Interview w/ Chris Yang

As part of the 60 Day Challenge, I decided to interview the coaches at CrossFit Kingfield. They each play a key role in providing the help and support I need to achieve my goals, not only during this process but throughout the year.  I wanted to get to know them better, learn  some of their best practices when it comes to training and nutrition, and see what makes them tick. First up is Coach Chris Yang, who spoke to me about his experience competing in the American Open and why he likes teaching the Olympic lifts.

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MMG: Chris, thanks for taking the time to talk with me. While I usually see you a few times a week at class, I realize I don’t know much of your story.  How did you get into CrossFit?

YANG: I have been doing CrossFit since December 2012 and have been weightlifting for the past year and a half now. I kind of just stumbled upon CrossFit. I was taking an online nutrition course and one of our assignments was to look up three different “diets” and talk about them. I found the Paleo diet and that lead to me watching a bunch of CrossFit videos on YouTube that night. The next day, Samantha (my girlfriend) and I performed “Cindy.”

MMG: How did that lead to you getting into Olympic lifting and competing?

YANG: As I did more CrossFit, I knew that I really enjoyed the snatch and clean and jerk. I began coaching at CrossFit Kingfield and kind of ended up having the Olympic lifts be my focus. The movements look so graceful and teaching it to others seem to be a little more of a challenge and I wanted to become better at that. I attended a weightlifting seminar and the coach there suggested I start competing because I wasn’t too bad. So I did.

MMG: You seem to have a tireless energy for doing drills and working on technique. What motivates you to keep working on the lifts?

YANG: I really enjoy watching really good technique. That’s probably what keeps me motivated. I really want to lift like these awesome weightlifters.

MMG: You also seem to really enjoy teaching Olympic lifts. What do you find so appealing?

YANG: I love the challenge of getting athletes to lift more efficiently. It is not an easy job, especially when the variety of people that come to the gym do not have too much of an athletic background, or weightlifting experience at all. And when I can get these people to learn to lift efficiently, it is very rewarding.

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Chris coaching the teen weightlifting class at CrossFit Kingfield.

MMG: You mention the wide range of athletes that you get to work with. How do you think learning and practicing the Olympic lifts benefits athletes, young and old, outside of the gym?

YANG:  I believe weightlifting is very beneficial to all. I think if anyone could learn to snatch and clean and jerk, they could probably learn to do anything. I love that the movements are so complex and technical, and require a lot of power, coordination, flexibility, strength, and mental toughness. All of this in two movements. How can any of these qualities not help a person in sport or life?

MMG: Good question. And as you say, both of the lifts are very complex.  Is there one common mistake that you notice all your athletes make?

YANG: Since I work with a lot of CrossFit athletes, the most common thing I see is the use of the hips too much. So I spend a lot of time teaching people how to use their legs versus their hips.

MMG: You recently competed in the USAW American Open in Reno, Nevada. Can you tell us a bit about that experience? What were some of the highs and lows?

YANG: The American Open was awesome! A really well ran event and I was glad to be a part of it. Being around almost 1,000 other athletes who love weightlifting was pretty cool. The best part of the American Open was the few minutes that I spent on the platform and being in the warm-up area. When you step onto that platform it’s just you. Nothing else. Once I get set up for my lift everything clears out and then a few moments pass by and I’m done. It’s crazy how I train for months for just a few minutes. But I think that’s what makes it more rewarding.

And then in the backroom, where the athletes warm-up, is also a very cool place. There are platforms everywhere and every athlete and coach is just trying to game plan and have the best day they can. Another cool thing is that you get treated very nice as an athlete. Almost like royalty, ha-ha. I just lift and sit. My coaches load the plates for me and tell me when to go. It’s awesome, ha-ha.

The only “low” about the American Open for me would be that there needs to be more space for almost 1,000 athletes. The training room was crammed and in the warm-up area, there were about 2-3 athletes sharing a platform.

Chris talking with Amanda at the 2015 American Open.
Chris talking with Amanda at the 2015 American Open.

MMG: Besides attending the American Open as a competitior, you were also there as a coach. What was that like for you?

YANG: I got to coach one of my athletes, Amanda Sullivan. Coaching was a whole other story from being an athlete. Coaching is much more rewarding to me.

Amanda trained hard for months for this competition and then she only gets 6 lifts to do that day. As you walk out with your athlete to the platform and watch them from behind, it gets really nerve wrecking, but in a good way. As a coach, you want the best from your athlete and everything to go right because we have trained so hard. So it gets pretty tough out there. Amanda did well at her first national meet and only second weightlifting meet ever. We posted a good total and hungry for more. We had a couple bad calls out there, but we had fun and learned a lot about competing at a national competition.

MMG: So who are some of your coaches and mentors?

YANG: Some of the people I look up to would be our coaches at Kingfield. Everybody knows their stuff and there can be a lot to be learned from them.

Outside of Kingfield, I work with Zach Greenwald from Strength Ratio, and Kirksman Teo from Lifthard. Zach’s specialty is muscular and strength imbalances and Kirksman is a weightlifting fanatic and technician. I have learned a great deal from all these people.

MMG: You recently trained with Diane Fu,  a well respected Olympic-style weightlifting specialist. What motivates you to seek out these experiences? Were there any “a-ha” moments from the seminar?

YANG: I seek out these experiences because as a human being, I’m just curious in what others are thinking, especially these big name people. I want to see how they teach, what’s their philosophy, and is there anything I can learn from them. Surprisingly, I did not have any “a-ha” moments at the Diane Fu seminar. We teach very similar and focus on the same concept, which as a new, young coach makes me feel good. I thought I was the only one teaching this way, ha-ha. But it was a good confirmation/clarification for me as a coach.

MMG: So what’s next for you in terms of your lifting? 

