Summer Weightlifting Camp


One of the lifters coming to the camp this week ask me what to expect.  My answer is, the same type of training I have used for years.  When the lifters show up, we are going to jump right in and train heavy.  I use a wide variety of exercises but they are usually variations of the competitive lifts, and we almost always go as heavy as possible.  So snatches from the hip, the knee, and the floor as well as cleans or clean and jerks from those positions.  We will also do complexes consisting of one snatch or clean pull plus one snatch or clean and jerk.  We might add in snatches or cleans with a pause, or snatch or clean pulls with a slow negative.


For most of the lifters this camp will consist of 14 or 15 training sessions consisting of at least 10 different exercises.  If this camp is anything like previous camps there will be multiple PR’s set every single workout.  And one thing that always surprises the athlete, while they will feel like crap by day three or four, they will keep performing and keep making PR’s.


Even at the Christmas camp, which was a full two weeks, athletes were still making new PR lifts right up until the last day.  Whether they felt good or bad, they were often able to perform maximal lifts when asked.  Jon North used to say that this was what he liked about me as a coach, the fact that I did not put limits on him as an athlete.  He was right about that, and the reason I don’t is I don’t know when a lifter will have a huge day and when they will have a terrible day.  I might suspect that they are tired and wont lift well, or I might suspect that they will be strong that day, but I don’t know for sure.  And the only way to tell for sure is to warm up and try it.  So twice a day for the next 7 days we will be trying to make new  PR’s.     Wish you could be here!

Still on Track




Well it has been a while now since I had a stroke and ended up in the hospital and in a coma.  In the subsequent years I have worked pretty hard to get and stay healthy.  I made some changes that included stopping using snuff, losing weight, and starting to run or row.  Still working on the 6.59 2k which has been my goal since i got the C2, but this BP reading tells me I am on the right track.


These days it seems that everyone is bragging about their workouts on social media.  Folks can’t wait to tell you about the EPIC workout they had last night.  It was, well, EPIC.  They survived unbelievable pain and suffering, and were even able to snap a nice picture of the sweat angel they left on the floor.  The only problem is, one especially hard workout isn’t doesn’t really help you get your squat up.  What does help you get your squat up is a workout that is just a tiny bit harder (or heavier) than the last one.


Easy workouts won’t help, but neither will workouts that are epic in their difficulty.  They need to be in the Goldilocks zone, neither too easy nor too hard.  Difficult enough to cause an adaptation, but not so difficult they can’t be recovered from and adapted to.  They need to be just right.  Workouts that are just right won’t make you a hero on social media but they will make your snatch and your squat go steadily upward.  The best way to stay in this zone is by employing slow progression.  Progression because the workload has to rise over time to give the body a reason to adapt, but slow progression because the human body can only adapt at an extremely slow pace.  Trying to speed things up only overwhelms the body and leads to no adaptation at all.  The only problem is, telling folks that your squat workout last night was medium hard won’t get you a lot of followers on Twitter



Why teens can’t get huge and jacked

teenagers would seem to have every advantage possible when it comes to gaining muscle.  Their schedules are not exactly taxing or strenuous.  Most are in high school or the first year of college, and and let’s be honest, once you are out in the real world for a few years you realize how good ou had it back in high school.  An easy schedule, low stress levels, and a hormone soup running through their veins that any adult would have to pay a lot of money to equal.  Yet they still usually manage to get from age 15 to 18 with no appreciable gains in strength or muscle.


Access to the correct information is not the problem, today’s teens have more access to information on how to get big and strong than ever before.  In fact, they might actually have to much information.  The problem is, they can’t stick with any one plan long enough for it to work.   The high school students of today have grown up in the digital age, and WAITING is not something they do well.  But even in this modern age, humans still analog body they have had for millennia.


Our body is only capable of adapting a little bit at a time.  We adapt to a stimulus that is slightly more stressful than what we have encountered in the past by adapting to a higher level of function.  If the stimulus (the workout) is too stressful, we don’t adapt to a higher level, rather we can barely fight back to baseline.  If the stimulus is too weak, there is also no positive adaptation.  The stimulus has to be JUST RIGHT.  Then it has to be repeated hundreds, maybe thousands of times.  Each workout causes a tiny, tiny little adaptation, and it is only by repeating this process again and again over a long period of time (often years) that an athlete is able to go from a 300 pound squat to a 500 pound squat.


And this is why there are so few teenagers squatting 500 pounds.  They have every possible advantage, except patience.  And as it turns out, patience is absolutely necessary.

Size verses Strength

On the podcast this morning, we got on the topic of how muscle size relates to strength.  Many do not realize this, but size of a muscle is very, very closely related to the strength of the muscle or amount of tension that muscle can produce.  So why aren’t the biggest bodybuilders the strongest athletes?  Well, strongest at what?


