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Learning About Real Weightlifting From A Real Weightlifter
Matt Foreman

Let me say right from the beginning that this article has a bit of an odd twist to it. I’m writing it about a specific weightlifter, but it’s not an interview or something like that. Actually, this gal doesn’t even know I’m writing this about her. I guess it’ll be a little surprise when she sees it.
 
This is about a Catalyst Athletics weightlifter named Alyssa Sulay. Those of you who geek out on the Catalyst training videos probably recognize that name, because quite a bit of Alyssa’s lifting has been on display here, almost since she first started.
 
I’m writing this article because you can learn something about your own weightlifting by examining some of the nuts and bolts of Alyssa’s career. You won’t believe how much you have in common with her, and I can guarantee this will make you feel a hell of a lot better about what you’re trying to accomplish in this sport.
 
 
Example 1
 
I noticed Alyssa right away when Greg posted a video of her doing cleans on the Catalyst site back in 2011 when she started training. She was snappy, strong, built perfectly for weightlifting, etc. Greg probably doesn’t remember this, but I texted him back then and asked, “Who’s the new girl? She looks talented.” He told me who she was and I mentioned I was impressed. Then he texted back, “Yeah, but she’s got some problems with her overhead flexibility.”
 
Then I saw some videos of her doing snatches and jerks. Greg was right, that’s for sure. Her shoulders were tight, her jerks always punched forward instead of straight over her head, and her overhead snatch lockout looked uncomfortable because her upper body stiffness didn’t want to let her nestle down into that effortless bottom position a weightlifter needs to have. It was clear she had some excellent tools, but equally clear she had some obstacles that were going to make this a challenge for her.
 
How many of you have a flexibility problem that holds you back? A mobility issue that screws up your technique? Some joint tightness that makes the Olympic lifts a major pain in the ass? Anyone? Anyone? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
 
Some of you are even wondering if this problem is EVER going to get better. You’re using every mobility tactic on God’s green earth, and you still have to wrestle that barbell every day to get it in the right position. Raise your hand if I just described you, or somebody you coach.
 
Now… here’s the fun part. The first time I saw Alyssa lift in person was at the 2012 American Open. She went 3/3 in the snatch at that meet, hitting a 68 kg personal record in the 63 kg weight class. She also nailed an 82 kg clean & jerk and almost got 85. After scratching and clawing away at that blasted flexibility problem for a year and a half, she started winning the battle and getting big results.
 
Now… you want to know the REALLY fun part? So she did an 82 kg clean & jerk at the end of 2012, got it? Fast forward to early 2015, where Alyssa snatched 83 kg and hit a 100 kg clean & jerk in her most recent competition. You read that right. She’s snatching more than she could clean & jerk less than three years previously. Incredible progress. At this point, she’s becoming one of the top ranked 63 kg women in the United States.
 
Lesson for you: You’ve already figured out the point I’m making, but let me state it clearly anyway. Many of you have physical roadblocks standing in your way. Some part of your body is kicking your weightlifting progress right in the crotch. You know what it is, and you might even know how to fix it. It’s not a mystery. But no matter how much you try to improve it, that son of a buck won’t cooperate. And sometimes it makes you start to wonder if it’s even possible to lick it. Well, my little amigos… the progress of Alyssa’s career is a pretty solid piece of evidence to support the idea that there’s hope for you. Her problem was substantial, and she still has to fight it even now. But it hasn’t stopped her from getting better and rising up the food chain in this sport. That means there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be able to do the same thing if you keep punching that roadblock right in the damn throat every day, just like she’s had to do.
 
 
Example 2
 
Alyssa is a very good technician in the lifts, obviously. A woman can’t do 83/100 at 63 without having solid technique. She and Greg have worked hard to make her movements as fast and polished as possible, and the results speak for themselves. But just like almost every other weightlifter in the world, she still has a technique problem she’s trying to correct.
 
Alyssa jumps forward when she snatches. Based on the videos I’ve watched, I think she’s been doing it since the very beginning. In case you don’t know, jumping forward in the Olympic lifts is generally considered a no-no. It’s not a good technical habit and it can lead to other problems. If a lifter jumps forward, the coach has to try and fix it.
 
Now here’s where the conversation gets juicy. Greg Everett is a very good weightlifting coach, and he knows how to fix technical problems. He’s tried different cues, drills, etc. to get Alyssa to stop jumping forward. Sometimes, when you watch her doing snatches on the training videos, you’ll see a little black rubber strip on the platform right in front of her toes. Why do you think it’s there? That strip is literally a barrier that’s supposed to prevent her from jumping forward. It’s a fairly common training trick some coaches use with athletes who have this problem.
 
