Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Interview with Philippines Weightlifting Olympian Hidilyn Diaz

https://www.facebook.com/iwfnet/photos/pb.139828096051718.-2207520000.1452610757./1046208772080308

Welcome to the New Year. 2016 isn't just any year, it's an Olympic year. The 31st Summer Olympic will take place this August in Rio de Janeiro of Brazil. Weightlifting will be one of the many returning sports. For weightlifters, this is their most important competition. Winning an Olympic medal is unlike a medal from any other competition.

Most fans of the sport admire China, Russia, and countries that produce multiple top competitors. As a result, weightlifters from smaller countries may not receive as much attention. But not this time as I had the pleasure of interviewing Philippines weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz: the native of Zamboanga City is a two time, soon to be third, Olympian, and medalist at multiple international competitions. However before I get ahead of myself, let me provide a bit of background to how this came to be.

Before I arrived in Houston for the 2015 IWF championships, I noticed Papa Yats would be in attendance as well. For those unfamiliar with Papa Yats (or Yatsek), he is a mentor of Hidilyn as well as a coach who provides alternative information about foreign weightlifting training methods and programming on his non-commercial Instagram account. Not only that, he's also involved in fundraising for Filipino weightlifting clubs. He is originally from Poland, has traveled extensively throughout Asia, and now lives in California. His weightlifting philosophy is rooted in Asian and Eastern European methods as he finds them most effective; he is not a believer of American methods.

I contacted Papa Yats to see if I could interview him when I arrived in Houston. He thought it would be more interesting if I interviewed Hidilyn instead. This didn't even occur to me because I assumed athletes would be tired from competition and would want to relax rather than sit down for an interview.

And so on my first night Papa Yats said I could come visit them at Hidilyn's hotel room. As I entered the room, I was greeted by Papa Yats, who introduced me to Hidilyn and members of the Philippines Weightlifting Association - President Roger Dullano and head coach Alfonsito Aldanete. It's at this point I realized I really am an amateur and very new to this sport.

Roger and Alfonsito left the room, leaving Papa Yats, Hidilyn, and myself to sit down and talk. I should mention at this point it was already around 10 o'clock at night and Hidilyn was tired. Also for both of them, English is their second language. Thankfully, Papa Yats knew answers to some of the questions I asked and was able to help Hidilyn if she might have needed clarification.

Overall I believe it was a great conversation. Enjoy.

Recent & Upcoming Competitions

Niel: Welcome to the United States. Congratulations on your performance Hidilyn. How do you feel training reflected in this competition?
Hidilyn: It’s really hard, you have to adjust in weather and jet lag. I could not sweat to drop weight so I cut my hair. We arrived on November 15th and started training on the 16th. I didn’t sweat because it’s so cold here. In the Philippines, I start to sweat even when I would stretch.
Papa Yats: Their gym in the Philippines has open windows where there’s no glass and it’s exposed to the open air where in Manila it’s super hot. There’s no air conditioning or good ventilation. It’s tropical weather over there.
Niel: And the training hall here is kept air conditioned.
Papa Yats: Yeah and it’s kept cold. Today was a little better.
Hidilyn: Then the jet lag – I haven’t slept for days. Yeah for 3 or 4 days then training started. Pangit (Tagalog word): You know pangit? It’s “ugly,” I couldn’t train properly.

Niel: You still did well.
Hidilyn: Yeah, but my goal is 103kg snatch and 123kg clean & jerk. Three weeks before I did a 93kg snatch and a 118kg clean & jerk in training.
Papa Yats: She typically lifts much more in competition than in training. I’m talking about snatching seven plus kilos more in competition than in training. Since she snatched 93kg, that was an indicator she could hit 100-101kg in competition.
Hidilyn: But I also got sick. That’s why my performance dropped for one week. Maybe because I couldn’t sleep I got sick.
Papa Yats: She only did an 85kg snatch the first day she came here (to Houston).

Niel: Hidilyn, how’s your schedule been? You competed at the Southeast Asian Weightlifting Championships in late June, Asians in September, Houston now, and have Rio coming up in 2016.
Papa Yats: Hadie (pet name for Hidilyn) has a competition on December 7th in Qatar which is about two weeks from now. She already started lifting today (Tuesday) in the training hall for the first time after Sunday’s competition. She took Monday off and today she did very light training. Snatches up to 55kg which is very light. Some good mornings, little military press, side bends for the abdominal muscles, and that’s it. The Qatar Federation is paying for the whole trip and there’s a cash prize which is nice. That’s the goal.

A video posted by Papa Yats (@papayats) on

Pull with rebend/Panda pull/Chinese Pull

So schedule has been tight. Southeast Asian Games was the original plan and they, Hidilyn and Nestor, weren’t supposed to compete in Asian Championships, but the IWF asked them to compete if they wanted to win individual qualifications for the Olympics. (The Philippines is not going for team qualifications. There is no budget to send that many lifters to international competitions.)

You know the situation. They switched the Asian Championships from June because there was an earthquake in Nepal and it was changed from Nepal to Thailand in September. There was a little bit of change there and the schedule wasn’t exactly set. Her results were practically the same for all three competitions: 213kg for Southeast Asian Championship, 214kg for Asian Championships, and 213kg for World Championships. Basically, she remained in competition cycle from April to November, never had time to go back to basic preparatory cycle. She was unable to increase results.
Hidilyn: It made it hard to recover and control my weight.

http://www.sportivnypress.com/2015/the-2015-asian-weightlifting-championships/
2015 Asian Championships
Credit Sportivny Press

Niel: How do you like competing as a 53kg versus a 58kg? Is eating less more comfortable for you?
Hidilyn: I don’t like it.
Papa Yats: She means she doesn't like watching her diet.
Niel: You had to eat a lot to maintain and keep your weight as a 58kg, right? Now you have to watch your weight.
Papa Yats: When I saw the 58kg girls, they’re big now – so masculine!
Hidilyn: They’re so big and strong. Yes, I have to watch my weight, but it’s okay. The best strategy is to lower my weight to compete in a different class. Although I have to eat healthy.
Papa Yats: And the strategy worked.
Niel: Do you eat a lot of Filipino food?
Hidilyn: Yes, everything. I love Korean food, Japanese food, Mexican food, everything. And I love nachos. That’s why it’s hard for me to keep my weight, but I have a nutritionist now who plans my meals. I use to eat healthy food so I’m okay with 53kg now – until Rio.
Papa Yats: Then retirement from lifting.
Hidilyn: I don’t know. It’s really hard. You want to eat with your friends, but then your friends want to eat cakes, milk tea, pizza, and all those kinds of foods. I can’t eat sugar and sweets. Yes it’s hard, but it’s okay. You see I placed in the 53kg.
Papa Yats: Or maybe they’re going to a party or something like a birthday. For instance, she gave me her cheesecake because she couldn’t eat it. She actually brought it to me, because she couldn't decline it from her friends. She actually has chocolate all over the place here (her hotel room). Now it’s different, today is different. Although the Qatar competition is in two week, but maybe you can’t go that bad. (Note from Papa Yats: She went overweight there, and had to lift in 63kg class, because they didn't have a 58kg class. She still won.)
Hidilyn: It’s okay. I already ate chocolate last night so I’m good with that. You want some chocolate?

