As the amazing Christmas season is upon us and 2013 is coming to a close, I have found myself constantly looking back on my past year (9 months actually) of competitive exercise. Naturally, as with anything that you practice diligently over an extended period of time, I have made some advances in the sport both from a performance standpoint as well as a standpoint of understanding what is important to this sport. I often get asked what I feel helped me become a better overall exerciser in these past 9 months. My answer is ALWAYS “My squats got better”.
As a basketball player with “bad knees” – i.e. a reconstructed ACL and a non-existing meniscus, (that was removed when I was 18 after I tore it to pieces), I had been told over and over again “Don’t Squat! Especially not below parallel!”. How many of us have heard that before? Outside of the CrossFit world we have been made to believe that squats are evil and harmful. In fact, because of my less than perfect knee, I was not allowed to squat with my team in college – I was put on the leg press most days. Apparently, that was “better”. Looking back, I now understand that this was just an evil cycle. I wasn’t squatting, so my musculature supporting my knee and hip joints weren’t getting stronger, so my knees would become aggravated easily whenever I played, so my knees constantly hurt, so I wasn’t allowed to squat, and so on and so on… you get the idea. I actually decided to hang up my basketball sneakers after college because I did not want to be in pain any longer. Funny, I WAS NOT SQUATTING.
Then I was introduced to CrossFit and competitive exercise. For months, everyone who knew me would always ask “But I don’t understand, your knees don’t hurt?! There is so much squatting!”. Truth was 1) from day 1 CrossFit never bothered my knees and 2) I was an awful squatter and had no idea how much I needed to improve there. In all honesty, I didn’t know or understand how weak of a squatter I was nor did I appreciate how important it was to the sport – and to life in general for that matter. It took a great coach, some self-education by reading nerdy exercise literature, and a willingness to try anything to help me improve, to really get it. I checked my ego, learned to squat the proper way, came back on all my weights (which were not very high to begin with), and worked on improving my squat form and frequency for the sake of my competitive exercise career.
Building strength in the squat is the one of the most beneficial things that a person can do for themselves physically. These squats need to be of the correct kind. The kind we see weightlifters and babies (yes, drop something and ask a baby to pick it up) perform daily. This can not be confused with the movement we see running rampant in globo gyms everywhere where the individual is fully on their toes, glutes totally deactivated, taking 30 seconds to descend and only making it to 3 inches above parallel before returning up. Whenever I see that I cannot help but think of how high the toilet in their house must be for them to be able to perform their daily business.
Being able to squat with an upright torso, core and lumbar engaged, weight on the heels, ballistically moving out of the bottom, over and over and over again under load, is an invaluable skill to have in this sport (and in life). Not only will this help with the obvious such as workouts with front squats and back squats – but how about thrusters, wall balls, cleans, snatches, not to mention the hip power that is developed through squatting to aid in movements like box jumps, kipping pull-ups, ring dips, muscle ups and kipping HSPU. I explain this numerous times to my athletes looking to compete in the sport. I encourage them to get on a consistent squatting program and really dedicate some time to that aspect of their exercise regiment. However, I also explain this to my every day gym members who are just trying to live better and get through life more comfortably. To me, there is nothing more sad than seeing a person (who is not 90+) need assistance to sit down in a chair, or struggle to pick something up off the ground. Being a professional in this field, I understand that is able to be avoided with the use of a proper exercise program i.e. one that incorporates squats, often. Yes, squats are the answer to everything. Yes, squats should always be below parallel. Yes, squats make you a better person in general. And yes, squats will produce that mighty fine booty you are on a lifetime hunt for. Take away point of the post… SQUAT – low – fast – heavy – and often.
The new year is approaching quickly meaning the 2014 pre season is going to be upon us soon – like next week. The transition from “off season” to “pre season” was always an exciting one for me because it is the sign of new beginnings and an opportunity to begin to display all the hard work I put in during the off season. It often comes with expectations, and I’m the kind of athlete to get a chip on my shoulder from those expectations. Needless to say, I’m “chompin’ at the bit” (yes, another KK reference) to get moving. I will go into greater detail in my next post about what this all means exactly. Until then, happy squatting!
