Category Archives for "Weightlifting"

Listener Questions Answered – The Barbell Life 285

I want to start off by thanking everyone who writes in to ask us questions.

First, thanks for the privilege of helping you. It’s not something we take lightly, and it’s something we are honored to do. Plus it’s something we love! Few things in life are better than helping out other people.

But also I want to thank people for writing in with questions – because if someone writes in with a question, chances are lots of other people have the same questions and just have never asked.

And when we get questions, we love answering them right here on our podcast. So listen in!


The latest and greatest methods from Travis Mash as he continues to innovate Mash Mafia programming.

Weightlifting - Powerlifting - Super Total

Garage Gym Warrior - Functional Fitness - Strength and Conditioning


  • Recovery for older/busy athletes
  • Gaining size in the legs
  • Jerk technique
  • Elbow pain
  • Back squat frequency
  • and more…

Coaching the Individual: A Case Study with Hannah Dunn

During the recent Max Out Friday, the entire team did incredible. I believe the final count was 10 lifetime PRs in ones session.

We had visitors from all over the country in the house – including my buddies Anders Varner and Doug Larson from Barbell Shrugged, Will from Barbell Stories, Tim and Karina from CrossFit Rugrats, Lance, and my athlete from New Zealand, Isaac Lawgun (who was experiencing his first American Max Out Friday). As you can imagine, the gym was filled with energy and excitement.


Some people thrive in this environment, and some can get distracted. I want my athletes to thrive no matter the environment. An athlete truly becomes great when he or she can perform regardless of circumstances.

Here’s a quick rule of thumb: if an athlete somewhere around the world has performed at a top level with a particular set of circumstances, then those circumstances are no longer an excuse for anyone. For example, Alyssa Ritchie trains alone and has managed to earn the top spot in the 48kg class. (By the way, this is not an article for just weightlifters or strength athletes. This has to do with the coaching of athletes in any sport.)

All of my kids at one time or another make excuses for their performance. I get it. It’s human nature, but my job as a coach is to not allow the excuse to stick. What happens if you are in the Olympics and it’s a bit crazier than normal? Are you going to use that as an excuse for a poor performance? What happens if you are playing quarterback in the Super Bowl and it starts to snow? Are you going to fold?

When Chris Mason and I used to train together as professional powerlifters, we would purposely train with less than optimal circumstances. I wanted us to be prepared for anything at a meet… and we were. I can honestly say that I have never used the circumstances at a meet become an excuse for a poor performance. Here’s the thing: the circumstances are the same for all the competitors. So if one person can do well, there is no longer an excuse for poor performance.

This brings me to my point. During this Max Out Friday, Hannah Dunn absolutely flourished. She tied her all-time snatch PR of 75 kilograms and took some close cracks at a much bigger weight. She clean and jerked up to 92 kilograms (which is 1 kilo below her PR) for a massive lifetime PR total of 167 kilograms. The best part is that she only weighs 57 kilograms right now, so she is in great shape for the 2020 season. She is by far my most improved athlete. In the past all the extra people would have been a distraction for her, leading to a poor performance. Not during the recent Max Out Friday!


So how did she make the progress? I will start with what she has done on her own. She has taken responsibility for every aspect of her weightlifting. She has a sports psychologist who coaches her consistently, and I can say firsthand that the results have been fantastic.

Let me be the first to say the biggest roadblock for most athletes is their mental game. I have personally coached athletes in weightlifting, powerlifting, football, softball, wrestling, and many other sports who were only missing that one aspect: a strong mindset. As coaches we can help with this, but this is not our craft. A professional coach surrounds themselves with an amazing team to refer their athletes to depending on the need. If you are trying to be everything for your athletes, you are doing them a disservice.

Hannah has learned to ignore distractions. She has learned to embrace the energy, clear her mind, and only focus on the task at hand. A couple of weeks ago she showed me these new skills during a competition in Charlotte, winning the overall best lifter as a youth athlete with a 71kg snatch and 93kg clean and jerk for a PR total and PR clean and jerk. The snatch tied her best ever, and she went 5 for 6.

