Happy New Year, gentle readers. Every year, I try to mark the changing of the calendar (by the way, got your Strength Visions calendar yet?) with a retrospective post, to force myself to digest the lessons and experiences of the training year and to set the tone for the coming year. This one's been rattling around in my brain for a while. While I hesitate to give up my secrets, I do so because I hope someone, somewhere gets something good out of it and can save themselves some time and trouble on the lifelong journey of weightlifting.Top 10 things I wish I'd learned about weightlifting years ago
Thanks for reading. Stay strong and have smart, intense fun in 2012!
10. The first pull is a deadlift. That's all it is, pure and simple. Breaking it down into the shin line, the bar path, the direction of the pull have screwed me up for years and slowed my progress. It is only when I shut off my brain and "just deadlift" that I do this correctly.
9. No reason to bleed. What a revelation it was to me to learn that it was a bad thing to drag the bar against my shins, both on the first pull in weightlifting and in deadlifting. My coach explained only recently that all that does is create friction, which can only slow the lift. While I'd been shooting for the bar path along my midline because I thought there the force would travel best, I could've achieved that countless reps ago without the slowing or the bruised and bloody shins. Honestly, for a while there, I was afraid if someone saw my shins, they'd call Child Services. I'm going to keep the funky tall socks, though.
8. Multiple reps make for better strength gains than singles. Left to our own devices, most of us strength geeks would probably go for heavy, lazy singles rather than sets of two to five. There's a reason for that - repetition with heavy stuff is hard work. But if you're dialing in your technique, multiple reps can open that neuromuscular path to set in patterns, plus the strength gained overlaps between power and endurance forms of strength. Do lifts wrong and multiple reps can be disastrous, but if done right, the gains are right there to be had. And there are always heavy singles on the horizon.
7. Activate the core first. There are a myriad of interpretations on what this means, and up until very recently, I'd have been the first one to give you a "duh" if you asked if I used my core in weightlifting. But I've been learning a highly specialized spin on this in physical therapy that is different from anything I've ever learned, and the gains are exciting. Hint: it starts with bodyparts you don't normally associate with lifting, or really anything you'd do in public.
6. It is not normal to pee your pants a lot during work outs (see #7). (Points for candor here, people?)
5. Squeeze the bar. This sets the arms and back. Don't stop squeezing until it's time to release the grip. This is one of those cues that has been around for a very long time, but makes the list because it took me a long time to get it.
4. Set your grip the Tommy Kono way, and squeezing the bar is halfway done.
3. Invest in real weightlifting equipment. I started out in my livingroom with a preacher bar and metal weights, trying to learn the Olympic lifts by staring at an animation on the computer screen. Five years later, when I was considering investing in a real weightlifting bar, Tom Hirtz told me, "This is your sport. Don't ruin the experience with a shit bar." This extends to bumper plates in kilos, nice collars, shoes, good bra, and a platform. While humble beginnings make for good anecdotes, this really is a pretty minimalistic sport, so don't whine or scrimp out of the essentials. It makes all the difference.
2. Get professional help. Lots of it. Like Lucia Rijker said in Shadowboxers, her success was not due to her own self; it took a team to get her there. I've spent years carefully assembling my team. Be leery of blindly following gurus; as Buddha said: Believe nothing, not matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense. Many are the "authorities" who audition for me without ever knowing it and do not make the cut. But at this point in my life, one of the most valuable things I've done for myself is culling my roster of true experts, in chiropractory, physical therapy, functional strength, sports massage, and of course, weightlifting. If you've made the list you know it, because dogs are not as loyal as I am when I commit.
