Friday, January 29, 2010

That which does not kill us makes us stronger. -Friedrich Nietzsche

I have often heard this quote from a German philosopher who was named after a Green Bay linebacker, I guess. While it is a great motivational sound bite, I’m not sure if it’s really true. Even if it is, I am sure it is not the best training philosophy for most of us.
As I read the latest (Jan. 2010) edition of Long & Strong, one of my favorite publications, one theme struck me. Almost each one of the articles where a thrower was profiled mentioned the fact that they are discovering or have discovered that often less is more when it comes to training. Quality of work is of much greater value than quantity of work. As I pondered this I couldn’t help but think of two coaches I have had the privilege to cross paths with and their different approaches to maximal results.
In 1989 the Bulgarians were on top of the weightlifting world and the reports were that they were training to the maximum several times a day, every day. Many of us wondered if that were really possible and, if so, how were they doing it? A Bulgarian coach, Angel Spassov, visited the U.S. and presented several clinics around the country sponsored by the NSCA. Being too poor to travel to Bulgaria myself, when I heard a clinic was to be held in Phoenix, I scraped together the fee and loaded my family into our truck and went. While we later found out that Mr. Spassov fed us some information that was suspect, (like the notion that Bulgarian lifters did step-ups for leg strength instead of squats) it was still a very eye opening experience for me. I still have my notes from that day in my files. He spent a great deal of time talking about natural testosterone production and it’s importance in training. Dr. Mike Stone and others have since published research that clarifies and in some cases contradicts the Bulgarian claims, but that is not the point of this post.
The really interesting topic, to me, was their process for selection of weight lifters. They scouted schools and screened boys aged 10. (This was just as women’s weightlifting was beginning to be popular, girls weren’t mentioned) The test battery was Standing Long Jump (2 legs), Vertical Jump, (1 and 2 Legs), 30 meter sprint, Pullups, and 4kg Overhead Shot Throw. Flexibility was screened by performing an overhead squat with a jerk grip. Selected boys trained in a “school” for athletes living in a dormitory type setting. Spassov claimed that their success rate was 1 world champion for every 66 boys in the program at a cost of about 6 million Bulgarian dollars. (That is what I wrote in my notes that day)
When asked about any psychological motivation techniques, it took him quite awhile to understand the question. Finally, he stated that there is no such thing as psychological motivation, only natural selection. Athletes who rose to the top received benefits of better living conditions and travel. Those who didn’t improve were sent back home. To me, it seems that the Bulgarian “success” was not a result of a sound system of programming, but of Nietzsche’s philosophy. Take a group of athletes selected for their natural attributes and train them as hard as possible. The few who are genetically robust enough to adapt and survive will rise high. Of course he also mentioned the importance of “medicinal support” in the process. If Spassov wasn’t pulling our legs, there are probably 60 or so broken lifters behind each champion. East Germany had similar, but even more structured approach and claimed an even higher success ratio, but of course we now know that “medicinal support” was also a major factor in their system. Today it is well documented that China uses a similar selection and sport school process with a huge population to feed into it.
Here in the United States we have a different way of looking at things. American athletes are not selected, but voluntarily choose to participate and with few exceptions (Todd Marinovich for example, lol) are not in a tightly controlled environment. One of the greatest lifters and athletic champions ever to represent the United States is relatively unknown outside of the hard core lifting community. Tamio (Tommy) Kono won 6 World Championships, 2 Olympic Golds and 1 Silver, 3 Pan-Am championships, and set world records in 4 different bodyweight classes. He also served as National Coach for both Germany and Mexico as well as coaching many U.S. National and Olympic teams. It has been my privilege to converse with him several times and even had lunch together once. He is the most sincere and humble gentleman you could ever wish to meet. He has written a book “WEIGHTLIFTNG, OLYMPIC STYLE” which any coach who uses lifting in their training should have. It explains technique in simple language and the competitive experiences he shares are worth the price alone. I don’t know if he was the inspiration for Sylvestor Stallone’s story in Rocky IV or not, but he really lived that story as he was invited to a lifting meet in Russia and arrived with no coach or interpreter. He overcame many obstacles and was victorious. I am leaving out the details in hopes you will read it for yourself. The mental aspects of competing that are explained are relevant to all athletes. Perhaps even more amazing is the fact that Tommy began lifting while in a Japanese-American internment camp during WWII and for much of his career training in a low ceiling basement with a dirt floor.
While I could write volumes about Tommy Kono’s accomplishments and character, my point is that Tommy very bluntly proclaims that less is more, quality trumps quantity, and it is better to be slightly undertrained than overtrained. He does not mince words when he states that the Bulgarian-type approach to training was born of the necessity to keep the young men tired and busy (as they had no responsibilities outside of lifting) rather then any scientific reasoning. There is an American system and it consists of intelligently applying training in proper doses to stimulate improvement. It is highly individualized, requires thought and adaptation, and it can be integrated into a full life that allows for education, career, and family responsibilities. If you read the latest “LONG AND STRONG” you will find that many modern track athletes also agree.
If you would like to learn more about Tommy, purchase his book, or his excellent knee and waistband products visit the link listed on our links below: www.tommykono.com
Also a few youtube video segments of Tommy teaching the lifts were posted on this site in 2009. You can scroll down to find them.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Univ. Of New Mexico

