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In The Fall

Do Your Chores 
Part 1
By Donny Shankle

This is mainly for the young weightlifter but if you're older you may also get some use out of it. I truly believe the person who can speak about their passion with an analogy seen in every aspect of life is a voice to be heard. Learn to see your discipline in every dimension and far reaching scale. Even when you are not training on the platform this does not mean you cease practicing becoming the champion.

Much of what you can learn to become a great weightlifter as a young boy or girl starts off the platform. It starts around the house listening to mom and dad when they give you chores to do. When I was a boy my father used to get on me whenever he thought I was being lazy or wasting time. Both my father and mother taught me to take pride in my chores and helping my family. Self-discipline is the most important value to have for any young athlete and attention to detail in your chores will help you in your training as you get older. When you become an adult this self-discipline will become self-reliance. What you gain from your chores will transpose not only into being a successful weightlifter but also establishes character traits you will take with you in life.

Below is a list of 10 chores you are  probably already familiar with but may have not found their benefits in regards to your performance as a developing weightlifter. Let me explain how certain chores can teach you everything from balance, ambidexterity, patience, etc. All attributes which will help you one day to become champion.

1 - Washing & Waxing the Car – Ambidexterity

As a weightlifter it is very good to have complete coordination on both sides of your body. Washing and waxing the car is great for teaching the young weightlifter how to use both of their hands and arms with precision and strength. Also, this chore is great for injury prevention because it washes away strength imbalances. Often times the dominant side of the body will apply the greater amount of force. This chore teaches the young weightlifter how to deliberately use both sides of their body evenly. A much needed attribute when lifting maximum weights overhead.

Without fail every Saturday morning my father would get me out of bed to wash and wax the cars. The chore took me about 4 hours to complete since we had 3 cars so I made sure to get up early. Washing alone teaches the weightlifter about attention to detail. To put your focus on hard to reach areas first (e.g. right under the tire well). This will come in handy in your training as it will teach you to always train your weak points first. For instance, if you tend to stand up with your cleans strong but struggle with the jerk, you may need to prioritize rack jerks.

When waxing, apply the wax with your dominant hand and after waiting for the wax to dry, buff it off with your opposite hand. When taking the wax off you are going to need to apply some elbow grease  and this will help develop the strength in your weaker arm. The temptation to switch arms will be there but resist it. Over time you will get faster and work with your weaker hand just as well as your dominant hand. 

When you are finished you should feel a since of accomplishment and pride as you look at the cars shining brightly in the sunlight. The same hard work you apply here will carry over in training but instead of looking upon brightly shining cars you will be standing in front the mirror looking at your brightly shining gold medals. 

2 - Cleaning the gutters – Balance

For the young weightlifter learning to use the stabilizer muscles in the legs and having to use your feet consciously will help you on the platform to hold on in order to save a lift. Bill Starr related this to imagining using your feet like eagles talons and gripping the platform.

Gutter cleaning is a great way to learn the athletic attribute of balance. Have someone initially look out for you in the beginning in case you fall but soon the muscles in your calves and ankles will develop the needed strength to stay on the ladder even when you are reaching into hard to get places. Soon you will be moving the ladder around and easily stepping up and down with no problems.

This chore is also a great way to get away and meditate on the great things you will do as a weightlifting champion one day. I love to do this even today and just get away from it all. After I clean out all the gutters, I will sometimes just sit up on top the ladder and wait for the sun to go down.

When I was a boy my yard had lots of trees in it which my brother and I used to climb all the time. Climbing is also the best way for a young person to develop upper body and grip strength. Those same trees we climbed, however, always made for much hard work to be done in the fall.

3 - Mowing the lawn – Grip/Pulling power

There is a special way I like to cut grass which I learned from cutting ditches growing up in the bayou state. There are not many ditches out here in California but you can use the same principle. Instead of pulling that lever which makes the mower move automatically, try cutting your lawn by pulling the mower along instead of pushing. Use a hook grip as you do this and practice relaxing your arms and relying on your hook grip to hold on.

Getting your entire yard cut this way will, over time, develop many muscles along your posterior chain and teach you how to pull on the bar keeping your arms relaxed. As a bonus, any shakes you may get on the platform, you can just tell yourself it isn't you shaking but instead it is that damn lawnmower cutting away.

I had huge ditches in front of my yard growing up. You had to start at the top and drop down with the mower bending at the waist holding on so you could then pull it back up and hit the next patch. My back used to ache in school the next day but I am convinced it made me stronger. Cutting ditches or low areas this way is a perfect beginning for leaning how to finish your pull especially when the grass is long and you have to pull that much harder.

4 - Making your bed - Sleep

It's  no secret that a well made bed is inviting to get into at night. As a weightlifter getting proper rest is essential for you to train hard and stay ahead of your competition. The young weightlifter who takes the time to make their bed in the morning will sleep easier at night and be stronger for it.

I started putting greater care in this detail when I was in the service. After a day of being in classes, shooting on the range, and learning close quarter take downs, it was always nice to get back to the rack and squeeze into the snug sheets even though it was only for a few minutes most times.

