Ok, this one has the potential to get a little weird… and deep…. which is what “she” said. Once again, I will state that I am not an expert in human psychology, or a life guru – far from it. In fact when I first started my Coaching website & facebook Page I always said I wanted it just to be a source for training techniques and demonstrating movements, but lo-and-behold here we are a year later on and I’m doing side planks in my pants and pistol squats with sledgehammers…

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As a coach I suppose it’s hard to not develop an intricate set of people skills that make you come up with the weirdest explanations to relate to people, allowing them perform a certain way. From: “Stop snatching like Michael Jackson” to “Imagine your feet are shotguns” if a cue helps someone to do something better, you are doing your job right. No two people react the same way to words and one great cue for one person might be the biggest roadblock to another.

A coach is generally in charge of the atmosphere of a session. You have to be able to invigorate people, diffuse situations, inspire, set fires up asses, console, discipline, the list is endless – especially interesting if you are doing a guest session somewhere else you don’t know and have no control of the surroundings. Teaching beginners is often the most rewarding, most exciting and in many ways, the easiest. But what happens when you get past the “technique” phase of training? What happens when you have the moves nailed and you’re getting stronger? What happens when you have passed beginner?

Well….

Things get harder.

Let me introduce you to “yourself”

You are a mess, you’re full of doubts, wandering thoughts, needs for cookies, you hate your job, you wonder what people think about you… you don’t want to get up in the morning, can’t be bothered, want to watch twenty box sets in a row, scared to speak up about things, have bad days all the time, unsure of your opinions…. the list goes on, how the fuck could you even lift? Especially that heavy ass weight? That’ll break your bitch ass!

How do I know you so well?

Because we’re all the same. We all have thoughts like that, but the wonderful thing about it is – if you’ve created all of those thoughts, you can create more! Different ones! Better ones!

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Think about it, you have a bunch of personalities. You do not act the same way with your parents that you do with your friends, you don’t jump around the same way at school as you would when you’re at a club drunk. When you’re by yourself you are completely different to what you are like when you’re with your lover. Try to be glad about everything you have and resentful about everything you don’t at the exact same time – you can’t, you can only focus on one feeling at a time.

So how does this apply to training? If you watch your favourite athletes, do you really think they are the way they are on Social Media 24/7? I’ve lost count of the amount of times people I know who have met their favourite weightlifter and have came back saying “They’re actually really nice!!” Like they’re surprised! What did you think was gonna happen? They were going to shout in your face and throw you over a mountain? The most down to earth, chilled out people you’ll ever meet are big ass strongmen and Powerlifters.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Ronnie Coleman actually lift a “light weight” it’s the persona he created that shouts stuff because it gives the internal feeling of confidence and strength. It’s not something to laugh at or think of being silly, it really works. Watch the best lifters screaming before lifts and slapping the shit outta themselves, look at their eyes, genuine belief in what they’re about to do, is it put on? Yes, and no.

Read any successful trainers progress posts, what do they all say – not only have they lost inches, weight blah blah blah but their confidence levels are through the roof and they’re doing things they never imagined themselves doing. That mindset of wanting to be better and actually accomplishing little goals every day is the personality shift that makes the new person, the body just happens to adapt too – because of the new habits.

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When heavy lifting is concerned, you have no room for doubts, no room for thinking about the spaghetti you didn’t finish on Thursday. The beast that you create doesn’t have time for that shit, it lifts, it destroys, it conquers. It may feel like acting at the start but with a little work you can have a secret tool that does the scary stuff for you. A lot of people don’t think they have it in them, but imagine if you were a parent and some random person smacked your child for something… you would END them. I’m telling you now there is an uncontrollable monster inside you that you can tap into.

I used to laugh at “visualisation” techniques years ago. Like, I was a big strong boy, I don’t need to pretend to be strong. But in the back of my mind there was still a self conscious Tom. Being a little bit cocky or imagining you’re a fire breathing dragon are two different levels of strength, being just little bit cocky doesn’t cut the mustard when you get to a certain point.

Whatever makes you feel amazing, you never need to tell anyone what it is, but if it gives you an intrinsic feeling of strength it will work for you. I used to get really nervous public speaking so something I used to do was put the “man of steel” soundtrack on, clear my mind and imagine I was Superman for 10 minutes in the morning before a seminar. Sounds really silly when it’s written down but it really helped me stop freaking out for 10 minutes which made calm the fuck down. (Notice how I use swear words when saying something personal, silly embarassed brains)

When going for max lifts it depends on the lifting personality you create. Some people need a clear head and have no emotion and others need to think about decapitating their boss….. again, we’re not here to judge. The big thing to take away from this article though is that nothing is stupid, seeing what works for you and what doesn’t is supposed to be what training is about, finding yourself, experiences and all that. You are in charge of the person you create so why not add some badassery into the mix? Just because it seems forced at the time doesn’t mean it won’t become a cool part of you and something you enjoy!