Papa Yats: Soon she’s going to have to watch her bodyweight again for the Qatar competition. We went for a nice steak dinner today with my friend Jonas (Dr. Westbrook from Two Doctors), but that’s about it. The athlete’s buffet is pretty good downstairs in the dining room.
Hidilyn: The food is good, but it’s the same every day.
Papa Yats: I just want to say in the Philippines, she doesn’t get any extra bonus for winning this. No money involved. She buys her own food. There’s no food fairy that provides food for the high level athlete. She gets some stipend in general from the Filipino Olympic Committee, but it’s not nice like in the United States Olympic Training Center. There are no dining facilities or even a kitchen for the lifters in the Philippines. You have to buy food outside.

In the US, the weightlifters have everything they need to train. At least that's what coach Zygmunt said when he was inviting her over to train in Colorado. Over there they don’t even have air conditioning. They don’t have proper equipment. The gym is falling apart. Niel, you saw the picture of the gym. I mean does it look good?
Hidilyn: You saw how old the plates are?
Papa Yats: Ten years old or more.

Training

Niel: I understand you had some issues with your leg. Has that been getting better and did it affect your performance?
Hidilyn: I don’t like to back squat, but I have special training for the squat. I bounce out of the bottom. I use it so my clean will bounce up when I receive the bar. I squatted heavy weights, but there’s a big bounce at the bottom. It helps a lot for my reaction in the clean, but my squat is still not too good. I don’t know why. The issue isn’t pain, I just don’t have strength for the back squat.
Papa Yats: She doesn’t like the squat exercise so she tries to avoid it.

Arrived in the morning and already in training with @haidie20  I do believe that with a little luck we can squeeze a tiny bronze medal at World Championship in Houston 2015. I say "we" however in all honesty I'm just adding my little brick to the wall... All other lifters left the gym and there's only her and I. Extra work needs to be done. Her biggest weakness is getting up after a heavy clean.  Her leg is injured, and she is doing only minimum of full back squats. We are forced to do different #squat exercises to maintain or even increase strength of her legs (6 weeks only to Asian Championship). Half squat is nothing new, but these here are done with slow tempo and full control, lighter weights, working on feeling deep muscles, glutes, and abdominals. We finished with some electromuscle stimulation for quads (I'm using Compex, but Globus is a good one, too). For the record, I'm not really her #coach, just sort of friend, motivator, and impresario. Beyond certain level, disciplined lifters can really coach themselves, but of course they need that someone to be there with them. Don't be afraid of half squats, but do them for slow muscle building, not for #powerlifting records. When I program, I'm really big on different squat variations, and the results have been convincing to say the least.  #olympicweightlifting #oly #weightlifting #crossfit #usaw #coaching #filipinostrong
A video posted by Papa Yats (@papayats) on


Niel: You competed in the 2008 Olympics when you were 17. You have more experience now. How does your experience now compare to back then?
Hidilyn: At that time when I was 17, there was no pressure. I didn’t know what the Olympic was or anything. I just went there and was amazed thinking, “Oh, this is the Olympics.” I was able to go because I got a wild card. The Philippines Weightlifting Association didn’t expect anything from me, but sent me for exposure.
Papa Yats: She was happy to be there, but she also had kind of good results too. They don’t give wild cards for nothing.
Hidilyn: Yes. In 2007, they saw that I have potential because I got bronze at the Southeast Asian Games and I was only 16.

https://www.instagram.com/p/-kpBVjqIUz

Left to right: Hidilyn at Beijing in 2008, London in 2012, and 2015 now

Niel: Training can be very hard mentally. What helps you through hard days?
Hidilyn: I set my mind to compete in Rio. I tell myself this is my third time, it’s my third Olympic Games. I want to win, so if I give up then how will I be able to go there? How can I reach my goal? When I train, I always think “Rio, Rio, Rio” in my mind. I promised myself when I qualify that I have to win any medal. I have to win because it’s my third Olympics.

Weightlifting in the Philippines

Niel: Is weightlifting popular in the Philippines?
Hidilyn: No.
Papa Yats: Filipino weightlifting is more popular here in the US than in the Philippines. I’m sorry to say that she has more fans in America than in the Philippines.
Niel: That seems similar to many countries – there’s no recreational weightlifting. There’s only weightlifting to compete at a high level.
Papa Yats: Yes, there’s no recreational weightlifting.

Niel: Is there a Filipino weightlifting system?
Hidilyn: No.
Papa Yats: It’s everybody for themselves. Of course, their group of Nestor, Hidilyn, Jeffrey, Richard, and Chris train together some times. They’re going to have the same kind of training ideas because they have been training together.
Hidilyn: I’ve trained in China in 2007, 2008, and 2013. In 2007, I trained in Guangzhou for two months and in 2008 and 2013, I trained in Guangxi for three months each.
Papa Yats: Which one did you like better, Guangxi?
Hidilyn: Yes, Guangxi. There was Deng Mengrong, Lu Yong, and a 48kg girl. The place is good. China’s training is good.

A video posted by Papa Yats (@papayats) on

Deng Mengrong

Niel: They have a system and schools.
Hidilyn: Yes.
Niel: It’s not like America.
Papa Yats: She’s not familiar with training in America. She sees the videos on the internet, but she doesn’t understand why people would use or teach bad technique. She doesn't understand that you can become a weightlifting coach in one weekend. Obviously I’m not saying it’s everywhere. There are good coaches and systems here, like Coach Zygmunt Smalcerz. He’s doing good things.

Niel: Aside from more medals, what would the Philippines Weightlifting Association like to see happen in the country?
Papa Yats: Right now any kind of bump in popularity and introducing more kids to the sport, but for that you need money for equipment and facilities. It’s not easy, but hopefully with her and Nestor there can be some progress. This is the first time in a long time that the country had any kind of success in weightlifting.
Niel: Speaking of more money, the fundraiser you began passed its goal.
Papa Yats: It’s still not enough, but at least it helps one club. I’m going to set up the next one and I’m going to help Hidilyn's club in her hometown, Zamboanga City. There are many people that want to help, but they don’t know how to help.
Niel: Do you have more ideas in mind?
Papa Yats: Yes, I think everyone who donates will get a copy of Hidilyn's weightlifting program. You can either donate money to my crowdfunding, or donate equipment (shoes, plates, barbells). If you decide to donate equipment, I'll provide you with address of the club in the Philippines to ship it to. That way you can do it your way, and there is no middle man involved.

Short Questions

Niel: What do you like more, the snatch or clean & jerk?
Hidilyn: I love the jerk. But my clean is no good.
Papa Yats: In my opinion, her best lift technically is the jerk. Just the jerk. From the rack I think I saw her a few times do 125kg with good technique. Anything she can clean she can jerk. In the opinion of several foreign coaches, she actually has a better technical jerk than other competitors in her weight class. Actually, the same goes for Nestor.

https://www.facebook.com/iwfnet/photos/pb.139828096051718.-2207520000.1452611079./1046208768746975/
A successful 117kg jerk by Hidilyn in Houston
Credit International Weightlifting Federation

Niel: If you weren’t in weightlifting, what do you think you would be doing right now?
Hidilyn: I’d have six kids, ha. No, seriously. Six kids – Do, Re, Mi, Pa, So....
Papa Yats: Yeah, a bum no good husband and several kids. Weightlifting helps people grow over there in the Philippines. In many poorer countries, through sport you can finish school. If you look at kids from her neighborhood, who didn’t do any sports, that’s their future: Girls her age with several kids.

