Technique happens in the training room, not the competition platform

it’s been a long time, but I’ve finally gotten back behind the keyboard and a little bit of extra time to empty my brain into the webosphere.

Today’s a quick insight to the perils of studying weightlifting through social media and the educational wonder/nightmare that is Youtube.

I already feel like I sound like an old man saying this, some would say I am, but I digress… the main point is not that the videos etc. on social media are bad, or in any way unrealistic; for the most part they’re pretty accurate.

There are videos that are completely ridiculous, and frankly technique that should only be on camera in the form of a blooper reel, but for this segment, i’m going to focus solely on the analysis of competitive weightlifters, top class performers at their sport; away from the weekend workout warriors or text book only teachers.

What is misleading when using top class performers; is basing technical analysis from a 1RM attempt. The weights seen on the platform are the ones used to win, the top end of an athlete’s ability; Ask yourself the question, how good is your technique above 95% of your best weights?

Only the absolute pinnacle of performance athletes maintain really good technique to their maximal lifts.These individuals are the exception to the rule, those that are truly great at their art; beyond which us mere mortals can hope or even strive to attain.

Lu Xiaojun, has impeccable technique, rarely flinching, and rarer still missing. He is one of the greatest examples of technical proficiency, skill mastery and consistency that the sport has ever seen; he is unfortunately in the significant minority.

 

This kind of consistency is the weightlifting equivalent of a blue moon, it happens so rarely and only a handful of generations will ever witness it.

That said, excellent technique, examples of movements worth study are abundant, most who wish to learn from, study and analyse these same athletes are simply looking in the wrong place.

How do the athletes prepare for competition, where is technique borne, honed and practiced at its absolute best?

The answer – The training hall, the warmup room. This small dark annex, mere feet from the biggest stage an athlete will ever grace; this is where analytical cameras should point. The awesome spectacle of the biggest weights on an Olympic stage, so fluidly moved by the best at their game is a sight for spectators, awe inspiring, motivating, and the end result of decisions made and battles won and lost in the training halls throughout years of hard training, sacrifice and physical and mental endurance.

There are countless videos analysing technique, studies and theories on movement skills, biomechanics, and even technical analysis taught, based on principles used when evaluating the technique of top class performers; all when their skill is performed at its absolute worst.

Move away from the lure of the spotlight and isolation of the main stage, cast your gaze, and your lens into the back room. The 50%’s the 75%’s 80%’s & 90%’s. The skill sharpening, Light loading and technical perfection of lifters doing what they do best. Smooth, but challenging weights that sail effortlessly, sub maximal attempts where every fibre of the body is working in unison, and before the weak link in a lifters strength or ability rears its head.

This is where the camera will capture the single best source of visual information. This is where those wishing to truly understand what it takes to lift, what it means to even be selected for the event, a competitor, a contender, can see the fluidity, skill and art that lifters strive for years to achieve.

The lessons learned may only be one small part of what it takes to lift, but when you watch it, when you see what lifters go through in the training hall, when skill, sharpness and proficiency are still on their agenda;

You see weightlifting at its purest, before the yearning, and overpowering desire to grab hold of a bar and rip its head off takes hold, and the physical and mental preparation of a lifter is tested to the limit.

There really is only one place to study technique, at the place it occurs at its absolute best. That only happens before the big stage, before the hot burning lights, and more often than not, before the audience ever knows you were even there…

Semantics & Sports Science; the double knee bend and other taboos

Today I think may just go that extra mile and incite a full-fledged riot in the sports science community. I’m going into dangerous territory, where reputations are on the line, and punches are seldom pulled.

It takes a pinch from my first article, on the myth of the one true path, and gives you a few anecdotes from various walks of my professional career.

Today it’s time to explore commonly held beliefs on coaching, technical skills, try and address the origins and break down the myths surrounding training, coaching and just what it is to lift.

