What has Clarence Kennedy been up to?
Update 22.03.2015: 205kg Clean & Jerk video added at the bottom of the interview.
That was the question I had after I saw his new uploads. For the few not knowing him I suggest you watch his youtube videos in chronological order or check out his Highlights on ATG.
- How he developed the Knee Injury
- Severe Overtraining
- His time training in Poland
- Recovering from Surgery
- His Current Training and How his Attitude towards it has evolved
+ Some never before seen footage.
Knee Injury and Overtraining
When did your knees first start to bother you? Was it before training with the Poles and then reached its peak there? Was there a specific moment? What happened the past few months?
My knees first started to bother me around June 2012. (Video from that time).
During that point the injury was minor and it could have been dealt with by just resting and deloading. It wasn’t sudden but gradual. It was clearly an overuse injury caused by too much training.
I was training 6 times per week during that time and I actually made a lot of PRs so I continued to train heavy and that’s when I made a big mistake.
Due to this my patella tendons got more and more damaged to the point where I developed chronic patella tendinitis in both knees.
September 2012 I got a cortisone injection in one of my knees and it didn’t help at all. I was an idiot and still trained heavy, because I thought I only need to train hard till December, get a medal at the Europeans and get funding from the Irish sports council, then I can rest.
So I continued to train heavy and upped the frequency and volume of my training.
I was so overtrained that I had insomnia for almost 2 months straight
Of course, as you know during the Europeans I failed to total. I got angry at this since without a total it wasn’t possible to obtain a grant from the sports council. It’s like a false start in a 100m race.
So out of my anger I continued to train heavy which was obviously extremely stupid but I was young and inexperienced in the world of weightlifting and didn’t understand the consequences.
I remember a few days after the comp I squatted 240kg 3×3, followed by 5×2. and during that time I was so overtrained that I had insomnia for almost 2 months straight.
Feb-March 2013 I still managed to train hard without any kind of rest period, of course, my knees got worse so I started using pain killers during most of my heavy sessions along with lots of caffeine.
At this point, I was really pushing it I found it impossible to train without knee sleeves, painkillers and taking long warm ups. I was like an old man inside the gym.
This is when my training was at my absolute hardest, it consisted of very high volume Olympic lifts and fewer power variations than before.
Example of a Training Week during that Time
Below is a video of one of my hardest training sessions: Friday 1st of March.
- Front Squat: 200kg 6 sets of 3
- Snatch: 140kg 6 sets of 2
- Snatch Pulls: 150kg 6 sets of 3
- Clean and Jerk: 180kg 6 sets of 2
- Clean Pulls: 190kg 6 sets of 3
- Back Squat: 231kg 6 sets of 3 (1 set with 210)
May 2013 I finally decided to take a rest. I took a deload lifting at 50% 3 times per week for one month. However, this didn’t benefit my knees at all.
June 2013 I came back to training too fast without gradually increasing the weight, I wasn’t conditioned to lift heavy weights so as a result I injured my upper back, I didn’t anticipate this but it wasn’t that serious.
Training in Poland
August 2013 – September I was invited to Opole club to train. The programming by Szewczyk (who was a good friend of Abadjiev) was drastically different from my programming while I was training in Ireland.
It had a higher frequency and higher intensity.
The Training Plan (Click photo to see larger version)
It was by no means harder, but it was different. For example I usually trained Back Squats much more often than I trained Front Squats.
The theory was that I had weak quad strength relative to my posterior chain strength so needed to increase the amount of Front Squats and stop doing Back Squats like a mad man.
While a good theory I got a lot weaker and it felt like I had a knife stabbing into knees every time I performed a lift.
BTW how did you get the connection to lift in Poland?
Kevin D’Arcy an Irish weightlifter went to Poland before the 2008 Olympics and made friends with a lifter named Pawel Nadjek. April 2012 I asked Kevin if I could get in contact with Pawel, so he sent Pawel my youtube videos.
He was impressed with my lifts but not my technique so he gave me advice and that’s how it all started.
Here is a video of Clarence training in Poland.
The increase in frequency really damaged my tendons I knew at that point I definitely needed surgical intervention instead of trying to solve the problem with physio.
September – October: I competed in the 2013 European Junior Championships.
When I was over there I just wanted to go home, play video games, get surgery and then slowly go back to training. But while I was over there I decided to try my best.
My knees were in so much pain at this time that I needed an anesthetic injection into both knees before the competition. This was a bad idea at the time as it gave me a false sense of well being and further damaged my knees.
I could barely walk after the competition. Afterward, I flew back to Ireland to rest and get surgery.
You mentioned 10 Front Squat sessions per week. Can you go into some detail about the training Poland? Like how heavy did they want you to go on the Front Squats? Other things you didn’t like there? Or maybe there were things you did like?
Front Squats were actually light and every set composed of singles. In the morning, I front squatted around 150kg for the first couple of weeks and this didn’t increase that much during the time I spent there. In the evenings, I went heavier up to around 170-180 Fridays I went to the max (all this can be seen in the terrible jpeg image above).