YANG:  This year, I don’t have any big goals as for my own lifting. Yes, a PR here and there would be nice but I’m not too focused on that. A goal for my own lifting would be to understand my body more and lift more smoothly and consistently. And then qualify and compete at the American Open again. This year, I am going to dedicate to more coaching and developing lifters and getting better as a coach.

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Chris competing at the 2015 Granite Games in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

MMG: What does a normal week of training look like?

YANG: I normally workout 5 times a week with 1 active recovery day and 1 full rest day. So day 1 is usually a snatch and squat focus day, day 2 is clean and jerk focus, day 3 is snatch focus, day 4 is active recovery, day 5 is clean and jerk and squat, day 6 is usually a heavier day in both the lifts, and then day 7 is rest. My workouts consist of mainly weightlifting and after my lifting sessions I will perform accessory movements to either build more muscle or working on imbalances in my body. I also do my best to stretch before and after my sessions. But for the most part, my training is pretty simple.

Chris stretching at the airport on the way to the American Open.
Chris stretching at the airport on the way to the American Open.

MMG: How does diet and nutrition factor into all of your training?

YANG: I don’t follow any particular diets, but I occasionally count my macronutrients. I’m usually more strict with counting macronutrients when I get closer to competitions where I need to make weight. But for the most part, I have a good idea of how much I should eat and what not. I would say I eat decently clean. All my meals consist of some type of meat, rice, and/or vegetables, but mainly meat and rice. And when I crave sweets, which is often, I eat them to keep me sane and I’m only 23 years old, ha-ha.

MMG: What other factors are important to you in your overall physical and mental wellness?

YANG: Learning how to balance out my life with lifting and coaching is very important. If during my lifting or coaching I’m thinking about other life stuff, I’m not going to enjoy my time. At the end of the day I won’t be happy and I will hate my life. So I do my best to set times for lifting and when to be done, put my all into coaching when I do, and then spend time with family and friends as much as possible.

MMG: Speaking of family, your brother is a much welcome fixture at CrossFit Kingfield. Why is it important to you that he attends classes at the gym and participate with everyone?

YANG: Obviously being active and working out will be a benefit for anyone, but having him doing it with others is the most beneficial part. I know that if he just works out with me, he will not have a good time. And it’s not because he doesn’t like me, it’s because I’m his older brother and he hears things differently from me. So if another coach could watch him or if he is with others, he will have a much more enjoyable time and get fit and healthy at the same time. And I know that if he is around these people, he will grow up to be just fine.11143169_763956450382223_7500715900372525059_o

MMG: As part of the 60 Day Challenge we have been talking about “creating your strong”. How do you define strong?

YANG: Tough question. But I’d say strong is just getting up after you’ve been beat up or lost and coming back to do it all over again. A good example would be going to the gym. We go to the gym to get our workouts in. Some days are really good, some days are really bad, like REALLY bad, and you might want to quit or not show up the next day, but if you just trust and show up again, that is being strong.

MMG: Everyone can probably already guess the answer, but what is your favorite lift, movement or WOD?

YANG: My favorite lift is the snatch and back squat.

MMG: Last question, since it is the namesake of my blog I have to ask like I do with all my interviews, what’s your goat?

YANG: Strict press.

Interview w/ Abby Hoeschler

Minnesota raises athletes of all types and sizes. Some are born ready for the ice, while others, like Abby Hoeschler, are more comfortable on top of a log. While many might be unfamiliar with log rolling, it is a sport born out of industry that reaches far back to the late 1800’s when mills transported lumber via the mighty Mississippi. In our exclusive interview, Abby talks about why she loves this unusual sport and her training regimen. Yo-ho!

MMG: Logrolling is a family tradition and clearly in your blood, but explain why you like the sport so much? Why do you think you keep doing it after all these years?

HOESCHLER: Log rolling is an intense sparring sport. You’re standing very close to your competitor on the same log, you can hear her breathing. There’s a frenzy of activity stepping back and forth on the log and with one misstep, you’re in. You have to focus on yourself and maintain composure. It’s an interesting combination of having to be very fierce but also very calm.

_0_B9A6955MMG: You are a World Champion and World Record holder. Having achieved so much success at such a young age, what motivates you to keep competing?

HOESCHLER: I really enjoy the process of training and, of course, I love competing. Log rolling is a sport that is very mentally and emotionally challenging, and so I think any physical edge that you might lose with age, you gain something with experience. Every year I feel like I learn more about myself and become more mature about my outlook on competing.

MMG: How would you describe your strategy in the log rolling competitions? Are you more active or reactive?

HOESCHLER: Well my temperament is definitely to be more active – growing up training with two older sisters and my mom, I was kind of like the little Mighty Mouse, “lemmme at ‘em, lemme at’em!” However, because I am at a weight disadvantage with most of my competitors, strategically I often have to be more reactive. As soon as log rolling becomes a bigger sport, it will be weight classed. If you have two equally talented log rollers, the heavier roller has an advantage – it’s all physics.

MMG: Log rolling requires a great amount of focus. How do you mentally prepare for that?

HOESCHLER: I practice yoga which helps. When you’re fatigued, you have to focus on your breath, and just take each (super small and fast) step one at a time. You can’t think about what will happen later in the match or the outcome, because that will just cause you to lose a fall. It’s not like tennis where you have a few hours to get into the match and you can think strategically long-term. You have to be in the moment. You have to be comfortable just being in your head. When I was younger, I remember always thinking during the middle of matches, “what if I just jumped off right now? I could just end all of this stress and just jump off the log.” So half the battle is often against your own mind. After 24 years of competing, I’ve learned to block out those thoughts by now, but it took until pretty recently!

10582936_1511156969098684_9138124020770017919_oMMG: What do you think log rolling can teach athletes in terms about winning and losing and overall competition?