Her improvement has been nothing short of miraculous. She has set somewhere around 12 major personal records in the last three weeks. Hannah, I bet USADA is showing up at your house the day after this is posted.

It’s not just the mental game that she has improved upon. She has taken responsibility for every aspect of her training. She works with Jacky Bigger Simeone, Mash nutrition coach and overall awesome human, to perfect her nutrition game. Is she perfect? Not yet – she’s just 16 years old – but she is ten times better than last year. She is learning to form a healthier relationship with food and bodyweight, which I attribute directly to Jacky. She gets it as a coach and as an awesome athlete. That makes her the perfect coach.

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Hannah has also focused on her recovery, sleep, and overall preparation. My favorite thing she has started doing is coming over to me before each of her working sets to make sure I am watching so she can get my feedback. In a room filled with great athletes, I can’t always see everything, but she makes sure that I see her lifts.

Growing as a Coach

As a coach I feel that Hannah has forced me to get better. When she moved to the Mash Compound with her family, she of course improved a lot. It was new and exciting, leading to lots of personal records. When the newness wore off, things got a bit tougher. I don’t think that my normal coaching style met her needs as an athlete, so she immediately became my project. I wasn’t going to let this young girl fail. She entrusted her hopes and dreams to training with me, and personally I take that seriously.

For a while I had Coach Crystal work with her more than me as I worked on my approach. A great book to read is “Conscious Coaching” by Brett Bartholomew, which is about understanding the different archetypes of athletes. The book defines each of those and then explains best practices for coaching and getting buy-in from the different archetypes. Too many coaches want the athletes to mold to fit their personality. Hey, that’s one way to do it, but you are going to lose a lot of potentially great athletes because of this style of coaching. Even if you don’t lose the athletes, you will 100% not get the results from the different archetypes that you could have by just making some adjustments.

Here are a few things that I learned about coaching Hannah:

  • I maintain 100% positivity.
  • We smile and laugh a lot. Things are already super serious in her brain, so she doesn’t need extra tension from me.
  • I listen to her suggestions for jumps as we get near maximal. That way she is confident and certain of her attempts.
  • We talk about situations a lot – and proper mindset for different situations. That way she is prepared long before she goes to a meet, contest, or a crazy Max Out Friday.
  • I spend more and more time with her, making sure that she understands how much I believe in her.
  • I tell her my honest opinions about the potential of her athletic ability, which I believe to be limitless. This one is huge. Not all athletes grow up believing they can make Team USA or the NFL or the NBA until someone tells them and shows belief in them. I tell Hannah a lot that I believe she can be great, and now she’s starting to believe.

These are just a few of the changes that I have made. I am contemplating a book using her as a case study because I think this is an area where I could help a lot of coaches improve. I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen in the next year, but I know this one thing. We have made tremendous strides over the last year. We will continue to make strides because she is focused and dedicated as an athlete, and her coaches (Crystal and I) are focused and dedicated to becoming the best possible coaches. That combination will lead Hannah directly to the genetic potential that God gave her at birth.


Principles and Real-Life Case Studies on How a Master Programmer Customizes a Program to the Individual

Peek inside Travis's brain... and learn how to individualize your own programs to fit an athlete's strengths, weaknesses, age, gender, sport demands, and unique response to training.

I hope this helps and encourages a few of you coaches and athletes out there. We can all get better. We can all improve. Coaches and athletes alike must continue to attack their weaknesses, so that each and every year brings and new and better product. I vow to all my athletes that I will never stop reading, researching, talking to other coaches, and listening to podcasts until I am the absolute best coach I can be. Let me give all the coaches out there this bit of advice: none of us will ever be done improving as a coach. If you think that you know it all, you should retire. That’s one absolute I have no problem throwing around.