This last weekend we traveled to Albuquerque to compete at the Cherry and Silver Invitational. We had a good competition and two throwers pr'd including Oliver who had a huge pr in the weight throw. The day before the competition we found a way to get a lift in at the Univ. Of New Mexico's weight room. The strength and conditioning coach was very nice and hospitable. Here are some pictures of the weight room and videos of us lifting. Throughout our season I am planning on taking pictures and videos of our competitions and posting them on the blog.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

What Tools are in Your Toolbox?

There is a saying, "When the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." In other words, if we are not careful, we can find ourselves inside of a self-constructed box of our own creation. We can get into a rut of allowing our enviroment to limit our training. While there are certainly more machines, gadgets, and devices available than ever before, in many ways these become limitations. We tend to think, "If only we had.......(some piece of equipment), then I could really make progress." To me, the great challenge and satisfaction of life is not so much what I can accumulate, as it is what I can do without. Having had the privilege of living on the Navajo Nation since 1976, I have been able to experience that attitude personified. The tenacity and creativity that allowed the Navajo people to survive and prosper in this harsh enviroment is still very much evident today. It is often manifested in how everyday mundane problems are solved. I love the story of how a family was traveling to town from a remote area of the reservation when a tire on their truck went flat. With no spare, they removed the valve stem and patiently sifted sand through the hole until it was full enough to drive on. This story was related to me by the suprised mechanic who removed the tire to repair it in Farmington, NM.He also told me about the truck that he worked on that was driven in with horse tail hair woven into the universal joint to keep it from vibrating while they drove into town for the parts. I remember my wife and sister-in-law getting stuck in the mud while delivering food for a funeral and digging themselves out with serving spoons. I could tell hundreds of more stories of finding a way to get the job done. Many of my former students choose military service as a post high school option that allows them to get out from between the Four Sacred Mountains and see the world while earning some money and benefits. Many of them have been decorated during the Gulf wars because they knew how to solve problems. Especially in the desert.
What does all this have to do with training? No "Land Mine" unit? Tilt a bar up in the corner. No back raise or glute-ham? Mount an old car seat on a saw horse or duct tape pillows or other foam padding. No reverse hyper unit? Use the same sawhorse and hold onto a loaded barbell for balance. Manual resitance or rubber bands or tubing can be used to work any plane of motion and are especially useful to improvise workouts when traveling.No barbells? I've had alot of fun lifting, carrying, and throwing big rocks in various ways.Try pushing a truck for some leg and lung work. We have a nice well equipped weightroom now, as illustrated in the last post. But I can honestly say, we are not doing anything now, that we did not find a way to do before. It is just more convenient now. We never quit looking for better ways to do things and never let our resources dictate our program.
Improvisation is not limited to the weightroom. Can't afford a Denfi trainer? Attach a 2&1/2 or 5 lb. plate to an old hammer handle with heavy gauge wire or even rope. Awhile ago I had a discus thrower who couldn't get a good trajectory. No matter how we drilled from stands, to right leg pivots,...etc. when we put it all togather out of the back we got line drives. Finally I got two bungy cords and a tarp. Using the cords we suspended the tarp across the front of the cage. Now the discus had to clear the tarp or the tarp would catch it and drop in front of the thrower. (Don't attach the bottom corners or it will throw it back) A few sessions with the tarp fixed the problem.Don't let your current toolbox limit your approach to finding solutions.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Training Enviroment

