March 2015 - JustLift

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Special Easter Weekend Holiday Hours

Special Easter Weekend Holiday Hours
Friday April 3 (Good Friday – No Morning/Open Gym)
Oly 2 – 4-6pm, 5-7pm, 6-8pm
Oly 1 – 5:30-6:30pm
Strength 1 – 6:30-7:30pm

Saturday April 4 (no change)
Oly 1 – 9-10am
Oly 2 – 10-Noon

Monday April 6 (Easter Monday – No Morning/Open Gym)
Oly 2 – 4-6pm, 5-7pm, 6-8pm
Oly 1 – 4:30-5:30pm
Strength 1 – 5:30-6:30pm, 6:30-7:30pm

By |March 30th, 2015|Articles, Blog, News, Nutrition, Uncategorized|Comments Off on Special Easter Weekend Holiday Hours

Injuries: The Reality Of

The title of this week’s post should say it all. Yes, I’m injured. It happened about two weeks ago. Last week I mentioned in the summation of my training experience thus far that I hit a 220kg Back Squat again. Yeah, that’s the lift that did it. Somewhere between catching the bounce, and hitting parallel I felt a twinge shoot from the middle of my adductor up my groin, and then to the bottom of my glute. No, I haven’t gotten it checked out, but I’m pretty sure it’s a strain in my right gracilis (one of the muscles in the adductor complex), and it probably has to do with both a drastic improvement in lower-body mobility as well as some tight musculature on the outside of my hips. You know what, though? I ain’t even mad.

That’s right, I’m not. You know why? Because I’ve played this game for a while, and I know this for certain: if you train hard enough to improve you are training hard enough to injure yourself. There is no amount of mobility work, extracurricular therapy, or whatever else you can think of that can prevent it. It’s going to happen. Now, this isn’t to say that injuries can’t be avoided as they most certainly can, and the easiest way to do so is not be a fool with a bar in your hands. No, what I’m getting at is the fact that, if you’re performing to the limits of your ability utilizing complex, multi-joint movements with appreciable intensity it’s going to happen. Does this mean you’re out of the game? In most cases, hardly. Today’s discussion is going to revolve around how to approach injuries and what you can do to maintain training productivity. Were going to start with the mental side of things.

As I noted above, my current injury probably has something to do with my new found flexibility. You see, I’ve been working really hard since I started back at this to improve the range of motion that my glutes, hips, and ankles can achieve. Not to pat myself on the back, but I’ve done a bang-up job so far. I’ve never been as flexible as I am now. One problem. My body has never experienced squatting a 220kg load to the depth I’m able to achieve now. Unsurprisingly, doing so exposed a weakness, and I guess you could say I’m paying for it now. I got lucky, though. It’s just a minor strain. In the past, I’ve tweaked things and trained through them anyway. You wanna know what that got me? Two torn erector spinae, and a torn calf. This time around I’m being a little smarter, not listening to my inner-man, and instead opting to only perform movements that cause little to no discomfort. The disheartening part is that this means minimal squatting, no heavy cleans, jerks or pulls. In short, most of what I like to do! What now?

Re-asses and re-focus my goals, that’s what. I’m sure as shit not going to be productive if I try to build my squat or pulling strength; that’s just not going to happen, and under current conditions would only serve to make my injury chronic. Supposedly the words “crisis” and “opportunity” are roughly the same in Mandarin. I have no idea if that’s actually true or not, and don’t want to spend time researching the claim’s veracity. The point I’m trying to make, however, is that I have two options: I can fold my arms, squish my face, and furl my brow, or I can remain calm, think about what I can and can’t do, and remain productive. Maybe not productive the way I want to to be, but productive. And you know what? Sometimes what you want to be productive at might not even be what you need.

My footwork in the jerk needs to tighten up. I don’t move my feet enough when I receive Snatches in the bottom, and I’m like a fish out of water when it comes to comfort and stability in the overhead squat. These are all things I can work on that don’t hurt. Thus far they haven’t really held me back from adding kilos to the bar, but I can tell you there will come a time when these technique deficits will certainly do so. What an “opportunity” I’ve been given to focus on them! To be clear, I was working on these things before, but they were more like tertiary goals, little details to work on when I had to train light. Now they’re primary goals because they’re all I can work on safely. In essence, then, all my injury has done is left me in a position where, rather than letting these less immediate imperfections get solved over a broad period of time as secondary focuses, they’re now my primary training goals… For now. That’s fine. I can live with that. In fact, I’m actually happy I can still train at all!