I’ll start with a big difference, found between those who practice “fitness” (or more accurately cardio) and those who practice strength. I make this distinction because fitness encompasses strength, mobility, stability, endurance, power, mental strength, aerobic and anaerobic capacity, and this list in itself is by no means the end of it, but you get the idea.

Thankfully the days of (Fitness=cardio) are becoming a thing of the past, with the advent and influence of crossfit and HIIT. The day of the half hour on the treadmill is being successfully challenged, and there is a wider spectrum of training methods that are now much more commonplace.

When I first became a fitness instructor many years ago (level 2); it was only a means to an end. I’d been involved in strength training and weightlifting competitively for quite a few years, and had racked up a few coaching licenses on my way. I had the basics of anatomy and physiology, as well as fundamental movement skills and strength training.

It struck me as surprising that an entire industry would teach something so fundamentally flawed that went so fervently against everything I’d learnt in strength training; the journals, articles and research I’d read, professionals I’d learnt from, and yet on my assessment day, just like passing your driving test; my blood ran cold as I was forced to utter the phrase “and you mustn’t allow the hips to go below parallel” when teaching the squat in my exam.

My examiner, was also a strength and conditioning coach, we both knew this was incorrect, but he had to “tick that box” despite knowing full well the logic held as much water as your average sieve.

Asking someone who is at the time, bearing load (weights), to decelerate, stop, turn around and apply the forces needed to get themselves moving again, all at the point where there is most sheer force on the knee, greatest strain on the patella tendon is simply madness. It’s asking for injury.

3f711_ORIG-9feb2_ass_to_grassSee, happy as you like

It also promotes muscle imbalance, which is a nightmare to fix in any athlete, client or gym user. The whole idea of going to the gym is that you’re better when you leave, not worse. So not only does squatting to parallel have the highest risk of injury, but prolonged usage of this particular variation of the squat actually systematically increases  your risk of injury in the long run. One quick caveat, I’m not talking about competitive powerlifters here; this is the body pump and aerobics classes of this world that purvey this particular myth. Powerlifters performing low bar squats to move the maximum amount of weight based on the particular rules of their competition is entirely different than saying that this is the one and only way of squatting. That myth is entirely a fitness industry staple.

Breaking parallel is the way to go, transfer the weight to where it should be and build actual movement, strength, balance and coordination. More important for athletes in field and team sports where sprinting mechanics are important; this will reduce quad dominance and decrease the risk of a hamstring tears due to proportional anterior and posterior strength and mobility. No need to take my word for it, this little snippet sums it up beautifully

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So why does the partial squat continue to be taught as the required standard in the fitness industry… frankly the only answer I can come up with is laziness.

It’s easier to avoid putting the time and effort into addressing one of the most chronic issues affecting the vast majority of the population, sweeping it under the carpet and pretending it doesn’t exist. This allows people to exercise in their comfort zones, which is pretty much the mantra of almost all major commercial gyms.

A little inside knowledge here…. If I ask you, what is a commercial gym for? The usual thought is, they are there to get you fitter, but the dirty little secret is, that they’re not. If you got better on your own, why would you come back? Fitness gyms, (massive chains, and we all can name quite a few major examples) have almost identical set ups. How they operate, their ethos, it’s really obvious when you look at who gets paid.

There are the reception teams, there to let you in and out, cleaners etc. But the only other people employed and paid are… the management and sales teams.

So your membership, the money you pay, the bottom line. That’s what the gym goes for ten times out of ten. They’ve entire teams dedicated to keeping you coming back, paying memberships, rather than instructing and teaching progressive training principles to help you get better.

Actually taking the time to get the general population flexible enough, stable enough and strong enough to perform the squat (as well as a million other beneficial exercises) properly would be too time consuming, cost too much and ultimately eat into the profitability of the structures that have been put in place. The investment is in a continuous, increasing membership base, not in the improvement of the members they already have.

