Monday, April 2, 2018

May Weightlifting Camp

May 18, 19 and 20 we will be having an Adult Weightlifting Camp. There will be a Friday evening workout, three workouts on Saturday and two workouts Sunday. There will also be presentations on Core Strength and Nutrition. Our two principal coaches will be Zygmunt Smalcerz and Carissa Gump.

Because we live in the internet social media age and everything therein revolves around shiny and new information I am writing this blog to provide you with a little biographical information about these two veteran coach/athletes from bygone Olympics. It's only been a hot minute since the biggest things on the fitness/weighttlifting web were Grid, Klokov, MDS and the catapult technique. And now? Exactly.

Carissa Gordan Gump

Carissa snatching at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games
I've known Carissa since at least 2009 and I think we bumped into each other occasionally at Moorestown NJ East Coast Gold meets prior to that. We co-led a workshop back in 2009 (if I recall correctly) with David Miller here in Boulder at the old Flatirons CrossFit. Her dedication to Olympic Sports is unmatched and she has dedicated her post competition professional life to furthering the Olympic movement.

For more details on her life and career arc, here is a nice interview by Matt Foreman from some years back. I am presenting the following stats from that interview for your consideration, inspiration and for some of you boys who think you are all that, some deserved humiliation (humble is good!)

63Kg Class
Competition Personal Bests:
Snatch: 92kg
Clean & Jerk: 120kg

Training Personal Bests:
Snatch: 95kg
Clean & Jerk: 128kg
Front Squat: 2x150kg
Back Squat: 1x179.5kg
Push Press: 115kg
Power Jerk: 115kg
Jerk: 130kg
Power Clean: 115kg
Power Snatch: 83kg


Zygmunt on his way to the Gold Medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics
Zygmunt Smalcerz

Zygmunt was born in 1941. Which makes him 77 this year. But physically he is really closer to 17 when you watch him move around a weightroom, making corrections, leading a group warmup, demonstrating technique. Energy personified. A force of nature. Seriously.

Competing for Poland in the old 52kg class, Zygmunt was the Olympic Gold Medalist in 1972 at Munich. He is also a 4 time Gold and 1 time Bronze medalist at the World Championships and a 4 time European Champion. He also held the world record snatch for a time at 103kg.

He is the former Polish National coach and in 2010 became USA Weightlifting's National Resident Athlete coach. Zygmunt is an amazing resource, a seemingly bottomless wellspring of knowledge when it comes to not only weightlifting, but all around athletic movement.


Zygmunt teaching my athlete Phil Locker the finer points of a dynamic start at the OTC.
So these are your main instructors, I'll be around too to help out with coaching duties and more importantly learning what I can from these two master coaches. Now a hard truth here: I frequently get requests for events like this and when we finally get something together no one ever signs up. Why? It is up to you to participate if we are going to have nice things like this in Boulder! So sign up now! This is for your development after all!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Voodoo Performance

In 1942 Harvard Anthropologist Walter B.Cannon published an article in American Anthropologist entitled Voodoo Death. Dr. Cannon writes, "When subjected to spells or sorcery or the use of "black magic," men may be brought to death." He cites numerous reports from aboriginal cultures around the globe where the unquestioned authority figure, whether chief or medicine man, apparently could cause someone to die simply by casting a spell or pointing a bone at them. The victims, so completely believing in the power of the authority figure and the truth that they were doomed to die, would crawl away to their huts, terrified and hopeless, refusing food, water and creature comforts. Then, in a matter of days or hours sometimes, they obligingly would pass away.

Such is the power of suggestion and the power of belief when the conditions are right. 

A more recent article Lying to Win - Placebos and Sports Science is about the "Voodoo" of placebos and "belief effects". The effects of many supplements, training protocols and recovery interventions (ice baths, caffeine, carbohydrate and altitude training as examples) owe as much or more to the placebo effect as they do to biological phenomena. "Placebos invite the athlete or patient to believe that the treatment is effective and to expect a clinical outcome." 

