East Coast Gold Weightlifting Team – How We Tick!

ECC26Our weightlifting team, East Coast Gold, was developed in 1992. It started as a small, four-man team that was fun but not real impressive in numbers. But, we had the core of great athletes who made it possible to build and develop from there. Now we are one of the biggest teams in the country and we are very active in many USAW activities.  We have created lifters and coaches throughout the entire east coast (and beyond) with satellite centers and various sites for training and coaching education.  It is a plan that is working!

The team was developed on the premise that the INDIVIDUAL athlete would profit from being on a team. This would be from a lifting standpoint as well as a financial and social aspect. By providing team support, the athlete could perform better if they didn’t have to be concerned with many of the small details that the team could help alleviate. From working in the warm-up room, to developing workout plans, to offering nutritional advice, to helping with rooms and flights, the team is there for the individual. It has turned out that many lifters were seeking such support and wanted to benefit from the team concept. By having the team take care of many of the extrinsic factors, the athlete could really focus on the task at hand – lifting bigger weights!!

As it turned out, the premise sort of snowballed into a much larger picture. After a period of time, the individual was still number one on the priority list, but the team itself was beginning to take on a larger role. Doing well in team competitions became an integral part of the strategy. This improved the individual even more! The motivation of performing for individual improvement as well as boosting the team seemed to help the lifters reach higher heights.

The social aspect of performing with a team is an incredible boost to the lifters as well. Many lifters are out there training alone and have no support at all. By being a member of a team, they are able to train and compete, knowing that no matter what happens, their teammates are there to help and support. This means so much for the individual performances.

There are many awesome teams in the U.S. I feel we are fortunate enough to be counted as one of them. It is because we put the athlete first that the team has succeeded.  We continue to grow and prosper and, even though, we are a really large team, through constant communication via the web and team newsletters, we all seem to stay in close touch with each other.  We like to view it as a very large family!

The “Secret” of Weightlifting

normal_2006_Natls_Men_94_Fondale_132I have been very fortunate to have been selected to work as coach or team leader for numerous World, Pan Am and Olympic Games.  Working with the best in the United States is always an awesome experience!  To watch them train and to discuss training philosophy is always an enlightening experience. Their work ethic and mental approach are always fun to explore.

There was one incident that stuck in my mind from way back at the Pan Am Games years ago.   It is nothing earth shattering  but something that needs to be discussed. Robin Goad has always been one of my favorite lifters – besides being a World Champion, Pan Am Gold medalist, former World Record holder and many time National Champion and record holder, she was also an outstanding representative of our sport and always extremely competitive no matter what the conditions. (Now she can even boast of having a daughter who is following in her famous footsteps!!)  In spite of all these glowing credentials, she is still trying to learn more and more to make herself even better.

Men’s National Team Coach at the time, Dragomir Cioroslan and I were walking down the hall of the dorm at the Pan Ams when we passed the room of one of our lifters. In the room where a group of our women lifters were just hanging out and talking. Dragomir and I stopped in to say HI when Robin asked Drago – “What is the secret to weightlifting?”   Here was one of the best lifters in the USA as well as the World and she was asking for the “secret” of weightlifting!

What intrigued me about this seemingly simple question, was that it was coming from one of our best all time. As good as she was, she still wanted to get better. As good as she was, she wanted to have any information out there that others might be utilizing for improvement that she was missing out on.

Well, the bottom line is that there is no secret. If there were some magic formula that would make great weightlifters, we would have tons of them. The only so-called secret to success in weightlifting (or any endeavor for that matter) is hard work, discipline, determination and persistence. Having the discipline to work on weak areas and doing what it takes to get the job done. As Vince Lombardi once said, “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather in a lack of will”. These traits are the “secret” to success. We all have within us the ability to succeed!

MISSED A LIFT??

