The first microcycle in my return to serious training is done! It’s been four weeks of regular, planned lifting, and I feel….

Sore. Really sore. But, the good kind. The kind of sore that says you’re doing the right things. What I want to reflect on today is the experience that none of us lifters can avoid. That is, dealing with the frustrations that come with the quest we all share: putting kilos on the bar. I have no grand thesis or concise point to make for you today. I simply want to reflect on the experience, sharing with you the little bits here and there that I’ve found to be the most interesting aspects of getting back into the game.

I’ve said it before. I used to be strong. I won’t go so far as to say I was good. Just strong. Not international competitor strong, but strong enough that people would occasionally stop what they’re doing to watch me move something heavy. It’s a nice feeling. Weightlifting, although a strength sport, is also technique dependent. Many of you who train with us have probably heard me liken it to gymnastics with a barbell. You can’t be good at this and be lacking in either strength or technical astuteness.

Whatever skill I had, I’ve most certainly forgotten. Right now, my training is predominantly comprised of technique drills coupled with just enough work to bring my strength levels back to where they were. I’ll be honest, the only reason I’m even pushing my strength right now is because I need something to make me feel good about myself at the end of the day. I’m sure as hell not pushing PRs in the competition lifts or their variants. No, my training is modelled around what a beginner-intermediate would be doing for technique, but what an advanced strength athlete would be doing to get stronger. It’s kind of confusing. My Monday workout for instance was:

Snatch from Blocks: Up to 70% for 3s until I feel tired (usually 5-8 sets; work on getting under the bar)

Slow Snatch Deadlifts: 70kg x 3 x 5 (15 seconds from the floor to hip – this really sucks)

Back Squat: 5RM; 95% x 5 x 1-5 sets (no belt, trying to rebuild postural awareness, and leg strength)

Press: 5RM; 95% x 5 x 1-5 sets (because I used to have the strongest Press in the gym)

Back Extension: 10 x 3 (Weightlifters absolutely must have strong, well-conditioned low-backs)

GHD Sit-Ups: 10 x 3 (Weightlifters absolutely must have strong, well-conditioned abdominals)

As you can see, it’s pretty basic. I’m strong off the floor, but my second pull has always been terrible, so I’m working primarily on:

1) Getting more powerful and faster under the bar in the second and third pulls.

2) Making sure I can pull the bar from the floor to right position to execute the second pull properly.

My main coach, Julia Boggia (yes, my athletes coach me), is having me lift from the blocks every workout. That’s right, my second pull and third pulls suck that much. It’s frustrating knowing that, at the beginning of every workout, I’m going to do something that I am the weakest at. It’s mentally draining, and I would say I’ve finished half of my block work feeling frustrated. I won’t lie. I’ve slammed the bar back down on more than one occasion, angry at myself for not doing the drill properly. You know what, though? That’s what makes it a good program.

Working on what you’re good at, as has been said thousands of times by probably just as many coaches, is a waste of training time (unless you only care about being a gym hero, and not about your overall growth, of course). It even makes me feel embarrassed at times when I screw up what I think is a light Snatch or Clean. If there’s anything I’m sore from in training these days, it’s this. Laboriously going over every rep, trying to tighten things up, and be the best lifter I can be.

I think I’ve definitely started to get “the feel” back that I expounded on previously. The problem is that more often than not I feel very connected to what I’m doing wrong as opposed to what I’m doing right. This only amplifies the frustration. I want “the feel” to be reflective of doing everything correctly. Not just mostly feeling my deficits. You know what, though? I’m rapidly becoming re-familiar with just how important it is to put trust in your coach and their program/training decisions.

In spite of feeling as though I’m back at square one the experience thus far has been great. The role reversal between coach and athlete has been a great reflexive tool as I haven’t been an athlete under anyone’s guidance in a long time. Beyond the quality of awareness I now have of the athlete-coach relationship, I’m reminded of just how important humility is in the training process. I haven’t felt the sting of an incorrect performance in a while. It’s humbling when someone you normally bark orders at tells you you’re looping the bar, demanding you get your shit together and lift correctly. While I’m not sure this experience (at this stage anyway) will change how I coach drastically, let’s just say that I’m reminded of how, what I thought were innocuous cues and criticisms, might stick in the minds of the athletes I coach.

Aside from the mental soreness, I’m pleased to say my body has held up pretty well. Don’t get me wrong. I have plenty of aches and pains throughout. My upper-back and quads feel as though they’ve been working overtime everyday. Otherwise my body has been responding better than I expected it would. Most of it anyway. My hands are torn to hell. My tape bill has gone through the roof. I like to think that my hands are a reflection of just how badly I want to lift again. That I’m not afraid to bleed for something I’m passionate about. You could also make the case for me being stubborn, crazy, perhaps even stupid for training with mangled hands. The former’s more romantic, though, so I’ll stick with that.

I think what I’ve really learned to appreciate throughout this endeavor, however, has been an appreciation for the process. When I started planning this “comeback” I had goal numbers in mind. I had technique expectations for myself. As a coach, you’re always looking at the future, planning numbers for competitions, future training cycles, and so on. What I’ve learned to appreciate again are the little things, and I’ll tell you why. The little things, like feeling just a bit more comfortable on a lift, all add up to big things. The big things, like PRs on the bar, combined, add up to the greatest thing of all: the cumulative expression of your Will.

Every time I touch a bar these days, no matter how sore, tired, or what kind of mood I’m in, I realize one thing: I’m doing what I want, and I’m not giving in.