Bobby Sirkis is an olympic weightlifting coach just outside of Dallas, TX. He coaches primarily youth athletes at his own subset of Spoon Barbell Weightlifting called Sirkis Freaks. Bobby has been coaching and competing in olympic weightlifting for the last ten years.
Bobby spoke with Perch about implementing velocity based training into his weightlifting setting, and why he prefers to use it to percentage based training for his younger athletes. Sirkis Freaks purchased a Perch unit in September of 2019 and has been implementing it to dictate loads with athletes ever since. Enjoy this unique perspective on VBT in an olympic weightlifting setting!
Perch: Tell us about your weightlifting journey so far?
Bobby Sirkis: My background is I’ve been in weightlifting for about 10 years as an athlete and a coach. Prior to that I was training on my own and found weightlifting through crossfit. I had played football through high school and college, and found the strength & conditioning aspect in college really fun. I got a lot of good benefits out of it, but I didn’t do too much of it when I was in high school. It wasn’t required, there wasn’t as much science and knowledge around it then as there is now. But one of the primary reasons I got into coaching was to give people a way to train and a way to compete, and help push people towards a goal that I didn’t really have when I was growing up. There was encouragement, but nothing big time, so that was why I started coaching: to encourage people to be the best they can be. And that has blossomed into a competitive aspect as well, to really push people to be the best that they can be all around.
Tell us about Sirkis Freaks?
BS: It is a sub-facility. We train in a crossfit gym as a weightlifting club called Spoon Barbell Club and it has been around a very long time, since maybe the 70s. And Sirkis Freaks is another subset of Spoon Barbell. My main focus is developing youth and younger athletes, as opposed to an adult that comes into the gym. That is where my experiences are going to really help people excel is pushing the younger generation towards whatever goals they have athletically.
The lifts we do depend. Most of my time is spent doing olympic weightlifting. My athletes are all different ages at different points in their development. Some come in and see me once a week who are much younger, maybe 9 or 10 years old. I have one athlete who just turned 19 and she coaches with me now too. She’s been training with me since she was 10 or so and has made the junior Pan Am team, junior World team as well. I have a really good mix of beginners to serious athletes that I get to program for on the weightlifting side. And then one of my brothers is a goalie for the Texas A&M club hockey team, and quite a few of his friends come to train with us over the summer. When they train they’re very strength & conditioning focused, not necessarily weightlifting focused.
I have a really good mix of beginners to serious athletes that I get to program for on the weightlifting side.
How are you creating that buy-in with this broad athlete population?
BS: That’s a good question and I honestly don’t have to generate the buy-in with the types of athletes that I have. The one athlete who is making junior world teams, that’s her buy in right there: she wants to continue to make these teams. My brother and his hockey playing friends, they want to be on the ice and perform well while they’re on the ice. I don’t necessarily have to create the buy-in, fortunately for me they’re already pre-bought in before they show up.
How has that all impacted your programming and coaching philosophy?
BS: The programming is all competition-based for most of my weightlifters. We figure out what competitions are coming up, how much time we have, and then we work backwards from there. I have a few squat programs that I’ve tweaked here and there to mold to my athletes. Most of it isn’t percentage based, for us it is based on feel, and really we’re just trying to build on what we did last week, whatever that looks like to the individual. The velocity based training is now getting incorporated because there’s not a set number or set percentage in these training scenarios. And that is definitely more for our competitive weightlifting side.
The younger kids who come in we do a lot of running and jumping, we’re focusing on coordination and basic movement patterns. There is no real “strength-training” towards that, it is very technique based. And for athletes who come in for other sports, we’ve got maybe 8 or 9 weeks in the summer to get them stronger, so it is along the same lines as the younger kids with a few modifications.
But the velocity based training system is going to help me with those kids because I’m not necessarily going to have to try and start with their 1RM and beat that at the end of the phase. I never really did that anyway, but now they can just come in and I can see how they’re moving and adjust weights based off of those speeds as well. So we are incorporating it into the overall philosophy.
The velocity based training system is going to help me with those kids because I’m not necessarily going to have to try and start with their 1RM and beat that at the end of the phase.
How did you learn about VBT to begin with?
BS: I’ve known about VBT for a number of years. I’ve read about it and it has always piqued my interest, but the tools that were or have been available just didn’t work for me. One of the reasons I went with the Perch system was because I didn’t want anything connected to the athletes and I didn’t want anything connected to the barbell itself. That is specifically because of the sport that I teach. With weightlifting I just don’t want things touching people or equipment because it could create a safety hazard. Once we start doing lifts, I can’t have a string tied to a barbell with someone doing a snatch or a clean and jerk, it’s just not safe. And I can’t have something attached to a barbell with someone doing a clean that might be in the wrong spot or whatever. There’s too many things that I just don’t like. And that’s why I went with the Perch system. It’s a camera, it’s not touching anything, you just have to make sure that you can get the barbell in the frame of view. And I can move it around pretty easily from platform to platform as well. I’m also developing a little “nest on wheels” so I can just roll it from one platform to another.
