A Tale of Two Lifters and Their Coaches
I felt the need to discuss some common mistakes that I see occurring frequently at local weightlifting meets. In an effort to make them more germane to aspiring coaches I’ve chosen this format where I compare the efforts of two fictional lifters and their fictional coaches.
- Team A is made up of lifter Mike and coach Ike.
- Team B is made up of lifter Plenty and coach Good.
Mike's normal bodyweight is 81kg and he is tall for that bodyweight. Coach Ike thinks that Mike would be at a disadvantage in the 85 division, so he decides that Mike needs to lose 4kg and has him cutting back on food and drink the week before the meet. After dehydrating himself, and sweating profusely from doing calisthenics and running in place, Mike makes weight after four trips to the scale. The weigh-in hour is almost done and Ike and Mike go look for some food. The famished lifter is craving calories and is ready to gorge. Time is short and the timing of digestion before lifting is a critical part of the equation.
Lifter Plenty is sixteen and still growing. His normal bodyweight is 74kg and Coach Good sees no reason to starve a growing adolescent, especially for a local competition. Plenty has a normal week of feeding prior to the meet and his mind is free to focus on the competition and not making weight.
Coach Ike and Mike have found a fast food restaurant near the meet site and Mike has sated his appetite. That trauma being ended, he can begin to think about lifting, although blood is accumulating around his digestive organs. The trip to the restaurant and back sees them arriving shortly before the beginning of competition and Coach Ike barely has time to count the cards and piece together a warm-up strategy.
Coach Good has brought along an appropriate snack for Plenty and the time saved means that he can lie down and get into the proper head space for lifting. Since Plenty made weight on his first try, they have most of the weigh-in time and the full hour before competition to eat, digest, relax, and start to warm-up before the scheduled start time should the attempts of the other competitors dictate it. Coach Good has plenty of time to count the cards and to stake out a warm-up platform near the door to minimize the distance of the walk to the competition platform.
Coach Ike doesn't really understand counting the cards and just figures that since Mike's card is the seventh one that Mike will be the seventh lifter up. The truth of the matter is that Mike could be the seventh lifter up or he could be the lifter taking the nineteenth lift of the session. It all depends on which weights are selected and which weights are made and missed by the competition. Ike warms up Mike with a number of sets of three or four reps each and then progresses upwards with singles getting him ready to be the seventh lifter.
As it turns out Mike is not called until the fifteenth lift of the session. He has been sitting for seven minutes without a warm-up lift and his heart rate is down. His internal biochemical environment is not appropriate for lifting heavy weights and he has lost the psychological momentum that comes from properly lifting gradually increasing warm-up weights.
Coach Good knows that there will be approximately fourteen lifts until Plenty's opener. But he also the number could increase if several competitors are successful and decide to take larger than expected increases or if a lifter or two starting soon before Plenty miss openers and need to repeat. All of his is factored into the warm-up strategy. He has Plenty doing a short warm-up prior to the start time with just an empty bar and is ready to have his lifter taking a single warm-up for every three attempts taken on the competition platform. The strategy works perfectly as a couple of lifters record misses and must repeat. This has Plenty taking the sixteenth attempt and he is perfectly warmed-up as his name is called. He only has a short walk from his warm-up platform near the door to the field of play.
Coach Ike watches in disbelief as Mike misses his opener due to having sat too long with too much blood around his digestive organs. Mike had also been relieved to have succeeded at the weigh-in and had yet to give his full attention to lifting. Now he has to repeat with the same weight. Being somewhat on the slim side, the snatch should be the stronger of his two lifts and now he has squandered a valuable attempt. Rattled by the first miss he attempts to compensate for that lift, which was lost behind.
The second is predictably missed in front. Coach Ike is anguished and his discomfort shows. With his back to the wall and the pressure on, Mike is finally aroused enough to go out and make an easy third attempt with his opening weight. This shows that the weight was the correct call and his preparation for the meet was correct, but faulty tactics at the weigh-in have limited his results.
Coach Good has called the proper opening weight and Plenty is ready for it after a series of well planned and well timed warm-up attempts. He smokes the opener and is ready for whatever weight Coach Good calls for the second. Coach Good has come in with a progression strategy that can be varied depending on the circumstances. Since the opener was so easy, Coach Good calls a second that is a personal record by one kilo. Plenty lifts it easily and is overjoyed.
Good knows that he must get as much as he can in the snatch since that is Plenty's weaker lift, and so he calls for a three-kilo increase. There are no other competitors at this weight and Plenty must follow himself. After making the weight change with the announcer, Good returns to the warm-up platform to find Plenty surrounded by well wishers congratulating him on his PR. The coach barely has time to shoo them away and have a word with his smiling athlete who is now so elated that he can't get his mind back on his third attempt. He misses a relatively easy lift because he has become distracted and so all the training that went into this meet is partially squandered.
Coach Ike dutifully counts the attempts on the cards and goes about warming up Mike, not realizing that the poor warm-up strategy for the snatch was partially to blame for the poor result. He tries to give Mike a pep talk to get him fired up for the clean and jerk. This strategy presumes that the athlete is lacking in desire or aggression, which may or may not be true. Coach Ike finds that Mike will be the fifth lifter because his card is the fifth card. The warm-up starts early and because there are usually fewer misses in the clean and jerk, Mike is the seventh lifter up. This time the timing of his warm-up is not the problem. His legs are weak from having to make weight and the first lift is a success, although the clean is a grinder.
Buoyed by this opening success, Coach Ike decides to call a second attempt that is five kilos higher. After all a poor performance in the snatch needs to be made up in the clean and jerk. Mike cleans the weight, grinds up ever so slowly out of the bottom and then lacks the leg strength to jerk the weight overhead. A repeat of the same weight for the third finds him pinned in the bottom. Coach Ike figures that he needs to program more and heavier squatting. He is partially right.
Because Plenty is lifting at the right bodyweight for his height, he is cleaning and jerking weights that are in the proper proportion to his snatch. Because of this he is set to take the 21st attempt of the session as his opener. Coach Good knows that he only needs to take five warm-ups and so Plenty takes his first warm-up after six competitive attempts have taken place. The warm-ups are timed perfectly and Plenty smokes his opener. Coach Good keeps Plenty's head in the game this time and signals for a five-kilo increase. This will tie Plenty's personal record. Plenty makes it comfortably, much easier than in the previous competition.
Coach Good knows that his athlete is well peaked today and calls for a three-kilo personal record on the third. A teammate is keeping the well-wishers out of the warm-up room and Plenty is focused on his performance. The third is a grand success. It is a challenging but makeable weight. It also gives Plenty a record total - three records in one meet! But both Coach and athlete can look back on the missed third snatch and realize that there could have been more. This will drive Plenty as he returns to training after the meet.
To coaches: Decide who you want to be!
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.