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?

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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.

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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

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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!

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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

Training and weight loss update, 10/22/13

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When I last posted, I stated my goal was to get down to the 69kg weight class. That would have been a 6kg loss. I knew the first 3kg would be easy, and the last 3 would probably be a nightmare. Boy was I ever right!

I completely edited out all starch. Since I don’t eat sugar and very rarely eat fruit to begin with, that meant my carbs were essentially only coming from vegetables. I leaned out pretty fast. I’d say I lost 3kg in a little over a week, and was noticeably leaner to the naked eye.

Fast-forward 5 weeks total. I ate starch a grand total of ONE time (I had just arrived in Vegas, was starving, and had nothing else to eat but my mom’s dumplings, which are pretty much the best thing on the planet. No contest).  The needle on the scale WILL NOT MOVE. Stuck at 72kg, which is where I was pretty soon after starting this. If I could get down to 70 or even 71kg I’d feel better, because I could probably lose the necessary amount in water weight prior to a meet, and be able to make weight. In other words, I’d feel ok living as a 70 or 71. 72 kg is too heavy if I needed to get down to a 69 for a meet.

Training? the good news is I hit two snatch PRs, 190lb (1lb PR) and 193lb (3lb PR). The video of my 190 is below.

190lb snatch PR

Bad news- I think I hit those PR’s as a result of improved technique, NOT strength. My performance is otherwise suffering, directly tied to lack of carbohydrate. I am getting squashed by front squats and failing cleans that shouldn’t be giving me trouble. In other words, the heavy, more strength dependent aspects of my training are suffering. If you only looked at the snatch progress one might not realize it, but that lift is much more technique dependent/less dependent on raw strength than say, a front squat. Plus I hate life not being able to eat any starch and my weight loss has not continued.

Therefore, after a long talk with my coach, and a lot of independent research on eating starch, weightlifting, timing, etc, I’ve got a new plan in place. I’m going to eat small (eg, 1 cup of rice) amounts of starch on training days, AFTER I train. There’s so much conflicting evidence out there about how much and when starch should be consumed for a lifter. Bottom line anything can work depending on the person, and I think this way makes the most sense for me. I’ll try it out and see what happens. If any of you have heard of the phenomenon of carb-back loading, eating carbs in the evening makes a certain amount of sense.

So far, one day in the books after eating rice again, and I have to say my training the day after felt amazing. Strong and fast, and the barbell felt light. So it’s too early to tell right now, but I’m hopeful. Obviously part of this will be watching the scale. If the number doesn’t go up at all I’ll be ecstatic (anecdotal reports for a lot of people that this is the case), but if not hopefully it’ll only go a small amount.

To be continued…

Why we (The U.S.) “suck” at weightlifting

This entire post should be read realizing I am a US citizen who loves weightlifting, and supports US weightlifting unequivocally. Here’s some information for you. The following are a sample of US records-

Men’s 77kg class- Snatch- 158, C+J- 190

Men’s 105+ class- Snatch- 198, C+J- 238

Women’s 69kg class- Snatch- 101, C+J- 127

Women’s 75kg class- Snatch- 106, C+J- 128

Now, here are the world records for those same weight classes-

Men’s 77kg class- snatch- 175, C+J- 210 (17kg, 20 kg difference)

Men’s 105+ class- Snatch- 214, C+J- 263 (16kg, 25 kg difference)

Women’s 69kg class- Snatch- 128, C+J- 158 (27 kg, 31 kg difference)

Women’s 75kg class- Snatch- 135, C+J- 163 (29 kg, 35 kg difference)

In the world of weightlifting, those are huge differences. In tight competitions (which they always are at the elite level), often 1kg difference or even lighter body weight can mean the difference between first and second. The national records for the traditional weightlifting powerhouses such as China, Russia, Bulgaria are similarly far above the U.S. Bulgaria and Kazakhstan in particular are interesting counter-examples, b/c their populations are so much smaller than the US (313 million people in the US, 16.8 million in Kazakhstan, 7.3 million for Bulgaria). Kazakhstan currently owns 4 world records, Bulgaria 2 (MANY, MANY more if you go back to historical records before they changed weight classes). The number for the U.S…. ? Zero.

ilya

Ilya Ilin, double world record holder from Kazakhstan.

The question is, why is this? The U.S. certainly has a large population; we have just as many if not more resources that could be devoted to our athletes. Sports are an important part of our culture. We’re dominant in many other athletic endeavors- what gives with weightlifting?

Here’s what I think are the top reasons for the US being so far behind much of the world when it comes to weightlifting.

