Raise your hand if you are a weightlifter, a coach, or a parent. This article is definitely for you.
Do you find it a bit overwhelming to navigate through all the great information on the USA Weightlifting website? The website is most certainly user friendly – but if you are somewhat new to the sport, it can be difficult to know what exactly you are even looking for.
Even if you are veteran in the sport, there have been a lot of changes made over the last year you might not be fully aware of. My goal for this article is to break down some of the most important parts of the website and what you should know. I realize that all of this information is already out there for you and is nothing new, but I want to provide you with some guidance through this article.
First and foremost, regardless of whether you are an athlete or coach, you must have a membership with USA Weightlifting in order to compete or take a coaching course. That should be the first thing you do. Here is the link to join.
I guess there are weightlifters out there who are content with competing at a local meet, but most athletes do a local meet in order to qualify for a National level meet.
There was a point in time where the only national level meets were Youth, Junior, Senior, Universities, Masters, and The American Open. The last two years, three national level events have been added in an American Open Series that allows athletes to compete on a bigger stage who might not have a total for one of the other national events.
It is important to know there are deadlines for qualifying for those national events. Once you have made it to the national level, there are deadlines for qualifying and making an international team. All of these national level events not only have deadlines, but they also have qualifying totals an athlete has to meet. You can find the qualifying total for your respective national level event here.
Here is a breakdown for the remainder of the 2019 calendar year:
June 27th – 30th
Qualification period: May 27, 2018 to May 26, 2019
Registration Period: January 1, 2019 to May 30, 2019 (2pm MST)
American Open Series 2
Albuquerque, New Mexico
July 24th – July 28th
Qualification period: Jun 24, 2018 to Jun 23, 2019
Registration Period: January 1, 2019 to Jun 27, 2019 (2pm MST)
American Open Series 3
Daytona Beach, Florida
September 12th – September 15th
Qualification period: Aug 12, 2018 to Aug 11, 2019
Registration Period: January 1, 2019 to Aug 15, 2019 (2pm MST)
American Open Finals
Salt Lake City, Utah
December 5th – December 8th
Qualification period: Nov 4, 2018 to Nov 3, 2019
Registration Period: January 1, 2019 to Nov 7, 2019 (2pm MST)
As you choose which local event you are going to do, be sure that it falls in the qualification period for the given national event you want to qualify for. The next step once you’ve qualified is to make sure you sign up before the deadline.
For athletes who are already competing at a national level and looking to make international teams, it is important to know what national meets are qualifiers for international teams. There is a live document on the USA Weightlifting website that gets updated as new International events are released. In order to keep a close watch when new events are posted along with the qualifiers, use this resource.
Some other things to point out about the website is you have to be in the Random Testing Pool (RTP) for 6 months before you are eligible to compete on an international team or receive a stipend. To register for the RTP, you have to sign in to your account and locate the Anti-Doping tab on the right hand side, click the plus sign, and click RTP Athlete Sign-up. There is no cost to be put in the RTP.
Something new that is very exciting for our up and coming youth athletes is the scholarship fund. For the parents out there, be sure to check this out.
I know there are coaches out there who have other ‘certifications’ or seminar hours from sources outside of USA Weightlifting, but if you plan on coaching athletes at a higher level, the first step is to get your Level 1 Sports Performance Coach. Depending on what area you are in, there are several held every weekend all over the country. You will find the calendar here.
The Level 1 is only the beginning of a long process that can take years to achieve based on athletes you produce. The next step would be to get your Level 2, which goes more in to depth on programming, fixing common mistakes, and coaching in the back room. These courses are fewer and far between than the Level 1s. You can find a course close to you here.
What makes being a weightlifting coach unique is you cannot buy your way to the top. You have to produce athletes in order to achieve the next level. Once you have completed your Level 2, it is all about the athletes you produce at the national and international level. I really like this new diagram that they came out with as there is no confusion at all the number of athletes you need to compete at certain levels in order to advance. See it here.
If you have athletes who have potential to qualify for national events or, better yet, international teams, it is your responsibility to research what events they need to do. An example would be that Junior Nationals this year was a final qualifier for Junior World Championships and Junior Pan American Championships. It also coincided with the Senior Pan American Trials. The American Open Series 2 is now the final qualifier for 2019 Senior World Championships and Youth Nationals is the final qualifier for 2019 Youth Pan American Championships. You can find current international team rankings here.
Be an advocate and a resource for all of your athletes.
I highly encourage you to just get on the website and do some digging. What I have done here is simply provide you with the basics to help guide you and hopefully make it a little easier to maneuver around some of the more pertinent information when it comes to competing. I hope this helps!
Sometimes coaches, athletes, and fans will debate whether strength or technique is the most important part of improving as an Olympic weightlifter.
Most great coaches would agree both are important. Eventually, technique and strength will match. What does this mean?
The Golden Ratio?
Eventually, you will develop a ratio between your squats and your competition lifts. Some people will try to tell you there is a ‘golden ratio’ between strength movements and the competition lifts something like:
Snatch should be 66% of your back squat.
Clean and jerk should be 75% of your back squat.
Front squat should be 90% of your back squat.
These ratios are perfectly fine, and they are great markers to shoot for. However, these ratios do not hold true for all athletes.
Athletes like Nathan Damron are built to squat with short femurs and strong torsos. He has back squatted 320kg/705lb, but I don’t see him clean and jerking 240kg/528lb (10kg over the current world record in the 96kg weight class) anytime soon. Nathan has clean and jerked 205kg, which is 64%. He has cleaned 220kg, which is about 69%.
