Monthly Archives: August 2011

Supper

Salad
1/2 baby spinach
1/2 chopped romaine lettuce
pretty good amount of onion

Meat
several pounds of cut up tri-tip
bunch of sun-dried tomatoes

Salad Dressing
about 3 parts olive oil
about 1 part red wine vinegar
3-4 tablespoons of mozzarella
2-3 tablespoons of black pepper
pinch of salt

Makes a pretty good supper. I try to eat this a couple of times a week. I always feel better when I eat like this. Plus it’s quick and easy to make, maybe 10-15 minutes if you make the dressing ahead of time. And if you stock up on tri-tip or whatever steak (or chicken) you prefer whenever is it on sale, it’s a pretty economical meal as well.


What are the chances?

A couple of days ago I was at Club Sport, the “Health Club” that I go to in order to swim. I have written about it before, huge aerobics rooms, juice bar, snack bar, pro shop, along with the very shiny weight room full of expensive machines and one squat rack crammed in the corner that is normally unused. And of course the 4 outdoor pools.

What do you think you might be as UNLIKELY to find in such a place as an Alien playing chess with a wine drinking Predator?

Weightlifting shoes.

And yet I found them. As I was changing into my swim trunks, I noticed a guy next to me changing from his street shoes to a pair of Pendlay Do-win’s, the classic grey models. A good choice. I pointed to his shoes and asked him if he competed in weightlifting. He said no, he just had them cause he was serious about training and they were great to squat in. As I complemented him on the cool shoes, he noticed my “Pendlay Barbell” t-shirt and said hey cool, you got that shirt the same place I got the shoes! I said yeah what a coincidence and we both went our seperate ways.

At first I just thought the whole thing was kind of funny. But, I think there is something big behind randomly seeing weightlifting gear in a mainstream gym. Could it be that we are going mainstream? We certainly aren’t there yet, but are we headed in the right direction? I think so.


Nietzsche and Weightlifting

"The true man wants two things: danger and play. For that reason he wants woman, as the most dangerous plaything." (Friedrich Nietzsche)

I have always thought that Nietzsche was my favorite philosopher. He thought of things in such a primal way, a way that touched something deep, unlike others who described the mind, Nietzsche went to the heart and soul. Like the quote above. I don’t think he was an intellectual in the same sense that Kant was, but he went to the core of things in a way that Kant never could.

I think that Nietzsche is the ideal philosopher for the weightlifter, because he described life in terms of basic primal drives, what the human is driven to do, not logic. There really is no logic in weightlifting, you have to want it in a deep, illogical way. I think Nietzsche would have approved of weightlifting in a way that he NEVER could have have approved of modern professional sports.

I dedicate this blog entry to Donny Shankle, a man that Neitzsche would have loved.


Big Fish

About a week ago a Canadian lifter commented to me about how it seemed that there was a lot of infighting in American weightlifting. I assured him that he was wrong, that most of the sniping is done by those outside the sport. I told him that when we all got together at nationals, everybody pretty much got along and that those criticizing athletes, coaches and training programs are usually not to be seen. I still think that for the most part, that is true.

A recent experience, however, reminded me that we DO have some infighting within USA Weightlifting.

With all the complaining about how we as a group are doing internationally, and all the supposed want, need, and desire for us to do better, one would think that a team, lifter, or coach who does well would be rewarded with nothing but positive encouragement. But this is often not the case, and i have seen it happen over and over. A newcomer to the sport does well, and all hell breaks loose. A team or a lifter gets a little too much success or attention, and the naysayers pop out of the woodwork. I imagine this happens in other organizations also, but it does seem particularly noticeable in weighltifting.

Why is this? My suspicion is the “big fish in a small pond” syndrome. Weightlifting in the USA has always been a relatively small pond. Few participants and very little publicity. There are those (not a majority, just a vocal minority) who have developed a bit of notoriety in weightlifting mostly because of the small size of our pond. Other people’s success threatens them, because success will ultimately grow the pond. The 20lb catfish that rules the little farm pond wouldn’t do too well in the Ocean with the sharks and barracudas all swimming about.

Well, USA weightlifting is expanding rapidly. Our little farm pond is growing. We may never be an ocean, but let’s hope we at least get a decent sized reservoir. And if I am right, we will see more infighting as this happens. Nothing but growing pains as far as I am concerned.


