Wednesday, January 22, 2014

So...You're Not Elite

Here's the hard, honest truth, in case you didn't already know: you're not an elite athlete.

You're not Klokov. You're  not Lu Xiao Jun. You're not Froning or Brandon Lilly or Zydrunas Zavickas. 

You're a regular athlete with a regular life. They are elite athletes with an elite life. Admire them, learn their training techniques and aspire to achieve their level. But don't emulate them, that will just serve to stunt your own growth. 

I'm not trying to be negative here; I love that so many people train their asses off and and I love that elite athletes like the ones I mentioned above are so accessible via social networking that you can literally see their training and talk to them almost daily. But this has caused a bit of a problem in todays training landscape. Everybody and their mom can see what Klokov is doing on his FaceBook page or Instagram feed. You see his daily training, his technique and even what he is eating for breakfast.

While this is really cool, it's stunting peoples growth. There was once a time when you only saw your sports heros on TV when they had a game. I'd watch Alonzo Mournings post moves and go outside and try to emulate them. I'd see Griffey Jr's swing and go get my bat and pretend I was him.

This was ok because you didn't have 24/7 access to it. What it did was get athletes outside and practicing their sport. You'd see it in your head, but didn't have the ability to pore over it all the time. You just spent the time in your driveway taking 100 shots from the baseline, and you'd develop naturally.

Now, in place of real coaching people have YouTube and Instagram. You see these stud athletes do something and you presume that that is what you should be doing as well.

Dmitry pulls with a weird staggered stance, I guess I should be trying that!

Froning seemingly eats nothing besides peanut butter and milk, time for a diet change!

Ilya Ilin takes a ton of weird selfies and apparently became a vegetarian...Selfie Saturday here I come!

I'm sure Dmitry uses it for a particular purpose for himself and that it serves a pretty specific purpose in his training, but for the average Joe what does it do? It looks cool and it's probably uncomfortable as shit.

I've written before about how when we first started weightlifting we practiced a lot of stuff that we shouldn't have, and ingrained some bad habits. When Ivan was breaking us of these habits, he had a pretty good explanation. He first mentioned it when discussing the dynamic start.

We assumed it was the proper way to start a lift since the majority of elite level weightlifters started off like it looks awesome. Coach's explanation, which is the whole point of this post, is that these athletes have spent countless hours and reps in the gym perfecting their technique. Every little thing that they do is for a reason, and the reason they do it probably doesn't apply to us. As we practice and practice and practice we will figure out what works for us individually...but we had to start with the basics. The basics are the basics for a reason, practice them to perfection and get strong at them before you move on.

That's the thought process that I see many people with nowadays: they don't want to stick to the basics. Wether its an aspiring powerlifter who only squats 225 thinking it's time to hit a Smolov cycle or an athlete new to weightlifting who thinks they should be practicing the same assistance lifts as Klokov and maxing out 13 times a week like North, people want to jump the gun and think that they are much more advanced then they are. If you take a moment to bring yourself back down to reality, you'll see much smoother progress and you'll get to where you want to be way easier.

Any athlete that has reached the level of the people I mentioned has spent an absurd amount of time training. They have gone through several hundreds of thousands of repetitions in their particular sport and have grooved their technique to the level where it's absolutely unconscious. They started with the basics and over years of training, they've had to develop various small techniques to keep improving.

Stick to the basics, trust me when I say that you're not as advanced as you think you are. Master the technique and then you can play with different variations further down the road once you've achieved a significant level of proficiency.

Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Self Assessment

I've got a lot of new things going on right now. I'm in a new city/state, I'm training with new guys and I'm looking for a new job. I thought it might be a good time to take a step back from myself and give myself an honest self-assessment (re: my profession, that is). The ability to do that is something that is I think would help a lot of new trainers and coaches figure out where they belong in this whole world.

Just like anybody else, I've got things I'm good at and some things I need to work on. I'm just gonna go ahead and list them out in a pretty simple format.

