Writing your life into your fitness programming

Dealing with life events that “disrupt” programming is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome in a fitness routine. Time consuming work projects, travel, vacations, family and other intermittent life demands all have a way of knocking you off of that “perfect” workout groove you’ve been trying so hard to stay in.

Here’s a way of looking at it from a programming standpoint that can help keep you on track by actually turning these temporary situations into opportunities rather than disruptions. 

Programming is not just a static workout plan

Programming, in its most effective form, is individualized. The best program is not only one that is written specifically for you, but one that constantly evolves as you change physically and psychologically, and as your life changes around you.

If you are paying a trainer or a coach, hopefully they are listening to you and asking the right questions to take all of that into consideration while guiding that evolution towards optimizing the results of your efforts. 

Listening to, recording in detail and then synthesizing the information from your workout performance, your results and your life are the best practices that separate high-level programming from the rest of what’s out there. If you are self-coaching, you need to be doing these practices

This includes taking into consideration vacations or travel that will remove access to your regular gym/equipment/schedule, as well as any psychologically stressful events in your life and how they affect your drive and susceptibility to fatigue.

For many, sticking to a program and not missing the workouts, meals, and rest required for success is a huge struggle even when everything else is going right in their lives. Throw a change in that pattern and it’s extremely easy to “fall off the wagon” and lose your momentum.

It can take weeks to get back on track, only to have something else come up the following month and here we go again…

Disruption vs Microcycle vs Back-off Week

If you are like most normal people, this will sound familiar to you. Jobs, kids, taxes, life…they all can be emotionally stressful and cause real fatigue, if not keep you from getting to the gym at all.

Much of the internet would yell, “Power through it!” or “No crybabies!” But this just is not always practical or even safe. Not considering fatigue in its these forms can push you into dangerous territory resulting in injury or burnout if you “just power through it.” And sometimes, you just can’t get to the gym as planned.

There is a better way. 

Instead of viewing these events as disruptions, we need to look at them as opportunities to work in microcycles (single week plans) or back-off weeks (rest microcyles) that can optimize and sometimes supercharge your results and performance. 

For example, last month one of my online personal coaching clients had two “disruptions” coming up in his schedule. He had been working very hard for about three months uninterrupted and was disappointed and very worried that these events would set him back. This posed a real threat to his progress, as well as a psychological threat to his motivation.

The first event was a 4 day conference that involved travel and a hotel stay. This, of course, basically knocked out a week of his time. The second event was the physically and psychologically stressful task of moving out of his apartment and into a new space. These events were spaced with only one week in between them. 

Where he saw worry and disruption, I saw an opportunity. We programmed a very light week for him during the travel utilizing the hotel gym just two nights, reverting back to some hypertrophy and maintenance intensity and volume levels.

This allowed him to focus on his conference, network with associates, and have a much needed rest from what had been an unbroken eight week mesocycle of moderate intensity and volume work. It also served the purpose of preventing the emotional stress of feeling like he was sliding backwards (this is very important). 

We used that time to prepare him for a maximum effort week that would fit perfectly in between two weeks of being off program.   

The following week, we set a maximum effort goal for a microcycle (one week) of high intensity/high volume. It was perfect timing for a test of strength, work capacity and will power, and an awesome way to kickstart his mind back into feeling motivated about his progress, even though he had “missed” a week of regular programming. 

That week he produced the highest numbers of his life. He was well rested, he felt good about his work, and lifted an astounding 42,600lbs of tonnage for the week. His usual tonnage prior to the trip was just under 30,000lbs.

This obviously took a lot out of him, which created the perfect time to take a week off and get that functional movement and cardio work of moving his household items to his new place. He still managed to get to the gym that week once as well, making up a great active rest week. 

Upon returning to the mesocycle phase, he is putting up numbers that are 15% higher than before the three weeks of back-off/max effort/rest, and doing it at the same perceived exertion.

This is success. He feels great. Not only did we not lose momentum, but we were able to write his life events into his programming in a way that actually maximized his results during that time period.

This produced great results emotionally and psychologically as well, turning what would have been a negative situation into a very positive one. This will work for functional training or sports specific training cycles just as well as it worked for his strength training cycle. 

Thus we see, under good coaching, “disruptions” don’t have to exist as much as you may think. They are merely back-off weeks or focused microcycles that need to be written into the program to extract maximum value from what is available. Any good programs will have back-off weeks written into them. A little bit of adjustment in a program goes a long way toward creating a positive out of a negative. 

