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Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Olympics: 5 Things You Can Learn About Talent & Practice

Most of us, not matter how much we stretch or practice, will never be able to hit this position like Jie Zhang does. That doesn't mean that we can't still enjoy the process and even become a champion at some level, if not the top.

Following in the same vein as our last post, her is another article on the balance between practice and innate talent, or genetics. As this article makes the point, practice certainly brings improvement, but the ultimate level one can attain is limited by our genetic potential. Mental qualities as well as physical traits have to be considered as well and are much harder to identify, quantify, and measure although they can make a huge difference.
The take home message?
Who knows what their individual potential is?
Work hard, work smart, persist, and enjoy the journey.
You never know how far you can go until you have given it your best.

The Olympics: 5 Things You Can Learn About Talent 
 (Practice Talent and practice are what make some athletes great. Published on February 10, 2014 by Jonathan Wai, Ph.D. in Finding the Next Einstein Guest post written by Michael Joyner, Professor of Anesthesiology at Mayo Clinic and blogger at Human Limits.)
Elite sports competition generates a lot of discussion and debate. Much is bar stool yapping about who was the best ever but some is more serious about topics that include the role of talent and practice in elite performance. So, here are a few thoughts about talent and practice that you might ponder during the Olympics. They are gleaned from a longer e-mail discussion I had with Jon, David Epstein, Terry Laughlin, and Amby Burfoot. 

1. More Than 10,000 Hours There is a school of thought that all is required for exceptional performance is 10,000 hours of deliberate practice and there essentially is no such thing as talent. To test the 10,000 hour concept prospectively a guy named Dan McLaughlin comes to mind. Mr. McLaughlin has quit his day job as a commercial photographer to see just how good a golfer he can become with 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. After about 5,000 hours of practice he has a handicap of about plus 6 and his improvement seems to be stalling out. Top pros are routinely minus 4 or 5 on their home courses. At some level this little experiment shows us both the power and limits of deliberate practice. Dan McLaughlin is becoming a solid golfer and is now in the top 10 percent of people who actually post handicaps. However, to put it in perspective, about 15 percent of marathon finishers run under 3:30, so he is a long way from elite. Another example comes from Hayden Smith who is the cross country coach at Albion College. Smith was a good college sprinter who took up distance running in the 1970s, trained like a pro but “only” ran a 2:26 marathon after years of intense training. This is a 1/500 performance or better, but it is not a 1/50,000 performance like you see at the Olympics. The slippery slopes in the practice vs. talent discussion are what constitutes exceptional performance and perhaps a narrow definition of talent and how talent and practice interact.

 2. Talent Identification Matters For those who say talent matters perhaps the more important point is that talent identification matters. In this context, LoLo Jones is going to be all over the women’s bobsled coverage during the Winter Olympics. Jones is a superb hurdler who has transitioned to the role of bobsled pusher in the last couple of years to take advantage of her speed at the start of the race. This is nothing new and numerous track athletes have taken up bobsledding over the years. It is also another example of how talent matters and 10,000 hours of deliberate practice is not the only explanation for athletic greatness. A more systematic example of talent identification comes from Great British Rowing’s Start Programme which seeks to find tall people with a lot of aerobic power and turn them into rowers. This effort has been successful and resulted in a number of Olympic medals and World Champions for the Brits.

 3. Opportunity Matters During this Olympics you will not be seeing a bunch of Kenyans and Ethiopians dominating the cross-country skiing competitions. The obvious reason for this is that there is not a lot of snow in East Africa. The flip side of this is the role of roller-blades in expanding the talent pool for speed skating. So, the Winter Olympics is no longer dominated solely by people from cold climates as opportunities in traditionally cold weather sports globalize.

 4. Who Specialized When? In sports you find examples of early specialization and intensive practice, and there are also stories of people who sampled many sports early and specialized later. It is hard to generalize, but in some sports like women’s gymnastics there seems to be age related sweet spots for body size and strength to weight ratio that favor relatively young athletes, so early specialization is essential. In other sports there is evidence for later specialization in those who make it to the top and the evidence based recommendations are pretty clear: “Some degree of sports specialization is necessary to develop elite-level skill development. However, for most sports, such intense training in a single sport to the exclusion of others should be delayed until late adolescence to optimize success while minimizing injury, psychological stress, and burnout.” 