# 1- there is no weightlifting “culture” in the U.S.

This is far and away the biggest reason. In many other countries, weightlifters are seen as top athletes. Children grow up idolizing lifters (along with other athletes). In the US, weightlifting is still an obscure sport. I can’t speak for other countries (having no experience with them), but it’s not hard to imagine fathers and mothers talking to sons and daughters in other countries about how great such and such weightlifter is. Parents who were into weightlifting before will pass that love on to their children. In this country, we talk about football, baseball, basketball. Fathers who saw Michael Jordan play will transmit that love of basketball on to their sons and daughters. We don’t know, or care, about weightlifting. Those of us who are really into it in this country are the exception- the majority of the population has NO CLUE, nor do they care about what a snatch or clean and jerk is. USAW currently estimates it has 7000 members. The numbers aren’t clear for China but I’ve read reports of 1 MILLION registered lifters. That is a more than 100x difference.

#OLY-CHINA-WEIGHT LIFTING-LIU CHUNHONG-HOMETOWN-CELEBRATION (CN)

Chinese fans celebrating a successful weightlifter. I don’t know if we’ll ever see something to this degree in the US.

All the other reasons below stem from this first reason. If the majority of the population doesn’t know or doesn’t care about weightlifting, how are we supposed to develop the sport and funnel our best athletes towards it?

# 2- there is no money in US weightlifting

We are either the richest or one of the richest nations in the world (depending on the metric used). We spend billions as a population annually watching, playing and supporting athletic endeavors. Yet, the majority of this money goes to the “Big Three” (Baseball, basketball, football). From what I hear, financial support for our Olympians is dismal- it’s not uncommon for Olympic athletes to have to hold fundraisers simply to afford airfare to travel to events! The  stipend for our Olympic athletes (the best of the best, remember) is nonexistent. The US Olympic Committee pays 25K for a gold medal, 15K for silver, and 10K for bronze. Any real money an Olympian can get is going to come in the form of endorsements or contracts with private companies (eg, shoe ads), and those are rare as hen’s teeth, and usually reserved for athletes who have already achieved success. The majority of Olympic athletes have a regular “day job” which they need to make ends meet, all while trying to become an elite athlete. Of all the “other sports” which receive little to no financial compensation, weightlifting ranks near the bottom.

phelps

If you achieve the once in a generation success someone like Michael Phelps has, there’s a lot of money in other sports. 

In other countries, being an Olympic athlete IS considered a job. Elite athletes are paid to train by the government, and rewarded handsomely for success (I read over 1 million US$ in China for Olympic gold, etc). There is a real financial incentive to excel in “other sports”, including weightlifting.

So, basically we have a situation where a young, aspiring athlete has to make a choice- excel and concentrate on one of our traditional sports, such as basketball, where there’s a possibility of financial success, OR play another sport that they may love, but there is NO pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. In addition, lack of money hurts every aspect of the sport of weightlifting- from number of training facilities and qualified coaches, to equipment, ease of access, travel expenses, etc. Money drives the success or failure of EVERY sport, and lack of money really hurts US weightlifting.

# 3- lack of infrastructure/specialization

This reason stems from the previous two. Success in weightlifting in China or Russia is considered a national priority. There is government funding for training academies, coaching, talent scouts, etc. The entire system is organized to find, identify, nurture and develop talent. We have no similar structure in the US, and certainly no funding (as previously discussed). This means that our athletes who DO pick up weightlifting at an early age face an uphill battle from minute one. Small differences from the get go can have a huge impact on the end result (“snowball effect”). As an example, take a hypothetical child, age 6, who starts squatting in China. By the time he’s 8, he may have a 50kg back squat (thanks to organized coaching, daily training, etc). Now, take the same child but put him in the US. IF he even squats, it probably won’t be with the same degree of coaching or support that he would receive in China. The squat likely won’t be 50kg by age 8. Now, extend that out to age 18- the Chinese boy is now a man, and his squat has gone from 50 –> 70 –> 120 –> 200 –> 280 kg. The same child in the US, due to an initial “stunting”, may be squatting 30 –> 60 –> 90 –> 150 –> 200 kg. Or, looked at from another angle, due to an initial “headstart” (and better support along the way), the Chinese kid is just lightyears beyond the US kid at age 18. Small initial differences can and do compound into huge end differences. We see it all the time in academics and other sports- why not weightlifting?

Video- Tian Tao, 17 yr old 77 kg Chinese lifter, squatting 280 kg (610lb) TWICE.

Video- Khetag Khugaev, 14 yr old 69kg Russian lifter, clean 174kg from the blocks!

In terms of specialization, athletes in other countries are encouraged, or even forced, to specialize at an early age. Whether or not this is a good thing for the person, a result of “Communist ideals” or not, etc is beyond the scope of this post. However, the fact remains in the US we have a remarkably laissez-faire attitude towards a child’s athletic development. Think of how many sports a typical American child engages in, and the freedom they’re given to pick and choose what they want to do, how often, etc. It is not uncommon for an American child to play multiple sports, several times a week. While this may be great for developing overall athleticism (and honestly is probably a healthier outlook on life in general), it doesn’t help the child become truly excellent at ONE THING.

different

This is not unusual for an American child.

