Crossfit and weightlifting, an objective critique

It’s been a while since my last entry, it was a long one, so apologies if you’re only finally finishing it now.

There’s something that’s been playing on my mind, and it again centres on preconceived notions. Mostly the at the extremes:

crossfitter mentality – Crossfit is epic; we’ve the strongest, fastest athletes etc     Vs       Strength athletes, Crossfit will actually kill you, they’re weak, technique is awful, lets mock them at every opportunity, and so on.

Let me start by putting off basically my entire audience by saying; I’m a strength coach. Specifically a weightlifting coach. I’ve been training for a decade and a half, coaching for almost a decade. The odd thing is… I love crossfit.

The idea of it, the very notion of brining Olympic lifts to the masses and getting some excitement away from the dusty barns and books of yesteryear; It’s awesome to see such excitement, enthusiasm and love for the sport, it’s humbling to think of just how many people now share what has been a massive part of my life, with something that has taken up more than half of my lifetime.

That said, there are dangers with this new found enthusiasm; that being the danger of extremely complicated exercises, being taught by other amateur performers of the lifts.

The snatch as well as clean and jerk, involve some of, if not the highest amount of motor neuron incorporation of any exercises. The amount of muscle that has to be used in a very specific order to get the best effect is staggering.

The main thing that beginners say to me, is how surprisingly difficult the lifts are to perform. Even with light bars and weights, it’s surprising to them just how out of breath they are, and how much there is to get right for the lift to be a success. My usual answer is simply… that’s why we do them.

A weightlifter is an athlete who revels in both the physical challenge of shifting heavy weights, but more than that. It requires technique, finesse, flexibility and a level of control you simply don’t get with other exercises.

We weren’t satisfied that the weights were heavy, they had to be hard to do. In both mental and very real terms, the bar had to be high, or we didn’t want to know.

I think he’s Happy; ok Dimas, you can put it down now

I think he’s Happy; ok Dimas, you can put it down now

Crossfit shares this mentality… The WOD’s are often times brutal, their results are extreme transformations in both physical and mental strength, speed, power, endurance.  The weekly challenge has been both excruciating and mesmerising every Thursday throwdown @Asylum where we take on the local crossfit, resulting in a weekly festival of sweat and tears. We’ve gotten our asses kicked and kept coming back for more.

Like certain countries that won’t let that one victory of yesteryear fade from memory in search of the next big thing, I’ve been heard uttering the phrase, “yea we beat them at fran!” and more than once.

This competitive spirit for exercise is not lost on me, I embrace it. At this point you probably think I’m a convert, I almost did myself, but in actuality, a competitive instinct to be great at something I enjoyed is what brought me to weightlifting in the first place. Through 7 years on a rugby pitch, loving every second of brutal contact, being beaten and broken, I found weightlifting. It was a new challenge, and I threw myself into its world, and before I knew it I was a part of it.

It is this same eager participation I feel when working with crossfitters, they love the sport, not holding it in the sacred halls of austerity; but getting stuck in, training hard and reaping the rewards.

Yes there are a million things going wrong,

Case in point

Case in point

It is at times wreckless with the definitions, performance, and frankly safety of something we hold so close to our hearts.

Weightlifters really care about our sport (don’t tell anyone they’ll think we’re wusses)

it’s like saving up all your hard earned cash, or in our case hours in the gym, to achieve this wonderful thing. Like buying that car you’ve always dreamed of, only now some reckless teenager has borrowed the keys, and you’re petrified they’re going to cock it up for everyone.

Thing is it was never yours to begin with. The exercises are just exercises, they’re fun, challenging, and everyone deserves the opportunity to learn, practice and love them as much as we do.

Like crossfit, weightlifting has its good and bad coaches; with awful technique not limited to the crossfit hall of fame, but littered around each bad coach from weightlifting or crossfit. It’s not the sports fault, we have great programs and great lifters… so does crossfit. A bad coach is a bad coach, I personally can’t blame the sport for that, it’s not the athletes fault they were given dangerous loads too early, by someone who wasn’t competent, that happens no matter where you go, or what sport you do.

Thing is, crossfit was a victim of its success at this early stage. It’s apparent to everyone that it is an absolute publicity and marketing machine.