Niel: What’s your favorite thing about weightlifting?
Hidilyn: The process and when I struggle in training. When you’re an athlete, you don’t want things to happen so easy. I want to achieve that goal.
Papa Yats: It’s all about the journey, not going to the top.
Hidilyn: Yes, I want it that way.

Niel: What’s your least favorite thing about weightlifting?
Papa Yats: Injury? I don’t know.
Hidilyn: Yes…..and the stretching after training.
*group laughter*
Papa Yats: I think she’s talking about the mandatory partner stretching when you push a little over the limit.


Partner assisted stretching

Hidilyn: After training, I have to stay in the gym to do stretching to prevent injuries, but I don’t like stretching.
Papa Yats: Who likes stretching? No one. I hate stretching, mobility, but of course even I do it almost every day or I try to.
Hidilyn: I had injury before, last year that’s why. Lesson learned. After training I have to stretch and I have to do general preparation exercises

Conclusion

Niel: So to wrap it up, what advice would you give to your younger self?
Hidilyn: Dream big. Do it. Believe in yourself. The thing is, if you dream big, everything is possible. If you want it, you can get it.

Niel: That’s very encouraging. Do you plan on visiting the US again?
Hidilyn: Maybe yes.
Papa Yats: And you need to spend some time with my kids then. You’re going to miss my kids!
Hidilyn: Yes, of course.

Niel: Are there any specific plans for the future we can expect from you? Besides Rio.
Hidilyn: I don’t know yet. Maybe after Rio I’m planning to rest for a while. I want to be some place and I want to explore. I want to relax my mind because for how many years? For 13 years in weightlifting, I don’t even get five days of rest. Only during the holy week, I have only two days rest so I have to enjoy life. I want to see the world and how beautiful it is. Yes, then maybe do some charity work, teach weightlifting to kids.


Niel: Is there anything you would like to say to all your fans out there?
Papa Yats: She doesn’t even know she has fans, but I keep telling her she does.
Hidilyn: Thank you for the prayers, for the support, and for believing in me. Because of them I have the courage to train because sometimes they message me words of support like “You can do it.” I get encouraged by them. Thank you for that.

Post Interview

At this time, Papa Yats and I left to walk around the convention center as well as check out the late night sessions. On our way to the competition hall, we ran into IWF member Aveenash Pandoo (see the previous post), as well as other weightlifters who came to watch the championships, which provided us with additional opportunities to talk more about the sport. For me, this was great. I quickly learned to walk around as much as possible during the rest of my stay and interact with as many people as I could.

Thank you to Hidilyn and Papayats for taking the time to sit down with me for this interview. Hidilyn, I wish you much success in 2016 and Rio!

https://www.instagram.com/p/4ZOABjIoj5

If you enjoyed reading this interview and want to stay updated on Hidilyn's journey, you can follow her and Papa Yats on the following social media sites below.

Hidilyn Diaz

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Recap of the 2015 IWF World Championships

https://www.instagram.com/niel.patel

During Thanksgiving week this past November, I traveled out to Houston for this year's World Weightlifting Championships. It hasn't been in the United States since the eighties and I couldn't pass up on the chance to go. While I could only be there for three days, it was plenty of time time to take in everything.

This post is more of an interlude before the next one which also relates to the championships. That one will be an interview I had the opportunity of conducting while I was in Houston, but more on that next time.

Here I'm writing about my experience on the trip and that essentially amounts to a bunch of random thoughts. It ends with a compilation of the Instagram posts I did when I came back from Houston. What I won't be doing here is providing an analysis of the competition. That kind of commentary can be found on blogs, podcasts, and eventually Sportivny Press.

Overall
 
There were sessions at all different times of the day, but every session had great lifters to watch. Not only that, but there was always a crowd. For instance, one night on my way to the last session, a coach and his wife went to watch even though athletes from their country weren't in the session. In the competition hall you saw fans, athletes, and coaches watching all the lifters on the platform.

I sat on the far side of the hall. On my first day, I ended up with Enver Turkeleri sitting in front of me, an Azerbaijan coach next to me, Chinese men's head coach Chen Wenbin across the aisle, and the entire Russian and Ukraine team sitting in the rows behind me. It made for interesting observations during the men's 77kg A session. For example, I noticed many of the coaches paid more attention to the scoreboard than the actual lifts happening on the platform. Or when Su Ying missed a jerk, Chen Wenbin immediately demonstrated to the athlete with him the correct movement using only his hands. It was one quick motion and few words.

That moment didn't click in my mind until later that night. It was when Papayats had introduced me to weightlifting coach and IWF education and development commission member Aveenash Pandoo. He gave a lecture earlier that day and said that demonstrating corrections is visually processed faster by the cerebellum rather than explaining it to a person.

Let me say in all the time I've been reading, practicing, and been involved with lifting, that has been the first time I had ever heard that. Saying my mind was blown would be an understatement.

All in all, the atmosphere and venue were great. It also helps immensely if you speak a second language to converse with athletes and coaches. Seeing as how most didn't speak English, it limits the amount of people you can connect with. However if you were able to chat someone up, they were often very friendly.

Random Thoughts and Observations
  • While the men's sessions were interesting, I thought the women were more enjoyable to watch. The men had more missed attempts 
  • Every time a Russian lifter came out for their attempt, the entire Russian team began to clap. Unfortunately, they were always out of sync
  • The Iranian fans win gold for enthusiasm
  • Papayats and I were on the elevator with a Korean coach and his athlete and this very same situation happened:


    When Papayats greeted him, I pretty much stood there clueless
  • I missed the Indian weightlifters compete! I arrived after they had all competed, but I did get to chat with their 77kg weightlifter Sathish Sivalingam and team physiotherapist
  • I also ran into the Two Doctors and Gregor on an elevator ride and managed to get a good laugh out of them. Can't say the same thing for the elevator ride with Zygmunt, but that's because everyone on the elevator stood there quietly when he walked in
The most valuable lesson I came away with from this trip was that there are so many people who know so much more than me. They were some of the best people I had conversations with. Sadly, most people will probably never hear of them because they aren't some Instagram famous person.

Instagram Interviews

If you don't follow me on Instagram, I did quick on-the-spot interviews of athletes and coaches in Houston. It was anyone who would agree to four simple questions: which do they like more snatch or clean & jerk, favorite thing about weightlifting, least favorite thing about weightlifting, and advice they would give themselves.

It provided a bit more substance than just taking pictures, but I didn't plan any of these individuals. The people chosen were based on if I ran into them and they weren't busy. Some people I didn't want to rudely interrupt while others were usually heading somewhere and I didn't want to delay them.

Click on the the person's name to be taken to their full interview. Enjoy!

