Tag Archives: shankle weightlifting snatch crossfit clean jerk weightlifting

Evolution

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!

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Dealing with Imperfections.

This is one question that never goes away.  We all want to improve, most of us are willing to work our ass off the improve, but most are plagued with doubt about which program to use, and why.  Every aspiring champion has doubts about the program they are using, and whether or not it is the right one.  And who can blame them?  The Bulgarians maxed out constantly, and they did pretty well.  The Russians and others did a more varied program, with lots of different exercises and rep schemes, seemingly a whole different style of training.  So what should WE do?  Who should we copy?

 

I for one don’t think we should COPY anyone, but we can certainly learn from everyone.  America is a unique country, and we will need to come up with unique methods.  We are one of the only countries in the world with a large population of recreational weightlifters, or lifters for whom winning is not part of their livelihood.  Some think of this as a disadvantage, I disagree.  It simply makes the genetic pool we draw from bigger.  This pool is where we will eventually find the people who will move us back to the top of the sport.  I am biased towards the Bulgarian way of doing things, and always approach training with the mindset of wanting to go as heavy as possible, as often as possible.  I am impatient, I want to move that max clean and jerk up as fast as I can.  But although my default position is always to max out, I know there are a lot of reasons why a constant diet of nothing but maximal lifts often doesn’t work out for American lifters.

 

For one thing, we are not all perfectly suited to the weightlifting movements.   None of us were selected at age 9 for perfect limb lengths or other factors that make superior lifters.  Some of us are just built wrong!  Whether the problem is a spine that is too short or two long in comparison to our legs, or elbows that don’t completely lock out, these physical imperfections mean that we are not lifting machines designed solely for weightlifting!  This does not mean we will never snatch or clean big weights, it does mean we might have to resort to extraordinary means to do so.  Whether this means that you have to do way more push presses than jerks to build the necessary strength in your shoulders and triceps, or whether like Jared Fleming you have to resort to isometrics to build the necessary pulling strength to break an American record reaching your best total is likely to mean more than just maximum snatches and clean and jerks.  In fact you might have to resort to completely different methods of training, like Jared did.

 

Most lifters who do not quickly become national champions or world team members are lacking strength in at least one particular motion.  Fleming lacked pulling strength, others might lack strength in the squat or lockout strength on the jerk.  If you have lifted for a year, and you have not yet qualified for nationals or aren’t yet high on the ranking list for the world team, don’t fool yourself.   A lack of strength in some movement is the problem.   The Pendlay WOD uses lots of back squats and push presses, and even deadlifts for part of every 8 week cycle as the fastest ways to increase pulling, squatting, and lockout strength.  These strength exercises are programmed twice per week with one higher volume and session and one higher intensity session every week. They are pushed HARD.  If you are allergic to grinding our heavy sets of squats, this training program is not for you.  On the other hand, if you believe gaining muscle and getting strong are necessary parts of the sport of weightlifting, come on over.  We will get along just fine.     


Pendlay WOD

The Pendlay WOD is programmed in 8-week training cycles.  I do it this way because this length of cycle works the best for the most people.  Training cycles work for a simple reason.  Neither the human body nor the human psyche react well to monotony.  We thrive on change, particularly when it comes to stress.  So we constantly change the stressor.  On the competition weightlifting movements, every week brings a change in the intensity and the volume.  We also do variations of the weightlifting movements such as the power variations, or lifts from the knee or the hip.  While the competition movements are done weekly with moderate intensity, we do the variations with high intensity, often going right up to our maximum. We can do this indefinitely because we change which variation we are using every week or two.  The combination of doing the actual competition lifts with moderate intensity and different variations with maximal intensity while regularly changing the variation works.  But it is only half the story, or actually 1/3 of the story.  Doing only the snatch and clean and jerk doesn’t make an effective program.

 

As amazing as an exercise like the snatch is, it is not all that effective for building maximal strength and muscle.  For that, we have to do movements like the squat and deadlift.  Ideally the exercises that we use to build strength and muscle will work the body through the same or similar ranges of motion as the weightlifting movements but will use much heavier weight and therefore slower bar speed.  The exercises that work the best are the back squat, the deadlift, and the front squat.  The use of training cycles is even more important for continual progress on the squat and deadlift than it is for the snatch and clean.  Each 8-week cycle on the Pendlay WOD moves the athlete from higher volume training on the squat and deadlift at the start, to lower volume and higher intensity by week 8.  Each 8-week cycle should end with PR sets in the squat and deadlift as well as PR lifts in the snatch and clean and jerk.

 

The combination of moderate competition lifts and maximal lifts on a variety of variations is  1/3 of story, an effective strength program is another third, and the final piece of the puzzle is something that few weightlifters like to do.  Assistance exercises like glute-hamstring raises, back extensions, hip extensions and other similar things done for sets of 10 at the end of every training session.  No one likes to do these exercises.  No one looks forward to their time on the GHR.  But just because they are not fun doesn’t mean we don’t do them.  Exercises like the back extension and hip extension build muscle and strength where we need it most, in the back, hips, and hamstrings.  They also build tolerance to workload and enable an athlete to handle MORE squats, snatches, and clean and jerks.  With each successive 8-week cycle you get stronger in the snatch and clean, stronger in the squat and deadlift, as well as in better shape and able to handle a higher workload.

 


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.


CrossFit Pi

CrossFit Pi in Exeter is  the most spacious and well equipped gym I have seen in a long time.  The owner Martin Uttley studied at Brunel University and was a high level rugby player before opening his gym.  I am not sure what I like best about this facility, the coffee dispenser, or the platforms!  But I do know that it is far nicer than most CrossFit facilities in the USA and both Martin and his staff seem to be great coaches and totally dedicated to making this facility the best that it can possibly be.


Tuesday, October 27th

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This has been a difficult week of training.  I have a 2k C2 Rowing contest on Saturday, so I have been trying to put in some extra work on the rower, but still keep up with my running.  This means for a while I was getting up early to do intervals (frequently 10ea 500 meter intervals with 1 min rest between) then running at lunch, then doing more rowing at night.

I am done with that part of my training at this point, so no more really high volume stuff.  At this point I am just rowing in the morning, and running at lunch.  Only two more days of that, actually, as I will not row or Thursday or Friday of this week, although I might still run on Thursday.   I am actually pretty nervous about the Rowing competition Saturday with Veronica (Jareds GF).  Something like this is so different than what I am used to that I really have no clue how to peak for it.  I have been rely;ing on my friend Jim Storch to help with that, but doing something this different is still a bit scary.

I included a picture of my new running shoes with this blog.  Since I am running around 3 miles a day now, I have to buy few shoes about every 4 weeks.  Anyone who knows me will know how hard it is for me to buy new shoes that often.

But, once this rowing thing is over I am leaving for the OTC for the pre-worlds camp, will be there for 2 weeks, then it is on to Houston for the world championships to watch Travis Cooper, Jared Fleming, Caine Wilkes, and Holley Mangold compete for Team USA.

Once that is over, it will be back to my normal boring life.


Rowing and more rowing.

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After my 5k run on Sunday, I woke up Monday morning and decided to give a 5k row another shot.  I managed to do it in 20 min and 12 seconds, a pretty decent PR and very close to my goal of 20 minutes flat.  I believe that I am going to have to do some intervals this week, because it would be very hard mentally to keep doing hard 5k’s every day.  I think 10ea 500 meter intervals might work!