While this is not directly about throwing or lifting, a factor in the process is where you train. Obviously success does not depend upon having first class training facilities.(See Rocky III and Rocky IV for example)lol Seriously, in real life there are many examples of top competitors who trained in adverse conditions.In fact, there are some who would say that having it too good may actually be a barrier to success and I would tend to agree. Having said that, I had the opportunity to design a new weightroom a few years years ago at Monument Valley High School in Kayenta, Arizona. We are located next to beautiful Monument Valley on the Navajo Nation. I am currently in my 29th year as a teacher and coach. I began teaching on the Alamo Navajo reservation in New Mexico in 1981. Our school consisted of 6 portable metal buildings in the desert. I kept my weights underneath one of the buildings, chained to a beam, and we lifted outdoors. In the winter we wore gloves and multiple layers of clothing.Next I moved to Monument Valley, Utah where I had a small weight room located on a concrete floor above the gym. With 3 homemade platforms and a couple of homemade squat racks we developed a weightlfting club that won several Utah state championships.About 19 years ago, I moved here to Kayenta and inherited a "weightroom" that consisted of a broken Universal machine and 3 broken bars. We soon had 6 homemade plaforms and a set of quality bars and bumpers which allowed us to produce many state and national medalists. Outgrowing that facility we moved to garage on campus with more floor space and continued to beg, borrow, steal, and make equipment. We worked around the auto lifts that were still in the floor. About 5 years ago we put togather a grant which allowed me to design and equip a facility that I had dreamed about. The weightroom is 50'X100' and has 12- 8'X8' training platforms and 1 full size competition platform.The platforms are inlaid flush with the floor to eliminate shifting or tripping. They are 3/4 inch playwood and rubber. Each is equipped with 177.5 kg Elieko bumper set and a portable squat rack. There are 4 full size Hammer Strength power racks with sufficient height for over head work and each has a York bar.We have dumbells from 5-120 lb.in 5 lb. increments 2 sets of each. We also have some Hammer strength machines for things like neck work, pullovers, lat machine, rowing,leg curl,..etc. Things that are not high priority but good for rehab and filling in gaps that barbell work does not always cover. We chose the Hammer Strength units because they are durable and do not have cables to wear out or break. In a remote area like ours, getting service is tough. We have to do our own repairs and upkeep. We also have a Louie Simmons reverse hyper and half a dozen Glute-ham and back raise units. This fits our philosophy of Olympic style lifting and it's variations as a basis of training for all sports. Below are a few short video segments we did over Christmas break. It was in the evening so the weightroom was empty. The sound didn't come out real well, but I think it is clear what is happening. The third segment shows our record boards, a great motivation and tradition builder for our program and also our wall of fame which displays some of our top student athletes over the past 19 years. This also brings a great deal of tradition to our program.I couldn't imagine why any institution would not want to have something similar in their facility.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Is Rotational Force the Same as Twisting?

Recently I read an article in the BFS (Bigger, Faster, Stronger) magazine that I really agreed with.
It was titled, “Secrets to Developing Rotational Strength”. While I don’t believe there are any “secret” training methods and I generally disregard articles claiming such, the opening paragraph hit home with me. The author, Kim Goss stated, “Over the past decade there has been a trend in the strength
coaching profession to distract athletes from getting stronger.”
I couldn’t agree more. Commercial fads and trends seem to have pushed out common sense in many programs.
He went on to state,”I’m not talking about training that is augmented with complicated periodization programs that require a slide rule or at least a basic knowledge of Excel 2007 but about training regimes that require athletes to spend a lot of time on worthless exercises. Our gyms are full of kettle bells, elastic tubing, medicine balls with ropes – tools that are supposedly the best way to develop the athletic quality known as rotational strength.”
His next statement really made me feel we were on the same philosophical page,
“The problem is that many coaches mistakenly believe that basic multijoint movements such as squats and power cleans will not improve rotational strength. After all, most exercises occur in the vertical and horizontal planes, but in sports, as Chubby Checker would say, “There’s a whole lot of twisting goin’ on!” As such, some coaches think that traditional weight training workouts are simply not good enough and that special functional exercises that work those important “core” muscles must be included in every serious athlete’s workout.
Nice try.
Much of what is being preached about core training, especially about the topic of developing rotational strength, is nonsense. Most of these exercises don’t do what their proponents claim they can do, and don’t even make sense from an anatomical standpoint. The result is that athletes often spend a lot of time on inferior exercises and even on exercises that place the spine at a high risk of injury.”
Many S&C coaches seem to think that twisting exercises are essential for developing the so called rotational strength that is exerted when throwing. This is not only a waste of time, but a great way to herniate a disc. Discs are not designed to rotate individually. The cumulative micro trauma that results from repetitive twisting exercises breaks down the disc wall. The greater the twisting force, the faster the breakdown.
An analysis of the torque produced in the trunk when throwing shows that it is not the spine that is twisting, but the rotational movement occurs as the hips are driven forward. Yes, there is a separation between the hips and shoulders, but it is a limited range of motion and does not come close to the end point. Exercises where the hips are held stationary and the trunk is twisted to the full end point of it’s range is a recipe for injury. Such exercises as seated twists with weight or high speed walking twists while swinging a weight are not necessary and are dangerous. Rotational strength depends first and foremost on trunk strength and stability. The standard squats, pulls, and presses are effective in developing this. Controlled twisting within the range of motion can be of some benefit, but probably is about as effective as doing toe raises to increase vertical jump. The power comes from the hip extension. The toe raise is more of a follow through and adds little to the jump.
In the same vein, the trunk torque is the natural result of a throw, not the major power generator. Work your core, but do it under control and within it’s natural range of motion. Throw long, and throw for a long time. Don’t ruin your back in the weight room.
The full BFS article can be read at: http://www.biggerfasterstronger.com/home/MagDetails.asp?id=1689&previd=40&MagCat=_NovDec

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Little Motivation

Some good throws, heavy training, and who knew that the governator was a thrower?

