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....