My year with Greg Robins

After my first visit to a powerlifting gym back in 2015 (Total Performance Sport, MA), I knew I wanted to compete in the sport at some point. Even though I had back squatted, deadlifted and benched (where I hit bodyweight the first time I ever tried!) a bunch before the visit, most of my learning came through YouTube, training partners, popular strength programs and self-experimentation.

It didn’t take too long for me to reach out to coach Greg Robins (who I had met at Cressey Sport Performance back in 2015, where he currently coaches), and ask if he would program for me. (I still don’t know why I decided to email him and will probably never do, but it was the best decision ever. I do have a video of him watching me front squat at Cressey Peformance last year – maybe that was it)

Its been exactly a year since I started working with him, and I’m fairly certain I’m going to continue working with him for the rest of my life. How much I’ve learnt this past year about training, programming, coaching, and just good old lifting heavy stuff is overwhelming.

#mycoachisbetterthanyourcoach

#mycoachisbetterthanyourcoach

To summarize what a good year its been, here are some numbers:

2015 October 2016 October
Squat – 70 kgs x 3 – 5 reps Squat – 90 kgs x 1 rep
Bench Press – 45 kgs x 1 – 3 reps Bench Press – 60 kgs x 1 rep
Deadlift – 100 kgs x 1 rep Deadlift – 117 kgs x 2 reps

Here are some of my top learnings from the past year, which I think a lot of us can benefit from:

  • Train more than thrice a week: You’ll live, I promise. One of the first things that he asked me even before we started working together was if I had the bandwidth to train 6 days a week. In the limited time that I had spent in the fitness industry, I had been told multiple times that training thrice a week was adequate, and that it was important I don’t train more than that so my body could recover between workouts. But considering that I’m a training junkie, I was more than thrilled at the thought of having just one rest day. For the past year, except when my city had massive floods or the once or twice I’ve been sick, I have been training 6 days a week. I am still alive and kicking, with all my joints intact and have made the most progress I ever have with my training. However, while for me this meant lifting 6 days a week because my goal was to eventually compete in a powerlifting meet and just get stronger, it doesn’t have to be that for everyone. With some of the women I coach, this gave me the confidence to programme 4 strength days in the gym and encourage them to either play a sport or pursue something that they enjoyed like running or zumba, on other days, without constantly worrying about overtraining.
  • Grow, grow, grow your back: I’ve been doing some sort of pulling/ rowing movement at least twice a week, especially these last few months. Not only do I do them twice a week, but I also do what was a  previously an unimaginable number of sets for me. Apart from the fact that my back looks like a (very sexy) road map right now, I’m also able to maintain some solid upper back tightness on the deadlift, get a much better bench set up and my grip strength has gone through the roof!
  • Strength is a skill: I have obviously always paid attention to technique and have constantly worked on getting better at various lifts and using different tools. But learning to pay attention to finer details that potentially play a big role in how and how much I lift is something I’ve developed recently. Videoing all my sets and watching them over and over again, consciously ‘practicing’ some of the things my coach has asked me to fix are good examples of how I treat strength as a skill. And the more I do this, the more and better I’ve been able to lift.
  • The bros are on to something, train upper body more than once a week: When I recently met coach Robins, he said something very interesting – that it was important to train upper body twice a week, just like we train two lower body days (squat and deadlift). Even though I have been doing two upper body days for the last year, it never occurred to me that this is what I was doing. Upper body muscles are also better at recovering when compared to larger lower body muscles. So recovery is not usually an issue when it comes to training upper body lifts more frequently. Here’s what my training  week has looked like for most of last year:

Sunday – Sprints and plyometrics

Monday – Squats

Tuesday – Bench

Wednesday – Active Recovery

Thursday – Deadlift

Friday – Bench

Saturday – Rest

  • Cycle your key lifts: If you have spent long enough training the big three (squat, bench and deadlift), you should be well aware of some of the drawbacks of using those lifts consistently in the long run – muscular imbalances, repetitive joint stress, CNS (Central Nervous System) fatigue are some common examples. In having worked with coach Robins, I quickly learnt how I don’t have to conventional deadlift week after week to get stronger on the conventional deadlift. I’ve done the sumo deadlift, deficit deadlifts, low setting trap bar deadlifts, banded and pause deadlifts, and my deadlift has gotten nothing but stronger. Same deal with squats and the bench – incline, decline, pause, close grip, banded and Spoto bench and Safety Squat Bar, front and pause squats are some of the variations I have trained. I think this plays a huge role in me not developing any major muscular imbalances and staying injury free, while continuing to make massive progress in terms of technique and load on the bar.

