Category Archives for "Weightlifting"

Video: Ryan Grimsland Dominating

Our friend Will, owner of William Breault Photography, captured this incredible moment at the Youth Nationals.

This moment means so much to Ryan and me. When he first started training with me, he simply wanted to get stronger for CrossFit. I could see right away that he was going to be a special Weightlifter. Now he’s the number one ranked youth athlete in America. This video captured his last Youth Nationals. It’s a moment I will never forget.

He set a PR clean and jerk of 155 kilograms / 341 pounds at this meet after competing just days earlier in Cuba at the Junior Pan American Championships and setting four Pan American records. Incredible week for this young man and his coach!

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The Yoda of Weightlifting, Coach Dan Bell – The Barbell Life 266

I like to call Coach Dan Bell the “Yoda” of weightlifting.

He’s not one who puts his name out there, but every time I talk to him I wonder why he’s not more well known. This guy just breaks down weightlifting in a way that few others can.

He’s been in the weightlifting game for decades, he was Olympian Holly Mangold’s original coach, and he’s got so many great stories to tell.

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  • A volcano eruption, drug lord guerrillas, and other crazy stories
  • Amazing insight on the front squat
  • Intuition vs. science
  • Coaching Holly Mangold
  • What makes a good coach or a bad coach
  • and more…

Pyrros Dimas: Stop Humping the Bar

During the Junior Pan American Championships in Cuba, I had the chance to sit down with Pyrros Dimas and Mike Gattone to discuss technique.

In case you don’t know, Pyrros and Mike are basically USAW’s head coaches at international events. Pyrros’s official title is Technical Director, and Mike’s is Senior Director of Sport Performance. Pyrros is a three-time Olympic Gold Medalist, and Mike has been coaching for thirty years. Mike coached the Tara Nott – Olympic Gold Medalist. What I am trying to explain is that between the two, they possess a wealth of knowledge. You would have to be a fool not to at least listen to these wise men.


We ended up discussing all of my individual Team USA athletes, and then the conversation turned to Pyrros’s observations of America in general. Over the last few years under the leadership of Phil Andrews (USAW’s CEO), American weightlifting has exploded. During the last Olympic quad, Americans talked about “making the world team at the Olympics.” Now we are medaling at every international competition. Heck, now our teams are winning the big events. For example, at the Youth Worlds, the men’s and women’s teams both won the team competition. That was a first in American weightlifting history.

With all the “new normal” happening, Pyrros explained a couple of things that still have to happen before American weightlifting can truly dominate:

  1. Identify and recruit younger ages to create pure weightlifters.
  2. Stop humping the bar.

As far as identifying and recruiting younger athletes, I totally agree. It’s so much easier to develop athletes when you get them young. I have two incredible youth athletes, Ryan Grimsland and Morgan McCullough. I have several others who have the ability to become incredible. It’s simply easier to teach athletes at a young age. They don’t have faulty movement patterns to unlearn. For the most part, they aren’t distracted by life events like college, work, and relationships.

Morgan Snatch

I have found the earlier you can get an athlete, the better. The goal early on is development regarding technique, strengthening positions, and work capacity. Competition at an early age is also very important to prepare the athletes mentally to excel on the platform where it counts. Proper development during these younger years prepares the athletes to explode when they are prime for international competition – usually between the ages of 18-28 (this is just an average with some athletes peaking much later).

USA Weightlifting has a grassroots and recruitment specialist, Suzy Sanchez, who is working hard to recruit new athletes to ensure the success of USA Weightlifting for years to come. It’s my belief we need to focus in this area for stage two of “make America unbeatable forever.” I’d like to see some of the top American coaches form a committee to brainstorm this area, giving positive feedback to the folks at USA Weightlifting. However, this article isn’t about this goal. (I will write more about that in a later article.)

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“Humping the Bar”

This article is in reference to Pyrros’s second observation of American weightlifting and how lifters “hump the bar.” Let me explain this deficiency a little more clearly. He’s talking about the athlete beginning the second pull too early and reaching for the bar with his or her hips – pushing the bar on a more horizontal course. The goal is to use one’s legs as long as possible during the initial pull while squeezing the bar close to the body. Any horizontal displacement of the bar’s path will lead to a missed lift.

I am going to explain the first and second pull briefly. Then I am going to tell you a few mistakes Pyrros pointed out. Finally, I am going to explain how I am trying to counter those mistakes with my own team.

