Pre-designed squat programs- good or no?

This should be a quick post. I noticed this interesting video on allthingsgym.com today (an excellent resource for weightlifters and anyone who is a fan of athleticism, by the way). In this video (around the 10:00 min mark), current national-level lifters debate the merits of “pre-programmed” squat routines such as smolov, Hatch, etc. It sparked my interest b/c this is a topic I’ve thought about posting on for a couple of months now.

Full disclosure- I used to be a fan of squat routines. Key word is USED to. I still think they have their place, in limited fashion, for certain athletes with certain goals. However, my opinion is that they are WAY too widely applied these days, to athletes who stand to gain little or nothing from them in the context of their goals, by coaches who are, quite frankly, either too lazy or lack the ability to program for themselves. I’ve done a smolov Jr cycle twice in my life, and I did a Russian 6-week front squat cycle about a year and a half ago, so I can also speak from personal experience. Here are my issues with the overly-broad application of squat cycles-

1. Most people can’t handle the volume

It’d be one thing if these people were just training to become a better squatter. However, most of us either want to be better olympic lifters, CrossFitters, or athletes in general. In that sense, the squat is an assistance exercise, no more. So what you end up seeing is people try to jam a squat routine INTO an already existing program, and yet somehow expect results in EVERYTHING to continue. This is simply not physiologically possible for most of us, especially without the miracle of PEDs. What you usually end up seeing is people who continue to do other forms of training or lifting, and they get suboptimal results with both.

Additionally, I’ve also seen people who actually do follow and do ONLY the routine to the letter, and they STILL can’t handle the volume. I suspect this is because most commonly known programs out there were designed for elite level lifters (some of them, for powerlifters, completely different squat mechanics) and not your average person. One of my gym’s elite athletes tried, and failed, to complete a full smolov cycle. I watched him during many of his squat sessions, and you could see as the weeks progressed the mounting and insurmountable fatigue that was setting in. He started to miss sets he should/could have made, and in the end (IMO) ended up wasting months of training.

2. Most people try to do too much

This is closely related to the point above. I think part of the reason this happens is, again, b/c the squat is not the primary goal for most of us. We want a stronger squat SO THAT WE CAN DO X BETTER (X is snatch/clean/run etc). It’s pretty hard to tell a CrossFitter not to practice butterfly pull ups when they’re on a “squat only” cycle. It’s pretty hard to tell someone who primarily wants their clean or snatch to improve to do a “squat only” cycle. When I did a Russian front squat routine, it was with the full blessing of my coach, who carefully incorporated it into my program. We knew the lifts were going to take a back seat in the interests of getting my front squat up. In my case, the front squat was the prime component holding my clean back (I could clean as much as I could front squat). So, I basically didn’t do anything else but front squat, and it was under the supervision of an international-level coach, WITH THE PRIME GOAL being to make the front squat go up.

Pull-Up

I’m on a squat cycle bro!

3. Most people won’t get the gainz they think they’ll get

I’ve heard/seen this many times. Someone goes through a 6/12/100,000 week long squat program. And their squat numbers go up, maybe. Usually not as much as they’d hoped. This may be a function of them not recovering optimally/not using PEDs/doing too much as described above, and it’s hard to tease that out, but that is REALITY. You have to know as a coach that most athletes will not have optimal recovery. Most athletes will not be using PEDs. Therefore, “ideal” results, under optimal conditions, probably won’t be the reality.

On top of that, the gainz don’t last. Sad but true. I have personally lived this- every time I’ve done a squat routine, my squat goes up. Then, it goes down- not all the way, mind you, but a fair amount. I can’t front squat now nearly what I was able to at the end of my front squat cycle. The sad truth is, for most of us, your “baseline” squat will never be as high as it is at the end of a squat cycle.

4. A bigger squat is not really the main goal, most of the time

I touched on this above. For most of us, the primary goal is going to be something OTHER than a bigger squat. Don’t get me wrong- I love squats, and consider them the single most useful assistance exercise for pretty much any athlete. However, the key word is “assistance”. An aspiring CrossFitter should still be focusing most of their work on generalized fitness. An aspiring lifter should still be focusing work on technique/positions/the classic lifts themselves. I find it kind of laughable when a person who can’t perform a positionally-solid front squat is on yet-another back squat routine, yet their main goal is to become a better olympic lifter.

lux

I don’t think this guy’s goal was a bigger squat. While we may not be aspiring to Olympic gold like Lu Xiaojun, most of us want to get better at something OTHER than the squat itself.

5. It’s a sign of lazy or inept coaching

This one is probably my biggest pet peeve, and can be said about any cookie cutter program. I consider one of a coaches’ main jobs to a) understand the principles of intelligent programming, and b) be able to tailor and apply them to their individual athletes. Anyone with an internet connection and knowledge of google can go and download a program someone else wrote (for someone else). That’s not coaching, and in fact in my mind cheapens the notion of being someone’s coach.

I will be the first to admit that when I first started coaching, I didn’t know very much. However, I think what separates me from a lot of people is that I am willing to learn and adapt, and I’m always trying to better myself. I don’t take anything as a given but will analyze information critically, using my knowledge of physiology/anatomy and combining it with the good ‘ol fashioned “bullshit test” and the experience of other, better coaches. In other words, I may not be the best coach, but I’m definitely not lazy. At this point, I think I’m a much better coach than when I first started. My point is, every opportunity to program for an athlete or learn for yourself is an opportunity to improve. When we as coaches take that opportunity, and instead give someone a cookie-cutter program that any monkey could download from the internet, we do ourselves a disservice.

