Friday, July 29, 2011

Anchor Points

The world is full of many things.

I enjoyed studying psychology and religion. However during undergrad I didn't make as many acquaintances as you would think within the two majors. It only became apparent when I noticed how many people my friends knew in their fields.

One of the PhD students in our research lab taught us people can identify themselves across multiples domains. Myself for example, I can be a brother, son, friend, mentor, writer, bachelor (yeah! high 5!), and former student.

I instead identify with other areas. While I didn't identify with my majors fully, one week I wondered what I find as my own place. Coincidentally, the light bulb in my head lit up the same week!

My workouts in the gym revolve around the one squat rack there was - overhead presses, Olympic lifts, squats, rows, deadlifts (gym manager wouldn't allow it in the free weights area). So being stuck to this one corner many people would come by and ask if I'm using the rack. Sometimes yes, sometimes no, but regardless everyone's in the same corner when using it. On this particular day I struck up conversation with a few of the guys. Typically it's the meatheads trying to give advice, but not this time. One was a thrower, one a powerlifter, the other an exercise science major.

I was in my element. For once, the gym was a constant where it wasn't all that different compared to previous years. This was my senior year where I felt everything around me and I was involved in was changing - student groups, volunteer activities, classes, and similar things.

I found an anchor point. Something I saw as comforting and that kept my mind sound.

Identify the anchor point in your life even if they come in small personal forms. They might not be as obvious as you would think and could be right in front of you.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Split Jerk Recovery

At the last open session of the university's weightlifting club, I was performing snatches and cleans. The club's coach was giving me pointers for a better pull.

His feedback was great so I asked him to critique my split jerk. I wasn't half bad and he offered suggestions to improve my execution. I recently wrote about performing the split jerk here - the fourth bullet point comes from him.

At the time I didn't understand the purpose of the front foot's half step back during the recover. I thought it was easier to bring the back leg forward in one single motion. Even in high level competitions you will see some lifters use the back leg only to finish the split jerk. For example, look at the impeccable Svetlana Podobedova:

First clean & jerk at 6:45 mark, the second at 8:00.
Russian born lifters are dumb strong.

She lifts remarkably well with her split jerks being fairly strong and solid. She doesn't do the half step back, half step forward to recover but instead she does a single stride forward. Go back and watch her stand from each jerk. Notice how she takes a few extra steps to regain her balance? Her first split jerk isn't a problem for her. However the second could be troublesome for many lifters to stabilize overhead.

Svetlana ain't no slouch and managed it. But if you can't, it can result in dumping the weight forward or even worse....

Hopefully this doesn't happen to anyone else.

I haven't tried it yet, but I think the wider the split jerk the harder it might be to safely recover when using a single step forward.

Regardless, don't miss any jerks due to poor recovery! If you can get the weight fully overhead, be sure to keep it there.

Related articles,

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Training Session Variety

If you're not familiar with Pavlov's experiment,
there's an excellent demonstration of it here.

Every training session is an experience. Multiple sessions bring a person closer to their goal, but these experiences also condition the individual.

What's the trainee conditioned to? A number of variables such as their orientation during sets, time of day, setting/environment, mood, and the implement. Of course it only becomes an issue if the person is preparing for competition. Someone working on physique or general health improvement doesn't have to worry.

Ideally training in the same setting you compete in is ideal, but it's not an option. Being in a familiar environment will also give a sense of comfort. If you're able, make an attempt to switch it up. It's not possible to go to a new gym every week, however you can change what area of the gym you train in. If that still can't be done, you can alter how you're oriented in an exercise. For example, choose a new direction to face when performing squats or deadlifts.

There are many manufacturers of barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and other training tools. Olympic weightlifting barbells are not the same as powerlifting bars, and even with O-lifting bars there is variation [see here]. Some gyms have new and old (more like worn out) equipment. Don't always go for the shiny new toys. Use the older items too.

Mood is an unlikely variable to consider in exercise. While some use aggression and anger, it's best to remain focused on the task at hand. Competition has an arousal component, but attempt to recreate the state of mind you'll have at that moment. Calm, quiet, focused, and serious.

The time of the day is a big factor for most people. Exercising in the early morning, afternoon, and late night are noticeably different from one another. While work and other responsibilities tend to fill in the weekday afternoon, reserving one day for a weekend afternoon can provide just enough variety.