HOESCHLER: Log rolling is the ultimate, “thrill of victory, agony of defeat” type sport. The winner is standing high and dry on top the log, and the loser just got dunked in the water. It feels amazing when you know you’ve knocked someone off the log, and when you lose, all you can think about is, “how did that happen??”

So the two things I’ve learned, rather, I’m still learning are: first, you have to pick yourself up, not feel sorry for yourself, and let go of your ego; and second, the importance of winning graciously. After competing this long, I know very well what it feels like to lose, and so I‘ve become more empathetic of how my competitor feels after a match. Sooner or later you’re going to be on the losing end of that log.

Having to compete against my sisters has also taught me a lot about winning and losing. When you have to go back and have dinner together and sleep in the same hotel room with your competitor, you think a little bit differently about the importance of winning and losing. If you lost, you have to put a smile on your face and try to feel happy for your sibling (because the rest of the family isn’t going to let you sulk!); and if you win, you have to temper your excitement and be respectful and loving towards your sibling. It puts things in perspective.

MMG: What are people most surprised about when they try log rolling for the very first time?

HOESCHLER: I think people are most surprised at how addicting it is. If I had a quarter every time I heard someone say, “Let me try just one more time!” And of course people find out pretty quickly that it’s harder than it looks.
They’re also surprised at how much core it is, and how tired they get.

MMG: Log rolling is such a unique sport. Who are your mentors or coaches that you look towards for guidance as you continue to develop as an athlete?

HOESCHLER: I of course look to my mom, Judy Scheer Hoeschler, a seven-time world champion log roller. She’s pretty fierce and extremely competitive, but she’s also extremely compassionate. She has a very analytical mind and so I learn a lot from her post-match analysis.

Up until a year ago, I had never had a professional coach or trainer for log rolling. The sport is simply not big enough yet that I’d ever make a living competing, and so it never seemed to warrant hiring a trainer. However, I’ve just gotten so busy with starting and growing Key Log Rolling in the last few years, that it became difficult for me to manage my own training regimen. I finally decided to get some help last year!

My trainer (and now friend!) Mike Bjornson has seriously stepped up my strength training. I had never done any serious weight lifting until I started working with Mike last winter. It’s been fun learning more about it and improving my technique, and of course I definitely feel that my whole body is a lot stronger. Coincidentally, Mike’s wife Katie, used to log roll with my sisters and me growing up!

Mike also introduced me to a metabolic specialist, Jeff Burkart who has been helping me build up different aerobic energy systems. I used to just go run a bunch of hill sprints for dry-land training, and it’s been awesome to take a more scientific approach my training.

Again, it’s a small sport so it’s maybe more than the level of competition really warrants, but I enjoy the process, and I think Mike and Jeff are enjoying learning something new and creating training programs for a sport they’ve never encountered. I hope we can take everything we’re learning and use it to continue finding best practices for training future log rolling athletes.

702C0072 4MMG: So now with the help of these coaches, what does a normal week of training look like for you then when you are in the competitive season? How much practice are you doing on the logs and how much time are you putting in elsewhere to keep in shape?

HOESCHLER: I try to have the bulk of my strength and conditioning training done before the season starts, but of course I’ll continue it a bit into the beginning of the season, but usually tapering the amount of weight lifting. If I’m competing on a weekend, I’m typically rolling 3-4 times a week for an hour and half, and then mixing in strength and sprints.

I also just like to be active in a lot of different sports, in the winter I train for the American Birkebeiner, a 50km cross country ski race. I mountain bike, play tennis, practice yoga, downhill ski. I’ve started to try to do more climbing and slack lining as well.

MMG: Is diet and nutrition a factor at all?

HOESCHLER: For sure! I eat A LOT of beans, it’s becoming a bit of joke. I love to cook and so eating healthfully is pretty easy. I’m not a vegetarian, but I don’t eat much meat. I don’t have any strict diet or rules, I’ve just learned to listen to what my body needs and make sure I’m fueling it right. I have a sweet tooth so I usually indulge after dinner…thankfully log rolling season is in the summer so I never feel bad stopping for ice cream!

MMG: Who else in your life is a source of inspiration in your athletic endeavors?

HOESCHLER: To be honest, all of the people that I’ve taught log rolling to over the past four years through Key Log Rolling have been an inspiration. Now that I am introducing people to log rolling as my career, I get to see every week how psyched up people get about it. It’s been amazing to see such a wide range of people fall in love with log rolling – from summer camp directors in Maine to rec sports staff at big universities in the Midwest to professional surfers and stand-up-paddle boarders in California, and everywhere in between. They’ve breathed new life into the sport for me, and it’s inspired me to be an athlete to look up to. Log rolling is a teeny tiny sport right now, but I truly believe it could one day be in the Olympics, and I humbly hope to be in the history books.

This is random, but Laird Hamilton is also a source of inspiration to me in both my athletic endeavors and my business. He turned his passion for surfing into a business and a lifestyle. I met him a few years ago and he thinks very analytically and critically and about training , but also takes a more holistic approach to both physical and mental preparation.

1960992_666471993409033_2004994480_oMMG: What’s the best advice that you have received over the years?

HOESCHLER: It’s cliché, but “if you give-up in practice, you practice giving up.” In log rolling, it doesn’t matter whether or not you stayed on the log, just who stayed on the longest, and so each step counts. Even in practice as I’m falling in, I try to fight for every last step, because you never know if your opponent might slip up and go in before you.

MMG: What then is your best piece of advice to other athletes?

HOESCHLER: Enjoy the process.

MMG: In the sport of CrossFit, the term “goat” refers to something you suck at, whether it be a certain lift, movement or exercise. What’s your goat?