What’s important here is understanding that, even though you’re injured, you’ve still got a job to do. If you want to be better than you are now you have to do something productive whenever you have the opportunity to do so. Feeling angry about it or sorry for yourself isn’t going to get you better. Being disciplined enough to recognize you have to make a detour in the plan, while still being versatile enough to do so is key. After all, when was the last time you’ve ever had everything go to plan?

By |March 26th, 2015|Articles, Blog, News, Nutrition, Uncategorized|Comments Off on Injuries: The Reality Of

On Motivation

Today’s article is about something every individual dedicating themselves to learning something difficult must possess: motivation. More accurately, were going to pick the concept apart and think about what motivation should be in the context of what it means to be “good.” Motivation isn’t just about feeling compelled to do or be something. Motivation should go further than being an urge; it should should provide you with a deep understanding of who you are, why you want to do what it is you’re motivated towards, and leave you with a map of getting there.

I’ve heard countless educators, be they teachers or coaches, implore their students to be motivated. As a child, I was your classic unmotivated student in school. “Greg, you’ve gotta be more motivated! You’ve got to care! Why aren’t you motivated to do better” Umm… I dunno? Care to tell me what you actually want me to do? Motivation is one of those words that’s so base in meaning yet thoroughly rooted in our everyday language that I think we take it at face value, leaving it as more of a sense than an actual concept we can define. In fact, in writing this article I consulted a a few dictionaries, and one of the given definitions defined motivation as the act of being motivated. Helpful, right?I’m going to go ahead and just define motivation as being incited or insentivized towards a given end. Simple, no? In my case, I really, really, want to be good at the Snatch and Clean and Jerk. The next step to make this a more meaningful endeavor is answer the most obvious question: why? Let’s start with my incentives.

My incentives are many: I co-own the only dedicated Weightlifting gym in Ottawa, I’m Head Coach and direct the training of numerous competitive athletes in the sport of Weightlifting. Finally, the most obvious reason: I love to lift; that’s why I got into the business in the first place! What compels me to train hard, then, are both internal and external factors. On the external side, I want to set the standard for our community as to what it means to persevere, to train with both effort and intelligence. Lastly, I want those who’ve put time into coaching and organizing my training to feel that I was worth the time and care they put in. Internally, my motives are much simpler: I just want to be good. It’s on that thought where I feel as though we all share the same motivation. We might not have the same reasons, we might not all want it as badly as one another, but at some level we all want to perform well, and lift confidently. Is that what it means to be “good?” Sort of.

When we think of good lifting we often think of the giants of the sport that we can readily observe on the web. Everyone into lifting here knows Lu Xiaojun has an amazing Snatch, and that Squat Jerk? Whoa damn. We’ve all marvelled at the monster Illya Illin is. You’ve probably even seen some of the training hall footage from one of the recent World Championships. Good lifting, at least as far as what I think we all share in our conception of it, is modeled after the level of mastery these kinds of lifters display because, in our minds, they define our notion of perfection. They do so very simply: they lift more than anyone else in the world, and do so with technical precision that stuns us. I’d wager that, at one point in these athletes lives, they, too, had athletes that they were in awe of, and aspired to be like. Were these people that the current champions aspired to be necessarily the best in the world? Maybe not.

Being good doesn’t mean you have to mirror the elite. That wouldn’t be wise if just because most of us actually can’t be that good for whatever reason. No, the critical import of the example above is that it provides us with ideas as to the path we need to take. I myself have no aspiration to be the best. I just want to be the best that I can be. What does that mean? I’m not sure. But, I’ve seen lifts and lifters where I say: “I think I can do that.” I won’t name any names, but I’ve had a handful of people who train here actually ask how they can be more like some of our high-level athletes. It’s simple: you have to empathize with the people whose abilities you want to emulate.

Step one: find out why they do what they do, how they do it, and finally, then, look at the habits that you think make them successful. Step two: integrate some of them into your mindset and approach to what you do. It doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) all of them. I regularly watch interviews, lectures, or documentary clips of coaches and athletes I respect because I want to, at some level, integrate into my own thoughts and performances what I think they do well. Often times what I find is someone with similar thoughts or abilities to me that provide me with a potential trajectory to follow. In other words, they show me what possibilities are tenable in my own life. Not all of these people that inspire me at some level are all elite, either. I won’t name names, but some of these people that I attempt to emulate call this gym their home! Regardless, when I get the chance, I try to find the meaning behind why someones a coach or why they’re a lifter.