The trick is to plan ahead as much as possible using naturally occurring life events to implement them. Sometimes this has to be done on the fly and can’t always follow the pre-planned schedule. Use it in your program and it will push progress forward rather than slow it down or stop it.  

You may even be able to work a little harder when you realize how often life forces in rest days and back-off weeks where you did plan them. More rest can allow for higher intensities and volume in your program. 

Instead of fighting the realities of life to fit a “cookie cutter” program, we can use our real schedule and results data to optimize our program to come out even better in the end. Just a few things to think about. 

Olympic Weightlifting Seminar with Greg Everett, Catalyst Athletics

Course: Catalyst Athletics Level 1 Olympic Weightlifting Seminar/Coaching Certification
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
Date: August 24-25

This past weekend I was fortunate to have the opportunity to train with Greg Everett of Catalyst Athletics at his Level 1 Olympic Weightlifting Seminar in Salt Lake City, UT. This is a two-day course covering the performance and coaching of the two lifts that make up Olympic weightlifting competition: the snatch and the clean and jerk. The course was a great experience and I learned enough information to keep me busy for a few years practicing these very technical lifts.

Background

I have been teaching myself the “proper” Olympic lifts for about 2 years (more seriously for the past 8 months). Prior to that I had only really performed the clean in my lifting routines, so the snatch and jerk are both very new to me. I am definitely a “novice” Olympic lifter.

In all honesty, it takes several years of dedicated practice to be an accomplished and efficient Olympic lifter in it’s pure form, and by “dedicated” I mean it is the emphasis in your fitness goals for that entire time. This is differentiated from forms of the snatch and the clean and jerk that you may find in other sports, like Crossfit. (Many of those sports perform the lifts for time while sacrificing form, which is different.) Traditionally, the lifts are extremely technical, and the form is critical for maximum, safe performance.

Despite being a novice at the Olympic lifts, it did help that I have a background in fitness training, sports training, lifting weights and coaching spanning nearly 25 years.

I was coming off of a 4-week cycle that was preceded by 4 weeks off due to re-injuring my lower back. I made the mistake of attending a group Olympic lifting class where we did a bunch of good mornings prior to doing muscle snatches. Even though I knew better, the pre-fatiguing of the lower back proved to be a critical mistake. It was my responsibility to coach myself and I failed at that. 

After not being able to lift for 4 weeks, I had 4 weeks leading up to the seminar to get back to being strong enough to handle to two, 6-7 hour days of bent over and overhead lifting. I peaked that cycle 1 week before the class with a 4 hour workout of explosive and functional movements. That preparation went a long way to make the 7 hour days with Greg and the barbell not only doable but also enjoyable. Keep this in mind if you plan to attend the seminar.

Greg Everett

I became aware of Greg several years ago as my interest in the traditional sport of Olympic lifting began to grow. Having come from the “old school” of weightlifting the clean had taught me that explosively lifting heavy weights was not only beneficial for my body, it improved my athletic performance, and my ability to fight and grapple, immensely. It was quite natural to gravitate toward Greg because he simply has provided the largest library of intense knowledge ever offered to the public on the subject of Olympic lifting.  

Greg has several sources of information out: his book, Olympic Weightlifting, his website library of articles at catalystathletics.com, his YouTube channel with his Library of Movements, and much more.

I had his book and older DVD, and I had planned to attend one of his seminars for a few years now. One day, Catalyst Athletics sent me a message on Instagram. To my surprise, it was Greg telling me how much of a fan he was of my own book, Violence of MInd. A coach and author I admired and followed for years was also a fan of my work. What a great experience that was. We struck up some good conversations and I was eventually invited out to his seminar in Utah. I booked my flight and hotel, thrilled I was finally getting to attend.

Goals

My goals for the course are two-fold: First, I obviously want to improve my capabilities in the performance of the snatch, clean and jerk. I don’t have any desires to compete formally, but I do have goals to reach a moderate level of performance with a high level of form and execution, just because I want to.

The lifts have become meditative to me. I have my platform outside on my farm in Florida, and the pursuit of the challenging and elusive execution of the movements, by myself and outside in nature, takes my mind away from everything else. It creates a place that only I go to. Just me and the lift. I want to always have that in my life for as long as I can, and longevity in this type of activity comes from doing it well and doing it safely.  

