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?
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.
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.
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!
I wrote this for the athletes on the PendlayWOD, but I think it applies to most lifters.
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!
Most people realize that training has to change over time. For beginners, often changes no bigger than a gradual increase in the weight lifted is adequate to stimulate continual adaptation. But as you move further and further away from your natural ability and strength levels further adaptations become more difficult to achieve. Some try to stick with a program they are comfortable with, and are very hesitant to change anything. But without changes, the program slowly loses its effectiveness. This often leads to frustration, then abrupt wholesale changes. Changing the whole program, the volume, the intensity, EVERYTHING all at once. This can lead to a vicious circle where you learn nothing from years of training experience, and only hit upon a result producing routine once in a while by dumb luck.
In a perfect world, you should never make more than one change in your training at a time. If you change two things at once and make 5 kilograms of progress on the snatch, how do you know which change is responsible? If you were doing 5 doubles on the snatch with 80% each workout, and you increased that to 8 doubles with 85%, was it the increased volume, or the increased intensity that is responsible for you new ability. You would never know for sure. But there are FAR more variables in a training program than just intensity and volume. Training should be changed via an evolutionary process, NOT a revolutionary one! Small changes, made one at a time. And after each one, take stock in the effect the changes caused. The answer is often not to just work harder, it is to think harder, and work smarter!
In any athletic event, winning is at least partially determined by how much discomfort you can tolerate. Some sports are well known for producing discomfort. Everyone can imagine how the athlete must feel at the end of an endurance event like a marathon. But shorter events can be miserable too. Many consider wrestling to be the toughest sport. I certainly remember my high school wrestling days and the how bad I hurt at the end of a match or a particularly tough practice.
But weightlifting has its own special brand of misery. There is truly nothing quite like it. The lifts don’t take that long, and they usually aren’t, or shouldn’t be, painful. Misery in the sport of weightlifting isn’t in the competitive event, it is in the training and it is all about fatigue. It is not the sharp pain of a pulled muscle, but the dull ache, the bone crusing ache, of fatigue. To become good at this sport you have to learn to live with that ache, and continue to train and push yourself anyways. You have to get to the point where you actually like it.
In the end, this is what is going to determine your success. Whether you can shoulder yet another set of squats and start to descend on the first rep even though you know the misery that has to happen before you can rack the bar. Whether you can jump under a clean or snatch with absolutely NO hesitation even though you are scared to death. The mental challenges of weightlifting are at least as great as the physical ones. And when you reach your goals you will find that although your physical changes are huge, your mental changes are even greater.