 5. You Can’t Coach Desire One thing that comes up time and time again in sports is the so-called “rage to master” concept. The idea is that very few people are both gifted in a given domain and also develop an interest in pursuing it like their hair is on fire. In some instances you hear about parents having to actually slow kids down and broaden their focus, and some coaches find the best way to instill discipline in their athletes is to paradoxically “kick them out of practice.” So, a lot of times it is the athlete who can’t get enough shaping his or her world vs. Helicopter parents burning their kids out. 
 Most people can become very good at most things via focused practice. However like most complex human phenotypes elite athletic success is a combination of innate talent and environmental factors that include exposure, training, desire and culture. At age 30 Michael Jordan dabbled for a few years as a minor league baseball player. He was talented enough to be a really good baseball player but not close to the Big Leagues, and the summary statement by the scouts went something like this: “do I want MJ at age 30 – no, do I want him at age 17 – yes!”. In the final analysis, telling people it is all about practice or all about talent are both bad messages because both will only take you so far. Keep these things in mind as you watch the Winter Olympics. 
Michael J. Joyner, M.D., is the Caywood Professor of Anesthesiology at Mayo Clinic where he was named Distinguished Investigator in 2010. His interests include: exercise physiology, cardiovascular regulation, autonomic regulation of metabolism, and the physiology of world records. His Human Limits blog can be found at http://www.drmichaeljoyner.com/.

A great deep jerk position takes not only physical preparation, but mental toughness and courage as well.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Can Practice Overcome a Lack of Talent?


CJ works hard, but that's not the only factor that brought his success.



Having just recently worked at the USA Weightlifting National Championships, it is clear to me that there are certain innate qualities that are essential to being able to perform at the highest level. Having said that, there is no one in lifting who can get by on natural talent alone without some hard and consistent training. There are some obvious differences between the medalists and the competitors who are there for the experience, but the difference is more than just the amount of effort expended. What can talent do? Look no further than CJ Cummings. Only 14 years old and broke the American record in the Clean and Jerk with 153 kg in the 62 kg class. I would guess that everyone of his competitors has trained significantly longer and likely as hard. He also trains hard, but with a foundation of natural abilities that are rare.
Below is an article that discusses the balance of practice and talent. Personally I don't over analyze this as it's obvious to me that both are essential. Practice is essential to maximizing the talent potential, but the old adage holds true, "you can't make a silk purse out of a pig's ear."

The best in current leadership research and theory, from cultivating charisma to transforming your organization by Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D. Can Practice Overcome a Lack of Talent? Can deliberate practice make you into a superstar? What can? Published on July 18, 2014 by Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D. in Cutting-Edge Leadership Recent books such as Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and Talent is Overrated (Colvin) have suggested that deliberate practice – structured practice designed to improve performance in music, sports, games, or a profession – accounts for most of the difference between average and “star performers.” In other words, the main difference between you and Tiger Woods is the thousands of hours he spends in deliberate golf practice. Very recent research suggests that deliberate practice, while important, doesn’t seem to compensate for talent and natural abilities (such as intelligence). A meta-analysis that will soon be published in the journal, Psychological Science, looked at the effect that deliberate practice had on performance in sports, games, music, education, and professions. The results showed that, across a number of studies, the amount of deliberate practice only explained 12% of the variance in performance. This means that the vast majority of variance in performance is caused by something else. These results did differ for type of activity, with the highest effect of deliberate practice for games, music, and sports, and almost no effect on educational or professional performance (i.e., being a “star” in a particular profession). These results suggest that talent matters, as well as factors such as intelligence, memory, and other innate qualities. So, can you simply make yourself into a superstar through focused and deliberate practice? Probably not, unless you have some inherent talent to begin with. On the other hand, practice does indeed help, but not as much as some would have you believe. Macnamara, B.N., Hambrick, D.Z., & Oswald, F.L. (2014). Deliberate practice and performance in music, games, sports, education, and professions: A meta-analysis. Psychological Science (online). Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., is the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College.
Talent and practice are both essential.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

I Get This.....

For you younger readers, you probably will wonder what this is about. For us older veterans, we totally get it. If you are among the former, then just wait. If  you are tough enough and lucky enough, someday it will inspire you too.
I think this is really, really, cool.

Monday, July 21, 2014

USA Weightlifting Nationals

Dmitry Klokov  was in attendance and takes time to greet my Son-in-law, Jacob Collins and Son, Orrin who loaded  at the meet.


