Four Weeks In!

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.

By |February 19th, 2015|Blog|Comments Off on Four Weeks In!

The Stress of Success

Training this week has been good. It’s also been rough. As I sit here writing, reflecting on my lifting since I last wrote, I’m wondering why I’ve felt so beat all week. Not just in my body, but my mind. My body being sore is normal. My mind being adrift is not. Then it dawns on me. I just coached five athletes through four sessions at Winterlift last Saturday. I’m exhausted. Still, I’ve put my reputation on the line, and committed to training no matter what. At times, this can be a daunting task, placing a lot of pressure on me. Even then, as much as I want to be strong again, the stakes are now even higher that this is a public affair.

Being good at anything requires that you be able to focus and perform whatever the task at hand may be. For a weightlifter, this could mean belting out that last gruelling set of Back Squats in training or making that third attempt in the Clean and Jerk for the win. In my introduction above, I used two keys words I want you to pay special attention to: stakes and pressure. These words – these concepts – are essential to self-mastery, and by extension, mastery of the bar.

What does it mean to have something at stake? A stake starts out as an interest. Something you might be curious about at first, and then realize, after further analysis, you want. It grows on you. As time goes on, just how meaningful your stake in something might be increases. You’ve probably even built an entire narrative around it at this point. Simply put, it matters now. What started as a minor interest has become a goal central to your life, perhaps even your value as a person, and before you know it, it’s within reach! But oh no, now that it’s so close, you’re beginning to wilt under the pressure? Because, like everything, there’s a chance you won’t succeed, and hundreds of hours spent working and dreaming can suddenly turn to defeat! That’s a bitter pill to swallow, but are you going to let it choke you on its way down?

Lifting is hard. The weights are heavy, the stress is real, and you can’t always do what you want. How do you deal with it, though? How do you succeed in spite of the pressure you experience? If you haven’t noticed yet, I spend a lot of time thinking about things. Naturally, to deal with this situation, I think more.

In anything I commit myself to, I ask what happens if I succeed? What happens if I fail? In either scenario, what are the immediate and long-term consequences of these outcomes? Then I do the arithmetic of consequence in my head, play it all out, and force myself to feel each relevant outcome. Practice, when done correctly, makes perfect, no? I practice both succeeding and failing in my mind. That way, when it comes time to perform, I’m not as stunned by either outcome. In a way, I’ve desensitized myself to both acquiring and losing the goal at hand. The pressure begins to subside, and I can focus on completing what I know I must. If you ever find yourself paralyzed by the myriad possibilities of any situation, this is a very useful means of unloading the weight of your actions. You can even take this a step further. Rather than just neutrally examining what could be, assume you’ve already failed.

Years ago, I read a text called The Hagakure by a man named Yamamoto Tsumetomo. This is an ancient text describing what one man thought it meant to be a Samurai. I’ll save you the summary and say this: the man thought that the way of the warrior was to live as though one is already dead. This is a concept that has been adopted by warriors and soldiers throughout history, and for good reason: what stake is greater than staying alive? What could put you under more pressure than the thought of your impending death? What could make you more afraid? That’s all pressure is: fear. The fear of failure, defeat, injury, whatever. Fear, while a crippling emotion, is still a valid one, however, and can in fact be used to your advantage.

The most notable training experience I had this week this was a set of Back Squats at 180kg for 5 without a belt this past Monday. I’d never done that before, and having been on the road, coaching for all of the weekend prior to it, I felt beat to hell. I was afraid I’d injure my back again for the 5,000th time, I was afraid I wouldn’t finish the set, and even more so, with people watching, I was afraid of embarrassing myself. Before I got under the bar, I had done my rationalizing, exploring the immediate outcomes I could think of. None of them were that bad, and none of them were reasons not to attempt the set. My anxiety was sort of allayed, but not totally. I knew as I sat the bar on my back that I might not get all my squats; it was heavy. I didn’t care. I still had an immediate goal to accomplish, one that would affect my more profound goals down the line. As I walked the bar out, I visualized what I had to do. With one last breath I said to myself: “Fuck it,” which, I think, is a modern expression for convincing yourself you’re already dead/have failed, and doing it anyway. By this point, any nervous energy I had transformed. Instead, it was channeled to the task at hand. I descended with the bar, and did a surprisingly easy (relatively) set of 5 given what I thought it would be. The moment before I started the set, all I knew was that I could live with failing, but I couldn’t live with not trying something I knew had the potential to make me better. That fear became a motivator.

