I like to think of myself as a bit of a ‘burger connoisseur’. I know a bit about burgers because I have eaten quite a few of them in my lifetime. I have even been known to use burgers as a reward system (something I know Julien Pineau would strangle me for) in order to get through a particularly tough event, training session or competition. Hell, even an average day of work can inspire me to turn to burgers for salvation.
With that being said, it goes to show just how much fun Day Two of the Strength Camp II was because not once did I wish it would hurry up and end so we could all go out to our burger feast planned for dinner. That really is the sign of a fantastic day. (Side note: I did mention several times throughout the day how excited I was for these burgers, but I didn’t stare at the clock waiting for the time to arrive. I guess this is growing up.)
Day Two can be summed up in three words: ALL THE ACTIVITIES!
We were divided into two smaller groups so we could all rotate through the three main lifting sessions of the day. Powerlifting, Olympic lifting and Strongman.
My group went straight into Olympic Weightlifting under the uber-experienced, watchful and genuinely lovely eyes of Philippa Robinson and Kylie Lindbeck. Philippa is a former Crossfit Games athlete and current coach, and Kylie is a Commonwealth Games weightlifter, so it is safe to say they have a wealth of knowledge between them. We focused on the snatch as our first movement and let me tell you, nothing gets by Philippa. I thought I would ‘take it easy’ considering I haven’t done a snatch in quite a while and put myself with the beginners who were using broomsticks. After a few drills Philippa walked over and said I need to put the broomstick down, pick up a barbell and put weight on it because I have clearly done this before! My attempt at flying under the radar was blown within five minutes! But I was so glad she did so, because I paired up with fellow camper Carly, who is an absolute wonder when it comes to Oly lifting. The day before, during our time with the Women of Treign, Carly and I played the ‘why’ game with each other in an effort to understand why we do the sports we do. As I asked more and more questions about her recent competition and her hopes for the future it became apparent that Carly must be really strong and really talented. Sharing a platform with her was proof of this. It’s been a long time since I have seen someone lift the weights she did with such smooth power and grace.
Between turns I was surveying the other lifters in our group and I was constantly struck by one thing: Kylie and Philippa are brilliant coaches. There was no question too big or too small. Nobody was taking up too much of their time. They watched every movement and had the best way of fine-tuning techniques. It wasn’t long before excited yells of ‘yes!’ and ‘oh wow I did it!’ could be heard bouncing from platform to platform as more ladies learnt how to move under the bar.
It was during this session that the light bulb really went off for me in regards to what the Strength Camp is all about. It’s about women coming together and learning from one another. Here are two highly qualified and accomplished women, and they are two of the most approachable women I have ever met. They came to the camp to educate and help, and they did so with enthusiasm, kindness and authenticity. I asked Kylie some very basic questions about doing a hang clean because it’s been a while since I have done one with a regular barbell rather than an axle bar, and she didn’t bat an eyelid. Instead, she gave me some pointers, watched my lifts, and gave encouragement.
The strength and conditioning gym at the AIS is a room with an echo. Noise bounces around the high ceiling and you can hear what is happening across the room. A lot of noise bounced between the walls on that day and none of it was negative. Coaches and campers alike were full of positive self-talk, positive encouragements and positive movement. What a refreshing environment to be in; one without bullshit and ego. I wish I could bottle that feeling and sell it to gyms around the world.
While our group focused on our Olympic lifts, those beside us were being coached through Powerlifting by arguably two of the bosses of all things powerlifting, Liz Craven and Annie Short. I watched as everyone feverishly took notes before taking turns performing some squats and deadlifts with everything from their foot placement to eye direction carefully explained and, in some cases I’m sure, improved. In the days since camp has come to a close there have been a few attendees who have competed in powerlifting competitions. They have been so quick to thank Liz and Annie, among others, for giving them guidance, support, tips and, most importantly, confidence to stand on that platform and know they are doing their best. We all took so much away from this weekend and it is so wonderful to see those lessons being put to the best use possible.
