The Mind of an Olympian: An Interview with Hidilyn Diaz

If I had to pick one word to describe three-time Olympian, Hidilyn Diaz, I would choose “gracious.”  Hidilyn is visiting Guam for the week, and she agreed to let me interview her before her weightlifting practice.  Unfortunately, I didn’t think things through very well, and I ended up conducting the interview while sitting on some tires behind the gym.  The music in the gym was very loud, and all of the seats were occupied by active weightlifters, so we headed out the back door.  I scanned the area for a suitable sitting surface and hastily decided that some tires lying on the ground would do just fine.  I sat down, and Hidilyn joined me without hesitation.

Hidilyn’s unassuming attitude became all the more impressive once I learned more about her.

Hidilyn (pronounced Heidi Lynn), age 26, has competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 2012 London Olympics, and the 2016 Rio Olympics.  At age 17, Hidilyn was the youngest competitor in the women’s 58-kg weight class at the 2008 Bejing Olympics.  And in 2016, Hidilyn became the first Filipino woman to ever win an Olympic medal when she earned a silver medal in Rio.

Hidilyn Diaz (image from http://www.philstar.com)

Hidilyn began weightlifting at age 11.  Her cousin, a university student, was coaching a group of young boys in weightlifting.  Hidilyn asked to join them, and her cousin began training her.  She began competing soon after and was offered a place on the Philippine national team at age 12. Membership on the national team offered a number of perks.  Hidilyn received a scholarship to attend school.  She was able to travel and see the world when she competed.  Most importantly, though, she was able to help provide for her family with her monthly stipend of 4000 Pesos (about $80).

Hidilyn explained: “My family was poor.  I lifted weights to provide for my family.  I was the breadwinner.”

I asked Hidilyn when she developed a passion for weightlifting.  I was surprised when she said, “2014.”  By 2014, Hidilyn had already been in the sport for 12 years and competed in two Olympic Games!

Hidilyn explained, “2014 was a difficult year for me.  I injured my knee, and recovery was taking a long time.  My performance suffered.  My coach of ten years was fired from the national team, and I felt lost.  I was injured, had no coach, and was beginning to wonder if I should just retire.”

“Mentally, it was very difficult.  I had no one guiding me, and I had to decide for myself if weightlifting was what I wanted to do.”

After taking time to reflect, Hidilyn decided to continue her training and aim for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.  A friend pointed out that Hidilyn could contend for a medal if she dropped into the 53-kg weight class.  Hidilyn made the weight drop, trained hard, and secured a silver medal in Rio becoming the first Filipino in 20 years to win an Olympic medal.

Hidilyn continues to train for four hours a day, while simultaneously attending college to earn a degree in business.  She hopes to make a fourth Olympic appearance at the 2020 Games in Tokyo.

In the future, Hidilyn wants to own her own business.  She also wants to raise awareness of weightlifting in the Philippines, serve as a mentor to younger weightlifters, and use her experience to help other coaches develop their weightlifters.  Consider these points of advice from Hidilyn:

To Coaches:

“It is important to spend time on mobility as well as general strength and conditioning.”  Focusing only on weightlifting exercises can lead to injuries, boredom and burnout.

Also, “Always look for ways to innovate.  Constantly seek new ways to challenge your athletes and keep things interesting for them. “

To Youth Weightlifters:

“Enjoy weightlifting first.  Then, dream high.  It is the dream that will fuel you.  You also need to work hard, but be smart.  Sometimes weightlifters work hard, but it is not productive because they are not getting enough rest.  You need to rest.  Take advice from others.  Practice self-discipline and consistency in training.  One of the hardest things about weightlifting training is being consistent.”

Advice on Competing:

“Above all, you must believe in yourself.  When you step onto the platform, if you do not believe that you can lift the weight, it will not happen.”

 

 

Health Mistakes Youth Weightlifters Make

Do you get injured often?  Are you struggling to make new gains?  Do you just want an edge over the competition?

I spoke recently with Dr. Mark Lavallee, Chairman of the USA Weightlifting Sports Medicine Society, about health mistakes youth weightlifters make.

Boost your performance by fixing these mistakes!

Mistake #1: Not Enough Sleep

Did you know that LeBron James sleeps 12 hours a night?

And did you know that while training for the Olympic Games, Micheal Phelps slept 8 hours a night with a 2-3 hour nap in the afternoon?

Embed from Getty Images

In fact, Phelps said that sleep and training were equally critical to his success.  In an interview with CNBC, Phelps explained,

Sleep is “where you can naturally grow and your body recovers.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep:

  •  Allows the body to heal and repair itself
  •  Boosts muscle mass
  •  Supports growth and development
  •  Helps maintain a healthy balance of hormones
  •  Strengthens the immune system

How much sleep should you be getting?

According to Dr. Lavallee,

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:

Photo credit: Don Lindsay
  • 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

Photo Credit: Unit 22 CrossFit

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?

Wrong.

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

This 72-oz. steak is served at the Big Texan Steakhouse in Amarillo, Texas.

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 study by the Journal of the American Dietetic Association entitled “Moderating the portion size of a protein-rich meal improves anabolic efficiency in young and elderly” found:

  • 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.

NOTE: If you consume more than 30g of protein in a meal, your body will still use that protein, but it will not necessarily go toward muscle building.  The body will break down the excess protein and convert it into glucose to use as energy or store the excess as fat.

Mistake #5: Poor Dietary Habits

Photo credit justharvest.org

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

Photo Credit: Rich Egger

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!

 

Sources:

Clifford, Catherine. “Olympic hero Michael Phelps says the secret to his success is one most people overlook.” CNBC. February 14, 2017. Accessed November 08, 2017.