Hope this stimulated some thought. Happy Training!

Update Oct 2014- progress and life as a 69kg, second attempt

For those of you who have been following, after the Cal State Games 2014 I had a decision to make. I weighed in at 73kg which is right in the middle of being a 69 and a 77. Last year, I had failed at an attempt to come down to 69kg, during which I ate super-clean (paleo principles) but did not control portion size or any other variable.

In my mind, the pros of being a 77kg are-

– never have to worry about making weight- I was able to live around 75-76kg, eat (lots) of starch on training days, and ad lib portion sizes with no fluctuation in body weight. Not having to worry about what or how much I was eating, and not having to worry about making weight was huge.

– eating lots of starch on training days- like, duh. I live to eat, and quite honestly being able to eat tons of fries and rice on training days was often the best part of the day.

IMG_2320

 

It took a while to get under 160lb.

However, here were the positives of being a 69kg-

– I knew I would look ripped. While not necessarily functional, I’d be lying if I said my ego didn’t want this. Every human being wants to “look good” to other people and I am no different. There’s no shame in admitting a part of you cares if you look good to other people. The problem only comes if it takes on too important of a place in your ego spectrum.

– qualifying totals for the 69kg class are lower, and I would perform at a relatively higher level compared to being a 77kg.

– the challenge- this is important. Part of me knew it was possible to come down to 69kg, and the fact that I failed last time was a major driver. The process itself, and succeeding this time, was a reason unto itself.

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During a trip to Vegas with friends. I had to maintain discipline while everyone else was eating 8 course meals and living it up. The scale helped remind me why I was doing this.

The path

So, after Cal State I took a solid week off to rest, heal and mobilize. Since then, my strategy as far as weight loss has been two-fold:

1. Clean up my diet- I moved from an 80/20 approach to a 90/10, or even 95/5. On my non-training days, I eat absolutely no starch and no sugar. On training days, I take in a cup of rice post workout. The last time I tried to move down, I didn’t eat any starch, and my strength really suffered. I have found through personal experience that if one of your goals is to maintain strength, some starchy carb is an absolute necessity (at least for me).

2. Caloric restriction- I simply eyeballed my meals, and made sure to eat “less” at each meal. By “less”, this ended up being about a 1/4 reduction of whatever I was eating before. So if I typically would eat a plate of food, I’d now eat 3/4 of a plate. 4 eggs for breakfast became 3, etc. I knew I was doing it right b/c I’d wake up and go to bed hungry, but it was tolerable.

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SO CLOSE. Honestly I probably could hang out here and just not drink/eat much the day before I weigh in, but I’m not taking any chances.

Long story short, I started in the first week of August, and on 10/13 (basically two months), I hit my goal- 152.1lb, or 69kg exactly. Now I just need to hold myself here until Nov 1st, when I’ll be competing in the Fortius Halloween meet. This should be a small meet, but it’ll be sanctioned, and thus my results will qualify me for Pan Ams and Worlds for 2015. Typically, one should live slightly above target weight and then cut leading up to the meet, but b/c this is my first time competing as a 69kg, b/c of the work that I’ve put in, and b/c I’m not sure how my body will respond to a “fast cut”, I’m not taking any chances. Once I get this meet out of the way, my plan is to live at 154-156lb.

152

 

Nailed it, exactly, with 18 days to go.

The qualifying totals for 2014, Masters competitions for a 69kg were-

– Nationals (new for 2015)- 167kg

– Pan Ams- 167kg

– Worlds- 187kg

My goal for this meet is to open with 76 on the snatch and 102 on the Cl/J, both weights I can hit in my sleep. This would give me a total of 178 and qualify me for Nationals and Pan Ams (based on 2014 totals). Ideally, I go 76/81/85 on the snatch and 102/107/111 on the Cl/J- If all goes well I’ll have a 196 total and qualify for Worlds as well. However, as long as I make 81/107 (both quite doable), I’ll wind up with a 188 total which would also be enough for Worlds (as long as they don’t bump up the numbers for 2015). I’m pretty hopeful and confident based on this analysis. The two potential roadblocks are- a) I have a shit day and don’t hit 81/107, and b) they bump up the qualifying numbers a lot. Either way, the solution is to simply lift as well as I can and hope for the best.

Random thoughts-

I LIKE how I look and feel. I’ll be honest- I can see every one of my abs, and also the psoas muscle on either side (the muscle that starts around the front of the hip and trails to the groin). I’ve lost track of the number of compliments I’ve received on how I look, and it’s very gratifying. That alone has made this process worth it. I’m never going back to a 77kg. I know I’m healthier, and I look better too.

Part of me LIKES waking up and going to bed hungry. Sure, it’s uncomfortable but I feel “lean and hungry”, like that line from the movie Gladiator. I kind of feel like a predator between meals- hungry, but very leaned out and ready for action. I feel more like an animal at the top of the food chain, rather than a product of sloth and indulgence. It’s kind of hard to describe but I imagine it’s what warriors hardened by countless battles feel like.

My gymnastics skills have gotten much better, simply by virtue of a lighter bodyweight. For example, I’ve been messing around with front levers since I started CrossFit over 5 years ago. On some of my rest days, I will jump up and play around with the move, and I’m able to hold the positions much better/longer than ever before. Here’s a video of an (almost) front lever; if I tuck one leg I can hold it with almost no pike.

Training

My snatch and clean and jerk have basically remained consistent, even with the decrease in bodyweight. Incredibly, the ankle I injured pre-Cal State is STILL not 100%, although it is not limiting me much at all now so I just ignore it. I can consistently hit 75-82kg on the snatch, and 102-105 on the cl/j. The snatch feels the same as when I was a 77kg, although the heavy clean and jerks do feel heavier and not as easy.

