On The Weight Cut.

May 16, 2016

Last year at Nationals, the first under my new Occam banner, I competed as a Super-heavyweight.  This year, I competed as a 94.  As you can imagine, I’ve had to field a lot of questions about my opinion on weight cuts, weight classes and my own personal experience.

So I guess I should start at the beginning.  I weighed 275lbs by the time I was 17.  Yes, I lifted weights and I played football and by most standards I could’ve been considered “athletic” but I was still morbidly obese.  By my 18th birthday, I trimmed down to 215.  I found wrestling and I graduated high school weighing 205lbs.

That was around 11 years ago.  For the majority of my weightlifting career since then, I’ve maintained around 235lbs and competed as a 105kg lifter.  That was the case until around 2011 when I decided to purposely put on weight to see how strong I could get.  By 2013, I weighed 126kg/286lbs.  I could squat 285kg but my lifts didn’t improve as much as you would think.  As it turns out, I was too fat to move athletically.  I cleaned up my diet and sat around 265lbs as a comfortable super.

Work and life became stressful and for the first time in my life, I lost my appetite.  I would come home from work and genuinely would not be able to eat dinner.  So I decided to run with it and cleaned up my diet even more. Around this time, I got hooked up with Forklifter, a meal prep company.  So it was definitely way easier to stay clean and healthy during the week.

It wasn’t until I opened up Occam Athletics, my own business that I decided I would be better off as both an athlete and businessman being leaner and healthier.  So I really tightened up my diet and competed as a 105 by fall of last year.  The American Open was my first national meet back as a 105.

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Peak fatness VS. Peak skinniness.  One of these physiques will do fine in the fitness industry and one will not.   

This month, I hit a 320 total as a 94.  My best ever total is 333 as a 105 so I’m not too far off.  The only real difference I can feel is my squat strength.  Realistically, it terms of being the most powerful lifter I can be, I’d be a 105.  But I’m closing the gap as a 94 and at this weight I get to buy pants off the rack.

As far as actual CUTTING methods, I tell people to never cut more than 3-5%.  I cut around 8% at the PWA Championships (my first meet as a 94) and around 5% at Nationals.  But I’ve been competing in weight class sports for 1/2 my life.

Would I recommend it? No.  And if you want further discussion about my methods, I can certainly write a post about it.  But I still maintain that you should never try and lose more than 3-5%.

And furthermore, you shouldn’t even be worried about weight class until you, yourself could potentially either a) qualify for nationals or b) medal at nationals.  Unless you are one of these two people, you have not earned the right to be concerned about cutting weight.  Your one and only job is to get stronger and healthier. (i’m of course not talking about international caliber lifters).

So there you have it.  My thoughts on losing weight for weightlifting.  I’m of course coming towards the end of the road as a National caliber lifter, so my strategy is going to be different from the guy brand new to the national scene.  If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask in the comments section.

 

As I sat in the Kansas City Airport eating what must assuredly be the worst pastrami sandwich of my adult life, I finely found time for some self reflection; time to understand what a transformative experience I had just went through. As I sat in the Kansas city Airport eating the the worst pastrami sandwich I’ve had since 4th grade, I began to understand the depth of what I’ve been missing in my life and what I have to look forward to once this sandwich is eaten; banished to the depths so that it can no longer infect the world with it’s presence. It was a poor excuse for sandwich if I’ve ever seen one; possessing the minimum requirements of what could be considered a hand held vessel for meat consumption but without the soul required to satisfy discerning palettes.

I’m 28 now. Young enough to be at a station where it’s ok to still not have a finite plan together but old enough to know that there are consequences to every decision we make in this life; old enough to know that the cost of every decision is far too great to quantify. Time isn’t money. Time is life. It’s the only thing we really own before we return as dust. My sister just had a kid. I’m flying home from a wedding I was graciously invited to be in as a groomsman. Sitting in the Kansas City airport eating a vile excuse for a sandwich is somehow personally significant. It’s the first time since 2012 I’ve taken 4 consecutive days off from work for a non-work related trip; Not for the sandwich of course but for the wedding.