My second goal is professional: I am working on segueing back into the fitness training business more in the coming year or so. I have been building my self-defense and weapons training business for several years and I really miss being a fitness and conditioning trainer, which I did full-time for several years. Getting Greg’s instruction and (eventually) his certification, while also reaching a demonstrable competence level as a lifter myself, will allow me to integrate Olympic lifting into my own programming in a safe and effective way.

With all of my gym equipment quietly stored away in a warehouse in Florida, I plan to re-open my gym eventually. When I do, Olympic lifting will be a component of the programming there, programming which will center around general physical preparedness and self-defense conditioning and capability.

I have no desire, nor do I have the background, to be a competitive Olympic weightlifting sport coach. I do, however, fully believe in the benefits of Olympic lifting in GPP fitness and self-defense/fight conditioning, hence my desire to integrate the lifts into my coaching and programming.

I want that integrated method to be in the purest form I am capable of delivering, without sacrificing form or execution for any reasons. Greg’s course is a definite source of that pure form.

Equipment and Facility

The facility used for the seminar was Proven Strength Training in American Fork, Utah, owned by USAW Coach and IWF National Referee Jenny Shumacher. Jenny was super hospitable as a host, and was available both days for any questions or help concerning the facility.

There were approximately 7 nice, but well used, standard 2-layer plywood and rubber platforms in the lifting area. There were more than enough pvc pipe lengths and regular bars of different weights and lengths for everyone to participate in the lifts.

The overall space was huge, with a Crossfit gym sharing space in the building which was also opened up to us for warmups, stretching, rowing and whatever else we needed to use or do.

The main equipment used for the seminar was pvc pipe, barbells and bumper plates. Brands ranged from American Barbell, to Eleiko and others. The equipment was well maintained and in good working order. The bars all had great spin and seemed to flex very well. It was easy to see that Jenny’s facility was a serious level weightlifting location.

The Seminar: Day One

We started at 10AM on Saturday. Greg was very personable and had a great demeanor right from the start. There were about 20 attendees with a fairly even distribution of men and women. The backgrounds were mixed, with most coming from Crossfit gyms and just a few being pure Olympic lifters and serious competitors. In terms of experience, most attendees had several years of qualified experience, while a few seemed to be novice/beginners.

Greg started by having everyone introduce themselves around the room. When I very briefly introduced myself, Greg took a minute to tell everyone how great my book is, suggesting they should buy it, which was a kind gesture.

He also humbly emphasized that what he would teach us was not necessarily new and he didn’t invent it, he just found what works and developed a unique way to teach it.

The atmosphere was not intimidating at all, everyone was very nice and positive, and the facility was extremely hospitable and welcoming. This made for a great class environment. The space was a little tight for 20 lifters, but we made it work with cooperation and courtesy. Other than wishing I was capable of lifting more comparable weights with my fellow attendees, I have no complaints.

Day one curriculum consisted of the Snatch Progression as Greg teaches it. (I won’t get into specifics here, you’ll have to take the course for that.) The snatch is a very technical lift where you start with a barbell on the floor and explosively lift it up and receive it over your head in a deep squat position and with locked elbows in a wide grip. You complete the lift by standing up with the barbell elevated over your head with locked elbows.

The basic progression we followed is:

  • Foundations, fundamentals and terminology
    • Trunk stabilization
    • Breath control
    • Foot position
    • Double knee bend
    • Hook grip
  • Snatch Receiving position
    • Overhead Position
    • Overhead Squat
    • Pressing Snatch Balance
    • Drop Snatch
    • Heaving Snatch Balance
    • Snatch Balance
  • Snatch from the hang
    • Mid-Hang Snatch Pull
    • Tall Muscle Snatch
    • Scarecrow Snatch
    • Tall Snatch
    • Mid-Hang Snatch
  • Snatch from the floor
    • Snatch Segment Deadlift
    • Halting Snatch Deadlift
    • Segment Snatch + Deadlift
    • Snatch

We began work with pvc pipes to assist in understanding the movements and positions. Greg’s breakdown of the movement into components is phenomenal and easy to understand. His choice of beginning with the receiving position is very intuitive and quite similar to how I teach firearms movements in my courses. As Greg says, you have to know where you are going to build a good path to get there.