Back in the day, I was able to hit some pretty decent lifts (OK, WAY back in the day!).  What I found was that if I missed a lift, that 90% of the time, it was something I did wrong right off the floor!  What you do off the floor determines where the bar will end up in that crucial “explosion” phase at the top of the pull!  It’s one thing to be able to deadlift a trillion pounds, but if you aren’t in the proper position at the finish to accelerate, then what good is it?

 

There has been some confusion lately about the proper pull off the floor, but really, biomechanics don’t change.  Sure, different lifters have different body structure and different leverages, but overall, center of gravity is what it is, force production is what it is, and Newton’s Laws remain constant.

 

Here’s my take on the start position and how the first pull should occur.  (Again, there might be some slight variances due to body structure, but we still want the bar to be over the area of balance as much and as soon as possible).  It has been successful over the years and is very teachable for lifters and other strength athletes:

START POSITION:

  • feet shoulder width apart with toes straight ahead or slightly pointed out
  • shoulders above hips, hips above knees
  • back tight (chest out) but traps relaxed
  • shoulders in front of the bar
  • shins very close to the bar without touching
  • bar at base of big toe
  • arms hanging athletically straight, elbows turned out
  • focal point straight ahead
  • inhale boldly and hold breath as pull comes off the floor

LIFT OFF (from floor to bottom of kneecap):

  • bar travels back toward middle of foot as soon as it leaves the floor
  • legs straighten so the shins move back out of the way
  • shoulders and hips rise at the same speed (back angle stays the same)
  • shoulders stay in front of the bar
  • back stays tight or arched
  • arms still hanging straight with elbows turned out
  • focal point still straight ahead
  • holding breath to stay tight
  • posterior chain must be strong to maintain this proper position

Since the start position doesn’t allow for the bar to be over the area of base (the shins are in the way!), it has to move back into position as the legs straighten.  The lift off is a “leg” lift, while the back acts as a stabilizer.  When this happens, it allows the bar to be in the correct position for that strong, explosive finish!

Change the Habits That Are Holding You Back

Remember this, negative habits breed negative consequences. Successful habits create positive rewards.

Up to ninety percent of your normal behavior is based on your habits. Most of your daily activities are habits that go on day after day, often without you even being aware of them. They become firmly established as “the way you do things” and they involve every area of your life including your work, family, income, health, relationships and, most importantly to athletes, your training and all the things that affect it. This EVERYDAY routine becomes normal behavior which has a lot to do with the results of your life. IF YOU’RE NOT HAPPY WITH THESE RESULTS, SOMETHING HAS TO CHANGE!

Developing successful habits takes time, so how long does it take to change a habit? Believe it or not, making small adjustments should be possible in as little as 21 days!! If it is a habit you have been doing for an extremely long time, it may take somewhat longer to change it, but it is still possible in a relatively short period of time. Sometimes we as athletes develop negative belief systems over time. These may take awhile to reverse into positive belief systems ñ but it CAN be done!! Once a new, positive habit is well-developed, it becomes a new normal behavior!!

How to go about changing your bad habits:

  1. Clearly identify your bad or unproductive habits.
  2. Define your new successful habit. (the more vividly you describe the benefits, the more likely you are to take action.
  3. Create a three part action plan. (focus on three immediate action steps and put them into practice).

This plan is very simple, but very effective. Start with one habit and try it. I think you will be surprised at how well you do with making a change.

Remember, quality is not an act. It is a habit. If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got!!

RDLs Are For Everyone

Whether you are a strength athlete, powerlifter,  Olympic lifter or just into general fitness, the RDL is one of the best exercises around.  Many of you are doing them already, but, if not, it is one of the best assistance exercises that should be in your tool chest of exercises. 