  • Be ready, be aggressive, attack the bar: I rarely feel like I don’t want to train. But on days that I do, I usually feel extremely guilty for feeling that way, push through my training and end up having an overall shitty session. Recently, I discovered the importance of readiness, and how that determined how my training goes. Times when I haven’t been able to hit the numbers my coach has wanted me to, assuming technique was in place, it was usually because I wasn’t feeling up to it (mostly because of bad prep or recovery). I’ve now learnt to take a nap or eat a meal or complete things on my to-do list before I train, because those are the things that usually get in the way for me personally. Another lesson has been the importance of being aggressive, especially on the deadlift. Apart from always ensuring I have Metallica/ Mumford and Sons/ the Max Mad theme song (depending on the workout) on high volume, I’ve worked on being more efficient with my set up and deliberately reducing the time I have to think before lifting the bar.

As my coach would say, train with a purpose!

-Prashanti

What’s the hurry?

Fitness and having a good physique is commonly viewed as an end result. You work hard for X number of days, you do A, B and C and boom, in 90 days, you look exactly like that movie star in that poster.

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Its okay, we’ve all  been there.

For the longest time, I approached fitness the same way. I needed to find the perfect workout, the perfect diet, and do it perfectly for a set amount of time and I would be jacked to shreds just like the fitness models I followed on Instagram. This, unfortunately, didn’t quite work out for me. I was constantly burnt out and had to force myself to get in most workouts. I tried to eat right, but always got frustrated with the lack of – or minimal – progress in 3 months (where’s my 6-pack at, dammit) and gave up. I was never happy with where I was, and more importantly, with who I was.

About 6 months ago, I started working with coach Bryan Krahn (thanks to the encouragement of my awesome business partner, Prashanti). Obviously, I ‘screwed up’ and cheated on my nutrition the first couple of weeks. He was very kind about it and gave me some helpful advice about what to do, and then he said something game changing – ‘This is a skill, and skills take YEARS of practice to master’.

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#mycoachismorejackedthanyourcoach

This blew my mind. I was caught in the trap of trying to find secret exercises, workouts and diet plans that I was sure that all these people were doing that made them look that way. The truth was far from it. All the people who looked the way that I wanted to look had several things in common – they ate right 90% of the time, they trained hard and looked forward to their workouts and listened to their bodies. They also took care of sleep and stress outside of training. And most importantly, they had been doing this for many, many years.

Fitness and getting jacked, is a skill. Just like art. Just like sports. You have to fully experience and enjoy every second of it you want to be good at it. You HAVE to love the process. You can’t just drudge through your workouts and your diet and see results. You have to respect that everything about the way that you’ve lived your life so far, not good or bad, has led you to looking and feeling the way you do right now. To change that is a huge transformation that is probably going to take you as long as it took you to get here.

Contrary to feeling depressed about that or going into denial (which is what I did), take a moment and think about it from a different point of view. There’s no pressure now. No end point to get to. The goal now to enjoy the fuck out of your workouts, enjoy the process of eating right and take care of your body, in order to enjoy the way that you feel every day. And the better you get at that, the better you will look. Isn’t that awesome?

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So get comfortable, breathe and enjoy the ride.

-Sandeep

2016 – The year of fitness, fun and fat loss!

 

There is a certain magic to group training, the energy generated when a group of people commit to a cause and honour it by pushing themselves is electric. It allows them to surpass their individual shortcomings, and overcome their fears and doubts. It allows them to do the most important thing when it comes to fitness – just showing up.

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After much thought and careful planning, Strength System is proud to bring to you the FitBox.

FitBox is more than just a group or a bootcamp class. It is a 12-week journey that will act as your first step into fitness. These 12 weeks will not be easy, and the results that you get at the end will be hard-earned.

