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Sunday, February 5, 2017

Goals and your athletes

"You will find yourself in a place where you want it more for them more than they want it for themselves.  ...when you do for them what they should be doing for themselves, you create entitlement and dependency rather than empowerment"
 - Matthew Kelly, "Resisting Happiness"

The above quote is from the book Resisting Happiness.  It's helped me realize that you can't want something more for your athletes than they want for themselves.
Do you know what your goal is? How hard are you willing to work for it?
Photo by Gwendolyn Sisto. 2016 American Open. Go to www.ristosports.com/blog for more photos


Many times, people walk into to my training center asking to be made into a champion. Yet, are they willing to go all the way and make the sacrifice. Most of the times, athletes seem content to train hard for a solid 6 months.  Somewhere around 6 months, many start complaining that they are too tired to go out on weekends, or that coach told them they can't go hiking on their day off because it will make them too tired to train the next day.

My biggest flaw as a coach is that I expect too much of people. That I take their words of wanting to be a champion at face value. Hence, I  expect them to want to be the absolute best they can possibly be and aim to inspire them to move in that direction.  I assume that they want to be pushed in the direction of their goal, because that's what they said they wanted to do.

This goes back to doing my thesis at MIT.  Every few weeks, I would meet with my thesis adviser. I loved meeting with her, she was so smart and we could talk for hours (if it wasn't for the fact that she was equally busy).  Anyhow, I would bring my latest draft, and , indeed, it would be much better than the last time. But what would happen was, although, I would get affirmation that I improved, I would also get an, " ahh I'm, sensing more chapters" or "this is good, now you just need to flush it out more".

It was a wonderful , beautiful, seemingly unending torture. There was a point where I wanted to write something really good, and I also wanted to balance that with level of effort to graduate. Well, with the inspiration of my advisor and other researches in the lab, it really pushed me in the direction of writing a 150 page thesis ( the average in my major was around 75pages?).  But, you know what, I like being an over achiever. And, it still bothers me when I open up my thesis and see some tiny grammatical errors, or I think of how I could have further developed one idea or another. Art is never done.

I've found for athlete retention that this is not a good approach . If I am going to self reflect, I have been through some difficult trials in life.  So, when an athlete tells me something is too hard, my empathetic reaction is, " Yes, I know, and you can do even more".  And, many people don't want to hear this.

Here is what I run into with many athletes: when they come to Risto Sports, they want to do the hard program, they want to get better. We tell them what they can achieve . And, after the first macrocycle , every single person improves.   But, for some, something happens- they quickly realize they don't want to sustain this same level of effort to keep getting results. Some are happy just to have lifted at nationals- scratch that, most are just happy to have trained enough to go to a national meet, and even better if they win a medal .

The problem is most will not tell you this. Ok, you might say, ''this is my job as a coach to check we're on the same page". But, if someone is paying us to train them for predetermined results, then we will train them as such.

It's up to the lifter to say, "  I want to lift fewer days" or " I'm ok with only improving less than the projected forecast".

Instead, some just quit, and complain that we were too mean.... because we trained them them too hard , and they didn't have enough fun.

This situation is a complete contrast to international lifters who train at Risto Sports. Most will train with no complaints about not going out enough on weekends. Though some may whine during training, most will just complete the program regardless.  And, they seem grateful for the results.  It's important to note that many of these athletes are paid to train and get paid based on yielding results. (I feel like these observations are somewhat opposite of a Millgram experiment I read about- ha)

So, what's the point of this whole article?

Its a cautionary tale for both lifters and coaches.

Advice for lifters:
Be clear about for what you are paying your coach.
- Is it just to increase your total enough to lift at a national meet?
- Is it just to get a little better at lifting so you can win some trophies at local meets?
- Are you just doing this to learn how to lift and get in shape?
- Is it about truly pushing yourself to see how far you can go in the sport?

AND , do your goals match the level of effort you are willing to put in?
- Be honest about how many days a week you want to train
- Be honest about how important your social life is to you
- Be honest if you like to continue doing other sports - like crossfit, kayaking, hiking,...

AND, Lord forbid your goals actually change, or your desired level of effort changes, then:
- Tell your coach!
- Quitting or switching teams isn't going to fix this. It's just as easy, probably more beneficial to you, to have this conversation with your current coach than a new coach you have barely worked with.