P.S. I am proud of several athletes that I am currently coaching. It just so happens that Hannah and I have made the most strides of late. Let me be clear on one more thing: Coach Crystal has been a huge part of this process. It definitely helps having a female coach in the gym – especially one as good as Crystal.

Remembering Don McCauley

This is the hardest thing I have ever tried to write.

I wrote something about Coach Pendlay, and that was hard. However, this is something different. Coach Pendlay is someone I respected. Don is someone I loved.

We coached together since 2014, starting with our time at MuscleDriver USA. I remember my first day there – and man, did I ever feel intimidated. Don and Glenn are arguably two of the best weightlifting coaches in American history. Glenn was the motivator and recruiter. Don was the technician who didn’t care one bit if you were going to be great or just good. He simply wanted to make a difference in the lives of every athlete he coached.

MuscleDriver USA

Don was a big reason I was offered the position at MDUSA. Coach Pendlay had a stroke at the 2013 American Open, leaving Don all by himself to coach the best weightlifting team in America. At the 2014 Senior National Championships in Salt Lake City, he asked me to help him coach the team. Luckily there were cameras in the back room, so the owner of MDUSA, Brad Hess, saw me coaching the team. At the time I didn’t think there was any selfish benefit to helping out, I just love coaching athletes. Brad Hess saw that passion. When Don got home, he told Brad the team needed someone like me to help assist him with the coaching. Since Brad had already watched me fervently coach his team, he called me in right away to offer me the job.

It was a dream come true to get paid a good salary to coach some of the best weightlifters in American history. Until that point, there had never been such a position. However, like him or not, Brad Hess had created this amazing organization, Team MuscleDriver USA. When I started working there, Coach Pendlay was coaching but wasn’t fully focused. But Don took me under his wing, and we were off and running. I would watch an athlete complete a repetition, and he would ask me what I saw. At first I was way off. His eye was better than a slow motion camera, but over time I got better and better.

Everyday we talked technique and philosophy as it relates to weightlifting. He taught me all about his beloved catapult technique. I laugh at least once per week when I hear it mentioned incorrectly online. There were so many misconceptions about the way he coached. But this article isn’t the place I am going to discuss weightlifting technique. At this very moment, I could care less about weightlifting technique because all I want to do is talk to my friend.

Black and White

Most of you know him as the weightlifting technique guru – and yes, he taught me loads about technique. However, there is something else he tried to teach me – and maybe, just maybe, he has taught me this final lesson in his passing. Coach Don McCauley was unwavering in his beliefs and values. He was black or white, and there was no gray with that man. I like to find common ground when discussing controversial topics. He often criticized me for this. Now looking back I am agreeing with him.

He would say, “Travis, you are such a politician. You need to let people know where they stand with you. Wrong is wrong, and right is right.”

Not doing this has often got me in trouble. I want to please others with all my heart, and often that desire to please does nothing but cause more grief in the long run. It’s funny that Sean Waxman, someone Don disagreed with so much, is also my friend. That quality of me is something they both agree on, so maybe I am like that so the two of them agree on something.

The Real Don

One thing we shared was a love for the athletes. His athletes were his children. He was married to the sport, and in that I am 100% positive. He didn’t care if he was working with an Olympian or someone trying to make the American Open. He was going to give them his all, and they were going to know that he loved them. It wasn’t his words that let them know. Heck, his sarcastic humor was downright brutal at times. It was his actions. It was the way he watched them like no other lifter in the world existed in that moment but them. His steadfast stare was one of passion and intensity.

Nothing pleased him more than to help an athlete overcome a challenging technical issue. You could tell that he shared in their joy way down deep. Every athlete was a puzzle that he was going to solve. It was his oxygen; his reason to live.

I saw him perform miracles with athletes. I saw him take Jess Kinzler in only 10 weeks from the ninth best in her weight class to a silver medal (she darn near won the thing on a final jerk). I wanted to impact athletes like that. I wanted to see athletes enjoy that feeling of accomplishment because I helped them overcome obstacles. He helped me get to that point.

