How To Simulate A Weightlifting Meet In Training

There’s nothing that can fully replace the experience of lifting in a meet, but weightlifting meets (and the associated costs) are often very expensive. The goal of this post is to explain how to simulate a weightlifting meet without racking up the cost of competing in a standard meet. Obviously your experience in training will not be a 1:1 copy of what a meet is like, but it will be a useful way to get in some good training and at least a portion of the experience of lifting in a real meet.

The first thing that you need to do to simulate a meet is to have a weigh-in a couple hours before you start lifting. Obviously you don’t have to be exactly on weight, but weighing in a couple hours beforehand and eating a typical meal you would have between weigh-ins and lifting is useful for setting the tone of what a real meet experience will be like. After that, go through your typical process of getting loose for a meet at the appropriate time. You should have a written plan for every warm-up attempt you will take before your attempts on the “competition” platform, and you should aim for numbers that are roughly in line with your competition bests, although depending upon your training they may be somewhat lower or higher than your most recent meet or test day. In addition to that, having the bar loaded the way it would be in a meet is really helpful, as some people get scared when they see a different looking bar on the competition platform from the one they see in training. So, if you have appropriately colored plates in your gym, or even competition collars and change plates, it’s a great idea to put them to use in this situation. To simulate the pacing of a meet, it’s best to take each set roughly every three minutes. This is roughly the amount of time that would be between your attempts in a meet (depending upon the size of the meet, obviously), and so it will give a good feeling for what the typical rest between sets and the fatigue that you will accumulate over that time.

Once the time comes to take your “competition” attempts, keeping the same three minute rest scheme is a good idea, but if you’d like to simulate the feeling of following yourself, you can take two minute breaks between attempts instead. Having someone around to judge your lifts is a good idea, if possible, to ensure that your technique meets the qualifications of lifting in a competition. Once you complete your three allotted attempts in the snatch, the best plan is to take a fifteen minute break before the clean & jerk. Although meets typically have a ten minute break between snatch and clean & jerk, unless you are the last lifter in your session in the snatch and the first in the clean & jerk, you will have at least fifteen to twenty minutes between your last snatch and your first clean & jerk. Warming up for the clean & jerk should follow roughly the same pattern, with three minutes between your warmup sets. Once you get to the “competition” lifts, for the last clean & jerk attempt it’s a good idea to use the two minute clock to get a good feeling for how hard that last attempt will be under the circumstances of a typical meet.

Simulating a meet is a great way to save some cash while getting something resembling the experience of being in a meet. Obviously simulating a meet lacks certain things a full meet would have (you most likely won’t have three judges, and you almost definitely won’t have a full audience watching your attempts), but if you do it right, it’s a good way to get something resembling a meet day experience. Give it a try the next time you have a heavy day on your program and see how it feels, it will be helpful going into your next full meet.

Willpower And Weightlifting: The Psychology Of Sticking To It When It Starts To Suck

Author’s Note: This is a piece on willpower, and reading this piece will require some willpower. It was supposed to be much shorter, but to do it the proper justice it needed, this article clocks in at around 2,000 words. Given the length, please be sure to allow yourself sufficient time (at least ten minutes) to read, I promise it will be worth your time.

 

It’s New Year’s, and like many people you probably have a resolution or two that you want to accomplish in the coming months, and perhaps a resolution that you want to maintain for the entire year and beyond. Since New Year’s resolutions rely heavily on our reserves of willpower and how we apply them, and since success in weightlifting is often contingent upon consistent hard work, it would make sense that you, the reader of this website would perhaps be thinking about willpower and how it relates to your goals for weightlifting in the coming months. You may be an elite level athlete with aspirations of being selected to an international team, you may be someone who uses weightlifting solely for the purpose of bettering your health, or (most likely) you may be somewhere in between. Whatever the case may be, this article will be examining how our willpower affects our aspirations in both weightlifting, and in life in general.

Weightlifting is not a sport where willpower is the only determining factor in who wins and loses. There are no sports in which willpower is the sole determining factor in who wins and loses, if there were, willpower would be a sport, and what’s more, Rudy Ruettiger wouldn’t have been a walk-on who got to play one meaningless down for Notre Dame, he would’ve been the starting outside linebacker all four years of his college career and gone on to play professional football. With all that being said, willpower is incredibly important to success in weightlifting, as it is in nearly all areas of life. Cliches like “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard” exist for a reason, because there are significant chunks of truth in them. Since we know willpower is so important, the next thing we need to know is what is it? Is it simply a drive that we have to dig down into our souls for, is it purely a factor that comes from our genetics and chemical processes in our brains, or is it something else altogether, perhaps a synthesis of these things? The short answer is that willpower is both a drive which we dig down deep into our souls for, and it is also a part of the regular and daily chemical processes in our brains. Since it is a regular part of our mental processes it (like most of our mental processes) can be depleted, restored, strengthened, and conserved. This definition is far from the ideal and perfect concept of willpower, but for the sake of this article, it will do for now.

