Qualifying for the British Olympic Weightlifting Championship…

by Ben Ross

This is a short blog of how in my last comp, I managed to overcome a big mental block from unexpected sequence of events. Funny how things work out isn’t it?

My last comp was the regional championship for London & South East England. This was defiantly the highest profile comp to date I had done as the venue was bigger, the equipment better, much stronger lifters who had to qualify just to be there and officials to double check your weight as well as drug testing.

I had been very dedicated with my nutrition going into this championship, I was leaner, lighter and stronger then I have ever been before. Needless to say this gave me a huge mental edge as most of you know so much of lifting is in your head. Weigh in went as smoothly as expected, a light 66.7kg for my under 69kg class. As soon as I had weighed in it’s off to get my breakfast in.

I sit down and tuck into my chicken, pepper and cous cous, having to force most of it down as I never really have an appetite before lifting. Looking around seeing other competitors eating sandwiches, crisps and flapjacks….

90 minutes after weigh in its off to the warm up room, find myself a platform and begin going through my warm up procedure, I’m feeling good at this point. The warm up room is quite quiet and all the lifters have different ways to prepare, every now and again you catch someone looking at what I’m doing or vice versa.

I warm up quite quickly and am keen to get going, most defiantly the pre-workout kicking in. I warm up a bit too quickly and am ready to go about 15 minutes before I am due to lift, I decide to slow it down before I over cook myself. A short while after I began to re-warm up, this was a massive error.

My second warm up never felt as good, lifts felt labored and sluggish,  I missed a few warm up lifts and start to stress out, this made me miss a few more. My last warm up lift is 80kg; in a few minutes I would go on stage and do 90kg as my first attempt. I miss the 80kg warm up, my head is a mess, a combination of a badly timed warm up and nerves start to kick in. If I miss my first 3 lifts I get disqualified from the whole championship (referred to as “bombing out”). The lifter before me does just this, more pressure.

My first attempt is a 90kg snatch, I clear my head, grasp the bar as wide as I can, and just before I lift I remind myself I had done 10kg more than this is training. This works a treat, I throw it overhead catching it perfectly, the over head squat is easy, the feeling of relief floods my mind.  I then go on to miss my next two lifts at 96kg. As you can imagine I’m pretty pissed off at this point, but was just happy I got one lift in after that horrific warm up.  I’m sure I just blew my chances of qualifying for the great British championship and any sort of podium.

The comp then moves onto the second lift, the clean and jerk.  This lift was 100% my nemesis, I could almost snatch the same weight I can C&J, this is very odd. I had never done 110kg before, 109kg easy, 110 impossible. I had formed a complete mental block about this weight. I knew if I still wanted to qualify for the Great British champs I would need at least 115kg.

First C&J was 105kg, no problems at all. Second lift I ask for 110, I don’t let the thoughts of the countless times I have missed this weight enter my mind. The clean feels great lands a little high on my shoulders and squashes my windpipe slightly. I stand up quickly and give myself a few seconds to adjust the bar on my shoulders. I drive the bar above my head I catch it a little low and stager with the bar over head. Mid drive above my head I caught myself thinking “ah crap, I didn’t drive enough and have lost it” instantly I think no way! Keep pushing up. 2 out of 3 judges give the lift so it passes, I was happy I had finally got that weight, but felt lucky do have done it wasn’t smooth at all.
My last clean and jerk had to be 115kg, a weight I had never even attempted to clean before let alone put it above my head. Before I had any time to dwell on this thought I hear the announcement, “Bar is loaded, if Ben gets this lift he will qualify for the Great British Championship!”  As if I didn’t have enough pressure anyway!
I dust my hands with chalk, take a few stamps on the ground to get me fired up and walk through the door to the stage.
I hear the roar of the crowd as I walk out and can pick out the familiar voices within it. I just look at the bar as I walk towards it, making sure I don’t look at the large crowd that’s amassed. I run through the motions, toes under the bar, strong grip, sit back and take a deep breath, at this point the crowd is silent.
I sit up and pull as hard as I can, the bar hits my thighs perfectly and I drop to get under the bar, it lands heavily on my shoulders, the squat feels good though. Standing up with it I let out a roar of aggression. I let the bar settle, take a deep breath and dip and drive the bar overhead punching hard, I catch it perfectly overhead. I take a few steps to recover and hold the bar tight to keep everything still waiting for the buzzer, it feels like lifetime.The buzzer goes, I’d done it. I release the bar to the floor and give an emotional cheer with arms stretched out, I take a second to absorb the crowd’s cheers, and it feels amazing. Months of strict training, all the travelling to various gyms and eating perfectly weighed food has paid off.

I walk off stage into the back and am fired up! I take a seat and try and comprehend what I had just done, I feel a rush of emotion run through my veins, almost like pins and needles all over.

Not one but two personal bests, achieved qualification to the great British champs and overcome a massive mental hurdle.

A great day indeed.

Below is a video of that last Clean and Jerk.


115KG @ 66.7kg BW

Five tips to improve your Deadlift!

By James Smith

The Deadlift has always been an exercise I’ve enjoyed. Having long arms and a relatively short torso has meant that I’ve always had favorable leverage which has resulted in the following PB’s so far:

260kg Deadlift from floor

275kg Deadlift from 16″

220kg x 19 Axle Deadlift from 18″

All at 86kg bodyweight. Certainly not up to scratch with some of the best u90kg Strongmen competitors in country; Arram Eghoyan, James Ward, Shane Jerman and of course England’s Strongest Man and personal mentor Tom Hibbert but not terrible.

