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I’m not sure that I can cry anymore…

Auto Date Monday, May 19th, 2008


This past weekend the Ferguson family drove up to Atlanta, Georgia to support and coach Cara Heads. Of course, I was doing the coaching and Traci and Rufus were doing the supporting :-) I have been coaching Cara now for a couple of years and like my other clients I have not only a coach/athlete relationship with them but a heartfelt investment in not only their sport and their career, but also with their life.

Just to give you all some background about Cara, she was a 2000 Olympian and competed at the Olympic Games in Sydney, where she finished 7th in the World. When I met Cara, she mentored me as an Olympian at the Olympic Training Center.

Many people ask me questions like:
What are the key ingredients to becoming an Olympian?… or
If you could give me one piece of advice on how to make the Olympic Team?

And many questions of the like.

Well, Cara Heads was THE PERSON who I used to direct those type of question towards. She was literally my Olympian mentor and it felt so weird years later to operate in the capacity of a coach but she called upon me in 2006 to work with her on her program design, her lifts, her supplementation, injury management and mental preparation. It has been fun, enlightening and a huge learning experience that I wouldn’t trade in for the world.

All of Cara’s hard work and training was illustrated on the 17th of May in Atlanta at the Olympic Trials. The woman, who used to mentor me, who I now coach and teach, taught me ANOTHER huge lesson on Saturday.

At the end of the Olympic Trials Cara didn’t make the Olympic Team, but was named as an alternate. But she brought some excitement to the building and earned another level of respect from me from her Herculean performance. You got to read this story…

Cara Heads,
A True Olympian

Days before the Trials Cara Heads and I had a conversation about this past weekend and I told her that there would be a point, a defining moment that would forever etch her into the minds of the American Weightlifting community as one of the best lifters ever. I told her that she would be called upon to do something huge, something grandiose, and something spectacular.

Well, what many people didn’t know is that just 28 days ago Cara Heads had a debilitating elbow injury that she thought was going to eliminate her from the Olympic Trials. She missed almost a solid week of training and had not lifted any weight that was within 80% percent of her max for weeks. She didn’t really have a chance to peak and could only work around her injury.

She asked me, “Ferg, what should I do?” I provided her with a rehab protocol that I used when I tore my quadriceps muscle off the bone and told her that there are no “guarantees” but I think that you can make it back in time, if and only if, you don’t “test” the injury. You have to let the injury heal as much as possible and allow you years of physically and mentally archived weightlifting experience to carry you through.

I also mentioned to her that athletes can’t be “great” if they care about their bodies in competition. When in competition you have to have reckless abandon, throw caution to the wind, lay your ears back and just GO!! If you are worried about getting hurt, then you are not concentrating on making the lift.

Well, needless to say, when the day of the Olympic Trials rolled around, I was backstage with Cara while she was warming up. I watched her warm up with weight that she hadn’t done in weeks and I watched her lift without the slightest favoring of her elbow. She was in a zone and I knew today would be a great day.

Cara was called to the platform and she completed a Snatch of 92 kilograms and then another one of 95 kilograms. She then attempted 97 kilograms and missed it!!
I was so shocked because she looked so strong, but she was a little bit off technically and missed the lift.


After Cara missed the 97 kilogram snatch, it really put her in a tough situation. I ask her coach; Kyle, “What do we need to start out with in the Clean and Jerk?” Kyle said, “At least 121 or 122. Cara said, “Let’s do 122. 122 it is. If that’s what we got to do, then that’s what we got to do!”

Now, just so that you know…..Cara hasn’t lifted anything over 115 in the past year!!! She has been fighting off injuries and just as she was getting over the hump, she hurt her elbow.

So Cara was in the back beginning her warm up and I knew I had to talk to her so that she wouldn’t let a possible “missed” lift in the back in the warm up room mentally break her. So I told Cara, “Just use these lifts as a warm up. Whether you make or miss these lifts back here doesn’t mean anything. These are just warm-ups for the 122, that’s all. We are just getting warm.”