Here are some of the features and fun things we have planned:

  • Constantly changing workouts that can be scaled to challenge any fitness level.
  • A specific focus on general fitness and fat loss to leave you feeling amazing at the end of each workout and awesome at the end of three months.
  • Many toys to play with like kettlebells, trap bars, medicine balls, TRX suspension trainers, gymnastic rings, valslides and sleds.
  • Gamification of workouts to keep training fun and intense.
  • Nutrition tips, tricks and hacks that you can implement right away.
  • No gamification is complete without rewards. So, prizes for most consistent, most improved, etc.
  • ..and much, much more!

That new year resolution for fitness that you make every year, let’s make it count this time.. 2016, let’s get started on the awesome!

Enter the Landmine

My name is Sandeep, and I have bad shoulders. A childhood spent in front of the computer playing videogames, and an early adulthood ambition to do a lot of pull-ups resulted in terrible shoulder mechanics that have caused me pain and frequent bouts of neck spasms. At first, I figured this was a unique problem. I told myself I had a long neck, weak shoulders and all other kinds of rubbish. But it wasn’t. The more folks I coached and saw move around me, the more I noticed that everyone suffered from some version of this problem.

What am I talking about? Obviously, not everyone has shoulder pain or some kind of neck issues. But be it due to our modern lifestyles and all the sitting hunched over, our propensity to being chest breathers or even one too many ‘chest days’, most of us lack the ability to reach over our heads without compensating elsewhere in our body. The most common version of this is a lower back arch. If overhead pressing hurts your lower back, this is probably why.

At the Strength System, before every overhead pressing day, we test our trainees’ range of motion in flexing their shoulder joint (taking their hands overhead) using the back-to-wall shoulder flexion drill.

Here’s a great video by coach Eric Cressey on how to do it –

If their thumbs hit the wall, boom, let’s press. If they don’t, as is common with folks with a hunch or with tight pec/lat muscles, we have them substitute the overhead press with a landmine press. This allows them to comfortably press in the range of motion that their body allows them without creating compensations. This is a movement that, in addition to teaching good shoulder mechanics, allows us to load them up and continue training the pressing pattern, while we also simultaneously work on their shoulder mobility through corrective exercises such as YTWs, lat and pec stretches.

If you’ve been having shoulder pain or back pain when you press, we highly recommend trying out this approach to it. Test, and if you fall short, try the landmine press.

 

Sandeep

sandeep@strengthsystem.in

SMFR 101


Bro, do you even Self Myofascial Release (SMFR)? Even if your tongue protests at having to pronounce that, you’ve definitely done it at some point if you’ve ever trained with us at Strength System. Remember the foam roller and the lacrosse balls? We like to have all our trainees start their sessions with about 5 minutes of SMFR using these tools. If you have a desk job, or lead a generally sedentary life (and yes, working out 3 days a week and doing nothing else is sedentary), or spend a couple of hours every day driving, you will probably benefit from some SMFR.

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A quick primer: fascia refers to the layers of connective tissue that envelop the body all the way from the toes up to the skull. Most relevant for us, fascia also envelops our muscles (hence the term ‘myofascial’). Theoretically, SMFR helps to break up ‘adhesions’ that develop in our fascia from overuse, imbalances, and the general stresses of life. This prepares our muscles and joints to move through a larger range of motion than they previously could. While the science behind why SMFR works is still hotly debated, we’re just happy that it works.

While specific problem areas depend on the individual person, we typically find that most people will need to prioritize their glutes, upper back, chest, lats, and hip flexors. As a general rule, make about 5-10 slow passes up and down each muscle group that you’re targeting. If you find a tender spot, pause on it, and take a couple of slow, full breaths, and think of sinking your body slightly into the roller.

Just one warning: don’t expect the foam roller or the ball to cure all your mobility ills. You can’t roll out your thighs, hop off the roller, and do a split for the first time ever. At best, it gives you a short window of opportunity to use your new flexibility superpowers to work on your basic movements. And always remember the 80% rule: you should be in significant discomfort, but never in pain. Bro tip: if you’re holding your breath, don’t!

-Varun Srikanth
varun@strengthsystem.in

What’s your passion?

When we emailed Steve Pulcinella of Iron Sport Gym way back in December based on Alexander’s recommendation about visiting him during our trip, he didn’t have much to say. He cracked some jokes and invited us to come over, but what we were intrigued by the most was his honesty. We were two complete strangers from another country and he didn’t hesitate to warn us that it was a pretty slow period for Iron Sport and that most of his members had just only recently quit.