That in itself was a hard realization. The past 3 years have taught me much. But they’ve cost me just as much. If you re-read the paragraph above and interpret time as the only true currency, then consider me bankrupt. I’ve spent it all chasing dreams and unicorns. I’ve spent it turning this thing from a hobby to an obsession to a bonafide job. My church is now my office. In the past I’ve looked to nature for short jaunts away from my day to day. Self reflection had become a top priority. In my mind, it was the only legitimate reason I would need an escape. I am an exceptionally brief person by nature, so the last thing I considered as a means of self refection would be to surround myself with other people. People I don’t know. People who are not the gym. I never thought that my buddy’s wedding in Kansas City and the sandwich that followed would be the catalyst that would allow me to truly look inward.

What do you get when you try and photograph one collegiate strength coach, one private strength and conditioning coach and one weightlifting coach?  Not a lot of room for anything else.

What do you get when you try and photograph one collegiate strength coach, one private strength and conditioning coach and one weightlifting coach? Not a lot of room for anything else.

I learned a few things this weekend:

1) The longer I chase this thing, and by “this thing” I mean the last 2-3 years of my high level athletic career, the more it will “cost” me personally.

2) I have a profound need for self validation at the end of all this. No one will truly care how far I get, at least as much as I do. But still I NEED to get to the end and tell myself it was worth it. In my mind, I think that’s getting a medal at Nationals or the American Open. I’ll know for sure after one of those things happen.

3) After it’s over, I’m going to be ok. I shove a lot of my basic needs on the back burner so I can focus on the day to day grind. I love it. I thrive on it. It completes me. But someday soon, I’m going to go on that extra long hike or that trip across Europe or pick up martial arts and rock climbing again or get a dog or move in with a girl. I see the light at the end of the tunnel and honestly it looks pretty good.

4) Weightlifting will always be a part of my life. After all, I’ve always identified more with Obi Wan Kenobi than Luke Skywalker . . . Han Solo too but that’s a different story.

5) I don’t have an excuse to not succeed. Neither do you if you think about it.

6) One day, I’m going to buy my own cat. In 2014, I realized that I spent my entire life not knowing that I liked them. He’s going to be a fat, furry, gnarly looking asshole.

My fellow man taught me a lot this weekend. I met the families and I was accepted as one of their own for a whole weekend, all because I love Nate. A few closing thoughts before I get on this plane: visit Kansas City if you get the chance, go to Arthur Bryants and order the burnt ends. Follow your bliss but never forget that you need at least a few other people to share that bliss with. If you set your eyes on a goal, go forth and fucking destroy it. If it’s worth your time, it’s worth your effort too.

This post is dedicated to Nate and Ryann and the awful, self reflective sandwich that followed a wonderful weekend with your family. For reference, Nate and I are exactly the same age, we have similar jobs but for as many similarities we share, we share just as many differences. I’ve learned a lot about myself from our friendship as you can probably gather.

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.

I might come off kind of harsh in this post.  But I guarantee that if you are new to the weightlifting scene and are legitimately interested in the sport, I have your best interest at heart.  There are more people doing snatches and clean and jerks now than when I started competing 9 years ago.  Some of these people do it because they like the lifts but like general fitness more and some of them will be drawn to the sport itself.  This post is directed to those who are interested in competing but are too intimidated to try.

My advice is this:

1) Find a coach.  A real weightlifting coach.  One who actually knows how to prepare you for a contest.

2) Don’t be a coward.

3) Stop caring so much.

