Case Study (Annie): stage I – Needs analysis and GPP

Introduction

This case study represents an attempt to positively describe the development of an athlete in the sport of Olympic weightlifting from the very beginning of her training. It will follow the development of “A”, who begins this case study as an absolute beginner with no formal experience in strength sport, through the various stages of training towards success in the sport of Olympic Weightlifting.

It is our intention that this case study should continually develop so as to give rise to a proper account of the training of a weightlifter in a way that is seldom seen in the English-speaking world. It will be organized according to the athlete’s development along the advancement tract as outlined in the Russian sport mastery classification chart (Fig. 1) for the sake of convenience. This choice of format will also serve to benefit us when it comes to reviewing the efficacy of a given program regarding the athlete’s training age. In this way, this case study will also serve to facilitate the evaluation of all aspects of the program, with the intention of identifying those aspects which are most effective and those which require review in future programs.

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Figure 1 – from Takano, 2012, P.34

Athlete profile

An initial survey of the athlete’s physical fitness, composition and experience is necessary. Upon beginning to train the athlete in the February of 2016 she demonstrated the following basic physical characteristics:

Age: 18

Bodyweight: 55kg

Height: 167

Body composition: low body fat, low lean tissue

Athletic background: amateur gymnastics, badminton, cricket

Whilst these characteristics are far from elite, they serve as an excellent basis for the training of the Weightlifter. The General Physical Preparation (GPP) of the athlete is likely to be very good given the consistent athletic history of the athlete. Furthermore, the existing body composition was positive and, from a “triage coaching” point of view, suggested that we would be able to immediately begin training for performance without too much concern for the selection and achievement of a given body composition change.

Initial movement screening suggested a number of persistent movement issues, primarily the result of muscular imbalance:

  • Extreme tendency for knee valgus
  • Severe anterior pelvic tilt
  • Kyphosis of the upper (cervical-thoracic) spine
  • Substantial hyperextension of the elbows and shoulders

Stage 1: need analysis and gpp

As a result of the aforementioned physical and movement analysis, it was clear that the individual’s primary coaching needs were proper physical balancing. To suggest a program of Olympic weightlifting to this individual would have been reckless due to the insufficient postural and movement capabilities of the athlete’s body.

Given the athlete’s ability to move properly in various other, unloaded sports such as badminton and cricket, it seemed that the most appropriate method for their development towards training in Olympic Weightlifting was continued GPP. The movement problems highlighted above were not present in these unweighted activities, suggesting that what we refer to as “stage 2 GPP” (ability to move in a precise and controlled fashion) was present. As such, development along our existing GPP tract meant that “Stage 3 GPP: the ability to move, under load, with precision and control” was our prescription.

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Figure 2A performing a 30kg squat during Stage 3 GPP

                The manifestation of this program of GPP involved a great deal of regular strength training work. Focus during this time was on the development of proper posture and development of strength and co-ordination through a number of classical strength movements, primarily:

  1. Back Squat
  2. Overhead Press
  3. Bent-over Row (and variations)
  4. Deadlift

These exercises formed the core strength training involved, with additional focus applied to the proper development of the core muscles, glutes and scapular retractors. This phase lasted for around 3 months, during which time the athlete demonstrated huge increases in hypertrophy, basic strength, flexibility, stability and co-ordination. Results in the aforementioned strength movements are recorded below (Starting weight refers to the weights achieved in February 2016, Resulting weights refer to those achieved in June 2016):

Exercise Starting weight Resulting weight
Back Squat 20kg 60kg
Overhead Press 10kg 25kg
Bent-over row 15kg 35kg
Deadlift 30kg 70kg

Development in these strength lifts, whilst productive, are secondary to the proper structural alignment that was achieved during this GPP Program (3 months).

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Figure 3A performing a set of 5 back squats at 50kg towards the end of Stage 3 GPP

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Athlete profile: Annie

Age: 19

Bodyweight: 58kg (u58 class…for now!)

Height: 167cm (approx.)

Sport: Olympic Weightlifting

Training age (to date): 9 months (6 months weightlifting, 3 months GPP)

Annie is a Junior weightlifter and, I believe, best represents the product and service that we offer here at Conquest. After a childhood of primarily-aerobic sports, such as Badminton and Cricket, she has taken to Weightlifting with a great deal of enthusiasm and ability. Despite requiring a fair amount of strengthening, mobility and GPP work, her technical progress over the past 6 months is exemplary – she demonstrates what an athlete with absolutely no experience in weight training can achieve by working with us.