It was great to spend a few days as a volunteer at the 2014 USA Weightlifting Nationals in Sal Lake City, Utah. Deborah Carrol and her staff put on a very professional and organized meet that ran as close to schedule as any national meet that I have attended. Although it was a two platform meet, it ran smoothly and was easy for the spectators to follow. A good size crowd was in attendance, especially for the A sessions. The set up and atmosphere was great and that was reflected in the number of records set. It was the largest national ever in the U.S. with 380 or so lifters competing. The female competitors outnumbered the men with most weight categories have B and even some C sessions. Whatever your opinion of Crossfit methods may be, there is no denying that it has increased interest and participation in weightlifting here in the USA.
Here are some random observations from the meet, in no particular order:
I had not been to a national meet in over 10 years but it was great to see so many of the same coaches and officials there. For the most part, the "movers and shakers" in the sport have not changed much in ten years although there were a few new programs and coaches as well. I got to meet old friends and make some new ones too.
It was also great to see many whom I knew as athletes who are now coaching and officiating, staying involved and giving back to the sport. For many, weightlifting is a huge part of their life.
The overwhelming majority of the lifting community are high class individuals who treat the sport and each other with respect. I have seen a few incidents at smaller meets where the influx of the crossfitters has changed the atmosphere somewhat as they don't have a sense of the history of the sport and seemed to lack the "etiquette" and respect that veteran lifters have. At the national level I did not notice any of that. It was a very respectful and considerate atmosphere.

The 94 kg class was great with Colin Burns (on right) taking Gold.

I marshaled about 7 sessions which can be a tense job at times as coaches depend on you to be accurate and fast in recording and ordering the upcoming attempts. At the national level, where lifters have trained and sacrificed to travel long distances, it is vital to get it right for them. It can get tense in tight competitions as coaches maneuver and change attempts. I had no instances of disrespect or venting, although I will admit that I was a little rusty at first and struggled to keep up.
One of the saddest things that I hate to see is a lifter who fails to total. To me this is a cardinal sin for the coach to have a lifter "bomb out" or fail to get a lift in. I saw it years ago and unfortunately still see it happening today, maybe even more so among the newer competitors who came in from Crossfit.
It's an old cliche, but it's always the truth that it's not what you start with but what you finish with that gets recorded. Why start with a weight that's so close to your desired outcome when you have 3 attempts to get there? It has always been my philosophy to make your opener safe. Increase to your max for your second and break new ground on your 3rd if you are having a good day. Of course it's not always that simple for an advanced lifter who has been competing for years and/or is going for a national championship. But, it is always true, whatever the circumstance, that your opener should be comfortable and give you momentum.
In my opinion, you can approach a meet in two ways. You can choose to compete against the other competitors and react to them by adjusting your attempts to theirs, or, you can know your lifter well, see where they are at at the present time, (considering travel, weight loss, emotions,...etc.) and choose wise attempts that will allow them to get the most they are capable of on that given day, basically ignoring the jockeying the others are doing. After all, If you get the best out of an athlete, that is all you can do. I think at the national level you take the second approach for the first two attempts and then use the 3rd to maneuver if you are in the hunt. Certainly the first attempt should be taken with the focus on the athlete, not the competition. In all my years, I have had only one athlete "bomb" and that was because he insisted on not listening and I let him learn for himself. Know your athlete and don't be slave to predetermined numbers that are projected based on training. Compete in the moment with where you are right now and be ready to adjust as needed. It's all about making lifts, not attempting them. Don't allow ego or the intensity of the moment spur poor judgement. Focus more inward and act according to your circumstances. Don't just react to the competition.
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Jenny Arthur takes Gold in the 75 kg class.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What Nutritionist Don't Eat


Here are some things that weightlifters eat.

For a change of pace, here is an article dealing with nutrition. We haven't looked at that in awhile. Personally I have always been careful about what I eat, but, at least in my mind, am not fanatical about nutrition. It has always been my philosophy that "exercise covereth a multitude of sins" so far as diet goes. I eat pretty well and have developed a taste for whole and more natural foods. I seldom eat processed or packaged foods and don't really have a taste for them. I am lucky that I was raised in a rural farming community and developed a taste for home grown, wholesome food from a young age. I would rather eat an apple than a Hostess apple pie. I don't have a taste for carbonated beverages so seldom drink sodas. I eat a candy bar may be 2-3 times a year if someone gives me one. Cakes and doughnuts are also rare although my wife makes  some really great cookies that have oatmeal, peanut butter, nuts, and even some whey protein so  I can at least rationalize that they are good for me. I have developed a taste for non-fat milk and dairy products and prefer whole grains to processed flour products. I would rather have oatmeal than Fruit Loops when I have a choice. I would guess that my diet is probably better than 98% of most Americans. But I am not so strict as to not have a piece of birthday cake at a party, or a doughnut at a church function. I don't think that eating outside of my normal preferences now and then is harmful. I believe if you eat well 90% of the time, deviating now and then will not be a problem. I am not so strict on my portion sizes as to be considered "ripped", but with a little more discipline I could get there if I was motivated to. (which I'm not) Like training, I try to eat to live better, not live to eat, although I really enjoy both training and eating and it's hard for me not to overdue both.
Below is an article on some foods that nutritionists say they avoid. I avoid most of them too, most of the time. But under the right (or wrong) circumstances I indulge in any of them once in awhile, then I work it off.