Coming back to the first point.  I know plenty of people (some who call themselves weightlifting coaches) who can lift weights well enough themselves but know precisely dick about competing in an actual contest much less coaching others to and through a contest.  I might be able to throw a ball 100 mph, but that has no bearing in my ability to make other people throw 100 mph or more importantly PLAY BASEBALL GAMES.  Weightlifting is a game.  To play it, you must know the rules and the finer points of competition.  The more you (and your coach) know, the less afraid you will be to step up to the plate . . . er . . . I mean platform.

As far as the second point is concerned, it’s pretty self explanatory.  You might be able to clean and jerk 60lbs.  You might be able to clean and jerk 360lbs.  Cool.  How well can you display your skill set on the platform?  Can you go 4/6.  6/6?  Can you make your lifts look good or does your 360lb clean look like a train wreck carrying a cargo full of dogshit?  Test yourself.  Compare yourself first to yourself.  Then maybe in a few years, start comparing yourself to others.  Show people how well you know how to lift.

Coming back to the third point, I’ve been competing in weightlifting for 9 years.  NINE.  There might be a handful of people on this earth that can recall a specific performance of mine from last year much less a few years back.  Not one of these people care whether I took first or last place in the Golden West Open in 2007.  Heck, I don’t even care.  All I care about is progress. As long as I keep making progress, I win.  It’s no different then signing up for a rec softball league.  Your kid can put on a uniform and play ball.  You should be able to do it too.

OK, I’m done.  After saying all that, I will also say that I am FOR unsanctioned weightlifting meets run by qualified people to have experience running real meets.  It’s a great way to get people in the door and a certain percentage of people will leave hungry for the real thing.

Today might be the first day in 6 months that I sat down and sketched just for the hell of it. Well, that’s actually a half truth because I’m working on a couple different art projects for people but step one to working on an art project is practicing your craft. Once I start laying some stuff down on paper without having to think about it, then I’ll start thinking about my projects at hand. It’s very similar to weightlifting in that respect. Your best friend in both discipline is getting reps in. Overeagerness to create something for someone else is like loading 10kg onto your max after taking a week off. The end result is not a good one.

Someone asked me the other day what I do with my time after a big meet. I responded “as little as possible.” Realistically I like to reevaluate my progress for the year and catch up on other parts of my life that I’ve been missing out on or just outright neglecting. I’ll be taking reps again by the end of the week but I now have the mental and emotional facilities to actually care about other parts of my life. I want to go outside. Go to shows. Draw some pictures and drink a few PBRs (or a better beer. Don’t judge me.)

Looking back at all the progress I’ve made since last year at nationals, I’m actually amazed that after close to 9 years of doing this, I still make progress. I’ve always been slow to mature. No exaggeration, I don’t think I hit puberty at least until Junior year of high school. I’ve seen this in other part of my life as well, relationships, academics, sports. Years later, I might look back at something and finally consider, “Oh I was the asshole.” Why should weightlifting be any different? Coaching has certainly turned my weightlifting career around for the better. THIS year (nationals to nationals) has been the most productive year EVER in my weightlifting career. If only I could’ve talked to myself years ago. My shins wouldn’t be so scarred, my hair would be longer and legs thicker.

For years my white whale was to get 150/180. And now that I’ve got it (more or less) I really believe I got what it takes for 160/190. My snatch is pretty much on point. If you look back on video of me from the past, you can see how much different my technique is. Much smoother, much cleaner. I’ve got to do the same for my clean and jerk this year. I was taking huge attempts in February/March. It will take me a little bit before I figure out what I was doing right but I’m confident that when I do the results will be similar to my progress with the snatch this training year.

Check out how raw my technique was just a few years ago.

For now, I’d like to lose a little weight. Last year at this time, I took off about 25lbs and did a great job of maintaining around 115kg pr pretty much the whole year. I’d like to get down to 110kg this year and then hover between 110-115 simply because I feel healthier and better. This is about as super as I need to be. I know because at one time I weighed 126kg and it didn’t really help my lifting. I take it as a personal offense when newbies play the super card as an excuse to be obese. If you have been competitively lifting weights for less than 3-4 years then you have no excuse to sacrifice your health.