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One of my favourite parts of working with this athlete has been the coachability and athletic maturity that she brings to the table. An important factor of training that many individuals forget is the constant urgency of improving one’s technique – even if only by one small cue every session or every week – and in this area Annie has been both compliant and enthusiastic. As coaches, it is inevitable to come across better and worse athletes in any sport, but to come across individuals who are coachable is perhaps rarer, and these individuals are a testament to the validity of your programming and your coaching because they consistently put the work in and thus are only limited by a coach’s creativity and skill.

We asked Annie to share some of her views and experiences with us:

1) What is your favourite thing about Weightlifting?

I love improving! It doesn’t always have to be a Personal Best (although that’d be nice!), things as simple as a small tweak in my lifting technique can make so much difference to a lift and every session I learn something new. There’s no better feeling than focussing on the way that you lift and then, after perhaps as little as one session, it clicks and you start making lifts.

 

2) What is your favourite thing about working with conquest athletic performance?

I love how individualised my programming is. What I do every session is specifically tailored to me and my weaknesses: my technique has improved so much in a short space of time due to my most recent program and I think its also really improved my confidence in the sport. I actually feel like a weightlifter now, rather than just a person who does weightlifting!

 

3) What would you say was your best moment in the sport so far?

In my recent competition, making my 3rd snatch was an ecstatic moment! I had been scared of missing all my lifts but making the 2nd and 3rd snatches made me feel much more confident and showed that I could do what I’d been working towards. I felt elated at what I had achieved and think that it has driven me to keep improving and lifting in the future.

 

Keep your eyes peeled – Annie will be moving up into the women’s 63kg category over the next 12-18 months and we hope to see her representing us at the British Nationals in the next 2 years! We will be running a multiple-part case study on her progress on the blog so be sure to subscribe to keep up with Annie and the other team athletes!

 

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Feature post: CAP powerlifter takes bronze in her first competition!

To kick off our regular blog posting (AT LEAST once weekly, every Sunday, but more as available!) we want to highlight the fantastic achievements of our CAP junior Powerlifter, Sophie! In her first competition ever, Sophie managed to bring home a bronze medal with a PB in the squat and equal PB in the deadlift!

During her competition, Sophie made all 3 of her Squats, her 2nd attempt Bench press (the first only being called for a short pause which she later fixed) and her 2nd attempt Deadlift with a painfully close 3rd attempt called for a minor hitch. Here at Conquest we’re very proud of Sophie for these lifts but equally proud of her for the way in which she composed and conducted herself during the competition – as it was her first competition, we’ve been urging her to have fun and just take it as a challenge to be overcome. The powerlifting community is a fantastically diverse and supportive community, meaning that any initial nerves needed to be calmed and then, on the day of the competition, it’d be obvious that everyone wants you to make 9 lifts and everyone is there to improve themselves!

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This competition comes at the end of a 12 week program that concerned itself with proper movement – due to some medical issues in the past, Soph has suffered from some hip impingement and used to be borderline on the depth and suffered from a severe drop in the chest during the squat. Today saw almost none of those flaws, showing the huge progress that she has made and the character that she brings to the platform. With this being only her first competition, and Soph being a Junior in the powerlifting world, it was great to see her come away with a medal in a weight class that is overwhelmingly populated by athletes with much more experience and age.

One of the take-home lessons we want to enforce as the result of this is that sometimes progress isn’t just measured by the weight on the bar! Whilst we’re proud of the PBs that have been set and the strength that has been shown, today’s podium finish for our token ginger demonstrates technical and psychological progress – it’s hard to see your progress for what it is when you’re cutting weight and totally re-learning squat technique. That said, to have come from squatting 70kg at half depth all the way to hitting 77.5kg with unquestionable depth, better hip health and a much more stable bottom position is a huge achievement inside of competition or out of it!

Here at CAP we encourage entering oneself into healthy, fun competition and we hope that one day all of our athletes get to have such positive experiences. If you’re losing love for your sport or you need to really push your training, get yourself into a competitive mindset, sign up for a competition and see how motivated you are afterwards! Keep your eyes peeled because this competition qualified Soph for the British single lifts in the deadlift: we’re hoping for big things for Soph and with our programming and her attitude, we’ve no doubt she’ll be a force to reckon with as she matures!