Advice for coaches:
Ask more than once what the new lifter's goals are.  Make them flush it out as much as possible.

Be clear about how much effort it will take for someone to reach a goal
- if the level of effort talk seems to scare your potential customer away, then offer them back-up options that they may not be thinking of

Remember, it's not your job to want success more for the athlete
-If they are not doing the heart-emotional-mental heavy lifting as much as the physical heavy lifting, then they need to step it up, not you
- Your job is to inspire

Check in with the athlete after every macrocylce about their goals for the year

If your athletes are not responding to inspiration - ie they're not putting their heart fully into the training, and whine often, then:
- Instead of acting like their over-zealous parent and pushing them, its better to pull them aside and ask them to re-evaluate their goal/level of effort ratio
- Give them options. Come prepared with a back-up plan that might meet their social life needs with reduced results

Finally, a Harvard study showed something like 70%+ of the time people act irrationally, that it is hard wired into us.  Sooooooo.... Good luck!




Monday, January 2, 2017

Thoughts on being more than just one thing, and why it may scare people

I'm tired of people telling me that I do too many things.

I'm tired of people telling me to pick a direction, because I'm pretty sure I'm aimed in one.

Its happened more than once in the last few months.

Is it wrong to want to be good, even great, at more than one thing?

Whatever happened to being a "Renaissance man"?

I'm gonna go out on a limb and throw in a pop culture reference.  I think of the movie Divergent. Actually, it was a series of like 3 movies.  Anyhow, the whole point was there were people who were "divergent" because they didn't fit well into one type of mold. Everyone had to take a test when they were 18 to see which of the 5 career categories they best fit into. People who fit into all 5 or had no strong bias for one category over another were called "divergent" and were stamped out of the system.   SPOILER ALERT: the heroine unlocks some occultish device which reveals lost knowledge, that the true goal of the society was for everyone to be "divergent", for everyone to one day be able to equally do any of the 5 careers.

Call this confirmation bias, but I kind of agree. What fun is it to be just good at math? Or just good at writing? Or just good at one sport?    Can't a person be even great at more than one thing?

I think back to the great artists of the Renaissance- such as Michelangleo and Da Vinci. Leonardo Da Vinci is known for painting the Mona Lisa.  The funny thing is, he was so much more than a painter, he was so much more than an artist.  He was an engineer, an architect, a pioneer in anatomy. Sure these things are different and related at the same time.  To paint people well, it would help to understand anatomy, even if it meant dissecting cadavers in secret when the practice was considered heresay.  To design an incredible building, it would help to understand architecture, and it would help to understand mathematics. This could lead to being able to think like an engineer- he made the first sketches of ornithopters, and he made sketches of gliders, well ahead of his time.   Michelangelo was arguably just as multifaceted.  He was a sculptor, a painter, an architect, and a poet. He was a perfectionist and mostly a self-taught painter. Again, his areas of expertise were similar but slightly different.

So, many people want to put me in a box, and I'm sure this happens to many other people too. To some, they want to see me as just an engineer. To others, they want to see me as just a weightlifter. To others, they want to see me as just an author. Some want to see me as just a coach. Some want to see me as just a weightlifting shoe innovator, etc ,etc, etc..  And I wonder why?

To some extent, society reinforces this.  I see it every time I get interviewed for a news article. It unnerves the interviewer, because they see a news story going in too many directions if they can't just label me as one thing. Many want to reduce a multi-dimensional story into a 1-dimensional narrative, something simple and digestible.

For some people, its easier for them to categorize you if you are just one thing.  It makes them feel warm and fuzzy on the inside to be able to think, "yep, this person is this category. They belong with this group of people. Done. " . Some people even seem to feel unsettled, maybe to the point of fear, when they can't neatly and simply put someone cleanly in a box. Usually, these types of people do not like uncertainty.   Though, what can I say, you can't please everyone.

For some, they genuinely think doing more than one thing will prevent growth and expertise in any one area.  And for that, I appreciate their concern.

Still,  I really think there are some people in this world that really cannot go their life doing just one thing.  And, maybe people like me are just a tiny percent of the population, and , well, I think the world needs us.  Its like that little bit of saffron you sprinkle on rice to get that something extra.
 Saffron costs more per ounce than gold; I can live with being saffron.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Goals, goals, goals, it's all about goals


I just got done with the American Open. This was the first time I went to this meet just to do a total, and not necessarily to compete. For me, being a competitor, it was a weird feeling.

