Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Qualifying for Masters Nationals - Twice - While Pregnant, and Lessons Learned.

L: Snatching 95lbs @ Paramount Barbell Club Open, Feb. 2015, 15 weeks pregnant.
R: Snatching 101lbs @Roach Strength, May 2015, 6 months pregnant.
About a month ago, I discovered I had qualified for Master's Nationals at my first open meet.

Competing 15 weeks pregnant and being my own coach made that meet something of a fun landmark for me. It was my 2nd meet (my first Open) and I honestly just went for fun. Since I found out about The Bean, I've approached competing from a "have fun and stay sharp" mentality.  Meets are little more than a heavy training day and a chance to get used to performing on the platform in front of an audience. Each time, it's less and less nerve wracking and more and more fun to show 'em what I've got.

Posted by Nicole Napier-Kurdelski on Saturday, May 9, 2015

This time, I attracted a fair amount of attention. Despite not having to wear a singlet, it is pretty much impossible to hid my passenger - and I made no attempt to try.

After my session, a vendor a the meet came up to me after my session and said, "You're really pregnant!" Yup. She wasn't wrong. So I've learned a few tips and tricks that help me along the way.

I can no longer wear a weight belt. The increase intrabdominal pressure provided by the belt is a bit too much for The Bean, so my husband and I devised a different way of gently supporting my muscles, without creating any additional pressure. While it's not terribly graceful, we came up with a KT Tape configuration that proved helpful. (I'm happy to share what works for me - just comment if you're a lifter - or a coach - looking to help out an athlete.) I also need to give myself PLENTY of time to warm up, roll out, and stretch.

I got to talking with someone I recognized from the Clean and Jerk clinic I attended the week prior  (they already knew that I am pregnant) and the coach was intrigued to hear that I don't believe that successful Olympic lifting is only achievable by those with flat stomachs. (After all, just look at some of the super heavy weight champion lifters! There are PLENTY of ultra heavy weights with significant midsections.)

His observation is the same as many others I've read on the net: "Having a bigger midsection means you have to swing the bar away from you, so women should refrain from Olympic Weightlifting while pregnant so that they don't develop this habit." As far as I'm concerned, that's generally BS.

I'm no more, or less 'out front' with the bar now than I was before I was pregnant. Keeping the bar close is always a challenge. Truth is, when I'm lifting, I have zero concerns about hitting my belly. In fact, I never has.

Posted by Nicole Napier-Kurdelski on Saturday, May 9, 2015
This was my first experience really seeing someone (outside of my team) watching me like a hawk in the warm up room. Positioned across from me, and just one platform down, they stopped lifting and honed in on my immediately when I picked up the bar to do my first few warm up lifts. I did my best to ignore the eyes on me, and took it as 'practice' for the platform.

On the Platform at the Roach Invitational.
After a rough week when it came to snatching, I felt like I was a little uncertain of the outcome. I was just determined to have fun. I ended up lifting a 101lb Snatch, and a 130lb Clean and Jerk when it came to the heaviest, all of which felt really good. I missed one lift in each category and got one lift DQ'd (slight press out in the Jerk, but it didn't really matter - I got a heavier one in the next lift anyway).

Now, those are not lifetime Personal Records, but the Snatch is the heaviest snatch I've succeeded at since my first Trimester.  Even so, my lifts are an average of 10-15lbs from my maxes, comfortably. The strategy was to have fun and make my lifts. Turns out, I beat my last meet score by a Kilo, giving me confidence that I'll qualify for Master's Nationals next year as well (with one extra cheerleader in the audience, rather than on the platform with me).

So, what' next?

Though I qualified and was invitied to compete in Master's competitions this year, they are too close to my due date to really ensure any kind of performance, so this year, I'm passing on further competitions (as an athlete).

The goal is seeing my athletes through their competitions this year, while staying strong and sharp myself.

I can't thank my support crew enough for coming out to the meet and watch me play.

All my fellow Athletes after our session at Roach Strength's first Invitational Meet!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Being a Coachable Athlete, A Teachable Coach, And, Well, Pregnant

It's pretty interesting being a woman in the weight room.