HOESCHLER: Splashing water in my opponents’ eyes. I’m typically the shorter competitor, so I have to get the water to go a lot further. There’s usually more risk than reward in that move for me.

Interview with Jen Sinkler

Bard Madvig, founder of The Press,  recently wrote, “Women’s lifting has over tripled and in general our events are becoming massive in size. Powerlifting has returned with a vengeance.”  Leading the charge here in the Twin Cities is Jen Sinkler, a longtime fitness writer and personal trainer based in Minneapolis working out of The Movement Minneapolis. In anticipation of her upcoming meet on February 21st, we discuss why lifting is fun, her competitive itch and the importance of stick-with-itude.

MMG: How did you get started in powerlifting?

SINKLER: I’ve always been an advocate for women lifting heavy weights — it does such great things for confidence and body image — and I’ve been lifting heavy myself since 2001. My primary focus was on training for rugby, though, and it just never occurred to me to pursue lifting as a competitive sport. Then, last spring, a few members of the coaching team at The Movement Minneapolis started discussing potential goals, both for ourselves and our members, and we decided
to enter a team into a local powerlifting meet, if there was enough interest. There was definitely enough interest.

 deadlift of 364 pounds, setting a new Minnesota state record for the 148-pound weight class Dec. 6, 2014.
Jen with a deadlift of 364 pounds, setting a new Minnesota state record for the 148-pound weight class Dec. 6, 2014.

We brought a total of seven women from the gym to the Twin Cities Open in August, and the total number of women entered in that meet set a record as the most women entered in a powerlifting meet in Minnesota — or at least since the 80s, according to the meet director.

I’ve entered a meet every two months since then, and the Minnesota State and Midwest Open on February 21st this month will be my fourth one. I took second place in my first meet, and first place in the second two, and have set a few Minnesota state records for my weight class in the process (with a squat of 309 pounds, a deadlift of 364 pounds, and a total of 832 pounds).

There has been a resurgence of interest in the sport recently, and women are leading the charge. Movement Minneapolis has 13 women and two men entering the Feb. 21 meet alone. It’s very cool to be a part of it.

MMG: What drove you to look beyond the gym and compete?

SINKLER: I’ve been a competitive athlete my entire life, playing four sports in high school and then rugby through college and beyond, and am pretty much always looking for ways to scratch my competitive itch. A walk to the car can end up a race. The unfortunate case, however, is that most options for competitions — or at least the ones that we hear about the most often — tend to revolve around endurance events, but the reality is, not all of us enjoy endurance events. I am not a distance runner, and I’ve made my peace with that.

I’m trying to get the word out about strength-based competitions. For those of us who don’t want to run whatever-K’s or compete in triathlon or the like, there are other options. Powerlifting, strongman, Olympic lifting, CrossFit and kettlebell sport competitions offer another avenue. I dabbled in CrossFit competitions and Olympic weightlifting meets, but I would need to devote much more time and energy to improving my technique daily for the latter if I were to pursue that more seriously, and the former might just still require too much endurance for me. At our gym, we just happen to focus more on the squat and deadlift than the clean, the jerk, and the snatch, so it’s a more natural fit for me right now.

In powerlifting (and many strength contests), lifters are grouped together by weight class, so anyone with a solid grasp of barbell back squatting, bench pressing, and deadlifting is welcome to compete against others who are relatively the same size (and there is a masters’ division for those over 40). The powerlifting community is extremely welcoming to newcomers, so that’s a big draw, as well.

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Jen with lifting buddies Libby Berg and Jennifer Blake.

 

MMG: You competed this past summer at the Twin Cities Open powerlifting meet in Mounds View. Can you tell us about that experience?

SINKLER: This was my very first powerlifting meet, so I felt all the things you feel on game day: anticipation, excitement, and a little nervous. I wrote a lengthy recap of that meet called “How to Lose” for my website.

The short story is that came in second, right after my very good friend and longtime competitor in a variety of endeavors, Jenn Halvorson. It came down to the very last lift of the competition. I could have won, but I had to make a deadlift that was still a little out of my league at that time, and I missed it by a hair.

I love the following quote from Tim Krabbé’s book The Rider: “Being a good loser is a despicable evasion, an insult to the sporting spirit.” Don’t get me wrong: I don’t throw tantrums, I’m not nasty to my opponents and I don’t blame the referees or judges for outcomes. That is, I’m not a baby. But I do believe in doing your damnedest to win, both in the build-up to competition and on game day. Losing sticks with me for a good, long time. But if you must lose, I believe there is a useful way to do it. A way that will make you better. And that’s immediately what I started plotting to do after that first meet.

I love game day — no matter the competition — and the whole process of sport. The tactical decision-making, the mindset, the preparation. It’s a part of my personality. So, I trained hard, came back and got that deadlift the next time — and I beat Jenn (AKA “Halvo”) in our rematch. We are such friendly competitors — we played rugby together in college — but having a target makes the whole thing so much more entertaining.
I know she’s gunning hard for me again on Feb. 21, and she’s been hitting personal records (PR’s) in her training left and right. It should be interesting.

 

MMG: How do you physically and mentally prepare the day of a major meet like that?

SINKLER: Powerlifting meets are an all-day event. Physically, I’ve had to cut a few pounds to make sure I qualified for the 148-pound weight class before meets, so I cut carbs in the weeks before the meet (or sometimes the week of, if I wait too long!) and dramatically increase water intake until the night before weigh-in. Then you cut off water intake about 12 hours before weigh-in and whooooosh! You keep shedding fluids.

The weight classes just got rejiggered, though, and I had the choice to compete in the 158-pound class or the 138-pound class. I’m well within the former (I walk around at about 150), but the latter would have been a stretch to get to. So I won’t have to cut before the next meet, which is nice. If you cut too much, too fast, you can really affect your strength levels the day of competition.