    With this definition of willpower in hand, we come to the important questions: How does willpower play into weightlifting, and how can it be trained and strengthened over the long-term? The immediate answer, is (of course) that our willpower is incredibly influential in how much success we enjoy in weightlifting. If you have athlete A and athlete B with the exact same genetics, the exact same background in sport prior to weightlifting, and the exact same programming and coaching offered them, but athlete A is more driven and subsequently trains more regularly, with more focus, and with more overall willpower, athlete A is much more likely to succeed in the sport than athlete B. If we accept that willpower is simply a chemical force (which it is at least in part, though not on the whole), then this article is entirely pointless. However, we do not accept that willpower is simply a genetic and chemical force in our brains, instead we believe that it is also a faculty of the mind that can be trained (though never perfectly controlled) like many other faculties of the mind.

    Willpower can be trained to a degree, just like a muscle can be. Everyone has different genetic ceilings on how far they can train a particular muscle, and though willpower is not a muscle, genetic ceilings on how far one can take willpower also exist. Willpower, just like our muscles, is a finite resource. We cannot constantly train our willpower without providing it with opportunities to rest and be fed any more than we can train our bodies in the same way. Our bodies need fuel and rest to perform, and so do our brains and our minds. We lose willpower in two primary ways, first by exercising self-control. This could be exemplified in a number of ways, but for the sake of keeping things short, every time you choose not to eat something you shouldn’t, or every time you choose to do that last set of squats (or whatever your least favorite exercise may be), you are exercising your self-control, and your willpower reserves will be depleted. The second main thing that depletes your willpower is the act of making decisions. Exercising willpower is not simply the immediate acts of self-control, but also the decisions we make that lead up to the opportunities to exercise self-control. Many times these decisions reside in our subconscious, other times they exist more prominently in our conscious minds, but they are such routine and low level decisions that we don’t think about them in the way we do when we make those relatively big choices like the sets of squats, or not eating that slice of cake, etc. The difficulty of exercising willpower is directly proportional to the other types of energy we exert to complete any given task. If your mind is screaming at you 24/7 to smoke, to drink soda, to eat nothing but cheeseburgers, etc. your willpower will be depleted very quickly, because every time you choose not to do those things when your brain prompts you to, you are exerting energy from your willpower resources to avoid taking that particular negative action.

So, how can we train willpower in order to achieve our goals in weightlifting more narrowly, and life in general more broadly? The easiest method is risk aversion. If you have any experience with dieting for weight loss, trying to quit smoking, trying to quit drinking, or quitting any other bad habit, you probably know this method. Since you only have so much energy to give towards making choices at any given time in your life, it’s best to avoid temptations altogether, whether those temptations come from your own actions, or the actions of others. Like another cliche mentioned earlier, the phrase “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with” exists for a reason. It’s because we know that if, for example, we are trying to drop a certain amount of weight that spending time with our friends who like eating out a lot (especially junkier types of food), we are probably not as likely to reach our goals, because we will be constantly tempted to consume high calorie, low quality food. So, just like avoiding going out with your foodie friends when you’re trying to lose weight, finding ways to avoid placing risky decisions in your pathway towards a given goal is going to be incredibly helpful in developing and maintaining the long-term willpower necessary to find success in weightlifting. It’s a lot harder to eat junk food if it isn’t in the house, and it’s a lot harder to skip training if you just show up to the gym. Risk aversion (or avoiding temptation) is one great way to build willpower. The longer a habit of avoiding a negative behavior is developed, the more successful you are likely to be.

The other major method besides risk aversion is multi-pronged in its application, but very specific in principle: To develop greater strength of will-power, you must focus intensely on whatever one given task you have at a time. This sounds extraordinarily simple in theory, but in practice it is an incredibly difficult thing to do. In the information age our lives involve so many distractions at any given time that appropriately focusing on any single task becomes incredibly hard at times. To avoid this problem, there are number of smaller steps that you can take to create a better and more focused environment for your mind. First, make your goals as clear and specific as possible. When setting specific and clear goals, using the SMART acronym is often very helpful. SMART can be used for a number of different acronyms, but usually stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Trackable. That is, each time you set a goal, in order to make accomplishing that goal as easy as possible the task needs to be narrowed down as far as is appropriate, or else it will be seem much too large and unattainable.

