I posted this on the Pendlay WOD over the weekend.  Are doing everything possible when it comes to building pulling strength?5961860-orig_orig

In week 2 (starting Monday, October 9) we up the intensity compared to last week. The most important exercise for the next 3-4 weeks is the snatch grip deadlift. This is the heaviest pulling exercise we do, and therefore the one which will provide the biggest and the quickest increases in pulling strength. Pulls, high pulls, and the actual competition lifts assist in transferring this strength into increased bar speed in the snatch and clean but it all starts with brute strength and the deadlift builds that.

One thing that makes the pulling exercises more effective is doing them with an emphasized eccentric. You should try to lower the bar as slow or slower than you raise it. No need to do any super exaggerated 30 second eccentric, we just want to lower the bar either at the same speed or SLIGHTLY slower than we raise it. Usually in practice this means keeping tension on the bar, and not just dropping it. Some of you have seen me comment about breaking eggs, this just means you should imagine that you are setting the bar down on an egg carton, and trying to do so such that the eggs aren’t smashed.

We also want to lower it reverse order of how you raised it, so at the top you will first break slightly at the knee then flex at the hip joint until the bar is past the knee cap then squat till the plates tough the floor. After the plates lightly tough the floor reverse directions by extending the knee until the bar passes the knee cap (and the shins are vertical) then extend the hip on a deadlift, or extend the hip and shrug to finish the rep if it is a pull or high pull.

Doing deadlifts or pulls this way is harder. Sometimes much harder. The last rep or two of a set you might now be able to do it perfectly. Hell you might be hard pressed to do the first rep perfectly. But work as hard as you can to ATTEMPT to do it. Getting stronger is not easy.

 

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Tank

 

I believe I learned more about weightlifting from Caleb than from any other source.  I think he learned some things from me, but overall I think I got the better end of the exchange.  Every single lifter that I have coached since Caleb has benefitted from the relationship we had and the things I learned from him.

Caleb was a very unique lifter.  First because he decided to devote himself to weightlifting at a young age back way before the CrossFit boom and the huge rise in popularity of the sport that CrossFit created.  Second, because even at the ages of 12 through 20, he was able to keep his attention focused like a laser on his weightlifting goals and never let it waver.

This, I believe, is the most useful trait that a young lifter can have.  And Caleb Ward had it in spades.

I met Caleb through his older brother who I had coached for a couple of years.  Josh was a physically talented lifter, who actually was the first lifter ever in our club to clean and jerk 300 pounds.  Josh had mentioned the fact that he had a little brother that might also be interested in weightlifting.  Josh insisted that his little brother was somewhat of a cry-baby who was likely to quit as soon as training got hard or became uncomfortable.

At some point the little brother came in and after a week or two it became obvious that Caleb, or “tank”, as we all came to know him, had talent for the sport.  At first glance, Caleb did not look very athletic.  He was just a chubby kid who had eaten too many chips and spent too much time on the couch.  But he also had these huge thighs, elbows that slightly hyperextended, and in general great joint mobility.  I didn’t know it yet, but Caleb was also extremely explosive and by the time he was 15 would have no problem doing standing back flips at 5’ 9” and 270 pounds.

He was also an extremely determined young man.  Over his first several years of training Caleb surprised both his older brother and me by displaying a maturity that was downright shocking for someone his age.  I remember a conversation we had when he was 14, and was thinking about taking a month or two off during the summer.  He had been training about 2 years at that time.  He told me that he felt that he could definitely continue with no break, but was worried that if he didn’t take at least a little time off, it might negatively affect his long term desire to stick with the sport.  We talked about it, and he decided to take about a month off.  He came back 4 weeks later chomping at the bit to train.  Now what other 14 year old would display this kind of maturity?  In many ways, he was displaying more maturity that I had.  I was coaching a group of teenagers, and mainly concerned with keeping them in the sport and enthusiastic about the sport. I was way more concerned with what happened next month than looking forward years into the future to the future of an athletes career.

Besides determination, the trait that I believe was the most useful to Caleb Ward was an almost insane attention to detail.  Even at age 12, lifts that even I could find no fault with were not acceptable to Caleb.  Seemingly nothing escaped him.  He picked apart joint angles at different positions, the relative speeds of different parts of a lift, and even the slightest hesitation during a snatch or clean.  Many of the coaching points I still talk about during my seminars today originated during the first seminars I did many years ago using Caleb to demonstrate the lifts.