These ratios tell me a couple of things. First, we need to continue working on his jerk. Second, to get a competition PR we don’t have to get stronger in the squat. Currently his best competition PR clean and jerk is 201kg, so we need to work on consistency and conditioning for him to hit the 205kg in competition. If we want to hit a lifetime PR clean and jerk, we might consider pushing the back squat to 325kg or 330kg.
Then let’s look at Ryan Grimsland, the number one ranked youth lifter in America. He has a PR back squat of 195kg/429lb and a PR clean and jerk of 150kg/330lb. That puts his clean and jerk at 76% of his back squat, which would be considered by most to be a perfect ratio.
Does this ratio mean Ryan is a better weightlifter than Nathan? Absolutely not! They are both incredible athletes. They are simply designed slightly differently. Ryan will probably improve on his ratio because he’s only been in the sport for about three years. For most athletes, it takes 5-10 years to truly master the movements, and then you will have your ratio locked in stone.
Increasing Squats and Lifts
Now comes the infamous question, “How does one increase the squat and the competition lifts in the same program?” When athletes are young, this is an easy problem to answer. However, when athletes are seasoned like Nathan Damron, this becomes a more difficult question to answer.
First, it’s all about planning your training appropriately. This information will hold true for strength and conditioning, CrossFit, and other strength sports as well. In a perfect world, you can plug in certain periods of your macrocycle just for increasing strength.
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I love getting at least twelve weeks (but preferably twenty) to focus on strength movements like squats, presses, and pulls. During this time, I keep the intensity low and the volume moderate on the Olympic lifts. The main focus for the Olympic lifts is technique, strengthening positions, and conquering weak spots of the overall pull. We focus on the following movement for the Olympic lifts:
Hangs from different heights (hip/power position, above knee, below knee, and hovering over floor)
Different block heights (I love these for giving the back a bit of a break, allowing for more emphasis on the strength movements.)
Three-position snatches and cleans
Power jerks or squat jerks to emphasize a vertical dip and drive
Another method we use during this phase is undulating periodization. The most common form of periodization in America is linear periodization. Linear periodization is defined as starting with lower intensities and higher volume, and ending with higher intensities and lower volume. There is nothing wrong with linear periodization, and I think it creates acceptable gains. However, undulating has proven to produce slightly better results for our team.
With undulating periodization, high and low intensities can vary within the same week. Volume can still progress in a linear fashion (this is the way we do it), or can wave up and down each block. Let me explain why we changed to undulating periodization before I explain the table below.
We would get our athletes strong with 10RMs, 5RMs, and even 3RMs, but that wasn’t translating to a higher 1RM. The sport of weightlifting is an absolute strength sport. I don’t care how much force my athletes can produce during three or more repetitions. I need to know what they can produce during one massive attempt. This was especially true for female athletes. It’s strange, but in most cases females need a fair amount of volume and absolute strength. The more time they spend with 90% or more resulted in them getting better with those higher percentages. However, if high intensity isn’t coupled with a fair amount of volume, you will notice a drop in overall strength as a result. Whether female of male, we noticed improved squat performance with this undulating approach.
Here’s a look at how we periodize our squat cycle.
Mash Squat Periodization
Day 1 (moderate volume): 5 x 5 (70-80%)
Day 2: off
Day 3 (low volume): 3RM with one drop set (9 RPE or less)
Day 4: off
Day 5: off
Day 6 (high volume): waves 3, 10 (80-85%+, 60-65%+)
Day 7: off
Day 1 (moderate volume): 5 x 3 (80-90%)
Day 2: off
Day 3 (low volume): 1RM with one drop set of 3-5 reps (9 RPE or less)
Day 4: off
Day 5: off
Day 6 (high volume): waves 2, 6 (85-90%+, 70-75%+)
Day 7: off
Day 1 (moderate volume): 5, 3, 1 for two waves (70-80%, 83-88%, 90-95%)
Day 2: off
Day 3 (low volume): 3-5RM with no drop sets (9 RPE or less)
Day 4: off
Day 5: off
Day 6 (high volume): waves 1, 4 (90-95%+, 80-85%+)
Day 7: off
Now let me explain my chart above.
Day 1, which for us is normally Monday, is our moderate volume day. We use either back squats or front squats on this day depending on what the athlete needs to work on, or whichever is tolerated better by the athlete. By this I mean some athletes tolerate back squats better, and some athletes tolerate front squats better. One option is to start out with whichever lift is better tolerated, and then only substitute in the less tolerated movement for only one block. If the athlete tolerates both movements equally, then you might look at which movement is best for the athlete. If the athlete needs to work on the specific positions required in the Clean, then the front squat is a great option. The front squat is also great for strengthening the spinal erectors, since the weight is in front of the body lengthening all spinal flexor moments. The back squat is a bit better for quads and hips simply because a bigger load is being handled. Overall the back squat will yield a bit more hypertrophy due to the bigger load. Otherwise, the front squat and the back squat are great options.
During the first block, we stay somewhere between 70-80% with intensity. Repetitions and sets stay around 5 x 5 for strength building and hypertrophy. We might do something like this with intensity: week 1 at 73%, week 2 at 75%, week 3 is a deload at 70%, and week 4 at 78%.
During the second block, we stay somewhere around 5 x 3 as we start to focus closer on that absolute strength number. With the load we might do: week 1 at 85%, week 2 at 88%, week 3 as a deload at 83%, and week 4 at 90%. As you can see, at this point we are using this day to inch closer to that absolute strength phase. I have found if you want to get stronger with higher intensities, you need to lift higher intensities.