For a weightlifter who wants to go to the Olympic Games, simply setting the goal of “One day I want to go to the Olympics” is not enough. Following off of that example, to allow for proper focus, your goals have to be measurable. If the only standard of measurement is the ginormous lifelong goal, maintaining and developing mental energy to pursue the big goal is extraordinarily hard. You eat an elephant one bite at a time, and if you have a pace to measure how fast you have to eat the proverbial elephant to get to the Olympics, you can keep up day by day how well you are doing in achieving that larger goal. Third and fourth, they have to be attainable and realistic. To go back to the example of the Olympics, for some people in the sport of weightlifting that is simply unrealistic. If you find yourself a full-grown adult male at 25 years old with no experience in weightlifting, standing at 6’4”, and weighing 180 pounds soaking wet, you probably aren’t going to be an olympian as a weightlifter. Setting achievable and realistic goals is much healthier in the long-run, and like in the other examples usually involves setting smaller action-oriented goals. That is, you can have the big goal, whether it be going to the olympics, qualifying for a national meet, or hitting (x) total in a meet, but if that goal is not broken down into smaller bite-sized pieces, it is unlikely to be achieved. Instead of focusing your goals simply on end achievements, focus in on the smaller parts of the whole, the individual actions that are necessary to achieve the larger goal. This is what makes a goal achievable and realistic, is breaking it down into action-based rather than outcome-based goals. Because actions are something we can control much more easily than outcomes, focusing our goals around them is better for us in the long-run. Finally, the goals that you set need to be time-bound. Time is an incredibly powerful tool in getting the engine of our willpower up and running. It’s been said in one form or another that there is no such thing as writer’s block, simply being too far away from a deadline. In the same way, if the only goal and the only deadline you have set as a weightlifter is something that may or may not happen in four years (especially relevant since we are at the beginning of an olympic quad), maintaining the necessary willpower to get there will be much harder because you will not have broken the elephant up into single bites in your mind, but instead view it as one big goal to be swallowed all at once.

Willpower is an incredibly important element in the success of any athlete in the sport of weightlifting, much like it is in every other sport. Ultimately willpower is not something that we can control entirely, but it is something which we can train and strengthen by creating specific habits, behavior patterns, and goals. It cannot be properly be quantified in advance of weightlifting competition (for there are far too many contingencies to say with any degree of certainty), but having strong willpower is consistently correlated with more regular and greater success in life across all population types. If you really want to take the next big step in your life as a weightlifter (whatever that step may be), the first small step you should take is avoiding things that tend to cause bad behavior patterns, and the second is setting up realistic and trackable goals for your future progress. With these two tactics in hand, going forward into a new year of weightlifting will be much more profitable than without.

My Weightlifting Life in 2015, And What 2016 Taught Me About The Sport

It's been a long time since I put something new on this website. If you have read any significant portion of the blog, you'll notice that much of what I try to offer is purely information, stuff that is geared to help you to become a better weightlifter, backed by a sufficient amount of science and historic data to be reasonably trustworthy. This article is entirely anecdotal, and will tell my story as a weightlifter both in 2015 and 2016, and what it taught me about my place in the wonderful sport of weightlifting. 

To give an accurate representation of my experience in 2016, it's necessary to take a step back to 2015. 2015 was my first year in the sport of weightlifting in a formal sense. In March 2015, I competed in a local meet sponsored by my (now) coach Danny Camargo. I sprained my wrist badly 10 days out from the meet, and almost withdrew, but I decided instead of quitting that I should go and lift to the best of my abilities, and get the platform experience one way or another. That meet turned out quite well for me, thankfully. I competed as a junior (18-20 years old) and in the -69 kg weight class, and I managed to hit a 77 kg snatch, and a 95 kg clean & jerk, and won the junior division in my weight class (to be fair, there was only one other lifter in that category). The session was great, and I got a chance to lift with a number of lifters who I still look up to and admire to this day (specifically Conner Irwin, Tony Thai, and Coby Rhodes. You may not know them, but they are all great competitors and extraordinarily dedicated to the sport). I caught the weightlifting bug during that meet, and I caught it hard. I had been weightlifting on my own for a reasonably long time, but this was my first experience with this discipline as a real sport, and it got me something fierce. Two weeks later, I (along with my wife Hannah, who is the wonderful person behind this website) joined Danny's gym, and became a member of team Oly Concepts. I set my sights on qualifying for the University National Championships hosted by USA Weightlifting in Ogden, Utah in September. I trained with one single purpose from March until June, to qualify for that meet.