Dave Luk

A photo posted by Niel Patel (@niel.patel) on


A photo posted by Niel Patel (@niel.patel) on


George Kobaladze

A photo posted by Niel Patel (@niel.patel) on


Hani Kanama

A photo posted by Niel Patel (@niel.patel) on


Ruslan Zhabotinsky

A photo posted by Niel Patel (@niel.patel) on


Jared Fleming

A photo posted by Niel Patel (@niel.patel) on

Monday, August 17, 2015

Deceleration: Cheetahs, Sprinters, and Weightlifters

https://instagram.com/p/6Gk8DDxtB0/
Credit hookgrip

When I was in college, one of the prerequisites for undergraduates was a writing course. Before each assignment, we read two passages from books then formed a thesis for our paper. The bulk of the paper was drawing upon our readings and finding the similarities between both works. This wasn't always easy and forced me to closely examine the stories.

While I never enjoyed writing - which is strange considering this site - it became a valuable skill in exercise. Coaching, programming, and exercise choices require a sharp eye for picking up the subtle details. That is the aim for this post where we'll take a look at sprinters, cheetahs, and Olympic weightlifters. They appear different from one another, but in fact they share similarities.

Sprinter [source]

Researchers at Southern Methodist University of Dallas analyzed the running mechanics and action of sprinters compared to a group of soccer, lacrosse, and football players. It was previously believed that running fell under the influence of a spring-mass model described as:
The spring-mass model assumes the legs work essentially like the compression spring of a pogo stick when in contact with the ground. In this theory, during running at a constant speed on level ground, the body falls down out of the air. Upon landing, the support leg acts like a pogo stick to catch the body and pop it back up in the air for the next step.
It's been generally assumed that this classic spring model applies to faster running speeds and faster athletes as well as to slower ones. Elite sprinters do not conform to widely accepted theories of running mechanics.
The article states that sprinters deliver a deliberate striking action to the ground versus the mixed athlete group.
"Our new studies show that these elite sprinters don't use their legs to just bounce off the ground as most other runners do," said human biomechanics expert and lead author on the studies Ken Clark, a researcher in the SMU Locomotor Performance Laboratory. "The top sprinters have developed a wind-up and delivery mechanism to augment impact forces. Other runners do not do so."
And I'll highlight this last excerpt.
We found that the fastest athletes all do the same thing to apply the greater forces needed to attain faster speeds," Weyand said. "They cock the knee high before driving the foot into the ground, while maintaining a stiff ankle. These actions elevate ground forces by stopping the lower leg abruptly upon impact." 
The new research indicates that the fastest runners decelerate their foot and ankle in just over two-hundredths of a second after initial contact with the ground.
Keep this information in mind as we review the next article.

Cheetah [source]

The cheetah is the fastest mammal on the planet and is known for its speed. Alan Wilson and his team from the University of London’s Royal Veterinary College discovered that the cheetah's speed is not its most important hunting trait.
Third, cheetahs can decelerate faster than they can accelerate, much as sports cars with powerful engines need beefed-up brakes. While both these processes require different sets of muscles and depend on different conditions, the rates of acceleration and deceleration beat those of any other land-dwelling animal. Based on the recorded data, Wilson calculates that the muscle power output of cheetahs is about four times that of Usain Bolt, three times that of polo horses, and nearly double that of greyhounds.

The top speed of a cheetah hunt had no correlation to the successful outcome of the hunt. Instead, Wilson found that success depended more on how fast the cheetah could slow down, rather than on how fast it could speed up. It is this last phase of a hunt that was critical for success, where the cheetah slows down. When these two observations are put together, Wilson thinks that it seems cheetahs don’t abandon hunts early to save energy or reduce risk of injury.

Finally, cheetahs are not built to be able to turn at their highest speed. In an artificial setting, which astronauts and fighter pilots are put into for training, the force felt by a cheetah trying to turn around at top speed could knock it unconscious. Instead they use their ability to slow down and their ridged footpads and claws to grip the ground well enough to turn quickly.
The cheetah's ability to slow down as well as its agility are key factors to hunting.

Let's pull all this together for training.

Olympic Weightlifter

Weightlifters and the classical lifts, snatch and clean & jerk, are often known for their power and speed. If you want to develop a fast athlete, you have them employ those movements or a derivative of them. Typically, there is an emphasis on accelerating in the second pull and having a forceful extension of the ankles, knees, and hips (triple extension).

This is where it all ties into one another. While a powerful extension is beneficial and desired, sometimes lifters and coaches overlook the next part - deceleration/force absorption. In weightlifting, this is also known as triple flexion and is the resulting action of triple extension. The weightlifter speeds under the bar and decelerates it in the receiving position.

Much like in the discussion above for the sprinter and cheetah, deceleration is critical. Similar to the actions of the former two, the pull under the bar is deliberate.

In the sport of weightlifting, the goal is to put up the highest numbers possible. Athletes accomplish that by lifting the bar to the lowest height possible and then pull their bodies under it to speed into the receiving position. This can only be done because of deceleration at the end of the movement. They absorb the impact.

If the body did not slow down, their would be incredible wear and tear to the joints. And to an extent, this is true for a lifter who is lifting more than they are capable of handling.

Application

If deceleration is important, how is it trained?

For the beginner, squatting consistently with good eccentric (lowering) control is first and foremost.

Intermediate weightlifters can incorporate snatch balances into their programs.


Non-weightlifter can use various jumps such as broad jumps, vertical jumps, box jumps, and depth drops. Emphasis should be placed on perfect landings for the most benefit as well as not overdoing it on the advanced movements like the depth drop.

For weighted movements, the Triple Extension-Flexion article provides two exercises - jump squats and trap bar jumps. Low rep sets with light-to-moderate weight is enough to provide the necessary training stimulus.

As you can see, three seemingly unrelated areas have something in common. Remember that deceleration/force absorption is important and is an active and deliberate action that should be trained.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The FuBarbell + The Training Geek Seminar with Diane Fu and Lester Ho

A day of learning and lifting

After attending the Ma Strength seminar in December 2014, I didn't plan on attending another seminar for a while. However, when the "FuBarbell + The Training Geek Tour" popped up on my Facebook feed, I couldn't pass on the chance to attend - the session was going to be held awfully close to my neighborhood at Brazen Athletics in Fairfield, NJ.

The session was held on a Saturday from 9 AM to 5 PM. The hosts were:
Diane Fu
- Owner of FuBarbell
- Extensive work with Kelly Starrett
- Weightlifting coach for Team NorCal
- Mentored by Wu Chuanfu, coach of Singapore's national weightlifting team

Lester Ho
- Co-Owner Southeast Strength
- PhD candidate, three dimensional kinematics of the snatch
- Mentored by Robert Kabbas, silver medalist at 1984 Olympics
The day before the seminar, I received an email with the course manual. It was a pleasant and appreciated surprise that allowed me to review the material beforehand. The manual gave me an idea of the day's schedule and what to expect.

The seminar had 15 attendees in total with the group comprised mostly of coaches.


Diane began with an introduction of her template which is geared toward improving the athleticism of a specific type of individual - the modern athlete. The modern athlete is usually a person who has little-to-no exercise experience and has a sedentary lifestyle as a student or office worker with limited time to exercise. They tend to pick up weightlifting in their 20's or 30's and are very new to it.

In order of most important to least important, the template prioritizes:
  • Position - A combination of mobility, proprioception, and strength in certain positions/postures
  • Movement - The flow and  rhythm of the full movement and consistent rep quality
  • Speed - Position and movement are prerequisites to speed. Speed will be detrimental to reps if the other two qualities are not developed
  • Load - Weight is the least prioritized aspect. Skill is required first and an individual will lift whatever they are capable of with the correct technique
Lester then began to speak on the biomechanics and physics of weightlifting and covered the laws of motion and the center of mass. This lead to the next segment on levers and varying body types using the toolbox method.