First and Second Pull

Let’s look at bar path first:

  • Off the floor the bar should travel either straight up or preferably a bit toward the body
  • The bar bath should continue to travel straight up or slightly back toward the body – with the athlete extending their legs, sweeping the bar into the body with their lats, maintaining an angle of the torso with the shoulders well above the hips, and keeping the shoulders over and slightly in front of the bar.
  • The first pull should last until the bar is as far above the knees as possible with the knees having cleared the road for the barbell. Don McCauley used to say “pretend the legs are longer than they really are.”
  • The second pull begins when the legs have extended. At that point, the hips begin the move to create the power position with the feet staying flat and pressing forcefully into the ground. The weight should be centered now in the middle of the feet.
  • The power position is formed when the feet are preferably flat, knees bent four to six inches, shoulders on top of the bar, arms long, and elbows out. Of course there are examples of athletes being successful with slight variances of each, but this is the optimal position.
  • The completion of the second pull happens when the hips and knees extend violently with the shoulders extending vertical and then slightly back.

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After a long talk with @pyrrospyrros and @mgattone64 I have implemented a whole new system for our accumulation and preparation phases. The goal is to correct what @pyrrospyrros believes is the number one issue with American weightlifting and that’s humping the bar. He explained that we needed to focus on using our legs even more during the pull while exemplifying patience with staying over the bar. I’m also working on consistency with getting the bar in towards the body off the floor. In this video, I am demonstrating a few of the ways that we are working to fix these three issues (using our legs, staying over the bar, and sweeping the bar in off the floor. I am going to finish a longer video and article tonight for you guys. Enjoy this clip. FYI it’s pretty cool to see 17-year-old @ryangrimsland totaling 250kg with this complex. Lots of progress in only two weeks with lots more to do. This is one of many examples of @usa_weightlifting working together on the one solitary goal of making American Weightlifting dominant. I appreciate this so much @a.phil . =================== <link in bio> for: . – Mash Mafia Online Team . -Hundreds of Free Articles & Workouts . -Donate to the 501c3 nonprofit team . – 22 Awesome E-Books . -Seminars . -Online Video Seminar . -FREE “Mash Method” E-Book . -FREE “The Barbell Life Podcast” . . @intekstrength #intekstrength @athleteps @harbingerfitness #harbingerfitness @tfox66 #nikeweightlifting #athleteps @mg12power #mg12thepowerofmagnesium #wodfitters @wodfitters @strongerexperts #strongerexperts @leanfitnesssystems #LEANFit @shruggedcollective @andersvarner @usaweightlifting #usaw

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Problems Pyrros Identified

The three mistakes that Pyrros pointed out in several American weightlifters are as follows:

  • The bar traveling away from the body during the initial pull
  • Pushing the hips past vertical to meet the bar, causing horizontal displacement
  • Beginning the second pull way too early

I let his comments resonate for several days while looking at the pull of my athletes. As a whole we are great at the clean and jerk, but several of my athletes are slightly lacking in the snatch. Even though a few of my athletes are incredible in the snatch – such as Hunter Elam – we aren’t as consistent in the snatch as compared to the clean and jerk.

As a coach, the only way to ensure your team is improving is to objectively analyze the performances of your athletes. If you want to believe your training program and technique are superior to the entire world with no room for improvement, then you are doomed to never improve. I have no pride when it comes to my abilities as a coach. I only have a desire to be the best coach, and therefore giving my athletes the best possible chance for success.

Implementing Solutions

After pondering Mike’s and Pyrros’s advice and analyzing my own team, here is what I set out to improve with my team:

  • Bar traveling back off the floor
  • Pushing with the legs longer while staying out over the bar
  • Strengthening the optimal pulling position

These are the exercises and cues we are using:

1. Lift off to knees – We are using lift off to the knees with both the snatch and clean. The goal is to focus on the initial pull coming in toward the body off the floor. We are thinking about pushing with the legs versus pulling, sweeping, or squeezing the bar in with the lats, setting the back tight by tucking the scapula together and down, bracing at the core with the valsalva maneuver, and lifting the chest. The main cues I am using are: push, squeeze, and lift.

In case you don’t know, a “lift off” is simply pulling the bar to slightly above the knees working on that initial pull. A lift off is followed by the full lift with a snatch or clean. I tell all of my athletes to perform the pull of the full movement slowly during warm ups to ensure the proper bar path is being used. We’ve only been doing this plan for two weeks, and so far the difference has been quantifiably excellent. We still have room for improvement, but I’ll take bar path improvements of any degree.

2. Hang Snatch Pulls hovering two inches from floor with a five-second eccentric – Pyrros gave me the idea of slower eccentric hang snatches and hang cleans, but I added this variation with just the pulls. The main reason is the ability to add more repetitions without the threat of decreased technical proficiency. I wanted more repetitions to further ingrain the better movement pattern into the athletes’ CNS, and I wanted to take things to the 5RM range for optimal hypertrophy. For a lot of my younger athletes, it’s simply a matter of strength. They aren’t able to hold those positions out over the bar for as long as is required for best results.

The hang assures constant tension along with the hovering two inches from the ground. Too many athletes set the bar down, and then take 30 seconds between repetitions. It becomes another whole repetition prescription with that much rest between repetitions. The whole goal for this exercise is to strengthen the pull of the snatch with a more optimal position. Therefore if you can’t maintain the position I discussed earlier, you should cut the weight or stop the exercise. This entire block is designed to perfect our athletes’ pull, so precision is everything.