1. Shrugging is wrong. I can be thickheaded, and the hardest part to cracking the code has been the second pull. That is in no small part due to every Tom, Dick, and Harry weightlifting authority mindlessly chanting the mantra "shrug." While that may work for a lot of people, and it probably does or it wouldn't be around this pervasively, it has robbed me of years of progress that I can never get back. Shrugging, from the common gesture to the formal bodybuilding-type exercise, means activating the very upper traps - and that's all. Do it now. Ask yourself, does the Mighty Kat make any sense? Then feel your shoulders go up and down. Pretty small movement, isn't it? Nothing below the shoulders has to get out of bed. In fact, you can do this while lying in bed. Now the second pull, on the other hand, is a massive effort which recruits all of the larger back and shoulder muscles, as well as interstitials and other fun stuff on the front and sides . . . basically, everything that's involved in lengthening your torso. It's not just your shoulders that rise, it's everything attached to your legs. Forget about your shoulders! This has been such an epiphany for me that lately, I feel like running down the street and screaming "F*** you" at everyone who has ever told me to shrug. Not a real Zen attitude, but give me time. I'm young.
Beyond all of these near-incredible feats and firsts, though, is the transcendence that this man symbolized and still symbolizes, whether you know anything about weightlifting or not: Alexeev proves that excellent physical conditioning and strength does not always look like Adonis. He had a big belly. His physique is unique and distinct: there is only one weightlifter who looks like Alexeev, and that is Alexeev. He wasn't pretty. Most muscle magazines you see in grocery stores wouldn't find him fit for their covers today. He doesn't fit the mold.
If you know what you're looking for, you can see the traits of hardwon strength - the developed back and shoulders, the sturdy frame, the compact mass evenly developed throughout the body. But most people in the general public won't see it. They'll see his belly and stop there.
When I managed a training staff at one of the chain gyms, I was fortunate enough to work with a strength athlete who was similar to this build. Meek in nature, good in heart and overweight by the popular measure, this trainer was thoroughly knowledgeable in strength training from discus to powerlifting. He taught me a lot. He introduced me to lifting with chains. He tried to get me to squat below parallel but I was too ignorant and stubborn at the time to listen.
One day a well-to-do woman probably in her 50s took me aside near my office. She had a message for me, as head of the trainers. She told me, in no uncertain terms, that when she sees someone who looks like him, overweight, she wasn't inclined to train with him, and that he ought to look around and take care of himself first if he wanted to train other people.
It struck me like a knife. I was shocked. In my particular naivete, it had never occurred to me that anyone could see him as anything less than he was. He was one of the strongest men she would ever have the privilege to meet, probably one of the most knowledgeable in ways that many of our prettier trainers would never be, a true athlete who had developed himself in mind and body over many years of disciplined dedication. He just had a layer of love over his powerful frame. Was he unhealthy? He could have been healthier if he'd dropped some pounds, sure, but compared to someone like her? He was, or at least had been in his life, healthier than she could ever dream of being.
I was so thrown off that I didn't shoot her down right then and there. I simply expressed acknowledgment of what she was saying, in my polite, professional way. I've regretted that with a kick countless times over the years.
When I see Alexeev, he makes me think of that trainer. And I can't think about him without that heartwrenching moment coming back to haunt me. So while he inspires pride and joy for all the usual reasons a champion does, he also bolsters my pride and certainty as proof of the fact that strength does not always come in the packages you expect.
Many more details, including his prolific career record, are on Wikipedia.
Here are some of the best I have to offer from the past year of travel, lifting, shooting, and dreaming on this labor of love. Thanks for your support.
Strength Visions 2012
If you love strength training, this beautiful 13-month wall calendar is for you. Each month features a powerful image of equipment or a setting from powerlifting, Olympic-style weightlifting, Crossfit, and the humble but hardcore garage gym. No people, just evocative images from training and competition to project yourself into for motivation and escape the other 22 hours of the day. Grids provide plenty of space to record appointments, birthdays or training notes, while the images will inspire you every day of the year.
I attended a weightlifting clinic with Jim Schmitz and Butch Curry last weekend at Bodytribe Fitness in Sacramento. I am huge fans of both of these guys, in weightlifting and beyond.
Soapbox moment – Where were you?