This ethos of short cuts and quick fixes rather than long term progressive health benefits is rife, it’s even tainted the education process to the extent that a detrimental long term adaptation is taught as standard practice.  It’s pandemically wide spread, with the next fad taking over as quickly as the last one died out.

I don't know who thought this one up... but i see what you did there

I don’t know who thought this one up… but i see what you did there

Just like yo-yo dieting; misinformation, general ignorance and an industry that has let money overtake quality has reached the limits of what was possible. The tipping point has come and gone, and the increased knowledge, results showing from other training is now becoming more and more mainstream.

In a discussion with a prominent strength and conditioning coach I posed the same question about the depth of the hip, and he said thank F*** for the likes of Weightlifting, Crossfit and strength training, which is bringing an end to this dangerous practice.

It isn’t gone yet, but it is thankfully on its way out.

*A side note for anyone interested… the aesthetics of a good squat are a great side effect; Glute activation more than triples during a proper full depth squat. So it does make for a much better derriere.

Sticking with the squat… one other major myth that rears its ugly head is letting the knee track over the toe. Let’s be clear, if you’re knee moves over the toe, That Is FINE…. Hell It’s necessary depending on how long your femurs are. If you’re femur is 2 feet long, then stopping you’re knee from tracking properly over the toe, as in past the end of your foot, is only going to mean you compensate by keeping the bum high, dropping the chest and turning the squat, into a good morning. This places more load on the lower back…. Back injuries in squatting, It’s not the squat that’s the problem, it could very likely be poor form and compensation from tightness around the ankles. So you’re left to compensate with poor form, either that or your unbalanced ass is going to fall over as all your weight will be behind your heels. When the centre of gravity is not over the base, there’s not a lot left to do but fall over.

squat form

The only way to maintain a proper, upright torso, flat back (or neutral spine if you prefer) is to let the knee travel past the toe. The issue with tracking is that the knee is a hinge joint. It doesn’t like to be twisted, so track the knee over the toe, by aiming the knee to travel down the centre of the foot. Aim the knee between the big toe and the second toe and you’re good. The knees will travel in a straight line, and the circumduction, rotation and all those other movements will be taken care of by the hips. They eat that stuff up, they’re designed for it. Everyone wins. Better squat, better weights, better movement and proportionally strong athletes.

The next one is fun, and it comes down to experience and one small tit bit, science Vs Art.  Not nearly as philosophical as it sounds, but just a matter of taking in more variables and not trying to factually and functionally label absolutely everything.

When running coaching courses, I’m often in a room with guys and girls who are doing S&C at university or sports scientists, and they know that weightlifting in general or at least throughout Europe and pretty much everywhere that isn’t America, doesn’t teach the double knee bend. So they love asking me questions, you know, the ones you don’t get asked pretty much every time…. Honest.

For those wondering what I’m talking about, the double knee bend happens in deadlift, cleans, snatches and any exercise lifting the bar from the floor to about mid-thigh or higher.

What happens is that the legs straighten out (how far depends on relative limb length – Arms : Torso : Legs) as you lift the weight, they then re-bend once the bar passes the knees, hence the overly elaborate term double knee bend. It’s right up there for triple extension for its jargontastic properties. Triple extension is a fancy way of saying straight legs and up on the toes, but more on that later.

The double knee bend happens, it’s shown time and again in lifts and is therefore taught by S&C associations and accreditation bodies which is fine, but it’s mandatory to actively teach it on your test, which isn’t. The question is, if it happens, then why is this a problem?

It is yet another “tick the box” moment, which has come by, only this time on something that does actually happen, so less ridiculous than the fitness industry.

The thing is, cleans, snatches, even the simpler deadlift are still all pretty complicated exercises.

In a snatch the human body moves from fully squatted (start), to fully extended (end of second pull), to fully squatted (catch), to fully extended position (recovery), all within 1-1.5 seconds. Hitting a window, about 5 cm’s wide to secure the weight in a position above the base so the athlete can successfully complete and recover with as heavy a load as possible. The margin for error is miniscule.