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The CAP team: a brief introduction

The Conquest Athletic Performance (CAP) team is a pretty simple section of this blog: it will focus primarily on the athletes that we work with and details their journeys through their respective sports. We feel that any coach or coaching system is only ever as good as its ability to produce consistent positive affects in its athletes. This is at the core of our individualised programming, facility programming solutions and our blog content: we do what we do to improve athletes and make athletes of those who have the right mind-set and attitude.

As such, we think its both interesting and productive to demonstrate the successes of the athletes we work with who work hard for their results and simultaneously showcase our coaching portfolio. Posts in the CAP team section will generally follow the development of our athletes (some from absolute novice to success story) and will feature posts about competitions, breakthrough training performances and what its like to be an athlete working with us. Throughout the course of these pieces, we’re hoping not only to discuss how one goes about being a great athlete but also what it is like to live the life of a hard-working athlete.

We’re big fans of the online content put out by a number of sites such as BarBend, AllThingsGym and other such sites but there has been a general shortage of pieces on the athletic lifestyle. Acclaimed philosopher Robert Nagel once wrote of consciousness that the “what it is to be something” is something you can only really experience from the inside – here at CAP we want to share the “what is to be an athlete” in a way that a lot of good, informative resources tend to miss. This is why we want to give access to our athletes and their experiences in the sport, in the hopes that we can shed light on athletic life for everyone.

We hope you enjoy keeping track with our athletes, and perhaps learn something about athletic life and the journey to sports mastery.

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Conquest vs public health: the what and the why (a brief introduction)

The “Conquest vs Public health” series will be a number of fairly brief and simple pieces written in a more casual tone that don’t really engage specifically with strength sports or programming. These pieces are more likely to address the way that the health and sport fields can engage with the public in a way that should provide some perspective and information to the general public. Whilst its easy to get bogged down with the minutiae of training athletes and effective high-performance programs, here at CAP we understand that our athlete pool is only ever as big as the physical culture and health of a nation will allow – beyond healthier and stronger athletes, we think its important to be a healthier and stronger country.

The vast majority of the pieces written in the Conquest vs Public health series will be on their own page and will be less focussed on specifically-informative content. Whilst it would serve some purpose to have dense articles full of citations and data for extrapolation, we believe that public health should be a public concern and protectivist language won’t help engage with people who don’t want to be nutritionists, exercise physiologists or professional athletes. The discussion of public health should be informed and responsible, yet it is currently in the hands of ham-fisted government figures, misinformed political activists or a small number of healthcare individuals whose main concern is profit. We believe that fostering a “by the informed public, for the whole public” attitude is the first step.

That said, this section of our writing will  be focused on a number of diffuse topics: reviews of reports and statistics into public health concerns (especially diet/exercise ones), reviews of media/government presentations of public health and, finally, some active discussion of the way that individuals would best serve their own health and fitness. We don’t pretend to be doctors in the area, but a culture of knowledge and conscience about our own bodies would serve to reduce a large number of public health.

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Starting at the start: structuring GPP for weightlifting

The diverse results of different nations on the international platform has always been subject to a great deal of attention within the weightlifting community, it is also reasonable to suggest that this topic has gained prominence in the past Olympic cycle. Whether it is in relation to speculation about institutionalised doping, the “correct” age at which to integrate weightlifting into a child’s development or the rarity of English-speaking males on the Olympic podium, people are keen to understand why there are disparities drawn along such national lines.

Surely, the argument goes, there isn’t anything inherently more “talented” about Russian athletes, for example, than British athletes. We might say that one individual is more talented than another, but the consistent out-performance of British athletes by Russian athletes suggests that there are environmental factors at work which are better utilising their athletic potential.  One of the most commonly-cited examples of difference between weightlifting in the Anglosphere and the more successful countries (primarily Russia, China, Bulgaria, etc.) is the age at which athletes begin training in a serious sense. Naturally, we are not discussing the possibility of loading the complicated, multi-joint Olympic movements in children prematurely but rather, as Bob Takano points out (in Weightlifting programming, an excellent resource), the General Physical Preparation of children is essential to long term athletic development.

General physical preparation (or, hereafter, ‘GPP’) describes the development of generalised athletic capabilities in children and young adults in order to capitalise on their natural talent and the physical maturation process. This may refer to a variety of things from promoting physical activity and games in children, to the specific development of gymnastic or ballistic movement skills, but the common idea is that maximising potential occurs through a strong foundation of basic movement skills in children who, in all likelihood, will participate in some form of athletic endeavour as they become adults.

 

What use is GPP for coaching?