One of the things I did right while coaching Caleb was to focus much more on movement patterns, the rhythm of the lift, and speed than on strength.  I believe that the first person to discuss this with me was Jim Moser, the father of James Moser.  He was a big believer in two things.  The Bulgarian system, and using heavy snatches and clean and jerks to build most of the strength needed to do heavy snatches and clean and jerks.  I differ from Jim in training philosophy, but the difference is one of degrees, not one of direction.  I can remember conversations where Jim talked about coaching his son James and how to minimize the amount that James would have to squat and front squat to eventually clean and jerk 500 pounds.  The fact that James would eventually do 500 pounds was assumed, but Jim believed that if along the way he developed the sincere belief that clean and jerking a weight was actually easier than front squatting it, that belief would go a long way toward insuring his eventual ability to clean and jerk it.  Jim convinced me of the validity of this line of thought.  This became the basis for my belief that when learning the lifts, it is an advantage do do the initial learning when still weak.  A large amount of strength allows the lifter to lift in inefficient manner yet still make the lift due to an abundance of strength.  If you do not have an abundance of strength, you are forced to lift efficiently to make the lift.  There is no doubt in my mind that one has to become very strong to be a great weightlifter.  But the lifter who waits till technique is firmly ingrained before attempting to build that strength is going to have a big advantage in the end.

Through the first 7-8 years of his career Caleb focuses almost exclusively on squats and the competitive lifts in training, rarely doing any other pulling exercises.  I also never tried to increase the squatting strength at any cost.  Caleb usually limited his back squat training weight to a weight that he was capable of clean and jerking.  When he could clean and jerk 160kg, he was able to comfortably back squat 160 for a set of 5, and do so with a bar speed that was very near to the bar speed of his maximal clean and jerk.  His best front squat triple usually did not exceed his clean and jerk, and if it did it was not by much.   My belief was that Caleb should develop a lifting technique that utilized his strength in the most efficient manner possible.  Once he did that, there would be plenty of time to worry about strength later.  I still believe that efficient technique is the proper focus for a lifter or coach who has the aim of becoming or developing elite weightlifters.5961860-orig_orig

I owe so much of my coaching career to Caleb and athletes like him it is difficult to talk about any of them and most of all Caleb without the conversation veering off into training and coaching theory.  But when I think back on Caleb and that whole group of kids I coached in Texas, the main thing I remember is fun.  We had a blast.  In training, at meets, doing car washes and other fundraisers, in fact in everything we did.  When I look back at that time in my life I don’t think about the politics of the sport, about the financial stresses of paying for travel or any of the negatives.  I think about the fun we had, and how lucky I was to coach lifters like Caleb.  It was a hell of a ride.


Breaking PR’s.

Going to maximum is a skill, and the only get good at it is through practice.  You have to challenge and break your PR’s again and again and again.  This is a mental challenge as well as a physical one, and requires both mental and physical toughness.

 

Snatching 101kg for a new PR is physically similar to snatching 100kg to tie your PR.    But mentally it is a whole different ball game. Breaking into uncharted territory and lifting something you have never lifted before requires a little more commitment.  It requires you to fight and win a battle within your own mind.  Anyone who has ever had problems committing to a snatch knows exactly what I am talking about.  But with practice, you can get better and better at winning this mental battle.

 

This is one of the reasons why I advocate keeping track of your PR’s from the hip, and from the knee as well as from the floor.  I also keep track of doubles from these positions and other combinations such as 1 snatch from the hip + 1 from the knee or one from the knee + 1 from the floor.

 

Keeping track of a variety of PR’s and constantly challenging them insures that you are training at maximal intensity, getting enough variety so you don’t get stale, AND constantly practicing the mental skill of breaking into uncharted territory.  As you get physically stronger, you will also be getting mentally stronger!

 

Any lifter who competes long enough is eventually in the situation of having to make a new PR to win a competition, qualify for a national meet, or to beat a rival.  Who do you think is more likely to make the lift when it matters?  Someone who challenges PR’s in training on a consistent basis, or someone who doesn’t?5961860-orig_orig


Justin Brimhall

Justin Brimhall is one of those lifters that made coaching fun.  The first time I saw Justin and his brother Zack was at a high school football game.  I watched him walk down the aisle and sit down, and I can’t really tell you what made me think this, but I immediately thought “those guys would make good weightlifters”.   I was sitting with one of my lifters so I sent him over and told him to ask them if they were possibly interested in weightlifting, and if so to ask them to come over and talk to me.  They were, and they did, and I invited them to come to MSU and check it out.  The both showed up, and yes, they both seemed to have natural talent for the sport.  Maybe because their mother was Turkish, and actually lived pretty close to the Turkish training center when she was growing up?  Zack was a pretty good lifter and a great guy, but Justin took to weightlifting like a fish to water.

The first time I saw him, he had a ton of curly hair.  He was also skinny as a rail.  The combination of the skinny body and this huge mop of hair made me comment at his first practice that he was so skinny we could turn him over and use his head for a mop.  The nickname stuck.  I gave it when he was 14 years old, and even after graduating from college and becoming an officer in the Marine corps I still call him Moppy and so do most of those who lifted with him.

