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What to Expect When You’re Expecting: Your First Weightlifting Meet


Written by John Pate, TSS Barbell Intern

If your first weightlifting meet is quickly approaching and you have no idea what to do, don’t panic: I’m here to offer some advice to make your experience as enjoyable as possible. All of these pointers can be applied at any skill level:


  1. Do nothing.

Approach competition day as any other training day: Do not spend an additional hour warming up if you never do that in training; Do not try a new pre-workout if all you eat before training is a banana and a handful of gummy bears. Definitely do not change your form to mimic a Hookgrip video you watched the night before. By keeping your environment on meet day as familiar as possible, you will set yourself up to have a relaxed and enjoyable meet day.


  1. Embrace your feelings.

Are you nervous? Afraid? Excited? Good! Feelings are what separate humans from animals, from toaster ovens, and from the barbell. Feelings are what make life worth living and you should embrace the unique and amazing opportunity that you have to compete. Your ultimate goal on meet day should be to have fun and to enjoy the moment–hitting PR’s, making new friends, or qualifying for national meets are all experiences that can make competing in weightlifting special. Competition is a performance, and all the training sessions leading up to the meet are dress rehearsals. Trust in the skills you have developed in the time you have dedicated to this beautiful sport.


  1. Be prepared

You should know how to snatch, how to clean and jerk, and the numbers (in kilograms) that you are capable of lifting. If you are attending a USAW sanctioned meet, you should have a singlet to wear and your ID and USAW number handy at registration. Additionally, you should have your opening attempts handy for weigh-ins (with your opening total equaling at least 20kg of your entry total). Check the meet schedule to determine when you weigh-in and compete, and show up on time.


  1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

If the previous sections left you feeling confused, don’t hesitate to reach out and learn from those around you. Learning from seasoned USAW athletes and coaches will help you understand the flow of future meets. Ideally, you should ask questions far in advance.


  1. Be Proud

You should be proud to be partaking in this next step in your weightlifting journey. Being on the competition platform is the culmination of your hard work and sacrifice spent in training. The lessons you learn can be applied both on and off the platform. You decided to make yourself and this moment a priority and that is admirable—regardless of your game-day performance, you will grow from the experience of competing.

I can’t wait to cheer you on.

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Chop One: Start List & Athlete Info

Athletes: We will do our best to provide cold water for competing athletes but please plan on bringing refreshments / snacks. We will have water, gatorade and other beverages for sale and we do have a water fountain on site. Our facility does have four large ceiling fans and four floor fans which will help with air flow but it will be very hot. Please plan appropriately.


Parking info is below.


See y’all on Saturday!

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Parking: Please Park in Designated Red Area and Blue. If you park in the Blue please walk around the building. There is a small alley with a 3-4 foot drop you can go through at your own risk. Parking

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It’s Not Your Program, It’s You(r Technique, Mental Game, and Consistency in Training)


“When am I maxing out next?”

“Why am do I have so many programmed reps and sets?”

“What are the point of complexes if I compete in a sport of one-rep maxes?”

“I don’t feel like I’m training heavy enough.”

“I’m going to lose my legs if I don’t keep squatting.”


Sound familiar?


Volume and intensity are two words sometimes used interchangeably that mean very different things in regards to a weightlifting training protocol. Simply put, volume is how much work you do (sets and reps) and intensity is how hard it is (the load lifted, or the load lifted relative to your maximum capability). As we near the final block of training and begin to peak for a meet (the last four to five weeks of programming), the programs we write reflect a decrease in overall volume and a steady increase in intensity, building up to two to three weeks of maximal snatch and clean and jerk work. For our athletes training for the Arnold, the max out sessions these past two weeks were as intense as the athlete wanted them to be: Volume was minimized on Max Day and the amount of missed lifts was limited to two misses per lift so that theoretically, the athlete could hit personal bests or at the very least establish new maximums for the training block without taking a dozen attempts and killing themselves and their confidence in the process.