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His story is moving. He started in a roughly 1,500 sq.ft garage gym – a facility that he put together mostly so he had a place to train at. With a highly successful powerlifting and strongman career, he needed a place that wasn’t a regular commercial gym, and there was no better solution that starting his own place. Iron Sport was one of the first few gyms to have great equipment for powerlifting and strongman, and allowed you to do things like lift heavy weights that most other ‘health clubs’ frowned upon. If you enjoy lifting heavy and like to try out cool stuff in your training, this would have been your dream come true. And as expected, it was for many in and around that area of Philadelphia.

Everything was going well – people who understood the value of and respected the space were showing up. In fact, it was going so well that Steve Pulcinella was now forced to consider growing, therefore shifting to a bigger space. A much bigger space.  And so he did. By early 2,000, Iron Sport was now functioning out of a 7200-sqft space, now with added weightlifting platforms!

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When Iron Sport was clearly leading the race, the American fitness industry started to evolve – CrossFit, among other trends came in, and even some of the more loyal Iron Sport members wanted to check out what else was out there. To stay on top of things, Stevey P decided to go all in – they added more strength equipment and weightlifting platforms, discarded the cardio stuff and became more niche. Unfortunately for him, this meant his audience was now a lot more limited to those who subscribed to a style of training that could be done with purely the tools and equipment available at Iron Sport. And as you can imagine, that number might not have been too big.

Despite the fact that it was now a lot harder for him to pay his bills, let alone make a profit, Steve Pulcinella was someone who wasn’t willing to give up his integrity, he was someone who would go all the way to stand behind something that he strongly believed in – the sport of strength. He was someone who wasn’t willing to sell out for the sake of making more money and he wasn’t going to change who he was.

As people who are on the verge of setting up a gym, Sandeep and I have had to ask ourselves some hard questions based on the lessons we learnt at Iron Sport. What sort of gym do we want to be? Who do we want to cater to? Will we be forced to pick between keeping our integrity and selling out – even if just a tiny bit?

We know that answers to those questions will show up as we grow, both personally and professionally. But one thing is certain – we want to strive to be like Steve Pulcinella. We want to always be honest about what we’re made of.

-Prashanti

Perform Better Series – Manipulating Movement with Nick Winkelman

Its always a challenge to present at the end of a seminar, especially if you are trying to say, or teach in this case, a lot in a considerably short amount of time. Despite being put in such a situation, coach Nick Winkelman made so many thought-provoking points of as part of his presentation titled ‘Coach like a caveman – How the environment shapes our movement’ at the Perform Better seminar in March, that I am still trying to wrap my head around most stuff. 

With coach Nick Winkelman
With coach Nick Winkelman

Most of his presentation centered around the concept of implicit (thinking about something before doing it) and explicit ((learning from/by doing) learning , and how those two ideas can be used in the context of coaching an athlete. But what he spoke right at the start about ‘manipulating movement’ is what could be immediately applicable to those of us who either train on a consistent basis or train others. For instance, a coach manipulates movement when he ‘cues’ a trainee to do something. ‘Breathe into your belly’, ‘knees out’ are examples of such cues that helps a trainee perform a movement differently to make it better. 

Coach Winkelman’s focus, however, was on how environmental factors can affect, and therefore manipulate movement. If there’s a chair, you want to/ can sit on it. If there’s no chair, you will not be able to. The chair is the environment here that’s garnering a ‘response’ from your body.   

Tying this idea with other parts of his lecture, my conclusion is simple – if I understand that I can manipulate movement by getting my body to respond to the environment, the option of ‘creating’ an environment that could promote optimised learning should definitely be possible. In other words, we now have the option of creating an environment purely based on what we want to learn or teach. 

Now, an environment can mean two things. It can either just be the training space – does it have a psychological effect on the trainee where he/ she feels safe and secure and are other such fundamental questions answered? Secondly, an environment could also means tools and drills. These tools and drills can be used to reinforce the pattern we are trying to teach/perform or help us better a movement pattern, among other things. Not only does this minimize conscious effort from the trainee’s end, but it also makes the learning curve self-limiting, that is, room for simple errors are restricted through immediate feedback.

