Happy New Year, gentle readers. Every year, I try to mark the changing of the calendar (by the way, got your Strength Visions calendar yet?) with a retrospective post, to force myself to digest the lessons and experiences of the training year and to set the tone for the coming year. This one's been rattling around in my brain for a while. While I hesitate to give up my secrets, I do so because I hope someone, somewhere gets something good out of it and can save themselves some time and trouble on the lifelong journey of weightlifting.Top 10 things I wish I'd learned about weightlifting years ago
Thanks for reading. Stay strong and have smart, intense fun in 2012!
10. The first pull is a deadlift. That's all it is, pure and simple. Breaking it down into the shin line, the bar path, the direction of the pull have screwed me up for years and slowed my progress. It is only when I shut off my brain and "just deadlift" that I do this correctly.
9. No reason to bleed. What a revelation it was to me to learn that it was a bad thing to drag the bar against my shins, both on the first pull in weightlifting and in deadlifting. My coach explained only recently that all that does is create friction, which can only slow the lift. While I'd been shooting for the bar path along my midline because I thought there the force would travel best, I could've achieved that countless reps ago without the slowing or the bruised and bloody shins. Honestly, for a while there, I was afraid if someone saw my shins, they'd call Child Services. I'm going to keep the funky tall socks, though.
8. Multiple reps make for better strength gains than singles. Left to our own devices, most of us strength geeks would probably go for heavy, lazy singles rather than sets of two to five. There's a reason for that - repetition with heavy stuff is hard work. But if you're dialing in your technique, multiple reps can open that neuromuscular path to set in patterns, plus the strength gained overlaps between power and endurance forms of strength. Do lifts wrong and multiple reps can be disastrous, but if done right, the gains are right there to be had. And there are always heavy singles on the horizon.
7. Activate the core first. There are a myriad of interpretations on what this means, and up until very recently, I'd have been the first one to give you a "duh" if you asked if I used my core in weightlifting. But I've been learning a highly specialized spin on this in physical therapy that is different from anything I've ever learned, and the gains are exciting. Hint: it starts with bodyparts you don't normally associate with lifting, or really anything you'd do in public.
6. It is not normal to pee your pants a lot during work outs (see #7). (Points for candor here, people?)
5. Squeeze the bar. This sets the arms and back. Don't stop squeezing until it's time to release the grip. This is one of those cues that has been around for a very long time, but makes the list because it took me a long time to get it.
4. Set your grip the Tommy Kono way, and squeezing the bar is halfway done.
3. Invest in real weightlifting equipment. I started out in my livingroom with a preacher bar and metal weights, trying to learn the Olympic lifts by staring at an animation on the computer screen. Five years later, when I was considering investing in a real weightlifting bar, Tom Hirtz told me, "This is your sport. Don't ruin the experience with a shit bar." This extends to bumper plates in kilos, nice collars, shoes, good bra, and a platform. While humble beginnings make for good anecdotes, this really is a pretty minimalistic sport, so don't whine or scrimp out of the essentials. It makes all the difference.
2. Get professional help. Lots of it. Like Lucia Rijker said in Shadowboxers, her success was not due to her own self; it took a team to get her there. I've spent years carefully assembling my team. Be leery of blindly following gurus; as Buddha said: Believe nothing, not matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense. Many are the "authorities" who audition for me without ever knowing it and do not make the cut. But at this point in my life, one of the most valuable things I've done for myself is culling my roster of true experts, in chiropractory, physical therapy, functional strength, sports massage, and of course, weightlifting. If you've made the list you know it, because dogs are not as loyal as I am when I commit.
1. Shrugging is wrong. I can be thickheaded, and the hardest part to cracking the code has been the second pull. That is in no small part due to every Tom, Dick, and Harry weightlifting authority mindlessly chanting the mantra "shrug." While that may work for a lot of people, and it probably does or it wouldn't be around this pervasively, it has robbed me of years of progress that I can never get back. Shrugging, from the common gesture to the formal bodybuilding-type exercise, means activating the very upper traps - and that's all. Do it now. Ask yourself, does the Mighty Kat make any sense? Then feel your shoulders go up and down. Pretty small movement, isn't it? Nothing below the shoulders has to get out of bed. In fact, you can do this while lying in bed. Now the second pull, on the other hand, is a massive effort which recruits all of the larger back and shoulder muscles, as well as interstitials and other fun stuff on the front and sides . . . basically, everything that's involved in lengthening your torso. It's not just your shoulders that rise, it's everything attached to your legs. Forget about your shoulders! This has been such an epiphany for me that lately, I feel like running down the street and screaming "F*** you" at everyone who has ever told me to shrug. Not a real Zen attitude, but give me time. I'm young.