Regardless, I had clear objectives for the meet, and I was not about to let something like my ego get in the way of it.

Here were my goals:

1. Qualify for the 2017 World Master's Games in April 2017
- 2 lifts, that's it. 1 good snatch and 1 good clean and jerk. That is all I need
2. Compete for first time in 2 years at a National Meet
3. Actually talk to people
-- not kidding, 90% of my competitions, I'm so focused on winning that I never get to actually talk to my friends or network.
4. Stay healthy

Stretch goals
1. Do up to 80%
- This was the preset limit for this macrocycle**. No maxxing out, no going above 80%

Super stretch goals
1.Use Jedi mind tricks to convince coach to go heavier and win a medal
- hmmm, might be counter to my goal of peaking in April
- note to self, lift more such that my 75% is the winning total at all national meets

My goal for 2017 is to win the World Masters Games and to break all the World Records.

I actually never really thought about lifting as a Master.  To be honest, when I found out that the World Master Games were in New Zealand, I was like, "sign me up!".  Let me tell you, I want to go and see the "Hobbits" in New Zealand so bad.  You know, I just spent 3 days in Orlando and could care less about dropping $100 to see Mickey Mouse or Harry Potter at the theme parks.  Now,  for the chance to see the land of the Hobbits and Lord of the Rings movies, that I will take any excuse to fly half way around the world. The actual sets of the Shire are still there!*

Now, the only qualifier in the qualifying period for the World Master Games that I was eligible to lift in was the 2016 American Open. I was simply too young to compete at any of the other qualifiers. The last thing I wanted to do was to show-up at the American Open and just train through it. I am in a part of my macrocycle where maxxing out would just mess things up.

Personally, I am a competitor. Having me go to a meet to not compete is insanity to me.  It actually took a lot of discipline and restraint to do just enough to qualify and not too much to stay within my intensity zone for this microcycle.  I even purposely registered at the minimum entry total so as not to be tempted to go heavier; it also afforded me to open way under 80%.
Platform approach for 100kg. The expression tells it all- to compete without really competing.  Nice Photo from Lifting Life by Andy Blaida. Turns out Andy once had a pair of Ristos and gave them to one of his lifters..so years later, his pair of Risto weightlifting shoes are still in circulation. 



I am sure there are people reading this thinking, " What's the point of weightlifting if sometimes you are not going to even try to lift your best".

Well, in lifting life, you need to decide - are you a competitor or are you a weightlifter? If you are a weightlifter first, then just lifting for the sake of lifting is enough. The joy of lifting the bar over your head is more than satisfying. Now, if you're a competitor, then its more about hitting specific goals. Which competitions do I want to win? Win by how much? Specifically, how much do I want to lift this year at my peak competition?

I tell you what-- going to this competition with a completely different mindset and set of stakes lead me to some learning.

Its not about where you start, but where you finish -- well, sort of not really

I can't tell you how many times I have heard weightlifting coaches say, "it's not about where you start, its about where you finish."

Well, yes and no. At a normal competition, starting 1-3% lower than planned isn't such a big deal. Most people at an advanced level can take a 4-5kg jump on their second attempt if needed.

Now, if you are in a situation, like myserlf, picking a lift >10% below your real openers, then it gets more tricky.

For example, I opened super light in the snatch.  I wanted to take at least a 7kg jump to my second attempt.  My coach, keeping goal #4 in mind, was not having that. His point of view was "Stay healthy. Just take a moderate jump and do six lifts".  Plus, there's the other dilemma of there being 30 attempts between taking a 7kg jump or 15+ attempts for taking a 4kg jump.

Well, guess what, both options kind of sucked. So, we went with the conservative 4kg jump.  I had at least 15 attempts to wait out.  I am very fortunate that, normally, I lift towards the end of the A Session and have never waited more than 3-4 attempts ever.  Waiting >15 attempts was insane.  We dropped down to like 55kgs and kept taking snatches to keep me warm.