This is an interesting question and the answer is part physiology, and part physics.  The physics part is pretty straightforward.  The human body applies strength through a system of levers, or bones.  The arrangement of these levers is just as important to how much force can be applied in any movement as the amount of tension the muscles involved can generate.


Let’s look at an example.  Donny Shankle is a pretty strong guy.  He also has an extremely long spine as a proportion of his height.  For a lifter proportioned like Donny, flexion/extension of the torso is always going to be difficult.  If you have trouble imagining why this would be, imagine you tried to hold a 1 meter stick with a 10 pounds attached to the end perfectly vertical.  Not too hard, but now imagine you tried to hold it at a 10 degree angle.  What about a 45 degree angle?  The 1 meter stick represents Donny’s spine, or the spine of anyone built like him.  Imagine how much easier it would be to hold the stick either at either angle if it was a 1 FOOT stick instead of 1 meter.


This is why Donny is a superior front squatter, where the torso is kept very close to vertical, a reasonable back squatter where the torso has a moderate forward lean, and a terrible deadlifter where the torso developes lots of forward lean.  Do you ever wonder why the world record holder in the squat rarely also holds the record in the deadlift?  Same reason.


Luckily for Donny, he chose a sport (weightlifting) that utilizes the body God gave him very well.  But the reason why the biggest muscle isn’t always the strongest has a physiological basis as well as a physics basis.  The weightlifting snatch and the powerlifting deadlift at first glance would seem to be very similar lifts.  Yet one regularly leads to the development of pretty big muscles, and one rarely does.  Now I love Weightlifting as much as anyone, and more than most, but let’s be honest.  A big snatch doesn’t automatically mean big muscles.  Developing a big snatch is as much about speed as it is about strength.  Applying force at high rates of speed is a neural adaptation more than a muscular one, and developing motor patterns is more important to snatching big than big muscles are.


Bodybuilding and weightlifting are two activities at opposite ends of the spectrum, and powerlifting is somewhere in the middle.  But just as you will never see a 500 pound bench press and a 5 minute mile done by the same person, you will never see a 20 inch arm and a 200kg snatch by the same person either..   Some things are just mutually exclusive.

Instant gratification

What is the biggest problem with American weightlifting today?  The pursuit of instant gratification.  This has always been a temptation, but with the advent of the internet (and social media) the temptation has become overpowering.  And unfortunately, the training that leads to the most dramatic short term gains often isn’t what leads to long term progress.

Case in point:  Almost everyone understands that fatigue from a big squat workout is likely to lower your capability in the clean and jerk for at least a day or two!  And the kind of strength program that leads to bigger numbers in the squat and deadlift and vastly increased potential clean and jerk is likely to leave your weightlifting numbers depressed for a while.

As a beginner, you should be completely recovered (or close to it) before every workout.  Every workout holds the potential for new records not only in the snatch and clean and jerk, but also in the strength building lifts like the squat, deadlift, and push press.  But as your career progresses it takes more and more training stress to cause an adaptation.  Soon squatting hard enough to make continual progress in the squat means you will not be able to approach each and every workout in a completely recovered and fresh condition.  At some point, the start of a training cycle becomes the time to work on weak points and improving the squat and deadlift, and the end of the training cycle becomes the time to put it all together and use that strength to lift new numbers in the snatch and clean and jerk.

In fact the more you advance as a lifter the more you have to live with delayed gratification.  Not being able to take the long view is the sign of an immature mind and an immature lifter.  If you know it takes time to build a big total you might be ready for a program that requires more than simply maxing out every day and hoping for the best.  For those of you who enjoy a challenge and have the maturity to stay the course, the X-Files might be right for you.




Second City CrossFit

My last seminar (at least the last one on this trip) was in Birmingham at Second City CrossFit.  The drive from Wales to Birmingham was less than 2 hours and we stayed the night at Seb’s mothers house.  The fact that we stayed only about 5 minutes from the seminar allowed us to sleep a little late and this is always welcomed when you are doing two seminars back to back the same weekend.  Second City CrossFit is one of the biggest, most spacious boxes I have been in, even being larger than most in the US.   I also loved the fact than they had a Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy penned up in a little kennel in the front of the gym.  I know right away that I am going to love a gym if there is a cool dog running around.

Where the seminar before this one had a mix of advanced lifters and complete beginners, this seminar had more intermediate lifters.  Since this is the group I get the most satisfaction out of coaching i had a really good time here.  I also felt really good about the fact that several of the attendees seemed to really understand the concepts and make big strides while we were going over snatch pull technique.  All in all this seminar was a success!