Month: November 2014

Gamification and the Little Things

People who read this may or may not be aware that I am a massive gamer at heart. Like a lot of kids in my days I went through the fun of Unreal Tournament 2003, Warcraft 3, Counter Strike 1.6 and Street Fighter (various). My main passion in games was RPGs (role playing games), it harks back to the days as a kid playing Warhammer 40k or DnD (Dungeons and Dragons). There was something badass about taking a character that started out as a scrub through to being able to take down huge dragons or powerful Liches many hours/days later.189559_4106547994509_1024487809_n

Naturally this leads me to “gamify” aspects of my life wherever I can so that I get on that Dopamine gravy train and start enjoying the process of improving,

Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems and increase users’ self contributions.¹

Gamification is everywhere these days, lots of websites get you to register and award you some form of points system or badges based on activity. You have computer games to thank for this.

Applying it in the sporting world is a great fit. When you start out you tend to be pretty useless at most things in the gym or in the sport. Once your mastery level improves you can take on bigger and bigger challenges that on the outset would have been mind-blowing. It is up to coaches to set the right challenge level for the athlete so their skill level improves at the same rate as the challenge, this will trigger that juicy flow state.

Flow, also known as Zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.²

One of the things I find in Weightlifting is that people get too hung up on the long term goals of a big Snatch, Clean and Jerk or Back Squat. Sometimes setting unreasonable goals without breaking it down and looking what it takes to get there. Using the gaming analogy:

You have to kill a shitload of boars before you can kill a dragon.

This can be referred to short term goals, daily goals or process goals. It can be something as simple as making sure you get adequate sleep. (Much more important than I wish it was). Making sure you eat right for the day/week or if you have a nasty vice that you know holds you back, like spending too much time on websites that do nothing (Facebook) taking steps to limit your use for a couple of days and reading a book or working towards something else instead.

With a mind to Weightlifting once the noob gains stop it can sometime be a very long time in between a Snatch / CnJ PR. You can use things like complexes to add variety and get a boost. Also keeping track of your 2rm / 3rm Snatch / CnJ PR’s can also help give that small boost in the longer preparation cycles. I use good old Google Drive and then set up a couple of graphs to get easy visual feedback that reassures me everything is moving in the right direction. With a background in CS, I fucking love graphs.Graph bicture

The boar quote can also be used to think about weaknesses in your body. To hit those tasty lifts that you want sometimes you have to do some exercises that you really don’t enjoy. You know they are good for you but somehow you find ways to convince yourself that if you keep trying to Max out or stick with what you have been doing something might fall into place and you will get lucky. Denial is powerful. The dreaded assistant exercises are the boars of this equation. Things like good mornings, overhead pressing or single leg squatting if your knees are wobbly. I have had the good fortune to have trained with / been coached by high level athletes / coaches and more often than not the successful people are the ones that take care of the little things and farm that easy xp.

As a Weightlifter you should have no trouble working towards a 2-2.5 times body weight back squat as a male, it should be one of the milestones you aim for early on. Breaking that lift down you will need sufficient Flexibility/mobility/stability to safely assume the position, more often than not people skip this first part and just start racking up the weight. To maintain the active back in the lifts your upper back, lats and erectors must be beastly to progress to the heavy weights without increasing your risk of injury. Back squatting alone is not always the fastest way to progress.

This video is pretty much squat porn, even though all squats are beautiful – fantastic positions. During the dream team seminars the first thing that Zygmunt Smalcerz (gold medal in the 52kg class at the 1972 Olympics now USA head coach) said about the godly Ilya Ilyin: (undefeated weightlifter who has won two Olympic championships and four world championships) one of the reasons he is the best in the world is that he works tirelessly on positioning. He can hit positions that makes other weightlifters envious.

1294590_668820536565018_5083556538838401441_oThis is one of my new favorite pictures of a back squat (thanks to Allthingsgym), I know the lifter has a fantastic body structure for squatting, but the motor control in the upper back is great to see. The arms are pretty loose and the big movers like the quads/glutes/hamstrings are doing the work. A far cry from people who have to get so tight with their arms on the back squat then lead with the hips so the lower back is doing a disproportionate amount of the lift. For Weightlifting this is not useful, legs do the work. It is not chance that took these lifters to the World Championships, taking care of the little things plays a big role for anyone.

When these little things improve, your skill level rises and you are able to assume more difficult tasks. That dopamine release from improving will also increase motivation for the times when things get really difficult. (And they will). The next time you are hitting a plateau and feel like your lifting world is crumbling, try stepping back and think to yourself.

Have you killed your boars today?

¹ Huotari, K., & Hamari, J. (2012). “Defining Gamification – A Service Marketing Perspective”
² Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

3 Lifters, 3 Problems

Weightlifting goes through cycles. You try and correct something, a new problem crops up and you are playing a really bad version of whack a mole. You don’t even get tickets to turn in for that sweet furry toy at the end of it all. In this article I am going to go over a single problem each lifter has (why it is a problem) and a simple drill to correct it without having to Drake your whole technique.

Lifter 1 : David (77/85)

This ugly chap has a whole raft of problems, but we are going to focus on the one that is causing the most damage to the lift. (It is more punishing in the snatch, but we are looking at cleans).