Take ice baths for example. Ice baths, interestingly, show absolutely no benefit whatsoever to the biomarkers that should improve if they did work. Nonetheless, many athletes and trainers still believe in their effectiveness. In one experiment test subjects who took an ice bath routinely had quicker strength improvements than those subjects who took a lukewarm bath. But then a third group of subjects who took a lukewarm bath with added "recovery oil" (actually just liquid beauty soap) showed strength improvements equal to the ice bath subjects. So what's going on here? Many sports scientists agree that simply believing that a treatment work can produce performance improvements even if there is no real treatment effect. 

"Experienced coaches and sports scientists intuitively know how important belief effects can be...if the athletes are the least bit hesitant or noncommittal...most experienced practitioners will retreat, knowing the timing is not right. In the past placebo effects were thought of as a fake effect, but today the powerful performance related outcomes associated with improved belief in a training program or novel intervention are seen as real effects that need to be harnessed."

So don't worry, we aren't going to start pointing bones at you in the gym to scare you into performing better. (Although I have been smoking a lot of short ribs lately...) We just want you to buy into the program. When we encourage you to push a little harder and tell you that you can do it, we might be "lying to win," but believe us anyway. If you keep getting better, does it really matter?











Wednesday, March 28, 2018

How Do We Know That Strength Training Works for Sports Performance?



Mike says he always enjoys my old man "when i was a boy" stories, so I am going to reminisce a little about the state of the art for strength training for high schoolers when I was a boy in the early 70s.

It was farm work. We didn't have a weight room. With very few exceptions, the best athletes at my small (400 students) high school were farm kids. They grew up doing chores in the morning, going to school in the day, sports practice after school and then chores when they got home. If you have never done farm work, it is hard, physical labor. These kids were strong. And they were, to paraphrase Alabama legend Bear Bryant, generally more agile, mobile and hostile than us town kids. Farm life just hardens you up.

So how does baling hay, carrying bags of feed, scooping out pig lots, wrangling cows and pigs and maintaining farm implements improve your football, basketball and track? (We didn't have HS baseball then, as Mike knows, because the equipment shed had burned down some years before and no one on the school board thought baseball was worth replacing.) Well, I could ask the same question of weight room exercises. How in the world does squatting or cleaning or kettlebell swinging have anything to do improving sports performance? What metric can a strength coach use to determine if improvements in the weight room carryover to improvements in the sport?

Here's the thing, being generally stronger just works, whether it is attained in the weight room or on the family farm. Here's a personal example from when I was a high school kid. The last few weeks of summer vacation before my junior year I spent in a semi trailer truck going from farm to farm helping the driver load leftover seed corn for DeKalb Hybrids. I had never been more miserable. The work was hot, heavy, sweaty, dusty, manual labor. The driver was not an obvious physical specimen, a 45 year old with a paunch, the father of a classmate. But he could huck those bags of corn all day long with seemingly no effort. I on the other hand could barely stay awake on the drive home at the of the day I was so tired. 

When two a day football practices started, I hadn't really noticed much physical difference in myself. However I did notice that the kids who were knocking me aroung in scrimmages the two years before weren't all that enthusiastic to line up across from me anymore. Somehow, loading tons of 50lb bags of corn had improved my football performance. I overheard one of my teammate complaining to coach that I was hitting too hard. That made my season actually.

So get strong overall and let the sports practice sort it out. "It’s not about the movements you choose to perform in the weight room. It’s about how your athletes perceive those movements when it comes time to perform...it’s not about the squat, or the clean, or the bench press—it’s about how those weight room tools will improve how your athletes move in competition, and what that increased physicality can do for their athletic career."1


Any athlete can benefit from getting stronger. Strength, then, is the "raw material" for athletic success. 






1 https://blog.voltathletics.com/home/2018/2/14/its-not-about-the-squat-lessons-from-an-nba-strength-coach

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Congratulations Addie, Maggie, Lauren and Marlena!

Clockwise from top right: Addie Bracy, Maggie Callahan, Lauren McKenna and Marlena Preigh
We want to acknowledge four of our sports performance members, all runners, who achieved personal bests this weekend.