One common statement I heard from athletes training this block was that their squats did not feel as strong one week out as they did four weeks and five weeks out: Good! I do not peak an athlete’s squats at the same time I peak their competition lifts because I have found it leads both to injury and fatigue related to over-training. Squats peak three weeks to a month before the competition lifts. If your squats aren’t going down slightly as you head into a meet, it indicates to me that the athlete has either been sandbagging their maxes or they’re on some sort of drug to aid in recovery, the exception to this being athletes who are coming back from an injury that limited prior progress or a newer athlete who made huge increases in strength and technique that we refer to as “newbie gains.”


Banned substance use in competitive CrossFit had allowed many individuals to train high volume and maximal intensity simultaneously over the course of long training blocks. These pharmacological practices, in combination with a hard work ethic, a good diet, recovery practices such as massage, and good coaching will create the “invincible” athlete. The sales of anabolic agents, SARMS, and other legal and illegal substances, some that are even prescribed by physicians, are common practice in some fitness communities. The IWF and USAW have done a tremendous job cleaning up banned substance use over the past few years, but the weightlifting community also has a long history riddled with drug use. As a former competitive CrossFitter, I can attest that while many athletes are drug-tested in CrossFit at the Regionals and Games level, many local competitors and coaches take banned substances not only to enhance their aesthetics and drive performance, but to sell their training protocols. Again, this is not every CrossFit athlete or every CrossFit coach: There are some very reputable programs out there, to be sure, that forbid drug use and have athletes tested out of competition.

Weightlifting is a sport of maximal intensity under strict time constraints. To create a successful environment for a drug-free athlete to perform at this intensity for a period of two to three weeks, the athlete has to lift with 100% consistency at 80 to 90% of their competition maxes prior to entering the final training block. Consistency means zero misses or nearly zero misses in this range in order to lift 95%+ consistently in the next training block. In my experience, athletes who miss more lifts than they make teaches these athletes how to miss, not how to make lifts. There are a couple of reasons as to why an athlete will miss routine weights and then will go on to make their next attempt at the same weight; Often, this is related to lack of mental focus and a lack of consistency in technique.


Multiple triples at 75 to 80% are great to refine technique and build a base while your squat and pull volume is high in he first block of training; However, this volume alone will not get you to snatch 90% to 95% of your max consistently. It is a common myth that you will forget how to “max out” if you do not max your competition lifts every week. As a coach, I plan at least two opportunities leading up to the meet we are preparing for to lift maximally. Since I believe in periodization and I believe in the window of super-compensation, I limit the testing of maxes to a “dipstick” meet halfway through our block to measure progress and the two sessions prior to our meet. Our athletes do not have unlimited opportunities to max out because it is understood and agreed upon that the athlete only has so much energy to lift those weights well if I’m peaking and tapering them properly within a 16 week period. If any athlete, barring beginners, is consistently hitting 95% to 100% of their max competition lifts for months at a time with no misses, again, I would either say that they sandbagged their tested max or they are on drugs to aid in recovery between sessions.


So, what do you do if you have an athlete who consistently fails to perform in the final weeks leading up to the meet? When I watch an athlete train during our team practices, I pay attention particularly to the lifters who miss weights every session- This is not normal if they are past the early beginner phases of learning. It is often these same athletes who repeat training days, repeat sets, add in extra volume and do not report all of the misses they made in training, simply stating they got all the work in. By doing this, the athlete is adding in way more volume than they should be doing, especially in the final block of training. A work horse is a wonderful athlete to have, but this athlete needs the extra support and guidance from their coach to feel comfortable stepping back and addressing the issues contributing to their inconsistencies in training in order to move forward in the next training block.


Maybe the athlete isn’t completing extra work or missing routinely: If this isn’t this issue and the athlete is making all warm ups and working sets, it may be that the athlete’s maxes are not their maxes anymore and they are working well above their current capacity. Working off smaller numbers so the athlete has limited misses in training will help you to build their consistency on the platform and their confidence to get them to a place where they can PR again.  Allowing an athlete to take many attempts, or repeating missed attempts will only get them in the mindset that they have unlimited chances to perform: They don’t. They don’t get to take as many reps on a platform as they want, nor do they have the luxury of warming up at their own pace in the backroom at national events, unlike many local meets where they can take as many warm ups as they’d like.

