Thursday, November 30, 2006

Sweet Home Alabama?

Got the heck out of Dodge (St. Louis) yesterday and drove down to Birmingham, AL for the American Open Weightlifting Championships. I hope the effects of the current ice storm hitting the St. Louis area are gone by the time I have to drive back. It's in the 70s here and overcast. The temperature is supposed to drop tonight and we're supposed to get some rain, but no snow or ice is predicted.

This competition is the second largest meet on the USA Weightlifting calender. Since it is an open meet, it is open to all ages, as long as you make the qualifying total. So we'll see some good juniors and some good masters competing this weekend. Many of the 2006 World Team members will not compete here, but because this meet is a qualifier for the 2007 Pan Am Games, there will be a few athletes on the bubble looking to move up in the rankings.

I'll be recording all of the lifts and displaying replays for the crowd on a big screen. It should be fun. I hope to have a few of the more interesting lifts up for everyone to see over the weekend.

Humbling Weakness: Riding into the Headwind

Normally I think of myself as a fairly "strong" woman. But that strength is fairly specific: slow strength, ground based. I'm not necessarily powerful (speed strength) and my muscular endurance is okay, but it is not something that comes naturally. I can power up a short steep hill on the bike fairly well; but if the hill is long or the resistance comes from a strong headwind on the flats, it kills me.

The warm temperatures over the last week allowed for some good bike riding. On Monday, I went out with PJ, Joe and Adrienne for about 2 hours. It was a conversational, but steady pace with the temperature around 67 and winds gusting from 17 to 24 mph. The last 30 min I took the lead with Joe and we pulled PJ and Adrienne back to the cars. The steady headwind was humbling.

I felt like a pipsqueak. My heart rate crept up into the 150s. I down-shifted to get into a good spinning gear, put my head down, brought my arms into a more aerodynamic position and tried not to plod forward. The cars were a glorious sight. My whole body was fatigued.

Riding into a headwind certainly builds cycling specific strength and mental toughness. And the mental part might just be hardest quality to build. If you've never experienced it, give it a try sometime. You'll come away with a different perspective on just how strong you are.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

A Real World Example

I've posted individual lifts by Natalie Woolfolk before, but this sequence is especially impressive as it shows a technical consistency found only in elite athletes. Natalie is a wonderful example of a female athlete who possesses all four of the components of physical health for her sport. There are no compensations. She was a gymnast as a youngster. This allowed her to develop keen kinesthetic awareness, upper and lower extremity mobility and a tremendous foundation of strength-to-bodyweight. Her postural alignment is outstanding.

Her father is Kirk Woolfolk, a former weightlifter and a strength coach at the Naval Academy. Thus, she learned to lift under proper supervision. Natalie has been training at the OTC for roughly 5 years.

She is 23 years old and weighs 63 kg (138 lbs). The final lift is 120 kg (265 lbs). There are very few women in this country who are capable of a double-bodyweight clean and jerk. Natalie is almost there. She will need to lift this much if she is to be competitive in Beijing and beyond. She is a drug-free athlete and proud of it.

Four Components of Physical Health

In my experience, there are four essential components for physical health and performance:

1. Awareness

2. Alignment

3. Mobility

4. Strength

Each component is necessary; and, in my opinion, they most sucessfully build upon one another in this order.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

A Brave New Name

I've changed the name of the blog (but not the URL) after a little reflection. My undergraduate degree is in the history and philosophy of science, and in the same vein, I'd really like this venture to become a compilation of thoughts related to my ever-evolving philosophy of health. And of course, there will certainly be a good number of posts that focus on strength, as I'm a bit of a strength geek and quite interested in the history of strength.

It seems to me there are few out the who appreciate physical culture and physical health as distinct, but integrated body of knowledge that incorporates physical education, kinesiology, exercise physiology, physical therapy and athletic development.