An example that coach Winkelman provided was getting an athlete to stay upright on a high knee drill. A coach can keep drilling the cue ‘stand tall’ or something to that effect to a trainee and the trainee can try over and over again, thinking that’s what they’re doing. But without effective proprioception, that just isn’t going to work. His idea was to just have the trainee hold a light medicine ball over his head instead, and by changing the basic premise of the environment, we are manipulating the trainee to maintain a more upright torso. In essence, we are in a way forcing the trainee to be more aware of an increased verticality. 

Personally, I’m going to start including a day of stair sprints in my training moving forward. I have always been very comfortable running on a track or any flat (safe) surface. But when we hiked in Sacramento with coach Chip Conrad back in February, I realised how I struggled to move through not-so-smooth terrain and there was this constant fear of miss-stepping and tripping. By trying to respond to the stairs, I will hopefully be able to manipulate my movement to adapt better to unpredictable terrain. Using different flight of stairs or changing the number of stairs I step on each time could maintain the unpredictable nature of this training. 

 In conclusion, the environment does not only play a role in how we learn a movement, but also how we change and adapt movement.

 (Note – This is part two of the Perform Better series, covering the Learn By Doing seminar that took place in March, 2015, in Boston. Part One can be found here.)

 – Prashanti

Perform Better Series – The Boyle System

The entire trip was planned around one thing – meeting coach Dan John. I checked his schedule in November last year and when we found out that he was going to be presenting at Perform Better‘s one-day seminar in Boston in March, we put that on our calender and planned pretty much everything around that day. Now all we needed were start and end dates.

With coach Mike Boyle

With coach Mike Boyle

We used coach Mike Boyle’s Certified Functional Strength Coach (CFSC) certification as the start point and coach Martin Rooney’s Training for Warriors certification as the end date (which didn’t exactly work out because we added coach David Dellanave to the end, but you get the idea).

The Perform Better seminar was awesome because not only was Dan John presenting, but so were Mike Boyle and Martin Rooney, along with coach Nick Winkelman of EXOS.

The seminar felt like a review of the Boyle certification and a preview to our weekend with coach Rooney. We learnt some great new ideas on coaching from coach Winkelman. It was just something else to meet Dan John.

Perform Better is where I like to window shop the most these days. Its an organisation that not only sells top-notch fitness equipment, but also resources in the form of books and DVDs. They are particularly known for their seminars and conferences that have proven to be opportunities of learning and networking for folks in the fitness industry world over. Since we have none happening back home, it was important that we include at least one of these as part of our trip, to experience what it feels like to learn from many great minds at the same time.

Since we learnt so much from each one of the presenters, I think they deserve their own individual blog posts.

This one is the coach Boyle instalment.

Some of the information that coach Boyle covered in his presentation was part of our CFSC, and apart from reinforcing what we had already learned, a lot of the new information that he was throwing at us at the seminar helped tie some loose ends and answer some questions that had cropped up since the seminar.

With Kevin Larrabee

With Kevin Larrabee

Our certification was run by Kevin Carr, Marco Sanchez and Kevin Larrabee (All of whom are awesome!). So this meant we didn’t really get to meet coach Boyle until the seminar, so that was pretty exciting. His presentation walked us through the system that they have developed and been successfully implementing over the years at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning.

With Kevin Carr and Marco Sanchez

With Kevin Carr and Marco Sanchez

The system is both straightforward and genius – everyone foam rolls, everyone does a dynamic warm up/ activation, some form of power work followed by strength work and finish with some sort of conditioning depending on who and when. Moves are classified into categories, and there are progressions and regressions. Why its genius and how its applied in practice is what we learnt about in detail at the certification, and there’s no way I’m going to give it away, but I do highly recommend the cert.