Pickering, Craig. “Sleep and Athlete: Time to Wake to the Need for Sleep.” Freelap USA. April 26, 2016. Accessed November 08, 2017.

Why Is Sleep Important?” National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. June 07, 2017. Accessed November 08, 2017.

Cross Training-OrthoInfo – AAOS. October 01, 2011. Accessed November 08, 2017.

Symons, T. Brock, Melinda Sheffield-Moore, Robert R. Wolfe, and Douglas Paddon-Jones. “Moderating the portion size of a protein-rich meal improves anabolic efficiency in young and elderly.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association. September 01, 2009. Accessed November 08, 2017.

How Much Protein Can the Body Absorb?” Quick and Dirty Tips. July 16, 2015. Accessed November 08, 2017.

Miller, Bryan. “How crash diets harm your health.” CNN. April 20, 2010. Accessed November 08, 2017.

 

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USA Weightlifting’s New Athlete Development Sites

On October 16, 2017, USA Weightlifting (USAW) announced 13 Athlete Development Sites located in the West and Southeast United States.  The announcement of these sites raised a number of questions:

  • What will the sites be used for?
  • Who can attend events at the sites?
  • What kinds of events will be hosted at the sites?
  • How much will the events cost?

I spoke to Suzy Sanchez, USAW Director of Development Programs, and gathered information about this new opportunity.

Q: Why did USAW create the Athlete Development Sites?

In April 2017, USAW created Athlete Development Camps.  We executed a three-month trial run in the West and Southeast.  After running the camps, however, we realized that we needed to restructure.  The purpose of the camps was to attract new athletes, not to educate existing athletes.  In fact, however, many of the athletes who signed up for the camps were seasoned athletes.  There was some dissatisfaction from these athletes who felt that they did not learn much from the camps.

From this experience, we gathered that our members are seeking opportunities for continuing education.  We created the Athlete Development Sites to replace the development camps and to offer continuing education opportunities for our members.

Q: Why did you select these particular sites?

The two largest pockets of weightlifting in the United States are in the West and Southeast.  We wanted to create sites in areas where we could serve the most members.  We also selected gyms that are run by coaches who are certified at the national level or higher.  We are constantly working to foster good relationships between gym owners and USA Weightlifing and feel that this program will facilitate that.  We also hope that the sites will link up talented athletes and talented coaches, creating more opportunities within the sport.

Q: What will the Athlete Development Sites offer?

The Athlete Development Sites will host five different types of clinics: Snatch, Clean & Jerk, Advanced Movement, Youth Weightlifting, and Introduction to Weightlifting.

Two of the clinics—Youth Weightlifting and Introduction to Weightlifting—will offer introductory instruction to beginners.

Three of the clinics—Snatch, Clean & Jerk, and Advanced Movement—will offer continuing education to seasoned athletes and coaches.

Q: What is the cost of attending a clinic?

We will be charging $99 for each clinic.  We hope the fee for the clinic, along with multiple site locations, will keep costs manageable for athletes and coaches.

Q: How can people register for a course?

Registration will take place through WebPoint on the USAW website.

USAW will issue an official press release with more details in November.  For further questions, contact Suzy Sanchez at Suzy.Sanchez@usaweightlifting.org.  

Photos courtesy of Lifting.Life and USAW website.

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5 Benefits of Training Backwards

The athletes of Lift for Life weightlifting club in St. Louis, Missouri, enter the gym and head straight to the squat rack to begin their training.

Wait, what?!  Squats first?

Traditional weightlifting training progresses from the most complex movements—the clean and jerk and the snatch—to less complex movements.  A typical training session in any weightlifting gym might look like this:

The idea is that putting the most complex movements up front allows an athlete to tackle them fresh, without the fatigue that comes with strength building exercises.  Coach Jimmy Duke, head coach of Lift for Life Gym in St. Louis, Missouri, however, turns the traditional model on its head and trains his athletes backwards.  Duke begins his training sessions with squats, progresses into a skill transfer exercise, such as the Snatch Grip Push Press, works into a barbell complex, and finishes with the Olympic lifts.

Coach Duke has produced three international level youth weightlifters—from scratch—in a mere five years, making his training style worth considering.  Here are five benefits of “training backwards.”

 

Uses Training Time Efficiently.  Coach Duke trains most of his athletes for only one hour, three times a week.  To fit the training into the hour, Duke must make wise time management decisions.  It takes less time to warm-up for a set of squats than a set of clean and jerks. Once the legs are warm, the athlete can jump straight into the squats.  The same holds true for warming up the shoulders and back.  Once the athlete arrives at the Olympic lifts by the end of the training session, the central nervous system has been activated and all of the muscle groups are nicely warmed up.

 

Focuses on Positioning.  “Place your feet closer together; shoulders over the bar; gaze neutral; shoulder blades back; tighten up your back; now lift the bar off the ground keeping the back tight; stay over the bar . . . longer, longer, longer; now explode!”  It’s a lot to teach and even more to remember.  Any coach knows how easy it is to reduce a confident athlete into a confused mess by giving too many cues at once.  A coach can remedy this problem by beginning the training session with the component lifts, focusing on positioning in each of the parts before tackling the full Olympic lifts.

 

Intensifies Training without Adding Extra Weight.  Placing the Olympic lifts after strength building exercises makes them harder to perform.  An athlete must fully focus—and even then—the lifts will be difficult because the muscles are already fatigued.  In this way, a coach can challenge an athlete mentally and physically without adding extra weight to the barbell.  This preserves an athlete’s joints and builds mental and physical toughness.