It's very clear that the typical attitude toward the weight room (and Weightlifting as a sport) is that it's a place for men - or women who look like or aspire to be more masculine. It's a nasty stereotype. It has been a really great experience to earn my stripes in both the training room and the platform, and it has really reminded me what a gift it is to have, and to be, a coachable athlete.

As an athlete, it's about being teachable, open to suggestions, tweaks, and drills that often seem either terrible or ridiculous - and trusting that each of these will, in some way (big or small) make you better at what you love to do.

As a coach, the learning never stops either. At least, in my humble opinion, it shouldn't. Each weight lifter is different. From obvious physical differences (height, weight, femur-to-torso ratio, flexibility impairments, coordination challenges...) to psychological differences, to more subtle emotional challenges due to some situation in their personal life. As a coach, you get all of it. Each athlete is a different package. It's up to the coach to get inside that and help foster that potential -and share what we've learned with other coaches. (Yes, sometimes it's through drills that feel ridiculous or terribly difficult.)

This week, I've been able to talk with a couple coaches and athletes, fascinated  (and excited) about the idea of a pregnant Olympic Weightlifter. Since I've been cleared (by 3 doctors) to lift as long as it's comfortable, I'm able to continue my training with very little modification. (Trust me, it's not only comfortable, on most days, it's my sanity!)

I get their fascination. The (ridiculous) controversy of pregnant women working out (especially lifting heavy weights) drives many into silence, or pressures others to spend 9 months living in a bubble of fear and "what if".

 So, when asked how I lift around an ever-changing center of balance (and a belly that grows by the day), I tried several times to explain it... and failed miserably. I needed a little more 'show' and a lot less 'tell'. So I did something I NEVER do...

I stripped off my shirt and turned on the camera. Here are the results...

 Including a slow motion snatch complete with narration by yours truly.

I think I'm actually going to make these videos periodically - call it a weightlifter's version of the weekly pregnancy progression photos. It's really interesting working with a body that, in some places, is already about twice the size it used to be. Even though I used to be much heavier a few years back, the weight acts differently and is distributed differently now... and I still have all that strength that I didn't have when I was 220 and fighting the scale.

I may not be setting any new PRs, but it's a great time to work technique. And - it's working.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

An Insight Into Jerks, Snatches, Cleans, and Speed Bumps

Yesterday, I had a solo workout planned. So I got my programming and ducked into Rain City Crossfit and had at it.

Now, my evening lifting is always a bit of a push to get through. I'm glad Jerks were on the menu. With none of my usual lifting partners keeping me company, it was helpful to do something I really enjoy. (Jerks are my favorite movement to drill - right next to overhead squats. Badassery factor is high in those movements.) Not to mention, it's always a little more 'interesting' to lift in the evening - since that's when the Bean is most obvious and I have to focus on my balance a bit more. (In case you didn't know, I'm about 17 weeks pregnant.)

Turns out, focusing on balance and core stability paid off. My handstands are more stable than ever and I was able to discover a few handstand walking steps!
That turned out to be the highlight of a bit of a grueling sloggfest of a workout. The workout included Jerks to a Max for the Day. That was fun, but took about 30 minutes to get through. Still, I nearly got a new Personal Record! Elbows dropped a little early... which is a bad habit for when I get nervous about a weight.
But, while I was disappointed, in hindsight, it's largely unfounded. SO many women in my position can't do what I'm doing right now, so when I hit my current PR weight well (see below) I ended that bit of the workout, assured at what I need to work on, and where I currently stand.

Every day is a different. Less than 12 hrs later, I was back at it doing some Overhead squats and Snatch work with my coach at Narrows Crossfit. 

I ended the session with a 2 position Snatches...
And Cleans.
 If I look frustrated, I was. I was running short on time and had to cut the workout short, even though I had the juice to finish my programming, well, sometimes life gets in the way.