I can’t have a string tied to a barbell with someone doing a snatch or a clean and jerk, it’s just not safe. And I can’t have something attached to a barbell with someone doing a clean that might be in the wrong spot or whatever.
I’ve known about velocity based training for a couple years, I just hadn’t found a good way to implement it until this past summer. The system itself works really well, I get some good data from it too.
How pertinent is the velocity component for olympic weightlifting specifically?
BS: A lot of the training that we do is based off of feel, and another reason that I like to use the velocity based training system with the athletes is because I do coach a lot of youth athletes. I don’t want to say my main objective is to keep them from being injured, that is definitely one of the highest priorities. But we do still train hard, and I want to minimize the risk of them injuring themselves, while also pushing them to get better and lift more weights. Because they are youth lifters, their growth and strength curves are always going up. And for them, if you do things based off of “I want you to hit 80% everyday” well, your 80% today is not going to be the same next week. They’re constantly growing and getting stronger. So being able to utilize the system, and figure out weights based off of data-driven insights in that point in time is extremely important to me to make sure that I have the right amount of weight on the bar, and we’re not pushing someone too much or too little. Those are all valuable details for me when I’m coaching these younger athletes.
So being able to utilize the system, and figure out weights based off of data-driven insights in that point in time is extremely important to me to make sure that I have the right amount of weight on the bar, and we’re not pushing someone too much or too little.
What is your take on data in the weight room?
BS: At the moment, I think it depends on what exercise we’re doing. I’m not always sharing it with the athlete, most of the time it is for my own consumption to make sure that we are working in the right ranges with whatever it is we want to accomplish. On occasions I will turn on the velocity thresholds so they can see whether or not they’re in the range as well. Ultimately, I do think data in the weight room is important, it is also important for coaches to understand what they are using the data for. There are some folks who take that data and try to estimate 1RM off of it. For me, that’s not necessarily what I’m looking for. I just want to make sure that we’re working within the proper range for that given day to maximize the effort and intensity for a given workout. It is something that helps me and my eye to see whether or not someone is moving as efficiently and quickly as we want. Sometimes we’ll share that data with the athlete to say “that might be too heavy” and to have the insights to back it up, they can get their own visual around it and understand what intensity feels like.
I do think data in the weight room is important, it is also important for coaches to understand what they are using the data for.
How are you programming VBT for your weightlifters?
BS: As far as athletes taking to the technology, I’ll tell you a story about it: I have this one 13 year old weightlifter and she just made the youth Pan Am team. So I’ll show her these numbers, and she’ll be crushing the range for the day, and tell her that we can go a little heavier. And she tries to tell me the numbers are wrong, but it’s good when I share it because it shows her what she’s doing, how she’s doing it, and maybe gives her a little bit more confidence that she can do a little bit more based on those results. It also shows them that I’m not as crazy as they think I am. It’s a nice piece of objective data that helps prove me right a little bit.
It’s good when I share it because it shows her what she’s doing, how she’s doing it, and maybe gives her a little bit more confidence that she can do a little bit more based on those results.
In the program, I don’t necessarily say that we need to to x amounts of reps and be within this speed. I’ve experimented with that with the Push Press a little bit. But for the most part, I’m using it just to make sure that we’re pushing these kids and using the right numbers, not too heavy and not too light. It is something that I would like to be able to program in a little bit more directly with different lifts, and we’re getting there.
How do you think VBT can be more accessible in a wider variety of settings?
BS: You have to be able to fit it in with your purpose or mission. A lot of people program their strength & conditioning cycles based off of what you’re doing now so you can compare it to what you’re doing later. I hate doing 1 rep maxes. For our sport it doesn’t matter what your 1RMs are for a back squat or a front squat or whatever it is. So testing that isn’t really a good use of our time either. You can use VBT to get a handle on how someone is using a certain weight today, and then how they move that same weight later on. And with that information you can say you definitely got stronger. Obviously there’s an ego associated with being able to say “well I lifted X amount of pounds.” There’s so many factors that go into performance on any given day. You can do the same 1RM at the beginning and end of your cycle and think you didn’t’ get any better, when the reality is there are all of these data points that say you actually did. I want to keep my people actually training more than testing. I don’t want to waste a training day trying to figure out where I’m at, I want to use my training days and use VBT to figure out how I’m feeling and moving and make some estimates based on that.
You can use VBT to get a handle on how someone is using a certain weight today, and then how they move that same weight later on. And with that information you can say you definitely got stronger.
We train consistently, we don’t push things, we’re not always testing, we can focus on the things that we need to focus on, and dial in the technique. When the competition rolls around, we are very confident in our strength and technique. I think VBT can really be helpful for coaches in weightlifting by helping us find benchmarks so we don’t actually have to test for it in training, but we can open up meets with it and get these big numbers when it counts.
VBT can really be helpful for coaches in weightlifting by helping us find benchmarks so we don’t actually have to test for it in training, but we can open up meets with it and get these big numbers when it counts.
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