The only place I have definitely noticed a dip in strength is with heavy front and back squats. My 1RM is certainly lower than before, and I struggle on heavy sets that would not have bothered me much in the past. For instance, FSq’s above 115 used to be automatic up until 125 or so. I’ve recently done sets of 115 x 2, and that second rep is the hardest one on the planet.

Overall, I’ll take it though- lifts have barely gone down, I look and feel better… and I did it. I proved to myself I could do it. It was actually easier than I thought it would be (given I hit a plateau/failed last time). Now, to qualify for some big meets in 2015 on Nov 1, then go nuts with my food intake the next few days after that! I’m looking forward to it.

Update through 8/2/14- Cal State results, and next phase

It’s been a while since I’ve posted and you’ll see why…

After my last meet I was pretty excited. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to make the World Championships this year due to time constraints, so the plan was simply to train hard and defend my Cal State Masters’ title. Unfortunately, life had other plans. Some time in May I injured my quad for no apparent reason. The pain got better pretty fast, but I think by continuing to squat with the injury, I somehow transferred the load to my back in an unusual way. I woke up one day and my back was just sore, as if I was CrossFitting again and had done something retarded like 100 BW deadlifts for time. Anyways, I forced myself through the work day and went to train, but I found my back couldn’t handle a fraction of the load it typically can.

I took a bit of time off but not enough. Tried to train through the injury and diligently mobilized every day. All through May, and most of June. It got better very slowly. Then, Elysium had a beach party in early July and we ended up playing a pick up soccer game with some randoms. Typical friendly game, no keepers, half the people weren’t wearing shoes. Somehow I ended up getting slide-tackled by an over-exuberant teenager and he twisted my ankle badly.

So now this is 3 weeks out from Cal State. No problem, I thought. I’ll be fine by then (I’ve twisted my ankles more times than I can count in my life). Wrong. JUST WHEN MY BACK IS FINALLY HEALED, this happens. I basically couldn’t train heavy at all leading up to the games, and my ankle didn’t get better in time. I ended up snatching and cleaning on one leg the whole time and let me tell you that does not help. Here’s a video where you can see how the bar path is just fundamentally altered, I’m having to jump forward every time b/c I can’t keep my heel down and get a good drive (hurts too much).

Cal State Results

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Anyways, I went into the meet knowing I wasn’t going to be 100%. As it turns out, there was a total beast I was competing against, and even if I hit lifetime PRs I wasn’t going to take him down, so it wasn’t the ankle that took the gold away. Still, it sucks to know I didn’t perform at a fraction of what I’m capable of. I picked my lifts VERY conservatively- what honestly should be warmup weights, and/or weights I can power snatch or power clean.

Snatch- decided to open with 75, and hopefully go 75/80/85. I hit 75 and 80 which were ugly, and then there was a long pause between my 85 attempt (I think about 10 lifts). When I finally got up to 85 I just clarked it- there was no way that was going up.

Cl/J- plan was to go 102, 107, 112. Here I was really worried. The ankle hurt on anything over 90, and the jerk step out was torture. If I could have push pressed the weight I would rather have done that. Anyways, I missed the opener at 102 and barely made the second attempt. Pulled under 107 after absolutely no drive on the bar, but I couldn’t get it racked properly and had to dump it. Suckage. In retrospect I did just enough to get a total.

Had to settle for silver this year. I’m looking forward to giving that guy an actual run for his money next year. After I got home, I noticed a massive bruise on my INNER thigh on the side of the ankle injury, which shows just how fucked up my bar path became with the bum leg (how in F does one make contact with the low inner thigh?).

IMG_2235

Next phase-

I was planning on taking at least a week off for a trip to France (which isn’t happening now). I’m still going to rest though, and let myself completely heal. After that, I’ll make another run of getting down to the 69kg class- I weighed in right in the middle on Sat at 73kg, and I have some excess body fat which should be easy to get rid of. Once I’m ready it’s time to go big and hope I stay injury-free for a bit. The plan is to qualify for Pan Ams and Worlds, 2015. Being old sucks!

Fortius Open 4/26 meet results, next phase

If you’ve been following along you know I’ve been dealing with some serious nerve dysfunction issues on my left upper body. The reference post is here. The short version is thanks to my Coach Dave Miller and some serious PT work by Dr. Theresa Larson I am completely healed. It was really scary to wonder if I was ever going to be able to lift properly again, and specifically to wonder if my nerve dysfunction was going to get better, or worse?

ls fortius

Helping Stacie with her lifting plan.

I entered the meet assuming I would just lift and see how things went. When I entered I wasn’t entirely 100% healed. In the weeks leading up to the event, though, I was putting progressively heavier and heavier weight overhead without issue, so by the time the day rolled around my goal was to do very well from an absolute perspective. My plan was-

Sn 80, 85, 90? As always, I have to open light on my snatch and get something in the books. 90 would be a lifetime PR for me if I got there.

Cl/J 106, 111, 115? 115 would be a lifetime PR, and a major milestone for me (blue and a red plate on each side… colorfully symbolic :)

I also wanted to win my weight class, obv, but those planned numbers represented the best I was probably going to do, so if it was enough to win, great. If there was someone better than me, I’d find out but it’s not like it would have changed my gameplan.

The snatch

For once, I hit my openers in the back without issue. Usually I miss several times during warmup, just the right thing to dent my confidence going into the opener. I nailed 80 and 85 without trouble. Here’s the snatch at 85.