When you’re anxious or afraid you become hyper-aware, your nervous system gets amped up, and in essence, you begin experiencing a sort of fight or flight response. When people choke it’s often because they don’t make a choice, short-circuiting from the overload of undirected nervous energy. They never commit to either fighting or escaping. Prior to my set this was the state I was in. However, once my hands were on that bar, I chose “fight.” I made my decision, and that energy was used to attack the bar. Sometimes “flight” is the right decision, but it wasn’t that day.

You have to make a decision for yourself when faced with that nervous energy. That rationalizing I mention above only dampens it. You must accept (and I mean actually accept) that both failure and success are inevitable parts of the path towards mastery, then, make the decision to move forward. You just can’t control which outcomes you receive and when. When we became weightlifters, we all began walking a path. There will be disappointments ahead. We keep walking, though, because the stakes matter. They matter more than any kind of defeat or disappointmentotherwise you’d have quit before you even got started.

By |February 12th, 2015|Blog|Comments Off on The Stress of Success

Finding the Feel: How to Become a Consistent Weightlifter

Have you ever performed a lift, and then upon completion of the rep thought to yourself: “damn, that felt good”? That, from start to finish, it just felt “right”? Congratulations, you have discovered the “feel!” More often than not, however, this feeling remains an elusive event in the average beginner-intermediate lifter’s experience of the weight. In my opinion, it is one of the primary factors that delineates high-achieving athletes from the inexperienced or inconsistent ones. As I embark on regaining strength once possessed, this is something I’ve been actively searching for. In fact, my program for the next 12 weeks is all about re-training, re-imagining, and optimizing this sense of the feel.

Today’s blog post is going to discuss what the feel is in the context of my experience, and how you can achieve it regularly in both your training and on the competition platform. Were going to approach this two ways: what’s happening biomechanically (in a very rough sense), and the essential mindset an athlete must have to navigate his/her own sense of the feel.

If you’ve ever watched an experienced lifter setup for a Snatch or Clean you might notice them shifting their hips up and down, resetting their hands on the bar, the position of their chest, and so on (at our club, Ian Haya is the master of the dynamic twerk start). What that lifter is doing is looking for just the right spot in their setup to feel their strongest. What the athlete is feeling around for is a point of maximal tension in their start position (for the most part, in the glutes, hips, abs, low- and upper-backs) that gives them the strongest setup possible. They’re not death gripping the bar and completely stiff. On the contrary, the point that they’re looking for is a compromise of sorts, seeking an apex of maximal tension while still remaining supple. If you’re too tight you’ll just swing the bar wildly in the second pull, throwing it, hoping you can catch it. Too loose and the bar will feel heavier than it is. This is why the lifter’s you’ll see at World’s or the Olympics can look so strong yet so fluid. This is a feeling that must be maintained throughout the entirety of the lift.

I posted a video to Facebook recently of myself performing Slow Snatches. The intent behind this exercise was to become as aware as I can of each bit of the lift in my first pull as I transition to the second. When the bar is at mid-shin how does it feel? When I pass my knees where do I feel strongest yet still mobile? Way over the bar or further back? In that video you’ll notice I raise my hips first. Yes, I know, this is “wrong.” If you learned to lift with us, you’ve probably been called out for “Stripper Snatching” (no moral judgement here, promise). What I’m doing isn’t Stripper Snatching, though, and is entirely intentional.

Utilizing the technique that I am, I’m addressing two problems of particular to me. Firstly, I have relatively long femurs, and as a result clearing my knees has always been a problem. I also feel far more comfortable with my shoulders way over the bar. If I lift completely straight I can’t stay over the bar properly, pulling my shoulders back too soon. In the past, when I’ve used a more orthodox technique, I’ve often straightened my knees too much, making it almost impossible to jump; I would rarely rebend correctly. What I’m doing is a compromise.

