12 days with Coach Kirksman

One of my good friends told me about this website there had a lot of interesting articles about the Chinese way of weightlifting and some different views on how to squat. I grabbed my laptop and wrote an email to Kirk as I wanted another set of eyes on my own squat and to get another point of view from a complete different world.  The reply was surprisingly long and he explained everything in the first email, which I had not expected.

Normally these guys don’t have or take their time to write a good long reply, which I can understand since these guys are very busy! This email became to several emails of me trying to learn more from Kirk. In April I decided that I wanted to learn as much as possible from Kirk, and I then became the first to enter his mentorship program. We have had hours of Skype conversations, where he has taught me a lot about the Chinese weightlifting system and of course their philosophy behind everything they do – why and how they do it.
The mentorship is still on-going, I’m still learning new stuff almost every day, and during the 12 days of Kirk living and training with me, I’ve learned more about weightlifting that I’ve ever learned in my whole life.

Kirk has a different way of teaching things, a way I finally understand now why he is doing. He NEVER gives you a direct answer to anything, something that really irritated me in the beginning. I’m a Viking who is used to hard work and not complaining but I felt really confused in the beginning. As many of you guys probably know, this version of the Chinese system isn’t based on reps, sets, intensity calculations or even specific exercises.
Not even specific exercises to fix certain problems. A complete different world and perspective from what I, as a personal trainer myself, was used to. One of the first things he said to me was: “I don’t even understand why you’re asking that question. Try it, process it, learn from it and then we can discus it”. Here is an example of a normal conversation with Kirk:

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Fisker: “All right, so I’m having snatch days on Tuesdays, what snatch version do you want me to start with?”

Kirk: “The one you will least likely butcher and make look like chopped liver, and the one you have the best feeling with, which will give you the best transfer”.

Fisker: “Should it be from the floor, from boxes or from hang?”

Kirk: “Do you think aliens exist?”

Fisker: “Erh… Ohh… Ok… How many sets and reps?”

Kirk: “How many people do you think have confused salami for salmon?”

Fisker: (At this point my head was more confused than a 14 year old teenage girl, and I had so many questions that I couldn’t figure out where to start, so I moved on to the next exercise).

Fisker: “OK, so the next exercise is based on the weakest spot or the feeling/movement I have the most trouble with that day right?”

Kirk: “Yes”.

Fisker: “What could that exercise be?”

Kirk: “It depends on the problem you have that day.”

Fisker: “OK, so let’s say the problem is that I’m unstable overhead?”

Kirks: “What would you suggest?”

Fisker: “Hmm. Maybe snatch balance?”

Kirk: “AN I.Q. HAS BEEN FOUND!! Try it out and if it doesn’t fix your problem, find another exercise. I don’t mind which exercise you use, as long as it fixes the problem”.

Fisker: “Argh!”

Kirk : “Is an emotion I realise!”
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This was not easy in the beginning but I have learned a lot more than if he had just giving me all the answers. Or at least tried to. Now I know that there in fact isn’t any direct answer to all these questions I had. It had to be followed by a “if”, “maybe”, “but”, “or”, probably would’ve got me even more confused.
There were numerous times, when I wanted to go back to the Soviet systems because it didn’t seem like Coach was giving me any answers. But my gut feeling said, stick on. Weird guys like this have different thought processes.

With a lot of insight into the system and knowing how much knowledge Kirk has, I wanted to do a seminar in Denmark. I asked Kirk if he was interested in doing one with me and of course he was! I already knew he was doing a few seminars around Europe at that time. We found a weekend 4 months ahead of the current date at that time, and I started collecting people to the seminar. That didn’t take too long.
One month later and the seminar were fully booked with 21 people from all around Denmark. There were both crossfitters, crossfit gym owners, athletics guys, gymnasts and of course weightlifters.

I picked up Kirk two days before the seminar and we went to the gym almost immediately. He wanted me to learn even more about their technique, something he struggled to teach me online which is why he stopped his mentorship program. This technique is very difficult to teach without hands-on supervision. Kirk lived with me during the 12 days he was in Denmark, where we talked even more about the system, shared a lot of knowledge and experiences. In general he taught me how the Chinese think and act weightlifting wise.

From here, I began to find that he’s actually a coach. He doesn’t think he is, but I do. I have to respect him. He’s got this mad aura around him, which turns on the moment he walks into the gym, and turns off the moment he walks out.

During the 12 days Coach made me eat, train and recover as a Chinese weightlifter. Each session lasted around 3 hours including;

  • Warm up of either some plyordination (long story) stuff, box jumps, light stretching or a quick massage
  • A LOT of pulls for technique and correct movement pattern
  • We stayed a lot between 60-70%.  Strangely, when I just begin to feel fatigue kicking in, he immediately added weights so I couldn’t use my muscles and instead had to use the hopefully ingrained and improved movement pattern.
  • We finished each session of with some kind of stretching and/or massages.

I did a personal best in all my lifts even though I was really tired and worn out some of the days. Some of the PR’s:

•               Power clean: 140 kg -> 147,5 kg
•               Muscle snatch: 82,5 kg -> 90 kg
•               Wide stance squat: 180 kg -> 200 kg
•               Total 230 kg -> 257,5 kg

Strangest things. These PR’s were NOT difficult. They seemed to be, the cleanest reps I would do. I couldn’t understand why, but he just said “Trust me. That’s all I ask for. You’ll see in a few years”

And now Coach has some big expectations for me. He has made deadlines to when I have to lift a certain weight in the snatch, CNJ and squat versions. I perform the best when someone is having high hopes and expects a lot from me. That eager to learn and get even better at weightlifting has really peaked in the days that Kirk has been here. He has a passion and a drive for the weightlifting sport that I can’t even explain – you’ll have to experience it yourself!

