At worlds you get the opportunity to watch weightlifters from all over the world compete. During the event you also get to see the plethora of ideas that are apart of weightlifting. Each federation has different ways of training, teaching and recovering, based on those who have came before and those who are teaching now. From the technically precise Chinese to the brash and powerful Bulgarians, you see many different forms of lifting and styles.
As you can imagine there’s a lot that can be learned from watching the best in the world do what they do and by asking why they do it.
#1: A case study in why, when and how coaches address physiological issues that affect our ability to lift
Without getting into too many details I want to point you to the case of C.J Cummings.
If you’re not aware C.J is the future of USA Weightlifting. At only 16 years old and with a bodyweight of 69kg, CJ holds the youth world record in the clean and jerk at a massive 185kg.
Believe it or not, C.J and his coaching staff have been forced back to the whiteboard because C.J’s snatch isn’t competitive with the best in the world. This is due to instability at higher loads. His clean and Jerk can suffer from this same instability at times as well.
His coaches went about this by changing from the split jerk (what he set the youth world record with) to a power/squat jerk. Now some of you might be shaking your head right now and may be asking the question “How would changing someone's Jerk improve their snatch?"
Overhead stability simply put varies from person to person and is most easily developed with time under tension. While some people have the ability to be very stable with a narrow grip others may prefer something wider (see the Colombian Weightlifting team) and while I may prefer the split jerk you may be better suited with a power or squat jerk. C.J’s coaching staff bet that the increased time in a wider grip during all overhead movements would transfer over to increased stability during his snatch.
With that being said, C.J’s coaching staff did not introduce anything unique or different compared to what other coaches have done with similar athletes in the past. What they did do that is different is take a risk. The risk was that they took one of the most promising and talented lifters of the last 20 years who was breaking records left and right and completely changed what he was doing.
Their risk paid off as CJ broke the Youth, Junior and Senior American snatch record with a snatch of 141kg at worlds.
The preferences we discussed earlier tend to be rooted in our physiology, some of us just need more time overhead to improve and perhaps a more consistent approach to the overhead catch would benefit you. For most of us we don’t consider how small changes can cause huge results. I’d encourage every one of you to consider your hand placement the next time you grip the bar and ask yourself when was the last time you thought about where my hand are when lifting. A grip that’s too narrow can lead to instability in the catch and a grip that's too wide will cause your elbows to break.
If you frequently suffer from any of these issues I’d encourage you to consulate a coach and try something different as you may just find out you’ve been fighting your own physiology all along.
#2: Believe it or not you can weightlift into your 70’s and compete into your 40’s
Our first day training I spotted this gentlemen in a singlet warming up in a corner. Doing some half squats and twirling a dowel around, but he didn’t look quite like the rest of us. His hair was white with a wise look, his skin sun spotted from farming in Kansas sun, and his shins scabby from 10,000 plus clean and snatch pulls.
I went up and introduced myself “Hey, I’m Scott”, and with a midwest twang he replied “Well hello Scott, I’m Bill”.
For the next nine days I talked to Bill at almost every training session, a few things I learned are that bill has competed since he was 15 and he's been a fan since he was 12. He taught himself in his barn before he went to Harvard, where he learned from a coach. Bill always warmed up and would often steal his warm ups from the Soviet team. He believes that his longevity has came from the unwillingness to stop and the desire to always improve. Bill knew he was never going to be the best but he knew he could be better than he was. When he got hurt he backed right off and just did core, arm and back work.
I think Bill was a good example for all of us on how slow and steady gains over a long period of time can eventually leading to mastery. If you were wondering how old Bill is he just turned 71.
Later in that weekend I was hugely impressed by one of the competitors by the name of Oliba Nieve Arroyo.
At 40 years young Oliba took 4th in the 90kg womens class. She was a technician, and the only women in her class to go 6/6. Every lift she made was flawless and looked well designed, she clearly had a plan and didn’t let the other competitors change her game plan. This is something we all can learn from.
#3: The best weightlifters don’t necessarily have the best form at maximal weight
Who would have thunk it? Great weightlifters don’t need perfect form all the time, the Iranian team does not match the Chinese in technicality. Yet they’ve stolen quite a few medals from the Chinese in recent years.