The trick to performing it well is to be accelerating the bar from the start, you cannot think your way through the lifts, they happen too quickly. You have to practice good motor patterns to perform an extremely complex movement at speed. So giving an athlete more to think about than they actually need at any point is really just showing off that you know something about it, rather than coaching it.

A simple albeit rhetorical question, does the coach need to know…. Yes. Does the athlete…. Not necessarily.

A good sports scientist knows enough about the movements to fully understand them. A good coach knows enough about the athlete to make it both simple and applicable. Unfortunately, most sports scientists, and even S&C instructors in my experience are simply not familiar enough with the movements involved in the snatch and clean, to be both confident in their use, and proficient enough to coach them. This is no sleight against sports scientists, they are a lifetimes’ work in themselves, and it’s hard to be an expert in everything.

This is where being open enough to ask for help would really be beneficial, scientist or coach.

If I needed to learn to swim, I’d go to a swimming coach. To sprint I’d go to a sprints coach, to cycle, I’d hit the velodrome. So where do you turn when you want to learn snatches and cleans… to the people who’ve spent years teaching, performing and perfecting those exercises. Like it or not It’s a really specialist area, and the best people to learn it from are the people who’ve been immersed in that world forever and a day.

That’s not to say weightlifters know it all. Far from it. Without a good grounding in the principles of sports science: periodisation in programming, overload and supercompensation, recovery strategies, biomechanics, energy systems, neuro-muscular incorporation, etc. the technique in itself is only going to get you so far. Just bear in mind if running people down from the lofty heights of academia, that those same principles were born in weightlifting. Thankfully the more people in academia I speak to and work with, the more open minded I find them, which is awesome. Soon we’ll be one big happy family, if only we could get the weightlifting coaches to open up to new ideas as well..

The combination of the science behind the lifts, and the art of their performance, for the right reps, at the right load with the right technique is where the athlete truly gets the best from their coach.

So it’s not that we shouldn’t ever teach the double knee bend, it’s just that teaching it has more often been counter productive to creating the overarching principle that really makes a good performance of the snatch, clean etc.

Which is that the exercise is by definition, – One, uninterrupted, accelerated movement of a barbell, from the ground to the overhead/shoulder position.

Notice – uninterrupted, and accelerated, neither of which is achieved by the psychological effect of actively thinking about re-bending the knees, this actively breaks the acceleration of the bar, and is usually counterproductive.

I can’t say this is always the case, but I can say I’ve never found an athlete where I’ve actively had to teach this movement. If I do ever find an athlete where this is a good coaching que I’ll definitely use it. I’m just saying, after over a decade of coaching, I’m still waiting, which is why I question it as a mandatory element to teach to pass a test. The practical test is the ability to coach, the theory is the time to write down every detail about a subject. Mixing the two is problematic at best.

Not to pick on sports science and fitness professionals, but the levels of semantic back and forth outlined above happen even in weightlifting circles. Athletes have it hammered into them, X is automatic, where Y is something you need to work on without first checking if this is actually true for the athlete.

This time, it’s the turn of the triple extension. I’ve been guilty of going up on the toes early in my second pull, but I’ve learnt from my mistakes, that doesn’t mean I don’t teach athletes to go up on the toes. I do. And I get harpooned by weightlifting coaches who think I’m joking.

Sorry guys and girls. I’m not. It happens in the lift, only this time it’s not counter-productive to teach, if you use experience to que it up properly.

Try jumping standing only on your heels. Then jump normally (going onto your toes) if you got more height with the heels, stop lieing, no you didn’t. It was the toes that got more height, more acceleration, more power.