For many Americans, physical health is simply looking good--looking buff or cut, looking like the fitness rags say we should look. It is a commodity to be bought from supplement companies, sleazy gyms or unethical health care professionals. For many athletes, physical health is simply sport-specific training, without attention to overall physical development and the long-term consequences of specializing early in life.

Let's look at the bigger picture and make physical health more than just a commodity.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Terminology 101: Weightlifting

I am not a weightlifter. I do lift weights. I weight train. I resistance train. I will occasionally power snatch or split clean or jerk. But I am not an athlete who competes in the sport of weightlifting. Actually, according to USA Weightlifting, there are fewer than 1000 registered female athletes in this country (school-age through masters). And you wonder why the Chinese are kicking our ass??

I have taken courses to learn about coaching weightlifting, and hope to help other coaches and athletes utilize video in their competition and training.

The term weightlifting has lost its proper place in our culture, in my opinion, as the name of a specific sport. It now represents a generic activity: weight training (two words). But that is WRONG! It is the name of a specific sport! And it is one word. Not two.

Many people in the US use the term Olympic lifting or Olympic weightlifting. Funny how, when you go to the Olympics—and I had the opportunity to go to the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney—you go to the Weightlifting venue; not the Olympic Lifting or the Olympic Weightlifting venue. And this was even at the Olympics! But the Olympic games is really the only place you can truly say you saw Olympic weightlifters and be correct!

I worked with an Olympic weightlifter. My friend Derrick Crass actually competed in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics as a weightlifter. But most of the time he just referred to himself as a weightlifter.

When I went to the world championships in 2003, all of the signs and the t-shirts said 2003 World Weightlifting Championships. There, I met the great Vasili Alexeyev, along with David Rigert--two very famous Soviet weightlifters. Makes me want to fire up the telly and turn on Jim McKay and ABC's Wide World of Sports....

Anyway, I digress....The international governing body for weightlifting is the International Weightlifting Federation. Our national governing body is USA Weightlifting—not USA Olympic Lifting or USA Olympic Weightlifting.

Weightlifting competitions are divided into two lifts: the snatch and the clean & jerk. Now, the terms “snatch” and “clean & jerk” are for some Americans, challenging to use. “Jerk” is generally not a positive term, but it can actually mean "to throw or toss with a quick motion"--which is different from a "press". And “snatch” is, well, also obscene slang for female private parts, so that complicates matters, especially now that women actually participate in the sport. You’ll still see a few guys sporting the “Nothing feels as good as a nice snatch” t-shirts at various meets, but that is rare. Most people think it’s just not cool to wear that when your girlfriend or wife is actually competing, or your coach is a woman, or you are coaching young women!

Thus, I think many in the athletic performance world (outside of the weightlifting world) speak of “the Olympic lifts” when they want to talk about the snatch and the clean & jerk--or some mutation of them: power clean, hang clean, etc.... I guess it makes them feel like they are being more gentile or less offensive. Or is it just easier to say "Olympic lifts" because there are so many lifts? Or does it just sound more cool to tell people that you do "the Olympic lifts" in your training? Hmmm....

Really, the snatch term comes from the definition of the lift: to snatch the barbell from the floor to an overhead position in a single, rapid movement. The term “clean” means that one “cleanly” lifts the bar from the floor to the shoulders. This is in contrast to “continental” lift, which allowed the athlete to lift the bar up to his belt, rest it there, then finish the lift by pulling the bar up onto the shoulders. Apparently the English preferred to “clean” and those silly Germans liked to “continental” so that’s why continental got the name it got—get it—the Germans were on the European continent! How clever!

Now, my favorite non-English term for weightlifting is the Swedish term: tyngdlyftning. It sounds something like "teengle-leeftink."

Next comes the German term:

Then the French term: halterophilie.

Don't even try the Finnish term: painonnostoliitto.