  • I think my strongest suit as a trainer is my ability to convey what I want to my athlete or client. I've honed my exercise cues pretty well and don't have to waste a ton of time and energy coaching an exercise. I'm able to pretty easily figure out the glaring mistakes and know the right ways to fix them so I don't fluster the athlete/client. 
  • I'm really strong at programming. I'm usually able to write a program that will be fun and hold the attention of the trainee for 4-weeks and will still provide a ton of benefit. People get strong on my programs and usually end up feeling way better than when they started; performing better as well. 
  • I'm a very adaptable. Regardless of the situation and whom I'm working with, I can make that person feel comfortable. Whether it's an 83 year old Holocaust survivor or a 15 year old basketball player from the inner-city, I'm able to connect with that person and relate to them on a level that makes them feel good about the session. 
  • I have a good network of people to go to if/when I have a question about something I don't know very well. Guys like Tony, Wil and Ivan have been instrumental in my development. If I don't know something, I'll admit it. 
  • I'm pretty good at figuring out the pathology of someones pain. I'm no where close to Eric Cressey's level when it comes to this, but I do ok for myself. 
  • I've trained myself a lot of different ways so I have a lot of insight into different things. I pretended to be a powerlifter for a little while (hahahaha). I did a few Cressey programs, which left me feeling extremely balanced and strong. I spent some time playing around with strongman implements, so I understand the benefits even though I wouldn't say that I trained for it. Some of my closest friends are CrossFit coaches and I've even done a few miserable fucking workouts. I'm not playing at being a weightlifter and I'm seeing the pro's and con's to this type of training. I've never been a bodybuilder though...fuck that noise. 
  • I'm very open-minded to new ideas. I like learning, and when information is presented to me about something I'm unfamiliar with I like to try and figure it all out. 

  • I can be really closed-minded to new ideas. I love learning, but when I hear something new that I "think" is dumb, I'll close down immediately. Much like I first was with things like CrossFit, running (Kelsi!) and even (shocker!) olympic weightlifting. I'm getting better at this though!
  • While I think that I'm really good at programming for things like strength, power, mobility, postural restoration and sports performance, I don't think I'm particularly good at writing programs for fat loss. Not the kind of fat loss where someone starts off 40 pounds overweight, that I can do; but if someone had 5-10 pounds to lose for an event. When I write those programs I start to second guess myself and then I start asking others for advice. Which leads me to my next point...
  • I'm not super comfortable with my nutrition. My basics are all pretty good, but I realize how little I know when I start hearing people talk about it who are very well versed in the subject. If that person who needed to lose 10 pounds asked me about nutrition, I'd end up referring them to Dan
  • I will sometimes impart my own bias onto a program/client. This is really not that bad; let's say someone comes to me and says "my only goal is to gain upper body size". Well, that's a good goal, but I'm still going to give you squats and deadlifts because 1) you're going to look ridiculous if your upper-body is big and your legs are tiny and 2) getting stronger in your lower body will help you increase strength in your upper-body. 

As you can see, I wasn't too hard on myself but I was still very honest. Despite my proclivity for suggesting that I am the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be...I don't really believe that. I know I've got things to work on, and I'm going to keep doing that.

Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Getting Comfortable

Just yesterday I put up a post about the new gym that I'd joined and how it wasn't quite fulfilling my needs. Well, I wrote that on Saturday and since then I've come across a new place.

I first learned about CrossFit 440 when Gwen told me that she'd lifted here a handful of times while in Mentor on business. I contacted Ben, the owner, about open gym times that I might be able to come in and train. He told me about a few times and I put it in my memory bank.

I kept looking around and contacted Dan Bell of Rubber City Weightlifting (Akron) to see if he had any suggestions of places to train. He suggested I get in touch with Mark Hansbrough who is the weightlifting coach at, you guessed it, Crossfit 440.

I got in touch with Ben first and went by for an open gym lift on Sunday. I felt at home instantly; Ben was very welcoming and they had a good group in there doing the daily WOD and a few guys training powerlifting stuff. I had a pretty good training session and Ben suggested I contact Mark, who invited me in to train with them the following night. I went in and it felt like I was back at Risto with my team...but with less Spanish being spoken. Mark is a very knowledgeable coach with great technique and is fast as hell. The other lifter training was Nate, an 85 who's lift PRs are just about the same as mine. He has a more typical lifters build, short and stocky and way faster than me.

Mark follows the Soviet System, like Coach Rojas, and was very upfront with me by saying that he didn't care if I trained with them but continued to follow my own Coach's programming. This made me feel really comfortable and took some stress off.