To put it in a nutshell, Greg and Alyssa have tried every trick in the book to stop her from jumping forward when she snatches. They haven’t completely erased the problem, but they’ve improved it dramatically. She used to jump forward on basically every snatch, whereas now it only happens occasionally (usually only over 90%).
 
Lesson for you: Hopefully, you’re smart enough to put all the pieces of this article together. Technique imperfections are a fact of life in weightlifting. You all have them. I do too. And you’re working to fix them, along with your coach. But these technique battles can sometimes become long-term wars. Even if the coaches are highly skilled, they’re not always going to be able to snap their fingers and completely vaporize a lifter’s technical glitches. That’s not how real-life weightlifting works. However, Alyssa’s progress in the sport is the important learning point here.
 
Her technique isn’t perfect, but it’s really damn good and she’s been able to add around 30 kg to her total over the last couple of years DESPITE the fact that she hasn’t completely solved all her problems. Once again, this is how real-life weightlifting works. You learn how to do the Olympic lifts, then you develop a certain level of skill and proficiency, then you identify specific areas where you still need to improve, then you work with your coach to improve those areas, and then you just continue that process. During all of this, you make progress and increase your lifts, understanding that this is simply the universal progression of Olympic weightlifting. Eventually, you solidify “your” technique. It might look like the world champions on the internet, and it might look a little different. It’ll all depend on your individual qualities. It might be a situation where you simply have to whittle away at a problem, gradually reducing it over time until it gets smaller and smaller and then, hopefully, stops happening at all. This is the kind of process Alyssa and Greg are going through with the jump-forward thing.  
 
You can see why I wanted to describe Alyssa’s lifting. Her experience is basically the same as yours. Watching her development with Greg is a prime example of the coach-athlete progression, and looking at real examples is one of the best ways to learn about this sport. But there’s one more piece of the puzzle that needs to be acknowledged.
 
All of this progress has happened because we’re talking about a very tenacious athlete who’s being guided by a very determined coach. Alyssa made the decision to pay her dues, investing an extended commitment to what she wants to accomplish. Her coach has made that same commitment right back to her. So you’ve got two talented people who have a “surrender is not an option” mentality about their weightlifting plans. That type of combination is going to result in success, plain and simple. And Alyssa just happens to be the person I picked for this article. I could have written it about any of the hard chargers in the Catalyst gym.
 
And if you want success of your own, you’re going to need that same mentality. That’s the X-factor in the equation… heart. A strong body with no heart is like a fancy car with an empty gas tank. It looks good, but it’s not going anywhere. Athletes with heart will always rise to the top, sooner or later. There are plenty of examples out there, just like this one.

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Matt Foreman is the football and track & field coach at Mountain View High School in Phoenix, AZ. A competitive weightliter for twenty years, Foreman is a four-time National Championship bronze medalist, two-time American Open silver medalist, three-time American Open bronze medalist, two-time National Collegiate Champion, 2004 US Olympic Trials competitor, 2000 World University Championship Team USA competitor, and Arizona and Washington state record-holder. He was also First Team All-Region high school football player, lettered in high school wrestling and track, a high school national powerlifting champion, and a Scottish Highland Games competitor. Foreman has coached multiple regional, state, and national champions in track & field, powerlifting, and weightlifting, and was an assistant coach on 5A Arizona state runner-up football and track teams. He is the author of the books Olympic Weightlifting for Masters: Training at 30, 40, 50 & Beyond and Bones of Iron: Collected Articles on the Life of the Strength Athlete.


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6 Comments
Angela D 2015-07-27
Alyssa has quickly become one of my favorite lifters to watch and to warm up with at competitions. I love watching her and Greg interact. I definitely can relate to her struggles with mobility as I am still working on not pushing the bar forward when I jerk. Great read! Thanks Matt.
Nuno R 2015-07-27
How did she get over her shoulder mobility issues? I have exactly the same problems as described.
This just shows how the mental state influences the outcome. Mind over body.
Nuno - I'm going to write an article outlining what we've done. Should be up next week.

Greg Everett
Gary Echternacht 2015-07-30
I do think that for any sport true pleasure is found in the process, the discipline of persistence, learning to understand yourself, being energized by your work, and being patient with yourself. It is amazing how far one can get in life by simply showing up consistently.
L 2015-11-20
Can you describe some of her main mobility drills and how often she did them? I would find that quite helpful, as it is such a common problem (upperbody stiffness) in today's population. Cheers!
Already did in this article.


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