 

The RDL (Romanian Deadlift) has lots of benefits.  No other exercise hits the hamstrings so well in a coordinated fashion with the glutes and low back.  The posterior chain is often neglected but is essential for top performance as well as injury prevention.  The RDL is a closed chain exercise that closely simulates what happens in most sport as it assists in that strong, “ready” position.  It is an awesome assistance strength exercise that makes your squats and deadlifts even better yet.  Finally, for those of you desiring to get those cleans and snatches up, this is a great exercise for teaching the body to keep the “shoulders in front of the bar” so you are set up for that dynamic, explosive top pull.

 

TECHNIQUE TIPS:

 

START:          

–    “power position” or “jump position”

–          Lightly touching thighs

–          Knees slightly bent

–          Arms straight

–          Back flat or “arched”

–          Regular grip (or hook grip or straps)

–          Focal point straight ahead

–          Clean grip (although Snatch grip is OK too)

 

DESCENT:   

–     Bend at hips only

–          Knee angle stays the same throughout

–          Bar descends slowly and under control

–          Flat footed throughout with no pressure on toes at all

–          Back stays flat or arched throughout

–          Lower the bar as far as good technique and flexibility allows

(below the knees to mid-shin)

–          Should feel it in the hamstrings throughout

(coaching hint:  if the athlete can’t feel it in the hams, they ain’t doing it right!)

–          Arms stay straight throughout

–          Focal point straight ahead throughout

 

ASCENT:      

–     Same as descent but in reverse

–          Finish at same position as Start

   (keeps low back holding a static position)

 

 

             A variation of this is to have the athlete finish the RDL with a shrug at the top of the pull.  That is fine too.  My preference, though, is to view the exercise as a strength exercise more than a power exercise, trying to keep the body under constant tension throughout.

 

            How heavy should you go?  Only as heavy as good technique dictates.  I am a big fan of utilizing percentages in a large majority of my athletes’ training.  However, when first learning this exercise, I don’t have my athletes using percentages at all.  We keep it light to make sure the technique is correct (not to mention that their hammies will be talking to them the next day as it is anyway!)  After a short learning period, we set their training up based off of their clean 1RM.  When that becomes manageable for them, we increase it to train off of their front squat 1RM.  Finally, when they get really good, we go off of their back squat 1RM.  Not too many get to that point, but if they do, chances are they are so strong they need them as much anyway!

 

            There are a lot of great exercises out there.  The RDL is one of the best!

POSITIVE COACHING – A WEIGHTLIFTING PERSPECTIVE

A few years back, a publication of the USOC called the Olympic Coach had a great picture of a weightlifter on the cover coming up with a heavy clean.  In that issue was an article that I thought was very interesting from a coach’s standpoint as well as the athletes. The article examined the factors that were perceived to positively and/or negatively affect the performance of U.S. Olympic athletes and coaches prior to and during an Olympic Games.

Various factors were identified as being critical considerations in preparation such as self and teammate confidence, equipment concerns, travel, media, team factors, coaching, family and friends, etc. From the studying of these factors, some conclusions could be drawn. I will not go over all of them, but try to limit the discussion to the most applicable to our sport.

Coach actions perceived by athletes to enhance performance:

  • provide mental preparation and sport psychology training
  • provide support and confidence
  • facilitate physical conditioning and provide good technical training
  • appear calm and relaxed when coaching
  • allow all athletes to have time alone
  • prepare and protect athletes from distractions
  • treat the Olympics like any other event by preparing the same way
  • facilitate good communication and ways to convey information effectively
  • initiate team building sessions that contribute to team chemistry

On the other hand, what are some of the coaches’ actions perceived by the athletes to hurt performance?

  • poor communication and failing to provide essential information
  • making poor personnel and selection decisions
  • demonstrating a lack of support and encouragement
  • poor planning
  • training errors, not providing enough tactical advice and changing strategy
  • demonstrating a lack of enthusiasm and effort
  • unfair treatment of athletes
  • exhibiting negative attitude

How can you use this information to make yourself a better athlete? Hopefully, you and the coach are doing many of these “positive” things now. In order to succeed, the athlete and coach must realistically look at what they are doing or not doing and make adjustments to improve performance. Successful coaches at any level must keep these factors in mind when setting up training for top performance. They must integrate and implement these positive factors into a coherent program that simplifies the athlete’s life and helps them perform at their best.