We handful of attendees were fortunate to have so much personal attention from these masters, but I can't get over the idea that there weren't more people taking advantage of this amazing opportunity. I don't care how many self-appointed experts there are in weightlifting today; the fact is there are damn few legitimate experts, and here are two old timers with riches upon riches to offer to all of us youngins, from the 20-something Crossfit lemmings to the 50-something latebloomer. There are only so many masters from the height of the USA team's pinnacle era, and they won't be around to pass down their knowledge and wisdom forever. The place should've been packed.
OK... The clinic. Jim led it and Butch supported it. Jim is known for working with individuals on their unique levels - in ability, goals and limitations. He is especially known for getting the most out of adults who are living busy lives. He worked us in combination exercises, introduced us to old lifts such as the split snatch and split clean, showed us historical archive material, talked war stories, and entertained us with this corny weightlifting stand-up. By the way, he may be the only person who does weightlifting stand-up in the world... How can you possibly allow yourself to miss that?
Butch is the class clown, but it's deceptive - he's a savvy one. I take things learning weightlifting seriously - maybe a little too seriously. But Butch kept my head above my whirlpool. In the process, he gave me a few philosophical nuggets to help adjust my perspective. LIFT STUPID is a big one. "You can't think about everything you have to do. There's too much to think about," he said. "I tell people to lift stupid. Don't think about it, just do it."
They are a great team on many levels. I'll treasure the experience. I know my lifting will improve from some of things they introduced. I came out invigorated and hopeful, eager to apply what I'd learned. What's a better response than that?
Kris is the genius behind Virtual Meet. My 2012 calendar just might help you maximize your genius potential, too.
The calendar in action! Actual Finns - software developers doing really big things - write important info on it, demonstrating how my calendars can help you think, create, get organized and be productive.
Wouldn't my 2012 calendar liven up your workspace? It's coming... in November...
Sugar Ray Leonard pimps book on Colbert Report
Labels: fitness: boxing
Visited with Nick Horton at his gym PDX Weightlifting in Portland, Oregon. It's a no-frills Olympic-style weightlifting gym that is also equipped to accommodate CrossFitters looking to sharpen their technique.
There are two custom made platforms, plus a simple plywood sheet serving as a third, which is at the single squat rack in the place. The bumpers are a menagerie, including Rogue Fitness and rubber-coated Weiders. There are plyo boxes, ropes and medicine balls (leather or vinyl), and the only known "hip thrust block" made by their resident carpenter.
Nick requires all of his weightlifters to compete, and they make an impressive show of solidarity in Oregon LWC. They train aggressively; they'd have to to keep up with Nick's energy.
Nick - Nicholas Horton - is an impressive and unique guy. He's gregarious and super friendly to everyone he meets. He competes as well as coaches, keeping the split snatch form alive. Outside of the gym, he manages to keep alter identities running; he's a prolific musician (for years, he wrote a song daily and produces a high volume of his songs - all independently), perpetual student of high-level mathematics, and a prolific and skilled writer.
Nick's blog the Iron Samurai: Zen and the Art of Weightlifting, titled for his moniker, is one of the most productive and enjoyable weightlifting blogs around, collecting highlights from the web monthly and packaging them with essays, video Q&A, and updates on his team's training and competing. He produces an email newsletter which is chock full of this good stuff.
Nick strives to balance and develop all of his yin and yang aspects. He cultivates his creativity and channels it into solid contributions to the world in projects he mostly gives away.
If you're in Portland, definitely stop by to train or just to meet Nick. If you're on the internet, then get acquainted by clicking on the links I've provided. Either way, if you're into weightlifting, you gotta find out about this Nick guy...
If that hip thrust block got you curious, here's what that's about.
Higher Brain Functioning in World Class Athletes
This is an excellent article because it gives specific, hard information on especially abstract concepts. If you want to excel, do not miss reading this and spending chunks of time digesting it for a long time to come.
Along the same lines, here's a book I worked through (took months to follow all of the mental exercises as instructed) and highly recommend.