The last few weeks of any pre-competition cycle mimic the meet warm up. Some athletes are convinced that they do better with higher volume and lower intensity leading into a meet, never touching a heavy weight until the day of the event (like we do for our “dipstick” meet, to test where the athlete is mid-cycle). The athletes who perform better at the dipstick meet than the actual meet we are preparing for are the ones who have inefficient or poor technique, change their technique when thinking about lifting heavy, and/or experience mental distress when there is pressure to perform and lift heavy- A combination of these factors is likely the primary contributor to a poor performance, not the training program itself.


If you, the athlete, find yourself in a position where you fail to perform on a platform after many hours spent in the gym, it may be time to evaluate the quality of your technique, your mental game, and at the end of the day, your willingness to take weight off the bar or time away from competing in order to achieve the results you sought out your coach for. The best program for the athlete is the one they believe in the most. As you enter meet week, trust that the work you have done reflects your best efforts and let the results from the meet be the platform from which you and your coach build your next block of training.

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Cold Weather Training Tips

TSSBB9This week in San Antonio, we can expect below freezing temperatures to ring in the New Year. Since many of our athletes are not familiar with training in the cold, I have complied a quick list of tips in order to survive this week as our Heartbreaker and Arnold prep continues:


Sleep at least six hours per night before training.

The need for sleep and recovery varies from athlete to athlete, but sleep deprivation can cause a significant loss in one’s ability to regulate body temperature. As a general rule, if you have slept less than five hours, I advise athletes to stay home and go to bed early (just don’t make missing training a habit). In the cold, we tack on an extra hour to that rule. The extra energy required to maintain your internal body temperature in the below freezing temperatures requires more recovery time. Aim to go to sleep an extra hour more than you normally would this week!


Bundle up

Before you leave your house, make sure you are wearing a base layer, sweatpants, a sweatshirt, an outer layer (coat) and some form of headgear and gloves, even it’s just to run outside and into your car. Once you get to the gym, slowly remove layers as you begin to warm up.


Turn the heat on high in your car.

With all of your layers on, turn up the heat as high as possible in your car. You should be sweating in your layers by the time you get to the gym in order to reduce warm-up time. This is a suggestion that is valid year-round, by the way (I stole it from Sean Waxman).


Drink plenty of room temperature water.

Even though it’s cold outside, it’s important to stay hydrated for training. Though you may not feel the urge to drink as much water as normal, aim to consume as much as you would on a normal training day if not slightly more (though excessive hydration is unnecessary). If room temperature water isn’t your thing, hot tea is great, too.


Plan to warm-up an extra five to ten minutes.

A dynamic warm-up is necessary to raise the internal temperature of your body in freezing cold weather: Think high knees, butt kicks, arms circles, air squats, leg swings, etc. Save the static stretching and mobilizing for after your workout.


Keep moving.

Rest should be as limited as possible between your working sets in order to stay warm. Set a timer on you phone or watch (permitted this week for this purpose) and limit your rest to two to three minutes between sets, max.


Bring you space heater, heating pad, and blankets.

If you have a personal space heater, I would highly recommend plugging it in next to your things so you can rest by the heat in between sets. If you normally train in an unheated gym or garage, this is especially important. Even in a “heated” warehouse gym (many which lack insulation) plan to bring a large fleece blanket to wrap yourself in between sets. Bring a heating pad to sit on or keep on your shoulders, knees, hips, etc. warm if you have old injuries. If your feet are cold, place your shoes by the space heater or in your heating pad before you put them on or in between sets. Avoid sitting as much as possible in between sets.


Do not train outside.

Absolutely forget weightlifting outside if the temperature is below freezing. No space heater, heating pad, or fleece blanket is enough to make up for the windchill or icy conditions. Plan to get a weekly pass at a globo gym or a CrossFit gym for the week. Please let your coach know which equipment you have available to you if it is different than the equipment you normally train on.