The coaches wanted me to improve my form instead of increasing weight as I mentioned above they wanted me to increase the strength of quads.
The program had no assistance exercises written down, but we all did some after training, but it wasn’t encouraged. For example, I did weighted sit ups and some upper body exercises.
In my opinion, this program isn’t suited for youth or junior weightlifters. Youth and Junior weightlifters need to do more volume because with an increase in reps there is always a decrease in weight which is safer on the joints.
This program is only designed for top level lifters that have had years of experience with weightlifting technique. It’s a great program but there’s also a risk you’ll end up in the emergency room.
I didn’t like the increased frequency and I think it was the main thing that contributed to more knee pain, my knees were always being subjected to harsh training without rest.
When I was training in Ireland I had more rest between sessions even though they lasted longer and were harder. When you increase the frequency you get more practice with the technique that was the advantage but it affected me negatively.
I suppose that was also one of the things I did like since I was training so often my technique felt like second nature, but at the same time my injured knees prevented me from preforming the lifts correctly.
Surgery and Rehab
What treatments did you try before you finally got surgery?
It was recommended by the doctor that I avoid surgery until I try other treatments. Cortisone injections were not recommended. I tried platelet rich plasma injections into both knees this is where they take a sample of your blood, spin it in a centrifuge and inject the platelets into your knee.
Cool! But it didn’t work at all, after this I tried shock wave therapy which felt like someone repeatably smacking my knee with a hammer at high speeds. It was useless for me although there are people that benefit from these treatments.
After these treatments we decided I needed surgery. He gave me an option for a more invasive operation, but didn’t recommend it as he explained it messes with the structure of the tendon which weakens it.
Of course, I choose what he first recommended which was a patella debridement, this is minor surgery and the recovery time is usually 6 weeks.
Here is a video of what that looks like.
Did all go to plan? Are you 100% back to normal?
The surgery did help, but I wouldn’t say my knees are 100% there is still pain, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it was.
How long were you out?
The surgery was performed one knee at the time in case it didn’t work (surgery is always avoided as much as possible) so I was out for quite a while and also there was a long waiting time between surgeries but I was fine with that because I needed a break from training.
I started training properly around June 2014.
How was the rehab procedure? When after surgery did you walk again?
The doctors recommended I apply stress to the tendon as soon as I could. Like I said the surgery was just minor, it was only keyhole surgery so I walked a few hours after surgery.
They also recommended I start light training as soon as possible so I squatted 70kg a week after. But by far the best exercise that helped my knee was eccentric Decline Single Leg Squats (on a slant board).
Do you have any nagging injuries at the moment?
Yes, always. I have slight pain in my right elbow, slight pain in my left shoulder and of course a slight pain in my knees. It’s almost impossible to be a great athlete without having some kind of injury.
One of the important things you learn in this sport is how to differentiate between a serious and non-serious injury, when you should rest and when you don’t to rest. I always try to find the source of the problem which can be anything from bad form to muscle/strength imbalances.
How does your training look now?
These days I’m only training 6 times per week and I’m training less hard than I was back in Feb-April 2013. Below is an example of my current training program although this varies quite a lot from week to week. I plan to start doing more heavy singles with Olympic lifts soon.
A typical training these days consists of 3 strength exercises (high volume) and 1 Olympic style lift usually singles. So for example yesterday looked like this (in this order):
- Paused Back Squat: 210 1×5, 3×4,
- Bench Press: 140 6×3
- Hang Snatch: 120 3×1
- Clean Pulls: 180 6×3
- Weighted Sit ups: 10kg 2×15
- Skull Crushers: 60kg 2×8
- Glute Ham Raise: 2×8
When I want to peak for competitions, or focus on Olympic lifts I usually do Snatch and Clean and Jerk in the same session, drop almost all assistance exercises, Bench Press and Pulls.
I also increase the frequency to get more practice with technique, however I don’t like doing this too often because I’m at a greater risk of injury. So a session 1-1.5 months before a competition would look like:
- Snatch: 8×1 or to the max
- Clean and Jerk: 5×1 or to the max
- Front Squat: 8×2 or 10×1
And a few assistance exercises
Usually I don’t even write programs and just auto regulate, I found this is better during some periods of training but not for other periods such as before a competition.
biggest thing that has changed is my attitude towards trainingIn the past I hated Front Squats (maybe I still do!).
So if I trained without a program I would just end up doing Back Squats. At least when I write a program I always try to finish it no matter what.
But the biggest thing that has changed, is my attitude towards training. Before I thought I could become the best weightlifter in the world by training the hardest
When I was told to do 6 sets I would do 10. Of course, I got diminished returns from this type of training and went backwards instead of forwards.
Right now I only care about the end results instead of focusing on training more than everyone. I’m trying to train as optimal as possible and lift the heaviest weights I’m capable of with the least amount of effort. Obviously training is always going to be hard there is no way around that.
I’m more interested in getting as strong as I possibly can because that’s all that matters in this sport.