Now it was time for 90. I picked the bar up and right off the ground it just felt so HEAVY. I managed to pull under the bar but I pressed it out. I ended getting a 2-1 decision against the lift; If I’m in the ref chair, given this was a local meet, I probably give the lift the white light, but at the end of the day I have to abide by the judges’ decision (and I did press the weight out, after all). Video below.

The clean and jerk

Oddly, in the warm ups my clean was definitely off. I was having trouble staying over the bar and I missed several warm up cleans simply as a result of being off-balance. My clean is definitely my weak point, but especially so on this day. I took my opener of 106 and the bar swung very far from my body- so much so that it crashed into my neck, on to me, and I ended up in a dead stop in the hole. Whatever. This is why one needs a big front squat. Stand it up, easy jerk.

I had planned on going for 111 next, but since my clean was so poor I decided to just take 110 instead. This lift was better.

Now it was time for 115. Honestly I figured I was going to miss the clean the way things were going. I figured I would just go for it and let raw aggression carry the day. Watching the video, again the clean was ugly. From an encouraging standpoint, I can see in slo-mo that I am moving the bar VERY high. I have it in me to clean 120 or more right now- I just need to trust myself and not let fear take over. Once I stood that weight up, I knew I was home free.

Results

This was the tightest competition I’ve ever been a part of. There were about 10 entrants in my weight class, and the top person was OPENING with a 94 snatch, and 120 Cl/J. So assuming he posted a total, I knew 1st place was out. As it turns out, I was involved in a dog fight for a podium spot. The competition was so close that if I hit my 90 snatch I would have tied the guy who came in second, and beaten him by virtue of being lighter! The guy who came in third would have taken second if he hit his last clean and jerk, which he was fully capable of (in which case I would have come in third if I hit my snatch). As it was, I took 4th, with the second, third and fourth place totals being 205, 203 and 200 respectively. I posted a total 13kg higher than last year when I came in second!

Overall, I’m very pleased with how things turned out. I went 5/6, and I’ll never turn down a cl/J PR; if not for the last snatch I would have gone 6/6, PR’d total and snatch, and taken second as well. Mostly I am just ecstatic that my left side works again. Now if I miss lifts it’s because I messed up, not because of something out of my control.

Future plans

The next meet I’m planning on is the Cal State Games in Aug- I have to defend my title! For 2015 I will attend either the National, Pan Am or World’s Masters (at a minimum). That leaves me several months, which I am going to use to work on my snatch and developing a massive amount of strength. I figure once I’m able to front squat 150 maybe I won’t be so scared of a 120 or 125 clean.

Huge shout out to Theresa Larson and Coach Miller for getting me better, and Rachel and Jack Barry for the awesome photos and videos!

Training update 3/18/14; Pan Ams or not?

It’s been a month since my last post and determining that I have left-sided cervical nerve rootlet injury. Since then, my training has basically been-

Squat, front squat, clean, power clean

Pretty boring stuff. I intentionally laid off anything that would require me to stabilize overhead, eg snatch, push press, jerk, snatch balance, etc. In addition, I can’t even do pulls because my left lat doesn’t activate nearly as well as my right, and the bar will drift away from me on the later reps of heavy sets.

I’ve been working with my PT Theresa Larson and my coach Dave Miller to jointly come up with a plan. Basically, I do a ton of shoulder/upper body mobility work every day. Since then, things have gotten significantly better. The pain in my upper back/scapula is gone, and all the affected areas feel better. Just the other week I was given clearance to start going overhead light in the form of some push presses and overhead squats. Things feel fine so far but I can’t really tell until it gets heavy so who knows.

I also have been cleared to start power snatching, which I did a few days ago. I was going to go up to 135lb, but once I got there things felt so fast and light I figured let’s just keep going. I got up to 165lb which is bodyweight and things were still really easy. This is right near my PR power snatch. I think my legs are just stronger, and were happy to be doing something other than cleaning or squatting, so the weight just flew up there haha. I also tested out my pause squat just for fun, and got up to 330# (double bodyweight). Video below.

The Pan Am masters are in June. Initially my hope was to be better well before the meet. At this point I’m not sure this is going to happen. I wake up some days with lingering tightness in my lat and I know I’m not all the way back yet. I can’t go heavy until I’m fairly certain I’m back. It’s only once I can routinely hit heavy snatches and jerks again that I’ll feel comfortable in buying the plane tickets and registering for the meet. So, we’ll see, but the pessimistic side of me thinks I won’t be healthy in time. Oh well, there’s always next year. Stay tuned…

Cupid Classic 2/15/14 update, and next phase

I competed in the Cupid Classic competition at E2OlyFit this weekend. Overall it was a very disappointing meet for reasons I’ll outline below.

My goals for the meet, in order, were-

1. PR snatch at 91 (200lb) and Cl/J at 115 or 116 (255lb).

2. Win

3. Go 6 for 6.

Two weeks leading up to the meet, I entered a high intensity phase where I was snatching and cleaning over 90%. I hit all my lifts during this phase, with the exception of a jerk at 245lb on the last day that I usually make with regularity. Also at some point I noticed a knot in my back right by my left scapula that was pretty annoying. The entire week leading up to the meet was a deload/taper period. At this point, the knot in my back was pretty bad, and my left lat was bothering me as well. I massaged and foam rolled both the entire week and things felt ok by Saturday- not great but ok. I made all the lifts during taper week but they were easy and light.