I have (not to brag) an exceptionally strong posterior-chain (low-back, glutes, hamstrings). If you watch, I lift with my hips and low-back until I pass my knees, but then immediately transition to leading with my chest, scooping my hips in, and punching the bar upwards with my quads. In essence, everything that is supposed to be happening happens. My shoulders stay over the bar, I jump straight up using quad strength to propel the bar up into the correct bar path (well, mostly, I’m just getting back into it, remember?). Fundamentally, I’m doing what I am supposed to. That is, bringing the bar to the power point (hips for Snatch, mid-thigh for the Clean) while staying over the bar. Scientific evidence substantiates this approach.

Akuss (2011) has found that, among the women at the 2010 World Championships, everyone’s first pull differed by weight class, sometimes dramatically so. Even so, all of their first pulls finished in the same position, with the shoulders over the bar at the power point, and the hips coming in. While I can only surmise what may occur between other athletes and their coaches, I know that the more I coach an athlete, the more we find ourselves distanced from a standardized approach. For an athlete in their second year of training, we may have changed their start position and first pull technique multiple times, constantly refining what both looked and felt best, and most importantly, what allowed them to lift the most weight. To sort of bridge my own personal experience with the point I just made, if you watch Chinese Weightlifting videos on Youtube, you’ll notice a number of larger Chinese athletes utilizing a similar technique to what can be seen in my Snatch video. Surprise, surprise, being a 105+kg, half-Chinese man myself, what I’m doing just might make sense! Onto the next question: how do I think about the feel?

Visualization is a proven strategy for improving athletic performance. Often, in the cues I give my athletes, I ask them to think about moving their body in a way that exaggerates what I want them to do. Common ones might be: “elbows to the ceiling,” “shoulders up,” “lead with the chest,” etc. These are basic visualizations, though. Let’s go a step further and use metaphor.

Once more, going back to my Snatches, the setup I’m utilizing allows me to feel the strongest, but not just because of my personal anthropometry (read: limb proportions). Metaphorically, when I setup this way, I feel like I’m a loaded gun. When I’m setting up, getting my butt to the floor, I feel as though I’ve just become a chambered round, and I’m the bullet. When my hips begin to rise that’s the trigger being pulled. When I clear my knees the hammer is coming down. As the bar makes contact with my hips, the primer of our metaphorical round has been ignited and the explosion occurs. I take the same approach to the setup in the Clean and Jerk, and it is an integral component to my setup. Why is this so important?

The importance of using psychological metaphors is fundamentally about sense making. Using the metaphor I describe above allows me to most efficiently make sense of what I’m doing and why. Knees back here, wrists up there, look straight ahead… Sometimes cues that make reference to your body parts are too isolated, disjointing the sensation of the lift, and thus divorcing you from what the feel is supposed to be as a whole. While I use these cues as a coach to get you to exaggerate a movement, what I’m really hoping for is that you feel why it’s necessary to improving your technique. The best lifters are able to integrate these cues into their understanding of a lift’s execution as a whole. It’s not good if you exaggerate pulling your elbows up if you loop the bar around your knees first. I can suggest metaphors, but it’s up to each athlete to begin developing and internalizing their own metaphors for lifting.

The next time you pick up a bar, focus on how each phase of the lift feels. When you warm your Snatch up with a few lifts from the Hang, pay attention to how the bar feels going from your knees to your hips. Get a feel for both tension and suppleness when you setup off the floor. Most importantly, start developing your own approach to how you lift the weight. The more developed your feel becomes, the better you’ll know it, and thus, the more consistent you’ll be in lifting as best you can. Remember, I can show you the how to’s and give you feedback, but it’s still your hands on the bar. I only know what’s supposed to happen. It’s only you, however, who knows what feels right and what doesn’t.


Works Cited

Akuss, Hasan.
2011. “Kinematic Analysis of the Snatch Lift With Elite Female Weightlifters During the 2010 World Weightlifting Championship” in Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Vol. 0, No. 0, Month 2011.