First our pros: Addie Bracy (World Team Member, National Champion and National Trail Runner of the Year the last two years in a row for all three honors!!) took on her first 50 mile trail ultra this weekend at the Behind the Rocks Ultra in Moab taking second place female and third place overall. Maggie Callahan was in Chicago at the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8k leading in the Hudson Elite squat with a 7th place finish, along the way running a 20 second personal best 5k split.  

Our two High Schoolers: senior Lauren McKenna knocked 3 seconds off her previous best 1600 meters at the Broomfield Shootout. Junior Marlena Preigh traveled to Arizona and took 9 seconds off her previous best 1600, handily winning the Nike Chandler Rotary Invitational Elite division.

We know first hand how hard you all work and the juggling you have to do to fit it all in to your busy schedules.Thanks for choosing Barbell Strategy to support your efforts, it's really exciting to see that hard work pay off!




Saturday, January 27, 2018

Anti-Glycolytic Training for Endurance Athletes


"Glycolysis is stupid like cancer. It kills not only the host but also itself." - Pavel Tsatsouline

(Mike has already written three really good blogs on anti-glycolytic training. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.)

Too much HIIT too often: Someone's exploded mitochondria leaked into the stall mat.
AGT protocols don't do this.

Running and cycling coaches already have a substantial bag of tricks for increasing an athlete's ability to go faster and farther with less effort. Interval, tempo, threshold, hill repeat and long workouts are staples of endurance athlete preparation. On the surface, these workouts are simply different methods of applying stress to the body, each type of stress designed to evoke a different adaptation and, if all goes well, the athlete's performance improves. 

As Mike points out in Part 2 of his series, the science of why these workouts produce results is certainly there. In some cases it is well understood, in other cases not so much. The big limitation of trying to be too "sciency" here is because while the individual reactions are well understood, the complexity of the interactions, all the possible pathways, the dynamics of the system make hard and fast statements virtually impossible and outcomes difficult to predict. This complexity is the reason, as Mike explains we still crash test cars instead of doing computer simulation crashes: we as yet don't have enough computing power, it's cheaper to actually crash the cars and the test results are more easily measured. Meta data is the way to go.

It's similar when it comes to programming athletes. We know what the science says should happen at the biochemical level (the staff sports docs/exercise physiologists on professional/elite teams can analyze blood, saliva etc to confirm) but for the most part for most of us most of the time, observing how the athlete responds and performs to our programs is more easily measured. (It's funny. I have always joked that my athletes are Crash Test Dummies whenever they start a new program I've written for them.) 

Molly Throdahl is a pro mountain bike racer.
She is all in on AG training and seeing great results.
My goal as a lifting coach is the same as the sports coach's goal: help my athletes to go faster, farther with less effort: to increase their 100% capacities so they can use less to accomplish more. And I am always on the lookout for information I can use to further that goal. So it was with great interest that I attended a two day course in Portland, OR last fall called "Strong Endurance" designed and led by Pavel Tsatsouline of Strong First. The course was a presentation of Pavel's several years long research into the Soviet exercise science literature on how to improve athletic endurance via what came to be called Anti-Glycolytic training. The biochemistry section was daunting, graduate level as one particpant noted, but necessary to draw the distinctions between what AGT is compared to other modalities that might seem similar, but aren't. (It's not HIIT, it's not Tabata, it's not a Metabolic Conditioning WOD)

In a nutshell, rather than frequently push athletes to near exhaustion to improve endurance (long term HIIT training for example) AGT  uses movement time and intensity to initiate biochemical phenomenona which improve alactic power, produce less acid, improve lactate shuttling by way of increasing the number, size and quality of mitochondria. The protocols differ. Some are designed to promote mitochondrial respiration, others mitochondrial biogenesis, and some do both.Type I and Type II fibers have their own particular protocols. With the exception of "glycolytic peaking," all the protocols are designed to produce less lactic acid while improving the body's ability to buffer and use it. A variety of sports are cited in the literature with impressive results compared to control groups training conventionally. 

