill refinement, the separation of strength and technique is essentially redundant, as Glenn believes they cannot be separated. Squats and Pulls work general strength, but this general strength cannot be directly applied until the lifter learns how to apply it within the classical lifts themselves. Of course, we are talking about someone whose squat goes up ten or twenty kilos, not 100. It is for these reasons that Glenn values technical efficiency in his lifters and put so much into the lifts themselves and not the assistance lifts.

It will be interesting to hear your points on whether you agree or disagree with any of these ideas. Please leave a comment below and we might be able to get a constructive discussion going. As for my own training this week, it was a good one. I had a download week and trained on Wednesday, working up to a double in the Power Clean with 110 and a 3,4,3 with 137kg and 3,4,2 with 147kg in the Clean Pull. I then did some Front Squat doubles to finish. on Saturday, I Snatched up to 110 and Clean and Jerked 135kg and Front Squatted 155. They all felt reasonably comfortable and I will feel better for it next week. I am competing next Saturday in a small competition and I am really looking forward to it. I want to hit 120kg in the Snatch again to make it consistent and hit a heavier Clean and Jerk. This is essentially a warm up competition for the Seniors, so I will treat it as such.

Monday 28 March 2011

Monday's mission

Last week was like an episode of the Twilight Zone: it was surreal, passed by in a blur; and a few crazy things happened. As some of you who read this blog already know, Glenn Pendlay and Jon North of California Strength were over in Ireland and ECB for a few days, and then Edinburgh for the weekend. ECB hosted a seminar with Glenn on Wednesday evening and then the awesome Sport's Performance gym in Edinburgh hosted a two day seminar with Glenn and Jon on the Sturday and Sunday. To say both seminars were awesome would be an understatement. When I have the time, I will make a video of the last week and include some of Jon's lifting as well as comment on what I learned from Glenn in both seminars.

Here is what I lifted last week:

Monday was day one of my new program,I which I shall write about soon. I Snatched, Clean and Jerked and Front Squated and kept all weights at a medium intensity in order to accomodate what I knew would be a big lifting week and a stressful organisational one also.

We had our seminar in ECB on Wednesday and along with everyone else, I did all the learning progressions that Glenn coaches and I Snatched alongside everyone who attended. Jon North hit 155/180kg and just barely missed 161kg. Wayne hit a sweet 105 as did I. Considering how tired I was, I was happy and I left it there. I did a few Cleans with the progression that Glenn reccommends, did a double with 100 and left it there. When 100kg feels heavy, that is when you should stop!

On the Thursday, most of our ECB lifters trained with Jon and Glenn. They gym was buzzing to say the least. I was tired from the week's exertions and from the very little sleep the night before, but if you can't get up for training with these boys, you deserve to be shot! I Snatched 114kg and then missed 116 twice. I tried to hit a double with 110kg four times, but I missed the second rep each time. There was simply not enough in the tank. This was the most I have ever hit during the week, though, so I was happy. I then Clean and Jerked up to 136kg and I was proper spent. Happy, but wrecked. Everyone trained really well and watching Jon Power Clean and then Full Clean and Jerk 160kg is always inspiring to watch.

We flew over to Edinburgh on Friday evening and the seminar was really well organized by Cedric Unholz. Again, I did all the learning skill progressions and I was looking forward to lifting. In the Snatch, I went up to 105kg but I was feeling a bit off, so I went back down to 90kg and then 97.5, 102.5, 107.5, 110, 113.5, 115, and once I hit 117.5kg, I left it there. I knew that my final single was dragging me out of position quite badly and to be honest, I could feel it from the beginning of the session. It was a tiring week and whenever I am fatigued, my positioning suffers quite a bit. I accepted this from the beginning and just got determined to use every last inch of my pull and hip explosion to get the weight up. 117.5kg is the most I have ever lifted in training, and I know that if I can hit that in training when tired, I can hit over 120 in competition when I am more rested. I dropped back down to 110kg and went for a double which has eluded me since I tried it in California Strength last June. It took two attempts, but I got it. It was as ugly as sin, but I got it. I felt immense relief to finally get this double.