For TSS Barbell members this week, we will have twelve black fleece blankets folded in the cubbies in the gym as well as two extra large heating pads in case you forget your own. Please fold them back up and place them back in the cubbies when you complete your training.

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Learnings and Reflections from 2017, Part I

DSC_6825I had an athlete ask me today about what I’ve learned as a coach and about my experiences this past year running TSS Barbell. The question was from an athlete who started with us not long after we formed the club and who trained with us throughout the summer until family and school were more of a priority. It is an interesting question, one that could be answered from many different angles (athlete, coach, business owner). I started thinking about the last year as a whole and how much growth and change we have experienced as a team since October 2016. Our business model looks nothing like it did when it started, nor do we have many of the initial members who joined our team (more on this later).


We are currently a solid team of sixty to sixty-five members, forty-something of which are registered, competing USAW members. We see some fluctuation because we always have at least three to five people on “Weightcation” in order to focus on other parts of life that are more of a priority than weightlifting. I, Jilly, am still the head coach; Brittany Rucker and Fernie Martinez are our two assistant weightlifting coaches. Richard Pena and Dakota Young, both powerlifters, are still involved with our club and help immensely with running our events, handling, programming and occasionally picking up some personal training hours for Brittany and myself.


Today, our members range from stay-at-home mom to world-level college-age athlete and we have everything in between. When Brittany and I started TSS Barbell, she and two other people were members; we had also two consistent personal training/programming clients. All of members were our friends before they were our clients. It was a very close-knit group of five-ish people who saw each other consistently four to five days a week.


A long time ago, I had a teacher who said “We are a team, not a family, because every family has a degree of dysfunctionality. Families are dysfunctional because you can’t choose your blood.” This has stuck with me for a long time. What I discovered in the first few months of forming the club was how dysfunctional not only small training groups were, but how quickly it can spread to personal relationships as well. Working out with the same five, then seven, then eleven, and then fifteen members resulted in the formation of cliques with friendships that well extended past “training partners.” Having so few athletes, I became heavily invested in some of their lives, not only in the gym, but also outside of the gym, as they did in mine. While this may work for some club owners, what I found was that when we grew to twenty members, thirty members, and then forty and fifty members that the original ten felt they were not receiving enough of my attention, or that I didn’t care about them as people.


Experiencing such rapid growth in a year, we expected some members to leave. What I did not expect was almost all of them to leave: It turned out to be the best thing that could have ever happened to our team. So, to keep from rambling I have come up with some major points of reflection:


Start where you are, work with what you have and do not grow complacent.

When we first moved into Texas Strength Systems, there was very little organization, hardly any rules, no schedule, no systems, no cleaning services; frankly, it was a mess. We formed our “club” within a dysfunctional environment out of a dysfunctional situation. Brittany and I didn’t realize we ourselves as people would have to grow and change dramatically in order to become coaches to lead a “team.” Our club was born out of necessity because I made a living coaching and could no longer coach at the facility I was previously working in. Brittany and I moved into a facility with a TON of potential, but no direction.


When you have to create something out of nothing for the first time, you go through a lot of trial and error. Originally, our members would just show up and train together randomly and I would coach here and there and charge $50 for monthly programming. Our schedule was wide open, we had very few clients and it often felt like a hangout session. Some people came to our facility and liked its “grunge” factor. Others stayed away and wanted something with more training options, set “class” times, and flexibility and we would scoff at them.


We did not try to do everything all at once: We started with five members and we accommodated them excellently, like any coach can with that few of members. Then we had ten members, so we expanded the platforms as well as our coaching services (one-on-one sessions, $70 for one to two hours). When we reached twenty members, we created a team training schedule and implemented our first set of “Team Standards.” I remember the second time we brought up Team Standards, three people quit the team. It’s hard to watch money walking out the door, but it’s important to realize that was really all it was: Those “team members” were not there for the team at all, they were there for themselves and felt entitled to acting or behaving a certain that Brittany and I no believed met our “Team Standards.” Standards became necessary to facilitate the growth of the team and keep it moving forward in a direction we were proud of.