By |February 5th, 2015|Blog|Comments Off on Finding the Feel: How to Become a Consistent Weightlifter

How to Cut Weight for Weightlifters

This article was written by JustLift athlete Heather Amundrud. For those of you competing at our club meet on Feb. 28th this may very well come in handy!

Standing on a scale is a fact of life for competitive weightlifters. If you are normally safely within your weight class, awesome! Eat, drink, and be merry! However, if you are like most weightlifters, your actual body weight is likely to be just a little heavier than your weight class (I compete as a 53kg but am normally closer to 55kg). That’s fine for training, but how do you “cut weight” for competition day?

Step 1: Flex that self-discipline muscle because you’re going to need it!

Step 2: Weigh yourself and track your food intake for at least a week, ideally starting at least a month before competition day. Get an idea of what you are eating and how it affects your weight. To do this:

Step 2a: Buy a digital scale! A decent digital scale is about $30 at Target or Canadian Tire. Invest in one now (extra batteries wouldn’t hurt, either). Every morning, get out of bed, go pee, and weigh yourself; this is probably the lightest you will be all day, so record that number in your training or food log.

Step 2b: Track your food! There are smartphone apps and websites to help you with this. Spreadsheets also work. Count calories, grams of protein, grams of fat, and grams of carbohydrates to establish a nutritional baseline. Always make sure you are consuming enough protein! This is crucial! Rule of thumb: 2 to 3g of protein for each kilogram of body weight. For example: I weigh 53kg, so I aim for about 160g of protein per day.

Step 3: Ideally, starting three weeks before competition day, tighten up your nutrition:

  • Make sure you are consuming enough protein.

  • Cut out the “junk calories,” especially sugar and processed food!

  • Go easy on the salt (say bye to bacon!).

  • Drink enough water, i.e. never let yourself become thirsty.

  • Keep your caloric intake about the same or slightly less (no more than 10% deficit).

Track your body weight by using your new scale! Do this for one week and see how your body responds.

Step 4: Ideally, two weeks before competition day, lower your carbs. This will usually cause an immediate decrease in body weight (anywhere from 1-2kg), however there’s a limit: when carbs drop below a certain level, you may not feel good (foggy, dazed, light-headed). If this happens, increase your carb intake slightly or live with it until you adapt. This is something you should consult with your coach about, though, as everyone’s tolerances relative to performance is different. Remember, were cutting weight to make weight and lift as much weight as possible relative to our body weight. Were not trying to get leaner. And, of course, track your body weight. Do this for one week and see how your body responds.

For example, my carbs are usually about 80g/day. A few weeks before a competition I’ll decrease that to about 65g/day. I find that if I lower my carbs much below 60g/day I’m woozy and can’t concentrate. Remember, though, I’m a 53kg lifter, and this number doesn’t apply to everyone. Once more, if you have a coach, ask for his/her advice on this!

Step 5: Water loading, a.k.a., the joys of drinking like you’ve never drank before! Water loading is an easy way to drop anywhere from 1 to 4kg (depending on the body weight you start at) within a few days. Cutting more than that will likely lead to a poor competitive performance. As weightlifters, we only have a two hour (and it’s usually a little less) window to rehydrate before we lift!

Six days before competition day, drink double the amount of water you normally drink (you did track this in Step 2b, didn’t you?). Anywhere from 0.5-1.0L every 1-2 hours is reasonable. An essential part of this is organization. Do not attempt to makeup for a disorganized hydration schedule by slamming down 4 liters of water in an hour (more on this shortly). For instance, if you normally drink 3L of water per day, then, for your loading phase you would need to drink 6L of water. Most people are awake for 14-16 hours per day. In this case, you can easily divide your loading phase, roughly, into a 500ml per hour schedule, give or take. Repeat for the next three days.

On the fourth day, drink half the amount of water. On the fifth day, you may drink up to 1 liter of water, but this must be consumed at least 16-18 hours prior to weigh-in. The sixth day is competition day.

