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…

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.