After weigh-in, which occurs the morning of the meet in the federation I lift in most often, USA Powerlifting, I eat the fastest-processing carbs I can get my hands on. Seriously, that post-weigh-in donut is heaven. Add to that smorgasbord plenty of drinkable carbs, because the goal is to rehydrate as quickly as possible so your performance is not adversely affected. I bring a shopping bag full of treats and liquids and go to town.

Mentally, the vast majority of prep is done before I walk in the door to check in the day of the meet: I like to get the OK on my lifting equipment at gear check the night before (singlets, belt, socks, shoes, shirts, and wrist wraps all need to be cleared by the judges before the meet). I pack up my food the night before, too.

Probably the most important thing I do the day before is plot out the possibilities for each my attempts for each lifts, based on whether my first attempt went well, and what kind of jumps I think I can make. I jot down options for if it’s feeling easy and if it’s feeling hard.
Being prepared ahead of time allows me to keep a clear head on game day and focus on what needs to be done the day of the meet: lift the weight.

It also allows me to focus on supporting my teammates and fellow Movement Minneapolis members. Being part of Team Green is a big part of what makes competing fun.

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First prize for one of the meets Jen won was a full-sized sword.

 

MMG: What keeps you interested and motivated to keep lifting?

SINKLER: Community is my biggest driver, to be honest. I love lifting as a social activity. I’ve essentially replaced happy hours and the like with something that benefits the health of everyone involved. It’s really fun to lift with my group of smart, hilarious, independent friends. We make a point of getting together three times a week to lift.

I also firmly believe that strong makes your whole life better — both bodily and mentally, emotionally. Physical strength has a way of bleeding into the rest of your life and there is nothing better than feeling capable of handling whatever tasks comes your way. That is motivation enough to keep going.

MMG: Is there a community in the Twin Cities of people involved with powerlifting? Was it easy to get involved with or something you had to seek out on your own?

SINKLER: The powerlifting community in the Twin Cities is tremendously supportive and encouraging. The old guard, who have been powerlifting forever and who organize the many meets in Minnesota, really bend over backwards to explain the rules and make newcomers feel welcome. Those are the selfless people who want to see their sport grow, who see and really understand the big picture.

All I had to do was pick a meet and enter it, then follow the instructions the organizers provided. The resources exist to figure out what you need, and further questions are welcomed on pages like Minnesota Power Pages, as well as a private group by the same name for powerlifters in this state.

There are many powerlifting federations, but I mostly lift in USA Powerlifting (USAPL) because it’s drug tested, which is nice if you don’t want to compete against athletes on PEDs.

MMG: For many, both men and women, when they want to focus on their health and fitness they jump on a treadmill or an elliptical. Why would you recommend someone incorporate weight lifting into their routine?

SINKLER: Traditional cardio, like running on a treadmill or an elliptical, has its place and it’s an easy entry point for someone brand new to exercise. Stuff like that, which doesn’t need much instruction, can serve as a gateway to all the other toys in the gym, like the free weights, especially.

And it’s the weights that really carve out curves, if that’s something you’re interested in. The weights help you achieve the lean and toned look so many people are going for.

That said, the best thing about lifting weights — and I see this all the time, especially with women — is that soon enough, their goals become more performance based (i.e., I want to be able to deadlift my bodyweight, or double my bodyweight), which is more intrinsically motivating than aesthetic goals can be over the long term.

Getting strong is fun. Lifting weights is fun, and can boost your confidence and improve your whole life. Try it. Invest in some good coaching, join a gym with a strength bias, and try it. You’ll see.

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Photo c/o Melissa Floyd

 

MMG: What is your favorite lift?

SINKLER: Oh man, that’s like asking a mother which of her kids is her favorite. The back squat is satisfying…and the front squat is, too…the deadlift is a magnificent beast, and highly empowering because of the amount of weight you get to move. Squat variations such as the Anderson and those with the safety squat bar are their own brand of evil genius. Pressing overhead is another favorite. And when I do the Olympic lifts, I maintain that you can’t have more fun in the gym than those. You literally get to throw the weight around.

Yeah, so…those are my favorites.

MMG: So that does a normal week of training look like? How many days on? How many days off? And what type of workouts are you doing? Break it down for us.

SINKLER: My lifting buddies and I train powerlifting three days a week, and each day is focused on one of the big three: barbell back squat, barbell bench press, and the deadlift. A short time in the beginning is spent on mobility and muscle activation, which is important to maintain quality of movement. Then a big chunk of time is spent on one of the main lifts, usually in a straight set (meaning it’s not paired with any other exercise), with the training focus being on intensity, speed, or volume, depending on the day. After that, we include two supersets: pairs of two different movements done back to back. One will address any weakness in the main lift and the other will either be training a smaller group of muscles involved in the main lift (for instance, barbell bent-over rows will usually be included in a superset on deadlift day). We also include core-specific training and include lots of rotation and anti-rotation work. My co-coach for our women’s-only class at Movement Minneapolis, Jennifer Vogelgesang Blake, has written our programming before most meets, and she’s very good at it. We’re all still making progress.

Then, because we like to be strong in all the ways, if there is gas left in our tanks we include a short circuit like those pulled from my ebook, Lift Weights Faster, either the same day or on active rest days a couple times a week. Maybe a sprint workout or two, depending on how slick it is outside. Keeping our conditioning up assists in speedier workout recovery and helps maintain energy levels on competition day.

MMG: How does diet factor into all your training? Do you follow any plans or have any rules that you follow in terms of eating and drinking?

SINKLER: Diet is a huge factor in how you feel and how you look. Probably 80 to 85 percent of the time, I follow the very reasonable guideline that that I would give anyone looking to eat well: Eat mostly whole foods, and even better if those foods are from responsible, humane sources. Eat a little more protein and carbs surrounding your workouts.