After the competition, Cara told me that that was a “good call”. The reason being was because she was warming up with weight that she hasn’t done in a year and on her last warm-up lift, which was 118 kilograms, she made the clean and then missed the jerk and then she had to go onto the platform in front of hundreds of people and flashing lights and do 122.

To say that I was excited and nervous is an understatement. I called my wife, who was in the stands during the day and I told her, “I don’t need this sh–!” After the Pan

American Championships last weekend with Taraje as he was trying to qualify his weight class for the Olympics and helping out Anthony Turner, I can’t take anymore of this emotional roller coaster stuff. I almost think that this is worse than competing. It is hard to see your athletes compete with everything on the line. You get excited, nervous, scared and fired up – all at the same time.


The look that Cara had on her face was unbelievable. As she walked out to the platform, I told myself, “She’s ready!”

Cara approached the bar and grabbed it like she was revving up a motorcycle. She put herself in place and then she pulled the weight off the floor and she cleaned it.

The crowd gasped as we all waited for her to jerk the 122 kilos and complete the lift. But instead her knees buckled, she dropped the weight and hit the floor. She blacked out for a moment.

For those that know the sport of Olympic Weightlifting, sometimes the bar sits across your neck and can literally choke you out.

This is what happened to Cara and I was literally worried. I thought to myself, “Damn….she missed 118 in the back and now 122 just kicked her butt!” That’s when I knew I had to spring into action. When she was preparing to do the 122 again, I said, “Cara, look at me! “ I could see everything at this moment. It’s like it was happening in slomo.

I could see my reflection in her eyes, the sweat that was trapped in her brow, the chalk she had on her hands, the way her breathing slowed down, and her concentration level increasing. I knew that it was important at this time to feed her with the right extrinsic message. So I just told her what we talked about. I said, “This is the defining moment we talked about. Just go out there and do what you were born to do. This situation was tailor made for you!” She nodded her head in agreement.


Cara went back out there on the platform and stared at an amount of weight that she had NEVER done as a 69 kilogram weight lifter. This lift would be a personal record for her in the clean and jerk and in her total as a 69 kilogram lifter. She knew what was on the line. She had to make this lift to keep her in contention for an Olympic Trials spot. Cara gripped the bar.

The crowd went silent. And she pulled the weight off the floor – the same weight that had just knocked her on her keister earlier. She pulled and jumped underneath the weight with absolutely no fear, no hesitation, no worry and she jerked the weight and then stood up and completed the lift. The CROWD WENT WILD!! It was one of the gutsiest displays of the competition and was absolutely bananas!

Next up she had to break an American Record and do 126.5 kilograms, if she wanted to have the BEST chance at earning a spot on the team.

Cara ended up missing the next lift, but she left the auditorium that day as a hero. She had lifted weight that she hadn’t lifter ever as a 69 kilogram lifter, she showed fortitude and she showed why she is an Olympian.

After Cara’s competition, I gave her a big hug and told her how proud of her I was and then I went into the bathroom stall and cried. I got myself together and joined my wife and son in the stands and watched the rest of the competition and then later on when I got on the plane to come home I cried again after getting off the phone with Cara. She said the classic line that all of us say.

She said, “You know Ferg, when I got here, to this place, I wanted to be able to ask myself the question, ‘Did I do everything I could have done?’ and feel comfortable with my answer. I’m not sure that I am. Right now I know I did everything that I could have on Saturday, but I’m not really sure.” I certainly know what that line of self-reflective question is. That is the part of this process that actually goes Beyond The Rings.

I know how difficult it is to train for the Olympics and this was Cara’s second time being the alternate. For those of you reading this, I want to let you know that training to become an Olympian is probably one of the toughest things that an athlete can do. The Olympics only comes around every four years. That means that you have to actually focus on something that is literally 4 years away.

It takes a lot of direction and focus and mental toughness to stay on task for 4 years and coming off of an injury with less than 4 weeks until the trials was tough in and of itself.