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3. Hang Snatch hovering two inches from floor with a five-second eccentric – This movement is the same as the preceding one except the athlete is actually snatching. This movement is performed lighter with more sets to ensure the precise technique is being used. We are literally using something pull-related every day during this accumulation block to ingrain the optimal pattern into the brains of our athletes.

This movement starts from the hang (bar at the crease of the hip with the athlete standing erect). The athlete takes five seconds to lower the weight to around two inches from the floor before exploding upward into a hang snatch. During the snatch, the athlete should make sure to extend their legs and sweep the bar in with the lats – while keeping their shoulders over the bar for as long as possible, maintaining the angle of their torso for as long as possible.

4. Snatch Pulls off four-inch blocks – Here’s one all of you are probably familiar with. I like to use this exercise to overload the pull in the snatch and the clean. However the key is maintaining the proper position. This is a good exercise to push past 100% of an athlete’s maximum, but only if proper positions can be maintained. If there is any breakdown in movement, the exercise ends. In this case, we are really emphasizing using the extension of the legs, sweeping the bar close off of the floor, and maintaining a good angle at the torso with the athletes’ shoulders out over the bar.

5. Snatch Pull to hip paused at hip three seconds + Snatch – This is one of my favorite exercises we are using right now to improve the positions of our athletes. This is an exaggerated pull where the emphasis is completely extending the legs while staying out over the bar. If an athlete completely extends their legs while maintaining a good angle of the torso (shoulders well above the hips), the bar will be somewhere around the hip crease with their legs extended. The three-second pause is our way of using an isometric contraction to stabilize the proper position. An isometric contraction is the best way to strengthen a joint at a specific angle – in this case the knee joint, hip joint, and all of the intervertebral joints. Isometric contractions are also great for strengthening the joint slightly below and above the specific joint.

Since the goal is to practice the improved pull and to strengthen the specific joint angles, we are using more repetitions for the pull than the actual snatch. For example – in week one, we performed three snatch pulls with a three-second pause and one snatch. During the snatch, the goal is to really focus on maintaining the drive in the legs to further ingrain the proper movement in the athlete’s brain. I recommend my athletes perform the pull during the snatch slowly during the warm up sets to perfect our emphasis during this stage of training.

6. Clean Pull to hip paused at upper thigh/hip three seconds + Clean + Jerk – This is of course the exact same thing as the snatch pull to hip + snatch, except we are focusing on the clean. With most athletes, when their legs are extended, the bar will be somewhere around the upper thigh – give or take a few inches due to arm length.

7. Lasha Snatch Pulls – I’ve had several people ask me about this movement. This is where the conversation started with Pyrros and Mike. Pyrros showed me a video of the famous Georgian heavyweight Lasha Talaxadze performing pulls while completely staying over the bar, violently extending his legs, and remaining flat footed the entire pull. There’s a shrug that happens from the momentum caused by his awesome extension. He keeps his arms long and loose, which allows them to move quickly after extension. Here’s the video on Instagram brought to you by “All Things Gym.”

This type of pull will lead to a more powerful pull, a better bar path, and a faster turnover with an athlete’s arms. Overall this pull will help my athletes emphasize a better technique and a stronger position. Right now we are using it once per week, but I will probably take this to two times per week after this first block. We are simply doing so many pull-emphasis movements that I thought adding one more day of Lasha Pulls might be too much.

8. No-Hook-No-Feet Snatch + Hang Snatch below knee with five-second eccentric – No hook and no feet snatches are great for emphasizing a better bar path without the athlete having to think too much about the movement. Without a hookgrip, most athletes will keep the bar close to them naturally to avoid losing their grip. Of course it will also emphasize better timing at the top of the lift as well, since the athlete will have to rely on the pull under versus up. Once again, we are using a five-second eccentric during the hang snatch to further strengthen the proper movement and position.

9. Clean Deadlifts with mini-Bands – eccentric slower than concentric – If you want to strengthen your pull in a way that recruits more fibers throughout the pull, this is the exercise for you. I just performed this movement recently – and man, did I get sore. The bands are great, but the slow eccentric portion is the key to strengthening the pull with perfect positions. Of course the athlete should be cut off if they can’t maintain a good position throughout the pull. I prescribe taking this movement heavier as long as they can maintain proper movement and positions.

If you are a strength and conditioning coach, this movement is great for getting any athlete as strong as possible. This is one of the movements that helped me personally obtain an 800-pound deadlift. If you are a weightlifting coach, this will strengthen your athletes in a way that will transfer to the sport. Accommodating resistance will teach the body to recruit fibers throughout the pull, leading to an explosive second pull. As the band lengthens, it adds more and more resistance to the pull with maximal load at the top.