Because I want to keep improving, however, I recently started a new nutrition plan from a company called Renaissance Periodization, which specializes in working with strength athletes. So far so good! My energy levels are still high, and my body fat is dropping.

Last year I cut a few pounds for the meets I competed in, only because I was this close to the weight class below me — and being at the top of a weight class definitely has it advantages in terms of how many pounds you’re able to move. This meant cutting out all sugar and most carbs, and drinking lots and lots of water. This year, the IPL (International Powerlifting Federation) changed the weight classes for men and women and what this means is that I no longer have to cut weight.

And for what it’s worth, for women looking to compete in their first meet, I tell them in no uncertain terms not to worry about cutting weight. The goal is to have fun and set your own personal bests.

MMG: What’s the best piece of advice you have received in terms of your training?

SINKLER: My favorite coaches over the years echo the same refrain: There is no one way to get fit, to get strong. Sure, there may be methods that are more effective than others in an ideal world, but enjoyment matters above all. If you try to make yourself do something you hate, you won’t be consistent, and it’s the stick-with-itude that ends up mattering most in fitness.

MMG: And what’s your best advice for someone who is just starting out with a lifting program?

SINKLER: Be consistent and pay attention. Are you getting results? Are you staying healthy or are you consistently sore or injured? And again, not to be discounted, are you enjoying yourself? Give yourself some time to discover the answers to these questions and if any of them end up to be no, it’s probably time to look elsewhere. And if you need to do that, my advice is this: Look around at who’s doing what you want to be doing, at who is doing it well, and at who is enjoying themselves. And then get your buns in there with them.

MMG: Do you typically train alone or with other people? What is different for you when you have a training partner? Does it help or hinder your workout?

SINKLER: I train with my group of lifting buddies at The Movement Minneapolis. We hold each other accountable. Plus, we genuinely like being with each other, so training time includes lots of laughs, snorts, and banter. We push each other in a “loving peer-pressure” sort of way. It’s important to us that we bring the best out in each other, so we are better for having trained together.

When I’m traveling, as I do often for fitness seminars and workshops, I have pockets of lifting buddies all over the country (and anymore, all over the world). It’s a pretty great set-up.

MMG: And what has been the biggest lesson you have learned along the way?

SINKLER: I used to lament the abilities that would sneak away when I wasn’t looking (heavy weighted pull-ups, muscle-ups, max Olympic lifts), but I’ve made peace with the fact that you can be best (that you can be) at what you’re concentrating on during that training cycle. Trying to maintain absolutely all of your strength and skills in all domains at once is a futile prospect. You can always cycle back to skills you want to pick up again, but it’s more fun to get really good at the thing in right front of you, and pour your energy into that.

MMG: Finally, the name of this site is based on the idea of a “goat” in CrossFit. It is an exercise, lift or movement that you suck at and need to work on. What is your goat?

SINKLER: Ring muscle-ups are probably my biggest goat. I had to work for several months straight to get my first one in 2010, and the ability abandons me again the second I don’t work them diligently. I keep thinking I need to get back to those. Maybe it’s a project for this summer.

Jen Sinkler  talks fitness, food, happy life and general health topics at her website,www.jensinkler.com, and writes for a variety of national health magazines. Earlier this year, she authored Lift Weights Faster, an e-library of over 130 conditioning workouts for fat loss, athleticism, and overall health. Lift Weights Faster 2 will be released March 10.

Interview with Miles Dombrovski

Amateur athletes don’t often have the luxury of being able to focus solely on their sport. They hold 9 to 5 jobs, have responsibilities at home and other obligations and yet must be very disciplined to keep to their training and diet. Often coworkers, friend and even relatives have no clue about the amount of time and effort they are putting in day in and day out. Local Minneapolis athlete Miles Dombrovski epitomizes this quiet focus as he puts in two-a-days to prepare for his first NPC competition. We talk about what motivates him, who inspires him and more.

MMG: You are competing this spring in the National Physique Committee (NPC) MN Gopher Classic this spring. Can you explain for us what that competition involves?

MILES: The competition is all about how contestants’ bodies show proper shape, proportion, muscularity and overall condition.

The NPC is an amateur physique organization and hold competitions nationwide for male and female athletes. There are divisions for bodybuilding, physique, bikini and figure within NPC competitions. Men’s physique competitions feature the guys walking out on stage in board shorts who complete a few simple turns for the judges. They’re judged on their stage presence, muscularity and overall physical condition.

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MMG: Are you excited? Nervous? As the competition quickly nears, how are you feeling?

I’m definitely excited! I think some nerves before the competition will help me get amped, but I’m not feeling nervous yet. I will be practicing my posing well before the competition, too. I have no clue what it will be like when I get to the actual stage, so I’m just going to approach the competition day with an open mind and do my best to prepare beforehand.

MMG: What motivated you to register and compete? I understand this is your first competition. How did you get into NPC?

MILES: I got motivated to compete simply from wanting a new challenge. I’d always been a physically active guy, but I felt I wanted something new to work toward. Registering for the NPC is actually simple – you just apply and pay your fee.

MMG: Is there a community in the Twin Cities of people involved with NPC? Was it easy to get involved with or something you had to seek out on your own?

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MILES: I train at Los Campeones Gym in Minneapolis, and there’s definitely a mix of bodybuilders and physique competitors at the gym. I’ve gotten to know a few competitors outside the gym as well. I’m definitely pumped to meet more athletes at the competition in April.

MMG: So what does a normal week of training look like? How many days on? How many days off? And what type of workouts are you doing? Break it down for us.

MILES: I’ve found that working a standard 9-5 job left me with a limited window of time during the day to get in and crank out my training sessions. But now that I’m less than 12 weeks out from the show, my weeks are more regimented.