For the meet itself, I entered in the Master’s division as a 77kg and weighed in at 75kg. In retrospect, had I just signed up for the open division I would have gotten a guaranteed win, since I would have been the only 77kg lifter there! Anyways, being in the Masters meant I would compared across all the Masters, of any weight class via the Sinclair formula.

My plan for the snatch was to open with 81, then hopefully 86 and 91. I still like to open with something very conservative for the snatch. Making your opener is super important and my snatch is still my weak spot. I hit 80 in the warmups and felt fine. When I went for the 81, I missed it a little forward, but that really set the tone for the meet. Now I had to waste my second lift retaking 81 just to get on the board. I got it, but it was shaky. Now, going into the last lift I had a decision to make. 90 or 91 would have been a PR, and I didn’t really care about just making a heavier lift than 81- I wanted a PR. Since 91 is 200lb which is kind of a milestone I figured why not, what the hell is the difference between 90 and 91 anyways. So that was a 10kg jump. Result below.

So now, going into the clean and jerk my confidence was shaken and I’m a little embarrassed, but the clean and jerk is my strong lift and I still have hope of winning and setting a PR. PR snatch and going 6 for 6 is out at this point, obv. The plan for the clean and jerk was 106, 111 and 116. Warming up the clean and jerk, I felt fine. Hit 80, 90 and 95 no problem. Cleaned 100 easy… missed the jerk?! I got the weight overhead and it just dropped on me. Took it again- and missed the jerk again. Now I was seriously shaken. The jerk has always been my strong suit; if I cleaned a weight, there was no question- count it, the lift is done. Now here I was missing warmup weights at a weight that I’ve jerked for a triple. I started to realize that the knot in my back was playing serious hell with my lockout for some reason. My coach and I backed the opener down to 102 just so I could get on the board. I came out and hit 102 without issues. Phew! On the board, and at least I have a total.

102

 

102kg. Mere warmup weight now. In retrospect, I was lucky to make this on this day.

The next weight was 107. At this point, my entire competition is derailed. Getting a PR at 116 was out of the question given I couldn’t open at 106 and had been missing 100kg jerks. I took 107, stood up easily, and… missed the jerk. Same thing as before- the left arm would just collapse under the weight. So now comes my last lift. Who cares. 107. 110. 114. Doesn’t matter- I’m already having a shit day. I figured if I could clean 110, the chances I could jerk it were the same as 107, so I just went for 110. I’ve cleaned this weight a handful of times in my life. This time, easy clean. Stood up, got set… missed the jerk. Same issue, same arm.

So I ended up going 2 for 6, and only posted 1 snatch and 1 clean and jerk. 81 and 102, both warmup weights for me. This is my lowest total since I started competing. At this point, I have to wait until the heavier competitors finish, so I can see where I stood compared to the rest of the Masters. When I looked at the other competitor cards, I knew I was in for a fight. There were several guys who would be tough competition, including this individual- Max Mormont. Max has been lifting for a long time. Max is a former National level lifter.

When all was said and done, I narrowly took second place. Had I made my lifts I would have been much more secure, and in fact it took the third place competitor missing some key lifts to allow me to sneak into second. As a small consolation, I looked up what my Sinclair would have been if I hit everything I wanted and I still would have come in second to Max, so I felt a little better. Overall though, super disappointing day.

acupid

 

Do I look happy? I’m not. I’m pissed.

I couldn’t believe the damage a mere knot in my back had done to my jerk. Thinking about things the next day, I started to put two and two together when it hit me. Here is a list of my complete symptoms-

– left scapular pain

– mild left shoulder, lat and tricep discomfort, which I attributed to being a byproduct of whatever was going on in my back

– mild numbness in those areas, and neck pain when I moved my head around as part of my routine warmup

– utter collapse of my left arm, implying “neurologic” weakness, as opposed to simply muscular weakness. Look at the video of my snatch fail and you’ll see I actually get under the bar, then my left arm just gives out. (I think I could have made the lift honestly if not for that).

For those of you with some background, this is obviously cervical nerve root impingement. The “knot” in my back was just a red herring. Below is a diagram of the cervical nerve roots and their branches. I’ll lay it out for you.

brach

Upper and lower subscapular nerve- innervate the scapula. Affected? Check

Thoraco dorsal nerve- innervates the lats. Affected? Check

Axillary nerve- innervates the shoulder. Affected? Check

Radial nerve- innervates the triceps. Affected? Check

Fuck me. I’m like something out of an anatomy textbook. Shit, I can even be specific and tell you C 6-8 are the nerve roots that are affected.

Moving Forward

My approach is going to be mobilizing my neck and working hard to open up space on the left side. I’ll be taking anti-inflammatories to try and decrease any inflammation, and consult with a PT. Training-wise I’m going to squat and clean for a few weeks and lay off any overhead work. At this point I’m cautiously optimistic- I don’t have any pain at rest and the “knot” in my scap/back is already better. I did squat today, having a ton of energy since I really didn’t even tax myself yesterday and hit 340lb for a 5lb PR.

The next meet I’m up for is the Pan Am Masters in June in Toronto. This is the big one, it will be my first time on the international stage. I’ll have to get through these next few weeks and hope my overhead work comes back. I won’t feel safe again until I can snatch 85+ without issue and jerk 110 or more. All of those weights should be routine. To be continued…

Image credits-

wikipedia.org

Training update 12/29/13, 6 week front squat cycle finished

6 weeks of hell are over. I completed a Russian squat cycle, which essentially looked like this-

Old 1 rep max- 275lb

“base” days- 6 x 2 reps @ 80% (225lb). These days showed up frequently.