In  June of 2015, I competed at the Sunshine State Games (an olympic style event/convention put on by the Florida sports commission). My goal at that meet was to qualify for University Nationals, but I knew it was a stretch. Through a situation that was entirely my fault, I went to the meet without a coach (although my lovely wife Hannah came along to provide moral support). To qualify, I had to get within two kg of my best ever snatch as a -69 kg lifter (I had hit bigger numbers while at a -77 bodyweight) and tie my best ever clean & jerk at the -69 bodyweight. I weighed in super light (67 kilos and change), and I had to rush my warmups quite a bit because I counted the attempt incorrectly in both portions of the session. My snatch opener was good at 80 kg. My second attempt at 83 kg was shaky, but it was good. So, I entered the clean & jerk portion needing at least a 100 kg clean & jerk. I had to rush the warmup again (again, my fault, I counted the attempts wrong) and had to open lighter than I wanted to at 95 kg. Luckily enough, I smoked my opener, which gave me two cracks at 100 kg to qualify for university nationals. I stepped up to the bar, my entire body shaking, and I heard from behind me a coach of another competitor (in my class) screaming at me. He yelled "You put everything into that lift! I will drag you off off the platform if I have to, but you make that lift!" After that I settled down, I smoked the clean, and barely made the jerk by majority decision. I was, of course, ecstatic, I was headed to University Nationals.

Between June and September (when University Nationals were held) I trained my ass off, and worked as hard as I could to be ready. At the actual meet, I had a very funny experience (I can call it funny now, at the time it was terrifying). I was scheduled to weigh in at 9 am, and lift at 11 am. I planned to wake up at 8, grab some food from the hotel breakfast to go for after weigh-ins, and head over to the venue. At 7 am my phone is ringing as loud as I've ever heard it and Danny is on the other line. He says "Don't panic, but they moved your session up last night after we went to bed. You need to be weigh-in by 8 or else you can't compete." Needless to say I shot out of bed like there was a rocket up my ass, and got everything together in 2 minutes and ran downstairs. I tried Uber, I tried taxi companies, I tried the event shuttle, none of them could get to me in time to weigh-in, so it looked extremely bleak. I got a call from Danny moments later saying he was sending a friend with a car to pick me up. The friend picked me up, and raced me to the competition venue as fast as he  could. During the drive he told me to strip down to my underwear so I could run into the venue and weigh-in before time expired, so I did just that. I finished the last two minutes of the drive in nothing but a pair of compression briefs, and when he parked I sprinted into the venue and across the indoor track (the meet was being held in a high end indoor gymnasium on campus at Weber State University) as fast as I could, almost as naked as the day I was born. I jumped on the scale and weighed in with one minute to spare, just under 69 kg, and that was that. I lifted in the meet, went 4/6, totaled 194 kg, and was lucky enough to finish 15th in the nation in my weight class. It was far more than I ever expected from my first year of formal weightlifting, and I left incredibly happy with what I had accomplished.

Later that year, my wrist injury from February flared up really badly, and I thought I was done for the rest of 2015. However, with a combination of rehab therapy, a crapload of Advil, and a lot of luck, I managed to lift at my last meet of the year, the Florida state championships in November, and came within 2 kg of my total from University Nationals, which was a huge mental victory. 

Fast forward now, to 2016. My first meet of the year was a local meet in Orlando, Florida, and I lifted as a light -77 kg lifter (I weighed in at 72.40 kg, not that anyone cares). This meet was purely for enjoyment, and boy did I have a great time. I crushed my personal bests in the snatch, the clean & jerk, and in the total, finally breaking through to the 200 kg total mark, which had been a goal of mine for well over a year. I thought this was the start of an even better year of weightlifting than 2015, boy was I wrong. My existing wrist injury, along with a new lower back injury came back to bite me, and I never got to compete again this year. I did get to train (albeit irregularly), and I bulked up to fill out the -77 kg weight class, and with that bulk, I hit a gamut of new training personal bests (which I have yet to hit on a competition platform where they actually count, unfortunately). So that was it.

I had it in my mind after 2015 University Nationals that I had "arrived" to a certain degree as a weightlifter. I knew I wasn't a podium level type lifter, but going to a national meet, and lifting well went to my head way more than it should have. My injury troubles this year have been extraordinarily humbling, as painful as that has been, it has taught me a huge lesson. Thankfully that is not the only lesson I've learned about this sport though, despite my misfortune. Here are my main takeaways from a busted year in weightlifting:

1) Success in this sport (like in every sport) is never bought, it is only rented: Rent is paid in the form of training and practice, and rent is due (nearly) every day if you want to compete at a higher level. The people that succeed in this sport are the people that put in the work day in and day out, no matter how good or bad they may feel. Even if they're injured they find a way to work around that until the injury heals.

2) Humility will take you a long way: When I was first experiencing my rash of injuries from this year, I was very brash, and chose to train through them, rather than around them, or simply taking time off. This made things much worse, and left me in a position where competing in another meet, let alone making any significant comeback as an athlete was out of the question for this year.