When we hit thirty members, we expanded the platforms again and increased the length of practice time from an hour and a half to two hours. When we hit forty members, we put out a new set of “Team Standards” and moved to a bigger section of the gym. There were many, many emotional days, long nights, arguments, meetings and when it was all said and done, there was growth. Change. Losses. Major wins. When I look at my club today, I see a well-oiled machine: It is large enough where there are only pockets of  friends or people who joined together, new faces are always welcome, and everyone, quite literally everyone, gets along or I just ask them to leave: “Firing” clients was something I was afraid to do when we started: I have learned that some people are so dysfunctional that it’s totally necessary.


There is no such thing as too much growth. There is only supply, demand and adaptation.


The majority of the original ten members, who enjoyed constant one-on-one attention, and accessibility to “free” coaching we very displeased with the growth of the club. We received questions like, “How big is too big? When will you cap the club?” I had always envisioned a “team” not a club, and growing to a “team” status meant we would have to leave the “club” behavior and attitudes behind and welcome new members with open arms. It was necessary to adapt to the large number of our athletes who wanted to train with us.


I have a background in Exercise Physiology and Economics (University of Miami, B.S. 2014): I am very familiar with the concept of supply and demand. Our demand for coaching and programming services increased exponentially since October 2016, so we brought on additional coaches to meet our demand and increased the size of our training area. Our demand kept increasing, so we increased our prices, which didn’t slow growth significantly. I loved the growth and I loved the changes I was seeing in our membership: We saw an increase in educated adults and college kids, small business owners and most interestingly, other coaches who were looking to be coached.


Unfortunately, not everyone loved the changes our business experienced. Some felt that their $50 for programming should include the same coaching experience they had when the club first started. Some members did not want to compete locally twice a year (a requirement they felt we should have “disclosed” when they joined before we had Standards). The truth of the matter is that we knew how inexperienced we were as far as running a business and so our $50 a month pricing reflected our inexperience and the little demand we had for our services.


The more experienced me became, the more some elements of the team improved dramatically (like our training area). Accessibility to free one-on-one coaching became nonexistent. Thus, members who felt like it “wasn’t what they signed up for” or were looking for special treatment left. Our members who loved the new gym additions, who grew with us (we never increased our OG member pricing), stayed.


Our prices today are very fair, and some could say that they are even a little too low (surprise, they will be increasing for new members in 2018). In 2018, we will offer additional ala carte services as well as what our existing members can expect for the prices they currently pay so there is very little confusion going forward. Anyone who feels entitled for a service they are not currently paying for is welcome to go somewhere else: Every other weightlifting team in the San Antonio area is more expensive than we are, though I can not speak to the quality elsewhere.


It’s required to give back. It’s required to be a part of the weightlifting community.


As we began to grown, I understood that we needed to create more opportunities within the weightlifting community. TSS began hosting local USA Weightlifting meets and eventually, our first USAW Level 1 Course. Our meets were maybe my proudest achievements as a business owner this year. Not only did hosting meets demonstrate to our newer members how much support our team had from the Texas weightlifting community, but it required all of our team members to volunteer, pull together and learn new skills in order to host quality events for an affordable price.


Our meets truly show how much our team supports one another when we compete and when we hustle. Truly, no one hustles harder than our athletes and their families. I am the only local club director I know who pays ALL of their volunteers in apparel, services, or cold hard cash. I feel that effort should be rewarded since they are working for myself and their teammates, not themselves. This will not change in 2018. I work tirelessly to make sure our meet winners are awarded prizes and medals for their efforts as well.


There are some weightlifters who do not feel it is important to give back: They do not assistant coach, they do not volunteer for meets, they do not stay after they are done competing to support their teammates or to clean up. These examples are not isolated incidents, they are the same people who happen to be unavailable each and every time I ask for volunteers or put up the meet schedule.