Coming out for what was normally an easy 77kg snatch seemed ridiculous after I had been in the warm-up room over 30 minutes.  I was getting impatient and flustered. I complained to my coach that I didn't want to play this game of take one lift then sit for 30 minutes. I let my mind drift out of the Zone.  Needless to say, I badly missed my second attempt-like not even close.  It felt like missing the bar-- should just not happen.   For my 3rd attempt, I only had like 5 attempts to wait. I got my shit together thinking to myself, "Gwen, you do this lift in your sleep. Just do it".  This one was a much easier snatch, still I missed it. I was out of the zone.

This lead to some interesting strategies for the clean and jerk.

Strategy
You can control the situation or let it control you.

By the time clean and jerks rolled around, I was 50% at my goal. I had done 1 snatch as needed; now, all I needed was 1 good clean and jerk.

I was not going to jeapordize my 1 good lift for any reason, especially, being at the mercy of other coaches moving their lifters attempts up and down.

I realized I had one advantage no one else had. I've totaled 202kg before, most of the lifters in my session had never done over 180kg, and I only needed a paltry 82kg clean and jerk to hit my qualification goals.

So, how do I get control back?  1. Lowered my opener such that I would be the first person to open the session, Then, 2.  take over a 10kg jump for my second attempt.

If I opened with something ridiculously light, I could do very few warm-ups- say 4-5 reps.  Then, if I took a large enough jump, I would have 30+ attempts until my second attempt.  This would give me plenty of time to rest, then warm-up again to something a little bit closer to a real starting weight.

Well, the plan worked out incredibly well. My opener was ridiculously easy, and making it had taken all the pressure off the rest of my lifts.  I then jumped 13 kilos to 95kg (it was mischievous fun just to see the panic that ensued after I took above the expected 2-5kg jump..sorry, not sorry, to my coaching friends in the warm-up room).

I probably should have went 100kg for my second attempt.  Here's why: As planned, I had plenty of time to warm-up to 95kg. However, a bunch of coaches had then moved their athletes' third attempts to 96kg. This then put me back in the game of waiting a long time between my second and third attempt.

I opted to go 100kg as I did not want to wait to the last lift of the session if I took say a 6 or 8kg jump. Once again, I did not do so well with the long wait and racked the 100kg out forward.

Aside from using this competition as an opportunity to apply some unorthodox attempt selection strategies, it also showed me that I need to get better at real-world competition situations such as having more than 2-3 attempts between my lifts  --you never know when that situation might arise again.

Later that weekend, I watched the men's 85kg session. I was impressed with how some of the lifters , like James Tatum, waited many attempts between their first and second attempts and still came out to make big lifts.  Here's a photo of James with a close 182kg Clean and jerk on his way to winning the USAW American Open. <  Yes, he is wearing a pair of the Tiburon Risto Sports Weightlifting shoes. Yes, I chose this photo because of the perfect lighting on the shoes and its 6 red plates ...  >
Here's James Tatum winning the 2016 American Open in Men's 85kg. This was a very close lift with 182kg clean and jerk. I'm sure he'll do even more soon! Yes, he won a very tough competition in his very own Risto Sports Tiburon weightlifting shoes. Photo by Gwendolyn Sisto.
It made me, again, reflect on the fact that, yes, it would be good for me to increase my ability to hit lifts on the competition platform after long breaks between attempts.

On my other goals:
Hey, I can give myself a little slack. I posted a total at my first National meet in 2 years. I also took the biggest jump of my competitive career ever - a 13kg jump between first and second attempts-- and nailed the lift. My elbows held up just fine ( The two year anniversary of blowing out my right elbow at the 2014 AO is tomorrow. You can memorialize the moment by sending me gluten free cookies lol=), and, overall, I stayed healthy.  

And, yes, I did , finally get to socialize a bit more at this competition. There were so many "facebook friends" I got to actually meet in person and become "real" friends.  There were even some serrendipitous moments like seeing my friend Tim Mcrae , a 2016 USAW Hall of Fame inductee, for the first time in years.  I am really starting to appreciate the rich and amazing network of friends I've made through the sport of weightlifting; probably why I dedicate myself to improving knowledge the sport.