(Yes, the irony of 'life gets in the way' when I literally have a bump that changes my day to day life. That said, I wouldn't exactly call it 'in the way'. Just a new adventure. I get to walk the unique path very few women before - but more and more women are now - walking.)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Paramount Winter Open 2015 in Review

Paramount Barbell Club, Shoreline, WA

Today was the Paramount Winter Open 2015 in Shoreline, Washington. I ranked in the ultra heavy weights (no surprise there), weighing in at 88 kilos (193lbs-ish).  While I didn't set any new records, I had a blast, learned a few valuable lessons, and thoroughly enjoyed my first Open.

My coach couldn't make it to this one. (A little secret about coaching, we'd love to attend every single Meet/Event of every single lifter/athlete - but we need time too, so it's not always possible.) Being my own coach was a bit chaotic, but fun at the same time. Don't forget, technically, I'm an "unaffiliated" lifter, so no one knows what to expect when I take the platform. - especially when they realize that I don't have a coach on hand. That means I either know what I'm doing enough to stand on my own - or I'm a complete idiot. I'm pretty sure my coach wouldn't set me up to fail (hasn't yet!) so I'll assume it's the former. It's fun to be the surprise platform - and show up. While I'm sure my affiliation will change someday, for now, it's fun to surprise folks when they ask where I train, and I say, "Mainly out of YMCAs."
Standing with my heavy weights down the end at Introductions.
This was my first time appearing in an Open Competition, meaning the competitors were more experienced and (generally) stiffer competition than the novice world. There were more than a few lifters from the home club (Paramount Barbell) who were fantastic to watch.

When it all came down to it, though I just about matched my previous meet score, I'm actually happy with the way it went. My snatches were more solid than last time (and over the triple digit mark, which was NICE), and, though my cleans weren't consistent enough to allow me a new PR, I discovered a couple areas of technique I can still work on. My new set up isn't quite 2nd nature yet, and it showed as the lifts got heavier.

Although you'd think I'd want to see a significant increase from my November Trident meet (and it would have been nice) I am very satisfied with my performance. This time, I had a few unique challenges that it's safe to say none of the other lifters were battling. I was very much in control of everything (literally), from my warm up (and where I choose to make changes to it), to which weight was next and making sure I was on the platform on time. The event was really well set up and I look forward to doing it again some other year - and having my athletes discover the same amazing experience.

Unlike my experience at the Trident Open in November of 2014, this was much more intimate. With 3 platforms in the warm up area and 2 rows of chairs for spectators (with the warm up and the spectators only separated by a hanging tarp) - this didn't appear to be a well thought-out venue at first blush. After all, Trident had bleachers and 6 warm up platforms in the BACK- away from the action! But the intimate space made for great (unavoidable) interactions with other lifters and coaches. Being a coach and a lifter myself, it made for a more fun experience. Befriending a lifter from Oregon, I shared warm up space with her.

It's fascinating to watch lifters mobilize (stretch) and warm up. There is no 'right' way to do either. It all depends on the lifter, his/her challenges and his/her goals. Other than some minor back stiffness (and vaguely expected trouble getting up from deep squats) I was actually feeling pretty good overall - which showed hitting my first 2 snatches. The 3rd would have been a PR and I'm okay with missing a PR attempt.

My cleans suffered largely from an inability to adequately warm up. The order of lifters continued to change, which took my warm up time from 15 minutes, down to about 5-6. With that in mind it was a little but hard to get my head in the event - which showed as I hit my first lift with ease (fighting the squat a bit), but lost the next 2 in the Clean due to technical errors in set up (and a slight challenge with my balance on the last one).

All in all, it was a good meet though. Glad I went. Glad I pushed through the challenges (some simple - like being without a coach en tow, sniffling through some nasty allergies, suffering from lack of sleep since my wake up call for an 8am weigh in was 5:30am, still recovering from a previous hospitalization which lead to a huge dump of IV fluids to get me back on my feet, and one other unique situation - which I'll discuss at a later date on the blogosphere) and glad I came home with 2nd in my class. I found that especially heart warming as I lost to woman who's daughter was watching her. Whether she realized it or not, she was teaching her daughter that strength and power aren't necessarily masculine traits.
  Me? I came home to the dogs (as seen here) having earned a new T-shirt (awards only given out for top 3 Sinclair lifters - something just about every heavy weight in the world suffers from), and having an Open score on the books. Can't wait to see what 2016 has to offer.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Why I Hook... Grip, That Is - Coach's Corner

For the past few years, I've been working with the same coach and lifting partner. It's been a fun experience watching our own unique coaching and lifting styles develop, as well as those fun moments when we don't exactly see eye to eye.