So, if you ever have the opportunity to speak with someone about weightlifting, or the clean & jerk, or the snatch—go ahead and use the proper terminology! It's really okay! Help others learn about, respect and use the right terminology for this grand, beautifully athletic, technical sport.

Now, can somebody help me understand why the rest of the world calls it “athletics” but we call it track and field?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Ok Go: Here It Goes Again

This little diddy by Ok Go is catchy and the choreography has to be some of the most original of all time--certainly one of the most creative uses of treadmills ever! Stick it in your head and go exercise!

This post is dedicated to my friend Sandy, a treadmill gymnastics expert--albeit, unintentionally.

Validity of Isokinetic Hamstring Testing

I've just been asked to review a paper that compares the "conventional" concentric/concentric hamstring/quad torque ratio test vs. a "dynamic ratio control" test that measures eccentric hamstring torque vs concentric quad torque (not at the same time). This particular study did the testing on college distance runners.

Admittedly, I've not been a big fan of this kind of testing for and description of hamstring or quad function. It is non-weightbearing and is capable of testing only at the knee joint, with the hip joint static. Just how functional and practical is this type of information for the ATC, PT and strength coach? Is direct measurment of single joint/muscle torque informative, even if it is a measure of eccentric strength, with regard to sport rehabilitation or performance? Or is this one aspect of sport science that misses the mark on providing useful information when it comes time to hit the court or the field?


Friday, November 10, 2006

ETSU Coaches & Sports Sciences College Event

I have been invited to speak on the use of video in coaching at the first East Tennessee University's Coaches & Sports Sciences College in December (14-16). The list of speakers includes an interesting mix of US and UK sport scientists and coaches. And for those with the NSCA certification, the event offers a relatively inexpensive opportunity for CEUs.

Learn more about it here.

Speaking of the NSCA, anybody else notice the blurb in the latest T&C about the new "Fly Solo Program" targeted at certifying high school professionals (p. 38)? Boyd Epley says this "seven or eight hour camp" --to be held at NSCA-approved centers around the country--will allow coaches and physical education teachers to gain certification to run a strength program. Additional details will be announced in 2007. I wonder how the course material will differ from the CSCS?

Comments from the weight room, anyone?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

To Barbell or Not to Barbell?

That's a very good question. Vern Gambetta offers his take on using dumbbells here . I agree with what he says. And like Joe P. says, a good teacher uses many tools depending on the needs of the student--and uses them in their appropriate context.

I use my Power Block bells for db snatches all the time. They are a bit clunky for clean-related stuff, for my taste, but I don't have any issues with others using them. Many implements can be used with triple extension; the barbell is not a sacred cow.

That said...

The sport of weightlifting offers partial movements that can help anyone learn to be more powerful. And remember, it is a SPORT in itself; you must respect the complexity of the movements if you are going to use them with non-weightlifting athletes. Using the barbell vs dumbbells allows for maximum resistance, but presents some technical challenges. If the athlete has mobility issues (ankle, hip, shoulder) or is very tall, hitting the appropriate positions can be difficult.

If you are going to teach a novice with a barbell, I find it highly desirable to use adjustable pulling blocks (see picture). I learned this from Derrick Crass (physical therapist and member of the 84 and 88 Olympic teams in weightlifting). This allows you to start with the "power position" and work from there easily. I only start with straight-arm pulls; this ingrains the idea that the legs are doing the work, and not the arms. This is not an upright row.

I am NOT a fan of the "hang" movements with a barbell, with non-weightlifters. In my opinion, a lack of adjustable blocks and subsequent use of the "hang" leads to the many of the horrid movements we see in the high school and college weight rooms in this country. See this example. (I like much of what Mike Boyle does; but I do not believe this type of lifting is beneficial for any athlete.) Instead of a vertical, explosive triple extension, we see a big swinging counter-movement followed by a reverse curl--barely any hip extension. There is no ankle plantarflexion or knee extension. Oh yeah, forgot to mention the STOMP. I could write a whole book on that. Stomping is not necessary in a power clean or a clean. In this sense, pulls alone will keep the athlete focused on the real task. There will be less temptation to stomp. The only sound should be the sound of the plates clanging against the bar at the top of the pull.