On the subject of free time, I’ll be checking out YOB this friday. Check out the song below, it was one track from like 2011 that got me into listening to heavy music again. The rhythmic plodding and slow laboring march of the guitar riff wasn’t something I had found personally attractive to this extent before. But for some reason this song just pulled me right in.

Cupcake: Cup-cake.  Verb.

Definition: to be unfocused on the task at hand.  Wasting time.  

Example: You would rather cupcake on the foam roller for 45 minutes than make three singles at your 90%.  

I hate to be the guy on the internet that reminisces about high school athletics.  It makes this post seem more tragic than anything else.  But do you remember the guy that was consistently late to football practice?  I mean he knew that he had to be at practice dressed in uniform at 3:29 on the dot.  And he also knew the whole team had to do up-downs (burpees) if he was late.  But even still you would see him chatting up Sally Sue in the hallway at 3:21 as you were jogging your ass to practice on time like a sensible athlete.  That’s cupcaking.

(Edit:  I also coached high school athletics for several years.  Cupcaking was not tolerated.)

Cupcaking is taking a 60 minute workout and stretching it to two hours.  It’s doing a bunch of erroneous stretches and foam rolling every 5 mins because your glute medius is super tight, bro.  Cupcaking is missing your attempts because your more concerned on whatever else is going on that isn’t your workout.  That’s why I’ve got a strict no-cupcaking policy on my team.

MMMM… COOKIE-err… I mean CUPCAKES.

 

I already know what you’re thinking.  It’s supposed to be fun.

I agree.  But do you know what my idea of a good time is?  Making my 90%s.  Having focused and productive workouts.  And that’s the attitude that I like to perpetuate to my team.  There seems to be this opposing attitude where you’re not supposed to take this stuff too seriously.  It’s just working out.  It doesn’t change anything or benefit anyone but yourself.  And while that may be true, it’s also OK TO TAKE YOURSELF SERIOUSLY.  I mean, fitness costs a lot of money and it’s a major time commitment.  Heck, life commitment.  Why not take it seriously?

Relax.  Have fun.  Get excited about training and be silly when it’s appropriate.  But never underestimate the importance of the training environment.  It’s everything.  And for all you coaches out there, it’s up to you to make sure that the training environment is conducive to lifting big weights.

The Kevin Open.

March 10, 2014

Yesterday was the final day of the Hassle Free Invitational (AKA The Kevin Open) in Foster City.  I sent most of my people down there and I’m pleased to say, WE LOOK GOOD.  I’ve got an awesome group I’m working with right now that’s got a bunch of people not quite at that national level, but getting there quick.  I love the training environment.  Minimal cupcaking.  Maximal competitive spirit.  I’m proud of my team.  And I’m proud of my gym.  I got a bunch of video from this weekend, so I’ll probably post up a video with commentary sometime this week.

The BEST meets have the venue within the hotel.

Fact: The BEST meets have the venue within the hotel.

 

The meet itself was a class act.  The Doherty brothers are a shining example of proactive coaches that are capable of hosting such an event.  Not all clubs need to host big super-meets like this one.  It’s not lucrative and for the most part not worth it.  But Hassle Free has been an institution of the weightlifting community for some time now and I’m glad that there are coaches out there who (on top of the obvious goal of producing lifters) have the secondary goal of moving the sport forward.  Younger generations are doing their part as well, like the boys from Caffeine and Kilos.  One of most exciting events from last year was the weightlifting meet that they hosted in tandem with a Crossfit event.  The future of weightlifting is looking bright and I’m glad to be a part of it.

