A good coach is going to continually learn, add or change his perspective on his training process throughout his career.  New information can be gathered through the relationship he builds with his trainees, occasionally through his own experience, speaking to licensed and educated people in other fields or through looking at the literature (and I’m NOT talking about that shit you read for free on the internet).  In my opinion, only pulling from one or two of these sources, limits perspective when the goal is to try and gain a more comprehensive understanding of the trainee and the effect of your program.

I fell into some luck recently in my new situation by finding myself being surrounded by professionals who understand weightlifting but are also able to give me new insight on stuff we’ve been missing out on or neglecting.  As a result, I’ve made a few changes to my strategies that include sending athletes to get screened by professionals for muscle imbalances and getting them set up with the right corrective exercises.  One convenience is that since we all perform the same activity, we’re all going to have the same things to work on.  I’ve also implemented mandatory “prep” before my lifters are allowed to touch a barbell.  This prep changes day today and will change from training block to block to make sure all of our bases are covered.  This differs from my style even a few years ago where I would just leave it up to my lifters to take care of themselves before they lift.  Some would do a good job with a good mix of dynamic movements and activation routines, some would roll around on a foam roller for like 5 minutes and call it good and a few would do what I call “the Brett Farve warm-up” which is basically taking a knee or doing a few air squats before hitting the platform.

Here’s a little gem that I learned from a PT friend that I call “baby planks” because it’s part of a series that is based off of baby movements.  I’d like to state again that I DID NOT make this up and I’m not taking credit for it.  This particular version is the second step in the progression that gets pretty advanced.  Regular planks are pretty much useless because the stronger muscles lining your trunk will always take over.  Correctly set up, this plank is far superior for a number of reasons, the most important being that as weightlifters, we’re going to be prone to becoming lordotic if we don’t take care to correctly balance out our musculature.  Trainees might think that they’re building a strong ass but in many cases, they’re just getting more and more used to sticking their ass out; problematic when loading the spine and living pain free.

At the moment we run these 3x per week for just 5 ten second holds pre-workout.  It doesn’t take a whole lot to make sure your correct muscles are firing and we’ve got a whole series of stuff we have to get done before we hit the platform.

I could've done a better job getting rid of my lumbar curve. Next time I'm going to get a friend to tell me if I've hit neutral or not.

I could’ve done a better job getting rid of my lumbar curve. Next time I’m going to get a friend to tell me if I’ve hit neutral or not.

The set up is VERY important:

  1. Lie on the ground face down.
  2. Extend your arms in front of you, pinkies down.  Your finger tips should be touching and you should have enough space that your dome should fit in between your arms with room to spare.  DO NOT MOVE YOUR ARMS AT THIS POINT.  Trainees will try and cheat by putting their elbows lower.  Your weight will be pushed through your elbows engaging all the muscles lining your T-spine.
  3. Bring one of your legs up about 60 degrees.  This is the hardest part to get right.  The inside of your knee will be pushing into the ground with your foot in the air.  At this point, one of your hips will be raised.
  4. Bring your other leg up about 60 degrees.  At this point, your hips will be elevated with your belly still touching the ground.  This is your start position.  If somebody walks past you at this point, they’ll probably wonder what the hell you’re doing.  Just say that you’re “practicing” and they should “move along.”
  5. Elevate your torso.  Everything lifts up off of the ground at the same time by pushing through the inside of your knees and your elbows.  the lumbar curve in your spine should be disappearing.  If the trainee has a tough time with this, tell them to “Imagine that they are wearing a seatbelt.  Try and pull your seat belt towards your chest.”  Have a partner look alongside and make sure that all of the curves are taken out.  Some will be weak or hyper-mobile so keeping a neutral spine will be a challenge.  Some will begin shuddering like they’re doing 120MPH on the autobahn.  Rounding or bulging in the upper back is caused by dysfunction in the T-spine.

Say that 5 times fast.

Over the past month or so, I’ve been really stepping up my game on balancing out my team’s Olympic Lifting training with prehab exercises, functional movements and activation stuff to keep us healthy and prepared to train.  Part of this has been surrounding myself with the right people. Amadeo, the owner of CSP (the gym we share space with) is extremely educated on these movements and I do my best to steal information from him whenever I can.  Additionally, I’ve enlisted the help of a young hot shot who works at the premier athletic PT facility in Sacramento.  It never hurts to ask questions.  And I’m a firm believer that to be successful in the fitness industry, it’s best to stick to what you’re good at.  People don’t come to me to fix hips.  People come to me to fix their snatch, get stronger, faster, more balanced and better looking.  So I’ve been asking more questions and arming myself with more information. When the situation calls for it, I’ll ask others for help or even send my people elsewhere.