Following Oly lifting I rotated into the Strongman session. Obviously this was the slot I was most excited for. Rob of Raw Strength and Conditioning and Crossfit Games competitor Jessica Coughlan spoke first about their respective paths to the present and what they would be showing us. It was really interesting to hear how two people with very different pasts and goals have managed to incorporate elements of strongman events into their training in an effort to stay ahead of the curve. I must admit I spent a lot of time admiring how strong and fit (there’s no other word for it) Jess is and I started to wonder how many caramello koala’s I would have to give up to have arms like that. It’s an equation I don’t want to know the answer to. I feel like a lot of running and push ups are probably also involved and I’m not here for that. Someone has to eat all the chocolate in the world.
I was snapped out of my chocolate-covered daydreams with news that we would work on the yoke and farmer’s carry. I’m the first to admit that I’m really protective of my technique when it comes to Strongman. I’m quite stubborn and when people try to offer advice in regards to technique it actually pains me to accept that they are just being helpful and that trying some different techniques might not be the death of me. I had to talk myself into being calm and I told myself that Rob and Jess know a lot of things, so listening to them would be very beneficial. Alas, I got under the yoke and took it for a run and Jess was full of compliments. Granted, the yoke was nearly 200kgs lighter than the last yoke I had to walk with in a competition. That’s not the point. The point is we (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘I’) get so caught up in programs and numbers and competition prep that sometimes we forget how fun these events and exercises can be. I can’t remember the last time I picked up an empty yoke and just took it for a run. It was probably the first time I used the yoke again after coming back from injury. I did one empty run then packed the weight on it again. The same went with the farmers carry. I rarely do light farmers carry runs because my competition weights are never light. But it was so much fun to just do an event without worrying about what the next weight would be, and it was even made even better to hear a chorus of ‘I can’t do that’ change into ‘I did it’ when the women in my group picked up these implements, many for the first time. There it was again. That feeling…the electricity in the air and the contagious laughter of women helping each other and having a good time while doing it. Our last lesson for the day before heading into the recovery pools was a short debrief on the concept of recovery from AIS Recovery Physiologist Clint Bellenger. While Clint admitted the AIS is geared more towards endurance athletes and they don’t have a strength or weightlifting team, the information was still relevant and adaptable. The key concept was this: The body has a base, and when we put it under stress through exercise or training, we need recovery in order to get it back to the base. Otherwise we are performing below the line. Such a simple concept. Amazing. And yet since coming home and retuning to training I personally have still skimped on recovery and wonder why everything hurts all the time. This session probably made me think more than I thought it would. Every slide of the presentation seemed so simple, and yet I could feel myself resisting with thoughts of ‘well, I don’t have time for that’. But I do have time, it’s just a matter of making recovery a priority. Another lesson taken away right there. We all have the time, we just don’t want to part with it.
In the brief period between our recovery session and dinner I noticed that my head was reeling. I had learnt so many things again and I had to make some notes otherwise it was all going to disappear. Some of the lessons were small (bang the bar lower on the thighs in a clean and pull up slowly from the ground) and others were large (if your body can’t recover you are never going to perform at 100% because you physically cannot get to that level). All the lessons were important and deserve more time and attention to apply them properly.
It was this same level of attention that I applied to eating the most delicious burger I have ever tasted that night. I’m pretty sure I did ‘burger bites for time’ because that thing was gone immediately. And it was amazing to sit at a table filled with women and not hear a single utterance of ‘I need to be good’ or ‘I’ve earned this’. We had though. We had earned some time to sit together and talk and laugh and prepare for the waves of knowledge we would encounter on Day Three in our Strongfit seminar. This seminar was twelve hours away and it felt like the night before Christmas. It was going to be worth the wait.
Ashley Maree Collis is a writer and lifter of all of the things. You can read more of her brilliant work on her blog Meet Me at the Barbelle The Barbelle Club were incredibly lucky to have her attend The Strength Camp and share her thoughts with us. Thank you Ashley xx Photographs by Barbell Media