One thing we don't see eye to eye on is Hook Grip.

For WEEKS, I left the gym with sore thumbs. Yes, other body parts too, but most immediately and notably - thumbs. No, they weren't working too hard. They were getting used to being pressed against the bar to enhance my technique.  Eventually, my fingers adapted and now, using the hook grip is completely 2nd nature. In fact, I have to remind myself NOT to do it when practicing my power lifting techniques. (Ever attempt to Hook Grip a 300lb deadlift? Ouch!)

Using the hook grip didn't just improve my control over the bar, but, for me, it also helped me keep the bar closer to my body on the way up, and increased my turn over. The change in my Clean and Snatch technique was an almost instantaneous improvement.

Over time, my coach decided that "Hook grip is stupid." That sent me on a fun little Google search to see how many people shared his opinion.

Now, he might be on to a revolutionary idea. I mean, it HURTS to get your thumbs accustomed to being stretched and squished against a iron bar with knurl. Men with decidedly small hands or limited thumb/wrist mobility find it a detriment to their grip and a even a limiting factor in their lifts.

After all, the argument for Hook Grip is a little weak, right? The main variations I've seen in the gym have their merits as well.

One version I'll call The Clamp.

The lifters using this don't attempt to wrap their thumbs around the bar at all.  They effectively use their hands if all of the fingers were fused together, squeezing the bar hard in order to keep a hold of it. These lifters have an incredibly strong grip. (Usually, this group that make muscle ups, pull ups, and levers look effortless.)  It's the only way I can see this working, so I'd venture to guess this will work for a special few. The argument for this style is that it allows for quicker adjustment to overhead movement (like going from the Clean to the Jerk). While that part of it makes sense, it seems to me like this is putting a lot more pressure on the forearms than is necessary - which feels like a waste of precious energy that could be directed elsewhere in the lift.  Most of the best coaches will say the arms/hands should act like hooks or ropes in the "pulling" portion of the lift, just hanging on to the bar while the rest of the body generates the power to move the bar off the ground. For what it's worth, I've never seen someone with this style of grip Snatch, but I may not have been watching closely enough (since none of my athletes practice this grip). I'll admit, this may have some function or speed related workouts (like Crossfit WOD work where the goal is to get as many lifts as possible in a limited period of time), but I can't see it allowing for maximum pulling efforts in competitive Olympic Weightlifting. I've tried it a few times and I just can't wrap my brain around it as a functional competitive grip.

Another version I'll call the Wrap Around. It was (naturally) the first style I learned when I started weightlifting.  For this style of grip, the thumbs are wrapped around the bar, but not tucked under any other fingers, as required by the Hook Grip. This requires less squeezing of the bar than The Clamp and would probably be my next choice for someone unable/unwilling to learn the Hook Grip.
 But, for me, I'm sticking with the Hook Grip
Well, I could fall back on 'my coach told me to', but I'm glad I've been faced with this question because it really let me examine the topic.
Why does every championship Olympic weightlifter in the world use this particular grip?
Because Olympic Weightlifting isn't a sport of kilos or pounds; okay, it is, but when it comes down to it - it's a sport of centimeters.
Hook Grip requires less 'squeezing of the bar' and less forearm engagement than the other 2 mentioned above. Forearm strength no longer becomes a limiting factor for a lift, since the hook grip allows for the forearms to be more relaxed in the pull, it allows for quicker, more effortless turnover. The less engaged the arms are, the easier it is to swoop the elbows under the bar.

Now- that said, I'm not advocating the hook grip for overhead movements like the Jerk and Overhead Squat (pictured above) . Some folks are able to keep their hook grip going overhead, and some aren't.  Every lifter finds what is most functional for them, in the long term. Me? Hook grip is like my hot sauce. I use it on everything - Clean, Snatch, and Jerk. I figure these lifts are complicated enough. Why add an extra grip change into the mix? 

But that's just why I hook....