Love What You Do

Here and there I watch the show “Top Gear”. I like the show because its from the BBC, which means it’s funny, and it’s about cars, which means it’s interesting. The thing I really like about it is that the guys hosting seem like real life gear heads. I can imagine them helping me put headers on my ’66 Chevelle back in high school and enjoying the hell out of it. They not only test out cool cars like the Ford GT, they seem to have just as much fun driving an economy car around the track as fast as they can. I get the feeling that these guys work all day making this show about cars, then go home and maybe read car magazines before supper, talk to their wives about the family car during supper, watch TV shows about cars after supper, then dream about cars while they sleep.

They are obviously having fun and love what they are doing. A lot of folks who are successful share this, loving what they do. Kelly Starrett is a pretty highly regarded DPT. I knew this before I took the guys to see him, after watching him work I think I know why he is so good, he absolutely love it! The guy is so enthusiastic, so upbeat, I he just cannot NOT love what he is doing. And I would guess its this more than anything else that makes him the best there is at it. I never have to convince Donny Shankle to train. Sometimes I have to beg him to stop. He loves the process of pushing himself and molding himself into what he wants to be. It’s what makes him who he is. I have known a couple of people who have been successful in business, they share this trait also. They love the game. They are not the ones trudging to and from the office each day dreaming of being out on a boat somewhere, they are anxious to get to work because they love what they do.

I am glad I love what i do, because someday I would love to be as good at what I do as the hosts of the show Top Gear, Kelly Starrett, or Donny Shankle are at what they do. Or Warren Buffett for that matter.


Doing what hurts

I was watching Jon squat today, or rather listening to him whine as he squatted, and it occurred to me that no one likes to work on what they don’t do well. Not exactly a mind blowing revelation, as this has been noticed and commented on about a billion times across every area of life on planet earth. And of course I have known it to be true for a long time, but today, Jon got me thinking about it. And in particular thinking about what I don’t like to do and avoid doing.

I am not good at confrontations and I don’t like arguing. I avoid it to a fault. It has caused me a great deal of harm in life. I would be much better off if I confronted things head on instead of avoiding confrontation in hopes that it would just magically go away. Be it in a job or business, personal life, or as a coach or athlete, I have always taken the path that avoided confrontation as long as it could have been avoided. Sometimes this is good. Often it is not. Taken too far it can lead to all sorts of bad things. This is meaningful to me because I am facing a big and meaningful confrontation in my life. You have to do what you have to do, even if it hurts.

Although the picture doesn’t fit the blog, I used it because it definately doesn’t hurt to look at. This is a nice Irish girl I met while I was in Dublin, who wants to be a weightlifter.


Food

I have always been a little obsessive about food. Probably comes from a combination of having parents who battled weight problems, and from engaging in high school wrestling. Of course, after 4 years of cutting about 30lbs for every wrestling season, i gained about 80lbs getting my undergraduate degree, right up to the 280lb mark at a steady rate of 20lbs per year. It was good weight, I was no fatter at 280lbs graduating than i was at 200lbs entering college. I was much stronger though, and sold on the prospect of gaining muscle and strength by gaining weight. I would later push my weight clear up to 360lbs by force feeding myself, a weight at which I was the strongest I had been or will ever be again.

So, most of my life, all the way from age 15 right up to age 35 when I ended my career as a competitive lifter I have been either losing weight, or purposefully gaining weight. It was always pretty easy for me to do either one, actually. A matter of performance and will power.

Where losing or gaining weight are easy, especially when done inside a competitive sport that demands a certain body for success, maintaining a healthy weight and healthy long term eating patterns is hard. Being hungry is easy when you have a goal you are working towards, being stuffed and nauseous is easy if you are determined to weigh 2 more pounds by the end of the week. Finding a happy and sustainable midpoint between the two is hard.

I have found a few things that seem to work for me. I make no claim to the perfection of this diet, or that it will work for you. I do know that lifters that I coach also tend to do better when they eat more like this than the normal diet.

I eat eggs and meat for breakfast, and drink tea or water. Carbs for breakfast encourages me to overeat, make me gain weight, and make me feel like crap all morning. I get some variety by adding veggies to the eggs, or using salsa, but its almost always eggs and some sort of meat.

