After a long weekend of biomechanics, video analysis, competition preparation discussion, camaraderie amongst coaches, and 2 exams we are leaving Marietta with some solid information and new pieces of knowledge to put to work. Eric, John, Mike, and myself had time all day and each night to bounce ideas of each other, discuss the repercussions of what we were learning, and talk about ways to potentially put this information to use. Ultimately we want to try and figure ways to use this information to positively have an impact on the current state of USA Weightlifting and Crossfit worldwide. That being said, I promised the top 5 takeaways I had from this camp. Here they are in reverse order.
5. More often than not, the most useful information is not the information you will have to write down for the test or even the information in the manual. The most useful information comes out when you get advanced, experienced coaches talking off the cuff, outside the agenda directed topics, and allow them the chance to interact with other coaches. Coaches Newton, Garhammer, and Coffee all have specialties and getting each of them down rabbit trails about what they are most passionate about created the greatest opportunity for knowledge gained. The test is the only way to standardize the quality and knowledge of people gaining the title of Senior National coach. However, the best information often came when we left the schedule alone and discussed relevant topics that we are all most interested in. All of the takeaways below were not topics we were tested on. They were side conversations or changes in the schedule which produced awesome conversations.
4. John Coffee’s specialty beyond a shadow of a doubt is his ability to intuitively watch lifts and determine faults, fixes, and the amount of weight that should be on the bar. I watched him coach his lifters Friday afternoon and he sat in the corner with a spiral bound notebook writing down their attempts and telling them what weight to put on the bar next. He watched each lift, wrote down each attempt, and based on the speed he saw and his desired outcome for the exercise he would direct the lifter to add weight or work at the weight they were at. Furthermore, I got to finally have a conversation with him about some mechanical bad habits of my own and his advice was surprising simple. He doesn’t prescribe anything fancy, he doesn’t have a secret green notebook full of tricks for making a good lifter, and he isn’t a coach who over-thinks how to solve bad habits. He simply prescribes exercises that work and his advice is simple. “Slow it down and unload the bar until it is done with perfection then ease back into more weight.” (paraphrase) My big takeaway from watching and talking to Coffee this weekend is that oftentimes I over-complicate coaching and lifting. Sometimes the best answer is the most obvious one but it just needs to be repeated over and over again with consistency. What Coffee made obvious was that our faults have easy fixes. The hard part is the time, patience, and diligence to consistently plug away with those fixes.
3. My third takeaway from the weekend happened on the last day. Garhammer finally got into discussing some of the more advanced biomechanics and anthropomorphic makeup of US weightlifters as compared to Olympic and World champions. It was awesome to watch Coach Garhammer go in depth on the obvious symmetry and consistency of Southeast Asian body types and discuss their bar track/bar speed as compared to the US top lifters. He pulled up a presentation which included graphs and charts pertaining to bar track and speed of different lifters in the clean. I took some notes and noticed that the fastest bar track of every Olympian male and female was 148 cm/s followed closely by 144 cm/s. Both peaks in bar speed occurred at the finish of the second pull. That’s no big surprise. However what surprised me was two-fold. Firstly, the bar speed of EVERY lifter graphed was the same in how it reached its peak. Every single lifter accelerated from the floor to the top of the knee but what I didn’t expect was that every lifter either flat-lined that bar speed in the transition from the knee to the hip or actually decreased bar speed in that transition before accelerating again as the bar exploded off the hips. I was amazed to see that the bar actually slows down or stays the same through that transition. I have always imagined that the bar would speed up during that time but because these elite level lifters are most concerned with getting the bar to the proper power position for extreme bar speed in the finish they stall bar acceleration to ensure the bar gets to their hips properly. Amazing. Secondly, both the 148 cm/s lift and the 144 cm/s lift were exhibited by 48kg women! (One of them being our own Tara Nott at 2000 Sydney Olympics) THE FASTEST BAR SPEED OF ALL THE LIFTERS MEASURED INCLUDING MEN was from the 48kg women! Eric and I have talked about why this happens and I asked Garhammer why he thinks this is and there is no definite answer but certainly an argument can be made for strength to weight ratio as well as rate of force development for shorter, more compact muscle fibers.