For many people that hour at the gym is somewhere for them to escape from themselves and their worries, so why the hell not imagine your sick pump is you turning into the incredible hulk or your max back squat is you escaping from a trap room with a ceiling that’s trying to crush you. That max deadlift is a gigantic fallen tree that’s crushing your friend and you have to save them – whatever makes you FEEL strong.

Express yourself more and don’t ever be afraid to put yourself out there! If you can’t do something, invent a you that can. You will still be that you when you’re back to being you, because you came from you… you see?

If you enjoyed this blog I would really love to hear some things you tell yourself before going for a max lift! There are no rights and wrongs, everything is perception and we can all learn from one another.

 

 

 

 

Apparently I have to fill out other sections on my website (according to Jenni, who shall remain nameless) so the topic for today will be…. weightlifting. People can say programming is an art form and make it into a magical thing but in all honesty? It’s a matter of:

  1. What does the athlete want
  2. What does the athlete need

In the case of a beginner, they need all the technique they can get their hands on, strength work won’t really need as much attention as they will still be in the stage of “beginner gains” which was awesome! I still remember breaking my personal best in my deadlift almost every month…. and then it hit……. my…. potential. Your potential sucks, it’s a big boot in the balls. Things go one of two ways: you’re technically awesome but you are a weak little bitch, OR you’re strong as a bull but have more mistakes than a vegan party in a butchers… or should I say “missed steaks” HAA!!

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So would the strong but technically lacking athlete benefit from a strength program? Or a technique focused program with enough strength work to maintain their current numbers? Say for instance their snatch is 100kg and they can squat 200+kg, strength is not the limiting factor and how would taking their squat up to 250-300kg help their snatch? In short, it wouldn’t. Plus you are practically giving them more fuel to overload a “bad pattern”. Nothing is worse than someone that is so strong that they actually have the capacity to injure themselves. Some people seem to literally have a CNS off-switch, it’s scary.

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On the other end you’ve got the technically gifted athlete with moves so solid even John Travolta would approve. Ain’t no amount of technique practice at 60% is going to make them lift heavier, they need to get f-ing stronger. Can they catch the weight but not stand up? Then yes more squats, can they not get it off the ground? Then yes more pulls, anything that primes their body to be prepared to hit the numbers that their technique allows, sacrificing just the right amount of technique practice in favour of a full strength program will stop them from banging their heads against the wall.

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The weights used have to be relevant to the athlete, but also the type of programming and supplementary exercises. If you have someone that is naturally a bilateral monster and is just solid, they are going to have less need for split squats and corrective exercises than the person that gets injured every other week. It’s an unfair call to have to make but the safety of your athletes should be your main concern, yes there is a certain element of shut up and squat when it’s competition time but there is no sense in deliberately missing 10 minutes of a “silly band exercise” for the possibility of having to take 6 weeks off with a nagging shoulder.

So in short, be honest with yourself, what you can ACTUALLY do and program for yourself and your level, not someone else’s for $29.95.

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If you’re going to practice anything worthwhile, that excites you, gets your rocks off, you’re going to get hurt. Just like marriage, I love my wife dearly, but when I’m wrong she hurts me. I accept that I’m wrong all the time and I learn from it…. and become a better person, because she says so. That’s not true, or is it? Is this blog really a secret cry for help?

Injuries happen, they just do. We could all try to bury our head in the sand and live in fear or we can change our perception of what an injury actually is. There seems to be a fad of being proud of your emotional scars, that shape you as a person, what about the physical ones?

You are a product of the circumstances you put yourself in.

Pain is the ultimate teacher, no one gives a crap about their little toe until they bang it off a doorway, what about all the times your toe isn’t sore? Why do you not pay it the same attention then? If you have been training for a long time really try and think back to your first training revelation, when things really clicked, I would bet the majority of you reading this were injured at the time. There is no easier way to feel when your back is straight than when it’s sore.

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An injury is basically a chance for you to experience heightened awareness. I’m not saying run out, break some of your bones and you’ll become the best athlete ever, but adopting this mindset will save you sulking when you get hurt, actually allow you to be more productive and have a great learning experience.

I can say to people till I am blue in the face that “the knee is a slave to your ankles and hips” but honestly it’s only if you have ever tweaked your knee then you will realise how connected they are! The slightest foot movement or hip rotation and you’ll feel it in your knee, you can either say “ouch” or take that feeling and apply it to the other leg, can you adopt that same awareness to the perfectly healthy side? Is that side actually healthy? How did the injury happen? Was it really an accident or has this been accumulating for a long time and the incident just created the result that was always coming?