Coach Boyle threw numerous knowledge bombs at us at the seminar and below are some of them that stuck with me:

  • If your athlete isn’t foam rolling and stretching, you are already five steps behind. Roll first and then stretch.
  • Progressions make things harder, regressions make things BETTER, not easier.
  • When someone can hold a plank for 30 seconds or more, move on to the next progression. Think levers.
  • ‘Anti’ is the key word in core training. Core muscles prevent extension, and DOES NOT help bring the ribs to the pelvis.
  • When it comes to muscle tone, kids are like filet mignon while adults are beef jerky. Take this into account when programming the power components for someone.
  • Always focus on developing eccentric strength.
  • Don’t worry about designing the perfect programme. Design an ‘ideal’ programme. Its a recipe and not a menu. The end result should make sense.
  • Its more important to correct asymmetry than to create symmetry.
  • There can be multiple reasons for picking unilateral lifts over bilateral, but the concept of bilateral deficit is the most pertinent – the combined total (of weight lifted) of right plus left is more than right and left.
  • The key to success in this field – rip off other smart people. But – be smart enough to know when you’re wrong.

-Prashanti

Finding your own path with Cameron Pratto

So far, our journey has been fairly predictable. We visited and learnt from legends in the field of strength and conditioning such as Mike Boyle and the folks at Cressey Sports Performance, giants in the powerlifting game like coaches Murph and Russ at TPS, as well as Juggernaut’s Chad Wesley Smith, Olympic lifting from the fantastic coaches at Catalyst Athletics and a little bit of everything from Coach Conrad at Bodytribe. The common thread between most of these coaches is that they were true strength folk. They loved the barbell, loved iron and the smell of chalk in the morning.

There’s always been another side to the equation that’s not been as well explored in recent history as the iron game. Since the beginning of time, a lot of training systems have formed around moving our bodies in space. Some built around using leverage in pursuit of mastery of our own body weight and some to effectively navigate and traverse our environment. Gymnastics, parkour and MovNat are some of the incarnations of this kind of training. During this trip, we wanted to visit someone who committed himself to mastering this side of physical culture. We found that in coach Cameron Pratto, one of the founders of Urban Movement.

Where the strength world has rules and patterns that appear strict and sure, the movement realm seems to be much more aligned with the right side of the brain. There is creativity, artistry and room for intuition. With a beautifully minimalist tell-show-do coaching style, coach Pratto walked me and Prashanti through two personal classes where we explored a movement-first approach to training.

Like a ___ stone

Like a ___ stone

The biggest problem with parkour as a training method seems to be it’s lack of scalability to a group class. Skilled parkour coaches are few and far in between, and because it is such a fledgling training method, few coaches are experienced and educated enough to coach it to a group without fear of injury and with emphasis on individualized progression.

With coach Pratto, training primarily takes place through the mastery of individual skills and then incorporating those skills into movement combos or courses. He is a firm believer in letting trainees figure out their own style and their own paths, and only interfering if there is a significant inefficiency or potential for injury. He believes that this minimalist coaching style allows a trainee to figure out the answer to these environmental movement puzzles themselves, and this enhances retention of those skills, rather than him feeding them the answers.

The first day, our class took place outdoors, where we worked on underbar, wall-running and climbing techniques, as well as various quadrupedie techniques that acted as the first few variations to work towards hand balancing and handstand techniques. Coach Pratto speaks to us about how he would deal with such a session if it was a group class, giving us examples of how classes are divided into groups of more experienced and less experienced practitioners. It is a parkour class though, so he doesn’t face too many folks who are so far out of shape that he needs to work with them personally on basic movement patterns before having them tackle their environment.

The second day, we visited the indoor space that Urban Movement shares with another gym. This is where they get even more creative due to the safer environment and the ability to manipulate the space. They’ve built some incredibly cool climbing frames that you can pull apart and set up using some easy-to-remove joints. It’s like playing in a giant set of tinker toys. He shows us the vault boxes and the variety of two-by-fours that they’ve assembled to have clients work on balancing and low-gait movements before advancing to the elevated movements that are usually associated with Parkour. In this safe environment (because everything is padded), he coaches us through some basic balancing and rolling drills.

I’ve always been fascinated with parkour. In a world like ours that encourages us not to interact with our environments and being passive observers, parkour is a big part of the key to restoring a connect that we once had. Coach Cameron Pratto opened a window of possibilities for us into that world. Climbing through it, is up to us.

– Sandeep

Where they finally spoke in kilos

Even though I’m highly competitive, I don’t enjoy all kinds of competition. I gravitate towards and tend to be better at the kind where I don’t have to work with a team and am only representing myself. After sprinting, strength sports have appealed to me the most in that regard, and the explosive, competitive nature of Olympic weightlifting in particular has fascinated me. 