2. Likely the second most advantageous piece of information we learned this weekend was the absolute necessity for a proper power position in both the clean and snatch for the success of heavy lifts. Coach Newton could not have harped on this necessity any more than he did. If I heard the words, “the bar meets the hips and is carried up” one more time I might have lost my mind. Of course, he is right but what seemed interesting to me was his approach to how the bar gets to that position. Coach Newton defined what he believed to be the optimal way to move the bar from the floor to the hips and showed that in multiple elite, international lifters. However, he showed a lot of lifters who did not exhibit optimal bar path from the floor to the hips and yet Coach Newton praised them for their power position and ability to lift the bar from that position. Coach clearly highlighted the power position and necessity for elbows out and up as well as flexed wrists throughout the weekend. His point was that once the bar makes it to this position, if the hips are not moving horizontally into the bar, the hips are the primary movers that literally push the bar vertically. He showed lift after lift from the front and from above where the lifter got the bar to the hips and the hips physically pushed the bar vertical. These elite level lifters NEVER banged the bar against their hip and any contact made was for the hips to stay in contact with the bar and push the bar vertically. Coach made clear that we understand the supremacy of the power position for success of the lift over every other position and he seemed to be able to back his hypothesis up with pretty good evidence. I’m still working on getting behind his theory.
1. These takeaways were huge for my development as a coach and lifter. However, my greatest takeaway came outside the lecture room and outside the gym. Saturday night, Eric, Mike, John, Coach Newton, Coach Garhammer, TJ, Rachel, and myself all went out for dinner. After I watched the Bulldogs showed the Gamecocks how to play football, the eight of us got into a really lively and often loud “discussion” on the state of USA Weightlifting and its future with and without the influence of Crossfit. Skipping the semantics, the takeaway was simple and serves as a challenge to myself, my fellow coaches, and to anyone reading this blog. USAW is at a crossroads. It can change, adapt, and cooperate with the massive number of lifters gaining exposure to the sport through Crossfit and in doing so flourish, expand, and potentially produce elite athletes again. One the other hand, USAW can resist the influence of Crossfit, continue in its belief that they are the supreme sport because of their Olympic roots, continue to act like the older brother when they’re quickly becoming the red-headed step child, and continue to be laughed at by the rest of the world. What I realized however is that this crossroads we are at is not one that will be decided by the USAW Board of Directors, the US Olympic Committee, or USA Weightlifting’s current staff and lead coaches. The future of the sport and the direction US Weightlifting moves will be determined by the coaches sitting in the room this weekend, Crossfit coaches around the country who care enough about the lifts to try and understand them, and Crossfitters around the country who see the value and benefit of the lifts in sanctioned Olympic lifting competitions. The masses will always determine the way any sport or movements changes. If USAW lifters will move into every Crossfit gym in the country teaching every elite and average Crossfitter how to lift then we will see USAW and Crossfit changed for the better. If every competitive Crossfitter in this country will see the advantage of the Olympic lifts beyond their ability to make them better at “Grace” and see the lifts as a way to improve our country’s standing in the Olympics then we will see Crossfit and USAW changed for the better. If every Crossfit coach in the country will see past the thought that their athletes and clients only have to achieve a certain level of success in weightlifting to be considered “successful” and push their clients and athletes to be more than mediocre then USAW and Crossfit will be changed for the better. Bottomline, my biggest takeaway from the weekend was that if change is going to happen in USAW then it has to start, continue, and end with the lifters and Crossfitters who are in the sport NOW. Not with the old regime that once carried and sustained USAW. Hats off to those men and women for what they have done and are still doing (in some cases) but the future of the sport sits firmly in the hands of young USA Weightlifters, Crossfitters, and coaches. If both sports want to succeed and not fade out then they need to find ways to work together. That has to happen with my generation and the lifters/coaches/Crossfitters around me. The current leaders for USAW have put in their time and done more for the sport of weightlifting in this country than I likely will ever know. However, it’s time for us to take the reigns.
Overall, the weekend was beneficial and a worthwhile certification. Certainly there were parts of the weekend that were frustrating or needlessly inefficient but that’s just life. I walked away with knowledge I didn’t have before, a new understanding of some of the biomechanics of the lifts and the lifters, and a desire to put that knowledge to immediate use. Thank you Coffee’s gym, John Coffee, Rachel Bommicino, John Garhammer, and Harvey Newton for you kindness, knowledge, patience (lots was needed) and time.
Feels pretty good to be a Level 2 National Coach. (assuming I passed the test)