I guess he only learned to spin after he got into politics.

Here is a Link to the full version of Hercules in New York with sound...lol fun stuff


Thursday, January 7, 2010


Here are a few more videos taken of Gerd Kanter during the summer of 2008. All of them were filmed in Helsingborg, Sweden. There is one video of a competition and there are a few fun ones of Gerd throwing left handed. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Jerk Recoveries- Fun During Christmas Break.

Christmas break was great. We have a pretty large family with 6 children. Four are now married so we have 3 sons-in law, a daughter-in-law and 10 grandchildren with 2 more on the way so far. My father was also visiting and we all were together in the 1800 sq. ft. house the school district rents to us in Kayenta, Arizona. Luckily, or maybe because of that, we get along pretty well. On the reservation you can’t own land, so schools provide housing for employees. It is usually adequately comfortable, but not fancy. Given that, we spend a lot of time outdoors and in our state of the art weight room.
On Saturday night about 7:00pm we decided to go to the weight room and do an exercise that is largely unknown and unappreciated, Jerk Recoveries, also termed Overhead Supports although there is a subtle difference. To do the exercise you need a very sturdy power rack that will allow the bar to be placed an inch or so above the forehead. Many modern racks or so called “squat cages” as they are termed, do not have holes or brackets at a sufficient height to allow this. I suggest when buying a rack, make sure it will allow for heavy overhead work.
After a general warmup, the bar is placed on the pins above the forehead as described. The athlete stands under the bar with a full grip about shoulder width or slightly wider. Care is taken that the core is tight and the mind focused. Drop explosively under the bar pushing to arms length. The feet can either be split fore and aft, split jerk style or kept in line, power jerk style.
There are some who say that split style may be more relevant to shot or discus throwing as the legs are staggered on release.(note the picture posted in December of Anders Arrhenius) If you feel this is important, then a right handed thrower would split with the left leg forward. In reality, I recommend alternating the forward leg to keep balanced development. In the power jerk style you get more vertical lift, perhaps more applicable to hammer or weight. That aside, either style will build great strength and stability from the fingernails to the toenails.
Once the athlete has driven themselves under the bar they need to immediately drive upward maintaining an absolute rigid core along with extended arms. As lifting great Tommy Kono says, “Bone on Bone.” Meaning that arm lock is maintained, shoulders pushing up, body aligned. If the weight is not locked out over head, it will come back down. Start with a relatively light weight (less than your best jerk or push press) then progress in big jumps to a weight that exceeds your best overhead lift by 100 lb. or more. You must be focused and drive hard under the bar staying tight. Drive upwards driving the bar off of the pins and support it overhead for 1-5 seconds.
If you loosen up or flinch, the bar will not stay up. You have to maintain the upward thrusting sensation throughout the movement. If you are not aligned, the bar will merely slide forward or backwards on the pins, but it won’t go up.
What are the benefits? Besides the tight core and total body tensile strength, it promotes shoulder strength and balance, it teaches concentration and focus, and it’s a lot of fun to hold super heavy weights over head. As you develop strength in this position, your jerks and presses will feel like toys overhead.
The subtle difference I mentioned between Jerk Recoveries and Overhead Supports is this:
Recoveries are done with bar above the forehead as described, which requires dropping lower under the bar and more leg strength.
Supports are done with the bar higher above the head and only a slight drop under. The focus is on the over head support and not as much leg work. Both have their benefits depending on the goals of the athlete.
Below are some examples we recorded that night in our weight room. My daughter Deezbaa, a thrower at BYU demonstrates a jerk recovery split style with 275 lb. (125 kg.) Her best jerk is about 200 lb.(92.5 kg.) right now. She weighs about 160 lb. and can throw her bodyweight in the discus and hopefully well over 180’ in the hammer this season. My son Orrin, a high school junior, does 345 lb. (157.5 kg) in power jerk style. He later did 405 lb. (182.5 kg) but we didn’t get it on camera. He weighs about 154 lb. (70 kg.) and has jerked 110 kg. (242 lb.) He is in season wrestling right now. Oliver is shown doing 500 lb. at a bodyweight of about 230 lb. (105 kg.) He also throws at BYU and hit 59 meters in the hammer last season, expecting much more this year. The narration didn’t come out very well, but if you listen close there is some explanation. Even without the sound, it is easy to see what is happening. It was a fun evening over Christmas break.
-Ollie Whaley