By Robin Hilmantel

Many nutritionists will tell you that they’re big advocates of the “all foods fit” approach to healthy eating—the idea that even things like cookies, cakes, and candies have a place (albeit in moderation) in an overall healthy diet. That said, there are still foods that they personally wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot-stick. Granted, they may be ones that you love and simply couldn’t eliminate from your diet altogether—and that’s OK.

Still, it’s pretty fascinating to get a glimpse into the eating habits of people are who paid to help others eat nutritionally for a living. So we asked several nutritionists to share the foods that they would never, ever eat. Here’s what they had to say:

Processed and/or Canned Meat or Cheese
“I particularly avoid those that are made with additional thickeners, preservatives, sugar, or a high content of preservatives. Animal products (and food products in general) that have to sit on a shelf inherently require a decent amount of processing to protect against microbial growth and contamination. I’d rather go for the fresh version than eat something high-sodium and preservative-rich (hence why some processed meats have earned their ‘mystery meat’ name).” —Jaclyn London, M.S., R.D., senior clinical dietician at Mount Sinai Hospital

Non-Dairy Creamer
“It’s completely without nutrient density of any kind, and it can increase your risk for heart disease.” —Kristin Kirkpatrick, M.S., R.D., a wellness manager at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute

GMOs
“If it’s controversial, I err on the side of caution. Plus, I prefer organic, high-quality foods that are clean and more environmentally sustainable.” —Katie Cavuto, M.S., R.D., the dietician for the Phillies and the Flyers
Pepperoni
“I personally don’t love the taste, but more importantly, I’d much rather top my pizza with nutritious veggies than overly processed meat.” —Keri Gans, R.D., author of The Small Change Diet

Diet Soda
“Those who are drinking diet sodas are most likely looking for that sweet taste without the extra sugar and calories. Unfortunately, that sweet taste comes with sugar cravings and increased caloric intake throughout the day. I’d recommend slowly removing diet soda from your diet. If you’re looking for an extra boost of caffeine, try green iced tea. Or if you’re a bubbly connoisseur, opt for a club soda with a squeeze of lemon or lime. Diet soda is all chemicals and won’t help you avoid extra calories in the long run anyway.” —Keri Glassman, R.D., Women’s Health contributor

Maraschino Cherries
“The added sugar, chemicals, and artificial dyes ruin the health benefits of the naturally delicious fruit.” —Michelle Davenport, Ph.D., R.D., a Silicon Valley nutritionist

Cold Cereal and Fat-Free Dairy
“Most cold cereals are loaded with added sugars and are missing protein and fiber. If I eat that to start, my entire day will be thrown off eating-wise, as I’ll be hungry and on a sugar crash within an hour or two. Fat-free dairy is something I avoid whenever possible. It certainly doesn’t taste as good as regular dairy products, but mainly because I think fat is a super important part of each meal. Having good-quality diary that’s full fat is delicious and nutritious.” —Brooke Alpert, M.S., R.D., founder of B Nutritious

Soda
“It’s literally liquid candy with absolutely no nutritional value. Why bother?” —Joy Bauer, M.S., R.D., the nutrition and health expert for NBC’s TODAY Show and Founder of NourishSnacks 

Fluorescent Orange Crunchy Snacks
“Most chippy packaged foods are an absolute waste of calories and are loaded with chemicals. But any of them that are orange? Well, that pushes yuck over the edge. These are salt, chemical, and artificial color cocktails in a bag! Steer clear.” —Keri Glassman, R.D., Women’s Health contributor

Artificial Sweeteners
“I can’t bring myself to consume something I know is fake and void of nutrients. Plus, my body doesn’t like them.” —Katie Cavuto, M.S., R.D., the dietician for the Phillies and the Flyers

Bacon
“Unless it finds its way into my Brussels sprouts with my knowing when I’m dining out, bacon is a food that I haven’t eaten since I was a child. Its high saturated fat and sodium content has been a huge deterrent for me for years.” —Keri Gans, R.D., author of The Small Change Diet

Hot Dogs
“Processed meat loaded with preservatives and barely any protein? No thanks!” —Joy Bauer, M.S., R.D., the nutrition and health expert for NBC’s TODAY Show and Founder of NourishSnacks 

Sugary Beverages
“For example: coffee, juice, and tea ‘drinks.’ I’d rather eat my calories (or save them for a glass of wine!) than drinking calorie-rich, nutrient-poor beverages that don’t fill you up.” —Jaclyn London, M.S., R.D., senior clinical dietician at Mount Sinai Hospital



This is the result of good eating habits.