3) Coaching in this sport is as rewarding if not more than being an athlete: Danny was kind enough to allow me to either primary coach or secondary coach a few athletes at the local meet he hosted this year in Jacksonville. My biggest responsibility (and my only time as primary coach at the event) was preparing my lovely wife for her first weightlifting meet. She did incredibly well, and showed nerves of steel throughout the whole event, and made my job incredibly easy. Despite the relative ease of this job, seeing her happiness and pure joy at the experience of completing a good lift (though she made 5 of them) in competition, in front of judges and audience members alike was something that I hope I never forget. Just like she got the weightlifting bug as an athlete from this meet, so I got the coaching bug, as a coach at this meet. I also had the opportunity during this same meet to warmup (and coach through their competition attempts) a few other athletes, which sunk the joy of coaching further into my veins. Coaching at a meet made it so that I got to experience some of the greatest fun of this (for lack of a better term) job, which can (at times) be somewhat boring. Trust me, writing 8 week programs in Excel is not the most enjoyable way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

4) The fourth and final main takeaway for me this year from the sport of weightlifting is that I have a deep, ingrained love of this sport, that I do not expect to go away for quite some time. Both as an athlete, and as a coach, I find this sport incredibly rewarding, and I love that it is so accessible to the general adult population, especially when compared with other sports. At times this year, I truly hated weightlifting (the injuries I've dealt with and continue to deal with take their emotional toll). but overall, I experienced a deepening of my love for this beautiful sport, and I look forward to many, many more years in it. 

Five Exercises You're Not Doing But Should

If you are a weightlifter, you probably snatch, clean & jerk, and squat at least once a week, if not twice. Beyond that programs vary but usually there’s some form of pulling work such as Romanian deadlifts, clean pulls, snatch pulls, etc. In addition to that you also probably do some practice with the jerk, maybe a little push pressing as well. Depending on where you’re at and what you’re focusing on in training, your exercise selection is going to change and adapt, but these types of exercises are pretty much considered staples. Without ignoring or short-changing our staple exercises, there are a number of assistance exercises that are really quite useful, but can be easily ignored. Here is a list of five exercises you’re probably not doing, but should give a try:

  1. Barbell rows. We do a lot of vertical pulling in weightlifting, but the horizontal pulling is definitely limited. It happens (especially in the process of sweeping the bar into the hips during the second pull), but it’s still not enough. A more horizontal pull such as a pendlay row allows for development of a stronger upper back, healthier shoulders, and can also teach the lats to fire more when executing a classic lift. Rowing is a great exercise, and you absolutely should be doing it.

  2. Abs. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, or if you’ve said it yourself: “I don’t need to do abs, I get plenty of core training from squats, pulls, snatches, cleans, etc.” This is true to a degree, but it’s not sufficient. If you take an average weightlifter and test his core strength against a standard gym-goer, the weightlifter will probably win, but the question is not just one of absolute strength, but strength relative to the task at hand. The abs are tasked with creating as much rigidity in the torso as possible to allow you to transfer the maximum amount of force from your drive off the floor to the bar. Any tension lost means total force lost, which means weaker lifts. Your abs have to be trained hard and often for best results.

  3. Good mornings. Whether done with heavier weight and a low number of repetitions, or lighter weight for a high number of reps, good mornings are a great exercise to strengthen and stretch the entire posterior chain. For the vast majority of lifters their biggest weakness is somewhere along their backside, and the good morning is a great tool for shoring up those weak areas. If you have never done it, or perhaps haven’t done it in a while it can feel awkward, but so long as you keep your back tight and straight, and remember to hinge at the hips, you’ll get a feel for it soon enough.

  4. Sots press. This one doesn’t get used nearly enough for all the helpful things it does. The sots press is a great tool for developing flexibility and positioning, which are just as important to weightlifting success as pure strength. A few sets of 5-10 reps are best, choosing a weight as heavy as can be handled while maintaining proper positioning in the bottom of the squat. The Sots press is an excellent tool for warming up for a snatch session or as a finishing piece along with standard stretching.

  5. High pulls. You should be squatting, and you should be doing standard pulls. These things are assumed when looking for assistance exercises. The high pull gets overlooked much too often, though. The high pull has a few main benefits: First, it allows you to practice pulling technique at full speed. Second, it helps teaching you to keep the bar close to you, and improve your triple extension. Third, it doesn’t do as much damage to the body as a full lift, allowing for faster and better recovery for your next training.

These exercises won't necessarily lead to massive jumps in your maxes right away, but they will be exceedingly helpful to your long-term development as both a healthy and a competitive lifter. 

