It was an incredible training cycle for the lifters of IronRx Weightlifting. We had a ton of PR’s, huge improvements in technique and a lot of growth in mental maturity. We had a training cycle that was fairly unique to the weightlifting community. We did not follow much of the typically accepted weightlifting mantra. Instead we followed strength and conditioning principles.
The use of eccentrics, pauses, partial reps, hypertrophy, accessory movements are nothing new to the world of weightlifting but seemed to have fallen by the wayside for most of the weightlifting coaches in the U.S.. Watching our lifters grow and improve during the cycle was proof to me that this is exactly what they needed. We had one female lifter hit a PR every training session for 6 weeks. No exaggeration. That is a minimum of 36 PR’s for the entire cycle (some days she hit 2 or 3) just for the one lifter.
The level of volume was incredible for her, her confidence skyrocketed, technique was ironed out she seemed on track to be one of the strongest while also being one of the lightest in the gym. On the other hand, we have one athlete who busts his ass and does every single thing we ask of him. He put in 6 sessions a week for months, doing all of the drills, mobility and recovery we can have him do. He hit 0 pr’s, not one in his squats, not one in his competitive lifts.
Jared and I stepped back and asked, “what the fuck is going on?!” All of our athletes were seeing improvement, but this one kid who works incredibly hard was not. We couldn’t figure out why which frustrated us. Four weeks before the competition we had him drop to 4-5 training sessions a week. Slowly we started to see him come back to life. He moved better, faster, and with more authority.
Now two weeks after the competition is over and 6 weeks since we decreased his volume he is still digging himself out of the training deficit we dug him into. He’s sleeping well and often, eating 2000 extra calories everyday, and training less. But he’s still in this hole we dug. The deficit is much smaller now, but this was eye opening. We weren’t looking at his entire picture and that was a silly move. He deals with anxiety and it limits his ability to recover drastically. He is young and in shape, but just could not withstand the volume that others could.
We believe in the idea of individual programs for all of our athletes and will tweak programs for various exercise selection, reps, and other variables. But in the excitement of the other 11 lifters success and improvement I did what happens far too often. I wanted better results from him so I said do more. I should have taken a step back to ask why the improvements weren’t coming and taken the time to look at his situation directly. This doesn't happen all of the time but it happens.
Situations like this are always learning experiences. So we buried an athlete and he hates everything. How do we never do this again? When things like this happen I hate and love it. I hate that it happened but it's a firm reminder that no program is perfect or that one program can fit everyone. Individualization will always reign supreme. It also gives me a chance to look back and quality control my work and make sure that I am doing my due diligence for my athletes. I always end up asking a few questions in this situation.
I always start with: did the athlete put in the effort both in the gym and in recovery? If the answer is yes (which in this case it was without a doubt a yes) then I get into where I went wrong. In this situation I was taught to look at a the athlete's life as a bucket of water we are pulling from. So I’ll quickly answer my own questions here to show you my thought process.
What did I overlook?
Did I completely miss something like a large emotional situation in life, or work? Yes
Has the daily routine changed? Yes working a few more hours a day, but this added an hour of traffic stress to his body.
Has he had issues like this before? Yes (and I can’t believe I forgot this).
Are they dealing with injury? No, just fatigue.
With this process, you aren’t looking at the program, but the athlete themselves. That is no doubt the biggest part of the equation. There are hundreds if not thousands of programs that work to get people stronger, but none of them will work if the athlete as a whole is not looked at. These simple small questions help me to establish where they are in life, and remind me how the coach to athlete relationship is.
Did I give too much or not enough stimulus?
Are they getting weaker? No, but not improving.
Do they feel fresh physically? No
Are they beat to crap? Yes
Is it okay for them to be beat down right now? No, we were too close to the competition for him to move that slow, and to be feeling run down.
How is the athlete mentally right now? Struggling
These questions look at the programming for the athlete specifically. If you look at these questions with and level of care for the athlete you know he is doing more than he is capable of recovering from. When you look back at the first part it is easy to see that the other stressors outside of the gym were beating him down. Now this is where I failed him, because I did not bring his training level down to allow him to recover. Good news is, now 8 weeks after we brought the volume down he’s the strongest I've ever seen him.
I use this as an example to all coaches, weightlifting and other sports as well. When you have athlete’s that are struggling with the current program, sometimes you need to look outside the program and into their own lives. Everyone is different. No program is perfect. Have the ability to set your ego aside and realize that your current program might not be what this person needs, and be able to tweak it to accommodate their needs. At the end of the day, your athletes’ success are what matters. Not how you think you look to others.