We live in a world of instant gratification. Where patience and progressive development are thought of as archaic concepts. We want it, and we want it now. The world of sports is not immune to this ugly reality. Coaches are constantly being fired for not producing championships right away. Teams mortgage their futures and trade away their prospects for more seasoned players so they can win right now. There is one thing we can learn from the results of this attitude towards development: it doesn’t work. There are no short-cuts to sustained success.
“A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step” — Lao-tzu, the first philosopher of Chinese Taoism
The weightlifting world has had this instant gratification attitude creep into the depths of its psyche. Weightlifting coaches have become fixed on the outcome and have forgotten about the process.
A coach is a teacher. We are not teaching our athletes how to find the coefficient of restitution for balls dropped from a height of 72 inches however, much like the aforementioned biomechanics problem, we are teaching athletes how to properly and effectively reach the correct solutions for their physical problems. The most effective method for solving any complex problem is to identify the desired end result, then determine what steps are needed to reach said result. This goes for any problem, whether you are trying to figure out how high a ball is going to bounce after you drop it, or how to get an athlete stronger and more powerful. Putting a bar in an athlete’s hands and telling him/her to lift it with out proper instruction is not teaching; it’s butchery.
Proper athletic development is a process that, not only takes time to occur but also, takes a skilled coach to implement. The questions then become: what is the correct process and what is a skilled coach?
The Correct Process
Some definitions first:
Process – A series of actions or steps taken to achieve a particular end.
Series – A number of events of a similar kind or related nature coming one after another.
If we combine these two terms we get: A process is a number of events of a similar kind or related nature coming one after another to achieve a particular end. This is, in essence, the process of proper athletic development. An athlete comes to you with a particular goal or “end.” It is then up to you to guide them through the proper steps so that they achieve the desired goal.
Volumes have been written on the different types of systems that can be used for developing athletes. Unfortunately, this information has gone largely unread or ignored by many coaches involved in weightlifting even at the highest levels. However, the scope of this discussion is not what system works best, but what part of the system is often overlooked.
Development in Olympic Weightlifting
I have been involved in weightlifting as an athlete and coach for over eighteen years. I can say unequivocally that the VAST MAJORITY of the athletes I have seen have correctable technical flaws in their lifting technique that go uncorrected. More disturbing, many of these athletes have been taught incorrectly by so-called qualified coaches. It doesn’t matter if you have compiled your training program using the NASA supercomputer or had your equipment forged by the same craftsman that made Thor’s Hammer, if your athletes are not efficient with their lifting movements, you are depriving them of the full benefit weight training provides and increasing their chances of injury.
Just Because You Can, It Doesn’t Mean You Should
The ultimate goal of a weightlifting coach is to elicit the best possible performance from their athletes. In weightlifting it seems easy to determine if what a coach is doing is working. If your athlete lifts more than the next guy/gal, what ever you are doing is working.
Lets examine this rational.
According to this approach, whoever is on the medal stand at the National Championship or qualifies for an international team must have the best coach. This is not necessarily so if you take into consideration the genetic potential of the athlete. I will make the assumption that the genetics of the population of this continent are not dramatically different than those of other continents. Therefore the genetic potential of the US population is at least as great as other populations. However, as a country we do not perform anywhere near the level of other countries, and haven’t for quite some time.
So why is it our best athletes, who possess the same genetic potential as their international cohorts, cant compete at the international level? The first thing people look to is drugs. There is no doubt that drugs play a role in the landscape of weightlifting. Would a systemized drug program propel us to the top of the weightlifting world? The answer is absolutely no! Drugs will not solve the three most important and overlooked variables as it relates to weightlifting success
1. The program design used to develop juniors
2. The loading parameters used on juniors.
3. Technical efficiency of the lifters.
These variables are being misused due to lack of understanding of the process of proper athletic development. Many coaches in this country lack the necessary physical science background to understand the physiological effects training stress has on the biological and mechanical systems of the body. Couple that with an inability to discern between proper and improper technique, and it is no surprise we perform as we do.
Program Design and Loading Parameters
It first takes years of training with progressively higher volumes with sub maximal loads, using not only the classical Olympic lifts but basic weight training movements as well, to affect the necessary changes in the connective/muscle tissue and endocrine system needed to withstand the training loads required to excel at the highest levels of sport. It can take up to four years to elicit the changes needed to progress to more specialized training.
This crucial first phase of development is called the Process of Achieving Sports Mastery or PASM. It is in this phase, the athlete “trains to get into shape to be able to train.” A wide variety of exercises should be implemented at low to moderate intensities. During this time the classical lifts and their variations are taught and perfected as well.
The exercise distribution over the PASM period should start with a predominance of strength exercises (roughly 75%) such as squatting variations, pressing variations, pulling/posterior chain variations, as well as specific wrist, elbow, rotator cuff, and ankle exercises. During this time the athlete should be taught how to perform the Olympic lifts.
The distribution of Olympic lifts in the beginning of the PASM period should be roughly 25% of the overall volume. This 75%-25% ratio should gradually begin to flip flop thru out the four year PASM period culminating with an athlete that is prepared to handle a much higher training load (intensity x volume).
Two things should occur during this PASM period if the training is implemented properly:
First, as mentioned earlier, the athletes physiology will change. Their muscles will be strong and balanced. Their bones will have thickened. Their actual connective tissue will have strengthened along with where it attaches on the bone. Their work capacity would have improved to the point where they would to be able to handle and recover from more intense training load.
Second, the athlete will have created a “habit” according to motor control research; it takes thousands of repetitions of a movement to create a consistent, unconscious movement pattern. Over the four years of PASM, the athlete will have completed approximately ten-thousand reps in the Olympic lifts and three or more times that in the strength movements. Their technique in all movements should be biomechanically efficient and consistent. At this point there should be little or no technical deviation on lifts in the upper intensity ranges.
If you examine the developmental method used by many weightlifting coaches, it expresses none of the characteristics of PASM. Instead coaches rush their unprepared, under-trained athletes to the competition platform. These athletes are often weak, unbalanced, underweight, and technically inefficient. Because of this poor implementation of PASM, athletes are not developing past their first 4-6 years of training. This is often due to the accumulation of chronic injuries, or they become limited by the biomechanical flaws in their lifting technique.
To be continued…
Fight until your very last breath!
Sean Waxman is the owner of Waxman’s Gym. It’s a weightlifting and sports performance gym located in Southern California near the Los Angeles airport. Its the only gym in Southern California dedicated to all things Olympic Weightlifting!