Right now, I’m working out 2 times a day Monday through Thursday. I like to get into the gym for about 45 minutes in the morning, then use the rest of my energy later in the evening after work for dedicated muscle group work. Cardio and ab work usually falls in the morning.

I’ll typically take Friday off, but I tend to get antsy and go in on the weekends to work on anything I feel needs attention.

My workouts emphasize hypertrophy right now, but about once a week I’ll test my strength on the three big lifts.

MMG: Do you ever take your training outside of the gym at all?

MILES: During the winter I tend to stay indoors because I’m a wuss when it comes to the cold; but in the summer I like to play tennis, bike and run. A friend and I are going to start indoor rock climbing soon, too.

MMG: How does diet factor into all your training? Do you follow any plans or have any rules that you follow in terms of eating and drinking?

MILES: I eat five to six meals a day and track all of my macros. I’ll be starting carb cycling in a few weeks to really lean up.

I don’t start my day without making my own coffee in my beloved French press, but I drink so much water during the day, it’s ridiculous. Definitely at least a gallon per day. I keep my shaker bottle with me at all times, and just keep refilling it with water as soon as I finish it off. Hydration is key. I’ve also cut out alcohol as part of the prep diet.

MMG: Your training sounds very disciplined. Any tips?

Benjamin (Loehrer) was very good about explaining to me how simple everything related to training can be – diet can be simple, staying hydrated is simple, getting the right amount of sleep is simple. Once I started to notice a good change in my physique, it came down to asking myself how bad I wanted to compete and what sacrifices do I need to make in order to make it happen. So I made a complete shift in my day-to-day priorities. I chose to start tracking all of my food intake in the MyFitnessPal app on my phone. I chose to only drink water or coffee in the morning. I make sure I get a good night’s sleep every day. My friends and I will go out for sushi happy hour rather than drinking. Making the right decisions for your health becomes easier every day once you get in the habit. The first step is to just start.

MMG: What other factors are important to your overall physical and mental wellness?

MILES: I meditate at least once a day and my sleep is crucial to recovering after workouts. I go to bed no later than 9 PM and get up by 6 AM during the week for sure.

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MMG: You recently posted a side-by-side photo of yourself from February 2014 and one from December 2014. You were already in good shape, but the transformation is impressive. Besides the physical, what has been the biggest change you have seen in yourself over the last year?

MILES: That selfie is ridiculous, but I was kind of blown away at what I had accomplished in that time period. My cousin and I are really close so we’ll talk a lot about how the “lifting lifestyle” really influences so many more aspects of your life. I’ve never been happier and more confident with myself than I am now. I get so much more out of my relationships with friends and family because I feel good about who I am and because they support me in my endeavors. I’m just more centered than I was a year ago because I’m taking really good care of myself.

MMG: Who do you look towards for guidance? Do you have any mentors or role models that are important to you in your life and in your training?

MILES: I think everyone who trains at Los Campeones admires Benjamin Loehrer at least a little bit and he’s been my go-to guy for training tips, diet questions and motivation. I’ve told him that finding his gym has been a lifesaver because I actually felt the motivation to get healthy and fit just by stepping foot inside the building.

MMG: What’s the best piece of advice you have received in terms of your training?

MILES: The best advice I’ve ever received actually came to me after an injury. I hurt my shoulder last fall and my brother told me to make sure I’m “listening to my body” – meaning, if I can tell that my body isn’t rested it’s okay to take a day off. Or if maybe that weight you’re attempting is just a little too heavy, check your ego and lighten up so you don’t get hurt like I did.

MMG: A lot of your training is lifting and I imagine alone. How do you push yourself when you are by yourself to keep going and work hard?

MILES: I personally like the “lone wolf” aspect of hitting the gym. I’m not a chatty guy when I’m training. I usually plug in my earbuds, blast some rap music and just go. The most anyone will get out of me is maybe a smile or a wave, but I promise I’m not angry!

MMG: What is different for you when you have a training partner? Does it help or hinder your workout?

MILES: I definitely prefer training alone for the sole reason that I can crank through my session quicker that way. I’ve trained with partners before and it’s usually best when you’re both at the same intensity and there’s no bullshitting. But if it’s a more casual lift, you’ll be there an hour longer than you expected and feel like you got nothing done.

MMG: What has been the highlight to date of your training and entering into this world of NPC competitions?

MILES: Seeing results! And I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the flexible dieting IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) allows. No matter how many contests I enter in the future, I’m just happy to see my hard work pay off.

MMG: And what’s been the biggest lesson you have learned along the way?

MILES: The biggest lesson I’ve learned along the way actually has nothing to do with training at all. I’d say the biggest lesson I’ve learned is who my real friends are along the way. It was interesting to find out which old friends, classmates or whatever were judging my Instagram before & after shots. But I definitely got some fuel out of “the hate” as they say, and kept charging along with the support from my close friends and family. Now, I just laugh negative comments off because the Internet is not real and no one should ever take something like an Instagram selfie seriously whatsoever.

MMG: Finally, the name of this site is based on the idea of a “goat” in CrossFit. It is an exercise, lift or movement that you suck at and need to work on. What is your goat?

MILES: Bench press! Without a doubt. I’ve always had a fear that the bar will just drop down and crush my esophagus, so maybe I need to spend some time bonding with the bar so I’m not so scared.

Interview with Jihone Du

While I knew that Jihone Du was a badass at our CrossFit gym, I’ve come to learn that he is also an amazing karate athlete and championship fighter. He has been a dedicated practitioner of this martial art since childhood and still continues to improve and learn everyday. In our interview, we discuss his experience competing in Mexico, training in Germany and how pizza figures into his programming.

MMG: Jihone, thanks for taking the time today to talk with us. To help provide people with some context, can you first share when and how you started practicing karate?