 

 

Makes the Olympic Lifts easier to perform in competition.  Duke’s athletes are conditioned to squatting, pressing, and deadlifting BEFORE they get to the Olympic lifts.  In competition, however, the athletes get to perform the Olympic lifts without doing a training session first.  Athletes are pleasantly surprised by their performances at competitions.

 

Makes the Lifts a Treat at the End of Practice.  Most weightlifters would agree that performing a snatch is more exciting than performing a set of back squats.  Coach Duke makes his athletes work for the privilege of performing the Olympic lifts.  Once the athletes have put in time building strength, Duke rewards them with the more exciting lifts.  No dessert until you eat your broccoli—or in Duke’s case, “No clean and jerks until you finish your strength work.”

 

Not ready to commit to a full schedule change?

If you are intrigued by Coach Duke’s training style but not willing to completely ditch your methods, try reversing your training one day a week.  It will shake up the regular routine and encourage new muscle adaptations.

Photos by Lifting.Life.

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What Does it Take to Make Weight?

Almost all weightlifters have done it—some to a small extent, some to a large extent.  No one, however, wants to talk about it.  And those who do talk about it generally downplay or lie about the extent of their behavior.

You will hear weightlifters discussing the topic privately, trying to figure out the best strategies.  When it comes to publicly discussing the matter, however, the community is mute.

Run an internet search for the words “weightlifting” and “weight cutting.”  There are a couple dozen anecdotal articles–weightlifters telling stories about what worked for them.  However, there are few guidelines established by medical professionals and little organizational guidance.

Unfortunately, silence is not the best way to address this matter.  Pretending that it doesn’t happen—or that the sport doesn’t encourage it—can be harmful, especially to youth weightlifters.

What is weight cutting?

Weight cutting involves losing weight quickly to fit into a lower weight class for a sports competition.

Weight cutting is typically accomplished through food restriction or water manipulation—forcing water out of the body prior to a weigh-in and then rehydrating as quickly as possible.

About 65% of the human body is made of water, which makes it a popular source of temporary weight loss.  Studies have shown that dehydration of 2-3% has little effect on strength or anaerobic power.  Reduced water can be regained by hydrating after weigh-ins.  According to a study by the University of Montreal, it takes only about 5 minutes for water to enter the bloodstream from the stomach.  And, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, the body can go from moderately dehydrated to fully rehydrated within 45 minutes with only 600 mL of water.  (This study was performed on subjects age 25, so age could affect the timing of water absorption.)

Doctors and nutritionists generally recommend against weight cutting.  However, many athletes in weight class sports do it to gain an advantage.

 

Is weight cutting dangerous? 

Weight cutting, also referred to as rapid weight loss, came into the spotlight in the fall of 1997 when three collegiate wrestlers died within a 5-week period from complications of weight cutting.  All three wrestlers were attempting to lose weight rapidly by inducing severe dehydration (exercise and heat-induced sweating and fluid depravation).  After these deaths, weight cutting was no longer considered a harmless exercise in discipline and self-control.

In 2015, the American College of Sports Medicine published a journal article entitled “Rapid Weight Loss in Sports with Weight Classes.”  Of interest, the article noted:

  • Rapid dehydration by more than 5% of the total body weight can result in muscle cramps, muscle injuries, heat stroke, and even death.
  • No matter which strategies are used, weight loss that occurs in less than 7 days has potential negative health and performance effects.
  • Athletes who are competing at an appropriate body composition achieved with scientifically sound training and nutrition principles will maximize their performance without needing to engage in rapid weight loss prior to the competition.

Why is there not more medical guidance on weight cutting?

When asked about weight cutting, Dr. Mark Lavallee, Chairman of the USA Weightlifting Sports Medicine Society, acknowledged that numerous athletes regularly cut weight without any adverse side effects.  He explained, however, that he could not give general recommendations on weight cutting because what is safe and perfectly fine for a healthy athlete with no medical conditions could be detrimental to another athlete.

Dr. Lavallee pointed out that an athlete’s age, physical maturity, body composition and associated medical conditions all factor into the equation.  He gave two examples to illustrate his point:

  • A 12-year old female who is borderline anemic because she has heavy periods. A simple 1-2% weight cut could greatly decrease her strength and predispose her to passing out.
  • An 11-year old male with sickle cell trait.  During physically stressful times, such as dehydration, heat stress, or high altitude, his red blood cells could “sickle” or change shape, which would decrease oxygen carrying capacity and increase risk of hypoxia, clots, severe joint pain, and even death.  This athlete should not dehydrate even 2-3%.

Dr. Lavallee advised that any athlete wanting to engage in weight cutting practices should seek the advice of a sports physician for a personalized plan.

What about organizational guidance?

Weightlifting has not suffered the same tragedies as wrestling, and USA Weightlifting (USAW) does not regulate weight cutting practices.  USAW does prepare Competition Readiness plans for members of its international team, which monitor athletes’ bodyweight going into international competitions.  For all other athletes, however, USAW leaves the matter of weight management up to the individuals involved.

Wrestling, however, has developed some regulation following the deaths of the three collegiate wrestlers.  The National Federation of State High School Associations implemented rules in the 2006-2007 competition season that are intended to discourage high school wrestlers from last minute weight cutting.  Most notably, the regulations require:

  • A hydration level not to exceed 1.025

  • A body fat assessment no lower than 7 percent for boys and 12 percent for girls

  • A monitored, weekly weight loss plan limiting weekly weight loss to 1.5 percent of total body weight per week.

So, a wrestler who wants to “weight light” for a competition must plan in advance and cannot rely on last minute dehydration.

Why are the wrestling regulations of interest to weightlifters?

Both wrestling and weightlifting are weight class sports.  Wrestling has decided that a last minute bodyweight cut of 1.5% is acceptable for high school athletes, but anything more is not okay.  As a coach or parent of a youth weightlifter, this could serve as a helpful number if your athlete wants to cut weight before a competition.  