Should you do this, too, what you’ll find is that there are things you’ll immediately notice are compatible with who you are, some that might be, and some that simply aren’t. For instance, I just can’t train as much as the greats of our sport have. Admittedly, I also don’t have the same drive required to be an athlete of that level (and that’s okay). My primary ambition is to build a successful community and a successful team. Training just happens to be a part of that. What’s key here is that thinking this way forces me to be reflexive, constantly analyzing and re-examining who I am, what my motivations are, and why they ought or ought not to be things I strive for. In reality, the level of competence I wish to achieve (right now anyway) is already displayed at this club, and in the local competition circuit.

This is the crux of the matter: You have to select people to emulate that harbor the characteristics that most closely match what “good” ought to be for you. For me, I just want to be able to hang with the best in the club. Not because I want to compete with them, but because, mostly, I just want to be able to understand the training process as long as I can. I feel if I’m to lead the pack, then, I damn well better know what I’m expecting of people! One of the reasons I originally decided that I had to get back under the bar was because it would make me a better coach. As you all know, when the weights get heavier, little things can change. As you get better and more efficient with your lifting, new tricks, and technical subtleties become not just possible, but necessary. If I don’t master them how will I ever teach them effectively?

What I’d like everyone to take away from this is an understanding of how to derive, describe, and understand their motivations. To reiterate, examine what your incentives are, why they drive you, and towards what end. Following that, take a look at the examples of what you think your end should be. Look at how others accomplished the ends you desire, and let that define what your concept of “good” should be. That’ll automatically define what you’re means of getting there should be. Because of their dynamic and challenging nature, the Olympic lifts can provide numerous reasons for doing them. Maybe you just want to get good at something hard to impress you and your friends? Maybe it’s just a fun, and challenging way to get your exercise in? Or perhaps one day you want to be the next Canadian great? What’s important to understand is that your motivations define how you arrive at your destination. When I think about what works for me, I tend to think about it in the context of what it teaches me as far as empathizing with my athletes. If you’re doing this for fun that means don’t beat yourself up too much along the way, but at the same time don’t neglect pushing yourself either because missing lifts over a lackadaisical attitude is definitely not fun. In the end, all that matters is that your ambitions remain coherent with what you’re actually doing to reach them.

By |March 20th, 2015|Articles, Blog, News, Nutrition, Uncategorized|Comments Off on On Motivation

Quality Over Quantity

Week seven is almost in the bag. It’s been a good one. The numbers are starting to come back. On Monday I Snatched 102kg from the blocks (no straps!) and scored a 220kg Back Squat. Yesterday I Cleaned 130kg from the blocks, a 2kg all-time record! I haven’t moved weights like that in over six months. Tuesday’s workout was lighter, but everything felt fluid and crisp. I feel confident enough to say that, not only am I returning to where I was. I’ve made a realization of sorts, though. I’ve been so fixated on returning to where I was that I never reflected on what that actually consisted of. I’m also reliving bad habits and attitudes that have held me back in the past. This whole pursuit of mine isn’t just about returning to my old strength levels; it’s about being the best I can be. Today I’m going to discuss the one thing none of us can escape in our training: the failure to reach our goals, big or small.

Last week started out really well. I got some solid Snatch work in on Monday, and matched my Clean from blocks record on Wednesday. Of course, I thought, Max Out Friday™ is going to be it! I’m for sure going to set new records! Nope. From the moment my hands first touched the bar everything felt off. My positions were all not quite right while my timing was slightly off. I’d adjust, fixing one thing, but then do something else wrong. I had been dreaming of numbers I wanted to hit since after Monday’s training, and I guess somehow convinced myself that these were simply going to happen. And yet, here I was, struggling to do 70% of my goal properly, still thinking: “no, this is happening, 100kg+ is coming off the blocks above my head today.” I was getting angry. I went quiet. Everyone around at the time noticed something was up, and for the most part, decided they should stay away from me (I don’t blame them). Still with a bit of cool left in me, I decided to wave and work back up. Then it happened…

The bench I was sitting on had a booby trap. Someone had left an open cup of pre-workout on the side of my seat, obscured by the chalk bucket. As I was putting my belt on, the end of it must have made contact with the cup because before I knew what had happened there was red pre-workout all over my platform, my feet, and the bench. I lost it. It must have looked ridiculous, but I threw the cup across the room, into the floor, then proceeded to hit three ugly reps when I was only supposed to do one, and finished my tantrum by slamming the bar back into the blocks. I was gone at this point, having given into rage and frustration. People – my friends, athletes and training partners – were walking on eggshells around me. As I recall it now, I had already failed by this point in that session. I let my anger dictate how I lifted. I was ripping the bar, sort of getting it, but it was ugly, and I surely was not going to hit my target with a lack of technical attention. I did the worst thing I could do: I stopped listening to what the bar was telling me, what I was feeling, and instead just reacted to my rage rather than calmly think about what needed to be done.

