C.J. Cummings followed his older sister into the weightlifting gym when he was barely able to walk. When he was 10, C.J. began lifting alongside his 11-year old brother, Omar.
Now, at 17-years old C.J. is the number-one ranked male weightlifter in the United States traveling to his second senior world championship competition.
I caught up with C.J.’s coach, Ray Jones, just hours before they left their home in Beaufort, South Carolina to fly to the 2017 IWF World Championships in Anaheim, California.
Q: What does it mean to coach the number one weightlifter in the United States?
It’s very hard for me to separate C.J. as a person from his status as a weightlifter. I have been with C.J. since he was a little kid. When I look at him, I see someone I want to guide and protect. It’s way more than just weightlifting. It’s about the kind of person C.J. is becoming and knowing that I had a hand in helping him become that person.
Q: C.J. is sponsored by more companies than ever before. Is all of the sponsorship putting extra pressure on him to perform?
No. C.J. had the same experience as a 15-year old when he attended the 2015 World Championships in Houston. He is a veteran of this. He knows how to perform under pressure.
Q: How does C.J. stay calm with all of the publicity that surrounds him today?
C.J. will stay in his room until he lifts. He is sharing a room with Harrison Maurus. The two of them grew up together on the weightlifting scene, and they are friends. After he lifts, C.J. will talk to the media and whoever wants to talk to him, but beforehand he needs to have his own space so he can relax.
Q: What sets C.J. apart from other lifters you have coached over the years?
C.J. is the whole package. I have coached other talented athletes, but none that have had the work ethic, mental toughness, self-belief and commitment that C.J. has. He committed to the sport at an early age and consistently puts in the hard work required to be the best.
One thing that sets C.J. apart from other lifters is his perspective. Going into competitions, he is able to stay calm. He knows that no matter what happens, his friends and family will still love him and support him. He can perform in high pressure situations because he knows that everything is going to be okay no matter what.
Q: I know that C.J. will be debuting his new squat jerk at the World Championships on Friday. Is he feeling confident about the change?
Yes. The squat jerk is so natural for him, and he loves doing it. It makes him more motivated to do a better clean because he wants to set up for a good squat jerk.
Q: What does C.J. hope to accomplish at the World Championships this weekend?
We are going into the competition to break personal records. When you chase someone else, you lose energy that could be focused on your own performance. The only thing you can control is what you do.
C.J.’s training has been good, so we’re looking forward to having fun and setting some new personal records. And the great thing is . . . when C.J. sets a new personal record, it is also a new world record.
C.J. will be lifting at 7:55 PM PST on Friday, December 1. Download the ESPN app to watch C.J.’s performance live!
All weightlifters want to build more muscle, and building muscle requires protein.
But just how much protein is appropriate for a youth weightlifter?
According to Dr. Mark Lavallee, Chairman of the USA Weightlifting Sports Medicine Society, youth weightlifters should consume each day:
1 to 2 Grams of Protein per Kilogram of Lean Body Mass
Lean Body Mass is the amount of weight you carry on your body that is not fat.
Lean Body Mass = Body Weight – Body Fat
Written another way:
Lean Body Mass = Body Weight – (Body Weight x Body Fat %)
To determine your lean muscle mass, you must first know your body fat %.
How do you calculate body fat percentage?
There are several methods for calculating body fat. Three of the most popular are:
Body Fat Scales
Body fat scales use Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA). A small, harmless electrical current passes through the body. The current passes slower through fat and quicker through muscle. The machine measures body density and then uses this reading to calculate a body fat percentage.
Are body fat scales accurate? Not really. Factors such as body type, body temperature, hydration, recent exercise, or even sweaty feet can produce inaccurate readings.
Skin Fold Calipers
Body fat can also be measured using a skin fold caliper. Skin fold calipers are devices that measure the thickness of a fold of skin along with the underlying layer of fat. A trained professional can measure your body fat, or you can attempt the process yourself with an online tutorial such as this one.
Are calipers accurate? If administered properly, skin fold calipers can yield very accurate results.
One of the most accurate methods for determining body fat is the Bod Pod, which uses air displacement to measure body mass, volume and density. This method is accurate but can be expensive at around $75 per session.
Other methods for determining body fat include taking measurements (not very accurate), water displacement (accurate, but hard to find and expensive), and DEXA scanning (accurate, but expensive at about $125 per session).
Lean Body Mass Calculator
Once you know your body fat, you can calculate your lean body mass
Lean Body Mass = Body Weight – (Body Weight x Body Fat %)
Body Weight = 45 kg Body Fat % = 15%
Lean Body Mass = 45 – (45 x 0.15)
Lean Body Mass = 38.25 kg
If math is not your thing, you can use this this easy calculator created by Bodybuilding.com to determine your lean body mass.
Now that you know your lean body mass in kilograms, strive to eat 1 to 2 times that in grams of protein each day.
An athlete who weighs 45 kg with a body fat of 15% would have a lean muscle mass of about 38 kg.
This athlete’s daily protein requirements would be 38g to 76g of protein.
Alert! The body can only use a certain amount of protein for muscle building activities at a time. So, it is wise to split up protein consumption throughout the day.
Youth athletes under 9th grade should be getting 10 hours of sleep for peak performance. After 9th grade, athletes should sleep at least 8-9 hours.
Here are some tips for getting better sleep:
Remove electronic devices from your room—televisions, iPads, phones—all of it. It is too tempting to stay up and play games, browse, or watch shows. Plus, blue light exposure from electrical screens reduces melatonin release making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Make your room dark and cool. Light slows the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. Also, body temperature naturally drops when you fall asleep, so cooling the room can jumpstart the process.
Avoid caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you awake when you are trying to sleep.