As noted above, you absolutely MUST distribute your water intake throughout the day. If at any point during the water loading phase you experience a headache, confusion, dizziness, changes in behavior/mood, or drowsiness, immediately stop drinking and get yourself to a hospital! Water poisoning (dilutonal hyponatremia) is very real, and can lead to lots of bad things (including death). A healthy individual can excrete roughly 1 liter of water per hour. If you’re sick, have kidney issues or anything else related to electrolyte absorption/excretion that might hinder your disposal of water, then, water loading is not for you.

After weighing in it’s imperative to, as quickly as possible, replenish your body with a drink such as Pedialyte or a comparable oral rehydration solution. I personally use coconut water.

To give you an example of the above, I normally drink 4L/day of water (coffee, tea, BCAAs, protein are not included in that figure!):

  • Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I drink 8L/day of water,

  • Thursday I drink 4L/day

  • Friday I drink almost nothing

  • Saturday is competition day! After making weight (!) I drink a large carton of coconut water.

Make sure that you give your body a chance to incorporate the fluid back into your body’s various tissues prior to eating! Twenty minutes should suffice. In some cases, rapid rehydration and feeding can cause diarrhea. It’s useful to keep an anti-diarrheal medicine such as Imodium (Loperimide HCl) on-hand for this reason.

Step 6 (Optional): Laxatives. Most people have anywhere from 1-3kg of feces in them at any given time; obviously, this isn’t useful body weight! Make sure you’re “regular.” If this doesn’t happen naturally, don’t stuff yourself with “whole wheat” this and “12-grain” that. Try an over-the-counter, overnight laxative (such as Senokot or Ex Lax) one or two evenings before you weigh in (depending whether you weight in early in the day or later). These medicines, as of now, are WADA compliant, but you should still check just to make sure as the rules change every year.

You MUST experiment with this well ahead of competition! Do not pop 4 laxative pills 15 hours before weigh-in or I guarantee bad things will happen. On the platform. In front of everyone.

Step 7: Eating (or not) before the competition. If you are close to your maximum weight on the morning before competition day, then, consider eating only a light breakfast and a light dinner (both with very few carbs) and nothing else. Leaner proteins such as fish, chicken or eggs digest quickly relative to a steak, and are advisable given the point above; you don’t want last night’s dinner sitting in your gut when you step on the scale. Consider eating asparagus two days before and the day before competition because asparagus contains naturally-occurring, diuretic phytochemicals. How much you eat the day before competition depends on how close to making weight you are relative to your personal comfort. Again, see Step 1: don’t do all the hard work of preparing for competition and then blow it by gorging on pizza the day before!

One note for the women: you may notice your body weight increases before your period (“premenstrual water retention”). This is normal. If you weigh in on one of these days, you will have to work extra hard to ensure the you’re on track to make weight.

One final note: it is always better to weigh in under weight, so aim to be at least 0.3kg under weight on the day of the competition. You never know when your scale will read slightly more than the competition scale!

There you have it! This is how I, along with many of my teammates, make weight for competition! While there are more advanced (and often harsher methods) the steps outlined above should be more than enough for you to successfully make weight, and compete well. If not, then, maybe you need to think about moving up a weightclass! And, as always, consult your coach before embarking on anything pre-contest that he/she may not be familiar with!

By |February 3rd, 2015|Blog|Comments Off on How to Cut Weight for Weightlifters

Getting Back Under the Bar

One of the first things I was warned of when I became a coach and gym owner was to keep training. No matter what. In the early days of JustLift, this wasn’t a problem. We were a small, young gym, and everyone who’s been with us long enough knows we started, like many before us, as a gang of lifters who loved lifting enough to put our money where our mouths were. We didn’t have many clients and this left us ample time to train.

Here’s a bit of JL history: Ian, Nico, Nancy and myself started as training partners. When I first started coaching I used to joke that I was pretty sure I knew what I was doing. In reality, this was just a spin on the fact that I had yet to truly identify as a coach; I felt more like an experienced lifter giving advice to newbies. As our community grew, as the competitive stakes rose, so did my responsibilities. If we were to succeed I no longer had the luxury of identifying as a lifter.