I don’t eat much for lunch. I am simply not that hungry. Some of this is on purpose, i eat my fill at breakfast because I am normally not at home at lunch time and it’s hard to eat well when you are eating out. I try to keep it limited to leftovers from the night before, or if I am home, sometimes another smaller omelet. In any case, lunch is small, and I don’t cook for it unless its just a few eggs. But, that can hardly be called cooking.

Dinner is my biggest meal of the day. I have heard time and time again that this is not best, that breakfast should be, or that you should not be eating a heavy meal in the evening. This doesnt work well for me. If I don’t eat a big dinner, I get hungry later in the evening and don’t sleep well. Even if I don’t get hungry, I don’t sleep as well. Plus, dinner is the only meal I really spend time cooking, and if the food is good, i want to eat my fill. If i don’t, eventually I feel deprived. That is not sustainable for me. So I save my biggest meal for the time I have to spend a bit of time cooking, and I enjoy it.

I always come back to a basic meat and vegetables for dinner. Other stuff makes me feel lazy and sleepy right after dinner. If i start eating too much bread or rice or pasta i gain weight. I think to be sustainable you have to feel good, be able to get full and not feel deprived, and enjoy your food. Most of my dinners have some sort of mix of meat and vegatables fixed together in a sort of stir-fry with olive oil and spices. I prefer beef, but will try chicken or even some sausage now and again. I use a lot of the bags of frozen veggies from the supermarket, but when I have time I stop by the farmers market on the way home from the gym. Zucchini and yellow squash, different colored peppers, portobello mushrooms, even asparagus. Whatever blend they happen to have in the frozen section of Costco or Lucky’s supermarket. One of my favorite things is to dump about 2-3lbs of a frozen mixture of cauliflower and broccoli in a LARGE skillet, then season with about 3 tablespoons of oyster sauce, half a cup or so of soy sauce, and generous amounts of Louisiana sauce. Let the veggies simmer a bit, then add in 2-3lbs or tri-tip, london broil, or sirloin cut up to bite size. Cook till done and eat, lol. You can do the same, same seasoning even, with a wide variety of mixed vegetables. Or you can experiment with different spices. This will feed 3 normal people. Up the meat to 4lbs and its dinner for 2 weightlifters.

Another thing I like is to get a pan that will go in the oven, something ceramic with sides 3-4 inches high. Cover the bottom with carrots, portobello mushrooms cut up, maybe some potatoes. Then get a chunk of tri-tip and wrap it up with bacon strips, and lay it right on the veggies. Some crushed garlic is nice if you like garlic. Lot’s of steak seasoning, even on the vegatables helps. Cook in the oven till done, then dump it on a plate and eat up. All the juice and fat from the bacon and tri-tip makes the veggies taste real real good.

A bunch of green onions makes a nice sweet tasting side dish for a steak. Take two bunches of green onions, rub them thouroughly in olive oil and lay them out parallel in a cookie sheet. Sprinkle liberally with good steak seasoning and put the sheet into the oven, set the oven on broil. Take them out when the tops are turning brown. Lay beside a grilled steak, along with an ear of corn if you like.

These few examples don’t mean I never make fajitas or spaghetti or my homemade pizza, 3 of my son’s favorite dishes. But I stick to the meat and veggies theme in whatever form sounds good that night for about 6 nights a week. 5 at the very least. If leftovers start to get piled up, we might just have leftovers from the last couple of nights for supper some night.

This type of a diet makes me feel better than any other way I have ever eaten. Lot’s of meat. Lot’s of veggies and a large variety. A few eggs. Very little fruit. Bread or rice or pasta only infrequently. Heavy on the protein and fat, lower on the carbs. It works for me and it works for many others. Kevin Cornell lived with me for a while and ate pretty much what I fixed. In 2 months he went from lifts of 142kg snatch and 172kg clean and jerk weighing 100kg, to lifts of 151kg snatch and 180kg clean and jerk weighing 95kg. He gained strength while losing 11 pounds. And he wasn’t dieting, most of the time I was yelling at him to eat more but he couldn’t.

Just food for thought.


We Will Kill You.