“volume” days- 6 x 3, 6 x 4, 6 x 5, 6 x 6! @ 80%

“heavy” days (later part of the cycle)- 5 x 5 @ 85% (235), 4 x 4 @ 90% (245), 3 x 3 @ 95% (260), 2 x 2 @ 100% (275)

Overall, I’d say the 6 x 6 @ 80% and 3 x 3 @ 95% days were the toughest.

The cycle went well. I added 15lb to my PR for a new max of 290lb. I tried 300lb twice but didn’t have it- I feel like I’m close, and perhaps on another day…

I also PR’d my back squat at 335lb for a 5lb. I tested this out after the front squats just to see, so maybe my true 1RM is higher? During the cycle I also hit a clean and jerk at 245lb, 5lb off my all time PR and a snatch from the high hang at 190lb, also 5lb off all time PR. Both with no taper, so I’m pretty happy with this. Looking forward to the next round of training!

Training update 12/10/13 and quick American Open rant

Training update-

I’ve just started week 4 of a 6 week front squat cycle. In case you didn’t know I HATE, despise, loathe front squats. There are really no words that adequately describe my feelings about front squats. My back squat has always been proportionally stronger than my front squat which doesn’t help. For the longest time 102kg was my PR. Since I’ve dedicated myself solely to olympic lifting it’s gone up considerably (127kg) but I still consider it a weak spot. Since the amount I can clean is directly related to what I can front squat, and since my clean is pretty much maxed relative to my FS (114kg best clean vs 127kg best FS, or 90%), I know I do need to get the FS numbers up.

afs

 

I love the clean. I hate front squats.

This is so painful. Among the hard days I’ve had so far are 6 x 5 reps @ 80%, 6 x 6 reps @ 80%, and just yesterday a 5 x 5 @ 85%. I had two fails on the 6 x 6 day, but oddly the 5 x 5 day yesterday was fine. It wasn’t easy but I never felt like I was going to fail. Hopefully at the end of this cycle my FS will have improved significantly.

I’m also signed up for a USAW level I certification this weekend, which I am assuming I will pass. We’ll see- if I don’t perhaps I’ll have to shut this blog down b/c it will be obvious that I don’t know anything.

American Open rant

ao

OK, the first thing I’ll say is I wasn’t there. However, from what I could see from the live webcast, and hearing from people that WERE there, USAW managed to screw up yet another high profile meet. Sigh. In fact, this was the largest meet in American history, and a great opportunity to cast USA weightlifting in a positive light. Yes, the large number of people would be a challenge. I’m reminded of the saying “with challenges come opportunity”. USAW missed the mark on this one.

All this is coming from the standpoint of a new lifter (me) who really would like to see USAW and weightlifting in America continue to grow. From what I have seen and heard so far, USAW is woefully behind the times, and has managed to make clusterf##ks out of nearly every opportunity it has had to shine and increase its visibility.

The webcast was spotty at best. Somehow, the feed managed to freeze pretty much every time a lifter was about to lift. Loaders changing plates and nothing else going on? OK sure, the feed worked fine then. Someone about to attempt a PR snatch? Frozen. Great. I suppose individual internet connections may have had something to do with that, but I’ve heard from many other people that were watching that they had similar issues.

More concerning was the lack of info, both from the perspective of someone trying to figure out which webcast to watch, and if you were actually trying to follow what was going on. The links to each webcast (there were three simultaneous ones going on, one for each platform) should have included some easy- to- find information about which group was currently lifting, who was up next, etc. If you dug and made inferences you could find this info out but for a casual viewer it was too obscure. The webcasts themselves ideally should have had a clear graphic for each lifter, displaying their name, attempt number, and weight of the attempt. In some rare cases that I saw, this occurred. In others, there was literally zero information.

The live display board at the event was a nightmare. For much of the event, it wasn’t displaying the lifter’s order, name, attempt number or weight properly. The lifters and coaches themselves were having a lot of trouble even knowing who was on deck, etc. Worse, the commentators often had no idea what was going on, being totally reliant on a non-functioning display board. This led to some comical situations, where they were guessing the lifters’ names, trying to figure out the weight on the bar by counting plates (and getting it wrong some of the time), saying guys were up for their 3rd attempt when it was their first, etc. I’m sure the people in the audience were just as if not more confused than the viewers at home. Either way that is not a good thing.

Lastly, one of the major things weightlifting in general needs to do to become more of a “spectator sport” is to have an easy way that laypeople can follow the action. Some sort of live scoreboard, where it is easy to see who’s up next, what the current leading weights are, predictions on where a lifter will be in the standings if they hit such and such weight, etc. Some of these elements are already in play at the larger international meets, but they could be improved upon. The display board captures some of these elements, but not all. This meet was USAW’s opportunity to put something like this into play, and they missed the boat.

All of my above complaints stem from the fact that the average person who watches a weightlifting comp has little to no idea what is going on. Getting the logistical information stuff out of the way, in an easy- to- follow format would make the sport easier to understand and less obscure. I don’t think it’s hard to imagine that a lot of people that tuned in did so because of a connection with CrossFit, or because they had a friend of a friend that was lifting. It is by reaching precisely these people that the sport will grow, from increased exposure and understanding. Conversely, by confusing them or making things hard to follow, we lose the opportunity to perhaps convert some to more than just casual, part time viewers of the sport. The technical glitches should have been ironed out beforehand and quite frankly just make the organization seem amateur. The “live leaderboard”, designed to make things more spectator-friendly, doesn’t seem that hard to put into play. Had these things been taken care of, the commentators would have been freed to make their brief announcements, but then delve further into the sport in a way that could actually spark further interest in the lay person. Some examples would be explaining some of the obscure rules, analyzing a particular lifter’s style, predicting where a certain weight would fall on the leaderboard, etc.

