Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Reporting progress (a shot putter that doesn’t shot put yet)

Wow, looking back at my latest posts it seems I’ve been quite carried away with my theory of the organization, and society’s woes, and how much time some hapless souls spend at work (notice I didn’t say how much they actually work) to muse about how ol’ training is going. Time to correct that and devote some time to share with powerlifting and weightlifting addicts (yep, I happen to also know a few of those too) how things are going and what I’ve learned in these past months that could apply to anybody’s program.

I’ll start talking about power cleans. In an old post I stated that they are inferior to the full Olympic moves to build speed, as they do not involve as much the part of the neural system in charge of relaxing agonistic muscles (which I had just discovered is as important a part of moving fast as contracting the prime movers): Olympic lifts vs their power versions , so when I published the training split I was about to follow for this shot put oriented block some people commented that I had not included any full squat version of the lift, or the complete split jerk, for that matter, apparently discarding the wisdom I found back then, so some explanation is definitely in order. The reason is my knees have been giving me a hard time lately (specially, to nobody’s surprise, the one I had surgically reconstructed so many years ago… not having a meniscus is quite a handicap if you want to flex it as bent as it will go day in and day out for a longish period of time), and I am still toying with the idea of spending some time after summer (if my dissertation is completely finished by then, as I expect and things go reasonably according to plan) learning to actually snatch, clean and jerk under some experienced coach instruction, so I want to arrive there with joints as healthy as possible and with as little wear and tear as is consistent with still lifting heavy and frequently.

So the power versions both of the snatch and the clean are the ones I’ll be using, and I will also be substituting the push press for the split jerk. That also will allow me to get as close as possible (if not to actively surpass) some old records that I had left a bit unattended, as I think I’ve gained enough strength in the last couple of years to give them a run for their money. Starting with the power clean, of course, which has ended being seriously out of whack with the rest of my lifts. As of today, my best PC is around 107 kilograms (236 pounds), and I say “about” because I did it with a shitty commercial gym bar that probably weighted 17 kg, instead of the mandatory 20, so those 107 were most likely 104… Be it as it may, given the weights I’ve been moving lately I think I have a pretty realistic shot at (true) 110 anywhere between now and 2-3 weeks, as I’ve been doing doubles with 95 kg (210 pounds) without much effort, and probably this week I’ll be taking doubles w 100 kg for a ride. That compares very unfavorably with my current Bench Press (125 kg -276 pounds), when typically both lifts should be around the same figure in a well rounded lifter. It looks even worse compared with my Deadlift (220 kg, or 485 pounds), as I have noted elsewhere (less than 50% of it, when it should be anywhere between 65% and 80%, depending on the proportion of Type II fibers of the lifter). So really time to clean up my act and push that godforsaken move up at least a little notch.

However, I still have to clean up my form a bit, as it is still somewhat off kilt. I analyzed it to some detail here: The power clean and me and I can say that I have improved in some aspects of what I noticed then that was not yet OK (straightening the legs too early so the quads could not contribute at all to the 2nd pull), but I’ve probably regressed a bit on other aspects by not paying that much attention to them (I’m again bending the arms too early, just before the hip starts opening to propel the bar upwards, and I start from a position in which the torso leans too far forward). Not so noticeable in the warm up with the empty bar:

But it becomes more evident when the bar gets heavier (80 kg, we are not yet talking olympic records, or even PRs here), although I feel heartened by the fact that in this longish set (4 reps), as the fatigue sets in the form clears up a bit (probably as I get to become more efficient, and have to rely more on hip drive and less in the comparatively weaker arms):

And finally things get a bit uglier when I get to the working weight (95 kg, for doubles), although in my defense I have to say that is just 10 kg shy of my 1RM (again, probably I've grown stronger since the last time I tested this move, so my current 1RM is probably a tad higher)

There are still a number of additional things I have to pay attention to (the left foot goes a bit too far to the left, in an incipient "starfish" which is a very detrimental habit), but the main thing I'll be working at in the following weeks is keeping the torso more upright, for a more fluid transition between the 1st and 2nd pulls (chest more puffed up, shoulder blades more retracted -back and down), so the bar accelerates more consistently (without that uncomely "jump" as it passes the knees to be followed by some stopping as after the premature bending the arms create some slack when straightening again).

Good stuff, however, what about the shot put? well, I haven't seen much of it yet, as it is hay fever session, and yours truly is awfully allergic these days, so the sole idea of going down to the park and spending half an hour surrounded by grass, and bushes and trees makes me quiver, as my nose is runny enough, and my eyes itchy and sore as they stand without further need to torture them any more... so that part of the training will have to wait a couple of weeks yet, but I have good & warm feelings about how things will turn out when I start putting again, given how strong & fast I'm noticing I've become now.


  1. Hey VR,

    This is a great post. It reminds me to re-read Rippetoe's chapter on how to power clean.

    I was surprised to find articles about weightlifting after following a LinkedIn recommendation to your article about "What should be done" (also very interesting).

    I've been reading all your weightlifting posts over the last couple of weeks. I particularly enjoyed "Getting fatter", awesome and hilarious pictures. I am a complete novice, just about squatting 1x BW and look exactly like your second picture! But it is oddly addictive

    I loved the post on why do such a solitary sport: my wife thinks it's pointless. And at 42 and genetically most unfavoured, I won't be going anywhere near a gym, let alone podium or Facebook! But since I started in October I'm hooked. Though I love it and hate it - hearing the timer bleep that my rest between sets is up makes me curse like b*ggery.

    Any musings about your earlier journey would be interesting - as you are light-years from where I ever hope to get to. But it's motivating all the same.


    1. Many thanks for your encouraging words, Rob. Rippetoe also taught me much of what I needed to get back to the iron, and I owe him a functioning knee (last year I had a motorcycle accident, I sprained my "good" knee badly -the "bad" one had to be surgically reconstructed many years ago after a rugby injury- and I credit his system for making the ligaments of the joint strong enough not to break). All you need to power clean proficiently is there.
      I may do a post about how I started lifting, then left it (I may have made some passing mention to Zorba's "the full catastrophe" quote in some post already), then came back again. 39 years of age and weak as a shoolgirl (and not a strong one at that) I remember distinctly thinking "man, if I could ever deadlift what I once clean & jerked (225 pounds) that would be the shit, and a life well lived"... three years after that I was deadlifting 400 pounds, and this year I expect to make 500.

      But it's really not about the figure (the destination), but the travel. I think you get it, and I can very much relate to the agonizing feeling of going back under the bar after a rest period that felt waaaay too short. Not for the missus. Not for anybody else's admiration. Just because the bar sits there, challenging, and you absolutely need to show it who's the master, and who's decided to walk out the door a better person that he walked in.

  2. I absolutely agree. What I find motivating and enjoyable about it is not aesthetics, but how it makes you feel. I started out just as a challenge to learn something new (who'd have said lifting a bar is so complicated!) and now I feel so much better and stronger doing other activities, like sitting at the computer (all day), lifting the kids/suitcases/etc. But also better at other sports, like running and yoga.

    A post or two on the beginning would be great - particularly lessons learnt and what not to do.