Keep in mind, however, Dr. Lavallee’s recommendation to seek advice from a sports doctor before undertaking any weight cutting measures.

What can the weightlifting community do to reduce weight cutting by youth weightlifters?

  • Education:  Youth athletes should be taught that rapid weight loss measures can be dangerous.  They should learn proper weight management techniques so that weight cutting does not become necessary.  Weight management is simply achieving a desired body weight through healthy food choices.  The process can be as simple as cutting out junk food prior to a competition or as complicated as a detailed diet plan.  Coaches can assist in this effort by encouraging their young athletes to make good food choices.  Parents can assist by keeping junk food out of the house and making healthy snacks readily available.  And USA Weightlifting can assist by making weight management and nutrition materials available to its athletes.
  • Rule Changes: According to the American College of Sports Medicine article referenced above, rule changes impact athletes’ behavior even more than educational programs.  The article points out that voluntary education programs in place between 1960 and 1997 had little impact on wrestlers’ weight cutting behavior.  After the NCAA and National Federation of State High School Associations implemented weight cutting regulations, however, the frequency and magnitude of weight cutting by wrestlers went down.

What rule changes would benefit youth weightlifters?

Allow 13 & Under weightlifters to compete regardless of their bodyweight.  Under the current rules, a youth weightlifter at a national USA Weightlifting competition, such as USAW’s Youth Nationals, must declare a weight class the evening before the competition begins.  Two hours before the athlete competes, he or she must weigh in.  If the athlete weighs in too heavy or light for the declared weight class, the athlete cannot compete.  This rule applies to all weightlifters in the competition, whether the lifters are age 9 or 17.  The rule puts pressure on athletes who are positioned on the borderline of a weight class.  The athletes’ parents have forked over a good amount of money in flights, hotel rooms, meals, and competition fees.  If the athlete does not make weight, he risks letting down his parents and wasting their time and money.  The rule often leads young athletes to take last minute weight cutting measures.

Coach Jimmy Duke, head coach of Lift for Life gym in St. Louis, Missouri proposes a very simple solution to this problem:

Allow the youngest lifters (13 & Under) to lift regardless of their bodyweight.  If an athlete weighs-in too heavy, just ask the athlete to return a couple of hours later when the next weight class weighs-in.  

Q: Why not extend this rule to all youth lifters?

A: Coach Duke points out that lifters 13+ can compete in International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) competitions.  IWF rules require athletes to compete within designated weight classes.  If the athletes do not make weight at the competitions, they cannot compete.  So, athletes 13+ should learn any weight management techniques necessary to compete within their weight classes.

But I want to move down a weight class!  Can I do this safely?

In weightlifting, it is not unusual for athletes to obsess about their weight classes—even to the detriment of building muscle or training hard.  All too often I hear a weightlifter say, “If I could only lose [a ridiculous amount of weight], while maintaining the same strength, I could be really competitive.”

A few thoughts on that . . .

  • Have patience.  This is not the sport of weight loss.  It is the sport of weightlifting.  It is easier to lose weight than to gain strength.  Building strength takes time!  Ultimately, however, you will be more satisfied if you train hard and lift heavy than if you are always hungry and performing below your potential.
  • Body Fat: If you have a lot of body fat to spare, losing weight likely will benefit you.  Shedding excess fat will make you lighter and healthier without affecting your strength.  After all, fat doesn’t lift weight—muscle does.  If you are currently at a healthy weight with a normal amount of body fat, however, losing weight probably won’t make you any more competitive because some of the weight you lose will be muscle.
  • Weight management: Healthy eating can lead you to the correct weight class.  There is nothing wrong with losing weight by cleaning up your diet.  Swap junk food for healthy snacks like fruits and vegetables.  Substitute water for sugary beverages.  Eat a salad once in a while!  And if you are serious about losing weight while lifting heavy, consult a sports nutritionist for a personal weight loss plan.

Weight cutting should not be taboo in the weightlifting community.  As long as weightlifting remains a weight-class sport, weight cutting will occur.  However, as parents, coaches and advocates for youth weightlifters, we should do our best to encourage healthy weight management over last minute weight loss efforts.

References:

Khodaee, Morteza, Lucianne Olewinski, Babak Shadgan, and Robert R. Kiningham. “Rapid Weight Loss in Sports with Weight Classes.” Current Sports Medicine Reports 14, no. 6 (2015): 435-41.

Péronnet, F, et al. “Pharmacokinetic Analysis of Absorption, Distribution and Disappearance of Ingested Water Labeled with D₂O in Humans.” European Journal of Applied Physiology., U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21997675.

The Acute Effects of Fluid Intake on Urine Specific Gravity … : The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.” LWW, journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2013/04000/The_Acute_Effects_of_Fluid_Intake_on_Urine.18.aspx.

Lambert, C., and B. Jones. “Alternatives to Rapid Weight Loss in US Wrestling.International Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 31, no. 08, Nov. 2010, pp. 523–528., doi:10.1055/s-0030-1254177.

Photos courtesy of Lifting.Life.

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Mom, I Need New Shoes! Shoe Buying Tips for Youth Weightlifters

Child: “Mom, I need new shoes.”

Mom: “I just bought you new shoes.”

Child: “Well, they don’t fit any more.”

Mom: “I can’t buy you shoes this minute. You’ll just have to make those shoes work.”

It is likely that EVERY child and parent in modern history has had this conversation.