10. Barbell Hyperextensions, Reverse Hypers, and Rows – All of our accessory movements are designed to strengthen the posterior chain, so the athletes can gain the strength required to maintain a solid position during the pull. The spinal extensors should be the key muscles targeted, so the athlete can gain the strength to stay out over the bar for as long as possible. Of course, we are trying to strengthen the hamstrings, glutes, and the entire back. Personally, my favorite movement to strengthen the spinal extensors is the goodmorning. However, during this phase we are performing so many pull exercises that adding the goodmorning might be a bit too much on the back. We will probably add the goodmorning in to our program during the next block.

I hope this article gives you all the ideas necessary to improve the pull of your athletes or yourself for that matter. I am grateful for men like Pyrros Dimas and Mike Gattone. We have an amazing family at USA Weightlifting thanks to the leadership of Phil Andrews. I am proud to be a part of this family.

These movements will be great for athletes as well, since the focus is strengthening the posterior chain. If you want strong, explosive, and durable athletes, you might want to try a few of these exercises.


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Greg Nuckols on Training Men, Women, Young, and Old – The Barbell Life 264

Chances are if you’re reading this, you know who Greg Nuckols is.

I am so proud of this young man. He has gone from being an intern at my facility to now being a pillar in the strength industry.

Greg joins us today to talk with us in depth about what he’s been studying lately related to men and women. We talk about their different training needs and challenges – and we also talk about how men and women differ dramatically as they age.


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.


  • The affects of different birth control prescriptions on lifting
  • Major differences in the specificity needs of men and women
  • How men and women lifters change as they get older
  • Why Greg will NOT be getting a doctorate
  • Hormone replacement therapy for men and women
  • and more…

Understanding the Olympic Lifts Before Teaching Them

I am a huge proponent of teaching the Olympic lifts – the snatch and clean and jerk. They are great movements for sports performance, at times general fitness, and for competitive sport of course.

For sports performance, you get the most bang for your buck when performing these Olympic lifts. For starters, you get a pull, a squat, and an overhead press with one movement versus three separate movements. In a field where time is everything, you can’t beat it. You also get:

  • force absorption when you meet the bar during the catch phase.
  • power production which is second to none in the weight room.
  • kinesthetic awareness as you learn to move around a heavy bar in space.
  • mobility because it is required with these movements.
  • core stability – especially in the torso as it stabilizes during the pull and catch phase.

If you are coaching general fitness, CrossFit has shown us all that the Olympic movements are great for coaching adults… if the adults are able to perform the movements properly. A simple assessment using the front squat, overhead squat, snatch deadlift, and the strict press will tell you if the athlete is capable of performing the movements. This goes for athletes and general fitness adults. If they can’t perform these four movements, then you probably need to start with teaching them these four movements and helping them improve their movement patterns.

Guys, a 40-year-old accountant who has been strapped to his desk and computer for the last twenty years isn’t prepared to snatch. They might never be prepared to snatch. That’s ok! They can do other movements that will improve their mobility and strength without hurting them. This is part of the main point of this article. As coaches we have to be experts in what we are teaching. If we aren’t experts, then we shouldn’t be teaching.

Last of course, the snatch and clean and jerk are great movements for competitive sport. At Mash, we coach some of the best weightlifters in the world. However, if you want to coach the sport, you dang well better understand the movements and the ins and outs of the sport. FYI there are a lot of ins and outs. Too many athletes get burned out and/or hurt by coaches who simply don’t understand the sport. It never fails, no matter how many ‘how to’ videos and articles I produce, we see rookie coaches who literally have no idea what they are doing at meets.


Here’s the main point of this article: If you don’t know how to teach the Olympic lifts, please don’t try and teach them. If you are dead set on teaching them, then take a USA Weightlifting Level 1 Coaching Course and get a foundation. From there, find a mentor near you to shadow and ask questions. I’ve had so many great mentors over the years who have helped me with the lifts – like Coach Sean Waxman, Coach Don McCauley, and Coach Kevin Doherty. Don’t let your ego get in the way. Your athletes deserve better.

I am not talking about specific technique, degree of plantar flexion, or how much to move one’s feet. I will save all of that for a pure weightlifting article. I am talking about teaching the lifts in a way where the athletes will be able to perform the competitive lifts safely and in a manner where the aforementioned benefits will be realized by the athletes. I am going to break the concerns into two categories: Safety concerns and performance concerns.