The final block is a wave, encouraging neurological gains and hypertrophy. The repetitions start at five, move to three, then singles, and then start all over again with fives. You will also get a bit of post-activation potentiation, allowing the second wave to be even easier and possibly more efficient. We might handle the intensity and volume like this: week 1 75% x 5, 83% x 3, and 90% x 1, week 2 78% x 5, 85% x 3, and 93% x 1, and week 3 80% x 5, 88% x 3, and 95% x 1. On week 12 we normally taper down throughout the week, and then max out on Saturday (Day 6).
We take day 2 off, and then on day 3 we hit our low volume day. We go with low volume on this day to allow for optimal recovery leading into the final day on day 6. We normally stick with the Front Squat on this day because it is a bit easier to recover from due to the smaller load. During all three blocks, we are staying below a 9 on the rate of perceived exertion scale. That means we are going to stop (or have our athletes stop) a set before they might possibly tap out. It means absolutely no misses.
You might consider waving things like this for all three blocks: week 1 is 8 RPE, week 2 is 9 RPE, week 3 is a deload at 7 RPE, and week 4 is 9 RPE again. The percentages are going to be somewhere between 85%-93% in the first block (give or take a couple of percentages for most people). The second block gets really heavy – probably 93-100% depending on the person. For the final block, we are going to start at a 5RM with percentages somewhere between 80-88% to give the joints a bit of a break with a lower intensity and to encourage some hypertrophy for that final march toward peaking. Then during the final week we will move to a 3RM with percentages probably falling somewhere between 88-93%. On the down sets, for the first block subtract 10% and hit another set of 3, second block starts by subtracting 25% for one set of five and ends with subtracting 15% for three. For the final block, there are no drop sets in order to allow for even more recovering during the final day 6 of the week.
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We take two days off, and then the work goes down on Saturday – day 6. This is where we use waves the entire time for two reasons:
Using the post activation potentiation of doing heavy reps before the higher repetition work sets makes those sets more efficient.
It neurologically prepares athletes for absolute strength percentages. (This will ensure the gains you or your athletes receive during the 10RMs, 5RMs, and 3RMs will ultimately equal a huge 1RM.)
Unless back squats aren’t tolerable to the athlete, we are going with the back squat on this day. We want the most bang for our buck, and the back squat will always reign supreme. The first four-week block will consist of three waves of 3s and 10s. On week 1, we sometimes start with 80% x 3 and 60% x 10 on the first wave. However, we allow our athletes to add 2-5kg to each repetition scheme on the second and third wave. On week 2, we start with 83% x 3 and 63% x 10 on the first wave. Once again, we allow the athlete to go up on the following waves. On week 3, we do a slight deload by using the same percentages as week one without increasing the load during the waves. On week 4, we crush things by starting with 85% x 3 and 65% x 10, and we once again increase the load a bit on waves two and three.
During the second block, we are starting things out with 85% x 2 and 70% x 6. Now I am going to give you two ways to progress the waves during this block. You can do the same thing as the first block with adding 2-5kg to each rep scheme for waves two and three or you can add the weight to the doubles only and keep the sixes the same. However, on the last wave you would then turn the six-rep scheme into a 6+ and complete as many repetitions as possible. If your main goal is hypertrophy, this progression might suit you best.
I recommend staying with whichever progressions you choose during the first week of block two and apply it to the following weeks. During the second week, we start with 88% x 2 and 73% x 6, and then we progress the ensuing waves according to the preceding week’s progressions. Once again week 3 is a deload, so we stick with 85% x 2 and 70% x 6 for all three waves. In week 4, we start with 90% x 2 and 75% x 6 and then progress accordingly.
During the final block, we are getting heavy. We start things out with 90% x 1 and 80% x 4. You can choose to add a bit to each rep scheme during the ensuing waves, or once again keep the four rep percentages the same, hitting a 4+ on the final wave. At this point of the program, I would recommend stopping a rep or two before failure, so you can start to get your body healed for the final week. During the second week of the final block, we start with 93% x 1 and 83% x 4. If you are fond of the plus sets (as many reps as possible), I recommend this be the final week for that. Remember the goal is to hit a personal record at the end of this block.
During week 3 of this block, you will complete your final waves of the program. You will start with 95% x 1 and 85% x 4. I recommend shooting for the moon on the single-repetition sets and only increasing 2-3kg on the four-repetition sets. We are going to start the healing process. On the final week of the program, if your goal is a one-repetition maximum, then I recommend tapering during the week leading up to the final day 6. On the final day 6, we are going to max you out – and you are going to hit a 30kg PR, or at least some sort of PR. (30 sounds darn good though! Doesn’t it?)
Variables to Consider
Now I have given you a map to increase your squat, but what if the map doesn’t work? Look, everyone is different. Everyone will respond to certain stimuli in different ways. If you are having trouble increasing your leg strength, you need to approach the squat like you would a rock quarry with thousands of rocks scattered on the ground with one million dollars under one of the rocks. What would you do? I know exactly what you would do. You would turn over ever rock until you found the money. With that being said, let’s look at a few variables to consider:
Volume– Is the overall volume simply too much for you to recover from, leaving you in a constant catabolic state? Are you doing everything you can to recover? The other side of this coin is do you need more volume to stimulate a response? You can try two to three months of lower volume and then two to three months of higher volume and compare notes. First I would ask myself a few questions to get things off on the right foot. Am I struggling to sleep and eat? If so, you might be performing too much volume. If you are constantly feeling recovered from the workouts, you might be performing too little volume. It’s really that simple.