As a parent, it is annoying that kids’ feet grow so quickly. As a child, it is equally annoying that you have to get new shoes just when your old ones start to feel comfortable.  Like it or not, larger feet—and new shoes—are a part of growing up.  Normally, getting new shoes is not a big problem. Plenty of stores sell shoes—you just go into a store that sells the shoes you want, find a pair that fits, and then negotiate with your parents, who always try to talk you into the “cheap” shoes.

When it comes to weightlifting shoes, however, the solution is not so easy!

Weightlifting shoes are not ordinary athletic shoes. They have a raised heel, a hard, flat sole and straps. These features allow a weightlifter get into a deeper squat by permitting a greater range of motion in the ankle. They also provide better stability in the foot when standing up heavy weights.

Selecting weightlifting shoes can be a frustrating process.

    • At $100 to $200 a pair, weightlifting shoes are expensive.
    • Sporting goods stores do not carry weightlifting shoes, so you cannot simply go into a store, try on shoes, and find the pair that suits you.
    • You are going to be spending a LOT of time training in these shoes, so you want to get some that are comfortable and suit your lifting needs.

 

Selecting YOUTH weightlifting shoes offers additional challenges—

    • Youth athletes’ feet are constantly growing, which means you will probably need a new pair of lifting shoes every six months to a year.
    • Most weightlifting shoes are built for adult weightlifters, so finding a size that fits a youth lifter can be a challenge.

 

For starters, consider whether you actually NEED new weightlifting shoes . . .

    • Do you lift competitively? If you lift weights to build strength or as conditioning for another sport—or simply for recreation, you may not need weightlifting shoes. Weightlifting shoes provide stability for the feet; this stability becomes particularly noticeable with heavy weights. However, general strength building does not require maxing out with heavy weights. It can be accomplished with submaximal weights and higher repetitions. At lower weights, the benefits of a weightlifting shoe may not be noticeable.
    • Can you buy some used shoes? Ask around your gym. You might find another lifter who is willing to sell you their perfectly good, barely used shoes. Since you’ll probably grow out of the shoes in another 6 months to a year, save your parents some money and accept the used shoes! If it grosses you out to wear someone else’s sweaty shoes, replace the insole. Shoe insoles can be purchased at any drugstore for $10 or less.

If you really DO need new shoes, consider these pointers:

    • Buy a little larger than you need. You want your weightlifting shoes to fit snugly. However, you don’t want to buy new shoes every three months. You can fix this problem by buying a shoe that is a little larger than you need and then adding an extra insole to make the shoe smaller. When your feet grow, take out the extra insole, and your shoe will still fit. We use this trick regularly to extend the wearability of weightlifting shoes.
    • Read reviews! When it comes to weightlifting shoes, one shoe does not suit everyone. Some shoes are wider/narrower; some shoes have a higher heel; some shoes have multiple straps versus a single strap. Fortunately, there are thousands of customer reviews on weightlifting shoes. Find the shoe you are considering on Amazon, and start reading what real customers have to say about it! Read and research until you are confident the shoe is right for you. Keep in mind, however, that most of these reviews are written by and for adult weightlifters, so the review may not be as helpful for you. In the future, I will write an article reviewing weightlifting shoes available to youth lifters. Stay tuned.
    • Shop around. There are only a handful of weightlifting shoe retailers on the market. Start by looking at the manufacturer’s website. For instance, if you are searching for some Nike Romeleo 3s, look at the pricing on nike.com. From there, search other websites, such as Amazon, Eastbay, and Rogue. You can generally find shoes on sale if you search diligently. However, you should always consult the seller’s return policy before buying. You don’t want to get stuck with shoes that arrive too small with no way to return or exchange them!

Don’t love the shoes you have?

 

If you find that you don’t love the weightlifting shoes you purchase, you can return them and get something else, or . . .

    • Remember that you will grow out of them soon! In the course of your weightlifting career, you will own many shoes. Don’t obsess about the perfect shoe.  If it’s not just right this time, you can always purchase a different pair the next time.  My son, Hutch, spent a year wearing second-hand Adidas Powerlift shoes that he didn’t love. However, they only cost me $20, and I told him that he could pick his next pair of shoes. It was a win-win situation. I got out easy on Hutch’s shoes one year, and he got to pick the ones he liked the next year.
    • Training matters more than shoes. Fancy weightlifting shoes are fun. However, they won’t compensate for time in the gym. You will never hear someone win a major weightlifting championship and give the credit to their shoes.

 

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Creating Confidence: An Interview with Jenny Schumacher

A large black Labradoodle ambles toward the entrance of Proven Strength and Conditioning, the weightlifting gym co-owned by Jenny Schumacher in American Fork, Utah.  Schumacher calls to her dog, Fonzie, and the dog retreats; the dog’s interest in the newcomer is satisfied with a glance at the familiar face.

Schumacher, who coaches six days a week, smiles and greets the new arrival with, “Hi, I haven’t seen you in a while.  I’m so happy you’re here.”  The cheery greetings continue as other weightlifters make their way into the gym, picking up the week’s programming from a stack of papers on Schumacher’s desk and silently selecting training platforms.

With her dedication and enthusiasm, Schumacher is representative of the fresh, new energy that has infused USA Weightlifting and is ushering in a new era of hope for the sport.

According to Vance Newgard, head coach of the Olympic Training Site at Northern Michigan University, “The largest problem plaguing the sport of weightlifting in the United States today is a lack of hope.  People don’t believe that American weightlifters can bring home Olympic medals.”

Coaches like Schumacher are working to change this.

Early Years

Schumacher began her journey eight years ago when a friend introduced her to CrossFit.  She was instantly drawn to the Olympic lifts and sought out coaching and education opportunities.  In just a few short years, Schumacher was a certified USA Weightlifting coach with her own group of athletes.  She is now the head coach at Proven Strength and Conditioning, where she trains athletes six hours a day, six days a week.