See, this complaint of other coaches I understand. Athletes who do not drive from a flat footed position, tend to be off balance, on the toes too quickly and there is a loss of power, but that to me doesn’t mean I shouldn’t teach it at all, it just happens to be that it is the timing of this that causes the most problems. Which is exactly why I teach it in sequence. Teaching the athlete to stand up straight (still flat footed with knees and hips fully opened out) before going up on to the toes and then shrugging with the shoulders allows the flat footed pull, transitioning on to the toes, then shrugging the shoulders, which is what happens when performing the lift. The degrees of these contractions will be dependent on the body shape of the athlete, and how they best utilise their own biomechanics. By in large, this method works just as well, if not better than any other I have used.

My personal coaching method involves the movements first, then at speed, then with resistance. The athlete will put these together in the way that best fits their own shape, size and strength, with fine tuning to get the best from the lift in its performance.

I know it’s been a long one, so I hope you brought enough coffee for the whole class; thankfully only two main points to go, so without further ado in this intermission, Static Stretching vs dynamic stretching.

Static, maintenance stretching has its cons, it reduces explosive output, not something that’s great for an explosive exercise. However again the absolute of never do this before exercise comes up. This again doesn’t take into consideration the athlete.

Take one of my favourite athletes, and I’m very happy to say friend. Damon Kelly. When talking to one of Ireland’s leading coaches, he was asked why he was doing static stretches before a competition event, as it would reduce the explosive potential of the muscles.

This is true he said, but what I lose in explosive power, I more than make up for by being able to get into the right position in the first place. I am paraphrasing here, but the lesson was a good one.

Losing explosive power is an acceptable compromise when you have a net gain by having better technique and movement.

Static stretching in this case was more beneficial than detrimental. This isn’t always the case, but the reasons are great words to live by. Use it where it is beneficial, don’t when it isn’t.

If you have a phenomenally flexible athlete, then static stretching really isn’t going to gain much in their lifting performance. Dynamic movements, increased blood flow, better secretion of synovial fluid. That is where your lifts will benefit most in this case, so it comes down to the coaching skill of knowing and applying the best method for that particular athlete at that time.  Something that may change over time, so too then must the coaching, and the coach.

The last topic is a bit of an insight into training that has always been with us, just more recently structured and defined as a particular branch of training. I’m talking about Plyometrics and when to use them.

The word plyometric, doesn’t actually mean explosive or anything of the sort… it simply means plyo (increase) metric (measurable) or measurable increase if you prefer. It’s been adopted to bring into consideration any form of explosive power or jump based training; which is great. Just avoid getting caught up on the idea that because it has a fancy title it’s somehow a mysterious entity to be revered rather than understood.

Using plyometrics can be beneficial at any stage of a workout or even mesocycle. It’s how you use them that’s important.

I offered up the opinion to use them as part of a warm up, this did not go down well with some. I’ll not go into details but many, many…. many journals were cited to refute this idea as heresy.

Sad truth is, the actual discovery of plyometrics was at a track and field meeting where the Russian team used it as… yep… their warmup routine.

I routinely use them to warm up for weightlifting, which is in itself plyometric training with weights. The increased blood flow, prepping of the motor neurons and usage of the motor patterns involved in the snatch and clean are a great way to prepare for a session.

The main consideration here was that this usage was with well conditioned athletes, who have undergone sufficient anatomical adaptation to handle the high loads and stresses involved with both the plyometric training and the weightlifting training as well.

How and when you use plyometric training is entirely down to you, as long as you know what it’s for… the stretch shortening, (amortisation) and powerful contractions of the muscle fibres to produce increases in explosive power is a great tool for achieving that result. It’s not in isolation in the force generation capability, but it does have prerequisites, such as adequate mobility, adaptation of tendons and ligaments, proprioception as well as stabalisation strength of the limbs and core.