DU: I started practicing karate around 6 years old. Out of all the other activities my parents put me in (soccer, t-ball, piano), it was the only one that stuck.

MMG: Years later, why are you still practicing and competing in karate? What continues to attract you to the sport?

DU: I think what keeps me competing today is the feeling that I haven’t reached my limit yet. I’ve been able to change my game and improve so much over the last two years that I still feel like there is a lot more I can do. Also, karate has given me the opportunity to travel to so many different places that I would otherwise not be able to see.

Jihone competing in the 2014 IKSF Pan American Championships.
Jihone competing in the 2014 IKSF Pan American Championships.

MMG: This summer, you won the silver medal for the US team at the 2014 International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF) Pan American Championships. Tell me about that experience.

DU: I made the U.S. team in November of 2013 at the U.S. National which was a goal that was over two years in the making. 2012 was my first year back competing after a four year hiatus so I was super excited to earn a spot on the team in 2013.

The team trainings in Mexico during the days before the tournament were rough for me. We had two trainings a day and most of that was spent sparring rounds. While the rounds were supposed to be light, I think the adrenaline of being in a new environment resulted in everyone going harder than they probably should have. Somewhere during these trainings I picked up a wrist injury in my left hand.

I was only selected to compete in the team event, where each country has a team of five fighters, and the team with the winning record after five fights moves onto the next round.

We only needed to beat Argentina to make the final. I fought first in the lineup against a guy who was a pretty good kicker. I came out pretty aggressive, and got the first point with a punch that put him on his back. In the next exchange, I took a pretty hard kick to the head, but the referee didn’t think it was good enough to score. I was able to close out the fight using a de-ai technique, where basically you throw a punch into the other person right as their coming in. It’s risky because you’re essentially trying to slam into the other person before you even know what they’re going to throw.

The next day we fought Mexico in the finals. I actually fought the champion of the individual category. We were tied for most of the fight. Somewhere in the last 30 seconds, he blasted me in the face with a straight right. I didn’t see it coming at all.

MMG: You went up against Mexico in the finals. How do you prepare yourself mentally and physically the day of for such a big match?

DU: I don’t really have a set ritual. Physically my warm-up goal is to always be sweating by the time I get on the mat. There is nothing worse than stepping out onto the mat feeling cold. Mentally I prepare by going through a mental checklist of things I want to make sure that I do while I’m in the ring.

MMG: When you return home after such an intense competition, what’s the immediate reaction? Do you totally just veg out for a few days or are you right back to training?

DU: I will take around five to eight days off. Any more than that and I start to feel sluggish.

Jihone training in Hanover, Germany.
Jihone training with the German national team in Hanover.

MMG: Over the course of your career competing, what has been the biggest highlight?

DU: In 2008, a close friend of mine got me in to train with the German national team at their camp in Hanover. The training there was brutal. We’d basically just spar non-stop, with no gloves, for two hours at a time. Not surprisingly, there were a lot of injuries. One guy broke his sternum! By some miracle, I was lucky enough to walk away with only a few minor cuts and bruises. I consider the fact that I kept showing up a victory in itself.

I accepted an invitation from their coach to fight in a goodwill match at the end of the camp. I was completely terrified. I felt like I had barely survived the trainings, so the ideal of a full match was pretty daunting. Despite how scared I was, I won my fight decisively. Winning that fight is one of my biggest highlights because it taught me that it is possible to work through your own fear.

MMG: Similarly, in thinking about your wins and losses over the years, what’s one of your biggest mistakes? And what did you learn from it?

DU: For a long time I underestimated the value of strength and conditioning. I put almost all of my effort into becoming the best technical fighter. I now understand how big a role strength and conditioning play in the success of an athlete.

MMG: Who has been influential in your athletic career? Any coaches or other athletes that you look up towards?

DU: In karate, Hideo Yamamoto of Japan has been a hero of mine since I was a kid. I used to sit and watch VHS tapes of him fighting for hours on end.

Personally, Tim McClellan, who has coached me in both karate and strength and conditioning, has been a huge influence both on and off the mat. He’s trained so many famous athletes, from Gary Hall Jr. to Donovan McNabb, yet he’ll still call me to ask how my diet is going and what I’m doing to prepare for my next tournament.

MMG: One of the philosophies of karate is that the main purpose of training is all about improving ourselves. Do you take this outlook on your training?

DU: Absolutely. I think no matter what your ability is, you can always make improvements. I have experienced this first hand. I lost in the first round of almost every competition I entered between the age of 9 and 18. But I kept training and putting my time in because I saw small improvements, and those kept me going.

MMG: So what does a regular week of karate training consist of for you?

DU: Depends on how close I am to an event. At the height of preparation, I’m training karate three to four times a week for two hours at a time. Training consists of a warm up, and then equal time spent on technical drills, conditioning, and sparring.

Jihone doing "Murph" at TwinTown Fitness
Jihone doing “Murph” at TwinTown Fitness

MMG: You also do CrossFit. How does that figure into your routine? Why do you incorporate CrossFit classes into your overall training?

DU: My CrossFit routine is between three to four times a week. It has been a great tool to build general athleticism and strength.

MMG: What’s your favorite CrossFit workout?

DU: Fran. I did this for the first time about a year ago and it absolutely destroyed me.

MMG: I know that you are pretty much in love with pizza. How does diet and nutrition figure into your overall training?

DU: I’m not the best dieter but I’ve been trying to improve. Five to six weeks before a competition I will consume more carbs because it gives me the energy to do additional workouts. Then I’ll cut it back two to three weeks out to “lean out” so that I feel lighter as I get closer to competition.

MMG: As is custom for me to end all my interviews, I have to ask what’s your goat?

DU: Muscle ups. I’d love to be able to do more than four of them without losing feeling in my arms.