Frequency– This one is my favorites to use when I need to get someone stronger – especially in the squat. I don’t recommend going from squatting twice per week to jumping right on a squat every day program. I recommend starting by adding one day, performing the workout for four to six weeks, and then reassessing. I would start by adding either a back squat or front squat (depending on your goals) with a simple repetition-maximum set and no down sets. The goal here is simply performing more often the movement that you intend to improve. If one extra day gets things moving in the right direction, stick with it until things slow down. At that point, either add a down set or add another day. The key is adding slowly, and only adding when things slow down.
Intensity– This is another big key. Let me give you an example: I personally respond well to high frequency, high intensity, and moderate volume. I’ve discovered several of my female athletes respond to moderate intensity for the majority of the week and only going heavy once per week. The real key is keeping data on your athletes that will help you make these determinations. Coach Spencer Arnold recently released an excellent series of articles referring to the data he keeps on his athletes. I recommend tracking such things as relative intensity and average intensity so you can graph the points at which you or your athlete is responding favorably.
Conjugate Method– No one will ever convince me using small variations is a bad idea. The entire goal to training is to avoid accommodation at all costs. By that I mean you don’t want the human body to completely adapt to your training stimulus to the point it doesn’t have to improve to perform the program. However, I don’t recommend making massive changes right away. There are so many ways you can change things up just enough to keep thing moving – like pauses and different rep schemes – before you move into different types of bars like safety squat bars and cambered bars. Here’s one thing for sure. If you have been doing the same program for years without any progress, change it up.
Tempo or Triphasic Training– Just recently I read Triphasic Training by Coach Cal Dietz. Also I had him on my podcast, and we are both members of the group Stronger Experts (a group of the elite coaches, nutrition experts, and practitioners of the world). After talking with him and getting to know the science behind the program, I decided to try it out on two of my hard gainer females. It worked on both of them, and the extra squat strength has turned into extra numbers in the snatch and clean and jerk. Basically, you focus two to three weeks on each of the different contractions of muscles: eccentric, isometric, and concentric. It really worked well on my super elastic athletes. An example is December Garcia, one of my top females. Her back squat had been stuck for a year, and she just hit a 5kg PR last week.
The key here is not accepting defeat. If a program isn’t working, then make changes. You don’t have to completely change the program – just make subtle changes until something sparks a positive response. I have given you a few ways to spark such a response. (However, these aren’t the only ways to change things up. I just wanted to give you a few.)
One thing to always consider is staying below your athlete’s biological tipping point. Dr. Stuart McGill is the one who explained this term to me. What works for one athlete might be the very thing that destroys another. This is where the art of coaching comes into play. I recommend listening to your athletes. Are they in pain? Are they struggling to sleep at night? Are they struggling to eat? Are they losing the love for the sport? These are all signs things aren’t going well. Don’t ignore any of these.
What About Squat Strength During a Competition Cycle?
I’ve given you multiple ways to strengthen the squat in the off-season, but what about when it counts during competition season? Using velocity-based training is a great way to ensure your newfound squat strength will continue to improve (or at least stay the same). Velocity ensures you are working the intended strength quality, while taking into consideration the impact on the body of the increased volume with the competition lifts.
All of us know the beatdown the body endures when preparing for a big competition. It means our 1RM will vary from day to day based on biorhythms and overall training effect. Studies have shown an athlete’s 1RM can vary as much as 15% up or down from day to day. The last thing a weightlifter wants to do is crush their bodies even more by performing 5 x 5 at 78% of a 1RM that might be 15% less at the moment. That would mean 78% is more like 91%, and that just won’t do when you are trying to peak for a major competition.
I still recommend leaving one day per week to get after it. For us, it’s Saturday because we always take Sunday off. This gives us a day to recover before Monday arrives once again. Instead of waves, you might consider a simple repetition-maximum with down sets. You can still get creative with paused repetitions and tempos. Six weeks out, I recommend staying away from triphasic training to allow the body to fully recover.
One last piece of advice – more is not better. Someone told me the other day her coach had her performing waves of 10, 5, and 3 up to three times per week. They couldn’t figure out why her squat and her competition lifts were going down. Come on guys, just because you read something or hear of someone doing something that works doesn’t mean you can just prescribe more of it for even better results. I recommend picking up a textbook or two, and then on top of that use your common sense just a bit.
I hope this article helps all of you to strengthen your leg strength in a way that leads to massive personal records in the competition lifts. We have been able to constantly get our athletes stronger, but some take a bit more work than others. The key is continuing to turn over those rocks until you find the money.
It’s difficult because I am probably going to make some people I care about deeply upset with me. However, I have my athletes assuming I feel a certain way about the lifts, and the truth is I don’t feel that way at all. So I’m going to risk addressing the issue in this article.
Specifically, I’m referring to plantar flexion (fancy term for extending up on the balls of the feet) during the extension of the second pull and moving one’s feet during the catch phase of the snatch and the clean. Let me give my thoughts on those two issues concerning the pull, and I am going to attempt to build my case with science and common sense.
In America, there are two ways of thinking:
minimal to no plantar flexion and minimal foot movement
massive extension as tall as possible on the toes, and the feet move from hip width (during the pull) to about shoulder width (during the catch phase)
The Case for Minimal Extension and Minimal Foot Movement (Catapult)
I am familiar with my former mentor’s view on plantar flexion and foot movement, so I will start there. Coach Don McCauley (a great coach, by the way) believes in minimal plantar flexion and minimal movement of the feet. He loves the hookgripusa video of Ella Grizzle, as she has no foot movement and minimal extension. Yurik Vardanian was an example of a lifter with minimal extension and minimal foot movement. Yurik was an amazing weightlifter. There is no doubting that.