In all of the above, the recurring theme is that coaching as an art form – the use of absolutes to cover every possible body type, learning preference of the individual and life experience, pre-learned conflicts with new teaching are a way of trying to normalise, label and fit the impossible into neat little boxes. The truth is, there’s simply too many variables for only one right answer, what we need to look for is what works for the individual at that time, and how we can best facilitate this stage of their physical, emotional or cognitive learning.

the generic differences within sports science, strength and conditioning, general fitness, and weightlifting methodologies all disappear when the end user is the focus of the training, and not the source of the coaches learning.

Differential of inertia, the importance of pulling under the bar

This one is a topic for the physics lovers and those like myself who have spent far too much time thinking about the Olympic lifts, their movements and just what exactly is happening during a lift.

Let me just start off by stating that this article is a little bit of the science behind an often overlooked area, getting into that lovely full squat position and catching a lift under the bar.

Often times coaches, S&C instructors and even athletes are really caught up in the triple extension, getting the bar high enough to snatch or clean. This in itself is great, getting that powerful pull is absolutely crucial to a good lift, max weights and proper form; but it’s not where the exercise ends.

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A fine example of all of the above from the World Championships ©Neil Dougan 2011

If you’ve been at any of the coaching courses with me as a tutor you’ve probably heard me asking the question, “at what point does the lift finish” the vast majority of the time the answer I hear, is when the athlete is at rest with the bar overhead. For those same people I say what about practicing correctly setting it down and getting twice the amount of work from your lifts, but that’s for another article.

At this point of triple extension, a lot of beginner athletes take the foot off the gas, they think the hard work is done and drop under the bar, floating eloquently into a nice stable position with a comfortable weight.

I call Shenanigans…there’s so much more to be done… your lift isn’t finished yet!

I can almost hear the coaching cries [read excuses] ring out now; Hell we’re doing it for sport, we want good sprints, the triple extension is the most important part… and yes, for power generation that’s true.

Take this picture for example… lovely triple extension on the left leg – Hip, knee and ankle all opened out to drive powerfully and accelerate…

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Now look closer, the right leg is in triple flexion. Toe in dorsiflexion, hip flexor and hamstring all in concentric contraction. Both actions need to be performed fluidly, at speed and with as little lost effort as possible to maximise acceleration.

Nobody sprints with two straight legs after two steps, the sharp contraction of the iliopsoas (hip flexor) mimicked by the squat position, having received the bar, is essential for quick turn around and reutilisation of the limb, it is the second amortisation phase, the second stretch shortening powerful fast movement that is replicated time and again on the pitch, field, track, and yes… in the gym. Weightlifters, for you it’s actually just as, if not more important. If it’s not working at 100%, then nor are you. That 100kg snatch you were looking for when 95 sails into place… that’s only 5% guys and girls, it’s time to get efficient, it’s time to lift big.

This action, of getting quickly under the bar is where the physics comes into play. I use the physics because it so beautifully sums up why it is so important to actively pull under a bar rather than drop or flop; after all it’s the law… so it’s time to dust off the lifting shoes, it’s time to take on physics, and one of the biggest hurdles we face as lifters… Gravity.

The efficient lifter instinctively knows when to use gravity to their advantage; we’ll accelerate from standstill towards earth at 9.81 m/s², but why wait?

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Here at the 2011 world championships, we can see how little movement there is in the bar after the triple extension, but it still moves… it is moving under it’s own momentum at this stage, frame 3 shows the feet off the floor, therefore nothing to pull against to add height but empty space; or is there?

As Jennifer Aniston once said, here comes the science…

[Glossary:  M=Mass,  V=Final Velocity, U= Initial Velocity, F= Force, t= time]

The athlete is moving upwards, driving themselves up and taking the bar along for the ride, accelerating to max velocity a la frame 1. – They now have velocity… to make it simple but roughly accurate, lets call it 2m/s.

When calculating the change in inertia, or impulse Mv-Mu would be different for pulling under the bar, than an object at rest. Basically letting gravity do the work for you, slowing you to a stop, then accelerating you towards earth at 9.81ms² takes too long; bearing in mind… gravity’s doing this to the bar as well, the idea is to be under that bar when it starts plummeting to the ground.