This past weekend was hands down the coolest sporting experience I have had since hanging up my basketball jersey. The 2013 American Open was a weekend filled with amazing, actually shocking athletes in a sport that was so incredibly different from what I am use to that it blew my mind. The idea that I was even a part of it and actually competed and held my own is still something that I am getting use to. I went into the weekend knowing it was going to be a great event, however I severely underestimated it. I am going to break this post into sections so I can talk about aspects of the weekend in some kind of order. My brain is still on overload trying to process it all that if I don’t do this, the post will be like a mishmosh of my thoughts.
1) Cutting Weight
This is an aspect of weightlifting that needs to be spoken about, especially if you have never had experience with a weight cutting sport (like me). When I qualified for the AO I did it from the 69kg (152lb) weight class. About 9 weeks prior to the AO we decided I would compete in the 63kg class (138lb). Since then I have been walking around at about 145lbs, so cutting to 138 was going to be just fine. Luckily, one of my coaches, Spencer Arnold, is one of the best weight lifters in the country and basically mirrors my weight cut exactly. So, he had been an amazing point of reference the entire time. I cut weight by basically eating a very strict paleo diet and drinking tons of water. About a week out I took out all carbs except for right around my workouts and I also took all my meals, split them in half, and put about 2 hours between meals. I didn’t eat after 7pm if I could help it. A home this is was no problem. However, I left for Dallas on Thursday and didn’t weigh in until 5pm on Saturday night. The discipline involved in this aspect of the sport is insane. I continued my strict regiment and also got on the scale religiously at the hotel to understand where my body was at constantly. I was basically a robot, following exactly what Spencer said to do. My biggest fear was getting on the scale and weighing above 63k and not even having a shot at lifting. Spencer was so good at coaching me on this that I actually was able to eat two full meals AND stay hydrated all day Saturday before getting on that scale. I weighed in officially at 62.2kg. Immediately after, I finished a bottle of Pedialyte, a plate of chicken fingers and fries, and two bags of M&Ms. I was feeling perfect and ready to go.
2) My Team
One of the coolest things about this weekend was that I went into a big time individual sport with some of the best people as my “teammates”. Many of them I have never met before, but it felt like we had been teammates for years. Although we were all alone out there on that platform when it was our time, the entire weekend I felt like I had a constant support system in exactly the same way I always felt on the road with my basketball teams. We all lifted at various times, and for the most part we were all there together watching and helping each other. The sense of pride that came from that was amazing and made such a positive impact on the weekend. Team Outlaw had an awesome showing at the AO and promises to have an even better future.
3) My Coaches
I can officially say, the coaches I have are among the best in the business. I have now witnessed them up against the best in the country and am so honored and grateful to be their athlete. As an athlete, I literally had to worry about NOTHNG else but performing. For 3 days, they did not stop. They handled all 15 of us, sometimes up to 3 of us at a time, with such ease that it was incredible. As a division 1 athlete, I understand what it is like to be “spoiled”, these guys duplicated that feeling. I was relaxed and confident, knowing that they had me prepared and I could trust what they were asking of me. Rudy Nielsen, Spencer Arnold, Colm O’Reily, and Jared Fleming are probably the biggest reason I had any success this weekend.
4) The Atmosphere
The entire weekend the atmosphere was unbelievable. The event kicked off on Friday morning with the youth division. One of my teammates, 13 year old Harrison Maurus, lifted in that session at 8am. Even at 8am on the first day, the atmosphere and energy was so cool. I lifted in the night session on Saturday. At this point there was two platforms running next to each other – 77kgA males on one and my 63kgA female session on the other. James Tatum, a crowd favorite and one of the best in the sport was lifting on one platform next to Geralee Vega, the overall winner in my weight class and competitor in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Needless to say, the atmosphere in the room was the most insane it had been all weekend. It was packed, standing room only. When I was on deck ready to lift I actually had lean in close to hear my coach standing right in front of me. Luckily, I love a crowd. The more people the better, the louder the noise the more I want to get out there, my smile gets bigger, I start having more fun. I told one of my coaches that competing in that atmosphere actually made me wish I was better at weightlifting. Unlike in basketball, where I had perfected the game, my technique and the understanding of the sport for years – I’m still just a weightlifting rookie with a lot of room for improvement in my technique and familiarity with the sport. Nonetheless, stepping up to the bar in front of that crowd was one of the coolest things I have ever done in sports. It gave me a new inspiration to keep perfecting my lifts and I cannot wait to get back there.
