Measuring performance without focusing on the weight

It’s very easy to become completely consumed by how much weight is on the bar. Even me, although I’m not an ‘ego-lifter’, I still care about the amount of weight I am lifting. Although I don’t compare the weights I lift with the weights other people lift, I do compare the weight I am lifting to what I was lifting before. My big focus is actually what I am lifting now compared to what was I lifting last week, last month, last year… etc.

The problem is, lifting isn’t as simple as this! You can’t just go up and up in weight for every exercise, every workout, every single time. Here I provide some other strategies you can use to measure your performance and have peace of mind that you are improving, even if the weight isn’t necessarily going up. Continue reading

Ask Alis & Sharon: Should I practice both feet forward in the split jerk?

Alis says:

Most, if not every, weightlifter will have a preference for either their right or left foot that goes forward in the split jerk. One of the questions I had with my coach when I first started Olympic weightlifting was whether I should be training the split jerk with different feet going forward. His answer was a strong no.

My own research tells me that the reason you shouldn’t practice with both feet is because you want to get very good, very strong, and very confident with your dominant foot, so that you can lift the most weight. If you spend time switching feet then you are reducing the volume and time spent training the dominant one, which will likely slow down development of motor patterns.

Research also tells me that you should practice with both feet so as to limit chances of developing muscle imbalances (for example, hip flexors, abdominal muscles).

I’d probably say that, for me, the correct answer is this – I train my warm up jerk sets alternating the front foot, only switching to my more dominant foot on the working sets. I also do a lot of single leg training (lunges, Bulgarian split squats), which I hope would help with any muscle imbalances that I may have developed!  The total volume of jerk training tends to be pretty low (only 1 or 2 reps at a time usually), the movement is very brief (because it’s so fast), and there is also no eccentric phase (the part of exercise which is supposed to break down the muscles) so perhaps training most frequently or even exclusively only one foot will have no significant negative consequences after all.

Tip: Smile before you lift

I thought this was a nice tip to give! Sometimes we go into the gym feeling demotivated, weak, and not really wanting to do our lifting. I have days like this. I have found that consciously making myself smile just before I begin my set of squats, makes me feel better, more confident and more energised.

Try it and see!

Tip: Jerk using a power rack

Not many people have the luxury of jerk blocks. You can use a power or squat rack as an alternative.

Some things to be aware of:

  • Rack height – if you are tall the bar may hit the top of the power rack when the bar is overhead
  • Noise – the sound of the bar dropping on to safety bars might be uncomfortably loud. You could put barbell cushion pads on the safety bars to dampen the noise
  • If you don’t use safety bars, be aware of what happens if you fail a lift – what is the floor underneath? Is there a platform? Are you using bumper plates?
  • ‘Confined sense of space’ – inside a power rack you may feel aware of all the bars around you and experience feelings of confinement or a lack of space, which can affect your lifting psychologically (and therefore technically)

Be aware of general safety. If you miss a lift inside a power rack, it could be dangerous. Proceed with caution.

When and when not to use complexes

A weightlifting complex is a combination of different exercises done without stopping. Hypothetically you could do as many different exercises as you fancied. Complexes can be made up of any number of exercises. For example:

Snatch Pull + Snatch (2 exercises)

Clean Pull + Hang Clean + Front Squat + Jerk (4 exercises)

If you use fewer exercises you can usually use more weight than if you do more exercises. Because of the high technical demands of Olympic weightlifting, I personally always keep the number of exercises as no more than 4.

You can also make the complexes longer by changing the reps rather than increasing the exercises. For example:

Snatch Pull + Snatch (2+2) meaning 2 reps of snatch pull plus 2 reps of snatch

I have my own views on when and when not to use complexes, which I will list here: Continue reading

Tip: Use smaller weight plates for RDLs and SLDLs

You can use the prescribed weight but make it up using smaller diameter weight plates in order to get a bigger range of motion and bigger hamstring stretch!

For example, 25kg weight plates tend to be bigger than 20kg, 15kg and 10kg plates. So if you are wanting to do an RDL/ SLDL with a 25kg weight plate on each side of the bar, the ROM will be smaller than if you used a 15kg weight plate and 10kg weight plate instead, for example: Continue reading

Tip: Lunge with your front foot on a weight plate

One of my favourite exercises is the barbell front racked reverse lunge. Now, one cool thing you can do with this exercise is to elevate your front foot. Don’t make the mistake of elevating the front foot too high though – just 2-4 inches is enough.

I use a 25kg weight plate as my elevator but most people use one of those plastic exercise steps. (I have a garage gym so I have to be creative with the equipment and space I have!)

Why this elevation is so good? The hamstrings and glutes are stretched even more (between reps as well as during reps). This is an excellent simple modification therefore for working the posterior chain even more than when the front foot is flat.

Squats – can you push your knees too far out?

One of the most common and widely discussed fixes for a person who shows knee valgus (knees coming in) in the squat, is for the person to “push their knees out.” The opposite of knee valgus is known as knee varus which means knees going outwards. However, just like knees going inwards, knees outwards can be undesirable as well.

Knees being out is far less of a problem and far less common than knees coming in. Continue reading

My experiment with Smolov Jr – week 3

Facing Week 3 is a bit like the last couple of miles in a 10k race. You can see the finish line, the brain lets go of its reluctance to supporting your body in this physical effort and there is even enough energy left for the sprint finish! From my experience of running 10k that is how it felt to me. Apparently, there are two key different approaches people can take to physical and mental challenge. One is to at the whole thing with an “I’ve got this” attitude and race all out from the
start, and another is my more cautious one. Break it down into separate challenges and coax myself through stage, one at a time. Whatever works for you! Smolov Jr definitely favors the former approach – 4 sessions, 31 sets, 133 reps each week to be exact. In Week 3, I would be front squatting a total of 7776.50kg!! Continue reading

My experiment with Smolov Jr – week 2

I expected week two of Smolov Jr to be tough. The first week I had ridden the wave of enthusiasm and motivation for a new strength stimulus. The second week would be a test of commitment and belief – could I love front squatting this much!?

I had originally calculated 5kg as my increment each week. My recent 65kg for 3 reps had allowed me to predict a 70kg max rep for week one. However, Alis wisely reminded me that each rep has to be achievable with correct technique. Failure is not an option. At a 5kg increment each week, could I see myself lifting 70kg for 10 sets of 3 on day 4 of week 3? No! Indeed I had never front squatted that weight before, ever, and definitely not at that volume. 2.5kg increments would be intensity enough! Continue reading