I’ll leave you with an anecdote I heard from my business partner Paul Estrada who lifted at the American Open. He was telling me how there was one judge there that was elderly, and lifted his white (good) or red (bad) flags for each lift a different way… every time. Some lifts he had to be woken up before he raised a flag… some lifts he raised the flag late. On some he would barely raise it. On others he’d raise BOTH flags- sometimes in one hand, sometimes in both hands! AUIF@#$(@$##.

 

redwhite

 

Which is it???

I understand USAW has financing and personnel issues; hopefully the continued growth of the sport will make stories like the above more and more rare.

Image credits-

teamusa.org

mazkiya.net

Fortius/Squatmore meet brief writeup and results, 11/16/13

I competed in this meet yesterday. It was a small meet, but as always it was fun to compete and to test myself in a competition setting.

lcGeneral observations-

The meet featured about 20 lifters total. There were only 4 women and about 16 men. As always, my coach Dave Miller, Jesse Malcomb and the CrossFit Fortius crew put on a nice, well-run event.

There were about 5 men in my weight class, but none of the rest of them were lifting near what I was planning on. I found myself in a pretty good competition with a few lifters from Fortius (Ron M, Wilmar D and Mike D). All of them were in heavier classes, but I’ve lifted against Ron and Mike before when they were 77’s. Since this was a small meet, everything was run as a single flight. I didn’t think I’d be able to outlift those guys but they’d at least be able to give me a good push.

The annoying thing was that a few hours before I badly stubbed my toe messing around with my oldest boy Luca during his peewee soccer practice. There was a root sticking out of the ground which I didn’t see and jammed my foot into. It hurt pretty bad, and I was worried it would affect my performance (which it didn’t, thankfully). It hurts like a sonofabitch today and I may actually have broken it.

IMG_1849

Might have broken this. Hurts pretty bad.

Alessandra’s first meet

My wife also lifted with good results. She is very unconfident with her snatch, and generally is very hard on herself. She entered the meet “just because” and I’m glad she did, and I think she is too. We picked an opener of 46 for her (PR was 51) to make sure she could get it, which she did easily. She jumped to 53 which would have been a new PR for her and missed. However, she was able to come back for her final attempt and nail the weight for a new PR.

Going into the clean and jerk, she went conservative since her shoulder has been bothering her. Her all time PR is 70, but truthfully she probably pressed out her jerk. She had never previously established a “true” PR. She opened with 63 and followed with 67, getting both no problem. Her final attempt was at 69 and she was redlighted for a pressout unfortunately. Overall she did very well and had fun which was the important thing. Video of some of her lifts below.

My lifts

Warming up for the snatch, I wasn’t moving well. I missed below my opener a couple of times and just generally felt tight. I like to hit my opener in the warmups for confidence reasons. I was planning on opening at 80, which is new for me but is a weight I routinely make now in training. I missed the first attempt at 80 badly. The second was barely a make. Needless to say, I took the actual platform a little unsure of how I was going to do. Luckily, I made 80 no problem. Went to 85 and got that too. I decided to go for 89 which represented a 1kg lifetime PR. Got that as well- shoulders were a little soft and shaky, but the lift was good!

ls

Once I started warming up for the C+J, same issues. I didn’t miss any weights, but things just felt off. I was planning on opening with 105, again a weight I routinely hit in training. Got up to 100 and it just felt HEAVY. Took it again, same thing. I actually decided not to even attempt 105 warming up and just save what I had for the platform. Once I got around to it it was one of the hardest 105’s I’ve ever done. I just caught the clean wrong, didn’t get much pull on the bar and ended up having to stand up from a dead stop. I moved to 110, but didn’t expect much. 110 was much better and felt easy. This got me a 199 total for another PR. So, I went for 114 which would have been another lifetime PR. I got pulled forward a bit in the clean and had to go get the weight, and luckily was able to stand it up. The jerk was a little squirrely and I was worried I pressed it out. However, the judges gave it to me, for the third and fourth PR’s of the day! 6 for 6, snatch, CJ and total PRs! Video of the final lifts below.

Afterwards, I talked with Coach Dave and Jesse about the final jerk. They explained that the wobbly arms were still legal. In a very strict competition setting, I probably would have gotten a redlight from the judge that could see my left arm, but the lift probably still would have been good. A more firm lockout on the jerk is definitely something I’ll be working on in the future- I’ve never really had to concentrate on my jerk since it’s always been way better than my clean, but now that my clean has finally moved up to near my jerk PR I’m going to have to make sure the jerk never limits me.

lc

Overall, I’m very happy with the results, esp given my toe and the fact that the warmups didn’t go well. Already looking forward to the next training cycle and next meet!

Training update 11/10/13 and the “knees in vs knees out” debate

First, a quick training update. Since adding back in a small amount of starch on training days, my lifts and overall “feeling” of strength have come back. I hit two PRs for the clean- 225lb for doubles, then 225lb for doubles lowering from the hang, to below the knee. The latter I’m particularly proud of b/c this is a very taxing movement for me and quite honestly I didn’t think I was capable of it.

I also just finished a mini-squat cycle where I ended with 6 x 5 reps @ 80% of 1RM. The squats felt strong and I didn’t have any issues. As far as weight gain, I went from 159 to 161lb and I’ve been holding steady there. So, it seems as if I won’t be a 69kg lifter any time soon, but my weight hasn’t jumped back up either.