The main difference here is the time it takes to get under the bar, which is directly affected by how much force you put into pulling under the bar once those toes of yours get a sniff of hang time leaving the floor.

If the athlete weighs 50kg (490n mass), reaches the top of their pull moving up at 2m’s and hits the bottom of their squat moving down at 2 m/s the change in speed is 4m/s or: (v-u)=4.

In the above frames, they are shot at 60 frames per second which means that it takes 4 frames to get from [V] to [U] which is 0.07 seconds to get under the bar… trust me when I say, this guy was really frickin quick

So if there is space under your feet, and only air around you, what exactly do you have to pull against? – the only object left is the bar.

The bar is travelling upwards under its own momentum at this stage, so what you in fact do by pulling against it is transfer your upward momentum [V] into the bar, increasing it’s velocity, reducing your own by creating downward impulse in your body. This gets the 2m/s speed under the bar or final velocity [U]

The harder you pull, the faster you decelerate, and therefore transfer more force, and upward momentum into the bar as a result. This is the differential of inertia – you defer your inertia into the bar by actively pulling against it like it was nailed to the damn floor. When those deodorant ads said men can’t help acting on impulse, I wonder if they knew the secret to epic lifts…

This means you accelerate down under the bar quicker, take less time to do it, and there is more upward force going into the bar as a result. All of which means… heavier weights!

Just in case there’s a few thinking… I’ve done the analysis, I have the figures: The bar doesn’t get any quicker after triple extension. This is true, but it will decelerate slower with an athlete pulling under the bar, the actual upward momentum gained by the bar during pull under is very minimal.

In any case, the bar is not what’s important in this equation, but the speed of the lifter, if they are under the bar much sooner, the bar has less time to come to rest and head earthbound under gravity, which means the lifter has a much better chance of snatching or cleaning that weight.

There is also an added benefit to this, the psychological one gained by teaching that this is an active part of lifting rather than an addendum to a clean or a snatch.

When the athlete has to focus on actively pulling under the bar then they’re more engaged, less relaxed and just that little bit sharper when it comes to performing the movements.

The action of pulling under the bar, even the language used, lets the lifter know that they are expected to maintain form, continue to lift until the bar is overhead, and not simply coast after Vmax/triple extension.

There are no thoughts of relaxation, or lesser effort, max effort must be maintained until the bar is secured overhead and successfully recovered.

This translates to faster athletes under the bar, more powerful contractions at the hips (great for sprinters and getting those muscles up to standard for good running mechanics) and more weight being lifted due to the increased efficiency of the lifter.

This minimises the distance the bar drops, lowering the force transferred into the lifter when it is caught as it is moving slower, and allows the lifter to again lift heavier as a result.

So why overlook this one small aspect when even small percentages play such a massive role at the high end of lifting.

The less scientific explanations is simply this;

The harder you pull under the bar once the feet leave the floor, the quicker your momentum is transferred into it, with more force, which gets you under the bar quicker, into a stronger position [psychological effect], and even has the added benefit of scraping that little bit of extra height into the bar.

No matter what way you look at it, the bar will be higher when you catch it, you’ll be under it quicker and therefore able to do heavier weights as a result.

Coaching semantics and the misconception of the one true path

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As many of you know it’s not like me to be opinionated or controversial, but I thought I’d kick off the new blog with this one.

It’s a subject that comes up time and again regarding various methods of coaching, ideas, and just what really is the best way to achieve results.

There are a number of examples that spring to mind, the Double knee bend, a favourite bone of contention amongst many sports scientists, driving up on to the toes (finishing the triple extension) and actively using this technique to lift, argued amongst weightlifting coaches…. The list does go on; but what are coaches really actually arguing about?

Almost every coach I’ve spoken to over the last decade has agreed that both the movements I used as an example above do happen, the problem comes in do you actively teach this? Are they actions to be performed, or are they reactions which happen automatically?