His choice of nomenclature seems to be the most sensible I have heard of so far. He was very clear about the explanation of the use of words like catch and drop and explaining them with meaningful words and phrases like receive, and forcefully move ourselves under the bar (push or pull), among others.

This is an important distinction especially for new lifters that may not know how the lift really works. For example, if we simply call it a “drop” movement it implies that we are simply dropping into a position by relaxing and letting gravity carry us downward. This would be an incorrect mental image for a new lifter.

We know this isn’t the case because we must employ speed when getting under the bar, specifically a much greater speed than gravity itself can produce. We should be aggressively pushing ourselves down under the bar against the mass of weight going over our heads, (or in some other lifts pulling ourselves under the bar for position.) Therefore, creating accurate mental images for the lifter is easier to achieve with better explanations to accompany old terminology.

I’m definitely paraphrasing here (maybe poorly) but I think I am conveying the idea well. Greg’s use of speech and nomenclature made the learning process much more productive for sure, for both students and coaches.

Greg also emphasized aggression as an important part of weightlifting. As we moved into work with the bars and eventually with weights, that aggression would play a big part in our success in the lifts. This led to talks about the importance of mindset and focus throughout the weekend.

By the end of the day my understanding of the snatch had increased immensely. I was able to execute a few of the nicest snatches I’ve ever done, and I have gained enough knowledge of my own technical issues to go forward and begin fixing them through training and practice.

The last hour or so of the day Greg sets the class loose to snatch as you see fit using your own judgement on weight and variation choices while he walked around and coached. This was no easy task since we had been doing pulls and snatching in the different variations for approximately 5-6 hours already. Some of those hours were spent repeatedly holding isometric positions bent over in mid hang or low hang, which is extremely taxing on the back.

Despite having lifted for 5 hours prior, many of the attendees were hitting impressive lift numbers, with snatches climbing into the mid 100 kilo range (mid to high 200lbs range). There were definitely some seriously competitive lifters there and it was awesome to be in the room with them.

We ended class around 5PM and I headed for the hotel pool and hot tub to enjoy the 97 degree Utah weather and reflect on the day.

Day Two

Day two was clean and jerk day. We began the day with a quick review of the snatch progression, which included doing a few movements with pvc pipes to refresh our memories.

The progression we followed for day 2 was:

  • Receiving Position
    • Split Position
  • Jerk Progression
    • Press behind the neck
    • Press
    • Push press
    • Tall Power Jerk
    • Power Jerk
    • Split jerk behind the neck
    • Jerk balance
    • Split jerk
  • Receiving Position 
    • Clean Rack position
    • Front Squat
  • Clean from Hang
    • Mid-hang clean pull
    • Rack delivery
    • Tall muscle clean
    • Tall clean 
    • Mid-hang clean
  • Clean from Floor
    • Clean segment deadlift 
    • Halting clean deadlift
    • Segment clean + clean
    • Clean

We moved on to the jerk first, which I found to be more challenging than the snatch, personally. I simply suck at the split jerk right now. I was able to improve that quite a bit during the class, but I certainly have a long way to go.

Again, Greg’s progression is phenomenal and very intuitive towards how someone could best learn the complex series of movements within the clean and jerk. It is easy to see his years of experience and success as a coach shine through here.

I have been in front of a few local coaches here and there and never have I experienced the level of explanation or clarity that came from just a few hours with him.

The clean portion of the instruction was very fluid since it mimicked the a very similar progression as the snatch from the previous day. Most lifters understood the squat and the floor pull very well, so there wasn’t much need for remedial work. 

Just like day one, we ended the day with a blast session of cleaning and jerking at our own pace. I chose to stay very light to work on that jerk technique, while some of the others went on to clean and jerk well over 300lbs successfully. It was truly a marvel to see in person.

Conclusions

Olympic weightlifting is an amazing activity. It requires a mixture of mobility, explosiveness, strength, precision, speed and a kinesthetic awareness that few other sports require. There are few movements you can do that can provide so much benefit. They are safe, when done correctly. They are difficult to master, which can be excellent if you are looking for something to really focus on.

If you are looking for an edge in combat sports or fighting, Olympic lifting will provide it. If you want to be stronger and fitter in your daily life, well, it will help you do that, too.