Frankly I think most were just pissed off that crossfit captured the imagination of the public in a way weightlifting never could. We were too old, a dusty relic of days gone by, mumbling to whoever would listen in our dank and dusty caves where iron, wood and rubber ruled. Suddenly there’s new life in the sport, and more people than ever before dragging us kicking and screaming into the light, and to be honest the fresh air is doing us all the world of good.

Say you do weightlifting or sports conditioning circuits; horrendous visions of sweaty men indoors with med balls and pools of murky sweat you’d need a mop for jump to mind. Call it crossfit, and all the skimpy clothes, great bums and fantastic figures spring out like a bright summers morning (and I never said that wasn’t still the men… perverts)

This same ability to grab the right attention, ensured it grabbed the wrong attention. You only have to google crossfit fail compilation and you’ll see where the snide comments come from.

However, crossfit is fast maturing and accelerating up a steep learning curve.

Weighltifting is not purist, elite and only for strength atheltes. They are high energy, explosive, taxing exercises, something I’ve used to great effect in my personal training for years. The exercises are just that, exercises.

How you use the exercise determines its effect. You want cardio-fitness? higher reps, lower weight (%1RM). You want strong, competitive athletes? more rest, less reps, bigger weights. It’s not set in stone, use them the way you want to benefit most, but please, don’t call yourself strong for doing 50 reps with a light weight, that’s endurance. Most weightlifters joke about their lack of fitness… funny that it’s true, but also a sign they could be missing a trick. A good tolerance to lactic never hurt any weightlifter during a conditioning phase.

When I took the time to step back and really look; the single biggest fault I could see, was how the athletes embrace each other but the coaches didn’t. I decided it was up to me to take the first step, if I didn’t I was only part of the problem.

Crossfit coaches are a fairly open minded bunch if you get the right ones, there are those who are really defensive after enduring a lot of abuse from outside; they’ve every right to be, something they hold dear was getting abused by someone who didn’t know as much as they did (sound familiar?).

The thing is, when it comes to the technique of weightlifting, it takes years of dedication to come to grips with even the basic concepts; that’s where this creeps in…

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But I truly believe it’s becoming less and less common, the more time that better and better crossfitters demonstrate what is possible when you practice good form, and become efficient in how you move. If you move like a weightlifter, you move more efficiently when moving the biggest weights possible. If you move in the same way for lighter weights… you use up less energy, and can move more of them.

I was lucky enough to do my crossfit cert under Mike Burgner, an awesome coach, and an awesome person. He’s forgotten more about the lifts than I’ll probably ever learn; and also happy to call it like it is.

I loved listening to him, the no nonsense approach to weightlifting, the skill and discipline required shone through, and this was a crossfit certification.

So what does this mean for me?

I stepped into the world of crossfit, and I came out loving it. I’m still a weightlifter, I still train for strength, but I’m more than happy to help guide, coach and hone the skills of anyone, and everyone who wants to share in that same love for the exercises I hold so close to my heart.

It’s not that you have to train for strength because “that’s what the exercises are for”… they’re not. They’re exercises, that’s all. It’s just that you have to respect the weightlifter for the time dedication and energy they’ve spent into perfecting how they move, to accelerate a heavy object, into a small window overhead, with such a small margin for error. The tens, hundreds and thousands of hours teaching themselves how to move does in my book earn respect for your own endeavours. What it doesn’t earn you is the right to belittle someone doing the same thing for a different effect.

So how do we solve it… simple, learn from each other. Weightlifting has been a minority for so long that we’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to be interesting, sexy and fun. The midlife crisis is over, and it’s time for the sport to shake off the old, embrace the new and let them learn from us, rather than ridicule.

If we don’t it’s simple, they’ll get better, and soon they’ll be teaching us…. Ok maybe not, but you get the idea.

If weightlifters can embrace the amazing attributes crossfit can bring to an aging sport, teamwork, excitement, fun, we can have better, stronger and amazing athletes handed to us right on our doorstep, all we have to do is open ourselves up to it.

If crossfit can keep those same ego’s in check, embrace the knowledge, time and expertise that weightlifters have to offer in the technical, movement and strength training aspects of crossfit, we’ll both have much better athletes at the end, and everyone who joins in will find they’ve got a much bigger family to be a part of.

A family I’m proud to say I’m part of.

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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.

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.