The thought process behind the minimal extension and minimal foot movement is to focus more on getting around and under the bar. The fear Don has is that lifters will spend too much time up top trying to pull the bar higher, and therefore miss their opportunity to get under the bar during its peak. I totally understand that, and I agree with a lot of what he’s saying.
The Case for Maximal Extension and Moving the Feet (Triple Extension)
On the other side of the coin, you have my friends Coach Sean Waxman (also a mentor) and Coach Spencer Arnold (my best friend in the sport of weightlifting). Simply put, they believe one should finish as tall as possible – gaining as much height as possible – on the bar. They believe an athlete normally starts with their feet underneath the hips during the pull phase, and then the athlete jumps the feet out during the catch phase.
The thought is the feet are hip width during the pull to produce the most power. Most athletes perform the vertical leap with their feet at about hip width. Therefore, the thought is that position must be where the body is able to produce the most power. (There isn’t a lot of science to back this up one way or the other, but it makes the most sense.) Then they believe the athlete jumps their feet out to receive the bar where most people feel comfortable performing the squat, which is typically about shoulder width.
Now I have spoken with both men, and they agree a lot of this is determined by each athlete’s anthropometrics and the anatomical structure of their hips. Simply put, hip to shoulder is a great starting point, but it will all depend on the athlete. It’s hard to refute this view because it seems to make the most sense. Or does it?
So what are my thoughts?
I am glad you asked because I am happy to finally tell everyone where I stand. Here’s the thing. My mother will tell you that from a young age I have never followed anyone blindly. I got in a lot of trouble in sixth grade simply for asking too many questions. My teacher would make some outrageous statements that didn’t set well with me, so I was constantly having him defend his opinions. He called it arguing, but I called it clarification.
I encourage all of you to never follow someone without question. That’s a great way to head down a bad path. Whether it’s religion or politics, you need to form your own opinions. When it comes to weightlifting or strength and conditioning, we have science to guide us. However, there simply isn’t a ton of quality research to answer all of our questions, or this would be put to bed already. Here’s what I believe, and why I believe it.
First, when it comes to extension, I believe an athlete should pull the bar as high as possible. However, what does that even mean? The moment the hips extend, the bar trajectory is decided. For the majority of athletes, that means there will be extension on the toes. So why do some people extend onto the balls of their feet and some do not extend that much? It’s a great question without a proven answer, but I have a solid theory.
The gastrocnemius is a bi-articular muscle, which means it crosses two joints (the knee and ankle). When the knee extends in the powerful way as demonstrated during the snatch, clean, or even vertical leap, power is transferred from the origin of the gastrocnemius (upper leg) down the leg to aid in the extension of the ankle by pulling on the calcaneus. I have to assume that the degree to which one extends is directly related to where the gastrocnemius inserts into the calcaneus with that massive Achilles tendon. I personally don’t believe anyone can control the height they raise onto the balls of their feet no more than they can control the height during a vertical leap.
I know the finish of the snatch or clean isn’t the exact movement as performed in a vertical leap, but the intent to extend at the hips and knees sure is. So I believe in full extension where extension of the hips and knees are concerned. I don’t believe anyone should purposely rise onto his or her toes, and I don’t believe anyone should purposely not rise onto the balls of their feet. The amount of plantar flexion is directly related to the follow-through of the pull and where the Achilles tendon attaches.
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However, I believe anything extra performed after hip and knee extension is a delay putting that athlete at a disadvantage to getting under the bar. Therefore, extend the hips and knees, and then move directly to getting under the bar. Any arm or shrug action should be directed at ripping under the bar. I believe any shrug or arm action to directly make the bar rise any higher is a waste of time. I stand firm in believing the difference between a good and a great athlete is the timing between the pull upward and the change of direction under the bar. However, I totally believe an athlete should pull the bar with as much power as possible, peaking the bar as high as possible (which only makes sense to me).
One other thing to consider is some athletes are going to naturally produce more power in their pulls. I think Coach Spencer Arnold has the best examples of a powerful athlete and a fast athlete. He coaches Jessie Bradley, a Team USA athlete who produces more power in her pull than most NFL linebackers. The height of her bar is naturally higher than most other athletes. He also coaches Jourdan Delacruz, also a Team USA athlete. Jourdan is a naturally fast athlete. She doesn’t pull the bar extraordinarily high, but she can get under just about any bar.
Now should Jourdan try to be more like Jessie, or should Jessie try to be more like Jourdan? No! Jessie should and does work on her speed under the bar. Jourdan should and does work on the power in her pull. Spencer uses velocity based training to work on the qualities of strength. He doesn’t try to have either girl raise up on the balls of her feet any more or any less. They are very different athletes, and he works with the gifts each girl has been given.
So what about the feet during the pull and catch phase? I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all solution. If I had the means, I would have every one of my athletes test the velocity of their pull with their feet in multiple places in relation to their shoulders and hips. Wherever they produced the most velocity is exactly where I would have their feet during the pull. Most coaches who have been in the business long enough can use their eye. However, I love having concrete data.
In my experience, starting with the feet underneath the hips is where most athletes produce the most power. Therefore, this is a good starting point for most athletes. In turn, most athletes squat the most weight with their feet around shoulder width, especially considering the importance of a vertical torso (vertical torso is specific to the catch position in weightlifting). In weightlifting it’s not simply about the strongest position, but in reality it’s about the strongest position as it relates to the specificity of the Olympic lifts. The shoulder width position also allows the hips to sit down in between the feet for the lowest possible catch position. In summary, it’s all about achieving the strongest and most stable position while also achieving the lowest possible position with a vertical torso.