Because I want to respect the proprietary nature of Pavel's work here, I won't go into specifics about how I implement the AGT protocols outlined in the course for my athletes. I will say that because my athletes get so much lower body work from their sports specific training that I set up their AGT protocols with building more upper body / upper limb mitochondria in mind, thus increasing the overall size of their "lactate battery." To that end we use kettlebells and barbell exercises combined with bodyweight movements. We usually incorporate the AGT work as "finisher" circuits after our strength training. Most of the protocols are deceptively "gentle" for having originated in the old Evil Empire. The coach does not have to adopt the attitude of  Ivan Drago in Rocky 4, "If he dies, he dies." This is smarter/not harder (well, there are some hard efforts) training at its best.

Fairview High School X Country and Track Superstars Marlena and Lauren getting after their AG circuit.
Maggie Callahan of Hudson Elite with 20 minute session of a Type II biogenesis protocol

I have all my endurance athletes from high school to pro doing this work now and I am excited say the early feedback has been very positive. As we get into racing season, I am looking forward to hearing about exceptional PRs!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Strength Training for Kids

One of the strength and conditioning experts I try to keep up with is Richard Blagrove, a highly respected UK strength and conditioning coach and author who works with endurance runners. His Nov 23, 2017 piece published in the UK magazine Athletics Weekly entitled Why 12-Year Olds Should Lift Weights is the inspiration for this post.

Two things that American sports coaches and parents are guilty of are:
1) too early sports specialization
2) superstitious fear of strength training for kids

I have very well meaning parents, some of whom are in medical fields, who express deep concerns over their adolescent athletes strength training. This despite the fact that every sport that kids participate in has inherent risks and all of them (think soccer or track is safe? why?) are orders of magnitude more likely to injure their child than strength training. Hamill et al Study.

The hazards of specializing too soon are addressed in the must read book, Any Given Monday: Sports Injuries and How to Prevent Them for Athletes, Parents, and Coaches - Based on My Life in Sports Medicine, by James Andrews and the benefits of multisport athletic participation are spelled out in Istvan Balyi's book, Long Term Athlete Development.

Blagrove asserts that starting a kid on a strength training program at 16 is about 10 years too late, and I agree. Strength training for children is skill based (not resistance based) and begins with learning fundamental movement patterns intermixed with games and play. As the child matures emotionally and physically more complexity, structure and challenging exercises are introduced. By the time the child hits puberty, they have a movement vocabulary appropriate to more sophisticated sports performance oriented resistance training.

Here is a chart from the article summarizing key recommendations for kids participating in strength training programs.

Finally, if you have a kid in high school and there is good chance he or she is going to want to play their sport at the collegiate level, they will be at an extreme disadvantage if they don't know their way around a weight room. On the other hand, they will be instant leaders on the the team if they do know what they are doing. I get feedback all the time from kids who have gone on to college programs whose strength coaches are ecstatic (as much as strength coach allows him or herself to BE ecstatic) that an incoming freshman knows how to squat, power clean and deadlift properly. One of my former female athletes now in a Div I program is routinely called on to demonstrate proper barbell technique for the boys on her team. It's this kind of feedback that keeps me doing what I do!

Monday, January 22, 2018

New High Performance Strength Training Project

For the last (nearly) 2 years I have been working on a project with Jason Fitzgerald of www.strengthrunning.com  Jason is a certified USATF coach and was voted the 2017 Men's Running Influencer of the Year. He has been helping runners run faster, farther with fewer injuries since 2010. Jason could have picked just about any coach he wanted to collaborate with, so I am extremely honored and excited that he approached me to work on this online strength course with him.

Equally exciting was being able to include two of my favorite people on the project. Addie Bracy and Maggie Callahan, both elite runners with Hudson Elite for whom I've been writing strength programs the last 3 or 4 years. They demonstrated the exercises for the online video portions of the course.
Addie Bracy


Maggie Callahan

If you are interested in a proven, no nonsense, time efficient strength program, check out High Performance Lifting on Jason's website If you do sign up but don't feel confident in your abilities, drop me a line and I'll help you out. If you are local to Boulder, Barbell Strategy will offer a special rate for subscribers to the High Performance Lifting program for you to get up to speed, so to speak.