This handy little prep exercise is something I’ll throw in the beginning of a team workout or group exercise session.  I’ve been doing it myself for a few weeks now and it’s helped me uncover a gap in my armor.  Obviously this exercise is meant to prepare the glutes for extension (ya’know . . . like in Olympic lifting).  Having the calfs resting on the foam roller helps turn off the hamstring and keeps the exercise focused on the glute only.  If the trainee (in this case, myself) feels the movement work muscles in places BESIDES the glute, this could be a sign of weakness and overcompensation from other muscle groups.

The bottom from is the start position.  The top is the finish.  Have the trainee hold this position for 5 seconds or so until he/she feels the burn in the correct muscle (dat ass).

The bottom from is the start position. The top is the finish. Have the trainee hold this position for 5 seconds or so until he/she feels the burn in the correct muscle (dat ass).

2-3 sets of 5 on each leg is plenty.  You can superset this with other prep exercises in your toolbox that work different muscle groups.  In my case, I noticed that my left glute was actually significantly weaker than my right which may or may not be part of the problem puts me at a higher risk for low back injury.  I actually felt this initially in my right low back when I was trying to work my left glute.  Hold the top position isometrically for about 10 seconds until you feel your correct cheek come to life.  Other problems when doing this exercise is having the foam roller too low on the leg shank.  Put it high up on the calf so your brain doesn’t have such a tough time turning on the correct muscles.  Remember, this is for your ass, not your hamstrings.

Use this to compliment your hip abduction, external rotation and knee flexion prep exercises and your low half should be good to go with a proper dynamic warm-up.

The team competed yesterday for the first time under the new name, new gym, new life.  Jake took first and Emelie took second overall by sinclair.  Jen took a shot at the AO total.  Alexa and Conor competed in their first meets.  Zander closed in on his goal of breaking the master’s American record clean and jerk for his category.  Sammi hit the AO total at a different weight class.  Paige, Katie, Heather H and Yezmin got out there and represented well.  It was an overall success.  And it wouldn’t have happened without the rest of the team there to support.  I taught a number of my people yesterday how to count attempts and help in the warm-up area.  It ended up being a beautiful symphony of communication.  Thank you Heather, Deb, Alexa, Nick, Paige, and even you, Nile. Together we made it happen.

Counting at the card table.

Counting at the card table.

The photo on the left was taken 9 years ago at the first Kono.  I feel like Tommy has probably aged better than me.

The photo on the left was taken 9 years ago at the first Kono. I feel like Tommy has probably aged better than me.

Interview Repost?

July 24, 2015

I may have posted this a few years ago.

The nice thing about where I live is that there are plenty of other weightlifting coaches to draw inspiration from.  I’ve learned something from just about everyone over the years.  I’ll often look at guys like Greg Everett, Max Aita, the Doherty brothers (in Doherty we trust), Freddie Myles, Jasha Faye, Dave Spitz and Jim Schmitz just to name a few.

I remember watching this interview a few years ago and some of the concepts that Dave talks about still influence me today.

If you’ve been wondering why I’ve been MIA lately . . . well . . . I’ve been a little bit busy.  I’m starting my own business.  The team and I have moved locations and we are now officially under the moniker “Occam Athletics.”  We’re still in the heart of Midtown; located inside of Cap City Strength and Performance on 23rd and S.  I was planning on making a move like this eventually but sometimes life happens and you need to take an opportunity when you see it.

Opportunity.

Opportunity.

It’s going to be a long road.  The bulk of my equipment will arrive in a couple weeks. I’ll be getting a few more essentials in the months to follow.  We’re eventually going to be set up with a 1200 square foot room dedicated to platform space; Our very own weightlifting dungeon.  Starting this week it’s back to business as usual. I’ll be running team practices and doing one evening strength and conditioning class on MWF at 5:30.  I’ve got more info for those interested.

But man . . . let me tell you, Shiah was right.  Nothing can hold you back.  Seriously if you want to do something, just do it. DO IT.