I’m going to go on a brief rant on nutrition and it will probably be the only one I ever do because unlike many people working in the fitness industry, I still have respect for actual professionals who went to school to study specific things like nutrition.  As a weightlifting coach, I automatically fall under the wishy washy, sensationalist money machine that is the fitness industry and I have to do my best to work within certain confines set by the industry.  Lucky for me, weightlifting is actually in vogue (or at least way more so than back in 2005).  Thank you functional fitness.  Thank you to the company, Crossfit.  I can now go in public, tell people that I’m a weightlifter and 3/10 people will actually have a rough idea of what that entails.  You have no idea how frustrated 18 year old Ben was when he had to describe to people how he spent his time.  Eventually, I just gave up and started telling people that I bench 505 because what difference does it make.  Without any frame of reference for what weightlifting actually is, it’s like trying to speak Mayan to a bunch of Spaniards (I can only assume).  What I’m getting at is the fitness industry is incredibly frustrating for a number of reasons and I often feel like a frumpy curmudgeon when trying to preach common sense over sensationalist, black and white approaches to all things fitness.  “This good.  This bad” simply does not work for me and leaves me with the desire to flip over tables in frustration.

The latest personal insult to common sense that I unfortunately read was an “article” warning people about the dangers of sugar.  First of all, just because somebody somewhere wrote something and posted it on the always viable internet, it in no way shape or form makes it an article.  You know those “such and such reasons why you should such and such”  posts? Yeah, I’ll take one look at the title and automatically file in the “not viable” category of all the other random stuff I see thrown around the internet.  Hey, your results may vary.  I’m not saying stuff written like that is automatically untrue, I’m just saying that if I was a researcher who actually went to grad school so I could publish a peer reviewed study and have it carry weight, I would be offended that people read those and throw them in the same category as my work.  But that’s a different issue and I’m sure there are a bunch of people that would disagree with me.

Sugar is not bad.  Sugar is sugar.  Just like meat is meat and water is water.  Are there healthy sources vs. non-healthy sources?  Sure.  Are most people consuming too much and from non-healthy sources?  Probably.  And most people could do with more exercise too.  But the fact of the matter is that sugar is your body’s preferred energy source and when you don’t eat it, your body goes through the extra effort to make it.  I, myself limit how much sugar and carbohydrates I consume (for the most part) because I have put myself on a “weight management” diet and putting my body in a state of ketosis (for the most part) works best for my lifestyle.  Does that interfere with my performance goals?  Maybe, somewhat.  But honestly, I can’t really tell the difference most of the time except my body won’t hold as much water.  But notice how I said “weight management” vs. “performance” or “healthy lifestyle” diet.  The goal is very important in what is considered “good” vs. ‘bad.”  So are things like potatoes and fruit inherently “bad?”  No.  They’re goddamn potatoes and fruit.  But they will play a different part or perhaps no part in your diet depending on your body and specific goals.  I think we can all agree that things like soda or poptarts are not inherently “good” for us.  But what are you gonna do?  You’ve already been conditioned to like that stuff.  Are you just going to pretend like it doesn’t exist?  That shit is delicious and I for one like to indulge every now and then.  I mean, I can tell when I’ve overdone it on the junk food.  Can you?  Are you gonna go over to grandma’s and NOT eat a piece of that pie that she spent all day baking?  I’m just saying,  common sense is always the best diet.

Alright.  I’m done.

For the record.  I am NOT a diet expert.  I had to take nutrition in college but they were still on that 90’s low fat kick.  I grew up a fat kid until I discovered the joys of pushing my body though sport and exercise.  I purposely bulked myself up to a whopping 126kg last year because I thought it would help my weightlifting goals (I hover around a comfortable 115 now).  I don’t think it did but now I know better.

2013 in Retrospect.

December 22, 2013

And I’m only talking about weightlifting here.  I had a pretty marked increase in performance and here’s why and what I think about it.