It was Don who gave me the desire to help other coaches. He worked with coaches like Vinh Huynh and me as intently as he did with the athletes. He would share his thoughts on technique, programming, and overall coaching into the late hours of the night (with a few glasses of wine, of course). I believe that some part of him realized he wouldn’t be on this planet very much longer, and that feeling of urgency persuaded him to teach us. A lot of coaches want to keep their “secrets” to themselves, but Coach Mac wanted his understudies to get it… really get it. Only the coaches who can see the barbell like an experienced coach will understand what I am talking about.

Is the bar path “in, up, and back” or is it “out, up, and in front”? What’s causing the issue? What verbal cue or drill will help fix it? When is a good time to use the Mac Board? This man lived his life to master this one thing and one thing only. He understood the sport of weightlifting from both a physics and a philosophical stand point. He got it! He simply got it!

His Legacy

Let me end by making one final point. There are several of you who didn’t agree with everything he said, and that’s fine. I didn’t agree with everything he said. Yet none of us can deny his coaching worked. He coached athletes all the way to the international level with Team USA throughout three decades of his career. Most of you haven’t been coaching three years let alone thirty. Most of you will never coach an athlete to the world championships let alone the Olympics – but yet he did it with four different teams and multiple athletes.

You can debate him all you want, but his resume is probably going to win out over just about anyone else’s. That’s why I normally kept my mouth shut when I didn’t agree with him. I always thought it was funny when people would criticize his coaching. Not everyone thinks that Michael Jordan is the best basketball player in NBA history (although he is), but no one ever doubts that he is at least high on the list. You might not think Don is the best weightlifting coach in American history, but his record clearly places him high on the list also.

I want to celebrate Coach Don’s life by giving all of you a few of the gold nuggets that I learned from him:

  • Rhythm is the most important skill a weightlifter can have.
  • The angle of the torso can indeed change during the pull and normally does a bit – but by the time the bar is right below the knee, it shouldn’t change at all until the lifter begins the second pull.
  • Any extra time spent at the top of the pull is wasted time.
  • Oompa Loompa! If you know, you know. If you don’t, ask me about it when you see me.
  • Push with your whole foot through the floor during the pull and the jerk.
  • Sweep the bar in after the knees.
  • As you pull under the bar, keep the bar moving right up the shirt (close to the body).
  • Never sacrifice technique for more weight during the process of developing a weightlifter.
  • Drive the back foot down on the jerk, and a lot of your problems will be solved.
  • You only get one chance to do it right the first time, so don’t mess (most of you know that he didn’t say “mess”) it up.

I am a better man from knowing the great Coach Don McCauley. I miss him. I watched him get hurt by athletes countless times – and man, did it cut him deep. I saw him help athletes go from good to great, and then watched the same athletes leave him for some other guru. It baffled me. The best thing I learned from this process was that he never let his heart get hardened by the actions of an athlete. He opened his heart to the next athlete in exactly the same way.

Lately I am still learning what appears to be his final lesson to me. I have the tendency to harden my heart to protect it from being broken, but that’s not what Don taught me – and surely isn’t what Christ taught me with His actions. I love my athletes. Don, I promise that I will love each of them in the exact same way as the ones before them. The scary part of being a coach is opening your heart up to new athletes, but it is also a necessary part. Coach Mac, tonight I will raise my glass in honor of you, and I promise to love each of my athletes the same way that you loved all of yours – no matter what hurt that love might bring.

So here’s to your final lesson! I love you, Coach Don. Your life’s work will live on with me and the countless other coaches and athletes that you touched during your time on this earth.

Military Stories and Fitness with Wayne McCullough – The Barbell Life 281

I talk all the time about my freak athlete Morgan McCullough.

And of course podcast listeners know Morgan’s mother – my co-host Crystal McCullough. (She’s far more than a podcast co-host. She is an essential coach on our team.)

Well today we’ve got the father of the family, Wayne McCullough, on the podcast. Wayne is a coach here with us at LEAN Fitness Systems, and he had a long and distinguished career in the military.