Grassroots Director

In addition to coaching, Schumacher assists USA Weightlifting at the organization level.  She can be seen at most national competitions, serving as a marshall, referee, speaker, timer or whatever else needs doing.  Schumacher is a USAW National Level Coach, as well as an IWF National Referee.  Recently, she was elected to USA Weightlifting’s Board of Directors, where she serves as the Grassroots Director.

As the Grassroots Director, Schumacher represents the club owners to USA Weightlifting and votes at board meetings on their behalf.  Schumacher explains, “I act as a resource for club owners, and I also convey the ‘word on the street.’  People come up to me at meets and give me ideas, which I report to the board of directors.”

 

10-year old, Ryan, is training to set a new Utah state record for his weight class at an upcoming competition.

Coaching with Confidence

Throughout the self-guided practice, Schumacher patrols the room, attending to lifters as they need guidance.  She is particularly mindful of the younger lifters and spends most of her time instructing and correcting their movements.  “Weightlifting is an excellent tool for teaching kids how to deal with failure.  Many parents are so protective of their kids that they don’t want them to fail.  In fact, we want our kids to fail so that we can teach them how to deal with failure in a healthy, positive way.  Weightlifting gives kids an opportunity to fail and succeed over and over again.”

Schumacher’s favorite part about coaching, however, is instilling confidence in her lifters: “When you challenge yourself physically, you have confidence that other people don’t have.  That confidence can’t be beat.  I love the fact that people can find that in weightlifting.  For me personally, my favorite part is watching people’s confidence explode.”

After training with Schumacher for two weeks, I gathered the following tips that could be useful to other coaches:

  • Use Positivity.  Throughout her training sessions, Schumacher remained optimistic and positive, even when her lifters made misses or were having a bad day.  Schumacher explained, “Weightlifters are optimists.  We always feel like things will be better tomorrow.”  Schumacher’s attitude transferred to her lifters, who consistently put their best efforts into each lift.
  • Unilateral Work.  Schumacher is a big believer in exercises that bring balance to the body.  She explained that almost all weightlifters are stronger on one side of their bodies, and that corrective exercises should be performed to bring the weaker side up to the level of the strong side.  She uses exercises such as single leg box jumps and single leg triple jumps to achieve this.
  • Create Opportunities for Competition.  Schumacher pointed out that kids—especially boys—love to compete.  Coaches can keep their training fun by creating competitive opportunities for their athletes.
  • Volunteer!  If you want to be a better coach, you should observe other good coaches.  Schumacher explains, “I like working in the back [as a marshall].  It is a great place to learn.  I get to watch good coaches interact with their athletes.  I get to see how they warm up their athletes and prepare them for competition.  I get to see how the best athletes go out onto the platform.”
Youth lifter, Gavin (right), gets advice from Will, a senior lifter. Gavin participates in several sports, but he especially enjoys weightlifting because of the individual instruction he receives and the ability to constantly test his limits.

As I left the gym–ten minutes after practice ended–Schumacher was still working with athletes, intent on helping them regardless of the time required.  I smiled, realizing that the future of weightlifting will remain bright as long as coaches like Schumacher are involved.

 

Is Undertraining the Secret to Success?

In the past month, I have had the opportunity to speak to the coaches of two of the most accomplished youth weightlifters in the United States—Kevin Simons (Harrison Maurus’s coach) and Ray Jones (C.J. Cumming’s coach). When asked about their athletes’ training, I listened in eager anticipation: I expected to hear tales of grueling training sessions, intensely heavy loads, and long hours spent in training. I was surprised by what I heard instead.

Coach Simons reported that he limits his athletes’ attempts above 90% and that Maurus went three years without missing a clean in training. Three YEARS without missing a clean?! A weightlifter who goes three years without missing a clean is clearly undertraining.

In a separate conversation, Ray Jones, coach of four-time World Champion C.J. Cummings, made a disturbing observation about a recent national competition. Jones remarked that of the 14 athletes in the warm-up room with C.J., all 14 of the other athletes were working through injuries.

Coach Jones expounded, “Injuries are a big problem with what is going on in the U.S. A lot of that stems from athletes trying to follow programming that is too rigorous for them. It is important for athletes to follow individualized plans, listen to their bodies, and not necessarily pound the lifts all of the time.”

Jones continued, “I want my kids to be undertrained. I want them to be able to continue in the sport for as long as they would like—and even return to the sport in their older years. To do this, I need to train them so that they don’t get injured. I want my athletes to have longevity in the sport both physically and mentally.”

Given that both Simons and Jones undertrain their athletes, perhaps this is something the rest of the community should consider.

What is undertraining?

Undertraining occurs when a weightlifter:

  • Trains at below maximal loads
  • Stops training before muscles, tendons and joints are overworked
  • Takes time off from training to allow muscles recover

Undertraining is NOT:

  • Working with weights that are not challenging
  • Abandoning an exercise because it is hard to do
  • Blowing off training because you just don’t feel like it

These are all examples of lazy training, which is not the same as under training!

Why is undertraining so effective?

Injuries stop progress. Overtraining leads to overuse injuries, which are microtraumatic damage to a bone, muscle, or tendon that has been exposed to repetitive stress without sufficient time to heal or repair.  When an athlete is injured, he must take time off to recover or train with lighter loads until the injury has healed. During the healing process, the athlete is not making strength gains. Undertraining reduces the likelihood of injury; this allows an athlete to make strength gains while his overworked peers are sitting on the bench nursing injuries.

Up to 50% of all injuries seen in pediatric sports medicine are related to overuse.