It won’t happen straight away, could take several months before you even notice the door starting to sit funny: that is wear and tear.

Wear and tear is an awesome phrase, I love it, people say it so carelessly. Moving efficiently significantly decreases “wear and tear”. Let’s stick with knees since that seems to be in my head now. If all of the muscles on the inside of your thighs are “tight” how do you think that is going to affect the inside of your knees? Think about doors and hinges, if I constantly swing on the top of a door with all of my bodyweight – i.e. not using it how it was designed to be used – the hinges are going to get pissed off. It won’t happen straight away, could take several months before you even notice the door starting to sit funny: that is wear and tear. If you apply that tightness to years of squatting and running then hey presto, you get your “unlucky, all-of-a-sudden knee injury”.

It really is important to research this stuff if you care about longevity. I started coaching CrossFit because I wanted to teach people how to lift correctly and help them get fit and enjoy themselves. What I quickly realised though was that very few people have the movement capabilities to actually do CrossFit. We basically had to change everything for everybody, because if they just jumped into full on CrossFit they would literally snap. People get concerned with not being able to get a good front rack position or an overhead squat but it goes much deeper than that.

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Teaching your body how to move is just as important as listening to your body. Just like a big argument in a relationship, generally things have been building for a while and it’s only when a specific problem is brought to the surface that things really get resolved. If you don’t communicate with your body how do you expect it to learn by itself?

If you put in the preemptive work now you may be able to pick up less injuries over the years, but when injury does happen, take a proactive approach: learn about the limb or area, use the extra sensitivity and make it stronger and smarter. Don’t be boring, do fun things and don’t accept that you’re a delicate little flower. We are all capable of amazing things if we just listen and try.

I love seeing people get excited when they purchase their wee callisthenics program online; a “Get your muscle up in 40 seconds” program, or some other jargon. Ok chief, who was that program written for? You? Well the person that designed it has never met you, heard of your training history, know any kind of imbalance you may or may not have…. and they’re gonna give you your quick fix front lever skin the loop de loop?

Eh, no.

I poke fun of course, all programs you follow are a stepping stone to you experimenting with yourself and I love it, I loved it when I did them and it definitely added structure to my sessions and kept me focused. I don’t like wasting my time anymore though. What I have found over the years is that going directly after your deficiencies is the best way to make progress. Everyone has a part of a certain ability, you just have to locate which parts you DON’T have and get them, then you can focus on the movement as a whole.

For a strict ring muscle up for example, if you break it down into parts you need:
1. A false grip
2. Pull up
3. Transition
4. Dip

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So if you’re crazy hot at pull ups and dips, is a program full of pull ups and dips really going to get you your muscle up? Or is a program of you doing Russian dips for your transition and false grip rows and wrist strengthening exercises going to get you there faster? If you’re good at pull ups and dips I know you’re going to do pull ups and dips anyway, the LAST thing I am going to give you is pull ups and dips.

Did I just give away how all my private clients seem to get muscle ups so fast? Yes. Do I care? No. If 1000 people read this probably 13 will actually take this onboard. It’s what we do, the guy with the triple shredded washboard 8 pack must know more! He’s sexy!! In real life I’m sexier, I’m just not that good at photoshop or hanging out at beaches… I hate sand.

When it comes to the limbs, legs and arms are really slaves to your ‘core’ ..still hate that word, always reminds me of bums’n’tums classes. If your core is dysfunctional you are never really going to have great control over any of your extremities. For lower body I would use single leg exercises to check balance and also if you’re overly dominate to one side. Obviously you’re always going to have one side that you prefer but if you can do 30 one legged squats on one leg and only 5 on the other, well, do you see where I am going with this?

Using the pistol squat or airborne lunge is great for a lower body push, for a lower body pull you can have single leg deadlifts, and even mixing up which side you’re holding a kettlebell in will start to locate some weaknesses in your anti-rotational strength. I was playing around with this movement the other day:

Single leg clean & bottom up press

When it comes to upper body it is crazy important to test your arms individually, especially if you are really barbell dominant with your training. Neck and shoulder injuries are so easily avoided if you just test a few simple things. The bottom up press is a great one, if you can press a 20kg kettlebell in one hand but only a 10kg in the other then there’s your issue that needs addressed, and honestly, until you have sorted out that issue I wouldn’t go back to the barbell. If you can bench press more than your own bodyweight for ten reps but you can only do three pull ups, there’s another thing needing worked on – unless you’re a competitive lifter, then that comes down to trade off. Single arm rows, single arm presses, one arm push ups, all great things to test, and again something I would use regularly in my warm ups and cool downs.

Here is another example of experimentation with my overhead pressing, no issues on right arm but left presented weakness when fully rotated to the right side:

Always do what you love and what you’re good at, but if you’re already good at something the upkeep of that skill is relatively low, devote more time to your weak areas and you’ll ultimately start running out of them.

