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.


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