Go to bed and wake up around the same time each day. Sticking to a schedule helps regulate your body’s clock and can help you go to sleep faster and stay asleep longer.
If you train early in the morning, try to take a nap during the day. A 20-30 minute nap can improve alertness and performance without interfering with nighttime sleep.
Mistake #2: Lack of Cross Training
Single-sport specialization can lead to overuse injuries. Cross training offers a solution to this problem. Cross training is simply varying your fitness program to include different activities.
What does this mean for a weightlifter?
Mix things up! Incorporate calisthenics, sprinting, stretching, throwing, and core work into practices. Step away from the barbell occasionally to work on balance, flexibility, and yes . . . that loathed exercise called running.
Dr. Lavallee recalls:
I have seen weightlifters get winded from climbing a flight of stairs with their gym bag prior to a competition. Athletes—including weightlifters—should have some level of endurance and overall athleticism.
Mistake #3: Using Supplements as Substitutes for Good Nutrition
Two oranges contain 168 mg of vitamin C. A vitamin supplement containing the same amount of vitamin C should provide an equal benefit, right?
Your body absorbs more of the vitamin C in the oranges than in the supplement because oranges contain co-enzymes, which are molecules that help the body to absorb the vitamins in the orange. Plus, the orange contains fiber and minerals that the supplement won’t have. The same is true for all fruits and vegetables.
Dr. Lavallee further warns:
Just because a food is labeled all natural does not mean that it contains co-enzymes.
When it comes to good nutrition, real food is always the best solution.
Reserve supplements, such as protein powders, protein bars, and vitamins for times when other foods are not available. Do not use them as primary sources of nutrition.
Mistake #4: Haphazard Protein Consumption
Your body needs protein to build and maintain muscle, but did you know that your body can only use about 30g of protein for muscle building at a time?
A 30g serving of protein increased muscle building activities by about 50% (over fasting) in the subjects studied.
A 90g serving of protein—representative of the serving sizes of restaurant meals—did not produce any more muscle building activities.
Eating more than 30g of protein in a single meal does not result in further muscle building activities.
So, if muscle building is your goal, you will be better off spreading out your protein consumption throughout the day.
Dr. Lavallee and his family make protein a priority in their family meals. They spend Sunday afternoons preparing protein-rich meals, such as chicken soup or beans and rice with steak. Throughout the week, as life gets busy, the Lavellees have healthy, homemade, protein-packed meals ready-to-eat.
If you are like most weightlifters, you clean up your diet prior to a competition and then indulge in a junk food feast afterward.
While a single day of bad eating probably won’t hurt you, Dr. Lavallee advises you to examine your daily habits:
Do you regularly eat junk food and then crash diet before competitions?
If you are a heavyweight lifter, do you eat junk food just because you can?
Even if you are in one of the “plus” weight classes, remember that food is FUEL. If you are fueling your body with Cheetos and Oreos, you can’t expect to make big gains.
Plus, crash diets can harm you in the long run. Consider the dangers of crash dieting cited on health.com:
Rapid weight loss can . . .
Slow your metabolism, leading to future weight gain
Deprive your body of essential nutrients
Weaken your immune system
Increase your risk of dehydration, heart palpitations and cardiac stress.
Mistake #6: Not Enough Balance in Life
Do you feel like you live at the gym? Are you sacrificing every school dance, campout, religious activity, and social event in favor of practice time? Have you given up all other hobbies, sports and activities for weightlifting?
If so, you are setting yourself up for burnout and unhealthy levels of stress.
Dr. Lavallee further points out:
If you spend all of your time weightlifting, you will never know whether you are a musical virtuoso. Perhaps you are a gifted guitar player or singer. Take time to develop other talents and explore new things.
Talk to your coach. Work out a schedule that allows you to take at least 2 days off per week.
And during those two days, forget about weightlifting and enjoy the other things that life has to offer!
C.J. Cummings’ coach, Ray Jones, shares his formula for identifying and creating successful youth lifters.
Step 1: Assess Commitment
For two weeks, Coach Jones limits his new athletes to bodyweight and core exercises. This period is all about attendance. Teaching weightlifting technique is time consuming, and Jones wants to invest his efforts into athletes who are serious about showing up to practice.
Step 2: Assess Abilities
During the two week trial period, Coach Jones observes how the athlete’s body moves. He has the athlete do overhead squats with a broomstick or PVC pipe to check flexibility. He also tests balance, core strength and overall athleticism.
Step 3: Design an Individualized Plan
Coach Jones firmly believes that each lifter must be treated as an individual. Some kids are naturals; some kids require more work before they can lift weights. Jones does not lump all of the kids together. Rather, he gives each child exercises that will challenge their personal abilities. Coach Jones says,
I go with whatever level the kid is at, and make them better. I’m going to take each kid and treat them as an individual. I’m not going to take a more athletic kid and make them work at the same level as the non-athletic kids.
Step 4: Find a Competition
Once Coach Jones determines that an athlete can move well with the barbell, he finds a competition. Jones says:
After a week or two of executing full movements, I find a competition that is about 6 weeks away. My goal is for the kid to go 6 for 6 at the competition. Competitions build confidence and commitment, both of which are necessary for success in the sport.
Step 5: Use Positive Reinforcement
Coach Jones is a firm believer in positivity. He says:
Everything that comes out of your mouth needs to be a positive. Nothing is ever negative. Combine sweet and sour. If you’re going to say something sour, you need to have something positive to say as well.
If you agree with Coach Jones’ philosophies and would like personal mentoring from him, Jones is now offering a Coach Mentorship Program to help less experienced coaches develop their athletes. For more information on Jones’ new program, see RayJonesWeightlifting.com.
Photos by Lifting.Life, Wall Street Journal, and Island Packet