Ignoring the Jerk for now, if you notice the movement of the feet during the lift. First up they go backwards which would lead you to conclude that I am finishing with my shoulders behind the bar at the top of the second pull and completing my extension however, they have very little horizontal movement. This means that the base structure of the lift is very poor. The feet are so narrow it means the hips are in quite a closed position. In turn it means that the torso angle leans forward more than it should so the weight has a tendancy to roll down the shoulders.


Here you can see the shoulders behind the bar (for my torso length I want to extend as much as possible from the Thorasic region) and the quads in full extension, if all parts of the lift were like this I would be one happy panda. At the elite level some of the long torso lifters finish incrediably far behind the bar, really using all their mass to the fullest. When beginners try to mimic this sometimes it can lead to the head swinging about all over the place. It should be avoided for the most part unless your second name is Dimas.

Dave_RackedFinishing position with bar racked

Here you can see the feet are almost inside the hip structure, the area to balance is so small that I would have to have a mighty strong upper back (I don’t) to make this lift every time. The knees should be outside the feet here so the hips take the load. This is one of the many reasons why my efficiency is rather low (front squat 210 compared to clean max 165). When I write the numbers down like that it hits me right in the feels.


The obvious being “get more flexible”. For people who get into Weightlifting at a later age it’s quite rare to get to point where more flexibility doesn’t help. A general guideline for lifters is that you want about 20% more flexibility than you are going to require to make the lifts. So if you can get into the bottom of the snatch with feet about 20% wider than your snatch receive position and be able to maintain an upright torso with arms overhead you are going to shift weights. If I were to ask that question to myself – nope.

To make sure the lifter is moving those feet wider you can also clean off plates as a drill to reinforce that movement pattern. For some people it is a motor control fix. For others you need to develop mobility and stability in that position.

My upper back strength and core strength needs to improve so I can comfortably rack heavier weights, my pulls are very weak compared to my squat and it is something that I am working to improve. Power cleans are a reasonable gauge to see if the pull is strong enough. My power clean Max = 130. Max clean = 165. So the ratio is (130/165) x 100 = 0.7878. This number should be a little higher, again I am working to improve this area of my lifting.

Lifter 2 : Jordan(85)

This physical specimen is ticking on nicely. There is one consistent flaw that is developing when the weights get heavy. Probably a little spooked by the weights he is now shifting, he is lacking a complete extension a the finish of the second pull. His shoulders don’t end behind the bar so the bar gets spat out in front. To counter this he is hopping forward and trying to jump under the weight. Running and gunning like a thug. The downside of this it means that he is not getting his ample leg power into the weights.

If you watch the feet on this lift he bombs forward to try and catch the weight. Ballsy, but usually needs correcting. (Note : some elite lifters do this. These lifters tend to be outliers, it is very hard to mimic these idiosyncrasies, Akkaev is an example).

To correct this problem a couple of things need to be looked at, starting from the bottom up. One cause of this problem can be that off the floor his weight is too far towards his toes. If this isn’t the case you need to another of the key positions, just below the knee. If the hips don’t rotate and send the knees back off the floor you can be trapped too far forward on your feet. Next place to look is the top of the second pull and see if the shoulders finish behind the bar and the quads are fully engaged.

jjLooking at Jordan’s finishing position you can see the main culprit. This finishing position will prevent him from hitting those big juicy weights.


To shore up the lifters’ starting position you can clean with your toes off a riser block, this will force the lifter to push through the floor in the mid foot rather than starting all the way at the toes.

You can also do a no hip contact clean, this will make the lifter complete his extension otherwise he will be unable to move the weight. This drill should be in the range of 70-85% of your clean max.

If the lifter has a small jump forward yet still manages to fully engage the quads you can make the lifter clean on a line and then tell them to not cross the line, usually it is enough to correct this error.

The lifter could be getting dragged out of position by the weight due to lack of back strength in which case accessory work and pulls/deadlifts are the order of the day.

The positive note is that when he gets more comfortable working at his top end and finishing his pull, the weights will shoot up.

Lifter 3 : Michal(85/94)

Admiral Trapbar has recently recovered from an injury and the weights are back to where they used to be. At the top end he is developing some technique flaws that will stall his weights.

In both lifts you can see that his upper back is starting to round when standing up with the weight. This causes the lifter to lean too far forward when recovering from the clean and usually this will mean that the legs get wiped before the jerk. A torso lean from the hips is fine, it will allow the lifter to engage the hamstrings. Your upper back should never collapse. His internal shoulder rotation is very impressive, would love to trade for that.


Michal is under weight for his size, so the first thing is to bring the mass up to par with his traps. In particular he needs his back strength to improve so on the recovery he doesn’t lose position. Weightlifting is all about straight lines. Positions are paramount to success! Some exercises that are relevant to strength need to remain upright are either Zombie Squats or wide grip power cleans. (Your shoulders must be pretty robust for this exercise to be used, it is very stressful on the shoulder girdle.


Use videos analysis to see if there are any glaring weaknesses in your lifts. Get comfortable working on technique with heavier weights. Pulling 140kg+ is different to using a barbell or a broomstick, anything less than 70% tends to be a little on the light side, fine to warm up but you want to see what breaks down first when the weights shoot up. To see what is going wrong, best place to look at it the base of the lifter. Keep an eye out for the shoulder position relative to the bar and you will be golden.