At the end of the day, it all depends on the anatomical structure of each athlete’s hip along with his or her anthropometrics. I’ve witnessed exceptions to the rule, but the majority seem to fall into the hip width pull and shoulder width catch. I recommend starting with these positions, and then slowly playing around with different positions. It shouldn’t take long before you find the right positions for your athlete. Of course, there is a sure fire way to determine which positions are best for your athletes. You could always use a tendo unit to measure velocity of the pull. You could take 85% bar weight, and then perform two to three pulls at hip width, two to three pulls two inches wider, and two to three pulls an additional two inches wider. Whichever position you or your athlete produces the most velocity from is the position you should practice pulling from.
The next test would involve a front squat and overhead squat. Wherever you or your athlete can sit the lowest with a vertical torso is the catch position. Of course you would still want to test those positions for strength and stability, but I would recommend focusing on strengthening that position for the catch phase. After these tests, you would have your pull position and catch position.
To most people this would seem the logical way to determine pulling and catching position. However some might say finding a position that allows for better timing trumps a pulling position that creates the most velocity. You might hear someone say a wider pulling position allows someone to get around the bar quicker because they don’t have to move their feet. Therefore a little less velocity is offset by better timing and speed around the bar. Of course, there isn’t a way to prove this or a study to look at. I’d like to use Gym Aware or some other device to measure the velocity under the bar with 1. moving the feet and 2. not moving the feet. Maybe Coach Spencer Arnold could perform that study for us, since he has a Gym Aware device to measure velocity.
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So we have defined both camps (catapult and triple extension), and I have offered my thoughts. Personally I don’t think I fall within either camp, and I hate being labeled as either. I am a weightlifting coach who will use whatever method, technique, or program possible to help my athletes reach their goals. I’ve heard several people talk about America being behind the rest of the world regarding technique. I’ve witnessed both camps use examples of athletes on the Internet to prove their point. So is America behind the rest of the world regarding technique? Are we teaching something other coaches from around the world aren’t teaching?
American Weightlifting and the World
First let me say a few things. I’m tired of people ragging on weightlifting in America. America now takes home medals at every international competition we show up at. Harrison Maurus and CJ Cummings break world records at almost every international competition when they compete. Our men’s and women’s team won the Youth World Championships. Our Junior Women’s team won the Junior Worlds in 2018, and the Senior Women’s team won fourth overall at the 2018 Senior World Championships. It was exciting at the 2018 Senior World Championships to coach Meredith Alwine, a junior athlete at the time, to sixth in the world. However even crazier was the fact that fifth place went to Mattie Rogers – another American. Yes, two American women in the top six spots in the world championships.
My point is American weightlifting has transformed in comparison to the last Olympic quadrennial. We are no longer just showing up at the World Championships. We are there to win medals, period! Phil Andrews and the folks at USA Weightlifting are a big part of this. Expectations have changed, and they needed to change. The truth is I wouldn’t have stayed in the sport unless those expectations had changed. I want to be a part of a winning culture. It’s just a mindset thing, and the folks at USA Weightlifting (Phil, Mike Gattone, Pyrros, Lorene, and all the rest of them) have cultivated a whole new paradigm I am proud to be a part of.
So now the question is, “Does the rest of the world really have a different technique than the athletes in America?” Here’s what I did to find out. I went on Hookgrip’s YouTube page and I literally took the first six videos that contained either the snatch, clean and jerk, or both. I analyzed the videos for two questions:
Was there plantar flexion (extension at the ankle) during extension?
Did the athlete move his or her feet into a wider position during the catch phase?
Here’s what I found:
Video #1 – Salwan and Safaa from Iraq
In the snatch, both athletes extended onto the balls of their feet and both athletes moved their feet out. In the clean and jerk, one athlete extended at the ankles and moved his feet, and the other athlete demonstrated very little ankle extension and didn’t appear to move his feet.
Video #2 – Hassona from Qatar
In the snatch, there was noticeable ankle extension and foot movement. In the clean there was minimal, yet present, ankle extension, and definite foot movement.
Video #3 – Yokubov from Uzbekistan
In the snatch and clean, there was massive ankle extension and massive foot movement.
Video #4 – Mosquera and De Las Salas from Colombia
In the snatch and clean, there was massive ankle extension and foot movement.
Video #5 – Training at the Taiwan National Training Center
Every athlete in the video demonstrated ankle extension and foot movement in the snatch and clean. I would like to point out that most of them, not all, performed panda pulls instead of traditional snatch and clean pulls – emphasizing a shrug up at the top. Panda pulls are snatch and clean pulls that end with the beginning of the third pull. Here’s an example.
I use these pulls instead of traditional pulls if an athlete is hanging around at the top of the pull too long.
Video #6 – Moradi from Iran
In the snatch and clean, he demonstrated full ankle extension and aggressively moved his feet.
Obviously, it would appear most athletes perform plantar flexion, and most appear to move their feet out when transitioning from the pull to the catch phase. I encourage all of you to perform the same test by checking out Hookgrip’s awesome YouTube page.
One other thing I would like to point out is that I spent all day analyzing video with absolutely zero bias. I simply wanted the truth. I noticed the exact same mistakes I see everyday at my own gym. I noticed Rostami, the great 94kg Olympic Champion from Iran, performing pulls with a big emphasis on shrugging up and performing massive amounts of ankle extension. Now of course, when he lifted, his timing was perfect, and he spent zero extra time at the top of the pull before ripping underneath.