Participants paired up and used their phones to take a picture of each other in the position shown above while lying on our back. Using that image, two boxes - using an app or a computer program like paint - are drawn on to the upper and lower body. This gives an understanding of the lever relationship between the torso, femurs, and lower legs. Depending on a person's leverages, they will have one of three body types, which are:
(1) A long torso with short femurs (ideal for weightlifting)
(2) Long Femurs compared to their torso (more use of legs)
(3) Equal length torso with their femurs (strong upper body)
These characteristics affect a person's positions. For instance, a weightlifter with long femurs will take a wider stance with their feet somewhat externally rotated and catch the bar with an inclined torso in the snatch. A longer torso individual will be able to set up comfortably in a narrow stance and receive the bar with a more upright torso.

They noted levers add another layer of information and give insight, but a coach shouldn't rely only on levers when examining a lifter.

Assessment and Mobility

With the fundamentals explained, we proceeded to the movement portion and started with assessment testing.

The first assessment was simply to crawl on our hands and feet. This is what I consider a true bear crawl - trunk parallel to the ground with the hips at or slightly below the height of the shoulders.

Notice the controlled limb movement
Opposite hand and foot move together

I'm familiar with the crawl and use it in a warm-up or part of the training session. However, I've never thought to use it as an assessment, but it makes sense. The crawl allows you to see pelvic control, core strength, and coordination. Some of the participants found it a bit challenging.

The second test was a narrow stance squat with the hands clasped together overhead called the Charlie's Angel Squat. It's a very simple movement that reveals mobility restrictions in the lower body and shoulder extension along with feeling the quadriceps (more on this below).

Those two movements illustrated how well one's body can move. Understanding how we did on those drills, we went into mobility of the upper body, hips, and ankles.

The upper body stretch we did was a hang from a pull-up bar and our partner pushed on us right below the scapulae. Over the course of three sets, we worked towards a more narrow grip. This stretched all of the anterior pressing muscles really well. Combined this with the fact a bar hang also stretches the lats, there was significant improvement in shoulder extension.

Jump to the 1:20 mark to see a 
similar take on the stretch we did

The next focus was on the hips and ankles by using band distractions. With a band anchored on the rack, you take the other end and put it around your hip or ankle. With the band on, work through various angles - lunge, split, squat, and then repeat on the other side. Almost everyone saw improvements in their positions. The drills were good, but if anyone had an injury they were advised to not do them.

Snatch

Now that we were all warmed up, we began the actual lifts. They used a top-down approach to break down the pull. It progressed as,

Extension > Power/Hip > Knee > Start

After hitting each point, we reversed the movement and initiated the pull. Combining it together, we did a snatch pull, power snatch, and then finally a full snatch.

From the start position, we were told to go straight up as if we were trying to draw a straight line from a pencil sticking out of our ear. Visually, a PVC can be held adjacent to the lifter. Keeping the ear in line to the PVC will force the lifter to pull straight up. If the lifter still needs further feedback, Diane demonstrated by having her hand on the upper back and told Lester to press her hand upwards. This achieves the correct pulling action.

I really enjoyed their cues. They provided excellent cues to understand how it should feel. I particularly liked the emphasis on feeling the quadriceps contract in the start position and in extension. In the start position, "feel your heels float" gave the right idea of how far you should start over the bar - the weight is shifted forward just enough to have your heels stay lightly on the ground. If done correctly, the quadriceps muscles can be felt.

Extension was cued in a similar fashion. There was no forceful plantar flexion, but instead were told to extend upwards and feel the quadriceps. Done correctly, the heels again "float" as opposed to doing a calf raise.

We were now given 30 minutes of open lifting to snatch on our own. We were allowed to go as heavy as we chose under the condition we maintain good technique. As we lifted, Diane and Lester went around observing and coaching everyone.

I did some light muscle and power snatches and took this as an opportunity to take photos (which can be found at the end). At this point, we were about halfway through the day and we broke for a one hour lunch. I stuck around and took more photos of Diane and Lester lifting. This surprised me a bit because they taught for 3-4 hours, lifted during lunch, and then taught for another 3-4 hours. That is awfully tiring, but kudos to them for being able to do it!

Clean & Jerk

Once everyone got back, we briefly went over the clean and spent more time on the jerk. For the clean, we went through the same progression as the snatch. Everything discussed on the snatch applied to the clean. The only change was the grip width and the bar being racked on the shoulders.

They stressed to set the lats in the rack position by not having too much space between your armpits. If the elbows are too high where the humeri are parallel to the ground, the lats are unable to support the weight. Once the bar was correctly racked, we did a complex that consisted of a push press, push jerk, and split jerk. The goal was to first achieve proper depth on the dip and then complete extension. Most trainees will cut the two movements short which results in a shallow dip and splitting too early for the jerk. To ingrain proper dip depth, including dip holds into your training will cement the new change.




Just like the snatch, we were given 30 minutes free lifting time for the clean and jerk. In the previous seminar, I was instructed by Liao Hui for the rack position - have elevated shoulders and make a big chest. This actually strained my shoulders and caused them to cramp. Lester said set the lats instead. I found it much more comfortable.

Closing Discussion

After lifting, we had the opportunity to ask questions. Questions were asked throughout the day, but I don't recall any questions during this specific Q&A. Diane and Lester spoke about how they taper and deload - including how they are different from one another - plus how a trainee should set their annual training if they compete minimally or not at all.

The final discussion was on programming. They program in 3-4 week blocks. Diane recommended for those who only do WOD's to include strength training sessions that incorporates trunk work (core and lower back). They both agreed pulls are underrated and very beneficial. Pulls done correctly really employ the legs. If feeling the quadriceps is hard to understand, then they recommended narrow stance squats.

Observations

It appears Crossfit certifications teach sitting back in the start position of the snatch and clean with an emphasis on hip extension. I am not 100% sure - because I've never taken a Crossfit certification - but this is what I took away from the seminar.

Suggestions

The seminar was solid. The only adjustment I would consider is adding a segment on programming prior to lifting. It felt somewhat brief and lumped together with the Q&A and end. It can be expanded on with an overview of a sample training week along with how to set up the main movements plus accessory work to improve technique.

This next point is not exclusive to this seminar and something I've seen in every seminar I attend. While questions were asked throughout the day, when it comes to Q&A at the end of a seminar, participants hardly ask questions. For whatever reason, that's the way it is. I'd recommend any seminar presenter(s) to instead try and anticipate questions or ask themselves "Can I/we elaborate on this here?" because people will rarely put forth the good questions. I had to do this in college for research papers and I've found it helpful. It's not a foolproof method, but it might encourage more dialogue from the guests.

Material aside, sitting on a wooden box is surprisingly extremely uncomfortable. I would have gladly enjoyed being able to sit in a chair. Call it nitpicking, but it's hard to pay attention when your glutes hurt.

Suggestions for Trainees

If a trainee engages in only WOD's, devote time to training you typically wouldn't do, such as bodybuilding work. Try to feel the muscle for each rep, do isolation work for smaller muscles, go slow, do high reps, and don't worry about the load.