Safety Concerns

There are four main things I am looking for to determine the safety of the Olympic lifts:

  • Properly tracking feet and knees
  • Neutral spine
  • Safe rack position in the clean
  • Safe overhead position in the jerk and snatch

Properly tracking feet and knees: Two days ago I got into a Twitter argument with a lady about a video I posted. I had found a video of one of her athletes on a meme account on Instagram performing the worst clean I have ever seen. First he was performing the clean with some sort of free moving machine, which was the first mistake. Regardless if they were using a machine or a barbell, you always want the athlete pulling, catching, and squatting with knees that track with the first two toes (big toe and pointer toe). Significant amounts of valgus or varus (knees inside the feet or knees outside the feet) are bad for an athlete over time and can cause injury if left untreated. The athlete was demonstrating massive amounts of knee valgus during the pull and the catch phase. The worst part of the whole thing is the coach had no idea they were putting the athlete at risk. One could wonder – what made the coach believe they were qualified to coach athletes? I tried to offer the coach free help to teach them basic biomechanics, but instead of taking me up on the offer she just tried to make excuses and defend their style of training. Coaches – don’t let a silly thing like pride keep you from improving in your chosen craft.

Neutral Spine: Keeping a neutral spine is the most important part of the equation for the safety of the athlete. During a deadlift there is some pretty good evidence that pulling with a flexed thoracic spine will not end up in injury – noting that’s when the athlete begins the pull with a flexed spine and maintains that degree of flexion throughout the pull. When your spine starts moving while in motion and under load – that’s when injury can quickly yield its ugly face. Personally, I have never had any back issues since adhering to the teachings of Dr. Stuart McGill. As far as I know, he’s performed more research on the spine, especially where sport is concerned, than any other scientist of his kind. Therefore, I have to go with neutral spine most of the time with my athletes.



After combing through the research and interviewing the experts, the result is a guide that will refine your technique and boost your squat in a safe and effective manner.

When it comes to the dynamic Olympic lifts, I recommend neutral spine all of the time. If you let your spine flex during the dynamic pull of the snatch or clean, you are asking for a major injury. If your spine flexes during the catch portion, you are putting yourself at significant risk by flexing with a massive load at those speeds.

If you are a sport athlete, you will negate the benefits of force absorption if you catch with a flexed spine. The goal is to teach the athlete to absorb force with a flat back (aka neutral spine), so they can then turn around and deliver the blow to their opponent. If you watch really good rugby players or NFL football players, you will notice their backs never budge during collisions.

Safe rack position in the clean: There are a few necessities when it comes to the rack position in the clean. An athlete will be required to have optimal shoulder protraction and elevation to form the resting position for the bar. The bar will sit behind the front delt and in front of the traps. There is a nice little crevice for the bar to rest in between the delt and trap if the athlete has proper shoulder protraction. The athlete will also be required to have good lat and triceps mobility to allow for proper elbow height as well as good mobility to allow the elbows to get around and up in a quick fashion.

If the athlete can’t get into a good position, they are at risk of hurting their wrists – especially on a mistimed clean – causing the elbows to hit the knees and trapping the bent wrists with the barbell. The collarbones are at risk if the athlete can’t protract and elevate their shoulders. Athletes have actually broken their collarbones over time by not having proper rack positions.

Safe overhead position in the jerk and snatch: If you want to see a bad overhead position in the snatch, simply visit a poorly coached CrossFit. If the coaching staff is forcing all members to snatch, you will see some middle-aged adults trying to snatch with techniques that will make your skin crawl. I am not talking about simply bad technique. I am talking about snatches that are literally risking the orthopedic health of the athletes with each and every repetition.


I’ve got news for you all. Some people are never going to perform a proper snatch. If they have been working at a desk for the last twenty years and have naturally poor movement, they are going to be restricted. Some are never going to get the movement required to snatch, and that’s okay. They simply want to be healthy. It’s our jobs as professionals to help them get healthy without hurting them.

A snatch requires shoulder mobility and spine mobility, especially in the thoracic spine. The scapula will need to move properly as well. The athlete will be required to place the bar at arm’s length somewhere over the ears or slightly behind that line. The athlete will need to maintain a neutral spine and be able to keep their ribcage down. If they can’t keep their ribcage down, they are getting movement from their lumbar spine as opposed to the thoracic spine. The lumbar spine is meant to be stable during loaded movements. When it starts moving under load, an injury is probably going to occur.

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For a good coach, there are several other options for adults – like snatch pulls, dumbbell snatches, kettlebell snatches, or snatch pulls from blocks. Meanwhile, you can work on their mobility unloaded in a safe manner. The goal is to have your adults leaving your facility feeling better than when they walked in. They shouldn’t be driving home cringing in pain from snatches they weren’t meant to do.

Some coaches use the excuse that their adults won’t listen to them. I’ve heard coaches say their adults want to do what everyone else is doing, so they grab a bar and start snatching even though their coach had told them not to. My response is for them to be the professional. It’s all about communication. Your athletes/clients have to trust that you have their best interest at heart, and they have to believe you possess the knowledge to best lead them in a direction most suited for them.