Going forward in 2018, volunteering will be called “voluntolding:” If a member is unable to volunteer for even half a day for a meet they are competing in, (we host four to five meets a year), they will be required to pay for coaching services at that meets ($35 per local meet, $100 for away meets). I know some members will be upset. I also don’t care. Here is why:


You decided not to volunteer after you were done competing. Automatically I, your coach, have not-so-secretly decided that you think today is all about you (unless you have a damn good reason not to volunteer that you discussed with me prior. That is different). You show up, your coach writes your warm-ups (for free). Someone, one of your teammates or their family members, loads your warm up bar (no cost to you). You go out on that platform, you hit massive PR’s, and the announcer says that you qualified for your first national meet. That experience would not have happened for you without those volunteers or coaches helping you: If you disagree with me, you’re delusional.


But what about the forty or fifty dollars you paid to compete? Ten percent of that money went into an account for taxes. Another five percent went to the company we use to sell tickets. Sixty percent of that money went to medals and prizes. The remaining twenty to twenty five percent goes towards microphone rentals, the platform, the food for volunteers and all of the apparel we buy for our volunteers. We have LOST money on every single meet we held last year. Volunteering, giving back to your team and your community, will be a requirement to be a part of TSS Barbell in 2018.


Part II coming in January 2018

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Video Analysis

Hey guys! I wanted to make a quick post about video analysis for all TSS athletes:

1. Please do not text or email training videos. Please send training videos directly to your coach on Facebook messenger.

2. We will take between 24 and 48 hours to analyze your videos. On a typical day, I spend approximately two hours analyzing training videos before I go to bed (hence all of the 2:00 AM messages). I start back at the oldest videos and work my way forwards for two hours. If I do not respond right away, it’s because I accidentally opened your videos and I need more time to write a thoughtful critique back to you.

3. IN HOUSE ATHLETES ($65 for programming per month) are limited to 10 videos per week. REMOTE ATHLETES ($100 per month) are limited to 20 videos per week.

4. Please send two to three videos at a time so we can get you feedback sooner. If you send all 10, you will be likely be the only person who receives video coaching that day.

5. I often give a TON of feedback per video. If you are feeling overwhelmed, sending one to two videos at a time may be better than sending me eight videos of six different exercises.

6. Please film all exercises at a 45 degree angle unless otherwise noted in your programming.

7. If you have questions about which movements to film, please Facebook message your coach directly or send us an email at

Thanks guys!

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Training Log

The Training Log is designed to be filled out every day while you are training or immediately after training. I have noticed that many of you are still struggling to write goals on the goal board each week. This document, in conjunction with your program, is designed to develop your mental preparation skills as a weightlifter and to give you a space to reflect on why you are pursuing weightlifting each and every day. Answering these questions each and every training session provides the qualitative data that is often lacking in your Google Docs. This document also gives you a space to record your top “priorities” for each week and each session. Having priorities at the top of mind is of the utmost importance to keep each of us in a positive mindset during Practice. Actively writing down our priorities will help you to create a weekly goal to share with the team each week on our goal board.
This Training Log will be required to be filled out by our lifters who are on our National Team. The National Team requirement is simple: You compete in, not just qualify for, at least one National level meet per year with TSS Barbell. National level include those competing in the AO Series or higher level competitions. Beginning next week, I will be providing a space in your Google Doc to log this information.
At the start of every new cycle, the National team members will receive a complimentary two hour planning session with myself or Brittany to discuss the upcoming qualitative and quantitative goals we have for each cycle. These sessions will be treated as planning sessions and the goals that are discussed in these sessions will be logged in a separate Google Doc for each athlete. These sessions may be completed at the gym, remotely via Skype or phone, or off-site at a coffee shop or similar space. If the Training Log is not filled out by the lifter for each session in their Google Doc leading up to the Planning Session, the Planning Session will be billed and is still required. So, National Level Lifters, beginning next week, PLEASE pay attention to your new Training Log requirements.
Many of you in this group can still benefit from completing the Training Log for each of your training sessions. If you are NOT on the National Team, but would like to have this document added in to your programming, please comment below. If you are completing the Training Log and would like to also schedule a two hour Planning Session each cycle to sit down and discuss your goals with your coach, this option is open to anyone. The cost per planning session will be $50 and will be billed via Square and scheduled like a private.