Need to get use to the new start position and staying over the bar? Apply the same concept from the jerk dip hold to the the start position, Hold it for time and get accustomed to how the start position should feel. Stay in the start position for 10, 20, or 30 seconds and then do the snatch or clean. You become familiar with the set up and can use a light load for the lifts.

Final Thoughts

Weightlifting is simple. You take a heavy barbell and you put it over your head. Learning how to do it efficiently is difficult, but teaching someone else how to do it is much harder. Describing how weightlifting should feel to an individual is not easy and can be tough to grasp.

Diane and Lester did a terrific job at conveying that feeling without making it overly complex. This is what I walked away with and it enhanced my coaching skill set. Both of their extensive backgrounds and experience combined into an enjoyable seminar.

If you're lucky, they will do the tour again in 2016.

You can view photos I took from the seminar here.

FuBarbell Sites
The Training Geek Sites

Further Reading,

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Barbell Alternatives to the Back Squat

Squats are a staple among weightlifters

The back squat is a fundamental exercise. However, not everyone can perform it. There are a number of reasons that can prevent a person from back squatting, such as:
  • It's awkward to do
  • No access to a squat rack 
  • They suffer pain in the upper body such as the low back (lumbar spine) or shoulders
As much as I like the exercise, it's not completely necessary. There are many productive variations of the squat. The back squat in particular is effective because it can be done heavy. The same can't be said for squats that don't use a barbell as they get no where near the weight of a back squat. The front squat can be interchanged with the back squat, but front squat progress can be limited by mobility issues. If mobility is adequate, but there's no squat rack, then cleaning it is out of the question. The weight used in a clean will be lower than the actual weight that can be used in a front squat.

Fortunately, there are variations that can be substituted into training. While single leg exercises and dumbbells or kettlebells can be used, they serve better as accessory work and to build volume. I don't believe they can replace the barbell and vice versa. In the appropriate context, each has their own benefits.

The primary exercises discussed here are suitable to build a strong set of legs. Best of all, a rack isn't needed, there are less compression forces on the spine, and they are fun variations to incorporate - especially when training feels stagnant.

Lastly, I'd suggest new weightlifters wait until trying these exercises - have at least one year's worth of training experience. They would see better progress by developing a strength base and proprioception through employing other squat and deadlift variations along with single leg exercises.

Jefferson Lift

The Jefferson is an odd looking lift. It's not quite a deadlift and it's not quite a squat. It's somewhat like a trap bar deadlift-squat combo, but it's still unique in its own way. And contrary to how it may appear, it's not an asymmetrical movement either - weight distribution is even throughout both legs.

I like it because I've found it's great for driving rotation in the thoracic spine (upper back) and it doesn't require as much mobility as the hack squat - which will be discussed last. With the weight directly underneath the body, reps feel balanced and there isn't a huge stress on lumbar spine. The Jefferson lift is a great option for those who don't have access to a trap bar. Also be warned, if you have short arms this exercise will become much more difficult and will require you to squat down lower and there will be trouble at lock out.
Zercher Squat

The Zercher squat is often criticized for the bar placement on the biceps' tendons. Although it isn't necessary, this is where having a specialty bar or wrapping a towel around the bar helps. I've found knowing how to settle the bar in your arms makes a difference.

Essentially, keep your arms extended when setting up then ensure the bar is fully placed in the elbow crooks so it doesn't move and rub your skin.  When the bar's racked in the arms, it's important the upper arms (humeri) are held close against the torso - think of pinning the elbows against the ribs - and the forearms are kept up. This shifts the weight to the trunk instead of having the arms bear the brunt of the weight.

If there's one exercise that teaches you to brace your core, the Zercher squat is it. The bar's location causes the entire trunk and back to brace during the set. And if you don't have access to atlas stones, this also doubles as a poor substitute for stone lifting.
Hack Squat

Mention the hack squat and more often than not, the hack squat machine is what most people think of. There is another exercise known as the barbell hack squat. Its low position requires a little more mobility than the previous two lifts discussed and has some semblance to a Olympic lift start position.

The hack squat is excellent for quadriceps development, especially for the vastus medialis. What I've found best about the hack squat is that there is less stress on the hips in the eccentric portion of the lift. Instead, the focus is extension in the knees and hips. If your hips are beat up from deadlifts and squats, the hack squat serves as a great movement to cycle into a training block and use as a semi-deload from the main lifts.

If you decide to try the hack squat, I advise you to thoroughly warm-up your knees. The hack squat spares the hips, but it can be rough on the knees. Just add a few minutes of cycling and mid-to-high rep bodyweight squats (10-20) to your warm-up and it should do the trick. Similar to the Jefferson lift, short arm lifters will encounter the same problems in the start position and lock out.
If I could have it my way, everyone would be able to do back or front squats. Unfortunately, that's not realistic. However during the year, it is practical to implement these other barbell movements and program them into training blocks. They offer a new stimulus to the body that will elicit progress and will still maintain relevance to the squat and deadlift. Not only that, but they will have carry over and translate well when you return to the main lifts.

Whether you are able to squat or not, be sure to incorporate these movements into your training and improve your leg strength.

Further Discussion,

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Ma Strength Seminar with Yu Jie, Liao Hui, and Lu Xiaojun

That's my best Yu Jie face

Not many people can claim they are the best in the world. Olympians Liao Hui and Lu Xiaojun made no such statement, but that's because they don't speak English. Ma Strength co-director Jianping Ma addressed the group that morning saying that these guys are the best.

This past Sunday, I attended the Ma Strength seminar at the South Brooklyn Weightlifting Club. For those unfamiliar with Ma Strength,

"Welcome to Ma Strength – your ultimate site on Chinese weightlifting. Our mission is to provide athletes and coaches with the tools they need to enhance weightlifting performance using the knowledge and methods of the Chinese weightlifting system.

What makes us unique is our expertise and experience in these methods. We aim to fill the growing demand for knowledge and application about the Chinese weightlifting system through this blog and website, along with our technique clinics, coaching seminars, products, and online projects."

The hosts and guests were:
Jianping Ma
- Ma Strength Co-Director
- Head Coach at Lindenwood University
- 1984 Olympian

Manuel Buitrago
- Ma Strength Co-Director
- Head Weightlifting Coach at Supreme Sports Performance & Training
- Trained under Ivan Abadjiev

Yu Jie
- Head coach
- Athletes include Liao Hui, Lu Xiaojun, Lu Haojie, Zhong Guoshun, Tian Tao

Liao Hui
- Men's 69 kg weightlifter
- Four gold medals
- Holds the world records in snatch, clean & jerk, and total

Lu Xiaojun
- Men's 77 kg weightlifter
- Six gold medals
- Holds the world records in the snatch and total
Before I proceed, let me give my own brief background in weightlifting. My university had USA weightlifting instructors available if anyone was interested in learning the lifts. I took advantage of it in my freshman year of 2008. It wasn't until 2011-2012 that I spent more time practicing the lifts, learning more, and meeting with the university's weightlifting club near the end of my final semester. In the summer of 2012, I developed sharp knee pain and discontinued practicing the lifts. Only until recently in 2014 have I started squatting again and making a slow transition to incorporating derivatives of the full movements.

