The Importance Of Filming Your Lifts

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The substantive purpose of this article is to demonstrate the inherent qualitative significance involved in filming one’s max effort lifts. Apart from the apparent immediate feedback such footage can provide, both the long-term and behavioral effects elicited from this footage is invaluable for the athlete. Simply put, filming your lifts is not simply for “likes” on social media.

The Anti-That

You walk into the gym: motivated to continue slaving down that strenuous winding road otherwise termed the training cycle. You’re self-described as part of the old-school weightlifting crowd: you don’t do this for the social gratification; not for the likes; not even to say that you’re better than another. No, you do this for you – to spit in the face of genetic limitations and make yourself better than yesterday: to scoff at the pitiful PRs of the past. Today’s conquest: to vanquish last month’s three-rep-max on the beast of all exercises: mother-f***ing back-squats.

Then that asshole walks in the door: you all know who I’m talking about. Superciliously colorful clothing, the snap-back cap precisely cocked to the closest degree of perfection, and wireless headphones so-oversized that it’s amazing they didn’t get stuck in the doorway: it’s that person who’s plastered all over social media. What are they doing today?: just like every other day, their busy determining the best angle for their selfie. Guess what? While you were busy grabbing the couple 20kg plates necessary for your warm-up sets, they were busy taking your squat rack.

Begrudgingly, you wait on a spare bench while this embodiment of conceit snaps and films a couple shots of their glutes engaged during a few beggarly front-rack lunges: f*** that guy right? As you desperately look to the skies for advice, you finally tell yourself: “I’ll never become that”. So in your mind, you’ve become the anti-that: and in a final defense, you’ve refused to ever film yourself during a lift in an attempt to ensure never becoming that. Thus, despite all the best intentions, you’ve successfully managed to throw away one of the greatest mechanisms for feedback a weightlifter can possess: you’ve let everything you hate prevent you from succeeding in what you love.

Filming for Likes?

Let’s make one simple demarcation clear: there is a substantial difference between filming for “likes” and filming for feedback. The former involves fancy angles, colorful filters, and titillating shots of glute gyrations to the backdrop of a beat I’ll never quite understand: while the latter involves harsh lighting and angles that invoke statements like “what the heck was I doing with my bar-path”. One involves potentiating mindless followers while the other potentiates athletic progress.

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Immediate Returns

When filming for feedback, we are not attempting to maximize our “coolness” or likability but instead to provide ourselves with a consistent glimpse of our performance from which we can eventually shape and alter. When I sit down after each training session I am able to effectively dissect my performance based on my training footage for the day: I can pinpoint exactly which points of performance led to my success while determining in which areas I can make any potential improvements.

Filming for feedback inherently involves consistently filming oneself to determine the impact of changes in form, programming, or even variations in set-up prior to the lift. Any changes made during the training session, either intentional or unintentional, can immediately be both reviewed and judged upon looking at the tape: “did this new set-up translate into a better initial pull?”. As weightlifters, the presence of adrenaline prior to a max effort lift can hamper our consciousness: simply put, we may not realize the errors we are making until we see them for ourselves.

Take, for instance, a fairly unsuccessful squat session I performed not too long ago: everything felt 50 kilos heavier and I just couldn’t seem to get comfortable rising from the bottom of my back squat. I sat down later that night, desperate to determine the proximal cause of my dilemma, and opened two different videos: one was footage of my poor squat session from earlier that day while the other was footage from a previous squat session where everything just felt “good”. Frame by frame, I played these videos side-by-side looking for discrepancies until I found the cause of my dismay: I was slightly collapsing at the bottom of my squat. The next training session involving squats I simply made it a mental cue to become cognizant of my squat depth: the problem was diminished.

Had I not been able breakdown the video footage of my squats from that session it’s very possible that it would have taken weeks to solve that particular issue: the collapse of my upper torso was so slight that it would have taken trained eyes a few sessions to pick it up – in full speed it was practically unnoticeable. Given the availability of technology capable of both capturing and storing large quantities of video data, every weightlifter is incentivized to utilize it.

Long-Term Returns

I’m willing to bet that most “old-school weightlifters” would have greatly benefited from the ability to possess what-is-essentially a potential video training diary. With the expansion of social media outlets, anyone with a functioning smart-phone can reap the benefits. While it pains me to admit it, the first five years of my weightlifting career involved myself trying to remember the weight loads I hit 3 weeks prior: now, I simply hop onto my Instagram from a friend’s phone (mine is usually out of power) and I can see precisely my lifts from the last year.

And while your new-aged training diary can be completely anonymous and hash-tag free, I challenge each would-be weightlifter to become motivated to stand behind their performance. Whenever I perform a lift I get the added pressure of knowing that each posted video will be dissected over the course of thousands of views by individuals I’ve never met before. Whether it be to perform better under pressure in the long-term or simply to gain the added adrenaline in the short-term, it should be considered beneficial regardless.

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Filming for Feedback

So how do we film ourselves without becoming that person? Filming for feedback is not solely for the purpose of proving your numbers: I’ve seen plenty of videos taken where I thought to myself “I have no idea what just happened”. If you’re going to actually gain any substantial response from these videos, there’s couple things you can do to ensure that the footage is actually useful:

  1. Film from a 45 Degree Angle: If you don’t have access to a multi-angle lifting platform at your local gym, the most effective camera angle would be 45 degrees: if your training partner isn’t very good with math, tell them to stand directly in front of you and take three steps to their left. From this vantage point, we can capture all axes of the body and we can fairly easily determine the angle of the hips, ankles, and knees.
  2. Film the Entire Body: Ever seen the videos where the only thing that’s visible is the bar and some blob that’s lifting it? The 45 degree angle rule is only useful if the hips, ankles, and knees are actually visible in the video.
  3. Film the Set-Up: Start filming about 15 seconds prior to the lift: I guarantee you’ll get a good little chuckle if you’ve never seen yourself during the set-up. More importantly, you’ll start to see some of the inefficiencies in your set-up. It wasn’t until I started filming my lifts that I realized that I was essentially walking a mile as I unracked and set-up for my back-squats.
  4. Have the Camera(Wo)man Stand Facing of You: I see this one more-so in olympic weightlifters but it’s really applicable everyone: learn to be comfortable having someone watching you during a lift. If you’re ever going to compete in any athletic event whatsoever I’ve got some unsettling news for you: the crowd isn’t going to turn around, close their eyes, and shut-up just so you can perform your lift.

Final Note

Don’t lose one of the most valuable forms of feedback simply to avoid being that person in the weight-room: don’t let pride prevent you from achieving success in the activity you love. The camera, just like any form of technology, is no more than a tool: it is what you do with it that matters most.