Overtraining leads to burnout. Burnout happens when an athlete is not allowed sufficient time to rest or participate in other activities. Burnout, also referred to as overtraining syndrome, manifests as lack of enthusiasm, personality changes, fatigue, chronic or nonspecific muscle or joint pain, and even difficulty performing normal routines.

Performance plateaus without rest. To improve as an athlete, you must work hard. However, training hard breaks down muscle and makes you weaker. To become stronger, your body must rest. During rest periods, the body rebuilds its cardiovascular and muscular systems by increasing capillaries in the muscles, improving the efficiency of the heart, and increasing glycogen stores and mitochondrial enzyme systems within the muscle cells. The result is a higher level of athletic performance. If an athlete does not get sufficient rest after training hard, however, the body cannot rebuild itself, and performance plateaus. If this imbalance persists, performance will actually decline!

More productive training. A well-rested, recovered athlete will be able to train harder than an exhausted, overworked athlete. Weightlifting is a sport that emphasizes technical proficiency in compound movements that are performed over milliseconds. Without adequate rest, these movements cannot be performed properly.

Longevity. The ultimate goal in training a youth athlete is to produce a disciplined, well-adjusted adult who appreciates the importance of fitness and can handle competitive pressures. Some sports, such as weightlifting, offer the additional bonus of lifelong participation. If a weightlifter does not hurt himself, he can continue to enjoy competitive weightlifting well into his retirement years. In fact, in the U.S. alone, there are over 3,600 athletes over the age of 35 who are competitive weightlifters.

What is the best way to undertrain?

Prepare an Individualized Plan. Coach Jones is a big fan of individualized training plans. According to Jones, athletes who try to follow cookie-cutter plans often get injured because these plans are designed for athletes at a higher level of athletic ability. Jones says, “I’m not going to be arrogant and say that my way is the only way. Several ways work. The important thing is to examine each athlete’s strengths and weaknesses and do what works for that person.”

Listen to your body. As an athlete, it takes self-discipline to stick to a training plan when you don’t feel like training. It takes even more discipline, however, to stop training when your body is injured. Training with an injury doesn’t lead to big gains; it just sets you up for even bigger injuries. Coach Jones advises: “Don’t be so intent on following the programming to the detriment of your body. If you’re hurting, don’t do the exercise!”

Focus on Quality over Quantity. Every time a weightlifter performs a lift, he creates muscle memory in the lift. Over time, the weightlifter no longer thinks about how he will perform the lift; it just happens. And the lift “happens” the same way in competition as in training. So, it is far better to perform a small number of quality repetitions in a training session than a large volume of haphazard lifts.

Step Away from the Barbell. After big competitions, Coach Jones gives his athletes a week off from training. When they return to the gym, the athletes ease back into training with exercises that do not involve the Olympic lifts. Coach Jones is particularly fond of core exercises. Taking time off from traditional barbell work brings variety into training, reduces boredom and fatigue, and allows the body time to recover before the next training cycle.

Take Time to Recover. Coach Jones trains his athletes five days per week, allowing them to rest for two full days each week. The American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness similarly recommends limiting 1 sporting activity to a maximum of 5 days per week with at least 1 day off from any organized physical activity.  Interestingly, elite CrossFit coach, Ben Bergeron, who coaches CrossFit Games winners, Katrin Davidsdottir and Matt Fraser, subscribes to the same philosophy. Bergeron programs Thursdays and Sundays as rest days for his athletes.

Still concerned that you won’t make gains if you undertrain?

Don’t worry! As a youth weightlifter, time is on your side. You have years before you reach your potential, which means you have plenty of time to figure out exactly what works for you. In the meantime, always err on the side of undertraining to ward off aches and pains and keep yourself injury-free.

 

How Much Weight Would you Need to Lift to Earn an Olympic Medal?

  Male

 

 

Body Weight in Kilos

 

Data based on medals earned at the 2000-2016 Olympic Games and the 2010-2014 Youth Olympic Games.

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Coaching Harrison Maurus: An Interview with Kevin Simons

USA Weightlifting held a technique training seminar on Friday, June 22, in conjunction with the 2017 National Youth Championships.  The seminar featured youth world record holder, Harrison Maurus, Maurus’s coach, Kevin Simons, Pyrros Dimas, and Tamas Feher.  The big names drew a large crowd of athletes, parents and coaches.  Tamas Feher led the seminar, explaining the correct progression for teaching the Olympic lifts.  Pyrros Dimas offered supporting comments, and Maurus demonstrated the movements.  Simons, however, remained silent in the background.

While the seminar offered nuggets of good information, it was not what the audience expected.  The audience expected to hear Kevin Simons speak about coaching Harrison Maurus.  In six short years, Simons introduced Maurus to the sport of weightlifting and helped him achieve a new youth world record.  This is a phenomenal accomplishment, and the audience wanted to hear the secrets of this success.  I caught up with Simons after the seminar and gathered the information the audience missed:

Q: Kevin, I expected you to speak about training Harrison at this seminar.  What happened?

Simons: I was prepared to speak about training Harrison and my other athletes.  However, the opportunity did not arise.

Q: I think many people would be interested in hearing your thoughts.  What were you prepared to say at the seminar?

Simons: I was going to speak about my history with Harrison and how I train my athletes.  I take coaching very seriously, and I am always happy to share my methods with other athletes and coaches.  I feel that my methods are working—Harrison currently holds a youth world record as well as multiple American records.  Also, three of my eight athletes took first place medals here at the 2017 Youth Nationals.

Q: What is your history with Harrison?