It's not everyday world champions visit your area; the seminar presented a perfect opportunity to meet two of them. Not only that, but the most popular entries on this site are the Olympic weightlifting articles. I knew readers would like a feature on the seminar.

I chose the Sunday seminar for a number of reasons. First, since the seminar was being held from 10:00AM to 12:00PM, I would be able to avoid traffic in Manhattan. Next, there were would be less attendees than the Saturday session, which would potentially make for a more individualized experience. Lastly - and most importantly - since the Saturday session would be their first seminar, I knew any issues they may have encountered from the first seminar would be resolved for the next day.

Attendees came from local and far, but most were predominantly from the East Coast with the exception of one person from outside the US. Everyone knew the basics of Olympic weightlifting and had been training anywhere from a few months to a few years (aside from me).

Ma began with a general introduction explaining the Chinese system. The Chinese studied the systems of America, Russia, Bulgaria, and then finally developed their own.

Ma used five words to describe the snatch with the last two being his own he adds.


  • Close - Bar stays against and near the body while traveling upwards 
  • Fast - Lock out immediately after full extension
  • Low - Lock out low 
  • Timing - Rhythm (More on it below) 
I wrote timing as rhythm. It was illustrated with two fast claps in succession as opposed to one clap, a pause, then the next clap. This described the rhythm of the movement and feet. It was full extension and then boom! The bar is locked out overhead. The aim is to develop rhythm instead of extending aggressively and then riding or squatting the bar down.

After the explanations, we were told the seminar's format was changed and we will get the chance to lift and receive on the spot instructions and corrections. They explained experiencing the concepts first hand will help us better learn them.

This was a last minute surprise. I luckily didn't wear jeans like I was considering that morning. I was dressed to lift and brought my weightlifting shoes along if such an event were to occur.

To be honest, this was a pleasant change. I wasn't sure what the seminar would entail. I signed up to see what content would be presented and how I can incorporate what I learned into my own skill set. As mentioned previously, I haven't done any Olympic weightlifting outside of front squats and snatch high pulls. Later when Ma asked how long I've been training, I just replied "not that long."

But more on that in the next section.

Hands On Corrections

SNATCH

Ma discussed and demonstrated the snatch plus its variations: the split and power snatch. He explained the form of the snatch noting the chest and head are up, the wrists relaxed (no wrist flexion), stance is comfortable around shoulder-width apart, and the knees are out/wide. He said knees out as having each knee over each foot (proper joint alignment).

Ma said full extension is straight up. Yu Jie showed the position quite a few times - on the forefeet, elbows high, wrists and hands close outside the shoulders, and head slightly back. After extending, jumping backwards is wrong. You stay where you start and your feet only move outwards to the sides.

Kazakhstan's Zulfiya Chinshanlo displays 
excellent full extension straight upwards here

As Ma called on us, we went up one-by-one. In the snatch, we would begin in the start position, do a few muscles snatches followed by the full snatch. Either in the start position or the full snatch, Ma would instruct the lifter with Yu Jie adjusting them - raising the hips, head up, relaxing the arms, keeping the bar close, aggressive lock out, head through/forward (not down), and tight back.

Yu Jie adjusted almost everyone's overhead position by internally rotating the shoulders. It was the most intense retraction I've felt. The best way I can describe it as him grabbing the scapulae and folding them into the spine. This is "tight back." It's similar to the retracted scapulae in the bench press in that it's a stable position.


Notice the retracted scapulae and
elbows pointing backwards

My start position required positioning my head slightly up rather than looking straight ahead. I also needed to have the bar closer at the end of extension. The full extension position Yu Jie showed helped and I also understood the scapulae adjustment.

Ma told me that I need tight and flexed hips (so I stay over the bar) and my posture is caved forward: chest and shoulders pulled forward and inward knees. Given how much time I spend sitting (commute + work = over 11 hours a day), it made sense. As for the knees, I've avoided excessive knees out to mitigate my knee pain and have emphasized the adductors in training. His last observation was that only one foot moves out in the catch and I remember that bad habit from the past. After I finished, I was surprised he didn't mention my poor stamina because I was breathing pretty damn heavily.

After this, we took a 10 minute break before beginning the second half of the seminar.

CLEAN & JERK

Liao Hui began and said technique is greater in the snatch than the clean, therefore strength is very important for the clean & jerk.

The rack position has the elbows set up naturally with the chest tight/high. This position is strengthened with lots of jerk dips and front squats.

We didn't do many cleans. Instead, Ma had us start with clean deadlifts. Everyone did clean deadlifts well with minor adjustments here and there. Liao Hui helped while Ma instructed - relaxed arms, pulling the elbows upwards, and keeping the bar close.

From there, it was a power clean into three split jerks. The dip for the jerk should be stable and slow. The drive up should use the whole body to extend upwards getting up on the toes then splitting and continuing to drive the arms overhead. Ma said don't just drop under the bar.


The split jerk has the torso vertical, back leg semi-bent, and the front leg's shin vertical. Again, the head is through/forward. The trunk only moves up and down as the legs split apart.

Liao Hui, Yu Jie, and Ma switched off between correcting each person. They emphasized the controlled dip, head positioning, and the set-up of the legs in the split. For instance, Liao Hui took a piece of PVC and slid it between the lifter's head and shoulders for them to understand the forward head posture.

For split jerk corrections, the stride of the front foot was usually short and needed to be further out. The rear leg was too straight and needed more knee flexion and plantar flexion. Usually the heel was off the ground, but not high enough. The weight distribution is spread evenly among both feet, 50-50.

My clean deadlifts and rack needed "tight chest" which felt like exaggerating a big puffed up chest. Liao Hui had me maintain this as I pulled and then he stepped away as I approached a full stand. Because I was very focused on holding my chest like this that as I neared the top, the bar was already well past mid-thigh. For me, staying over the bar and naturally shifting to the power position has always been an issue.

My split jerk was mediocre and I needed the above corrections. Truthfully, I've never done jerks as part of my regular training. I'm willing to bet Yu Jie noticed this because his advice was to practice the split.

General Advice

A question about the back squat came up. Ma said squat straight up and down with the back tight. There's no backwards movement. Weight is distributed on the entire surface of the feet with just a little bit towards the back of the feet.

We were all in need of more flexibility.

Overall, I believe everyone needed to slow down and be smoother in their lifts. There's no reason to rush through the movements. Whether it was standing out of the snatch or dipping for the jerk, Ma emphasized controlled movement and to have solid positions.

Hasty execution leads to poor movement or lack of the full movement. I learned something similar back in eskrima. The head instructor was going through a session with me and kept drilling the basic strikes. He stressed following through after each strike to maximize effectiveness. The same applies to extension, lock out, and driving up after the dip. This is why close, fast, low, timing, and stable are very important. They are the basics to develop rhythm and tempo in a fluid snatch, clean, and jerk. By being precise and having accuracy in the movements, you promote the most powerful positions.

Observations

The seminar gave me a lot of information to process. For one, they focused on end positions with little attention on the in-betweens. There was no mention of first pull, second pull, or anything between the start position and extension unless inquired by an attendee. It was only the essentials and it proved to be productive.

Next, they predominantly used internal cues. Liao Hui and Ma had me stay over the bar in the clean without having to say it once. I understand external cues can be helpful, but lately I've found internal cues to be more efficient.

