“I’d lift weights, but they’re too heavy.”
This month, I had an in-depth conversation with Nick Novak, the Head Weightlifting Coach at Solace New York. For those who have never been in a true weightlifting class, aka Barbell Class, Coach Novak brings a unique perspective to lifting. His coaching style is laidback and welcoming, making it accessible to athletes of all ages and levels. But don’t let that fool you - not only will you work hard, but you’ll walk away from every class having learned something new about lifting, and about yourself.
For the MVMT Physical Therapy 4 Questions series, I wanted to pick Nick’s brilliant brain a bit. Turns out I dug up a lot more than I was expecting - so expect more than our typical 2-part blog. I’m so excited to share all of that with you!
Question 1 - Influences
Mark Lusk, MVMT Physical Therapy: How did you come to be a weightlifting coach?
Nick Novak, Solace New York: Weightlifting was a circuitous one. I did some bodybuilding in my teens and early twenties and was eventually advised to try powerlifting to put on some size and density (I was about 145 pounds at 21 years old). Eventually I got bored of just training the 3 movements and decided to try some squat variations. A coach at the gym where I was training saw that I could do a full depth bodyweight overhead squat and asked if I’d ever snatched. I hadn’t but was intrigued so I bought a book (Olympic Weightlifting for Coaches and Athletes by Greg Everett) and eventually signed up for a weekend seminar with National Champion Jon North. At that seminar Jon shared his own journey, one that involved learning disabilities, depression, drug abuse and homelessness and how he found an outlet for his emotional, physical and mental energies in the Snatch, Clean and Jerk. I was struck by the healing power of movement and about a year later I decided to spread this healing professionally. I was working in a completely unrelated field at the time and took a year or so to live leanly, setting aside as much money as possible, so that I could afford to gamble on myself and not have to make concessions for the sake of paying rent. With the support of my partner, trust from my students, and opportunity from a few amazing gyms (Solace New York and WillyB Crossfit), I was able to do just that.
Question 2 - Preventable Injuries
Nick: What are the most common preventable injuries you see?
Mark: Firstly, I think that “injury prevention” is quite a fallacy, as injuries are often either inevitable or beyond our control. That being said, I think the most preventable injuries are related to the hips and shoulders. In the gym, the shoulders do so much work with so many different movements - pushing and pulling, lifting, carrying, and overhead activities. The hip is the key between the low back and the knees. It’s important that athletes understand what mobility is required for different movements and work to address their own mobility restrictions.
Question 3 - Lifting Heavy
Mark: Outside of CrossFit, most people are only familiar with the deadlift and squat variations. For skeptical - yet potential - students, how do you overcome their fears and misconceptions with Olympic weightlifting and “lifting heavy”?
Nick: Honestly, I take the easy way out! I work with people who come to me specifically to learn these skills. Even if they are hesitant, that hesitation is overwhelmed by their desire to learn, as evidenced by the fact that they are standing in front of me. I’ve had people who doubt their own coordination or athleticism and then it’s just a matter of patience. Breaking the lifts down into manageable and familiar bites and increasing complexity. So you say: Ok, today we are going to just jump. And tomorrow we are going to jump and land in a certain way. And the next day, we are going to jump and land in a certain way with a weight in our hand. And oh, look at that, we’ve just performed a snatch. Once people get a taste - pushing through a(n appropriately) heavy squat, or heaving a barbell over your head in a single snap - they want more. It’s empowering and power is addictive. The reality is, that if the programming is good and the athlete moves well, injury rates in Olympic Weightlifting are very low. USAW likes to cite a study where weightlifting has the third lowest injury rate per participant hour in collegiate sports behind volleyball and tennis, and like 8 places above soccer. My experience is that most people aren’t able to lift enough to put them in serious injury risk for the first few years - again, as long as the programming is appropriate and they move well. But if they really do not want to do it, I’ll work on something else and build the confidence until they do. Meet people where they are, and then try to move them. But meet them first.
Question 4 - Personal Changes
Nick: What changes can we make in our own lives to get the most out of training?
Mark: Firstly - participate fully in the warm-up! If you work out on your own, do some research and create a warm-up for yourself. Secondly - get a movement assessment from a qualified professional so that you know what your own restrictions are. Look for a physical therapist, chiropractor or other medical professional who is certified in the Functional Movement Screen (FMS). This is a basic movement assessment which looks at basic movement patterns that (almost) every human should be able to perform. The FMS provides a roadmap for the athlete to address movement and stability impairments. Thirdly - get up and move! Try to not sit for long periods of time. This is what leads to muscle tightness and joint stiffness.
That's it for Part 1! Check in for the next part of our chat, when we dig into mindful movement, PT qualities, what Nick does to stay fit, and what you - the athlete - should be doing before and after class.
If you’ve got questions about an injury, simply call us at (646) 430-5717, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re here to answer your questions and help you return to your active life!
Mark M Lusk, DPT, OCS, CFMT
Nick Novak, USAW L1, Crossfit L1