Eccentrics For Strength Gains

In strength training, movements are generally broken down into three categories. The first category is concentric movements. This is when the muscles are shortening or contracting, and typically in the case of a barbell movement involves something where the bar is being driven upward. The second category is isometric. This is when the joint angle and muscle length do not change, such as when a paused rep is used, or when a lift is held at the top. The third category is eccentric. This is when the muscle and joint angles are opening and lengthening, such as when the bar is slowly lowered back down from a finishing position.

    In weightlifting, no points are earned for how slowly one can lower the bar back to the platform after finishing a lift. The far and away majority of weightlifting training and competition consists of concentric and isometric muscle contractions in order to complete the lifts, but this doesn’t mean that eccentric training is of no use for weightlifters.

    The benefits of eccentric training for weightlifters are numerous. The list includes greater muscle damage (i.e. the muscles break down more allowing for greater protein synthesis and for the muscle to adapt and grow faster), greater flexibility (it’s hard not to become a little bit more gumby in the hamstrings when doing a Romanian deadlift with your max clean weight), and stronger joints and connective tissue. There are other benefits to eccentric training but these are all we will touch on for now.

Examples of useful eccentric exercises for weightlifters:

  1. Romanian deadlift: In terms of bang for your buck eccentric focused exercises, there probably aren’t any better than the Romanian deadlift. You can do a standard RDL or the snatch variation, but the RDL is the absolute best. Starting with the bar in the power position, bend the knees slightly, and hinge at the hip. Maintaining the same knee angle and a tight back, slowly lower as far as you can while keeping the back tight, then swiftly hinge back upward at the hip to return to the start position. Repeat for anywhere between 3-6 reps depending upon load.

  2. Rack jerks. The rack jerk’s primary focus is on the jerk, however if you use the rack jerk instead of jerking from blocks and lower the bar back to the rack position, the eccentric portion of that lift does more for the lifter than most think of. To lower the bar without injuring themselves, the lifter has to move the bar slower, and also absorb the re-rack, which trains the eccentric portion of the dip.

  3. The squat. A common fault in weightlifters when they train the squat is crashing down to the bottom in order to try and take advantage of the stretch reflex from the bottom position. Rather than this extremely fast descent, weightlifters would be better off going more controlled into the hole when squatting. This doesn’t mean a five second long descent, but if the eccentric portion is a bit slower, the results will be much better.

Though eccentrics are not the primary movement type in weightlifting, they are still highly valuable in training. They allow lifters to develop greater strength, flexibility, and injury-proof the body. Focus a bit more on developing the eccentric movements in your training, and you will see progress.

 

Choosing The Best Weights For Progress

    Programming is great. If you don’t train with a well established and directed program, you should, it will vastly improve your lifting, both the general direction in which it heads and your total. Unstructured training isn’t really training so much as it exercise. That’s fine, but understanding the distinction between having a program and a plan to progress and just doing things for the sake of doing them is important. With all this being said, there is also a bad side to overly rigid programming. In case you didn’t already know this, your body is really complicated. The best training program in the world still can’t perfectly account for all the possible variables in your life such as your sleep, your diet, the amount of stress you’re dealing with outside of training, etc. Because of this, too much rigidity in your weightlifting program can be a problem as well.

    Missing lifts should not be a common occurrence in training. This isn’t to say that you should only select weights which aren’t challenging, or that you should always have perfect training sessions (i.e. making every lift), because if you never miss, you’re likely not pushing yourself hard enough. Even so, the far and away majority of your lifts should be made. This is an important issue to keep in mind when developing as a weightlifter. In this case we aren’t simply looking to get in shape or get stronger, we’re trying to prepare to post the biggest total in competition. The old adage that you play like you practice is still true in weightlifting just as it is in other sports. If you cannot develop consistency as a weightlifter, your potential will be incredibly limited.

    So what does this mean for your training? It means that you should be working off of some sort of program, and preferably a program that is percentage based for selecting lifts. These percentages don’t need to be hard and fast, though, instead they should be “percentages-ish.” If you find yourself in the midst of a training session and already having racked up a lot of misses or technically sloppy lifts at the prescribed percentage, drop the weights by a few kilos. This allows a training effect to still be gained, while also helping to develop consistency and a feel for how the lifts ought to be, which is critical. If the weights feel too light on a given day, adjust up by a few kilos, while still ensuring they stay in a range that you can hit regularly and recover from appropriately before your next training session. Knowing when and how to adjust the weight selection will definitely be a process of trial and error, but ultimately it will allow for greater progress if done correctly. There are a variety of factors at play for how much you adjust the percentages (i.e. if you are in a high-rep volume phase using lighter percentages in the 80% range, you shouldn’t start taking lifts at 90+% of your max), but as a general rule you should stick as close to the percentages as possible, but be willing to allow for some variance depending on how you feel, how your training session is going, and (if you have one) what your coach recommends.