When we actually started to grow as a club, receiving people who wanted to learn the Snatch and Clean and Jerk, I knew I had to change. When my friend, and fellow coach, Ian, began seriously vying for the top spot in the country, I knew I had to change. Nico and Nancy started to transform from kids I used to train with into my proteges. That was enough. I decided I must change. This was more than a new responsibility. This became my duty. We were no longer a crew of lifters slamming bars together. We became even more than just a team. Our club became a community. Our team became my family. 

I never stopped lifting, but after our move from the old location to our current home something changed. I stopped training hard. I became absorbed by my coaching and business duties. I lifted because I was supposed to. At this point, all I knew was that I never wanted some smartass athlete asking me: “Hey Coach, do you even lift?” That attitude isn’t what got me Back Squatting 242kg. I didn’t Jerk 166kg because I was afraid I’d look like a phony. I never stopped lifting, but I definitely stopped training.

For the last year, I’ve been an exerciser. Don’t get me wrong, movement for the sake of moving is important. We don’t do that, though. We have concrete goals. We train.

Sure, I’d written training templates for myself, even actual training cycles with numbers in mind that I’d like to do. But, I never followed these programs in full because I always put my athletes and the business before myself. I’d run a training block as planned for a few weeks, and then something would happen. Then I’d modify something to accommodate. Of course, then, something else would happen, and before I knew it I was doing half-assed workouts with little direction beyond “I think I’ll Snatch today.” Then I’d get serious again, and try and jump back into my old training programs only to get smoked and discouraged. This became my “training cycle.” Jumping from program to program, being dedicated for a few weeks, then not. I refused to believe that I had allowed myself to regress even though I very obviously had. The only thing I actually trained for was failure.

That said, in spite of my outcomes on the platform, I don’t regret my actions for a second. To my mind, I (temporarily) sacrificed something I loved for something that people with goals more important than mine also loved. It’s no coincidence that our community has exploded in the last year. Beyond myself, our team, staff and athletes alike, has worked incredibly hard to get us where we are today. It’s only been recently, however, that I realize I haven’t been setting the example as Head Coach that I need to.

An athlete (at least by my definition) is a competitor at heart, and a good competitor will always find a way. They encounter numerous barriers to progress on their paths, sometimes having to make hard decisions. Sometimes they have to retreat and reassess. The one thing they don’t do is quit when they know they’re capable of more still.

I’m telling you this because I feel that I have to, more than anyone, practice what we preach. To embody all that JustLift is and aspires to be. I want to show you what is possible when you dedicate yourself to a goal. When you refuse to accept failure. To show you that those weights that scare you today can, in fact, be mere warm-ups tomorrow.

For the next year, I will be documenting my training on our blog. Once a week I will post an update reflecting on some of my training, but more importantly, reflecting on what goes on inside my head in my quest to not only get back to where I was, but crush my previous records!

By |January 29th, 2015|Blog|1 Comment

JustLift (W)Inter-Club Weightlifting Meet

Many of you out there have asked, so here it is! JustLift will be hosting an Inter-Club meet for clubs in the Ottawa and surrounding region on February 28th, 2015.

This is the final date for which athletes may qualify for the Ontario Championships, and will be one of the final meets of the 2014-2015 season. Whether you want to use this meet to qualify, as a tune up, or just lift some heavy weight, overall it’s going to be another great day of lifting at JustLift. The 2014-2015 season ends March 31st, so if you have a membership for this season, here’s your chance to use it!


PLACE: JustLift – 895 Churchill Avenue South, Ottawa

TIME: Lifting starts at 11:00 a.m. First weigh-in will be at 9:00 a.m.

Start list and session times will be posted on the JustLift website by Monday, February 23.

ELIGIBILITY: Registered members of the following Ontario Weightlifting Association clubs:

  • JustLift
  • Bytown Barbell Club
  • Closer Barbell Club
  • Cornwall Weightlifting Club
  • Dynamo Barbell
  • Flynn Training Systems
  • NCR Barbell Club
  • Ottawa Elite
  • Physics Elite

SANCTIONED: By the Ontario Weightlifting Association

LIFTS: Snatch and Clean and Jerk


Men’s: 56, 62, 69, 77, 85, 94, 105, 105+

Women’s – 48, 53, 58, 63, 69, 75, 75+

ENTRY FEE: $30.00 per athlete

DEADLINES: Absolutely no entries will be accepted after Tuesday, February 17.