Let me be clear on something: I am not just talking to CrossFit coaches working with adults. I am talking to you coaches working with young athletes. If you can’t teach the movement proficiently, then you shouldn’t teach the lifts at all. You can always learn to teach a perfect squat, pull, press, and row. Then you can add in some plyometrics and med ball throws to have a perfect program. The Olympic lifts are only awesome if taught properly.

Let me end by saying the Olympic lifts are great movements. But they are only as good as the coach teaching them. If you are a strength and conditioning coach, put your time in and learn the lifts properly. You can normally find a weightlifting coach in your area who would love to mentor you on the movements. CrossFit coaches – you need to do the same thing. All coaches need to realize not everyone is ready to learn the Olympic lifts. You need to always have regressions in your toolbox. Your athletes trust you, and they believe you have their best interest in mind. It’s up to us meet these expectations.

What We Learned from Our Super Week

A week ago, our coaches were facing the most challenging week in the history of our team.

We had three competing at the Junior Pan American Championships in Cuba – and then 21 were scheduled for the Youth National Championships in Anaheim, CA. One of our athletes, Ryan Grimsland, was signed up for both, since it was his last Youth Nationals.

This article is not just a massive brag session, but it could definitely be. We did kill it! However, as always I want you to get the most out of everything that we do. Therefore we are going to talk about the lessons we learned so all of you can benefit from our trials. As always the goal is to leave this sport and the entire barbell world a bit better than we found it.

Individual Approach with a Team Concept

Since the 2017 Senior National Championships, I haven’t entered a team. The main reason is this is an individual sport, and I don’t want to make decisions based on some team championship. I want to make all of my decisions based on the goals of the athlete – like making an International Team or getting a stipend. I don’t want the extra pressure on the athlete of worrying about some team championship.

Coach Joe Cox, the owner of Krypton Barbell, convinced Coach Crystal and me to consider a National Team. We also partnered with the awesome people from ODC Barbell in Kentucky. Basically it works out to be one big mentorship. Crystal and I mentored Coach Joe, and now Coach Joe is helping Coach Karina.

It definitely makes my heart happy to see our competition philosophies being passed from one coach to the next. Plus it makes it so easy for the entire team because we end up having big coaching staffs, which is much needed at a big competition like Youth Nationals. Team ODC has a house full of talented athletes. It was so much fun helping Joe teach her the science of timing warm ups, counting cards, and making strategic jumps.

Here’s the kicker! Coach Karina is only 21 years old, and she is the head coach. I’ll tell you one thing, Coach Karina is going to be amazing. She had six athletes at Youth Nationals and six medalists with four National Champions. Tim Davis is her father and is legally blind. It’s awesome to see what he has done working with all of these amazing kids. It’s even more amazing to see what great people his actual children are turning into. If I had a child anywhere near Owensboro, KY, I would 100% want them to be a part of what they have going on at ODC Barbell.



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Now let’s get back to maintaining an individual approach. Each and every decision we made was based 100% on what was best for the athlete. Some were trying to PR their totals, some were trying to win a National Championship, and some were trying to make Team USA.

Each attempt is very different from each other. Obviously the first attempt is somewhat conservative because it normally sets the tone for the rest of the session – especially the opening snatch. When I choose an opener, I consider:

  • Training PR – roughly 93% plus or minus 2% in each direction
  • Minimum – the weight that the athlete can hit in training without any misses on their worst day
  • Bar speed during warm ups
  • Overall mentality during warm ups – relaxed, focused, nervous, etc.

I don’t really consider the weight the athlete is trying to end with because I have no problem with hitting a big weight in the back in between an opener and a second attempt. The only time I will open above what I consider to be conservative is during a meet where the one and only goal is making Team USA. I bet some of you still remember when I opened up Hunter Elam with one kilogram above her lifetime personal record. We didn’t care about winning an American Open Series 3. We only wanted to earn a spot on Team USA… and that’s exactly what we did.

I will never be that aggressive with a youth athlete because I want them to form successful habits. However, I have no problem being aggressive with the older youth on second and third attempts to make Team USA. Some would probably think my aggressive nature would lead to a low make to miss ratio, but that isn’t the case at all. Let’s take a look at the official numbers of our Super Squad:

Stats from Youth Nationals/Junior Pan Ams:

So if we were totally focused on what’s best for the athlete, how did we do so well?

For one thing, it’s a youth competition. I am not trying to put any undue stress on the athletes. I want them to build up several wins under their belt, so they get used to winning. We were only semi-aggressive with the older 16-17-year-old athletes, and it was only the ones who had a chance at Team USA. Otherwise we stuck with a 93%-97%-PR structure of taking attempts (give or take a couple percent).

One other thing is we are much more sport specific nowadays, especially in the last month before a meet. At that point we don’t talk a lot about percentages or bar speeds – but instead we talk in terms of openers, last warm ups, second-to-last warm ups, and so on. It really prepares our athletes with what to expect come game day )but we will talk more about that later in the article).