I have always believed the lifter with the highest Sinclair coefficient is the best. I don’t really care about placings in competitions. I’m more interested in getting as strong as I possibly can because that’s all that matters in this sport.
Did you change anything in your training that was the result of the knee injury? Like avoid certain things? Different Technique?
Yes. A misunderstanding around the internet is that I developed tendinitis from ‘dive bombing’ my Back Squats. These kids need to learn what a stretch reflex is. Back Squats actually put the least amount of strain on my knees and helped a lot with rehab.
I injured my knees from training too hard, too often and without any deloads.
Because my knees still hurt slightly I have to avoid doing power variations and Jerks as its at this angle of the squat that hurts the most. I completely dropped doing Power Cleans.
The dip of the Jerk is the most painful movement for my knees and this is why in some of my max Jerk attempts I would just descend in the dip and give up!
See an example of that with a 202.5 Clean & Jerk attempt.
These days it’s possible to perform Jerks with only small bit of pain, but because of the risk of injury I only do the bare minimum to maintain technique.
How often do you Front and Back Squat per week?
I squat every day. I would even do light Squats on off days. I think most people shouldn’t squat every day you have to be conditioned and it only makes a small percent difference anyway compared to squatting 3 times per week.
The only reason I don’t squat 3-5 days per week is because the technique feels foreign to me when I take a day off.
Front Squat to Back Squat Frequency Ratio?
It varies. Pre competition or when I want to focus on getting PRs in the Olympic lifts I would almost completely drop Back Squats and only do it to maintain strength. If I wanted to increase my strength I would do the opposite – almost completely drop Front Squats. Sometimes its 50:50.
230kg Front Squat at 95kg
I guess people will be very interested in your squatting in general. How heavy do you usually go? Pause vs non-paused?
I go heavy in the Squat 5 times per week and alternate between pause Squats and regular Squats when I feel like it. There’s nothing complicated about what I do. I like the pause squats because there’s less weight, therefore there’s less strain on my body.
The set and rep ranges I like to do: 6×3, 10×3, 10×2, 5×5, 8×1
Here is Clarence with 5×5 Paused Back Squats at 240kg
What about other training details, like what variations do you like most/ least (block/deficit, stuff like that)? What about Presses, Back Extensions, smaller stuff like that?
I always keep training simple and stick to the basics.
The only compound movements I do are: Snatch, Clean and jerk, Back Squat, Front Squat, Deadlift, Clean Pulls, Snatch Pulls (deficit), Hang Snatch, Pause Back Squat and Bench press.
Update 02.06.2015: Here is Clarence with a 185kg Bench Press.
I don’t bother doing block work, but that doesn’t mean I think they’re useless. I just think there’s no point in over complicating training.
For injury prevention I do: Weighted Sit Ups, Rear Delt Flyes, Back Extensions, Glute Ham Raises, Skull Crushers, Shoulder Raises, Bicep Curls and maybe a few more, but I usually stick to these 6. I always use progressive overload even in these small movements.
Talk a bit about some of the post surgery training?
During my time off I still trained just to maintain muscle mass, practice technique and maintain the strength of my joints and tendons.
Surprisingly I still managed to maintain most of my muscle mass and technique. My strength dropped very quickly, but I also gained back my strength very quickly once I started lifting heavy.
For example, I trained only 2-3 times per week with each session lasting around 40 minutes. During a typical session I would do Front Squats or Back Squats at 50% 3×2, Snatch or Clean and Jerk at 50% 3×1 and a few assistance exercises.
After 7-8 months of rest, I slowly increased the volume and intensity, starting training at 4 days per week and eventually lifting 6-7 days a week.
I didn’t do a lot of Olympic lifts, instead I focused on strength because that’s what I lacked. I hit 140/180 and 210 in the Front Squat very quickly but after that progress slowed down quite a bit so I had to up the intensity.
Okay and what are you aiming for in the next 2, 6 and 12 months?
I don’t really have any goals and I don’t really focus on the future. To be honest I’m more concerned about my next training session.
Many people want to see me compete more often (I only competed around 8 or 9 times) and go to the Olympics, but honestly I never really cared too much about competing.
I enjoy training most of allI enjoy training most of all and it’s the number one reason I continue to train.
Of course, I will compete eventually to prove I can lift big weights in a competition environment, but right now I’m focusing on getting as strong as possible.
Update 09.03.2015: Clarence Power Snatches 150kg.
Update 15.03.2015: 210kg Clean for 3 Singles.
Update 18.03.2015: Clarence Snatches 170kg.
Update 22.03.2015: 205kg Clean & Jerk
Update 26.03.2015: 210kg Clean & Jerk Miss
Update 02.04.2015: 175kg Snatch + 210 C&J!
Update 11.04.2015: 220kg Clean!
Update 03.05.2015: 250kg Front Squat
Update 06.09.2015: 215kg Clean & Jerk
Thank you for taking the time to do this. Any final words?
I just like to give a shout out to Jean from First Pull for giving me advice on technique.
This website needs more views than my 20 second long videos!
Clarence Kennedy Interview 2015 is a post by Gregor Winter from All Things Gym.