I lifted with Nate and while we worked up through our sets Mark quickly picked up on the technique flaws that I've yet to correct: shoulders not far enough over the bar, knees not back far enough at the power position (something Elios had told me a lot about), and I get early into my toes when the bar is in my hips. Staying back on my heels at the final position feels like the weirdest thing in the world to me.

I went back to do some technique work with them last night, and I believe I'll be joining them Friday night and maybe Saturday for a trip down to Akron to lift with their whole team.

This is the best part of a sport like weightlifting; it's a pretty small community and everybody knows everybody else. Finding a group like this is just what I needed to start to feel at home out here. Now I just need to find some decent Chinese food!

Have a great day, go lift some heavy shit.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Adios, Comfort Zone

I've been preaching to my clients since I started training to get out of their comfort zone. "You need to get comfortable being uncomfortable" I would repeat over and over. Start going to the gym more. Eat foods that fuel your body and not your mind. Embrace the suck.

Well, I'm about 700 miles outside of my comfort zone right now. I just made the move from Boston to Cleveland (well, just outside of Cleveland). I made the move to be with Kelsi and I'm thrilled about it. However, I've been in my comfort bubble for about 10 years now. I left behind my family, friends and my training routine.

The nice thing about my lifestyle, though, is that wherever I go I can find a place to lift. 45 pounds is always 45 pounds no matter where I am and the easiest way to meet like-minded individuals is to be in the nice warm confines of a squat rack. 

Oddly, I haven't had to pay for a gym membership in at least 6 years. On day 3 of being here, I went out and bought a month at one of the local gyms that I'd heard quite a bit about: Titans Gym in Mentor, OH. The best way for me to describe it for you Bostonians reading is that it's 95% like Total Performance Sports in Everett, MA. This gym has just about everything a strength aficionado needs (and a ton that they don't need). The first thing I saw when I walked down the stairs to the weight room was a room on the side with a monolift in it. They had Eleiko powerlifting discs in there and just about every specialty bar you could hope for. There's also an EliteFTS GHD and a competition bench. Just tonight I noticed that next to this room is a room full of strongman equipment that I've yet to explore. 

Out on the floor, the first thing I noticed was an over-abundance of selectorized machines. I'd gather that theres probably 60 machines out there, that I personally have no use for. They have 2 sections of traditional selectorized machines and one section of plate loaded Hammer Strength/Nebula machines. In this section there are two machines I adore: a chest supported row, and a t-bar row. They are fantastic back machines, and that's one of the most important things for a weightlifter.

That brings me to my next point: this gym doesn't have shit going on for a weightlifter. This is wildly frustrating, and is something that plagues every lifter out there looking for a place with a platform and some bumpers. (note: if you're looking for a place to train, check out the gym locator at The Strength Agenda). CrossFit gyms are notoriously stingy with their open-gym time, and this area has proved to be no different. It's not the end of the world; I've been getting in a ton of squatting and overhead work and will be focusing on improving strength numbers until I have a place to consistently train my competition lifts. 

The really interesting thing to me is the population of this gym. The bulk of my training for the last 5 years has happened in 4 places: my old commercial gym, CrossFit Resilience, Risto Sports and Boston University Strength and Conditioning. I knew what to expect in these places, and was admittedly a little sheltered to what much of the gym world was like. Even in the commercial gym I spent almost 6 years in, things didn't get too bad.

In Titans, I've seen both ends of the spectrum: some really great lifting, and some awful bro-science shit that made me want to punch myself. I've seen a ton of awful deadlifts from High School kids (but they were still deadlifting), I've seen the same guys reverse-grip benching 95 pounds, and I've seen quarter squats galore. But I also squatted next to some regular guys squatting 425x3 with legit depth tonight, and seen some massive guys who train strongman move some serious poundage. I've also seen some pretty massive dudes who, while I won't call them bodybuilders, have clearly spent their fair share of time in the gym getting hyooge.

With that being said, this gym definitely has an emphasis on bodybuilding amongst the general membership; which isn't intrinsically a bad thing, it's just not my cup of tea.

All in all, it's a really good gym. With a few minor tweaks it'd be amazing;  but I guess you can't have it all. I've got to finish my month there but in the meantime hopefully I'll be able to find a place that better suits my needs.

Have a great day and go lift something heavy!