So what’s my conclusion? Based on what I know from science, what I have experienced during my years of coaching, and my observations from today, I have to say most people will demonstrate some degree of ankle extension and most will jump their feet out. I still don’t believe an athlete should emphasize coming up on the toes. I simply believe it is something that happens as a follow-through of hip and knee extension. You can read my earlier explanation of the bi-articular gastrocnemius. I believe most athletes perform the pull with his or her feet underneath the body as to produce the most power, and most athletes will jump their feet out into a better receiving position.
Personally, I believe better timing in the transition from the second to the third pull comes with practice more than a stance or even from some verbal cue a coach is giving. Did Michael Jordan become an amazing basketball player because he had a coach cueing him on how to shoot the ball? No, he became amazing because he practiced all the time. The guidance of his coaches definitely helped to sharpen his skills, but it was the hours of practice that perfected his shot.
Coaches like to believe they have way more control than they really do. At the end of the day, we give our athletes solid programming, teach them a technique that fits their body structure, and we keep them on track. How far they go is really up to:
their work ethic!
their ability to understand movement!
the durability of their body to not get injured!
how strong their mind is!
I would caution all coaches from scouring the Internet for videos that match your preferred technique. I would also suggest matching the technique to fit the athlete, and not trying to force an athlete to fit any preconceived notion of a technique you deem superior. If you perform the exercise I did today with Hookgrip’s YouTube page, you will see a lot of massive lifts performed a lot of different ways.
Real life concerns and application
I will end with what really inspired this article. One of my athletes, Meredith Alwine (Junior American record holder, silver medalist, sixth place at Senior World Championships, and currently second overall in America for Robi points), sent me a text and explained she had been sent a video of a Youth World team member snatching. Meredith is an amazing lifter with beautiful movement. The part that concerned me is that Meredith was told she should move her feet out to match the athlete in the video. The youth lifter in the video is ranked fifth overall as a youth.
The first thing I did was check places first through fourth in the Youth category in America to see how those girls moved. All four girls demonstrated ankle extension, and all four girls moved their feet out in the catch phase. Does this mean I think this Youth lifter in the video should move her feet in during the pull and jump them out during the catch? No way! My point is that just because a few athletes perform a technique you prefer doesn’t mean everyone should change their technique to lift like that person.
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So almost 3,700 words later, I hope this article can finally put to bed this whole debate about ankle extension and feet moving during the pull. It probably won’t, but I think I have properly defined my take on the subject and supported it with concrete facts. At the end of the day, there isn’t enough real research to prove any of our theories. There have been world records set with several variations of technique. Both camps I discussed earlier (catapult and triple extension) have developed amazing athletes who have gone on to compete for Team USA. I suggest we all lose the dogmatic ways of looking at technique, and agree there simply aren’t any absolutes.
With that being said, if an athlete is continuing to progress meet after meet (like Meredith), please don’t suggest she should change her technique – especially if you aren’t me, her actual coach. However, to all of you coaches out there, if you see something that might help one of my athletes, please call, text, or email me. I am the most open coach in America. I am constantly going to Coach Waxman, Coach Arnold, and Coach McCauley for suggestions. However, when you go to the athlete, it can be confusing – especially if I am telling her something different.
If someone wants to argue with the statements in this article, I guess they can. I will never place myself in either camp, as I simply prefer to be referred to as a weightlifting coach. I will continue fitting the technique to the athlete, and hopefully I will continue sending athletes to the Youth, Junior, and World Championships year after year.
Most importantly, I hope this article will help all of you younger coaches make important decisions regarding technique. Finally, I hope this will once and for all clarify my views on technique especially where plantar flexion and foot movement are concerned.
We all love to win. No one loves to win more than me!
If you know me, you probably would agree. Some would say that I have an unhealthy desire to win, and that might be true. However, I have learned to have a healthy relationship with failure. Does that mean I enjoy losing? Not even close! Does it mean that I don’t get upset when I lose or one of my athletes loses? Absolutely not! That’s a normal reaction.
What does developing a healthy relationship with losing look like? That’s the question.
I am not saying that you should be indifferent. I hate the phrase, “you win some, you lose some.” When you work hard for a goal, commit to it, and execute a plan, you should go into whatever endeavor expecting victory. I don’t know about you, but I don’t work hard to lose.
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Before we go on, I want to define ‘victory’ because it’s different for everyone. Let’s look at a few examples. If you’re a strength athlete, some of us are looking to qualify for a national-level event. Some of us are trying to make the top ten, medal, or win the competition. Yet again some of us are trying to make an international team, win a medal at worlds, or even win the Olympics. Heck, maybe you are just trying to make all your planned lifts at your first meet.
What if you are a traditional sport athlete, such as a football player, wrestler, or softball player? A victory to you might look like the following:
Making you high school team
Earning a starting position
Earning a scholarship
You get it. The same can be said for teams. A victory to each team can be defined slightly different. This same outlook on victory can be applied to all aspects of life:
The point I want to make is we are all working hard toward our own idea of victory.
The question is, “what happens when we lose?” It’s taken me a lifetime to figure this one out, and sometimes I still get it wrong. However, I can shed some light on the subject for all of you still struggling to deal with the losses that life will occasionally throw at you.
