When beginners first come to Bethnal Green I advise them to leave their brain at the door. When you first start to learn the Olympic lifts it is best to just absorb what the coach tells you and do exactly what they say. This isn’t because all coaches are infallible but because the single biggest obstacle I see to progress in learning weightlifting technique is “paralysis by analysis”. Most people have read articles by great champions about the Olympic lifts on the internet and come armed with this knowledge to their nearest gym. Anything the coach, who probably isn’t Abadjiev, Rigert or Kono, tells them is filtered through this information and applied using the beginners own interpretation. The inevitable result of this is confusion for the beginner as they try to reconcile what they’ve read with what they’re hearing or wondering how this teaches the “double knee bend” or whatever and making life more complicated than it needs to be. The coach at your gym will have their own tried and tested way to teach the Olympic lifts which may differ from what you’ve read but still be effective. If you are a beginner - relax and follow your coaches instructions without considering the “why’s and wherefore’s” of everything you are being told to do, your progress from beginner to intermediate lifter will be much swifter and smoother.
Once a lifter reaches a level of competence at the Olympic lifts and has a few competitions under their belt they will often start to question the training programme their coach is giving them. Although this isn’t as cut and dried as the decision for a beginner to do exactly what they’re told, as the coach may be wrong and the lifter may know better by now, it is usually the case that the lifter actually thinks there is an easier way to achieve their inevitable greatness. Exercises which are tough and unloved will suddenly seem ineffective while favourites will become the staple diet. It’s very hard to look at your own training in a dispassionate way. Your coach has a good knowledge of your abilities, strengths and weaknesses and wants what you want – for you to become a better lifter. Even lifters who are good at programme writing and coaching others have great difficulty writing effective programmes for themselves. A strange mixture of ego and work ethic often produce training regimes which are either too easy or ridiculously hard, it is then difficult to admit to your own mistakes and change the programme because it is hard to admit you’ve written a programme for yourself that isn’t working. This is a process that a coach will be constantly going through and, being removed from actually following the training programme, is usually in a better position to adjust it as they don’t have as much ego invested in it being “right”. If you are an intermediate or advanced lifter and think you aren’t improving because your programme isn’t right, talk to your coach about it. They should be amenable to changes you suggest if they are sensible. If they think you should stick to what you are doing, ask yourself, and them, why. They want you to achieve and you want to achieve. They might think that your best bet is to stick to the programme to get through a plateau and they might be right!
A lifter and a coach are a team. A coach has the benefit of study, qualifications and experience to guide you to make the most of your potential. The lifter has to train hard and be mentally tough in the gym and on the platform but they don’t necessarily have to take responsibility for the training programme they follow. Give your coach that responsibility, place your trust in their judgement, focus on working hard, communicate any misgivings or new ideas you may have to your coach and you may be pleasantly surprised!
Giles started training at Colvestone Youth Centre, Hackney in 1983 and competed in his first competition as a fifteen year old in 1986. His competitive career lasted for 16 years during which he represented Great Britain in many international competitions around the world, won 10 consecutive British titles (1993–2002), EU medals (1994, 1999) and 5 Commonwealth Games medals including a gold medal for the snatch in 2002.
Although retired from competition, Giles still enjoys lifting weights, although slightly lighter than in the past, and continues to coach weightlifters and athletes of all standards at Bethnal Green Weightlifting Club. For more information on Giles’ courses for fitness professionals visit Greenwood Weightlifting.