He shares with us some great stories of what he saw as a helicopter pilot, and we also talk about his fitness journey from totally out-of-shape to now being strong and fit.

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  • Crazy stories from the battlefront
  • What are you feeding yourself?
  • How he overcome passing out frequently
  • Getting into CrossFit
  • What 9/11 was like on a military base
  • and more…

Training Fighters with Ricky McFarlane – The Barbell Life 280

Ricky McFarlane went from a rugby stud to an intern with me at Mash Elite – and now he is crushing it as a successful trainer for fighters.

He has worked with some high-level MMA athletes and boxers, and his business is blowing up.

One thing I loved about this podcast is that Ricky uses the classic principles that matter, but he is also adding in modern innovations like velocity based training and monitoring heart rate variability.

So listen in to this podcast to hear about the protocols that are getting results and what so many others get wrong.


The Art of Combining:

Weightlifting - Powerlifting - Bodybuilding

Strongman - Functional Fitness - Endurance Cardio

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  • Starting a MMA training business
  • How to get athletes recovered leading up to a fight
  • Innovative pull-ups and micro-dosing plyometrics
  • Breaking down his training methods
  • What people get so wrong in training fighters
  • and more…

Do Coaches Overcomplicate on Purpose?

I recently reposted a video that Nat Arem, aka Hookgrip, posted of Andreev Bojidar with a massive clean and jerk of 198 kilograms in the 81-kilogram weight class. He actually competes at 73 kilograms, making this video even more impressive.

In the video, Andreev pretty much broke every rule that the majority of American weightlifting coaches preach. Here’s what he did “wrong”:

  • His back angle changed immensely right off the floor
  • He was on his toes by the time the bar was passing his knees
  • He pulled with bent elbows
  • When the bar made contact at the hip, his shoulders were well behind the bar
  • There was no vertical finish at all, but instead a very horizontal (back) finish

What’s my point? I am definitely not here to start some new controversy regarding technique but rather to say that maybe the technique police need to chill out. I just now took about an hour combing through the first ten Hookgrip videos on YouTube, and I am not certain if there are very many universal technique recommendations. I just watched Lasha, the greatest heavyweight in the history of the sport, snatch with a flexed spine and go around his knees.


Let me get to the actual point because I assume by now almost all of you, the true weightlifting coaches, are getting super heated. I did that on purpose because it is too easy to upset you guys. I still love all of you. I am definitely not saying that technique is irrelevant. I am just saying there probably isn’t a universal technique any of us should be spreading like it is the gospel of weightlifting that’s going to save all the terrible athletes of the world from a mediocre career. There simply isn’t a technique that will do that.

In my Facebook post regarding this video, I asked the question, “So if you have an athlete clean and jerking 198kg at 81kg, do you still stop and change their pull to a more vertical one?” There were a lot of great answers – most being opinion since there isn’t a lot of research on the topic as of now. My buddy Coach Vinh Huynh took the video as a chance to prove his way of teaching, which is much more of a lay-back approach as long as the hips, knees, and bar stay within that center of mass.

Coach Sean Waxman, being much more of a traditional vertical pull guy, agreed that it is too late to change this athlete’s technique due to training age and level. However, Coach Waxman did point out that his horizontal finish could cost him a kilo or two, which is the difference in winning and losing at that level. He made the point that coaches only get one chance to coach an athlete up from nothing, so don’t mess it up. I will come back to this point in just a bit.

I think that Coach Matt Foreman made the preeminent comment of the thread:

“Hey Travis, just my personal opinion but I think he’s probably found the best way to move for him personally. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was taught the same way we all teach, with vertical pull movement, and then just adapted his technique over time. And it was probably totally unplanned and unintentional, just happened on its own and it led to 200 kg.”

Coach Foreman’s statement brings me to my own conclusion: I don’t think that it really matters a lot.