This is where that grey area tends to appear, and tempers tend to disappear.

I’m going to give you my coaching methodology now to save you reading on while guessing; I personally relate all my coaching back to the end user… the athlete/client.

If the athlete needs something explained or corrections made, I do it. If they don’t, I don’t. As a weightlifting coach, who’s been practicing, performing and competing in the Olympic movements for almost 15 years, these are the movements I coach most often. They are complicated, intricate and there is a hell of a lot involved in getting the movements right.

So one of the idioms I use most often when teaching new coaches, is – “do you as a coach need to know everything there is to know about the lifts?” – I personally believe coaches do, but my follow up question “ok, does your athlete?” usually gets the same response every time, the simple answer is no, there’s enough to think about, and even the action of thinking through a lift inevitably makes performing it harder.

Focusing on one, sometimes two key areas or technical aspects is plenty, any more than that and you’re asking for things to go wrong.

So what do we teach? – my answer, only what’s needed at that time, anyone can get a good grounding in the movements with drills and technique bars/brush handles provided they have the proper mobility and stability.

This brings me to the core of the article… the misconception of the one true path

This idea seems to go unnoticed, glossed over and altogether undervalued as a core principle governing a coaches’ willingness to be open, learn and improve their skills.

The idea being as Liam Moggan summed up so eloquently…. Who says there’s only one right answer?

This small nugget of truth in an absolute quagmire of knowledge, learning and teaching shone above all else. The simplicity of it struck me… Why are we arguing over whether to introduce movements we all agree happen or not, when what we could be looking at is… when is it time to introduce these movements, if ever?

There are so many different body shapes, sizes, motor skill levels, areas of stability, tightness and weakness that teaching one set method would never logically work for everyone.  There will always be those who benefit, and those who would benefit more from a different approach.

The statement is so small in structure, but so far reaching in nature, it’s one of those Zen moments, the answer to a question I didn’t know my subconscious was asking, but yet there it was right in front of me.

It was never that one coach was right, and another was wrong; it was simply that both ideas are correct, it’s the one size fits all application that made the ideas incompatible. When you find an athlete that the coaching method works for, the idea is perfect, when it doesn’t fit, then it’s not the idea that’s incorrect, it’s not adapting your coaching to suit your athlete that’s the problem.

The same can be said for the ideas of coaching the top down method, the bottom up method, whole part whole (compartmentalisation) and so on. The methods are all sound, they work…. But only for those athletes that need that particular method to progress. The method is a tool, it’s the skilled coach who can wield more than one at any given time.

Ask a plumber to fix a broken pipe with only a hacksaw and they may do it, but give them all the tools and parts at their disposal, not only will it get done quicker, but it’ll probably be a much better job as well.

Being a coach is an art form, getting the best tools is what a good coach does, and knowledge is one hell of a tool when in the right hands.

So in looking at the how’s and why’s of coaching; talking about movement skills or even something much bigger or more profound, taking each and every athlete as the unique individual they are, not trying to apply the one size fits all scenario to them to me seems not only logical, but simple, effective, and quite possibly the only way of getting the results that each individual wants.

It’s not that [in this case] there are better ways of teaching, just that some athletes learn better one way, others another. It is the coach who is willing to stretch their own capabilities, push their own teaching boundaries and get out of their comfort zone who will have the most successful athletes. Ask yourself, what does my athlete need, not what was I taught, so I’ll use that.

The more tools you have at your disposal, the more teaching methods, skills and personal attributes you can call on, will mean that you arrive at the answer that’s best for your client or athlete, whatever answer that may be for them.

… there may also be more than one successful way of achieving it; the more I’ve looked, the more I’ve realised; there is no one true path, there are many. They cross, intertwine, some are quicker, some dead ends even help you find the route you were looking for, but it’s never a straight road, and there’s always another path if you get lost.