Early specialization encourages the opposite. The child is expected to become great at that ONE THING. All other considerations, including personal happiness, are secondary. Success is what matters, and to succeed at such a technically-demanding sport as weightlifting almost requires early specialization. I can tell you as a Chinese person that attitude is stereotypically Chinese. The Chinese mentality towards children and success is- do your best, do as you’re told, and happiness isn’t really even considered. Rote practice and endless drills are practically a Chinese way of life. The end result may not be a well-rounded person, able to talk Shakespeare and hit a baseball just as well as they can do math, but they’ll sure be a damn good weightlifter.

OLY-2012-CHINA-WEIGHTLIFTING

kid2

Chinese kids, just specializing early and getting really damn good at weightlifting.

I encourage all of you to visit the Pendlay Forum, and look for the thread “my China experience”. In it, a US weightlifter visits and trains with Chinese lifters for an extended period of time, and he details many things he’s learned, including training methodology, diet, etc. One thing he wrote sticks out in my mind- namely, that the children who start weightlifting in China are given a bamboo stick ONLY for the first two years. Rep after rep, squat after squat with the bamboo stick. Only after correct form (and tenacity) is demonstrated with the stick are they allowed to progress to… THE EMPTY BAR. Same thing, same progression with the empty bar. Day after day. Rep after rep. Finally, at some distant point, they start loading weight on the bar. So, not only are they forcing and ingraining proper mechanics from the start, but they WILL NOT let the child screw themselves up too early by using weights they’re not ready for.

Can you imagine an American kid in this system? They’d quit after a few weeks. Hell, if you told them they wouldn’t be touching anything other than the bamboo stick for the first two years, the PARENTS would pull them out. It may be boring and awful for the kids but it produces results. I can’t imagine any sort of system even vaguely like this succeeding in the US.

Unfortunately, all of these reasons are difficult to overcome, and the solutions are long-term at best and intertwined. It’s unreasonable to expect US culture to embrace weightlifting overnight (CrossFit is helping with that); that will be a slow process over generations, and quite honestly probably requires a standout athlete that brings success to the US before people start paying attention (think the “Miracle on Ice” before hockey really took off in this country). Without interest, there’s no money, and elite athletes will go elsewhere. Without money, there won’t be changes and improvements in infrastructure. I’m hopeful, but being realistic us weightlifters will probably be an afterthought for quite some time.

Other thoughts- women

I want you to go back to the numbers at the beginning of the post, and notice that there’s a larger disparity between the women’s records than the men. I have a theory why this is as well. I don’t think the following statements are disputable-

- female athletics are much more accepted in the US than in most other countries (Title IX, etc)

- although less supported than male athletics, female athletes in the US are celebrated much more so than females in other countries

- although inequalities still exist, females are considered much more “equal” to males in the US than many other countries

Nothing profound there. And, US women have had ongoing success, even dominance in many world sports (eg, basketball, swimming, gymnastics). So, why is there an EVEN WIDER gulf between the international and US women when it comes to weightlifting, compared to the men?

julia

Julia Rohde, just one more stereotypically disgusting female weightlifter.

My theory is that females training with weights has had a stigma associated with it in the US that you don’t see in many other countries. Female athletes in other countries may face many more uphill battles, but IF they lift weights or “get strong”, they don’t face the same social stigmas that an American woman might. Consequently, a sport like weightlifting is REALLY going to face lack of support and interest in the US. I know many women that are helping to buck this trend (thank god), but it’s certainly an additional battle. I’ve lost count of the number of Facebook posts I’ve seen on my female lifter friends’ walls, from their “friends” that criticize/subtly attempt to undermine their lifting.

If you want to see something obscene, check out this page which has a list of all the world records in weightlifting. Pay particular attention to the women, including older historical records and look how many are from China. Simply unbelievable.

Photo credits-

1. pendlayforum.wordpress.com

2. news.xinhuanet.com

3. goolfm.net

4. Shutterstock.com

5. strengthperformance.com

6. photoblog.nbcnews.com

Training update 10/2/13 and two videos

Training is going well. 9/29 I was scheduled for heavy doubles in the squat-

110 kg x 3, 115 x 3, 125 x 2, 130 x 2, 135 x 2.

I’ve done 139 x 2 before, and at this point 135 is basically routine. I hit 130 x 2 easily and decided to alter the plan a bit. Hit 135 x 1, 141 x 1, then got 148 for a new PR. Went for 153 twice but got crushed.

9/30 I was set to snatch the same progression as on 9/29- heavy sets at 80, 83 and 83. On 9/29 all of those weights gave me trouble and I missed them several times each. On this day, one day later and after PR’ing the squat, I somehow hit 80 and 83 easily. Weird, but when things feel good sometimes you just have to deviate a bit. I loaded up the bar with 87 for a new PR. Miss. Went for it again. Miss. Went for it again- make! Video is here.

After that, I went for 89. It was close, but no dice. Decided to call it before I deviated “too much”. Video and analysis of that miss here.

All in all, pretty happy with how things are going.