Lessons Learned in Weightlifting

Lessons Learned in Weightlifting

I have been messing around with weights now for almost 25 years. I am 42 years of age, and probably have done over 5,500 resistance training sessions – 25 years of 44-46/52 weeks per year – off due to deloads or injury. This does not qualify me for much, besides the fact that I have done that, and many have not.

I have always been for my essence absolutely stronger than I am fast, and I lack great mechanics for the Snatch and Clean and Jerk due to R to L imbalances from injuries accrued in other sports. I am between 170-175# most times and have peaked at sometimes in my career at 485# DL, 375# BS, 275# CJ, and 225# Snatch. This does not allow me to be the qualifier on what is right or wrong with using resistance and external loads, but I do know when things make sense, and when they do not.

When I began using resistance as a tool for sport performance for myself, for performance for others, or for health and rehab for people – it was always about the client – and NOT the resistance. I always used loads as a way to enhance lifestyle, improve function or increase sporting performance. I.E. positional work for enhanced movement in life, working resistance against the body for metabolic gains or working resistance in positions for force production to enhance sport.

Until I was 6 years into my strength and conditioning, in 2000, did I ever have to use the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk to actually get better at those 2 lifts. Canadian Coach Pierre Roy opened my eyes to a new world of possibilities in those movements.

I began reading and experimenting with whatever I could get my hands on, and started implementing aspects of this new area of strength speed; to improve just that – strength speed. I was fortunate in my career and being on my own to be able to work with various humans – to forge my trade. Hockey, bobsleigh, skeleton, figure skating, swimming, soccer, volleyball…and kids and moms and dads and everyone in between.  This gave me the opportunity to see where lifting fit in to all these areas.

The sport of CrossFit in my eyes highlighted what the Snatch and Clean and Jerk were moreso in the fitness public eye. It was my journey into doing the movements with skill and precision but also under fatigue that led me into a search for a coach like Greg Everett who was specializing at the time in helping beat up CrossFitters like me gain some ground on the lifts. I always saw the lifts as methods to improve resistance, but CrossFit made me realize, thankfully, its precision, its timing, accuracy and co-ordination.

This also made are recognize that just by doing the lifts, one does not necessarily improve all aspects then of agility, co-ordination, precision and accuracy – they just get better at those skills for the Clean and Jerk and Snatch. So now I was using the lifts to improve sport performance with people, doing it myself sometimes uglier than shit but improving, and teaching basics to newbies that wanted to learn about them.

And I have come to some conclusions over time about where those lifts sit in my career thus far in coaching/training;

No one owns it the Clean and Jerk and Snatch – there seems to be this pervasive need to own methods of resistance today.  All resistance is just that – forms of resistance – one is not better per se that another, they are just forms. Runners see fitness athletes running and they gasp, weight lifters see fitness goers doing TnG clean and jerk and they gasp, hard kettle bell folk see fitness goers swinging a bell and gasp, therapists see fitness goers doing sit ups and gasp.  All in the face of recognizing that for certain people it makes sense and for some people it does not. instead of gasping, ask the question “may I ask why you are doing that?”.  Remember that the functional goals determine the resistance required – and how to do that? There are MANY ways all depending on the goals of the client.  Like we always teach coaches now in fitness – KNOW WHY YOU ARE DOING WHAT YOU ARE DOING.  If you are using the Snatch and Clean and Jerk because its en vogue, please stop. STOP NOW.

Understand forms of the strength continuum – someone requires necessary positional strength to create and produce power and force, ONCE this prerequisite levels of strength are achieved – which in most cases takes specific human maximums in maturity and in growth of the body and systems, then the path to moving loads at faster rates can occur.  For what importance? The production of force! – Ask this question; why would someone use methods of strength speed without the presence of perfect movement, maturity of all systems and organs? To learn the skills? OK. To play with some new things? OK. To produce force? Nope.

