Explaining the Facts of "Lift"
by Nina Galen
"Weightlifting. I am relaxing. I am relaxing more and more. It feels so good just to let go. Every muscle, every nerve is relaxing more and more now; I'm drifting deeper, deeper, down . . ."
In a corner of the darkened gym two dozen shapes lie scattered, as still as petrified tree trunks. The voice on the tape drones on: "I am completely relaxed now, drifting even deeper, going down into easy, relaxing sleep. I reject all negative thoughts, words and vibrations. Every day I am becoming more and more confident in my ability to perform "
A faint sound of sawing wood hovers over the supine group as the tape nears its end. This may not be the best time to introduce its leaders to you, but there they are. That big log on the left is Lee Shorter, weightlifting coach from West Virginia, guest lecturer here on nutrition and training methods. The mossy trunk (would you believe kelp?) at the rear wall is South Californian John Garhammer, biomechanics teacher at UCLA and national research W-L coordinator.
And that figure seated cross-legged in the center, frowning impatiently in the darkness as he awaits the final awakening words, is Carl Miller. "One ... two ... three. Eyes wide open."
Slowly, like some enchanted forest coming to life, the prone shapes begin to move, sigh, groan and sit up. For the past twenty minutes the lifters have felt their bodies metamorphose into states of utter relaxation while their conscious minds those which managed to remain conscious were conditioned to thoughts of affirmation: "WEIGHTLIFTING. I am healthy, strong, young, powerful, loving, harmonious, successful and happy."
Weightlifting psyching. It's one of the tools Carl Miller demonstrates to his students to help them attain greater lifting success. Affirmative mind conditioning through THINKING SUCCESS is a 'high' athletes can enjoy in daily training right up through contest time. So far there's no known way to detect it in the blood or urine, but its too good to remain legal for long.
The psychological approach was only one of the methods stressed this summer in Miller's camps at Santa Fe. Training Programs based on physiological research, and Training Techniques developed through the study of body mechanics, were also stressed.
The group on the gym floor now fully awake, Miller strides ahead up the stairs toward the lecture room where the lifters seat themselves. He surveys them with a grin. It isn't every day he sees 24 athletes in mid-afternoon wearing clean socks. The reason? A nurse is coming to measure the degree of ankle flexibility of the lifters. Ankle flexibility and body proportion will be used during this camp to help determine each lifter's most appropriate style and training technique.
The importance of the physiological approach to weight-training, stressed in the 1978 camps, is best indicated by the esoteric message printed in large, black letters across the front of Carl Miller's orange T-shirt: READ BULGARIA 3. It refers to an article in the Olympic Lifting Training Manual composed by Miller for use in his camps. In "Bulgaria 3," written on his return from the W-L championships in that country, Miller explains the meaning and usefulness of "training phases" in an athlete's preparation for a series of contests.
Briefly, this method is based on studies made by Hans Selye on stress and the adrenal glands, and parallels three stages of adrenal activity described by the Canadian doctor: 1) an alarm stage which is the phase of adaptation during which training is initiated and progress made toward peak performance, 4 to 12 weeks; 2) a resistance stage which is the complete achievement of the peak, 3 to 6 weeks; and 3) an exhaustion stage which is readaption to the loss of peak condition.
These physiological realities, Miller explains, mean that a preliminary phase, a contest phase, and a post contest or readaption phase for lifters, particularly higher class lifters who are under more stress, are definitely indicated. Beginning lifters, who make progress anyway simply because they are new, will make better progress later if trained from the start under a system based on correct stress cycles. Therefore, applying these phases to different classes of lifters and individual lifters, including hours per workout per week, and number of reps and exercises, is an important part of Miller's Training Method.
With the Mexican border just a javelin's throw away, John Garhammer's lecture the next day on anabolic steroids achieves a certain immediacy, keeping the lifters on the edges of their chairs. For Carl Miller, who prides himself on coaching athletes to their best performances by providing them with constantly improving training methods, it's a downer knowing that in international competition pharmaceutical factors often determine who wins or loses.
His desire to train world champions notwithstanding, Miller won't encourage his lifters to endanger their health or break the law. He feels these are moral decisions each athlete must make for himself. On the other hand, recognizing that steroids can't be wished (or washed) away, Coach Miller makes every effort to provide his students with the available facts. These include information on training with steroids gleaned in discussions and through observations during his extensive professional travels (double and triple checked when possible), plus information drawn from experiments he made on himself over a two-year period when not competing.
While interest in steroids runs high, reaction to Garhammer's next lecture demonstrates that athletes take an avid interest in other areas as well. Although Carl has managed to load all Garhammer's slides into the projector upside down and/or backwards, the biomechanic analysis is so fascinating that within seconds 24 pairs of eyes have adjusted to watching John's pointer follow the graph line upwards from right to left to pinpoint where a drop-off in power output during one lifter's clean and jerk has affected the result but can be remedied by a style change. Then they watch the downward-moving pointer show where Sam Walker and Bruce Wilhelm are generating more power at certain moments in their lifting than Sultan Rakhmanov.
One axiom of Ilsokinetics is that you have to train with speed to have speed, a fact of lift which separates the weightlifters from the power people and bodybuilders across the gym. Moving on to his next lecture, Garhammer switches to a beautifully drawn, delicately tinted, backward slide showing neurons and cross sectioned muscle fibers looking somewhat. like corn fritters and macaroni. Muscles, he explains, are made up in part of fast twitch (FT) and slow twitch (ST) fibers. Develop the FT fibers and you'll have speed for the mile dash. Train the ST fibers and you'll have endurance to run the marathon. Weightlifters would be expected to resemble sprinters, with a high ratio of FT development.
How to make sure you're training mainly the FT fibers? In his Lifting Manual, Carl Miller sums it up in two words: Think Speed. As the slide showed, the wider diameter macaroni, and the narrower macaroni, were each associated with its own particular fritter, thereby illustrating the recent finding that FT and ST muscle fibers each have their own distinctive nerve supply.
This tells us that training muscle fiber selectively isnt totally a matter of which exercise or how many reps, but of mental approach to the training. What the athlete must stimulate isnt the FT muscle fiber itself, but that fibers particular nerve supply. Those nerves in turn will activate the appropriate type of fiber. For this reason it's of utmost importance that the athlete think speed while training for the snatch and the clean and jerk.
Lee Shorter, whose expertise on nutrition includes the ability to evaluate school cafeteria food quantitatively, gave Santa Fe College, where the camps were held, straight A's for Abundance. Thus amply fortified, he was able to expound at length on the Russian system of max reps and max volume. Breaking down reps and tonnage into periods of weeks, months and years, Lee showed how to coax the body to greater effort, without blasting, through graduation of training intensity.
The weeklong camps ended as they began, with open house at Carl's place and volleyball in the garden. The general consensus of the lifters? That they'd be busy for weeks to come just absorbing and putting into practice all that they'd learned.