A Different Look at Efficiency in Weightlifting

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A Different Look at Efficiency in Weightlifting

The common belief in the world of weightlifting is that athletes should strive to be efficient lifter. Here are some common ratios indicating efficiency:

• Clean & Jerk should be 80% of one’s Back Squat
• Clean & Jerk should be 90% of one’s Front Squat
• Snatch should be 80% of Clean & Jerk

Most would agree that a lifter should strive to reach these percentages. Most would tell you including me that if your clean & jerk is less than 80% of one’s back squat, then the athlete should focus on technique in the clean & jerk. If an athlete clean & jerks more than 80% of their back squat, then they should focus on squats and general strength.

It’s that simple. Or is it? One of my athletes Nathan Damron made a profound statement the other day while training at the Olympic Training Center for the Junior Pan American Championships. First, let me give you a quick background on Nathan. His is 19-years-old, back squats 280k/617lb, clean & jerks 191k/420lb, and snatches 150k/330lb.


That means that he clean & jerks 67% of his back squat, which most would say is terrible. His snatch is about 78% of his clean & jerk, which is acceptable. Here’s the thing. Nathan is one of the top lifters in the country, and he is only 19-years-old. He is close to breaking several Junior American Records, and I would venture that he will knock them down before the end of the year.

My point is that he is winning almost every meet that he enters, and his snatch and clean & jerk are soaring. Last year at Junior Nationals, Nathan snatched 130k and clean & jerked 155k. This year, he snatched 150k and clean & jerked 175k. That’s a 40k/88lb improvement on his total in one year, so it’s hard to say that he’s not improving at a rapid rate.

Nathan said that he believes that his inefficiency allows him to train harder and longer. At first the statement sounded ridiculous, and then I thought about it. Maybe he’s on to something. Now the things that I am going to say from here on are just speculation, but Nathan’s numbers and training speak for themselves.

Nathan trains harder, heavier, and longer than anyone that I have ever seen. Remember, I have coached some amazing athletes, so that is a bold statement. However, I want you to think about this. When Nathan Clean & Jerks 180k (11 kilos below his PR) for five singles, he is only Clean & Jerking 64% of his back squat. When his teammate Tom Summa Clean & Jerks 171k for five singles, he is clean & jerking 80% of his best back squat.


Both workouts are relatively the same except one big difference. Nathan is using a small percentage of his absolute strength, and Tom is using a very high percentage of his absolute strength. Nathan’s central nervous system isn’t going to be as affected as Tom’s. This is just a theory, but I witness the workouts every single week. Every week, Nathan is able to pound his body longer and harder than my other freak athletes. For the record, both Tom and Nathan have been training for about eight years, so their time under the bar is the same.


Absolute strength is the maximum amount of weight that one can lift in one repetition. Absolute strength is better tested with squats, pulls, and presses because technique isn’t as much of a consideration. This is the measurement of the body’s true capabilities. Nathan’s general strength is so high that an efficient lift would be close to the world record. That’s where I suggest that he stays.

General Strength (movement like squatting, pulling, and pushing) is easier to increase than the Olympic lifts, and they don’t take a lot of time and effort to increase when compared to the Olympic style lifts. That’s why that I suggest they remain a constant priority in all programs regardless of efficiency.

Time will tell if my theory is correct. However, Nathan’s progress and work capacity makes for a pretty good hypothesis. I have to give Nathan full credit for this observation, but I definitely want to follow this up with some research. I will have to employ the services of my friend Dr. Alex Koch, Professor of Exercise Science at Lenoir-Rhyne University, to set up the standards for the research. You can check him out on today’s “The Barbell Life” Podcast. The link is below:

Professor Alex Koch on The Barbell Life

One thing is for sure, and that is absolute strength will never hinder an athlete. Personally I want all of my athletes to be known as the strongest weightlifters on the planet, so I can assure you that all of them will be squatting, pushing, and pulling. I recommend that all of you do the same.

Don’t forget about the Mash Elite Weightlifting Team Camp:

We are hosting a three-day camp July 8-10 at the Mash Compound. It’s going to look like this:

• Day 1 Max Out Friday with the team and social afterwards
• Day 2 Clinic with Coach McCauley, Coach Wilkes, me and the team
• Day 3 Clinic about meet day prep and strategy, and then a sanctioned meet

We’ve decided to limit the camp to only 20 people, so don’t wait if you’re interested. Here’s the link to find out more:

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