The beauty of resistance in general against the human body.  In a NON sport specific setting motor control first under controlled movement is the key for people with resistance.  I am CONSTANTLY teaching coaches about FUNCTIONAL resistance requirements. What this means is what KIND of resistance do they need to apply to get them after their goals. (Mind you this is for 95% of EVERY person that steps in front of a fitness coach) In a lot of cases most people do fitness for losing weight, decreasing pain and increasing energy.  What a LOT of this points to is not that sexy – it is controlled resistance to gain a metabolic advantage or to improve function.  It is NOT CJ or Snatch under longer femurs, a pelvic tilt, a shorter torso and poor movement, while under fatigue (with high reps and low loads believing its ok).

You pay the price of admission for it.  As it IS a sport, no one can say one can or cannot participate as a child in sport- including weightlifting.  We all know the benefits of the experience and we all know there are some dirty secrets we don’t want to talk about in youth sport – like the physical limitation placed upon kids without full physical maturity (in most cases under pressure and NOT their consent, most cases the parents or peers) – i.e. getting your bell rung 15 times a year in soccer or football or hockey or rugby…all at the age of 12 – males and females.  Repetitive strain injuries due to the lack of peak potential at young ages.  It is what it is, and  I will leave it there. BUT, what makes sense?  What makes sense?  Ask that question and leave all emotions aside.  In a perfect world, unless the athlete may gain a lifetime of economic support and requires a million reps to become a champion – at what expense is it when they have physical limitations at 32 years of age.  We can’t see into the future, and everyone is allowed their own story, but its up to adults to ask the NON BIAS questions on where does the sport of weightlifting fit for young children who have NOT reached peak physical maturity.  A child’s femur can grow inches over a season, without the spine changing in length – as one small but VITAL example.  Instead unless they will be rewarded with scholarships or money as a ship to something more – use resistance against their OWN bodyweight, proper proprioceptive training as joints and muscles change and grow, and VARIETY in exposures to controlled loads in AWESOME movement patterns.

At lower intensities, if someone develops the skill and strength to do the lifts, you cannot see much in the way of HOW movement should occur; and the carryover of how the Clean and Jerk and Snatch are done and what that means for all other movements. BUT, once it gets intense and closer to the persons maximum, the more the lifts become actual assessments for movement; when you add intensity, positions become more challenging. once you add intensity, muscles also recruit differently – which is a superior way in my eyes for coaches that watch a lot of people move weight see things that can be fixed in other areas of the training.  Watching someone get tired at 30 reps for time of 80% of their clean max, doing 2’s every 90 sec at 85%, performing TnG reps in a power setting are all examples where you can see faults due TO the lifts.

When humans do it effortlessly, it looks magical – i.e. they make it look easy. ” When you do it right, it feels light” (or maybe lighter) this makes me excited about the possibility of perfect execution of the Snatch and Clean and Jerk with TIME AND REPS! It’s like all other complex movements – the goal is to make them LESS complex – when perfect execution is maximized, then its simply up to the organism to tax what they want and when.  And its MUCH easier to recover from and go in and out of intense pieces on the CNS when movement is perfect.  When humans do a lot of it imperfectly they can gain capacity, simply because they are using up SO MUCH energy and spitting it off that they increase the work over that time done.  Unfortunately this also creates a pattern where if someone has learned at age 12 to weight lift and they have “little” itsy bitsy faults in lifting, and these are not taken care of – then its a shoulder or knee reconstruction waiting to happen at 35.  That may not seem like something important to you, but it SHOULD mean something to the coach, or to the athlete who wants to move around past 35 years of age.  If we are talking about 2 things only, precision and intensity – how does it differ from a surgeon?  Don’t get political on me here – just think about the skills – how much freaking time and effort does it take for that surgeon to make that incision in an area of the brain after 2 hours under the lights? it takes TIME AND REPS – honor that!

Someone once said that movement is slightly cheated to get points and win at workouts – like 5-10%…this does NOT count in weight lifting – that is what I love about it and where it sits in the continuum of strength. As you move from absolute strength to absolute speed, the necessity to make things perfect (and not off by 10%) VERY important.  Which makes coaches happy as they have the keys to teaching people these skills when needed IF needed.

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