5) My Actual Lifts
I know this is the part that most of you are all waiting for. I finished my first ever national weightlifting meet in 16th among the 34 lifters in the 63kg weight class. My recorded total was 160kg (352lbs) which was 2kg short of a meet PR for me. I opened up my snatches at 68kg (149.6lbs) and hit it. I then jumped to 72kg (158.4lb) and missed. On my final snatch attempt I hit 73kg (160.6lbs), but received 3 red flags on my lift – my first “No Lift” ever. These were questionable red flags, my coaches and I are still unclear on the reasoning but it is what it is, bad calls happen and there is nothing we could do about it. So, my highest recorded snatch was 68kg. I then opened my clean and jerks at 92kg (202.4lbs) and successfully completed the lift. That was a meet PR. My next jump was to 96kg (211.2lbs). My coach and I have been working on a certain part of my clean technique that I need to adjust in order to become a better cleaner. I stepped up to 96kg and successfully made that technique change but was not ready to receive the bar where I did (because I have been use to doing it wrong for so long now) that the bar actually knocked me back on my butt – something that has never happened before. Although I wish I could have received the bar cleanly, I was confident in the pull and the technique change I had made. My original plan was to have my next attempt be at 98kg (215.6lbs), however, coach and I had spoke about the idea of attempting 100kg (220lbs) at the AO. We knew I could hit the lift, but everything would have to be near perfect. So we called 100kg. My coaches came back over to me a little bit later and told me that if we pushed to 101kg (222.2lbs) and hit it I would medal in the clean and jerk. Being the athlete I am, I’m never going to say ‘no’ to something like that. Honestly, I wouldn’t tell these guys no very often anyway – they’re great coaches. So I stepped out to the 101kg bar. I had already successfully made the lift in my head about 3 times. However, in real life my pull was off, I let the bar get away from me and could not secure myself underneath it. No lift. I ended my clean and jerk with a successful 92kg lift.
The Weekend Takeaway:
This weekend made me realize how blessed I really am. When I walked away from competitive basketball, I never imagined I would have the opportunity to continue be the athlete I always was – to travel around the world, to be a part of a great team, to have great coaches looking after me, to be competing in great atmospheres, to have something to work hard for everyday. Not a day goes by where I don’t thank God for bringing be to this and giving me another chance at doing the things I love to do.
This weekend also inspired me to want to be great even more. Being around such positive, hard working, driven and focused people made me realize there is an entire breed like me out there – a breed that I need to be around for both my continued success and mental well being. No matter how hard I think I am working daily, this weekend I saw there are hundreds of women working just as hard – and harder. That’s inspiring in itself – I don’t ever want to be out worked.
Lastly, this weekend reminded me that everything needs to be rooted in fun. The minute something starts becoming stressful, or a burden, or a negative experience, it needs to stop immediately. Sports is about fun, and recreation, easing your mind, and bettering your character. All the greats are out there just having fun, appreciating the moment and the opportunity they have worked so hard for, and simply living the dream.
If you don’t believe me about that, here is a little 2013AO, off-stage, behind the scenes, epicness. Yes, this is an exercise race at 3am in a hotel lobby. Yes, those are some of the biggest names in the sports of both weightlifting and crossfit. Yes, that is Paul Estrada winning a handstand race in space dolphin tights about 24 hours after easily snatching 146kg (321.2lbs). Crossfitters win.
*You can find this post and other posts by my peers and I at:
*You can find this post and other posts by my peers and I at: