The Razor’s Edge Part II

Yesterdays blog was about the razor’s edge, that very very thin line between no progress and disaster that an elite athlete has to balance on. I thought I would describe the three times I have witnessed this balancing act done the most skillfully.

Caleb Ward came back from his first semester at Northern Michigan university with a mission. He had put almost 7 years of work into the sport of weightlifting, and wanted the Junior American records badly. So he quit school, and came back to Texas to train full time. Things went well. Caleb has always been consistent, but I noticed that he was getting REALLY consistent with weights very close to his maximums. He was training heavy, but, was still showing up fresh and feeling good almost every day. His morning workouts, which were supposed to be just working up to 90% weights, were feeling light and easier than normal. Things were going well, but not quite magical, yet. Then we made one little adjustment that brought everything together. Instead of two workouts a day, lighter in the morning then heavy snatch, clean and jerk and squatting in the afternoon, we split up the afternoon workout, to do snatching and squats in the afternoon, then rested for a couple of hours and came back a third time in the evening for heavy clean and jerks and more squats. What was it about that change that made everything come together, that really put him on the razor’s edge and led to maybe the best period of training in his life? I am not sure but that one little change sure did it for him. And it didn’t last forever. But it was fun to watch a good athlete doing everything right, and becoming great. He clean and jerked 203kg for a new American Record a short time after that period.

Jon North had a run like that, in the snatch in particular, not long after i moved to California. I helped him make a major change in his snatching technique immediately upon beginning to coach him. At first it didn’t seem to make much of a difference. And then you could see things start to click. You couldn’t quite see the kid hiding in there who would be snatching over 160kg and cleaning over 200kg a year later just yet. But something special was going on, and even with weights in the 135/170 range on the snatch and clean, you could see the wheels turning in his head when he started to hit a lift here or there that was just way too easy for the weight on the bar. Jon ended up going even further with the technical changes to his pull than I had advised, creating his own personal style. He has now snatched 166 and cleaned 205 using his own, unique style of pulling, and those lifts are over 70 and 90 percent of his best back squat. Unreal efficiency, truly one of the most efficient lifters in the world. It was fun watching it happen, watching him evolve as a lifter. Watching ordinary become extraordinary, normal become great. The razor’s edge for Jon was mental, not physical. It was him becoming more and more confident going under weights that were more and more unreal compared to his actual strength level. Nurturing that confidence along, that apple cart could have been upset very easily, but somehow he prevented that and did something very special.

Right now Donny Shankle is balancing right on the edge of a very sharp razor. After 9 years of training we have stumbled upon a training template that seems to be allowing him the kind of progress that is not normal after that many years of training. Whatever it is, the training, the mental outlook, the lifestyle, the rest, the food… whatever it is, right now its working. And, I hesitate to change even one little thing. Straight ahead is the Olympics, if we can just move forward along that think edge without getting cut. One misstep, and failure is on one side, injury on the other. Chad Vaughn told Donny recently what was, in Donny’s estimation some of the best and most important pieces of advice he has ever recieved. He simply said, “take it one lift at a time”. In the spirit of the words of Chad, one of the lifters who I most admire, that is basically what we are doing, taking it one step at a time, trying to move forward just a little more along the razor’s edge.

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5 responses to “The Razor’s Edge Part II

  • Your Monday Moment of Zen #23 | The Iron Samurai

    […] Pendlay on The Razors Edge (Part I and Part II): Right now Donny Shankle is balancing right on the edge of a very sharp razor. After 9 years of […]

  • Donny

    The razors edge. This sounds like the title of a very good book to me. I am enjoying reading about this topic coach and look forward to reading more if you plan to keep elaborating. You use weightlifters as an example but, walking the razors edge can apply to anymore trying to accomplish their goals. I enjoy reading about other people who overcame adversity by the narrowest of margins. Very cool.

  • Rob

    Really enjoyed this, makes a lot of sense. I am troubled by one thing however- If Jon is approaching the impossible by cleaning his back squat, it seems logical that the greatest thing holding him back from even greater totals is outright strength. Do you have him focus more on squats etc than others to blunt that razor once again or would this alter the balance in another way?

  • ifsanders

    Can’t appreciate this yet, it’s as freakn cool as a physics concept to did here nerd. Enjoying the blogs Coach!

    -rookie lifter

  • Carmela

    Then select a couple of smileys, and begin painting them on pumpkin.

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