    Selecting weights for training can be a harrowing process. Given the huge number of possible variables affecting your training, a certain level of flexibility is necessary to get the best results. You need to be pushing yourself enough to create muscular and neurological changes to allow you to lift bigger weights, but at the same time be sufficiently conservative to ensure you train your body to make lifts on a consistent basis. Lack of programming or overly strict programming can both be damaging to long-term potential, so be willing to be flexible with the weights you choose during training, and you should have a more enjoyable experience and hopefully continue to add on to your total.

Fixing Your Focus: Why You Need Both Technique And Strength

“Does my weightlifting technique need to improve?” If you’re asking the question, the answer is most definitely yes. “Do I need to get stronger?” Again, if you have to ask, then yes, you do need to get stronger to be a better lifter. Broadly speaking you can divide weightlifters into two categories: Technicians, and strength specialists. Technicians may not necessarily be particularly strong, but they put their strength to great use, using a maximal percentage of that strength in each lift. Strength specialists sit on the other side of the fence. They typically have gaudy numbers in the squat, and perhaps other assistance exercises, but their technique is sloppier, and they cannot use the same percentage of their pure strength as the technicians can. There may be different names for the categories, but this is the basic breakdown.

    One of the things that’s really frustrating about this breakdown is that lifters (myself included) will spend way too much time trying to figure out which category they fall under. The basic thought process makes some sense, after all, if you can identify what you’re good at and what you’re weak at, you can hammer away at the weakness until you get better and make significant progress.

The problem comes in when something this broad is used to identify training focus, though. You could be more on the technician side, but have one major technical fault which is keeping you from progressing but because you attribute the failure to lack of pure strength, the actual problem never gets addressed. The honest truth is that unless you’re an elite weightlifter (read here: world level competitor), you’re almost certainly lacking in both strength and technical prowess. You can identify specific problems in each category, that’s fine, but don’t treat these categories as hard and fast where you have to focus on one at a time for a complete training cycle. It’s simply not worth it, and it will slow down your progress.

 

Best Weightlifting Complexes

Building off of yesterday’s post on why complexes may be a good choice to add to your training program, this article will list a few complex ideas along with their purpose, overall effectiveness, and how best to use them. We’ll touch on three complexes built around the snatch, and then three more on the clean & jerk.

Snatch:

  1. Power snatch, low hang snatch, overhead squat: This complex teaches several important pieces of the snatch: The power snatch portion allows you to address the importance of finishing the pull, the low hang snatch helps with pulling mechanics in what is many lifters’ worst position, and the overhead squat creates stability and confidence in catching and standing up heavy weights under fatigue. Weights used should range between 70-80% of your max, and this percentage should be based off your max in the weakest movement in the complex (for most people this will be the power snatch).

  2. Snatch high pull, snatch, overhead squat: Similar to number one, but it places a higher priority on finding a proper bar path in the first two pieces, before addressing the same issue with the overhead squat. Stick around 70-80% of your max for this one as well.

  3. Snatch high pull, low hang snatch: Shorter, but still a very effective tool for developing correct bar path in the snatch. Will teach the lifter to keep the bar close, as well as to navigate the starting position and clearing the knees better.

Clean & Jerk:

  1. Clean, front squat, jerk: This one is probably the best of the bunch. This complex helps to develop overall strength, but it also allows the difficulty of jerking under substantial fatigue to be simulated in training. This is important because oftentimes once we get to the third clean & jerk attempt in competitions, we’re very tired. Many of us might make the clean, but oftentimes the jerk falls short. Adding the front squat helps to develop the leg strength needed to make the jerk as well, since the jerk is a leg-driven lift. Obviously you should be front squatting separately from the complex, but adding in a few extra reps via the complex sure doesn’t hurt. This one can be a bit heavier, somewhere in the range of 80-85% for 1-2 reps per set will be a good mark to shoot for.

  2. Clean high pull, hang power clean, jerk: A more pulling focused drill than the first, this one is similar to the first snatch drill, in that it drills bar path and overhead positioning. The benefit of this one in particular is how little it beats the lifter up. This one can be done for a higher number of sets and reps than most other complexes while still allowing the lifter to recover a bit more easily for more training.

  3. Clean deadlift, low hang clean, front squat: All clean focus for this one, but a great tool nonetheless. The drill serves to develop leg strength and power as well as to drill proper positioning throughout the whole clean. Stick to singles or doubles on this one, a longer set will be too brutal. Probably best to stick around 85% of your max clean for this one.