Case Study 1: Powerlifting Nationals 2004
In powerlifting, I rarely lost. One of the hardest ones to face was flying all the way out to California to earn my first ever bomb out. Here’s the saddest part of this tragic tale. I bombed out opening up at 930 pounds, when I could have easily won opening up at 850 pounds. It was my ego that drove me that day. No one could talk sense into my closed-off brain. My brain was too filled with testosterone to do the smart thing. So how did I respond?
Part of my response was wise, and part of it was immature and silly. I stormed to my hotel room like a furious bull and started formulating my plan for the next competition. I didn’t talk to another human for over a week, which was the silly part of all of this.
I’ve since learned to win with humility and lose with composure. You never know who is looking up to you. That might not mean much to some of you, but it means everything to me. If we aren’t inspiring others in our physical endeavors, then what are we doing? Who cares if we win the Olympics or world championships if we aren’t trying to encourage others? Winning is meaningless without substance – at least in my eyes.
So I flew home, and I started working toward the next big competition – which was the WPO Semi-Finals (the professional powerlifting organization of the time). I squatted deeper, better, and more often than ever. I worked on every known weakness. I improved on my recovery, especially in the nutrition and sleep department. I left no stone unturned.
The result was the all-time world record total of 2410 pounds in the 100-kilogram / 220-pound weight class. That was also the pound-for-pound best total of the time worldwide. I had turned my failure into success, increasing my total by 110 pounds during that time period. A lot of things changed in my life forever due to that victory, but really it was all due to a semi-good response to failure.
Case Study 2: Weightlifting Nationals 2017
In 2017, our Mash Team was stacked on the men’s and women’s side. We were the clear pick for winning both. That was until everything that could go wrong actually went wrong. Let me throw out a few:
Six people either bombed out or got hurt
One missed their weigh-in
Several under performed
It was a nightmare! I admit that for a split second I contemplated quitting as a weightlifting coach. It was truly a defining moment in my career. Obviously, I didn’t quit. But I did make several changes.
After looking back over the competition, there were quite a few bright moments in an otherwise dismal weekend. We won some individual national championships, and we left the competition with three men on the senior world team. However, there were some real changes that needed to take place:
Our culture had taken a turn for the worse. My desire to win a team championship had clouded my judgment as to whom I would allow on our team. Coach Sean Waxman, my friend and mentor, pointed this out to me in his direct New York City style. Several of those team members are no longer with us, and now the culture is so much better. We are no longer a bunch of rebels running crazy. Our athletes listen to their coaches, and slowly all of them are becoming masters of the mundane. They are also kind to one another, and they are competitive yet supportive of one another.
The other big change we made was deciding not to take part in the team competitions anymore. I am not saying they are bad goals. It’s simply that our goal as a team is to help each individual reach the absolute pinnacle of their capabilities. The team competition simply adds extra stress to an already stressful competition. I want to do what’s right by the athlete not what’s right by the team.
At the end of the day, the team that sends the most athletes on international teams is the team that is actually winning. If I win a national championship and send no one to the world championships, I have failed. Now I am not trying to pass my ideology of to all of you as some law. It’s simply the way that I see it, and it’s the view of my team.
The decision has led us on a streak of success. For example we average 4:6 at the Junior National Championships and Senior Pan American Championships Qualifier – and zero bomb outs. I am not saying we never bomb out, but they are few and far between now. Normally, if something like that happens now, it’s because we are being ultra aggressive and trying to make Team USA.
There’s one other benefit this new philosophy has given us. We make a much higher percentage of those aggressive attempts. All you have to do is look at the American Open Series 3 held in Las Vegas at the end of 2018. We absolutely crushed it. Hunter Elam came out of nowhere to earn a spot on the World Team by opening up at a lifetime PR clean and jerk of 121 kilograms and nailing it. We were aggressive all weekend just like that, and the entire team hit some sort of personal record. We also left the competition with four locked on the Senior World Team, two locked on the Youth World Team, and multiple American records. That’s victory to me, y’all. If the entire team goes 2:6 with this result, I am ok with it. 6:6 with no one on Team USA and/or no one breaking an American record is not a victory. You can keep your little wristband. But once again, this is just our mindset. I’m not saying everyone should think like us. Heck, life is a lot easier not thinking like this.
We’ve also learned to communicate better, and now Coach Crystal handles most of the details like what time weigh-ins are for each individual. Overall the tragedy of 2017 has been a major blessing. Our team is winning more than ever, enjoying each other more than ever, and having a better time slinging weights. That terrible competition helped us define ourselves as a team, and we are all better for it.
Recently at the Vegas Invitational/University Nationals/Youth World Championships, we had a 90% success rate with a couple of hiccups. We didn’t even flinch at the hiccups. We simply addressed the issues and moved on. It’s a necessary lesson all of us have to learn in life.
What’s the moral of the story? You don’t have to like losing. You shouldn’t like losing, or be indifferent to it. However if you want to be someone who wins most of the time, you have to be able to learn from losing. Otherwise, you’ll be the one who continues to lose again and again. I refuse to be that person, and I don’t want that for any of you no matter how big or small your goals are.
On this podcast, we answer listener questions – and these are always some of my favorite podcasts.
You put out content that you hope benefits people, but you’re never really sure. But with these podcasts, we know we’re answering your direct questions.
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Seven of the Greatest Minds in Strength & Conditioning in One Book
PROGRAM SAMPLER VOLUME IV
Take your knowledge and your strength to the next level with a peek inside the minds of these industry experts. Featuring insight and programs from Coach Cal Dietz, Dr. Mike Israetel, Dr. Stu McGill, Coach Dan John, Dr. Bryan Mann, Matt Vincent, and Coach Danny Camargo