Recently, I had the opportunity to coach an athlete at a weightlifting meet in Charlotte, North Carolina. In the past year or so, the sport of Weightlifting (or Olympic Lifting as it's commonly referred to) has increased in popularity in the state, with some of the best lifters in the nation living north of the Charlotte area. After coaching my own athlete in the Women's "Elite" Session (the session with the highest entry totals), I stayed to watch the following Men's Elite Session.
Most of the lifters in the session are nationally known, some having traveled internationally to compete, and many of them having very large social media followings for the feats of strength and power they perform. I'll admit, it was pretty amazing to watch someone Clean and Jerk 215 kilograms (473lbs) in person, and to watch at least one athlete almost Snatch twice his body weight. To answer a few common questions:
1. Yes, watching someone lift heavy in person is just as impressive as it is on social media.
2. Yes, the lifters that seem lightning fast in Instagram videos are actually that fast.
3. Yes, it is weird to stand in the presence of well known coaches and athletes and to technically be an equal (being that we're coaching/lifting in the same sessions).
All of these things are great, but I want to describe the unfortunate reality of what I witnessed. The venue started buzzing with excitement when those elite lifters walked in (they showed up just in time for weigh ins), and the feeling of a powerful presence set in. I first saw the athlete that would end up winning the Men's Division from behind, but when he and one of the other athletes from his team that was also lifting in that session turned around, red flags started going off in my mind.
These athletes are the best in the nation, but seeing them in person lead to shocking realities. Both of the athletes looked bloated, as if they were 15-20lbs more than what the numbers on the scales actually read. There were bags under their eyes, and their overall appearance was disheveled and unkempt. Honestly, it looked as if someone had just pulled some hungover drunks off of the street, dressed them in athletic clothes and had them come lift. In any capacity, they didn't look healthy. What was even more impressive, is that these athletes somehow moved phenomenally, and lifted just as heavy as you see in those videos of them training. I cannot and will not knock their performance as they lift far heavier and perform better on the platform then I do, but I still saw red flags.
On social media, these athletes are known for utilizing two different approaches commonly found in international weightlifting: squatting heavy every day, and maxing out on the lifts once a week (essentially a Bulgarian Method). What it seems to have done, is place these athletes in a constant peaking state (some of them for up to two years), and never really having a break from "in-season" lifting. Obviously, this seems to be doing wonders for their numbers, but eventually these athletes will burnout. Many of them are 19-23 years old, and in a sport where some Olympic medalists are in their early to mid-30's, I can only hope these athletes hold on long enough to see their efforts amount to international success before they get hurt and their careers end.
Obviously, being a young coach, I can't say that I know all things in training for the sport. But talking to other coaches and athletes, all of them agree with me that they will end up burning out at some point.
But here's my take away, because I watched my own athlete idolize these other athletes: don't idolize them. Enjoy what they can do, but training like them may not be a wise long term decision for both your overall health, and your longevity in the sport. You can revel in their PR's and successes, but remember that they're approach isn't for everybody (and maybe not for them either). Take your time in whatever type of training you do, but also look long term, as your long term health is far more valuable than temporary glory.