Eventbrite - JustLift (W)Inter-Club Weightlifting Meet


Download Registration Form and Pay in Person at JustLift (Cash, Cheque, Credit)

JustLift Athletes with full memberships: Please sign up in house.

By |January 29th, 2015|Blog, News|1 Comment

OWA Hybrid Club Competition #2 at JustLift Start List

The start list for the OWA Hybrid Club Competition #2 at JustLift is now available. You can download it here:

OWA Hybrid Club Comptition #2 at JustLift Start List

Come to JustLift this Saturday, January 17th, 2015 to see some heavy weights get tossed around! Weigh-in for the first session will be at 9am, with the first lifters starting at 11am! Spectators, make sure you’re there for the presentation of athletes at 10:45am! The last session will start at 3pm, and things will finish up around 5pm. Get ready for another full day of heavy lifting!

This time around, we have 35 lifters registered from all over the National Capital Region. We continue to see growth in this sport in the area, with quite a few new lifters on the list. The talent pool is getting deeper and we expect to see big things from Ottawa’s athletes in the future on the Provincial and National scene.

The Hybrid Club Competition series is a new initiative by the Ontario Weightlifting Association for the purpose of developing the sport at the grassroots level. This is the second time JustLift has acted as a host and invited other developing clubs to join us. The first of the series was back in November, and we look forward to more in the future!

By |January 11th, 2015|Blog, News|Comments Off on OWA Hybrid Club Competition #2 at JustLift Start List

Stay Warm With JustLift – New Team Gear Available

Yes, it’s cold out there! Winter started out a bit mild, but it’s been pretty darn chilly lately! Luckily, we have some new JustLift team gear available to help keep you warm!

New JustLift toques are currently available at the gym, $25 each. Pick yours up now! A great way to keep your head warm and represent JustLift this winter!


We’ll also putting in an order for JustLift Team Warmup Fleece Jackets! These are great for training to get the blood flowing before getting down to some serious lifting, and letting everyone at meets know that you JustLift! You can reserve yours online now using the following signup:


Final price will be $75-80, depending on how many we get. We don’t plan on getting extra, so reserve ($60 deposit, balance due at delivery) yours now!  We’ll be taking reservations up until Jan 17th, and will be submitting the order that weekend. That’ll get them to us the first week of February, just in time for Winterlift!

Stay warm, lift heavy!

By |January 8th, 2015|Blog, News|Comments Off on Stay Warm With JustLift – New Team Gear Available

Weightlifting – Enjoying the Process

The end of a year is usually a time for reflection, and I had a bit of an epiphany the other day. I’m having a lot of fun training and just being at the gym. That may seem like an odd thing for someone to suddenly realize, but it’s true, and it’s kind of a big deal for me.

Weightlifting is a tough sport. Not just physically, but mentally as well. There’s been more than a few times that I’ve wanted to quit, walk away, and to never touch a barbell ever again. I’ve had that inner conversation with myself many times just staring at the bar, asking myself, “why am I doing this?” I’ve had crushing defeats that brought me, as an adult, to tears. My second year of competing, my goal was to qualify for Nationals. I was on track to do it at Provincials, but I had a rough day on the platform, went 2/6, and failed to qualify. I had the qualifying weight racked in the clean, only to fall backwards. The next year I qualified for Nationals at Provincials in March, but that victory was short lived when I combined my first Nationals with my first bomb out, a weightlifter’s worst nightmare.

I’ve gone through periods where I had to train alone, uncoached, and it is a constant fight with yourself to keep going, especially when you’re lifting poorly. That`s when the stressful thoughts from other parts of life would creep into your head when attempting a lift. I’m probably not the only lifter that has gone through a complete existential crisis while training. That usually doesn’t go very well. Anytime you’re trying to throw heavy weight over your head, that should be the only thing your mind is focused on!

