"It's okay for you, you're fit!" Pete's Weightlifting Journey

Weightlifting obsessed, moi?


My past fitness

This started a few years ago now.

When I finally enrolled onto my diploma in personal training, it was doing so with the amassed experience of a10 year military career where fitness was like brushing your teeth (daily, a function of living and a method by which you got better at your job).

It’s fair to say that the methods that I had employed during this time to gain that level of fitness (exceptionally high incidentally) were at best a little Spartan. Endurance was built over long hours of marching and running. Strength was built by carrying heavy loads and hauling myself over assault courses, over walls in and out of buildings and endless circuit training sessions. Ultimately these methods, (as I learned later) applied the basic principle of specificity; you get fit for what you do. For me it wasn’t always this way, I didn’t always have fitness.

"It's okay for you because you are fit"

Now there is a common held misconception that I have encountered thousands of times over the years. That is that “it’s OK for you because you are fit”. This is something that we all would have heard at some point (possibly even found ourselves saying it). This is something that I find really interesting, particularly if you were to speak to my school PE teachers. Famously I was, at best a non-attender in school PE. So much so that some years later (whilst working as a leisure centre duty manager) one of my old PE teachers came in with a class of children. So shocked was he at the turn my life had taken (military service, then working in the fitness industry) that he had to double take when I approached him. He even forgot his normal calm demeanour and exclaimed that never in his wildest dreams would he have imagined such an (in his words) un-athletic child could ever have developed into what he saw before him.

The Power Clean

So when I came to my personal training education I already had a rich experience to draw from, adapting what I knew to encompass all the other fitness principles, the techniques and the methods of training. Whilst here I was first introduced to weightlifting, well I say weightlifting but what I really mean is the sports conditioning version, the power clean.

Over the years I used this exercise to great effect in conjunction with others to increase power to do other activities in both clients and myself. Then some years later (10 years roughly) a lot of things had changed, I was no longer running and was almost exclusively weight training. In my own training, exercises that I had previously used to condition myself for other activities (running, cycling, surfing and generally adventuring) had become the reason for doing it in their own right. The pursuit of increase of strength itself had become more important to me. From here onwards it was only natural for me to seek the distillation of quality involved in learning the Olympic lifts proper.

A reason for training

You see, within these two lifts (the clean and jerk and the snatch) there is a myriad of technical points that can take years to perfect. These lifts require agility, strength, power, flexibility and coordination; I have found learning them altogether more addictive than the other forms of lifting that I do. The greatest thing that I find with them is that they have given me back my reason for training, my goals and my excitement at doing the basics well. In addition the beauty of the Olympic lifts for me is that they require the participant to have grounding in all aspects of physical movement (strength/power/agility/coordination/ flexibility) and because I enjoy training this gives me plenty of things to do to be working towards my goal of getting better at weightlifting.

So how did I go about it?

Like any skill there has to be a phase of learning. Movements like running, jumping, swimming and lifting are all based on specific movement patterns. These patterns are generated in the brain then communicated to the skeletal muscles.

This happens by an individual having an intention to move, that intention is then translated to the movement part of the brain and processed which in turn is sent via the spinal nerves to the skeletal muscles that create and control that movement. As this is happening the proprioceptive (these let the brain know where the parts of the body are relative in space) receptors in the body are measuring what is actually happening, sending that information back to the brain (this time the cerebellum) which compares the intended movement with the actual movement constantly modulating future movements.

It is via the above mechanism that we learn these patterns of movement. When this feedback and feed forward loop completes the correct movement repeatedly the strength of the ‘signal’ getting to the correct muscles in the correct timing becomes more streamlined and efficient this outwardly presents as improved quality of movement.

Learning a pattern of movement

Some sources suggest it takes 3000 correct movements to form an engram (a learned pattern of movement) that is why I set about first dropping all my weights back to a level that I was able to concentrate on the quality of my movement then refining how I did the movements. I read about how the experts did them, I watched you tube videos of weight lifters in action then I got my colleagues to video me and provide coaching tips. During this process of refinement I broke down the movements and learned them bit by bit, eventually putting them back together to complete the new improved movement patterns.

During this time I limited myself to using a maximum weight that I could do for at least 3 to 5 repetitions to allow correct repetitions to occur with enough volume for me to learn form.

Ongoing Success

To give some Idea of scale I started this process in January and by the end of April I was able to lift consistently well. When I started in January I was achieving about 40% successful lifts at 40kg for power snatches and 60kg for power cleans. Last week I narrowly missed a 70kg snatch and a 90kg clean and jerk with a great deal more consistency of lifts, somewhere in the region 90% successful lifts. For the same period of time I have maintained a bodyweight of 80kg.

Now that I am lifting more consistently I am in a good position to start reducing the repetition ranges and increasing my loads rather than just concentrating on quality, so next time you are in the area pop in to the Cardiff gym, I may well be practicing.