Me after I locked up at the new spot tonight.  Ok, maybe a slight exaggeration.

Me after I locked up at the new spot tonight. Ok, maybe a slight exaggeration.

A complete portrait of strength at least by my standards, includes mastery of one’s own bodyweight.  Even at 286lbs I was still able to bang out a few muscle ups and do various tricks on the pull-up bar.  Now at 228lbs, my options once again are more numerous.  In 2005, I decided I wasn’t into any sort of bodybuilding anymore because it “did not serve a purpose.” I decided that instead I would supplement my Olympic lifts with bodyweight training and wrestling. It made for a pretty decent physique and let me be on my high horse when bros at frat parties would ask me how much I bench.

“BENCH? HAHAHAHA! OH, SUCH PEASANTRY. YOU SIMPLETON.”

I eventually grew out of that phase.  Although to this day, I rarely if ever bench press. I first mastered the muscle up in 2005 because my friend from high school said that DMX did them for upper body strength.  Yup, you read that right.  I actually had no idea what the blossoming company, Crossfit was at the time.  No.  I started doing muscle ups because I wanted to prove to myself that I was as good as fucking DMX, the rapper.  Standards.

But that’s actually not where my interest in bodyweight training started.  I can actually pin point the exact moment in my childhood that I first realized that mastery of one’s bodyweight is a skill that I never wanted to be without.

I was in 5th or 6th grade.  I was with my family on a trip to Monterey for Summer vacation.  My brothers were still pretty young at the time so my parents decided that we would visit the “Denis the Menace Park” pretty close to Cannery Row.  This was a basically a park with a legit play area for kids instead of a standard play structure.  Me being all mature at 12 or 13 years old had no interest in this.  Luckily for me, a skate park opened up just across from the park.  The only skate park I had ever visited before that was in Davis and that one was so small, it was surely meant for “posers.”  I wasn’t all that good.  I mean, at 5’6 I looked like I was about as wide as I was tall.  With the baggy shorts only leaving my “cankles” exposed and an oversized plaid shirt, I was basically a grunged out pirate ship while at full speed on my deck.  But still I was able to bust out a few tricks and shredded to my heart’s delight for two or three hours at the park up until my dad walked up to the chainlink fence letting me know it was time to go.

He told me to throw my board over and hop the fence.  Simple enough.  I tried 6 or 7 pathetic efforts.  Each time I would fall back to the ground weighed down by my pop-tart rich diet and shame.  Each time I felt the eyes of other boarders stopping to watch as the fat kid couldn’t hop a chain link fence.  Pitiful.  What was worse is the look on my dad’s face when he realized his kid probably couldn’t escape a burning building if he had to;  A one story building. Having enough, I let my dad know I was just going to take the long way around.

It was a long walk.

“Ey, Dawg. You should be ashamed of yourself.” I was, DMX. I was.

That moment probably affected me more than it should have.  By the time I was 18, I could leap over a fence or given enough effort pull the damn thing down.  Mastery of my bodyweight would always be a skill I’d want to develop.  But it didn’t just stop at pull-ups and decently strong abs.  I started working out at a rock climbing gym to take my game to another level.  I’ve eased up over the years.  I’m saving all my really cool bodyweight stuff for after my lifting career.  I’ll usually throw in 15 minutes or so of playtime after my workouts 3 days a week.  My lifters also work on these skill sets.  I don’t make them do most of the stuff that I do.  But I do prioritize L sits from both the seated and hanging position, strict pull-ups, chin ups and various torso strengthening such as side bends, Chinese Planks and crunches.  This to me represents the bare minimum of what an able bodied person should be able to do.

Windshield wipers are a favorite of mine.  I'm also working on my human flag and pushups without my feet on the ground.

Windshield wipers are a favorite of mine. I’m also working on my human flag and pushups without my feet on the ground.

It would be a hard case for me to make that bodyweight training is directly beneficial to success on the platform, especially given the relatively underdeveloped physiques of some of the world’s best lifters.  But I do like to have my lifters work on general strength skills because I like developing them to be generally fit and capable people; That and I don’t want anyone to have to take the long way around.

-Trust the Process.

Burnt Ends.

April 27, 2015

Saturday wrapped up the longest stretch of consecutive coaching/work days of my career.  4 weeks by my estimation.  Worth it?  Most certainly.  I started lifting weights as a sport 10 years ago.  I never thought it would take me here.  That being said, If you know and are friends with me on a personal level, I owe you both a congratulations and an apology.  I don’t think I’ve willingly or been happy about answering my phone for at least the last 3 weeks.