“But wait”, I hear you exclaiming, “I’m a 24 year old human, what use is GPP to me? I’m not a child”. The interesting part of this subject (to me, at least) is that a sedentary adult is, in many respects, basically a child. As insulting as that might sound, the fact is that an adolescent who has been training for sport and athleticism for several years will be far easier to coach and, once coached, far more capable than a full-grown adult who has never exerted themselves physically. After all, the trends in World youth/junior records compared to their senior counterparts seem to suggest that an appropriate “training age” (the time one has spent training in a given discipline) is far more important than their actual age in terms of performance in weightlifting. The point of this comparison is that you may not be an actual child at age 25 but you may well be a “training baby” if your training age is less than a few months, at the very least.

The practical applications of this are pretty simple, but as an individual working in the weightlifting community I have seen many examples of other “coaches” attempting to teach adults how to perform the Olympic lifts when they are totally unprepared for the task. The take home point for this article is this: if an individual cannot move their own body in a reliable and controlled manner, they have no business learning and/or loading the Olympic weightlifting movements. This is to say, simply, that there are a variety of necessary conditions that we must achieve before we can consider teaching an individual the rudiments of the Snatch, Clean or Jerk.

What, then, should we require of an individual before they are able to perform these movements? Furthermore, what can we do in order to ensure the individuals are able to develop towards these requirements? Well, to move from more fundamental to more specialised, the following would seem to be reasonable:

  • The ability to move
  • The ability to move with precision and control
  • The ability to move under load with precision and control
  • The ability to move powerfully with precision and control

(If anyone thinks that this is an unreasonable list of necessary conditions then I would invite them to email me at coaching@conquesttrained.com and make their case, but I suspect this to be an acceptable list)

This list is in part reliant on the “triage method of coaching”, as Dan John calls it. Simply put, this is the principle that we work on here at CAP which says that the first issue that a coach must address is the most severe and limiting one. Just like you wouldn’t focus on fixing the brake light of a car that is missing both its back wheels, we wouldn’t attempt to teach an athlete how to snatch heavy weights if they have a bum knee or poor overhead mobility. Thus, we work from the top of the list to the bottom, not the other way around or in any other order that could be conceived.

Moving

The first of these, “the ability to move” describes an individual’s ability to move, without excessive pain or discomfort, without support or assistance. This seems somewhat self-explanatory – if an individual cannot extend their knee joint, there is little worth in attempting to load triple extension as this is more likely to exacerbate the problem.

Adapting to this problem is not the realm of a weightlifting coach, depending on the root cause of the problem, it is uncertain whether this individual could be made ready for weightlifting at all. More than likely, the counsel of a medical professional is necessary if this is a problem – GPP probably shouldn’t be this individual’s main concern.

Moving with precision and control/Moving under load with precision and control

Separating moving with precision from moving with precision under load is difficult – as we are preparing an individual for weightlifting there is a certain necessity to teach them not only to move with balance and control with their own body but also with the barbell-body complex, or at least with some form of external loading. Teaching an individual to snatch with a PVC pipe, for example, may be useful initially to ensure that they understand the concepts behind the movement (using the legs, keeping the bar close, etc.) but it will not prepare them for the adjusted balance necessary when applying additional load to their body, and its centre of gravity. Thus, if an individual is able to move comfortably, we must ensure that they possess sufficient co-ordination to balance and move in  controlled, stable manner (with or without external loading). Attempting to perform the Olympic lifts without sufficient balance is likely to end in injury and, of course, impede the athlete’s development. Directing attention towards balance is likely to have an instant carryover to the Olympic lifts and, in particular, the snatch.

Developing the necessary balance, rhythm and co-ordination for the Olympic lifts is generally achieved through sheer experience – whilst practicing various movements that carry over to the Snatch, Clean or Jerk are possible, it is likely that this ability will be developed through exposure to any form of exercise. GPP focused on this aspect of athletic development would ideally focus on movement through various spatial fields: to best improve balance we would make the athlete move unilaterally (with one-sided movements such as lunges), transversely (rotational and anti-rotational movements such as Russian twists and side planks) and laterally (sideways movements, such as side lunges).

As it relates to actual accessory work, additional focus is best applied to compartmental movements such as Muscle snatches, push press, press from split, deficit pulls and so forth. These could well be supplemented with cable work on things like woodcutters, landmine presses/rows/rotations, med ball/wall ball movements and dumbbell variations of popular exercises. These all develop complex movement patterns through stable and scalable movements – exactly what we need to teach people to move well!