My friend and JustLift athlete, Justin Reeson, nonchalant and completely unphased by my frenzied acrimony, approached my bench and said: “Man, you should read your own articles. Relax. Feel what the bar is telling you, and just do what you can for the day” before moseying back to his platform. I laughed. He was totally right. I wanted a max – a record – but it really wasn’t in me that day. Deep down I knew that forcing it wasn’t going to make it happen. Still, I tried to force it. I’m stubborn (and occasionally dumb) like that. All my energy was going into sloppy technique and emotional nonsense. I was wasting my workout! The point of training is to get better, and better doesn’t always mean weight on the bar. If anything, I was de-training all the work I had previously put to being technically proficient.

I wish I could say my lifting, like in one of the many Rocky training montages, suddenly got better after this realization, but it didn’t. Well, no, that’s a lie. It did get better. The numbers just weren’t what I wanted. I ended up only Cleaning 115kg from the blocks that day, 13kg less than last Wednesday. I should be satisfied, though, because that’s all I was good for that night. I should have taken my own advice such as when, a few articles back, I mentioned assuming you’ve already failed in order to take the edge off of your anxieties. Quality matters. Especially for someone like me who still has many technical and physiological qualities to improve upon. In fact, for most of us, quality should matter the most. Sometimes you just have to accept what the bar is telling you… even if you really, really, don’t like it. Time for another metaphor…

You, as a trainee, are like a child, and the bar is like a well-intentioned, but nagging parent moulding you, telling you to do your homework, and park yourself in bed before it’s too late. Deep down you know they’re right, that being a diligent and well-rested student is probably in your best interest; not that that actually tempers your defiance. The difference is that each of us is (for the most part, anyway) no longer a child. We have the perspective to understand that a little bit of temperance goes a long way.

The next time you feel like losing your shit over a poor workout, don’t. Take a few deep breaths through the nose, into your belly. Then remind yourself that a complete training cycle is anywhere from 36-60 workouts. Not getting your way for a handful of them isn’t going to really screw you up, and no, going down in weight is not a waste of your time. What is a waste of your time is lifting like a jackass, throwing a fit or getting into a sour mood because the weight on the bar isn’t what you want right this minute.

Lifting better, as I am rapidly re-experiencing, pays dividends in the end. Less than a week after the worst workout I’ve had in recent memory I easily surpassed both the Snatch and Clean targets I had for that Friday. What matters most is, as I’ve said before, the process. This is proof of that.

By |March 12th, 2015|Articles, Blog, News, Nutrition, Uncategorized|Comments Off on Quality Over Quantity

You, Your Bar, and the Pursuit of Perfection

Six weeks in. It’s starting to come back. I can feel it. I’m still waking up sore and stiff, but not the kind where you roll out of bed going “oh man, what the hell did I do to myself?” No, this is the kind where you get out of bed, and you feel the fruits of your labor radiate throughout your body. The kind that make you feel like: “Ha, you sonuvabitch, I took your best shots, and that’s it?!” That tightness in my lower back? That dull ache in my quads? They’re not nagging pains slowing me down anymore. They’re badges of honor. Markers that I’ve weathered the storm, that I’ve survived the barbell’s best efforts to beat me back. Now I’m the one pressing forward.

The feel has been a constant theme in all of my writings thus far. There’s a reason for that. How the bar feels should tell you two things: what you’re doing well, and what you need to be doing better. But, what about when it all feels just perfect? If you’ve been training long enough, it’s quite likely that you’ve had a taste of it – like an addict – where that one lift you did felt like magic, like everything was just indescribably “right.” As Weightlifters, I think we all share that desire for perfection. To experience those moments of perfection in our training. Today I’m going to tell you about the day I first Snatched over 110kg. Why 110? It was after that moment that I felt I had begun to come into my own as a lifter. I’m certain it had to do with the feel, and moreover, my connection with the bar. For those of you still searching for that perfect moment in your lifting, maybe my story will help you discover it sooner.