All I can say to Cara is, “Thank you. Cara, it was an honor to coach you and it’s even more of an honor to call you a friend. You have helped me as an athlete, a coach and a friend. I just hope you don’t retire just yet! J Much love and respect!”


Just to let you all know. I’m already back home and I picked up another client from the airport as soon as I got back and I had a 6:00 am training session this morning. And of course, before my training session, I worked out. I jumped on The Total Body Workout this morning and made it happen at 4:00am. I had to crank out a couple of my favorite protocols.

Take care and I’ll keep you posted on the Olympic Trials preparation of Taraje Williams-Murray and Brian Picklo.


Rhadi Ferguson (a.k.a. “The Strength and Conditioning King”)

Getting Big: Is it Hypertrophy or Hyperplasia?

Auto Date Sunday, April 1st, 2007

Getting Big: Is it Hypertrophy or Hyperplasia?

Everybody wants to know – how do hard-core strength trainers get so big?

And answering that question leads you right in the middle of a huge debate.

The hypertrophy vs. hyperplasia debate is rearing its ugly head again. But, that’s no big surprise. It happens more frequently than you might imagine. Indeed, it’s a long-standing argument that pops up in the fitness community on a pretty regular basis.

However, thanks to a host of both technical and ethical restrictions involved with studying human muscle fibers, it looks like the jury could be out for quite a while. As it sits today, medical researchers have to make do by trying to mimic human weight training regiments in animals.

And while these studies have done a lot to fuel the debate, no solid answers have been found regarding human skeletal muscle hyperplasia. But here’s what we do know…

To date, all of the authoritative texts dealing with exercise and muscle physiology agree that the gain in muscle mass associated with overload resistance training is due primarily to hypertrophy, the increase in the size of existing muscle cells.

While the debate is still raging as to whether hyperplasia (the compensating growth of new muscle fibers, instead of just “beefing up’ the existing ones) occurs in skeletal muscles, it’s a prove fact that hyperplasia DOES occur in one muscle – the heart. Researchers who have studies this phenomenon have concluded that the heart can hypertrophy only to a certain point, known as critical mass. When critical mass is reached, any additional increase in size is a result of hyperplasia.

Animal Testing & Hyperplasia
A veritable zoo of animals has been used as test subjects in the hyperplasia vs. hypertrophy debate. But perhaps the three most important were cats, rats and birds.

In all of these tests (performed by Tamaki and, separately, Antonio and Gonyea) the test subjects were put through strength and resistance exercises designed to closely mirror human exercise.

The results?

In all three of the tests, the test subjects showed marked signs of hyperplasia. These finding have further fueled the support of the theory of human hyperplasia. The few human subjects (all athletes like swimmers, etc.) who’ve ever been tested and found to have evidence of hyperplasia could not prove that it was a typical occurrence; however, these tests do show that hyperplasia has occurred in people, and in their skeletal muscles – the results simply aren’t definitive enough to be accepted as “fact.”

In fact, even though there is no solid proof that hyperplasia does take place in the human skeletal muscles, in a 2001 medical article by Dr. Bruce W. Craig, a NSCA poll found that 56.3% of the members who responded felt that hyperplasia does occur in human skeletal muscles.

The Theory…
But (theoretically of course) how does it happen?

According to Antonia and Gonyea, here’s what happens…

Excessive tension damages muscle fibers. But the muscle cells can regenerate by activating satellite cells (responsible for muscle growth and regeneration) which yield new myoblasts, the precursors of muscle.

They believe that the repeated injury and regeneration that serious strength trainers experience MAY result in a protein synthesis overcompensation hat leads to the creation of new, independent fibers.

Unfortunately, until new windows of opportunity open for human exercise studies, we’ll never really know for sure.

But, on a positive note, it provides you and your athletes with yet another reason to train harder and longer!
Take care and thanks for reading.

Your Humble Servant,

Rhadi Ferguson (aka “The Strength and Conditioning King”)