________________
*For people who are not familiar with sarcasm-- Yes, I know New Zealand isn't actually MiddleEarth LOL
** If you are wondering what a macrocycle and microcycle are, I am coming out with a book on the Soviet System in the next few weeks. Its written at a level that both newcomers/beginners and experienced coaches can get something out of it.
*** James Tatum is wearing the current model of the risto sports tiburon " lifters " or  weightlifting shoes.  He joins many other well know lifters who have won championships in these shoes such as Neisi Dajomes, Carlos Andica, Maryam Usman, Rocio Navarro, Lesbia Cruz  ... plus Dmitry Klokov in exhibition post competitive career.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Are Cleans good or bad for baseball players?

Ok, I have to admit, I was randomly poking around the internet and came across some conflicting views on whether baseball players should do cleans.

I was actually surprised to see the level of controversy surrounding it.

Back in the day, when I was a college Student at Georgia Tech, I was granted the great privilege by the Athletic Director to use the athletic teams' weight room. This was when bars and bumper plates in a weight room were unheard of.  It was also because I was weightlifting even back then and was on various National Junior Teams for weightlifting.

Anyhow, I always saw the baseball players doing Olympic lifts (very early 2000's, GT's team was very good). The only lifts which the athletic coaches shied away from were snatches, because they were worried about the pitcher's hurting their elbows.  I remember seeing them doing cleans ( I think one of the athletic  coaches  of the GT baseball actually wrote a book on how he trained his athletes).

Now, many years later, having another great privilege of working alongside some of the best weightlifting coaches in the world, I think the question should be approached differently.

Athletic sports performance coaches should ask : what is the goal of doing the olympic lifts, and which lifts should my athletes do?

So, a weightlifters goal is to snatch and clean and jerk as much as possible.

A baseball players goal of lifting would be to become more powerful and explosive, and a small secondary effect of balanced use of both sides of the body.

Thus, baseball players do not need to train like olympic weightlifters.  The best exercise would be hang power cleans- yes, not even full clean and jerks.  There is a benefit to doing overhead work like the jerk, which is the most explosive part of the olympic lifts, in terms of acceleration.  They might not need to snatch.

It seemed most of the controversy was over whether the clean put too much stress on the elbow and UCL.  I have torn my UCL -- the answer is for a healthy elbow, NO.

Most lifters tear their UCL for two reasons - 1. bad technique in the snatch, 2. saving a lift that is going backward in the snatch at a near maximal weight (what I did ;).

To get the most bang for your buck in the olympic lifts is simple:
1.  Teach the baseball players relatively good technique.  If they can hit a tiny ball traveling over 70mph, I am sure they can learn how to do a decent clean.
1a. For example, The system I use, I can get someone to do a decent clean in 1 training session--especially, if they are already an athlete.
1b. Any exercise the athlete is doing requires technique. I have seen people mess-up something as simple as an incline bench. We should avoid the excuse that olympic lifts "are too hard to teach". Again, your players are highly athletic individuals, they can learn a good clean.
2. Reward consistently good technique. Technique should actually get better the more tired the athlete is - because it forces them to be more efficient. If their technique is starting to breakdown, then have them go down in weight-- you can even have them work with the bar for 30min.
3. Avoid singles and doubles, work in lower intensity zones-. If the goal is to get more explosive and not to be the best weightlifter, then doing lower intensity for sets of no less than triples is fine. There is no reason to do singles and doubles.

So, to answer the question, most elbow injuries do not happen in the clean. The clean is a very safe exercise when done with reasonably good technique. If anything, the clean will improve hypertrophy of the front delts, biceps, and forearms. The elbow is one of the few joints which can actually be better stabilized by increasing muscle mass around it. Doing cleans on a healthy elbow with good technique at reasonable intensity and reasonable repetition range/set may actually get the muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the elbow thicker, and , hence, better prepared for sport.

That's my humble opinion.


PS: And, I clean on my fully recovered UCL all the time ;).

*I think I saw the original topic, headline of this article, on a sports performance forum I randomly came across. Sorry for missing the citation. Content in this post is my own.

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Sylvia, Bulgarian Junior lifter, wearing Botev shoes

Sylvia, Bulgarian Junior lifter, wearing Botev shoes
Schoolage Champ, one of Stoichov's newer lifters. Sylvia also trains in Botev shoes. Her pair is also several years old and has lasted over 18K reps per year!