The day in question sticks out because I had no idea I’d be hitting a record. It wasn’t a competition. I didn’t peak in my training for this. Nothing was planned. It just happened. At the time I was training instinctively. I had a regularly scheduled Snatch workout that day, and decided I was going to do some doubles, then, add weight if they felt good. My warm-ups started like any other… 50-60-70-80-90-95…. They were flying. I didn’t feel anything special yet, but I have to say, I did feel confident. What made this workout exceptional, however, was that I wasn’t feeling particularly good or bad. Positivity or negativity never entered the equation. I was just lifting weights.

100-105… I’d never done either of these weights for a double before. 108 was my all-time heaviest Snatch up until then, and it was awkward the one time I had done it. Prior to this workout, the bar was just an object I’d pick up and move around with. That night was different, though. The bar was my partner. It was like when you’re with someone you just click with, sharing the same head space, thinking the same things at the same time. We were synchronized that day. From the moment the bar broke from the floor to the point at which we would stand together, it was like we were working in unison. There was never a moment of the bar not “doing” what I wanted it to do.

After the double at 105 I decided on singles next. After all, I had just doubled within 3kg of my best! I felt a PR in me, but not like I normally might. There were no pre-lift jitters, no excitement, no anxiety. 110 was on the bar, a red and a blue. Two minutes had elapsed between 105×2 and my next attempt. I stood from my seat, approached the bar, and got set. Without a moments hesitation, I lowered my hips, gripped the bar, and pulled. I could feel the bar sweep up against my thighs, and then, in a second, before I could even process what had happened, I was standing up with 110. I though I had a religious experience, that something in me had changed. My lifting had never felt that good before. Ever. So, I did the only thing I could: I added more weight to the bar.

112 went up just as easily, with the same precision and confidence expressed in my prior attempt. I was now emotionally somewhere between extreme focus and pure bliss. I felt amazing, unstoppable even, and yet still just a man lifting weights. I was completely in-tune with my abilities that night. Already completely satisfied, I thought it’s a good night, why not? 114. Once more, I setup. The bar broke from the floor with control, pressed against my shin, clearing my knees, and then scooping into my quads. As my chest rose, my legs became charged. I exploded with an audible crack, whipping my shoulders up and under. That moment my senses paused, like my pull under the bar stopped time. All of a sudden I was standing up with 114, a 6kg PR!

My speed and position from the floor felt as close to perfection as a Snatch had ever felt. Once the bar left my hip I felt like a bullet going off. Jumping up and pulling under was one movement. There was no perceptual distance between my arms and the bar; that bar was simply an extension of my body.

I recall that session as a milestone in my lifting career not because of the number on the bar, but because of how it all felt. Sure, the numbers were great. I knew with numbers like that I could confidently say I lift. The real PR was what I felt. I experienced a connection with my lifting like I never had before. The bar and I weren’t at odds anymore. Rather than fighting we were working together.

What has me so excited about my training right now is that I can remember feeling as I do now just before that night. My struggles with the bar reached an apex before I finally started lifting well. I’m not a talented athlete. My colleagues can attest to the fact that between us, I have always been technically the weakest. I’m just stubborn. Because of that stubbornness I often frame my internal conflicts as combats, contests of the Will. You know what, though? It worked. That session changed me. It was like every session prior to that was bootcamp, the bar screaming at me like a drill instructor to do better. When I stood up with those three lifts, 110, 112, 114, it was like being congratulated by the bar for graduating.

I know full-well that the only life the bar has is what I give it. If you recall a few articles back, I mentioned the importance of metaphors in how you think about your training. This is the metaphor that works for me: the bar as an agent sent to work me into the ground so that I may emerge a better person. It adds life and meaning to what I do, and why I do it. I won’t go so far as to say I’m good, merely that I was competent at one point (and will be again!). Beyond any program, technical style, or coaching cue, what I think has made the biggest improvement to my lifting is the way I think about and embody it.

Russian weightlifting culture dictates that it’s sacrilege to step over a bar, that there is an expectation of respect and reverence for what they do. The Chinese have combined Confucian philosophy with modern sport science. What these teams have have done (and what I did) is make their training efforts and aspirations richly meaningful, but also immediately applicable to the way they view their worlds. If you have any desire to be the best you can be, I urge you to find your inner-metaphor, the symbolic glue that makes your lifting both a meaningful and fulfilling experience for you. Your lifting will change for the better, but more than that, PRs will no longer just be numbers; they’ll be life events.

By |March 5th, 2015|Articles, Blog, News, Nutrition, Uncategorized|Comments Off on You, Your Bar, and the Pursuit of Perfection