I don't have a great clip of pulls from the blocks, but here's a nice clip of weightlifting coach Harvey Newton cueing weightlifter Jason Brown during snatch high pulls from the floor. Most athletes don't need to pull from the floor, but competitive weightlifters must learn this movement.

OT: Chauvinistic Barbs from the Oval Office

Now, I will not use this blog to comment on politics, but I will occasionally comment on things pertaining to being a woman in a male-dominated professional culture.

I happened to hear the beginning of President Bush's press conference today and one comment caught my attention. While Mr. Bush was acknowledging Nancy Pelosi's rise to the post of Speaker of the House of Representatives--the first time a woman has EVER been in this position, regardless of party affiliation--he made the following remark (not a quote but he said something to this effect):

During my conversation with her, I gave her the name of several interior decorators in Washington so she can pick out some drapes for her new office.

That, my friends, is a classic Narcisstic back-handed slam--a tactical, grand gesture meant to put this woman in her place. In short, it says the following to her and the country:

She may be the new Speaker of the House and her party might now be in control, but I will, in a futile attempt to maintain my haughty superiority during this challenge to my personal and political self-esteem, remind the world that she is just a woman. Yes, I will now be forced to work with her on matters of national importance, maybe even compromise with her people, but I'll insert this little press conference comment about helping her pick out her office drapes to degrade her publicly, because we all know that decorating is really what women are best at doing and that's what they should care about. Women aren't really qualified to be Speaker of the House and function as my professional equal--and I'm, deep down, really threatened by the whole thing. And we all know the best defense is a strong offense, so I'll subtly jab at her with this male chauvinistic remark while I'm forced to publicly acknowledge her new position.

Keep a stiff upper lip, Nancy, and move onward and upward. I'm sure it is not the first time and it certainly won't be the last. Incredible. So ladies, know that none of us are immune to being "put in our place". Happens even at the very, very top of the food chain.

Maybe now former athlete/wrestler/coach Dennis Hastert can get some exercise, eat better and take care of himself. That dude does not look physically healthy at all--looks like puffy death warmed over.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Final Thoughts on the Whole "Mile" Discussion

1. Physical education and sport preparation are not one and the same. One test, one measure, may not fit all.

2. Our society is currently failing our young people by not providing them with adequate physical education. Instead of emphasizing elements and skills of lifetime health and fitness as an integral part of elementary and high school education, we rely on the "fitness industry" (Curves, Shape magazine, etc) to sell us our physical health as adults.

3. Many high school coaches would benefit from the information and financial resources that elite level and college coaches have available to them. Those of us in the athletic development realm owe it to these people to contribute to their development, mentoring them when possible, not just sell them cookbooks and gadgets.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

More On Youth Fitness and the Mile

A friend disagreed with my post on the basketball guys running the mile in 6:30. And I agree with her, the mile run has no predictive value of basketball ability, nor does it prepare one for true basketball fitness. But I don't think asking high school players to pass this traditional field test is asking anything out of the ordinary with regard to an assessment of general fitness or of the disciplined mindset for being successful as a team.

Data from the President's Council on Physical Fitness states that a 6:30ish mile time is approximately 70th percentile for high school boys age 16 & 17.

High school sports aren't just about the sport specific success--they are also about participation, self-discipline and team work. High school basketball isn't just about shake 'n bake for the dunk on Sports Center.

And here are some other interesting things to consider. There are about 1100 guys at this school, which has a very strong basketball tradition. There are 4 teams: varsity, the B team (sophomores) and 2 freshman teams. Guess how many freshman were at tryouts this week for 24 freshman spots? 87 Yep, there were 87 guys for 24 spots. Now, these guys don't have to do the mile, but I wonder how many of them could've beaten their varsity tryout counterparts if they were asked to run it?