Young strength coaches or trainers,  find balance.  Like me, you might find yourself with a few hours of actual free time on your hands only to find that you have no one to spend it with.  All your friends will have given up.

I’d now like to share with you a picture of personal significance to me.

I spent MANY years trying to find my way out of the classroom.  It looks a lot different from this angle.

I spent MANY years trying to find my way out of the classroom. It looks a lot different from this angle.

One thing that they don’t tell you about getting into the strength and conditioning or general fitness field is the amount of time that you will be spending doing work related things OTHER than coaching at the gym.  More often than not, training will be the first thing to suffer.  You’d think that working at a gym means unlimited gym time with your mental state complexly focused on your sport goals.  That might be true for the first couple years while you’re building your base (and are poor) but when you finely find yourself with your feet underneath you, you will also find your church has been turned into your office; albeit the COOLEST office ever.

The photo pictured above is taken from the NSCA Norcal State Clinic.  I was lucky enough to be one of the featured speakers.  For me, this represented a personal milestone.  This is the first crowd that I came in contact with in 2005 that actually KNEW about Olympic weightlifting.  I can remember eagerly walking into the CSUS weight room and some of the masters kinesiology students were in there practicing their lifts or getting ready for competition.  These were my first weightlifting heroes.  Some of those people were actually present this day when I spoke and it gave me a special feeling of closure re-meeting these people; this time on the professional level.

A final closing thought: The grind IS worth it.  Just make sure that by the time you’re done grinding, you have a plan for the future and people to spend it with.

Home Stretch (Not).

April 15, 2015

The last 2-3 weeks have been incredibly busy for me, as is often the case with small business people.

disregard-sleep-acquire-caffeine

I just got back from coaching that the Master’s National Championships.  Two of my athletes competed: Lindsay and Duffy.  Both got themselves some meet PR’s and had a great showing at their first national meet.  Both have been with me for a long time and I’m proud that we made it that far together. I also helped out another athlete from Virginia; a talented one at that.  She also snuck away with some meet PRs.

This weekend I’ll be be speaking at an NSCA conference held at Menlo college.  My presentation is called, “Practical Programming for the Novice and Intermediate Weightlifter.”  I’m actually pretty excited.  I haven’t given a power point presentation since college, but collegiate and high school strength coaches are folks that I don’t normally get to talk to on a regular basis.  I’ll be glad to branch out and exchange ideas with people.

The following day, I’ll be coaching the team up at a meet we’re hosting at our gym.  If you’re in the area, come check it out.  We’ll be there all day.  5 bucks at the door.  BYOB.  You get in free if you bring me a beer.  Just kidding.

Maybe.

Come so you can watch me do a LOT of running back and forth from the warm up area like this ^.

WLforums Interview.

April 6, 2015

Check out this video interview I did with Tony P of WLforums.com.  We met at Nationals last year coaching our 75kg girls.  I talk about my experience with the sport, how I became the coach of Midtown Barbell and a little bit of my coaching and programming philosophy.

On the Process.

January 12, 2015

This past year, I began putting more and more emphasis on the development of our process rather than the development of individual weightlifters.  I realized I needed to change the way we were doing things in 2012-2013 and I think this year we finally started picking up steam on the development of a process that is uniquely ours.  Lifters will come and go, but as long as your process remains solid, your team will flourish.

I keep saying “process” and I realize thats a rather nebulous word to use when talking about the development of the weightlifter.  In truth, it’s more of a concept that I think is important rather than finite programming details.  It’s more or less about the values and ideology that you want your team to perpetuate.  I’ve been competing in weightlifting meets for a long time (around 70 meets total) and after all these years I can clearly see who was coached by whom by how they lift, what they value in training and what their strengths are.  When I started to look more closely at US, I began considering what WE value in training, what our process should look like and the overall ideology I want us to personify.  That’s where the whole concept of the “yamdancer” came into play (a story I’ll retell again at some point).  At the end of the day, all we’re doing here is throwing weights above our head for fun.  But whenever you have a group of people come together for a like purpose, certain considerations need to be taken to ensure that the entire group benefits.

Trust in the group.  Trust in yourself.  Trust the process.  #yamdancer