Moppy is one of those guys who had so many interesting quirks to his personality I could write a book just about him.  I also to this day can’t so much as think about Moppy without a big smile spreading across my face.  He had this one unique ability that he called the “Turkish hop”.  It demonstrates a unique combination of athletic ability, balance, and explosive leg strength that I have never seen demonstrated by another human.  To do the Turkish hop, first do a pistol, or single leg squat.  Then stand from the squat so fast that you are able to JUMP about 5 feet, landing on the other leg then without any hesitation performing another pistol with that leg that ends with another jump.  Moppy could do this for 40 yards or more with absolutely no hesitation whatsoever.  Just leaping from a pistol with one leg to a pistol with the other.  But the real kicker is that he could do this while holding a 25kg plate at arms length overhead.  I have never met another human who could come anywhere near being able to reproduce this feat.

Moppy did some amazing things in training,  like jerking 170kg for a double as a 16 year old weighing 75kg.  He had trouble in competition though.  He was one of those lifters who would get so nervous that he would often throw up at some point between the weigh in and the warm up.  In part because of this he was never able to do the lifts he was physically capable of when it counted.  But in spite of this, I think I speak for everyone who ever came into contact with Justin Brimhall when I say that I am lucky to have known him.  He is one of those unique people who just  made life more interesting.

 

 

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Mindset

I am again closing in on a sub 7 minute 2k.  One thing that I have noticed about rowing is that the effectiveness of a workout is directly related to how miserable you are during.  Any effective workout is going to be absolutely miserable.

I have tried to lower my 2k time by doing long slow rows, like 10k or longer, and I have tried short intervals even as short as 200 meter sprints.  I found that doing things to decrease the misery factor also decreased the effectiveness of the training.  Really long rows are probably good for something, but they don’t seem to directly affect my 2k time.  To effect that, I have to concentrate on distances closer to 2k, and row at a pace that is also closer to 2k pace.  Which also puts the misery level closer to what I feel during a fast 2k.  A 2500 meter or a 3K row done just slightly over 2k pace might even be worse than a fast 2k.

Really short intervals like 200 meter sprints, while being fun and often not miserable at all, also don’t seem to help much.  For intervals to really help, I have to make them at least 500 meters, and limit the rest period.  Multiple 500 meter intervals with 1 minute rest period are a pretty useful workout.  But doing 10 sets of this interval again might actually be more miserable than just doing a fast 2k.

In short, there is simply no way to get around the discomfort of the training process.   In this, rowing is much like weightlifting.  The things that are useful are hard.  Multiple heavy sets of 5 on the back squat.  Heavy deadlifts, heavy pulls, or heavy push presses.  All hard.  All miserable if you push yourself hard enough to actually move the weight up over time. Maxing your snatch is not miserable.  For many who “dabble” in weightlifting it is fun.     Everyone loves to max the snatch.  But that is not weightlifting.  It is not the sport I fell in love with.  The sport I fell in love with is hard.  Brutal even.  And to succeed in it you have to have a certain mindset.  A mindset that develops over time and comes to not only accept the discomfort and sometimes downright misery of the training process, but to welcome it.  To look forward to the misery.  To fall in love with it.5961860-orig_orig

As a competitor I fell in love with weightlifting, even with all the misery involved.  Now as a rower and I am trying to appreciate the misery in rowing.  But even more important to me is to foster the love of of weightlifting in a new generation of lifters.  Even with all the discomfort of the training process, it is a great sport to love!


Your daily minimum.

I wrote this for the athletes on the PendlayWOD, but I think it applies to most lifters.5961860-orig_orig

Wednesday is going to be your worst day most weeks when it comes to top performance. Obviously the reason is that Tuesday is the high volume squat day, and a killer. Most of you are sore and stiff from squats on Wednesday, yet most of you are either making PR’s on either power snatch or power clean, or coming very very close.

I firmly believe that the ability to perform at 95% even on a bad day is even more important than the ability to perform at 101% on that day when you are rested up and everything is perfect.

I believe some coaches refer to this as your daily minimum. This is the weight you can make no matter what. No matter how bad you feel, no matter how sore you are, no matter how tired you are.

When your daily minimum goes up not only are you stronger, but you are more consistent. And consistency matters in competition. What good is a 150kg snatch if it usually takes you 3-4 tries to make 140? Not much. But when you can hit 140kg consistently in ANY situation, now you are going to get a chance to show that 150kg lift in competition!


I’m pissed.

Glenn Pendlay

Why? Well it started in Guatemala last week. I was eating in the weightlifting chow hall with Donny Shankle and thinking about the food. The meal that day included a sort of salad. Tasted like it had some kale in it, had some green beans, some corn, lettuce, and bits of bacon. There were diced up potatoes, cooked with onions. Diced up carrots that most people seemed to be mixing up with the potatoes and onions. And chicken. Not fried chicken, just chicken. It was representative of most of the meals, mostly vegetables and meat, some potatoes or rice. Nothing fancy. I remarked to Donny that it would be hard to overeat and get fat on such food. Not that it wasn’t good, it was tasty enough, but it was nothing you would want to go on eating once your hunger had been satisfied. And it wasn’t calorie dense, mostly…

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