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.