The key to GPP for movement under control and precision, in whatever exercise is selected, is movement quality – the ability of the athlete to move through the various positions with ease and control. Whilst this can be achieved through GPP, it is also possible to utilise corrective movements to ensure that certain complicated movements are performed correctly. For example, here at CAP we often teach the squat through a progression from the air squat to the goblet squat to the full barbell squat (mobility allowing), but the goblet squat is a useful exercise even for those with more experience, in order to correctly cue the proper balance and posture for a squat in the Weightlifting style. This sort of movement quality is essential to ensure that the individual is not likely to injure themselves or develop compensatory (Read: inefficient/incorrect) movement patterns. This is to say that, if we allow someone with poor balance and co-ordination to load their snatch before they have developed the necessary characteristics, they are likely to develop an exaggerated S-curve bar path, or throw themselves forwards, resulting in missed lifts and stalled progress. As coaches, I think its fair to assume that both of these consequences are highly undesirable.

Moving powerfully with precision and control

It should go without saying that Olympic Weightlifting is a sport requiring the highest possible amount of force: to accelerate an incredibly heavy barbell overhead is no easy feat. Thus, the ability to move powerfully, or at least more powerfully, is important for weightlifters at any level of their development. Much as the hobbyist would benefit from a more powerful extension on their 80kg snatch, so would any elite athlete attempting to snatch twice that amount – more power is better, all things being equal.

Developing power is a controversial subject – it seems to be a persistent belief that one cannot improve or alter their power output in any significant way. This is, of course, not a proper representation of the subject. The most simple manner by which to develop force output is to improve one’s maximal force production – if I can squat 100kg then my snatch at 50kg is not likely to be particularly powerful, but if I can squat twice that amount then I have a far greater force production potential. This is not to say, however, that force production can scale linearly with maximal force output. Humans are subject to what is known as the “Explosive Strength Deficit” whereby we cannot produce maximal force in a short space of time (Zatsiorsky and Kramer, “Science and practice of strength training (2nd ed.)”, 2006, P.27). The explosive strength deficit describes the amount of maximal force that can be exerted in a short space of time and this cannot be increased significantly by the development of greater maximal force output. What this means is that, if we move from a 50kg power snatch with a 100kg squat (ESD ~50%) to a 100kg power snatch with a 200kg squat, we have not significantly improved our ESD but simply improved the top-end numbers of which we are capable (obviously this is a rough and unrealistic example, but it demonstrates the general point).

Whilst the scientific literature has not presented a clear consensus on the best methods for the development of force production, the difference noted between regular individuals and certain elite athletes, with ESDs as low as 5%, suggests that coaches seem to be doing something very correct (Tidow, 1990). The coaching wisdom on this seems to be quite clear cut: athletes become more powerful by moving as powerfully as possible through various movements against some form of resistance. This seems to follow step with other forms of musculo-skeletal development: you improve a given attribute by practicing it and then recovering from it, this is simple supercompensation.

What would the coaching pedagogy suggest about the development of power in terms of GPP? Initially, the key exercises are jumps: the ability to perform a box jump should be achievable for anyone who has passed the 3 previous conditions – if you can move properly and with resistance then you can jump onto a box, even if you have to start with a low one. Beyond box jumps there are various methods: sprints, hill sprints, weighted jumps, jump circuits, banded movements (although this is yet to be proven scientifically, it seems to help in certain circumstances) and so on. Here at CAP we are proponent of taking a wall or medicine ball and throwing it backwards as high/far as possible. If there is sufficient space to perform this kind of movement, do so – it allows the athlete to develop force in an effective manner without excessive loading and also more closely resembles the extension position necessary for the Olympic lifts than sprints or jumps do.

 

Closing remarks

There is obviously no suggestion that GPP will bring any athlete up to par with the international elite – that would be ridiculous – but it has been shown to be an effective method for the beginning of coaching in the Olympic lifts. We can attest to the difference seen between athletes who underwent a foundational GPP block at the start of their training and those who did not, but this sort of coaching experience is necessary first hand. As such, we implore new coaches to respect the time-honoured techniques that have been seen all over the world since the 1960s – it is tempting to push new athletes to perform the classic lifts often, but the course of weightlifting development should always be from more general to more specific. If an individual cannot move well, you cannot expect them to move well through the most demanding barbell exercises in existence.

With these considerations in mind, we’d suggest coaches incorporate a general physical preparation meso/macrocycle into their programming, especially for new athletes, and report back with any findings. Here at Conquest Athletic Performance we are huge fans and have seen great development in our fantastic new athletes.

Happy lifting!

-Coach L

 

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