Weightlifting consists of two lifts – the snatch and the clean and jerk. In the snatch, the lifter has to take the barbell from the floor to overhead in a single movement, and in the clean and jerk, from the floor to the shoulder and then overhead.

Since they’re highly technical, there is a lot that can go wrong from not doing the lifts right, and since I had no interest in spending a whole lot of time in undoing bad technique, I decided not to dabble in it until I had the chance to formally get coached in the lifts. I stuck to watching videos and studying about the lifts, apart from the occasional attempts at figuring them out.
 
This past weekend, Sandeep and I attended a two-day seminar coached by Kara Doherty and Blake Barnes, both of whom are part of the popular weightlifting gym Catalyst Athletics. A big fan of coach Greg Everett who runs Catalyst, I was really excited about finally getting the chance to properly learn the lifts from experienced coaches. What was perfect about the seminar was that not only did we learn how to do the lifts ourselves, but also how we could teach them to others. 
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Kara and Blake were awesome coaches

 
From being super scared of ever trying a snatch or clean from the floor (I always stuck to the hang version) and receiving it in a proper squat (I only did power cleans and snatches), I finished the weekend with a not-so-heavy-but-pretty-decent snatch and a bodyweight clean. 
 
When I think about it, more than the fact that I had two awesome coaches working with me, it was due to the emphasis that they laid on progressions and regressions that really enabled me to get comfortable with and understand the lifts. They broke down each move into multiple steps and it always at least took us at least four levels of regressions before even actually attempting the main lift. I’m going to interpret and refer to these lifts as regressions and progressions, while folks from Catalyst prefer considering them as ‘variations’.
 
I’ve roughly summarised below the progressions that we worked with for the snatch, and why we did each exercise. A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches by Greg Everett is a great place to go to for further reference and regressions to the clean and jerk. An even better idea would be to find a coach who knows what he/she is talking about. 
 
The Snatch Balance Series:
  • Overhead (OH) squat – A big lesson for me on the OH squat was maintaining a relaxed wrist position on the OH position. When I say relaxed, I don’t necessarily mean loose and dangly. By not keeping the wrists tight, you are able to maintain the bar in a much more stable position (just past the center of the forearm). I was also taught that one doesn’t generally maintain the hook grip in the OH position. 
  • Pressing snatch balance – By keeping the bar on your shoulder like in a back squat, you get under the bar into a squat, while pressing the bar OH. This is a slower, more controlled regression where you gain confidence in getting under the bar.
  • Drop snatch – Add some speed and an aggressive elbow lockout to the snatch balance press for this move. This move teaches you to reinforce speed and maintain technique through transitioning to the bottom of the squat. 
  • Heaving snatch balance – With just a dip, the lifter is forced to get under the bar without moving his/her feet. Their ability to maintain contact with the bar and generate force against it is tested and improved upon in this lift.
  • Snatch balance – Only after multiple goes at this move was I able to consistently hit the same receiving position at the bottom of the squat, without compromising on speed. 
From here, we went on to do multiple progressions to do a snatch from the mid hang position (mid-thigh), progressions to the snatch from the floor and finally the snatch. 
 
By the time we got to the heaving snatch balance, not only was I super comfortable with each of my positions, but I also knew exactly knew what my issues were. This meant that when I finally did the snatch, I mentally calm and focused, even though I had a mental check list of everything that I needed to focus on, I wasn’t freaking out. 
In all, it took us about 12 steps, multiple callouses, torn shins and an entire day before we even attempted the snatch. And this was because it was a seminar, where the intention was for them to teach us as much as they could in a short amount of time. In a real life training situation, while some folks might skip some or all of these steps, some might spend weeks or even months on just working on these before getting to the main lift. Some others might use them in their warm up.
Lesson learnt – A good way to learn a lift is to do it correctly over and over again. A better way would be to understand its intricacies, break it down accordingly and progress your way up to the lift.   
Dutch Lowy runs BlackBox, the gym that hosted the seminar. He was also in 2 CrossFit Games!

Dutch Lowy runs BlackBox, the gym that hosted the seminar. He was also in 2 CrossFit Games!

 
-Prashanti