Romania - Training Center in Bucharest

Romania - Training Center in Bucharest
Me trining with Romanian lifters in Bucharest. Former USAW National Coach, Dragomir Ciroslan, had once lifted in this gym.

Wrestling World Champion (Greco) Nikolay Gergov working out in Slavia (BG), me in background

Wrestling World Champion (Greco) Nikolay Gergov working out in Slavia (BG), me in background
Nikolay Gergov is a Bulgarian Wrestling World Champion - Greco Roman 66kg category. Nikolai is already naemd to the 2008 Bulgarian Olympic Team. He is also competing at a meet at the Colorado Springs US OTC later this month (FEB 08). Anyhow, Nikolai just stops by for a workout in Slavia. He saw Ivan and I working out and asked Ivan for some technique coaching.

Gwen with Chinese coach of junior team at Chaoyang Ti Yu Chang (Beijing)

Gwen with Chinese coach of junior team at Chaoyang Ti Yu Chang (Beijing)
The coach pictured with me had won a gold medal in the snatch lifting against Karolina Lundhal (world champion) at the 1998 Worlds in Finland in 75Kg class.

Lifters in Bucharest

Lifters in Bucharest

Ivan with Coach Chiu, gongti area Beijing

Ivan with Coach Chiu, gongti area Beijing
After discussion of Chinese pull technique. Chiu is a former Junior World Champion.

Good Leather Smells good

Good Leather Smells good
Really, this was a Candid photo..."wow, this smells good", says Little Gwen

Ivan Lifting in China - 2006

Ivan Lifting in China - 2006
Chinese training center, Chao Yang Ti Yu Chang in Beijing, a JR team pictured in background

Choayang Ti Yu Chang - Ivan with chinese junior lifters

Choayang Ti Yu Chang - Ivan with chinese junior lifters

Abigail Guererro, Almerimar, Spain 2004

Abigail Guererro, Almerimar, Spain 2004
In forefront, Abigail , who has been on the Spanish National Team, with teammates in background.

Me with Blessed Udoh, in Spain (DEC 2004)

Me with Blessed Udoh, in Spain (DEC 2004)
Blessed won the silver medal in 48kg at the 2001 World Championships representing Nigeria. She also trained in Bulgaria for the 2004 Olympics. Sadly to report that she died in Nigeria, last year.

Gwen lifting at Chaoyang Ti Yu Chang - Beijing,

Gwen lifting at  Chaoyang Ti Yu Chang - Beijing,
In Beijing, Chinese Juniors in background. Great kids, good sense of humor, listened to their formal coaches

Spain- Ivan and Miguel Borrazas

Spain- Ivan and Miguel Borrazas
Our good friend Miguel has coached Spain's national team.

Training Bogota

Training Bogota

Ivan with Coach Ediberto Barbosa, fmr Col natl team

Ivan with Coach Ediberto Barbosa, fmr  Col natl team

Mock Competition in Bogota

Mock Competition in Bogota
Gwen out snatches the challenger

Rick Bucinell, breaking master world record in Risto's!

Rick Bucinell, breaking master world record in Risto's!

Ivan arm wrestling Peschalov

Ivan arm wrestling Peschalov
My husband "attempting" to arm wrestle Peschalov with his good arm. Ivan remarked "Wow, he's strong..he was really trying to arm wrestle me" ..no kidding ....ha ha ha

Belts, singlets, knee and wrist wraps. Custom styles available

Little Gwen doing workout with new lifters

Little Gwen doing workout with new lifters

Team USA with Risto donated gear at 2010 University World Championships

Team USA with Risto donated gear at 2010 University World Championships
Me lifting for Team USA. We won 15 medals, Ivan was Assistant Coach to Team USA. Risto Sports donated gear such as USA polos and t-shirts. Got to represent our country well!

Risto Sports,Order at:

http://www.ristosports.com/
info@ristosports.com

(207) 319-7607

Training, shoes, singlets, knee wraps, belts, straps
Eliot, ME

Tanya Morillas - 2004 in Spain

Tanya Morillas - 2004 in Spain
Training session at Almerimar. Subsequently, Tanya has been on Spanish national teams.

Dare Alabi , 77kg lifter (Nigeria)

Dare Alabi , 77kg lifter (Nigeria)
Nigerian lifter, Dare, lifting in Spain

warming up power cleans

warming up power cleans