Seb Ostrowicz

5 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Weightlifting

1 – The beginning is the time to look good!

There is no easier time to improve and change your technique than at the start of your lifting career. The technique you learn in the first 6 months is largely going to be the technique that remains with you for the rest of your career. Of course you will become more consistent, move faster, and become stronger, but the individual characteristics of your lifts, good or bad, will remain.

Movement patterns are like tracks on a muddy road. The more times you drive along them the deeper they get and they harder they become to drive out of” – Glenn Pendlay

Having lifted now for nearly 4 years, I feel unable to radically correct my movement faults. One of my faults is that I learnt to jerk with a straight back leg. Logic tells me that I can catch the bar lower if I allow my back knee to bend, and I am able to do this with weights at around 70%. As soon as I go heavier however, my old patterns show up again. I spear my back foot and don’t absorb any of the weight. Should I have been more diligent with my technique early on and not worried so much about the weight on the bar, I wouldn’t now be so limited in the clean and jerk by my jerk.

Check out this video

This video is a great example of working on moving correctly initially. Do you think this young boy is banging out 5 heavy sets of 5 on the squat? Almost certainly not. But now he is fortunate enough to be in a position where he basically never has to focus on technique again and can work on his strength and speed development.

2 – Longevity in the sport is the most important thing.

Injury is the number one cause for lack of progress. During my career I have been through spurts of unbelievable progress followed by injury and stagnation for months. I should have trained more sensibly, rested when I felt an injury coming, and not been such a buffoon about not giving in when the PR was clearly not there. I would have seen slower, but more consistent progress over these years. The number of times I have had to take at least 3 months off from weightlifting is insane. I firmly believe if I had just calmed down when I was able to train and didn’t jump straight back into training at full force, I would be well ahead of where I am now.

Of course when you are starting out this advice doesn’t mean anything to you. Not until you’ve been injured and your favourite part of every day is wiped away because you couldn’t control yourself… So train smart, don’t get injured. The person who trains for 10 years WILL BE BETTER than the person who can only train for 5. This is a marathon.

3 – Strength is the driving force to Success.

The single greatest driving force to improvement in weightlifting is getting stronger (for almost everyone). When people say it is technique, they are wrong. When people say it is speed, they are wrong. When people say it is experience and consistency, they are wrong. The difference between me and, say, world record holder in the snatch Lasha Talakhadze is what? Well sure his technique is a little nicer. Perhaps if my technique was like his I might snatch a few more kilos, and clean and jerk a little more too… I certainly wouldn’t snatch 217 kg however. But if I was as strong as him? I might be a world champion also.

I hate to bring up Louie Simmons at a time when for some reason the weightlifting world seems split over this one man, but he is right when he says that strength is the greatest equalizer. You will never snatch over 70% of your squat, so if you only squat 200 kg you can only ever be an alright lifter. If you squat 300 kg, you suddenly have the potential to become a terrific lifter and snatch over 180 kg as many lifters have shown.  Strength is your driving force. Technique is something you build the foundations of early on and then hone slowly over time. Do not forget that weightlifting is a strength sport after all.

As you can see, Lasha has amazing technique, but he doesn’t have the best technique in the world. It certainly isn’t solely his technique that gives him these numbers. It is his incredible strength. If technique was the greatest driving force for  success Max Lang might be the world record holder in the 77 kg class. But he’s not, Lu Xiaojun is, becasue he squats and pulls 50 kg more than Max…

Disclaimer: I’m not saying that technique isn’t important. It is extremely important, but you can develop your strength far more and for far longer than you can technique. Strength is the equaliser.

4 – You get stronger by recovering from lifting heavy weights.

Now this is pinched straight out of Practical Programming, where we are quite rightly reminded that we don’t get stronger by lifting heavy weights, we get stronger by recovering from lifting heavy weights. Lifting heavy is great, and lifting heavy things more often can indeed be better than not. But this frequency is only better if we are actually recovering from these additional bouts of stress. Many great lifters achieved elite status by training 3 times a week.

Originally the soviets believed that you could only train once a week. Eventually people began training a little more regularly, but still people were able to lift huge weights, much heavier than you or I lift, off 3 training sessions per week. How were they able to do this? They allowed their bodies to actually recover from training sessions. Every time they dug a hole, they filled it back in plus some.

Now I am not saying to only train 3 times a week, although it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. But I am saying that lifting heavy too often is not necessarily going to be conducive to the greatest gains in strength. Recovery is key. Recovery comes in many forms, the two most important of which come as no surprise – Sleep, and food. I always say that people who get massage done, or go to the sauna, or get acupuncture as a form of recovery when they don’t eat well and only sleep 6 hours a day is the equivalent of a trainee chef putting sprinkles and icing on a cake he forgot to put eggs and flour in. Does it help? Well, it helps you stop sucking less, but it doesn’t really cover up the disgraceful effort you made in the first place… It isn’t a substitution…

– Watch the best lifters, not your favourite lifters.

This is self-explanatory. Famous lifters are great, and they do wonderful things by bringing people into the sport of weightlifting and keeping them engaged through their charisma. They are irreplaceable in that sense. It is however worth studying how the most successful lifters lift. This has become easier over the last few years with the vast numbers of slow-mo videos produced. This medium of study was not around during my first year of lifting, though I now wish it had.

Watching over and over again how straight a bar path can be, how quick a pull can be, and how strong a lift can be is important. The more you see these lifts the more you will begin to lift like this as you will not know any other way. Perhaps even more beneficial is that you may begin to realise that these sorts of numbers are possible to achieve for you, and that you aren’t limited by the numbers you see others achieve. Most won’t reach these levels of course. But there may perhaps be a few out there who can.

So go forth and train, but try and remember these 5 things.

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