Three complexes for the snatch, and three complexes for the clean & jerk. Complexes don’t need to be in every training session, but it would be good to use one on a semi-regular basis. Keep a focus on your standard training, but from time to time working in a complex is a great change of pace and a great tool to really focus in on areas where you may struggle.

 

Why You Should Use Complexes In Training

Everyone’s programming is different in weightlifting. Some use very limited volume while focusing almost entirely on the snatch, the front squat, and the clean & jerk, while others use a highly varied system with a lot more assistance work. Some training programs are focused on hitting exact percentages in each training session, while others are left more in the hands of the lifter to determine how they feel during a given training session. One tool that is more commonly used these days is complexes for training. A complex is when a lifter does multiple exercises in a row without taking any breaks. For example, a common snatch complex would be a power snatch, immediately followed by a low hang snatch, and finished with an overhead squat. All three exercises are done in one sequence, and once all three are complete, that’s one rep. Complexes are sometimes maligned for their lack of specificity (and they can definitely be used too generally), but they are a worthwhile tool in the right place and applied correctly.

    A good training program will include a volume phase, where the body becomes prepared for the later intensity and specificity that comes as competition approaches. Whether this is a longer period or even just a week or two, a volume phase is a necessity in preparing well for a more intense phase in a given training cycle. This is where the complex becomes particularly helpful. As you look to develop work capacity as well as technique under load, the complex becomes a really strong and helpful option. Programming a complex at the right percentages allows for a great deal of volume and work to be achieved in a shorter period of time, and without wearing the lifter out beyond reason.

    

In addition to the total volume that a complex allows you to achieve in such a short time, the complex also allows technical issues to be addressed quickly. Assuming you’re not a professional weightlifter, you probably don’t have a ton of time to train assuming you have work, school, or family obligations. Using complexes during the volume phase allows you to get a lot of repetitions in in a short amount of time, making them a great option for when your training time may be a bit more limited. When programmed well, a complex allows you to both practice a classic lift, and to address a particular technique issue without having to dedicate extended time which you don’t have to each.

    Barbell complexes are a great tool for lifters who are looking to get some additional volume, technical work, and a bit of variation in their training. Consider adding them into your program the next time you’re far off from a competition and looking to have a good volume phase, they will prove both helpful and fun.

 

 

Your First Pull Shouldn't Be Slow

By and large weightlifting coaches and athletes are better educated on the nuances of lifting than most folks at a standard gym. Though it’s not eradicated entirely, “bro science” is a much less common problem in these settings than if you went to a Gold’s Gym or a Planet Fitness. However, there are still cliches which crop up from time to time that are just plain bad. Oftentimes they come from an attempt to simplify a coaching cue for a lifter, which is fine, the problems come up later down the road when the lifter doesn’t understand the underlying principle and broader application of the simplified cue. One of the cliches you hear all too often which really needs to go away is “the first pull should be slow.”

To ensure that we’re all on the same page, the first pull is the portion of the lift from when the barbell is on the floor, to the time that it passes the knees. It’s certainly true that the first pull is slow. If you are beginning a maximum effort clean or snatch from the floor, it takes time to get the bar accelerated, and so the first pull tends to be slower. In addition to this, the first pull must be controlled well in order to set up the ideal position for the more explosive second pull. This necessity for control cannot be overstated, if you don’t control the first pull enough to get the bar in the right place for the second pull, you will miss the lift, every single time. The problem comes in when a lifter thinks that needing to control the bar well for the first pull means having to move it intentionally slowly.

Watch enough lifters and you’ll see this happen all the time, it’s a super common fault, and almost everyone deals with it at one point or another: The lifter breaks the bar from the floor, and begins a slow, controlled ascent through the first pull until the bar reaches the knees, and then tries to apply massive acceleration to the bar after moving a super slow first pull. This is incorrect and will lead to problems as it makes the second pull significantly harder than it needs to be. If the bar is already accelerated well, the second pull will not be quite as taxing, and can be executed with a greater application of force, leading to a better lift overall. The first pull should not be unnecessarily slow, and it should be done in such a way as to allow a smooth transition between the first and second pulls.

So, how fast should the first pull be? It should be as fast as possible while still maintaining the necessary control of the bar to position well for the second pull. The difficulty of weightlifting is learning to do movements very fast, with heavy weights, and a high degree of accuracy, so if you have trouble accomplishing this, it shouldn’t be discouraging, it’s part of the process. However, if you are under the impression that your first pull needs to be particularly slow, give some time to developing a more aggressive first pull while focusing on maintaining that requisite control and accuracy, the added speed (so long as accuracy is maintained) will be a huge boost and allow you to lift bigger weights more consistently.