I’m competing in a meet at CrossFit Fortius on 11/16, and the goal is 1) PR both the snatch and CnJ, and 2) go 6 for 6. The two are really linked b/c I won’t be going for a PR weight until my last lifts in the snatch and CnJ.

“Knees in vs knees out” debate

You may have been following a recent debate which has been lighting up the US weightlifting community- namely, should Olympic lifters actively be trying to force their knees out during a squat, and should coaches be using this as a cue? I don’t want to rehash all sides of the debate, but the three most enlightening pieces of info in my mind are at the following links. I suggest you read them for background-

Coach Takano’s blog- he goes into the debate in detail and presents both sides. It’s a little hard to follow but everything is there.

Lifthard.com- the author posted an opinion piece recently. Has a good demo video and biomechanical rationale for “no knees out” during an olympic squat.

Firstpull.net- another opinion piece, again with good biomechanical rationale and the brains to realize everyone is different.

So, where do I stand with all this, and why?

First, I think it’s important to explain the context of the current debate. Interest in Olympic Lifting has exploded because of CrossFit. That’s a good thing. As a result, there are also many new people coaching olympic weightlifting (not necessarily a good thing, or at least something that can be problematic). Basically, we’re seeing a lot of “CrossFit-trained” coaches teaching the olympic lifts and squats. Some of them are great. Some are… atrocious. So we have to keep that in mind.

Secondly, the primary squat taught by most CrossFit coaches is the low-bar back squat. This squat has its roots in powerlifting. One of the most vocal proponents of the LBBS is Mark Rippetoe, who was the Subject Matter Expert (SME) for CrossFit on the powerlifts for a long time. More recently, Louie Simmons and Westside Barbell (powerlifting) have become heavily involved with CrossFit. Although Rippetoe is no longer associated with CrossFit, his method and cues still heavily permeate the CrossFit ethos. A quick search of the CrossFit Journal reveals many articles and videos by Rippetoe, and in point of fact most CrossFitters still perform the LBBS as their primary, or indeed only form of squat. I personally first learned to squat via CrossFit, Coach Rippetoe and these teachings, and squat I used was the low bar squat.

ss

 

Diagram from Starting Strength (Rippetoe’s work) comparing different types of squats. the low bar variation is on the right.

So, with that as the context, I think we can understand why there’s even a debate in the first place. The LBBS, and the powerlifting squat in general, REQUIRES the knees to be actively shoved out. It’s taught this way, it’s cued this way, and the lift is stronger this way. There are many reasons why the LBBS is improved by shoving the knees out, not the least of which is it forces greater hip and posterior chain involvement which are the prime movers in a LBBS. In addition, the wide foot placement in a powerlifting squat will automatically facilitate the knees caving in, and forcing the knees out is a way to counterbalance this force- it may, in fact, be the only safe way to squat when one squats with a wide stance.

The problem, of course, is that the olympic squat is NOT a powerlifting squat. The Olympic squat and all its variations (eg front squat, overhead squat, etc) utilizes an upright torso and the quads and glutes are the prime movers, as opposed to the hamstrings. So we have situation where we have a bunch of new coaches who have been taught cues and movement patterns that DON’T APPLY to the Olympic lifts. Is it any wonder that there’s confusion and debate?

knees out

 

Knees out in a LBBS. Note the wide foot placement and, of course, the low bar location. This is NOT an olympic squat.

I’ll confess that in the first couple of years coaching CrossFit, I used the “knees out” cue, even when it probably didn’t apply (eg, recovering from an olympic style squat). I’ll put a plug in for myself here and say that the job of a coach is to forever learn and apply new knowledge, and that’s what I’m trying to do here. I have “seen the error of my ways”, so to speak, and I now believe that “knees out” is a mostly useless cue when it comes to the Olympic lifts. Certain exceptions obviously apply, such as when an athlete has horrible valgus knees (ie, “knock kneed”). This change has happened over the last couple of years. I also more recently have changed the way I squat to not actively force the knees out when I recover, and it certainly doesn’t feel weaker. I haven’t noticed a major difference (some people report instant 10-20kg PRs when they stop using “knees out”) but my squats are no worse. Others report resolution of knee pain- my knees still hurt, but again it’s no worse than before. It may be a little early to tell (I’ve been squatting this “new way” for only a few months) but right now I see nothing to make myself go back to using the “knees out” cue.

So, in summary, I think-

– “knees out” is probably the wrong cue to use for Olympic squats, and there’s nothing wrong with the knees coming in a bit

– my coaching and my own personal performance reflects this change in attitude

– the debate is largely a product of new coaches applying cues they don’t really understand, from a completely different type of movement

I’ll leave you with two things which I think are the most profound/convincing points.

1. Coach Takano made a statement that “no high level Olympic weightlifting coach teaches knees out”. Coach Takano is one of the elite level coaches in the US. He knows the other elite coaches. That’s a powerful statement.

2. ALMOST EVERY ELITE LIFTER can be seen recovering from a squat with the knees moving in. At a minimum, this doesn’t seem to be inhibiting their performance. If the elite are doing it (or at least not actively trying to fight it), it’s probably the right way to go.

lu knees

 

 

Lu Xiaojun, world record holder. Not really seeing a lot of “knees out” here.ilya knees

 

Ilya Ilin, world record holder. Pay particular attention to frames 7, 8 and 9. Again, not much “knees out” happening.

photo credits-

1. getthisstrength.com

2. crossfitoakland.com

3. bodybuilding.it

4. crossfitseven.com