This weekend I tested out to become a USAW National Referee. Why, you ask? Well, in case it didn’t occur to you, without officials, there is no sanctioned competition. I’ve enjoyed competing for many years and it’s important to recognize the efforts of the people who make it happen.
Over the years, I’ve gotten to know many officials and witnessed them working hard to make sure competitions are run right. A few years ago, I noticed the strain this put on a relatively small group of people. It sounds cool to be a National or International referee, but it does take a good deal of work to officiate at a competition – especially national competitions. What makes it harder is the small pool of qualified officials to draw from. This is what motivated me to step up and get my LWC Referee certification and now the National Referee certification. Eventually, I hope to get to IWF Category 1 Referee, the highest level – able to officiate at the Olympics.
There are additional benefits to becoming certified. For instance, having a better understanding of the rules of competition and the ins and outs of how a competition is run is a great benefit as a coach or a lifter. I’ve seen plenty of coaches’ and lifters’ mistakes hurt the athlete’s performance due to a misunderstanding of the rules and procedures followed in competition. Becoming a referee also enhances a coach’s eye – or a lifter’s eye. That is a huge benefit to aid in perfecting and maintaining proper technique.
Lastly, it’s important to give back. This is a great sport and, overall, a very supportive community. I encourage you – yes, you – to step up and join the ranks of technical officials – an integral piece that keeps the sport going.
As a master lifter (read.. older athlete), I can speak from experience when it comes to the benefits of weightlifting. This applies to any physical endeavor – “use it or lose it” – is an absolute truism. I recently had a good conversation on the subject with my good friend and awesome master lifter, Jim Storch. Whatever minor aches and pains we get from pushing ourselves to excel in this sport at our age, it pales in comparison to the aches and pains we feel when we don’t workout. More importantly, as we age we naturally lose bone density. Numerous studies have shown that strength training increases bone density at any age, even if you never trained before.
That said, as you get older, an important part of training – recovery, becomes even more important. Recovery includes rest, massage therapy (and derivatives), sauna, etc. If you have a given injury, you need to rehab it and work around it. “Pushing through” will only make matters worse. This applies to any athlete, not just master athletes; however, our bodies are less forgiving now than when we were younger.
You CAN continue to improve, especially those of you who started later in life. Those whose glory days are behind will need to put today’s numbers in perspective. That said, if you track your Sinclair-Malone-Meltzer numbers, you can see progress relative to age and bodyweight. Here’s the IWF link to their calculator.
As I get older, my passion for this sport continues to grow. I truly enjoy the challenge, the camaraderie, and the benefits to my health. I hope you do, too.
It goes without saying that warming up is important (I said it anyway). I like to start with simple shoulder rotations, forward and backward and then proceed to stick work and some freehand squats, knee kicks, and whatever I may need to loosen any particular tight areas.
Next comes the bar work. I recommend stringing together movements for a nice superset that gets the blood pumping and heart beating. Back in the day, We used this type of warm up at weightlifting camp in Gettysburg. Before every workout, someone would lead us by calling out exercises for a set of ten with the bar. It was a great warm up that I use to this day.
When teaching weightlifting, it is usually broken down into manageable pieces. This makes it easier for beginning lifters to digest the movement. While it’s important for the lifter to understand the mechanics of the lift, the body needs to feel the groove and get accustomed to the motor pattern. Typical starting points will include assessing a lifter’s position in the front squat and overhead squat. After all, you need to be able to hit a proper catch position for a successful lift. Moving past that, lifters are taught the movements from the top down. For instance, hang cleans or snatches are done at different heights (hip, knee) before working from the floor.