My target is to have hit a 3.25 x bodyweight Deadlift in my first phase of 2014 as my current training goals are to increase my Squatting patterns in my quest to qualify for England’s Strongest Man.

The following tips are five important things that have helped to increase our clients and my own levels of strength. The internet is saturated with advice on training technique but I hope I can try to provide something slightly different. The advice provided is for someone who is not a complete beginner and already has an understanding of the exercise and has the flexibility required perform it safely.

1. Set a goal and timeframe and make yourself accountable.

Without a time frame, a structured plan and a finish date, most programmes result in mediocrity. Having a training partner that not only motivates you but also has a similar goal will also help tremendously, you’re not always going to be to motivate yourself and be able to complete the plan for the day. Alternatively, hire a coach, even if it’s just to write the programme for you and to keep you on track. This is the simplest but perhaps the most important point. Without intent and without desire, even the best written programme will be ineffective.

My current target (albeit not for Deadlifting):

Back Squat – 172kg (2 x bodyweight) by 24th December. Secretly I want 180kg!

2. Improve your unilateral strength and weak links.

We’ve all heard the phrase, you’re only as strong as your weakest link and this applies to max effort lifts more than anything. When we look at the Deadlift, imbalances could come from a multitude of muscle groups; lumbar erectors, hamstrings, VMO’s (quadriceps) and scapulae retractors spring to mind immediately. Periodising your first phase of training to include strengthening your weaknesses is important. Again if you’re not sure what these are, get yourself assessed by a qualified coach. One of my phase 1 training protocols looked like this:

A1 Front Foot Elevated, 1 1/4 Split Squat (4 x 7-9, 4110, 60s)

A2 Lying Leg Curl, Toes In, Plantar Flexed (4 x 6-8, 50X1, 60s)

B Seated Good Mornings (4 x 10-12, 3210, 75s)

C1 Rope Pull-Through (3 x 12-15, 3010, 10s)

C2 45′ Back Extension (3 x 12-15, 3010, 90s)

This was mainly to overload my posterior chain but also to improve hamstring and adductor flexibility and to improve my deficit between left and right quads and hamstrings.

3. Deadlift!

This may seem obvious but unless you Deadlift frequently, with good form and with different volumes, tempos and recruitment patterns it’s going to be hard to improve for long. My training has included all forms (chains, bands, isometric holds, different heights, RDLs etc) and even 2 x per day, 2 x per week. Initially you should be able to make consistent improvements by slowly increasing the weight and slowly changing the rep target e.g.

Week 1-3 – 6 x 6-8 reps

Week 4 – Deload (Cut sets by 50%)

Week 5-7 – 6 x 4-6 reps

Week 8 – Deload (Cut sets by 50%)

Week 9-11 – 6 x 6-8 reps (You should now be able to have increased your week 1-3 weights to 5-20% more depending on proficiency.

This is a very basic template and specificity is key but it gives you a basic idea of a very easy way to make progress.

A more advanced version may look like this:

Phase 1 – Giant Sets (Posterior Chain)

Phase 2 – Descending Height Rack Pulls

Phase 3 – Chains and Speed work (2 x per week)

Phase 4 – Deload and Peak for 1RM

Breaking down the lift itself is also important. If you’re slow off the floor, use a snatch grip, deficit or chains. Slow through the middle of the lift, use isometric pauses or RDL’s. Each part of lift can be broken down into a smaller component which can be overloaded through different techniques.

Bottom line – get your technique assessed and follow a programme designed specifically for you.

4. Learn to develop as much muscular tension as possible.

Trying to lift to your maximum without activating and effectively using every muscle at your disposal will result in limited amounts of weight being lifted. Too often I see people trying to Deadlift with no thought for glute, hamstring and lat tension which is a huge mistake. Learning how to contract these muscles and firing them at the set position will transfer to more poundage being used.

Glute/hamstring tip – Use a glute activation sequence through your warm up so you start to build a good mind/muscle connection. (Info on this on our YouTube page). When you’re in the set position, extend your hips backwards until you start to feel your hamstrings tightening.

Lat tip – Grip the bar as tight as possible with arms completely straight and slightly internally rotate your elbows until you start to feel your lats developing tension.

Also without a correct breathing pattern max effort lifts will be near on impossible. Creating as much intra-abdominal pressure by having your breath held at the set position and exhaling as you rise is essential.

5. Drag the bar!

The last (and possibly most important tip) is to make sure you keep the bar as close to your body as possible. Unfortunately this may result in sore shins/knees but keeping the bar close to you means that the risk of injury is reduced on your lower back (as leverage is lessened) and the bars able to travel in a more vertical pattern putting you in a much stronger position throughout the lift.

One of the main reasons people are unable to do this is through being unbalanced through the 3 points of contact in their feet before they start. We recommend Deadlifting either with no shoes on or using trainers with very little cushioned sole so you’re able to get feedback through the balls and heels of your feet that you’re balanced.

That’s it! Hopefully these short tips have been helpful and you’re able to implement some of the points into your own training. Unfortunately, for such a simple looking lift, there is a huge amount of technique involved and brute strength will only get you so far for so long.

For any more information on the above or for advice with programming etc, please email james@elite-bodyworks.com or leave it below or on Facebook.