I have been annoyed at many Crossfit shirts. This started when I watched a guy at a local weightlifting meet warm up next to Donny Shankle wearing a “Crossfit: your workout is our warmup” shirt. Donny was warming up to open his snatch at 160kg, this guy was opening at 60kg and was struggling with 50kg in the warmup room. I remember thinking that this guy couldn’t even do Donny’s warmup, not even 1/4 of it, let alone his workout. Who did he think he was? For some reason this stuck with me and every time I saw one of those shirts my blood pressure went up a couple of points. Shirts like “Smoke you like cheap crack”, fed into this. I mean really, smoke everyone who reads the shirt? Smoke them at what? The clean and jerk? The 2 mile run? Open water swim? Smoke everyone at every possible athletic event? Then the endless shirts playing up the fact that the wearer, or crossfitters in general, hurt more than anyone else, collapse at the end of the workout more than anyone else, throw up more than anyone else, or even sweat more than anyone else.

I recently read the first two articles in Lyle McDonald’s series about the shape American weightlifting is in, (for a discussion of the articles, click here) and one of the things he tries to do is explain the conditions that must be present in groups that are successful or even dominant. He talks about the absolute dominance of Kenyan distance runners, and one of the things present is both a belief that the harder they work the better they will be, and, the constant attempt to run each other into the ground at training camps. They are obsessive about trying to out-train each other, in particular any newcomer to the camps or training centers. Prefontaine is mentioned, along with his belief that he was willing to suffer more than his competitors and this was the key to his success. Hard work, suffering, and the belief that one can “break” competitors by pushing harder and suffering more than they can. Sounds like Crossfit. This made me see the various slogans in a bit of a different light. Although I won’t be buying a “smoke you like cheap crack” shirt myself, behind the slogans I see a belief that working harder and suffering more is what will make the wearer better at Crossfit, or more fit, however you want to define it. Putting it in those terms takes away much of the annoyance, and let’s me understand the mindset a bit better.

I recently saw a CF shirt that is truly awesome, and today Jon recieved an example of it. Not we will dominate you, not we will destroy you, and not we will smoke you. This one just gets straight to the end-game. We will kill you. Crossfit Salem, complete with a rainbow and a Pegasus on a light pink shirt. Crossfit Salem: We Will Kill You. Sounds like something Prefontaine might have said.


Some straw men are pretty tough…

There is a notion that is gaining popularity among the general strength training crowd, the notion that Olympic lifters in the United States do not care about strength training. That we put a low priority on getting strong. Now, it is so patently ridiculous to think that those in a sport where success is based on how heavy a barbell you can pick up and put over your head don’t believe strength is important that I did not think the idea would ever gain all that much traction. In fact, it is so ridiculous that I thought it would probably come back and bite the folks saying it in the ass once people just thought about it a little.

I was wrong.

This argument is a classic straw man argument. Falsely claim another is supporting position “A”, then win the argument by pointing out that position “A” is incorrect, and that your own position “B” is much superior. This is done in politics all the time, and can be done subtly enough so that sometimes even the victim of the scam doesn’t realize he has just been had. The victims position can be slightly altered, barely exaggerated, just enough to give the perpetrator of the fraud something reasonable to argue against. No need to just out and out fabricate your opponents position to use this technique to win an argument. But in our case, there is nothing subtle about it. No need to be subtle really, as there are plenty of things about training for the sport of weightlifting that can be twisted, taken out contest, or confused to give those who would like to make themselves look very good by knocking over the straw man plenty of opportunity to confuse the issues. I will confront three of these areas of confusion.

One misconception is that because not all weightlifters use the deadlift, this proves we don’t emphasize strength enough. Many powerlifters, for whom the deadlift is a competition exercise, also don’t deadlift often, sometimes none at all between contests. Why is this? Because many have found that the deadlift is so hard to recover from when done with maximal weights that they just cannot be done frequently. They have found that they progress quicker when they do them less often. Many have also found that using different squatting variations done very heavy to develop strength, then using lighter and more dynamic pulling is just a superior way to train the deadlift, and results in stronger lifters and bigger deadlifts. This sounds remarkable similar to the way weightlifters train, lots of heavy squats, lighter, more dynamic pulling. Not deadlifting heavy on a regular basis does not prove one is not trying to get strong, it just proves that one has found a better way to get strong, a way that produces bigger and stronger athletes in other sports, and many of the strongest deadlifters and biggest deadlifts in the world.

Discussions about the ratio of the competitive lifts to the squat can also lead to confusion when statements are twisted or taken out of context. Often, these ratios are used to gauge a lifters technical proficiency. Sometimes they are used to make decisions about where to best spend the majority of training effort. It is considered “normal” for a lifter to snatch about 80% of their best clean and jerk, and back squat about 125% of their best clean and jerk. These numbers won’t be the same for everyone, but if a lifter is significantly different from these rations, it might point out some defeciency in technique or even the training program. If a lifter is snatching 90% of his best clean and jerk, it would be normal to ask “what is holding back the clean and jerk?” or to wonder how how training might be altered to change this. Likewise, if a lifter back squats 200% of his best clean and jerk, most lifters and coaches would be wondering why the clean and jerk is not following the squat at a more reasonable distance, what can be done about it, and, if it might pay to take some of the effort currently being expended in pushing the squat and instead put it toward fixing whatever is wrong with the clean and jerk. NONE of this means we don’t care about strength or don’t want to get stronger. What it does mean is that the snatch and clean and jerk is how we demonstrate strength in our particular sport, just like squatting is how you demonstrate it in powerlifting, loading stones is one of the ways you demonstrate it if you compete in strongman events, and the weight throw for height is one of the ways you demonstrate it if you are a highland games athlete. Consider a strongman competitor who has a huge 900lb deadlift but cannot load a 300lb stone. Compare him to another competitor, who can deadlift only 700lbs, but can load a 350lb stone. Which one should be working harder on stone loading, and which on deadlifting? No one would bat an eye if the 900lb deadlifter said he was choosing to de-emphasize deadlifting and put extra effort into loading stones prior to an upcoming contest. Certainly no one would question his understanding that strength is the cornerstone of his performance and must be raised in order to perform better. On the other hand, the fact that a weightlifter who back squats double his clean and jerk might put extra emphasis into improving his clean and jerk at the expense of pushing the squat can be twisted and distorted into, again, the silly notion that weightlifters don’t understand the value of strength training and don’t think that strength matters. At the heart of this is the next fallacy…

Some claim that strength is not built by snatching and clean and jerking. They claim that strength is displayed, but it is only built by slower, heavier exercises like the squat, the press, and the deadlift. Sometimes I wonder if this is a true belief or a claim only for the purpose of constructing the straw man… but it is true that some of those making this claim have had maximal snatches and clean and jerks that are very, very low percentages of their squats and clean and jerks. For a man who squats a large number but has skill, technique, or flexibility problems that limit the snatch to less than 30% of this number or the clean and jerk to less then 50% of this number, then yes, it is true, the Olympic lifts will not be major drivers of leg and back strength. The load is just not big enough. But it would take a real lack of imagination to not understand that a clean and jerk done by a man who can clean 80% of his back squat is a whole different animal than what they are doing. Wherever this claim originates from, it allows them to look at the lifter who devotes a significant proportion of their weekly training to doing the snatch and clean and jerk, and make the following claim “see, they flog technique training to death, but don’t emphasize strength training”. Because to them, all training on the snatch or clean is, is technique training. In reality, to a skilled lifter a high percentage lift on the snatch or clean and jerk is a powerful driver of strength adaptation. Unfortunately, it is impossible to demonstrate this to those that are not skilled lifters, and some simply won’t take your word for it.

More than anything, this particular blog entry is a simple rant against a situation that frustrates me. Most of the people who read it will already agree with me. Most of the people who need to read it don’t even know this blog exists. But thank you for reading anyway, and here’s to all those out there practically bleeding on the platform and in the squat stands trying like hell to get stronger.


Who’s got your back?

I used this picture for a magazine article about using the power clean for athletes outside Olympic weightlifting. The point of the article was that the competitive lifts and their variations are great builders of the back muscles. That even those outside of weightlifting might want to look into some of the simpler variations like power cleans to aid in their development and strength goals.

I have had a questioning response from a couple of people who have looked at the article and picture. The question revolves around the fact that not all weightlifters backs look like this. It’s true, they don’t. Some don’t have this level hypertrophy. On the other hand, some are even more impressive. But, can this not also be said about the use of the barbell row and the chin-up? Both accepted in the mainstream circle of strength training as the best or at least among the best builders of muscle and strength in the back. Yet does everyone who uses these exercises have an exceptionally developed back? Certainly not. Fact is that genetics, work ethic, and a reasonable training plan all play a part.

But, certainly the fact that it is not abnormal for a weightlifter to have a very visually impressive, thick, and dense back with said back developed by nothing more than the normal weightlifting exercises of pulling weights off the floor and putting them overhead or on the shoulders tells me that if you have the necessary qualities to allow it to happen, cleans and snatches can certainly give you one hell of a back.