Labels: fitness: editorials
Was able to get in a snatch work out in Bend thanks to Oregon Crossfit. Co-owner Sean didn't even charge me a day fee, just had me fill out the liability form. It's a great-looking gym. The weather was September, Indian Summer gorgeous, so having the garage doors open to this warehouse gym was terrific.
It was loaded with all the Crossfit stuff I suppose a Crossfitter could want - rows of rings, stacks of bumper plates, loads of kettlebells, a big digital stopclock on the wall sounding out Sean's drill times as he trained.
The floor is wall-to-wall rubber, and for me, anyway, there's a noticeable difference between this and wooden platforms. It's okay, but when you always train on platforms, you work with the edge that slip gives you. And when you drop a rubber plate on rubber flooring, man, does it bounce.
I loved how the natural noonday light cut across my face and hit the floor in big angular patches. The chalk was kept in little socks in the standing stainless steel bowl. The bathrooms were small and simple. The logo and T-shirts were cool. There was a couch and even a grill, which Sean said was his; he'd brought it in for a cook out earlier in the week.
It was a very nice stop to make, and it's great to know there's a place to keep weightlifting on schedule in Central Oregon.
As I was finishing up, Sean started the pitch - "Have you ever tried Crossfit?" I smiled and said, "No. I have great respect for it, but I love what I do."
Trained at Bend Park & Rec District's impressive Juniper Swim & Fitness Center. The fitness part of it was remodelled about three years ago, I was told. Everything seems shiny new. I had no competition for the squat rack at 1 p.m. on a Monday, unsurprisingly, while the treadmills were busy. It was a nice one, with retracting ends to the safety pins/bars, and black marker marking the level where the pins generally were used attested that the rack isn't gathering dust. The plates were rubber-coated with large holes for easy handling, the stuff of money in a fitness center.
All the general commercial gym essentials, nothing special to note. I wasn't sure where to deadlift and opted just to do it in front of the rack. Snatch grips with straps, since I sprained a finger in a meet the Saturday before. Got the feeling no one there had seen that kind of thing there before.
The facility is first and foremost about pools. If you're into water, don't miss it.
A decent use of $5.50 while on the road.
I am a walking PR.
My strength is epic.
Gravity and fatigue
are brittle wood
smashed by my rising momentum.
The more weight I lift, the easier it comes.
You don’t know what I’m capable of.
I am a breakthrough.
The mountain runs through my spine.
Ocean swells in my breast.
Part the seas.
The grass is on fire.
Everything has its season.
If you are only a voice now,
It is my time at the bar.
This is my bar.
This is my moment.
No one else has my body.
No one else has my muscles
and my strength.
These are mine alone.
These are me.
I am force.
I have arrived
and the strength of ages
thrums in my veins.
Just getting around to posting this last bit of Tommy Kono lecture - He talks about proper body angles on pulling through the snatch, knowing your goals, and his recommendation to always work from the floor. I recorded this at Bodytribe Fitness during the weekend of the Tommy Kono Open VI in Sacramento, California.
Champion powerlifters Christine and Roger Neff medalled in the 2011 USPA NW Summer Powerlifting Open at Elite Performance Center in Portland, Oregon.
Related post - Champion deadlifter Christine Neff
I was extremely fortunate to receive personal instruction from Tommy Kono during his annual visit to Bodytribe Fitness in Sacramento during the weekend of the Tommy Kono Open VI. Here is the first installment from our time together. This addresses the snatch squat - bouncing out of the hole and proper foot width.
Tommy Kono Pt 1: Snatch Squat
Until one is committed
There is hesitancy, the chance to draw back
Concerning all acts of initiative (and Creation)
There is one elementary truth
The ignorance which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:
That the moment that one definitely commits oneself
Then Providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help one
That would never otherwise have occurred.
A whole stream of events issues from the decision
Raising in one’s favor all manner
Of unforeseen incidents and meetings
And material substance
Which no one could have dreamt
Would have come your way.
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
Labels: art: poetry