Throwing heavy weight overhead requires the ability to clear your mind and focus only on the task at hand

Other times I think the sheer frustration was with how a few of us trained very early on. It didn’t seem like weights were progressing, or technique was improving, even though I was putting in the time and effort. You’re certainly not going to feel 100% all the time, that`s just how training goes, but we were really beating ourselves up. I’ve learned a lot since those early days, and I’ve managed to find a much better balance and I’m still making progress. Back then it seemed like I was destroying myself in the gym for what seemed like no return, which is incredibly frustrating.

Lately though, I’ve been having a lot of fun and just enjoying the process. At JustLift, I’m now surrounded by a bunch of great people that I truly enjoy coaching and training with. Even those bad days, when my body hurts, when the movements feel completely foreign again, and the weight feels heavy, I`m surrounded by people that make me smile, that make me laugh, that push me, and that inspire me. I have teammates to share my victories, and to console me in my defeats. I didn’t always have that. Bad days were really bad. Like go back to my apartment, stare at the ceiling and cry sort of bad. When I really think about it, it’s hard to really remember when I last had a bad day at the gym like that.

Every now and then I have this idea that when I move into a house, I`ll have a garage gym and how great it will be because I’d be able to train anytime I wanted to, I wouldn’t have to waste time going to and from the gym, and I can set it up exactly how I want it. Then I think about how incredibly lonely it would be. I may not necessarily need a coach at this point in my lifting career, but I think I will always need a team. That`s what I have now at JustLift, and our family is growing. We’re not just growing in size, but we’re growing closer. Our lifting lives and our social lives are more intertwined.


The JustLift Team at the 2014 Ontario Scholastics

Community, a support network, and a feeling of purpose are often cited as important aspects of health and longevity, not just “diet and exercise”. I came from a small town (like really small, like total population 1600 people small) and moving to a “big city” like Ottawa was really intimidating for a while. At first I didn’t really feel like I belonged here. It`s kind of a strange feeling, feeling alone in a city of almost a million people. I spent a lot of time living in the past, thinking about how much I missed how things used to be. When I show up at JustLift and see all those familiar, smiling faces, I don’t feel like that anymore. I have that sense of belonging. I have that sense of purpose when I`m training or coaching. I no longer feel alone. I’m enjoying the process, having fun, and living in the moment.

By |December 28th, 2014|Articles, Blog|1 Comment

OWA Hybrid Club Competition #2 at JustLift

It’s time for the second OWA Hybrid Club Competition and JustLift will again be taking part and inviting all other OWA clubs to join us that need a venue with officials. This competition is open to all registered OWA clubs and their registered lifters. Each club is responsible for registering their team of lifters with the OWA separately.

Registration forms and additional information are available here:!hybrid-club-competitions/c3zm

If you’d like to bring your team to conduct the competition with us, we’ll need a list of your lifters no later than Jan 10! Please include the lifter’s full name, YOB, and weight category. Guest clubs are responsible for separate team registration fees payable to the OWA.

Registration Fees Payable to JustLift:
JustLift Members: $10/athlete
Non-Member: $25/athlete

There will be a full team of officials so that lifters will be able to qualify for the Ontario Provincial Championships.

The results of each team’s best 10 lifters will be used to determine a team winner across all participating clubs at multiple locations across Ontario. Lifters will be ranked according to their age and bodyweight categories. A progressive scoring system that awards greater points to the younger age categories will be used. This is to encourage the participation of younger lifters without precluding other age groups. There is no limit to the number of athletes per team. The winning team will receive a prize for their club from the OWA.

Cumulative points will be kept for the entirety of the Hybrid Competitive season and a banner will be awarded to the top scoring team.

Age groups contested are:

Juvenille (15 and under, born 2000 or later)

Youth (17 and under, born 1998 or later)

Junior (20 and under, born 1995 or later)

Senior/Master (20+, born 1994 or earlier)

IWF rules dictate that age groups are determined by Year of Birth only, for example, anyone born in 1995 is a Junior for 2015 and becomes a Senior on Jan 1, 2016, regardless of their Date of Birth.

The additional Juvenille/Youth Bodyweight categories will also be contested (M44, M50, M94+, W44, W69+).

This competition is not subject to doping control.

By |December 16th, 2014|Blog, News|Comments Off on OWA Hybrid Club Competition #2 at JustLift