To tell you the truth, I have never really looked at make-to-miss ratios until this competition. It’s fun to see where you fall. When I learned we made 77.3% of our attempts, I was tempted to really rub it in the faces of a couple of social media sites who aren’t big fans. However, I decided to take the high road. I did make a few jabs, but then quickly backed off because at the end of the day we could have a bad meet sometime in the near future.

No other team in America is putting as many athletes on Youth, Junior, and Senior teams as we are. There are going to be ups and downs. That’s the nature of sport. In 2016 Nathan Damron crushed it at Junior Pan Ams, and then he came in seventh at Senior Worlds in 2017. Then he had a rough 2018. In 2018, Morgan McCullough went 5:6 in his first Youth Pan Ams and won a gold medal – and Ryan Grimsland went 6:6. At the 2019 Youth Worlds, they both struggled a bit. Now they both went 5:6 and won a bronze medal in their first Junior Pan Ams, breaking six combined Youth Pan Am records between them. My point is the sport and the athletes are always evolving. Sometimes athletes are trying to overcome injuries, but no one knows that besides the coaches and the athlete.

It shouldn’t bother me when silly meme pages criticize us, but it does. It makes me mad for my athletes mainly. Most of them are kids, and the rest of them are like my kids. I love them – so yes, I take it a bit personal. One site published an opinion that my guy would bomb out at Senior Pan Ams. Well, he didn’t. We took Silver – but dang, it got to me. All I could think about was what that site might do if we actually bombed out. It was silly, I know. The fact is I have never had an athlete bomb out in the back with me at a Youth/Junior/Senior Pan Ams or World Championships. I did withdraw an athlete once because his back was bothering him not because he bombed or was bombing. Who cares really? It’s my fault for letting those folks get to me.

I just love this sport. None of the coaches make a penny from coaching this sport. We do it because we love it. It’s not like some MLB coach making millions. Heck, if I were making a few hundred a month from this sport, I would welcome the criticism. However, I am not making anything. I am simply trying to improve the status of American Weightlifting around the world, and we are doing just that with the help of USA Weightlifting headed my Phil Andrews. That should be my focus, and I will be working to make it 100% my focus moving forwards.

I will end that little pity party rant with the good news that we did kill it at these two meets: seven National Champions, six Pan American Records, Best Male Lifter, Best Overall Female Team, and qualifying three youth for Team USA. I’ll take it whether people want to talk about it or not. Either way I am proud of my entire team. I am also proud of my fellow coaches – Joe Cox, Crystal McCullough, and Coach Karina. Our entire team and staff killed it, and now it’s on to the Pan Am Games in three weeks.

Individual Mindset and Coaching Approach for the Different Athletes

I wish I could tell you a specific way that we coach our athletes to produce results like we just experienced. The truth is it takes a special person to understand the feelings of others. Then it takes a special person willing to spend their entire career molding that ability. Right out of the gate, I am going to recommend Conscious Coaching by Brett Bartholomew. That book is a great place to start, but there is one requirement: empathy.

I talked to several coaches this past weekend with several of them asking me what is required to be a good coach. I told most of them this: be nice and have some empathy. It sounds simple, but sadly both are missing from too many coaches. Instead they want to bury themselves in programming and technique – and don’t get me wrong these are important as well. However, programming and technique are useless if no one likes you. If no one likes you, it will be hard to recruit new athletes, it will be hard to keep athletes, and it will be almost impossible to get athlete buy-in. If you don’t care about the feelings of your athletes, do you really think you are going to listen to them enough to understand what makes them tick? No, you’re not!

I have one of my athletes who I am failing to get through to, so guess what keeps me up at night? I refuse to not understand each of my athletes. Not to mention getting buy-in is an ongoing process. Athletes change sometimes on a daily basis, and you have to change with them. If you take the time to get to know them on a deeper level, you will know what I am talking about. I suggest starting by simply asking your athletes what makes them tick. Yes, that’s right! Straight up ask them!

Remember this one more thing, outside stress is perceived by the body as any other stress (just like training). If your athlete is getting crushed at home or with a bad relationship or at school, you can bet their training is going to suffer. You have to alter their program and adapt your approach to compensate for the added stress.

To wrap it up, I take it very seriously to understand what makes my athletes tick. Do they want to get hyped? Do they want to laugh and have fun? These are the things you have to find out to be successful regardless of what you’re coaching. It’s also the aspect of coaching that most people fail in the most.

Cutting Weight

There are a couple of ways people look at cutting weight for sports. Some people want to cut down to the weight class and roll into their competition at weight. That way they can eat like normal, and nothing really changes. Others like to stay a few kilos/pounds over their weight class and then perform a water cut to get those extra kilos off.

Based on observation alone, I am going to go with water cutting. I watched two athletes in a low weight class in the female division with both taking the opposite approach. The girl who performed the water cut (it was an extreme one – like four kilos) seemed to suffer the least from weak legs normally associated with a big cut. Since then, I have been very observant, and I am now very convinced. Plus I performed a water cut as well, and I never noticed a major dip in performance.