Lastly, I don't know if the guys are asked to run the mile in gym class. But I do know they are only required to take 2 semesters of physical education/health during their first 2 years of school. They are offered elective weight training classes in their last two years, but there are no other physical education electives. I'm fairly certain structured general cardiovascular fitness is not stressed in the curriculum, so unless he plays soccer or actually runs cross country, chances are the average boy is lacking in this area.

Anybody have thoughts on this? Are mile, 1.5 mile, 2.0 mile run requirements for high school, FBI, military service or firefighters realistic? Are we dumbing ourselves down by not asking this type of fitness from our young people through structured physical education benchmark tests? Or are we getting rid of silly tests and traditions that weren't appropriate in the first place?

AJ at the State Championships

AJ ran well, but not as well as she wanted. She bettered her time from last year by 1 minute (22:53 to 21:53), but the overall competitiveness of the race was higher than last year and she finished in 89 / 166. Her goal was top 25 at the beginning of the season, then last week top 40.

It was cold (40s) and raining during some of the race. She felt she could’ve and should’ve gone out faster, as she feels she was blocked by several groups of runners during the race. She had a good effort on Firehouse Hill, passing 7 girls, but as she entered the last mile, her hands became increasingly painful, cold and swollen. Ah, but for a pair of gloves!

Her team finished 8th; they had hoped for a top 4 placing. Their top runner AR, a junior who had finished 28th as a freshman, finally made All-State (top 25) and finished 15th. AJ stayed for the medal ceremony and said is has really motivated her to work for the top 25 next year.

Racing is much different than just running a time and she knows that. There are so many variables you cannot control: opponent's elbows, cold rain, false starts, sub-optimal starting box position, slower groups impeding your ability to pass. There is lots of room for technical improvement for AJ: shorter stride length, increased stride frequency, better running economy overall. She needs to and can really improve her overall speed too. I'm not sure if she's ever going to be one that goes out fast and hangs on, but that seems to be the strategy of the leading pack. In my mind, that's what she's going to have to do to finish in the top 25 next year. If she can develop the ability to stay with AR throughout the entire Vern says: the person who wins is the person who slows down the least.

It will be interesting to see what she does over the rest of the year. She’s debating track season. Na├»ve me thought all cross country runners relished running the mile and two mile! Boy was I wrong! I know she will continue to work on her general strength and power, which she has come to enjoy. Now, the kicker is to get her to work on those pacing/bounding/speed technique drills that really push her neuromuscular comfort zone.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Basketball Tryouts: The Dreaded Mile

Talked to the varsity basketball coach Tuesday after hearing they had several guys in tryouts who could not make the required mile time of 6:30. Now, we can debate the value of the mile for basketball, but it is certainly a tradition that most of us faced every November. I hated every second of that stupid mile, but I made damn sure I came in under the required time. There was no way I was going to fail or run that mile more than one time. That meant I worked a little harder on weekends and after volleyball practice, making sure I was prepared for that dreaded afternoon.

I was amazed when this coach told me 5 of the 13 guys trying out (some are still in football and soccer), failed this test. How sad! Over one-third of these young men didn't have the general aerobic fitness to run a mile in 6:30? Why? Are they that unmotivated to prepare? Are they just dumb? Do they think playing half-court is the only thing you need to do to prepare for the high school season?

The one kid who is being highly recruited (a 6'11" junior) made it in 6:05. If a 6' 11" 230 lb guy can do it, anyone can. The difference is that he is motivated to succeed; he realizes he is responsible for his physical preparation and that it takes work.

But I'm not sure many kids realize what it means to physically prepare anymore. Some do, but others go for the ESPN bling (dunks, fade-aways) and skip the hard stuff (free throws, conditioning, a low balanced position on defense). They want the privilege of playing on a high school varsity team handed to them. What a shame.