Zatsiorsky explained shot putters best saw performance-related gains from throwing shots that were either slightly lighter or heavier than the actual competition weight. Tossing shots of a significantly different load had a detrimental effect on performance.

Similar thought should be applied to training. Shake things up with a little variety here and there. The competition atmosphere can't be replicated, but by avoiding familiarities you won't be accustomed to the same variables you've been around day in and day out.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

See No Mirror

It's cool to speak about mirrors,
not sure how you can hear them though.

Mirrors get a bad rap in the gym. The commercial gyms have mirrors but the private facilities don't have them. It's reasoned mirrors compensate for lack of bodily awareness and it can be developed by eliminating them. I once read Robert Roman had his lifters train blindfolded because he believed we overly rely on visual information.

In the past I've criticized mirrors myself. However, they're not entirely bad. It becomes a problem when a person stares at them in an awkward direction. It compromises the neck position. Examples include craning your head up in the deadlift or looking towards the side during a set of rows. I remember one time I saw a guy benching and he was pulling his head up to look at himself.

So when is the mirror appropriate? I believe when the trainee has to iron out any off-balanced discrepancies in movement. The most obvious scenario is when one side of the body is doing more work than the other - like an arm going higher than the other in the overhead press or rising faster on one side of the squat. Another case can be when one hand or foot is rotated more than the opposite side. With the mirror's aid, you can cue yourself to fix the problem.

A recent situation of mine was while I coached a friend in the snatch and clean. Since we were using a broomstick, there wasn't a way to place it at the proper starting height. I told him when his hips were low enough at the necessary starting height. But, I wouldn't be with him if he practiced alone. I told him to use a mirror from a side view to know when his hips were at the correct level.

Of course he wouldn't be staring at himself that long, just a quick glance to the side. Over time with practice, whatever the problem is should be taken care of and assistance from the mirror gradually decreased then eventually eliminated.

Once in a while it can be used for fun and variety - as long as you're not doing any harm (i.e., the neck).

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Magic Number

In training when it comes to sets and reps, there aren't any set guidelines to follow - only recommended ranges. Every now and then I like to do a random workout. A few new funky exercises with different parameters.

I've found 6 total reps to be a great number. There isn't anything magical about it, besides convenience. It allows for a lot of variation, such as...
2 x 3 [2 sets of 3]

3 x 2

6 x 1

1 rep, 2 reps, & then 3 OR 3, 2, 1

1, 2, 1, 2 OR 2, 1, 2, 1
Since the volume is low, it serves for a quick workout on compound lifts like deadlifts, snatches, overhead presses, pull-ups, etc. The low reps per set means the intensity can be a moderate or high level.

It's easy without having to spend a significant amount of time for the session. Other numbers can be used, but higher numbers lengthen the workout's duration. Trainees also tend to overdo it on volume hence why I prefer the number to be low.

Do a few warm-up sets and give it a try.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Why Olympic Weightlifting?

Medalists and former coaches
Robert Roman [left] and Tamio "Tommy" Kono [right].

- Part 1: Mobility
- Part 2: Set-up
- Part 3: Assistance Exercises
- Part 4: The Full Lifts
At the beginning of the series I said Olympic weightlifting seems to be more popular. The sport's technical nature makes it difficult to self-teach the lifts. Aside from that, to excel it requires a lot of time and patience.

In a society where everyone wants instant results and gratification, you can see how that's a problem. This extends to coaches as well. They have to spend more time and energy learning how to properly instruct the movements compared to other simpler exercises. I bet if more coaches could adequately teach & coach the O-lifts the sport would be more popular here in the US.

But since there aren't as many Olympic coaches, there's less access to instructors for interested individuals - Chad examines a number of factors here. Hence, this series is a primer for the person wanting to explore the sport rather than sit idly and not learn whatsoever. And I hope it guides them into a new world of exercise & strength.

In my opinion the sport is highly underrated and has some of the strongest athletes around (subjectively speaking). As I ventured to learn more, I felt whatever I knew about weight training jumped out the window.

It was different - a good kind of different. Unfortunately, it's one which not enough individuals are aware of.

I believe Olympic weightlifting is a true pursuit of strength and power.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Other posts in this series,
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