I’ve heard of several ways to do it, and I don’t think there is a real science to it. Here’s one that you guys and gals can use to get those last few kilos off:

  • 5 Days out – limit sodium and drink 2 gallons of water
  • 4 Days out – cut out most all sodium and drink 1.5 gallons of water
  • 3 Days out – no sodium and drink 1 gallon of water
  • 2 Days out – no sodium and drink 0.5 gallon of water
  • 1 Day out – no sodium and only sip on 8-12 ounces of water throughout the day
  • Day of the meet – obviously no sodium and no water until weigh-ins

You can eat healthy during the cut, sticking to mainly lean meat and vegetables. If you are two kilos over the day before, you are going to really cut your calories – especially if you have early weigh-ins. Also if you have early weigh-ins, you are going to want to go to bed with a kilo or less of body weight to lose.

Here are a few ways to cut to get those last few kilos off:

  • Sweet Tarts – These are the best. Now every single competition, a parent or athlete will challenge me by trying to bring some other candy. FYI Jolly Ranchers don’t come close. It’s the intense sour taste that makes you salivate like a dog staring at a raw steak. Also just in case there are some challenged folks reading this, don’t eat the candy. You simply swish one around your mouth and spit.
  • Sauna – Most of us know this one
  • DIY Hotel Steam Room – Cover the cracks of the hotel bathroom, and then turn on all the hot water. You will quickly have a steam room. You can splash some more hot water on the walls to get things really steaming.
  • Rake sweat with credit card – Regardless if you are using a sauna, DIY hotel room steam room, or some other sweat producer, I recommend taking a break to rake away the sweat from your body with a credit card every hour. What’s the science? I don’t know. I just know that it works. Supposedly it blocks the sweat from being absorbed back into the body.
  • Stand on your head for 30 seconds- yeah I know it sounds crazy, and once again I don’t know the science. Yet I have watched it work multiple times. Right before you weigh-in, simply stand on your head or on your arms for 30 seconds, and then immediately jump on the scale. This can help you appear to lose .1-ish kilograms. Try it if you don’t believe me.

After you make weight, make sure you have everything you need to rehydrate. Most people use Pedialyte and/or Gatorade. I would recommend drinking slowly, and trying to eat something easily digested. Weightlifting only gives their athletes two hours, so picking something you can eat is key. I recommend moist chicken and rice – or even a simple meal replacement. This is also a great time for simple sugars like you might find in fruit or even your favorite candy. You are only going to compete for two hours, so you need fast energy that doesn’t have to last for days. You will also need some nutrition between snatches and clean and jerks. Once again, I recommend something like a delicious protein bar and your favorite candy like gummy bears.

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Peaking, Tapers, and a Coach’s Response

Obviously it appears we tapered our athletes pretty well. The majority of them hit some type of personal record, and since they averaged going 4.6 for 6 in their attempts, I’d say they were all feeling ready for competition. The keys to a good taper are all the lessons learned from previous ones. If an athlete does poorly, make note of it and make alterations to the plan. If something seems to work, then you will only want to make small adjustments until you design the perfect plan. Also, you will want to start the process a month out by switching to a sport specific type of plan. By that I mean not using percentages, and instead referring to sets as second to last warm up, last warm up, opener, and second attempt. This prepares the athlete for what they will encounter during competition.

You can pretty much gauge the final week or the taper week by how your athletes respond throughout the plan. If they respond well to high frequency and high intensity, you will want to stay semi-heavy – just trim the overall volume. If going heavy seems to hurt their performance, consider staying under 90% or 85% during the taper week. It’s that simple really. Whatever happens, I recommend that you collect as much data as possible.

Evolution of USA Weightlifting

I am not going into major detail here because I plan on writing a complete article on this topic in the near future. However, I will say things have changed. These youth athletes are doing weights that would have won Senior Nationals just last year. Our goal as an organization was to prepare our athletes to medal at all international competitions, and that’s just what we have done with the leadership of Phil Andrews and the entire staff at USA Weightlifting. As Mike Gattone says, “It’s the new norm.”

With a new paradigm a new mindset must follow. None of us can look at things like we used to. Your athletes can’t take months off at a time just because they might be ahead right now. There is simply too much competition out there. Coaches, your hunger for information needs to be insatiable. Your athletes are going to need every edge to succeed in this new norm of ours.

Well, my reflection on the 2019 Youth Nationals and 2019 Junior Pan Ams is over. I don’t have time to spend too much effort thinking about these competitions. I am preparing two of our athletes for the Senior Pan American Games, which are the Olympics of the western hemisphere. I leave for Lima, Peru along with Hunter Elam and Nathan Damron in less than three weeks. I can only pray for this trend to continue. I pray you have the same success.

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