Weightlifting is an extremely challenging sport. One of the things that all lifters must do is maintain that sharp edge of proficiency in technique, coupled with the mental strength and confidence to attack a difficult weight. Advanced lifters sometimes find themselves banging their heads against the wall, thinking, “When did I forget how to lift?” I’m not talking about a bad day. I’m talking about a rut. A good coach will catch when lifters are slipping into a bad groove and work to correct it. One way to approach it is by going back to the basics and breaking down the lifts. If a snatch is bouncing away from its vertical path, you need to correct it by using an exercise rather than just telling yourself, “don’t do that.” For instance, high pulls should help to keep the bar close and focus on finishing that pull. One of the exercises in our tool belt is the 3 step snatch (or clean & jerk). I set up blocks at high, mid and floor levels. The high level is a height that simulates around the top of the pull – the lifter barely has an inch of explosive hip movement before having to pull himself/herself under the bar. The mid-level is roughly above the knees. This exercise is just another complex that works the transition from the floor to completion. We start from the highest point. This is a tough start, there is no time to think – only do (sound familiar?). Getting good from this height, builds confidence and a helluva finish. This could also be its own exercise (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8bK-6VcNc4).
A strong finish wins the day. Olympic lifts are more than just a show of strength. To become proficient, one must learn proper form, rhythm and timing. Whether an athlete is learning the lifts or trying to keep their “A” game, it’s important to reinforce good technique. To that end, there comes a time in training when it’s beneficial to work the transitional point between the upward leg drive and the active shrugging to pull yourself under the bar. It should flow as one movement. This is where you need to really hit the gas and maintain the effort to actively pull yourself under the bar.
There are many ways to work the transitional points and reinforce your overall groove. High block snatches/cleans are one approach. The blocks, unlike pulling from the hang, don’t allow for a downward dip of the bar to add acceleration at the top. This movement is sort of like Bruce Lee’s one inch punch – a short burst and a big finish.
You could just focus on the clean off the blocks. It depends on what’s going on with your training – listen to your coach. Your coach should break down the lift into manageable bits and then focus on your sticking points. Be patient! If you’re new to the sport, you will be taking your body through new motor patterns that need to be learned and reinforced. High block work is a great way to build confidence on getting under the bar. It’s a great addition to your toolbox.
Paused squats of any kind are great for building strength in your core, along with other stabilizing muscles. Use a stopwatch for consistency and to really force a good pause.
Chains or bands are often used to help build strength to blow past your sticking points. As you stand in the squat, more weight is added as the chains come up off the floor (more tension is added with bands). Combining pauses with chains kicks everything up a level. Give it a try.
Yesterday, Three of our athletes competed for the first time. All of them performed great, with many personal records tied and surpassed! All of them are new to the sport. This was a great time to enter a meet. There is always anxiety when performing in this setting. It’s important for an athlete to experience this early on, when there is less pressure on how the athlete will stack up against their competition. At this time, it’s all about feeling what it’s like. This is nothing like training in a gym. The competition setting is a great place to hone your skills in overcoming anxiety, using your nervous adrenaline to your advantage, and to learn to focus when your mind is all over the place – a time to build mental strength.
There are other athletes at different levels of skill doing great and having a bad day. There are many teaching points that can be reviewed after the meet. This is the time where the athlete can learn to appreciate having a coach working with them – counting attempts, talking them through this crazy time and, yes, slapping them silly when needed (you’re welcome, Pete). Even though the lifting is an individual effort, the team’s emotional support can have a great impact on the athlete. All these little things are experienced in competition.
After the competition, celebrate! You trained hard and you put it on the line. No matter how long you are in this sport, immediately after competition, the athlete’s mind is racing with all of the things he/she wants to improve to do better the next time. Don’t be too self-critical! We are always hardest on ourselves. Listen to your coach! This is a great time to evaluate your performance and plan to improve it. Do you feel angry about your performance? Use that energy positively, put in more effort, but in a smart way. Hone your technique. The great lifters, lifting what seemed to be ridiculous weight on that platform, didn’t start yesterday. They put the time in and worked at it. There are no shortcuts; you will have to put the time and effort in also. It is absolutely worth it!
Nick, Heather, and Pete – you all rocked it yesterday. You all fought through the challenge and I couldn’t be prouder as your coach. Your teammates and family were there to support you and felt the same way. Ready for the next one?