So whether you are preparing for the Olympics, the Worlds, the Nationals, or the American Open, cover all bases for the optimal performance!

SIXTY SECONDS TO A QUALITY WORKOUT

All it takes is sixty little seconds to a quality workout! Yes, that’s right, only sixty seconds – one minute.

How many times have you hurried into the gym for your workout, still hectic from the day’s activities? How good did your workout go because you never really got into it?

Here’s a suggestion: take a minute of your time to gather your thoughts and clear your mind of distractions. Think of QUALITY workouts, not just rushing through to get it done so you can move on to something else.

When I say take a minute, I mean take the time to settle down and relax for that minute. Sit off by yourself, close your eyes and relax by yourself. Turn the music down or turn it off so you can concentrate during this time. Take the time to breathe easy and focus on the task at hand.

Pre-workout is the perfect time to visualize. That is, “see” in your mind’s eye, what your perfect lifts in your workout will look like. Forget “numbers”, but focus on the actual lift. “See” yourself performing a perfect lift. You can visualize as if seeing yourself on a videotape or you can see yourself from the “inside” point of view (as if you are looking at the surroundings through your own eyes). Either method works or a combination of the two. You don’t need to go into deep relaxation to do visualization well, but if you are somewhat relaxed, the mind receives the message better and more effectively. With practice, this is a very effective way of improving your lifting.

Remember to speak to yourself in “positive self-talk”. Of course, you don’t need to talk to yourself out loud (people will really think you are nuts!) but internally, most of us use negative terms about ourselves and our actions. With practice, all of your talk to yourself should be positive and upbeat. Even if you don’t feel positive or upbeat, fake it! You’d be surprised how well it helps!

“You only get out of a workout what you put in to it!” Take sixty seconds to put more focus into your workout – before you even get started!

POWER CLEANS FOR THE STRENGTH ATHLETE

Whether your sport is powerlifting, strongman, football or any other “strength” sport, the power clean should be part of your workout plan. Obviously, the major emphasis of your training should be whatever discipline you are participating in, but including power cleans at the right time can enhance the performance in any strength sport.

Why do power cleans? They are aptly named because they require power – that, is, speed and strength combined (work / time). All athletes can use more power. They are great for off season conditioning as they help build work capacity, improve range of motion and flexibility as well as helping to prevent overuse injuries.

The “pull” part of the power clean utilizes the “triple extension” of the hip, knee and ankle, thereby working all the major muscles of the core, hips, quads and hamstrings. Think of the pull as a vertical jump with a weight in your hands. (Olympic lifters have awesome vertical jumps, a primary test of leg power used by most coaches and athletes).

The “receiving” position (or the “catch” or “rack”) is how the bar is received on the chest (actually, the bar will lie across the clavicles and shoulders) after the explosive pull motion. The primary benefit of “receiving” the bar on the chest is functional core stability. Again, what sport doesn’t need that? (However, if lack of flexibility is preventing you from receiving the bar in the proper position, you can still do the “pull” motion to get the benefit from that explosive, triple extension. As flexibility improves, then the power clean can be finished correctly).

How important is technique? For my Olympic lifters, we want to make the technique as perfect as possible, because that is what we do for our sport. However, for everyone else, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to be “good enough”. By that I mean, “good enough” to be 1) efficient and 2) safe. Efficient so that you are getting the benefit of the exercise (a glorified reverse curl won’t cut it) and safe so that the bar doesn’t “crash” when receiving it on the chest and wrist and elbow issues arise.

For more information on performing Power Cleans correctly, I have put together a one hour DVD entitled, “Power Clean: Doing it Right” that is available a http://tottentraining.com .

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