The Iranian system emphasizes power, speed and simplicity by doing low volume and high intensity training at higher percentages specifically in the olympic lifts. Rarely will you see Iranian lifters practicing gymnastics or working on body position but you will see some of the quickest and most resilient lifting in the game. The Iranians often don’t even finish their third pull, as they trust in their speed and ability to dive bomb into the bottom of the clean. You’ll often see knees flare out, hips tilt, upper backs rounding and over exaggerated dips from the Iranian team, but that’s kind of part of the plan. When you plan and train for both the best and worst case scenario it sometimes pays off. Like all the rest of us, the elite have bad days so they train for it.
This was evident when Rostami stole his olympic gold from Tian Tao in Rio. He grimaced at the bottom of his clean and his hips tilted to the left, but he showed fight. Fight that he had learned through years of training and he persevered to stand it up. A few moments later, like a bullet out of a gun, his legs split apart to tie the olympic record with a 217kg jerk and edge his opponent by 1kg. He managed to do this all with a smile on his face. Rostami showed this same fight at worlds. Despite having an injured left knee he showed up and put his full effort forward. This time to no avail, as he bombed out of the Clean and Jerk after talking gold in the snatch with a lift of 184kg.
This system is in contrast to the technical, efficient and balance that the Chinese look for in their programming. They look to stop any imbalances by targeting areas of weakness through extra curricular activities like gymnastics, general purpose bodybuilding and structured mobility sessions. This makes up approximately 30% of a Chinese lifters training, with the other 70% going to the primary lifts. This does not include the countless hours spent on recovery each week.
Of course this isn’t something we can use as a crutch. The Iranians are very good weightlifters, they just accept the fact that at times things will not be perfect and that we shouldn’t only plan for perfection.
So member of Madlab, I offer you this question, when was the last time you thought about your speed while dropping under the bar, or fought to stand up out of a bad catch in the clean? These are some of the fundamental things taught to weightlifters and although not as evident to most of us as our bar path or pull they will define your ability to lift and improve. So, next time you don’t ride that bounce out of your clean perhaps think of Rostami and his fight. Stand up, Jerk and Smile.
#4: Picking the right weight at the right time is crucial to our success
For those of you who have never had the privilege of attending or watching a weightlifting meet I’ll explain the basic format.
Weightlifters have three opportunities to snatch followed by an intermission and then three opportunities to clean and jerk. Once a opening weight is picked by a lifter the weight can never go down and must increase by a minimum of 1 kilo for subsequent attempts. If a lifter fails a lift and no one else is to lift at that weight they have two minutes to rest before their next attempt. If following another lifter, they have 1 minute to make an attempt or opt for a higher weight and more rest time. This often causes what is referred to as jockeying, an attempt to allow a lifter more time to rest with the added risk of missing because of the increase in weight. It is also done with the attempt to grasp victory or the podium from other lifters.
The combination of all these factors makes picking the correct weight SO important. Open too heavy and you'll bomb out (miss your three attempts). Open too light and you may get stuck waiting a long time for your next lift which could resulting in you having to warm up again increasing your risk of missing.
Even if we never compete in weightlifting we do weight-lift and as such we occasionally max out. Here's a guide I’ve used since my first competition for maxing out (when the time is available).
- 10 Reps with the Bar ( Done with Intention)
- 5 Reps at 50%
- 4 Reps at 60%
- 3 Reps at 65%
- 2 Reps at 70%
- 2 Reps at 75%
- 1 Rep at 80 %
- 1 Rep at 83%
- 1 Rep at 86%
Consider these your three attempts with the goal of hitting a PR
- Attempt 1 @ 87-93 %
- Attempt 2 @ 95-100%
- Attempt 3 PR
Next time you max out. Give it a try!
#5: Ignore the distractions and train with respect
We’re social beings at MadLab. We joke around, laugh and talk about our days a lot while training (Some more then others).
It’s a unique experience versus other gyms and it’s one of the reasons why we keep coming back, but it can be distracting at times.
While talking with some of the weightlifters at worlds I asked them about what the atmosphere is like in the training halls and the answer I got back was close to the description of a university lecture hall. Most train with no music, very little discussion with the exception of with coaches during their sessions. One former gold medal winner went as far as to tell me “I train like there is no one in world but me. I train this way because perfection takes concentration and respect”.
That last line about respect really stuck with me. When I started weightlifting I was introduced to a few rules that I’ll leave you all with. Most of them we know, but as time goes on we sometimes forget.
- Never walk in front of a person lifting (Behind is even worse)
- Bars only touch your hands and back. Never feet
- You only stand on a platform if you intend to lift.
- When a coach takes time to give you advice, you listen
- Respect others environment to learn.
Thanks for reading and If you have any questions feel free to stop me in the gym.