Top 5 things that I’ve learned from Kirk:

1:  Weightlifting is a skill game, not a strength game.

You can be strong, but remember that the Vardanians did not have terribly strong squats. Nor did Kolecki. The Chinese generally, do have astounding squats, but it’s almost a byproduct of their system.
If your technique sucks, strength can almost be a negative thing. I remember especially one thing that Coach told us at the seminar “Strength is a by-product of good technique”. Technique being correct movement pattern along the right lines, coordination, control, tempo, rhythm and feeling. With myself I don’t need to work that much on my strength gains. I need to work with my movement pattern, control and rhythm. With a 180 kg front squat that was pretty easy, Coach oddly believes I should be able to clean around 170 kg, which I definitely can’t right now.

I can’t get under it but the interesting thing was, it was alright off the floor, but became heavier as it got higher. Based on my movement pattern, Coach believes this is a hamstring fault. He barely gets any of the muscles names right, but he points out the exact ones that are messy. He just got my friend to send him DVDs of anatomy to learn the names now as he knows that’s his weak point.

Now, once I can clean it but I struggled to stand up even though my positioning is good, that’s when my technique is better than my strength game – so I’ll train for strength! Coach has a pyramid describing the way they think and prioritize the learning of weightlifting movements; He nicknamed it F.E.M.P (Far east movement pyramid). Build a strong large base, and then build high. It’s almost like a wave.

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More on the subject here: http://firstpull.net/2013/10/17/weightlifting-is-a-skill-and-it-should-be-trained-as-a-skill/ 
2: Importance of feeling. Feeling being stopping the thinking process and begin to build feeling

http://firstpull.net/2013/11/20/on-improving-the-skill-of-weightlifting-one-of-the-best-advice-i-can-give-you/

If you have no idea what the hell your body is doing, how are you going to correct it? If you miss a lift you should a least have an idea of what went wrong. But actually at every lift you should be able to say what was missing and what was good compared to the set before.

Once you have the ability to feel it gets a whole lot easier to correct things. You can start giving yourself cues during your workout and write them down that works, so you can remember that feeling when you tried that exact cue. There is almost a different cue to every individual, that’s why weightlifting is so hard to teach. But that’s where you can separate the good coaches from the bad ones. A good coach will find the right cue and the right solution to a problem MUCH faster than a bad one. Even though the lifter is uncoordinated.

3: You can follow a specific program to learn a skill as complex as weightlifting BUT, somehow I found this system to be better because I understood it, instead of just did it.

This is affected of point 1 and 2. If weightlifting is skill it should be trained as one. How should a coach be able to program exactly when you have done enough reps to get the technique right so you can move on to the next exercise? Either a coach can do that or if you get really good at feeling. Once you get the feeling right, you can move on.  Some days Coach had me do pulls with an empty bar for almost 2 hours and another day it was only 15 minutes before we moved on or before we added weights. He kept pushing my technique to the point that if I screwed up I wasn’t allowed to add weight. And if I added weight it should feel the same as the weight before. Maximum 3 misses (that also counts technical misses even though I completed the lift), and then back down to get it right and really ingrain that movement and feeling. Be patient, feel, learn and move on.
4: How important a coach is in weightlifting

Having a qualified weightlifting coach by your side is valuable. Having an experienced, learned and highly curious Coach? Priceless. A Weightlifting Coach will help you develop efficiently as a Weightlifter and help you avoid wasted time spent on needless movements. “Practice makes perfect” isn’t quite it. Instead “perfect practice makes perfect” should be goal.

The 12 days with Coach and him commenting on literally, EVERY SINGLE REP 3 hours a day really helped ingrain my movement pattern to a much higher degree than an online coach or a coach you only see once in a while would achieve. I’m certain that these 12 days would count for not only weeks but more like several months of online training, or a coach who just isn’t as good or as nazi as Coach – or the Chinese coaches in general. Why do you think the best weightlifters in the worlds have a trainer watching them every day in every lift? If they need a coach YOU probably need one too.

5: How important recovery is

When you’re training as hard as I have during the 12 days that Coach was here, you really need to pay more attention to recovery. I can only imagine how important it is when you’re doing twice the amount of work, as the top lifters are doing in China. My body has been REALLY tired. Not so much muscle soreness but I could feel my CNS was burned out to a degree I havn’t tried before. Interesting thing, he seemed to know by the end of the session, what would happen in the next session. And he was, always correct, it was annoying. For some reason, when I thought I could, he would somehow pull me back. When I thought I couldn’t, he would somehow push me. I don’t know how or what he saw to cue it, but that man could.
Each session started with a warm up of either some plyordination stuff, box jumps, light stretching or a quick massage, just to get the CNS activated. And after each training Coach either stretched me or gave me a massage where he would step on me for 15-20 minutes.

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Coach told me several times that if I have the time for a quick stretch, then stretch! Even though you’re sitting in a restaurant and waiting for your food, you can put one leg over the other and stretch your glute. If you’re watching television, instead of sitting in the couch go sit on the floor and do some light stretching. He says, don’t stretch muscles, which are meant to be tight. Stretch the ones that you use the most like your quads and hamstrings. Don’t kill stability with over stretching intensely and find a physio to tell you what is more important to stretch, based upon the characteristics of your body.

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We also did some cupping, guasa (Graston), massage, stretches, trigger pointing which were surprisingly good and effective! Cupping is something that Coach now has taught me to do and I’ve already treated some of my clients with great success. It loosens you up, the flexibility improves and the recovery time was much shorter. I try to do stretches every day from now on and also I’ll have a friend over once a week and we’ll give each other massage, graston and cupping. If I have the option and the time for it me and a teammate from the gym will step on each other after practice.

Coach did some videos during the week of him and me training:

Skrevet af Steffen Fisker