The more I reflect on the seminar, the more I realize it was similar to what I've previously read and watched from Tommy Kono. Both have their differences, but I couldn't help notice the resemblance in some parts. Maybe that's just good weightlifting.

During Q&A, someone asked about sweeping the bar. The second pull was was not directly discussed during the seminar. When translated to Yu Jie, all I saw him do was gesture to the pocket area. The first thought that came to mind was, "Kirksman." From what I recall, he's the first person I read referring to and calling it the pocket area.

Considerations/What If's

I have been wondering - was the minimal instruction effective because it was simple or was it simple because the lifters already had some proficiency? It's hard to say, but I would guess it was a mix of both. Enthusiastic participants plus good coaching are a productive combination.

Second, I am curious if the instruction style and corrections provided would change had our group been comprised of more advanced athletes. That's not to say the group encompassed a bunch of beginners, but what if they were, say, some competitors for the upcoming American Open? I don't think the instruction would have been drastically different because the basics are always paramount, but you never know.

Suggestions

Since we were the second seminar in the lineup, I understand the addition of the lifting portion was a last minute change. Even though we were a small group of 12, going up one-by-one to receive coaching can take time. I don't know how this is playing out in the other seminars or if changes are being made to the format. Aside from time, there was an overlap of corrections from person-to-person. During the clean & jerk, I went to scribbling notes as the person on the platform went through clean deadlifts. It wasn't overly repetitive, but I already saw others go through the same instruction.

If possible, I would have liked to see it broken down into two groups: Manuel + Liao or Lu with one group of attendants and Ma + Liao or Lu with the second group. Yu Jie could supervise and walk around advising both groups. After the break, the groups switch coaches and athletes for further instruction. Although Manuel was busy taking photographs throughout the event, his lifter was in attendance. She received positive feedback on her technique from Yu Jie and Ma. I can't speak for the others, but I would have enjoyed his comments in the seminar as well. I believe the other person with the Chinese team was an assistant coach. Assuming he would be willing, I wouldn't doubt his ability either.

The other thing that comes to mind is maybe including a printed outline to follow along. Taking notes is best, but as I review the notes I took and as I write this, my memory struggles recalling every single detail. An outline would be useful and I would have jotted down less (but probably not).

Finally, Lu Xiaojun wasn't heavily involved in our seminar. He was on the platform at the beginning of the snatch segment warming up with the bar but that was it. He wasn't present during the snatches and came back after the clean & jerk portion concluded, but that's only because someone had asked a question regarding squats. Ma had him demonstrate the back squat plus a squat jerk.

I don't know how it was planned. Maybe Lu was involved the previous day and it was Liao Hui's turn to engage with participants on Sunday? Or something else altogether? I'm not sure. This is especially true since the format changed and we were lifting. Originally, Liao Hui and he were going to demonstrate the movements and work up to near maximal weights. I would have enjoyed the seminar a bit more if Lu spoke or helped lifters.

Other Tidbits
  • Liao and Lu are on vacation and have been relaxing after competing at the World Championships and Asian Games respectively. They will start training once again when they return to China. 
  • Lu has a 4 month old daughter. 
  • Lu has been squat jerking for 10 years. He used to push jerk, but noticed he can go lower as the weight increased. 
  • Lu's squat is his strongest lift. He can deadlift 280 kg. 
  • Lu doesn't bench press. He does push-ups 
  • Yu Jie is tall 
  • I don't know why Liao Hui wasn't brought up. Sorry everyone.
Sorry Liao Hui - no one wanted to 
know what you lift

Final Thoughts

Should you attend the Ma Strength seminar? It depends. I really enjoyed it and would recommend it. I have been going through the material many times since it ended.
Definitely go if
  • You want coaching from Yu Jie and Ma
  • You want to meet Liao Hui and Lu Xiaojun
  • You want to learn something new
Don't go if
  • You're tight on cash
  • You want a significant amount of personal coaching
The seminar was $315 and lasted two and a half hours plus time afterwards to take photos and speak with everyone. The remaining seminars near Chicago this weekend are $365 The seminars have concluded. If you really can't afford it, then I'd suggest to try attend one of Ma Strength's 8 hour technique clinics whenever the 2015 schedule is available. You would get a better bang-for-your buck in the clinic with more hands on instruction.

Was the cost worth it to attend the seminar? You bet! I realize some of you reading this may think this isn't ground breaking information or saying, "Well, I already knew this and that" and so on and so forth. Knowing and experiencing are two different things. Usually when I write a longer piece - such as this - I take time and hit mental blocks as I write. I did not have that issue as I wrote this. Instead, the most arduous part has been simply getting it all down. Two and half pages of notes transcribed into a much more thorough write-up.

Jianping Ma and Manuel Buitrago are great guys who are very knowledgeable and host an enjoyable seminar. I liked it and I doubt the Chinese team will be back from China any time soon. With preparation for the 2016 Olympics Games in Rio, Brazil, I think it is unlikely they will have time to visit again so soon.

If you want to learn more about Ma Strength, visit their website [link] and Facebook page [link]. Registration and details for the remaining seminars can be found here.

Photos from the event will be on the Facebook page. Because photography was not allowed during the seminar, I took some after it ended and they are available for viewing here.

Yu Jie and Jianping Ma

Liao Hui and Lu Xiaojun

Manuel Buitrago

Chinese Style Weightlifting Coaches in the USA

If you're seeking out Chinese style weightlifting instruction in the USA, these are the coaches with the experience that I'm familiar with:
Jianping Ma
- He trains athletes at Lindenwood University in Missouri 
Manuel Buitrago
- He's located in Washington, D.C.
Stephen Powell
- While located in South Carolina, he also does long distance consultations and is familiar with the Chinese and Russian training principles 
Further Reading and Other Reviews

Prior to the seminar, I have followed and read many weightlifting articles and sites. In doing so, it gave more depth to the topics. Below are my recommendations to learn more as well as other Ma Strength reviews.
LiftHard
- Kirksman was the first person I came across who explores the Chinese system. I've found his teachings very helpful
Yatin Prasher [Link 1; Link 2]
- He attended the Ma Strength weightlifting camp in China and wrote about his trip 
Larry's Chinese Weightlifting Experience
- During Larry's visit to China he was able to get in contact with a weightlifting coach and explains what he learned for All Things Gym 
Barbell Meditations
- Dave is another Ma Strength weightlifting camper and gives a great overview of the trip 
All Things Gym
- An attendee shares his thoughts on the Brooklyn Sunday seminar 
Crossfit SAA
- A review from a lifter who attended the Chicago seminar and has also visited the training halls in China 
Wu Chuanfu
- Kirksman's former coach who trained in China 
Takano Athletics
- Bob Takano puts forth excellent discussion and analysis about every level of the sport that I highly recommend 
The Training Geek
- Lester simplifies weightlifting which is what I loved about the seminar 
Tommy Kono Books
- While I haven't finished the first book, I've found his teachings very valuable 
Weightlifting with Marilou Dozois-Prévost
- Not exactly Chinese weightlifting, but Chris's experience echoes many of the corrections that were discussed in the seminar
Related articles,
  • Typically I include specific articles from the site here, but in this case I will simply recommend the Olympic Weightlifting tag to browse all the entries
*I'll be editing this post periodically if corrections are needed
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