Simons: I started out as Harrison’s gymnastics coach.  Harrison was a good gymnast, but he was not a perfect fit for the sport.  I knew that Harrison had great potential as an athlete, though, and I wanted to help him develop this potential.  I am a competitive CrossFit athlete, and I started teaching Harrison weightlifting.  First, we experimented with powerlifting.  Then, we decided to try the Olympic lifts. In fact, Harrison was the first athlete I ever taught to do a snatch or clean and jerk.  Harrison was a natural, and we have been together ever since.  It has been amazing to grow with him as a coach and to travel the world together.

At the 2017 Youth World Championships in Bangkok in April 2017, 17 year-old Maurus (77kg) claimed a new youth world record with a 192kg clean and jerk.  Maurus finished 2nd overall in the snatch, 1st in the clean and jerk, and 1st in the total.

Q: What makes your coaching different than other weightlifting coaches?

Simons: I want my kids to be well-rounded, healthy athletes, not just good weightlifters.  In addition to teaching weightlifting movements, I teach my athletes how to eat properly and rest to maximize their performance.  I also teach them exercises that will benefit their overall athleticism, and not just their weightlifting abilities.

Q: What do you tell your athletes about eating?

Simons: I begin with the basics.  I teach my athletes what a balanced meal should look like.  Each meal should include some protein, carbohydrates, and fat.  A portion of protein should be about the size of the palm of your hand.  A portion of carbohydrates should fit within a cupped hand.  A portion of fat should be about the size of your thumb.  If an athlete needs to cut weight, about 50% of the diet should be vegetables.  If an athlete does not need to cut weight, only about 25% of the diet needs to be vegetables.  I try to keep things simple so that my athletes can easily implement healthy eating into their lives.  Good nutrition is very important to athletic performance, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.

In specific situations, I work with my athletes to develop tailored meal plans.  Also, I encourage my new athletes to weigh and measure their foods for a couple of weeks until they understand the proper portion sizes for their bodies.

Simons competed in the 2012 and 2015 CrossFit Games.

Q: You mentioned using non-weightlifting exercises in your training.  Why do you do this?

Simons:  I am a big advocate of GPP (general physical preparedness).  I want my weightlifters, especially the younger ones, to be exposed to a variety of movements.  Until about age 12, kids should be involved in a variety of sports and doing a variety of movements.  They should be running, jumping, lifting, pulling, climbing, throwing, tumbling—doing things to develop their bodies generally.  Of course they can also be learning the competitive lifts, but this should not be the primary focus.  Around age 12 or 13, those kids who decide to lift competitively can begin a more structured weightlifting program.  However, GPP is still important for competitive weightlifters.

Q: What GPP exercises do you use?

Simons:  I use a variety of movements.  I especially like pulling exercises like rope climbs, sled pulls, strict muscle ups, and peg boards to develop the shoulders.  Some of my female athletes can perform 6+ consecutive legless rope climbs.  I feel that this accessory work gives my athletes an edge when it comes to overhead movements.  Their shoulders are very strong.

Q: What does your weightlifting training look like?

Simons: My beginner lifters do a lot of drills emphasizing position and movement.  I reinforce movement patterns through a large number of reps and sets.  I require lifters to consistently perform the movements properly before I allow them to move on to higher weights.  I also include a lot of jumping exercises and plenty of GPP.

Q: What about your advanced lifters?

Simons: When a lifter has developed the muscle memory to consistently perform the snatch and clean and jerk well, I allow them to add more weight.  I don’t limit the weight as long as the lifter can demonstrate good form.  However, I do limit the number of attempts my lifters make above 90%.  My lifters are youth lifters, which means that they should have long weightlifting careers in front of them if they don’t get injured.  I do not allow my athletes to train through an injury, so the best course of action for everyone is to prevent injuries from happening.  We save singles and max out attempts for competitions and the weeks leading up to a competition.  We work mostly in sets of 2 or 3 reps, which allows the lifters to build strength without over-stressing the joints.

Q: Do your elite level lifters receive extra training or advice?

Simons: Of course.  As lifters approach the senior level, different issues arise, such as overtraining.  It becomes necessary to fine tune nutrition, recovery, and training.  Periodization in training becomes more important.

Q: You mentioned that you don’t allow your lifters to go over 90% very often.  At what percentage do you normally train?

Simons: I don’t specify percentages in daily training.  Youth weightlifters are developing strength so quickly that percentages are not generally helpful.  What could be a weightlifter’s max one month could be their 75% the next.  I find it more helpful to specify a starting weight for each lifter.  I allow the lifter to add weight with each subsequent set, as their technique allows.  If a lifter’s technique breaks down, the lifter is not allowed to go up in weight.

This approach sets my weightlifters up for success in competition.  Since my lifters are always required to lift with good technique, they do not make many misses in training.  In fact, Harrison went three years without missing a clean. Because my lifters practice making their lifts—not missing their lifts—they go into each competition lift expecting success.  And usually, they are successful.

Q: How often do your lifters compete?

Simons: I limit the number of competitions we attend.  All of my lifters love to compete, but competitions break up the training schedule.  Each competition requires a ramp-up period and a recovery period, which takes away from building strength.  My athletes perform better—physically and mentally—when we take on a smaller number of competitions.

Q: What advice would you give to other coaches who are trying to develop youth weightlifting programs?

Simons: Seek out “feeder” opportunities.  For instance, I work with a gymnastics center, offering strength and conditioning training to competitive gymnasts.  Some of these gymnasts fall in love with weightlifting and become members of my team.  It is also good if you can create training partnerships—a pair of athletes that can push each other.  Harrison works with a 105+ lifter who pushes him to lift heavier weights.  Also, it is great if you can create a positive competitive atmosphere.  Create opportunities for kids to compete against each other daily in the gym.

Q: What are your personal goals as a coach?

Simons: I want to become the best weightlifting coach in America.

With his attention to detail and dedication to his athletes, Simons is well on his way to achieving his goal.