There is nothing I love more in the world than weightlifting! No two people lift the same and no two coaches teach the same. There are hundreds, if not thousands of strength drills, speed drills, mobility drills, programs, you name it. All of that…. And it’s just two lifts, the snatch and the clean & jerk.

An advanced athlete is someone that can do the basics extremely well and can perform these with precision and consistency. A beginner athlete should only focus on those things. Precision first of all, can you hit every position needed to make a good lift and can you do it at speed? Then, could you take a video of 100 lifts and be able to tell them apart? Only really when you have your consistency should you think about loading up, by all means go as heavy as you want in the rack but don’t cut corners with your technique or you’ll get stuck later on down the line.

Perform the basics extremely well with precision and consistency.

Play the long game! Strength is cool, technique is cool, but both combined are a recipe for success.

Here are some of the common errors I see with lifters all across the board, beginner to advanced and a few things you can add to your practice and warm ups to start hitting some PR’s in the near future. Remember, strength programs aren’t worth a damn if you can’t move well!

SNATCH
Losing the bar in front or jumping forward: hip snatch

Probably the most disheartening one, being under the bar and it just falling in front of your very eyes reminding you of the disappointment you have become as you still sit there in your squat. Missing your triple extension* will be a massive cause of this, especially for newbies. Wanting to be fast under the bar can cause you to be too fast at the wrong point (a favourite saying of mine is “be fast but don’t rush it”) if you mess up your timing then you’re basically going to have to try to adjust in mid air and that will only get you so far.

You have to remember that when you make contact with the bar, that bar is weightless for a moment and in that moment you have all the time in the world to get under IF you finish your pull and close the hip at the right point – which is immedately after triple extension. The hip snatch is a great drill for giving you confidence in that position and really lets you see how much power comes from that small hip extension!

*triple extension occurs when your ankles, knees and hips reach full extension, therefore achieving their maximum power output.

SNATCH
Losing the bar behind: muscle snatch

Mini heart attack anyone? I hate backwards escapes and I HATE when people refuse to jump away! YOU SHOULD ALWAYS PRACTICE YOUR ESCAPES!!!

That being said, if you’re going to fully commit to a lift and have no fear, it’s gonna happen. One of the main causes can simply be down to the bar path, any major deviation from a straight line will cause you to have to work harder to pull the bar back in on yourself, therefore making extra work for yourself – and no one likes that.

The muscle snatch is good for getting you to keep the bar close and help you to visualise what should be happening on the way down, great for warm ups too! Just make sure that you don’t start to develop an early arm pull, it is an assistance exercise not a part of the movement!

SPLIT JERK
Unstable jerk: elbow position

With the 4 basic skills: position, motion, changing levels and penetration. The one I spend most of my time correcting is “motion” which is moving correctly from one position to another. Any extra movement that isn’t needed is energy wasted. Ever notice the people with the most consistent form at the CrossFit games also seem to be the fittest?

Elbow positioning during the dip in your jerk movements is critical for having a solid receiving position! If they move as you dip, it’s game over, you will plateau at some point. The fancy drill for this one is… Practice.

CLEAN
Catching too high: hip clean

This was a big one for me, if your mobility is not up to scratch and you subconsciously have no confidence in your deep squat, you’ll often find that you’ll power clean then ride the weight to the bottom rather than getting under straight away. This is wasted energy, which we don’t like.

Your arms will only be able to yank a weight up until a certain point, you HAVE to start catching in the bottom. The hip clean is great for practicing fast elbows and speed under, plus it’s a great movement to load up! It’s crazy how many athletes I have met that don’t know what they can hip clean! Again, it give you confidence in that position and trains that contact point, add it to your training immediately!

JERKS & PRESSES
Forward bar path: weight in heels

I say weight in heels with caution, what I mean is, you need to be thinking about loading the hips and having all of the foot on the ground and maintaining a nice, upright torso.

This is probably THE most common error especially when it comes to PR time, that slight shift in weight can have dramatic effects with heavy loads. And no, a strength program won’t fix it. Your dip and drive should not resemble the loading process for a box jump, the goal is not to jump forward but more to accelerate vertical force without flying off the ground.

I would definitely recommend filming your footwork when you’re doing jerks and practice, practice, practice until you never want to jerk again… Then practice some more and you might start getting somewhere!

One more tip I would like to give to all that have made it this far is the secret to everything, the holy grail of weightlifting as it were:

“Weight is irrelevant, the bar is eternal”

You are always going to get stronger, your numbers are always going to go up and down but no matter what, you’ll always have a barbell in your hands. If you know how to feel the bar and own every position then your development as a lifter will be a smooth one. Leave anything to chance, and then you’re guessing!

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