Not this. Don't manipulate your food intake to create an impossible to sustain (and unhealthy)  image.



Thursday, July 10, 2014

Courage and Determination

How is this for inspiration....



What would YOU do if you tragically lost an arm? For 24-year-old Krystal Cantu, the answer was simple: Continue doing what you love. Last year, the San Antonio resident and member of Ballistic CrossFit was involved in a car accident that resulted in the amputation of her right arm. She had just begun working out at her local box a few months earlier, and was days away from participating in a competition. “I remember every single detail from that day. As soon as I saw my arm, the CrossFit competition was the first thing that ran through my mind,” Cantu tells us. “It killed me knowing I wouldn’t be able to compete, but I was so grateful to still have my life.” One month after her accident, Krystal was back at CrossFit. “I went back because I didn’t die...and my pride and competitive nature didn’t die, either. I’m a human, I’m scared of a lot of things — lightning storms, the world ending, and flying in planes — but, I’ve never been scared to go after something I love,” she says. And, at the three-month mark, Cantu did have her first competition: the Working Wounded Games. The reason Krystal jumped back into her workouts as soon as she was cleared didn't have much to do with fitness; CrossFit was her happy place, and she wasn’t willing to give that up. “CrossFit is what keeps me sane on a day-to-day basis. It’s helped me become mentally tough. It’s pushed me to my limits and shown me that I can accomplish anything I put my mind to, and it’s given me a way to help inspire others.” Cantu regularly posts motivating and uplifting videos and images (like the clip below) on her Instagram account. Of course, people often question the safety of one-armed Crossfit. Cantu's advice: Know your body, understand your limitations, and work with the smartest coaches out there. “No sport or exercise is ever completely safe. If you want safety, wrap yourself in bubble wrap and sit on the couch. Driving to your hometown for the weekend sounds pretty safe — until you lose an arm in the process,” she says. Cantu and her coaches watched videos of adaptive athletes and revamped CrossFit movements to make them work for her. “I had some new things to learn,” Krystal says. But, “I take my time to train the right way. I’m patient... I’m here today and I’m stronger than ever.” Determined and totally badass, Cantu has adjusted to her new situation and is proud to be an Adaptive CrossFit Athlete. “Adaptive athletes prove that anything is possible,” she says. "We let everyone know that it’s okay to look different...because you are just as strong as the person everyone considers 'normal.'”

Friday, July 4, 2014

Teaching the Double Knee Bend



A nice quick look at the DKB as executed by a master.

If you are new to lifting, or have not been exposed to competent coaching, you may not be aware of the double knee bend (DKB)that takes place during a properly performed pull. In the past there has been some discussion concerning how to teach this or even if it needs to be taught. Some have advocated teaching the concept, others say it occurs naturally. Taylor Chiu in his OlympicWeightliftingGuru site has brought up that argument again and provided some suggestions for teaching the DKB. http://www.olympicweightliftingguru.com/2014/07/01/double-knee-bend/
I agree that the DKB can and should be taught, although I also agree that it occurs naturally if you take a beginning lifter through the right progressions. Taylor outlines a progression that he has used. I have found an even simpler one that I have used for years in teaching high school students to clean and snatch. I simply begin with hang cleans and snatches from just above knee level. This automatically puts them in the power position with the knees slightly in front of the bar. They develop the jumplike feeling of using their legs to propel the bar upward. In conjunction with that, I have them also perform clean and snatch grip deadlifts from the floor. We teach proper back position and using the legs to push the floor down while maintaining a constant back angle. The bar is squeezed off the floor and as it passes the knees, the knees slide forward under the bar as the hips move in towards the bar. After a few weeks of these two movements, the hang lifts and lifting from the floor, the two are blended togather into a smooth and rhythmic movement as the novice combines those two exercises into a power clean and power snatch. (adding overhead and front squats will allow them to progress naturally into a full lift) Of course it takes a few weeks, but the DKB pattern is ingrained without even mentioning it by name. So, in my opinion, the DKB doesn't need to be presented as a complicated movement. It does not even need to be mentioned or pointed out. Just teach proper positions and it does occur naturally. So, it is taught, but very covertly without even mentioning it or making it seem like it's complicated or confusing.
Good view of the knees coming in front of the bar as the hips drive in. This allows the legs to extend explosively and is termed the Double Knee Bend.