Making your bed tight will also help teach you to take pride in your appearance when you are on stage in your singlet. The crowd not only loves a champion but a good looking champion as well. The weightlifter who pays attention to smoothing out the folds in their bed will also pay attention to chiseling out the muscles of their body and wiping away chalk from their singlet.

Be the competitor who is in such fantastic shape that your enemies on competition day are already intimidated by you before you have even touched the bar. Be the professional whos appearance is always neat and clean.


Sub Ex # 86 & 87

By Donny Shankle

Carrying is a great exercise. It strengthens so many muscles at one time especially your upper back, legs, abs and grip. I’ve carried everything from tires, pallets, logs, hay bales, kegs, stones, huge sacks of rice, oxygen tanks, sandbags and pretty much anything I saw wondering if I could pick that up and walk with it. I still may hold the Camp Pendleton base record for the stone carry. While competing in an annual strongest warrior competition, I easily carried the 300 plus pound stone we were using three times as far as any other competitor. Many of the marines couldn’t even get the stone off the starting line. The muscles burn during carrying and the lungs have difficulty breathing because the heavy weight is sitting on your chest. You have to work so hard and there is no technique or cheating your way through it. To describe this exercise, I’ll use the sandbag. It’s safe to use and easy to adjust the weight. There are two ways to implement the carry in your training. The first is carrying for speed and the second is distance.

Carrying for speed is a great way to improve your conditioning and coordination. It is a very cardiovascularly demanding exercise. When you carry for speed, assign A and B points to bring your sandbags to and from. One sandbag can be used or turn the exercise into a loading race or relay by using multiple sandbags. Because you are moving fast with a heavy object, your concentration on coordination increases versus carrying for distance. Any improvement in the general physical prepared coordination of the weightlifter will improve his coordination on snatching and clean and jerking.

Carrying very heavy sandbags for distance is a great exercise to trigger a hormonal response. The body is under constant tension for longer periods compared to carrying for speed. The abdominals and diaphragm work harder. The very heavy sandbag must be carried out in front of the athlete because shouldering the sandbag is too difficult. If you can shoulder the sandbag during a distance carry then it it is not heavy enough. Add more weight. The muscles and connective tissues from the top of your spine down to your ankles work very hard to get through a heavy distance carry. The longer you hold on the more everything has to work. Not only will you trigger a hormonal response which will produce stronger muscles but your work capacity will tremendously improve. As a 105k class weightlifter, my conditioning and capacity to work in the gym was better than lighter weight classes. One of the reasons I attribute to this was probably due to all the carrying I did as an exercise in my youth which I continued later in life.

Reps: N/A
Sets: 5-10
Advanced Way: Try carrying for distance uphill but be sure the incline is not so steep to be dangerous. To increase the difficulty during speed carries go to the beach and carry in the sand.
Duration: 15-25 minutes is enough time to practice either for speed or distance.
Placement In Training: After you have practiced your lifts for the day or alone on active rest days.

Hammer Swinging
By Donny Shankle

Swinging the hammer is a great exercise to develop strength and dexterity primarily in your wrists. The entire arm however benefits from the exercise as well as your abdominals and in particular the intercostals and obliques. The shoulder rotation from swinging the hammer is very beneficial to the health and flexibility of the shoulders. Anyone who has ever worked with a sledge hammer can attest to the kind of hand and arm strength you develop.

The lift begins with your hands taking a grip on the bar, sending a signal through the rest of your body that it’s time to lift. You need to have strong hands and wrists. Wrist strength is often overlooked by many weightlifters. This is usually because weightlifters wrap their wrists and then pay no attention to them. If the wrists are weak however on any overhead exercise a chain reaction will take place leading to the elbow relaxing and then the shoulder. This chain reaction will cause you to miss the lift or give the judges a questionable lockout. Wrapping your wrists is good but so is having strong wrists.

There are three primary exercises I do with the hammer. There are also so many fun variations you can practice to not only improve your hand and arm strength but also your hand eye coordination. The three I practice are the pendulum swing, double and single handed behind the back swing, and bringing the hammer down on a tire like I’m chopping wood, or how I like to think of it, working on the railroad like big John Henry.

To perform the pendulum swing hold the hammer at its base and let it fall behind your back with your elbows up by your ears. Gradually begin swinging the hammer from side to side like an old grandfather clock and let your shoulders and back stretch. For the double handed behind the back swing start by holding the hammer at its base with your elbows tucked close to your sides. The hammer should be in front of you with your eyes looking at the top of the hammer. From here bring your elbows up while at the same time letting the hammer fall to either side and then let it swing behind you until its back to the starting position. The single handed swing behind the back is performed the exact same way but with one hand holding onto the hammer at its base. For bringing the hammer down find a tire and get angry. Bring the hammer down as hard as you can like you’re slamming down slam balls.

Reps: 3-10
Sets: 3-5
Advanced Way: N/A
Duration: 10-15 minutes
Placement In Training: As a warming exercise to stretch the back and shoulders before training. Bringing the hammer down should be done at the end of training as an abdominal exercise.