Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Practice Your Weightlifting Like a Chess Master

The great Cheryl Haworth 3 time Olympian and 2000 Sydney Bronze Medalist. A master class in bar path dynamics.

Chess masters don't become chess masters playing chess all the time. Simply playing chess games will not improve your own chess game past a certain point. Chess Masters got to be chess masters by studying and analyzing the games of Grand Master players, learning their logic and tactics while acquiring a repertoire of moves and counter moves to apply in their own games. Learning to immediatley recognize patterns on the board, the classic attacks and counters, anticipate future moves and how to respond appropriately takes years of practice. By the time one achieves Grand Master status, a large part of the execution of game is informed by having "seen it all." Novelty and innovation arises as a choice, not an accident.

Similarly, one does not get proficient at the snatch and the clean and jerk by only practicing the full lifts all the time. Breaking down the full movements into their constituent parts and progressions gives the athlete an opportunity for motor pattern "deep practice." Weightlifting coaches have devised hundreds of variations designed to contribute to the development of the two competition lifts. Like any other exercise, progress in the weightlifting movements depends on a variety of stimuli, otherwise the body simple stops adapting and in many cases will regress. Monotony in practice is the enemy of progress while a little sensorimotor chaos reasonably prescribed is an ally. 

Assistance exercises and supplemental exercises are tools the coach and athlete have available to address weaknesses that negatively impact the competition movements and that the competition movements themselves are inadequate to address. For example, if your first pull is consistently off balance and loose, practicing "lift offs" and "halting pulls" will be more productive than hammering away at the full lift. 

As a coach, it is important to have and convey to your athlete an accurate mental template of the fundamentals of good lifting. Athletes should study video and try what they see, that's part of learning movements. But they should also be able to discern quality movement and be able to detect technical errors. 

By the time an athlete is competing regularly, the full movements should be automatic sets of "well rehearsed movement" and (ideally) impervious to venue, nerves and the increasing weight on the bar. That depth of virtuosity and consistency comes from years of deep practice and high level motor skill acquisition which requires regularly taking the lifts apart and putting them back together again.

And squats. Lots and lots of squats.