I Clean and Jerked after the seminar was over and I hit 140kg on my second try. I missed the Jerk in the first attempt because I rushed it. 140kg has been my voodoo weight for the last few months despite my pb being 147. No idea why, but I was genuinely scared of lifting the weight; my mind was desperately telling me not to go under it despite my rational self completely disagreeing. Sami gave me a few choice words and thankfully I hit it. The following day I Clean and Jerked up to 135kg and I was not able to put the doubt out of my mind and I ended up missing the Clean with 140kg. Oh, well. I don't have all of my lifts as I was too busy lifting and coaching:

So, I got home late last night and I think this week will be a deserved lighter week. I know I am looking forward to it. More than likely most of you reading this are only interested in funny videos and not my inner dialogues, so I shall oblige accordingly. I will put up reviews and reports of both seminars and all will be well.

Saturday 19 March 2011

Saturday's sincerity

Today was one of those sessions to get through. I enjoyed it, but it was lacking in any glamour or inspiration. I was tired and at the end of my download week; my legs were not working right; my hip was sore all week and stopped me training on Wednesday. So I decided to Power Snatch because catching the bar low was tagging my hip. I decided to Power Clean for the same reason and worked up to 120 and then did three singles with 130kg which felt hilariousy heavy. It was not even embarrassing. Just damn heavy. When 130kg feels heavy you know it is going to be a conservative day.

I finished up with some squats, a few sets of posterior chain work and I toasted it all off with a massage. Very happy to finish the day.

Here is a video of the squad session last weekend:

Thanks to Stephen Kinsella for making an awesome video. I need some inspiration, so here is some:

I also need a laugh, so here is one:

And another:

Finally, I need an injection of adrenaline, so here it is:

I am really looking forward to Glenn Pendlay and Jon North coming over to ECB to give a seminar. There are two spots left for the ECB seminar on Wednesday the 23rd of March, starting from 6-10pm. Email eastcoastbarbell@gmail.com to book a spot. There are also two spots left fro the Edinburgh seminar, so email me if you are interested.

Monday 14 March 2011

Squad sharpshooting

ECB hosted the Irish squad training camp this weekend and it proved to be a resounding success.It was great fun and there was some superb lifting. I got some footage of the lifting but only from my group on the first day. Everyone lifted well and the camp was very well organised by Wayne Healy. Here is a video of some of the top lifts from my group:

EDIT: After watching the video, I realised I put in Sami's miss with 106 not his success. I must be sub-conscious jealousy.

As for my own lifting, I did ok. On the Saturday morning I did a little wake up session forty five minutes before everyone started. I worked up to a Power Snatch with 90kg and a full Snatch with 100kg and I left it there. In retrospect I should have stopped at 90 but it did not make much of a difference; I felt strong but not particularly fast.

In the full session with my group I worked up to singles in the Snatch with 110, 115 and then I sailed to of 120 and only pulled it. A bit embarrassing. I dropped back to 100 and then hit 107.5 and promptly missed 112.5. It simply was not there so I left it. I was feeling a little tight and not as fast as I would have hoped, but 115 is the most I have Snatched in training in a year, so I am happy enough. If I can hit 115 or so in training then I now I can hit over 120 in competition. In the Clean and Jerk I was tired, but all felt fine. I worked up to 137.5kg and then for some reason, I could not Clean 142.5kg. Very frustrating and for the first time in quite a while, I threw a bit of a wobbler on the platform. On reflection, I put too much pressure on myself and I was also not in the state needed for record weights. Unreasonable expectations and fatigue are not ideal bedfellows. I finished my session with a single with 180kg in the Box Squat and I left it there. I got an awesome massage and followed this with a stretch so that I would be ok to lift the following day.

On Sunday, I was far more relaxed and I Snatched 110kg well. I missed 113 twice and I did not mind really, because, as Wayne correctly pointed out, I was "not going after it." I worked up to 130 in the Clean and Jerk and I could feel I was drained, but for pride's sake, I had to hit 135kg. An embarrasingly small weight to psyche oneself over, but it is what it is. I wanted to get a squat pb so I worked up to 160 and I got 5 reps with it on the 14 inch box.

When I got home on the Sunday, my entire back, legs and hamstrings in particular, traps, shoulders and abs were really feeling the exertion. I felt like I used to feel after a rugby match: battered and bruised. I was happy enough that a sub-par performance could yield 115/137.5 but a few issues were highlighted and I will write about these later when I have had some time to think about them. Everyone lifted particularly well, but I have to mention Sami for his Snatch pb. It was a brave lift considering he was as tired as I was; I just did not have his mental strength!