1) I finally got my diploma.  Yep, I graduated with a BS in exercise science.  For years, school had been a thorn in my side, always in the back of my mind (the very back), always taking away from what I really wanted to do at the time, whether it was work or lifting.  Now it will just be a thorn in my bank account but that’s another issue altogether.  Now that it’s over, I’m glad I have the degree.  It will open up doors in case I ever want to work in a different environment and adds legitimacy to my whole operation.  Lots of people like to talk science nowadays in the fitness industry, a much smaller percentage of these people actually have a formal background in exercise science or kinesiology.  But more than that, I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders the day that I received my degree in the mail.  I felt like there was more room to put more actual weight on my shoulders and invest more time and energy into this whole “weightlifting project/buisness thing” that I’m doing.

2) I’ve settled on a training system that works for me.  It’s my system.  It’s my team’s system.  And I’ve finally figured out a way for us to both improve in harmony with one another.  I’ve begun to train separately from the team for the majority of my sessions.  They need the team environment, not me.  They need eyes on them and I don’t.  A pretty simple concept but it took a while to actually figure out the logistics.  That’s not to say that I’ll NEVER train with my team.  In fact, I think it’s good for them to see me workout and the pace I would prefer that they work at.  But important workouts for myself, I’ll usually schedule for myself so I don’t have to keep my head on a swivel.

3) I lost CC.  This was a big thing for me.  She was my first weightlifter with a lot of talent and my program was originally designed solely for her success.  Weightlifters will often shift around and find training environments that suit their needs the best.  I was just happy that I had taught her enough about training so that she could make an informed decision based on her personal training needs.  Job well done.  But now that she was gone, I really felt the need to try and improve my performance, whereas before I could say “well, I clarked 90 today BUT CHECK OUT WHAT CC DID.”  So the pressure was now on and I really think that my training and the team’s training are a lot more balanced now.

4) Towards the end of the year I stopped back squatting altogether.  The focus of training was ONLY the snatch and clean and jerk.  I’ve now resumed back squatting and am building up my general strength along with the rest of the team but I honestly felt at the time that my body couldn’t handle any more than it was already doing.  I started seeing progress once again and kept my training consistant with my schedule from the late summer until winter.

5) Improved start position for both lifts (but especially the snatch).  Self explanatory I think.  My main focus while i’m lifting right now is to BEGIN the movement properly.  I’ve been a dynamic start guy my entire (weightlifting) life.  I now favor the consistency of a static start.  I’m not saying that you CAN’T be consistent with a dynamic start, but personally, I have a harder time being consistent.

I’d like to thank everyone that follows along with this blog and anyone that has taken interest in my training or my team’s training.  If you’re someone who’s training alone or is just getting started, don’t hesitate to shoot me any questions and I’ll help you out the best I can.  I’d also like to thank anyone that has to deal with me on a personal level.  Yeah, I’m a real jerk sometimes and I’d just like to thank you for putting up with me.  I’d like to thank my gym for being THE COOLEST gym that I’ve ever been in.  I feel so honored to work where I do and I’m always very humbled and thankful for the amount of support I receive from the MTSC community.  Here’s to a new year of training, tears, laughter and PR’s my friends.

-Ben

Echo.

August 26, 2013

I’m well aware that a large percentage of my readers come from the 70’s big community.  But I think that it’s appropriate to echo this lesson from Justin because I think it’s an important one (for any of my readers that aren’t also readers of 70’s big).

HERE is a great read from Justin in which he discusses the importance of consistency VS. sexiness.  He was referring to post workout nutrition but these principles can be applied to anything.

For example:

BCAA’s are sexy.

But how important are they for the average client looking to improve body composition through a strength and conditioning program?

Is it more important for the trainee to get 8 hours of sleep every night, eat a nutrient rich, balanced diet, and learn time tested training principles? Or is it more important to spend $50+ a month on intra-workout aminos?

I myself choose a product called, “Surge Workout Fuel” when I know my workouts will last over an hour.  However, I’m also a person that trains an average of 9 times per week over the course of a year, consistently eats enough to support my athletic habits and is willing to hurt a few feelings to make sure I get enough time to myself to recover.

Just sayin’.