The course was phenomenal and well worth the time and money. If you are serious about doing the Olympic lifts correctly, this course is a must attend event. I learned enough about Olympic lifting to keep me busy practicing and correcting my issues for the next two years.

I know there are lots of “methods” out there and some like to say that some particular method or country of origin is better than another, and so on.

I personally don’t prescribe to that philosophy as I’ve trained enough skills in my life (gun fighting, combatives, powerlifting, bodybuilding, etc.) to know that all good methods center around the same concepts, and that variations on those skills are not only good to learn, they are necessary to achieve a deeper understanding and development in the discipline.

It doesn’t matter if it’s weightlifting or gun fighting. I will listen to all of the successful methods and pick the ones that work for me the best. Greg Everett seems to understand this as well and is very humble in paying homage to his coach own Mike Burgener and acknowledging other sources when talking about concepts specific to the lifts. The Catalyst Athletics method really resonates with me.

Another one of my favorite aspects of Greg’s teaching style is that he quite intentionally avoids using big scientific words or making the class into an “anatomy and physiology” course. That was not what I was there for. That was not what anyone was there for. We wanted to learn how to better snatch, clean and jerk, and how to better help other people snatch, clean and jerk.

I’m not saying A&P knowledge is dumb or useless. But I do loathe trainers and instructors who constantly have to let everyone know how smart they are by using the scientific names of body parts every chance they get. Even when they aren’t showing off, using that hyper scientific language is annoying for most clients or trainees.

If you can’t have a normal conversation using language everyone can understand, how do you connect with your clients? Unless we need to address a specific issue with a specific part of the body, let’s just talk about movement and how to achieve it. Greg does a slamming awesome job of just that.

Being a long-time instructor myself (personal training, firearms, self-defense) I am very impressed by Greg’s teaching progressions. Teaching people complex movements that require slight, personalized variations in technique and application is difficult because, well, people are all different. Everyone has their own issues. Developing progressions that are scalable and modular to a large extent is really the Holy Grail of teaching capabilities, and Greg has that in spades.

He offered insights and instruction on the proper assessment of both athlete and movement throughout the entire course. He expertly weaved this into instruction on customizing the programming of an athlete (or yourself) around the issues that manifest in the performance of the lifts, and how to use the progression with addition and omission of variations and supporting exercises to correct the issues. 

Personally, I was lifting among the lowest weight in the gym, which I was perfectly fine with since I wanted to train strict technique while I had such a great coach around, as well as not wanting re-injure my back again by trying to impress anyone. It may have stung the ego a tiny bit, but it’s good for you to get out and see where you really are in comparison to others. It helps to prevent Dunning-Krueger from setting in.

It was great to be in a room where people are lifting more than me BUT they were doing it with correct form. This is not usually my experience when doing Olympic lifts in many gyms. These were lifters who had both had proper instruction and had also exhibited the dedication to performing the lifts correctly over years of hard work, and it showed.  

While I was among the least strong attendees there, I was not the least conditioned. I held up just fine and flying back on Monday the only complaints I had were those damn cramped economy seats. I recommend if you are going to a weightlifting seminar that you train your work capacity up to a high level. The weekend before the seminar I had reached a peak with a 4-hour workout of explosive and functional movements. That prepared me well for the low/moderate intensity 6-hour days of the seminar. Be in shape, I do recommend it.

You should also have a basic understanding of the lifts. There is no reason to walk in to a seminar of this magnitude and not know anything relevant to the material. Buy Greg’s text book, watch the videos on YouTube, try to learn the movements or at least understand them. Know the basics about how to stabilize your trunk under load, how to breath, how to back squat, etc. There wasn’t anyone in the room that didn’t have a clear understanding of these things and that was notable.

To be fair, I’ve gotten to know Greg and had the opportunity to spend a few hours one-on-one with him after the course. We did not talk much weightlifting, or gun training. We talked about life, and coaching, and family and business. He is an outstanding guy, very down to earth and humble, which makes it even that much better that he is one of the best Olympic lifting coaches alive today.  

The most valuable thing that I walked away from the seminar with is the ability to be a better coach to myself. I learned how to spot my own issues, assess ways to fix it, use the progressions in a modular, customizable way to address those issues, and simply just get better at the lifts. That’s money in the bank.

Bottom line:

Without any doubts, I will attend more seminars and training with Greg in the future, and I recommend anyone who is interested in learning about the snatch and the clean and jerk should do the same.