I know that breaks the heart of a lot of coaches who get their worth through coaching, but I believe it to be true. I do think we need to choose a technique that we use to progress athletes, but then I believe their own anthropometrics and genetics will dictate their individual technique at the end of the day. I also believe that we as coaches need to make sure we don’t get in the way of this natural progression.

I watch too many coaches trying to make their athletes fit into this set way of moving. All we have to do is watch other sports to see that this is a bad idea. If you watch basketball or baseball, you will see several versions of amazing athletes performing a particular skill slightly differently – but yet with similar results. I think all of us should stop trying to make square pegs fit into round holes. The most humor I get is when a coach finds one athlete who actually fits their way of coaching and then uses that one athlete to justify their biased technique. What about the 100 other athletes you coach? (Well, that is assuming they have any other athletes at all.)

Technique Preferences and Changing Them

Here are some basics I teach:

  1. The bar should travel straight up, preferably toward the athlete off the floor – but never forward.
  2. Stay through the whole foot for as long as possible while keeping the shoulders over the bar.
  3. I teach a vertical and then slightly-back finish (obviously this isn’t a universal law).
  4. I don’t teach hanging out for a long time at the top. I teach to extend at the knees and hips followed by a sensational rip under the bar.
  5. I teach a slight movement out of the feet, but that isn’t 100% mandatory. I think if you look at 10 Hookgrip videos, 80% of the athletes will move their feet out slightly for a better base in the overhead squat position and front squat position.


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Here are some things that you have to consider before totally overhauling an athlete’s technique:

  1. Are they getting steady improvement?
  2. Are they consistent in competition averaging at least four out of six?
  3. Is their clean and jerk 72% or higher of their back squat along with a snatch that is 80% or higher of their clean and jerk?

If the answers to those three questions are all yes, then you really don’t have a lot to worry about. You are getting as much out of the athlete and their technique as can be expected. I guess someone could say their special samurai technique might make this athlete even more efficient – but to that I roll my eyes. If you have been to a world championship, you realize there are several ways to set a world record. This leads me to my final point.

Why Coaches Matter

If you bank your ability as a coach on your special technique, I have to question your worth as a coach. Here’s a fact that all truly great coaches can attest to: a great athlete is going to be great almost no matter what. So if your whole career is staked on producing one great athlete, you are probably not that good. A great athlete is the direct result of the parents.

Now before you think I believe coaches are worthless, let me explain the true traits of a great coach. As a coach you have to be able to get athlete buy-in. You have to be able to cultivate and nurture an amazing culture. You must have the ability to make athletes see their own potential, which is probably the hardest trait of all.

Yes, of course you have to produce a program that gets athletes stronger and a program that crushes individual weaknesses. Coaches must be able to teach the movements they want to coach from scratch, and they must possess a system to progress those movements. Each coach must have an arsenal of technical cues and drills to help athletes overcome movement weaknesses.

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Finally, I am going to tell you what all great coaches don’t want you to know. All great coaches must be great recruiters.

Let me clarify that. To be a great recruiter doesn’t mean you go around stealing athletes from other coaches – especially when an athlete is doing well in a particular system. It doesn’t mean you go to an international meet and try to recruit amazing athletes from a particular coach (statement based on true events). It means you should keep your eyes open for amazing athletes who move well and possess certain athletic qualities that might make them particularly good at the sport the coach teaches. Ryan Grimsland came to me as a CrossFitter wanting to get a bit stronger. He moved really well and had the athletic qualities I knew could make him a great weightlifter. Now he is the number one youth weightlifter in the country and one of the top three in the world.

Anyway, these are just my thoughts. There isn’t a lot of research that proves any of our opinions on technique – at least not yet. But I believe there will be some coming in the near future. This is a hint to an announcement I plan on making soon so get ready. For now, we have to go off of experience, and of course all the Hookgrip videos.

I look forward to the fallout from this article. I can honestly say I have in no way written this to offend any particular person, but rather to open positive dialogue among the coaches in America. Hopefully that’s exactly what it does.

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